10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 11 o’clock, and read prayers.
Mr.MANN.- Will the Prime Minister state whether the newspapers are correct in saying that the States Grants Bill is not to be proceeded with during thissession? Will he also state whether the Government proposes to make provision for the payment of the per capita grants to the States in accordance with the Surplus Revenue Act of 1910?
– I shall probably make a statement, in the course of this sitting, as to the business to be dealt with during the remaining days of the session.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Markets and Migration been called to circulars that have been distributed amongst honorable members, containing arguments both for and against thePaterson butter stabilization scheme? If so, is the Minister prepared to make a statement on the subject ?
– I cannotreply to such circulars in my ministerial capacity, but I understand that replies have been sent by the Butter Stabilization Committee to those responsible for the issue of them.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. Speaking on the Treasurer’s Estimates last night, I criticized the Expropriation Board and its actions in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. This morning’s newspapers state that I criticized the Administrator and the Administration. I made no criticism of the Administration of New Guinea; on the contrary, I am ready to do anything to assist the Administrator and his advisers in the difficult task that confronts them.
– Can the Prime Minister furnish the House with any information as to the cause of the trouble that is apparentlybrewing in the Balkans?
– I can give no information to the House on that subject.
– In view of the great importance attaching to the Tariff Board’s report on the tobacco industry, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the report will be made available to honorable members before Parliament is prorogued ?
– I am afraid it will not. The Tariff Board has been kept very busy upon different inquiries, and, inevitably, some of the reports must be delayed.
– Is the Prime Minister yetable to announce the personnel of the Development and Migration Commission ?
– I hope to be able to do so during the next three or four days.
– Will the Prime Min ister state what conditions attach to the
Commonwealth wire netting grant? Is one condition that the wire netting shall be supplied to the settlers free of interest ?
– Presumably the honorable member is referring to the grant made about two years ago under an act of this Parliament. The conditions governing the distribution of wire netting can be found in that act, and in the regulations made thereunder.
– Did not the GovernorGeneral’s speech foreshadow a further advance for the supply of wire netting to settlers?
– The conditions upon which the Commonwealth is prepared to make a further grant were embodied in a draft agreement which was forwarded to the States for their confirmation. Two of the States have acquiesced in it, but objections raised by the other States are still under consideration ; and until a decision is reached, I cannot state what the final conditions will be.
– Does the Minister for Trades and Customs intend to introduce a new schedule of duties for the more effective protection of the iron and steel industry? If so, when?
– As the question concerns a matter of Government policy, I cannot reply to it.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: - 1 and 2. Yes.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the Commonwealth Shipping. Board is the creation of the Federal Government, will the Minister cause an inquiry to be made - whether the New South Wales Government appoints a royal commission or not - as to whether the board, or those associated with it in the tender to the Sydney City Council for switch gear, generating turbo and blowers, has done, or promised to do, anything which might lead to the suspicion that improper influence was used to obtain the contracts now being carried out, to which contracts the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures so strongly objects?
– The Government is not in possession of any information which would support the suggestions contained’ in the honorable member’s question. An investigation has recently been carried out by the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts into the whole question of the working of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board, and a report on such investigation will no doubt be presented to Parliament at an early date.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Refund of Duties
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government is yet in a position to state what relief, if any, has been decided upon for the mining industry generally, and the copper mining industry in particular?
– No announcement can, at present, be made as to the Government’s intentions in this matter. The question of assistance to the copper mining industry is at present under reference to the Tariff Board.
– On the 22nd July the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) asked the following questions : -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
(a)From the 1st March to the 24th July, 1926, a total of 1,088 petrol pumps was imported by the following firms: - British Imperial Oil Company, Vacuum Oil Company, S. F. Bowser and Company Inc., Wm. Hudd and Company, Mechanical Supplies Limited, A. H. Hasell, C. O’Reilly, HawkinsEquipmentCompany, R. Lee, R. F. Lee, W. and G. Genders, and Larkin Aircraft Company.
– On the 30th July the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) asked the following questions : -
How often is there a mail service to the lightkeepers and assistant lightkeepers and families at the following lighthouses of the North-west Coast of Western Australia, viz. : -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that mail matter is delivered monthly to each of these lighthouses.
Debate resumed from 3rd August (vide page 4808), on motion by Mr. Hill -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This is a bill to authorize the execution by the Government of agreements between the Commonwealth and the States in relation to the construction and reconstruction of Federal aid roads, and to make provision for the carrying out thereof. It is becoming a platitude in this debate that we want good roads. As a matter of fact, we all want good things generally; but the first question that we must ask in regard to the bill is whether we can afford the good roads that we want, and the second is whether the money which we have to invest would be expended in the wisest possible way under the proposals before Parliament. I remind the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) that he is pledged to a policy of economy, or at least he was so pledged when he occupied another and less conspicuous position in this Chamber. Sometimes I think that since he became Treasurer he has forgotten that pledge, but it still remains. I am a great believer not only in the abstract policy of good roads but also in practical proposals for opening up this country, and in making sacrifices to do it, to enable those who are bearing the heat and burden of the day in connexion with primary production to bring their produce to market, and to make life more endurable and more enjoyable for them. I would remind the Treasurer that the scheme of main roads which this bill envisages is in the nature of a national luxury, and that this nation, since the war, is heavily in pawn. We have become accustomed to speaking carelessly in terms of millions, and the phrase “What is a million?” which once caused some astonishment among honorable members would have to be changed in more modern times to “ What are ten millions?” to produce anything like the same effect. This nation, since the war and arising out of it, is in pawn to the god Moloch, whose interests we served for over four dreadful and tragic years. Although we are a protectionist country - at least it may be taken that we have accepted that as our policy, and I think that all sections of the House believe in it - we have to remember that the inflated revenues that we are receiving through the Customs under a protectionist tariff are unnatural. We must, if necessary, cease to expend with prodigal hand and unthinking mind the millions that we are receiving through the Customs and by means of loans, and cease to live as we are living to-day, in an age of luxury and extravagance, because the time may come - and I very much fear that it will - when the Customs revenue will fall, and once the debâcle begins it will be rapid and complete.
Mr.Fenton. - There will be complete protection then.
– It will mean that the protectionist policy is beginning to operate as such instead of as a revenueproducingpolicy. At the moment, because of our conditions of living, certain persons are able to flood this country with imports despite even the highest protective duties that we have imposed. That condition is naturally and necessarily temporary and uncertain, and so soon as protection really begins to operate as such, these inflated and extravagant revenues of to-day must naturally and necessarily fall.
– When will that be?
– I cannot prophesy that. But no statesman would say that our existing unnatural conditions will last indefinitely. So I say to the distinguished gentlemen on the other side who have so light-heartedly produced the conditions of debt and difficulty under which we are living to-day, and under which generations still unborn must labour for 100 or 200 years, even under the most favorable circumstances - because the produce of the labour of the workers of this country is being thrown into the open jaws of the god Moloch - that we cannot rightly, though we may in fact, have both prodigality and luxury in the one generation. This country must eat the husks before it will be entitled to participate in the fatted calf. It appears to think that it enjoys some special privilege by virtue of the fact that its loans and unnatural revenues are enormous, enabling it to live in a welter of expenditure as though its conditions were natural and permanent, whereas, in fact, they are clearly unnatural and bound to be temporary. It is, in these circumstances, when the public mind is inflamed against increasing taxation and its burden - and rightly so, in view of the swollen revenues of this country - that the Treasurer proposes to add a super-tax to that burden. The taxation outlined in the bill will fall largely upon industries and production, and has not the justification which a wise, protective duty could be argued to have.
I should like to ask whether the bill is constitutional? In these days, when judges differ with such cordiality and lawyers make large profits out of differences of opinion on legal points, it is not unbecoming that a member of what is sometimes called the inferior branch of this learned profession should venture an opinion which is bound to be respected, in that it is certain to be shared by some respected authority.
– Whatever it may be.
– Whatever it may be. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), in a weak moment, giving way to an impulse which greater political experience might have taught him to resist, said, from the Country party corner, when the Main Roads Development Bill was under discussion, that, in his view, Parliament, in passing such a measure, was not acting constitutionally.
– He occupied a different seatthen.
– That is so. Since then he has found it necessary to square his present position and his present responsibility as a member of the Cabinet bringing in this bill, with his position when he expressed that view as an independent member and constitutional lawyer. All that I can say is that the refinements of his argument have been such as to inspire in me a greater admiration for his legal subtlety, if not for his political honesty. The Attorney-General raised certain objections to the legislation passed in 1923 and re-enacted in 1924-5, which he now says do not apply to the present proposal. First of all, he quoted the preamble to the bill, which reads -
Whereas it is expedient to provide for financial assistance to the several States for the purpose of the construction and reconstruction of roads.
That is merely a preamble, and is not an enacting part of the measure. It is merely an historical declaration of the facts framed by the persons responsible for the measure to explain its meaning and to justify, if possible, its introduction. He then turned to section 96 of the Constitution, which reads -
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
Although a preamble, as indicating the intention of the legislature, may have some significance in a court of law, it does not by any means follow that the absence of a preamble affects the general enacting tendency of legislation, provided that an act otherwise expresses itself with sufficient clearness.
– A preamble does not compensate for any radical defects in a measure, such as its being unconstitutional.
– I accept the right honorable gentleman’s interjection as emphasizing what I have already said. The Attorney-General said that the States must come forward for this state aid under section 96 of the Constitution. But under the act of 1923, as under this bill, the States have come forward, as I shall endeavour to show in a moment. He said that the actwas not a cooperative enterprise as this bill essentially is; but I say that it was a co-operative enterprise as this bill essentially is. Referring to the agreement, which is an annexure to the bill, he quoted this paragraph -
This agreement shall have no force or effect and shall not be binding on either party unless and until it is approved, adopted, authorized, or ratified by the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and of the State.
Precisely the same statement applies in every particular to the act of 1923, section 5 of which provides -
The Minister may, subject to this act, pay from the Trust Account established in pursuance of this act, to the Government of each State of the Commonwealth, amounts not exceeding those respectively specified in the schedule to this act.
Section 8 reads -
No payment shallbe made under this act unless -
there is submitted to the Minister a proposal in writing, specifying the main roads upon which the money paid is to be expended, and containingfull details of the proposed roads, including plans, method of construction and such other particulars as the Minister requires; and
the proposal is approved by the Minister.
In that act there are all the essentials of the present bill, though the present measure imposes restrictions on the States which were not in the former; there is the necessity for the approval of the Commonwealth Minister, and provision for the supervision and choice of the class of roads for which this subvention is to be used, and for complete co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth. It is clear that the States cannot receive this money without parliamentary sanction, and it follows that, under the act asunder the bill, the States must come forward. I submit, therefore, that the argument of the honorable the Attorney-General, in which he would distinguish between these two measures on constitutional grounds, is much too attenuated to be convincing. I was struck by the interjection of the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), who, when the Attorney-General was speaking, asked, “ If that preamble had been in the act, would it have been all right?” or words to that effect. The AttorneyGeneral said, with commendable astuteness, that he would deal with that point later; and presumably he proposes to deal with it at the meeting of the League of Nations. The point I am endeavouring to make is that if one of these measures is constitutional, the other is also constitutional, and if one of them is outside the powers of the Constitution, the other is also outside those powers. My opinion is - and I state it with great humility, and with respect for the learned jurists who are bound to differ on this point-that both of them are outside the constitutional powers of this Parliament. I confess that I have not argued the point before, and I would probably not have argued it now if the Attorney-General, who is the responsible law officer of the Crown in this Parliament, had not challenged honorable members to say a word or two about it. Section 96 of the Constitution contemplates the existence of necessitous States, such as - can I name them without giving offence? - our friendly allies in the federation, Tasmania andWestern Australia. Of both of them I wish to speak with a marked respect, in striking contrast to the language of one right honorable member, whom I shall not name for fear of bringing him into discredit in the island State, where he may sometimes go for a holiday. It contemplates that condition, though I would not say that necessity was a condition precedent, and the handing over of money by the Commonwealth to the States to give effect to their policy within the terms of the State constitutions. It does not contemplate giving effect to a policy formulated by the Commonwealth for the States, and to that extent imposed upon them.
– In short, the States should initiate the policy.
