9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
The following papers were presented: -
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1924, No. 73.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at Blackburn, Victoria - For Postal purposes.
Public Service Act - Appointment ofDr. F. R. Kerr, Department of Health.
Motion of Censure
Debate resumed from 6th June (vide page 1129), on motion by Mr. Scullin -
That this House strongly condemns the Government for its action in -
Agreeing to pay out of public revenue the sum of £275,393 10s. for distribution between the British Government and B.A.W.R.A. on a claim that had neither legal nor moral support.
Entering into the agreement without consulting Parliament; and
Making a part payment of £137,69615s. without Parliamentary appropriation.
– (By leave.) - As honorable members are aware, there is at the present moment a motion of censure upon the Government before the House.This naturally precludes Ministers from bringing down further business. It also has a very serious effect upon the administration of the Commonwealth departments, because no important decision can properly be come to by the Government while such a motion remains undecided. The Government is very anxious that the motion should be dealt with to-night, and a vote taken upon it before the close of the present sitting. It asks honorable members to assist in enabling that to be done. The question with which the motion deals was fully ventilated by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), who moved it, and by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). It has also been very fully dealt with by myself, and I think honorable members will agree that in the sitting there should be ample time to ventilate the matter to the fullest extent, to enable a decision to be come to on the motion.
Mr.KILLEN (Riverina) [3.3].- Before the adjournment of the debate on Friday I was endeavouring to show that, instead of having wrongly paid a sum of £275,000 to the Central Wool Committee, as stated by the honorable member for Yarra (Mir. Scullin), the Government had actually paid to the Pool about £123,000 too little. That is, as nearly as can be calculated, the additional amount which the Government should have paid in accordance with the promise made by Mr. Hughes. It is important in this discussion to remember that Mr. Hughes, during the last Parliament, promised that the Pool would not suffer because wool was dealt with like that taken by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. In other words, his promise was that the growers would receive from that wool as much as if it had not been dealt with in that particular way, but had gone to the market in the ordinary course. The honorable member for Yarra attempted to show that if that wool had gone to the market in the ordinary way it would not have realized any more than, if as much as, the appraised price. I contend that the honorable member was altogether wrong in that contention,because that wool would not have been shipped at the time it was selected by the ColonialCombing, Spinning and Weaving Company, and would not have reached the market on the other side of the world during the slump. My reason for this contention is that shortly after this wool was selected the association known as Bawra came into being, and its policy was to hold superior wool, such as that supplied to the company, for a market. That wool, therefore,would not have been shipped at the time it was selected, but would have been held until the market rose, and there is no doubt that it would have been sold at prices which would have returned at least as much as, and probably considerably more than, the amount of the claim. Sir John Higgins and his co-directors of Bawra went to very great pains to fix the value of this particular wool. First of all, they had before them the value appraised by the Government valuers which was, as nearly as possible, the exact value of the wool at the time. In addition to that, they received from London every week or every fortnight, reports of the values of different qualities of wool, and could in this way estimate to a nicety the value of any parcel of wool by taking the London value fourteen days after delivery, as they had been in the habit of doing in their dealings with other companies. Estimating the value of the wool on this basis the amount would, as nearly as possible, have been £398,000, without interest. Although Sir J ohn Higgins agreed to forego interest in this case, there probably would have been some amount to add for interest at a reasonable rate. With regard to the statement that the amount paid is excessive, we have to consider the procedure of the Central Wool Committee in its dealings with three other companies. Throughout the time during which they had dealings with the Central Wool Committee, these companies were making large profits, and the growers were receiving a great deal of money out of those profits, in excess of the appraised price of the wool. These companies were paying 20 per cent. over the appraised price for the wool they took. The Government also received a great deal of money through the transactions with those companies. It is, therefore, scarcely correct for the honorable member for Yarra to state, as he did, that the payment to which he takes exception in his motion was made out of ordinary revenue. The Government received very considerably more than £275,000 from the three companies other than the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company.
– There should be some inquiry into the operations of the Colonial
Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company
– In view of what I have said, the statement that this payment has been made out of ordinary revenue is not correct. To show honorable members the profits that were being made at the time when wool was. slumping pretty badly, after the 30th June, 1920, the firm of Whiddon Brothers actually paid £53,000 profit, over and above the appraised price, on 2,000 bales of wool. I do not think it necessary to labour the question any more, but I should like to repeat that in my opinion the Prime Minister made an excellent bargain for Australia. I do not know why Sir John Higgins and his co-directors agreed to take £122,000 less than they were entitled to. I do not know why they agreed to a reduction in their claim, which was more than reasonable. No doubt Sir John Higgins and his co-directors, realizing the possibility of a law case and knowing the uncertainty of law, and the difficulty of fighting a Government, felt, as most of us would feel under similar conditions, that it was better to settle the claim upon terms agreed to. We know very well that men who have had recourse to law, although winning their case, have, after the final settlement, very often been the losers. No doubt that consideration actuated Sir John Higgins and his co-directors in accepting less money than was fairly and probably legally due to the Pool at that time. The fact is that the Prime Minister made an excellent deal for the Treasury, and the Wool Pool received very much less than it was entitled to receive under Mr. Hughes’s promise.
– It is remarkable that the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) displays no anxiety to rise to his feet in this House until we are discussing questions affecting the huge profits accruing to the very wealthy sections of this community. Particularly does he seem anxious to speak on subjects in which he himself is pecuniarily interested. When the honorable member for Riverina rose to. speak it occurred to me that he might be as deeply involved in this matter as he was on the occasion when the Government proposed to remit taxation to the wealthy leaseholders of this country.
– Why not stick to the merits or demerits of the case?
– I should need a very strong microscope to detect any merits in the case made out by the Government. If the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) had spent his week-end examining the facts, he also would beunable to see any merit in it. Everything that the honorable member for Riverina said during his brief speech this afternoon was an absolute misstatement of facts. I do not say that unkindly, because, to refute his information, I shall use the report of Bawra. The honorable member said that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) was wrong in contending that if this wool had been shipped overseas it would have realized only a small price, and that there was a definite understanding that it - it was the best merino wool - was to be held over. It is remarkable that the honorable member, who claims to have an intimate knowledge of this matter, has not acquainted himself with the facts as revealed by the report of Bawra. That report says that, in 1921 - which was the slump year, at which time the honorable member said that all the merino wool was held over - there were actually 242,000 bales sold.
– I said “the pick of the merino wool.”
– I shall take up the honorable member even on that point. The report, and I invite the honorable member to read it, says that in the year 1921, Bawra sold 242,000 bales of merino wool and 88,000 bales of crossbred wool, for £6,394,821, an average of £19 7s. 5d. a bale. Even if we exclude the whole of the crossbred wool, 88,000 bales, at that figure the average would be only £22 a bale for the merino wool. This information may be news to the honorable member for Riverina, but any honorable member who speaks in this House should acquaint himself with the facts before making misleading statements. According to the report, in 1922, 173,000 bales of merino wool were sold at an average price, estimated at £26 a bale, and in 1923, 36,000 bales were sold. Last year, the only wool that was left unsold was 43 bales of merino wool. Yet the honorable member presumes to know all about the matter, and says that the whole of the wool concerned in the claim, if shipped to England, would have been carried over and held back from sale. The figures that I am quoting were not compiled by me, but were taken from Bawra’s report, and completely refute the statements made by the honorable member for Riverina. I have replied to all of his remarks that are worth answering, and I leave the report of Bawra itself to give a complete denial to the misstatements that he has made in this House.
– I know all about the report.
– Then the honorable member has kept his knowledge to himself, and tried to impart totally different information to this chamber. It was a very wrong thing for him to do, and I advise him to hold his tongue altogether, as his remarks have placed him ill a very unenviable position: I come now to the speech of the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). I am not exaggerating when I say that never, since I have known the Prime Minister, has he given a worse exhibition than that which he gave in this chamber last Friday. I do not wish to say anything that is unfair, and if I do make any statement to . which the Prime Minister can properlytake exception as misquoting him, I shall withdraw it. It is no over-statement to say that this censure motion constitutes one of the gravest indictments that I have ever heard levelled against the Government of this country, and it has made a deep impression upon the public mind. It has created so much suspicion that it behoves honorable members opposite to do all they can to dispel it.
– The opposition are sentenced to silence.
– The Prime Minister stated that he wished to finish this debate to-night, and I can quite understand that he would not like too much publicity given to the reply he made to the honorable member for Yarra (Mr, Scullin) last Friday. I shall put aside altogether the statement that was made in one of the evening papers last Thursday, when notice of this motion was given by the honorable member for Yarra. That newspaper suggested that even then the numbers were up. That was before the debate had taken place, or the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) had stated his case. The newspaper also said that “ the whips could be heard cracking in the lobbies.”
– That is not true.
– I am fair enough to disbelieve that statement, for I do not accuse honorable members opposite of making up their minds before they had heard the statement of the case. I shall place my own interpretation on the Prime Minister’s speech. It was obvious to every one who watched him while he made that speech last Friday that he was in difficulties. He spent threequarters of his time in speaking of matters which, like “ the flowers that bloom in the spring,” had nothing to do with the charges, and it was remarkable that when he did deal with the charges, he said, in effect, that he agreed to a large extent with what had been said by the honorable member for Yarra. He could not refute those statements, so, in order to create the impression in the public mind that there was nothing to argue about, he said that for some weeks past he had been expressing opinions which were the same as those of the honorable member for Yarra. Seeing that he agrees with the honorable member’s arguments, his bluff might be called by asking him whether he also agrees with the charges. The charges were based on the arguments, and if he agrees largely with the arguments, as he says he does, he should also agree with the charges. He will not, of course, admit that. He said, first, that he wanted to clear away the impression that there was something improper in the method of payment, and that there had been an attempt at secrecy. I would like to hear what the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) would say if the Prime Minister was a member of the Labour party. What would he say of a Government if it paid away money without the authority of Parliament ? I can imagine him censuring any Prime Minister who, being opposed to him in politics, had done such a thing. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) when he was sitting in the corner, and those associated with him, constantly demanded the restoration of responsible government. Who will say that the action now complained of is not a violation of responsible government? Are those honorable members now to be silent merely becausethey are in the Government? Surely that should not be. The Prime
Minister answered himself in his own speech. Having said that there was nothing improper in the method of payment, he said, a little later, that the amount would have to be placed upon the Supplementary Estimates for parliamentary approval. He admitted that he would have to obtain a parliamentary appropriation for the payment, and yet he said that the money was not paid without a parliamentary appropriation. Thus he answered his own contention that there was no improper act. Clearly the payment was a flouting of Parliament, such a flouting as honorable members, particularly those who belong to the Corner party, have decried at all times. I have never known a worse violation of responsible government. The principal objection of the Treasurer to being a member of any Administration with which the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was associated, was that it was necessary to get back to responsible government. The Government to-day is out-Heroding Herod, or out-Hughesing Hughes, if I may express it thatway, for even the ex-Prime Minister refused to make this payment. The Government has paid the money on the interpretation of a promise by Mr. Hughes, although Mr. Hughes refused to admit that interpretation, and did not pay. If no secrecy was intended, why was the matter kept dark until the Estimates had been passed ? Why did the Government not tell the House about the agreement as soon as it met, and then seek authority for its action ? Why did it not do as it did in the case of the Canned Fruit Bounty Bill ? In that instance an urgent payment was made out of the Treasurer’s Advance, because fruit was rotting in the orchards, and the canners would not pay for it until they had received the bounty. Assoon as the House met the Government asked for a parliamentary appropriation, and honorable members on this side did not object. That incident shows that members of the Opposition are willing to be fair when the Government does its business on sound lines. The Prime Minister, with an air of assumed innocence, declared that all the Government had done in agreeing to pay the sum of £275,000, was to honour a long-standing promise. Does any honorable member opposite regard this payment as the honoring of a long-standing promise?
– I do not mind the honorable member’s interjection, because I assume that he is trying, with other honorable members, to fathom this matter. I ask him to consider the facts. Who was the man who made the promise?
– The ex-Prime Minister, on the floor of this House.
– Exactly ; as honorable members are aware, Sir Robert Garran was asked to place an interpretation upon that promise. The exPrime Minister declined to accept that interpretation, saying, “ That does not represent my promise at all, and I shall not pay on that basis.” Yet this Government made the payment in the terms of that interpretation, declaring that they were paying on the promise of the exPrime Minister. I want briefly to restate the agreement under which this wool was supplied, at appraised price, to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. We all know that it related to 9,047 bales which were taken out of the Pool.
– Why were not the books of the company audited by the Auditor-General ?
– The honorable member had better ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) to reply to that question. It was provided that 80 per cent. of any profits made from the manufacture of that wool into wooltops were to be handed to the Commonwealth, 20 per cent. to be retained by the company. Mr. Rodgers, then honorable member for Wannon, and others, complained about that arrangement, and Mr. Hughes then promised that the woolgrowers would receive the same share of the profits from such wool as if it had remained in the Pool, been shipped to Great Britain, and sold in the ordinary way. Clearly, the then Prime Minister meant that the woolwould have to be shipped abroad and sold there, and. a price struck, based on the average of that realized by the rest of the Pool.
– His statement could not mean anything else.
– That is so. Sir Robert Garran was asked to interpret the promise. What was his interpretation? He said that it meant that the price of that wool should be the price ruling in London at the time it was taken out of the Pool. Bawra asked for payment on that basis, but the ex-Prime Minister said, “I shall not pay on that basis, because that does not represent my promise.” Yet this Government made the payment on that interpretation, claiming that it was honouring a long-standing promise. I ask the honorable member for. Forrest (Mr. Prowse) would it not have been a decent thing to accept the interpretation of the man who made the promise, who should be the best judge of what he meant ?
– I think that the 75 honorable members of this House should be the best interpreters of what Mr. Hughes said.
– If the honorable member for Forrest made a promise, should he or somebody else be the best interpreter of its meaning? Would he not prefer to interpret his own promise; and, if the remaining 75 members of the House endeavoured to interpret it, would he not quickly tell them that he should be the best interpreter? The same principle applies in this case. When Mr. Hughes was asked to pay on the basis of London parity, he refused; therefore, instead of this being the redemption of a long-standing promise, it was a violation of that promise. Would any honorable member opposite interpret that promise to mean London parity? Will the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) say that it should be interpreted in that way.?
– Certainly. It meant that the growers were to be placed in as good a position as if the wool had been sold in the open market.
– Order ! The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) is not in order in asking honorable members questions; he must address the Chair.
– Through you, Mr. Speaker, I ask those honorable members opposite who say that Mr. Hughes’s promise meant that payment should be on the basis of London parity to read the speech delivered in this House last Friday by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). This is what that right honorable gentleman said -
The growers had contended that the price should be based on London parity, while the
Ministry argued that the price should be based on the price that would have been realized if the wool had been sold in Great Britain.
That is what the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) claimed that the exPrime Minister meant. The trouble is that the Ministry argued in one way and acted in another. I have never seen such a contradictory attitude taken up, or one which was such a violation of the views held by the Government. Evidently it was not the long-standing, promise, but the persuasive arguments of Sir John Higgins, acting on behalf of the wealthy speculators in. Bawra, that induced the Ministry to make payment on the basis of London parity. I cannot conceive any honorable member opposite justifying this payment on the ground that it was made in order to honour a long-standing promise. Let us, then, hear no more of that excuse. Another plausible argument used by the Prime Minister was that he had effected a good compromise. He boasted about it. He built up a . large sum of amounts which really had nothing to do with the matter, but which, he said, might have been claimed, and then proceeded to whittle down the total to £275,000. Let us examine the facts. He said that a claim was made by the Wool Committee in respect of a certain 4,480 bales of wool, ana, judging by the speech of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), one would say that that claim ought to have been accepted.
– I have never seen an honorable gentleman so anxious “as the honorable member for Riverina to put out his hands to receive doles from the public funds for himself and the wealthy speculator. It is practically certain that the honorable member has a personal interest in this matter. Anyhow, he has both his hands held out in expectation. As a matter of fact, that 4,480 bales of wool must be dismissed from consideration altogether, for it was covered by an entirely different agreement. It had absolutely nothing to do -with the 9,047 bale3 purchased by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company Limited, nor with the promise made by Mr. Hughes. The honorable member for Riverina, and every other honorable member opposite, must realize that. The Prime Minister told us on Friday that if the claim for that wool had been admitted, the total amount claimed would have been much larger. He also said that a considerable amount had been claimed for interest, and that the British Government had claimed half the profits on the sale of the wool to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. He stated that the amount that might have been claimed was £900,000, and then said that the public generally ought to be very thankful that he had been able to cut the claim down to £275,000. The answer to the Prime Minister is that the 4,480 bales of wool mentioned by him were not covered by the agreement or the promise made by Mr. Hughes, and that the interest claim was withdrawn.
– It was too impudent.
– That ia so. The answer to the statement that the British Government had claimed half profits on the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company’s deal is that the agreement made with the British Government, in 1916, expressly excluded wool used for the manufacture of wooltops for local requirements.
– We are in agreement there.
– But the Prime Minister said that a claim on such wool had been made. I challenge him or the Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom), who, we understand, will continue this debate, to produce it. The British Government entered into a specific contract, which excluded wool used for local requirements. ‘ How, then, could it claim half profits on the sale of such wool?
– The wooltops manufactured by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company were sent overseas, and were not used locally.
