9th Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hoa. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Allowance Postmasters - Sale of Postage Stamps on Commission.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral received a letter from tho Allowance Postmasters Association of South Australia ? If he has not yet received it, will the honorable gentleman make inquiries in his Department and give personal consideration to that letter?
– I have no knowledge of the receipt of such a letter. I shall make the inquiries the honorable member suggests.
– In view of the many complaints he has received because of the annoyance caused by the withdrawal of the commission on the sale of postage stamps, will the Postmaster-General make some definite statement of his policy in regard to the payment of commission on the sale of stamps, and so put an end to the inconvenience from which the public are suffering?
– I think I have made it quite clear that the sale of stamps on commission will be continued, and that the public will not be in any way inconvenienced. Honorable members can rest assured of that.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral inform the House who is the officer whose genius suggested the doing away with the commission on the sale of postage stamps?
– It isnot possible to answer the honorable member’s question.
– Will ‘ the PostmasterGeneral restore or renew the whole of the licences hold by persons for the sale of postage stamps?
– The whole of the licences will not be renewed. In many instances licences were held by private people who bought stamps from the departmentnot for the purpose of selling them to the public, but for their own use.
Conventions and Recommendations of International Labour Organization
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
With regard to the Conventions and Recommendations received from the International Labour Organisation of the League of Nations, concerning which information was supplied to the honorable member for Reid, on Friday, 19th instant -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
’ 1920. Limitation of hours of work in inland navigation,
The Recommendations considered inapplicable or unnecessary at present under Australian conditions are Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 above, the reasons being -
As regards the limitation of hours of work in inland navigation, the Murray river is the only river upon which inland traffic is conducted, and the employees on vessels trading on that river are very few in number.
“BUNCHY TOP “ DISEASE.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice- -
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
A meeting of the Australian Fruit Council will’ be convened in Melbourne as soon as practicable.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice-
What is the total value of all orders for materials, equipment, machinery, armaments, &c, placed overseas for the various Commonwealth Departments since 1st January, 1923?
– The information desired by the honorable member is being obtained, and will be made available to him as early as possible.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
With reference to the question of the honorable member for Perth, last week, will he make the evidence before the Tariff Board available in the Library for reference by members, with regard to any items on which increased duties may be recommended by the Government?
– Any specific request by an honorable member will receive consideration.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
With reference to the answer given to the honorable member for Macquarie on the 19th instant, and in view of the fact that the financial years of both the Commonwealth and states extend from the 1st July to 30th June, will he obtain from the states the latest dates of maturity of state loans redeemable in the financial years 1925-6 and 1926-7, with particulars of loans redeemable in Australia and abroad respectively, thus bringing these figures into line with other public financial statistics which are recorded for the financial, not the calendar, year?
– Steps will be taken to obtain the desired information.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What countries arc at the present time being considered by the Customs Department, for the purpose of the Industries Preservation Act, as having depreciated currencies?
– The countries considered to have depreciated currencies are -
Austria, Belgium, Czecho-Slovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain.
classification of public service.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Has any action been taken to give effect to the promise given last year to the Commonwealth civil servants .in Papua in regard to a reclassification of the Service?
– Owing to the pressure of work connected with the reclassification of the Commonwealth Public Service, considerable difficulty has been experienced by the Commonwealth Public Service Board of Commissioners in arranging for an officer to undertake the reclassification of the Papuan Service. Advice has now been received from the Public Service Board that an officer will be available in about two months’ time.
Kalgoorlie to Fremantle
asked the Prime Minister,, upon notice -
Has he been approached by the Western Australian Government with a view to continuing the transcontinental line from Kalgoorlie to the coast, on the same terms and conditions as those obtaining in connexion with the Kyogle-Brisbane extension?
– There have not been any recent negotiations, but the Commonwealth Government’s policy is unification of gauge, and when practicable, endeavours will be made to secure a line of standard gauge from Kalgoorlie to the coast.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– I am advised by the Commissioner of Taxation that the provisions of the income tax law forbid the divulging of the information sought.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
As the Government has made an. agreement with the New South Wales authorities to provide a floating dock at Walsh Island, is he prepared to make a similar agreement with the Western Australian authorities to provide one at Fremantle?
– The arrangement for the provision of a floating dock at Newcastle was made at the instance of the New South Wales Government. Any similar proposal by the Western Australian authorities will receive careful consideration.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained, and the honorable member will be informed as soon aspossible.
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– Parliament House being Victorian state property the’ garage was erected under the supervision of the state works authorities. I am advised that it was carried out by contract at a cost of £261, and the State Works Department drew up the usual specifications to enable tenders to be called.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The extract from the Judgment is not quite accurately quoted by the honorable member, as the opening words of his extract belong to one sentence in the judgment and the rest to another. The former sentence, set out in full, reads: - “Taking the evidence as a whole, their Lordships are of opinion that the only contract or arrangement into which the British Government entered was an ‘arrangement with the Commonwealth Government, not enforceable by any court, to purchase the clip through the Commonwealth Government at the allround price of 15½d. per lb., with an addition for handling charges, and to pay to the Commonwealth Government one-half of any profits derived from the sale of wool for other than military purposes, and that it was left to the Commonwealth Government to make its own terms with the wool-owners as to the distribution among them of the price paid for the wool and any share of profits.”
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are: -
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of moneys be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to authorize the raising and expending of certain sums of money.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Bruce do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This is a supplementary Loan Bill for £2,150,000, which amount includes £86,000 for works, services, and the acquisition of land in the Federal Territory, £2,000,000 for the construction and extension of telegraphs and telephones, &c, and £64,000 for expenses of borrowing. For construction work at the Federal Capital Territory, £210,000 has already been provided under loan acts for the currenb financial year. It was anticipated that this sum was all that would be required before the appointment of the Federal Capital Commission and the proclamation of the act, but, unfortunately, the commission was not appointed until the 1st January, so that for two months before the commission was actually appointed additional work was carried out by the Works and . Railways Department. There is no way of providing for the proper appropriation of the £86,000 thus expended except the passing of a loan bill. The whole of the moneys expended at Canberra have, of course, been paid out of loan, and it is necessary to validate this expenditure and to recoup the Treasurer’s Advance Account. The second item in the schedule provides £2,000,000 for the construction and extension of telegraphs and telephones. Honorable members will recollect that at the beginning of the financial year £3,230,000 was appropriated for this purpose, but owing to improved personnel and machinery, the department has been able to do the work so much faster than was anticipated that I obtained from Parliament an additional appropriation of £600,000. Fortunately the rate of progress has continued to accelerate, and the department has been able to bring practically the whole of its construction work up to date, with the result that at the beginning of June it had almost exhausted its vote. Had we waited until the beginning of the new financial year to provide for continuing the works programme, we should have had to dismiss about 2,500 highlytrained men who would have been idle for several weeks. Not only would considerable unemployment have been caused, but it would have been practically impossible to re-assemble all the men who are now engaged ‘in this work, and are skilled in their employment. Of the amount of £2,000,000 to be applied to postal, telephonic, and telegraphic services, £150,000 is for expenditure in the current . financial year, and the balance will permit of the continuance of the work during the next two or three months, pending the passing of the general loan estimates. Towards the end of July, and early in August, the American Fleet will be visiting Australia, and, therefore, it will not be possible to have the complete loan estimates dealt with by Parliament until the latter month is well advanced. The expenditure by the Postal Department has proceeded at such a rate during recent months that it is desirable that it should have at least three months’ money in hand to carry on its work without internation. At about this time last year a similar appropriation was made to enable the department’s work to be carried on.
– Where does the Treasurer propose lo borrow the money ?
– It will be taken out of loan funds already ki hand. The loan expenditure has not reached the amount appropriated during last session for general loan works, but the amount set aside for telegraphic and telephonic works has been exhausted, and the Audit Act prevents us from transferring amounts from one account to- another without special authority of Parliament.
– Have not treasury-bills been issued for this amount ?
– No. The money will be taken from the appropriation for the general loan programme, which may come from overdrafts, or existing loans on treasury bills, as the case may be. It is anticipated that during the current financial year the extension of the telephone system will result in a gross increase of 57,400 services, and when honorable members recollect that some years ago the Postal Department could not install more than 14,000 or 15,000 new services in a year, they will recognize that with this huge increase in the volume of work, it is essential to provide a fairly large sum for this purpose. The following other works will have been completed by the end of the financial year: - Telephone trunk lines, 516 miles of new pole route, and 35,700 miles of wire; country public lines, 3,300 miles of new pole route, and 6,800 miles of wire; additional telegraph services, 175 miles of new pole route, and 4,600 miles of wire; or, in all, 3,991 miles of new pole route, and 47,100 miles of wire.
.- Whilst Parliament has to be cautious in sanctioning additional loan expenditure, all parties are agreed that everything possible should be done to give additional postal, telephonic, and telegraphic facilities to the people. As the bulk of the money to be raised under this bill will be for that purpose, no exception is likely to be taken to the measure. The expenditure of money upon developmental works . that will be reproductive is a sound investment for the nation. I think the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Gibson) is to be congratulated upon having expedited the construction work of the department to such an extent as to make an add’tional appropriation necessary. Very often delay in carrying out a work causes loss of revenue to the Commonwealth and more costly construction. Expeditious work usually means lower costs and a quicker return. Whilst I offer no objection to this proposal I must draw attention to the alarming growth of the national debt, as indicated by the following figures : -
Thus the national debt of Australia is, in American figures, over one billion. That is a new term in connexion with Australian indebtedness.
– The Commonwealth debt can be reduced to some extent by the amounts due by the states to the Commonwealth.
– The money !s owed by the Australian people whether the borrower be the states or the Commonwealth. This matter must receive very careful consideration at the hands of not only this, but also, the state parliaments, because a population of 6,000,000 cannot continue to carry that .load. Our debt exceeds by many million pounds the sum of all the deposits in the cheque-paying banks, the deposits in the savings banks, the amount of capital invested in the trading banks, including reserves, our national gold reserve, and all the money expended on the railway systems throughout Australia. Regarded in the light of that comparison, the importance of the matter is evident. We have become so accustomed since the war to talk iri millions, and to spend in millions, that we seem to have lost our sense of proportion. There must come a day of reckoning, from which we cannot escape. We should recognize that we have been very fortunate since the war. We have had a succession of good seasons, with high prices far wheat, woOl; and other produce. Money, has been circulating freely, and the country has remained prosperous. I hope this happy condition will continue, but a drought is possible at any moment, although there is not much indication of it at present. A drought would give us a severe set-back. In view of these facts, I urge that every possible care should be exercised in borrowing.
– When they mature many of our loans will have to ..be reissued at a higher interest rate.
– I ‘was about to deal with that aspect of the matter. This year the Commonwealth will be called upon to redeem about £68,000,000 of loan money, for which we have been paying 4 per cent. It is reasonable to assume that we shall have to pay 6 per cent, for the redemption’ loans. We are paying that rat© to-day, and there appears to be no reason for assuming that it will be reduced. The £68,000,000 will be reduced by £2,000,000,’ for which the Treasurer has made provision. Paying 6 per cent, instead of 44 per cent, for this money will add £1,032,209 to our interest bill’. The following figures show the total amount of interest on Commonwealth -debts from 1920 until 1924: -
To the last figure of £20,076,417 we shall have to add, at the end of the present year, £1,032,209 for increased interest on re-issued loans. If, in addition, we borrow more money, our condition will be correspondingly worse. These facts are apparent to- all honorable members, and we should do all we possibly can to carry on the government of the country without unnecessary borrowing. In saying that I do not contend that money should’ not be borrowed for reproductive works required for the development of the country. Rut money is often borrowed for work that is not reproductive. The building of cruisers should be provided for out of revenue, as was done by the Labour Government in 1913. No one can contend that money borrowed for building cruisers is spent on reproductive works.
– Are not . the cruisers being built out of revenue?
– I do not say they are not, but merely that they should be. It is as well that I should give a timely warning to avoid the mistake being ma.de again of paying for such work out of loan money. I have nothing to say against the bill before the House. “ I realize that it is necessary that this money should be voted. It will give employment to a large number of men, and will be reproductive. If it is not provided, men will be unemployed for the next two or three months. In view of the prevalence of unemployment, and of the necessity for carrying out public works expeditiously, the bill should meet with the approval of all honorable members.
. - I wish for a few moments to direct attention to matters connected with Canberra. The people of Australia expect that next year the Federal Parliament will meet at its proper seat of government.
– It is doubtful whether the expectation will be realized.
– There is no doubt about it, because this Parliament has already decided that it shall be done. But it is essential, if we are to meet there, to provide communication nearer than Goulburn from the main southern railway line to the Capital. I say this in the interest, particularly, of those honorable members who live in the southern states of Victoria and South Australia, beca.use if there is no railway communication from the main southern line to the Federal Territory, they will be subjected to a lot of inconvenience and annoyance, which will be incompatible with the proper discharge of their duties. In July of last year the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) moved -
Upon that I moved an amendment to the effect that paragraph 2 be omitted. The motion, as amended, was carried by a very large majority. Almost twelve months have passed, and nothing has been done to give effect to the decision. I should like the Minister to explain what his department has done in the matter. We know, and it is well to speak plainly, that subterranean influences are at work to prevent Parliament from meeting at Canberra next year. That is evident when we find that, although twelve months have elapsed since Parliament decided that railway communication should be established, nothing has been done. In present conditions any one travelling from the southern states to the Federal Capital is subjected to great inconvenience and annoyance.. Every possible obstacle to the establishment of Parliament at Canberra is being suggested to honorable members who represent the southern states to encourage them to raise objections to the removal of the Seat cf Government from Melbourne.
– Will the honorable member give us some instances of these “ subterranean influences ”?
– I can give no better illustration than the honorable member himself. I protest against the operation of these dark forces - I shall call them that, if honorable members do not like ‘ ‘ subterranean influences.” Every conceivable thing is being done in some quarters to sprag the wheels of development at Canberra-, although this Parliament has decided that the Seat of Government shall be established there next year. I believe that the people of Australia are favorable to that policy. Canberra has been the plaything of politics too long. It is high time that the Commonwealth Parliament had a permanent home, where the national spirit of Australia could be developed apart altogether from the state atmosphere. No doubt, it will be inconvenient for some honorable members to attend to their parliamentary duties when Canberra is our head-quarters. I sympathize . with them. But they must bow to the inevitable. However much they may dislike the proposal, they must recollect that- this House has decided that the move shall be made. In order that it may be accomplished with as little dislocation as possible, and that honorable members may suffer the minimum of inconvenience, I am anxious that proper railway communication with Canberra shall be provided from the main southern line. I request some explanation from the Government of this delay of twelve months in giving effect to our resolution of last year.
– The proposed 46 miles of railway would cost nearly £750,000.
– I wish for an explanation from the Minister. I think I am justified in protesting, against the delay.I trust that the Minister will.be able to tell us that something definite is being done in the matter.
– I regret that there are such noticeable differences of opinion amongst honorable members . of the Opposition. I have always regarded the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) as one of the most faithful followers of the Leader of the Opposition. I listened with distinct pleasure to the address of the Leader of the Opposition, for I have been frightened by the extravagance of governments during the last ten or fifteen years Huge sums of money have been borrowed, our interest bill has increased enormously, and so has taxation. I welcome, therefore, every word that was spoken by the Leader of the Opposition. While he eulogized the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) for the work that has been done recently in providing increased telegraphic and telephonic communication - and I do so, too - he said that it was absolutely necessary that borrowed money should be spent on reproductive, and not on unproductive public works. Immediately after he uttered those laudable sentiments, the honorable member for Dalley adversely criticized the Government for not embarking upon an expenditure of nearly £750,000 on a railway which for at least ten” years after its construction would not pay for axle grease.
– The railway can never pay unless a start is made to build it.
– But surely we should wait until there are some signs of development at the Federal Capital, such as’ we hope will follow the removal of the Seat of Government to it. It would be a- far “better policy to delay building the line until there is a more general demand for it than to build it now and pay interest on the money expended during the many years in which it must necessarily be a lamentable financial failure.. Honorable members who represent Victorian and South Australian constituencies will not complain at being asked to spend an extra, hour in the train if by so doing they can save the country a large annual expenditure in interest. Quite comfortable travelling arrangements can be made for them. They will not be called upon to undergo. any hardship if a special car i? attached to the express at Albury, run off at Goulburn and then taken, down to the Federal Capital. They will enjoy much more comfort if that is done than they will if they are obliged to leave the express at Yass and reach Canberra at 5.30 or 6.30 a.m. If suitable arrangements had not been suggested for honorable members from the southern states, I am sure that the members of the Public Works Committee would have recom mended some expenditure to ensure at least reasonable travelling comfort. Motor transport from Yass might have been recommended. The majority of the members of the Committee are assured that . no great hardship will be caused by delaying the construction of the line advocated by the honorable member tor Dalley. When the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner gave evidence before the Committee on that proposed line he said that it was impossible to give the slightest idea of what revenue would be derivable from it. The passenger traffic upon it would be limited almost entirely to members of Parliament and public officers Perhaps I should not call them “ deadbeads,” but it is a fact that they would not pay their fares. For some years at least there would be very little room on Tuesday trains to the Capital, and Friday trains from it for any other than members of Parliament and public servants. I trust that the Treasurer will use all his influence to prevent borrowed money from being spent on any but reproductive works. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, Australia’s public debt has grown enormously in the last few yea vs. Before next December we shall have to provide for the redemption of £66,000,000 of loan money which will become due, and no honorable member will suggest that we shall be able to get money for that purpose at anything like 4£ per cent., which is the rate of interest we are now paying. An examination of the Yea-r-Book will disclose that the interest rate has increased greatly in the last ten or twelve years. The amount of taxation that the people are called upon to pay is appalling. It is our duty to insist 61,at the greatest economy shall be exercised in all expenditure on public works, and in the general administrative expenses of the country. While I realize that it is necessary for us to borrow money, I appeal to the Treasurer to see that, as far as possible, our public works are constructed out of revenue. The inference to be drawn from the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) in regard to cruiser construction was that the work is to be paid for out of borrowed money, but fortunately the cost of these vessels is to be met. out of revenue. I hope that at the present time, when enormous revenue is being raised through the Customs, involving a heavy tax upon the people, we shall be able not only to pay for many of our public works out of revenue, but also to reduce the public debt.
