9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers. .
The following papers were presented :
Naval Defence Act - Regulations Amended -
Statutory Rules 1924, No. 82.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1924 - No. 13 - Police Fund Abolition.
Public Service Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1924, No. 84.
Motion of Censure
Debate resumed from 11th June (vide page 1178) 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.
.- I have listened very carefully to every speech made in this debate. Last night I had come to the conclusion that almost everything which could be said on the subject had been said, until I heard the speech of the honorable member for Denison (Mr. O’Keefe).I then . felt there was still something left to be said. The honorable member asserted that the Government must have paid double the- amount which was due to the wool-growers in order to furnish the wherewithal to’ provide the British Government with the share of the money with which the wool-growers credited them. That remarkable assertion has induced me to rise. The honorable member also asked the question should the Government have paid to the growers money which it had been unable to collect and had never received. In addition to these two matters I should like to deal briefly with the questions, had the growers a claim on the Government, and is the Government in any way responsible for the payment of £68,000 made to Great Britain by the Wool Committee. In dealing with the growers’ claim we have to realize that for all wool sold at the appraised price adjusted to the flat rate, which went overseas and was used for civilian purposes, there was paid, in addition,, one-half of the profits obtained by re-selling it. So far as wool used for Australian internal purposes was concerned, it brought only the appraised price adjusted to the flat rate.
– It was not always adjusted to the flat rate.
– So far as I know there waa little or no complaint against this basis of valuation, for the reason that it was understood that this wool was to be used by the Australian consumer. We have ‘to recognize, whilst considering the operations of the wooltops companies, that although the wool they selected was manufactured in Australia into wooltops, those wooltops were to be exported. These companies were in a position to buy large quantities of the finest wool at the appraised rate, and they sold the same wool overseas as tops at the enormous prices ruling at that particular time. Inevitably, in the circumstances, there was a tremendous margin of profit for them. Honorable members opposite at times claim to be very much in favour of doing away, as far as possibly, with the middleman’s profits by ringing the producer and consumer as close together ns possible, but in the attitude they take up on this question they appear to think that it is a reasonable position for the grower of wool to be paid at a low fixed price, and for the local manufacturer of it to be free to sell his product overseas at an enormous profit. It is only reasonable, in the circumstances, that tho grower ^should participate in the profits on exports. That principle was recognized and admitted because wooltops companies other than the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company were compelled to pay something more than the appraised price for the wool which they used. For some reason or ether the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company was not included in the same category as the other local manufacturers of woollen goods. Why that was so I do not know, but the fact remains that this particular company received 13,887 bales of wool, described by the chairman of Bawra as the finest lot of merino wool ever brought together. Of that 13,887 bales, 4,840 were used before this differentiation was rectified, and 9,047 bales came under a new agreement. Whilst tho Pool was in operation, the Wool Committee considered itself under a contract to supply an average quality clip to Great Britain at a flat rate of 15 £d. per lb. It therefore follows that as honorable men the members of that Committee felt themselves bound, if some of the best wool were withdrawn . and thus the average quality of the wool sent to Great Britain was lowered, to credit Great Britain with a certain amount of money. I have some figures here which have been audited by the Auditor-General which go to show that over four seasons the Wool Pool was debited to the extent of £376,940 8s. 3d. owing to adjustments made between t)he Central Wool Committee and the British Government on account of withdrawals from the Pool of the very fine quality wool used by the wooltops companies. In 1916-17 there was a credit to the British Government of £25,937 9s: 4d. In the following year the wool was a little over an average quality, and we received a premium for that year of £61,000. In 1918 we were debited with i’44,000. The figures for these three years roughly squared each other. When we come to the year 1919-20, the year in which this very large number of bales of very high-class wool were obtained by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, we find that the Wool Committee had to credit Great Britain with no less a sum than £373,050. Honorable members will see from these figures that, even allowing that the growers get the £275,000 which the Government has agreed to pay, they will still be at considerable loss as a result of the transactions. Considering the four years’ period, and setting the year in which we received the premium against the three years in which we were debited, the total loss to tho wool-growers by the withdrawal of wool by the wooltops companies was £376,940 8s. 3d. That amount was actually credited by the Wool Committee to Great Britain. When we come to the promise which was made that the woolgrowers would be put in at least as favorable a position as they would have been in had that wool been sent to Great Britain, we are told by the honorable member for . Hume _ (Mr. Parker Moloney) and others that the man who makes a promise should necessarily be the man to interpret what he meant by it. But one does not need to be in this House very long before one realizes that it is not we who are called upon to interpret the legislation we enact. We enact legislation, and it is left to legal luminaries outside this Parliament to say what we meant or what they think we meant by it. Therefore, there was nothing unreasonable in calling upon the Solicitor-General to interpret the promise made by the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). The Solicitor-General cannot be said to be a man who had , an axe to grind in this matter; as a disinterested person he came to the conclusion that the best way of interpreting Mr. Hughes’s promise was to add to the appraised price at which the wool was secured by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company the cost which would have been incurred in sending the wool to Great Britain; then to subtract the result from the actual value of such wool in Great Britain, and regard half ‘ the difference between the two as belonging to the wool-growers. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. O’Keefe) said last night that the Government must necessarily have paid to the growers twice as much as it need have done, otherwise they would not have remitted half their receipts to the British Government. I wish to make it clear to the House that had the whole of the assumed profits, and not merely half of them, been dealt with, the difference between the appraised price, plus the cost of transport, and the actual price which the wool might have realized in Great Britain, would have amounted to, not £275,000, but £550,000. The Prime Minister informed us that he resisted the claim of the British Government’, and the best proof that he did so is the fact that the Commonwealth paid or agreed to pay only £275,000 in satisfaction of the claim in respect of this particular wool. Had the British Government’s claim been admitted the Commonwealth would have been required to pay £550,000.
– Did the British Government make any claim?
– The British Government’s wool representative, Sir Arthur Goldfinch, made a claim on the Wool Committee in Australia. I think I have shown clearly that the money which the Government has agreed to pay to the growers’ representatives in Australia was nothing more than was actually due to the growers, and did not include any amount which could have been regarded as belonging to the British Government. A good deal of criticism has been levelled against the Ministry because this money was paid without Parliament being expressly consulted. Yet one honorable member opposite, who regards himself as an authority on finance, asked the Prime Minister, in July last, whether the £398,000, due to the wool-growers, had yet been paid to them, and also if the accrued ‘interest had been added. As the honorable member asked if the money had actually been paid, one is justified in inferring that he, at any rate, was satisfied that it would have been reasonable ‘ to pay the money from the Treasurer’s Advance. During this debate -we have heard a great deal about London parity. The mover of the motion (Mr. Scullin), and the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), asked why it was that in this instance alone the growers had been paid London parity. The fact is that, at no time during the currency of this arrangement for the disposal of the Australian wool clip, have the growers received London parity.
– Except this time.
– They did not get London parity in respect to the £275,000 which is the subject of the honorable member’s motion; they received half the difference between the appraised price and London parity. That rate was much below London parity. Honorable members opposite have blamed the Government because half the amount paid to the representatives of the growers has been passed on to the British Government. Had the Government, when paying that money to the growers, any right to impose conditions regarding its destination? To me, as, a layman, it seems that it was beyond the Government’s province to do so. When the parliamentary allowance is paid into the bank accounts of honorable members, the payment is not accompanied by any condition regarding the employment of what is paid. The money is due to honorable members, and they have a right to do with it as they please. Similarly, the Government believed that certain money was due to the wool-growers, but it had no authority ‘ to dictate to the representatives of the growers what they should do with their money. To many honorable members opposite it seems inexplicable that portion of the money should have found its way to London, but to me that fact is not at all strange. On the one hand the Cabinet was of opinion that the British Government was not entitled to participate in the profits from the wool sold to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. On the other hand, the representatives of the wool-growers believed that they were in honour bound to share with the British Government half of the profits which, came to them in respect of that wool. Each side held to its belief and stuck to its principles. The Government acted in pursuance of its belief by paying to the growers what it considered to be due .to them, and .withholding the £275,000, which would have been the British Government’s share if its claim in respect of the profits on this wool had been regarded as valid. The representstives of Bawra also held to their belief that half of the profits they received must be paid to the British Government. There is nothing extraordinary in the fact that although the Commonwealth Government regarded the money as belonging to the growers alone, the representatives of the growers held that they were under an obligation to pay over part of the amount to the British Government. I know that some honorable members opposite will scarcely credit that commercial morality can rise to such a high plane as to make possible, a gift, or what seems to them a gift, of £137,000. Nevertheless, the first portion of that amount was paid out by men who regarded the British Government as full partners in any profits they received over and above the appraised’ price. I come now to the contention urged last night by the honorable member for Denison (Mr. O’ Keefe), that even though the Government admitted a certain indebtedness to the woolgrowers it should not have paid the money, because it had not .received the profits it had expected to obtain as a result of the agreement with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. Taking an illustration somewhatfar afield, I remind honorable members that Great Britain did not repudiate her loan obligations to America, notwithstanding the fact that she was unable to collect the debts due to her from her European allies. The Mother Country acknowledged her honorable obligations. I think the Commonwealth Government is to be commended for paying what it believed to be a just debt in spite of the fact that it has not been able to collect the profits which were expected to accrue from the agreement with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. It is very doubtful whether this payment can be truly said to have been actually made from revenue. In one sense it was, but in another sense it was not, for the reason that the revenues of the Commonwealth have, from time to time during the war period, and afterwards while the wool agreement was in operation, been enriched by profits obtained from other wooltops companies. The amount of £275,000, which the Commonwealth Government have either paid or promised to pay to the wool-growers is nothing like the sum that it has received from that particular source. I have with me detailed figures showing the quantity of wool that was sent away each year, and the amount which was credited to the British Government in the years when the wool was- regarded as being of less than average quality owing tq the withdrawals for the wooltops companies, and in one year when a premium was allowed. I do not wish to occupy the time of the House unduly by reading these figures, and with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to hand them in for inclusion in Hansard.
– If the honorable member wishes to put into Hansard figures prepared by himself he must read them. They cannot appear otherwise, unless they form part of an official document.
– In that case I shall read them. They have been audited by the Auditor-General, and that surely should place on them the hall mark of all figures. The following table shows the quantity of wool sold to the British Government on a greasy basis : -
In . round figures the loss made by the wool-growers was £100,000 more than the amount which is now being allowed them by the Commonwealth Government. I am quite satisfied that this matter will stand the fullest and “closest investigation. The more one looks into it the more one is convinced that the Government has made a profitable deal, and that the woolgrowers have received probably less than, certainly not more than their due.
. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has effectually confused himself in a maze of figures entirely irrelevant to the subject under dispute. We are dealing, not with the number of bales, or the value of the wool that was sold to Great Britain, but with wool that was not included in the agreement made with the British Government. Ample evidence has been adduced to show - and even the present Prime Minister admits it - that the British Government had no connexion whatsoever with the wool now under discussion. The honorable member for Gippsland referred to the statements made by the honorable member for Denison (Mr. O’Keefe), . and he claimed that wooltops bought at an appraised price were sold abroad at an enhanced value. His meaning was not very clear, but he claimed that the British Government were entitled to profits made from the sale of the wool which was manufactured into tops and sold abroad. But. as the honorable member for Denison and the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) pointed out last night, Sir John Higgins, the chairman of the Wool Committee, refused to allow Hughes and Company to export wooltops when peak prices were ruling, with ‘ the result that no profit was made on them. The question now arises whether we should provide money out of Consolidated Revenue to pay non-existent profits.
– How could Sir John Higgins, the chairman of the Committee, prevent the export of wool?
– He had absolute control.
– Not after the Government entered into the agreement, as it provided for power to export.
– I understood from the honorable member for South Sydney that Hughes and Company were not allowed to export wooltops.
– That is not correct, because the ex-Prime Minister gave them permission to do so.
– It was eighteen months before the ex-Prime Minister overruled the chairman of the Wool Committee. In the interim, wool fell in value, and no profits accrued. The honorable member for Gippsland really claims that the Commonwealth” Government should have paid over £550,000 to the wool-growers before any payment was made to the British Government. If that is so, what position does the Government intend to take up respecting Sir John Higgins, who has paid £68,000 to the British Government ? That gentleman had no right to make such a payment, as the money was taken from the Consolidated Revenue, and not from a specific account brought into existence to meet claims for profits on wool. It was taken from the Treasurer’s advance account. Moneyought not to be taken from one account to meet liabilities occurring under another account. The honorable member for Gippsland made the further statement that the Central Wool Committee was in honour bound to share the profits with the British Government.
– I said they felt they were.
– Perhaps the honorable member will tell us why the profits received from wool sold to other wooltops companies were not shared with the British Government. Why should the profits on only 9,047 bales be shared? What about the 80,000 bales supplied to other wooltops companies ? Will the payment of this money establish a precedent, so that in the end, instead of paying out £275,000, we may have to pay out £2,000,000? If we share what should have been the profit from this one parcel of wool, it is right that we should share the profits from other parcels supplied to other wooltops companies.
– A share of those profits was claimed, and paid.
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) makes a bald statement. Where is the evidence to support it? It is easy for him to assert that the profits were shared. Members on this side have given evidence from Government documents at their command, and all the honorable member does by way of refutation is to make a bald statement unsupported by evidence. Unless he can support his statement by evidence in black and white, from an authoritative source, his assertion goes for nothing.
– The evidence exists, and can be produced.
– I invite the honorable member to find it and present it to the House, for, up to date, it has not been produced.In the absence of it, and in the absence of statements from responsible Ministers, ‘ we cannot accept his assertion. While not seeking to discredit him, we must have evidence in support of his statement. Representing, as I do, probably the largest woolproducing electorate in Australia, I am greatly interested in this question. A greater value of merino wool is shipped from my electorate than from any other electorate in Australia. I am vitally interested in the welfare of the participants in the Pool, and I want to see justice done to them, but I also have to consider my duty to the great body of taxpayers. A great responsibility rests uponevery member of this Parliament to prevent irregularities in the handling of public funds. It is our duty, if the Administration cannot show that there is ample justification for what it has done, to condemn it. It has not produced any justification in the present instance. Why has the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) not given us an account of the administration of his Department in this connexion ? Before he became a member of the Ministry he voiced loud, long, and grand denunciations of those. Ministers who did not speak in the House when their Departments were under consideration. This money was paid out of his Department. Then why is he silent? Why does he not stand up and tell us the facts? I shall quote the words of this Horatius who so long defended the bridge against the onslaughts of the Hughes Administration.
– What about the others who held the bridge with him ?
– This man was greater even than Horatius. He alone did it. Speaking in this House in 1920, before he joined the Flinders-lane party, he said -
It is time parliamentary government was restored, and the control of the public purse properly placed. We expect assistance in this direction from honorable members in this corner, and from others who ought . to be here. Even since I entered this House I have been reminded of Browning’s lines, as my glance runs along the Government benches -
Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a. ribbon to stick in his coat;
Pound the one gift of which Fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others, she lets us devote.
During the week-end I heard those same lines quoted against the Treasurer by a member of his own party, who does not approve of the Composite Ministry. The Treasurer further said -
The Country party has adopted the attitude that it should exercise some control over the spending power of this Parliament, even though there is very little of the current year now left. …
During my life I have not had time to read too much upon the subject of political economy, and what I have read, has only tended to confuse me.
His attitude in this House, and his failure to justify his administration in the present instance, proves the truth of that assertion. Again he says -
Surely it is time for every party to consider what taxation should be levied, and also the way in which our Commonwealth revenue shall he disbursed before it is spent.
He then advocated consideration before, and now advocates it after, money has been spent. He further stated -
But the expenditure by the Government of huge sums raised either by loan or taxation is a matter with which we can deal immediately, and is one which this Parliament alone ought to control.
What a remarkable change of front we see when we compare the Treasurer of to-day with Dr. Earle Page before he was a member of the Ministry. To-day he is under the wing ofFlinderslane. The discussion of these irregularities is another evidence of the existence of what may be termed the “ black-hand gang ‘’ that is behind the Government. In all the scandals that have been unearthed against the present and the previous Government we find the same names recurring. Messrs. Kidman and Mayoh figured in the scandals connected with the construction of wooden ships. Mr. Jowett and other pastoralists, the Australian Mercantile Company and other large companies will benefit greatly under the Government’s proposals relating to pastoral leases. It was the same people who in-: creased their holdings in Bawra while their representatives issued gloomy reports that tended to bring down the price of shares. While others “were selling, these gentlemen jumped in and, in some cases, doubled their holdings. It is the same old gang everytime - the Kidmans, the Jowetts, the Russells, the Fairbairns-, and others of that ilk.
– Do not forget Dalgety and Company, a firm which had a monopoly of the metal business.
– This is an argument why this Pafli ameint should] be removed from . Melbourne as soon, as possible.” These people are in Melbourne, and their names continually recur in connexion with Government scandals. Honorable members on this side cannot get information with the good-will of the Ministry. Why was the agreement not placed before Parliament’ as soon as it was made, or as soon as Parliament met? What facts relating to the public funds should the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), have in their possession, and not disclose to honorable members? Are honorable members opposite automatons? Have they no responsibilityto their electors ? I want to be acquainted with what is going on behind the scenes, in the Cabinet room, when these agreements are being entered into. We cannot, of course, learn the nature of the influences that operate to induce the Cabinet to arrive at any decision. The responsibility devolves upon every honorable member to make himself acquainted with these matters. Their pride in the position held by honorable members should - induce them to censure the Government for having withheld this information from Parliament. If that course be not followed Parliament will cease to be a responsible body, and will simply be at the beck and call, and under the thumb, of the Prime. Minister and “the Treasurer. The speeches delivered by honorable members opposite convince me that they are groping blindly, and following the lead of the Cabinet in this matter; some are afraid to speak because they do not possess information which would make their statements authoritative. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), who Could throw a lot of lightupon the matter is silent. Before he became a
Minister he objected most strenuously to one-man government. Now that he is in charge of a Department lie is afraid to render an account of his administration.
– The Prime Minister explained the position.
– The Prime Minister’s explanation requires explaining.
– He performed the task very well.
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), being an interested party, is satisfied with any explanation so long as he receives portion of this payment. I am prepared now to accept from him a denial that he is an interested party if he cares to make one. It may be said that criticism is to be expected from members of the Labour party; but what have the friends of the Government to say regarding its action in this matter? When the great organs ““of publicity attack the Labour party, honorable members opposite accept their statements as gospel truth. What do they say regarding the action of the Ministry in this instance? One responsible organ, the Melbourne Age of to-day, makes the following statement : -
After the disclosures that have been made during the last few days the people of Australia, including the small farmers, may reasonably ask how many hundreds of thousands of pounds- of their money are to be spent in buying- the Free Trade representatives of the rich pastoral companies and pastoralists into the coalition, and thus effectively “ keeping the party together.”
It also makes the following statement: -
Ministerialists have not attempted to defend themselves.
Again it says -
The liability of the Commonwealth taxpayer to pay anything towards the profits of the great private interests concerned is hard to determine without a close, judicial investigation.
