8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Appointment of Seventh Director
– I ask the Treasurer, in theabsence of the Prime Minister, whether he has any statement to make with regard to the appointment of a seventh director to the Board of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, under the wireless agreement?
– There is no announcement that can be made at the moment.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he will state the approximate cost per gallon of fuel alcohol, and the ingredients necessary to comply with the standard fixed for fuel alcohol?
– The price to the publicvaries according to the locality where the spirit is sold. For instance, the present price of alcohol fuel to the customer, ready for use, in Sydney, is 2s. 3d. per gallon, while in Melbourne the present price is 2s. 6d. per gallon. Alcohol may be denatured for fuel purposes by the addition of 1 per cent. wood naphtha, ¼ per cent. pyridine, and not less than 2 per cent. of petroleum benzine, &c. The price of these commodities at present is 9s. 6d., 8s., and 2s.10d. per gallon respectively. The cost of these denaturants amounts to approximately 2d. per gallon. It may be added that the price of these denaturants is falling.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Treasurer. upon notice -
How many orders have been issued in which instructions are given to the effect that amendments of assessments (consequent upon any such order, or any other order) are to be made only when a taxpayer applies for same, and how many of such orders were issued by -
– An analysis has not been made which would enable answers to be given to these questions. As the preparation of such an analysis would considerably interfere with current administration, and delay ordinary business, the extraction of the details seems to be undesirable.
Visit to Northern Waters
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether he will accede to the request of the residents of Townsville and its hinterland, made through their representative bodies, that such portion of the Australian Fleet as is about to visit Northern Australian waters may remain at Townsville for, say, four days, so that Townsville and up-country residents may be given an opportunity to see the nation’s warships?
– Arrangements have been made for the Flagship H.M.A.S. Melbourne to arrive at Townsville on 20th September, leaving on 22nd September.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he will lay upon the table, or make available for honorable members, copies of the cables exchanged between the Prime Minister and the Acting Prime Minister, concerning the proposed purchases of foreign sugar, during the last three months of the year 1918, and. all papers relating thereto?
– Yes .
Re-employment of Dismissed Railway Employee.
– On the 16th instant the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), during the discussion of the Supply Bill (No. 2), stated that he had received a telegram from the Northern Territory to the effect that the Superintendent of Railways had reemployed a man who was once convicted and twice dismissed from the Government service for dishonest practices; and asking also for information as to preference to returned soldiers, and the recruiting of coloured labour. The honorable member asked for a reply to the complaint made. I have received from the secretary of the Department of Works and Railways the following report on the subject by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner : -
With reference to your communication of 18th instant, forwarding copy of telegram addressed to Mr. Charlton, M.P., by Mr. H. Nelson, of Darwin: I have to advise that the matter has reference to the dispute referred to in my letter of 11th instant.
As you are aware, there is no registered trades union representing the workers referred to at Darwin. The workers in the railway yard, and on the wharf, were at one time members of the Australian Workers Union, but some time since the head office of that union in Sydney advised it had definitely withdrawn from the Territory, and no longer represented the workers at Darwin.
Since the withdrawal of the Australian Workers Union, the men have grouped themselves in two sections; the one known asthe North Australian Industrial Union, represented by Mr. II. Nelson, the sender of the telegram to Mr. Charlton; the otheras the Northern Territory Workers Union.
Those associated with the first-named section recently refused work on the wharf, owing to their members declining to work with a returned soldier, whom it was said was in arrears with his union levies. The members of the second section, however, at once took on the work.
Several of the railway men were suspended in connexion with the trouble, and it was necessary, in some instances, to fill their places, particularly in connexion with the work that had to be done in the railway goods sorting shed.
Dealing with the question submitted to Mr. Charlton, M.P., I have to advise that information from Darwin shows that a man, named Marchant, lately Government shipping clerk (presumably the man referred to), was given two days’ temporary employment in the goods sorting shed, and he carried out his work satisfactorily. The officer-in-charge advises there was one occasion when he was given the key of the goods shed, by the person in charge in order that he might attend to the telephone, but there was no doubt whatever as to the manner in which he performed his duties. There has been no change in the policy of preference to returned soldiers, but several of the soldiers were amongst those who refused to carry on the work, and whilst the trouble is in existence their claims could not be considered.
The population at Darwin is a very mixed one, comprising, amongst others, many halfcaste Australian aboriginals, and some of these (who are members of the section, terming themselves the Northern Territory Workers Union), were engaged on miscellaneous work.
The reference to undelivered wires to the Prime Minister and myself is not understood. (Sgd.) Norris G. Bell,
The Postal Department has been asked to inquire about the alleged non-delivery of telegrams.
.- I move-
That on each sitting day, unless otherwise ordered, Government business shall take precedence of general business.
This motion will not astonish honorable members. It is usual at a certain stage in every session to introduce such a proposal. On this occasion there aremore reasons than usually exist why all the time available in this Chamber should be given to the consideration of Government business. I wish to make it perfectly clear that I do not intend for one moment to reflect upon the value of private members’ business. A number of most excellent suggestions are made from time to time in the discussion of private members’ business, and indeed wo may regard such discussions as breeding groundsfor great events. They are hot houses out of which exotics, luxuriant and delightful, from time to time emerge.
– The right honorable gentleman is now rather hard on private members.
– I am doing what I can to temper the wind to the shorn lamb.
I come now to the consideration of other and important reasons why this motion should bo carried. Honorable members know very well what has been the record of the House since the session opened on the28th June. I understand that, during the last few days, evidences of a broken and a contrite heart have been observed on all hands; but, as Macaulay said of Montgomery’s “ Satan,” too much could not well be expected of such old offenders. However that may be, it remains true that from the28th June until yesterday or the day before no business was done in this House. I do not know how many motions of censure we have had. I have had my staff collecting them, but, being only mortal, they have not yet been able to get to the end of the tally. The air is full of these things. Time is taken up with them. Honorable members lash themselves into simulated indignation at the many and obvious sins of the Government, and day follows day in a delightful whirl of excitement. But nothing is done. As to that I think we are all agreed. Even honorable members opposite have no reason to congratulate themselves on the success of their efforts. We, on the other hand, look back to a periodand and desolate, unwatered by any of the waters of hope, and with no promise of a harvest.
What we want to do is to give effect to the Government programme. That we propose to do. In order that we may do so, it is necessary to allot to the consideration of Government business whatever time is available. ‘ This, of course, is the highest Legislature in the Commonwealth. We ‘represent all the States of this continent. There are gathered together, under this one roof, the selected wisdom of’ the Southern Hemisphere; some honorable members are a long . way from home, and I am reluctant, therefore, to even hint at the possibility of another sitting day or of two or three additional sitting days per week. I put aside all such suggestions, and content myself by stating that the programme of the Government, part of which I propose to read in a few moments, must be passed into law, if that be humanly possible. Man proposes; God disposes. I am the man. Honorable members are the gods, and we shall see what we shall’ see. I am proposing on behalf of the Government that we pass these measures into law. Honorable members opposite sit in their places like so many Joves, gathering their thunders and their lightnings. That is their prerogative, and this motion does not threaten it. But either those thunders and those lightnings are to be gathered and hurled at us within a prescribed limit of time or not at all. That is fair to both gods and man. The thing that has to be done - especially if it is the kind of thing that honorable members opposite propose to do, shall be done quickly. I am no Ban quo; but I think Lady Macbeth, if she were here, “would say to my honorable friends opposite as she said to her lord, You let “ I dare not wait upon I would.”
I put this before honorable members - that we must have additional time for consideration of Government business. The reason is that we must pass our programme into law. 1 do not intend to speak in vague generalities. I propose to set out our programme in part, at all events, so that honorable members may judge of it for themselves, and help to carry it into law. In order that we may have the time and means to do so, it will be necessary for us to (have recourse to those wise and admirable provisions of the Standing Orders which enable the Government to prescribe a certain definite limit of time for each stage of every measure. Let me make perfectly clear the fact that there is no intention on the part of the Government to bludgeon measures through. There will be ample time afforded for the discussion of every matter. But discussion is one thing; delay is another. The reasons why a measure should or should not be passed can be presented within a comparatively brief period; but the motives which inspire honorable members to talk at great” length are responsible for the expenditure of a much longer period of time. It is at those motives that I hurl my javelin, and not at the natural and proper impulse to engage in frankland full discussion of measures themselves. The time given .to each measure will bo ample, and will be proportioned to the importance of each measure. In -that way, and with the cooperation of honorable members for which I plead, the Government hope to achieve such progress as will make our fellowcitizens outside see that, although we have been neglectful, incorrigibly idle and mischievous, during these last few weeks, we are not entirely beyond hope of redemption. By the way, I saw in the press - had I heard it I should have been able now to comment with appropriate, and eloquent eulogy - that the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) yesterday actually went so far as to say something in regard to which the newspapers - perchance distorting his words - conveyed the impression of a hearty compliment to my honorable friend and colleague the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene). If that kind of thing goes on - not that I wish to nip it in the bud - what will this House become 1 The lion will lie down with the. lamb, and all will be delightfully harmonious. There is hope, then, of a better day. And so, following the honorable member’s admirable example, I congratulate him on having congratulated my colleague! In the .. meantime, the Government are asking the House to agree that Government business shall take precedence over general business on this day in each week, in order that their programme may be put into effect. We ask this particu- larly because, for the past eight weeks, our record has been like that of the barren fig tree. Last night and the night before provided evidences of a change’ of heart. I want that change to be crystallized into a habit ; and I feel confident that it will prove so, in the light of what the honorable member for Robertson has said. . >
I now propose to tell honorable members what they will he called upon to do. lt will be recalled, without difficulty, no doubt, that the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) delivered his Budget speech last week. To all that he said, legislative effect must be given; which involves a programme that, when set down in chapter and verse, appears to be formidable. But the programme really is not at all formidable. I desire to make perfectly clear that what I ask is not unreasonable. The other day the Government were asking for Supply. There was a long, and not altogether painless, discussion. Its relevance to Supply was remote. The circumstances, I am sure, will not so soon have escaped honorable members’ recollection. The specific request for Supply - the sum being somewhere in the neighbourhood of £2,000,000 - was relegated to the background. Discussion upon anything and everything else occupied some seven or eight hours, while Supply itself was granted in about threequarters of a minute. Mr. Speaker and the Clerks will be able to correct me, no doubt, if my statement is not strictly accurate; but the fact is that I have never witnessed more rapid action on the part of the legislative machinery. Both during my association with the party on this side of the House and in that period when I had the honour to lead honorable members on the other side, I have Seen wonderful things done by men who had made up their minds that work was the order of the day. Life is real. Life is earnest! And, although I do not wish to cast a gloom upon this morning’s sitting, I am bound to say that last Friday was one of the most inauspicious days in our history. It was a period full of gloom, of petulance, and, indeed, of anger. However, work must now be done, and here is the programme !
