10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr.JACKSON.- I should like to know from the Minister representing the Minister for Defence if it is the intention of the Government to call tenders at an early date for an air service to Tasmania ; and, if not, when consideration will be given to the matter.
– The Government has the proposed air service to Tasmania and other projected services under consideration at the present moment.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether his attention has been directed to the allegation that American firms, such as General Motors Limited, and Messrs. Dodge Brothers, are greatly hindering, and almost ruining, Australian manufacturers of spare parts for motor cars by prohibiting their Australian agents from selling or using Australian-made spare parts? If so, will he take steps to put an end to such unscrupulous tactics in restraint of legitimate Australian trade? The New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures has requested me to submit this complaint to the Minister. It claims that, because of the unfair tactics referred to, Australian firms arc being forced to the wall.
– My attention has not hitherto been drawn to the position as outlined and alleged by the honorable member, and I shall be very surprised, in view of the written and public professions of the firms montioned, that they are anxious to stimulate the development of manufacture within the Commonwealth, if the allegations are found to be true. However, if my honorable friend will put his question on the notice-paper, I shall have full inquiries made. I may add that it is the sincere desire of the Government, and, I believe, of the Parliament, that Australia should develop as rapidly as possible the manufacture of her own motor cars.
– In order to retain Australia, as far as possible, for the British race, will thePrime Minister take into consideration the advisability of appointing a select committee to inquire into an organization that apparently exists in this country for the purpose of bringing Italians and Greeks to Australia in largo numbers, and also into the allegation that the men so brought here have to work for years to repay the money spent on their introduction hero?
– The Government keeps a watchful eye on the immigration of foreigners, and action it has taken has had practical results, as a comparison of the immigration figures for the last two years with those for earlier years will indicate. I see no need for the appointment of a select committee.
– On the 2nd instant, I asked the Prime Minister if he could say what the New South Wales Government proposed to do in connexion with the construction of a bridge across the Clarence River, on the Grafton to South Brisbane railway, and he promised to get into touch with the State Government to see what it proposed to do. I should like to know now if he has had any reply, and, if so, what its nature is.
– After the honorable member asked his question, the matter was investigated, and as there was no satisfactory indication as to when the bridge is likely to be completed, the Government communicated on the subject with the Government of New South Wales. No reply to that communication has yet been received.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs let me have early next week a reply to my question, by which I have sought to ascertain the extent of Australia’s export of goods manufactured by her secondary industries?
– I hope to let the honorable member have the information on our next sitting day, or as much as will then be available.
– I ask the Prime Minister if it is a fact that secret departmental inquiries are being instituted to facilitate preparations for the raising of troops for service in China should they be required there?
– There is no truth in the suggestion.
– Can the Minister for Works and Railways say whether New South Wales has yet signed the Roads Agreement with the Commonwealth?
– It has not done so.
– I ask the Prime Min ister if negotiations are proceeding between Great Britain, the United States of America, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, with a view to a further conference for securing peace in the Pacific.
– Beyond the activities of the League of Nations, nothing is being done by the group of powers referred to by the honorable member. Of course, there is the proposal of President Coolidge for the discussion of the further reduction of naval armament as a corollary to what was accomplished at the W ashington Conference.
– Will the Prime Minister be able to make an early announcement to the House regarding the appointment of a successor to Sir Joseph Cook as High Commissioner in London?
– I hope that it will be possible to make an announcement.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What was the amount paid as child endow ment by the Commonwealth Government in each yearduring the last five years?
– In reply to the honorable member’s question, the Commonwealth Public Service Board furnishes the following information : -
The amount paid to permanent officers in departments under the Commonwealth Public Service Act as child endowment in each year during thelast five years was as under: -
The figures m relation to child endowment paid to temporary and exempt employees cannot be made available without exhaustive research in all departments. It is estimated, however, that the amount expended under this heading for the year ended 30th June, 1926, was approximately £50,000. The above particulars, as indicated, do not include payments to persons employed under acts other than the Public Service Act, but if this information is specially desired, I will have it compiled and furnished as early as possible.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Has the increased duty on petrol imposed by the last tariff increased the retail selling price ruling at the time of the passing of that tariff?
– The information is being obtained.
The following papers were presented : -
Inscribed Stock Act - Dealings and Transactions during the year ended 30th June, 1926.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at Sherwood, Queensland - For Defence purposes.
Consideration of Senate’s message (vide page 110).
Motion (by Mr. Bruce)proposed -
That the House of Representatives agrees to the appointment of a joint committee to inquire into and report on the moving picture industry in Australia.
That Mr. Forde, Mr. Gregory, Mr. Marks, and Dr. Nott be appointed to serve on such committee with three senators appointed by the Senate.
That the committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, to move from place to place, to sit during any adjournment of the Parliament, and to report the Minutes of Evidence from time to time.
That one member of the House of Representatives, sitting with three other members of the committee, shall constitutea quorum, provided that in such quorum both Houses shall be represented.
That the time and place of the first meeting of the committee shall be 10.30 o’clock a.m. on Wednesday, 16th March, 1927, in the Senate Committee Room.
That the foregoing resolutions be communicated to the Senate by message.
– I have no objection to the proposed commission, because some inquiry into the moving picture industry is undoubtedly necessary. Moving pictures play a prominent part in the amusement of the people, and we should do everything possible to establish the industry in Australia and ensure wholesome programmes. This motion, however, provides a fitting opportunity to protest against the allocation of representation on commissions and committees. In all such appointments, the Country party hitherto has been given equal representation with the opposition, although our numerical strength is twice as great. The Country party members share equally with the Opposition all positions within the gift of the House, and of their total strength of twelve, eleven occupy positions as Ministers of the Crown or as members of committees.
– They have a very good look in.
– They are having more than a fair look in. It is time we frankly recognized the fact that a composite ministry is in power, and that for all practical purposes there is only one ministerial party. The Country party returned from the general election with fourteen members. To adopt the metaphor of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks), the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) was in the position of first mate of the ship, and when he saw that the captain was steering the vessel to destruction, he rightly adopted a policy of “ Safety first “ and deserted. That reduced the strength of the party to thirteen. The second mate was the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson), who held a portfolio in the Ministry. Being a keen and cute observer of political currents and weather, he, too, decided to leave the doomed ship. Today the party numbers only twelve.
– Has not the honorable member for Swan left the party?
– He must speak for himself. If he has not already left the party, he appears to be about to do so. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) seems to be in the same position. Of those remaining, four are Ministers of the Crown ; the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) is on the National Insurance Commission ; the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) was until recently a member of the Works Committee, and is now to be appointed to the proposed select committee on the moving picture industry - I have no word to say against him, because he always does his work well; the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) is still a member of the Public Works Committee; the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) is a Government Whip; and the honorable members for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) and Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) are members of the Public Accounts Committee. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) has been, until recently, a member of the Electoral Committee. The only member of the party who is without a job is the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killeen) ; probably he can supply the reason for that.
– These appointments prove that members of the Country party possess the brains.
– They do not signify brains so much as cheek, and the readiness of the Government to make great concessions to Country party members in order to be sure of their support. The Country party exercises an influence and enjoys advantages quite out of proportion to its numbers. Excluding the honorable members for Wimmera and Fremantle, who are independents, the composite Ministerial party numbers 50, and it has three representatives on each committee. That is equivalent to one representative for every seventeen members. The Opposition, with 23 members is allowed only one representative. Will any honorable member say that it is fair that twelve Country party members should have the same representation as 23 members of the Opposition? One can understand the Ministry going astray as it has done in connexion with the States Grants Bill when the Country party has so much influence in its counsels. I protest against the inequality of party representation on all committees, and I ask the Prime Minister, when proposing future appointments, to bear in mind the facts I have stated this morning. It is time that the House recognized that there is only one ministerial party, and it should not be divided into two sections in order to get double representation on committees.
.- I am sorry that the Prime Minister did not indicate what the functions of the committee are to be. The public and the press repeatedly affirm that glaring anomalies and injustices exist in connexion with the moving picture industry, and that these could and should be rectified without delay, but if there is to be inquiry into the industry, it should be adequate. The motion submitted in another placeproposed the appointing of a royal commission, and I ask the Prime Minister why a select committee has been substituted. The moving picture industry would regard a royal commission with greater satisfaction and confidence than a select committee, whose powers and jurisdiction are seriously limited. The importance of this industry, which is the subject of pages of criticism and comment in the press, and enters very largely into the social life of the community, warrants the fullest inquiry by a body with authority to compel the attendance of witnesses and to inquire into the various ramifications of the industry. T understand that a royal commission can compel witnesses to attend, and punish them for refusal to give evidence. A select committee, I assume, can only invite evidence,, and its powers are regulated by parliamentary practice, and not by statute. Another objection to the motion is its vagueness. The committee is to “inquire into and report on the moving picture industry in Australia.” What does that mean? The Prime Minister ought to have told the House what will be the scope of the investigation. Is this to be a fishing excursion throughout Australia for the purpose of picking up odd scraps of information here and there, without any direction from the Govern^ ment? Surely the Ministry has the courage and capacity to direct this inquiry into channels in which it thinks investigation is necessary. The vagueness of the motion will permit of a “ Kathleen Mavourneen “ inquiry, as has happened with other commissions and committees, and we shall be waiting for years for a report. If action is desirable, it should be expedited, and the Government should take the responsibility of telling the committee what it is to do. Without such a direction, the committee may travel anywhere, and it is within the bounds of possibility that we shall hear of some of its members amongst the film beauties of Hollywood, or in England. As a matter of fact, only at those places can evidence be secured as to the ability of the British film industry to compete with the American producers of pictures.
– They can do it if the American strangle-hold is released.
– That may be, but we must have an adequate inquiry. Moreover, I object to an inquiry by members of Parliament only. The scope of the industry is so vast, and its ramifications so intricate, that an investigation, to be effective, .should extend to its social and economic aspects, and other facts which have been the subject of criticism in the State
Parliaments. The general public should be represented, and the assistance of -financial experts should be sought in the elucidation of some of the complex issues. An inquiry of this kind will be limited by the Constitution. The Commonwealth Parliament has no power to regulate moving pictures, except through the Customs Department and the censorship. We cannot prescribe a quota, because we have no authority to legislate on the subject, and there are various other phases of the industry over which we have no control. Therefore, this matter is an appropriate subject for discussion with representatives of State governments, either at a premiers’ conference or at a special conference, with a view to the appointment of a royal commission to examine thoroughly into the motion picture industry in Australia.
