10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr.Speaker (Hon. SirLittleton Groom) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Dr. Smalpage’s Treatment
– In view ofthe reported statement of Dr. Smalpage that there will be available to-morrow a sufficient quantity of his serum to treat 2,000 cases, I ask the Minister for Health whether individual applications for treatment by Dr. Smalpage’s method have been or will be received, and also whether the names of the medical practitioners in each State who will be in a position to administer the serum are available?
– It is impossible at present to make a definite statement about the time when the serum will be available, or to inform the Souse whether the specialists who have been selected to use it will accept the responsibility. I hope that at the end of next week I shall be in a position to give the honorable member the information he desires.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether any finality has yet been reached in the negotiations with the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland for the carrying out of the agreement for the construction of the railway from Kyogle to South Brisbane?
– A conference was held in Melbourne some ten days ago, and the Ministers who represented New South Wales and Queensland at that conference have now returned to their respective States and made their reports to their Cabinets. I believe that a quite satisfactory settlement will be arrived at. I think there is a meeting to-day of the railway council which, under the three acta governing the construction of the line, has control of the work, and I am very hopeful that after the council has met the whole matter will be adjusted.
Trusts and Combines
– I have a question to ask which is, perhaps, a legal one, but I address it to the Prime Minister, because I consider that it involves a matter of policy. Will the right honorable gentleman consult with the Attorney-General with a view to exploring all avenues of information in order that we may be placed in a position in this Parliament to enact a law which will deal with corporations, such as the Oil Corporation and others, that are carrying on business in Australia? Section 51 of the Constitution provides that -
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to -
Trade and commerce with other countries and among the States.
Foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth.
In view of. the recent decisions of the High Court with regard to the Constitution and its operation, and the definite legal opinions expressed in this House and out of it, that if we were to pass a bill dealing with specific subjects it Would be constitutional, will the Prime Minister investigate the whole matter in conjunction with the Attorney-General with a view to the introduction and passing of legislation to deal with corporations and companies?
– It is certainly one of the functions of the Commonwealth Government to take all steps necessary to safeguard the people, and to exercise all powers we have for that purpose under the Constitution, and I should naturally consult the AttorneyGeneral should any necessity of the character which he suggests arise. With regard to the legal opinions as to our powers to which the honorable member has referred, may I. suggest that it is he who should make available to us those opinions for our assistance in dealing with what is an extraordinarily difficult and complicated question.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he will see that holders of private telephone lines erected before the present conditions were approved, and who were, therefore, at much greater expense than holders of lines under existing conditions, shall be placed in the same position as regards maintenance and cost as those who are being connected with the telephone system at the present, time under more advantageous conditions ?
– There is no difference between the conditions applying to those who are now being connected with the telephone system and those who were previously connected with it; the same conditions apply to both.
– I ask the Prime Minister what State Governments have accepted the proposals of the Commonwealth Government in regard to British migration ?
– The subsidiary agreement between the Commonwealth and the States under the major agreement between the Commonwealth and British Governments has been signed by the Governments of Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia. The Governments of the other three States have not yet indicated their intention to sign it.
– Has the Prime Minister’s attention been drawn to the report in last night’s Herald and this morning’s Sun regarding a statement by Admiral Viscount Jellicoe pointing out the serious need of the Empire’s cruiser strength to protect our trade routes, and the impossibility of the Motherland continuing to carry practically the whole burden of Naval defence. The per capita contribution, to that defence is: Motherland, 24s.; South Africa, ls. 9d.; Commonwealth and New Zealand, from Ss. to 9s.; and Canada, 3½d. Notwithstanding our fine effort, I ask the Prime Minister to consider the matter, in view of Admiral Jellicoe’s strong appeal to the Dominions, to see whether we might not go further than we have gone. In view of the statement of the ex-Minister for Defence (Mr. Bowden), that a third cruiser would be laid down, perhaps in three years’ time, I ask whether that work could not be expedited to meet the appeal of Admiral Jellicoe.
– The cruiser construction programme of the Government has already been announced, and considered and approved by this House. When it is proposed to undertake further naval construction, the matter will- be submitted to this Parliament.
– As I have received numerous telegrams from various parts of Queensland, with regard to the lifting of the embargo on broom millet,- will the Minister for Health give me some information on the subject which I can convey to those who are interested in it?
– I purpose to make a statement on the subject later in the day, if I obtain the permission of the House to do so.
– When will the scheme for the building of houses with Commonwealth assistance be brought down to this House ? When advances are made available, will they be applicable to the purchase of homes, or only to the building of homes ?
– The question is purely one regarding policy, and as such cannot be answered; but I assure the honorable member that, at an appropriate time, the matters outlined in my policy speech, and later in the Governor-General’s speech to Parliament, will be submitted to this House for its consideration.
Interstate Passengers on Overseas * Vessels.
– About a week ago, I asked a question respecting passengers travelling by the Maloja from Fremantle to Sydney. He was good enough to say that he would obtain the information for me ; but I regret that he has not done so. I ask him now to answer my question.
– A communication was addressed the next day to the Deputy Director of Navigation, Fremantle, asking for a report on the matter. As a letter takes from three to four days to travel to Fremantle, obviously there has not yet been time to receive a reply from him.
– Is the Minister aware that a regulation has been framed under which the wages of men employed in the engineering branch of the Maribyrnong Arsenal have been reduced by 5s. a week, thereby abrogating the award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court? As there is likely to be trouble in consequence, will the Minister take immediate steps to place the men under the old award ?
– I shall be glad if the honorable member will put his question upon the notice-paper.
– The answer will then be too late, because the trouble will have occurred.
– I do not think so. I know all about the regulation.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is he prepared to assist in providing a dock for the port of Fremantle on the same terras and conditions as he has offered to assist in providing one at Newcastle?
– The arrangement for the provision of a floating dock at Newcastle was entered into at the instance of the New South Wales Government. Any similar proposals by the Western Australian Government will receive careful consideration.
Sale op Expropriated Properties - Expropriation Board. .
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Does he propose to submit the new ‘ sugar agreement for approval by this House; if -BO, when ?
– The procedure adopted with regard, to. the previous agreement will be continued. The present agreement was announced in December, 1924, and was completed as between the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments shortly afterwards, and has now been in operation some time. It is not considered by the Government that any useful purpose will be served by debating it now.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and the honorable member will he further advised at an early date.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister re presenting the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Min ister, upon notice -
– The proposed tribunal has not yet been appointed, as the concurrence of the Government of South
Australia in the matter has not yet been received. The Victorian Government has agreed to the proposal, but has not yet selected its representative.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Particulars in regard to the months of November and December, 1925, are not yet available as the requisitevouchers have not yet arrived from London.
asked the Prime Min ister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow . -
(including Peace Conference); 1921, £9,167; 1923, £10,156.
– On the 22nd January, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked the following questions: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following informa tion : -
Cotton- tweeds, under the 1921 tariff, were free if of United Kingdom origin, and dutiable at 15 per cent, if from other countries.
From 3rd September, 1925, the tariff proposals imposed duty as follows: - Cotton tweeds, the invoice selling price of which does not exceed 5s. per lineal yard, British preferential tariff, per square yard, ls.; ad valorem. 3D per cent.; general tari IT, per square yard, 2s.; ad valorem, 45 per cent. “ Other “ cotton tweeds than the. above remained as before, viz., United Kingdom, free; other, 15 per cent.
From the same date a Customs by-law was made admitting under tariff item 4.04 ‘ (United Kingdom, free; other, 10 per cent.), cotton tweeds for which a firm order was actually placed with the overseas suppliers on or before 2nd September, 19-25, and which were entered for home consumption in Australia on or before 31st December, 1925. The goods entered up to 31st December would have been admitted under item 404.
In regard to the figures for November and December, it is pointed out that, on the 14th November last, a number of lines which had hitherto been classified as cotton piece goods, n.c.i., were reclassified -as cotton tweeds, and. this would account for a large proportion of the increase.
The following paper was presented : -
Photographs of Canberra, to accompany Quarterly Report of the Federal Capital Commission to 31st December, 1925, laid upon the table of the House on the 22nd ultimo.
.- (By leave.) - The question of again permitting the importation of broom millet iuto Australia has recently received attention. Both employers and employees in the broom-making industry represented that a sufficient supply of locally-grown long-hurl millet was not available in Australia, and that the Iona; hurl was absolutely essential to the manufacture of brooms for the purposes of providing covers. We were told that, owing to the prohibition of imports of this variety of millet from Italy, the employment of a considerable number of men would be jeopardized. In order that the question might be carefully investigated upon every side, inquiries were made from the Italian Government as to the possibility of a method of disinfection prior to shipment from Italy which would make safe the importation of millet from that country. . A report has been received through the courtesy of the Italian Consul-General that the only method of disinfection which is considered safe by the department is not practicable in Italy. Accordingly, thu Government decided that no steps shall be taken to disturb the present proclamation which prohibits the importation of broom millet.
.- I move-
That, in the opinion of this House, a British woman should not lose, or be deemed to lose, her nationality by the mere act of marriage with an alien, but that it should be open to her. to make a declaration of alienage.
I assure the House that the motion has no party significance. The organization which first .asked me to move in this matter is non-partisan, and I believe that there are members on both sides of the’ House who took an interest in it long before I did, and who will endorse the opinions which 1 shall express this afternoon. The motion is strongly supported by women throughout the Commonwealth. For instance, I received last night the following telegram from the president and secretary of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Sydney: -
Women’s Christian Temperance Union, representing 2,000 members, supports nationality resolution.
At the ninth congress of the International Women’s Alliance, held in Rome in 1923, 43 nations were represented, and the following motion was agreed to : -
That this congress declares that a married woman should be given the same right as a man to retain or to change her nationality.
I shall not deal with the history of this matter, except incidentally as I proceed. For my immediate purposes it is sufficient to remind honorable members that the Commonwealth ‘ law relating to women who marry aliens, is identical with that of Great Britain. Section 18 of the Nationality Act 1920, provides, in brief, that the wife of a British subject shall be deemed to* be a British subject, and that the wife of an alien shall be deemed to be an alien. But there are certain exceptions for’ which the section makes provision. Where a man during the continuance of his marriage ceases to be a British subject it is competent for his wife to declare that she for her part desires to remain a British subject. Where an alien is a subject of a State at war with Great Britain it is competent for his wife, if she was a British subject at birth, to make a declaration that she desires to resume her British nationality, and thereupon she may be granted a certificate of naturalization. I am not aware how far this provision has operated in war time, but I should think that it is more a pious aspiration than one which is likely to be freely utilized. In any case a woman who is allowed to resume her original nationality in these circumstances is obviously in an inferior position to one who has never been deprived of it. It is provided also in our Nationality Act that when a certificate of naturalization is revoked, the wife and minor children remain British subjects, unless their names are expressly included in the revocation order or unless the wife within six months from the date of the order makes a declaration of alienage. Provision is also made whereby a woman may on the death of her alien husband or on the dissolution of her marriage with him obtain a certificate of naturalization. These exceptions indicate that the main principle of the act has already been found to require considerable modification. My motion is in identical terms with a resolution which was carried in the House of Commons in February of last year. I have used the words of the British resolution so that there will be no lack of uniformity. I was doubtful as to whether or not I should substitute “ Australian “ for “ British,” but I came to the conclusion that it was unnecessary to do so, because the people of the Commonwealth, as well as those of any other dominion, are entitled to express an opinion on matters affecting the whole Empire.
– If British women married men of their own race there would be no trouble.
– The honorable member is perhaps an idealist, but vye have to face the facts as they are. I am endeavouring to deal with a difficulty that is constantly arising and has been the cause of considerable distress and hardship to many people. In the
House of Commons the motion was moved by Major Harvey and seconded by Lady Astor. There was a lengthy debate upon it, in which. Miss Wilkinson, a Labour member, took part. A reference then made by Major Harvey, which, I think, I ought to repeat here, is as follows: -
At the present moment there are some 70 societies representing women and men in all of the Dominions, and a great many of the Crown Colonies, and practically all of those associations have written to me saying that they would do what they could to support this motion. I may say that they represent no particular creed and no particular party, but are of all creeds, all classes, and all political parties. I have here a letter from the president of the Australian Federation of Women’s Societies for Equal Citizenship, and she assures me’ that for some considerable time they have been trying to get some measures passed in this direction. I have here a list of an enormous number of societies in the United Kingdom, as well as a list of societies throughout the whole of the Dominions and Crown Colonies, representing the women of all those places, who are strongly in support of hu alteration of the law in this direction.
At this stage, I may mention that I endeavoured , to have this motion discussed in this chamber last year, but, owing to the pressure of Government business, the opportunities for dealing with private members’ business were so curtailed that I was not successful. In the House of Commons this amendment was moved by Sir Henry Slesser, who . was SolicitorGeneral in the late Labour Government : -
That in the opinion of this House, whilst a British woman, on marrying an alien, normally acquires his nationality, it should be open to her to make an effective declaration that she wishes to retain her British nationality.
That amendment, which was duly seconded, really provided for “ contracting in “ instead of “ contracting out.” The difference was generally agreed to be one of detail and method’, rather than of principle, but I am doubtful on that point, because, to my mind, the difference is really whether nationality or family is to be the guiding principle. What, apparently, weighed greatly with the House of Commons in the end was the feeling that if the amendment were agreed to a great many people, especially poor people, would not “contract in,” because, in the first place, they would not know anything about the law, or, in the second place, they would not be in a financial position to seek legal advice on the subject. The feeling of the House was that a British woman who married an alien should remain what she had been from her birth, and should not be divested of her nationality unless she so desired. As the amendment was withdrawn, and the motion was carried without a division, one can say that it was carried with the full concurrence of the House of Commons. There was only one exception to the general unanimity displayed during the debate. That exception was the Minister who replied, Mr. Locker-Lampson, Under-Secretary cf State for the Home Department, and it appears to me that his attitude towards the motion was intended to throw as much cold water on it as was consistent with the Government’s decision not to oppose the general will of the House. I will give the House a few’ extracts, from the proceedings while Mr. LockerLampson was speaking. I shall not repeat all the excuses which he gave for not bringing this alteration into effect, but he brought forward our old friends, “ I think we are all agreed’ that something ought to be done,” and “We ought to go into this very carefully.” The matter has been “ gone, in to” with much care by a great many people for some years, and they, I am sure, feel that they have “ gone into “ it as carefully as there is any need to, and that one should now stress the first dictum, that “ something ought to be done.” Mr. Locker.Lampson referred to several alternative suggestions that had been made, and particularly to the recommendation of the sub-committee of the Imperial Conference of 1893. As I wish to give his point of view as well as my own, I shall quote the words which he quoted in the House of Commons. The committee came to this decision : -
The committee are of opinion that the principal of the existing law, that the nationality of a married woman depends upon that of her husband should be maintained. They, nevertheless, recommend that powers should be taken to re-admit a woman to’ British nationality in cases where the married state, though subsisting in law, has for all practical purposes come to an end. - that is, for instance, in such a case as desertion. The point I wish to emphasize is that, in spite of this recommendation of the sub-committee of the Imperial Conference, and in spite of the fact that the
Imperial Conference approved that recommendation, the House of Commons, without a division, decided that the principle of the existing law that the nationality of a married woman depends upon that of her husband should not be maintained. Mr. Locker-Lampson gave a number, of reasons against the change, but I do not think they were effective. It is very noticeable, - and I think very regrettable, that he never faced the real merits of the case. He did not advance any arguments against the real, solid arguments adduced in favour of the change. He eventually ended up with this bomb-shell: -
I should like to remind honorable members that all changes in the nationality law require . the consent of the self-governing dominions. I think that that has been lost sight of in this debate. . . . Certainly, the Government do not want to resist this motion, and if the House desires that it should be carried, let it be carried. I should like to say it is quite impossible, until we have the assent of the self-governing dominions to engage in legislation. . Directly we get their replies, if they are practically unanimous, we can pass legislation on this subject.
He appeared to be under the impression that the amendment of Sir Henry Slesser, which he evidently preferred, would be carried, and later in the proceedings he interjected, “ If this House passes a resolution in the terms of the amendment of the honorable and learned member opposite (Sir Henry Slesser), we shall transmit that resolution to the selfgoverning dominions, and do our best to put it through.” Lady Astor inquired, “ If we pass the resolution in the original form, will you transmit that also?” Mr. Locker-Lampson replied, “ I understood that my honorable and gallant friend who moved the original motion was going to withdraw it,” and Lady Astor said “No.” Lady Astor was not successful in obtaining from the Under-Secretary to the Home Department a statement as to whether, if the original motion were carried, the Government would transmit it to the dominions. I should like the right honorable the Prime Minister, when he deals with this subject, to be good enough to say whether .the original motion, which was carried by the House of Commons without a division, was transmitted by the Home Government to the Australian Government. If that w,as done, I should’ like to know when it was received, and what answer this Government sent.
The motion which I move does not seek to make a woman’s nationality compulsory; the object of it is to give her the right of choice. It has been suggested, and I think it is very likely, that a woman remaining in the land of her birth after she has married an alien would be wise to remain British, but one who goes to live abroad should change her nationality; but that is purely a matter for the individual to consider. I wish to draw attention to the fact that my motion does not say when the declaration of alienage should be made. That point was raised in the House of Commons, and Sir Henry Slesser said -
One point which is important is that of the time when this declaration is ‘ to be made,, and that difficulty applies equally to the motion and the amendment. . . . It is a matter which cannot be decided on this resolution, but would have to be decided if a bill were brought before the House. . . I think the resolution is consistent with the choice being exercised subsequently.
I am certainly inclined to think so, too. If a bill were brought in, provision would no doubt be made for the time within which the declaration must be made, but it is right that I should point out to the House that as the motion stands it contains no provision as to the time within which the declaration shall be made.
– If a woman did not make the declaration at the time of her marriage, would the existing law remain operative?
