9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (St.Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Does the Prime Minister intend to afford the House an opportunity to discuss the purchase of the Rowan collection of pictures during the present session?
– It is the intention of the Government to give the House an opportunity to do so. The honorable gentleman will remember in the last Parliament this matter was considered by the House, and was left in the hands of the Government, which undertook to bring up any agreement for consideration. It was intended to put a vote for the purpose on the Estimates, but another method will now be adopted to give the House an opportunity to discuss the purchase of those pictures. .
– I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer when an answer can be given to some questions of which I gave notice about a week ago seeking information as to the leaseholders affected by the Land Tax Assessment Bill, whose land tax is unpaid, and to be remitted, and the amount outstanding. I should like to know when the information will be available, as it is over a week since I asked my question ?
-I will have inquiries made, and will let the honorable member have the information later.
– In view of the many articles appearing daily in the press with a view to creating an unfavorable feeling between the peoples of Japan and Australia, will the Prime Minister consider the advisibility of sending a delegation of members of this Parliament to Japan so that they may become familiar with the actual conditions there, and may establish friendly relations between Japan and Australia.
– The suggestion of the honorable member will have consideration.
– In view of the proposal to arrange a trip by members of the House to the Northern Territory will the Prime Minister see that every effort is made to secure that those who take the trip shall be men having practical country experience, whose opinions on the return* of the party will be of value. I may say by way of personal explanation that I could under no circumstances be one of the party, as I could not possibly spare the time for the trip.
– Owing to the position in which some honorable members are placed it has been found impossible to arrange for the trip immediately after the rising of the House as was originally intended, but whenever the trip is undertaken the suggestion of the honorable member will receive full consideration.
Proclamation of Sections*
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he will postpone bringing into operation any further sections of the Navigation Act until the report of the Select Committee is laid on the Table of the House?
– The particular sections of the Navigation Act proclaimed to commence on 1st October next have no relation, except in a very remote degree, to the subject-matter of the inquiry now being made by the Select Committee. They relate almost entirely to the seaworthiness of ships, and the safety of life at sea. As the commencement of the sections has been already proclaimed and arrangements entered into with several of the States for the transfer of the work from State to Federal control, the suggestion that the commencement of the provisions be postponed until after the Select Committee has reported cannot be entertained.
De. Mackenzie’s Anatomical Collection
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Mr. BRUCE (for Dr. Earle Page).The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Ship 48 : ELECTRICAL Fittings.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made into the matter, the result of which will be communicated to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether increments recommended for the taxation officers from 1st July, 1923, were contained in the Estimates for 1923-24 passed through the House last week?
The following papers were presented : -
Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, held at Melbourne May-June, 1923- Memo., Report of Debates and Decisions arrived at.
Ordered to be printed.
Entertainments Tax Assessment Act - Regulations ‘ amended - Statutory Rules 1923, No. 105.
[2.401. - (#2/ leave). - Last week I announced to the House that, because of certain information which had been conveyed to the Government concerning three sugar transactions, Ministers deemed it necessary to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire ‘into the whole matter. . I indicated that it was hoped to appoint as the Royal Commissioner a Justice of the High Court. After this announcement, I approached the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, and asked him if one of its Justices would be available. The Chief Justice, however, and many of the Justices of the High Court and the Supreme Courts, hold very strong views as to the undesirability of their acting as Royal Commissioners. “We made very strong representations in this case, because it was felt desirable that some one possessing the highest judicial qualifications should conduct the inquiry. We pointed out to the Chief Justice that the good name and prestige of the Commonwealth Civil Service was involved. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain a High Court or Supreme Court Justice; but Sir Edward Mitchell, who holds a pre-eminent position at the bar, has agreed to act as Royal Commissioner to inquire into the transactions to which I have referred. Sir Edward Mitchell will be charged generally to inquire into and report upon certain purchases of sugar by the Commonwealth through Mr. W. E. Davies, and asked to determine whether any gift or consideration in regard to them was offered or received by “any person or persons employed by the Commonwealth.
– I ask leave to put a question to the Prime Minister.
– Does it concern the Prime Minister’s statement concerning the sugar transactions ?
– This is an irregular proceeding ; but it was permitted last week in exceptional circumstances. As it seems to be the unanimous desire of the House that the honorable gentleman should have leave to ask a question relating to the Prime Minister’s statement, he may proceed.
– Will the Prime Minister give the Commissioner power to inquire into the prices charged in the last three transactions? His statement had no reference to .the prices paid, but related only to the question whether offers were made to certain individuals.
– The prices were all right.
– The three transactions were made a’t different prices, and if the Prime Minister assures the House that the Commission will investigate the iona fides of them the position will be more satisfactory.
– It is intended that the Royal Commission shall inquire into all relevant facts concerning these particular sugar transactions. Without hesitation,
I say that the prices paid will be a relevant fact, as determining whether any person received an inducement to facilitate any of the transactions. The Commission will be so drawn as to insure the investigation of every relevant fact.
Motion (by Mr. Stewart) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to ratify an Agreement for the variation of the Agreement entered into between the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth and the Premiers of the States of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, respecting the River Murray and Lake Victoria, and other waters, and for other purposes.
Motion (by Mr. Gibson) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1920.
Bill presented by Mr. Gibson, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Gibson) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-16.
Bill presented by Mr. Gibson, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Groom, for Dr. Earle Page) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1922.
Declaration of Urgency.
On the Order of the Day being read for the resumption of the consideration of the Bill in Committee,
Mr. Bruce having declared the Bill to be urgent.
Question - That the Advances to Settlers’ Bill is an urgent Bill - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
. I move -
That the time allotted for the completion of the Committee stage and the consideration of the remaining stages of the Bill be until 5 o’clock p.m. this day.
I do not propose to take up the time of the House by discussing the motion. Honorable members will recognise that the subject-matter of the Bill has been well discussed, and that the views of honorable members have been fully expressed. There is, therefore, no necessity to occupy much time in Committee.
– I do not know that the right honorable the Prime Minister will gain much by this action. It is a reprehensible way to deal with the business of the House. This Bill would have gone through Committee in reasonable time, and motions such as the one just moved by the Prime Minister do not help matters. Many honorable members desire to improve the Bill in Committee. They have no intention to take up time unduly, but it has been. admitted on both, sides of the Chamber that .the Bill in its present form is not complete.
– Well, let honorable members get to it.
– There will be no time for that.
– It is complete enough for honorable members opposite.
– Hurried action such as is proposed may mean that we shall have to deal with this matter again next session. We may find that this wire netting has been distributed to the wealthy classes of the community and not to those who really need it. No provision is made in the Bill to prevent certain people from obtaining the netting. It is serious for the Government to give away £250,000 without making sure that it will go to the people for whom it is intended. I am certain that many wealthy people who are well able to buy wire netting will apply for and get it under the provisions of this measure, and that many poor people who need netting badly will apply for, but be unable to get it. The Bill makes no attempt to prevent happenings of that kind, and two hours is not sufficient for us to remedy its defects. Honorable members cannot reasonably be ‘ asked to draft the necessary amendments in two hours. I do not want to see time wasted, but I want to see the proper thing done. The Prime Minister may be interested to know that, for every member on the Opposition side of the House who spoke in the debate last night, a member on the Government, side spoke. This matter interests all members of the House. We did not have a onesided debate last night.
– This motion means that members who wish to speak to the Bill will not be able to do so.
– Some honorable members refrained from speaking yesterday because they thought that in Committee they -would have an adequate opportunity to express their views and move their amendments. The guillotine is to be operated, however, and that will prevent reasonable discussion. How do. honorable members know that this money will be satisfactorily distributed?
– It will be another bonus to the big people.
– We should, as far as possible, insure that this assistance will reach the people for whom it is intended. As the measure is framed at present, the assistance may go to people who are well able to do without it, while people who cannot possibly afford to purchase wire netting for their holdings will be compelled to go without, and on that account may have to leave their homes , because of the ravages of the rabbits. We should not spend £250,000 in this slipshod way. I protest against it. This is a wrong and mistaken procedure. It would be far better for the Prime Minister to permit this House to sit for two or three weeks after he leaves Australia than to deal hastily with the matters before us. We “ should take proper time to discuss important matters of this description, or we may in six or twelve months’ time find that another scandal, such as that of the War Service Homes, has occurred. This help may go to people who do not need it, while those who are in urgent need of it may be unable to obtain it.
.- I protest against the attitude adopted by a Government which, apparently, has not the ability to conduct’ the affairs of the country in a “proper manner. ,1 do not know whether the Government is merely engaged in a window-dressing campaign, or is in earnest in regard to the business which is being placed before the Chamber.
– The honorable member should not be severe on Ministers ; they are only youngsters.
– The ‘prentice hand is seen in all their doings. There are on the notice-paper twenty-five Orders of the Day; and four have been added to-day, making a total of twenty-nine more or ‘less important measures. In addition, the Minister for Works is to submit motions regarding the construction of the officers’ hostel and administrative offices at’ Canberra, representing an expenditure of probably £100,000. We are expected to deal with the whole of those thirty-one important proposals in less than ten days. Is any one so foolish as to believe that that can be done? It is a physical impossibility. Is the Government misleading the people, or misleading itself? It will not be possible to deal with all the proposed measures even if every one of them is declared urgent. The Government should be honest with the people and admit that it has no intention of proceeding with half of the proposals that it has placed on the business-paper. The measure we are now discussing has been before the House for five hours, and another couple of’ hours is to be allotted to its consideration. In that time the House is expected to legislate wisely and with discretion in regard to the expenditure of £250,000 of the people’s money. The Bill is badly drafted, and does not provide any safeguards. Consideration of the amendments which could be drafted to improve the Bill, and which are necessary, would occupy more than two hours of the Committee’s time. I protest against the application of the guillotine to this Bill, and I shall continue to resist the method that the Government is adopting for the conduct of business. When contentious legislation is placed before the House every member has the right to criticise it. If we are prevented from doing so, the Government must accept full responsibility. Bills are being rushed through the House in such a manner that it is impossible for us to give full attention to them, and I suppose that next year, or the year after, when mistakes have been discovered, a Royal Commission, the twenty-ninth in four years, will be appointed to investigate what has happened. In this instance the guillotine is being applied to a Bill involving the expenditure of £250,000 to make wire netting available to the political friends of honorable members opposite.
Question put. The House divided.
Majority . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 1 (Short title).
– Many questions were asked last night as to the operation of this Bill, and perhaps it would be as well if I were to repeat what I then said in reply. I wish to assure honorable members who are in doubt as to how this money will be distributed, that the distribution will, as far as possible, be made without any cost, through the State Governments.
– What about the interests of the settlers ?
– The interests of the settlers will be safeguarded as far as can be. We shall seethat this money reaches only needy people, and not, as has been suggested, the wealthy. It is hoped that the State Governments will give either free or very much reduced freight, so that the wire may be supplied at the lowest possible cost. It is deemed desirable that the Commonwealth should buy the wire, as otherwise there would be seven buyers in the field. The advantage of having only one buyer, with a knowledge of the requirements of the six States, will be readily seen.
– Will this wire- netting be imported ?
– Of course we shall import what we cannot buy here. How else could we get it? Although the methods of distribution are different in each State, there is no doubt that the States will be able to undertake the work with every hope of success. The Government are advised that it would be impossible to insert all conditions as to details in the Bill itself. No interest will be charged by the Commonwealth, though probably the States may charge a small rate of interest.
– Is that to cover the cost of distribution 1
– Yes ; but we must remember that this is not a gift. The money which will be advanced to the States will, in turn, be advanced to settlers for ten or fifteen years, and, in the circumstances, it would be unjust to ask the States to forgo all interest.
– Will the States, and not the settlers, be responsible for the repayment of the money to the Commonwealth ?
– The States will be responsible. The Government must accept the responsibility for the administration of the Bill, and every care will be taken to insure that the assistance reaches those who require it.
.- lt is evident that the Minister in charge of this Bill does not understand it. It seems to me to propose that everything connected with the subject with which it deals shall be controlled by regulation. The Minister made two statements, the first to the effect that the money is to be advanced to the States, apparently without interest, and that the State Governments are to have the power in distributing the advances to charge interest on them. I remained silent when the matter was under discussion last night; but I understood the Minister to say that the purpose of the Bill was to enable settlers to be supplied with cheap wire netting at a very low rate of interest, or possibly without interest. I certainly never assumed that the intention was to supply an agent with money free, upon which that agent might charge interest. From the statement we have heard today it would appear that the Commonwealth is to advance £250,000 to the States without interest, and that the State Governments are to act as agents of the Commonwealth, and lend the money advanced to them, charging interest upon it to the settlers. That should certainly be objected to. , The. second statement made by the Minister was that the Government would be very good buyers of wire netting, and if it is the intention of the Government to buy the netting, I should like to be told why any advances of money should be made to the State Governments at all. The honorable gentleman is doubtful whether we can produce sufficient wire netting in this country. There should be no doubt on the matter. There are a number of flourishing wire netting factories in Australia. There is one very flourishing wire netting fac.tery in my electorate of Bourke; it is probably the largest factory of the kind in Australia. It produces the best class of wire netting, and is quite free from interference by agitators, Wages Boards, or Arbitration Courts.
– There is some restriction of labour there.
– That is perhaps .the only trouble that arises at this factory. There is sometimes a shortage of labour; but I am sure that the managing director of the factory, Major Condor, would be glad to receive orders for wire netting from the Government, and would make efforts to find the labour necessary to fill the orders.
– Where is this place the honorable member refers to?
– The factory is well known, and I shall only be too pleased to introduce members of the Government to the managing director, and show them over the works. There are other wire netting factories in other parts of Australia, and it should be unnecessary to import a yard of wire netting.
– If the wire netting required can be supplied in Australia not a yard of it will be bought outside.
– We quite believe the honorable gentleman, but who will decide ?
– The honorable member wishes to destroy the Bill. Who does he think will decide ?
– I was threatened that’ I would be reported to the Speaker for making a few interjections; but, apparently, other honorable members may do what I am not permitted to do. It is anticipated that the advance will cover 4,000 miles of wire netting, which would be 600 miles for each State. That would not be a great deal. Honorable members on this side would not object to this Bill, if it were properly framed, and if everything were not left to regulation. There is no reason why amendments should not be made in it, so that we may know the class of settlers who are to be benefited. The Minister said that only “needy” people would be given any advantage under the Bill. If that is so, a provision to that effect should appear in the measure. One. honorable member of the Country party is under the impression that this wire netting is to be distributed to the big pastoralists, because he suggested that the’ distribution should be made by the Pastoralists’ Board. There should be some clauses in the Bill to make it clear that the £250,000 will be devoted to the assistance of really needy settlers, and also that no authority other than the Commonwealth shall be in a position to make profit in the shape of interest from the operation of the measure.
.- I must say that this is the most remarkable Bill that has ever come before this Parliament. I know the purpose of the measure, and I also know that there is no pest that can more rapidly devastate an enormous area of country than the rabbit pest.
– I rise to a point of order. The discussion seems to me to be somewhat irregular. We are dealing now with the short title of the Bill, which reads -
This Act may be cited as the Advances to Settlers Act 1923.
On this there is a general discussion taking place, and I contend that the discussion should be confined to the clause. If a general discussion is permitted on the clauses, we cannot hope to do anything to improve the Bill within the two hours at our disposal for its consideration. I submit that it is quite out of order for honorable members to discuss the Bill in general terms on clause 1.
– It was with full knowledge that the discussion of the Bill must be concluded at 5 o’clock that I permitted the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Austin Chapman) to somewhat amplify his remarks upon the first clause, because they were explanatory. I did not interfere with the Minister or with the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), but in view of the fact that the consideration of the Bill in Committee must be completed by 5 o’clock, I ask honorablemembers to confine themselves to the clause under discussion.
– On the point of order, if we are not entitled to deal with advances to settlers proposed to be made by the Government on the title of the Bill, will you, sir, inform me on which clause we shall be at liberty to discuss the principle of these advances.
– On clause 5.
– Clause 1 reads -
This Act may be cited as the Advances to Settlers Act 1923: and I am in favour of such advances, but I desire that they shall be properly safeguarded.
– I remind the honorable member that the’ short title is only the convenient term by which the Bill may be known. The honorable member will have ample opportunity to discuss the various clauses of the Bill when we come to them.
– I am quite aware of that, but, as the Minister in charge of the Bill made an explanation covering the whole measure, I thought that possibly a general discussion would be permitted on this clause.
. - A very important consideration in connexion with this Bill is the exact meaning of the word “settlers.” I do not wish to take up time unnecessarily, but I should like to know from the Minister in charge of the measure whether poultry farmers will be included in the definition of “ settlers “.
– Yes, certainly.
.- On this clause, which provided that the title of the Bill shall be - “ Advances to Settlers Act 1923 “, I propose to say a few words by way of criticism. I said something yesterday on the subject, and I propose to add a few words to what 1 then said. The Minister, this afternoon, has declared that the object of this Bill is to secure advances to needy persons. He went on to say, though it would appear to be unnecessary, that for the Bill and the distribution of the money the Government must take full responsibility. He added that the distribution of the wire netting will be left to the State Governments. If that ?s so the States, being sovereign bodies, and not being inferior corporations to which this Parliament is presuming to delegate authority, tha terms and conditions upon which the wire netting .will be advanced to the ultimate users will rest obviously with the State Governments.
– Order ! The honorable member is entering upon a general discussion. My attention having been drawn to the fact that a general discussion was taking place on the clause, I must ask honorable members to confine themselves to the subject in hand, and that is the short title of the Bill. I ask the honorable member for Batman to address himself to that, and to that only.
– I claim the right, subject to the direction of the Chair and to any action which we may deem fit to take in respect of any decision of the Chair, to discuss on this clause the general question of advances to settlers, and on the same lines as those on which the Minister in charge of the Bill discussed it at the opening of the debate this afternoon. The clause’ deals with advances and their amount, and, I submit with great respect, also with the persons to whom advances are to be made, and the terms on which they are to be made.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member must know that the clause deals with the short title of the Bill only, and has nothing whatever to do with its provisions. I ask him to direct his remarks to the title only.
