9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Bill returned from the Senate with . a message intimating that the Senate had agreed to the amendment of the House of Representatives upon its amendment of clause 8, and did not insist upon its amendment of clause 16, to which the House of Representatives had disagreed.
– I have always been under the impression that when a bill is returned from another place, and finality has been reached in’ regard to amendments, the House has an opportunity of endorsing or rejecting the bill in its altered form. Do I understand, Mr. Speaker, that all the stages in connexion with the Commonwealth Bank Bill have been completed, and that honorable members will have no further opportunity of voting upon the measure?
– The procedure followed in connexion with the Commonwealth Bank Bill in this House and in another place is quite constitutional. This House originated and passed the bill, which was then sent on to the Senate. The Senate returned the bill, with a schedule setting out 33 amendments, and those were considered in committee of the whole. The Chairman reported the resolutions of the committee, and the report was adopted by the House. The decisions of the House upon the amendments were then conveyed to the Senate, whose concurrence is announced in the message which has just been read. That completes the stages of the bill.
– As the Government has deprived honorable members of the opportunity of bringing forward private business on Thursdays, and yesterday prevented the discussion of grievances, will the Prime Minister promise that those honorable members who have notices of motion upon the paper will be given an opportunity to have them discussed before the end of the session.
– The elimination of grievances yesterday was the decision of the House - not of the Government. As soon as the state of business permits the Government will endeavour to afford honorable members an opportunity for putting before the House the motions they have placed on the notice-paper.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories say whether Dr. Stefansson, who visited Central Australia at the expense of the Commonwealth, has made a report to the Government, and if so, will such report be made available to honorable members?
– I am not aware whether Dr. Stefansson submitted an official report to the Government or not, but I shall bring the honorable member’s question under the notice of the Minister for Home and Territories. No doubt, if a report has been submitted, it will be made available to honorable members as soon as possible.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the grounds upon which my request, on behalf of a number of members, for conveyances to enable them to see the interior of the Northern Territory, was refused by Cabinet? Honorable members may book steamer passages to Norfolk Island and New Guinea for pleasure purposes, and why should obstacles be placed in their way if they desire to get first-hand information of the Northern Territory ?
– The decision of Cabinet was made in what was conceived to be the best interests of Australia. I remind the honorable member for the Northern Territory that last year facilities such as he is now seeking were offered by the Government, but were availed of to only a very limited extent.
– Having regard to the fact that recent rains have done much to ensure a satisfactory wheat crop, will the Prime Minister indicate the attitude ofthe Commonwealth Government towards the request for a guarantee for wheat in the coming season?
– I have on frequent occasions indicated the Government’s attitude towards the proposed wheat pools and guarantee for the coming season. I was approached by the trustees of the pools in the four wheat-growing states, and asked if the Commonwealth would guarantee an original advance to the growers. I replied that, the Commonwealth could not undertake to do that so long as there were four distinct pools, without an arrangement for one selling agency for all Australian wheat and one chartering agency to arrange the whole of the freights, but that if the trustees made their request to the State Governments, the Commonwealth Government would be quite prepared to consider the advisability of assisting the states to give a guarantee. The trustees did approach the State Governments. I recently met representatives of the four State Governments concerned, and repeated the offer of the Commonwealth Government to consider th’e giving of financial assistance if voluntary pools were established. I understand that it is very probable that such pools will be constituted; that a guarantee will be given by the State Governments, and that in the near future the Commonwealth Government will be requested to assist. When the proposal is brought before us we shalL give it most sympathetic consideration, especially in view of the fact that the two conditions which the Commonwealth considered vital and essential, namely, one marketing authority for the whole of the Australian wheat, and one chartering authority to control freight, have been agreed to.
– If any s’tate should indulge in the luxury of a compulsory wheat pool, will it be eligible to participate in the proposed arrangement with the Commonwealth?
Mr. BRUCE. The honorable member, who has had a long parliamentary experience, must recognize that it is not the practice of Ministers to answer hypothetical questions.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs been informed that the authorities of the Philippine Islands have prohibited the importation of cattle from Australia on the ground that the recent outbreak of rinderpest in the Philippines was due to the introduction of the disease from Australia? As that idea is absurd, will the Minister make representations to the Government of the Philippines with a view to having the prohibition withdrawn ?
– I am not aware of any information on the subject having reached either the Department of Trade and Customs or the Department of Health, but I shall have inquiries made in order to see if the honorable member’s suggestion can be adopted.
– In view of the large number of written and oral requests from public bodies in Queensland for the continuance of the present embargo on the importation of sugar grown by black labour, will the Prime Minister indicate the Government’s policy in that regard ?
– I have received a large number of communications on that subject, and they are receiving the consideration of the Government. As soon as any decision is arrived at it’ will be communicated ‘to the House.
– As there appears to be a great deal of uncertainty regarding the scope of the Royal Commission upon repatriation matters, will the Prime Minister inform the House of the terms of the reference to the commission ?
– In my original statement to the House I set out clearly the scope of the inquiry. It is to be limited to ascertaining whether the present method of determining the measure of disability caused by war service is proper or is capable of improvement.
– Has the Prime Minister noticed in this morning’s newspapers a reported announcement by President Coolidge, of the United States of America, that he strongly endorses the Dawes’ plan, and his further statement -
W’hen the reparations plan is in operation I shall approach the Powers with a proposal for a conference for a further limitation of armaments and codification of international law. I personally should favour entering into covenants for the purpose of outlawing war by practicable means.
Will the Government afford the House an opportunity at an early date of passing a resolution in favour of the proposal of President Coolidge ?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member refers, nor have I any official information that the President of the United States of America has made such a statement. We all cordially agree with the views that he is reported to have expressed ; and Australia’s attitude towards the limitation of armaments, and its readiness to co-operate with other nations at any time to bring it about, is so well known that I do not think any resolution by this House is necessary.
Telephonists’ Sick Leave
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as early as possible.
Loans to States
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Queensland Transferred Officers
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether clause 18 of the Queensland Savings Bank Transfer Agreement entered into under section 36a of the Commonwealth Bank Act, between the Treasurer of Queensland and the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, protecting the rights and privileges of officers taken over by the Commonwealth Bank, will still be operative after the passing of the Commonwealth Bank Bill now before parliament?
– Yes. The rights and privileges of officers under clause 18 of the Agreement will be fully protected under the Commonwealth Bank Bill now before Parliament.
Bore at Charlotte Waters.
– On Wednesday last I made a statement, in reply to a question by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning), respecting the position reached in connexion with the sinking of a new bore at Charlotte Waters in the Northern Territory, and I also informed the honorable member that inquiry had been instituted respecting the mortality amongst travelling stock which Dr. Stefansson stated had recently occurred as a consequence of the inadequacy of existing water supplies on the Southern Stock Route. A reply to the inquiry referred to has now been received from the Administrator of the Northern Territory, who telegraphs as follows : -
Postmaster Charlotte Waters advises Stott (i.e., Sergeant of Police at Alice Springs) that to his knowledge no deaths occurred amongst
Newcastle and Hayes cattle (i.e., the cattle refered to by Dr. Stefansson) vicinity Charlotte. Cattle watered Junction Well twenty miles north Charlotte next drink Blood’s Creek twenty-six miles south Charlotte. Unlikely deaths vicinity Charlotte want water. Contractor Charlotte bore expects strike fresh water end this week.
– The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) asked me yesterday whether the Government was now prepared to accept his suggestion that a relief party to rescue the alleged survivors of the wreck of the Douglas Mawson be sent from the Katherine to Borroloola, and stated that, according to press announcements, the expedition proceeding by sea had taken more than a week to reach Port Charles, which he said was only 18 miles from Darwin. I have made inquiry in regard to this matter, and I find that, slow as the progress of the relief vessel has unfortunately been, the position is very much better than the honorable member has been led to believe. The Huddersfield was six days out from Darwin on Monday last, on which date she was sighted 40 miles north of Cape Croker, or about 200 miles from Darwin. The question of despatching a land party from the Katherine has received the fullest consideration on the part of the Administrator, whose original proposals provided for the inclusion of such a party. He was, however, forced to abandon the idea owing to the almost insuperable difficulties in the way of travelling. The Administrator has pointed out that the distance from the Katherine to the locality to be visited by the search party is 300 miles, in a direct line, and that the country approaching the coast consists of impracticable ranges and large swamps, one of which is said to be 100 miles around. A land party would, moreover, be useless without co-operation from the sea, as all the coast natives are well provided with canoes, in which they could make for adjacent islands. The honorable member mentioned the fact that the route from the Katherine to Borroloola is traversed every three weeks by mailmen, but it is not seen what bearing this has upon the question, as Borroloola is hundreds of miles distant, in a southerly direction, from the district in which the search is to be made.
.- I move-
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday next, at 3 p.m.
It will be remembered that last Friday I indicated to honorable members that the Government proposed to sit on Tuesday next. The House has now been sitting for some five months, and as there is still a considerable amount of legislation to be dealt with, I think that it will generally meet the convenience of honorable members if another sitting day is taken to try to expedite the work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In committee (Consideration resumed from 14th August, vide page 3192) :
Clause 2 (Authority to borrow £6,450,000).
Upon which Mr. McGrath had moved by way of amendment -
That the following words be added to the clause: - “Defence expenditure shall not be paid from the above-mentioned loan moneys.”
.- Last night I expressed my satisfaction with the amount allotted for postal construction in my electorate. I wish now to make one or two observations regarding the Postmaster-General’s Department. I have received a number of complaints from persons who have suffered considerable inconvenience and loss through delays in the delivery of telegrams. Similar complaints have been received by many honorable members, and have also been made in the press. Recently a complaint was brought under my notice by the Lakemba Progress Association, one of whose members, owing to a delay in receiving a telegram notifying a death, suffered an accentuation of his grief and anguish. I hope something will be done by the Telegraph branch to improve the efficiency of its service. It has been stated that many of the delays are caused by telegraph messengers. If that is so, this occupation should bemade more attractive so as to secure the best class of boy. Whilst in America, I noticed that the Postal Department there checked the time of delivering telegrams by requiring messengers to secure the signatures of the addressees. I do not know whether that would be a desirable innovation here, but if we had some such method of checking the delivery of telegrams fewer complaints would be made. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Sir Austin Chapman) last night declared that he was in favour of cheap postage, and practically free telephones. I am surprised that he did not express those views before he resigned from the Ministry. I am strongly opposed to any further reductions in the postal rates, as such a step would benefit only the wealthy section of the community. There is no general public demand for a further reduction in postage rates. Only one newspaper in Sydney advocates cheaper postage. A reduction in telephone charges would certainly be of greater benefit to country districts and urban areas. The newspapers have no ground for complaint respecting bulk postage rates for all periodicals, and this confirms my contention that only a small section of the community would derive a benefit from a further reduction in postage rates. Any attempt to reduce the sources of revenue will be exceedingly dangerous. The Government is acting generously in proposing to reduce direct taxation, and to this our party offers no objection so far as basic wage earners are concerned, but if continual reductions are to be made in postage rates and in other directions, it will merely rob Peter to pay Paul. Any loss of revenue to the Postal Department would have to be made up from direct taxation, or some other source. It would be better to increase the old-age pension, and to liberalize the conditions under which the maternity allowances are granted than to reduce postage rates. I wish to refer to the War Service Homes. Last year, following upon representations made by myself and other honorable members, the then Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) agreed to write off the cost above £800 of the War Service Homes. In giving effect to that promise, widespread anomalies were caused. Homes assessed at £900 and £1,000 were written down to £800, but the price of houses assessed at £790 and under was not reduced.
