8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr.JOWETT.- I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs if he will give honorable members the assurance that what are known as “ Fatty “ Arbuckle films shall be permanently withdrawn from exhibition?
Mr. RODGERS. - No films featuring “ Fatty “ Arbuckle have entered this country since the notorious trial of that actor; the pictures now being exhibited came in before the trial, and, therefore, the Censor cannot be rightly taken to task in regard to them. In any case, the Commonwealth Government can. exercise supervision over the picture-show business only by means of its Customs powers. If it is thought that action should be taken in regard to the films already admitted, it will be for the State authorities to move in the matter, they having complete power to doso. Since the honorable member’s first question on the. subject, I have seen the Chief Censor, and he has been in communication with the exhibi tors concerned. I have reason to believe that, in recognition of the feeling of the country, these films will be withdrawn from exhibition.
– I understand that the Attorney-General has received a letter from the Law Institute dealing with divorce. If so, will the honorable gentleman kindly read it, or let the House know what it contains?
– As the honorable member was courteous enough to inform me that he would ask this question, I have the letter here. It is as follows: -
The Law Institute of Victoria.
Collins House, 360 Collins-street,
Melbourne, 9th August, 1922.
The Hon. L. E. Groom,
Commonwealth Public Offices,
Re Domicile in Divorce.
I have the honour to refer to certain remarks relative to the above which were made some little time back, when you were good enough to meet the representatives of the Council of the Law Institute of Victoria, and hear their views on the subjects then discussed.
Since then, I have looked up the correspondence that has passed between my Council and Law Societies of the other States. We have, during the last few months, had letters on the subject above referred to from the following bodies: -
The Incorporated Law Institute of New South Wales.
The Law Society of South Australia Incorporated.
The Barristers’ Board of Western Australia.
The Queensland Law Association.
The Southern Law Society of Tasmania.
The Northern Law Society of Tasmania.
All these societies express the same opinion, namely, that there ought to be only one domicile, and that should be an Australian domicile.
With the exception of the South Australian Society, which has asked for a full expression of the views of my Council on the subject, which we have not yet had time to supply and obtain reply to from the body mentioned, they are all of opinion that a uniform divorce law for Australia is an urgently required and most desirablepiece of legislation; and we would refer you to the remarks as to its desirability made in the Federal Convention which sat in 1897, when the power of the Parliament to enact uniform divorce laws for Australia was inserted in the Constitution (see page 610 of Quick and Garran’s Annotated Constitution ) . The power of the Parliament has, however, not yet been exercised, and the divorce laws of Australia remain in the same state as they were before Federation. If it be found too difficult a matter to at present assimilate the laws of the various States on the subject so as to present a uniform divorce Jaw for enactment by the Commonwealth Parliament, we suggest that most of the hard cases which occur by reason of the absence of an Australian domicile might be met by passing a short measure that domicile in any part of Australia shall be deemed to be domicile in all parts of Australia; and that there be a further enactment - on the lines of the Matrimonial Causes (Dominion Troops) Act 1919 of the Imperial Parliament - providing, in effect, that where the husband shall be domiciled in Australia, the competent Court in that part of Australia where either party may be and may have, for the period required in respect of domicile to enable the said Court to exercise its jurisdiction, been resident, shall have full jurisdiction and power to entertain, hear and determine proceedings for divorce and matrimonial causes, and in relation thereto, parental rights, and the custody and guardianship of infants, and to make effective decrees and orders in relation to such proceedings.
We also take the liberty of suggesting that the drafting of such a provision should be referred to counsel expert in the divorce jurisdiction. We think that such an enactment would prepare the way for a uniform divorce law for Australia. It is frequently stated that the differences existing between the different States in the United States of America as to the conditions on which divorces can be obtained is a very serious matter, leading to great confusion in the law relating to illegitimacy, bigamy, &c, and consequential evil effects upon the community. The moral welfare of the community is interwoven with its material and physical progress, and my Council hopes that this important subject will soon receive from the Government the attention it deserves.
At present there is no very marked difference between the divorce legislation in the various States, but as time goes on, that condition may not remain, and the difficulties of enacting a uniform divorce law might be very greatly increased.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
– I give notice that I intend to move -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act relating to the Commonwealth Shipping Line.
– I ask the Prime Minister if it is true that, in a speech in Sydney, he offered the members of the Country party a certain number of days in which to make terms with him before he would draw the sword. I wish to know whether the period of grace has expired, and when the decks will be cleared for action between him and the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) ?
– The decks will be cleared for action so soon as the casualties have been taken below.
Agreement with South Australia.
– I wish to know from the Assistant Minister for Repatriation whether anything had been done to put an end to the stoppage which has occurred in the building of soldiers’ homes in South Australia, and if no arrangement has been come to between the Commonwealth and the State, will the honorable gentleman try to get matters settled so that building operations may be resumed?
– There is no reason why the building of soldiers’ homes, in South Australia, should have been interrupted even for a day. I regret that I have no power to compel the Government of that State to do its duty to the soldiers. Every effort is being made to bring about an arrangement which will be acceptable to the Commonwealth in respect of the loan moneys which are being advanced to South Australia.
Trunk Telephone Lines - Land Tenure
asked the PostmasterGeneral), upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Mr. BOWDEN (for Mr. Austin Chapman) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow :- -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– There has been no change in recent year3 in the system of handling roadside mail-matter. I gather from the question of the honorable member some misunderstanding exists in regard to this matter, probably on account of direct exchanges of sealed mails between certain offices having been discontinued, and these exchanges dealt with per medium of mail contractor’s special bag, which is provided for the purpose. The exchange of sealed bags is warranted only when the volume of correspondence is sufficient to justify cost. The handling of mail-matter for roadside places, through the contractor’s special bag, is protective and expeditious, and is more economical with limited correspondence than by sealed bags.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Has any scheme yet been adopted for the utilization of the land belonging to the Commonwealth in the new street opposite the new General Post Office, Perth?
– The Government have decided that the landwill be submitted for sale or lease, as a whole or in three separate lots, subject to conditions as to tho class of buildings to be erected thereon. Full particulars will be made available to the public as soon as practicable.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Can the Minister state when the Federal rolls will be printed and ready for distribution ?
– The rolls for each State are now being printed, and completion is expected not later than the 4th November next. The rolls for the separate divisions will be completed at varying periods prior to the 4th November, and will forthwith be made available to members and the public.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: - 1. (a) Houses purchased and mortgages discharged, 1,490. (b) Houses constructed and assisted to construct, 1,414.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
The following papers were presented: -
Customs Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1922, No. 126.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act -Ordinances of 1922-
No. 12 - Examination of Engine-drivers.
No. 13- Trade Union.
Parliament House (Provisional) at Canberra - Plans in connexion with.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That leave he given to bring in a Bill for an Act relating to the unification of railway gauges in Australia.
Bill presented (by Mr. Hughes), and read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill proposes to alter the basis of the assessment of duty as laid down in section 154 of the Customs Act 1901-10. The provision of the main Act is as follows : -
When any duty is imposed according to value -
That is the basis on. which the imposition of Customs duty rests under the main Act. It is now proposed to impose the duty on either the current domestic value, or the actual money price paid for the goods, whichever is the greater, plus, as formerly, f.o.b. charges and the statutory addition of 10 per cent. These two sets of charges remain the same, and the real effect of the proposed alteration is, as I have said, to imposethe duty on either the current domestic value or the actual money value price paid, whichever is the greater.
– The value here?
– No, in the country of export. The experience of the Department has led the officials to ask for this change for a very long time. Honorable members who have occupied the position of Minister for Trade and Customs in this country will know that for years the Customs Department has been trying to bring the change about. The honest trader has nothing to fear from this Bill. It will safeguard him against less scrupulous traders, and will do much more than the present law does to put all importers on the one footing. It will prevent many of the trade manipulations that take place to-day, and which are very hard to follow and check, and, further, it will to a large extent obviate the necessity to claim further duty long after the goods have been delivered. Such claims have now frequently to be made, very often only after long and costly inquiry. It is very likely, of course, that, until the provisions are fully understood by the trading and commercial community, there may be adverse comment on the alteration of the basis. I submit, however, that when the real effect of the change is known, no such comment will come from those who desire to conduct their business on sound and honest principles. I may point out that Britainhas adopted the principle we now propose, and, indeed, has gone a little further. She charges duty on the c.i.f. value. We place what may be termed an arbitrary percentage on the cost of the goods, or current domestic value, and impose 10 per cent., designed, of course, to cover freight, exchange, and other charges; but Britain charges on the c.i.f. and e. costs, leaving no doubt at all as to whether any sum, or any arbitrary sum, will cover those charges. Britain has deliberately determined that, whatever the duty, it must be on the landed cost. We do not propose, however, to disturb the basis we have previously adopted of adding the f.o.b. charges and 10 per cent. Perhaps this may be regarded as an arbitrary charge, but it was designed by the framers of the original measure to cover insurance, freight, and any other charges, and has worked well in actual practice. Canada and South Africa, I may add, have also adopted similar provisions; so that we, after all, are only bringing our legislation into line with that existing in other parts of the Empire. New Zealand has not yet followed the lead, but that Dominion will probably do so. The Tariff Board has gone into the wholesubject-matter very carefully, and has submitted a report which I shall read in order that the House may be as fully informed as myself, as Minister for Trade and Customs. Before proceeding to the report, I would remind honorable members that a Bill, intended to achieve the same object, passed through this House in 1919 ; it was not passed, however, by another place. After the most careful examination of the position, the Board reported as follows: -
In pursuance of the powers conferred upon the Tariff Board by section 17 of the Tariff Board Act, the Board has on its own initiative instituted inquiries in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, in connexion with the working of the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act 1921, and as a result desires to submit the following report and recommendations.
After careful investigation the Board is satisfied that unless further special protection is given to that already provided in the Customs Act and the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation.) Act, local industries will be detrimentally affected. Since the Industries Preservation Act was considered by Parliament, there have been considerable changes in the depreciated currency of some oversea countries, while the conditions in foreign countries have changed materially.
So that the position may be adequately safeguarded, the Board desires to emphasize the urgent necessity of strengthening the .provisions of section 154 of the Customs Act 1901-20 by altering the basis on which the value for duty is charged.
The present practice is to compute the duty on the domestic market value of the goods in the country of export, whether such value is lower or higher than the amount paid by “the Australian importer for the goods. It is essential to amend the existing conditions so as to provide for the payment of duty on the -basis of the price actually charged to the Australian importer, unless the current domestic value is higher. If the current domestic niue is the higher it should be the basis “for value for duty, otherwise the Australian manufacturer would be the victim of dumping.
It may be pointed out that the provision :for levying duty on the purchase price or the current domestic value, whichever higher, has already been adopted by two of the Dominions, viz., Canada and South Africa; and -the latest proposal of the United States of America Government is to amend their Customs Act to :the same effect.
It is also pointed out that the Imperial Government goes even further, and charges duty on the c.i.f. and e. price.
The proposed amendment is also intended as a protection against understatements of domestic values, which it is most difficult to check, and also to provide for cases where goods arc not sold for use or consumption in the country of export. This refers principally, but not exclusively, to importations from Eastern countries.
In countries like Japan and Germany many goods are manufactured for consumption in other countries, and have no market in their home country. If, therefore, the merchant was required to sell in his own country his goods would command a small return. He, therefore, under existing law, can legitimately place on his invoice the value for duty at a price much below what he .is charging the Australian buyer.
The experience of the Department has shown the urgent necessity of correcting this undesirable opportunity to unfairly compete with Australian or British manufacturers. Unscrupulous exporters have traded on the present law by reducing their declared current ^domestic values, and correspondingly increasing non-dutiable charges. All these practices would become obsolete if the proposal under consideration is approved.
Another reason for the amendment is the necessity for protection against underpay ment of duty in the case of goods bought In large quantities, or on specially advantageous terms, by export commission houses, which give their Austraiian customers the benefit of such terms, when stating the current domestic price for duty purposes. These current domestic prices do not represent the basis on which the Australian customers could purchase similar goods if buying their individual quantities for use or consumption in the country of export. Australian manufacturers suffer keenly .from American exporters in this regard.
The .new provision will greatly reduce the number of investigations which it has -been found necessary to make in the countries of export, and will avoid delay caused toy inquiry, and the resultant dissatisfaction arising from the adjustment of duty short paid. lit is confidently anticipated that experience will prove to Australian importers that this proposal will not add to their work, nor greatly to the duty they will have to pay from the United Kingdom, but rather will greatly decrease work, largely dispense with the most objectionable practice of charging back duties, avoid innumerable deposits of duty, and constant presentation of documents already dealt with, lt will also mean that the Australian manufacturer will receive that protection Parliament .really intends, but which is not secured by the present practice. The fact that other Dominions and countries have seen the necessity for alteration should hasten its adoption by the Commonwealth.
It is to be expected that with the intention of avoiding the dumping duties provided by sections 8 and 9 of the Industries Preservation Act, manufacturers in affected countries will increase their invoice values so as to enable Choir customers to escape payment of the heavy penalty duties. The manufacturer will, of course, gain by this action if the increase is genuine. While duty is payable on the basis of current domestic value, there is nothing to prevent exporters falsely declaring to higher invoice (-selling) prices, and drawing on buyers only for the proper amount. The false declaration would enable duty to be evaded as the evidence of detriment to Australian industry would be concealed. If the price shown on the invoice as the price charged to the Australian importer is higher than the declared current domestic price, it is essential, in the interests of local industries, that the duty should be charged on that value, otherwise the benefits of the Industries Preservation Act -will be nullified.
lt is necessary to mention that the current domestic values are necessarily shown on invoices in the currency of the country of export. Existing law allows them to be converted to sterling at the exchange rate ruling at the date of export. This is in accordance with the decision of the High Court in a recent test case.
It is quite a regular thing for invoices from Czecho-Solvakia, which country’s currency has depreciated to one-eighth of its normal value, to show current domestic values which, converted at the -exchange ruling at date of export, give a value for duty about onethird of the price charged ‘for the goods.
Scores of such have come under notice. A similar state of affairs exists, although not so pronounced, in respect of importations from other countries with depreciated currencies, such as Italy, France, and Belgium.
Sometimes there is a difference between the two values, i.e., the export value and the home consumption value. The position is thoroughly understood by the trade. If the home consumption value becomes greatly reduced by reason of depreciation of currency, it creates an unfair position so far as Australian and British manufacturers are concerned.
– Does the Department accept the home consumption value in such cases?
– Yes; there is no choice under section 154, the only provision upon which we can base values for the imposition of duty. That section reads as follows : -
When any duty is imposed according to value -
The value shall be taken to be the fair market value of the goods in the principal markets of the country whence the same were exported in the usual and ordinary commercial acceptation of the term, and free on board at the port of export in such country, and a further addition of 10 per cent. on such market value.
If a country manufactures for export trade only as distinct from home consumption purposes, or if the goods manufactured are not consumed in the country of origin, there is probably less reason to expect dumping. The price at which the goods could land must, however, be greatly affected if the exchange has dropped in value. Duty is charged on the equivalent of the home consumption value.
– But there would be no value in the country of origin in the case of goods manufactured for export trade only.
– In such circumstances the Department assesses the value on the basis of the value of similar goods made for home consumption.
– That case would be covered by the provisions of the Industries Preservation Act.
– I will explain the position. The report of the Tariff Board continues -
At present the penalty duty may be imposed, but the value for duty is the domestic value in Germany. This position will even after the penalty duty is imposed leave the British trader at the mercy of the German. The most effective method to check attempts to defeat Australian and British industries is to require payment either on the domestic or export price, whichever higher. Nor is this danger confined to countries with depreciated currencies. Apart altogether from the present abnormal position of the world’s trade, the two countries against which this protection is most needed are America and Japan, both countries having appreciated currencies. Before the war the necessity for this alteration was clearly emphasized, but officers were not generally supported. It is worthy of mention that the two business members of the Tariff Board, after very fully and carefully studying the position, strongly support the officers in their request for the proposed amendment of section 154.
Consequential amendments are also proposed for sections 155 and 156 of the main Act, but these do no more than make the necessary provision to give effect to the suggested alteration to section 154.
Explanation of the amendments which the Board has suggested should be made in the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act 1921, are dealt with in separate memorandum.
There is really only one vital proposal in the Bill. Although two other sections are proposed to be amended, the alterations are merely of a machinery character. The principal change lies in the alteration of the basis for the assessment of duty. The Department will now be permitted to select either the current domestic value - the domestic value rathe country of export - or the actual price paid, whichever is the higher.
– Do the phrases “ domestic value” and “home consumption price” mean the same?
– Tlhe words “ current domestic value “ have been deliberately selected; they provide an alteration compared with the phraseology employed in the parent Act. The Tariff Board is of opinion that the words “ current domestic value “ represent an altogether more desirable term. The term was, in fact, adopted at a conference in London last year. The conference was between representatives of the London Board of Trade and the Customs Departments of the Dominions.
This measure completes the set of Bills which are deemed necessary to protect Australian industry, and make clear the intention of Parliament. It will further safeguard the national policy, and prevents the protection given by the Tariff from being frittered away by abnormal and unforeseen circumstances which result from the quite unsound economic conditions of some countries.
– And from the sound conditions of other countries.
– I might better describe them as the over-affluent conditions of other countries. For one thing, this Bill will help to give further protection to the hop industry against a country which no longer requires hops.
– It is another bait for the primary industries.
– No. This measure is so wide in its benefactions that its effect will be felt equally by the primary producers as by those engaged in secondary industries. I do not think that the honorable member for Wimmera can possibly object to so reasonable a measure. It will not levy new taxes. It will not alter the range of duties, but will give to exporters from all countries a fixed basis upon which goods will be assessed for the payment of duty. It will be uniform in its application to all countries. While it is designed to protect manipulation it will protect honest trade. It will safeguard those commercial houses which cannot be induced to accept offers of manipulation from exporters on the other side of the world, for the purpose of paying less duty. Generally speaking, it will bring our legislation up to date, and into line with that of Great Britain, Canada, and South Africa.
– Generally speaking, it seems as if there is nothing it will not do.
– I will accept that as the honorable member’s interpretation.
– But does the Minister anticipate any difficulty in administering this law?
– I anticipate that this amendment will clear away much of the difficulty experienced to-day in connexion with administration. It will get rid of an enormous amount of inquiry which the present system involves. It will give the Department a much greater check, and it will injure nobody but the dishonest trader.
– How will he be detected?
– The Bill givesan additional opportunity of checking, because the trader may be asked to produce his bank drafts showing what he paid for the goods. It is easier to check what a man herein Australia pays than it is to check the home consumption value in America, Germany, or Japan. We shall have the alternative values - the actual price paid, or the current domestic value, whichever is the greater. I am sure this measure will very materially facilitate administration. It will inflict no injury upon honest trade, nor will it increase the cost of goods to the consumer; but it will, in my judgment, rectify a condition of affairs that has remained too long uncorrected.
.- It would appear, from the Minister’s statement, that this amendment of the Customs law is necessary, and that it will inflict no injustice upon anybody. We have been told that the only persons who will suffer will be those who are endeavouring to deceive the Customs authorities.
– Is there anything in this Bill to facilitate detection ?
– I know that that difficulty exists.
– That is always the difficulty.
– Yes, but this Bill will improve the existing machinery, and it is recommended by the Tariff Board. Apparently they have experienced considerable difficulty in protecting our industries under the present legislation. I agree with the Minister that we must have legislation which will enable the Government to carry out the will of Parliament.
Parliament enacted a Tariffwhich must be made effective, and if it is true that, because of the lack of sufficient power under the existing Customs Act, the Tariff Board are unable to give effect to the will of Parliament, they have acted rightly in presenting a report to the Minister at the first opportunity, asking that the defect in the law be remedied. We dealt yesterday with the exchange position, which is a very difficult problem, about which few of us know anything.