– This subject was discussed at the Imperial Conference.
– That is so; and yet it is dismissed in a bald resolution in this House without any facts being submitted to honorable members.
– What could a royal commission do that a select committee could not?
– I have already pointed out that a select committee is necessarily limited in its authority and operation.
– That point was raised in another chamber. If the Government finds that the committee is being flouted, and that evidence is not forthcoming, it can turn the inquiry into a royal commission.
– Why not do it now* Specific instructions as to the scope of the inquiry should be given, especially as this subject was considered of sufficient importance to be discussed at the Imperial Conference. I am anxious to see an increased Empire production of films. I regret that the British Government, which should carry the responsibility of fostering and encouraging film production in Great Britain, has done nothing more than carry pious resolutions, which means nothing at all. The initiative should come from that Government. It has been pointed out in another place that, even if the films be as bad as they are said to be, the time has come in Australia when we should do something to censor the legitimate stage, or as it might now be called, the illegitimate stage, judging by the character of the plays produced. I refer to such plays as White Cargo and The Last of Mrs. Chesney. We have read of the stage orgies in New York, and unless we take prompt action, these will assuredly be repeated in Australia. Plays of this description undermine the moral fibre of the community. In my opinion, the spoken obscenity, in its effect upon the community, is infinitely more dangerous than that of the silent film.
– The stage is witty, but smutty.
– That is so; but the wit is obscured by the smut.
– And the smut is commended by the wit.
– Instead of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) suppressing working-class literature, such as books on economics and political philosophy, which all should be free to read, and which are infinitely more valuable from an intellectual stand-point than the filth that is spoken from the stage, he would have been better advised to try to prevent certain plays from coming into this country. I regret that the Government has refused to appoint a royal commission. I also regret its lack of foresight, judgment, or courage, as a section of the press has said, in not giving specific directions to the committee as to the scope of its inquiry. I would welcome any investigation that promised to be productive of good results ; but I am afraid that the inquiry, in its present form, cannot bo very effective. As this subject was sufficiently important to be considered at the Imperial Conference, surely it _ is worthy of discussion at a conference with State Ministers.
.- The Government’s proposal is certainly ague. No instructions’ at all are being given to the select committee as to tho scope of its inquiry. Most honorable members, like myself, attend picture theatres, not for amusement, but for information. But any one who walks down the main streets of Sydney and sees the posters outside the picture theatres must conclude that many of the pictures are worthless from an educational stand-point, and that their effect upon the rising generation must be demoralizing. The youth of our cities have a mad desire for moving pictures, and unwholesome desires are pandered to by the class of picture shown in some theatres. What I condemn iu particular is the liberal use of firearms in moving picture stories, and the bad effect this has on the community. The loss of human life through this cause has been commented on time and again by judges in our criminal courts. We cannot do better than turu this inquiry into a royal- commission. By giving it greater powers we shall make its work more effective. We should all prefer Australian pictures to the abominable foreign importations that are poisoning the minds of our young people. We should insist on a certain proportion of pictures of educational value being shown. The Prime Minister has been absent from Australia for five months, and naturally has many matters in hand, but I believe that he is in sympathy with much that has been said this morning. He will do well to accept the advice of members of this side to place this inquiry in the hands of the royal commission.
. The Government feels that tho film industry, iu all its ramifications, should be given consideration. There are different phases of it and various angles from which it can be viewed. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) dealt with the moral effect on the rising generation of many of the pictures which are being shown, and referred to the fact that this subject had been deemed worthy of consideration by the Imperial Conference. The discussion at the conference was directed not to the display of indecent or other objectionable films, but to the propaganda and influence in other countries when films representing the point of view of one nation were shown almost to the exclusion of all others, and the production of films was also discussed. The motion now under discussion relates really to the importation of films. A few days ago a report of the Commonwealth film censor was laid on the table of the House, and we must all agree that this officer has done very valuable work during the past few years. That information can be made available to the proposed committee. These matters raise other questions than those considered at the Imperial Conference. Exception has been taken to the fact that the proposed inquiry is to be made by a committee of Parliament instead of by a royal commission. From my experience at the Imperial Conference, I say without hesitation that this subject ought to be inquired into by a committee of Parliament. Thi3 is not the time to appoint a royal commission. At the Imperial Conference every representative of the Empire shared the feeling that something should be done in this matter. The British Government took primary responsibility for action. In his opening remarks on the economic side of the conference, Sir Phillip Cunnliffe Lister, the President of the Board of Trade, devoted almost half of his speech to this subject, and we were hopeful that some practical suggestions would be put forward. It is obvious that if the matter is to be dealt with on an Empire basis, which is the only basis on which success can be achieved, the British Government, which is more interested than any other part of the Empire, must take the lead. A committee was appointed, and an investigation was made; but, unfortunately, it became obvious that -the many ramifications and enormous difficulties of the business had not been investigated, and that no practical suggestions were forthcoming. A report was submitted, and it was only because of the ninth paragraph of it that I consented to the Australian representatives signing it. It stated that it was primarily the responsibility of the British Government and the British people to make suggestions. An undertaking was given that the British Government would shoulder the responsibility, and the Dominions pledged themselves to co-operate. When one commences to deal with the film industry, and discovers ‘hat there are difficulties in the way of making reforms, the need for a general inquiry becomes obvious. It is necessary to determine first what these difficulties are.
– Will this inquiry be directed specifically to the control of film importation through the Customs
Department, and the work of the film censor ?
– It will be a committee of this Parliament, and the references to it will be based specifically on the speeches made in another place, where the subject was discussed on the motion of a private member.
– Will the committee be associated in any way with the departmental committee that now inspects films?
– No. There is already a film censor, and the committee will be able to obtain from him all the information he has on the subject.
– I shall in every Wa’ possible facilitate that being done.
– In reply to the suggestion that the committee will not have power to obtain the necessary information, I direct attention to the fact that the motion provides that it shall have power to send for persons, papers, records, and so on; and if any one refuses to attend before the committee or to produce evidence, he or she may be proceeded against for contempt of this Parliament. If that power is not sufficient, and the committee cannot ascertain all the facts, or if any one is flouting the inquiry, Parliament will no doubt take steps to put the matter right. Honorable members need not worry themselves on that point. I was interested when the honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) commenced his remarks, for I thought he was going to suggest that it was proposed to do an injustice to his party by denying it proper representation on the committee; but when I found that he was more concerned about the domestic affairs of the parties on this side of the House, I was less impressed and less interested in what he was sayim?. If he will look at the names of the members of the committees appointed in the past, he will find that strict justice has been done. All the committees to which he referred have been joint committees of the two Houses. I remind him that his party has a very limited representation in another place, and that the personnel of the committees is based on the total number of members of the Parliament in each party. For convenience, at times it is necessary to give more than a fair representation to the honorable gentleman’s party in another place, and to balance it by not giving what he would regard as fair rerepresentation to his followers in this House. Difficulty arises when one seeks to be just on a mathematical basis, owing to the impossibility of dividing an indi.vidual member into parts. We must appoint a whole member; a part of a member would be of no use to a committee. On a mathematical basis two and two-sevenths or two and five-sevenths members of a party might be its proper representation, but it is impossible to place two-sevenths of a member on a committee.
– The Government might give us the benefit of the fraction occasionally.
– If the honorable gentleman will work out the figures carefully, he will find that when his party is entitled to so many members and fivesevenths of a member, and the Government to so many and two-sevenths, a member of his party is appointed.
– That is not so in fact.
– I assure the honorable member that he has no just ground of complaint if he takes into account the fact that the joint committees represent both Houses of this Parliament, and that hie party has a comparatively small number of members in the Senate. The honorable member said at one stage that the Government consisted of one party, but in another breath he said there were three parties in the House. He must surely concede to honorable members on this side the right to conduct their domestic affairs in any way they choose, provided that they do not inflict injustice on him. There is not the slightest ground for complaint that honorable members opposite have not been given fair representation on all parliamentary committees, or will not have fair representation on the one referred to in the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In committee (consideration of Gover aor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation f revenue ho made for the purpose of amend ments to be moved by the Treasurer to a bill for an act to amend the Surplus Revenue Act 19 10, to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund sums for the purposes of financial assistance to States, and for other purposes.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
In committee (consideration of bill resumed from 10th March, vide page 310) :
Clause 1 -
This act may be cited as the States Grants Act 1926.
– I move -
That the figures “ 1926 “ be left out, with » view to insert in lieu thereof “ 1927.”
The effect of that amendment will be to alter the date of the act from 1926 to 1927. The bill was brought down in 1926, but we are now considering it in 1927.
.- I object to the bill being given the title “ States Grants Act.” No one considers that the bill is for the purpose of making grants to the States. We have on the statute-book the Western Australian Grant Act and the Tasmanian Grant Act. In view of the discussion that has taken place on this bill, and the dissatisfaction expressed by many honorable members, it it doubtful whether the title can be justified. If we agree to the title we virtually agree to the provisions of the bill. A more suitable title would be “ the Per Capita Repudiation Act,” for that would truly describe the purpose of it.
– Surely the honorable gentleman would not suggest that this Parliament should style any measure a “ repudiation act.”
– I suggest that it is, in fact, a repudiation act.
– Could we not call it the Decapitation Act?
– There are probably many other titles that would fittingly describe it. It is not usual to debate the title of a bill, but on this occasion we are justified in doing so. I am strongly opposed to any interference with existing conditions, and, therefore, voice my protest at the earliest possible stage. If the committee should agree to the title “ States Grants Act,” it might find it difficult to defeat any other provisions of the measure.
Probably it would be well for the Treasurer to allow the clause to stand over until the remainder of the bill has been considered.
.- I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the title is misleading. It gives the bill an appearance of generosity, whereas the measure in reality takes away something to the removal of which the States greatly object. Its object, as the debate during the last fortnight has shown, is the very reverse of generosity towards the States.
.- Does the Treasurer intend to postpone consideration of the clause in order to avoid complications that may arise later?
– The bill can be recommitted should any complication ensue.