– The Government carried out its promise.
– The Government promised to supply returned soldiers with homes at a maximum cost of £800, and technically it carried out its obligation. Excess costs amounting to £200,000 were written off, but it must be admitted that the disparity in purchase value to occupants between a house assessed at £760 and one assessed at £990, now valued at £800, is unfair.
– It is not .unfair. The Government has treated some men over.generously
– As I stated last year, I do not think that the Government has been over-generous to any of the occupants of the war service homes.
– Well, “ very generously.”
– Relatively speaking, that might be so, but in my opinion, no generosity has been shown. The average war service home is not worth more than the maximum amount of £800 provided for in the act. Many homes which were constructed for less than £800 are not worth what they cost. I know that the Minister for Defence (Mr. Bowden) has a particularly fine group of war . service homes in his electorate at Wentworthville, whose occupants are thoroughly satisfied. The buildings are well constructed, and are far better than the general average of war service homes. In my electorate, some of the war service homes are of lamentably poor construction, and are in a state of serious disrepair. When a returned man with a weatherboard house which cost; say, £750, sees two or three doors up the street, another returned man with a fine brick house which cost £990, but for which only £800 has been paid, it is natural that he becomes dissatisfied. I trust that the Government will agree to a revaluation of all the war service homes which cost less than £800, and will use as the standard for the revaluation the homes for which only £800 is being charged.
– The honorable member desires a devaluation.
– That is so. I admit that under the administration of the ex-Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) the War Service Homes Department materially improved, and the administration of Mr. J. C. Morell, in New South Wales ha? also given general satisfaction. Very little complaint is being made about the homes that are now being constructed, for on account of the smaller number of contracts in hand, the authorities are able to. exercise better supervision. Most of the’ complaints concern homes which were built some, years ago, when everybody was agitating for the war service homes work to be pushed forward with all haste. I regret, however, that the department appears to have adopted the policy of asking for substantial deposits from intending purchasers of war service homes, which is operating very harshly on some returned men. It was not intended that returned men who are basic wage earners should be obliged to lodge heavy deposits in order to securehomes. Representations on this matter have already been made to the department in this state, with a view to eliminate these deposits, and the policy seems to be uniform throughout Australia. trust that the Government will see that deposits are not insisted on.
I support the amendment of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) requiring that defence expenditure shall be met out of revenue. The policy of using loan money for the construction of non-productive works, such as defence works, is unsound.
– Much of the defence work is of a permanent nature, and I remind the honorable member that provision is being made by means of a sinking fund to meet the loans as they fall due.
– When ‘the Labour party was in power, the defence e x 1 ) e n d 1ture was provided for out of revenue. We submit that that is the only sound and practical policy.
I direct attention to the fact that notices of dismissal have been served on returned soldier temporary employees in the Taxation Department in New South Wales. Other honorable members, as well as myself, have received telegrams from the men concerned protesting against this. I sincerely trust that the Government will withdraw the notices or else employ these men in some other department, for it is most unfair to throw them out into the street in this fashion. If they are dismissed they should be compensated. The Government would be much more justified in spending money in that way than in spending £250,000 out of loan for J 11 migration purposes.
– Surely the honorable member . does not seriously suggest that we should pay compensation out of loan.
– The Government would be more justified in using loan money to develop our secondary industries, so enabling them to pro- vide employment for our people, than in spending £250,000 out of loan moneys to bring immigrants to Australia to swell the ranks of the unemployed. It deserves censure for its failure to adopt more careful methods of supervision in the selection of immigrants. An increasing number of southern Europeans CzechoSlovakians, Greeks, Italians, and so on - is entering Australia. These people will not engage in primary production, but will become city dwellers, and doubtless accentuate the unemployment problem. Now that America has closed her doors against the influx of immigration, particularly from southern Europe, from which countries she formerly increased her population by hundreds of thousands, it becomes essential that we should exercise the utmost care to prevent the present, stream’ from developing into a flood. The immigration of these people should be strictly limited. The Government’s policy, of providing for immigration out of loan moneys is not sound.
.- Among the activities of the Postmaster-General’s Department, which are of importance because they have in view the contentment and welfare of the staff, are the social welfare operations of the institutes connected with the general post offices in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. I. am not sure whether there is an institute at Adelaide. So far as Perth is concerned - and it is on account of the situation in that city in this regard that I am ‘ speaking - a new general post office was opened twelve months ago in which ample provision was made for an institute similar to those I have mentioned. The employees of the department in Perth have been expecting the Government to take steps to equip those empty rooms, and so make possible the establishment of the institute. I do not know whether an amount for this purpose was provided on the draft estimates and deleted by the Treasurer, but there is no doubt that the staff in Western Australia were given the strongest reasons for believing that the £2,000 or £3,000 required to equip their now vacant rooms in the Perth General Post Office would be provided this year. Some consternation and not a little disappointment; has been caused by the failure of the Government to provide this money, and I earnestly hope that the matter will be reviewed. This welfare work means a great deal to the smooth and harmonious operation of the staff, and seeing that the necessary accommodation is available there are substantial reasons why the money necessary to provide the equipment should be provided. I trust that consideration will be given to this matter when the supplementary estimates are being prepared, for I know that both the Government and the department are sympathetic with this welfare work. The Perth General Post Office houses the whole of the Commonwealth staff - between 600 and 800 officers - in that city. The institute rooms have been empty for twelve months, and I can see no reason why the staff should be deprived of the advantages which the staffs in the eastern capitals enjoy.
– I protest against the continuation of the reduced postal and telegraph rates that were agreed to last year. If the former charges were restored the Government would have a considerably larger amount of money to spend on improving and increasing the postal, telephonic, and telegraphic services for the people in our out-back areas. Only the commercial houses have benefited by the reduced charges. I have repeatedly requested the Postmaster-General to permit people who are living along the overland telegraph route in Central Australia to install telephones on their properties, I have in mind the case of one man who desired to place a telephone in his homestead at his own cost, and on the undertaking that it would be utilized only in cases of emergency, but the PostmasterGeneral refused to let him do so. I cannot understand why the people who are pioneering the country should be refused facilities of this kind when the provision of them would not impose any liability on the department. In the case to which I have just referred the overland line passes right through the man’s property. These services could be made a much more valuable instrument for developing the country. There have been other offers to construct telegraph lines to serve group settlements. The people offered to do the work at costs that the department could not get near, because they realized the advantage it would give them’. Such people should receive consideration from the department before the facilities of those living in well served cities are extended.
The sum of £20,000 provided in the bill for the development of the Northern Territory, reveals the hypocrisy of the Government’s policy. An expenditure of £20,000 for an area of 500,000 square miles is absurd. The Territory can be developed only by providing the people with reasonable facilities. The sum of £20,000 is a mere bagatelle, and is not sufficient to provide one decent road in a corner of the Territory. The Government is displaying a great lack of business acumen in its treatment of the Northern Territory, and is saddling the people of Australia with a heavy financial burden.
Another matter is the redemption of the loan of £1,670,432 8s. Id. on the Port Augusta to Oodnadatta railway. The people of Australia ought to be informed that the new loan will cost the Government £48,000 more per annum in interest than the present loan costs. The interest bill on that railway is now £69,578 13s. Id. a year. The bulk of the loan was raised at from 3 to 4 per cent., but the redemption loan will cost at least 6 or 7 per cent. The people have every right to ask where this kind of policy will end. As the line comes to a dead end at Oodnadatta, the expenditure upon it can never be reproductive, and is therefore public money wasted.
– There will be interest to pay, in the future, on a further expenditure of £240,000 for rolling stock.
– That is so, but I am dealing only with one item, and that will cost an extra £48,000 in interest. It is not good business to throw so much capital down a financial sink. The Government should indicate its policy for the future. If it has no developmental policy it would be more profitable to scrap the line and save the people this huge interest bill. Parliament should seriously review the history of the Commonwealth control of the Northern Territory, and. the glaring waste of public money should be brought prominently under the notice of the people. It is right that the people should know that the waste will continue until the Government opens up the country and develops it by providing railways and other necessary facilities.
I wish to place on record again what the Northern Territory is costing. The total cost of the Northern Territory and the Oodnadatta railway up to date has been £12,521,931. The accumulated deficit since the Commonwealth took control is £3,153,899 for the Northern Territory proper, and £1,809,589 on the Oodnadatta railway, making a total accumulated deficit of £4,963,488. That figure will be increased by the extra interest to be paid on the new loan. Loans amounting to £2,391,946 have been redeemed, but the debts outstanding on the 30th June last were: Northern Territory proper, £2,208,719; Port Augusta to Oodnadatta railway, £1,670,432 8s.1d., making a total of £3,879,151 8s.1d. The annual amount of interest paid on loan money for the Northern Territory proper is £95,396 16s. 5d., and on the Port Augusta to Oodnadatta railway £69,578 13s.1d., making a total of £164,975 9s. 6d. Although the present interest bill on the railway is £69,578, the Government will have to pay an additional 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. for the new loan, so that an interest bill of £48,000 more than is being paid at present will have to be paid. That will bring the total interest bill for the railway up to £117,578 13s.1d. No provision is made in the Estimates or the Loan Bill for the extension of the railway beyond Oodnadatta, and it should be obvious to honorable members that while it terminates at Oodnadatta, and while the Territory remains undeveloped, this heavy annual charge will continue. It is not business to allow this huge deficit to occur every year without making some attempt to prevent it. If the Territory was developed much of the expenditure would become reproductive. The total annual deficit on the Northern Territory for the year 1924-25 was £287,603 for the Territory proper, and £259,920 for the railway, making a total of £547,523. Most of the loans will shortly expire, and although they were obtained originally at3½ or 4 per cent., they will have to be renewed at a much higher rate. Some loans were recently renewed at 5 per cent. It ap pears that the rate of interest for renewal purposes will be about 100 per cent. more than the rate now paid. Following this to a logical conclusion, it means that instead of the interest bill being £164,975 9s. 6d. it will be something like £329,840 19s., and instead of the annual deficit on the Territory and the railway being £547,523, it will be about £877,000. As these figures are increasing alarmingly, and as the people of the Commonwealth are getting no return for the expenditure, it is reasonable to ask the Government to enunciate a policy by which it will have a chance of being reproductive. I fail to see how a reduction can be made in the big interest bill unless the Territory is developed by providing railways and other necessary facilities. The Government has been silent on this question, although it has been . very active for the benefit of certain classes of people. I appeal to the Minister to state what he intends to do. If this sort of thing goes on indefinitely the people of Australia will be justified in revolting against it. I should not be so much concerned about the expenditure if I could see any chance of good resulting from it, but with the railway ending at Oodnadatta these further loans will only add to the financial burdens of the people of Australia without conferring any corresponding benefit. In a few years a further heavy expenditure will have to be incurred in replacing the railway, which, unless it is extended, will never be of any benefit either to South Australia or the Commonwealth. Further expenditure is not justified until the Government makes up its mind to proceed with the construction of the central Australian line.