– The best thing that the honorable member for Riverina can do is to read the agreement. We can dismiss the claim supposed to have been made by the British Government, and we can treat likewise all the Prime Minister’s talk about compromise. The only claim that could have been put forward was the one that actually was made for £275,000 respecting the 9,047 bales of wool sold to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. That was the claim, and that was what was paid. To talk about having effected a compromise is to. camouflage the transaction. One of the most amazing statements made by the Prime Minister was that he agreed with Mr. Scullin that the Imperial Government was not entitled to any payment in respect of the alleged profits on those 9,047 bales. He said that he resisted the claim, and declared that if the Central Wool Committee had paid the British Government £68,000 on that deal, it had nothing to do with him or his Government.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– I wish all those “ Hear, hears “ could be recorded in Hansard opposite the names of the honorable members who uttered them, for they would then have to answer to their constituents for them. The statement of the Prime Minister that neither he nor his Government accepted responsibility for any payment made by the Central Wool Committee to the British Government in respect of this deal reveals a shocking disregard by both him and his Government for ‘the safety of the public funds. Are we to understand that no inquiry was made to ascertain who would receive this money? That is the only interpretation that can be placed upon the Prime Minister’s statement. The Prime Minister said that he accepted- no reponsibility whatever for the payment to the British Government. Can the right honorable gentleman deny that the Central Wool Committee was set up by the Government to administer the Wool Pool, under the instructions and control of the Government? That is the case. Therefore, I ask how he, and those who support him, can justify his refusal to accept responsibility for the payment of this money without inquiry as to its destination? Although he said that he resisted the payment, he cannot have been ignorant that the. money was going to the British Government. Honorable members will recollect that a little booklet was put into their hands last week which contained a report from the Central Wool Committee on this matter. The statement appears in it, on page 5, that the agreement under which the British Government was to get a half-share of these profits was published in the principal newspapers of the Commonwealth on the 5th October, 1923. The Prime Minister, therefore, had the opportunity, for six weeks before the Treasurer paid the money, of knowing that the British Government would participate in the payment. He, therefore, cannot seriously refuse to accept responsibility for it. He must have known about it. If he and the Treasurer contend that the money was meant for the wool-growers, he is practically charging Sir John Higgins with having misappropriated public funds. The money was, it is stated, handed to the Central Wool Committee for distribution among the growers. The Prime Minister said that he resisted the claim of the British Government, but, notwithstanding that, the British Government received one-half of the amount paid. What have the honorable gentlemen who sit in the Corner, and who prate about the growers receiving the benefit, to say in reply to the charge which will be levelled against them, from now on, that the growers have been robbed by reason of the British Government having been paid £68,000 as a- first payment, for which it never asked? Those honorable members profess a great desire to assist the primary producers, but here is £68,000 which has been filched from them. It will be difficult for the honorable member for Riverina to answer the charge when it is levelled against him by the wool-growers of his district, that he stands for the robbing of the wool-growers of this country to the extent of £68,000.
– If the honorable member had been in power, would he have handed over that amount to the Wool Council ?
– The. honorable member endeavours to place his own interpretation on my remarks.
– The question is too awkward for the honorable member.
– The honorable member who has interjected will have difficulty in answering the charge that he stands behind a Government which has allowed £68,000 to be diverted from the wool-growers of this country to other channels. The callous attitude adopted by the honorable member is consistent with that shown by him,, and others sitting with him in the Corner, on another occasion, when speculators sold inferior wheat to South Africa. In that instance compensation had to be paid to South Africa, largely Out of the Wheat Pool, which, in reality, represented a payment out of the pockets of the wheat farmers. But, because the money was going to the speculators, not one of the Corner party attempted to defend the farming interests of this country. They were wholly on the side of the wealthy speculators. And this is a similar case.
– The farmers were perfectly satisfied.
– The honorable member ardently supports an amalgamation betweenFlinders-lane and the farmers of the State To summarise : The speech of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) might be divided into four charges. The first is that the Government have paid out of public revenue the sum of £68,000 to the British Government on a claim that had neither legal nor moral support. The Prime Minister, in referring to that charge, admitted that the amount was paid.
– Not by the Government.
– It was paid with the people’s money. Will the honorable member for Gippsland say that the Government should accept no responsibility concerning the destination of the money paid from the public funds of this country? Such an attitude would be illogical and absurd. That charge stands. It was admitted by the Prime Minister in his speech. The second charge is that the Government entered into an agreement to pay £275,000 out of public revenue without consulting Parliament. The Prime Minister did not deny that charge. On the contrary, he admitted it. The answer to the third charge - that a part payment of £137,696 15s. was made without parliamentary appropriation - was supplied by the Prime Minister himself, when he said that later he would have to bring down Supplementary Estimates and ask for parliamentary appropriation of the amount. Three of the four charges have so far been admitted by the Prime Minister. I have never known a more serious state of affairs.
– If this party had been in power, and had done the same thing, it could not have lived a week.
– The fourth charge is that it was morally wrong to assess the wool sold on London parity, instead of in accordance with the promise of Mr. Hughes. The Prime Minister in his speech practically admitted that it was wrong. He said that the Ministry argued that the price should be based on the price that would have been realized had the wool been sold in Great Britain. That is not London parity, so the Prime Minister practically pleaded guilty to the four charges.
– He offered no defence at all.
– If I have placed a wrong interpretation on the remarks of the Prime Minister, it is for the Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom), when he replies, to show where I was wrong In the absence of a satisfactory answer, I cannot understand how any honorable member opposite will be able . to vote against this censure motion. Honorable members had a right to expect that the charges would have been refuted, but, instead, the Prime Minister practically admitted them all. I shall listen with interest to the Attorney-General when he speaks on this motion, and hope he will be good enough to answer my contentions. The honorable member for Yarra claimed that Bawra is not representative of the real wool-growers who put their wool into the Pool. The Prime Minister, in reply, made a bald assertion, but quoted neither fact nor figure to prove his contention. He merely denied the contention. . On the other hand, the honorable member for Yarra supplied proofs in support of his charges. The honorable member for Yarra produced official records to prove his case, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was unable to submit facts or figures to support his contention. I leave it to those who have been associated with the transactions since the inception to judge which statement is correct. The Prime Minister said that 90 per cent. of the original shareholders were still in Bawra, or 90 per cent. of the shares were still held by the original owners; I am not sure whether he said “ shares” or “ shareholders.”
– Ninety per cent of the shares.
– I do not wish to do an injustice to the Prime Minister, and I am not sure that the interjection of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) correctly explains the position. In order to be quite fair I shall deal with the question from the two points of view and show that whichever statement is taken is emphatically against the Prime Minister. If we assume that the Prime Minister meant that 90 per cent. of the original shareholders are still in Bawra, it is interesting to note that according to the Bawra report 120,000 wool-growers contributed to the Pool. The Prime Minister said that of 120,000 there were 50,000 remaining, which he regards as 90 per cent. of the whole, whereas that number is only about 40 per cent. If the right honorable gentleman was referring to the shares still held by original owners, let us consider what his statement is worth. Ten original shareholders who were wealthy enough could have bought out the others, and it could then be said that the shares were held by original shareholders. What does it mean? Simply that the smaller men had been compelled to dispose of their holdings to the wealthy “ boodleiers.”
– Is the honorable member for Hume a small shareholder?
– Is the honorable member for Echuca?
– I am, and I am well satisfied.
– As the honorable member for Echuca was able to hold on he was more fortunate than some of the smaller wool-growers in his electorate. Perhaps the honorable member has been instrumental in pushing out some of the 53,000 shareholders who had little opportunity of saying whether they wished to retain their shares.
– Every one is well satisfied.
– The honorable member for Echuca was lucky enough to be able to hold on whilst others were pushed out.
– And others stepped in.
– The honorable member for Hume must be allowed to continue his remarks without interruption.
– The Prime Minister said that there were 50,000 original shareholders still in Bawra, but that figure represents about 40 per cent. of the original share holders. I do not even admit that there is that number. I ask the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Littleton Groom) to be good enough when he is speaking to substantiate the figures quoted by the Prime Minister, and also to produce the sharelist. It is interesting to note that nine months after the inception of the scheme Sir John Higgins said, “ In time many shareholders may not be wool-growers. The number of share certificates awaiting transfer indicates that the change in ownership will be material and rapid.” In a stock and share report of the 10th April of this year, it is stated that Bawra . shares are changing hands at the rate of 100,000 each week. The official report shows that the shares of 53,000 original holders were purchased in July, 1921.
– It looks like a great gamble.
– It does. Included in a deputation which waited upon the Government a short time ago was a prominent supporter of the Government who is now a member of another place. This gentleman, who is the manager of a large city firm, had a large staff engaged for several days examining the share register. He said that millions of pounds’ worth of these shares had changed hands.
– Do the new shareholders participate ?
– Yes. They, and not thegrowers, will participate in this payment. The number of growers holding shares in Bawra at present is insignificant when compared with the number of wealthy speculators now on the share list. I have a list of the names.
– Why not put it in?
– The list includes such firms as the Australian Mercantile, Land and Finance Company, which holds 195,000 shares, and the Australian Estates and Mortgage Company, which holds 103,000 shares. The name of a gentleman who is a very ardent supporter of the policy advocated by the honorable members occupying the Corner benches, who holds approximately 110,000 shares, is also included.
– What is his name?
– Mr. Edmund Jowett.
– Good luck to him.
– When the honorable member for Echuca says “ Good luck” to the representative of the wealthy squatters, he should also try to bring some good luck to some of the working farmers who have been bought out by Mr. Edmund Jowett and other speculators. Mr. Edmund Jowett cares as much about the small shareholders as the members of the Country party care about the poor farmers when their votes have been cast.
– How could the smaller shareholders be prevented from selling their shares ?
– No fewer than 53,000 of them were forced to sell. Another statement of the Prime Minister displays either a desire to camouflage the whole position or a lack .of knowledge. He said -
The Australian wool-grower had to refund to the British Government an amount not less than £200,000, which the British Government would have paid if it had received wool of certain types and qualities to make up a value equal to an average price of 154d. per lb.
The Prime Minister made that statement, either to camouflage the position, or in ignorance of the whole of the facts ; and, of course, it meant that the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company paid to the Pool only 15^’d. per lb. for the 9,047 ‘ bales. According to the report of the Central Wool Committee for 1920, the Chairman (Sir John Higgins) stated : -
The operations of various companies engaged in the manufacture of wooltops for export are controlled by the Central Wool Committee under agreement with the Commonwealth Government. These companies purchased during the season 10,505,744 lbs. of raw wool; the appraised value was £1,030,057 12s. lid., which averaged 23.29d. per lb. (greasy) ; and the flat-rate value at £1,048,624 2s. Cd., averaging 23.7d. per lb. (greasy).
It is clear, on the report of the Central Wool Committee itself, that the wool was taken by the companies at the appraised price. If there had to be an adjustment involving the payment of £200,000, the amount would have come out of the money which the company paid into the Pool.
– The Prime Minister said it was the appraised price adjusted to the flat rate.
– The point is that the company paid the appraised price for the wool. The adjust ment would be only a matter of Jd. per lb.2 and any payment made to the British Government would come oat of the money that the company paid into the Pool. The testimony contained in the report I have quoted furnishes a complete answer to the Prime Minister’s misstatement. If honorable members had taken the trouble over the week end to look into the Prime Minister’s speech, they would have seen that, from beginning to end, it was a tissue of misrepresentations.
– The Prime Minister did not say 15½d. ; he said the appraised price adjusted to the flat rate.
– The Prime Minister stated that on the adjustment the sum of £200,000 was to be paid. The difference, as he knew, between the appraised price and the price adjusted to the flat rate would be only Jd. per lb., and it would, therefore, be absurd to say that that would account for as large .a sum as £200,000.
– The more the matter is stirred up the worse it becomes.
– Undoubtedly. One has only to read the speech of the Prime Minister to realize that. Any honorable member who contended that his remarks were in any way an answer to the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) would show a desire to serve party interests, and not the interests of the public. By no stretch of the imagination could the speech be regarded as a reply to the charges. It did not touch the fringe of those charges, except in so far as . the Prime Minister pleaded guilty to them. Another important aspect of the case is the significant fact that the price calculated in making this payment was based on London. parity, although in no other contract made by the Central WOOl Committee with any of the wooltops companies was the London parity price demanded in respect of the wool allotted to those COmpanies.
– Not in one case in four years.
– That is so. I shall. call attention to some of the contracts, since this was the only one made with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company by a Prime Minister, the Central Wool Committee having entered into two previous contracts. The basis of the first agreement made by the Central Wool Committee with the “ company was that the Commonwealth Government was to get a percentage of the profits accruing from the sale of wooltops, and a percentage was to be retained by the company. No mention was made of any profits having to be paid to the British Government or to the Pool. The growers were to receive the appraised price. I may say that under another agreement, which was drawn’ up a little later, but which did not materialize, the profits were to be divided between the Commonwealth Government and the company on the basis of 66 per cent, and 33 per cent. In no case, however, did the British Government come into the matter. The arrangement under the other contractwas that the companies had to manufacture the wool into tops on a poundage basis, and there was to be a return to the Pool of a sum equal to the dividend which would have been paid if the wool had been shipped overseas in the ordinary way, and an average price over a period struck. Is it not remarkable that in all the contracts made by the Central Wool Committee for four years the profits were never based on London parity until thiB particular time? That is a statement of fact which I stand by. The proof of it is here for every one to read. It is a most damaging statement, and one that cannot be allowed to go unanswered. Why was a special arrangement made in this case ? What was good enough for the real woolgrowers should surely be good enough for the present wealthy speculators who are now interested. If any persons in this country are entitled to this money, they are the original growers of the wool, and not the speculators who came along and bought them out. Before I sit down I shall make what I regard as a perfectly fair request to the Attorney-General. In my opinion, honorable members should demand that the request shall be acceded to before they are asked to vote upon the motion. We ought to know the terms of the agreement made last October or November, under which the Government agreed to pay this £275,000. To whom was .the cheque paid ? Is there any document existing to prove what was done ? If there is, it should be produced. Was there any stipulation that half of the money should go to the British Government? These are things which we should know before we are asked to vote upon the motion. I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to produce the papers. Was there any instruction by the. Prime Minister, when he arrived at the agreement, that the British Government was, or was not, to get half of the money ? The right honorable gentleman has said that he resisted the claim of the British Government. If he did, and if he intimated that half the money should not be paid to the British Government, the position is that he practically accuses Sir John Higgins of misappropriating the public funds of this country. That is a serious and damaging charge which ought to be answered. Is Sir John Higgins guilty of misappropriating these funds provided out of the public Treasury ? If the statement of the Prime Minister is correct, then, although he resisted the claim of the British Government, the payment of the claim has still been made. That is the only reasonable interpretation of what took place. This is the taxpayers’ money, and there has been a gross misappropriation of it. This is not only a wrong to the taxpayers, but a greater wrong still to the wool-growers, who had the first and only legitimate claim on this money. I have only to point out, in conclusion, that it must be patent to every one that the very wealthy section of this community have never done better than since the Composite Government came into power. It was said of the ancient Egyptian kings that, on the day they started to reign, they also started to prepare their tombs. I think it can also be said of the members of the Country party section of the Ministry that, on the day they consented to the Composite Government arrangement, they started to dig their political graves. Honorable members opposite should getup and answer some of the statements that have been made during this debate. They will certainly have to answer them to their constituents. This one act alone of the present Government is sufficient to condemn it from one end of this country to the other, and the day of retribution is not far off.
– It is to be regretted that the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), following the lead of the other honorable members on the same side, seems to think it essential, every time he rises in this House, to make unjust insinuations against honorable members on this side. Honorable members opposite, without the slightest authority, claim as a sole prerogative the representation of the general mass of the people. I do not suppose that in our public life there is any party that is more sectional than the party opposite. Its whole policy is built upon sectional aims and purposes; but, notwithstanding that, whenever a member of it rises he makes the insinuation against those who are opposed to it that they have only the interests of the rich at heart. It would appear that, whenever something has been done in the interests of those engaged in primary production, the Opposition considers that it must be attacked. It seems to be a part of its policy to set the country against the city, as though their interests were not interwoven, and . they did not form part and parcel of the one community. I do not wish to follow the honorable member for Hume through all the vague statements, rather than charges, that he made. Every statement which the honorable member has made has already been completely answered by the Prime Minister in his speech on Friday last. I do not propose to traverse the same ground. I shall, however, touch upon some points made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), and I hope to assist the House in coming to a just decision in this matter. Certain issues of a very important character have been raised, and certain constitutional principles have been invoked by honorable members opposite, and I shall ask the House to consider this aspect of the matter for a few minutes. The motion of want of confidence purports to make three distinct charges. I propose to deal first with the third. It is -
Making a part payment of £137,696 15s. without parliamentary appropriation.
The charge against the Government is that in making that payment it has acted illegally and unconstitutionally, and should, therefore, be condemned. No authority has. been cited by’ honorable members opposite which sustains their allegation. I want to show honorable members that what has been done in this case is entirely in accordance with’ constitutional practice. It is in accordance also with the law, and what is more, it is in full accordance with the regular practice of this Parliament as followed by past Governments throughout the history of- the Commonwealth. In the first place, what has been done in paying this sum of money out of the Treasurer’s Advance is entirely in accord with Treasury practice, and all the provisions of the Audit Act have been complied with. The payment has been passed absolutely in accordance with the Appropriation Act. I wish to pursue this aspect of the matter in order to satisfy the minds of honorable members, because this is the real gravamen of the charge made by honorable members opposite against the Government. In 1902-3 the Treasurer’s Advance was provided for in the following way. I quote this from the Appropriation Act -
Advance to the Treasurer. To enable the Treasurer to make advances to public officers, and to pay expenses of an unforeseen nature, which will afterwards be submitted for parliamentary appropriation.
In 1903-4 the practice was altered, and I quote from the Appropriation Act of the following year -
Advance to the Treasurer. To enable the Treasurer to make advances to public officers, and to meet expenditure particulars of which will after-yards be included in a parliamentary appropriation.
It will be seen that the reference to “ unforeseen “ expenditure in the previous Act was omitted, and the scope of the Treasurer’s Advance was expressed in wider terms. Apparently this was done because experience of the working of the previous provision showed the necessity for giving the Treasurer wider powers. In the latter form the Treasurer’s Advance has continued up to the present time, and the payment made in this particular instance was made in pursuance of the parliamentary appropriation. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) on Friday last made certain quotations from a very good authority - Todd’s Parliamentary Government in England. He quoted one passage, skipped over another, and then made a further quotation. I want to fill up the blank between the passages the honorable gentleman quoted. It should be remembered that the practice in England differs somewhat from that in Australia. So far as I can ascertain from the Treasury authorities, and I have also looked into* the matter myself, they do not, in England, appear to have a Treasurer’s Advance such as we have. Referring to the practice in England, the
Leader of the Opposition quoted the following passage from Todd: -
The control of the Exchequer over the issues of public money is based upon an admitted principle of our Constitutional system, that no money is legally available for public purposes but that which has been placed at the disposal of Government by Parliament.
I quite agree with that, and Parliament must be guided by that. The passage continues -
The Government, in fact, are unable under the laws now in force to obtain from the Exchequer any money but what is drawn against some specific Parliamentary grant.