– I have known of cases in which amendments have been successfully challenged because certain clauses have been allowed to pass in the initial stages of a bill. If the title indicated the purpose of the measure, we should not have the Leader of the Nationalist party in Victoria declaring that the bill would have a ruinous effect upon the States. Mr. Lawson, who is the leader of the Prime Minister’s party in Victoria, in his address to the electors last evening in connexion with the State elections, said without equivocation that the withdrawal of the per capita payment would mean ruin, so far as State finances were concerned.
– Does the honorable member intend to discuss the amendment or the title of the bill?
– I ask whether the measure can truthfully be styled “ The States Grants Act.”
– It certainly provides for grants to “Western Australia and Tasmania.
– That shows that the Government is trying to cloud the issue. Those grants were provided for in the bill in order to lassoo the representatives of those particular States.Why not meet the needs of Tasmania and “Western Australia in a special way?
– The bill deals with much more than that. It is another step in the direction of bringing about a position which honorable members resisted throughout yesterday’s debate.
– Of course it is. It would be well to postpone theclause until the committee has discussed the amendment of which the honorable member for Swan has given notice. Often the Minister in charge of a bill agrees to the adoption of such a course, even at the request of one honorable member. The Opposition is pledged to the continuation of the per capita grant, and I must oppose the bill at every stage. The Treasurer has been prompted by the Prime Minister not to comply with the request made to him. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the bill constitutes a repudiation of the grants to the States. If the Ministry does not climb down now, it will probably do so later in order to save the faces of its friends outside.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Sections 4, 5, 6, and 7of the Surplus Revenue Act 1910 are repealed as from the 30th day of June, One thousand nine hundred and twenty-six.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bayley).The honorable member for Swan has given notice of an amendment, and I suggest to the committee that, before he moves it, an amendment be put from the Chair that the word “ twenty-six “ be left out with a view to creating a blank. Otherwise, should the amendment of the honorable member for Swan be defeated, the clause would provide for the repeal of certain sections of the Surplus Revenue Act as from the 30th June, 1926, which would be altogether out of harmony with the title to which the Committee has just agreed.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That the word “twenty-six” be left out.
.- Perhaps, before the amendment is put, I may be permitted to raise a point in regard to clause 6, which may possibly involve an earlier amendment. Under clause 2, sections 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the Surplus Revenue Act 1910 are to be repealed as from the 30th of June, 1927. As that Act contains seven sections, presumably, the first three are to remain. The first deals with the title, and the second with amendments to the Surplus Revenue Act 1908. The third section which is the principal provision to be retained, deals apparently with the cessation of the Braddon provision of the Constitution. Presumably it will be necessary to allow that section to remain on the statute-book, so that the Braddon provision shall not again come into operation. 1 should like to know from the Treasurer whether that is the case. Is it necessary to allow the one operative section of the act of 1910 to remain ?
– That is so.
– There is also a reference in that section to the handing over of portion of the surplus revenues to the States. Provision is made in the present clause to retain section 3 of the act of 1910, and a later clause re-enacts a specific provision relating to surplus revenue. I do not know whether this is the proper time to discuss that matter; but, since it is referred to in section 3 of the act of 1910, portion of which is proposed to be repealed, this may be an opportune moment to raise it.
– If the honorable member desires to move an amendment, it certainly is.
– It seems to me that the enunciation, in a later clause, of the principle that the Commonwealth should hand over any surplus revenue to the States is a farce. Since the early days of the federation, no such revenue has been handed over, and yet the Treasurer proposes to continue the pretence that surplus revenue will be paid to the States. By certain High. Court rulings, given, I think, in 1908, it was laid down that the Commonwealth, in appropriating what would otherwise be surplus revenue, precluded the States from sharing in such revenue. I am sure that the Treasurer has no intention to allow the States to participate in any balance in the Consolidated Revenue ac- count at the end of the financial year.
– There never is one; they are paid into a trust fund.
– Quite so, and thus the Treasurer avoids the necessity of distributing any surplus among the States. The latest report of the Auditor-General, which, I understand, has not yet been printed, contains pointed reference to this subject. That officer does not censure or condemn the practice of the Commonwealth Treasury; he merely calls atten tion to it, obviously for. the purpose of bringing it under the notice of the Parliament. He states -
The Surplus Revenue Act1910 provides that any surplus revenue is to be distributed among the States. In practice, no surplus is shown in the Consolidated Revenue Fund at the end of the financial year, because any remaining credit is transferred to the trust fund under authority of appropriations: made by Parliament.It is thus available for expenditure when required.
– That has been going on for some time.
– Yes, and I raise no objection to the Commonwealth retaining what funds it has, whether there is a credit balance or not, at the end of the financial year. I think that the time has come when the States must recognize that they have lost any claim they may have had to the right to share in a. technical surplus; but I take exception to a continuance of the farce of suggesting that the States arc entitled to share in surplus revenue, when the Treasurer has no intention of permitting them to do so.
-The Constitution provides for it.
– Under section 94 of the Constitution, the matter is left optional; the Commonwealth Parliament “ may “ provide for the distribution of surplus revenue among the States. At any rate, the Treasurer has found a way of evading the obligation, and Parliament appropriates sums which, under the Constitution, would otherwise be surplus revenue. The original intention of the framers of the Constitution was that certain Customs revenue collected within a State should be credited, and certain expenditure debited, to that State, and that any excess of revenue over expenditure should be returned to the State. That was prior to the Commonwealth Parliament imposing uniform duties of Customs. Thereafter, the distribution of surplus Customs revenue was to operate on a different basis. An allusion was also made to the ordinary surpluses which the Commonwealth might have. Since 1908 it has not been convenient for any Federal Treasurer to disclose any surplus in time to enable the States to make a claim on it. At various Treasurers’ conferences since 1915 this matter has been discussed. Mr. James Gardiner, at one time the Treasurer of Western Australia, felt that the
States were suffering grave injustice at the hands of the Commonwealth, which was evading its obligation to hand over certain funds to them. I confess that the majority of the State Treasurers could not feel that they had a very genuine claim against the Commonwealth, because they realized that the Commonwealth accounts would become chaotic if more or less accidental surpluses or balances to its credit at the end of a financial year had to be divided among the States. In preparing their budgets, the States would not be able to take into account the possibility of such windfalls; nor would the Commonwealth Treasurer expect to lose control of such funds. Under the existing arrangement, the Commonwealth Treasurer is given a period of two or three days’ grace after the end of the financial year to settle his accounts. During that period he can ascertain approximately the amount of any surplus, and by transferring it to a trust fund deprive the States of it. Why should the pretence that the States are entitled to the Commonwealth surplus revenues be perpetuated? As there may be some constitutional or other reason for clause 6, which re-enacts section 3 of the Surplus Revenue Act 1910, I should be glad to hear the Treasurer’s explanation.
– Had I at an earlier stage given the information which the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) now seeks, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) might not have persisted in his objection to the title of the Bill. It is obvious, from a study of section 87 of the Constitution and of the first three sections of the Surplus Revenue Act of 1910 that the section which provides for the termination of the Braddon clause should be retained. Section87 of the Constitution reads -
Duringa period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, of the net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of Customs and of excise, not more than one-fourth shall be applied annually by the Commonwealth towards its expenditure.
Thebalance shall, in accordance with this Constitution, be paid to the several States, or applied towards the payment of interest on debts of the several States taken over bythe Commonwealth.
As section 3 of the Surplus Revenue Act of 1910 provides that after the 31st of
December, 1910, section 87 of the Constitution shall cease to have effect, it must be retained. It would be improper to have in a Surplus Revenue Act not merely grants to Western” Australia and Tasmania, for which this Bill provides, but also other grants to all the States. The title Surplus Revenue Act “ was felt to be inappropriate ; consequently a new title - “ States Grants Act “ - was substituted. Although the Bill provides for the repeal of certain sections of the Surplus Revenue Act of 1910, it proposes in clause 6 the reenactment of sections 6 and 7 in a modified form. That is necessary, because section 94 of the Constitution provides -
After five years from the imposition of uniform duties of Customs the Parliament may provide, on such basis as it deems fair, for the monthly payment to the several States of all surplus revenue of the Commonwealth.
– Is that mandatory; is “ may “ to be read as “ shall “ ?
– Yes. I suggest to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) that to refer to the Government’s action as an evasion of its obligations is scarcely the correct term to employ. The honorable member agreed that it is necessary for the Commonwealth to make provision for’ its own needs.
– It has gone beyond that.
– Let us consider, for instance, the construction of naval vessels. At a cost of about £7,000,000 two new cruisers and additional submarines are being constructed for the Commonwealth. Surely honorable members will agree that any surplus on current transactions should be applied to paying for those vessels over several years, or the meeting of such obligations as of old-age pensions. Trust funds were constituted in 1908 to enable the Commonwealth to meet such obligations from surplus revenue, instead of by imposing fresh taxation intermittently. Seeing that the Government has acted in a business-like way.I do not think that its conduct should be referred to as an evasion.
– Nevertheless, it is an evasion.
– No. The procedure adopted was not unconstitutional in the eyes of the High Court. It is necessary, however, that there should be legislation setting out the method whereby any surplus which is not appropriated may be divided.
– Has the Treasurer considered whether the constitutional provision regarding surplus revenue makes it mandatory for that revenue to be handed over to the States.
– It would be mandatory were there any surplus as defined by the High Court.
– Has the High Court interpreted the Constitution to mean that it is mandatory?
– I understand so. If there were no Commonwealth legislation to deal with a surplus, it would be open to the States to seek a declaration from the High Court to determine the manner in which the Commonwealth should hand it over to them.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move -
That the word “ twenty-nine “ be inserted in place of the word omitted.
In doing so, I desire to remind honorable members that when the bill was introduced I gave notice of an amendment. In that I stated that the Government had no mandate for the action it proposed to take, and that, therefore, the bill should be deferred until after the next election. At the request of several honorable members who desired that the full debate on the major question should not be interfered with, I did not speak early, with the result that the Leader of the ‘Opposition submitted his amendment. Until the Government introduced this bill, honorable members of both Houses, and the public generally, had not the slightest idea that such an action was contemplated. I do not say that statements suggesting that something ought to be done to discontinue the per capita payments were not made by the Prime Minister and others. On the contrary, I propose to read some of the statements that were made, so that I shall not be accused of being unfair. From a perusal of the columns of the various newspapers throughout the Commonwealth prior to the last election, and, indeed, up to the time when honorable members were advised in the several party rooms that this bill was to bo introduced, no honorable member would have gained the impression that such a measure would be brought before Parliament. Personally, I do not think that two honorable members outside the Ministry had the slightest idea, of the Government’s intentions. During the debate last night some ill-feeling was created because of the suggestion that opposition was being offered to this bill for unworthy reasons. It was suggested that the opposition of some honorable members was due to their desire for ministerial office. One honorable member described as deserters those who saw fit to follow the dictates of conscience, something which he admitted he was not prepared to do.