First of all, there are measures relating to the Budget. An Income Tax Assessment Bill is to be introduced, it is designed to alter and consolidate the law. There will he a Bill to reduce rates of taxation of income by an amount of 10 per cent., and to bring about a reduction of ; the flat rate of tax upon companies from 2s. 8d. to 2s. 5d. Another Bill will remove the war surcharge of 20 per cent, on land tax. Other measures will include a Bill to remove the entertainment tax where the price of admission is less than ls. ; a Bill to reduce the duty on galvanized, iron, iron and. steel wire, wire netting, and tractors; a Bill to provide bounty to local manufacturers of such articles; and a Bill to provide for the reduction of parliamentary allowances That list- embraces the measures immediately arising out of the financial policy of the Government and the Budget statement of the Treasurer. But there are others which will be necessary in order to complete the symmetry of our programme. I said “ symmetry,” not “ cemetery ! “ I adrait that there is mention of a reduction of Parliamentary, .allowances which, on a Friday, does suggest ideas not entirely remote from the morgue. But - I emphasize - other measures will be necessary in order to complete the symmetry of the financial policy of the Government. These relate particularly to the Public .Service ; they consist of the Public Service. Bill, which is now before the House; a Bill to amend the Arbitration (Public Service) Act, and a Public Service Superannuation Bill.
I now come to commercial measures. These include the Meat Export Bounties Bill, and the Railway Gauges Bill. The latter will be inoperative, of course, unless and until one or more of the States elect, by legislation, to ratify their part of the business. But what will follow if the States, or any of them, elect-
– Order! The Prime Minister will not be in order in discussing the Bill.
– I agree, sir; and I am sure honorable members will quite understand what I meant to say. Other commercial measures will comprise a Bill to place the Commonwealth Shipping Line under independent control; a measure to provide for the representation of Australia in the United States of America; a Bill to amend the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act; and another to amend the Customs Act. The two lastnamed are interrelated.
General measures will include an amending Defence Bill, an Air Defence Bill, and a Bill to amend the Electoral Act. In addition to these, there must be dealt with a motion having to do with the redistribution of seats in Victoria. The report of the Commissioners upon this subject, in time, no doubt, will be forwarded to Parliament.
I have indicated the measures to which the Government must ask Parliament to give earnest and immediate attention. Although I have set them out in a certain order, the Government must exercise their right to determine the order in which they will be actually presented.
– The right honorable gentleman promised the House last Friday, that the Budget would not be dealt with this week, but would come up for discussion next week. But the subject appears, on to-day’s notice-paper, second in the list. Do the Government intend that it shall be debated to-day?
– The Budget is not first on to-day’s Order of Business. I have just indicated the legislation’ which must be dealt with arising out of it. Of course, beside all the matters to which I have alluded, there will be debates upon the Budget itself and upon the Estimates. Ample time will be afforded for the discussion of each’ measure, but in allotting that time regard will be paid to the time which has been wasted. Eight weeks has been wasted. Honorable members opposite have talked much, and that will be debited against them ; they cannot eat their cake and have it. An opportunity will be given them to set out their opinions, and no attempt will be made to force legislation through. I submit, therefore, that the House should accept this proposal without further debate, and set about the discussion of the measures upon the notice-paper. If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to resume the debate upon the Budget speech he may do so after my colleague has moved the second reading of the Meat Export Bounties Bill.
– I did not ask for a continuation of the Budget debate. I told the Leader ofthe Country party (Dr. Earle Page) that in view of your statement last week the Budget debate would not be continued this week, and he could remain away until next week.
– That is all right. We are willing to meet honorable members in a reasonable way, and when matters are called on in which nonMinisterial members are specially interested, we shall be ready to discuss an arrangement with the Leaders of the parties in order that every section may have an opportunity of stating its views.
I ought to have told the House that the Government desire to proceed with the Loan estimates to-day. I hope the House will realize the position of the Government, and proceed to work without further ado. I have stated the matter moderately, and I trust that honorable members, no matter how much they may differ from the Government’s policy, will realize that it is our duty to give effect to our programme. That we propose to do. It is the business of the Opposition, so I have been told, tooppose; let them oppose. They are entitled, so I am told, to resort to allthe forms of the House in order to oppose; let them do so. That applies to all parties. But, of course, we, too, must resort to the forms of the House in order to get our programme through. As long as we all understand one another we shall get on well. What the Government propose to do is to give effect to their programme, and that we shall do if we can. If we cannot, we shall see what we shall see.
.- Personally I have not much objection to Government business taking precedence on Thursdays, but I have risen to protest against the charge made by the. Prime Minister that the Opposition had delayed the business of the country for the last eight weeks. I regard the work done during the last eight weeks as most important, and in the interests of the country. The only way in which we could draw attention to matters of vital concern to the people was to discuss them seriatim in this Chamber, and no honorable member can saythat in so doing we delayed the. business of this Parliament. I can remember, and so can the Prime Minister, the time when he was sitting in Opposition, and when censure motions were moved that occupied the House for four weeks at a time. - In regard to the matters that have been raised by the Opposition during the last two months, wehave been content on each occasion, after reasonable debate, to allow the question to go to a vote. Very often the debate was continued, not by members of the Opposition, but by members on the Government side of the House. But rarely did the debate upon any one motion occupy more than two days. All those discussions were necessary in order that the matters to which they related might be ventilated. I tell the Prime
Minister nowthat there are other matters that require to be ventilated, and as an Opposition we shall exercise our rights. I say nothing against the attitude of the right honorable gentleman ; he has to conduct the business of the Government to the best advantage of bis party; but I am not quite sure what the application of the guillotine in connexion with these matters will mean. We have been told that the Government have decided that in future the guillotine shall fall after a certain period, and that the Government are to be the judges of the value of any matter discussed in this chamber. If discussion is stifled, the Government will have to answer to the people at a later period. Upon matters of sufficient importance to require investigation, the Government will not be justified in stifling discussion. There should be the fullest opportunity for debate, so that honorable members might make up their mind as to how they should vote; otherwise we shall have the spectacle of honorable members voting without understanding the issue. The Opposition will exercise their rights to the full ; we shall ask for no quarter, and we shall give none. If the Government should find that conditions are not to their liking, we shall be quite prepared to make any arrangements for going to the people and asking them to decide between us.
.- I listened carefully to the speech of the Prime Minister, but I found it hard to understand whether he was tryingto concilitaite the House or to goad it into senseless opposition. The remarks ofthe right honorable gentleman will have no influence one way or the other upon the party I represent. We have made up our minds as to what our duty is, and we intend to do that duty regardless of whether it will lead us to the people, as has been threatened, or keep us in the House for a short time longer. It was refreshing to hear the Prime Minister admit to-day that at times he realizes he is a mere man. We have realized that all along, and we shall take exactly the same course as if the Prime Minister had not spoken. We have not, during this session, set up any useless opposition, or attempted to obstruct public business. We haveendeavoured to ventilate things that, inour opinion, needed ventilation, and I remind the Prime Minister that the forenoon of last Friday was occupied with a discussion initiated by him that would have been better left alone. We have not raised any matter in the House that was not of vital importance, and we intend to continue that policy. In regard to one or two of the matters which the Prime Minister has mentioned, we shall regard ourselves as free agents. We shall give no pledge as to what we shall do, but we may have a good deal to say upon the Budget, the redistribution of seats, and the amendment of the Income Tax Assessment Act. Upon these three questions, atleast, I can promise the Prime Minister that there will be, to put it mildly, a good deal of discussion.
– I should like to explain that, from the list of important business which I mentioned, the typist inadvertantly omitted the measures for the amendof the Constitution ; they should have been included.
– I rise to address a question to you, Mr. Speaker.
– The honorable member may not do so as this stage.
– The business-paper contains a numberof proposals in the names of private members. If the motion submitted by the Prime Minister this morning is agreed to, there will be no possible chance of discussing those proposals during this session; and I should like to know whether, when discussing Government business affecting the subjects included in the motions placed on the noticepaper by private members, we shall be ruled out of order if our remarks should anticipate the discussion of those matters that may never be reached. I hope that no general discussion will be curtailed simply because of some item being already on the business-paper. For instance, there is one question that is bound to be fully and freely discussed, and that is the liberalization of the old-age and invalid pensions, in regard to which there is a motion on the notice-paper in the name of a private member. Will that motion preclude a full and free discussion of the pensions?
.- As one who has spoken only once this session, with the exception of two brief personal explanations which were unavoidably forced upon me, I should like to offer a few .brief observations upon the motion of the Prime Minister. ‘ It is natural that the Government should desire to intimate to the House and the country their wish to put their programme through; they have committed ‘themselves to a number of very important proposals, and the country is vitally interested in several of them. But I would suggest to the Prime Minister that the weighing by the Government of the relative importance of measures, and the allotment of time accordingly for their discussion, is a very risky procedure if it is to be followed by the application of the guillotine in many instances. During the absence of the Prime Minister in Europe, it was my responsibility to introduce, at the will of the Government, these guillotine provisions.
– I voted against them.
– Notwithstanding that, they are good. I have always thought - and possibly other honorable members, regardless of whether their parties are in office or in Opposition, think likewise - that that instrument of great power must be used sparingly if its use is to be continued. Otherwise, the people will undoubtedly enforce discussion of important measures, and insist upon adequate time being given to them. Seeing that, nominally, four months must elapse before the life of this Parliament expires, assuming that there is to be no disruption and dissolution, of which rumours are rife in the newspapers, I think this is not the time, notwithstanding the futile two months of the session already gone, for the Government to tell the two other parties in the House that the guillotine is to be applied to all important measures in the Government programme. It would be far better if the Government boldly faced the situation, and had another sitting day.
– That would be all right for Victorians!
– Speaking as a Victorian, I may be regarded as selfish in this respect, because we can sit an extra day without that inconvenience which attaches to honorable members from a distance.
– The Queensland members, for instance.
– The Queensland members are much worse off. Although. I am not to be exonerated from the accusation of selfishness, I still say it would be far better to sit another day, than to resort to the indiscriminate or general use of the guillotine for the remainder of the session.
– Is that really a -practical alternative?
– I do not think so.
– Some of the measures on the notice-paper, and others that have not yet appeared, but have been intimated by the Treasurer, and confirmed by the Prime Minister, are really not suitable for the application of the guillotine. Then there are measures, that the country will demand shall receive treatment before we rise. There are the important matters of the amendment of the Constitution, taxation, and others of the kind, in regard to which I consider the Government would, if honorable members resorted to obstructive tactics on either side, be justified in using the guillotine, but not in resorting to its general use. I hope the Prime Minister will consider the suggestion I have made. It is not offered in any spirit of opposition, hut in .the spirit of one who desires to preserve the traditions of Parliament. Unfortunately, all of us, when we get into office, think, more of the Government than of the House; it seems to be inevitable, and I can sympathize with honorable gentlemen who are in the minority on the other side, or in the Corner, in desiring free expression of views which they consider their constituents desire to have expressed.
– They wish to save the country ! .
– We all wish to save the country, even the honorable member. I hope that the Prime Minister during the week-end will consider the matter.
– I am- not opposed to the suggestion, but I know very well the position pf members from New South Wales and South Australia; and it is hard to ask them to give another day. I am, myself, however, quite prepared to give another day.
– The Prime Minister will realize that this is not the end of the session, in the ordinary order of. things.
– I do..
– If there were only four, six, or even eight weeks to go, and there were a number of important matters to deal with, a Government would be quite justified in resorting to measures that would . not be warranted if a Parliament had four months ahead of it. I hope the Government will see. the wisdom of having another sitting day, rather than resorting to the guillotine, which, if tyrannically employed, will undoubtedly defeat the very purpose of Parliament. The people will permit its continued use, if it is used sparingly,but those who blunt its use will be called to account by their constituents, and will, I am sure, be visited with punishment.