I also contend that the Ministry should not have arrived at a decision on this claim; if any element of doubt existed the matter should have been allowed to go to court. The judge could then have demanded the production of every document bearing on the case. I believe that a great deal of benefit would yet accrue if a Royal Commission were appointed to ascertain who have been pulling the strings in this matter. This organ, which is friendly to the Government, also says : -
Mr. Bruce was unable to explain this satisfactorily; or rather, he explained it in two ways that contradicted each other. . . In hopelessly scratching for a further defence yesterday Sir Littleton Groom made the matter worse. … If this be the Coalition’s way of restoring responsible government and conducting public finance, it is able to give points to Mr. Hughes himself. . . . This wool deal has been made a more serious charge against the Government by the transparently false and stupid pleading of the Wool Pool’s advocates. . . The money paid to Bawra was taken, as Mr. Bruce ‘said, from the Consolidated Revenue, and therefore out of the public pocket, - not out of profits from the sale of the wool, as has been suggested by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson). In tendering this little piece of fatherly advice to the Government, its friends conclude by saying: -
Unity with a hopeless, unpopular minority, does not mean strength. It is weakness.
Their friends will drag them down. The impression is gaining ground, not among Labour supporters, but among men who may reasonably be expected to support the Country party, that that party and its Leader are associated with boodleiers in this Parliament. We on this side oppose that party because we believe it is more conservative, more reactionary, than the National party.
– Order! The honorable member is now outside the motion.
– I am endeavouring to show to these honorable members that in failing to demand information they have caused a feeling of uneasiness that should hot be felt by honorable members . of this Parliament. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation by the Minister in charge of this Department, such suggestions are extremely disquieting to honorable members on this side, who believe in responsible and honest government. From time to time honorable members opposite have made quite a number of statements regarding the Queensland Labour Government. That Government, they have said, is an example of woeful incompetency. However, no dispute has ever arisen in regard to any of the contracts that the Queensland Labour Government, under the Premiership of the late Hon. T. J. Ryan, made with the British
Government. Why? Because every agreement was set down in black and white. The loose methods which characterized the making of this wool agreement were entirely absent from the agreements entered into by the Queensland Government. They were properly drawn up and registered. When Bawra was being brought into existence, honorable members of the Labour party pointed out that there was a likelihood of trouble occurring because of the loosely-drawn agreements that were entered into by the Hughes Government. The manner in which honorable members opposite have contradicted each other in regard to the meaning of this agreement is remarkable. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), who is one of the champions of the Country party, said last night that the British Government had “never agreed that it was not entitled to any profits made from the wool supplied to the wooltops companies.” On that matter the exPrime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes), in 1920, made the following statement: -
It was specifically decided that the Wool necessary for local purposes should be retained in Australia, should he sold to Australian manufacturers at the same price as to Britain, and that this wool should be outside the Pool.
There can be no question that that was intended.
– There is a very big question.
– Wool for the purposes of local manufacture was excluded. When -once a start is made to determine whether that meant wool for export, the argument must be pushed to its logical conclusion, and the wool must be followed through all the processes of manufacture.
– The wool concerned in this deal was sent oversea in the shape of tops.
– The agreement with the British Government was made after consultation with all the parties, and the British Government agreed that wool required for local consumption and for wool tops for export should not go into the Pool. There can be no argument about that. At no time has any claim been submitted by the British Government for participation in the profits on such wool. That Government knows that it has no claim. The cablegrams make that clear, and the
Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) also told us that wool for local manufacturing purposes was specifically excluded from the Pool. I cannot see any grounds whatever for the assertion of some honorable members opposite that the British Government is entitled to participate in the profits on such wool. The British Government has been drawn into this matter in order that Ministerial supporters may say, when we oppose the claim, “ You are against the British Government.” We are against this alleged claim of the British Government, and so is the Prime Minister, who claims to have resisted “it. The ‘ British Government, as a matter of fact, has never made a claim. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) effectively pointed out last night that it was drawn into the matter, because unless its claim can be substantiated, the claim of Bawra cannot be justified. The honest wool-growers do not expect the general taxpayer to find money for supposed profits that were never made in respect of this wool, and thesmall woolgrower will not receive any of it. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), will do well to remember that. We have been informed already that 53,000 of the smaller men were pushed out of the Pool.
– There are thousands of them still in it.
– There are also a few men who have doubled their holdings, and they will get the lion’s share of this £137,000. It is alleged that a number of them’ are, or were, members of the Central Wool Committee. If that is not so, we invite the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) to’ dispel the belief. A rumour that has gained considerable currency, and that merits close investigation, is that a man holding a high official position received a present from persons interested in these negotiations. In the interests of that gentleman’s reputation for integrity, the fullest investigation should be made into this rumour, and a definite statement made as to whether or not he received such a present. Australia prides herself on the purity of her public life, and rumours of this kind ought to be dealt with immediately.
– The honorable member is making a very serious statement.
– I am aware of that. Honorable members on the Ministerial side of the House no doubt know of the currency of these rumours.
– I have’ never heard them.
– Where there is smoke there’ is usually fire. The facts of the case can be ascertained easily by the Government.
– Why does not the honorable member make a definite charge ?
– Why should I make a charge? I am not the Crown Prosecutor. In the interests of the preservation of the purity of Australian public life these rumours should be investigated. If the . Labour party were in power and knew of them it would order an investigation. I think the gentleman concerned should, for the sake of his own character, ask for an investigation. I know that I would do so, if I were in such a position, and had a sense of pride and responsibility for my good name.
– The honorable member’s statement isso general.
– It must necessarily be so, for I have neither the documents nor the power to prove the correctness or otherwise of the rumours.
– Then why make the statements ?
– It is the duty of the Government to investigate them. Why does not the Treasurer, from hie place in this House, give honorable members some information in respect to the charge that has been made ? No honorable member can gainsay that a definite charge of the misappropriation of public moneys has been made. The Treasurer had an opportunity to- reply to it, and it is scandalous that he did not see fit to offer some explanation. The opportunity to do so has passed now that so many honorable members have spoken in this debate. The Treasurer should have been one of the first to speak on the matter. I ask him now definitely to whom he paid this money, when he paid it, how it was paid, and who . received it ? Those inquiries are all relevant to his administration of the Treasury.
– We would also like to know whether half the money went to the British Government.
– That is so. It is important that we should know that, in view of the opinion expressed by the
Prime Minister. If such actions are to be glossed over what is to become of responsible government?
– Why should the Treasurer repeat what the Prime Minister has already said?
– The Prime Minister told us nothing. I ask the honor.abe member for Riverina whether he can induce the Leader of his party even now io give us the information that we are asking for. The agreement that was made for the payment of the money should be produced. There must have been some agreement, and it is surely available. It is hardly conceivable that the money was paid before the conditions governing the payment were written down in black and white. Surely this so-called business Government adopts some business methods, though, of course, it may be playing a sort of “ two-up “ game with the taxpayers, in which it is a case of “ heads you win and tails I lose.” The Government and honorable members opposite who support it have been guilty of most glaring neglect to * conserve the public funds. Some of them hold political beliefs similar to those of the men whom they displaced, and were elected to this Parliament because they protested against the loose administration of ‘the previous Government. They are not here because their sentiments or politics are different from those of the men who preceded them. The honorable member for Riverina, for instance, supports the same Government as that supported by’ his predecessor (Mr. Chanter). The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) does not hold political views contrary to those of the gentleman whom he displaced. Both those honorable gentlemen are members of this House because the rank and file of electors in their constituencies were disgusted with the slavish way in which the men who previously represented their in this House supported the loose administrative methods of the previous Government. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. M. Cameron) and the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) are in the same position. Why are they members of this Parliament to-day ?
– Because the electors sent them here.
– Why’ did the electors withdraw their allegiance from the old members for those districts ? The reason is that their pre vious representatives slavishy followed the loose administrative methods of the Hughes Government. There is also the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes), whose political opinions strongly resemble those of Mr. Story, who preceded him. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner), and the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) are also supporters of an anti-Labour Government. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) is slightly more conservative than the gentleman who preceded him, which is saying a good deal. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook), and the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Whitsitt) also defeated gentlemen holding similar political views. But these honorable members are following the same course as those who preceded them, and the same arguments will be used by those of the same political kidney who are undermining them in their electorates, and who will take their places in the next Parliament. Preferential voting was introduced to consolidate the anti-Labour forces, but those gentlemen who so strenuously advocated the introduction of that system never dreamed that they were consolidating the forces of their own supporters against themselves. The Labour members of the last Parliament could see that there would be many changes after there had been an appeal to the people, because many of those who are now members of this Parliament informed the electors that their old representatives were slavishly following a loose Administration. To-day those honorable members are acting as their predecessors did. They may be successful here for a time, but they ‘ will have to fight on another battle-ground before very long. How can these honorable members justify the expenditure of £137,000 incurred in the absence of a moral or legal claim? If money is to be drawn from the Treasurer’s Advance for such purposes, one naturally- asks what amount will in future be required for the Treasurer’s Advance. We had sufficient secrecy during the war, when an awful, spook -like feeling was sought to be engendered by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who said, “I know certain things which you have no right to know. If you were acquainted with the facts, they would so terrify you that your hair would turn white.” The ex-Prime Minister declared, ‘ ‘ I am the repository of secrets too terrible to disclose.” There is very little information which the Prime Minister possesses which should not be placed before this Parliament. When it is a matter of withdrawing money from public revenue, the fullest publicity should be given. God help the. country if the present practice is to continue! It is the duty of the Government to notify Parliament immediately an agreement of this character has been entered into. I have before me a report from the AuditorGeneral, published in an issue of the Gazette, dated Thursday, 3rd January, 1924, dealing with the financial position for the year 1922-23, together with the Treasurer’s statement of receipts and expenditure for the year ended 30th June, 1923. In the report the Auditor-General says that -
The Government have agreed to pay the sum of £275,393. A settlement has been effected on behalf of the Central Wool Committee, Bawra, and the British Government.
The Auditor-General is referring to the financial operations of the Government up to the 30th June, 1923, and says that a settlement has been effected. I assume that the Auditor-General is dealing only with the operations up to the 30th June, and if that is the case I desire to know what explanation the Government have to offer. There are two questions I desire to ask in the hope of eliciting some information from the responsible Minister. How could there be a settlement if no settlement has been agreed to by the Government? The AuditorGeneral states that a settlement had been effected with the British Government, and the Prime Minister says that he resisted the claim. These are points which have not been touched upon by previous speakers.
– Parliament was sitting until the end of August, and the matter was never mentioned in this House.
– It appears that the Government agreed topay the money to effect a settlement with the British Government. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) said that whatever else is wrong, the figures in the Auditor-General’s report should be correct. I agree with him that if we cannot rely upon that officer, in whom great trust is reposed, the position is very serious. The Auditor-General further says that. £137,696 would be credited to the British Government. I do not know what authority he had for making that statement. I presume he had seen the agreement, and if that is the ‘ case, why should not an agreement submitted to the Auditor-General be made available to honorable members?
– What is the date of the report ?
– The report deals with the receipts and expenditure for the year ended 30th June, 1923, and I presume that the Auditor-General was dealing only with the payments made prior to the 30th June, and that subsequent reports will deal with the financial transactions of the Government after that date. The Prime Minister said that he had not agreed to pay the British Government one penny, and that he resisted its claim. If that is the case an immediate investigation should be made, because we cannot allow the Auditor-General to say that a settlement had been effected, and the Prime Minister to assert that no settlement had been made. My second question is: How does the Auditor-General come to refer to this settlement? It would appear, from his report, that he knew of the arrangement prior to the 30th June, 1923. If so, why was the sum not passed on last year’s Estimates ?
– There has been no explanation about that at all.
– Exactly ., If the Auditor-General did not know of it, how does- it appear in a report purporting to deal with the finances for the year ended the 30th June, 1923? In a fiveminutes’ speech, the Treasurer could throw a flood of light on the whole of the circumstances. Was the agreement arrived at by himself and the Prime Minister during the hasty week last year, after Parliament rose, and before the Prime Minister went to England? Was it done when the Prime Minister was more intent on packing his trunk than giving proper attention to matters ofpublic concern ? So far, the exact date of the settlement has not been made known to the House, and it would appearfrom the AuditorGeneral’s report that finality was arrived at when the House was still in session.
Knowledge of the fact that a settlement had been reached was, apparently, deliberately withheld from Parliament. Was the information kept back because Ministers were afraid that the Labour party would “ switch on. the light,” and make the Government’s friends “ drop the loot “ as happened on another memorable occasion, when members of the Labour party took certain action in regard to the taxation of Crown leaseholds. I should be indeed ashamed of a leader in charge of a responsible Department who would shirk standing up in his place in Parliament and at least giving an outline of his conduct when his administration was called into question. If the Treasurer, even at this late stage, can show that the payment was a proper one, the Opposition will not cavil at it. We would not repudiate the settlement, if it had been reached on fair and moral Grounds, but we do object to it when it has been arrived at in secret, the particulars have been withheld from Parliament, and the payment has been made without parliamentary appropriation. In his long-winded speeches, prior to becoming a Minister the Treasurer always harped on the argument that no payment should be made from public funds without parliamentary sanction. I well recollect his making a long speech in this Chamber, and impressing honorable members with the fact that in him we had a champion of propriety with respect to public expenditure. No more were we to have the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) saying that he had spent so much, and that if Parliament refused to endorse his action it would be acting against the interests of the Empire. That was the old ‘ ‘ gag “ ; but this new champion laid it down definitely that it was time for every party to have a voice as to what taxation should be levied, and the way in which Commonwealth revenue should be disbursed. To-day, however, the Treasurer, in effect, propounds a new principle on these lines: “We spend money and we keep from honorable members the information concerning that expenditure. We do not let either them or the public know the terms of agreements made by tha Government,’ and when we are charged in the House with misappropriation of revenue, I refuse to stand up and give an account of my stewardship.” Surely that marks a serious divergence from the Treasurer’s previouslyexpressed convictions. Every day the fact is forced on our notice that the present Administration is a one-man Government. The Prime Minister’s associates in Cabinet and his supporters are mere automatons. Time after time they have had to dance to whatever tune he has played. I desire to know whether he told the Treasurer that he would not trust him with the task of making an explanation of this transaction. The supposition that the Prime Minister informed the Treasurer that he could not be trusted to explain the matter to the House seems feasible, when one recalls the fact that last year the Prime Minister refused to allow Parliament to continue its session under the Treasurer’s leadership. The Treasurer has not sufficient confidence in himself to explain the situation, and the part he has played. The so-called strong man now appears in a very unfavorable light. Of course, he has been boomed like a patent medicine, by the press that supports him, as a strong man, but I maintain that it is the duty of a. strong man to give an account of his public administration when it is called into question. The electors who are feeling the heavy burden of taxation have not been granted the relief that the Treasurer promised them in his pre-election speeches. Now, on top of that, Parliament is asked to sanction the expenditure under review without any explanation from the Minister who was responsible for the payment. I take it that the Prime Minister or the Treasurer signed the document that led to the payment of the money to the Central Wool Committee. If the amount was paid on the understanding that the British Government was not to receive any of it, and if Sir John. Higgins agreed to this arrangement without consulting the shareholders of Bawra - and I take it that he’ did not consult them - does the Government intend to> let Sir John Higgins get away with this money and improperly pay it in a quarter for which it was not intended 1 If I were in Sir John Higgins’ place, I should take the earliest opportunity, through the press, of making my position clear to the shareholders of Bawra, and to the members of the Central Wool Committee.
– He has made it clear in this pamphlet.
– I invite the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) to explain the position.
– Let the honorable member read the pamphlet for himself.
– I have read it, and it amounts to an indictment of the Government. They knew that this money was going to the British Government. No other interpretation can be placed on the. pamphlet. Some honorable gentlemen want to run with both Sir John Higgins and the Government. This action reminds us of the worst days of the war, when the then Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) was practically the only administrator in Australia. He made agreements without informing Parliament. He restricted the liberties of the people. But we were told, that a new Government would mean the restoration of parliamentary control. It was not until Parliament had reassembled ‘ after the visit of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) to Great Britain, and had sat for a considerable time, that this motion was introduced. That course was followed in the hope that the Prime Minister would make a statement to the House. But when he was asked to make the documents available, he refused to do so. There is nothing worse in the history of responsible government in Australia than the action of the Prime Minister in withholding those documents from honorable members. Once a settlement was arrived at we were entitled to know about it. We did not ask for the documents while negotiations were proceeding, because we did not wish to do anything to prejudice the interests of either side. We desire to know the grounds upon which the settlement was based, who were the persons responsible for bringing it about, the names of the parties participating, the arguments used, and the intention of the Government when the money was paid over. It is useless for. the Government to say that they are not responsible for the actions of Sir John Higgins, because as Chairman of the Wool Committee he acted as an agent for the Government. Responsibility for his actions rests with the Government. If he did something which was not in accordance with the wishes of the Government, particularly in a matter of public concern, it would be the duty of the Government to remove him from office. And in not doing so, in this instance, the Government were lax in their administration. To return to the remarks of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). At the third ordinary general meeting of Bawra shareholders Sir John Higgins said -
The fact that such compromise ‘had been mutually agreed upon was published in the leading newspapers on 5th October, 1923, as was also the fact that under the reciprocal arrangements all profits accruing from Australian wool were on the basis of fifty-fifty, and therefore, the British Government would receive one-half of the amount, . while the woolgrowers received the other half.
It was for the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to- give to honorable members on this, side the detailed information for which they have asked, but . that information has been withheld deliberately from the House. What is the reason ? Why did the Prime Minister not make the terms of the agreement available to the public? Because the public come into this. This payment means that £275,000 will have to be extracted from the pockets of the workers of this country. The honorable member for Yarra made the position clear when he pointed out that that sum represented the taxes paid by 150,000 wage earners on the basic wage. That money, or the major portion of it, will go to a few wealthy speculators who have been able to influence the Government for their own benefit. Mention has been made of the large-heartedness of these individuals, but on no other occasion has it been manifested. Had they not been prepared to give to the British Government a portion of the money received they would have had no claim themselves. They dragged in the Empire and the British Government in order to save themselves. That was done to enable them to say that any opposition by the Labour party was due to the fact that that party was against the Empire. The British Government was made the stalking horse behind which many things were done in the name of loyalty to the Empire. Members of the Country party on every possible occasion drag in the small growers. Yet Sir John Higgins and his colleagues pushed 53,000 of the small growers out.
If any one was entitled to the. money those men were. The small growers who were pushed out had the value of their wool written down to 60 per cent, of the appraised value, and they were charged 7 per cent, discount for cash for three years in the payment made to them. I want to emphasize my contention that there should be nothing within the knowledge of the Ministry which should not be made available to every member of this Chamber. Otherwise honorable members would be unable to do their duty to those whom they represent. The Country party has rightly earned the name of the “Squatter’s Party.” Those honorable gentlemen are termed the “bell wethers of the Nationalist party,” They say to disaffected Nationalist members, “You are dissatisfied with Nationalism then vote for the Country party.” By that means those * members are led back to the Nationalist fold.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s remarks are outside the motion.
– I was using that as an illustration to show the loose methods which have grown up, and which have incensed people outside with their Parliamentary representatives. The Corner party are not exercising their right to insist on proper parliamentary control over the public purse.
– The honorable member seems very concerned about it.
