12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and offered prayers.
– Will the Prime Minister state what business is to be dealt with by the House next week?
– The House will meet on Wednesday next, but in the following week will commence Bitting on Tuesdays. The first business to be brought before the House next week will he the Land. Tax Assessment Bill, which is an urgent measure.
– It is a very complicated measure.
– It is; but if it is not passed next week a considerable sum of public money will be jeopardized. The two customs bills introduced by the acting Minister for Trade and Customs also are urgent, and will be dealt with next week. After they have been disposed of we shall proceed with the Seat of Government Administration Bill.
Mr.G ABB. - I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government has arrived at a decision in regard to the dried fruits equalization scheme which was submitted to him by a deputation of fruit-growers?
– That scheme was laid before me by a large and representative deputation, introduced by. the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), and supported by the honorable member for Angas and others. It is a very comprehensive proposal for a Government guarantee, involving a considerable sum of public money. The Government referred it to the Development and Migration Commission, which is now investigating it
– Has the Prime Minister read the pamphlet distributed to honorable members by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) and headed, “ A Statesmanlike Scheme to improve the health of the community, and at the same time create widespread employment “. By way of explanation I shall read a portion of the proposal.
– The purpose ofa question is to elicit information. The honorable member will not be in order in giving information.
– I have read the pamphlet; therefore, it is unnecessary for the honorable member for New England to explain its contents.
– In view of the amazing simplicity of the scheme and the need, in these times of depression -
– Order ! The honorable member may not argue the matter or offer comment.
– Has the Prime Minister given any consideration to the practicability of the scheme and does he propose to treat it seriously?
– I have read the pamphlet issued by the honorable member for East Sydney, and I believe the contents justify the title. The proposal contained in it is receiving consideration by the Government, and I am glad to be assured that if it is prooeeded with it will receive the support of at least one member of the Opposition.
– Is the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs aware that the manufacturers of mild steel and sheet lead are taking advantage of their monopoly of the Australian market to establish control over the output, and are refusing to supply traders who are not members of the various hardware associations? Will the Minister take steps to prevent the continuance of this pressure?
– A complaint in regard to this matter has been received, and I have instructed that it be investigated immediately. When a report on the subjectis received the Government will decide whatfurther action should he
– On the 3rd December last the Prime Minister, in answer to a question regarding the agreement which had been reached between the leaders of the miners and the coal-owners, said -
Whatever regret I may have - and it is a very keen one - that the men have been forced to compromise on the question of wages, as Leader of the Labour party in , this country and as a* unionist I stand behind the leaders of the miners in the action they have taken.
Yesterday in answer to a question by the honorable member for Warringah tho right honorable gentleman said -
If the coal-owners of this country had a full realization of their obligations to Australia and a proper understanding of what is due from them, seeing that they are allowed to exploit the vast coal deposits of this country for their own profit, they would accept the advice which has been gratuitously given to the miners of this country at different times by every member of this House, and resume work on a pre-stoppage basis. The way would then be open for a conference on the conditions prevailing in the industry.
As the statements are contradictory I ask the right honorable gentleman to exactly define his attitude.
– The statements are consistent. Unfortunately the honorable member does not understand consistency. In December I said that as leader of the Labour party and as a unionist I believed in supporting the leaders of the men when they entered into- agreements. That is still my attitude. I said that I regretted that the leaders of the miners found it necessary to compromise in regard to wages. I still regret it. They were forced to compromise because of an unwarranted lockout by the mine-owners who are allowed to develop the rich mineral resources of the country.
– This is not an answer; this is a speech.
– It is obvious that my remarks are perturbing the Leader of the Opposition. My attitude is the same now as it was in December. I repeat now what I said then, that I was prepared to support the decision arrived at by the representatives of the men in conference and that the men should support their leaders. My advice to the men then was to accept the advice of their representatives, but that does not prevent me from declaring that if the mineowners had realized their responsibility to the country they would have kept the mines open on the terms of the award. The mines having been closed, they should have been opened again at the prestoppage rates, and after that negotiations could have been entered upon in regard to wages and conditions.