.- I gather that if the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) had not spoken his motion would have gone through in one minute. The honorable gentleman seems to have developed a habit, on Friday morning, when the House is ready to do certain business, of provoking considerable discussion on quite other matters. I do not think mat any of his remarks were warranted in reply to the. Opposition or to the Country party. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) rightly said, the Prime Minister has charged us with wasting time, and said that the motions we move are idle and mischievous. I remind the honorable gentlemen that some of our attempts, had they been successful, would have saved this country hundreds of thousands of pounds. One question we raised was that of the Wireless Agreement, in which we are involved to the extent of £500,000, money likely to be wasted. Another matter was the sale of wooden ships, in connexion with which this country is losing £50,000. Then there was the price of sugar, the delay in regard to which is costing the consumers £70,000 a week; and, finally, there was the sale of the Woollen Mills at Geelong, although they were making a large profit every year. When the Prime Minister describes as obstructive, as he has; our conduct in drawing attention to these scandals, and great abuses, he is not correct in describing our attitude. I know of no time when censure motions were disposed of so quickly and- speeches were so short. It ill-becomes the Prime Minister, who came here last
Friday, and, himself, wasted the whole morning in idle discussion, to come again this morning and provoke further discussion on a motion, which, as I say, otherwise would have gone through in a minute.
– Itill-becomes the Prime Minister, under the circumstances, to lecture the House. If the Prime Minister is so anxious to get on with the government of the country, he should have called Parliament together very much earlier. The Prime Minister has done more to waste the time of Parliament, since we assembled, than any other man here.
– The honorable member has twice used that expression, and, on the first occasion, I called him to order. An honorable member is not in order in accusing another honorable member of wasting time.
– The Prime Minister made that charge.
-I noted what the Prime Minister said, and it was that time had been wasted; he did not say that it had been wasted by either Parliament or any honorable member. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), however, distinctly says that the Prime Minister wasted time.
– I apologize, sir, for not taking notice when you, called me to order on the first occasion, hut I really thought you were addressing the disorderly gentlemen in the Corner. The Prime Minister’s statement was very distinct, that the Opposition and members of the Country party had wasted thetime of the House; and he was allowed to say it with impunity.
– Order ! The honorable member is reflecting on the Chair. I listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister said; and he did not state what the honorable member Bays he did. Had the Prime Minister said what the honorable m ember says he did-and no doubt the honorable member thinks thePrime Minis ter did say so - I should have called the Prime Minister to order. The Prime Minister may have meant to imply what the honorable member suggests, butthe words the Prime Minister used, so far as my memory serves me, or, at any rate, their purport, were that “ time had been wasted.” It was a general statement which might or might not apply to honorable members, but it was certainly not specifically applied to Parliament, or to any member thereof.
– I suppose you have a right to interpret what the right honorable gentleman meant, but if he did not mean what I have said, there was no point in his remarks. I should be glad to know what was the suggestion in the remark of the honorable gentleman.
-The honorable member is not in order in pursuing that line, because he is still reflecting on the Chair. I cannot interpret what may be in an honorable member’s mind ; all I can have regard to are the actual words used, and the words used might have applied to anybody inside or outside of the House, but certainly they were not applied specifically to either honorable members or to Parliament itself. What may have been in the mind of the Prime Minister I do not know - I cannot pretend to interpret that - I may draw my own inference, as the honorable member for Yarra has done, but so far as his actual words were concerned they were not out of order.
-I shall content myself by saying that, last Fridaymorning, when the House was prepared to go on with the business of the country, time was wasted, and the whole morning lost, because of the discussion of some question that should not have been raised.
– The honorable member is again directly referring to the wasting of time by honorable members of the House in the discussion of a question, and that is not in order.
– Then I shall simply say that I join with the Leader of the Opposition in protesting against the charge implied in the remarks of the Prime Minister. The Opposition has been particularly carefulright through this session not to “stone-wall” or waste time; on the contrary, we have been anxious to make our speeches as short as possible. I venture to say thatthere never was a session of the Federal Parliament when, in four weeks, so many important questions and measures were considered. I go further, and say that there was never a period in the history of Australian politics when so many glaring scandals were exposed.
.- I have every sympathy with honorable members who desire to travel to Sydneyevery week; but I think the House should give some consideration to Queensland and Western Australian members, who have to spend the whole of the session in Melbourne. There should also be some regard for honorable members from Tasmania. I think itis not too much to ask honorable members, who represent metropolitan constituencies in New South Wales, to give an extra day to the business of the House. There is considerable time thrown on the hands of Queensland, Western Australian, and Tasmanian members, many of whom, as I say, have tostay in Melbourne throughout the session.
– We work just as hard as do other honorable members, whether the House is sitting or not.
– I hope the honorable member does not think I am accusing honorable members of wasting time, because I know that they are not doing so while they are in Melbourne. All I wish to say is that the House might as well be sitting, because we are then still able to get through some of our work during sitting hours. Referring particularly to the position ofthe Tasmanian members, it is true that we have to cross only a narrow strip of sea, but the running of the boats is most inconvenient. It is much easier to travel in the train to Sydney or Adelaide than it is to cross that sea; at any rate, my last trip was such a bad one that I have lost ray enthusiasm for visiting my home every fortnight. Then I remind New South Wales members that we Tasmanian members, and others from distant States; cannot “ nurse “ our constituencies as they can during their weekly visits, and an extra sitting day would certainly not be an exceedingly serious matter for them.
.- I say, with considerable pain, that I did not think we should ever have a Prime Minister who would tell us what the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has told the House this morning. He bluntly told the Opposition that they were not representing the people, and that we were mere automatic creatures, to be moved as he desires. There never was a graver moment than the present in the history of Australia, never a moment when the business of the country called more loudly for the closest and freest consideration. However, I have come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister, after all, is only human, and is suffering from senile decay politically. Since ten or twenty years ago, he has evidently gone through some process of reconstruction which has proved of a dangerous character; and now,, instead of a real live Leader and politician, we have the very opposite. Ask any intelligent person whether the measures now before the House do not call for the keenest criticism. “We on this side bring with us great principles which we believe are of serious moment to this country, and there should be no talk of the guillotine in the consideration of public questions. Last year, a 6 per cent* loan of £5,000,000, at 95, was floated, and the result of the operation is that the Commonwealth receives only £4,700,000, and has to pay back £11,000,000 in principal and interest. Yet it is proposed to deprive this House of the power of criticism of such matters.
Another matter which should be dealt with is one in which millions of pounds have been wasted, and in which the good intentions of Parliament have been defeated. I refer to the War Service Homes administration.
– Perhaps, sir, I am going too far, but you can readily understand what I felt like when the Prime Minister was attempting to dictate to honorable members this morning. I was boiling with indignation when we were told that wc were not to exercise our prerogative to discuss measures, and try to the best of our ability to make them perfect in the interests of the country. The right honorable gentleman proposes to lay his Bills upon the table and call upon the House to pass them without proper debate; and, unfortunately, the men who are sitting on the Government side of the Chamber have not sufficient stamina to oppose him. Politicians of twenty years ago - men like Barton, Kingston, and Deakin - would have made him shiver in his shoes if he had attempted to treat them as he can treat his own followers to-day. He knows well that he has them “ in the bag.” At one time in New South Wales a member of the Parkes Cabinet favoured the legalizing of the eight hours, day, and when I met the Premier I said to him, “ Parkes,” - he was not Sir Henry then - “ now, I am going to get one of my desires, a legalized eight hours a day. You have a member of your Ministry who has preached it for years.” “ Dear West,” he said, “ don’t you understand I have him in the Cabinet; I have him in the cupboard, and I have the key of that cupboard. Ho cannot move.” Evidently our Prime Minister is in the same position to-day. He has men in his Cabinet who cannot open the door until he inserts the key. For instance, there is the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), who has been brought up in an environment very different from mine, and has had opportunities that I have never possessed. Why does not he stand up to his Leader, and say, “ I will not remain in the Cabinet of a man who proposes to murder every progressive measure.” Honorable members should not be afraid of any threat of a dissolution. I have always done my duty to my constituents, and I have no fear of a threat so unworthy of one who is occupying the honoured post of Prime Minister. I do not find fault with the words uttered. Rather do I complain of the spirit underlying them. As a representative of thepremier constituency of Australia, I shall exercise the privileges conferred upon meby my electors. They need never worry that I shall permit any one to tread upon my prerogatives or to prevent mefrom doing what I consider to be in their best interests. As a matter of fact, theright honorable gentleman has no complaint against the attitude of the Opposition. Personally I have refrained from speaking on many important matters, and I know that other honorable membershave not exercised their full right to discuss measures. If the Prime Minister is’ so extremely anxious to pass what hedescribes as progressive measures, why did he not come forward to-day in a conciliatory mood, and say that as Leaderof the Government he invites honorable - members to co-operate with him in passing these Bills? Why did he not: say, “Let us discuss our differences, and’ sec whether I cannot bring you to my ideas.” He did not choose to adopt this course. He spoke in a way that no Czar ever attempted, quite forgetting that he was addressing an enlightened body of men, whom I have previously described as the creme de la creme of the public of Australia, chosen, notwithstanding our faults, disabilities, and- whatever failures we may have revealed, to represent the views and safeguard the interests of the people. I represent 60,000 electors. I do not care a button for myself, but I take offence at the Prime Minister’s attitude on account of .those 60,000 voters. I hope that to-day’s spectacle will be the last we shall have of such a character. If we are to have a Prime Minister, in the name of heaven let us have one who will not insult our intelligence or attempt by buffoonery and legerdemain to mesmerize his hearers. There is a point at which the human .being can stand no more. One would imagine that the right honorable gentleman was the only creature on earth knowing anything about politics. I took a leading part in the Labour councils before ever he landed in Australia. I want honorable members to point out to the Leader of the Government the error of his ways, and to tell him that they do not propose any longer to stand his domineering kindergarten lectures or his attempts to browbeat them.
– It appears that those who, with a view of expediting business, suggest an additional day of sitting share the misapprehension which is very general in this community as to what constitutes the duties of members of Parliament. When the newspapers attempt to appraise the value of an honorable member’s services they generally divide his salary by the number of hours he has attended in the House to show how overpaid he is, as if he had no other duties to perform than, to attend in the Chamber and take part in the debates. I am sure, however, that those honorable members who take their duties seriously feel that the time outside the House is all too short to enable them to prepare themselves properly for their work inside the Chamber. A great part of an honorable member’s time outside is spent in being interviewed by his constituents, in listening to their complaints, and giving them counsel. Then he has to pre pare for his work inside the House. Every measure that comes before us ought to receive the most careful consideration of every member. One has to address oneself to a. Bill, and to criticise it in the House. What does this involve? First it involves the reading of the measure most carefully from, beginning .to end. Before one can make up one’s mind whether one can agree with its principles, one has to reflect on those principles, and one must do that before taking part in the debate om the second reading. The criticism of a Bill in detail involves the careful consideration of every clause of it. If those who have not had any hand in work of this kind would consider these facts, they would find that the time that a member of the House has at his disposal is all too short. If the House sits three days a week, the remaining days - Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday; - will be short enough for every member who does his work conscientiously. All his spare time will be occupied in preparing himself in a reasonable way for the three days on which the House is sitting.
