9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Restriction of Exhibition
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customswhether it is a fact that the very excellent pictures, depicting Australian life, the work of the Hawkesbury College, in New South “Wales, and the pastoral industry, have been banned by American picture corporations, and that the theatres that are served by these corporations are debarred from exhibiting such pictures as those shown in the Queen’s Hall last night? If so, will the honorable gentleman take steps to see that such restrictions, if any, are removed? Is it not illegal for such restrictions., if they exist; to be imposed ?
-I am already investigating a similar complaint contained in a question put by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann), a week or two ago. One or two other features of the matter have been brought under my notice by the honorable member. I assure honorable members that the matter will be further inquired into, and I shall inform the House of the result.
– If it is found that such restrictions as have been indicated are imposed will the honorable gentleman take action?
– If possible, I shall take action.
– I have, I suppose in common with other honorable members, received many very anxious letters intimating that post office works and telephone extensions have, at the last moment, been removed from the list of works to be undertaken during the present financial year. It is stated that these works are urgently required, and that many of them have been carried out within 8 or 10 per cent. of completion. Some delay in the carrying out of these works was due to the non-arrival of necessary materials, but it is stated that these are now to hand, and I ask the Treasurer whether some of the loan money set aside for works for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department might not be used for the completion of these works in order that, as soon as possible, the people may be afforded the facilities which they would provide ?
– There has been provided on the Post and Telegraph Department’s estimates for new works, and the general conduct of the department this year, a sum amounting, roughly, to about ?14,000,000. I understand from the department that careful analysis is being made of the works in accordance with its programme to see which should be given preference.
– I wish to know, Mr.
Speaker, whether the valuable historical document concerning Captain Cook, which has been sent to honorable members, will be made available to municipal and district councils, public and private schools, mechanics’ institutes, and schools of arts?
– I presume that the honorable member refers to the Captain Cook Souvenir which has been issued to the state schools, as well as to members of Parliament throughout Australia. The Library Committee, of which I happen to be chairman, laid down certain conditions for the distribution of the souvenir. I shall ascertain exactly what limitation was decided on, and inform the honorable member on the subject later in the day.
– Canthe Treasurer give the House any idea as to whether the Government proposes to introduce this session a bill to amend the Superannuation Act?
– The introduction of the bill is still awaiting the result of actuarial investigations.
Sir John Monash’s Report ; Building of Cruiser in Great Britain.
– Will the Prime Min ister tell the House what are the contents of Sir John Monash’s report in reference to the building of cruisers in Australia? Will he also say what action the Government proposes to take upon that report?
– I cannot at the moment give the honorable member an indication of the contents of Sir John Monash’s report. The Government is considering it, and I shall in the course of a few days make a pronouncement as to what it proposes to do, and shall make the report available to honorable members.
– Is it a fact that the Government has made arrangements for the purchase of one of the cruisers which are under construction in Great Britain at the present time?
– The Government has made no such arrangement.
– Have arrangements yet been made for the construction of a cruiser in Great Britain, and, if so, who are to be the builders, and what are the conditions of the contract?
– In order to save the honorable member the trouble of putting further questions on the subject, I may say that no cruiser has been purchased, no arrangements have been made authorizing the construction of a cruiser, and no action whatever has been taken in any direction with regard to the building of a cruiser in Great Britain.
Classification and Awards
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the awards made by the Public Service Arbitrator, regarding applications for certain increases in the basic wage, made by the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association and ‘the Australian Postal Assistants Union would be subject to disallowance by the Public Service Board in connexion with their reclassification scheme; also whether the increased allowance for the temporary performance of higher duties by officers of the telephone and other branches of the Service would be subject to similar interference?
– The existing provisions of the Public Service Act prescribe that salaries of officers dealt with in the classification shall, notwithstanding any prior determination of the Arbitrator, be those allotted by the classification, provided that no reduction shall take .effect until twelve months after the date of the Governor-General’s approval of the classification. Clause 8 of the Amending Public Service Bill now before Parliament proposes to amend the existing provisions by prescribing that no officer receiving, at date of approval of the classification, a salary under determination of the Arbitrator greater than that allotted to him by classification shall have such salary reduced by the process of reclassification so long as he occupies the position in which he was classified. It is further prescribed in the existing act that the classification shall not operate to affect any determination of the Arbitrator relating to salaries made subsequent to the approval of classification. The Government is not aware of any determination providing for the grant of any increased allowance for the temporary performance of higher duties, but the provisions of awards or determinations relating to allowances to be paid for the temporary performance of higher duties will not be affected by the classification.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr. GARDNER (for Mr. SEABROOK asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he will make available a quantity of apricot pulp free of charge to public hospitals and benevolent societies, so that the poor of Tasmania may benefit, and save the pulp from being thrown out?
– All the apricot pulp formerly owned by the Commonwealth has been sold.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
What action is being taken ‘to carry out the recommendations of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts relating to the Lithgow Housing Scheme, which were contained in the Report of the Committee on this subject presented to Parliament on 28th March, 1024, viz. : -
When is it expected that the electric lighting will be available in the settlement, as it is understood that the wiring of the houses was completed in December, 1923, and the street mains in May, 1924?
– The answers to, the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
askedthe Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. No.
Scope of Royal Commission
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Provision is already made by the Repatriation Department for the grant from a special fund of allowances to all wives and children in necessitous circumstances of soldiers who deserted overseas, and also to the deserted wives and children of men who failed to return after having received their discharges abroad. The Commonwealth cannot accept similar responsibility in those cases where the soldier returned to Australia, and has since deserted his family. These have become civil cases, and are dealt with accordingly.
Allegations of Dumping
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– Many inquiries have been made under the Industries Preservation Act regarding importations of hosiery and knitted goods, but it has been found in most cases that the importations do not constitute “ dumping “ as defined by the Act. In a few cases the act was applicable, and the goods were specifically gazetted and duty collected. In regard to silk stockings from Germany, there is a standing gazettal under section 8 of the act. The various state collectors have standing instructions to see that all importations of these goods are closely watched so that any evidence that such goods are being “ dumped “ may be promptly reported with a view to applying the provisions of the Industries Preservation Act, if such action should be justified as the result of investigation.
Motion (by Mr. BRUCE) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley), to the honorable member for Warringah (Sir Granville Ryrie), and to the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), and for one month to the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), on the ground of urgent public business.
Motion (by Mr. Pratten) agreed to -
That leave ibc given to bring in a bill for an Act to amend the Tariff Board Act, 1921-23.
Bill presented and read a first time.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-21, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed works: - Establishment of automatic telephone exchanges at Unley and Norwood, South Australia, which works have been investigated by tho Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and on which the committee has duly reported to this House the result of its investigations.
It ia unnecessary for me to deal with this motion in detail, because the exMinister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) gave full particulars of this work to the House on the 20th June last.
– How much money is involved ?
– Tha total amounts are:- £128,916 for Unley, and £134,555 for Norwood.
– It is no wonder that the country districts are being denied reasonable postal facilities.
– The Public Works, Committee has urged the immediate construction of these exchanges.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In committee (Consideration of Deputy Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to provide for the payment of a bounty on the export of fortified wines.
– Does the Prime Minister intend to present a bill to compel the people of this country to pay a bounty on all wine exported ?
– Only on fortified wine.
– I understand that the proposal is to pay a bounty of 4s. a gallon on all fortified wine exported. The wine stores are full of wine and the grapes from which that wine was made have been, obtained practically for nothing. I recently went to South Melbourne to see brandy being made. Grapes of excellent quantity were being shovelled into large vats, and I asked, “What do these grapes cost?” The reply was, “ Less than £d. a pound.” The wine makers are getting their raw materials almost for nothing. Wine is stored all over the country, and if the Government pays 4s.’ a gallon on wine exported, there will shortly be a few more millionaires in this country. I shall fight the proposal at every stage, as there is no justification for it. I should like some explanation of it.
– If the honorable member will wait until the Bill is introduced, he will find that the bounty is to be paid to the growers.
– We know who will get the bounty. The grape-growers will make profit on the wine already in store.
– The grape-growers are asking for the bounty.
– That is because they are not getting a fair price for their grapes. If the Government desires to assist the growers let it adopt the same policy as was adopted for the benefit of the hop-growers. When the brewers would not pay a fair price for Australian hops the Minister for Trade and Customs, at the instance of the Leader of the Opposition, threatened to propose a reduction of the duty on imported ales. Let the Government inform the distillers and wine-makers that unless they pay a fairprice for the grapes the duty on imported wines and spirits will be removed.
– If the honorable member will let me introduce the bill I shall be able to give him an explanation that will satisfy him.
– All right, but the bill will not bo allowed to pass without a protest.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
Thatthe Standing Orders be suspended to enable the remaining stages of the bill to be passed without delay.
– I object. Wherein lies the urgency of this measure?
– The honorable member is no doubt aware that his objection is not fatal, because this is a contingent motion of which notice had been given.
– I fail to see that there is any urgency for this bill. It is remarkable that the Government is always ready to hustle through theHouse any proposal to assist vested interests.
– This is to assist the poor working man.
– Whenever any proposal is made on this side of the chamber on behalf of the workers the Government “ goes slow on the job.” It never considers urgent a proposal to give work to Australian men , and women. The Standing Orders are not suspended to give speedy passage to a measure for that purpose. The wine distillers, and not the growers, will get the benefit of the proposed bounty, and of course the payment of another bribe to a section of the people who support the Government is a matter of great urgency. All obstacles must be removed so that the wealthy wine makers may obtain their sop from the Commonwealth Treasury ! I protest against this unseemly haste. Let the Prime Minister explain the need for it.
.- No doubt the Prime Minister desires to avoid a duplication of the discussion on this proposal.
– Hear, hear !
– I suggest to the right honorable gentleman that usually time will be saved if a brief explanation is given to the House at the introductory stage of a bill. So far we know nothing about the measure for the speedy passage of which the suspension of the Standing Orders is proposed.
– I am sorry that honorable members opposite should think that any discourtesy has been shown to them. The proposal to pay a bounty upon fortified wines exported from Australia has been the subject of a report by the Tariff Board, and the bill merely embodies the policy of the Government as previously indicated by me in a statement in the House. There is no need to’ impart a party flavourto the discussion,because many honorable members opposite desire the ‘bill to be passed.
– The majority of them, as a matter of fact.
– The measure is designed to assist the grape-growers and nobody else. The recommendations of the Tariff Board and my statement of the Government’s policy followed a conference of representatives of the wine-growers at which this proposal was fully endorsed. I have proposed the suspension of the Standing Orders in order that the bill may be passed without delay. When the measure is before honorable members I shall be able to show that the interests of the growers will be safeguarded, and that the bounty will be paid upon the exported wine only if a reasonable price is paid to the growers of the grapes.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That Mr. Bruce and Dr. Earle Page do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Bruce, and read a first time.
– I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure is designed to render assistance to the grape growers of Australia, particularly the growers of the doradilla variety. Honorable members are fairly well acquainted with the factors responsible for the situation in which the growers find themselves. Recently I proposed an increase in the duty on imported brandy. In March last, after an exhaustive examination, the Tariff Board presented to the Government a report on the wine industry, and made four specific recommendations as to the action that should be taken to improve its position, and particularly to assist the growers of doradilla grapes. Subsequently, I held a conference with representatives of the industry, and discussed those recommendations with them. I told them that the Government was not prepared to give effect to the recommendations of the Tariff Board unless it had some definite assurance that a reasonable price would be paid to the growers of doradilla grapes. After considerable discussion, it was found impossible to get such an assurance, and, accordingly, action was not taken to give effect to those recommendations in their entirety. The duty upon imported brandy was increased, but the other recommendations wore left in abeyance until it could be seen how the distilleries and the winemakers had treated the growers. In most instances the price received by the growers for last season’s crop was not a payable one; in very few cases did it exceed £3 a ton. The production of doradilla grapes during the past two years has been so great that large stocks of spirit made from them - have accumulated, and these stocks must be reduced to create a local demand for those grapes. They are used only for the making of spirit for brandy and spirit for fortifying wine. For the year ended the 30th June, 1924, 940,000 gallons of fortifying spirit and 199,000 gallons of brandy were made from them. As only 1 gallon of fortifying spirit is used in 6 gallons of wine, a large consumption of sweet wines is needed to absorb the quantity of fortifying spirit produced. The tremendous production of doradilla grapes has been due largely to the policy pursued by the state governments - particularly that of South Australia - in compelling returned soldier settlers to plant a certain percentage of doradilla vines. Sweet wines represent about 75 per cent, of the wine consumption of Australia, and, as there is no prospect of a substantial increase in their use here, we must look elsewhere for an expansion of the trade. Great Britain is apparently the only country to which we can look for a big market, as its consump- tion of sweet wines is about 10,000,000 gallons a year. To that Australia does not at present contribute, although during the year 1922-3 we disposed of 600,000 gallons of dry wines in Great Britain. There is a simple explanation of the difficulty of disposing of Australian sweet wines in England. The Economic Conference last year discussed the matter at considerable length. The duty upon dry wines entering Great Britain is 2s. 6d. a gallon, and Australia is given a preference of ls. a gallon, io that cur dry wines are charged only ls. 6d. a gallon. The duty upon sweet wines, however, is 6s. a gallon. In regard to such wines Australia has a preference of 2s. a gallon. But spirit content is the determining factor in deciding, whether a wine is a sweet or a dry wine. The British tariff lays it down that when the spirit content is 30 per cent, or less, the wine is a dry wine, and when over 30 .per cent, a sweet wine. Because of the distance they have to travel, and the fact that they pass through the tropics, Australian sweet wines require greater fortification than sweet wines from, say, Portugal. Portuguese sweet wines can be imported into Great Britain under a strength of 30 per cent, proof spirit, and, therefore, pay a duty of only 2s. 6d. a gallon, whereas Australian wine, having to be fortified to a greater extent, which makes its proof strength over 30 per cent., must pay a duty of 4s. a gallon. I tried very hard at the Economic Conference to get that arrangement altered, making alternative proposals, with either of which I said- Australia would be content. I proposed that the lower duty should be charged either when the proof contents were under 26 per cent. , or when they did not exceed 34 per cent. If the first proposal were accepted, both Portuguese and Australian wines would be charged at the higher rate, and would pay respectively 6s. and 4s. per gallon; but under the second proposal Australian wine would be able, like the Portuguese product, to enter Great Britain as dry wine, on payment of a duty of ls. 6d., as against 2s. 6d. charged ob foreign light wines. I made what I considered a good fight, but was met with the reply that Great Britain had entered into trade treaties which, prevented any alteration of her tariff. To that I replied that British trade treaties should not be used against Australia, and that we were equally entitled to make treaties. Senator Wilson also did everything that was possible to secure an advantage for Australia. He even went further than I did, and said everything that it was possible for one man to say on the subject. But it was all of no use; we failed to secure any alteration of the tariff. The fact that we are obliged to pay 4s. a gallon on our fortified wines, and the Continental producers only 2s. 6d., completely excludes our wines from the British market. This is the more regrettable, because there is a tremendous demand in Great Britain for wines of the class that we produce. One thing that has contributed to this is that the very heavy excise on spirits in Great Britain has increased their price so much that a great number of people who used to drink spirits are now drinking sweet wines. Naturally, they prefer wines of considerable alcoholic strength, and thus Australian wines appeal strongly to them. I have no doubt that they would purchase the Australian article largely if it could be retailed at the same price as the Continental wine. Doubtless the day will come when we shall get an alteration of the present British tariff, and so be able to market our wines in Great Britain ; but in the meantime the Government proposes to pay a bounty of 4s. a gallon to our producers to enable them to exploit that market. Once we get our wine before the British public the demand for it will increase.
– What is the position of South Africa ?
– The South African producers also are faced with difficulty, and I received a considerable measure of support from their representatives. The proposed bounty of 4s. a gallon will really be provided out of the revenue derived from our wine industry. At present the excise rate on fortifying spirit is 6s. a proof gallon. As 1 gallon of fortifying spirit is used in 6 gallons of fortified wine, ls. of the bounty will be provided by the spirit actually used in the wine exported, in regard to which the exporters might fairly claim a drawback. The other 3s. will be more than met by the excise on fortifying spirit generally. In the last two years between £250,000 and £280,000 has been obtained from that source, but it i3 not anticipated that anything like that amount will be required to meet the payment of the bounty on exported wine during the next two or three years, and this legislation is to remain in force for only three years. Excise was first imposed merely to meet the expense of policing the distillation by the Customs Department. The original excise duty, which was imposed in 1906, was only 6d. a gallon; in 1914 the duty was increased to 8d. a gallon, but during the war it was increased to 6s. a gallon, purely to raise revenue for war purposes. The actual cost of the supervision by the Customs officers is only about 8d. a gallon, so that in any circumstances it might be asked whether the time had not arrived for a substantial reduction _of the duty. After consultation with those concerned, including representatives of the growers, the proposal contained in this bil), was agreed to on the understanding that the revenue derived from the duty should be employed to pay the proposed bounty on the export trade. All engaged in the industry recognize that there is no hope for future expansion unless a new market can be secured.
– Has the home market been captured ?
