11th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 11 a.m. and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Works whether anything is being done towards the construction of the proposed new road between Goulburn and Canberra, for which a sum of £150,000 was voted by the last Parliament. Has the attention of the Minister beencalled to the state of the existing road? The section to Tarago was placed in a tolerable condition some time ago, but it has deteriorated very much. Between Tarago and Bungendore the condition of the surface is such as cannot be described in parliamentary language.Will the Minister say what the Government has done, or is doing, or contemplates doing, to improve that highway?
– A sum of money was voted by this Parliament for the making of a new road between Canberra and Goulburn, and that vote was supplemented by a sum of money made available by the Government of New South Wales. A contract has already been let for £29,000. The Federal Capital Commission has, I understand, arranged to standardize that portion of the road which is within the Federal Territory.
– The Minister’s reply refers to the road via Collector, but I want some information in regard to the existing road through Bungendore, which his late colleague, the honorable member for Echuca, promised last year would be improved. Having regard to the disrepair of that road, will the Government do something to improve it?
– The New South Wales Government is under an obligation to keep that road in repair. I shall ascertain what is being done by the State authorities and let the honorable member know.
– Having regard to the fact that the matter of increased protection for the cotton-growing industry was referred to the Tariff Board nine and a half months ago, and that the board’s report has been in the possession of the Minister for Trade and Customs for more than a fortnight, I ask the honorable gentleman when he will announce to the House the Government’s intention regarding that industry. I have received several telegrams on the subject. One is from Mr. G. Bradley, of Callide -
Urge Government publish Tariff Board report and act to give effect before rising, in accordance with promise made by Prime Minister in Brisbane.
Another reads -
We are becoming very much alarmed here for want of knowledge regarding Government’s intentions connexion with Tariff Board report on cotton industry…. Definite assurances given by Government last election matter be dealt with time for present season’s cotton crop which is now being harvested.
I ask the Minister to inform the House whether the Government’s intentions will be known before the adjournment of the House this week?
-Thereport of the Tariff Board on the cotton-growing industry is particularly long and complex. It has been constantly under my consideration since I received it and I hope to be able to announce the Government’s intentions at a very early date.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs (1) whether in connexion with the new price list for grapes, such prices are subject to the Beaume test; (2) whether the prices are for cash at winery, or distillery door; (3) whether in the event of any winery or distillery being unable to pay cash, it can be financed through the Rural Oredits Branch of the Commonwealth Bank or by any other means?
– The prices set forth in the Government list are based on the Beaume test. The payment of cash at the winery or distillery is a matter for arrangement between the grower and the purchaser. The wineries and distilleries must make their own arrangements for financing of the transactions through the Commonwealth Bank or the associated banks.
– About a month ago I asked the Prime Minister for information regarding the cost of the British Economic Mission, and I asked a similar question on behalf of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) yesterday. If the right honorable gentleman is not able to furnish exact particulars, will he inform the House of the approximate cost of the mission ?
– The Commonwealth has been in communication with the State Governments in regard to the apportionment of expenditure. The accounts are not yet complete, but I shall ascertain whether it is possible to let the honorable member know the approximate cost, without waiting for the final division of it between the Commonwealth and the States.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he will make available to the House as speedily as possible the report furnished to the Government by the Economic Advisory Committee.
– The honorable member refers to the report of Messrs. Dyason, and Wickens, Professors Brigden and Copland, and Major Giblin, who, as a special committee, have been doing work for the Government, in an honorary capacity. I understand that the report of the Committe is completed, but I was informed early in the New Year that the checking of certain figures would occupy two or three months. That work must be almost finished, and as soon as I receive the information I shall make it available for the information of the public.
– Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to consider the report of the South Australian Disabilities Commission? If so, has he come to any decision upon it? Has the report been forwarded to the Premier of South Australia, and will it be laid upon the table of the House before Parliament adjourns this week, so that honorable members may have an opportunity to peruse it?
– I received the report of the Commission this week, but although. I have glanced through it I have not had an opportunity to consider it carefully. I see little possibility of the matter receiving the attention of Cabinet before the approaching adjournment. However, it will be dealt with by the Government as early as possible and made available to the public. A copy of the report has been sent to the Premier of South Australia on the understanding thathe is to treat it as confidential, and not disclose any information in regard to it until this Government has made it available to the public.
– I draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the following paragraph published in the press -
In an official statement to-day the Miners’ Federation claim that Mr. Brace’s offers that they should select an accountant from three nominated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants is very much loaded. The miners’ officials claim that their investigation has resulted in the discovery that 47 accountants who are members of the Chartered Institute are shareholders in coal companies. One of these accountants holds 1,700 shares in coal mines.
If that statement is correct, will the Prime Minister nominate an accountant from the Auditor-General’s department, to work in conjunction with the accountant which the miners would select, in conducting an inquiry into the alleged excessive profits of the coal-owners and the private railway and shipping companies, with a view to bringing about the resumption of work in the coal industry at an early date? If not, will the right honorable gentleman inform the House if he intends to permit Parliament to go into recess whilst the coalowners continue their illegal lockout, which has brought so much misery and starvation upon those engaged on the coalfields?
– I understand from the question that the honorable member is anxious to know if the Government will adopt an entirely new basis for the appointment of a firm of chartered accountants to investigate the figures submitted to the conference at Canberra. The Government is not prepared to do that. As to the appointment of a member of the Auditor-General’s staff to co-operate in an investigation concerning the profits of the coal-owners and private railway and shipping companies, my reply is that the whole matter will be investigated by a royal commission, with the assistance, not merely of the Auditor-General’s department and of any firm of accountants that may be selected by the miners’ representatives, but also with that of any firm or individual that the commission may think necessary to call to its aid. The inquiry to be conducted by a firm of accountants to be nominated by the representatives of the miners was only to investigate the figures supplied to the Premier of New SouthWales, in order to ascertain whether they were correct.
– This is an expedient to bring about a resumption of work. But not on Mr. Bavin’s figures.
– As to the honorable member’s suggestion that this or any other proposal might bring about a resumption of work, I may say that in making it, he assumes that the miners are prepared to accept the proposal of the Premier of New South Wales if, on investigation, the figures upon which he bases his proposals are proved to be correct. If the honorable member is able to give an undertaking to that effect, he is in a different position from that of the representatives of the miners, who were not prepared to give such an assurance.
– I am not in a position to give such an assurance. Will the right honorable gentleman give a guarantee that a firm of accountants, the members of which are shareholders in a colliery, will not be appointed?
– I think it extremely improbable that any firm would be nominated if it, or any of its partners, held shares in a colliery company, though I cannot give any guarantee as to that. But in the event of a firm of chartered accountants of the highest possible reputation being selected, some of whose members held shares in a colliery, the honorable member, I presume, is not so unreasonably prejudiced that he would suggest that it should be precluded from conducting an investigation.
– As there appears to be some misunderstanding between the Prime Minister and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) about the selection of a firm .of accountants to conduct this inquiry, I ask if there is not some other source from which a selection could be made, other than firms whose members may be shareholders in a colliery company?
– The proposal made to the representatives of the miners was that three - the number was subsequently increased to six - firms of chartered accountants should be nominated by the head of their profession - the president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants - and that the miners should select one of them. If it were impossible to place reliance upon the work of a firm so selected by the representatives of the men, it would be impossible to carry out any inquiry with confidence. The proposal originally made should ensure the confidence of the whole people, and I am not prepared to depart from it.
– A deputation which waited upon the Minister for Public Works in South Australia some months ago, in connexion with the Port Augusta water supply, urged that, as the population of that town was largely composed of Commonwealth employees, and as South Australia was not able to do anything in improving the water supply, representations be made to the Commonwealth Government for assistance. Since then, with the honorable member for Boothby and representatives of South Australia in another place, I have waited on the Minister, but have not yet received a reply to the request made to him. I have now received a telegram from Port Augusta, the purport of which is that consideration has been given to the request, and that it has been definitely re jected. I ask the Minister whether the proposal has been rejected, and, if not, what is the position? The matter is urgent, as the residents of Port Augusta are experiencing a water famine.
– Following upon a deputation which I received in connexion with this matter, I called for a report from the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner as to the adequacy of the water supply at Port Augusta for the purposes of the transcontinental railway. I have not yet received that report; but, as the Commissioner is expected iu Canberra tomorrow, I hope to discuss the matter with him, and, after doing so, will inform the honorable member of the result.
– Last week I asked the Prime Minister whether it was a fact that the Commonwealth Oil Refinery Company had supplied the British Imperial Oil Company, the Tudol Oil Company, and other oil companies with refined spirit made from petroleum admitted duty free into Australia, and, if so, how much duty should have been paid by the purchasing companies on such spirit. The Prime Minister replied that it was not in the public interest that such information should be given. I now ask the right honorable gentleman if he does not consider that there has been a grave evasion of duty and that, in the public interest, the people should have all the facts ? Does he not also think that it is not in the public interest for the Commonwealth Oil Refinery to enter into trade combinations with other oil companies?
– In replying to questions I cannot express opinions; but if that were permitted, I would not do so unless all the facts were before me. The first fact to be ascertained is whether the sale involved an evasion of duty. As to the suggestion that the Commonwealth Oil Refinery Company is entering into a combination with other oil companies, there is no ground for suggesting that it has done anything of the sort. If, in the ordinary course of its business it has sold a portion of its product to any other company, that is a matter upon which one should know the facts before expressing an opinion.
– Will the Prime Minister, in the public interests, ascertain whether the Commonwealth OilRefinery Company is selling motor spirit to other oil companies, and whether duty is being paid to the Commonwealth Government by these companies in respect of such spirit ?
– I shall look into the matter; but I do not intend to make public any transactions of the Commonwealth OilRefinery Company which may place it at a disadvantage in competing with the other oil companies operating in Australia.
– I ask the Treasurer whether, in the event of owners of wineries or distilleries being unable to pay cash for the grapes purchased from the growers this season, it would be possible for them to obtain advances through the Rural Credits Branch of the Commonwealth Bank, to enable cash payments to be made to the growers?
– As wine has been proclaimed a primary product, an advance for it could be obtained through the Rural Credits Branch of the Commonwealth Bank.
– Does the Government intend to provide an opportunity for the House to discuss the report submitted by the Royal Commission on Child Endowment ?
– The report was received only within the last few days, and it is necessary that the Government should consider it to determine what action should be taken upon it. When that has been done, honorablemembers will have the fullest opportunity of discussing the whole subject.
– Is the Prime Minister able to answer a question I submitted to him on the 7th March, concerning the investigation officers working under the direction of the Development and Migration Commission; and, if not, will he supply the information before the House rises ?
– I have not the information now, but I shall have inquiries made this morning, and, if possible, supply the honorable member with the information.
Control of “A” Class Stations.
– I understand that while Parliament is in recess the Government intends to enter into an arrangement to take over the A-class broadcasting stations of Australia. Will the PostmasterGeneral inform me what price will be paid for these stations, what amount will be allowed for goodwill, and whether honorable members will be given an opportunity of discussing the new arrangement ?
– The only station that has been taken over so far is that at Perth. A sum of £7,000 was paid in respect of it. The other matters referred to by the honorable member are under consideration, but no decisions have yet been reached.
– I point out to the Minister for Home Affairs that very few of the offices in the No. 2 Secretariat have any indication upon them of the department or officials which they accommodate. Consequently, persons who have business to transact in that building frequently spend a long time in an aimless peregrination trying to discover the particular office or officer they require. Will the Minister see that the practice which prevails in other civilized communities, of placing a name upon each office is adopted in this case?
– I gave instructions for that to be done some time ago, and the work should be completed very shortly.
Alleged Boycott by Merchants.
– Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to reports that certain timber merchants in Melbourne, and, possibly in other States, are, by adopting boycotting methods, forcing other traders, not in accord with their policy, to fall in with their wishes ? If so, does he intend to take any action in. the matter ?
– The honorable member has not indicated any Federal law which, in his opinion, would apply to the circumstances which he has suggested exist. I am not able at the moment to think of a provision in any Commonwealth statute of which such an action could be considered an infringement. If the honorable member will direct my attention to one, I shall give the matter consideration. parliamentary procedure.
Introduction of Bills.
– Will the Prime Minister, on the occasions when a bill is circulated which contains clauses relating to clauses in another bill proposed to be introduced, take steps to have the second bill introduced at the same time, so that honorable members may compare the related provisions.
– I am in accord with the suggestion of the honorable member, and when such occasions arise I shall endeavour to ensure that such bills are circulated simultaneously. prosecution of major Mcdowell.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral lay upon the table of the House all the papers relating to the proceedings instituted against Major McDowell under the Crimes Act?
– I shall examine the papers to see whether the request of the honorable member can be complied with. federal capital territory.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Condition of Files - Resignation of Third Commissioner
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Dr. MALONEY (through Mr. Fenton) asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Hotels - Allowances to Public Servants
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained, and will be conveyed to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Salary, £912 per annum. Allowance to officers in London, £150 per annum.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
In view of repeated statements made that non-official post office attendants are “ sweated “ in order to give postal facilities to the public, will he represent to the Government the necessity of submitting the rates and allowances of such attendants to arbitration, by appointing an independent arbitrator to determine what such rates and allowances should be?
– The payment which is made by the department for the conduct of non-official post offices is based on a scale which provides an . equitable remuneration for the work performed. The rates of remuneration have been determined in conformity with the recommendations of a specially appointed departmental committee, and have entailed an increased cost to the department of £70,000 per annum. The department has extended every consideration to nonofficial postmasters, and the appointment of an arbitrator is not considered to be warranted.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Will he lay on the table of the House the report of the Advisory Committee on Wireless Broadcasting; if so, when?
– The recommendations by the Wireless Advisory Committee in regard to the future control of broadcasting stations have already been indicated to the House in reply to a question by the honorable member for Lang on the 21st February, 1929.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained as far as possible.
– On 18th March the hon orable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows : -
Tenders for Hiring
– Yesterday the honor able member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows : -
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until to-morrow at 11 o’clock a.m.
.- I move-
That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
It is proposed to conclude the session at the end of this week if possible, to enable honorable members to return to their homes before Easter. In such circumstances, it is usual for Government business to be given precedence over private members’ business, and I, therefore, commend the motion to the favorable consideration of the House.
.- Will the Prime Minister indicate what business the Government desires to complete before the adjournment? Ishould also like to know why delay has occurred in dealing with the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill, which I regard as one of the most important measures on the noticepaper. Will honorable members be given the fullest opportunity to discuss this measure, seeing that it provides for an important departure from existing procedure in the final determination of appeals in respect of pensions?
– I have a motion on the notice-paper for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into and report upon the fruit and hop industries. This is of the utmost importance to the small fruit industry of Tasmania, which is at present being butchered. Our fruit-growers are being compelled to sign contracts which are positively vicious if not actually dishonest, and unless something is done before the House rises to have the whole matter inquired into, it will be impossible to do anything effective in relation to it this year, and the small fruit-growers of Tasmania and, to some extent, of Victoria will find themselves in the same unfortunate position next season as they are in at present. Some honorable members regard certain items of private business which appear on the notice-paper as of more importance than certainitems of Government business. If the motion is carried, shall we be given an opportunity to discuss private members’ business before the House rises?
– In reply to the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) I should be only too pleased to afford an opportunity to discuss the motions in the names of various private members if honorable members generally would be prepared to remain here after the completion of the Government’s business. That is a matter which is entirely in the hands of honorable members.
With regard to the question of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), I point out that I notified the Leader of the Opposition the other night of the measures with which it is proposed to deal before the Easter adjournment. They are the Economic Research Bill, the Income Tax Assessment Bill, the Seat of Government Acceptance Bill, the War
Service Homes Bill,and the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill. Other matters with which we shall deal, if time permits, are the charges in connexion with the boards set up to control the export of dried and canned fruits. The Government, while not keen to deal with those matters before Easter, will probably avail itself of any opportunity to do so, as, for instance, periods when this chamber is waiting to deal with measures from another place. The honorable member for Reid suggested that there had been some delay in connexion with the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill. That is not so. The Government is carrying out what almost amounted to a pledge, namely, that it would allow a reasonable interval between the introduction of the measure and its discussion, in order to permit the returned soldiers’ organizations in the several States to examine it. As soon as the other matters which stand ahead of it on the notice-paper have been dealt with, that measure will be brought forward for discussion.
– Is it intended to prorogue Parliament, or merely to adjourn at Easter?
– The House will adjourn to a date to be notified to honorable members by Mr. Speaker.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In committee (Consideration resumed from 19th March, vide page 1485).
Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (The Bureau of Economic Research.)
.- This clause, which embodies the purpose and scope of the bill itself, reads -
There shall be a Bureau of Economic Research, consisting of the director and such officers as are appointed for the purposes of this act.
With those mild and disarming words it is proposed to initiate a bureau which will begin with a director and a typist and end as an awe-inspiring department. I should like it to be known that I, at least, have no fear of the lamp of knowledge being brought to shine upon any inchoate political or economic theories which I may have. My regret is that, of the vast treasury of knowledge, I have been able to assimilate so very little. I realise with Ulysses that -
All experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
One honorable member said that he regarded without hope the vast array of bureaux, boards and commissions created by this Government. I, at any rate, am not entirely hopeless of anything, except, perhaps, the present Government. But when one surveys the long and imposing list of boards and commissions, the creatures of the Government, and the subject of such frequent comment and criticism, one is entitled to say that, sooner or later, the time must come for assessing the net results of their establishment and for asking, in the spirit of that elementary economy which it is our job to understand, “ Do they pay “ ? My view is that some of them have already proved that their existence is not justified, while the theories of others have not been exploited sufficiently far to enable us to say finally what they are capable of achieving. So far as I can understand the bill, it involves the exploration of the whole field of knowledge. Take, for example, the reference to primary industries. Economic research relating to primary industries involves meteorology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, and a great deal more besides; while as to research into secondary industries, tariffs, bounties , and industrial matters, the Parliamentary Library is gorged with treatises on all these subjects, which, in their turn, open up further vistas of abstruse inquiries. Experts abound on every hand - in the streets as well as in the universities. I myself have the pleasure of knowing many of them, although they do not always meet me if I should have the good fortune to see them first. The some remarks may be made regarding taxation, finance, and currency - our job is to consider them from a practical, rather than a theorectical, point of view. There are, we must acknowledge, abundant avenues and opportunities for inquiry and research. Alas, that we can assimilate so little of the pabulum offering! Alas, that life should be so short! The waste paper basket of each of us is filled with the net result of the midnight toil of many industrious and inquiring men. Scarcely a day passes but I, with considerable regret, have to commit to that fatal repository so much useful matter that I fain would read and study, but which time does not permit me to more than bury decently. One is led to ask how much of the net result of these inquiries is translated into useful legislation. Some of us, including myself, long for leisure to devote to reading and research; but, unfortunately, the opportunities are too few. The painful thought then presents itself that, if we gave more time to reading and research, and spent a greater part of our leisure in laboratories and libraries, probably some other persons of a practical turn of mind would occupy our seats in this chamber. In the course of his parliamentary duties a member must devote himself to a multitude of details. Many of the tasks which honorable members have to perform are heavy, some are petty while others are purely personal. If that be taken as an argument for remitting these questions to experts, my answer is that, sooner or later, knowledge, to be useful in the parliamentary sense, must be assimilated by the representatives of the people who in Parliament act as their spokesmen. The alternative to that is a parliament of theorists fresh from the laboratories or university chairs. Even were a parliament so proposed - a dangerous innovation - the practical difficulty is that popular assemblies are not so constituted, and, indeed, from the very nature of things cannot be. I remember once hearing the present Chief Justice of Victoria say that training was required for every trade and profession except that of a member of Parliament. The learned judge was only repeating a well-known saw; but he did repeat it. The Chief Justice of Victoria is a man of erudition and wide reading, yet a sufficient comment upon his statement is that he has been associated with legislation and opinions which have been rejected emphatically by the great majority of the people of the State over which he presides as Chief Justice. It is idle to say that the crowd necessarily comprises fools, and that he is a wise man, because, unfortunately, it is the crowd, not the individual, who has to be served aud, if possible, satisfied by legislation. Colour has been lent to the suggestion of sinister political motives behind this legislation by some observations made yesterday by the honorable member for “Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), who spoke of the immutable law of supply and demand. It may be that that law is eternal, but that it is immutable I venture to deny. There is a law of supply and demand, and there is a law of buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market, and of freedom of contract. But they are laws that have been directed or rejected by men. Honorable members opposite pay members on this side the compliment of saying that we are like Ajax defying the lightning. That is true ; instead of bowing to the forces of nature we seek to control and direct them. There is, for instance, the eternal, though not immutable law of gravitation. If a man thoughtlessly throws himself from the top of a steeple, he will be inevitably killed; but, notwithstanding that, the air is being traversed by men in aeroplanes defying gravitation. Natural phenomena are frequently destructive to man, and need to be harnessed for his use. The greatest phenomena of all is man himself, but his greatness is not founded on natural laws; it is based on ethics and idealism. He is fashioned in the likeness of the greatest iconoclast of all, who “ led captivity captive “ and built a new world on the ashes of the old. We frequently defy natural laws. Arbitration is a defiance of these laws, and so is the tariff, but our policy with respect to those matters is inspired by motives of service to mau - of sacrifice by the few in the interests of the many. We welcome knowledge, at all events, and I realize how painfully little knowledge we possess, and how dangerous a little of it is. But at least we have sufficient of it to appreciate the fact that men cannot be made wise by acts of Parliament. Therefore, we conclude that, if this bill has not that sinister political significance to which I have referred, it is a mere academical waste of time in a Parliament whose duty it is to solve the practical political problems of the present day.
.- The bureau is to be placed tinder the control of n director and officers. Personally,
I should like to see it more broadly based, so that there could be found a place for that great band of economic enthusiasts who require no payment for their services, but who are prepared to place at the disposal of their country the valuable knowledge that they have acquired as the result of a lifetime spent in research - in the wide field referred to in clause 11. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat, has referred to the limitlessness of that wide field. Of course, it must be wide, because everything that this continent contains in the way of the amenities of civilization is the result of continuous and unremitting research by the wisest, most prudent and most ambitious of its citizens. If it cannot be done under this measure, I hope that an opportunity will be found to bring about co-operation between that band of eminent men and the bureau. In the Old Country, men of outstanding ability are only too pleased to place their knowledge at the disposal of the nation. A striking characteristic of those men is, that, having the. advantage of great intellects, they are prepared to place at their country’s door the benefit of their life’s work. I hope that, if not now, the Government will, at a later stage, amend the bill so that a place may be found for that enthusiastic band. It should be given a logical status in connexion with this national effort at research work. By adopting the practice followed in the Old Country, we could take advantage of the great field of voluntary scientific endeavour.
– The clause provides that there shall be a bureau of economic research, consisting of a director and such other officers as are appointed for the purposes of the act. But the bill does not fix the salary to be paid to the director, nor does it inform us how many officers he is to have around him. We are supposed to swallow the pill without ascertaining the nature of its contents; it is not even sugar-coated, in order that it may be made palatable. Evidently this bureau will go the way of all other boards and commissions, and bodies of that kind, which this Government has appointed.
– Cheer up!
–How can one be cheerful, when one remembers the results of the work of the 58 boards, commissions and committees that the present Government has already appointed and all of which have failed to fulfil the purposes for which they were established.
– The honorable member does not seriously suggest that this Government has appointed 58 boards and commissions.
– I have before me the list of those that have been set up by this Government. I am not surprised at the Prime Minister’s doubt ou the subject. I do not blame him for having lost count of them.
– I dare say that the li3t could be incorporated in Hansard for the edification of honorable members.
– Yes, I shall read it.
– Give us, for a start, the names of a dozen that have been appointed by this Government.
– Very well. The Development and Migration Commission, with its Australian and Loudon offices, has involved an expenditure up to date of about £100,000.
– I do not think that that has any bearing upon the clause under discussion.
– I do not want the bureau to be established, because all the other boards and commissions that the Government has appointed have served no useful purpose.
– Some of the boards mentioned in the list that the honorable member was about to quote cover the same ground as that to be traversed by the bureau.
– That is so. The North Australia Commission cost £5,792.
– That was the cost for one year only.
– Yes ; for the year 192G-27. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, in that year cost £45,0S4. The Public Service Board cost £52,5S6. The Federal Capital Commission in that year cost £7,5S6, and the Tariff Board £11,000.
– We did not appoint the Tariff Board.
– But the Government permits all these bodies to continue their operations, and thus the work of the proposed bureau wil2 be more or less a duplication of inquiries already being made. Surely the Prime Minister will not deny that, when he was asked on the 11th September by the honorable member -for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), what royal commissions, &c, had been appointed since the 9th February, 1923, and that was the year when the Government took office, he gave the list.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I draw the honorable member’s attention to the fact that the question before the committee is whether the bureau should be established. What other bodies may have been appointed has no bearing on the clause.
– My contention is that the proposed bureau will cover ground that is already traversed by existing bodies. Here is the list that was supplied by the Prime Minister when he was asked how many boards had been appointed since 1923. It appears in Hansard of 21st September, 1928, at page 7070.
– Are there 58 of them?
– I should think that there would be more than that. I am letting the Prime Minister down lightly. The list is as follows: -
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member may not continue to quote that list. It has nothing to do with the clause under discussion.
– The Prime Minister has challenged my statement. If he will consult the reply which he himself made to a question asked in this House, he will find the number of boards, commissions and other bodies which have been appointed. The cost of those bodies has been more than £650,000 since 1923. During the year 1926-27 the cost of the Development and Migration Commission in London and
Australia was £124,000, making a total for that year of £350,000. Within the last couple of weeks, two more bodies have been established, and if the House does not rise shortly, there will be a further addition to the number at present in existence. One cannot help inquiring how this bureau is likely to develop. The Development and Migration Commission started in a very humble way. Certainly the chairman was paid a big salary, amounting to about £100 a week. If that commission had covered the field and done good work for Australia, its members would not have been overpaid. My complaint is that Australia has not received a return commensurate with the amount that has been spent on boards and commissions. The Prime Minister has declared that only a small proportion of the Murrumbidgee Valley has benefited from the Murrumbidgee irrigation scheme. Surely that is a work which should be taken in hand by the Development and Migration Commission! We have just had placed in our hands the journal of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for February, 1929. A perusal of its pages will show that that council has been dealing with the very matters to which the Prime Minister made reference in his second-reading speech. I find that it has investigated soils in the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys. At page 60 of the journal, the following reference is made to soils investigations : -
The present stage of the soil studies being carried out in the irrigation areas of the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys under the direction of Professor Prescott, was reported. It was considered that valuable work was being done, and that the present activities might well be extended on a co-operative basis with the States.
At the same page, there is a reference to the report of Sir Arnold Thieler, in relation to problems of animal health; and on subsequent pages the subjects bud selection, tobacco investigation, and the chemical composition of wool are mentioned as having been dealt with.
– Does the honorable member suggest that that is not useful work?
– I say that this council is dealing with matters which the Prime Minister said would be dealt with by this proposed bureau, and that it is doing useful work.
– Does the honorable member suggest that economic research is concerned with soil studies?
– According to the right honorable gentleman it is. I quote his own words in moving the second reading of this bill -
All honorable members are agreed as to the desirability of research work being undertaken in the interests of our primary producers. So much depends upon the quality of the soil and the best typos of wheat for different soils, and varying climatic conditions that it is essential, in the interests of the country, that trained men shall devote their efforts to research in those directions.
Now the right honorable gentleman says that work of that character is not suitable for the proposed bureau! What does his speech mean?
– Will the honorable member permit me to explain what is obvious ?
– The right honorable gentleman can put his point of view when I have sat down.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I am sure that the honorable member does not wish to misrepresent me.
– On a point of order I suggest that the Prime Minister cannot make a personal explanation until the honorable member for Hume has concluded his speech.
– The Prime Minister cannot make a personal explanation at this stage.
– Will the honorable member for Hume allow me to correct a misrepresentation ?
– I have quoted from the speech which was delivered by the right honorable gentleman. I do not know whether or not he now wishes to add to what he then said. If he misrepresented himself, he must make a personal explanation to himself. Further on he said -
In the Murrumbidgee area of New South Wales the expenditure to the 30th June, 1927, was, in round figures, £9,000,000. Unfortunately, up to the present, only one-third of the irrigable land there is being used, and the returns from that area are sufficient only to pay part of the interest upon capital expenditure. It might reasonably be argued that we should have looked ahead and considered the probable economic effects oi that vast expenditure of public money on land development. There is also the group land settlement scheme in Western Australia.
The pages of this journal of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research disclose the fact that the members of that body have considered many of those questions which the Prime Minister said it is essential to consider. They have done everything that is necessary to ascertain the composition of our soils and their productive capacity.
– With what other subjects has the council dealt?