Question - That the words proposed to be added be so added (Mr. McGrath’s amendment) - put. The committee divided.
Majority … … 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) referred to a payment of £271,492 for the purchase of ex-enemy vessels, which appears in the estimates of war and repatriation expenditure out of war loan for the year 1923-24. This is, perhaps, a convenient time for me to explain the matter. The amount referred to is not included in the loan expenditure that we are now considering. It covers a payment made in the last financial year in respect of certain ex-enemy vessels which the Commonwealth had been using for some years. When war breaks out, a country may obtain possession of enemy vessels in two ways, and the vessels so acquired are treated differently. Those captured at sea are naval prizes, and their value, with compound interest at 4 per cent, from the date of capture has to be be paid into the Naval Prize Fund, for distribution amongst the personnel of the British fleet, and, in this instance, of the Australian Fleet, also. The payment to the Naval Prize Court in respect of vessels captured at sea was £107,412 10s. 8d. It related to a vessel called the Neumunster, and five small vessels captured in New Guinea waters. Nine other vessels came into our possession by detention in Australian ports. They were these - Araluen, Talawa, Toromeo, Dongarra, Bakara, Boonah, Calulu, Carina., ParattaThese vessels were taken over by the
Commonwealth Shipping Line, and, as honorable members are aware, very substantial profits indeed were made by trading with them. Enemy vessels detained on the outbreak of war as these were are the subject of a special provision of the Versailles Treaty, and have to be brought to account with the Reparations Commission. The British Government had been calling the attention of the Commonwealth Government to this matter for a very considerable time. We were using these vessels, and wished to arrange that their value should be set off against the amount of reparations to which Australia, as distinct from the British Empire, was entitled, so that we would not have to pay anything to the Reparations Commission. After a considerable amount of argument, it became obvious that we could not maintain the position we had taken up, and that these vessels must be brought to account in some way with the Reparations Commission. One thing that made the position very clear was that under an agreement come to in March, 1922, it was set out exactly how any moneys obtained from Germany -should be employed. It was agreed that after priority had been given to Belgium in respect of a certain amount she was to receive, the cost of the armies of occupation should be the next charge upon the fund. In paying the cost of armies of occupation the British Empire was to be treated as a whole. Honorable members will remember that some two years ago the British Government made a payment to Australia of £835,000, which was the total expense to which we were put in connexion with our army of occupation. As Australia had thus received her share of the amount which had to be dealt with under the agreement of March, 1922, and Britain had not been repaid anything like her full expenditure on her army of occupation, the Commonwealth Government agreed that these detained enemy vessels should be brought to account with the Reparations Commission. It had then to be decided on what basis the valuation should be made. The action taken by the British Government with respect to the enemy vessels which had been detained in British ports was that Lord Inchcape was commissioned to dispose of them, and the amount realized from their sale was paid over to the Reparations Commission, and then became part of the amount to be paid towards the cost of the army of occupation. But prior to this, the Commonwealth Government had transferred its detained enemy vessels to the Commonwealth Shipping Board, oar a valuation of £197,000. It became apparent that if we desired to retain the vessels on the basis of a sale in which we were the purchasers, we should probably have to pay the Reparations Commission an amount substantially greater than £197,000. The Commonwealth Government intimated to the British Government that these vessels had in fact been sold to the Commonwealth Shipping Board, and offered to bring to account an amount represented by the amount for which they had been sold, namely, £197,000. After considerable argument, and with very great reluctance the British Government eventually agreed to that basis of valuation. The sum which the British Government tried to convince me it would lose over the transaction in its dealings with the Reparations Commission if the commission took the view which the British Government imagined it would take was substantial. It has to be remembered that this matter is one for final determination by the Reparations Commission; none of the Allied Governments can determine it. The British Government was very pessimistic on the subject, and thought it possible that it would have to take the vessels to account at a figure £140,000 higher than the amount to which the Commonwealth Government was prepared to agree. I wish to show that we at least had a fighting argument for maintaining that the figure we proposed was a reasonable one. It was- the valuation at which these vessels had been transferred to the Commonwealth Shipping Board, after taking every care in estimating their true value. The figures I have given do not make up the £271,499 which appears on the Estimates.’ There must be included an amount under the control of the Home and Territories Department, headed “ Loan to the Administration of New Guinea for the purchase of ex-enemy vessels, £23,925,” and an amount under the naval vote for the purchase of ex-enemy vessels of £13,988. Perhaps in order to make the matter absolutely clear I had better state the exact amounts: Payment to Admiralty prize fund for vessels captured on the high seas - of course, that prize fund is distributed amongst the personnel of the navy, including the Australian Navy - vessels owned by the Commonwealth Shipping Board, £69,499; vessels owned by the administration of New Guinea, £23,925; vessels owned by the navy, £13,988; total, £107,412. The next payments ‘are for vessels detained in port at the outbreak of war. These amounts must ultimately be paid to the Reparations Commission under the treaty of peace. The items are: Payment for vessels owned by the Commonwealth Shipping Board, at the valuation at which they were transferred, £197,000; and payment to the public trustee for the vessel in his possession, £5,000 ; making a total of £202,000, or a grand total of £309,412. That amount is reconciled with the expenditure item of £271,499 appearing in the Prime Minister’s Department, the £23,925 in the Home and Territories Department, and the £13,988 in the Department of the Navy. The honorable member for Yarra asked also whether there had been any appropriation of these amounts. The appropriations for war purposes have all been made in lump sums in much the same way as an appropriation was made recently for war pensions. The last appropriation for war purposes was in 1920, and the amount was £20,000,000. The sum is very nearly absorbed, but in the Estimates from year to year payments have been set out as having been made in the preceding financial year, but they did not appear in the Estimates for that year. That has happened in connexion with a great number, if not the majority, of those payments, because it has been impossible to accurately estimate what amount of outstanding war liabilities would fall due in any year. They were covered by a loan which had been appropriated solely for war purposes, and out of which there could be no payments except such as were to meet legitimate war obligations. There has always been the safeguard of the Auditor-General’s supervision, and if any expenditure out of the war loan appropriation had been questionable it would have been set out in his report. The payment with which I have been dealing to-day, that in respect of ex-enemy vessels, was legitimate war expenditure, and could not possibly be avoided. I trust that honorable members will understand exactly how thi3 payment has been made and what the procedure has been. I wish to stress the fact- that this method of appropriating a lump sum for war purposes has been in operation for many years, and the expenditure in the preceding financial year has been set out in the Estimates from time to time in exactly the same way as last year’s payments in respect of the ex-enemy vessels are set out in the Estimates for the current financial year. For instance, there were some items of expenditure in the year 1921-22 for which no corresponding entry could be found in the Estimates for that year. Those items were - Deportation . of German nationals from New Guinea, £45,000; falsifications, deficiencies, and over payments in the Defence Department, £14,320 j payment to Admiralty permanent sea-going force, pay, £66,450; and gun mounting expenses on Commonwealth steamers, £10,615. And in the year 1920-21 there was this item of expenditure which did not appear in the Estimates for that year : grant to Interstate Shipping Committee to meet deficiencies in working, £229,838. I make this explanation mainly because honorable members may be under the impression that something unusual has been done.
– When will this system cease 1
– Very little of the £20,000,000 appropriated in 1920 remains, and I hope that the Commonwealth will not have to make many more war payments. I must say in fairness to the Administration and the Treasury that it has been almost impossible to arrive at finality in regard to a- number of these war transactions.- The ex-enemy ships, for instance, have been the subject of negotiation and argument, with a view to making the be3t possible bargain, over a considerable number of years, and, obviously, the Treasurer had no control over transactions of that kind. I hope that these war obligations are nearly satisfied, and that we shall not have to consider problems of this nature in the future.
.- The Prime Minister appears to have satisfied himself, but I do not think the committee will be satisfied, after his statement has been fully investigated. The right honorable gentleman has explained in accurate detail how these war payments were made, but he has not satisfactorily explained why they were made without consulting Parliament. It is not sufficient to say that in 1920 a sum of £20,000,000 was appropriated in a lump sum for war purposes, and that obligations which have arisen from year to year have been met out of that sum without being mentioned to Parliament. On the Prime Ministers own admission some of the items of expenditure were very arguable.
– The honorable member will agree with me, that if exception can be taken to the payment in respect of exenemy ships, there have been dozens of items equally doubtful in the expenditure for earlier years.
– The right honorable gentleman’s reply is like the argument which he advanced in regard to Bawra - because the Government had committed prior offences with impunity it should be acquitted on the latest charge. In the same way a burglar might say, “Your Honour, I have committed this offence on nineteen previous occasions without being caught, and therefore I should be acr quitted on the present charge.” The system of finance which we are now discussing was condemned in unmeasured terms by the present Treasurer when he was a private member. This is the. sort of thing he had in mind when he. spoke of switching on the light.
– The light has been switched on.