– Yes. Our design now is to capture the British market. The Government believes that this proposal will very greatly stimulate the industry by finding a satisfactory outlet for our enormous production of doradilla grapes. This is an ordinary bounty bill, and its object is to ensure the payment of a fair price to the grower of doradilla grapes. A winemaker who is also a distiller will be required to keep records of all doradilla grapes purchased by him,, the price paid for them, and the names of the people from whom they were purchased. Those records will be available at any time to the officers of the Customs Department. The Minister will have power to withhold the bounty unless he is satisfied that a fair price has been paid for the grapes used. Where the winemaker obtains fortifying spirit from a distillery, and is not himself the distiller, it is more difficult to keep a check on the doradilla grapes used, but the bill provides that the Minister may withhold the whole or any part of the bounty if he finds that a price which in his opinion was less than reasonable was paid for doradilla grapes used in the production of fortifying spirit contained in wine in respect of which it is claimed. In the districts in whack grapes axe purchased there is usually a current price. The Customs officers will be able to police the whole of the grape-growing districts, and will ;know the price’s that are being paid there. The provision im the bill enabling the Minister if he is not satisfied ihat a fair price is being paid to withhold the bounty, is sufficient to safeguard the interests of the growers, although it is difficult to say that this will be done in the case of a wine-grower who purchases fortifying spirit from a distiller. I want to make it clear that the bounty will be~ payable upon all sweet wine exported, and it will not be necessary that that wine shall have been fortified with spirit obtained^ from doradilla grapes. AIL fortifying spirit will be covered. But the bill is designed to assist chiefly the growers of doradilla grapes, and to keep a check, upon the pi-ice that is being paid to them by the distillers and the winemakers who have their own distilleries. The position of the growers of the doradilla grape industry is critical, and they have been led into it in many cases by the advice given to them by the state governments.
– Do I understand that the bounty will be payable to growers of grapes other than doradillas, provided that the spirit obtained from those grapes is used for fortifying the wines exported ?
– The bounty will be paid to the exporter on all. fortified sweet wines that are exported. There will be no examination to ascertain whether the fortifying spirit was produced from doradilla or from other grapes. The Government has been informed that 70 per cent, of the fortifying1 spirit is now produced from doradilla grapes.
– Is there anything in the bill to ensure a remunerative price to the growers of dried fruits who, through tie lack of good drying, weather or other unfavorable conditions, have had to sell their dried fruits to the distilleries ?
– No. The bill is y> benefit only the growers of doradilla, grapes. The grower producing dried fruits does not depend upon the distillers for his living. Spirit is also made from table grapes,, but iia- a good season the growers receive excellent, prices for that fruit, ain,d only the worst part: of the. crop or the surplus is turned into spirit. It would be difficult to ascertain what price should be paid for such fruit. With the grower of the doradilla grapes the position is different, because those grapes cannot be used for any other purpose than distillation. At present there is a tremendous production of doradilla grapes, and it is difficult to dispose of them. The Government feels that special protection should be given to this industry. Linked, up with, this subject is a proposal which the Government will introduce later to reduce the excise from 6s. to 5s.. Ifr will, be proposed .that the reduction from 6s. to 5& shall apply only to spirit.’ produced’ from doradilla grapes. The dried-fruit grower- is being assisted in another direction. A bill has been introduced1 to provide for advances to dried-fruit growers to keep them going for the present; and the reorganization of the whole dried fruits industry is under consideration. The doradilla- grape grower does not come under that scheme. It has> been suggested that if the action proposed is taken, the growers- of, other grapes will graft over their vines to) doradilla grapes, and thus the position will become worse. The Government appreciates that possibility, kit considers that if necessary it could bc overcome without great difficulty. It is not proposed at present to insert anything in the motion to be introduced later to meet that situation, but the Government has been in communication with, the states in which, doradilla grapes are grown, and has suggested an investigation respecting the disposal of doradilla grapes; They have also been asked to estimate the prospective crops, and to try, if possible, to ensure that there shall not be over-production of doradilla grapes. That inquiry by experts will probably take place during the next two or three months, and’ they will, no doubt, submit recommendations. It may be that these-, if acted upon, will solve the difficulty, and prevent an increased production of doradilla grapes as the result of the preferential treatment now given. If no such result is achieved it will still be possible to meet the position in either- of two ways. We could provide that ‘the reduction of the duty to 5s. should apply only to fortifying or other spirit made from doradilla grapes taken from .vines planted before, say, the 1st September, 1’924, or planted subsequently with the -consent ‘df the Minister ‘for Trade and Customs. Another, >and I consider a better, way would be “to “provide that ‘the reduction of the duty to 5s.., as ‘proposed, should “be limited to a period of two or three years. If that limitation were .provided for, there would .be ‘no encourage.ment bo any one ‘to .grow .mare doradilla grapes, as the interval between the planting and the .’harvesting of the crop would exceed the period during which the lower duty would be in force. If the process ‘of grafting were followed I .understand that it would /be practically impossible to secure any ‘substantial return .fr.om it within a period of less tha.n two .or three years. I do not anticipate that there will cbe -any real difficulty in preventing an increase in the number of .persons who, because of this measure, might be induced to grow doradilla grapes. In the -circumstances, the .Government, in the motion -which I shall .introduce .presently, lias refrained from talcing any action to discourage the increased production of doradilla grapes, because .the inquiry that is now being made . by :the .state authorities with regard to the production of these grapes will probably show that to be unnecessary. As to the reason why a period of three years has been decided upon for the operation of the measure, the Government, after consideration, is of opinion that it will not be possible to say whether the bounty proposed will have a .real effect within a shorter .period. We believe that it will take two or three years to ascertain what results will follow from it.
– Has the right honorable gentleman any .doubt that :at the expiration of the three years’ period there will be a strong agitation for the continuance of the .assistance?
– I have no doubt that there will .be a very strong agitation for its continuance, but, if it is not warranted, that .agitation obviously will not be rewarded by the government of the day. The measure is .one which, I think, should commend itself to honorable members on both sides.
Debate (on motion by Mr. ‘Gabb) adjourned.
Debate .resumed from 27th August (vide ,page 3635), on motion by Mr. Bruce -
That the bill be .now read a second .time-.
.- I should like, ‘at the outset of my remarks, to say Chat the ‘fact that -the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) did not, after the Prime Minister concluded his Speech on the -second reading of this ‘bill, move the adjournment of the debate, does not indicate that the party on this side is not interested in the industry with which it deals, or does not wish to do its best -for it. Knowing that I have taken -a special interest in this matter, the Acting Leader of the Opposition ^honored me by suggesting that I should -secure the right ‘to continue the debate. We have ‘first <of- all to consider “the ‘necessity which has justified the introduction of this bill ‘to ‘provide for the ‘payment of advances ‘to the .growers of dried “fruits. It is -safe to -say ‘that the late war is one of the main causes fox its introduction. During the war the supply of raisins, currants, sultanas, and of her dried fruits, from France, Italy, ‘Greece, Turkey, and other countries was seriously interfered with. As a result, prices for these fruits rose, and, naturally, in ‘the endeavour ta take advantage of those high prices, growers of these fruits in Australia increased their production. >When we came to consider the measures which should -be taken for tho repatriation of returned soldiers it seemed, on ,61, . ‘basis of the -prices then current, that this was -an industry which would give ‘the repatriated soldier a good return. According to the figures given by the Prime Minister, it. is estimated that of the 5,000 growers of- these fruits, 2,000 are returned soldiers. Another factor accounting foi: the present position is that the ratio of the quantity of these fruits consumed in Australia to the quantity exported has been altered. Before’ the war about 80 per cent, of the local production was consumed in Australia. Today the position is that about 75 per cent, of the production of these fruits has to ‘be exported, whilst only about 25 per centis consumed locally. As it is in connexion with the -export of dried fruit that losses have chiefly been made, it is clear that with the largely increased export in, the industry the risk of loss to those who would finance it has been increased. This brings me to a statement which I made vn this House some time ago, and for which I was criticized by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. DuncanHughes) last night. I said that when the risk was increased private enterprise fell down on its job. I repeat the statement to-day. In spite of the criticism to which it has been subjected, I see no reason to withdraw it. The honorable member for Boothby asked me whether I thought capitalists should invest their money in an industry in connexion with which there was a probability of loss. I have only to say that in the years behind us capitalists were glad to- invest their capital in this industry, and enjoy the profits accruing from their investments, and it is hardly playing the game to refuse to continue to finance the industry when there are indications that it may result in loss. There is no certainty that the business will result in loss, but as . soon as the risk appeared to increase private enterprise fell down on its job, and refused to finance the growers of these fruits as it had done in the past. The same thing occurred in the fresh fruits and canned fruits industries. When there were indications of loss private enterprise fell down on its job. We had the spectacle in this House of a member of the country party criticizing the Government for interference with trade, and quoting a los3 of £600,000 over three years on the Canned Fruit Bounty Bill as an evidence of government mismanagement. If the bill now before the House passes, and the Government advances capital, or guarantees banks that will advance capital, necessary to finance the growers of dried fruits, I hope that should losses be sustained honorable members opposite will not quote this as a case in which the Government has made a mess of things by interfering in a business concern. It cannot be denied that during the war private enterprise did fall down on its job. If any honorable member will consult Hansard he will find that every one of the banking corporations of Great Britain shut its doors for three days when the war started, and opened them only upon the issue of treasury notes with the backing of the national credit behind them. Private enterprise falls down on its job in times of strain and stress. I want to deal with the question whether, on principle, it is right that the Government should come to the aid of the producers of dried fruits. It seems to me that it is. If any section of the people is placed in the position in which the. producers of dried fruits in Australia now find themselves, and no one else will give them a helping hand, I think it is right that the Government should step in and assist them in their time of stress. The Prime Minister said yesterday that there was almost a. state of financial panic in the industry.
– I think I said “ financial crisis.”
– A financial crisis is a grave thing to those engaged in an industry threatened with it, and the Government is only doing its duty in coming to the assistance of the growers. It has often been said in this House - and I am not sure that the Prime Minister has not himself said it - that the Go,vernment should govern and leave business alone. That theory may appear to be right, but it is a theory that one cannot always live up to in practice. I shall show later that the bill is an interference with business, and introduces a measure of government control; but, perhaps, government interference in business is acceptable to honorable members opposite if private enterprise does not wish to participate in the same business. Their view may be that whenever the task is hard, it is the Government’s business, but when it is .easy, it should be reserved for private enterprise; that when there is a risk to be taken, it is the Government’s responsibility, but when the profits are sure, they should be preserved for private enterprise. The Government proposes to assist the. growers by guaranteeing the banks against advances made to them.
Thus the growers will be able to continue the cultivation of their blocks, and provide for their families. It may not be necessary here, but it is necessary outside to emphasize the fact that the money will be advanced as a loan, and not given as a bounty. There appears to be an expectation that it will be a bounty that will not have to be repaid.
– We shall hear something when demands are made for the repayment of the money.
– Undoubtedly some argument’s may be advanced to show why the money should not be repaid. At present I am uttering a word of warning. Any one who reads the bill must see that it is unambiguous. Growers who think that they will not have to repay the money will be disillusioned later. Clause 9 states -
An advance shall not be paid to a grower unless he makes an application in the prescribed form furnishing the prescribed information, and undertakes -
to repay the advance with interest in accordance with the provisions of this act;
to deliver the dried fruits produced by him in the year One thousand nine hundred and twenty-five to a packing organization or export merchant approved by the Minister;
Clause 10 says - (1.) The grower shall repay the advance with interest at the rate of six per centum per annum. (2). The repayment of the advance and the payment of interest thereon shall be a charge on the proceeds of the sale of the dried fruits produced by the grower in the year One thousand nine hundred and twenty-five after the costs of production and marketing (not exceeding such amount as the Minister determines) of those dried fruits have been provided for.
It is clear that the intention of the Government is to collect the money from the proceeds of the fruit to be grown by the men assisted this year. The idea that this is a bounty may have been engendered by the proposal to pay a bounty to the growers of doradilla grapes. As these growers are intermingled with the dried fruit growers–
– And are frequently the same persons.
– The honorable member is quite correct in that statement, and, that being so, it is perhaps natural that the idea should get abroad that the assistance to be given to the growers of dried fruits would take the form of a bounty. I have plenty of faith in the men that are growing dried fruits along the Murray, but we must recognize that “ hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and that if rumours such as this get abroad, some of the men may not be so careful as they would otherwise be. I want them to be particularly careful, because it is possible that next year a request will have to be made for further assistance for them. If a large part of the return from the coming harvest has to be paid to the Government to cover the advances made under this bill, those who are not financially strong may need further assistance. I hope that, should it become necessary to ask the Government for further assistance next year, Ministers will not be able to say that the growers acted unfairly. At the end of the last financial year the Treasurer had a surplus on the year and an accumulated surplus. He may not be in the same happy position at the end of the present year, in view of the £2,000,000 reduction in income taxation. Next year, when money may not be so plentiful as it is now, if the greatest care has not been taken by the growers to discharge their obligations to the Government, the difficulty of getting assistance will be greatly increased. I have another reason for hoping that the growers will make the best use of the assistance to be given to them. Their abandonment by private enterprise may, in the long run, react to their benefit. If I may quote Cowper, I would say -
The bud may have a bitter taste,
Yet sweet may be the flower.
I hope that Government assistance for the growers of dried fruits will not stop at the proposals in the bill. The Prime Minister expressed the hope that in future the growers would be financed from the same quarter as in the past. I have no such hope. Now that private enterprise has fallen down on the job, I hope that the Government will continue to assist the growers, not only in the growing, but also in the marketing, of the fruit, and will use the capital and credit of the Commonwealth to break down the ring in London. If the growers act properly, this thin end of the wedge of Government assistance will give those of us who fight the growers’ battles in this House a chance to induce the Government to carry the fight, not only against those who stand outside the Australian Dried Fruits Association in Australia, but also against the growers’ greater enemies abroad, the British merchants and agents who have their capital invested in Asia Minor, and who naturally prefer to sell dried fruits from that part of the world rather than those from Australia. I do not think that I should be quoting Senator Wilson wrongly if I said that he recently stated that he had a chance to dispose of 5,000 tons of Australian dried fruits if the multiple stores concerned could get in on the ground floor.
I believe I read that statement in a newspaper. It is the Government’s duty, if it finds the market La London bolted and barred against it by vested interests, to deal direct, dr “ on the .ground- floor.” as Senator Wilson said, with the multiple stones. If the Government would work on those lines, it would give great assistance to the growers.
– Defective organization is largely responsible for difficulties in marketing.
– I would refer the honorable member to the Prime Minister’s statement that the Australian. Dried Fruits Association is one of the bestorganized industries in Australia.
– I was referring to the organization in London.
– There may be defective organization there, but private enterprise controls that market absolutely. Private enterprise in Australia advanced the capital and controlled the commodity when it reached London. The Government is now proposing to find some . of the capital, and it will be quite logical for it to go to the end of the business and fight the battle for the growers against vested interests overseas. Some honorable members opposite may say that it is not right for the Government to attempt to interfere in the control of markets abroad. My observations convince me of the soundness of the conclusion, which I arrived at long ago, that, whether the people of this and other countries like it or not, they must choose between corn. bine control and government control. The marketing overseas of the dried fruits ‘ industry is an. illustration in point. I shall now proceed, to show that the bill is a measure of government control, not because I wish to find fault with the Government, but because, when the Government sold the national woollen mills, Ministers- said it should “ get out of all business.” I see in this measure four distinct indications of government interference with private enterprise, by either direct control or approval. The’ first instance is the provision that the Minister for Trade and Customs shall approve of the packing organization and export merchants through whom the exportable surplus shall be sent away. I agree with that.
– Skip all that.
– No-; “ While- the lamp holds out to bum, the .vilest sinner may return,” and I welcome the fact that the Government has realized that when it invests capital in an industry it should safeguard it, even, to the extent of interfering with private- enterprise. The next provision’ is that the grower shall only receive assistance if he exports such a proportion of his fruit as is approved by the Minister.. If that does not mean interference with private enterprise I do not know what does. Whilst I am entirely in accord with the proposal, I cannot neglect the opportunity of pointing out that the Governmnent, which- would not lay a finger on its joss of private enterprise, is now practically cutting ofl its arm, by directing growers how much fruit they, shall market in- Europe.
– If the Government is to interfere in the business at all it must, safeguard, the taxpayers’ money.
– I asm not finding fault with, the Government’s proposal. It is doing the right tiring- im preparing to help the people in time of trouble, but I am pointing out that honorable members opposite are obliged to a’bandon their pet theory that private enterprise is sacrosanct. The bill’ provides that if a grower’s fruit is wholly second class and, therefore, not of exportable quality, he may be assisted in the next year on the condition that the Minister shall declare how much of his second rat© fruit shall be sold for distillation purposes. That, again, involves interference with private enterprise by directing a man how to run his business - a most unholy practice according to the statements of honorable members opposite on many occasions. The final instance of government interference is the provision that the Minister may, if he so desires, appoint a firm or individual to supervise the cultural’ operations in the vineyard of the assisted grower. If that is not ^government control of industry I do not know what the term means. I commend the Government for its change of policy, but I cannot refrain from pointing out the ‘inconsistency of honorable members opposite. It seems to me that the Government, in this bill. give3 veiled approval to the principle of preference to unionists.
– The honorable member should not growl on that score.
– I am nob complaining, but- I am reminding honorable members of the facts lest they should fail to realize that at last they have seen the light. The Prime Minister said that the man who sold outside the organization would not need government assistance. He did not say, as he might have done, that if a non-union grower did need assistance he would not get it, because there is no provision in the bill for helping a man who sells outside the organization of growers and subsequently finds himself in difficulties. I do not say that such a man should or should not bc assisted, but it is clear that the Government is proposing to give preference to unionists, namely, the members of the Australian Dried Fruits Association.
– That is -consistent with the Government’s policy of organized marketing.
