10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the Chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– In the Sun Pic torial of 21st April appeared this paragraph : -
HAVE TO POSE AS FOREIGN.
” Only way Musicians can get Work.”
To indicate the extent of the prejudice which prompts entertainment houses to engage foreign musicians rather than Australians, the secretary of the Musicians’ Union (Mr. C. Trevelyan) said yesterday two popular Australian bands playing in this country now were posing as foreigners. They were second to none in the world. “ It is a scandal that our talented artists should be compelled to resort to such an artifice to compete with overseas musicians,” said Mr. Trevelyan.
Some time, ago the- Prime Minister received a deputation introduced by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was accompanied by other honorable members, in regard to the protection of the rights of Australian musicians, and he promised to give consideration to the representations then made. In view of the fact that another body of foreign musicians is about to arrive in Australia, although many of our own musicians are unemployed, will he inform the House whether the Government has come to any decision on this matter ?
– The matter has not yet been- considered by the Government.
– Can the Minister for
Markets inform the House of the quantity of butter imported from New Zealand during the last twelve months, and tha percentage it bore to Australian production ?
– For the ten months ended 30th April last, the quantity of butter imported from New Zealand was approximately 400 tons, whilst the total quantity produced within Australia in the same period was about 100,000 tons The importations were equivalent to about . 4 per cent, of the local production.
Government Ownership, of Land
– I ask the Minister for Home and Territories whether itis a fact that a motion moved by’ Mr. King O’Malley in this House on 19th July, 1901, and supported by the then Prime Minister, the late Sir Edmund Barton, was amended, and ultimately passed on the 10th September, 1902, in the following terms : -
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable, in the interests of human progress, that the Government secure as Federal Territory an area of land, well watered, healthily situated and large enough to fully meet all probable requirements, and secure to the Commonwealth the benefits to accrue from the position of the Capital, such area when secured to remain for ever the property of the Commonwealth, the ground- only to be let to utilizers, all buildings to be erected under strict regulations, with due regard to public health and architectural beauty.”
– The resolution mentioned by the honorable member is recorded in the Hansard record for 1902.
Amalgamation of Companies - Position in Western Australia and South Australia - Recommendation of Royal Commission. .
– Has the PostmasterGeneral read the newspaper reports of the amalgamation of two big broadcasting companies in Sydney, a similar amalgamation in Melbourne, and the intention of a big company in Adelaide to join up with the Melbourne organization? Will the Minister take steps to prevent the creation of a monopoly that will be injurious to listeners-in?
– The honorable member may rest assured that the Government will see that no injurious monopoly is created ; the Government will retain complete control of broadcasting. In the early history of this enterprise, the Government, prescribed that programmes of a certain standard should be broadcasted, . and withheld revenue from the companies until that requirement was met.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral received during the . last week a letter from the Wireless Association of Western Australia containing strong complaints respecting the position of broadcasting in that State? Is he yet able to announce a definite decision with respect to “ A “ and “ E “ class stations which would enable Western Australia to secure a “ B “ class station ? I understand that this is being hindered by the absence of a decision on the other matter:
– I received a letter from Western Australia in regard to broadcasting. The Government is withholding the issuing of “ B “ class licences until the return of Mr. Brown, after which a re-allocation of wave lengths to “ B “ class stations will be made in accordance with the conditions laid down at the Radio Conference held in Washington.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral received any information to the effect that pressure is being brought to bear upon the “ A “ class broadcastingstation in South Australia to allow itself to be swallowed by 3LO and other “A” class broadcasting companies? If so, will he take steps to protect thu station, and to prevent an arrangement being made which will place “A” class broadcasting in Australia in the hands of a combine?
– Ihave no knowledge of any pressure being brought to bear upon the South Australian “ A “ class station. The amalgamation of these stations is a matter for negotiation between themselves. The Government is seeking their complete co-ordination, but it will have to be on approved terms.
– Some months ago the Royal Commission on Wireless submitted a comprehensive report to the Government. I understand that only a few of its recommendations have beeD put into effect.’ Consideration of the remainder has been postponed. Does the Government intend to give effect to them, and if so, when?
– A bill was passed by this Parliament which gave effect to many of the recommendations contained in the report.
– The Melbourne Sun Pictorial of yesterday published the statement that under the Commonwealth Bankruptcy Act only one official receiver will be appointed for Victoria, and that the Attorney-General had stated’ that the retention of the system of official assignees now in operation in that State would not be in conformity with the provisions of the act. Is it the intention of the Attorney-General to dispense with all the official assignees who are operating in the provincial cities of Victoria, and to require any one having to file his schedule to go to Melbourne?
– The system embodied in the Commonwealth Bankruptcy Act is very different from that which has hitherto operated under the Victorian Insolvency Act. There are at present 40 official assignees in that State, and it would be impracticable for them to perform the functions which the Federal act requires to be discharged by the official receiver. Official assignees will, however, be able to apply for registration as trustees, their appointments as such resting entirely with the creditors in each particular estate.
– When will the Commonwealth Bankruptcy Act come into operation? Will due notice of the intention to proclaim it be given to the public ?
– Arrangements to bring the act into operation are almost complete, but it will not be proclaimed until a couple of small matters that are still under- discussion with two of the States are settled. I hope that it will be possible to bring the act into operation on the 1st July next, that being the commencement of a period commonly recognized in business and likely to be convenient to all concerned.
- Mr. Broughton Edge, the eminent geophysicist, has arrived in Fremantle. Will the Prime Minister recommend that he be given permission to lecture in Kalgoorlie on geophysics, a science of supreme importance to the gold-mining industry?
– I shall give consideration to the honorable member’s suggestion.
asked the Post master-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Use on Vessels in AustralianService.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. upon notice -
Will he inform the House when tenders will be invited in connexion with the extension of the Queensland aerial service?
– The conditions of tender and contract for the proposed extension of the existing aerial service in Queensland are at present in course of preparation and tenders will be called in one month.
Construction of Roads - Administrative Advisory Council, - Rabaul Water Supply - Electric Lighting Arrangements.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - ‘
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Is there an Administrative Advisory Council in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follow : -
Yes. The Council consists of certain officers of the New Guinea Public Service, and it is charged with the duty of considering and reporting to the Administrator upon -
Proposals submitted to it for the making, amendment, or repeal of Ordinances; and
Any other matters referred to it in accordance with the Ordinance con-, stituting the Council.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In view of the advance of aviation in the civil walks of life, will he consider the utilization of the aviation department to teach a course of aviation at the lowest possible cost to any citizen desirous of learning to fly?
– A proportion of the funds allocated for the development of civil aviation is now utilized to enable any medically fit person to undertake a course of flying in- struction at very low cost. Six (6) organizations under Government supervision are now subsidized for the purpose. The average cost to the trainee is £50 for fifteen hours’ instruction in the air.
Housing - Roofing . of Parliament House - Names of Suburbs - Population - Forestry School
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
What is the number of vacant houses in each suburb of Canberra, and of such houses -
What are the rentals charged by the Commission -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Barton, 3; Forrest, 31; Acton, 1; Ainslie, 10; Braddon, 3;Reid, 31; Kingston, 7; Mugga, 1 ; Griffith,6. Total, 93.
The present rentals charged by the Commission are: -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
The distance in each. case is that of a straight line from Parliament House to the centre of the suburb.
– On the 2nd May, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) asked me the following questions : -
I am now in a position to advise him as follows : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information willbe obtained as far as possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
In addition, £109,651 was paid to benevolent asylums and . hospitals for the maintenance of pensioners.
Export - Excise on Fortifying Spirit.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
– On the 2nd instant the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr: D. Cameron) asked the following questions : - .
The answers to these questions are -
Paper: Tenders for. Purchase
Debate resumed from 2nd May (vide page 4564), on motion by Mr. Bruce -
That the paper be printed
Upon which Mr. Scullin had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words: - “in the opinion of this House the Government, by the sale of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, has sacrificed valuable public assets and. has placed. Australian producers, shippers, and our people generally at the mercy of the shipping combine “.
Mr.G. FRANCIS (Kennedy) [2.53].- I rise’ to support the motion of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce). The proposal to sell the Commonwealth Line has been discussed by the House on two previous occasions. It has been fully debated, and the facts and figures relating to it have been placed before, honorable members. It is, therefore, not a little surprising that we should still get from honorable members of the. Labour party such frenzied opposition to the action of the Government. Reviewing the financial history of the Line, one can only say that it is an excellent thing for Australia that this great white elephant has now receded so far into the distance as to have become merely a White Star.
Listening to the speeches from honorable members opposite, one is struck by their tender solicitude for the primary producer, and one cannot help remembering that when all round our coast we have had, through shipping strikes, idle vessels and thousands of pounds worth of primary produce rotting on the wharves, not one word of protest has been uttered by the members of the Opposition, and no attempt has been made by them to induce the seamen to work the vessels. In these circumstances one cannot but feel that its opposition to the disposal of the fleet is actuated, not by any desire to help the primary producer but rather by the fact that the Government’s action has destroyed one of the socialistic planks of the platform which the Labour party adopted from Russia in 1921, the socialisation of the means of industry, production, distribution and exchange. In my opinion the Labour party ceased, at that time, to express the sentiment of the workers of Australia.
It has been said that the Commonwealth Line has saved the primary producers large sums of money. When the Public Accounts Committee investigated the operations of the. Commonwealth Line a vague statement was made by one or two officers of the Line that they . thought that sums of money had been saved, and that freights had been reduced in consequence of action taken by the Line, yet when the ‘ committee sought to obtain evidence of that, it was conspicuous by its absence. Many officers of the Line were examined, and not one tittle of evidence could be obtained to prove that the Line had saved considerable sums of money to the primary producers of this country. One instance referred to occurred in August, 1926, but it was specifically shown that the Blue Funnel Line and not the Commonwealth Line was responsible for the reduction in freight which then took place. Honorable members opposite have overlooked the fact that additional circumstances which kept freights down to some extent were the large percentage of foreign vessels trading on our coast and the consequent competition between them and the other overseas shipping companies, and the marketing activities of the Government^ which have so materially helped the primary producers. The Dried Fruits Export Control Board, and the Butter Board have made contracts with overseas shipping companies. These contracts have directly resulted in savings of freight to our primary producers. Those savings would have been made had there been no Commonwealth Shipping Line. It is a significant fact that of all the countries in the world only two now have government-owned mercantile fleets. Canada has suffered disastrous losses through its government merchant shipping and the United States of America is anxious to get rid of its remaining governmentowned merchant vessels as rapidly as possible. The enormous losses on these lines were shown last night by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson). We. cannot’ help feeling a tinge of regret for the loss of the Line, but any one who examines the figures at all impartially should have no doubt as to the wisdom and propriety of the Government’s action. New Zealand manages very comfortably without a government shipping line, and it has just as satisfactory shipping conditions for the sending of its produce overseas as we have in Australia. It gets as much cargo and refrigerated space as it requires, and its people have not been called upon to meet an annual loss in running expenses and depreciation on government-owned .boats, to say nothing of interest on capital, such as we have experienced in connexion with the Commonwealth Line.
After all, what was the extent of the Line’s operations? It carried from Australian shores about 7 per cent, of our overseas trade. In comparison with other lines operating in Australian waters, its tonnage was not remarkably high.. In 1921-22 Australian shipping, including the Commonwealth Line, represented 13 per cent, of the trade in and out of
Australian waters; in 1922-23, 11.5 per cent. ; in 1923-24, 9.7 per cent. ; in 1924- 25, 7.6 per cent., and in 1925-26, 7:i per cent. There has- been a steady decrease during those years, and how far the Navigation Act and interference with the Commonwealth Line has been responsible for that decrease. I leave honorable members opposite to judge for themselves. The whole of the Australian shipping amounts to only 1.31 per cent, of the world’s shipping, and, if the vessels of the privately owned shipping companies are deducted from that percentage, the Commonwealth Line represents less than 5 per cent, of the shipping of the world. Various estimates have been quoted as to the amount of the losses through the operations of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. There is not the slightest doubt that the orginal cost of the Line was £14,870,000, and that, for the last three years the running costs have averaged £563,446 per year. The . total losses, including interest and redemption amount to well over £10,000,000, and are probably nearer £15,000,000. The annual burden per head of our population due to running costs alone amounts, roughly, to 2s., while interest on £10,000,000 represents another 2s. per head, so that it was costing the people of Australia . 4s. per head to maintain the Line. For what purpose? Certainly not for the benefit of the primary producers, and we have no evidence that any other section of the community has benefited. It is patent that the ships were maintained chiefly for the benefit of their personnel. Of the deck complement, only 85 were living in Australia, while 140 were living in Great Britan. The victualling complement comprised 173 Australians and 202 men domiciled overseas, while of the total personnel of 1,034, 514 were Australians and 520 belong overseas. So that more than one half of the complement of those vessels were not Australians, and were not resident in this country. Of the lower ratings, 499 were domiciled in Great Britain, and 446 in Australia.
The Line is being sold for £1,900,000. One honorable member opposite stated that £50,000 of that amount was to pay for the repatriation of our seamen, but taking into account certain stores and supplies, which will probably bring £50,000, the purchase price of the Line will be £1,900,000. If that sum were invested, and if we also set aside an amount equivalent to the losses that were made on the Line each year, Australia could afford to subsidize shipping to the extent of £600,000 a year, if necessary, and still be better off than if the Government continued to run the Line. That would be much more satisfactory and sensible thing, because we would not then bc losing our capital, and would know definitely the cost. This Government ment is now facing losses through its shipping experiments similar to those experienced by every other country that was unfortunate enough to embark upon State shipping enterprises. It was stated in this debate that the Tasmanian Government had engaged in shipping activities, but no mention was made of the fact that Western Australia also established a shipping line, and that after suffering most disastrous losses, it withdrew from the venture on terms which could only be regarded as satisfactory because they meant cutting future losses.
It might be as well to consider what people outside of Australia think of our allegedly wonderful shipping enterprise, and I shall quote a statement on the subject published in the London Times. It is as follows : -
Lord Kylsant’s purchase of the Commonwealth steamers marks the end of an experiment in State trading, which, in spite of the promise with which it opened in the palmy days of war, proved a dismal, costly failure. The price obtained in existing circumstances is probably, as Mr. Bruce claims, fair and reasonable. The Australian Government has now retired from the shipping business, and will be in a much stronger position in dealing with independent lines, and with the extremist tactics of the maritime unions, which in recent years have done so much to add to the financial difficulties of the shipping industry. The sale is not the fault of the managers of the Line. They found it impossible to make the business a paying concern. The Canadian Government Merchant Marine, which reports a loss of £10,000,000 since the service was established in 1918, has undergone precisely similar experience, and the dangers inherent in State trading have been illustrated even in more striking fashion in the United States.
That opinion deserves our close attention. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr.
Scullin) alleged that the Prime Minister referred to some of the other tenders received to show how good was the offer of the White Star Company. I agree that that offer was exceedingly good in the circumstances, but I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition correctly states the position when he claims that that was the object of the Prime Minister in quoting that offer. I believe that it was merely a desire on the part of the right honorable gentle man to give the House the fullest possible information on the subject. My interpretation of the Runciman offer was that it was further evidence of how great a depression Bolshevik action and continual unrest can make an industry, including the shipping industry.
The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) claimed that the Line had made a profit of £5,000,000. I asked the honorable member by interjection where he obtained his figures, but he discreetly refused to answer my question. He had an excellent reason. The Line never made a profit of £5,000,000. During, and immediately following the war period, it made a profit -of £3,680,000, which it promptly lost. Under the old board it lost £1,225,000, and under the new board £1,937,000, a total loss of £3,162,000. To that must be added the current year’s losses of £600,000, so that whatever initial profits were made, in most extraordinary circumstances, they are counterbalanced by the losses which have been sustained under normal conditions. Moreover, the profits made during and immediately after the war, were not made by carrying Australian produce. Although the Line was established for war purposes, I am informed that very little Australian cargo was carried by it during the war.
When the honorable member for Newcastle and his colleagues claim that the Line was an excellent venture, which should have been retained for Australia, they should remember that the suggestion was made in this House on a previous occasion, when the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts was presented, that the unions of Australia should combine and purchase the Line. There are 851,478 unionists in Australia, according to the returns of the
Commonwealth Statistician, and it would have cost each unionist only 50s. to purchase the Line outright for cash. But no such action was taken. It cannot be suggested that Australian unionists are not sufficiently patriotic to subscribe 50s. a head to support a nationalized undertaking. No one would believe that for a moment. But their so-called leaders - actually their disorganizes - would not propose this; because is any unionist had 50s. to give, they would prefer to use it in pro moting strikes or fostering industrial unrest. If they had taken any real interest in the Line, and had desired to use it in the interests of Australia, it would have been a simple matter to obtain such a small sura as 50s. from each unionist for the purchase of the Line. Considering the history of these experiments in Australia and elsewhere, one can only conclude that the less we have to do with them the better it will be for the country and the taxpayers. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) was good enough to say that New Zealand did not require a shipping line because the freights that it had to pay were kept down by the Shipping Combine, which was afraid that if the freights were raised the dominion would purchase a shipping line of its own. What a remarkable statement! Assuming it to be true, what would there be to prevent Australia from keeping freights down by taking similar action if that were thought desirable? Nothing whatever. But the honorable member for Wimmera knows perfectly well that the real reason for the failure of . this Line is that it has been required to operate under most disadvantageous wages and conditions. I do not suggest that Australia should be a low-wage country. No honorable member on this side would agree to that.
Mr.G. FRANCIS.- Not at all. We desire that the Government should get fair value for money expended. I propose to refer to the main cause that not only prevented the Line from being made profitable, but rendered it impossible for it to raise freights as it sometimes wished to do. The report of the Committee of Public Accounts states -
Taking Australian wages and conditions at £100, the committee was informed that, in respect of a vessel of 6,000 tons gross, British wages would be £32.41, American £42.21, Swedish £24.51, and Danish £15.44; but since those figures were prepared Australian rates have been increased by as. per month per rating.
Therefore, the comparison is even more disadvantageous from the Australian standpoint. But there is another way of looking at the matter. This Line had to compete in the matter of freights with low wage countries, and therefore the vessels of those countries could carry cargo at a much cheaper rate than our Australian vessels, yet make a profit. That fact, rather than the existence of the Commonwealth Line, has kept freights down. Its share of the total shipping trade of Australia has been insignificant. It has carried only 7 per cent, of the trade; the remaining 93 per cent, being distributed among the overseas companies and foreign lines. A significant fact is that throughout the industrial troubles that affected the Commonwealth Line, the ships of those countries that paid the lowest rates of wages and charged the lowest freights were free from the effects of industrial turmoil. The Commonwealth Line and the British shipping lines alone experienced those troubles. The lower the scale of wages and conditions observed on the foreign ships the more favour they found with the wharf labourers of Australia. The foreign companies could always get their cargoes away. The wharf lumpers were always ready to load or unload their vessels. In those circumstances, it will be a good thing when the chapter concerning the Commonwealth Line of Steamers is closed, so that we can write off the loss and say, “ That has gone to profit and loss account. We have bought so much experience. We have so much dead weight to carry.” The whole affair has been a complete vindication of the recommendation of the Prime Minister some years ago that the Line should be sold. At that time Australia could have at least gone out of the venture without loss. We then had about 54 ships to sell. In three years we have sold 47 of those 54 ships, and have used up the entire proceeds in’’ carrying on the Line. If we had sold out without loss we could have put aside such a sum as the Government might have thought fit, and devoted the interest to subsidizing shipping, if such a course became necessary. No countries, apart from Canada, the United States of America, and Australia, have government shipping lines. Surely the position of Australia is not peculiar. It is not different from that of New Zealand, or of other countries that require water-borne freight, in its isolation from the most important business centres of the world.
I should have been well satisfied to support the sale of the Line on terms far less favorable than those that the Prime Minister has obtained. I think that tho price secured, is a matter for extreme gratification, and I have the utmost pleasure in supporting the motion.
.- The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), in his speech last evening, submitted a new arithmetical problem. He mentioned the wine bounty, and quoted some figures concerning it. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) interjected, “ But what about the excise?” The honorable member for Darling replied, “ Even if you take the excise away from the bounty, you will still have a large sum left.” The point that the honorable member was trying to make was that the high wages paid to the seamen of Australia were in the nature of a bounty on shipping. But what was interesting about this new book of arithmetic edited by the honorable member was that the amount of the excise was considerably larger than the bounty, and I have yet to learn that one can take a large sum away from a smaller amount, and have a remainder.