– I am notconcerned about the members of the Country party, but I am concerned about the great body of the people outside who have sent their representatives here under false pretences. Those representatives are doing exactly the opposite to that for which they were sent here. It is unfortunate that the electors will have to wait several months before they will have an opportunity to show their resentment of the attitude adopted by some honorable members towards these great public matters. The honorable members for Riverina (Mr. Killen) and Echuca (Mr. Hill) might very well- be said to be compounding a political felony in this matter.
– I take very strong exception to the remark of the honorable member for Gwydir. He has suggested that I, and the honorable member for
Riverina, have compounded a felony. I ask that that remark be withdrawn.
– The remark is distinctly out of order. There is no such crime as a political felony. As the remark is offensive to the honorable member for Echuca it must be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it,, and say that it was a political crime that this money was paid away without parliamentary appropriation, and that honorable, members, either innocently or otherwise, condoned that action. It has established a precedent which, if followed by other Governments, is likely to lead to considerably increased expenditure in the future. Once money is spent there is very little chance of getting it back. We know the attitude adopted by the Government respecting these matters. In a case arising out of a contract for the construction of certain wooden ships a judgment for £75,000 was given against one of the parties who will derive benefit from the payment to which exception is? taken in the motion of the honorable member for Yarra, but that judgment has not yet been satisfied. At the same time a judgment given against the Government was settled within fourteen days. The taxpayer has to pay up within fourteen days, whilst the friends of the Government are allowed to ignore judgments against them for months, and even for years. I should, have thought that the natural caution of the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) would have induced him to say in connexion with this matter, “ I cannot pay this money until Parliament meets, and I have had an opportunity to place the facts before it.” The people who are to participate in this “ rake-off” are the same as those who have benefited in other rakes-off for which the present Government have been responsible. I shall welcome the opportunity we shall have to place the whole of the ‘facts of this case before the public of Australia, when I shall be able to say that in this matter honorable members on the other side have compounded a political felony.
.- The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) is to be commended for bringing this matter before the House. I agree with the Prime Minister that the honorable member should be commended for the thorough manner in which he dealt with it. He has, as thehonorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) told us, unearthed a scandal, and has shown that upon the Government rests the onus of proving the justice of its action. The difference between the honorable member and the Prime Minister is that whilst the honorable member for Yarra established his case in every detail, the Prime Minister in his reply admitted that, in agreement with the honorable member, he did not allow the British Government’s claim, he did ‘not allow the claim for interest, and he did not allow the . 4,000 odd bales of wool that were in dispute, but he dismally failed to give any. reason for the payment made to the Central Wool Committee. Every honorable member who has spoken from the other side has equally failed to do so. I do not pretend to elucidate this matter in the interests of the taxpayer. That is not my duty, but the duty of the Government, and honorable members . who support it. The Government has paid away £137,000, and we should know why they did so, and on what basis the payment was made. The Prime Minister was not candid, nor was he truthful in his attempt to rebut the statements made by the honorable member for Yarra. “When the right honorable gentleman says that he did not allow the British Government’s claim he is hiding something, or is not telling the truth, as otherwise his statement is meaningless, in view of the report of Sir John Higgins as chairman of the Central Wool Committee. The Prime Minister said that he could not answer the questions of the honorable member for Yarra, and could not allow him to see the papers in the case because of the interests involved. The statement that a certain set of individuals are in this case getting a rake-off is justified in view of the fact that the Government refuses to say why, and on what basis, this money is being paid. If the transaction were quite right the Prime Minister would be in a position to say, “ Here are the ‘documents in connexion with the agreement. I am prepared to take you into my confidence, and tell you why this money was paid on behalf of the people of ‘Australia.” The right honorable gentleman has not done that, and in the circumstances I am not surprised that a newspaper like the Age should rap him over the knuckles as it has done. The newspaper, however, did not go the whole way and tell the people, as it should have done, that it is time the Composite Ministry was broken up. That is what honorable members opposite also should say.
– We might then be worse off.
– I shall not forget to deal with the honorable member’s interjection. In the report of the chairman of the Central Wool Committee which has been circulated, the statement appears -
The claim of the Central Wool Committee against the Commonwealth Government arising out of the contract dated 12th March, 1920, entered into by the ‘ Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and’ the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company was discussed at several conferences between Mr. Bruce and your chairman.
I take it that the basis of the claim was discussed at those conferences, and we should know the grounds upon which the Prime Minister eventually arrived at the decision to make this payment. We should know how much he gave away on behalf of the people of Australia in arriving at an agreement with the Wool Committee. Sir John Higgins, in his report, goes on to explain what the conclusion arrived at was. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) may be interested in this, because he says that the Central Wool Committee paid half of the money to the British Government out of loyalty to a promise made to that Government. Sir John Higgins, in his report, goes on to say -
On the 14th November, 1923, a cheque for £137,696 15s. was received by the Central Wool Committee from the Commonwealth Government, and in conformity with the terms of the agreement entered into between the British Government and the Commonwealth Government the amount was apportioned fifty-fifty between the British Government and Bawra.
In view of the several conferences to which reference has been made, do honorable members mean to tell me that the Prime Minister, notwithstanding his repudiation of the claim of the British Government, did not know that Australian money was being sent to the British Government, whether through the Commonwealth Government or through the Central Wool Committee. The public will not believe that the Prime Minister is telling the truth when he says that he does not know that any of this money was paid to the British Government.
– The only agreement was contained in a couple of letters, one by the Prime Minister, and the other from Sir John Higgins to the Prime Minister.
– I am glad to know that from the Minister for Defence (Mr. Bowden). Am I to understand that this transaction comes within the purview of his Department? The honorable gentleman tells us that the agreement is contained in a couple of letters.
– The honorable member can see the letters if he desires to do so.
– May I ask whether the agreement to which the Minister refers is that which resulted from the several conferences between the Prime Minister and Sir John Higgins?
– That is the agreement.
– Why is it left to the Minister for Defence to make that statement? Why did not. the Prime Minister give this information in his reply to the honorable member for Yarra? On the 14th May, in reply to questions put by the honorable member for Yarra, the Prime Minister said -
The relations between the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, the Commonwealth Government, and the Central Wool Committee are such, as I pointed out last week, that I am -not prepared to lay the papers on the table until I have had an opportunity of fully considering whether the publication of the facts will injure the interests of any one. As soon as I have had an opportunity of considering that aspect of the matter I shall, if possible, make the papers ‘available.
He could not shut his eyes to the fact that there was something behind the questions put by the honorable member. At that time he had not considered the papers, and yet the Minister for Defence tells us now that the whole of the negotiations which led to the agreement are comprised in two letters. I refuse to believe that this matter was settled in such a perfunctory manner. The honorable member for Yarra went’ carefully into the operations of the Wool Pool during the war, and showed that there was no profit payable either to the British Government or to the growers. If the honorable member was wrong in his contention the Prime Minister should have let the House and the country know the facts, and should have explained the basis upon which he agreed to pay £257,000. The indictment of the honorable member for Yarra was such as to call for a most exhaustive reply from the Prime Minister. It has been proved over and over again that the agreement excluded the wool used by the wooltops manufacturing company. With regard to the position of the growers under the agreement, it appears that, owing to a change of circumstances, they are allowed to make a claim for profits over and above what the agreement provided for. If honorable members on this side attempted to treat an agreement in that way they would be immediately charged with repudiation. I quote again a statement by Mr. Hughes, quoted by the honorable member for Yarra -
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 can. have no claim. . . . The contract with the British Government was limited to wool “ over and above Australian requirements,” which included requirements for Australian woollen mills and Australian wooltops combers.
That should be definite enough to satisfy any one; but that agreement ‘is repudiated, and an amount agreed upon between the Prime Minister and the Central Wool Committee has been paid. In all the circumstances, the motion of the honorable member for Yarra in saying that this payment is without moral justification is very moderate indeed. A most immoral act has been done by the Prime Minister, and done in a surreptitious manner. It reflects no credit upon him or upon those who support him. I come now to what I regard as the crux of the whole matter. I look upon this as another war issue. It is another instance of profiteering upon the community by a band of people who, in view of the way in which they howled their loyalty, should have been a little more considerate of a country that has- gone through the war. In my opinion, their loyalty extends no further than their pockets. I think I can justify the statements I have made. I am going to refer honorable members to the remarks of the late Senator E. D. Millen in 1920. He was then a member of the Government. I invite the attention of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) and the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and other wool-growers to what Senator Millen had to say. I invite the attention, also,’ of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), because, on the merits of the case, I expect every returned soldier to condemn profiteering, and to do what he can to put an end to it. This is what the late Senator E. D. Millen said in the Senate on the 3rd March, 1920 -
But what was the thought in the minds of the woolgrowers of Australia when the agreement with the British Government for the purchase of the clip at a flat rate of ls. 3d. per lb. was made ? I have grown a little wool in my time, and I remember that woolgrowers were mighty glad to get 6d. per lb. for the best of our fleeces. We thought it a good price; but when the market commenced to rise and we got 8d. we began to fancy ourselves. No one ever dreamed then of 15£d. as a flat rate -for all wool. And so I say that when this agreement was made, the woolgrowers of Australia were profoundly amazed. It is childish to denounce this agreement in the light of present day wool prices. I say that the woolgrowers of Australia were glad of the arrangement at the time, but now, because the wool market has gone up and up, some people turn round and squeal as if it were a deal that should not have been made. I repeat that it was an excellent deal at the time it was made.
Never previously had the woolgrowers been so well off. In the old days, if they received 8d. per lb. for their wool they fancied themselves, and they never dreamt of receiving a flat rate of ls. 3d. Yet to-day they are crying out because the wool extracted from the Pool for sale to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company was the best merino. The honorable member for Gippsland spoke of the millions of pounds worth of wool that was taken out of the Pool; he did not tell the House that the quantity thus extracted was not more than half per cent, of one clip. The growers are after their pound of flesh; they want compensation, because some wool was taken out of the Pool to keep Australian workmen employed, although they received from the manufacturers a price higher than they had ever dreamed of getting. The growers received from the Pool in 1916-17, £24,000,000; in 1917-18, £41,000,000; in 1918-19, £44,000,000; and in 1919-20, £43,000,000. What a rake-off in war profits ! The Digger at the Front had no share in that haul; he lived still on hard biscuit and bully beef and risked his life every day, whilst the woolgrowers sold for millions of pounds a commodity for which they would not have received more than hundreds of thousands of pounds but for the war.
– What did the other nations get?
– The complaint by the growers is not against the other nations, but against an - Australian company, which directed its efforts to converting greasy wool into tops, and because it got a small share of the £40,000,000 worth of profit from the wool, it is asked by the growers to hand it over. The growers have both feet in the trough and are guzzling as much as possible.
– But the commercial interests were sacrificed before.
– That is no justification. Why did we impose a war time profits tax? If this Parliament had decided to take 100 per cent, of war time profits it would have been only returning to the people money that was illegally taken from them.
– Order; the honorable member’s remarks are wide of the motion.
– I was led astray by an interjection, but my remarks are pertinent to the motion, because the money that has been paid out to the growers is part of the war-time profits.
– The honorable member, as an old parliamentarian, knows that he should disregard interjections.
– It is difficult to resist the opportunity of “getting one home” on the other fellow.
– Several clips were represented in the wool that was sold to the Combing Company.
– I do not care if those sales represented the whole of the wool put into the Pool from its inception to its conclusion. The fact remains that the war gave the growers an’ opportunity to rake off a profit. Reference has been made to the appointment of a Royal Commission. It might be advisable to appoint a Commission to inquire whether the. wool-growers who have claimed this repayment from the Commonwealth paid in full the war-time profits tax. Some honorable members may suggest that Parliament assisted to create these war-time profits, but that charge cannot be laid against honorable members on this side of the House. It was our desire that during the war profits and incomes should be kept within reasonable limits, and our leader, Mr. Charlton, suggested that all incomes in excess of a certain amount should be forfeited to the Commonwealth. We did not desire to allow any rake-off such as the wool-growers have obtained. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) said there was nothing in this wool transaction that called for explanation. If that is so, what did the Prime Minister explain? I do not yet know on what basis the £275,000 is being paid to the wool-growers. I do not know at what price it is assumed the wool would have been sold had it gone to London. The Prime Minister has not explained how half of the payment to the wool-growers is reaching the British Government, and how the transaction appears in the reports of the AuditorGeneral and Sir John Higgins. It is all very well for the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) to say that the payment to the British Government represents the generosity of the woolgrowers. If one may judge that section of the community by some of the disclosures that have been made in this House in recent years, particularly in reference to land taxation, there is not much generosity in their composition. Every time the pastoralists need anything they go cap in hand to the Government. I do not mind the Government giving succour when a good case is made out in behalf of men who have “got it in the neck.” The claim of the wool-growers in respect of the profits on the wool sold to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company is the outcome of a claim made in the House by the then honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), who, on a motion for adjournment, said, inter alia -
We ask that you put us in as good a position as we would have ‘been in had you not taken that wool.
To which Mr. Hughes replied -
I am prepared to consider whether the grower should have as much profit as he would have had if the wool had gone into the Pool and been sold to the British community in the usual way.
– Hear, hear! “That is reasonable.
Honorable members will see that Mr. Hughes made a promise only to consider the request. Then, on the 16th April, 1920, Mr. Rodgers asked him -
Whether the Government are prepared to allow to fhe Australian wool-growers in respect of the wool supplied to the Colonial
Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, under contract, for the manufacturing of wooltops, the same share of profits in such wool as if it formed part of the wool sold to the Imperial Government.
What part of the wool sold to the British Government would it have formed? The Prime Minister has not told the House which year’s prices he used as a basis for calculating the amount of profit that would have been made had the wool formed part of that sold to the British Government.
– The Prime Minister said that he used as a basis for calculation the price fourteen days after selection.
– In other words, London parity. Was the profit the difference between the price at which the wool was” sold to the company and the price which it would have realized in London?
– Half the difference.
– Perhaps the honorable member can tell me who will receive this money. Will they be the shareholders in the Wool Pool at the time the- claim was made ?
– Yes, unless they have sold out.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has pointed out that a lot of original shareholders were squeezed out, and did not know why.
– They knew quite well. They did not object.
– They did not object because the Pool was rigged, and they thought that they were getting out on a good wicket.
– And everybody else thought the same.
– The honorable member for Riverina did not get out of the Pool.
– He was in the know.
– I wish I had been in the know. As a matter of fact, no one knew what was likely to happen.
– I am glad to hear that statement, because it endorses an interjection made the other day by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), when the honorable member for Yarra was outlining the manner in which the Wool Pool had reduced its membership by squeezing certain people out. We have it on the authority of Sir John Higgins -
In time many shareholders may not be woolgrowers. The number of share certificates awaiting transfer indicates that the change in ownership will be material and rapid.
And according to the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), Messrs. Joseph Palmer and Sons say -
Bawra shares always change hands by the hundred thousand each week.
I do not think that any protest was raised by the small wool-growers. As a matter of fact, they accepted the terms offered to them because they did not know the position. Does the honorable member for Riverina agree that the small growers were squeezed. out because they did not understand the terms they got.
– They were not squeezed out.
– Does the honorable member agree that they sold out because they did not understand the terms?
– They were all very pleased with the terms they got.
– I dare say they were. Perhaps they did not know what was likely to happen, but the point is - who is getting this money?
– Thousands of small growers will share in it.
– Can the honorable member tell me how many thousands? It has been shown by the honorable member for Yarra that 53,000 growers did not participate in Bawra. I am inclined to think, with the late Senator E. D. Millen, that the small growers were all satisfied with the Wool Agreement, which provided for a flat rate of ls. 3Jd. for all classes of their wool. The wool-growers of Australia would never have dreamed of getting such a price otherwise, and they have been paid millions of pounds as a result of that agreement, but when they discovered that some one else was making an illicit profit - for so I describe the profit made by the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company - they stepped in to get what they wanted - after squeezing out the little men. That the claim submitted to the Government was on behalf of the big interests, and not of the little men, is proved by the fact that . the- claimants were able to pay a man from £10,000 to £13,000 to look after their interests, and they said to the little man, “ If you have not £100 worth of wool in the Pool you must get out.”
– Small growers benefited by this payment far more than did the large growers.
– I cannot accept such a bald statement when .1 know that Sir John Higgins had declared that the shares were changing very rapidly, and that in time many shareholders in Bawra might not be wool-growers. Sir John Higgins knew what he was talking about, otherwise he would not . have been worth £10,000 a year to the wool-growers.
– He knew that people would be selling their shares all the time.
– Yes, he knew that well, and the way for bringing about this change was made easy by writing down wool values to the extent of 60 per cent., and by manipulating the market in the way indicated by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). It was certainly manipulated.
– Not at all.
– I am willing to believe that half the small wool-growers will share in this money, but I do not believe that they would have willingly submitted a claim which i3 redolent of the worst features that characterized the profiteering during the war. I am very wrath in regard to matters of this description when they come up for discussion. .1 do not forget how these people got others to go to the war by repeating the phrase - “ What did you do in the great war? “ A lot of them will be brazen enough to say, “ I raked off every penny I could on the wool clip, and, when I found that another man had got a bit of what should have come to me, I put a claim into the Government, and got the taxpayers to pay me for what I lost.”
– The wool-growers benefited by the high price of wool.
– I am talking not about the price of their wool, but about the price of their morality, which I maintain was less than the value of the smallest coin of the realm. The point that strikes home most forcibly to me is the fact that while others were fighting overseas they used all their activities to make what profits they could, and I think that that was the view the Government should have taken when, this claim came up “for ratification. There should have been on the part of Ministers more than a resistance of the claim of the British Government, which it has been shown had no basis. They should also have resisted the claim of the wool - growers. . The Prime Minister should have said to them, ‘”’ How many millions did you make out of wool during the war? Are you not ashamed of your-, selves that you. should come to the Government for nearly a quarter of a million pounds?” I agree with the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) that a Royal Commission should be appointed to investigate the whole of the wool transactions during the war, and to ascertain where the big money went, and what the recipients of it paid in the shape of war profits. The Government stand condemned in regard to this transaction. When T was out of Parliament I read the Hansard in which was reported the speech of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), who moved the adjournment of the House to discuss the wool position. From that time on the matter has been in negotiation, and the claim of the wool-growers has been met surreptitiously. Had it not been for the honorable member for Yarra all that Parliament would have known about the transaction would have been from a line in the Supplementary Estimates. The public would have known nothing of the merits or otherwise of the claim.
– The Government have simply paid a debt.
– The honorable member said that the only scandal about the matter was that the amount was not double what it was. He does not mind getting his front feet into the trough. He would wallow in it. It is the predatory instincts of men like the honorable member that we have to fight against. Their attitude right throughout the war was, “ It is not sufficient; bite bigger yet, and bigger yet. There aint going to be no core.” The sayings that in one’s schooldays pointed a moral are very applicable to what was done during the war. Tha instinct of some people was to “ get rightin,” or to “ cut a way right through, 10 matter who was injured.” If any one opposed them, they used to stick a flag in their hat and cry, “Hurrah! God save the King.” I am not saying these things for the sake of being bitter, although the position calls for bitterness, but as I really believed in the sincerity of a loo of the speeches made during the war, I am embittered when I find out how false they were. I was one of those darned fools who thought that they would “ hang the Kaiser.” I condemn the surreptitious manner in which this payment has been made. The Government are evidently ashamed of what they have done, otherwise the Prime Minister would not have answered the honorable member for Yarra as he did, when that honorable member asked for permission to peruse the file. The right honorable gentleman would not give that permission until he had carefully scrutinized the file in order to see if any interests were likely to be injured by permitting the honorable member to peruse it. Why should any interests be likely to be injured ? In any case why should anything be covered up? Why has not the House the right to know the contents of these documents ? I condemn the Ministry because this money has been paid out of the Treasurer’s advance without Parliament being informed that it was to be paid, and because the Prime Minister has not been sufficiently candid in regard to the whole transaction, inasmuch as he has not given the information that honorable members desire. The time taken up by this debate has been well spent in the interests of the country, and the silence of honorable members opposite-
– “ Boredom.”