– Bulletin No. 39 of the council contains a work entitled “ The Utilization of Sulphur by Animals - with a special reference to Wool Production.” Other subjects to which attention is being devoted are “A Forest Products Laboratory for Australia - Justification for its creation, outline of its organization, and rough estimate of cost,” “ Observations on the hydatid parasite and the control of hydatid disease in Australia,” and “Studies concerning the so-called bitter pit of apples in Australia.” The other day the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) definitely stated that he wished this bureau to be established so that it might deal with diseases and pests in the fruit-growing industry. This journal proves that that very subject is being investigated by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
– And that council cost the country over £42,000 last year.
– The cost last year of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research was £45,085. The honorable member for Franklin said yesterday that it and the Development and Migration Commission should be wiped out, because they had been failures; and by some peculiar method of reasoning he is prepared to give this proposed bureau his blessing. Yet the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has been dealing with the very subject which he claimed should be investigated - bitter pit of apples, and other pests and diseases in the fruit-growing industry.
– A number of State bodies .also are dealing with the matter.
– The Governments of Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland are engaged in work which will be duplicated by the proposed bureau. As a matter of fact, their departments have already got into their stride and have the work well in hand. Consequently, the expenditure on a body which will undertake similar research work is not justified. Further subjects with which the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has been dealing are “ Cattle tick pest and methods for its eradication,” and “The nutrition and health of animals.”
– That is not economic research; it is quite a different field.
– The speech which the honorable member delivered last night was practically confined to these matters. He used them to illustrate the need for establishing the proposed bureau, although he was reminded that many of them are already being dealt with.
– I confined myself to economic research.
– Many of the subjects referred to by the Prime Minister are being investigated by some body or other. . “What has been the result ? I have already stated that the amount expended in 1926-27 in connexion with the Development and Migration Commission, including its London office, was £124,000. I remember the speeches made by honorable members behind the Government in support of the establishment of that body.
– I wonder what the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) said about that commission?
– According to the honorable member for Wannon, we were going to have two blades of grass where only one blade originally grew. Honorable members opposite predicted great things as the result of the work of the Development and Migration Commission. The members of the Corner party in their weekly bulletin referred to the wonderful work that this body was doing and would do. Notwithstanding that, there are to-day 53,000 fewer people engaged in pastoral and agricultural pursuits in Australia than there were in 1922, when the composite Government took office. That is progressing backwards with a vengeance. How can any sane person support the establishment of another of these bodies ? We can estimate the possibilities of this bureau only by our experience of other similar bodies. The Development and Migration Commission has become a laughing-stock to the people of Australia. One of its recommendations was that the work on the Murray water scheme, which is to provide for a storage of 2,000,000 acre feet, should cease. Its report was full of despair, and I have seen no other publication like it in the world. The reason given by the commission for its recommendation was that it would be impossible to find a market for the fruit grown in the Murray valley.
– The commission also recommended the closing down for five years of the Dawson valley scheme in Queensland.
– Did not the Big Four also recommend the closing down of the Murray water scheme?
– Yes, but I did not take much notice of their recommendation because they did not even have time to go thoroughly through one of the country electorates of Australia. Some of them actually admitted that as a result of their short tour here they had gained a greater knowledge of Australia than they had of their own country.
– Yet they were sent out here to advise us in an executive capacity.
– Few, if any, people are paying much attention to the findings of the Big Four. The whole delegation was a farce from beginning to end, and its advice is not worth anything. We all know the immense possibilities of the Murray water scheme when it is completed, yet the Development and Migration Commission recommended that the work on that scheme should be stopped because a market could not be found for the fruit produced in the Murray valley. It did not dream that anything else but fruit could be grown there. When that scheme is completed, there will be immense opportunities for mixed farming and the growing of lucerne and other products besides fruit. For the reasons that I have given, I do not intend to give the Government what is virtually a blank cheque in regard to the establishment of a Bureau of Economic Research.
– In rising to reply very briefly to certain statements made by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) I would remind him that I could, at the time, have raised the point of order that under the Standing Orders it was not permissible for him to quote from my speech in moving the second reading of this bill. I refrained, however, from doing so. The honorable member said that in my second-reading speech I indicated that the Bureau of Economic Research, proposed to be established under this bill, would deal with soil surveys. He then produced a considerable amount of evidence to show that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is already doing most admirable service in that direction and he used that as an argument against the duplication of this work. I agree entirely with honorable members opposite that in the course of my speech I did refer to soil surveys, but I certainly did not say that soil surveys were to be part of the work of the Bureau of Economic Research. I can only assume that the honorable member had not read what I said, because if he had he could not have gained the impression that he attempted to convey to the committee. He has, inadvertently, grossly misled honorable members as to the functions of the Bureau of Economic Research. After referring to soil surveys, I said -
We all admit the value of research in connexion with the breeding of live stock and the elimination of animal and plant pests, and yet we have done practically nothing in the way of research in the most important of all problems, the effect of government policy upon the economic conditions of our people.
In the same speech I also said that we would call in an expert to deal with an engineering or any other problem; that we recognized that research was necessary in medicine and surgery and yet would not recognize that research was necessary with regard to economic matters. I want to make this perfectly clear, because it is really fantastic to suggest, as the honorable member for Hume did, that in my second-reading speech I indicated that this new Bureau of Economic Research would deal with such a subject as soil surveys, or that it could possibly duplicate or overlap the functions of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. If the honorable member for Hume will read my speech, he will recognize that he, inadvertently, grossly misrepresented what I said.
– The Prime Minister should read his own speech. He should not blame me.
– If the honorable member, after having carefully read my speech, persisted in his statement, then I should have very reluctantly to run very close to the rules of the House by withdrawing the word “ inadvertently.”
The honorable member also repeated the old story that the Government, since coming into office, has appointed various boards and commissions. It is not enough for the honorable member to say that these boards have been established; what is necessary is that he should analyse them and ascertain the value of their work to the community. In enumerating the various boards and commissions which he claimed had all been appointed by this Government the honorable member slipped into a trap and immediately attempted to get out of it. Some of these boards were in existence long before this Government took office and they are boards which no honorable member would challenge for a moment. Does any honorable member object, for instance, to the Public Service Board? We all recognize that that board is necessary and yet it is quoted amongst others by the honorable member. We must analyse the work of each individual board and see whether it is good or bad. The honorable member for Hume then proceeded to deal with the Development and Migration Commission. He is perfectly entitled to his own views about that commission, but I, personally, cannot share in them at all. He was on legitimate ground in referring to that board individually but it was utter nonsense for him, when talking about the number of boards that had been appointed by this Government to drag in the Naval Board and every other board that has been in existence for years. In doing so he showed no desire to present his case in a fair and reasonable way. The honorable member referred to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the expense that it has been to this country. I cannot believe that he has any real objection to that board, because it is generally recognized by the community that it is doing invaluable work for Australia. Yet the honorable member has included this council in the list of boards and commissions which the Opposition claims should not have been appointed.
– Has the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research been challenged by this side of the House?
– In every one of the references that the Opposition has made to the number of boards appointed and their cost to the country’ it has included the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The honorable member for Hume said that it had cost this country £45,000. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) immediately interjected that that was only one year’s expenditure. That is certainly an implication that the establishment of that council has been a waste of money, and it forms part of the Opposition’s general condemnation of the Government’s policy in the establishment of boards and commissions. Having condemned, as a whole, the Government’s policy in that respect and having quoted their amazing figures - I think £600,000 was the amount mentioned, and, incidentally, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has had the greatest amount placed at its disposal - honorable members opposite cannot now single out a particular board and say “ Our remarks did not apply to that body. “
– Will the right honorable gentleman allow me to make an interjection ?
– Not at’ present; the honorable member for Hume would not give me an opportunity, while he was speaking, to explain that he was misrepresenting me. I do not offer the slightest objection to criticism of any board which this Government has appointed. For instance, if honorable members do not believe in having a development and migration commission, they are at liberty to condemn the Government for having created one. It would, of course, be unfair for honorable members to attack the members of that or any other commission or board, because they are not in a position to reply; but they are at liberty to attack any individual activity of the Government. Lest, however, they fall into the trap that awaits them, I remind them that among the royal commissions appointed by the present Government was the Royal Commission on Child Endowment.
– I asked this morning what the Government intended to do on that subject.
– Yes, and the other day the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) asked me a question relating to the cost of the commission. The stage is evidently being prepared for presenting this royal commission as another example of the Government’s alleged extragance. I advise honorable members opposite to be careful. If they include the Royal Commission on Child Endowment in their sweeping condemnation of the Government, they will not be on very good ground. That particular commission was not the Commonwealth Government’s pet. It was appointed at the request of the States. The representative of Queensland at a conference with State Premiers moved for its appointment, and his proposal was supported by all the Labour Premiers present. All that the Commonwealth Government did was to acquiesce in the proposal and bear the cost of the investigation. I suggest, therefore, that the Opposition would do well not to include the Royal Commission on Child Endowment in their sweeping condemnation of the Government’s policy of appointing boards and commissions.
The moral to be drawn from the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Hume was that in view of the cost of these boards and commissions it is not advisable to set up another body no matter whether it be necessary or not, or whether the circumstances of Australia warrant it or not. In my opinion it is essential that we should move towards economic research in this country. The bureau proposed to be established under this bill will not duplicate anything which is already being done. The statement made by the honorable member for Hume that it would duplicate workalready being done by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in the matter of soil surveys and so forth, is absolutely ridiculous and has not the slightest foundation in fact.
Sitting suspended from 12.50 to 2.15 p.m.
.- This clause, if passed, will authorize the setting up of a Bureau of Economic Research, consisting of a director and such other officers as may be appointed. I am one of those who make little or no distinction between economic and scientific research. The line of demarcation between them is so fine as to be practically invisible.
– Economic research is scientific research.
– We already have a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The Government, if it wished to have economic problems investigated, could have appointed experts for that purpose, and attached them to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. A new bureau, with a director at its head, will very soon develop, as others of the sort have done, into a large branch of the Public Service. Here is an extract from the annual report of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-
In common with other Commonwealth organizations, the Council is reviewing all its expenditure and commitments in the light of the present financial position of the Commonwealth as a whole. An internal economy committee has been set up to suggest possible economics not involving sacrifice of efficiency.
No doubt the bureau received a communication from the Treasury to the effect that economy was to be practised, and it heeded that communication to the extent of setting up a special internal committee to consider ways and means of effecting economies. In a recent issue of the Daily Telegraph Pictorial there appears the following article: -
In the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Mr. Hughes suggested to the Prime Minister that there was “far too much farmingout of the functions of the Government.” In certain quarters, in which political docility is regarded as the supreme virtue, the statement will be frowned on. Actually it was a timely reminder of an outstanding and unfortunate fact.
Mr. Bruce has this week announced the advent of an economic commission to supplement all the other commissions. Already there are highly-paid experts appointed to find out things about statistics, about migration, about the tariff, and about scientific research. It is hard to understand how yet another inquiring body can bo needed. Nor does it seem necessary to give responsibility to Ministers if they are to decide nothing for themselves.
One wonders how past Governments managed to get along without the assistance of a multitude of boards and commissions. The bill provides that the board may be constituted by proclamation. I ask that no such proclamation be made before Parliament meets again. A special committee of inquiry, we have been told, is considering the matter of this bureau, and its report will be in the hands of the Government when Parliament meets again. Let us have the benefit of that report before any definite action is taken. This measure is being rushed through today without members being given an opportunity to consider it fully. In the course of an. optimistic speeech delivered on Saturday, the Prime Minister said that Australia had no problems. It is true that we have no racial problems such as confront some other countries, but we have problems of our own, none the less. The Prime Minister, while thus belittling the difficulties with which Australia is faced, yet continues to appoint commission after commission, and bureau after bureau, to inquire into this or that national problem. Perhaps honorable members opposite have had this fully explained to them in the party room; but honorable members on this side have not had that opportunity of learning just what is in the mind of the Government. It is reducing Parliament to a farce when members on one side are prevented from speaking by the party whip, and those on the other side are kept silent by the guillotine. The public are becoming so alarmed over the multiplicity of boards and commissions that they speak in whispers now lest Mr. Bruce should hear them, and appoint a board to inquire into the subject of their discourse. Every time one turns a corner there is a risk of bumping into a member of some board “or other. The Government is seeking to conduct the business of Parliament in a disgraceful manner, and the sooner the present practice is ended the better.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. Before the luncheon adjournment the Prime Minister took exception to a statement I made when referring to, a speech he delivered in the House. This is what the Prime Minister said in his speech -
All honorable members are agreed as to the desirability of research work being undertaken in the interests of our primary industries. So much depends upon the quality of the soil and the best types of wheat for different soils and varying climatic conditions that it is essential, in the interests of the country, that trained men should devote their efforts to research in those directions.
I considered that passage from the Prime Minister’s speech in conjunction with the purposes of the Bureau of Economic Research as set out in clause 11 of this bill. That clause says that the powers and functions of the bureau shall be to carry out investigations in respect of a number of matters. Primary industry is the first of a fairly long list. The Prime Minister spoke of the desirability of investigating the quality of soils; and seeing that the bureau is to deal with primary industries, I naturally supposed that he was referring in his speech to the functions of this bureau. How the bureau can deal with primary industries without touching on the nature of soils and their productivity passes my comprehension. If the Prime Minister meant something other than what I quoted from his speech. I am prepared to accept his statement as the true explanation of his remarks. .If I misrepresented him I can only say that the meaning I drew from hia words was the natural one. If a fault lies with any one, it was his for not making his meaning sufficiently clear.
.- It is rather amusing to hear honorable members of the Opposition complaining of the little time at their disposal for the consideration of the bill, when they do not use what time they have in addressing themselves to the matter before the committee. The speech of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), afforded a striking illustration of the need for such a bureau as is proposed. One of the greatest dangers to which we are liable in our legislative work is that which arises from partial knowledge. We bring to the consideration of most subjects only incomplete information; although we may be possessed of some facts, we do not understand their relationship to other facts. The honorable member for Hume extracted one little passage from the speech of the Prime Minister and used it in such a way as to show clearly that he had not the faintest idea of its relation to the remainder of the speech. The honorable member cannot be accused of obtuseness; he is not intellectually dull, and I cannot believe that he had read through the whole of the Prime Minister’s speech. But he saw one brief passage and, instead of relating it to the rest of the speech, he isolated it and used it for the purposes of his own argument. That is what we are constantly doing. The argument of the Prime Minister was, in effect, u We call science to our aid in various spheres - in agriculture, for instance, we ask the scientists to analyse the soils and tell us for what they are suited. In considering a land settlement scheme, the question that would arise is: is it likely to prove economically sound? A scientist is called in who has made an exhaustive examination of the soil, the physical characteristics of the area to be settled, its possibilities of production and its relation to markets. And his expert knowledge is of value in framing a policy. If we utilize the knowledge of experts in the realms of pure science, why in the name of common sense do we not call to our aid in the legislative sphere, economic experts who can place us in possession of the knowledge essential to the sound performance of our task. “ We are constantly in danger of having ip our legislation, the maximum of politics and the minimum of science. This bill is designed to reverse that order and to ensure that our legislation shall be as far as possible in conformity with economic laws. For that reason I welcome it. To illustrate the value of scientific knowledge as opposed to ignorance, I shall relate an incident that was told to me by the matron of one of the Melbourne public hospitals. A young fellow was just convalescing after a severe bout of typhoid fever. One of the characteristics of convalescence after typhoid is that the patient suffers acutely the pangs of hunger. This boy had made piteous complaints to his mother that he was being starved. On one of her visits she was noticed to be carrying a suspicious looking parcel and she was told that she must not take it into the ward. When she insisted on doing so, the nurse examined it and- found inside a large slice of a very substantial plum pudding! No doubt it would have appeased the pangs of hunger, but it would probably have killed the patient. One of Australia’s dangers is that it has too many plum-pudding politicians, who are’ willing to give the political patient anything for which he asks. Various parties and party politicians are vying with each other in satisfying the demands of the patient. Alongside the politician, who represents the fond but ignorant mother, stands the scientist, who points out that what is intended to be a kindness to the patient, will probably cause his death. By the establishment of the Bureau of Economic Research we are seeking to bring the maximum of science into the work of legislation. Will any honorable member seriously contend that that is unwise. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said that the economic laws are not immutable. I differ from him. Every law is immutable, but its effects may be changed by bringing to bear other laws. For instance, when the law of supply and demand is operating we seek to make it subservient to a higher law. But as legislators we must recognize that law ‘is absolutely universal, and it is our business to ascertain what laws operate in any sphere of activity which we propose to enter. The establishment of a Bureau of Economic Research is a step in the right direction, for it will introduce the maximum of science into our legislation and eliminate as far as possible the vicious political clement.
.- The honorable member for Fawkner illustrated a learned lecture on economic law by a reference to hospital matrons and plum puddings. If we apply his analogy to the bill, we shall find that we have already too little plum pudding, and too much theory. Between 52 and 58 boards and commissions are already in existence. The Prime Minister referred to my inquiring turn of mind, and said that I was on wrong lines when I sought information in regard to the various hoards, commissions, and committees. The answers to my inquiries have certainly been very illuminating, and have served to bring to the notice of the House the extravagant system that this Government has introduced. I had the audacity to ask the Prime Minister whether, having delegated to these extra-parliamentary bodies so much of the work that should be done by Ministers, he did not think it advisable to reduce his Cabinet. The Government spends money recklessly. It seems . to have no regard for the public funds of which it is the trustee.
– South Australia is asking the Commonwealth to spend a good deal more.
– The Department of Home Affairs is one of the most extravagant. The Government would be better advised to appoint somebody to investigate the finances of the Commonwealth instead of creating this needless Bureau of Economic Research. Some honorable members opposite are a little alarmed concerning the fiscal tendencies of the person to be appointed director of the bureau.
– The time allotted for the consideration of the bill in committee having expired I must put the question, “ That clause 4 and the remainder of the bill be agreed to.”
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That thebill be now read a third time.
If I thought that this measure would be effective, I would have no hesitation in supporting it; but in view of my experience since I have been a member of this Parliament, I am of the opinion that the recommendations of this bureau would not be adopted by the Government unless it suited the Ministers to accept them. This Government and members supporting it seem to overlook the fact that gold-mining was a most important factor in Australia’s early development, and was responsible for bridging a most important gap early in our history. Unfortunately, of the representatives of the electorates in which this important industry is carried on, only one is a supporter of the Government, and consequently the industry itself receives scant consideration in this Parliament. Although representatives of the gold-mining industry in Western Australia and Queensland have made continual representations to the Commonwealth Government for assistance, it has evaded its responsibility by referring the subject toone of its multitudinous boards and to commissions and committees which have been appointed from time to time. Included in these, I may mention the Western Australia Disabilities Commission and the Development and Migration Commission, each of which has made certain recommendations which have been set aside by the Government. If the industry were better represented in this Parliament, it would receive the same consideration as the wine, grape-growing, canned fruits, cotton, sugar and other industries.
– I ask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the subject-matter of the bill.
– I am directing attention, sir, to the fact that, notwithstanding numerous investigations into the claims of the gold-mining industry for assistance, when the recommendations have been made for the giving of that assistance, they have not been acted on by the Government. If I thought that the proposed Bureau of Economic Research, after inquiring into the goldmining industry, would recommend a bounty on gold, and that recommendation would be accepted by the Government, I should feel inclined to support the bill. But as the recommendation of the chairman of the Western Australia Disabilities Commission for the payment of a bounty to stimulate the production of gold was not acted on, I do not think that any similar recommendation by the proposed bureau would have any effect on this Administration. I regard the proposed bureau as a useless institution, and one whose recommendations would be followed only if they were in accordance with the policy of the Government. The Prime Minister has suggested that the payment of a bounty on gold would be uneconomic, but it would not be more so than a large number of the things for which this Government and the State Governments have been responsible. Strictly speaking political action is often uneconomic from a purely academic point of view. Very many of the great economists of the past, including Adam Smith, have, for example, declared protection to be uneconomic. Japan has for a number of years been paying a bounty of 25 per cent. on gold produced in that country.
– The honorable member is arguing the merits of a bounty on the production of gold, not the merits of the proposal to establish a bureau of economic research.
– I am showing that there is some merit in paying a bounty on gold. This measure relates to the payment of bounties, and I am giving reasons why a bounty should be paid on gold.
– The essence of the bill is economic research.
– I am endeavouring to show that it would be futile for the proposed bureau of economic research to make recommendations to this Government in respect of the payment of a bounty on gold, because the Government would only disregard them, and in these circumstances, I have no option but to oppose the measure. For a number of years - I have not time to go into the matter in detail, but I shall supply the Prime Minister with particulars later - the payment of a bounty on the output of gold in Japan was responsible for an increase of 33 per cent. in production. The position in Australia is that since 1903 the number of persons engaged in the gold-mining industry has decreased from 19,000 to 4,000. It is interesting to note that the value of the metals produced in Australia up to 1926 was £1,129,000,000. Of these, gold tops the list with a production valued at £624,000,000, over half of the value of total metals production. The production of silver and lead is valued at £124,000,000, and of copper £191,000,000, tin, zinc and wolfram making up the rest. The decline in the goldmining industry is not entirely due to the fact that mining has now to be carried on at greater depths, but is occasioned by enormously increasedpost-war costs now surrounding the mining of gold, and the fact that the price of gold has remained stationary. In that respect, the industry is unique Those engaged in the production of gold have to pay their share of the assistance afforded to other industries under our protective policy, with which I do not quarrel; but they should at least be entitled to the same consideration in the way of bounties as the other primary industries to which I have referred. As we have to provide a gold reserve to be held as security against our note issue, we must either produce sufficient in this country, under white labour conditions - which is what is insisted on in regard to the sugar industry - or import our requirements from Africa, where gold is produced by cheap coloured labour. As the taxpayers of Western Australia are substantially assisting the sugar and other industries, they rightly believe that assistance in the form of a bounty on gold should also be given to the gold-mining industry in their State.
.- This may be a convenient opportunity to make a few observations upon the main principles of the bill. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) has for a number of years been a very consistent supporter of the gold-mining industry of Western Australia. As a broad-minded Australian, with more than Australian experience and patriotism, and with a wide knowledge of the subject, he has never missed an opportunity to bring the claims of that industry before this Parliament. But it is to be deplored that while he has been here, he has been compelled to face a Government which has been persistently hostile to the claims of that industry. Whilst it is true that the Government is amenable to argument in some things which fall within its narrow limits, it has shown no sympathy with the claims of the gold-mining industry. Dealing with the general question of economic research-
– Order. The time allotted for the third reading of the bill having expired, I must put the question.
– In respect of primary industries, secondary industries -
– Order. Will the honorable member resume his seat?
– Marketing, transport, customs and excise tariffs -
– Order. If the honorable member does not resume his seat I shall name him.
– I was not aware, Sir, that you were calling me to order. I thought you were addressing other honorable members.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 8th March (vide page 953), on motion by Dr. Earle Page -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This is a small, but nevertheless, an important bill, the object of which is to validate income tax assessments for probably many years past. That the introduction of the measure has been found necessary is a reflection on the legislation passed by this Parliament. Dealing with our Income Tax Assessment Act, Mr. Justice Higgins in giving judgment in a test case before the High Court said : -
Owing to the patchwork character of successive amendments of the act it is very difficult, if not impossible, to discover one consistent, harmonious scheme throughout the act. The practice seems to be to stuff up every hole in the act as it appears.
That is a scathing indictment of the work of Parliament. This bill is designed to mend another hole which has been discovered in the act. We amended the troublesome section 21 of the act last year with the object of fixing an accounting period for companies which had a different accounting period from that of the Commonwealth. This was done to meet the convenience of these companies ; but some of them are all too ready to forget our efforts to meet their convenience if they can drive a coach and four through the act. By the amendment last year we made another loophole in the act which might endanger the revenues of the Commonwealth to the extent of £150,000 or £200,000. Section 21 of the act is really a cross word puzzle. It has been amended five times in the last five years. The trouble caused by the amendment we made last year was due to the fact that we gave it a retrospective effect; in fixing an accounting period for the year which would not synchronise with the financial year of the Commonwealth, we failed to define the accounting periods of previous years. Consequently, there is a danger that the assessments made for previous years may be declared invalid. The risk of this is so great that the Government deemed it necessary to introduce this bill. I think it was wise to do so.
Legislation like that now under discussion is, upon the face of it, a criticism of past legislation. To have to declare that all assessments made by the Commissioner of Taxation -
Before or after the commencement of this proviso shall be, and shall at all times be deemed to have been, valid and effectual for all the purposes of this act as a determination under that section, notwithstanding that -
A date has not been fixed by the commissioner as a date before which the company to which the determination applies has not distributed at least two-thirds of the taxable income upon which the company has been assessed for any financial year or is a poor comment on the legislation that we have already passed relating to income taxation. Practically every alteration we have made to the act recently has left an opening for the companies which are prepared to indulge in sharp practices against the Commonwealth revenues to do so.
Measures of this kind give an incentive to these companies to do their utmost to defraud the Commonwealth revenues, because the basis upon which this taxation is levied is wrong. Unjust taxation legislation is always an incentive to the evasion of taxation. No doubt some honorable members ‘regard me as a person who would do his utmost to wring the last shilling of taxation out of people, because I take every opportunity that presents itself to call attention to the cases of taxation evasion which come under my notice; but in that they do me a wrong. I believe that we should endeavour to govern the country with the least possible taxation, although 1 do not hold with a policy of drift. We should impose the minimum taxation necessary togovern the country properly. But I have always affirmed that when Parliament decides what taxation should be imposed to meet the requirements of the Government, and which each class of taxable citizens should pay, we should see that its decisions are honoured. All persons receiving the same income from similar sources should pay the same taxation.
Unfortunately, Parliament has differentiated in its treatment of taxpayers, and that is the basis of my attack upon our past legislation. By differentiating in this way We offer an incentive to law breaking. We have treated with very much more leniency the evaders of our taxation laws than the evaders of other laws. While we persevere with our present unjust taxation system we shall probably always have trouble. I do mot see how we can remedy the trouble in this bill, but I feel it my duty to submit my views on the subject at every opportunity in the hope that some day the reasonableness of my argument will penetrate the understanding of those who occupy the Treasury bench.
The people should be called upon to pay taxation according to their ability to pay, and the rate of taxation should increase with the volume of income. We should also affirm the principle that when two men in Australia are in receipt of, say, £1,000 per annum from the same source, they should pay the. same amount of taxation, except, of course, for certain deductions which are allowed on account of family conditions- and so on. But that principle is not being observed.
The bill now before us takes us back to 1923, when there was imposed a flat rate of ls. in the £1 upon the profits of companies. It was provided that when such profits were distributed the income should be followed to the individual shareholders, and that they should pay the specified rate upon it according to their personal income. But unfortunately companies are permitted to put into a reserve fund one-third of their profits. This imposes a distinct hardship upon persons with small incomes, and confers a distinct advantage upon persons with large incomes, which is not just. In support of my statement I quote the following sentence from the 11th report of the Commissioner of Taxation -
Individual and partnership owners of businesses are compelled to pay income tax upon the whole of tlie profits at the rates applicable thereto (4d. to 5s. 5d. ).
Companies pay ls. in the £1 on the profits they distribute, whereas ordinary taxpayers pay the rate applicable to their individual incomes. The commissioner goes on to say -
These companies have received a distinct advantage over the ordinary taxpayer by being permitted to escape additional tax on onethird of their taxable income.
I do not wish to mislead honorable members. The commissioner has not made these statements with the object of supporting the argument I am advancing, or of asking the Government to amend the act. It is not his function to do that. His statements were made in reply to certain companies which, seeking still further concessions, had asked that section 21 of the act should be repealed. To-day certain shareholders in companies are receiving a distinct advantage over ordinary taxpayers, and I contend that all taxpayers deriving income from the same source should be placed upon the same footing.
Let me give some examples to illustrate my point. These are, of course, suppositious cases, for I have not access to actual income tax returns. Let us assume that two shareholders with an equal interest in a company have in a given year £100 each as their share of the profits. Shareholder “A” has no other income. The company has paid a tax of ls. in the £1 upon his £100 and hands him £95, so that he has to pay a tax of £5. I do not think that any one would suggest for a moment that it was ever the intention of Parliament that a person with an income of only £100 should be obliged to pay a tax of £5. As a matter of fact our legislation specifically provides that incomes of less than £300 shall be exempt from taxation. Shareholder “ B “ would also receive £95 from the company; but we will assume that he has an income from other sources of £1,000 per annum. In that case he would be granted a rebate of the £5 taxation imposed upon the income received as a shareholder in the company.
– Would there be any difficulty in “altering that ?
– Not at all. It is not done under every law, and it was not always done under this law. The rebate is given to every shareholder under the British law; everybody who receives dividends in the Old Country obtains a rebate from the Treasury of his share of all the income tax that has been paid by a company. Our system is manifestly unjust. The report of the Royal Commission on Taxation pointed out that about 200,000 persons who were paying income tax were in receipt of incomes that should not render them liable to taxation at all. They are paying company tax to-day, because they are drawing small dividends from companies, and they are paying it to relieve taxpayers who have large incomes.