– I am not quite clear what one may say upon this clause. I do not know whether I am at liberty to deal with advances, with settlers, with the effect of the Bill, or only with its name. As a name I take no exception to the short title proposed, but I take great exception, with the utmost respect, to your ruling on the matter, and I am disposed to move that it be dissented from.
– I intended, in discussing the short title of the Bill, to move the insertion of the words “ Needy “ before the word “ Settlers,” especially in view of the explanation given by the Minister, not before the Bill was introduced or when it was introduced, but at a later stage. The honorable gentleman scored rather heavily off honorable members on this side, and unfairly, when he suggested that they were speaking with their tongues in their cheeks.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the clause under discussion.
– I am trying to show why the short title of the Bill should be altered to “ Advances to Needy Settlers Act 1923.” I had an amendment prepared to effect this, but I have been advised that it can be better inserted in another clause. The amendment would make the purpose of the Bill clear and definite. The Minister, when introducing it, took an unfair advantage of the House by not explaining its provisions. He was thus placed in a position to say that we were ridiculing the .needy settler, and that he knows is not correct.
– The honorable member’s remarks are beyond the scope of the clause.
– If the Minister is sincere, he will not object to my proposal. This is the only opportunity I have to refute the statements which the Minister made last night. At the opening of the discussion in Committee the Minister twitted the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) with creating a false impression in stating that honorable members did not know where the money was to be expended and who was to receive it. If the Minister does not accept my amendment, we can only conclude that when he so accused the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) he was speaking with his tongue in his cheek. He knows full well that unless the Bill clearly defines the authority which is to receive the . advances, the needy settler may receive no benefit from it. It is quite likely that the big land-holders who now allow vermin to breed will receive the whole of the advances for wire netting. If the short title is amended as I have suggested, it will protect the small settler, and aid considerably in the development of Australia. We should safeguard the finances of the Commonwealth by seeing that these advances are not exploited. We have had practical experience of the exploitation of the various bounties granted by the Commonwealth through this Parliament to certain industries. I enter my protest against the manner in which the Minister introduced this Bill.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
This Act shall be deemed to have commenced on the 30th day of June, 1923.
.- This clause provides that the Bill shall commence on 30th June, 1923. Can the Minister explain why it should be made retrospective ?
– It is to enable the appropriation to be taken out of the surplus revenue.
– When dealing with the Budget, this was one of the items that I and others picked out as a charge against last year’s revenue, although the expenditure was to be this year. If honorable members agree to this strange procedure, I do not know to where it will lead. The 30th June is the end of the financial year ; this is August, and the Government coolly insert a clause in the Bill to the effect that it is to date from 30th June. The appropriation will thus be shown as last year’s expenditure. What would honorable members think of people who conducted business on those lines. The Government have done this in order to show a small surplus. It must be evident to honorable members that if this £250,000 had been included in this year’s expenditure the deficit would have been about £200,000. It is a juggling with figures. What justification is there for us to pass legislation making retrospective grants to the States ? I was not surprised to hear the Minister state that the advances were to be distributed by the States. I expected that, and I said so yesterday; but the States are to be allowed to charge interest on advances to settlers, which is entirely wrong. I could quite understand the States receiving sufficient to cover the cost of distributing the wire netting, but that would be infinitesimal. It involves merely freight and the labour necessary to cut the wire netting to order and despatch it to the railway stations.
– The interest is to compensate the States for any loss they may incur.
– I admit that they should be paid for the cost of distributing the wire netting, but it is quite a different thing to allow them to charge interest. Supposing the interest charge is 3½ per cent., will any one contend that it will cost that to distribute the netting] That is all the States have to do. We supply the States with the required quantity, and they distribute it to certain settlers. If interest is to be charged it should be a charge by the Commonwealth.
– The Commonwealth should get the interest.
– The members of the Country party yesterday stated that they expected to pay interest. To whom are they to pay it? They will pay it to the State Governments.
– The interest is to provide for any loss as between the settler and the State Government.
– Honorable members can rest assured that any loss will fallupon the Commonwealth Government. The State Governments cannot reasonably expect to be covered for anything except the cost of distribution. These advances are to assist the needy settlers.
– The honorable member is not confining his remarks to the clause.
– I am pointing out that the Bill should operate, not from June, but from August, and to that end I intend to move an amendment. I can quite understand that the Government are doing many things to placate the Country party. For their benefit two or three measures are to be dealt with this week. Instead of throwing sops to the Country party, we should properly carry out the business of this country. Surely this proposed expenditure should be charged to this year? The Government cannot justify their intention to make it a charge against last year.
– The Country party say that they know nothing about it.
– I ask the Committee to vote against the clause in its present form. Some honorable members of this Chamber are under the impression that they must oppose any amendment to a Bill in committee because they presume its passage to be vital to the Government’s existence. This amendment does not affect the Government at all. Why should this advance be dated as from 30th June ?
– It is asserting the right of Parliament to control public expenditure.
– I am not complaining of that. I say that Parliament should have the right to state from what time the Bill shall operate. I move -
That the word “ June “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ August.”
.- The Leader of the Opposition nas proposed an important amendment, and it is a pity that so few honorable members of the other side are present to hear the debate. When the bells ring they will take their seats, and vote blindly for the Government. The Government are juggling with the finances of the country. It is a practice that no private business firm would tolerate for a moment. This Government represents big business interests, and claims to be a business Government. It said that it would put the finances of the country on a sound footing. Instead of doing so it is proposing something altogether alien to proper business practice. It is wrong that a surplus, which results from a period of prosperity, should be used in the way now proposed. It appears to me that the Government wishes to bolster up its administration, and gain kudos, and to do so it is taking credit for the work done by its predecessor. Perhaps, it has the next elections in view, and is adopting this underhand way to make an appearance of having helped the needy settlers. I cannot call this anything but an underhand action. The Commonwealth Parliament is being improperly used, and such actions as this will bring representative government into public contempt. The Government should have given us more information, instead of which it has chosen to bring a slip-shod Bill before us, and attempt to force it through. That slip-shod methods are adopted is proved by the admission of the Minister this afternoon that he has obtained information which he had not when he introduced the Bill yesterday.
– I said nothing of the kind, and I am not going to be misrepresented by the honorable member for his own purposes.
– If I have wronged the Minister for Trade and Customs I am sorry. I said what I understood to be the effect of his remarks this afternoon.
– The honorable member’s understanding of them is incorrect.
– Then I take back my remark. I want to be fair.
– I know how fair the honorable member wants to be.
– If the Minister for Trade and Customs had last night the information he gave the Committee this afternoon, he could have saved a good deal of time and trouble by making it available to the House then.
– The honorable member should have been here to hear what was said.
– I sat right through the debate last night, which is more than many honorable members opposite did. The Minister cannot “ put it over “ m© that way. I think Hansard will prove that my statement is correct. I strongly support the amendment, because I think that this H’ouse should resist any attempt to tamper with our finances in the way proposed in this clause.
– I remind the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) that we are doing in this Bill exactly as we did in the Main Roads Development Bill.
– The two measures are as different as daylight and dark.
– I am discussing only this retrospective provision. In the Main Roads’ Development Bill we had a provision exactly similar to that in the clausenow before us. The honorable member for Hunter desires to’ charge to this year’s revenue the £250,000 which is proposed to be made available for wire netting. The Government proposes that the amount shall be made available out of the surplus. If we had proposed to provide the money out of current revenue it might havebeen objected that, as it was an extraordinary service, it was not a proper charge on the revenue of the year. I admit that it is an extraordinary service,, and because of that we are perfectly justified in charging it -against the surplus. Such a method enables this Parliament to render valuable help to different sections of the community in times of necessity which we could not render had we to appropriate the money from current revenue. We followed this course in the Main Roads Development Bill, and the House accepted the principle. I believe that it is a right principle, and I ask honorable members to agree to it.
– The £500,000 made available in the Main Roads Development Bill was provided on an entirely different basis from that proposed in this Bill. That Bill was passed in the last financial year, and the purpose honorable members had in mind was that the money should be available to relieve the unemployed. The circumstances are altogether different here.
– The Government contends that there is great necessity for this action.
-It is a sop for the Country party, and that is all.
Question - That the word proposed to be omitted stand part of the clause - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
For the purposes of this Act there shall be established in the books of the Treasury a Trust Account which shall be known as the “Advances to Settlers Trust Account,” and that account shall be a Trust Account for the purposes of section 62a of the Audit Act 1901- 1920.
.- This Bill will create a precedent that will cause a lot of trouble unless honorable members are prepared to uphold and continue the principle that is being laid down. I am entirely in sympathy with the purpose of the measure, but we have not been told for whom the trust account is to be created, who has requested that these advances be made, or how the £250,000 is to be distributed. No other Bill presented to this Parliament has been so lacking in simple business precautions. I question whether the measure is constitutional ; it certainly is not part of the business of this Parliament to distribute wire netting to settlers other than those in Commonwealth territory, but is distinctly and exclusively a State function. If the Government propose to supply wire netting upon terms to settlers in Commonwealth territory, and such assistance is necessary, the proposal is quite legitimate, but we ought not to provide wire netting for distribution to settlers in the States, which are not controlled by the Commonwealth. We have been told that certain conditions will be prescribed; but the Committee is asked to appropriate £250,000 by means of a Bill which contains no conditions. This procedure is unprecedented. If. the Commonwealth has been asked by any State Government to make these advances, and representatives of the Commonwealth and the States have negotiated regarding the conditions upon which the advances shall be made, honorable members are being treated as helpless children when they are asked to pass this Bill without being made acquainted with the conditions. It is not sufficient for us to be told by the Government that the State Governments will be responsible for the repayment of the advances; that obligation should be set forth in the Bill. We should know the conditions upon which the money is to be advanced, and the class of persons to whom it is to be given.
– Sir Sidney Kidman, perhaps.
– He does not want wire netting; he requires only plenty of open country. These advances are not necessarily for the benefit of rich people. The South Australian Government has been advancing money for the provision of wire netting in the outside areas for the last twenty years, and I think £2,000,000 has been made available to the settlers of that State. Vermin districts have been created, and Boards have been given legislative authority to’ receive money from the State Government in behalf of the lessees, and to provide for and enforce repayments over a long period of years. The assistance also given to the small settlers through district councils has been their salvation. The State Government is sure of a return of the capital and a low rate of interest, and by the development of the country and its rescue from vermin, it gets a tangible and productive asset. But we do not know that the money to be advanced under this Bill will confer any benefit at all. The Commonwealth is invading the province of the States. If the States require financial assistance, by all means let them have it, though the State Governments will be responsible for the repayment to the Commonwealth of all moneys advanced. The distribution of wire netting to settlers in the States is not a Commonwealth, but a State, function.
– What, section of the community requires this assistance?
–I do not know. I am as familiar as is any other honorable member with the requirements of the producers, but I know nothing at all about this proposed advance. Do the Government expect their own supporters to SUPport and accept responsibility for this measure without being told anything about it?
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has awakened the Committee to a sense of its responsibility. We are asked to appropriate £250,000 for the purpose of making advances to settlers, and we do not know for what class of settlers the assistance is intended. If this money were to be advanced to the States, as was the grant for road making, this Parliament would be proceeding on sound, lines, but we have no indication that that is the intention.. The Minister should give the Committee more information. I am forced to the conclusion that there is some ulterior motive. No honorable member in the Chamber has been able to explain why the Bill has been brought forward. Is the constituency of any honorable member in need of a large quantity of wire netting? The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) quoted the New South Wales Act governing advances for the purchase of wire netting, and showed that the conditions of application and repayment are prescribed in the Statute itself. «This Bill contains no conditions. If the money is to be loaned to the States I shall be satisfied, but that intention is not apparent in the Bill. The time has come for imposing some ‘ safeguard in connexion with advances from the Commonwealth Treasury. During the war, advances to industries and manufacturers were necessary, but the loose and careless practices that developed then must be discontinued. Circumstances have altered since wartime, and we must put a stop to the laxity that then prevailed. Dangerous legislation of this kind may have farreaching effects. If the Government finds that it has only to propose expenditure to have it sanctioned, it will certainly get careless, and the people generally will call the Opposition to account for not making closer scrutiny over the finances. We are practically passing these clauses in the dark, for no information regarding their operation has been given. This is creditable to neither the Government nor honorable members. We should take this opportunity to impress on the Government the necessity for more caution in expenditure of the kind. If honorable members do not avail themselves of the opportunity offered, they are not fit io sit in a representative assembly.
– The outburst of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) only proves the necessity for the Bill.
– I do not say that the Bill is not necessary. I object to its form.
– Then the honorable member has a curious way of showing that he has no objection to the Bill. He told us of terrible ravages of vermin, and of many thousands of pounds being spent in endeavouring to cope with them. The States have Boards and other machinery which could be utilized in the distribution of the money to be provided under this Bill. The honorable member for Wakefield, however, has said that there is no demand for this aid.
– I do not say so.
– If there, is no demand for this aid in South Australia, there is a demand for it in New South Wales, where without it many unfortunate settlers will have great difficulty in retaining their areas.
– All this money could be utilized in Tasmania.
– If the wire represented by the sum mentioned in the Bill were made available in each of the States, a great deal of good would be done. /
.- Id the light of the discussion, and also of the statement made by the Minister (Mr. Austin Chapman), it appears to me that the name to be given to the account is a complete misnomer. What is proposed is not, in effect, an “ Advances to Settlers Trust Account.” According to the Minister, what is proposed is really advances to States for the benefit of settlers. I listened last night with great interest to the speech of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), when he raised the point that it is not the function of the Commonwealth Parliament to give grants or to make advances to settlers - that it is no part of our business to deal directly with the development of the various States, that being part of the functions of the State Governments. From what the Minister said, it is proposed to make grants to the various States, and to throw the responsibility on them for the expenditure of the money, the ultimate object being the benefit of settlers. I am now confined to this particular clause, and I move -
That after the word “to,” line 4, the words “ the States for the benefit of “ be inserted.
This will, at least, indicate exactly what this money is to be used for. Of course, consequential amendments will be necessary if my proposal is accepted.
For instance, the title of the Bill seems to be just as misleading as the proposed title of the account. This ought to be described as “ Advances to States for the Benefit of Settlers Bill.”
– I trust that the amendment will not be pressed, seeing that it proposes to alter the purpose of the Bill. The intention is to advance not money, but wire netting, to the States. This is a Bill to provide for the supply of wire netting to the States, and it creates a trust fund to be called “ Advances to Settlers’ Trust Account.” A later clause provides that the Minister with this money may purchase wire netting to be supplied to the States.
– Would it not be better to allow the States to buy their own wire netting ?
– It is now suggested, by amendment, to alter the purpose of the Bill: The Minister for- Trade and Customs (Mr. Austin Chapman) has told the Committee why the Commonwealth should buy the netting. He said that it is deemed wise that there shall be only one purchaser. The Bill, therefore, proposes that the Commonwealth shall purchase this wire netting, and hand it over to the States for distribution, debiting the States with the cost. This wire netting will be distributed by the States to settlers.
– Is it, in fact, an advance to settlers?
– It is, in substance. The object is not to make loans to individual settlers in order to enable them to purchase wire netting, but to provide for large purchases of wire netting to be made in such circumstances as will not unduly force up the price, and the intention, is then to hand the netting over to the States for distribution. In short, the object is to give settlers cheap wire netting, and the question is how that object can best be attained. Is it by scattering sums of money all over Australia?
– The honorable member agrees -with me in that. It is proposed that the wire shall be bought by the Commonwealth and distributed by the State Governments.
– How does this come to be a Commonwealth matter?
– The Commonwealth has power to give general assistance, and it has power to make appropriations “for the purposes of the Commonwealth.” The honorable member might as well ask how we came to establish an Institute of Science and Industry, or to finance the construction of main roads.
– The Bill does not definitely state that this material is to be advanced to the States.
– There is reason for not detailing the machinery for the distal- .bution. The Minister for Trade and Customs has explained that it will be necessary for him to make inquiries from the States as to their various methods of distribution, and he proposes, after this Bill is passed, to have a conference with representatives of the States in order to arrange the matter.
– This is something shocking !
– Not at all; it is done constantly. The honorable member for Wakefield has spoken favorably of cooperation with the States, but when he is told that co-operation is intended, he says it is “ shocking.” Is it that within his district in South Australia this assistance is not wanted ?
– Assistance is wanted there, and it is being afforded every day.
– Then why oppose the Bill?
– Never before was such a Bill submitted to a Parliament.
– If the honorable member thinks that such assistance is needed, he ought to make it easier for settlers to obtain wire netting. Regulations will provide the method and basis of distribution.
: - I hope the amendment will be carried, for it .is a business-like proposal, and simplifies the whole measure.
– There is no State Government in the Northern Territory to receive an advance.
– That position can easily be met. We have been told often that duplication in Government activities should not be encouraged, but unless this amendment is accepted duplication will undoubtedly be increased. The Bill, as it is drawn, proposes to take £250,000 out of the Consolidated Revenue for the purpose of purchasing wire netting. Is the . Commonwealth going to charge any interest on the money advanced ? So far as one can learn from the Bill, that is not proposed, nor is there any provision for the repayment of the money. The States have machinery for collecting a standard rate of interest in such circumstances, and the Commonwealth should certainly also receive interest. It is our duty to protect the funds of the country. We have no right to hand over £250,000 to any one without saying when the money is to be repaid, and what the rate of interest on it shall be. I hope the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) will press his amendment. If the money is granted to the State Governments they will be able to distribute the wire in the best interests of the settlers and of the country. I am anxious that our settlers shall receive the advantage of this measure, but it should be under definite terms and conditions.
.- I suppose that no honorable member objects to advances to settlers, but they do object that the Bill does not state definitely who is to distribute the wire netting to the settlers. That is my chief objection to the measure. I cannot understand the Government coming down with an indefinite proposal of this kind. We should know iD the first place who have made applications for these advances. If any of the State Governments have approached the Commonwealth Government for wire netting on behalf of settlers the Minister should let us have that information, and the Bill will go through without much discussion. Personally, I am not disposed to vote for it in its present form. We cannot be expected to vote £250,000 of public money in the way provided for in this Bill.