– It may be boredom to the honorable member, although I am sorry to hear him say it. An intellectual treat has evidently been wasted upon him. Pearls have been cast before swine. But the people of Australia will not be bored when they are told that avaricious individuals have put their claws into the Commonwealth Treasury, and taken money out of it, without any satisfactory explanation on the part of the Prime Minister. I might not have spoken in this debate except to raise” my protest against the step that has been taken if the right honorable gentleman had given that explanation to which the people are entitled, even if Parliament is not. However, I claim that Parliament is entitled to- the fullest explanation of what has been done. Had the same thing been done by a Labour Government, every honorable member in opposition would have spoken. I was in this House when the Income Tax Bill was passed imposing a tax, in some instances of 100 per cent., on the incomes of bachelors, and that Bill was passed in ten hours; but when it was a matter of taking 75 per cent, of war profits, the debate lasted for ten weeks. Every honorable member in opposition spoke against the Bill. It was argued that profits were not profits. Black was made white. Lawyers were argued out of sight. If a Labour Government had been accused of paying loot to war profiteers it . would have been hounded from Dan to Beersheeba for its audacity. However, Ministers have passed the word round that everything is all right, and no doubt a docile majority is prepared to support them, but when the time comes for the general community to express an opinion upon the morality or otherwise of what has been done, the vote of the people will be with the honorable member for Yarra.
.- This debate, ranging as it does over the whole of the wool transactions’ during the war period, to many people may seem rather involved; but after all, it is not very difficult to pick out the two issues that are really material to the motion of censure moved so ably by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). First in importance is the constitutional question - whether the Government acted in a proper constitutional manner by paying to the Central Wool Committee a large sum of money, taken from the Treasurer’s Advance Account, without the authority of this Parliament. In regard to that, we join issue with the Government, contending that it acted wrongly. The AttorneyGeneral (Sir Littleton Groom) at some length used arguments which, are unquestioned to justify the establishment and the existence of the Treasurer’s Advance Account, but he by no means justified its misuse by the Government. He omitted to stress the point that very largely this account was established to. provide for expenditure of an urgent and unforeseen nature. The Attorney-General gave the House instances of similar payments from the Old Country and in Australia, and contended that such payments were parallel with that under discussion. By examining these instances honorable members will find that there is a great deal of difference between them. Those mentioned by the Attorney-General were cases of urgency, and no matter how any honorable mem ber supporting the Government views its action, he cannot contend that there was any urgency for the payment of this money. For three and a half years this settlement was deferred, and it might very well have waited another six months. But in the cases quoted by the Attorney-General, there” was extreme urgency. In one instance the British Government purchased certain antiques for the- British Museum. He told us no more about it, but one can at least imagine that if the antiques, had not then been purchased by the British Government, some one else would have obtained them. It was, no doubt, a matter of extreme urgency. The AttorneyGeneral also mentioned instances in New South Wales, and elsewhere in Australia, of great disasters respecting which relief payments had been made. In those cases the Government had to act at once. The Attorney-General, throughout the whole of his speech, gave not a single instance of a case parallel to the one under discussion, and he certainly completely failed, to justify the payment by the Government of a large sum of money without parliamentary authority. It would have been preferable if the Government had consulted the House on the subject. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) told us that the whole transaction would stand the fullest and closest investigation. If that is so, why did the Government refuse to make available files that were asked for by the honorable member for Yarra and other honorable members?
– Why do not the Government produce the files now?
– That is a pertinent question. We have asked for the files so that, in the public interest, we may become acquainted with the whole of the facts. Time after time the Ministry has refused to, give the House information. Certainly, this afternoon, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Bowden), when the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) mentioned the agreement with Bawra, told us that, after all, it” consisted of only two letters or telegrams that had passed between the ex-Prime Minister and Sir John Higgins. Yet Bawra speaks of an agreement! The Minister for Defence was accidentally present this afternoon, and gave us a scrap of information concerning the agreement. It is only by accident that we obtain information, which, at the most, is told piece-meal. The general public of this country are entitled to know from the Prime Minister and this Government why they should not be acquainted with the facte. Certain honorable members opposite, although they intend to vote with the Government, agree with this side of the House in its view. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) does not concur in the action of the Government, yet he intends to vote with it. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), said that the Government acted in accordance with constitutional and legal practice. I do not deny that in the strictest literal sense, the Government had power to act as they did. We know that the Government has power to pay out money from the Treasurer’s Advance Account. That is self-evident, as they have already done it. Yet the spirit of constitutional practice has certainly been broken, and, as Ministers boasted so much recently about the restoration of reoponsible government, they ought to act both in accordance with the literal interpretation and the best spirit of constitutional practice. The honorable member for Kooyong would have preferred the Government to have taken other action, yet he, like the honorable member for Swan, does not intend to vote against it. This is easily explained, and it is one of the most regrettable features of the whole case. In a matter of dispute such as this, before the Government acted at all, it should have acquainted honorable members with the whole of the facts, especially when at least one honorable member of this House knew the position from A to Z. The ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) was conversant with every phase of it. He dealt with the negotiations, received deputation after deputation, made the agreement, and also the promise upon which this claim was based. The Government might very well have left this matter until we had had the benefit of the advice and experience of Mr. Hughes. It did not suit Sir John Higgins to delay this payment, and to allow Mr. Hughes a voice in the settlement of the claim. The Government did exactly what suited Sir John Higgins and his co-dii’ectors, and cared not a scrap for parliamentary procedure. and constitutional practice. The Government, no doubt, pleased Sir John Higgins. We are told to-day that we should be thankful.- Certainly Sir John Higgins is thankful, but we are very regretful. On that point we challenge the Government, contending that it has created a very bad precedent for future Governments who may wish to pay, on the most flimsy pretext, large sums of money’ to their friends. When a matter of this kind is brought up in the House, it is very difficult to ascertain from some honorable members whether they think the Government’s action is justified. When a Government has paid money on disputed claims out of the Treasurer’s Advance Account, the only way in which the Opposition can complain is to move a vote of censure against it. But the moment such a motion is moved another issue arises in the minds of supporters of the Government, and the two issues are confused. There is the issue of the legality of the action of the Government, and that raises this greater issue, whether honorable members opposite should support a motion of censure which aims at the displacement of the Government.
– The Labour party sets a good example in solidarity.
– The Labour party has always been solid upon proper constitutional procedure. I do not think that even the Minister can point to any case where a departure has been made by Labour Governments from constitutional practice. We are having an excellent example of solidarity in the attitude of honorable members opposite on this occasion. I have already referred to two honorable members, one of whom said that although he was against the action of the Government, he intended to vote with it. We quite understand that party interests almost force honorable members to follow such a course. Two issues are involved, and party interests say, “While we may disagree with the action of the Government, we cannot, in the interests of our party, vote for ‘ the motion.”
– The . honorable member might add the words, “ and our beliefs.”
Mr.F. McDONALD.- I do not think that the honorable member can justify the action of the Government. He has not expressed an opinion, and yet he for years supported a Government which certainly considered that no such action should be taken, and that no such claim should be recognized, lie is now supporting a Government which not only recognized the claim, but, behind the back of Parliament, paid the money upon a disputed basis. The honorable member is silent; he makes no attempt “to justify his action. It is regrettable that when we endeavour to get a decision upon the action of the Ministry, the question becomes involved in another issue, so that we cannot obtain from honorable members opposite the decision that their personal opinions would prompt them to give. It is difficult to get an honest vote; party interests are so strong that honorable members are forced to act against their consciences. I remind them that time after time they have gibed at members of the Labour party for putting the interests of that party before the interests of the country, but on the present occasion, unless they can justify the action of the Government, they cannot support it without making party interests paramount. No one except the Prime Minister has attempted any justification. He said, rather weakly, that, “ After all, we ought to settle this account.’’ He said he “resisted the claim for interest.” The amount of interest that could be claimed was nil, but, apparently, it would mount up, on the basis of nil plus, nil ! Nought, plus nought, plus nought, will add up to a large amount ! That was the weak excuse made by the Prime Minister for settling this claim without the sanction of Parliament, and for treating it as urgent. Again I challenge honorable members on the other side to show that there was any urgency, excuse, or reason for settling the claim without the knowledge of Parliament, or for keeping honorable members on this side in complete ignorance of the facts. So much for the constitutional aspect. Now I come to another important point. This debate has taken place because of a promise made by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) regarding certain bales of wool extracted from the Pool. He said that the wool-growers should not suffer. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) has read the question and answer. Mr. Hughes said that the growers would be placed in the same position as if the wool had gone forward in the ordinary way to Bawra, and a promise of that kind made by a Prime Minister should certainly be honoured, whether made to the poor or the rich section of the community, The next point to consider is how the claim should be honoured. The wool was not sent forward to Bawra’ in the ordinary way and sold in Great Britain, but a claim was made by Sir John Higgins and settled by the Government agreeing to pay £275,000. That settlement was not on the basis of the promise made by Mr. Hughes. While the payment has been made upon a basis other than the promise made by Mr. Hughes, it is remarkable that not one honorable member on the other side of the House has attempted to justify the basis of payment. Not only that, but certain of them have refused to admit that the basis is proper and legitimate. Personally I knew very little about the matter before I heard the debate, but, being anxious to find out whether the promise had been honoured, and whether the claim was just, I have listened very attentively to the arguments on both sides. I was interested to ascertain whether honorable members opposite could justify the basis of payment, and I have heard only one honorable member - the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) - who has attempted to do so. Not only did he claim that the basis was just, but he said that much more ought to have been paid. To that extent the honorable member’s views are like those of Sir John Higgins, for, if we can believe the Prime Minister, Sir John Higgins also contended that much more should have been paid. It is remarkable that out of seventeen or eighteen members of this House who have spoken in the debate, only one has attempted to justify the basis of payment. That is important, because the basis of payment is the bone of contention between the Prime Minister and Sir John Higgins. The Prime Minister said he did not agree with the basis of payment. These are his words -
The other basis we have contended for is that the price should be that which would, have been realized if the wool had been included in the British Government’s purchase, shipped in due course to Britain, and sold at a certain date.
The Prime Minister’s contention, and the contention of every honorable member upon this side of the . House, is that if there was any just claim it should be made upon the basis set out by the Prime Minister. Sir John Higgins and members of the Wool Committee took the view that the claim should be based upon the price of wool at London parity fourteen days after selection.’ It is significant that the date selected by them was the date when peak prices ruled in London. I suggest that they selected that advantageous position for themselves.. The Prime Minister “ resisted “ their claim, and “ contended “ for something else, but he did not come to this House screaming for our protection. We oan. imagine that the exPrime Minister, if these people had endeavoured to exert power upon him, would have screamed very loudly. The present Prime Minister merely tells us that he “resisted” and “contended,” but we can see no evidence of his resistance. He does not tell us how far his resistance went. Honorable members on this side would like to see the file that has been denied us. I feel sure that if we could get it it would show records of resistance by the ex-Prime Minister. Where the ex-Prime Minister resisted the present Prime Minister yielded. He told these people “ Your claim is invalid and exorbitant.- I resist it,” and in the next breath he said, “ I yield.” When addressing this House he said, “ They made this demand and I yielded,” and then he called it “ a compromise.’’’ All the presumptive evidence goes to show that if the wool had been treated as if it had been sold to Bawra and shipped to London, there would have been hardly any money to pay to these people to honour Mr. Hughes’s promise. Sir John Higgins knew that very well, and therefore he would not accept that basis for payment. The Prime Minister said something to the same effect -
It is practically impossible, however, to ascertain by how much the growers’ assets would have been increased by such a sale.
The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) contends that the growers would have received much more on that basis, but Sir John Higgins knew better, refused to accept that basis, and made the preposterous demand conceded by the Government.
– How could the amount have been determined on the other basis ?
– It would have been easy to ascertain the ‘price realized by other wool sold at the time when this wool could reasonably have been supposed to be sent forward. Calculating on that basis, the amount involved in the honouring of Mr. Hughes’s promise would have been very small indeed, if not quite negligible. The wool . people set up a preposterous claim for something like £300,000, and they obtained £275,000 of the taxpayers’ money. The sequel shows that they got more than they bargained for, and more than they were entitled to, for, having received £275,000 . to recompense the growers, Sir John Higgins decided that half of if would honour Mr. Hughes’s promise, and that the other half should be sent to the British Government. I should like to know what honorable members opposite have to say on that aspect of the case. Clearly Sir John Higgins accepted the view that half the money was sufficient to honour the promise. The Prime Minister has told us that Sir John Higgins, out of his generosity, paid half the money to the British Government. If the Government would pay me £200,000 to which I had no claim, I, too, could afford to be generous. Sir John Higgins could afford to be generous. He said the claim had a moral basis, and he pushed it most immorally. That,- also, is an. important aspect of the case. We know that the claim had no legal basis; the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) has told us so. Therefore, there was no reason why the payment should have been hurried. It is important to consider whether Sir John Higgins and the members of the Central Wool Committee were persons who generally upheld high moral and ethical principles, or whether, on the other hand, they were persons who, as the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) said, thought not of their country’s good, but of profiteering. In what category are they to be placed ? For answer, look to the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). That right honorable gentleman agreed eventually that he ought to pay £275,000 in satisfaction of the claim. What was the nature of that claim? If what the Prime Minister said is true, the claim was not for £275,000, but for £900,000. Portion of the right honorable gentleman’s speech reads - . . ‘ . if there were anything in the contention that the British Government also should participate, the result being that the total would have reached nearly £900,000.
That was the claim made by Sir John Higgins and the members of the Central Wool Committee- that £900,000 should be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue of this country. The Prime Minister, though a generous man, would not agree to that. He agreed to a payment of £275,000, although he had contended all along that these persons were not entitled to receive even that sum. What sort of persons are they who make a claim for £900,000, knowing very well that it is not a genuine one, and in the end are more than satisfied when they receive £275,000? So satisfied were they that out of their generosity they divided the money with the British Government in equal parts. I do not believe for one moment that the British Government, which profited to the extent of £30,000,000 or more from the handling of our wool, ever made such a claim upon the taxpayers of Australia.
– It would have been an audacious claim had it been made.
– It was . an equally audacious claim on the part of Sir John Higgins and the members of the Central Wool Committee, considering that Bawra, to whom the Committee was paying the money, also had made profits totalling £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 from the wool clips, of Australia. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) informed us last night that the claim of the British Government was just as strong as that of the Central Wool Committee. He might have added that it was just as weak. In neither case, so far as I can see, were there any grounds for the makingof a claim except in so far as one could be founded on the promise made by Mr. Hughes. We certainly were in duty bound to enquire into that promise to see in what way it could be honoured, and to honour it along the lines indicated by the ex-Prime Minister. He defined those lines very clearly when he said that the wool -growers should be treated in the same way as they would have been had the wool gone into the Pool and been sold in the ordinary way. That has not been done. Some undue influence has been exerted on the Prime Minister and the members of the Government. Several of the Ministers in this Government held portfolios in the preceding Government. They then backed up their leader “ in his resistance of this claim. Now they have agreed to recognize the claim. The inescapable inference is that if to-morrow they joined the Labour party they would be quite prepared to again resist the claim. For three years they resisted it, but suddenly they yielded. Were any fresh arguments adduced ? There could be none. Was a fresh interpretation obtained of the promise made by the ex-Prime Minister? No, because his advice was not. sought. On the contrary, the record of his resistance was ignored and discarded. What unseen influence was exerted to extract this money from the public purse of the Commonwealth ? What influence could move these honorable gentlemen who for three and a-half years resisted this claim ? I do not profess to know. Some persons may guess at its nature. Whatever it was, I think it was a very sinister and harmful influence. In passing, I think we ought to pay a tribute to the ex-Prime Minister’ for having resisted this influence for three years. Is there a political significance in the existence of such an influence in Australia ? Is the Prime Minister in his present position because he would not bow to this unseen influence which has now forced him, against his will, to yield to the exorbitant “demands of these persons who were actuated by such cupidity?. I have no doubt, that when this matter arises on the Supplementary Estimates the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) will tell us more about it than we have heard during this debate. The Government is deserving of censure for having departed from the accepted principles of parliamentary practice, in paying this money out of the Treasurer’s Advance. The proper course was open to it. The matter could have been decided upon its merits without having the issue confused by a motion of censure, which prevents many honorable members from voting honestly according to their opinions. A further ground for censure is that the Government has yielded to an outrageous and exorbitant demand upon the public purse, of which they are the guardians, by these persons who were rightly described by the honorable member for Adelaide as profiteers, and not patriots.
– It is surprising to one who occasionally indulges in a little sober thought to observe the levity with which this matter is being treated by honorable members opposite. No doubt they are endeavouring to laugh it off. One would think that an honest payment had been made out of Consolidated Revenue to persons who absolutely deserved it; whereas, in the language of the motion, there were neither legal nor moral grounds for making the payment. Therefore, any honorable member who endorses the action of the Government is conniving at an illegal and immoral’ action. Prom my knowledge, I do not consider that one penny of this sum should have been paid. The taxpayers had not received any benefit, and why should they be called upon to find £275,000 ? It may be “heterodoxy on my part to suggest that sometimes Ministers make an affirmative reply to questions asked by a particular supporter, when a negative answer ought to be given. I should very much like to hear the views of the man who is the chief witness in this case. Honorable members on the other side may say that the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes ought to be in his place in this House instead of being engaged in a lecturing tour in the United States of America. I do not attempt to excuse his absence, but, with the honorable member for Barton (Mr. F. McDonald), I fully believe that were he here he would place upon this matter a complexion decidedly different from that which has been placed upon it by the Prime Minister and honorable members opposite. He knows the contents of every letter on the file. He had charge of the matter from the formation of the Wool Pool, during the period of the war, and for a considerable time after the war had ended. If he were refused access to the file he would be able to relate from memory exactly what transpired during the negotiations. It is an undeniable fact that the ex-Prime Minister was subjected to the pressure of one of the strongest bodies in Australia. Although he made a half-hearted promise to the then honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), he resisted that pressure for three and a half years. My belief is that, if he were still Prime Minister, notwithstanding his hurried affirmative to the honorable member for Wannon, this £275,000 would be devoted towards paying some of the big interest bills on debts contracted during the war.
– Perhaps that is why he was removed from office.