Honorable members will see that the principle laid down there is that before money can be legally paid out of the Treasury there must be an appropriation for the purpose. In this particular instance we have followed that practice absolutely. There has been a specific appropriation of £1,500,000. The Governor-General’s warrant was issued, the payment has been made in pursuance of it, and legally it is covered by the parliamentary appropriation. I shall point out presently that even although that is done, and the money is legally paid, it is necessary to come to Parliament again for approval by a further appropriation. That is our parliamentary practice, and it will be followed in this case. This is the passage in Todd which the Leader of the Opposition omitted to read -
It is, therefore, erroneous to suppose that the Government can be absolutely prevented from any misapplication or expenditure in excess of the Parliamentary grant. Even were it possible to do so, it would not be politic to restrain the Government from expending money, under any circumstances, without the previous authority of Parliament. In the words of Mr. Macaulay (Secretary to the Board of Audit), “ Cases must constantly arise in so complicated a system of government as ours, where it becomes the duty of the executive authority, in the exercise of their discretionary powers, boldly to set aside the requirements of the Legislature, trusting to the good sense of Parliament, when all the facts of the case shall have been explained, to acquit them of all blame; and it would be not a public advantage, but a public calamity, if the Government were to be deprived of the means of so exercising their discretionary authority.”
To the same effect, we have a declaration by a Committee of the. House of Commons, that “ in special emergencies expenditure unauthorized by Parliament becomes absolutely essential. In all such cases the executive must take the responsibility of sanctioning whatever immediate urgency requires; and it has never been found that Parliament exhibited any reluctance to supply the means of meeting such expenditure.”
The British practice, therefore, is, under justifiable conditions, to go even against the requirements of the Legislature in order to do the right thing; but, of course, sooner or later, the action of the Government must be submitted for the endorsement of Parliament. I stand very strongly for the principle that Parliament must always have the supreme control, and that all expenditure must be authorized by Parliament beforehand, or if that be not possible, by subsequent parliamentary sanction. We are all agreed upon that principle, and it has not been violated in this case. In the first place the Government’s intention to accept the claim was announced in this House. All along it was known publicly that negotiations for the payment of the money were proceeding. Reference was made to the matter in at least two reports of the Auditor - General. Every one knew that a claim had been submitted, and was being considered, and that the opinion of the then Prime Minister was that something should be done to meet it. There is, therefore, no justification for condemning the Government on the ground that they have violated a constitutional principle, to which honorable members claim the present Prime Minister has pleaded guilty, although they have not been able to show that he has done so. I have shown from the authorities the principles that apply, and I have given the authority under which this particular appropriation was made. It cannot be contended that the money already paid was not paid under a proper legal appropriation, and the Prime Minister has indicated that the balance of the payment will be the subject of a special parliamentary appropriation. That is to say, it will only be paid in accordance with the express authorization of Parliament.
– The Attorney-General is aware that the authority from which he has quoted states that when a transaction of the kind takes place it is the duty of the Leader of the Government immediately Parliament meets to tell the House what has been done.
– It is the duty of the Treasurer to submit a Supplementary Appropriation Bill to cover the expenditure, and that is being done in this case in accordance with the Aus- tralian practice, and in compliance with the wording of the Appropriation Act.
– The authority quoted by the Attorney-General says something different.
– In this Parliament we cannot get a higher authority than one of our own Statutes. Apparently, the English practice differs from ours. The honorable member gave some instances which were questioned in Great Britain, but if he had read further he would have seen on page 19 of Todd -
On 18th February, 1867, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed a vote of £45,721 to defray the cost of buying the Blacas collection of coins and antiquities for the British Museum. Ministers had, in the previous autumn, assumed the responsibility of this purchase, in order to secure this unique and valuable collection for the nation. Under the circumstances, the vote was agreed to, without opposition.
Parliament realized that in such a matter the Government had in the exercise of its responsibility to take executive act1011, and come to Parliament afterwards for an appropriation to cover the expenditure incurred. That case serves . to illustrate the constitutional procedure. It was a transaction that apparently arose in the ordinary course of administration, and had never been mentioned in Parliament. The Government, being of opinion that something ought to be done, took the responsibility of doing it, coming to Parliament afterwards for approval of that step; and Parliament, realizing that it was a proper exercise of responsibility, took no exception to what was done. It was probably a case of emergency, yet the Ministers, in the proper exercise of their judgment, bought the collection of coins and antiques, and afterwards sought parliamentary approval for what they had done. That was the proper constitutional procedure, and nothing that the Commonwealth Government have done in the matter of the payment to the Central Wool Committee is in violation of any recognized constitutional principle, but is, in fact, in accord with the law and with the practice of Parliament. Let us see if there are any cases in the history of this Parliament, or in our Australian experience, to assist us in coming to a decision upon the question at issue to-day. In 1919-20 a grant was made to the Australian Wheat Board. I can hear my friends opposite saying, “ Here is another country matter; here is something more for the fat man.” This money was paid in connexion with the profit earned by the Government on cornsacks. At a certain period during the war, when there was a serious shortage of jute goods, it was feared that the Australian farmers would not be able to secure their wheat, because of the lack of bags. The Commonwealth Government came to the assistance of the farmers by purchasing cornsacks in India, and distributing them to the farmers of Australia at a rate which it was estimated would cover the cost of >purchase and distribution. However, when the transaction was closed, it was found that a profit of £130,000 remained, and on the 20th May, 1920, the then honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) asked - “Whether the profit of £130,000 accruing through the sale by the Government of wheat sacks has yet been paid into the Wheat Pool as promised?
Sir Joseph Cook, who was then Acting Treasurer, replied -
The Commonwealth Bank has to-day been instructed to pay to the Australian Wheat Board the whole profit, viz., £130,036.
It was probably a coincidence that the honorable member asked this question on the very day on which this money was authorized to be paid over, but here was an enterprise in which the Government had made a profit; the money was available, and was paid over to the Wheat Board out of the Treasurer’s Advance, and later on the payment was covered by a parliamentary appropriation in Supplementary Estimates. The case was similar to what is being done in connexion with ‘ the Central Wool Committee’s claim, the only difference being that, in the case of the wheatsacks, profits were made, whereas in the other case it has been questioned whether any profits were made at all; but, nevertheless, a moral claim was considered to exist. On the occasion of the payment to the Australian Wheat Board, no” censure motion was moved. It may have been that honorable members realized that it would have been unpopular to attack the farmers, but possibly they acquiesced in what had been done because it was in accordance with proper parliamentary practice. I do not suppose that the payment to the Central Wool Committee would have been made a constitutional issue if it had not been for something that has happened outside this House. However, as we are dealing with a matter of principle, and not with the actual amount of money paid, let us take a survey of the. past to see how often similar things have been done in this Parliament. In 1908-9 £16,600 was paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, this amount being equivalent to cable fees which would have been collected by the company if a reduced rate had not been charged upon the Tasmanian service. Later on’ that advance was covered by parliamentary appropriation. A Labour Government was in power at the time, and recognized very properly how necessary it was to give immediate relief to the people of Tasmania, and afterwards come to Parlia- ment for approval of the action taken in the exercise of their responsibility. The same principle applies in the case brought before the House by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). In the same year, £10,000 was very properly paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance to sufferers in a disastrous earthquake in Sicily. In 1910-11, £5,000 was loaned to the Administration of Papua, £2,000 was contributed to the Bolton Colliery Disaster Fund, and £1,500 was .paid to Burns, Philp and Company for special services in the South Sea Islands. All of these payments were made without specific parliamentary appropriation other than the. Treasurer’s Advance, and yet it was considered quite proper to make them. In 1912-13, £2,500 was given to the Mount Lyell Disaster Fund. I am pick- ing out a few figures at random. In 1915-16, when a Labour Government was in office, and the output of gold was controlled by the Government, a purchase of gold was made in order to distribute it to working . jewellers. In this way £11,699 was paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance to afford relief to men engaged in industry. In the same year, £41,971 was paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance to the Administration of the late German Possessions in the Pacific for the purpose of making advances to traders and for other purposes. The Government took the responsibility of making this advance.
– That was during war time.
– The principle is the same whether it was in war time or peace time. There was no war in progress between 1908 and 1913, when other payments were made out of the Treasurer’s Advance. In 1919-20, £23,980 was paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance to give relief to sufferers from the maritime strike then in progress, yet honorable members opposite say that the Government would not give money to assist people engaged industrially.
– An announcement was made in the press at the time that the money was paid.
– And the payment to the Central Wool Committee was announced in the press at the time it was made.
– Nothing of the sort; the Government suppressed the information.
– The honorable member is making reckless statements with an utter carelessness as to whether they are true or false. I have with me a copy of the newspaper in which the announcement was made, and the honorable member can see it if he wishes to do so. On another occasion £10,000 was given to Sir Ross Smith for his air flight to Australia. That money was paid out of Treasurer’s Advance without other specific prior parliamentary appropriation. Honorable members will, therefore, see that what we have done is entirely in harmony with practice,, and with the past actions of Labour and other Ministers in following the proper parliamentary procedure. If it was right for them to do what they did, why is it wrong for this Government ? What is the difference between the two? The Treasurer’s Advance is clearly entitled to be used by a Treasurer to meet not only any deficiency of funds in a Government Department, but also emergencies, unforeseen claims, and certain expenditure which may be incurred by the Government in the belief that Parliament will endorse its action. I shall now proceed to judge- the value of the next point respecting the claim.
– Was this a case of emergency or urgency?
– It was a payment of a just claim. I have given honorable members numerous cases in which a similar course was fallowed by Labour Ministers. Why was the payment to the Eastern Extension
Company treated as an emergency claim? Could not that company have waited some little time for payment 1 The Opposition, to suit its own purpose, term a case either one of urgency or one of emergency. No one can claim that this money has been illegally paid, and that the Government has not fairly and impartially followed the proper parliamentary procedure. I shall now take that portion of the indictment which charges the Government with entering into agreements without consulting Parliament. Cannot an Executive enter into any agreement without consulting Parliament ? If the Executive of the day could not enter into any contracts relating to the Public Department without obtaining in each individual case the express sanction of Parliament, obviously it would be quite impossible to carry on the Government of Australia. It cannot be laid down as a general proposition that no agreement binding the Commonwealth can be entered into without being specifically mentioned in Parliament. Of course, we know that general appropriations . . and votes take place. There is an executive authority to carry out contracts under the general appropriation. This is done constantly. Where new matters of policy are involved in contracts they are subsequently taken to Parliament for ratification. Agreements are often made subject to ratification by Parliament. Honorable members will recall the oil agreement, and also the wireless agreement, where the latter contract was referred to a Parliamentary Committee, and the contract later proceeded with. In the case of the Australian Wheat Board, the matter was mentioned in Parliament, and honorable members informed, the Executive taking all the responsibility for its action. That has happened in this particular case. Since the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) made a promise in this House that the wool -growers would get relief, no honorable member has raised any objection to it. Why has the Opposition chosen this time to object to the fulfilment of a promise which was made on the floor of this House, and the equity of which had been admitted 1
– That is not so. Parliament has not had an opportunity to consider the claim.
– The equity of the claim was admitted by the Executive of the day.
– The exPrime Minister said so. I ask the honorable member to read the question asked in this House by Mr. Rodgers, and the reply.
Honorable members interjecting -
– I shall take action shortly to prevent further interjections.
– The question was asked whether the Government were prepared to allow to the Australian wool-growers, in respect of wool supplied to the Colonial Combing, Spin-, ning and Weaving Company, under contract for the manufacturing of wooltops, the same share of profits as if that wool had formed part of the wool sold to the Imperial Government. The answer of the ex-Prime Minister was “ Yes.” It is perfectly clear that the House had knowledge of the Government’s intention to settle the claim. The Executive very properly took the responsibility of carrying out that promise. That is the legal and constitutional position, and it will be for honorable members, wb -“> the Supplementary Estimates are before them, to approve or disapprove of the action of the Government. In this case, the honorable member for Yarra, by challenging the Government on an immediate vote, has rather anticipated the ordinary procedure. Throughout, the Government have acted quite in accord with parliamentary procedure and precedent, exactly as the Opposition would have done had it been in power.
– There is no compulsion in this matter. I can assure the Minister that T, for one, would not have consented to such a course.
– It is certainly not compulsory; but parliamentary practice is, to some extent, a matter of discretion. Any Government in power would have felt itself in duty bound to carry out the promise of the previous Government.
– I should have felt that it was quite wrong.
– It is a matter of opinion. We have the right to follow parliamentary practice, and the
Government has been challenged because it has exercised that right - the Opposition contending that the Government acted unconstitutionally. The honorable member for Yarra raised a third point, respecting the merits of the agreement. The motion is : -
That this House strongly condemns the Government for its action in agreeing to pay out of public revenue . . . . a claim that had neither legal nor moral support.
I think that honorable members are satisfied that that charge has been completely met by the Prime Minister, who pointed out very fully the equity of this case. The claim waspressed by the representatives of the growers as a legal claim. It was pointed out, with justice, that, in this particular instance, the wool was diverted from its natural channel, that the woolgrowers had been deprived of profits which, under ordinary circumstances, would have accrued to them, and that they claimed a sum to which, according to the wool scheme agreement, they thought they were entitled. The Government recognized the equity of the claim, and as a compromise, came to an agreement, the details of which have been published and stated fully in this House by the Prime Minister. Honorable members are now in a position to judge the equity of the agreement. It has been stated that the British Government did not make any claim in this matter. Sir John Higgins, the Chairman of the Central Wool Committee, was, with the consent and acquiescence of the Commonwealth Government, appointed by the British Government as theirrepresentative on the Committee. He pressed on behalf of the British authorities a claim both verbally and in written communication with the Department.
– For Great Britain?
– On the authority of those controlling the wool sold in the United Kingdom. He made his claim on certain grounds, which were resisted by the Prime Minister. The claim ultimately conceded was 50 per cent. of the profits. This is perfectly clear, as is shown in the agreement arrived at in the correspondence.
– Will the Minister bring before the House the claim made by the wool people in England?
– We have not got the correspondence between Sir J ohn Higgins and the British authorities. The claim was made by representation, and was resisted.
– We dispute that. The Minister must prove his statement.
– The claim was resisted, and ultimately 50 per cent. of the profits was allowed to the wool-growers. In doing that, the Government acted fairly and equitably. I have clearly shown that the grounds upon which the Opposition attack was based are absolutely baseless. The claim was not paid without a parliamentary appropriation, and the Government followed the proper constitutional procedure. It has acted justly to those who, for years, were deprived of rights to which they claim that they were entitled. Under those circumstances honorable members will have little difficulty in coming to the conclusion that the motion should be rejected.
.- The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) fully justified and supported the charges that he made against this Government of the misappropriation of money to meet the claim made on behalf of the wool-growers and the Imperial Government. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), in reply, said that the first paragraph of the motion, which declares that the Government have paid out £137,695 15s. without parliamentary appropriation may be dismissed at once. But it cannot be lightly dismissed, simply because this payment was made out of the Treasurer’s Advance. The Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom) has endeavoured to justify the payment by citing a number of cases which took place in Great Britain. This House is concerned not with what has taken place in another part of the Empire, but with the affairs of this country and the methods of administration adopted by the Commonwealth Government. The Attorney-General has said that the Opposition at all times attack any proposal of the Government which is likely to benefit the primary producers. Let me remind him and the Government supporters that members of the Labour party are just as concerned with and considerate of the welfare of the primary producers as they are. But as we are mindful of our responsibility as custodians of the public purse, we cannot justify the claim made on behalf of the woolgrowers and the Imperial Government, half of which has already been paid. The Prime Minister agreed with the honorable member for Yarra that the British Government had no claim for one-half of the amount, and stated that the claim was rejected; but, quibbling about the issue, he said that the amount had been paid to the British Government by the Central Wool Committee. The Prime Minister and his supporters must admit that, in respect of this claim, one-half of £137,695 has been paid to the British Government, and believing as I do that there was no moral or legal claim to the amount, I am at a loss to understand why payment was made. In the circumstances, the Government and Parliament should insist upon the Central Wool Committee preserving the rights and interests of the Australian wool-growers, instead of allowing that Committee to distribute to the Imperial Government £137,695 which the Prime Minister himself admits is not justifiable. Payment certainly must have been made at the expense of Australian wool-growers. The former Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) rejected the original claim for £398,000 in respect of 13,887 bales. That claim was afterwards amended. Sir John Higgins, the chairman of the Central Wool Committee and of Bawra, submitted a claim on behalf not only of the Australian wool-growers, but also of the Imperial Government, but as it was unacceptable to the ex-Prime Minister, it was rejected. The present Prime Min’ister (Mr. Bruce) now tells us that there has been some compromise. We know, as a matter of fact, that one-half of the amount has been paid. The chairman of the Central Wool Committee protested to the ex-Prime Minister regarding the taking of 9,047 bales from the Pool for the purposes of wooltops manufacture, declaring that the allocation of an abnormal supply- of wool at appraised prices affected the interests of the wool-growers and the Imperial Government. Mr. Hughes replied that there was nothing abnormal in the amount of wool affected by the agreement, and added -
But even if the’ amount were much larger ;the British Government would have no cause of complaint. The British Government has only purchased the surplus over Australia’s requirements, and whatever those requirements are, the wool allotted to them is something to which the British Government has no claim.
The “abnormal” supply of wool referred to by Sir John Higgins represented onesixth of 1 per cent, of the entire Wool Pool, or about ^ per cent, of the clip from which the 9,047 bales were taken. Sir John Higgins, as_ chairman of the Central Wool Committee and also of Bawra, showed great concern for the interests of the Imperial Government. I should like honorable members to follow me, and see to what extent the Imperial Government benefited as the result of the purchase of the Australian wool clip during the four years 1916 to 1920. The total clip was sold for £153,000,000, and the profit arising from the sale of that wool was over £75,000,000. Great Britain was entitled under the scheme to 50 per cent, of the profits, and has received the best part of her share, namely, over £37,000,000. The British Government paid 15Jd. per lb., and issued the wool to the manufacturers, not only of Great Britain, but also of Allied Nations, for the supply of naval and military equipment at that price, plus 85 per cent., the whole oi which profit was retained by the Imperial authorities. The Australian wool-growers received not one penny of it. Evidently Sir John Higgins was so concerned for the interests of the Imperial Government and in keeping the fellmongering establishments of Great Britain fully employed, that he undertook to ship from Australia 4,000 bales of sheepskins per month, with the result that the Australian fellmongering industry languished. In Great Britain, that industry was de-controlled in June, 1918, but owing to the influence of Sir John Higgins, the industry in Australia was not de-controlled until 1920, or two years later. The Imperial Government have been treated generously, and with every consideration. They have received £376,940 as a rebate on account of the lower quality wool delivered to Great Britain, as a result of superior wools being selected for the manufacture of wooltops in Australia. This generosity suggests a reason. We know that Sir Arthur Goldfinch, Chairman of Bawra in Great Britain, demanded and was paid a salary of £10,000 per annum, and that Sir John Higgins, as Chairman of the Central Wool Committee and later, as Chairman of Bawra, so arranged the business that, in his absence, the members of the Central Wool Committee agreed to pay him a salary of £10,000 per annum free of State and Federal income taxation. If his salary had been subject to taxation, the New South Wales income tax payable by him would have been £1,058 6s. 8d., and the Federal tax £2,046 3s.1d., so that instead of getting £10,000 per annum he was paid the equivalent of £13,104.
