8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. FLEMING presented a petition from certain persons engaged or interested in the industries of grazing, meat preserving, and meat canning in New South Wales, praying that provision be made for the payment of a bounty on canned beef for export.
Petition received and read.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether it is the intention of the Government to proceed this session with the agreement made with New Zealand for a reciprocal Tariff?
– Yes. It is most certainly the intention of the Government to ask the House to proceed, as quickly as possible, with the consideration of the Customs (New Zealand Preference) Tariff Agreement. In submitting the Agreement to the House last Friday I explained that an arrangement had ‘been made with the Government of the Dominion of New Zealand that, if possible, in both the New Zealand and the Commonwealth Parliaments one week should be allowed for its discussion, and that it should then be put through in globo. New Zealand has practically kspt to the arrangement, and we desire to do the same.
Australian Delegation : Representation of Women
– On Wednesday last I asked the Prime Minister whether he and his Cabinet had come to a conclusion with regard to the request of the National Council of Women, Perth, that the Government include in the Australian delegation to the forthcoming Conference of tho League of Nations at least one woman delegate. In his reply the right honorable gentleman stated that one of the great obstacles in the way of the proposal was that there were so many organizations of women that it would be difficult to select a woman delegate who would give satisfaction to all. The deputation which waited onthe right honorable gentleman in rogard to this matter assured him that they had come to a conclusion, and that they were prepared to make either one or two nominations. I have received a telegram, stating that the-
– Order! I would remind the honorable member that the object of questions is to elicit information, and not to set out facts. The right to put questions to Ministers should not be availed of to make long involved statements. Honorable members should make their questions as concise as possible, and not state, by way of explanation, more than is actually necessary to clarify them. I also ask that silence be observed while questions are being dealt ‘ with. There has been a great deal of interruption. Honorable members are developing a practice of interjecting freely while questions are being addressed to Ministers and of commenting on the answers given. That is disorderly, and I ask that it be discontinued.
– I thank you, Mr. Speaker. My remarks were necessarily involved owing to the reply made by the Prime Minister on Wednesday last to the question that I addressed to him. I desire to make it clear-
Several honorable members interjecting,
-Order! I shall certainly have to ask the House to take some action against those honorable members who persist in disregarding the authority of the Chair. I do not propose to be continually calling for order. I again appeal to honorable members to allow questions to be put without interruption. Honorable members must expect action to be taken against them if they disregard the call to order. I would point out to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) that it is contrary to the rules that questions, arising out of answers given to previous questions, shall be addressed to Ministers. The honorable member is now founding a question to the Prime Minister on a reply given by the right honorable gentleman to a previous question. That is out of order.
– In view of the agreement of the women of Australia to nominate one person to represent them on the Australian delegation to the League of Nations Conference, will the Prime Minister now state whether or not the Cabinet is prepared to appoint a woman delegate?
– I am not assisted in coming to a determination by anything I have heard from the honorable member, notwithstanding the help he has received from Mr. Speaker. I shall now consider the matter, and give the honorable member a reply in due course.
– I should like to appeal to you, Mr. Speaker. The honorable member for Swan has made a misstatement, and I know of no other way by which I may correct it except through you. The statement made by the honorable member that the women of Australia have agreed to nominate one person to represent them on the Australian delegation to the League of Nations Conference is not true.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw the expression that the statement is not true.
– Then I withdraw it, and say that the statement is incorrect.
-The honorable member, in any case, is not in order in raising the matter at this stage.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Defence whether it is proposed to discriminate in the matter of retiring allowances between the military and civilian officers of the Defence Department who are to be compulsorily retired ?
– I have already announced the terms of compensation a$> approved by the Government for the various grades in the employ of the Department of Defence. The Bill will make provision on the lines already indicated.
– Having regard to the hardship involved and the disadvantage at which returned soldiers in South Australia are placed, owing to the difference of opinion ‘between the Commonwealth and the State Minister for Repatriation, as to the resumption of the building of War Service Homes there, I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation whether, in the interests of the soldiers themselves, he will arrange a meeting with the South Australian Minister for Repatriation with a view to the settlement of their differences, so that the building of soldiershomes may be proceeded with in South Australia ?
– I have already paid a visit to Adelaide with that object, and shall be very pleased to meet the South Australian Minister for Repatriation at any time that he has a proposal to place before the Government here.
– On 12th July last, 1 asked the Prime Minister to furnish the House with the number of Commissions appointed by the Government from February, 1917, to June, 1922, and the cost of each Commission. I have been inundated with telegrams and letters from persons desirous of obtaining such particulars, and I, therefore, ask the right honorable gentleman when the information will be forthcoming.
– My memory must be failing. I do not recall this question being put to me before, but I recognise its importance, and will have the information supplied.
-Can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform me whether the salary of the former Sugar Controller,Colonel Oldershaw,is shown in the balance-sheet which has been circulated in this Chamber?
– The costs of the control have been lumped. I am unable to say offhand whether the salary of Colonel Oldershaw is shown; but all the costs that were debited were shown. I shall ascertain the particulars.
The following papers were presented : -
Taxation - Royal Commission on - Third Report.
Ordered to be printed.
Cockatoo Island Dockyard - Balance-sheet as at 30th June, 1922, &c., together with a memorandum setting out the basis of preparation.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired under, at Yungaburra, Queensland - For Postal purposes.
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired under, in New South Wales, at Albury.
Enforcement of Health Regulation
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
What action hasbeen taken by the Minister in connexion with a protest made by the Darwin Council to him against the Chief Health Officer for not enforcing Health Regulation No. 26 (a).
– In view of the difference of opinion between’ the Chief Health Officer and the Darwin Town Council, as to the effect of Health Regulation No. 26 (a), it has been deemed advisable to obtain a legal interpretation of the Regulation, and the AttorneyGeneral’s Department has been asked to advise accordingly. Further action will depend upon the nature of the advice received.
Transfer of Warrant Officers’ Training School
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In view of the reported closing of the Warrant Officers’ Training School at Liverpool, New South Wales, and its transference to Victoria, willhe consider the question of using portion of Duntroon College for the purpose of such training?
– It is not intended to re-open the Central Training Depot for the present; but, in. conformity with the policy of co-ordination between the Naval and Military Forces, it is in contemplation to establish the Depot hereafter at Flinders, Victoria, to enable advantage to be taken of the administrative machinery of the Naval Depot at that place.
White Australia Policy
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he furnish the House with the quotations from Sir Henry Barwell’s speeches, press interviews and press letters, to which he, the Prime Minister, referred yesterday, and in reference to which Sir Henry Barwell affirms he has been misrepresented?
– Yes. Those relating to the White Australia Policy are as follow : - “All I have read and heard on the subject of the Northern Territory leads me to believe that it can never be fully developed without coloured labour……. The question arises as to whether coloured races shouldbe brought into Australia as coolie labour to work under indenture for white men or whether selected Asiatics should be permitted to settle in the country with full citizen rights. It does seem to me that the second alternative is the only one worthy of consideration.” - Vide Adelaide Register, 5th January. 1922, and Melbourne Argus, 5th January, 1922. “What stands in the way of the development of the country is the White Australia Policy. ‘White Australia’ is a magnificent ideal, but if it prevents the development of a tract of country several times the size of Great Britain, its continuance can never be justified.” -Vide Melbourne Argus, 10th January, 1922.
Replying to Mr. Theodore’s contention that if Sir Henry Barwell’s proposals were adopted there would be a piebald Australia in a few years, and in half a century, by peaceful penetration, the whole continent would be in tho hands of Asiatics, Sir Henry Barwell said: - “I deny this. I say that coloured labour would be restricted to our tropical areas. Instead of being unpatriotic it would mean the development of our resources. I never said that we should bring in a million aliens. All that I have said is that we could introduce such a quantity of labour for a tropical production as might ‘be considered necessary. The number would always be regulated and they could be satisfactorily confined entirely to the tropical portions of the continent.” -From an interview in the Perth Daily News,3rd February,
” We could introduce such a quantity of labour for a tropical production as might bc considered necessary. It has been said that I am in favour of giving selected Asiatic immigrants the full right of citizenship. I have never advocated this.” - Vide Perth Daily News, 3rd February, 1922. “ I stand by every word I have said in favour of what I believe to be the only sane policy of tropical settlement. It is nothing more than a violation of the scheme of creation to settle white people who are not acclimatized as a result of evolution upon a portion of the earth’s surface clearly unsuitable for any but the coloured races.” -From a letter to the London Times, 7th March, 1922, signed, H. Newman Barwell. “Expertmedical testimony says that white people cannot work there. Therefore, I favour some system of bringingthe country into a state of productivity either by native labouryellow or black - or by obtaining Maltese or Italian settlers. This has run counter to the White Australia Policy of labour, and I have been mercilessly criticised and ridiculed.”
He believed that the desert wouldbe an effective barrier and would keep the native labour in the north. - Vide Melbourne Herald, 16th June, 1922. “I am strongly of opinion thatthe tropical parts of Australia cannot be satisfactorily developed by white labour, such as we have in Australia at the present time. Tropical regions can be developed only by tropical labour. On this question I have been strongly opposed by representatives of the Western Australian
Ministry, among others; but I notice that quite recently the Agent-General for Western Australia, speaking in London, said that he thought it would be a good thing to introduce Maltese labour for developing the tropical parts of the Commonwealth. With that statement I am in complete accord. I have been misrepresented both here and in America.” - Vide Melbourne Argus, 13th July, 1922.
Quotations from Sir Henry Barwell’s utterances upon arbitration, I shall furnish on the next day of sitting.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether any of the other Government Departments have considered the question of placing orders for work with the Lithgow Small Arms Factory; and what Departments, if any, have done so?
– The Repatriation Department has placed orders with the Small Arms Factory, and there have been several conferences with the Postal Department in regard to production of telephone parts.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are - 1 and 2. No.
asked the Prime Minister. upon notice -
What is the selling price per ton for -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
About 28s. to 29s. per ton. 4. (a) 49s. 3d.
Reports and Accounts: Shipbuilding Award
– On the 13th July, the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) asked the following question: -
In view of the reply given by the Minister representing the Prime Minister to a question which I asked yesterday concerning Cockatoo Island dockyard, namely, that the accounts would bc dealt with as usual, and in view of the fact that no accounts having to do with Cockatoo Island have ever yet been published separately, and that the dockyard is competing with private enterprise in Sydney, I wi3h to know whether he will have accounts prepared and presented to the House at the earliest possible moment.