I am not quite sure to which party the honorable member for Wimmera now belongs. He formerly was associated with this side of the House, but he now sits just beyond the gangway. He reminds me of the schism at the time of the Reformation. A large number of adherents of the Christian Church broke away from the parent body, and the dissidents gradually divided into smaller bodies. This process of partition continued until one earnest Christian declared to the world .that he alone was the one and only true church. The honorable member for Wimmera appears to be proclaiming to the people of Australia that he alone is the only one and true party.
The bold stroke of statesmanship by which the right honorable member for North Sydney established the Commonwealth Line during the war was a good thing for Australia. While the war lasted the ships made substantial profits - that good fortune was not peculiar to the Government Line - and no bricks have been thrown at it on that account; but it should have been disposed of immediately after war, when its profit-making ceased. One of the first speeches of the present Prime Minister after he appeared on the political horizon was ‘ devoted to advocating the sale of the Line. Possibly if he had been as wellknown then as he is now, his advice would have been heeded, and Australia would have been saved millions of pounds. At that time the shipping companies whose trade connexions had been disturbed during the war were making strenuous efforts to recover their business, and probably they would have been prepared to pay a high price for the Commonwealth ships notwithstanding that they were already obsolete. However, the Government continued the enterprise, to the grave disadvantage of Australia. Several times in recent years the suggestion has been made that the Line should be sold, but always timid politicians have yielded to agitation, and have been misled by the declaration that the Line was doing an immense amount of good in keeping down freights, and in that way was of particular benefit to the primary producers. In the meantime the shins had slumped as all pre-war shipping had done. In recent years extensive improvements in ships have been introduced, and the pre-war vessels do not conform to modern requirements in regard to space and pace. When the ships were handed over to the Commonwealth Shipping Board their cost was written down by £8,000,000. The statistics quoted in relation to the Line have been very kind to it, in that they have not taken into account the fact that £8,000,000 at 5 per cent., which is a low rate of interest, represents £400,000 a year, which should be added to the losses incurred by the Line. While the war was in progress the Commonwealth ships made a profit of nearly £4,000,000, but since the war their losses have . amounted to £8,000,000, and are being increased at the rate of between £500,000 and £600,000 a year. Yet there are still optimists or visioniaries who think that we would be justified in continuing to incur that enormous loss for the sake of some imaginary benefit to the primary producers.
Our experience with the Commonwealth Shipping . Line is another striking proof of the fact that in ordinary circumstances governments cannot trade profitably. We on this side of the House » subscribe to the dictum that the duty of governments is to govern and not to trade. The responsibility of Parliament is to give a fair deal to every citizen in the Commonwealth, but trading concerns like the Commonwealth Shipping Line, and some of the enterprises in which State Governments have engaged, involve the country in enormous losses without yielding any compensating advantages. The Canadian Government continues to lose large sums of money through the operation of State-owned ships, and has not the courage to take the businesslike course of getting rid of a bad stock and cutting its losses. The example of the United States of America has been quoted as an argument in favour of the retention of the Commonwealth Line. According to an article I read in a magazine recently the United States will be lucky if it gets out of its shipping venture with a loss of £120,000,000.
– £800,000,000 is more likely.
– So much the better for my argument. We have been told that the Commonwealth Line has kept down freights. It is true that during the war the Line carried produce for Australia at lower rates than were charged to people in other countries. That was natural; a person will do more for himself than for other people. Many men who object to long hours when employed by others will work from dawn till dark in their own vegetable plots. But whilst the Commonwealth Line may have kept down freights during the war period, I have been informed authoritatively that during the last few years its effect has been actually to maintain freights. The Leader, of the Opposition calculated that if the Line kept freights down to the extent ‘of 10s. a ton the saving to Australia would have amounted to hundreds of thousands per annum, but if, as is nearer the truth, the Line is keeping up freights to the extent of £1 a ton, the loss to the Commonwealth is double the hypothetical gain estimated by the honorable member.
The continuous trouble on the Australian waterfront has made it impossible for the Commonwealth Line to balance its accounts. Often the sailings have been delayed through the drunkenness of some snake-headed cook, or the absence of a stoker at a picture show. Time is money in the shipping business, as in all other enterprises. On this subject I quote the following interesting comment by the Australasian of the 21st April : -
It will be amusing to watch how Mr. Scullin and his henchmen manipulate this question. It is notorious that for years past the Seamen’s Union lias deranged the commerce of this country by strikes and efforts to bring about “ job control.” Wharf labourers have held up ships in defiance of awards of the Arbitration Court. Innumerable vexatious difficulties have been raised to prevent the smooth and successful working of maritime services. What did Mr. Scullin do to prevent injury to the interests of shippers and passengers when these obstructions occurred? What member of his party ever concerned himself with any effort to restore shipping facilities to normality? Freight might lie perishing on the wharves, the barnacles might be gathering thick upon the hulls of the vessels as they lay idle in the ports, but no Labour member ever had the courage to tell the men that they were not only acting illegally, but were damaging the trade of the Commonwealth and injuring, the producers.
If, instead of the trouble engineered on the waterfront by men aptly described by the honorable member for Kennedy as disorganizes, but wrongly termed union organizers, we had a spirit of sweet reasonableness and the sway of the agitators were ended, time and money would be saved and running costs would be reduced. This would enable a reduction in freights, which are higher in Australia than in any other part of the world.
The sale of the Commonwealth Line will probably enable the Government to do what has been done in South Africa recently. I quote the following cablegram published in the A delaide News : -
South African Agreement.
Space for Exports.
Capetown, 16th February.
Mr. C. W. Mal an (Minister of Railways) announced this afternoon in the House of Assembly that a freight agreement had been concluded between the Government and the Union Castle Steamship Company, Limited, which represents a conference of lines.
The agreement is for ten years, and applies to all conference ships operating at the beginning of 1929.
Its general effect, apart from special arrangements for Government freight, is to make progressively increasing provision for refrigeration on steamers going to Britain, and for substantial reductions in freight rates on the chief export commodities of South Africa.
The companies agree to provide, space for 2,500 tons a week for deciduous fruit, and to increase this to 5,000 tons by the 1932 season.
Similarly there will be 6,000 tons of space forcitrus fruits, and this will be increased to 7,000.
The agreement provides that the genera] commercial rates of freight shall not exceed the rates ruling in January, 1927.
– What does the South African Government pay for that?
– No mention is made of subsidies; apparently the arrangement has been made without cost to the Union Government, and I believe that a similar agreement could be made by the Commonwealth Government if it were not in competition with private companies. It would be impossible to continue to operate the Commonwealth Line at the rates hitherto charged, because they have involved the country in huge losses each year, and any reduction of freights would probably make the position worse.
We have listened to some plaintive pleading by honorable members opposite on behalf of the poor primary producer. Those honorable gentlemen were, I suggest, shedding crocodile tears-. The majority of country constituencies are represented by honorable members on this side of the House, and I predict that if honorable members opposite continue to be obsessed by fantastic and socialistic ideals those few who represent rural constituencies will have to make way for gentlemen holding the views of honorable members on this side of the House. I ask, as the Australasian asked, what members of the Labour party have ever done to prevent strikes and the holding up of primary produce at thewaterfront ?
The only effective protest made against this policy was when the Government, announced its intentions to take stern measures and certain farmers threatened to come to the ports and load their produce on to the ships. Honorable members opposite would have us believe that they are very concerned about the interest of the primary producers in the Commonwealth Line of steamers. It reminds me of one of Kipling’s Barrack Boom Ballads, in which he says that while in peace Tommy Atkins is left to look after himself, in war time he is the subject of a great deal of fussing. Let me adapt to the present situation a couplet from Kipling.
And the Cockies they aren’t blooming fools, You bet the Cockies see.
The “ cocky “ farmers of South Australia have made it clear to me that they desire the Government to dispose of these ships as quickly as possible.
– The honorable member had better not call them “ cocky “ farmers.
– They are proud of that title in South Australia. I have addressed a good many meetings of farmers in my electorate during the last four months, and whenever I have said that the Government intended to sell this Line I have had to wait for a storm of applause to cease. One man asked me, “Do you mean to say that the Government really intends to sell the Line?” I replied, “ I do.” He said, “ It will never sell the boats under the conditions stated.” I replied, “ When a farmer wishes to sell a horse he does not point out all its blemishes, but tries to get the best possible price for it. The Government intends to get the best terms it can for these ships.” Immediately the Prime Minister announced that the Line had been sold, I sent my friend a telegram to that effect, and said that it was a good riddance.
Honorable members opposite have had a good deal to say during this debate about the value of these vessels for defence purposes. I point out that although the boats will now be transferred to the British register, they will still be available for the purpose of assisting to defend the Empire if they should be required. I am surprised to hear that honorable members of the Labour party are so concerned about the defence of Australia. It is the first intimation that I have had that they have a defence policy. Some time ago, when the suggestion was made that public expenditure should be curtailed, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said, by interjection, that if he were given an opportunity to reduce expenditure he would know where to begin. The honorable member coloured to the collar when an interjector from this side of the chamber observed that he would cut out the defence vote. The concern of the Labour party for the producers of Australia is just about’ as sincere as their concern for the defence of the country. Surely honorable members opposite do not suggest that these boats could defend our shore against the combined navies of hostile nations. If the sale of these boats, to which honorable members opposite have objected in such a frenzied manner, has done nothing else than bring to them a realization that Australia is worth defending, it has been well worth while. I thought that nothing short of a miracle could do that.
One of the principal reasons why our friends opposite are opposed to the sale of this Line is that it has been good meat for them to feed to their extremist supporters on the waterfront. To put it in another way, these ships have provided them with a good fort from which to fight. The policy of the Labour party has in these days a distinctly “ red “ colour about it, and is dictated by the extremists from Moscow. The Parliamentary Labour party may dispute this, but the fact remains. Although some time ago the communists were said to have been expelled from the Labour party, they have just been received back into it with open arms.
As a representative of the primary producers of Australia - and my constituents are good Australians - I commend the Government for having sold this Line at such a satisfactory price. I did not expect that such a high figure would, be obtained, in fact, I informed my constituents that we should be fortunate if Ave received £1,000,0.00 for the boats. I also said that it would pay us to do with them as we did with the obsolete Australia, take them out to sea and sink them rather than continue to lose money in working them. If the Government had done nothing else during its term of office than rid the country of these ships, the people - and particularly the primary producers - would have good reason to be thankful to it, and would be justified in continuing to support it.
– The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons), prides himself that he takes pains to ascertain the facts of a case before discussing it, but he has not done so in this instance. He has admitted ignorance of the defence policy of the Labour party. I advise him to obtain a copy of our platform and to read it. He will then ascertain that we have an exceptionally good defence policy, which is constantly being improved.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson), in the course of his speech yesterday, said, with emphasis, that the Government of the United States of Americia intended to dispose of its shipping Line. He persisted in the statement, notwithstanding certain pertinent interjections by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). I have not made exhaustive inquiries to ascertain what the Governments of the United States of America and of Canada have done, or are doing with respect to their shipping lines, but I noticed a report in the Maritime Shipping Review of the 15th March last, to the effect that the Government of the United States of America intended to spend $30,000,000 i:> reconditioning two ex-German liners, formerly known as the Kaiser Wilhelm II. and the Kron Prinzessin Cecilie, which have been renamed Agamemnon and St. Bernard. The American Shipping Board, so this report stated, intends to run these two vessels as sister ships to the Leviathan on the route from America to Great Britain. That the board is prepared to spend such a large amount of money in reconditioning the boats, does not indicate an intention to go out of the shipping business.
– The statement that £3,000,000 is to be spent in reconditioning each of these ships is, upon the face of it, absurd.
– That is not so. As a matter of fact the board was subjected to considerable criticism for undertaking this work, and, in justification, published a long statement to show exactly how the money would be spent. It is proposed to remove the old engines, and to install new oil burners. Practically every part of the vessels will be reconditioned.
I do not propose to make a long speech on this subject, but will deal principally with a few statements that have been made upon it by prominent public men. The first to whom I shall refer is Sir William McPherson, the Leader of the Opposition in Victoria, and one of the biggest business men of the State. His firm does not only a large importing business, but also a great deal of manufacturing. I am glad to know that the Postmaster-General’s Department has given an opportunity to this firm to construct lathes for the telephone department. Recently Sir William PcPherson expressed his opinion of the Commonwealth Line. He is reported in The Scot, of 1st September, 1927, as follows : - lt gave him much pleasure to bc able to express his high opinion of the Commonwealth Line, and’ the service which it rendered to Australia in so many different ways. He spoke as a business man rather than as a member of Parliament. His firm had big interests both exporting and importing, and whenever possible almost entirely booked all freights by the Commonwealth Line, and had found them most satisfactory, receiving better consideration. As a man with big business interests in Australia he considered the Commonealth Line an undoubted asset to the Commonwealth.
Sir William McPherson is well qualified to express an opinion, and I would accept his statement in preference to the derogatory statements of honorable members supporting the Government respecting the Commonwealth Line. I know that some of them have a distinct ‘prejudice against anything Australian. Sir William McPherson also said -
It is a great pity that the Commonwealth has not gone a step further, and not only provided cargo boats, but other boats for the purpose of taking passengers and goods from Australia to Great Britain. It would be a splendid thing for the people of Australia if the Commonwealth owned an interstate line, and £5,000,000 would be well spent in trying to establish trade between Australian ports alone.
That statement is by a gentleman belong* ing to a race of people who believe in getting good value for their money. Honorable members supporting the Government are forgetful of the services rendered to
Australia by this Line. Even had there been no reduction in freight in consequence of its operations, it would have been well to keep the fleet as an insurance against abnormal increases in freight. During the war the fleet carried wheat from Australia to Great Britain at £7 10s. a ton, when the rate charged by other steamship lines was up to £15 a ton. Let me remind honorable members that on the 12th July, 1926> the Prime Minister stated that the Commonwealth Line had saved to the shippers of Australia up to a sum of £522,000 per annum. It is, therefore, evident that the quarrel as to whether the shippers have received a benefit from the Line should be between the Prime Minister and his own followers. We are accused of making exaggerated statements, but, strange to say, they are borne out by the utterance of the Prime Minister. As a private member he was totally opposed to a Government-owned Line, but as a result of his experience he admitted that for a certain period the Line had been of benefit to Australia. Surely we should take that into account. I have in my hand the official return of cargoes from London and Colombo to Melbourne for the three months ended the 30th September, 1927. It shows the .total cargo carried by all boats of a similar class to the “ Bay “ and “ Dale “ steamers. These vessels are - Ormonde, Ballarat, Hobson’s Bay, Mooltan, Comorin, Esperance Bay. Balranald. Osterley, Maloja, Barrabool, Moreton Bay, Moldavia, Berrima, Orama, Naldera, Fordsdale, Borda, Chitral, Orsova, Ferndale. During that three months those twenty boats carried 34,762 tons of cargo, and seven of them, comprising the Commonwealth fleet, carried 10.008 tons, or 31 per cent, of the carried general cargo by boats of their class. It is evident, therefore, that the Line was appreciated by shippers both in Australia and overseas. As the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) has stated, the payment of £50,000 for the repatriation of the Australian section of the crews cannot be taken into account in the price paid for the Line, but can be regarded as a setoff’ against the stores to be purchased from the Government. I find in the cablegram sent by Lord Kylsant when submitting the tender of the White Star Line, these words -
It is assumed that all the steamers are in good service condition, fair wear and tear excepted, and they are accepted on this understanding subject to the usual bottom examination in dry dock. If bottom and/or other under-water parts and/or tailend shaft be found broken or damaged, same shall be repaired at sellers’ expense to the satisfaction of the classification surveyor, and in that event the expenses of docking and undocking (including drawing and replacing of tailend shaft) shall be for sellers’ account, but if no damage be found, all such expenses shall be for buyers’ account.
Some honorable members have stated that the fleet has been run to its utmost capacity, and that when the vessels are drydocked, extensive repairs will be necessary. If that is so, a considerable sum will have to be found by the Commonwealth Government to pay for those repairs, and that will, of course, reduce the price paid for the Line, and more than offset the value of any stores that are still for sale. The buyer of the Line is under no compulsion to purchase those stores. But if Lord Kylsant and those associated with him decline to carry out the terms of the agreement, what will happen ? Can we enforce the agreement ? The Prime Minister and his followers are as silent as a tomb. They know full well that if Lord Kylsant defies the Commonwealth Government, we are powerless to act. It seems to me that a considerable sum of money will be required to carry out repairs to vessels to the satisfaction of the Classification Surveyor. The terms of payment seem to have been overlooked by honorable members behind the Government. The last clause of the agreement as cabled by Lord Kylsant reads: -
Terms of Payment. - -As desired by clause 10, this tender is accompanied by a banks draft for £40,250 (Forty-six thousand two hundred and fifty pounds), being 2$ per cent, (two and one half per cent.) of the purchase price offered. Should this tender be accepted, the purchase price to be payable as to £250,000 (Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds) in cash on complete delivery of the tonnage and the balance in ten equal yearly instalments thereafter of £160,000 (One hundred and sixty thousand pounds) each, these deferred payments bearing interest at the rate of 5i (five and one-quarter per cent, per annum) until paid.
I make bold to say that before ten years have passed, this Line will have paid for itself out of its earnings. The saving in wages alone will amount to £220,000 per annum.
What is the use of honorable members on the Government benches prating about fair wages and conditions for Australian workers. The sale of these ships means that their personnel will be placed upon the British register, and that their wages will be reduced by at least one-half.
– The lowering of those wages will mean an increase of wages for the workmen of Australia.
– Not necessarily. It surprises me that, if the honorable member and many of his colleagues believe that a low-wage country is the best governed and most desirable in which to live, they do not quit Australia and go to live in China or some other low-wage country. It has never been proved that any low-wage country has made any advance in general civilization, or economically, comparable with the progress of the high-wage countries of the world. I am aware that the United States of America benefited enormously through the war, and that it now possesses tremendous reserves of gold, but that country, in which high wages prevail, has gone ahead by leaps and bounds. One of its greatest captains of industry passed on these words of advice to Great Britain, “Put your men on good wages,, that, is one of the ways to bring about the recovery of Great Britain.” Excellent wages are paid both in the United States of America and in Canada, and as a consequence they are prosperous nations. The Prime Minister, when speaking the other night, manipulated an anonymous communication in the endeavour to weave into it comments made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin).
– The right honorable gentleman did nothing of the kind, as a perusal of Hansard will disclose.
– The Prime Minister conveyed that impression, and he did not contradict it later when the Leader of the Opposition objected to the insinuation. I have no wish to impute improper motives to the right honorable gentleman, but there is such a thing as subediting one’s proof - although I do not say that that was done.
– The Prime Minister did not do that.
– Then I withdraw my remark. The right honorable gentleman would have been wise had he made the correction immediately. He endeavoured to prove that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers played an infinitesimal part in the carriage of Australian goods and in the regulation of freights. I remember that, when this Parliament met in Melbourne, it was announced that the right honorable gentleman intended to make an attack upon the big oil companies. He did make a vigorous attack on those companies, and this party welcomed him as a temporary convert to the ranks of those opposed to combines which were exploiting the people. Yet the other day the right honorable gentleman endeavoured, in this chamber, to prove that the Commonwealth Line had played little or no part in influencing freights and fares. He told a very different story in regard to the Commonwealth Oil Refinery. The right honorable gentleman stated that, although that refinery supplied only 6,500,000 gallons of petrol per year, one- twentieth of the Australian annual consumption of 130,000,000 gallons, its operations effectively prevented those great oil combines, the Standard Oil Trust and the British Imperial Oil Company, from exploiting the people of Australia. Undoubtedly, the Commonwealth Oil Refinery, in which the Government has invested £250,000, was the means of keeping down the price of petrol in this country, and what that comparatively insignificant concern achieved against the great 01 combines of the world, the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers could achieve against the great shipping combines, controlled by Lord Kylsant and Lord Inchcape. It has been claimed tha’, the Line did not pay. The Commonweal Oil Refineries have not paid, nor have our railways or post office paid. If honorable members opposite were consistent they would also pass over thorn services to private enterprise.
– I would be prepared, before my constituents, to advocate the sale of the railways.
– And I should be quite pleased to take the platform in the honorable member’s district, on the other side, after he had done sn.
– Will the honorable member show us how well the railways have worked?