– Yes, but after the money has been expended, and when Parliament has no opportunity of saying whether or not the payment should have been made. Some of the correspondence between the Commonwealth Government, and the Imperial Government shows that Australian Ministers held very strongly the view that some of - the payments should not be made, but the Prime Minister agreed to pay out certain moneys without consulting even his own colleagues in Cabinet, let alone Parliament. In those circumstances we, the custodians of the public purse, have a right to protest. I deferred making any attack until after the Prime Minister had submitted a prepared explanation. Some weeks ago, when I first looked through the Estimates foi the current financial year, I saw certain items of expenditure last year, and I endeavoured to find a corresponding Estimate and appropriation. I could find no apppropriationand I thought it right that before voting any further loan money, we should be told when that expenditure had been appropriated and parliamentary approval given. The Prime Minister admits that there was no appropriation beyond the general war loan appropriation of £20,000,000 in 1920. The only justification for uncontrolled expenditure of that kind is wartime emergency or urgent circumstances suddenly arising between the sessions of Parliament; but we find that practically one-third of a million pounds lias been paid by the Government without reference to Parliament, or mention in the budget speech. Indeed, no explanation at all would have been given if it had not been demanded by us yesterday. The Government is treating this Parliament as if it had no rights as custodian of the public purse. I have perused two official files relating to this matter, and I pay the Government this tribute, that for the first time I was able to get promptly a file which I required. Ministers have learnt that although they may delay the presentation of files for which I ask, I eventually get them. For the Bawra file I had been asking for six weeks, and I did not receive it until my motion relating to the distribution of wool profits had been disposed of. The two official files relating to the matter now before the committee are many inches in thickness. The first payment of £107,000 for six or seven vessels was made to the Naval Prize Board. This transaction has already been explained by the Prime Minister. The second payment for nine vessels was later made to the British Exchequer. The two lots of boats are treated differently. One lot was captured at sea; and the other detained in Australian ports. The first were condemned as prizes, and the second condemned »to be detained. The file of correspondence and cablegrams that passed between the British and Australian Governments goes back to 1919. My complaint is this : According to a cablegram sent to the High Commissioner, the first payment of £107,000 was made on the 2nd August, 1923. At that time we were sitting in this House considering the expenditure of money. We were legislating by the clock, with the guillotine repeatedly falling on us, and not one word was mentioned in this House about the payment of £107,000 for these vessels. The second payment, which I regard as the worse offence, was agreed to while the Prime Minister was in Britain, against the advice of his own Cabinet. It was actually paid twelve days before this House met. It was paid on the 14th March, 1924, and on the 26th March Parliament was in session. The negotiations and arguments respecting the disposal of these vessels extended over many years, and as the Prime Minister’s decision was contrary to the wishes of the Cabinet, a frank statement should have been made to this Parliament before any payment was made. Surely we have some responsibility as public men. On the 27th June, 1923, the following cablegram concerning the first payment was sent from the Prime Minister’s Department, through the Governor-General, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies : -
My Ministers anticipate that settlement with the Naval Prize Fund for naval prize vessels taken over by Commonwealth will be effected early in the new financial year commencing 1st July.
Surely the House and the people of this country should have been informed of the purport of that cablegram, but not one word was said about it. I venture to say that, outside of the Cabinet, not one honorable gentleman sitting opposite knows anything of the history of the payments for these vessels. On the 1st August, the Treasurer approved of payment to be taken from the War Loan Fund, and a telegram to that effect was sent to the High Commissioner.
The second . payment for nine detained vessels was discussed for years. These vessels were treated differently from those condemned as prizes. There were two ways of dealing with ex-enemy vessels. Some were debited to Australian reparations. This meant that we obtained those boats for a book entry, because of reparations, it may be said, to quote the words of “ Kathleen Mavourneen “ - it may be for years and it may be for ever. We are unlikely to receive reparations, but our payment was cash to the British Exchequer to be debited against Britain’s reparations. It is true that it is debited against the first reparation payment to the British Government, and this will be for the army of occupation, but it will be a long time before Britain receives that payment. In the meantime that country has our cash for a book entry. We could have made that payment a book entry. I want to read to the House the opinion of the Treasurer, when Acting Prime Minister, and his colleagues, respecting the second payment of £197,000 for nine vessels. The following is a condensed, but true, version of the cablegram sent on the 22nd November, while the Prime Minister was in England, by the Acting Prime Minister, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies : -
Referring to German ships sentenced to detention by Prize Courts, and not subsequently condemned, my Ministers are strongly of opinion that as the vessels were seized in Australia, and expenditure incurred by Australia in connexion with their seizure and detention, all these vessels should be allocated to Australia, proceeds of sale of any which are sold being debited to Australia by Reparations Commission instead of to Imperial Treasury. . . His Majesty’s Government agreed to hand over to Commonwealth Government, with all rights and liabilities, vessels condemned by Prize Courts, and my Ministers see no reason why similar position should not obtain as regards detained vessels. . . . Commonwealth’s share of reparation is to be debited with appraised value of ships lost. This being so, it seems only equitable that Commonwealth should be debited with market value of, and allowed to retain, ships which have not been lost.
That was the view of the Cabinet sitting in Melbourne. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was notified of the dispatch of the cablegram and of its purport. It was not a hasty decision. These negotiations were going on for some considerable time. The Prime Minister, on the 13th December, 1923, cabled the following reply to the Acting Prime Minister: -
Chancellor strongly claims United Kingdom receive proceeds of sale. . . . He will accept £197,000. I think this fair…. I am accepting it.
It is evident that the Prime Minister treated Cabinet and this House with scant courtesy. The considered opinion of the Cabinet was overridden by the Prime Minister.
– Was the payment for the Australian army of occupation mentioned in the cable?
– Yes. I have simply taken extracts from the Prime Ministers reply. He used as an argument for his decision the fact that Australia had received two years ago £835,000 in full claim for the army of occupation. As a matter of fact, that payment only indirectly affects this subject. I admit that there is some merit in the arguments used by both sides, but what impressed me strongly was the view taken by the? Government, as under -
My Ministers are strongly of opinion that, as the vessels were seized in Australia, and expenditure incurred by Australia in connexion with their seizure and detention, all these vessels should be allocated to Australia.
In the face of that the Prime Minister cabled his reply, stating that he had accepted the claim of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We used to consider Mr. W. M. Hughes, when Prime Minister, a czar and dictator, but we now have a Mussolini in his place. . I should like to have heard the language used, and opinions expressed, by the Prime Minister’s colleagues when they received his cablegram. It is evident that the Prime Minister failed to consult Cabinet before taking action. In the files handed me for perusal there is not one word from the Prime Minister asking his Cabinet to reconsider its decision. The Acting Prime Minister should have held to his original contention, and submitted the issue to Parliament. The excuse for paying this money without asking the authority of Parliament was that the matter was one of urgency. To show how urgent it was, I shall take two cablegrams as an illustration. On the 19th October, 1921, the Government received this cable from Britain, “ Should be glad to receive an early reply to my telegram of 23rd September, 1919.” The matter was so urgent that the Government of the day waited five months to give an “ early reply “ to a cablegram that was sent two years before.
– The honorable member knows that it was an urgent matter for the Commonwealth Government, as it was trying to sell the ships.
– That is true, but could not the Government have waited twelve days to submit the matter to Parliament? The vessels could have been sold, and the money held in suspense until Parliament had been consulted. The Commonwealth Government failed to do this, and agreed to pay the money without parliamentary authority. This is the reply to the cablegram received from the British Government - “ In reply to your telegram of 23rd September, 1919, and to your telegram of 19th October, 1921.” - That reply was sent in March, 1922. Where was the urgency and the breathless haste for a settlement? Dr. Earle Page, when speaking in this House on the 4th March, 1920, said, “ It is time parliamentary government was restored, and the control of the public purse properly placed.” During the war the precedent was - established of expending huge sums of money without parliamentary authority, and Dr. Earle Page, in 1920, protested against that practice. He also said, on that occasion -
The expenditure by the Government of huge sums either by loan or taxation is one which this Parliament ought to control.
I pillory the Treasurer who made that statement for his failure to restore parliamentary control of the purse. Parliament should have been consulted before this amount was paid, for it would only have meant a delay of another twelve days. What possible urgency could there have been in the matter, for it had been held in abeyance for five years? The vessels were captured in Australia by Australian forces, and had been maintained at the expense of this country. In all the circumstances, surely no one will contradict my contention that the Government should have consulted Parliament before paying the money; for it does not represent the taxpayers, this Parliament represents them. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) rushed into this thing apparently, for when the terms and conditions on which the British Government were willing to settle the matter were proposed to him while he was in London, he accepted them immediately, without asking for the advice of his colleagues. It was absolutely improper to take an amount like this out of a £20,000,000 war loan three and a half years after the loan was raised, without seeking parliamentary authority to do so. It is high time that parliamentary control of the purse was restored. The remarks that I have made in respect to the payment for these ex-enemy vessels apply with equal force to the payment which the Government made to Bawra on account of the wool deal, which some time ago was the subject of a censure motion. The Government is following the evil example of its predecessor of holding Parliament in contempt, and paying away public moneys without authority.
– An amount of £550 is provided for remodelling the Brisbane General Post Office and telephone exchange. It is highly necessary that this work should be completed at an early date. Some time ago the Postmaster-General assured me that he recognized the necessity for expediting it. He said that officials of his department and the Works and Railways Department had been appointed to go into the whole matter, with a view to pushing it on in every possible way. The accommodation at the Brisbane telephone exchange is totally inadequate. The attendants are crowded, and the conditions under which they are obliged to work are not only inconvenient, but positively dangerous. Yet, in spite of these disabilities, the telephone service rendered in Brisbane is the best in the Commonwealth. Brisbane is in a unique position among the capital cities of the Commonwealth, for practically no additional postal accommodation has been provided there since the Commonwealth took charge of the services. The population of the city has increased from 118,981 on the 31st December, 1900, to 235,687 on the 31st December, 1923, yet no adequate facilities have been provided to deal with the additional business that has of necessity come to the Postmaster-General’s Department. In Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide greatly increased accommodation has been provided. I think Hobart had a new post office just prior to the Commonwealth Government taking over the service in that State. Brisbane is the only place which has been left to carry on under the old conditions. All honorable members who have visited the northern - capital will admit the necessity for remodelling the General Post Office. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) yesterday congratulated the Postmaster-General on certain works that are being carried out in his electorate, and if the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) were here he would doubtless express his gratification at the provision of £14,304 for the erection of a new post office and telephone exchange at South Brisbane. But I have a complaint to make about’ the failure of the Government to provide for the construction of a new post office at Indooroopilly, a flourishing’ suburb of Brisbane.
Last year we were informed that this work had to give place to other undertakings regarded as more urgent ; and it has been overlooked again this year. The present post office is practically a humpy, and old-age pensioners and others who have business to discharge there are compelled to climb a hill to get to it, for there is no other way of reaching it. Land for a new post office in that locality has been secured next to the railway station, and I hope that something will be done in the near future to erect a suitable building on it.
.- Since I addressed the committee yesterday on the unsatisfactory provision which the Government has made for new post offices and additions to existing postal buildings in Tasmania, I have had an opportunity to go more carefully into certain figures. I find that the population of Australia on the 30th September last was 5,750,000, and that of Tasmania 218,708, or, roughly, one twenty-fifth of the total. The full amount which the Government proposes to spend this year out of loan moneys for new buildings and additions to existing buildings for the Postmaster-General’s Department is £712,640, of which only £4,241 is allocated to Tasmania. Although Tasmania has one-twenty-fifth of Australia’s population, the Government proposes to spend in that state only one one hundred and seventieth part of the total amount which it is providing for new postal buildings and additions to existing buildings. If the amount of £721,640 were allotted on a population basis, Tasmania would receive about £28,500. I am forced, in the circumstances, to inquire whether Tasmania has a representative in the Ministry ?