I now lay on the table the following documents: -
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) asked me recently why the award of the Shipbuilding Tribunal had not been applied to the mechanics and their assistants at Cockatoo Island dockyard. I desire to briefly summarize the facts which have led up to the present position : -
On the 1st August, 1912, when the Cockatoo dockyard was under State control, the then Minister for Public Works, New South Wales, ruled that 9s. per day was to be the minimum daily wage for all labourers in the New South Wales Public
Works Department. At that time the wage paid for ironworkers was 8s. Under the Minister’s ruling they therefore received ls. above the award rates. The extra payment was maintained, under varying awards, up to the 5th November, 1920, when the award was increased to 91s. per week. On the new award coming into operation, payment of the extra 1s. per day was abolished by the Navy Department - which then controlled the dockyard - the view taken iby the Department being that, while there was no doubt some justification for the payment in the first instance, when the daily wage was only 8s., now that the Industrial Court dealt specifically with ironworkers’ assistants, and took periodical cognisance of the increases in the cost of living, the Commonwealth should adhere strictly to the awards of the Court. On the 4th August, 1921, the Shipbuilding Board of Control decided to pay the ls. per day over award rates for ironworkers’ assistants employed on repair work other than for the Navy Department. In view of the many awards which have been given in this industry, all of which increased the rate of pay, it is not felt that these men should be singled out amongst all the workers in Commonwealth employ for special treatment over and above that afforded by the Court.
– On the 28th July the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) asked the following question : -
What were (1) the freights received, and (2) the costs incurred in carrying the fruit cargo of the Commonwealth steamerHobson’s Bay to England?
The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Sugar:common wealth Government Control. - Balance-sheet.
Debate resumed from 3rd August (vide page 1134), on motion by Mr. Rodgers -
That the paper “ Commonwealth Government Sugar Control - Balance-sheet, as at 30th June, 1922; profit and loss account for the period from 19th July, 1915, to 30th Juno, 1922; trading and profit and loss account for the period from 19th July, 1915, to 30th June, 1922 - operating and trading accounts,” be printed.
Upon which Mr. CHARLTON hud moved by way of amendment -
That ti]0 following words be added to the motion : - “ and the retail price of sugar bo reduced to 4Jd. per lb. from the 7th August, 1922.”
– Last night, when I obtained leave to continue my remarks, I was referring to some of the arguments which had been advanced by Che honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten). Although he criticised the balance-sheet and the dealings of the Governmout generally with the subject-matter, he endeavoured to furnish reasons why he and other honorable members behind the Government would be justified in supporting them and in opposing the Opposition in their endeavour to secure sugar for tho consumers at 4-$d. per lb. One point to which I desire to refer is contained in the argument that there is a great possibility of the Mininster for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) being inundated with applications for rebates on the part of people who are holding large stocks of sugar. This same question of rebates was presented; but in an entirely different aspect, a year or two ago when the rise in price was foreshadowed. Large stocks were held; yet I read letters in this House from small traders in my own electorate who complained bitterly of not being able to get sugar. That state of affairs existed very generally for some time; but, so soon as the retail price was raised to 6d. per lb. there was: - as the honorable member for. Yarra (Mr. Scullin) reminded honorable members last night - plenty of sugar everywhere, and anybody could get it. No action was taken by the holders of large stocks, who had benefited by the increase in price, to hand something back to the Government out of their pockets. The Minister for Trade and Customs was not then swamped by offers to return some of the extra profits being made by traders. If they should now be called upon to forego some percentage of profits owing to the reduction of price, surely tho “ rake off “ which they enjoyed eighteen months to two years ago should compensate them for whatever sacrifice
they may now be called upon to make. What is the use of arguing about a flood of applications for rebates at this stage? lt is just as useless to do that as it is for the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) to argue that we do not know what quantity of sugar purchased at a high price has still to be accounted for.
– Doos not the honorable member think that we ought to know ?
– I certainly do. It is remarkable that the AuditorGeneral should have felt himself called upon to add a statement, at the end of the balance-sheet, to the effect that the only information he has received for quite a long period from the Millaquin Company and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are certificates from the managers of those companies. Possibly when the full information is provided, it may place an entirely different aspect on the balance-sheet. The particulars could have been secured ere now. Honorable ^members on this side have been constantly questioning the Government ever since Parliament met. There has been any amount of time in which the information could have been obtained, and the whole of the details published in the balancesheet. It is useless for the Minister, or for any honorable member opposite, to say that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has been making no profits out of the handling of our sugar. According to all the information which has been placed before the House, including the statement by the Minister for Trade and Customs, the deficit on the sugar transactions should have been wiped off twelve months ago. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company is supposed to have made no profit out of the refining and distribution of Australian-grown sugar during the last trading year. But it has made over £400,000 of disclosed profits - I u30 that qualification because it is questionable whether the disclosed profits of any of these companies are the true profits - and paid to shareholders a bonus of £4 per share, making a total profit for the year of nearly £1,000,000. These facte make one wonder whether the company has not received from the handling of sugar much more than tho Government are inclined to disclose. No argument has been put forward by any member opposite to dispute the figures submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. His contentions are incontestable, I t has been proved conclusively that sugar can be reduced to 4½d. per lb. on 7th August, and the amendment should be carried in order to give relief to the consumers.
Question - That the words proposed to be added be so added (Mr. Charlton’s amendment) - put. The House divided.
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move-
That the followingwords be added to the motion. “ and
That consideration of the question of the price of sugar be postponed until Wednesday next, and /or the tabling of full details of the sugar position as promised by the Minister for Trade and Customs.
That a Select Committee of the House be appointed to inquire into the question of the Government transactions in sugar, and to report to this House.”
If the House will adopt this amendment the most equitable consideration can be given to all interests that are concerned in sugar. The attitude of some honorable members in this Chamber, at times, is difficult to understand.We find honorable members, like the honorable member for Kooyong, voting for high duties to protect Melbourne and Sydney manufacturers of machinery and carbide which is used to light up the homes of people in the country, but when the price of a primary product is under consideration the very members that are so ready to impose those burdens upon one section of the community are equally ready to harken to the cry of others to be supplied cheaply with a commodity they use, and which the man upon the land produces. There is extraordinary inconsistency in such an attitude. I am under the impression that the sugar industry is a great burden upon the people of Australia, and in that regard I differ from many honorable members. I am told that in normal times the sugar industry will not be sufficiently protected by a duty of £6 per ton, and a Queensland member told me yesterday that the industry required a duty of £14 per ton. Is it possible for us to give the Queensland growers that amount of protection? If there were no obstacles in the way we could shortly buy sugar abroad for that sum. If a duty of £14 per ton is imposed the Australian people will be paying for1 ton of sugar what people in other countries will be paying for 2 tons. The high price of sugar is one of the many handicaps that are placed upon the Australian people. What I object to is the inconsistency in handicapping one section of the community and claiming relief for another section. The suggested price of 4½d. per lb. may be right, or it may be wrong, but it is certain that, at the present time, Australia is paying much more for sugar than it should be paying. I want this House to determine intelligently just exactly what can be paid while permitting the industry to exist - if it has to exist. So far, however, we are not in a position to determine this matter intelligently. Honorable members in their speeches delivered on the amendment which has just been defeated have shown that they are not in the position to determine the question from the information already submitted. In my opinion no disadvantage will arise from two or three days’ delay, which will enable the Government to submit a full statement of the position.
– Hear, hear! It is definitely promised for Wednesday next.
– Surely honorable members will be in a better position to determine what attitude they will take upon this question when the Government have brought down the figures and shown the House a true statement of the sugar transactions. The price will not be reduced between now and Wednesday next, and there can be no disadvantage to the people of Australia because of the slight delay. It must not be understood that certain honorable members who voted against the amendment which has just been defeated are opposed to a reduction in the price of sugar. We feel that there should be a considerable reduction in price. As a matter of fact, unless such a reduction is brought about the sugar industry, instead of being a help to Australia, will hamper its development. I am quite satisfied that it would be in the interests of all concerned to have a Select Committee appointed to inquire into the whole question.
– But why mix up the two matters in the one amendment?
– If necessary, they can be treated separately. It is only right that there should be a close and impartial investigation into the whole of the sugar transactions of the Government, in which many millions of pounds have been involved. In any case, if we are to continue any form of control of sugar, the whole matter should beconsidered from A to Z. Honorable members opposite desire cheap sugar, but at the same time they do not desire cheap labour. In the sugar industryhigh wages are paid as a result of an arbitration award by a Queensland tribunal, but in such a national question it is not right that a tribunal in one State should determine the rates of pay which are to be paid by people of other States to the workmen in that State.
– Is not the honorable member in favour of high wages?
– If I were I would also be in favour of a high price for sugar. We cannot have both ends of the stick. We cannot pay wages which are excessively high compared with those paid in other countries, and at the same time get cheap sugar. All these points show how necessary it is that the whole question should be thoroughly inquired into just to see to what extent each interest is served, the labour employed, the growers of the cane, the millers, the refiners, and also the middlemen who vend the sugar to the public. But the primary need is a deep and searching inquiry into every transaction carried out during the period of Government control. For instance, the primary producers of Queensland have been blamed for the present price of sugar. A greater share of odium has been attached to them than was proper in the circumstances. As a matter of fact, if sugar were sold at 4½d. per lb. instead of 6d. per lb. it would be just about the proportion of the cost for which they are responsible. The balance of 11d. per lb. has been drawn from theconsumers in order to cover up bad statesmanship and mistakes of policy on the part of the Government. It was a short-sighted policy on their part to restrict the growing of sugar cane. Had that not been done there would have been no shortage of sugar in Australia. Queensland would have had more to her credit, and we would not have had to make up at high cost 100,000 tons by importations. To overtake that shortage, the Government did not buy wisely, or, at any rate, with the same wisdom as was displayed by the British sugar control. They seemed to purchase just when the market was high, and, of course, to make good that blunder the consumers of Australia have had to pay 6d. instead of 4½d. per lb. forsugar. If the Government have nothing to hide, they will support the appointment of a Select Committee. But when the Minister brings down his detailed statement we shall be in a better position to determine whether he is right in fixing the price at 5d. per lb., whether the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition to fix the price at 4½d. per lb. would be the better step to take, or whether a searching inquiry might not bc more likely to show that the price could be fixed at 4d. However, seeing that we are so close to the date upon which we are to get the promised facts, I think it would bo wrong to anticipate matters by forcing a vote at tho present juncture. When we got the facts before us we shall be in a better position to determine intelligently this question, which is of so much importance to the people of Australia.
.- What has happened in this House to-day will come somewhat as a surprise to the public. We have just determined, with the aid of the mover of the amendment (Mr. Prowse) and two other members of the Country party, including the Leader of that party (Dr. Earle Page), that the price of sugar shall not be reduced for an indefinite period; and now, after voting in such a manner, the honorable member for Swan submits an amendment which not only contains a vote of censure upon the Government, but also provides that no effect can be given to it until after this Parliament expires. In my parliamentary experience I havo nover previously know of such a deliberate attempt to camouflage a matter of so much importance. In the first portion of his amendment the honorable member asks for the postponement of the consideration of the matter at issue. Ho did not ask earlier for this postponement, but came to the assistance of the Government because they could not answer the charges made on the floor of this House. As a matter of fact, not one Minister has replied to the attack made upon the Government. It remained for the Country party, which is supposed to bo the independent party in this House, aud which claims to be conserving the interests of the consumers in this matter, to come to the assistance of the Government and relieve them from the position in which they were placed.
– Hold on !
– I want to be fair. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) has voted with the Opposition when occasion demanded it, and this was an occasion which demanded it. I cannot say the same of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) or his Leader.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the amendment.