– If from that interjection I am to infer that at last the Government has arrived at the conclusion’ khat, for the purpose of ensuring the organized marketing, of primary products, it should interfere with, and even supersede, private enterprise, I am delighted. The Prime Minister mentioned that 90 per cent, of the growers are members of the organization, and that before the war, when the home market consumed 80 per <sent. of the production of dried fruits, the sales by the non-association minority did not have much influence on the market, but the percentages of sales in the home and export markets’ having been reversed, the outside growers1 constitute a problem. There ‘is no> doubt that when only 25 per cent, of the total output is> sold in the home market, the operations of 10 per cent, of the growers’ in that market must have a weakening effect, on prices. I hope that the Government will not allow the position to remain as it is. The Prime Minister was careful to point out that the proposal contained in the bill is only a temporary expedient, a palliative to meet urgent needs. The. Australian Dried Fruits Association has submitted proposals to the Government which involve, first, an. effort to institute a better system cf finance, and, secondly, the licensing of the packing sheds. The object of the latter suggestion must surely be to bring pressure to bear upon the outside growers. If the Government is prepared to license packing sheds, and- in that way impose compulsion upon the outside growers, it may be able to overcome the trouble caused by their operations on the home market. I know that in expressing these views I may offend some friends of long standing along the river Murray. But friendship should not outweigh principles, and having regard to the position of the industry, I ask the Government to go even to the extent of compulsion, so that the interests of the . majority of growers shall not be sacrificed through the selfishness of a small minority, who, in turn, may find their interests destroyed in the general crash that must inevitably result if corrective measures are not adopted. I do not care whether the Government adopts the gentle method- of licensing the packing sheds, or any other form of compulsion, but I ask Ministers to take their courage in both hands, and deal with the outside growers who are causing so much trouble in the home market, and thus enable collective action by all those engaged in the industry to work out their own salvation. According to newspaper reports the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), speaking at Mildura recently, blamed the’ Australian Labour party for the failure of the proposals for the granting by the British Parliament of preference to Australian dried fruits, and the honorable member said that the party is against the principle of British preference to Australian produce. That is a misrepresentation, and I am glad that the Prime Minister did not to-day descend to the same level as his colleague. I “again ask the Government to’ endeavour to expedite the negotiations with Canada arid New ‘ Zealand for the granting of preference on Australian dried fruits. The House is rushing towards’ recess;. I judge that within four weeks the session will terminate; and there appears to be very little chance of the preference proposals being considered by the- House this- year. Once Parliament goes- into recess-, because of the approaching, end of its’ term, it will. not reassemble1 until May or June of next year.
– I suggest to the honorable member that he- would do better’ to’ show’ a little more confidence in th’e Minister in charge of the negotiations.
– The Minister is seeking.’ to administer to me a mild’ rebuke, but I remind him’ that I have been in this House’ for; five years.” I entered it with a profound faith in’ ministers and private’ members’, but I was not here long” before’
I found that many of my heroes had feet of clay. As a result of my political experience, I am now sure of a thing only when I have actually obtained it. We have had so many instances of sidestepping and back-stepping by the Government, that the Minister must not think that I am unduly hard upon it when I express doubts regarding the introduction of this measure. If he will assure me that it will be introduced before the session closes, I shall apologize and withdraw what I have said.
– The remarks of the honorable member are not helpful when negotiations are proceeding.
– The Minister practically says that such remarks may hinder the negotiations. No statement of mine can have that effect. I .again appeal to the Government to bring down some proposal that will settle the question once and for all, and thus relieve the anxieties of the growers.
.- While I approve generally of the bill, I think I should state what course I think the larger scheme foreshadowed by the Prime Minister should take. As the past history of the industry has an important bearing upon its present position, it may be as well for me to acquaint honorable members of it. The industry was founded by Chaffey Brothers, at Mildura, 30 or 40 years ago, on land that was formerly a sheep run. It was considered that that land would grow dried fruits of the best quality, and that anticipation was realized. Unfortunately, owing to the lack of a selling organization the prices received by the growers were unremunerative. A crisis developed in the industry. Many growers abandoned their blocks and left the district. A few remained, and they organized themselves into a selling organization that has developed into the Australian Dried Fruits Association. The constitution of that body is not a rigid one. No membership fee is charged. Any grower who sells his fruit under the conditions stipulated by the organization is entitled to membership in it. The growers elected representatives, through the various packing sheds, to a board that controlled the operations of the Australian Dried Fruits Association. A federal council fixed the export quota. Every grower was expected to supply his quota for the export trade. The packing sheds are an important factor in the industry. The fruit is taken to those sheds in the rough state. There it is cleaned and packed ready for market. The packing sheds are not merely the processers of the fruit; they also supply chaff, fencing wire, spraying materials, implements,, and other requirements of the growers. They developed to such an extent that they, in many cases, became the sole financiers of the growers, their security being a lien upon the crop. They are also the sellers of the fruit, and in that capacity have an important effect upon the industry. They have representatives in London, who deal with the brokers. The brokers, in turn; negotiate with the wholesalers, and they distribute to the retailers. That system of sale has a great weakness. The selling end of the business should be in the hands of one agency in London, which would distribute the whole of the dried fruits. The outside grower has caused the greatest difficulty with which the industry has had to contend. From the inception of the Australian Dried Fruits Association a small minority of the growers have refused to sell their fruit in co-operation with their fellow growers. When the local market brought the higher returns they disposed of the whole of their fruit upon that market, and declined to bear their share of the export quota. During the war, and the years immediately following its termination, the price of dried fruits in the overseas markets was much greater than it was in Australia. In justice to those who are engaged in the industry, I must state that they did not then raise their prices to the rates that prevailed in the world’s markets, and dried fruits were available in those years to the people of Australia at lower prices than in any other country in the world. The outside grower, who formerly would not sell in the overseas market, realizing that the Australian market was no longer hishappy hunting ground, at that time sold, the whole of his fruit in the overseas markets to reap the advantage of the high prices that were ruling there. He refused to accept his share of the sacrifice - if” I may use that term - that was voluntarily made by the organized growers in. order to keep down the price within Australia. Some of the fruit that was marketed by the Australian Dried Fruits Association, and fold for local consumption, was purchased by certain individuals, and exported overseas to get thu benefit of the difference between the ruling rates. The prices were so much greater in the outside markets that that action paid them handsomely. While the local market was the main market, and the overseas market took only 20 per cent, of the fruit, the Australian Dried Fruits Association could get along fairly well, despite the aloofness of the outside growers. In the years 1918, 1919 and 1920, Australia was faced with the problem of repatriating its returned soldiers. The high prices that were ruling overseas, and the remunerative prices that were being obtained, in the local market, caused a boom in the dried fruits industry. Unfortunately, the industry was overboomed. The state governments, with a woeful lack of foresight, rushed the returned soldiers into what has since proved to be a temporarily affluent industry, without considering the effect which ultimately the increased production would have upon the industry. The grower of fruit, but particularly dried fruit, is not in a position to shift his ground as the wheat farmer, the oat farmer, and the ordinary agriculturist can do. If wheat-growing proves unprofitable the farmer allows his paddocks to go out. of cultivation, and engages in the raising of sheep, or grows other crops. When vines . are planted it is not possible to adjust oneself to changing economic conditions in the world’s markets. I shall quote the production from 1921, to give honorable members some idea ‘ of the manner in which it has increased. The total pack in 1921 was 13,765 tons. In 1922 it rose to 19,538 tons. There was an increase in 1923 to 25,709 tons, and in the past season it reached a total of 34,000 tons. It is estimated that in another two years the output will be 50,000 tons. The export quota of the 1924 pack was as follows: - Currants, 75 per cent.; sultanas, 84 per cent. ; lexias, 60 per cent. Clearly, therefore, the producers are no longer mainly concerned with the protected local market, but must accept for the greater proportion of their products the prices which rule in the markets of the world. In other words, their return rests on the shifting sands of the law of supply and demand. Although they are compelled to produce their commodities under Australian conditions, and must pay the high wages which have been awarded by our arbitration courts, they must market not less than 80 per cent, of their product in competition with producers who pay the low wages which prevail on the Mediterranean coasts.
– But a much greater local market is possible.
– That is so.
– Then why not take steps to develop it?
– I am glad that the honorable member has interjected. Two or three years ago an extensive advertising campaign was carried on by the Australian Dried Fruits Association, to meet the cost of which members of the association were levied on. That campaign, which cost tens of thousands of pounds, has greatly increased the local consumption of dried fruits; but the growers who ar.e not connected with the Australian Dried Fruits Association have reaped nearly all the benefit, and not those who have been chiefly responsible for developing the market. I propose now to show how greatly the Arbitration Court awards have increased. My purpose is not to protest against the higher standard of living which the Australian workers enjoy, but to indicate how these wages must affect the industry now that it rests upon what I have called the shifting sands of the law of supply and demand in the world’s markets. In 1914 the Arbitration Court fixed £2 14s. a week as the wage which must prevail in the industry, but in 1924 the award rates had increased as follows: - Permanent employees, £4 5s. per week; casual employees, £4 lis. per week; and seasonal employees, £4 8s. per week. The average, therefore, is £4 8s. per week, or an increase of over 61 per cent, above the 1914 figures. I shall now read some tables compiled by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission of Victoria, which give comparative costs of production in respect of 15- acre blocks, and, though I consider that all the figures are on the low side, they are of value in- that they provide a fair basis for comparison. The tables are as follow: -
The comparative costs of (A) developing a 15-acre block at Bed’ Cliffs; (B) producing a 1-ton pea- acre crop of raisins or currants years 1012 and 1922-1924; (C) cost of grading and selling; and (D) sweat box returns.
Cost of Grading, FREIGHT, and Selling CHARGES
Sweat Box Returns
Average sweat box price to grower; 1907- 1914, £39 12s. 6d. per ton, to meet £21 2s. Sci.
Average sweat box price to grower, 1924 (estimated), £2S fe. 8d. per ton, to meet £37.
– Cam the honorable Member give ras a comparison of the cost of production per ton per acre?
– I have mot thosefigures’ available, but I do’ not think they would have any material val<ue, although,, in consequence- of improved manuring, drainage, and so on, the yield per acre is increasing.’ The work that has been done on the Mildura Research Farm has contributed greatly tothis satisfactory result. The real situation that must ‘be faced is that, whereasin the period 1907-14 the grower ‘secured a return, of £39 12<s. 6d. a ton to meet an .expenditure of £31 2s. 8d. a ton, the: estimated sweat-box price for 1924 - it isas estimated price for the reason that the whole of the crop has not yet been sold - is £28 6s. 8d., and the cost of production £37 a ton. The figures are not those of an individual grower, but of” the State Rivers- and Water Supply Commission of Victoria, which has settled well over 1,000 ex-soldiers at Red Cliffs and Merbein, and so is in a better position than any other authority that I know of to give definite and reliable information.
– In these circumstances, does the honorable member think that this bill will save the industry?
– I do not think, that this preliminary’ measure will do so, but the Prime Minister has indicated that a. larger scheme is in contemplation, and I am taking the opportunity to submit, my views on the needs of the industry. Although it is obvious from the figureswhich I have given that at present it isnot resting on a sound economic basis, I think that it can be stabilized. The following conditions are, in my opinion, requisite: - (1) A reduction in the “cost of production by an increase in the yield - and this is almost largely in the hands of the growers; (.2) an improvement in the quality and grading of the pack; (3) a decrease in the cost of marketing; and (4) a tariff preference in Great Britain and the sister dominions; (5.) a systematic advertising campaign at home and abroad. The cost of production can be reduced by the adoption of the most up-to-date and scientific methods. I have already referred to the fine work done by the Mildura Research Farm. Li the past the farm has been financed partly by the Commonwealth Government and partly by the growers, and the experiments that it has conducted in spraying, cultivation, water tests, and the like, have been invaluable to the river settlers, not only in the Mildura district, but also in South Australia. So far the Mildura growers have provided the money to carry on the farm in the ratio of £2 to every £1 provided by the Government, but the industry is now in such a deplorable condition that they are unable to continue to do so. They have reached the desperate state when every pound of their money counts, and they have intimated to me that, valuable as the work of the farm is admitted to be, they can no longer afford to contribute to its maintenance. They have asked me to urge the -Government to waive the condition which requires them to contribute £2 for every £1 of government morney expended, and to continue the work of the farm on a reduced scale. I hope, however, that the Prime Minister will thoroughly investigate the matter, and will do more than they are asking. I trust that he will take steps to extend rather than limit the work that is being carried on, and not require the growers to contribute towards the cost.
– Have the State Governments contributed anything towards the expenses of the farm?
– I think not. With regard to the increased cost of production, many people say that the fruitgrowers should grow more fruit, but if every other section of the community buckled down to its job, and endeavoured to increase’ production in the way that1 the dried fruitgrowers are doing, we> should be much better off as a community. The bulli of the fruit-growers are doing their best to increase production. The eagerness with which they watch the developments at the Mildura research farm, and apply any fresh- information they obtain to the working of their holdings, shows that they a*e keenly alive to the’ necessity for increased’ production.
– Would not increased production lead to lower prices?
– No. We in Australia are apt to say that Australian products are the best in the world. That term is rather loosely thrown about, and at times, without justification, we take pride because of that belief. I have made careful inquiries about the actual quality of Australian dried fruits in the markets of the world. Level-headed and logically minded men who understand conditions overseas have told me that on the average the Australian pack is of better quality than that of California, but that the Smyrna sultana, the pick of the crop of the Mediterranean, brings a higher price than any fruit that we are putting on the overseas market. The cream of the Mediterranean product is better than the cream of our product, but, on the whole, our average crop compares favorably with that of the Mediterranean, and more than favorably with that of California. Because of the natural advantages of Australia, and with the development of scientific research, there is a feeling abroad in the dried fruit areas of Australia that the maximum’ quality has not yet ‘been reached. The Mildura research farm should be a great, help in this direction. One of the factors against improving the quality of our fruit, is the multiplicity of packing sheds. A large number, of these sheds are attached to the Australian Dried Fruits Association, and much of the fruit is marketed through that association. The facilitiesfor cleaning, grading, packing, and super-‘ vising fruit differ at the various sheds, and! this does not make for uniformity. Toimprove the quality of fruit, these shedsshould be brought into line, modern machinery installed in them, and’ a stricter’ supervision exercised concerning the quality of the fruit processed.- In most cases, those in charge- of the packing sheds advance to the growers the means for producing the fruit, and in return they obtain a lien en tfe© growing crop. The grower receiving the- advance must deliver his fruit to the shied.. It iis there processed, the export, quota rushed to the railway station, delivered on the’ wharf, and put in the ship’s bottom morder to obtain am advance om the fruit. The fruit iis then carried; through) the’ RedSea,, becoming hot in the ship’s held because of the change in temperature.. It arrives in London, is exposed to a damp atmosphere, and is then taken to warehouses, in which it lies probably for many months before being sold. The consequence is that it deteriorates in quality, and becomes infested with grubs. We have no organization there to ensure that infested fruit shall not leave the warehouses unless properly treated, and it is sold in that condition. In this way the good name of Australian dried fruits is seriously prejudiced. The buyers of fruit know that thou-‘ sands of tons of dried fruit are stored in the warehouses’, and they, therefore, refuse to pay high prices for the fruit, because of the large visible stocks. The industry should be organized and the fruit held’ here, a London board notifying the association here from time to time what supplies are required. I come now to the increased cost of marketing. I have with me an authentic document giving figures for the season 1923. I shall not mention the name of the grower nor the shed concerned, but any honorable member who wishes may afterwards examine this document. It refers to a consignment of 438 boxes of dried fruits from a Merbein grower. This consignment realized £573 in London. The duty amounted to £96 18s. lid.; discount, £14 6s. lid.; interest, £1 5s. 9d. ; brokerage, £8 12s. 2d. ; freight, £48 16s. 5d. ; ‘ landing and . warehouse charges, £40 3s. ‘ lid. ; publicity levy, id. a lb., £25 lis.; less rebate of £1 per ton, £10 19s. This left £342 6s. 7d. out of £573. The commission, 5 per cent, on £342 6s. 7d., was £17 2s. 4d. ; wiring, 2$d. per box, £4 lis. 3d.; port marking, ls. per 100 boxes, 4s. 4d. ; handling and inspection fees, Id. per 100 boxes, £1 0s. 5d.; cables, 18s. 2d.; exchange, £o 17s. 4d. This left £312 12s. 9d., or a net return of £28 8s. 6d. per ton, but not net to the grower. Other charges were: - Packing, £5 10s.; fire insurance, £8; freight, £2 6s.; Australian Dried Fruits’ Association charges, 6s.; charges at the shed, £8 10s. This left a net return to the grower of £19 18s. 6d. a ton for fruit sold in London at £52 3s. 7d. per ton.
– The trouble is caused not by the cost of production, but by the charges after the fruit leaves the grower.
The- Arbitration Court is really not a factor. in the price of fruit.
– It certainly is a factor, but not the most important one. Although certain agents who send fruit overseas agree to sell at certain prices, yet there is still a certain amount of competition, because each agent is anxious to dispose of his fruit stocks as quickly as possible. Any marketing system that is devised must provide for one selling agency in London. The Prime Minister has said that this is essential in other forms of primary production. Another vital matter is tariff preference, but I do not wish to stress that subject now, because the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Customs are well aware of its urgent nature. 1 believe that they are doing all they possibly can under the circumstances, and I hope that they will continue to press for an immediate decision upon tariff preference. In the dried fruits industry there are millions of money at stake. The soldier settlement schemes on the river Murray are mostly connected with the dried fruit3 industry. Millions of pounds have been lent by the Commonwealth to the states and expended on those settlements. The future prosperity of the settlers is at stake. They do not want to be spoonfed by Parliament. All they ask is a reasonable fighting chance of making a living. They do not object to paying their employees a reasonable wage for fruit-picking, because they recognize the high standard of living in Australia, but they respectfully point out to the Government and to the people of Australia that, because of the high standard of living, and the high railway freights both here and overseas, arid high shipping freights, they are indeed in an extremely difficult position, and cannot successfully compete with the fruit-growers round the Mediterranean and in California. They ask for some assistance to enable them to dispose of their fruit in the markets of the world under favourable conditions.
– Is it not necessary to improve the conditions of the home markets?