– Some latitude ought to be extended to her in regard to the time allowed to her to make a decision. That would be possible under my motion, and the details as to the length of time would be a proper subject for discussion, when a bill was brought forward.
What does a woman lose under the present system ? I do not propose to deal with this matter exhaustively, because a few words should be sufficient to indicate the very great loss which a woman suffers under the present law when she marries an alien. In the first place, she loses her nationality. Women are not less susceptible to sentiment than men, and to lose nationality is as great a loss to a woman, as to a man. No woman, wherever born, desires to lose her nationality ; and it is difficult to justify robbing her of her nationality because of her marriage with an alien.. That difficulty has been emphasized by our experiences during and since the recent war. In. the second place, she loses the franchise. That, at any time, is a considerable loss, but the loss is greater in Australia than it is in Great Britain. In Great Britain, a woman must be at least 30 years of age before she can exercise the franchise, and, even then, she cannot do so unless she is a university voter or has a property qualification. In Australia, every woman who has attained the age of 21 years, and is a natural-born or naturalized British subject with the necessary residential qualifications, is entitled to vote. In the third place, the question of her property arises. I do not intend to give instances showing the harsh operation of the existing law, as it must be within the knowledge of honorable members that a great many women, both Australian and British, lost their property during the war because of their marriage with aliens. In those instances in which they were permitted to retain their property, the permission to do so was an act of grape. The loss of her nationality, of the franchise, and, in certain’ circumstances, of her property, is a severe penalty for -marrying an alien. What are the objections to the change which I propose? It would be idle to pretend that there are no objections, but the reasons in favour of a change seem to me to far outweigh those for the retention of the present system. I shall enumerate some of the outstanding objections to any change from the existing law. These I have extracted from a. memorandum compiled by the Home and Territories Department. The first objection is that the present principle is regarded as the sounder one. Even if we admit that that is so, the existing principle is far from being sound.
– Were those objections urged- by the department against any change of the present system ?
– Yes. . Any one who has studied international law realizes that the subject of - nationality bristles with difficulties. I quote from Dr. Lawrence’s Principles of International Law, page 213, where he says -
States are free by virtue of their independence to adopt in these matters what principles they please, and they embody in their Laws a great variety of rules. The result is that conflicting claims and difficulties of all sorts arise on the subject of nationality and citizenship.
That is the present position. I do not suggest that, if an alteration is made, these difficulties will disappear. On the contrary, other difficulties may be encountered. I wish, however, to emphasize that whether the present law is thought to embody the sounder principle or not, it certainly is neither sound nor clear. The second objection to the change is that, in the interest of family life, it is important that identity of nationality between husband and wife shall be maintained. But husband and wife frequently differ on many subjects, and still manage to live together in comparative amity. Instances in which husband and wife hold different political or religious views, and yet live together in harmony, are not uncommon, and I am not prepared to admit that the difficulties connected with their nationality, in the event of the change which I advocate being effected, will be insuperable. Those who suggest that they are insurmountable grasp the form and lose sight of the spirit. Is a woman’s attitude necessarily changed by her marriage with an alien, and by her being forced to go through the form of becoming a member of another race ? And if it is not changed, of what value is the form? The third objection is that the present principle is that of, practically, all other countries. That is not so. Particularly is it not so in the United States of America, the country with which we are chiefly concerned in this respect. In 1922, the Congress of the United States of America passed what is known as the Cable law, under which no alien woman who marries an American man can become an American citizen until she has resided for one year in the United States of America. If a British woman marries an American man she loses her nationality for at least twelve months; and unless she resides in the United States of America for a year, she loses it for ever. It may happen that an Australian woman marries an American man who is resident in Australia, and ‘ does not intend to return to the United States of America for many years. Until he returns, she is without nationality. The American law applies conversely also, showing that that country in dealing with this question, does so solely from its own point of view. Its law provides that no American woman who marries an alien is divested of her American citizenship unless she renounces it in a court. As America has passed legislation of that kind, surely it is time that we reconsidered our position in our own interests. America is not the only country that has such legislation. During the last few years it has been open to a Belgian woman who marries a foreigner to decide within six months whether she shall lose her Belgian nationality. In Sweden, in 1924, the right was given to women subjects who married aliens to retain their nationality if they did not go to their husband’s country. I am informed that similar provisions are in force in Switzerland and Norway; and in five South American States - women do not automatically lose their nationality by marriage with an alien. All this legislation is evidence of the march of time and of the trend away from the system under which our nationality law was formed. Imay be allowed to remind honorable members that nationality is a very complicated subject, and has always been considered very differently in the two great branches of the European race. 1 may put it shortly in this quotation from Professor Westlake -
It often happens that two States claim the same person as their national or subject. This conflict arises not only from naturalization having been granted without the corresponding expatriation having been permitted, but also from the fact that birth on the soil was the leading determinant of nationality by feudal law, and still is so by the laws of England and the United States of America, while the nationality of the father is its leading determinant in those countries which have accepted Roman principles of jurisprudence.
The English law, which started with the law of the soil, has been considerably extended until it now includes the principle of the law of blood as well. Our Nationality Act provides that -
The following persons shall be deemed to be natural-born British subjects, namely : -
any person born within His Majesty’s dominions and allegiance. - there we have the law of the soil - and
any person born out of His Majesty’s dominions whose father was a British subject at the time of that person’s birth.
There we have the law of blood incorporated in our act as well. A further argument that is put forward by the department is that if this change were made some women would have no nationality, and others would have a double nationality. That objection has equal force under existing conditions. Under the Cable Act, which I have just quoted, it will be obvious that an American woman who marries a British man remains for American purposes an American, and becomes for British purposes a Briton. On the other hand, a British woman who marries an American man ceases to have any nationality, because by British law she is regarded as an American, and by American law she is not regarded as American until she has resided in the “United States of America for twelve months. A child born in England of French parents is a British subject according to British law, and a French subject according to the law of France. I am endeavouring to show that this objection, raised by the department to the proposed change in our nationality law, is applicable to the law that is in existence now. Dr. Lawrence, at page 214, says -
In such cases there is evident danger of serious complications if each State acts upon its extremest rights. But difficulties are generally avoided by the tacit consent of each ‘ to attempt no exercise of authority over such a citizen as long as he remains outside its borders, and to make no objection to the exercise of authority over him by the other while he resides within its limits.
That is the spirit of forbearance, which no doubt will continue to exist in the future. I have admitted that if the change is made it will probably give rise to difficulties, but at the same time I have tried to deal with some of the difficulties which have been raised in advance by the Home - and Territories Department. To- my mind, the question is not whether one system will give rise to more difficulties than the other. The whole question depends upon, and should be decided by, the altered position of women in our society during the last 50 years. We have got away completely from the eastern idea of the subjection of women, so far indeed as it ever prevailed in British countries. I remember when I studied law it used to amuse us to read that at one time in the history of British law there were three classes of people who, in the matter of dealing with their property, were under disabilities: infants - people under 21 years of age - lunatics, and married women. That classification is to a certain extent expressive of the old attitude towards women, which has been completely changed within the last few years. I can remember when the suffragette movement - to take one branch of women’s activities was active. I once saw a suffragette riot; a more undignified and lamentable performance it has rarely been my misfortune to witness. It was at that time, I think, that when a suffragette lady had been imprisoned, her husband in his zeal to further the cause, promised to pay a certain sum per day for every day during which she remained in prison. I consider that the suffragette movement was an unfortunate phase of the women’s movement, though by some it has been regarded as justified. It was a very short phase, and women have since adopted the plan of obtaining what they desired, so far as they could obtain it, by legitimate constitutional methods. That is the way in which they hope to gain this nationality reform. In considering the matter at this time, we should not forget the tremendous services which in munitions and other factories, hospitals, and many other places, women rendered during the war. It appears tq me that they have a claim, which is one .of ordinary justice, and especially in a country like this, where they possess the full franchise. I say that it is a terrible situation in which to put a woman who desires to marry a man who was not born under the English flag, to say to her that she must forfeit her nationality in order to do so, that she must forfeit all her civic rights, and possibly her right to property. I go a step further. I do not think it is desirable, from our point of view, that we should force our women against their will out of our community or nation. Why should we do so unless they desire to go? The people of a country who have loyal and cordial feelings towards it should be regarded as a national asset. It should not be for the country to say, “If you choose to marry a foreigner, you can leave us.” ‘The view that I suggest is not, of course, new. For instance, the Russian people - and I speak now of the time before the war - held the old doctrine of inalienable allegiance, expressed in the motto, Nemo potest exuere patriam - “ No one can throw off his country.” They held that principle in its full severity. I do not suggest that we should go so far as to say that no one can leave his country. But I do say that, in the interests of the British race and the Australian people, it is not wise to force our women out of the nation and to compel them to forfeit their rights because they happen to marry foreigners. There are one or two subsidiary points upon which I would like to touch briefly. There is the converse question of whether an alien woman should by marriage with a British subject become British. I think that there, too, it should be a question of choice. It may be desirable that a foreign woman who desires to become British should take the oath of allegiance when she does so. I am not dealing with British women as British, but with the whole female sex. As we think that our people should have the choice to take up their residence and throw in their lot with another race, should they so desire, so we should be prepared to allow women of other races to come into our race.
– Will the honorable member tell us what they do in China?
– I am afraid that I shall have to leave that to the honorable member. I have never been in China, nor have I made any special study of the question as it affects Chinese women. Unless the honorable member can submit facts to show me that his interjection bears upon the subject, I cannot regard it as strictly relevant, and if I dealt with it I might be called to order. The second question I wish to refer to is the position of children. There is, in the opinion of some people a fear that if this reform is made, it will lead to a claim that the children, or some of them at least, instead of following their father’s nationality should follow that of their mother. That is not, in any case, an issue now, and the principle of following the blood is very much modified, so far as British people are concerned, by the law of the soil to which I have referred. In any case, we ought to do justice in this matter, and leave the question of the children until it comes up for discussion. So far as the present law is not limited by the law of the soil, I am in favour of children following the nationality of the father and not of the mother. I do not think that the women who are asking for this amendment are using it as a lever to press for a further alteration later. A good many years ago - in 1907, I think - I had the privilege of hearing the late Mr. Deakin speak in London at a meeting relating to compulsory service. Lord Roberts, I remember, was in the chair, and Mr. Deakin, in parenthesis, said to the chairman, after he had just made a reference to women, “In Australia we have not yet decided which is the greater - the man, or the woman who bore him.” I hope that, in dealing with this motion, the House will be actuated by the spirit of the late Mr. Deakin, who was one of the greatest ornaments that this House ever had.
.- I second the motion which has been proposed by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes), and I compliment him on the exhaustive, moderate, and convincing manner in which he has put his case before the House. I am unable to put the case so’ ably, because I lack that legal knowledge and training necessary for the consideration of matters of this kind. I, therefore, do not propose to traverse a great deal of the ground that the honorable member for Boothby has covered. There are probably lawyers in this House who will give us the benefit of their opinions. I should, however, like to emphasize one or two points in support of the motion. In considering an alteration of legislation, we must get down to the bedrock reason for it. Why are limitations to nationality prescribed ? What is the main motive and object in view? The motive must be either the protection of the individual in her family relations, or the protection of the nation itself. We need not concern ourselves with the latter. The law cannot, of course, be intended to increase the numerical strength of the nation, because it deprives some of our citizens of their nationality; but it may be intended to protect the interests of the nation in its relations with other countries. In England; this alteration might be of great importance in its relation to Continental countries; in fact, I cannot resist the feeling that some of the present nationality provisions are being tacitly maintained by the Home Government - as shown by the honorable member for Boothby when quoting
Mr. Locker.Lampson ; with a view to certain possible dangers in time of war, such as espionage, and communication of information through private and secret channels. I do not know that this is a matter to which we need give so much consideration as the British Government has given to it, but if it be of importance to us, then it must be of far greater importance to England, and the House of Commons surely is well aware of that. We can conclude that it was considered sufficiently unimportant to be brushed aside in favour of the proposed amendment, and, therefore, from a national standpoint, we need not materially concern ourselves with it. But with regard to the individualistic or the family aspect, and the effect upon the individual in her family relationships we are on different ground altogether. This matter must be considered from the point of view of the individuals themselves. It has been said that something ought to be done, but I am very much afraid that we shall be met with possibly another of those time-worn arguments that “ the time is not ripe,” that “ the present is not a suitable occasion,” or some other excuse for postponing this subject, which has already been discussed and debated and considered with the greatest care. If the question of the individual relationships of the family is involved, surely the women who ask for this right ought to decide for themselves what they want. The honorable member for Boothby has shown that the excuse is constantly used that the alteration would not be in the interests of the family, and that this or that set of circumstances might arise and cause’ difficulty. The interests of the family are just as much considered by the women as by the men, and the fact that there are no women in this House to speak for their sex on this subject does not in any way diminish the weight of the claim that they are making to-day. Women stand equally with men in the civic and public affairs of this country, and they are as much as men entitled to say what they want.It may be said that women are asking for something which will really not benefit them. People constantly come to this House asking for things which they say they want, and which they think will be of benefit to them. There may be a difference of opinion on the matter, but, after all, the question is usually decided on the assumption that the applicants know best what they require. That principle should apply in this case. We cannot possibly ignore the weight which is behind this motion. It is supported by such Australian bodies as the National Councils of Women, the Australian Federation of Women’s Societies for Equal Citizenship, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Their views are also shared by wider organizations within the Empire and other parts of the world. Both the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance, comprising women of over 40 countries, and the International Council of Women, with branches in those countries have, at their conferences by resolution confirmed this principle. The organized representatives of thinking women in Australia to-day are demanding this concession. They are entitled to have their views respected, and they cannot be thrown aside. Women to-day can be said to occupy a greatly improved position in the community.
– The women who do not want the privilege need not exercise it.
– That is so. Women have a right to be heard. They cannot be silenced, and honorable members must listen to their demands. We are willing enough to refer to the beneficial work of our women. During the recent elections the influence of Australian women upon the composition of this House was very material. When those women come to honorable members and ask for a concession founded upon reason and sentiment as high as any that honorable members in this House can lay claim to, we cannot push their request aside carelessly and thoughtlessly. We are proud on occasions of laying stress on the importance of the position which the dominions have occupied in recent years in the councils of the Empire. We sometimes are inclined to attach greater weight to our opinions than they deserve, but when we get an opportunity to put forward our opinions on a matter which can seriously affect social conditions within the Empire and neglect to do so, then, I say, we are showing a tendency to disregard the responsibilities of that greater prominence which we claim to-day. Here is a case in point. The House of Commons has passed a resolution and the British Government has. said that it cannot carry it into effect without consulting the dominions. If the dominions, pass a similar resolution - in spite of the arguments of Mr. Locker-Lampson- I have no doubt that the British Governmentwill feel obliged to give effect to it. The passing of this motion will have a material effect in bringing about uniformity of action at the Imperial Conference and in the Imperial Parliament, and also greatly influence the other dominions when considering a similar motion. . I believe that a law of this character was actually passed in the Canadian Parliament some years ago, but, being in conflict with some Imperial agreement, could not be- operated’. We may assume, therefore, that Canada is willing to follow our example, and if, through our failure to set an example, we delay the advent of this reform, we shall be guilty of a dereliction1 of duty. . The motion has been made in a dignified and proper manner, and is well worthy of the consideration of the House1. There may be objections to this reform, as there are- to any amendment of the law. Generally, as soon as- a law- is passed, amending legislation to overcome objections, to it becomes necessary; but the women, of. Australia, after thorough investigation, declare that the objections to the change- are not so many as are the objections to the continuance of the present inequality. The honorable member for Boothby referred to the effect which the amendment of the law would have upon the nationality of the children. The nationality of the women, and the nationality of the children, are two entirely different questions,, and must not be considered together. The children’s nationality will not be affected in the slightest degree; their outlook and national aspirations will be governed in future, as in the past, by the character of their parents.
– And environment.
– Yes, but the influence of the parents will very often triumph over environment. At any rate, those to whom this reform will apply are women of strong character, who will appreciate at its full worth the privilege which thesuggested amendment will bestow upon them. I am certain that the attention of all Australian women is concentrated upon this House and the debate this- afternoon. Honorable members have an opportunity to live up to the professions they so frequently made when courting, the suffrages of women voters,, by showing that they recognize the equality of men and women in the matter of nationality. I hope- that the Government will place no obstacle in the way of an early decision upon the motion. Certainly,, the Government, cannot be embarrassed by referring the pro*posal to the Imperial Conference,, thus recognizing Australia’s responsibility in Empire affairs in. accordance with, the decision in the House of Commons, and the undertaking by the Imperial Government.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Mabb), adjourned..
..- I move-
That it is. essential for the proper development of Northern Australia that a railway be constructed from Bourke, New South Wales, through Central Queensland towards Cloncurry, and thence across the Barkly’ Tablelands to a point om the north-south railway in the Northern Territory.. The carrying of this resolution to be taken as an instruction from this House to. the Government to approach the State Governments of New South Wales, and Queensland with a view of apportioning, the expense of constructing this line between the Commonwealth and the States mentioned’.