Let me give another illustration of a different character. Suppose there is a company with 200 shareholders, in which group A, consisting of 100 shareholders, holds one-fourth of the shares, and group B owns the remaining three-fourths of the shares. Suppose the profits of the company are £120,000. The company tax amounts to £6,000. The company tax on group A, who each receive £300 out of the profits, amounts to £15 each, and the tax payable by group B, who each receive £900 in profits, will be £45, each, the tax being at the rate of ls. in the £1. But the members of group A have no other income than the £300 received from the company, and when they have been paid their share of the profit in the form of dividends, they receive no rebate ; but group B, having high incomes from other sources, gets the full rebate of £45 each. Although they are in receipt of large incomes, we hand back to the latter group the company tax on their dividends. But we hand back nothing to those shareholders whose incomes are below the taxable amount. Let me give a further illustration, which shows probably the most unfair feature of this class of legislation. Take group B again. Having large incomes, they may, and sometimes do, decide that no dividends shall be declared; they are in such a position that they do not require the dividends. They want the money to go back into the company for re-investment. Group A, of course, would be anxious to have dividends. We have made provision in the act to prevent companies in such a case from escaping taxation entirely. The Commissioner goes to a company like that, and says, “You have not distributed any of your profits “. His officers examine the books and report that the company could have reasonably distributed two-thirds of its profits. The Commissioner has power under the act to demand that two-thirds of the profits be distributed. He follows that twothirds, that nominally goes into the hands of the individual shareholders, and strikes the rate of income tax. He says, “If you had received that dividend, you would have paid extra tax.” But who pays the extra tax? It is collected, not from the individual that the Commissioner declares should have received it, but from the company. The tax is paid by the whole of the shareholders, although only a group of them would have been liable to pay the extra tax. There are shareholders in. companies to-day who have small incomes, and are called upon to pay, not only the company tax, but also a share of the individual tax of the larger shareholders in the same company. That is an outrage on all sense of fairness and justice. Take an illustration. “A” group’s share of the profits of a company is £200 each, or £20,000; B group, which holds three-fourths of the interests would receive £600 each, or £60,000. Let us assume that the average tax on B group would be 4s. in the £1. They would receive a rebate of ls. company tax, and the tax that the commissioner would collect would amount to’ £9,000. That amount is paid by the company, and, although the average income of A group is only £200 a year, they would have to pay one-fourth of the £9,000, that is, £2,500, or £22 10s. each, which the larger group should have paid by way of individual tax. If honorable members approve of that, they would attempt to justify daylight robbery. Group A has no other income, but it pays not only that £22 10s. each, but also £15 each, the amount of the company tax, which works out at £37 10s. a year each. That amount has to be paid by shareholders who are in receipt of only £200 a year.
Will the Treasurer deny that that is the position under the present legislation ?
Section 19 provides that an income shall be deemed to have been derived by a person, although it is not actually paid over to him, if it is re-invested, capitalized, or carried to a reserve fund. One-third of a company’s profits can be carried to reserves, and only the company rate paid. If it were not a company, but an individual concern or business, the whole of the profits would be taxed according to the rate that applies to the amount of them. Then the company that puts one-third of its profits to reserves, and capitalizes them, may issue them to the shareholders in the form of bonus shares, and no income tax apart from the company tax need be paid in respect of them. If an individual desires to invest his income, he has first to pay the tax on the whole of it before he can do anything else with it. Then he can invest it, and he pays tax on whatever income it yields. If a man on the land has an income of £3,000 or £4,000 a year, and does not wish to use it, he can invest it. But before doing so, he has to pay income tax on that amount ; but, if a man is a shareholder in a company, one-third of his share of the profits are exempted from any tax in addition to the company rate of1s. in the £1. I suggest that that is not fair. This legislation has had two very serious effects on the financial and commercial life of this country. It has caused a number of family companies to be formed, involving a good deal of legal expense, and the adoption of various expedients to evade this share of tax. It has also led to much watering of stock by encouraging the issue of bonus shares.
– What is the reason for the differentiation?
– One of the arguments is that a company must retain approximately one-third of its profits for expansion of capital and extension of business. That is a very legitimate argument, but my answer is that an individual requires the same amount of reserve as a company does, if he is in the same class of business. Nevertheless, the individual is not treated in the same way as the company. It is true that section 30 of the act allows 15 per cent, of income, to which the company tax of1s. in the £1 applies, to be taken from any business. But I draw attention to the distinction there. The company is allowed to take 33 per cent. Suppose there are two businesses being carried on with similar capital, and they have similar profits. One forms itself into a family company, while the other retains its old name. Why should any distinction be made in taxing the profits of those two concerns? Each will require the same amount of reserves for replacement of plant, &c., but the business that forms itself into a company has one-third of its profits exempted from any additional tax over the company rate, while only 15 per cent. of the profits of the proprietary concern are so exempt. The company, in defiance of any opinion of the commissioner, can demand that allowance as a statutory right. But the individual business concern can claim only 15 per cent. for reserves, if he can show that it is essential for that portion of the profits to be retained in the business to enable it to be carried on. I believe that, in every case, unless taxpayers can show that, the commissioner declares that they are not entitled even to the 15 per cent. The company, however, has the absolute right to reserve one-third of its profits. This distinction has been made deliberately in order that the law will be favorable to companies as against individuals. There can be no other explanation.
I have frequently stressed the need for a general overhaul of the act to remedy these anomalies, and to prevent evasion of tax. Considering the advantages that companies get by distributing as little of their profits as possible, it is obvious that they have an incentive not to distribute them. Seeing a flaw in the act, the companies distributed only onethird of their profits in dividends, distributing another one-third in bonus shares, and paying additional tax only on the remaining one-third that was in the hands of the individual shareholders. Advantage was eagerly taken of that loophole in the legislation, and it shows how keen companies are not to distribute their profits, in order to evade the payment of the tax. That flaw was remedied last year. When one remembers that one company tax runs up to 5s. in the £1, one sees that it is distinctly advantageous to shareholders if they can keep as much as possible of their profits on the rate of ls. in the £1.
– The desire to evade taxation is fairly general on the part of individuals as well as companies.
– But the individual is not given that opportunity. If he wishes to obtain such an advantage he must break the law and take the consequences. Should we hold out an incentive to people to form themselves into companies so as to evade taxation? It is not possible for all persons to form themselves into companies. The other day I heard of a rather shrewd move that was made by an accountant. He endeavoured to convince the taxation authorities that he and his wife were partners in his business.Doubtless she was a partner in the sense that she helped him to spend his income. The Commissioner, of course, did not uphold his contention. I am quite sure that it would not have been possible for the Attorney-General, even if he had so desired, to form himself and his family into a company during the time that he practised privately at the bar. He had to return the whole of his earnings from his profession, and pay upon those earnings the taxation assessed by the Commissioner - which, I have no doubt, amounted to a very large sum. The individual who is engaged in business today is paying far more taxation than a company which is engaged in the same line of business, with a similar turnover and an equal income. That is manifestly unfair. I conceive it to be my duty to place these facts before the House. Some day this wrong will be righted.
I draw the attention of honorable members to another paragraph in the eleventh report of the Commissioner of Taxation, which conveys to this House a very broad hint that it ought to take action in a certain direction. Under our existing law, the power is not vested in the Commissioner to amend an assessment after three years have elapsed, unless fraud is disclosed. Under our ordinary laws, a debt is recoverable at any time within a period of six years. I admit that there must be some limitation upon the time that is allowed to the Commissioner for the collection of taxation ; he should not be allowed to go back into the dim past, unless there has been fraudulent practice. But I believe that he has made a very reasonable suggestion, and I commend it to the Treasurer. The following paragraph will be found on page 22 of his report: -
Recently cases have come under notice where income tax has been short-paid owing to culpable carelessness on the part of taxpayers.
That is not fraud; therefore he is not empowered to collect the amount that has been short-paid in past years. Continuing, he says -
Large amounts of income tax that have been short-paid in past years should have been recoverable from the taxpayers.
An amendment of the law is desirable.
Where the Commissioner finds that there has been culpable carelessness, he ought to have the power to go back beyond the three-year period and cause the persons concerned to make the payment.
– “ Culpable carelessness “ is only his definition. The honorable’ member is suggesting that he be given the power to judge the whole position.
– It has been found necessary to allow him to use his discretion in regard to much more serious matters than this.
– What does he regard as a large amount - 3s. 6d. or £300?
– If the honorable member is prepared to say that the commissioner is so stupid as to regard 3s. 6d. as a large amount, he ought to be prepared to allege that that officer is not fit for his job. That is not my opinion. I believe that this officer is very capable and that he does his work conscientiously. The honorable member probably has in mind the fact that he represents persons with large incomes, and that in an effort to protect them he is entitled to canvass the justice of the commissioner’s suggestion. I hope that, to some extent at least, I represent the whole of the people of Australia. I should be the last to say that a man should be treated unfairly or unjustly, whether he has a large or a small income. The fact remains, however, that under the law as it exists today, the commissioner has very wide powers. I have frequently expressed regret that that has been necessary. In saying that, I do not cast a reflection upon any individual. We should avoid, as far as possible, the setting up of a dictatorship. But I point out that we can exercise a certain measure of control over the commissioner; and if we wish to have the taxation law administered properly we must give to him very much greater discretionary power than is given to any other public officer who comes under our control. This would be comparatively a very slight addition to his powers, and I believe that it is necessary.
I have taken advantage of this opportunity to ventilate anomalies that should be remedied and wrongs that should be righted. The bill is needed to close a hole in the wall. I suggest, however, that we ought to put an end to this rush legislation. For some time it has been, the practice to introduce amendments to the Income Tax Act in the dying hours of the session, and to discuss them in the small hours of the morning. Yetsuch legislation is among the most important with which this Parliament can deal. The time has arrived for a complete overhaul of our taxation laws. Parliament should set its mind earnestly to that task, and the Government should give adequate time for its consideration.
.- It is regrettable that we should again have to be asked to amend the Income Tax Act and to make the alteration retrospective. If there is one thing I dislike, it is retrospective legislation. It was only the peculiar circumstances which rendered it necessary to amend the act retrospectively last year, that induced me to vote for that measure. I felt, with the Leader of the Opposition, that it was essential to prevent certain people from evading taxation because of a technicality. That technicality, however, was known to the drafting authorities, and the amendment should have been so framed as to obviate the necessity for again introducing retrospective legislation this year. All sorts of injury can be done by legislation of that description. One never knows what its effect is likely to be. On the present occasion, however, I must assist the Government to pass this bill. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there is a pressing need for a complete revision of our taxation laws. If, as the honorable gentleman said, the shareholders of companies are receiving consideration which is withheld from those who trade as individuals, the practice should be stopped as speedily as possible. The shareholders of companies have special rights quite apart from those that relate to taxation. What is most needed is a simplification of the law. I have received from one of the leading accountants and assessment specialists in Sydney a telegram which reads -
Please endeavour block Income Tax Bill -
I should not be justified in doing that, although I object to the retrospective nature of its provisions. The telegram goes on to say - and appeal Government sensibly reconstruct finance legislation. Provisions section 21 outrage commonsense and finality unattainable. Also, retrospective patchwork has inflicted gross injustice.
There is not the slightest doubt that we have been passing patchwork legislation. Since 1921 it has been apparent that the law should be simplified. It is particularly difficult for any layman to judge what is the meaning of many sections of the act.
– The difficulty began in 1915, and was brought about by the system which was then adopted. It is inevitably a complex system, and cannot be simplified.
– It must be simplified, and I hope that we shall very soon take action in that directioin. Surely we can remove the cause of its complexity!
– So long as a distinction is made between a company tax and an individual tax it must be a complex system.
– If what the Leader of the Opposition has said is correct, the sooner we amend the act the better. It is decidedly unfair that a person who is not associated with a company should be compelled to pay a higher tax than one who is.
There is another aspect of this matter which ought- to be considered. Whenever legislation of this description is introduced a special parliamentary committee should be appointed for the purpose of investigating its merits and reporting to Parliament thereon. That would be a very wise provision, and it would assist us considerably in our deliberations.
Last year I raised the question whether a person who is domiciled in Australia should pay income tax on the income he derived from investments outside of Australia. The Government then promised to make inquiries, and suggested that action might be taken at a later date. There are, in Australia, a large number of people who make considerable incomes from developmental projects in other countries.
– Will the honorable member show how his remarks are relevant to the bill? A general discussion on the whole of the income tax law will follow if other honorable members pursue a similar course.
– It was my intention to move an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill, with a view to the inclusion of provisions covering the case to which I have referred.
– This is a bill to amend only one section of the act, and no amendment can go beyond the order of leave. The honorable member will be in order in expressing regret that it is so limited, but he is not entitled to discuss the complete revision of the Income Tax Act.
– I shall not pursue the subject further except to say that I hope in the near future we shall have amending legislation before us which will enable a full-dress debate on taxation generally to take place. We do not want an injustice to be done to any section of the community. People should not be permitted to form companies outside of Australia and to make huge profits on which no taxation is collected by the Commonwealth. The Leader of the Opposition has criticized our present methods of taxation, and I think that his speech should be examined by every honorable member. I do not think that many years will pass before we shall insist that there must be a thorough revision of income taxation to try to get rid of anomalies and to simplify our legislation so that it may be understandable to the layman.
– I commend the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) for again calling attention to the various defects of our Income Tax Assessment Act. Quite a number of amendments have, at his instigation, been made to the original act, and because of this the revenues of this country have been considerably increased. Practically every day one can take up a newspaper and read a list of registrations of new companies, many of which are evidently formed for no other purpose than to evade individual income taxation. I have with me a copy of the Herald of 19th March, and I notice from its columns that two persons of the same name, a man and his wife, have registered a company with a capital of £12,050. Another company, consisting of two persons, with a capital of £50,000, is also mentioned. This practice of evading income taxation is evidently becoming common. These companies - they are almost bogus companies - are being formed in every capital city of Australia. The Treasurer has only to glance at the newspapers to ascertain that this is so. Action should be taken by the Government to stop this leakage of our revenue. We keep on patching up our legislation, and leaving loopholes in it. This cannot be stopped until we have a full discussion on the revision of our taxation legislation. I object at all times to rush legislation, especially when we are dealing with finance.
– I say quite frankly that I am obliged to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) for the very clear and analytical speech that he delivered this afternoon in respect of income taxation generally. With a great deal of what he said I agree, whilst I also disagree with some of his views. The position of the taxpayer and that of the tax-gatherer are as wide apart as the poles, and when Parliament passes legislation which permits the taxpayer to avoid payment of taxes, he is not breaking the law when he takes full advantage of what the law permits, and his actions in this regard should not be characterized as evasion or given other opprobrious terms. The remedy for this is to make the taxation legislation of such a nature that advantage cannot be taken of it. These constant amendments of the law are making it so intricate that no one can undersand it; except taxation experts and members of the legal profession. day no layman possessed of even a reasonable income dares to make up his own income returns. He i3 driven to the employment of experts, who make it their business to show him ways in which he can avoid taxation. As the courts deliver decisions on income taxation, legislation is brought down to counteract them. Even when the board of review gives a decision which is unsatisfactory to the Taxation Commissioner, Parliament is asked to amend the law as the Commissioner thinks fit. I join with other honorable members in regretting that the order of leave in connexion with this amending measure does not permit of a full discussion of the various aspects of taxation, and that such legislation is almost invariably brought down at a period when it is impossible to deal adequately with it. We should in the near future be given an opportunity to discussion the revision of income taxation with a view to its simplification and amendment in a number of directions.
– I have no intention to deal with the whole question of our taxation policy, upon which the Leader of the Opposition has delivered a most interesting speech this afternoon. Most of the complexity in taxation has arisen from the attempts- at equity which have been made by the various governments administering this law, and those governments have been drawn, not from one side, but from both sides of the House. The principle underlying the taxation law of the Commonwealth in regard to companies is to impose the taxation on the individual shareholder. It was introduced by the . Labour party in 1915, and undoubtedly tends to great complexity. The attempts to get more and more equity in connexion with the treatment of individuals and companies have led to loopholes being formed whereby many tax evasions became possible. The efforts to close these up have led to many amendments of the original act. In addition, the drafting of amendments to secure the desired result is a difficult task, and when these drafts are brought down to the House we find that honorable members, many of whom have not had legal training - I admit that I have not - have altered the wording, with the result that the law when it comes into operation does not mean exactly what Parliament intended. That has to be considered in dealing with this bill. In connexion with section 21, it is only fair in answer to the Leader of the Opposition to say that originally there was discretion to the Taxation Commissioner to deem twothirds of the incomes of companies to have been distributed among shareholders. But, before there was a statutory obligation upon the Commissioner limiting him to two-thirds of the company’s taxable income distributed and to take into account only one-third, he had actually followed that practice because he felt that it was necessary that companies should be permitted to make provision for more or less doubtful contingencies. It was felt that there should be a certain measure of encouragement given to the formation of companies, and especially to the establishment of reserves in connexion with companies. Consequently when the Prime Minister consolidated the act of 1922, the law, for the first time, incorporated the provision known as section 21, which permitted one-third of the income to remain in the hands of a company without being liable to additional tax at shareholders’ rates. To give a certain measure of justice to the private individual and to put him in a position somewhat similar to that of a company, section 30 was in 1923 incorporated in the act. It provides that in the case of such persons there may be a rebate of tax on 15 per cent, of the total income, so that it would be charged at the rate of ls. in the £1.
– At the discretion of the Commissioner ?
– That is definitely provided for in the act. It says -
Honorable members will recognize that that is a reasonable provision.
– The Commissioner is the authority who decides that.
– There is no direction in the statute that the Commissioner may define what business may be covered by this particular section. His decision is subject to appeal. There are many private taxpayers who are able to take advantage of this concession, and many more would do so if they knew the provisions of the act as well as do the taxation experts. I do not think that it is possible to remove the disability under which small shareholders suffer, unless we alter the whole basis of the Income Tax Assessment Act and instead of taxing individuals, tax income at the source. In that case it would be necessary, as it is in England, to give rebates. That would completely reverse the system of the Income Tax Assessment Act, and such a proposal would require mature consideration. We should have to consider whether abuses would arise as the result of the alteration, and whether the new system would be more equitable than the present. I suggest that this subject should be dealt with during a general discussion of finance rather than on this particular measure which amends only one section of a previous measure which was fully considered and unanimously adopted by this Parliament as containing a reasonable provision, but, because of au unfortunate error in drafting, must now be re-submitted to Parliament for correction. In those circumstances, I am sure that honorable members will assist in passing the bill through its various stages.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– Some years ago, a provision was included in the Income Tax Assessment Act which exempts primary producers in the north of Australia. That provision lapses shortly through effluxion of time, and I should like to know if it is the intention of the Government to renew it.
– I am afraid that the order of leave will not permit me to deal with the matter raised by the honorable member for the Northern Territory at length, but I promise him that it will receive full consideration.
Bill agreed to, and, by leave, passed through it remaining stages without stages without amendment or debate.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act - Balance-sheets of
Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Savings Bank at 31st December, 1928, and Statement of the Liabilities and Assets of the Note Issue Department at 31st December, 1928; together with the Auditor-General’s Reports thereon.
Seat of Government (Administration) Act By-laws - Statutory Rules 1929, Nos. 20, 21, 22.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of the bill is to validate the grants of the Supreme Court of New South Wales of probate and letters of administration in the estates of persons who have died in the Territory of the Seat of Government. It is sought to do that by amending the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909, which laid the foundation of the system of law and legal administration in the Territory. Ever since the Federal Capital Territory was surrendered to the Commonwealth, the Supreme Court of New South Wales has granted probate of the wills of persons who have died within the Territory or, in cases of intestacy, letters of administration. Doubts have arisen whether those grants are valid, and it is to put an end to such doubts that this legislation has been introduced. Section 6 of the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909, provides that -
Subject to this act, all laws in force in the Territory immediately before the proclaimed day-
The 1st January, 1911- shall, so far as applicable, continue in force until other provision is made.
Thus the laws of New South “Wales were continued in force in the Federal Capital Territory until other provision should be made. By the Seat of Government Administration Act of 1910, power was conferred on the Governor-General to make ordinances having the force of law in the Territory. Section 4 of that act provides that the laws of New South Wales shall, subject to any ordinances made, continue to have .effect in the Federal Capital Territory. An ordinance was made pursuant to those powers, which provided that where, by virtue of the statute to which I have referred, any law of a State, not being a law imposing duties on the estates of deceased persons, continues in force in the Territory, it should, while this section remained in force, have effect in the Territory, and continue to be administered by the authorities of the State as if the Territory continued to form part of the State. The Supreme Court of New South Wales has been acting under that legislation in the belief that the administration and probate legislation of New South Wales continues to have effect in the Territory, and is to be administered by the authorities of the State. There is, however, another section, in the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909, which provides that -
Until the Parliament otherwise provides, the High Court and the Justices thereof shall have, within the Territory, the jurisdiction which immediately before the proclaimed day belonged to the Supreme Court of the State and the Justices thereof.
Therefore although our legislation confers on the Supreme Court of New South Wales full power to grant probates and letters of administration, there is a provision apparently conferring jurisdic tion in these matters on the High Court. The question has been raised whether the conferring of jurisdiction on the High Court does not oust the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. There is nothing to be gained by any one in allowing any uncertainty to be thrown upon the titles to property within the Federal Capital Territory, and the passing of this bill will make the law quite certain and clear. The measure provides for the validation of the probates and letters of administration to which I have referred.
– How does it come to be limited to grants of probate and letters of administration?
– It is only in connexion with those matters that doubt has arisen as to the validity of what has been done by the Supreme Court of New South Wales. I do not think that the Supreme Court of New South Wales has been, in truth and in fact, exercising any other jurisdiction. The bill contemplates the issuing of a general ordinance dealing with probate and letters of administration. That ordinance is practically complete, and should be issued at a very early date. When that is done all prior grants will have been validated, and future grants will be ruled by the provisions of the ordinance.
.- I do not propose to offer any opposition to the passage of this short measure, the purpose of which is set out in clause 3, namely, the validating of grants of probate or letters of administration under the law of New South Wales made, or thought to be made, applicable to the Territory. I am interested to learn from the Attorney-General that the bill is designed to precede an ordinance dealing in general terms with the granting of letters of administration and probate in the estates of deceased persons; but it provokes the comment that we are legislating very largely - I think too largely - by means of ordinances for the extended Territories of the Commonwealth. When we open our parliamentary papers we frequently find therein an ordinance drawn by the legal authorities of the Government, which, as a general rule, is adopted as a matter of course, without discussion in Parliament.
Honorable members must agree that that method of legislation is unsatisfactory and open to challenge. The Northern Territory, an immense area, is governed by a commission, and represented by a very diligent and able member in this House, who, nevertheless, has no vote here.
– But the honorable member has a voice.
– He has, which he uses in the interests of the constituents of the vast territory which he represents. The fact remains that government by ordinance is an irregular and unsatisfactory way to deal with so great a territory. The same thing happens in connexion with the Federal Capital Territory. Legislation relative to this Territory does not come before Parliament, but is provided by ordinances administered by a commission appointed by this Parliament. The bill does not touch the wider problem with which Parliament will have to grapple at an early date. I offer no objection to this validating legislation. It would be disastrous if any of the titles which have been created under the laws of New South Wales, thought to be made applicable to this Territory, were prejudiced. That would result in a state of confusion bordering on chaos, and would be a most undesirable thing. Therefore, we must cordially agree to the validating of these grants.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and, by leave, passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 19th March (vide page 1437), on motion by Mr. Paterson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Minister in moving the second reading of the bill said that some of the amendments contained in it were formal, others were of a minor character, and one was of real importance to the occupants of war service homes, and constituted the main reason for the introduction of the bill. One might be misled by those remarks to believe that the bill was innocent and non-contentious. But an examination of its provisions shows that one at least is of a highly debatable character. Clause 6 provides that interest received in respect of war service homes shall in future be paid into the Consolidated Revenue instead of into the trust fund, as has been the practice since the act was placed on the statute-book in 1918. It is not difficult to find reasons for this proposed departure from established practice. The Treasurer is in a desperate plight. Last year’s operations resulted in a deficit of £2,600,000, which the honorable gentleman has placed in suspense. When he confessed that deficit to the House, he realized that, with a general election imminent, the time was not opportune for increasing the taxation of the wealthy supporters of the Government. Yet he cannot allow the deficit to continue indefinitely. Therefore, he is seeking ways and means to balance his ledger. The honorable gentleman has been described by his present colleague (Mr. Gullett) as the most tragic Treasurer the Commonwealth has had, and he was criticized by the AuditorGeneral for the manner in which he presented his accounts. Behind this bill one can see the influence of the Treasurer, anxious to rake in money from each and every source. If he is able to divert these payments from the trust fund to the Consolidated Revenue, he will be able to swell the revenue for the current year by nearly £1,000,000. The interest payments in 1925-26 amounted to £757,248 ; in 1926-27, to £794,613 ; and in 1927-28, to £823,548. It will be seen that they are increasing annually, and it is not surprising that the Treasurer covets them. Here is a ripe and luscious plum that a hungry Treasurer is anxious to pick. With the aid of this and a few more such prizes he will he able to wipe out the deficit. But I hope that the House will not allow him to rob the trust fund for the benefit of the Consolidated Revenue These interest receipts should be used primarily for the payment of the administrative expenses of the commission, and any balance should be applied to the reduction of the national debt. This bill proposes a departure from the method usually adopted in regard to receipts connected with war services. I understand that all moneys received in connexion with the Australian Imperial
Force - for the sale of surplus stores, for instance - are credited to the War Loan Fund. The same principle should be observed in connexion with the interest payments to the War Service Homes Commission.
– Did the Minister refer to this provision of the bill?
Mr.C. RILEY. - He made fleeting reference to it.
– I read the Treasurer’s budget statement.
– The Minister quoted this passage from the Treasurer’s budgetspeech delivered on the 30th August last : -
The Government considers the time has arrived when the interest and rent on war service homos should properly be credited to revenue and set off against the interest payable by the Commonwealth on loans raised for war service homes purposes.
Although the honorable gentleman called attention to that phase of the bill, he endeavoured to lead the House to believe that the only important clause was that which deals with the right of occupants of war service homes to sell to civilians. Clause 6 is the most important in the bill. The payment into revenue account of money that should be credited to the loan account is wrong in principle, and besides bolstering up the revenue for the current year encourages the Government in its policy of reckless expenditure. The whole of the receipts, representing interest on the accumulated expenditure from loan during the last ten years, will appear in revenue, and in comparison with them, the advances during the year for the construction and purchase of war service homes will be infinitesimal. There might be some justification for the Treasurer crediting to revenue the interest payments in respect of the advances during the current year; but he is not entitled to swell the year’s receipts by seizing the interest payments on the accumulated expenditure of previous years.
I regret that the Government has not included in this bill a provision for increasing the maximum amount to be advanced for the building of homes. The limit is now £800, and, in special cases, £950. The last report of the War Service
Homes Commission included this paragraph -
In past years building costs have risen, and during the year an increase was noted in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania. The advance is limited to £800, and £950 in special cases, and each increase in building costs adds to the difficulty of the commission in supplying suitable homes for applicants.
It is evident that the commission is cramped by the present limitations, and that applicants are not able to get the type of home to which they are entitled. The exorbitant charges for bricks and timber prevent the soldiers from getting a suitable home with the money available. A comparison with the advances obtainable under the Commonwealth housing scheme and from State homebuilding organizations shows that the amount obtainable by returned soldiers under the war service homes scheme is quite inadequate, and I urge the Government earnestly to consider the advisability of increasing it.
I offer no objection to the other proposals in the bill. Mostof the clauses seem designed to hide the Treasurer’s attempt to appropriate to v venue payments that properly belong to the trust fund. Though werealizehis dilemma, I hope the House will not approve of his tactics.
.- I appreciate the action of the Government in introducing this bill at this stage of the session. I cannot agree with the criticism of the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) in relation to clause 6. I regard the action of the Government in altering the existing arrangement in regard to the trust fund as overdue. Hitherto, the Treasurer has had to meet out of general revenue, the interest on loans raised for War Service Homes. He has had to pay at the rate of 5¼ per cent. and up to 6 per cent. for much of the money raised to construct these homes, but is requiring only 5 per cent. to be repaid by the soldiers. The excess of assets over liabilities in respect of War Service Homes Trust Fund is now over £4,000,000. The taxpayers’ money should be handle with the utmost care. There is no justification for leaving a huge excess in this fund while we have to meet the interest bill in respect of war service homes loans out of general revenue. I welcome this longdelayed alteration in procedure.