– The purpose of thie amendment is to cover up the action taken by honorable members of the Country party in voting as they did upon my amendment. It is not the first occasion on which they have adopted the same tactics. Even in regard to matters emanating from their own party we find them divided. If the fate of the Government is at stake we find one of them missing or absent.
– The Government cannot support the proposal for the appointment of a Select Committee. It is tantamount to a direct vote of censure.
– Let the honorable member direct his remarks to that aspect of the question.
– It is a direct vote of censure upon the Government, inasmuch as it provides for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into and report upon the Government’s transactions in reference to sugar. It is a declaration that the House is dissatisfied with the Government’s administration of the sugar question. If there was not something behind it, there would be no reason for this move on the part of the Country party. The sugar operations of the Government have extended over a period of seven years, involving a turnover of about £60,000,000, and, therefore, if a Select Committee were appointed it would not report until after tho House had risen, and we were approaching the next elections.
– Are we going to have an election soon?
– I do not know, but judging by the attitude of the Country party, I should say that the Government are quite safe until next March or April, at all events. I am rather surprised at the attitude of both the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming), and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse), who are members of the Public Accounts Committee, because I understand that Committee has decided to look into this question of sugar control.
– Their action amounts to want of confidence in their own Committee.
– That is the position. The question of the price of sugar is urgent. It affects the bread and butter of the people, because a reduction in price would mean a reduction in the cost of living. Notwithstanding its urgency we find some honorable members deliberately endeavouring to evade the issue. If what I have said is correct, and I have every reason to believe it is, ‘because there has been no denial from the Ministerial Bench, we should be able to get from the Treasury inside of six weeks the amount of £415,000 outstanding on account of sugar, control operations, and so there would be every justification for an immediate drop in the price of sugar. I could see last night that something like this amendment was pending. It was apparent to all honorable members that the Government Whip was “ nobbling “ members of the Country party one after the other. They are like children, having no minds of their own in this matter. It is time, therefore, that the public knew what is happening here, and realized that the purpose of the Country party is to camouflage everything likely to cause embarrassment to the Government. I do not wish to take up further time as I put my position quite clearly yesterday. I now move -
That the following words be added to the amendment: - “and tho retail price of sugar bo reduced to 4Jd., as from 14th August, 1022.”
– I am afraid I cannot accept the amendment, because the House has already dealt with one in substantially similar terms.
– I desire to point out, Mr. Speaker, that the date mentioned in my former amendment was 7th August, whereas the date in the present amendment is one week later. I submit, therefore, that I am perfectly in order.
-The fact that there has been an alteration in the date from which the proposed reduction shall operate does not affect the invalidity of the amendment. It is practically the same as that which has already been disposed of, the crux of which was to reduce the price of sugar to 4^-d. If I permitted this amendment and the House decided against it, it would then be competent for some other honorable members in succession to move further amendments changing the date ad libitum, and accordingly there would be no finality.
– In view of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and with the consent of the House I propose to amend my amendment by substituting “ 4£d.” for “4id”.
– Such an amendment would not bo in order, since the House has voted against reducing the price to 4£d. It would have to be something above 4id.
.- I should like to take this opportunity to advise honorable members that after all there is no need for Australia to confine its attention to the matter of sugar production in the tropical areas of the Commonwealth. We can produce much better sugar in any of the southern districts with an average rainfall, and, what is more important, with white labour. It has been demonstrated beyond all possible doubt that excellent sugar beet can be successfully grown anywhere in Gippsland or the Western District of Victoria, the South-Eastern District of South Australia, and along the River Murray. At present the only drawback to the development of tho industry is the initial cost of sugar-beet factories. If the Government are prepared to spend as much money on the erection of beet sugar mills, as has been paid to assist the cane-sugar industry in Queensland, we shall be able to produce immense quantities of sugar in Southern Australia, and, perhaps, build up an important export trade in the commodity. It may not be generally known that sugar beet, planted in October, is ready for the mills in March or April; so there is an almost immediate return for the grower, and a certain and good income. This industry should be specially suited for our returned soldiers. Production, on average land, ranges from 15 to 17 tons of sugar beet per acre, but in the south-east of South Australia, where I reside, we are producing anything up to 25 tons per acre, for which the gross return is about £2 10s. per ton. I have been informed by Mr. Williams, the manager of the sugar-beet factory at Maffra, that this year he will not be able to handle the product of about 600 acres, so rapidly has production expanded in that district. The Government should give this matter immediate attention in order to further encourage the cultivation of sugar beet in all our southern areas, and so provide employment for those of our returned soldiers who desire to enter into this industry. I have many facts and figures at my disposal, and will do all I can to assist the Government to further the industry. Honorable members will find, in the lobby, some magnificent samples of sugar beet grown in my district.
– Is it as good as the sugar beet grown at Maffra ?
– It is better. According to the official figuresbeet grown in the Maffra district returns 11 per cent. of sugar, whereas the southeastern sugar beet returns 18.1 per cent.
– At what price could you sell beetsugar?
– It could be sold at 3½ per lb., and the growers would make a substantial profit out of the business. In 1911, when I visited Europe, I was very much impressed with the sugar beet factories all through Belgium, Germany, and France, and determined then, upon my return, that I would do what I could to further the industry in the Commonwealth. The matter was taken up by the Mount Gambier Technical School authorities with excellent results. We obtained seed from the Maffra factory, and planted it in twenty-seven different localities in the south-east. Last year I sent two trial truck loads of beet from the Millicent and Mount Gambier districts of South Australia to the Maffra factory, and the beet returned 18 per cent. of sugar, with 91 per cent. of purity. If there were eight or ten sugar-beet factories in Victoria and the South-Eastern District of South Australia the industry would, I believe, soon become one of the most important in the Commonwealth. It may be carried on most successfully in conjunction with dairying, as the tops make excellent fodder for dairy stock, and can be so utilized during the months of April, May, and June, which is the worst period in the year for the dairyman. Then again, the pulp is a very useful fertilizing agent. If honorable members only realized the importance of this industry to Australia they would heartily support its extension. I invite them to visit ray district to see what is being done there. At Mount Gambier I grew sugar beet on the same land for three years in succession, and the crop for the third season, without manure, was the best of the series. Then in the following season I grew a beautiful crop of potatoes on the same land. I hope to induce a few honorable members to join with me in the cultivation of sugar beet. I have a sample of beet that I pulled on the 3rd June, and it is to-day in perfect order. Sugar beet can be pulled, thrown into railway trucks, and carried a thousand miles without suffering any deterioration. We have sugar beet growing in thirty-five different parts of South Australia.
– What size are the plots ?
– From 1 acre to 30 acres.
– The Queensland sugar cane-growers will not thank the honorable member for this speech.
– There is a vast stretch of country between Queensland and the southern part of South Australia, and there is room for all of us to live. If sugar beet were cultivated on an ex- ‘ tensive scale we should no longer need to import sugar. We should be able to export sugar - sugar grown by white labour.
– What is the largest plot under beet in South Australia?
– There is a Government experimental plot of 17 acres at Mount Gambier, another plot of 15 acres at Millicent, and 11 acres at Benara. Many years ago, when I desired the House to agree to the building of the East-West Railway, I invited honorable members on both sides to visit the State of which I am a representative to have a look at the country. They did so. The railway was built. I shall now arrange an excursion of honorable members of all parties to the beet sugar areas in South Australia. I should not be surprised if within twelve months we had a sugar beet factory in the Western District of Victoria. I shall have a sample of sugar beet here next Wednesday.
– Why not give some to the poor?
– Where sugar beet is cultivated there will be no poor.
– What would a sugar beet factory cost?
– Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. The crop is sown in October, and the beet is pulled in March, and one of the advantages of the crop is that the grower receives payment for it as soon as he delivers it at the factory. The growing of sugar beet is a valuable adjunct to dairying. We shall never have poor people where there are beet sugar fields and dairy farms. I hope to secure the assistance of the House in the establishment of the industry of beet sugar cultivation on a a extensive scale in the southern part of South Australia.
.- It is the fault, not of the House, but of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) that this discussion has practically been going on for weeks. Some weeks ago when the sugar question was first discussed in this House the Minister promised to furnish a balance-sheet relating to the Government control. He promised also to supply the fullest details. He kept his word by submitting to the House a fortnight ago a balance-sheet which has met not only with the general condemnation of honorable members, but has been condemned by the entire press of Australia. One newspaper in this city has described it as a mere travesty of a balance-sheet, and another has declared that the Minister might as well have thrown on the table of the House this so-called balance-sheet without uttering a word by way of explanation, since his speech, in submitting it, gave no more information than was to be gathered from the bulk figures. In view of the general dissatisfaction then expressed the Minister promised to furnish full details to the House. Fourteen clays have elapsed since then, yet we have no more information than we had at the outset. It should have been possible for the Minister charged with the administration of an enterprise of this magnitude, involving the handling of millions of pounds, to supply honorable members with detailed information. As it is, all that we have had is” a mere gathering together of mass figures. The Minister has not supplied us with any more information than any one could have obtained by devoting a week or two to an examination of the books.
– Rubbish !
– That interjection does not affect me. The honorable gentleman and his party have to deal with the daily newspapers of Australia, who are no friends of the Labour party, and who clearly- and deliberately affirm that this balance-sheet is a mere fake, a delusion, and a sham.
– Who said that it was a fake?
– It has been so described by the general press of Australia. T say it is a fake; it represents a mert’ attempt to trade on the credulity of honorable members.
– That is an Anstey interpretation.
– I am entirely justified in placing my own interpretation upon the statement, purporting to be a balancesheet, presented to the House by the hon.orable gentleman.
Not only has the balance-sheet itself met with general condemnation throughout the Commonwealth, but the manner of its presentation has been condemned by all parties in this House. The hostile criticism to which it has been subjected has come not only from the Labour party, but from some of the supporters of the Government, as well as members of the Country party. After waiting for weeks for a promised balance-sheet, we were given something which by no stretch of the imagination could be so described.
– We asked for bread and they gave us a stone.
– That is so. Take the reply made this morning by the Minister for Trade and Customs to an inquiry as to whether Colonel Oldershaw’s salary was included in the figures appearing in the balance-sheet. The Minister did not. know; he said the figures were lumped, and he did not know whether or not Colonel Oldershaw’s salary was included in them. One would think that the Minister administering the sugar control would be seized of such facts. He ought, to have detailed information. Notwithstanding the temper of the House as displayed when the so-called balance-sheet was submitted a fortnight ago, the honorable gentleman has not yet furnished the detailed information for which we have asked.
– Has the honorable member any idea of the size of the staffs that are working to supply the information?
-I venture to say that the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), who is connected with a business having enormous transactions, would not have taken as many clays as the Minister has taken weeks to supply the information for which we have asked.
– The Colonial Sugar Refining Company is preparing the details.
– Quite so; and we are supposed to bc in partnership with it.