– Politics in this country appear to be at a decidedly low ebb. Judged by the conduct of Ministers and their supporters, they have been reduced to the dirty gutter type. I have no hesitation in saying1 that. I can describe in no other way the actions of men who profess to be honest, but dip both hands deeply into the public purse and enrich their friends at the expense of the general taxpayer. In my humble judgment the electors are only waiting for the opportunity to hurl every man who will be guilty of the infamy of voting in support of such an action from the high place which he holds into the depth of oblivion from which he should never have emerged. Every honorable’ member who has not the courage to express his opinions on this matter, and declare himself to be against such an action of the Government, should be so treated. This Government has proved that it has not a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned, and it has disgusted the people of Australia. Scarcely has any Government so besmirched the fair escutcheon of this country. I have said before,, and I say again, that a thief who- robs a dwelling house of jewellery and money, and gets, away with the plunder, is comparatively honest compared with the man, or the body of men, who rob the public purse. Some people, however, consider that the Government is always fair game. The conduct of the Government in this matter merits strong language. I do not take advantage of the protection afforded me by my membership of this House to make statements here which I would not make outside. I dealt with the maladministration of the Government last Thursday night at Geelong, although I did not discuss this particular transaction at any length. I consider it to be my duty to guard jealously the public interests from the financial point of view. I ask honorable members, as I asked the electors that night, what moral sense can any Govern- . ment claim when it disposes, as this Government did, of assets worth £300,000 or £400,000 for £150,000 to its own political friends and supporters. That happened in connexion with the Commonwealth Woollen Mills at Geelong. In spite of such actions, honorable members of the Country party, who claim to be advocates of economic administration and fair dealing, continue to support the Government. I do not claim to be unusually honest, but I have always regarded it as my duty, as a member of this Parliament, to protect the public interest in every way possible, and to prevent, so far as I can, such totally unwarranted and illegal expenditure of the .taxpayers’ money as this Government has been guilty of from time to time. A clearer case of an. illegal and immoral payment of public money to persons not entitled to it has rarely, if ever, been stated in this House than that presented last Friday by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin). The Prime Minister gave no answer to the charges made by the mover of this motion. He simply pleaded guilty. I can imagine what his attitude would have been had a body representing other interests in the community claimed assistance from the public funds. If the Bakers Union, for instance, had applied for help, the Prime Minister would have laughed it out of the deputation room. The wool-growers, however, may haunt the lobbies of this building after darkness falls, and wait upon the Prime Minister to present their improper requests to him. These gentlemen have resisted all efforts to collect the war-time profits tax that was justly levied upon them. During the war many sheep-owners and wool-growers, who were in comparatively poor circumstances became almost millionaires. I have known them in years gone by to express the greatest satisfaction when foreign wool-buyers purchased the best Australian merino wool for 9d., 10d., or lid. per lb. Under the wool agreement, they were paid a flat rate of ls. 3-d.- a lb. for all the wool used toprovide for the requirements of the British and Allied Armies, and as much as 2s., and even 3s., a lb. for wool consumed in the ordinary commercial way. They participated in profits amounting to £60,000,000 for the sale of wool other than that covered by the flat rate.
– And they have not paid their war-time profits tax.
– That is so. The Government endeavoured to give them relief in that respect to the extent of £1,300,000. It has relieved them of the liability to pay Federal land tax on certain of their leasehold, notwithstanding that some of them are the richest men in Australia. It appears that the Government is prepared to give them whatever they ask for. If the £275,000 involved in this transaction had belonged to the individual members of the Government, or to their supporters, especially those of Scotch extraction, they would not have considered paying it over; but, because it is public money, they are careless and indifferent to what becomes of it. Perhaps they think that when election time comes, and they have to face the wrath of the people on account of their misdoings, it will be a good thing to have some money-bags behind them to meet their election expenses. They will then look to the people to whom they have granted concessions to pay their billa, and, no doubt, the interests behind Flinders-lane and the proprietors of big landed interests will see that the bills are paid. It is amazing that the representatives of the Country party in this Chamber support the Government. What do those honorable members care for the interests and welfare of the farmers ? They are supposed to represent the men who occupy small holdings, but they sacrifice the interests of such men every time, and support the wealthy squatters. I shall be very glad when the Supplementary Estimates are before the House. I do not know whether the £137,000 which has still to be paid on account of this deal will be provided for in those Estimates. I dare say that the Treasurer still has money to provide that sum if he wishes to do so.
– I do not think he has, or he would have paid it.
– In any. case, when the Supplementary Estimates are before us, we shall have another full-dress debate on this subject, and on that occasion a voice will be heard which has not been heard in this discussion. When the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) returns from his tour of America, he will take a part in the discussion that the Government will not relish. I do not know whether the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) will then be prepared to lay on the table of the House all the papers connected with this transaction. Whether he does so or not, the right honorable member for North Sydney will be able to give us some information which is not now available to us. I think it will be clearly shown then that this payment is unexcusable, on the grounds of either emergency or urgency. I can quite understand the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) making some trenchant remarks last night on the conduct of the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes). Right through his election campaign he traduced the exPrime Minister, and that, combined with the fact that he was given the second preferences of Labour voters, accounts for his presence in this chamber: I suppose he would call what he presented to us last night a reasonable argument, especially in so far as it dealt with the payment of this money from “ Treasurer’s Advance. He gave us a list of the total payments made out of the Treasurer’s Advance in the last few years and showed that they had increased from under £600,000 a year to considerably over £1,000,000 a year. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) wittily and wisely interjected at that point that as the hold of the Composite Government on the Treasury bench had become stronger, so the payments from the Treasurer’s Advance had increased. The honorable member for Kooyong contended that because the payments from that fund had increased, the Government had acted properly in paying this amount from it. I do not wish to .adopt the attiture of the schoolmaster, but I suggest that in making that submission the honorable member showed the apprentice hand, or else he was indulging in some of those legal subleties with which legal men sometimes attempt to cloud an issue. If it was simply a case of an apprentice hand he may be forgiven, but if his object was to cloud the issue before honorable members, his attempt was clumsy. Some of us have been members of this honorable House for many years, and the honorable member for Kooyong is com-‘ paratively new to it; therefore, I feel justified in saying that if he had examined the items which comprise the various totals he mentioned last night, he could have ascertained that not a single item which was included in them could be compared with the payment now under notice. The argument of the AttorneyGeneral on this aspect of the subject was also deplorably weak. If any honorable member will search the records of the procedure of any legislative assembly that may be compared with this one, especially those of the British House of Commons, he will see that no payment from Treasurer’s Advance has been justified except in case of emergency or urgency. Certainly some payments made from- that fund ha/ve resulted in the defeat of Governments. No honorable member would adversely criticize a payment from Treasurer’s Advance which was really required in consequence of emergency or urgency. If, for instance, war were declared, or Australia were attacked by a foe, it might be necessary for the Treasurer to use every available penny of public money, and he would incur no censure for so doing. In the ca3e under notice, however, the money was paid to some of the wealthiest men in Australia after payment had been resisted for three and a half years by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes). There was no suggestion of starving families or great hardship in this case. For three and a half years the matter had been in dispute, and it should not have been settled until Parliament had had an opportunity to consider all the facts connected with it. Why was pressure brought to bear upon members of the Cabinet who yielded to the representations made by a section of the community? It would be interesting to hear what the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Pratten) has to say on this question, as he is a member who has studied financial questions very closely, and should be able to say if the right thing has been done. It is a foregone conclusion that the motion .submitted by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) will be defeated, but those who are supporting the Government will have to explain, to their constituents why, in face of the evidence adduced, they favour the payment of this large sum of money. I can only repeat a statement I made earlier in my speech that the action of the Government in this connexion discloses a .very low state of political morality. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. F. McDonald) touched upon one phase of the question on which I intended to speak somewhat fully, aud that is that the present Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), the Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom), the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster), the honorable member for Warringah (Sir Granville Ryrie), and the ex-member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) were all members of a previous Administration upon which pressure was brought concerning the payment of this amount. The honorable member for Wannon, as a private member, sub- mitteda question to tlie ex-Prime Minister (Mr.’ Hughes), to which he received an affirmative reply, but later, when taken into the Cabinet, he failed to see that effect was given to that promise- .It would be interesting to know the attitude adopted by honorable members opposite who were then members of the Cabinet when this claim was submitted. -Although negotiations had been proceeding for some time it was not until the ex-Prime Minister had been ejected from office that the solicitations of wool-growers and others were favorably considered. The honorable member for Warringah will undoubtedly vote to keep the present Government in power, although he, with those with whom he was associated in the Hughes Government, agreed to the payment of this money being deferred or declined. If they were consulted in regard to it - I am not sure, but I presume they were - evidently the then Prime Minister was able to convince them that the claim made by this organization was not fair and equitable, and because of that it was resisted. The whole question is dealt with in a rather significant way by the chairman of the Wool Committee. His remarks have already been embodied in Hansard, but, perhaps, it is worth while to again record them. In an address to the third ordinary general meeting of the shareholders of Bawra, held on the 29th May, 1924, the chairman, Sir John Higgins, in dealing with this question, said -
In answer to a question asked in the House of Representatives, Mr. Hughes stated that the Government was prepared to allow to the wool-growers, in respect of wool supplied to the company under the contract, the same share of profits in such wool as if it formed part “of the wool sold to the .Imperial Government (Hansard, 16th April, 1920). A claim was, therefore, put forward by the Central Wool Committee on 4th November, 1920, and subsequently by the British Australian Wool Realization Association Limited; but Mr. Hughes, while admitting the Government’s willingness to fulfil the obligations incurred by his promise, would not accept the basis on which the Central Wool Committee construed its claim.
No settlement ‘had been effected up to the time that Mr. Hughes resigned from office. Negotiations were taken up with his successor, and several -interviews took place between the Prime Minister (the Right Honorable S. M. Bruce, P.C., M.C.’ M.P.j’.’ and myself. Finally, a compromise was arrived at, and I was authorized bv both the Central Wool Committee and the British Australian Wool Realization Association to accept in full settlement a payment of £275,393 10s. lOd.
The Prime Minister had not any comment to make concerning that statement. Arguments were submitted to the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes), who resisted the claim made by this organization. The same people referred to by Sir John Higgins and his colleagues on the Wool Committee waited upon the present Prime Minister, with whom they argued until he finally agreed to a compromise and sanctioned the payment. Those directly interested appear to have secured more than they expected, because they propose to give one-half of the amount received to the British Government. ‘ What did the present . AttorneyGeneral, the honorable member for Warringah, and the honorable member for Wakefield have to say when the Prime Minister intimated that a claim which had been rejected by an Administration of which they were members was to be granted? The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) said that Sir John Higgins, who was not on the most friendly terms with Mr. F. W. Hughes, placed obstacles in the way of that gentleman, which prevented the company with which he was associated carrying on its work. In consequence of a disagreement between these two men - Mr. P. W. Hughes was one of the original members of the Central Wool Committee - a large number of men employed by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving’ Company, of which Mr. F. W. Hughes was the principal, were thrown, out of work. The Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, which was operating in a big way, was using what is known as skin wool for the manufacture of. wooltops, and enjoyed all the privileges of the wool-growers for a period of two years, when it was compelled to place its wool in the Pool. I understand that in 1919 the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company supplied 7,000 bales of skin wool to the Central Wool Committee, and in 1920 an additional 9,800 bales, making a total of 16,800 bales, but the company, which was producing skin wool, was eventually deprived of the profits it had been receiving. The Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company controlled a large slaughter-house, from which meat was also supplied, and as the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Pratten) interjected last . night, when the honorable member for South Sydney was speaking, if the company had been allowed to conduct its works as previously it would not only have been able to meet its contract for the supply of wooltops to Japan, but would have been in a position to sell meat at a cheaper rate.
– The honorable member appears to hold a brief for Mr.F. W. Hughes.
-No. If I consider a person has been -unfairly treated I shall, irrespective of his political opinions, do my best to see that he receives justice. I shall do no more than that. I do not think it can be said that there is a man in Australia who knows more about wool than Mr. F. W. Hughes, and his knowledge of the industry was such that he was appointed one of the original members of the Central Wool Committee.
– He was mainly responsible for the scheme.
– Yes ; and because Sir John Higgins considered his presence on the Committee undesirable, he was squeezed out. Difficulties were placed in the way of his company, and eventually it was impossible for him to carry on the huge industry which he was controlling. His works were closed down for eighteen months, men were thrown out of employment, and the loss of wealth to the Commonwealth in consequence of the action of the Chairman of the Wool Committee must have been considerable. It has been mentioned that it was strange that the ex-Prime Minister should endeavour to come to an arrangement with this company when the operations of the1 Pool were being wound up. I am not here to defend the actions of the ex-Prime Minister or Mr. F. W. Hughes, but when the former gentleman attempted to do the fair thing every obstacle was placed in his way. I believe I am correct in saying that the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company would not have required to obtain a single pound of wool from the Central Wool Committee if it had been allowed to carry on in the ordinary way. In consequence of the action taken, the skin wool had to go into the Pool and be sold at a flat rate, but notwithstanding that, this company as well as others was not allowed to participate in the profits disbursed. It is peculiar that this company, which in two years supplied over 16,000 bales of skin wool to the Central Wool Committee and which purchased 8,000 bales of good merino wool for the manufacture of tops,.’ was able to make an arrangement with the ex-Prime Minister which could not be made with the Central Wool Committee. The Committee said that the wool should go into the Pool in the ordinary way, and if it did not, the difference between the price obtained would have to be divided between the British Government and Bawra, as would have been done if it had been sold in the ordinary way. It was a wrong thing on the part of the Government to pay a single penny from the Treasurer’s Advance to any one. The persons who received the money had no claim to it, even if a promise had been made. It will be interesting to hear what the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has to say on this question when it is under discussion later in the session. If he admits that he would have acted in the same way in similar circumstances, I believe it would remove a great deal of the doubt which now exists. I trust that if the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Pratten) joins the Government, as is expected, that he will endeavour to prevent, transactions such as this being carried on in such a secret manner. Do honorable members opposite favour these secret methods in connexion with important financial transactions in which, the taxpayer’s money is handed out to a certain section of the people ? All I can say is, that if those honorable members who were members of the previous Administration support the Government in this instance they will, to use a legal term, be accessories not only before but also after the fact. Those opposing the motion are, on the facts given by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and corroborated by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), acting wrongly. Why do not honorable members opposite express their opinion? I am sure that if their own private funds were involved, they would not agree to the payment of even £5 in similar circumstances. They would demand, either from the Courts or from some other tribunal, reparation and a settlement.
– This is the result of the Government interfering in trading transactions.
– Not necessarily so.
– It always follows.
– Not always. If we faithfully traced the records of some of the State enterprises sold by this Government, they would show that those enterprises were exceptionally profitable. To follow the honorable member’s argument to its logical conclusion the Government should dispose of the Post Office, the railways, and all other State instrumentalities.
– Then there would not be the trouble which the Opposition has had in preparing this big case.
– The honorable member knows full well that the wool business could not have been conducted without’ Government assistance.
– In war time I do not take exception to Government intervention.
– Government operations arising out of war cannot be brought to a conclusion as soon as peace is signed. Some of the transactions may not have been nearly completed. Even now some of the aftermath of the late war remains. It would have been disastrous, to both secondary and primary industries if the Government had not stepped in as they did during the war period. Honorable members opposite had the unblushing; effrontery to refer critically to the purchase of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers, althought it is generally admitted that the action then taken by the Government was justifiable. It was a courageous thing to do, because the purchase of the “ Austral “ steamers involved the expenditure of millions of money; but there was no loss on those vessels; they paid for themselves.
– The purchase had not the sanction of the Parliament.
– That is so. It was a war measure, and, as I have already said, no member of the Opposition objects to any legitimate expenditure that an emergency has rendered necessary. There are times when a Government must throw precedent to the winds. In the present case the wool -growers were not begging in the streets. They were not like workmen out of employment* for they are associated with big financial concerns which constantly return them handsome profits. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) very properly said that, as the matter was not an urgent one, the wool-growers could well have waited until Parliament had been given an opportunity to sanction the payment. If payments such as this can, on the mere word of the Prime Minister, be made from the Treasurer’s Advance Account, Parliament will be careful in future, I should think, as to how much money it votes for that fund. When a public work is nearly finished, and a sum of, say, £5,000 is required to complete the job, it is in the interests of the taxpayers that the extra. amount should be made available out of the Treasurer’s Advance Account. That is precisely the purpose for which the account was established, and it is often used in that way, but no man in his senses would advocate that it should be drawn on to meet a demand not of an urgent nature. I have been a member of the House for over fourteen years, and it is surprising to mie to observe how quickly new members get into a groove, as though they were the oldest of parliamentary tricksters. Would any of these new members, if the question had been put to them on the hustings, have approved of the payment by the Government of £275, 000 of the taxpayers’ money without parliamentary authority, when the case was- not urgent ? Had they been asked such a question they would have waxed indignant, and the answer would have been given emphatically that they would not tolerate such a procedure for a moment. This thing has now been done by the Government, but the majority of honorable members opposite are silent, and those who have ventured to comment on the transaction have offered excuses for the Government’s course of conduct. The honorable member for Swan knows perfectly well what the answer of a parliamentary candidate would be. An aspiring Country party representative would say, “ This is the very thing that our leader, Dr. Page, has been condemning in the House. He has made the very welkin ring because of what has been done in this direction by Mr. Hughes and others.” When Sir Joseph Cook ‘ was Treasurer, the honorable member for Cowper denounced him in the House, and said that his methods of finance amounted to a fraud upon the taxpayers. Now that the honorable member occupies the position of Treasurer he adopts an entirely different attitude. What a change has occurred in his political ideals ! When did he fall from the high pedestal on which he stood when his admiring followers saw his face beaming with honesty, and when they probably thought, “ This is a man who would not allow public money to be paid away without parliamentary sanction.” Yet he. is the very Minister who signed the cheque.
– A good, honest transaction.
– If that is the honorable member’s idea of honesty then God help this country.
– It is a matter of keeping faith.
– When the honorable member rises to speak he will no doubt justify the action taken by the Government.
– He cannot justify it. That is why so many honorable members opposite are silent.
– We like listening to you.
– Honorable members on the other side are developing hides as tough as that of a rhinoceros. How will these advocates of clean public finance bo able to justify their attitude to their electors? “ How are the mighty fallen !” This poor unfortunate Country Party ! No level-headed judge or jury would hesitate in saying to whom the verdict should be given. The evidence has been extensive, conclusive and incriminating, and it only remains for the sentence to be delivered. The pity is that Parliament is not able to pass just sentence here and now. But there is a grand jury to which the Opposition looks with every confidence. When the appeal to the people comes there will be such an overwhelming condemnation of the Government and its followers that many of those honorable members who now smile over what to my mind is a dishonest transaction will be gloomy indeed, because the electors will have done with them. I speak more in sorrow than in anger, because I had hoped that new members would not have become so morally sodden as they have. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) smiles at me, but it is a most serious matter. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) is almost splitting his sides with laughter.
– There is such a thing as a poor attack.
– And also a poor response’. I do not believe in lauding newspapers as a general rule, but the Argus bo-day has a sub-leader, the text for which was evidently supplied last night by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). The Argus deals with this question honestly, and honorable members would be well advised to read it. I hope that this will be the last occasion on which we shall have to attack any Government for an action of a similar nature. I conclude by repeating what I said at the beginning - that .this is one, of the most” illegal and immoral acts ever performed by any Government.