– The local market can be largely stimulated by advertising, but first we must get rid of the outsider, otherwise a demand will be created merely for the products of the men outside the Australian Dried Fruits’ Association. Any scheme for the reorganization of this industry will be ineffective unless all the fruit-growers market their produce through one channel, which may mean a compulsory pool or some such scheme fixed by legislation. In any case, it is imperative that all those connected with the industry should market their fruit through one agency. The bill provides for assistance to the producers of dried fruits that is vitally necessary. I am glad that the Government has made it an urgent measure, and I trust that honorable members on both sides will give it their support. But I want to say that it will be merely a palliative unless it is followed by some more comprehensive scheme of organized marketing. The bill provides for making advances to the growers of these fruits amounting to £200,000, which they are to pay back after next harvest. They will then be left as they were before the introduction of this measure. The growers say that this is a very useful measure ; it will be very handy, and they are glad to have it, but what they really wish to know is what the bigger scheme will be, and. on what lines it is to be based. They say that this proposal will enable them to stay in the industry for another twelve months, but what they re* quire is a scheme that will render the industry permanently sound and worth, while carrying on in the future. Merely to give them a further life of twelve months is of little or no use to the growers of these fruits. I have given an outline of what I think a comprehensive scheme should provide for. It should put an end to the present method of what is known as “packing-shed finance.” I do not wish to cast any reflections upon those controlling the packing sheds. They have performed a useful function in the past, but the system is wrong, and the overseas market being now the chief market for the producers of dried fruits, it can no longer be continued. The Government might agree to guarantee advances to growers of these fruits, on the lines of the advances to the wheat pools, to enable them to organize their industry. If that is done, I guarantee that they will submit a concrete watertight scheme of which the Government can approve. It might make special advances and take over the liabilities of individual growers to enable them to withdraw their liens from the packing sheds. It might undertake to pay off their indebtedness, not before the 30th June last, but from that date. A system of registered packing sheds, to which all growers should deliver their fruit, should be adopted. As it is delivered, a certain amount should be advanced, as in the case of the wheat pools, and as the fruit is disposed of in the markets of the world, the growers should receive their dividends in the same way as wheatgrowers receive dividends from the wheat pools. If the Government made advances direct or guaranteed advances, it could provide that they should be repaid over a series of, say, ten years, in instalments of 10 per cent, per annum, plus interest. That would enable the growers to get on their feet and do their own financing. It is impossible, under the existing system, for those engaged in the industry to have any guarantee of ite permanent prosperity. In conclusion, I should like to make the suggestion that there should be some co-ordination between the State and Commonwealth Governments in connexion with agricultural production and land settlement. We have in the bill which is introduced to-day to relieve the growers of doradilla grapes a significant example of the necessity for this coordination. In the settlement of returned soldiers, the South Australian Government made it mandatory that the settlers should plant, not lexias or sultanas, but doradilla grapes, and it planted a certain acreage with these grapes for the settlers. The growers of doradilla grapes are in difficulties now, largely because of the action of the South Australian Government, and the Commonwealth Government has been faced with the necessity for introducing legislation to lift them out of the position in which they were placed by the South Australian Government. This is not fair to the growers or to the Commonwealth Government. I am aware that the Commonwealth advanced money to the states for soldier settlement, but I am certain that the State Governments would have indignantly resented any attempt by the Commonwealth Government to dictate to them as to how that money should be spent.
– That does not alter the fact that repatriation is the obligation of the Commonwealth Government.
– There should have been more consultation between the Commonwealth and state authorities as to how the money advanced for soldier settlement should be spent..
– - What is the Commonwealth’s justification for interfering in the matter at all?
– Our obligation in the matter arises from the fact that the Commonwealth Parliament has imposed an excise duty, which is largely a revenue duty. I believe that there should be created a Federal Bureau of Agriculture, in which all the states and the Commonwealth would be represented.
– Order ! I am afraid that that is outside the scope of this bill.
– Then I must take advantage of another opportunity to deal with the matter. Though I hesitate to question the ruling, I think that what I proposed to say is relevant to the bill, because one of the functions of the Federal Bureau of Agriculture which I have suggested would be the co-ordination of the land settlement policies of the states, and that would prevent the necessity for such legislation as we are now considering. The question of finding markets for our products should be studied in’ conjunction with proposals for- land settlement. It is of no use for us to produce dried fruits, oranges, or agricultural products of anykind, no matter how fine their quality, if we are unable to dispose of them in the markets of the world. I believe? that this Parliament should constitute a permanent agricultural and pastoral committee. Take, for instance-, the position with which, the bill now under consideration deals. If such a committee- were constituted on the lines of the Public Works: Committee or the Public Accounts Committee, representative of all. parties, it could visit the dried fruits areas in South Australia and Victoria, and .take evidence on all details connected with the industry from those engaged in it. It could study the problem presented, and submit a definite recommendation to the Government, upon which legislation might be framed. Agricultural production is the foundation of all our activities in Australia, and we should have in this Parliament an agricultural and pastoral com mittee that could consider the- problems presented by the sugar and cotton industries in Queensland, the pastoral industry, the dried fruits industry, and all problems connected with agricultural production. The investigations of such a committee would enable honorable members to obtain a better grasp of the problems presented for solution. Under existing conditions the Government must depend largely on departmental officers, who endeavour- to obtain from various sources the information required to enable it to take action. I submit that the machinery at present existing for the purpose is not likely to give the best results, whilst the investigations of a parliamentary committee such as I have suggested would be invaluable. I trust that the- Government will seriously consider the advisability of appointing such a committee.
– I shall not delay tie passing of this bill. I congratulate the honorable mem. ber for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) on the delivery of an enlightening address. Many of the matters he touched upon are probably known to several members of this House, but he made what, I think, was a startling announcement when he told us that dried fruits are worth to the grower about £52 per ton, but that when all charges for their marketing abroad are paid, he is left with a return of only £19 18s. 6d. per ton. The value of the dried fruits here is £52 per ton, so that the* charges amount to about £32’ per ton, and of this amount £10 represents the revenue duty imposed in the United Kingdom upon their importation. I agree as to the absolute, necessity for organization, whether it be compulsory or voluntary. I remember that the present Chief Justice of Victoria, Sir William Irvine, when sitting in Opposition in this chamber, said that it would not be a bad thing if in Australia we had. compulsory unionism. That is practically, what the honorable member for Wimmera has been advocating for the benefit of the dried fruits industry.
– I prefer to call it “ compulsory co-operation.”
– Co-operation is unionism, whether it is compulsory or not. When I was ‘engaged in organizing work amongst the primary producers, one of them said to me, “ In my opinion, cooperation is socialism.” I said that it did not matter what it was called so long as it would be of benefit to the producers. Not only in connexion with dried fruits, but in connexion with nearly everything we have to market on the other side of the world, we have to meet the competition of a combination that is securely entrenched, and, in my opinion, nothing less than the co-operation of the British Government will bring about a state of affairs that will be satisfactory to us. If we were to try to bring that about, instead of troubling so much about preference, we should do better work. If, owing to increased production, we are to continue to export 70 or 80 per cent. of the dried fruits we produce, only cooperation by the British Government will place us permanently in a satisfactory position in connexion with the marketing of these products. The large amount of capital required to fight the combination on the other side of the world will not be raised among the producers of this country. Government assistance willbe needed. The Government should seek the co-operation of the British Government. I do not give that advice merely because a Labour Government happens to be in power in Great Britain, but because I believe that any British Government would be willing to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in this matter. The Commonwealth Government, the governments of the states, and the British: Government, should combine to reduce the middlemen’s charges, which weigh so heavily upon the Australian producer and the British consumer. The Prime Minister knows what he was up against in his battle for preference in the British market. When I consider that Great Britain imports £300, 000, 000 worth of foodstuffs a year, I wonder what would be my opinion of preference if I lived in that country. I might be opposed to it, but, as an Australian, I. am in favour of it.
– The honorable member knows that I tried very hard to get an economic committee appointed by the Economic Conference. There isevery prospect that it will be appointed.
– If the Prime Minister means that good marketing arrangements should be made in Great Britain, no one will be found to oppose him. The other day I received a letter from a former constituent, and I desire to read it so as to give the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart); . an opportunity of placing the facts before those who can apply a remedy. The letter is as follows : -
Some few weeks ago, I had an inquiry from Europe to quote f.o.b. Melbourne, 50 tons of Mildura dried fruit, with an order to follow for 100 tons if proved satisfactory. I went all round Melbourne, and was unable to get a quote from the combines, they stating that as the order was from Europe, the quote would have to come through London; this my principals did net want. After a good deal of trouble, extending over three weeks, I managed to get a quote outside the ring, and strange to say, within four days of my quoting my people, London dropped their price 10 per cent. My reason for giving you this information is because I read in the papers that the dried fruit industry is applying to theGovernment for assistance. My point is this, if the combine will not quote for outside orders, how do they expect to get rid of their fruit?
There is no doubt thatthe complaint arises through having in London and Melbourne selling agents who will not do business except with certain persons. It is my firm conviction that we shall do little good by continuing our policy of seeking preferential treatmentin the British market. The Government is assisting; the dried fruits industry to-day, and it will be assisting the butter industry tomorrow, and the wine industry the day after. Instead of dealing with the problempiecemeal, it should frame a comprehensive scheme for handling all the products of Australia, particularly those that have to be exported. Co-operation between the British and Dominion Governments in creating a proper organization in Great Britain would do much more for us than attempting to interfere with. Great Britain’s fiscal policy. If representatives of the British Government came to Australia and attempted to interfere with our policy we should resent it. If what we wish is opposed to the ideas of the people in Great Britain, we should travel along another road to a betterdestination. A combination of governments such as I have suggested’ could beat any combine in Great Britain or Australia. In a cablegram to the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) Lord Inchcape said, “ We know that we- are up against the Commonwealth Government, and we cannot fight them.” The same view would be taken by a combine anywhere in the world.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- Clause 3 of the bill says that the Minister “ may arrange with any banking corporation.” I understood the Prime Minister to say that the Commonwealth Bank would handle this business. Does the clause mean that the business may be handed to private banking corporations?
– The business will be done through the Commonwealth Bank. The Government will guarantee the amount necessary, and the Commonwealth Bank will arrange for the advances to be made in whatever way is most convenient to the growers. The advances may not be made by a bank at all. In many instances they will be made by the packing sheds, but the Commonwealth Bank will make the financial arrangements.
.- I indicated a little while ago that the bill would not meet the crisis that has occurred in the industry, and the larger scheme referred to by the Prime Minister, if it is to do any good, must be brought down this year, because harvesting will start at the end of January. Unless that is done the next crop will be marketed in the same way as previous crops, and there will be a great risk that the growers will not be able to repay the advances.
– The Government does not purpose to re-organize this or any other industry. The industry itself must do the re-organizing. The difference between the honorable member for Wimmera and the Government appears to be one of words only. The Government is in consultation with representatives of the Australian Dried Fruits Association, and is making a very close study of the facts with a view to creating an effective organization and determining how it shall render assistance. It is hopeful that the formulation of the scheme will not be delayed indefinitely. Ministers appreciate as much as any one that the bill will merely provide temporary assistance to tide the growers over a financial crisis, and they desire to place the industry on a better basis within, at the most, the next two or three months. I hope that the Government will be able to announce within the next two or three weeks, how far it is prepared to go, and what measure of assistance it will render.
– If growers within the Australian Dried Fruits Association, apart from officials of that organization, desire to place their views before the Government, will the Government be willing to receive their representatives ?
– The Government is in negotiation with representatives of the Australian Dried Fruits Association, who are the obvious people with whom to discuss the question, but if there is any substantial number of growers who wish to state their views, the Government will be willing to hear them, for it is very anxious to consider the facts from every aspect.
– I had in mind, among others, those returned soldiers who havenot yet marketed any fruit, and are, therefore, not attached to the Australian Dried Fruits Association.
– The Government has no objection, nor, I feel sure, has the Australian Dried Fruits Association, to all possible light being shed on the problem.
– I understand that Californian dried fruits are being dumped into Australia. Does the Government propose to place an embargo on imported dried fruits, or to impose a dumping duty?
– If dumping were proved, no doubt a dumping duty would be imposed, but I am not aware that such a duty is in operation at present.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendments; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- I am not clear as to whether the advance is to be made to the agent or to the grower. It appears that the Government will have no security other than the good name of the person receiving the advance.
– Two advances are involved. The grower will receive his advance from either a packing agency or a bank. If he receives it from a packing agency the bank will first make the advance to the agency. As security for repayment, the Commonwealth will have a lien over the crop. The grower’s produce must be sold through certain agents, and out of the proceeds of such sale the Government advance will be repaid.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Balance of proposed vote, £58,370, agreed to.
Proposed vote, £300,311.
.- I move -
That the first item - Secretary, £1,300 - be reduced by £1.
I submit this motion as an instruction to the Government that this committee is opposed to the payment of the sum of £137,697 by the Commonwealth to the Central Wool Committee. That proposed payment appears at page 341, among the miscellaneous services under the control of the Prime Minister’s Department. Although I do not approve of the payment at all I am pleased that the Government has seen fit to propose it in a constitutional way. This is the second moiety of a supposed liability to the Central Wool Committee in respect of wool supplied for the local manufacture of wooltops. The first half was paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance, without the approval of Parliament. I challenge the proposed payment of a second amount of £137,697, because the Government does not owe it to anybody, and the public funds should not be squandered. All the documents presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister at my request - the agreement between the British Government and the Commonwealth Government and the interpretations placed upon those agreements from time to time by Ministers - prove indisputably that the British. Government was not entitled to one penny of this money. Even the Prime Minister admitted that. He said, however, that the Government had not paid any money to the British Government, but had agreed to make a payment to the Central Wool Committee for transfer to Bawra. Halfof the amount agreed upon was paid in cash from the Treasurer’s
Advance., and I ask the committee to-day to instruct the Government that the other half shall not be paid. The Government says that the British Government is not entitled to one penny of this money. The Commonwealth agreed to make the payment to the chairman of the Central Wool Committee, Sir John Higgins, who is also chairman of Bawra; he, in turn, handed over to the British Government half of the money he received, and to Bawra he paid the other half. He will do the same with the amount of £137,697 appearing on these Estimates if Parliament approves of that item. By his action, Sir John Higgins, as chairman of the Central Wool Committee and of Bawra, has said, in effect, that Bawra wants only half of the amount which the Commonwealth has agreed to pay. If Bawra is satisfied with half the amount, that half has been already paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance. As the British Government is not entitled to any payment, and Bawra, the only creditor, is satisfied with the amount paid by the Government, there should be no further payment. If Bawra, in its generosity, has paid to the British Government money to which the latter had no claim, legal or moral, it is not the concern of this Parliament to make upto Bawra what it has given away. An even stronger reason why the second moiety of £137,697 should not be paid by the Commonwealth is that none of this money was ever owing to anybody. The agreement to pay the money was wrong, and, therefore, the payment of the first moiety was wrong. I propose to-day to analyse the basis of the agreement to pay, and, if I prove it to be wrong, I prove the payments also to be wrong. The agreement was based upon an interpretation of a promise made by a former Prime Minister (Mr. W. M. Hughes) in this House. Although that right honorable gentleman knew quite well what he said and meant, the Solicitor-General (Sir Robert Garran) was asked to interpret the promise. In accordance with his interpretation, Sir Robert Garran drew up a formula which became the basis of the payment by the Commonwealth. Had the Government not accepted that formula, but placed a common-sense interpretation on the former Prime Minister’s promise, not one penny would have been paid to either Bawra or the British Government. I shall examine the basis of the payment in the light of some new documents to which I have had access, and which are on the official file in the Prime Minister’s Department. I was refused access to them before I launched my motion of censure, the Prime Minister saying that it would be improper to lay them on the table, but, as soon as the censure motion was disposed of, the papers were produced. I shall make a few brief quotations from them to show the significance of the interpretation which was the basis of the agreement to pay. The debit note sent to the Government by the Central Wool Committee was founded upon Sir Robert Garran’s formula. Sir Robert Garran’s interpretation of Mr. Hughes’s promise was an extraordinary one. It set out that the wool should be credited to the wool-growers on the basis of London parity; whereas the promise made by Mr. Hughes was that the growers should not lose because the wool had been taken out of the pool and sold in Australia instead of being sold for shipment abroad. I shall content myself with reading the opinion of the man who made the ‘promise. I quote from a letter sent by Mr. W. M. Hughes to Sir John Higgins, under date the 1st February, 1922< -
The Government cannot admit liability for the amount of the debit note. The suggestion of Sir Robert Garran involved the assumption that wool selected in Sydney could be shipped to London, and sold by auction m London fourteen days after the sale of such wool to the Colonial Combing Company. The promise made by me to the growers certainly did not involve “any such consideration.
Honorable members can plainly see how he ridiculed Sir Robert Garran’s formula. The absurdity of the assumption upon which that formula was based is so apparent that it does not require to be stated. Mr. Hughes went on to say -
My promise implied that the growers would receive as much as they would have done had their wool been sold to the British Government, and shipped in due course for sale by auction overseas. Clearly, then, the growers are not entitled to the price ruling in London fourteen days after sale in Australia.
Yet that was the price upon which the debit note wag based ! Continuing, the letter stated -
A perusal of London auction catalogues shows that wool appraised in the period 23rd March to 26th ‘May, 1920, was being sold in May, June, and July of 1921, and not earlier.
From that statement of fact he made the following deduction: -
These wools sold to the Colonial Combing Company during that period would otherwise have formed part of the 1,836^000 bales on hand at 31st December, 1920. Since that is so, it is then quite easy, to arrive at the true position. These stocks were valued for transfer of the Australian interest therein to Bawra on the basis of cost price and charges, lessdepreciation of 40 per cent.
That is to say, the wool on hand, of which those 9,000 bales would have formed a part had they not been sold to the Colonial Combing Company, was transferred to Bawra at a valuation 4X> per cent, below the appraised price. Mr. Hughes, continuing, said -
This valuation -
That is, the valuation of 40 per cent, below the appraised price - was agreed to by the British Government, the Central Wool Committee, and the representatives of Bawra, and therefore the valuation is the most reliable that .can. be obtained. It would, therefore, .follow that, instead of airy profit being attributable to the wool .supplied to the Colonial Combing Company, if it had1 formed part of the wool sold to the Imperial Government and been shipped in due “ course for sale by auction overseas, there would have been an actual loss on the whole of the stocks.