– The States should initiate and formulate the policy in respect of which the money is paid. It is curious that honorable members on the Government side, who have been so lamentably slow to support the Labour party in seeking amendments of the constitutional powers, should be so ready themselves to embark on the troubled and dangerous waters of doubtful constitutional practice, and in that way to invite constitutional difficulties and litigation. They should have learntby this time that this Constitution of ours, unhappily, is not a flexible instrument, but is a painfully rigid one. Its rigidity has cost luckless litigants in this country many thousands of pounds, and, more important still, has hampered the development of industry and the operation of the peacemaking tribunals created by this Parliament. The honorable the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) was eloquent in his criticism of a former Nationalist Government for departing from the best traditions of constitutional government; but he has been the readiest, the most cheerful offender in doing what he has so strongly condemned in others. I realize the serious limitations which our Constitution imposes on us, and therefore I have, on more than one occasion, advocated the amplification of our constitutional powers. But I also counsel respect for the Constitution while it remains, and which the distribution of powers between the States and the Federation is still part of our scheme of government. If the Labour policy were given effect, and we had in this country a unified system of government such as that policy foreshadows, with delegated powers in local governing bodies, it is more than likely that one of the functions that would be assigned to those bodies would be the making of roads. I do not despise the work of the present municipalities in road making. It is true that the limitation of their powers and their purse hampers their activities; but, as intelligent and economical road makers and road maintainors, the municipalities, and in Victoria the Country Roads Board, too, which operates as an instrument of the State Government, have done extremely good work. It should be borne in mind that the function of road making and road maintaining is bound up with railways and railway administration. At present an unfortunate competition is developing between road and railway transit. Competition is good in its way, but national transport should be controlled by an authoritative body, .operating in the interests, not of private firms or companies, but of the people.
The right honorable the Prime Minister, in the course of an impassioned speech on Tuesday evening, set out to show, as he said, exactly where he stood in regard to this bill. He may have shown exactly where he stood on Tuesday evening, but, if he did, he showed that he stood in a different place from that which he previously occupied ; and I understand that if he sets out to-day to show his present position it will be another modification of his position as defined on Tuesday evening. In fact, the alacrity and flexibility with which this gentleman has taken up different positions in regard to this bill show him as a possibly’ dangerous competitor with a certain terpsichorean artist who has recently been performing in Melbourne. Before the last election, the Government indicated its intention to embark upon a road policy on a large if not extravagant scale. The words in which the announcement was made, to the primary producers of this country were uttered at a time when they were calculated to fall with the gentle cadence of September showers upon a thirsty wheat field, and yield the best return in the form of votes at the coming election. After all, who would be so churlish as to inquire too closely into the nature of this Pandora’s box out of which these blessings were to come? We are told that it is illbecoming to “ look a gift horse in the mouth.” When offered a million or two. particularly on the eve of an election, would it not be unmannerly to ask how the money was to be raised ? The Prime Minister says now that he made it clear that the money was to be raised from motor-users through the Customs. The words used by the Treasurer were “ road users.” We are supposed to have learned, therefore, from the joint and several utterances of these .distinguished spouses at the head of the Government, that, at the time, it was clearly intended that the tax should be levied on petrol-driven road vehicles. The right honorable gentleman has asked for clear thinking on this question. I have endeavoured to apply a little clear thought to it, and, aa a result, I am of opinion that a duty of 2d. a gallon on imported benzine would affect many other people beside the users of petrol-driven road vehicles. Thinking over the matter has also, apparently, enabled the Prime Minister to clarify his own position, because when he spoke on Tuesday night, he assured the House and the country that his proposal would need to be modified in many important particulars. Certain classes of objections, he said, were justified and genuine. He instanced the objections raised by users of aviation machines, and stationary engines of various kinds, many of which are used by the primary producers; and he said that he would exempt those people from the operation of this tax.
– The Government made that startling discovery after announcing its policy.
– Yes, but it was the result of a little clear thinking that had not developed in the early stages when the roads grants were promised to the producers. The declaration made by the Prime Minister the other evening was a fairly substantial win for public criticism. By his impassioned resentment at the criticism which has been addressed to him, he actually justified a great deal of it. Retreating not too gracefully he got into difficulty with much stronger opponents than the owners of stationary machines, saw-mills, separators, and aviation machines. He came up against the Standard Oil and other trusts, and proceeded to couch a lance at them.
– Good luck to him for doing so.
– Yes, but let us not get too enthusiastic until we have things in proper perspective. The spectacle of this distinguished representative of the anti-trust propaganda delivering his first lecture on it to those dimpled innocents of the Country and National parties who listened to him “ was a touching sight to see.” No Labour politician upon a soap box ever assailed the trusts with more effective vituperation than distinguished the speech of the right honorable gentleman. Certainly no Labour audience ever looked half so pleased at the demolition of trusts as did his kindergarten at their first lesson from him in anti-trust propaganda. Honorable members opposite sat listening to him with satisfied smiles of appreciation and occasional “ hear, hears.”
– There were also a few “ hear, hears “ from the Opposition.
– Some in the ranks of Tuscany forbore to cheer. Others did not, because there was much in the argument of the right honorable gentleman with which we on this side entirely agree. Just as we welcome him as an apostle for the amendment of the Constitution on liberal lines as outlined by Labour fifteen years or so ago, so do we also welcome him as the protagonist of the anti-trust party in this chamber.
– Even if it is only temporary.
– Yes, especially as we realize that honorable members opposite applaud from the right honorable gentleman what they would ridicule coming from us. May I remind the right honorable gentleman - and this is where, for the information of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) I would qualify the applause - that for many years the oil trust has been pouring oil into Australia, and, adopting the language of the right honorable gentleman himself, “ levying a terrific toll on all countries of the world.” May I also remind him that although this toll is being paid largely by his friends and supporters in the Country and National parties, and although the swallowing up of small companies, of which he made a feature, and the levying of a toll on the primary producers, have been going on for years, hitherto he and the members of his party have remained unmoved. This levy on the oil used to drive the machinery of the primary producer did not begin to be felt until the right honorable gentleman got piqued when he saw himself thwarted in carrying out his road policy.
– The honorable member will admit that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has beenprogressively moving towards curbing the activities of the importers.
– By supplying 6 per cent. of the total oil requirements of Australia? The right honorable gentleman had better not challenge me upon the operations of that enterprise, in which the Commonwealth Government has allied itself with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which also is a large importer of oil. Some day when I have done with wireless matters and the Marconi business I may have pleasure in moving a censure motion in connexion with the Com- monwealth’s association with the AngloPersian Oil Company in order to see if it would not be wise to prick that bubble also. What has caused the change ? Because, undoubtedly, the position has changed. To the right honorable gentleman it is no longer a question of the terrific toll on the various countries of the world, or the extent to which stationary engines and aviation engines in Australia have been levied upon. What really actuated him in uttering his denunciation on Tuesday was the fact that a representative of this great importing trust had threatened to withdraw his election support from him. This was “the most unkindest cut of all!” The terrific toll levied on the people of this country might have been borne, the levy on the farmers’ oil engines might have been suffered, but that any one should threaten the right honorable gentleman with the withdrawal of election support, which doubtless had been given with much generosity and liberality in the past, was indeed terrible. Probably he expected Labour applause, and he was surprised that it was qualified and moderate, even though some in the ranks of Tuscany did applaud a little. It was because we realized that there was in the talk of withdrawal of election support the real element of disaster, and it was then that the Leader of the Opposition quietly interjected, “ That is an additional reason why we should pass the referendum.” “For a moment the Prime Minister smiled broadly and appreciatively, and then I watched the smile fade away wan and feeble as the full import of my leader’s interjection dawned on him. It dawned on him that whatever might be regarded by him to-day as an argument for the amendment of the Constitution in August, 1926, was equally applicable in 1911 and in 1913, and, in fact, on every occasion when these distinguished gentlemen opposite have had an opportunity to vote against an amendment of the Constitution, by means of which alone can we deal with that great octopus which he has said is throttling the nations of the world. When I listened to the right honorable gentleman, I thought of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company - our partner in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited - of the wireless agreement, and of the right honorable gentleman’s election expenses, and it occurred to me that his righteous indignation fell somewhat flat and had a hollow sound. However, it is never too late to mend. We welcome the right honorable gentleman when he moves in our direction. We shall join with him in dealing with this great trust as with others, so long as he can guarantee us the support of his following in the chamber and outside. But let him beware. If he enters into this discussion because of a threat by the oil trust to withdraw his election expenses, let him remember that as soon as he begins to fight it on the hustings with real weapons it will offer to restore its party contributions, and then will come the real temptation for him and his party. I know that the right honorable gentleman is sensitive on these things, and I would not say a word to touch his personal honour; but election expenses are essentially questions of money, and this is the acid test by which he and his party will be tried. The Prime Minister was asked on the floor of theHouse what he intended to do to counteract the operations of this great trust. He replied that he did not intend to do anything at present, though the Government was keeping an eye on it. But what about the terrific toll that this trust is levying on the people of this country? Does the Government propose to allow it to continue without hindrance provided it apologized for its remissness? Shall we hear nothing about it at the next election? I am reminded of the French duellist who said, “ I will smack your cheek”If the right honorable gentleman meant one-half of what he said about the operations and inroads of this trust, it is his bounden duty to deal with it. He has declared that he has the power to do so - which I doubt - but, if so, let him use it. I conclude on this aspect of the matter by observing that, had he earlier given support to thepolicy of this party, he would have had ample power. For his former opposition to our policy he must now answer to his own conscience and to the people.
In the course of his speech on Tuesday evening, the right honorable gentleman waved newspapers in his hand and called! attention to the advertisements that have appeared in every provincial journal in Australia in support of the agitation against the Government proposals. He argued that the funds for this campaign were supplied by this great trust, and ridiculed the possibility of the Town and Country Union having supplied them. “ Ah,” he said, “ here is the hidden hand.” If the form had been different, I could have imagined, in other days, similar words coming from the lips of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). The “hidden hand,” we are told, is the Standard Oil Trust, for the moneycould not havecome from petrol users who own stationary engines, milking machines, and so on. Verily, here the Prime Minister felt a still unkinder cut. He had just emerged successfully from an election won onthese lines. Had he no copyright or” performing right “ that he should be flattered with an unpleasant imitation of his own methods?
Main roads will not be an issue at the next election, but big principles and big business will remain an issue; and it will be found that the Labour party - it may be fewer in numbers or greater - will stand for big principles, while honorable members opposite will, as usual, stand for big business. For these reasons, we on this side of the chamber were not as deeply impressed as we might have been by the burning words of the right honorable gentleman against these oilimporting companies.
The Prime Minister objected strongly to this company passing on the tax. But I ask him this pointed question: How does he propose to make this tax payable by the road users of petrol machines un- less it is passed on? That question requires a little consideration. He should not penalize his quondam friends for doing what he and his honorable colleague, the Treasurer, undoubtedly foreshadowed and intended. There can be no doubt that the Government intended to pass this tax on to the road users of petrol machines. Let us be honest and consistent about the matter.
If this were a protectionist levy which would benefit the whole community honorable members on this side of the chamber would be supporting it far more heartily and unitedly than honorable members opposite ; but its protectionist incidence is utterly insignificant. As a matter of fact, it is a super tax. I should like to know what the Commonwealth Oil Refinery has to do with taxes on chassis and tires ; but that point seems to have been overlooked by the Government. I remember seeing in the Melbourne Herald newspaper some little time since the picture of a motor car with arrows pointing to all the parts of it which were subject to heavy taxation. There can be no doubt whatever that this is a super tax and a revenue, but not protective, duty. I was reared upon the land, and for some years endeavoured to carve a living out of it, so naturally I have a deep and abiding sympathy with those who have to use bad roads. I believe that one of the most practical means of developing a .country is to provide it with means of transport and outlet. Those who have the courage and patriotism to go into our undeveloped areas with the object of making a living for themselves deserve superabundant consideration and support. But that is not the question here. We already have an overflowing treasury, and distribute millions of money with prodigal hands - a million for one bounty here, and a million for another there - without any consideration of the huge debts that are mounting up. We seem, by a reverse method of reasoning, to disregard our mounting debts in proportion to their rate of increase. In times of greater prosperity and solvency than these we should regard this proposal as utterly outrageous and unthinkable.