– I shall leave that task to the honorable member. I care not whether those essential services have paid. They are helping to develop the country, and posterity will reap the harvest which must accrue from their pioneering activities. The Commonwealth Oil Refinery helps to keep money in the pockets of the people of Australia, and the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was performing - a similar service. If it is sound to maintain railways for the purpose of conveying produce from farm to port, surely it is also sound to extend that principle to the .carriage of produce, by nationalized steamers, from Australia to overseas ports, I have no wish to indulge in personalities, or to say anything too derogatory about those who conducted the affairs of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, but at least during the latter part of his term of office, Mr. Larkin did a good deal more for private shipowners than he did for the Commonwealth Line. In justification of that contention, I refer honorable members to the cablegrams which were .quoted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Blakeley) yesterday. Mr. Larkin, when in England, cabled his colleagues, Admiral Clarkson and Mr. Farquhar, intimating that the Conference Lines had agreed to raise freights, and urging the concurrence of the Commonwealth Shipping Board in the action; His suggestion was refused. Later,, when his colleagues proposed a reduction of freights> he cabled that he was irrevocably opposed to any reduction. Fortunately, the majority of the members of the Shipping Board carried that reduction. Those actions were not in favour of the people’s Line. I believe that Mr Larkin has long been antagonistic to the continuance of the Line. He is to be entertained at a farewell dinner by the shipowners of Australia, who will sing “ For he’s a jolly good Fellow,” knowing well that he helped to bring about the disposal of one of the most valuable assets that Australia possessed.
– Has the honorable member any proof of that?
– I draw my own deductions, and the honorable member cai; do likewise.
– Why slander a man merely on deductions?
– I do not. I consider that Mr. Larkin’s actions were prejudicial to the Line, and in support of my contention, I refer the honorable member to the cablegrams I have mentioned. I am confident that a good berth will be found for Mr. Larkin later on.
– His natural ability will secure him a good position.
– I am confident that had there been an inquiry into natural abilities, and quite a number of- other matters in connexion with the Commonwealth Line, .the. resultant revelations would have startled honorable members of this House.
– Why did not the honorable member move for such an inquiry ?
– This’ party is not governing the country. Had- I been a member of the Government I should have moved for a searching investigation into the conduct of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I shall now quote from F airplay, issued 5 th January, 1928. In this journal there are a number of letters from correspondents in different parts of the world. No names are given, but each correspondent has a title. This one is one of the leading shipping men of Britain. The letter reads -
A glimmer of hope has arisen in the decision of the Australian Government to sell its steamers. Should the project materialize, Canada and America may follow suit, when an impetus should be given to sane trading. “ Sane trading “ probably means that the freights should be sufficiently high to provide the shareholders with a good annual dividend. Honorable members opposite are in the same position as the ship-owners, with regard to the disposal of this Line. The vessels were placed on the market at a most unfavorable time. The greatest need of the man on the land is markets for his surplus products, and cheap transport of his goods to those markets. Large numbers of producers have been placed on the land in recent, years, and there is a surplus of such products as dried fruits. At one time 80 per cent, of our dried fruits could be consumed locally, but to-day. owing to their increased production in Australia, only 20 per cent, is marketed locally, the other SO per cent, having to be sent abroad. By parting with the only lever with which Australia could influence the shipping combine, the Government has done a great injury to the primary producers. When the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) was addressing the House yesterday, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) interjected, “If the worst comes to the worst, we should have to establish the Line again,” and the honorable member for Wimmera replied, “ It is better to keep the present Line than start de novo.”
I realize that to a large extent I am flogging a dead horse. Our ships have been sold to a great combine, and from a legal point of view, they are even now out of our control. The new owners will determine the freights in the future. Some persons will tell us that the power behind the throne in the past, so far as freights were concerned, was Lord Inchcape, and that now it is Lord Kylsant. As a matter of fact, although those two great shipping magnates will largely influence the position in the future, the freights will be determined by the Conference Lines. When the Vacuum Oil Company wishes to raise the price of its petrol, it consults its great rival, the British Imperial Oil Company, to see what it is prepared to do. Honorable members will recollect that the Prime Minister stated in Melbourne that the Vacuum Oil Company and the British Imperial Oil Company invited the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to join them in raising the price of petrol 2d. a gallon, but the latter company refused to do so.
– How is it that Great Britain i3 not victimized? It has no Government line.
– Great Britain is in a position similar to that of New Zealand. One reason why that Dominion enjoys favorable oversea freights is that to a large extent one of the biggest shipping lines operating there is owned by some of their own people. When Mr. Seddon was Prime Minister he obtained certain conditions from the two com- panics that controlled the hulk of the trade with New Zealand, and those conditions have been observed ever since.
– Could we not take similar action.
– It would endanger the interests of the party opposite, so far as election contributions are concerned, if it attempted to do anything of that sort. Mr. Seddon took a strong stand against anybody who dared to do anything that threatened the welfare of New Zealand, which he called “ God’s Own Country,” and among those who came under the sway of that man were the shipping lines. The Commonwealth Government has sold our only means of saving Australia from the rapacity of the shipping combine. A leading article in Fair Play, of the 5th January, referring to freights, states : - “ Given peace all over the world, there should be an improvement this year.” There is also an article by that great ship-owner, Sir “Walter Runciman. I am glad to notice that most of the contributions to Fair Play appear over or below the names of the writers. This journal, at page 14, has the following item concerning the freights :- -
They also had cause for cheerfulness in that during the first four or five months of 1927 there was employment for all cargo boats. In fact, it seems fairly certain that, had prewar conditions ruled, and had the Continent been able to trade up to the volume of, say, 1913, there would have been such a rise in rates of freight as would have gladdened the hearts even of those who owned steamers bought during the boom, and which stand in the books at considerably above their market value, and are carrying a weight of mortgage debt calculated to disturb the equanimity of any business man.
If that period of prosperity had continued, they would have been able to raise their freights to such an extent that it would have pleased those companies that had boats built during the war period. The plain meaning was, “ Let there be a prosperous time again, and up will go the freights.” Will the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) say that if freights go up in the Atlantic they will not increase in the Pacific? Freight alterations are made on a careful plan, and no damage is likely to be done to the political party that is responsible for the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line.
– I would rather trust the shipping companies than the trade unions.
– I am not anticipating that there will be any increase in freights prior to the next election. There may even be an inducement for the shipping companies to reduce freights for the time being. Far rather would I be dominated by the unions of Australia than by the exploiters, capitalists, and profiteers of this country.
– Why be dominated’ by either side?
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong is dominated by the unions.
– No. When I stand for election I sign the platform of the Labour party. I agree to,abide by that platform, and that is all that dominates me.
– But who dominates the platform ?
– A great annual conference. A coterie of capitalists determines what the Minister and honorable members opposite must do. My party hold a publicly-elected conference that is interstate in character. On this are representatives of Federal and State Parliaments, and it formulates the party’s platform.
We have turned our backs upon 1927, and are looking forward with optimism to the prospects for 1928, confident in the belief that better times are in store for Australia. There has been a wonderful improvement even in the last four months. I appeal to the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), and the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook), who are members of a party which is vitally interested in the progress of rural industries, to say whether the position to-day is not very much better than what it was three or four months ago. The whole face of things has changed, and has taken on a brighter aspect. Those who are acquainted with the conditions that exist in Great Britain, and in many other countries, hold the opinion that if there is not another world war or a great- international disturbance of any kind, trade will show a considerable revival during this year. When we read periodicals that are published in other parts of the world we find that there is everywhere a spirit of optimism. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Great Britain adopted an extremely optimistic tone when he delivered his budget the other day. The world will be more prosperous in the near future than it has been in the immediate past. No section of the community will participate more largely in the benefits that will accrue from this greater prosperity than will those who own or control the ships which carry the goods of all countries from port to port. The Government and its supporters have chosen the wrong moment to dispose of the Australian Commonwealth Line:
– According to the honorable member, no moment would be the right moment.
– No. Every sensible man to-day insures his life and his property for the benefit not only of himself but also of those who are dependent upon him. The Australian Commonwealth Line has been in the nature of an insurance, and although the premium may have been somewhat high, it would be well worth our while to continue to pay it, so that we might thereby obtain a greater measure of security. According to the arguments which are advanced by honorable members opposite, we should dispose of our railways, because they are not paying. Such an action would be just as reasonable as the sale of these vessels
– We could not sell the railways.
– I am well aware that the Commonwealth has not the power to sell the railway systems of Australia ; but it could enter into negotiations with those by whom they are controlled, to effect-that purpose. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) has said that he would favour a proposal to sell the railways. I have read that there are capitalists who are prepared to purchase railways in Australia ; but I do not know whether the reference is to one particular State or to the whole of Australia. If the Treasurer were present he would say that he is still in favour of taking action along those lines. The Commonwealth Woollen Mills were sold at a time when they were earning very big profits. Those Governmentutilities that are retained are held as a form of insurance. That is one reason why I favour the retention of the Australian Commonwealth Line. I believe that it has been given away, and that the worst possible time has been selected for the event.
– A very good price has been obtained.
– I disagree with that statement. As a producer in a small way, I would say that the sale of the Line will prove disastrous to the producers, particularly the primary producers.
– Is the honorable member aware that last week in Sydney the Primary Producers Central Council, which is representative of the principal producing associations in New South Wales, passed unanimously a resolution congratulating the Government upon having effected the sale of the Line?
– The honorable member knows as well as I do that some of those conferences do not express the opinion of the rank and file that they presume to represent. In the same way, some honorable members who sit in this House do not represent the true position from the point of view of the primary producer. I believe that the day is not far distant when that fact will be driven home to them with telling force. Even our High Commissioner, in an article which he has published in a London newspaper, has sounded a very optimistic note in relation to Australia’s trade, and, comparing the present conditions with those that existed some months ago, has prophesized a brighter future. One effect of the sale will be a considerable reduction in the wages of the seamen. I know, of course, that that is in consonance with the ideas of some honorable members who sit opposite. I believe that the Line was not properly managed, and that the overhead expenses were too great. The salaries of officials amounted to between £13,000 and £14,000 per annum, although the fleet comprised only seven vessels. Where else would that condition of affairs be tolerated? Honorable members opposite have referred at length to what the seamen have done, but they have had nothing to say regarding the high salaries that have been paid to the managers and other officials.
– Such a state of affairs would not be tolerated in any nongovernment business.
– This Government professes to be guided by business instincts. When the number of vessels in the fleet was reduced to seven the Government and its supporters had the opportunity to say to the Shipping Board, “ You must reduce your overhead expenses. Instead of having 52 vessels to manage you now have only seven.” Instead of doing that, they remained quiet, and allowed the heavy overhead expenditure to continue. But when a seaman earns sufficient to provide his family with bread and butter, and perhaps put a little aside for a rainy day, he is assailed at every opportunity. I believe that the people of Australia will live to regret the day when they returned to power a government which has had the hardihood to dispose of one of the finest assets this country has ever possessed. According to some honorable members who sit opposite, the State of Victoria ought not to have engaged in the great electricity enterprise at Yallourn. For a number of years that was not a paying proposition; but it has now turned the corner. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) ought to visit the works and have a chat with Sir John Monash, one of the finest organizers Australia has ever had. Let him discuss with that gentleman the supply of electricity, for lighting and power purposes, to the people of Victoria and a portion of New South Wales, and he will become acquainted with the magnitude of the undertaking and the inestimable boon that it is conferring upon the people. It is one of the finest assets that Victoria possesses. I should like the honorable member for Franklin to state what is the position of the hydro-electric scheme in Tasmania.
– It is paying now.
– I could quote State instrumentality after State instrumentality that does not pay; yet honorable members opposite do not suggest that they should be sold. I advise them to read the speech that was delivered by Sir John Monash to a largely attended, critical conference, in which he stood up for Statemanaged undertakings. In the course of that, speech he said -
Criticism without a true knowledge of the facts counts for nothing. We can point to our railways, our post offices, our great water schemes, and last, but not least, to our great electricity scheme. They have been, in the true sense of the word, successful.
The extensive irrigation schemes in Victoria are not at present a paying proposition, and big deficits have to be made good every year by the Treasury, but in the long run they will be. Similarly, in the near future the Australian Commonwealth Line would occupy a better position than that in which it finds itself today. I expect that this will be our lastopportunity to oppose the sale of the Line; but we shall willingly vote against the Government once more, and thus show the people of Australia that the action which it has taken does not meet with our approval, and has not been taken with our consent.
– As I had not the privilege of addressing myself to the motion of censure moved by the former Leader of the Opposition in regard to the sale of the Commonwealth Line, I propose to take advantage of this occasion to make my attitude known. In the first place, I am impressed by the colossal losses which Australia has sustained as a result of this incursion into State socialism. The original purchase price was £14,887,758, and if we add the interest on capital and operating losses and deduct the profitmade by the vessels while they were being run by the Admiralty, and the price realized by the recent sale, we arrive at a clear loss of £11,500,000, which has had to be provided from the pockets of the Australian people. Assuming that the seven vessels are worth the book value of £4,718,000, which is shown to be incorrect by the fact that they realized under £2,000,000 by public tender, we find that the Commonwealth has been mulct in the appalling loss of nearly £14,000,000 in six years. In other words, every man, woman, and child in Australia has been saddled with an annual payment of between 4s. and 5s. for interest. In addition, the Line has increased the cost of living, thereby accentuating the hardships of the supporters of honorable members opposite. The operating loss for several yearshas been approximately £600,000 per annum, and the Government had either to continue to face that loss, and in addition provide £2,000,000 for replacements and maintenance if the Line were to have a chance of becoming a profitable concern, or cut the losses and abandon the business. I have not the least doubt of the correctness of the course adopted by the Government, and I am certain that it will be endorsed by the great majority of the electors. If honorable members opposite will but do us the favour of making the sale of this Line the principal issue at the next election they will make the path of the Nationalists and County parties much smoother, and assure us a victory at the polls.
There could be only two justifications for the continuance of the Line, one, that it was paying, and the other, that the results justified the huge capital loss of £14,000,000 and an annual deficit–, of £600,000. Not even honorable members opposite will say that the Line is paying its way or would have had a chance of doing so under government control, and I deny absolutely that any reliable evidence has been adduced that the Line had’ been responsible for reducing freights between Australia and the United Kingdom. We have heard a good deal of loose talk about the Line having saved our people £2,000,000; but no proof of this assertion is forthcoming. This amount is a myth; at best it is a guess, and is not based on any tangible figures. Frequent reference has been made to the Conference Lines, which have been almost invariably described as a combine. But there is no evidence that the Conference Lines have operated to the detriment of the Australian people. A combine is not necessarily harmful.
– It is formed for the good of the shareholders, of course.
– The shareholders are not engaged in the trade for the good of their health ; but- there is no evidence that the Conference Lines have ever imposed any disabilities upon Australian shippers. After all, what are the Conference Lines? Certain companies meet in conference and draw up a list of freights to be charged between the various ports in the same way as traders meet in conference to fix the prices to be charged for various commodities by the members of their associations operating in competition with each other. This system of conducting business has been forced upon traders through the pressure of unions and the collective bargaining which the existence of such bodies necessitates. The fact must not be overlooked that the management of the Commonwealth Line met the other companies in conference on numerous occasions, and it was difficult to say when the Commonwealth Line was in the Conference and when it was operating independently.
During the debate some cables belonging to a series which the majority of the Public Accounts Committee unanimously agreed should be regarded as confidential, have been unfairly and improperly quoted in this House. If these confidential messages are to be quoted at all the whole of them should be produced ; no value can be attached to a quotation that is torn from its context or dissociated from other matter which is essential to the understanding of it. If the whole of this correspondence were produced it would be found to include a cablegram from the management of the Commonwealth Line asking that the freights on certain commodities be increased.’
It is admitted that the cost of maintaining the Commonwealth ships on the Australian register was £200,000 more than if they had been operated on. the British register. If British companies could operate seven vessels for £200,000 a year less than the cost of operating the Commonwealth Line, and yet only make moderate profits, how absurd it was to expect this government enterprise to make profits and also reduce freights! In addition, the fact has been stressed that of the total cargo carried between Australia and the United Kingdom only 7 per cent, is carried on Australian bottoms, and of that proportion the Commonwealth Line carried only 2 per cent. How could a line carrying only 2 per cent, of the total cargo have any effect upon companies which carry the other 98 per cent., especially if, as honorable members opposite assert, they operate in concert.
The fact is indisputable that New Zealand, which is approximately the same distance as Australia from the United Kingdom, gets cheaper freights on certain lines than do Australian shippers. The honorable member for Wimmera sought to explain that by saying that the private shipowners made a concession to the Dominion as an inducement to it not to engage in a State shipping enterprise. If that argument is sound, surely it is reasonable to expect that when the Commonwealth has disposed of its ships, the Conference Lines will give our shippers cheaper rates so that we shall not embark on another venture of the kind.
Members of the Opposition have suddenly evinced an interest in and sympathy for the primary producer that they had never exhibited previously. I do not accept the,m as the mouthpieces of the men on the land. Doubtless men elected by gr.eat bodies .of workers in the metropolitan centres have a general interest in the freights on export produce, but the real representatives of the primaryproducers :are the men who were elected by their votes. The primary producers are directly .concerned in getting .cheap freights on export produce because the standards of living of themselves and their families are at. stake, and when their representatives in this Parliament declare that the Commonwealth Shipping Line is of no benefit to the men on the land I accept that as clear and unmistakable evidence that it has failed to help the people for whom primarily it was brought into existence. If further evidence on .that point is required I refer honorable members to the resolution of the Graziers’ Association of New South Wales - a body representing 4,000 graziers - unanimously approving of the sale of the Line.
The statement has been made during the debate that one of the basic differences between the Nationalist party and the Labour party is that whilst the latter believes in State socialism, the former is wedded to private enterprise. It is true .that the Nationalist party generally stands for private enterprise, but, speaking for myself and several of my colleagues, that attitude is qualified where public utilities are concerned. Because this Line has been in the nature of a public Utility, honorable members on this side of the chamber have been more sympathetic towards it than would otherwise have ,been the case. But the test that, should be applied is “Does it pay?” If a government enterprise does not pay it should be relinquished.
– Is that the only test ?
– It is the principal one. The honorable member’s successor as Premier of Queensland, Mr. McCormack, speaking in the Queensland House of Assembly on the loth October, 1926, on the Stamp Act Amendment Bill, said -
I have adopted the policy that we will not continue to lose taxpayers’ money upon ventures that are unprofitable. We are, generally speaking, setting out to curtail expenditure and to cut losses at every possible point.
Mr. McCormack spoke ,as one carrying the responsibilities of Government, while my friends opposite speak without bearing that responsibility. While they persist -in their present tactics they are not likely to bear it.
I invite the members of the Labour party to give a single instance of a government profitably running a steamship line. Australia has lost between £13,000,000 and £14,000,0.00 in operating her line. The United States of America has also lost a large sum in operating her. government-owned line. My authority for that statement is Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual, edited by Messrs. Alex. Richardson and Archibald Hurd. The passage in it to which I refer reads as follow.s :-
As far back as 1912 the American Congress declared it to be necessary, both for national defence and for ,the sake of foreign and .domestic commerce, that the United States of America should possess an efficient merchant fleet capable of carrying the greater portion of its own commerce. But for the war it is probable that this statement would have continued to be merely a political tenet which had no practical bearing .upon the world’s commerce.
A little later the article reads -
The years since the war have shown that, no matter how strong is the national ambition for a particular object, that object cannot be obtained if it runs counter to economic law. The history of the American merchant marine is one of epic creation in response to the old world’s frenzied demand: of premature jubilation in the satisfaction of a national ideal ; and of reluctant .awakening to the disillusionment of a privately-owned fleet crippled by its State competitor, , an annual national deficit’ of’ between 20 and 30 million’ dollars on its State shipping venture, and a fleet of well over 4,000.000 gross tons lying rotting at its anchors, without the slightest prospect of finding useful employment.
Mr. Hurd also refers to the experience of the United States of America in the shipping business in his book State Socialism in Practice, from which I take the following extract–
The operating losses amount to £34,000,000. The total expenditure is thus £824,000,000, all of which has come out of the pockets of the taxpayer for no result whatever. Of the fleet of 1,300 ships 900 are idle, and the remainder are running at a loss, the average loss on every voyage of each cargo vessel being £5,G00. “
A number of those ships were subsequently sold to Mr. Henry Ford upon his giving an undertaking that the engines removed from them would be used in some manufacturing business in America. France and Canada have lost £26,000,000 and £8,000,000 respectively in their government shipping enterprises. Mr. Mackenzie King, the present Prime Minister of Canada, in 1914 described the expenditure of £14,000,000 upon the Canadian Government fleet as the most wilful waste of public money he had ever experienced. Although he may be continuing to waste money in this direction, some day he will see the light, and follow our example.