– I have no special objection to the bill, but I have always contended that telephonic extensions and other works in connexion with the Postal Department should be paid for out of revenue. Every penny spent on cruisers will be so much lost ten years hence, because the vessels will then be obsolete. Similarly, a considerable quantity of the material employed in connexion with postal requirements has a very short period of usefulness. At the end of a few years the Government have no asset to show as a result of the expenditure on such works. The revenue of the Commonwealth, per capita, is greater at the present time than it was during the regime of the Fisher Government, and yet that Government was able to pay for warships out of revenue. In the first year of its existence it made provision for the expenditure on naval defence of £1,000,000 a year for three consecutive years. It was also faced with the onerous task of placing the finances of the Post and Telegraph Department on a satisfactory footing, owing to the fact that the departmen had been starved for ten years previously by a Tory Government. Australia’s position in connexion with the huge Joans falling due this year is a matter of momentous importance to the people. Other nations are in a similar predicament, and even Great Britain is endeavouring to devise satisfactory means of meeting its interest burdens. On several occasions I have brought this subject before honorable members, and I hope by perseverance to make it a live matter. I realize, however, that all reformers have to contend with the sneers and gibes of their opponents. On the 9th March, 1923, I submitted the following questions to the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page): -
The replies I received were as follow. -
I contend that my interpretation of the Loans Redemption and Conversion Act of.’ 1921 is a common-sense one. You, Mr.. Speaker, at the time when the measurewas passed, asked whether the Government was to be allowed to raise loans without the authority of Parliament, and at your suggestion some highly desirable amendments were inserted. Your opinion on that occasion coincided with my own, and with what I believe was the intention of Parliament. The measure was assented to on the 15th December, and it was intituled “An act to authorize the paying off., repurchasing, redeeming, and converting, of loans, and for other purposes.” Itsterms are most explicit, and, in my opinion, the Government has full power under it to adopt the suggestion I havemade in connexion with the conversion of. the present loans. If not, what was the - act intended for 1 I quite anticipate that the Attorney-General (Sir Littleton Groom) will endeavour to construe the act as having a different meaning from that which I have attributed to it. When. I was a boy, attending a technical school! in England, I remember Professor Huxley being asked what science was. He replied, “ Science is common sense, and nothing else.” I think that this act is sofull of common sense that there .is no way of escape from compliance with the suggestion that I have madeI need not read the act. Its title is sufficient to show that its provisions wouldmake it possible to carry out what I suggest. We are accustomed here to speak in millions as familiarly as if we were- talking of the few notes we have in our own pockets. But I think we cannot expect to be able to meet our loans as they fall due by paying notes over the counter for them. Perhaps some day I may be ora. the other side of the House, and have an opportunity to conduct the finances of the country more efficiently than they are conducted now. The loans falling due this year to the amount of £66,000,000 were issued during the war period. In that time of stress and worry, when every one was. timid and nervous, there might have been justification for what was done. During that turmoil people advanced money to Australia at £j per cent, interest. The interest question must be tackled. The members of the House of Representatives in this National Parliament should be the’ leader’s of the people, and it is their duty to tackle it. The people cannot of themselves do anything in the matter; it is only the Government that can deal with it. A proposition in connexion with the subject has already been submitted in England as the key to the settlement of the unemployment question. It will lead to its settlement permanently to the satisfaction of the nation. Our loans of £66,000,000 at 4-J per cent, involve an annual interest charge of £2,970,000. It may be necessary to convert these loans for the next ten years, because we have other loans amounting to nearly £300,000j000 falling .due within the next five or six years in addition to the state loans that are maturing. This is a matter of concern to the National Parliament, and. if the. State Parliaments do not give their> own position serious consideration, it, too, will devolve upon this Parliament, which must preserve the credit of Australia. It is a characteristic of our people that .they meet, and do not repudiate, their liabilities. In ten years on the loans totalling £66,000,000 we have
Already paid in interest £29,700,000. If -a loan of £66,000,000 were put on the market at the present time, and issued at par, it could not be floated at less than 6 per cent, interest, and we should then be called upon to pay a yearly interest charge on it of £3,096,000, which is £990,000 in excess of the interest charge we have now’ to meet in respect of those maturing this year.
– Does the honorable member suggest that interminable subscribed stock should be given to people whether ‘they wish it or- not?’
– I shall give my reasons for what I suggest as I go on.
– I should like to know what exactly is the honorable mem- ber’s proposition.
– I shall try to make myself thoroughly understood. The matter does not personally concern me very much, because when the liability has to be met I shall be underground. There is no limelight for me to be got out of this discussion, and I do not expect any. If this loan of £66,000,000 were floated at 6 per cent., it would, as I have said, mean an increase in the interest charge of £990,000 a year. In ten years we should have to pay £39,600,000 in interest, and would still owe the £66,000,000. This loan was not raised at one time, but at five different periods separated from each other by twelve or fifteen months. The cost of raising the money was £300,000, and the cost of management of the loan amounts to £7,000 a year. Honorable members can hardly be aware of the expenses connected with these loans. It is said that there is nothing new under the sun, and there is a certain amount of truth in that statement. The reduction of interest on loan money is no new thing. In Great Britain, where they are paying £300,000,000 a year on their war loans, a proposal has been put before the people -with which the Government of that country must deal. The present British Government finds itself in a very awkward position. It is extracting taxation of all kinds from the people, and we know that that means an increase in the cost of everything. In Great Britain it is proposed to reduce the interest on all’ loans that are part of the war loans by onefifth. This would save £60,000,000 a year. I quote the following paragraph on the subject: -
The effect of the scheme would be to bring down the rate of interest all. round and thus to reduce prices. Consequently, the holders of Government securities whose interest would be reduced would get more for their money. The suggestions I have made will have many opponents from people who imagine that they are bound to suffer serious injury if my scheme is adopted.
I can refer honorable members to the statements of men who: have occupied high positions in the financial world o’f Great Britain. Mr. Reginald McKenna is chairman of what is known as the Midland Bank, which when I was in London was purely a suburban bank doing most of the banking work of the “West End of London. Its transactions now run into hundreds of millions each year, and it has large property assets within the City of London. Mr. McKenna has directed the attention of the shareholders of the Midland Bank and those doing business with it to the fact that the rate of interest must be reduced, and that the adoption of that course is the only way in which to get back to the financial equilibrium that existed in the year before the war. I think I am justified in quoting the opinions of such men, especially in view of the fact that those who desire to reflect “upon the Labour party and make it seem small in the eyes of the public assert that its members have no financial ability. I quote the following passage to show the views which are expressed by financiers in Great Britain: -
It is something more than a coincidence that after I had written this article, Mr. Reginald McKenna, the Chairman of the Midland Bank, should go out of his way to emphasize the urgent necessity of reducing our present taxation. Of course, that is the secret of getting the nation back to something like a working basis. Mr. McKenna, as an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, realizes, as I do, that it is nothing short of impossible for the country to continue to .be drained of £800,000,000 a year. If England is ever to blossom forth into its old-time prosperity it can only be readied by bringing all our expenditure and taxation back to something approaching the figures of 1914.
I am not so lost to reason as to refuse to accept pearls of wisdom wherever they come from, and 1 am justified in paying attention to statements made by such men as those to whom I have referred. My quotation continues -
Any one who has the future welfare of this great Empire of ours at heart will agree when say something must be done immediately to put tlie national finances on a sound economic basis. We have not shrunk in the past from facing uncomfortable truths, and I think if the Prime Minister would lay his cards on the table and tell .the people of England exactly how we stand to-day he would be overwhelmed by the ready response of ninetenths of the men and women most intimately concerned.
That surely expresses the opinion of the people of Australia. Some honorable members have challenged the right of Parliament to decrease the interest rate on loans. On this subject, the same authority says -
I have shown already that the reduction of interest would not seriously affect the pockets of the holders of government securities. Tlie rate of interest all round would be’ reduced, and the purchasing power of money increased, but, apart from this, there is no use gainsaying the fact that the money which has to be found every year is crippling the great industries of the count: y.
That is the truth. Honorable members know very well that our. money avenues are narrowed, and that new industries are languishing because of the- exorbitant rates of interest demanded by banking institutions. Honorable members of the Country party, who represent the landed interests of this country, are aware that the operations of the primary producer are financed by Goldsbrough, Mort, and Company, Dalgety and Company, and other pastoral and banking institutions. We have heard about this country being made tafe for democracy after the war; but- what is the use of that if democracy is going to be half starved by the effort. Unemployment is rampant, and many are living under conditions not in accord with the true Australian standard ‘of living. Therefore, Parliament has a right to step in and act for the benefit of the’ community. In the House of Commons, in 1888, when Mr. Goschen introduced his conversion scheme, Mr. Gladstone said that it had been the practice of Parliament, founded upon wise principles of public interest, to reserve to itself great discretion in the matter’ of government securities, and there is no doubt that -the state of affairs now makes that remark even more strongly applicable to-day. It is the Government who must take the initiative. We are asked what can Parliament do? It is well known that if a man owns a piece of land which is required for a public purpose, Parliament has the power to purchase his property at u certain valuation. This is done in the interests of the people, and surely Parliament can in the same interests reduce the heavy interest burden. Money is no different from any other commodity. Parliament is entitled to say to the people who have lent money to the Commonwealth, “ In view of public necessity, we asls you to accept a rate of interest more in conformity with present-day conditions.” If Parliament exercised that power, I am sure that the. people of Australia would readily respond. We have a bad habit, as soon as we find ourselvesshort of funds, of levying extra taxation.
It would be absurd to tax heavily certain -articles of commerce like tobacco, beer, wines, and spirits, except that to do so ; permits revenue to be easily collected. It does not stop people from drinking.
– I scarcely see the relevancy of the honorable member’s present argument.
– If the Commonwealth loans to mature in December are converted, and the interest rate increased from 4½ to 6 per cent., revenue must be found to meet the higher interest charge. This means an extra expenditure of. £990,000, which would be heavy taxation upon the people. If the Government would accept my suggestion, and issue consols, there would be no great loss so far as securities are concerned. The power of disposal would be greater, and consequently they would attain an increase value. I urge the Government to follow the example of other parts of the world and decrease the present heavy expenditure by issuing consols instead of converting the £66,000,000 loan.
– Whether the holders of the stock wish it or not!
– The Treasurer himself has told me that Parliament has power to convert loans into consols or any other security.
– The Government has not power to do so without the stockholders’ consent.
– Parliament has power to purchase private property for governmental purposes. The Treasurer is as well aware as I am that the proposal I have put forward is known to financial authorities. The subject has been seriously considered -by the stock exchange and banking people, and by our own officials as well. The time will come when we must reduce the existing rate of interest. Australia during a period of progress should be able to obtain money at a cheaper rate than she does at present. In France some years ago there was a great outcry against the operations of persons known as rentiers. These people live upon high rates of interest obtained mostly from government loans, and are, therefore, not looked upon kindly by the rest of the populace. The Government refuses to deal with this vital question, although the people look to them for relief, and if a Ministry cannot act when the necessity arises, it is a poor lookout for the country. A howl of indignation will be raised against the Government if it attempts to convert the £66,000,000 at 6 per cent., even at par. The last loan was raised at £98 10s. for every £100. If a new conversion loan is raised at 6 per cent., it will mean an interest charge of £39, 600,000 in ten years’ time. It is not right that our children should bear this debt. This is no way to finance. Honorable members opposite who are connected with public companies and institutions would not undertake financial transactions at a heavy rate of interest, because they know that to do so would block the wheels of progress. Some unfortunate men have had to pay 8 per cent, interest for their money, but very few primary producers can carry on successfully if they have to bear that unfair burden, and- this Parliament should do what it can to lift it. Of course, I realize that the powerful interests which support the Government are entirely opposed to any proposal for controlling the rate of interest, but when a nation’s affairs are not being managed properly in the interests of the people as a whole it is the duty of Parliament to step in and put matters right. The trouble due to excessive rates of interest is not new. In the 18th century, and five times since then Governments have found it necessary to adopt the course I am proposing. I would be lacking in my duty if I did not put these disturbing facts before the House. A Melbourne journal which Avas at one time controlled by democrats but is now in the hands of a wealthy trust used to denounce the policy of “ boom, borrow and bust.” Before the war loan expenditure was confined almost to railways and other reproductive works, but in. New South Wales there were thirteen railways that did not even pay for the axle grease used on the rolling-stock. They were all in country districts, having been built because when the wealthy land-owners held out their hands for doles Governments were unable to refuse them.
– The railways were never built to the natural ports of the country they served.
– I recollect that about three years before the construction of one north-coast railway the then Minister for Works in New South Wales purchased land, and when the route of the railway was fixed it passed through his property. If the Treasurer refuses to assist me to give effect to the proposal I have submitted be will brand himself as the arch-enemy of Australian progress. But if he desires to earn the gratitude and respect of posterity, if he hopes that monuments will be erected to his memory, he will tackle these urgent problems. The advice I am giving him would be endorsed by every responsible financial institution in England, with the possible exception of Nivenson and Company, whose methods are worse than those of the Rothschilds after the Crimean war. All the others who are worthy of our respect and trust will admit that cheap money is necessary if we are to get rid of unemployment. I believe that if money could be obtained at 4 per cent., and the Minister for Trade and Customs would realize his responsibility to introduce a truly protective tariff, many new industries would be started which would absorb a large number of men. Even in the building trade we can see how expensive money* retards development. The landholders and the contractors are obligedto borrow money before building schemes can be undertaken, and there is no hope of a practical housing scheme.
– Will the honorable member tell me what private building enterprise has to do with a national loan policy ?
– My argument is that the Government, by creating gilt-edged securities, is damaging and restricting the enterprise of those “who need money for other purposes.
– The honorable member’s remarks have been wide of the -bill for some time.
– I have been trying to impress upon honorable members the urgency, of facing this grave problem. My constituents expect me to look after not only their interests, but also the welfare of Australia as a whole. I am urging the Government to adopt a bold policy in relation to one of the most momentous matters affecting the life of the nation, and if the Treasurer is at all nervous about taking action I am prepared to give him assistance. When the interest rate is beyond the earning power of industry, and progress is thereby retarded, the money lender is no more entitled to that rate of interest than a propertyowner : is entitled to withhold land which is required for a railway or some other public utility. I get no kudos for stressing- this matter, but it is a problem that can be tackled only by public men, and I have a duty to perform. The Government cannot continue indefinitely toincrease the taxation of the people by paying a constantly advancing rate of interest to lenders who are already well satisfied ‘with their earnings from Government bonds. It must be remembered that the greater portion of the loan of £66,000,000 is owing to insurance companies and other wealthy corporations, and for them, these Government stocksare a very fine investment. The interest is automatically paid to their credit on the 15th June and the 15th December, and no staff is required to watch stock. In that way they are an even better investment than city property, and I do not think that the policy-holders in the insurance companies desire the nation to be bled by the payment of an interest in excess of what is a fair and just ‘ return from a perfectly safe transaction. I feel sure that if the. position were properly explained by those interested, the wisdom of the course I suggest wouldbe apparent. The 4½ per cent, government securities would be gilt-edged, just as thehigher stock is, and there would probably be no great decrease in the value of money.
– - The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony), with that abundant enthusiasm that characterizes him where speaking on his favorite theme, Canberra, urged that the Government, at . an early date, should spend whatever amount of money was necessary to connect Canberra by rail with the Melbourne to Sydney railway line at a point more convenient than Goulburn, so as to give a direct route from Canberra to Melbourne. His contention was replied to by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), who pointed out that no hardship would be inflicted on honorable members and others who will have to visit Canberra from the south, if they have to travel by way of Goulburn. It seems to be assumed by honorable members on both sides of the House that there is no alternative method of reaching Canberra from Melbourne by rail than the Melbourne to Sydney railway.. I should, therefore, like to place before? the Governnent and ‘honorable members am-‘ alternative proposal. Railway connexion could be just as effectively provided, and probably at a saving of cost to the Commonwealth, by co-operating with the New South Wales and Victorian Governments to connect Bombala with Orbost. The distance between Bombala and Orbost, or, rather, between the Brodribb River - which is 6 miles east of Orbost, and to which a railway has already been surveyed - and Bombala, would be only about twice the distance from Tass to Canberra.. It is to be expected that ifsuch a railway connexion were made with the object of connecting Canberra with Melbourne, the States of New South Wales and Victoria would make substantial contributions to the cost of it. Its construction would kill two birds with one stone,- for, in addition to connecting Canberra with Melbourne and the south generally, the line would provide an alternative route between Sydney and Melbourne. It would open’ up a ‘new market- for much of the produce of Gippsland, for which there is a better demand in Sydney than in Melbourne. ‘ Maize, potatoes, and oats, as a rule, bring better prices in Sydney than in Melbourne. It would open up a large a-rea of virgin country, and promote new settlement.’ It would pass quite close to the Cann River settlement, where there i3- magnificent- country now 60 miles from the terminus of a railway. It- would also pass within measurable distance of Twofold Bay, which is- one of the finest natural harbours in Australia, and could, later on, be easily connected with that port.
.- I wish to direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Gibson) to the statement, which I think is correct, that in Hobart and its suburbs a number of telephone, construction works, which were proceeding a little while ago, have been stopped, and that a number of men have been discharged. The reason given for stopping the -works was that the funds made available in last year’s Estimates had been exhausted. I interviewed the Postmaster-General on two or three occasions, and he met me courteously, and gave me all the information he had. As I summed up the situation, he was helpless, because his department had “ overrun the constable,” and drawn upon the
Treasurer’s Advance account to a much greater extent than usual. I pointed out to him that if he continued to draw upon the Treasurer’s Advance account for works that Were regarded as absolutely necessary by officials of his department, and which, in any case, would have to be completed in the near future, little objection could be taken. I should like the department to recommence these works at once, or, alternatively, to transfer men to other works instead of dismissing them. I understand that large quantities of materials have been purchased, and pending the renewal of operations, are lying idle. - That being so, it is a pity that men have been discharged. The work should have been continued. After I had received replies from the Postmaster-General and his local officials to the effect that it was impossible to continue the works, special efforts were made by the department, and a few men were engaged. I believe that the statement I have made regarding Hobart and suburbs applies also to other capital cities and large towns throughout the Commonwealth. All honorable members know that in no previous winter for years past has unemployment been so prevalent as it is now, and I do not think that there has ever been so much unemployment in my state as there has’1 been during the past few months. The Prime Minister and other Ministers have said that unemployment is a matter purely for the State Governments. While I recognize that, to a certain extent, that is true, we have to remember that the people of this country are governed by both State and Federal Parliaments. On the one hand we have some of the State Parlia- ments. including that of Tasmania, unable to continue necessary public works because of financial stress, and on the other hand we have the Federal Government with an overflowing Treasury. We understand that there will be a large surplus disclosed in the forthcoming budget, and it has been reported that the Treasurer has received deputations of prominent men, representing probably the wealthy classes, who begged him to bring down proposals to reduce taxation. It is obvious that it is generally anticipated that , there will be a larger surplus than Usual at the end of the year.
– The Custom’s revenue has fallen off recently.
– I wish the Customs revenue had never increased so much as it did. The enormous quantity of goods imported is one cause of the unemployment from which we are suffering to-day. The people of Australia generally have not time, and do not trouble, to make themselves acquainted with the different functions of the State and Federal Parliaments, and it seems like an anomaly to them that the Federal Treasurer should be anticipating a very large surplus while some of the State Governments are in such financial difficulties that they are not able to carry out necessary public works. In these circumstances, I contend that the Government would have been justified if it had proceeded with such works as will have to be undertaken shortly. I believe that in my electorate the Postmaster-General could employ a large number of men on works that would be beneficial to his department. Very little work is proceeding.
– The honorable member can hardly say that, for the department is employing 7,000 men in all the states.