There would have been no profit to distribute.; yet it has been agreed to distribute £275,000, and half of that amount has already been paid ! Concluding his letter, Mr. Hughes made this statement -
The Government cannot accept the figures supplied, and consider the basis upon which the claim is constructed to be untenable.
The present Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was Treasurer in that Government, of which Mr. Hughes was Prime Minister. I shall reinforce Mr. Hughes’s statement with others. To prove to the House that this debit note was based upon Sir Robert Garran’s formula, I shall quote Sir John Higgins’s letter to the PrimeMinister on -the 22nd February, 1922, in which he said -
The basis for estimating the amount duc to the Central Wool Committee or Bawra is founded on the formula submitted by the Secretary, Attorney-General’s Department.
That is Sir Robert Garran. Honorable members have been informed that the Solicitor-General interpreted Mr. Hughes’s promise, and on that interpretation the payment was made. The files, which the Prime Minister previously declined to lay on the table, show that Sir Robert Garran, in the light of experience, later repudiated his own formula. I quote from an opinion by Sir Robert Garran, dated the 26th January, 1923. I think this is the gem of that file. He said - lt seems clear that there has been bo acceptance by the Government of the formula of 6th August, 1920.
That was his own formula. lt appears to me that the Prime Minister’s objections to the formula are unanswerable. . . In the light of the history of the wool market since thai, date, that formula cannot be relied on as a basis for an estimate of what the wool would, in fact; have fetched.
I entirely agree with him. I think he made the mistake on the first occasion in giving a hurried opinion, and assuming that the wool market would remain at- the height it had then reached. Had it remained at that level there would have been nothing wrong with, his formula.. His opinion went om to state -
I think that, the foundation for a valuation must be tin estimate of what in fact would have happened to this wool.
What happened to the wool was that it was eventually sold by Bawra below the appraised, price. Yet this claim for £2.75,000 was based upon the assumption that it would have been sold at a. price considerably greater than the appraised price. I have quoted Mr. Hughes’s interpretation of the formula and the claim which was based upon it. I have also quoted Sir Stobert Garran’s later opinion of that formula. I want to strengthen those by quoting the opinion of the present Prime Minister; it ought to finally clinch the matter. This is what he said in a letter to Sir John Higgins, dated the 27th February, 1923-
The promise was that the wool-growers should not be worse off by reason of certain wool having been taken by the company instead of being sold to the British Government. The thing to be ascertained, therefore, is what would the profits on this wool have been if it had been shipped to London in the ordinary course, lt seems clear,, in the light of what has happend since then, that the formula cannot be rolled upon. The foundation for a valuation must be an estimate of what, in fact, would have happened to this wool if it had been sold under Imperial contract.
With Mr. Hughes I say that if this wool had been sold under an Imperial contract it would have remained a part of the large carry-over of wool, it would have gone into Bawra’s stocks at a price 40 per cent, below the appraised value, and eventually it would have been sold by Bawra at a price below . the appraised value. Sir John Higgins, replying to
Mr. Hughes in a letter dated 20th February, 1922, objected to him “taking as a valuation the price fixed at 31st December, 1920,” and said that “the actual value of the wool would be determined when sold.” Since then the wool has been sold, and the reports issued by Bawra state that the average price that it realized was- below the appraised price. Yet, in 1920, on the assumption that the price of wool would remain at the level it had reached, when that quantity was taken from the pool, a claim was made for a sum based on a price three times as great as the appraised price. Let me briefly summarize the opinions about the formula upon which the payment was made. Mr. Hughes, who made the promise of which the formula was an interpretation,, said that the basis upon which the claim was constructed was untenable. Sir Robert Garran’ said that Mr. Hughes’ objections to the formula were unanswerable. The present Prime Minister said that the formula could” not be relied upon as. a basis. Yet I remind honorable members that a claim based upon that formula was agreed to by the present Prime Minister] His action is inexplicable to anybody who has closely studied the matter.
When I challenged the right honorable gentleman in this House, he said, “ There has been no attempt at any form of secrecy in connexion with this matter.” Let me state the’ facts that appear upon the file. On the 1st September, -1923, the day upon which the Prime Minister sailed from Australia to attend the Imperial Conference in England, an agreement was made between him and Sir John Higgins at a personal interview. In the midst of the preoccupation of packing -his trunks he entered into an agreement to pay to Bawra £275,000. On the 3rd September, 1923, a letter was sent from the Prime Minister’s Department to Sir John Higgins confirming the agreement. On the 4th September there was a letter from Sir John Higgins to the Prime Minister’s Department accepting the agreement. On the 10th September Mr. Donald Cameron, M.P., wrote, enclosing a letter that he had received from the Graziers’ Association of Queensland, asking to be informed of the position in which the claim stood. On the 14th September a letter was sent from the Prime Minister’s Department to Mi. Donald Cameron, M.P., stating, “ The matter will receive consideration, and you will be communicated with at the earliest possible date.” The agreement had been made, confirmed by letter, and accepted by letter; yet ten or twelve days later an honorable member of this House is informed, “ The matter will receive consideration, and you will be communicated with at the earliest possible date “ ! On the 17th September a letter was received by the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) from Sir John Higgins, stating -
The Eight Honorable the Prime Minister requested me not to divulge the result of the negotiations or .the -settlement pending an interview with you in order that we may mutually arrange how and when the information can be disclosed to the public.
On the 21st September, Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow wrote to Dr. Earle Page forwarding a letter that he also had received from the Graziers’ Association of Queeusland on the matter, and twenty days after the agreement was entered into, namely, on the 25th September, a reply was forwarded to him, which contained the following sentence: -
Inquiries will be made into the matter, and advice furnished at the earliest possible date.
The payment was agreed to because of the promise made in this House by the then Prime Minister. I have no quarrel with that promise. My quarrel is with the interpretation that was given to the promise, an interpretation which, according to the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), the SolicitorGeneral (Sir Robert Garran), who gave a considered opinion on the matter, and “the present Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was false and unsound. The Government has already paid £137,000 out of the Treasurer’s Advance in part settlement of this claim on this untenable basis, and I submit that it is now the responsibility of this committee to prevent an additional £137,000 from being taken from the public purse for the same purpose. Honorable members cannot evade their responsibility by saying that the Government, through the Prime Minister, has made an agreement which must be honoured, for the agreement has neither moral nor legal foundation. In any case, it has already been ruled, in the law courts, that an agreement made by a
Prime Minister on behalf of Parliament is not valid until it has received the approval of Parliament. Honorable members of this committee have a duty to see that public money is not paid away, except to meet a proper legal or moral obligation. According to departmental files, the basis of this claim has been repudiated by both the ex-Prime Minister and the present Prime Minister, and the Solicitor-General. Therefore, I ask honorable members to do their duty and prevent the improper payment of an additional £137,000. They can do so by supporting the amendment.
– A few weeks ago this subject was exhaustively debated in this chamber on a motion of censure, when the arrangement’ which I entered into with Sir John Higgins, on behalf of the Government, was confirmed. It is now too late for the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) to try to get honorable members to reverse that decision. Although half the money due to the Central Wool Committee under the agreement has been paid, the honorable member desires to prevent the payment of the other half. He bases his case for nonpayment upon the fact that half of the amount that has been paid has been handed by the Central Wool Committee to the British Government. His interpretation of the arrangement that I made is that the claim of the Australian wool growers has been fully satisfied by the amount that has been paid to them, and that as half of the amount still to be paid will” also be handed to the British Government, we are not bound to pay it. The honorable member’s reason for repudiating the arrangement that I entered into, and of which the majority of members in this chamber have signified their approval, is the most’ amazing that I have ever heard. As he dealt with only one point in the issues that were previously discussed, I propose to limit myself to that point. He said that the promise that was made by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was that the Australian wool-growers should be put in no worse position with respect to the wool that was the subject of the claim than if it had formed part of the purchase by the British Government. He has stated that the basis on which the claim was settled, which recognized the ordinary practice in the trade of payment at world’s parity fourteen days after auction - or, as no auction sales were then being held, after selection - was improper. In support of his contention he has referred to views expressed by the late Prime Minister, myself, and the Solicitor-General (Sir Robert Garran) on the interpretation of the promise that was made to the woolgrowers, and argued that the proper basis of payment was the price that the wool would have fetched if, in fact, it had formed part of the British Government’s purchase, and had been sent abroad in the ordinary way. The honorable member rather suggested that I did not disclose the fact that that was my opinion, and that I had tried to keep it from honorable members. It is only fair, therefore, that I should correct him on the point.
– I did notsay that.
– When I addressed the House on the censure motion I referred to the difficulties of agreement upon a fair basis for the valuation of this wool, and I said -
Although the Government contended all along that that was what should have been done, and I emphasized that view, it eventually came to the conclusion that the thing was impracticable, and that a settlement could not be made on that basis.
I emphasized the view that the correct and absolute interpretation of Mr. Hughes’ promise was that the wool should be followed through the ordinary trade channels to ascertain what would have been the price secured for it had it been dealt with in the ordinary way, and that although I still held that view, I found after a full examination of the position that it was perfectly impossible to track the course which the wool would have taken to ascertain what it would have fetched. I challenge the contention of the honorable member that if the wool had been sold in this way it would have brought considerably less than the price upon which the Government’s compromise was based. I have no desire to go over all the arguments which I have already exchanged with the honorable member, but I must repeat that the wool selected by the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company was of the finest quality. I pointed out then that there were no less than 377 different types of merino wool - and this, of course, was merino wool - and that the prices paid for it varied from48d. to10d. per lb. It is quite impossible, even after the fullest investigation to say what this wool would have brought had it been forwarded in the ordinary way, for it was of the class and type for which there was at the time of its selection, a tremendous demand. The honorable member has assumed that there was a big and lasting slump in the price of such wool. I do not agree with him in that assumption, and when speaking previously on this subject, I said -
The actual figures show that if we take 100 as the basis in 1921, the figure for 1923 would be 243.
The honorable member has suggested that the general average of the wool realizations should have been the basis of any compromise, but I do not think that that method would have been any more exact than the one on which the ultimate settlement was effected. The Government came to the conclusion after the fullest investigation that there was no conceivable way of ascertaining what would have been the exact value of this wool had it gone forward as part of the British Government purchase, and that being so, that a compromise should be made to settle the dispute, for the claims in respect of it were continually increasing. Interest was being charged, but that matter the honorable gentleman opposite put aside, as I did also. I said, on a previous occasion, that I thought the claim for interest was. fair, although I did not acceptit or pay it. The Government, taking everything into consideration, decided to make the best bargain it could in effecting a settlement of the whole matter. The basis of payment adopted was the price ruling fourteen days after the selection of the wool, upon which the wooltop-makers, and others who acquired wool from the Central Wool Committee, paid for it. But we did not do all that we were asked to do. The claim was for £900,000, and the amount we agreed to pay was £275,000. That was a satisfactory arrangement from the point of view of the taxpayers, and did justice to the wool-growers, who had had a very definite and specific promise made to them. The honorable member for Yarra said that I had stated that there was no secrecy about this payment, and he then asked honorable members to listen to certain letters. He said, “ Here is one from
Sir John Higgins ; the other villain in the piece. He said that Sir John Higgins had written to the Treasurer, then Acting Prime Minister, telling him that I had said that the arrangement was not to be disclosed until I had had arn opportunity of discussing with him eractly how its announcement should be made. The most sinister inference was drawn from that statement, and knowing the mind of the honorable gentleman opposite, and the way in which he generally presents a case, I am not surprised that he draws a sinister inference from almost everything he reads. There have been numerous instances in which we have known the honorable gentleman to draw such inferences from innocent statements. Rut it must be obvious to anybody else that when the arrangement was made between the Government and the representatives of the wool-growers, the announcement that finality had been reached would have had an effect upon Bawra script, and if any one knew of it in advance he would have been able to use that knowledge to advantage in the share market. To safeguard the interests of all concerned it was necessary that Sir John Higgins should see the Treasurer, who was then Acting Prime Minister, and arrange for the announcement to be so made that no one should have an advantage over any one .else. That was why the announcement took the form that it did. The honorable member for Yarra also left the impression, which was reinforced by an interjection by some honorable member sitting behind him., that the, settlement was deliberately kent quiet so that advantage could be taken of the position by Sir John Higgins and a few of his friends.
– Did I say that ? I ask the Prime Minister to .be fair.
– The gentleman did not use those words, but he left that impression with all who heard him. He is too fond of leaving such impressions, and then denying that he said anything to justify them.
– I related the facts.
– The honorable member imputes motives by innuendo, and then says that he did not mean to imply anything improper. .
– The facts show that advantage was taken of the arrangment.
– What is the use of the honorable member for Yarra saying that he did not mean to suggest something sinister, when those behind him are all shrieking it? The honorable member should be honest, and say what he really meant. He tried to suggest that Sir John Higgins and a few of his friends were keeping this settlement dark, so that they could take advantage of it by buying up shares at the expense of other members of Bawra, who knew nothing of it. Such a suggestion is enough to dishearten any decent man’ from giving loyal and disinterested service to his country. Sir John Higgins has done a great work for the wool-growers of this country, and they, and every other citizen of Australia, owe him a debt of gratitude. Yet honorable members, by innuendo and in other ways, try to sully his name, and to convey to the general public that he was guilty of conduct entirely out of keeping with his responsible position. The suggestion is contemptible. Honorable members opposite are becoming too fond of making these despicable suggestions about men who are rendering a greater service to their country than any of them is ever likely to do. It really is necessary to remind them that there is a certain standard of decency in discussion that should be observed. There are things to which .an opposition should not- descend in the pursuit of party aims.
– Those remarks are most insulting, and I object to them.
The ACTING CHAIRMAN ‘(Sir Neville Howse). - If the honorable member has any objections to state, he should rise from his seat and make them.
– I now wish to deal with the suggestion that this further .payment nhat was agreed to :by the Government, and approved of by this House, should not be made, because the wool-growers who received the first payment saw fit to hand over part of it .to the British Government in recognition of its wonderfully generous treatment of them during the war. I personally do not subscribe to the view that when a government has undertaken to pay an amount of money, and has already paid half of the sum agreed upon, it should withhold the other half of the payment simply because a portion of the first payment had been given to a third party. Some ludicrous reasons have been given for not honouring obligations, but the argument of the honorable member opposite is the strangest to which I have -ever listened. The Government entered into this bargain, and it was endorsed by this House. We propose to carry out that bargain to the letter, and to make the further payment that is due to the central wool committee, under the promise made by Mr. Hughes. I regret that I have detained the committee at such length on this subject, but in moving his amendment, the honorable member for Yarra re-opened the whole matter, and it has been necessary for me to reply to the points that he has raised. I am perfectly certain that this committee is not prepared to repudiate a bargain which only a few weeks ago was approved by a resolution of the House.
Silting suspended from 6. SO to S p.m.
– I call attention to the state of the committee. [Quorum formed.’]
.- I want to say a word or two in reply to the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) before the dinner adjournment. I do not propose to traverse again the ground I went over ki moving my motion. The right honorable gentleman said that the Government, an fixing the price at which the wool should . be credited to Bawra, fixed the price which every wool-top company had to pay for it, .and that was the price ruling in London fourteen days after the wool was selected from the pool. That is an absolutely erroneous statement, -because that price was not charged to any wool-top company until after -the 30th June, 1920, when our dealings with the British Government ended. After that date every company had to pay the world’s parity price for wool, but the price which the companies paid before that date was the appraised price, plus any difference that might come back to them as their share of the profits made by the British Government. The promise made by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was that the price which the growers in Australia should get for the wool was the appraised price, plus their half share in any profits that were made by the resale of the wool by the British Government. The only way in which that half share could be ascertained was to find out what the wool brought, not by following up what happened- in connexion with one lot of bales in the London market, but by considering the results of the realization of the whole of the balance of the clip. The Prime Minister tried to turn attention away from the real merits of the case by saying that this was high grade merino wool, but I remind him that it was bought from the pool and paid for as high grade merino wool, and the price realized for tie carryover wool was less than the appraised price according to the reports of Bawra. It was <a question simply of what the promise of the ex-Prime Minister meant. It meant that the growers in Australia should not lose as a result of wool being taken from the pool. As a matter of fact, for the wool more was taken from the pool at the appraised price received than would have been received if it had remained in the pool, and become part of the mighty mountain of wool carried over by Bawra.
– Then where did the extra profits come from for Bawra? . Mr. SCULLIN. - -Bawra’s profits were derived in this way. Bawra took over 1:836,000 bales of carry-over wool from the Wool Committee at 40 per cent, below the appraised price, and sold it for a fraction under the appraised price. This wool was purchased by the British Government from the profits made from- the re-sale of our wool. When the Prime Minister speaks of the wonderfully generous treatment of the growers by the British Government I remind him that it received our wool throughout the war at a reasonable price for its military requirements, and it made a profit of £30,000,000 on the re-sale of Australian wool. Bawra made its profits, as I have just said, by getting the wool at 40 per cent, below the appraised price, and selling it at only a fraction below the appraised price. It is clear that the growers in Australia did not lose one penny as the result of wool being taken out of the pool. The money which has been paid represents an absolute gift by the Commonwealth Government.