The history of State socialism in Australia alone should be sufficient to convince honorable members of the folly of the policy. Certain disasters that have occurred indicate that there are rocks and shoals which should be avoided. We have lost about £14,000,000 in our shipping venture; Queensland has lost £2,000,000 in her State enterprises; Nev South Wales at least £1,000,000 ; Western Australia about £500,000, and Tasmania not less than £250,000. The total amount lost in these concerns is between £19,000,000 and £20,000,000. What humanitarian proposals advocated by honorable members opposite could hav. been put into effect with that money! What relief from taxation could have been granted to our struggling industries if those losses had not been incurred! But, apparently, honorable members opposite do not intend to profit by the lessons of history.
Let me apply another statement of Mr. McCormack to the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers. The honorable gentleman is reported to have made the following remarks: -
If people whom we set out to serve will not give the social service that is necessary to make a success of those ventures, then there is no policy left but for the Government to abandon these particular things until the people are willing to give the social service necessary to make them a success.
Have the seamen, the stewards, or other unionists employed upon the Commonwealth Government Line or the Australian waterfront rendered the social service which Mr. McCormack considers essential to the successful operation of Government enterprise? Not one honorable member of this House would have the courage to declare that they have done so. In fact, their attitude is in itself a justification for the Government disposing of these ships.
– There has not been a hold-up of Commonwealth boats since 1924.
– Surely the honorable member is aware that the Largs Bay has been laid up for three months on account of the action of the stewards ? One could recall a number of similar instances.
Last night the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Blakeley) said that the Prime Minister had not acted fairly by the House in disposing of this Line as he has done. In support of his assertion he quoted an extract from a speech delivered in this House last year by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green). That honorable gentleman said that when the proposal to sell these ships was again before Parliament he would have something to say about it. I suggest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that his argument is with the honorable member for Richmond and not with the Prime Minister. The deduction which he made last night from the speech of the honorable member for Richmond was unfair to the Prime Minister. If I remember rightly the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) specifically asked the Prime Minister whether he intended to consult Parliament again before disposing of these ships and the reply was in the negative. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition should therefore admit that he has made a mistake. “When the Government first announced its intention to sell this Line it was said that there would be no offers for it, and that it would be unsaleable, but a remarkably good sale has been effected. This is the opinion of experts upon the value of steamers and, after all, we who are not experts on that subject should be guided by the opinions of those who are. Mr. Larkin has stated that the Government obtained a very fair price for the ships. He also made the following statement which is reported in to-day’s Daily Telegraph Pictorial. - “When all the facts are considered, I must reiterate that the Government has made a good bargain in the sale of the Line,” he said. “ Price was not the only consideration,” he claimed.’ “There are also those other guarantees required by the Government’s condition of tender, and amply provided for in the contract signed by the buyers. “ Not only have the buyers undertaken to inaugurate ‘a fortnightly service, but they have since announced their intention to run the ‘ Bay ‘ and ‘ Dale ‘ steamers in conjunction with the Aberdeen and Shaw Savill ships in this service.”
This would mean an additional eight ships a year between the United Kingdom and Australia, Mr. Larkin explained. “ There is also the safeguarding of the interests of shippers in regard to freight rates,” he went on. “ This provides not only for . the appointment of a body whose constitution shall be decided between the Government and the purchasers, but also that no general increase in freight rates on Australian products shall be made until it has been referred to that authority.”
Considering that the buyers of the Line were not under any obligation to agree to all the conditions mentioned by Mr. Larkin, I think it must be admitted that the Government has done very well. Had any of the wealthy trade unions of Australia bought the Line with the object of demonstrating that the enterprise could be run successfully, they would have been the last to agree to such conditions. We may heartily congratulate the Government upon the satisfactory deal that it has made.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition stated last evening that the Commonwealth Government Line had been successful in reducing the time occupied in the voyage between Australia and Great
Britain; but as the speed of its boats is only about 15-knots per hour, I cannot see how such a statement can be substantiated. I returned from London on the Ormuz, the slowest vesel of the Orient fleet, when she made her last run as a mail steamer, and the weariness of that voyage on account of the slowness of the vessel was something that I shall not soon forget. If that vessel’s speed approximates that of the vessels of the Commonwealth Line, I say that the statement that the fleet reduced the travelling time between here and the United Kingdom is quite untrue, and that there is evidently a misapprehension in the mind of the honorable member on that point.
– The statement that the Line reduced the travelling time was quite correct.
– The Ormuz was formerly the old German Zeppelin, which was built in 1914, at the outbreak of war. It is a remarkably fine vessel apart from its speed, both in equipment and other essentials. Among other things they do well, the Germans can build vessels. The Ormuz was sold for £247,000, and it is perfectly clear that in comparison, the price obtained for the Commonwealth Fleet was very reasonable, if not a very good bargain. During the last debate on this subject, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) regaled this House with Lord Inchcape’s record. During his diatribe, he mentioned various companies of which Lord Inchcape is the president and the amounts that hehas invested in them. Lord Inchcape was to be the pivot of the Opposition’s attach, but we find to-day that the attack has been transferred to Lord Kylsant, and astatement of his activities has been given by the Leader of the party. I do not think it is necessary, in order to show one’s democratic instincts, to attack a man because he is a lord. After all -
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.
Many men of rank title have been the makers of British history and upon their industry is founded the success and progress of the British Empire. I do not for one moment join in any disparagement of men because they happen to be lords and have been successful in the walk of life in which they have chosen to use their brains and industry. Has the overseas shipping combine done anything detrimental to the people of Australia? Has it ever closed the ports of Australia? Has it ever stopped the primary producers from shipping their produce overseas? Not for one moment. It is only too willing to take cargoes. There are combines of employers and capitalists, but there are also combines of employees and unions, and the combines of unions has done more harm to the people of this country than any combine of capital so far as shipping is concerned. It was a combine of unions that caused the shipping strike of 1925. The stewards’ combine held up shipping at another period. The combine of the cooks and the unions that are sympathizing with them are to-day holding up the vessels of Huddart Parker and Company that trade on this coast. Honorable members opposite when attacking combines, should take the beam out of their own eye before they start to take the mote out of someone else’s eye: What is retarding the progress of Australia is not a shipping combine, but a combine of unionists, upon which my friends opposite should first concentrate their attention. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) referred in chiding terms to the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and deprecated his statement that this country was not prepared to submit to the domination of the unions who proposed to- declare the Line black.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– The honorable member chidingly- deprecated the action of the Prime Minister. I say that it is to the eternal credit of the Prime Minister that he made that statement. The people of Australia were waiting for and expecting it. When a section of the community starts to usurp the functions of this Parliament - that is what the unions’ declaration amounted to - then it is time for the Leader of this Parliament to say that he will not permit it. He did so in no uncertain terms, but no sane member of the community would take any exception to his words. I asked the Leader of the Opposition whether he supported -the statement of the unions that they would declare these vessels black. He did not reply, but in a roundabout way he gave what amounted to a denial to that statement. He said that the people of Australia should be the judges in the matter, and so they should be. We are here elected by the freest franchise in the freest country in the world, and when this Parliament says that a certain thing shall be done, it is not for any body of capitalists or of unionists to gainsay it The members of the Opposition should have justified their attitude or, like true men, stated that they did not agree with the action of the unions. Apparently they are not prepared to take either course. They prefer to sit still and suffer the domination of the unions. The people will applaud the action of this Government in getting rid df the Commonwealth Line, thus obviating the loss on its operations’ which has faced this country for so many years.
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat was very much opposed to what he called combines of unions, or combines of labour, and very apologetic for the combines of capitalism. Yet, his own leader and party have often said that they believed in unionism.
– So we do.
– They have said that there is nothing wrong with unionism. But they are inconsistent. They are mostly abusive of unionism and the policy of unionism, and they apologize for combines of capital whether it be a shipping combine or any other. They have nothing to say in criticism of the great combinations of capitalism that have often been exploiters of this country in the past.
The amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) is a protest against the action of the Government in sacrificing a valuable public asset, the Commonwealth Shipping Line. The Prime Minister, and most of his supporters who have spoken, do not regard that Line as a valuable asset. They justify its sale on the ground that it has lost what value it had, and that the price realized after public tenders were called is reasonable. In arriving at the value of the Line, they have applied ope test, and one only; they examined the profit and loss account. This shows a loss for some years past.
– I should like to apply the test that Mr. McCormack applied.
– He did not refer to the Commonwealth Line.
– He referred to some of the honorable member’s legacies.
– I am prepared to take responsibility for what the honorable member terms my legacies, and, if necessary, to defend them. Honorable members behind the Government have applied the test of the profit and loss ac-i count. They did not take into account’ the original cost of the Line, and its value on the books of the Shipping Board, nor what it would cost to replace the vessels. All they considered was the earnings of the vessels. Because a net profit was not shown, they consider the vessels worthless, and now pride themselves on having obtained an offer of £1,850,000 for them. Was this the proper way of determining the value of the Commonwealth Line? Whether the vessels are profitable, or have been running at a loss - is that the only test of the value of the Line? Is it the only factor to be taken into account ?
– It is not.
– If, merely because the Line was showing a loss, its sale was justified, it would have been logical to give the ships away in order to save the Commonwealth from further loss, or even to present a handsome bonus to anybody who would accept the Line. The only consideration with the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) was the capacity of the Line to earn profits for the Commonwealth Treasury.
The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) said that the removal of the.se steamers to the British registry would save in current expenditure only £220,000 per annum, and, therefore, the operation of the Line would still show a loss, though there would be a further saving in interest on account of the smaller amortization charges. If that be so, Lord Kylsant, who has bought the Line, must be a dithering idiot. The Nationalist members, to judge by their speeches, in their hearts pity the unfortunate Lord Kylsant for contracting to pay so much for the Line, for these lame ducks of ships which they have taken such pains to dispraise. If the profit and loss statement is to be taken as a test of the value of the Line, why not apply the same test to the Commonwealth Navy? Our naval vessels do not return a profit to the Commonwealth, so why retain them?
– Is the honorable member serious?
– I am suggesting that honorable members supporting the Government are not sincere on this subject. If there were private naval corpo-rations, possibly they would want to sell the Australian Navy to them. Would the honorable member apply the same test to the Northern Territory, which certainly does not return any profit to the Commonwealth ? ‘ Perhaps the Minister in charge of it would welcome a suggestion of the kind. Such an action would be consistent with the Nationalist conception of the proper handling of the affairs of the Commonwealth. I understand that honorable members opposite apply this principle only to such administrative activities as they term “ enterprises.”
– Cannot the honorable member induce the Government to sell Canberra ?
– I do not know where the Government will draw the line ; perhaps, ultimately, it will .dispose of Canberra. Apparently honorable members opposite believe that unless a public business enterprise shows a profit, the Government must get rid of it. The very pertinent question has been asked from this side of the chamber whether that argument applies to the Governmentowned railways on which we lose money each year.
– I am quite willing that the railways should be sold.
– The honorable member and others on that side, including the Treasurer, have said that they would sell the railways. They would sell the railways to private enterprise, and allow the primary producers to suffer the exploitation that would follow the sale of this essential public service. I suppose that they would extend the principle to the post office when it fails to show a profit. Do honorable members opposite contend that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers are not in the same category as the railways, post office, telegraphs, and instrumentalities of that nature ?
– They are not. The latter are monopolies.
– If the only difficulty in the way of the retention of the Commonwealth ships is that they do not constitute a monopoly, it is within the power of the Commonwealth Government to make them one. The Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line was a great public utility,, which was performing an essential service for the people of Australia. It could have continued to be used in a way which would make it indispensable to the Commonwealth as a regulator of overseas freights; as a gauge of the fairness of other shipping lines trading to Australia towards the shippers of our produce.
– It would be a very expensive “barometer.
– One sometimes has to pay dearly for valuable service; but where the service is worth what is paid one does not count the cost. The Line provided a definite check on the charges of other shipping lines trading to Australia. Now we have no such check. Honorable members opposite scoff at the idea that the Line regulated freights between Australia and the Australian ^ market overseas. The honorable member for “Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) said that the effect df the Line in that direction was negligible, as it carried only 2 per cent, of the total tonnage exported from Australia. The Line may have carried only 2 per cent, of the aggregate tonnage, but the important thing was, as is shown in the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, that of the cargoes that really concern the producers, primary products, and refrigerated cargo, the Australian Commonwealth ships carried over IS per cent. If our ships were of no account as competitors with the great colossus represented by shipping combines, is it not strange that a great shipping magnate should have interested himself in getting the Commonwealth Government out of the business by acquiring the Line. Is it not a strange thing that Lord Kylsant should have bought these ships? Did not the Prime Minister endeavour to prove when justifying the price that was accepted, that Lord
Kylsant could have bought better ships at a cheaper price than those of the Line. Why did he buy the Commonwealth ships? Because he wanted, not the five “Bay” liners, and the two “Dale” cargo boats, but the Australian Commonwealth Line, because he wanted to put the Commonwealth Government out of the shipping business. Would he desire to put the Commonwealth Government out of the shipping business if the influence of our ships in controlling the freights from Australia overseas were negligible ?
– Will the honorable member suggest a reason why Lord Inchcape did not tender for the Line?
– Lord Inchcape appreciated the significance of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers in controlling freights. Does the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson) forget the message which Lord Inchcape sent to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes, in 1919? For his edification and that of other honorable members, I shall read a portion of it -
The Conference Lines to Australia must keep their ships running, even at serious loss, utilizing their accumulated reserves to make up deficiencies. I recognize and admit quite freely that the Australian Government, with its taxpayers behind it, can go on indefinitely, and the Conference Lines may eventually be ruined.
That proves that Lord Inchcape recognized the influence of the Commonwealth Line, which honorable members opposite pretend to discount.
– The influence of the Commonwealth, or of the Line.
– The influence of the Line, backed by the Commonwealth Government and the people of the Commonwealth. I ask the honorable member for Swan what influence can the Commonwealth Government have in controlling overseas shipping without the Commonwealth Line. The honorable member for Warringah stressed the point that the Commonwealth Line effected no saving to the producers; indeed, he was at some pains in his endeavour to prove that the Line exploited the producers.
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– The honorable member said that the Line increased the cost of living to the people of Australia.
– I did not. I said that the Line had had no effect in reducing freights.
– The honorable member went further, and said that it had actually increased freights.
– No. I said that the Shipping Board had asked for an increase.
– The honorable member said that the Line had no effect in reducing freights to the producers or the people of Australia, and that it actually asked for an increase of freights. I asked for a return to be tabled by the Prime Minister setting out the savings effected as a result of the reduction of freights by the Commonwealth Shipping Board since July, 1926, The last return, which gives the quantity of primary produce, and other produce carried by the Line, states that the following saving was affected on the commodities mentioned namely, since
The total saving amounted to more than £500,000 on those primary products alone. I asked for further information with regard to the saving on cased goods and other cargo, and the answer was that that information was not readily available, and could not be given. Obviously, there was also a big saving on those items.
– As against the freights which prevailed prior to the reduction announced by the Commonwealth Line.
– After that reduction had been announced by all the shipping lines.
– If the honorable gentleman will be patient I shall quote the qualification given in the answer to my question. The Prime Minister added -
The honorable gentleman’s questions are so framed as to suggest that the reduction in freights on commodities mentioned were carried in ships of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, or any other ships, were the result of the action taken by the Commonwealth Shipping Board. This suggestion is not justified.
Why was that suggestion not justified? Obviously the reduction would not have occurred if -the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers had not announced a reduction in freights. In 1926. when the Parliament was sitting in Melbourne, and he was defending the Line, the Prime Minister made a statement, setting out the estimated annual savings to the primary producers of Australia through the operations of the Line. It contained these figures -
They show a total benefit to the producers of over £522,000 per annum. The right honorable gentleman did not then add any qualification, or say that it was misleading to give the credit for bringing about those reductions wholly to the Line.
– Does the honorable member contend that the announcement of the Commonwealth Line brought about the reduction?
– What I have averred, and what has been averred by other honorable members on this side, is that the action of the Commonwealth Line in announcing a reduction of freights and in reducing freights on their own vessels brought about a reduction of freights by all lines.
– But had not the Conference Lines agreed to that reduction before the announcement was made ?
– They had not.
– Does the honorable member admit that the reduction on wool, the chief item, was brought about at the instigation of one of the other lines ?
– No. It has been suggested by various honorable members that Holt’s Blue Funnel Line was responsible for that reduction, but that statement was definitely refuted later. What is the use of trying to burk the fact that the Line has been of great benefit to the people of Australia? Was the Prime Minister misleading the Federal Parliament in 1926 when he stated that the Line had brought about an estimated annual saving on wool alone to the excent of £229,000? Either his statement was correct or it was incorrect, and the right honorable gentleman must surely have been conversant with the facts, as he is the Leader of the government thathad control of the Line.
– The honorable member promised to reduce unemployment in Queensland. ,
– What relevancy has that to the debate? That is the sort of inane remark that one might expect from an honorable member who has not yet been elected to Parliament. I understand that honorable members opposite are unanimously in favour of the decision of the Government to sell the Line. They are anxious to be rid of it because they allege that it is an incubus on the Commonwealth. They have been challenged by the honorable member for Wimmera for their lack of consistency,- especially the members of the Country party, who were pledged to the continuance of the Line in the interests of the primary producers, because of its effect as a check upon the shipping monopoly, and in regulating freights, and in disclosing information as to factors governing the fixing of freights. But these honorable members have somersaulted on that subject. Some members of that party were members of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts when its interim report was presented in August, 1.926. After many witnesses had been examined, and the committee had given due consideration to the. subject, it reported -
To arrive at a decision, apart from the question of Government policy, as to whether the Commonwealth Government Line should be continued, there must he considered what benefits have accrued to the country by the establishment of the Line, and whether such benefits have outweighed any financial loss incurred ns a result of its trading- operations. The evidence so far placed before the committee indicates that not only has the Commonwealth Line been directly responsible for actual reductions in freights, but that the presence of the Line has exerted a material restraining influence against proposed increases.
Stronger words than those could not be used to show how beneficial the Line had been to the primary producers. I quote them in reply to the sole argument advanced from the other side that the test to be applied to ascertain the value of the Line is whether it was making a profit or showing a loss.
– What did the final report of the committee say ?
– I shall quote from that, too. The honorable member for Forrest, who is a prominent member of the Country party, gave his sanction to the signing of the interim report by Sir Granville Ryrie, the present High Commissioner, who then represented Warringah, and was chairman of the committee. The interim report also said -
The shippers and primary producers of Australia have derived much benefit from the establishment of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The committee, therefore, recommends that in the interests of Australia, the Line be continued.
We know that the final report differed from the interim report, but even in it the benefits which have been derived from theLine had to be admitted. There was a. recommendation that the ships should be transferred from Government ownershipto ownership by some kind of Australian public company. The suggestion was not made that the Line should be sold to one of the shipping monopolies that are controlled from the other side of the world. The proposal was that an Australian organization should take over its control from the Government. In the final report of the committee, at page 17 it was stated -
Apart from the financial results of its actual trading operations and its war-time necessity, evidence was placed before the committee indicating that benefits, in addition to those already referred to through its influence on. freights, had been derived by Australia through the establishment of the Commonwealth Line and its presence on the United Kingdom to Australia berth. By the building of the modern “ Bay “ and “ Dale “ steamers the Commonwealth Line had impelled other owners to improve their ships and services; and by the provision of experimental refrigerated chambers in its ships, it had encouraged and rendered possible the successful marketing of Australian soft and citrus fruits overseas. Goods carried in these chambers, it might be mentioned, pay no freight unless they arrive at their destination in good condition.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) said that the vessels could not be of benefit to Australia, because they were slow ships, and it was tedious to travel on them. Surely the honorable member does not appreciate the relative merits of “ Bay “ and “ Dale “ steamers. Passengers who have travelled on the “ Bay “ liners are loud in their praises of the excellent service given. The report of the committee stated that the up-to-date character of the “Bay” and “Dale” liners had “ impelled other owners to improve their ships and services.” It must have been difficult for members of the Country party, having signed that report, to somersault on the question, especially as they were pledged to uphold this nationally-owned service.
– They are supported by the resolution of the primary producers in conference.
– The members of the Country party could get a resolution -carried by their conference to suit their political necessities; but I do not know that it would represent the true opinion of the primary producers.