My view is that roads should be dealt with by the State authorities. For that reason no very great objection was offered to the original proposals of the Govern ment to pay subventions to the States, within certain well defined limitations, for the purpose of road making. Under the old arrangement of the States and municipalities retained a greater measure of control of their roads. This Parliament has more than enough to do, without embarking upon an enterprise like this, the constitutional authority for which is extremely doubtful. It is true that we are looking for the amendment of our Constitution along lines which have proven urgently necessary to give effect to the concept of government of the original framers of the Constitution Act; but I value the work done by our municipalities and other local governing bodies generally, and, from that point of view, these proposals and the methods by which the Government proposes to raise the money to give effect to them, are utterly objectionable to me. The attitude of the Labour party in regard to trusts and combines cannot be misunderstood any more than can our roads developmental policy. We do not believe that we have any right under our Federal system to infringe the prerogative of the States, although we give place to none in our antipathy and hostility to trusts and combines. Nothing that the right honorable gentleman has said or can say will prevent us viewing these things in their correct perspective. Under our Federal system we should respect the rights of the States. If, bearing that in mind, we can, by equitable means, secure for the people good roads, we intend to do so; but we do not consider that possible by means of the proposals now before us. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) said the other day that the Commonwealth Parliament should deal with national matters, and that these were enumerated in the Constitution. My reply is that road making is not mentioned there. And if there is any matter that can be dealt with effectively by local authorities, it is road making.
.- I shall vote against this bill. I shall do so on many grounds, some of which have already been referred to by other speakers in this debate. The principal ground for my objection I say at once is that which was stressed with such force by the last speaker, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). Roads are essentially and exclusively, under the constitutional powers of the respective parliaments of this country, State concerns. This measure is an intrusion into the domain, of the States. It is unnecessary. I think it is wicked and misleading ; and that it will eventually prostitute, and be harmful to, the States. I do not desire under present conditions to see an essential function of the States, which most of them discharge as well as they can with the money they have, weakened in. any way. I believe this measure to be distinctly unconstitutional. I read the Constitution as a layman, and not as a lawyer. Those of us who are laymen in this Parliament, notwithstanding our administrative and legislative experience, which is fairly extensive when massed in this House, have to admit that lawyers may see points, in cases and principles which have been determined, that may escape us. But I have followed up this matter a little. I have read the Constitution and the commentaries upon it, and I make no doubt whatever that this measure is a defiance of the* intention of section 96. If any one wishes to be satisfied ou that point, he should read the debates of the Federal Convention. I do not mean to say that the High Court will do that. The High Court asks merely what is contained within the four corners of an act; but, all the same, we must recall, so far as we can, the views and intentions of the founders of the Constitution, because it was upon their expressed intentions that, on its submission to the people, these gave it their approval by their votes in all of the States. From the point of Anew of the legislator who is not surrounded by the atmosphere of the law courts, but is responsible to the people, and should be responsive to their desires and wishes, we must take that consideration into account. It is perfectly clear that section 96 of the Constitution was framed to give the Commonwealth Parliament power to help a necessitous State, and not, by largesse, to debauch the States and persuade them from the discharge of their functions. The power conferred in section 96 is a very proper power. A practically similar power is contained in the Constitution of the United States of America, and in some others. It was felt that the central and national parliament should have the. power, if a particular State were in difficulties, either because of its association with the Federation or from any other cause, to vote money from the national revenue to help it. But it was never imagined by any one 25 years ago that this power would be used as an instrument of subversion of the Constitution, depending and relying upon the cupidity of the expected recipients to induce them to abandon their constitutional rights, powers, responsibilities, and duties. That is exactly what is being done when this extremely liberal, and, I think, unwise offer is made to the States.
The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has referred to the different interpretations of the constitutional position given to the House by the Attorney-General, ‘ first, as a private member, and later as AttorneyGeneral. I dealt with that at some length in my remarks on the budget, and I see nothing in the subsequent address of the Attorney-General to cause me to change the views I then expressed. I cannot for the life of me see how a lawyer, giving an opinion as a lawyer, can take so widely different a vision of these two measures - that of 1923 and this of the present year. I am not prepared to accept the ipse dixit of the Attorney-General. The honorable gentleman did not tell us whether he offered his latest opinion as a political Minister learned in the law, but I think we are entitled to know that. Only the other day,, in answer to a question concerning his intervention in a case before a court, the honorable and learned gentleman did distinguish between his dual responsibilities and duties. That distinction was not new to members who have studied the judicial functions of an AttorneyGeneral. The honorable gentleman’s statement was historically correct, with the exception of one phrase which he used in reply to the question submitted to him. He said that he was not responsible to Parliament in one aspect of his duality. “What a ridiculous statement. There are innumerable cases.. I could cite several, and I intend to cite one, in which in Great Britain, the home of constitutional principles, this duality of the position held by the AttorneyGeneral was distinctly recognized by the authorities; but it has never been separated from politics. The latest case is that in which the Ramsay MacDonald Government withdrew a prosecution against a communist editor on the judicial advice of Sir Patrick Hastings, then AttorneyGeneral. Who could keep that issue out of Parliament? It was distinctly political, and became a vital issue in the subsequent campaign. No man can stand here as a Minister of the Crown with duality of functions, and say that he is not responsible to Parliament for all that he does in either capacity. When it comes to a case of the discharge by the Attorney-General of his ordinary legal duties in this House, that is to say, his political legal duties in leading the House on questions of law, we speculate as to how much his opinion is coloured by his desire to help forward the policy of his colleagues, and whether his advice is pure law, so far as there is such a thing as pure law.
– It must be the latter, surely. It is a pure legal opinion, and may be tested at any time.
– It has been already tested by eminent King’s Counsel, not before the High Court of Australia, but before the bar of public opinion. An eminent lawyer in this State has already informed the Victorian Government that this measure is not constitutional. Another has done the same in New South Wales, and I think another in South Australia, who controverts the Attorney-General’s opinion from the State point of view. These men were consulted as lawyers, and not as judical advisers of the Crown. There is no element of politics in their opinions, because none of them is in politics. I speak as one who has watched many Attorneys-General, and many of them eminent in State and Federal affairs, and I say the difficulty always is to know how much politics there is in the legal opinion offered to the House, to put through the Government’s measures, or as propaganda for the Government’s policy.
– That is a very serious charge to make against the AttorneyGeneral.
– I do not regard it as a serious charge. I make is as fair comment, and I should make it in similar circumstances against any other AttorneyGeneral.
– I do not say that it is not fair comment, but it is a serious charge against the chief law officer of the Crown to say that he gave an opinion in law which was tainted with political bias.
– That is not new; it has often been done.
– Does the right honorable gentleman say that the AttorneyGeneral’s opinion was consciously tainted in that way?
– I do not charge the Attorney-General with conscious bias, but I say 1 refuse to take the ipse dixit of a Minister who is both a politician and a lawyer on a measure that is being put through this House.
– The right honorable gentleman’s statement is that the chief law officer of the Crown would, for political reasons, give an opinion in which he did not believe.
– I do not say at all that the Attorney-General acted with distinctly conscious bias; but I say that as a working Minister, and not merely a lawyer, his business is to help through the business of the Government. He was challenged as to whether his former opinion or his present opinion was wrong. I made the challenge, and the honorable gentleman answered in a way which I think convinced nobody. He certainly did not convince me. Later on he offered his definite opinion that this bill is constitutional. A trained lawyer on the other side of the House distinctly disagrees with him. He says that if the other measure to which reference has been made was unconstitutional this is unconstitutional. We are entitled to exercise our own judgment.
– That is a different question.
– It is the question asI stated it ; the honorable member can state it as he pleases.
– The two bills were differently framed.
– I know that. I read them both. I watched the introduction of the previous measure from another part of this chamber, and I do not mind saying that I thoroughly agreed with the reasoning on the previous hill by the present Attorney-General as to its unconstitutionality. I was in the chair, and could not then speak; but I can speak now.
– I understand the right honorable gentleman to say that the Attorney-General, in order to help the Government, has misled the Parliament as to the legality of the measure introduced.
– I did not use the word “ misled “.
– That is the impression the right honorable gentleman’s remarks left on my mind.
– The right honorable gentleman must himself be responsible for that. I did not say that. What I say is that when this law officer who is half politician and half lawyer gives an opinion in connexion with this measure which commits him to the stultification ofan opinion he gave formerly upon an almost similar bill, I decline to take his ipse dixit. That is all I say. I do not hesitate to express the belief that this bill can be challenged. I believe it will be challenged. Anything I can do to cause it to be challenged before a proper tribunal will be done if the measure passes. Let those finally responsible for the determination of the matter decide it by having it brought deliberately before them. We have this extraordinary paradox. We threaten to withdraw a substantial sum of money from the States, in connexion with another measure to which reference may be made, and almost simultaneously we bring along these gifts to debauch them.
-Gifts which are taxed from the people of the States.
– That is so; they could not be taxed from anybody else; although, if the gifts were made to the people who contribute the money, the bill would have one defect less than it has at present. It is surely an extraordinary paradox that we should propose to curtail the powers of the States by refusing them certain supplies, and should then endeavour to make them gifts and still further weaken them. Although the States may be in need of money to carry out this highway policy-
– It is a “ highway “ policy in more senses than one; and I use the word advisedly. I say, without any doubt whatever that this is a wrong procedure and a wrong policy. We propose both these paradoxical things.
– At the same time.
– Almost at the same time. The passage of one of the measures is delayed, and it probably will not be dealt with this session. The Government is, however, still pushing on with this bill. I do not think that we are entitled to make the States, which are constituent parts of this nation of ours, the poor relations of the Commonwealth. I agree with the Treasurer in one phase of his argument, that it is necessary that we should gradually divorce certain financial relations that subsist to-day between the Commonwealth and the States, but we should do that in a proper way. We should not endeavour to hold the States in pawn to control them. We should allow them tofunction so far as their means will allow within the ambit of their own constitutions. They should not be vassals of the Commonwealth. If we wish to alter the constitution - and I am prepared to go much further in this direction than some members of the Opposition, though I am not in accord with some of the views they have expressed on the subject - let us alter it in a proper way. It should be done by deliberate debate and decision of the two Houses of the national Parliament, whose decisions should be submitted for the sanction of the people. We should not do this work outside, but inside the constitutional limits set down. This bill is, I think, an attempt to get control of important State functions by the aid of patronage, gifts, bribery, and debauchery, which their very poverty has induced some of the states to accept. In introducing the bill, the Minister dealt at length with the example of America. It is astonishing how little literature is available in our libraries regarding the gradual advance of the financial relationships of the Republic with its constituent States. But I have dug into my memory for a number of facts promiscuously obtained and stored there, which, though they must be given vaguely, indicate that the parallel quoted by the Minister is false. The United States of America has passed the pioneering stage. Australia, on the other hand, is just emerging from the stage of the axe and the fire-stick, used in the clearing of land for the settler. It has about 6,000,000people; America claims to have a population of nearly 120,000,000. Australia’s revenues are small; those of the United States of America are almost incalculable. Australia’s debts per head of population are, as the honorable member for Batman rightly said, huge, and swollen by the war; those of the United States of America are probably the lightest in the world, relative to the power of its people to pay. Ever since, about 60 years ago, the crash following the American civil war broke the finances of the Republic, its exchequer has gradually risen to opulence. Indeed, there have been occasions when the Finance Committee of Congress did not know what to do with the swelling federal revenues; and it has been from year to year ladling out to the States subventions, bounties, and dividends. These facts are easily traceable in the literature that should be, but is not, obtainable in our parliamentary libraries. But the Republic is now becoming cautious, and is harking away from this policy. It is urging the discontinuance of a number of these bad practices, with a view to leaving the States financially free. I am able to quote evidence of that new tendency. President Coolidge, when submitting his budget measure to Congress in August, 1924, referred to the Federal aid to the States and economy, and concluded
For Federal aid to States the estimates provide in excess of 109,000,000 dollars. These subsidies are prescribed by law. I am convinced that thebroadening of this field of activity is detrimental both to Federal and State Governments. Efficiency of Federal operations is impaired as their scope is enlarged. Efficiency of State Governments is impaired as they relinquish and turn over to the Federal Government responsibilities which are rightfully theirs. I am opposed to any expansion of these subsidies. My conviction is they can be curtailed with benefit both to the Federal and State Governments.
That was hisopinion after he had been two years in office as President. This year he used these words when transmitting his 1927 budget to Congress -
I do, however, recommend for the consideration of the Congress that future legislation restrict the Government’s participation in State road construction to primary or interstate highways, leaving it to the States to finance their secondary or intercountry highways. This would operate to diminish the amount of Federal contribution.
After giving a general warning, President Coolidge said, in effect, “ I now become more specific; let us reduce these gifts; let us cut them down to half. We shall confine our aid to certain broad national highways.” But later on the inevitable tendency of thought on the Finance Committee of Congress will prove itself; and these amounts will be further reduced, and, in that way, the divorce of federal and State finances - which the Treasurer is desiring of effecting in Australia - will be illustrated in the United States of America. If we are to follow the example of the United States of America, are we to be guided by its past practice, which it admitswas prodigal and harmful, or its modem and more cautious tendency? I prefer the latter. America has had experience of the illeffects of the policy of making subventions to the States, to which the federal authority was driven only because, while the national exchequer was overflowing; some of the authorities which were charged with the development of the territories and the new lands of the west and middlewest, were necessitous. But the situation is different now, and the federal authority is seeking to establish new and better conditions. So I pass by the Minister’s illustration, which had been so elaborately prepared for him by his department.