I want to refer now to one other aspect of the Prime Minister’s extraordinary reply this afternoon. When I spoke on this question last June, I objected to this money being paid without parliamentary appropriation. I contended that neither ‘the British Government nor Bawra was legally entitled to one penny of it. When the Prime Minister replied to me on the censure motion which I moved, he said that the money waa paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance, and he tried to suggest that that was an appropriation. He claimed that there was no secrecy about the matter at all. I objected to the money being paid without consulting Parliament. I said that the Government should have taken the country into its confidence before it paid this money. It should not have been paid privately out of the Treasurer’s Advance. The Prime Minister said that what was done was done in a perfectly open manner, but when I got a look at the files, which were not made available to me until after I had moved my motion on the 6th June, I found that the basis upon which this claim was made was the interpretation of Mfr. Hughes’s promise. It was the greatest travesty of that promise that one can imagine. The promise made by the ex-Prime Minister was made in clear and definite terms. It was expressed in plain English, and any one could understand it, but the Government went to the Solicitor-General to get an interpretation of it. That gentleman gave, I believe, a hasty interpretation of it, but he was honest enough, when he gave a considered opinion later on, to agree with the ex-Prime Minister that the basis upon which the claim was made was not tenable, and could not be relied upon as a basis for calculation. The exPrime Minister, the Solicitor-General, and the present Prime Minister all agreed that the basis upon which this claim was made was not tenable. It was a false basis. Their opinion was that on a true basis there was no claim to one penny. There was, therefore, no need at all for any compromise. Yet the claim was made on the false basis, and public money was paid away by the Government upon thai basis. I am not one who believes in repudiating an agreement or repudiating the obligations of the country, but I say that the claim agreed to on the eve of the Prime Minister’s departure for Great Britain was not a moral or a legal claim. Upon that claim half the amount decided upon was paid, and now, when it is proposed that the other half should be squandered in the same way, it is our duty, as members of this Parliament, to take a vote on the matter. I return to the Prime Minister’s statement that there was no secrecy about the payment which has been made. There was only one aspect of the matter which I raised here last June, and that was that the public should have been told that their money wa3 being paid away. That was all that was in my mind when I spoke this afternoon. In answer to the Prime Minister’s statement, that there was no secrecy about the payment, I have referred honorable members to a series of dates. The agreement was entered into on the 1st September, 1923, which was the day the> Prime Minister sailed for the Old Country. On the 3rd September a letter was sent from the Prime Minister’s Department to Sir John Higgins, confirming the agreement. On the 4th September a letter was received from Sir John Higgins accepting the agreement. I say that at that stage two letters had been exchanged, the agreement was made; and confirmed in writing, the matter was finalized, and the public should have been told that the agreement was made, and that the money was to be paid. On the 10th September a letter was received from Mr. Donald Cameron, M.P. for Brisbane. That letter was accompanied by one from* the Graziers Association of Queensland, asking what was the position in connexion with the claim. On the 14th September a letter was sent from the Prime Minister’s Department to Mr. Cameron - who, as a member of this House, had a right to ask what was being done with the public funds - to the following effect: -
Matter will receive consideration. You will be communicated with at the earliest possible date.
On the 17th September a letter was sent by Sir John Higgins to the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), in which he said -
The right honorable the Prime Minister requested me not to divulge the result of the negotiations or the settlement, pending an interview with you in order that we may mutually arrange’ when and how the information may be disclosed to the public.
Before dinner I brought these facts under the notice of the committee. I read the documents and the file of letters that passed between Sir John Higgins and Mr. Hughes, and the opinion of Sir Robert Garran, and every one of the documents supports my contention that this money was not due. I referred to the fact that on the 25th of the month members of this Parliament were told that the matter was under consideration, and we wanted to know why it should be kept secret from the public. I had not one thought in my mind about the buying or selling of shares.
– An interjection on that subject came from behind the honorable member whilst he was speaking.
– I did not hear it. I am prepared to stand by everything I have said on the floor of this chamber. I resent and repudiate the statement of the Prime Minister that I make insinuations and innuendoes and then run away from them. I ask honorable members to be fair, and to admit that I speak plainly and. stand by what I say. I do not make insinuations or innuendoes. I never had the idea of the selling of shares in my mind when speaking. Perhaps the charge made against me is a case of a guilty conscience needing no accuser.
– Did the honorable member not know how much per share was represented by the £275,000?
– I never inquired into it. My protest was against the matter being kept secret from the public. I made no insinuation or innuendo about any one buying shares. I never had it in mind. But when the Prime Minister was unable to meet the facts and the documents, he raised a smoke-screen by charging me with making insinuations and innuendoes which I never thought of. “When I have a charge to make I make it in plain terms, and not by insinuation or innuendo. That is what I did in connexion with the payment to Bawra; it is what I did in connexion with the noncollection of land tax, with the sale of the Commonwealth woollen mills, and with every charge that I have made in this chamber. I bad not at the back of my mind, when I spoke, Sir John Higgins or Bawra shares, but I had in mind the fact that the Prime Minister had entered into an agreement to pay away £275,000 of public money, and had asked Sir John Higgins to keep the agreement secret until such time as it could be decided how it could be divulged to the public. When the matter was finalized the Prime Minister before leaving Australia should have instructed his colleague, the Treasurer, whom he left in charge, to make the fact public at the earliest possible date.
– I have noticed that my name has been frequently mentioned in connexion with the matter now under con sideration by the committee. That must be my excuse for breaking in upon this family discussion. As I have heard only a few words of what the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has said, and have not heard the speech of the Prime Minister, I am at a disadvantage, and therefore shall confine my remarks to one point only. It is said that the payment of £137,000 has been made in pursuance of a promise given by me when Prime Minister, and that a like amount on the Estimates will also be paid in pursuance of that promise. Honorable members will realize that I cannot, at a moment’s notice, recall the details of the almost interminable negotiations and incidentswhich arose out of the sale of the Australian wool clip to the British Government. I cannot support what I now have to say by reference to documents, for they are not before me, nor can I state the case ab initio to the present time with that wealth of detail which would set it out in proper perspective. But about some things my memory is quite clear. I remember the conference at which I was given authority, by those who were in a position to grant it, to sell the wool clip of Australia to the British Government for1s. 3d. per lb. But in the cablegram which I sent to England, I offered it at1s. 31/2d. and a half share of the profits arising from the sale of any surplus. Had I not taken that action, the British Government would have been entitled to retain all the profits. Sometimes it would seem that this fact has been entirely forgotten. One of the conditions of the agreement was that all the wool required for the needs of Australia should be. excluded from the sale. I made it quite clear what the Australian needs were. The conference discussed the economic situation that had been created by the war. Unemployment was facing us, and we wished to give to our manufacturers every inducement to extend the scope of their operations. All wool needed by manufacturers for any purpose was excluded from the agreement. Subsequently an arrangement made with the Colonial Combing, Spinning, andWeaving Company broke down. A long period of unemployment followed; and at the request of honorable members of all parties, and of the men .themselves, .and in the interests of the country, I did everything I could to get an agreement that would work. I was dealing with two men of great ability aud invincible firmness of character - to state the case in a polite way. Having at last brought the parties to an agreement, I submitted it to the House, and, generally, it was endorsed by all sorts and conditions of men. Later, the question arose whether the woolgrowers were entitled to any of the profits that would have been made if the 9,000 bales covered by the agreement had remained in the pool. The question was raised in the House, I think, by a former colleague, the ex-member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers). So far as I can recall the circumstances^ I said in reply that I would look into the matter, and would consider whether it was possible and fair to give the growers the same price for the wool as they would have received had it remained in the pool. Later, a deputation consisting, I think, of growers and members of Parliament, caine to see me, and I repeated this in set terms. This was in 1920. The position thus created was taken up by Sir John Higgins, Chairman of the Wool Committee; The correspondence between that gentleman and me, so far as I remember, extended over years, but nothing definite was decided. When I left office in February, 1923, not only had no money been paid., but no effort had been made towards a settlement. So far as I can recall, my side, of the correspondence was distinctly discouraging. I must say that I thought that some of the requests made to the Government were audacious. I may be quite wrong, but that was my opinion. Whoever, therefore, is under the impression that I made a promise that involved the payment of money to the British Government, is entirely in the wrong. The British Government has no right, and never had a right, to a for tiling of this money. It entered into the original contract with its eyes open. It was glad to do so, and so were we. It was a very good contract for the British Government, and also a good contract for us. So far as I remember, the British Government accepted by cable every term of the agreement, which included, inter alia, the withholding of all wool needed by Australia for her own purposes, and, further, it was publicly stated, either by me or by my colleagues - I think by me - that wool used for the manufacture of wool tops must be regarded as wool excluded from the sale of our clip to Britain. But, in any case, there never was a suggestion in any words used by me, either in reply to questions in the House, of to the representations of deputations, or in correspondence from my department, that the Government recognized for one moment any claim by the British Government to payment for wool so withdrawn. I am under the impression that, if any demand on behalf of the British Government was made during my term of office, I disclaimed, the responsibility of the Australian’ Government. While I say nothing just now about the payment to the pool, on behalf of the growers, I say most emphatically that it was never recognized by my Government, nor by me, nor by my department during my term as Prime Minister, that the British Government had a claim to one half-penny in respect of this wool. If I have understood the position aright, and if this money is paid by virtue of a promise said to have been made by me, it will be paid under a misapprehension of the facts. No such promise was ever made or implied by me, but, on the contrary,, when the question was raised in the correspondence I had with Sir John Higgins, it was settled once and for all in my time by a plain declaration by me that the British Government had no right to a penny. I shall leave the matter there, and, in the circumstances, I assume that the Government, if it intends to pay the money, will find some other reason for paying it than the promise said to have been made by me.
– I listened with only a modified interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra, because I had heard them all before dinner, and I do not think there is the slightest need to reply again to his reiterations. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), owing to his absence from the House during recent weeks, has slightly misconceived the subject of the present discussion. He appears to be under the impression that payments have been made to the British Government in accordance with gome promise made by him. His recollection of his attitude when he was in office is quite accurate. He resisted the claim of the British Government at every point, and when I succeeded him as head of the Government, I, too, maintained that it was quite impossible to read into the promise made by him as Prime Minister an undertaking to pay anything to the British Government in respect of wool supplied to. the Australian manufacturers of wooltops. The right honorable gentleman, when Prime Minister, said that the agreement with the British Government entitled Australia to withdraw from the Pool all the wool required for its own purposes. The Central Wool Committee was desirous of interpreting that promise to mean only the wool required for manufacturing purposes to meet local requirements, but the right honorable gentleman was alert to the economic position which prevailed in Australia at that time, and said, “No; the arrangement with the British Government is that any wool can be withdrawn that is required for Australian manufacturing purposes, including manufacture for export.” That was particularly his attitude in regard to wool manufactured into tops. The matter under discussion, however, does not relate to any claim made by the British Government, and no settlement has been made which involves any payment to that Government. The right honorable gentleman, when head of the Government, stated clearly that he recognized the claims of the Australian woolgrowers in respect of wool taken out of the pools for manufacturing purposes, and would be prepared to put them in the same position as they would have occupied if the wool had not been taken out of the pool, but had been exported in accordance with the agreement with the British Government. The difficulty throughout has been to determine the basis for calculating the profits which would have been derived had the wool been sold to the British Government in the ordinary way. Prior to the dinner hour I dealt with the two bases of calculation which had been suggested, and that which the Government eventually accepted. The claim made by the Central Wool Committee and resisted by the right honorable member for North Sydney so determinedly, was for £900,000, including an amount for the
British Government. The settlement which has been effected is for the payment of £275,000 to the Central Wool Committee, and completely eliminates any claim by the British Government. That payment having been agreed upon in settlement of the liability to the Australian wool-growers, and half of the money having been paid over by the Commonwealth Government, the Central Wool Committee and Bawra out of their generosity paid ‘ half of what they had received to the British Government, on the ground that throughout the currency of the wool purchase scheme, an arrangement had existed for distributing the profits equally between the British Government and the Commonwealth Government, which represented the Australian wool-growers. And so, notwithstanding the fact that the amount paid by the Commonwealth was in settlement of the claim of the woolgrowers only, and ignored any claim by the British Government, the Wool Committee with the concurrence of Bawra has shared the payment equally with the British Government. With that arrangement the Government and the Parliament have nothing whatever to do. Bawra’s disposal of its own money concerns only the growers whom it represents. An agreement was made by which the Commonwealth Government agreed to pay to the Central Wool Committee £275,000 in respect of the profits made upon wool used in Australia for the manufacture of wooltops. The honorable member for Yarra took exception to the way in which the first moiety of that amount was paid. We need not discuss the propriety of that payment now, because the matter was previously debated in this House, and the payment was confirmed by a majority of honorable members. The first moiety of the £275,000 has been paid to the Central Wool Committee with the full authority of this Parliament, but honorable members opposite are now suggesting that because the Central Wool Committee applied portion of that money in a way of which they do not approve, Parliament should repudiate the agreement, and refuse to pay the second moiety. That is an outrageous suggestion. The Committee cannot at this stage even contemplate the repudiation of an agreement which has been already endorsed by the House.
– When, the Prime Minister was discussing this claim . with Sir John Higgins was it understood that any moneys paid to the Central Wool Com>mittee by the Commonwealth would be shared with the British Government ?
– No such suggestion was made. I arranged with Sir John Higgins to satisfy the claims of the Australian wool-growers under a promise made by the right honorable member for North Sydney when Prime Minister, and there was no discussion of the subsequent application of the money by the Central Wool Committee. The first moiety was paid over, and, subsequently, with the endorsement of those who were entitled to receive the money, the Wool Committee agreed that half of it should be paid to the British Government. That is an arrangement with which the Commonwealth Government is in no way concerned.
.- I was pained by listening to the Prime Minister’s monotonous reiteration of the statements he made before dinner. The posi-» ion in regard to the payment to the Central Wool Committee has been traversed in part by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), and in part by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr.. Scullin). Half of the money paid by the Commonwealth to the Central Wool Committee is beyond recovery, and the other half will be paid and be unrecoverable, because the- Government is supported by a majority of honorable members. Therefore, any protest I may make will be of no avail. But the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, and some of their followers have complained of the insinuations by honorable “members of the Opposition. I am not to be included in that category, nor am I responsible for the utterances of the gentlemen who sit behind me. Every man is responsible for his own faults.
For many years I was _ a most trusting individual. I believed not only in my own virtues, but also in the virtues of honorable members on the ministerial side. But I was disillusioned. Although it is quite true that some of the honorable members who sit in opposition have made what may be regarded as base and baseless insinuations, my conversion was brought about, not by them, but ry honorable members who sat in the Country party corner some years ago when the right honorable member for North-Sydney was Prime Minister, and when the present Prime Minister was Treasurer. Who was the first to make accusations and cast doubts and suspicion upon the integrity and honour of the Government of the day ? Who travelled throughout the country and referred to the Government as “ looters “ ? Who first created doubt and suspicion in the public mind ? Who hinted at loot, corruption, and maladministration ? It was the gentleman who now occupies the position of Treasurer. And he continued to reflect upon the Government until at last he drove from the position of Prime Minister the right honorable member for North Sydney,- and until the gentleman who succeeded to the leadership of the Government, whom previously he had condemned as a fellowconspirator and coadjutor of the right honorable member for North Sydney, said to him “ Come into the pool.” And he went in. The honorable member for North Sydney has been absent from Australia for some time. Does he note the transformation that took place in this country while he was abroad ? Does he notice that the gentleman who was professing to purify the public life of this country is the most discredited man in politics to-day? Has he noticed that of all the men who have held office as Treasurer of the Commonwealth, the present Treasurer is the blankest and most miserable failure ?
Until a few months ago - I mention this, not for the information of honorable members who sit behind the Government, because they know it, nor of those who sit on this side, because they surely know it, but for the information of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes), who has just returned to gaze upon those who drove him from the position which he formerly occupied - the daily newspapers in this and in every city in Australia supported the Government. But they found that they were no longer able to do so. Does the right honorable gentleman know that a daily newspaper in this city has stated that the Country party, led by the gentleman who now occupies the position of Treasurer, will, by its conduct, drag to disgrace any government with which it is associated ? The right honorable member for North Sydney refused to be associated with that party, but the present Prime Minister accepted that association, and day by day the Government is .falling further in public estimation. The daily newspaper to which I have referred said that this Government is dragging its followers through the quagmires of scandal and suspicion into the nearest recess.
– What newspaper was that?
– The Age. It is supported by every daily newspaper in Australia. With what jubilation, with what a sense of satisfaction, must the right honorable gentleman have read the communications that were wirelessed to the vessel Upon which he was returning to Australia, from which he learned that the Government, by its conduct, is dragging its followers through the quagmires of scandal and suspicion. Every attack made by the Opposition upon the Government has been justified.
– I am afraid that the honorable member is not addressing himself to the question before the committee.
– What can relate more closely to the subject under discussion than the suspicion and scandal with which the actions of the Government are surrounded ? If it is necessary to link my remarks up in a more formal manner, I have sufficient ingenuity to do so. I am merely showing that these aspersions upon the Government are made not alone by honorable members who sit on this side. We could remain silent, and yet condemnation would be launched by the daily newspapers, because some gentleman has assiduously searched the records, and has given publicity to the facts, which are so strong that the press are compelled to admit that there is a case against the Government. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has stated–
– Is the honorable member quoting from a recent Hansard?
– Oh, no, sir. Would I quote from this Hansard if it were a recent one ? The Prime Minister thinks that it is highly improper to bring matters of public importance into the light of day, because we may be reflecting upon some public official. He says that if we continue to cast doubt and suspicion upon public servants, no man will be found ready to render a public service. I remember a Minister for Railways in this state named John Wood, who was called “honest John Wood.” After his death, nobody continued to believe that he was honest. The Sydney Bulletin said, “ The facts in this case are so strong that it is not’ safe to call a man honest until he is dead, and not until he has been dead a very long time.”
I make no reflection upon Sir John Higgins. I do not know him. He may be the purest saint on earth. I have, however, known apparently saintly men who have in reality been altogether different from what the public considered them. It would be hard luck for many persons if the world knew them as they really are. It is the good fortune of many of us that that is the case. To return to Sir John Higgins. Certain information was given to him, and he was told to keep it secret. I am prepared to admit that Sir John Higgins is the most honest man on earth. But if this were an honest and legitimate business, if it were clean and above-board, what public advantage could be served by keeping it secret? The Prime Minister has not availed himself of any of the opportunities he has had to answer that question. He has not given one sound re ason for Sir John Higgins being asked to keep the matter secret. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) - the gentleman with a stinkpot–
– Do not forget the gas helmet; the two always go together.
– He became very indignant.
– He tried to run away from his stinkpot.