– How long is it since that plank disappeared from the Country party’s platform ?
– The Treasurer might supply that information. Will he also inform me by what means it was made to disappear ? We have no evidence that the farmers themselves have changed front with regard to the utility of the Line.
– The Minister for Markets gave the whole of the facts in the last debate.
– I ask honorable members opposite, especially Ministers, how they propose to carry out what the Prime Minister has suggested can be done for the protection of Australia against the rapacity of the shipping combine. The Government simply says “ This Line was making a ‘loss arid, therefore, we have sold it. We can protect Australia against any extraordinary increase in freight “. How’ can that he done?
– By doing as South Africa did ; by making representations to the companies concerned and giving subsidies.
– It is suggested that South Africa has prevented increases in freight by offering subsidies to the shipping companies. If, after selling the Line, the Government still had power to protect Australia from exploitation by great aggregations of shipping interests, if they could protect shippers, primary producers and importers from the levying of extortionate charges by the shipowners, they would have a better case. Can they explain how they will know whether the rates charged are fair or unfair? This is a complex subject. Up to the present time, the Government have known what factors have governed freights because they have been shipowners themselves.
– The people of Australia know that they have been paying more for the carriage of butter than New Zealand pays.
– And they will continue to know that. Although Australia may be charged more and more, those controlling the shipping monopoly will always have plausible excuses for increases in freight. If a 10 per cent, increase is made the Conference Lines will advance some plausible statement to justify it, and if there is subsequently a further increase of 15 per cent., another public statement will be made on behalf of the companies still apparently justifying the increase. What means have we of checking such statements?
– Foreign competition.
– The foreign shipping companies are parties to the Conference agreements entered into with regard to freights. They are taken into consultation. Is it not in the interests of those companies to share in the plundering of Australia? This is not a matter to be regarded lightly. It may be suggested that later, when the companies exercise their undoubted power, and freights are increased to such an extent that the position becomes intolerable, the Government will appoint a royal commission to inquire into the subject. If it did, it would be told by the Inchcapes and the Kyslants to go to
Hades, so far as such an inquiry was concerned.
– “Where the unions have consigned the Commonwealth Line of ships many a time.
– Whatever the unions may have done, they have been under the control of and subject to the laws of this country.
– The honorable member is humorous.
– Is it suggested that any union or body of men working in Australia is not under the laws of the country ? But the overseas shipping combine is certainly not controlled by Australian laws, because the companies connected with it are domiciled in England or on the Continent. I am not trying to raise a mere bogey ; I am pointing out the dangers and difficulties of the situation. I see no means of protecting the primary producers as they were protected prior to the sale of the Line.
– They did very well before the Line was established.
– Honorable members are disposed to rely on the good faith and patriotism of the great shipping magnates; but did these gentlemen prove themselves magnanimous or patriotic when the test was applied to them ? Reference has been made to their actions and behaviour during the war. Did not Mr. Bonar Law, in the House of Commons, show that the shipowners did not scruple during that critical period, at a time when it was engaged in a desperate struggle, to suck, like vampires, the blood of the nation? Mr. Lloyd George, too, spoke eloquently on the subject - and no man was more competent to deal with it. Did he not disclose the fact that some of the shipowners were so unscrupulous as to stop the wages of their seamen from the moment that they were left struggling in the water after the vessel on which they had been was torpedoed? During the first 31 months of the war their operations resulted in excess profits to the extent of £350,000,000. Yet honorable members opposite are content to place the destinies of Australia in their hands. Does the honorable member for Henty, whose honesty in the matter I do not question, really believe that Australia can safely leave its shipping interests to those persons? Have they any real desire to help to develop Australia? Have they any wish but to make greater and still greater profits from the working of their ships? I do not deny their right to make as much profit as they can. One realizes that they are not in the shipping business for the benefit of the countries to which they trade.
– But they wish to keep the trade, not to kill it.
– They wish to extort the greatest amount of profits that the trade can carry.
– That the trade can carry !
– Cannot the trade carry higher freights ? Have not the wool freights been twice reduced in the last six years? Could not those freights, therefore, be increased without serious injury being done to that industry. If those companies are allowed to impose whatever freights the trade will carry, we shall be permitting a system of secret taxation, imposed, not by a government, but by foreign corporations.
– Are not wages fixed according to the capacity of an industry to pay them?
– With all due deference to the honorable member for Fawkner, there is a vast difference between the two cases. In the fixation of wages in Australia the Arbitration Court is guided by well-known principles, which include a desire to give to the workers that which is reasonable and which will enable them and their families to live decently and in comfort in what is, regarded as a civilized community. This Parliament has given its imprimatur to those guiding principles, and has embodied them in the laws of this country.
– If the wages fixed are beyond the capacity of any industry, will it continue to pay them?
Mi-. THEODORE.- I do not suppose that it will. Some industries have closed down because they have not been able to pay the wages or other charges with which they have been faced, and show a profit. But surely the honorable member does not say that because Arbitration courts fix wages which they consider an industry can carry, a shipping monopoly is justified in fixing freight rates that are the maximum rates that can be borne by the different industries that produce the commodities which are carried on their vessels!
– Bates that they are prepared to pay.
– But an industry has no say in the matter! I feel sure that the honorable member will see the weakness of the stand he is taking. Although Railways Commissioners in Aus. tralia are allowed under various acts of Parliament to fix differential rates with respect to the various classes of goods carried on their lines, they are restrained from becoming exploiting and taxing authorities. It is true that they are able to charge a higher rate for the carriage of wool than for the conveyance of goods that are less valuable. Surely the honorable member will not attempt to establish the right of Lord Kylsant or Viscount Inchcape to impose unrestrainedly whatever freights they choose to levy!
– Not unrestrainedly.
– How are they to be restrained under this new dispensation? “We have not the means to check the relative freights, or any other factor connected with the business of shipping that has a bearing upon the charging of freights. How can we possibly have an acquaintance with the process which results in the imposition of higher freights, or test the motives that actuate those who impose them? In what way can we satisfy ourselves that there is justification for any statement that may be made publicly on behalf of the shipping combine?
– They can be controlled as they were before the war.
– There was control during the war but not prior to its outbreak.
– “What has restrained them for 140 years? Have we not prospered under them during that time?
– “We may have prospered in spite of their exploitation. Does the honorable member contend that there was no exploitation by the shipping companies prior to the outbreak of the war?
– I say that it was not sufficient to blight this country, or even to affect it.
– Does not the honorable member know full well that the Australian Commonwealth Line was established in the first place because there was exploitation? The right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr Bruce) himself said that in 1916 and subsequent years the Australian ships were carrying wheat from this country for £7 10s. a ton, while British ships were charging more than £13 a ton, and some foreign ships were charging as high as £15 a ton. I know that it is too late to remedy the evil. It is not too late, however, to consider the consequences that are likely to arise because of the disposal of the Line. If the only test was whether the Line was earning a commercial profit or was capable of being so administered in the future that the annual losses would be converted into annual profits, perhaps little could be said in support of the theory that it was likely to be successful. “We on this side, however, have never urged that as the sole factor in the case. Members of the Labour party, and in earlier times members of the Country party also, have held the belief that there were other factors which had to be considered; that apart from, and independently of, the capacity of the Line to earn profits, it had a utility for Australia, and that the loss of £200,000, £300,000, or even £500,000 a year might easily be offset by the indirect saving to the people of Australia, and more particularly the primary producers. The Prime Minister himself, as recently as 1926, stated that the primary producers had benefited to extent of £522,000 a year. “Whether those figures can be verified or not, I do not know ; but in them is an indication of the way in which the Commonwealth might benefit indirectly as a result of the existence of the Line. In my opinion, however, there are other benefits which are even more valuable than any actual monetary saving that can be calculated. The Line has justified its existence in that it has always acted as a restraint against the shipping monopoly; and has always been a potential weapon in the hands of the Government to prevent the undue exploitation of Australia by those private companies.
Now the Common wealth has surrendered that check, it has handed over to a monopoly this Line, which has performed such a useful service as a regulator of the shipping monopoly. It was a protection for our primary producers, and an insurance against profiteering or undue exploitation by the soulless ship-owners.
– Does not the honorable member consider that the trade of Australia is sufficiently valuable to induce competition ?
– The trade of Australia is sufficiently valuable to cause monopolies to be created. I believe that that is what has taken place. The interjection of the honorable member has suggested to me a reply to a question which was asked by way of interjection by the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page). That honorable gentleman said, “Did we not get on all right before the war without any Commonwealth Line ; were we unduly exploited then ?” My answer to that is that before the war there was a more real competition than is possible at the present time. Surely honorable members cannot be ignorant of what took place during and what has taken place since the war in the shipping world. Many lines have been absorbed ; there have been amalgamations; and even, those lines that have not been affected by those amalgamations are members of the Conference, or, at all events, are in agreement with the decisions of the Conference in the matter of freights. The situation to-day is entirely different from what it was twenty years ago, not only with respect to shipping, but also in relation to many other commercial enterprises. In the realms of banking as well as in many other branches of enterprise, capital has organized its forces, and as a result the whole world today is menaced by the possibility of exploitation by these great aggregations of capital. I have no desire to prolong the debate unduly. I merely wish to emphasize the fact that the Government has not made a satisfactory pronouncement of the manner in which it intends to protect Australia from the exploitation of the shipping monopolies when the Australian Commonwealth Line is out of the way.
, - The public- of Australia and this Parliament are becoming rather bewildered as to the real policy of the Opposition, because on almost every matter that comes before the chamber the members of the Labour party speak with two voices. This afternoon we witnessed the spectacle of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) demanding in outraged tones that the Commonwealth should do something to control trusts and combines. Yet the honorable member was one of those who. basely deserted the principles of a life-time order to defeat the referendum proposals to obtain power to deal with trusts and combines submitted by the Government two years ago. Similarly, a week ago the honorable member censured the Government because, he said, its housing proposals involved the setting up of a new administrative authority, in addition to the - authorities of the States; he completely disregarded the fact that his leader, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) had previously censured the Government for not setting up a Federal constructional and administrative authority. Again, in regard to the sale of this Line, we have listened to two opposing voices from honorable members opposite. The official Leader- of the Opposition has moved an amendment, declaring “ that in the opinion of this House, the Government, by the sale of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, has sacrificed valuable public assets, &c.” Yet the honorable member for Dalley told us this afternoon that although Lord Kylsant could have bought better and cheaper ships elsewhere, he purchased the Commonwealth Line in. order to fasten an octopus grip on the shipping and trade of Australia. Throughout Australia people are asking, what is the real policy of the Opposition, which statement of its policy is true, and which spurious, and who is its real mouthpiece ? Having regard to what has happened in Australia during the last eight to ten years, one cannot help thinking that this debate and the censure debate on the same subject were nothing but political poses. Labour in office when confronted with conditions similar to those obtaining in connexion with the Commonwealth shipping enterprise has been forced to do as this Government has done. The honorable members for Bass (Mr. Jackson) and Franklin (Mr. Seabrook), and other Tasmanian representatives, have pointed out that although a Nationalist Government in Tasmania established a State-owned line of steamers, the Labour Government which succeeded it sold them at very much less than the cost price because the line could not be made to pay. In Queensland, the successor to Mr. Theodore, in dealing with the problems presented by Governmentowner enterprises, had to adopt a similar policy, because he found that it was impossible to conduct the affairs of the State in any other way. Apparently Labour in opposition has one policy, and Labour in office another, and one is forced to the conclusion that this debate has been engineered as an electioneering gesture. The Labour Premier of Queensland, Mr. McCormack, speaking on the Srd November last in regard to Governmentowned enterprises in that State said: -
I do not believe that uneconomic problems should be carried on’ by the State. I believe that, if by a small, loss you are able to continue an industry which has a chance of establishing and righting itself, the State should help it, even to the extent of assisting private enterprise to establish an industry; but I do not believe that we should go on losing huge sums of money year after year. . . .
I have a realization of my sense of duty. I have tackled many problems since I have been Leader of the Government. I have dealt with those problems in a manner which has been regarded as the renunciation, to some extent, of the policy of this party. That is not because that policy was wrong, but because under State control we should not get the service we were entitled to.
Government Members. - Hear, hear!
The TREASURER.- We have faced the problem. I only wish it had been faced before I had to take the responsibility; but, having taken on the job willingly - no one forced me to take it - when the outlook was rather black, it is my duty to see it through and try to do the best for this State.
He expressed the attitude of Labour in office in regard to unprofitable State enterprises. In effect, Labour Governments, when confronted with problems such as that with which the Commonwealth Government has had to deal in connexion with the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, say, “ There is no doubt as to our attitude. Even though these enterprises are a heritage from our Labour predecessors, the time comes when it is impossible to carry them on any longer, and we have to face the facts of the situation.” And like the Commonwealth Government, they decide to cut their losses and get out of the business.
The only questions to be determined by this debate are (1) Is the price obtained for the steamers the best that could have been got? (2) Why were the terms not better? and (3) what hinders the development of an Australian mercantile marine ? At this late stage it would avail nothing to examine afresh the reasons why the Government decided to sell the Line; they were dealt with fully in the debate on the censure motion last year. All I have to add now is that the sale was to the general advantage of the Australian people, especially the primary producers. We have been told that the price obtained by the Government is not nearly so good as it should have been. Every organization in the world, and every government had the opportunity to tender for the Line. The Soviet Government of Russia, which believes in nationalization through the Australian citizen resident emissaries or any combination of trade unions could have offered to buy the Line on better terms than were offered by Lord Kylsant, but no response came from them; and so the ships were bought by Lord Kylsant although according to the honorable member for Dalley, he could have got better and cheaper ships elsewhere.
Honorable members opposite have professed to speak for the primary producers. They say that they are trying to conserve for the man on the land a valuable asset. But the primary producers through their only official mouth-pieces say that they are satisfied with the sale. The Central Council of the Producers’ Associations of Ne.w South Wales, which represents practically all primary producing bodies in that State - some of them are political and others industrial, but they represent every export industry, the Graziers’ Association which speaks for wool, the Farmers’ and Settlers’ Association which speaks for wheat, the Stock-owners’ Association, the Sheepbreeders’ Association, and the Primary Producer^ Union which speaks for practically all the dairy farmers in the State - carried last week this resolution -
That the Producers Associations’ Central Council of New South Wales desires to convey to the Federal Government its respectful appreciation of the action that has been taken to dispose of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, which has too long been a tax on the primary producers and the Commonwealth.
Surely these people know their own business better than do honorable members opposite, who do not understand the conditions under which the primary producer works and ships his produce to the markets of the world. With a full knowledge of the reasons why the Line was sold and the price obtained for it, these organizations have endorsed the Government’s action. The president- of the Graziers’ Association of New South Wales, Mr. Tout, in this morning’s newspapers, congratulated the Government upon the sale, and he in his official position represents almost the the whole of the wool produced in that State. The honorable member for Dalley and his colleagues have wept crocodile tears over the tremendous rise in freights on wool, which they say must follow the sale of the Commonwealth ships, although they must have known that the quantity of wool carried on those vessels is negligible; at the present time, the Line has little or nothing to do with the carriage of wool.
At this stage it may be advisable 10 remind the House that the present Government and its Nationalist predecessor gave the Line every possible opportunity to make good. Some of us are charged with inconsistency because we have sold the Line, whereas a few years ago we desired to retain it under Government control. That very charge of inconsistency is a confession by honorable members opposite that we had no desire to destroy the Line, and did everything humanly possible to retain it, so long as there was a chance of its being operated to the advantage of the Australian people. When the Government took office five years ago it boldly faced this problem, wrote down the capital value of the ships, and placed the Line under business management. Certain members have declared to-day that the administration has been too costly.’->‘No charge of that kind was made until the intention of the Government to sell the Line was known. In any case the administrative costs have not had very much effect upon the financial position of the Line. The losses have been caused mainly by the frequent hold-ups by labour. Time after time freights had to be transferred from the Commonwealth Line to ships of other countries as a result of the go-slow and hold-up tactics of the seamen or waterside workers, but did the leaders of Labour inside or outside this Parliament say a word in condemnation of such tactics? No; they stood silently by and allowed a valuable public asset to be destroyed. Never once did they dare to censure the workers for not observing arbitration awards applicable to a service in which the conditions were better than in any other sea-going employment.
– They dared not do anything else.
– That is no reason why they should now arraign the Government for having decided to sell the Line. It is the opinion of the Australian people that the political and industrial leaders of Labour deserve to be arraigned for having allowed that condition of affairs to continue for so long. Unquestionably the financial position of the Commonwealth Line has forced the sale of the ships, and been responsible for the price obtained for them. That position was caused almost entirely by labour troubles, which also have created a conviction in the minds of the Australian people that, no matter how well disposed they might be towards a Government-owned line, any advantages which might accrue from it were not worth the price that had to be paid in labour dislocations and annually recurring losses.
Whether the price obtained by the Government was reasonable can be judged only by examining the financial history of the Line. I propose to put on record in Hansard a statement of profit and loss certified by the Treasury officials and the Auditor-General. Having regard to what has happened during the last few years it is evident that a sale three years ago for £1,900,000 would have been equivalent to £3,500,000 to-day, because in the interim we have lost the difference through annual deficits on operations.
For the same reason £1,900,000 now is better than a possible £3,500,000 three years hence. Prudence dictated that we should sell the Line upon conditions which not only give to the Commonwealth a substantial sum of money, but also assure an equivalent, and probably better, service than we receive at present, and give a certain amount of security in regard to freights. Let me briefly examine the financial position of the Line in order to ascertain exactly what it has been costing Australia and how much we shall save in future because of the action the Government has taken.
The report of the Commonwealth Auditor-General for 1926-27 shows that, from the commencement of our shipping operations in 1914-15 until the 31st March, 1927, -the net expenditure of the Commonwealth out of loan fund in connexion with shipping, was £15,417,864. Against this sum there were net credits to revenue for earnings and interest, amounting to £5,943,014. The net cash outlay by the Treasury, according to the Auditor-General, was thus £9,474,850. Accepting the value of the fleet and other assets at the figure shown in the latest accounts of the Line, and deducting therefrom the liabilities, a further sum would be received by the Commonwealth on realization amounting to approximately £2,989,850. The final cash outlay of the Commonwealth, if the assets were realized at their book values, would thus be £6,485,000. The assets which have now been sold are shown in the books at £2,793,500. As these have been sold for £1,900,000, there will be a loss on realization of £893,500. Adding this loss on realization to the final cash outlay of £6,485,000, the total loss of the Commonwealth in respect of shipping may be set down at £7,378,500. If this loss were apportioned between capital and working, the result would be -
It will be seen, therefore, that in ths twelve years that this Line has been operating we have lost an average of £615,000 per annum. Under the terms of the sale we shall receive for the ships £1,900,000 in cash or 5£ per cent, debentures. Consequently. we shall obtain from this source the equivalent of £104,500 per annum in interest. If we add this amount to our annual average loss on the line we shall find that, for the nextten years, the Commonwealth will be not less than £720,000 per annum better off without the ships than with them.
– Had we retained the ships we should have had to spend a largs amount of capital in improving and maintaining them.
– That would be inevitable. The experience of Canada and the United States of America plainly shows that governments are not able, profitably, to run steamship services, and that the bigger the fleet, the greater the loss.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) made his speech on practically one point. He said that, even admitting that the price obtained for the ships wa3 reasonable, we should have no control over them and the freights charged in the future. That is another instance of the Opposition speaking with two voices. When this subject was under discussion in November and December of last year, honorable members opposite pooh-poohed the idea of effectively protecting the interests of the Commonwealth by enforcing conditions of sale similar to those laid down by the Prime Minister in 1925. They said that we should not have a dog’s chance of retaining any effective control over the vessels no matter what conditions were included in the contract. Now the Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Dalley, and other honorable members opposite, say that we have lost our control by omitting the words “ and approval “ from the conditions of sale. Nothing could be more grotesque than the case that has been made out by the Opposition on this point. Other countries which have had no government-owned shipping line, have been able, by consultation, to secure lower freights than we have been able to obtain, although we have had a line of our own. In Canada, consultation and discussion between parties is the method employed to settle industrial disputes, and it has proved to be very effective. The* Prime Minister has rightly pointed out that a frank and free discussion of any proposed alteration in freight rates will be effective in protecting the interests of Australia. If there, is a strong public opinion after such, discussion that unfair rates are being demanded, no shipping company will be able to insist upon enforcing them. The honorable member for Dalley stated that other .countries were able to obtain lower rates because conditions in 1914 were better from the point of view of competition than they are to-day, but everybody knows that that is not so. Millions of tons of shipping lie idle to-day throughout the world. This applies especially to the tonnage owned by governments. I submit that we shall be able, if it becomes necessary, to exercise more control by applying the £720,000 which we shall save every year through ceasing to operate this Line to subsidies and to other means of improving our overseas services. At present we are subsidizing the Orient line to the extent of £130,000 per annum. This is ostensibly for the carriage of mails; but it is really to ensure that the company will provide a certain amount of refrigerated space for our cargo at specified rates. If we can do so much with £130,000, who can say how much we should be able to do if we were to spend £720,000 in the same way? We have been actually spending that amount in a concealed fashion each year for some time.