– It has, and not one penny of this money is being spent in his electorate.
– ThenI can safely leave the Minister to the tender mercy of his constituents. They will deal with him for his failure to look after their interests. Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, is included in my electorate, and I am astonished to find that not a single penny of this money is to be spent there, though I am sure that the necessity for improved facilities is just as great there as it is anywhere else in the Commonwealth.
– Money may be provided for Hobart in another way.
– If any adequate provision is to be made, it will mean that the amount to be spent in that city out of revenue will be out of all proportion to the amount that is to be spent from that source in the other cities. I complain bitterly about the almost infinitesimal provision from loan money for new works in Tasmania. Possibly the Treasurer can account for this, but I cannot conceive of any satisfactory explanation. The allocations are out of proportion in every way . Tasmania is divided into five federal electorates, and the £4,241 is spread over all of them, but I find that the exMinister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) is to have £18,730 spent in his electorate. Probably the Government tried to encourage him to swallow the pact, but if that was its object in providing for the expenditure of so much money in his electorate, the scheme has failed. The list of new works to be carried out in the honorable member’s district is formidable. It includes the following : - Irymple, residence, £1,850; Lake Boga, post office and residence, £5,500; Mooroopna, post office and residence, £3,469; Mildura, post office, £2,389; Merbein, post office, £1,898; Ouyen, residence, £1,848; St. Arnaud, post office, £4,468; Ultimo, post office, £37; and Warracknabeal, post office, £437. I believe all those places are in the Wimmera. That seems to be to me a tremendous expenditure for one electorate, when we consider that five electorates in another state are only having a little over £4,000 spent in them altogether. I suggest to the Treasurer that this list should be revised. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Atkinson), who is a representative of Tasmania, would also be well advised to whisper in the Treasurer’s ear the. wisdom of revising the list so that Tasmania may receive at least a modicum of justice. It might be a good thing if the Tasmanian representative in the Cabinet became a little obstreperous, for then he might secure better treatment for his state.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I should like to deal with several questions that have been raised during the debate. It was indicated that members of the Opposition strongly opposed the use of loan money in the post office, and yet some of them complained most bitterly because provision was not made for more post offices in their electorates. What would the position be if no loan money were expended on the post office? In 1920-21 the total amount spent from all sources on the post office was £8,246,000; in .1921-22, it was £9,178,000; in 1922-23, it was £9,463,000, which included £1,000,000 of loan money; and in 1923-24, it was £13,400,000, which included £4,000,000 of loan money. In the present year it is proposed to spend £13,874,000. Those figures show an increase of about 75 per cent, in five years, during which time the increase in the population of this country has been only 10 per cent.
– Are those figures, quoted to illustrate the economy policy of the Government ?
– I quote them to show that it is impossible to provide services to the extent desired if the post office is to be entirely dependent on its own revenue, and that capital expenditure on the post office out of loan money is necessary. The Government is safeguarding the loan expenditure by ensuring that the loans shall be- repaid by means of the strengthened sinking fund of 30s. per cent. My budget speech showed clearly that the total amount left out of the revenues of the post office this year will be £143,000 above the expenditure properly chargeable to that department. From revenue and loans, roughly, £700,000 was provided last year for the erection of post offices, but unfortunately a large part of that money has not been expended. Over £400,000, for which commitments have been made, has not been spent. The amount provided this year is £712,000, and the Government hopes that now the organization and machinery has been increased, it may be possible to overtake the work and spend the money during the year. If the Government can do that it will consider whether the programme shall be extended. Every honorable member must agree that it is of no good to overload the programme if the work cannot be carried out. Two or three honorable members objected to the way in which post office works have been set out in the loan estimates. The names of the places where works are proposed to be carried out are mentioned, but the individual amounts are not specified. The following minute by the Works and Railways Department explains the reason for that: -
Hitherto it has been the practice to appropriate specific amounts for each building, but as this system had many disadvantages it has been decided that, in future, the amount for each building shall not be shown. The former practice proved most, unwieldy and hampering in carrying out work, and that it was not necessary has been demonstrated by the very large amount provided under composite items for other departments without any details being given. Moreover, as the amounts for the various buildings are necessarily compiled some months before the Estimates are presented to Parliament it is impossible to arrive at accurate estimates. Difficulties arise in fixing and acquiring sites, determining the accommodation required, drawing out specifications, quantities, &c. Also, many works have to be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and approved ay Parliament before execution can be commenced. It is impossible to determine the time that these preliminaries will consume, and, therefore, the amount required to be spent in any year can only be approximated. Thus, hitherto the provision for works has, in most cases, been either over-estimated or under-estimated. In the case of the former the excess voted has lapsed, and in the case of the latter supplementary grants from Treasurer’s Advance have had to be obtained.
I should like honorable members to understand that that is the sole reason why the change has been made, and that there is no sinister motive, as has been suggested. As soon as that suggestion was made I distributed a schedule of the proposed works to honorable members. A necessary work is sometimes delayed because the contract price happens to be £200 or £300 more than the amount provided in the Estimates.
I notice that members of the Opposition have taken delight in quoting portions of my previous speeches in this chamber, and I, in listening to them, have derived a certain amount of pleasure. They show that I have always pleaded for complete parliamentary control of expenditure. The best way to secure that control is to present the budget early, so as to bring the expenditure of the year before honorable members at the earliest possible moment. That is now being done.
Regarding the item that has been discussed by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), there has been no attempt at concealment at any time. The figures are plainly set out in the budget. When the honorable member expressed a wish to see the files, they were shown to him and he was even shown the cablegrams that passed between members of the Cabinet. Everything has been plain, clear, and straightforward, and the Government feels completely justified in the action it took. The honorable member suggested that the Government had paid to the British Government something to which it was not entitled, and had paid it without proper authority. The Prime Minister dealt with the question whether the money should have been paid, and there is no necessity for me to traverse the same ground, but the whole course of the negotiations should be placed on record. If that is done any unbiased reader of Hansard will be able to see that the Government’s action was consistent throughout, and was taken in the interests of the people. Honorable members, if they consider the facts, will find that so far from the British Government treating the Commonwealth badly, or the Commonwealth treating the British Government too well, the British Government has treated us very liber ally. The British Government has been satisfied to accept from us the equivalent of the amount at which these boats were put into the account of the Commonwealth Government Line, instead of at the market price, which the British Government may possibly have to pay into the reparations fund. The ex-enemy vessels fall into two definite classes. The proceeds of those captured on the high seas must be divided between the naval personnel concerned in their capture. The amount to be so divided is £107,000, regarding which I do not think there is any dispute. The honorable member for Yarra complained that although the matter was completed on the 2nd August, I did not deal with it in my budget speech.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member said it was not referred to at the time, and was not included in the budget papers. The budget last year was delivered on the 24th July, and, in any case, the only figures that can be properly included in the budget are those for the year that ends on the 30th June. No other date can be substituted.
The Prime Minister has already shown that this properly comes under the appropriation granted to the Government by this House in May, 1920, and the amount paid was shown on the earliest possible Estimates that could subsequently be brought down. The proper procedure in connexion with this matter has been followed in every detail. There remains the question of the manner in which the vessels detained in Australian ports were dealt with.- For these vessels, at the last resort, £197,000 was paid by the Commonwealth to the British Government. I should like to go through the history of the matter as it affects these vessels, and I shall quote the cablegrams that passed between the Cabinet and the Prime Minister in order that what was done may goon record in Hansard, so that any one will be able to see what the position actually was. In the early stages the Government was pressing as any bargainer should to secure the greatest advanage, and to strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister. The Sumner judgment of the Privy Council, given on the 4th October, 1923, upset the whole of our contentions, and the Government was obliged thento make the best terms it could in the altered circumstances of the case. I contend that the best terms were secured that could be secured for Australia. The British Government, on the 30th June, 1921, cabled that it was ready to dispose of outstanding matters on the basis that rights and liabilities arising from seizures in which the naval prize fund was not concerned should attach to His Majesty’s Government. Alternatively His Majesty’s Government was willing to waive, in favour of the Dominion Government concerned, its rights in the condemned prizes not adjudged to ‘the naval prize fund, on the understanding that the Dominion Government assumed the liability of unrecoverable expenditure connected with all local prize action. At this stage it was thought that under this offer the titles for the whole of the vessels detained in Australian ports would vest in the Commonwealth Government. By a judgment of the Privy Council, however, known as the Sumner judgment it was decided that the title to all vessels detained on the outbreak of war and not captured on the high seas was vested in the Reparations Commission. In accordance with this judgment, on the 4th October, 1923, the following cablegram was received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies: -
In the case of eight vessels of 1,600 tons and over covered by Privy Council judgment, the Reparations Commission have pronounced that the vessels, or appraised value, in case of lost vessels, shall be dealt with under the provisions of Annexe 3, part 8, of the Treaty of Versailles. His Majesty’s Government are now anxious to conclude matters regarding certain German ships sentenced to detention by Australian Prize Courts, and not subsequently condemned, and will be glad to be informed whether orders for delivery of theseships, or payment of appraised value, to Crown, to be dealt with under Treaty of Versailles have been or are being obtained, and whether arrangements may be made with Reparations Commission with a view to the early sale of ships now afloat by Lord Inchcape. His Majesty’s Government will waive claim by the Commonwealth Government for payment in respect of such of ships in question as have been lost in the service of the Commonwealth Government, decision in these cases being that appraised value will be set off against Commonwealth share of reparation.
On the 22nd November the following telegram was dispatched to the Secretary of State for the Colonies : -
Referring your telegrams 4th and 20th October re German ships sentenced to detention by Australian Prize Courts and hot subsequently condemned, my Ministers have given careful consideration to your views, and are strongly of opinion that as vessels were seized in Australia, and expenditure incurred by Australia in connexion with their seizure and detention, all these vessels should be allocated to Australia, proceeds of sale of any which are sold being debited to Australia by’ Reparations Commission instead of to Imperial Treasury, as proposed in your dispatch of 16th January. I mperial Government agreed to hand over to Commonwealth, with all rights and liabilities, vessels condemned by Australian Prize Courts, and my Ministers see no reason why similar position should not obtain as regards detained vessels, subject, of course, to matter being dealt with through Reparations Commission in accordance with treaty. From your dispatch, 16th January, it appears Commonwealth share of reparation is to be debited with appraised value of ships lost. This being so, it seems only equitable Commonwealth should be debited with market value of and allowed to retain ships which have not been lost.
At the same time a cablegram was sent to the Prime Minister in the following terms : -
Have sent through Governor-General to Secretary of State telegram re German ships not condemned, but ordered by Australian Prize Courts to be detained. Position is, Imperial Government claims that these ships, except those lost, should be sold on behalf of Reparations Commission, and proceeds handed over to Imperial Treasury to be applied towards satisfying its claim in respect of cost of army of occupation, while as regards ships lost, their value should be debited to Australian share of reparations. Cabinet is strongly of opinion that in this matter Commonwealth should endeavour to insist on retention of ships detained.