– The right honorable gentleman is not quoting the State view in America.
– I have quoted the President of the Republic, and I do not know that he ever sat in a State Parliament. At any rate, on both occasions he spoke as the head of the nation, and he is not associated with State administrations. As to the special source from which the money to be handed to the States is expected to come, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) rightly said that the original statement by the Government was that the users of the roads were to pay for their construction, if not for their maintenance. But in the passion that has been generated by political and economic opposition to certain phases of the new duty, the Prime Minister has since explicitly expressed the desire that the companies which import the petrol should bear the burden of the duty. That may be wise, if practicable, but it is not the ambition with which the bill was launched, and it is not in accordance with the statement made by the Minister when introducing it. Undoubtedly the wisest policy that can be adopted by any nation or State that has the duty of making and maintaining roads is to compel those who injure the roads to pay for their construction and upkeep. That was the policy originally promulgated by the Government ; but augered by the natural opposition of the very powerful interests which, I believe, have made enormous sums of money out of the increase of motor traffic in Australia, the Prime Minister allowed himself to he diverted from his first intention, and now seeks to impose on the petrol importing companies the tax of 2d. per gallon. Whether the idea be good or bad, he cannot do that.
– That surely rests with the companies.
– The Minister is much more innocent than he looks. What can the Government do to compel those who control the bulk of the petrol supplies to pay that charge, or to prevent them from passing it on to the users?
– The Prime Minister spoke as though the power rested with him.
– The Prime Minister knows too much of business to imagine that. May I say without offence that he must have been a little hot under the collar if he did entertain that notion for a moment. No man who knows anything of business can fail to realize thatunder present conditions thepeople who control the supplies of this eminently needful commodity can, if they so arrange amongst themselves, pass the whole of the duty on to the consumer; and the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, making so microscopic a proportion of the distilled spirit that motor users require, will be incapable of preventing it. The position would be different if the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited could supply 50 per cent. of the community’s requirements, but its output is equal to only 5 to 7 per cent. of the total consumption.
– If the Commonwealth Oil Refineries were producing more petrol, the revenue from the duty would be less.
– That is another paradox in this proposal. If the Commonwealth Oil Refineriescould supply the whole of the needs of the community, and the importing companies were driven out of business, the Commonwealth would not get the £1,500,000 that it expects to pay into a trust fund for subsequent distribution to the States. The calculation of the Minister for Trade and Customs that the duty will yield only £1,500,000 may be perfectly right, allowing for the expansion of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries. But the rise in petrol consumption has been phenomonal and romantic. It may be safely said that in three years it has trebled.
– It has increased at the rate of 30 per cent. per annum for the last three years.
– The proposed agreement with the States is for ten years, and if this rate of increase continues, a revenue now estimated at £1,500,000 may become £3,000,000 or £5,000,000 per annum. Is the Commonwealth to continue to pay into the trust fund the whole of the proceeds of the duty of 2d. per gallon on imported motor spirit? If so, this Federal largesse, which already seems to the States alarmingly high, may be two or three times as great before the agreement expires.
– The taxation proposals are capable of variation from year to year, according to the revenue that is being derived from the special duty.
– Quite so, and if the Government will declare that it proposes to see that the yield will be only £1,500,000, and the limits it proposes are observed, I shall have one less objection to the scheme. That is a phase of the subject that should not be lost sight of. Men might cheerfully vote £1,500,000 when they will not vote £4,000,000.
– If £1,500,000 is sufficient for the construction of roads now, it may not be sufficient when the numbers of people and vehicles have doubled.
– That is quite right. Moreover, it will be found, as all road makers know - and as a State member I had long experience of this subject - that whilst roads may be easily made, because money can be raised by loan for that purpose, their maintenance is a much more difficult problem.
– Not if they are properly built in the first place.
– Even if they are built properly. I could take the honorable member to roads in this State that were built as well as any roads could be.
– No. Methods of road construction are improving every year.
– Contradiction is not argument, and I have no desire to quarrel with the honorable member. I had the honour of establishing the Country Roads Board of Victoria; we appointed to it the best men we could get, and they did the best work that has been done oh any roads in Australia. After ten years of experience, they will declare that their problem at all times is not construction, but maintenance - and maintenance means finance. The Commonwealth Parliament would, I presume, be just as much entitled to grant money for the maintenance of roads as for their construction, and I fear that, upon the proposed trust fund and the Federal Treasury, substantial demands will be made in future for the maintenance of these special roads, for which the States will not accept responsibility.
– The cost of maintenance should always be met out of revenue.
– That is true of all perishable public works whose life is short. The maintenance of these special roads will fall upon the revenues of this Commonwealth unless we are careful. We are inducing the States to embark upon a national scheme of road construction, and if they are not able to keep in a proper state of repair the roads that are made, the maintenance will at some future time devolve upon the Commonwealth.
– The bill provides that the States must satisfy the Minister that proper provision is being made by them for maintenance services.
– The honorable member is not the least innocent man in this Parliament, and he knows what that amounts to.
– Under the bill the Commonwealth liability cannot be increased beyond £2,000,000 per annum.
– That payment has to continue for ten years. During that period of time thousands of miles of roadways may be constructed. But when the agreement expires, what will happen ? The States cannot be obliged to maintain these roads in perpetuity. They will be our roads and our obligation, just as the east-west railway is, and as the north- south line will be. The Commonwealth, therefore, will have to maintain them, or let their surfaces revert to grass. It is as plain as the sun at noon-day that if developmental roads are built under this agreement, we shall be called upon to maintain them at some future time.
Respecting the petrol tax, the Minister implied that the States should have known that the Federal duties were to be imposed. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), by interjection, said he thought that everybody knew that. He suggested that in his policy speech he made the matter clear to the people. I do not think that he is correct, because when reading his policy speech I, for one, assumed that there were many ways of raising money for this purpose.
– Did not the honorable member assume that it would come out of existing revenue?
– No. I think that the Prime Minister made it clear that a certain proportion of it would be provided out of ordinary revenue and the balance from special Customs taxation. I ask the Treasurer whether he told the State Ministers that extra petrol duties were to be imposed?
– The State Ministers asked what new duties were to be imposed, and whether a tax would be put upon petrol, tires, and chassis, and we informed them that we could not say exactly how the necessary money would be raised until the Government’s financial proposals had been brought down.
– Sir Alexander Peacock, when the Government’s proposals had been announced, said that they were not a surprise to him.
– I do not know whether the State Ministers were told of the Government’s proposals under the lap, while public information was withheld; but if that is so, and information was divulged to certain people respecting the. tariff that would be brought before this House, it was grossly improper.
– The State Ministers were told that new taxation would be imposed, but that, obviously, its nature could not be disclosed before the proposals were brought down to the House.
– I am glad that the Minister was awake and vigilant in respect of the protection of the tariff interests of this Parliament. I assumed from what was dropped by the Prime Minister that every one was expected to know that a tax on petrol would be imposed.
– No; only that new taxation would be imposed.
– Respecting the attitude which the States are adopting towards the. Government’s proposals, my opinion is that State action in matters of this kind should precede Federal action. That would have obviated the present extraordinary and humiliating spectacle of the Commonwealth Parliament being asked to do certain things on the assurance of the Ministry that five out of six States had agreed to the Commonwealth’s proposals, and then finding that some of those States were not merely refusing to ratify, but were repudiating the agreement altogether. Our present position has come about either because of the haste with which this Government is rushing this legislation through, or because of delay on the part of the States. OneState has agreed to accept the agreement, because of its natural desire for money. The South Australian Parliament has passed a resolution against the agreement, although it was the apparent desire of the Premier, Mr. Gunn, and his Government to accept it.
– The week before that resolution was passed by the South Australian Parliament, Mr. Gunn wrote to the Commonwealth Government accepting the agreement.
– We should have followed the procedure that was adopted in connexion with the Murray Waters agreement. In that case, the States had to pass legislation before the Commonwealth Government ratified the agreement. I suggest that the present humiliating position of the Prime Minister and the Government could have been avoided if the State Parliaments had first been asked to ratify this agreement. I certainly object to the Government proceeding with the bill in the present anomalous and ridiculous circumstances. It cannot be wise to do so, whatever may he thought of the arguments for or against the measure. This Parliament should call a halt and say to the States : “ Make up your minds, and then we shall deal with the problem. Our offerstands.” That is the proper attitude for us to take, and I suggest to the Prime Minister that, lacking the time this session to give the measure leisurely and proper consideration, and in view of public requirements, he should place it again on the stocks until the States have arrived at unanimity respecting the Government’s proposals.
– And suspend the duties.
– I leave my suggestion as it stands. I should not object if the tax were continued so long as the moneys collected were placed in a trust fund, which, I understand, is the intention of the Government. I certainly object to the tax, because of certain iniquities associated with it. If the States had first been asked to ratify the agreement, we should not now be in our present unenviable position. I object to the petrol tax mainly because I believe that we should do nothing to obstruct the growth of the use of motor vehicles, especially for commercial purposes. The present tax on all the motorist uses, and, in addition, the heavy State licence and registration fees, are more than sufficient for him to bear, compared with other users of the roads and taxpayers generally, despite the comparisons made by a Minister to a deputation. I object also to the agreement, because it leaves out roads in urban municipalities. I do this, not because I represent both inner and outer urban municipalities, but because probably 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. of the motor taxation and motor consumption taxation contemplated under these proposals will be raised within the urban centres, and further, because of the great damage done to urban roads by motor vehicles. There are roads in the metropolitan areas that, three or four years ago, were for mile after mile like Collins-street pavements, but are now riddled with holes because of the motor traffic that passes over them. Under the agreement motorists of the urban centres will pay heavily to provide roads in the country and in other districts which they will rarely or never use. Those whom I represent are to heavily contribute money that is to be spent in other districts.
– They would not be living in those municipalities in half their present numbers if it were not for those in the country.
– I wonder who will have the use of motor cars at the next election. Not the candidates of the party that imposes this taxation. They will go to the chartered libertines of the Labour party. Their supporters – will be carried to the polls in motor cars, while the supporters of the Nationalist party, who at the last election had a car placed at the disposal of nearly every voter, will have considerable difficulty in obtaining any at all. This tax, moreover, is unfair not only to certain municipalities, but also to certain States. I do not wish to take a provincial attitude, because I am not a parochialist. I am an Australian above all things. When I was a youngster I took an interest in politics and advocated the adoption of the Federal Constitution, and since then I have done my best to assist the growth of the Federation. I have served in both Commonwealth and State spheres, but I am not going to argue now for State rights.
– The honorable member used to be a red-hot champion of State rights.
– The memory of the honorable member is as dangerous as his passion. Under the agreement, Victoria will raise £5,600,000, and will benefit by only £3,600,000 Under the two-fifths calculation of the Treasurer, that State will hand £2,000,000 to the other States, and the amount will grow, until ultimately it may become £5,000,000 or more. New South Wales has to raise £7,600,000, and will benefit by only £5,500,000. The distributions are to be made on the basis of area, and of population, and therefore Western Australia, Tasmania, and Queensland will greatly benefit.
– Those States will get it back in subsidies.
– How? Victoria does not get anything from the sugar bounty, the cotton bounty, the duty on bananas.
– During the last four years New South Wales received in the way of special benefits, £875,000, Victoria about £1,000,000, and Western Australia next to nothing.