.- The amendment moved .by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) would do something to put this proposal on a business footing, and in an understandable form, but I do not say that it goes far enough to satisfy me. The Government proposes to raise £250,000, and put it into a Trust Fund. The money, or part of it, is to be spent in the purchase of wire .netting. The Bill carries us no further than that. But we have had a maze of incoherent and, to some extent, inconsistent statements as to what will become of the money when it is raised. No member of tha Committee can do justice to himself or this Parliament by allowing the Bill to pass into law in its present form. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Austin Chapman) sought to stultify the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) by asking him whether his constituents wanted wire netting, and, if so, why he was opposing the Bill. That is not the question. The question is how the amount of £250,000 can be best expended in the interests of the persons for whom the advances are intended, and whether the distribution of the money by responsible persons is properly safeguarded.’ We are told that it is to be handed over to the States for distribution, but even if. that be so, in view of the fact that we are voting the money, we should have some information as to the terms and conditions upon which the wire netting will reach the settlers. I gathered from the discussion yesterday that the proposal is to make advances of wire netting to settlers on very easy terms - the Minister said, without interest. ‘The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) interjected, “ We do not want it without interest,” and there seems to be an absolute lack of knowledge on the part of members and Ministers as to what will happen under the Bill.
– Interest will be charged by the State Governments if they advance the wire. %
– How does the honorable member know that ?
– If interest is to be charged to the settlers by the State Governments, why should we hand the money over to the State Governments without interest? That is a vital point upon which, so far, we have had no illumination from the Government. The. amendment of the honorable member for Fawkner is in the right direction, ‘but it does not go far enough. Surely there will still remain the difficulty as to the persons who are to be benefited by the advances. I assume that it is intended to promote closer settlement, and that the wire netting will be used only upon holdings that are potentially, if not actually, reproductive. Surely we should not be asked to vote money, the allotment of which will be lost sight of as soon as we vote it. Before I give a vote in favour of the Bill, I want to know the terms upon which the advances are to be made, the terms upon which wire netting is to be supplied to settlers, and the terms upon which the State Governments are to supply netting to settlers. I wish also to know what return is to be made by the persons benefited under the Bill, and the term over which its operation will extend. All these things should be set out in detail as they have been in other measures providing for assistance to settlers. Honorable members will recall the fact that .when this House made i a grant of public funds for the erection of a wheat silo in Western Australia, there was an agreement annexed as a schedule to the Bill under which the grant was made, which set out the whole of the details in connexion with the expenditure of the money. Here we have no schedule and no information. It is unworthy of the Attorney-General and the Minister for Trade and Customs to appeal to honorable members on political grounds and ask them whether their electors want wire netting. There are many honorable members on this side whose constituents want wire netting, and their concern is not to vote against the principle of the Bill, but they contend, as do some honorable members opposite, that there should be some assurance that the proposed advances will be made in the interests of the persons it is intended to benefit.*
.- Honorable members should not argue the matter on clause 3, which deals only with the formation of the Trust Account. The next clause says where the money is to come from to go into the account, but these clauses are insignificant, and we should not waste the time at our disposal upon their discussion. What we are concerned about is how the money is to be taken out of the account. I assume that every honorable member desires the success of the scheme, and I point out that if the amendment is carried the whole of the Northern Teritory will be excluded from the operation of the Bill.
– This Bill is not intended for the States only. It is intended also for the Northern Territory, and I wish to point out to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) that if his amendment is carried in its present form it would appear that the advances are to be available only to the States.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr. Maxwell’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
.- As this amendment involves a complete alteration of the Bill, and as quite a number of amendments are proposed, the Committee should have a statement from the Minister in charge of it. It is now five minutes to 5 o’clock, and the discussion should be extended beyond 5 o’clock.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 - (1.) The Minister may, out of the moneys standing to thecredit of the Trust Account, purchase wire netting. (2.) Any wire netting so purchased may be supplied to settlers in the Commonwealth at such price, upon such condition’s and security, and subject to such terms as to payment, as are prescribed.
– So as to give effect to the decision of the House, I move -
That all the words after the word “ Account” in sub-clause (1.) he left out, with a view to insertin lieu thereof the words “ make advances to the States and the Administrator of the Northern Territory.”
I also intend to move to omit sub-clause 2 of clause 5. The conditions for the supply of wire netting will then be set out by regulation.
.- I wish to move a prior amendment, which would make the clause read as follows : -
That the Minister shall make overtures to the States with a view to coming to an arrangement in regard to the allocation of the moneys standing to the credit of the Trust Account for the purchase of wire netting.
– The time allotted for the discussion of the clauses of this Bill has expired. The Leader of the Opposition has submitted an amendment, which can be proposed only if the amendment of the Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) is temporarily withdrawn.
– I cannot withdraw it.
– Then, I am unable to accept the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition.
– The time allotted for the discussion has expired, and yet the Minister’s amendment is to be put. We are coming to a fine pass owing to the operation of the “ gag.” If the amendment of the Minister is carried, other vital amendments should be made.
– Let the Government “ stew in its own juice.”
– Those who vote with the Government must accept the responsibility.
Amendment agreed to.
– Shall I be in order in now submitting an amendment?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.No amendments can be received nor any discussion allowed after 5 o’clock.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
– I submit that you cannot put the clauses after the time has expired.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The discussion closed at 5 o’clock, and, of necessity, the other clauses must be put to the Committee.
Question - That the remaining clauses of the Bill be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Remaining clauses agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
– Order !
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That this Billbe now read a second time.
I desire briefly to state the circumstances in which I took charge of the War Service Homes Department. It fell to my lot to take it over in the reorganization of the various Departments. In doing so I made it clear, and the Government concurred, that as far as possible a line of demarkation should be drawn between the old and the new administration. I did not take over this Department with a view to making apologies or to accept responsibility for the maladministration of the past. In that spirit I shall briefly review the situation as I found it, and as it now is. For the benefit of honorable members who werenot in the House when the War Service Homes Act was passed, I may say that that measure became effective on 6th March, 1919. Its object was to provide homes for large numbers of soldiers who were then returning from the Front. The shortage of housing was even more acute at that time than it is now. At the outset, endeavours were made to have houses built on the contract system, but owing to the scarcity of material, and the difficulty of obtaining skilled labour, the prices quoted were exceptionally high. The contractors stated that they had the greatest difficulty in securing bricks, timber, and other building material. To encourage the contractors to tender more readily and at a more reasonable price the War Service Homes Commissioner adopted the principle of buying, in bulk, large supplies of building material. It was at that point that many of the blunders commenced. Even when the Commissioner agreed to supply building material to the contractors, and placed on them only the work of erecting the houses, tenderers were scarce and prices were high. At that time the press, the soldiers’ organizations, and the Parliament itself were clamouring that this work should be pushed on with all possible speed; and much criticism was levelled at the administration because of its comparative failure to meet the demands of soldiers and provide all the houses for which applications were being made. At this point the
Commissioner made a second decision. He determined to begin to build bouses by the day-labour system. Prom its inception the day-labour policy in building War Service Homes was doomed to failure. The factors which contributed to the failure were ineffective supervision and a faulty accountancy system. A woeful lack of administrative and business ability was manifested in securing supplies and in applying the daylabour policy. At the time, prices being at their peak, contractors and business men who had grown old in the building trade were buying materials from hand to mouth, because they realized thai, prices were abnormally high, and must inevitably fall. The War Service Homes Commissioner took exactly the opposite course. When prices had reached their highest point he entered into contracts for years ahead. A timber mill in Queensland was purchased for about £500,000, and another in Victoria was purchased for £50,000. In addition to that, advances were made to some conT tractors who had very little business standing, in order that they mightcarry out the contracts entered into by them with the Commissioner.
– Have the Queensland mills been sold yet?
– No. One fact that impressed me when reading through the files and studying the past history of the Commission, was that the almost entire absence of trained public servants on the staff of the Commissioner was largely responsible for the lack of cohesion between the Commission and the Minister. For instance, the Deputy Commissioners of the various States were making contracts without the knowledge of the Commissioner, who, in turn, was making huge contracts without the knowledge of his Minister. In sucH circumstances, chaos and confusion were inevitable.
– Unfortunately, Parliament gave the Commissioner that power. We must take our share of the responsibility.
– Yielding to the clamour of the man in the street and the press, that red tape should be swept away, and business men should be placed in charge, Parliament deliberately gave extraordinary powers to the Commissioner. I am inclined to believe that, had there been a little more red tape, there would have been a little less of the unbusinesslike dealings.
– The Government appointed the wrong men.
– Undoubtedly, the Government committed errors of judgment in respect of some of the appointments. All those contracts were entered into without regard to the amount of money voted for the year 1920-21, with the inevitable result that before the year was half expired almost the whole of the appropriation had been spent. Then followed a most extraordinary action on the part of the Government of the day. On the 3rd December, 1920, at a meeting attended by the then Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), the then Minister in charge’ of War Service Homes (Mr. Rodgers), the Commissioner (Mr. Walker), and the Secretary (Mr. Peterson), the manner in which the whole vote for the year had been exhausted so soon was discussed, and verbal instructions were given to the Commissioner to ver-. bally instruct the Deputy Commissioners in the various States to slow down building operations.
– Was that ever confirmed in ‘writing?
– No ; but I am sure of my facts. On the following day, 4th December, 1920, Mr. Peterson left to instruct verbally the Deputy Commissioners in New South Wales and Queensland that building operations were to be delayed. A still more remarkable incident followed. On 18th January, 1921, a deputation of members representing both sides of this House - and possibly some senators - waited upon the Minister in charge of War Service Homes at the Commonwealth Bank, Sydney, to inquire into the cause of delay and the non-completion of applications to purchase existing dwellings. The Minister expressed ignorance of the Commissioner’s action, although on the 3rd December he had verbally given the instruction that caused the Commissioner to ease up. He dissociated hims’elf from the Commissioner’s policy, although it was the result of verbal instructions previously issued by him and the Treasurer of the day, Sir Joseph Cook. While the deputation was proceeding, the Treasurer was in another room in the building. The Minister left the room in which he was receiving the deputation, and interviewed the Treasurer, and upon his return stated that the Treasurer had agreed to advance an additional £1,000,000 be- cause of the serious state of affairs of which complaint had been made by the deputation, and he promised to appoint a tribunal, afterwards known as the Stinson tribunal, to investigate the delays in completing ‘ applications in New South Wales. On the 3rd February, 1921, the Acting Minister directed that except in two or three special cases no more War Service Homes were to be commenced ; the Department was to carry to completion partially erected houses, but no new buildings were to be put in hand.
– Is the Government behind this censure of a former colleague ?
– That direction operated from 3rd February, 1921, until January, 1922. During those eleven months applications for houses were streaming in, and the materials ordered in pursuance of contracts previously made were coming to hand in large quantities. In connexion with these deliveries heavy losses resulted. Had the operations been continuous, much of that material, some of which is not yet disposed of, would have been used in construction. The period of inaction accentuated the difficulty that had arisen through the accumulation of surplus material. The timber mills in Queensland were closed down, and have remained idle ever since. Thriving townships such as Canungra and Beaudesert, which I inspected last autumn, were almost depopulated, and local business men were ruined.
– How do these facts apply to the Bill before the House?
– There has been so much criticism in this House and elsewhore regarding the War Service Homes administration that I think the House and the public are entitled to a full and impartial explanation of the whole position. This is the first opportunity I have had to give that information. In addition to the depreciation of assets through the suspension of building operations, serious loss was incurred through the maintenance of a staff, which was larger than was necessary for the work at the time, but which was retained because of the uncertainty as to when building operations would recommence. It was at this period that the greatest losses occurred, and the then Minister and the Government of the day cannot evade their responsibility in connexion therewith.
– The . present Prime Minister shielded them.
– He was not a member of the last Government all the time.
– He shielded the previous Government during the election campaign, and said that nobody but the late Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) was qualified to rule.
– Order !
– Building operations recommenced in January, 1922. The Department at this date was in a most chaotic state. The legacies from past bungling were so many, and the problems were so great, that the then Minister - there had been a change of administrative control - had an extremely difficult task. I say that’ in fairness to my predecessor. Although an improvement immediately took place, and some of the accumulated problems were dealt with, I found, on taking control in February last, that a great many still remained to be grappled with, and some of them are still unsolved. This was due to circumstances over which I had no control, and over which I have no control “to-day, such as litigation and the like. This made it impossible, as it is still impossible, to ‘finalize matters. Amongst the outstanding matters were the Queensland timber areas and mills, of which we are endeavouring to dispose to-day, and also the Victorian timber areas at Beech Forest, and Driver’s case, the accumulated stocks on Victorian timber areas, the disposal of stocks throughout the Commonwealth, and the surplus land, some of which was unsuitable for building and has been recently handed over to the Department of Home and Territories for disposal. Far more land was purchased than was required. Perhaps it is only fair for me to say that, while of the areas purchased some were unsuitable, on the whole the purchases were not bad - that is to say, the loss on the purchases will be little, if any. Generally, we shall come out fairly well so far as the land purchases are concerned. From the commencement of the activities of the Department up to 30th June last the expenditure was £17,022,907. This is made up of purchases of existing houses and discharge of mortgages, £7,267,152 ; purchase of land and erection of homes, £5,963,234; miscellaneous,’ including timber areas, £1,992,521 ; and advances to the South Australian Government, £1,800,000. The advance to the South Australian Government, as most honorable members know, is due to the fact that the State has taken over the administration of the Act in its territory. We provide the money, and the State provides the homes. The allocation of the £17,022,907 amongst the various States was as follows: - New South Wales, £5,807,863; Victoria, £4,177,911; Queensland, £2,873,202; South Australia, £2,108,967; Western Australia, £1,372,223; and Tasmania, £682,741. “Up to the 30th June, .1.923, 21,238 homes had been provided with this money, including the purchase of houses already built. There were 7,966 houses built, and 13,272 purchased and mortgages discharged. As honorable members will see, nearly twice as many houses were purchased and mortgages discharged than there were houses built. The houses provided in the various States have been as follows: - New South Wales, 7609; Victoria, 4,985 ; Queensland, 3059 ; South Australia, 2,747; Western Australia, 1,939; Tasmania, -899 - a total of 21,238. The large proportion of houses purchased as compared with houses built is due to the policy of the past. To-day the position is reversed; very few nouses are being purchased, and a large proportion of houses are under construction. I may remind honorable members that the purchase of existing houses did not conform with the spirit of the War Service Homes Act, which was to build new homes, and thus relieve the house shortage. Past administrations have largely missed that important point.
– Purchase was much clamoured for.
– Undoubtedly it was by the press, and, in a degree, this Parliament is responsible for joining in the clamour. Undoubtedly the Commissioner and Ministers of the day had an extremely difficult task when all the circumstances are taken into consideration. The Government of the day had a heavy task, and I doubt whether any Administration - Country party, Nationalist, or Labour Government - could have come out of such a position with flying colours. I have given the expenditure, and now I shall give the receipts up to date Unallotted houses* number 196, about 50 per cent, of which are unoccupied pending sale. The repayments amount to £3,977,499 on account of an expenditure of £17,000,000 odd. The repayments are made up as follows: - Repayments of principal, £1,637,716; interest, £1,287,525; sinking fund deposits, £103,089; deposits on advance in excess of statutory authority, £18,178. The last item applies to the cases of soldiers who received grants in excess of £800. A soldier might ask for a house of the value of £1,000, and, in order to get it, he had to pay £200 .to the Commission, and then come under the regulations governing the advance of £800. The rents of property let or leased were £120,163; repayment of advances other than to applicants, £74,787; proceeds from sales of property, £700,234; miscellaneous receipts, £35,S07; making a total of £3,977,499, or approximately £4,000,000. The position, then, is that of -the £17,022,907, approximately £4,000,000 has been repaid, leaving £13,045,000 owing to the Treasury. Now T come to the losses. Various statements have been made with regard to these, and I have had a return prepared showing the actual losses to date; that is, showing what money has been wasted, if I may use the term, for which we have no assets to show. Honorable members will recognise, of course, that there are other losses in sight such as those to be incurred in connexion with the Queensland timber areas. Exactly what proportion we shall regain in response to tenders which have now been called for purchases, we cannot at the moment say. I merely mention these timber areas as an illustration of losses that are in sight. For the moment, I give only those losses which have actually occurred, and then I shall mention those ‘we can reasonably anticipate as. inevitable. The actual losses to 30th June, 1922, amounted to £1,103,088. The estimated loss on the disposal of surplus stock timber areas, litigation and so forth, is £525,808, a total of £1,628,896. The main items of the losses are : - On disposal of house property, including excess costs, £209,422 ; construction charges irrecoverable, which means works, architects’ supervision, maintenance and repair of houses, £189,580; losses and expenses on disposal of surplus stock and other assets, £362,900; subsidiary operations, such as the Queensland timber areas and their disposal with plant, tile, and ‘joinery works, £68,490; compensation for release from contracts, £52,833; miscellaneous losses after deducting sundry earnings, £63,755. Interest on moneys provided by the Treasurer, and outstanding, such as non-interest-earning assets and losses - £156,108, a total of £1,103,088. The losses for 1922-23, and further estimated losses, are : - On disposal of house property, £16,303; construction charges irrecoverable, £27,030 ; expense of disposal of surplus stock and other assets, £88,326; subsidiary operations, including Queensland timber areas and disposal of same, with plant, tile, and joinery works, £233,232; compensation for release from contracts, £240,856. This latter item has not yet been paid, but we may reasonably assume that it must be. The miscellaneous loss after deducting sundry earnings is £2,797, making a total of £608,544, which we may regard as inevitable.
– What are the total losses to date?
– The losses seem to be over £3,000,000.