In order that no further time may be lost by the House waiting for detailed information before determining what shall bc the retail price of sugar, we have decided to submit au amendment of the amendment, which will bring matters to a head. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) has moved an amendment providing, first of all, that the consideration of what shall be the retail price of sugar be left over until Wednesday next, so that further information may be supplied. That would be all very well if there were some fair basis of argument behind what is proposed; but the second part of this amendment, providing for the appointment of a Select Committee, cannot be too strongly condemned. Although the Government themselves proposed to bring about a certain reduction in price within the next few weeks, honorable members in the Ministerial corner who are trying to find a loop-hole of escape for the Ministry propose that a Select Committee shall be appointed to make further inquiries. Such a committee, if appointed, would meet week after week, and I venture to say that its report would not be available to us this session. I move -
That the amendment be amended by adding the following words to paragraph (a) : - “and the retail price of sugar be reduced to 45/8d. per lb. from the 21st August, 1922.”
That is a clear and definite proposal. Even if we were to wait for the promised additional details there would be no alteration of the facts. The Government admit that they see no reason why in ordinary circumstances the price of sugar should not come down to 4½d. per lb. A sum of £415,000, representing profit out of the sugar control has been paid into the Consolidated Revenue. In other directions there is, apparently, a deficit of something like £250,000; but allowing for what has been paid into the Consolidated Revenue, and what has been lost, in connexion with the sugar control, there is still a balance in hand. Having regard to the admissions made by the Government, and the statements made by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) and other supporters of the Government, who claim to have an intimate knowledge of this subject, there is ample justification for our contention that there should be no further procrastination, but that a definite decision should be arrived at without further delay as to the reduction to be made. The House should tell the Government, apart altogether from any question as to the supply of further details, that the price of sugar must be immediately reduced.
.- I rise to suggest to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) that he divide his amendment into two parts.
– That he cut off the tail?
– Yes. If the honorable member will submit first of all the first paragraph of his amendment, I, for one, shall support it.
– And I will accept it.
– This has been “ rigged up “ by the Minister.
– That is not so.
– The Minister did not suggest that I should make this proposition. I desire to state my reason for putting it forward. I voted for the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), and as a protest against the failure of the Government to furnish the House with sufficient material to enable it to make up its mind on the question of the price of sugar.
– You must keep the party together.
– It is not a question of keeping the party together; my object and I suppose that of every honorable member, is to bring down the price of sugar as soon as possible. My desire is that the consumer shall obtain sugar at the lowest possible price; but my difficulty has been to get at the facts. I suppose that every honorable member who takes an interest in this question has experienced the same trouble.
Allusion was made last night by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) to the fact that I had appeared with him on a public platform recently to advocate a reduction in the price of sugar. My sole object in attending that meeting was to protest, as a matter of principle, against a renewal of the Sugar Agreement. I am totally opposed to the renewal of the Agreement in any circumstances. The question which I have now to face is Whether it is possible, under present conditions, to make any reduction in the price being paid by consumers. Before I can say whether 4½d. per lb. is a fair charge it is essential that I should have the facts before me ; but I have not sufficient data at hand to warrant me in saying so. . 1 voted for the amendment a few minutes ago simply as a protest against the failure of the Government to supply me with that information. I shall not again consider the question of the reduction of the retail price until after I have been provided with the necessary facts. I understand that on Wednesday next the Minister will make a full statement.
– Has the House -been given an assurance to that effect?
– I do not know about an assurance.
– For certain sugar years.
– I am addressing myself now to the first portion of tho amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse).
– What about the other part?
– The proposed investigation would be unnecessary if the details supplied next Wednesday are satisfactory. At least, the Minister ought to bc able to make such a statement as would do away with the necessity for an inquiry. On the other hand, such particulars as are to be afforded may demonstrate the necessity for an investigation of the character desired by the honorable member for Swan, in which case I shall support him. I suggest now, however, that no good would be gained by permitting the amendment to stand as it has been drafted, because it is bound to be defeated by an overwhelming majority. If the honorable member cares to submit an amendment to the simple effect that the House postpone consideration of the retail price of sugar until after the Minister for Trade and Customs has made his statement next week, the latter will bo afforded an opportunity to redeem his promise. But if, on Wednesday, there is still no statement forthcoming I shall consider what further steps to take.
– I point out that in cases where an amendment, or a. motion, is divided into parts, it has been found more convenient to put them in paragraphs or separately from the Chair according to circumstances.
– There is only one aspect of the matter upon which I desire shortly at this stage to speak. There has beena failure, both on the part of honorable members and of the press, to recognise the real problem which beset the Minister whose task it has been to submit the balance-sheet. Honorable members are aware of the time at which I took over ray new duties, and, therefore, of the period in which I have been associated with the control of sugar. Recognising that the public were entitled to be provided with a balance-sheet showing the whole of the operations during the period of control, I undertook to furnish 6uch a document at the earliest possible opportunity. In regard to the financial year ending on the 30th June last, I instructed my Department and the Sugar Control Board to prepare a detailed statement also covering the activities of each individual year, covering the whole period. It was pointed out to me that the preparation of the whole of the balance-sheets and the’r presentation at the one time would involve gigantic work, which could only be accomplished within reasonable time. Accordingly, I submitted an interim balancesheet - an accurate statement - and undertook to furnish later the full particulars for each separate year. I regret that there have been so many wild statements made concerning the interim balancesheet. Even had I been in a position to present overwhelming details for every individual year, they could not have affected the aggregate results set out in the document I have already provided.
Recognising, however, that the House and the country are entitled to the further details, I undertook to supply them at the earliest date by which it would be humanly possible to prepare them. For honorable members now to imply want of good faith on my part is very unfair. The staff engaged upon the task has exerted itself to the utmost, but the full particulars cannot be collated for presentation earlier than Wednesday of next week.
– That is a mere admission of failure.
– That is an unfair comment. A great organization has hitherto controlled every phase of sugar operation and distribution, and on its advice our foreign purchases have been made. It would have been impossible in a short space of time to substitute for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company any intelligent organization to carry out the same task.
I have only one further statement to add at this stage. Sugar control is a business transaction, which ought to be separated from politics. I invite a business, and not political, investigation of all the details. In order that it should not be entirely the duty and responsibility of the Government, and of one Minister, to determine without advice the price at which sugar should be fixed, there is a Board of Control. That Board has been invited to examine the whole position as existing at the end of the sugar year, and to say at what price it thought sugar should be sold. I have previously mentioned that, except in the first two years, when a profit was made, the object of the Government and of the Board has been to see that the retail price does not more than cover the costs. The minimum of expense has been incurred. No delay has taken place. Officers have been working at high pressure, and all that is humanly possible has been done. I have been informed that the whole of the details covering the foreign purchases - which are voluminous - will be provided next week. The Government have done their best, therefore, to procurpandsupplyallinformation at the earliest opportunity.
– When will the House be furnished with this information?
– The company hopes that, by Monday, the particulars which they are to furnish will be available. These should reach the Government on Tuesday, and be presented to the House on Wednesday. Beyond saying that, I cannot give a specific undertaking, the fulfilment of which depends on the completion of returns by the company in Sydney.
– The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) stated just now that he was still awaiting a statement from the Government. In an earlier speech this session he said he had been promised by the Minister that at the end of June or the beginning of July, a full statement would be made covering the whole of the facts of Government control, and that he was going to wait for that. The honorable member is still waiting.
– And proposes to do so now until Wednesday.
– There is no reason, at any rate, why we should need to wait one minute longer for full particulars traversing the whole of the first six years, even if those having to do with the current year cannot be finally made up. What have the Government been doing all this time? Unless they have been very negligent, and have permitted matters to proceed by rule of thumb, there should have been made available full and complete details of all the earlier operations. The excuses of the Minister are paltry. As soon as the House had met this session the Government shouldhave been in a position to place an absolutely covering statement before the country. Why should the Minister take refuge in the assertion that, because the current sugar year has not ended, he cannot supply more than is to be found in his interim balance-sheet?
– Surely the Trade and Customs Department had some check on the company!
– I do not believe it had.
– Nonsense! The AuditorGeneral went through the figures every year.
– If so, all the particulars for the whole of the first six years ought to have been in the hands of the
Government and, through them, in possession . of the House. And, further, -we should have been furnished with u fairly approximate resume of operations and results, for the .current year.- The AuditorGeneral . has . protected, himself. In case .there, should be something.which. is not .right and proper, he has “ covered.” his responsibility by- the addition of two or.’ three footnotes -to the balance-sheet.
– For the current year only.
– That makes, the offence of the , Minister all the ‘ more grievous. But does the - Minister or the Government know anything about the accounts for the six completed years ? The Minister is taking refuge in a flimsy excuse when he says that the complete balance-sheets will be voluminous, a mass of figures and details,- and will ‘ tax the financial competency of the best men in this House. What excuse has the Minister, to give to the House for not supplying . full details of ‘ the six completed years?
– I have no excuse; I have given the House the -facts.
– ‘.Hie Minister has not done so. Apparently the Government have not been sufficiently alert, to watch the proceedings of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and. until this agitation over the price of sugar started, had taken no trouble to inquire into details, of the sugar accounts.- If the six years’’ accounts have been audited by the Auditor-General, the Minister should be able ‘ to tell the officers of his Department to hand the figures to him at once, .so’ that they could’be presented ‘ to this House. With that complete information before him- regarding’ those’ six’ years, even a. novice- could estimate the result’ of ‘the -operations for the year nearing completion.
– Why is the honorable member’ abusing the Government for doing what the Australian Workers Unionin Queensland desires them to do?
– The honorable member has had something, to do with this’ sugar control. . He was Treasurer.’during portion of the’ period ‘ of control, yet he knows little or nothing about the subject.
Mr. Higgs again interjecting,
– If the honorable member- sees . defeat”, at . the next; election (taring him -in-the-face, tha fis* no- reason-‘ why he should become so angry- with me. I have been surprised at the action of two members ‘of ‘the Country party. The. honorable member for Robertson . (Mr. Fleming) foreshadowed, and the honorable member for Swan’ (Mr. Prowse) moved, an amendment which. is on.- absolutely the same lines as a resolution of the Public Accounts Committee, of ‘which they and I arc members. That Committee decided to investigate the sugar accounts in their entirety. Those two honorable members have- hari supplied to them certain material, and they are making use of it on the floor of the House. I make my complaint now in regard- totheir action, and I hope that we shall deal with it further in the Committee room. We are1- told that the sugar- accounts- for the -six completed years have been- audited in detail -by the Auditor-General and certified to bc correct, and yet the Minister cannot present to the House a full statement for those six years. If we had. that information, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) would . bo relieved of the embarrassment .which.he.now feels, ‘because . with, full .details of the six expired .years before him he would be able to estimate the results of the operations during the -next few months. In failing, to place the complete figures before the House the . Government have- added one mora -to their many grievous blunders.
– The. present Minister for Trade and Customs, is-, not to blame. He only recently assumed controlof the Department..
– That is. so, but it is to- him that we must look for this: infor, mat ion. I hope. that he will have a little more to say later on.-
.- The -Leader of the Opposition (Mr.. Charlton) said. that .the attitude- adopted by some members of this House would’ create- great- surprise- among the peopleoutside. I. assure him that the attitude of . himself and . his . followers-: will cause great surprise in the State of Queensland; where the Australian Workers Union, a. big. -Labour/organization,- which,. knowing all about the sugar industry, and having obtained from the ArbitrationCourt a certain rate of - wages, is.- nowasking.: the- Commonwealth. Government, to .- -continue; -the.-sugar: agreement.’. The Queensland people will be astonished: to: hear of the Leader of tho Labour party in the Parliament sending a representative to a public mooting in Melbourne to protest against the continuation of the agreement.