– He gives half of it away.
– The fact is that he receives that amount, and I doubt if Sir John Higgins gives away an amount equalling the remissions made to him in income taxation. During the war the honour of knighthood was conferred upon him. I am wondering if behind Sir John Higgins’ great concern for the Imperial Government there is the hope that one day he will be known as Lord Higgins of Chillagoe. Turning now to the wooltops case, I remind honorable members that Mr. Justice Higgins, in delivering judgment in the wooltops case in 1922, said, referring to the question of profits -
The legal position of the Government as to the money is expressly stated in the agreement - the money was to be” at the disposal of the Commonwealth Government’ (clause 7), at all times to be disposed of as the Commonwealth Government shall direct.”
In the light of that judgment the Government cannot contend that this payment of £275,000 is an authorized appropriation, and that it should not go to the people to whom it belongs. Where is the parliamentary authority for the payment of this amount? The mere fact that there is in the Treasurer’s Advance account sufficient to meet the claim is no justification for its payment without parliamentary authority. Parliament should have been consulted before one penny was paid. The matter was not urgent. The claim had been pending for several years, and a settlement was agreed upon, behind the back of Parliament, after it adjourned last year. I am inclined to the opinion that payment has been made as the result of the influenceof the Country party members with the Composite Ministry. The Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom) just now endeavoured to show that in a number of similar cases the British Government had made certain payments, quoting as one instance, the purchase of a collection of antiques for the British Museum. What bearing that has on the payment in question I am at a loss to understand. We are not concerned about payments made by the British Government. Our concern is with matters a little nearer home, and I remind honorable members of what happened in New South Wales about 25 years ago. The Reid Government commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Neild to visit Great Britain to make inquiries into the question of old-age pensions. LieutenantColonel Neild, in the course of his inquiries, incurred expenditure to the amount of £400, which the Reid Government paid without first obtaining parliamentary approval. The matter was then brought up in Parliament, with the result that the Reid Government was defeated on the ground only that the money had been paid without parliamentary authority. Lieutenant-Colonel Neild’s report met with the entire approval of the New South Wales Parliament, and I dare say that much of our present legislation dealing with old-age pensions is based upon his recommendations. I am more concerned with that case than with the one in Great Britain quoted by the Attorney-General. Honorable members on this side of the House are more concerned with how the people of Australia view the action of this Government in paying out a huge amount of money without parliamentary authority, than with the details of some other case in Great Britain. We recognize our responsibilities as custodians of the public purse, and we feel sure thatwhen the time comes for the electors to review this matter, they will speak with no uncertain voice. Who are participating in this huge gift? Are they the 53,000 woolgrowers who were paid off from Bawra? Certainly not; but they are the representatives of those interests for which the Government appears to feel so much concern. They are not the 53,000 small growers, nor the small men on the land, for whom the members of the Country party profess so much sympathy, but they are the men who boodled during the war, who made huge profits, and who were able, by possessing inside information, to buy up Bawra shares from which they are now reaping a rich harvest. When this payment was being made, the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) was touring Australia urging people to invest their money in the War Gratuity Redemption Loan, and his campaign organizer, acting, no doubt, under the instructions of the Treasurer, referred to the investment as a “ golden nest egg.” Could there be a better nest egg than the sum of £275,000 to be paid to the Central Wool Committee, half of which will go to the speculators in Bawra shares and the other half to the Imperial Government, which has no claim whatsoever? Those who are participating in this payment are the members of the big pastoral companies and the large leaseholders - those people, in short, for whom the Government showed great concern last year, when it brought forward the outrageous proposal to remit land taxation for the previous six years, although it would not make retrospective a 2s. 6d. increase to old-age pensioners. The payment will benefit the speculators and those who, having friends on the Central Wool Committee, knew that huge profits lay ahead. Members of the committee knew what money was in hand, and what profits were likely to be made, and while, on the one hand, they were urging the small people to sell out, they were, on the other, advising their friends to buy in with a view to reaping a rich harvest later. They are reaping their harvest, and the Government is determined to see that’ their interests are adequately protected. The same people are catered for by the. Government in the Northern Territory Crown Lands Bill. The wealthy pastoral interests can be seen in all the Government’s activities. It is deplorable that a section of the community should have so much influence over a Government as reflected by the many legislative acts designed to assist these wealthy interests. While the Treasurer was urging returned soldiers to invest in the War Gratuity Redemption Loan, returned soldier woolgrowers, who were included in the 53,000 Bawra shareholders to whom I have referred, were being paid off by the schemers, intriguers, and boodleiers. The Government has paid the money, not because the Prime Minister and some of his colleagues believe the claim to be just, but because of the influence of the Country party, and of the people that the Country party represents and from whom party funds are received. This has forced it to pay. I studied the Prime
Minister when he was making his weak reply on Friday afternoon last, and I am convinced that he spoke truthfully when he said that he was opposed to paying the money. It is obvious that there are at work strong influences to which he had to yield. I sympathize with him in his predicament, which is another illustration of the ineffectiveness of the Composite Government. The people, when the opportunity comes to them, will sweep aside the Country party, whose actions, in every instance, have been retrogressive. The Prime Minister made a number of references to wooltops companies, and amongst other things he said -
At the present moment I do not propose to say very much regarding the financial results actually obtained by the company, but it is extraordinary that, having received” wool at this very favorable price, and having sold its exported tops in markets where good prices were ruling - it was later when the tremendous slump in wool occurred - :it made no profits.
He suggested that the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company had made profits which it had not disclosed. He said it was extraordinary that the other wooltops companies, Whiddon Brothers and the Yarra Falls Spinning Company, made profits, while the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company did not. Under the 1920 agreement provision was made for the appointment of a Government auditor, and Mr. G. Mason Allard, public accountant, of Sydney, was appointed. That gentleman has the complete confidence ‘ of every section of the community. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) made the same suggestion as that put forward by the Prime Minister, and I therefore have every justification for asking whether the auditor has presented a report to the Government. Has he given a certificate that the balance-sheets of the company are correct? Parliament has a right to know whether the terms of the contract have been carried out, whether the affairs of the company are considered by the auditor to be satisfactory, and whether true statements of accounts have been rendered to the Government by the company. Honorable members have not been able to get the information. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) tried to obtain certain documents, but could not do so. Every credit is due to him for the excellent way in which he presented and substantiated his case, although unable to get possession of important files.
– I direct attention to the state of the House, and particularly to the fact that there is not one Minister present.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Bayley). There is a quorum present.
– The agreement with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company was entered into in M’arch, 1920, when, as the honorable member for Yarra pointed out, the price of wool had reached a peak. It was not until the 6th April that the company was able to start the manufacture of wooltops. After a period of idleness extending over almost nineteen months, it had to do a lot of re-organizing to get its staff ready for the operation of combing. Wooltops were then 172d. per lb., but the price rapidly fell until in July, 1920, they were 97d. per lb., and in December, 1920, were from 54d. per lb. Under the terms of the agreement every prospective sale of wooltops by the company had to be submitted to the Government for approval, and that stipulation resulted in considerable delay and the loss of many sales. The other wooltops companies, working under a different agreement to that of the Colonial Combing, Spin-‘ ning and Weaving Company, were able to make profits by selling in advance on a rising market. The Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company could npt do that, because it did not know before March, 1920, that it could proceed with the manufacture of tops. Immediately after the manufacture of wooltops was commenced the price of wool fell considerably, and as a result of the hamstringing of the company by the clauses of the agreement, it was unable to deal in a businesslike and expeditious way with its sales. I am informed that the company made a loss of over ?43,000 during the period covered by the agreement.
– Was not this wooltops factory closed for twelve months?
– It was closed for nearly nineteen months, at a time when the Central Wool Committee insisted upon 4,000. bales of dry sheep skins being exported to the Imperial Government and worked up in Great Britain instead of. providing employment for the workers in this country. The company wanted to use the fellmongered wool from its own sheep skins, and it claimed that it could much more satisfactorily manage its affairs if it were permitted to use that wool. The Central Wool Committee and the Government refused to allow the company to use fellmongered wool, and, consequently, it had to secure over 9,000 bales from the Pool. In 1918-19 the company supplied 7,000 bales, and in 1919-20 9,000 bales of fellmongered wool to the Pool, whilst . at the same time it was compelled to select an equal number . of . bales from the Pool. That shows how ridiculous was the policy of compelling the company to purchase wool from the Pool for the manufacture of tops while not allowing it to work up its own fellmongered wool. I ask the Minister to acquaint the House with the contents of the auditor’s report. The company has not been treated fairly, and the suggestion that it made aprofit, but did not disclose it, is particularly unfair. Under a clause in the agreement, Mr. Mason Allard was appointed to investigate all the operations of the company in connexion with the manufacture of wooltops, and the House has every right to know the contents of his report. In fairness to Australian manufacturers, and particularly to this wooltops company, the contents of the auditor’s report should be made public. I do not expect any honorable member opposite to support the motion. My brief experience in this Chamber has shown -me that honorable members of the Country party are prepared to justify practically anything. They have failed to protect the interests of the wool-growers, as, apparently, they were not disposed to prevent this ?68,000 being paid to the Imperial Government - which, as far as we know, has not submitted a claim for a share in the disbursement. If a claim has been made, the Government should publish it. When the remaining half of the ?275,000 is paid, the Imperial Government is to receive another ?68,000. The Government’s purposes are better served by keeping Parliament in the dark than by allowing the searchlight of publicity to illuminate these matters.
It is amusing to recall many of the statements that were made by the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page.) before he attained to Cabinet rank. He, and other members of the Country party, proclaimed their intention to secure the restoration of responsible government, and to see that Parliament retained control of the public purse. In this matter, the Government agreed to pay £275,000 to the Central Wool Committee before it obtained parliamentary sanction for the payment. Honorable members opposite countenance that arrangement, yet they endeavour to create the impression that they are anxious to keep a tight grip on the public purse. It is a regrettable position, and I feel certain that when the opportunity offers the electors will sweep honorable members of the Country party into political oblivion and remove the Prime Minister and his followers from the Treasury bench.
.- In this matter there are three issues that require examination. Before dealing with these, however, I wish to refer to certain statements of the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley), which, if allowed to go unchallenged, may leave the impression that the Government are responsible for matters that are altogether outside its purview. The honorable member for Cook spoke at considerable length regarding the salary and emoluments of the chairman of Bawra. Reading his speech, one would probably come to the conclusion that the Government was responsible for that gentleman’s salary.
Mr.Fenton. - How has he secured immunity from income tax in respect to his salary ?
– There is no immunity and it is not the concern of the Government, or of any individual outside Bawra, if the wool-growers of Australia agree to give Sir John Higgins a salary of £10,000, and, in addition, to pay the income tax upon that salary. In no sense can the Government be held responsible, and therefore it does not, on that account, merit censure. I am not entirely in accord with the actions of the Government in this matter. That, however, will hot affect the direction in which I shall cast my vote on this motion. I, with others, compliment the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) on the excellent manner in which he presented his case. There are three issues which appear to me to be worthy of consideration. The first is, was the claim made by Bawra for £275,393, representing the value of the wool sold to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, a just one ? Secondly, was the Government justified in making this payment before submitting the matter to Parliament? Thirdly - and on this I join issue with the. honorable member for Yarra - did the action of the Government aid the speculator in Bawra shares on the Stock Exchange? I find that the report of Bawra, which, fortunately, has just been issued, contains the following paragraph : -
The . fact that such compromise has been mutually agreed upon was published in the leading newspapers on 5th October, 1923.
I understand that that publication was made immediately after the Government had arrived at its decision. We can, therefore, dismiss any suggestion that the making of this payment may have aided stock jobbers on the Stock Exchange.
– That was not the point which I made.
– The honorable member did not say so; but, in view of the statements made by other honorable members, I desire to remove any impression that may have been created, that the action of the Government had that effect. If publication of the Government’s intentions had been withheld for some considerable time after the information was in the possession of persons who were interested in Bawra shares, they would certainly have been able to use that knowledge to advance their own interests. The fact that the publication was made immediately must remove any doubt on the point taken by the honorable member for Yarra.
– I made no suggestion of that character. I say it benefited those persons who held Bawra shares but who were not wool-growers.
– Naturally, the decision of the. Government benefited Bawra. I do not propose to argue the justness or unjustness of this claim; that matter, I think, was fully and fairly explained by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). Unless he had before him the whole of the facts, no honorable member could state with certainty the amount that should have been paid. The agreement made between the British Government and the Commonwealth Government for the purchase of our wool was a magnificent one for the Australian people.
– It was also a good one for the British Government.
– Not at the time it was made. The honorable member must remember that frequently the suggestion was made that enormous quantities of that wool should be dumped in the sea, that it should be burnt, or otherwise disposed of, in order to maintain the existing prices.
– Those suggestions were not made at the time the agreement was entered into.
– It was a considerable period after the agreement was made, and long after a lot of the wool had been paid for. Honorable members seem to forget that after this wool was purchased the Imperial Government authorized the Commonwealth Government to use within Australia whatever quantity was required for local manufactures. Is this another attempt at repudiation ?
– The honorable member has no right to say that. There has been no suggestion of repudiation. We want the Government to stand by the contract, but it is breaking it.
– The honorable member is not standing by the agreement.
– The British Government had no say in regard to wool sold for local manufacture, yet it is sharing in this payment.
– Does the honorable member contendthat “ local manufacture ‘ ‘ includes the making of wooltops ?
– Most emphatically I do.
– The British Government at the time cabled the Australian Prime Minister admitting that that was so.
– The honorable member has a very weird imagination. A number of honorable members opposite are under the impression that the British Government had no right to any profits made from the sale of the wool. That Government came to our assistance when it purchased our wool and our wheat. It is remarkable that those who have no monetary interest in this matter are mak ing so much noise about it, yet the growers of the wool, who are likely to benefit from the agreement, are very well satisfied with what has been done. This trouble is being fomented by honorable members who are not associated in any way with, and have not the backing of, the wool-growers.
– Only those wool-growers who were not pushed out of Bawra are satisfied.
– There is not the slightest doubt that this payment was justified. The question then is, should Parliament have been first informed in order that it should have had an opportunity to express an opinion on the matter ? I intend to vote with the Government on this motion.
– We did not expect the honorable member to act differently.
– During the war Governments were compelled to take upon themselves very grave responsibilities. I think Ministers realize that unless the matter is one of very grave urgency, parliamentary approval must be obtained before any payment is made. Every honorable member should firmly demand that the Parliament should control public expenditure. I am prepared to give the Government wide powers to deal with matters of grave urgency; but no one can claim that this payment comes within that category. I do not think the Prime Minister himself contends that this was an urgent matter. I have not the slightest doubt that a mistake has been made in the handling of this matter. At the conclusion of the negotiations, if it were not possible to await the presentation of the Estimates, an intimation should have been given to this Parliament that it was the intention of the Government to make this payment. Honorable members, if they desired, could then have taken action to stay the hand of the Government. In many cases the Government is justified in taking upon itself the responsibility for making such payments, and the House later approves of its action. When the rinderpest outbreak occurred in Western Australia, the Government could not wait for Parliament to sanction expenditure to combat the disease. Had it delayed the taking of remedial measures the result might have been disastrous to the whole of Australia. It was justified in the action it then took, and I am sure that Parliament will give its approval. In this case, however, there was no urgency, and the Government could have afforded to wait for parliamentary approval of the proposed expenditure. I have given this matter very careful consideration, and have followed the incidents associated with it right through. There is not the slightest doubt that the Government was justified in paying to Bawra the price that the wool would have brought over and above the price paid for it by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company.
– Would you say that the promise meant London parity ?
– No; the value. I draw the attention of honorable members to the first agreement made with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company by the present chairman of Bawra, Sir John Higgins. It provided that the company should be entitled to 33^ per cent, of the profits, such profits to be free of war-time profits tax.- I do not know what caused the breakdown of that- agreement
– A dispute arose.
– I am not fully conversant with the details, but I know that a second agreement was made, under which the profits were to be only 20 per cent.
– The profits were to be 50 per cent, under the second agreement, and a third agreement was made which provided for profits of 20 per cent.
– In view of the fact that other companies were making large profits out of their wool dealings, it is extraordinary that the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, with all its experience, could not do the same.
– Sir John Higgins was opposed to the company all through.
– The reason of the company’s failure to make a profit is simple. It bought when the price of wool was high, just before the slump began.
– There may be a reasonable explanation. I do not make any charge against the company. I simply say that it seems extraordinary that it was not able to make any profit. I hope to get further information on this aspect of the matter. I do not want to see it hung up for too long. Such matters seem to hang fire for a long while in some cases. That has been the case with the Kidman a>nd
Mayoh contract, which has been allowed to remain unsettled for altogether too long. It is absolutely clear that the Government was justified in making the arrangement it did with Bawra. The compromise effected saved the Government a large amount. Had Bawra pressed for a fair claim under the original contract I think it would have got much more. I am quite in accord with the terms of the settlement and, as a public announcement was made at the time, I do not think it caused any share jobbing. The only fault I have to find with the Government is that it did not withhold payment until an announcement was made to Parliament. The Government was remiss in its duty in this respect. We should all make perfectlyclear our insistence that on all matters of public expenditure, except those necessary in consequence of grave urgency, Parliament should be consulted. To a certain extent the Government is open to censure for its failure to acquaint Parliament of its intentions in this matter. I disapprove of it having paid the money without consulting Parliament, but I think it was quite justified in making the arrangement, and therefore I shall vote against the motion.