On the 22nd November a telegram, which crossed those I have just referred to, was received from the Prime Minister, as follows : -
Re nine German ships ordered by Australian. Prize Court to be detained : Under Sumner judgment cannot be treated as prizes, but only as reparation ships. If I assure British Government we recognize this it will be possible to get title without prejudice to decision as to whether value belongs to British reparations or Australian reparations. This point I will take up with the British Government, ana endeavour to obtain agreement to retain for Australian reparations. In view of urgency to get titles to enable sales to be effected, strongly advise you agree course suggested above.
After the delivery of the Sumner judgment the Prime Minister had to see how the best bargain in the interests of Australia might be made to ensure that we should get these vessels at- a reasonable price.
– The Sumner judgment of the Privy Council completely altered the whole position, and rendered the position which we had taken up originally, untenable.
– But the Government sent a cable on the 22nd November, adhering to its position despite the Sumner judgment.
– It sometimes takes five weeks to get anything done by communication with the Old Country.
– The Government could have cabled in less than five weeks, although I remember that it took it two years to do so on one occasion.
– The Sumner judgment made it essential that the matter should be dealt with in the way proposed. The Prime Minister continued the negotiations with the British Government, with the result thaton the 13th December he sent the Cabinet the following cablegram: -
Re nine non-condemned ex-enemy ships. Chancellor Exchequer contends strongly that claim of United Kingdom to receive proceeds of sale is equitable because under financial agreement of 11th March, 1922, Reparations Commission will debit value of ships not to British Empire on account of reparations, but to United Kingdom on account of cost of army of occupation prior to 30th April, 1921. This cost under clause 8 of above agreement is payable to United Kingdom out of first cash receipts accruing to Reparations Commission after satisfaction of Belgium’s priority.
Than there is a point I should like to emphasize. The Prime Minister’s cablegram continues-
United Kingdom lias already paid £835,000. being her claim in full for Australia’s share of army of occupation instead of paying only pro rata proportion of Empire receipts; and large amount still remains clue to United Kingdom. -
– Does the honorable gentleman not think that the Government of Great Britain should have paid us for our expenses in connexion with the army of occupation 1
– That was not in question when the matter was settled satisfactorily to the governments concerned.
– After paying an amount to the Commonwealth Government, the British Government wanted some of it back.
– The honorable gentleman overlooks the fact that the British Government recognized and met its liability to the Commonwealth Government in connexion with the cost of the army of occupation, although it had not received its share of the cost in- full. We had transferred the detained boats to the Commonwealth Shipping Line, and it was essentia] that we should be in a position to give titles for them in order that the Line might sell them. It was only right and proper that the Australian Government should honour its obligations and pay the British Government as soon as it had disposed of the boats. If we had failed to do so, we should have rendered ourselves liable to be pilloried before the nations of the world as a country that did not honour its obligations.
– And yet the honorable gentleman claims that the Empire is one.
– Even though the Empire is one, one member of the Empire family has no right to cheat and defraud another member of it. That kind of thing would bring a family to ruin. The proper thing is for the members of a family to be fair and honest in their dealings with each other.
– No one suggested that Australia should defraud any other member of the family of the Empire. The honorable gentleman had no right to use such an expression.
– The Prime Minister’s cablegram continues -
United’ Kingdom has made concession to Australia by waiving cash payment for sunk ship. Chancellor of Exchequer, however, is prepared to make considerable further concession by accepting from Australia in full settlement the amount of £197,000 actually realized by transfer to Australian Commonwealth Line, United Kingdom shouldering risk of Reparations Commission fixing any increased value which may quite probably amount to further £140,000.
The British Government said that even though there was a strong prospect that the Reparations Commission might demand from us £337,000 in respect of these boats, it was willing that the Australian Government should settle . the claim for £197,000. No one can deny that that is an absolutely generous concession by the British Government. The cablegram continues -
This offer relieves Australian Treasury Department of any obligation to find new money on this account. I think that this proposal is fair and is the best we can get, and as it is important to settle at once in order to be able to give prompt fulfilment of guarantee title of ships being sold, I am accepting it.
The cablegrams show that in the first place the Commonwealth Government thought it was entitled to retain the vessels detained in Australian ports. Subsequently, under the Sumner judgment, delivered on 4th October, 1923. it became, apparent that such vessels could only beretained as portion of the Commonwealth’s share of reparations. The titles of the vessels, however, vested, not in the Commonwealth, but in the British Government, which had already made a cash payment to Australia of £835,000 in consideration of Australia’s share of the coat of the army of occupation. The Commonwealth Shipping Line was endeavouring to dispose of the vessels, and it was necessary that it should be in a position to give a clear title with any vessel sold. The matter, therefore, bad to be fixed up at the earliest possible moment. I think the Prime Minister is to be complimented upon the settlement. The Cabinet felt that he had done exceedingly well in securing the arrangement referred to in his cablegram of the 13th. December, because it recognized that the Sumner judgment rendered Australia’s original position untenable. The House and the public generally can view with satisfaction the arrangement that was made. The condemned ex-enemy vessels constituted one of the first assets which could be set off against the cost of the army of occupation j and as the British Government has already paid the Commonwealth its expenditure on its army of occupation, it was incumbent upon the Commonwealth to release the ex-enemy vessels or pay their value to the British Exchequer as an off-set to the amount which had been paid to Australia. After a careful review of the whole of the circumstances connected with this matter, I am convinced that, even at the risk of a bad construction being placed upon our actions by honorable members opposite, we did the right thing, and I should be prepared to do the same again, especially as the war loan appropriations have always been dealt with in this manner. Nobody can deny that the payment in respect of ex-enemy vessels was a capital payment which should have been made from the appropriation foi war purposes. The explanation that has been given to-day completely disposes of the contention of the honorable member for Yarra.
.- The Treasurer in essaying to answer my criticism set up his own Aunt Sally and proceeded to knock it down. He disproved things I did not say or suggest. First of all the honorable gentleman said that I had charged the Government with having made an absolute secret of this payment. I did not say that. How could I, when the amount appears in the estimates for this year? But I did say that the Government had kept the payment a close secret until the whole transaction had been completed, and there was no opportunity for Parliament to review it. The Government gave no information to the House. It sent cablegrams to the Secretary for the Colonies in June, 1923, in respect of a sum of money to be paid in August, and yet did not make even the simple statement to this House that the money had been claimed, and the Government .intended to pay it. In the budget speech the Treasurer thought it necessary to refer to items of £5 and £6, but he had not a word to say about a transaction involving nearly one-third of a million pounds. Next the Treasurer said that I had declared that the British Government was not entitled to this money. What I did say was that. Cabinet had said that the British Government was not entitled to the payment.
– The Privy Council decided that we were not entitled to it.
– I shall come to that point. The gravamen of my charge is that the Government had ample opportunity to consult Parliament with regard to this matter, and did not do so. The Treasurer said that the Government’s actions had been consistent. I say that the Government turned a complete somersault. The cablegram quoted by the Treasurer is the same as that which I read, and in it Cabinet argued that the British Government should not receive this money. But the British Government did receive it. Yet the Treasurer said that the Government has been consistent. The honorable gentleman charged me with having said that the money was paid on the 2nd August, and that he had made no mention of it in his budget speech for .the preceding financial year, which, he pointed out triumphantly, had been delivered in July. The honorable member misrepresented what I said, namely, that there was no mention of this transaction in the budget speech which he delivered a few days ago, although the money had been paid.
– I misunderstood the honorable member.
– The Treasurer said that he could not be expected to mention this claim in his budget speech of last year, because he did not know the exact amount. I did not say that the Government should have done the impossible, but I do assert that it should have made a statement to Parliament, and that it should have taken honorable members into its confidence. The Treasurer declared that the payment was -made as a last resort. That shows that there had been bickering between the Commonwealth and Imperial Governments, that the Commonwealth was dunned for the money, and that eventually it was demanded on the ground that the Imperial Government had paid Australia in full the expense it had incurred in connexion with the army of occupation. But the main point of the honorable gentleman’s defence was that Australia’s claim was upset by the judgment in the Sumner case, in which the Privy Council declared that these boats should be treated differently because they were detained ex-enemy vessels, and notprize vessels. The Sumner judgment was delivered on the 4th October, 1923, and it was known to the Commonwealth Government within a few days. The file shows that the Government was quite conversant with the decision of the Privy Council, and on the 22nd November - one month and eighteen days later - the Government sent a cablegram to the British Government saying that Ministers were strongly of opinion that as the vessels had been seized in Australia, and expenditure had been incurred by the Commonwealth in connexion with their seizure and detention, they should be allocated to Australia. Yet the Treasurer tried ‘ to upset my case by saying that the cablegram was dispatched before the Government had learned of the Sumner judgment. How cunningly the Treasurer introduced that cablegram. He quoted the message to the Prime Minister of the 22nd November. Upon that date the Prime Minister also sent a cablegram from London to Australia - presumably the two cablegrams crossed in transit - and in it he conveyed information of the judgment given by the Privy Council on the 4th October. We are asked to assume that up to that time the Government knew nothing of the judgment.
– It had been discussed at full length in England.