– Order ! I cannot permit the honorable member to follow that line of reason too far.
– I desire to emphasize that at the first opportunity I made it clear that I intended to offer to this measure the strongest opposition of which I was capable. I believed then, as I do now, that it would destroy the financial fabric of the States, and open the doors to unification. Honorable members who honestly oppose the measure are concerned more with the fate of the country than of the Government. For no member of this House have 1 a higher regard than for the Prime Minister; but I must put my country first.
– I remind the honorable member that the object of his amendment is. to decide the year in which the altered arrangement will become operative.
– I can give good reasons why it should not become operative in 1927. I have made an exhaustive examination of the various articles appearing in the newspapers of the Commonwealth immediately prior to the last election. The following are typical of the headlines that then appeared : - Menace of Communism; Ruled by Violence; Danger of Revolution; to Hell with the Empire.” Headlines of that nature appeared day after day and week after week. The great issue before the country related to industrial strife.
– I must ask the honorable member to give reasons why this measure should not become operative until 1929.
– My chief reason is that the people have not been consulted, and that the Government has no mandate for introducing the proposal. My amendment will ensure that the bill shall not become operative until after the next election, and the people will thus have an opportunity to discuss it. Long paragraphs could be quoted from almost any newspaper issued just prior to the last election which indicate that the election issues subsidiary to that of the control of industry were the roads programme, child endowment, homes for the people, rural credit, the payment of bounties, and so on, but not this question. If it had ever been suggested that the Government intended to abolish the per capita payments, the campaign would have been fought in a very different way. I have extracted a few other headlines from various sections of the press. They are as follow: - “ Vital issues defined ; Country needs industrial peace; Regulation of trade unions; Child endowment ; Bank grants for homes,” and I could quote many others. These were the questions that were before the people.
Mr.Watt. - As a matter of fact, there was only one cock that fought.
– And if this cock had been brought out it would have killed the others.
– Any one who wanted to know whether this was in the policy speech or not could have found it out for himself.
– I defy the honorable member, or any other honorable member except the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), to declare that he told his constituents that the Government intended to abolish the per capita payments. The Attorney-General, who was then a private member, did tell his constituents that he would approve of the per capita payments being abolished if the. Commonwealth would retire wholly from the field of income taxation ; but not another member made a similar statement. Even the Prime Minister did not do so. The most definite thing that the right honorable gentleman said in the course of his campaign was the following, which I have extracted from the policy speech which he delivered at Dandenong : -
The result of these fundamental changes is that the Commonwealth is raising revenue in order to provide the per capita payments to the States. This is contrary to the basic principles of national finance that every Government should have the responsibility of raising the revenue which it is expending.
The development of Australia as a nation, and the necessity of dealing with many great questions on a national basis, such as that of road transport, to which I have already referred, also renders necessary a re-examination of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States.
That does not make clear that the Government intended to take steps to abolish the per capita payments, but merely that it desired to make a new agreement with the States. Honorable members will do well to recollect while they are discussing this matter that if it had not been for the Braddon clause in the draft Constitution, we should never have had federation.
– The Braddon clause has nothing whatever to do with theper capita payments.
– The Treasurer should not talk nonsense. The honorable gentleman, who, I believe, is chiefly responsible for the introduction of this measure, made no reference to it in his pre-election speeches. His most definite observation on it was made in the course of a speech that he delivered at Grafton, which was reported in the Argus on the 7th October. His words were as follow : -
A review of the activities now carried on by the Commonwealth as compared with those obtaining when federation was consummated, indicates the necessity for a review of the whole question of Commonwealth and State financial relationship. The necessity of wide national action in connexion with water conservation, main roads, migration, railways, health, navigation, and other matters, makes the question of Commonwealth and State co-ordination and co-operation one of supreme importance. The position of the Federal and State debts also is one that needs urgent consideration.
I repeat that the Government gave no indication to the people of the country that its policy included a proposal for the abolition of these payments which have been made to the States for the last seventeen years. Surely this drastic change will not be made without consulting the people. In the circumstances, I trust that the fair thing will be done, and that this measure will not become operative at least until the people have had an opportunity to consider it. Had Senator Pearce told the people of Western Australia that the Government, if returned to power, would abolish the per capita payments-
– He would not be a member of this Parliament to-day.
– I would not go so far as that; but I say that I would have done my utmost to oppose his return. It is 30 years since I was first elected to Parliament. I had nine years’ experience as a Minister of the Crown in “Western Australia. I have travelled throughout the country and have seen the needs of the people. I know perfectly well that it is the States, and not the Commonwealth, which have to do with the things that closely touch the every-day life of the people. In a huge State like Western Australia, the State members are in close contact with the people; but it is impossible for Federal members to get to know their constituents. In my own case, I have very often to appeal to State members for information, particularly when my constituency included the north-west. I know the difficulties that State Treasurers have to encounter. Reference to the Year Book will show honorable members the vast ramifications of State administrations. It indicates that in the last five years £8,500,000 has been lost in operating the various State railway systems. Last year, every State showed a loss in its railway returns.
– Queensland accounted for the biggest proportion of the loss.
– Railway finance is a serious problem to the States. In 1925, the States had to provide £29,380,000 in interest on their public debt, and their railways are their chief asset. In the same year, education cost the States £7,747,000. Is it suggested that the Commonwealth should undertake any responsibility for education? It is not. The States have to provide facilities for educating not only the children in the city areas, but also those in the far outback, to whom special facilities have to be provided at great expense. The States are also responsible for charity, upon which they spent £6,950,000 in 1925. Compared with what the States do, the Commonwealth does next to nothing. So far from helping the States in this regard, it may be said that the Commonwealth hinders them. I well remember that the Commonwealth authorities refused to assist Western Australia to deal with 50 per cent, of her cases of mentally defective soldiers, on the ground that it could not be proved that their defects were due to war service. The States are responsible for the care of neglected children, police administration, trade and commerce within their borders, harbour improvements, railway extensions, road work, and a hundred and one other things that are outside the scope of the Commonwealth. In all these circumstances, we should be very careful before we do anything that will undermine State finances. A matter of this kind needs the most mature consideration. If we are going to rush into proposals of this character, we had better try to secure unification at once. I repeat that not one member of the Cabinet told the people during the election campaign that it was intended to abolish the per capita payments.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.30 p.m.
– I have just received a report from Western Australia to the effect that some10,000 migrants have been brought under the group settlement system in that State, and honorable members know that it will be many years before any of those now being settled on the landin Western Australia or in any of the other States will be in a position to pay income tax. Although the Imperial Government is assisting, the State Governments have to meet all the initial expenditure incurred in providing roads, medical and other services, and in erecting schools, on borrowed money, on which interest has to be paid. Butter and bacon factories have also to be made available, to enable primary producers to dispose of their products. Although new settlers are worth £6 per head to the Commonwealth - that being the average amount received in Customs and excise - it will be many years before any of them make any State contributions towards the revenue. We should therefore be very careful before we do anything to seriously affect the financial stability of the States, unless at the same time we relieve them of some of their obligations. I have not the time at this juncture to analyse the figures submitted by the Commonwealth Treasurer to the State authorities, but I think sufficient has been said to show that there is no justification for this drastic change.I do not intend to accept the figures of the Treasurer or the promises of the Prime Minister. I am not going to sign a blank cheque, and then trust to the Commonwealth to make concessions later, and no matter what concessions may be offered, no guarantee can be given the States they will remain operative unless embodied in the Constitution. Honorable members are responsible only to their constituents. It is not a question of doubting the sincerity of the Government.
– Why should our actions be interpreted as a personal attack upon the Prime Minister?
– It is monstrous.
– It is too late to apologize now.
– If any one should apologize it is the honorable member. In a lengthy speech, delivered at Grafton, on 7th October, and published in the newspapers the Treasurer, in giving details of the proposals of the Government of which he was a member, said, and I wish to repeat it -
A review of the activities now carried on by the Commonwealth as compared with those obtaining when federation was consummated indicates the necessity for a review of the whole question of Commonwealth and State financial relationship. The necessity of wide national action in connexion with water conservation, main roads, migration, railways, health, navigation, and other matters, makes the question of Commonwealth and State coordination and co-operation one of supreme importance. The position of the Federal and State debts also is one that needs urgent consideration.
This was the full extent of the Treasurer’s speech on this question. Who then would dare to say that he took the people into his confidence and openly declared his intention to ask Parliament to abolish these payments to the States? What were the questions urgently in need of consideration subsequent to the election? It is undoubted that the most urgent was the public debt of the Commonwealth and the States. I am sure that this Parliament would readily have given its consideration to proposals aimed at a solution of that problem. The Prime Minister also announced that steps would be taken to bring about industrial reform. What has been done in that direction? Vital matters, touching the welfare of Australia, have been wholly neglected ; yet this proposal, which the people have not had an opportunity of considering, and which by no stretch of imagination can be deemed urgent, is being forced through Parliament. I have perused the newspaper reports of speeches that were made by Ministers during the election campaign, and I have not been able to find the statement that it was the intention of the Government to abolish the per capita payment. On the 23rd October, a fortnight after the Prime Minister had delivered his policy speech, the Victorian Treasurer made his budget speech in the State Parliament. Had the slightest indication been given by Commonwealth Ministers that it was intended to abolish the per capita payment, would not some reference have been made to it it that budget speech ? Yet, not one word was said regarding it. Even though the Government did not see fit to take tho people into their confidence, surely it was their duty to enlighten Parliament when it was called together. The only reference to the matter that is to be found in the speech of the Governor-General, which was delivered at the opening of Parliament, is the following: -
In view of the problems arising out of the relations between the Commonwealth and (he States, my Ministers propose to invite the States to meet the Commonwealth in conference to consider these matters. A royal commission bos already considered the position of Western Australia, and an investigation will be made into the circumstances of Tasmania. For the present year, you will bc asked to grant a subsidy of £450,000 to the State of Western Australia.