.- I preface my remarks on the motion by intimating my concern that the Government should treat the House with such scant courtesy when so serious a charge is being laid against it. We have actually had only one Minister sitting in the chamber most of this afternoon, and at one time not even one Minister was in attendance. I have no desire to be offensive to the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart), but I am obliged to say that he is a minor member of the Government, and the House has a right to expect the attendance of the Minister actually responsible for these transactions, while the matter is under discussion. Not only has scant attention been shown by the Ministers, but the supporters of the Government, generally speaking, have adopted a similar attitude. They have proved that they are prepared to support the Government at all costs, irrespective of the public wrongs it may commit. Sooner or later, however, they will have to answer to their constituents for this serious disregard of duty. Those who heard the Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom) speak this afternoon must have recognized that he was labouring under a great difficulty. He endeavoured to cloud the important issues involved in this charge by discussing constitutional procedure, which had very little, if any, relation to the matter. He endeavoured, but altogether failed, to show that the Government’s action was based on sound practice. .1 do not think he convinced any one, not even himself, that he presented a logical and complete answer to the accusations made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). That he quoted a list of amounts which have been expended out of Treasurer’s Advance showed how poverty stricken’ he was for arguments. His lengthy list of amounts which have been expended on occasions of emergency and urgency covered advances on account of mining disasters, unemployed relief, assistance to shipping companies, and assistance to the State of Tasmania, which has been labouring under great financial difficulties, and the claims of which are urgent. This list of advances was given to prove that the procedure of the Government in respect of the .payment to Bawra was in keeping with parliamentary principles and practice, but by no stretch of the imagination is it possible to reconcile it with the other payments mentioned by the honorable gentleman. His case was weak indeed, and no one who knows anything about parliamentary procedure and practice will give him credit for the view he propounded from the constitutional stand-point. It is regrettable that the authorities quoted by him are not available for other honorable members to consult. They could then examine closely the arguments he advanced. It is sufficient for me to remind honorable members of a reference made by the Leader of the Opposition to the same authority as that quoted by the Attorney-General this afternoon. That authority is emphatic ‘ that when an amount has been expended out of Treasurer’s Advance it is the duty of the Leader of the Government or the Minister entrusted with the duty of representing the Government in the House to make known to the House the reasons for and the amount incurred in such expenditure. That requirement has not been complied with in this case, and though the Attorney-General endeavoured to evade the issue he cannot clear the Government of the charge that it has not observed what is commonly regarded as the proper constitutional practice in respect to the payment of such sums, and particularly such a large sum as that involved in this case. The intention to make such a payment should certainly have been reported to Parliament. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has admitted that the payment cannot be regarded as having any claims to urgency, nor was it a matter of urgency. The case presented by the AttorneyGeneral crumbled of its own weight, and the important fact remains that the Government has not observed ordinary parliamentary practice. I am at a loss to understand how the Attorney-General can hope that he has convinced honorable members, and also the public, that the Government acted properly. His conduct, however, is not more inconsistent than that of the honorable member for Swan, who admitted that the case presented to the House by the honorable member for Yarra was proved in respect of two main issues, namely, that this amount has been expended in what must be regarded as an irregular manner, and that the basis on which the amount was arrived at was wrong. Though the honorable member for Swan admitted both those charges, and is thus practically converted to the view of the mover of the motion, he is not prepared to stand by his convictions and vote against the Government. His action merits, and I have no doubt will receive, the disapproval of the electors in his constituency. Other honorable members who take the same stand will also doubtless hear an emphatic declaration from their constituents that they have not conserved the best interests of the country in endorsing the Government’s action. I have followed this debate with considerable interest and concern. I was much impressed by the well-reasoned argument and irresistible logic of the honorable member for Yarra. Even the Prime Minister admitted that that honorable member had put his case in a fair and truthful manner; and he also admitted that he agreed with certain views expressed by the mover of the motion, particularly with reference to the alleged claim by the British Government.
I have carefully studied the Prime Minister’s speech of Friday last, in which he repeatedly expressed his strong belief that no payment to the British Government would be justified. In that he is in agreement with the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). Yet he is the head of the Government which has paid this amount in which the British Government has participated. How has the British Government become possessed of a share of this amount t
– Through generosity from unexpected quarters.
– It shows the generosity of the Bawra people.
– I represent an important constituency, and am expected to do my part to conserve the welfare of the public of Australia. We should be able to justify our expenditure from time to time. But can the payment of this amount be justified 1 No statement yet made in this House has justified it. The Government have not been able even to convince themselves. The ‘Prime Minister admitted that the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Yarra were absolutely sound and logical, and well founded. He said that the Government paid the money to the Australian growers, but it was paid to the Central Wool Committee,, who acted as agents for the Government. The Prime Minister said -
The honorable member for Yarra was incorrect in saying that we had paid this money to tho British Government. We have not paid, the British Government a penny. We absolutely rejected the claim made on their behalf, and said we would not pay it. We paid the money to the Australian wool-growers, and they, rightly or wrongly, in the exercise of their own generous spirit, paid half of it to the British Government. But the Commonwealth Government has nothing to do with that.
– The wool-growers were never consulted.
– As the Central Wool Committee, in this transaction, acted as agents for the Government, and as it was to that body that this sum of £137,696 was paid, I want to know if any agreement as to the disbursement of this amount was prepared. Was there any understanding as to who should receive the money? If there was an agreement, it should be produced for the information of honorable members. There is justification for serious suspicion in connexion with this matter, and I cannot understand the atti tude of honorable members on the other side who are prepared to allow things to remain as they are, instead of using every effort to have the documents placed before us. This House should be informed whether there was an agreement. If no agreement exists, that is proof of the incapacity of the Government: If there was an agreement, then, according to the statement of the Prime Minister, it must have expressly excluded the British Government from any participation in the amount paid. In that case, what is the position of the Central Wool Committee? We have a right to call on them for an explanation of their action. I can hardly conceive of a Government, paying over a cheque for £137,696 without seeing that the interests of those whom they desired to receive the money were fully protected. The Government were aware that this money was to be paid to the British Government. My authority for that statement is the report of the Auditor-General. On page 101 of his report, issued on the 3rd January last, he said -
Of this amount, £275,393 10s. 10d., onehalf, or £137,696 15s. 5d. will be credited to the British Government under the reciprocal arrangement governing the allocation of profits, and the balance will go to augment Bawra’s funds.
How did the Auditor-General know that the British Government was to participate? If the position is that the British Government was not eligible to participate in these profits, as stated by the Prime Minister, why did the AuditorGeneral make that comment? That question has not been answered up to the present moment.
– The Prime’ Minister said that the Auditor-General was the final authority in these matters. Perhaps he can explain that statement.
– The Prime Minister might well attempt to reconcile his utterances with the statement of the AuditorGeneral. Unless Ministers are frank and honest, and support their statements by documentary evidence, their explanation will not satisfy the people of Australia. Undoubtedly during the past week-end the public conscience was shocked when people became aware of the fact that things such as we are now discussing are possible under responsible government.
The opinion has Deen expressed that if things of this nature can be discovered by members on this side of the House while in opposition to the Government, greater discoveries are likely to be made when this party removes to the Treasury bench, and can make a thorough investigation in the various Departments. The Government is not over-generous in its desire to give information to honorable members in this House. At times honorable members desiring to peruse certain files have received a point-blank refusal to their requests. One is, therefore, justified in believing that something not in the best interests of the taxpayers of the country might be revealed if permission to see all the files were given. The speech of the Prime Minister was not- of a convincing character. It did not satisfy honorable members. He should have answered the very grave charges made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. ‘ Scullin), but, instead, he made a feeble reply. In due course the electors will demand a much clearer explanation from the Prime Minister.
– He did not convince himself.
– It is becoming more and more apparent that in matters of national concern there >‘is an unholy scramble of commercial, financial, and pastoral pirates to. get the largest share of the plunder. When we review the happenings of the last five or six years, and call to remembrance the unsavoury features of certain governmental activities, we are compelled to the belief that things are not what they should be. The welfare of the people has not been conserved. But with the Government that is a consideration secondary to the great financial, commercial, and pastoral interests of the country. One wonders sometimes whether Parliament after all is merely a cipher. In the conduct of our public affairs We are fast drifting into the ways of some continental countries, where practices obtain which do not justify public confidence in administrations. This is not responsible government. A salient fact in the case presented by the honorable member for Yarra is that many of the small wool-growers, who should have derived some benefit from this payment, will not participate in it because their interests have not been conserved as they ought to have been. This money has been paid to persons many of whom had no interest whatever in the Pool when the wool was acquired. That, however, is of minor importance when compared with the contention of the honorable member for Yarra, which was admitted by the right honorable the Prime Minister to be fully established, that the British Government was not entitled to a share of the £137,696. Up to the present the Government have not been able to satisfy my mind - I feel sure they have not satisfied the public mind - concerning the payment. The Government profess to hold documentary evidence to prove that claims were made by the British Government, and as these claims could not have been verbally made, they must have been communicated either by cablegram or by letter. The Government must substantiate, by producing the necessary documentary evidence, the very definite views expressed by the AttorneyGeneral this afternoon if they desire honorable members to believe that a claim was made by the British authorities. Before going further into other aspects of the case, I may say that there was no doubt on this point in the minds of the members of the Central Wool Committee that the British Government was to participate in this payment, because in the report handed to honorable members we find that at the meeting of the Bawra shareholders held in the Melbourne Town Hall on the 29th of March of this year, the chairman stated most emphatically that the British Government had a right to share in this payment. Notwithstanding this, the right honorable the Prime Minister was equally emphatic in saying that the British Government was not entitled to participate. The chairman at that meeting said that all profits accruing from the sale of Australian wool were on the basis of 50-50, and, therefore, the British Government would receive one-half of the amount, while the wool-growers would receive the other half. That statement is identical with the words used by the Auditor-General. This arrangement, agreement, or understanding which existed between the Central Wool Committee or Bawra and the British Government was known to the Commonwealth Government, and, even if it were not, it is only right to expect that, in paying out large sums of public money such as has been done in this instance, an agreement would be drawn up in which provision would be made for the stipulated amount to be paid to those entitled to receive it. The Government have not safeguarded the position to that extent, and, upon the facts presented and the admission of the Prime Minister, they stand self -condemned. Honorable members have a duty to perform, and, in voting on this motion of censure, they must not be unmindful of their responsibilities to the people and to the country. While there is a strong desire on the part of the Government to fully protect the interests of the pastoralists, we cannot obtain from them an assurance that the interest of the smaller wool-growers and primary producers generally will be safeguarded. The position will remain unaltered until honorable members on this side of the Chamber have an opportunity of accepting the responsibilities of government and of affording relief to those who are concerned in transactions of this description. The Attorney-General said this afternoon that the claim was fair and equitable. This claim has been advanced for the last three years, and the present Attorney-General was a member of preceding Governments which resisted it. Did the Attorney-General, when a member of preceding Cabinets, regard this claim as fair and equitable? His explanation this afternoon was not at all convincing, and we could not expect it to be when we remember the attitude adopted by his former chief, the Right Honorable William Morris Hughes, who did not regard the claim as fair and equitable.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– I call attention to the lack of a quorum. [Quorum formed.]
– Honorable members opposite would not conduct their private affairs in . the way the Government has carried on the business of the country. In this transaction, it certainly has not safeguarded public interests. I propose to state, briefly, the salient features of the case presented to the House. By a series of cable messages, an agreement was entered into between the Commonwealth and the British Governments with respect to the disposal of the Australian wool clips. The agreement expressly excluded wool that would be required for local manufacture. Some time afterwards, when 9,047 bales had been sold for local manufacturing purposes to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, a claim was made upon the Government that the wool-growers should share in the profits which would have come to them if this wool had been disposed of abroad through the agency of the British Government. The only opportunity that honorable members had to learn of the arrangement was when the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) replied to a question submitted by the ex-member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), and, as you, Mr. Speaker, know quite well, no honorable member may discuss the merit or demerit of an answer furnished in reply to a question. Later on, a dispute arose as to the interpretation to be placed on the promise made by Mr. Hughes, who clearly went outside his province in going beyond the terms of the agreement between the Commonwealth and the British Government. Shortly after the promise had been given, he made a most emphatic declaration that the British Government was not entitled to any share of the sum representing the profit that would have accrued had the 9,047 bales of wool been sold abroad. A legal interpretation of the agreement was requested; and after this had been secured, Mr. Hughes himself repudiated the interpretation placed upon his promise. For the two years that he was in office after the making of the claim, he resisted it. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was Treasurer in the Hughes Government for twelve months, and, with Mr. Hughes, he also resisted the claim. The AttorneyGeneral (Sir Littleton Groom), too, was a member of that Cabinet. Now these Ministers would have the House believe that some circumstance has presented itself which makes the claim equitable, although they are not able to advance one sound argument in support of their contention. If it was wrong when Mr. Hughes was Prime Minister for the British Government to share in the profit on the sale of this wool, it is equally wrong at the present time, and the claim should be rejected. This Government therefore, has been guilty of subordinating the interests of Australia to sectional interests, and honorable members opposite are prepared, in the most docile manner possible, to follow their political leaders in condoning a public wrong. If honorable members opposite are willing to admit that wrong has been committed, they should act according to their convictions and vote against the Government that is responsible for this improper action. I marvel at the audacity of Ministers in attempting to justify a claim that has not one redeeming feature. The AttorneyGeneral tried this afternoon to persuade us that the House had already had an opportunity of determining whether the payment was right or wrong ; but he evidently has no respect for our intelligence, and does not credit us with a desire to be the masters of our own business. I was surprised when it was suggested that we should have an opportunity to review the expenditure of the sum of £137,696 from the Treasurer’s Advance account when the Supplementary Estimates were brought before us. The Government first spend the money, and then tell us that Parliament can afterwards express its dissatisfaction, although’ it will then have no effective voice in the matter. As a responsible representative I do not feel disposed to be placed in such a false position. I am afraid that a Government willing to adopt an attitude such as Ministers have taken up on this occasion will be prepared at any time to commit the country to large expenditures without consulting Parliament. The Government has shown its hand; it is very clear that it favours the section that holds its meetings at Scott’s Hotel, and influences Ministerial decisions regarding land policy, taxation proposals, and the disbursement of public funds. The action of the Government with respect to the wooltops agreement contrasts strongly with its treatment of other sections for whose welfare it professes to have special care. I am thinking, for instance, of the returned soldiers. A man in my district is lying on his death-bed to-night because of the absolute neglect and callous indifference of this Government.
– Order ! That matter is not relevant to the present motion.
– The Government is prepared to shower favours upon the great pastoralist section even to the unwarrantable payment of public money, but while it is handing out doles to one section it is murdering other men, to whom it is under an obligation to protect. I think, therefore, that I have a right to be indignant over the manner in which the Government is carrying on the affairs of State. Honorable members on this side are entitled to challenge the right of the Ministry to remain any longer in office. It is richly deserving of the censure proposed by the honorable member for Yarra, and I ask honorable members generally to remember that above party interests they have a solemn duty to discharge to the great Democracy they claim to represent, whose rights have been sacrificed by this Government in order to pander to certain sectional interests. Government should be carried on for the general welfare of the citizens of this great Commonwealth.
.- The charge made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) is that the sum of £137,696 15s. has been paid by the Government upon a claim that had neither moral nor legal basis, and that parliamentary authority was not obtained either for the agreement under which the money was paid, or for the payment itself. This dispute is one of the war babies left on the threshold of this Parliament by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). It raises the question of the nature and basis of the Wool Pool. Upon any subject associated with this Pool it is very difficult to be dogmatic and certain, because it has now been determined by both the High Court and the Privy Council, that there is hardly any legal aspect at all to the Wool Pool, and that almost all matters affecting it have to be dealt with on a moral basis - a basis of fairness - rather than on a basis of law. Until Bawra was established there was hardly any legal basis for the Wool Pool. When Bawra was established there was then a company with shareholders, and the shareholders had very clearly defined legal rights against the company. Before the establishment of Bawra the only facts existing which might bear a legal complexion were first of all the cablegrams interchanged between the British and Commonwealth Governments, and, secondly, the wool regulations passed under the War Precautions Act. So far as the cablegrams are concerned they are expressed in vague, ambiguous, and conflicting language. Honorable members have already seen how varying phrases are used in the cablegrams to convey the same idea/ The British Government was to buy the wool clip save and except what was wanted for “ Commonwealth requirements,” Another phase used’ was “ for local manufacturing purposes.” Obviously it is open to argument whether “ Commonwealth requirements” and ‘’ local manufacturing purposes “ are identical in meaning. ‘ If they are it is unfortunate that the same words were not used in the cablegrams to express the same idea. The ascertainment of the meaning of the cablegrams has necessitated litigation in two cases through the High Court up to the Privy Council. It is only in. the Privy Council that some determination of the meaning of the cablegrams has been finally reached. ‘ Then there are the wool regulations. They were laymen’s and not lawyers’ regulations. They do not define in any clear or satisfactory manner, and hardly in an intelligible manner, the legal rights of the parties. They were obviously drawn up by laymen and not by lawyers. It would have been a good thing if those regulations had been drawn having regard to the importance of the legal matters which would inevitably arise in connexion with transactions of such magnitude. There was one regulation, regulation 24, which provided that -
The general policy to be observed in the administration of these regulations shall be equality of treatment.
It is perfectly plain that the ideas of various persons as to what is equality o! treatment may vary. A vague phrase such as “ equality of treatment “ is not legal language upon which legal rights can arise, and practically everything was left to the discretion and sense of fairness of those who had to administer the regulations. As a result of the litigation it has been determined that the only legal right which the wool-growers had was a right to receive the appraised value of their wool, and that no wool-grower had any legal right to share in any of the profits of the surplus sold in England for civilian requirements. It is important to remember in connexion with all matters arising in this debate that the wool-growers had no legal right to any share of the profits at all. That has been so determined in the Privy Council and in the High Court. The determination of the High Court on the question of the distribution of the moneys representing the profits arising from the sales of wool for civilian purposes in England may be found in what is known as the skin-wool case, XXXI Commonwealth Law Reports, page 420, where the High Court, upheld on this point- by the Privy Council, said this-
The distribution of the moneys has been left by the Commonwealth in point of fact, and by the regulations in point of law to the wisdom, fairness, and discretion of the Central Wool Committee.
That is to say, the wool-growers had no legal right, though they had every moral right, to share in profits arising from the sale of wool for civilian purposes in England. This has been determined, also, by the Privy Council, in very similar language in the skin-wool case. I quote from the report of the judgment of the. Privy Council, which is published and available to honorable members in the last report of Bawra at page 42 - 14 was left to the Commonwealth Government to make its own terms with woolowners as to the distribution among them of the price paid for’ the wool and any share of profits. It may have been contemplated by both Governments that the flat rate - which was 15£d. per lb. on a grease basis - should go to the wool-growers, but the share of profits was to be paid to the Commonwealth Government for the benefit of Australia, and it was left open to that Government either to pay the amount into the Consolidated Fund of the Commonwealth or to dispose of it in any other way.