– In view of the doubt as to whether under the compulsory wheatpooling scheme the farmers will be paid the whole or part of the guaranteed 4s. upon delivery at country railway stations, will the Prime Minister explain the intention of the Government?
– A conference of representatives of wheat-growers and State Ministers for Agriculture, convened by the Commonwealth Government, was held at Canberra recently to discuss a proposal for a compulsory wheat pool. The main purpose of the scheme is to increase the acreage under wheat, and to encourage the farmers to sow larger areas, and to protect them against any collapse of the market through increased production. The Commonwealth Government has invited the State Governments to join with it in guaranteeing 4s. per bushel for wheat delivered at railway sidings; that is equivalent to 4s. 8d. f.o.b. The first step will be to take a ballot of the wheat-growers. If a majority are not in favour of the scheme it will not be proceeded with. If an affirmative vote is recorded, and the State Parliaments approve - for without their approval the Commonwealth cannot proceed - a pool will be established. It will be under the control of boards elected by the wheat-growers in each State, and each State board will elect delegates to the Commonwealth board, upon which the Commonwealth Government also will be represented. The financing of the pool will be arranged by the Commonwealth Bank, and- 1 have no doubt that substantial advances will be made to the farmers, practically to the full amount- of the guarantee, subject only to the necessary reservation for adjustments. The sneers of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggest that he has no knowledge of the working of pools. The usual practice is for a pool to be controlled by boards representative of the farmers, and for nearly the whole of the guaranteed sum to be advanced by arrangement with the bank ; but a small amount is always held in reserve for purposes of adjustment. The farmers can rest assured that the first advance they will receive after the delivery of their wheat at the railway siding will be considerably more than the average advance they receive from private buyers under existing conditions.
– In some parts of South Australia opponents of the wheat-pooling proposal are spreading a rumour that if wheat realizes more than 4s. a bushel the Government will take any amount in excess of that sum to compensate it for the risk of offering a guarantee. Will a circular be issued to the wheat-growers explaining definitely the intention of the Government before the ballot is taken ?
– The rumour is absolutely false. The Government does not intend to retain any portion of the amount received for wheat. The suggestion of the honorable member regarding the issue of a circular to the fanners will be referred to the Minister for Markets who, I believe, will act upon it.
– Has the Prime Minister’s attention been called to a statement of the Minister for Markets made at Canberra on the 19th February last when announcing the intentions of the Government with regard to the formation of a pool. The Minister then said -
In the event of a pool being established, the Commonwealth Government invites the States to join in guaranteeing the wheat-growers 4s. per bushel at sidings for the 1030-1931 crop.
How does the Prime Minister reconcile that statement with the statement which he has just made that the growers are to be paid only some part of the amount guaranteed upon delivery of the wheat at railway sidings? Is he aware that the farmers at the present time, who are selling .their wheat at country sidings through the existing agencies, are paid cash in full for it?
– Honorable members opposite are endeavouring to seize on everything possible in an attempt to thwart the efforts of the Government to establish a compulsory pool.
– Is the prime Minister in order, when answering a question, in making imputations against the members of the Opposition?
– If the Prime Minister has said anything that is offensive to the members of the Opposition or to other members, or has charged them with having done de;liberately something that is improper, I shall call him to order; but before intervening I wish to know what is the statement to which exception is taken.
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) asked the Prime Minister how he reconciled an official statement of the Minister for Markets with one made by himself, and when purporting to reply to that question, the right honorable gentleman went out of his way to say that members of the Opposition are doing everything in their power to hinder the Government in giving effect to its proposals. That statement was not relevant to the question asked, and I regard it as offensive, and ask that it be withdrawn.
– I am delighted that the Leader of the Opposition finds the statement offensive, and I withdraw it with pleasure, because I can only conclude from his remarks that the Government will receive the full support of the Opposition for its proposal to establish a compulsory wheat pool. In my turn I ask the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) who spoke of contradictions and inconsistencies in Government statements how he reconciles his “ tragic Treasurer “ speech with his subsequent action in joining the Ministry in which the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) was Treasurer.
– Is this an answer to a question ?
Several honorable members interjecting
– Order. I remind honorable members that I require them, to maintain silence while questions are being asked.