– How can a Queenslander or a Western Australian interview his clients in the intervening days?
– If he does not do that he has so much more time to spend on the work I (have suggested.
– As a matter of fact, he has harder work to do in answering their letters than would be involved in interviewing them.
– The principal work that a member has to do is to prepare himself for discharging his duties in this House. I find that my time is all too short. One has to read not only the Bills, but also the literature on the same subjects. I make bold to say that if every member came into the House with his mind thoroughly prepared on every measure, the speeches would be shorter. As a rule the length of a man’s speech is in inverse ratio to his knowledge of (his subject. If he has a thorough knowledge of his subject, he can speak very shortly, but if he knows very little about it, he has to spread himself and talk until he stumbles across a point, how and again.
– Would not the speeches delivered during a debate sometimes alter the honorable member’s views?
– Sometimes they do; but a man ought to come here with his mind well stored with facts, and he should be able to make some useful contribution to the discussion ; but his mind should be quite open to consider what others have to say. I hope that whatever methods are adopted to expedite public business it will not be decided to shorten the time that members have for preparing themselves for the work of the House.
– If this debate is prolonged this morning it will be due entirely to the manner in whichthe Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has attempted to chastise and castigate members. The object of his threat is quite clear. I want to throw some light upon his real purpose, as I see it, in indulging in such a tirade. It is evident that the discussions which have taken place during the last three or four weekshave been effective, and, as they haveoperated to the detriment of the Government, the Prime Minister has come forward with a proposal or threat which says that if we continue to expose these many scandals, he will step in with the guillotine and prevent the facts from being brought to light. I am glad to have the assurance of Mr. Speaker that the Prime Minister did not mean what be said.
– The honorable member has misunderstood me. I did not say that, but I said that I could not pretend to interpret what the Prime Minister had in his mind.
– I am glad to have the assurance that the Prime Minister did not accuse any one of wastingtime in connexion withthe censure motions moved from this side of the House. If he does not mean that we have been wasting time, there is. nothing in the charge to answer; but it has been said - and I personally interpret his words thatway - thathe meant us to infer that there had been a waste of time. If there has been waste of time, Ministers themselves, by bringing down measures without really knowing the details of them, have been largely responsible. Take, for instance, the Sugar Agreement Bill. Where is it at present? The Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Rodgers) knew so little aboutthe facts thatthe question has been relegated to the Public Accounts Committee.
– Apparently, the honorable member himself knows very little aboutthe subject. There is no such thing as a Sugar Agreement Bill.
– I am referring to the discussion about sugar, and we know what has happened to that. The Minister in charge was not able to give the facts to the House, and because ofhis want of knowledge the question has been referred to another body. Then, again, there was the Bill dealing with the retirements of officers from the Defence Department. That is now third on the list of measures before the House, but if the Minister had known the facts, and had been prepared to proceed at once, the Bill would have been out of the way by now. There is much in what the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has said, but when listening to him I could not (help thinking that Ministers came more within the scope of his castigation than did other honorable members.
– I am not castigating.
– Then I think the honorable member should do so. The Ministers are deserving of it. I agree with the honorable member that if members devoted their time when the House was not sitting to a study of the measures to be brought forward, they would find themselves fully occupied. While it is true of private members, it is even more essential that Ministers, when they come before the House, should know all there is to know about Bills of which they are in charge. In the cases that I have cited the waste of time has been owing to the fact that Ministers have not been fully acquainted with their own measures. The result has been that, of the two measures to which I have referred, one has been postponed indefinitely and the other has been referred to another body to supply the facts. Much has been said about the guillotine. I would point out to honorable members that when the party now on this side of the House was in control of the Treasury benches, from 1910 to 1913, the number of the measures placed upon the statutebook, and the completeness of the programme of legislation given effect to, far surpassed the achievement of any other Government in this country before or since, and we didit without on one occasion resorting to theguillotine or gag.
It is quit© clear that the Prime Minister does not want criticism. He would like to sail along without it, and he does not want the people to see through the irregularities that we have been endeavouring to explain. He wants to keep tilings quiet, because there is so much scandal in regard to the Wireless Agreement, the Sugar Agreement, and the Shipbuilding contract, to which I referred the other day. I can quite imagine that members of the public become incensed when they read of these things. They are indignant to find that the Government has been responsible for so many abuses. Now the Prime Minister comes to the House and says in effect, “ If you dare to expose the Government, if you dare to go on introducing censure motions, and if you do not allow us to continue, to do what we want to do in the dark - as has been our custom - then we will introduce the guillotine and gag discussion.” If the Government was prepared to conduct business in a reasonable way it could do as the Labour Government did from 1910 to 1913. If there were not so many “ fishy “ transactions there would be no necessity for lengthy discussion, censure motions, or threats to apply the gag or guillotine.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
.- I move-
That the resolution of the House, of 6th December, 1021, referring the following work to the Parliamentary .Standing Committee on Public Works ‘for their report thereon, viz. : - Provision of Mobilization Depot (Defence) at Woodside, South Australia, be rescinded.
This motion concerns a reference to the Public Works Committee of provision For a mobilization camp at Woodside, in South Australia. I want the reference to be rescinded, because the present defence outlook makes the camp no longer necessary.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
.- I move-
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Before dealing with the provisions of this measure I desire to explain very briefly the conditions surrounding this industry, more particularly as applied to the export trade. Honorable members will recollect that during a. period of the war and afterwards - from .February, 1915, to November, 1920 - the whole of Australia’s surplus output of beef was taken by the Imperial authorities under a contract, the price being flat to Australia at 4fd. per lb. f.o.b’. On the whole, that was a sound and satisfactory price for Australia, but it was far below what might be termed - if such a term can be aptly used- the London parity during those years. That price prevailed throughout the whole war period and until November, 1920.
– Can the Minister say how that price compared with the average parity ?
– It was above the pre-war average price, and on the whole it was a very satisfactory price in - the circumstances. It is due to the industry to explain that the price was a long way beneath world parity, and not much more than half that received by the Argentine growers - our great rivals in the British market for civilian supplies. As a . matter of fact, the Argentine cattlemen, during the war, secured very substantial advantage in the British market because, while the whole of the Australian surplus output was required for Army needs, Argentine growers, besides having large contracts with the British Army authorities, reserved a certain proportion of their surplus beef supplies for the British market, with the result that they were obtaining substantially higher prices for meat supplied to British householders at a time when the Australian meat was off the market .altogether. However, the cattle-owners of Australia were in a satisfactory position under the Imperial meat contract, which terminated in November, 1920. The beef industry is mainly confined to Queensland, the Northern Territory, the northern parts of New South Wales, and the northern portions of Western Australia, and so satisfactory from a climatic point of view have the past two seasons been, that, on 21st March last, it was estimated that the cattle in the Commonwealth numbered 13,499,737, constituting a record, at least for the last ten years, if not in the history of the Commonwealth. Queensland alone was credited with 7,047,370 head. Owing to the unsatisfactory position overseas, however, the industry has been in a very depressed condition. Last season the Wyndham works, the only export establishment in Western Australia, and Vesteys, in the Northern Territory, were closed; while the Queensland works were operating only spasmodically.
– Will this export bounty have the effect of making them operate?
– Yes ; as I shall explain in a minute or two. I want to place before honorable members a fair setting of the beef industry in the Commonwealth at that time. It was, as I have said, in a most depressed condition from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. There was a pressing necessity to get the meat works re-opened and the cattle industry moving, because, as I have already indicated, while the past two grass seasons have been most bountiful, there has been little outlet for our surplus fat stock.
– How was the Australian consumer of meat faring at that time?
– I will be able to show that the Government proposal has not had the slightest effect on the retail price for home consumption in any of the States, although it has been of very practical assistance to the cattle-owners themselves.
– That is scarcely the point I wished to make. When the glut here was so acute, was there a tendency to send pricesdown to the home consumer?
– Of course; but I do not propose, at this stage, to enter into a discussion of that phase of the question.
– It does not matter what was the wholesale price - the consumer had to pay all the time.
– The Government, in these distressful circumstances, were approached by the cattle-owners for relief. It was suggested that the value of the progeny, for taxation purposes, should be reduced. That was agreed to, the value being reduced from £6 to £2 per head.
– That did not apply in all the States.
– The honorable member’s interjection does not touch materially the bigger side of the question. It is a fact that a substantial reduction for taxation was made, and, in some cases, as I have said, from £6 to £2 perhead. The deputation asked further that the Government should adopt a system of computation of averages as the basis for taxation. This, too, was conceded. It also asked for a subsidy to enable the meat works to re-open, but this request was refused conditionally.
– When was that request made?
– At the first interview. I think the deputation waited first upon me, and subsequently on the Prime Minister. The Government refused the request for a subsidy, because, at that time, it would have been on the then existing high freights, high slaughtering charges, excessive operating costs, and higher wages. It was felt that, by itself, a subsidy would not be sufficient to re-establish the industry on a sound basis. The Government, therefore, laid it down that if the ship-owners were prepared to reduce their freights by¼d. per lb., that if the meat works could reduce their treatment costs by1/8d. per lb., and if the workers engaged in the industry could accept a reduction in wages equal only to the ascertained reduction in the cost of living, estimated at 12s. per week, they would be prepared to pay the subsidy asked for in the confident belief that the revised conditions would make it worth while for the meat works to re-open. After certain negotiations, a sound, commonsense arrangement was made along the lines suggested. The workers, to their credit, be it said, accepted the proposed reduction in wages, because they realized the perilous condition of the industry in Queensland and the northern portions of Australia at that time.
– What is the benefit to the grower ?
– The cumulative effect of a reduction in charges, wages and freights is most important. On many prior occasions the interests concerned had approached the shipowners for a reduction in freight, but without success. Likewise, the Arbitration Court had been requested to authorize a reduction in wages, and had refused, but, happily, the Government were able to lay down conditions the fulfilment of which represents an advance to the grower of 6s. per 100 lbs.
– That is3/4d. per lb.
– What is the amount of the reduction in freight?
– It is¼d. per lb. It is not claimed that the action taken by the Government has placed the meat industry on a payable basis. It is, in fact, the last resort of the Government to help the industry. Eighteen months or more ago, at the request of deputations of cattle-owners, we endeavoured to secure for the Australian beef industry some measure of British preference, but failed. Wo have since tried in every possible way to improve the position of our cattle-owners, and the proposal now before the House is our last endeavour to set the wheels of the industry in motion again. I emphasize the disastrous condition ofthe industry through the closing of the Wyndham works, in Western Australia; Vesteys, in the Northern Territory;and eleven of the thirteen works in Queensland at that time. Of the thirteen works in Queensland which were closed eleven commenced operations immediately the payment of a subsidy had been agreed to, and the Wyndham works also started and arranged to treat 20,000 head of cattle. The result of this arrangement has been that work has been provided for a large number of unemployed, and some measure of relief afforded to the cattle-owners by enabling them to slaughter thousands of head of stock which might have been a menace to the other cattle they were holding. Australia was stocked up to the hiltwith cattle at the time action was taken and when the season was good. I regret, however, that the season has tapered off badly in Queensland, as when the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) was first approached for financial assistance it was estimated that at least 400,000 head would be treated if the subsidy were paid, and we now find that the actual number will be in the vicinity of 225,000.
– Was the obstacle to be overcome of a temporary or permanent character?
– I believe it is a temporary condition.