I am also glad that section 35 of the principal act is to be amended. This is covered by clause 5 of the bill, which reads -
Section thirty-five of the Principal Act is amended -
by omitting paragraph (b) of subsection (2.) and inserting in its stead the following paragraph: - “(b) where the proposed transferee is not an eligible person or is an eligible person not approved under the last preceding paragraph - the conditions that the commissioner is satisfied that the transfer is in the interests of the transferor, that the commissioner is not aware of any other eligible person approved by him who is willing to become the transferee, and such other conditions as the commissioner determines.”; and
by inserting after sub-section (2.) the following sub-section: - “ (3.) In granting consent to any transfer to which paragraph (b) of the last preceding sub-section applies in pur- suance of this section, the commissioner may determine -
the price which may be charged by the transferor for the land or land and dwelling-house, or estate or interest therein, as the case may be;
the value of the transferor’s interest therein; and
the adjustment rendered necessary as between the commissioner, the transferor and the transferee by reason of the transfer. and may, if he thinks fit, advance to the transferee such amount as is necessary, not exceeding ninety per centum of the value of the property transferred, and not exceeding in any event the amount which the commissioner could advance to an eligible person in respect of the purchase by that person of that property.”.
The effects of that provision is that if a returned soldier finds it necessary on personal grounds, or because his place of occupation has changed, to dispose of his war service home, he may do so under the conditions specified for a person other than returned soldier. Hitherto, if he has not been able to discover a returned soldier willing to take over his home, he has been obliged to find a cash purchaser before he could dispose of it. This has meant that many ex-service men have had to sacrifice their homes. I know of one soldier who had to sell his home for £200 less than he could have got for it had he not been restricted toa cash purchaser. The alteration now proposed willbe greatly appreciated by returned soldiers.
. -Clause 6 contains the only controversial feature of the bill and it can probably be better discussed in committee. Apart from that 1 congratulate the Government, although I am not in the habit of doing so, upon having at last recognized the right of a returned soldier to re-sell his house on liberal terms. In the past considerable hardship has been inflicted upon occupants of war service homes who have been compelled, through adversity or other reasons, to sell their homes, because the field of purchasers has been limited to their comrades or to cash buyers. The proposed amendment of the act in this respect will be much appreciated.
I regret that the Government still appears to be reluctant to increase the advance obtainable under the act. This isfixed at £800, although in special circumstances £950 may be granted. I understand that in these days the department treats the great majority of applications as special cases, for it realizes that the cost of building has increased from 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. during the last five or six years. That the advance obtainable under the act is inadequate is shown by the fact that the Government provided that an advance not exceeding £1,800 might be granted under the Commonwealth Housing Act to other applicants. I suggest that the advance obtainable under the War Service Homes Act should be increased to at least £1,200. I know in certain districts where land values are high that it is impossible to erect even a five-roomed hardwood dwelling today for £800 or even £950. The average returned soldier has three or four children, and requires more than one bedroom. I hope the Minister will make some reference to this point in his reply. The returned soldiers’ organizations have, from time to time, requested the Government to increase the advance obtainable under the act. An examination of the returns published from time to time by the War Service Homes Department, reveals that a large number of applicants have to supplement the advances they receive from the department. There would be no risk involved in increasing the advance, for the money is repayable. I should like the Minister to inform me whether the operations of the War Service Homes Commission are being conducted on a profitable basis at present. This information would be valuable to honorable members, and interesting to the community in general.
– The administrative expenses of the scheme come out of Consolidated Revenue.
– I should like the Minister to submit a complete financial statement to show whether the department has sustained any real losses in recent years. We all know that for a considerable time the administration of the department was bad. When I first entered this House, the stench of its maladministration offended the nostrils of every honorable member. But that has been remedied. To-day, war service homes are being erected economically and efficiently. I have availed myself of the benefits of the scheme and have not hesitated to recommend other returned soldiers to do so. The administration of the New South Wales department under Mr. J. C. Morell, the former Deputy Commissioner, was undoubtedly excellent, and I regret the retirement of that gentleman from his position. He showed every sympathy with the returned soldiers, and his administration was the subject of favorable comment by the Public Works Committee and other authorities which have reviewed the operations of the department in New South Wales. The circumstances of his retirement call for a searching investigation. It is regrettable that within recent months a good deal of internal discord has occurred in the department in Now South Wales. This is at present a subject of departmental inquiry. Mr. Morell has been poorly rewarded for the splendid service he rendered to the Commonwealth, although I believe that, for his own part, he is quite prepared to let the matter rest.
I should like the Government to consider the advicableness of granting exservice men who have to sell their original war service homes a second advance under certain conditions. In cases where a man has to sell his home because of his removal from a particular town or for health reasons, it seems to me that he should be entitled to a second advance, although I am opposed to the granting of such advances in cases where a sale has been made for speculative purposes.
– I approve daily of second advances being made to returned soldiers.
– I am gratified to hear it, for prior to the advent of the present Minister to the department, I had the utmost difficulty in inducing the authorities in New South Wales to consent to second advances being made even in the most deserving cases.
There is still a good deal of dissatisfaction with the system of valuing war service homes which was arbitrarily fixed some years ago. I refer particularly to the valuation of weather-board buildings. I brought the whole matter under the notice of the Minister for Works and Railways in 1923, by moving the adjournment of the House, and he ultimately wrote down all costs in excess of £800, the amount remitted exceeding £200,000. That did not remedy the grievance of men who had secured loans of less than £S00. I merely mention the matter to indicate to the Minister that there is still a measure of dissatisfaction with the valuations made in 1923. The clause, giving to ex-soldiers an opportunity to re-sell their homes, will remedy a long-standing injustice.
.- When visiting a number of war service homes in New South Wales last year, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I had an opportunity of seeing something of the work done by the department in that State, and I entirely agree with what has been said regarding the capabilities of the exDeputyCommissioner, Mr. Morrell. He impressed all the members of the committee as a painstaking and efficient officer, and more than one member expressed the regret that equally sympathetic and capable men were not in charge of the departments in all the
Other States. The Government might give consideration to the suggestion of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) that the advance for homes be increased.
It is impossible to build other than a four-roomed cottage for the sum now advanced by the department, and, if this were increased, a signal service would be rendered to many worthy members of the community. Clause 7 states -
Most honorable members have had cases brought to their notice in which exsoldiers have had to forfeit their homes. I know some who have done a great deal of work in rendering their homes attractive, but they have been forced to seek work elsewhere. These properties have been sold by the department at a greater price than that charged to the original purchasers, and I am advised that the men, whose work is responsible for the profit obtained, have not benefited. In my opinion, the extra money received on the sale of the houses should be paid to the men responsible for the enhanced value. Generally speaking, the measure has my hearty support.
.- I endorse the criticism offered by the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) with regard to clause 6, which provides for the transference of certain moneys from the War Service Homes Trust Fund to the Consolidated Revenue Account. We may sympathize with the Treasurer to a certain extent in his financial embarrassment, but it should be remembered that for many years the Commonwealth has enjoyed buoyant revenues, and provision should have been made for the rainy day. It is proposed to pay into the Consolidated Revenue large sums that have been paid in interest by returned soldiers on the money expended in the construction of their homes. The sums expended in this way were £700,000 in 1025-20; £794,000 in 1926-27; and £823,000 in 1927-28. This shows that the amount is ever increasing, and that, by this method of manipulation, the Treasurer will in his next budget statement take credit for a sum approaching £1,000,000 that has accrued in this way. The report of the War Service Homes Commission for the year ended 30th June. 1928, states-
It is not generally known that whilst part of the commission’s collections are used in the provision of homes, a certain proportion is hypothecated to the National Debt Sinking Fund. The total payments under this head to date have amounted to £3,785,192, and the estimated amount which will be paid to that fund in 1928-29 is £834,804.
– The interest on repayments of money expended on war service homes is used for the building of further homes. There are two separate accounts.
– It is estimated that during the current financial year £834,804 will be paid into the National Debt Sinking Fund.
– There will be more next year. It is interest on loan money.
– There is no escaping from the position as I have stated it. Each honorable member knows that one of the chief drags on national finance to-day is the immense interest bill of nearly £53,000,000 which we have to meet annually. Anything that we can do to reduce that bill should be done. But the Treasurer intends to pay this trust money into the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent of nearly £1,000,000 a year. It would be far better to pay it into the National Debt Sinking Fund. Let me read the following extract from the budget speech delivered in August last: -
The Consolidated Revenue Fund estimates for this year, therefore, include £800,000, representing receipts of interest and rents on war service homes. Parliament will be asked to amend the law to give effect to this proposal, and in future practically the full amount required for warservice homes will be provided on the loan estimates.
That means that, in future, the Government intends to provide for the construction of war service homes out of loan money. Here we have an opportunity of applying this reserve fund to the extinction of the public debt; but the Treasurer transfers it to the general revenue. I protest against this manipulation of the national finances by the Treasurer, to enable him to make them appear to be more favorable than they really are.
– There are two separate accounts, and this does not appear to he quite understood by some honorable members. First of all, there is the amount that is repaid by the soldiers in connexion with their homes. A house costs, say, £800, and the occupant pays a certain sum every year to the commission, which represents interest at the rate of 5 per rent., and a certain sum for the amortization of the £800. The money that will gradually wipe out the cost of the house will continue to be paid into the sinking fund; it always has been and it will be in future so paid. It is, however, a matter for argument whether that is the wisest way in which to deal with such repayments. The States are using their money as a circulating fund for the purpose of lessening the amount of borrowing for housing purposes. Apart from the amount being paid off the principal, there is also the interest on the sum that has been advanced to the soldier. This money has been raised chiefly by means of loans floated by the Commonwealth, and the interest upon those loans has to be provided out of the Consolidated Revenue. The interest paid by the soldiers is to be transferred to the Consolidated Revenue for the purpose of meeting the interest on loans, so far as it is sufficient for that purpose. The rate of interest charged to the soldiers is only 5 per cent., while some of the money borrowed by the Government to make advances to them has cost up to 6 per cent. In the past the receipts from interest have been paid into the war service homes trust fund, with the definite object of keeping the whole scheme absolutely solvent, and providing against possible loss. A reserve of practically £4,000,000 has been built up from that source. It is now felt that an undue burden would be imposed upon the people if we continued to use the interest received in that way. It is quite evident that, as the applications for homes become fewer, we shall eventually receive in interest a greater amount than will be required to build them, and the course now being adopted will be inevitable.
.- The Treasurer has given a correct explanation ; but there is one point that is worth drawing attention to. From the commencement of the operation of the War Service Homes Act the money required to pay the interest on the loans raised to build homes has been taken from revenue account, and none of the receipts on account of either interest or rent have been paid into that account. It may bo argued that that is unfair to our revenue account. It is now proposed to depart from that practice. Whether it is sound or unsound is not the point. The purpose of this amendment is to apply towards the reduction of the deficit the £800,000 per annum which hitherto has been paid into a trust fund. The Treasurer will claim that he has reduced the deficit to that extent; whereas every other Treasurer has had to find the interest on the loans raised for the building of war service homes without getting the advantage of that rebate. This has a very important bearing upon the financial position of Australia. This House should be given the fullest details so that it may know to what extent our finances are drifting. Whatever deficit is returned at the end of this financial year, it cannot be denied that the amount would have been £800,000 more but for the passing of this bill. That accentuates the seriousness of our position. When the Treasurer estimated that the financial year would close with a surplus of £13,000 he took into account the fact that this £800,000 would be taken into the revenue account. I believe that he will find that, even so, his estimate is an optimistic one. If he had followed the practice of previous years, he would have been on the wrong side by an amount £800,000 greater than that which will be returned. The honorable gentleman has said that if the present practice were continued we should eventually find that the trust fund would have in it a sum greater than was needed for the provision of new homes. That is probably true, because each year the number of applications will become fewer. Can it be said, however, that it would be a calamitous policy to utilize those receipts towards extinguishing the debt at an earlier date than is provided for under the Sinking Fund provisions? Houses are a good asset, but they are not everlasting. The original act contemplated two things; first, that the receipts on account of interest and rent would be used to supplement the loans that were floated for the provision of homes; and secondly, that when the peak period had passed, we should liquidate our indebtedness at an increasing rate. The adoption of the policy which underlies this measure will mean the liquidation of the debt by the slow process of a sinking fund and not at the accelerated rate that would be possible if the interest and rent payments were used for that purpose.
I agree with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) and other honorable members who have commended the Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Morrel, for the manner in which he has conducted the affairs of the commission. I rose, however, to direct attention to what I consider is a very serious defect in the act. It relates to civilians who have purchased homes from the commission. If a house is so unsatisfactory that no soldier will take it, the commission is empowered to sell it to a civilian. That policy has been carried out in connexion with certain homes at Westmead that were condemned after construction, because they were found to be in a very unsatisfactory condition. I have in mind the case of a man named Roberts, who purchased a cottage from the commission for £500, on a £25 deposit. He expended an additional £300 in making the cottage habitable. He subsequently lost his job, but obtained another in Geelong with a firm by whom he had previously been employed. Clause 19 of the War Service Homes contract reads -
The purchaser shall not assign his interest under this memorandum of agreement, or agree to sell the subject property so long as any moneys thereunder are owing to the vendor without the vendor’s consent being first obtained in writing.
This is a familiar provision, but is more frequently found in leases than in contracts of sale. Sometimes there are additional limitations, such as that no bonus shall be demanded, and that consent shall not be refused to a bona fide lessee or purchaser. The general public have come to regard it merely as a protection of the vendor or the lessee, as the case may be, so as to ensure that the person who leases or buys the property shall not dispose of it to any one who does not commend himself to the original vendor. Roberts found a purchaser for £750. That purchaser was prepared to refund to him the amount that he had paid out, and to pay to the War Service Homes Commission an additional £250 in reduction of the amount due. Under this contract Roberts would lose £50 of the money he had invested. When the matter was placed before the commission, Roberts was astounded to find that it refused to give its consent. He was told that it could not consent to the assignment of the property to other than a returned soldier, and that if he could not discharge his liability, the sale would have to go by the board. The terms offered were an attraction to Roberts when he bought, and an equal attraction to the man who wished to purchase from him. The latter refused to go on with the contract, unless the consent of the commission was obtained to the assignment. When I came into the matter, the explanation furnished to me was that under the War Service Homes Act the Commission had no power to consent to the assignment to other than a returned soldier, no matter how much it might wish to do so. The letter from the Minister which conveyed that intimation went on to say that the purchaser had a common law right to assign his contract, and that if he acted in accordance with that right he would be perfectly safe. Everybody knows that there is a common law right to assign a contract; but it is outrageous to suggest to a man who has deliberately contracted himself out of his common law right, by agreeing not to assign without first obtaining the consent of the vendor, that he can exercise that right. So far as I understand it, that isa misrepresentation of the law. A man contracting himself out of it cannot exercise a common law right, and if he did he would be liable to have the original contract cancelled by the War Service Homes Commission. I am not discussing whether this is a good or bad policy; but whether such a clause should be inserted in the contract. It is unfortunate that Roberts has lost, not only the original £50, but also some £30 or £40 representing the difference between the interest rate of7½ per cent. obtained outside and that of 6 per cent. obtained from the War Service Homes Commission. It is unfair and misleading to put in the contract a clause affecting the civilian purchaser, which the commission cannot carry out under the act. It would be much fairer to state definitely that the contract can only be transferred to a returned soldier.
– That will be remedied under this bill.
– I have previously brought this case under the notice of the Minister, and I now congratulate him upon including in the bill a provision that will have the effect of doing away with a serious flaw in the law which is perpetrating a great injustice on the civilian purchasers of a war service home.
Mr.TULLY (Barton) [5.17].- Like the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden), I wish to put before the Minister a specific case in connexion with the war service homes which came under my notice recently. In the committee stage I shall move an amendment which, I hope, will be acceptable to the Minister, because it is designed to overcome a disability which arises now and again in the administration of the War Service Homes Act. This case is not general, and, according to the act, does not come under the control of the commission. I have in mind the case of a returned soldier who purchased a home from the War Service Homes Commission. Shortly after moving into the house he discovered that it was too small for his requirements, so, with the consent of the commission, he sold it, through the agency of the Government Savings Bank, to another buyer. He then found that he was not able to get a further advance from the commission. He had purchased a suitable house from an outside builder, and on the money outstanding he had to pay interest at the rate of 8 per cent. That man made an application to the commission for an advance of £600, at 5 per cent., to wipe out his indebtedness to the outside builder. The act, as it stands, prevents the commission from helping that man. The commissioner in New South Wales says that it is not the policy of the Government or of the War Service Homes Commission to assist a returned soldier to obtain a home more than once, unless under special circumstances, and he refused to make a favorable recommendation to the Minister. I submit that there are special circumstances in this case. In committee I intend to move this new clause -
That section 19 (b) of the principal act be amended by adding the following provision : -
Provided that where an eligible person sells his dwelling house acquired under this act, the commissioner may, with the approval of the Minister if such sale is necessary on account of any reasonable purpose, except that of speculation, erect another house for such eligible person.
I have already furnished the Minister with the information that I gave to the House, and I trust that this new clause will be acceptable to him.
.- There are one or two matters which I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister. The first relates to the re-valuation of war service homes. Some little time ago I had an opportunity of inspecting some of the war service homes that were built in the suburbs of Hobart, and they are a standing disgrace to those who supervised or were responsible for their erection. Some of these homes have been built for about ten years. A few weeks ago, when passing one of these homes, I noticed that repairs were being effected. I made an inspection and I found that the floor of one room was being replaced. It was the third time that the floor had been taken up, the reason being that the joists had rotted.
– Was that due to lack of ventilation ?
– Yes. The returned soldier occupying that house has to pay by instalments some £800 or £900 before it becomes his property. To-day that house is not worth more than £450 or £500, and as time goes on it will depreciate. This unfortunate returned soldier has now to pay for the upkeep of and repairs to a jerry-built house that was supplied to him by the War Service Homes Department, and it is only fair that he should receive a refund of money commensurate with the defects in and repairs to the house. The fault lies, not with the returned soldier occupiers, but with the clerks of works who were employed by the Commonwealth Government to supervize the erection of the buildings. I claim to have some knowledge of the building trade, because at one time I was employed as a builder’s labourer. I know from my experience that the foundations of many of the war service homes were far from satisfactory. In some instances a strip of earth was excavated, and instead of the excavation being filled with concrete, it was filled with gravel, which was whitewashed on top to give the foundation some appearance of stability. The returned soldier occupants have no redress. In many cases, the returned soldier, because of the dampness of the walls and the consequent illhealth of his family, has had to leave his home and go elsewhere. No one else has been prepared to occupy the untenanted house and, therefore, the returned soldier is obliged to continue the payment of his instalments. No person is likely to buy a house when he can wipe the dampness from its walls with his hands. A revaluation of soldiers’ homes was made some years ago, and the time is ripe for another revaluation. A portion of the charge against returned soldiers who have purchased jerry-built homes under the War Service Homes Act should be written off. A number of brick dwelling have been erected for soldiers at a place called Derwent Park, which is near Hobart, and the men living in those houses will always have a vivid recollection of their experiences in Flanders and France, because in the winter they have to resort to the use of duckboards to get about the yards belonging to their homes. Those houses are an absolute disgrace, and reveal strikingly the inefficiency of those who supervised their erection. The returned soldiers are left with those places on their hands, and the department should be prepared to sacrifice something by making a re-valuation. If that is not done, it will probably be landed with a complete loss. I am pleased that this amending bill provides more liberal allowances and concessions to the returned men. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to other matters which are constantly brought before his notice. Too often those in control of the War Service Homes Department in various districts become callous when carrying out their duties. The present is a difficult time for many men to obtain work, and all who try should receive due consideration. Many returned soldiers who have purchased homes are unemployed and unable to meet their instalments. The officer in control of a branch of the War Service Homes Departmentmight grant such a man an extension of one or even of two months, and then, if he failed to pay his rent, hav, him evicted. That is not right, as consideration should be given to those who are playing the game. I hope that the Minister will make a note of all these matters and make an endeavour to bring about a re-valuation, particularly of those properties which were purchased from ten to twelve years ago.
.- The Government proposes in this amending bill to let up on a provision that was deliberately inserted in all legislation connected with soldier land settlement and housing. It was a fundamental principle of the original scheme that returned soldiers were to obtain their land and houses at cost-price, and that nobody was to obtain a profit from the transaction. That was a very sound principle, which gave to men who had done the country a great service a footing on a sound financial basis. Now the Government has to meet the difficulty that also confronts the administration of soldier land settlement, and has to deal with the cases of men who, from different causes, are compelled to relinquish their properties. The difficulty is to prevent trafficking. The proposal contained in this measure must inevitably open the door to a certain amount of trafficking, as it will give to persons who have in no’ way entitled themselves to the privilege, the benefit of acquiring war service homes practically under the original terms, which were made at the expense of the country. I recognize that the department may vary the conditions slightly, but a civilian purchaser will be able to obtain an advance up to 90 per cent, of the purchase money. He really obtains the home under the provisions of the War Service Homes Act.
– He will pay a higher rate of interest, and will have to meet greater obligations in other directions.
– I am familiar with the contents of the bill, and I believe that instead of grafting on to it a provision which enables civilians to carry on practically under the terms of the “War Service Homes Act, a clear line of demarcation should have been drawn, compelling the purchaser to come under the terms of the national housing scheme. There is sentiment attached to returned soldiers’ homes, and their whole administration cost has been taken out of revenue.
– The commission will make a profit from civilian purchasers.
– Nothing could have prevented the commission making a profit and transferring the transaction to the national housing scheme. Of course in cases where there would be no option in the matter, only one purchaser was available, but the greatest care should be exercised to see that no trafficking takes place in returned soldiers’ homes.
A fund has been built up out of the payments of interest and rent by returned soldiers, which now amounts to over £4,000,000. It is now proposed to appropriate all future payments of that nature to revenue.
– Not all the payments; merely interest and rents. Repayments of capital will still go into the trust fund.
– Where is that stated in this measure?
– I will explain the matter when I reply.
– I thought that the repayments of capital, which, in effect, constitute a redemption of loan money, were to go into revenue.
– No. That would be a very unwise procedure.
– Proposed new section 48c reads -
Where a dwelling-house and land have been sold by the Commissioner and have, through failure of the purchaser to complete the purchase or other cause, reverted to the Commissioner, he may, notwithstanding anything contained in this act, re-sell the dwelling-house and land at their valuation at the date of the re-sale.
That provision is quite all right, but the following proposed new sub-section says -
This section shall bo deemed to have commenced on the date of the commencement of the War Service Homes Act of 1918.
Is that to indemnify the commission by making the matter retrospective to 1918?
– No. That provision is contained in the original act, and has been in existence for ten years. The intention now is merely to place it in its proper place.
– It is my contention that civilian purchasers of returned soldiers’ homes should automatically come under the national housing scheme.
– May the purchaser be a civilian only?
– He may be a civilian or a returned soldier, provided that he is approved by the department. In practice it will be found that in isolated localities there may be only one buyer, and the returned soldier could not dispose of his property at a profit unless he sold to the available person in the district.
– In connexion with the past administration of the war service homes, many mistakes have been made. The cost of the buildings has been excessive, and soldier occupants still labour under many disabilities. In 1923, largely owing to the representations of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), who moved the adjournment of the House on this subject, Parliament decided to write off about £250,000 of excessive costs ; but that action, which applied only to houses costing more than £800, did not remedy the grievances of many occupants of wooden homes in Queensland which had cost from, say, £600 to £790. They have continued under the disability of having to pay an excessive price for their homes. I do not share the view of the honorable member for Wannon that the Minister is making a mistake in proposing to allow a soldier occupant to sell to a civilian.
– I do not take exception to it, but I think that the purchasers should automatically pass under the Commonwealth housing scheme.
– That suggestion may be worthy of consideration, but I hope the bill will not be delayed in order to give effect to it. There are many cases of real hardship, and relief should be afforded at once.
– In any case, the housing scheme is not operating yet.
– That is true. The much-vaunted housing scheme is a myth. Although the Government promised that £20,000,000 would be expended in the provision, of homes for the people, not one has yet been built, and in only three State Parliaments has amending legislation been introduced to enable their people to take advantage of the Commonwealth scheme. They realize that it was brought forward to save the face of the Government, by making the electors believe that a prominent election pledge had been honoured. I agree that when there is no soldier purchaser available, the occupant of a war service home should be able to transfer to a civilian on terms acceptable to the Commissioner. A soldier public servant well known to me was transferred some time ago from one centre in Queensland to another. But, because no soldier buyer was forthcoming, he has not been able to sell his home, and has experienced great difficulty in getting a home in the town in which he now resides. I hope that if the bill is agreed to, the Minister will grant the necessary authority to him to sell his old home and get a new one.
– In my experience, that authority is very grudgingly given.
– Yes. The honorable member for Barton has suggested that section 19b of the principal act should be amended to empower the Commissioner, with the approval of the Minister, to permit a returned soldier to sell his present home and have another built, provided that the sale is necessary for a reasonable purpose. Every Deputy Commissioner is not ready to recommend that approval be given to such transfers. The honorable member for Barton referred to one soldier whose increase of family has made a larger home necessary, but he cannot get permission from the department to sell the old one and have another built.
– Very few soldiers have small families. They do not practise birth control.
– That is commendable. The native born is the best migrant, and soldiers who accept the responsibility of rearing large families should not be penalized. If they want larger homes, every facility should be granted by the commission for the disposal of the old ones and the erection of others. The Minister says that he has power to grant approval in such cases, but we know that frequently applicants are told that the commission will only grant this concession reluctantly, and many are discouraged from endeavoring further to get larger homes. Sometimes the locality in which the soldier’s home is situated is prejudicial to the health of himself, his wife or his family, and it becomes necessary for him to dispose of his house and acquire another elsewhere. Many are not aware that the Minister has power to approve of sales of homes in such special circumstances; but if the amendment suggested by the honorable member for Barton be accepted, it will placard the information for the benefit of soldiers that in future they will be entitled to dispose of their old homes for satisfactory reasons, and have new ones built. The honorable member is to be commended for having brought forward this proposal, and I hope that the House will give favorable consideration to it.
Clause 6 is obviously designed to relieve the Treasurer. Last year’s operations ended with a deficit, which will probably be increased this year, and the honorable gentleman finds himself, after six years of wanton extravagance, in impecunious circumstances. He is looking round for every available shilling that can be raked into the Consolidated Revenue in order to reduce the amount of the deficit. No doubt his expert officers were told to search for means of brightening the financial outlook, and as a result of their investigations the Treasurer in August last indicated that the estimated revenue for this year included £800,000 of interest and rents in respect of war service homes, which would be paid into Consolidated Revenue instead of into a trust fund.
– He struck a gold mine there.
– With six or seven rich finds of this kind he might end the present financial year with a surplus. Actions of this kind caused the AuditorGeneral last year to comment severely upon the methods adopted by the Treasurer to make his expenditure appear hundreds of thousands of pounds less than it actually was. The honorable member has a convenient knack of “ cooking “ figures to suit his. own ends, and the honorable members for Cook and Maribyrnong were justified in drawing attention to his latest ruse. All past proposals to improve the War Service Homes Act have received the support and encouragement of honorable members on this side of the House, who will welcome any amendments submitted in committee, such as that suggested by the honorable member for Barton, to better the conditions under which the returned soldiers are provided with homes. We should also increase the maximum amount of loan from £800 to £1,200.
– The honorable member for Cook said that when moving the second reading of the bill I stated that there was one clause of real importance in the bill. He suggested that I had endeavoured in that way to hide the importance of clause 6. What I said was, “ One clause is of real importance to the occupants of war service homes.” I did not say or imply that only one clause was of real importance. In criticizing clause 6 the honorable member said that by diverting interest and rent payments from the Trust Fund the Consolidated Revenue will be advantaged to the amount of nearly £1,000,000 a year. He hinted that there was something improper in this proposal, and the honorable member for Maribyrnong went so far as to say that it amounts to deliberate manipulation of the finances. The administrative expenses of the War Service Homes Department are paid out of Consolidated Revenue. The Treasurer has to find the interest on loans raised for building war service homes. Hitherto the interest and rent payments in respect of these homes has been paid into the trust fund, and so did not recoup the Treasurer for his expenditure. It was probably a good thing that we commenced operations on this basis, for it has enabled us to build up a reserve fund of over £4,000,000. But we can no longer afford to continue this practice, nor is it necessary to do so. I point out that, under the new arrangement, the reserve fund of £4,000,000, which is, to a large extent, invested in homes, will not be touched. It will remain a reserve fund. The Treasurer has had to pay about 5$ per cent, for the money he has raised for the War Service Homes Commission to construct soldiers’ homes, whereas the soldiers pay interest at the rate of only 5 per cent. Consequently, the nation has been meeting a proportion of the cost of this scheme. The Treasurer has been unable, however, to use these interest payments as an offset against the amount he requires to find as interest on the loans, and so all interest payments on such loans have had to be provided from general revenue, an unnecessary drain on our resources.
I was glad to hear the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) acknowledge that the administration of the department had been improved. It will interest honorable members to learn that the amount of arrears now outstanding is less than 1 per cent.
It has been suggested that provision should be made for the granting of a second advance to soldiers under certain conditions, and the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Tully) has intimated that he proposes to move an amendment to allow of that being done. I point out to him that that course is not necessary, as the Minister has that power already. I suppose that, on the average, I approve of three or four second advances a week. Practically every application that has been submitted to me has been granted.