– Last year when the Loan Bill was under discussion - the PostmasterGeneral was abroad attending the postal conference at the time - I pointed out that only £1 in every £180 proposed to be allocated to his department was to be spent in Tasmania, whereas, on a population basis, that state should have had £1 in every £25.
– Can the honorable member tell me a particular work that is in arrears in Tasmania?
– I cannot at the moment, but I shall do so later on.
– I think the honorable member will find that we are right up to date with our work in his state.
– I contend that some states do not receive a fair -deal in the Expenditure of money through our public departments. Although it is quite obvious that works similar to some of the big public projects that are being carried out in various states on the mainland cannot be put in hand in Tasmania, yeo a fairer proportion of the money spent through some of the departments could be made available for T’asmanian requirements. For instance, Tasmania’s postal, telegraph and telephone needs are similar to those of other states, and I protest against the discrimination that the de partment has been shown in the past against my state. An examination of the Supply Bill which was passed by this House yesterday shows that only £1 out of every £110 proposed to be spent by the Health Department is to be spent in Tasmania. Of the proposed Trade and Customs Department expenditure, £1 in every £65 has been allocated to Tasmania. An amount of £83,740 was provided for expenditure by the Home and Territories Department, and I suppose that very little of that will go to Tasmania. The same may be said of £19,890 provided for expenditure by the AttorneyGeneral’sDepartment. We do not expect that, there will be such expenditure in- our state as will offset the expenditure in themainland on works like the Federal Capital, the transcontinental railway, the Northern Territory, the Murray waters scheme, and the Kyogle-Brisbane railway, but we do claim a fair proportion of the. expenditure on public services which are common to Tasmania and the mainland states. We have borne with Christian fortitude all the unfair treatment that _ has. been meted out to us in the past, but I ask the Prime Minister and his colleagues to see that justice is done to us in the future. Honorable members who represent Tasmanian constituencies , in this Parliament are justified in emphasizing ra every possible occasion the unsatisfactory financial position of their state consequent upon the establishment of Federation. Sometimes when we have requested this Parliament to adjust the position, we have been, told that we are begging, but that will not deter us from doing what we believe to be the fair thing for Tasmania. In the near future the Government will be asked by Tasmanian representatives in this Parliament to provide an adequate shipping service for that state. I cannot understand why it has not acceded to similar appeals that have been made in the past three years.
– Order ! The honorable member cannot present that case under this bill. The schedule of the bill confines the discussion.
– I bow to your ruling, sir. I appeal to the Postmaster-General once again to proceed with some of the public works which are necessary in. Tasmania, in order that the unemployment which is so prevalent there may be relieved. I hope that his department and other spending departments will .devote more attention to Tasmania in the next few months than they have done in the last three years. I assure the Prime Minister and his colleagues that if that is not -done during the remainder of the life of this Parliament, the people of Tasmania will, as far as they can do- so, make sure at the next election that another Government will have a chance to do justice to that state.
– This Bill is to authorize the expenditure of £2,150,000. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) accepted the opportunity that its introduction offered to discuss the necessity for connecting the Federal Capital with the Sydney to Melbourne railway at a point south of Goulburn. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) stated that that was a trifling matter. He objected to the proposal on the ground that the work would not return interest on the capital expended. None of the Federal Capital works will do that. If I were the representative of a Victorian constituency in. this Parliament, I should insist upon the Government connecting Canberra with the southern line at Yass or Wagga.
– Without considering the cost?
– Yes. The work is necessary, and it should be done irrespective of cost. We must develop this great continent, and we should look at all proposals for public works from the point of view of their developmental value, and not alone from the point of view of the financial outlay involved. The best facilities possible should be provided to connect Victoria directly with the Federal Capital.
– Does not the honorable member think that the money we have available could be spent to more advantage in the Northern Territory?
– I am neither a squatter nor a cattle-breeder, so I do not advocate that. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) may be relied upon to press the claims of the Territory. The Government should carry out the mandate of this House, and construct a more direct railway from the main southern line to Canberra. The work is necessary, and would relieve the unemployed. Personally, I favour the construction of a line from Wagga. As the honorable member for Dalley well said, -everything possible seems to be done to delay the removal of the seat of government to the Federal Capital. Photographs have been published in the press purporting to illustrate floods at Canberra, but that is all newspaper talk. The Federal Capital area has not been seriously affected at all, and practically no damage has been done there. I hope that the Ministry will act in accordance with the resolution of Parliament, and remove the Seat of Government to Canberra next year. It is idle for officials to say that the necessary preparations cannot be completed in less than two years. If Australia were invaded by an enemy, no time would be lost in removing the Seat of Government from the danger zone. I hope that the House will not be influenced by its anti-Canberra Public Works Committee. The honorable member for Dalley is to be congratulated upon bringing this matter forward again. References have been made to the conversion of the loans falling due this year, and to the high rate of interest ruling. It must be “recognized that, as long as excessive interest is charged, development will be retarded and unemployment will be rife. If, whenever a new loan is floated, the rate of interest . is increased, there can be no reduction in taxation and in the. cost of living. I blame the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) to a great extent for the high interest now charged. About a year ago, war gratuity bonds to the amount of £19,000,000 fell due, and the Treasurer sympathetically declared that the loans could be repaid locally, thereby keeping the money in the country. I understand that he called a meeting of bankers to assist him in this undertaking. Although the private hanks agreed to oblige the Treasurer, they fixed the interest rate at 6 per cent.
– That was the posi-tion as stated in the press.
– The states had been paying 6^ per cent.
– I think that the Commonwealth was allowing 5 per cent., and the bonds were free of taxation. When the Treasurer agreed to allow the banks 6 per cent., they considered the time opportune to increase the interest rate to 6 per cent, throughout the Commonwealth. Of course, it was a fine arrangement for the private banks, which are now putting up palatial buildings; but I maintain that the Treasurer delivered a severe blow at the progress of the country.
– It was a lower rate
Than the states had previously paid.
– That may be, but the action of the Treasurer in agreeing to pay 6 per cent, assisted the private banks to increase their interest rate. Thereupon the banks ceased to advance money to private investors, the result being that development was retarded. That was the beginning of the unemployment difficulty. . Perhaps the Treasurer will ask what the Labour party would have done in similar circumstances. I may say, in the first place, that we have faith in Australia. If our party were called upon to redeem a loan of £19,000,000, we should use the Commonwealth Bank and issue Commonwealth notes. There would be no danger in adopting such a course.
– It would cause inflation of the currency and a rise in the price of commodities.
– The Labour party would have redeemed the war gratuity bonds, and paid for them in Australian notes. Instead of contracting the currency of the country, that would have expanded it. Interest on £19,000,000 at the rate of 6 per cent, amounts to £1,140,000 a year, but the people might have been saved that expense. The Treasurer has given over £1,000,000 a year, to the private banks.
– The advantage was not given to the banks, but to private investors. We did not give the banks £19,000,000 worth of notes.
– I have some war bonds, and when they fall due I shall only receive notes, which are nothing more than credit. Seeing that loans aggregating nearly £70,000,000 are falling due shortly, this House should be consulted as to how they are to be met. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) is right in saying that it is a ridiculous policy to increase the interest rate as loans fall due. Australia is paying a higher rate now than it did during the war period.
– Every country has had a similar experience.
– Every government is trying to reduce the interest rate, and the British Government has already done so. The Treasurer could have financed the war gratuity bonds with Commonwealth notes, and saved Australia over £1,000,000 a year.
– Had I done that the basic wage would have amounted to about £8 a week.
– The basic wage can look after itself. There is no doubt that the activities of the Commonwealth Bank have been restricted.
– It has more life now than it ever had.
– Look at the savings bank returns! The only way to bring down taxation is to lower the rate of interest, and this Parliament can do it. If it does not do it, the Labour party will take the necessary action as soon as it is returned to office. Taxation cannot be reduced while the interest rate remains at the present level.
– The issue of more notes will not reduce taxation.
– I claim that the best interests of the country have been’ sacrificed. The Commonwealth Bank should be utilized in the interests of the people.
.- I compliment the Postmaster-General (,Mr. Gibson) for what he has done during the last two and a half years in providing increased telephonic facilities, particularly in the country districts. More has been done in that period than during any other in the history of Australia, but a great deal remains to be accomplished. People residing within a 3 miles radius of an exchange enjoy many advantages over those living outside that radius, for the cost of the telephone service in outlying localities is almost prohibitive. I should like the Minister to endeavour to afford greater facilities than now obtain where people reside over 3 miles from an exchange. I have received communications from persons living 10 or 15 miles from an exchange, and they point outthat only the wealthy can afford to utilize this great convenience. A portion of my district comprises part of the great wheat belt of South Australia, and the land is considered of sufficient value to warrant the construction through it of a railway. I have presented a petition signed by 118 farmers along the Peebinga line to the Postmaster-General j but, so far, the Department has not been able to see its way to grant the facilities asked forto these people who are prepared to go into the back country and make it profitable for the Commonwealth. Apparently, they must remain where they are until they have almost broken their hearts before they can secure conveniences enjoyed by the average citizen. I hope the Postmaster-General will see his way clear to give greater consideration to people so placed. We should not regard this matter purely from the point of view “of whether the service asked for will be remunerative or not. Surely we can assistthose who are developing remote districts under the conditions to which I have referred, without considering whether the service they ask for will be immediately remunerative or not. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) who might perhaps be better described as the honorable member for Canberra, and the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) need not look to me for’ any assistance in the project to spend over f 700,000 in the construction of 46 miles of railway to connect Yass with Canberra whilst conditions such as I have described have to be : f aced by pioneers in the out-back districts. I do not wish to detract in any way from the importance of establishing the Federal Capital of Australia, but the time is certainly not opportune for the spending of over £700,000 on the railway ‘ referred to when money could be spent to so much greater advantage elsewhere.
– Parliament has already approved of the construction of the line.
– Parliament has not approved of it. It has’ only passed a resolution on the subject. I trust the remarks I have made will bear fruit. 1 have no fault to find with what the PostmasterGeneral is . doing. His department has progressed in a wonderful way, but very much still remains to be done to provide the necessary facilities to enable people in the remote districts to enjoy some of the conveniences enjoyed by the constituents of the honorable member for Dalley, probably every one of -whom has an automatic telephone. The honorable member does not understand the conditions which have to be faced by the men who are pioneering the back-blocks of Aus tralia, otherwise he would not advocate the spending of £700,000 on. a railway which must remain unproductive for quite a long time.
– I was very pleased to notice that the Leader of the Opposition drew the attention of the Government to the ever-increasing indebtedness of Australia. I have before in this House expressed feelings of regret that the Government has appeared to be more anxious to -reduce taxation, particularly on the higher incomes, than to deal with the national indebtedness. I shall be told that the Government brought down a biil to providefor a sinking fund,- and so forth, but I am afraid that that legislation will not be enforced in times of crisis. It seems to me that in this time of good seasons and record prices for our principal primary products we should be doing mor6 to grapple with the question of ‘ the national debt. I do not intend to delay the passage of this loan bill. I shall not go into the intricacies of the inflation or deflation of the currency until I have made the necessary preparation for handling questions of that kind. I do, however, intend to bring one or two matters under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral. First of all, I should like to support the remarks of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. M. Cameron) in this connexion. The people on the line between Marama and Peebinga are a very deserving class, and should be given consideration by the Postmaster-General. I have risen chiefly to speak on behalf of the people in the Mallee, and I can assure honorable members that there has been no arrangement between the honorable member for Barker and myself to submit their claims for consideration. The district to which the honorable member referred is not in my electorate. I rose to refer to two places in my own electorate, but having been given a reminder of the requirements of the Peebinga people, I could not let pass the opportunity to support the honorable member for Barker in his claims on behalf of those people. Under the bill, £2,000,000 is to be provided for the Postmaster-General’s Department, and I have for some time been trying to secure a telephone line for a little place called Claypans. There are about eighteen families settled there within a radius of 3 or 4 miles, and ‘ a number of farmers are settled in the district. For many ‘years they have battled against adverse circumstances, and to give them telephonic communication would involve only 4 miles of poles and 5 miles of wire.. On two previous occasions when I have tried to do something for them, I have been informed by the Deputy Postmaster-General of South Australia that it is a question of funds, and now that it is proposed in this bill to supply the department with £2,000,000 it has occurred to me that this is the right time to bring the matter forward again. I make a further claim on behalf of a place called Caliph. A new railway has been constructed from Wanbi to Moorook. A number of the sidings along that line have been named after different varieties of wheat. I have been pleased to note that post offices have been granted for two -of- these places - Tuscan and Caliph. The State Government has considered the population of the district sufficient to warrant the construction of a railway through it, and I ask that as soon as possible , a telephone line may be erected along the railway line, for the convenience of settlers who are growing wheat on both sides.’of it. I have noticed, from time to time, that a tremendous amount of money has been, and is to be, spent by . the Postmaster-General’s Department on the establishment of automatic telephone exchanges in the metropolitan area, and probably, in the long run, this expenditure will be found to be a good investment. But it has seemed, recently, very hard , to secure necessary consideration for these smaller places in the country districts. I have sometimes wondered whether this may not be due to the apportionment of funds for ‘ expenditure in the different states, and whether the amount apportioned for expenditure in South Australia is mainly spent on these automatic exchanges, and has - increased the difficulty of securing necessary facilities for country districts in that state. I hope this will not be found to be- so. I admit that, in the last two or three years, there has been a satisfactory advance in affording postal facilities for country districts. I hope there will be no halt in this direction. I ask the Postmaster-General to take into consideration, the claims of the Mallee farmers I have brought under- his notice.
. -I hope that the Government will notbe in the slightest degree influenced by the remarksmade by. New South Wales members this afternoon, and particularly the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony), who advocated the building of a railway from Yass to Canberra. The Public Works Committee examined the project very carefully and took a great deal of evidence upon it. It came to the decision that there is no urgent necessity for the building of that line. I should not have risen this afternoon but for the fact that the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) described the present members of the Public Works Committee ns “anti-Canberra.” There is not the slightest justification for such a statement. The Works Committee has investigated the great number of works for Canberra that have been referred to it, and, with the exception of the railway connexion with Yass, has approved of them all. . It has been the policy of the committee to check wasteful expenditure, and the fact that it has passed all Canberra works with the exception of the railway referred to should be sufficient to show that the statement made by the honorable member for South Sydney has no justification. As a matter of fact, New South Wales has been extremely fortunate in having spent at the Federal Capital many millions of money which has been contributed by all’ the . states of the Commonwealth. I do not . know that any member of. this House or” of the public will be seriously inconvenienced by the present facilities, afforded for reaching- the Capital city. Those coming from the north have the railway’ from. Goulburn, and any one travelling from the southern states to the Capital has only to spend- about an hour and a half more in the train if travelling to Canberra via Goulburn than he would have to spend in it if the connexion with Yass were completed. The difference in time is only about 90 minutes, which could be spent in a sleeping berth, and that would not be aserious hardship to anybody. I think the estimate for the YassCanberra line was £750,000. In every state of the Commonwealth there are public works more urgently required than is this railway connexion. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) was quite justified in drawing the attention of honorable members to the difference between the views expressed by the honorable member for Dalley and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). The Leader of the Opposition made it perfectly clear that he does not favour the spending of huge sums of loan money except on reproductive works. It has been pointed out times without number that a railway from Yass to Canberra could not possibly be expected to pay for a good many years to come. I admit that in the past I have not been whole-heartedly in favour of building the Federal Capital at all. I have held the opinion that we might very reasonably wait for another 50 years before beginning its construction. I have also made the observation that for the next ten years Canberra is likely to be merely a city of civil servants. I am satisfied that. as so much money has been spent there) it is now too late to resurrect this contentious subject. I should certainly condemn the Government if it attempted to build this railway in defiance of the complete report of the Public Works Committee against the ‘ proposal.
– I wish first to refer to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The Treasurer, when speaking, said, in effect, that the work of the Postmaster-General’s Department had been expedited to such a degree that funds were now exhausted. Like the honorable member for Barker (Mr. M. Cameron), I fail to see where this great expedition has taken place. I do not altogether blame the PostmasterGeneral for this, because his department has, within its limitations, progressed fairly well. The trouble is that funds have been cut off by the Treasurer to such an extent that it would be difficult for the department to do more than it is doing at present.
– The money cannot be provided until Parliament appropriates it.
– The work of the Postmaster-General’s Department fell into arrears during the war, and has never been overtaken.
– It is being caught up now.
-I am speaking from my own experience. In my electorate there is an enormous amount of work in arrears.
– The honorable member will admit that during the last few years a tremendous amount of work has been done in his electorate.
– That may be true, but I still say that a tremendous amount of work has been left undone because money has not been made available. It would not be fair for me to lay the blame for this at the door of the Postmaster-General’s Department when it can rightly be laid at the door of the Treasury.
– The PostmasterGeneral’s Department obtained £800,000 from the Treasurer’s Advance, and £150,000 from loan.
– The Treasurer must admit that these payments are to be expected. The work has been in arrears, and it is natural to expend each year more than was expended six or seven years ago. My complaint is that not enough money is being made available to catch up the work which in the Postmaster-General’s Department above all others got so much in arrears during the war.
I wish especially to bring a certain matter under the notice of the Postmaster-General. It is not right to continue the present policy of holding for some considerable time deposits paid by applicants for telephone lines. These people supply the poles and distribute them along the route of the line, where they lie for months, and .the department makes no move to carry out the work.
– The work used to be held over for years. I know of one case that was delayed for five years.
-I know of cases that under present conditions have been held up for twelve months. This practice is entirely wrong; and I believe that the present PostmasterGeneral is opposed to it.
– What would the honorable member do - refuse the applications altogether ?
– No. If I accepted deposits from applicants I should insist on the work being carried out within a reasonable time.
– That is being done.
– It is not. In some cases the deposits have been held for six and seven months, and even then it was only the repeated requests made to the department that expedited the work.
– If local tenders had been called the work would have been done quickly.
– That is the practice of the department.
– The Postmaster-General will doubtless agree that the time elapsing between accepting the deposit and commencing the work should be reduced to a minimum. I ask him to issue an instruction to that effect. I know that the Postmaster-General himself experiences great trouble in getting necessary work carried out. Over twelve months ago he visited part of my electorate, and inspected plans for a post office at Wagga. Everything was then ready to commence the work, but no move has apparently been made to construct the building. I know of other similar cases.
– That difficulty exists in every electorate.
– When complaints are made the department replies that it is anticipated that tenders will be called, say, in June. When June comes it is anticipated that tenders will be called for in July, and when July comes it is anticipated that tenders will be called at some other date.
– The present conditions cannot be compared with those of the old days.
– Two wrongs do not make a right. I ask the Postmaster-General to endeavour to promote greater activity in his department.
I wish now to refer to the remarks made by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) concerning the proposal to link up the Melbourne to Sydney railway with Canberra. The honorable member said that he was against the construction of a railway from Yass to Canberra, because it would be non-paying. I agree with the honorable member, and I have no wish to support a line rhat would be non-paying.
– How many railways are paying ?
– I venture to say that the honorable member for Swan in his time has advocated the construction of lines that to this day are nonpaying. Still, we should try to avoid the sins of the past.