– It is a case of amputating a sound limb and giving the patient an artificial one with which to walk.
– The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) apparently knows more about the industry than any one else. Those engaged in the cattle industry in Queensland, if the information received is correct, are grateful for the assistance rendered, andwithout it they say they would have been faced with disaster. Breeding was being discontinued.
– Calves were being killed and breeding restricted.
– Is it not all a question of taxation?
– Not at all. The honorable member should take a broader view, and should remember that when the Government came to the assistance of the industry, Queensland breeders were stocked to the hilt, and there was not a profitable outlet for their product. Honorable members with a knowledge of the cattle industry know that for a considerable time a mighty trade war hasbeen raging between the beef interests, in which the American Beef Trust has been in conflict with the British beef interests. This struggle has so upset the world’s beef market that it was unprofitable to export Australian beef. On the 5th April last, when the subsidy came into operation, the home consumption price was 3¼d. per lb. for hindquarters and 2¼d. per lb. for forequarters c.i.f. and e. London. The unavoidable charges which had to be met were these: - ‘Shipping, l&3/8d. per lb.; works treatment and placing f .o.b., l&3/8d. per lb. ; insurance, exchange, and commission,1/8d.; or a total of 2&7/8d. per lb. These charges had to be met out of a London c.i.f. and e. price, or 3¼d. per lb., leaving3/8 d. per lb. for the Australian cattle owner, which is equivalent to 18s. 9d. on a 600-lbs. beast for the imported beef.
– Delivered at the works.
– The honorable member for New England is quite right, as the price of 18s. 9d. to the grower was for delivery at the works.
– That is rubbish.
– The facts may be rubbish in the eyes of the honorable member, but the figures have been placed before a Judge in the Arbitration Court, who has accepted them as authentic.
– To what period do those figures relate?
– They were the figures on the 5th April, the date on which a subsidy was granted.
– And there is no allowance for hides.
– Exactly. An allowance of 30s. each for hides would be reasonable; but that would about pay for the cost of transportation to the works. The members of the Government were faced with the position that they had either to fold their arms and allow the gigantic struggle to continue and the Beef Trust to remain supreme, or grant assistance. I ask any honorable member who is in close touch with the position, if it is possible to get an advance on cattle from the banks.
– Is¼d. per lb. likely to smash this world Combine?
– No; but with the other reductions it will assist. It will not show a profitable return to the cattle-owner; but it will afford some slight measure of relief. This great trade war cannot continue indefinitely, and I am hoping that it is now nearing the end. There has been some slight improvement . manifested in. the Home market, which is evidence of the fact that conditions are improving. We have endeavoured to help during a temporary period of stagnation, and I have already shown the beneficial results which have followed by the re-opening of a large number of works which, prior to the payment of the subsidy, were idle. If we had not been able to export, there would not have been any Australian beef on the London market for another season, and the quality of our product would have been judged by the stale residual stocks held under the Imperial meat contract. The result would have been that Australian meat would have been considered inferior had we not come to the assistance of the industry in facilitating the export of new meat, becauseits quality would have been based on the accumulated stocks held in London. Already we have suffered very severely in this direction, because the Argentine exporters have been able to display new season’s meat on the tables and at the Smithfield market, which has been in general use by British consumers.
– Have the Government abandoned their policy of allowing private enterprise to conduct its own business ?
– There is no form of Government control in this connexion, and when I explain the provisions of the Bill I shall be able to show that care has been taken to see that this money goes into the pockets of the cattle-owners, and not into the funds of the big meat works.
– Are not the meat works largely controlled by cattle-owners?
– No. I believe the Australian cattle industry is the worst organized of any similar industry in any part of the world.
– It is.
– It is not organized at all.
– Steps are now being taken to place it on a proper basis by the formation of a cattle council, which is the initial step in assisting it in competing with its great rival. We are at a great disadvantage in many respects, and our principal drawback is our distance from the markets. Instead of exporting our meat in a chilled form, as is done by the Argentine exporters, it has to be frozen, which has a serious effect upon the product. Recently representations have been made to the Government for assistance to organize the cattle industry on a businesslike basis, and I trust that the movement, which is spreading, will be the means of doing so. I have already quoted the prices prevailing on the 5th April last.
– What is the present market price?
– The British market rate has improved by½d. per lb., and there are indications of it hardening.
– Are the charges amounting to 2&7/8d. per lb. the old or the amended ones ?
– They were the charges with which the industry was faced on the 5th April, when the Government decided to give assistance. These charges have been reduced by¼d. per lb. in the overseas freight,1/8d. per lb. in meat treatment charges at the works, by a reduction in the wages, which the workers agreed to, of 12s. per week in consequence of the reduced cost of living, and in addition there is a Government subsidy of id. per lb. on standard beef approved for export.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Immediately before we adjourned for dinner I was explaining the reduction in charges that had been made as the result of an arrangement arrived at between the interested sections of the industry, and was pointing out that it applied to only standard beef approved for export. The Bill itself shows what is covered by “ standard beef.” The bounty applies to frozen meat for export, to live cattle for export, and to certain kinds of canned meat to be specified. With those I shall deal later on.
– May I ask whether the sacrifice in labour costs is confined to labour employed in the meat works?
– The agreement for a reduction of wages relates only to the beef treatment charges in the works. .It does not even apply to mutton workers in the same industry. I am confining it entirely to the treatment charges for beef in the works. I am not referring to rural industry conditions at all, but ;only to that branch of the industry which is represented by labour in the works.
– Is the bounty to be paid on beef owned and exported by the - State Government of Queensland?
– It will be payable to all who conform to the conditions. It had been found impossible to bring about the reduction in charges effected as the result of this arrangement, either by pri vate treaty, by reference to the Court3, or in any other way. Had it not been for the conditions laid down by the Government as to the granting of the bounty this relief would have been absolutely impossible during the present season. I have the assurance of the authorities controlling the meat works that they would not otherwise have opened during the present season, so that Australian beef would not have been available for marketing on the’ London market.
I ask honorable members to keep clearly before them the fact that we are dealing only with our surplus export meat, and I hope now to prove to the satisfaction of the House that what the Government has done has in no way increased the retail price to the Australian consumer. It is only reasonable that the position of the Australian consumer should be taken into consideration. I propose to put before honorable members the retail prices in three capital cities. Let us take first of all the capital of Queensland, which is the centre of the great beef industry. Prices in Brisbane fer the lowest grade of beef to the choicest ranged in April from 2-Jd’. to 8d. per lb., and in May from 2A. to 7fd. per lb. - showing a reduction to the householder. In June and July they ranged from 2d. per lb. to 7$d. per lb. These figures clearly show that in Brisbane the retail price of beef was actually reduced instead of increased. In respect of Melbourne, I am only able to give the average prices. For April they were 6id. per lb.; May, 7d. per lb.; June, 7d. per lb.; and July, 7d. per lb. These are the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures. In Sydney the prices ranged in April from 2£d. to ls. 0$d. per lb.; in May from 2£d. to ls. od. per lb.; in June from 2d. to ls. 0½d. per lb.; and in July from 3d. per’ lb. to ls. 0d. per lb. It will thus be seen that as the result of the action taken by the Commonwealth Government householders have not had to pay increased prices for beef.
– The figures quoted by the honorable gentleman do not reveal even the normal movements in the prices of beef.
– That is so. Australia has this year a greater available supply of beef than is customary.
I put before the House this morning figures showing that on the beef actually exported there was a margin of only §d. per lb., or 18s. 9d. per beast of 600 lbs., on the actual beef exported. Honorable members, of course, are aware that there are other things, such as edible and nonedible offal, which have to be taken into account. Of these, the hide would average about 30s., while the remaining offal would be worth about 15s. Those figures ha.ve to be added, and then 30s. deducted for railage or droving. The margin of d. per lb. was so low that the cattle owners would not bother to send their cattle to the works, and the meatworks would not trouble to commence operations. There was thus a hold-up in one of Australia’s greatest industries. The Government rook upon it as only a temporary phase, and by this measure are seeking to apply only a. temporary palliative.
We regard this not as a remedy, but rather as a means adopted in the last resort to try to create a movement in the beef industry. It is a class of help that can be given in an hour of crisis and trial. The Government in taking this action are not looking for. a means of spending public money, but are seeking rather to keep one of Australia’s great outstanding industries going in its hour of trial. It is for the cattle men of Australia to solve their own problems. It is for them to work out the salvation of their own industry ; but I venture to say that remedies which had been suggested up to the time we took action would not have met the situation that confronted the industry and the Government. The situation was unprecedented in the history of the meat industry. It was not a question of re-adjustment due to war, as compared with post-war conditions. It was in effect the positive result of a gigantic trade struggle between the two great meat forces of the world. This struggle had crippled the great meat industry of Australia, unorganized as it was, and there seemed to be no other way of getting relief.
The assistance we are giving is but small, and will not involve the amount that we at first anticipated. We were originally making provision for a season of 400,000 cattle. As I have already mentioned, however, the season has tapered off. Adverse weather conditions have affected the cattle of the north, their condition has gone off, and there will not be available the number of prime cattle that we anticipated. Our latest estimate is that 225,000 head of cattle will be treated. We anticipate that of these 190,000 will be treated at the works in Queensland, 23,500 in Western Australia, 9,000 in New South Wales, and 1,000 in Victoria, while 1,500 will leave Northern Australia as live cattle, and in respect of them a subsidy of 10s. per head will be paid.
– At how many different works will those cattle be treated?
– In Queensland there are thirteen meat works. Of these two have not opened, and eleven have operated only since the payment of the subsidy. Some of them have completed their season. The Wyndham meat-works - the only works of the kind in Western Australia - have re-opened. In the Northern Territory, Vestey’s works have not re opened, but we have provided for a subsidy of 10s. per head to be paid on live cattle sent out of the Territory.
Every effort has been made to insure that the bounty, or its equivalent, shall go to the grower. No payment will be made except on proof that the cattleowner has received the benefit of the bounty. That is definite. Certificates will have to accompany the claims for the subsidy. These certificates will provide that the owner shall have produced proof to the satisfaction of the authorities that he has either received the equivalent of the bounty or the price ex -bounty. In that case he will receive the bounty direct.
– If a cattle man is hard up, will he not give that certificate before he sells?
– We have discussed every phase of this matter with the cattleowners or their representatives in conference, and the mode of payment which we have adopted has been the outcome of several consultations with the cattleowners. Sales, as honorable members know, are conducted in many ways. Cattle will be disposed of by private contract as well as at public auction, and there will be purchases ex-bounty and purchases inclusive of bounty. We have made provision as far as possible to meet all cases.
– In connexion with a sale there may be nothing to showwhether it isex-bounty or inclusive of bounty.
– We have also had conferences with the representatives of the meat works, and their forms of contract as from 5th April provide for that. No works will be precluded from securing the benefit of the sudsidy in respect of standard beef - that is, frozen export beef. With regard to canned meat, the proposal is that, where works slaughter the whole bullock for canning, the subsidy will be paid upon the canned meat there produced. But where there is a branch of a frozen meat works which may put up canned meat, part of which is derived from a beast slaughtered for home consumption and part from a beast slaughtered for export, that branch will not be paid the subsidy. Its output will not come under the category of standard export meat. In cases of works established in localities where there are no freezing works, and where it is impossible to ship live cattle, and the whole beast is treated for canning purposes, the growers in that neighbourhood will get the benefit of the subsidy. Thus, all will bo brought into line. There willbe very little machinery required. There are very few works in Australia which devote the whole of their activities to canning. All meat, of course, must be canned and put up, generally, under the rigid supervision of departmental inspectors.