– That is not correct.
– It is correct.
– So far as I am concerned, I give the statement a denial at once.
– Mrs. Glencross, who presided at the public meeting, said that she had received from the Leader of the Opposition a letter stating that the honorable) member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) would represent the Labour party at that meeting. The honorable member for Batman was present, and spoke in support of the motion protesting against the continuation of the sugar agreement.
– Was the honorable member there?
– I was; and when I was being escorted out of the hall by a policeman an elegant gentleman in the rear of the hall said he would kick my guts out. Other men also threatened violence. I mention that incident to prove that the meeting was attended, not only by ladies, but also by a considerable number of men who, I imagine, to have been supporters of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), who were on the platform, and who raised no word of protest against a policeman escorting me out of the hall because I desired to move an amendment in favour of the Queensland sugar industry. The Australian Workers Union and the Queensland Government are asking the Commonwealth Government to continue the sugar agreement, and there will certainly be surprise on the part of the people of Queensland when they read of the honorable member for Maribyrnong, a member of the Labour party, embarrassing the Government who are trying to assist the industry. The honorable member ventured to predict that I would be defeated at the next election. Mr. Tommy Ryan will settle him, and I see no reason why he should not, because the honorable member is placing all possible obstacles in the way of the Government who are trying to help the sugar industry.
-Is the honorable member supporting the Queensland Labour party?
– Iam supporting the Queensland sugar industry. Unlike the honorable member, I did not at a public meeting associate myself with those who were asking for cheap sugar, and yet cheaper sugar.
– I want proper control.
– The control which the. honorable member wants is socialization of industry, “ production for use and not for profit.”
– Hear, hear !
– Sothat all the farmers will get for their cane will be paper money issued by the Grand Supreme Economic Council, of which the honorable member is, I believe, a member. That is the body which some people desire to take the place of this Parliament.
– The reference which the honorable member has made sounds like a quotation from some of his old speeches.
– Emphatically, no. The honorable member will not find in any of my former speeches any such absurd proposal as a Grand Supreme Economic Council.
– No; but “bread or blood.”
– “ Socialism in our time.”
– I never proposed any such organization as a Grand Supreme Economic Council to be elected only by the workers represented by gentlemen like the honorable member for Yarra, who proposes that the farmers shall produce for use and not for profit; and that the retailers of sugar and other commodities shall go out of business altogether.
– He wants blood in our time.
– Tho honorable member for Bourke would not say that ; he would say “Beer in our time”.
– Much better than blood.
– One beer, two beers, beer with a dash, beer without a dash, . beer for ever and ever, world without end !
– The subject before the House is sugar, not beer.
– We desire a Committee to be appointed to inquire into the merits of the sugar question. The honorable member for Batman says the people must have sugar at 4d. or 3d. per lb. The Committee would be able to ascertain whether ib would be possible to pay in the sugar industry the wages asked for by the Australian Workers Union, and granted by the Arbitration Court, and yet let the people have sugar at 3d. per lb. As has been said by members of the Opposition many times, there must be a limit below which we may not go in fixing the rate to be charged for commodities if we are to pay the rate of wages whian must be paid in order to maintain that standard of living which we say is necessary and desirable. The honorable member for Batman said at the public meeting that we want “ cheap sugar, and cheaper sugar - sugar at 3d. per lb.” I regret that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) and the horn arable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Beat) also were present to support the proposal for a reduction in price, and against a renewal of the agreement. The Select Committee would decide whether the Government are right in charging 6d. per lb. to make good the deficit that has been incurred through supplying people with sugar at 6d. per lb. when the price in other countries was ls. per lb.
– That was not how the deficit was caused.
– It certainly was. The House must trust the Government and the Auditor-General. I know that the latter appointed an officer to go all through the accounts of the various refining companies to ascertain whether they were dealing fairly with the general public in regard to sugar.
– Why did the AuditorGeneral at the bottom of the balancesheet presented to the House recently add some qualifying remarks?
– The sugar accounts are cumbersome and complicated, and I imagine that it is impossible for the Auditor-General to keep his inspection of them right up to date.
Sitting suspended from ‘1 to 8.15 p.m.
– I do not wish to do the Leader of the Opposition an injustice, beCaUse I have the greatest respect for him,
And when I remarked that he had sent a letter to Mrs. A. W. Glencross, President of the Housewives’ Association) stating that a member of the Labour party would represent the party at the gathering pre.sided over by her, I based my statement on a paragraph which appeared in the Melbourne Age, stating that Mrs. Glencross had received a letter from the Leader of the Federal Labour party intimating that Mr. Brennan, M.P., would speak on. behalf of that party.
– That is quite right; I take no exception to that. Tho only exception I take is to the statement of the honorable member that we did not send any one to the meeting for the purpose of protesting against the Sugar agreement.
– In reply to the statement of the Leader of the Opposition that great surprise will be expressed outside at the attitude of honorable members here, I want to say that there will be a great deal of surprise at the attitude of the Federal Labour party. If honorable members had. only made themselves acquainted with this question they would know that, not only the Labour party in Queensland, but also the Country party and the National party of that State are anxious to have a continuation of the sugar agreement.
– No one questions that.
– The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Cameron) has received to-day the following telegram from Mr.Hertzberg, President of the Conference of Queensland Chambers of Commerce now sitting at Brisbane : -
Conference of twenty-four Queensland Chambers of Commerce, two-thirds being outside districts, ling unanimously resolved that in view of the fact that the effect of the current Sugar Agreement has been to substantially assist in stabilizing the industry, and having regard also to the very great importance of the industry economically, industrially, and nationally to tho Commonwealth as a whole, and to the States of Queensland and New South Wales in particular, this Conference strongly urges upon the Commonwealth and State Governments the necessity of renewing thu principle of the present agreement for a period of not less than five years.”
I put it to those honorable members who, as a result of their experience of the entry of Government;, Into trading enterprises, are opposed to any further continuance of such activities, that this Sugar Agreement is not on all fours with such enterprises as State butchers’ shops, State canning factories, and State cattle stations. My experience is that these activities are, without a doubt, a failure.
The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) correctly stated the position last night when he said that it was the function of the Government to govern and not to trade.
In this case we are dealing with an agreement, the- parties to which are the Commonwealth Government, the Queensland State Government, the -refiners, the cane-growers, the raw millers, and the sugar-workers in the fields and factories. The only persons directly employed by -tho ‘Commonwealth Government -are Colonel Oldershaw, a few clerks, and possibly a few - auditors representing the Auditor-General. The Common-wealth’s control of sugar is quite different from Government ownership as exercised by -the State Government of Queensland in the control of fish shops, coal mines, butchers’ shops, or cattle stations, where the various individuals working in the shops or coal. mines or on the cattle stations aro directly employed by the Government.
The Sugar .Agreement 19 an attempt to secure co-operation between nil sections engaged in the sugar industry. It is freely acknowledged that’ the sugar question is extremely complicated, requiring a tremendous amount of study. ‘There’ is a vast ‘field of operation and accounts to bo taken into consideration from the time when the ground i» cleared and ploughed until Mrs. Glencross and her lady friends place refined white sugar on- their afternoon tea tables. “Twenty-five years’ experience has taught lue .that .Government trading enterprises are a failure, but I believe that if our civilization is to progress we shall, in future, . adopt some form of co-operation between employer and employee. It may take the form of profit-sharing, to which some economists take exception. It-may be that the employees will become shareholders in companies, which I think would be a very good system indeed. It may be that a minimum wage shall be provided, and that those who are prepared to- do more than the man who receives tho minimum .or the man who -is unable to do more than a certain amount of .work, shall receive a bonus. To my mind it should bo the duty of the Government to encourage these social and indus. trial experiments for the advancement of civilization. Profit-sharing- may suit one firm; it may suit another to adopt -the shareholding system to induce ite employees’ to do their -best. At any rate, the Sugar Agreement affords honorable members who are opposed to such Government enterprises as ‘State meat shops, Slate fish 6hops, and so forth, an opportunity of -trying out an experiment. In this direction, the Commonwealth- Government would ‘ merely ‘ he acting as supervisors.
Various .opinions have been put forward as to when the deficit occasioned by having to buy sugar abroad at -high, prices will be made up. We are all in the dark, and that is why I favour the amendment for .the postponement of the discussion until Wednesday next. .The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. .Charlton) has proposed that the price of sugar shall be did. per lb. Has he done so to help the Australian Workers Union in Queensland or the Commonwealth Government? No; his purpose is to embarrass the National. Government, which is. doing its level best to .protect the sugar industry. The Prime Minister, has recently inspected the industry in Queensland, and has satisfied himself that it is one that ought to be maintained in the interests of Australia, not only from a social and industrial point of view, ‘but also from a defence point of view. Is the Leader of the Opposition in u position, to say that the price of sugar should -bc reduced from 6d. to -4-id. per lb.?
– Yes. On the figures supplied by the Government on two occasions, the price could be reduced from the middle of this month and. still give to the growers and the people engaged in the industry the conditions spoken’ of by the honorable member.
– That is the opinion , of the honorable member ; but . surely the Prime Minister and the Minister _ for Trade and Customs, who have decided that the price of sugar’ shall be 5d. .per lb. from 1 st November next, are in a better position to judge. The Government endeavour, with more or less success, to avoid making mistakes, and with the information at their command they are not likely to be making a mistake in ‘fixing the price of sugar at’5d. from 1st November next, when, with nothing in tho nature of facts at his disposal except what has been supplied from the Minister or from press sources not so reliable, the Leader of the Opposition claims that the price should be 4-&d.
– I based my figures on all the information that was available to me.
– The Labour party are adopting a very wrong attitude on this question. They ought to be supporting the Government.
– To keep up a price unnecessarily?
– They should be supporting the Government by at least keeping silent. They should not be embarrassing the Government or going down to a meeting of protest in the Assembly Hall, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) did, saying, “ We want cheap sugar, and still cheaper sugar, and sugar down to 3d. per lb.” How can we bring down the price of sugar to 3d. per lb. and pay the rate of wages fixed for the sugar workers by the Queensland Arbitration Court presided over by a Judge? The Commonwealth Sugar Council met in Brisbane on 28th February, 1922. There were present at that meeting representatives of the various interests as follows : - The State of Queensland - Hon. W. Forgan Smith, Acting Minister for Agriculture and Stock.
The Australian Sugar Producers’ Association - Growers, Senator Crawford, with Messrs. A. W. Browne and G. H. Pritchard; manufacturers, Messrs. Horace Young, A. Innes, and L. H. Duffy.
The United Cane-growers’ Association - Messrs. T. A. Powell, P J. Hoey, and A. Cattermull, M.L.A.