– I said that for the next ten years the railway would not pay axle grease. It would not be a line of development.
– I agree with the honorable member. The Government has, apparently, done nothing to ascertain by a thorough investigation the best route to link up Canberra with the main southern line. That line should be capable of something more than the conveyance of members of Parliament to Canberra. But that seemed to be the only aspect which the honorable member for Swan had in mind.
– The line would cause no increase in trade.
– I have travelled over the country between Yass and Canberra, and I know that it produces very little to feed a line. My complaint is that nothing has been done by the Government to ascertain the best route to link up Canberra with the main southern line. A line branching off at, say, Wagga, would travel through country adjacent to Gundagai and Tumut, and Adelong - through some of the best country in Australia.
– That would be quite a different proposition.
– I am pleased to know that the honorable member agrees with me. When the resolution respecting the railway to the Federal Capital was carried by this House I do not think that honorable members ever had it in mind that they were voting for a route between Yass and Canberra. I certainly thought that expert advice would be obtained, and steps taken by this Government, in conjunction with the State Government, to fix on a route where a railway would have a reasonable chance of paying its way.
– What is the distance from Wagga to Canberra?
– Of course, the railway mileage would depend on the route selected, but the time saved in the journey from Melbourne to Canberra would be six hours, at least. If a spur line were taken from the SydneyQueanbeyan line across to Jervis Bay between the nearest points, the distance would not bereally great.
– A little over 100 miles.
– This short spur line would bring the whole of the eastern Riverina country into touch with Jervis Bay, which would then be its nearest port. This is an excellent proposition, especially from the point of view of decentralization, and, besides providing the facilities- necessary for members of Parliament from southern electorates in travelling to the Capital city, the line would have a reasonable chance of paying its way,
– Sydney interests would oppose it.
– In any case, a proposal to connect productive country with its nearest port would clash with the interests of the capital cities; but we must not let that stand in the road. The Government should get out of its groove and endeavour to bring the primary producers in touch with their nearest port. . We have a right to expect the Commonwealth Government to communicate with the state authorities and endeavour to agree upon a route that will give the railway the best opportunity of paying- its way.
– My contention was that the present connexion from Goulburn is not such a great disability as to delay the meeting, of Parliament at Canberra.
– The mere saving of the distance between Yass and Goulburn is not worth consideration. We must endeavour to decide upon a route that will do something more than serve the convenience of honorable members of this Parliament. We should aim, not only to reduce the time of travelling between Melbourne and Canberra, but also to discover a route that will enable the line to be approximately selfsupporting. . If a new line were built from Wagga, the time occupied in travelling between that point and Goulburn would be saved, thousands of acres of some of the best country in the Commonwealth would be served, a great service would be done to the people of the Riverina, the producerscould be given communication with Jervis Bay, which is their natural port, and the policy of decentralization would be appreciably advanced.
– Could not a line be built via Bombala and Orbost?
– Possibly, and the honorable member for Gippsland suggested that route, but I am quite satisfied that an impartial inquiry will reveal the fact that no sounder proposal can be put. forward than the one I suggest. Honorable members should get rid of the idea that this Parliament is in any way pledged to the Yass-Canberra route. The only route to be adopted by this House should be that which thorough investigation proves to be best. If the Government is really in earnest in this matter, it will be doing no more than its duty by initiating an inquiry to discover the route which will be the best in the interests of the country generally.
– I was very pleased to hear the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), who recognised the difficulties connected with a programme of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic works involving an expenditure of £3,980,000 in the current financial year. The Treasurer has already informed the House that the postal department has practically exhausted the loan money available; -therefore,, this, extra £2,000,000 is necessary to enable work to be carried on pending the passing of the Loan Estimates for 1925-6, But for the money that was obtained from the Treasurer’s Advance Account, the department would have been obliged to dismiss, many men. I assure the honorable member for Denison (Mr. O’Keefe) that continuity of employment was given as far as was practicable. The magnitude of the work, upon which the department is engaged will be understood from the fact that we have expended £9,871,807 in the last three years. A further £1,070,000 has been expended upon buildings, making a total of nearly £11,000,000. The demand for telephone connexions throughout Australia has been phenomenal, and it has. been catered for at such a rate that possibly no other country , in the world has had such a high rate of development. The amount of work that has been done may be realized by a comparison of the figures for the-last three years. The net increase of connexions in 1922-3 over the preceding year was 23,206; in 1923-4, the increase was 36,19.2; in 1924-5, it was 46,624; and, as applications are being received at the rate of 5,000 a month, it is expected that the additions in 1925-6 will total 60,000. At £60 for each connexion, approximately £3,600,000 will be required in one year for the mere connexion of subscribers with exchanges, apart from the money that must be expended upon exchanges, buildings, and trunk lines. Honorable members will see from those figures that the task ahead of us is a remarkably big one. I was sorry to hear the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) complain of delays that have taken place. The department is using every effort to give the services that are demanded, and the fact that we require .2,000,000 to finance our operations until the end of August is an indication that we are working to some purpose. We have done everything possible to expedite the carrying out of work. It is true that sometimes we are not able to give service within three or six months of the acceptance of an applicant’s deposit, but it must be remembered that we were about 16,000 applications in arrears. ‘ Those have been reduced to a working basis of two months’ work in sight. It is impossible to keep a big body of men employed continuously if the work is always up to date; we must be able to see work for six weeks or two months ahead. The £2,000,000 to be provided under this bill will enable the department to purchase material, and make a start with its new programme on 1st July, thus ensuring that continuity of work which is necessary in connexion with a programme of this kind. In the last three years 90,467 miles of trunk line wire has been laid, of which 46,781 miles was installed during the financial year just closing. All officers connected with the department are doing their utmost to keep abreast of the work, and put the telephone system on a sound basis. It is capable of improvement, but already it compares favorably with any other telephone system in the world.
– I suppose the greater quantity of the wire was imported.
–Practically the whole of it was manufactured in Australia. Only within the last two years has copper wire been drawn in the Commonwealth, and contracts for practically .the whole of the department’s requirements are let to local manufacturers. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) said that the department is spending altogether too much money on telephonic extensions in the city, and not enough in the country. We are doing our best to give equal treatment to city and country. It will be necessary during the coming year to spend £200,000 upon the trunk line between Newcastle and Sydney, because the whole of the trunk lines in northern New South Wales use that channel for communication with Sydney. At the present time the traffic between those two centres suffers from delays. Many of the arrears in telephone connexions were in city areas, and the only means of overtaking them was the installation of automatic exchanges with immediate provision for as many as 8,000 extra lines in one exchange. The honorable member for Angas will surely not contend that the department is wrong in connecting those city subscribers with exchanges, and he would not ask us to connect them with an obsolete system that would have to be abandoned in a few years.
– My complaint is that money is expended upon exchange buildings in the city which remain idle for two or three years.
– The building of automatic exchanges is a very hig work. As an instance, we have erected in Sydney, a new ‘ exchange building, which when equipped will have cost nearly £275,000. A work of that magnitude cannot, be carried out in two or three weeks. The building is complete, the machinery is installed, the equipment is coming to hand, and as soon as possible the whole of the telephone lines in the surrounding district will be transferred to that exchange.
– I have admired the department’s work in Sydney, and have often excused the delay that has taken place.
– The same argument is applicable to the exchanges in Adelaide. The old switchboards are full, and we cannot connect any more subscribers. If we accepted their subscriptions they would have to wait three or four years before getting connexion unless such action were taken.
– Could not the whole of the automatic exchange programme for Adelaide be brought into operation in a period of, say, two years, instead of protracting the work, and having a number of the buildings idle ?
– We cannot connect any more subscribers to the existing exchanges, and in the new automatic exchanges that are to replace them we have to make provision to serve not only the subscribers of to-day but the estimated requirements for the next ten or fifteen years. It is true that some projects in the Hume electorate have been delayed, but I think the honorable member representing that constituency will admit that a tremendous lot of work has been done in that and other country districts. As a matter of fact, the country telephone service has been doubled in two years, and the programme for the forthcoming year will add 60,000 telephones to the present number.
– Will the Minister increase the trunk line facilities proportionately?
– One of our difficulties is that the amount of traffic offering necessitates a big trunk-line programme, which will be laid down in the coming year, but if one carried out all the works suggested a sum. of even £10,000,000 would be inadequate. Such a large amount of money as we are expending cannot be spent efficiently in the short space of one year.
– To what extent is the department in arrears with this work ?
– From four to six weeks. It may be necessary in a certain place to lay 2,000 or 3,000-line cables before connecting one subscriber, but when they have been laid there’ is provision for many hundreds of additional subscribers. An underground cable may cost, up to £4,500 a mile. Many people, when criticizing the department for not providing telephones, think only of the cost of the telephone, but sometimes it is necessary, in order to provide a telephone, to lay a conduit and a cable at a cost of, say, £4,000 a mile. I assure honorable members that the money asked for will be expended judiciously, in the interests equally of the country and the cities. We have endeavoured to do as much work as possible, and we have received from the Treasurer an amount of money that we could not have obtained in ordinary times.
– The Postal Department ought to keep its revenue.
– If we had only that, we should have very little money for works. I assure those honorable members who have made requests relating to particular works in their electorates that I will investigate the statements they have made, and do whatever is possible to complete the works at an early date.
.- I am pleased to see that £2,000,000 is to be spend in providing telephone communication, which is one of the most reproductive works that can be undertaken in Australia. The Post Office spent nearly £10,000,000 last year, and is paying its way. That speaks volumes for it. It has done much to make country life more attractive.
The estimate of the approximate cost of the railway line to Canberra was £750,000, which, at the rate of 6 per cent., would involve the Commonwealth in an interest bill of £45,000 a year. As a road from Yass to Canberra must be constructed in the near future, amd is wanted almost immediately, there is little need for the railway. A modern road, with up-to-date motor transit,- would meet all the needs of Canberra for many years. There may be some wisdom in the suggestion of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) that another route should be investigated. The proposed line from Yass to Canberra could not be expected to pay within any definite period. The accusations of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) and the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) regarding expenditure at Canberra are unjustified as far as the Public Works Committee is concerned. The Opposition has three members on that committee, and in making accusations about “ subterranean influence “ and “ antiCanberraites” honorable members, opposite are not playing the game fairly. The committee recognizes that Parliament has decided that certain works shall be proceeded with, and it investigates the proposals submitted to it, and places the facts before honorable members. In the course of its investigations, as. members of the Opposition well know, it sifts thoroughly, honestly, and intelligently all the evidence obtainable. Up to the 30th June last a sum of £3,500,000 had been spent at Canberra, and at the present time 3,500 men are employed there. The work is proceeding as speedily as possible, and the* allegation of apathy is quite uncalled for.
There are many necessary works upon which loan money could be spent, but as the bill provides loan money mainly for telephones, I shall confine my further remarks to that subject. I say unhesitatingly that country constituencies have received greater attention from the Postal Department during the last two years than they ever received before. Many more telephones are required, and many post offices need repairing in my constituency, but I admit that on the whole my district has been treated fairly. If all honorable members would say what is at the bottom of their minds, they would re-echo that statement. The money placed at the disposal of the Post Office during the last twelve months has been spent to great advantage, and it is gratifying to me to know that the country, for the first time for many years, has had a fair share of the benefits. I trust that the Postmaster-General will continue to carry out the progressive programme that he has so creditably commenced.
.- I have listened attentively to this debate, and I am gleaning knowledge all the time. I have just been informed that £3,500,000 has been spent at Canberra, and that even now there are only 3,500 souls there. That means that £1,000 per man has been spent there. That is an enormous amount, and leads me to suggest that the name of “Canberra” should be changed to “ Can’t-bear-her.” In addition to the expenditure of £3,500,000 some honorable members are advocating the construction of a railway that will cost £750,000, but will not pay for axle grease. I ask honorable members, who are entrusted with the destinies and development of Australia, whether, if a company were floated for building the Federal Capital at Canberra, they would put their money into it in the ex- pectation of receiving interest on it. It is an atrocious business. I profess to be a business man, but I fail to see that the proposition can stand business analysis. Has not the New South Wales Government also a say in the matter? It is expected to contribute £300,000 towards the cost of the railway, but is not inclined to do so, because it will receive no return from it. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth proposes to go on with the business. I feel sure that if a plebiscite were taken of the people of Australia, they would emphatically reject the scheme for a Federal Capital. I am frankly an “ anti-Canberra-ite,” because a Federal Capital is not required. It is wrong at this juncture to spend further money on it, and I sincerely trust that this House will bring a business and analytical mind to bear on it. It will not stand a business analysis. I was pleased to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) say that Government undertakings should be able to stand a business analysis, and should be reproductive. Canberra is the most wild-cat proposal of which I have ever heard, and Parliament is plunging recklessly into it. The final result can only be chaos and financial loss.
– I desire to say a few words in reference, particularly, to the loan for works at Canberra. I support the remarks of those honorable members who have spoken in favour of a railway to connect the main line with the Capital. I am amazed that some honorable members seem to think that the great capital city of Australia should be isolated from the railway system of the Commonwealth. That mental attitude to a great national project indicates that they have not yet visualized the possibilities of the Capital. I understand that the majority of honorable members are in favour of the Capital, and that there is no desire to delay the transfer of the Seat of Government to it, or to seek another site. We know that £3,500,000 has already been spent there, and I think we are all satisfied that a large amount of that money has been wasted; but the fact remains that the Capital is being built, that the parliamentary buildings are nearing completion, and that a great deal of advertisement and publicity are being given to the future Seat of the Commonwealth Government. Those things notwithstanding, the Public Works Committee unequivocally turned down a small proposal to spend an additional £750,000 to connect this great capital city with the railways of Australia. - That clearly indicates that a large number of honorable members do not, even now, take the Federal Capital seriously. The attitude of a large number of people in the State of New South “Wales, particularly in Sydney, is- similar to that of those honorable members. When Canberra was first selected, one of the leading Sydney newspapers, I think the Daily Telegraph, said it would never be more than a “bush capital,” or a “provincial town.” If Parliament wishes to -keep Canberra a “ bush capital “ or a “ provincial town “ it can do so by adopting the parochial policy of not connecting it with the main railway system.
– Is the honorable member sure that the proposed line follows the best route.
– I do not think that the route matters at this juncture. Parliament having affirmed the principle that there should be a railway, it is the duty of the Government to determine the best route. One route, as against another, might involve a few extra miles of line, or some extra expenditure. The fact that stands out to-day is that nothing is being done. Even after Parliament has passed a resolution affirming that the Capital should be connected with the railway system,_ there appears to be no serious intention of doing anything. As one who voted for Parliament to meet there next year, I utter an emphatic protest against the “go-slow” policy that has been adopted. We should not be unduly concerned about whether the suggested line would be profitable. As a matter of fact, it would be a losing proposition for many years. If we desire our Federal Capital to develop, we ought not to begrudge the expenditure of another £750,000 on it for a railway, for adequate transport facilities are absolutely essential if it is to be an effective capital. There are many unprofitable railway lines in Australia. Some lines in New South Wales do not pay for axle grease, but they are developing the country. We should regard this proposed line from Yass to Canberra as a developmental proposition. No transport facilities equal those provided by railways. I know of no city or town of any size that is without railway connexion. No centre of population is regarded seriously as an economic factor if it is isolated. If we isolate the Federal Capital we shall de serve to have it regarded as being in’ the back-blocks. Honorable members who oppose the construction of a railway to Canberra seem to forget that when that is done the Capital will become sn attractive tourist resort. It will not. be merely a camping-ground for a lot of unfortunate civil servants, as some honorable members seem to think it must be J or some years. If proper transport facilities aTe provided, many members of Parliament will reside there permanently, and not simply spend two or three days a week there and then rush away to the state capitals. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) spoke of the possibility of meeting the needs of the situation by constructing a good road to the Capital. A road, no matter how good it may be, can never take the place of a railway line. I regret that the Government has not seen fit to submit to Parliament a definite railway project for connecting Canberra with the main southern line. I trust that it will take an early opportunity to do so.
I join with other honorable members who have spoken during this debate m congratulating the Postmaster-General on the success of his efforts to improve his department. He has a thorough grasp of his work. I suppose no member of the Government knows more about departmental details than does the Postmaster-General. Although I must confess to a certain’ amount of disappointment at the treatment I have received from the central postal administration, I admit that much good work has been done in my electorate. I do not object so much to the delay that has occurred in connexion with works that have not been approved by Parliament, but I suggest to the PostmasterGeneral that when particular telephone, telegraph and postal construction works are provided for in the Estimates or Supplementary Estimates, they should be put in hand. Some works that were approved when the Supplementary Estimates were passed last year have not been proceeded with, although almost twelve months have gone by. I trust that the Postmaster-General will do his best to push on with all works that have been approved. When the department fails to even call for tenders for works that money is provided for, the electors in the constituency concerned think that their representative in Parliament is neglecting his duties. I advise the Postmaster-General to pay a little more attention to this phase of his administration.
.-The Post. master-General has been justly commended for the wonderful improvements that have been made in his department from the developmental stand-point. I confess that I was astonished when very early in. this session an honorable member of the Country party sitting on this side of the House attacked him for his failure to do some particular work that was mentioned. For my own part I should find it difficult to point to one serious need in my constituency that is not, at least, in the process of being supplied. Like other honorable members, I have works that I would like to see carried out, but I cannot complain of any neglect. The department has treated me exceptionally well, and it is only a fair thing that I should say so. It has been said repeatedly by honorable members opposite that the administration of the Government has not been beneficial to the .country, but I say freely that the administration of the Postal Department in the last few years has been such that any reasonable man ought to be satisfied. While a few projects have. been held up sometimes on account of lack of material, and sometimes because men of sufficient experience in a particular class of work ‘ have not been available, there is very little justification for- adverse criticism of the Postmaster1 General’s administration or of the work of the department in the last few years.
My view of the Federal Capital expenditure is well known to honorable members. I am just as strongly opposed to it as the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Whitsitt). On every possible occasion in this House I have protested against the waste of money that has taken place. But so much has already been spent at Canberra that we must proceed with and complete the work. Our duty, in the circumstances that face us, is to do all that we can to see that the public money is judiciously expended. I am totally opposed.’ to the expenditure of £750,000 on a railway from Yass to Canberra. That amount is only the estimate, and we know very well that the actual cost of government works of this kind almost invariably exceeds the estimate. The estimated cost of the proposed 16 miles’- 48 chains of railway that would pass through ‘ the Federal Territory is £433,000, or about £26,080 per mile; and of the 27 miles 54 chains of line that would traverse state territory, £310,725, or about £11,000 per mile. The 44 miles of line are estimated to cost almost £750,000. There is no justification whatever for incurring this expense, for the railway would be of very little use for years to come except to members of Parliament and public servants. I am satisfied that the traffic from the southern part of Australia to Canberra can be adequately provided for by road. If travellers do not care to use the highway^ they may avoid it by remaining in their sleeping compartments in the train for a little longer than would be necessary if a direct line were built, and by so doing they would arrive at the Federal Capital at a respectable hour, instead of uncomfortably early in the morning. I urge the Government not to construct this proposed line. As I understand that the Treasurer is anxious to reply immediately to the criticisms that have been offered during this debate, I will reserve for a future occasion other remarks that I have to make.