– It is a difficulty to all the world.
– It is. By appointing a Tariff Board to administer the Customs legislation, Parliament has placed the responsibility upon those gentlemen to ascertain exactly the position and to suggest what is required.I have confidence that, so far as is possible, those gentlemen will do the right thing to give effect to the will of Parliament. Holding that view, and accepting the assurance of the Minister that this Bill is recommended by the Tariff Board as necessary, I intend to support it.
– I think the House generally has faith in the Tariff Board, and as this legislation has been introduced at their request, and they stand sponsors for it, the House is inclined to accept it without much question. The Minister read, in support of the Bill, a report. Honorable members have had no opportunity of studying it, and it was quite impossible for them to grasp its full effect by merely hearing it read once. If this Bill will do what the Minister claims for it - simplify administration and make honest trading easier - we are prepared to accept it, but I would impress upon the Minister that in future it would bo better if the House were supplied wih copies of any reports that are the foundation of legislation of this kind.
– I rise chiefly to emphasize the contention of the Deputy Leader of the Country party (Mr. Fleming) that when any legislation is proposed at the request of the Tariff Board it will be only fair to the House to supply honorable members with printed copies of the Board’s report, so that they may get a thorough grip of the proposal. I endeavoured to follow the Minister’s argument closely, but I confess that I was not able to grasp the details of the report he read. It is ridiculous for a Minister to read four or five sheets of a closely-typed report by the Tariff Board on technical matters and expect the House to understand it at once. So far as I have been able to gather, the Tariff Board has reported that it is necessary to tighten the Customs Act in certain respects, and that body must accept the responsibility for this measure. I was not able to follow the Minister’s statement that the chief check which the Department will have upon the dishonest trader will be the power to compel him to produce his bank drafts.
– That was merely an incidental expression.
– If that is regarded as the dominating protection, it is one that even a moderately dishonest trader would be able to circumvent at the first time of asking.
– He may be called upon to supply proof of the money paid for the goods.
– That, too, could be circumvented without much difficulty, because if there is a dishonest importer at this end, quite probably there is a dishonest exporter at the other end, and the two could act in collusion. Nobody desires to see the dishonest trader take advantage of the local manufacturer or other importers who are trying to deal honestly with the Department and the public. I accept the statement of the Tariff Board that this legislation is essential, but if in operation the powers conferred are abused, it will be for the House to reconsider the matter. In all sincerity I again urge upon the Minister that when he introduces any measure based upon reports by the Tariff Board those reports should be printed and circulated to members with the Bill, so that they may understand the matter in regard to which they are asked to legislate.
– I concur with the views of previous speakers regarding the necessity for the circulation with the Bill of relevant reports by the Tariff Board. I suppose the majority of honorable members will have to take the Bill on the Minister’s recommendation, and rely upon the knowledge of the Tariff Board where they cannot get other information. It would have helped honorable members had the Board’s report been printed. I did not quite grasp the ex: planation of the Minister of the reason for the alteration of the interpretation clause. The old definition of value said that it should be taken to be -
The fair market value of the goods in the principal markets of the country whence the same were exported in the usual and commercial acceptation of the term.
For that we have substituted this definition - “ Current domestic value “ means the amount for which the seller of the goods to the purchaser in Australia is selling, or would be prepared to sell for cash, at the date of exportation of those goods, the same quantity of identically similar goods to any and every purchaser in the country of export for consumption in that country.
– That has been the practice heretofore.
– Yes; but I do not see the need for an alteration of the definition. , Nor do I know how it is proposed to meet the case of those firms which manufacture solely for export, whose goods have no current domestic value.
– If there is no home market, and no current domestic value, it will be the actual money price paid. If that money price proved dumping below cost, the anti-dumping legislation would meet- the case.
– Then you will have to rely on the anti-dumping measure to deal with these cases.
– No. The Minister has a general power to assess values.
– I asked the question because I believe that there axe firms which manufacture practically wholly for export, though selling perhaps a few articles in the domestic market at a lower price than the actual export price. I do not see any objection to the definition, though I do not know that it will achieve much more than that for which it is a. substitution. The Bill seems to me designed to protect the honest trader against the dishonest trader, and anything we can do in that direction we should do. I take the word of the Tariff Board that this legislation is necessary.
– At a recent conference between representatives of the Dominions and of Great Britain, held in London, the term “ current domestic value “ waa adopted. That ig why we use that term instead of “ fair market value.”
– I agree with my leader (Mr. Charlton) and other speakers that this measure is needed to protect the Customs revenue. I know that when the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) presided over the Customs Department drastic action had to be taken to that end, and again when the late Mr. Tudor was Minister for Trade and Customs it was reported to him that dishonest practices were prevailing. He sent smart men to the other side of the world to inspect the books of the exporters. They, when their authority to do this was questioned, replied that if those who desired to- export to Australia were not prepared to disclose the actual value of their goods, steps would be taken, to prevent the entry of the goods into this country. So far back as 1910 or 1911 it was found that, by reason of undervaluation and other fraudulent practices, the Customs Department was losing nearly £750,000 per annum in revenue; The position, however, still demands great care, because the desire to export from other countries to Australia, is’ today a hundredfold greater than it was some years ago. There are. men. both in this country and in other countries who are prepared to do what is dishonest. I support the Bill, first, because it protects the revenues of the country by requiring the proper valuation of goods, and, secondly, because it protects the honest trader, whether he be exporter or importer.
.-The measure seems to me a second edition of the anti-dumping legislation, which makes our anti-dumping law a three-ply plaster. The introduction of this legislation is evidence that the Tariff Board is giving greater attention to the needs of our secondary industries than to those of our primary industries. The Tariff Board has made recommendations regarding the duties on traction engines ‘and some other goods, having seen that the Tariff, as we passed it, was injuring the primary industries, and I contend that to make the Board more efficient one member of it should directly represent the primary producers. If there were such a representative on the Board, he would be able to make his fellow members see the need for further recommendations to Parliament in order to save the primary industries from injurious legislation.
– I gladly support the measure, although, to be frank, I think it merely states in other language what has always been the practice of the Department. In normal times the law and practice of the Department have differed little, if at all, from that set out in the provisions of the Bill. I admit that the measure may perhaps give the Department a wider justification for what it has been doing, though I do not think there is any room for complaint in regard to what has happened in the past; nor am I of opinion that the measure provides any real additional security. It may perhaps enable us to control a little more effectively the trade with the East, in which practices are sometimes resorted to which create difficulty and embarrassment, and schemes are sometimes promoted for the evasion of taxation. In such cases, the Department has resorted’ to practice similar to that set out in the Bill, though hitherto, perhaps, not entirely warranted by the letter of the law. Where there are exportations, and no ascertainable domestic value, the existing law puts it within the competence of the Minister to make an assessment of value. However, it is desirable that we should have it embodied in the law that when a duty is imposed according to value, the actual money price paid, or the current domestic price of the goods, whichever is the higher, may be accepted. The Billprovides no great innovation.
– It enables those administering the law to ask for and get specific information in the terms set out.
-But it makes little or no difference to the actual practice of the Department.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- When goods are manufactured solely for export, can they, in any sense, be regarded as dumped goods when landed in another country?
– If it is found that goods are sold in, or to reach Australia, at a price below the cost of production, they will be treated as dumped goods; but that is unlikely to happen in regard to goods manufactured solely for export, because the trade would be unprofitable.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (by leave) read a third time.
In Committee of Ways and Means (Consideration of Governor-General’s message).
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to the imposition assessment and collection of a tax upon incomes.
Resolution reported and adopted.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is to consolidate and amend the law relating to the Public Service. Its object is to provide for more equitable and, in the end, more economical administration, and to secure greater efficiency. Honorable members will appreciate the important part that the Public Service plays in the government of this country. The function of the public servant is of the highest importance. Speaking as one who has had some experience in connexion with the administration of the public affairs of the Commonwealth,I say that Australia may, generally speaking, be proud of our public servants. We have a capable body of men, who have given efficient and loyal service. Particularly during the war, the work done by the public servants of Australia was of the highest character. Only those who were closely associated with the Administration know the self-sacrifice then made by the public servants, and can appreciate their whole-hearted devotion to their duties under most trying circumstances.
– I beg to call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– The Public Service now really partakes of the nature of a profession. It is capable of high ideals, and the desire is that this idealism should permeate the whole Service. When a public servant does his work efficiently he gets very little recognition. Years and years of faithful service are rendered by our officers, and their work goes smoothly on, but they get very little credit. In that regard, I may remind the House of the fact that the Commonwealth Public Service has had to go through a pretty severe test. When Federation was accomplished, it became necessary to transfer Departments from the States to the Commonwealth, to consolidate the services, and to introduce uniformity. This was a task which, obviously, was capable of creating serious friction and trouble. However, we passed through that trying period with, I suppose, less trouble and difficulty than that experienced by any other Federation, and that is partly due to the tactful and efficient service rendered by our public servants.
Since Federation has been established, the Commonwealth has moved considerably on its path of progress. At the date when Federation became a fact, the Departments then created were External Affairs, Attorney-General, Home Affairs, the Treasury, Defence, and the Post Office. The Trade and Customs Department was transferred from the States on the date of the establishment of the Commonwealth, and the Department of Defence and that of the PostmasterGeneral on the 1st March, 1901. All appointments to the Public Service were made under section 67 of the Constitution Act, and this arrangement continued until the commencement of the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902. That Act came into force on 1st January, 1908. Mr. D. C. McLachlan was appointed our first Public Service Commissioner, and held that office till May, 1916. He had one of the most difficult tasks that could be placed on a public servant, and during his whole period of service, under the most trying conditions, he carried out his work most efficiently. He unified the services that were taken over from the six States, with their varying conditions and privileges, and their different functions assigned to officers. He classified the whole Service on a proper uniform basis and laid the foundation of Federal administration. It is only right that we should place on record our appreciation of the fine service that gentleman rendered. After he had completed his service as Commissioner he was appointed by the Government to make a review of the working of the administration of the Public Service, and he presented a most valuable report. He made a series of recommendations, many of which form the basis of provisions in this Bill, and tend to the bettering of the conditions of the public servant and securing improvements from the point of view of the public.
I may remind honorable members .that smee the initiation of Federation the population of the Commonwealth has grown considerably. We had in 1901 a population of 3,765,339, which by 1921 had grown to 5,510,229. When honorable members refer to the growth and expansion of the Public Service, they must bear in mind the huge increase there has been in the population during the last twentyone years. With the increase of population, of course, has come a great expansion of the requirements of the Public Service. Further, there has been progress in the idea of public services and public utilities during that period. New inventions have come into greater use, and the result has been a very large increase in the personnel of some of the Departments, particularly the Postal Department. On 1st January, 1903, there were 11,374 officers under the Public Service Act, and that number, by the 30th June, 1922, had increased to 24,759. I have not been able to ascertain the number of temporary employees in 1903, but at the present time, in addition to the officers I have just mentioned, there are, approximately, 15,090 temporary and exempt officers. I quote these figures to give honorable members some idea of the growth of the Public Service. That growth is accounted for by the expansion of population and the natural growth and development of the services, particularly in connexion with the Postal Department. The number of officers in that Department has increased since 1903 by 8,597, or 53 per cent. ; but the gross revenue during the same period has increased from £2,404,730 to £8,511,493. That is the increase between 1903 and 1921, and I consider it satisfactory. In addition, since Federation was established, we have had to take over a number of Departments formerly administered by the States. Those new services either taken over or established, include taxation, health and quarantine, census and statistics, meteorology, patents and trade marks, old-age and invalid pensions, and maternity allowance, navigation, lighthouses, commerce, and shipping. The increase in the number of officers attributable to these new services amounts to approximately 3,500. Honorable members will see what a large number of men are now under the control of the Public Service of the Commonwealth, and what a large number of activities are being handled. War activities are practically done, and the activities now administered are the normal activities of a growing nation like the Commonwealth, exercising its jurisdiction over a large continent. Under the circumstances to which I have referred, the experience of twenty-two years has brought to light the necessity for reform, alteration, and improvements. The matter has been carefully investigated by Mr. Mclachlan, and, in addition, by the Economies Commission. That body, however, was required, rather, to direct its attention to the business side of administration. On the one hand, Mr. Mclachlan dealt with the organization, which may be described as the Public Service side. And on the other, this Commission of business men investigated the Service from the viewpoints of business management, efficiency, economy, and business reform. The Government have, in this Bill, adopted many of the recommendations of the Commission.
– But not those of Mr. McLachlan.
– The honorable member will find, in this Bill, that most of his recommendations have been adopted.
– But not all. For example, the Government propose to create a Board, the formation of which Mr. McLachlan directly recommended against.
– But which the business board, the Economies Commission, directly recommended. Where these two expert parties are inconsistent in their recommendations the Government must make a choice; and it has done so.
– The Government have commended Mr. McLachlan, but have directly refused to accept his recommendation in this respect.
– -The honorable member has mentioned only one point on which there has been a difference of opinion. I refer the honorable member to the Economies Commission’s report (page 86), wherein the Commission recommends the constitution of this Board, while distinctly reserving Ministerial responsibility. I repeat that the Government have adopted that recommendation.
As regards the Bill itself, I propose to deal briefly with the various provisions in order to outline the subject-matter covered by it. In the first place, this measure divides the Public Service into two parts, to be known as the Commonwealth Service and the Provisional Service. The Commonwealth Service includes the Departments specified in the second schedule and any Department of the Commonwealth Service which is, at any time, proclaimed by the Governor-General. The Provisional Service includes any Department or branch of the Public Service, of a provisional or temporary character, which is specified by proclamation. The first fundamental change made in the existing law is the abolition of the office of Commissioner, and those Of the inspectors, and the appointment of a Board of Commissioners. That Board will be invested with all the powers formerly possessed by the Commissioner, and with certain added powers and duties. This Board of Commissioners will consist of three persons. The Government, has adopted the recommendation of the Economies Commission, to the effect that the members of the Board shall hold office in rotation. That is to say, of the three persons first appointed as members of the Board, one is to be appointed for five years, one for four, and one for three years; and, thereafter, each appointment of a member will be for a term not exceeding five years. The Board will be well protected in its position. It will be removable only upon the grounds definitely specified in the Bill. The functions of the Board will be practically of three kinds - first, administrative; second, dealing with questions of management, efficiency, and investigation; and, third, the exercise of a quasijudicial function as a Board hearing various matters arising in connexion with appeals. Honorable members will find the particulars of the management side of the Board’s functions set out in clause 16, In addition to the various duties elsewhere in this measure imposed on the Board it is required under clause 16 to devise means for effecting economies and promoting efficiency in the managemnt and working of Departments. In carrying out this task the Board will have regard for the following: -
All those functions and duties were especially recommended by the Economies Commission as being responsibilities which should be placed upon the shoulders of this managing Board of Commissioners. The Board will be regarded as being outside of the Departments. Its duty will be to go into the Departments and investigate them. It will be required to examine the business of each Department and ascertain whether any inefficiency or lack of economy exists. It will be expected to exercise a critical oversight of the activities and methods of conducting the business of each Department. It will be called upon to maintain a comprehensive and continuous system of measuring and checking the economical and efficient working of each Department, and to institute standard practice and uniform instructions for carrying out recurring work. The Board, still further, will be required to carry out such other duties in relation to the Service as are prescribed.In order to carry out any action appearing to the Board to be necessary it is required, in the first place, to advise the permanent head of the Department concerned of its suggestions or proposals; and, if that officer does not concur in or adopt those suggestions, he must, within reasonable time, so inform the Board, and must state his reasons. Thereupon the Board, in its wisdom, may make a recommendation, report, or suggestion to the Minister responsible for that Department ; and, if it is not, within a reasonable period, approved or adopted by the Minister, the Board may report the whole matter to Parliament, either in the form of a special report or in its annual report.
Clause 18 is intended to equip the Board with special powers to enter any Department at any time for the purpose of carrying out its duties. It may summon any person whose evidence appears to be material, and it may take evidence on oath, and may require the production of documents. In fact - as the Economies Commission desired - the Board of Commissioners will be somewhat in the nature of a permanent, constantly sitting, commission, having all the powers of a Royal Commission, and possessed of the right to go from Department to Department making most thorough and complete investigations.
– But it will be unable to enforce its conclusions, except by the means and along the lines which the AttorneyGeneral has just indicated.
– I have just dealt with those very clear and specific powers.
The next important change proposed by this measure covers a recommendation of Mr. McLachlan. Clause 22 proceeds to make a very marked alteration in respect of the divisions of the Commonwealth Service. Under the existing law the divisions are known as administrative, professional, clerical, and general. Mr. McLachlan reported against such classification, and the outcome of adopting his suggestions will be to render the existing rigid Statute more elastic and, practically, to sweep away very much of the existing red-tape machinery. The whole Bill, indeed, has been designed to provide for the simplification of procedure throughout the Service - to do away with all unnecessary formalities. On page 37 of his report Mr. McLachlan states that the classification of the Service should be dependent on the value of the duties of public servants. He proceeds -
The distinguishing of divisions by names which are not invariably appropriate to the qualifications and work of the officers included in such divisions should, in my opinion be abandoned in favour of a numerical separation to secure a more desirable uniformity in classification and scales of pay, and remove claims for preferential treatment and an irritating distinction of “caste” based only upon nomenclature. A rectification of anomalies and a desirable elasticity will be secured by the adoption of new divisions on the following lines: -
The Public Service should consist of four divisions, designated as - First Division, Second Division, Third Division, Fourth Division.
The first division will include all permanent heads of Departments and such other officers as the Governor-General may determine. The second will include officers who, under those in the first division, are required to exercise executive or professional functions in the more important offices of the Service. The third division will embrace all officers whose offices the Governor- General, on the recommendation of the Board, directs shall be included in that division; and the fourth division will include all officers not included in the first, second or third division.
Upon the commencement of the new Act the first duty of the Board will be to re-classify the whole of the Public Service. Such re-classification is long overdue. Mr. Justice Higgins and Mr. Justice Starke have both called attention to the unsatisfactory nature of certain of the existing classifications. The Board will be required to classify the officers of the whole of the Public Service, making a complete revision.
– Is there not now a classification ?
– Yes, but it is too rigid, and it has other faults to which I have just directed attention. The classification of each office, and of each officer assigned to that office, together with his salary, must be notified in the Gazette. Hitherto, classifications have been governed by the schedule attached to the Act; and, I repeat, the result has been altogether too rigid.
When a classification is made, opportunity will be afforded to any officer dissatisfied with the action of the Board to forward to the Board, within thirty days, a notice of appeal setting forth the grounds of dissatisfaction. This appeal will be heard by the Board in conference with a representative of the permanent head of the Department concerned, and with the appellant or a nominee of the Public Service organi zation to which he belongs, or with an agent, who is an officer, of the appellant. Following upon this conference, the Board will be required to determine the appeal.
Special provision is made for officers of Parliament. They will be classified by the President and Speaker. In making their classification the President and Speaker may, if they think fit, invoke the assistance of the Board. Except in the case of officers paid at a specified rate by virtue of any Act, officers are to be paid salaries in accordance with such amounts or scales as may be prescribed.
– Will this provision affect the salaries of present members of the Public Service?
– If necessary for the purposes of adjustment following classification; but I repeat that there will be a complete re-classification of the whole of the Service.
– Then those officers who entered the Service under certain conditions will have their contracts broken ?
– Salaries may be increased or reduced as may be deemed proper according to the law, but, for the future, they will be fixed by regulation - so doing away with the present rigidity. Annual increments are provided for in clause 30, which has been designed to remove present sources of dissatisfaction. The increments are based, of course, upon efficiency, diligence, and good conduct. Running right through the measure is the desire to secure and recognise the efficiency, diligence, and good conduct of an officer in connexion with the carrying out of his duties.