The Australian Workers Union- - Messrs. W. J. Reardon, M.L.C., W. Dunstan, M.L.C., and F. W. Martyn. The representatives of the Australian Workers Union and the others present met the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers), and asked for a renewal of the agreement.
In support of the proposal, Mr Dunstan, speaking for the Australian Workers Union, said that the wages paid in Queensland by the pastoral industry, as shown in the State insurance returns, amounted to £2,600,000 per annum, as compared with £6,000,000 paid by the sugar industry, which gave employment to about 20,000 men, including 4,000 permanent residents of the southern States, who went to
Queensland, and worked there for the season, this employment lasting for about four or six months each year. In view of the importance of the industry to Australia, why did the Leader of the Opposition appoint Mr. Frank Brennan to attend the meeting in the Assembly Hall, Melbourne, recently to support a resolution moved by Sir Robert Best ?
Me. Brennan. - That is quite incorrect. I was not appointed for any such purpose, and you have no right to say I was.
– The following is the advertisement of the meeting (see Melbourne Age, ?th July, 1922) :-
Housewives Association. - Public Meeting to Protest Against High Price of Sugar and Renewal of Agreement, Assembly Hall, Collinsstreet, 8 p.m., Monday, 10th July. Householders. Housewives and Taxpayers attend. Speakers: Hon. Sir Robert Best, M.P.; Messrs.
Gr. A. Maxwell, F. H. Francis, M’s.P. ; and Mr. J. H. Scullin, M.P., representing Federal Labour party; Mr. N. H. Hallo and Mrs. James, Vice-president Housewives’ Association. Mrs. Andrew Glencross will preside. Alice Thomas, Hon. Sec.
A public meeting ! And Mr. J. H. Scullin, representing the Federal Labour party, as one of the speakers. Perhaps the honorable member will explain how he came to be at that meeting.
– That is not necessary, but I repeat that what you say is incorrect:
– Well, here is the resolution which the honorable member, it must ba presumed, although he denies it, went to the meeting to support -
That this meeting of citizens protests against the continued high price of sugar, and declares its uncompromising opposition to the renewal of any sugar agreement necessitating Government control; and supports the Housewives Association in the campaign initiated by them in reference thereto. It further records its opinion that Government political control of trade and industry is pernicious and detri-mental to producers, manufacturers, and consumers alike.
– Can you quote anything from the speech made by the honorable member for Batman to indicate that he supported that resolution?
– Mr. Brennan, according to the Age report, was introduced as the Labour party’s official representative. He said that he did not stand for the absolute withdrawal of Government control of a necessary commodity, and sugar was a. necessary commodity, and so on.
At the conclusion of his address, he remarked that the people should get sugar for 4½d. or 3d. per lb.
– Under the agreement, too.
– Was the honorable member present at that meeting ?
– Yes; and I shall inform honorable members why I came to be there. If the honorable member for Batman had done his duty at that meeting, that is, his duty as it is interpreted by tho gentlemen comprising the Grand Supreme Council, which is to take the place of Parliament, he would have spoken in support of the socialization of industry and against production for profit. But, after all, he did not make his position very clear, as is evidenced by the remarks of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who followed him, and said that he thought there would be no hope of finding out the attitude of the Labour party on this question until that party had ascertained what the attitude of the National Government was. All that the honorable member for Batman said at that meeting was that he wanted cheap sugar.
– Did you go to the meeting as a representative of the Australian Workers Union?
– No! I have no doubt that many members of the Australian Workers Union in Queensland will do their level best to put me out of Parliament, but that is no reason why, while here, I should not seek to do whatI consider is necessary in their own interests.I believe they are wroug in seeking to bring about the socialization of industry and the total abolition of production for profit. That, in my judgment, is impossible. In justice to the honorable member for Batman, and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), who was also at the meeting referred to, I must confess that tihey did not appear to be very comfortable.
– I was never so happy at a public meeting in my life.
– That, no doubt, was because at one stage of the proceedings the honorable member saw me being escorted from the meeting by a policeman. The honorable member, as a student of political economy, knows, of course, that it is impossible to get sugar at 3d. per lb. so long as the industry has to pay the pre sent rate of wages. The following figures as to wages indicate very clearly the position in this respect: -
In 1910, the following prices were paid to cane cutters: - 18 to 20 tons and over, 3s. 3d. per ton; 16 to 18 tons, 3s. 6d. per ton; 13 to 16 tons, 3s. 9d. per ton; 10 to 13 tons, 4s. per ton.
– Can you say what is the average wage?
Mr.HIGGS. - The canecutters work co-operatively, as a rule, and they get very good money, at the rate awarded by a Judge of the Arbitration Court appointed by the Queensland Labour Government.
– What you are saying is not helping the request for a renewal of the sugar agreement.
– I shall allow those engaged in the industry to be the judges in that matter when the campaign is over. They are best able to say whether their position is being helped by the stand I am taking, and the remarks I am making, or, on the other hand, by the action of tile honorable member and his party in doing their level, best to embarrass the National Government by sending men down to a protest meeting in Melbourne to object to the renewal of the agreement.
– That is not true so far as wages are concerned.
– In the gallery this morning I saw Mr S. D. Walker, a representative of the sugar industry. I am sorry he is not present now, because I desire to make a few observations concerning him. He, too, occupies what I think is a mostinconsistent position. He was present at the so-called meeting of housewives held recently in Melbourne to discuss the sugar question. The Queensland public seems to be under the impression that it was a meeting of housewives only, whereas it was a meeting called by the Housewives Association, and there were about 200 men present. When Mrs. Glencross, the president of the association, who occupied the chair, was speaking to me, there was, quite properly, absolute silence; but when I attempted to address her, the audience either hooted, or hissed, or stamped their feet. The audience heard Mrs. Glencross when she said that my conduct was “ shocking or vulgar,” but when I pleaded with her to be allowed to put before the meeting the Queensland view, they would not listen to me. As the newspaper reports will show, I waited until the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Francis), and the honorable member for Yarra. (Mr. Scullin), as well as Mrs. James, country representative of the Housewives Association, had spoken. I waited also for the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) to speak. I then thought it was time to put to the meeting the Queensland view. I therefore rose and said, “ Lady President, would you allow a Queenslander to say a few words on this subject?” Mrs. Glencross smiled very sweetly and replied, “ I cannot allow you to speak now, but if at the end of the meeting there is time, I will allow a Queenslander to speak for a few moments.” Thereupon I sat down and waited. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) followed up my request by stating, very kindly and properly, that in his opinion the case for Queensland should be allowed to be put to the meeting. After he had resumed his seat I again rose and asked permission to speak, but Mrs. Glencross declined to hear me. I had supplied her with a copy of the amendment that I desired to move, and which was as follows : -
That this meeting believes in the policy of a White Australia, and is in favour of the continuance of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement on such terms as will enable the Australian public to obtain sugar at a reasonable price and permit of the manufacturers, refiners, millers, and sugar-cane growers and their employees receiving an adequate return for their labour, and a return on the capital invested in the allied sugar industries.
I also handed a copy of the amendment to the press. Mrs. Glencross, having read it, passed it on to Sir Robert Best, Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Brennan, Mr. Scullin, and Mrs. James. Then, turning to me, and smiling once again very sweetly, she said, ‘ Mr. Higgs, I cannot allow you to move that amendment.”
– She also said, “ But I will allow you to speak.”
– She said, “ If there is time at the end of the meeting, I will allow you to speak for a few moments.” She insisted upon putting the motion to the meeting, and would not even allow my amendment to be read. As it was a public meeting to protest against the sugar agreement, and inasmuch as it was intended to use the resolutions passed thereat to influence the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in his public actions, and, if possible, to bring about the termination of the agreement, I, as a Queenslander, thought it necessary to insist upon being allowed to speak.
I have been very much misrepresented in the matter. The suggestion is that I was rude to Mrs. Glencross. I would not be rude to any lady. I pleaded with Mrs. Glencross for permission to address the meeting, and when she refused I spoke to the reporters. Mrs. Glencross then said to the press, “ I hope the press will not take down what Mr. Higgs is saying.” I replied. “ Oh, lady president, you cannot gag the press.” A lady journalist, writing in the last issue of Women about this meeting, set out the motion proposed by Sir Robert Best as well as my amendment. Sbe went on to say that the incident was very regrettable, and that a little savoir faire on the part of both parties would have prevented it. May I say, in reply, that a public meeting is not a drawing-room causerie. I could not permit such a motion to be put without protest. I suppose I should have been more gracious had I bowed to the instructions given by my honorable friends, Sir Robert Best, Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Brennan, and Mr. Scullin to Mrs. Glencross, and have left the meeting.
– Not at all.
– As the Prime Minister suggests by his interjection, that would not have been sufficient ; I could not have surrendered my position in that way. And so I spoke to the reporters.
I am sorry that Mr. S. D. Walker, the Queensland sugar representative in Melbourne, is not present, because I find that in a telegram from Melbourne, which appeared in his newspaper, the Bundaberg Daily News on 13 th July, it is stated in reference to the incident that -
The incident was most unfortunate and regrettable, especially as the speeches of Messrs. Brennan and Scullin had exercised a distinct steadying influence on the mind of the meeting in regard to the question of control. Though the resolution in any case would have been carried, it would have gone through in a much more temperate mood than actually prevailed. The incident also operated against tho Hon. T. W. Crawford’s remarks, and precluded Mr. S. D. Walker from being accorded the opportunity promised him by the chairwoman to make a brief statement.
This message was sent by either Mr. Walker or some one on his behalf. The facts are that Mr. Walker was present at the meeting, but had neither the initiative, the resource, nor the courage to back me up. Evidently, he did not even think of speaking until I rcse, and it is not true, as stated in his newspaper, that the chairwoman promised to allow him to make a brief statement. She did nothing of the kind. Mrs. Glencross, referring to Mr. Walker, said, “ I hear Mr. Walker is down here representing the sugar interests. I do not know what he is doing. Whatever it is it must be done sub rosa.”
Either Mr. Walker himself or some one on his behalf is endeavouring to misrepresent the attitude of Queensland Nationalist representatives in this Parliament.Many statements have been made in his newspaper to the effect that if the representatives of Queensland had only done their duty during the last eighteen months there would have been no protest against the sugar agreement. I would like the Prime Minister to say whether the representatives of Queensland in this Parliament - Nationalists, Labour, and Country party members alike - have not done their best for the sugar industry, and whether, after all, the sugar agreement is not the outcome of the work done by Queensland members.
– It is very much so.
– I am much obliged to the honorable member for that interjection. Is there an honorable member who could have done more than the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) has done for the sugar industry ?
– None save the honorable member for Capricornia himself.
– My native modesty stands in the way of my claiming any credit for myself. But, perhaps, in view of the attempts to discredit me, I should mention that twelve years ago (10th August, 1910), I moved the following motion in the House of Representatives (see Hansard, page 2089, 1910) -
That a Royal Commission, parliamentary or otherwise, be appointed to inquire into the sugar industry, such Commission to consist, if practicable, of at least one representative of each of the following interests: - (1) the general public; (2) the wage-earners; (3) the growers; (4) the millers; (5) the refiners.