.- I did not intend to participate in this debate until the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) made his excellent suggestion that the proposed connexion of the New South Wales main southern railway with the Federal Capital should start from Wagga. ‘ I. congratulate him on that suggestion. The line he suggests would give a shorter route than the proposed line from Yass, to what we believe will in time be a very fine city. As he rightly pointed out - and I say this as one who has been all through the Riverina district - a line from Wagga would pass through some of the finest country in Australia. Between Wagga and Adelong there is some of the best wheat and sheep country in the Riverina, and the Tumut district contains rich land, suitable for maize-growing and’ grazing purposes. The subsequent building of a railway to Jervis Bay would mean that the rich Riverina district, which is noted for its production of wheat, sheep> and maize, would be provided with a more convenient port than it now has. As the Labour party stands for decentralization, I hope that the Government will take notice of this suggestion.
– If that will delay the removal of the Seat of Government to Canberra, I hope it will.
– Parliament has definitely decided to move to Canberra. A railway from. Yass to Canberra would serve second class country, whereas a line from Wagga to Canberra would pass through rich lands. Furthermore, it would save six hours in the train journey from Melbourne to Canberra, and, therefore, we should construct the most serviceable line. Some honorable members who represent constituencies in the southern and western states have built homes in Melbourne, and probably they will find it more convenient to continue to live here after the Parliament has been removed to Canberra. To them as well as to a number of Commonwealth officers it would be of great convenience to be able to travel over a “line which would save seven or eight hours of travelling. If the suggested’ Wagga to Canberra connexion were made, a train could leave Canberra at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon and reach Melbourne before midnight. Such a line would serve the rich Wagga, Gundagai, and Tumut districts, and enable the settlers there to take their produce to a railway which in time would be connected with Jervis Bay, the natural outlet for the Riverina district. As a Queenslander I recognize that Parliament is pledged to the removal of the Seat of Government from Melbourne to Canberra, and I hope that the Govern’ ment will take all possible steps to establish railway communication between the main southern line of the New South Wales railway system and the capital. It is idle to say that the road from Yass to Canberra will meet all requirements for some time to come. Railway communication is essential.
I now desire to refer to the expenditure on the construction and extension of telegraphs and telephones, and the laying of underground cables. As the representative of a country district as large as Victoria, I am grateful for what has been done by the department in my electorate in late years, but, like the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), and other honorable members, I feel that I have cause for complaint in that a number of requests I have preferred have not been complied with, the excuse being that they are not business propositions.
– The honorable member does not stand alone in that respect.
– That is so; but, if all requests of this nature are considered purely from a business point of view, we shall not be able to grant to settlers iu the outlying parts of the Commonwealth the facilities that are necessary to make rural life attractive. One of my constituents has been asked to pay £13 a year for a postal delivery. He was required to furnish half the additional cost that the delivery would involve, and other people in my electorate have had similar experiences.
– Does the honorable member know what the conditions were seven or eight years ago ?
– Yes. The conditions may have been chaotic then, but that is not a reasonable excuse for neglecting the present needs of the men on the land. We have appointed an officer at a high salary to the head of the Postal Department, and more money should be made available, so that deserving claims might be met. I hope that the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) will endeavour to induce the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) to be even more generous than heretofore to the farmers and others in my district on whose behalf I have made unsuccessful representations, the department having replied that, on the score of expense, it would be inadvisable to grant the facilities sought.
.- Honorable members all realize that expenditure must be continued at Canberra, and the sooner the work begun there is completed the sooner will the Commonwealth obtain a return for the outlay. Those who are not entirely blinded by prejudice must recognize the necessity of developing the Federal Capital area, and that cannot be done without direct railway communication between Canberra and the main southern line. The suggested connexion from Wagga to Canberra does not appeal to me. If it is intended to continue the line to Jervis Bay, the starting point should not be Wagga, but Yass. Starting from Wagga, the natural route would be over the existing line to Tarcutta, and thence across to Tumbalong Having been born and reared in that district, I am too well acquainted with the nature of the country to imagine that a direct line could be advantageously built from Wagga to Canberra, although the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), having glanced at the map, regards it as the shortest route. The engineering difficulties are so formidable that nobody familiar with the district would dream of such a proposal. When I submitted the motion favouring the construction of a line from Yass to Canberra, I did not suppose that it would be a profitable undertaking.
– I do not think that those were the terms of the motion.
– I purposely couched the motion in somewhat vague terms, so that an opportunity would be afforded, if thought desirable, to begin the line at a point other than Yass. In any case, the junction would have to be in the vicinity of Yass. I submitted the motion because I considered that the Federal Capital Territory could not be properly developed without ‘such a line, irrespective of whether or not it would return interest on the capital outlay.
Sitting suspended front, 6. SO to S p.m.
– The criticism which during this debate has been levelled at the administration of the Postmaster-General’s Department has been completely replied to by the honorable gentleman at the head of it (Mr. Gibson). My desire now is to make a few comments on the statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) regarding our public debt, and to refer briefly to the suggestions of the honorable members for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) ii nd East Sydney (Mr. West), for reducing the interest on it. The remarks of the Leader of the Opposition were couched in, what seemed to me, very admirable language, and dealt with the crux of the position. The honorable member regarded the debt of Australia as a whole, and it should be . so regarded. Whether it has been incurred by federal, state, or municipal authority, the burden of the public debt of Australia has to be borne by its taxpayers and producers. I was pleased to notice the word of caution he uttered against the borrowing of money for expenditure on non-productive works. We might quickly get into very serious trouble if we borrowed more money than could be used productively. There is a very definite limit to the amount of capital that can be so used. The amount of capital brought from abroad must be proportioned to our increase of population.. The increase of population alone will increase the labour which can be employed to secure a profitable return from the expenditure of borrowed money, and with that increase in population there must also be devised more efficient and complete means of production, as, for instance, the improvement of mechanical power, and its employment on a larger scale, to increase our output and total wealth, in order to bring about a general improvement in the standard of living.
If we are to make a fair comparison between the indebtedness of Australia and that of the rest of the world a careful analysis must be made of the reasons for which the money has been borrowed, and the way it has been spent. Although the total debt of the Commonwealth, federal and state, at present approximates £1,000,000,000. a very large sum in itself and a very heavy burden upon the comparatively small number of people ‘ at present inhabiting this vast continent, it should not be forgotten that there is a bright side to the picture. Of ‘ our total debt of, approximately, £1,000,000,000 - of which the Federal Government owes, roughly, £400,000,000 and the State Governments’ £600,000,000-much of the money borrowed, especially by the states, has been expended upon railways, telephones, and other reproductive works, and quite a considerable part of it has the backing of substantial assets. The public debts of most other countries have not this solid backing . For example, the national debt of the United States of America, regarded on a per capita basis, is much lighter than that of Australia. But, in comparing the indebtedness of the two countries, it should be remembered, among other considerations, that in Australia the telephone system which extends throughout the states is publicly owned, whereas that of the United States of America is in private hands. One telephone company there has a capital of $2,000,000,000, or about £400,000,000. This money, of course, is not included in the American national debt. Again, 170,000 miles of railway has been constructed privately in the United States of America, and its cost is not included in the ; public debt. If we deducted from the national debt of Australia the capital value of all the assets which have been created by its expenditure, I think we should find that, per capita, it closely approximates that of the United States of America. There is not enough made of these facts in Australia, and their significance is not insisted upon as frequently as it might be. Neglect to make our financial position clear may operate to diminish our credit in the minds of intending investors and migrants from Great Britain, who might hesitate to come here, or to invest their capital here, because cf the belief that our conditions are worse than they actually are. In my opinion the amount of the debt is not of so much importance as the manner in which the borrowed capital has been used, the reproductive assets resulting from its ‘expenditure, and the proportion which the interest - especially on non-productive expenditure - bears to the total production of Australia. During the last ten years, at any rate, it would appear that we have not made such good use of the money borrowed and invested in public works and for the development of the country as was done in the previous decade, or in previous years. But when making this comparison we must remember that during the last decade there was a war which added £350,000,000 to the debt of Australia. In 1912 the interest on the total debts of Australia was only 5.5 per cent, of our total production, but in 1922 it was 13.3 per cent, of it. In addition, it must be remembered that price levels have considerably increased in the interval, and our total quantity of production in Australia has not increased in anything like the same ratio as the interest on our debt. While our debt has increased, the earning capacity of our reproductive assets has been actually reduced. In .1912 the state railways of Australia were able to return in revenue the whole of the interest on the cost of their construction; but in 1922 they returned something like £2,500,000 short of that interest. Excluding from the computation the expenditure on railways in 1911-12, our interest burden was something like 2.5 per cent, of the -total production of the country, and in 1921 it was 9.S9 per cent. - that is, the interest burden on the unpro- ductive part has increased fourfold in those ten years. This is something that we must correct, and in my view one of the best means for doing so is an active migration policy to increase the number ot people in Australia who will use the railways, and the .amount of produce carried; enlarging their earnings by increasing production, and thereby improving the condition of the people of this country.
Regarding the position of the Commonwealth independently of that of the states, it is not altogether unfavorable. We have contracted a heavy war debt, but I think the experience of the last few years has shown that it is well within the capacity of the people cf Australia to bear it. We have been able not only to reduce taxation upon the people, but also to reduce the debt itself, and at the present time are in a position to deal with it in something like a satisfactory way. The debt of the Commonwealth, as set out in the budget figures, is the gross debt, and those figures do not give a proper idea of the real position. The gross debt of the Commonwealth, as set out in the budget, figures on the 30th June last year, was £4.15,000,000. That includes not merely the war debt, but also borrowed money utilized in the construction of post offices, telephone lines, railways, and so forth. It represents as well loans which have been made to the states, and advances for war-service homes under a definite contract for their repayment, which, together with balances in hand, amount to £80,000,000. The real net debt of the Commonwealth, the interest on which must be met out of Consolidated Revenue, amounts at present to £335,000,000.
– I like the honorable gentleman’s optimism in assuming that we shall get back all the money advanced to the states.
– Are not the states paying interest on the loans advanced to them ?
– Yes. I am happy to be able to say that they are. Only last week we squared up all arrears of state interest payments, and the next budget will show an absolutely clean sheet in that regard. I therefore do not regard seriously the interjection of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton). The states will stand up to their obligations to the Commonwealth, and they have always acted in such a way as to indicate that they intend to do so. The net debt of the Commonwealth has been reduced during the last two years by £6,000,000, and this despite the fact that there has been spent on reproductive works such as post offices, telephone extensions, and so forth, railway works, and so on, a sum of well over £7,000,000. Therefore, the actual deadweight of debt, that is, all the irrecoverable debt, not represented by reproductive assets, was reduced by something like £13,000,000 during the last two years. This is a very considerable achievement for the Commonwealth within seven years of the ending of the war. How this has been achieved is evident if one looks at the way in which the various .conversions that have taken place have been dealt with. By the conversion that took place in September, 1923, we were able to repay some £6,000,000. We reduced our interestbearing debt in two years by £6,000,000. We have not merely met the interest on our debt, but have paid off capital as well. A good deal of the net debt, as I have said, is represented by interest-earning assets. For instance, the telephones are producing in revenue quite the 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, charged for the money borrowed for their construction. The other moneys which go to make up the gross debt are debts definitely owing by authorities responsible for both interest and capital. I wish to make that absolutely clear. In the 1923 conversion, £32,000,000 out of the £38,700,000 was renewed, and the balance paid off. In the war gratuity conversion last year we issued £11,000,000 worth of new stock, though we paid off £13,000,000 of debt. Since 1922 we have paid something like £7,000,000 off the total of the war loan of £72,000,000 that falls due this year. At the same . time, there has been a gradual extinction of our war debt owing to Great Britain. This year we paid off £1,173,000. In two years we have reduced our total British war debt by about £2,290,000. In all, the net debt has been reduced in two years by £6,000,0.00, notwithstanding that during this time £7,000,000 has been spent on reproductive assets. So that the dead weight of debt has been reduced by £13,000,000.
I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition has raised this subject, . because I .desire the statement that I am making here to-night to be published throughout the world, so that the sound position that Australia is in may be known as widely as possible.
During the last two and a half years the Commonwealth Government has taken three definite steps to retard the growth of our national debt. In the first place, we have taken money for cruisers, mam road grants, &c, out of revenue funds instead of out of loan funds, as was frequently done in the past. Secondly, we have established a sinking fund, which has the double operation of hindering the incurring of fresh debt as well as reducing the present debt.’ Its existence tends to limit borrowings, because whenever a Treasurer raises a loan he is forced in his annual budget to make provision, not only for the interest on that loan, but also for the sinking fund contribution as well. In the case of war loan requirements this has practically meant an extra per cent., and in the case of money for post offices an extra 30s. per cent. Thus, if money were borrowed at 5£ per cent., the Treasurer might have to make provision in his annual statement for 7 per cent, to provide for interest and sinking fund.
– Does not the Treasurer borrow each year twice the amount of the sinking fund?
-No; in the last two years we have reduced the total net debt by £6,000,000, despite the fact that in that time we have borrowed for reproductive works. The second way in which the sinking fund operates is to wipe out existing debts bv the purchase of securities. This action is automatic in the hands of the Sinking Fund Commission. Lastly, the Government has tried to limit as far as possible the unnecessary .growth of Australian loan? by the formation of a Loan Council. I wish to say a few words regarding the excellent work of that body, which has accomplished much in the interests, not only of the Commonwealth and the State Governments, but also of the taxpayers, and will greatly assist, if continued, in the general development of Australia. The Loan Council has brought about a coordination of borrowing that was scarcely thought possible, though for many years it was the ideal of every Treasurer. For many years all borrowing authorities have pointed out the danger and expense of the competition in the money market of state -with state and of the states with the Commonwealth borrowing authority. Formerly a State Government would go upon the money market, and obtain a loan without consulting the other State Governments. Perhaps after three or four weeks, while its loan was still open, another state would find itself forced by its requirements upon the market. The only way in which such a state could do any good there, perhaps, would be by offering a higher rate of interest, and the result of the continual competition was to continually increase interest charges. This result became especially vicious when the local market was the only one available to the various borrowing authorities. There were acute exchange difficulties in 1920-21, and the various Governments were then thrown back on to the Australian market, with the result that the effective interest rate ‘ allowing for conversions rose to 7 J per cent., which rate the Commonwealth was forced to pay for money which the states desired for the settlement of returned soldiers. This was largely due to the fact that the borrowing of the various government authorities had continued without any coordination of effort. In the absence of coordination the various Governments were really at the mercy of the large lenders, who, as was natural, were ready to take advantage of the necessities of the borrowers. Another unfortunate result of the absence of co-ordination was the frequency of the calls on the loan market by the various Governments in Australia. One after another they were continually on the market, absorbing all fresh savings. There was never sufficient time for the market to rest. Consequently, private enterprise found difficulty in obtaining the capital necessary for building up industries and finding employment. Not merely did the various Governments mop up all the available money, but, in addition, as a result of lack of co-ordination money was occasionally borrowed in excess of what could be absorbed. A state would try to secure the whole of its annual requirements at the beginning of the year, with the result that the market would be very short for other authorities, to the embarrassment of other State Governments and of private enterprises, which were unable to obtain the money they required. What was also unfortunate was that no proper arrangement could be made as to the amount that should be left in the lenders’ hands for private industries and development. When Government after Government was coming on to the market for the purpose of satisfying its needs without reference to anybody else, there was no attempt made to estimate the amount of money needed for private enterprise, or the amount that could be taken for governmental purposes without injury to the industries of the country. These disadvantages have been largely removed by the establishment of the Loan Council. I do not think that there is a financial authority in Australia who will deny the wisdom of its establishment, and who does not desire its continuance and further operation in the interests of the various Governments of Australia. In addition, this great advantage has come from the existence of the council. There is a definite limitation of the amount of the borrowing that may take place. Previously, when framing their Estimates the various Treasurers paid no regard at all to the total amount required by the Commonwealth and the states as a whole. But now that the Loan Council exists, each Treasurer places upon the table an estimate of his requirements for the year, and there is a free and frank discussion of the position and tha possibility of obtaining the money considered. When, it is seen that the total amount of the Estimates cannot be borrowed, ‘ every Treasurer goes through his Estimates to see what works in it are non-essential, Olean be delayed for a year or two to permit of the more essential requirements being met. A feeling of common, interest has grown up between the various Treasurers, quite irrespective of their party and political attachments. Everything is viewed from the point of view of Australian requirements and development. The various Treasurers have been able to return to their respective governments with their demands for the curtailment of the total amount asked for, backed not merely by their own opinions, but by the collective opinion of themembers of the Loan Council. Previously there had been unrestricted and competitive borrowing, but we have been able to come to an arrangement determining as closely as we can the amount that should be borrowed on the Australian market. It was resolved last year, for instance, that £10,000,000 can be safely taken from the Australian market without injury to private enterprise; and, at the same time, we have also made arrangements regarding oversea borrowing. We limited that borrowing so that there should be no necessity to bring money to Australia, the requirements which had to be met overseas being borrowed outside this country, so that the exchange position might not become more acute than it was.
This co-ordination could never have been brought about without the Loan Council, and the free and frank discussion which actually has taken place between its members. But the beneficial results that have emerged from the establishment of the Loan Council’s activities cannot merely be measured by the extent to which interest rates have been reduced. There must also be considered the amount that has been saved to the country by the fact that interest rates have not increased. It would be as well to’ remember what has taken place in Australia during the last two years. In May, 1923, just two years ago, the Commonwealth Government made an attempt to convert a loan of £38,500,000. It was able to get £18,000,000 at practically 5 per cent., and the whole loan was raised at an effective rate of £5 2s. per cent, for the longer term, and £5 9s. per cent, for the shorter term, both being subject to federal ‘ taxation. We had no> difficulty in securing £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 of new money as well towards converting the balance of the loan. The State Governments immediately afterwards wanted money for their developmental programmes. At that time the exchange difficulty was particularly acute, and the states went on the market without preliminary consultation or coordination. New South Wales, being the first on the market, was able to get money at 5 per cent., free of tax, federal- or state, which is equivalent to 5$ per cent, subject to federal tax. Victoria followed, and raised the rate to 5) per cent. South Australia then rushed, in, and paid a higher rate; and finally, in November or December, Western Australia, needing £1,000,000 for conversion, found the market bare, and was obliged to accept temporary loans from the other states. These were supplemented by a small contribution from the public, for which Western Australia had to pay 6 per cent., free of federal and state income taxation, or an effective interest rate of about Qi per cent, if subject to federal taxation. Thus, through lack of co-ordination, the prevailing market rate at the end of 1923 was 6£ per cent. That brought all the borrowing authorities in Australia to their senses, and they informed the Commonwealth Government that they were prepared to carry out the proposal agreed to earlier in the year for the formation of a Federal Loan Council. In February, 1924, the first meeting of the Loan Council, consisting of the Federal and State Treasurers, was held, and it immediately fixed the maximum rate of interest at 6 per cent., above which none of the Governments would borrow. That was lower than the market rate, but we were able to convert at 6 per cent, all the money Ave needed to redeem the war gratuity loan. Another result of the Council’s action Avas to give the money market a rest. There had been a previous arrangement under which the banks had the right to obtain notes from the Commonwealth Bank because they had subscribed a certain amount of cash for the payment of the Avar gratuity in 1920. The banks had not asked for about £4,000,000 of the total amount of these notes, and it Avas considered that, although they had not actually received the notes, they had built up a credit upon them. It Avas maintained, however, that there Avas a shortage of currency, and the notes were handed over to the banks, but it Avas then discovered that it would be unsafe to attempt to build any morecredit upon that basis. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) suggested to-day the issue of notes and the building of a credit upon them, to pay off our debts and reduce interest rates, but if that were done and the notes were riot paid back at a specified date, Australia would experience, as France and Germany have been doing, a continuous inflation of the currency, with a resultant rise in prices and a ‘decreased purchasing power. In Germany, as a result of such a policy, the worker had hardly receivedhis wages before a further decrease in the value of the currency deprived him of some of the fruits of his labour, and made it difficult for him to live.