We can also exercise a measure of control through the regulations of our various ports. As Lord Inchcape has pointed out in certain cablegrams that had been read, if the Commonwealth considered that it was not receiving fair play and determined to secure it, its resources are so great that it could command respectful attention to any representations that it might make. No shipping company could lightly flout the wishes of the people of Australia.
The most casual examination of the present position shows that the Labour party in fighting for the retention of these ships by the Government is waging a battle merely for the Seamen’s Union. It is not even fighting for all the members of that body, for more than half of the 1,034 seamen employed on the
Government-owned boats are domiciled, outside of Australia. It would have paid the Government if eight or nine years ago it had paid off the Australian seamen working on these boats with a pension of £7,000. At 5 per cent, per annum this would have given them a permanent income at least equivalent to. that which they are at present receiving, and the Government would have been in pocket over the transaction.
I have delivered a number of speeches throughout the country since the Government announced its intention to dispose of this Line, and stated the terms on which the sale was to be made,, and I have found that the people generally have been relieved to know that the huge drain the Line was making upon the resources of the country was to cease. The producers know very well that all that has been said of the influence of the Line in securing reductions of freight, rates comes from fantastic imaginations. They also know that under the conditions of sale they will be guaranteed a better service than they have been receiving. I say this in spite of the sneers of the Leader of the Opposition at the conditions to which the successful tenderer has agreed. The following is an extract from Lord Kylsant’s cablegrams in connexion with clauses 6 and 7 of the contract of sale: -
Conditions contained in these two clauses are acceptable and will be complied with, namely that vessels be maintained for a period at least ten years on the British register, and that they be continued to be employed in trade between Australia and Britain as at present. Indeed it is hoped to augment the service with suitable vessels all partly insulated and of approximately equal speed of the “’ Bay “ steamers. The Government to extend to the new owners the same privileges, advantages and facilities, whatsoever they may be, as the fleet has hitherto enjoyed under Government control.
In regard to clause 8 the cables state: -
This Clause deals with the question of rates of freight and safeguards the interests of Australian exporters and importers. It is the intention to, as far as possible, continue the policy of the Line in this respect and in any case there will be no exploitation of Australian exporters and importers. Any classification and other certificates’ for hull, machinery, anchors and cables in the sellers’ possession as well as any plan or models to be handed over to the buyer.
Those statements destroy the foundation upon which the Opposition has based its case against the sale of these ships.
Although an attempt has been made to draw an analogy between, governmentowned steamships and government-owned railways, it has not been successful. In any case, the Commonwealth Government could not have adopted the means which the State Governments throughout the Commonwealth have adopted to reduce the losses which have been experienced during the last few years in operating the State railway systems. The Railways Commissioners of all the States have increased freights and fares with the object of overtaking their losses. Had the Commonwealth Government done this with its shipping Line it would have increased its losses, for it would have lost all the business which it has been securing. As a business man, the method which has been adopted to reduce the losses on the State railways does not commend itself to me; but the method could not have been applied to the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, for our vessels have to. enter into competition with shipping services from all parts of the world. We had not a monopoly of the shipping services, such as the State governments have of the railway system.
The Prime Minister made certain comparisons between the prices received for the Ormuz and some Italian boats and the price we have received for our vessels, which were entirely favorable to us. The Government of the United States of America has recently sold a number of its cargo boats at very low prices. I do not suggest that such tonnage is comparable with ours; but the sale of the following lines by the American Government should give us food for thought.
American Oriental Line - Seven steamers equalling 66,370 tons D.W. Trading between Puget Sound and the Far East. Price, $696,903.00 = £2 3s. 2d. per ton D.W.
Oregon Oriental Line - Eleven steamers equalling 95,117 tons D.W. Trading between Portland, Oregon and the Far East. Price, $1,065,000.00 = £2 6s. per ton D.W.
American-Australian Oriental Line - Twenty-one steamers equalling 193,342 tons D.W. Trading between North America, New Zealand, Australia, thence Philippines, Hongkong and Pacific Coast. Price, $1,981,755.50 =£2 Gs. 3d. per ton D.W.
It would cost the Government of the United States of America from £8 to £9 per ton dead-weight to replace that tonnage at present-day costs.
It must always be remembered that we are receiving less for our ships because we have so little goodwill in them. Had the service been operating in a satisfactory manner, and without labour troubles, we should have got a much better price. This is shown by the following condition which was included in the Runciman tender : -
Our offer stipulates for protection by the Government in the event of labour troubles in Australia during the first three years of the life of the new company. Such protection is necessary, as it should be realized the new company, with no reserves built up, &c, would be very seriously handicapped, if . not crippled, were the threats of the various labour organizations in Australia to black-list the vessels, in the event of their being sold, put into effect.
The attitude of the Seamen’s Union and the statements which have been made by its officials have had a detrimental effect upon the efforts of the Government to sell the Line.
Mr. Moate threatened that if the Commonwealth Line were sold to an outside body it would be declared black. The Labour Daily, of 26th April, contains these words - “ Mr. Bruce has said that Parliament must be supreme,” said Mr. Moate, of the Marine Stewards’ Union to-day, “ but the people are greater than the Parliament they create, and we must see whether in the final analysis the people of the country will support us in our action which is to be taken to protect our property.”
That statement was made by the official head of the Marine Stewards’ Union, and it has never been repudiated by the officials of the Labour party or by the leaders of other industrial unions of Australia, although the Prime Minister made a definite request that they should dissociate themselves from that statement on the ground of high policy, and because this contract is an Australian contract which has been ratified by this Parliament. In effect, the people of Australia, irrespective of party, have set their sign and seal to it, and, therefore, it should be respected, and no unconstitutional action should be assisted to make it null and void. Yet the Labour party has remained silent although- this is one of the most vital issues that has confronted us. Surely there should have been a statement of contradiction or repudiation by the Labour leaders, who some day hope to be in responsible authority, as soon as the threat of the leader of the Marine Stewards’ Union was made. Looking at the industrial history of the Commonwealth Line, we find that there is some ground for the stipulation by the Runciman people, and for the depressing effect upon the minds of would-be tenderers. In 1923 two cargo vessels were added to the Line. They were built in Australia by Australian workmen under Australian conditions, and were manned by Australian crews. One would have thought that the Seamen’s Union, from patriotic motives alone, would have been prepared to assist the sailings of these vessels; but what happened? The union refused to man the Fordsdale on its maiden voyage, and the vessel was held up for a month. In 1924 twenty major shipping hold-ups took place, which were reflected in loss of freight, and the cost of transhipment to other vessels of perishable produce such as meat and butter; all as the result of the action of the Seamen’s Union. Did the representatives of the official Labour party, either the industrial or political leaders, repudiate that action, particularly as the vessels concerned were owned by the people of Australia? They did not. The seamen were not being penalized in any way in regard to hours and conditions of work. In fact in one year they received £478,000 in wages, and if the vessels had been running under British articles the wages received would have been less than £220,000. The seamen were working under the best sea-going conditions in the world, and under the Commonwealth aegis. The Line was operating for the purpose, not of profit, but of assisting the producers of Australia ; but the Labour party made no attempt to ensure that- these men gave the fleet a fair deal. Then in 1025 another dispute arose. The employees of the Line refused to obey the awards of the Arbitration Court. The Labour party professes to believe in arbitration, but on that occasion it said not a word to men who ..consistently flouted the awards of the Arbitration Court. Finally an agreement was made outside the Arbitration Court between the Commonwealth Shipping Board and the seamen. Since then conditions have been a little better, but largely because of the legislation that was passed in this House in the teeth of the Opposition. In 1925 power was taken to deport the extremist agitators causing the trouble. Then the Labour party challenged this Government to go to the country on the issue of the control of labour disputes. The challenge was accepted, and the people by an overwhelming majority returned the Government to power to maintain a policy of law and order. It immediately started to redeem its promise by passing the Crimes Act, despite the frenzied opposition of the Labour party, and it was only last week that we were able for the first time to secure something like decent obedience to the awards of the Arbitration Court as the result of the operation of that legislation. Thus the Government is assisting industry and preventing labour extremists from destroying the whole social fabric of this country. Has the Labour party said one word in condemnation of the men who are trying to destroy the temple of arbitration? Not one word; and yet it dares to arraign the Government for doing exactly what certain Labour Governments were forced to do in the interests of the people. I ask honorable members opposite to awaken to a true sense of their duty and to tell the extremists, who are in a small minority in the unions, that they will not countenance any interference with the carriage of this country’s produce overseas. Were the members of the Labour party to adopt that attitude, then, I venture to say, this country would develop much more quickly than it is doing to-day. The Labour leaders have done nothing- to prevent the seamen from declaring the Commonwealth Line black. The seamen refused to recognize the awards of the Arbitration Court, but, in 1925, they made an arrangement outside the Court, and today they are deliberately flouting the award by using it for a purpose totally different from that for which it was intended. In Melbourne, on the 22nd February, Judge Beeby stated that the marine cooks had apparently adopted go-slow tactics, and that certain provisions of the award to prevent men working undue hours were being used by members of the union to pile up excessive overtime rates. He said -
I was loth to believe that an improvement in working conditions given to relieve men from working excessive hours could be deliberate!)’ used by them to obtain extra overtime rates instead “of to reduce their hours. I regret that, so far as the Commonwealth Line of Steamers is concerned, the men have not so far attempted to carry out the spirit of the award, but have lengthened hours to secure extra rates.
Yet the Labour party wanted the Line to be continued for the benefit of these men, despite the heavy loss on its operations. The seamen deliberately disobeyed the award of the court although they were receiving the best sea-going conditions in the world. As a result of a dispute, the Largs Bay was held up for 24 hours. Did the Labour party condemn that action? It made no mention of it at all, in this House or elsewhere. Let me give the case of the Cape York and Lady Loch, which are government-owned lighthouse ships. They are run, not for profitmaking, but to take stores and supplies to men living on isolated parts of our coast, who are visited only once or twice a year. What was the position? Year after year, without any protest at all from the industrial or political leaders of the Labour party the lighthouse vessels were held up for months, and for extraordinarily stupid reasons. Four ships were scheduled to sail from Brisbane just before Christmas with stores for lighthouses. On the 13th December, one ship was held up because the men did not approve of the cook. The cook happened to be the President of the Marine Cooks’ Union, so a faction fight arose, in which outside parties were the chief sufferers. The lighthouse keeper at Sandy Cape reported -
We had n very lean time at Christmas, practically starvation rations and very little of thom. Tobacco ran out and that was the last straw.
This trouble has been going on for months, and yet the Labour party has done nothing at all to assist in maintaining an essential service of this country.
– What is the Government doing?
– We are doing much, but we would do more with the support of honorable members opposite. With their assistance the lighthouse ship- ping dispute could be settled in 24 hours. Some time later a trumpery dispute in Melbourne held up the Lady Loch, and the Commonwealth Government decided to sign on a new crew, stipulating that all hands should join the public service. Despite the seamen’s veto against this employment, there were 1,500 applications for 118 positions, mostly from unionists. Honorable members opposite do not represent the rank and file of the unions of this country. They have no control over the officials of the union, and yet they ask what we are doing. These shipping disputes not only destroyed the goodwill of the Commonwealth Line, but made reductions in freight impossible. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), who cannot be accused of being a supporter of this Government, stated definitely that freights to Australia were not lowered by the competitive acts of the Commonwealth Line.
– When did the honorable member for Bourke say that?
– In the minority report of the Navigation Commission published in 1924. All the Commonwealth Line did was to prevent reduction in freight, and so enable the operation of black-manned ships, which were able to make a big profit by keeping their rates a little lower than those charged by the Commonwealth Line. Thus, in actual fact, freights were kept up by the existence of the Commonwealth Line. Quite apart from the Line’s activities, definite reductions in freight have been brought about by the export control boards which have been established for the handling of our exported products. A reduction of £1 a ton in freights on dried fruits has meant a saving of £40,000 to the growers, representing £8 a head. That is the result of Government action, and yet honorable members opposite try to delude the public by saying that we are disposing of the Commonwealth fleet to give an opportunity for an increase in freights.
The Leader of the Opposition stated that the Australian flag was being driven off the seas, that we should have a mercantile marine, and that our flag should fly over the seven seas. “Who drove the Australian flag off the seas? It was certainly not the ship-owners, who at all times were willing to provide vessels to handle our produce. That this Government was also willing to do- its share in maintaining the Line, has been clearly shown during the last five years. Who drove the Australian flag off the seas? The Labour party, by not insisting on the Line employees giving it a fair run. The union officials who, influenced by Moscow, refused to give the Line a fair run. We have some very definite proof regarding that, coming from the State of New South Wales. Only last Monday the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Mr. A. C. Woodsford, secretary of the South Australian branch of the Seamen’s Union, as saying
I am concerned that the Russian Soviet has begun operations in Australia, with a view to causing frequent dislocations of maritime services.
He quoted the formation in Sydney of an international seamen’s club, the source of whose funds was mysterious, and said that inquiries showed that the club was riot originated in Sydney by Australians, but that a Russian had attempted to connect Australia through the club with a network of similar bodies which the Third Internationale had formed in all parts of the world. He said -
It is indisputable that the Russian Government dominated the Third Internationale, and that its arms and money were at the back of the political and industrial discontent for which militant Labour parties were blamed. The world saw the baneful effects of Moscow’s work in England during the general strike, when the British workers lost millions, which were gained by Soviet officials, who thus obtained markets.- The next movement would be to paralyze transport, in which activity the cosmopolitanism would be of advantage.
Mr. Woodsford added that members of this club had been given full membership rights by officials of the Seamen’s Union, while the agents of a British seamen’s organization last year had not beer allowed to establish a similar club to assist British seamen in Australian ports. Again, honorable members opposite, by their inaction, showed their cowardice. Why did they not come forward and ‘do their duty?
– Because we could not trust such people as the honorable gentleman.
– Even if honorable members opposite did not care to trust the Government they should have adopted a broad national outlook. They should have acted for the good of the Commonwealth. Instead of that, they bow the knee and take dictation from outside influences. Even their parliamentary caucus is dominated by outside extremists, and they come here afraid to state their own opinions. The public of Australia know exactly how matters stand. The Leader of the Opposition asked for an Australian mercantile marine. How could we establish a mercantile marine when the whole of our Australian shipping is paralyzed by the action of the seamen and their associates. The transport of Australia, to which we looked with some justification as a means to correct the balance of trade, by taking our exports to the markets overseas, has been strangled by these extremists without censure from the Labour party. For the ten years from 1917 to 1927, there were no fewer than 318 disputes along the waterfront of Australia; 127,743 workers were involved, 4,776,061 working days were lost, while £2,596,180 was lost in wages. In addition, tremendous indirect losses were forced upon the traders” and workmen of the community, resulting in stagnation of trade and a tremendous amount of unemployment. All that occurred because of the failure of the parliamentary and industrial leaders to take strong action to discipline unruly extremists. Those losses amount to £600,000 more than the accepted tender for the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The workers, through extremist action, have lost more money than would have been sufficient to buy the Line and run it by their unions. Not only do these men strike on big issues ; they strike on the meanest issues that can be imagined. Take, for instance, the coastal dispute which was precipitated by the marine cooks. The number of cooks involved is only about fourteen, but their action has thrown 470 seafarers out- “f employment. Since the strike began on the 2nd March last, it has resulted in a loss of wages and overtime of £10,000, while the aggregate losses to seamen, watersiders and others will be at least £20,000. The galley staff of the Ulimaroa have already lost over. £500, while thirteen galley hands on the Zealandia have lost at least £400. The tonnage idle is 27,387. The action of the marine cooks is in deliberate defiance of the Arbitration Court. The strike arose through the sudden discovery of union malcontents that conditions that had been in operation for eighteen years were so unbearable that the men could not wait until their case was brought before the court. In the year 1927, there were 27 waterside disputes, affecting 27,260 men. 161,580 working days were lost, while the amount of wages lost amounted to £128,900. What has the Federal Labour party done to investigate the strike evil ? It has allowed the policy of strangulation enforced by the irreconcilable extremists of the union to go on.
The public of Australia knows who are to blame for the loss of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. It knows that that loss is due to the lack of courage on the part of honorable members opposite. Outside influences have interfered both with the political and industrial sections of the Labour party. Practically every member of the party is afraid to express his own opinion, and to work for the betterment of Australia, because he is fearful of the Bed executive which is interfering even with the intimate parliamentary concerns of the party. If honorable members opposite are the real leaders of the working classes of this country, and wish to secure its ideals, they should hark to the words of Mr. Valentine, the Queensland Trades and Labour Council delegate on the Mission to the United States of America? That gentleman is reported to have said on the 30th April last-
Employees in the United States recognize that if they are going to succeed their industry must succeed. They recognize that their responsibility is to help their business. Our first step towards prosperity is to get greater co-operation between employer .-and. employee.
The Government has urged that , there should be.. a measure of co-operation, that , employees : and employers should get to- f’gether in the endeavour to smooth out, difficulties and so usher in a new era for Australia. But its efforts have been in vain.
Referring to the competitive value of the Line, it is curious to note that, until last November, Lord Inchcape was always referred to as the formidable shipping combine bogey, but now he has been supplanted by Lord Kylsant, who is mentioned as a sort of super-Inchcape. I point out that the world’s tonnage is greater than ever, and that a tremendous amount of it is idle. There were only seven Commonwealth ships, so that they could not have been a very material factor in influencing the operations of the great shipping combines. Now that the Commonwealth Government is without a shipping line, it has more money available with which to subsidize shipping, should that be necessary, and to expend in improving ports. I do not think that anybody, except for political purposes, would dare to suggest that the Australian trade is not as valuable as it used to be. It is still a desirable prize for the shipping competitors of the world. I am confident that honorable members will defeat the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition, and vote for the ratification of the arrangement entered into by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) on behalf of the Commonwealth Government.
Motion (by Mr. BRUCE) put -
That the question be now put. ‘
The House divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Scullin’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 26th April (vide page 4413), on motion by Mr. Latham -
That the paper be printed.
.- The Attorney-General has had the privilege this session of presenting to this Parliament the reports of two Australian delegations to the League of Nations. No doubt he has supplied the fullest information that he could give; but I take exception to the manner in which the business of the League has been dealt with by the Government. It is a strange procedure to ask us to consider the report of the Australian delegations to the Eighth Assembly before discussing the report on the Seventh Assembly. The AttorneyGeneral attended the Seventh Assembly and made a report to this House upon the proceedings there a considerable time ago. It cannot be claimed that the Parliament had not time to deal with the subject-matter of that report, seeing that it has been so much in recess.
It is regrettable that the Government has permitted the discussion of the subject of disarmament to remain in abeyance. Actionsuch as this is responsible for the people’s loss of confidence in the League. I stated two years ago that, although I had supported the League from its inception, I was losing faith in it because I could see no evidence of the accomplishment of anything practicable in the direction of disarmament and world peace. Over nine years have elapsed since the war ended, and so far as disarmament is concerned, the nations are in the same position as at the League’s inception. Of course, the finances of Hungary and Austria have been re-habilitated, and many refugees from Armenia and Russia have been repatriated; but has anything tangible been done to prevent further war? The faith of the people in the League has been shaken. The Minister informed us that at the last Assembly the representatives of the nations met in an atmosphere of “ dissatisfaction, disappointment and general discouragement.” I do not wonder at that. There is evidence of disappointment to-day in every part of Australia. The most ardent supporters of the League strongly disapprove of the indifference that is being displayed towards its activities. The first reason for the general dissatisfaction felt by the representatives at the last Assembly was the failure of the threePower conference. I regret exceedingly that that was a failure; but it had not much to do with the League itself. It was a conference between Japan, the United States of America, and Great Britain, and those countries were unable to agree to naval disarmament or to the limitation of cruisers. We were told that the Preparatory Disarmament Commission had been unable to reach unanimity. That has been apparent for two years, and, as far as we can gather from the report submitted by the Attorney-General, the position is even worse now than when the negotiations commenced.