– No ; I quoted £1,103,000 and £525,000, making a total of £1,628,000. I have endeavoured to find out what are the actual losses we have incurred, and a reasonable estimate of the losses at present deemed to be inevitable, arising from past transactions such as the purchase, of the Queensland timber areas and stocks we may have in hand. From the £608,544, losses during 1922-23, and further estimated losses, there has to be deducted the sum of £82,736, rebate of interest on moneys provided by the Treasury outstanding against losses which have been written off. That leaves a balance of £525,000. The amount of £1,628,896 covers all the losses. In addition, the country has incurred expenditure which cannot well be regarded as a loss in the strict sense of the term. There has been expended from the Consolidated Revenue op to the 30th June, 1923, as the Government’s contribution to the scheme, which is not a charge upon the soldier applicants, but is borne by the general taxpayer, the following sums in administrative expenses: - Salaries, £267,266; expenses of the Commonwealth Bank when acting as agent, £55,320; miscellaneous, £9,331; purchase and maintenance of plant charged to revenue during 1919-20, £7,234’; and contingencies, £202,297. . I questioned the large amount for contingencies, and was supplied with the following particulars : - Commission to State Governments for expenses in connexion with the provision of War Service Homes, £10,000 per annum; commission to PostmasterGeneral’s Department, £2,000 per annum. The rest of the amount is made up of furniture, rent, travelling expenses, temporary assistance, printing, advertising, office requisites, stationery, and postage. A total sum of £541,448 has been paid in administrative expenses which are not charged to the returned soldiers. This is, to some extent, recurring expenditure. We have not reached the end of this class of expenditure. On the Estimates this year there appears a vote of £75,000 for administrative expenses, and possibly that sum will be found to be insufficient. Expenses due to bungling, mismanagement, and losses that we have heard so much about are not, as is popularly supposed, and as is understood by some honorable members, charged to the returned soldiers. .They are not charged one penny of losses incurred in that way. Where a soldier’s home has cost more than its actual value, the returned soldier is not charged with the excess cost. When the Bill is in Committee I shall deal with cases in which the cost has been in excess of the maximum advance allowed under the Act.
– I understand that the accumulated losses amount to over £1,600,000, and the general taxpayer will have to meet expenditure amounting to £500,000 in addition.
– That is so. Looking at the question in all its aspects, while it was undoubtedly the duty of the Commonwealth to finance the erection of homes for returned soldiers, I am inclined to believe that had their actual erection been carried out under the supervision of the State Governments, better results would have been achieved. The arrangement made with the Government of South Australia has been eminently satisfactory to the Commonwealth. It is a credit to the South Australian Government that it should have carried out its job so well. Arrangements were made under an agreement entered into on 8th July, 1922, with the State Savings Bank of Victoria, to carry out the building of -War Service Homes. Under that agreement the Bank did not take over houses building, or accept responsibility for houses built. The Bank started with a clean sheet, and carried out operations in Victoria under the Act from that date onwards under conditions which are set out in the agreement. On the 7th June, 1922, arrangements were made with the Workers’ Homes Board in Western Australia to carry out operations under the Act in that State. The agreement was not signed until the 7th June in that year, but the Workers’ Homes Board actually commenced operations under the War Service Homes Act in the previous November.
– Were any arrangements made with the Queensland Government?
– The question ,is asked offhand of matters dealt with prior to my taking over the administration of the Department, and I speak subject to correction when I say that I understand that negotiations were entered into with the Queensland Government, but no agreement was arrived at. Negotiations were also entered into with the Tasmanian Government, but with no result. There has been a reorganization of the Central Staff. In Victoria, as honorable members are aware, we have the Central Administration, and also a subsidiary State staff as in each of the States. The two staffs in Victoria have now been amalgamated at a considerable saving. The office in Tasmania is being closed, and operations in that State will be dealt with from the central office in Melbourne.
– Does the honorable gentleman consider that administration of Tasmanian operations from Melbourne will be successful?
– It is not for me, or for the honorable member, to anticipate that it will not. I may inform him that every endeavour will be made to facilitate dealing with applications and supervision in Tasmania. We shall have in the State several’ officers, and it is intended to bring two of the Tasmanian officers over to the Central Staff, who, having knowledge of Tasmanian conditions, will deal only with Tasmanian applications. Every effort will be made to prevent delay in dealing with applications from that State, which is anticipated in some quarters. If the Tasmanian Government will agree to enter into an agreement to take over the building of War Service Homes in their State, on conditions, similar to those agreed upon with other State Governments, I have promised to re-open negotiations for the purpose. I believe that such an agreement would be in the interests of the returned soldiers of Tasmania, and any influence which representatives of Tasmania in this Parliament may be able to exercise to persuade the Tasmanian Government to enter into such an agreement will be welcomed by the Commonwealth Government.
Honorable members must excuse the somewhat disjointed character of my speech, . which is due to the fact that I wish to cover all the points that arise in connexion with the Bill. I should say that in addition to the £541,448 administrative expenses not charged to the returned soldiers, the general taxpayer has also to bear a loss in connexion with -the interest paid on money advanced for operations under the Act. The returned soldiers are charged 5 per cent, on the money advanced, whilst the average rate of interest, taking into account also the cost of floating the different loans, which the Government have Sad to pay for the money, has been . approximately 6 per cent.
– Had not the returned soldiers to pay architects’ fees and for plans ?
– The charge to the general taxpayer on account of interest is made up of a loss of 1 per cent, on the total advances, amounting to £17,022,907, and this represents £170,000 per annum.
One of the greatest difficulties to be contended with in the administration of this Department is the collection of arrears of instalments. Happily only a very small minority of the applicants are in arrears. The figures with respect to arrears of instalments are- Instalments due to 30th June, 1923, £2,671,206; instalments unpaid, £89,560. The percentage of arrears over the whole , Commonwealth is only 3.35. The percentages of arrears in the various States are as follow : - New South Wales, the highest percentage, 5.46 per cent.; Victoria, 1.59 per cent.; Queensland, 2.12 per cent.; Western Australia, 4.7 per cent. ; Tasmania, .93 per cent. ; and South Australia, 2.21 per cent.; the average for the whole of the Commonwealth being 3.35 per cent. This is a very satisfactory position, considering the prevalence of unemployment. I want to pay a tribute to the soldiers as a whole, because the great majority of them regu- larly pay their instalments. They have caused no trouble or expense to the Commissioner. It is to the eternal credit of those men that this satisfactory state of affairs exists. Unfortunately, a small minority have given the Department considerable trouble. Criticism has -been levelled at thu administrative officers because of the method adopted to secure payments of arrears, but had it not been for the strenuous efforts of the Department, the position to-day would not be so satisfactory. The minority in arrears can be divided into two sections - a small percentage who can pay and do not pay, and the remainder who are willing to pay, but, owing to circumstances over which they have no control, such as unemployment, sickness in the family, and the like, are unable to do so. The question of dealing with arrears bristles with difficulties. Frequently the administrative officers find individuals who will not pay their instalments, and in dealing with them they occasionally entangle in the net - if I may use that term - some unfortunate ‘ persons who, although anxious to meet their obligations, are really not in a position to do so. Those cases are from time to time brought under my notice in this House and by correspondence. That situation cannot be avoided. I can give no guarantee that such happenings are now in the limbo of the past, because they are not. The administration of the War Service Homes Department covers many thousands of houses; scattered in town and country throughout the Commonwealth, and cases of hardship and injustice which are unwittingly committed by the departmental officers, are unavoidable, and will remain so. I have issued the instruction to the administrative officers that in cases where, through no fault of their own, the occupants cannot pay their instalments, every consideration must be given to them.
– Does not the Minister think that, before dealing with those in arrears, they should be asked why they are unable to pay? That would be preferable to the service of a peremptory notice that they must pay the instalment or get out.
– Very often the returned soldiers who will not pay their instalments refuse to answer correspondence from the Department.
– In many cases that is not so.
– I am not suggesting that that happens in all cases. There are many occasions on which ejection notices have been issued, and Mie individual concerned will neither pay the money owing nor answer letters. In those circumstances, the Department obviously cannot allow them to continue in occupancy. I have issued the instruction that the officers must be particularly careful to see that no hardship is inflicted upon any honest individual who is endeavouring to meet his obligations to the Department. While I am in charge of the” War Service Homes Department, I shall see that it functions properly,. but I must insist that while the Commissioner fulfils his obligations to the returned men, they shall in turn meet their obligations to the Department. The Bill is now before honorable members, and when’ in Committee I shall briefly explain each clause.
– Generally speaking, what is the purpose of the Bill?
– In effect, it is to remove certain anomalies in the Act, but the general purpose is to liberalize the provisions for returned soldiers. I shall, briefly touch upon the question of excess costs. This applies to houses that have cost more than the stipulated amount of £700 or £800, and which are actually worth’ more. They were valued by Adjustment Boards composed of experienced valuers, which were appointed in each State for that purpose. On each Adjustment Board the returned soldiers had a representative. They inspected the houses, and did not inquire as to their cost. Their job was to ascertain what the houses were worth. They found that some of them were worth £1,000, and others from £800 to £1,000. This problem then arose. Many of the returned soldiers were eligible applicants. The housing shortage was acute; the Department did not know what the houses would cost, or what they were worth. Under the daylabour system the most extraordinary slackness was shown in the keeping, o’f accounts. Where two groups of homes were being erected under the day-labour system it was not unusual for the officer supervising one group of houses to borrow timber from the other to prevent his men from being idle. One group might be short of bricks, and the other short of various classes of timber, and they would interchange one with the other. No check was kept of the material transferred. Not only did they not know the cost of each house in a group, but they frequently did not know the total cost. Generally, the total cost of a group was averaged, and the cost thus arrived at charged to each house.
– The day-labour system was a failure.
– The same thing happened with the contract system.
– As a result of the slackness of administration, the houses were built without any knowledge of the actual cost. Owing to the shortage of houses and the enormous number of applications outstanding, the soldiers were allowed to temporarily occupy these houses as tenants. The agreement was that they were to occupy them until a valuation was made by the Board, the understanding being that the soldier temporarily in occupation should eventually purchase the house, and the amount paid in rent was to be a credit towards the purchase of the house. The agreement was that the house should be purchased at the valuation of the Board.
Mr.F. McDonald. - Were those understandings or agreements?
– In the great majority of cases it was a general understanding. Nothing was committed to writing. The officers of the Department had in their minds the idea that the soldier was to pay the actual value of the house whatever it was. It is quite true that the soldiers did not know what was the actual price, and that they agreed to pay according to the valuation of the Adjustment Board. But they did not for a moment consider that anything in excess of £800 would be charged, as under the Act that amount was the maximum. We have to face that position. We cannot rightly assume that these soldiers are not honest in their claim that they never for a moment thought of incurring liability exceeding the maximum under the Act. This raised a very big problem. A large number of houses were concerned, and the amount involved in the concession which is provided in the Bill is between £190,000 and £200,000. The Government have decided that the soldiers in possession of these houses shall not pay more than the amount fixed by the Act - £800. These houses to-day are worth £900, £950, and up to £1,000, and this concession really means that we are charging the soldiers only £800.
– I do not think the Bill goes as far as the Minister thinks it does.
– If necessary, the Bill will be amended to permit of further concessions. I make that promise to the honorable member. What we propose to do will involve an expenditure of £190,000 or £200,000. It will mean that some of the soldiers will receive a house worth considerably more than the amount they will ultimately pay. I fear however, that we may create still more anomalies. For instance, a soldier might demand to know why he has to pay £800 for a house that is worth only £800, while another man has to pay only £800 for a house that is worth £1,000. While the Government considers that the principle behind the payment of only £800 for a house worthconsiderably over that amount is wrong, it proposes to apply it here because it considers that there is a moral obligation towards the soldier, inasmuch as he was under the impression that he had to pay only £800. We do not intend to make this provision apply to soldiers who applied for a house which was to cost above the maximum of £800. Where there is a clear indication in writing that the soldier knew that he was incurring a liability of above £800, he will be charged the amount that he believed he would have to pay, if the house is worth that amount.
– What will happen to the soldier who did not get value for his money - the man who was the victim of jerry-building ?
– The soldiers who applied for a £900 house and expected to provide £100 cash, in addition to the £800 provided by the Department, will still be obliged to pay £900. In many cases soldiers who undertook to provide an extra £100 did not have it when the time to pay came, although they may have had it when they entered into the agreement. This concession will not apply to those men. A number of men made arrangements for the amount in excess of the £800 to be paid over a number of years under a system of deferred payments. Obviously it would be unjust to give a concession to the soldier who deliberately applied for a house to cost over £800 as against the man who recognised the stated limit. It is only just that I should say that the officers at present in the Department, and particularly the Acting War Service Homes Commissioner (Colonel Semmens), the Secretary (Mr. Petersen), and the Deputy Commissioners in the various States are not responsible for the legacy of the past. They are doing good work in an extremely difficult position, and have’ worked on many nights to assist me to solve the problems of the Department. In spite of all that has been said about the bungling in the War Service Homes Department, and the injustice to soldiers, the result of the operations of the Department is that in a great majority of cases the soldiers who have obtained War Service Homes throughout the Commonwealth are in possession of an asset which is of greater value than the money they have paid or will have to pay.
Dj2CI.arat.tom’ oi? Urgency.
Mr. BRUCE having declared the Bill to be urgent, - Question - That the Bill be considered an urgent Bill - put. The House divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Sitting suspended from G.3% to 8 p.m.
– I move -
That the following times be allotted for the consideration of this Bill : - (a) for the secondreading stage until 11 p.m. this day; (b) for the Committee stage until 4.15 p.m. to-morrow; and (c) for the consideration of the remaining stages until 4.45 p.m. to-morrow.
The times allotted to the Committee and final stages of the Bill are longer than the terms of the motion suggest, because at a later hour to-night I shall move that the House, at its rising, adjourn until 11 o’clock to-morrow morning. If that is agreed to, an additional two hours will be available for the consideration of the Bill in Committee. The measure is eminently one to be dealt with in Committee, and as the standing order is cumulative in its effect, if the second reading is disposed of at an early hour this evening, the time so saved will automatically become available for the subsequent stages. The operation of this standing order really affords increased opportunity to obtain from all honorable members a full expression of their opinions upon the proposals submitted to them.
.- Once again I protest against the action of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). This afternoon we had evidence of the results of hasty , legislation. Because of the operation of the guillotine the main clause of the Advances to Settlers Bill was not discussed although an amendment of it was desirable. The measure now before the House ‘ concerns every honorable member, as well as the returned soldiers and the general public. The administration of the War Service Homes Act has been very unsatisfactory, and owing to bungling on the part of past Governments, which was admitted by the Minister for Works (Mr. Stewart) this afternoon, £2,000,000 has been practically wasted. The honorable gentleman expressed himself as desirous of avoiding the pitfalls into which his predecessors fell, but he is following in their footsteps. He will not permit the House to exercise its wisdom in regard to the Bill; a few hours have been allotted by the Government for its consideration, and within that time it must be disposed of in some form. A debate may spring up upon a very important clause which honorable members may desire to amend, but at a certain time the guillotine will fall automatically, and the discussion will end. Yet honorable members speak of this Parliament as a deliberative assembly, passing legislation that will protect the public exchequer, and confer benefit upon the community. I have never seen in any Parliament such a docile set of honorable members as are sitting on the Government side to-day. I have never known any other public men, who were supposed to protect the interests of their constituents, to allow ^themselves to be overridden as honorable members opposite do. If some great purpose were to be served the haste that is being shown by the Government would be understandable, but in no circumstances would it be justifiable. The sole object of all this hurry is to enable the Prime Minister to leave for England next week. Probably we shall yet be asked to sit all through the night, but I warn the Government that I shall oppose that course. The Government have no right to keep honorable members here morning, noon, and night, in order that Parliament may be closed down by a cer-. tain date. We have been told to-night that the House will meet to-morrow morning.
– We cannot do any business when we do meet.
– We can do very little; we are not given time to consider the legislation that is introduced. The Bill now before us was circulated last night and explained to-day, and we are told that it must be passed by 4.45 tomorrow afternoon. The custom has been to adjourn the debate upon a secondreading motion -after the Minister in charge of the Bill has explained its objects. That procedure gives honorable members an opportunity to consider the measure. To-day that practice is abandoned, and everything is subordinated to the Prime Minister’s desire to depart for England by a certain date. Ministers appear to be afraid to carry on’ the business of the country in the absence of the Prime Minister. If I were a member of the Government, I would tender my resignation rather than be branded before the public as a man unfitted for my job. That is the way in which the closing of Parliament reflects upon Ministers. It is no use mincing matters; the time has arrived when we must take off the .gloves and indulge in plain speaking. The Opposition has been generous in its endeavour to meet the wishes of the Government, and in return for that consideration we are having our cheeks 0 slapped. Honorable members opposite are sinking in public estimation ; the people will not tolerate what, they are doing in order to let the Prime Minister go abroad, and if we on ‘ this side acquiesce in it, we too shall forfeit the confidence of the people, and rightly so. We have stood quite sufficient; we shall stand no more. The Prime Minister may follow his own course; he may use the guillotine so that he may close down this House and go abroad; his docile followers may support him in that policy, but we on this side will take full advantage of the Standing Orders to protect our rights. After the Government have done their dirty business they may attempt to justify themselves’ to the people, but we shall be able to explain why legislation was passed so hurriedly, and how public money was expended without consideration by the representatives of the people. This House has sat eleven weeks in the last eighteen months - a record that is unprecedented in the history of any Parliament. The two sections of the present day Ministerial party were, opposed to each other on the hustings; they could find nothing in common, but, having come to an understanding, they are now subordinating the work of Parliament tQ the desire of the Prime Minister to get abroad, and his determination that Parliament shall not continue in session while he is away. He has said in effect, “ I cannot trust this Parliament. My colleagues are not competent to conduct the affairs of Government in my absence. If Parliament is closed down I shall be safe. I can remain away for eight or nine months without danger of -losing the position of Prime Minister.” Everything goes to show that the Prime Minister, although young in politics, realizes that the closing of Parliament means safety to him and his Government.