An important alteration is made in respect to admission to the Service. Appointments will be made by the Board. Clause 32 re-enacts the provisions of the existing law, which provides that no person shall be admitted to the Service unless he is a natural-born or naturalized British subject, or unless the Board is satisfied, upon medical examination, as to his health and physical fitness, or unless he has successfully passed the prescribed entrance examination. The following has now been added: -
Unless he makes and subscribes an oath or affirmation in the form in the Fourth Schedule to this Act.
That is to say, all persons entering the Public Service in future must take the oath of allegiance.
The provision for the holding of examinations is retained, as also the provision for dispensing with examinations under certain conditions in the Fourth and other Divisions.
In respect of promotions, a very important alteration has been made, which should lead to greater facility in the administration of the Public Service. Promotions and transfers will be made within the Department by the permanent heads. The promotion or transfer is in the first instance provisional, and if the officer affected is dissatisfied he may appeal to the Board. In making the promotion, consideration must first of all be given to relative efficiency. In the event of equality of efficiency seniority will prevail. “Efficiency” is defined as follows: -
Special qualifications and aptitude for the discharge of the duties of the office to be filled, together with merit and good and diligent conduct and, in the case of an officer who is a returned soldier, such efficiency as, in the opinion of the permanent head, or the Board, as the case may be, he would have attained but for his absence on active naval or military service.
Thus special provision is made to meet the case of returned soldiers. The Board will determine any appeals from officers who are dissatisfied with the decision of a permanent head.
A change has been made in regard to offences. The definition of “ offences “ remains the same except for the addition of “ the excessive use of drugs “ and also a breach of the oath or affirmation of allegiance. Offences are divided into two kinds - minor, and other than minor. The former can be dealt with in a summary way by the chief officer, who will have power to reprimand or caution or impose a fine not exceeding 5s. ; but a considerable alteration has been made in regard to the method of dealing with offences other than minor. The officer concerned will be charged and may admit the offence or not. He will be suspended and will have forty-eight hours in which to plead. Then the chief officer, after considering the reports relating to the offence and the charge, and the reply and explanation given, may -
Fine the officer not exceeding £5; or
Reduce his salary; or
Reduce him to a lower Division, Class, or position, or salary; or
Transfer him to some other position or locality, which transfer may be in addition to fine or reduction; or
Recommend to the Board the dismissal of the officer from the Service.
If the punishment imposed is other than a fine not exceeding £2 the officer will have the right to appeal to a specially constituted Board of Appeal, and this is where the change from the principal Act is made. The clause reads as follows: -
An Appeal Board constituted under this section shall comprise -
a permanent Chairman, who shall be an officer of the Commonwealth Service, and shall have the qualifications of a Stipendiary or Police Magistrate, and shall be appointed to the office by the Board of Commissioners, but shall not while sitting as Chairman of an Appeal Board be subject to direction by any person or authority under this Act;
an officer of the Department to which the appellant belongs (not being an officer concerned in the laying of the charge against the appellant), appointed by the Chief Officer for the purpose of the particular appeal to be heard;
the elected representative of the Division to which the appellant belongs in the State or part of the State in’ which he performs his duties.
Thus, there will be a permanent Chairman for each case. This will secure uniformity in decisions, and lead to a better system of dealing with appeals relating to offences.
Another important change is contained in clause 64, which provides that an order for the attachment of the salary of any officer in the Commonwealth Territorial or Provisional Service may be made by any Court of competent jurisdiction. At the present time these officers may get into debt, and there is no method of attaching their salary to compel them to meet their liabilities. It is intended to remove that immunity and place these public servants upon the same ground as private citizens in regard to the payment of their debts. Clause 67 is new, and provides -
If an officer appears to the Board to : be Inefficient or incompetent, or unfit to discharge, or incapable of discharging the duties of his office efficiently, the Board may retire the officer from the Commonwealth Service, from a date to be specified by the Board, or may transfer him to some other position, with salary appropriate to such other position.
If an officer is invalided on account of illhealth, it is a matter for medical investigation, and, of course, the Board will be guided by the report of a medical officer; but officers who become inefficient for various other reasons maybe retired by the Board.
– Apparently there is no appeal against a decision in that regard.
– No; except to the Board itself.
– But the Board decides the matter in the first place.
– (That is so.
The law remains the same in regard to leave of absence, but permission is to be given to officers to have leave of absence on full pay when they are taking part in proceedings before an Arbitration Court. The furlough provisions have been liberalized in accordance with the promise made by the Prime Minister some time ago. Service for twenty years is still to be recognised for the purpose of furlough, and the maximum period is to be twelve months. The period of furlough is calculated at the rate of one and a half months for each period of five years’ service. Where furlough has not been taken the monetary equivalent can be drawn by the officer” upon retirement, or may be granted to his dependants upon his death. In the case of officers over sixty years of age who have not been in the Service for twenty years, furlough may be granted them on a graduated scale.
Provision is made in the case of officers in remote parts of Australia to give them partial reimbursement for the fares of themselves and their families when they are travelling on leave.
The public holidays are not altered, but the provision in regard to rents has been amended. In future the Board will fix the rent chargeable for quarters, but such rent must not exceed 10 per cent, of the salary of an officer. Special provision is made to deal with the case of officers who reside at Canberra in property belonging to the Commonwealth. They will be charged a proper rent for the buildings they occupy.
A further change in the law is proposed with a view to keeping a stronger hand upon temporary employment. This is to be governed more by the Board than by the Department as at the present time. A greater check will be exercised, and it is believed that economy can be effected.
The rights of returned soldiers are well preserved; they will have absolute preference, subject, of course, to competency, in both permanent and tem porary employment. The age of eligibility for competitive examination is not restricted to sixteen years, as in the case of the non-soldier, but is extended to fifty-one years of age. In addition, university or other academic qualifications may be recognised or accepted in lieu of an examination for the purposes of an appointment. Physical defects due to. war service will not necessarily be a bar to permanent employment, and special provision is made for soldiers to be continued in temporary employment for a long period. Provisional services - that is to say, services which are of a temporary character, such as those of the Repatriation Department - will be brought under the control of the Board.
Those, briefly, are the main features of the Bill, which I commend to the House. I believe that if it is passed into law it will make possible more efficient and economic administration, will give greater satisfaction to the public servants themselves, and will help to lay the foundation of a Service that will be worthy of the Commonwealth.
Debate (on motio by Mr. CHARLTON adjourned.
Debate resumed from 27th September (vide page 2740), on motion by Mr. Hector Lamond -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- Amongst other things, the Bill reduces the amount which the Commissioner may expend on his own initiative from £5,000 to £2,000. No longer will the Commissioner be able to spend money freely without the consent of the Minister as he can do under the existing law. The present Acting Commissioner is, I believe, a good officer, and I have no feeling against him; but I cannot understand why any officer should be occupying two important positions simultaneously. For practically a year very little has been done in regard to the construction of War Service Homes. No doubt the Department has been busy in trying to rectify the mistakes that .have been pointed out in a series of reports by the Public Accounts Committee, but why some permanent appointment was not made to the vacant Commissionership I am at a loss to understand. .
– Because under the existing law the appointment would have to be for seven years.
– Immediate action should have been taken to either make anappointment for seven years, or to amend the Act to enable an appointment to be made for a shorter period. No matter how capable a man may be, he cannot do justice to two positions. The WarService Homes Department is notoriously in a muddle on account of maladministration almost from its inception, and I cannot see how an officer could devote the necessary attention to the rectification of this unsatisfactory condition of affairs while attending to the duties incidental to another position. Both the positions occupied by Colonel Semmens are important, one carrying a salary of £1,000, and the other a salary of £1,500, so that for about twelve months that gentleman hasbeen receiving a salary of £2,500. If, in the opinion of the Government, he is the best man available for the Commissionership, he should have been appointed, so that he could devote the whole of his time to that Department. No man can successfully divide his time and talents between two Departments; any attempt to do so only leads to muddling in administration. Instead of being available to deal with matters that require urgent attention in Department No. 1, he probably is engaged upon important business in Department No. 2. Inevitably confusion results. The sooner a permanent head of the War Service Homes Department is appointed the better it will be for the soldiers and the Commonwealth.
I expected to find in this Bill provision to relieve soldiers who have purchased homes from the Commission of any liability for costs that were in excess of the statutory limit. The reports presented to Parliament from time to time show that a good deal of the inflation of costs was due to bungling on the part of the Department, and it seems unfair to load the cost of that bungling upon the purchaser, increasing his liability by £100, £200, or even £300. Surely the Commonwealth should bear that additional cost.
– It will.
– I cannot see any provision to that effect in this Bill. The only way in which the matter can be justly regulated is for the Department to pay any cost that was in excess of the maximum permitted by the Act to be expended upon any one home.
– Unless a soldier agreed to pay more than the statutory limit.
– Quite so. But an unfortunate position exists in regard to many of the agreements which the soldiers signed. Having had little business experience, and being anxious to get a home, the soldiers naturally thought that in dealing with the Government they had nothing to fear. They signed agreements to purchase houses in the blind faith that, because Parliament had enacted that the maximum cost should be, at first, £700, and later £800, that would be the limit of the obligation they were incurring.
– Some of them wanted houses that would cost £2,000.
– I am not arguing on behalf of those who wanted houses that would cost more than the maximum, of those who required additions to be made to the design that would carry the cost above the statutory maximum. The country should not bear the cost of additions which were carried out at the request of the purchaser. I am referring to those men who signed an agreement that they would purchase a house at its cost to the Commission, being under the impression that such cost could not exceed £700 or £800. Of course, during the period when War Service Homes were being constructed in large numbers, abnormal conditions prevailed in the building trade, leading to an all-round increase in costs; but, apart from that factor, there is ample proof that the methods adopted by the Department added to the cost of building. On the day-labour group men were not kept constantly at work because they were not supplied with material. In this way the labour costs were increased, through no fault of the workmen. In areas purchased for groups of War Service Homes, the land set apart for recreation and for streets was charged to each block, and the confusion was such that nobody could say what any particular house in a group would ultimately cost. It was practically impossible, because there was no costing system. The Commission did not know what each house cost. I suppose the bulk cost, spread over a long period, was taken, and an estimate made of what each soldier should pay. The soldiers in group settlements have been saddled with the cost of the land set aside for recreation purposes - in some cases, several acres - and for the cost of the land used in making streets. In the ordinary way, however, a person making ahome pays only for the land on which he is going to build his (house. I am pleased that the Minister is altering the arrangement. It is intended, I understand, to extend the period over which the repayments will take place. This will make the position of the soldier settlers somewhat easier, but it will not relieve them of the necessity of paying, in very many cases, an aggregate amount much’ larger than that which they expected to have to pay.
– It would seem that there should be a general revaluation and writing down.
– That is what has been done.
– But it has not gone far enough.I think that the Minister shouldhave gone as far as this recommendation of the Public Acccounts Committee -
The Committee found at an early stage of its investigations that group houses were not popular among the applicants, who objected to being segregated in this way from the ordinary community, and would have much preferred to choose allotments in localities suited to their individual requirements.
The building of houses by day labour was very badly managed by the Commission. Materials were not always delivered when wanted, nor in sufficient quantities. A foolish instruction took out of the hands of the architects of the Commission in the various States the responsibility for the execution of the work. The supervisors were not always well chosen, and even the best of them were handicapped by being given the oversight of more work than they could effectively control. The result has been that in nearly all instances the cost of homes erected under this system exceeded the maximum stated in the Act; in some cases the excess cost has turned out to be beyond all reason. The Committee was informed by the Deputy Commissioner for New South Wales that the average cost of the cottages he was building, including the land, would be approximately £800. It is now ascertained that this amount has been exceeded by as much as from £200 to £400 in many individual houses.
It has been obvious to the Committee all through its inquiry that it would be unfair to put upon the soldiers the excess cost of their homes. Detailed investigations of the cost and value of the houses erected by the Commission by day labour, which are now being made by the Adjustment Boards, indicate that some writing down will be inevitable. The loss for the whole scheme in this way will be heavy, but there is not sufficient information available at this stage to enable even an approximate estimate to be attempted.
The Committee takes strong exception to a clause in the undertaking which has to be signed by the soldier, whereby he agrees to purchase the property “ at the capital cost to the Commissioner when ascertained.” Many soldiers were surprised to find the Commission holding that this clause entitled it to charge them for the houses amounts far beyond what they had been led to expect.
The men have made themselves liable by signing an agreement for the actual cost of their homes, but in doing so they were of the opinion that, Parliament having enacted that the cost of War Service Homes should not exceed a certain amount, they would not be called upon to pay more for them. The extension of the period in which repayments can be made does not relieve them of the extra burden put on them. It must not be forgotten that these repayments will burden most of the men for their life-time. In former days a working man could obtain for £300 or £400 a home equal to those for which our soldiers are being charged from £800 to £1,000, or even more, and it was easier to pay the instalments due on the smaller amount than it is to pay those due on the larger ones. As a rule, a working man does not average more than £4 per week, and when he has to pay £1 per week over a life-time to buy his home, he andhis wife have a heavy burden, because there is still provision to be made against sickness and unemployment, and all the expenses of daily life have to be met. As the Government is practically responsible for the increase in costs that has taken place, the country should, I think, pay the difference between the sum originally fixed and the actual expenditure on eachhome. Soldiers who are getting their homes for £800 will find it hard enough to pay the regular instalments. In many cases, their debt will be like a skeleton in the family cupboard. The man and his wife will always be afraid that they may not be able to keep up their payments, and that they may lose their home. Of course, the Commonwealth will give them a fair deal.
– But some men have been turned out of their homes.
– That is so. I think that where no extras have been asked for, and the home has been built in accordance with the original design, the soldiers should not be asked to pay more than the £700 or £800 fixed by Parliament. We should not burden them with the cost of our mistakes. Many of the men would have done better had the money been lent to them to build for themselves.
– In that case they would have found it necessary to pay £200 or £300 above the price originally fixed.
– A man with £700 or £800 could build himself a comfortable cottage, and perhaps could save a little. What the working man wants is a substantial building in which he may live in comfort at a cost commensurate with his earnings.The concessions which the Minister proposes do not go far enough. Only last week the members of a deputation which waited on the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) and myself pointed out that their homes were costing considerably more than they had bargained for. Recently, when this matter of cost was under discussion, the Minister made a statement to the effect that the men would be relieved of the additional charge,but within two days of that statement these men, according to their own complaint, received from the Commissioner the intimation that they had to pay the exorbitant charges which were being levied on them. I understand that some men signed a differentcontract, but I suppose that three-fourths of the soldiers have signed an agreement pledging them to pay the full cost of their homes, regardless of the fact that the Act said that these buildings were not to exceed a certain amount. The real need of the soldiers is toberelieved of this additional cost, and I hope that the Minister will take action in the direction I suggest.I understand that, in future, the houses areto be built by contract.
– That is the policy.
– I doubt that that will be inthe best interests of the returned men. The question of contract versus day-labour construction plays a prominent part inthe politics of the country, but while many of the War Service
Homes built by day labour may be ineffective, even worse construction was carried out under the contract system.
– Perhaps the proposed building guild will bring about some improvement.
– The contract system enables the soldier to know before his house is commenced what it will cost.
– That has not been so, because extras have been charged for this and that which have increased the cost beyond what was contracted for. The Public Accounts Committee had instances brought before it in which the contract prices were exceeded in that way, and, nevertheless, shoddy work was put into the buildings.
– There were only a few: such cases.
– What does the honorable member say about the Goulburn cases ? The reports show clearly that the bricks were of such a character that one could crumble them like sand?
– It does not do to condemn all homes built by contract.
– I am not doing so, but equally it does not do to condemn all cottages built by day labour.
– We ought not, in any way, to lessen the value of the homes to these soldiers.
– It would be difficult to lessen the value of the homes at Goulburn.
– I know that some were very bad.
– What does the honorable member say about the homes at Cessnock?
– I did not see them.
– Those homes were built by contract, and it was specified that the timber used should be inferior. It was obtained by the truck load from Gloucester, in my own district, and was fully 50 per cent. below normal value. Even before the soldiers could get into their homes, a man could put his hand in anywhere on the timber, which had shrunk, and was full of borers. And in the same way the painting done by contract could be rubbed off with the hand. It cannot be claimed that good work is insured by means of the contract system. My firm conviction is that with day labour under proper supervision there is better work. At Merewether, in the
Newcastle district, a bricklayer named Vial, who was in charge of the work, constructed better homes than can be found anywhere. He made it his business to see that the work was thoroughly done, and that the best material- was used; indeed, he would not allow any inferior material to be landed on the job. These particular cottages were built at reasonable cost, and more than favorably compare with any built by contract. After all, there is always an inducement to a man who is building by contract to slum the work in order to increase his profit.
– Both systems are equally dangerous under bad supervision.
– I agree there should be good supervision in the case of day labour, and there is no reason why there should not be such supervision. Why should a soldier not have the right to stipulate that his home be built by day labour?
– If he is willing to pay the extra cost that will be incurred.
– There may be no extra cost.
– Then the soldier will not have to pay.
– I, myself, built a cottage and saved about £150 by employing day labour. Tenders were called on a plan taken from my cottage, and the tender was about £170 more than I had paid. There is another matter in this Bill in regard to which I am not quite clear. So far as I understand it is proposed to amend the Act by providing that there must be a deposit of 5 per cent. of the value. Am I right in understanding that that applies to the applicant?
– Then I cannot understand why there should be such a provision. If a home is to cost £700, it means that a man will have to find at once £35, besidesthe other initial costs, amounting to possibly £5.
– If the soldier owns the necessary land it may equal the 5 per cent.
– But if the man has to buy both house and land, it means that he will have to find £35. A man with a wife and family, who is paying, perhaps, £1 or 25s. per week rent, is fortunate if he can pay his way, and will certainly not be able to find this lump sum. He must, therefore, be debarred from ever obtaining a War Service Home. I regret that the Minister has inserted such a provision in the Bill, because I see no reason why soldiers now should receive treatment different from that meted out to soldiers in the past. First of all, we provided that the War Service Homes should cost £700, and then, because of the higher cost of material, and so forth, the maximum was raised to £800. Now we find the Minister proposing to go back to the £700. That, of course, is all to the good if comfortable cottages can be provided for that sum. Is the “reduction because the Minister is of opinion that the reduction in the cost of materials justifies such a step?
– The £700 mentioned in the Bill refers to houses that were sold at £700.
– If the maximum of £800 remains in regard to otherhouses a soldier will have to find £40 in addition to the initial cost.
– What is the reason suggested for the imposition of this 5 per cent.?
– That is what I am endeavouring to ascertain. As the Bill stands this imposition will act as a hindrance to men obtaining homes. The great majority of returned soldiers have no means at all, and are very fortunate if they own a £5 note.
– The imposition may be to prevent too many homes being applied for.
– It is quite possible that such a provision may be the means of preventing numbers from applying, but if that is the reason actuating the Minister it is a very flimsy one, and he would be well advised to reconsider the matter. In regard to the points I have raised, the Bill appears to me most unsatisfactory. Almost twelve months have elapsed since much was done in the way of building homes, and now, when the men expect the business to be put on a fair basis, obstacles are thrown in their way. If we had a record of the men waiting, I think we would find that possibly not 20 per cent. of them could raise £40 as a deposit. It is quite possible that some of these men have been waiting three or four years for homes, and in the meantime they have been compelled to pay rent, a fact which is a sure bar to saving. Unless a man can get some friend to advance him the necessary deposit he must go without his home.
– Has the Minister said how many prospective home-seekers there are?