– In the Northern Territory, who will actually pay the cash to the grower?
– The Customs authorities will pay the subsidy to the pastoralist or cattle-owner who ships the live beasts from the Territory. There will be no other meat leaving the Territory this year, because the freezing works are not operating. The subsidy will be paid on the presentation of a certificate proving ownership, and there will be no difficulty because of the fact of the price being fixed at 10s. per head.
The whole of the conditions surrounding this subject-matter are abnormal. The scope of the measure will be purely temporary. It is not intended as a precedent; it is but to provide temporary relief in a grave hour to the beef industry of Australia. Without it, the works would not have started, and unemployment would have been more extensive than it has been. The subsidy will be applicable to this season only. It will be paid only in respect of beef slaughtered between 5 th April of this year and 31st October next. That will be, in regard to meat which has come into the freezing chambers between those dates. But shippers will be permitted to ship their meat up to 31st December next, and draw the subsidy.
– How much money will be actually involved in the payment of the subsidy for this season?
– The estimate has been altered.
– Will it not be about £112,000?
– It will probably be rather more than £140,000. The average net weight of export beef is 600 lbs. per bullock. The departmental estimates at the present time, embracing frozen meat, canned meat, and live cattle exported, is, roughly, £140,000. The total may be rather more.
– What reason has the Minister for believing that the conditions against which the industry is contending are temporary?
– I have already said that there is evidence that the feud in the beef world has about ‘reached its end. The London market has recently improved, and that provides evidence of the fact that meat is no longer being rushed into the United Kingdom in its former volume. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett), who has just returned from England,, and the honorable member for New England (Mr. Hay), will be able to testify that beef was being rushed into the United Kingdom markets irrespective of loss. The same will be borne out by Mr. Elder, who is a member of the Board of Trade, and who will be out here shortly. This gentleman, by the way, has been asked by the Government to investigate the whole subject of the Australian beef industry. Millions of pounds were deliberately thrown away in reckless encounters between the two great industries involved, and the meat markets of the world were so paralyzed that it was impossible to export meat from Australia without sustaining loss. In the circumstances, the alternatives for the Government were to fold their hands and calmly look on, permitting conditions to continue, or to adopt the expedient of paying temporarily a subsidy. I say, candidly, that the Government did not desire to interfere. They did so only at the urgent call of the industry. It is hoped that the beef business of Australia will be able to readjust itself under ordinary trade conditions. It will be for those engaged in the industry to get to work very earnestly, to organize, and generally to re-arrange economic conditions. The Government, I repeat, do not wish to continue the subsidy for one hour beyond 31st October next, which date, all agree, will end the present season.
I have shown that what the Government have done has been merely to set the wheels again in motion. Their action has not, to any appreciable extent, influenced home prices. By taking out of the market 225,000 head of prime cattle the effect has been to end the nightmare created by the huge surplus of stock in Australia, and prevent a total collapse of the market. Enormous losses have been sustained by cattle men in every State. No other rural industry has suffered to anything like the same extent. The Government considered every possible way of giving relief, and I am convinced that their method, as demonstrated in this Bill, has been the best.
I ask the House to pass the Bill as speedily as possible, for no payments have yet been made. The subsidy will be retrospective, it is true; but cattle men will be greatly relieved when the cash is available. The Bill is but a short machinery measure. The dates covering its operations, the subsidy rates, and all the provisions for payments are definitely set out. It may be taken for granted that the workers employed in the industry would never have agreed to a reduction of their wages, but that they were impressed by the absolute necessity for such a course. These men are on the spot, and know all the conditions from A to Z. They have agreed that the industry is in such a plight that a reduction of their -wages is warranted. The ship-owners have reduced their freight charges by £d. per lb., and the works by lid. per lb. But there is plenty of room, in my judgment, for a further reduction of freight costs. The total charges for freight, and costs at tha works, and outlay for insurance and the like were, in pre-war days, approximately 1-jjd. per lb. The pre-subsidy charges were ‘2$d. Reductions which I have just enumerated have since been brought about; but there is still any amount of reason why those engaged in the industry should get busy. In my view, a huge margin of reduction can still be fairly effected. As the industry depends for its existence, mainly, at any rate, ‘upon satisfactory overseas sales of its surplus, it must come down to a competitive basis with its great world rivals. This subsidy is not being given to place the industry on a competitive basis, but merely to put the wheels of the industry in motion again. No suggestion has been made that the payment of the subsidy, plus- the reductions which have so far been effected, have or will put the industry on a profitable basis. “Were I to repeat in detail the tragic statements of individual losses which have been made known to the Government from all over Australia, I would be merely adding to an already familiar story. I appeal to honorable members, therefore, to give the measure their immediate and favorable attention.
.- The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) has pointed out that this is an emergency measure, and is designed to tide the cattle-growers over a difficult period during the coming year. That difficulty is not peculiar to the cattle industry; almost every trade and industry in Australia is suffering in the same way, due chiefly to the impoverished condition, of the world. The present position of the cattle industry is due, in some measure, to the large stores of meat that had accumulated at the conclusion of the war. During the war elaborate provision had to be made to insure adequate food supplies for the soldiers at the Front, and large quantities of meat and other products were bought and stored. A considerable accumulation was on hand when the war ended, and that very greatly disturbed the beef market. I think Vestey Brothers stated that that was one of the main causes of the depression of the meat market. However, I realize that it is necessary to do everything we can to insure that . the beef industry, in common :with every other producing interest, gets a fair price for its product. The Minister stated that the industry was so depressed that it could not be profitably carried on. A number of factors are contributing to bring about that state of affairs. One is the fact that shipping freights to-day are more than Id. per lb. higher than they were in pre-war times. I do not argue that freights and other charges should not be higher than they were before the war; having regard to the changes that have taken place throughout the world, no sane man would make such a contention; but I do think that the freights are very much higher than they should be, and there is opportunity for getting in that quarter some relief for the producers. It is difficult to understand why considerable shipping tonnage is laid up when such high freights are ruling. Quite a number of the ships belonging to the “Commonwealth Line are idle when perhaps they could be trading with advantage to the Commonwealth and the producers. The purpose of establishing the Line .was to prevent the Shipping’ Combine getting complete control of sea carriage to and from Australia, and at the present time the Commonwealth ships might be used to advantage in connexion with the carriage of beef and other products from Australia to Europe.
– Is not the shortage in refrigerated space?
– I understand that the ships built recently for the Commonwealth Line have refrigerated space, and so will the ships that are now being constructed. The Government should see whether the ships now idle can be employed in carrying the produce of this country at a reasonable rate, so that our primary producers may bc able to compete in the markets of the world.
– Instead of doing that, the Government appear to be working in conjunction -with the Combine.
– Yes ; and if the Line is to be operated in that way it will not achieve the object for which it was established. The justification for creating it was that it should assist to keep freights down to normal; but abnormal charges are very much in evidence today, and at the same time the Commonwealth ships are idle, although it would appear that they might be operated with advantage to the producers.
– But that would interfere with .private enterprise
– That consideration may have some weight with the Government. It seems to me that the policy of the Government is to restrict, as far as possible, all Commonwealth trading activities, and for that reason they are disposing of some of the enterprises hitherto operated by the Commonwealth. The proposal contained in this Bill may be another roundabout way of achieving the same object. It is proposed that we should subsidize one section of the community, perhaps at the expense of another.
It has been urged that this proposed subsidy will not be reflected in the price of meat on the local market. The Minister quoted figures supplied by the Government Statistician in regard to prices during the last three or four months in support of that contention. In New South Wales meat prices are higher than in any other State, notwithstanding that it adjoins Queensland, which has so many cattle available, and I do not think those high meat prices are due to high wholesale prices received by cattle-owners for their stock during the last year or so. Only a few days ago I was introduced in Maitland to a man who complained of the price he had been receiving for his cattle. He said that the cattle he had disposed of during the last few months had in no case fetched more than 2d. per lb., and some of them had realized only 1¾d. per lb. He was bewailing the price of labour, and said that the price he was getting for his beef would not enable him to pay high wages. I said to him, “ That is all very well : but are you aware that beef is sold retail at from ls. 3d. per lb. for best cuts to 7d. per lb.?” He said he was aware ‘of that. I continued, “ How do you expect workmen to subsist on a wage of £2 10s. per week if they have to pay such prices?” He said that that aspect had never occurred to him; but he saw the logic of it at once. He realized that if the. high cost of living prevented a man from working for £2 10s. per week, he must receive a higher wage. The statistics quoted by the Minister were intended to prove that the proposed subsidy is not causing an increase in the price of meat on the Australian market. I find that in New South. Wales the price of beef has risen considerably; - I think it should do so, because the cattle-owners were not getting a sufficiently high price before - but, although high prices were prevailing, it was intended to increase the price by another 2d., per lb. That fact shows that the facilitation of export by Government assistance reacts upon the price in the local market. All things we do in this way must eventually react upon the general community; there can be no escape from that. I admit that, having regard to the parlous conditions of the pastoral industry in Queensland and elsewhere, some relief had to be afforded, and when the workers at the Conference of all interested parties agreed to a reduction of wages, the conditions must have been very pressing from their point of view. They desired to get work if they possibly could, and agreed to take a lower wage.
The operation of this Bill is limited to the present year; nevertheless it should contain some provision for a reduction of the subsidy in the event of the price of meat overseas increasing sufficiently to bridge the gulf between the present ridiculously low price and a reasonable price. If by some unforeseen circumstances beef rose during the period .covered by this Bill to a fair price, the exporters would still be able to claim this subsidy.
Mr.Rodgers. - The Bill has practically only two months in which to operate.
– That is so; but it should contain some provision that when the price of beef rose to a certain figure no subsidy, or, at any rate, only a reduced subsidy, should be paid.
– There is not much chance of any substantial improvement in a couple of months.
– Perhaps there is not; but I am pointing out the omission from the Bill of what I consider an important safeguard. Then, again, there is the position of the worker. He has been liberal enough to consent to a certain reduction of wages, but I find no provision in the Bill for restoring the worker to his former conditions in the event of the price of meat becoming satisfactory. In the absence of such a provision, if in two months’ time the price of meat rises to a profi table figure, and there is no need for a further subsidy, the workers who have agreed to a reduction in their wages will have no guarantee that their wages will be increased again. There should be some such provision. The workers, as a rule, do not look far enough ahead. They see the immediate necessity of the moment, and say to those with whom they are conferring that they are prepared to make a concession on a mutual basis, so that all may benefit by keeping the industry sound. But there should beprovision that when the producer gets back to a satisfactory condition of affairs the workers should regain the advantages which they have sacrificed.We cannot lose sight of the fact that the cost of living is not falling. Some months ago there was a great clamour for a reduction of wageson account of the falling cost of living, but statistics show that during the last couple of quarters the cost of living has been on the increase. If the workers had yielded to that clamour for a reduction of wages, what would be their position to-day with the cost of living on the up grade?