Regarding the profits and losses referred to by the honorable member for Reid, I point out that the loss on any abandoned home taken over by the commission is added to the administrative expenses; but, on the other hand, any profit made in respect of the re-sale of such a home is applied to reduce costs of administration. Such profits have never been sufficient to offset administrative expenses.
Something has been said respecting payments into the National Debt Sinking Fund. The practice adopted in that regard has been in accordance with the provisions of the act.
The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) asked for a definition of rent. This really amounts to interest. Cases have arisen in which the commission has been unable to sell a property that has come into its hands, and the house has been leased temporarily. The income from such transactions is regarded as rent. I point out that it is not proposed that the repayments of capital shall go into Consolidated Revenue, hut only the payments of interest and rent, which latter is really interest.
Some honorable members have requested that provision shall he made to increase the amount that may be advanced to soldiers under the act. They have said that the present maximum of £950 is not sufficient. I propose to move an amendment at the committee stage to enable the “War Service Homes Commissi on to become a prescribed authority under the Commonwealth Housing Act. This will enable the commission to make advances up to £1,800. Some honorable members opposite have criticized the Commonwealth Housing Act and said that it is nebulous; yet they have regarded it as sufficiently substantial to be used as an argument for increasing the amount that may be advanced under the War Service Homes Act. They cannot, with consistency, argue that the Commonwealth Housing Act is little more than a figment of the imagination, and yet use it as an argument to support their case on this point. The effect of prescribing the War Service Homes Commission as an authority under the Commonwealth Housing Act will be that the commission will be able to advance the maximum amount under the War Service Homes Act at 5 per cent, and any additional advance up to a total of £1,800 under the Commonwealth Housing Act, from 6 per cent, to 6£ per cent.
– Would an ex-soldier, who had given a second mortgage on his house in excess of £800, be able to apply to the War Service Homes Commission under the new arrangement to take over the second mortgage.
– Certainly. One of the important provisions in the Commonwealth Housing Act enables a prescribed authority to make an advance for the purpose of discharging a second mortgage which may have been given at a high rate of interest. I point out that the Commonwealth Parliament instituted its war service homes scheme to enable an ex-service man to obtain at a low rate of interest advances to purchase homes suitable for his actual needs. If a man desires something better than the ordinary, it is hardly just that the Government should provide the additional amount on the special terms applicable to the first £800 or £950. Under the new provision an exsoldier will be able to obtain an advance up to £800 or in special circumstances, up to £950, under the War Service Homes Act at the low rate of interest, and an advance under the Commonwealth Housing Act at a somewhat high rate of interest to meet the cost of his house in excess of the advance granted under the War Service Homes Act.
The honorable member for Wannon rather suggested that if a civilian takes over a war service homes house under the provisions of this bill, he will receive the advantage of the very easy terms that have been provided specially for soldiers, but the honorable member may take it as certain that the War Service Homes Commission will provide that war service homes may be taken over by civilians only on conditions similar to those laid down in the Commonwealth Housing Act. The rate of interest, therefore, will be from 6 per cent, to 6$ per cent., as against 5 per cent. Under the war service homes scheme, the period of repayment is 20 years as against 37 years, and the amount of deposit at least 10 per cent, as against 5 per cent., or an even lower amount.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In committee -
Clause 1 agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 6.14 to 8 p.m.
Clause 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Repeal of section 28b).
.- It was my intention to move an amendment to this clause to provide a larger advance than £950, but in view of the Minister’s undertaking to extend the advance, I do not propose now to proceed further in that matter. Will the Minister state whether the foreshadowed amendment will be made in this bill?
– I am pleased to hear that. For many years I have been fighting for an increase in the advance, and although the method to be adopted is not entirely satisfactory, it represents an improvement on the present position.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 to 7 agreed to.
– I move -
That the following new clause be added to the bill-
After section 50n of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - “50c. (1). The Governor-General may make regulations providing for the constitution of the Commissioner as an authority under the Commonwealth Housing Act 1927-28 and for the modification of the provisions of the Commonwealth Housing Act 1927-1928 to enable the Commissioner to act as an authority thereunder :
Provided, however, that the regulations shall not empower the Commissioner acting as such an authority to advance more than the difference between the amount which, may he advanced under this act and eighteen hundred pounds:
And ‘provided further that the regulations shall not bo inconsistent with any agreement by which the Commonwealth or the Commissioner is bound.
Any interest paid by an eligible person to the Commissioner upon advances made to that person out of moneys received by the Commisisoner as an advance under the Commonwealth Housing Act 1927-1928 shall, notwithstanding the provisions of section thirtynine of this act, be credited to the War Service Homes Trust Account which shall bo debited with amounts due by way of repayment of advances made under the Commonwealth Housing Act, 1927-1928, together with interest on those advances. “.
– This clause will provide that, insofar as any addition to the amount of £800 or £950, as the case may be, is concerned, the extra sum advanced shall be provided out of funds in the hands of the Commonwealth Savings Bank, and loaned to the War Service Homes Commission, which will be proclaimed an authority under the Commonwealth Housing Scheme. The effect of that will be that the interest payable on advances of £800 or of £950 will remain at 5 per cent., the rate charged at the present time. But, for any sum advanced above that, it will be 5£ per cent., 6 per cent, or 6$ per cent, according to the ruling rate at the time the advance is made. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr.
Hughes), and other members, asked this afternoon whether provision would be made for the taking over of second mortgages. Provision for this is made under the Commonwealth Housing Scheme, and the War Service Homes Commission will provide for such a procedure. If the funds available are insufficient to accomplish all that is desired, they will be devoted, first of all, to the building of new homes, and, after that, advances on additions and only then will second mortgages be dealt with. That is the policy of the War Service Homes Commission, and of all the State Savings Banks. It will be generally agreed that it is imperative that new homes should be provided for those who have not been housed up to the present time, but provision will be made for the taking over of second mortgages as occasion arises and funds permit. The War Service Homes Commission will be the sole authority to deal with the ex-soldiers; but it will derive funds from two sources. First, it will obtain them from the Treasury which will have raised loans for the purpose of providing the money, and that will be advanced to the commission at the present rate of 5 per cent. There will also be the money advanced by the Commonwealth Savings Bank to the commission, and that will bear interest at such rate as is agreed upon by the bank and the commissioner. I understand that the bank is now lending money to the various authorities at 5$ per cent., but provision is made in sub-clause 2 of the new clause for the interest on that portion of the money that is borrowed from the Commonwealth Savings Bank, to be returned to the War Service Homes Commission, and it will be repaid of course to the Commonwealth Savings Bank. It will not be dealt with in the same way as the interest paid into the Consolidated Revenue to meet interest on the loans.
– There will be only one transaction in the monetary relations between the ex-soldier and the commission.
– Yes. The commission will have sole charge of the property.
.- It is well known that many thousands of returned soldiers originally were satisfied with four or five-roomed dwellings costing approximately £700 or £800. Their families have now increased to such an extent that it is necessary for them to provide further accommodation. Will those returned men, who are now occupying war service homes, come under the provisions of the new clause?
, - The proposal is that, in. such cases, these men may make application for an advance under the new provision to secure additional money at the particular rate specified.
– Is the clause to be retrospective ?
– It does not apply to past transactions, but any soldier, however situated, will have an opportunity of participating in the benefits of this measure, by way of either an extension of his house, or an additional amount in building a new house.
.- I understand that, up to the present time, only three of the States have accepted the Commonwealth housing scheme. Will that affect the position? The Victorian State Savings Bank is doing practically all the building of war service homes in that State. I believe that in Western Australia, also, a local authority is doing the work. In New South Wales and Queensland, it is still under the direct control of the War Service Homes Commission. Will the new clause apply only to those States in which the homes are being built under the direct control of the commission? I understand that in Victoria no legislation has been passed by the State Parliament to bring that State under the Commonwealth housing scheme.
– The advance under the War Service Homes Act will be independent of any arrangement as regards the Commonwealth housing scheme, but it will be dependent on the making of arrangements with such authorities as have agreements with the commission with regard to the type of houses to be built. For instance, there is an arrangement, at the present time, with the Victorian State Savings Bank to build houses up to a certain value. There will have to be a new agreement under this bill to provide for advances in the way now suggested. Two or three days ago, I noticed a statement in the Victorian press that the Premier of that State, Sir William McPherson, had indicated his intention to accept the Commonwealth housing scheme; but quite apart from that, the War Service Homes will be independent of that scheme.
– Will a deposit of 10 per cent. be asked for on the extra sum to be advanced?
– That matter needs consideration. I think that, under the Commonwealth Housing Act, a minimum deposit of 10 per cent. would be required.
.- The conversion of the Government to the belief that greater advantages than have been formerly afforded should be given to home-seekers who are ex-soldiers, pleases me greatly. When the housing bill was before us on the 20th October, 1927, I moved that it should embrace the authority controlling war service homes. The motion was defeated on a parliamentary division, and strong opposition was expressed to extension of the advances to the occupants of war service homes. I am glad to know that the Treasurer has “ seen the light. “
.- In South Australia these homes are built by the State Bank. Will this bill make any difference in the procedure now adopted in that State, and will the work be taken over by the Commonwealth?
– The Commonwealth will act only through the instrumentalities that are now doing this work.
Proposed new clause, by leave, temporarily withdrawn.
– I move -
That the following new clause be added: - 1a. Section 5 of the principal act is amended by adding at the end of sub-section 2 the words “ and to borrow moneys for the purposes of this act.”
Sub-section 2 of section 5 of the principal act, which it is thus proposed to amend, provides -
The Commissioner shall be a body corporate by the name of the War Service Homes Commissioner, and shall have perpetual succession and a common seal, and be capable of sueing and being sued, and shall subject to this act, have power to acquire, purchase, sell, lease and hold lands, tenements, hereditaments, goods, chattels, and any other property for the purposes of this act.
It is essential not merely to appoint the War Service Homes Commissioner a prescribed authority under the Housing Act, but also to give him the power to borrow from the Commonwealth Bank for the purpose of making advances in the terms of that act.
– Will he borrow directly, or through the Treasurer?
– He will borrow directly from the Commonwealth Bank. The Commonwealth Housing Act lays down the conditions under which that bank shall lend moneys to prescribed authorities. When it was passed it was generally understood that the only proscribed authorities would bo the different State Governments which have departments that undertake building schemes.
.- It is some days since this bill was introduced, yet the amendments have been flung upon the table only within the last ten minutes. That is not theway to handle legislation. Earlier in the day we were asked to amend the Income Tax Act because of a mistake which was caused by these rush methods. The honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) is in charge of this measure for the Opposition, but he is not being given the opportunity to even read the amendments until they have been moved. This may be a purely machinery provision, but on the other hand it may have very far-reaching effects. Probably not two honorable members have grasped its significance.
– Many of us have not even heard it.
– Because of the anxiety of the Government to rush into recess, we are compelled to take these matters on trust. If honorable members opposite are prepared to disclaim any responsibility should an error be committed, that is all right. We, on this side, certainly accept no responsibility, because we have not had an opportunity to scrutinize the amendment.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
.- I now move the proposed new clause which was temporarily withdrawn. Under the latter part it is proposed that the full amount of interest received shall be paid into the War Service Homes Trust account, and such part as is required to pay interest on the amount loaned to the Commissioner in his capacity as a prescribed authority under the Commonwealth Housing Act, may be taken out of that account.
.- I gather that a returned soldier will be eligible for an advance up to ?950 under the War Service Homes Act, a condition of that advance being that he shall pay a deposit of 5 per cent. and interest at a similar rate. Then, if he should desire a very much larger or more expensive home, he may receive, under the provisions of the Housing Act, the difference between the amount advanced to him under the War Service Homes Act and any amount up to ?1,800, with respect to which he will be obliged to pay a deposit of 10 per cent. and whatever interest is fixed.
– A minimum deposit of 10 per cent.
– I take it that the Commissioner will collect the principal and interest in relation to both of those advances ?
– He will retain the proportion that is applicable to the first advance, and pay the balance to the Commonwealth Savings Bank?
– It appears to me that the genesis of this amendment was the very excellent suggestion made this afternoon by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman).
– It took longer than that to prepare it.
– If the Minister had it in view when the bill was introduced, he should have circulated it. But if he is prepared to give to the honorable member for Reid the credit of having inspired him, there may be some excuse for his delay in introducing it.
.- This is an appropriate time for the Treasurer to make a clear separation of the advances made under the Commonwealth Housing Act from those made under the
War Service Homes Act. If a returned soldier requires an advance in excess of that to which he is entitled under the War Service Homes Act, instead of creating the Commissioner a prescribed authority, let him effect a complete transfer to the housing scheme, carrying with him all the benefits he enjoys under the other scheme.
– Having already given a mortgage to the War Service Homes Commissioner, with whom would he deal in the new transaction? Surely it is better to leave it in the hands of one authority!
– Will the War Service Homes Commissioner make the additional advance?
– Yes, to new as well as to old applicants.
– Are the provisions of the Commonwealth housing scheme to apply to both those who already have houses and those who, in the future, desire to acquire them?
– Yes, in so far as an additional advance is concerned.
– The limit is to be increased to £1,800.
– It is a gigantic undertaking.
.- The objections that the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) foresees are not apparent to me. The safeguards provided under the Commonwealth Housing Actwill apply in the case of returned soldier applicants equally with ordinary applicants. It would be impracticable to merge war service homes advances with those made under the Commonwealth housing scheme in New South Wales and Queensland, where the War Service Homes scheme is conducted very satisfactorily indeed by a Commonwealth department.
– Queensland has no Commonwealth housing scheme.
– That is an important factor, which must not be lost sight of. Doubtless the honorable member for Wannon is viewing this matter from the angle of Victoria and other States, in which advances are made through the State Savings Banks.
– I can see that there will be three housing schemes in the future.
– In Victoria they will all be administered by the State Savings Bank.
– That will be the case in every State except New South Wales and Queensland, where the War Service Homes Commissioner will be the only prescribed authority. The Government would be acting wrongly if it closed down the departments in New South Wales and Queensland, because they have been conducted with a greater measure of economy and success than has the scheme of advances through the banks in the other States. I think that the great majority of returned soldiers in New South Wales and Queensland appreciate the assistance, supervision and economy that are features of the administration of war service homes in those States. The Minister has advised me that second advances can be made on the approval of the Minister. For a long time I have been handling hundreds of cases relating to war service homes, and I have been unaware of that power. I should like the Minister to indicate the conditions under which second advances may be made, and whether they are governed by regulations, or does the legislation which we are now considering in any way affect the position? Can the Minister also indicate whether the construction of war service homes will be accelerated during the next financial year? The Minister and his predecessor have from time to time received complaints from returned soldiers’ organizations about the delay in dealing with applications. In New South Wales periods of from eleven to twelve months have elapsed from the time that an application has been lodged until it has been actually dealt with. I myself lodged an application ten months ago, and it is only now being considered. These are matters of sufficient public importance to warrant a statement from the Minister.
– I wish to know what is the prospect of applications for new homes being granted, and whether there are many applications outstanding. I believe that a number of buildings have been approved for the coming year. There will certainly be a great number of applications now that the advance on war service homes is being increased.
– There is a possibility of a gigantic increase in the number of applications.
– The Minister says that members on this side cannot have it both ways ; that when the Commonwealth housing scheme was before us we complained that the Government was not prepared to do for the soldiers what it was prepared to do for civilians, because the maximum grant to civilians was £1,800 and to soldiers about one-half of that amount. It is now proposed to increase the advance for war service homes by giving the commissioner power to borrow money under the Commonwealth Housing Scheme through the Commonwealth Bank. This so-called Commonwealth Housing Scheme has been of little use up to the present, and it is an exceedingly adroit move on the part of the Government to bolster it up with the War Service Homes scheme. I am pleased indeed that an increased advance can be obtained for war service homes. I understood the Treasurer to say that the returned soldiers, who in the early stages of the scheme obtained four or five-roomed houses, and because of a subsequent increase in family are somewhat cramped for space, will be able now to obtain advances for the addition of one, two, or three rooms to their houses. This legislation is too important to rush through in the closing hours of the session, and I suppose that when we meet again we shall be engaged in correcting some of the mistakes that we are now making.
.-Before this amendment is agreed to, I should like some information from the Minister about the proposal to vest the War Service Homes Commissioner with power to borrow money under the Commonwealth housing scheme. If a returned soldier has obtained a home under the War Service Homes Act at a cost of, say, £800 and because he desires to add to his residence, applies for an advance of, say, £500, who will consider his application - the War Service Homes Commissioner or the authority in control of the Commonwealth housing scheme?
– The War Service Homes Commissioner.
– Will he act on the advice of the authority controlling the housing scheme?
– No. He will be responsible for the borrowing of the money from the Commonwealth Savings Bank, its expenditure and its return.
– Then I am quite satisfied.
.- I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister an anomaly in the administration of the War Service Homes Act. In South Australia a form of dual control is exercised. Originally the construction of war service homes there was under the supervision of the Commonwealth Bank, and the payments on many of the houses are still being made to that bank. Recently the construction of war .service homes in South Australia was entrusted to the State Bank authorities. Any one who wishes to make representations to the War Service Homes Department on behalf of the returned soldiers who are in occupation of homes constructed by the Commonwealth Bank, finds it more difficult to obtain satisfaction, because the representations have to be conducted by correspondence with the central office in Melbourne. The State Bank, of course, has some discretionary power, and there is little difficulty in making representations to that authority. I ask whether there could not be some co-operation between the Commonwealth Bank and the State Bank, or, preferably, the transfer of the whole business to one authority or the other. That, I am sure, would be a more satisfactory arrangement than that which exists at present.
– The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) has asked whether there is anything in the act which gives the Minister power to authorize second assistanceSection 20a of the original act reads - 20a. The Commissioner shall not, except with the approval of the Minister -
make advances to any one eligible person in respect of more than one property ; or
If we divest that section of its legal phraseology and place the words “ except with the approval of the Minister “ last, it will be evident that the Commissioner will not make advances to a person who already has a home except with the approval of the Minister. I can assure the honorable member for Reid that second assistance is being given.
– On what basis?
– If a returned soldier can show a substantial reason for wishing to dispose of his home and to get another, he is given a second advance. For example, if the exigencies of a man’s employment takes him to another town or State and it is essential that he should dispose of his home, or if a man’s wife is suffering ill health and it is necessary for her to leave the locality in which she is residing, those will be good reasons for second assistance. That really disposes of the amendment suggested by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Tully). The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) has stated that this new clause which provides for a maximum advance of £1,800, will probably bring about an enormous increase in our commitments for war service homes. I do not believe that the returned soldier will apply for an advance which will embarrass him when he is called upon to meet his liabilities. In all probability the great majority of applications will be for advances of say £1,200. There are many men who perhaps are prepared to pay a little more than £950 to enable their families to live in comfort. Even if a man wishes to obtain an advance larger than perhaps his circumstances warrant, the Commissioner has discretionary authority under the Commonwealth Housing Act to say whether or not he will make the full advance. Before authorizing the transaction the Commissioner would have to be satisfied that, the applicant was in a sufficiently good position to be able to meet his obligations.
– What has the honorable gentleman to say about the delays that occur in dealing with applications?
– Every effort has been and will continue to be made to prevent any unnecessary delay. The Government desires that the scheme shall work as smoothly as possible, and wishes to avoid any application being held over for an unreasonable period.
.- I do not wish to deprive returned soldiers of the benefits conferred upon them by any legislation. But years ago the government of the day carefully measured out the standard of the houses that it intended to build for returned soldiers. As most of those men were young and settling down in life, that standard was moderate and was reconsidered from time to time by Parliament. Viewed from the financial stand-point, it is remarkable that the Government should seek to pass through this chamber as if it were a formal little resolution, a proposal for a phenomenal rise in the standard which makes available to a returned soldier a maximum of £1,850.
– The advance will not be made on the old basis.
– I am aware of that. The Minister appears to think that I spent my time in a kindergarten. I remind him that I administered the War Service Homes Department for a time. So far as I can see from a study of the position, real estate is rapidly declining in value. There was a time, mainly due to the cessation of building activities during and immediately after the war, when it was almost impossible to buy or rent a house. Then a phenomenal building programme began in Australia, and it has continued for the last ten years, with the result that houses may now be found for sale and to let in nearly every centre. I warn the Minister to consider carefully before making available for what might become a re-modelled building scheme, substantial fresh advances which may tempt returned soldiers to go beyond their means. The Minister stated that a man will obtain only what he can pay for. We are ail supposed to live within our means, hut in time-payment days the tendency on the part of many is to acquire more than they can pay for. The amended act will need to be very carefully administered. It is an alarming financial proposition suddenly to double practically the maximum advance, and I do not know why it is proposed to rush it through in this way. It is of great magnitude and may involve Australia in another gigantic building boom similar to that which, as the Minister knows, distorted real property values and so tremendously inflated the price of materials.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Earle Page) - (by leave) - agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the National Debt Sinking Fund Act 1923-1028.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page, and read a first time.
– (By leave) - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill is rendered necessary by the passage through this Parliament of the Financial Agreement and by the fact that the National Debt Commission will in future have to deal with not merely the Sinking Fund of the Commonwealth, but also the Sinking Funds of the States. A promise was made by this Government to the various States that, on the passage of the Financial Agreement and the formation of a combined Sinking Fund to wipe out the Commonwealth and State debts, provision would be made to give the States representation on the National Debt Commission. This bill provides for that representation. Its contents have been submitted to and unanimously approved by the various State Premiers. It provides that a person approved by the majority of the States shall act as their representative on the commission, and that he shall hold office until such approval is withdrawn.
– How are the States to signify their disapproval?
– Proposed new section 1a provides for that. It reads -
The approval of a majority of the States of a person as the representative of the States on the commission shall be given in writing by the Premiers of the States so approving, and the representative so approved shall hold office as a member of the commission until the approval of any State so given is with drawn, in like manner as it was given, so that the person is no longer approved by a majority of the States.
He can be deposed only if he no longer has the approval of a majority of the States.
– What would happen if three States desired to recall the appointee ?
– It would be necessary for three of the States to disapprove of him. He must retain the confidence of a majority. The proposal has been submitted to the various State Premiers by telegram, and all have signified that they are perfectly satisfied with it.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Theodore) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The amendment proposed by the bill is purely formal in character. It is contained in clause 2, which reads - _
Section 3 of the principal act is amended by omitting sub-section (3.) and inserting in its stead the following sub-section : - “ (3) All moneys payable under this section in respect of any dried fruits shall be paid on or before the entry of those dried fruits for export to such officers in the respective States of the Commonwealth as are prescribed.”
At present the charges payable on exported products, in this case dried fruits, nave to be paid to the Collector of Customs in the particular State concerned. As the Markets Department is now in existence, and the work properly belongs to it, there is no reason why those charges should not be paid to one of its officers, instead of to an officer of another department. That is the alteration proposed in the bill.
– Is it the desire of the Government to make a few new appointments?
– The innovation does not involve the appointment of any additional officers.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and, by leave, passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
Cotton Industry - Rice Growing - Tobacco Industry - Amendment of the Constitution - Cockatoo Island Dockyard - Navy Training of Boys - Charting of Coastline - Country Party Propaganda - Queensland Manufacturers and Government Ten ders - Diphtheria Anti-Toxin.
Motion (by Mr. Latham) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I desire to bring before the House a matter of urgent public importance, and if the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) will pay attention to what I have to say to-night the Opposition will be spared the responsibility of submitting a formal motion to-morrow for the adjournment of the House. I desire the Government to take some action before Parliament adjourns over Easter to give adequate protection to the cotton industry. It is not necessary for me to go into -full details, because the Government already has them in the form of a report from the Tariff Board. But I impress upon the Minister that this matter is urgent and that the growers of Queensland, and the manufactures of cotton yarns, want some action taken immediately. I speak on this matter with some authority, because 85 per cent. of the cotton-growers in Australia are in my electorate. I know them personally, and their hardships are well known to me. Over nine and a half months ago the matter of protecting the cotton industry was referred to the Tariff Board for investigation and report. More than a fortnight ago the board’s report was submitted to the Minister. He has already had two weekends in which to consider it.
– What about the 44- hour week?
– And, of course, he has nothing else to do !
Mr.FORDE. - I do not say the Minister has nothing else to do. It is true that Parliament has been sitting every day; but a Minister is in this chamber only when matters pertaining to his department are under discussion. I assume that in the last fortnight the officers of the Customs Department have had an opportunity to peruse the report of the Tariff Board, and make recommendations to the Minister, and there is no excuse for putting the matter off again. On the eve of the general election the Prime Minister and Government candidates made definite promises to the cottongrowers of Queensland. They told them that the Government could be trusted to take action immediately after Parliament met. Every Nationalist candidate gave that assurance. In my electorate some Nationalist speakers, including my opponent, went so far as to declare that Parliament would meet at the end of January, and on the first day of meeting a tariff schedule could be brought down. I frankly recognized that as an exaggeration, But I certainly expected that something would be done long before this in view of the promises made. A fact to be borne in mind by the Minister is that, when his predecessor, the late Mr. Pratten, refused to adopt the board’s recommendation of a bounty of 2d. a lb. on seed cotton for a period of five years, and substituted a bounty of l½d., plus a small bounty on cotton yarn, he stated that the yarn manufacturers would be protected to such an extent that they would be able to purchase the whole of the locally-grown cotton. The growers would thus, he said, be compensated by an Australian market for the reduction of the bounty recommended by the board from 2d. to l½d. per lb. To-day the growers cannot sell their raw cotton on the Australian market; they have to export it, and in so doing lose at least 2d. per lb. The Queensland Cotton Pool Board, when submitting evidence to the Tariff Board, made the following statement, which shows the assurances that were given by the Government in regard to the protection of the Australian industry : -
There may be instanced the statement made by the late Comptroller-General of Customs (Major R. M. Oakley) in the presence of the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Crawford), to the manager of the Cotton Board, to urge the growers to extend their areas, and he gave an assurance that the Commonwealth Government would take such action as would enable the spinners to buy the whole of the cotton produced.
That extract was published in the Queensland Producer of 16th May, 1928. When I moved the adjournment of the House on 5th September last, for the purpose of focussing attention upon the urgent needs of the cotton industry and getting action taken before the elections, the Prime Minister replied that therewas no need for haste, that the matter had been referred to the Tariff Board, which would complete its investigations before the end of the year, and that the necessary protection could be given early in the new Parliament. The Treasurer, who is the Leader of the Country party, said -
The point 1 wish to stress is that this year’s crop has already been dealt with and there will be ample time in the new Parliament to deal with the question of the next crop.
Do honorable members realize that the “ next crop “ is being harvested now, and that if the Treasurer’s promise is to be honoured some action must be taken by the Government before Parliament adjourns this week? The Leader of the Opposition, speaking on my motion for the adjournment of the House to deal with the cotton question, gave this definite assurance regarding the attitude of the Labour party -
I take the responsibility of saying for the Labour party that if the Government will bring down a tariff schedule to meet the most urgent needs of our industries, we will give every assistance in getting it through.
I am sure that my leader will stand by that promise.
– Hear, hear !
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) said on the same date -
The Government should act promptly and not be deterred by imaginary difficulties.
Cotton-growing is a great employing industry. We have been looking for new avenues for the employment of our people and particularly for opportunities to settle them on the land, where they can grow something for which there is a market. The cotton industry fills the bill. Chiefly owing to the initiative and enterprise of the honorable member for Dalley, when Premier of Queensland, the Northern Burnett Lands, comprising 3,000,000 acres, were thrown open for settlement, and railways were built into the area, which is eminently suitable for cotton cultivation. A railway was built, through the Callide Valley and hundreds of settlers from all parts of Australia have selected there and are engaged chiefly in growing cotton. Many of them have cleared farms out of dense scrub. Each manhas a few cows and crops from 10 to 200 acres of cotton.
– The average is only 10 acres for each grower.
– The average for the whole State is probably only about 10 acres, but there are some plantations of 300 and 400 acres. Cotton is chieflya small man’s crop, and is grown largely by dairymen to supplement their incomes from their cows.
– And the children do the picking.
– Apparently that is the desire of this Government, and it explains why I want increased protection for the industry against the competition of cotton grown in black-labour countries. In my own electorate employment is given each year to between 3,000 and 4,000 pickers. If this industry fails, Central Queensland will be dealt a severe blow.
-For how many months of the year are those men employed?
– Usually in April, May and June, and probably July. In some districts picking starts in March. It is a seasonal industry, but if men can get employment in it for three months they can probably get work at cane cutting or other field jobs in the sugar industry for another three or four months. If this industry is to prosper it must be given the same measure of protection as is given to the secondary industries. We cannot expect primary producers to go into the bush, spend their lives in clearing the scrub and cultivating the land for the cultivation of cotton if we continue to allow 2,000,000 lbs. of cotton to be imported annually from India, South Africa, New Caledonia, China, and other coloured-labour countries to compete with the local product on the Australian market.