.- In common with other members of this House, I heard of this transaction with regret. The payment of £137,000 to the Wool Committee should have been made public in this Chamber from an official source immediately the House reassembled after the return of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). But it was left to a private member on this side to draw the attention of the country to the payment of this large sum from the public purse to a corporate company, to be divided among its shareholders.
– It was published, in the press last October.
– But not until Parliament had gone into recess. Does the honorable member, with all his legal knowledge, consider that when a Minister,’ in a moment of weakness, gives to a newspaper reporter certain information, that exonerates him from the necessity of giving that information to this House ? It was the duty of the Minister to place the position before the representatives of the people of this country. But he did not do so. The whole transaction has been characterized by a lack of candour on the part of the Prime Minister, which I very much regret. The right honorable gentleman was not frank when he said that he did not know that one-half of the amount of £137,000 was going to the British Government. ‘Had he been able to say that he had been misreported, or that he did not intend what he said, we would have had greater faith in his probity; but we cannot accept the statement that he did not know that the money was going to the British Government. In the report of the third ordinary general meeting of the shareholders of Bawra, it is stated, “ No settlement had been effected tip to the time that Mr. Hughes resigned from office.” Mr. Hughes was responsible for the promise, and he knew how far he was prepared to go with respect to the wool sold to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. The report continues -
Negotiations were taken up with his successor (Mr. Bruce). Finally, a compromise was arrived at, and I was authorized by both the Central Wool Committee and Bawra to accept in full settlement a payment of £275,393 10s.10d.
We are told that the Prime Minister was in constant touch with Bawra. Yet he tried to make honorable members believe that he did not know that one-half of the money was to go to the British Government.
– It is too thin.
– The Prime Minister has attempted to mislead the Chamber. I also accuse him of a lack of candour, when he failed to tell us of the statement of Sir John Higgins, that £318,000 was to be returned to the Government by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. He did not tell us that the statement was incorrect. “Under the agreement made with the company by Mr. Hughes, when Prime Minister, the Government was to receive 80 per cent, of the profits. The Prime Minister has not told us whether Sir John Higgins was correct in his anticipation of £380,000 profit. If he was correct, the sum of £318,000 should have been returned to the Government. I ask the Prime Minister whether that money has been received by the Government? When the Prime Minister and Sir John Higgins, both of whom are interested in the same combination, tell us two different stories, causing confusion in our minds as to the facts of the case, we have grounds for suspicion. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) dealt with this question very thoroughly, and it is to be regretted that there has been no real answer to his charges. The majority of the people will accept the view expressed by a leading Melbourne newspaper, that there is either something radically wrong, or there has been some serious error, and that the Government are afraid to take the people into their confidence. The Prime Minister failed to make a clear statement regarding any point touched upon by him. If honor able members on the other side are prepared to adopt the attitude of “ shut your eyes and open your mouth, and see what God will send you,” and ask for no explanation, honorable members on this side are not. We ask for an explanation. And so do the people of Australia. No explanation has yet been given. There are several big interests in this country which are becoming enormously rich. The pastoralist who goes out into the back country, and accepts the risks there, and who afterwards amasses a fortune, is entitled to his reward; but when wealthy men give a present of £25,000 to a leading statesman, or place funds at the disposal of candidates to secure their election, then money power becomes a menace to good government. Mr. Hughes told us what he expected from the 9,047 bales which were sold to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company. Although it has been mentioned before during this debate, I desire to repeat the statement of Mr. Hughes, made on the 26th March, 1920, that he was prepared to consider whether the grower should have as much profit as he would have had if the wool had gone into “the Pool, and had been sold to the British Government in the ordinary way.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– I have said that no matter how great their probity, public men should bear in mind that Parliament and the country must be advised of every transaction of the Government. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has signally failed in this regard. He was not justified in paying this money without the authority of Parliament. The claim had been before the Government for nearly four years, and there was therefore no urgency about the matter. Yet in November last, during the parliamentary recess, this money was paid over. Authorities have been quoted to show that such action is permissible in cases of extreme urgency, but it is always contended that even in such cases Parliament must be advised of what has been done immediately it assembles. That course was not followed in this instance. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has been inquiring into this matter for some time. He asked for the production of very necessary papers, and the Prime Minister refused on the . 14th May last to produce them. Instead of exhibiting a disposi tion to acquaint Parliament with all the facts relating to a monetary transaction involving £275,000, every effort appears to have been made to prevent their disclosure. Sir John Higgins made the statement that in his opinion the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company made £380,000. Has the Government ever inquired into that statement? If so, what is its attitude in regard to it? Why has the veil of secrecy been drawn over this transaction? So far as I have been able to investigate the matter, I am of opinion that the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company did not make a penny of profit. The Government appointed an auditor to go into the affairs of the company. For the time being he was a Government servant, and he proved that instead of the company making a profit of such large proportions as that mentioned by Sir John Higgins, its operations were carried on at a loss. This was proved by data which has not been refuted by the Government. It Has been pointed out that the company paid £32 per bale for over 9,000 bales of wool in 1921,” when the price of wool was £22 per bale, or £10 less than the price paid” by it. In 1922 the price was £26 ner bale, or £6 less than the company paid for the wool it received. So that the statement of Sir John Higgins is entirely refuted. I am not one to make charges of corruption against a man acting in a public capacity, but I contend that in order to disarm criticism a public man should adopt such an attitude that there could never be the leastbreath of suspicion of his action. Sir John Higgins holds the dual position of Chairman of the Central Wool Committee and Chairman of Bawra. He is thus in a position of great temptation. As Chairman of the Central Wool Committee it was his duty to conserve the interests of the people, but as Chairman of Bawra he was interested in seeing how much he could get out of the Government. His position was an .impossible one. Placing men in positions of that kind which enable them to pull the strings only serves to promote public scandals such as that which we are considering this evening. I want to know why Sir John Higgins is permitted to continue in his dual position. I have shown that the Colonial
Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company undoubtedly made a loss on its operations. It has been proved from the statements made by Mr. Hughes that it was not the intention of the National Government to permit the British Government to derive any profits from wool sold for the promotion of Australian industries. If any profit had been derived from the 9,000 bales of wool utilized by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, none of the money should have been paid to the British Government, but the growers, would certainly have been entitled to it. As no profit was made from this wool, Bawra should not have received anything. The Prime Minister has not proved that a profit was -made on this wool. He has not attempted to deny that no profit was made on it, and yet Bawra has received this money. If there had been a profit made on this wool, it should not have been paid to Bawra. The last man who should have advised the Government that this money should go to Bawra is Sir John Higgins, who was at the same time chairman of the Central Wool Committee and of Bawra. Yet Sir John Higgins, as the custodian of the interests of the Government, recommended, in conference with the Prime Minister on many occasions, that a large profit should be paid over to Bawra. If there was a profit made on this wool, I contend that the money should have been given to the wool-growers of this country, and not to Bawra, which does, not include 50 per cent, of them. We contest the statement that a profit was made on this wool, and if a profit was made upon it we contend that the money should not have been paid to a bloated corporation like Bawra; composed of a few wealthy magnates, some of whom, it is true, are woolgrowers. These men, who have become wealthy through Bawra, are like thimbleriggers on a race-course in their readiness to bleed the people.
– They are men who have been instrumental in bringing over £30,000,000 to this country, which but for them we would not have received.
– If the honorable member refers to Bawra, let me tell him that long before that association came into existence wool was sent from Australia to the Old Country, and sold there at a big profit. Will the honorable member presume to tell me that only woolgrowers are to-day shareholders in Bawra ?
Does he not know that for some time Bawra shares have been on the market, and that I, or any one else, might purchase them.
– About 90 per cent, of the original holders are still in Bawra.
– As the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has pointed out, according to the circular issued by Palmers’, big sharebrokers in Sydney, scares of thousands of Bawra shares change hands in a week.
– They are the same shares sold over and over again.
– I say that I or any any other member of this House might have bought Bawra shares. They have been recommended by the sharebrokers of the country as a safe investment.
– There is nothing wrong about that.
– Would the honorable member have the House believe that the purchase of Bawra shares is restricted to people engaged in the wool-growing industry ?
– Of course not.
– That is the admission I wanted. The honorable member has made an admission which I was trying to get from other honorable members in the Corner who are more deeply interested in this matter than he is. I ask now how it is that 53,000 shareholders in Bawra were bought out by the big monied interests in order that they might be squeezed out of the Pool.
– That is not correct.
– lt is all very well for the honorable member to make the denial, but the Prime Minister has not denied the statement.
– It is in the reports of Bawra.
– That is so. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) may desire to cloak up this matter, but he knows the facts as well as I do. We have found him fighting strenuously in this House on matters in which his personal interests were involved. It is evident that he and those associated with him will stop at nothing which they consider fair in their efforts to squeeze out the little man. That is big business as we know it to-day. I do not say that the honorable member is unethical from the standard of big business, but he accepts that standard. We have little quarrel with these people when they fight among themselves, but the difficulty is that these money spinners exercise their influence in this Chamber to the detriment of the good government of this country, and that is why the motion we are considering was submitted.
– The honorable member’s imagination has run away with him.
– That is not so. We are not such children as the honorable member may suppose. I am prepared to frankly admit that the honorable member has done a great deal of battling in the back country in order to make the pastoral industry pay him. I have nothing whatever to say against him on that account, but I say that the influence cf big business is against the interests of the producers of this country, the honest men who are engaged from daylight to dark in useful productive work. All that they receive ultimately is sufficient to bury them. The honorable member knows that on the other hand the men who manipulate the money of the country, and get into the position in which he and others were in Bawra make thousands of pounds out of the results of the efforts of the small producers of wool, and the men in the field, the factory, or the workshop. I know many members of the Country party to be very good fellows, and I am sorry to see them going astray. They have left the path on which they started. Many of them entered the State and Federal Parliaments with the intention of seeing that the man who produces from the soil shall be properly paid for what he produces, and eliminating the moneyed forces and the middlemen, who have the producers and the consumers by the throat. While they deviate from their original ideal of helping the small men, and link themselves up with the money power, they are repudiating the pledges on which they entered this Chamber. I am not admitted to the secrets of the Ministerial Caucus, but I believe that if the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) had been allowed to use his own discretion this deal would never have been consummated - at any rate, not in its present form. I believe that the members of the Country, party, the so-called champions of the workers of the soil, have been responsible for this ramp. The people of Australia do not vote in sufficient numbers for the National ticket to ensure that there shall be a National Government, nor have they sufficient confidence in the representatives of the Country party to give them a majority in this House, and the composite Government is proving an immoral combination, as we on this side predicted it would be. We have seen during the whole time that the Government has been in power a system of bargaining. I need not mention in detail the different proposals that have been put forward in behalf of the interests respectively represented by the two parties in power, but honorable members opposite will find it impossible to explain to the farmers some of the actions for which this Government is responsible. My hope is that the time is not far distant when we shall have in the Commonwealth honest government. I do not say that the farmer or the ordinary toiler is ethically better than any other member of the community, but when the big money power is in control, and has such command of funds as to be able, as it has, during the last Queensland elections, to send between £30,000 and £40,000 from New South Wales across the border in an endeavour to defeat the Labour party in the northern State, it becomes a menace to public life. There is an old saying that he who pays the piper may call the tune. If the pastoralists had paid my election expenses in order to put me into this House, they would be entitled to call the tune, and I would have to dance to it. But we on this side have been returned to Parliament by the working classes, who are able to provide only a few shillings per week to ensure that for the first time in history men representing the children of toil shall be heard in the councils of the nation. We believe that the Labour party has more than an industrial mission; it has a duty to uplift the politics of the country, so that the Commonwealth may advance under a system, of sound and honest government.
.- On one occasion I was lost in the bush, abd after wandering all day I met a man, to whom I said, “ Look here, old chap, can you tell me where I am?” He replied, “ Yes, you are here.” That indicates my position in regard to this debate. I do not know where I am other than that I am here in this great legislative chamber at the top of Bourke-street. I am bewildered. I have followed the debate with, very keen interest. It opened with a very fine speech by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), and I con gratulate him on his reasonable, succinct, and logical presentment of his case.
– And truthful.
– I do not know who is telling the truth. But I was very pleased with the honorable member’s remarks, and I thought : “ This will be a very nice debate; all members will be addressing one another as gentlemen, and everything will be all right.” The right honorable the Prime Minister followed, and nobody could complain of his attitude. He congratulated the mover of the motion on the temperate and lucid way in which he had put the case before the House, and added that his views were generally in agreement with those of the honorable member except in regard to one phase of the issue. The honorable member for Yarra indicte’d the Government upon ‘three charges, viz., (1) that the Government had paid a lot of money that it did not owe; (2) that it had paid to the British Government money to which that Government had no claim, and for which it had not asked ; and (3) that the Commonwealth Government had acted unconstitutionally i!n paying ‘out the money without the authority of Parliament. The Prime Minister said that he did not think the British Government was entitled to a penny, and he had resisted its claim to a share in the wool profits. He added that the wool-growers had claimed nearly £900,000, and he had by negotiations reduced . the claim to £275,000. In regard to the third charge he said that the Government had not paid money without parliamentary authority, because it would get parliamentary authority for the payment after it was made. I do not think that the Prime Minister is as much to blame as honorable members say he is. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) followed with a characteristically good speech, and the gravamen of his charge was that the Government had acted unconstitutionally in paying but money without the authority of Parliament: He did not indulge in recrimination, but he did say that the country was waiting to drag the present Government from the ‘Treasury bench, and when that happened his party would . reluctantly take control. I gathered also from his remarks that there are a number of greasy spots on the bench occupied by the present Ministry, and that the bench will require to be scrubbed before his supporters in their clean party garments will be able to sit there. The honorable member’ for Riverina (Mr. Killen) set me wondering when he said that beyond doubt the honorable member for Yarra had unearthed a scandal, but he went on to say that the Government had acted wrongfully and unfairly, not because they had paid out so * much money, but because they had not paid enough. Throughout the ensuing debate I was bewildered. Some speeches suggest that honorable members on the Government side were corrupt, and other speeches in reply gave the impression that honorable members in Opposition are certainly not pure. I found myself wondering where a really decent man, if such were elected to this House, would sit; if he sat on the right side of the Chair he would certainly be corrupted, and if he sat on the left he would bedefiled. I came to the conclusion that the only place in which he could sit with safety, the only pure and unadulterated spot in the House, is the chair occupied by Mr. Speaker. So the debate proceeded, a little illumination being thrown on the subject at one stage by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). Throughout, I endeavoured to discover the truth, and I am blessed if I know yet what is true. From what I have been able to gather, this trouble had its genesis in a contract or promise made four years ago. The Government then in power was approached by the representatives of a certain Wool Combing Company, who complained that their mills were idle because they could get no wool for conversion into top3. The then Prime Minister assured them that the Government would see that they received all the wool they required for their industry. He did not wish to see the mills idle and men thrown out of employment, and I think his attitude was quite correct; but instead of making a. plain, straightforward deal, as any sensible business man would have done, instead of saying that the company could have the wool and. pay for it at the market price, he wanted to have his own finger in the pie. He made the same mistake that an old maid makes when she tries to interfere in the management of a family. Knowing nothing about the subject, he made a bad deal. He wanted to make a profitable deal for the Commonwealth, and said to the company, “ I will let you have the best wool at a very low rate, and you will make enormous profits, of which the Commonwealth will take 80 per cent.”
– He did not say that.
– Then, somebody is npt telling the truth. I was in a country district a little time ago, and I listened to a couple of youngsters trying to tell a third kiddy about a fishing excursion. Honorable members know what fish stories are, and they will understand that the two youthful narrators commenced talking “ big,” and contradicting each other. At last one of them said, “ Bill Smith was with us, and we will get him to tell this boy exactly what happened.” So Bill Smith was called over; he listened to the tales told by each of the boys, and then summed up, “ You are both liars.” I am not quoting that story as analogous to this debate. I do not believe that any honorable member would deliberately tell a lie, but honorable members are so saturated with party bias that they do not always see the truth. In this deal the Government offered certain terms to the combing company, and then the growers said, “ You are giving the company wool at a price less than we can get for it in England.” To which the Prime Minister replied, “You will be all right; I will see that you get as much for your wool as if you had sold in the open market.” And so they were satisfied, expecting, no doubt, that some of the 80 per cent, of the profits would meet the bill. I do not know Mr. F. W. Hughes or any one associated with the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, so that I am not maligning anybody when I say what I expect must have happened in a deal in which no profits were made, despite the fact that the company, according to the wool-growers, got their wool at £398,000 less than other people would have been obliged to pay for a similar quantity.
– That statement is not correct.
– I am merely giving a synopsis of what I have gathered from the different speeches delivered here, and if I am wrong I can. be corrected, and will stand corrected; but the basis of the deal made with this company by the ex-Prime Minister was that the company was to get the wool cheaply, make a lot of money, and hand back 80 per cent, of the profits to the Government. But it is said it made no profits. Of course not. I do not impute motives, but it strikes me that it was a yarn-spinning company in more ways than one, because I cannot be led to believe that a company which, according to the evidence I can gather, got its wool for £398,000 less than others would have paid for it, made no profits out of it. Business men are, perhaps, not as perfect as politicians, but in nine cases out of ten a man with a mercantile mind will try to do the best he can for his company, and if he finds that he has to hand over to the Government 80 per cent, of his profits, he will see that he makes no profits. However, the wool-growers said, “ “We want to be recouped to the extent of the £39S,000 we have lost in consequence of the sale of wool to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and “Weaving Company.” Whereupon the ex-Prime Minister promised that he would put the matter right. Am I correct in that statement?
– You are absolutely wrong.
– I think I am right. At any rate, it is the best that I can deduce from all the contradictory speeches to which I have listened. I have already admitted that I am bewildered. The difficulty facing the present Government has been brought about by a deal made by their predecessors. I am not here to defend either Government, and all I desire is to do the right thing. It appears to me that when the present Government came into office the Prime Minister woke up one morning and found a lot of foundlings on his doorstep, and the claim of the woolgrowers was one of them. I suppose that there are many other matters yet to be squared up. At any rate, when the Prime Minister heard so much screaming for satisfaction and attention he realized that he must do something, and got to work to make the best deal he could by coming to what he thought was a compromise. Possibly, he paid too much; I do not know; but I believe he was so anxious to get rid of some of the difficulties confronting him that he did what in my opinion he should not have done ; that is to say, he paid away money without coming to Parliament for prior approval. I am as much opposed to this transaction having been carried out without the full sanction of Parliament as is any other honorable member, but in the light of what I can gather from the different speeches I have heard, I do not think I would be justified in voting against the Government upon a noconfidence motion.
– Now we know where you are.
– You will, always know definitely where I am.
– The honorable member must address the Chair. a
– It would be a serious matter for me to walk across the chamber and declare that I have no confidence in the Government because of what they have done in this connexion. Although I am pleased that the honorable member for Yarra has brought this matter forward, because I think his action will help to clear the atmosphere, and possibly prevent a recurrence of what has already been done, I hold that the Government have not been guilty of any offence sufficiently grave to justify me in voting against them upon a no-confidence motion. If I thought they were guilty of deliberately doing injury to any one, I would not hesitate to say so. I am sorry,’ as others are, if it is true that the small men have been squeezed out, but the present Prime Minister is not responsible for that. How could he help what happened before he got .into power ? He simply had to accept the position as it was handed down to him.