I regard this proposel as of immense importance to the development of Australia, and I was disappointed that it was not referred to in the Governor-General’s Speech. After his tour through Central Queensland last year, the Prime Minister delivered, in Sydney, an address on “ Australia, past, present, and future,” and his remarks on that occasion indicated that he was fully seised of the necessity for constructing this line. The very great burden of debt now borne by the Australian people is a matter of grave concern to everybody who takes an interest in public affairs. The Commonwealth debt amounts to about £456,000,000^ of which approximately 20 per cent, should be recouped to the Federal exchequer by the States. In addition, the public debts of the States- total a huge sum. Having regard to the small number of people who carry that burden, we may congratulate ourselves upon the fact that Australia’s national credit is so good in the world’s financial markets. The fact is evidence that the people who control the purse-strings of the world realize that
Australians are absolutely honorable in their dealings, and control a very fine asset. However, our duty to ourselves and posterity requires that we shall take every opportunity to lighten our burden of debt. The railway I am advocating would serve a great extent of excellent country. Unfortunately, in the past it has been considered as a rival project to the north-south railway from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek, but the vote of this House last week was “a recognition that the two projects are in no way competitive. The declaration that one route was better than another had only the effect of inflaming interstate jealousies and creating distrust of both proposals. The sectional committee of the Public Works Committee, which toured the Northern Territory for the purpose of gaining first-hand information regarding the prospects of development by railway construction, came south on the return journey to Marree in South Australia, and did not visit Bourke; but every witness whose evidence was worthy of attention stated that the line from Bourke. through northwestern New South Wales and Queensland is essential to Australian development. The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner advocated the route from Boulia to Marree, rather than to Bourke, merely that the Commonwealth might honor its agreement with South Australia - that the north-south line should cross the northern boundary of that State. His evidence showed clearly that he had a very high opinion of the route from Bourke. In the north of Australia is a vast extent of country that should be a great asset, but may very easily become a heavy liability. It is essential that it be brought to a high state of production without unnecessary delay. It is destined by nature to be the cattle nursery of Australia, but much of it is unstocked, and the other portions are not stocked to their full capacity.
– Is all that country safe for cattle?
– Almost the whole of it. Of course, it must be improved, but not to the extent that would be necessary for sheep-grazing. Before that country can carry sheep it must be fenced as a protection against rabbits and wild dogs, and the cost of fencing under present conditions of transport is prohibitive. Throughout the history of Australian development the country has been pioneered by the cattle raiser, and the sheep grazier has followed. That experience will be repeated in the development of the north. All the cattle raised there are brought on the hoof to the southern markets. Nowadays the greatest demand is for young beasts, and the earlier cattle are placed on the market the more profitable are they to the grower. Yet, before cattle can be travelled from the north to the southern markets they must be depastured for at least twelve months longer than would be necessary if they could be transported by railway truck. Immature beasts cannot be sent on a journey that occupies from seven to nine months, and even mature animals take months to recover from the trip and fatten. I am safe in saying that the marketing of cattle from the north is delayed two years longer than would be necessary if they could be trucked down and put into soft pastures without their muscles having been made lean and tough by a long journey on the hoof. It is economically unsound to keep those cattle so long and then sell them for a smaller price than could have been obtained had they been marketed when two years younger. In Queensland, a great many leases will mature within about a year, and the land thus released will afford an. almost unique opportunity for closer settlement. It’ is regrettable that those areas have not been already surveyed in preparation for subdivision, but when I was in Sydney over the last weekend I ascertained that the Queensland. Government is prepared to expedite the survey of such leases us are close to existing railways. This will mean that a very large number of men will take up comparatively small holdings in an area which admittedly contains some of the finest grazing land in Australia. We all know the reputation of that Central Queensland country, but if these men have not a northsouth line they will not be as successful as they would be if such a. line were built.
-Build the north-south line first, and then talk of this line afterwards.
– I am not referring to the north-south line through South
Australia, which would be of no benefit to small settlers in Central Queensland. This morning I had the advantage of seeing a map on which is shown the route of a railway which has been sanctioned by the Queensland Parliament. This line runs south from Camooweal, through Boulia, Springvale, Windorah, and Eromanga to Thargominda. That route is not exactly what I have in mind for a north-south railway, but I take it that experts would mark out the best route and submit their report to the Public Works Committee. I am not advocating any particular route. I am merely pointing out that whether the line ultimately adopted be that which has already been sanctioned by the Queensland Parliament, or one running further to the east.it is essential to build a railway running north and south connecting with the three Queensland lines running down to the east coast. The most northerly of these runs from Townsville to Winton, and is now being extended to Elderslie. The central line runs out from Rockhampton to Longreach and Yaraka. The southern line is built as far out as Quilpie and Cunnamulla. A north-south line would not be complete unless it linked up with all three of these.
– Should not the work be undertaken by the State?
– The line I am proposing will develop not only Queensland, but also the Northern Territory and the western part of New South Wales. In any case, it is too much to ask a single State to carry out a work like this. My motion suggests that the Commonwealth Government should get into touch with the Governments of Queensland and New South Wales, and endeavour to allocate the proportion of expenditure to be borne by each Government. The line I am proposing would be a great insurance against loss of stock through droughts. Never in the history of Australia has the whole of the country that would be served by this line ‘suffered from drought at any one time. On the contrary, there have been instances in which stock have been lost in one portion of the country which would be served by this line, although there was ample fodder to be had in another portion of the country likely to be served by it. In 1914, .when the southern States experienced one of their worst droughts, Central Queensland was like a waving field of corn. During that drought Australia lost something like 10,000,000 sheep, which loss would have been considerably minimized if a railway such ag I propose had been available. At the present moment, while there is abundance of fodder around Charleville, in Queensland, the position of the pastoralists is far from satisfactory in the neighbourhood of Longreach. If Australia has another year or two similar to the last few productive years, the number of sheep will be near the dangerpoint, and if a severe drought then occurs we shall possibly crash again, as we did at the time of the last great drought, unless provision is made for the easy transport of stock from one part of the country to another. In the past, stock have been travelled overland for considerable distances. About 30 years ago a mob of 10,000 bullocks was driven overland from Wave Hill, in the Northern Territory, to Killarney, near Narrabri, in New South Wales. When the drought of 1902 broke, the late Mr. W. F. Buchanan, who was the owner of Killarney, bought 20,000 wethers in North Queensland, and travelled them down to Killarney. If the line I am proposing had been built years ago, it would have been of the greatest value to Australia, because the lives of numbers of stock would have been saved by its use. Furthermore, this line would ensure a more even supply of fat stock to the southern markets, irrespective of the seasonable conditions in the south. In 1923, when stock were bringing exceptionally high prices in the Melbourne market, fat cattle were imported from New Zealand, despite the fact that, at that time, the Commonwealth Government was paying a bounty to the Queensland pastoralists to make it worth their while to export cattle. Can we imagine anything more absurd than that there should be such high prices in the southern markets that stock had to be imported from outside Australia, while at the same time, in another portion of the Commonwealth, cattle were hardly worth driving into the meat works to be killed. But such a condition of affairs may arise again if steps are not taken to guard against it. We must also guard against the payment of extreme prices for foodstuffs in Australia.
In a country where primary production plays a very important part in our national life, if the primary producers receive high prices for their produce, it makes the whole country prosperous ; but the extremely high prices paid for primary produce are not paid to the primary producers. They are occasioned solely by economically unsound marketing conditions, which are a sprag on the wheel of the country’s progress. We are all anxious to maintain the high standard of living we have in Australia, but it is not in the interests of. any one to make that standard artificially higher by unnecessarily adding to the cost of living. In opposition to the project I am putting before the House, it has been stated that interests in the large seaports of Queensland will suffer. It is difficult to understand any one taking such a narrow parochial view. The development of any part of Australia must benefit every part of it. It is beyond belief to think that the prosperity of any part of a State should be regarded as likely to prove detrimental to another part. However, people are sometimes so blinded by local prejudice that they cannot see that the development of central Queensland will also develop the ports of the State. Those far-seeing men, Sir Thomas McIlwraith, Mr. Kidston, and others who laid down the Queensland railway system, which is an excellent example of developmental construction, always understood that it would not be complete unless the terminals of the different cross-country lines were connected by a north-south line. (Extension of time granted, and debate interrupted, by standing order
Claim by H. Dean and Sons.
Debate resumed from 21st January (vide page 268), on motion by Mr.
Johnson, Mr. E. C. Riley, Mr. Gardner, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Watson, and the mover, five to form a quorum; with power to send for persons and papers and records and examine judgments in connexion therewith, to adjourn from place to place; and have leave to report from time to time its proceedings and the evidence taken; and that such committee do report this day three months.’
.- I regret that it should be necessary to move this motion. The firm of H. Dean and Sons has not received from the Government the courtesy to which it is entitled. I am quite satisfied that if the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) was aware of the maladministration of the War Service Homes Department, he would not have taken the action he took against this firm. The Public Accounts Committee has fully investigated the drafts of the agreements virtually entered . into by the commission. When the commission undertook the erection of houses it had to encounter a large amount of opposition from combines dealing in tiles, bricks, lime, timber, cement and other building materials. Whether the combines took action because the commission did not enter into negotiations, because they were aware of the unfortunate position of the Chief Commissioner, or because they knew that the Government intended to build cottages, I do not know. Those charged with the administration of the war service homes found themselves in a quandary when those who dealt in building materials ignored them. The ordinary channels of business were denied to them, and sources of supply outside the ordinary market had to be found. The commission got into touch with various firms, including H. Dean and Sons. Every one was anxious that the wives and children of. the returned soldiers should be provided with habitations as soon as possible. The draft agreements between these firms and the War Service Homes Commission were drawn up with the knowledge that the Government was a party to them. As a rule, the people of this country have great confidence in the Government, and do not expect it to be guilty of such tricks as have been played on this firm. A contract for timber was given to a man named Driver, and was carried out in a very loose way. I have been a contractor, and have worked on draft agreements. In fact, I have practically finished a job before the final agreements in regard to it have been drawn up. It was lucky for Driver that he lived in Victoria. He was under the wing of Parliament House, and he get the ear of Victorian members, with the result that he received better treatment than the other contractors. Driver’s timber contract was brought under the notice of the Public Accounts Committee. It stated thathe should receive current prices. As a member of the committee, I brought my business capacity to bear on that agreement, although I hadno personal interest in the matter. I drew the Chairman’s attention to the provision about current prices. Departmental officers did not know whether current prices meant delivered at the mill, or delivered in Melbourne. The timber was sold by the thousand feet, and the difference between the price delivered at the mill and the price delivered in Melbourne would be very considerable. The Chairman suggested that he be empowered to see the Minister. He went to see the Minister, but in the face of that disclosure, the department proceeded with another contract. It was not very creditable of the department to discontinue operations, and leave the contracts suspended. Driver, with the local influence he possessed, was able -to go to court, and obtained some hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Government for violation of his contract. The firm of Dean and Sons have been endeavouring to comply with the terms of a draft agreement. The draft agreement with Green, who supplied joinery, was the most peculiar thing I have ever seen. No provision was made in it for brokerage, so that Green - another fortunate person who lived in Victoria - was able to get the brokerage for himself. The Attorney-General has not “ played the game “ in this matter. Dean and Sons took action in the court. The case was tried before a judge and jury, and the jury gave a decision in favour of the firm, but did not fix damages. I have had some experience of civil and criminal juries, and it is clear to me that the jury was under the impression that the Government would adjust the claim That view of the jury was more in the interests of the Government than of Dean and Sons. The Government made no attempt to adjust the matter, and the Law Department treated the firm very unjustly. After spending money in appealing to the Supreme Court and the High Court, the firm was defeated. I did not expect any other decision, because neither the Supreme Court nor the High Court could interfere with the jury’s de cision. The Government made an arrangement with some persons in Tasmania who had a patent idea for erecting concrete houses, although practical men never expected that scheme to succeed. Several concrete houses were erected, and then the department closed down. The result was that the Tasmanian firm got into financial difficulties and the bank issued a writ. As the firm was not far from Melbourne, members of it importuned members of Parliament, and because of the pressure which they were able to bring to bear on the Government, their case was further investigated. The result was the withdrawal of the writ issued by the Government, thus giving the firm an opportunity to deal with its assets. While the writ remained, the creditors could do nothing. Although the firm suffered loss, it was enabled to continue in business. Messrs. Dean and Sons are not dishonest men, out to rob their fellows, but a reputable firm which has been doing business in New South Wales for many years. When I was in business I placed some orders with this firm, and obtained every satisfaction. There is no reason why undue advantage should be taken of them.
– The department drove them to law.
– I cannot understand why the verdict of the jury was not accepted. The procedure usually adopted in these matters is for the papers to be sent to the law officers of the Crown. Those officers deal with them in a purely legal manner. The motion before the Chair is a reasonable one, especially when we consider that Messrs. Dean and Sons became almost insolvent because of their attempt to defend their’ honour. They were willing to supply bricks to the Commission’ and to fulfil the terms of the draft agreement. Honorable members may not be aware that, in most cases, draft agreements only were in existence. Largely because honorable members on this side urged the Government of that time to do so, it decided to erect a number of homes for returned soldiers. After that decision was made and published, the policy was reversed. Troubles then arose. Had a Labour government been in power, and these mistakes occurred, there would have been a great outcry by the press of Australia, urging that, because of its mismanagement, the Government was unfit to remain in office. It would appear that, to save its face, the
Government wishes to penalize Messrs. Dean and Sons. Such actions are unworthy of any Government, which should conduct its affairs in a manner worthy of the emulation of business firms. I regret that the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) is not present, as I believe that I could persuade him that he has made an error in this instance. I desire to emphasize that Messrs. Dean and Sons were anxious to do something for the returned soldiers. Because their original plant was not sufficiently large to make the bricks necessary to erect homes for returned soldiers, they were prepared to erect new kilns. Moreover, the price at which they offered to supply the bricks required was a reasonable one. I have often paid from 20s. to 25s. more a 1,000 for bricks than the price at which this firm was prepared to supply the commission. I have seen some of their bricks, and know them to be of good quality, and worth the price asked. I have spoken on this subject previously, and have again spoken this afternoon in the hope that the Government will yet be persuaded to refer it to a committee. This case is not different from the others that I have mentioned, in which, because of their closer proximity to Melbourne, the people concerned received better treatment. There is no doubt that Messrs. Dean and Sons have been unfairly treated by the Government, and for that reason action to bring their case before Parliament is justified. I hope that, as’ a result of the debate this afternoon, the motion will be agreed to, and justice done to this firm.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Marr) adjourned.
Postponementof Orderof the Day.
Order of the Day for the resumption of the debate on the motion in the name of Dr. Maloney, for the adoption of the referendum and initiative, postponed to the 25th February.
Munition Workers’ Wages - Common wealth Bank Clerks - Queensland Workers Compensation - Divisional Returning Officers - Old-age Pensions.
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair and the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply - proposed.
.- I am somewhat loath to enter upon the discussion of a matter upon which I asked a question to-day. I asked whether steps would be taken by the Government to avoid pending trouble in the engineering shops in association with what may be called our arsenal and munition factories. The Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse) asked me to put my question on the notice-paper, but I informed the honorable gentleman by interjection that matters had almost reached the boiling-point, and possibly the industrial pot would boil over to-, night. The Minister said he had been in negotiation with the men, and I have no wish to say anything that might obstruct or delay in any way the amicable settlement of the trouble. The men concerned received an engineers’ award under the Federal Arbitration Court for a minimum wage of £4 7s. 6d. per week. Since then a regulation has been framed, and I presume has received the sanction of the Cabinet and become an executive order, providing that the wages of these men shall be reduced to £4 2s. 6d. I have yet to learn that it is competent for a government department to vary a legitimate award of the Arbitration Court.” I am aware that industrialists are often required to spend months of patient waiting before their cases are heard by the Arbitration Court. After the consideration of a claim has been commenced there may be weeks and months of argument by legal gentlemen and union representatives before an award is made. The result is that by the time those seeking an award obtain it they are mulct in very heavy expenditure indeed. It will be agreed that the procedure of the Arbitration Court should be as simple and expeditious as possible. Instead of lengthy arguments by representatives of the parties, there should be some more expeditious means of arriving at decisions which would lead to the saving of time and money. I do not know whether the Minister for Defence has any experience of the difficulties in obtaining awards of the court and the expense involved. The Public Service records will show that the obtaining of awards from the Public Service Arbitrator has involved considerable expenditure. When Mr. Skewes, who is now one of the Board of Commissioners of the Public Service, was acting on behalf of the Public Service Commissioner, his time was often occupied for days together in fighting claims submitted to the Public Service Arbitrator by variousbranches of the Service. I understand that the attitude adopted by the Government in connexion with the matter now under consideration is that there should not be one section of public servants working under an award of the Public Service Arbitrator, and another section working under a different award of the Arbitration Court. I am a. believer in arbitration and industrial peace, and I hold that whether an award of the Arbitration Court covers sections of employees of the Government or persons engaged in private industry, it should’ not be varied without very good reason. To proceed, to vary an award of the Arbitration Court as affecting workers in the service of the Defence Department by a regulation reducing their wages is, in my opinion, to treat those people unfairly. The men engaged in the engineering shops at Footscray and Maribyrnong perform some of the most important work connected’ with the manufacture of munitions. Some of them are in charge of explosives in various stages of manufacture, and, if impelled by a sense of duty to their engineering comrades, they should leave their work, the position will be not without possible danger and considerable loss to the Government. These men would not occupy the positions they do unless they were possessed of considerable intelligence. They have acquired by reading, training and experience the technical knowledge essential to the efficient performance of their delicate and difficult duties. I understand that they have seen both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence.
– They have endeavoured to secure consideration of their claims.
– In view of the seriousness of the position and the importance of the work in which these men are ordinarily engaged, there would be no loss of dignity by the Government if it stayed its hand for the time being. What does it matter if the settlement of the dispute is postponed for two or three months ?
– We have agreed to that already, and so has the Prime Minister.
– Yes, under certain conditions, which are laid down by the Government.
– No, at their own request.