– They are in large numbers, as I know from the evidence given before the Public Accounts Committee.When these men who are now on the waiting list made their applications there was no such thing as a deposit, and the money they had to find at the start was not more than £5 or so. There is no doubt that the returned soldiers will be greatly disappointed, because they looked to this Bill to relieve them from the overcharge caused not by themselves but by the administrative acts of the Government. A man who buys a home on the instalment plan always desires to get rid of his liability as soon as possible, and will strain every nerve to do so; but the relief now offered is not by removing the liability for the extra charge, but by extending the term for the repayment. That is really all that the Bill offers, and though to a small extent it puts the men in a better position, it is only a very small relief. The Minister ought to consider whether he cannot extend further concessions, because, if the Government have made a mistake, we ought not to expect these men to pay the penalty. They signed the agreements presented, relying on the Government to look after their interests, but they are still saddled with the additional cost. This extra liability will make all the difference between failure and success on the part of these men in paying for their homes, especially if they are married men with growing families. As the years go by, and with their obligations ever growing, returned men find it more and more difficult to make their payments. This measure certainly contains some minor amendments, intended to afford a degree of relief here and there. For example, returned soldiers are to be relieved of the necessity for paying their share towards the construction of reserves, street improvements, and the like. Really, however, no substantial relief is afforded from beginning to end of the Bill. It is a disappointment to me, and it will disappoint thousands of returned men already in possession of their homes who had been led to believe that they were about to be afforded some further measure of help. It is not too late now for that relief to be granted; Parliament may provide it by amending the Bill. Honorable members have said, over and over again, that, where mistakes have been made in the matter of costs, the returned men should not be called on to pay for them. The Honorary Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) has pointed out that the Government have already afforded relief, independently of the proposals contained in this Bill. I maintain that where, through no fault of his own, the cost of a soldier’s home has proved greater than he had expected, and higher than the amount of the statutory provision, he should not be called upon to pay the excess. The Government have taken no steps to grant relief in that specific direction, and this Bill does not set out to do so.
– I am bound to say that, in cases where men entered into an arrangement at a fixed price, and where the cost has been exceeded, the Government have stood by their undertakings in respect of the original price.
– The Honorary Minister has already indicated that valuators have been appointed to revalue properties, and that, in practically every instance, the Government have stood by their revaluations.
– That is so, in most cases.
– But what is the position of the soldier who is in a house which he expected to cost £800, but which has cost £1,100 and has been revalued at £950? The soldier, when he signed his agreement, took it for granted that he would not be required to pay anything in excess of the statutory amount. He certainly should not be called upon to pay the full amount of the cost; but why should he be required to find even the additional £150 covered by the revaluation? His case is especially hard, because the additional costs have been caused chiefly by the bungling administration of the Department.
– None of that cost has ever been charged to the soldier.
– The point is, that he expected to get his home for the £800 specified in the Act. He was told that he would get it for that sum. I contend that he should be required to pay no more.
– There has been no instance of an agreement having been dishonoured. Even where only a constructive agreement could be read into the facts, there has been no case of its being dishonoured.
– But when the soldier signed the agreement he took it for granted that the Commissioner would not charge him, more than the statutory COSt, price. The soldier undertook to pay the Commissioner the cost of his home.
– The Government do not say that the book cost, in the Department, is the cost of the home. We are attempting, by every means, to ascertain actual value; it is upon that value that the soldier purchases his home. We cannot act more fairly than that.
– Suppose that a house has cost £750, and that its valuation today is £650.
– We are not revaluing homes in instances where there are definite agreements or mortgages. We have very few troubles in such cases.
– The soldiers considered all along that the cost to them, would be the statutory cost.
– That is the point. They should not be required to pay more than they expected to pay. under the exact terms of the law. This measure does not propose to afford any relief in that direction, and, therefore, it is unsatisfactory to all concerned. Returned men who have had alterations and improvements made upon original designs are, in probably every instance, prepared to pay the cost of those alterations. But where there have been no changes, where no additional work has been done, and where the soldier occupants went into their contract in good faith - expecting the Government to build them a home for the statutory’ price - they should not be called upon to pay one penny more.
Another unhappy feature is that many of the men do not receive their accounts promptly. ‘Sometimes they are for as long as six and twelve months in occupation before they learn what their home has cost. When they receive the bill they are naturally staggered to find that their obligations are £200 and more in excess of the terms of their bargain. I appeal to the Honorary Minister to look very closely and sympathetically into the whole matter. Parliament will undoubtedly approve of any relief which the Government may see fit to afford. This country has its obligations, and it dare not escape them. It has no wish to do so. I can only express the hope that, for the future, we shall avoid the pitfalls into which the Government have fallen over the provision of soldiers’ homes. I do not expect, however, that the present Government will have profited by the mistakes of the past.
.- This Bill is a disappointment. Honorable members have heard much about the amending measure which the Government were about to introduce. It contains nothing, however, which will prove of great value to returned soldiers who have been provided with homes by the War Service Homes Department. The main provision of the measure is in the direction of restricting the powers of the Commissioner. Personally, I do not agree with that proposal. The proper way in which to administer a Department and to run any business is to get hold of a good man, pay him a good salary, and give him - as far as may be practicable - a free hand. Because the Government were unfortunate in their original choice, and because the Department has not been well run - the Commissioner having proved, according to the standards of business, a failure - there is no reason why the Government should restrict the opportunities of others.
I condemn the general principles of this Bill. I have examined it very carefully, and have made a summary of what appears to be the real position. The measure does not propose to afford relief to soldier occupants of Government-built homes, except in the matter of the time to be afforded for payment. Actually, further restrictions are to be imposed. Returned men were allowed certain advantages under the Act which are now to he withdrawn. It was hoped, after the thorough investigation of the Public Accounts Committee, and in the light of its recommendations, that the amending Bill would improve the conditions of returned men rather than impose additional restrictions. In the course of their inquiry, members of the Committee found that only in one ‘State were returned soldiers being housed as well as they could wish. I refer to South Australia, where the State Bank had been given the task of building soldiers’ homes. It was hoped that the amending Bill would largely follow the lines of success in South Australia; but it proposes to do nothing in that direction. One is struck forcibly by the provision contained in the Bill that a soldier shall be required to pay a 5 per cent. deposit. Many of our returned men are not in a position to do that. It is impossible f or numbers of those who married soon after their return from the war, and who are rearing increasingly large families, to put by any sums with which to pay a deposit for their homes. It would be difficult for them to do so and live. Many of these men married at the end of the war without thinking of what the future meant to them. It was excusable, because they were in a disturbed state of mind at the time, and business considerations did not hamper them to any degree. Now, however, they find that their occupations give them very little to live on, and certainly do not enable them to make provision for the payment of the deposit required by this Bill. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will cut out this clause and revert to the old system of allowing these men to go into their homes without the payment of a deposit.
I notice that the soldier is to be relieved of all restrictions upon subletting or sale, but that only one home is to be provided for each soldier. As a general rule the latter provision may prove to be quite sound, but it will have a hampering effect upon the number of men in the employment of the Government, or of such institutions as banks, who cannot choose the location of their employment. If these men are removed by a force superior to themselves, over which they have no control, from the district in which they have secured a home from the War Service Homes Commission, the restriction in the Bill will prevent them from getting a home in other parts. It is quite right to prevent men from moving about and trafficking in homes, but where a man is transferred, in the circumstances I have just mentioned, from the district in which he has already secured a home, I see no reason why he should nob be allowed to get another home in his new district, so long as the Department gets the price for the original dwelling.
– The restriction would prevent some men from getting homes.
– Yes, because a man would not worry about getting a home if he knew that he was liable to be moved by superior forces at any time, and that he would not be permitted to get another house in the fresh locality to whichhe might be transferred. I hope the Minister will extend the provision to deal with the circumstances of those men who are moved about in this way. The Government should not put any restriction in the way of a man getting a home in his new locality, or even another home in still another locality, if he is moved again, so long as the Department is recouped for its expenditure in each case.
Another restriction contained in this Bill which will create difficulty is the provision that the Commissioner must not buy existing houses or discharge existing mortgages without the approval of the Minister. When a man has an offer of an existing home the business has generally to be completed within a given period. A vendor does not want his offer to be hung up indefinitely. I have known of cases in which the soldiers have lost the opportunity of buying homes they wanted to obtain because the Department acted too slowly, not because the Department objected to the prices asked by the vendors, or because the dwellings were regarded as unsuitable, but simply because the Commission was so slow in moving that the vendors got tired of the business, and disposed of their properties elsewhere.
– In many cases the vendor asked too high a price.
– There were cases of that description, but in other cases where the vendors were willing to sell at reasonable rates the men who were willing to buy could not get the houses they wanted, because of the delay that occurred in the Department.
I can discover nothing in this Bill to indicate that returned soldiers will not be treated as tenants in their own homes as they have been treated in the past. The Minister would be well advised to make certain that this does not occur in the future.
– How has it occurred ?
– Men have been kept as tenants in the houses they agreed to purchase from the Commission.
– It is not a disadvantage to them; in many cases it is an advantage, because they are paying less in rent than they would have been obliged to pay under the purchase scheme. In any case, they get full credit for the money paid exactly as if they were purchasing.
– There is a grave doubt among the soldiers upon that point.
– There may be grave doubt among the soldiers, but there is no doubt whatever among those who are paying the money.
– There is grave doubt among many of those who are paying the money in this way. It should be established beyond all doubt that the money they are paying as tenants will go towards the purchase of the houses. In addition, there is always the fear among some returned men that the price fixed for the house may be more than the man can afford to Day. That is the chief trouble in connexion with the housing of our returned soldiers. As the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has pointed out, the men entered into agreements, believing that the statutory limitation would be the amount they would be called upon to pay. In many cases they were not business men, in other cases they were careless, because they knew that they were dealing with the Government. They signed agreements only to find in some cases that the price they were asked to pay was so high that they have had to walk out of their homes. That is not a fair proposition. In other cases men have been paying rent all the time, not knowing whether ultimately they would be possessors of the houses or not. There is nothing in the Bill to show that there will be security of tenure. There are hard cases in which men, for reasons over which they have had no control, have not been able ‘to make their payments promptly. The country could well afford to allow such men time to recover. Where the occupiers of houses or their families have suffered from ill-health or have bad exceptional, expenditure to meet, surely the Department should display a little leniency if their payments fall behind. I hope that under the new administration, when this Bill becomes law, no men will be turned out of their homes because they have fallen behind in their payments through circumstances over which they have had no control.
– I do not think the honorable member can quote one instance of that having been done at the present time.
– The Public Accounts Committee came across three or four cases, and if I had the papers with me I could mention them specifically.
– The honorable member cannot do so in connexion with the recent practice of the Department.
– Another matter of great importance to the returned soldiers is the valuation placed upon homes. The Minister has intimated to-day by interjection that the houses are being valued, and that the men will be called upon to pay only the actual valuation placed upon them. In the first place, it is essential that the valuers should be thoroughly capable and reliable men. In many cases the valuations of property are very erratic.
– That is our principal difficulty.
– I know that the Minister will have difficulty in getting really good men to undertake these valuations. Of course, that is a matter of judgment, and allowance must be made for human error, hut I would like to know the basis upon which the valuations will be made. Will they be on the value of the house at the time it was built, or at the present time, or when the man entered into occupation, or will they be as estimated at the time when the man signed his contract for the building?
– In many cases the soldiers have added to the value of their homes by effecting improvements by means of their own labour.
– That is a matter which also must be taken into consideration. Many men have put their own capital into the building of their houses. The Minister has interjected to-day that some houses have been built for returned soldiers at a cost of £2,000. I would like to know how many houses have been built at that cost.
– Not very many; but a great many houses have been built at a cost of over £800.
– The Minister can rest assured that the men who had houses built costing over £800 will cause the Department to suffer no loss, because they have already added from their own pockets to the advance made by the Commission. In the course of its inquiries, the Public Accounts Committee found that, on the whole, the men have been meeting their obligations extremely well, and I think that instead of imposing restrictions in this Bill, the Government should make concessions. I repeat that the measure is a distinct disappointment to me, and I am sure it will be a disappointment to thousands of men when they find that the recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee, impartial decisions in every case, arrived at after full inquiry, have notbeen embodied in it. A Bill which should have raised the belief of returned soldiers in their country will do nothing of the kind. Some of the men are losing that faith in their country which they had when they went abroad to fight - it is an extremely serious thing to have to say of a young country like this - and in order that this faith in their country may be restored to these men, I trust that the Bill in the Committee stage will be considerably liberalized.
.- No provision is made in this Bill for limbless soldiers. Any honorable member who saw certain photographs recently displayed in the chamber would be justified in saying that these men should get whatever they want, and I suggest that special provision should be made for them in this measure. It may be urged that our finances are too restricted to permit of this being done, but a few days ago we gave away £85,000 to Tasmania, and remitted £100,000 of the revenue derived from the entertainments tax, and £400,000 of the revenue derived from the super land tax. A total of £585,000 has been given away in the last three weeks; yet,having all that money to give away, the Commonwealth is placing unfair restrictions upon these men. No deposit should be demanded of them when they are trying to get a home. My inquiries have shown that the character of the men themselves is excellent, and the fact that they have wives and families dependent upon them is sufficient guarantee that any arrangement they make with the Commissioner will be honoured.
The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) said, apparently referring to Lieut.-Colonel Walker, that the Commissioner was not competent.Lieut.Colonel Walker never had a fair chance. I have appealed in his behalf on the floor of the House on several occasions for a Royal Commission to investigate his case.
– I think there was something to be said in his behalf, too.
– I am pleased to hear the honorable member say so. I suppose it is too late in the expiring days of this Parliament to ask for an inquiry, but I have protested on several occasions against the way in which Lieut.Colonel Walker has been treated. An inquiry by a Judge, acting as a Royal Commissioner, would be the only means of properly investigating his case, and either proving that he was a failure, or that if not interfered with he would have been a success. My view is that he was a success, so far as he was allowed to go. I am. sure that the Honorary Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) will give consideration to the request made by honorable members that the conditions in regard to War Service Homes shall be made as liberal as the financial position will allow. I have already pointed out that the Commonwealth apparently can afford to give away money to other people who arenot so worthy as are the returned soldiers. This is the last opportunity we shall have of appealing to the Government to give all reasonable concessions to these men, who deserve everything we can bestow upon them. I indorse all that has been said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming).
– My chief complaint against the Government in regard to War Service Homes is that they have suffered from panic. They incurred an expenditure of £500,000 in the purchase of timber areas and saw-mills, and I understand that practically all of them are idle, that hundreds of men have been thrown out of employment, and millions of feet of timber are lying idle.
– Worse than that, timber is still being cut under contract tothe Government at prices many shillings in advance of the prices at which it could be bought privately.
– I think the honorable member is referring to another contract. The Government made a large contract, which they are unable to cancel, because the contractor insists upon the Department taking delivery of the timber which he contracted to supply. But there are two other mills in Queensland which, with the timber areas associated with them, cost the War Service Homes Commission approximately half-a-million pounds.Certainly, the vendors accepted bonds in various war loans in part payment, but the Commonwealth is paying interest on those bonds, and in the course of time will have to redeem them. In Victoria, also, there was another expensive timber mill transaction, as a result of which millions of feet of timber have been accumulated. I do not know what the South Melbourne stores are like to-day, but when I visited them last they were stacked with millions of feet of timber, cut in such a way that the ordinary builders will, not buy it. When the Commonwealth commenced to negotiate with the Victorian State Savings Bank for the building of homes they should have tried to make some arrangement for the taking over of this accumulation of material. If ever there was a time when the War Service Homes Commission had an opportunity of operating successfully it was after provision had been made to insure supplies, but the Commonwealth Government suddenly became seized with panic, abandoned the whole building scheme, and resolved to carry on future operations under the contract system. With what result? We shall never know until the final bill is made up. One hesitates to estimate the cost to the taxpayers of, firstly, wrong appointments, and, secondly, the gross blunder committed’ by the Government in stopping all building operations and disposing of their amassed material to whoever would buy it. What is happening to-day in regard to many of the house fittings that were purchased by the Commissioner under contract is instanced by the experience of a gentleman from the country who wanted an enamel bath, and on applying to one of the big manufacturers who had been a contractor to the War Service Homes Com mission, was told, “ I could supply you, but I should have to charge you a good deal more than you will have to pay if you buy from the War Service Homes Commission.” Baths, plumbing material, and fittings of all kinds are being disposed of at reduced prices, and at a loss of thousands of pounds. I do not throw all theblame upon the War Service Homes Commissioner. Even a Conservative journal like the Sydney Morning Herald was able to sum up rightly the character of a certain class of contractor in our midst. When the Government started its policy of building homes for the returned soldiers, some of our loud-mouthed so-called patriots did their level best to fleece the Government, the Commisioner, and the soldier. The Commissioner was right in trying to free the soldier from the greedy grasp of these people. The Ministry and Parliament had outlined a great policy of construction, and the Commissioner recommended this and that scheme in order to supply the soldier with a home at a reasonable cost. He did make several good arrangements; indeed, he had to make them in order to escape from the grip of the combines which controlled timber, bricks, tiles, cement, and ironmongery. Those people were prepared to cheer the soldier when he went to the war, to wave flags on all occasions, to send their motor cars to meet the incoming transports, and join in the hurrahs which greeted the returning soldiers, but as soon as the scheme was launched for providing the soldier with a home, those same individuals dipped their hands as deeply as they could, not only into the public purse, but into the pockets of the soldiers also. Now the Government are resorting to the contract system, giving employment to those very men, to dodge whom the Commissioner had entered into some of his biggest schemes. He stated that one reason why he resorted to day labour was the exorbitant tenders he received from the contractors. The Government are proposing to utilize the services of the State Savings Banks, and some honorable members will say that in that policy they will be safe. The South Australian experience does not provide a fair comparison. The chief contractor in Adelaide was in a big way of business, and had his own brickworks, joinery works, and other establishments for supplying him with material. A man thus equipped could build houses much more cheaply than could anybody else.
– And what has happened to him?
– So far as I know he is all right.
– He was very near to closing down some months ago.
– I did not know of that: but he may have experienced the same fate as others who tried to build homes at a reasonable rate. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) will admit that one of the most scandalous examples of jerry-building that have come under the notice of the Public Accounts Committee was the Goulburn contract. So-called bricks could be crumbled into sand in one’s hand.
– Who passed the work ?
– I advise honorable members to read the report of the Public Accounts Committee. The contractor was a brickmaker, and the architect who supervised his contracts was his son.
– The advantage of the contract system is that the Government can claim on the contractor.
– With all the patching up that has taken place are those homes fit for human habitation now ?
– In the early days of the scheme in Victoria a number of members of this Parliament, Captain Dyett, and others, visited many of the War Service Homes, and were enthusiastic in their praise of the work that had been done. The honorable member bases his criticism on a small group of defective houses out of thousands that have been built.
– I am merely pointing out to the Minister-
– It is not necessary to point out these things to me. I have been inspecting War Service Homes for months past, and I know a good deal of what has been done to “ take down “ the Government.
– Had the Assistant Minister for Repatriation been in office during wartime he would know that similar practices were carried on then to the great detriment of the country. The Postmaster-General’s interjection referred, I presume, to the first set of War Service Homes built near Preston, which were visited soon after completion by Senator Millen and the honorable mem ber for Bourke (Mr. Anstey). I admit with him that some of the buildings put up have been splendidly constructed.
– Get back to the Goulburn case.