– If the honorable member can prove that, he will be the senior wrangler of this Parliament, and capable of winning the mathematical tripos. The principle of special taxation for earmarked purposes, to be levied from cer tain States and given to others, has never been and cannot now be justified. New South Wales and Victoria, between them, contain probably 71 per cent. of the population of Australia, and they will receive infinitely less proportionately to population than the States with small populations. For these reasons I intend to vote against the bill. The scheme is ill-considered and unnecessary, and it makes the Kingdom of Heaven, as the States see it, very hard to enter. I hope that what the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said, at the beginning and closing of his remarks, will not be lost sight of by the Treasurer, who, before the year 1923, was one of the most eloquent advocates of economy. I have just been perusing the speeches that he made, including the “ loot “ speech, and it. is difficult for any one to imagine the change that has since occurred in his character and conduct.I say that not to chide but to chaff him, and I venture to say that, before long, he will find it extremely hard to justify his position. He is not responsible for debts and commitments that were contracted prior to his becoming Treasurer, but, if he would put into operation only 50 per cent. of the theories that he so vigorously advocated when Leader of the Country Party, instead of making huge bounties and distributing largesse in every shape and form, as he has done since his elevation to Cabinet rank, he would be reducing the national expenditure. As the honorable member for Batman said, we are living in an extravagant age. At this time of undoubted prosperity, we should make provision for those alternating periods of prosperity and depression which must inevitably come to Australia. As sure as God made little apples, we shall have periods of drought. If we get bad weather when the ship of government is under full sail, as it is now, I foresee a lot of trouble for those responsible for the government of this country. So soon as the necessity for retrenchment arises, the electors will inflict condign punishment upon those who have been guilty of misgovernment. The Government should not disregard this warning nor our past experience. It is certainly time that we called a halt in expenditure, and refrained from voting extravagant sums to industries and to States in a way that the national treasury cannot possibly afford.
– On Tuesday evening the Prime Minister dealt fully with this bill, and explained the situation that has arisen as a result of the action of the States. He said that communications had been sent to each of the State Governments asking them whether they adhered to the agreement arrived at by a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in February of this year, which five of them had subsequently written to say they fully accepted. The Prime Minister also said that the bill would be delayed to permit of replies being received from the States. Since then five replies have come to hand. The Premier of Queensland telegraphed -
Your wire to-day’s date, Queensland Government intend submitting to Parliament a bill to ratify roads agreement made with Commonwealth Government.
Mr. Collier, of Western Australia, wired ;
Your telegram, 2nd August, my Government adhered to its acceptance of scheme, and will submit agreement to Parliament as Government measure at earliest possible date.
And from Tasmania the following has been received : -
Referring to your telegram, 2nd August, my
Government is prepared to accept roads agreement. A bill for ratification is being introduced State Parliament early next week.
Arrangements have been made by those three States for the passage of legislation to give effect to the agreement. In addition, the following telegram has been received from the Premier of South Australia : -
In view of resolutions which have been carried unanimously in both Houses of State Parliament emphatically protesting against the Commonwealth road proposals, this Government considers submission of agreement to Parliament forratification would be futile. The reluctant acceptance of proposals by this Government was forced by the introduction of legislation into Commonwealth Parliament dealing with proposals.
– Does the Premier of South Australia say that the resolution was carried unanimously in both Houses of the State Parliament?
– Yes, and it was moved by the Premier himself, who, on the 14th July, which was six days after the delivery of my budget statement in this House, and when he was in possession of all the facts about the petrol tax, wrote to this Government, stating that after full consideration of all the circum stances the Government of South Australia was prepared to accept the agreement, and have it ratified. Yet within a fortnight that Government has, through its official head, submitted a motion to the State Parliament for the repudiation of the agreement. I shall deal with that aspect of the matter later. The reply from the Premier of New South Wales was -
Federal main roads grant. In reply your telegram yesterday, desire inform you it is not intention this Government confirm tentative agreement arrived at by conference Federal and State Ministers held Melbourne last February.
In those circumstances the Government regards its course as clear. It will carry out the agreement as a national policy in those States where the governments, in good faith, are introducing legislation to ratify the agreement. It will do the same as it did with the proposal to unify the railway gauges, which, when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister, was agreed to by the Premiers in conference, and was subsequently repudiated by some of them. The Government believes that Australia cannot afford to have bad roads or an inefficient transport system. The increased cost of running motor traffic on bad roads is more than the cost of constructing and maintaining good roads. That has been proved by experience in other parts of the world. The Government considers that good roads, and an efficient transport system, are an essential part of our machinery of national development and production.
I should like to depart from this theme for a moment to answer some criticisms of me by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt). He said that I had forsaken certain principles which I had enunciated as a private member from the corner benches. I have not doneso. I have always believed in incurring reproductive expenditure which is necessary for the development of this country. I am satisfied that the expenditure incurred in extending the telephone system, until this country is now seventh on the list of countries in regard to the number of telephones installed in proportion to the population, is thoroughly justified by the results.
– That policy was initiated before the Treasurer took office.
-That is true, and it has been continued and extended by this Government. When I spoke from the corner I urged that additional loan money should be spent in that direction. I make no attempt to excuse that policy, for I am proud of it, and of the Government which has continued and extended it. The increase in invalid and old-age pensions has added about £4,000,000 to the total annual expenditure of this country. I am not ashamed of that expenditure. The act which increased those pensions was greatly overdue, and I am glad that it will help the old and infirm people to have something like reasonable comfort in their declining ye.ars. My only regret is that it is not possible, because of the conditions of this country, to make their old age still easier for them. Defence is the only other item involving increased expenditure. I have always maintained that, as a measure of national insurance, we must have as effective defence machinery as possible.
– Did not the Treasurer, as a private member, move for a reduction of former defence estimates by £500,000?
– That was immediately after the Washington Conference, when it was said that a reduction of defence expenditure could be made. As demonstrating the soundness of my amendment, I may mention that during the ensuing six or seven months the government of the day was able to reduce the defence expenditure, and that in the next budget it was reduced by more than the amount I had mentioned. Despite the Washington conference, it has now been found that we must make provision for naval defence ; and if the right honorable member for Balaclava will read the speech I made when moving the amendment to which he has referred, he will discover that I specifically excluded naval defence from my amendment. An examination of the figures will disclose that since this Government has been in power an iron hand has been kept on the expansion of departmental expenditure. Although during that time the population of this country has increased, departmental expenditure has remained almost stationary. That result has been achieved not by cheese-paring economy, but bv a bold policy of re-organization which has included the amalgamation of Federal and State Income Tax Departments. We believe that the people of this country appreciate that policy, and I, for one, am not ashamed of it. Australia pays for good roads, whether she has them or not, and the Government thinks that it should give to those States which are willing to honour the agreement an opportunity to improve their roads, and to make those parts of the Commonwealth as efficient as possible in the machinery of production. We believe that if we are to meet the rest of the world successfully in competition, we must pl.ace the transport system of this country in order. We have tried to arrange for the marketing of our produce in a national way, and we believe that transport is just as much a matter of national concern. The Government intends to proceed immediately with the bill to enable it to operate in those States that have adhered to the agreement. Provision will be made in it for the dissenting States to come in later, because the Government is quite satisfied that they are now labouring under a misapprehension. As the representative of a New South Wales constituency, I feel sure that New South “Wales will adhere to the agreement within a few months of the passage of this bill. An examination of the widely different masons put forward by the Governments that are at present repudiating the agreement show clearly that they will come into line later.
– Why is the Treasurer so certain of that?
– I think I shall be able to produce evidence that will carry conviction to thi* mind of every honorable member. Public opinion in New South Wales is strongly in favour of this bill, and no matter what the present Government may think, it will force that Government to accept the agreement. Just as these State Governments, under pressure of the agitation engineered by the oil companies, have seen fit to recant, so will they come into line again under the pressure of public opinion. The key resolution of the conference with the States’ representatives was moved by Mr. Cann, of New South Wales. It was -
That the conference endorses the plan of the Commonwealth to find £2,000,000 from revenue for the purpose of initiating a national roads policy.
The reasons now given by the Premier of New South Wales for not remaining in the agreement are three in number. Speaking on the subject the other day, he said that the New South Wales Government would have to find £414,000, and the
Commonwealth Government £560,000 under the agreement, That was actually admitted during the conference, and it was shown that at the present time New South Wales provides for main roads something like £819,000 for the county of Cumberland, and £1,151,000 for country main roads. As the New South Wales Minister for Works pointed out, the Government of New South Wales could use the amount required from that source to cover the money the Commonwealth Government was willing to place at the disposal of the State, without imposing additional taxation. He pointed out that by so doing that Government could continue and extend its programme. The shires and municipalities of New South Wales spent £3,320,000 in 1923-24, and £460,000 wa3 provided by the Government for roads. Much of the money provided by the Government came from motor fees, and the land-owners provided eight times as much as was provided by the motor users. When one knows that all over the world the volume of . traffic on the roads is 500 per cent, more than it waa a decade ago, one must admit that the road user should pay a proper contribution towards the cost of constructing and maintaining roads. Mr. Lang’s second objection is that towns with a population of over 5,000 are omitted from the scheme. In the discussion that took place, the only point of difference was as to whether towns of a population of 10,000 or 5,000 should be excluded. Ultimately the margin of 5,000 was fixed as a compromise acceptable by the States. Some of the States’ representatives contended that the agreement should not include roads in any towns, and others that it should include roads through towns of only a certain size. This proposition which was largely arrived at as the result of a discussion among the State Ministers who are to handle, control, and construct the roads is not, as it has been absurdly stated, to create a Federal authority to override the States. Once a year the State Ministers will meet the Commonwealth Minister for Works and Railways, certificates will be given by the Commonwealth Works Engineer, and the Commonwealth Minister for Works and Railways has to give his approval of a main system of roads - roads of the type of the interstate roads
Dr. Earle Page. referred to by President Coolidge in his communication to Congress, which was quoted by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt).
– Does the Treasurer suggest that the Commonwealth arbitrarily votes money to a particular State, and will have no control over its expenditure?
– A five year’s programme of road construction has been agreed upon. I understand that the Victorian scheme has been drawn up by Mr. Calder, the Chairman of the Country Roads Board of the State, and approved by the Commonwealth Minister for Works and Railways, who does not pretend to possess more knowledge on the subject of road construction than Mr. Calder. But the Commonwealth retains control to the extent that it insists on the quality of the work being such that the money is not to be wasted.
– What does the Treasurer mean by “the quality of the work”?
– There are different qualities of work for different classes of roads. For roads over which there is a tremendous traffic, provision must be made for high-class construction, perhaps in the nature “of concrete, whereas for roads with . less traffic the construction will be such as to enable them to stand up to the amount of traffic over them.
– Why have we not had all this information previously?
– The Minister for Works and Railways, in submitting the bill, brought before the chamber the Victorian plan of road construction.
– Do the arrangements in regard to the quality of roads differ from those previously in existence?
– There is practically no difference except that there has been an agreement as to the roads which are of first quality, and those which are of second quality. The nature of the construction will depend entirely on the traffic likely to pass over a road.
– Surely those regulations are already in existence.
– But the new regulations will be an improvement. For instance, under the new proposals, the road from Melbourne to Albury will eventually be as good as the road from Melbourne to Geelong to-day. The third objection raised by Mr. Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, is that the States cannot use this money for the maintenance of roads.. The purpose in raising this money is to construct new roads, and bring about a better system of main roads, which the Commonwealth insists should be properly maintained by the States. I should like to point out that this question was discussed very fully at the conference of Ministers, and Mr. Calder, who is an authority on the subject, said -
I am only guessing when I say that I think (in Victoria) the local authorities spend about £1,000,000 a year on roads. For the past few years, they have been so burdened in financing the main roads By stem that they have had to reduce their expenditure upon other roads to a minimum.
Under the old system, the burden of providing for the construction of main roads fell on the shires and municipalities, and they were not able to divert their funds to the maintenance of other roads. The conference of Ministers thoroughly appreciated that fact. It is also thoroughly appreciated in Western Australia, where, a couple of days ago, a conference representing 104 affiliated roads boards throughout the State carried unanimously a resolution “warmly supporting the Federal Main Roads Bill now before the Federal Parliament,” and urged every Western Australian senator and representative “to strongly support the measure being passed this session.” The representatives of these roads boards assume that the proposal to spend Commonwealth money on making main roads will undoubtedly help, to a remarkable degree, the construction and maintenance of other roads in country districts. I have already said that, in any opinion, this agreement will be finally endorsed in New South Wales. I shall bring evidence in support of that statement. My first evidence is that of Mr. Stokes, Lord Mayor of Sydney, who, as everybody knows, is -the Labour member for Goulburn in the State House. Speaking at Braidwood last Friday, Mr. Stokes said- -
He did not know why the State Government had not accepted its share of the Commonwealth Government’s roads grant of £20,000,000. He knew the matter had not been considered by the party. He thought the Federal offer should be accepted.
Under the system of proportional representation, in operation in New South Wales, every country electorate has at least one, if not two, Labour representatives, and I am certain that the pressure of country Labour members will induce the Government of the State to give further consideration to this matter.
– The Treasurer does not regard as evidence what he has quoted. ?