Accordingly, from the legal point of view, the wool-growers had no claim to any money at all representing any share of the profits of wool sold for civilian purposes in England. It is therefore clear that the only basis from which this matter affecting the disposal of the profits can be approached is a moral basis- - that is to say, the question of what is a fair thing. There is no legal basis upon which it is possible to find an answer to the question as to how moneys representing profits on the sale of wool for civilian’ purposes should be distributed. The Privy Council has held that even as between the Governments themselves there was no contract. . There was no legal contract between the Commonwealth and British Governments. It was simply a political arrangement which gave rise to no legal right in the British Government or in the Commonwealth Government. Therefore the position is that neither the British Government nor the wool-growers had any legal right in the matter of the disposal of the profits. The British Government became the owner of the wool, and, having sold it, was entitled, as a matter of law, to retain the profits. But the British Government had made a bargain, though not a legal bargain, with the Commonwealth Government that one-half of the profits should go to Australia, and it carried out its bargain, although it was not legally bound to do so. Then the Commonwealth Go,vernment, as a matter of law, would have been able to retain all that money in the Consolidated Revenue. But, of course, every one knew that the object of the wool scheme was to assist the wool-growers, and that they were in equity and fairness entitled to those profits, and, accordingly through the administration of the Central Wool Committee, those profits were distributed’ to the growers, Bawra being ultimately established as the means of distribution. The British Government bought the clip at 15½d. per lb. on a greasy basis as a fiat rate, save such as was required for ‘ local manufacturing purposes. Under the wool regulations, local manufacturers were entitled to obtain wool at appraised rates, and the Central Wool Committee made arrangements whereby local wooltops manufacturers might obtain wool at appraised rates. The Committee also provided in all the contracts it made that the ultimate price to be paid for the wool should be adjusted by reference to the prices which the wool actually brought in the market. That is to say, up to the last contract made by the ex-Prime Minister against the will of the Central Wool Committee the position was that wooltops companies paid for their wool upon an adjustment which meant that they got the wool at market rates. They had to pay for the wool ultimately on a basis determined by market rates. The result of that was, until the last contract of March, 1920, that the wool which went into wooltops was paid for at market rates to the Wool Committee. The benefit was shared fifty-fifty between the British Government on the one hand and Australian wool-‘growers on the other.
In the year 1920 the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company refused to deal with the Wool Committee upon the same terms as the other wooltops manufacturing companies. It proved impossible to negotiate a contract which was satisfactory to the Central Wool Committee, which had the administration of the wool scheme. The Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company had been using mostly skin wool with a certain admixture of shorn wool, and it claimed that its process in using mostly skin wool was of such a nature that it was impossible to submit that skin wool to appraisement in the ordinary way. That was the ground upon which the company refused to make an agreement with the Central Wool’ Committee. In 1920, the position being as I have stated, and the Central Wool Committee being unable to negotiate an agreement with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, which it considered fair to the wool-growers, the ex-Prime Minister entered into the matter, and -made an agreement himself, on behalf of the Commonwealth, with the company. That agreement was made against the vigorous protests of those who represented the interests of the woolgrowers. It will be observed that March, 1920, was only four months before the end of the Pool. It had already been determined that the Pool should end on 30th June, 1920. The result, therefore, was, or ought to have been, that anybody who wanted to buy wool for delivery on or after the 30th June, 1920, should pay for it according to market rates, and not according to appraised rates, which were in March, 1920, well below market rates. In the case of the other wooltops companies it was arranged that they should buy, in effect, at market rates. An adjustment was arranged in their contracts, the effect of which was that they paid on the basis of market rates for the wool in the wooltops which they exported. In the case of the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, that was not arranged, and that company was given a very great advantage - I -do not know how many hundreds of thousands of pounds it was worth to it - by getting this wool at appraised rates without any subsequent adjustment on the basis of market rates. The yearly consumption of the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company had been some 10,000 bales, and for the four months of the remaining period of the Pool, the proper proportion of wool required by the company would have been about one-third of 10,000 bales of shorn wool, or something like 3,300 bales. They had, in fact, in that year already obtained from the Pool nearly 5,000 bales of shorn wool, and under the agreement made with the ex-Prime Minister, against the protests of the Wool Committee, they became entitled to withdraw from the Pool another 10,600 bales of wool. That is to say, in that year they were entitled to get altogether 15,000 bales of shorn wool. They obtained this wool, the highest grade merino, some of the finest wool, so I am informed, that has ever been baled, on the basis of appraised values, and the agreement did not provide that they should make adjustments on the basis of the market rates of the value of wool at the time they drew it. They drew much of it after the Pool had ended, and they were then drawing it at appraised rates, with no provision for adjustment except such as was necessary to bring it to the flat rate of ls. 3d. per lb. There was no adjustment to bring it up to the market rates. This wool was used very largely to fulfil Japanese, and not Australian requirements. It is a matter for argument whether wool required for the purpose of manufacturing for export to Japan does fairly fall within the description of wool for Commonwealth requirements.
– It does, according to the agreement.
– Not according to the terms of the cablegrams which passed.
– I was not referring to the cablegrams, but to the agreement with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company.
– From the point of view of the wool-growers and of the British Government, who would have been entitled to share equally in the profits derived from the sale of the wool if it had gone into the Pool, it is a matter for argument whether manufacture in Australia to supply Japan was “ Commonwealth requirements.” I am not professing to pronounce a dogmatic opinion on the point one way or the other. I merely want honorable members to realize that there is at least room for fair argument upon it. When Australia sold the whole of the wool clip, “less Commonwealth requirements, it was an illusory sale if it meant that Australia was to be at liberty to subtract from the Pool high-grade wool for the purpose of selling it outside the Pool and making a profit upon it.
– It was provided for in the agreement.
– The agreement of March, 1920, provided that the Commonwealth Government was to get 80 per cent, of the profits arising from the manufacture into wooltops. of the 10,600 bales of wool which the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company were entitled to obtain under that agreement. I have already sought to show how in all other wooltops agreements provision was made whereby the profit on the wool as measured by the difference between the appraised price and the market value went equally to the wool-growers and the British Government. But under the March, 1920, agreement, when the exPrime Minister (Mr. W. M_. Hughes) intervened, the Commonwealth was to get 80 per cent, of the profits, and was proposing to put that money into the consolidated revenue, without making any adjustment corresponding to that which had been made in all the other wooltops contracts.
– Did the British Government share the profits made under the contracts with the other wooltops companies?
– The other contracts provided that in the ultimate adjustment wool used in the manufacture of wooltops which were . exported - and I am speaking of exported material only - had to be paid for, not at the appraised value with merely an adjustment to the -flat rate, but at a price which was fixed by reference to the market rate at which wool was being sold at the time. The result was that they paid for this wool on the average about 20 per cent, above appraised values, and that difference in price was received by the Central Wool Committee, and shared by it equally with the British Government. Thus the British Government and the Australian woolgrowers shared equally in the advance oil the appraised values obtained by reason of the wool bringing higher prices than the appraised values when sold in the market. Under the 1920 contract with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, the Commonwealth was to get 80 per cent., and the company was to get 20 per cent. - if there were any profits - but no provision was made for an adjustment to bring the appraised value up to the market price. The very highest grade wool was disposed of at appraised values instead of market prices, and 80 per cent, of the profits were to go to the Commonwealth Government, no provision being made for sharing them between the wool-growers and the British Government as in the case of every other wooltops company. If the wool drawn by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving” Company had gone into the Pool, or if in relation to that wool there had been the same provision for adjustment as applied in the other wooltops contracts, the wool-growers and the British Government would have shared the profits equally between them.
– And how much would that have been per lb.? Has the honorable member made that calculation?
– There were profits on all the wool sold since 1920 ; but I am not dealing with the precise amount of profit earned. In fact, I do not profess to know or to be in a position to form an opinion as to what it was. I am dealing now with the principle ‘ involved, and I have not yet reached the position as to whether there were profits or not. As a matter of fact, it does not affect my argument iri any respect whether profits were made or not. I am pointing out that because of these 10,000 bales- of wool being taken out of the Pool both the Australian wool-growers and the British Government lost, and they lost equally.
– And this firm, through the stupidity of Sir John Higgins, was compelled to put 9,000 bales of wool into the Pool.
– I would not call Sir John Higgins stupid.
– I would.
– He has made a great deal of money for the people of Australia. The point I wish to make .is that the agreement of March, 1920, entitled the Commonwealth to take 80 per cent, of the profits of one wooltops company, but the then Prime Minister was not able to stand up to that position; he was obliged to yield to the representations of the Australian wool-growers, and say, “ I will put you in as good a position as you would have occupied if this wool had gone into the Pool.” But if it was fair to promise to put the Australian woolgrowers into as good a position as they would have occupied if the wool had gone into the Pool, because they were losing half the profits they would have got if that wool had gone into the Pool, it was obviously equally fair to put the British Government in the same position, because their loss was the other half of the actual loss brought about by exactly the same set of facts. If it was fair to make this promise to the Australian wool-growers by reason of their loss brought about in this manner, apart altogether from any legal obligation, it was equally fair to. make equal recompense to the British Government who were expected to suffer an identical loss under exactly the same conditions. In neither case was there any legal claim - I hope I made that clear at the outset of my remarks - but because the effect of the contract of March, 1920, was so obviously unfair to the Australian wool-growers, the ex-Prime Minister promised that he would put them in the same position as if the wool had gone into the Pool, and, in exactly the same way, it was obviously unfair to the British Government also.
– Then why has the Prime Minister all along refused to acknowledge the claim of the British Government ?
– I am submitting that the Prime Minister was wrong in refusing tq recognize the moral claim of the British Government, which is on exactly the same basis as the purely moral claim of the Australian wool-growers.
– Were not the British Government specifically excluded from any profits upon wool used for local manufacturing purposes ?
– Then how can they expect to share in any profits on such wool ?
– I have already dealt with that point, but will return to it to the extent of saying that the Australian wool-growers were also excluded from any share in the profits on wool used for local manufacture. The British Government and the Australian wool-growers were in exactly the same position in that respect. The Wool Regulations provided that local manufacturers should be entitled to draw wool from the Pool at appraised prices, but where wool was drawn from the Pool for manufacture for export, in effect, the arrangement was, except in the case of the contract of March, 1920, with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, that it was to be treated as if the wool itself, and not the manufactured product, were sold overseas. In regard to wool used for local manufacturing, there is no difference between the legal position of the Australian woolgrowers and that of the British Government, and there is no difference in the moral position, either. After the contract of March, 1920, the Commonwealth Government had no moral right to dispose of wool for export to one company at appraised values while other companies were compelled to pay market prices. In March, 1920, the Pool was about to come to an end. There were only three or four months left, and it was surprising and amazing for the Commonwealth to allow one company to draw, for the remaining four months of the Pool period, a quantity of wool greater than its requirement for the preceding twelve months. It was high-grade wool, and a withdrawal from the Pool of that high-grade wool disturbed the basis of appraisements, because 10,000 bales of the highest grade merino wool mean a great deal more than 15,000 or 20,000 bales of low-grade wool. The Prime Minister of the day could not defend his contract, by which the Government were to take 80 per cent. of the profits, and the result was that he made the promise, which has been cited, to the wool-growers. My contention is that the British Government were in exactly the same position as the wool-growers, and with the same rights. The ex-Prime Minister made a promise in this House, and this Government regards itself as bound by that promise, or by its interpretation of what it meant.
– Has it carried out every other promise made by the late Government ?
– It is impossible to say that that promise was other than fair and equitable treatment of our own woolgrowers. I suggest that it would have been better if the ex-Prime Minister had made the same promise to the British Government. The sum of £137,000 was paid to Bawra, which body, as far as I understand the facts, was under no legal obligation to pay money to the British Government, but its directors, supported by the shareholders, did pay half of that amount, £68,000, to the British Government. Very few men will give away for fun £68,000, when they have the opportunity of putting it in their own pockets, and there was nothing to preventthem from doing so; but Bawra fairly and justly recognized its obligation to the British Government.
– Was the money paid by the Wool Committee or Bawra?
– I suppose that it was formally paid to the Wool Committee ; but arrangements were made whereby Bawra stepped into its shoes, so I am unable to say who paid the money. But that does not affect the argument that I am presenting to the House. This Government thought it only right to honour the promise made by the ex-Prime Minister, publicly, in Parliament. I consider that it acted rightly in honouring that promise, and that it would have also acted rightly if the British Government had been given an equivalent sum; but the Government did not see fit to doit.
– Mr. Hughes himself repudiated the interpretation placed upon his promise by the Wool Committee.
– Mr. Hughes made a promise to the wool-growers only.
– He made a promise in this House.
– But only in respect to the wool-growers. He ought to have made a wider promise to include also the British Government. The Government regarded this as a debt, and if the promise were to be honoured, it was a debt. The only question remaining was the manner in which the amount was to be arrived at. There is a distinction between the Government paying an accrued debt out of the Treasurer’s Advance, and entering into a commitment which is entirely new to the House. . It would be, except under extraordinary circumstances, very wrong for the Government to make a new commitment and to satisfy it by paying out public money without reference to the House. There are circumstances which will justify the adoption of this course, and the passing of the Treasurer’s Advance by the House is a recognition that there may be such circumstances. But where there is a debt, then it is difficult to say that the Government .is wrong in honouring it out of the Treasurer’s Advance. Very large sums have been paid in past years out of the Treasurer’s Advance. According to a list taken from the Budget-papers since 1913, various moneys have been paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance. In 1913-14 the amount was £423,000; in 1914-15, £502,000; in 1915-16, £639,000; in 1916-17, £672,000; in 1917-18, £604,000; in 1918-19, £999,000; in 1919-20, £1,686,000; in 1920-21, £1,328,000; in 1921-22, £1,412,000; and in 1922-23, £1,377,000. So that it will be seen that it has been the practice of this Parliament to permit large sums to be paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance. There is no doubt that the ‘ Government was entitled legally and constitutionally to pay this money. lt would be impossible to ‘ charge the Treasurer, any Commonwealth officer, or the Auditor-General with any breach of duty in paying this money ; but, at the same time, I contend that where the matters are disputable, and open to argument, it would , be wise and prudent for the Government to make all its promises subject to parliamentary authority or ratification. I would have much preferred it had the fixing of the exact sum to be paid been made subject to parliamentary ratification, as that would have preserved in a much more effective way the control by Parliament of the public finances. While this is a matter upon which there may fairly be a difference of opinion, yet I regard it on the whole as an unwise and imprudent step for the Government to have fixed this amount and to have paid it away without reference to the House. That, however, is a matter of judgment upon which opinions may very well differ, and I am certainly not prepared to suggest that the Government was legally or constitutionally wrong in doing what it did. I am, therefore, not in favour of the motion.
– I have listened with more than my usual attention to the pros and cons of this discussion - to the pros of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) and the Bong of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and the Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom). I much admire the polish, politeness, coolness, and calm audacity of the Prime Minister, just as I do the incisiveness, pertinacity, and logic displayed by the honorable member for Yarra in his impeachment of this Government for agreeing to pay a private corporation in this country £275,000 of public money without the consent and knowledge of Parliament. I do not propose to touch upon the intricacies of the wool question, but shall confine my remarks to the unauthorized payment of public moneys. That accusation has been admitted, but the honorable member for Yarra goes further and says that this money was irregularly, and improperly paid to meet claims that had neither a legal nor a moral basis. The Prime Minister replied that the matter had received the attention of the AuditorGeneral, who had not seen anything irregular or improper in the action of the Government. I have examined the Auditor-General’s report, and in it there is no mention of any payment being made. It does contain a history of the Wool Pool, and also a statement that an agreement was arrived at, but there is no indication in the report that ; the Auditor-General had the slightest knowledge of anything beyond the agreement. Apparently, he was of the opinion that it would go before Parliament for ratification, and the money voted accordingly. In that report there are references to defalcations on the part of public servants. It also mentions that the AuditorGeneral considers it imperative to refer to irregularities other than those arising from negligence or other causes without intent to defraud. I shall look forward with interest to the next Auditor-General’s report to ascertain what he has to say upon this great irregularity and this most improper conduct on the part of the Government in disbursing £275.000 of public money without any reference to Parliament. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) .discussed this question largely in technical terms, and, as a layman, I do not propose to follow him through his intricacies. Briefly, this is how I look at it: In the year 1916, the British Government opened up negotiations with the Australian Government, and made various proposals concerning the purchase of wool. The then Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes), acting, on behalf of the Australian Government, placed a proposition before some of the large wool-growers and representatives of the wool-houses. They finally came to an agreement which was to operate during the period of the war and for twelve months afterwards. It provided that all the requirements of wool by the Australian factories should be met, irrespective of the country in which the products of those factories were to be sold. The British Government agreed to purchase the remainder of the Australian wool clip at an agreed sum, which had to be paid, irrespective of whether it was able to ship any portion of the clip. This was done to enable advances to be made to the wool-growers. It was further agreed, in view of the exigencies of war, that if wool were shipped from Australia, whatever surplus was left on the European market, after the requirements of the Allied Armies had been met, should be sold by auction, and then, and only then, half of any profit would be distributed among the wool-growers of Australia. There had to be, firstly, ownership by the British Government of the surplus wool; secondly, transport provided overseas; thirdly, sale of the wool at auction; and fourthly, distribution of half of the profits. But, apart from the transport, the sale, and the profits, there had primarily to be ownership by the British Government. That Government has never alleged that it had any ownership over the wool under . discussion. Even the gentlemen who put forward the claim to the Government recoiled from such a suggestion. The Prime Minister of tie day, for three years tenaciously fought the idea that the British Government had any claim upon this wool. The present Prime Minister, then Treasurer in the Hughes Government, adopted the same attitude; and in another place, the late Senator E. D. Millen strenuously opposed it. The Government of that day contended that the British Government had no claim upon the wool, and the honorable member for Kooyong admits that it had no legal claim. . If the British Government had no claim upon the wool, then certainly no other persons in the community had a claim on the profits which must primarily arise from ownership and sale by the British Government itself. We have recently learnt from the Prime Minister that some of the wooltops people of this country had entered into an agreement, which provided that any profit which they made over and above a certain fixed amount should be dis.tributed. That agreement was accepted by the Commonwealth Government. Then another company, for reasons advanced by the honorable gentleman who has just resumed his seat, was allowed to enter into an agreement, and the most remarkable circumstance about the whole business is that whether they made losses or gains, this Government, which is called upon to disburse £275,000, never received a penny. The Prime Minister said that it was peculiar that whilst other wooltops companies had made a profit, the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company made no profit during that period. I do not know whether he meant to insinuate that they had not made losses. If he did, then it was the duty of the Government to investigate the balancesheet of the company.