The speech does not contain one word to show that the Government proposed to introduce a bill to abolish the -ner capita payment, and I can only conclude that at the time the Prime Minister had not the slightest intention to bring forward such legislation or else deliberately hid that intention. The election speeches of candidates were extensively reported by the press, and it is reasonable to assume that a newspaper like the Argus would have written a leading article dealing with any announcement of the intention to abolish the rer capita payment and to enter into other financial arrangements. No leading article of that nature appeared in any newspaper. I am prepared to admit the necessity for holding a conference between the States and the Commonwealth, and I hope that we shall succeed in inducing the States to assist in devising some means to prevent the continuance of the existing system of borrowing, which is the greatest menace with which Australia is confronted at the present time. I am fully acquainted with the difficulties that face those who are endeavouring to pioneer our back country. The importance of the work which they are doing is so great that no action should be taken which would have a tendency to destroy the financial fabric of the States. I shall not stand silently by and watch this Government cripple the finances of the States, and subsequently find that, because of the necessity to reduce expenditure, education .and other important services that are being carried on by the States have to be neglected. I am prepared to take the strongest possible action to prevent the passage of this measure. The Prime Minister is as strong a federalist as I, possibly stronger. I firmly believe in the federation, and I do not want to see anything done that will be likely to imperil the agreement which, in 1900, was entered into between the States and the Commonwealth. It cannot be denied that there is a danger of its being destroyed. It should be clearly understood that the question of federation could never have been submitted to the people for their judgment had not the Parliaments of the States passed legislation enabling a referendum to be taken. We were told that there was to be a union with strong foundations set deep in justice. I want the Prime Minister to realize the necessity for meting out that justice. He and the majority of the members of his Cabinet have not had the experience which one gains in a State Parliament, and he has never had to tackle the problems that confront the members of those parliaments. It may probably be the lack of that experience which leads him to imagine that the proposed action of the Commonwealth will not cause injury to the States. No harm can be done by the passage of this bill if by the amendment proposed by me it is made clear to the people that the majority of honorable members are in favour of an alteration in the financial arrangements of the Commonwealth end the States, but do not propose to give effect to it until after the next election, at which they will have an opportunity to discuss the whole matter to the fullest possible extent, and obtain a decision from the people themselves. By this means we may evolve some method of providing a guarantee against federal encroachment in the avenues left for the States to finance. I should be well pleased to abide by such a decision. At the last election neither I, nor, I believe, any other member of this Parliament - with the exception of the members of the Ministry - had the slightest inkling that this Parliament would be asked to vote for the abolition of the per capita payment.
.- I intend to support the amendment, not because I favour the abolition of the per capita payment, but because its acceptance by the committee would delay the coming into operation of the bill and enable the people to be appealed to before its provisions became effective. The people should have an opportunity to decide whether they are in favour of the proposed action of the Government. I agree with those who have urged that this matter was not prominently before the people at the last election. During that campaign I travelled throughout Australia. In no place that I visited was this proposal featured, and I cannot recall any reference to it by any candidate.
– Not a single instance of such a reference has been cited.
– It is impossible to cite such an instance, because it did not occur. The Prime Minister in his policy speech did not elaborate upon the statement that he made in regard to the financial arrangements of the Commonwealth and the States and, consequently, the people did not know what he meant by it. The Government went to the country with the cry of law and order, and it is a well-known fact that the party which 1 have the honour to lead was defeated by that cry. Had this issue been prominently before the people, the effect of that cry would have been considerably minimized and the majority which the Prime Minister received would not have been as great as it was.
– How can the honorable gentleman say that this matter was not before the people when it was included in the Prime Minister’s policy speech?
– The mere stated ment that the Government intended to take some action to deal with the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States did not give the people any indication as to what those intentions were.
– Then the honorable member suggests that the people had no idea of what we would do?
-The matter should have been featured and the people should have been allowed to give a decision upon it. That was not done. Had it been possible to produce the report of any speech in which a candidate expressed the intention to support such a proposal, that evidence would have been furnished to honorable members at an early stage in this debate. So far, such evidence has not been adduced in support of the statement of the Government that the proposal was before the electors. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) the other night clearly indicated that the National party, of which he is a member, is opposed to it. In the circumstances, how can any honorable member of that party conscientiously vote against a plank in its platform? Only yesterday the executive of the New South Wales National party pronounced against the bill. Consequently every member of the organization who supports it must appear in a very bad light.
– We are opposing not the policy of our party, but that of the Government in regard to this particular issue.
– Nationalist mem bers who are antagonistic to this measure are really supporting the policy of their party, who put this Government into power. The attitude of the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), and others who are opposing the proposal, is perfectly logical. As the leader of my party I am prepared to assist them, because, similarly, through the platform of my party, I am pledged to vote against such a measure as this.
– That has been a plank of our platform for over fouryears.
– Th at is so. We stand for no alteration in the payments to the States. The honorable the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), in his speech closing the second-reading debate last night, stated that Mr. Andrew Fisher, who was Prime Minister when the time limit fixed for the operation of the Braddon section was about to expire, met the States in conference, and intimated that they would have to accept the Commonwealth Government’s proposals. The Commonwealth had then very heavy obligations, but Mr. Fisher did not want to alter the method of payment provided in the Constitution. He merely intimated that, as the ten-year period was about to expire, a further arrangement would have to be made. He did not say that the Government intended to withdraw the payments, as is now contemplated by this Government.
– There were no per capita payments then; the revenue returned to the States was based on Commonwealth collections.
– Those who framed the Constitution clearly had in mind the possibility that, as Commonwealth obligations increased, the Customs and excise revenue would not be sufficient. Consequently they fixed a period of ten years for the return to the States of three-quarters of the income received from those sources, on the assumption, no doubt, that the Commonwealth would then know what its commitments were, and would make the necessary arrangements with the States to meet them. The Government of the day, despite the increasing obligations of the Commonwealth in respect of defence, old-age pensions, and other Commonwealth activities, made no attempt to cut off altogether the proportion of Customs and excise revenue returnable to the States.
– Those payments were not from Customs and excise, but from the Consolidated Revenue.
– That point is not material. This Government now seeks to abolish the payments altogether, and invites the States to enter fields of taxation which are to be vacated by the Commonwealth. This will place the States in a very difficult position.
The honorable member is not confining his remarks to the amendment.
– I submit, Mr. Chairman, that I am perfectly in order. The purpose of the amendment is to give the States more time. Under the Government’s proposal the States will be unable so to adjust their financial arrangements as to meet the altered circumstances. The adoption of the amendment will make it possible for members of this Parliament to consult the people before the new scheme comes into operation. I do not wish to add anything to what was said by the right honorable member for Balaclava, who made out an excellent ease for the States. Ihave had State parliamentary experience, and I know that their obligations are extremely heavy. For instance, the New South Wales Education Department alone costs £4,000,000, and the department is asking for another £1,000,000per annum.
– Expenditure on education is on the same scale in Victoria.
– The bill proposes bo abolish these payments with a mere stroke of the pen, and so seriously embarrass the various State Governments. The right honorable the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have indicated that, possibly some relief might be afforded if the Commonwealth took over the State debts. Are honorable members aware that these total about £600,000,000, and at 5 per cent, involve an interest payment of about £30,000,000 a year? Obviously the Commonwealth would be unable to meet the interest bill on those debts from Customs and excise revenue. All these questions require the most earnest consideration. There should be consultation between the Commonwealth and State Governments in regard to these problems, apart altogether from the proposal to withdraw the per capita payments. Are we justified in expecting State Ministers to meet the Commonwealth Government in conference on the subject after we have abruptly terminated the existing system ?
– After we have already shot them, so to speak.
– It would not be reasonable to expect them to be in a proper frame of mind to confer about per capita payments after they had been withdrawn, or, as the honorable member for Balaclava said, after we had “ shot “ them. If I were a State Minister, I should be disinclined to confer in such circumstances. It is idle for the
Prime Minister, or any other Minister, to talk about the necessity for harmony and co-operation between the States if we treat them in the manner proposed. The introduction of this measure last session had a good deal to do with the defeat of the referendum proposals. I am sure, also, that the feeling of hostility to the Commonwealth Government, as evidenced in the vote on those questions, has been intensified since then, and that the position to-day is worse as far as this Parliament is concerned. The amendment submitted by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) might very well be accepted in view of the fact that the second reading of the bill has been passed. If the House had not passed the second reading, I should not have supported such a proposal, but I shall vote for it now, because I believe it is wise to give the States more time, and that we should have an opportunity to appeal to the people before the bill becomes operative. All the State Governments are hostile to the measure. Opposition is not confined to State Labour Governments. The Victorian Government is as strongly opposed to it as any other State Government because it recognized that such a dislocation of the existing financial arrangements will work injustice. The bill proposes to abolish the payments at the end of June, and for twelve months to pay monthly to the States an amount equivalent to that which they now receive. The Treasurer states that these monthly payments will be made not from Customs, but from the Consolidated Revenue. He is making a distinction without a difference.
– That has been the position ever since 1910.
– The Treasurer cannot justify his attitude. The withdrawal of the payments will make it necessary for the States to revise the whole of their taxation machinery in order to ensure the collection of sufficient revenue to meet their needs, with the result that no State Government will be able to face the electors with a feeling of security. The Government is asking the States to do something that is impossible. I can hardly imagine that the State’s representatives will be in a proper frame of mind to meet Commonwealth Ministers in conference, to discuss this subject after the bill has been passed. It would be far better if the Government withdrew the measure altogether, and then convened a conference. Even then the Stateswould have little enough time to make the necessary arrangements, because the financial year ends in June, and it is probable that a conference could not be arranged until towards the end of the year. There ought to be no interference with the existing financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States until some mutually satisfactory scheme has been arrived at.
– Or until the people have pronounced upon the scheme.
– That I take to be the object of the amendment, and it is for that reason I am supporting it. The honorable member proposes that action in the matter shall be postponed until 1929, in the belief that by that time a Federal election will have been held and the people will have been given an opportunity to express their opinion on this question. It was not before them at the last Federal elections, and if at the next election it is shown that the people approve of the proposal of the Government I shall have nothing more to say. If, on the other hand, it is shown that the people are against the Government in this matter then there will be no justification for persisting with it.