– Do not apologize for the Prime Minister.
– I am not apologizing for him. I am simply putting the case in the way it presents itself to me, and all I have to guide me is what I have heard in this House. As I have already said, the speeches have been so conflicting that I hardly know where I am in the matter, but from what I have deduced I shall not vote against the Government upon this motion. I do not believe that they have been guilty, of any offence worthy of the drastic punishment of removal from office.
– Has .the honorable member seen the wooltops agreement, which provides that no money shall be paid to the Wool Pool for the sale of wool used for wooltops manufacture?
– I think that you honestly-
– Order ! The honorable member will be good enough to resume his seat or address the Chair.
– I think I shall resume my seat, because I have nothing more to say. I shall vote with the Government because I do not think they have done anything worthy of condemnation in regard to this matter.
– A no-confidence motion has not been moved from this side of the House for fun or for the purpose of wasting time. It has been moved simply because we believe the Government has done something illegal. I place the Commonwealth Treasurer in the position of the manager of a company. If the manager of a company paid away a large sum of money without authority - without first submitting the items to his directors - he would either be summarily dismissed, or placed on trial before a Judge. Similarly, the Government must plead guilty either to mismanagement or to incapacity to understand the position as set out in the agreement made between the British Government and the Commonwealth Government then led by Mr. W. M. Hughes. That agreement was that the whole of the wool clip of Australia was to be sold to the British Government for1s. 3½d. per lb., but that wool required for use in Australia was to be allocated to Australian manufacturers at appraised prices. The British Government has no claim whatever to any of the profits accruing on the manufacture of wool kept in Australia, and therefore, if any portion of the money that has been paid out by the Government in this connexion has been paid to the British Government, a very serious mistake has been made. Money belonging to -the taxpayers of Australia has been paid to the British Government.
– Who have not asked for it.
– I do not know what has induced the Commonwealth Government to pay this money to the British Government. In any case Ministers have no right to pay away large sums of money out of public revenue without the prior approval of Parliament. In the case under review, the dispute had ‘extended over a period of about three and a half years. It is true that the present Prime Minister claims he has merely carried out a promise given by his predecessor, Mr. W. M. Hughes, but that right honorable gentleman had no right to give the promise without first consulting Parliament or the people. I claim that if the profits on the manufacture of wooltops were to be paid away to any one, they should have been paid to the wool-growers of Australia. No one else was entitled to a brass farthing of those profits, and as, according to the Prime Minister, Bawra in its generosity has paid over to the British Government half of the £137,000 paid to the Committee, it is only fair to ask the British Government to refund that half to the Commonwealth Treasury. I dare say if the request were made, the money would be repaid. I, at any rate, hope that this will be the last occasion on which we shall be called upon to enter an emphatic protest against an absolutely illegal act on the part of the “ Government. One fact that stands out is that the payment has been made by the Government after 53,000 small woolgrowers have been pushed out of the Pool. If the Government determine to pay the balance of the money said to be still owing to the wool-growers, it is only fair that some of it should be distributed among those struggling wool-growers of Australia who were in the Wool Pool from the commencement. Quite recently, men have come into the Pool who are not wool producers. They are speculators, and I daresay that they have done remarkably well in this country in their dealings in wool, wheat, and other products. If the balance of the claim is to be paid, the small men who were in the Pool at the commencement, and who have since been squeezed out, should receive a share of the profits. I enter my protest against the action of the Government in paying out public money from the Treasurer’s Advance Account without the authorization of Parliament.
– I had thought that possibly this subject was sufficiently debated, especially in view of the fact that there was practically no reply from the persons most concerned; but, as this is a motion affecting intimately the probity of Parliament and the honour of the country, I feel loth to allow the motion to go to a division without having recorded a word in support of it. Out of the motion moved by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), in which he condemns the Government, for (a) agreeing to pay out of public revenue the sum of £275,393 10s. for distribution between the British Government and Bawra on a claim that had neither legal nor moral support; (b) entering into the agreement without consulting Parliament; and (c) making a part payment of £137,696 15s. without parliamentary appropriation, two things emerge. One is that the charges made are of the very gravest character, and the other is that the answer given by those charged with the duty of answering, has been incomplete and unsatisfactory. Indeed, it is by no means clear from the disjointed and, to some extent, inconsistent observations which have come from the Government benches, on the one hand, and from their apparently disaffected colleagues in the Corner, on the other, what the defence to these serious charges is. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) makes his position, and the position of those for whom’ he stands, abundantly clear. He says, in effect, “ I make no apology or explanation regarding the taking of £275,000; I express regret that it was. not £395,000.” “That, if not a satisfactory answer, is, at least, so far as the Country party is concerned, entirely a characteristic one. I have not known the members of that party at any time to decline, on the purest grounds of patriotism, to accept with both hands open any grant of public money designed to serve their own peculiar interests.
– This was not a grant, but a debt.
– Once the honorable member fixes his mind upon the acquisition by lawful or illicit means of a large sum of public money, what seems in the first place to him romance, wears afterwards the character of a debt due to him; and so in this case, having dreamt of £395,000, and having been promised £275,000, nothing remained but to assure himself and the public that that windfall was really a debt justly due. When the gentlemen occupying the corner benches required wheat silos, they came to this Parliament to get them; when they wanted bonuses for beef export, they turned to this Government for support; and when they wanted special grants in respect of their Fruit Pool, they came confidently to the Government, believing apparently that anything was impossible from a National Government entirely dependent on them for its life. Neither my party nor I object to the spending of public money for public purposes, even in the way that I have indicated, but I do think it sits ill upon these honorable gentlemen - the alleged partyof economy - after having received so much by the grace of a generous Parliament and a long-suffering country,- to reach out their hands so avidly to. the Commonwealth Government for many thousands of pounds to which they have no claim whatever. I acquit the honorable member for Riverina of any charge of being a party to the giving of £68,000 to the British Government. Those who know him best will hardly, even in the face of strong suspicion’ at all events, believe that of him. Under a loose agreement between the Commonwealth and the British Government, the wool clip waa to be acquired by the Commonwealth and sold to the British Government at a flat rate of 15½d. per lb. After the requirements of the British and Allied armies had been satisfied, the surplus wool was to be sold and the profits divided equally between the British Government and the Australian Pool. All wool required for local purposes was to be excluded from the agreement. A few comments upon that agreement as it stands. When I hear the distracted wailings of the millionaires wafted from the Country party corner, deploring what they might have gained if only there had been no Wool Pool and they had been able to take unrestricted advantage of the rise in prices incidental to the war, I remind them for their consolation that, after all - although I have no brief against the wool-grower, certainly not against the wool farmer, as distinguished from the wool baron - even the flat rate of 15½d. per lb. under the agreement represented a 55 per cent, advance upon pre-war wool values. Let me remind them, also, that under the division of profits - because there were profits and there was a surplus - they shared with the British Government the sum of £60,000,000. While they were enjoying this assurance of 15½d. per lb. for their wool, 55 per cent, beyond pre-war rates, in 1916 - this agreement originated in 1916 - and in the following years, drawing also the handsome dividends that arose from the profits of the re-sale in England of the ‘wool over and above the requirements for the Allied and British armies, the blood of Australian youth was flowing on foreign battlefields. At that time no man was the master of his fate, and no man, especially the young man, the captain of his soul. These young men were thrown into a Pool from which no dividends were to be drawn, and none could call his life his own. At that very time the woolgrowers rested secure in the assurance of their dividends, 55 per cent, above pre-war rates, and the handsome profits that accrued in millions in the succeeding years. Far different was the position of the honorable member for Riverina and his colleagues from that of the men who at that time were shedding their blood on foreign battlefields. These young Australians invested their lives in the necessities of the nation, and out of those necessities the wool magnates have drawn their dividends in cash. And in their greed they talk of what might have been if there had been no Pool, and they had been free to take full advantage of the rise in the price of wool.
– The honorable member forgets that our expenses were more than doubled.
– The honorable member is not impressed by the blood that flowed in France. He is not impressed by the security which this Government gave him for the transport of his wool. He is still balancing scrupulously the cost of production as against the price obtained for wool.
– I am only answering the honorable member’s argument.
– May I remind these honorable . gentlemen of the Corner benches that but for the backing of the nation and its assurances they could not have shipped a single pound of wool to Britain ; they would have had no guarantee of shipping or carriage - no certain return whatever. The wool clip might have lain upon their hands or, indeed, under the War Precautions Act and regulations under which this country was groaning at the time, it might - perish the thought- even have been used, at least in substantial part, for the dependants, friends, or relatives of the 400,000 Australian soldiers who were then fighting in a foreign country when not a single shot had been fired in their own. With this influence on the flank of the Government, it is no wonder that it is difficult to wring from it 2s. 6d. for an old-age or war pensioner - for a man like the returned soldier whose case I mentioned in this Chamber a week ago. The gentlemen in question took all they were entitled to under the arrangement with Britain, and they fought like tigers for £275,000 to which they were not entitled at all. Like tigers, they have obtained a fairly substantial part of what they fought for. Why were they not entitled to this money? It was because there were no profits at that time out of which it could be paid. Having received the richest dividend of any section of people in the country they have, by taking this large sum out of the Commonwealth revenue, imposed extra taxation upon the poorest working man and woman in this Commonwealth. It has been often stated that the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, an Australian manufactory, entered into negotiations with the Government to obtain - a supply of wool for the manufacture of , wooltops, and that the original agreement with the British Government stipulated that local requirements should be supplied before wool should be sold to the British Government. If that was not a legitimate requirement by Australia, I can hardly conceive what would be. Then the growers, seeing the possibility of some of their profits being thus diverted to support Australian industries, began to besiege, the Government for their share, and the exPrime Minister, having heard their case with patience - and I do not cavil at what he did - agreed to give them the equivalent of what they would have received if the wool had been sold in Great Britain and the profits divided. He made it abundantly clear that that was a concession to the growers only, and, that having been made clear, a claim, so we are told, was made that the British Government should share in the payment. Our case is that after that time there were no profits - no extra profits for division out of which the growers would have been paid if the 9,000 odd bales for one company had not been withdrawn from the operation of one general agreement. Before that time there were substantial profits. Taking, on the one hand, the claim of the wool barons- for, as we have seen, the small grower has been carefully excluded - it was indecent of them, while they were spouting cheap patriotism, to press against the Commonwealth Government a claim for profits when clearly the Commonwealth was getting nothing out of the transactions. The Consolidated Revenue had been used to sustain them during those years.
– To the extent of £400,000,000.
– And had guaranteed them to the extent of £400,000,000. The Commonwealth Government had fathered their industry, and after the general taxpayer had borne in greater or less degree the brunt of the business, the Government was asked to pay out of the taxpayers’ money this - as they would call it - small sum, this beggarly £275,000, up to which they had been gradually working for the past three or four years. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), speaking in this House last night, stated that the agreement with the British Government was a loose one, and that dissimilar words Were used to express the same meaning. He said that confusion had arisen, and I add that out of the smoke screen thus created there appears to have emerged unexpectedly, and on some grounds which I cannot at all understand, a claim, said to be a just claim, by the British Government. The terms of the agreement may have been loose. The contract, of course, was set out in cables which passed between the British Government and the Australian Government, and it may be that precisely the same terms were not used to express the same meaning. But let not the honorable member pursue too minutely the remunerative work of splitting hairs. Let him try to realize that, first of all, the one fact is clear that Australian requirements were to be supplied, and that Australia was to be the judge, and could, in fact, be the only proper judge, of what her requirements were. If there is anything to be added to that, it is that the requirements of the company to which I have referred were clearly legitimate Australian requirements within the meaning of that agreement.
– Not at all.
– I do not hope to satisfy the honorable member who has interjected, or to convince him. Nothing will satisfy or convince him but the pay ment of the other moiety of £275,000. More important than that is the fact that the agreement “ was crystallized by practice over a series of years. That is the best possible way to interpret a contract which has to extend over a long term. The meaning of it is found by putting it into practice in conditions which are accepted mutually by both parties. That is what happened here. Over a .long series of years what was understood by the original agreement was accepted by both parties, and not until there was a slump in wool, not until there was a break in the healthy stream of profits that were flowing into the pockets of these gentlemen, was there any question raised about the uncertainty of the meaning of the contract with the British Government. The wool-growers, however, were to benefit by a special promise, as has been said more than once, but there was no promise made to the British Government. I listened to the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) with the greatest interest, just as I listened to the crushing indictment of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), and the first thing that struck me as he rose to speak at . half-past 12 last Friday was that there was about him an air of what my friend’s the French would call, if they could pronounce their language properly, sang-froid. In truth, he gave me the impression of entertaining, under an apparently unruffled exterior, feelings akin to those which must have surged in the breast of Wellington when, at Waterloo, he prayed for night or Blucher - for the Prime Minister was watching the clock and waiting for the luncheon adjournment. The honorable members’ behind him sat like mutes at a funeral, looking as though disaster personified was brooding over them. When the right honorable gentleman rose after the luncheon adjournment he said, “ It is all right. I largely agree with the honorable member ‘for Yarra,” and he concluded his speech by saying, as to two points, that the charges had entirely failed, because he did not do what he seemed to have done, and as to the other point, it had failed also because he agreed that the honorable member for Yarra was right. He professed to know nothing about this payment to the British Government. “ We did not pay it,” he said; “ we paid it to the Wool Pool, and if, in their generosity, they paid it over to the British Government, that has nothing to do with us.” He told us that for many months he had continuously resisted the claim of the British Government. I think the resistance had run into years, and. apparently, if one may judge from the records in the Auditor-General’s report, the Prime Minister was very like the historical lady whose virtue being slightly overtaxed, swore repeatedly that she would ne’er consent, and, swearing, she would ne’er consent, consented. We fina that, in truth and in fact, the money was paid to the British Government, and the record of it appears in the AuditorGeneral’s report, as the honorable member for Yarra has properly pointed out. I shall read that portion of the report so that it may be enshrined also in my little ‘ contribution to this debate; It says -
As a result of negotiations between the Government and the Chairman of the Central Wool Committee and Bawra (Sir John Higgins), that portion of the claim relating to the 4,840 bales has been waived, as also has the claim for interest, and the Government has agreed to refund to the Wool Pool from wooltops licence-fees the sum of £275,303 10s. 10d., in full and complete settlement, which settlement has been accepted on behalf of the Central Wool Committee, B.A.W.B.A., and the British Government. This amount represents the amount claimed, on the formula submitted by tho Solicitor-General, on the 9,047 bales supplied to the company under the March, 1920, agreement. The particulars supporting this claim have been examined and found correct by the Audit Inspector engaged on the examination of the Central Wool Committee’s accounts. Of this amount, £275,393 10s. 10d., one half, 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 B.A.W.R.A.’s funds.
That is the Auditor-General’s report. It refers to a claim which the Prime Minister says he resisted for so long, and of the payment of which he says he knew nothing. The money; I understand, was paid to the Wool Committee. The Committee is an official body. It is the agent of the Government. It behoves the Government to tell the people, and to tell its docile supporters, how it accounts for the fact that this money, which it said would not be paid and the payment of which it had so long resisted, has, so we are told, found its way so rapidly into the coffers of the British Government. May I be permitted to doubt whether it ever got into the coffers of the British
Government? May I be permitted to doubt that the British Government ever made a demand for it? These are points that still remain unexplained. There were negotiations. There must have been negotiations, “and there must be records of them, and the Prime Minister only trifled with his position, and with this House, when he pretended that he knew nothing of the allocation of the money. He told us, by way of excuse, “ I beat them down. They claimed £395,000, and I made a good business compromise with them.” In my humble walk of life I have some slight experience of those who, having claims to make, and confidently hoping to win £50, decide to claim £999. They believe that they have had a, very good win if ‘they secure a verdict for £25 and costs. When I saw the impudent demands made by these gentlemen, which for very shame they eventually modified, and then withdrew, and when I heard the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) claim to have made a good arrangement for the Commonwealth because he had not paid all that was asked, I marvelled at his misconception regarding the credulity of the people of this country. It has been asserted that this money was paid without the vote of this Parliament. There are many things upon which the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) may pride himself. The most recent is that he had the distinction of drawing the defence of two eminent lawyers. The AttorneyGeneral (Sir Littleton Groom) came to the House fully charged, with all ^relative matter to repel this base insinuation. The honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) rose in the wings for the same purpose. What does their defence amount to ? The Attorney-General said that the Government’s action was quite constitutional, and authority for it was to be found within the four corners of an Appropriation Act. The honorable member for Kooyong, who as a K.C. ranks high in the legal profession, supported the Attorney-General, and said that unquestionably, when moneys are vested in the Treasurer by way of Treasurer’s Advance, that honorable gentleman may spend them - and according to precedent has spent them - to the extent of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The matter may be summed up in a word. The question is, not whether a Government may legally perform any act in a given set of circumstances, but whether it may decently do so. I do not deny that when money is vested in the Treasurer by way of Treasurer’s Advance he becomes the trustee for the Commonwealth, with power to disburse the money; and when it has been disbursed no one can challenge the legality of the act, because the Parliament has entrusted it to him to disburse it in accordance with the law. That being so, a greater responsibility rests upon the honorable gentleman to see that he acts decently. By practice the rule has been established that no Treasurer may disburse money so vested in him for other than urgent reasons or which have been considered by the Parliament. At all events, the money can. be spent only in circumstances which make it sufficiently certain that Parliament will afterwards endorse the action taken. What happened in this case ? This was a claim which had been disputed for a number of years. There was not a single element of urgency. When payment was made the Government possessed the certain knowledge that if the matter had been presented to Parliament bitter controversy would haye ensued, and there was the possibility of a majority of honorable members in this House voting against the proposal. Although honorable members opposite will not adversely criticize the Government once action has been taken, occasionally they will timorously criticize a proposed action even though- they can generally be relied upon in the last resort to vote with the Government. The legality of this payment cannot be questioned, but decency and propriety are both lacking. That is the charge which I make against the Government. If ever there was a matter which should have been discussed on the floor of this House it was the proposal to make that payment. I doubt whether the House would have approved of the proposed payment. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) may cynically remark that that constituted a very good reason for making the payment first and informing Parliament afterwards. My answer to that would be that it is unbecoming in any Government to settle a controversal matter of this character in a furtive, secret way immediately Parliament has gone into recess. Appearances point to the fact that the Treasurer is ready to enter the dock. I shall be very happy to hear him in self defence. He has been incubating his reply for a week, and it should be a good one. It will, I hope, show signs of better preparation and a fuller knowledge of allo the facts than the Prime Minister manifested when he addressed the Chamber on this motion. I am perfectly satisfied at present that the honorable member for Yarra was fully justified in moving the motion. The excellent address in support of it given by my honoured Leader (Mr. Charlton) was founded on principles which cannot be successfully assailed. I hope that the people will take the trouble to assess truly the value of each case presented; that they will see - and it is not difficult to see - that there are sinister influences keeping this Government in power. They will then be able to make up their minds regarding the course of action they should take at the next election respecting this pretty little agreement that has been entered into between the Treasurer and the Prime Minister to enable them to present a united front to a menacing electorate.