– I understand that the Government did appoint an auditor to examine the company’s balance-sheet.
– What, then, did the Prime Minister mean by casting a doubt on the accuracy of their balance-sheet? But it was all the same to the Commonwealth Government whether the company made anything or nothing out of the business; the Commonwealth got nothing out of it. Then the Prime Minister told us that these people had no legal claim to any portion of the profit on the woo] sold to the Combing Company. Nobody professes for a moment that they had. The late Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) protested that they had neither a legal nor a moral claim. The present Prime Minister, when Treasurer in the Hughes Government, also combated the view that they had a moral claim, and the representative of that Government in another place also protested that they had no moral claim. That being so, how potent and powerful must have been the influences, in view of the fact that although the legal and moral claims had been rejected year after year by one Prime Minister and one Treasurer after another, their demand at last secured a power of public seduction that it never previously possessed. At last these gentlemen representing Bawra were able successfully to gather out of the public funds £275,000. “What did they do with it.? The honorable gentleman who has just resumed his seat has told us that they were under no legal obligation to disburse any portion of it to the British Government, but out of the fullness of their hearts they did. After battling for three years to secure this £275,000, they generously donated one-half of the first instalment of £137,000 to some one else, who never asked for it ! What marvellous generosity ! What spasms of virtue induced them to do something they were not obliged to do ! But as a matter of policy, they were bound to make an offer. They knew that unless they did so>, and admitted that the. British Government had some claim to participate in these profits, their own claim- had no foundation whatever. If the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company had not got the wool it would have gone into the Pool, and would have been sold in the ordinary way under the agreement. In order, therefore, that their claim to the profits from the wool drawn by that company from the Pool should have some pretensions on moral grounds, they go overseas and offer portion of this disbursement to a Government that had never asked for it. They say to the British Government, “ Although you have no claim to the money, although you have never asked for it, and do not want it, for God’s sake take it, otherwise we ourselves will have no claim to any portion of it.” Then, sir, what becomes of the other half ? If there is any one in the community who has a moral claim to it, the money ‘ belongs to those 120,000 wool-growers who put their wool in the Pool. But of that 120,000 there are 75,000 wool-growers - 53,000 small men compulsorily pushed out of the Pool and 22,000 bought out - who will not touch a penny of it. A minority, not a majority, of shareholders in Bawra will cut lip the cake between them. A minority will divide between themselves the profits arising from the productions of 75,000 men who will not participate in the profits at all.
– Were not the shares in Bawra negotiable?
– I am not discussing that question. I am considering the socalled moral claim of Bawra to this £275)000, and suggesting that, if any one has a moral claim to it, it is the men who put their wool into the Pool, including those who were pushed out on a 60 per cent, basis with a 7 per cent, discount; the men who had to accept £60 for every £100 worth of wool, and were charged 7 per cent, per annum for three years as a kind of discount, so that for every £100 worth of wool, they got only £39. If the Government had recognized that there was a moral claim to this money, and had made an announcement in this Chamber to that effect, all the world would have known of it, and every shareholder in Bawra would have had an equal opportunity on the market. But when these men simply pursued the silence of conspirators; when they whispered in the darkness to a favoured few to “ buy, buy, buy,” because they had struck gold, and that the “ show “ was going to pan out £250,000, the favoured few got ready to share in the dividends when they came along. There are those who say that the interests of the smaller shareholders in Bawra were infinitesimal. On the other hand, there are those to whom little fish are sweet. “ Mony a mickle maks a muckle.” A threepenny dividend is not to be despised. If they could get the cash, they could go on the market and buy additional shares. There was nothing to justify this secrecy ; nothing to justify this silence, except to the little ring of men inside the Pool. Assuming that Bawra had a moral claim to this £275,000, it was absolutely irregular and improper on the part of the Government to disburse it without the consent of this House. We have heard the excuses from the honorable member who has just, resumed his seat. The Prime Minister also referred to this payment from theTreasurer’s Advance Account. His explanation was described as a quibble. It was more than that. The payment was a fraud’ upon our parliamentary procedure. The Treasurer’s Advance Account, as all members know, is intended for the ordinary purposes of Government, whether in war or peace. It is not meant, and never was conceived to be, for undreamed-of purposes - purposes never mentioned to Parliament. It is quite true that in the his- tory of all Governments there ‘are times of national emergency, such as earthquakes, disasters by flood and fire, when speedy action on the part of a Government is necessary to meet the needs of the State. In such circumstances Parliament can be depended upon to furnish the necessary safeguards. No honorable member of this House will say that the disbursement of this £275,000 was urgent. No one will say that it was something unexpectedly sprung upon the Government, . and demanding immediate attention. No honorable member will contend that the Government were faced’ with a crisis. There was no emergency. The claim had been pending for years. For three years the clutching fingers of a comparatively few people had been reaching towards the public Treasury. For three years the Government of the day, by whatever name it was called, resisted the claim. Then suddenly, instead of clutching fingers there were the upturned palms, and 275,000 lovely sovereigns dropped into them.
– Notes, not sovereigns.
– Call it by whatever name you like. By whom has this been done? Net by William Morris Hughes. Not by his Administration in which the present Prime Minister (“Mr. Bruce) was Treasurer. Not by a majority of Nationalists, but by this new force on the Treasury bench. Who does not remember how, from a pedestal of public rectitude the present Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) when sitting in the Ministerial Corner denounced the Government of the day because it ignored parliamentary responsibility in regard to public matters? Who does not remember how, year after year, he demanded the effective control by Parliament of the public purse? Who does not remember how he assailed the ex-Prime Minister for his unwarranted purchase of those’ ships overseas ? But at least the ex-Prime Minister could justify his action on the ground of public necessity due to the shortage of shipping, and the urgent need for the transport overseas of Australian primary products. His action, although unprecedented, met a great public need. Contrast bis conduct with that of the present Treasurer who, as I have shown, so bitterly assailed earlier Treasurers for the abuse of what he called their public trust. Who does not remember how, month after month, and year after year, with all the doleful bleating,’ of a sheep, lie assailed the Government of the’ day because’ it had improperly used, the public funds ?’ . Now, no sooner is he placed in charge of .the’ Treasury than he out-Herods Herod in this unwarranted use of public funds, doing the -very things that he assailed other men ‘for doing, and doing them in a manner never’ previously attempted. It is unexampled in the history’ of- this country, for, never before, except in unforeseen and great emergencies, has a Government settled three-year-old claims without appealing’ to Parliament. When we remember the Treasurer, as he was iri the Corner, and compare what he said with what he has now done, who can but say that there has been an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust? He is not even here to defend his action. He is associated’ with colleagues who are either his accomplices or his dupes, and he knows full well that he has behind him men who will wipe a sponge over hia conduct, however heinous it may be. Thus white-washed, he will laugh to scorn the so-called Parliamentary responsibility of which he used to talk so much, and with which he beguiled the people of the country, and will continue to hold and abuse his office with impunity. There is no need for me to occupy further the time of this House. We know what the result of the vote will be. We know that there are a majority of honorable members who have agreed to establish the principle that the Government may, without the consent or even the knowledge of Parliament, pay out large sums of public money for any purpose it thinks fit. It is most remarkable that in these circumstances the daily press of Australia is silent. If members of the Labour party were charged with this offence, if we had done what the Government has done, there would not be a daily newspaper in Australia that would not publish daily articles denouncing our conduct and abuse of power. There may be a succeeding Government which, for reasons that it thinks sufficient, may adopt the policy of this Government, and the daily press may then speak. It will be competent for that Government to say to the press, “ Gentlemen of the Australian press ! You were silent yesterday, be silent in decency today.” Probably those gentlemen of the press will protest against the abuse of power that they are supporting . to-day, and we shall be able to say to them, “ The protest does’ not rest in your mouths, gentlemen; be ye also silent.” A daily paper published in this city, a few weeks ago, said that the Federal Country party would break down any Government with which it was associated, and that it seemed determined to outspend all rivals and records. The paper added that there were policies which could not be forced upon the people, and there were politicians whose friendship brought political death. That party entered Parliament to defend the interests of the primary producers of this country.
– From what paper was the honorable member quoting ?
– The Age. Members of the Country party were elected to this House as protestants against abuses by the National party, but they have become not only that party’s associates in abuses, but even its stimulators. They do more than the Nationalists ever did, and we know what we shall have to face when next we go before the electors. You will no doubt remember, Mr. Speaker, the old story of the gentleman who travelled down to Jericho and fell among thieves. There is a sequel to that story. Permit me to tell it.
– Has it anything to do with this motion?
– It points a moral and adorns a tale which, I think, will be very pleasing to you. When the gentleman referred to arrived at the inn, covered with wounds and oil, and bound up, the thieves met him and said, “ Poor man ! We are the individuals who picked you up when you were unconscious. We bound up your wounds and supplied the oil to relieve them. We found the ass and brought you on it to the inn; but, oh, be careful of that ill-born, ill-bred Samaritan ! He robbed you, and he will rob you again to-morrow if lie has the chance. ‘ ‘ When the next election comes we know that the battle cry will be as of old. Members of the Country party will point to us and say to the people of this country, “ Gentlemen of Australia! Be careful of the Labour party, for they will waste your substance and despoil the public treasury.” But happily we shall be able to say to the people, “ Behold these people bound together for a common purpose. These are the gentlemen who had a dozen opportunities to fatten their partisans upon the public treasury, and they never lost one of them.”
.- I have listened very attentively to the debate, but I do not think that any honorable member has as yet touched the core of the trouble. The Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company bought 9,047 bales of wool at half its market value, but made no profit. That is the cause of all this discussion. How was it that these men, who are so brainy, and had knowledge of the wool market, made no profit out of wool they bought at half its value? Why had not the Government of the day a representative to watch on its behalf the sales, to see how the wool was disposed of, and to discover everything about the business ? It was the duty of the Government of that day to ascertain the facts. Would any honorable member, if he was a shareholder in the company, and entitled to 80 per cent. of its profits, sit quietly by without having a say in its management ? How do we know that the sales were legitimate ? We should find out where the wool went, who were the purchasers of the wooltops, and why the company did not make a profit.
– The Government possesses that information.
– It does not.
– It has the company’s balance-sheets.
– Balance-sheets are all very well, but they do not disclose everything. In the banking business an inspector does not take your word for anything, but proves your statements for himself. The only way to find out the details of a business is to get inside it. The Government should have watched the sales from start to finish.
– The complaint is that we cannot get the information from the Government.
– The honorable member contends that the company has acted fairly. I hope it has, but I am not satisfied. It at least has not gone into liquidation. Has it suffered a loss? On the contrary, I think it is in a very sound financial position. Why accuse the present Government of doing something that should have been done years ago ? I suggest to the Government that it should have a thorough investigation made of the transactions connected with the 9,047 bales of wool. Many things are done in business that will not stand scrutiny. There are on this job clever men who want watching and matching. The exPrime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) left these difficulties for the present Government to clean up. He is now in the United States of America. Why is he not here to defend his action? What do his constituents in North Sydney think of him? He knows all the “ ins and outs “ of this business. Surely we are not imbeciles, and ought to be able to ascertain everything about those bales of wool, and have a clean balance-sheet.
.- Many . excuses have been put forward for the Government, but the attempt by the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Whitsitt) to throw the blame on the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes), is the worst excuse of all. I hope I shall never be an apologist for the ex-Prime Minister, but it at least stands to his credit that he resisted this claim, ‘ and if he had been still Prime Minister I believe that the money would not have been paid.
– If he had been here tonight he would . have given the- Government a jacketing.
– There is no doubt about that. The fact that he resisted the claim for so many years, and interpreted the promise to the growers to mean something different from the construction placed upon it by the Government, exonerates him from the charge of being a guilty party. The Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom) this afternoon was quite incensed because honorable members on this side had accused the Government of doing what was dishonest and unconstitutional. The only way in which to escape such charges is to refrain from action similar to that exposed by the motion. The honorable member for Tarra (Mr. Scullin) laid definite charges, giving chapter and verse. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), in his reply, practically admitted the truth of those charges, and did not endeavour to explain them away. He stated that the action which he had taken was diametrically opposed- to the attitude he had adopted for quite a long time previously. Can one wonder, then, if uncertainty, even suspicion, is created in the minds, not only of honorable members, but of persons outside this Chamber?
When there is clear evidence of a complete’ change of front on the part of the right’ honorable gentleman, are we not justified in assuming that some influence was. exerted which he and the Government could not afford to ignore? It is matter for conjecture whether that influence was exerted by those who claim to be the representatives of the rural interests, but who, by their actions, have proved them-, selves to be the representatives only of the big squatter, and the middleman who “ farms “ the farmer. The honorable’ member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) has dealt ably and exhaustively with the conduct of the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page). The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has stated again and again that he does not agree with certain actions of the Government. He considers that in this case Parliament should first have been consulted. Yet he intends to vote against the motion ! I presume that he is prepared to accept the responsibility ‘ which such action on his part will entail. Responsibility for similar action in future will rest upon the honorable member for Swan, and other honorable members who, by their attitude, openly invite the Government to continue along these lines. I am not prepared to traverse the intricacies of the wool question; but, broadly, the charges of the honorable member for Yarra still remain unanswered. They have not been answered, presumably, because the Government has not a convincing reply to make. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), replying to an interjection, stated that he did not think that Mr. Hughes’s promise meant that world’s parity should be the basis of payment. The Prime Minister . made the same statement. The fact remains, however, that world’s parity was the basis of the payment. ,
– World’s parity was not paid.
– The honorable member for Yarra has clearly demonstrated that it was. Honorable members opposite have contended that no amount was paid to the British Government by the Commonwealth Government, that any such payment was made by some other body. That is worse than a quibble. Although Sir .John Higgins is chairman of both the Central Wool Committee and Bawra, and each of those bodies functions separately, the Central Wool Committee is responsible to the Government for its disbursements. This sum was paid to the Central Wool Committee, which paid half to the British Government and half to Bawra. Who authorized the Central Wool Committee, in the first place, to make any payment; and, in the second place, was it authorized to pay the total amount to Bawra, or only one-half to Bawra and one-half to the British Government? That is important, because the honorable member for Tarra and other honorable members have asked whether there is in existence a formal agreement setting out the terms on which this payment was made. We have not been informed whether there is or not, and we possess no more knowledge on the point than we did before this motion was moved. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), who is never bashful in putting forward claims, this afternoon said that the Government deserved to be censured for not having paid the full amount. His argument, and that of other honorable members opposite, was that this payment was made in pursuance of a promise of the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to the woolgrowers of Australia. Can any honorable member tell me the quantity of wool which the British Government is responsible for growing in Australia? It i3 clear that even if the payment were justified, only wool-growers should participate in it. The Prime Minister on Friday became indignant at some of the remarks of the honorable member for Tarra. He interpreted them as an accusation of conspiracy or company rigging between Sir John Higgins and other shareholders in Bawra. There is a clear indication that something of the sort occurred. It appears to me that when those 53,000 growers were _ being squeezed out and forced to relinquish their holdings for 60 per cent, of their value some of the big shareholders had a pretty good idea that they had a paternal Government which would make its funds available when the time was . opportune. The previous actions of the Government certainly justified that belief. So the game went on. Gloomy reports were circulated regarding the situation in the wool market. Similar practices have been followed in the past in relation to mining and other company promoting. That continued for a long time, until the big shareholders in Bawra judged that the time was ripe for them to make the haul. The Government was then appealed to, and the money was made available. The whole of the ramifications of Bawra and of the Central Wool Committee ought to be thoroughly investigated. A Royal Commission should be appointed to sift the matter in order to ascertain why thousands of men, whose knowledge of events was meagre, were given false reports concerning the wool position, so that their shares could be obtained for 40 per cent, less than their value. The most serious charge of. the honorable member for Tarra is contained in the final clause of the motion. Even if there were no suspicion or uncertainty, even if the claims were morally and legally sound, the Government would still be deserving of more than censure, it would have forfeited the confidence of this House and of the country, for having paid a large sum of public money without having first submitted the matter to this House for its approval. But when we find it surrounded by all the undesirable features that have been revealed in this debate, it becomes still more reprehensible. The very men who were elected to this House on the cry for the restoration of responsible government are supporting this action. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), in two successive years before he assumed Ministerial rank, pleaded in this Chamber that, the Estimates should be treated on non-party lines, and that opportunity should be given to add to or reduce them according to the will of the majority of the House. He wished to alter the whole practice of parliamentary procedure with a view, he said, to give Parliament complete control of the public purse. One of the last speeches he made in this Chamber before he became a Minister of the Crown was in advocacy of those views. Now we find him and the honorable members who support him upholding the Government for paying over money without parliamentary authority. Actions of this kind, which deliberately flout constitutional practice, will tend to bring parliamentary institutions and constitutional government into contempt. If the confidence of the man in the street in parliamentary government is destroyed, Governments such as the one now in occupancy of the Treasury bench will have to bear the blame. If such actions become as frequent as seems likely, there is no doubt that people will lose their faith in Parliament. This is not the first, nor do I suppose it will be the last, action of this kind by this Government. Settled parliamentary practice, constitutional procedure, and precedent can be thrown aside without compunction by this composite Government when its friends ask for help. When the wool kings, the company promoters, the big landed interests, and the providers of party funds want assistance, the functions of government may be used, and Government interference in trade and industry is said to be a good thing, but when an industrial organization asks for assistance the Government changes its views. We are told then that it is not the function of government to render such assistance, and that trade must flow through its natural channels. The policy of laisserfaire must not then be departed from. The Government is willing to use public money to assist its friends without regard for the interests of the general taxpayers, but it will do nothing to assist an industrial organization. In that case it says that that Government governs best which governs least. It has adopted this oneeyed, lopsided policy all the way through. The action now being criticized has shown more clearly than any other, perhaps, that it thinks in a sectional way, and functions in a sectional way. It has nothing like a national outlook and no policy which will make for the progress and prosperity of the Commonwealth.