That motion led to the appointment of the Royal Commission which brought about the abolition of the sugar excise. Another who has done splendid work for the industry and is its principal champion in the Federal Parliament is Senator Crawford.
Mr. Walker was sent down here to try to secure a continuation of the agreement. Is he likely to do any good with the Commonwealth Government by attacking it and its Leader in his newspaper, the Bundaberg Daily News, as he does from week to week, referring to the Prime Minister as a man who makes attacks in “ political party venom, and voiced in a most unwarrantable spirit of spitefulness.”
– In justice to Mr. Walker, does the honorable member know that he furnished the report to which he has referred ?
– I have said that either Mr. Walker or some one on his behalf sent it to his newspaper.
– But the honorable member is now saying that Mr. Walker has made attacks on the Prime Minister.
– I said that his newspaper was attacking the Government and the Prime Minister from week to week. Mr. Walker is the editor, and, I understand, has a considerable control, by way of shares, of the ownership of the paper.
– Is he a supporter of the Queensland Labour party?
– At all events, he is colloquing in Melbourne with one of the extremists, Mr. F J. Riley, who has also misrepresented me in the Daily Standard because at the public meeting of protest I drew attention to the presence of Labour members on the platform.
– He is a very honorable man.
– Of course, we are all honorable men. I have here some evidence that Mr. Walker is supplying some one with news which, to my mind, misrepresents me. In the Daily News, of Bundaberg, of 31st July, there appeared a report of a meeting of the sugar interests, called for thepurpose of considering whether some one should be sent to Melbourne to help Mr. Walker -
Mr. Wyper said an instance of thecare that should be exercised in connexion with the southern campaign was provided some few days ago. They had all read of Mr. Higgs’ experience at a meeting held by Mrs. Glencross in Melbourne. It was Mr. Walker’s opinion that Mr. Higgs’ move there did a great deal of damage. If the meeting had progressed under ordinary conditions, Mr. Walker would have been afforded an opportunity of addressing the meeting, and it would have been more effective than the attitude adopted by Mr. Higgs.
Mrs. A. W. Glencross did not promise to allow Mr. Walker to speak. She said at the meeting when calling on Senator Crawford, “ I am unable to allow you (Mr. Walker) to speak, because I promised Senator Crawford months ago that he would have an opportunity of speaking at our meeting.” Evidently Mr. Walker has written suggesting, what is not a fact, that my move did a great deal of damage. The fact is that Mr. Walker and others have been trying to damage the Queensland National Federal members. But he had not the pluck to do as I did; he had not the courage to object and take a risk of being put out of the meeting. My attitude was taken to demonstrate to the people of Australia that this meeting was merely a move on the part of a few people in Victoria. There were, after all the months of agitation and the expenditure of large sums, only about 500 people present out of a population in Australia of over 5,000,000. I believe that theother day Mrs. Glencross called a meeting, and, because it was raining, no one attended. She blamed the women of Victoria, I believe, for their failure to “ roll up”; but that was a bad political move. Mr. Walker possesses an air of lofty superiority. He called a meeting the other day in the Assembly Hall, Melbourne, and he was so full of conceit-
– That is not playing the game by a man who is not present.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was not in Bundaberg when Mr. Walker attacked him. Mr. Walker has been sent down to Victoria, I understand, as a Government official. It is said that he is paid by the Queensland Government to represent the sugar industry. One would have thought that, prior to calling a public meeting in Melbourne, he would have approached the six Queensland senators and the ten Queensland members of the House of Representatives; but he said nothing, apparently, to any one of us. Mr. Walker advertised his meeting, and, when he appeared on the platform, there were only thirty people present out of a Melbourne population of 700,000. The attendance afterwards increased to sixty persons. He said, “ I have not bothered about getting a chairman; I hope the meeting will elect one.” There was dead silence for a time. Then he repeated his request, when somebody said, “ You don’t want a chairman at a meeting like this; go on with your speech.” Mr. Walker, it is said, had his address written out; and, no doubt, he had a lot of information to give. But when he got away from his written notes to answer the many questions that were asked, he became quite embarrassed. Had I been sent down here as a Government representative to try to get a renewal of the agreement,I would have made it my duty to approach the Federal parliamentary representatives of Queensland and the Government.
And, surely, the first man to whom I would have gone would have been the Right Honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). I concluded that Mr. Walker had not approached the Government, probably, for the reason that his paper had been making such virulent attacks upon them. In order to be sure, however, I wrote to the Prime Minister asking if Mr. Walker had spoken or written to him in behalf of the sugar industry. I received the following reply: -
I am desired byMr. Hughes to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 24th instant, and to inform you that Mr. Walker has not seen the Prime Minister, nor, as far as Mr. Hughes knows, has Mr. Walker written to him since his arrival in Melbourne.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) J. F. Fletcher,
– Yes; this is his reply: -
I have your letter of the 24th July, 1922, and desire to inform you that I have no record of any written representations, and have no recollection of any oral representations having been made to me by Mr. S. D. Walker, editor of the Bundaberg DailyNews, urging a continuation of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.
Yours truly, (Signed) W. Massy Greene.
I wrote similarly to other members of the Ministry, and their replies are as follow : -
In reply to your letter of 24th instant, I desire to state that Mr. S. D. Walker, editor of the Bundaberg DailyNews, has not, at any time, interviewed me, nor has he written to me.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) R. W. Foster. Attorney-General,
In reference to your letter making inquiries regarding Mr. S. D. Walker, I have no recollection of him having at any time made any oral representations in connexion with the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. I have asked my secretary to look through the correspondence, but no record of this matter can be found.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) Littleton E. Groom.
Home and Territories Department, 61 Spring-street,
I have your letter of the 24th July, and as far as I am able to ascertain Mr. S. D. Walker has not made any representations to me in connexion with the continuance of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) G. F. Pearce.
My dear Mr. Higgs,
I have received your note of the 24th July, in which you ask whether Mr. S. D. Walker has at any time made any oral or written representations to me urging a continuation of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement.
In reply, I have to say that representations of that character have not been made to me by Mr. Walker.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) S. M. Bruce.
Replying to your letter of the 24th ultimo, inquiring as to whether representations have been made to me by Mr. S. D. Walker urging a continuance of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, I desire to intimate that my answer to the questions you ask is in the negative.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) A. Poynton.
In reply to your letter dated 24th July, 1. desire to inform you that I am not acquainted with Mr. S. D. Wtalker, editor of the Bundaberg DailyNews, and have not been in communication with him in regard to the subject mentioned by you, or, as far as I am aware, ou any other subject.
Yours sincerely, (Signed) J. Earle.
– The honorable member objects to my course of action because he is in a hole. The honorable member is inconsistent. He is playing the part of a Mr. Facing-Both-Ways. He seeks the maintenance of high wages on the one hand, and to bring about the retail distribution of cheap sugar on the other.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) would be more favorably disposed to accept those letters if you headed them, “ Blood or sugar.”
– When, as editor of the Worker, I said to .certain men twenty-five years ago, “ If you do not get a banner with ‘ Bread or Blood ‘ on it, you will not obtain relief,” I was like the honorable member for Barrier, a long-haired ?motional ass.
– Order ! I call upon the honorable member for Capricornia to withdraw.
– At your request, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the reference to the honorable member for Barrier, but I certainly do not withdraw the reference to myself as I was when I made the speech referred to.
-(Hon. Sir Elliot John son). - The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I ask that the honorable member have leave to continue.
-(Hon. Sir Elliot John son). - Is it the wish of honorable members that the honorable member for Capricornia have leave to continue his speech ?
Honorable MEMBERS - No.
-(Hon. Sir Elliot John son). - Objection having been raised, the honorable member cannot continue.
The honorable member for .Capricornia. (Mr. Higgs) in trying to defend the interests of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and of his other new friends, and in seeking to find some justification for the alteration in his attitude - an alteration which coincides with his interests - has recalled that, prior to his seeking; the suffrages of the people of Queensland, and while he was editing the Worker and publishing “ Socialism in Our Time,” he was but a long-haired, emotional ass. I do not wish to contradict the honorable member.
– I do not want you to.
– However he may have altered his political opinions, honorable members must give him credit for not having altered in any other direction.
– Except that the honorable member’s hair is not so long as it used to be.
– The honorable member, who for many years represented the workers in a portion of Queensland, is no longer concerned about them; but he is very rauch concerned in taking service with those opposing interests which desire, to exploit the workers.
– I regard those remarks as offensive, and ask that they be withdrawn.
– I must call upon the honorable member for Barrier to withdraw them.
– If my reference to the honorable member having taken service with the exploiting classes is offensive, I withdraw it; but I do not think that, when a man has taken the step which the honorable member has taken in serving the interests of those whom he now serves, he should construe my comments as being offensive. At any rate, it must be very hard for the honorable member to reconcile his present views with his earlier statements. And, when he seeks, in this, his pre-election address, to make assertions regarding piece-work rates as applied to the sugar cane workers, without adding any references to the amount earned under those rates, he is altogether misleading. It is quite wrong for him to quote rates for any piece-work without supplementing the figures with information which would enable us to judge what it is possible for the average man to earn at those rates. The honorable member for Capricornia did not do that. He seemed more concerned about securing the interests of the sugargrowers and the people who control the Colonial Sugar Refining Company than in looking after the men employed in the industry.
– Give us the other side of the question.
– I refer the honorable member to a certain Biblical text with which he is well acquainted, bub which I could only apply to him at the risk of being called to order by the Speaker. He knows very well that if I took up all my available time in trying to state the case for the working class in the sugar industry, or any other calling, the honorable member would be uninfluenced in their favour. I am fully aware that nothing that could be said by honorable members in opposition to the Government on this, or any other question that has arisen during the last few weeks, could have the slightest effect, because when the question goes to a division the Government will be saved. For another two or three months the Government will be quite safe.
– The honorable member admits that it was the intention of the Opposition this morning to oust the Government?
– I cannot understand any honorable member continuing to support the Government. Having regard to the state of public feeling, the wonder is that there are men who will support- a Government which has been guilty of actions such as those for which the present Government have been responsible.
– The honorable member will require to have his understanding repaired.
– The honorable member’s understanding has undergone repairs recently.
– No; it has not altered. It is a little in decay, I admit.
– I do not know that it is as much in decay as it was.
– I do not think these personal interchanges have anything to do with the amendment.
– The honorable member for Balaclava, like other honorable members who, by force of circumstances, are compelled to support the G Government-
– There is no force
– Perhaps it is a labour of love.
– No; it is sometimes reluctant.
– Regardless of what the views of honorable members may be concerning the conduct of the Government, ‘the circumstances are such that they must support the Ministry or their political existence will be in jeopardy. It may be that, when an ejection takes place within a few months, a reconstruction will take place.
– Sugar is a much sweeter subject than that.