– The men very much fear that if they submit their case to the Public Service Arbitrator an award may be given which would lead to what is termed the “dilution” of labour. The Government should not endanger the position of government workshops by imposing an unfair regulation with which the employees ought not to be asked to comply. Anticipating that the war would continue longer than it did, the British Government placed orders with big engineering firms for the construction of certain machinery. Owing to the sudden cessation of hostilities, for which we were all thankful, large parcels of this machinery were left on the hands of the British Government. In the circumstances, it made a very magnanimous Offer to the oversea dominions, including Australia, to purchase the machinery at very reduced rates. Australia was one of the dominions that gladly accepted the offer of the British authorities. I believe that aeroplanes, motor trucks, and quite a number of useful articles of defence ‘ equipment, were handed over to the dominions, practically as gifts, by the British Government. There is no doubt that we received large parcels of valuable machinery at very cheap rates. Without saying anything derogatory of persons engaged in the engineering trade outside the Public Service, it may be said that the engineers employed in these workshops were specially selected to carry out the very important work of assembling machines and putting them into position to start the manufacture of munitions. It would be well worth the while of honorable members to personally inspect the series .of works and engineering shops comprising the cordite factory and the small arms and munition works at Footscray. They will find that there is in Maribyrnong, the most important constituency in Australia, what might be termed the Australian arsenal. In these big engineering shops, some of which are occupied in the manufacture of cordite and high explosives, the erection of the machinery to which I have referred has been almost completed. I believe that it is the testimony of some of the finest engineers in Australia, as well as of prominent engineers who have visited this country, that, when it is completed, we shall have at Footscray one of the finest engineering shops south of the line. It is in these works that trouble has arisen. The men are quite satisfied with the hours and conditions fixed by the award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. So far as I know, cordial relations exist between those in charge of the works and the employees. The work of the factory had been progressing satisfactorily, when suddenly a thunderbolt descended upon the men. The Government has issued a regulation under which their wages are to be reduced from £4 7s. 6d. to £4 2s. 6d. a week. They have been informed that the reduction will not take effect until their appeal has been heard by the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers is one of the finest unions in the world, and its members are jealous of their privileges. They resent the regulation because it means the dilution of labour. There is at the Maribyrnong workshops another organization known as the Munition Workers Union. At one time there was a certain amount of overlapping between the two bodies, and an arrangement was made fixing the different classes of work to be carried out by their members. Since then the work has progressed satisfactorily. I understand that the object of the regulation is to prevent two sections of Government employees from working under different awards. These men cannot be regarded as permanent public servants. The Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator was appointed’ to make awards for permanent public servants, and there was no intention on the part of this Parliament to include in those awards engineers working in the Defence Department. Even though there was a slight anomaly respecting . one section of . the Commonwealth Public’ Service, the Minister should not have interfered while work was proceeding satisfactorily under an award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The regulation is bound to cause trouble. I have been informed that the engineers do not intend to resume work in the morning.
– How many men are involved ?
– Over 100. The honorable member knows that if skilled workmen absent themselves from work, other sections of the employees are forced to become idle. The shops will be closed, and the manufacture of ex plosives will cease. The loss to the country thus caused will be far greater than the saving made by the Government in the men’s wages. There will be serious industrial trouble, spreading, very likely, to the Lithgow works and to engineering establishments in Sydney and Newcastle. A strong government would endeavour to settle the dispute amicably. The engineers at the Maribyrnong workshops will leave work to-night with a bitter feeling in their hearts. I know many of them. I spoke to one of the officers of the union to-day.
– Who fixed the rate at £4 7s. 6d.J
– The Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The wage is now to be reduced to £4 2s. 6d.
– On whose authoririty ?
– I do not know. I understand that the regulation has taken the form of an order in council. It has been gazetted, and, therefore, the Government is responsible for it.
– In spite of the award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court?
– Surely not.
– This morning Mr. Roberts, the branch secretary, showed me the regulation. I was surprised to learn that engineers were working for a wage as low as £4 7s. 6d. a week.
– Are these men skilled workmen ?
– If they were not qualified tradesmen they would not be accepted as members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.
– They are not improvers?
– No. During the war we were dependent upon the work of engineers, both on land and sea, and we owe a great deal to them. I cannot understand why the Government now insists on a reduction in the wages of the engineers at the Maribyrnong workshops. The disputes committee of the Trades Hall Council has interviewed the Government respecting the regulation. The Minister has informed me that the trouble may yet be settled, but so far as I know the men do not intend to resume work to-morrow morning. If the trouble is not settled, the country will suffer a. heavy loss, and a great hardship will be inflicted upon one of the greatest unions in Australia.
.- I am seriously concerned about the trouble at the Maribyrnong workshops, which has been Drought about by the issue of a regulation affecting both the AmalgamatedSociety of Engineers and the Munition Workers Union. As a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, I know that it takes strict measures to enforce obedience to its rules in order to keep the wheels of industry moving. No form of irresponsible action on the part of individual members is permitted. Before any body of men is withdrawn from any particular job a secret ballot must be taken among those concerned, and even before that can be taken, the Commonwealth council must approve of it. Knowing the constitution and the procedure of the society, I view with alarm the. decision of the men not to resume work at the Maribyrnong, workshops to-morrow morning. I cannot congratulate the Government upon the attitude it has adopted. Parliament has set up an Arbitration Court to determine the wages and conditions of those engaged in industry. Private employers are compelled to obey the awards of the Court, but the Government, representing the authority which established that tribunal, is the first to break down its decisions. This has happened on more than one occasion. Towards the end of last session,. I brought under the notice of the House the fact that certain persons employed in the Public Service were receiving less than the basic wage. The only explanation I could obtain from the authorities was that the employees affected were temporary. The permanent officers who were doing the same class of work were receiving the basic wage.
– The temporary men were more entitled to it.
– Yes, because they had no security of tenure. I have no desire to aggravate the ill-feeling caused by the latest dispute, but I do wish to emphasize the anomaly of the Government’s action in setting aside the award of a tribunal that was brought into being by this Parliament. Surely if the private employer is expected to observe loyally the decisions of the Court, the least the Govern- ment can do is to set an example. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail in regard to both the reduction of wages and the proposed dilution of labour. The departmental officers should realize the danger of the latter proposal, because dilution of labour will lower the standards of efficiency which engineers have acquired after many years of training. In the past employers were conservative in their insistence upon years of apprenticeship and training to assure efficiency in the skilled trades, but the Government is now going to the opposite extreme by introducing, a process of dilution which must lead to diminished efficiency.
– I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
.- I am surprised that it should be necessary to debate in this House the issue raised by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton). I thought that the dispute would be amicably settled, and that the Government, when it became fully seised of the facts, would adhere to the principle of arbitration which it has emphasized again and again. But I know of no more flagrant breach of that principle than the action of the Defence Department in connexion with the factory at Maribyrnong. The department issued a regulation, No. 78, which provides -
The minimum rate for employees whose classifications are included in the wages schedule under regulation 78a shall be £4 2s. 6d. per week.
That minimum is fixed in spite of the fact that the Arbitration Court has awarded a basic wage of£4 7s. 6d. for some of the employees affected, whilst in regard to others there is a. signed agreement for a basic wage of £4 4s. per week. The Arbitration Court allowed a margin of 3s. 6d. a week over the estimated basic wage, In order to provide for the increase in the cost of living. Mr. Atlee Hunt does not recognize the court’s award in that respect, and has prescribed for the Public Service a basic wage of £4 4s. Setting aside the decisions of both the court and the Public Service Arbitrator, the Department of Defence has, by a regulation, declared that the basic wage from the 1st of March shall be £4 2s. 6d.
– Is the basic wage of £4 2s. 6d. to supersede in every instance the amounts fixed by the other authorities ?
– Presumably. The case for the men is very clear: The engineers organization has a plaint before the Arbitration Court, under an award of which many of its members are now working, but the Defence Department has issued a regulation classifying the work in various divisions, and this, the men declare, will mean a considerable reduction in the wages now paid. If the department wishes to classify the various operations of the engineering trade, and thus reduce the wages, the honest method is for it to become a respondent in the Arbitration Court, by the decision of which the union is willing to abide. The department cannot be forced into the Arbitration Court, and the position is complicated by the fact that some of the men are working under Mr. Atlee Hunt’s award. The men who are particularly affected include a number who are working under the award of the court. By that award they stand. They have a plaint before the court, and all they ask of the Government is that it will not pass judgment upon the merit of their claim, but will appear as respondent in the court, and if the court awards a reduced wage the men will accept it.
– Will the departmental regulations mean an increase of wages to any of the men?
– I have perused the schedule and I cannot find any increase. The . wage for turners is £511s. 6d., the margin above the basic wage being £1 4s. That margin has been considerably reduced by the classification of turners into various divisions. For instance, in the trade “turret lathe operators” are regarded as turners, and as such they receive £511s. 6d. By the departmental regulations they will receive 9s. above the basic wage of £4 4s., or a total of £4 13s., representing a reduction of 18s. 6d. “ Turret lathe operators on shells “ will by the same process of classification suffer a reduction of 17s. 6d. “ Auto screw operators “ are receiving from . £4 19s. 6d. to £511s. 6d., but their wage is to be reduced to £4 14s. 6d. “Operators grinding components,” who now receive £511s. 6d., will be asked to sacrifice £11s. 6d. - a big reduction. Milling machine operators, including thread milling, will suffer a reduction of £11s. 6d. a week. The operation of shell turning comes under the heading of turning, for which the arbitration award is £511s. 6d. Under the proposed regulations the rate will now show a reduction of £ 10s. 6d. Other machine operators, including cut-‘ ters off, will suffer a reduction of 9s. 6d. from £4 19s. 6d., which is the award rate. Cutters and tool grinders will be reduced from £511s. 6d. to £4 13s., a reduction of 18s. 6d.
– Surely there must be some mistake. The Government would surely not make such reductions.
– It is difficult to understand these regulations. During the absence of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) in the country, I introduced a deputation to the Minister for Defence, and the men put up a very well-reasoned and calm statement of their case.
– Since the issue of the regulations ?
– No. The men heard that these regulations were about to be gazetted, and they asked for an interview with the Minister, who was courteous enough to withhold the Gazette notice until he had heard what they had to say. He told them that he was pleased at the manner in which their views had been placed before him. They put forward a well argued and reasonable case, and they finalized it by saying: - “Apart from the merits of our case, to which we strongly adhere, we ask you to appear as respondents, and have the matter threshed out before the Arbitration Court, whose decision we shall accept.” Notwithstanding that request, these regulations have been issued.
– They are in print.
– But they are not in force.
– They were to come into force on the 1st March.
– They have been withdrawn at the request of the men.
– The Minister is now giving me some information. The men did ask for the regulations to be postponed, and the Minister in a letter he sent to me said that they would not come into force until the 1st March. Here is the regulation itself as printed - .
I, the Governor-General in and over the Commonwealth of Australia, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council, hereby make tlie following regulations under the Defence Act 1903-1918. to come into operation 21 S from 1st January, 1926.
– The regulations mentioned the 1st January, 1926.
– Yes, but at the request of the men no alteration in the basic wage was to take effect until the 1st March. What further postponement has taken place,’ I do not know. Briefly, the men recognize that in all industries machinery is largely displacing skilled labour, and that many men who operate machinery become specialists, and sometimes work faster than all-round engineers. They take up a reasonable attitude, which has been upheld by Mr. Justice Higgins in the Arbitration Court. They ask, “ If a semi-skilled man can obtain great speed by concentration and specialization, is he to get nothing for that special speed, or for the monotony of the work he performs ?” The factory is benefiting by the greater output. There is hardly a private engineering firm that is not paying more than the arbitration award for engineers because of the output it is getting from men who have specialized in their particular work. The engineers claim that if this policy of specialization is to be continued there will be no engineers in the days to come, because men will not go through long years of training to qualify as engineers only to find, after they have qualified, that they can be replaced by semi-skilled men manipulating machines and receiving lower wages than is paid to craftsmen. They do not deny the right of the Government to employ men to work these machines, although they desire to see members of their own organization who are available employed on them; but they claim that if a man who is not a qualified engineer can, . by specializing on a certain class of work, give the same output as a qualified engineer, he should be paid the wage provided for in the award given by the Arbitration Court. That is the case the men put up. Honorable members are not qualified to judge the merits of it. Nor should they be expected to do so. But,- on the other hand, if the House is not qualified to do so, neither is the Defence Department. The Arbitration Court has been set up to deal with such matters. The Minister will admit that these men have always loyally abided by its decisions.
The request they now put up is simply that before they are called upon to submit to a reduction of wages, they should have, their case heard before the Arbitration Court, and that the award given by that court should apply to the Government of the day.
– I regret that I was not in the chamber when the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) raised this matter. I think there, is some misunderstanding in regard to it. The case put up by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), to whom I listened very carefully, was that the Government is arbitrarily determining the wages of certain men, bringing about a substantial reduction, not only of the basic wage, but also of the margin applying to skilled labour, and that it is doing so in defiance of the principle which we all accept, that these are matters to be settled by tribunals appointed specially to consider them. The honorable member misinterpreted what the Government is doing. The first point with which I shall deal is the assertion that the new scale of pay is to take effect on the 1st March. I think that the original date fixed was the 1st January; but the operation of the regulation was deferred to the 1st March, in anticipation of the hearing of the men’s case by the Public Service Arbitrator during the present week. The Minister for Defence told the men that the operation of the regulation would be postponed to the 1st March, and that no action would be taken by him under it until a decision had been given by the Public Service Arbitrator. But since then, as the men’s case cannot be heard this week, the Minister has given them an undertaking that until it has been heard and a definite decision given, there will be no alteration of their wages.
– That was not the reply I received from the Minister.
– The reply the honorable member received from the Minister was that the matter was still pending, and that the 1st March was the date upon which the new scale would operate.
– But regulations have now been issued.
– That is so; but there have been further negotiations, and the Minister has given an assurance, which is perfectly well known to the men, that the new scale will not be brought into operation until a plaint has been heard by the Public Service Arbitrator. It has been suggested that the department has fixed the basic wage, not at £4 7s. 6d. a week, which is the rate determined by the Arbitration Court, but at £4. 2s. 6d. a week, as determined by the Public Service Arbitrator; but again I say that it was never intended to alter the wages of these men until their case had been heard and decided by the Public Service Arbitrator.
– Then what is the meaning of these regulations which have been gazetted to come into force on the 1st March?
– I have already explained that those regulations are not to come into force until the men’s case has been heard by the Public Service Arbitrator. It is, I imagine, the desire of honorable members that nothing should be said now which might cause trouble, as negotiations are in progress. The new scale will not come into operation until the Public Service Arbitrator has had an opportunity of adjudicating upon it. To suggest that anything else is likely to be done is to mislead the men and might bring about a situation that we might all regret.
– Who framed these regulations?
– That was done by the munitions branch of the Defence Department. There must be some starting point.
– These regulations are not the -starting point; they are the last word.
– No, they are not. According to the honorable member there is a simple way out of all this difficulty, by making the Government a respondent to a plaint in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. But I would remind honorable members that the operations of the munitions branch, of the Defence Department are not confined to Maribyrnong. There is also a factory under its control at Lithgow, in New South Wales, and the employees in that factory are working under an award of the Public Service Arbitrator, and it is now proposed that the employees in the factory at Maribyrnong, where large extensions are likely to take place, shall also come under the Public Service Arbitrator. That is merely the application to the munitions branch of the Defence Department of the policy now in force throughout the Commonwealth Public Service generally. Public Service plaints are heard by the Public Service Arbitrator, and not by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. All persons in the permanent or semipermanent employment of the Commonwealth, except the men to whom we are referring, have their wages and conditions fixed by the Public Service Arbitrator. There is good reason for that. The conditions operating in the Public Service are different from those operating outside it. Tha men employed in the munitions branch, to all intents and purposes, have permanent employment, and we could not give to them different treatment from that which we give to, say, hundreds of. similar employees in the Postal Department. Men who have not previously been working under the awards of the Public Service Arbitrator may’ say that they do not wish to have their case submitted to him. Their objection is a. natural one, because they do not know what award he will make.
– Their case is not being submitted to the Public Service Arbitrator.
– It will be considered by him. He has notified the parties that he will hear the case this week.
– Does the Prime Minister suggest that it is a proper procedure to issue a statutory rule for submission to the Arbitrator?
– Yes. That is what is done throughout the service. If men are not satisfied with the Government’s action, they go to the Public Service Arbitrator to have their case reviewed. The point I wish to stress is that the Public Service Arbitrator determines the wages and conditions not only of the men at Lithgow, but also of all the men in permanent and semi-permanent employment throughout the Commonwealth Service, and in view of that, I certainly say that the men in the munitions branch are not entitled to different treatment from that given to other members of the Service.
– This is another attempt by the Government to reduce wages
– I remind honorable members that this procedure has been followed for a very long time. Now that, the Government is endeavouring to apply to these men the conditions already applied to other men, it is asserted that the Government is attempting to reduce wages. I repudiate that suggestion, and say that it is lamentable that any one should be guilty of making it at this time. It can only have the effect of inflaming the men, and will probably lead to more serious consequences than would otherwise ensue. I am quite certain that the difference now existing between the Government and the men is capable of adjustment if honorable members opposite will refrain from inflaming the men. On the information given to me, the men are not on strike at the present moment, and I appeal to honorable members not to take action that will unquestionably make the situation more difficult to handle, and may quite likely provoke a strike. I give honorable members my assurance that the new rate of wages will not come into operation until such time as the Public Service Arbitrator has had an opportunity to decide the matter. It is a very grave mistake, when trouble of this kind arises, for honorable members to fan the flames of discontent. I leave this case with the reiterated appeal that at least an opportunity should be given for the case to be handled in a constitutional way.
– Did not the question of the dilution of labour arise at the interview with the Minister?
– Most certainly. I was not present, but I know of what book place.
– Has the Government received a deputation since that received by the Minister for Defence, at which I was present?
Mr.Scullin. - But a request was made for a deputation.
– Yes, last night. Certain negotiations had taken place, and the men knew what the position was. In view of that, I said that I could not see that any good purpose would be served by my receiving a second deputation.
– And that precipitated the action taken to-day.