.- My contribution to this debate will be short. The Opposition is posing as the watch-dog of the people. I suppose all honorable members admire a good watch-dog. We would all admit that a watch-dog is a good thing, provided that it does not disturb the inhabitants of the house which it watches by making false alarms. I suggest that, in this case, the Opposition think they have unearthed a burglar when, really, they have only seen a cat scurrying across the moon. We have listened to-night to a good deal of talk about the legal and moral aspects of this subject. I do not proposeto traverse the arguments which have been advanced. I wish to refer to only one matter. I have been surprised at the streams of moral indignation that have flowed from the Opposition, and I have wondered why we have not heard from the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West). Probably the reason is that he has already made his contribution. We have been told that this motion was brought forward with the full support of the Labour party, but I think that there is a lack of unity in that party. I judge from what I find in Hansard of last year.
-If the honorable member proposes to quote something from the Hansard report of the current session, he will have to rely upon his memory.
– Very good, sir. I direct the attention of honorable members to a comprehensive question asked . last July by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West). He inquired from the Prime Minister whether the Commonwealth Government had made an arrangement in 1920 with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company for the supply of a large quantity of wool at the appraised prices under the Imperial purchase scheme; whether the Graziers’ Federal Council of Australia had protested against the terms of the agreement ; whether the reasonableness of the contention put forward by the Graziers’ Federal Council had been admitted by the Government; and whether the Prime Minister was prepared to allow the Australian wool-growers the same share of profit in the wool sold to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company as they had in the wool sold to the Imperial Government. The honorable member asked, finally -
If so, will he state the reason why such payment, amounting to £398,000, plus accrued interest, has not been made?
That question, coming from one who is always looked upon as being particularly alert in resisting any invasion upon the public purse, and as one who is always concerned with safeguarding the public funds, and as an authority on finance, is significant. He clearly identifies himself with the justice and moral right of the claim that was made, and which the Government, up to that time, had not seen fit to meet.
– Not necessarily.
– That is all I have to say. I think it is clear that the honorable member for East Sydney at least admitted that there was a claim. That being so, I submit that the protestations of indignation which we have been forced to listen to for some hours, can hardly be justified. Some honorable members opposite, at least, are involved in meeting this claim, whether it be moral or legal, or not.
– I have for some years taken, a good deal of interest in the affairs under notice in this debate, for the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company carries on its business in the district . which I have the honour to represent. Questions involved . in the contract for supplying wooltops to Japan have been under consideration for several years. The Government lent its aid to build up this business by giving it a bounty, and when the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) made the contract with the Imperial Government to take over the whole of the Australian wool clip, he specifically excluded wool for all local requirements and for the manufacture of wooltops. There is no getting away from the fact that wool required for local purposes, and for the manufacture of wooltops, was expressly excluded from the sale to the British Government. That being so, a claim by the Wool Committee to participate in the sale of wool to be used for the manufacture of wooltops can hardly be supported. No ground whatever exists for it. The trouble has been caused through the disagreement between Sir John Higgins and Mr. F. W. Hughes, both of whom were members of the first Wool Committee. Sir John Higgins was at that time unacquainted with the wool business. He had been a mining speculator and a mining sharebroker. At one time, when a mine that he had boomed failed, he lost his memory, but he did not lose it until he had sold most of his shares. He afterwards invested his money in sheep stations. Mr. F. W. Hughes had been engaged in the wool industry from the beginning of his business career, and he knew it from A to Z. He had the temerity to oppose Sir John Higgins on the Wool Committee, and eventually Mr. F. W. Hughes resigned from the Central Wool Committee. That gentleman was engaged in the business of producing wooltops, and Sir John Higgins set himself the task of ascertaining the profits of the business. Mr. F. W. Hughes was a great buyer of sheep-skins. He also bought sheep for slaughtering, and supplied meat to the butchers of Sydney. In that way, he obtained sufficient skins to supply the requirements of his works, and so did not need to buy wool. Sir John Higgins, however, insisted upon him putting all this skin wool into the Pool. Notwithstanding that it was excluded from the Pool’s operations, Mr. F. W. Hughes was compelled to put nearly 9,000 -bales of it into the Pool. He had to have the w’ool taken off the skins at his fellmongering establishment, packed into bales, and sent on to the Pool. He wanted the Pool to send an inspector to his works to examine the wool, and that could have been done easily, but Sir John Higgins would not agree to it. He realized that Mr. F. W. Hughes was too smart for. him. Eventually, the works were closed for eighteen months, and hundreds of men were thrown out of employment. There was a great demand for wool for wooltops all over the country, and the market for wooltops was at the highest level that it reached. Yet that factory had to cease operations. When the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) returned from his visit to England, I interested myself in getting the works started againOn his return the Prime Minister entered into a contract with Mr. F. W. Hughes to produce wooltops. . But the contract came too late. The price barometer had fallen considerably. Although Mr. F. W. Hughes started to manufacture tops, his contract with Japan ceased because he could not make the necessary financial arrangements. That was due to the exchange problem. He then sent his wooltops to Great Britain, but the market there was glutted. Finally he tried America. Within four months he lost £40,000. Yet people say that others made money when this firm lost heavily. The loss was due to1 the stupidity of Sir John Higgins.
– That is a mild expression to him.
– It is. I have no time for the man, as through his bias those works were closed for eighteen months. During that time a great deal of work could have been done. The company was prepared to pay 80 per cent, of the profits to the Commonwealth Government, but it was deprived of the opportunity to do so. Very little justice was obtained from the Wool Pool. I remember when Mr. Rodgers, the exmember for Wannon, asked the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) if he would see that justice was done to the wool-growers, and that wool was sold to people locally. The Prime Minister said he would do so ; and it has been done. The growers have received market price for any wool taken from the Pool for wooltops by Mr. Hughes, notwithstanding that he put 9,000 bales back. The Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company paid as much as £30 a bale at a time when the average price for the best wool was about £22 or £23 a bale. If the company had been allowed to use its own wool it would not have required any from the Pool.
– And the company would also have given cheap meat.
– That is so.
– Does the honorable member say that F. W. Hughes and Company sent 9,000 bales of wool to the Pool, and that from the Pool it received the same number of bales ?
– Yes. That was because of the regulations framed by the Wool Committee. The question has’ been asked, why the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company made no profits. I have given the answer. What is the reason for the refusal of the Government to lay on the table of the House the statement of the Auditor showing where the money was lost.
– I asked for that file specifically, but it was refused.
– It was refused because it did not suit the Government to disclose the contents of the file. What right has the Wool Committee to levy toll on this country to the extent of £275^000 ? When the ex-Prime Minister went to England he was asked to endeavour to sell the wool there. In this House he said the growers were prepared to accept ls. 3d. a lb. for the wool. He obtained for them ls. 3½d. per lb., and in addition made an agreement that the profits on any wool sold over and above that used to meet the requirements of the British and Allied armies would go to the growers. Prom that source they received over £30,000,000 which they never expected, in addition to the high price of ls. 3½d. a lb. for their wool. The British Government also made £30,000,000 profit out of the Wool Pool. Yet this Government is prepared to pay £275,000 to make the amount received by the Wool Committee equal to that which would have been received had the wool used by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company been sold in England. There is no justification for the action of the Government. I do not know what pressure has been brought to bear on them, but I am very sorry that they have felt compelled to submit to it. In his speech last Friday, the Prime Minister complimented the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) on the manner in which he had presented his case to the House, and agreed that the case presented by him was unanswerable. He said, further, that he had resisted the claim of the British Government. I believe the Prime Minister to be honorable in his dealings, and that he would not resort to improper practices ; and, therefore, conclude that he was out-voted by the other members of his Cabinet. The result is, that notwithstanding the resistance offered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and his predecessor (Mr. Hughes), this money has been paid. What is the pressure which has been brought to bear in this case? The position of Mr. F. W. Hughes is not affected. He is not* going to pay the £275,000. That amount is to come from the taxpayers of this country. It is unjust that people who are staggering under the burden of taxation should be called upon to pay over £275,000 to men who are not in financial difficulties, and who were not the original owners of .the wool. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) said that the original wool -o wners held the shares in Bawra at the present time. Let us suppose that six of us here were the original shareholders. Let us suppose, further, that four have been crushed out, aud that the remaining two hold all the shares. In that case all the shares would be held by original shareholders, but not by the whole of them. Of the original shareholders, 53,000 have been crushed out, and the number of those who will derive benefit is very small. Sir John ‘ Higgins said that even if all the wool manufacturers in Great . Britain were to work continuously night and day for five years, they would not absorb, the mountain of wool which had accumulated. It was always thought that those who had placed their wool in the Pool would derive the benefit from the money paid. What has been the result? In less than two years the mountain of wool has disappeared, the price of that commodity as well as the price of the shares has increased, and many of the original shareholders have not received any benefit whatever. It is only another trick of the mining speculator, who booms the shares, sells out, and then buys in again when the market is favorable. That has been done in this, instance. The Government and their supporters must carry the responsibility, and even if the motion is defeated, we shall be in possession of the seats now occupied by honorable members opposite after the next appeal has been made to the people.
– I do not wish to record a silent vote on this motion. Although Tasmania has five representatives in this House, up to the present three have not contributed to the debate. I have been awaiting with interest a declaration from those members concerning this transaction of the Government which they are supporting, because, apart from a comparatively small number of wool-growers in Tasmania, the electors in that State will not condone their action in voting against this motion. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), who delivered an interesting speech, was responsible for relegating to political obscurity a supporter of a Government which was charged with acting in an unconstitutional way. The honorable member for Kooyong strongly supported the Government, and his speech was one which might have been prepared by the chairman of Bawra, because from beginning to end it was in defence of the action of the Government. During my long political experience I have never read or heard of any instance in which such a large sum, except in cases of. special emergency, has been paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance, as has been done in this case. It has been stated by the honorable member’ for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) that the great metropolitan newspapers have been silent concerning the action of the Government, and that if the members of the Labour party had been in power and had paid away such a large sum without parliamentary authority they would undoubtedly have come under the lash of the big metropolitan dailies. While the press has been fairly kind to the Government in its criticism since the motion was launched, the Melbourne Age of the 9th instant contained the following: -
Attention will be directed to the point which appears to have emerged more prominently than others concerning form of payment to the Central Wool Committee, under cover of a large Treasurer’s Advance for unforeseen items of expenditure. It is contended with justice that this method of finance is highly objectionable, because it gives the Treasurer power to make over large payments of public money, and then ask for Parliament authorization when the deed has been committed. All sorts of payments could be made in this manner at the discretion of the Government without first obtaining parliamentary sanction for the individual items in the manner prescribed for approval of itemized estimates presented with the Budget. Precedents will be adduced on the Government side; there was the notorious example of the purchase of ships by the Hughes Government, but these methods of finance were one of the principal reasons why the previous Government was driven from office.
The honorable member for Kooyong was, in unmistakable language, excusing the action of the Government, and said that they had not acted unconstitutionally in baking money out of the Treasurer’s Advance. That honorable member is a supporter of the Government, and so is the Melbourne Agc, but that newspaper does not condone the Government’s action. The article continues -
The attempt to justify the mode of payment by pointing to authorization of a Treasurer’s Advance is generally conceded to be the weakest part of the Government’s defence. The payment of half the money to the British Government will also attract further attention, despite the Government’s disclaimer that the destination of the funds as between the growers and the Imperial Government was not within its ordering, and that the payment was made against the express opinion of the Prime Minister- himself that the British Government was not entitled to any share.
Why did the Prime Minister allow ‘payment to be made ? It is all very well for the right honorable gentleman to. shelter behind the fact that the Treasurer signed a cheque for £137,000, which is half the amount the Government have agreed to pay. He did not ask whether £68,000 was going to the shareholders in Bawra and a similar amount to the British Government.
The Prime Minister has stated that he disagreed with the contention that the British Government should participate, and if he believed that that Government was not entitled to any of the money it is remarkable that he should have allowed such a large sum to be paid out of public funds without knowing its ultimate destination.. If I had been a supporter of the Government I should have liked to know to whom the money was to be paid. The Prime Minister said to the Wool Committee, “ I acknowledge the justice of yourclaim. I shall give you an amount sufficient to cover it, and also a similar sum, of which you can make a present to the British Government.”
– He did not do that. He gave them only their own amount.
– To whom did he give it?
– The Wool Committee.
– He gave it to a semiofficial body, on the condition that half of it was go to the British Government.
– It is the most incomprehensible act that any Prime Minister has ever committed. There is no possible explanation of it, unless he is candid enough to say that he made a mistake. If the Prime Minister contends, as he did when he supported the assertion of the honorable member for Yarra, that the British Government had no claim to the money, then he has juggled with public funds in a remarkable manner in paying over £68,000 to be given to the British Government by somebody else. The Treasurer signed a cheque for £137,696 15s., with a promise to make another payment of equal amount. Half of this amount has been presented to the British Government by the members of Bawra, as the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) said, out of the fullness of their hearts. It is surprising that ahandful of Australian woolgrowers should so suddenly have developed such a high sense of patriotism, when many of these same gentlemen were so unpatriotic to Australia that they repudiated £1,300,000 due to the Government for land tax.Will the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) give the House his version of why the Prime Minister allowed this payment to be made? If the Prime Minister fought against the claim in. Cabinet, and was out-voted, and if he was strongly of opinion that the taxpayers’ money should not be given away, he should have declined to have the cheque paid to the Wool Committee, unless he was sure that none of the money would go to the British Government. The speech he made on Friday was certainly the weakest I have heard him give on the floor of the House in answer to grave charges on a matter of public importance. The Aye article, from which I have already quoted, needed only one word more to make its condemnation complete, and that was the word “ white-wash.” The Age of 11th inst. published an article commenting on the way in which the big landed interests have been catered for by this Government, and calling special attention to the attempt to remit large sums in over-due taxation to the big squatting interests of Australia. In this article, after asserting that the Northern Territory Lands Bill suggested the same kind of influence, it went on to say -
Last November, without submitting a long disputed account to Parliament, the Government handed over to Bawra the first instalment of a gift from the revenue of £275,000, which was understood to be the pastoralists’ share of excess profits on wool - profits that the Government did not make or receive.
I should like to hear honorable members opposite give some reasonable excuse why the Government should make a gift of £275,000 on supposed profits. The gravamen of the charge has been repeated time and again.
– Hear, hear !
– I wonder whether we shall hear another white-washing speech from the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell). We have already had a good many white-washing and bridgebuilding addresses from him. We were threatened at the opening of this sitting that a decision on the motion was to be arrived at to-night. The threat was, no doubt, intended for the Opposition, since the Prime Minister has succeeded in silencing practically all his own supporters. To honorable members on this side he has practicallysaid, “I shall either ‘ gag ‘ you or make you express your opinion on the action of the Government during an all-night sitting.” Let the right honorable gentleman carry out his threat. I am satisfied that all honorable members on the Opposition side have a fairly strong opinion on the subjectmatter of the debate, and that they will be prepared to sit here until breakfasttime to-morrow, or even the next day, if need be. I challenge the Prime Minister to apply the “ gag “ if he wishes to do so. It will be very strange if he attempts to close the mouths of honorable members in this manner.. It will serve to stir up a little more public feeling than there now is over the action of the Government. One finds that a great deal of interest has been aroused, and that people are asking why the Government has paid away £275,000 to a handful of wool-growers with a stipulation that half the money shall be paid to the British Government, which has not asked for it, and does not want it. The severity of the criticism of the honorable member for Yarra was thoroughly justified when he said that the Prime Minister had not acted as honorably as the leader of any government should have done. Honorable members last year sat many nights, when they should have been sleeping at home, to enable the Prime Minister to leave for Great Britain. During that time legislation was attempted which might properly have occupied five or six months. Within one week of the close of that session the Prime Minister was -leaving for England, and during that week the cheque for this money was signed by the Treasurer, with the sanction of the Prime Minister andthe Government. No honorable member on the other side has, so far, answered the charge of secrecy in connexion with this matter. This proceeding was hidden not only from the people of Australia, but from the members of this House. This must have been because the Government were aware of the protests that would be made against it in this House, and that honorable members on this side would direct the attention of the public to it. The honorable member for Yarra has asked why the Government did not inform the House of its decision in this matter’ immediately it met. If the contention of the Prime Minister and the honorable member for Kooyong that there was nothing wrong in paying this money out of the Treasurer’s Advance is correct, parliamentary precedents should have been followed. They should be followed by any Government charged with the affairs of the country. Why did not the Prime Minister, immediately we met this year, tell the House and the country what the Government had decided to do.
– A reference to the matter did appear in the public press.
– If so, it was in some obscure portion of the press, because very few members of this House, let alone the taxpayers, many of whom will have great difficulty in paying their share of this money, knew anything about the matter until the honorable member for Yarra submitted his motion on Friday last. This is one of the most serious charges that has been discussed in this Parliament. I have taken a keen interest in the work of the State Parliaments and of this Parliament, of which I have had the honour to be a member almost since its inception, and I have never known anything to equal the gigantic blunder of the Government in keeping this matter secret, and in paying away this money without parliamentary authorization. I_ felt that I could not go back to the constituents who sent me here and tell them that I had been silent on this question. Every member of this House is going to -be asked whether he had anything to say on this motion, and bow he voted upon it. We know that the numbers are up, and what the result of the division on the motion will be; but we can guess what will be the feeling of honorable members on the other side when they record their votes. They will consider how difficult it will be for them to explain those votes, because they know that the people of Australia want clean government, and government in the light of day. If the action of the Government in this matter is condoned, as it probably will be, by the vote that will be recorded on this motion, future Governments of the Commonwealth will be able to point to the decision in this case as a precedent, and will be able to pay £137,000, or any other amount they please, out of the Treasurer’s Advance. If they have majorities behind them, they will then be able to come to the House and be white-washed, as the Prime Minister and his Government are to be white-washed, by the vote recorded on this motion.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Paterson) adjourned.
Notice of Motion No. 2 (by Mr. Forde), relating to the Administration of New Guinea, withdrawn.
.- I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
When the House met to-day, I pointed out that the pressure of Government business, and the fact that administration is very much hampered while the discussion of a censure motion is in progress, rendered it necessary for the Government to ask honorable members to assist it in bringing the debate on the motion of the honorable member for Yarra to a termination to-night. Unfortunately) the House has not seen its way to give that assistance. The Government must point out that the debate cannot possibly be allowed to continue later than to-morrow. I now request that a vote may be taken on the motion tomorrow at the latest, and so permit the business of the country - if the Government is to continue in office - to be carried on, and the ordinary work of administration to be resumed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.40 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 June 1924, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1924/19240611_reps_9_106/>.