– Is not that an evidence of the tremendous difficulty of the question ?
– It is. It is also a vindication of what I said three years ago, to which I shall refer at a later stage. The small Powers also objected to the larger Powers entering into agreements. They claimed that those agreements diminished . the importance of the League. There is a great deal to be said from that point of view. They alluded to the Locarno treaty, which concerns France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain. Of course it has been argued that those agreements have been of some benefit in paving the way towards an understanding, probably along the lines of peace, among the larger nations. The Locarno treaty may have its good points. But many other treaties have been made. Germany has one with Russia, which contains the provision that in the event of Germany being at war, the other nation shall at least remain neutral, if it does not go to her assistance. Under the agreement also, if war broke out with Russia, Germany would not play any part in it against her. France has entered into many agreements with the smaller States that contain similar provisions. Italy, also, has entered into agreements with the smaller States. A large number of those agreements have been arrived at since the League of Nations was formed. The position to-day is similar to that which existed prior to 1914. Treaties which had been entered into among the European nations were the cause of the trouble which then arose. The nations were linked together in groups, and if differences between them could not be settled by negotiation, war was resorted to. These agreements do not tend to bring about peace and disarmament.
It is well known that armaments to-day are greater than they were before the outbreak of the war in 1914. It is regrettable that this state of affairs should exist more than nine years after the signing of the Peace Treaty, despite all the efforts towards “disarmament that have been made by various countries through the League of Nations. At the last meeting of the Assembly, the principles underlying the Protocol played a very important part. There is a very strong feeling throughout the world that if the opportunity were given, the principles contained in the Protocol would lead to disarmament and peace. There are probably 40 nations in the League to-day, the majority of which are small nations. They pin their faith to the Protocol. Even France has stated, through its representative, that the Locarno treaties do not satisfy it, and do not give it the security it ought to have. France believes that nothing short of the adoption of the principles of arbitration, which are contained in the Protocol, will enable her and other countries to take any action in the .direction of disarmament. Such declarations as that of France must indicate to every thinking person the unsatisfactory nature of the Locarno treaties and the necessity for taking action along other lines. I shall be told that these agreements are all registered with the League of Nations. That does not make the position one whit better. I am surprised that the League of Nations should register so many conflicting agreements between the different members and non-members of that body. It appears to me that eventually they will lead to further trouble. A large number of foreign ministers attended the last Assembly, at -which the representation was much better than it had been on any former occasion. The foreign minister of Holland reviewed the principles of the Protocol, and moved a motion to the effect that those principles be referred to a disarmament conference, together with the conclusions of the preparatory committee. After discussion, he amended his motion so as to make it refer to the principles of disarmament, security and arbitration. Many foreign ministers addressed, themselves to the motion, and the majority of them were in. favour of it, because they believed that it was essential that some action of the kind should be taken. Of course, there was a good deal of opposition and division of opinion. Senator Dandurand, Canada, said that the reason for the refusal of that dominion to accept the Protocol was that she was afraid of complications with the United States of America. He added -
My country believes in arbitration, and as far as we are concerned we are quite prepared to accept the optional clauses of the Permanent Court of International Justice.
Any country that accepts those clauses is bound to submit to arbitration disputes of certain classes, such as the interpretation of treaties, questions of international law, and the determination of facts in 2-elation to international obligations. Yet, at the Imperial Conference to which reference has been made in this chamber by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), it was decided that no part of the Empire should take independent action. How is it, then, that Canada has expressed its conviction that, although it cannot accept the Protocol, it is at least prepared to accept arbitration under Article 36 to which I have referred. During the course of the discussion, Sir George Pearce deprecated any allusion to the Protocol. I should expect him to do so, because the Government of which he is a member is entirely opposed to it. I may here say that before it was considered in any way, the Protocol was killed by press messages, which were dispatched from the other side of the world, and many people had no knowledge of what it meant when they opposed it. That has been the position with respect to some of the nations ever since the meeting of the League. Sir Austen Chamberlain, who represented the Government of Great Britain at that meeting, said that Great Britain was opposed to the revival of the Protocol discussions ; and he warned the League not to expect too much from Great Britain in the direction of either arbitration or security. He also claimed that everything which could be done with advantage could be done within the terms of the Covenant. It is well known that the Covenant has certain weaknesses, and that it needs to be tightened up. That course has been advocated by almost every delegate who has gone to Geneva, and its advisability is generally admitted throughout the world. Yet we have the spectacle of an important Minister in the Government of Great Britain advising the League that it must not expect too much from that country in the direction of either arbitration or security! I have often said, and I repeat now, that Great Britain can exercise a greater influence than any other nation in the world. The British Empire is a force to be reckoned with, and if it would assist to formulate some scheme designed to bring about disarmament and the peaceful settlement of disputes, the accomplishment of that object would not be very far off. I have not the slightest doubt that it would be accomplished before any considerable lapse of time. It appears to me that our Empire is to-day standing out against any move in the direction of arbitration. I am sorry that it is necessary for me to make that statement.
– That is not the case.
– It is the case. Sir Austen Chamberlain made it very clear that very little can be expected from Great Britain. “We know that only recently he and other members of the British Cabinet stated publicly that it would be far better to enter into agreements than to have one general understanding upon the question of disarmament. I differ with them upon that point. It is not possible to secure unanimity about the necessity to reduce armaments while there are perhaps half a dozen groups each acting independently of the others. It will always be a case of one group trying to take advantage of another, and the inevitable result is war.
– Does the honorable member think that a change of government in Great Britain would alter the position?
– I believe that it would. I also think that that may come about. I do not say so because I occupy a seat on this side of the House. Even in England it was stated recently that in all probability if there were a change of government the position would be entirely altered. In addition to the Dutch resolution. Mr. Jokal, Poland, moved -
It is never admitted that a war is one of aggression. Every State claims that it is not the aggressor, and it is very difficult to ascertain to whom the blame should be attached. That was the case in the recent war. Consequently some other means must be found to settle these troubles ; and the only logical means is arbitration. Another motion was moved by Dr. Nansen, providing for arbitration if States entered into treaties binding themselves not to go to war, -but to settle disputes by pacific means. Of course, if a legal dispute arose the Permanent Court of International Justice would have to deal with it. All these proposals were discussed, and probably careful consideration was given to them by the Third Committee. That is a very important committee in the League of Nations. It deals with the biggest questions that are brought- forward. After a very lengthy discussion it was finally agreed -
It will be seen that a watering-down process was adopted. Having attended’ a meeting of the Assembly I can realize the difficulties that presented themselves on account of the conflicting views that were held by the representative men who were present. Of course, they had to come to some compromise. The League of Nations functions by means of compromise, lift first portion of the resolution deals rau a principle to which I made some reference in my opening remarks. It is in favour of agreements being entered into not only by members of the League, but also by those States which are outside the League. The agreements are filed with the League. Some of them which I brought under the notice of honorable members eighteen months ago contain clauses that I regard as altogether incompatible with the principles of the League of Nations. My idea of the League is that nothing can be accomplished by it in the direction of disarmament until all the nations are members of it. As matters stand at present countries like Russia and Turkey are outside the fold, and they cannot be induced to meet the other nations except at a conference. The same remarks apply to the Disarmament Preparatory Committee, which has spent two years dealing with the subject, without accomplishing anything. It is quite possible that it may continue for another year or two, and still be in the same position. It is true, as the Attorney-General has said, that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction expressed at the last meeting of the Assembly at the lack of progress on the part of this committee; and the Assembly endeavoured to hasten its activities by instructing it to appoint a new committee to consider measures necessary to give all States guarantees of arbitration and security. That was in September last. In a few months there will be another meeting of the Assembly, and I have yet to learn that the Preparatory Committee has succeeded in completing the task entrusted to it. Three years have elapsed since the Protocol was turned down, but in the meantime nothing of a tangible character- has been accomplished to bring about disarmament. It is a matter of the greatest importance to the people of the world. Nobody would begrudge the expenditure involved in keeping up the League of Nations if it could accomplish anything, but year after year we have, from it nothing but reports on humanitarian matters which, although of importance in themselves, are minor subjects compared with the all-important question of disarmament. Nothing has been accomplished by_ the League in regard^* the big questions that count. The pro-bability is that in the absence of machinery devised by the League for the prevention of war we shall find ourselves once more plunged into a conflict between the nations.
Several nations have accepted the optional clause, but again none of the great powers have done so. It is remarkable that the great powers stand out of everything done by the League. Three or four of them appear to control everything. It has to Se remembered that the decisions of the League must be unanimous. The provisions of the Covenant of the League require that no question can pass in the affirmative if there is any dissentient nation. The big powers continue to make treaties among themselves, but they remain hostile to any move made for such agreements in the League itself. I am glad that Germany is now a member of the League, and is pressing for disarmament. It is pleasing to learn that a nation which stood out of the League for so long is now endeavouring to bring about disarmament. France laid great emphasis at the last Assembly ou the fact that the Locarno treaties do not afford it sufficient security. Unless they can .get a security satisfactory to them, the people of France will take no step towards disarmament.
– They are quite right.
– They are quite right. I have often said that while other nations on its borders are not disarmed I do not expect France to disarm. It must first have a guaranteee of security, and if I were the representative of France at the League of Nations, I should take up absolutely the same attitude as was taken up by its representatives. At the last Assembly Dr. Nansen moved an amendment in favour of arbitration, and many nations are eager to bring about arbitration if it can be accomplished.
Australia must keep a close watch on the proceedings of the International Economic Conference if it does not wish to be fooled. It is regrettable that, while very little has been accomplished in regard to disarmament, a matter of such great importance to the people of all nations, a great deal of progress can be made in regard to matters economic. In May and June, 1927, the Economic Conference declared unanimously that the time had come to put an end to the increase in tariffs and to move in the opposite direction. Whatever may be thought of that matter on the other side of the globe, Australia is a. young country, yet to be developed; and it has always had by international law the right to impose a tariff. If there is a common agreement among the nations in regard to the abolition of tariffs, Australia, as a member of the League of Nations, will be in a very difficult position. Dr. Stresemann, who represented Germany at the last Economic Conference, said that Germany had instructed the economic council of the Reich to study the tariff situation with a view to lowering duties; and he, along with M. Loucheur, of France, claimed that the Franco-German commercial treaty was the result of the find ings of the Economic Conferences. That is perhaps the commencement of a general move among the big nations, which should indicate to us how careful Australia must be. The position has to be discussed from every angle. Some delegates to the last Economic Conference favoured the abolition of all prohibitions on imports and exports. Others were prepared to do away with all tariffs on both exports and imports. If they should succeed in their object, what will be the position of Australia as a member of the League?
– It will be flooded with cheap goods.
– It will not be in a position to develop, and its people, whose position is already bad, will find it much worse. They will be walking about in idleness, while other countries supply their requirements.
– That is an illustration of the difficulties that are met with on the very threshhold of the problem of disarmament.
– I agree with the honorable member that there are big difficulties to be overcome.
– Is the tariff regarded as a matter of domestic concern?
– Both immigration and tariffs are regarded as matters of domestic concern. This proposal to lower tariff duties was discussed from every angle; some delegates favored the total abolition of all prohibitions on imports and exports, and others expressed themselves in favour of the unification of customs duties throughout the. world. Major Elliott, who represented Great Britain, to whom we have to look for protection in these matters, speaking in the Assembly, said that Groat Britain had. one of the lowest tariffs in the world 98 per cent, of its imports were admitted free. Great Britain, he continued, was hound to take an interest in tariff matters, as one in every four of its workers was working for the export trade, and one in every five throughout the world produced goods bought by Great Britain. That declaration by the British representative, if it meant anything, was favorable to some action being taken towards the reduction of tariffs, and indictated how guarded we must be. If the whole of the nations which are members of the League were agreed upon the abolition of tariffs Australia would be in a hopeless position. It was decided to add three representatives of Labour to the Economic Commission. I know that the Government will keep it’s eye on developments in that quarter, but I think that it should represent to Great Britain that Australia is not favorable to interference in tariff matters - certainly not before something is done towards universal disarmament and ensuring the world’s peace. Those are the two major questions with which the League should deal. The finances of the League are in a healthy condition; it has an income of £1,013,352. China, as usual, is in arrears, but with a civil war in progress, and au unstable government, that is not surprising.
I have referred to what was done at the Assembly of the League, but I believe that steps should be taken to convene a world’s conference. I placed my views before the Assembly when I attended as a delegate from Australia; I was the only one .of all those present who favoured a conference of all nations to discuss disarmament. I said then, and I repeat now, that unless all the nations - particularly the large nations - can be brought together nothing will be done. “We must start de novo. It is futile to appoint preparatory committees to draw up proposals that will be acceptable to the League, and then expect America., Russia, Turkey, and other non-members of the League to fall into line. Even in the League itself unanimity on any proposal is almost impossible to obtain; agreement is obtained only by compromise. If the members of the League cannot agree amongst themselves, what hope has it of devising something which will be acceptable to all nations, including those which are not members of the League? No endeavour is being made to convene a world conference, although Germany, which recently joined the League, is willing to be represented at such a gathering. Representatives of .Russia attended the Economic Committee for the first time, and suggested total disarmament on land and sea and in the air. That being unacceptable, the proposal was modified; the Russians were prepared to* agree to even proportionate disarmament, and I think they made a very fair offer. Notwithstanding all the criticism which is levelled against Russia, there is a disposition on the part of ‘its government, and I believe the governments of all countries, to bring about disarmament and world-peace. America is not prepared to join the League, but has participated in various conferences regarding Pacific matters. Brazil and Spain have left the League lately, and it is becoming weaker instead of stronger, notwithstanding the recent entry of Germany. If a world conference were held, delegates from all countries could exchange their views, and any proposals could be considered at leisure by national committees. A year or two might be occupied . in bringing any scheme to fruition, but if all the nations were interested in and actively engaged upon the problem, there would be a chance of something being achieved. So long as two or three big nations remain outside the League, there can be no security for the peace of the world. A combination of two or three of them could offer very strong opposition to any group of countries within the League. While nothing effective is being done to promote disarmament, the expenditure upon armaments in every country is increasing yearly.
I have not had the privilege of meeting Lord Cecil, who has played a prominent part in the affairs of the League of Nations, but I have read his published views and I am sorry that, because of a difference with his colleagues, he withdrew from the British Cabinet. He was genuinely endeavuring to bring about a better understanding between the nations and was certainly one of the best representatives that Great Gritain has appointed to the Assemblies. Addressing the League of Nations Union recently, he stated that of every pound Great Britain raised in taxes, 14s. was on account of past wars or preparation for future wars. Of that 14s., Ils. was for pensions and the payment of debts already incurred, and 3s. for current liabilities for the fighting services, and that a certain proportion of the balance of 6s. was incurred in defence administrative expenses. He said that undoubtedly the principal cause of unemployment and the greatest impediment to the financial recovery of the country was the very high expenditure upon armaments. It is regrettable that Great Britain has not recovered financially since the war. I dp not think that she ever has less than 1,000,000 unemployed workers within her borders. This is due to the heavy burden which she has to carry to meet her obligations for defence. I am strongly of the opinion that if the League of Nations is to do anything effective to prevent war, it must act quickly. The iron should have been struck while it was” hot. It was not hot to-day. When the Covenant of the League was ratified eight years ago there was hardly a man or woman in the civilized world who did not believe that the last war had been fought to end war. It was in this belief also that millions of able-bodied men went to their death on the various battlefields. But the League has not yet succeeded in preparing an instrument to ensure that future international disputes shall be settled by arbitration. This is regrettable. I am quite ready to admit that a good deal of useful and admirable humanitarian work has been done; but the people of the world expected the League to concentrate its energies upon finding a means to prevent a recurrence of war, and it must do that to justify its existence. The British Empire Delegation could do a great deal to this end, for they represent the greatest Empire that the world has known. No other nation or group of nations has the influence of Great Britain, and if she used he.r powers in the right direction good results would follow. If we could discover a means to render unnecessary th.? present huge expenditure of the nations of the world on armaments, it would be possible to. solve our unemployment problem and keep the people of the world in useful and productive work. I trust that at the coming Assembly a great deal more will be done than has been done at past Assemblies to bring about a world conference on disarmament and the outlawry of war. I am not so foolish as to believe that a conference can meet and settle this age-long problem in a few weeks or months, but if it took two or three years to bring forward a practicable scheme it would be worth all the effort. The sooner such a conference is convened the better it will be for the nations of the world and humanity in general.
– I am sure that honorable members generally have listened with interest and profit to the speech which the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has just delivered. It will be my duty presently to discuss several of the matters to which he has made reference. But I should like first to express my gratitude to the Prime Minister for having given me the opportunity of gaining first-hand knowledge of the work of the League and its importance to the world. When I left for Java last year I had not the slightest idea that I should be honored by a request to assist in representing Australia at the Assembly of the League. I should also like to pay a tribute to the manner in which Sir George Pearce led the Australian delegation. He made it a rule - and I refer to this for the guidance of the leaders of future delegations - to call his fellow delegates together every morning to discuss the matters to be considered that day and to exchange information and ideas.
His method was responsible for excellent team work. Sir George’s fellow delegates were all proud of the admirable manner in which he upheld the prestige of Australia at the meetings of the Assembly, particularly in connexion with compulsory arbitration and economics to which the honorable member for Hunter has referred. Sir George also worthily represented Australia on the various committees, and at the social functions which were arranged for the delegates.
I read with interest and appreciation the excellent resume of the work of the Assembly made by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) in a speech which he delivered in the House last week. It is not my intention to traverse the ground which he covered. I feel constrained to say, however, that it is a great pity that consideration of the reports of the delegations to two Assemblies of the League’ has been delayed for so long. This appears to. indicate a want of appreciation of the vital importance to Australia of the work of the League, and of our relations with our sister dominions and the other nations of the world. That we are a small and weak power should cause us to realize our helpless condition. Economically we are dependent upon folk overseas. Although we produce many of the commodities that are required abroad, we are dependent upon outside means to transport them to market. If we should be threatened with aggression, we should have to rely upon Great Britain and our sister dominions for assistance. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that we should lose no opportunity of improving our position. It has been a matter of regret to me that parochial matters like the kerbing and guttering of the streets of this new capital have occupied the attention of this House to the exclusion of such important subjects as the report of the delegation to the League of Nations Assembly, and the report of our representatives at the Imperial Conference. Honorable members seem to have been unable to find time to give these subjects the attention they deserve. I trust that it will not be so in the future.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) appears to be pessimistic about the future of the League. I confess that when I left Australia I was somewhat sceptical about it. I regarded the Assembly meetings as something of a glorified farce. The reports and information that one obtained at this distance from Geneva seemed to indicate that a great deal of talking, but very little work, was done. The speech which the honorable member for Hunter has just delivered would in itself give support to that idea. But, having had the privilege of attending the meetings of the Assembly, I confess that I have become an enthusiatic and ardent supporter of the League.
I appreciate the manner in which the Prime Minister is affording various citizens of the Commonwealth the opportunity to visit Geneva to see for themselves the nature of the work’ which the League is doing. It is significant that every person who has visited Geneva as a representative of Australia - I hope that the honorable member for Hunter may be included in this statement - has become firmly convinced of the - usefulness of the League. Many who have gone to scoff and scorn have returned to praise and support the League.
The honorable member has rightly said that up to the present time not a great deal of progress has been made towards disarmament. Perhaps that is true, but it is not correct to say that nothing has been done. Some progress has been made. Anxious as we all must be “for a world conference on this subject, I venture to suggest that we should find it a much easier task to convene a conference to deal with industrial matters in Australia than to bring about a world conference to consider such an important matter as disarmament. If we but realize the immensity of the task, we shall perhaps make allowances for all the obstacles in the way. The honorable member for Hunter mentioned the principal difficulty just now. It is necessary, of course, to bring the nations of the world together through their representatives. This, I remind the House, has been achieved at Geneva. It is true that the United States of America is not yet an official member of the League. Nor is Russia or Turkey. It is equally true, however, that the three nations named realize that the pressure of international public opinion in the direction of disarmament is so strong that, although not members of the League, they dare not ignore the deliberations of that body.
– Does the honorable member’s remark apply to Russia ?
– Yes. Russia was represented at the last Assembly and submitted excellent disarmament proposals which, if given effect, would do much to help the nations to achieve their objective. But it is impossible by passing pious resolutions or appending one’s signature to a protocol to bring about universal peace. A recalcitrant nation might stand out.