– There was never a more disgraceful attempt to get at the Government and the soldiers than that at Goulburn, to which I have referred. I do, not wish to say hard things of any one; but the man who would treat a returned soldier as many of the returned men for whom homes were built at Goulburn were treated, would rob anybody. Yet some such men are held up as bright and shining examples to the community. The Government have been too hasty in giving up the building of War Service Homes themselves, and handing it over to others. I should like to know what price they are getting for the timber supplies accumulated by the Commission. I have acknowledged that there were some reasons for the accumulation of timber and other supplies. The grasping proclivities of timber merchants and other suppliers of material for house construction somewhat justified what was done. Speaking generally, the wrong men were appointed to the places under the War Service Homes Commissioner, and when there were revelations concerning the manner in which the Commissioner was acting, Ministers were seized with panic. The Commissioner himself was dispensed with, and one by one the chief officers of the Department throughout Australia dropped off and were replaced by others, some of whom, at any rate, have been considerably better than their predecessors. The Deputy Commissioner in Queensland told the Public Accounts Committee that it was disgraceful, with the supply of building material in hand, that he was not allowed to construct more homes in that State.
– If the Government were to offer for sale the whole of the War Service Homes that have been constructed, we should make a profit on the deal.
– The Minister knows that the report of the valuers appointed by the Government was that, generally speaking, these houses had cost too much.
– By hundreds of pounds each.
– By from £100 to £400. Of course, in some oases the soldiers. were responsible for the increase in cost by demanding extra expenditure; but in most cases they merely signed an agreement to pay for the house what it would cost, believing that the cost would not exceed the statutory £700 or £800, only to find that it was £900, £1,000, and even as much as £1,100 and £1,200. Naturally these men now say, “ The price of the house is beyond my means. I cannot afford to pay it.”
– In some cases men have refused to take possession of the houses built for them.
– In every case where a soldier complains that he cannot afford to pay for the house that has been built for him, we say, “ We will take it over from you, and build you another house which will be within your means.”
– I understand that when the cost of a house has exceeded the statutory limit, you are extending the period of years in which the cost is to be repaid.
– Not in many cases.
– In some cases.
– Where circumstances demand it. Only a very small proportion of the soldiers have found fault with what the Department is doing. I have not met any who have been able to show that they are not getting a fair deal.
– The Public Accounts Committee took evidence from the men themselves.
– That is a long while ago.
– We visited all the States of the Commonwealth, and went thoroughly into the wholematter. The Valuation Board has reported that costs have been exceeded in the way I have stated. I should like to know what the position is in South Australia. What supervision is exercised over the construction of War Service Homes there? Does the Commonwealth say to the State. “ You propose to construct so many houses. Here is so much money “ ? or does the State say to the Commonwealth, “ We intend to build so many houses, which we anticipate will cost so much. Will you lend us the money?”
– South Australia is borrowing money from the Commonwealth, her position differing from that of the other States, which are building War Service Homes for us.
– I understand that in South Australia War Service Homes are being built below the statutory cost.
– That is happening in Queensland also.
– I would not advocate day labour without good supervision, but, with good supervision, I would always prefer it to the contract system.
– Which means day labour plus a middleman.
– It means day labour with proper supervision.
– Was not the East- West transcontinental railway constructed on the day labour system ?
– It was built under exceptional circumstances. Every successful contractor owes his success partly to his skill in estimating cost and in buying materials, but chiefly to the proper supervision of the staff of well-trained men that he gathers about him. The contractor does his work with day labour and charges a profit. The Commonwealth Government has a staff of architects, builders, and others, and is therefore not under the necessity of employing contractors; with good supervision, it could build homes better and more cheaply than the work could be carried on under the contract system.
– The difficulty is to get the supervision.
– The honorable member is all the time declaring these houses to be bad, and discrediting the Commonwealth asset. I know something about the matter. Similar houses could not be built by private persons for the amounts these War Service Homes have cost. There may be a house or two to which exception may have been taken, but it must be remembered that the Government has now built thousands of houses, and that these are quite good.
– There have been complaints, not only about the houses built at Goulburn, but also about those built at Cessnock. I know that good houses have been built, because I have been in them, and have been glad to meet the bonny wives and children there; but the soldiers, who are increasing their family responsibilities every year, must find it harder and harder to pay the instalments due on their homes. My main reason for drawing attention to the bad construction in some of these houses is to show how some patriots will take down even the “ poor digger.” I denounce these men, who are not to be trusted. I have had reason to criticise the ex-War Service Homes Commissioner and those associated with him; but I admit that he was driven to recommend the purchase of timber areas and saw-mills to get out of the clutches of the timber merchants of Australia. Now that Ministers have improved the personnel of the War Service Homes Commission’s staff, they should not evade responsibility for construction by handing the work over to the State Savings Bank authorities. The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, visited all the States, reported on the War Service Homes activities in each of them, and made a seventh general report, covering the whole Commonwealth. I have preserved an unbiased mind throughout the investigation, and I say that, while there are many things one can admire, there are many more that one cannot admire in the administration of the Department.
– Within twenty-four hours men could be obtained who would take over the whole of our War Service Homes assets and sell them at a profit.
– I condemn the Government for running away from responsibility in this matter. I admit that the Minister for Repatriation, on entering upon his office, had one of the hardest jobs that any Minister could undertake. I cannot help having a soft spot in my heart for the honorable gentleman, who has gone through a trying ordeal, aud that spot becomes softer still when we think how, under the storm and stress of his duties, he practically failed in health. My sympathies are always with my fellow members and with Ministers, although I may not agree with them politically; but I think a great mistake has been made in giving this work to other people when the Government have all the supplies at hand. We all know how arrangements have had to be made with contractors and so forth, and some arrangement should also have been made whereby those who carry out the work might purchase the material in stock. The correctness of such a view must be evident to the merest tyro in building or any other business transactions. Yet it is proposed to hand out this material to the public practically at the public’s own price. When the State Savings Bank authorities are building homes why should they not make use of this material ? Instead of making such an arrangement, ordinary contractors are to be allowed to buy timber at a reduced price on the ground, possibly, that there has been deterioration ; and it is hard to say what will be the ultimate cost to the taxpayers of the country.
.- I trust that the Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) will see his way to accept the suggestion, which seems to have the general approval of the House, that he should reconsider his decision in regard to the deposit. It is very difficult for the soldier, especially if he is incapacitated, to raise a sum of, possibly, £50. Moreover, this provision will bestow a privilege on a few as compared with others who are not quite so fortunately circumstanced. For instance, a married man, with, perhaps, three or four children, has no opportunity to save £50 as compared with the younger men just about to be married. This places the married man in an awkward and unfair position, and makes a distinction between those who have money and those who have not. True, the soldiers got their gratuity and other moneys, but domestic expenses soon got rid of these, and while rents are so high, saving is practically impossible. The Minister would please the House, and the community outside, if he sees that no distinction is made between one soldier and another - that those who have not £50 will enjoy the same opportunities as those who have. That seems to be accepted as a fair and reasonable proposition, but, at the same time, there are honorable members who may not be quite seized of the importance of this part of the Bill. If the Minister will consent to fall in with the views expressed, we shall not be placed under the necessity of forcing any amendments in Committee, and, at the same time, the wishes of the people will, I am sure, be met.
The provision dealing with the power to sell is a good one, and is acceptable to all concerned; but I see that liberty is given to buy or sell only one house. If a soldier is compelled, from any cause or causes, to move from one State to another, he ought to be at liberty to exchange a house, say, in Victoria, for one- in New South Wales. I know it may be said that if a man sells a house in Victoria he will have sufficient money with which to purchase one elsewhere; but that may not be the case. This Bill has been brought in with the intention of assisting the soldier, and I merely raise these points as worthy of consideration by the Minister. I should like to know whether the honorable gentleman will favorably consider a suggestion to give extended terms to widows of soldiers? If not, I shall take an opportunity in Committee -to raise the question. As to the price of the homes, the Minister knows that I am deeply interested in a soldiers’ settlement within my own constituency, though it is not only for the soldiers there that I am now speaking, because this is a non-party matter, which affects soldiers generally. We have been most unfortunate with the settlement in the Carnegie district in having land that, in my opinion, is not suitable for the building of brick houses; nevertheless, ‘brick houses are there, and we shall have to make the best of the situation. The Minister has been good enough to make a visit of inspection to the place, and it is hoped that, as a result, some of the causes of complaint may be removed. However that may be, I wish to point out that one wooden house there within the last three weeks has been valued at £750, which I think is too high. At present, there are no roads, and there is no sewerage, the cost of which, roughly, may be put at £100 to £120.
– We have told the soldier who has .that house that if he thinks .the price is too high, we shall take it over, and build him another. That seems to me as fair an offer as could be made.
– Possibly that is a very good reply. I do not desire to discuss the question at length, or go into the details of cost. But a total of £750, with another £100 added for roads and sewerage, is too much. And that supports the arguments of numbers of members to-day who have held that returned men who signed definite agreements undertaking to pay for the houses provided for them at the statutory figure should be called upon to pay no more. The assessments made by valuators have not been based - at any rate, in every instance^ - upon actual cost of construction. If they had been, the values very often would be much lower. The trouble is that a general average has been struck, and I do not wonder that many men are dissatisfied. I know of a three-roomed brick house on the estate to which I have already referred which cost £800. The price of the land was not more than about 32s. to 35s. per foot. Another soldier’s home on the same estate has been built very faultily; the damp course has not been put in, and no one can blame the returned man and his family for complaining that they have not got value for their money. I do not complain of the attitude of the Honorary Minister. He has been prepared to make thorough personal investigations. He has seen many of the homes for himself, and has always gone most painstakingly into any correspondence placed before him. That is one side of the picture. The other side, under present weather conditions, at any rate, is that some soldiers and their families are compelled to walk in and out of their homes knee-deep in mud. That, perhaps, is a matter for municipal rather than governmental action.
– The Bill proposes to amend such a state of affairs. It contains provision for road construction.
– I am aware of that measure of relief. It is all very well for the Government to tell a soldier who has been in a home for many months, on a rental basis, awaiting notification of cost, that if he does not care to pay the enhanced price he may go out. But what of the position of the soldier and his family? He has probably added many improvements, regarding himself as the owner of the house, and it is unfair to ask him to look round for another place and start again. It is hard that soldiers who ha,ve been living for months in homes which they have desired to buy - but the value of which they have been unable to ascertain - should be informed, eventually, that the price ia £50 and up to £150 over and above the statutory amount. In addition, they often have good reason to be dissatisfied with the character of the building. Defects, unfortunately, have been numerous.
I trust that the clause which requires payment of a 5 per cent, deposit will be omitted. Returned men who have transferred from one State to another should be permitted to sell their homes and apply the balance to the purchase of another departmental home in the State to which they have been sent. Soldiers’ widows should be given generous extensions of time in which to make their payments. In conclusion, I appeal to the Honorary Minister to look very closely and sympathetically into the subject of enhanced values. While supporting the Bill generally, I hope to see it improved in Committee.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
.- There are some anomalies in this Bill which need rectification. One has been mentionedby other honorable members, and relates to the provision which prevents a soldier from getting more than one home. Of course, it would be wrong to permit of two homes being made available for one soldier, but I can easily see how a man may outgrow the businesshe has been conducting in any particular district, and find it essential to remove to a larger centre. I have in mind the case of the manager of a country business who, in all probability, will soon be able to take up a business of his own. He has a soldier’s home, and if he applies to the Commission for permission to dispose of it, that permission will be granted, but he will not be ableto have another home built for him by the Commission in the centre to which he may remove. Such a restriction is, tomy mind, outrageous.
I do not wish to see the soldier exploited by the bungling that has taken place, particularly in regard to the purchase of saw-mills and timber contracts. Last week I asked the following questions : -
These questions were not answered. I cannot understand why the Minister should attempt to cloud these matters with so much secrecy. Surely the Commission can admit that these transactions have taken place, and that these contracts have been made between the Government andthe saw-millers for the cutting of timber for soldiers’ homes. I think that my questions were pertinent. The Minister certainly said that arbitration difficulties presented themselves, and that some decision might be affected by the answers that I required, but I can hardly see how this could be the case. I submitted the questions because sawmillers operating in the Beech Forest country, where Driver and Company have their mills, have declared that the Commission are calling tenders for 3.000,000 feet of timber cut by Driver and Company for the Commission, and stacked at the contractors’ mills. According to the information made available by the Public Accounts Committee, the War Service Homes Commission contracted to purchase 30,000,000 feet of timber from Driver and Company, on trucks at Beech Forest, at 20s. 6d. per 100 super, feet for general hardwood, and 39s. 7d. per 100 super, feet for weatherboards. When this contract was made the mill hands were receiving an hourly wage, but as the result of an Arbitration award given since, they are now on a weekly wage, and their working hours have been reduced to 44 per week. The effect of this variation in the award has been to increase the price paid by the Commission to 28s. 6d. per 100 feet for general hardwood, and 48s. 10d. per 100 feet for weatherboards. The position now is that tenders will be called for 3,000,000 feet of this timber, which is stacked at the mills of Driver and Company; in fact, I understand that Driver and Company have already sold some of it, and, according to the statements of some of the saw-millers operating in the district, Driver and Company only can be the successful tenderers for it. If their tender is accepted, which no doubt it will be, at about 14s. per 100 feet, or some figure in that vicinity, there will be nothing that I can see to prevent the contractors from handing it back to the Government as part of the 30,000,000 feet contract at the rate of 28s. 6d. for general hardwood, and £28s.10d. for weatherboards. Thus the Government will again become possessed of this particular 3,000,000 feet, and the same process may be repeated time after time until Driver and Company finally make out of the transactions the £54,000 they have agreed to pay for the mills. They sell the timber originally to the Commission at 28s. 6d. and £2 8s. 10d.; they buy it back at 14s., and can re-sell it again to the Commission at 30s. 6d. and £2 8s. 10d., and this process, as I say, can be repeated over and over again.
– What are the terms of the contract?
– The contract was for 30,000,000 superficial feet, and I believe it was to cover a period of five years. However, I do not know the full particulars. When I asked for information the other day, the Minister refused to supply it. He would not tell me what quantity of timber was covered, or anything about the contract. The cloak of secrecy he has thrown over it has prevented me from ascertaining anything; but in justice to this House, I think he should tell us at least how long the contract has to run. I understand that one provision in the contract stipulates that the price to be charged must be 10 per cent. lower than current market rates, and if that provision does exist no injustice could be done, but the Minister will not tell us whether it is there or not. If the high prices paid by the Commission under the contract entered into in the middle of the war period are to be placed upon the shoulders of the soldiers who are having homes built for them, it will be a great imposition. Any loss that has occurred by the bungling that has taken place should be borne by the general community.
– The price which we are getting for that timber has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of any soldiers’ homes built, or to be built.
– As the timber in question is being used in the homes, its price must, naturally, affect the cost of the houses.
– If that were the case, then the less we get for the timber the more the soldier will benefit.
– The more the Commission pay for the timber, the dearer the house must be, as the Minister must admit.
– I do not admit anything with regard to the matter, but if it be true that we are selling timber at as low a price as 14s., the man who is building the homes and buying it from us at 14s. is getting it at a lower price than he would otherwise be obliged to Pay.
– The trouble is that the Minister, as he says now, will not admit anything. If the Government had had sufficient common sense to admit the bungling that has taken place and to take the House into their confidence in regard to these matters, they would not be so much open to blame.
– The Driver contract was investigated by the Public Accounts Committee, whose report has been available for months past.
– The statement made to me last week was that the information I desired would not be furnished. Certainly, the Minister offered to let me see the contracts privately, but I refused to see them unless I could make use of the information thus made available. At any rate, these saw-millers, in the Beech
Forest, say that they are buying timber from Driver and Company which is part of the War Service Homes timber. They declare that they are even filling some of their contracts with it, and I have no reason to doubt their statements, because they are honorable men, carrying on business.
– The honorable member doubts my statement, when I tell him that what he is saying is absolutely untrue, and prefers to accept the statements of others.
– The Minister will not say that it is untrue that Driver and Company have the right to sell that timber. I do not think he will say that it is untrue that they have sold it.
– If the honorable member can furnish me with evidence that the timber is being stolen I shall be glad to get it from him.
– I am simply putting forward the statements made to me by the saw-millers in the district in which Driver and Company are operating, and I would like to know how much longer the contract has to run. I understand that it contains clauses which enable the Government to cancel it at certain periods, but whether this can be done before the full 30,000,000 feet is cut is quite another matter. The Minister has told us that contractors for building soldiers’ homes purchase this timber from the Commission and build houses with it, butI undertake to say that if they had the right to buy their requirements, in this respect, in the open market, instead of from the Government, their prices would be a great deal lower than they are. I feel sure that millers can place timber on the market to-day at much lower rates than those at which these contracts were entered into in 1920.
Many of these soldiers are getting the homes six or seven months after they expected them to be built, and they do not know that they will not cost up to £1,000, although the estimate supplied to them might not have exceeded £750. Six months ago, the cost of building was higher than it is to-day, and valuations made at the present time should work out at very much less than the cost to the Commission eight or ten months ago. I am certain that the cost of building has fallen by something like 10 per cent. during that period. I hope that the mistakes that have been made, although not admitted by this Government, will fall on the general community, and not upon the shoulders of the soldiers.
.- The administration of the War Service Homes Commission, up to the time when the Government found it necessary, owing to incompetency and the lavish expenditure of money, to step in, was the biggest bungle ever perpetrated by any Government. Possibly, the Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) will tell the House that soldiers’ homes which have been built could be sold at a profit.
– How could they be sold at a profit, when they must be sold to soldiers ?
– The Minister has interjected that these houses could be sold to the public at auction and a profit made on the Commission’s operations. The Public Accounts Committee was told in evidence that in connexion with one group of forty houses that were built, the soldiers were given an estimated price of either £700 or £800. I asked the Acting Deputy Commissioner by how much the estimated cost had been exceeded, and he told the Committee that each house had cost £200 more than the estimate given to the purchaser. It is useless for the Minister to say that the houses are worth what they cost; the soldier may not” be able to pay the extra amount over and. above the statutory limit. The purpose of the War Service Homes Act was to provide soldiers with homes, originally at a maximum cost of £700, and later at a cost of not more than £800. That was the understanding upon which the soldier applied for a home, but we have had evidence that some of them were actually asked to pay £1,100. In Victoria, hardly one soldier purchaser knows what he will be charged for his home. I doubt if such a mammoth bungle in administration has previously been perpetrated by any Government in the States or the Commonwealth. The reports of the Public Accounts Committee will substantiate the statement I am making.
– Those reports did not state the reason why the houses cost so much more than was estimated.
– I liken the War Service Homes Commission to a young man with very little brains coming into a large fortune. He has had no previous experience of the possession of money; he forgets that the money did not bring him brains; but persuading himself that he has brains, he starts to use the money lavishly. Not until his fortune is dissipated, and he finds himself again in an impecunious position, will he admit that other people know more than he does. The War Service Homes Branch had a career very similar to that. In its early transactions it entered into huge contracts for the purchase of timber areas and mills, and the result is illustrated by the fate of the wonderfully fine mill at Canungra. Previously there had been a prosperous and thriving little settlement at the mill, but after the Government had bought it the industry degenerated into comparative ruin. The Commission made contracts in Victoria with Mr. Driver, which have already been referred to by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson). They made huge joinery contracts, as if the operations of the Commission were to last for ever, and entered into other elaborate arrangements for supplies of tiles and cement. The Government have had to pay compensation to get out of some of those hastily-made and ill-advised contracts, and in connexion with those which have not been cancelled they will lose a tremendous amount of money. Yet the Minister says that the homes ‘could be sold at more than the cost price. That is not the point. The Act was not passed for the building of homes for sale to the public, but for the building of homes for soldiers, and if the soldiers cannot afford to buy them at the price they have cost, they must still go homeless. Wherever soldiers’ homes have been built under a proper business system the price has been reasonable. In South Australia, where the War Service Homes Commission had nothing whatever to do with the building of houses, the prices have been fair, and the provisions of the Act have been reasonably complied with. The Commonwealth Bank, too, built a number of homes. It applied business methods and instincts to the supplying of these houses-
– Does the honorable member’s statement include Goulburn?