I do not know what attitude honorable members of the Country party will adopt towards this measure, which affects very closely the section of the community whom they claim to represent. I have often heard them declare that they have no sympathy for State enterprise, that trade and industry should be allowed to get back to normal channels and that the Government should not hamper or interfere with industry in any way, but in connexion with the beef industry the very policy they condemn is being continued.
– Consider the dreadful alternative. What is the use of standing on a principle and slaughtering the victim ?
– I am endeavouring to show the need for some consistency, and am pointing out that those who decry Government interference with industry, and say that wagesand prices must be governed by world conditions, are to-day supporting the very principle they condemn. We are told that wages and prices must be regulated by the law of supply and demand, but it would appear that the attitude of honorable members depends upon the section of the community affected. No doubt honorable members of the Country party will support the Bill, because it will afford relief to a body of men with whom they are closely connected. I do not say that this relief should not be given, but I am arguing that the granting of it must have some effect upon the rest of the community. If we. are to send a lot of beef out of Australia, and reduce stocks to normal or below normal, the price in the local market must be affected.
– Drought will affect the price far more than any condition of the world’s markets.
– The position is that if we do not get rid of some of the beef we shall lose a lot more.
– I am not arguing as to whether or not this proposal is sound, but I am showing the inconsistency of some honorable members who, whilst supporting this bonus, argue that the working people should have their wages reduced and hours of labour increased in order to bring conditions back to normal. So long as we have to take measures like this that argument cannot apply.
I know that this will be a difficult measure to administer. The Minister informs us that the Government are talcing every precaution in the form of certificates and so forth, but I venture to say, from scanning the Bill this morning, that it will be hard to properly fix the subsidy.
– It will be a very easy thing.
– I am glad to hear that the Minister thinks so.
– It is export, and we can check every pound.
– A remarkable fact is that during the war period the wholesale price was4&7/8d. per lb. f.o.b. here, while at the same time the people of Australia were paying very much more for their meat.
– Meatcan be bought at the works at the price mentioned - it is the retail price that is the trouble.
– I am speaking of the retail price, and pointing out that the. people here paid much more highly than they should at that time.
– We have always contended that.
– Cannot the Government devise some means to deal with the matter? It is our duty to protect the interests, not only of the section that raises meat, but every section of the community which consumes it. Parliament is not intended, and no party is here, to represent only one section.
– I quite agree. What we have done is to protect the job of the worker - to givehim work.
– I am not now speaking of that phase. The worker, as I have already said, entered into this mutual agreement, and that fact shows the condition of things at the time. The worker had to find bread and butter for his family, and there were thousands of men out of employment in every State. No doubt it is necessary to stabilize this industry if we can, and to that I take no exception, because the Bill does find some employment in the cattle industry.
– And finds freights for ships.
– But the question is whether one particular section of the community shall benefit, perhaps, at the expense of another.
– Where would the whole community be if the cattle industry collapsed ?
– Where would the community be if all the primary industries collapsed ? Nobody realizes the position more vividly than we on this side, and we have always endeavoured to legislate in the interests of the man on the land. At the same time,that man on the land, and those who represent him, must realize that there are other people who have also to be considered. While we have endeavoured to do the fair thing by the man on the land, we have as far as possible also endeavoured to do the fair thing towards every other section of the community.
I realize that there is not much to be said in regard to the Bill itself, seeing that it is, as the Minister pointed out, a machinery measure; but we must endeavour in Committee to insure that there is no imposition. I can only say that the gentleman who drafted the Bill had a knotty problem to solve. It is a difficult thing to allocate a subsidy of the kind in a proper way, and at the same time safeguard the interests of the Government. I notice that the anticipated cost will be very much less than was expected when the agreement was entered into.
– That is not satisfactory, inasmuch as the season since that time has been very bad.
– Consequently, cattle raising has been affected; and it would, perhaps, have been an advantage if we had been payinga little more. I repeat that the Bill will have to be very carefully administered in order to see that nobody is permitted to impose on the Government; but it is doubtful whether clauses 5 and 6, which are the governing clauses, will be affected in this regard. Probably those who claim the subsidy will have to make declarations; and we generally take it that a man who makes a declaration is telling the truth-; but, unfortunately, people do not always do so.
– I should like to point out that the complete relief to the industry is 6s. per 100 lbs., and the proportion contributed by the subsidy is 2s.1d., so that we have effected a benefit of 6s. by that small contribution.
– That is obtained by the farthing on the freight and the reduction of wages.
– And also the reduction of working charges.
– That includes the cost of labour.
– It is quite apart from wages.
– All the factors mentioned by the Minister go to make up this reduction of 6s. per 100 lbs., which works out at under¾d. , per lb. That, of course, is a great consideration when the price is very low.
– It is 36s. on a 600-lbs. bullock, which is far more than they were getting before.
– I quite admit that there is a great improvement under the arrangement. It was, as I said, a mutual arrangement, and to that extent commends itself; at the same time I cannot refrain from pointing out the little drawbacks and showing how one section of the community may reap a benefit to the detriment of another.
– As to the wages, the season has practically concluded, and the killing is nearly ended - indeed, some works have finished - so there is no possibility of the condition arising that the honorable member speaks of, namely, the price going up while wages go down.
– I am not now speaking on that point. I am suggesting that, when the stage is reached that the agreement no longer operates, because there may be a fair price for beef, the workers may not be restored to their previous position. It would be very unfair to take advantage of those men, who have given something away in order to assist the industry.
– That is not intended by the Government.
– I do not think it is; but it would be better if there was some provision in the Bill to insure that justice will be done to the workmen.
The Minister has said that this Bill will not be taken as a precedent ; my reply is that everything established by Parliament is a precedent. Is it proposed to carry on the agreement for two months longer if the price overseas is not sufficient to enable the industry to be carried on, or are we going to let the agreement drop ?
– The export season will have ended.
– But another season will come next year, and if by then the price has not improved Parliament will be appealed to again. It will be seen clearly that this is a precedent.
– I most emphatically deny that.
– But supposing that after this subsidy is paid, and a new season is about to commence, the price is not such as to enable a profit to be made, what are the Government going to do? Are they going to allow things to become stagnant as before? What they will do will be to enter into a further agreement until such time as there is an improvement.
– Perhaps it will have to be a halfpenny next time, instead of a farthing.
– That may be so. If we are justified in passing this measure now, we should be justified in. passing another under similar circumstances.
– And for any other industries.
– Yes, for any other industries.
– Other industries which have quite as good a claim.
– Exactly. In the iron and steel industry, for instance, thousands of men are out of employment, and steel goods are coming from abroad.
– Iron and steel can remain in the ground, but cattle cannot remain if a drought comes.
– And workmen cannot remain on the ground if they have to starve. All these factors affect the whole of the community, for they are reflected in higher prices.
– Bring down the retail price, and people will eat more meat down here.
– That is so; there are many families who cannot get all the meat they require because of the high prices.
– If Australians were eating as much meat as they did ten years ago there would be none for export.
– The honorable member, who has knowledge of this industry, confirms what the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has said. No doubt the Australian people, in consequence of the high prices, are unable to get the quantities of meat they consumed formerly.
– They would be growing horns if they were!
– I do not think that. Australians are great meat eaters, and no other people can do a better day’s work.
– The high retail price is not due to a high wholesale price.
– I have already said so. So far as I can ascertain, the producers are not getting a fair price in New South Wales, and yet the retail price remains very high.
We ought to devise some means whereby the Government may insure a fair deal between the consumer and the producer, and that same argument applies to everything produced. Very often produce sent to market does not return a reasonable price, but, because of somebody between the producer and the consumer, the latter is all the time made to pay highly.
– The price-fixing experiment did not help us very much.
– If one pricefixing experiment failed, that is no reason why we should not endeavour to devise some other means of control; and I contend that the Government should take steps towards bridging the gulf between the producer and the consumer.
– Who does the honorable member say is making too much money?
– I do not know, but the increase is made somewhere between the producer and the consumer.
– The producers from their side should take steps to reduce the middlemen’s profits.
– I quite agree with the honorable member. Co-operative action between the consumers and the producers would be extremely beneficial to the country, and Parliament could well give assistance in that direction. It might be the means of commencing a new era of things. However, the proposal before the House is the result of a mutual agreement between all parties concerned, and it is very evident that they would not have acted as they have done if they had not been forced by circumstances to do so. For instance, the workers have submitted to a reduction in wages, evidently because they realized that they will derive some benefit for the time being. We depend largely upon marketing our surplus produce overseas, and I hope that our meat industry will soon be in a position to secure sales overseas, thus bringing more money into circulation in the Commonwealth, and giving more employment.
– I congratulate the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) on his comprehensive and lucid explanation of the causes justifying the passage of this Bill. I am glad to know that its details were arrived at in consultation with the cattle-owning interests, because that precaution will tend to insure its success in meeting the conditions it seeks to overcome. At the same time I hope to submit some amendments which may assist in making the measure work even more equitably than might otherwise be the case.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has pointed out, not unnaturally, that the retail price of meat is very high in certain parts of Australia. This I would attribute mainly to the excessive cost of the distribution of commodities. As a matter of fact, one of the greatest problems of civilization to-day is how to reduce the heavy retail prices of food and other produce which prevail, no matter whether the wholesale prices may be high or low.
– It is one of the great failures of the competitive system.
– I entirely disagree with the interjection of the honorable member, whom I greet for the first time, and whom I am delighted to see in this House. The present excessive costs of distribution and of retailing are due, not to any system of competition, but to just the opposite cause, namely, want of full and complete competition. These excessive costs are largely the result of restriction on competition. These restrictions are the result of combinations set up against the interests of producers and consumers alike.
– Does the honorable member say that there are Combines among the retail butchers?
– Good heavens ! Does the honorable member address such a question to a body of men who are observers and thinkers such as honorable members of this House?
– I want the honorable member’s answer.
– Personally, I am not prepared to say that there are Combines among retail butchers in Australia, because I am not engaged in the business. But the honorable member can easily ascertain whether there is or is not in existence a Retail Butchers Association in Australia.
– There may be an honorable understanding.
– There may be. However, I do not wish to be drawn away from the Bill by interjections, highly interesting and intellectual as they are, and always will be, coming from the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). If before granting assistance to an industry, which a few months ago was in extremis, or at the point of death, we are to satisfy ourselves that some butcher in Toorak does not retail his meat at a price satisfactory to his customers, it will mean an indefinite postponement and an end to all hope of aiding industries or individuals who are in distress. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson) found on his recent visit to Brisbane that there was an enormous difference between the retail prices of beef there and in the other States. The obvious reason is that Brisbane, Rockhampton, and Townsville are points where the cheapest cattle are to be obtained.
– There are State butchers’ shops in Queensland.
– I am always pleased to hear the honorable member’s cheerful voice and see his expansive smile,but he has not touched the point. Those Melbourne and Sydney butchers whose operations are sufficiently extensive to enable them to buy cattle cheaply on the pastures of Queensland, and incur the high cost of transporting them to Melbourne and Sydney, very naturally look for a large profit.
– And I suppose the honorable member will admit that they get it.
– I think so; and I take the opportunity ofcongratulating the Minister for Works and Railways upon the portfolio he has gained during my absence from Australia. I understand that the retail prices of beef in the Southern States have been very high, but the honorable member for Bass informs me that in private butchers’ shops in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, prime cuts of beef are retailed at5½d. per lb., and stewing steak at 2d. and2½d. per lb. The retail prices for beef are regulated by varying conditions.