– The growers are receiving a bounty.
– Yes, of l½d. per lb., but the industry can be made a success only by protecting the manufacturers of cotton yarn, so that they can purchase all locally-grown cotton.
– There is a bounty on yarns also.
– A small bounty, but practically no yarn is being made because local manufacturers cannot compete with the product of Japanese and other foreign spinners. Imported yarns are being landed at such prices that the Australian factories must close down. It is true that they purchased 4,824 bales of cotton of the 1926-27 crop, but only 1,200 bales were used. The others are still on hand, and the manufacturers will not be able to purchase any more Australiangrown cotton unless they are given protection against the importations from other countries. I was present at a deputation which waited upon the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) in Sydney about a month ago at which Mr. McLean, of Messrs. Bond and Co., said that he would at once sign a contract for the purchase of the whole of the Queensland cotton crop, provided that the Minister would give an assurance that adequate protection would be given to the industry.
– The Queensland cottongrowers raised the price of their cotton as soon as the bounty was granted.
– That is not so. The Queensland Cotton Pool Board entered into an agreement in 1926-1927 which they did not depart from, and are prepared to enter into another agreement to-day to pay the equivalent of Liverpool parity price, plus freight and handling charges to Australia for the whole of the Queensland cotton crop to be used in the Australian factories. This was considered a satisfactory arrangement by the growers and the manufacturers. Since the Queensland Government guaranteed the price of cotton, our production has increased as follows: -
I appreciate the assistance which the Government has granted to this industry. It has been frequently said by certain honorable members opposite that the Commonwealth Government granted a bounty to this industry because the Queensland Government discontinued the aid it had been giving to it, but that is not so. The Queensland cotton-growers were assisted by the Queensland Government lip to 1925-26, and then asked that the industry should be treated on a national basis, and a bounty paid on locally grown cotton. The Queensland Government supported that request, and the Commonwealth Parliament acceded to it. An amount of £120,000 a year was provided for the two years that have just passed, but in that period only £120,000 was actually paid. This is a mere bagatelle compared with the amount of bounty paid to other industries. In 1927-28 the amount paid in bounty to the cotton-growing industry was £81,454, whilst the amount paid in bounties to other industries was £895,498. It will be seen, therefore, that I am not making a special plea for Queensland.
– Has the honorable member made a survey of the quantity of cotton Australia needs?
– Yes; if we supplied all the cotton required to manufacture the cotton yarn consumed in Australia at the present time, we should require 9,000,000 lb. of seed cotton annually. Our importations of cotton yarn into Australia in the last two years have been equivalent to 1S,000 bales of cotton lint annually. These importations have occurred because the Australian manufacturers cannot compete, under present conditions, with oversea manufacturers. They need an increased duty to enable them to do so.
The present condition of this industry justifies the statement of Mr. D. C. Pryce, the able and energetic chairman of the Queensland Cotton Pool Board, that -
Scant consideration has been given to the industry since Mr. Pratten’s death. The policy of the Federal Government is a spike in the wheels of progress, and is dragging the industry down.
The Brisbane Daily Mail, which has taken a great interest in this subject, pub- lished the following paragraph in a leading article on the 21st August last : -
It the Tariff Board cannot make recommendations for the present Federal Parliament to act upon before its dissolution, Queensland cotton farmers will have an outlook of the gloomiest uncertainty for the 1928-29 season. They will positively be discouraged from developing a primary industry full of opportunity for the closer settlement of Queensland, and from helping to establish an allAustralian cotton textile trade of vital importance to the Commonwealth as a whole, economically and for defence purposes. . . . Japanese, American and British yarns are coming into Australia in large quantities while Australian spinning plants rest idle, and all plans for extending the cotton spinning industry naturally hang fire.
It is with a full knowledge of all these things that we ask that the Government will give effect to the recommendations of the Tariff Board in relation to this industry without further delay. If the industry is encouraged a great deal of employment will be provided for our people; our large holdings can be subdivided for the settlement of additional people, and a most valuable industry will be established. The Prime Minister recognizes the importance of the industry, and realizes that it is impossible for our producers to compete without protection against raw cotton grown in China, India and New Caledonia. The manufacturers of cotton yarn require additional protection. The only way to develop the primary industry satisfactorily in Australia, is to encourage simultaneously the secondary industry. We must make it possible for the local manufacturers to convert our raw cotton into yarn in this country. I trust that the Government will heed the appeal that I am making, and grant additional protection to this great industry so that the development of Queensland may not be hindered, and I want action taken before the House rises.
– I wish also to impress upon the Government the necessity for giving effect to the recommendations of the Tariff Board in relation to this industry.
– What are those recommendations?
– They are known to the Minister for Trade and Customs. The present unsatisfactory condition of the Queensland cotton industry is due largely to the maladministra tion of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) while he was Premier of the State. His policy was to place a ban on ratoon and acquire all cotton under a penalty of £1,000 and twelve months’ gaol on any grower refusing to deliver. Because the cottongrowers suffered so severely under the administration of the honorable gentleman, they turned to the Commonwealth Government and asked that the industry should be removed from State control and developed as a national project. They desired to be absolutely freed from the conditions which the honorable member for Dalley imposed upon them when he was Premier of Queensland.
– I am sure that the Prime Minister will not endorse that statement.
– I have every confidence that the Minister for Trade and Customs will do his utmost to give effect to the recommendations of the Tariff Board, which is all that the honorable member for Capricornia, the Queensland Cotton Pool Board, and I, ask. The Tariff Board was requested to recommend, among other requirements, a duty on yarn and an increased duty on cotton. It is felt that reasonable assistance in these directions would enable the Australian cotton manufacturers to establish their industry on a firm footing. It is essential that something shall be done in this regard during the present picking season. The Prime Minister is aware of the urgency of the case for in a letter which he addressed to the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) on this subject on the 29th August last, he wrote :
As the information supplied by the Tariff Board indicates that their report should be in the hands of the Government before the end of the present year, it will be possible to take any action that may be decided upon early in the new year.
Unfortunately the report of the board was not in the hands of the Government by the end of the year. I am glad to say, however, that the Minister for Trade and Customs informed a deputation, which I had the honour of introducing to him recently in Sydney, that he would do everything possible to get the board to present its report without delay to permit of him taking whatever action was possible during this session. This industry is absolutely dependent upon th granting of adequate and prompt assistance by the Government. The cottongrowers applied in the first place for a bounty on raw cotton. The Tariff Board recommended that a bounty of 2d. a lb. should be paid. The Government granted a bounty of 1½d. per lb. on seed cotton, which was equal to 4½d. per lb. on lint. The growers were somewhat disappointed with this; but as the Government also provided a bounty equal to 6d. per lb. and upwards on yarn in which 50 per cent, of Australian cotton was used all interested in the industry hoped that development would not be hindered. It must be remembered, however, that a percentage of wool or a percentage of silk may be used in yarn. Some yarn may be manufactured comprising 100 per cent, of Australian cotton. The Government has been asked, therefore, to amend the conditions under which assistance is at present granted to this industry, so that a bounty may be paid upon all yarn in which Australian cotton is used. At present cotton is being grown on only a limited area. If sufficient assistance is afforded to the growers, the area under cultivation may be extended enormously. We feel that it is only reasonable to ask the Government to do its best to stabilize the industry, and to make possible further extensions of it. It is surely not too much to ask that, conditions shall be provided which will make it possible for us to grow the whole of the raw cotton that wo require. When the Commonwealth Government granted the assistance to which I have already referred, one prominent Labour member of the Queensland Parliament expressed his satisfaction with what had been done. He hoped, as did the cotton-growers and cottonmanufacturers, that this assistance would be adequate. I believe that the Commonwealth Government also honestly believed that it had done all that was necessary. But experience has since shown that this is not so and that further protection is essential. The millers have refused to purchase the cotton crop this year, for they say that it is impossible for them to use Australian cotton and compete with cotton manufacturers overseas. Tlie growers were thus placed in the position of having to sell Australian cotton in Great Britain instead of in the local market. I sincerely hope, therefore, that the Minister, after giving full consideration to the report, will not disappoint the growers, who have plan led cotton this season in the belief that t.<c Commonwealth Government would do the fair thing by them. I hope that the action to be taken will be announced before the House rises, so that it will benefit the industry during the coming picking season. This is essential.
.- A most important matter has been raised by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), supported by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser). It is remarkable that the board should have taken over nine months to make its investigation and submit its report. The honorable member for Wide Bay has asked the Minister to give effect to the recommendation of the Tariff Board; but is he aware of what that recommendation is?
– No; but I am aware of the only evidence that was tendered.
– It is most extraordinary that an. honorable member should ask the Minister to give effect to a recommendation, when he does not know what it will be. The honorable member for Capricornia is one of the most persistent members of the House, and, for the last nine months, has urged that something should be done to expedite the presentation of the report, in order that the industry may be adequately . protected. He quoted remarks that I made last year to the effect that the Opposition would assist in the passage of a tariff schedule that would achieve the desired object. I remind the Prime Minister that the cotton industry, and also other industries, are urgently in need of protection. I suggest that this House should re-assemble shortly after Easter to give close consideration to tariff matters. Members of the Opposition are willing to do all they can to help to draw up a tariff that will be sufficient for the needs of those industries that have not yet been adequately protected.
We have been looking forward to the discovery of new primary industries. In most of our present primary industries, except the production of wool and wheat, the producers find it difficult to dispose of their surplus on other than the Australian market. Cotton is imported in large quantities, and this opens up opportunities for the establishment of a new primary industry. I support the request that immediate attention be given to it.
I also invite the Minister for Trade and Customs to consider the encouragement of another new primary industry - the growing of rice. I shall give a brief epitome of the case presented to me by representatives of that industry. I am not prepared to verify their statements absolutely, because I have had no opportunity of investigating them ; but the case presented by them has impressed me, and I shall be glad to hear the Minister’s version of the statements that hav: been made. I understand that he is familiar with the claims of those now engaged in rice-growing in Australia. This industry is practically only two years old, so far as the production of rice in large quantities is concerned. and one of- its most gratifying features is that Australia can produce rice of a quality that cannot be excelled, and, perhaps, is hardly equalled in any part of the world. It is grown by white men, many of whom are returned soldiers. The rice that we formerly consumed was grown and harvested by black labour. The price paid for Australian rice on the open market, before the duty was imposed, was £10 10s. a ton. The Tariff Board investigated the conditions of the industry, and found that the cost of production was such that it recommended a duty, and the House imposed one equivalent to £3 lis. 8d. a ton. This clearly indicated that, in the opinion of Parliament, these producers should receive protection to the extent of £3 14s. 8d. a ton on top of the market price of £10 10s. a ton. What the growers really asked for was a return of £13 a ton, which was below the market price plus the duty. But the difficulty, they state, is that the decision of this Parliament has been defeated, and is likely to be defeated in future, by the action of a combine. That is a serious charge, and they have made it in a written statement to the Minister. They say that there is practically only one buyer of rice in Australia. Four or five large mill-owners purchase the whole of the rice crop at practically their own price. In 1927, they gave £12 a ton for locally-grown rice, and last year they paid £11 a ton. The price in the open market was £10 10s. a ton, and they are now receiving 10s. a ton more than that, after having had a duty of £3 14s. 8d. a ton imposed to protect them. Their position to-day is serious. They have 4,000 tons of last year’s crop on their hands unsold, and they will harvest this year’s crop in April, May and June, which will increase the supply on hand by about 18,000 or 20,000 tons. The consumption in Australia of uncleaned rice is about 20,000 tons a year. In 1927, the local production was 4,000 tons of uncleaned rice, and the imports in that year amounted to 14,000 tons. In 1928, the local production increased to 1S,000 tons, and the imports dropped to 3,000 tons. Cleaned rice, to the extent of 6,000 tons, was also imported; but 3,000 tons of that was subsequently exported. Owing to the importation of 3,000 tons of uncleaned rice, and a net importation of 3,000 tons of cleaned rice, this 6,000 tons caused a surplus in Australia and left the growers at the mercy of the combine. It is asserted that it cost £13 a ton to import this commodity. Notwithstanding that fact, a certain quantity of it is imported in order to keep a surplus in this country, and enable the local product to be purchased at £11 a ton. That is the definite implication contained in the statements of the representatives of the industry, and, if they are true, the position is a serious one. We may ask how the small importations of 3,000 or 4,000 tons can affect the Australian market when the consumption is 20,000 tons, but, if that importation is sufficient to bring about a surplus, the mill-owners are able to buy the local rice at a reduced price. This makes the position critical, and many growers may have to go out of the industry, because they cannot carry on at a loss. They declare that the price of £11 a ton, which they are now receiving, is considerably lower than the cost of production, when they take into consideration all the charges. The growers have made a practical suggestion that, by means of a licence, or other machinery that the Minister may choose to employ, permission to import rice should be given only when there is no locally-grown rice on the market, or when the growers decline to sell at a reasonable price. They are prepared to have the price fixed and sold through the Rice Marketing Board at £12 12s. a ton, or £2 2s. a ton above the open market price without duty. This Parliament gave the growers the benefit of a duty of £3 14s. 8d. a ton, and they are merely asking to be permitted to take advantage of that to the extent of £2 2s. a ton. Therefore, their request is eminently reasonable. A large number of these growers are returned soldiers, who have been repatriated. It is estimated that the value of their crop is £250,000 a year. As I have said, they produced an article of the best quality, and it is grown by white labour. Hitherto, we have had to eat rice grown and harvested by black labour. “We ought to be thankful that rice second to none can be produced in our own country. We should not allow this new industry to be strangled by any combine. I am not alleging that this combine is acting in the way suggested; but that is the definite statement of the growers who have had that experience. It is the duty of this Parliament to see that the protection given to this new industry is real, and is not filched from it by anybody.
– In view of the fact that a motion standing in my name on the businesspaper for to-morrow is not to be considered, I am taking this opportunity of bringing under the notice of the House the important matter of the report of the royal commission appointed to inquire into the need for amendments to the Constitution. That commission was appointed about two years ago, before the Seat of Government was transferred from Melbourne to Canberra. It has been perambulating over Australia for most of the intervening period. We all admit that an enormous task has been undertaken by it. I had an opportunity of seeing it at work, and studying its methods, and I realize that it is engaged on, perhaps, the greatest problem that has ever been re ferred to a commission since the inception of federation, by being asked to overhaul the Constitution in the light of the experience of the last 28 years. The chairman of the commission is Professor Peden, an eminent constitutional lawyer. All the other members, some of whom are members of this Parliament, are specially qualified for their work. The commission completed the taking of evidence some time ago, and we have five massive volumes of it. But at least six months have elapsed, I understand, since the commission last sat. I am aware that the worthy chairman suffered a grave bereavement in the death of his wife some months ago, and one can easily understand that that would throw back the important task he has in hand. Nevertheless, I think that the procedure has been unnecessarily slow. I gave a considerable amount of evidence before the commission, and was cross-examined by counsel and all the members for a whole day. I placed before the commission the complete case for the creation of new States in Australia. I was quite satisfied that the commission was rather too painstaking. I do not suggest that such a complicated task should be rushed; but I believe that the report should have been in the hands of the Government some months ago. It is practically completed, yet we are still unaware of its recommendations. The references embraced industrial powers, company laws, new States, and every other major question that has been the subject of controversy since the inauguration of the Commonwealth. This will be the biggest task that has been undertaken by the Commonwealth Parliament since the beginning of federation. The commission was entrusted with the duty of completely overhauling the Constitution. All of its recommendations will be very important, and some of them, perhaps, surprising. We have been given to understand that we shall practically constitute ourselves a convention to decide what amendments, if any, shall be placed before the people for their ratification. We shall probably decide that it is necessary to have a complete overhaul of the Constitution, and that will involve the greatest and most strenuous campaign that has ever been under- taken by any government in Australia. It is only fair to those honorable members who have interested themselves in this question that as little delay as possible should take place before we are asked to apply ourselves to the task. During the last election campaign’ the Prime Minister stated most definitely in his policy speech that when the report of the commission was received Parliament would be given the opportunity to consider its recommendations and to decide what questions should be submitted to the people. I feel sure that the right honorable gentleman still adheres to that intention. Parliament is about to adjourn for four or five months, and if the Government does not come to a decision before we re-assemble the matter may have to stand over until the latter part of next year, because it is generally accepted that in future we shall hold our sittings in the second half of the year. Although the Government has not actually received the report, it knows that the commission will make certain important recommendations, and it must realize that the promise made by the Prime Minister will have to be redeemed. If it will make up its mind that at least the first portion of the constitutional session shall be held at the conclusion of the ordinary business this year, we shall know where we stand. It will have the report before the commencement of the next session. A little under two years ago a very important referendum dealing with the transfer from the States to the Commonwealth of comprehensive industrial powers was carried in the States of New South Wales and Queensland. Experience has shown us that if the whole of the States had agreed to the transfer of those power3, many of the industrial troubles through which we have since passed, would, probably, have been avoided. It is the opinion of honorable members on both sides that one of the causes which contributed to the defeat of that referendum was the lack of sufficient time in which to place the case before the people. Only three or four weeks were allowed for the education of the whole of the electors upon that complicated matter. If it is found necessary to submit to the people a comprehensive series of amendments designed to alter the whole character of the federal scheme, we shall merely be courting disaster if we rush the matter through in a few weeks. It will be necessary to go through a long process of education of not only the people, but also the Parliaments of Australia. The majority of honorable members have virgin minds on the subject of constitutional amendments. They are waiting to see what recommendations are made before they consider what amendments are necessary. If the Government seriously intends to make this a separate issue, apart from a general election, we must know without delay where we stand. In my opinion, it will take us at least twelve months to arrive at a decision. If sufficient time is not allowed there is a likelihood of action being delayed for another decade. It is everywhere recognized that the question of amending the Constitution is more urgent to-day than it has ever been before. The people are anxious for some drastic change, not only in the character of our national Parliament, but also in regard to the functions of the States. I urge the Prime Minister to obtain from Cabinet during the recess the decision that this Parliament shall have the opportunity to deal with at least a portion of the recommendations not later than this year.
.- This is an appropriate occasion to raise again a question that has previously occupied the attention of honorable members, in the hope that the Prime Minister may make a statement and possibly give satisfaction to the persons concerned. It relates to the employees and the staff at Cockatoo Island dockyard. They have before the Prime Minister, whose department controls the Shipping Board, which administers the dockyard, a number of outstanding matters.
In the first place, there are claims for compensation for accidents suffered at various times by employees at the island. A number of these claims have been outstanding for many years. Some have been adjusted, but others which ought to have been settled are still outstanding.
There are also outstanding claims for furlough, or payment in lieu thereof, to employees who have given many years of service. In some cases there the question has been raised whether that service had been unbroken. The department has taken up the attitude that because there is no proof of continuous service during the period when the island was under the control of the Government of New SouthWales, it cannot recognize the claim for payment in lieu of furlough, or acknowledge that a sufficient period of service stands to the credit of the claimant. These individuals have endeavoured, to the best of their ability, to show that they were continuously employed by the State Government at Cockatoo Island dockyard. Insome cases they were seconded for duty for a few weeks to other State departments, such as the Harbours and Rivers Department, and according to the State records there would appear to be a break in their service. As a matter of fact, there was no such break; but, because there is no proof of continuity of service, they are obliged to suffer a loss. There are cases also of employees who completed twenty years service subsequent to the passing of the dockyard to the control of the Shipping Board. These employees are deprived of furlough concessions because their twenty-year period was not completed prior to 1923.
A more serious matter has arisen in consequence of the proposal to lease the dockyard to a private firm. It affects the rights, if there are any, of the employees and the staff who are at present or who were until recently engaged at the Island. Those who are more particularly concerned are the members of the clerical, drafting and professional staffs. because they have been regarded as permanent employees. When the dockyard was under State control, they had certain definite rights, such as that to long service leave, and continuity of employment. When the dockyard was transferred to the Commonwealth, I think that it was understood by all parties concerned that those rights would be preserved. When the dockyard was taken over by the Common wealth it was placed under the control of the Naval Board or authorities in charge of the navy at that time. It was later transferred to the control of the Prime Minister’s Department in 1921. An act was then passed by the Commonwealth Par liament setting up a shipping board, and in 1923 Cockatoo Island Dockyard was transferred to that authority. At that time it was stated, I believe, that the employees would be treated in the same manner as the employees or staff of an ordinary private enterprise and not as employees of a government department. Now the Prime Minister, judging from his answer to a deputation which waited upon him a few weeks ago in Canberra, seems to take up the attitude that, because of the dock having been transferred from the Prime Ministers’ Department to the Shipping Board in 1923, the Government cannot recognize these employees as permanent employees of the Commonwealth, and that there is no obligation on the part of the Commonwealth to pay them compensation in the event of the termination of their services. The Government also refuses to extend to these men the rights that normally apply to public servants in the matter of long service. The Government took the stand that any rights that had been established and were due to the employees would be liquidated as from 1923, and that no new rights would accrue as from that date. A large number of clerks and others are concerned, and they cannot see that just treatment has been given to them. Some of them have had continuous service for many years under the State authority and the various authorities of the Commonwealth which have had controlof the island. Indeed, one of the clerks who received notice of dismissal a few weeks ago, has had 39 years’ continuous service in that establishment. He has no doubt had furlough, or payment in lieu of furlough, accruing to him as the result of his first twenty years’ service, but he is now dismissed arbitrarily upon one month’s notice, not because he has reached the retiring age, but at the caprice really of the controllers of the island and without any compensation for the loss of employment. This is one of the worst cases, but there are quite a number of clerks and draftsmen who have had from ten to thirty years’ continuous service. This island is, I suppose, to be leased, if a satisfactory tender is received, and when the island has been leased, the employees can no longer look to the Government for the recognition of their rights.
They cannot look for compensation unless these rights are established and admitted by the Government before it divests itself of the control of the island. The date for the closing of tenders for the leasing of Cockatoo Island is to-day, the 20th March, and I do not know whether that date has been extended, but I have not seen any notice to that effect.
– It has not been extended.
– I noticed in this morning’s issue of the Daily Guardian, a paragraph to the effect that tenders are likely to be submitted for the island. The paragraph reads -
Cockatoo Naval Dockyard may become the propertyshortly of a big British shipbuilding firm. Vickers Ltd. and Harland and Woolf arc mentioned as being the possible new owners. Tenders have been called, and it is understood that those two big firms from overseas have tendered for the site and plant on terms which will lead to one or the other obtaining the lease of the Commonwealth Shipping Yards. The yards will bo a subsidiary naval base to Singapore. It was stated yesterday that the British Government, in the event of either firms mentioned being successful, would probably subsidize the undertaking to ensure that the yard would be equipped as a subsidiary naval base to Singapore, so that Australia would be prepared from a naval point of view in the event of war breaking out in the Pacific.
That paragraph bears’ the mark of authenticity; but whether it has been authorized or is justified I do not know. If the Government has made up its mind to rid itself of Cockatoo Island Dockyard I can only hope that the paragraph is true, and that this establishment will be controlled by a shipbuilding firm supported by the British Government, because that would ensure continuity of activities at the dockyard, and would give the staff already there some hope of employment, although it is poor consolation to those members of the staff who have been dismissed and may not be re-engaged. Indeed their chances of re-employment have been considerably prejudiced by the fact that they have been dismissed. The staff at the Island has formulated a memorandum, which I think, has been communicated to the Prime Minister. In it the following paragraph appears: -
The whole of the Prime Minister’s answer is based upon the following premises: -
That the Government’s responsibilities towards Cockatoo Island ceased at the time of assumption of control by the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board (if not sooner).
That as Cockatoo Island is not being sold, but merely leased, continuity of operations may be assumed; and that any parallel between the Australian Commonwealth Line and Cockatoo Island is therefore invalidated.
The staff’s reply is -
The employees at Cockatoo Island claim that that establishment is a Commonwealth instrumentality, and that the Commonwealth cannot divest itself of its obligations in respect of compensation for dismissals merely because it handed over the control of the establishment to the Shiping Board. The High Court itself in. a similar case decided that the establishment in question was a Government instrumentality. The Government’s claim that it owes no obligation whatever in respect to the dockyard, simply because the Shipping Board has been nominally in charge of it, has little or no foundation. The Prime Minister has said that there is no analogy between the position of the employees of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line, who were compensated, and that of the employees at the dockyard, because the Line has passed from the control of the Commonwealth, and there can be no opportunity of continuity of employment, because the head office of the new owners of the line is in England, and consequently the employees here would be dispersed. But actual experience is to the contrary. Many of the men who were employed by the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line when it was under government control, and were compensated by the Government for the loss of employment, are being employed by the new owners of the line. Few of them indeed are not now being employed. The manager of the line, the accountant and many of the senior clerks and trade and passenger clerks in the various ports of Australia are still being employed. Yet the Government acted very generously towards those men. According to the AuditorGeneral’s report, Mr. Eva, the manager, received eleven months’ compensation, equivalent to £1,833. Mr. G. H. Kneen who, I think, was the general manager of the line in Sydney, received expenses for the repatriation of himself and family to London, amounting to £998. His allowance for the transport of furniture, feewas £306, subscription to New South Wales Club, £10 10s., sundry entertaining, £17 ; and payments on account of leave and notice, £2,000; the total payment being £3,332 10s. 6d. Mr. W. Lewis, the accountant, received repatriation expenses to England of £484; twelve months’ compensation, £1,600; payment in lieu of holidays, £1,415 ; payment in lieu of notice, £1,066; fares to London for himself and family, £216; expenses on account of trip to United Kingdom, £100 ; and advance for expenses to United Kingdom, £30; totalling £4,912. That officer is still in the employ of the Shipping Board.
– One would have thought that loss of employment would be the basis of compensation.
– I asked this question in the House -
What are the circumstances of the retention by the Commonwealth Shipping Board of the services of Mr. W. Lewis, lately employed as accountant by the Commonwealth Shipping Line 1
The Prime Minister replied -
Mr. Lewis was appointed a member of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board as from the 1st October last, to enable him to carry out the duties of liquidator of the shipping side of the board’s activities.
Mr. Lewis is a highly competent and most efficient officer, and I have not one word to say against him. He served the Commonwealth Shipping Board magnificently.
– Everything would depend upon the terms of his engagement.
– I am merely showing how generous the Commonwealth Government has been in respect of the staff of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line, and yet it has not exhibited the slightest degree of generosity towards the staff of the Cockatoo Island dockyard. It has not recognized any claim on their part for compensation, although their services will be as definitely terminated as were the services of the staff of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line when it was sold. I cannot understand the discrimination that has been made between the two staffs. Captain E. A. Innes, the Marine Superintendent of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line received, in fares to London, repatriation, allowance for furniture, ten months’ compensation and two months in lieu of notice, £1,522. Mr. J. C. Smith received in various ways £1,294. Mr. H. Perryman received £1,140. About twelve other officers received sums of £797 or over. All those officers were members of the shore staff. I am not sure whether compensation was given to the members of the personnel of the vessels, but I believe it was paid in some cases. The shore staff received compensation because of the termination of their employment as the result of the sale of the Line. The leasing of Cockatoo Island will definitely divest the Government of the control of that establishment for at least 30 years if the lessee exercises his option. To all intents and purposes that will have the effect of terminating the employment by the Government of the staff at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. Surely the Government should recognize some of its obligations to these officers, who have to their credit many years of faithful and continuous service. In the interests of the Commonwealth the Government should recognize its obligations. It should give these men some compensation, and not turn them adrift practically penniless. The Prime Minister should bear in mind that many of the members of the staff, on the clerical as well as the technical and professional side, are men who cannot easily find employment suited to their capacities. Their experience has largely been in shipbuilding and work connected with it. The clerks explained to the Prime Minister that they had been engaged on special clerical duties, and that in consequence they had little hope of getting a position of equivalent value outside the Commonwealth service. I urge the Government at this late hour to give these men more generous treatment.
Some months ago the Cockatoo Island Dockyard was given the dismantling of
H.M.A.S. Sydney, and from what I have heard of what happened in regard to that vessel, it seems to me that the work was done in a most unbusinesslike way. The Sydney was sent to Cockatoo Island on the decision of the Government, in order to provide additional work for that establishment. The proceeds from the sale of the fittings and other material taken from the Sydney were to be devoted towards keeping the dock-yard going until something was decided about the lease. However, as a result of the way in which the material was disposed of, much money has been lost, and further unemployment has resulted. Much of the material taken off the ship was not sold to the best advantage. It should have been properly scheduled and advertised; but I do not think that was done with any .of it. Those interested as buyers simply went to the island, and made an offer for what they wanted.
– A good deal of material could have been taken into stock.
– No doubt it could, but more of it, I have no doubt, was simply junk, and was sold as such. A large capstan, electrically controlled, which if new would cost £1,000 - and that estimate is based on what it has cost to put similar capstans on the seaplane carrier - was sold for £22. It may be that not many persons require electrically-controlled capstans, and this one might have been bought merely as a speculation. Nevertheless, material of that kind should be advertised, and tenders called for. I make no charge, except that bad business methods were adopted in connexion with the sale or disposal of material. Some of the tubing and pipes taken off the Sydney was sold to outside purchasers, and subsequently bought back by the dock-yard and taken into stock. That is certainly bad business management. I trust that the Prime Minister will reply to the points I have raised.