– It is the people’s money that is involved.
– That is so, whether regarded as the people of the Commonwealth or of the States. I am unable to see how the burden upon the people is to be made lighter under the Government proposal. I can imagine that if the State Governments have to levy taxation in the fields to be evacuated by the Commonwealth Government, a time may come when the Commonwealth will not obtain sufficient revenue from Customs and excise to meet the expenses of government. “What will the Commonwealth Government then do? We know that it will immediately again invade the fields of taxation which it is now proposed it should evacuate.
– Possibly in. the meantime the Commonwealth Parliament will have been asked to dabble in 40 other things which do not belong to it.
– Of course it will Unless they were shown that the Commonwealth Government proposed to take over functions now carried out by the State Governments. I believe that if the people were appealed to at the present juncture they would not consent to any alteration of the existing financial relations. The Commonwealth Government is not proposing to take over expenditure which is now borne by the States, and the expenditure of the States will increase. It has gone up as a consequence of the war. Whilst it may be contended that the Commonwealth Government is responsible for defence and the cost of the war, we should not lose sight of the fact that, in common with the experience of the rest of the world, almost everything in Australia has gone up in price by 60 and 70 per cent, beyond pre-war rates. This means a very great increase in the cost of government to the States, whose activities come more closely in touch with the people than do those of the Commonwealth. Education, railways, irrigation, land settlement are all questions which closely concern the people in their daily life, and if we refuse to the State authorities the revenue needed for the development of their territories, we shall strike a blow at the development of Australia generally. We may do something in the matter of development within our sphere in the Commonwealth, and I hope we shall do so, but we have not the same opportunities to promote development as the State Parliaments because of our limited powers under the Constitution. This being so, it would be ill-advised to in any way diminish the revenues of the State Governments or to interfere with their means of raising revenue by handing over to them fields of taxation which the Commonwealth may again require to invade in the course of a few years. I shall support the amendment, believing that if carried it will at least have the effect of allowing the people to be consulted in regard to the drastic change proposed in the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States.
.- I was privileged to take up, I think, as much time as I was entitled to occupy in the second-reading debate, and I do not now propose to roam the whole orbit again. I can restate, perhaps, in one or two sentences what my opinions still are, in view of the attitude assumed by the Government and the vote of the House on the second reading of the bill. I do still believe that the passing of this measure will react in a most grave and far-reaching way upon the States. I leave it at that. I believe that the agreement referred to last night by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) must not be lost sight of. While we are legally empowered to do what we like in this Parliament, we are not morally entitled to disregard the past history of that agreement and the present position of the States, unless we are sure of the sanction of the people. That brings me to the one question I desire now to argue - the question of the mandate. J. have ransacked my memory and tho records of speeches made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), leaders of the respective elements forming the coin- posite Government. I have looked also at tho extracts culled by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and I fail to discover how, by any stretch of imagination or the proper use of language, the Prime Minister can claim that he has authority to tear up the agreement and act instanter in this matter through this Parliament. I shall not argue the etymological meaning of the word “ mandate “ ; we know the meaning given to it here. When a Government has permission, or instruction, or authority, of an unmistakable kind given to it to take certain action, we say that it has a mandate. At many of the elections with which we have been acquainted, there probably was difficulty in saying, with regard to minor issues, whether the people understood and sanctioned them; but never in our history, so far as my memory or reading goes, was there an election where the Leader of a Government endeavoured so resolutely to confine the issue to one point as at the last Federal election. The right honorable gentleman’s personality, the eloquence of his appeal, the anxiety, and, may T say, the terror of the people, led to assent to his close definition of the issue and gave the Prime Minister his majority. I speak as one who laboured very little in his own electorate and not very much in any other, though I had the privilege of visiting some eight or nine other electorates in Victoria and New South Wales. 1 never once spoke of the per capita payment, although I have always been anxious that the matter should be dig.cussed. I was never asked a question about it. I cannot recall any candidate in this State being in any way concerned with the financial relations of the Commonwealth and States at the last election. There was only one issue put to the people. It was called ,’“law and order “ by some ; by others the “ communistic issue.” It was, at any rate, the restoration of the authority of Government that the people were concerned with. In my own electorate I obtained, perhaps more by good luck than by anything else, 66-f of the votes on the roll, and I guarantee that 90 per cent, of the people for whom I speak voted at the last election on that one issue.
– The “ spook “ effectually scared them.
– It was not a “spook,” but a very real thing. I regard it as one of the most righteous and beneficial elections ever held, though I cannot expect the honorable member to take that view or oven from his standpoint to understand it. I do not say that the Government has exercised . the full authority it was given by the people to deal with that one issue. The way in which this fear subsided is clear proof that the wild few - and I have always said that they were few in number - the wild but dangerous few recognized, as a result of the election, that the people had made up their minds. That is why T say it was a beneficial election.
– That issue was no longer required after the election.
– The great victory achieved silenced those who might have been a source of danger. The two extracts culled by the honorable member for Swan are very informative, and it might be well for us to consider iu a leisurely way a portion of the Treasurer’s Grafton speech of the 7th October. I assume that the honorable gentleman was correctly .reported. He would take care, on an occasion of that kind, to see that the press was informed of the exact phraseology of his sentences. According to the Argus report of his speech, the honorable gentleman said -
A review of the activities now carried on by the Commonwealth as compared with those obtaining when Federation was consummated indicates the necessity for a review of the whole question of Commonwealth and State financial relationship.
What is a “ review “ ?. In saying that the financial relationships between the Commonwealth and the States must be reviewed the Treasurer suggested that they must be brought up for survey and consideration. The proper way to consider the question, as there were two parties to the contract, was obviously to have it reviewed byboth parties in consultation, to have it cooperatively reviewed. That was not an announcement of an intention to deal with the matter by the aid of Parliament after the election. It was merely a declaration that the matter ought to be reviewed. There is not a man in Australia who does not feel that that was a wise utterance, but the result of the election cannot be taken as a mandate to exercise the authority and powers of the Parliament to deal with the question. The honorable gentleman went on to say -
The necessity of wide national action in connexion with water conservation, main roads, migration, railways, health, navigation and other matters makes the question of Commonwealth and State co-ordination and co-operation one of supreme importance.
That is to say that if there was to be this review all these things should come within the purview of the examiners, and that it must be done by co-ordination and cooperation. That is obviously a high sentiment, and, if put into operation, should be beneficial. In his next sentence the Treasurer said -
The position of the Federal and State debts also is one that needs urgent consideration.
That is the only question with which the honorable gentleman coupled the word “urgent.” Reading that statement, would the ordinary citizen say that the Treasurer regarded the per capita payments as urgent? It might be implied by the use of the word “ also,” but, obviously, the honorable gentleman suggested that in his view the first question to be tackled was that of the State debts. I do not challenge the Treasurer’s viewas to its urgency, but 1 should like to say that its consideration should not be attempted without the co-operation and assistance of the State Governments.
– It could not be dealt with without that co-operation and assistance.
– It could not, because the section of the Constitution which deals with the transfer of the debts is, to a large extent, a fictitious power and would need to be altered if subsequent control of borrowing by the Commonwealth was to follow immediate absorption of the debts. There is nothing in what I have quoted from the Treasurer’s speech on the question of the financial relationship of the Commonwealth and States that indicates more than a pious desire to review it. There is no proclamation of an intention to move, and no State would regard it as a declaration of war. Yet it has been used in that way by the Treasurer as justification for what he has called a mandate. On 5th October, the Prime Minister, speaking, I think, at Dandenong, said : -
The result of these fundamental changes is that the Commonwealth is raising revenue in order to provide the per capita payments to the States. This is contrary to the basic principles of national finance that every Government should have the responsibility of raising the revenue which it is expending.
He went on to say -
The development of Australia as a nation and the necessity of dealing with many questions on a national basis, such as that of road transport, whichI have already referred to, also renders necessary a re-examination of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States.
That goes no further than the Treasurer’s statement that we ought to have a review, except that it says that the position renders necessary a re-examination That, of course, is our duty to make. We contend, however, that it is wrong to go about that re-examination without calling into effective consultation our partners to the agreement. It is a case of using the strength of the giant mercilessly, because the strength reposed in the Government is its majority in both chambers of this Parliament. I am in danger of proceeding to elaborate some of the arguments on which I feel keenly; but I ask the Government earnestly to examine once again the effect the loss of this money will have upon the States, whether it be this year, next year, or thereafter. Speaking with nearly six years’ continuous experience as « Treasurer of one State, I can say that, although we had complete control of our parliament and party, 1 could not in those days, nor could the present State Treasurer, launch out in one year to get £2,000,000 more revenue in order to protect the solvency of the State. Even if the present Treasurer of that State is returned to power with a large majority, and a compact following, he will not be able to do so. Therefore, I strongly support the idea contained in the proposal of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory). That is to say, I shall vote for his proposal if it goes to a division, but with his permission, and that of the Government, I could suggest a better alternative. Anything that will postpone Ihe settlement of this question for a period, whether it be one year or two years, I shall gladly support, if that is the best I can get; but I would rather allow the bill to pass, as the Treasurer wants to amend it, and add to it the following proviso : -
Notwithstanding anything herein contained, this act shall- not come into operation until a date to be proclaimed by the GovernorGeneral, which shall not be earlier than three months after the return of the writs “issued for the next general election of the House of Representatives.
T submit that proposal for the consideration of the Government, because, obviously, there is a difficulty about the mandate said to have been obtained at the last election. Do not Ministers realize that the majority of those who crossed the floor last night - men pledged in different ways - would not have done so, and have taken the responsibility of casting a vote which might have meant the overthrow of the Government if they had not felt as keenly as I and others do on this question of a mandate? I leave myself outside altogether in this connexion, because I say quite frankly that I am a free lance in this Parliament. I do not owe allegiance to any party. I vote for measures in which I believe, and oppose those in which I do not believe. On the other hand, the majority of those honorable members who crossed the floor last night were, I repeat, pledged supporters of the Government, and they knew that the step they were taking might mean its overthrow. Nevertheless, they felt that this Parliament had no right to move in the direction desired by the Government unless the people had already sanctioned it, or had been given an authority to do so. The course I now suggest will afford them that opportunity. It will cut away all element of doubt. It will enable us to say to the electors, “ We have done our best to show you our intention in this regard, but we delay putting our scheme into operation pending a further consultation and a pronouncement from you.” I do not think there can be any harm in adopting that course.