– And it had been discussed at full length in Australia. It had been discussed between the Ministers and the managers of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, and between Cabinet and” the Solicitor-General. The matter had been thoroughly threshed out, and as a result of the fullest consideration, Cabinet cabled to the British Government still claiming that the boats belonged to Australia. Yet the Treasurer says that the Sumner judgment completely upset the Commonwealth claim. If I had not a full knowledge of the contents of the file Ministers could deceive this committee, and their statements would be accepted. The Treasurer said that when the Government learned, from the Prime Minister’s cablegram, of the effect of the Sumner judgment, the whole complexion of the case was changed, and Cabinet agreed to meet the claim made by the British Government. Is there anything in the file to show that Cabinet so agreed? Did Cabinet send any further cablegrams to the Prime Minister saying that it had agreed to the payment? This innocent Treasurer professes to have known nothing about the Sumner judgment in - October until he received the Prime Minister’s cablegram of the 22nd November, but the files show that he knew everything about it. Yet between the 4th October and the 22nd November not one cablegram was sent, so far as can be learned from the files, from Cabinet to the Prime Minister to say that Ministers had changed their minds and withdrawn their claim. The fact is that the claim was persisted in, even after the cablegram was received from the Prime Minister. The Government still demanded payment, but the Prime Minister, on his own initiative, and without hearing another word from his colleagues, sent a message saying that he had agreed to accept the British Government’s conditions. Those are the facts, and they are a complete answer to what the Treasurer has told the Committee. Later, he said that it was imperative that the Commonwealth should get a’ title to the vessels so that the shipping line could dispose of them. Of course, it was necessary to get a title for them. They had been captured in Australian waters by Commonwealth agents. They had been transferred to the Commonwealth Shipping Line, which wanted to sell some of them ; therefore, titles were necessary. But there was no urgent need on that account to reach finality in regard to the claim. As the correspondence indicates, an agreement could have been made with the British Government for the sale of the boats pending the settlement of the dispute. A title could have been given by the British Government to enable the boats to be sold, and the proceeds could have been held in trust pending the settlement of the dispute between the two Governments. The Treasurer said that, under the Treaty of Versailles, the Government had no option but to do as itdid. It is true that in the treaty the British Empire was treated as one entity, and the United Kingdom alone was held responsible to the Reparations Commission, but the internal relations between the component parts of the Empire are such as not to prevent this claim being adjusted in favour of the Commonwealth. But the British Government demanded its “ pound of flesh” and five or six ounces more. The Treasurer said that if Australia did not honour its obligations, it would be pilloried before the world as a defaulter. I did not suggest that we should not honour our obligations. The Government had obtained the opinion of the Crown Law authorities, and the conclusions arrived at bv Cabinet on the basis of that opinion were embodied in the cablegram sent to the Prime Minister on the 22nd November, in which it was claimed that the boats belonged to Australia. But Cabinet hastily agreed to something done by the Prime Minister after one conversation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and because we say that Parliament should have been consulted before the payment was made, or’ advised of what had been done, the Treasurer suggests that we are not willing’ that the Commonwealth should honour its obligations. Then he told us that the British Government had been generous in accepting £197,000 for these vessels, when as a matter of fact that was the actual valuation at which the Commonwealth transferred them to its own shipping line. The British Government accepted payment for the ship3 at their full valuation, and we are told that it was generous ! What did the Imperial Government give in exchange ? It took the responsibility of a book entry against some reparation payments that may be made in the future. The Commonwealth Government said that if the ships that were lost were to be debited against Australia’s claims to reparation, it was equitable that the ships that were not lost should similarly be taken into account. Those were vessels which came within the operation of the Versailles Treaty, and under the control of the Reparations Commission. The arguments of the Government were logical and hard to refute, and the Imperial authorities had no basis for their claim except the fact that they had been particularly decent in repaying Australia’s expenditure on account of the army of occupation. Before I accept the judgment of the Treasurer on that matter, I should like the Prime Minister to place on the table of the House the whole of the papers connected with that payment of £835,000. They will probably show that the reason why the amount was paid in full was that it was demanded by the Australian Government before it agreed to participate in Mr. .Scullin.. the occupation. But the setting off of a fair and just claim of two years ago against a claim in respect of ships, the ownership of which was in dispute, was paltry. However, I am not so much concerned with the dispute between the two Governments. I have never been very keen on reparations, because I believed that they would have to be paid in German goods, and that such payments would mean ruin to Australia. But I insist that it was wrong to keep this Parliament in the dark while the two Governments were haggling over a matter of policy. Complete secrecy was observed until the whole of the money had been paid, and was beyond recall, and until this Parliament could not effectively express its opinion on the matter. After all, that money belonged to the people of Australia and not to the Government. The representatives of the people should, therefore, have been consulted.
Clause 2 agreed to.
Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
– I move -
That the vote, “ Prime Minister’s Department, £251,500,” be reduced by £250,000.
I do this as a protest against borrowing money for immigration. I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Whitsitt), who last night stated that money out of revenue should not be used to bring immigrants here, but it is infinitely worse to borrow money for this purpose, especially when we have no land on which to place them. Returned soldiers are being driven off their holdings. It is impossible to place our own kith and kin upon the land, and almost all the immigrants coming to Australia to-day add to the population of our large cities. The land obtained by the State Governments for soldier settlement has been purchased at such high prices that the settlers are unable to make a living upon it. Until the land laws of Victoria are altered to facilitate the resumption of large estates, there will be no opportunity of settling people on the land. This Government is acting indecently in attempting to pass legislation against the wishes of the great majority of the people. If an election were now held Ministers would not occupy the treasury bench one minute ‘after the result was known. Yesterday an election was held in a typical country electorate.
It was a straight-out vote, and the leaders of the so-called Nationalist party, Peacock, Lawson and others, spent a fortnight there trying to induce the people to vote for the Victorian Nationalist policy, which is similar to that of the Commonwealth Composite Ministry. Despite their efforts and those of the Women’s National League, an unknown man, a representative of the Labour party, defeated at the polls the son of a very wealthy farmer who has spent his lifetime in that constituency. At the recent state elections, the Glenelg seat was won by the Labour party with a majority of 120 votes, but yesterday, without a third candidate, and on a clear issue involving that of immigration, the Labour candidate was returned with a majority of close on 1,000 votes.
– Despite the absence from that electorate of 250 shearers.
– The election was held at the worst possible time-, because 250 labourites had left that district a fortnight ago for New South Wales and Queensland, in which states it was impossible for them to cast a postal vote. The trend of events shows that the Government no longer possesses the confidence of the people, who are opposed to the Government’s policy of borrowing money for defensive works and immigration. The Prime Minister’s advent to office was accidental, and was not sanctioned by the people. Before immigrants are brought out here we should attempt to find occupations for some of our 30,000 unemployed. I strongly protest against the taxation of the working class for generations to come in order to settle immigrants in this country. If employers want to employ immigrants they should pay to bring them here. If it were proposed to bring into Australia from abroad machinery and other materials at the expense of this country there would be a howl of protest from the protectionists opposite and from the’ manufacturing interests of this country, but a proposal to bring in immigrants so that the manufacturers may obtain cheap labour and the big squatters cheap boundary riders is welcomed by honorable members opposite, and they assist the Government in spending huge sums of borrowed money for this purpose.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr.
McGrath) as a protest against the expenditure of loan money to bring immigrants here. The Minister of Lands in the Victorian Government has had a statement prepared containing statistics of soldier settlement, and these have unfortunately disclosed the fact that soldier settlement in many respects has been a failure. .The Commonwealth Government has lent to the various states something like £35,000,000 for soldier settlement, and at no far distant date the State Governments will approach the Commonwealth requesting that a considerable portion of that sum be written off. We are now asked to sanction the borrowing of money ostensibly to place immigrants on the land. For a few months, while the money lasts and while the glamour is upon the immigrants, they will remain on their blocks, but as the novelty wears off, and their finances dwindle, these men, with their families, will gravitate to the cities. If work is not provided for them in and around the cities, they will threaten to write home, and tell their friends that Australia is no place for them. The Government’s policy of immigration is aggravating the congestion of the cities, and making unemployment more acute. It is proposed this year to expend on immigration £250,000 out of loan money. Last year’s Estimates contained two items - £4,396 for London offices, and expenditure £203,744. In addition, the Commonwealth Government advanced to the State Governments for immigration purposes over £800,000, so that in two years there will be an expenditure of £1,300,000 out of loan money to bring immigrants to Australia. The only result will be a bad advertisement for Australia, not only in Britain, but also in other parts of the world. When the immigration scheme is properly organized in both Britain and Australia, and after we have settled our own people on the land, we shall be able to bring immigrants here, particularly those of our own kith and kin. To-day thousands of our own people are walking the streets seeking employment, and yet the newspapers from day to day publish the arrival of steamers with 600, 700, and 800 immigrants aboard. Where are these people to be absorbed ? Many sons of Australian farmers are unable to obtain land. Even if it were possible to settle immigrants on the land, some of them, owing to their general unfitness, would be bound to fail. The taxpayers’ money is being used to bring people from Britain to take the place of Australia’s sons. It is a disgrace to this Parliament, and to the fair name of Australia, that we should adopt such a policy. The interest on these loans must be extracted from the people. Our interest bill to-day is £50,000,000. The immigration scheme courts disaster. It is difficult to judge the attitude of the Government. The speeches of the Treasurer alone have been a series of somersaults. In the words of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), if the people had an opportunity of voicing their opinion on these two points alone - the expenditure of loan money on defence and immigration - the Labour party would be returned with an overwhelming majority. The Glenelg election is an indication of the trend of opinion.
– Honorable members opposite must be blind to public opinion if they fail to realize the deep-seated objection throughout, the country to the expenditure of borrowed money in bringing immigrants from overseas to the detriment of, not only our own Australian workmen, but also our farmers’ sons, who are anxious to settle upon the land. All available blocks of land are eagerly applied for. In the western part of the Riverina, over 200 applications were recently made for one block of land. That is typical of what is taking place throughout this country. The Government contend that this money is to be expended for settling immigrants on the land, but it really has the effect of throwing our own people out of employment. It is fortunate that statistics are recorded to show exactly how the immigrants are being absorbed, and it cannot by the wildest stretch of the imagination be contended that immigrants are being placed on the land. As the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) pointed out, there is no proper method of selecting immigrants, and even when they reach Australia they do not go on the land. The latest statistics available prove conclusively that that is so in Victoria at any rate. Between 1911 and the end of 1923, 69,373 immigrants came to Victoria, and in the same period the agricultural population increased by only 1,121.
– And a good many of those are returned soldiers.
– That is so. The Treasurer can hardly dispute those official figures. If the Government has £250,000 to spend in settling people on the land, it should apply it to the settlement of farmers’ sons, who are now, in many cases, unable to find employment in the country, and so drift into the cities. They cannot settle on the land for they have not sufficient capital. In cases where a farmer has five or six sons it is impossible for him to settle them all upon the land, and at least half of them are obliged to go to the city to find work. - It is said sometimes that these young men go to the city of their own accord, and because they desire to do so; but I am positive that if they could secure land they would willingly remain in the country. Before the Treasurer joined the Government he was opposed to spending money for immigration out of loans. In criticising the previous Treasurer, who is now Prime Minister, for adopting this policy, he said -
He proposes to spend from the loan funds instead of revenue £162,000 on passage money for assisted immigrants which, under no consideration, can be considered a charge against loans.
He then asked this question -
Why is the £162,000 for assisted passages to immigrants paid out of loans instead of revenue ?
I now ask the Treasurer the same question. What answer can he give me? Of course we all know what happened. The Prime Minister invited his critic to assist in the formation of a composite ministry. He said, in effect, “ If you will join the Government you will find that what I am doing is quite correct. You will agree with me.” The Treasurer now sees virtue in the very things that, formerly he roundly condemned. Every day that the House meets he has practically to swallow his own words. The position now is such that he does not even trouble to offer an explanation of his change of front. His only acknowledgment of these daily accusations is an everlasting smile. His inconsistencies have ceased to worry him. I ask him whether he received a satisfactory answer from his present colleague.
– It is quite obvious that he did.