The honorable member for South Sydney and the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) referred to the offer of the Commonwealth Bank to provide £15,000,000 to finance the wool clip and wheat harvest. That amount was not in the nature of an advance to the banks; it was only a guarantee which would give the banks confidence in carrying on the ordinary commercial activities of the community. The wool and wheat bills are from three to four months on the journey* to and from the United Kingdom, and during that period the banks were fortified by the knowledge that, if necessary, the Commonwealth Bank would provide them with funds to meet the ordinary requirements of industry in Australia. The Commonwealth Bank undertook to make available, if required, £15,000,000 in notes, upon the condition that they must be repaid in p,art by the 30th June, 1925, and all by the 31st August. The money had to come back within a few months, allowing an extra, four or five months for the clearing of the wool bills. By attaching that string to the notes, the banks were prevented from building up a fresh credit upon them. As a matter of fact, I think only £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 worth of those notes was used. What the’ banks needed was not more notes, but confidence, to carry on their ordinary business, and they were given the assurance that if they were in need the Commonwealth Bank, carrying out its proper function as a bank of reserve, would stand behind them., and enable the commerce and finance of the country to proceed without hindrance. What was the result of the Commonwealth Bank’s action ? Not only did it enable the normal activities of the community to be carried on, but wool realized in Australia and in the world’3 markets higher prices than ever before, and wheat produced very high prices indeed.
– I do not think that these remarks are strictly within the compass of ‘ the bill.
– I was led into making them bv the. remarks of the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley), and I thought it well to take advantage of an opportunity which might not conveniently recur. The Federal Loan Council issued Commonwealth securities for borrowing, the money required in Australia by the states during the last year. The allocation of the money had been previously agreed upon, and the states gave the Commonwealth their securities, and undertook to establish sinking funds. The Commonwealth was able to borrow to meet the requirements of the states for conversion -purposes also, and the rate came down about 3s. per cent, on the second occasion. The rate of interest obtainable on the market has come down from what we paid last year to something like- 5^ per cent. To-day Commonwealth securities are returning about £5 7s. or £5 8s. per cent. The brief history of the Loan Council shows the valuable work which it has already done, and I hope that, in order to ensure financial stability and evolve a symmetrical borrowing programme for’ Australia as a whole, that body will be continued. It will also prove a very useful check upon extravagant or unnecessary borrowing. The financial position throughout the world is fairly acute, and even Great Britain has nothing like the amount of annual savings available for lending abroad that it had before the war. Therefore, if the Australian governments are not to be exploited when they go upon the money market, it will be necessary for them to act unitedly, so that there may be competition amongst lenders, rather than competition amongst the borrowers, which in the past has increased the interest rate. In this connexion it is interesting to note that Germany, another federation like the Australian Commonwealth, has been forced, to adopt a policy similar to that evolved by our Loan Council. It has established an advisory council to deal with externa] loans by the states and other governing authorities, because it was feared that the currency having been placed upon a gold basis, and the country being credit hungry, there would be a. rush for foreign loans to the injury of the national credit. Therefore, extraordinary precautions have been taken to protect the credit of Germany as a whole, and to secure coordinated effort by all authorities.
The honorable member for East Sydney urged last night, and again to-day, the issue of interminable stock in converting our loans. It is quite competent for the Commonwealth Government to issue interminable stock, hut it is ‘ not possible for it under the existing law to force that stock upon the present- holders of Commonwealth securities. It would be quite unjust to penalize those people who during the war were sufficiently patriotic to invest their money in war loans by forcing them to take a depreciated security, which might not be worth within 15 or 20 per cent, of what other people could get.
– Have not the insurance companies and savings banks invested money in the war loans ?
– Yes. The honorable member for East Sydney likened the issue of interminable stock under this compulsory method to the resumption of private property for government purposes. The two things are quite dissimilar. When we resume a private property, we pav for it, not only the market value, but also something in the nature of compensation for the forced sale. The honorable member suggests that we should pay in respect of interminable stock, not the market rate of interest, but less than the market rate. No honorable member who ponders that proposal will approve of it, and I hope that sooner or later a responsible opinion on the subject ‘ rejecting it will be expressed from the Opposition side of the House. The credit of a country is a delicate thing, and all political parties must endeavour to preserve it intact. Therefore, I hope that all parties in this Parliament will endeavour to ensure that the credit of Australia shall be, like the credit of Great Britain unassailable, and that our people as borrowers shall be always respected, and always trusted. If we achieve that, the financial future of the Commonwealth will be assured.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
.- I have noticed that in the construction of a garage in close proximity to Parliament House imported cement has been used. The cement companies of Victoria and New South Wales have large stocks on hand, and many men in the industry are unemployed. Yet the Commonwealth Government, when it constructs a garage, uses imported cement. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill) informed me to-day, in answer to a question, that the garage was constructed under ihe supervision of the State Public Works
Department. The Commonwealth Government, however, paid for it; and as the Government stands for a policy of protection, it should see that only Australian materials, when they can be purchased of a quality equal to those imported, are used, and that the Australian workman is given first consideration.’
– I wish to direct the attention of the committee to a different phase of the subject referred to bv the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green). The Commonwealth used 41,000 miles of copper wire last year, which was a large increase on the quantities purchased previously. I asked a question recently to ascertain how much the wire we purchased in Australia would have cost if we had purchased it in England. We produce copper in this country, and there ia only 2 per cent, of labour in. drawing the wire. According to a return given to me by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson), I understand that in l&*23-4 we paid £134,000 more for Australian copper wire than it would have cost us to purchase the same quantity of wire in Great Britain. For nine months of last year we paid £78,000 more -to purchase the wire in Australia than it would have cost us to obtain it from Great Britain. With the enormous quantities of wire which we are now using, it will cost us in the next three years about £500,000 extra each year to purchase Australian wire.
– If the honorable member had his way, would anything be made in Australia?
– I approve of having copper wire made in Australia, but would not allow Australian companies to extort exorbitant profits from us.
– If we bought the wire from Germany we could get it more cheaply.
– I do not know whether the honorable member holds shares in the concerns that supply the Commonwealth with copper wire, but he seems very anxious to pile up profits for them. If there is only 2 per cent, of labour in the drawing of copper wire, and if the price we pay is inordinately higher than we would nave to pay in other countries, surely we are justified in complaining, and in urging that no concession other than that provided by the tariff should be given to these manufacturers. The Australian manufacturers should be able vo supply copper wire as cheaply as it can be purchased in Great Britain, seeing that the British manufacturer has to buy his copper from this country, and incur the cost of shipping it to England and back again. To subsidize one organization to the extent of £130,000 a year to supply the Post Office with copper wire is a shame, and should not be tolerated.
. -I wish to inform the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) that post office employees in Ballarat are very discontented. They have, first, a grievance relating to accommodation. In bad weather they have to put- their uniforms away wet, and they are still wet when they put them on again. The -general conditions in the post office are bad, but I shall not labour that phase of the subject, because the PostmasterGeneral has promised to visit Ballarat.’ Complaints are made by the letter-carriers about “ spying.” Honorable members, who know these letter-carriers, will agree with me when I say that they are a conscientious body of men. I have been a resident of Ballarat, and in business there, for ten years, and I have never heard a complaint by the public or by business men about the delivery of letters. Recently the lettercarriers formed a union. They were justified in ‘doing so, but some remarkable incidents have ensued. Those who have been outspoken regarding the men’s grievances have been called to book by the officials who were sent from Melbourne to act as spies. The letter-carriers have no objection to being watched to see that they do not loiter, but they contend, quite reasonably to my mind, that complaints against them should be lodged immediately. Six weeks after the spies were at Ballarat a letter-carrier was notified that he had loitered at a certain place for five minutes. The letter-carrier said that, so far as his memory served him, he was repairing his bicycle. After a lapse of five or six weeks these men cannot be expected to know where they were at a particular moment. Another letter-carrier was charged with loitering when, as a matter of fact, he was waiting for a tram car. The department provided him with money for his tram fare, and if he had walked he might have been charged with embezzlement. In some parts of Ballarat the tram service is not frequent, and a letter-carrier may have to wait some time for a car. These letter-carriers are expected to be able to say what they were doing at a certain time six weeks ago, but some honorable members could not say what they were doing six days ago, or even yesterday. I ask the Minister to have full inquiries made into this matter. He wants a contented service, and when men are doing good work he should not introduce a system which caused so much trouble in the Victorian Police Force. The Victorian Government, by introducing “ spooks “ into the Victorian Police Force, destroyed one of the finest bodies of men ever got together in this state. Another charge that has been made against certain letter-carriers was that they did not whistle every time they put a letter in a box.
I have a complaint to make about the retrenchment of returned soldiers. Preference is given to returned soldiers by act of Parliament, but instructions have been, sent from Melbourne to Ballarat that married men are to be put off for a day or two. ‘ This is not because there is no work for them to do, but because the department wants to employ telegraph messengers as letter-carriers in their place. This is the miserable, petty economy that the department is practising in Ballarat. These telegraph messengers are not efficient letter-carriers, and many of them are too young to he entrusted with the important documents contained in letters sent through the post. I hope the Minister will take the matter into consideration, and see that the returned soldiers are employed full time.
I have a special claim to make on behalf of persons employed in semi-official post offices. I gather that before federation Victoria placed women in charge of these offices. These women have to do work similar to that done by officials in charge of official post offices, including the handling of telephone and telegraph business. They have to keep their offices open the same hours as the official offices. It is the policy of the department not to create more of these semi-official offices, and when one of the positions in them becomes vacant, it appoints a returned soldier. These women, who work for a much lower salary than permanent officials, were overlooked in framing the
Superannuation Act. No retiring age is specified for them, and some of them are still working at 70 years of age. It will not be contended that at that age they can give the public proper service; yet they cannot resign, because they have nothing to live on. In many cases they are destitute, and must carry on until they die. The number of semi-official offices is not great. The women in charge of them have rendered splendid service to the country, and by excluding them from the benefits of the Superannuation Act, Parliament has inflicted a hardship upon them.- The semiofficial offices are to be found not only in villages, but also in large centres of population. There is one at Sebastopol, a suburb of Ballarat, and another at Buninyong, an important centre. Both are conducted by women. I ask the Minister to take the matter into serious consideration, with a view to bringing these women within the scope of the act. He should do this by regulation if possible, or, if necessary, by introducing a bill to amend the act.
.- I wish to direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to the unfairness of the new order that has been gazetted by which the recreation leave of the officers in the Postal Department in Broken Hill has been reduced. This order has imposed very great hardship on these officers, who are serving the Government well and faithfully in one of. the worst districts in New South Wales. Pew places in Australia have a more trying climate than Broken Hill, and the officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department who are stationed there feel very keenly the injustice of this new order. A letter on the subject, forwarded by the men to the chairman of the Public Service Board, on 28th May, 1925, read as follows : -
Tho officers of Broken Hill respectfully desire that you will note the keen dissent amongst officers of this district caused by the unfair imposition of an unnecessary hardship on loyal and conscientious officers, by the reduction of recreation leave from 24 days to 18 per annum, as per Commonwealth Gazette and further amendment.
Further, we ask that you will please consider our united petition for the granting of leave to officers stationed in this remote and unfavorable locality, which will allow us to enjoy an amount of recreation leave equal - on reaching the capital of our state - to that enjoyed by officers employed in the metropolis and thereabouts. In this respect we ask for & minimum of 28-J days’ annual leave, which is calculated as follows: - Eighteen days’ recreation leave, plus lui days, the average time necesary to reach Sydney by the most practical route and return for duty.
In support of our petition we place before you the following facts, which we have no doubt have escaped your attention, and which in justice we have no doubt you will favorably consider. Over 90 per cent, of the officers of this district are New South Wales men, natives of that state, and whose desire when on leave is to go to their homes, friends, or relations in New South Wales. Many of these officers require to travel beyond Sydney to reach their homes and their, people. Particulars of the time necessary to reach -Sydney and return is shown in detail on a list attached.
Thus an officer from this district with IS days leave plus 2, to which it has now been reduced, is - after allowing for the average time lost in travelling - limited to 9i days’ annual leave in the capital of our state, while his fellow officers of the metropolis and thereabouts, who have enjoyed more favorable conditions throughout the year are able to enjoy 18 days’ leave therein. In addition, the officer from this district is ‘burdened with the fatigue of travel and the enormous expense entailed thereby.
In reviewing the travelling time, consideration must be given to the fact that an officer usually travels with his wife and family, and, therefore, a minimum of one day’s intermediate rest is necessary at Melbourne on the forward journey, and Adelaide on the return, which is after 34 hours’ travelling, covering two consecutive nights, and part of three days in the train.
It will be seen that the minimum days lost without allowing for the necessary intermediate rest during the long fatiguing journey is 7 days, and tha maximum 11 days, or an average of 8 ) days; this, together with the necessary rest en route, makes an average of 10$ days lost. An officer commencing leave on Saturday would (with the additional 2 days) only have 7 days’ leave in Sydney, and less if he travelled beyond Sydney, and. lose practically a fortnight in travelling. We consider that after serving the department faithfully and well under the trying conditions experienced here that the Commissioners will justly and in fairness allow their officers the time lost in travelling owing to their location.
We also draw your attention to the fact that our cheapest and most direct route to the capital of our state, is by coach to the extremity of the New South Wales railways. In consideration of the lower fares many officers take this route. It seems a paradox that by using the most direct and cheapest route, we pass through localities where officers are allowed longer leave owing to their location.
Other departments and institutions in this city recognize that during each twelve months’ duty in this unfavorable locality that their employees have justly earned one month’s leave. School teachers are allowed one extra week’s vacation at Christmas more than elsewhere. They also commence vacations earlier than other schools.
Officers also feel that the department is acting unjustly and wrongly in reducing the leave allotted to officers already in this district. When an officer accepted transfer , or appointment to this locality, one of the conditions under which he came here was that he was to receive 24 days’ annual leave. He was not allowed to exceed those 24 days owing to his agreement - otherwise the regulations. By this same agreement his employer - the department, of which he is an officer - should in- all sense of justice and fairness, be similarly bound to its obligation, and allow that officer 24 days’ annual leave until he is transferred.
We beg that you will consider our petition as an appeal from conscientious officers, labouring for the department in a remote and unfavorable locality/asking that they may enjoy the same amount of leave as their fellowofficers who are more favorably placed. The granting of our request would not only be an equable allowance for time lost owing to our location, hut may also be allowed in the light of some slight compensation for the years of toil under unfavorable and unhealthy climatic conditions.
An officer travelling straight through by first train in each case, and commencing leave on Monday, would reach Sydney on Thursday. Leaving Sydney by first train thereafter, he would reach Broken Hill on Tuesday, equalling nine days, plus one day’s intermediate rest each way - 1 1 days.
Leave Broken Hill Monday, reach Sydney Thursday; leave Sydney Thursday, reach Broken Hill Tuesday; 9 days, plus 1 day for intermediate rest each way - 11 days.
Leave Broken Hill Tuesday, reach SydneyFriday; leave Sydney Friday, reach Broken Hill Tuesday; 8 days, plus 1 day for intermediate rest each way - 10 days.
Leave Broken Hill Wednesday, reach Sydney Saturday; leave Sydney Saturday, Teach Broken Hill Wednesday; 8 days, plus 1 day for intermediate rest each way - 10 days.
Leave Broken Hill Thursday, reach Sydney Sunday; leave Sydney Sunday, reach Broken Hill Wednesday; 7 days, plus 1 day for intermediate rest each way - 9 days.
Leave Broken Hill Friday, reach Sydney Tuesday; leave Sydney Tuesday, reach Broken Hill Friday; 8 days, plus 1 day for intermediate rest each way - 10 days.
Leave Broken Hill Saturday, reach Sydney Thursday; leave Sydney Thursday, reach Broken Hill Tuesday; 11 days, plus one day for intermediate rest each way - 13 days.
I trust that the Postmaster-General will favorably consider the representations that these officers have made for the reconsideration of the order that is the subject pf their complaint. Ninety per cent, of the men concerned are from Sydney, or other parts of New South Wales, and it is unfair that they should be obliged <o spend nine and a half days of their recreation leave in travelling to the state metropolis : or, in the case of some of them. an even longer time in travelling -io their friends and relatives in other parts of the state: .In the matter of recreation , leave, they ought to be treated at least as. liberally as officers of the Service who are located in’ the metropolitan area. I hope the Postmaster-General will see that they are given the 28£ days’ annual leave which they request.
.- I have received a number of complaints, as I suppose other honorable members ha’“e also, about the delays that occur in delivering interstate telegrams passing between Melbourne and Sydney. Sometimes twelve or fourteen hours elapse between the lodging of a telegram in Melbourne and its delivery in Sydney. Complaints have also been made of the delays that occur in handling press telegraphic business between Melbourne and Sydney.. I should like the Postmaster-General to tell us whether any steps have been taken, or whether he proposes to take any, to improve the interstate telegraphic and telephonic service between these two capital cities.
– I wish to direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to the unsatisfactory state of affairs in regard to the provision of new trunk telephone lines. Approval has been given for the construction of many trunk lines in various country districts in my electorate. I suppose that other honorable members could say the same thing. When the Deputy PostmastersGeneral are requested to push in with the work of constructing these approved lines, they tell us far too frequently that they cannot say when the work will be put in hand, for money is not available for the purpose. Honorable members on this side of the chamber regard this matter in a non-party light. We have always assisted the Government ro improve telephonic and telegraphic facilities in the country. Unfortunately, in this matter, some honorable members who support this composite Government are pledged to a policy of economy; but they are practising in this matter, at all events, a false economy. It must be patent to all of us that expansion is impossible without expenditure. It is not economy to withhold the establishment of public -services which would be profitable from the date that they were put into operation. Someof the trunk line telephones that have been established have been revenue-pro- ducing from the moment they were made available to the public, and many more could be established in our country districts that would be just as profitable, and would render great service to tho people.
– Hear, hear!