– At any rate, if it is not evidence, it is a significant statement. If honorable members care to read the New South Wales newspapers, they will see that every day shire councils throughout the State are carrying resolutions urging the Government to come into the scheme. A fortnight ago I spoke to 150 motorists in Sydney. Not one of them was opposed to the Commonwealth’s proposals; every one keenly supported them. Within the last few days I have been in touch with other representative Sydney men, and I can find little trace of dissension in the State against a national roads scheme. Mr. Newlands, president of the Chamber of Manufactures in Sydney definitely said that he was strongly in favour of the scheme. Mr. Ludowici, vice-president of the Automobile Club, commends the scheme, and his only regret is that the Commonwealth may not exercise sufficient control to ensure that good roads are made. I am sure that if a plebiscite were taken in New South Wales, 80 per cent, of the people would be in favour of the Commonwealth’s proposals.
– Is it not a dangerous practice to appeal to the people of a State behind the back of its Government ?
– I am merely putting on record the actual position in New South Wales. Although, during the last fortnight, there has been an intensive newspaper campaign in my own electorate, engineered, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, by the Town and Country Union and the oil importing companies, one cannot find, throughout New South Wales, any disposition to oppose the principle.
– The National Roads Association and the Automobile Club are both against the Government’s proposals.
– I have just quote3 the statement of the vice-president of the Automobile Club; it is on record for anybody to see.
– It shows the danger of dealing with the States apart from the State Governments.
– We are not doing so. I am merely indicating what will happen in New South Wales within the next few months. Now I come to Victoria, where we have the extraordinary spectacle of an Opposition urging the Government to stand up to the agreement it has made with the Commonwealth Government.
– That is not a fair representation of the position.
– It is. During the debate in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, continual references were made to the unconstitutionality of the Commonwealth’s action; but, according to the newspaper reports of the proceedings in the State House last night, the unconstitutionality of our action is apparently to be pardoned if Mr. Hogan, the Leader of the Opposition, can get through his proposal that the whole of the money raised by the Commonwealth in Victoria shall be spent in Victoria.
– The Treasurer has avoided the position.
– As for the claim that the action of the Commonwealth is unconstitutional, it is most interesting to read the opinion furnished to the Victorian Government by Messrs. Menzies and Fullagar. Although these gentlemen say that the Commonwealth’s action is unconstitutional, they are frightened that the High Court, if asked to decide the matter, would give a decision against them,
– That is not so.
– So that honorable members can judge for themselves, I shall read the legal opinion given by Messrs. Menzies and Fullagar. It is as follows : -
For those various reasons we are of opinion that, on the true reading of the Constitution, the Federal Aid Roads Bill is ultra vires, and will, if passed, be invalid and inoperative. We are, of course, sensible of the fact that the. trend of High Court decision has been in the direction of sustaining the Commonwealth power in all cases of substantial doubt, either by construing ambiguous provisions of the Constitution somewhat liberally in favour of the Commonwealth, or by the other well-recognized principle of construing challenged legislation, so far as possible, in such a manner as to preserve its validity. The comparatively short period during which the High Court has been applying these principles renders it difficult for any constitutional lawyer to advise with certainty upon the extent to which the logical application of the later High Court doctrines will produce results which are possibly unexpected, and it may well be that the High Court, by giving to the important words of section 96 the very widest operation, might hold the proposal a valid one.
That is the supposedly- strong legal opinion upon which the Victorian Government has taken its stand, but it is not very definite when those who furnished it are afraid that a reference to the High Court may upset it. The next State I propose to deal with is South Australia. I must confess that, although I have great hope of New South Wales and Victoria coming into line, because of developments that have taken place during the last few days, it is impossible to say what will happen in South Australia. The changes of mind of its Government are so kaleidoscopic that no one can tell what is likely to happen in that State. Six or seven months ago, at the conference of State ministers at which this matter was discussed, we had Mr. Gunn, the Premier, asking, “ On what are you going to impose the new tax ? “ It is absurd for the right honorable member for Balaclava to say that no information was given to that conference. The Prime Minister set that point beyond doubt on Tuesday night. The budget was delivered by me on the 8th July. From that date the actual proposals of the Commonwealth Government to raise the money were definitely known; and on the 14th July, six days later, Mr. Gunn wrote to the Commonwealth as follows: -
With reference to your letter of the 6th inst. and previous correspondence on the subject of the policy of the Commonwealth Government in respect of the reconstruction and maintenance of roads, I desire to inform you that, after giving the matter most careful consideration, and in view of all the circumstances, this Government is agreeable to accept the proposals submitted by your Government.
Then, within the next fourteen days, an extraordinary thing happened. Although Mr. Gunn’s letter carried with it an obligation to carry into effect the resolution of the State ministers at their conference with the Commonwealth Minister to ask the State parliaments to ratify the agreement with the Commonwealth, within a fortnight Mr. Gunn himself moved in the State Parliament -
That this House is of the opinion that road construction is a function of State government beyond the powers of the Commonwealth Constitution, and, therefore, emphatically protests against the road proposals of the Federal Government, and urges members of the Commonwealth Parliament not to give effect to them.
The South Australian Premier knew the facts on the 14th July, and yet on the 28th July, instead of carrying out the obligation entailed by bis acceptance of the proposal, he moved that motion in the House of Assembly.
– The objection now is on the ground of unconstitutionality. 1 presume that the South Australian Government took legal opinion in the meantime.
– The Premier of South Australia was exceedingly anxious that the new duties should be imposed only on chassis and tires. He is now more concerned about the constitutionality of the petrol tax than of our road proposals. It is impossible to know what the State Governments will do in the future, for they have already changed their ground so often. In these circumstances, the Government has decided to proceed with its’ policy, and will impose only sufficient taxation to meet the obligation it has incurred It is evident that as only three States have intimated that they intend to ratify the agreement, our expenditure in the coming year will not be so great as was anticipated. The three States concerned will, as a matter of fact, need something like £860,000. The Government has decided, therefore, to impose the tax of 2d. a gallon on imported petrol, but for the time being to waive the proposed additional duties on tires and chassis. The tax on petrol will supply requirements for the time being. If later, other States ratify the agreement, and it is found that the Commonwealth has insufficient revenue to meet its commitments, the Government will reconsider the position as it then appears. If it should be found that too much money is being raised by the petrol tax, that matter can be reviewed.
– Will the Government make the tariff changes the Treasurer has announced to-day before Parliament rises?
– The duties will continue to operate.
– They cannot after this.
– The constitutionality of the Main Roads Development Acts passed in the period 1923 to 1925 has been assailed. If these measures should be declared unconstitutional, it appears to me that the only result will be that the States will have to repay to the Commonwealth the road moneys they have received.
I wish now to offer a few observations in reply to the speeches delivered by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), and other honorable members. First of all, let me insist that this matter must be dealt with from the national standpoint. If we are not prepared so to deal with it, we should leave it alone. It is surely our duty to do our best to enable our producers to compete in the world’s markets with the producers of other countries, and also to compete with them in their own market. We should make our national machinery of production thoroughly efficient. If one country in the world needs good roads more than another it is Australia, for 96 per cent. of our production that is exported and sold on the world’s markets is primary production. During his second reading speech, in introducing this bill, the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill) was subjected to continual gibing for talking so much about the United States of America. I have no desire to talk a great deal about America, but we must give seme attention to the fact that at present our imports from that country are valued at four and a half times as much as our exports to it. It is generally recognized that American methods are efficient, and, in my opinion, we should, in view of our unfavorable trade balance, do our best to apply them here. So far as Great Britain is concerned, the trade balance is fairly even. We sent about £69,000,000 worth of our products to Great Britain last year, and we imported British goods of about the same value; but in the case of the United States o!f America, we received £39,000,000 worth of goods, and sent in return for them only about £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 worth of our produce. In the circumstances, it i= surely desirable that we should do whatever we can to improve our position. Ten years ago, the United States of America introduced, on a very small scale, a federal aid roads grant system. In the first year of its operation, the Federal Government spent only about $20,000,000 on it ; but last year its expenditure under the same heading ran into many hundred million dollars, for it has found that the policy pays handsomely.
– They build roads there; but we have not a decent road in the Commonwealth.
– Then it is time that we started to build some, and the Government, in introducing these comprehensive proposals, is actuated with a desire to do so. Good roads are found in the United States of America, not in isolated patches, but in stretches of hundreds of miles throughout the whole country-side. Vast sums have been allocated there for road-making under the federal aid system. Difficulties were encountered in developing this system there, just as they are being encountered here; but having 48 States in their Union, the Americans seem to find it easier to take a national view of the situation than we do with only six States. Federal aid road money is distributed in the United States of America as follows - one-third on the population basis, one-third on the area basis, and one-third on the basis of the mileage of road in a State to the total mileage of roads in the Union.
– Do all the States participate ?
– They do, as I shall indicate in a moment. It is interesting to see how this policy works. In America, as in Australia, some of the States are developed far more than others. New York State, for instance, contains only 10 per cent, of the total population of the United States, but pays 26 per cent, of the direct federal taxation that is collected, and is granted only 5 per cent, of the money distributed for federal aid roads. In other words, it pays proportionately five times as much taxation as it receives in road grants.
– Can the Treasurer give us the exact figures?
– I propose to do so in regard to a number of the States. Massachusetts paid in direct taxation to the Federal exchequer in 1922-23, $139,094,000, or 5.3 per cent, of the total taxation collected in the Union; but she received in federal aid road grants only $6,832,000, or 1.51 per cent, of the total amount distributed. In other words, she paid four times as much, proportionately, in taxation as she received in road grants. New York State paid $664,797,000 in direct taxation that year, or 25.36 per cent, of the total ; but received in federal aid road grants only $23,045,000, or 5.1 per cent, of the total. In other words, that State received only one-thirtieth as much in road grants as it paid in direct taxation. New Jersey contributed $110,909,000 in national taxation, or 4.23 per cent, of the total ; but received in road grants only $5,652,000 or 1.25 per cent, of the total. Pennsylvania contributed $247,121,000 in taxation, or 9.43 per cent, of the total, and received in road grants $21,237,000, or 4.70 per cent, of the total grant. Here let me join issue with the right honorable member for Balaclava in regard to the development of the United States of America. Quite a number of settlements there are as backward as some of our States. Dr. Elwood Meade, who has been here recently, has been responsible, in the last three or four years, for establishing a number of new settlements in the “United States of America which are just as primitive as any in Australia. When we come to the Dakota states we find that the proportion of road grant to national taxation has changed. For instance, North Dakota in 1922-23 contributed only $1,507,000 in national taxation, or .06 per cent, of the total, b-;.t received in road grants §7,185,000, or 1.59 per cent, of the total amount distributed. In other words, she has received about five times as much in road grants as she paid in direct federal taxation. South Dakota paid $2,065,000 in national taxation, or .08 per cent, of the total amount received, but was granted $7,510,000 for roads, or 1.66 per cent, of the total distribution. Texas contributed $34,634,000 in direct taxation, or 1.32 per cent, of the total, but received £27,313,000 in road grant, or 6.04 per cent, of the total distribution. Montana’s contribution in national taxation was $3,280,000, or .13 per cent, of the total, but she received $9,422,000 in road grants, or three times her total contribution to the national exchequer.
– Are the road grants in the United States of America paid out of general revenue?
– They are paid from federal sources. The distributions are made on a national basis, and undoubtedly we must regard this as a national question. It has never been suggested that these grants in America were bringing about unification. The right honorable member for Balaclava argued that it was not fair to compare the United States of America with Australia. Then let us take Canada, just across the border, with her population of 9,000,000, and her huge area of undeveloped country, for she may well be compared with Australia. Canada has found it necessary to make federal subventions to the provinces to enable them to develop roads, as Mr. Calder pointed out in. his report. The right honorable gentleman admitted that our States were endeavouring to do the best they could with the limited funds at their disposal.
– Does the Treasurer suggest that the Canadian constitutional position is similar to ours?
– I do not; ‘but I say that the Constitution of the United States of America may fairly be compared with ours.
– How much -per capita is distributed in America for federal aid roads?
– I have not those figures at hand at the moment, but I could obtain them for the right honorable member. Speaking in general terms, the per capita payment in states like New York is low; it is somewhat higher in the middle west ; in the states near the Rocky Mountains it is very high; and in the states nearer the Pacific it falls to a moderate amount.
– What was the total amount allocated under the federal aid system in the United States of America last year ?
– It totalled $670,000,000. I have stated the position in the United States of America and in Canada, and now let me examine the position in Australia. It is contended that we should not spend money in this national way, but should allocate the expenditure to the States in which the money is collected. That is not the way in which we allocate other expenditures by this Parliament, with the exception of the per capita payment, and I think I have demonstrated that the per capita payments have never been satisfactory, and have had to be supplemented from other sources.