– Then he has never informed us what the answer was. I have no objection to bringing the right class of immigrant to Australia provided that we first of all settle the people who are here. Our own farmers’ sons should have the first opportunity to settle on any land that is available for settlement. I cannot understand how the Government can expect us to believe that it has suitable land ready for settlement, for many returned soldiers have been dumped on land from which they cannot hope to make a living. It will cost £60 per acre to clear some of the land on which they have been settled in remote parts of New South Wales. The history of immigration show3 that the immigrants do not go on the land, but settle in the cities. Our land settlement policy is totally unsatisfactory. If honorable members opposite knew the conditions under which some of the returned men are obliged to live in certain parts of New South Wales they would agree with us that it is high time that the whole matter was thoroughly investigated, and relief given to those who so greatly need it. If the men in New South Wales whom I have in my mind could live on their blocks for 1,000 years they would not make any progress.
– Because the so-called patriots overcharged the Government for the land.
– Sometimes the patriots are governments ; for instance, the Queensland Government.
– The Queensland Government is the only one which has given the digger a fair go.
– All that I can say on that is that I had not heard any complaints from soldier settlers in Queensland. A soldier settler from the Holbrook district, in Victoria, interviewed me in this building a few days ago, and told me that the conditions he was working under on the block which had been allotted to him were so impossible that he had abandoned the block. The squatter who sold that land to the Government received such a high price for it that the men settled on it can never hope to secure a reasonable return for their labour, after paying working expenses. They may struggle on for years, but only a miracle can save them. The Government should properly settle our returned men and other Australian citizens before it suggests bringing in more immigrants. Possibly it proposes to give the immigrants more favorable conditions than it is willing to grant to the men who fought for the country. If that is so, the proposal is all the more discreditable. The result of the by-election yesterday in the Glenelg electorate of Victoria, which is a typical country electorate, surely ought to indicate to the Treasurer that the people have lost faith in the Country party. The writing is on the wall, and it becomes clearer every day. Nothing has contributed more to public dissatisfaction with the Country party than the actions of the Treasurer. The people aru saying - “ If this is the best that the Country party can do for us, we shall have to look elsewhere.” They are looking elsewhere, and they are realizing that their hope of salvation lies in putting the Labour party into power.
– I am totally opposed to the amendment. There is very great necessity for us to considerably increase the population of this country, apart altogether from our natural increase. We have heard the same cry to-day as has been raised on every occasion when the immigration question has been discussed.
– Does the honorable member believe in paying for immigration out of loan money?
– I do, so that the people we are bringing out will be able to bear their share of the burden. I rose particularly to reply to the statement of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) regarding soldier settlement. I agree with much that he said regarding the deplorable condition in which many of our returned soldiers now find themselves, but the charge he made cannot be laid at the door of this Government only. Three or four years ago I visited the soldier settlement at Beerburrum, in Queensland, which is one of the largest soldier settlements in Australia. I spent some time there, because, when T first read that soldiers were being placed there, I wondered what had gone wrong with the governing authorities in Queensland. I went through that country 35 years ago in search of land. It was then available at 2s. 6d. an acre freehold, payable at the rate of 3d. an acre a year for five years, and the balance at the end of that period. ‘ Although the land was within 30 or 40 miles of the capital city of Queensland, was traversed by a railway, and had every reasonable facility in the neighbourhood, not one acre of it was selected. Those who saw it would not touch it with a 40-ft. pole. But the Queensland Labour Government, immediately the soldiers returned from overseas, placed them on this land. The settlement, as was prophesied by me and others, became a failure, - and hundreds of those who were placed there have had to leave. The blame for the failure of soldier settlement cannot be laid entirely upon the Federal, Government, or upon the National Ministries in any of the states. Soldier settlement is essentially a work for the State Governments, and the National Governments of the various states are not alone in their failure.
– The honorable mem betadmits that the National Governments have failed.
– Of course they have failed, but there has been no greater failure than that of the Queensland Labour Government, which placed men on land the quality of which gave them no chance of success.
– The Queensland Government has done more for the returned soldiers than any other government in Australia.
– The settlements at Beerburrum and other places in Queensland are a failure, and hundreds of men who wanted to earn their livelihood on the soil have had to seek occupations elsewhere. Those men were placed on land that was hungry, and would not carry a sheep to 10 acres; some of it would hardly carry a bandicoot. It cost from £40 to £50 an acre to clear. I spent two days among the soldier settlers to ascertain, first hand, what their conditions were, so when I speak of that settlement I speak from first-hand knowledge. The failure of it was due to the Government placing the men on land that no one else would touch. Other governments have been charged with placing men on such highpriced land that they had no chance of
Success. There may be some justification for that charge, for. unfortunately, too many men have been placed on land that was “ loaded,” and some patriots have reaped advantages by selling over-priced land to men who wanted it. I know of several instances in my own electorate . One man proposed to sell a farm to two men who were in his employment. His price was 100 per cent, more than the price asked for the same land when it was on the market, but not sold, during the year prior to the war. When his proposal was turned down he came to me and denounced the State Government and its officials for preventing soldiers from settling on the land. Those officials, however, did the right thing. Had those two men been placed on that property under the conditions proposed, they would never have been able to see daylight, and, as the honorable member for Hume said, instead of being settled on land they would soon have been settled under it. It is unfair of honorable members to endeavour insidiously to lay the’ whole blame for the failure of soldier settlement upon the Commonwealth Government.
I recognize the necessity for having more people in this country, and anything that will induce immigrants of a suitable type to come here will receive my heartiest support. I do not agree that there is the danger mentioned by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) of reducing the standard of living in Australia. Every man in this country is working under awards either of wages boards or arbitration courts, and experience has taught us that the more people we have, whether in the primary producing or secondary industries, the more rapidly the country develops. Our condition to-day is infinitely better than it was ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago, and it will be better still if we can induce more people of the right type to assist in the development of this country and to share the burdens of government.
.- As one of the five representatives of Tasmania, I raise my voice in support of what I am sure would be the decision of a large majority of the people of that state if they could record their votes tomorrow. I am certain that they would emphatically oppose .the proposal to spend £250,000 of loan money on immigration. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Atkinson) knows as well as I do that there are many men in Tasmania’ who desire to get a living on the land, but who cannot do so under conditions that give them a fair chance of success. That being so, it is absurd to spend enormous sums of money - particularly loan money - on immigration. The State of Tasmania cannot maintain its natural increase of population, because there are not enough channels of employment to give reasonably fair conditions’ to the workers. That state has not retained its natural increase in population for several years, and is not doing it to-day. While we have this painful problem of unemployment on the one hand, we have the Government on the other hand asking us to support a proposal to spend £250,000 out of loan money to bring more people to Australia. The effect of bringing more people to Australia can only be to swell the ranks of the unemployed workers. The honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister) may say what he likes about objections that come from this side, but he knows that what we say is absolutely true. To spend loan money to bring immigrants from the other side of the world when we already have large numbers of unemployed workers here, is a fool’s policy that no government that faced the situation would propose to continue for a moment. Until something is done- to open up new avenues of employment, and to stop the importation of goods from cheap-labour countries, money that our taxpayers can ill afford should not be sent out of the country to increase the volume of unemployment and make. competition in Australia keener. I think that this is a question which the people of Australia should be asked to decide before the Government proceeds any further with the expenditure of money - particularly loan money - on an immigration policy at a time when thousands of Australian-born men cannot find decent employment,
.- I desire to reply to the statement made by the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister). The honorable member was unfair when he singled out one settlement in Queensland - that at Beerburrum - and attacked Labour because of the conditions existing there. As one who served in the Queensland Parliament, and who knows -something of what has been done in that state for soldier settlers, I can say that the Labour Government of . Queensland has done more to settle the soldiers satisfactorily on the land than any other government in Australia. That was admitted by Mr. Chas. Taylor, the Leader nf the - Nationalist party in the Queensland Parliament. Mr. Taylor, who was a .member of the Land
Settlement Committee, which was appointed by the Labour Government there, said -
This is not a- party political matter, and 1 can say unhesitatingly that tha Queensland Government has done more for the soldier settlers than any other government in Aus tralia.
The honorable member for Corio admitted that it was four years since he had visited that settlement. I do not say that everything is right there, but the honorable member failed to mention the conditions existing in other parts of Queensland, where areas of good country have been set apart for the settlement of soldiers. The matter that is troubling the soldiers most is the marketing of their produce at a remunerative price. Labour stands behind the stabilization scheme for the marketing of dairy produce. It is not the policy of the Government of Queensland to leave the soldiers to starve. The great majority of them go in for dairying and fruit-growing. They experienced difficulty in marketing their products, and to assist them the Government established the farmers’ organization scheme, which led to the establishment of the Council of Agriculture, from which emanated the proposal, originated by M’r. L. R. Macgregor, the Director of Agriculture in that state, for the marketing of the dairy produce from the farms of Australia. That proposal was placed before the Commonwealth Government, but it was turned down. The Queensland Minister- for Lands (Mr. Coyne), on behalf of the soldier settlers in Queensland, approached the Commonwealth Government with a request that the amount of the loan to those soldier settlers should be increased from £625 to £1,000 each. The Treasurer will, no doubt, remember that. That proposal, also, was turned down by the Composite Government. Mr. Coyne recognized that in order that these men might develop their land, a larger loan was necessary. Tha Queensland Labour Government did its part to get the increased loan, but the present Federal Government and their predecessors rejected the proposal. If the honorable member for Corio wants evidence of soldiers walking off their blocks, he has not to go beyond his own state of Victoria, where for the last half century and more conservative governments have been in power. The soldier settlers in Victoria have not been given that measure of support in connexion with the marketing of their products, nor the assistance in troublous times, that they have .. received from the Queensland Labour Government. The present Labour Government of Victoria soon found it necessary to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the conditions of the soldier settlers in this state and to undertake a revaluation of their land. In the states where tory governments were in power, large prices were paid to private land-holders for their land, ostensibly for the purpose of settling soldiers on it, but in reality to benefit the private land-holders. The result was that a heavy burden of’ debt was placed on the shoulders of the soldier settlers. That has not happened in Queensland. The Labour party realizes that to bring to Australia in an aimless way, as the Government is doing, numbers of immigrants, and to dump them in the large cities, instead of providing land for them, thus causing them to become dependent on public charity, is not the way to develop this country. By unfair propaganda in England, these people are induced to come to Australia, believing that here they will find a haven of rest and happiness for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, many of them come here only to add to the number of paupers: That policy is absolutely dishonest, and is a disgrace to the Government. It is not right to hoodwink the people in this manner, bringing them here under false pretences, believingthat they will almost pick up money in the streets. Such treatment is not fair to those whocome here; it is not treating in a right manner those Australian farmers’ sons who are looking for land and unable to obtain it; nor is it fair to the workless people already depending on charity in the cities of Australia.
Question put. The committee divided.
Majority … …5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
House adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 August 1924, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1924/19240815_reps_9_108/>.