– The motion before the House is to limit the time for the consideration of this Bill. There is no mention of the closing down of Parliament.
– The motion has a great deal to do with the closing down of Parliament. The object of the Government - in submitting it is to get legislation passed hurriedly, so that they may be able to say to the country, through the press, that they carried their programme through Parliament in a certain time in order to enable the Prime Minister to go abroad.
-The Chair knows nothing of that.
– I am sorry, sir, but you would know a great deal about it if you were on the floor of the House.
-The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the stand taken by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). The Prime Minister was told a few days ago that when he had spoken all the wisdom of Parliament had not been expressed, and I remind the Minister in charge of this Bill (Mr. Stewart) that since he occupied over an hour in moving the second reading of this Bill, it is presumption on his part to limit the time for which other honorable members may speak. ‘ One would think that honorable members on this side represent nobody; that we count for nothing, and that we have no responsibility for, or interest in, the War Service Homes Bill and other legislation. The one thing about the Government that compels my admiration is its audacity. The Minister for Works related to the House . the whole history of War Service Homes from A to Z, and occupied nearly an hour and a half without explaining the Bill. The Prime Minister had not the decency or courtesy ‘to allow the Leader of the Opposition to reply to the Minister, before he rose and, with an urbanity that would be appropriate if he were handing out bouquets instead of stilletos, moved that the Bill be declared urgent, and that “three hours be allowed to all other honor able members in which to speak to the motion for the second reading. This is because he has determined that Parliament shall not remain in session when he has gone. I suppose he would be troubled with sea-sickness if he thought that Parliament was open during his absence. What does he fear? He fears, of course, the combination that is behind him. He cannot trust his Ministerial colleagues to carry on. His fear is that the composite or gelatinous compound, as some one described it on one occasion, would, in his absence, break . up into different parts, and that the tails would not wag in unison. These War Service Homes have cost the country about £17,000,000 sterling.
– I thought the honorable member did not believe in war.
– L would make an exception in the case of the honorable member. It would be a case of justifiable homicide. If I could bring about his political murder, I would use two guillotines instead of one. I remind the Government that the guillotine is waiting for them. They came down today with their time-table, and with everything planned nicely, but, just when they were nearing the final station the train ran off the line, and the Government met with disaster. The Prime Minister pretended that it did not hurt, but it did. Those of us who study him know that it hurt. I saw the Prime Minister, when he came in, brush everybody else aside, and I have no doubt that he was saying - “ Let me get to this business; I’ll drive this train.” That settled it. Whatever chance there might have been of the Government carrying their measure, it was all up when the Prime Minister arrived. The train ran off the line, and the danger signal appeared in the face of the Prime Minister as soon as it happened. I warn him that this will happen again. The Leader of my party (Mr. Charlton) has truly said that the Opposition has given the Government a fair run. Although we have protested against the closing of Parliament while the Prime Minister is away from Australia, no one can say truthfully that we have obstructed business. Honorable members dare not say that we have obstructed Government measures. The loud laugh with which they now greet me, is the laugh that bespeaks “the vacant mind.”
It is about the only thing honorable members opposite can do. One would think that they were men of backbone and courage, but, as a matter of fact, they have about as much backbone as a bundle of boiled asparagus.
– Order ! The honorable member is not in order in discussing the attitude of members supporting the Government.
– I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that you rule me out of order. I have quite a number of other similes which Ishould like to use, but I shall now have to reserve them for some future occasion. In view of the attitude taken by the Prime Minister, I suggest that it is not much use keeping Parliament open at all. Why all this humbug and make-believe about this House being a deliberative assembly? It would be as well if the Prime Minister got some Yankee machine like a calculator or totalizator and ran the affairs of this country by clockwork, for that is what the present procedure amounts to. The other evening, when the Estimates were going through, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Gibson) made a desperate attempt to explain some important measures which he had in contemplation, but, before he had finished, the guillotine fell on him. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) also was dealing with another important matter when the knife fell on his neck. We had a similar experience to-day, when the Minister (Mr. Austin Chapman) in charge of the Bill to provide for advances to settlers for the purchase of wire netting, tried to deal with an amendment designed to put a clause into decent English. He read something, but before he had time to dot an “i” or cross a “ t,” the guillotine fell upon him. This is the sort of legislation that we are now getting. I join with my Leader in protesting most strongly against the action of the Government.
.- During the last few years much has been said about the necessity for a return to responsible government. When members of the Country party were before the electors, they strongly advocated the elimination of one-man government, and a return to sanity in carrying on the affairs of the country. It is almost impossible to expect anything from members of the Country party, but for once they were right in their demand for a return to responsible government. They, with the Nationalists, are in power; but we have not returned to constitutional government. As a matter of fact, the position is worse than ever. This House is not a deliberative assembly at all, but rather an automatic machine working at the behest of the Prime Minister, turning out ill-digested, badly-regulated, and badly-drafted measures. Of course, it may be entertaining for visitors, when they come here to see you, sir, presiding over this august Chamber, and to see the Prime Minister, leaning back with a bored air, wishing to heaven it was all over and that he was on board a vessel bound for England. Members on this side only desire to protect the principles for which they stand. We do not forget that, as the strongest party in this House, we represent a majority of the people. Nevertheless, we are treated contemptuously by the Government, whose only desire is to get into recess as soon as possible. I have from time to time in this Chamber issued a warning, and I am going to repeatit. Many of us, when first we came into this House, were a little impatient at the delay in passing legislation, but experience teaches us that measures passed without due deliberation and debate inevitably lead to trouble. We have a Bill before us now, and the Government are determined that it shall be passed by 4.45 p.m. to-morrow. The measure is designed to cover up the incompetence and mistakes of a previous Government. This matter has been the subject of inquiries by one or two Royal Commissions, whoso findings constitute a damning indictment of the Government of the day. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) just now made a very useful suggestion. Since Parliament is to be no longer a deliberative assembly, the Prime Minister might well employ a couple of lawyers to draft measures, and then inform honorable members that they are to become law on such and sucha date. We could thus dispense with Parliament altogether, and Parliament, I remind honorable members, costs this country a good deal of money. Honorable members supporting the Government are afraid to stand up in their places and demand their right to be heard in respect of such a measure as this. Very rarely do they protest against the action of the Government. We had a striking illustration this afternoon of legislation according to a time-table, when a measure, drafted in the most slovenly fashion, was put through with the assistance of the guillotine. I venture to say that the inherent faults in that Bill will eventually be the subject of inquiry by a couple of Royal Commissions. This afternoon the Government was defeated ; and a few defeats like that will call for Caucus meetings, where those who voted against the Government will be brought to book. No self-respecting member . of the House would stand one-half, or even one-quarter, the jeers or gibes that have been hurled at honorable members opposite because of their dumbness or incapacity to even attempt . to reply “to the attacks made from this side. We have not reverted to the responsible government which was promised the people of Australia prior to the last election.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I can quite see that this urgency motion has its proper uses, and that there are times when it can be made an effective instrument of parliamentary government. It is not improper or hurtful in times of national crisis when it is necessary to put measures through hastily, and it is quite right when undue discussion and obstruction are taking place. I venture to say, however, that, although this instrument has been used on several occasions by other Governments, it has never been used under such circumstances as those of the present moment. We have before us a measure of the utmost importance, which affects the well-being of. thousands of men. It is introduced by a gentleman who, when he sat as a member of the Country party, in the Corner, occupied much time in discussing its very subject. Now that gentleman, acting on behalf of the Government, has taken his full time in introducing the Bill, and it is proposed to give to the other seventy.four members of the House no more time than he alone occupied. It is selfevident that there are only three men out of the seventy-four who are permitted to speak. Is it not improper to apply the “ gag “ before any obstruction takes place, or any disposition is shown to unreasonably drag out the debate? A reasonable and sensible Government would have waited to see whether the rights and privileges of members were abused - whether the Opposition were taking undue advantage of the opportunities afforded them to prolong the discussion. The honorable gentleman who introduced this Bill (Mr. Stewart), when he” sat in the Corner, assailed the Prime Minister of the time. It will be remembered that when Mr. Rodgers, the ex-member for Wannon, had charge of War Service Homes, he said to the learned and cultured gentleman who to-day occupies the position of Minister for Works and Railways, “ I only wish I had as much confidence and cocksuredness as you have.” But now the position is changed. The Minister has nothing to say of the principles and policy he then set forth. He was then the strenuous advocate of a Royal Commission; today he has no desire for a Royal Commission, and because of this change we have to be silenced. We no sooner speak than the guillotine falls on our necks. The honorable gentleman was then the demander of an inquiry, the seeker after corruption - he was the as- - sailer of the then Prime Minister, and was worrying about what that gentleman would do to cover up the bungling, corruption, and maladministration. Now, as Minister, he proclaims that he cannot find’ any maladministration or scandal.
– How absurd it is to ^ talk like that!
– That is exactly what the Minister said. The guillotine is applied now, . not to expedite public business, but merely to silence members on the very subject on which the Minister himself has spoken. What he has the right to say we have not. Opposite “ there sits a body of gentlemen prepared to support, 0110 6 merely a motion to prevent obstruction, but a. motion which, in other words, declares that the Minister has spoken and all others must be silenced. How can a policy of that description bo justified? I can only say that we on this side will take whatever opportunities are presented to express our opinions. A few minutes ago, Mr. Speaker, you said that you had no knowledge of the subject, but that, I take it, is due to the position that you now occupy. And you do not stand alone, for the transformation of honorable members from the Corner to their present positions in the Government also prevents their knowing anything about the subject. That lack of knowledge and incapacity to observe marks the gentlemen who now sit behind the Government. This urgency motion in submitted, not after honorable members have spoken for long hours, but before they have said one word. Personally, I am pleased to see the Government pursuing their present course, because nothing can more severely condemn them in the eyes of the people. A newspaper in this city has said that there ought to be a special session to consider one subject, and that happens to be the subject to which the Prime Minister has now applied the “guillotine.” Instead of a special session, not a week, not a day, scarcely an hour is to be devoted to the subject, although it involves millions of money, and affects the lives and future of thousands of men. Well, be it so; it is the fault of the Government, and on the Government rests the responsibility.
– I have been waiting to hear some criticism oi the Bill, and some , commentary thereon, as distinct from criticism and commentary ou the actions of past Governments. I am not particularly interested in the actions of past Governments, seeing that this Parliament exists largely for the purpose of cleaning up the difficulties and mess which past Administrations created. This Bill affords an opportunity for such cleaning up, and I suggest to honorable members that we should as soot as possible proceed with its consideration. We have work of a most important character to do, and .1 take it that all members wish to tackle it.
.- The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) says that the Government exists to clean up some of the “mess” left by past Governments, but it seems to me that it exists to add to the mess already made. We are called upon to deal with this measure by a certain hour, and I must enter my protest against this rushing of legislation. It is preposterous for the Go vernment to expect the House to even ‘attempt to analyze and intelligently discuss the measure in the time allotted. The oi-.e-time Country party used to talk a great deal about the maintenance of responsible government, but the proposal which they are now supporting is the very negation of that principle. I trust thi- present action will not be taken as a precedent by future Governments.
– 1 must call attention to conversations of a distinctly audible character that have been going on ever since we resumed, and I must ask honorable members to respect the call of the Chair.
– Why was this standing order passed? Because it was found that the old Standing Orders were not strong enough to prevent prolonged “ stone-walling,” and they had to be amended to meet the changed position. I challenge the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), or any member of the Government,, to tell us at what stage of .this session the Opposition have indulged in obstructive tactics. On what Bill, and at what hour this session, has the Opposition attempted any such thing? The Prime Minster has, in the House and publicly, repeatedly thanked honorable members on this side for their assistance. This tended to make it appear that the Opposition was too lenient with the right honorable gentleman and his Government. The guillotine standing order was adopted to meet an extraordinary situation. The right honorable gentleman in taking this action was not in a position to know whether honorable members on this side desired to speak at any length on this ‘ measure. He is anticipating something, and if it is trouble he will get it. The Prime Minister appears to assume that honorable members on this side are going to “ stonewall “ or obstruct the passage of the Bill ; but he has no right to anticipate anything of the kind. We have not obstructed the passage of Bills through this House. The Government, owing to their bungling methods, are responsible for the present position. We are expected to discuss the second reading of this measure in a little over two hours, although the Minister who introduced it occupied an hour and a-half in explaining its provisions. ,Surely the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) should at least be allowed as long to criticise it as the Minister occupied in introducing it. This afternoon we had a striking example of what is likely to happen under this procedure, and it will cause us to be ridiculed by the man in the street. We had the absurd spectacle of a Bill being muddled through. The Minister did not know what was being done, and, apparently, no one else did.
– One portion contradicts another.
– Yes ; the Government were defeated, and two minutes after the measure was put through by, the application of the guillotine. No one really knows the effect of the two amendments submitted by the ‘ Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Austin Chapman), and whether what was intended has been given effect to.
– What does the honorable member intend to do about it?
– The honorable member is not entitled to refer to the debate on a Bill passed by the Chamber in the current session.
– The honorable member for Warringah (Sir Granville Ryrie) wishes to know what I am going to do about it. We do not intend to do anything. It, is the Government’s baby, and they have to carry it. If the Government pile up expenditure and continue as they are going, Royal Commissions will have to be appointed to ascertain the effect of stupid and hasty legislation, passed in consequence of the methods adopted. If the twenty-five or more measures which appear on the businesspaper are to be rushed through in this way, it will be’ found that towards the end of the session perhaps only an hour or an hour and a-half will be allowed for the discussion of very important proposals.
– Hear, hear!
– I remind the right honorable the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Customs, who interjects in a facetious strain,, that the Bill relating to the increase in invalid and old-age pensions has not yet been introduced. I strongly protest against the proposals of the Government.
.- In common with other honorable members on this side of the Chamber, I rise to utter my strong protest against the use of the guillotine in this Chamber. I do so as one who has suffered in consequence of the application of the closure perhaps more than has any other honorable member of this House.
– I, too, have suffered.
– I am not entering into a competition because it would be a keen one, indeed, if a comparison had to be made between the disabilities experienced by honorable members on this side. When the Budget was under discussion I rose from time to time to discuss different matters concerning which I had been asked to speak by a number of persons in my electorate, but on each occasion I failed to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye. I was disappointed.
– The honorable member’s constituents were also disappointed.
– Yes, and they were affected to a greater extent, I .suppose, than I was. Of course, I may have been too modest; I did not rise during the earlier portion of the debate but left the discussion to the more experienced members on this side of the House. When a limitation of debate is imposed, several clauses in a Bill may be fully debated, but towards the expiration of the allotted period, perhaps five or six clauses worthy of careful discussion and serious consideration are reached, and cannot be considered at all. The axe descends and these clauses are consequently bludgeoned through by a brutal majority such as we ses opposed to us to-night. I protest on the present occasion, in consequence of a personal grievance, but also on wider and broader grounds. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) suggested that the best thing to do was to go straight on with the con.sideration of the Bill. I remind that honorable member that in this House weare establishing a very dangerous precedent indeed, and one which, I am sure, he will not support. It is strange that those honorable members, opposite, who are continually appointing ‘themselves as the chief guardians of our constitutional rights and procedure, should be the very ones to strike this blow at our constitutional rights. They are striking a blow at the right of free speech, which, after all, is the very basis of our system of parliamentary government. The rights of free speech, full discussion and careful deliberation are the chief essentials of a deliberative assembly such as this ought to be, but is not, under the régime of the present Prime Minister. The right of free speech is one we uphold perhaps more than any right under our flag. The right of free speech, because of its importance, is jealously guarded in this House, and hedged about with all kinds of privileges ; but honorable members opposite are striking a deadly blow at that right by saying to honorable members on this side that it shall be taken away on the simple declaration of the right honorable gentleman who happens, by accident, to occupy the position of Prime Minister. In certain circumstances, I agree thatthe application of the guillotine might be necessary, and because it was conceived by those who framed it that it would some day become necessary, it has been embodied in our Standing Orders for use in times of great urgency. The Prime Minister has declared that this is an urgent Bill, and if the circumstances were urgent or extraordinary theright honorable gentleman would be justified in declaring the measure urgent. No ordinary Prime Minister can make a measure extraordinarily urgent simply because he declares it to be so. Certainly, in this case, we have an extraordinary Prime Minister - very extraordinary indeed - declaring this measure extraordinarily urgent, when it was never intended that the standing order should be so used. This is an indication of the exercise of brutal power by a brutal majority. Some honorable members have said that this is simply the exercise of power by a gelatinous compound, and in the final analysis he would find that it is because of the composition of honorable members opposite that the guillotine is so much used. Honorable members opposite may have heard of something which occurred in Sydney a while ago, when brutal power was exercised by another composition. It was not altogether a gelatinous composition, but rather one of bone, muscle, and a certain amount of sagacity. It was housed in the Zoological Gardens, and the term applied to it was “ Jumbo.” The restrictions placed on it were such that it used its brutal power and broke down the protecting walls, which, in a way, were the very symbols of its safety. An unfriendly bullet put an end to Jumbo, but its bones, muscles, and ligaments are preserved, and are now the objects of study by biological and other students. We have opposed to us something consisting of bone and muscle, possessing brutal power, and a certain amount of sagacity. An unfriendly ballot - not a bullet - will put an end to its proceedings and to the life of the Government, and in future their misdeeds will be preserved in a museum as the chief object of study by political and economic students.
.- I quite agree that this is an urgent measure, so urgent, in fact, that it should have been introduced within three months after the last election. The secondreading speech of the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) should have been circulated amongst interested organizations and individuals before it was further discussed in this Chamber. The Government and their supporters are supposed to be sympathetically disposed towards the returned soldiers, but they are nothing but a body of hypocrites.
– Order !
– I rise to order. Is the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) in order in referring to honorable members on. this side as a body of hypocrites ?
– No. The honorable member for Ballarat has used an unparliamentary term, which must be withdrawn.
– Honorable members opposite are not only a body of hypocrites, but also a body of disloyalists, because they refuse to give us sufficient time in which to discuss the Bill.