– This is the only taxation we have ever been asked to raise for a special purpose.
– We are now raising taxation other than through the Customs for the purpose of making the per capita payments. Let us consider the bounties which have been paid in the past to stimulate industries. Much of the money paid in this way has been spent exclusively in one State. In the case of the iron and steel bounty, the total amount paid was £667,000, and of this amount £664,000 was spent in New South Wales, and the balance in Victoria. In the case of the meat export bounty, the total expenditure has been £263,000, and of this amount £227,000 went to Queensland. In the case of the canned fruit bounty, £70,000 out of a total expenditure of £120,000 went to Victoria. In the case of the cotton bounty, practically the whole of the money will go to Queensland. In the case of the wine export bounty, of a total amount paid of £245,000, £150,000 went to South Australia. In connexion with these payments, no one has ever suggested that the money should be allocated on a population basis to the State in which it is collected. It is spent as it ought to be, as the need arises, and in the States in which the assisted industries are carried on. There is another example in the expenditure on the River Murray Waters scheme. The money is provided by the whole of the people of all the States of Australia, and yet the whole of it is spent in three States. None of the other States have ever grumbled on that account, because it is a national work. No one will contend that every shilling collected in a particular State should be spent in that State. Let us examine the position as regards Federal establishments, and we shall find that, although people in Victoria at this time grumble about the proposed expenditure from Federal sources in the other States^ the Federal expenditure on this account has been greater in Victoria than in any of the other States of the Commonwealth. In the case of munition factories, £700,000 of capital is invested in New South Wales, £1,371,000 in Victoria, £126,000 in Queensland, £4,000 in South Australia, and nothing in the other States. These are national services, and if interstate and main roads are not also national services, I do not knew what a national service is. The right honorable member for Balaclava admitted that there should be something spent on interstate roads, and it is refreshing to find from the last report on the federal aid roads system in the United States of America, that, instead of the States becoming almsmen of the Federal Government as the result of the Federal and road grants, they have, under the system, been placed in a position in which some do not need Federal assistance at all.
– The honorable gentleman has said that they are to receive 600,000,000 dollars this year.
– The value of good roads is appreciated, and an efficient system of road construction enables produce to be transported quickly, and cuts production cost, and it is found to be worth the while of America to make provision for the construction of decent roads throughout the country. Two years ago I visited a place called Yuma, in the southern part of Arizona, where Dr. Elwood Meade carried out irrigation works. Four or five years ago the place was a desert, worse than any dry part of Australia, but to-day there are 54 miles of concrete roads in that area, and these roads provide the producers with direct communication with the railways, and with transport almost as speedy as if they had spur lines of railway construction. This is what is said in the report of Thomas H. McDonald, Chief of the Bureau of Public Roads -
With the impetus Federal aid has given to road building throughout the States, there are a few that have gotten to the point where they could well afford to forego the privilege of receiving further funds. While these States could forego this privilege, the Federal Government could not, for, if it expects at any time in the reasonably near future, to have a complete system of national highways, it must offer to all the States sufficient inducement in the form of financial aid to get them to improve interstate highways in preference to unimportant local highways.
That is the policy which the Minister for Works and Railways outlined in this
House. There is a Pacific highway from. Vancouver right down to Los Angeles.
– And into Mexico.
– Yes, it extends into three different countries. In America the necessity for the creation of arteries for traffic is appreciated. The argument as to the value of good roads needs no further elaboration. In Canada it is admitted that the difference between an ordinary earth road and a macadamized road, as regardshaulage, amounts to 6d. per ton mile. In four years, from 1920, they spent £5,000,000 on road construction, and it is estimated that the expenditure is worth £1,000,000 a year in the extra loads which can be hauled and the shorter time occupied in transporting products to the railway station. As to the views of the Government regarding the people who should contribute to the cost of construction and maintenance of main roads, there are three classes of persons who should contribute. For a start, there is the land-owner.
– Hear, hear !
– He should contribute, but I remind the honorable member that he has been carrying the whole burden of the expenditure up to the present time. In New South Wales, in 1923-24, the land-owners found £3,320,000. It is only within the last three or four years that the State Government has devoted for the purpose of road construction some of the revenue collected in motor fees, and it spent in 1923-24 £400,000 or £500,000 from this source for this purpose.
– The land-owner has had a very good return for the expenditure he has been called upon to meet.
– He will get a better return, and so will every one else if good roads are made.
– He should be asked to contribute more than he does.
– I am aware that the honorable member and the Leader of the Opposition believe that an increased land tax should be imposed. I disagree with them. I consider that there is already a very substantial land tax imposed. The Government of New South Wales gave up its land tax to local authorities at the inception of local government, because they knew that good roads and easy means of transport were necessary to assist the pioneers and settlers of the country, and could not be paid for twice by the land-owner. The second class of persons who should contribute towards road construction and maintenance are the road users. They should pay their proper share. Since motor traffic came into being within the last ten years in every country, the volume of road traffic has increased 500 per cent. That is not a result of the activity of the land-owners. It is due to the fact that with motor transport it is possible to run 200 or 300 miles a day, when with horsedrawn vehicles it is not possible to run more than 50 or 60 miles a day. The third class of persons who should contribute is the general public, who, as a result of improved roads, will enjoy the advantage of a lower cost of living, by reason of the fact that production and distribution costs can be reduced. The Commonwealth scheme provides that all these classes shall contribute what the Government considers a fair share of the cost of the scheme. Throughout Australia between £12,000,000 and £14,000,000 is being spent in road construction and maintenance in the different States each year. The amount proposed to be provided by the Commonwealth is £2,000,000. Ail that the motor user is being asked to pay of this new taxation is £1,500,000, which with his State taxes make only about 20 per cent. of the total expenditure upon road construction in Australia. I have said that the advent of the motor car has increased the volume of traffic on roads 500 per cent., and there can be no question that the road users will benefit most from the construction of good roads. They will save money, first of all on the wear and tear of their cars. They will save in repairs to metal parts of cars rendered necessary by continual shocks. Less petrol will be necessary on smooth roads, because a rough road means a continual loss of driving power. With good roads there will be tremendous decrease in the loss on tires.In America there is a guarantee of 12,000 miles for the life of a tire, but in Australia it is very difficult to get a similar guarantee.
– In America the cost for tires has been reduced enormously.
– That is so. In
America there are 20,000,000 cars, and one in six of the population owns a car. Their use is practically universal there, and yet the people accept increased taxation on car requisites in order to get better roads. In Massachusetts 70 per cent. of the cost of roadconstruction is paid from motor taxation; in New York 40 per cent., and the average for the whole of the States is 30 per cent.
– In America the people pay no taxation in duties on tires, chassis, and oil.
– There is all the more reason here why, by the construction of good roads, we should reduce the cost for petrol and tires in the running of cars. The savings in this way in Australia should be proportionately greater than in America, because of the greater cost of these things in this country.
I should like now to examine the attitude of the Opposition to this proposal. Three years ago honorable members opposite favoured the roads policy of the Government. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) complained bitterly that the amount the Government proposed to expend in this way was not larger. He said he could use the whole of the proposed grant in his own electorate. Every one of them urged the Government to bring down the grant to lessen unemployment. I cannot account for their change of view. When they went to the country it was in support of “ a progressive and continuous road policy.” This is what the Leader of the Opposition stoodfor in his policy speech : -
Assistance and encouragement in the construction of railways, main mads, and in the developmentof the nearest ports as a means of bringing producers in touch with their natural markets by the shortest and quickest routes.
There is no mention there of constitutional difficulties. The honorable gentleman said, further, under the heading of “Roads”: -
The necessity for improving the roads in Australia is apparent to everybody. The Labour party is fully seized with the importance of this matter in the development of the country. Primary producers living some distance from the railway lines should be provided with proper roads as feeders to the railways. The Labour party will, if elected, take the necessary action to carry out a liberal and continuous scheme for the construction of roads, in co-operation with the State Governments.
A liberal and continuous scheme is what they suggested. Yet the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) got up here and said they do not want a liberal and continuous scheme, and that they believe in building roads only out of Federal surpluses. What is the position with regard to Federal surpluses during the last sixteen years? There have been eight deficits during those years. The honorable member does not suggest a roads policy to secure continuous employment. He says, “ Let us carry out a spasmodic policy, and construct roads only when we have a Federal surplus.”.
– Not at all.
– That is the effect of the honorable member’s statement. The Government brings down a continuous roads policy to cover ten years, which will meet the difficulty of seasonal unemployment that arises in Australia through the great variety of ourcrops.
– A liberal and continuous scheme of misrepresentation.
– Honorable members opposite, having run away from their election pledges and past utterances, are seeking a means to cover their shame.
Several honorable members interject- ing,
– Order ! I ask honorable members to hear the Treasurer in silence.
– Why does he not keep to the truth?
– I ask the honorable member for Yarra to withdraw that statement.
– Iwithdraw it, but I ask the Treasurer to quote my words, and not mislead the House by his interpretation of them.
– The honorable member said that he would build these roads out of surplus.
– I rise to a point of order. The Treasurer is misrepresenting what I have said.
– The honorable member may not correct a misrepresentation by rising to a point of order while another honorable member is speaking.
– I challenge the Treasurer to find those words in my speech.
– If I am unable to find that statement in the honorable member’s speech, I shall withdraw what
I said, but the Leader of the Opposition certainly said that the money should be found out of the surplus, which means that the general public would pay the whole of the Federal Government’s contribution for roads. That means that the general public pays all. We say that the motorist should pay his fair share of the cost of constructing roads, as he does in other countries. Ever since 1909, a roads fund has been in existence in Great Britain, the Government of which last year collected from motorists about £18,056,000. In fact, I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was charged with having raided the funds to the amount of £7,000,000 in order to balance his last budget. The Government has put before the States, the House, and the country a definite and continuous policy. It is objected that the improved roads will permit of competition with the railways. It is high time that the railways, which are a State monopoly, experienced some competition. Competition is good for everybody, and only when the railways are subjected to it shall we get improved services and cheaper rates. But competition must be fair ; the railways must not be expected to bear the burden of heavy capital cost and maintenance, while their competitors, the motorists, use the roads without payment. The honorable member for Yarra said that the Federal land tax should be retained, in order to enable the road grants to be paid. I have already pointed out that the greater part of the present cost of road construction is paid by the land-owner. The time has come for the road user to pay his share, and to that proposal there is no real opposition from the genuine motorist. It is said that a certain amount of money is being found by the States for road construction out of loan. At the conference with the. State representatives, Commonwealth Ministers tried to reduce the loan expenditure to a minimum, and undertook that there would be incorporated in its scheme a 3 per cent. sinking fund, which would ensure that by the time the road was worn out, its capital cost would be repaid. That is the next best alternative to the building of the roads from revenue only.
The oil companies have raised some objection to this scheme. At first, they said their opposition was prompted entirely by their sympathy for the motorist. Subsequently, following a speech I made, they said that, although they were opposed to the Commonwealth duty of 2d. per gallon on petrol, they were heartily in favour of the State tax of 3d. per gallon. They threw aside the hypercritical mask of sympathy with the motorist, and said that they were opposed to the Commonwealth proposal because it did not provide for an excise duty.
-Order ! The Treasurer’s time has expired.
– I move -
That the Treasurer be granted an extension of time.
– I object. The Treasurer is the third Minister who has spoken on this subject, and an extension of time is not granted to private members.
– An extension of time can be granted only by the unanimous consent of the House, and as there is an objection, the Treasurer may not proceed.
.- Much of what I had proposed to say has already been said much better than I could say it by the honorable member for Balaclava. But I wish to deal with it few points of this very controversial subject. The Treasurer said that this proposal is similar to the roads policy proposed by the Government in 1923, but I submit that that is not so, and, if the Attorney-General is correct, this proposal is decidedly different from the earlier one. The Treasurer contends that those who supported the original policy cannot consistently oppose this bill. The Attorney-General, on the other hand, says that one could oppose the other policy and consistently support this one. Whichever statement is right, there is evidence of glaring inconsistency on the part of somebody. No section of the community objects to the allocation of £5,000,000 of the proposed total of £20,000,000. Most cf the objection has been to the manner in which the remaining £15,000,000 is to be collected. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer referred to the River Murray Waters Scheme, Commonwealth railways, and other works upon which money collected from the whole of the people has been expended without regard to State boundaries. The analogies they em ployed were false. To spend upon the whole of the people, irrespective of State bounties, money collected from the whole of the people, is one thing; to expend upon the whole of the people money raised by a specific tax upon one section of the community, is quite a different thing. The tax on motors is definitely a class tax. The motorist has been taxed ever since he first appeared on the road. In the old days the motor car was regarded as a luxury; the man who drove a motor car was considered to be exhibiting the hall-mark of plutocracy, and he was fair game for the taxgatherer. That stage has passed; to-day the motor car is an absolute necessity.