I propose now to give the House a few facts relative to the position of the cattle industry when my friend the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers), whom also I congratulate on his new office, was called upon to come to its assistance. I arrived in London early in February, charged with the very responsible task of inquiry into the causes of the very severe depression in the markets for frozen meat, and to suggest a means by which the meat export industry could bere-established on a profitable basis. I found in London an intense state of depression and despair so far as Australian frozen beef was concerned.
– What was the retail price?
– Retail prices of beef were exceedingly high in England, but it was almost impossible to ascertain the retail price of Australian meat, because one can hardly find in London any shop that will admit selling Australian frozen beef.
– Has Australia such a bad reputation in London?
– Australia has not a bad reputation there. There is nothing to justify the disparaging remarks too frequently made by responsible peoplein Australia, and also by Australian visitors to England, against Australian meat. I. have investigated the matter very fully. As I was saying, the position of Australian frozen beef in London was one of great depression and despair. It was regarded by the meat trade in England as hopeless. These were the causes which brought about that condition of affairs.
There was a time when the Australian frozen beef found a good market in England, although I do not know to what extent it was sold as such; but during the war, when the Imperial Government were hard put to it to provide supplies of meat, not only to the Army and Navy, but also to the people of the British Isles, they set up, wisely or otherwise - I do not discuss that point - a meat control. They ransacked the earth to obtain supplies of meat with which to feed the people of the British Isles and the members of the Services. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, as some people would think, they did not place, their orders for these purchases through the usual trade channels. People were sent abroad with little or no experience of the trade, and in various parts of the world they bought beef and had it frozen, or bought it frozen. It was taken to the United Kingdom and, through the Meat Control, was distributed to the various consuming centres. It was one of the disadvantages of this system of control that the Government would not deal with individual butchers. They said to the retailers in the various centres, “Form your association, tell us what you want, and we will send it down for you to distribute.” That was the cause of setting up a gigantic private control over meat, which, although the Government is out of it to-day, still exists. The machinery of that private control has to be reckoned with. A great deal of that imported frozen beef was very inferior.
– Where did it come from?
– I am not prepared to say where it came from. I do not think it is right in this Chamber for me to indicate in any way where that beef came from. I have very carefully investigated the matter, and I am satisfied that practically not one inferior carcass came from Australia.
– What about the meat shipped by Angliss and Co. ?
– I am surprised to hear that question brought up now. That was not frozen beef, and in any case the interjection relates to a totally different transaction, and does not affect the subject with which I am dealing. The result of the action to which I have- referred was that a number of people were compelled to eat frozen beef who did not want te eat it. They wanted fresh beef, and were prepared to pay for it. The beef that they had to eat aroused in their minds a violent prejudice against all frozen beef, and it is a prejudice that we have to face and live down.
Another thing which aggravated the position was that the Government had accumulated, during and since the war, very large supplies of frozen beef, and they thought that the best thing to do would be to dispose of the whole of it in one parcel to one great firm. They were paid a high price for it, but, unfortunately, the firm to which they sold it, instead of distributing it immediately among the consumers at the high prices then ruling, held it. I think the market was falling immediately after they bought it, but they did not think the fall would continue.
– Had the beef been very long in stock?
– It was bought in 1920, but how long’ it had been in stock at that time, no one knows. The newest of it is at least two years old. There were 150,000 quarters, of which, at the time only 33,000 were Australian, the remaining 117,000 having been supplied by other countries. The honorable meinber for New England (Mr. Hay) and I inspected much of this meat, and I am prepared to say that the whole of the 33,000 quarters of Australian meat were perfectly wholesome, and that there was not one carcass sent to the Smithfield market that was not inspected immediately on coming out of the cool stores by officers of the Ministry of Health and passed as perfectly wholesome. The whole of the trade knew that these 150,000 quarters had to be sold, and they were continually being placed on the Smithfield market. Although the 33,000 Australian quarters were perfectly good, there was other frozen meat that did not look very well, although it might have been perfectly wholesome. It was this meat that had a very depressing influence on the market at that time.
– Perhaps it had a depressing influence on the consumer, too!
– Good, wholesome meat should not have a depressing effect upon the consumer, but exactly the reverse. Realizing the parlous state of the industry, several of us, including the honorable member for New England and myself, tried to get these 150,000 quarters lifted off the market. They belonged to Messrs. Vestey Brothers, who bought all the surplus supplies of beef, amounting to 1,500,000 quarters, from Great Britain in 1920. Vesteys had buyers who would take the whole of the meat to the Continent. They would have had to sell it at an enormous loss to themselves. I do not know what the price was, but they probably gave twice as much per lb. for it as they eventually received for it. They asked for a subsidy on the ground that they ought not to be left to carry the whole of the loss. The subsidy they asked for was £100,000, and several of us were very keen that something should be done. Later they sold 20,000 quarters. I understood that they were then prepared, if they received £50,000, to remove the whole of the remaining 130,000 carcasses off the London market. There were several of us in London who wore prepared to put up £1,000 each. I do not remember the name of all of those who were prepared to do so, but there were Mr. W. P. Shaw, of the Gladstone Meat Works ; Mr. Elder, of John Cooke and Company, myself, and several others. I believe we could have raised £10,000 in London within twentyfour hours, and we thought that by some means the remaining £40,000 could have been raised in Australia. The negotiations were not directly in my hands, and the result we were striving for did not eventuate. I think we were waiting for news from Australia that did not come. It is an enormous pity that something in that direction was not done. I do not blame anybody in the remotest degree. I do not know whether the proposal was put before the Commonwealth Government or not.
– Is the honorable gentleman referring to the remaining Australian meat?
– I am referring to the 150,000 quarters, which had then been reduced to 130,000. I believe that the firm would have accepted £50,000 to take the whole of that meat away.
– The Government did subscribe £50,000 to relieve some other stocks by shipping meat to Russia. After considering the matter it decided that it could not go any further than that.
– I give the Government credit for buying meat that was sent to Russia, but that happened before the position arose to which I am referring.
– It was part of the same problem.
– Yes ; but it was a totally different transaction. I deeply regret that the matter was not clinched at that time, because I believe that an almost immediate effect of removing this meat from the London market would have been a rise in the Smithfield prices for Australian frozen beef of½d. to1d. per lb.
– It would have removed the prejudice that was still on the market.
– We could not perceive any effect upon the value of Australian meat of the £50,000 that we spent.
– I think that is impossible to decide. It is impossible to say how low the price of frozen beef would have been if the Government had not taken that £50,000 worth of beef off the market when it did. About that period, what is known as the beef exporting season should have commenced in Queensland. About March or April all the great meat export works in Queensland open up, or do not open up. I was in almost daily communication with my friends in Melbourne as to the position in this city. I learned that there was not one meatworks in Queensland that was prepared to make an offer of any description for cattle. People in the trade in Australia knew that very well, and I knew it in London.
– There was probably one exception.
– I am not aware of that exception. One of the works had not closed down. Messrs. Borthwick’s were still open, but they were not rushing any new business. In any case, business was upon an absolutely unpayable basis from the point of view of the cattlegrower. The question then arose as to whether anything could be done to save the industry, which was practically at the point of death. One of the effects of the agreement arranged by the Government was the opening of the works in Queensland, and if that result had not been achieved the consequence would have been infinitely more disastrous to the future of Australia than was apparent. Not only would the 225,000 head of cattle not have been exported and turned into money, and have provided food for people at the other end of the world, but the continuity of the whole Australian beef trade in- England would have been disturbed. The cattle would probably have died next year, because if bullocks are not taken when they are fat, in three cases out of five they never get fat again. In many instances large retailers, operators at Smithfield, and distributers in manufacturing districts, when they saw me, raised the question of continuity of supply. They said, “If we begin to sell your Australian beef. if we sell it as Australian, and if we put up placards saying, This is Australian beef,’ can you guarantee us continuity of supplies?” I did my best to satisfy them. It will be readily understood that if a whole year is allowed to go by without a single carcass of fresh Australian beef being placed on the English market, irreparable damage would be done to the industry in this country, because the British consumer would have become accustomed to getting his requirements elsewhere.
Some reference has been made to the alleged . inferiority of Australian frozen beef in comparison with beef from other sources in the British market, and in this connexion I should like to inform honorable members of an interesting experiment that waa carried out whilst I was in England, at the suggestion of my friend the honorable member for New England (Mr. Hay), and through the instrumentality of the present High Commissioner (Sir Joseph Cook). But at this stage I should like to digress for a moment to say that during my visit to England I found our High Commissioner most sympathetic and watchful of the interests of our primary producers. There appears to bo a very exaggerated idea of the ability of our highly-placed officials to influence’ British thought in regard to Australian affairs, but there can be no doubt that ‘Sir Joseph Cook is a most zealous and faithful representative of the Commonwealth. He accepted very readily the suggestion of my friend the honorable member for New England, that in order to test the relative merits of Australian and other beef on the British market there should be a practical demonstration. Accordingly, he invited a number of representative gentlemen to lunch with him at Australia House, with the idea of getting them to partake of fresh Scottish roast beef, Argentine chilled beef six weeks old, and Australian frozen beef at least two years old, and without any prior knowledge as to their source of production express an opinion as to the relative qualities of the respective cuts. One of my friends, who was a recognised expert, suggested that a certain cut was from fresh English roast beef, but I was not prepared to say, and I can confidently state that the general opinion was that it was absolutely impossible to detect any difference between any of the three cuts. They were all uniformly choice. Eight guests were present at the luncheon, and after partaking of the roast beef four placed’ the Scotch roast beef first, the Australian frozen beef second, and the Argentine chilled beef third. Three placed the Scotch roast beef first, Argentine, second, and the Australian third, and one guest put the Argentine first, the Scotch second, and the Australian third. The general consensus of opinion was that there was actually no difference between the three; but the guests were asked to vote in some order of preference, and did so, with the result I have stated. I have challenged people in the Old Country, in the press, on the platform, and elsewhere to prove that Australian frozen beef is in any sense inferior to the best fresh beef produced in England. So far as I can see, there oan be no difference in flavour, because I think our Australian beef breeds are quite equal to those either in Britain or the Argentine. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
That the message be considered forthwith.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of moneys be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to authorize the raising and expending of certain sums of money.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
That Mr. Bruce and Mr. Rodgers do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Bruce, and read a first time.
The following paper was presented: -
Public Service Act - Appointment of C. R. Copeland, Department of Works andRailways.
Motion (by Mr. Greene) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.-Is the Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) in a position to state what action has been taken in connexion with the recalcitrant witness who appeared before the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, and who refused to answer certain questions in connexion with the sugar industry?
– The matter has been placed before the Minister officially.
– I want to know definitely what is being done, because we cannot allow such a matter to stand over from week to week without definite action being taken.Will the Minister in charge of theHouse also state what business the Government intend going on with next week?
.- The matter first mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has been placed in the hands of the Crown Law authorities.
As to the business to be dealt with next week, the discussion on the Meat Export Bounties Bill will be continued.
Mr.charlton. - When do you intend discussing the Budget?
– Without actually committing the Government, I may say that we will take first the Loan Bill, because the works authorized under that measure are in many cases pressing. We shall then proceed with the Meat Export Bounties Bill, and then the Defence Retirement Bill. After that we shall, in all probability, proceed to discuss the Budget.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.1 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 August 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220825_reps_8_100/>.