– It does. Notwithstanding the rotten defects in the buildings., the meanness of the contractor, and the wrong that was done in appointing a soldier architect to supervise his father’s contracts, the Department has not fared so badly. The contractor was not a man of straw, and as the work had not been passed before the complaints were received he had to make amends out of his own pocket, I understand.
– The honorable member misunderstands.
-I admit that a number of these houses at Goulburn were jerry-built beyond reasonable chance of remedy, but the experience with that contract was the exception rather than the rule. By and large the administration of the Commonwealth Bank gave a fair deal to the soldier. Of course, under good administration the day labour system would have yielded much better results. I commend the Government for taking the advice of the Public Accounts Committee and deciding that in future War Service Homes shall be built by contract. Evidently they have found that the administration is incompetent to properly control the day labour system. There is no question that that system, under such bad administration, proved an utter failure in some cases. We were told that in Tasmania the average of bricks laid per day over a certain period did not exceed 250, and houses which the soldiers understood they would get for £800 cost £1,100. I repeat that, although the Minister may claim to be able to sell those houses to the public at a profit, the Parliament did not appropriate millions of pounds to build houses for sale to the public. The duty we set out to perform has not been performed, and by the time the whole mess has been cleared up the taxpayers will be appalled at discovering how many millions of pounds have been absolutely squandered. What could have been more ludicrous than the action of the Commission in rushing into the market to buy foreign timber? At one period about 3,000,000 feet of Baltic timber was stored in Melbourne and perishing, and for months past a Disposals Board has been selling to the public, at a loss, material which the Commission had accumulated, not having brains enough to realize that it would not be able to use what it had purchased. Of course, the Honorary Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) will admit none of these charges, but he is not blameable for what has occurred.
Other Ministers have been in charge cf these operations, and had any managing director of a private company permitted such blunders, which involved the shareholders in the loss of so many hundreds of pounds, he would have been immediately dismissed.
– I have read of an Australian company that lost £500,000 without anybody being dismissed.
– The honorable members who are interjecting know that such losses were due to the cessation of the war and a sudden alteration in the world’s prices.
– Did not that happen with timber?
– The Commission’s losses cannot be attributed to that cause. The South Australian Government established a. body similar to the War Service Homes Commission to provide homes for soldiers, and it was able, under the same economic conditions as operated throughout the rest of the Commonwealth, to deliver the goods in accordance with the undertaking.
– That is not so. South Australia nearly suspended its house-building operations during the war.
– The Assistant Minister attempts to dispute my statements, yet, on the basis of the experience of the South Australian Government, and the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee, the Government are proposing in this Bill to drop the bungling system which involved the Commonwealth in such a heavy loss. They confirm my criticism by proposing to place this responsibility in th? hands of business concerns that will know how to handle it. May I recommend to the Government that when the homes are sold to the highest bidder, the method adopted in South Australia should be copied. Let the Government give the Commonwealth Bank control of this money to be loaned in an ordinary business way to soldiers, and give the soldiers a little more choice than they have had in the past, but within certain limits. The Commonwealth Bank or the Savings Banks of the States could utilize the money advanced to them by lending it to the soldiers on reasonable terms approved by Parliament. There would then be no further bungling or losses. We should have no
Poo-Bah running round the country with the idea that he was possessed of millions, buying up timber areas and sawmills, and accumulating material which, did he possess any brains, he would know he could never utilize. The Public Accounts Committee’s report on the operations of the War Service Homes Commission was couched in very mild language. The Minister says that the Committee considered the Driver contract. Since then, however, much water has passed under the bridges, and the losses that will occur will be in the disposal of material. If I understood the Driver contract correctly, the price was always to bc 10 per cent, below the market price; and, that being so, I cannot see how Driver can be getting more than the market price now. In’ the past, the Government have allowed impecunious persons, having overdrafts but no capital, to take contracts; it has advanced them money to carry on, in some cases without interest, and has had to stand the loss when they have failed to carry out the terms of their contracts. The whole administration of the War Service Homes Acs bristles with blunders.
.- I am satisfied that the proposals of the Government will make a worse mess than we have now. The construction of small cottages is not a profitable business, and no builder in a big way would embark in it. If officers are to be taken from the Works Department to supervise the erection of cottages by contract, no small men will tender, because the supervision will be too strict. When Mr. Walker and his staff attempted to build cottages on the day-labour system, the hostility of the Timber Combine, of the Brick Combine, and of the suppliers of cement, lime, and all kinds of building material had to be faced. Private builders were dead against the Government following the day-labour system, and were determined that it should not succeed. Unfortunately, the Liberal party was in power at the time, and it adopted the contract system, because the party has a large number of hangers-on who, commercially speaking, are not much better than spielers. Their stock in trade is chiefly an office furnished with a table, a chair, and a nice piece of carpet, and they make their living by a kind of business thimble-rigging. Had
Ministers not listened to the cry that none but soldiers should be employed by the War Service Homes Commission, and had they placed in control of operations some of the able, honest, and efficient men whom they have in the Works Department, employing returned soldiers under them, the War Service Homes scheme would have ‘been a success. These men know their business; they are respected by the merchants from whom supplies have to be obtained, and they would have got on well with those who were working under them. The contract system, as I have said, will involve the Government in worse troubles than have so far been experienced. Those who contract for building cottages are mostly men with small means or with nothing to lose, and if they do not carry out their con- tracts they cannot be brought to book. My business is largely connected with the building trade, but I never have anything to do with work on cottages, unless to oblige members of my own family or a personal friend. If a first-class plumber is sent to work on a cottage, he loses a lot of time through constant interruptions. For example, having done some guttering or the like, he may have to leave the job because the bath cannot be fixed until other trades have got further ahead with their work. It is on the very large jobs that the big profits are made, not on the erection of cottages. Some of the pine used at Brisbane was as good as any that was ever cut. I like to see good workmanship, and it was a pleasure to me to view the woodwork in some of the Brisbane War Service Homes. No doubt, after the next election, the Labour party will be in power; and another Minister will be shouldering. the responsibility of the Repatriation Department. But I would point out now that it will be very difficult for many of the returned soldiers to meet their payments, even on a house costing £800. The Liberal Government now in power in New South Wales, the iron and steel works there, and other big labour employers are trying to force wages down to £3 10s., or £3 5s., or £3 a week. To pay for an £800 house by weekly payments of 8s. off the capital account would take forty-two years, and during that period rates and taxes would also have to be paid, and every five years the place would have to be painted. A soldier, with a wife and a few children, who was earning only £3 5s. or £3 10s. a week could not afford to pay 8s. a week for his house. All he could do would be to meet the interest on the capital, pay rates and taxes, and possibly save a few pounds for an occasional bit of painting. The Government, of course, have a right to make painting a condition, because it must see that what is a public asset does not depreciate. The friends of honorable gentlemen opposite are in a fever to reduce wages, and, therefore, I remind them of the inevitable effects of doing so. It will prevent wageearners from getting their own homos. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) is such a pessimistic individual that I have christened him “ the honorable member for Gloom.” His outlook is a very limited one. The Government, when they inaugurated the War Service Homes policy, started on the right lines, because it is a policy that ought to be extended beyond the requirements of our returned soldiers. In my view, it is the duty of the Government to see that the people generally are properly housed. Day after day we are told that we require immigrants, but those who advocate immigration know that there are not the houses here necessary for them when they arrive. At Broken Hill, Coolgardie, and elsewhere the mines are closed, and there are a number of empty houses, the former residents having gone to Goulburn and other centres of population, and thus aggravated a congestion which would be further accentuated by any great influx of immigrants. The Government ought to dismiss from their minds the interests of their personal friends, and give a little consideration to the interests of the general community. To this end they might, as I say, very well extend the policy of providing homes, for it is a disgrace and a crying shame to see people living under such conditions as are now to be found in our cities. I hope that if the Labour party has the honour to be returned to power they will turn their attention in the direction I have indicated, and they shall certainly have all the help that I can afford. The members of the Corner party all express great anxiety to see numbers of immigrants arrive on our shores, but not one of them would give half-an-acre out of their thousands of acres to provide homes for now people from overseas. If we wish to divert the people from the cities into the country, we should take care that in the country there are places where a married man and his family can live a civilized life. When that gloomy gentleman, the honorable member for Swan, and myself, as members of the Public Accounts Committee, were travelling about taking evidence on the War Service Homes question, we attended a meeting of members of a shire council, and the honorable member talked about this “great country Australia,” which could grow wheat and everything else, and had room for “millions of people.” I asked the president of the shire council if any carpenters were required in his district, and he- said there was any amount of work for two or three; but when I asked him where they could find accommodation for themselves and their families, he was unable to tell me more than they would have to sleep wherever they could find a place. Apart from that general question, however, I must say that the Government are not adopting a wise policy in building cottages under the contract system, which certainly is not in the interests of the soldiers concerned. Some reference has been made to the timber obtained for the erection of these War Service Homes. Unfortunately some of the timber is not what we know in the trade as stock sizes, and, therefore, it is always difficult to dispose of it. Then, again, with timber merchants, a builder can .order what he requires and <have it delivered exactly when he desires, but that was not so in the case of the War Service Homes. The only thing to be done now is to get rid of this stock of material at a great loss. The timber is good, having been passed by the State experts, and I think the . Government, instead of disposing of it, should take the bold step of utilizing it themselves in building the houses for the soldiers. The whole responsibility for the present position lies with the Government. In the first fortnight of its investigation the Public Accounts Committee strongly advised members of the Ministry to take some action, but the Government took the view that Parliament had passed the measure, and that, therefore, Parliament was to blame. That, I think, was a contemptible way in which to receive a suggestion that was intended to be helpful, and would have. enabled the construction of the homes to go on. Nothing was done by the Government, who failed to rise to the occasion, and thus missed a splendid opportunity. Not a member of the Ministry gave a thought to the unfortunate soldier living with his wife and family in one room at 14s. or 15s. per week. But it is the old story, “ It is only a workman, we need not worry.” I suppose most of us know the story of the man who had a pair of valuable carriage horses in charge of a groom, and who, when one of the horses took sick, hurried in a veterinary, but, when the coachman also took sick, said, “It does not matter, we can easily get another coachman.” A Government has no greater function than to secure the health of the community, whether government be represented by a municipal council or a national Parliament, for only a healthy community can be prosperous and contented. In the matter of these homes, there was no lack of money to carry out a great idea, but, as I say, the Government missed, a splendid opportunity. Unfortunately, the press of Australia does its best to cover up the sins of the Government, and that is because the press knows that if the Labour party got into power prosperity would follow, and that would mean a long term for a Labour Government. The Labour party are imbued with humanitarian ideas, and their hearts are in their work. They appreciate to the full the work done by our young fellow countrymen overseas to make this a free country, and would do all in their power to express that appreciation. No Government ever had such a liberal Opposition as now sits on the left of the Speaker. The Government have been treated with every consideration, and party feeling has npt prevented honorable members on this side from acceding to every reasonable demand made by the Ministry. There is not the slightest doubt that the Government in its War Service Homes administration has done much harm, riot only to the interests of the soldiers, but to the prosperity of Australia; and even at this late hour I urge them to endeavour to retrieve their position. .
– It is with great pleasure that I support the Bill, because, in my opinion, it will restore to a Minister for Repatriation that which the House should never have taken from him. We took from the Minister the responsibility which he should have been allowed to retain, and hence no Minister, under the original Act, can be held responsible for the state of affairs that has been described by honorable members. I recollect addressing a public meeting long before the War Service Homes Commission was ‘appointed. When I warned those present of the danger of giving the Commissioner unfettered powers, it was said that the public wanted a man who would not be hampered by a Minister - who would have authority to do things. I recall speech after speech by members in this House who took the same view. They desired that the Commissioner should be removed from all political influence. They had their way. The Commissioner was put upon a plane above Ministerial oversight. What right have they now, therefore, to complain ? They speak of the troubles and errors which have followed; and they say that conditions are almost as bad to-day as ever. I do not see them. Where are all these evils of which some honorable members are now speaking ? If the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) has made his speech for political purposes, I warn him that he has done himself no good. Misrepresentation will not carry a public man very far. I admit that a stranger, listening to the honorable member this evening, would be likely to gain the impression that the same unsatisfactory conditions existed to-day as at that stage where the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) intervened. When the bungling was discovered, who was it that set about the difficult task of rectifying the mistakes? Did the honorable member take any part in the efforts which were made to put the War Service Homes on a better footing ? By his actions, or by his speeches in this House, did he share in the worn upon which the Minister for Repatriation entered so -energetically ? I hold no brief for that Minister; but I know what he did, and I do not know that the honorable member for Swan did anything. I was sorry to have to listen to his unjust comments and accusations regarding one who has worked so faithfully and well. The Minister’s task was herculean. The War Service Homes Commission had been forced upon him ; he had to proceed in accordance with the Act. He was handi- capped by the capacity of- the Commissioner. A Department cannot be successfully run unless it has at its head a trained man of undoubted ability - a man who is aware of his responsibilities, and who is fully capable of standing up to them. The Minister for Repatriation was not fortunate enough to have for his Commissioner a public servant of the type of Colonel Owen, or Mr. Murdoch, the Chief Commonwealth Architect. I mention those two officers merely as types of the very best administrative officials in the Commonwealth service. The Minister was not kept in touch with what was going on.
– Whose fault was that?
– I suggest that the honorable member wait until he has become a Minister. He will then learn quickly enough that a Minister cannot be expected to know from personal observation and investigation what is happening in every ramification of the Department under his control. An incompetent officer at the head of a Department can very quickly land the most capable Minister in trouble. When the Minister for Repatriation discovered that things were going wrong-
– Did the Minister make the discovery ?
– Who else ? The Repatriation Department had been subjected to much criticism. It was criticised in a manner which no private concern has to undergo. But the Ministerfor Repatriation rose to the occasion. He secured the very able assistance of the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers), who took over the control of the War Service Homes Branch. It was his great ability which tightened up its work. It was his enthusiastic activities which did so much to bring it up to a state of efficiency. I commend- the Government for having introduced this Bill, which is intended to bring about further improvements.
– Then the honorable member admits that there are still faults to be remedied ?
– It will be of little use for the honorable member to try to take advantage of me. He is not talking to a back-blocks audience, which can be influenced by misrepresentation. I advise the honorable member to stick to facts, and to make them very clear.
Since he has been indulging in much criticism, I propose to criticise him in his official capacity as a member of the Public Accounts Committee. That body made prolonged investigations into the subject of War Service Homes. At the time when the Commission was experiencing tremendous difficulty in securing timber supplies, one of the biggest building companies in Australia published a balance-sheet, which revealed a loss of thousands of pounds. This firm laid its position before the public, and pointed out how badly it had done in regard to timber. I made it my business to watch the activities oftheCommittee in order to see whether it would call before it any member of this timber company to ascertain how and why such an experienced firm had had to admit severe losses. I know something about the timber business, but I do not need to know much to be aware that, after the war, there was a far greater demand than could be met. The War Service Homes Commission saw that it must obtain huge supplies of material to provide homes for soldiers. It had no option but to take steps along the lines which it did take. But timber was not available. Even today there is still a great demand. It is difficult, even at this stage, to get a contract for a small number of buildings. Contractors cannot guarantee to procure the labour, and obtain the material, and they are disinclined to tender.
– What about the Driver contract ?
– I do not know Mr. Driver; but, unless I were very thoroughly informed, I would not care to say what the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) has suggested to-night. (He has not had the courage to say anything outright, upon which one may fasten; but his remarks contained the innuendo that Driver had bought timber at a low figure, and might sell it to the Government at a considerable advance. Was not the honorable member for Corangamite prepared to make a direct accusation? His hint amounted to a libel. What does he know about Driver? Has he the facts to back his indirect accusation?
– The honorable member for Denison said just now that there was still a shortage of timber. I ask him what about the timber which Driver is reported to have?
– I said there was a great shortage just after the war, in 1920-21. There is not such a shortage now.
– The honorable member will need to amend his remarks in Hansard.
– I do not act like the honorable member for Swan. I have no doubt he exercises his right in that direction as far as the rule allows. I do not amend my speeches to any great extent. I am prepared to stand by what I say. While speaking of timber, may I ask the honorable member for Swan how he voted in connexion with the duties placed upon timber? When the Tariff was being discussed in this Chamber, the honorable member said that if this great country was to make progress, and we were to build an adequate number of homes for our returned men, we must have cheaper timber. He demanded that the duties be removed. But what did he do when the opportunity was afforded for him to assist to remove the duties? He had meanwhile received a telegram from Western Australia which told him that the duties must be maintained; and when the vote was taken, I found that the honorable member for Swan was voting side by side with myself to place the duties upon timber.
– That statement is false.
– Order! The honorable member for Swan has made statements two or three times this evening which are unparliamentary. I ask him to withdraw his remark that a statement of the honorable member for Denison is false.
– I do so, sir; but I ask that the honorable member for Denison be required to withdraw his assertion concerning myself, for the reason that it is incorrect.
– I do not wish to misrepresent any one. I ask the honorable member for Swan, directly, did he receive a telegram from Western Australia, telling him to vote along certain lines with respect to the imposition of duties on timber? I listened to the speeches delivered by the honorable member for Swan in favour of the adoption of a Free Trade policy, and also in favour of free trade in timber. Is that not correct ?
– It is incorrect.
– I hope that somebody will turn up the Hansard record for me; but I distinctly heard the honorable member attempting to help the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) to defeat the duties on timber, and yet when the vote was taken I found the honorable member voting alongside me in favour of the retention of the duties. I do not wish to do him an injustice.
– The matter has been discussed here frequently. The Government Whip came to me at the request of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), and the Minister himself subsequently came to me and asked me if I would compromise upon a duty of 10s. 6d. to end the debate. I agreed to do so.
– The honorable member admits that he voted for the duty.
– I did not. It was a compromise. It was not the duty for which the Government had asked.
– I am willing to apologize to the honorable member, and withdraw my statements if he will deny that he received a telegram from Western Australia?
– I received sheafs of letters.
– I hope the honorable member will come back to the second reading of this Bill.
– I believe that the power given to the Minister will enable him to exercise an authority that should improve the working of the War Service Homes Commission. During the forthcoming election campaign I shall not be found using criticism or using arguments that, because of the conditions under which the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) was working, would be most unfair. It is an easy matter to be a destructive critic of men with great responsibilities. It is much more difficult to put forward suggestions for remedying difficulties. The time has arrived when honorable members should not attempt for political purposes to misrepresent others. I hope that to-morrow morning the honorable member for Swan will explain clearly that he did not receive a telegram, and did not vote for the duty on timber. If he does so I shall apologize for the statement I have made to-night.
– Honorable members seem to be in a jocular mood; but the Bill before the House is no joke to the taxpayers or to those who fought for our freedom. Its purpose is to seek to improve the maladministration of the War Service Homes Department, and it is to be hoped that a substantial improvement will be effected, because it was only the other day we passed a Bill providing another £4,000,000 for the purpose of building homes for soldiers. I trust that it will be spent much more judiciously than was the case with the £14,000,000 already expended in this direction. As a patriotic people we promised fair play to our soldiers, and subscribed very liberally through taxes and in other directions to provide this £14,000,000, but the reports furnished by the Public Accounts Committee demonstrate that the whole thing has been bungled from start to finish. I know that there is nothing to be gained by repeating these matters.
– The honorable member may repeat them a hundred times, but they will not be true.
– The fault is just as much the honorable member’s as that of any other honorable member.
– The speeches delivered to-night will probably act as an incentive to the Minister to place the administration of the Commission and the future expenditure of the money on a better footing. Some honorable members would have us believe that no fault can be found, but their statements are not borne out by the reports furnished by the Public Accounts Committee. The Committee’s report on Tasmania contains the following: -
The evidence showed that several factors contributed to the excessive cost of houses erected in Tasmania. Owing to defective” plans and the absence of proper specifications, items were omitted from the bills of quantities, and the estimates given were consequently in many cases much too low. The haphazard way in which materials were delivered on the jobs was in all probability responsible for increasing labour costs.