– The bill, with that proviso, would be passed in half an hour.
– I do not think there need be any further argument about it. I do not know the view of the right honorable the Prime Minister. I do not think he did himself justice when he re-opened the ground last week, nine months after the Treasurer had moved the second reading of the bill; he only galloped over part of it. If he is sincere, as I hope he is, in the desire to secure the co-operation of the States, and to allay or for ever kill that spirit of rising antagonism which he laments, there is no better way of doing so than by giving opportunity for re-consultation and re-examination, and a definite pronouncement from the people themselves as to our authority to settle this question.
– The amendment moved by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) is in substance and effect exactly the same as the proposal now put forward by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt). The suggestion in both cases is that all action in regard to the bill should be postponed until after a general election. The object is perfectly clear. On the face of it the suggestion is that, if the operation of the bill is postponed, electors will give a determination upon the issue. But those honorable members on the Government side who disagree with the Government in regard to this bill are, broadly speaking, old and experienced parliamentarians who are straight-out opponents of this legislation. Having failed to defeat it on the second reading, they now seek some other means by which to bring about its defeat or its postponement. Do they imagine that by a postponement until after the next election, we should really get a decision of the people upon this measure?
– I think so.
– Two honorable members say that they think so.
– If we could not do so, how could we ever get a mandate?
– The two are now joined by another very enthusiastic opponent of the bill. If the next election is to be decided upon this question, apparently every other issue at stake can stand aside.
– But that is exactly what would happen. There may be something to be said in favour of submitting the issue to a referendum of the people, but the Government would not agree to that suggestion even if it were substituted for the present one. It is, however, utterly absurd to suggest that we could get this issue determined by holding it over until after the next election. For one thing, it might be completely overshadowed by other questions. With a considerable measure of support the right honorable member for Balaclava has said that at the last election there was no issue that mattered a rap except that of the preservation of law and order.
– That is what the right honorable gentleman himself said.
– I did not say anything of the sort. This afternoon the right honorable gentleman said that at the last election the Government’s road policy and its child endowment policy mattered nothing, and that the Government went to the election on the one issue of law and order. If I am privileged to be Prime Minister at the next election, seeing that the right honorable gentleman was good enough to suggest that I was particularly astute in running that issue - I might raise another which would completely overcloud that of the per capita payments, and so we might not get a determination upon it. We could not get a decision from the electors on the per capita question unless, forgetting all other issues, we made it the solo issue. That would mean a fight between Federal and State interests. Could we do more to promote a spirit of disunity and discord as between the States and the Commonwealth than by making this the one vital issue at a general election? The real object of the amendment is to provide for those who sought to defeat the bill on its second reading, another means by which it can be defeated. If the Government accepted the amendment those honorable gentlemen whose long parliamentary experience has led them to submit it, would probably achieve their objective, that of delaying this legislation at any cost, and at the next election it might be used in a way that would inflame the passions of the people with disastrous results. The Government’s definite declaration is that it cannot accept the amendment. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), and the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), declare that the Government have no mandate for this legislation, and they almost suggest that Ministers have kept their proposals in this regard in the background. It is almost incredible that any one could take such a view. Have honorable members forgotten the history of the last five years? Do they not remember that at a conference with the Premiers in 1923 the Commonwealth Government did not disguise its intentions, but frankly said that the per capita system was wrong and must go? As a government we were prepared to meet the States and discuss with them the method by which this could be brought about. The whole issue was before the people. No question at that time was more discussed than was the proposed abolition of the per capita payments and the substitution of some other system of helping the States. Everyone is aware that at that conference the Commonwealth made a considerable advance towards agreement with the States. I do not propose to traverse the situation now, but we even got to the stage at which the States made counter proposals which could not be entertained by us. ~No honorable member, whatever his views on this particular issue, could have possibly entertained proposals which contemplated putting the Commonwealth in the position of having to receive part of its revenue from the States. It is perfectly clear that in 1923 the whole issue was raised and realized, but as an agreement could not be reached it was impossible for the Government, during the last parliament, to give effect to any proposal dealing with the per capita payments. “When we came to the election, with all that history of those negotiations behind us, with no suppression of facts, and without the possibility of any one not knowing the views of the Government on the matter, I also made a pronouncement in my policy speech. Again, I must read it to make the position clear. After referring to the experiences during the first 25 years of federation, I said that we should consider whether the Constitution met tho needs of to-day in the light of the developments that had taken place. I proceeded -
The ideal which the framers of the Constitution had before thom was to word Australia into one great nation, while preserving to the States their rights of self-government.
The greatest problem that had to be faced in the realization of this ideal was the question of Commonwealth and State finance. This question was dealt with by the Stales surrendering to the Commonwealth sources of revenue fur in excess of the requirements of the Commonwealth.
Referring to the per capita payments, I said-
The whole basis ot these arrangements, however, was destroyed by the Great War. The financing of Australia’s great effort in that struggle was undertaken by the Commonwealth, and to-day the Commonwealth is carrying an annual burden of nearly £30,000,000 to meet the obligations incurred at that period. In addition, tho Commonwealth has undertaken the obligation to provide for old-age pensions and invalidity, as well as the maternity bonus. These obligations to-day amount to over £8,000,000. Ihe result of these fundamental changes is that the Commonwealth to-day is raising revenues in order to provide the per capita payments to the States. This is contrary to the basic principle of national finance that every Government shall have the responsibility of raising revenue which it is expending. The development ot Australia as a nation, and the necessity of dealing with many great questions on a national basis, such as that of road transport, to which I have already referred, also renders necessary a re-examination of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States.
Later, I said -
The Government is giving careful consideration to the questions raised as a result of the investigations of the Western Australia royal commission, and proposes in the near future to invite the States to attend a conference for the purpose of reconsidering the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States, and dealing with the disabilities suffered by certain States, with a view to laying down a basis for our national development in which the Commonwealth and the States will co-operate.
In that speech, I pointed out that the Commonwealth was raising revenue for the States; that that position was wrong; and that the Government would ask the States to meet in conference with a view to considering a re-adjustment of financial relations. Prior to the election, the Government had met the State representatives, and told them that the per capita payments must cease, and the financial relations be re-arranged. Yet honorable members have said during this debate that the States had no pre-knowledge of this bill, and that the people were unaware that if the Government was returned to power, it would submit any such proposal. That contention is without foundation. The people knew absolutely what the attitude of the Government was. After the Government had been returned with an overwhelming majority, it convened a conference of the States, and invited their representatives to consider the method of financial readjustment. Our proposal involved the abolition of the per capita payments. It could not have caused any surprise to the States, because it had been discussed by them with us for a fortnight two years earlier. Indeed, the State representatives had accepted the position; but at the last conference they ignored the attitude of the 1923 conference, and denied the right of the Commonwealth to discontinue the per capita payments. They elaborated the argument of tho moral right of the States to those payments, and I, on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, refused to admit that moral right. That subject, at any rate, has been thoroughly discussed by representatives of the Commonwealth and the States. I offer no criticism of the attitude of State Treasurers; they would naturally take it up. They stand firmly upon the alleged moral right of the States to the per capita payments on the existing basis. The Commonwealth Government with equal firmness denies that moral claim. We said to the State representatives, “ We are prepared to discuss any method of re-adjustment which will ensure that you get treatment equal to what you are receiving now, but we cannot possibly admit your so-called moral right to the per capita payments.” On that issue we reached a deadlock, and there the conference ended. The Commonwealth denies the moral right of the States.
– Only the Commonwealth Government has said that.
– Not only the Commonwealth Government, but last night this House affirmed the principle contained in the bill. The divergence of the opinions of the Commonwealth and the States in regard to the per capita payments is such that no agreement in regard to their discontinuance can be reached. The opposing views are irreconcilable. The only suggestion that has been put forward in this debate is that the Commonwealth Ministers should meet the State representatives again and reopen the question of their moral right to a share in the Customs and excise revenue. Such a conference would be futile and absurd. The attitude of the State is so definite and unequivocal that no reasonable man can accuse me of adopting a policy of despair when I say, “ Much as I would like to settle this question amicably, there is a fundamental difference between the outlook of the Commonwealth and the States, and there is no hope of agreement.” That being so, the Government was faced with the alternative of doing something, or quietly submitting to the continuance of an arrangement which it had declared to be wrong in principle and injurious in operation. Ministers felt that the Government had an obligation to proceed with a proposal which it believed to be necessary and right. We have done that, but in such a way that the States are assured of the fullest possible measure of justice and the utmost opportunity is provided for an amicable agreement to be reached. Do honorable members suggest that the Government should have gone no further with its policy, simply because the views of the opposing parties could not be reconciled? Was it to follow the course of the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) when he was Treasurer in 1919? On that occasion the right honorable gentleman, speaking to the State representatives in terms much stronger and definite than I have addressed to them, said, “ This per capita system is wrong; it is necessary that it be discontinued. I propose to reduce the payments to you by 2s. 6d. per head per annum. You have to accept this.” But the clamour that followed showed that his proposal, although put forward as the considered view of the Government of the day, was not popular, and it was accordingly withdrawn. The Government of to-day does not propose to emulate that example. Believing that this policy is right and necessary for the welfare of Australia, it proposes to go forward with it. Last night this Chamber, by the vote on the second reading, affirmed the principle underlying the bill.In the debate that preceded the division there were fundamental differences of opinion as to whether the per capita payments should be discontinued. The majority of the House decided that they should be. The next question to be considered is the treatment to be meted out to the States. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said that the States, in respect of all their great activities and responsibilities, would be hampered and financially embarrassed by the action of the Government. How can the honorable member say that when he does not know what arrangement is to be made with the States?
– What nonsense!