– Whatever may be the merits of the men’s contention that their case should be tried before the Arbitration Court instead of the Public Service Arbitrator, it is quite obvious that the
Government cannot differentiate between different members of the Service.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) and I had a conference with these men. The request theymade was that the Prime Minister should see them, and the request they intended to make to him was that they should continue to remain under the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. It was not a case of asking for something they had not previously, but of their right to retain something they already had. The Prime Minister made a great blunder in refusing to receive them.
– I do not think the honorable member is stating the matter fairly. I said that other men in the Public Service doing similar work, and permanently or semi-permanently employed, were under the Public Service Arbitrator, and that, therefore, these men should also be under the Public Service Arbitrator.
Mr.Scullin. - They are already working under a Commonwealth Arbitration Court award, and the Government seeks to take away from them the benefits of that award. On that subject they want to make representations.
– I shall be only too pleased to see them if any useful purpose will be served thereby. If ‘ they are labouring under a misapprehension as to the action of the Government, I am willing to see them now - to-night if necessary - and to explain to them the Government’s point of view. I saw some one yesterday, and explainedthe position to him. I said that the Minister for Defence had received a deputation, and that I had pointed out why I concurred in his view. I assumed that my statement was conveyed to the men. If they desire to come to me, and to state their case personally, I shall be pleased to see them. I can assure honorable members that it is not the Government’s desire to reduce wages; its object is simply to ensure that all the persons in its employment receive identical treatment. To allow the Public Service Arbitrator to determine this case before any alteration is made, is certainly to subscribe to tke view we have always held that disputes should be settled peaceably, andthat wages should be determined by tribunals established under the law.
– If the Government does not intend to reduce wages, why were not the present instead of the new rates of wages submitted to the Public Service Arbitrator ?
– As the honorable member knows, such rates of wages as are considered to be fair and equitable are decided upon. In this case the rates are based upon those ruling at Lithgow.. These men are not merely in the same service, but are part of the same branch of the service as the men at Lithgow, and it is now proposed that they shall have their claims adjudicated upon by the same tribunal. I say that that is quite fair and equitable. The Government has no alternative but to treat all its employees alike. It is most undesirable that action which is liable to inflame the men should be taken in this House.
.- I am somewhat surprised that action has been taken by the Department in the. way indicated in the regulation. The Prime Minister has now stated that he is willing to see the men concerned, and to discuss the matter with them, and that the regulation will not be put into operation until a settlement has been arrived at.
– That was not a new statement by me. The Minister for Defence said that long ago, and every one knew it to bc ft fact
– It is very evident to me that the Defence Department intended that the alteration should take effect before being submitted to the arbitrator. It laid down a scale of wages lower than those awarded by the Arbitration Court. That being so, I submit that the Government is entirely in the wrong, and is setting a bad example to every employer in Australia. It has been contended that there should be no reduction in wages without an appeal to an established tribunal, In this case, there is a tribunal of the Commonwealth - the Ar:bitration Court; - and it has made an award under which the men are working. The Government says that it will alter that and bring the men under Mr. Hunt, the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator. It, therefore, publishes the scale of wages to be paid to them, those wages representing a reduction of from 5s. to £1 ls. 6d. a week on the present rates. That action is prejudicing the men’s cause before it comes before Mr. Hunt. The men are now working under an award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. If they are to be transferred to other control they should be transferred without any reduction of their wages or alteration of their conditions. The Government has no right to issue a regulation altering the wages payable under an award. Employees who have a dispute with a private employer may file a log with the Arbitration Court, and the court decides on the justice or otherwise of their claim. But the Government does not do that. It proposes vo transfer the men from the control of %he Commonwealth Arbitration Court to that of Mr. Hunt, and at the same time to reduce their wages. It is the intention of the Government that the new rates shall apply from a certain date. That much is clear. Can we wonder at these men being concerned ? Do honorable members consider that the Government is setting a good example to private employers ? Will this action tend towards industrial peace? We should be very careful in these matters, as frequently they lead to trouble. Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s denial, it is clear that the Government is seeking to reduce these men’s wages. Honorable members should consider this matter from the point of view of the men affected. They have expended their own money and obtained an award from the court, and have’ worked loyally under that award, making no complaints. Suddenly, they are confronted with a regulation under which their wages are to be reduced. They are justified in resenting such action. The Prime Minister says that the Government desires to place ali these men under one control. That sounds well; but, when we consider that a reduction of wages is involved, it is evident that it is only a subterfuge. We have here an example of the Government showing the way in which a lock-out can be avoided. It says to the men that, if they are not prepared to accept the reduced wages, their only remedy is to fight the matter in the court. That is not right. If the men had not complained, this new rule would have been put into operation from the date mentioned therein. When the Public Service Board was constituted, honorable members generally thought that it would deal chiefly with clerical workers, and that its operations would not extend to industrialists in the Government employ who already had the right to go to the Arbitration Court. In fact, they did approach that court, and they obtained an award. Until recently no attempt has been made to break that award, but now an attempt to do so is being made. The Government is not acting fairly towards these employees, and its action shows that not sufficient attention is given to industrial matters. It is clear that no member of the Cabinet understands industrial matters; otherwise this thing would not have happened. The sooner the Government appoints a qualified person to advise it on industrial matters, the better it will be for the country. I do not want to see trouble arise from this incident; but it is possible that it will lead to trouble. A match is being lighted which, if not at once put out, may kindle a serious conflagration. Should trouble occur, the responsibility will rest on the Government. Trouble can be avoided if the Government is prepared to act justly. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), who iB the representative in this House of the men directly affected, is to be commended for bringing this matter forward. I have to-day been in consultation with some of the industrial leaders of this State. They view this matter seriously, and fear that it may lead to trouble. They were not speaking as supporters of any political party, but as men who want to avoid trouble and to keep the men at work”. I do not know whether the award under which the men in the Lithgow factory are working was the result of negotiations, or of the decision of Mr. Hunt.
– I think it was an award granted by the Public Service Arbitrator.
– Is it wise to have two forms of arbitration?
– A mistake, was made when tthe new form of arbitration was introduced. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which was constituted by legislation passed by this Parliament bo deal with industrial matters, with a view to avoiding strikes and lock-puts, has granted these men an award, and there is no justification for depriving them of their right to appear before the court.
– The Government’s action is most unfair.
– If the Government thought that a change was necessary, why did it not, like any other employer, state a case before the Arbitration Court, and. let the court decide the matter ? No, -the Government does not do that; instead, it presents a pistol at these men’s heads. It says that, notwithstanding the award granted under the laws of the country, other conditions shall apply to their employment, that they must come under Mr. Hunt, that their wages shall be reduced. In its own eyes the Government is above the law. In the case of turret lathe operators, the reduction in wages under the Government’s proposal is 18s. 6d. per week; the wages of men working on shells are to be reduced by 17s. 6d. a week; in other cases the reduction is as much as £1 ls. 6d. per week.
– The Government is going a strange way to bring about industrial peace.
– Honorable members opposite say nothing about the dairymen’s conditions.
– We, on this side, have been generous to the dairymen. I know a good deal of the conditions of a dairyman’s life, as for many years I represented a large number of them. I know their trials and their troubles. Recently,’ they have taken certain action regarding the price of butter; but that action has not been challenged by honorable members opposite. Honorable members on this side could, had they desired, have made a stir about the matter, but we realize that we are here to represent every section of the community and to act justly to all, and, therefore, we did not raise our vvoices in protest. Now, however, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) is not willing to grant justice to industrial workers. I ask him whether he approves of reduced wages being paid to these men?
– We want uniformity.
– The Government’s action will not give uniformity. Honorable members should endeavour bo consider this matter from the point of view of the men affected.
Sitting suspended from 6.29 to S p.m.
– The Prime Minister has said that he would be prepared to do everything possible to have this matter adjusted amicably. That is all that one could ask at the present juncture.. [ have no wish that there should be a protracted debate on the matter to-night, but as it is of great importance to the men concerned, I should like an assurance from the Prime Minister that he will meet a deputation from them in order that they may place their views before him and discuss the position withhim.
– The Prime Minister gave that assurance, and said that he would meet them to-night.
– We have been trying to get into touch with the men but, unfortunately, without success.
– I find that the men did give notice of their intention to cease work. The shop steward gave notice this afternoon at 4.30 p.m. that the men would cease work.
– Yes - to-day.
– That adds to the seriousness of the position. If the Prime Minister will give an assurance that he will see a deputation from the men tomorrow to discuss the matter, we shall endeavour to bring about ah arrangement to that end. We have been unable to get into touch with the men to-night, because they have ceased work and gone to their homes. If the Prime Minister will say that he will meet a deputation from the men we shall endeavour to arrange for it.
– Certainly I will.I think that the views of the Cabinet have been made known to them; but I shall be only too pleased to meet them personally.
– I am quite satisfied with that assurance.
.- In 1924 the Government introduced an amendment of the Commonwealth Bank Act, and after protracted discussion yielded to a demand for the appointment of an appeal board for the bank’s clerks. A. special provision was incorporated in the amending bill giving an officer of the bank affected in his employment by the action of any authority of the bank “other than the board” the right within a prescribed time to submit in writing an application for an appeal to the appeal board. Under recent action taken by the Commonwealth Bank Board the right has been practically abrogated and the intention of Parliament in 1924 in giving the bank’s clerks the right to appeal against any actionon the part of the Governor of the bank, who at the time had control of promotions and preferments, has been defeated. Ob the 7th May, 1925, regulations were issued confirming the right givento the clerks to appeal against any action on. the part of the Governor, provided that the appeal was lodged with the secretary to the board within 30 days “ of the officer’s cognizance of such action.” I have received a protest from the United Bank Officers Association on this matter. They point out that the whole intention of Parliament has been defeated by the issue recently by the board of amended regulations which were gazetted as “ Statutory Rules, 6th January, 1926, No. 4.” Not only has the right of the Commonwealth Bank’s clerks to appeal been taken away by the action of the board, but the method of election of the bank officers’ representative on the appeal board has been materially altered without the employees of the bank being consulted. Under the regulations issued In 1924 the right of appeal was given to any clerk affected by the action of any authority of the bank other than the bank board, which meant the Governor of the bank. Under the regulations issued on the 6th January last, in clause 5, the word “ Board “ has been substituted for the word “ Governor.” The effect of this alteration is that the Commonwealth Bank Board now controls all classifications, and also the remuneration of bank officers. In this way the provision in the amending act, giving the employees the right of appeal, has been rendered null and void. The new regulations have altered materially the conditions under which appeals could previously be lodged. The original regulations provided for the lodging of an appeal to the board against the action of the Governor in. regard to promotion “ within thirty days of the officer’s cognizance of such action.” The new regulation provides that an appeal shall be lodged within 30 days of the officer being notified of action which adversely affects him. The action of the board in assuming control of transfers and promotion and remuneration defeats the intention of Parliament in passing the amending act. In the new regulations the word “ cognizance “ is deleted and provision is made for the lodging of an appeal “ within 30 days of the notification by the board of such action.” Under the amended regulations it is for the Commonwealth Bank Board to determine whether an officer is affected by some action it has taken. If adversely affected, he had, under the old regulations, a right of appeal to an appeal board, but he has no such right under the amended regulations, unless the Commonwealth Bank Board notifies him that his position is affected by its action.
– Is that what notification means in that connexion 1 Is it not a general notification ?
– The construction placed on the words by the union is that what is implied is an official notification to the individual affected by the action of the Commonwealth Bank Board. The regulation of 7th May, 1925, read -
An officer affected in his employment by the action of any authority of the bank other than the board may lodge an appeal to the board; such appeal to be lodged with the secretary of the board within 30 days of the officer’s cognizance of any such action.
That is amended under the regulations of the 6th January, 1926, signed by the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) to read-
An officer affected in his employment by the action of any authority of the bank other than the board may lodge an appeal to the board; such an appeal to bc lodged with the Governor within 30 days of the notification to the officer of such action.
It is clear that under this regulation an officer has no right of appeal unless he is notified that his position has been affected. That is getting right away from the intention of Parliament, which was to make the right of appeal as broad as possible. The transfer of one officer of the bank might injuriously affect a number of officers of the same grade, and vet they are to be denied the right to appeal against such action by the board. In the Commonwealth Public Service an officer has the right of appeal if his position is affected by any action of the Board of Commissioners. Why should not a similar right be given to employees of the Commonwealth Bank? Clause 5 of the new regulations provides that -
The board shall classify officers and servants pf the bank, and shall fix their remuneration from time to time.
Under this regulation the Commonwealth Bank Board has assumed powers which were formerly exercised by the Governor of the bank. If the board is to exercise these powers, how are the officers to secure their right of appeal when under the regulations they can appeal only against the action of any authority of the bank “ other than the board? “.”The new regulation represents a serious breach of faith on the part of the Commonwealth Bank Board, and a defiance of the intention of Parliament in passing the amending act. The Commonwealth Bank Board has further interfered with the method of election of the employees’ representatives on the appeal board. The view of the union, as expressed to me, is as follows: -
The whole thing would develop into a solemn farce unless these regulations were altered. It would keep the- word of promise to our ears, but would break it to our hope.
The wish is expressed that the Treasurer will take steps to repeal the newly issued regulations or modify their incidence upon those affected by them. I have said that the board has interfered with the manner of election of the employees’ representative. Under the original regulations of the 7th May of last year, the employees had the right to be represented by scrutineers at the counting of the ballots, and every employee, male and female, of all ages, had the right to vote for the election of the employees’ representative. That is in accordance with democratic principle, seeing that every officer of the bank, irrespective of age or sex, might be affected by appeals. The original regulations further provided for preferential voting. All these provisions have been arbitrarily abolished by the Commonwealth Bank Board, without consulting the wishes of the employees, although it is their representative who will be affected by its action. The amendments made by the board abolish preferential voting, limit the right of voting to salaried officers of the age of 21 years and over, eliminate scrutineers from the ballot,- and also provide for the principle of recall. I do not think that the Bank Board would be prepared to apply such a principle to itself. The regulation provides that if at any time the majority of the staff signs a petition for the removal of their representative his position shall be declared vacant, and a new representative elected in his place, to hold office until the next annual election. I submit that interference with the right of the employees to make a free and untrammelled selection is a breach of faith on the part of the Bank Board. It is tyrannical and unjust and calls for some reply on the part of the Treasurer. The employees, I am advised, have little faith in the appeal board now that the constitution has been altered, and the right of appeal annulled by an amendment of the regulations. I should like the Treasurer to explain where an appeal now lies. The Bank Board now controls remuneration, promotions and everything else relating to the Commonwealth Bank. The 1924 Act provided for the appointment of a Board of Appeal, to deal with those matters which are now vested in the board. Either the act should be amended or the regulations modified to ensure the continuance of cordial relations between the bank staff and the board. Its action in amending the regulations is ill-considered, wrong in principle,, and calculated to create friction and discontent. I hope that the Treasurer will take the opportunity to reply.
– I deprecate very much the manner in which the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) has put his case to the House, because my experience has been that the board does everything possible to improve the position of the members of the bank staff. Possibly some misunderstanding has arisen owing to the wording of the amended regulations, but other provisions may be in existence which overcome the difficulty. My experience of the board is that it is doing everything possible not merely to maintain, but also to improve the position of the bank clerks. It is anxious to have a contented and satisfied staff. The honorable member must readily appreciate the fact that I cannot keep in continual contact with the details of the bank management. All that I am responsible for is the general oversight of the regulations. In this case I shall ask the board to explain the drafting of the regulations and later transmit its reply to the honorable member by letter, so that he can make it available to the bank staff.
.- I wish to reply to a certain statement made by the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis), when speaking on the Precious Metals Prospecting Bill on the 20’th January last. Referring to the depression in the mining industry, he said -
One thing which is detrimentally affecting mining in Queensland - and I speak particularly for Charters Towers, Cloncurry, the Etheridge, Croydon, and the Chillagoe field until it became a government concern - is the high cost of workers’ compensation insurance.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) interjected, “ Does not the State insurance office assume increased liabilities?” The honorable member for Kennedy replied, “ No; it assumes practically no increased liability.” At the time I thought that the honorable member had received wrong information, but I did not rise to speak, because before doing so I wished to obtain definite facts from the State Insurance Commissioner in Queensland. I have since consulted him and received certain information, which will show that the honorable member’s remarks were not quite fair. I know that he did not intend to misrepresent the State Insurance Department of Queensland, respecting its rates of premiums and benefits to the workers. The StateInsurance Commissioner, Mr. J. Watson, in commenting on the honorable member’s remark, says -
The honorable member is indisputably wrong in his statement that the State Government Insurance Office, Queensland, “ assumes practically no increased liability “ in regard to mining risks in Queensland due to what he designates “ the high cost of worker’s compensation insurance.”
Prior to the establishment of that office under the Workers’ Compensation Act of 1916, compensation -was not payable under the Workers’ Compensation Act of 1905 for the following diseases of mining employment : -
Silicosis of the lungs; miners’ phthisis; pneumoconiosis. Ankylostomiasis. Nystagmus. Subcutaneous cellulitis of the hand (beat hand). Subcutaneous cellulitis over the patella (miners’ beat knee). Acute bursitis over the elbow (miners’ beat elbow). Inflammation of the synovial lining of the wrist joint and tendon sheaths. Miners’ itch. Copper itoh. Dermatitis caused by working in mineralized or acid -water. Caisson disease.
For these extra risks incorporated in the acts by. section 3 of the amending act of 1916, the State Government Insurance Office charged from the 1st July, 1917, the rates of- ]. On the wages, &c, of workers employed underground in mining, other than coal mining - 40s. per cent.