– Order ! I have already informed the honorable member that he has used an unparliamentary term, which must be withdrawn. Upon reflection and the exercise of his good judgment, the honorable member, with his knowledge of parliamentary practice, will realize that the expression is one that must be withdrawn.
– All right. I have only a moment or two in which to speak, otherwise I would not withdraw the re- mark.
– Order! The honorable member must not defy the Chair.
– The few moments I have will soon be gone.
– I am not interfering with the honorable member’s time; but I insist upon the withdrawal of an unparliamentary expression in proper parliamentary form.
– I withdraw. The members of the returned soldiers’ organization who are scattered throughout Australia should have, an opportunity of becoming conversant with the provisions of this Bill. The Minister moved the second reading this afternoon, and the discussion must terminate by 4 o’clock to-morrow. There is something the Government wish to cover up. On the sugar question there is something they wish to hide. The Government have appointed a Royal Commission to make certain inquiries concerning sugar purchases, and now they are attempting to_ “ gag “ this measure. They do not want the members of returned soldiers’ organizations to know what this Bill really contains, and it is their desire that it shall become law before its provisions can be fully discussed. Those supporting the Government are the men who were going to do so much to assist the returned soldiers in having their grievances rectified. The different organizations, including the Fathers of Soldiers Association, have been strenuously urging the Government- to carry out the pledges they made to our soldiers prior to enlistment, and it was expected that provision would be made in this Bill for homes for widows of those who had fallen. The Government are afraid to allow the people to see what the Bill actually contains. The sum of £17,000,000 has been expended in this connexion, and fully £2,000,000 of that amount has been squandered. We claim the right to a few hours’ discussion to enable us to ascertain who received the £2,000,000.
– They should be made to “ drop the loot “.
– The “ burglars should be made to drop the loot “. The Government in their desire to hide this information, have decided to curtail the debate on the Bill, by conveniently applying the “ gag.” They have not a majority of the people behind them. Since the recent Federal elections only one appeal has been made to the electors of this State - that at Daylesford. The result reflects the public opinion of to-day.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The House divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed. (Vide page 2701.)
.- The Minister (Mr. Stewart), in . moving the second reading of the Bill, devoted practically the whole of his time to the history of what occurred before he took office. Had it not been for an . interjection by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), no information would have been imparted by the Minister as to the contents of the Bill itself. He said little that would enlighten this House as “to the provisions of the Bill, notwithstanding that it is of the utmost importance, not only to the returned men, -but also to the community as a whole. I do not hold the Minister responsible for the maladministration of the previous Government, because he was not then in office; but I recall his attitude to those then administering the War Service Homes Act. He was at that time most severe in his condemnation of the squandering of public money. To-day the honorable gentleman, with the assistance of the Prime Minister, and by the application of the “ Sag “ is endeavouring, without imparting any information, to rush’ this measure through this House. It is to be passed by 4.45 p.m.. to-morrow. To do justice to it, the House .should devote t]iree or four days to its consideration in order to avoid tlie pitfalls which were so evident in the past.- The Government have lost sight of dangers and the necessity for guarding against them In their keen anxiety, regardless of the cost to the public, to go into recess. Concerning the administration of the War Service Homes Department, the Minister himself admitted that the loss was£2, 170,000, and this - as the honorable gentleman said - was due to the bungling of the late Government. May I remind the Minister that he is to-day associated with quite’ a number of those men who were responsible for this bungling, and he is permitting them, by limiting the discussion on the Bill, to “ run the rule “ over him. May I re- mind him, further, that if this Bill is passed, and there is a recurrence of past maladministration, he must carry the odium.
– I am prepared to do that.
– The Minister must be prepared to bear that responsibility; there is no escape from it. I should absolve any man as far as possible from mistakes unwittingly made, but when they arc made deliberately by a person whose eyes are open, it is quite another matter. ‘ I venture to say that not half-a-dozen honorable members have read the Bill clause by clause. It was introduced last night when the House was about to adjourn, and although the Minister has dealt with it to-day, no explanation has been made of its provisions. Yet we are expected to put it through in a few hours. This legislation is of vital interest to the returned men. We promised to protect them., and to do everything possible in their interests. But the Government are not now prepared to give reasonable time even to enable the representatives of the men themselves to examine this Bill, or to enable representations to be made by the returned men’s organizations outside. I cannot recall any measure, as important as this, being discussed without an adjournment to enable honorable members to study the explanation given on its introduction, or the effect of the Bill itself. In this case there has been no adjournment and no explanation, and yet we are asked, to pass the second reading .by 11 o’clock tonight. On a former occasion I fully discussed this question. I am familiar with it, since, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I took part in an inquiry into every branch of the War Service Homes in the different States. It is not my purpose to take up time in recalling the’ past administration. The object of the measure - so the Minister states - is to enable the returned soldiers to purchase their homes at a price not in excess of the amount provided by Statute. This question has been debated in this House on many occasions, and probably I have taken as keen an interest in it as any other honorable member. I am desirous that the Bill shall contain such a provision. The Minister says that it does, but I shall endeavour to show him that it does not.
– The present Act puts the limit at £800.
– I am aware of that, but the original Act put the limit at £700. Subsequently it was amended to £800, because of the increased price of materials for building purposes.
– The soldiers also wanted a better class of house.
– That is so. This Bill is to cover the principal Act and the amending Act. I shall show that it will not attain the object which the Minister has in view. The honorable gentleman did not explain the Bill, and we are left to put our own construction upon its provisions. Section 18 as proposed to be amended provides -
The total cost to the Commissioner of any dwelling-house acquired or erected in pursuance of this part, together with the cost of the land on which it is erected, “ but not including any cost incurred under section 18a of this Act “ shall not exceed £700.
The Minister is giving returned soldiers something with- one hand and taking it away with the other. The Bill is only a subterfuge, and honorable members should take steps to make themselves acquainted with what it proposes. Any cost incurred under proposed new section 18a is not to be taken into consideration. The matters included in that section are, the connecting of a dwelling-house with sewerage, drainage, water, gas, and electric power and lighting systems. Honorable members can see, therefore, that although an allowance of £800 is provided for the soldier, the cost of installing such services as I have mentioned is to be deducted from the £800, which really means that the soldier will be no better off under this measure than he is at present.
– What is being taken away from him ?
– Allowance will not be made for any money he may have paid to install sewerage, drainage, lighting, and power if his house cost over £800.
– I believe that this Bill makes provision for -additional expenditure.
– Quite the reverse is the case. This very matter was inquired into by the Public Accounts Committee, which reported as follows: -
The Deputy Commissioner purchased acres on a frontage basis at a cost of £1 13s. 3d. per foot. The Central Administration considered that the balance of the estate should be secured, and thus an additional area of about 29 acres was obtained by compulsory acquisition. The price paid for this portion worked out at £1 16s. 6d. per foot. The total cost of the whole area of 33J acres was £14,220. Lay-out plans for the creation of a garden suburb were prepared by the Director of Lands at Central Administration, but so much of the area was devoted to open spaces and winding roadways that the cost per allotment was increased to an extent that rendered it impossible to complete houses within the limit prescribed by the Act. The then Deputy Commissioner protested that the blocks would cost from £130 to £230 each, and that in following the convolutions of this design the sewering would be a costly matter. This officer, in giving evidence, stated that several other lay-out designs were subsequently prepared and found to be unsatisfactory. A right-of-way, which was not the property of the Commission, had been included in one plan of subdivision. One house had actually been erected on the right-of-way, and the. foundations of others commenced before the mistake was noticed. This discovery also reduced the size of the blocks affected, so that the rear of the houses was within 20 feet of the back fences. The right-of-way had therefore to be acquired in order to overcome these difficulties. The latest arrangement, which has not yet reached finality, is on less ambitious lines. The number of reserves has been reduced from nineteen to three. The area originally appropriated for these open spaces was 193,384 square feet; this was reduced to 27,262 square feet, thereby adding ten allotments tq the subdivision. The average price per allotment is now estimated at £79.
– If a residence has already cost more than £800, the soldier owner will not be required to pay more than £800.
– I think it is possible that he may have to pay more. The whole matter seems to be left in a doubtful state. The finding of the Public Accounts Committee was -
It appears to the Committee that there should be no claim on any applicant for a Wor Service Home for a sum in excess of the maximum allowed under the Act unless such extra expense was arranged for at the instance of the applicant himself.
I ask honorable members whether they can say that this Bill will give effect to that finding? Will honorable members look at section 28a of the principal Act, which, as proposed to be amended, reads -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the total cost to the Commissioner of any dwelling-house erected by him, “ not including any cost incurred under section 18a of this Act, or the amount of any advance made in pursuance of this Act,” may, if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the circumstances of any case justify the excess, exceed £700, but shall not exceed £800.
There, again, proposed new section 18a comes into operation, and the soldier is liable to be deprived of the advantage he should have. In our debates on this subject from time to time there has never been any intention to deprive the soldier of the cost of installing the services mentioned in that provision if the cost of his home did not exceed £800. The Minister says he is bringing in this Bill to insure that soldiers will not have to pay more than £700 under the principal Act or more than £800- under the amending Bill.
– The original Act makes £700 the limit. If we desire to advance more than £800 we shall have to put a proviso in the Bill.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.’]
– Ostensibly this Bill is to enable soldiers to secure their homes for £700 under the principal Act and for £800 under the amending Act, but it will not achieve that purpose. Honorable members should be cognisant of the position, so that if the guillotine operates before the clause is amended they will realize what has been done. I am surprised that the Minister should have put this Bill before us without an explanation in his second-reading speech.
– I will give a full explanation when the Bill is in Committee.
– The explanation should be given before the guillotine is applied. It is well known that the cost of sewerage connexion in an ordinary residence may be anything from £50 to £60, and that lighting and power installations may cost from £25 to £40. Probably the full cost of the conveniences mentioned in proposed new section 18a would be anything up to £100. If those charges are to be excluded from the price of homes that cost more than £800, the soldiers will- be no better off after this Bill is passed than they are now. The Bill is mere camouflage. I remember dealing with this very point last session, and the Government of the day was criticised at that time by both the Labour party and the Country party for not meeting it. I moved an amendment to the Bill then before us to provide for what we are told this Bill is to provide. Mr. Lamond, who was then an Honorary Minister, refused -to accept my amendment because he said it would cost the country about £200,000. My reply then was that if, by the blundering of the Government, the soldiers had been compelled to pay more for their homes than they ought to pay, the general taxpayer should be required to recoup them for their outlay. Rather than proceed with the Bill with that amendment in it, the Government dropped it. Now this measure as brought before us to give effect to the very purpose I then had in my mind. Unfortunately, it goes only half way. The Minister says that the passing of this Bill will involve the country in the expenditure of £196,000. I do not believe that it will do anything of the kind, because it does not achieve what it aims at. Surely honorable members will not consent to the passing of a measure which is only camouflage. I ask those honorable members opposite who now support the Government, but who supported the Labour party last year in the attitude that I am now advocating, to take the stand that they then did. I do not know how a Bill drafted like this is can be put before us with any hope of it passing through the House. I should like to know who drafted it.
– I helped to draft it, (and when the time comes I shall explain the reason why it is so drafted. Let us get into Committee and I will explain right away.
– We have not started to discuss the Bill yet. The Minister in charge of it gave us no explanation; all he did was to discuss past history. lt is all very fine for him to talk of getting into Committee.. We have a right to postpone discussion of this measure until the returned soldiers who are members of this House can go through it and advise honorable members of their views. What is the need for this haste? Is it to prevent the representatives of the soldiers being heard?
– It is not.
– Is it for the purpose of saddling something on the soldiers that this legislation is being camouflaged ?
– Whether or not it is intended, that is the effect. Honorable members have not an opportunity to read these Bills. They are introduced and laid on the table, and some honorable members opposite who have never even looked at them vote regularly to curtail the opportunity for discussion. We know nothing about the provisions of this Bill. The principle of which I am speaking was not explained by the Minister, and but for an interjection by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), we would have heard nothing about it. We know that the War Service Homes have cost the country a huge amount of money, due to bungling by past Governments, some members of which are colleagues of the Minister for Works and Railways today. I say nothing against the honorable gentleman; I believe he will do his best, but it is my duty to point out. the faults I see in this Bill.
It is very pleasing to learn that only 3.25’ per cent, of the soldier occupants of War Service Homes are in arrears with their payments. That record stands to their credit, and proves that they are a straightforward body of men. Of that 3.25 per cent., probably 3 per cent, are men who have been unfortunate in unemployment and sickness.’
– Most of them.
– I know that some men in my own electorate who have been out of work, and others -who have been sick, have not been treated “fairly by the Department, and I hope the Minister will see that the administration is more lenient in future. A man who has been paying his dues to the Department regularly for a couple of years, and then defaults in respect of two or three instalments, should not be sent a peremptory letter telling him that he must give up his home. No private landlord would do such a thing; or, if he did, he would be howled down by the community.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.’]
– It has remained for the Government, through its officers, to threaten to evict the soldiers who have fallen into arrears with their payments. It may be taken for granted that a man who has met his obligations regularly for a couple of years, and has then suddenly fallen into arrears, is genuine, and would pay his dues if it were possible for him to do so. Yet cases have been represented to me in which, because sickness or unemployment has overtaken occupants after they have paid regularly for a couple of years, they have received notice to quit. Such action by the Department is most inhumane, and should not be tolerated by the Minister. The first step the Department should take in the circumstances I have mentioned is to courteously ask the occupant why he is in arrears.
– I understand that that is done.
– If so it has been done only recently. I have dealt with five or six cases of this kind within the last few months. During the absence of the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins), a letter was sent to me by the Greta Council complaining of inconsiderate treatment of the occupant of a War Service Home, and other cases have been brought under my notice from centres in my own electorate. In each instance the occupant received a peremptory note asking him to give up ‘possession because his payments were in arrears. The first step should be to ascer- tain’ the reason for the occupant’s failure to pay, and if it is found to be due to sickness or unemployment, clemency should be shown. A man and his wife who have occupied for two years a -house of which they expect to become the owners, have begun to take a pride in their home, and probably ‘ have invested their savings in improvements. It is very unjust, if, because the husband becomes ill, or loses his employment, he has to run the risk of being dispossessed of his home. Yet. that was the attitude of the Department up to the time that Parliament re-assembled. I shall be glad to hear that a more considerate policy is now in operation.
– No soldier who has paid his instalments regularly for two years, and then has ceased paying in the circumstances mentioned by the honorable member, has been evicted from a War Service Home.
– I did not say that men had been evicted, but that they had been threatened with eviction. It is hard .on a man who has paid regularly, and is then compelled to default through circumstances beyond his control, that he should receive, a notice threatening him with the loss of his home, and be compelled to appeal to his parliamentary representative in order to get consideration. .
– The Department endeavours to be humane.
– I believe the Minister will endeavour to show consideration to soldier occupants; but others do not, and the Minister must accept responsibility for the shortcomings of his officers. When a public body like the Greta Council takes up a soldier’s case there must be some genuine cause for complaint. A good deal of the excess cost of War Service Homes is due to causes other than those stated by the Minister. Where houses have been built on the group system material has been taken from one for the other, and there has been no proper costing system, to show exactly what each house has cost. I have never been in favour of the grouping system, and I think experience has shown that it is not a success. The opinion of returned men themselves will hear out what I am saying. In some cases the Department took an area of, say, 40 acres, cut it up into building lots, had the plan of subdivision approved by the local governing body, built perhaps oh one-half of the blocks, and then charged the cost of subdivision and other incidental expenditure to the occupiers of the houses that were built. I understand that theGovernment intend to sell some of the land that has been purchased for soldiers’ homes, and has not been utilized. One objection to the group system is that speculators found in it a good opportunity to sell land quite unsuitable for soldiers’ homes. In many cases it was the last place on God’s earth that should have been chosen. Two years ago - I do not know what happened last winter - the women and little children housed in soldiers’ homes at Waratah were unable to get out of their houses on account of the water, which was up to the Bills. The Department had to arrange for loads of ashes to be heaped on the paths to give a dry footway, and to cut drains to let the water away. Those houses have been built on unsuitable land, although other land, quite suitable in every way, and within a reasonable distance of tram and railway facilities, was offered to the Government. Both Mr. Watkins and I made representations to the Commissioner on this matter, but the Commissioner preferred to deal with speculators.
– This Bill will restrict the speculative proclivities of the Commissioner.
– I have no doubt that it will ; but the Department have enough land already for War Service Homes’ requirements for a long time to come.
– Much of it we do not require, and we have arranged to sell it.
– Much of it should never have been bought.
– I agree with the honorable member.
– The high price paid for land has been responsible in some measure for the increased cost of homes to the returned soldiers. In the Newcastle district suitable land could have been bought from the State Government for one-third the price paid by the Commission, which preferred to deal with some auctioneers who had large areas for sale at high prices.
– I submitted over 100 lots myself to the Commission.
– I know the honorable member did, and yet we were turned down. No inquiries were made by the Commission from the local council or local representatives before the land was purchased. I am glad that this policy is to be discontinued. I hope that another mistake will not now be made, and that the land suitable for building purposes will not be sold.
– We shall sell only the land that is unsuitable.
– Who will decide what land is unsuitable ? I have absolutely lost all confidence in the officials who are administering the War Service Homes Department. I believe the Minister will do his best, but he will have to be very careful. I have no desire to occupy the time of the House longer. There are other clauses to which I might direct attention, but we can deal with them in Committee. The time available for the consideration of this Bill in Committee is all too short. The Government can get the second reading to-night, but the Committee stages should not be hurried. The provision to which I have referred might, of itself, very well occupy the time of the Committee for three or four hours. I am sure we all desire to make the Bill as perfect as possible in the interests of our returned soldiers, and, therefore, there should be further time for consideration of the measure in Committee.
– To what clause is the honorable member referring?