– The Government is making a sincere effort to meet the present difficult economic situation. One proposal to that end is the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool, and members of the Opposition are endeavouring to find every excuse they can for hindering the carrying out of the Government’s proposals. When that is pointed out to them, they say that my remarks are offensive. The proposal outlined by the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) is one which he probably will be able to carry out. The control of the wheat pool will bc left to the Wheat Board. Had any attempt been made by this Government to conduct the pool in any other fashion, honorable members opposite would have been the first to complain. We have definitely laid it down that the control of the pool must be left to the growers, who will carry on their own negotiations with the Commonwealth Bank. The Government will guarantee that the price paid will be not less than 4s. a bushel. As to thu amount of the first advance, and when it will be paid, those are matters for negotiation between the board and the Commonwealth Bank. As I said yesterday, I believe that the advance made on delivery will be a substantial portion of the 4s. if not the whole of it.
– I have received a communication dealing with the proposal of the Government to establish a wheat pool - which document bears the signatures, Bunge (Australia) Proprietary Limited, Dalgety and Company Limited, John Darling and Son, and Louis Dreyfus and Company. It is headed “ Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth”, and contains t] is passage: -
It is an economically unsound procedure, as any disinterested financial expert would tell the Prime Minister.
Does the Prime Minister know whether the financial experts referred to are to be found on the Opposition side of this chamber?
– I have received a letter in similar terms to that quoted by the honorable member and probably other members of this House have also received it. It has been issued by firms interested in the retention of the present system of handling wheat, but the persons of whom I take most notice are the representatives of the growers who, assembled in conference in Canberra, unanimously agreed to the Government’s proposal for the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool.
– Has the Prime Minister received any communication from the French Government with reference to the retaliatory and prohibitive duties imposed by that Government upon the importation of Australian wheat into France, as announced in the French official gazette of the 17th July last?
– A communication has been sent by the French Government to my department, and it has been passed on to the Department of Trade and Customs.
– Will the Prime Minister make available to honorable members the report of Rear Admiral Sir William Clarkson on the Bass Strait shipping service ?
– The report is at present being considered by the Government, but it is not advisable to make it public at present. When the Government has come to a decision as to the nature of the service which should be instituted, the whole of the information available, including the report, will be placed before honorable members.
– In order to provide improved shipping facilities across Bass Strait during the winter, will the PostmasterGeneral approach the Tasmanian Steamers Proprietary Ltd. with a view to getting it to retain the Nairana in the Melbourne-Launceston service during the winter months?
– I am prepared to take the matter up with the shipping company, to see what can be done.
– Will the Prime Minister state what has been done to honour the promise made by members of the present Government during the election campaign that a Government steamship service should be established between the mainland and Tasmania?
– I regard that as a most extraordinary question. The Government has been in office for five months only, and yet we are being asked why we have not already established a Government line of steamers to Tasmania!
– When the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) was speaking last night he said that he had listened to two extraordinary speeches, one of which was that of- the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) who, like Micawber, proposed to offer a promissory note in settlement of a debt, and would then say “ Thank God, that is paid.” The honorable member for Gippsland knew that he was wilfully misrepresenting me.
– Chair !
– The honorable member is not in order in saying that another honorable member has wilfully misrepresented him.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker , but it appeared to me that that was so. It may have been .that the honorable member misrepresented me out of the fullness of his ignorance. If so, I pity him. If the honorable member knew anything of Micawber, he would know that that gentleman offered his promissory notes for the purpose of evading obligations which he had no hope of honoring. My proposal is that the Commonwealth should issue its own credit backed by the full force of the Commonwealth’s taxable assets.
– This is not a personal explanation.
– I was misrepresented when, it was stated that I was behaving like Micawber. Dickens has been dead a good many years, and I wish to Heaven that all the imitators of Micawber were also dead. We should then not have had the reckless issue of promissory notes by the Commonwealth Government, which has landed the country in its present position. I have no desire to emulate Micawber. I want the Commonwealth Government to use the wealth of the Commonwealth for the purposes of the people of Australia, and not for the benefit of interest mongers.
– With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask the Chairman of the Public Works Committee whether his committee has finalized its report regarding the proposal for the establishment of an aerodrome at Western Junction, Tasmania?