– Oh, no, he did not. He does not take anything lying down; he puts up a fight; he does not try to shelter behind anybody else ; he stands up to his guns. And when I make a charge, I am prepared to take what honorable members sitting behind the Government care to give me. The honorable member for Macquarie said to-night, in reference to the secrecy with which the matter was surrounded, “ After all, that is nothing. What would anybody gain by making the information public?” If nobody gained anything, with what object was it kept secret? If a rich vein were discovered in a gold mine, what would be thought of a board of directors that kept the fact secret and did not disclose it to the shareholders? If the honorable member for Macquarie were a shareholder in those circumstances, I feel sure that he would be very indignant that the board of directors had kept such information secret. It is well known that a number of the small shareholders were squeezed out of Bawra, and that others were bought out. Then the information was published. No reason can be urged that will justify the withholding of this information from the public. The Prime Minister thinks that we ought not to make any further protests, because Parliament has given its approval to the payment. If every honorable member except two justified the action of the Government, it could not be said that these two should continue to remain silent if they believed that a wrong action had been taken. They would be under a moral obligation to give publicity to it, and to fight it at every available opportunity. I point out to the Prime Minister that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) objects on public grounds to the payment of this second moiety of £137,000. Newspapers that have nothing in common with the Labour party endeavoured to justify the first payment of £137,000. They said, “That is gone, and it can never be recalled. We will support the Government up to this stage; but there can be no justification for the payment of the second moiety.” Our attitude, therefore, is not the attitude of an Opposition that seeks merely to fight the Government, and to bring it into disrepute, but is the attitude that is adopted by a powerful section of the daily press.
– We are performing a public duty.
– I contend that Bawra had not even a moral claim to this money. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) has stated that the wool in question was not part of the pool. If that is so, it is obvious that not even a moral claim existsin respect of it. The Prime Minister himself admits that there is no legal claim. He thinks, however, that there may be a moral claim. The only ground upon which the right honorable member for North Sydney was prepared to consider even a moral claim was in order that the growers should not lose anything because the wool had not gone into the pool. The British Government has never asked for this money. The Prime Minister now says that although the British Government has not. =asked for any payment, and although this ^Government would in any case refuse to give , the British Government a penny, there may be a moral claim on the ground that this wool ought to have gone into the pool. The Government therefore doubled the amount and agreed to pay £275,000, half of which Bawra can give away to show its appreciation of somebody else. I am prepared at any time to accept a payment for distribution among my friends as an evidence of my appreciation of them. I make no insinuations ; I merely state the fact. There is more than one way of helping your agents, your supporters, and your partisans. For many years the Labour party has been denounced as a class party. But one could not have a gi eater exhibition of class administration than that which we have had from this Government. It has shown clearly and distinctly by its every action that it cares not how it disburses public money, provided that such disbursement is in accordance with its policy, and is in the interests of the class with which it has allied itself. The charges that we have made against the Government have been proved to be true, notwithstanding denials by honorable members opposite. On the other hand, the assertions of the Government have been falsified without exception. In every case the public documents have proved them to be in the wrong. We are perfectly satisfied to record a vote against the Government, realizing that every day it is dragging its followers through the quagmires of scandal and suspicion, and that it will sink further and further in public estimation until it again faces the electors.
– The Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Anstey) has presented a very pleasant spectacle! He has hypnotized himself into believing the statements that he has made. He has said that the Government has been brought into disrepute, that it has been dragged in the mud, that it is generally discredited. What is the reason for these displays that we have witnessed during the last few weeks? Why has attack after attack been launched against the Government? The reason is that honorable members opposite are dismayed because the Government is daily gaining in public favour. Ever since the members of the Opposition began their discussion of the budget they ha,ve been dragging red herrings across the trail. For over eighteen months they have been trying to mislead the public into the belief that the Government cares for no one except the bier man. But the public is not ignorant of the fact that the Government has shown its interest in every class in that it has increased the oldage pension from 15s. to 17s. 6d. a week, and that, having already granted substantial remissions in taxation, it now proposes income tax exemption from £200 to £300. The Opposition is horribly afraid of the influence of these acts upon thu public mind, and so is continually making “ dud “ charges. First of all, it seeks cover by attacking responsible public officers, and, when its purpose in so doing is exposed, it attacks the members of the Government. Despite the advice given to the Acting Leader of the Opposition by the Prime Minister last week that, as those who assail impregnable positions axe always defeated and cut to pieces, he would be wise to desist from such attacks, he and his followers still pursue that course. I listened very carefully to the speech delivered this afternoon by the honorable member for Yarra, and also to his exact repetition of it to-night, and the only difference between these speeches and that which he made on this subject some months ago is due to the fact that in the meantime he has had access to certain files, and has discovered some remarkable documents ! One of them was a letter that the Prime Minister wrote to Sir John Higgins. The honorable member does not seem to know, or else he has forgotten, that I read that letter in this House on the 12th June of this year. He referred to another letter from Sir John Higgins as a great discovery, and apparently forgot that I also quoted that letter in full on the same date. Then he discussed two replies to certain communications which were forwarded by responsible officers of the Prime Minister’s Department whilst I was Acting Prime Minister, which, in effect, showed that Sir John Higgins had not had an opportunity of seeing me to discuss the matters referred to. Sir J ohn Higgins was not able to discuss them with me for the sufficient season that I was in Adelaide. The replies that were sent by the departmental officers were correct and proper in every respect; but the honorable member for Yarra suggested that they were dispatched with sinister purpose; that they were designed to hide something; and that, altogether, they were most improper. This sort of poison gas is being poured over the country day after day in the persistent attempts of the Opposition to defame and discredit the Government. After I have been discharging my administrative duties in Melbourne and attending the meetings of this House for a few weeks, and listening to the sinister inferences drawn from my most simple acts, I am almost afraid to walk down the streets of Sydney with my daughter for fear that divorce proceedings may be instituted against me because some one with a similar horrible mind has seen me with her. Baseless charges and unfounded innuendoes of the most transparent kind are being made against the Government day after day and week after week.
– What foundation did the Treasurer have for his charge that honorable members of the previous Ministry who are now his colleagues were “ looters “ ?
– In consequence of the inequitable taxation which has for years been imposed upon our producers. I maintained that they have been robbed.
– “ Robbed “ is a good word.
– They have been robbed by unjust taxation in the past, but in the last two years the Government has been doing its best to hold the scales of justice more evenly to secure for the people out-back a fairer deal, so that the standard of living in the country may be raised as high as it is in the cities.
– I ask the Treasurer to confine his remarks to the matter before the committee.
– I rose, sir, to express my opinion of the baseless innuendoes and groundless insinuations which have defiled the atmosphere of this chamber during the past few months, though, speaking for myself, I am absolutely indifferent to the slanderous attacks that are being made against me and against the Government.
.- The Treasurer has just made a speech similar to those that we- are becoming accustomed to listen to from him. His cheap clap-trap about being afraid to walk down the streets of Sydney for fear of horrible charges that may be made against him will carry no weight. Neither he nor the Prime Minister ‘ can so easily dismiss the charges which honorable members of the Opposition have made against the Government in the last few weeks, for our indictments have been substantiated with strong evidence. When we are faced with proposals for the improper expenditure of public money, we cannot be expected to remain silent. What better justification could there be for our attacks than the happenings of last week in regard to the taxation of Crown leaseholds? We did not make innuendoes or insinuations then, but clear and definite charges, and although the Treasurer replied to them in much the same way as he has replied to our charges to-night, before twenty-four hours had elapsed, he justified us in every particular by issuing a writ for the recovery of the taxes in question.
– And the writ was for a larger amount than we anticipated was owing.
– That is so. We, jointly with honorable members opposite, are the custodians of the public purse, and have a duty to see that no public money is expended except to meet legal and moral obligations. The honorable member for Macquarie has said that we have our noses to the stink-pot. That is an elegant phrase.
– But it is not mine; it was coined by the Acting Leader of the Opposition.
– The honorable member said practically the same thing. The charges that we have made against the Government are not refuted by calling them insinuations and innuendoes. I emphatically deny that these charges -have been made for party purposes. We should be lacking in our duty if we remained silent, and passively permitted the squandering of public money. Our attitude in regard to both this question and the proposed remission of taxation on Crown leaseholds has been supported by an important section of the Melbourne “press which, while attempting to whitewash the Government, has almost pleaded with it to mend its ways. We are actuated by a desire not to gain political kudos, but- to preserve the public interest. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Treasurer can cover up the tracks of the Government by accusing us of making base insinuations and groundless charges. When the Australian public is given an opportunity to pass a verdict on the Government, I have no doubt what it will be.
– I should not have participated in this controversy but for the fact that,, in another place, some years ago, I discussed the position of the wool producers. Like the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), I have been endeavouring to brush from my mind the cobwebs of time and recall that speech. I have a very great respect for the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), and I admire the manner in which he marshals his figures and arguments ; but when we remove the excrescences that have grown -around this subject during the’ debate, it will be found that the simple issue is whether any money is owing to the woolgrowers of Australia by reason of the promise made by the ex-Prime Minister, and, if so, how much. The whole thing hinges upon the interpretation of the reservation made in the agreement with the British Government respecting wool for Australian requirements. It has never been questioned that the wool required by our manufacturers to supply the needs of Australian consumers should come out of the pool at the appraised price; but it has been questioned whether the wool-growers should be compelled to- sell their wool at the Australian price to the local wool-top makers for export to the markets of the world, and so permit them to benefit by profits which rightly should go to the wool-growers. It could not be expected that the wool-growers would willingly sell their merino wool to Avistralian wool-top makers at, say 2s. a lb., for them to sell it abroad at 5s., 6s., or even 7s. a lb. That was realized by the Government of the day, and was the reason for the arrangement made ‘ between the wool-top manufacturers and the Central Wool Committee that the profits of any wool so handled should be shared with the wool-growers. I now wish to deal with the position that arose as a result of the particular payment under discussion by the committee. Speaking from memory and subject to correction, 9,000 bales of the finest merino wool were obtained by a certain wool-top manufacturer for tie purpose of manufacturing wool tops for export to the United States of America, Japan, or wherever the best price could be obtained.
– The agreement stated that that wool should be treated as wool used for the manufacture of wooltops in Australia.
– The agreement did not provide for anything of the kind. There has been a controversy about the agreement, right from its inception. The agreement was made with the wool-top manufacturers, not only the Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company, but also Whiddon Brothers, ‘ the Yarra Falls Spinning Company, and others, that a certain portion of the profit on the export trade was to be paid to the wool-growers. The present controversy has arisen respecting the 9,000’ bales of merino wool. I can follow the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) when he puts up a good argument. Certainly, it is a reasonable argument that had these 9,000 bales been sold by the pool in the world’s market, no better price would have been obtained for them than that obtained from the manufacturers of wool tops here. But I cannot follow any other argument than that, because no other issue arises. It has been admitted, during the course of this debate, that the Central Wool Committee which preceded Bawra, and Bawra afterwards by virtue of its succession to the Central Wool Committee, never relinquished the claim that it would have obtained much more money for these 9,000 bales of merino wool had they not been taken by an Australian manufacturer for the manufacture of wool tops for export. The controversy went on for two or three years, and it certainly agitated to some extent the minds of those interested. The claim for a payment that would compensate the woolgrowers for their loss, or supposed loss, was never abandoned. The Government was faced with a claim for £900,000 concerning those 9,000 bales of wool, aud this amount, as has been admitted, includes a claim for £450,000 on account of the British Government. Negotiations followed, and a promise was made. After a long controversy and an examination of the position, the claim was eventually settled by the Government agreeing to pay Bawra, in settlement of all its claims, the sum of £275,000. That payment is the only issue before this committee.
– If the honorable member will read the agreement he will see that he is entirely wrong.
– If the agreement first made by Mr. Hughes specifically set out that all wool selected in Australia for any purpose whatsoever could be used without any question, why did the wool-top manufacturers pay a tax on the wool they exported ?
– That is not the point at all. The agreement states that wool tops are excluded from its provisions.
– I am talking about the agreement that was made between the British Government and the Central Wool Committee, which body always claimed a share of the profits on the wool obtained by the manufacturers and afterwards exported.
– There was no profit made on the wool under discussion.
– I am afraid that we are becoming somewhat confused. I am dealing with the continuous operations from the inception of the agreement, and I think my honorable friend is alluding to the 9,000 bales of merino wool. The issue respecting that wool seems to be whether the wool-growers of Australia were entitled to any grant from the Government for loss of profit, and, if so, to what extent. A promise was made by Mr. Hughes, when Prime Minister, to place the growers of the wool sold in Australia for export in the same position as they would have been in had it been exported to London and sold in the ordinary way. After negotiations had proceeded for three years, and after the claim by the Central Wool Committee on behalf of itself and the British Government had been whittled down from £900,000, an agreement was arrived at to pay a sum of £275,000 to Bawra to compensate the wool-growers, and to redeem the promise made to them. The issue before the committee is whether any money was owing to the wool-growers under the promise made by Mr. Hughes, and, if so, how much. It has been stated that there was no money owing, and that the Government paid away portion of the £275,000 when there was no need to do so. That is a matter for argument affecting the wool markets, the quality of the wool, the time it was sold, and the price it would have brought abroad. I have not gone into that subject very fully. It really requires an expert to do so. I can quite understand the argument that there is nothing owing to the wool-growers, and that Bawra obtained for that particular wool as much from the local sale as would have been obtained in the London market. Seeing that the negotiations had been going on for two or three years, and that a heavy claim for compensation had always been made by Sir John Higgins and the wool-growers, and considering the state of the markets and the prices that our fine merino wool, even in a slump period, brought in foreign markets, it is reasonable to assume that a payment of some sort was justified. “We now have to consider whether the money paid by the Government was excessive. The Prime Minister stated that the amount first claimed was £900,000, and that a settlement was arrived at by agreeing to pay Bawra the sum of £275,000, half of which has been paid.
– The wool-growers are not entitled to one penny of compensation.
– The Government determined that £275,000 was a fair sum to pay for the redemption of the promise made by the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). That determination is not a subject for reflections upon personal honour, or for suspicion or innuendo. Honorable members have heard the Prime Minister definitely state that any assumed partnership with the ‘British Government, or any claim that it possibly might have had, was not considered in connexion with the fixing of this sum’. The real issue is whether this amount of £275,000 was a fair sum to pay in settlement of all differences concerning the sale of the 9,000 bales of wool. I hope that the committee will keep to this single issue. I am sorry that the personal equation has cropped up in this debate. Goodness knows that the discussion in this Parliament on this wool and on the position of the wool-tops people has been sufficient. Excluding all extraneous matter, and all padding, there is the single issue before us whether the Government was justified in paying that amount. It must be clear to any one who knows anything about the market for our fine merino wools, during slump periods or at any other time, that the world’s market was in favour of the Australian grower. Under all those circumstances I think that the committee will commend the Government for its action in this matter.
– I am exceedingly sorry to have to trouble the committee again. As I explained, when I spoke before I had not had the advantage of hearing the case argued. I spoke from memory, and I directed my remarks to one point only, and that was that no promise made by me justified the payment of any moneys to or on behalf of the British Government. Indeed, the Prime Minister has admitted that my recollection of the facts and my attitude towards them were correct, but that I am under a misapprehension as to what really is before the committee. I have listened to further discussion, and I should now like to add something to what I have already said. I do not admit for one moment that the Government is bound in any way by any promise of mine. lt is an idea altogether new to me that a Government such as the present should regard itself bound by any promise made by me. Why it should have selected this particular matter on which to take such a stand I do not know. That is the first point. The second is this’: It will be recollected, because I have myself emphasized it, that the transaction under discussion occurred in 1920. I did not go out of office until early in 1923. In the interval there was considerable correspondence between the head of the Central Wool Committee and myself, in which, it will be generally admitted, my attitude was distinctly unfavorable, not merely to the payment of £900,000, which it has been stated was the amount claimed, but to any compromise on the matter. At any rate, the fact is patent that I paid nothing. So much is quite clear. No payment was made, and no basis of payment or any coin promise upon that basis arrived at. The suggestion had been made that the amount to be paid should be the difference between the local and the London price, that is to say, that. we should pay the difference between the appraised price, the price at which the wool sold here and the London parity at the time the agreement between the Commonwealth and the combing company was signed. That did not appeal to me. I think it is pretty obvious why it did not. I should not have risen at all if the Government had said that it paid this money because it thought that the case on its merits warranted it. But it has put forward my promise as the reason for payment. I made a promise, and I did all that that promise committed me to. No payment was made because I could not be satisfied that any loss had been sustained that was not covered by the original sale agreement. We must consider how prices were fixed and what was the position. There were 9,000 odd bales covered by the agreement. I do not know how many thousand bales there were in the pool, probably over 1,500,000. I am again at . a disadvantage, because I have not the figures before me. A very large proportion of the wool in the pool was merino wool. Now it is said that the difference between the local price and the London price is the amount of compensation which ought to be paid to the wool-grower to put him in the position in which he would have been if the 9,000 odd bales, instead of being sold under the agreement, had remained in the pool. It is contended that the 9,000 odd bales would have gone forward, and that because they were held back the growers were so much to the bad. On the face of it, that seems to . be a reasonable argument. But it is a house built upon sand. Let us consider the position. There were many parcels of 9,000 bales of wool in the pool, and every 9,000 bales of the same quality were of the same value. If the . wool market would have absorbed any and every parcel of 9,000 bales in the pool, I might ask why did not the whole of the wool in the pool go forward. It is very clear why it did not. If it had gone forward it would have broken the market. The market was fed with just as much wool as would maintain the price, and not break the market. So we have to consider, in estimating the value of this wool, not the position that would have arisen if we had sold all the merino wool there was in Australia. The wool covered by the agreement was to that’ retained in the pool as 1 to 50 or 1 to 100 - I do not know the exact figures, but they will bear out what I say. The pool could, and probably did, take advantage of the London price to the full extent that the market would bear without breaking. So that if the 9,000 odd bales that were sold to the manufacturers here had been sent forward with the wool in the pool it would not have secured the top price, because the market would have broken if more wool had been put on it. The point to be noted is this : That all the wool that could be sold at the top price was sold. No more could have been sold if the 9,000 bales had remained in the pool. So that the growers were in no worse position through its withdrawal. How much ought to be paid to satisfy this moral claim - for that is what it was - is the question that we were unable to settle. I do not know how much per bale is to be paid by the Government under this arrangement, but had I remained in office this amount of money would never have been paid. The circumstances amply bear out that assertion. I remained in office for two years after the agreement was made, and I did not pay any money. I have already explained why I did not do so. There was a pile of correspondence which, as the months rolled by, grew higher, but when I left we were no nearer to a payment. That was because we were unable to agree as to what would have been the position of the grower if the 9,000 odd bales sold under the agreement had remained in the pool. This, I hope, makes it perfectly dear that my promise was not in its terms such as to justify the payment unless the Government was satisfied in its own mind, and entirely apart from that promise, that the payment should be made. In which case, I submit with all deference that the Government must take its stand on what it thought right and proper itself, and must take full responsibility for its action. It should not place on my shoulders any of the responsibility for what it has done. I say that had I remained in office I would not have paid the amount to which the Government has agreed. That statement is amply borne out by the fact that while I remained in office I did not pay anything: It has been sought to establish the position that the clause in the agreement, allowing the withdrawal of wool for local purposes, did not cover wool destined for export. I deny that entirely. It is necessary only to recapitulate the circumstances under which the agreement was arrived at to show that what I say is correct. I remind honorable members that when I left the conference with authority to sell the wool, every man present was satisfied with 15d. per lb., and no share of the profits. Therefore, every man in the room had agreed to exclude from the sale all the wool that was necessary to keep the factories at work, and to enable them to expand their business. There could have been no talk of any share of profits, because they had all agreed to sell outright without any right to participate in the profits. I recall what I said on behalf of the manufacturers of Australia who were then present, and whose representative I was quite as much as I was the representative of the growers. I made the terms quite clear, and every man present agreed to them. There was ample opportunity to take exception to them, but none was taken. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) has tried to draw a distinction between wool manufactured for local consumption and wool manufactured for sale anywhere, in or outside of Australia. But there was no such distinction drawn nor was any intended . I am better able to speak of this than is any other man. If I am asked what the agreement meant, I say emphatically that it. meant what I have said, and that is what it was understood by the British Government to mean. No question was raised on the point. There was an agreement, and a great deal of wool was absorbed in the export trade. The Minister for Trade and Customs knows that the period with which we are dealing was one of most rapid expansion of industry in Australia, the like of which was never previously known.