– I am referring to the proposed amendment of section 18, which states that the total cost to the Commission, of any dwelling-house acquired or erected under the Act, together with the cost of the land, shall not exceed £700. In the proposed new sub-section 18a there is a provision that the Commissioner may, with the approval of the Minister, enter into an arrangement-
It is further provided that the Commissioner may apportion to each . dwellinghouse a proportion of the cost incurred. The Government are giving with one hand -and taking back “with the other. This is not a fair deal for the returned soldier. It is intolerable that this illdigested legislation should go through without consideration, simply because it has been determined by the Government that all business shall be completed according to schedule. The proper course would have been to adjourn the debate on the second reading in order to give, not only honorable members, but the soldiers, an opportunity to carefully consider the measure. However, if honorable members opposite” think proper to adopt this hurried method of doing business in order to allow the Prime Minister to go to England, the responsibility rests with them; but we, on this side, shall take care to let the public know exactly what has taken place in this chamber.
.- I do not intend to make a second-reading speech; and for the same reason as that given by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). It would be impossible to do justice to the subject, under the present circumstances. The way in which business has been rushed during the last week or two, and especially in the last few days, makes one despair of giving the close attention that such measures as this deserve. Any honorable member of experience knows that in considering an amending Bill it is necessary to compare its clauses with the sections of the original Act. However, the flat of the Government has gone forth, and we can only protest. I take this opportunity to draw attention to a letter that I have received from the Tasmanian branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, dealing with a proposal by the Government’ to have all the activities in Tasmania administered from the Centra] Office in Melbourne. If such is the determination of the Government, I can only regard it as a backward step, which will not be conducive to the benefit of the soldiers or of the Department itself, lt requires little experience to come to the conclusion that it will be absolutely impossible to have all matters affecting War Service Homes in other States dealt with in Melbourne. The letter to which I refer is as follows : -
Tt has come to the notice of the R.S.S.I.L.A., in Tasmania that it is the intention of the War Service Homes Commissioner to abolish the branch in Tasmania as at present constituted, and administer War Service Homes activities in Tasmania from the Melbourne office. It is understood that it is proposed to maintain a staff of two clerks and a building inspector in Tasmania, but all responsible administration will be centred in Melbourne.
My executive desires to enter a most emphatic protest against the proposed- reorganization, which it is convinced would be most unsatisfactory to Tasmania. My executive is further of the opinion that any effort to bring more centralization of administration is to be deplored, and that a contrary policy of allowing greater powers to the Deputy Commissioners, who have been proved to be competent men, would be an advantage both to purchasers and to the Commission. We would point out that there is no justification for abolishing the Department in Tasmania, or reducing it to an irresponsible appanage of the Melbourne office, since at the present time a large amount of construction is in hand, and a great number of applicants are awaiting homes.
During the greater part “of last year the Department was idle in Tasmania so far as new construction was concerned, the administration being apparently occupied in cleaning up the muddles left over from the early days of the Commission’s activities. For some time past, however, the local administration has been carrying out efficient and satisfactory work in providing new houses. It would seem to be the limit of stupidity to abolish the administration in Tasmania, now that it is achieving good results, and to again experiment with a scheme which, we believe, is doomed to failure. Experience has taught us to look with disfavour upon Melbourne control, since it has proved to bo unsatisfactory, inelastic, hampered by “ officialism,” and productive of irritating delays. We regard it as absolutely essential that an officer of the Commission should be resident in Hobart, and clothed with sufficient powers to give final decisions upon all matters other than policy.
In asking you to use your influence in preventing the “proposed change being effected, my executive would reiterate its conviction that, should the proposal of the Commissioner be given effect to, »it means a condition of affairs a little, if any, better than the chaotic muddle of three years ago, which engendered dissatisfaction and distrust among soldiers, which has remained as a legacy for later administration to contend with.
The executive ‘of the League in Tasmania asks that you will oppose to the utmost the proposed reorganization.
The opinions expressed in that letter must not be treated lightly. There was a great muddle for a few years, though I understand that within the last year or so the present administration has done fairly good work in clearing matters up. The main point is’ that we desire, not more centralization, but rather more decentralization, no matter what departmental activity may be concerned. 1 am sure that the common sense of the Minister (Mr. Stewart) will lead him to the conclusion that it will be idle to expect satisfaction if the idea of the Government is carried into effect. There will be more muddle, waste, and irritating delays, if all communications have to pass from the southern part - of Tasmania to Melbourne. Many returned soldiers are not satisfied with the efforts of some officers of the Departments, but that, of course, can be easily remedied. This letter is from an official source,, is signed by Dr. D. McRae, State secretary, a returned soldier, and ought to receive the fullest consideration. Will the Minister tell me whether it is the intention to shift the administration from the other capital cities to Melbourne ? It is being asked, to use a popular expression, “ Why pick on me?” Why is the administration being removed from the capital of Tasmania when similar action is not being taken in other States? There are strong reasons why the office in Hobart should be retained, owing to. Tasmania’s geographical situation. When the mail service is irregular, it frequently takes three or four days for a letter to reach Melbourne, yet as business cannot be satisfactorily transacted by telegram, the only method to follow is to transmit a fairly lengthy document, with consequent delay and inconvenience. Some returned soldiers who are in possession of homes, and others who are hoping to get them, would like to see the administration of the War Service Homes Department transferred to the Agricultural Rank or the Repatriation Department in Hobart. It would be useless to attempt to criticise the Bill in all its details in the limited time at my disposal, but although I believe the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) is anxious to do his best for those in possession of homes, or who are desirous of securing them, I think that the means adopted will not achieve that end. It is impossible to closely peruse the Bill, and submit amendments which may be considered necessary. This is not a party measure, and honorable mem- bers on this side are asking for. a reasonable time in which to peruse a Bill which was placed in our hands only today. ‘
– It was circulated last night.
– I believe it was, but ‘ time could- not be spared when other measures before us were requiring our attention. Its provisions do not affect me personally, but I am particularly anxious to do my duty in the interests of those who may derive some benefit “ from it. We can easily recall the patriotic utterances of those who said they would do everything in their power for the teturned soldier, and when I was a member of another place, I remember the then Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) referring in the most eloquent terms to what was to be done for the returned men. A good deal of useful work has been performed, but owing to the hopeless muddling and blundering, due to incompetency and corruption, millions of pounds have been squandered. Apparently a number of persons have - to use an expression employed by the present Treasurer - been getting away with the “loot.” Time and experience have shown the defects in’ the principal Act and the amending Act, and although we are all anxious to do our best for the returned soldiers, it is impossible to, submit constructive criticism if the debate on the second reading has to conclude by 11 o’clock to-night, and the work in Committee by 4 o’clock to-morrow. It would be preferable, I think, if honorable members on this side challenged the Government to do whatever they liked, and told them that it was not our intention to assume any responsibility. People outside are closely watching the methods that are being adopted, and asking why Parliament is rushing into re1 cess by the use of the “gag.” Why is the discussion on this: Bill limited to a few hours ?
– What objection has the honorable member to any clause of the Bill ?
– My objection is thatI have not had time to study the effect of the amending clauses, or to compare them with the sections of the principal and amending Acts. In view of the limited discussion, it is useless to attempt to dissect the Bill. If passed in its present form, an amending Bill will be necessary within a few months.
.- Honorable members appreciate the fact that the Bill proposes to improve the conditions under which returned soldiers may obtain houses from the War Service Homes Department. As the Bill is somewhat intricate, the Government will be well advised to deal with it for a longer time in Committee, so that those deeply interested in this work may have am opportunity of comparing the proposed amendments with the parent measure. I do not suppose that any other country in the world has done so much for returned soldiers as have we in Australia. Concerning the erection of soldiers’ homes, I wish to say very little of the awful scandals that occurred, but as we are to ammend our War Service Homes legislation we must be exceedingly careful indeed to see that the errors of the past are rectified as much as possible. I have not had time to do any more than glance through this Bill, so that at present it is difficult to compare it with the Act; but I assume that during the Committee stage we shall be able to deal fully with its provisions. Yet I am surprised that the Minister, when introducing it, did not explain more fully the details of the proposed amendments. Clause 16a deals with the purchase of land. If honorable members will analyze its wording they will see that exactly the same opportunity exists in the future for land purchases as existed in the past. It reads -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act the Commissioner shall not, except with the approval in writing of the Minister, acquire any land -
not immediately required for the erection of dwelling-houses; or
unless an application under this Act has been made in respect of that land.
Goodness knows what that means.
– It means what it says.
– It means that the Commissioner may buy any land. The Government should not purchase any further land for the building of homes.
– This clause prevents that.
– I understand that the Minister does not intend to continue the practice of building a large number of houses in groups by day labour. We do not want a recurrence of the old troubles. I shall not enumerate them ; they were a disgrace, and we want to have nothing more to do with the daylabour system. While a limit is fixed for the cost of homes, still, to a certain extent, the expenditure is unlimited. One provision in the Bill states that the cost of the home shall not exceed £700, and a later one states that it shall not exceed £800. Itwould be just as well to make it clear that the maximum cost of a house shall not exceed £800.
– The Bill seems to make adequate provision for new buildings, but I am concerned with the cost of the houses already built, which have been adjusted at something more than £800.
– I understand that the Minister has made an adjustment which will be acceptable to the occupants of the homes. Proposed new section 18a is retrospective as from the 6th March. Paragraph (1) provides that the Minister may make extra charges for connecting dwelling-houses with sewerage, drainage, water, gas and electric power and lighting systems, and for the making of roads. We ought to make it clear that £800 will be the maximum cost of houses. One man has no right to obtain an advantage over another. If the limit is to be £800, it should be so fixed.
– It is the limit.
– It was supposed to be the limit previously.
– We know that some of the houses cost £800. Proposed new section 28a reads -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the total cost to the Commissioner of any dwelling-house erected by him, not including any cost incurred under section 18a of this Act. . . .
Proposed new section 18a includes the cost of making roads or other facilities, affording access to dwellinghouses acquired, erected, or to be erected in pursuance of the Act, and for connecting any such dwellinghouses with sewerage, drainage, water, gas and electric power and lighting systems, and for establishing and extending such systems to connect with any such dwelling-houses. The cost of these facilities is additional to the cost of the house, and the proposed new section is retrospective from the 6th March last. Proposed new section 28a states that the total cost, not including the items I have mentioned, or the amount of any advance made, in pursuance of the Act, may, if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the circumstances of any case justify the excess, exceed £700, but shall not exceed £800. The cost of a house may be £800, plus the cost of sewerage, lighting, and other facilities.
– Then the -cost may easily run into £900 or £950.
– If we had allowed these buildings to be erected by contract, and if the people for whom they were being built had been permitted to arrange for the work to be done, buying their own little piece of land, and so on, we should have had much more satisfactory results. A good deal more work could have been done in country towns than has been done. There was a rush to erect homes in the city, but very great difficulty was experienced in getting the administration to permit homes to be erected in the country. T do not think more than half-a-dozen homes had been built m my constituency up to last year.
– The same trouble was experienced with the Savings Bank scheme in South Australia. People could not get homes built at Renmark.
– While I agree that it would not be wise to build many dwellings in remote places, I think the building of more homes in country towns would help to prevent the rush of people to the cities. I would like to see a definite maximum price for houses fixed in the Bill. Surely the Department could do that. It could say, for instance, what the price of the land is. If it purchased a large estate, and cut it up, it should have no difficulty in fixing a price for each block. I could do that. So could any business man Why cannot the Department do it? I can see no reason why a maximum cannot be stated definitely in this Bill. I hope we shall not have a repetition of our past experiences. It is most unfair for a man to be assured by officers of the Department that his house will cost no more than £800, and after it is completed to receive a bill for sewerage connexion, lighting installation, and so on, which takes the price up to £1,000. In any ordinary contract the provision of those conveniences is part and parcel of the job.
– If we adopted that practice it would automatically bring the amount that could be spent on a house down to £720 or £730, less the price of the land.
– The Minister could fix the maximum, and the soldier would know where he was. The complaint has been made, and nobody knows it better than the Minister, that houses which were expected to cost £750 or £850 have really cost up to £1,000 because the provision of necessary conveniences was not included in the principal contract. The Government should allow more time for the consideration of .this Bill. The soldier members of this House and the soldiers’ organizations should have an opportunity to peruse- it. They may ask for certain things to be provided. I do not think that they should nile -us, but we should obtain their advice. I hope this will be the last measure on this subject that we shall have before Parliament. If it is to be so, we should scrutinize it carefully, and do our level best to make it effective. No more homes should be built for speculation, and no more should be erected under the daylabour system. I do not want’ departmental control of work of this description. The greatest complaints made in regard to what the Department has done in respect of the day-labour policy have come from honorable members opposite.
– It has been on account of “the control.
– The greatest abuses have occurred under the contract system. Investigation proves that up to the hilt.-
– Nothing of the sort. The whole trouble has been that the staff controlling this work has. known very little about Building operations. Some of the contracts made have been wicked. I hope that the Government will not stand for the sort of things that have gone on. The War Service Homes could be built through the Savings Banks, which understand the building business, and have been engaged in it for years. In a couple of the States the Minister is still doing the work with departmental staffs. I hope for his own sake that he will discontinue the policy, because he will have to bear the responsibility for future blunders. He cannot be a watchdog over every Department. Where prac- ticable, homes should be built in country districts. I trust that the Prime Minister will realize the wisdom of not attempting to push this Bill through to-morrow. We could give attention to some other business, and so enable the returned soldiers to give more consideration to this important question.
.- It is discreditable to the Government that it should be forcing legislation through this House, as it has been doing during the last few weeks. The Bill now under consideration concerns people all through Australia. When one considers that 21,238 homes have been built under the War Service Homes Act, one realizes the vast number of people concerned, and that full opportunity should be given honorable members to consider the possible effects of this measure. Honorable members should be given time to prepare amendments they may wish to move. The Minister for Works and Railways said that the Bill was distributed last night, but many honorable members did not get a copy of it until they came to the House this morning. Honorable members have other things to do than peruse Bills and prepare speeches. They have to attend to numerous requests in correspondence addressed to them, and also have to meet deputations concerning their electorates, so that even if they had obtained the Bill last night they would not have had sufficient time to properly study it. It illbecomes members of a party, who, in the last Parliament, were always crying out for the full and free discussion of public questions, to attempt, this year, to prevent the expression of honorable members’ opinions. When the Minister for Works and Railways, who is responsible for this Bill, occupied a seat on the cross benches, he bitterly opposed action of this kind.
– What kind ?
– Action which prevents full and free discussion of important public questions. To-night he is a party to that sort of thing. -The Minister said that returned soldiers would have an opportunity to express their opinions on this matter. What opportunity has been given them ? Even the returned soldiers of this House have not yet had a chance to state their views, and when the guillotine is applied they will be denied any opportunity. Many honorable members on this side of the House desire to speak on the Bill, but the guillotine will operate at 11 o’clock, and they will not have an opportunity. As there is no time in which to discuss this matter fully, I shall curtail my remarks in order to give other honorable members on this side an opportunity of expressing their views. I protest in behalf of certain soldier occupants of War Service Homes against the callous treatment meted out to them by the Government. Many men have been ejected from their homes, because, through illness or other circumstances over which they have no control, they could not pay the instalments on the due dates. Such callous and unsympathetic treatment of men who were prepared to sacrifice everything for Australia is not worthy of a Government that calls itself the friend of returned soldiers. Many of the homes erected at Rockhampton and elsewhere are quite unsuitable for the climate of central Queensland. They were designed by Kirkpatrick and Sons, architects, of Sydney, and may have been suitable for a cool climate, but for central Queensland the rooms are too small, and there is insufficient verandah space. Consequently, great difficulty has been experienced in the past in finding occupants for them. Any reform which this Bill may effect is long overdue.
– What reform does the Bill effect?
– Very little. An advantage is given with one hand and taken away with the other. For instance, section 18 of the Act, as proposed to be amended by clause 7 of the Bill, will read -
The total cost to the Commissioner of any dwelling-house acquired or erected in pursuance of this part, together with the cost of the land on which it is erected, but not including any cost incurred under section 18a of this Act, shall not exceed £700.
Proposed section 18a mentions certain costs that may be added to the cost of the building, and section 28a is being amended to provide for a maximum cost of £800, “ not including any costs under section 18a.” . The proposed section18a reads -
The Commissioner may, with the approval of the Minister, enter into an arrangement -
The probable effect of these provisions will be to make the total cost of the home more than it is to-day. Then, what of the soldiers who acquired dwellings that are not worth £800 1 1 have inspected some of these homes, and I know that many of them have been badly constructed. The work in them was slummed. Some of them seem likely to be blown down by the first strong wind, and the sun can be seen through the cracks in the walls. Yet soldiers have been charged £800 for them. Full value has not been given for the money which the occupant has undertaken to pay. 1 know that a great deal of the bungling that took place was due to the policy of preference to returned . soldiers having been carried to extremes in the early stages of the administration of the War Service Homes Department. Men who were not fit to be placed in charge of this enterprise were appointed because they were friends of the Government, or were high in the list of military officers. What has been the result? We heard a confession from the Minister this afternoon that over £2,000,000 had been expended and lost, for which no asset can be shown. The Minister admitted that in the financial year 1920-21 the Deputy Commissioners entered into contracts without’ the knowledge of the Commissioner, and the Commissioner made large contracts without the knowledge of hia Minister. It is not to be wondered at that the Public Accounts Committee reported last year -
The Committee was informed by the Deputy Commissioner of 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 rauch as from £200 to £400 in many individual cases.
It is the duty of the Government to see that the soldiers get homes for the statutory price, and if that is to be done, why not be honest and eliminate the charges for certain other works that will increase the total cost of the homes above the price debited against the soldier to-day? The Department bought up large timber areas in Victoria and other States, and in Queensland £500,000 was paid to J. F. Brett and Lahey Limited for certain sawmills and timber areas. A couple of years ago the mills were closed down and hundreds of soldier employees were thrown out of employment. Townships that were prosperous a few years ago are to-day practically stagnant villages. People who were conducting successful little businesses have had to sell, them and leave the district.
– Where are those places ?’
– Canungra and Beaudesert were prosperous a few years ago.
– And still are.