That is a scathing comment. The persons responsible were no doubt dismissed, but the punishment was not sufficient. The Committee’s report on Queensland contains the following: -
The great majority of the cases complained of to the Committee were those in which the soldier was given to understand that his house would cost approximately the sum stated to him at the outset by the Department. This amount has frequently been exceeded to the extent of £150, and even £200, and it has been complained by many of those who have been saddled with such expensive houses that their income is too small to enable them to meet the monthly payments.
Surely that is a most serious state of affairs, not only to the soldier, but also to the taxpayer. The final report of the Committee says -
The building of houses by day labour was very badly managed by the Commission. Materials were not always delivered when wanted, nor in sufficient quantities. A’ foolish instruction took out of the hands of the architects of the Commission in the various States the responsibility for the execution of the work. The supervisors were not always well chosen, and even the best of them were handicapped bybeing given the oversight of more work than they could effectively control. The result has been that in nearly all instances the cost of homes erected under this system exceeded the maximum stated in the Act; in some cases the excess cost has turned out to be beyond all reason. The Committee was informed by the Deputy Commissioner for New South Wales that the average cost of the cottages he was building, including the land, would be approximately £800. It is now ascertained that this amount has been exceeded by as much as from £200 to £400 in many individual houses.
Just imagine a shrewd business firm tolerating this way of doing things for one moment. Would any honorable member care to carry on a business on such lines for one hour? It is not one isolated case. There are many of a similar nature in which the cost of houses has been considerably increased. One could understand an extra cost of £10, £15, or even £50, on an £800 house, but an additional cost of from £200 to £400 is altogether too much.
The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) has had a great deal to say about timber. The Public Accounts Committee, dealing with the question of timber, has reported as follows : -
At the Beech Forest mills in Victoria there are at the present time some 3,000,000 feet of timber stacked for which the Commission has paid and for which it has now no use. In Queensland the timber areas and mills, on which the Commission has expended £531,000, have been closed down, but 500,000 super. feet of pine is still coming monthly under contract from the Queensland Fine Company.
The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) has interjected that the fault is just as much mine. I ask him to refresh his memory as to the vote I gave in this House on the question of the purchase of these saw-mills, and as to the attitude taken up by the Country party with regard to this disgraceful socialistic venture.
– The honorable member voted for the appointment of the man who made the purchase.
– If the honorable member’s knowledge of sugar is no better than his knowledge of timber his intelligence is very low indeed. The stand which honorable members of the Country party took in this House years ago has been justified. The consequences we predicted of the Government’s entry into socialistic enterprises have been proved to the letter. The experience of the War Service Homes administration proves that the Government should step out of all socialistic ventures at the earliest possible moment. Of course, it is no use crying over spilt milk, but, in the interests of the soldiers and the taxpayers, we trust that the £4,000,000 which we authorized the Treasurer to borrow a few nights ago will be handled to greater advantage than was the £14,000,000 previously voted by Parliament for War Service Homes. The Government are proposing to discontinue building operations by the day labour system, and I believe that if some arrangement were made with the Commonwealth Bank, which employs business methods, soldiers would get their homes at a much lower price than they are being charged to-day. In Western Australia recently I saw homes which had been built for ex-service men settled on the Peel Estate. So far as I remember, the houses were of four rooms, some of which measured 12 feet by 12 feet; they had a substantial verandah and a well, and the supervising engineer (Mr. Anketell) told me that the total cost of each house was £200.
– Wooden houses?
– And unlined.
– Compare the cost of those houses with the prices which the soldiers have had to pay for some of those built by the Commission. We promised the soldiers bread and we have given them a stone.
In respect of homes to be provided in the future, the applicant is to be asked to make a deposit of 5 per cent. Did we ask our young men to deposit 5 per cent, when we cai lied upon them to enlist abroad? No; we were glad to get them. It will be an absolute scandal if the House votes to saddle the digger with an obligation to deposit 5 per cent, on his borne. I hope that if the Minister cannot agree to wipe out the deposit altogether, he will consent to reduce it considerably. In its future administration, the Government should profit by the lessons taught by its past maladministration, which the honorable member for Swan rightly described as one of the greatest bungles ever perpetrated by any Australian Government. We have read enough of the evidence taken by the Public Accounts Committee to be convinced of that; but if the inquiry had been held by a Judge a great deal more evidence would have been produced. The mere dismissal of the men who were responsible for the bungle was too light a. punishment of men who had absolutely robbed the returned soldier.
.- The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Robert Cook) referred, amongst other things, to a disgraceful socialistic venture. I remind the honorable member that the whole policy of providing War Service Homes, if it is not a disgraceful socialistic venture, is, at least, a socialistic venture, and I ask him if he is opposed to the principle of the erection of homes for returned soldiers through the agency of the State, which is, in essence, a socialistic venture? But, because, apparently, a particular phase of this socialistic venture - the purchase of timber in Queensland - does not appeal to him, the honorable, member would, in effect, attach to the party to which I have the honour to belong, blame for something for which the Government are entirely responsible. The scheme has been a failure, not because it was a socialistic venture, but because it has not been a socialistic venture in the true sense - in its operations - inasmuch as at the beginning it was handed over to a Commissioner; the Government surrendered their responsibility, and the operations were not carried out- for the benefit of the soldier and the State as a whole. The responsibility was surrendered to an individual, and, as it happened, a very unwise choice was made. It is true that in connexion with the erection of these homes there has been disclosed a good deal of bad workmanship, the selection of unsuitable sites, and, unfortunately, and worst of all, evidence of very bad management. But I do not propose to enter into recriminations or to make this second reading an occasion for an attack upon the Ministry, the more so as the Honorary Minister has been good enough to give me some assurance of fair, and even sympathetic and generous, treatment of the people now concerned, who feel that they certainly labour under a number of disadvantages. I believe that if we had, in the first place, remitted this whole scheme to such men as are in the Department of Works at the present time, men like Mr. Hill and those associated with him, under circumstances which would have made it a genuine socialistic venture, we would have had results which would have been much more satisfactory for all concerned. It appears, from what the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) said in his whirling speech, most of which was directed to a personal matter of difference between himself and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse), that the whole of the credit is to ‘be given to the Minister for the discovery of irregularities and wastage in connexion with War Service Homes. As a matter of fact, the defects now being considered were first elicited by the Committee of Public Accounts. Everybody joins in the desire to do full justice, and, if possible, more than justice, to those who are entitled to benefit under this Bill. Whether or not like myself, honorable members are utterly opposed to militarism, or believe that a nation’s salvation can be preserved by that crude method, we all acknowledge that the nation’s gratitude is due to the returned soldier. Recognising that fact, we have also to recognise that the class of men proposed to be benefited by the erection of these homes is, if I may differentiate between the different classes in the community, one of the most deserving. They are young men who desire to establish homes; for the most part they have recently entered the married state; they are rearing families, and from every point of view a class of the most desirable citizens we can have. So; from whatever point we may regard the matter, these men have special and urgent claims upon our generosity, as well ms to a full measure of justice.
I do not propose to engage in a general discussion of the Bill in detail. “1 rose to direct the attention of the Minister in charge to one matter. An Act of Parliament originally specified a sum as the maximum cost to ba incurred in the erection of any soldier’s home. That amount was later increased by £100. The present position is that men are required to make applications lor contracts for homes in circumstances which bind the men themselves, but which give the Government something very like a blank cheque. It may be said that these applications ave signed by the men in the exercise of their free will and sound judgment, but I point out that under the present condition of affairs it is very difficult for a working man to get a house of any kind upon any conditions. The cost of living does not permit him to buy, and the shortage of houses does not permit him to rent. In those circumstances, when the returned soldiers were invited to make applications for homes, they did so in good faith, knowing what public men had stated on the platform and the terms of relevant Statutes, and believing that they would receive just treatment, and that the statutory maximum cost would in no circumstances be exceeded. I propose to ask the Committee to say that that condition shall be strictly observed. It is not observed in the Bill as it stands. The intention of the Bill is that the mcn shall be required to pay whatever the cost of erecting the buildings may be. In many cases men have gone into possession of houses believing, I suggest, with very good reason, that the maximum cost for ‘which they were rendering themselves liable would be £800, :md it is very unfortunate that they should have been placed in such a position that they -now regard themselves as the victims of a breach of faith on the part of the Government, and, therefore, on the part of the people. It is unfortu- nate, too, that there are glaring inequalities in the character of the houses that are being built, comparing those thai were first erected with those that are now being built. Meticulous care should have been exercised to level up as nearly as possible, so that all the men would get for the same price the same kind of house, and that a good one. Unfortunately, in the first flush of our generosity we supplied in many cases a fairly expensive type of house, fitting it; out well with all accessories, and now the tendency is to skimp everything, giving inferior workmanship and accessories sufficient, perhaps, to comply with the letter of the law, but certainly not with its spirit. The Minister may rest assured that for the extra cost that men are required to pay the mere extension of time during which the payment can be made does not suffice; it is merely an extension of the time over which the burden has to be borne*, and it means that interest will have to be paid for a longer period. I suggest that we should not visit upon the soldiers the blunders that we have made in connexion with the War Service Homes scheme. The Government, of course, must take responsibility for the misdeeds and mistakes of its creatures, whether Commissioners or other officials ; but I do not now dwell on that. Parliament should take its courage into its hands and say, “ If additional expense has to be met in connexion with the erection of soldiers’ homes, the Commonwealth as a whole, and not only the soldiers, should bear it.”
– That is the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee.
– And a very sane recommendation , though effect is not given to it in the Bill. I propose, however, to ask the Committee to give effect to it, and I take it that no section of the country, and no party in the House, will later make the taking of such action a political charge against the Government. I think I can promise for every honorable member that no such ungenerous attitude as that will be assumed, and I believe that even our most severe critics will agree that we have done right in distributing over the whole area of taxpayers the consequences of the bungling that has occurred. I am glad that in the construction of War Service Homes we have reverted to the. condition of
Ministerial responsibility. We should not in State enterprises of any kind delegate the authority of Parliament to a Commissioner or a Commission. Unquestionably one of the causes of our partial failure, to put it mildly, in this case has been our action in handing over to a Commissioner the administration of the War Service Homes Act, and one of the consequences of increasing the cost of the homes to the soldiers probably will be that buildings erected in abnormal times at an abnormal expense may be left on their hands, or on ours, as an unrealizable asset at the price necessary to cover cost. The great majority of those for whom we are catering are wage-earners whose wages are not on a scale which allows the payment of 30s. a. week in rent. If these men apportion their wages with the utmost discrimination and economy to the various items of household expenditure, they will still be unable to pay 30s. per week in rent, and should not be asked to do so. I agree with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West), that housing, involving as it does the health and comfort of the people, is a question which at least as much as any other should engage the serious attention of the National Parliament. We’ have made ourselves responsible for the erection of a certain number of homes of a certain class. I believe in the extension of State house building for the people, and I do not wish to bring the policy into discredit by the failure of the present scheme. I hope that in Committee the Minister will agree to more generous treatment of the soldiers. I shall not speak now of the individual cases which have come under my notice. The Minister has promised sympathetic consideration to the representations I have made on their behalf, and I believe that he will carry out his promise. I believe, too, that the Committee will agree that, whatever it may cost, the people of Australia will be prepared to pay to keep faith with those to whom, in one way or another, we made promises in respect to the providing of homes. It is not enough to say to men who are dissatisfied, “ If you cannot pay for your house we will take it over at a valuation.” That is neither generous nor fair. The men have waited a long time for their homes, and the course proposed is in many cases equivalent to giving them notice to quit. I hope that honorable members, in the desire to do justice to these men, will decide that they must not be called upon to pay for the homes provided for them more than the sum fixed in the Act as the maximum cost.
.- I would bring before the Minister, and the House, the position in South Australia regarding the construction of Wax Service Homes. All who have had an opportunity to inspect the homes built there, or to inform themselves of the administration of the State War Service Homes Act, will admit that it is one of the best managed schemes in Australia.
– It is the best.
– I cannot understand why it is that in the other States of the Commonwealth, although a definite cost was fixed for the houses that were to be built for soldiers, that sum has been exceeded in almost every case: Men who thought that they were getting homes for £800 find, in very many cases, that they will have to pay very much more. That is a serious fault in the administration of the Commonwealth War Service Homes Act. In South Australia, however, the State Parliament fixed the price of the soldier’s home, including land and the building ofthe house with every convenience, at the sum of £700, and over 3,000 homes have been provided, not one of which has exceeded that cost, and the average cost has been less.
– Were not all the houses in South Australia built by contract?
– Yes, and soldiers’ homes elsewhere will not compare with them in the matter of construction and convenience. A soldier in South Australia knows that when he enters into an agreement with the State Homes Department the most he will have to pay for a home will be £700.
– Are the homes provided of the same kind as those that are being provided in the other States?
– They are very similar.
– They are not up to the standard of many of those that are being provided in the other States.
– They are superior to many of them.
– They are the best value for the money.
– They are good value for the money
– Each house has a gas stove and every convenience. As in South Australia these houses have been built in every case within the sum fixed by law, and some of them for considerably less, why is it that in other States a larger statutory maximum price has generally been exceeded? The Commonwealth Act fixes the maximum price of a War Service Home at £800.
– Unless the soldier concerned is ready to put in something more on his own account.
– Having said we will build houses for a certain sum, we have not been able to accomplish the task. I wish to direct the attention of the Minister to the fact that in the State where to-day houses are being built most successfully, we have reached a stage at which it is stated by Mr. Laffer. State Minister in charge of War Service Homes, that the State Government will not be able to build any more, because the Commonwealth Government have cut off the supplies of money. The Commonwealth Government entered into an agreement to advance the money, the State Government to do the work. Mr. Laffer is reported to have said on the 27th of this month, that -
No fresh contracts for soldiers’ homes were being let, because the Federal Government had refused to make available any further sums of money on loan to the State for that purpose unless the State Government entered into an agreement by which the erection of the homes would come under the Federal War Service Homes Commissioner.
– Does that mean that the State has had its quota?
– No, because the State Minister goes on to say that £62,000, due on the 30th June, has not been paid.
– There must be some explanation of that.
– There must, and my desire is to get at the facts. Why does the Minister in South Australia make that clear and definite statement, while the Minister in this House says that all the difficulty and trouble is connected with the State Minister in South Australia? All of us here are desirous of doing what we can to furtherthe building of these homes, and I presume it will be admitted that the South Australian Parliament and Government are equally anxious to do the right thing.
Yetthe whole scheme is hung up, and future building is to be stopped, because between the two Ministersthere is some difference of opinion in connexion with the agreement.
– We ought to have some explanation.
– The matter ought to be cleared up.
– There have been about six explanations in the last fortnight!
– Whether that be so or not the position is as I have stated, and I wish to see the matter settled, so that the soldiers entitled to have homes may get them. Surely two Ministers, who are both anxious to do the best for the soldiers, can settle what differences there may be?
– Is the difference with the Commonwealth Treasurer, or with the Minister for War Service Homes?
– I understand that the trouble arises from a difference of opinion about the agreement; and it is no new thing. Before the honorable member for Illawarra became Honorary Minister the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) was in charge of this matter, and astage was reached where it appeared that all would be settled satisfactorily. Then arose some misunderstanding or difficulty, and representatives of the returned soldiers came to Melbourne and interviewed the Minister. Again, a satisfactory arrangement appeared to have been arrived at, but it was discovered that all the efforts had been in vain; and we are distinctly told to-day thatno more homes are to be built in South Australia.
– I suppose some stupid person is still standing on his dignity.
– That may be so. To-day there was laid on the table the signed agreement between the Victorian Savings Bank Commissioners and the Minister for Repatriation, on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, under which the Bank undertakes the building of soldiers’ homes. In the ease of Victoria, I understand there is no difficulty. Mr. Laffer says, that the reason the State Government of South Australia will not sign’ the agreement is that the Commonwealth Government are seeking to have control over the State Bank officials and the State Bank, and I ask the Minister now in charge the simple question whether the agreement Ihold in my hand with the Victorian Government is identical in every particular with that forwarded to the South Australian Government? If it is not, we have a right to some explanation why there is a difference. The Parliament and the Government are pledged to do what is right for the soldiers; and surely we are not going to allow a petty quarrel of difference between two Ministers to penalize all the soldiers in South Australia. If Mr. Laffer is right when he says that the agreement submitted to him imposes new conditions which, from what I can see, cannot possibly be in the Victorian agreement, then the Minister ought to explain why the distinction is made. If, on the other hand, those conditions are not in the South Australian agreement, and the statement of the South Australian Minister is absolutely incorrect, then the Minister in charge of this Bill, in justice to the House and himself, should produce the agreement so that we may make a comparison. There is nothing, so far as I can see, in the agreement -with Victoria to which any State. Government could take exception.
– The South Australian agreement is not the same as that with Victoria.
– I wish to know whether or not there is a difference. The building of these homes in South Australia is carried out in a most efficient manner, and yet we are faced with the fact that all building operations in that State are stopped, and hundreds of men entitled to homes cannot get them. It is two or three months ago since the deputation waited on the Minister in Melbourne, and yet the position now is the same as then. If there are only pettifogging insignificant differences between the two Ministers, they ought to be swept aside immediately.
The proposal in the Bill that the soldier should be asked to make a deposit is a most extraordinary one.. When we set out to frame this legislation the idea was that the soldier should not be called upon to pay anything of the kind.
– Why this differential treatment of soldiers?
– That is what I want to know. The men who returned early and got their applications in es caped the necessity of making a deposit, bub the late comers have to comply with the new provision. This is not carrying out the promise made by us on the public platform and indorsed by the people of the Commonwealth.
– What are you going to do?
– I shall vote against the proposal, because I think it absolutely unjust to the men. To revert to the South Australian position, I desire from the Minister a clear explanation of the conditions imposed in the agreement relating to that State, if such agreement conditions were imposed. It cannot be because of any mismanagement, seeing that in South Australia, as I say; the work has been done with absolute efficiency. Whatever the differences are, every effort should be made to finalize the agreement so as to avoid penalizing the returned soldiers.
– I welcome the introduction of this Bill, which is intended to improve the conditions under which War Service Homes have been built. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Robert Cook) talks about houses being built for £200, but he evidently does not understand much about the building trade. Some people might call a shed with an iron roof a house, but if the honoroble member has in his mind a brick housewith all conveniences he ought to well understand the cost of £800. I have seen a number of the group houses, and, as a man who has been all his life in the building trade; I say that in many cases the soldiers have received good value for their money, the houses being well built and finished. At the same time that does not free the Department from blame for losing money in certain directions. The Department undertook a large contract in undertaking to build8,000 houses a year, and bought large quantities of timber. Of course, we all know that if a big buyer like the Government comes into the market and buys timber largely, a scarcity is caused, and up goes the price. The same comments apply to cement. The Commission was a big customer. It bought in large quantities, and, naturally, there was a scarcity. Similarly with bricks and other lines of material; the fact that the Commission was tackling so huge a task as was represented by an annual building programme of 8,000 homes helped markedly to increase the cost of materials, and, inevitably, the price of soldiers’ homes was enhanced. In labour, also, the Commission’s building programme created a shortage; and, at the same time, wages were increased. Again, this caused an unfortunate reflection upon the soldiers for whom the homes were being built. The Government must take the blame for having gone outside of the Service to appoint new men, and for having given them practically a free hand. I ask leave to continue my remarks on another occasion.
– I desire to get the Bill into Committee to-night. I do not like the idea of honorable members “ stone-walling “ a soldiers’ measure.