– I am glad that the honorable member for Macquarie is of my opinion in this matter. There is no justification for delaying the establishment of many trunk line telephones for which approval has been granted.
– We have spent more than any other Government in providing services of that kind.
– That may be so, but the fact remains that the needs of the country have not been satisfied.
– The Government is providing as much money as can be spent on this work.
– Delays in carrying out approved works of this description cause considerable additional expense to the country. If a line has been proposed, reported upon by a departmental officer, and approved, but is not constructed for nine or twelve months, and in the meantime the end of the financial year is reached, the whole process has to be repeated in the next year before the work can be put in hand. That would be unnecessary if the department kept pace with the work. Honorable members on this side of the chamber, and I suppose the same remark applies to honorable members opposite, are frequently approached by their constituents with questions like this : “ Can you not do something to push on the construction of the trunk line telephone that has been approved for our district?” We endeavour to do what we can, but we meet with the same response as the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Kiley) spoke of on one occasion. He said of a previous Postmaster-General: “ We get very nice letters from him, but we do not get the telephone lines, and we do not get the bricks and mortar.” The Treasurer will be bringing down his budget proposals and Estimates in a few weeks. I trust that he will then be able to tell us that delays such as I have described will not occur when works have been approved by the department. I appeal to the Government to do its utmost to expedite the construction of trunk line telephones, especially those that have been strongly recommended by departmental officers. These works pay handsomely, so it is not a case of investing money without the expectation of an immediate return. I assure the PostmasterGeneral that the Labour party will support every proposal that he makes to provide an adequate telephonic service for the country areas.
– The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) surprised me when he said that the members of the postal staff in his district were discontented. They have given exceptionally good service to the department, and I am sure that the case to which the honorable member has referred must be an isolated one. He spoke of pimps and spies, but let me assure him that no such persons are employed by the department. Supervision certainly is exercised, and no officer who does his duty would take the slightest objection to that. Supervision along the lines now adopted has been in operation for some time.
– Does the Minister think that reports should be several weeks late?
– No, they should be sent in immediately. The honorable member spoke of the semi-official employees. He will recognize that these for the most part are returned soldiers, and that the department retains their services until such time as the offices require to be staffed by permanent employees. Until that time the semi-official employees cannot be given the benefits of the Public Service Superannuation Act.
– What about the women who have held such positions for 30 years?
– When it becomes necessary to put permanent officers in their place an effort is made to find other positions for them. I must refer the honorable member to the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), whose department will deal with his complaint, for it should be brought under the notice of the Public Service Board. The honorable member spoke of returned soldiers having been dismissed, but very few, if any, have had that experience. The sums already made available by the Government have been the means of keeping in employment 3,000 men who would otherwise have been discharged, and by this bill we shall ensure continuity of employment.
– I can give the Minister the names of the dismissed men.
– If the honorable member does so I shall have the cases investigated individually.
Let me say in reply to the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) that if he will control the weather, my department will be able to prevent delay in the transmission of telegrams. During the last month some of the telegraph wires have stood in over 20 feet of water owing to the floods in New South Wales, and it is’ not. to be wondered at that shortcircuiting of wires has taken place. Every effort is being put forward to make the trunk, line from Melbourne to Sydney more serviceable than it is at the present time. The section from Sydney to Albury has been completed, and now we are working on the section from Albury to Melbourne. As soon as the weather takes up in New South Wales a greatly improved service will be possible.
– When may that be expected ?
– In the next two months.
The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) made reference to the delay in providing telephone extensions. This year applications have been received for 50,000 telephones at an average cost of £60 each. Apart from the cost of trunk line connexions, this involves an expenditure of £3,000,000. I have previously informed the House that the Government intends to bring down a large programme for the construction of trunk lines, and honorable members may rest assured that every endeavour will be made to expedite the work.
In reply to the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), I may say that the matter of the annual leave of postal officers in the Broken Hill district is one for the Public Service Board, and I am sure that the Prime Minister will take note of his remarks.
– In answer to the question that has been raised regarding the use of imported cement in the construction of the garage in the parliamentary grounds, I have to say that the Department of Works and Railways had nothing to do with that work, lt did not draw the plans, and I was not aware that imported cement was used. In any case, the building is entirely of brick, and it has merely a coating of cement. It seems to me that the complaint is rather frivolous.
Schedule agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Immigration Act 1901-24.
Bill presented, and (on motion by Mr. Bruce) read a first time.
– (By leave)- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of the measure is to amend the Immigration Act so that additional power may be obtained to regulate and control the immigration of aliens into Australia. During recent months this subject has assumed considerable importance, and it concerns Australia by reason of happenings in another part of the world. In May, 1921, the United States of America passed its first Immigration Restriction Act. That measure provided for a quota system, and the number of immigrants of any particular nationality allowed to enter the country in any one year was fixed by it. The quota was originally based on the census of 1910, and was limited to 3 per cent, of the number of nationals of each country who were then domiciled in the United States of America; but after the measure had been in operation for a year it was considered necessary to alter its provisions, and the basis upon which the quota was determined was altered from the census of 1910 to that of 1890. The immigration allowed was also reduced from 3 per cent, to 2 per cent. The reason for this law was frankly stated in the United States Congress. Prior to 1890 there had been a great migration of the Nordic races into the United States of America, while’ between 1890 and 1910 there had been a considerable influx of Southern Europeans. When the 3 per cent, quota system, on the basis of the 1910 census, was in operation, it was found that an undue proportion of people belonging to the Southern- European races was flowing into the country, and it was decided to adopt the basis of the 1890 census, to increase the number of immigrants of the Nordic races. The following figures, showing the numbers of the nationals of different countries permitted to enter the United States of America are of considerable interest.
In the case of the Nordic races, however, the difference made by the change in the law is not so marked, as the following figures indicate : -
The attitude of the United States of America is clearly set out in a report presented to Congress, from which I make the following extract: -
The decision by the committee to limit admissions of quota immigrants to 2 per cent, based on the census figures of 1890, instead of 3 per cent, based on the census of 1910, was reached after long and careful consideration of every element of the entire immigration problem. An impelling reason for the change is that it is desired to slow down the streams of the types of immigrants which are not easily assimilated. Naturalization does not necessarily mean assimilation. The naturalization process cannot work well with the continued arrival in large numbers of the so-called new immigration. The . new type crowds in the larger cities. It is exploited. It gains but a slight knowledge of America and American institutions. It has grown to be a great undigested mass of alien thought, alien sympathy, and alien purpose. It is a menace to the social, political, and economic life of the country. It creates alarm and apprehension. It breeds racial hatreds which should not exist in the United States, and which need not exist when the balance shall have been restored.
The action taken by the United States of America is of very great interest to us, because in the future we may have to face a problem of the character with which that country has dealt. The people of Australia are quite determined to maintain their racial purity, and we desire to learn all we can from the experience of other nations as to the means to be adopted to that end. We must ensure that there shall come to this country people who can naturally and easily be assimilated in our population. The facts I have given should be of very great interest to Australia, and afford considerable food for thought. As a result of the action taken by the United States of America in limiting the flow of migrants into that country, the great mass of the migration from Europe has had of recent years to find a new outlet. Not unnaturally the eyes of the people of many European countries have turned to Australia, with its great unpopulated spaces and immense possibilities. When the legislation providing for the quota system was passed in America, it was obvious to the Australian Government that there was considerable danger of a flow of migration to this country in numbers which would be beyond our power of absorption. We were strengthened in that view when we found that the agents of shipping companies, which had been doing a lucrative trade in the transport of migrants to the United States of America, were drawing glowing pictures of the possibilities in Australia to induce migrants to come to this continent. Recognizing the danger of what was being done, we immediately took steps to notify the various countriesconcerned of the actual position here and of our industrial possibilities, acting in some cases through British consular representatives. We also took steps to notify the shipping companies, insisting that they should instruct their agents that the true position must be stated. The action we took has had a considerable effect in at least securing that a truer picture of the actual position in Australia, of its economic possibilities, and its powers of absorption will be presented to intending migrants. We also approached various Governments in the endeavour to limit the nationals that were coming here to a number that we could absorb. We approached the Italian Government, which has. given every assistance to ensure that only the number of Italians that we can absorb shall come to Australia. Through British consuls we have made arrangements in several of the other European countries, such as Greece, whereby the number of passports which are vised, allowing people to travel to Australia, are limited. We have further taken steps to ensure that no migrants shall come here who have not in their possession when they arrive at least £40, and have not also taken steps to provide that some one here shall be responsible for them when they come. The Italian Government met is very fairly in this matter, and does not issue passports in Italy now only when a migrant is possessed of £40, but must also be satisfied that there is some one here who will be responsible for his finding employment and being able to maintain himself after he has arrived.
It has taken a little time to bring all these measures into operation, ‘but I think the figures I shall quote show that there is control over the movement of southern European migration to Australia, and that we may regard it as being, at the moment at all events, on a reasonable basis. The figures I propose to give are at least indicative of what has actually happened. They refer to the migration from Greece, Yugo-Slavia, and Albania. During the quarter ending the 31st December last year, the number of Greeks who came into Australia was 910, but for the three months ending the 30th April of the present year this number was reduced to 105. With regard to Yugo-Slavians, the number coming to Australia was 915 in the last quarter of last year, and only 103 in the same three months of the present year. During the last quarter of last year 176 Albanians came to Australia, but none arrived during the three months of the present year. I have, on several occasions, dealt with this matter at very great length, and have gone into more detail than is necessary now, setting out the action we have taken and stating the actual number of migrants coming into Australia.
The Government has considered the quota system which the United States of America is operating at the present time.
There are many reasons why in Australiawe should consider very seriously before adopting a similar system. It is one thing for a country with a population of 115,000,000, which quite obviously in the eyes of the world has very nearly reached, the saturation point, to adopt a quota, system and say, “We can allow only a certain number of migrants to come into this country”; but for Australia, which is larger in extent than the United States of America and has a population of only 6,000,000, to adopt that attitude would cause very considerable resentment amongst European nations at the pre- sent time. Another fact we must bear in mind is that the adoption of the quota system would involve a very completeconsular representation- throughout the; countries in which it would be operative. America has a considerable diplomatic and consular service operating throughout the whole of Europe. If we took action to adopt a quota system the necessary representation throughout Europe would involve tremendous expenditure, and at the present time I do not believe that the people of Australia would consider that action on those lines is warranted. I do not think that it is necessary. It has been suggested that our racial purity is being tarnished. I do not think that any one can possibly substantiate that statement by an examination of the figures giving the population of Australia and the nationalities to which our people belong. A few days ago, in answer to a question, I gave the number of foreign migrants coming to Australia during the three years ending in 1924. Those figures are set out in a table which will be found at page 279 of the Hansard report for the 19th June, and’ I need not weary honorable members by repeating them. I suggest that if they are referred to it will be seen that the number of . foreign migrants coming into Australia is certainly not sufficient to affect our racial purity. If the actual figures for the last period for which we have information - the six months ending March of the present year - are compared with the figures for the previous six months, it will be found that the actual position is that, taking the excess of arrivals over departures for the half-year ending September, 1924, the number of British is 14,56S, or 76.02 of the total; and the number of other whites 4,595, or 23.98 of the total. During the same period there was an excess of births over deaths of 39,434. For the period ended March, 1925, the British numbered 20,463, or about 73 per cent, of the total; other whites numbered 7,495, or 26.9 per cent, of the total, and the excess of births over deaths numbered 41,968. I give these figures because it is essential that the people of Australia should understand that at present there is no possible danger of our racial purity being affected in any way. “We in Australia, and our kinsmen in New Zealand, claim that we are more British than the British themselves, and lave more of British stock in our communities than there is in Great Britain itself. But, while there is not any present cause for alarm; we have to recognize that in the future a position may arise which will present serious danger to our “racial purity, and may lead to the standards which we have created during a long period of years being destroyed by a great influx of persons with a different economic stand-point from our own, and of
Sl different race, which would alter the character of the Australian population. Consequently, it is necessary that we should take some steps to give ourselves statutory power to prevent such a position arising. It would be very embarrassing and difficult to do this at a time when we were in fact faced with a great flow of migrants which we were having difficulty in stemming. We might then have to take action against some individual people, which would be, internationally, most undesirable. To-day, however, there is no reason why we should not, without giving offence to any country in the world, put on our statute-book a measure which will give us the power, should the necessity arise, to stop any flow of migration into Australia of a character that is not desirable. It is for that purpose that the Immigration Act- is being amended as at present proposed. The amendment follows the lines of legislation which has been passed by the Canadian Parliament. We are taking power, by proclamation by the Governor-General, to prohibit, either wholly or in excess of specified numerical limits, and either permanently or for a specified period, the immigration into the Commonwealth, or the landing at any specified port or place in the Commonwealth, of alien’s of any specified nationality, race, class, or occupation, in any case where it is deemed desirable so to do. The reasons why we take that power are, firstly, on account of the economic, industrial, or other conditions existing in the Commonwealth ; secondly, because the persons specified in the proclamation are unsuitable for admission into the Commonwealth; and, thirdly, because they are deemed unlikely to be readily assimilated or to assume the duties and responsibilities of Australian citizenship within a reasonable time after their entry. Having that provision upon our statutebooks, we shall have power at any time when it is necessary in the interests of the Australian nation, to take steps to prevent an undue flow of migration of an alien character into this country. I am sure that every true Australian would desire the Government to have that power, but it should not be used unless absolutely needed. We have no desire to exclude other persons from coming into this country to help us to develop it and io advance its prosperity. But we desire to maintain our racial purity, and to remain essentially and basically a British people. If we admit into this country alien people together with those of British nationality, to work side by side under the same standard of living, we shall bc able to maintain our Australian sentiment. Every Australian will endorse the action that we have taken to safeguard ourselves should the occasion arise. The proposed amendment, I need hardly say, is not directed against any other nation ; it is merely the assumption of a general power to safeguard our own interests. The measure also provides for the tightening up in many directions of the machinery of the Immigration Act to ensure that the laws respecting alien migration shall be enforced.
The machinery clauses which are being inserted in the bill to strengthen the act in its administration are more suitable for consideration in committee, and I do not now propose to delay the House :n dealing with them.
There is, however, another problem that we have to face, and it is that, unfortunately, among those coming into Australia are a number of persons of alien race and blood who, although we offer to them the opportunity “ to enjoy our citizenship, refuse to become Australians, do not recognize our ideals, are not absorbed into our national life, and do not subscribe to our ideals. It is as necessary that we should have power to rid ourselves of persons of that character when they interfere with our Australian ideals, and with the great principles of constitutional government for which we stand, as that we should be able to prevent an undue flow of migrants into Australia. Consequently this measure contains certain provisions for dealing with cases of this sort. Experience has shown the necessity for placing some such power in the hands of the Government of the Commonwealth, to be used in the interests of the Australian people and for the peace and good government of this continent. Certain clauses, therefore, give power to remove persons who will not subscribe to the laws of Australia or to the great principles anddeals for which wo stand. They are designed to protect the legitimate and genuine citizens of Australia, and are not directed against any class or section. They are necessary when we remember that in Australia we open our doors to many people from overseas. We invite them to come here to live and to enjoy the benefits, which we ourselves possess. We are anxious and willing to welcome people of our own or kindred blood. We admit them fully into the citizenship of this country, and give them all the privileges thatwe enjoy. But we also impose upon them certain obligations, the first, and, possibly, the most sacred of these being that they shall be loyal to this country and to its laws. Unfortunately, there are some people who are not imbued with the spirit of loyalty, and will not conform to the standard that we ask of those whom we invite into this continent. Many persons, owing to their previous environment and to the fact that they have not before enjoyed privileges and advantages such as ours, are totally unable to accept the benefits extended to them here. Many of them arrive in this country with a quite possibly legitimate grievance against the country whence they come. They are filled with a spirit which has been created by the conditions under which they lived elsewhere, but they voice here false doctrines and ideas, and refer to social conditions in language that is absolutely inapplicable to any that exist in Australia. Being thus prejudiced, they carry on a propaganda of the most in sidious nature. It possibly appeals to the young and the thoughtless, because it is exotic and unusual. In any case it is absolutely dangerous to the national life of our country. Some of these men - alien adventurers, with un-Australian and un-social outlook - possess poisoned and embittered minds, and. constantly endeavour to embitter the minds of Australian citizens. This is hurtful to the Commonwealth. We have no room for that spirit, or for the atmosphere which it creates. When such men come here it is necessary, in our own interests, if they will not conform to our standards ‘ and will not be absorbed into our national life, to withdraw our hospitality and inform them that, as they cannot become Australians, there is no alternative but to return whence they came. That is the position with which we are faced to-day, and it is fully recognized by the great bulk of the people. This is not a party matter. Every individual who believes in Australia and in our ideals must unite to free this country from the poisonous propaganda of men who are not Australians, and have no Australian ideals or sympathies. The Government has accordingly embodied in this measure certain provisions which give power; under certain circumstances, to remove out of this country those who are disturbing the peace and the lives of the Australian people. Two clauses deal with this subject, and power is conferred on two different bases. Under the Immigration Act, which it is proposed to amend, there is power to remove certain people from this country. Section 8a of the original act provides that where the Minister is satisfied that within three years after the arrival in Australia of a person who was not born in Australia, that person has been convicted in Australia of a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for one year or longer, or is living on the prostitution of others, or has become an inmate of . an insane asylum or public charitable institution, the Minister may make an order for his deportation. The amending clause proposes to extend that principle by providing that -
Where any person who was not horn in Australia has at any time been convicted in Australia of an offence against the laws of the Commonwealth relating to trade and commerce or conciliation and arbitration for the prevention or settlement of industrial disputes, and the Minister is satisfied that any of the acts constituting the offence were directed towards hindering or obstructing, to the prejudice of the public, the production or transport of goods or the conveyance of passengers or the provision of necessary services, and that the presence of that person in Australia will be injurious to the peace, order, or good government of the Commonwealth, the Minister may make an order for bis deportation.
No man can be deported under that provision who has not been convicted of an offence. The Australian laws relating to industry are based upon a desire for the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes, and if an alien, who may have been embittered by conditions prevailing in some other country, will not obey those laws or conform to our ideals, we have no use for him, and we are entitled to send him out of the country. An Australian who adopts the same recalcitrant attitude is in a different category; he is our own responsibility. We must endeavour to convert him to our ideals, and if we fail we must take steps to restrain him. But there is no obligation upon us to maintain in our midst citizens of other countries who refuse to obey our laws or conform to our standards.