– Why did the right honorable gentleman compel manufacturers to manufacture for export under licence?
– It was necessary to do so for revenue purposes.. The business of the Government was to do everything possible to serve, not any particular industry, but all Australian industries and the Commonwealth ‘generally. The agreement sets that out perfectly clearly. The circumstances of this transaction were not new, for they duplicated those that had been previously made. There were three parties to be considered - the growers, the manufacturers, and the .community. The agreement with this company, while encouraging the industry, protected the community, which shared any profits that might be made. That, as far as I can see, disposes of the contention that my promise justified the payment of this money, and proves that the wool used for manufacturing purposes, whether for sale in foreign countries or for use in Australia, was withdrawn from the agreement. . The Prime Minister has suggested that honorable members and the people of Australia have no concern with the destination of the moiety of the £275,000. I do not admit that Parliament has nothing to ‘do with that; it has everything to do with it. I ask honorable members to remember that for two years no payment was made. It has been suggested that the claim has been reduced from £900,000 to £275,000, but what are the facts ? A claim was made and nothing came of it, but now £275,000 is to be paid. It was for the sake of the growers that I said that I would consider their case on its merits, and would place them in as good a position as they would have been in if the .9,000 bales had remained in the pool. I was anxious that they should not be able to say that we had robbed one section of the people in order to load another section with benefits. But the British Government is not entitled to the taxpayers’ money. Therefore, the destination of this money is of great concern to honorable members and the people of this country. Not having had an opportunity to look closely into this matter again, and to inform myself of details as I should have liked to do, and as the importance of the subject deserves, I shall content myself with repeating that, whether ‘this is a proper payment or not, it certainly does not arise out of any promise I made, and the Ministry must find some reason for it other than a promise made by me in Parliament or elsewhere.
– We have, at all events, reached a definite stage in this debate. When the subject was last discussed honorable members on this side quoted from speeches made by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes), and honorable members opposite alleged that we were misrepresenting the facts, They contended -that the payment was justified on a promise given by the exPrime Minister, and a few moments ago the Minister for Trade and Customs repeated that statement.
– And I endorse it now.
– In the
Absence of any reasonable argument, the Minister still falls back upon the old subterfuge, and says that the Government will pay the money in fulfilment of a promise made by the ex-Prime Minister. The ex-Prime Minister, however, states that if the Government pays the money it will be in violation of agreements and promises made by him. His views are recorded in Hansard, and he repeated them to-night. He said that he was in office for two years, and that during that time he refused to make the payment. The supporters of the Government, when they have to answer for their actions to the people of this country, will not be able to plead that they voted to fulfil a promise made by the ex-Prime Minister.
– Did not the ex-Prime Minister make that promise?
– The honorable member for Darwin (Mr, Whitsitt) has evidently made up his mind that he will vote against the amendment of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), and he has also decided to tell his, constituents that he supported ‘the Government because he believed that it oUght not to repudiate a promise made by the ex-Prime Minister. It is unfortunate for him that .the right honorable member for North Sydney spoke to-night. The man -who made the promise should surely be the best interpreter of it, and he said, in no uncertain language, that he resisted the claim for two years, because the granting of it would have been a violation of his promise. I challenged the Minister .for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) to produce the agreement. It was a fair challenge. Apparently he has never read it. In answer to me,” he said - :
Under this agreement wool that was manufactured into wool tops to be exported .to Japan or elsewhere was not .to be treated as wool manufactured for -local consumption in Australia.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) and I said that the agreement meant the. opposite of that. The. exPrime Minister, .when he was telling this House why his Government resisted the claim, read the agreement, He said -
The. contract with the Imperial Government, which endé on the 80th June next, covers the -surplus df the wool clips over local requirements. Local requirements’ have (throughout been- held to include the manufacture of ..wooltops for export as well as. the manufacture of woollens for Australian consumption.
– “Australian consump-tion.”
– If I could display what I have read on a blackboard it would not convince the honorable member for Gippsland, who has evidently made up his mind that he will not learn anything of this matter of which he is ignorant. I ask him to read again the extract I have just quoted.
– That is not the agreement.
– The Minister for Defence evidently does not know that the agreement arose out of a number of cablegrams that passed between the British and Australian Governments. The honorable member for North Sydney made the agreement, and in explaining its terms to the House he used the words I have read. Yet the Minister for Trade and Customs said to-night that the manufacture of wooltops for export did not come under the same heading as manufacture for home consumption. It can be said in his favour that he was the first Minister that made any attempt to “ get down to tin tacks.” . :.
– Will the honorable member explain why .the prime Minister compelled manufacturers” of wooltops - for export to manufacture them- 1 under- ‘’ a licence, and to return. part, of the’ pf.ofits to the Wool Pool ? ‘ ‘ ‘A’”-
– There were two agreements. The Minister knows that his question is quite irrelevant. We are discussing an agreement-made with the Colonial Combing,. Spinning; and Weaving Company, and lie-has introduced something quite foreign to that. What has any other agreement .to do with the agreement “with the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company 1 If certain things happened under another agreement, what can that have to do with the 9,000 bales of wool in question? To-morr.ow the people will read the statement of the former Prime Minister that he resisted this claim for two years. Therefore, those honorable members who vote against the amendment must find some excuse other, than, the alleged promise of the right honorable gentleman, ,to put themselves right with their constituents.
– That is why they put the right honorable member for North Sydney out of office..
– The right honorable gentleman would not consent to do something that was not in accordance with the terms of the agreement, and honorable members ‘ in the corner hurled him out of office. It mattered not to them what happened to him, so long, as a wealthy section of the community obtained what it wanted. The Treasurer almost shed tears’ tonight
– He made honorable members opposite shed tears.
– The sleeping lizard stirs !
– The Treasurer complained that members of the Opposition are always making charges against him, so that he is almost afraid to walk down the street. Criticism of the Government does not emanate only from honorable members on this side of the House. Only to-day I obtained a copy of a country newspaper that, through thick and thin, has supported the Country party. It is an influential journal, and has a big circulation, and in order to convince the Treasurer that we are not alone in our condemnation of the Ministry, I quote from its columns -
T.lie Ministry deserves to be pilloried. It deserves to be charged with being indifferent to all but questions of votes and seats. It has failed miserably in its duty to the country. It is absolutely incompetent, and blind, and utterly unworthy to control the destinies of the Australian nation.
That is the opinion of the Border Mail, and its views are typical of those of many city and country journals. It is to the credit of the Border Mail that when it sees the Government slipping it speaks its mind freely and frankly. Now let me quote a city newspaper that has fearlessly criticized the Government in connexion with the transaction under discussion. It is well to put such criticism on record, as showing that the “ poison gas “ of which the Treasurer complained emanates from others than honorable members who, from a sense of public duty, are calling attention to the inconsistencies, and worse, of the Government. The Melbourne Age, of the 30th June last, said -
As the representatives of Bawra are willing to accept £137,000 in satisfaction of the woolgrowers’ claims, and the British Govern ment, according to the Commonwealth Government, has no claim to the remaining £137,000, there is no apparent reason why the second payment should be made. This money is being taken out of the public revenue. Why should Bawra desire to make a handsome present tothe British Government at the expense of other people? The matter requires further consideration. Unless some reason be advanced, other than any that has yet been mentioned, Parliament may be expected to disallow the second payment of £137,000, and thus make some amends for the unfortunate business.
That is criticism which the Government cannot lightly brush aside. The Prime Minister told us to-night that he asked no questions as to the final destination of the money to be paid by the Commonwealth to the Central Wool Committee. He said that he did not inquire whether half of it would be paid to the British Government. That was an awful admission for the Prime Minister to make, especially as his colleague, the Treasurer, said that his only reason for joining the Ministry was that he desired to restore responsible government. I believe that the Minister for Trade and Customs, a recent recruit to the Ministry^ is too honest to justify the attitude of the Prime Minister. Surely when a Minister is paying out money from the public exchequer, his first duty should be to inquire as to its destination. Yet the Prime Minister admitted unblushingly that he agreed to donate this payment without asking to whom the money would be ultimately given. He practically said that he did not care. It is only right that he should now give to the committee a de. finite promise regarding the destination of the remaining £137,000. He told us that he resisted the payment to. the British Government; nevertheless, it was made.
– There is no trace on the file of any request from the British Government for this money. ‘
– Will Government supporters inquire as to the destination of the second amount of £137,000? It is trying to one’s nerves to see the Treasurer, when, he cannot effectively answer a charge, moving about amongst his supporters in the endeavour to stiffen them up to a vote which in their own minds they know will be wrong. Instead of trying to answer the statements made from this side of the House, both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister sought to cloud the issue by making counter charges, which, “ like the flowers that bloom in the spring, have nothing to do with the ease.” Not one concrete answer was given to the charges made by members of the Opposition, but the Treasurer is now endeavouring to persuade those honorable members in the Corner who are becoming a little shaky in their allegiance to the Government. I warn him that he cannot escape his liabilities in that way. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs defend the failure of the Prime Minister to inquire whether the British Government was to receive half of the money paid to the Central Wool Committee? He does not answer; evidently he is satisfied to be at the beck and call of the Prime Minister. It is evident that the British Government will obtain a further sum of money for which it has made no request.
– Is not that a matter to be determined by Bawra?
– The Prime Minister stated that the British Government had no right or title to any portion of the money which was paid to the Central Wool Committee. Was that body right, then, in paying half the money to a Government that has never asked for it?
– Surely the Bawra shareholders have a right to say what shall be. done with their own money ?
– The action of the shareholders in giving away half of the money they received from the Commonwealth was an admission that they were not entitled to that portion of it. If the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Whitsitt) thinks that they were entitled to dispose of the money as they pleased, and that the Government has no concern in its destination, he has a very poor conception of his duty as a custodian of the public purse. I am perfectly satisfied that, on more mature consideration, the honorable member will say that that is not the right thing to do. It is the bounden duty of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), before this matter goes to a vote, to say what shall be the destination of this money. The British Government has not asked for it, and will not ask for it. It will be a tax upon the people of Australia to find this sum, and honorable members opposite will stand condemned if they meekly fall behind Ministers who propose to violate every principle of responsible government. This Government came into office for the purpose of restoring responsible government, yet every act that it has committed has been a violation of that principle. Honorable members opposite will not be able to camouflage the position. The speech of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) will be read by those outside this chamber. The Government has claimed that it is making this payment in fulfilment of a promise of the ex-Prime Minister. That right honorable gentleman has said, “ It was not my promise,” so the last excuse of the Government is gone. If honorable members opposite desire to put themselves right with the people of Australia they will not be drawn at the heels of the Treasurer or the Prime Minister. Although the amount proposed to be paid to the British Governmentis not great, the principles of responsible government will be violated, and a crime will be committed against the taxpayers of Australia, if the payment is made.
– I wish to remind the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) that the newspaper from which he quoted has never been a supporter of the Government. My principal reason for rising, however, was to reply to the statement of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that the amount which was to be paid to Bawra represented the difference between London parity and the Australian appraised rate. I point out that that amount represented only half the difference, proving that the Government resisted any suggestion that a payment should be made to the British Government. The right honorable member for. North Sydney a little while ago referred in somewhat scathing terms to the fact that a claim which was originally made for £900,000 had been reduced to £275,000.
– When was a claim made for £900,000 I
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) knows that he is not in order in interrupting when he is outside the bar of the House.
– If the honorable member will be patient I shall explain how that claim was made.
– No such claim was made; it is a myth.
– In the first place the Colonial Combing, Spinning, and Weaving Company received something like 13,488 bales, not 9,047 bales as has been stated. For some considerable time after that company began to operate no arrangement was made to compensate the Government to some extent from the huge profits that the company was able to make by securing wool at an artificially appraised rate, and exporting it to the world’s markets. When about 4,800 bales had been dealt with that omission was rectified, and a new agreement was entered into, stating in definite terms that a certain percentage of the profits should in future go to the Government. After that agreement had been made there were 9,047 bales to be dealt with. The first claim was’ in respect of the difference between the appraised price, adjusted to the flat rate, and the London value, on the 13,848 bales. The idea in the minds of the members of the Wool Committee when they made that claim was that half the amount was due to them and half to the British Government.
– I challenge the honorable member to show that that claim is on the official file.
– That is the explanation of the manner in which the claim was originally made for something like £900,000-.
– I again challenge the honorable member to produce one document to prove that such a claim was made.
– When the Government definitely declined to consider the matter on the basis of 13,848 bales, and cut it down to the number- of bales dealt with after the new agreement had been made, the claim was automatically reduced to £550,000, which represented the. full difference - not half the difference - between the appraised rate and the assumed Lowden value. The Government said that it would not consider any claim on behalf of the British Government, and the- claim was, therefore, cut in half once more to an amount of £275,000-. The claim for £550,000 was- made with the idea that half should go to the British Government and half to the wool-growers. The Government showed by its action that it would not entertain for a moment any claim on behalf of the British Government. I agree with the Prime Minister that it is not the business of the Government to. say what should be done by the directors of Bawra with their own money, any more than it would be the business of the Treasurer, for example, to say what any honorable member should do with his parliamentary allowance.
– I call attention to the state of the committee. ‘[Quorum formed.~
– The right honorable member for North Sydney denied that he had made a. certain promise. In answer to that I emphasize the fact that the graziers of Australia feared that the supersession of the ex-Prime Minister menaced the fulfilment of what they regarded as a definite promise. After making what undoubtedly was regarded by the graziers as a definite promise, the right honorable gentleman repudiates it, and says that he would not have paid a single shilling. There is one point which honorable members opposite do not seem to have understood in connexion with this transaction. The Wool Committee credited Great Britain with an enormous sum of money - I cannot, from memory, say what the exact amount was - to compensate it for withdrawal’s from the wool pool of large quantities of highgrade merino wool. As honorable men, members of the Wool Committee considered that they were under an obligation to forward to Great Britain wool of an average Australian quality at prices adjusted to the flat rate of bd.
– In 1919-20’ the committee paid £373,000 to the British Government,
– The right honorable the Prime Minister has reminded me that in one year the Wool Committee credited the British Government with £373,000- as compensation for the withdrawals of large quantities of wool for tops, thus lowering the average quality of the Australian wool for which the British Government had paid. The £275,000 which has been paid, or will be paid to Bawra when the second half is handed over,, will not be anything like adequate compensation to the woolgrowers for the large credits which the committee gave to Great Britain for the withdrawal of that wool. Even- if Bawra retained the whole of the- £275,000,. that’ sum would only partially compensate- Australian wool-growers. Why did the committee or its successor, Bawra-,, hand over that amount to the British Government? It appears ‘ to: mc to be quite easy of explanation, although I know that honorable members opposite .find it difficult to believe that any one can- rise to> such, high standards of commercial morality as; to give- away anything. … ‘
– It was the taxpayers’ money.
– It hasbeen made clear that this Government was of the opinion that it owed nothing to the British Government, and accordingly it handed over to the Wool Committee or to Bawra what it believed was Bawra’s half share of the profits on wool withdrawn for manufacturing purposes in’ Australia. Members of the Wool Committee held just as firmly to their opinion. They believed that any profits, in addition to the original appraised price, must bo shared by the British Government, and as honorable men they paid over to the British Government one-half of their own money in discharge of -what they believed to be an honorable obligation.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) put -
That the questionbenow put.
The committee divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative..
Question - That Item . 1 - The Secretary, £1,300- be reduced by £1-put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Item agreed to.
House adjourned at 10.44 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 August 1924, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1924/19240828_reps_9_108/>.