At the 30th June, 1923, the Charters Towers field had contributed 211 claims out of 536, involving a compensation payment of £33,886 out of a total of £82,357, and the Cloncurry and Croydon fields, which the honorable member mentioned, had contributed, respectively, 95 claims, the compensation paid being £14,681, and 25 claims, the compensation paid being £3,808. Owing to the ravages of diseases, particularly miners? phthisis, and to the fact that the Queensland Government also determined that even sufferers who had ceased work prior to the 1st January, 1916 - the Workers’ Compensation Act came into force on the 1st July, 1916 - should receive at least one-half the monetary benefits given to workers incapacitated after the coming into force of the act, the rates had later - on the 15th December, 1923 - to be increased to -
Even the increased rates have not met the burden which has not been placed on the mining industry, though there is power to do so under the industrial and mining diseases compensation regulations of 1917. The miners’ phthisis account at the 30th June, 1925, was £20,030 to the bad, despite contributions from the ordinary profits of £83,698, and by the Government of £6,905. Notwithstanding this, under the Workers’ Compensation Act of 1925, which came into force on the 5th November last, the Queensland Government determined that sufferers from pulmonary tuberculosis in mining employment should also receive benefits, and that the full benefit of £400 to such sufferers should be increased to £450. This may necessitate further assistance to the account of approximately £47,000, savedfrom profits of the Workers’ Compensation Department, or from general reserve, the workers’ compensation portion of which has been contributed to by ordinary policy-holders. I think that I have sufficiently shown the poorness and paucity of the honorable member’s statement respecting the “increased liability” of compensation in Queensland in the mining industry. . I also would inform him that the Workers’ Compensation Acts 1916-25 cover the following industrial diseases : -
Arsenic, phosphorus, lead, mercury, copper, zinc, or other mineral poisoning and their sequelae. Anthrax. Asiatic cholera, bubonic plague, diphtheria, measles, mumps, scarlet fever, small-pox, tetanus, typhoid fever, or other zymotic disease. Carbon bisulphide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Chrome ulceration. Poisoning by benzol or its nitro and amido derivates. Dermatitis venenata. Poisoning by nitrous fumes. Poisoning by cyanogen compounds.Epitheliomatous cancer or ulceration of skin or . of the corneal surface of the eye due to mineral oil, pitch, tar, or tarry compounds. Septic poisoning.
The act applies in certain employments, without extra premium to the ordinary accident rate, whereas the Workers’ Compensation Act of 1905 did not cover a single industrial disease. I might add that those industrial diseases that I have enumerated practically coincide with those mentioned in the recommendation contained in the report of the representatives of the Commonwealth and the States of Australia, second conference on industrial hygiene, held at Melbourne on the 19th August, 1924. I would further inform the honorable member that under the Workers’ Compensation Act of 1905, the following rates for the ordinary accident risks applied: -
The rates now charged by the State Government Insurance Office are: - For mines’ underground staff, 44s. 6d.; for mines’ surface hands, 29s. It also does not impose any disaster limit. In this connexion the honorable member may be reminded of the expressions of Chillagoe limited, which furnished a glowing tribute to the efficiency of State insurance and its satisfying protection because of the non-imposition of a disaster limit. That company stated that it was an outstanding and established fact that its policy with the State Government Insurance Office had been the means of saving it is a very big loss in connexion with the Mount Mulligan disaster. In that catastrophe about 50 miners were entombed and lost their lives. Under the 1905 act, the maximum compensation would have been £4,000; but the State Insurance Department paid, without demur, claims amounting to approximately £60,000.
– It was a State enterprise, and badly managed.
– I am not aware of that, but, however, it does not alter the fact that had the State Insurance Department not been established, the maximum disaster limit would have been £4,000, whereas compensation amounting to £60,000 was actually paid. Numerous other mining accidents have occurred in Queensland since the introduction of State insurance, and the relatives of those who lost their lives have benefited by the greater liberality of the terms offered by the department. The honorable member for Kennedy should not blame the State Insurance Department for the depression in the mining industry of Queensland. What about Kalgoorlie and numerous other fields? Mining has slumped in all parts of Australia, and some mines in Queensland continued working long after similar mines in other parts of the Commonwealth had closed down. Honorable members will realize from the facts I have related that the State Insurance Department in Queensland, so far from being a hindrance and a drawback to the mining industry, has treated the companies fairly, and has bestowed great benefits upon the workers engaged in the mines. Those who are employed in a very unhealthy occupation are deserving of liberal compensation if they contract the dread disease of miner’s phthisis, and, in the event of death, their dependants are entitled to generous consideration.
– Quite right.
– Prior to the establishment of the State Insurance Department not a penny of compensation was paid to miners suffering from phthisis; when they were no longer able to work they were thrown upon the industrial scrapheap, and they and their dependants were helpless. The State Insurance Department, however, makes available relief for the miners and their wives and children. Of course, this liberality cannot be effected by merely waving a magician’s wand; certain premiums must be paid; but the rates charged by the department are reasonable. It has not only liberalized the compensation to miners who meet with accidents, but also has increased from £400 to £600 the maximum payable to the dependants of those who lose their lives, and, in cases of total incapacity, from £400 to £750; whilst the worker who is temporarily incapacitated, instead of receiving only £1 per week, which was the limit when private companies controlled this form of insurance, may be paid up to £3 10s. a week, without the endless litigation charges which formerly seemed unavoidable. The State Insurance Department also reduced the gross rate of fire insurance premiums by 331/3 per cent. When private enterprise held sway, the local lawyer was invariably briefed by the company to contest claims for compensation, and his office was littered with musty files relating to such cases. That class of litigation has ceased. Notwithstanding the greater benefits it bestows, the State Insurance Department has made an annual profit of about £60,000 for the last six years, and it is estimated that, if a Commonwealth scheme had been operating during that time, the Australian people would have saved about £6,000,000, and the victims of miner’s phthisis in any part of Australia would have been receiving compensation. I submit that I have proved that the honorable member for Kennedy was not indulging in fair criticism when he said that the State Insurance Office in Queensland undertook no increased liabilities to counterbalance the small advance in the premium rates.
.. -WhenI spoke on the bill relating to prospecting for precious metals, I did not criticize the administration of the Queensland State Insurance Office. I was merely illustrating the manner in which mining costs in that State have increased, thus rendering mining operations unprofitable. I instanced the fact that before the State took charge of the insurance business it was possible to insure a miner against all claims that might arise out of accidents in his employment for a premium of, approximately, £3 per annum, whilst a miner engaged on a temporary enterprise could bc insured by the payment of a monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, or annua] premium equal to about £3 per annum, whereas the State Insurance Department now’ charges a premium of £12 a year for each man. I was speaking from memory, and had in mind the fact that the Towers Tin Mining Company No Liability, of which I was a director, had to pay a premium of £120 to insure an average of ten miners for a year. I have since ascertained that the rate was 80s. per cent., which represents an annual charge of a, little more than £10 a man. Although a company might be engaging in an enterprise for a few weeks only - merely prospecting to ascertain whether a show was worth further development - it must pay the full year’s premium or incur penalties. In reply to the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), I said that the State Insurance Department had not undertaken any greatly increased responsibilities. I had in mind particularly the Mining and Industrial Accident Assurance Association, to which I was solicitor. In the whole of its transactions of that class of insurance it never carried any claim into the courts; each case was settled without litigation. The company accepted monthly or quarterly premiums, insured against all claims, and did not question whether a man had dependants or not. When the State department took over the insurance it required to knew how many dependants the worker had, and if he had no direct dependants the maximum compensation payable in the event of death, was £50, and not the large amount mentioned by the honorable member for Capricornia. Through the honorable member’s courtesy in letting me know this afternoon that he intended to speak on this matter to-night, I had an opportunity to obtain certain information from the Library. I do not wish to be considered a critic of the administra tion of the State Insurance Office. As a matter of fact, at a time when mining was almost at a. standstill, and many pf the mines in which the workers had contracted disease had closed down, the officials realized that many industrial diseases were not covered by any form of compensation, and, possibly for actuarial reasons, the department ‘ decided to increase the premium from 4.2s. 6d.; it was never less for miners working underground. The few mines still remaining were then expected to shoulder the burden of the increased premiums, because so many men had contracted miners’ disease in mines that had gone out of existence. That was one factor which contributed to the high cost of mining in Queensland.
– The honorable member will admit that the compensation payable has been- appreciably liberalized.
– Yes, but in a large number of the cases so eloquently dealt with by the honorable member for Capricornia - cases where there is need for a judicial interpretation as to whether a disease has been contracted as the result of an accident - compensation was payable even before the State Insurance Office was opened in 1916. ‘The industrial magistrate, sitting as such, usually accepted the medical evidence placed before him, and rarely did a case reach the court unless it was backed up by some medical evidence. Of course, medical experts, like legal and other experts, sometimes differ, but in all the cases that came under my notice, even before the Workers’ Compensation Act of 1916 came into force, if a medical man declared that the disease from which the miner was suffering had resulted from an accident, compensation was given. Another factor which has contributed to the increased cost of mining in Queensland is that provision of the act which regards tributors as employees to, be covered by insurance by the mine-owners. Previously, tributora insured themselves, but the Workers Compensation Act of 1916 placed on the mining industry the additional burden of insuring tributors.
– Was not that . of advantage to the tributors and their dependants ?
– No, because it simply drove them out of ‘tie business altogether, lt had just the same result as would have followed the fixing of the wages of a miner at £1,000 a year. Personally, I would not take the risk that a miner takes even if I were offered £1,.000 a year.
– Then the payment of increased compensation to the dependants of miners is justified?
– The trouble is that when the mining industry was prosperous and dividends were being paid fairly regularly, the responsibility in this regard was shirked altogether, and now when the industry is in a precarious position, it is saddled with the responsibility of a burden incurred long before. Mining expenses have also been increased by the additional cost of a number of articles. The cost of carbide has increased by 89.29 per cent, j that of cement by 50 per cent. ; that of white lead by 84.19 per cent., and that of oil by 59.52 per cent. Some items show an increase of over 100 per cent. The price of one item. - gelignite - has gone up from. £2 10s. to £5 per case. I do not d’.-ny that the State Insurance Office has paid large amounts of compensation in some instances, but it has sometimes refused to pay any compensation and the claimant has had to fight, not merely an insurance department, but, actually, the Government, and they have hesitated to do this. Nevertheless, it is true that in some circumstances it accepts a larger liability. It is merely a matter of juggling with figures. It may be that in the Mount Mulligan disaster it paid out. £60,000, but that was not more than should have been paid, and, in any case, that was only in addition to very large sums which the public, including myself, contributed to the sufferers in that appalling calamity.
– I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories the matter of providing extra pay for divisional returning officers, who had greatly increased duties imposed on them at the last election owing to the operation of the compulsory voting provisions of the Electoral Act. In very few cases in previous elections, had the proportion of voters to the number of persons enrolled exceeded 60 per cent., but on this occasion, in the majority of electorates, there was a poll of over 90 per cent. Thus the work of the returning officers was practically doubled, and as the election was held at a very trying time of the year when the weather was exceedingly warm, several of them collapsed in the performance of their duties. Represen.tation have been made to the Prime Minister, not only by myself, but also by honorable members on both sides of the House, and, evidently, the matter was referred to the Public Service Board. Honorable members will agree that the reply of the Public Service Board is a very, lame excuse. I do not think I am exaggerating if I refer to it as a quibble. It says in effect that when these officers were appointed, and when their scale of pay was fixed, they knew that they might have to perform the duties which’ were imposed on them at the last election under the compulsory voting system. This contention, in the circumstances surrounding the last election, hardly holds good even in regard to temporary officers, but I think everyone’ will admit that the additional duties imposed on divisional returning officers by the operation of the compulsory voting provisions could not possibly have been known to them when they were appointed. The reply furnished by the board is -
The fact that division il officers are required to work overtime in connexion with elections and referenda was carefully taken into consideration in determining their scale of pay.
On this ground the board cannot agree to any request for increased pay for these officers. We all know that some of these men have grown old in the service. Some of them have held their positions since Federation, and as compulsory voting was not in force until the last election, the Public Service Board has erred in saying that when their rates of pay were being fixed they knew the circumstances that would arise through the adoption of compulsory voting. Surely the board’s decision in this respect is not the last word in the matter. In private business, when the duties of employees are nearly doubled as they have been in this case, no employer would refrain from paying some form of bonus or compensation.
– An election entails a great deal of work afterwards as well as beforehand.
– Their work was doubled both before and after the election. Postal, absentee, and ordinary votes were alike increased.
– If the electoral officers have to enforce the act, that, of course, will place extra work upon them.
– That is so. About 7 per cent. of the electors did not record their votes, and since the election the Divisional Returning Officers have been seeking explanations from them, and summonses may have to bo issued later. I do not think that any honorable member is prepared to accept the paltry excuse given by the board for refusing to act fairly. This Government would be doing only its plain duty, and nothing magnanimous, if it remunerated these men for the extra work they performed. Any private employer would do so.
– They are not overpaid in any case.
– No one can say that they have been overpaid in past elections. They would have had ample justification for claiming extrapayment for the work done at previous elections. Is the Minister prepared to accept the board’s excuse? The board’s statement that the officers knew when they were being engaged that they would have to perform duties under a compulsory voting system is, to say the least of it, a most misleading one. The board’s excuse is an insult to the intelligence of those who made representations to the Government. I hope the Minister will give the House an assurance that the matter will be reconsidered, so that simple justice may be done to these men, who, having performed their duties faithfully and well, are , now asking for no more than equitable payment. The board’s reply is childish, and is obviouslynot based upon the results of proper inquiry. Is the board to be permitted to place itself above the Minister? It should be compelled to give at least a logical answer.
.- I support the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) on the ground that the Public Service Commissioners, when they penned their explanation, were not aware of the amount of work the Divisional Returning Officers had to do. It was a hurried election. The writs were issued on the 3rd October, and the officers had about a fortnight’s notice before the date on which enrolment ceased. The speed at which the work had to be done was unpre cedented in Australian politics. Thousands of electors in every electorate had to be enrolled, and while enrolment cards were being entered up, the nominations were received and thousands of applications for postal votes had to be dealt with. Preparations for the elections had to be made on a very comprehensive scale. In my electorate, which is typical of others, about 97 per cent.of the electors voted. Both the electors and the candidates were anxious to know the result of the poll as soon as possible, and the carrying out of the necessary work devolved upon the Divisional Returning Officer and his deputies. For a fortnight before the 3rd October they never worked less than sixteen hours a day. Probably the Public Service Commissioners had no knowledge of these facts, and gave their answer on the assumption that it was an ordinary election. It was a hurried election, at which 30 per cent. more electors than usual voted.When these men were appointed to their positions they had no idea of the work they would be called upon to perform in 1925. Australia is to be congratulated upon the character of the individuals who act as Divisional Returning Officers. My experience of them is that they are honest, fair, and impartial, and they conduct the elections in a way that.is a credit to them and to Australia. We ought to place more value oh the services of such good employees. I trust that the Minister will not be satisfied with the reply of the Public Service Commissioners, but will take further action to ensure that these worthy officers are adequately remunerated.
I am loath to criticize the administration of the Old-age Pensions Department. In the past, the law has been more sympathetically administered than by any other department of which I have knowledge. I have had years of experience of it, both in the State and Federal Parliaments. Latterly, however, new practices have been introduced, probably with a view to economizing. In Ballarat, it used to be the custom, when applications for a pension were lodged, for an officer from the department, in the capacity of a special magistrate, to go to the town. He investigated the applications, and it was certain that they would be completed in two or three weeks. Special officers are not now sent there, but State officials, such as clerks of petty sessions, receive the applications, which are dealt with by a police magistrate. We are fortunate in Ballarat in having a magistrate who is courteous and fair in dealing with applications, but laxity seems to accompany the new method. I have heard of applications that have been lodged for ^fourteen weeks, and I have been unable to get any* satisfaction regarding them from the department. Previously there was never a complaint. Most of these old people do not apply for a pension until they need it, and some of them are very old and destitute. They do ‘not expect to be kept waiting for three months when they apply for a pension. I hope the Minister will ask the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions to revert to the old system. Under the new system the papers relating to a case are sometimes mislaid. Again and again I have received letters from the Deputy Commissioner saying that certain papers could not be traced. To send special magistrates to hear applications costs very little. An applicant for a pension ‘ ought not to be required to attend a police court. Many of them have never been inside a police court, and as they have committed no crime, they should not be compelled to go inside one when they make an application for a pension.
– I have never heard of that in Tasmania.
– I am glad to hear that the same practice is not followed in Tasmania, which must be a favoured State. Applicants for a pension in Victoria have to attend a police court, although a special room could be obtained for a few shillings. The surroundings of a police court are not conducive to lue comfort of old and invalid persons. They do not like to enter such a place, and they also prefer their applications to be regarded as secret. Why should we compel them, in their declining years, to go to a police court? I have rarely had to complain about this department, for its officials have been most sympathetic. I hope that, they will revert to the old system of employing special magistrates, and will have the applications heard in some other place than a police court.
.- I hope the Minister will be able to do something in the direction of compensating returning officers’ for the extra work done by them at the election. I should like to give to honorable members a few figures to show the amount of this extra work in the division of Angas, which I have the honour to represent, apparently much to the distress of one of the previous speakers. At the election three years ago, 51 per cent, of the electors voted, and the total number of votes cast was 20,170. In the last election my political opponent polled 20,178 votes, or 8 more than the total number of votes polled in the division three years previously. Yet he was not successful. The percentage of votes, polled increased from 51 to 94.23. In addition to the greater number of ordinary votes, there was a large increase in the number of postal, absentee, and declaration votes. It is in connexion with these votes that the hard work of the counting is encountered. The counting of the ordinary votes is a comparatively easy matter, but every postal, absentee, and declaration vote has to be examined separately and checked with the rolls. It is a big job. In my division this work took four or five days; it was all done under the personal supervision of the divisional returning officer. In view of the efficient and courteous manner in which the elections were conducted - I did not hear one complaint of discourtesy on the part of any official - I think that something should be done to compensate these men. If there exists a hard and fast regulation which prevents payments from being made to them, a honorarium or . bonus could be granted to them. Seeing that at the Christmas season every business which considers itself .to be respectable pays its assistants a bonus, surely in the case of men who have rendered such loyal and valuable service as have these divisional returning officers, the Government can afford to be a little generous.
, Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), and Angas (Mr. Parsons) have suggested that additional remuneration should be paid to the divisional returning officers for their work in connexion with the recent general elections.
– I favour some recognition of their work being made.
– This question cannot be settled to-night, nor can I say that a bonus will be paid to these officers. I can only promise that the matter will be brought under the notice of the Minister concerned, and he, no doubt, will bring it before Cabinet. We must not lose sight of the fact that these divisional returning officers, like other officers of the Public Service, are under the direct control of the Public Service Board.
– Other men in subordinate positions received additional payments.
– It is generally recognized that the divisional returning officers did their work well. I have not heard the slightest imputation of dishonesty or inability concerning them. It is recognized also that their work in connexion with the last election was exceptionally heavy. For £Ee reason that these men, who are mostly heads of departments, were not working under direct supervision, they are not entitled to payment for overtime. I know, however, that many of them worked day after day, and even on Sundays during the counting period after the election, and that prior to polling day they worked long hours when the rolls were being compiled. Their work in connexion with the last election was particularly strenuous, as the whole of the rolls had to be recompiled and printed. As late as the 13th November, the day before the election, notifications of deaths were being received from the registrars, and the rolls were amended accordingly. I understand that in some instances the divisional returning officers were not even paid tea money when they worked overtime.
– That is so.
– Temporary employees and the scrutineers for various candidates were paid a meal allowance, and, in some instances, ls. for supper also; but one divisional returning officer who paid himself ls. for supper was called upon to refund the amount. The matter will receive the consideration of the Government, and later I shall advise the House of the decision of Cabinet.
Question resolved in the negative.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Marr) read a first time.
Debate resumed from 3rd February (vide page 613), on motion by Mr. Marr -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The purpose of this bill is to amend the Dried Fruits Advances Act 1924. Unfortunately, for a considerable time the fruit-growing industry has been in a very unsatisfactory condition. In August last the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) moved the adjournment of the House to draw attention to this matter, and, prior to that, a deputation waited on the Prime Minister to place the position before him. That deputation asked for a bounty to cover the losses that growers were sustaining in consequence of the low prices then being paid for fruit. I am in sympathy with the men who have taken up orchards, only to find themselves in an awkward position financially. To 4,500 of these growers, many of whom are returned soldiers, the sum of £204,000 has been advanced under the legislation of 1924. The condition of the fruitgrowing industry is a matter of considerable importance to a large section of the community. When this matter was before us previously, the price of fruit was very low, and, in addition, there was a difference of about £22 per ton between the price received for the fruit in London and the price paid to growers. When I was in London the difference was still greater, it being at that time nearly £30 per ton. I said last year that I considered that the Government should cause an investigation to be made as to the difference between the price received by the growers and that at which the fruit was sold in London. Unfortunately, nothing in that direction has been done, and to-day we find that the industry is in a worse position than before. In hie second-reading speech, the Honorary Minister (Mr. Atkinson) said that last year the price received for sultanas was £68 6s. per ton c.i.f. in England, which returned to the growers a price equivalent to £48 per ton in the sweat boxes. He said also that at the same time lexias were sold at £32 17s. a ton, and currants at £32 14s. per ton. He then quoted figures showing that during the week from the 22nd to .the 28th January, 1926, sultanas brought £67 per ton, a reduction of £1 6s. per ton on last year’s price; currants £26 12s. per ton, or £6 5s. a ton less than last year ; and lexias £2311s. a ton, as against £32 14s. per ton in 1925. From those figures it is evident that the industry is in a very unsatisfactory position. One wonders how the men engaged in it- manage to eke out an existence.
– Many of them do not do so.
– The returned soldiers and others who were induced to take up land for fruit-growing, believing that they would find the industry profitable, are entitled to consideration by this Parliament. Their position proves that it is idle for us to talk of land settlement in fruit-growing areas when markets for the produce cannot be found. It is evident that the best market for our fruit is still the home market. I am in sympathy with these men in their present situation, and am willing to do everything possible to assist them; but I doubt the wisdom of appointing another board. I am, however, open to conviction in this matter. I do not say that I shall vote against the proposal contained in the bill, but I am of the opinion that already we have far too many boards. If a board is appointed as proposed in this measure, every grower who desires assistance will have to place his case before it, and after taking evidence, the board will have to report to the Minister, who can adopt its recommendation or otherwise, as he thinks fit. It is difficult to say where this thing will end. The number of growers concerned is approximately 4,500, and it is not improbable that the majority of them will apply to the board for assistance. If the case of each individual is dealt with separately, much time will be occupied; and as the board is to consist of three members, their salaries and other expenses will probably amount to £15 or £16 per day. The work may go on for two years or more. In any case, a decision will not be reached as quickly as the men on the land will desire. Is it not possible to deal with this matter more expeditiously so that these men may obtain relief earlier? They are asking under the bill that, instead of at once paying their instalments with 6 per cent. interest, because last year they were unable to do so, they should be given relief by being allowed to make half their payments at the end of 1926, and the remaining half at the end of 1927. I am afraid that at the end of 1927 the board would not have dealt with more than half the applications for relief made to it. I do not know what there is to prevent officers of the Markets and Migration Department dealing with the claims of these settlers for relief. There are capable men in that department, and why should they not investigate all claims made, instead of setting up the elaborate machinery of a board, with practically all the paraphernalia of a court, with power to hear evidence, call for the production of books, and ascertain in each case what relief should be given. The Markets and Migration Department is in touch with what happens in London, the selling price of our dried fruits there, the cost of freight, and so on, and its officials should be able to investigate claims for relief, and report to the Minister what relief should be granted.This would cut down the cost involved in the appointment of a special board for this purpose by 50 per cent., and perhaps more. We are appointing too many boards. During the last five or six years boards have been appointed to deal with very small matters. Though this is a matter of great importance to individual settlers, it does not, in my opinion, justify the appointment of a permanent board.
– It is not anticipated that the board will cost very much.
– That may be so, but we have nothing to show that it will not cost a very great deal. The investigation of individual cases may run into days. A board cannot settle a case in a few hours. I believe that it would be better if an efficient officer of the Markets and Migration Department were told off to investigate these claims for relief. He would be able to obtain all the necessary information much more quickly, and at much less cost, than it could be obtained by a board. One cannot but sympathize with those who will be dealt with under this measure. It is hard that a young fellow returning from the war and taking up a block of land with the hope that within two or three years he would be able to support his wife and family, should find, as time goes on, that while his family is increasing, he is not getting a sufficient return from his efforts on the land to provide a decent livelihood. If a man enters into certain obligations, and is not receiving a sufficient return to enable bini to meet them, that preys upon his mind. How can we expect the wife of one of these .settlers to enjoy life away in the back country when her husband is struggling month after month and year after year without obtaining a sufficient return from his block to enable him to bring up his family in decent comfort, but, on the contrary, getting into a worse position ? We are all concerned in this matter, and both State and Federal Governments are responsible for many returned soldiers being put on the land, not only to grow dried fruits, but to cultivate other produce also . When we know that these men and their families are suffering, it is for us to see that something is done to relieve them. To that extent my sympathy is entirely with this bill. I do not oppose it, but I do direct attention to the suggestion that an officer of the Markets and Migration Department should be appointed to make inquiries under this measure, and recommendations to the Minister, instead of the Government going to the expense of setting up a permanent board.
.- As I represent an electoral division which contains within its boundaries a number of settlers whom, with the greatest respect, I may term unfortunate people, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to say something on this bill. I wholeheartedly support the measure in so far as it is an attempt to give relief to those who really deserve it. Any one who visits the soldier settlers, in the irrigation areas particularly, must be impressed with the hardships they have to put up with. Many of them have gone upon the land from homes in the cities. Their wives have never been used to the conditions of backcountry life, and yet when one goes amongst them he finds that they are truly Australian in their hospitality; they are not always growsing, but are inclined to make little of their troubles, and are triers all the time. They afford a really wonderful example of the way in which people can put up with hardships and yet carry on. The proposed new sub-section 3 a of section 10 reads -
Where, in the opinion of the Minister, it is undesirable or impracticable that the amount of any advance made under this act should be repaid out of the proceeds of the sale of the dried fruits produced in the year 1925 by the grower to whom the advance was made, he may. upon such terms and conditions as he thinks fit, release the proceeds of the sale of those dried fruits from the charge imposed by sub-section 2 of this section, and notify the grower that the repayment of half the amount of the advance shall be a charge upon the proceeds of the sale of the dried fruits produced, by that grower during the year 192C, and the repayment of the remainder of the advance shall be a charge upon the proceeds of the sale of the dried fruits produced by that grower during the year 1927, and thereupon the repayment of the advance shall to the extent so notified become a charge upon the proceeds of those dried fruits after the costs of production and marketing (not exceeding such amount as the Minister determines) of those dried fruits have been provided for.
That” seems to me to cover the needs of the settlers, but later in the bill provision is made in certain cases for even more liberal consideration. The proposed new sub-section 10l reads -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this act the Minister may, upon receipt of a report from the board appointed under this act, release any grower either wholly or in part from his indebtedness in respect of an advance made to him under this act.
When the war waa over and large numbers of nien were coming back, the question arose: What are we to- do with them? Many of them desired to go on the land of the country they had fought for. The people and governments, Federal and State, backed up the men in that desire. There were one or two alternatives. One was to keep the men in idleness in the cities, waiting, like Micawber, for something to turn up. Another was to put them on the land, or put them into other walks of civil life. We all thought that it would be best for the men to put them on the land. They had got out of the manner of life they had been living before the war. They lived a very open life while at the Front, and it was felt that to shut them up on their return in offices and factories would not be conducive to their wellbeing or their health. So the cry went up, “ Put them on the land.” The men responded to that cry, but unquestionably the land settlement of returned soldiers was overdone I have been informed by some of the older residents of areas in which returned soldiers have been settled that before their advent there was a market for the products of those areas, but with increased production and large areas still coming into production, the position will not improve in the immediate future unless something is done, not only by way of relief of the settlers, but by the opening up of markets for their products. In this matter the people of Australia have a duty of which they have not been fully seised up to date. I say that the residents of large cities particularly can help these returned- soldier growers very materially by making more popular the consumption of their products. If parents would encourage their children to eat more dried fruits, instead of some of the messy concoctions which the children do eat - to their utter undoing, so far as their health is concerned - the children would be all the better and an immense benefit would be conferred upon the growers of these fruits. On the question of the appointment of the proposed board, I am in agreement with the views expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). I do not like the idea of a board. I do not think that, as a rule, boards are sympathetic. If we are going to afford the settlers relief, whoever makes the inquiries into their applications must be sympathetic. I suppose that the board, if appointed, will visit various districts, and I can imagine that when it arrives, with its secretary and staff, the settlers will have a feeling that something is to be put over them, and will- straightway become antagonistic to the board. If the board is to carry out its investigations in the city it will be necessary for the applicants to be summoned before it with their witnesses, books, and papers. They will have to waste a great deal of time that they can ill afford to spare, and their cases may not come on for investigation for a week after, their arrival in the city. It would be far better to have a single capable officer visiting the various settlements and inquiring into individual cases. He would more quickly and at less expense to the country cover the ground than the board could, and, I believe, would give far more satisfactory results. I consider that the penalty that is provided in the case of a witness refusing without reasonable excuse to produce various books and documents is altogether too high. The men on the fruit settlements do not always understand the law, and if they have a grievance they may be inclined to be stubborn when legal advice cannot be obtained on the spot. I cast no reflection upon them. The penalty of £50 provided in the bill should be reduced. I have had a certain amount of experience as a justice of the peace in country courts, and I know that when a person is convicted of an offence for which the maximum penalty is £50, even although the magistrate is sympathetic he cannot very well impose a fine of less than £5. A high penalty is an indication to him of a serious offence, and that the fine must be sufficient to act as a warning to others. I do not think that that is intended by the Minister. We want, not to frighten these men, but to assist them and give them justice. I am pleased indeed that members on both sides of the House realize what we owe to the fruit-growers. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has said, these settlers have been seriously affected by overproduction. I do hope that the Minister will be able to adopt some of the suggestions that I have made.
.- I am fully in accord with the remarks of the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons), and I am pleased that the Government has introduced the bill. I have made four separate journeys on the river Murray, and have visited every important settlement on its banks, and, in consequence, my sympathy goes out to the settlers there. I might state that the fruit of Tasmania is wholly in the hands of a combine, and two or three individuals there can make or mar the happiness of every family on the Tasmanian orchards. A case of apricots sold to Henry” Jones, Limited, realizes only id. per lb., the orchardist having to pay for the case and the carriage of the fruit. Honorable members can, therefore, well understand how little he receives in return for his labour. I have grave fear, although I will not say definitely, that the dried fruits trade of Australia is in the hands of a few men, and for this reason I consider that the penalty clause in the bill does not go far enough. Proposed new sub-section 10h of clause 3 reads -
If any person appearing as a witness before the board refuses, to be sworn or to make an affirmation or to answer any question relevant to the investigation or proceeding put to him by any member of the board he shall be guilty of an offence.
Penalty: Fifty pounds.
– That is the maximum penalty.
– I should like to see added to that these words, “ and imprisonment until he answers.” Under the clause as it stands a man who refuses to answer may not have £50, and would therefore be forgiven. If the penalty were a fine and imprisonment, the answer would soon be forthcoming. It has been my experience, while a member of commissions and committees, that most important evidence has been refused by witnesses, who, with the assistance of capable and well-paid barristers, have been able to withhold information which oftentimes would have been of importance to the inquiry. As an instance, I recall the name of Mr. Knox, the managing director of the Colonial Sugar Henning Company. If that man had been gaoled until he answered questions, we should have been much wiser. I am not criticizing the bill, because I recognize that the Government desires to assist a section of men that are most deserving of encouragement. I know many returned soldiers who have settled on the river Murray blocks. I have had to assist one of them from time to time, and no man is more pleased than he when he obtains an advance. I do not know of any body of men who are suffering more than those who are dependent upon the dried fruit industry. If it is found that the dried fruit trade is in the hands of a combine, operating to the detriment of the fruitgrowers, I hope that the Government will bring in a bill to give the growers some measure of protection. Honorable members may have heard of the League of Child Helpers, one of whose objects it is to encourage the consumption of fruit by school children. At one time, it was distributing orange juice to 2,500 children. The Charities Board could not make up its mind whether this body should be registered as a charitable or as a benevolent society. The delay was serious. It was in the middle of the winter, and many of the children in Port Melbourne and South Melbourne were without shoes and stockings, and had only thin cotton shirts to protect their bodies from the cold. The Charities Board finally asked the Crown Solicitor for an opinion. It was suggested to me by a friend that I shoud see the Minister, and obtain an order from the Governor in Council. I appealed to Sir Alexander Peacock, and, in due course, the Government Gazette published the fact that the league was a benevolent society. We should get the people of Australia to eat more fruit. If every Australian family consumed a certain amount of fruit daily it would be of considerable help to the soldier settlers, who are striving to make a living for themselves. The Commonwealth Government, when establishing a school system, should follow the example of European countries by giving the children in the morning and afternoon a certain allowance of fruit juice, dried fruits, or milk. I have tried that, and will still continue to do so in order to help the fruit industry. I wish the Minister success in passing the bill, and I hope that it will redound to his credit.
– There seems to be some misconception in the minds of many honorable members regarding the meaning of the measure. Perhaps for the benefit of those who were not in this chamber when legislation affecting this industry was passed last year, it would be worth while to briefly review the circumstances under which the advances were made. The history of this industry can be summarized in a few sentences. It was established after the Victorian Government in pre-federal days had imposed a protective duty on dried fruits of 3d. a lb. That duty still exists; it has neither increased nor decreased. Under the protection of that duty the industry supplied the local requirements of dried fruits. It prospered, and during the war years especially it boomed. The fruit sent overseas then and in the years immediately following realized very high prices, The consequence was that when the soldiers returned to Australia, and the State governments were seeking for a repatriation field, they rushed them into the then booming industry and caused a considerable expansion of it. One drawback of the industry is that the grower cannot, as in other forms of primary production, change suddenly from an unprofitable crop to another. At least three years must elapse before he gets any crop at all. Unfortunately for the returned soldier during the years in which he was bringing his block into bearing, he had to pay very high costs, and when his first returns were about due, the prices of dried fruits fell. That is illustrated by the following table: -
The figures for 1924 are approximate, because the complete statistics were not available when the return was prepared. For the 1924 crop, a very low price was received, due, first, to the return of Mediterranean fruits to the world’s markets, and, secondly, to the low quality of the Australian crop on account of the bad drying season. Furthermore an important change had taken place in the industry, for, whereas hitherto Australia had been the main market for our dried, fruits and the overseas market quite a subsidiary consideration - in 1920 the export quota was about 20 per cent, and the local consumption 80 per cent, of the crop - the position was now reversed, and from 75 to 80 per cent, of the production must be sold in the markets of the world in competition with the fruits of other countries. The dried fruits industry differs from other primary industries inasmuch as all labour engaged in it is governed by an award of the Arbitration Court. I do not, nor does the. grower, lay undue stress upon the high wages as the cause of his difficulties, but I feel obliged to show the manner in which wages have increased while the prices of dried fruits in the overseas market have receded. In 1920, when boom prices for fruit were being received, the wages in the industry averaged £3 12s. a week. In 1921 they rose to £4, and they remained at that figure during the years 1922 and 1923. In 1924 the average wage advanced to £4 6s. 6d, and last year to £4 8s. Although the industry was sagging at the knees, although it was proved conclusively that many of the growers would be down and out if the Government did not come to their rescue, the Arbitration Court awarded higher rates of wages.