.- I wish to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General a number of points relating to better telephone and telegraph communications between the islands in Bass Strait and Tasmania, and between those islands and the mainland. There is at present on foot a proposal to link up Tasmania by wireless telephone with the mainland. I understand that arrangements are being made for this, and i hope that no undue delay will occur. I should like the PostmasterGeneral to inform me whether it is also possible to link up Flinders Island in the Furneaux group. The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) is also interested in better communications with King Island, and I arn sure that he and the other Tasmanian members support me in this. About 1,000 people live in the Furneaux group, and they have a very inadequate shipping service. There are occasions during bad weather when they get no mail for a month at a time. Sometimes they have gone without their mails for an even longer period than that, and during such times the only means they have of doing their business is by wireless telegraphy, for which the minimum charge is 2s. 8d. for sixteen words. It is hardly fair that they -should have to pay a minimum charge of 2s. Sd. for a radiogram, when I, as a citizen of Launceston, can send a telegram of sixteen words from there to Broome, in Western Australia, for ls. 4d. My telegram would have to bc relayed four or five times between the post office at Launceston and Broome. It surely cannot be more costly for the department to handle a radiogram from Flinders Island to Tasmania, or to the mainland, than to send a telegram from Tasmania to Broome. I do not think that there should be differential rates as between Flinders Island and the rest of Australia. Other parts of Australia have the advantage of being able to send telegrams any distance within the Commonwealth for ls. 4d., while they can also send night lettergrams containing 30 words for a minimum charge of ls. 3d. I urge the Postmaster-General to give serious consideration to this matter, with a view to bringing about a reduction in charges. I ask him also to consider establishing wireless telephone communication between these islands and Tasmania, and the mainland. I have previously brought this matter under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral, and I again urge upon him the desirability of installing small wireless sets on the smaller islands. The Australian Inland Mission, which is run by the Presbyterian Church, has been experimenting with small sets which can send out messages,’ and receive the ordinary broadcast matter. The Rev. John Flynn has stated that such sets can be made for £50. They are fitted with hand generators, and have been giving good results, and can be used to receive ordinary broadcasting as well. ‘There are many people living on Cape Barren Island, and such wireless sots would he a great boom to them. Every year 130 or 140 people go to Babel Island for the mutton-bird season, and are cut off from all communication there for several months. The installation of a small wireless set of the kind suggested would give them much greater confidence, and would be of great service to them.
– I desire to support the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in his statements regarding the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, and his suggestion regarding compensation for the men whose services have already been dispensed with, or who are likely to be discharged. When the dockyard was taken over by the Commonwealth Government from the State of New South Wales in 3013, many of the clerical and drawing office staff felt that they had rights regarding furlough and long-service leave which should be protected. When the Navy Board took control, naval regulations were passed which recognized the long-service rights of the men. Subsequently, various claims were made from time to time by officers who had completed twenty years’ service, and payments in these cases were made by the Commonwealth. The rights of these men were discussed in 1923, when the dockyard was transferred to the Shipping Board. Speaking on the second reading of the Commonwealth Shipping Bill, I said -
There is no provision in the bill for the protection of the employees. In 1913, when the Commonwealth Government took over the State dockyard, the employees had certain rights and privileges. The new board should recognize those privileges and honour them in their entirety.
The Prime Minister nodded his head as if in agreement with that statement- Undoubtedly, the Commonwealth has an obligation to the employees at Cockatoo Island. Tenders have been invited for the leasing of the dockyard, and probably within a short time it will be controlled from, overseas. Representatives, of the staff have waited upon the Prime Minister and made certain representations regarding the payment of compensation. Their views were not very favourably received, and I hope that the door is still open for further negotiation, and that the Prime Minister will be more sympathetic. I realize that, owing to the state of the finances, the Government would be glad to evade the payment of compensation, but this consideration should not be allowed to stand in the way of justice. In the past, the Commonwealth has honoured its obligations to public servants whose services have been dispensed with. After the war, £346,410 was paid in compensation to surplus officers of the Defence Department, and, following the amalgamation of Commonwealth and State Taxation Departments, £35.899 was paid to compensate officers whose services were no longer required. One competent authority has estimated that the amount required to compensate the officers at Cockatoo Island would not exceed £30,000. As the Commonwealth has paid much larger sums for similar purposes in the past. I can see no justification for its refusal to acknowledge the claims of the dockyard employees. We should remember gratefully the good service, they have rendered since 1913 in the construction of torpedoboat destroyers and cruisers, and also the valuable part played by them in fitting out troopships during the war period. They are about to be placed at a great disadvantage because there is little likelihood of their services being required by any private organization that leases the dockyard, and the labour market is not at all favorable to their re-employment. Many of the men have had from 20 to 30 years’ service in a rather isolated environment, and it will be difficult for them to get other employment. We must take into account the change in industrial conditions since these men first entered the service of the dockyard. At that time the employment of women in clerical positions was not common, but in the interval they have practically supplanted men in offices. The Commonwealth Shipping Board acknowledged its responsibility by paying com- pensation to mon who were displaced through the sale of the line, and some of those who were treated very generously by the Government have been appointed to responsible posts under the new organization. Mr. Eva, who was general manager in London, received about £1,800 in compensation and his return fare to Australia, where he immediately took up the position of general manager in Australia of the new privately-owned line. If the Shipping Board was justified in paying heavy compensation to men who have been in receipt of high salaries for many years, there is even greater justification for compensating the men at Cockatoo Island, especially as many of thom have been in the service of the Commonwealth for a longer period than the employees of the Shipping Line, the Defence Department, and the Taxation Department, all of whom received substantial payments. I ask the Prime Minister to give sympathetic consideration to the claims that have been put before him.
.- The Leader of the Opposition correctly described the conditions of the ricegrowers in the Murrumbidgee irrigation area, which is in my electorate, and it i.s unnecessary for me to repeat the facts which he placed before the House. These men are occupying about 15,000 acres of the worst land in the area. Tt is suitable only for the growing of rice or for grazing on a large holding. It is at present producing £250,000 worth of rice a year. If it were used for grazing it could not produce any more than £25,000 worth of wool and mutton. As rice-producing land it is giving employment to at least ten times as many people as it would if it were used for grazing purposes. I have been in close touch with the Government on this subject for some time, and I have every confidence that it realizes the necessity of the situation, and will grant to these rice-growers the assistance that they need.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) referred, in his speech, to the necessity for the report of the Constitutional Commission being placed before Parliament as early as possible, and for the holding of a constitutional session. One of the most important subjects that the Constitutional Commis sion dealt with was the creation of new States. The people of the Riverina and of the northern parts of New South Wales are impatient to learn the findings of the commission in this regard. We have been agitating for the creation of new States for a long while. For many years successive governments have talked about the advisableness of adopting a policy of decentralization. We realize the seriousness to the country of the drift of population to the cities. I believe that decentralization - the creation of new centres of industry in the country - will be achieved only by the creation of new States.
– The creation of new States would cause additional expense in government.
– I do not think so. I advocate the creation of new States because I believe that it will result in decentralization and economy in government. The United States of America provides us with an illuminating example of the value of sub-dividing a large territory into States of a reasonable size. No country in the world is so progressive as the United States of America. As the creation of small States has been so successful there, we have every reason to believe that it will be successful here. We have an example nearer home of the wisdom of constituting States of a reasonable area. I have lived in the Riverina for 35 years. Fifteen years of that time was spent within 20 miles of the Victorian border. Consequently I had a great opportunity to study the development of those parts of Victoria and New South Wales. The country on the Victorian side of the Murray is no better than the country on the New South Wales side of it, but because the Seat of Government in Victoria was fairly handy, the development of that part of the State to which I have referred was much more rapid than the development of the Riverina. As the Seat of Government in New South Wales is from 400 to 600 miles distant from the Riverina, we can hardly expect its rapid development. It is interesting to note that the population in that part of Victoria to which I have referred is six times greater than the population on the New South Wales side of the river. I was greatly surprised to hear the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) advocate, a day or two ago, the adoption of the policy of unification for Australia. Unification is the direct antithesis of decentralization, and the honorable member would realize that if he studied the question closely. If we had only one government for Australia our plight would be far worse than it is to-day. The mismanagement of the Northern Territory by the Commonwealth Government shows how unwise it is to have the Seat of Government farremoved from the people to be governed. I do not think that under the existing conditions any government could have managed the affairs of the Northern Territory better than this Government has done. As the Seat of Government is so far from the centre of operations and the members of the Government have no knowledge of what is necessary to develop the Territory, it appears that some system of local government must be provided if the outlying portions of the Commonwealth are to be populated. It is absurd to suggest that this Parliament can effectively legislate for and administer an area so far away as the Northern Territory.
Some time ago the commission appointed by the New South Wales Government to inquire into the new State movement obtained evidence in the northern part of New South Wales, including that portion represented by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) and also in Riverina. The commission, which I accompanied throughout Riverina, held many meetings and examined numerous witnesses at all the principal centres. The evidence was overwhelmingly in favour of the establishment of a new State in Riverina, as there were nearly four witnesses to one in favour of the proposal.
– The numbers were ten to one in my constituency.
– Notwithstanding the nature of the evidence the finding of the commission was against the creation of new States, and that has had the effect of retarding the movement for some time. We must, therefore, now look to this Parliament to adopt the recommendations of the royal commission which is inquiring into an amendment of the Constitution, and to convene a constitutional session of ‘Parliament at the earliest possible date. We believe that that is the only way in which to bring new States within the realm of practical politics.
.- I direct the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) to the unsatisfactory condition of the tobacco industry. In answer to a question yesterday the right honorable gentleman said he was unaware that any dissatisfaction existed; but press reports published from time to time show that because of the low prices realized by the growers and other difficulties with which they have had to contend they should receive some assistance. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) said that the royal commission which inquired into the new State movement submitted an adverse report; but the Tariff Board which investigated the tobacco industry reported in favour of a reduction, of the excise on locally-grown tobacco. Although the Tariff Board submitted a recommendation favorable to the tobaccogrowers, that recommendation has not been adopted by the Government. There are great possibilities of developing the tobacco-growing industry in Australia and much can be said in favour of the locally-grown product. For the information of honorable members I quote the following figures showing the quantity of tobacco grown in Australia and the quantity imported during recent years : -
It will be seen that whilst the quantity of locally-grown leaf has decreased, the quantity imported has increased. The total net customs and excise revenue obtained from the importation of tobacco for 1925-26 was £5,533,003 ; for 1926-27, £5,733,370; and for 1927-28, £5,915,860. As there appears every possibility of developing the Australian tobacco industry, it is difficult to understand why the recommendation of the Tariff Board has not been adopted by the Government. In the Melbourne Argus of yesterday, the following paragraph appeared -
There are many farmers in districts suitable for production of good tobacco crops, who believe that Australia can supply all the tobacco necessary for her own requirements and have a surplus for export.
During the debates in this chamber on other subjects, reference has been made to the existence of combines, and there is a strong suspicion that a commercial combine is at present controlling the Australian tobacco industry. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides that before making a new award the court shall take into account its economic effect upon the community and upon the industry or industries concerned. As the price of tobacco is fixed, the economic effect upon the community should be taken into account by the Government. At present, one firm, which is making a profit of about £1,000,000 a year, is buying the great bulk of the Australian leaf, and is practically in complete control of the industry. The growers are complaining of the prices they are paid, and there is room for a thorough investigation into the whole industry, which could possibly be undertaken by the Bureau of Economic Research which the Government proposes to appoint.
– An inquiry was conducted and it was found that the growers were not receiving a fair price.
– The honorable member for New England, who intended bringing this matter under the notice of the Government, appeared before the Tariff Board and in the course of his evidence, stated that the industry favoured a reduction of the excise on locally-grown tobacco, or as an alternative a bounty on the better quality Australian leaf. He further stated that -
The British-Australian Tobacco Co. Ltd. has not placed on the Australian market a tobacco made from Australian leaf at a price that would encourage Australians to smoke it in preference to American brands.
Mr. Temple Smith, the tobacco expert of the Victorian Department of Agriculture, said -
The prices paid by the British-Australian Tobacco Company for the respective grades of Australian leaf are not conducive to the growing of the better grades of leaf, but has the effect of encouraging the growing of inferior grades. There is a monopoly in the tobacco manufacturing industry in Australia, and consequently there is no competition in the purchase of leaf.
That is the point I wish to make. I now quote a letter from a firm of manufacturers in another State, which reads -
The tobacco plant has been grown in Australia from the earliest days, and for many years its culture was a progressive industry. But it scorns astounding that, for some years past, despite the magnificent market for the manufactured product, the output of leaf has been diminishing, until now the industry is in a moribund state. Excellent leaf has been produced all over Australia, and the decrease in the quantity grown is certainly not attributable to the apathy of growers, who are well aware that, given decent prices, the growing of tobacco is highly payable, and that few other crops can compare with it. What are the conditions that have brought this about?
For many years the only buyer of note of locally-grown leaf has been the BritishAustralian Tobacco Company, and from what I am told it would appear that the prices offered by this company have for many years been absurdly inadequate, and this, to my way of thinking, has been the chief paralysing influence in the restriction of output of leaf. It is not to be expected that men will grow a crop from which they cannot get a fair return, which is justified by the prices the public pay for the manufactured article.
Last season I had letters from growers in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria offering their leaf to my factory, and the writers made no secret, of their disgust at the prices which had been fixed by the combine buyers, and which the growers refused to accept. Pertinent evidence could be obtained from many growers, and I feel sure that much light could be thrown on the methods of the buyers, who have had the market to themselves, and consequently were in the position to tell growers : “ Take our price or leave it. “
I know that it may be urged that the leaf was worth only what was offered by the combine. But one may reasonably allow that growers are expert enough to have a good idea of leaf values and to know that what they were offered fell sadly below what they expected to realize. Nor can it be advanced that the low prices offered were the outcome of a glut of leaf on the market. The importations of leaf from abroad confute that.
I know that the chief obstacle for the establishment of cigarette and tobacco factories in Australia is the large quantity of leaf required to be kept for a considerable time for maturation purposes before being put into use. This requires a big outlay (in our case nearly £20.000 capital is devoted for this purpose). If tobacco was produced locally, this obstacle will not exist and the manufacture of tobacco goods would be popularized. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why big wealthy organizations do not favour the grow ing of the raw material in this country.
When the tobacco-growers of Victoria met recently at Myrtleford, Mr. Temple Smith, the Victorian expert, stated -
The disclosed profits of the BritishAustralasian Tobacco Company last year amounted to £910,000. Disaster awaited the growers if the company failed to increase the figure it paid for Australian leaf.
Another grievance against the company is that, three years ago, the growers were encouraged to cultivate what is called No. 2 dark leaf tobacco; but the company now tells them that this leaf is not in such demand as it formerly was, and it will not be able to take the same quantity as before. Therefore, the growers are in a quandary as to what to do. A request was made to the Tariff Board for the payment of bounty on tobacco leaf grown in Australia, or, alternatively, a reduction in the excise duty in respect of tobacco made from leaf produced in Australia. The board made the following recommendation : -
That the excise duty payable on all lemoncoloured and bright mahogany and dark mahogany tobacco leaf supplied by a grower to a manufacturer for use in the manufacture Of tobacco be reduced by (Id. per lb. It is estimated on the present figures that this reduction in excise would amount to about £20,000 per annum.
The board recommends that the Minister Obtain a guarantee from the Tobacco Companies that if tlie reduction in excise suggested is made, the companies will undertake to pass the fid. per lb. on to the suppliers of the three grades of tobacco mentioned, and that such payment will be made in addition to the present payments, including bonuses given by the companies.
As I have already said, effect has not been given to that recommendation. The industry is still in a depressed state, and the time is ripe to consider the adoption of the recommendation. In view of the huge profits made by the company, which is practically the only buyer of tobacco in Australia, this matter might well be referred to the Bureau of Economic Research, which is shortly to be established. In the dried fruits, canned fruits, and wine industries we have overproduction, but we do not produce anything approaching sufficient tobacco to meet local requirements, and, therefore, if a bounty is not granted, the excise duty should be reduced, as recommended by the Tariff Board.
.- I desire, if possible, to induce the Prime Minister to agree to the suggestion of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), that the Government should compensate the men who have received notice of dismissal from the Cockatoo Island Dockyard. Within the last few days, the claims of the men have been resubmitted to me, and I have handed them to the Prime Minister. I think that the right honorable gentleman will agree that the case presented makes one think thatafter all, there is something in it. I thank the Prime Minister, on behalf of the men, for the courteous manner in which he received them, and for the terms of the reply to their request that was read in the other branch, of the legislature. The reply can. be boiled down to one point - that the Government practically has cut itself off from any control of Cockatoo Island Dockyard by handing it over to a board of control. If the contention of the Government is correct, how is it that the advertisements calling for tenders for the leasing of the dockyard were issued from tie Prime Minister’s Department? The Government cannot divorce itself from a business undertaking, and yet have something to do with it. But what appeals to me most is the moral aspect of the case. One cannot help sympathizing with men who have spent up to 39 years of their lives’ in the service of their country, and are now suddenly faced with notices of dismissal. They stuck to their country in time of war, and helped us to despatch transports containing everything that the troops required at the front. Are these nien now to be thrown into the gutter? Surely this is a matter that affects us all. They built ships like our seaplane carrier Albatross, and other naval and commercial ships; they are an expert staff. Among the men affected are the foremen who were responsible for the work put into those vessels. They are getting on in years, and they can take up no avocation other than that in which they have spent the best part of their lives. I admit that money is not too plentiful, and the Government has to scrutinize closely all its expenditure; but are those men to be cut off altogether? They have come to my office, I have been impressed by their smart appearance, and I have listened to their story. Their only hope is that “they may get work in the yard if it is taken over by some firm or company. There still seems to be a chance of the re-consideration of their case. .1. gather that from a perusal of the reply made to them by the Prime Minister. Having been handling this matter for them with the honorable member for Dalley for some time, I make a sincere appeal to the Government. If there is any possibility of recognizing the valuable work they have done, the Government should strain a point in their favour, and grant them some compensation. These men worked many hours’ overtime for which they received no payment.
I desire also to refer to the training of boys for the Navy. It is impossible to train a torpedo gunner’s mate in three months. Boys for the Navy should commence their training while they are still young; it is useless getting them at 17 or 18 years of age. On behalf of the Navy League of Australia, I appeal to the Prime Minister that in framing next year’s Estimates the Government will seriously consider the desirability of altering the present system of training.
Some time ago Sir Neville Howse said that some thousands of pounds had been placed on the Estimates for the charting of the Australian coast. “When I asked him how far that money would go, he said that it would provide for one ship for two years. Commander Bennett says that the work would take four ships 100 years. Captain Cayley, while not so emphatic, spoke in a similar strain. If more money can be made available, I suggest that two ships be employed. I ask the Government to consider this matter when framing next year’s Estimates, as by providing more vessels valuable lives may be saved.
.- I desire to refer to the practice of the County party in trying to discredit those who are opposed to its policy. Recently there appeared in the local press the report of an .interview alleged to have been given by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) relating to the motive of honorable members in voting for an amendment to a measure then before this House. The article purported to be written by a pressman, but in reality it was supplied by the Country party. It was typical of that party’s propaganda, and apparently was written by its publicity officer, although the honorable member for Maranoa took the blame for it and offered an apology to the House. On that occasion it was shown clearly that the article was issued deliberately by the Country party as a part of its propaganda. From two sources in W Western Australia and one in Queensland similar press notices have been forwarded to me. The one from Queensland I have answered, but I have not as yet replied to the two from Western Australia. I shall do so now from my place in this House. I have before me an article taken from a Western Australian newspaper, but which it is I am not certain.
– How does the honorable member know that it was a Western Australian newspaper?
– I have the cutting here, and it is headed “Perth, February 3.” I do not know who is responsible for the article, but as it is similar to that which appeared in the Queensland newspaper to which I have referred it would appear that it was supplied by the publicity officer of the Country party. The newspaper article states -
Here are the views of Mr. Yates, M.H.K. for Adelaide, on practical farming - “ I know now that many farmers spend a good portion of their time sitting down. Farming is comparatively simple.”
If Mr. Yates really meant what he said, lie must be superlatively simple.
– Did not the honorable member actually say that, and is it not recorded in Hansard”1.
– I said every word of it, and it is recorded in Hansard; but I ask the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Green) whether I did not also say something else. Whoever supplied the extract from my speech took a sentence from one column and a concluding sentence “from another portion of the speech on the same page of Hansard. The intervening remarks have been left out. I ask the honorable member for Richmond if that is not correct? He is silent. Honorable members who read all that I said will see how my utterances have been distorted. This is what I said -
Farming is now comparatively simple because, with the aid of superphosphates, fanners are getting from 10 to 12 times more Out of their land than they did before scientific methods caine to their aid.
– It certainly is not true.
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) is a practical farmer.
– I may not be a practical farmer; but I have travelled this country as a commercial traveller, and have seen farming operations being carried on in one of the most fertile portions of the State of South Aus”tralia, which has a big area under wheat. The incident which led me to make use of the expressions that have been distorted for its own purpose by the Country party was a conversation which I had with a practical farmer, who told me what machinery had done for farming. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) has the audacity to tell me that what I said is not correct. I know that, by the use of the tractor an immeasurably greater area can be farmed than was possible by the old hand method. Cultivators and harvesters, which are now an essential part of the equipment of every farm, were not heard of when I was a boy. If they do not make farming operations comparatively easy, what is the effect of their use? Then, too, any one who will deny that the productivity of land is greatly increased by the use of superphosphates will deny the obvious.
– If the honorable member had said that by those means the returns from the land were doubled, it would still have been an exaggerated statement.
– I am sorry that I have not by me the report of a speech which was made at this time by Senator Robinson. He said that, whereas at one time his father reaped from 7 to 8 bushels to the acre, the return was now from 30 to 35 bushels. That was on Werocata, near Balaclava, in the Wakefield district. Senator Robinson also said that, in 1901, 106,000,000 sheep produced approximately 5,000,000 lb. of wool, and that, at the present time, a fewer number of sheep produce a greater quantity of wool, owing to the scientific methods that are adopted. I do not claim to have a practical knowledge of, and experience in, farming; but I do not go about with my eyes shut. The other night I challenged the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Collins), when he said that men were leaving the Wakefield district on account of the drought-stricken conditions which prevail there, and going to Western Australia. You cannot buy a farm in Wakefield to-day. I can tell the honorable member for Riverina that, not long ago, the estate of the last member for Boothby, Mr. DuncanHughes, realized an average price of £12 5s. an acre, and the Canowie estate an average price of £11 5s. an acre. People do not pay those sums for farms which adjoin their holdings, if they are a losing proposition.
My reason for rising, however, was not to compare farming to-day with what it was years ago. I merely wished to draw attention to the specious propaganda methods that are adopted by the Country party. Had I been quoted fully I should not have said a word; but when two sentences are taken from their context without any explanation, and I am attacked on their account, it is time for me to protect myself. I leave it to the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) to justify such despicable methods before the electors of his constituency and the electors generally throughout Australia. In all probability the attack served its purpose among the farmers during the last election campaign.
– Did the gentleman to whom the honorable member referred in his speech tell him that the farmers loafed a good deal, and drove Rolls-Royce and Sunbeam cars?
– Did I say that they loafed ?
– The honorable member used words to that effect.
– It is only the honorable member’s vicious mind which makes that deduction. I simply repeated what the stuttering farmer told me in Eudunda. I now repeat, in all sincerity, and shall do so wherever I am called upon to speak in South Australia, what I said on that occasion, and I shall be backed up by the very men whom the honorable member thinks will condemn me - that is, that the farmers sit on their implements and watch their crops grow. I shall quote my exact words -
When I whs a commercial traveller, I went one Wednesday afternoon to a town in the Murray flats area. The shops were closed, it was cold, and there was a drizzling rain. In the commercial room of the hotel I found a man sitting by the fire, and, addressing him, 1 asked him if he was a farmer in that district. He was afflicted with an impediment of speech, and with some difficulty and hesitation, he replied, “Yes.” I asked him if he was having a day off on account of the rain, and he said, “ Oh, no ; 1 don’t work now,” and told me that he paid to have his farming done for him. I hazarded the opinion that farming was pretty arduous, especially in such weather, but he replied “Not at all.” I said that I had always thought that farmers worked very hard, and he declared, speaking slowly, and stuttering, “Not now. You s-s-sit on your plow, you s-s-sit on your harrow, you s-s-sit on your cultivator, and you s-s-sit on your harvester. You sit on everything-
– But those were not my words. What I said was -
I know now that many farmers spend a good portion of their time sitting down; some of them merely sit and watch their crops growing.
The farmer to whom I was speaking is in the happy position of those who are able to pay others to do their farming. The ex-member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) who posed as a farmer, was really a storekeeper in Quorn. I doubt if he did any practical farming except, perhaps just enough to keep himself in condition. Bie paid others to do the work for him. He sat down and watched the wheat grow, just as the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) sits down and watches his wool grow.
– Does the honorable member believe that the man to whom he spoke is a fair sample of the farmers of Australia ?
– I do not infer that he was, but what I was saying on that occasion was in rebuttal of the statements made by honorable members opposite, who are always making a very poor mouth about the farmers. As a matter of fact, some farmers are as opulent as some of the big merchants in Rundle-street, Adelaide. The honorable member for Riverina cannot drag me into an admission that I was referring to all farmers. I know that plenty of strug gling farmers need our assistance. There are plenty of struggling grape-growers. If the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Collins) were here, he could tell honorable members of the statement made by one of the grape-growers at a deputation that, out of the 3s. bounty on wine, the growers did not get more than 2d. Those are the men who have my sympathy and support at all times. I have no intention of allowing my words to be distorted as the Country party sought to distort them for “political purposes prior to the election. I shall read what I said, so that no honorable member can accuse me of concealment. I said -
In that district one cannot get into a showground unless he starts early, because of the multitude of motor cars which clutter the ground. There are no buckboard buggies now, or, if there are, they are among the exhibits; there are not even Chevrolets. Each farmer now aspires to a Rolls-Royce or a Sunbeam.
– Exactly. But did the the honorable member ever hear of a farmer owning a Rolls-Royce ?
– I cannot say that I have, but will the honorable member for Riverina say that farmers do not aspire to the ownership of a Rolls-Royce.
– That is very weak!
– It is not as weak as the propaganda put out by the honorable member’s party for political purposes, and is not despicable as was the statement for which the honorable member for Maranoa recently apologized. The Country party has a very weak, case if it has to bolster it up by the methods it has employed. I need go no further. I am always prepared to abide by any statement I make. I have never yet squibbed on anything I have said, no matter what the consequences might be. I shall certainly never adopt the practice of dragging a few lines from one part of a speech and adding them to a few lines from some other part to distort the meaning of any person’s utterances. Honorable members by their interjections, may seek to drag admissions from me for use as propaganda, but they will not catch me so simply as that.
– The honorable member’s explanation is exactly what we thought it would be.
– It is exactly what it should be. Honorable members were not game enough to publish the whole ofmy speech. Two lines of it suited their purpose better. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) was also quoted in the sameway.
– He knows something about farming, I suppose?
– At any rate he is not a “ cuckoo “ farmer. I do not suppose the honorable member for Richmond has even farmed his own backyard. How he got into the Country party with the little knowledge of farming he* possesses I do not know. Possibly he is one of those who help to fleece the farmers, whereas the honorable member for East Sydney is true to his beliefs. He will always remain a Labour man. I leave the public to tag the honorable member for Richmond properly, which they could readily do if they only knew him for what he is.
Mr. J. FRANCIS (Moreton) [11.361 - I wish to draw attention to the unfair manner in which Queensland manufacturers and engineers are treated in the matter of tendering for Defence Department requirements. Recently tenders were called for twenty air frames for Moth machines, but restrictions in the conditions of contract were such that it was impossible for Queensland manufacturers to submit tenders in the specified time. One of the conditions of the contract was -
Clause6. - Drawings and Specifications. - The air frames are to bo manufactured in accordance with Specification No. A.C. 43, and drawings, special conditions of contract and workshop instructions set out therein and the general conditions of tender and contract (Form “A”), all of which may be inspected upon application at the offices of the Secretary, Contract Board, Defence Department, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, and Secretary, District Contract Board, Circular Quay West, Sydney, only.
The time for closing the tenders was also so limited that it was impossible for the Queensland manufacturers to tender. If specifications and drawings could have been inspected at the Victoria Barracks, Brisbane, as well as at the places mentioned in the conditions I have just read, it would have been possible for them to do so. I am. sure that the Queensland manufacturers could do as good work as tenderers in the other States. I am informedthat if they had taken the precaution to wire to Sydney, and pay the necessary deposit to have the specifications and drawings sent to Brisbane, it would have been fully a week before they could have been made available, and by that time it would have been too late to submit tenders. I hope that this matter will be investigated during the recess, and that Queensland manufacturers will be supplied with specifications and printed forms so that they may have the same opportunity that manufacturers in other States have to tender for Defence work.