Mr.BRUCE.- The honorable member has not the slightest idea of what is to be done. Future action will depend entirely on the agreement arrived at between the Commonwealth and the States to safeguard their rights and interests. We are prepared to meet the States representatives and discuss every proposal for an equitable readjustment. I have said repeatedly, and I say now, that the Government will extend to the States the most equitable treatment. It realizes their responsibilities, and, whilst it is determined to proceed with a scheme that it considers right and necessary, is prepared to deal with them fairly. The honorable member for Swan says that he would not give to the Government a blank cheque. The Government does not ask for that. Whatever agreement may be made with the States must be submitted to this Parliament for ratification. The Commonwealth cannot even withdraw from any field of taxation by executive act, that oan be done only by Act of Parliament. I assure the committee that the Government will meet the representatives of the States with an open mind, and honorable members are only fomenting trouble and making more difficult the amicable arrangement we all desire when they state that the Commonwealth will not act fairly by the States. Some honorable members, who have participated in this debate, seem not to understand the position. The original proposals of the Government involved the discontinuance of the per capita payments and the evacuation of certain fields of direct taxation. I do not suggest that that is the only scheme or the best scheme, but it was the best that Commonwealth Ministers could put into operation of their own volition, without the co-operation of the States. If the States would co-operate with us, many things might be done which would infinitely improve any proposal that we alone could devise within our own ambit. That proposal was submitted to this Parliament. Tho States pleaded that they had not been given sufficient time to consider our scheme. We were not unreasonable, although there has been a suggestion to the contrary. We said that we would postpone taking action for twelve months. We did so, and the States still said that what we were doing was unfair to them. They would not put forward any counter proposals. The great desire of this Government was that they should make counter proposals so that we might be sure that we were giving them fair treatment. When I returned recently to this country I found that that was the position. The Commonwealth Government then made another gesture towards the
States. We said, “Here is our scheme, and we intend to go on with it.” Despite what has been said to the contrary, the vote that was taken last night shows emphatically that we could have gone on with it, but we did not do so. We still showed a willingness to be reasonable and helpful. We said that we would repeal the per capita grant, but continue the payment until the end of the financial year, 1927-2S. We said to the States, “ Your finances are assured until then ; we mil give you ample time for consideration and discussion with a view to coming to an agreement, and we ask you to meet us with that object in view.” I suggest that the Commonwealth Government has adopted a reasonable attitude throughout. I shall say nothing of the past, t do not desire to suggest that we have been right and that the States have been wrong. Let us wipe out the past, pass this bill, and see whether we can come to some arrangement that will he of benefit to the people as a whole. It has been suggested that we should continue the per capita payments while we are negotiating with the States. That unfortunately has been shown to be impossible; it would be a useless procedure. When the bill is passed, the whole field will be open for agreement, and we ask the States to meet us in the spirit with which we are prepared to meet them. There is not the slightest fear of the financial embarrassment of the States or of the Commonwealth. I am hopeful that an agreement will be come to, which will be mutually satisfactory and of great benefit to the people of Australia.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Monday next, at 3 o’clock p.m.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. Last night in my speech on the State Grants Bill I said, in my desire to pay a compliment to the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), that he was now tha only consistent advocate of the New States movement in this House. I had no intention of reflecting upon other members of the Country party who, I understand, are still endeavouring to force that issue. The matter was brought before me by the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), who I know is an ardent advocate of new States.
Automotive Spare Parts Manufacture - Art Panel: Gift by Doulton and Company - Timber Industry: Report of Tariff Board.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- This morning I directed the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) to the unscrupulous methods adopted by foreign traders in attempting to strangle Australian industry. I wish now to place on record one or two of the many serious statements that have been made to me by the Chamber of Manufactures of New South “Wales. That body states -
The manufacture of automotive spare parts has dwindled seriously in New South Wales since General Motors (Aust.) Pty., Ltd., introduced their policy of purchasing all spare parts from America. Their management promised that they would use, as far as possible, Australian-made goods. Since then, many of those who distribute General Motors’ vehicles, have testified that they are threatened with the immediate termination of their contracts if they are found stocking or selling Australian made spare parts.
When General Motors’ vehicles were distributed by Australian houses prior to the advent of the American company in Australia as assemblers of their own vehicles, sp. ire parts manufacturers were gradually developing quite a lucrative business in the manufacture of replacement parts for these vehicles. It must bo understood that the manufacturers are not asking for the right to supply equipment parts at the present time - those which belong to the new vehicle - all they nsk for is the chance to manufacture the parts required to replace those that have become worn. In this connexion it is estimated that at the end (.f the first year of running, an average of about 30s. per vehicle is spent upon spare parts, the majority of which can be made in Australia. At the end of the second year an additional £10 would be required on the average vehicle for spare parts, the major portion of which cun be made in Australia equally as good as the imported parts, and equal also io price.
About the same time as General Motors (Aust.) Pty., Ltd., launched this new policy of excluding Australian made spare parts from the spare-parts bins of their dealers’ stores, Dodge Bros., distributors did the same. So also did other American car agents. Only when they are compelled to do they now buy Australian made parts; when stocks run low unexpectedly, or when their supplies from America’ are delayed or are short-shipped. They are making a convenience of the Australian manufacturer; allowing him only the crumbs of the trade.
Dodge Bros., distributors, have the Dodge car and the Graham truck. General Motors’ vehicles comprise the Buick, Cadillac, Oakland, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontine. Vauxhall cars, and the G. M. C. truck. The proportion of Dodge Bros, and General Motors’ vehicles registered in New South Wales when compared with all cars, is as follows : -
This is not a request for additional tariff. Though additional tariff may be fairly warranted for certain parts, there is, in many instances, ample tariff, and spare parts manufacturers are actually able to compete in price and quality with the American. In some instances their prices are cheaper. But price considerations appear to be of no avail when the American companies decide that American made parts must be slocked and used by their agents throughout Australia.
For many of the Australian made spare parts Australian’ raw materials are used. This has helped to develop the turnover of other industries, such as the production of copper, tin, and steel.
A representative of one man u factoring concern recently stated publicly that where once they had large orders one of the chief offending American firms had recently sent to their factory for one bolt. At a recent meeting of the Automotive Parts and Accessory Manufacturers’ Section of the Chamber of Manufacturers, vouchers were produced from General Motors showing orders for one article at a time received by firms which had previously received, week after week, orders of not loss than half a gross.
I hope that the Minister will do something to call the bluff of the foreign traders who are trying to kill an important Australian industry. If no action is taken by him I shall raise the matter again in this House with a view to forcing his hand.
.- I wish to bring under the notice of the Government the need for immediate action in regard to the offer of Messrs.
Doulton and Company, through John Shorter Limited, of a panel by George Tinworth, for presentation to the Commonwealth Government. I do not wish to go into the history of this offer, except to say that this panel was on view and about to be purchased for the Sydney University, at a cost of about 00(1 guineas. The purchase fell through and the panel was about to be sent back to England, when Messrs. Doulton and Company generously offered it to the Commonwealth to be placed in the Commonwealth art gallery when established. That happened last December. The Government referred the matter to the Art Advisory Board, and, in order that the board might have an opportunity to view .the panel without visiting the warehouse, arrangements were made with Messrs. Beard, Watson and Company Limited, that it should be on view at that firm’s showroom in Sydney. Many honorable members have hud an opportunity of viewing it there. 1 understand that the report of the Art Advisory Board was eminently satisfactory, and that the board recommended tho Government to accept the offer, but from that date to this there has been no announcement as to whether this handsome and generous offer will be accepted. Messrs. Shorter and Company, agents for Messrs. Doulton and Company, are being inconvenienced, and are getting into trouble with Messrs. Beard, Watson and Company Limited, because that firm needs the space that is occupied by the panel. The panel has been there for three months, and it is impossible for the firm to remove it until they know whether it is to he transferred to England or accepted by the Commonwealth Government. We try to induce citizens to make gifts of this kind to the nation, but the way in which this offer has been treated is no encouragement to generous-minded persons. I hope that, without further delay, the Government will make up its mind, announce its intentions, and say where the destination of the panel will be. I have received from Mr. Shorter a telegram, which says -
Kindly wire tlie decision, if any, destination of panel. Beard Watsons are worrying me about it.
After a firm has generously made such an offer, the least we can do is to treat it with ordinary courtesy; but it is not ordinary courtesy to delay replying to an offer for three months. I hope there will be no further humbug about it.
.- I wish to bring the condition of the timber industry under the notice of the Government. It is a fact, of which I am well aware, that the saw-mills throughout Victoria - and this applies also to the other States - are in a depressed condition as a result of tho competition of imported timbers. I should like the Minister to inform the House when the report of the Tariff Board, on the investigation it has made into the industry, will be .submitted to this House. I understand that evidence on a comprehensive scale has been taken in all parts of this State. As the report is of vital interest to the saw-milling industry, I trust that the Minister will have it tabled and dealt with as early as possible.
– I should like to say in elaboration of tho reply I gave to the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), at question time to-day, that the Government is sincerely anxious to establish the complete manufacture of motor cars in this country at the earliest possible date. As to whether that will be evolved a step at a time, er whether we shall be able to induce an overseas manufacturer to establish a branch here, is still in the womb of time; but I shall not be satisfied until that end has been accomplished. On the point of the alleged boycott of local manufacturers of parts, I think I can express an opinion on behalf of the Government, and of this House, that American methods of boycott, combine, and control are not welcomed in Australia. If the honorable member will give me the fullest possible information, I will have the matter probed thoroughly, and will answer him in this House when the investigations are complete. I am hopeful, from the statements that I know were given by the great overseas organizations at the time of the establishment of their works here, that they will stand to the letter as well as to the spirit of their promises to assist Australian development by patronizing Australian manufacturers, other things being equal. It is possible to put the local man out of business by a form of control that is perhaps in operation in other countries, hut which we do not welcome. One of those organizations in the United States has paid in dividends in one year £20,000,000.
In reply to the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook), the Tariff Board did not complete its investigation into the timber industry until last Tuesday. The report of the board and of the evidence taken, must cover many hundreds of pages. I am not prepared to submit any conclusions to this House, on any matter, unless accompanied by a report. That report I have not received, but I hope to be able next week to indicate to the honorable member when it will be completed and when I hope to receive it. Until then the matter must remain in abeyance and cannot be considered by the Government.
– I can assure the honorable member forParramatta (Mr. Bowden) that the offerto which hehas referred, is appreciated by the Government. The question of the place in which the panel can properly and with due regard to artistic considerations be hung is before the War Memorial Museum Committee at the present time. The matter is receiving consideration, and there will be no undue delay.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.20 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 March 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1927/19270311_reps_10_115/>.