– And so are good roads. The motor car is of little value if it can be used only six months of the year.
– The policy enunciated by the Minister when introducing this bill is very different from that declared by the Prime Minister a few days ago and the Treasurer this afternoon. In the first place the Government proposed to impose duties of 2d. per gallon on all petrol, irrespective of the manner in which it is used; 2£ per cent on chassis, and 6d. per lb. on imported tires. Ministers vigorously denounced all those who criticized the new taxation, and boldly declared that they would stand to their guns. To-day they propose to remove the duties on imported tires and chassis, and to exempt petrol not used on the roads: all that is left of their original scheme is the tax oh imported petrol used by road vehicles. God knows what their proposals will be to-morrow, but the rate at which they are retreating gives me hope that presently they will abandon this taxation entirely. In the course of an impassioned speech, to which I listened with interest, the Prime Minister declared that evidence had been brought forward that petrol was used for other purposes than travelling on the roads. Having made that startling discovery, the Government readily agreed not to tax petrol so used. It knew very well before the bill was introduced that millions of gallons of petrol consumed annually are not used on any roads. The Treasurer has affirmed on the platform and in the House the principle that those who use the roads should pay for them. This loudly proclaimed formula sounds well, and one can imagine the loud cheers with which it was received. But, having laid down that principle of taxation, the Government has made modifications of its scheme which will permit those who own chassis imported before these duties were imposed, those who use locally-made tires, and those who buy Commonwealth Oil Refineries spirit, to use the roads without paying any tax. Never did a government make a more ridiculous showing than has this Ministry in connexion with this unfortunate roads proposal. But one must pay a tribute to the pliability of Ministers. They abused their unfortunate critics, and said they would stand to their proposals with a firmness that would make the rock of Gibraltar seem a mere jelly, but saying they’d ne’er consent, consented.
– I have a recollection that the honorable member was once a member of the Ministry.
– I was a member of the Government that introduced a roads policy which, according to the Attorney-General, was totally different in principle from the present proposal. I shall now deal with the speech of. the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), which has been well described as an extraordinary outburst. It was loudly cheered, but, to me, it was one of the best red herrings drawn across the trail that I have seen in the Parliament. He waxed eloquent about the evils and rapacity of the nil importing companies. One could have imagined when listening to him that the Leader of the Opposition was speaking. I have never before heard such an impassioned and eloquent denunciation of the octopus qf vested interests sucking the life-blood of the people of Australia. One wondered what evidence the Prime Minister possessed which led him to denounce the oil interests in such unmeasured terms, and whether the best way to deal with them was under a bill giving effect to a roads policy. He made strong comments on, and definite charges against, the oil importing companies. I hold no brief for those companies in any way. The manager of one of them replied through the press to the charges made by the Prime Minister. I do not know the man, but I read his letter and also a statement in the press that the Prime Minister’s attention had been drawn to it, but that he had no comment to make. One of the charges made so dramatically by the Prime Minister was that the oil importing companies employed Chinese or coolie labour, the inference being, of course, that such labour was not employed by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, otherwise there would be no point in the charge. The letter that I have referred to appeared in the Argus of yesterday’s date, and reads -
Many of the statements made by the Prime Minister on Tuesday night, in the House of Representatives, are demonstrably incorrect, one allegation particularly so, namely, that the British Imperial Oil Company employs Chinese or coolie labour. There is absolutely ‘ no foundation for an attack of this kind on a company which has always prided itself ‘on its standard of employment. Every employee of the company is a white man, and, to the best of my belief, an Australian, or some other British subject.
I do not know if that statement is true.
– I think that paragraph refers to the Australian branch of the company.
– The letter continues -
Tt is obvious that, in Asiatic countries, from which both Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and the British Imperial Oil Company draw their supplies of oil, a fair quantity of coolie labour must certainly be employed.
If the crude oil that is imported by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, has been produced by white labour, then the Prime Minister was justified in making his charge; but if the facts are a3 stated in the letter, then his charge was certainly not justified. The Prime Minister should prove his case or withdraw his statement.
– Is not the spirit sold by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited distilled within Australia, whereas the spirit of other companies is distilled elsewhere, by labour other than white?
– The motive behind the Prime Minister’s charge was to obtain support for the Government’s unfortunate roads policy. The inference was that one company employed coolie labour and the other white labour. The Prime Minister’s second charge against the British Imperial Oil Company .was that it was a foreign company, although trading under a British name. In reply to that, the letter states: -
I thought that this matter had been cleared up once and for all in my letter to the Prime Minister of the 28th May, in which I stated that the Shell Transport and Trading Company Limited “ is, and always has been a British company, owned by British shareholders and controlled by British directors.” It seems necessary also that I should once again remind Mr. Bruce of the following statement made by Mr. Hughes, when Prime Minister, in the House of Representatives, on the 18th July, 1917, following a specific inquiry regarding the constitution of the British Imperial Oil Company Limited : - “ Certain information has been received from the British Government in reply to our inquiries relating to this company, to theeffect that the British Imperial Oil Company was a British company, and there were no reasons why it should not be treated as such.” If Mr. Bruce is still doubtful on this point, I would invite him now to make a similar inquiry of His Majesty’s Government.
– The honorable member knows that the British Imperial Oil Company is a foreign company. He is standing up for a foreign company as against an Australian company, and attempting to throw dust in the eyes of other honorable members.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) has accused the honorable member for Wimmera of standing up for a foreign company, and attempting to throw dust in our eyes. I think that the statement should be withdrawn.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir Littleton
Groom). - Because of the noise in the chamber it was impossible to hear what the honorable member for Maranoa said. If he has said anything offensive to the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr, Stewart), I ask him to withdraw it.
– If I did, I withdraw my statement, but the honorable member for Wimmera is actually standing up for a foreign company as against an Australian company.
– The honorable member must withdraw unconditionally.
– I withdraw unconditionally.
– I am not speaking for the British Imperial Oil Company, because I know nothing about it, but I heard the speech by the Prime Minister, and I read the letter in the press which he refused to comment upon. He should reiterate his charge, and prove it, or else withdraw it. The Prime Minister has made dire and mysterious threats against the oil companies if they pass the tax on to the public. Here again we have evidence of the extraordinary confusion in which the Government finds itself. The Treasurer has said that those who use the roads should pay for them, and the Prime Minister has said that the importing oil companies, and not the road users, should pay for them. It has been said that the States agreed to the Government’s proposal. The inference is certainly that the States were willing partners to it. But I do not think that they were, because they were not acquainted with all the facts. When a representative of a State has agreed to a proposal he should certainly attempt to carry out his contract. If we are to have repudiation between government and government in this country, where shall we end ? I am gladt hat the Government has seen fit to review its policy. Honorable members know the value of good roads. America has been quoted as an example, and the interjection by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) was pertinent. He said that the heavy taxation of American motorists was more easily borne by them as motor cars, motor tires, and petrol were much cheaper there than in Australia. The reply of the honorable the Treasurer had but little point in it. I venture to predict that if the Government would reduce all tires, chassis, and other parts of . motor cars to the American price level, no motorist in Australia would object to the petrol tax. I have some other comments to make regarding the method of taxation, but, as another bill will be brought down to deal with that, I shall reserve those remarks for the present.
. -There has been much talk to no purpose in this debate. Almost all, if not all, honorable members believe that good roads are a national necessity. At any rate, honorable members on this side of the House, during the Federal election, lauded the Government for proposing this scheme, which it was thought would provide for continuity, and would set up machinery for making roads efficiently. There is no dispute as to the need for good roads; we all want them. But the question is, how to provide for them. It was felt that if it could be done out of the ever-increasing revenue of the Commonwealth Government, that would be the next best thing to lowering the tariff. Those who are taxed by the tariff felt that this .would be a means of getting some return for their money. The right honorable the Prime Minister said that the money would be collected from the users of the .roads; but he’ also said something else. He said that the new duties were in no way related to the protection policy, but were purely revenue duties, imposed for a specific purpose. It is clear, therefore, that the people were told that the users of the roads would have to find the money required for the scheme. I should say that the Government’s proposals, to that extent, are fairly equitable, and, at any rate, the Government is justified in endeavouring to carry out a policy put forward by the Prime Minister at the last election. It was clearly shown by the last speaker - and I think I have shown it also - that discrimination in taxation for the purpose is now proposed, and it is that discrimination which is resented as an injustice. I am surprised that the Prime Minister should lend himself to it. At present only a small percentage of the C.O.R. spirit is used in this country, although the. percentage may increase later. About 94 per cent, of the petrol used in this country and only 35 per cent, of the tires are imported; but the local article is not to pay anything for the roads. There has been much argument to try to demonstrate that some honorable members do not believe in good roads. The truth is that we are all anxious for good roads. The contention that good roads are necessary to save wear on cars and tires is unarguable; it is beside the question. I should like to see the Government act in strict accordance with the promise made to the electors. I am glad that it has somewhat modified the scheme. If the money is raised by taxing the users of the roads, the imposition should be made as light as possible, and distributed over all road users.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Parker Moloney) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or request.
States Loan Bill. Shale Oil Bounty Bill. Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Bill. Customs Tariff (New Zealand Preference) Bill.
– I move -
That the HoUse at its rising adjourn until Monday next, at 3 o’clock p.m.
As honorable members know, the referendum campaign has to be commenced shortly, and I assume that it is the desire of all honorable members that the remaining business shall be disposed of as soon as possible, so that they may return to their constituencies. The business still to be taken is the Federal Aid Roads Bill, the Customs duties - which have already been introduced - the Cotton Bounty Bill, the Estimates, and the Income Tax Rates Bill, which is passed every year to fix income tax rates. There will be no alteration in the rates. The Imperial Conference agenda-paper is still on the businesssheet. The Government may have to bring down a bill of considerable importance, the nature of which I cannot indicate at the moment, and possibly, also, a small amending bill will be introduced. Those are the only matters it is proposed to proceed with.
.- I do not object to this House meeting on Monday next, but I am sorry that the Prime Minister did not tell honorable members definitely during the week that it would meet on Monday. It was certainly indicated in a tentative way.
– I am sorry if I did not make my intention clear to the honorable member. I made a statement which I thought was quite definite.
– On one or two occasions I endeavoured to obtain definite information, but I could not do so. I told the members of my party that there was a possibility of the House sitting on Monday, but on possibilities it is not easy for honorable members to arrange their affairs. I hope that, if there is any pressure of business next week, we shall sit all day rather than try to rush the business through during all-night sittings, when it is not possible for honorable members to do justice to their constituents.
– At what time will the House meet on other days than Monday next week?
– The House will meet at 3 o’clock on Monday, in the terms of the motion I have just submitted, and in ordinary circumstances will meet at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, and at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. When I have had an opportunity of seeing how business is progressing, and ascertaining the arrangement most convenient to honorable members, I shall give consideration to the suggestion of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Duties on Tires and Chassis.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do new adjourn.
.- The Treasurer has announced that the duties on tires and chassis will be withdrawn. That is really an announcement of a tariff amendment. Will it be followed immediately by amending the tariff schedule that has been tabled? I realize that withdrawing duties is different from imposing new or increasing existing duties, but it is important, when changes in the tariff are announced, that the schedule should be altered immediately, for otherwise the conduct of business is hampered. It is well known that the delay in considering the last tariff schedule, caused by the intervention of the election, ‘ had a serious effect on many businesses in this country. Chassis may be in bond to-day, and, ordinarily, would be released on Monday. I ask for an assurance that the amended schedule will be brought down at once.
– I appreciate the point raised by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), but no practical difficulty is likely to arise. It is a different matter when increases are being made. The announcement of increases must be made after the Customs Houses have closed, and the amended schedule must be placed on the table of this House before they open next day. The object of that procedure is to prevent withdrawals from bond. In the case of a decrease of duty, goods may be taken out of bond as soon as the announcement of the decrease is made, with confidence that refunds will be made of any duty that may have been paid. I shall look into the practical side of the matter, and, if there is likely to be any interference with business, I shall probably take action as soon as the House meets on Monday; but, if there is no practical difficulty, it will probably be preferable for the matter to be dealtwith in the ordinary way.
– What of duties that may have been collected on chassis and tires?
– They will all be refunded.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 August 1926, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1926/19260806_reps_10_114/>.