– The closing of the mills has caused stagnation. Does the honorable member for Moreton condone the action of the Government in closing down those mills, causing stagnation and depression, where prosperity previously existed ?
– No, but I condemn the action of the honorable member in saying that those, places are stagnant villages.
– I admit that those settlements are still alive, but .they are not as prosperous as they were, before the Nationalist party purchased the mills and closed thom down.
– The Nationalist party did not purchase them.
– They did. The honorable member did not agree with the Minister when he was criticising the former Government for the purchase of the Canungra and Beaudesert mills. Those townships were prosperous, and hundreds of men were employed there-
– And still are.
– There is not the same, amount of employment as there was when the two big saw-mills were in operation. They gave employment to hundreds of soldiers, and large sums of money in the form of wages were distributed in the district. The honorable member for Moreton, instead of trying to defend the wasteful expenditure ‘of public money, should vehemently condemn the Government for not working the mills, or disposing of them long ago. For approximately six months the Government has been in power, and the mills have not been sold, although they have been advertised for sale. The mills remain idle while hundreds of men are walking the streets looking for employment. I protest on behalf of the men who were formerly employed in those mills, many of whom were returned soldiers. The Minister said that £233,232 will be lost through the purchase of the saw-mills in Queensland. Will the Government bring anybody to book for that bungle? The previous Government paid £500,000 for the saw-mills at Canungra and Beaudesert, and the present Government intend to dispose of them at a loss of £250,000. Some friends of the last Government were enriched by the purchase of these mills, and now the mills “ are to be sold at a sacrifice. In view of the estimated losses, I ask honorable members if the purchase and disposal of these mill properties is not a fit subject for inquiry by a Royal Commission in order to fix the responsibility upon the right shoulders, and, if necessary, see that those responsible are adequately punished. If necessary, they should be gaoled. Many men are ejected from War Service Homes if they are a few pounds behind with. their payments, and many men have been imprisoned for two or three years for having confiscated a fc:w pounds intrusted to their care. But, apparently, certain individuals can make recommendations fori the purchase of saw-mills at a cost of £500,000, and involving the Government in a loss on the re-sale of about £250,000, and get off scot-free. We all know that these people who ought to be brought to book have been friends of the Administration, and so this talk about Royal Commissions for the investigation of such matters lacks sincerity. I appeal to the Government, however, even at this late hour, to take some action with regard to the bungling that has occurred in connexion with Canungra and Beaudesert. All honorable members are interested in this matter. It is not a question whether the mills are in their electorate or not. The people of Australia have to foot the Bill, and therefore the Ministry should do the right thing, and, if necessary, punish those persons who took the Government down. The Government, in the Governor-General’s Speech, intimated their intention to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate a certain contract in connexion with War Service Homes. That promise was made long before anything was said about the appointment of a Royal Commission in connexion with certain sugar purchases, but up to the present nothing has been done. In addition to an investigation into the War Service Homes contracts referred to, the Government should instruct the Commission to investigate certain scandals in connexion with the purchases at Canungra and Beaudesert. These matters should be probed to the bottom, and the persons responsible for the scandals should be dealt with. Turning now to War Service Homes administration, I suggest that instead of creating another Department for the erection of War Service Homes, it would have been better if the Government had entered into an arrangement with the various State Governments to carry out this work. In the Workers’ Dwelling Department in Queensland we have a very efficient organization. Dwellings in that State are erected at a much lower cost to the owner than is possible under the War Service Homes Department of the Commonwealth. Under the State administration there is efficient supervision and no suggestion of corruption and bribery. If these State agencies had been employed, our returned soldiers would have had better homes at a reduced price. Under Commonwealth administration there has been duplication and waste, and now the Government propose to pay £240,856 as compensation for the breaking of contracts. Instead of ordering a full inquiry into the .scandals connected with War Service Homes administration, the Government are smothering things up. I hope, however, that, even at this late hour, they will decide to have these matters thoroughly investigated.
– We have twelve minutes to go, and there are three to speak, so I shall split the difference. I desire to point out to the Minister that, although there has been considerable expenditure in the various States on account of War Service Homes, returned soldiers resident in the Northern Territory have been excluded on the ground that it would be impossible for the Department to recover the amount of the advance in the event of returned soldiers relinquishing the tenancy of their homes. I may point out, however, that any old tin “ shack “ in Darwin brings from £8 to £10 a month rental, and that many of the returned soldierswho are making application for benefits under the War Service Homes Act have been residents in the Territory for twenty years. I may also remind honorable members that, per head of population, the Northern Territory contributed a far greater quota of men for active service than any other portion of Australia. In view of this fact, I strongly urge the Minister to instruct the Commission to extend the benefits of the Act to returned soldiers resident in the Northern Territory. They are entitled to at least the same consideration as returned soldiers in the southern States.
.- The Minister told us a very sad story when moving the second reading of this Bill. I do not propose to say a superfluous word about it, because I understand that in eleven minutes this discussion must close. I doubt that in the history of any deliberative assembly there has been a parallel to what has occurred. The Minister, after moving the second reading of the Bill, recited a long history of failure and mismanagement, declaring that the Commonwealth, through inefficient administration, had been mulcted in a sum of money not much less than £3,000,000, and then submitted a motion to close the debate within three hours. Having made that declaration, I wish to put the little time at my disposal to the best possible use. The great cause of contention and complaint has been the prices at which these houses have been assessed to the purchasers. The original promise was that the price of a house would be £700. This was deliberately increased to £800, and then, by a process of adjustment and valuation, altogether outside the provisions of an Act of Parliament, the soldiers, in many cases, found themselves mulcted in obligations up to £900 and more for houses of inferior quality to those for which the original price was £700. I could quote instances, on the Herbert Estate at Northcote, of very good dwellings supplied for a little over £700 - dwellings of good workmanship, comfortable in style, and in every way satisfactory. Unfortunately, returned soldiers, through no fault of their own, now find themselves paying rent on a valuation of over £900 for houses of inferior workmanship, less comfortable, and in much less salubrious and sanitary locations. I had hoped and believed that on this Bill all these matters would have been fully and sympathetically considered in every phase by almost every honorable member. I am bitterly disappointed to find - the amending Bill at the end of the last Parliament having been thrown into the waste-paper basket without discussion - that the Bill now before us is to be treated in the way proposed. Does the Minister say now that for those houses already constructed and occupied, and in respect of which rent is being paid, the soldiers will in future pay as on a valuation of £800, without any increase for such extras as were originally included in the £700 house, and without any extension of the terms of mortgage ? If it is proposed merely to extend the term of mortgage, or to give them, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) said, with one hand, a formal reduction in the price, while, on the other hand, asking an increased price by adding the cost of sewerage, road construction, and other things, then the Minister, not personally, but on behalf of the Government, is practising little less than gross deception. I wish to know if the last clause in this Bill is deliberately intended to keep the valuations at the excessive figure of which I have complained ? It will be seen that the clause indemnifies the Commissioner for excessive advances, while at the same time it imposes on the soldier in occupation a liability to pay on those excess advances. That seems to perpetuate the very abuse to which I have been endeavouring to call attention, and which I hope the Government will remove. If I am under a misapprehension, I should like the matter to be explained.
– You are.
– I am pleased to hear that. I was never wrong more gladly in my life. All I can say is that the clause does not bear out the Minister. The Bill ought to give expression to what he intends, so that afterwards, when the interjection is forgotten, we will not be referred to the terms of the measure which clearly enough provide what I say they do. What is to be done in regard to houses of defective workmanship, of which there are many? I know some within my own ex- perience at Preston, notably on the Storey Estate. I have already mentioned the disparity between the different classes of houses - some of excellent workmanship, and some very bad. There are some in this estate that . are exceedingly bad. The occupiers have been promised repairs, which, however, have not been done. Men have gone out and inspected the houses, but have done nothing to give effect to the promises. If ‘ those houses were being constructed by an ordinary private contractor for a private individual, the owner would stipulate that the contractor must put right defects dis-. covered within a certain limit of time. Defects have been discovered, and very grave defects. It rests with the Commonwealth to give a good article at the price. It rests with those gentlemen who have been so profuse in promises to these men to at least provide houses of decent workmanship. These houses are not extravagant in accommodation, even the best of them; they are not palatial either in workmanship or surroundings. But the houses should at least be solid,, and of such construction that one cannot see, as I have seen, cracks in corners through the wood work, plaster, and bricks. The houses should be of a kind that an ordinary builder, who knows his job, and is proud to do a good job, would pass. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether he will have those repairs effected that are fairly attributable to the work done under the direction of the Commissioner. ‘If he does not, then the Government is breaking faith with the men.
– If the honorable member will bring specific cases before me I shall have them inquired into.
– I believe that the Minister is sincere, and I certainly shall have the cases stent to him, and will remind him of his recorded promise here. If he will do what I ask, it will be a very important step in the right direction, if he repairs defects, and secures these men houses for £800 on the same terms as originally promised - if he does not avail himself of any clause in this Bill to continue to charge them on values inexcess of the original promised values - I shall be satisfied. I think also that a number of War Service Homes occupiers in my electorate will be satisfied, for they are a reasonable body of men, who only desire a fair thing.
.- The procedure adopted on the present occasion by the Government is an outrage on returned soldiers. I am the first returned soldier in the House to speak on the Bill, though I should have expected every one similarly circumstanced to have expressed his views. When the Minister (Mr. Stewart) was speaking, I asked him what was the purport of the Bill, and I now repeat the question. There is nothing in the Bill to say that it has anything to do with returned soldiers, and I take it that it is for the’ purpose of meeting the complaints about the administration. My complaint is more far-reaching than even this Bill may be. Like the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), I have waited anxiously to know when the Commission is to be appointed to inquire into the matter of soldiers’ homes. The Minister has promised that if specific cases axe laid before him he will investigate them. I shall take care to let the returned soldiers know of that promise, and I feel positive that the honorable gentleman will be kept fully employed while his chief is away. When in Adelaide a week ago, I was travelling with a number of returned soldiers in a district where a large number are settled, and the first point raised was that to which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has just referred. One man informed me that he had to purchase a new door, that rafters had to be adjusted, and that the timber in his house was green. As I have already stated in this House, there are no more miserable looking dwellings in South Australia than those erected for returned soldiers.
– The time allotted for the debate on thesecond reading of this Bill having expired, I shall now put the question, “ That the Bill be now read a second time.”
– I rise to order. I desire to ask your opinion, Mr. Speaker, concerning the action of the Government in closing the mouth of a returned soldier who was discussing a Bill affecting the interests of returned soldiers. Is the action of the Government in order,- or in any way decent?
– It is not my duty or privilege to comment upon the actions of the Government. The duty of Mr. Speaker is to see that the orders of the House are observed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro formâ.
– The question before the Chair now is-
– I desire to ask, Mr. Speaker-
– Am I compelled to preserve silence when-
– The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) is out of order in speaking when the Speaker is on his feet, and unless he obeys the Chair, I shall be compelled to exercise the powers conferred upon me under the Standing Orders.
Question - That the Committee have leave to sit again to-morrow -put. The House divided.
Majority . . - . 11
Question so resolvedin the affirmative.
.- I move-
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 11 o’clock a.m. to-morrow.
Earlier in the day I indicated to the House that the Government proposed to move this motion in order to give honorable members a longer time in which to consider the provisions of the War Service Homes Bill.
– For God’s sake, go to the Old Country.
– I warn honorable members that I shall exercise my full powers if interjections do not cease.
– It is pretty hard to put up with such treatment.
– The honorable member is disorderly in interjecting while the Prime Ministeris on his feet.
– It is a scandalous position.
– Honorable members will agree that it is desirable that we should devote a further two hours to the discussion of this measure.
.- I enter my protest against the highhanded action of the Prime Minister, for which he has the audacity to offer the excuse that he wishes to give the House a further opportunity to discuss the War Service Homes Bill. It is the most ridiculous statement that has ever been put before this Chamber in justification of any action. The righthonorable gentleman is not satisfied with the ordinary hours of sitting on five days a week, but he now intends to bring us here at 11 o’clock to-morrow morning, and, probably, at the week-end he will again ask us to sit twenty-five hours at a stretch. It is grossly unfair, and is not in the best interests of the country. There is not the slightest justification for it.. We should at least have a couple of days for the reasonable consideration of this measure. Honorable members know that a Bill of this description has never passed through this Chamber in less than two or three days. This matter is of the utmost importance to returned men.We know how necessary it is to steer clear of the pitfalls of the past, and we should deal fairly with the returned boys and not bludgeon this measure through. As an excuse, the
Prime Minister solemnly states that tomorrow morning ho will grant an additional two hours for the consideration of this Bill. Can we, as legislators, properly carry out our duties, sitting from11 a.m. till 11.30 p.m. every day, with an all-nighter occasionally thrown in. The mentality of honorable members will not stand the strain. This side of the House will do everything possible to oppose the business of the Government for the next day or two. Ministers can apply the “gag,” as they have that power, but it will have to be exercised on every possible occasion.
– I move-
That the House adjourn until 2.30 p.m. tomorrow.
I ask the Prime Minister not to force the House to meet at 11 o’clock to-morrow morning. Honorable members have correspondence to deal with, and committee meetings to attend.
– I cannot accept the amendment, which is a direct negative of the motion. If the motion is defeated, the House will, under a sessional order, meet at 2.30 p.m.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has criticised the Government, and I appreciate his view-point. He at all times has been courteous to the Government and given them considerable assistance. Every member of this party, while not assisting the Government, has at least not obstructed their business. The position in this House is becoming intolerable, and it is a question how long honorable members will tolerate it. Legislation is being passed through this Chamber without a full and frank discussion. Three returned soldiers on this side of the House desired’ to speak on the War Service Homes Bill, but they were prevented from so doing by the guillotine.
– Not three of them were in the House.
– That is either a misrepresentation or a wilful lie.
– Within a few moments I have risen three times to appeal to or admonish honorable members to obey the customary laws of courtesy and order. I ask honorable members to lister to the speakers in this debate in silence.
– Under the ordinary customs of law and debate one would expect ordinary courtesy, and that we have not received from the Government. I regret sincerely any discourtesy to you, Mr. Speaker, but, after all, honorable members on this side are protesting against the intolerant attitude adopted by the Government. Ministers are responsible for the good conduct of the business of this country, and if by their bludgeoning methods they exhaust the patience of honorable members, they must bear the consequences. I ask the Prime Minister, the Government, and their supporters, how long isthis condition of things to continue? We must take steps to prevent important measures from being rushed through this Chamber.
– The honorable member must realize that a general discussion on the methods ofthe Government is not relevant to this motion. The question is whether the House shall meet at 11 a.m. or 2.30 p.m. to-morrow.
-I am protesting against the action of the Government. Up to now we have treated them fairly. We have opposed principles which are not in accord with our platform and ideals, but otherwise we have facilitated the despatch of business. But when measures are pushed through this House without a proper discussion being allowed, we must protest strongly.
.- This complete change of front on the part of the Government is surprising. Earlier in the day the Prime Minister pointed out the urgency of getting the War Service Homes Bill quickly through the House. It was imperative, hesaid, that the House should pass it without delay. It was of such consequence that the time for discussing it had to be restricted. Now the right honorable gentleman tells us that there is no longer any urgency. He says the House may adjourn, and meet again to-morrow morning at 11 o’clock It is necessary that honorable members should give as much time as possible to the consideration of this Bill, and because of that I object to an adjournment until 11 a.m. to-morrow. I desire to proceed with the discussion of the Bill. When I was in Sydney last week-
– There is no measure before the Cham ber at present. I cannot permit the honorable member to discuss the War Service Homes Bill.
– I have no intention to do that. I appreciate your position, Mr. Speaker, but it is not necessary for me to discuss the merits of that Bill to make my point.
– The motion before the House is to decide whether honorable members shall meet at 11 o’clock or 2.30 o’clock to-morrow.
– I object to the House adjourning now. There is no reason that the House should meet tomorrow morning, because there is reason why we should not proceed with the discussion of this Bill forthwith. I appreciate your feelings, Mr, Speaker, but honorable members on this side know perfectly well what is in the mind of the Government, and you, Mr. Speaker, have had sufficient parliamentary experience to know what is behind this motion.
– I cannot permit the honorable member to anticipate what may subsequently be submitted to the House.
– I appreciate that. I point out to you, sir, that it will be a great inconvenience to myself and to other honorable members to meet here at 11 o’clock to-morrow morning. I shall not have time between now and then to consider the various suggestions which have been made to me by members of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers’ Association, who desire to remedy the disabilities and grievances under which they are suffering. To properly enable me to consider those grievances I should be given more time. It will not help me if the House adjourns now, because after I have considered my correspondence, and dealt with other matters incidental to the life of a member of Parliament, I shall have no time left. The Government should proceed with the War Service Homes Bill to-night. The measure affects the welfare of returned soldiers, and should be given the fullest consideration. It will not help the Government later on to say that the faulty administration is due to the persons who are employed by it. The Government itself will have to bear the responsibility. In order to lessen the chances of passing an unsatisfactory Bill I consider we should proceed with our consideration of the measure to-night.
– The honorable member can no longer refer to the War Service Homes Bill.
– My remarks do not refer to that Bill only, sir, but to the other twenty-nine Bills on the noticepaper.
– The honorable member’s remarks are not relevant to the issue before us, and if he persists in such remarks I can no longer hear him.
– I am surprised and disappointed at your attitude,sir. In consequence of the late hours the Government has compelled me to keep recently, I admit that I do not rise much before 9 a.m. or 9.30 a.m. After that I take a bath, have a rub down, have a shave, and do various other things that are necessary to one’s comfort and well-being, and it will be impossible for me to be here by 11 a.m. to-morrow. Icould give you some very interesting history of the earlier life of the Prime Minister if I desired, but I do not wish to trespass on your generosity in that respect. Nevertheless, I give the Prime Minister a word of warning. I know something of his early history when he was a little larrikin, and if he is not very careful I shall relate to the House some of his capers in those days.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.31 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 August 1923, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1923/19230814_reps_9_105/>.