– Australia, probably, has never before witnessed such an exhibition as we have had in this Chamber during the last week. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) brought down a motion condemning the Government for having agreed to pay out of public revenue the sum of £275,393 on a claim that had neither legal nor moral support; for having entered into that agreement without having first consulted Parliament ; and for having made part payment of £137,696 without a Parliamentary appropriation. An astounding position has been created by the action of the honorable member for Yarra. His colleagues, both, in this Chamber and another place, have repeatedly pressed the Government to settle these claims. This matter has been referred to more frequently than any other that I can call to mind during the last four years. There has not been, during the whole of that time, any. expression of disapproval from an honorable member on either side. This claim was assented to by members of every party. How, then, can the honorable member dare to come to this House and say that it has neither legal nor moral support.
– The honorable gentleman should read oue of his own speeches relating to similar action on the part of a previous Government.
– I intend to read one of my own speeches, and I shall instantly dispose of the contention, that honorable members opposite have endeavoured to make, that the agreement arrived at victimized the small man. I shall show that the small man was on a very good wicket in the payments that he received four years ago; that he was very pleased indeed to have those payments; that he has not repented since; and that he has never asked any honorable member to voice dissatisfaction. What are the facts relating to this matter? On the 11th July, 1923, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr.West) - a member of the Labour party - asked the following question : -
Is it” a fact that -
If so, will he state the reason why such payment, amounting to £398,000, plus accrued interest, has not been, made? -
The answers given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) were as follow: -
On the same date the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) asked the following questions: -
The answers were - 1 and 2. Yes. 3, 4, and 5. As I have just intimated, the amount payable has not yet been ascertained to the satisfaction of the Government.
The honorable member for Forrest (Mr- Prowse), on the 3rd August, 1923, asked similar questions, and received the following replies: - 1, 2, and 3. Yes. 4 and 5. The amount payable under the exPrime Minister’s promise has not yet been settled. When this has been ascertained to the satisfaction of the Government, the question of payment will be immediately considered.
In the Senate on the 8th August, 1923, Senator Needham asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Senator Pearce furnished the following answers : 1, 2, and 3. Yes. 4, The amount payable under the ex-Prime Minister’s promise has not yet been settled. When this has been ascertained to the satisfaction of the Government, the question of payment will be immediately considered.
Honorable members will notice that in every case in which a reply was given to questions like these, with the exception of the first one I mentioned, it was stated that payment would be considered immediately the amount of the claim was determined. Many questions of a like nature may be found in the Hansard reports of the last Parliament. They were asked by members of the Opposition, the Country party, and the National party, and the answers were always in the terms of those I have detailed. No question was ever raised in this House by any party as to whether the claim was just or not, yet the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) dares to ask the House to say that the Government deserves condemnation for having recognized it. As a matter of fact, it has been recognized for four years, because it rested upon a definite promise made upon the floor of the House by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes). The justice of it has not been assailed by any section of the House or the community. The public will therefore be able to judge for itself the position in which the honorable member for Yarra has placed himself by adopting such a transparent device to attack the Government. Objection has been made to the payment of this amount out of Treasurer’s Advance. Treasurer’s Advance is an amount of money appropriated by Parliament to meet contingencies that may arise. The nature of those contingencies may be ascertained by an examination of the circumstances in which various payments from the fund have been made from time to time. The amounts voted for Treasurer’s Advance in the last ten years total between ?8,000,000 and ?9,000,000. In the last five years, the amounts so voted have been as follows: 1918-19, ?998,000; 1919-20, ?1,686,000; 1920-21, ?1,328,000; 1921-22, ?1,412,000; and 1922-23, ?1,377,000.
Parliament, by setting aside such sums, has recognized that occasions arise on which large payments have to be made from the fund. In 1919-20, for instance, a payment of ?136,000, almost identical with the one under notice, was made to the Australian Wheat Pool. It represented profit made by the Commonwealth on the purchase of cornsacks. During the last recess, a number, of honorable members of the Opposition waited upon- me and urged that I should advance money in various directions from this fund. If I had done as they desired, they “would perhaps have considered my action just as much a contravention of parliamentary practice as they consider this to be ; and I might possibly have been pilloried for an alleged infraction of parliamentary practice. In most instances, no opportunity is afforded to Parliament to express its opinion beforehand on payments proposed to be made out of Treasurer’s Advance, but the amount paid under the agreement, entered into with the Wool Committee is in a class absolutely by itself. For four years requests have been made in this House by members of all parties that this claim should be met. It must, in those circumstances, be considered urgent. In every instance in which the Government replied to such requests, it said that payment would be. considered immediately the amount of the claim was adjusted. The House was told almost month by month exactly what the intentions of the Government were in the matter. I do not think another case can bo found in which an amount paid from Treasurer’s Advance has been referred to. so frequently in Parliament. An attempt has been made to cast suspicion on this transaction, but it cannot possibly succeed. The transaction was absolutely open. The circumstances of the deal have been mentioned scores of time in Parliament, and, I repeat, that the Government has always made it clear that immediately the amount of the claim was adjusted payment would be considered. Honorable members opposite have suggested that undue secrecy has been observed by the Government, but I venture to say that no subject of a like nature has been more fully ventilated in Parliament. The charge of secrecy cannot be sustained. As soon as a definite agreement was made a statement to the effect appeared in the press throughout Australia, and was also cabled to England. It was so secret that the whole world knew of it ! The Government, apparently, was so ashamed of the transaction that it wished it to be blazoned throughout the world. A report was published in the whole of the daily press throughout Australia on the 5th October, 1923, that an agreement had Deen effected. The honorable member for Yarra must surely have been aware of that. In addition to that, the details of the transaction were communicated to the Auditor-General. The Government was so concerned about concealing the agreement that it at once made the papers available to the AuditorGeneral for his inspection and report. Bawra also reported the facts to the public. Every possible means was used to give publicity to the transaction, and yet honorable members opposite have tried to beguile ‘ the public into accepting their suggestion that it was accomplished in secrecy. A great deal has been said about the fact that the settlement was not presented to Parliament for its consideration. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whose fault that is? Who has been responsible for formal motions for the adjournment of this House day after day ? The business of the country has been held up for weeks on account of these motions. I have placed before the House as soon as possible on every occasion the details of payments that have been made out of Treasurer’s Advance. The first measure of the kind I submitted to honorable members was in connexion with the fruit bounty. The Opposition discussed it week after week, although everybody agreed that the fruitgrowers deserved help. I have all my financial proposals ready for presentation to Parliament as soon as the opportunity offers. I submitted to Parliament as early as possible the details of the disbursements in connexion with Canberra. I brought down the Loan Bill as soon as it was possible to do so. The intention of the Government is to submit these various matters to Parliament at the first appropriate occasion, in order that the business of the country may be done expeditiously. A great deal has been said about the injustice that has been done to the small wool -growers. It is stated that only the big men have been able to retain their interest in Bawra, and that, consequently, they are the only ones who will benefit from this payment. It has been suggested that the small men have been robbed of 40 per cent, of their interest in the profits on the sale of wool during the Pool period. Everybody who knows anything about the position knows that the small men got exactly what they wanted. Three years’ ago in this chamber I made a speech in which I examined in detail the position of the small men. Before making that speech, I had been interviewed by many small wool-growers, and they had told me their exact position. They were anxious to have their business dealt with in the way in which it was actually dealt with. There were 149,000 separate accounts in the Wool Pool. Of those 59,000 were in respect of growers who for the four years put in the Pool wool under £100 in value. Honorable members must appreciate the fact that, roughly, £153,000,000 worth of. wool was sold during the four years of the Pool . When Bawra was formed it was reckoned that there was, roughly, £22,000,000 worth of assets still in the Pool if they could be realized in a proper way. To apportion the share of each interested party the total amount he contributed to the Pool, the quantity of wool that each man had put into the Pool during the four years was divided by seven. Twenty-two millions is, roughly, one-seventh of £153,000,000, and Bawra was formed with a capital of £22,000,000 in priority certificates and ordinary shares. It was then found that it would not be worth while to issue shares to 59,000 men who had put wool of a less value than £100 into the Pool during the four years of its operations, and it was considered that the fairest possible way to deal with them was to give them in cash the actual face value of the shares they would have been entitled to had they remained in Bawra. That is to say, if a man had £98 worth of wool in the Pool he would get £14 in cash, which would correspond with the value of fourteen fully paid-up Bawra shares . and priority certificates. The only reduction that was made in their case was that the payments were subject Ito a discount of 7 per cent, for three or five years, because that was the period which, it was assumed, would elapse before the huge mountain of wool then in existence could be sold. Honorable members will thus see that the small men received the full face value of the shares they would have been entitled to had they remained in Bawra, notwithstanding that the shares fell as low as 7s. When Bawra shares were first quoted on the market they were sold at between 7s. and 8s. each. The total amount of £22,000,000, which was considered to be the full value of the Bawra shares and priority certificates, has not yet been realized. There will be a . margin of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 over and above the original capital. Another £1,000,000 must be obtained before the original face value of the whole of the shares of the company, as first constituted, is realized. This means that if a small grower had remained in Bawra until a final settlement had been made he would have got 14 per cent, but would have been out of his money for three or four years. The alleged victimization of the small man is a complete myth; it does not exist. The suggestion of victimization has been made because honorable members have failed to recognize the significance of the fact that when all the wool was taken into account it was written down to 60 per cent, of its value, as 40 per cent, was written off to enable the company to be formed, and that applies to the whole company and not to any part of it.
Mr.Fenton. - That is as clear as Gippsland mud.
– It is clearer than statements submitted by honorable members opposite, who have been endeavouring to suggest that the small growers have been “ squeezed” out by the larger shareholders. I know that the men who had a small quantity of wool in the Pool were anxious and glad to get money which at the time represented between 200 per cent, and 300 per cent, of the face value of Bawra shares as then quoted. It has been suggested that an enormous amount has been paid, but the total sum employed in retiring small interests and of fractional payments is £249,690, and this the small growers received in 1921.
– Equal to about 1 per cent.
– Yes, of the total value of £22,000,000. I do not wish to speak at length upon this subject, because the position is self-evident. The matter has been frequently mentioned on the floor of the House, and the justice of the claim has always been recognized..
– Will the Treasurer explain the payment to the British Government ?
– I am glad the honorable member for Hindmarsh has mentioned that, ‘ because it gives me an opportunity- to- record in Hansard a copy of the letter despatched by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) to Sir John Higgins on- the 3rd September, 1922. He wrote -
Melbourne, 3rd September, 1923
Referring, to previous correspondence relating to . amounts claimed by your Committee in respect of wool selected and purchased by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company Limited, I have to inform you that this matter has been’ carefully considered, and the Government will honour the. promise made in Parliament on16th April, 1920, by the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), namely: -
To allow to the Australian wool-growers, in respect of the wool supplied to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, under contract for the manufacturing of wooltops, the same share of profits in such wool as if it formed part of the wool sold to the Imperial Government.
It will be noticed that the Prime Minister quoted the actual words used by the exPrime Minister, viz., “ To allow the Australian wool -growers in respect of the wool supplied . the same share of profits in such wool as if it formed part of the wool sold to the Imperial Government.” The letter continues -
In regard to the interpretation of this promise, certain differences of opinion have arisen -
As a compromise,’ the Government agrees to pay 50 per cent, of the profits on. the basis of the price fourteen days after selection, provided that payment is only made on the 9,047 bales selected after the contract was entered into - excluding the 4,840 bales selected previously. No interest will be paid in respect of any amount now agreed to be paid.
The reply of Sir John Higgins confirms the statement of the ex-Prime Minister, that it was an arrangement made between him and the Central Wool Committee. The communication is dated the 4th September, 1923, and reads -
British Australian WoolRealization Association Limited.
- 540-542 Little Collins-street,
Melbourne, 4th September, 1923
I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of the Prime Minister’s letter of 3rd September, 1923, regarding the wool selected and purchased by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Co. Limited, under the contract dated 12th March, 1920, between that company and the Commonwealth Government, and the promise made in Parliament on the 16th April, 1920, by the then Prime Minister (Bight Hon. W. M. Hughes, P.C.), viz.:-
To allow to the Australian wool -growers, in respect of the wool supplied to the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company under contract for the manufacturing of wool tops, the same share of profits in such wool as if it formed part of the wool sold to the Imperial Government.
Following the interview that the writer had with the Prime Minister (Rt: Hon. Stanley Bruce, P.C., M.C.) on the 1st instant, together’ with the confirmation of the compromise contained in his letter, I hereby accept the terms and conditions of such compromise on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, Central Wool Committee, and British Australian Wool Realization Association Limited, viz.: -
That the Government agrees to pay 50 per cent, of the profits on the basis of the price fourteen days after selection provided that payment is only made on the 9,047 bales selected after the contract was entered into - excluding the 4,840 bales selected previously. No interest will be paid in respect of any amount now agreed to be paid.
In accordance with such settlement, I enclose debit note for £275,393 10s. 10d., representing 50 per cent, of profit on 9,047 bales of wool selected under the contract referred to. All claims for compensation with regard to 4,840 bales of wool of the 1919-1920 clip selected prior to the contract to be waived. It is understood that this arrangement is a final settlement, and that no further claim will be made.
I remain, dear sir,
Faithfully and obediently yours, (Sgd.) J. M. Higgins, Chairman.
Commonwealth of Australia Central Wool
Committee and British Australian Wool Realization Association Limited
The Acting Prime Minister, Commonwealth of Australia, Melbourne
– The Prime Minister made the position in that respect abundantly clear. I have listened to some of the speeches of honorable members opposite, who have endeavoured to bring into this House the contest between Mr. F. W. Hughes and Sir John Higgins. I cannot understand - the animus shown by honorable members opposite towards those engaged in the wool industry, which has done more to pioneer the waste places of Australia than perhaps has any other. By reason of its exports it has done more to advance Australia to its present splendid position, to enable us to stand up to our war burden, and to reach our present state of development than has any other industry in the Commonwealth. The wool industry has the biggest production of any industry in Australia, and I am at a loss to understand why such strong feelings should be expressed against our wool-growers, who are doing their work in a magnificent way, and who are recognized as the breeders of the best type of sheep the world has ever seen. I fail to see why they should be so consistently condemned in this National Parliament, and why it should be held to be almost a crime to own either a sheep or a cow.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided.
Majority … … 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
New Guinea Charges against Administration History of Commonwealth Bank.
Question (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I desire to draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the serious allegations which have been made regarding the administration of New Guinea, with a view to urging him to appoint a -Royal Commission to clear the matter up. This is a very important matter, as it affects not only Australia but the whole of the civilized world. Australia was given a mandate over certain territories, including New Guinea. Our administration in New- Guinea has been questioned on a couple of occasions by members of the League of Nations. In the interests of the administration as well as to place the Government of Australia in a proper light before the world, some action should be taken. I am aware that an inquiry was held some time ago by a gentleman who was appointed for that purpose. From information which I have received, but which I do not propose to disclose at present, it. would appear that it was not of a very searching character. In view of what has happened since that inquiry, it is necessary that something should be done to protect the good name of Australia. I ask the Prime Minister to consider this question seriously, and to advise this House as early as possible whether he can see his way clear to appoint a Commission to inquire thoroughly into the whole question, and put matters in New Guinea on a proper footing.
– Honorable members will all agree that when a valuable history of an important institution, such as the Commonwealth Bank, is written, justice should be done to the man to -whose efforts, more than to those of any other, the. creation of the Bank is due. This book. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, is another instance of a history being written from a biased point of view. From 1901 the Honorable King O’Malley worked unceasingly to establish _ the Commonwealth Bank, and had his ideas been followed, there would have been none of tho present competition between the Savings Banks of the various States and that of the Commonwealth. But notwithstanding all the efforts put forth by the Honorable King O’Malley towards the establishment of the Bank, the only reference to him by this wonderful historian is on page 2, where he says -
The idea had been preached unceasingly by one political candidate at the first Federal election of 1901.
There is a footnote explaining that tho reference is to -
Mr. King O’Malley, who was elected for Tasmania second on the poll to the Premier of that State - Sir Edward Braddon. At that election Tasmania polled as one electorate for both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Honorable members will notice that even the title to which the honorable gentleman is entitled by reason of the fact that he was a member of the first Commonwealth Parliament, and also held office as a Minister, has been omitted by the historian. I have felt it my duty to voice my appreciation of the Honorable King O’Malley’s efforts on behalf of the Commonwealth Bank, although he is no longer a member of this House, and regret very much that in this book justice has not been done to the father of the Commonwealth Bank.
– The question raised by the Leader of the Opposition is one of the most important in connexion with the whole of the administration of the Commonwealth and its dependencies. Australia is the custodian of these mandated Territories, and is responsible to the League of Nations, and really -to the whole of the nations of the world, for its administration of those Territories. I very much regret that at this particular time prominence should have been given to certain allegations which have been made with regard to our administration there. A few days ago I made a statement in which I dealt with certain charges which were published in a Sydney paper, and also dealt with the people responsible for those charges. It is most unfortunate that just at this time, immediately prior to the meeting of the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, charges of this character should have been made. Similar charges were made twelve months ago, just prior to the last meeting of the Mandates Commission. As a result of those charges a discussion took place in this House. Mr. Canning, a police magistrate, was sent by the Government to New Guinea to investigate the charges. He was not limited in his investigation to the allegations which had been made, but was asked to investigate the position generally regarding the treatment of the natives in the Territory. That he did so was forcibly brought home to me recently, when representations were made to me that Mr. Canning did not limit his inquiry to the charges made in the press. The investigation was made, and the fullest publicity was given to it. Persons who desired to give evidence were invited to do so. The present statements are based on the evidence of three individuals, only one of whom gave evidence when the invitation to do so was extended by Mr. Canning. His evidence on that occasion contradicts his present statement. I am referring to this matter in some detail for’ the reason that, naturally, considerable prominence is given to statements of this character. They are doubtless cabled overseas, and people in Great Britain, and other countries that are members of the League of Nations, have no opportunity to determine whether they are fully substantiated, or whether on investigation they have proved to be totally unfounded. Some time ago the Government undertook to send a Minister to. New Guinea to inquire into theadministration there, and, soon after the House rose last year, Senator Crawford left Australia for that purpose. An invitation was also extended to members of this Parliament to visit the Mandated Territories, and investigate for themselves the conditions prevailing there. Unfortunately that invitation was not taken advantage of. The other action that was taken by the Government was to appoint a firm of Sydney auditors, Messrs. Yarwood and Vane, to investigate the whole of the transactions in connexion with the expropriated properties, about which certain allegations had been inn do.
The representatives of Messrs. Yarwood and Vane had the assistance of an expert in tropical cultivation. Their investigation has taken place, and their report was received during the last few days. It is now under consideration by the Government, and should be made available to honorable members at a very early date. The Government feels the very greatest anxiety with regard to the Mandated Territories, and is determined to do everything in its power to ensure that Australia shall properly carry out the great trust placed upon it. Should anything come under our notice which appears to us to warrant the appointment of a Royal Commission, or the taking of any other action to ensure the faithful carrying out of that trust, I can assure the Leader of the Opposition that the Government will immediately take the necessary action.
Question resolved in the: affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.22 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 June 1924, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1924/19240612_reps_9_106/>.