– No doubt the honorable member thinks so when he contemplates the strenuous battle that is ahead of him. The amendment now before the House is not much different from previous motions launched against the Administration; it merely discloses an other phase of the ineptitude and mismanagement of the Government, to say the least. The peculiarity is that the Government, in this instance, are endeavouring through the Minister in charge of the House to prove the great benefits that the Australian public have derived from Government control of sugar. Yet only a few short days ago they were pointing out all the evils that arise from Government interference with private enterprise, and the same honorable gentlemen who were supporting the Government in getting rid of a Government undertaking, which showed a clear profit, and was a benefit to the people, now support them in preaching the virtues of Government control. Apparently it does not matter what attitude the Government take; if the Ministers say that Government control isi good in the interests of the people, although it has created a good healthy deficit, honorable’ members opposite will support them ; if, on the other hand, the Government say, “ There shall be no interference with private enterprise, and we shall sell the woollen mills at Geelong, although they are making and have made a good profit,” honorable members opposite will lino up behind them, and say, “ The Government have said so, and what they say must be correct.” Everything that has taken place from week to week, and session to session, merely confirms the opinion I formed when I entered the House that the professions of honorable members opposite are so much camouflage. No matter what names sections of members may give to themselves, there are really only two parties in the country - one, that safeguards the vested interests of the exploiters of the country, such as the sugar crowd and the steel crowd, and their various ramifications through the realms of finance-
– What does the honorable member mean by “ steel “?
– Upon the sugar question, I mean “steal,” but in the reference I was just making, I meant the Broken Hill Proprietary Company’s steel.
– What is the attitude of the honorable member’s party on this subject?
– I was sent here to oppose the interests of the exploiting class, and its political representatives, whatever label they carry, and I have done that consistently ever since I have been a member of the House. Any proposal which 1 believe to be in the interests of the working class I shall support, and anything opposed to their interest, I shall vote against, irrespective of the labels attached to the people who propose it. The workers in the portion of Australia I represent know full well my attitude ; so do the other interests in the electorate, and they will not suspect me of supporting the Government.
– The honorable member has never hitherto been suspected of that.
– And no matter what set of men are on the Treasury bench, carrying out legislation similar to that carried out by the present Government, or refraining from putting into operation legislation that might have been of benefit to the great mass of the people, they will not be supported by me if I should be returned to the House again.
– I am opening a book on that.
– I dare say the honorable member is. The bookmakers always win, and the honorable member generally plays safe. I take this opportunity of recording my opposition to the Government in connexion with the subject now before the House, and also on every occasion when an opportunity has been given to honorable members to express their disapproval of the actions of the Government.
– The honorable member means that he is against the Government, right or wrong.
– No; but I am opposed to the interests that control the Government. I do not blame honorable members opposite, because I know they cannot help themselves; what they do is the price they have to pay for their political existence.
– Does the honorable member say that it is more blessed to receive than to give?
– No doubt the Minister for Trade and Customs, like those who have preceded him in that office, thinks that the position he occupies could not be better filled, and he is naturally anxious to remain in a position in which it has pleased God, or the Prime Minister, to place him. Therefore he can see nothing wrong with the Administration, although he may have as little say in the acts of the Administration as have other Cabinet Ministers, except the Prime Minister. What, does it matter ! The Prime Minister is sick; very well, nobody can do anything. That has been illustrated from time to time. The dictatorship established during the war has been kept going, and no doubt will continue until the people make the necessary alterations in the personnel of the Government. Even then, although the outward form may be altered, the power behind the throne, “the hidden hand,” to which the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) referred, will continue ia real control of the Government of the country.
– The honorable member for Bourke had his hand behind his back when he spoke.
– And the Minister had his tongue in his cheek when he interjected.
– This discussion is very entertaining, but it is not relevant to the amendment.
– The discussion is somewhat unusual, sir, but, unfortunately, the interruptions do not seem to be noticed by you until I reply to them.
– I rise to say only a few words in reply to the statement made by the honorable member for Maribyrnong this morning regarding what is supposed to have occurred in the room of the Public Accounts Committee. I do not think it is proper to discuss in the House what takes place in the Committee-room, but since what the honorable member sa d was only part of the picture, let me give the whole of it. The honorable member accused the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) and myself of making use of information which we had acquired from the Public Accounts Committee meeting.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– The honorable member said that we acquired the pabulum at the Public Accounts Committee meeting, and made use of it in the chamber.
– That is so.
– It is not true. The Public Accounts Committee, discussing what their next line of investigation should be, had one or two Questions before them, one being a proposed inquiry into the sugar account. The honorable member for Swan opposed that proposal, because he said that an inquiry into that matter would last too long, and I opposed it very definitely on the ground that it was a political issue which had yet to be fought out on the floor of the House. Later ou, when I saw that the Committee was inclined to deal with the sugar question I protested again most vigorously on exactly the same ground, namely, that a finance Committee’s duty was to deal with accounts, and that the Committee should not permit itself to be drawn into live political questions not yet settled “on the floor of the House. It was the right attitude for me to take up, and it was distinctly improper for the honorable member for Maribymong to come here and misrepresent members of the Committee.
.- The consumers have every right to protest against the present price of sugar if they find that the figures as presented justify them in’ doing so. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) resents the criticism which has been directed towards the accounts he presented. To hold the Minister responsible for the confused condition of those accounts would be to treat him unjustly, because the control of sugar has but recently come into his hands. A lot of side issues have been introduced into the debate. As a matter of fact, the agreement itself is not an issue in to-day’s debate. It must run its full course no matter whether the Government find it possible to reduce the price of sugar or not. The evidence of experts, whose opinion we must accept in matters of this sort, is sufficient to indicate that, long before the time promised by the Government, there should be a reduction in price, and I voted for the amendment to reduce the price to 44d per lb. from the 7th August. With the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), I am disgusted at the withholding of the exact position. The Minister says that it has been very difficult for him to complete his statement, and that his officers have sat up nearly all night to enable him to present a report to the House. If that is the case those who are responsible for the preparation of the accounts must have commenced their operations at a very late stage. Nothing affects the household bill more than does the price of sugar. The extra lid. per lb. makes a vital difference to housewives. We are told that our White Australian policy may be endangered if we fix the pr: ce of sugar at less than 6d. per lb., and that all sections concerned in the growing, refining, and retailing of sugar are represented upon the Sugar Council; but the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has told us that the present agreement does not affect the price of sugar; that is to say, even if the price is reduced to 4 id. per lb., the agreement, as I said before, must run on until it expires. I am opposed to Government trading. The entry of the Commonwealth into business activities might have been justified in the circumstances of the war; but it is a policy which should not be continued in times of peace. The Minister for Trade and Customs asks us to treat the sugar agreement as a business, and not as a political, concern. I do not know how he draws the line. The people of Victoria claim that there ought to be a reduction in the price of sugar. That makes it a political matter. I have the highest regard for the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), but as other honorable members have frequently said, he regards the sugar question only from the Queensland point of view. On the other hand, it has never been my desire to block the progress of any Australian industry, primary or secondary, wherever situated. I would rather give every industry the fullest possible assistance. Undoubtedly, the sugar industry is a great asset to the community, just as the cotton industry is very likely to be. But while Queensland members have made out a very good case from the State or political point of view, the Minister says that we must treat this question from a business, and not from a political stand-point. Since the Queensland members seek to bolster up the claims of their State, because the sugar is grown in that part of Australia, representatives of other States are entitled to say that, while they are prepared to contribute their share of taxation towards the maintenance of all Australian industries, they do not propose to penalize the consumers of sugar by compelling them to pay a high price for the commodity, not only to keep the industry flourishing, but also to keep up the wages of the workers engaged in it, and the profits of the sugar refiners and middlemen. I do not agree with the cry, “ Let us bring down the workingman’s wages.” But it is not right to hold up the bogy that if the price of sugar is fixed at 4d., the workers engaged in the sugar industry must have their wages cut down to a starvation rate. There is no need to raise that cry in this House. Too often we have these pistols thrust at our heads. If sugar is supplied at a fair market price honorable members say that it will mean a reduction of wages I am satisfied that the workers of Queensland will not readily submit to any reduction in wages, and, on information which has been placed at my disposal by a compotent authority, I believe that the Government could reduce the price of sugar to 4¼d. per lb. on 1st September without jeopardizing the sugar finances in any way. We all admit that during the war the Government were confronted with very great difficulties, and that in the main they were successful in their several pooling and control arrangements. But the position now is entirely different. It is necessary to find a market for our products, and it is essential that in the relinquishing of Government control the loss should be as light as possible. The Government should now be in a position to allow householders to obtain this most essential commodity at a more reasonable price than obtains at present. A good deal has been said about the meeting recently held in Melbourne to protest against the present price of sugar, and I feel satisfied that as a result of the discussion in this House daring the last two days the Government will agree to a reduction before the 1st. November. It is all very well for some wealthy members of this Parliament to say that a shilling or two more per week does not count. ‘ In the majority of homes a few shillings extra per week is a consideration, and, therefore, it should be the duty of the Government to provide this necessary commodity at the lowest possible price.
– Are you “ stonewalling “ the motion?
– I have no wish to do that. My desire is to see the interests of all concerned adequately safeguarded. I deprecate any attempt to pit one section, of the community or one industry against another. I trust that the Government will see that the price of sugar is reduced immediately, ifnot to 4¼d., at least to 4½d.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Laird Smith) adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
Debate resumed from 2nd August (vide page 1041), on motion by Mr. Richard Foster -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-14, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work : - “ Remodelling and additions, General Post Office, Sydney,” which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and on which the Committee has duly reported to this House the result of its investigations.
– I promised a few days ago to give the cost of the proposed work, as the figures were not then available. The estimated cost is £268,000. The scheme provides for a remodelled building of nine stories, of which seven are to be constructed. The work will have to be done piecemeal in order not to interfere with the operations of the Post Office. At 6 per cent, this expenditure will represent £16,128, but the actual gain, owing to greater efficiency due to the concentration of engineering and postal work at one centre, will be £18,261.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
As the Government will require Supply by the 18th August, I intimate that unless honorable members can give us an assurance that the Bill will be passed by Wednesday week, I shall have to ask the House to meet on Tuesday. Honorable members will admit that the other branch ofthe Legislature should have a reasonable opportunity to discuss Supply. On the last occasion members of another place were asked to consider the Bill at suoh an hour that really precluded anything like leisured discussion, I also desire to intimate that the Treasurer will make his Budget statement prior to the debate on Supply. We shall meet either on Tuesday or Wednesday as (he circumstances may require. That is to say, if the House can give the Government an assurance that we can obtain Supply by Wednesday night, well and good ; if not, we shall meet on Tuesday.
– What period will the Supply Bill cover?
– Two months. I make this statement so that honorable members may, if necessary, make their arrangements beforehand.
– A day or two ago the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked a question without notice, in the course of which he implied that the Sydney branch of the Repatriation Department was acting as an agent for “ scabs “ in the pastoral industry. Inquiries have been made into the matter. It appears that a soldier called at the Repatriation Department and asked for a letter of introduction to the Graziers Association in order that he might reply to an advertisement in the press for a vacancy that was offering. That is the only case that can be traced in Sydney of any connexion between the Employment Bureau of the Repatriation Department and any pastoral organization whatever. It affords an excellent illustration of the slight foundation upon which most serious allegations can be made by some honorable members in this House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.3 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 August 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220804_reps_8_99/>.