– That would be a subject for discussion at a world conference.
– Exactly. And the first point to which I direct attention is that the nations of the world are brought together at Geneva. That is a step in the right direction. It is true that it has taken a long time to achieve this result, but it is, at all events, a hopeful augury for the future. That the representatives of the principal nations of the world realize their responsibilities in this matter is to be seen in the fact that men like Mr. Kellogg, the United States Secretary for State, and others are tumbling over one another to help in some way to bring about disarmament. This indicates a change of mind, and as a change of mind usually means a change in the attitude of nations, it must help forward the cause of peace. It is a hopeful sign that nations which are not yet official members of the League are following the footsteps of nations that are represented officially at the League Assemblies. It is reasonable to expect that at no distant date they will become members of the League. The League has done something more than to bring the nations of the world together. Through the original Permanent Advisory Committee and afterwards through the Preparatory Commission on Disarmament and other agencies, representatives of the various nations have been discussing details of disarmament. It is true that up to the present there has been no agreement in regard to details, but the discussion has thrown into bold relief the difficulties standing in the way of achieving the objective. One of the first steps to be taken in such matters, as every lawyer who has endeavoured to reconcile differences between his clients knows, is to arrive at an understanding of the difficulties. Without this understanding, it is impossible to bring the parties together with any reasonable hope of arriving at an agreement. That .is what the League has done. By means of conferences it has brought the nations of the world together to discuss these important matters and, as a result of a frank interchange of views, the real difficulties in the way have been disclosed. The records of these conferences may be seen by honorable members in the reports on the shelves of our parliamentary library.
The honorable member for Hunter has, on more than one occasion, suggested that if Great Britain and her dominions worked in close co-operation, it would be possible to advance the cause of disarmament and world peace. Let me say that I was thrilled by the speech delivered by Sir Austen Chamberlain at the Eighth Assembly of the League, and was enlightened in regard to a number of details on questions that had been raised. Sir Austen emphasized that Great Britain had already, and without compulsion, made considerable reductions in every arm of the service, and that some of the most important questions affecting Great Britain had been, from time to time, submitted to the League for the decision of the Council or for the decision of the Permanent Court of International Justice. If Great Britain had not been absolutely sincere in her desire for peace, such questions would not have been submitted to arbitration at all. Instead, we should have had menacing speeches and the rattling of the sabre. It is indeed a hopeful sign when the great nations of the world, including Great Britain, are prepared to submit disputes to the League for settlement. Some of the matters dealt with by the League have had an important bearing upon the position of Australia. In the circumstances, I suggest that there is really no need for pessimism as to the future of the League.
– Would Great Britain refer the Egyptian situation to the League ?
– I cannot speak with certainty on that point. I presume that every nation reserves to itself the right to determine certain questions itself.
– Under the proposed treaty it was contemplated that the League would be brought in.
– That surely would represent a substantial advance towards the common objective. Every one must feel proud of what Britain has done to bring aboutdisarmament, and to ensure the peace of the world by taking advantage of the facilities offered by the League of Nations to arbitrate in respect of important disputes with other countries, and, also, by her example, encouraging other nations to do likewise.
The honorable member for Hunter referred to the dissatisfaction that exists in the minds of certain people because of the slow progress made by the League and the attitude of Australia towards it. I ask the honorable gentleman and all those who are within hearing to remember that although we are a dominion, no sane Australian would, for a moment, think of breaking with the Empire. Our hope for the future lies in working- in close partnership with the Mother Country and the sister dominions. The adoption of any other course would mean disaster for this country, for, whilst Australia is actually a part of the Empire, she is regarded as a nation in the eyes of the world. Australia is no longer subordinated to Downing-street ; that has been the position since 1926. Great Britain fully recognizes that Australia has equal status with it and the other Dominions in all external as well as domestic affairs, and it is just as well to emphasize that point, because otherwise Australia may fail to realize that upon her shoulders has been cast further responsibility in respectto her relations with the world. We have hitherto relied upon Great Britain, not only for our defence and the purchase of most of our goods, but also for arranging our relations with the outside world. We have now to take that obligation upon our own shoulders, just as we have to make a start to provide our own defence on land, sea and air. We have to carry on our own international affairs, not ignoring Britain or working out of harmony with her, but as far as possible co-operating with and assisting her, for a common objective, though we have the right always, if we think it wise, to stand alone. Australia is a distinct nation in the eyes of the world, and as such has great responsibilities, one of which is to do its utmost to secure universal peace. Is there any better way for achieving that end than by helping as far as possible and in every direction the work of the League. We have there, regularly meeting, the representatives of 55 out of the 64 nations in the world, and I venture to suggest that as Russia, the United States of America, and Turkey are plainly associating themselves with the work of the League, they will ultimately join it; but even if they do not, could we imagine any other course of action for Australia than to take steps to associate herself with such nations as have agreed to outlaw war and to do everything possible to find a pathway to peace. I do not think that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) intended to convey in his speech . that Australia should withdraw from the League.
– I did not advocate that.
– I am sure that the honorable member did not. There are some pessimists in this country who feel that we should withdraw from the League, but there is no other course for Australia or any other nation who wants to achieve universal peace, to take than to help in the work of the League of Nations. It is true that Spain and Brazil withdrew from the League, but Brazil has since rejoined it.
– Last year.
– According to the report of the League that country was absent from the conference.
– Brazil was not represented at the League, but there was an intimation that it had rejoined it, and I believe that Spain will follow suit. Their withdrawal may have been due to internal troubles. When one remembers that even the non-members of the League are associating themselves with the work of disarmament, there is surely no cause for pessimism, and, on the contrary, every cause for hope and encouragement.
The honorable member raised some important points regarding the attitude of mind of the representatives of the League on economies, and that subject occasioned the members of the delegation last September much concern. In the plenary assembly, Sir George Pearce pointed out that the general recommendations of the Economic Conference could not well be applied to Australia, and he gave various cogent reasons for that. No doubt was left in the minds of those who were present that at all events they could not at that moment expect Australia to agree to the recommendations of the economic conference, no matter how desirable they might be from the point of view of the idealists. On the Fourth Committee the same question arose, and I took a stand similar to that taken by Sir George Pearce. Many people are apt to think that matters such as the free flow of labour and goods, nationality laws, and the White Australia policy are entirely of domestic concern, and because I think that there is danger in that belief I have selected, among others, two disputes, which I shall put clearly before honorable members, and make my reasons plain why I consider them as evidencing the dangers as well as the advantages of belonging to the League. A dispute arose some time ago between Sweden and Finland over the Aland Islands, and it was brought before the League. The majority of the islanders appeared to desire union with Sweden, and the Swedish Government, which supported their claims, endeavoured to negotiate with Finland on the subject. The Finnish Government, however, held that Finland’s sovereignty over the islanders was indisputable, and the conflict of views became increasingly bitter. The British Government called the attention of the Council to the dispute under Article 11, and both Sweden and Finland consented to the Council’s mediation. At a special meeting of the League Council in London, Finland at once claimed that the differences between the Aland islanders and ‘ .the Finnish Government were matters solely within the domestic jurisdiction of Finland. Let me emphasize the fact that Finland’s view would be our view in regard to the White Australia policy. Finland contended that under article 15 of the Covenant the Council was not competent to deal with the dispute. As the Permanent Court of International Justice was not then in existence, the Council, with the concurrence of both countries, appointed a commission of three international jurists - a Dutchman, a Frenchman, and a Swiss. They constituted an advisory council, and on their report the Council declared itself competent to deal with the dispute. It then sent a committee of inquiry, comprising a Belgian, a Swiss and an American, to examine the situation on the spot and to recommend a solution. Upon receipt of and in conformity with their report, and after hearing the views of all sides, the Council decided that Finland’s claim for sovereignty ought to be recognized, but that Sweden’s claim for the preservation of the Swedish character of the islanders should be met by a detailed series of guarantees; in other words, though not disputing the absolute sovereignty of Finland over the Aland Islands, the Council decided that the question was not one of purely domestic concern.
– To what effect were the guarantees?
– In accordance with Swedish law the islanders were practically to govern themselves under municipal conditions. . The other dispute, which arose between France and Britain, was over the nationality decrees promulgated in Tunis and the French zone of Morocco, and their application to certain categories of British subjects. These decrees conferred French nationality upon any person born in Tunis Or in the French zone of the Sherifian Empire, one of whose parents was justiciable as a foreigner by the French tribunals of the protectorate and was born in the protectorate. These decrees conflicted with British nationality legislation, which claims as natural-born British subjects the children born of British parents who were themselves born within His Britannic Majesty’s allegiance, and also the grandchildren of such parents born before the 1st January, 1915. The British Government, therefore, protested when the French Government, applying the decrees, treated as French subjects and liable to military service in the French Army, persons in Tunis of Maltese origin, and claimed by the British Government to be British subjects. This became a subject of long diplomatic correspondence that ended in a deadlock. The British proposal to submit the question to arbitration was not accepted, the French Government claiming that it was not a fit subject for arbitration, but a matter of domestic jurisdiction. The British Government, therefore, in September, 1922, brought the question before the Council of the League. The British and French representatives on the Council, Lord Balfour and M. Leon Bourgeois, agreed to ask the Council to request an advisory opinion from the Permanent Court of International Justice as to whether the matter at issue was or was not exclusively a question of domestic concern according to international law. I could quote a number of other instances for the information of honorable members ; but I do not wish to weary them. I wish to point out, however, that while there is clearly the view that sovereignty should not be disregarded, yet wherever there is a dispute arising out of such matters as are subject to treaties, and likely to lead to war, that dispute shall not be regarded as strictly of domestic concern. It is quite true that war, like the black death, may start in one place, but will spread and carry misery and disaster wherever it goes. The object of the League is to prevent war and remove the causes which provoke it. In one place, a dispute may at the moment relate to a matter of domestic concern, but soon it may spread, and it is most likely that the court would hold that it was not a matter of purely domestic concern.
– Certain matters are, under international law, matters of domestic concern.
– The interjection of the honorable member only emphasizes the need and importance of the completion of the codification of international law, because until the completion of that work the Court of International Justice has not much to guide it. What I am pointing out supports what the honorable member has mentioned, that there is danger in connexion with a provocative policy such as our White Australia policy, which is vital to us, and also in connexion with the application of our economic laws.
– It has been admitted by the court, I understand, that immigration is a matter of domestic concern.
– There are various ways in which disputes may arise out of matters which may appear to be of domestic concern, more particularly where they are the subject of treaties.
– I do not think that the subjectof immigration has been before the Permanent Court.
– The advisers of the British government held that immigration was a matter of domestic concern.
– I am merely giving my opinion formed on the facts I have had before me, and as the result of consultation with representatives of other nations at Geneva. It seems quite clear to me that it is competent for the Permanent Court of International Justice to hold that whenever disputes arise that are likely to provoke war between nations, although these might otherwise be regarded as of purely domestic concern, they may not be so regarded where they have become the subject of treaties. Questions may arise affecting Australia that would come within the ambit of the Permanent Court of International Justice.
I have dealt with the White Australia and the economic policy, and have shown how international disputes may lead to war. For that reason Australia should devote more attention to the work of the League, for the purpose of expressing the views we hold in opposition to war, to assist those powers whose rerepresentatives are on the spot, and to keep a watchful eye on what is transpiring. It is also necessary that Australia should work in co-operation with Great Britain and the other Dominions, and that the Commonwealth Government should have a representative always on the spot. It was astonishing to me to see the flags of all other nations, with the exception of Australia, flying at Geneva. To me that was a pity. There is no reason why Australia, which is a separate nation, should not have her own banner flying. We should also have a representative continually in attendance at the gatherings of the League working for the benefit of Australia.
– Could we not have a flag flying without a representative in attendance 1
– Yes; but that is undesirable. I hope that the honorable member for Hunter will not think that Great Britain and the Dominions are not doing all they can to prevent war. If he will only read carefully the statistics quoted by Sir Austen Chamberlain at the last Assembly concerning the work done in the matter of disarmament, and the efforts made to show the way to peace, he will admit that there is much room for hope.
I wish to make one or two observations concerning the composition of our delegation to the Assembly of the League. I have already complimented the Prime Minister on the excellent plan of securing the services of as many citizens as possible who are going abroad, as such a system disseminates knowledge of the work that is being accomplished by the League, and will,. I hope, increase its influence. It would be an excellent method to have on each delegation from Australia a representative who had previously acted as a delegate. It is true that an Australian representative always attends from London, but that is not as advantageous a3 having the services of one who has been on a previous delegation. It is also necessary to have at least one member of the delegation who can speak both English mid French. It is true that there is an officer in attendance who translates the speeches in French into English, and vice versa; but those who have attended the Assemblies of the League know that French is spoken more frequently than English. It would be a distinct advantage if an Australian representative were able to converse freely in either tongue with other representatives of the League without the aid of our interpreter.
We had two excellent substitute delegates, one Sir Harrison Moore, who did great credit to Australia, and deserved the distinction conferred upon him by being made the British nominee on the committee dealing with the codi fication of international law. It is pleasing to recall the splendid work performed by Sir Harrison Moore, and the recognition he received, which shows that Australia is sharing in the important work of the League. Mrs. Moss, who also rendered splendid service, is not only a woman of wide knowledge and experience, but one who was able to put her case succinctly before the various committees of which she was a member. I suggest that, if it is possible, at least one member of the Opposition should be included among the substitute delegates, as I consider that the Opposition should have as much opportunity of learning what is going on as the Government. It is essential that the Government of the day shall nominate the official delegation, which is its mouthpiece at Geneva, but as it is not party matters that are there dealt with even if it means the inclusion of an extra substitute member, it would be wise to include a member of the Opposition.
Although ours is a young nation, it has many responsibilities cast upon it, and its Department of External Affairs should not be a corner of the department of any other Minister. No one has a greater admiration for the capacity and judgment of the Prime Minister than I, but I do not think that the administration of the Department of External Affairs should be a side line in any Minister’s office, no matter how capable he may be. Any one who is familiar with the many and varied happenings that pass daily through that office, affairs which might vitally affect Australia,, must realize the necessity for a separate administration. I make the suggestion that we should have a separate department to control external affairs. It is time, too, that we encouraged some of our young men who are going through our universities, and have- an inclination for the Service, to fit themselves for the work of members of an Australian diplomatic corps. We are building up an air force, a navy, and an army, and it. is but right that we should afford an opening for capable young men, who could gather and present information to the Government without its being tampered with or coloured by representations from any other portion of the Empire. In saying that, I am not casting any reflection on the Dominions Office and its diplomatic service in Great Britain, for which I have a great admiration, but we should provide slowly, though certainly, for the employment of young men of Australian origin, education, and ideals, in the work of diplomacy.
I again express my gratitude to the Prime Minister for having been given the opportunity to serve at Geneva. Despite the many difficulties that have to be overcome before we attain universal peace, I am confident that we shall reach it, because men and women of all races are applying themselves as earnestly and sincerely as we are to the solution of the problem of the peaceable settlement of difficulties without sending our sons and daughters to the shambles to be slaughtered.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
I desire to read, for the information of honorable members, the substance of a cablegram which I have received, embodying the reply sent on 1st May by the Prime Minister of Egypt to the note handed to him by Lord Lloyd on 29th April already communicated to the House.
In your -letter of the 29th April, Your Excellency informs me that the draft law governing public meeting and demonstrations is covered by the reservation which was re-affirmed in the British Note nf the 4th April, and to which reference had been made in the memorandum of the 4th March: 2nd, that Your Excellency has been instructed by His Britannic Majesty’s Government to request me, as head of the Egyptian Government, immediately to take the necessary stops to prevent this bill from becoming law, and to give you in writing a categorical assurance that the draft bill will not be continued, adding that if this assurance did not reach Your Excellency before 7 p.m. on the 2nd May, His Britannic Majesty’s Government would consider themselves free to have recourse to such action as the situation in their opinion might render necessary. In reply I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that, in their reply of the 30th March to the British memorandum of the 4th March, 1928, the Egyptian Government set forth their point nf view,’ which they feel to be such as would reconcile the safeguarding oi the rights of their country with the maintenance of friendly relations between Great Britain and Egypt. This point of view they reaffirmed in a declaration made to Parliament on the 5th April, in reply to the British note of the 4th April. Faced with the duty incumbent on them of upholding the country’9 rights and respecting its Constitution, the Egyptian Government cannot recognize Great Britain’s right, implied in the note of the 29th April, and based upon the declaration of the 28th February, 1D22, to intervene in Egyptian legislation. This declaration was and still is unilateral, and His Britannic Majesty’s Government intends, indeed, to give it this character. By its very nature it could neither bind nor compel the other party. This fact was, indeed, recognized in 1924 by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. In a letter addressed in 1924, Lord Allenby expressed himself in the following terms to the late Zaghlu Pasha, then President of the Council of Ministers: “Mr. Ramsay MacDonald clearly stated to the Egyptian Minister in London on the 15th May that the very fact that one party or the other explained the position which it took up in no way obliged the other party to recognize that position.” The Egyptian Government on many occasions frankly and sincerely set forth their points of view to His Britannic Majesty’s Government, and Your Excellency, and have spared no efforts to emphasize the good intentions which animate them. I have often had the honour of showing Your Excellency in connexion with the bill as to public meetings .and demonstrations that no constitutional government had the power to violate the constitutional principle of division of powers by withdrawing a bill which both chambers and the Government had approved, and of which the Senate has now only to examine one paragraph, omitted by an oversight in regard to a simple formality. I then pointed out to Your Excellency that by its provisions themselves, and by the declaration concerning it mods by the Government to Parliament, and the discussion to which it has given rise in both chambers, recorded in the records of their respective session’s, the bill in question in no way exposes the safety nf foreigners to risk, and that its sole object is to regulate the exercise of constitutional liberty, whilst fully securing public security. 1 have also often had opportunities for declaring that if experience reveals any defects in the law, the Egyptian Government would at once cull upon Parliament to modify it in accordance with the exigencies of public order. Before these evident marks of their goodwill and good intentions, the Egyptian Government can only express their deep regret that His Britannic Majesty’s Government could not have taken into accour t their very earnest desire to consolidate the good relations of the two countries, and the sincere efforts which they have always exerted to this end. They consider that they cannot subscribe to the contents of the Note of the 29th April, without seriously compromising the external rights of Egypt. And they cannot believe that His Britannic Majesty’s Government, whose liberal spirit is well known,deigned to humiliate an unarmed nation whose strength lies only in its rights and the sincerity of its intentions. Accordingly, and in conformity with their ardent desire to reach an understanding, and the conciliatory sentiments which have never ceased to animate them, the Egyptian Government, within the limits of their constitutional rights, yesterday requested the Senate, who agreed, to postpone theex animation of the bill in question until the next session. They hope that His Majesty’s Government will appreciate this step, and that in the light of the mutual confidence which governs the relations of the two countries, the present difficulties will shortly be dispelled and give place to an era of understanding, justice and friendship.”
To this note, on the 2nd May, Lord Lloyd was instructed to reply in the following terms: - “ His Majesty’s Government have learned with satisfaction that in compliance with their request; and in pursuance of the advice tendered by Your Excellency and the Egyptian Government, the Senate has decided not to proceed with the Assembly Bill during the present session. His Majesty’s Government takes note of your assurance that this decision has been taken in conformity with the ardent desire of the Egyptian Government to reach an understanding, and their conciliatory sentiment. They are therefore entitled to assume that the Egyptian Government will be careful to avoid any revival of the controversy which led to the present crisis. His Majesty’s Government observes, however, that Your Excellency’s note does not explicitly state the intentions of the Egyption Government respecting the future of this bill. In the circumstances they think it well to make clear in terms admitting of no misinterpretation that they regard certain provisions of the bill as calculated seriously to weaken the hands of the administrative authorities responsible for the maintenance of order and the protection of foreign lives and property. If therefore the measure in question was to be revived, or other measures introduced which in their view presented similar dangerous features, His Majesty’s Government would be advised to intervene again as in the present instance to prevent their enactment. His Majesty’s Government cannot enter into any discussion respecting the declaration of -February, 1922.
One of the consequences of that instrument was to entail upon His Majesty’s Government responsibilities for the protection of foreign interests in Egypt, and it will be clear from the preceding paragraph that they are resolved at all times to insist upon a precise discharge of its terms. This declaration embodies the conditions subject to which independence was accordedto Egypt, and His Majesty’s Government will not permit it to be modified or dis regarded.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.40 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 May 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1928/19280503_reps_10_118/>.