To show how completely the awardcovered every phase of the industry, I quote the following notification to growers- from The Sunraysia Daily of 30th January - (For employees other than those provided for in Table “B.”)
We have the extraordinary anomaly of an Australian primary industry, which is dependent upon the oversea markets for from 75 to 80 per cent, of its returns, being compelled by the tariff to pay Australian rates for implements, hessian, timber, galvanized iron, wire, and other re- quisites of production, and by an Arbitration Court award to pay Australian rates of wages for all labour. Ground between the upper and nether millstones of legal compulsion, the grower has yet to take whatever price be can get in the world’s market in competition with the product of the sweated labour of Greece, Spain, Smyrna, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries. .The digger who fought the Turk on the battlefield now finds that his late enemy is one of his greatest competitors in the commercial field. Because of these circumstances the position of the industry became so desperate that, in 1924, the growers asked the Government of the day to grant a bounty. The Government refused to do that, but induced Parliament to make advances upon the fruit which the grower had put into the 1924 pack at the rates of 5s. -per ton per month for currants, or 30s. per ton for the six months, and 30s. per ton per month for sultanas and lexias, or £d for the six months, in order to enable the growers to produce a crop in 1925. There is not the slightest doubt that, but for that advance, most of those engaged in the industry would have failed, because the financial institutions on which they usually rely had declined to assist them any further. The object of the Government advance was to keep the industry going, and it was understood that the amount would be repaid out of the proceeds of the 1925 crop. The price that the growers, received . for their sultanas was profitable, but the receipts for lexias and currants were not, and, as the Minister very accurately said, when explaining the bill, prices for this fruit have gone from bad to worse. The growers have . not yetreceived the whole of the proceeds of the 1925 crop, for, whereas the growers of wool and wheat receive lump payments for their products, dried fruits are slowly marketed throughout ‘ the year, and progressive payments are made to the producers. The sultanagrower received sufficient to repay the cost of production last year, but not to pay the amount of his indebtedness to the Government.
– He had not been able to work off the dead horse.
– No. The grower of lexias and currants not only cannot work off a dead horse, but is actually heavily in debt for the amount of the advance made to him by the Commonwealth. I had the honour of introducing the deputation referred to by the Leader of the Opposition. It was a deputation of returned soldier growers to the Prime Minister, and its request was that, as Commonwealth legislation had imposed on the growers burdens in the shape of increased wages to employees and increased Customs duties, the Commonwealth Government should accept its responsibility and grant a bounty to the industry, in the shape of the difference between the ascertained cost of production and the price received for the crop in the markets of the world. The Prime Minister stated, in reply, that it was not the policy of the Government to grant a bounty, and that, in any case, it would be impossible to ascertain the cost of production. Therefore nothing came of the deputation but a refusal. In June, 1925, a gathering representing about two-thirds of those engaged in the industry, met in Mildura and adopted the following concise statement of their position : -
It is suggested that the tribunal should proceed to ascertain -
The matter was brought up by me in the House last year, but the Government did not seem very anxious to appoint the tribunal for which the growers were asking. However, honorable members sitting in the ministerial corner and honorable members opposite, very generously took up their case, and appealed to the Government to appoint this tribunal, whereupon the Government reluctantly agreed to do so. That was in August last. To-day, the 4th February, 1926, I asked the following questions -
The reply I received was -
The proposed tribunal has not yet been appointed, as the concurrence of the Government of South Australia in the matter has not yet been received. The Victorian Government has agreed to the proposal, but has not yet selected its representative.
In fact, nothing has been done in connexion with the definite promise made in this House that steps would be taken to appoint such a tribunal. Many references have been made during this debate to the generosity of the Commonwealth Government to the grower. I would be the last to belittle any effort made by the Government to assist the dried fruits industry, but I am compelled to say that it has not given one penny to those engaged in it in spite of the fact that the industry has been passing through as great a trial as that of any other form of primary industry. The Government has not even given the slightest concession in the matter of freights on the Commonwealth steamers, for which the dried fruit-growers have repeatedly asked. .It has given a concession in this regard to the canned fruit trade, hut has refused to give any to the dried fruit trade. I have with me a comment upon the shipment of canned fruit by the Eromanga about which we have recently heard so much. It is as follows : -
While in Melbourne I ascertained that the new freight arrangement for the canned fruit is as follows: -
In order to get over the high freights, the Minister for Markets has chartered the s.s. Eromanga to load at four ports - Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, and Fremantle - and she will take practically a full cargo at the rate of 60s. per ton measurement.
A case of two dozen tins of canned fruit measures lj cubic feet, and the freight is now ls. 10id. per case, against the old rate, 2s. 7*d. per c, a,se, or a reduction of 9d. per case. But additional to this they are to receive a freight bonus of 2s. per case on apricots, and ls. 6d. per case on peaches’, which practically means that they will get their fruit home to the United Kingdom freight free.
Supposing they were to give dried fruit the benefit of even the 50s. per ton rate, the saving to growers would be a big one.
The existing freight is £4 7s. 6d. per ton by the Commonwealth and other shipping lines. These vessels will carry wheat at parcel rates for 25s. and 30s. per ton; but the freight on dried fruit, which I believe takes up even less space than wheat, is £4 7s. 6d. per ton. The Victorian Government has given practical assistance in the matter of railway freights. The average rate for dried fruit from Mildura to Melbourne was something over £2 a ton, but as a result of representations, in regard to the condition of the industry, the Victorian Railways Department agreed to insert a new class in the freight-book the effect of which was- to reduce the rate on dried fruits by £1 per ton. Yet, the Commonwealth Government, which has as much responsibility as the States * to* see that an industry in which so many returned soldiers are engaged succeeds, has taken no step whatever to reduce the exorbitant rate of £4 7s. 6d. per ton charged on its own line of steamers. I mention this’ because a great deal of praise has been given to the Government for what it has done for the dried fruits industry. As a matter of fact, it has done nothing for it other than to make an advance which it insists the growers shall repay. The Leader of the Opposition has objected to the appointment of a board, but I gather, from a perusal of the bill, that the reason for its appointment is that which is given in the proposed new section IOl, which reads as follows : -
Nothwith standing anything contained in this act the’ Minister may, upon receipt of a report from the board appointed under this act, release any grower either wholly or in part from his indebtedness in respect of an advance made to hiin under this act.
Apparently the Government recognizes that it is necessary to do something which I have just complained has not yet been done, and that when a grower can prove that he is unable to repay the amount advanced to him, he may be released from his indebtedness either wholly or ‘in part. Originally, the growers agreed to repay the advance made to them, out of the proceeds of their 1925 crop, but as they are unable to do this, the Government is now dividing the indebtedness into two repayments, and postponing them until the 1926 and 1927 crops have been marketed. It has also inserted in the bill a provision admitting that cases may arise in which it may be necessary and desirable to wipe out the indebtedness of a grower. The Government and its advisers - Mr. Mulvaney and other officers, who have done excellent work in this industry - frankly admit that the growers of currants and lexias lost money not only in 1924, but also in 1925. I suggest to the Government that it should wipe out the advances made on currants and lexias, and not ask every grower to go before, a board and prove that he cannot repay the money. The growers do not want to defraud the Government. They are willing to meet their obligations. In the matter of currants and lexias, the Government should tell them that there is no need for them to go before a board, or to make an oath,’ or produce their books; but that, seeing that they have had a disastrous time, the debt will be wiped off. The business of the board could then be confined to dealing with applications for relief by the growers of sultanas. The adoption of my proposal would be just to the grower, and I do npt believe that the taxpayers would object if they were acquainted with the circumstances. I urge the Government to give consideration to that suggestion. Even now the growers are finding it extremely difficult to obtain advances, and if the crops of 1926 and 1927 are mortgaged to the extent pf the repayments under this bill, their difficulties will be greatly increased. Unfortunately, the producers in this industry are not alone in their difficulties, for those engaged in nearly every primary industry, except the production of wool, are having an exceedingly bad time. Perhaps I may also except the wheat-growers, owing to the lucky circumstance that high prices have been ruling in the markets of the world. Those high prices, however, may fall at any moment. The Government and the people of this country must recognize the fundamental fact that our primary industries cannot continue to prosper with the present high cost of production. High Customs duties are crippling primary industries. We have the curious paradox that protective duties built up this industry, but the volume of production has overtaken the local consumption, and there is a surplus to sell in the markets of the world. The policy that built up the industry is now ruining it. The producers cannot continue to pay the high cost of production in Australia and compete against the growers of other countries in the markets of the world. They may be compelled to do as the secondary industries do - curtail production or close down - which would be disastrous to this country. The cost of production and the cost of living are too high. The Government and Parliament will continue to wrestle with problems affecting the primary producers1. In 1923 the Prime Minister stated that those engaged in the exporting primary industries were entitled to a measure of assistance equivalent to that given to Australian manufacturers. I subscribe to that principle. If we give bounties to secondary industries, we must also apply the bounty system to the primary producer. If the workers of Australia are guaranteed a living wage, and a fair return for their labour, and if the manufacturers are guaranteed a reasonable interest on their capital, surely a corresponding guarantee should be given to the primary producers. I approve of the bill in the main, but I strongly urge the Government to curtail the work of the board by half, and to write off the advances for lexias and currants, the growing of which, as the Minister stated last night, has been unprofitable.
– The honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) seemed to think that the board provided for in the bill will be as costly as some of the other boards created by the Commonwealth. The clause providing for the appointment of the board clearly states that it will exist for the special purpose of hearing the claims of growers for relief.
– How long will it take the board to hear the evidence and determine 2,000 claims?
– Probably not long. The board will most likely be composed of two officers of the department, with an outside man possessing special knowledge. It will be able to do its work in a few centres, because the growers in this industry are not scattered all over the continent. The estimated cost of the board is £250. The department has given very close attention to this matter, and has done excellent work in connexion with it, as the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) admits. The estimate was prepared by those who ought to know. As £204,000 has been advanced to the growers, the cost of the board is more than justified.
– The estimate of the cost of the board is ridiculous and misleading.
– The honorable member may say that it is ridiculous, but those who have been controlling this business submit it quite seriously.
– Does the sum represent the cost of travelling expenses?
– Chiefly, of course. The board will have only a little work to do, and it will not be a permanent body. Those honorable members who have criticized the estimate did not make an estimate themselves, and I know no reason why those who have been controlling this business should not be trusted to give a reasonable estimate. I have no doubt that when the business has been completed honorable members will find that the departmental estimate is approximately correct.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Repayment of advances).
, - Do I understand that some of the growers may still have to pay the advances out of the proceeds of the 1925 crop, or has the Government decided not to ask them to pay out of the 1925’ crop, but out of the 1926 and 1927 crops?
– The clause appears to me to be quite clear. If a grower is not in a position to pay out of the proceeds of the 1925 crop, the Minister will give him permission to pay half the amount out of the proceeds of the 1926 crop, and the balance out of the proceeds of the 1927 crop. If, in the meantime, the board considers that he should be relieved of the whole or any part of his liability, the Minister ‘ has power to relieve him to that extent.
– Is it possible for the board to insist on payment from the proceeds of the 1925 crop?
– No. The clause is clear on that point.
Clause agreed to.
Clause. 3 (Board to deal with applications for release).
.- I should not have risen but for the Minister’s statement that the board will not cost more than £250. That statement is a reflection on the intelligence of honorable members. The bill provides for a board of three.
– Two of them will be departmental officers.
– The men must be paid. The sum of £250 will not pay the salaries of men who will be required to deal with probably 4,500 cases.
– The board will not deal with each individual case.
– It will have to deal with every application that is made. Advances have been made to growers, and each still owes a certain, amount. The procedure set out in the bill is much the same as that for dealing with matters brought before a law court. In any case, the board will not be able to deal with all these applications in a few months, and I refuse to accept the Minister’s statement that it will not cost more than’ £250.
.- Is the Minister willing that the board should be reduced to one member? One capable business man would give greater satisfaction than would a board of three.
.- I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) that the Minister’s estimate is altogether too low. The proposed new sub-section 10j reads -
A grower who has not received from the proceeds of the sale of his dried fruits produced in the year One thousand nine hundred and twenty-five an amount sufficient to repay any advance made to him under this Act and provide for the maintenance of himself and his family, may apply to the board, on oi before the first day of September One thousand nine hundred and twenty-six, for release, either wholly or in part, from his indebtedness in respect of the advance.
That gives the grower an invitation to apply to the board for relief. The Minister admitted that every grower of lexias and currants had- suffered heavy loss. That being so, every such grower will be an applicant under this bill; and he will be able to prove that he has made a loss. The proposed new sub-section 10k (2) provides -
The board may, if it thinks fit, defer the making of a report under the last preceding sub-section in respect of any grower until the proceeds of the sale of the dried fruits produced by that grower during the years One thousand nine hundred and twenty-six and One thousand nine hundred and twentyseven are ascertained.
That means that the board will remain in existence until the proceeds of the 1927 crop are ascertained. It therefore has practically three years’ life assured. The proposed new sub-section 10l reads -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act the Minister may, upon receipt of a report from the board appointed under this Act, release any grower either wholly or in part’ from his indebtedness in respect of an advance made to him under this Act.
Here again is an invitation to the growers. In view of the Minister’s admission that every grower of currants and lexias suffered heavy losses, every such grower would be foolish riot to apply for relief. I suggest that the Government should frankly recognize the position of the growers of currants and lexias, and wipe out the advances made to them. If that ‘ were done, the board would deal with the sultana growers only. The position would be met by arranging for those who can to repay their advances from the proceeds of their 1926 and 1927 crops. Unless something in this direction is done, the board will remain in operation for a long time.
– Members of the board will be paid only when working.
– The board will be working for a long time. If, when its work is completed, its members send in an account for £250 only, I should be glad to know its personnel.
– They could get through the packing sheds much of the information required.
– The board will be unable to deal with individual cases through the packing sheds. The individual grower, and not the packing shed, must, under the bill, apply to the board for any relief desired. I urge the Minister to report progress, so that my suggestion may be considered.
– The statement which I have already made should answer the objections, of honorable members. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has suggested that the advances made to the growers of currants and lexias should be wiped off; but I cannot see why a man who is in a position to do so should not be required to repay the advances made to him. If all these growers have made losses, the granting of relief to them should be a matter requiring very little time. I am satisfied of the correctness of the estimate of the cost of the board, provided that the growers do their part in supplying information. As they have everything to- gain, and nothing to. lose, by doing so, there is little doubt that that information will be supplied.
.- ‘ The request of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) appears to be reasonable, and time should be given to consider it. This appears to be an innocent measure, but it may cost the country more than the Minister predicts. I cannot accept his statement that the board will not cost more than £250 ; on the contrary, it will probably cost many thousands of pounds. I base that estimate on my experience of a number of boards.
– I have had experience of boards, but I do not think the honorable member’s estimate is correct.
– It will be a departmental board.
– Its members will have to be paid, and, as they will have to visit four States, their travelling expenses will be considerable. The suggestion of the honorable member for Wimmera, who is conversant with every detail of the fruit-growing industry, is a good one. To postpone this matter now would not delay the business of the committee. If a board is appointed to deal with all these cases, the time occupied will probably be two or three years.
– Nonsense !
– The bill provides for two years. If any applications are made the board must deal with them, and I cannot accept the view that it can deal with them in a few weeks. My experience of similar boards is that they do not work very rapidly. In any case, I do not approve of a board of three, and I think that one man could do the work satisfactorily. One efficient officer should be able to deal with the matter even more satisfactorily than a board of three members. He would only have to elicit the facts and make a recommendation as to the relief to be granted. The Minister would be well advised to report progress at this stage. When he informs me that £250 would cover the expense of the proposed board, I can only say that it is against common sense to believe such a statement. If one application were to cover everything, the expense might not be great, but provision is made in the bill for over 4,000 separate applications. The honorable member for Wimmera knows more about the fruit industry than do many other honorable members, and the Minister would be well advised to consider his request.
.- I feel, with other honorable members, that the proposed board is likely to be found too cumbersome. One efficient officer visiting the settlements and investigating applications for relief in a sympathetic manner would carry out the work more efficiently than a board of three. I should like the Minister to report progress at this stage) in order that the matter might be given further consideration.
– I hope that progress will not be reported until the committee has dealt with the appointment of the proposed board. It is utter nonsense to say that the growers would prefer a board of one, who would be a departmental officer, to a board of three.
– Are the growers to be represented on the board ?
– Where is that stated in the bill ?
– I am going by what the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) said.
– I said that the third member would be a person outside the department, because that would be fairer to the growers.
– The honorable gentleman did not say that he would be appointed by the growers.
– I do not say that the growers would have the selection of the third member of the board.
– I sincerely hope that the growers will have one representative on the board. I remember that on a board appointed to deal with applications for seed wheat, the wheat-farmers were represented. In some places there would be only half a dozen fruit-growers, and it would not be necessary that the whole of the members of the board should visit such places. I am. surprised that there should be any haggling over this matter when it should be put in hand at once. I do not think the board would entail great expense, but whatever the expense, it should be faced, and that is a matter for the Government. I protest against further delay, because from one end of the Murray to the other, the growers of these fruits want this matter settled as early as possible.
.- I should like to support what was said by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr.
Stewart) with regard to the advisability of reporting progress at this stage. It would be a mistake to pass the clause as it stands. I agree with the view that the proposed board would cost a great deal more than the Minister anticipates. Instead of costing £250 it is more likely to cost £2,500. I believe that the cost of the appointment of the board might be avoided altogether if the suggestion of the honorable member for Wimmera were adopted and the indebtedness of all growers of lexias and currants wiped out altogether. If a board is appointed, it is certain that that is what it will’ recommend.
House adjourned at 11.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 February 1926, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1926/19260204_reps_10_112/>.