Quite recently an application was made to a Queensland chemist for a quantity of diphtheria anti-toxin, and the charge made for it was £2 5s. The chemist who supplied it pointed out that the antitoxin could be made available in three quantities only, in accordance with the following price-list : -
This anti-toxin is supplied by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Royal Park, Melbourne. The chemist’s price is 16s. 6d., or 56 per cent. above the Serum Laboratories selling price. No complaint has been made about the anti-toxin. It is of first-class quality, but it is impossible to expect a man in poor or moderate circumstances to pay 45s. for this commodity. The chemist was questioned as to whether the charge was excessive and he replied, “No, I am selling it to you at 25 per cent. less than the price at which it can be obtained at other chemists.” This charge is excessive. This is a national commodity. The whole of Australia, through taxation channels, has contributed to the cost of establishing Commonwealth laboratories, and a special effort should be made to ensure that the public get this commodity at a uniformly low price. It is admitted by experts that this anti-toxin is a splendid product and that it would be of great benefit to Australia if more use could be made of it. National health transcends all cash considerations, and the
Government has taken a step forward in establishing serum laboratories. I do hope no want of proper consideration and lack of proper supervision will allow these unsatisfactory conditions existing iu Queensland to any longer continue. I hope that this matter will receive the urgent and careful attention of the Government.
– A number of matters of considerable importance have been raised during the discussion on the adjournment, but before I refer to them I should like to give the House some information respecting the gold-mining industry, and the course which the Government proposes to adopt in connexion with the recommendations of the Development and Migration Commission. Stated broadly, these were, first, that an attempt should be made to assist the industry by giving it relief from taxation, and a conference of the heads of the Taxation Departments throughout Australia, was held in Canberra some four or five weeks ago, when certain proposals were made for bringing the laws of the States into line with that of the Commonwealth with regard to the taxation of gold-mining and the treatment of prospectors. A second recommendation of the Development and Migration Commission was that the mining laws of the States and those of the Commonwealth should be made uniform, and a conference has also been held on that subject, the results achieved having been submitted to the States. Another recommendation of the Development and Migration Commission was that the sum of £250,000 should be provided over a period of years to give relief to the industry in connexion with plant and machinery; that amounts should be given to gold-mining companies out of this sum in respect of machinery on which, in the case of imported machinery, customs duties had to be paid, or in the case of locally manufactured machinery excessive prices had to be paid. The Government is not prepared to accept that recommendation. We propose, however, to make an amount of £25,000 available; but whether other amounts will be found subsequently will depend upon the state of the Commonwealth finances.
– We could not expect the future years to be worse than this year financially.
– We trust that each succeeding year will be better than the last. Grants will be made from time to time through the Prime Minister’s Department following on the investigation and recommendation of the Development and Migration Commission, and in accordance with the following conditions : -
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) drew attention to the investigation of the Royal Commission on the Amendment of the Constitution. He admitted that the problem which the commission has to consider is probably as important and as difficult as any that has ever been under the consideration of a royal commission in Australia before. Yet he seemed to suggest that there had been undue delay in the presentation of the commission’s report. Notwithstanding the length of the timo during which this commission has been sitting, I do not think that we are justified in concluding that it is excessive; but the matter can be better judged when we see the commission’s report, and know what has been involved in the commission’s deliberations. The honorable member asked what is to be done with the report when received. In 1925 I said that it was proposed to hold a constitutional session, during which this Parliament could consider the Constitution and make such suggestions for its alteration as it might think fit. I admit frankly that in studying the matter the Government came definitely to the conclusion that Parliament would never get anywhere, even if it sat continuously for twelve months considering alterations to the Constitution, and, accordingly, we appointed a royal commission to clear the ground for it. When we receive the commission’s report the subjects dealt with in it will, it seems to me, divide themselves into sections. Those in one section will cause little differences of opinion as to the need for giving the Commonwealth full and complete powers regarding them. An outstanding example of such a subject is the control of aviation. I do not think there is any difference of opinion regarding the absolute necessity for the Commonwealth to have complete control of aviation. Some other matters will fall into the same category, and regarding them we shall experence little difficulty in coming to definite conclusions, which are almost certain to be endorsed by the people when they are consulted by referendum. The second group will consist of matters that are mildly controversial, but are not likely to create much feeling. In the third class will be those more complex matters regarding the control of which by the Commonwealth there are fundamental differences of opinion among various sections of the community. When we have the Royal Commission’s report before us we shall be better qualified to arrive at a practical basis for the consideration of these matters, but I agree with the honor.able member for New England that the revision of the Constitution is of paramount importance, and that Parliament should have an opportunity at the earliest possible date to at least make a start upon this difficult task. At the present moment I can give the honorable member no assurance concerning how and when the Government will recommend Parliament to deal with this matter; but it is almost certain that during the next session some phases of the problem of constitutional revision will be before us for consideration. As a result of the deliberation which will then take place, we shall be able to decide what will be the most effective and practical way of approaching this important and difficult task. I trust that it will be possible to take some of the preliminary steps at an early date. The subject in which the honorable member for New England is particularly interested is the creation of new States.
What the recommendation of the commission will be in that regard I cannot say.
– What does Cabinet think on that subject?
– I cannot, be expected to make an announcement of policy during a debate of this character. One suggestion that has been put forward is that the method of referring matters to the people by referendum shall be altered. It is quite possible that this matter can be dealt with rapidly and easily; but the recommendations of the commission may go much further and cause a wide divergence of opinion. The only assurance I can give the honorable member for New England is that the Government proposes to afford Parliament at as early a date as possible an opportunity to debate the report of the royal commission, and take some practical steps towards effecting the necessary alterations of the Constitution.
The honorable member for Dalley and other honorable members raised the subject of the treatment to be meted out to the employees of Cockatoo Island Dockyard in the event of it passing from the control of the Commonwealth. I do not hesitate to admit that it will remain a semi-government instrumentality up to the date when it is leased, but before discussing the compensation of employees for displacement I shall ‘dispose of two other points raised by the honorable member for Dalley. He referred to outstanding claims for compensation for accident. I regret to learn that some of the claims are still unpaid, but I shall personally look into them and endeavour to have them completed. I was under the impression that all of them had been settled. The claims in respect of furlough have been under consideration for a long time, and have presented very great difficulties. We attempted to apply one broad principle in dealing with all claims, but before we had proceeded far we found it impossible to deal with the matter in that way, because of the varying circumstances of each individual case. Eventually we appointed a subcommittee of Cabinet to investigate each individual claim and make a recommendation to Cabinet. The sub-committee is still at work and is doing its best to have these claims cleared up.
The major point to which the honorable member for Dalley addressed himself, was the compensation to be paid to officers upon the transfer of the dockyard to a lessee. A deputation representing the employees waited upon me about a month ago, when I dealt with the matter fully. For the information of the House, I shall briefly outline the position as the Government views it. Cockatoo Island Dockyard was under the control of the State of New South Wales until 1913, when it was taken over by the Commonwealth Navy Department. It remained under the control of that department throughout the war period, but in 1921 was transferred to the Shipbuilding Board which was controlled by the Prime Minister’s Department. It continued to be administered by that board until 1923, when it was handed over to the board established under the Commonwealth Shipping Act. The honorable member for Dalley stated that amongst the employees of the dockyard are men with periods of service ranging from ten years to 39 years, who are about to lose their employment without receiving any compensation. The impression left upon the minds of honorable members was that men who had served the Commonwealth and the State faithfully for very many years, are about to be cast out of employment without receiving any compensation or consideration. That is not a true representation of the facts. The transfer of the dockyard to the Commonwealth Shipping Board in 1923. marked the end of one period and the commencement of another. The intention was that whether or not the dockyard remained a semi-government enterprise, it must be conducted on the same commercial basis as the private enterprises with which it would have to compete. Indeed, the Commonwealth Shipping Act includes a provision deliberately designed to place the dockyard in the position of an ordinary trading activity; and in order that we might know definitely the results of its operations we required that it should take into account income tax and every other charge which an equivalent private firm would be required to meet. It was definitely laid down also that with its transfer to the Commonwealth Shipping Board, the employees passed into a service equivalent to that of Mort’s Dock or any similar private enterprise. But there was a recognition of the long period of service of these men, for at the time the dockyard passed from the direct control of the Government, the permanent employees received furlough in respect of their service up to the 31st August, 1923, and the temporary employees received it in respect of their service up to the 29 th June, 1921.
– There were only three men on the permanent staff.
– I should be very much surprised to know that that was so; but whether it was so or not, both the permanent and temporary employees received the consideration that I have mentioned. Twenty years of service entitled the men to six months’ pay. Officers over 60 years of age with eight years of service or more received from three months’ up to five months’ pay according to the period of their service.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) referred to the service rendered by these employees during the war. Every one who has any knowledge of the subject recognizes that the work of the dockyard staff during the war was extremely valuable. But the time for recognizing that was at the termination of the war, when the services of soldiers were recognized, and not ten years after the cessation of hostilities.
The latest memorandum submitted to the Government on this subject bases the claim for recognition of the services of the dockyard staff upon the fact that these men are now terminating their employment with the Commonwealth and not upon the fact that they are terminating all employment, although, unhappily, some of them will lose their employment. If the Government has granted compensation to any of its employees in respect of the termination of their public service there is some justification for similar consideration in this case. But compensation has been granted in respect of the termination of employment by the Commonwealth in only three cases. These were the retrenchment in the Defence Department in 1923, the retrenchment in the Taxation Department in 1924, and the termination of the employment of tlie shore staff of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. The reason for the granting of compensation in those cases was that the employees whose services were dispensed with were justified in expecting continuity of employment, or that the employment had been of an exclusive character such as might not be obtainable elsewhere. In the case of the Defence Department, the financial position of the Commonwealth made it necessary in 1923 to reduce the defence vote drastically. A number of men who had been in the employment of the department for a number of years, and who had every reason to expect continuous employment, lost their positions, and were paid compensation. In the case of the Taxation Department an agreement was reached between the Commonwealth and the States by which five States undertook to collect income taxation for the Commonwealth. In the other State an arrangement existed which was continued under which the Commonwealth collected the taxation for itself and the State concerned. The effect of the rearrangement was that one tax-collecting authority operated where there had formerly been two. This rendered unnecessary the continued employment of a number of taxation officers. These, like the officers of the Defence Department to whom I referred, had every right to expect permanent employment, and therefore were paid compensation. The third case relates to the shore staff of the Commonwealth Line. The management of the line was handed over to the Shipping Board in 1923, but when the sale of the vessels was agreed upon last year, the Shipping Board submitted certain proposals to the Government for the compensation of the shore staff in consideration of the fact that as the head office of the company which purchased the line was in Great Britain, it would not be necessary to continue the whole of the existing organization in Australia. Consequently, the avenues of employment of certain individuals would disappear. After obtaining legal advice on the subject, the Government acquiesced in the views expressed by the Shipping Board and compensation, was paid by the board to the men concerned. These are the only cases in which compensation has been paid for the loss of employment.
Honorable members opposite have mentioned that certain individuals employed by the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line are now employed by the company that took it over and yet are receiving a pension for loss of employment. That was not the basis upon which proposals for compensation were submitted for approval by the Government. Compensation was to be payable to those who actually lost their employment, and it was limited to the members of the shore staff whose avenues of employment would disappear.
I have mentioned the three cases in which compensation has been paid. We have now to consider whether the principle applied in those cases can be applied to the employees of Cockatoo Island Dockyard. The Government, while having the greatest sympathy with the men who have lost their employment, cannot admit that that principle can be applied to them. We have to consider first, whether these people lost their employment in consequence of the action of the Government. The Cockatoo Island Dockyard has been in Operation for many years, and it is likely that when the dockyard is leased, it will continue to carry on the same work it has undertaken in the past. It is, indeed, hoped that its operations may expand. The decision of the High Court in the Bunnerong Power case was that the Constitution placed a definite limitation on the work which could be carried out at Cockatoo Island under the control of the Shipping Board, but when it passes to tlie control of a private firm there will be no such limitation. Therefore, instead of employment decreasing, there is every prospect of it expanding. The services of a number of men have recently been dispensed with, not because the Government proposes to lease the dock-yard, but because of the economic conditions now prevailing in Australia. These may alter within twelve months, when employment may be plentiful again. The Government cannot in such circumstances compensate men for loss of employment now, since they may be reinstated within the period I have mentioned. The present position is not due to the action of the Government in proposing to transfer the dock-yard from the Commonwealth Shipping Board to a private lessee.
– Assuming for the moment that that is so, it does not affect the application of the principle to which I have referred, and render it necessary for the Government to pay compensation to men who temporarily lose their employment. But I definitely challenge the statement’ of the honorable member for Dalley that the Government’s announcement affected the position. The situation which has arisen is due to the completion of the seaplane carrier, and the absence of any big order which could be placed with the dock-yard. The Government, however, arranged for the breaking up of H.M.A.S. Sydney there to relieve the situation.
It is now suggested that as the Commonwealth proposes to hand over the dockyard to a private lessee, that is a ground upon which compensation should be paid to these men.
– Only to those who were not transferred to the new organization.
– Probably if Cockatoo Island were a private concern - an old family undertaking - and was sold, some recognition would be given to those who had been employed there during the time in which its owners had grown prosperous ; but the Government is the trustee for the taxpayers’ money, and cannot use it as one could use his private capital. The Government can consider this question only from the standpoint of what is just, honorable and right, and can give to these people only treatment similar to that meted out to other servants of the public. We could not give to these men better conditions than are given to other members of the Public Service. Even public servants who have been apparently firmly entrenched, sometimes come to be redundant officers and have to go out of the service because there is no position open to them. If the Government were to grant compensation to the men at the dockyard, they would be receiving preferential treatment over other public servants. We have examined this matter very carefully, and with every desire to assist the men, but we cannot accede to the request which has been put forward by the individuals concerned. It is with regret that we feel that we must adhere to the decision which I gave to the deputation the other day.
– Did the Shipping Board make any recommendation on the matter ?
– Recommendations were made by the board in regard to Cockatoo Island employees as well as in regard to the shore staff in the Line, but I have already explained the difference in the position of these two classes of employees.
As to the dismantling of H.M.A.S. Sydney, I was extremely sorry to hear the suggestion of the honorable member for Dalley that that work and the disposal of the material was not being carried out in the most efficient way. It was thought that this material would have a considerable scrap value and would provide funds to keep the men in employment. I shall make such inquiries as I can about the matter ; but the control of this yard is now in the hands of individuals whose names I need not mention.
– I did not make any charge.
– If there is any truth in the rumour referred to by the honorable member, it is a justification for handing over the dockyard to those whose interest it will be to see that it is properly and efficiently conducted. It will be a good thing for the Commonwealth if the dockyard is conducted by a private firm that can handle it properly.
The honorable member for Wentworth referred to the training of boys for the navy, and the need for a proper survey of the coast of Australia. I am afraid that, while the Government has the greatest possible sympathy with the honorable member in connexion with both those matters, the financial position, unfortunately, will not permit of action being taken with regard to either of them. The Government realizes that the training of boys for the navy and a full survey of the coast of Australia are most desirable. But there is a limit to the sum that can be found for defence purposes, and the Government has to accept the- advice of its experts on land, air and naval defence in determining how the money available can be best allotted. Unhappily, in that allocation, curtailment of the sum devoted to the training of boys has been found necessary, and the work of charting the coast is also limited by our financial resources. .
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) spoke of tobacco culture in Australia. The Government has had the matter under consideration, and, while I et. mot agree with all the views that he has expressed, we shall give the fullest consideration to the case presented by him.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) made a complaint regarding defence contracts, and the unfair position in which Queensland is- placed. He also referred to the prices charged by the Commonwealth Health Department for diphtheria anti-toxin. His representations regarding those matters will be brought before the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Health respectively.
.- I intend to refer briefly to rice and cotton, and I take them in that order, not because of their relative importance, but as a matter of convenience. The subject of rice production in Australia was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen). They both pleaded for what would be, in effect, an embargo against imported rice. I have no objection to their statement of the case, or to that which the growers have put to me. But there is another side to it, and one that I desire to submit to the House. It is only two years ago, this month, since the rice-growers in the Murrumbidgee Valley made representations to this Parliament, and we granted all that they asked. “We imposed a duty equivalent to £3 14s. 8d. a ton on imported rice. Since then, the growers have harvested only one crop, and I suggest that their trouble appears to be due largely to the dimensions of that crop. This points to the fact that it is far more difficult to foster a primary than a secondary industry, because of the problem of regulating production. The 1928 crop exceeded the growers’ anticipations by about 50 per cent., and, owing to that- surplus, the present problem has arisen. Soon after I came into office, I was approached by the growers, and I have been seen by their representatives on a number of subsequent occasions. They have not through me asked that the matter be referred to the Tariff Board, nor have they requested an increased duty from me. They have narrowed their demand down to an embargo, and have refused to discuss anything else. They have represented all the time that they have not received a square deal from the millers. They have protested strongly that a combine is operating against them, that the price given is not a fair one, and that they want absolute prohibition of the imported article.
– Does the Minister ‘ think that the price paid is fair ?
– I shall discuss that point. The Leader of the Opposition has possibly fallen into slight error in his comparison of prices of imported and locally-grown rice. The locally-grown product is “paddy” rice, and the imported article is husked or cleaned rice.
– I quoted figures relating to the two kinds.
– I hope that I have not misunderstood the honorable member. The rates of freight, of course, affect world parity. The millers buy at Leeton, and they have to add to the purchase price the cost of transport to Sydney or Melbourne. Then after the rice has been husked, there is the cost of freight to other parts of Australia. But, when rice is imported, the freight is practically the same whether the commodity is landed at Sydney, Brisbane, or Fremantle. On the representations made to me, I took the matter up with the millers. Some four or five months ago the growers elected a Rice Marketing Board, and they declare that they have not had a fair deal from the millers. J point out to the House that the board has been at work for four or five months, but, until last week, had not approached the millers with regard to the disposal of this season’s crop. They have been haunting this House, and worrying the Government for an embargo; but I have suggested again and again that they should interview the millers. Finally. I saw the millers myself. I do not think that the growers have been fair, either to themselves or to this Parliament, which gave them all that they demanded two years ago. Although I saw the representatives of the millers in Melbourne, I am not taking up their ease. I shall state the claims of both sides as they have been submitted to me. The representative of the millers, a man of Australian repute outside the industry altogether, said that they were prepared to pay import parity for all Australiangrown rice. He gave a definite assurance that they would regulate imports accordingly up to the capacity of the Austalian market. He added that they had at all times been prepared to do that. I raised the question of the disparity in price, to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, and he replied that rice, like all other primary products, was subject to violent fluctuations both in production and in parity from season to season. Some of the members of the Rice Marketing Board went to Melbourne last week ; but, according to their local representative, who has interviewed me a number of times, they could not make progress with their negotiations with the millers. They again complained that they were being ill-treated by an alleged combine.
– They could not sell their rice.
– I desire to assure the House that I have given this matter very careful consideration because of my desire to serve the rice-growers.
– “Will the Minister say whether it is a fact that they could not sell their rice?
– I do not know the terms on which they offered it. A newspaper published in the Riverina - I think it was the Mumimbidgee Irrigator - contained a report of a meeting of ricegrowers in which it was publicly stated that a gentleman who had interviewed me on several occasions on behalf of the rice-growers had been wagered £1,000 to nothing that he could not secure an embargo on rice. When he interviewed me yesterday I asked him if that were a fact. He said that the report was not exactly correct, but that he was paid a retaining fee for his “ political work,” which would be increased if he succeeded in his mission. I submit that that form of negotiation between the Rice Marketing Board and the responsible Minister is not only highly undesirable, but is also calculated to prejudice the interests of the growers. In my opinion it gives colour to my belief that the growers at Leeton have concentrated on making the most of their troubles with the millers in the hope that thereby they would secure an absolute embargo on the importation of rice. I informed this representative of the rice-growers that I would have no further negotiations with him, and that in future I would deal directly with the Rice Marketing Board. The Leader of the Opposition, in advocating an embargo on the importation of rice, appeared to think that if we gave the local growers the whole of the Australian market we should be able to control the output.
– I suggested nothing of the kind.
– I submit that the Government could not place an embargo on rice and not control the area planted and harvested.
– The Minister is not fair in pressing that point. I submitted two propositions; first, that the importation of rice should not be permitted when there is locally grown rice on the market; and, secondly, that it should be permitted if the local growers refused to sell under reasonable conditions.
– What should we do with the surplus crop which would be inevitable in those circumstances? The result would be an immediate demand for an export bounty. I repeat that I am anxious to serve the rice-growers by assiting in the disposal of this season’s crop. If they care to have a conference with the millers and desire to have a representative of the Government present, I shall take every step to bring that about.
– Does the Minister think that £11 a ton is a fair price to the growers ?
– I do not lay down any price as one which I consider to be fair. In my opinion, the grower is entitled to-day to world parity, plus duty That is what the millers have told me they have paid, and are prepared to pay. There is more in this case than the Leader of the Opposition has placed before the House to-night.
– Does the Minister suggest that I have been hiding something?
– No; but there is another side to the case. It is no part of my duty to sell the product. I have taken an active interest in this matter, because of what I regard as most unwarranted, the pressure brought to bear in favour of a straight-out embargo on the importation of rice before the millers were even approached to give a price.
– The growers went to the millers, who would not buy their rice.
– A few weeks ago the millers bought 2,000 tons of rice.
– The growers offered it at parity, but could not sell it, with the result that they now have 4,000 tons on hand.
– I turn now to the subject of the cotton industry, to which several honorable members have made reference. First, I desire to emphasize that there has been no undue delay in dealing with this matter. On the contrary, everything practicable has been done to expedite the inquiry, to prepare the report, and to have it considered by the Government. I remind the House that the promise of my predecessor, the late Mr. H. E. Pratten, that this matter would be referred to the Tariff Board was made on the 7th May, 1928, in reply to a deputation which waited on him at the Sydney Customs House. Mr. Pratten promised reference to the Tariff Board in June, but actually it reached that body in May, 192S. I point out that it is neither customary nor desirable for the Minister to request the Tariff Board to give priority to particular cases unless the circumstances are exceptional. All cases are regarded as of supreme importance by those directly interested. The hands of the board have been very full, and there has been no delay in dealing with this matter. Since I have been administering the department I have done everything I decently could do to secure the report of the board at the earliest possible moment.
– Were not the delays that took place in having applications heard by the Tariff Board advanced as a reason for amending the Tariff Board Act?
– I admit that in recent years all cases have dragged before the Tariff Board; but I persist in my statement that there has been no undue delay in this particular case.
– Nine and a half months is an unreasonable delay.
– This is a case which demands the particular deliberation and care of the responsible Minister. I do not intend to disclose, at this stage, the nature of the Tariff Board’s report. It must be obvious, however, that any decision to commit this country to the manufacture of the whole of its cotton goods from white-grown Queensland cotton must be a progressive one, and must lead within a few years to the manufacture of all our cotton requirements in this country. It must also be obvious that any such decision must mean the adoption of a very high measure of protection. That is unavoidable, because Australian cotton is the product of white labour. I go so far as to say that, of all Australian commodities which might be increased in price by tariff legislation, none could bear more definitely than cotton on the cost of living. I need scarcely say that cotton plays a very large part in the clothing of the workers and generally those who have low incomes. In the clothing of the children of the workers, it plays a very large part practically from their socks to their caps. Any increase in the cost of living, due to a higher price being paid for cotton goods, would fall relatively much more heavily on the workers than on the rich, who because of the incomes they reecive, are able to purchase to a much greater extent silk and woollen goods. The present value of the imports of cotton yarn and cotton goods of all kinds is estimated at something like £10,000,000 annually. I very much doubt if we could manufacture all the cotton goods we require, or even the main portion of them, with a duty, inclusive of bounty, of less than 50 per cent, or 60 per cent. A special feature of the application which was made to the Tariff Board is that it was a three-barralled application. The request was for a bounty on seed cotton, a bounty on yarn, and a duty on imported yarn. I do not intend at this stage to even indicate the Government’s ultimate intention, because its deliberations are not yet concluded; but I do suggest to the House that as, in a sense, I am the custodian of the manufacturing interests of this country so far as they are affected by this Parliament, it is imperative that I should proceed in this ease with the most meticulous care. I frankly admit that when we make a move we must move a very long way. Before I make a progressive recommendation to the Government I must be absolutely satisfied that the promised advantages to labour, and to Australia’s interests generally, as a result of an extension of the industry, will greatly outweigh the impost of an increased cost to the workers of this country in connexion with their purchases of cotton goods. If a mistake should be made in regard to the establishment of cotton manufacturing on a grand scale, a new charge would be added to the cost of living, and, being reflected in the general cost of production, would be very embarrassing in a material way to the whole of our secondary industries. I do not believe that there has ever been a more voluminous report than that which the Tariff Board has submitted in this instance. I am certain that no previous report has been so complex. All I am pleading for is that more time shall be given to its consideration than has been available within the last fortnight, and than will be available before the end of this week.
I shall deal now with the position of the two interests concerned. As I see it, the plight of the cotton-growers of Queensland is in no sense desperate. If they have to export this year’s crop, they will not be nearly so badly off as a great number of producers in other classes of primary industry that I could mention. Furthermore, they are not solely dependent on cotton. There are exceptions, of course, but the average crop grown by each individual is about 10 acres. A great many of them are dairy-farmers, and I think a number of them are engaged in one or two other branches of agriculture. They are not solely dependent on cotton. That 1b an important aspect to take into consideration. Even if the cotton-growers are not provided with an Australian market for the whole or the bulk of this year’s crop they will be better off than they were last year when 80 per cent, of the crop had to be exported. Although they had no absolute guarantee of any change in this year’s conditions, they have gone on with their cropping and I believe have increased their area. Mr. Webster, manager of the Queensland Cotton Board, speaking at the deputation which waited on the late Mr. Pratten on the 7th May, 1928, said -
The world’s value is helping us at present, and if it continues to remain around present prices, we will get through all right.
I do not say that the cotton-growers flourished through, but they did get through all right. The price at that time in New York and Liverpool was about 20 cents. It is slightly better than that today, and futures for May and right up to’ October are even better than that. The Queensland cotton-growers are, therefore, assured of better prices overseas for this year’s crop than they obtained for last year’s crop. If we require further evidence of the fact that their dependence on cotton is a limited one we can take the extraordinary fluctuations in the crop during the last seven or eight years. We find that they have swung off cottongrowing more than once, but they have not smashed or gone off the land or required great advances from the State Government as the Mallee farmers have required. Despite fluctuations they have carried on, and I submit that if they are obliged by the circumstances to carry on over the harvesting of the crop now maturing, they will still survive and be very much better off than many other classes of our primary producers. Another small thing which shows the fairly solid condition of the cotton-growing industry on its lid. bounty and its safety for another year, is that the Queensland Cotton Board has recently sold in Australia, and for Australian consumption, the greater part of the coming season’s low-grade cotton. The board has already increased its first financial advances against thiB year’s crop over the advances it deemed desirable at this time last year, and the step it has taken has been based not on any expectation of help from, the Commonwealth Parliament, but solely on the export parity price of cotton.
I come now to the other interested party or parties in this Tariff Board application. There are two big manufacturers concerned in the cotton industry- Bonds, of Sydney, and the Austral Silk Company, a branch of the Lincoln Mills. If we propose to establish the cotton industry on a grand scale, and I have already said we cannot stand where we are, there is upon us an absolute obligation to the taxpayers to be sure of the foundations upon which we are building, and of the financial stability of the two firms we are going to so heavily support with the taxpayers’ money. We must be thoroughly satisfied that they have sufficient capital, that there is no watering of capital, and that they are not overcapitalized. We have tosee that they are making use of the most modern machinery and that their management is highly efficient. I emphasize these matters because Bond’s company is actually in liquidationtoday, and as the result of my investigations 1 do not feel justified in recommending the Government to give an increased measure of support to a company in the chaotic state of Bonds at the present time. If we are to put these two firms in possession of the cotton manufacture and cotton business of the Commonwealth, they must come to us in the frankest way and satisfy us that their position is financially and satisfactorily correct and promising in every feature.
Since the report of the Tariff Board has come to hand the Government has not had time to consider the problem. Therefore, in view of all the circumstances, the magnitude of the problem and the certain addition which cotton manufacture on a grand scale here would make to the cost of living - because of the unknown indirect effects, and the very limited time at its disposal - the Government has decided to take no definite steps based on the report of the Tariff Board during the remainder of this session. I can give the House, however, a definite assurance that the matter will be comprehensively and exhaustively considered during the recess, and that a further statement upon the whole subject will be made early next session.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.53 a.m. (Thursday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 March 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1929/19290320_reps_11_120/>.