Another clause follows the same principle as is embodied in existing legislation. The principal act provides that any person who - advocates the overthrow by force or violence of the established Government of the Commonwealth or of any state or of any other civilized country, or of all forms of law, or who advocates the abolition of organized government or who advocates the assassination of public officials or who advocates or preaches the unlawful destruction of property, or who is a member of ‘ or affiliated with any organization which entertains and teaches any of the doctrines and practices specified in this paragraph may be brought before a tribunal, and, if found guilty, deported. The amending clause extends that power to men who are trying to disrupt the industrial life of the community. At ordinary times and in normal conditions such persons can be dealt with by the usual processes of law, but during a time of great industrial upheaval it is essential that there shall be power to deal with men who came from other countries, and who are trying to inflame the minds of the Australian people by preaching doctrines which they have brought with them from abroad. Therefore, under clause 7 of the bill a proclamation may be issued declaring that there exists in Australia a serious industrial disturbance prejudicing or threatening the peace, order, or good government of the Commonwealth, and that proclamation shall remain in force until it is revoked by the GovernorGeneral. While it remains operative, the Minister may bring before a tribunal any man who has been engaged in fomenting industrial trouble which has led to the upheaval, and if the tribunal is satisfied of his guilt, he may be deported. That is merely emergency legislation, and can be applied only in times of great industrial turmoil, when industry and commerce have been brought to a stand-still. At such times the executive must have power to deal with persons who are responsible for bringing about such a state of affairs. If there were in Australia none of these alien agitators, we should not have half the troubles we are experiencing to-day. These disturbances are not caused by the Australianborn, but are due to the doctrines and atmosphere introduced by aliens, and the bill provides that when such a person has been convicted of an offence against the industrial laws of the country he may be deported.
– What about the employers who provoke strikes?
– The law will be applicable to anybody who commits the offences specified in the bill. Every honorable member will admit that it is essential that the executive should have power to bring to book persons who have been responsible for paralyzing the industrial and commercial life of Australia. We all know how hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children suffer during great industrial upheavals, which, generally speaking, are caused by a few individuals, many of whom are aliens. Australia would be better off without men of that character. These amendments are designed entirely to benefit the community as a whole. Some persons in our midst think it necessary to declare that punishments of the character proposed should not be inflicted, and they thus give support to the individuals who are causing chaos in so many of our industries. But very few of those people in their hearts approve of the actions of these alien agitators, whom they feel obliged to support.
Legislation alone will not solve the problems with which this bill deals. Nobody oan dictate what the working classes, or any other classes, shall do. Our greatest hope lies in the leaders of the different sections of the community, whether they be employers or employees. If they will counsel their followers wisely, and particularly if the leaders of the working class will come into the open, and denounce those men who are bringing incalculable suffering to tens of thousands of men, women, and children, a great service will be done to Australia. I have heard a great deal about my duty as Prime Minister to prevent these- industrial upheavals, but upon the leaders of industry there is a much greater responsibility. This is the testing time for them, and if they prove worthy of their great opportunity, we shall be able to get rid of these troubles. If they fail, no legislation that any Parliament can enact will solve the problem that confronts us.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Charlton) adjourned.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s Message) :
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue he made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to amend the National Debt Sinking Fund Act 1923-4.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Bruce do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page, and read a first time.
Australia’s Representation at League of Nations - -Charges against Northern Territory Officials - Movements of Australian Warships.
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
In submitting this motion I wish to inform honorable members that the representatives of Australia at the forthcoming meeting of the League of Nations in September will be the High Commissioner for Australia in London (Sir Joseph Cook), Senator Drake-Brockman, and the Honorable George Swinburne. An alternative woman delegate will also be appointed, and I hope to be able to announce her name within two or three days.
– The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) when speaking in the early hours of this morning made charges against two officials of the Northern Territory. The Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Pearce) has supplied me with the following information about those charges : -
Mr. Story’s military record was duly examined prior to his appointment as Government Secretary of the Northern Territory. The record contains nothing whatever to warrant the statements which have been made by the honorable member for the Northern Territory concerning this officer’s war service.
Mr. . Story was neither cashiered nor court martialled. On one occasion he was held to have committed an error of judgment, but he was subsequently specially mentioned in a dispatch by Sir Douglas Haig.
Mr. Story was never permanently appointed to the command of a battalion, and only once held that position temporarily, during the absence of his commander.
The complaint against Mr. A. C. Braham, Crown Law Officer of the Northern Territory, of being a defaulter in a betting transaction in Western Australia was not brought under the notice of the Department of Home and Territories until after that officer had taken up his duties at Darwin. The complaint was in the form of a declaration by a racehorse trainer of Kalgoorlie.
Although the position to which Mr. Braham had been appointed in the Northern Territory was not one of financial trust, and the Western Australian authorities apparently had not considered any action to be necessary in the direction of having Mr. Braham removed from the roll of solicitors, the Minister for Home and Territories directed that an explanation be obtained.
Mr. Braham’s reply indicated that the matter was purely a personal one, that the declarant had been actuated by malice due to his having been severely cross-examined by Mr. Braham in certain legal proceedings, and, [further, that the declarant . had previously brought the matter before a conference of returned soldiers in Perth. He pointed out that, notwithstanding this action, he retained the confidence of the Western Australian Returned Soldiers League, which was manifested by his re-election to the office of trustee of the league immediately afterwards.
Mr. Braham sought permission to take the matter up with the league, but this was not granted, as it iwas not considered that any useful purpose would be served by carrying the matter any further.
Although perhaps it is rather late, what I have to say is so serious and urgent that I hope I shall be excused for at least introducing the subject on which I wish to speak on the motion for the adjournment of the House. I addressed a question yesterday to the honorable the Minister for the Navy (Sir Neville Howse) in these terms : -
Is the Australian warship Brisbane or any Australian warship operating in Chinese waters in connexion with the industrial disturbances at Shanghai?
Where, and in what capacity, are the -major vessels of the Australian fleet operating vat present?
To-day, by courtesy of the honorable gentleman, I received the following re- ply : -
The H.M.A.S. Brisbane left Australian waters in February to be attached to the China Station as an exchange cruiser, the H.M.S. Concord being attached to the Australian squadron in lieu. I have no knowledge of the Brisbane’s present ‘detailed movements, but -she is due back at Thursday Island about the middle of August.
They are en route to Hervey Bay, Queensland, for exercises, and are due back at Sydney on 9th July.
I venture to say, and I say it with the concurrence of my Leader, that the answer is totally unsatisfactory. The true position was brought into a more significant light this afternoon by reports which appeared in the press regarding : the conditions prevailing in the disturbed area of the East. I do not think that any honorable member can doubt that an ugly and a dangerous situation is developing in China. I am neither so young nor so innocent as to imagine that the newspaper reports which we have in -connexion with this affair are full and accurate, or that those we are likely to get will be so, but, subject to that reservation, I think that the Melbourne Herald is fairly well informed on foreign affairs. I shall quote some significant passages from the final issue of that journal this afternoon. Across the front page of it, in what would be called in newspaper circles “ a scare heading,” appears the announcement, “ H.M.A.S. Brisbane ready for Hong Kong,” and then follows a long report, which I shall not read in full, although I purpose, with the indulgence “of the House, to read some significant passages from it. It states -
In the Canton fighting 400 Chinese were killed. The Chinese, who started the attack, were led by a Russian officer. The British
Foreign Minister announces that the hand of “ another Government “ has been traced in the disturbances.
A British battalion (1,000 troops) is hurrying. from Hong Kong to Canton, 90 miles away up the Pearl River.
Later the report says -
It is estimated that 400 Chinese were killed and many hundreds injured by the fire from French and Portuguese gunboats and by British seamen following the attack on the Shameen (European settlement) on Tuesday afternoon.
About 2,000 cadets from the Whampoa (Canton) Naval College, under cover of a parade of women ‘ and children, fired into the Shameen, killing Mr. J. Pasquier, a French merchant, and wounding the Commissioner of Customs (Mr. ArthurEdwardes), and Mr. V. G. Murrell, of the firm of A. S. Watson and Company.
It was then that the French and Portuguese gunboats and the British seamen returned the fire.
I am indebted to the same newspaper, also, for the following information : -
In addition to the Brisbane, H.M.A.S. Vindictive, which is on the China Station, is also commanded by an Australian naval officer, Captain G. F. Hyde.
The Australian fleet, consisting of Sydney, Adelaide, Stalwart, Anzac, and Tasmania, left Sydney yesterday on a winter cruise, proceeding north.
Although there is no present intention, there is always the possibility that the ships, which could re-fuel at Thursday Island, might proceed to China waters should the trouble there develop on any considerable scale.
The complaint which I address to the House, and particularly to the Government, is that, whatever the detailed circumstances may be, the fact is outstanding that an Australian battleship is being employed as part of the British squadron in Chinese waters, against the Chinese in their own country, and in a war which is primarily an industrial war. While that is in itself very serious, it is from the point of view of the duty the Government owes to this House and the country, almost more serious that Ministers have not thought it worth while to inform this House, which is now in session, that it has allowed H.M.A.S. Brisbane, of the Australian Navy, to be transferred to Chinese waters and to take part in belligerent operations. By the merest chance - perhaps I should not say “ the merest chance,” because the matter has come within the knowledge of members on this side of the House - information has come to us, and when I turn to the answer of the honorable the Minister for the Navy to the question asked by me as a member’ of this House, and given after I had challenged him to inform his mind on the subject, I read, “I have no knowledge of the Brisbane’s detailed movements, but she is due back at Thursday Island about the middle of August.” My reply to that is that the honorable gentleman, his Government, and the House ought to have knowledge of the Brisbane’s detailed movements. I have read that the Brisbane has a draught of 18 feet, and is therefore peculiarly suited for navigating the Yang-tse-Kiang River. She could navigate the river for 80 miles from its outlet. I desire to know whether it is proposed, or whether it has been decided, that because of her special capacity in this regard she shall be engaged in this war in the East. I am well aware that, technically, there is no war. I am concerned not with technicalities, but with actualities. To the honour of the Labour party be it said that the one thing for which it has stood more sternly and strongly than for any other is that the Australian Navy and the Australian Army shall not be employed in any industrial conflict in Australia. If they should not be so employed in Australia, certainly they should not be so employed in foreign territory. God forbid that this House, or this party - and I have an appreciation of the views of this party - should lend themselves to the movement to crush the proletariat of the Chinese Empire who are emerging with difficulty from centuries of tyranny of the grossest and gravest description that has ever cursed the world. I cannot imagine any action that would more gravely shock the Australian conscience than that we should so employ our navy. I do not propose to-night, to develop the position as to the conditions existing at Shanghai, either as to their genesis, history, or possible outcome. My object is to remind the right honorable gentleman who ie responsible to this Parliament and to this country, for any action that may be taken by an Australian vessel in these eastern waters that ‘ we are vitally concerned in every possible phase of the trouble. He has told us nothing about these matters. My grievance is, in the first place, that this thing has been done at all, and, secondly, that it’ has been done secretly. It is said that the Brisbane has been exchanged for the British ship Concord. If there are any circumstances in which an Australian vessel may be exchanged for a British ship for naval operations of a serious character anywhere, all the reasons for it and the conditions attending it should be disclosed to this House. In the peculiar circumstances of this trouble in the East, the duty that rested on the Government to explain the position fully to the House was particularly urgent. I hope and believe that this House, and I am sure that this party, will not agree in any circumstances to take part in this fight against the Chinese proletariat. We do not know in what way this matter may develop.” We know that the trouble was industrial in its origin, and that it is largely national in its development. We know that the great Chinese Republic is awakening, and, for my part, I wish it well. We have no feelings towards it but those of friendliness. We on this side of the House sympathize deeply with the people of this great republic in the age-long conflict during which they have been ground . down by their depredators from other so=-called civilized countries, who have taken every advantage of China’s weakness, and have used their strength to despoil their victims. In this matter the British Empire has not been guiltless. But our duty, like charity, begins at home. I ask the Prime Minister to do what he should have done before, namely, to take us into his confidence in this whole matter of the Brisbane and the Australian Navy. Is it possible that the Australian Navy may be called into Chinese waters to take part in this conflict? If so, is it possible that it may be done without consulting us? I did not speak on this matter until I had something definite to complain about. My definite complaint is that this thing has been done, and that it has been done secretly. I complain that the Government did not consult us, and that its failure to do so is an outrage upon our sense of justice to ourselves and the world.
.- In my opinion, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has rendered a service to this country. He has brought under our notice a most important matter. Perhaps the Prime Minister will claim that we have no jurisdiction over the Brisbane at present, because she has been exchanged for a ship of the British Navy. But an explanation of that kind will not be satisfactory to the people of Australia. We created our navy for the definite purpose of defending Australia, and not for the purpose of going to other countries to interfere in their internal affairs. I quite agree with the honorable member for Batman that while at this moment this matter may concern only the Chinese people and those who are opposing them, no one can say what developments will occur. If more serious developments do follow, where will Australia stand? The very fact that a vessel belonging to our Navy has participated in the operations that have already occurred will bring us within the war zone. There is no escape from that position. At any rate, not one moment should be allowed to elapse before Ave make our position clear to the British Government. If the British Government is responsible for sending our ship across to China to take part in this trouble then we should at once make ir clear that we do not acquiesce in that action, and request that the boat be withdrawn immediately. There can be no doubt as to the attitude this Government should adopt. What is the intention with regard to our. boats that have been ordered north ? One may be excused from concluding that there is some reason for that order. At a time like this we should be very careful about what we do. We have been talking tonight about the load that was placed upon our shoulders by the recent war. I am very much afraid that since thf; war we have got altogether away from the defence policy that was formerly laid down. We are too apt to think that every time a little trouble occurs in Europe and the Imperial Government becomes involved to any degree, there is justification for Australian participation in it. The sooner we realize that we should stand by the policy that was adopted prior to 1914 the better it will be. Prior to the great war we regarded ourselves as being free agents, whose duty it waa to look after Australia. If the British
Empire becomes embroiled in any trouble we have the’ right to say whether we will go to her assistance or not; we should not be drawn into every war that occurs irrespective of whether Australia is concerned in the dispute, and even when tha British Empire is concerned to only a limited degree. Many British people are engaged in business in China, and for that reason Britain may be drawn into the trouble there. We know nothing whatever about the merits of the dispute, or whether there is any justification for British participation in it. We certainly should not be prepared to permit our boats to participate in it. Our navy was formed to protect Australia, and not to join in the disputes of other nations. Not a moment should be lost by the Government in making Australia’s position clear. At any rate, we intend to warn the people of Australia of the position that faces them before the country is drawn any further into the trouble. It may be said that this is only a question of subduing the Chinese people, but we do not look upon it in that light. The situation is such that within a week five or six nations may be arrayed against the nations which are at present operating against the Chinese. If that should happen, we shall certainly be in a difficult position. The situation cannot be treated lightly. It is of the utmost importance to this country that the Prime Minister should state the position of the Government. If he does not do so satisfactorily, this party will take whatever action it deems suitable to make its position clear. But I do not want to do that. We protest against any vessel of the Australian Navy going overseas to participate in disputes with other countries. There is no justification whatever for that.
.- I wish to amplify the statement made by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Marr) respecting the charges made early this morning by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr: Nelson) against the Government Secretary. Major Story. The charges contained just that scintilla of truth which made them more dishonorable than an absolute lie. I regret that I was not in the House when the honorable member spoke, so that I did not hear his actual words, but in this morning’s press report of his speech the following appears : - This man was relieved of his command in the 37th battalion after the battle of Messines, following an inquiry into his conduct there and the manner in which he behaved under fire. He was practically cashiered from the Army.
That statement is absolutely incorrect. It practically accuses Major Story of being a coward. I fought alongside Major Story in the same brigade, and I know perfectly well that there was no braver man in battle, and no better soldier, and no whiter man iia the Australian Imperial Force than he. That is my personal testimony. The press report of the honorable member’s speech proceeds -
I understand that on his way back to Australia, owing to some big pull he undoubtedly possesses, he was placed first in a depot :and then in the Comforts Fund. He was again brought before a court-martial for having distributed comforts - sold them - ;to French civilians.
That also is absolutely incorrect. I know because I was then in the same base as Major Story, and was in charge of a depot alongside of him. He was there for about four days, and the irregularities complained of occurred during that time, but he was not in any way whatever .responsible for them. This charge, in particular, contains just sufficient truth to make it worse than an absolute lie. A man spoke to me the other day about another man who, he said, was very lucky indeed, for he had just escaped hanging. The particular lucky circumstance that was referred to was that the man had been tried by a jury of his peers, and had been found not guilty. Major Story may be said -to he m the same position. I will content myself with saying that the charges made oy the honorable member for the Northern Territory against that gentleman are absolutely untrue.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has spoken of the position of the cruiser Brisbane at the present time, and has touched upon the unfortunate disturbances that have taken place in China. I regret that he should have expressed his views in regard to those disturbances, because he cannot now have the knowledge necessary to enable him to speak with certainty on the matter.- I understand, however, that the location of the Brisbane, is the gravamen of ‘ the charge he made against the Government.
He suggested that this vessel had been sent to China waters surreptitiously, and that there was something sinister in the Government’s action. The facts, of course, are well known to honorable members. After my return from the Imperial Conference I told the House that we had made arrangements by which an exchange of Australian and British cruisers could take place, so that the personnel of our vessels would receive a wider training than would otherwise have been possible, and that the service might be made additionally attractive. I also pointed out that arrangements had been effected for an exchange of officers. The name of one of the Australian officers, whose services have been lent to the Royal Navy, in pursuance of that policy - Captain Hyde, who is in command of the Vindictive - has been referred to this evening. These changes must be of the greatest benefit to Australia. Without this arrangement an officer who had attained a .-certain seniority, could not receive the training to be got in a wide sphere of action. Although in the first year after the exchange had been agreed to, mi Australian cruiser was sent away in substitution for a British cruiser, the Adelaide joined the British Special Service Squadron upon the conclusion of its visit to Australia. The Adelaide went to -China, waters, and then returned to Australia, and now the Brisbane has been sent to the China station for the purpose of training. That the vessel is there now is purely accidental, and is -due to the movements of the squadron to which she was attached. Great stress has been laid on the answer given in the House to-day by the Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse). The honorable member for Batman has stated that it was an improper answer. It was that the Minister had no information as to the exact position of the Brisbane at the present moment. The honorable member should have known that the Brisbane was with the China squadron, and that no one in Australia had received information as to the exact position of that squadron. It is conceivable - and I want to be fair to the House - that the China Squadron has proceeded to the scene of the trouble, although the Government has not received direct information to that effect. If that is so, and if the Brisbane is there, the reason for the squadron’s presence is to .safeguard the lives and the property of
British subjects and of the European community in China. I can assure honorable members that when I am able to make a statement regarding affairs in Chilla, 1 shall do so. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has touched upon a very wide subject. In the event of disturbances arising in which Britain . becomes seriously involved, the House will have an opportunity of discussing our position as ‘ part of the Empire. But it is impossible to deal with such a wide and important issue to-night, lt has been suggested that there has been n change in the basis of our defence policy during tho last few years. I challenge the statement that anything has been done to undermine the independence of the Australian Fleet. It is only in the lust few years that we have reached our objective of having the Australian Navy recognized ns an independent unit under she control of the Australian people, and responsible to no other authority. That position has been acceded to by the British Admiralty, which had always attempted to retain some control over it, until at the hist Imperial conference our position was placed beyond the possibility of dispute.
– Has the British Government any authority over the Brisbane now?
– The vessel has joined the China squadron and is now attached to it for service in the same way as the Concord is attached to the Australian squad.ro 11, and is under the control of the. Australian Government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.51 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 June 1925, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1925/19250625_reps_9_110/>.