– That accusation does not apply to me. I am fairly debating the Bill. TheCommission bought so much timber that it has not been able to use it. It is now announced’ that the day-labour system has proved a failure. It has proved too costly, we are told, and the contract system is to be employed. But there are large stocks of timber and other supplies on hand. These must be sold, and I suppose the sales are bound to be effected at a loss. Had the Commission been economical it would have continued to build homes upon the day-labour system until its stocks had become exhausted. That would have been the correct stage at which to impose the contract system. There was. no need for the Commission to become panic-stricken. I do not know that the soldiers will derive any benefit from the change. The best possible plan would be to get rid of the War Service Homes Commission. It is expensive, and its continued existence cannot be justified. There would be far. more satisfaction if the Government were to divert £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 to the credit of the Commonwealth Bank, from which the soldiers could obtain loans and build their own homes from their own plans upon their own sites.
I welcome this Bill for the reason that it proposes to remedy some of the mistakes of the past. I hope the Honorary Minister will make a success of his task, in the interests of returned soldiers and their families. I wish him well. I think he will prove to be sympathetic in the matter of complaints, and will do his best to rectify errors - always bearing in mind the welfare of the soldier. Only this week I forwarded to him a letter in which a soldier complained of the bill of costs which he had received; this amounted to £24 in all for surveying, architectural fees, solicitors’ costs, and the like. Surely this Government Department is’ not seeking to make money out of the soldiers! These costs should be capable of being cut down by half.
– All such work should be done at cost.
– This particular soldier complains that he cannot “ stand up “ to such a demand for a lump sum. He is only a working man, with a family, and he finds it sufficiently hard to meet his regular payments.I trust that the Honorary Minister will see his way clear to afford some relief inthis instance.
I am strongly in agreement with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), who holds that we should not saddle men who have already got homes and have begun to pay for them with the extra costs which have been placed upon them. In many instances these costs cannot be justified. The Commission purchases a block of land, and proceeds to build a group of, say, twenty homes upon it.. The contractor works his way right round the block. I have seen a group almost approaching completion. Most of the homes are ready for occupation, while the last two or three are being finished. Not one of the group, however, is inhabited. When I have asked the reason, I have been informed that the authorities are waiting until the. whole job is done before they can average the cost. Why should not the soldiers concerned have been given permission to enter the homes as they were completed, upon a rental basis, until costs had been ascertained? While these finished houses are standing empty, general costs are going up against the soldier owners. I do not believe in the block-building system, anyhow.
I appeal to the Government to treat the difference between the statutory price and the later valuations of homes purely as a war loss. Had the war lasted for only a few months longer, it would have cost this country possibly another £100,000,000. These extra sums which soldier occupants are now being called upon to meet should be taken over by the Government as a war debt. I believe that Parliament would be unanimous in supporting the principle. Will the Honorary Minister say that the present system of building homes will prove cheaper and more satisfactory than the old method ?
– I believe it will.
– Apart from the merits of the two systems, I sincerely hope so. This work of building homes for soldiers, after all, is reproductive. It docs not involve the country in a loss.
. -This is a very important measure, and the Honorary Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) has no right to say that it is being “ stone-walled.” For the mistakes which have occurred in the past, I do nothold him personally responsible. There have been such frequent Ministerial changes that no Minister to-day can be held responsible for anything. It is a fact, however, that the Honorary Minister was not in charge during the period when serious and costly blunders were being perpetrated. I was one of those who warned Parliament of the danger of divesting itself of control by way of Ministerial responsibility. I pointed to the mistake of placing the construction of soldiers’ homes in the hands of a Commissioner possessed of autocratic powers. This amending measure should have’ been introduced long ago. It was urgently necessary from that moment when the blunders due to the administration of an autocratic. Commissioner had become apparent. The Government long ago should have reimposed Ministerial responsibility.
Two statements have been made in the course of the debate which require replies. One was uttered by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell). On half-a-dozen occasions, he has sought information regarding the differences existing between the Federal and South Australian Governments, which are having the effect of blocking the construction of soldiers’ homes in that State. So far, no satisfactory explanation has been vouchsafed. No one appears to’ know how, or why, these difficulties have arisen; but the result is that a sum of about £70,000 is being held up which ought to be despatched to Adelaide in order that the work of homes construction may be continued. , It is not pleasing for this House to realize that the building of homes for soldiers has been a success only where the work has been carried on by a State Government, and has been a blunder in the other five States, where the task has been intrusted to Federal officials. I learn from members of the Public Accounts Committee that in Adelaide the total cost of building a fourroomed cottage, inclusive of the price of the land, is £700, whereas in Melbourne the cost of a house with similar accommodation is £800, exclusive of the price of the land.
– In some parts of Melbourne the price of land is £800 per foot.
– I am speaking of suburban land, which is reasonably cheap and upon which soldiers’ homes have been erected.
Mr.Bayley. - The type of house erected in Melbourne is different from that erected in Adelaide.
– It is true that the house built in Melbourne is of a more expensive type than the cottage provided for £700 in Adelaide, but the difference is not nearly so great as the extra cost would justify. We should learn from the Government how it is that a State Government can build houses acceptable to soldiers for £700, including the price of the land, while in other States the cost ofa home for a soldier runs up to as much as £1,100.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– I think the Minister ought to explain why building operations have been stopped inAdelaide, where, it is admitted, the building of homes has been carried on with infinitely more satisfaction to the soldiers than has been the case in any other State.
Another matter which requires explanation is in connexion with the Driver contract, referred to to-night by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson). The man who entered into a contract to pay £2 8s. 6d. per 100 super. feet for weatherboards was an exceedingly bad judge of the price of timber,and an exceedingly bad custodian of the Com monwealth’s finances. During the greatest period of strain during the war, when there was absolutely no shipping available the price of weatherboards in Tasmania never reached more than £1 5s. per 100 super. feet. The fact that a contract was made to buy this timber at £2 8s. 6d. per 100 super. feet should have been sufficient for the Government to insist on legislation by which the power should revert to the Minister, and the Commissioner would no longer have authority to commit the Commonwealth to what cannot be regarded as anything but legalized robbery. But there is worse inthis matter than the payment of £2 8s. 6d. per 100 super. feet for weatherboards. Mr. Driver is buying his plant from the Government by allowing a rebate of 4s. per 100 super. feet on all timbers supplied under his contract to the War Service Homes Commission, and my information, which agrees with that given by the honorable member for Corangamite, is that 3,000,000 super. feet of timber has been cut and stacked at Beech Forest, which the Government will not require and which they will have to sell. I believe that they are now about to sell it. What is it worth to any one except to the man who owns the plant and has cut it?
– It is worth more now that it is seasoned.
– No ; it has not been stacked for seasoning. The honorable member knows that if 3,000,000 super. feet of timber are dumped into a stack at a mill in the southern part of Australia, it will depreciate in value, and, instead of being seasoned, will warp, twist, and crack.
– That applies to Tasmanian timbers only.
– No; it applies to all Australian hardwood. The extraordinary position is that if the Government sell this timber by contract or at auction Mr. Driver can buy it and put it back into the stack which the Government are obliged to take from him at the contract price of £2 8s. 6d. per 100 super. feet after deducting the rebate of 4s. per 100 super. feet unless there is protection in the contract. Thus, in two or three deals Mr. Driver will have paid for the whole of the plant he is operating. If one read this in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera it would be amusing; but the unfortunate part of it all is that, so far as I can see, the returned soldier will have to carry the baby through the increased price placed upon the timber required to be used in building his home. Otherwise, the Commonwealth will be landed in an expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds. There was a sawmill transaction in Queensland. I do not want to go over that matter again. The party which I was leading at the time put up a protest and submitted a censure motion on the Government for buying it. On that occasion Queensland members behind the Government told us what a good bargain the Commonwealth had made.
– It was a good bargain. The value was there.
– Is that so? The value is there, and it will remain there for all time so far as I can see. Already the mills have been shut down for nearly two years, and everything is running to decay.Up to the present time the Queensland purchase has proved to be an exceedingly bad and rotten contract, and I welcome this Bill because under it the responsibility for every step that is taken will rest upon the Government alone. This House was warned that it would be a mistake to give the War Service Homes Commissioner supreme power, and I warn the Government again. Whenever the Government want to shed themselves of the responsibility that rightly belongs to them, the cry is always raised that matters should be placed beyond political patronage; but under the system we have recently adopted we have been building up another system of patronage far more dangerous and deadly than the other ever was, and a hundred times more costly to the taxpayers. I hope that we have seen the last of these attempts on the part of a National Parliament to deprive itself of its powers, or of a Government to shed itself of its proper Ministerial responsibility, and I welcome this Bill, because it deprives the War Service Homes Commissioner of the supreme autocratic power he has held and which has acted so detrimentally to the interests of the soldiers and taxpayers.
There is only one other matter I wish to refer to, and that is the 5 per cent. deposit. I trust that the common sense and sense of justice of honorable members will lead them to wipe out that provision of the Bill as soon as the clause in question is under consideration. What right have we to say to the soldier whom we have kept waiting for two or three years that he must pay a deposit of 5 per cent., although the men who were able to get their homes two years earlier got them without paying any deposit ? What right have we to ask men to pay now, because we have been tardy in the fulfilment of our promises to them, and because we have permitted the Government to blunder? The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) has spoken of the enormous benefits which the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Milieu) has conferred upon the soldiers. Senator Millen’s management of the Repatriation Department has been one of the most stupendous and costly blunders Australia has ever witnessed by any Minister of the Crown.
– The honorable member must admit that the Act has been partly responsible.
– I do so; but when the Minister saw where this was leading him, it was his duty two years ago to bring down the necessary Bill and take back the responsibility that should properly restupon him, thus restoring Parliament to its proper position. The honorable member for Denison is one of the few who will say that Senator Millen has been a success in the administration of the Repatriation Department.
– He has done a lot of magnificent work.
– The administration of the Repatriation Department has been the gravest and most serious blunder ever perpetrated by any Government in Australia. There is the Driver contract, there is the contract in Queensland, and there is the delay that has taken place in the construction of houses in South Australia. I do not know who is at fault, and the Honorary Minister will not tell me. Soldiers in Adelaide are waiting for homes, but cannot get them because of a hitch between the Commonwealth and State authorities. Why should the soldier be penalized in this way ? We are told that £72,000 was due to the South Australian Government in June; why has it not been paid? It is not because the building of War Service Homes in South Australia has not been a success. Admittedly that is the one State in which the scheme has been a reasonable success.
The Minister has said that the present delay is not due to the Federal Government. If that is so, this Parliament and the Government should hot have to bear the blame, but the position in regard to the Driver contract and the hitch in South Australia should be cleared up before this Bill goes into Committee.
.- I rise to supplement the protest that has been made to-night regarding the delay in the building of War Service Homes in South Australia. There has been a most unsatisfactory delay during recent months in the finalizing of an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State Bank of South Australia for the continued building of War Service Homes.
– What is the point of difference ?
– I understand that it is contended by the State Bank that certain provisions in the agreement are not in accordance with agreements made by the Commonwealth with other States, notably Victoria, and that the Commonwealth Government’s reply is that the effect of the agreement is the same, although in some respects the wording may be a little different. If the difference between the two parties isso slight, it is desirable that it should be removed without delay and a satisfactory agreement arrived at, so that the State Bank may continue the building of houses for those who so urgently require them. The circumstances surrounding the building of War Service Homes generally have been most unsatisfactory, and the remarks of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) are fully justified. The reports of the Public Accounts Committee show that, if there is one State which has proved that it can successfully build War Service Homes, it is South Australia. That is the one bright spot in connexion with the whole scheme of housing soldiers, and it is most unfortunate that in this State, where the greatest success has been achieved, the further building of homes should be delayed. I have knowledge of applications that are waiting attention, and of soldiers who are urgently requiring homes, and feel that the delay imposes a distinct hardship upon them. Something should be done to expedite the finalization of the agreement. I do not desire to delay the second reading of the
Bill, but I felt it desirable to supplement the protest that has been made on behalf of soldiers in South Australia. If the Commonwealth Government are responsible for the delay or misunderstanding, I appeal to them to do the correct thing and come promptly to an understanding with the State Bank of South Australia regarding the financing of further construction. If the fault lies with the State Bank, I hope the Minister will be sufficiently generous to communicate with that authority and suggest means of overcoming the difficulty. It is to be hoped that in the near future we shall see further activity in the building of War Service Homes in South Australia through a medium which has proved itself efficient in this work. The State Bank has a complete organization, and it has achieved success in all its house construction efforts. The delay in coming to an understanding with the Commonwealth is only denying justice to soldiers who, Parliament has said, are entitled to homes, but who are unable at present to get them.
– Let us get the Bill into Committee.
.- When the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) got up to speak the Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) said, with a good deal of sarcasm, “Another friend of the soldiers”; and now he objects to my speaking.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh and yourself have been pressing for a reply to the statements of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell), but are doing your best to prevent me from making it.
– That is not correct. South Australia is represented in this House of seventy-five members by only seven members, and it is very hard that we should be begrudged the time in which to state the case for our soldiers. I do not intend to go into the discreditable history of the administration of the Commonwealth War Service Homes Act; I rose to ask the Minister if something cannot be done to come to an arrangement with South Australia. Credit has been given repeatedly to the State of South Australia for what it has done in providing War Service Homes. Honorable members from the other States admit that the South Australian State Bank has handled the business of providing soldiers with homes better than it has been handled in the other States. It is remarkable, therefore, that the representatives of that State should be the only honorable members who, when they rise to plead for the continuance of this good work, should find their speeches objected to. The Minister says that he is going to tell us what is at the bottom of the whole trouble.
– I cannot do that. You have been directing your questions to the wrong Ministry.
– I hope that we shall not find that the trouble is due to personal and party differences between a Liberal and a National Government. So many promises were made to the soldiers before they went away that personal or party differences should not stand in the way of their fulfilment.
– The honorable member made none.
– During my campaign I said, remembering how the privates after past wars have been neglected, that were I returned I would do my best to have the promises made to our soldiers redeemed; and, so long as I am here, I shall carry out that pledge. These men deserve the best that we can give them, and it is not the special prerogative of the Minister, or of his party, to plead for justice for them.
– The honorable member pleads only for the Germans. He offered to give part of his salary to them.
– I have pleaded for justice to Australians of German origin. It does not matter to me what was the country of origin of a man’s ancestors; if he was born in Australia he is a fellow Australian, and I do not apologize for asking for justice for him. As to giving part of the parliamentary increase in my salary to a person of German origin, I have not done so. I thought of giving part of it to a widow in South Australia, but, on consideration, I felt that if it was not right for me to draw the money for my own use it was not right to take it at all. The Minister knows I have not drawn one penny of salary increase, but that £900 has gone back to the Treasury. The Government, however, could do justice to that widow, whose husband served in the Postmaster-General’s Department for over twenty years, during which time he did not lose a day through sickness, and had no bad marks against hiin. 1-1 e also had a per.od of furlough due to him. This Government refused to pay his widow money in lieu thereof. That man died in an internment camp, where he had been sent without having had a fair trial. Had that not happened, his widow would not be to-day without means.
– Has the honorable member put the case before me?
– No; but I shall take the hint and do so. Perhaps I may find the honorable gentleman more generous than his predecessor and Sir Joseph Cook,- to whom I made application on her behalf. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation to sink personal end party differences so that the returned soldiers in South Australia may receive equal treatment with those in other parts of the Commonwealth.
– With reference to what honorable members have had to say regarding the history of the War Service Homes Department, I propose to adopt the formula with which they are familiar in connexion with the asking of questions on notice, by referring them to answers, given by me a little while ago. As to the matters arising out of the Bill to which attention has been called, I shall not, at this hour of the night, weary honorable members with explanations that can be given when we are dealing with the various clauses of the measure. I desire, however, to offer a few remarks in reply to statements of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell). Personally, I think it would be better during negotiations between the Commonwealth and a State for Ministers to refrain from newspaper discussions and controversies, which are often induced merely by the desire of sensational newspapers to get ‘ something to fill their columns. I have carefully refrained from making any remarks about the negotiations with South Australia, except in reply to direct questions asked in this chamber. But I assure honorable members that I have done nothing from the beginning to this hour to justify the Government of that State in assuming that so soon as the agreement is signed the funds will not be provided. That that agreement has not been signed is entirely due to the length of time it has taken that Government to discover the objections which it now raises to it. I went specially to Adelaide to place the position of the finances in regard to War Service Homes before the Minister for Repatriation there, and came away from the conference with him and the Director-General of the Savings Bank with the firm impression that the agreement would be concluded within a very few days. It was returned to me with objections to five or six clauses. We removed the whole of those clauses, I think, from the agreement, and so certain was I that the South Australian Government intended to complete it that I had it engrossed by the Crown Law officers here and submitted for signature. The South Australian Government kept the agreement for some weeks and then, to my amazement, returned it with objections to the provisions in it enabling us to satisfy the AuditorGeneral that the moneys advanced under it were being applied for the purpose for which they were advanced. The method we suggested was the method incorporated in the agreements with the State of Western Australia and with the Savings Bank of Victoria in a different form. I admit that it requires a good deal more than the Commissioner was ever likely to ask. That fact might have been pointed out by the South Australian Government when the agreement was first submitted to them. My attitude all along has been that the interests of the soldiers should be the controlling factor in the decision of the matter, and the difference between the Governments might very well be waived in order that the work might be continued. Although it is natural that honorable members from South Australia should contend that the South Australian Government do things better than the Governments of any other State, it cannot be denied that many soldiers’ homes in every other State in Australia compare quite well with the homes erected in South Australia. I will say, with regard to many of the soldiers, that the kind of home being built in South Australia is not the kind of home they want.” The kind of home they want cannot be built for £600 or £700.
I should mention that a memorandum was signed by the South Australian Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Laffer) and the then Assistant Commonwealth. Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers). That memorandum provided for an advance of £800,000 to the Government of South Australia. It was a memorandum of agreement, and not an agreement. It was not a document which our AuditorGeneral would accept as a warranty for the payment of the money. I had been in office for some time before I discovered that wu were acting upon a memorandum, and not a regularly signed agreement. I was anxious to get the agreement signed, and I have taken every step I could from then until now to meet the wishes of the South Australian Government when they have time to communicate them to me. The latest thing we have done is to intimate to the Government of South Australia that the Auditor-General will accept the certificate of their Commissioner for Audit as to the fact that moneys have been applied to the purpose for which they were intended. I would ask honorable members to remember that, while I am as anxious as any man to see every returned soldier placed in a home at the earliest possible date, I have my responsibility to the taxpayers of the country, who are providing the money, to see that it is applied for the purpose for which Parliament authorizes its appropriation and for which the Commonwealth lends it to the Government of South Australia.
– What is the particular clause of the agreement which is causing the block)
– The last clause to which the South Australian Government took exception was the clause which gives to the Commissioner the power to examine accounts in connexion with the expenditure of the money. A similar clause was not objected to by the Victorian Savings Bank. It is, however, fair to say that in the Victorian agreement the provision was put the other way round - that the Director of the Bank will supply us with such particulars as we ask for. Under the South Australian agreement the Crown Law officers provided that we should have the right to see their books of account.
– Is that the sole bone of contention ?
– I do not know that there is any contention now.
When 1 obtained the last objection of the South Australian Government, 1 referred it to the Auditor-General to see whether it was possible to moderate the demand which had been made. I suggested that we could accept what we had agreed to accept in connexion with providing money for soldier settlement. That proposal is now with the South Australian Government, and awaits their decision.
With regard to the Driver case, I shall say nothing now, because it is sub judice. I refuse to be made the instrument in this House for obtaining information for the other side, to be used against the Government in the arbitration. That is all 1 desire to say at this stage.
Bill read a second time, and considered in Committee pro forma.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the. Senate without amendment.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Groom) read a first time.
House adjourned at 11.7 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 September 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220928_reps_8_101/>.