– The hearing of the evidence has been completed, and it is expected that the report will be laid upon the table of the House next week.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Since the year ended 30th June, 1924, what has been the amount and value of Australian whisky exported each subsequent year, to what countries has the whisky been exported, and what was the amount and value exported to each country?
– The information sought is as follows: -
Allocation from Federal Aid Roads Fund.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
These amounts represent actual expenditure on roads. In New South Wales it has been possible by reason of the grant, to withdraw funds from the Main Roads Board for use in the relief of unemployment on works other than roads. Taking these works into consideration, the expenditure in New South Wales under the grant, is £255,710.
The State of Queensland has not yet submitted advice as to expenditure, but has forwarded the following information: -
Wet weather conditions are causing serious delays in that State
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fact that he has made a special appeal to the wheat-growers of Australia to grow more wheat, and in view of the Government’s proposals for a Commonwealth compulsory pool, will he get into touch with the State Premiers, and wherever the wheatgrowers of the States are in financial difficulties, will he assure them, in order that every acre possible may be sown with wheat and the maximum quantity of superphosphate be made available, that he will guarantee the cost of fertilizers so used, and in the event of there being a compulsory wheat pool, the fertilizer so supplied be made a first charge against the farmers’ wheat?
– The Government regrets that it is unable to see its way at present to go beyond the proposals which it has already formulated for the assistance of the wheat-growers.
Supply of Pigeons
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Cost - Parliament House Roof - Sewerage
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 Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Governmenthas had the proposal under consideration and is at present awaiting further information in connexion with it.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What is the estimated cost of the erection of a relay station in the Bendigo district, Victoria?
– If a station were erected in the area mentioned, the cost would be in the neighbourhood of £24,000.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Use of Australian Electrical Equipment
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
Continuity of Service for Employees. Shipbuilding Programme
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether it is the intention of the Government to grant continuity of service to all employees who were employed at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in 1921 and who are still employed.
– The whole position in regard to future operations at Cockatoo Island Dockyard is at present under the consideration of the Government, and, as soon as it is practicable to do so, an announcement will be made as to the intentions of the Government.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I refer the honorable member to the answer to the preceding question.
Preparation of Landing Ground
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
What are the terms of the contract let for the preparation of the land recently acquired atRocklea for the purposes of an aerodrome?
– The contract for clearing, grading, filling, rolling, and preparing site was entered into on 19th February, 1930, with William Edward Brown & Company, Coorparoo, for an amount of £1,598, and is due for completionon 14th May, 1930.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government has decided against the purchase of two obsolete ships for the Tasmanian trade, and intends instead to build new ones at Cockatoo Island Dockyard?
– The question of purchase or construction of ships for the Tasmanian service is still under consideration.
– I present for the information of honorable members the Third General Papers Index, being the index to papers presented to both Houses of Parliament during the period from 1920 to the first session of the Parliament in 1929. This covers the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh Parliaments. The index includes committee reports, returns to order, and certain printed papers not formally presented.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) agreed to -
That the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
– I ask for your ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whether the Constitution Alteration Power of Amendment Bill and the Constitution Alteration Industrial Powers Bill, which are closely related in many ways, may both be dealt with in the discussion on the former measure ?
-My ruling is that the two bills are so closely related that it would be impossible to restrict the debate to one measure without reference to the other. I therefore propose to allow honorable members the. greatest latitude in discussing the Constitution Alteration Power of Amendment Bill so that they may also deal at the same time with the subject-matter of the Constitution Alteration Industrial Powers Bill.I have precedent for this course, for it was adopted by Mr. Speaker McDonald in 1910, when certain constitutional amendments were submitted to the House. His ruling on the subject may be found on page 4,696 of Hansard of the18th October, 1910. May affords us further guidance, for I find on page 300, of the 10th edition of his work, the following statement : -
When bills, in the charge of the Government, dealing with subjects bound together by a common principle, stand in a series upon the notice-paper, debate on the first bill may include therein a discussion of the bills of a cognate character.
I rule, therefore, that it is permissible for honorable members to refer to the second bill during the debate upon the first.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of the bill is to confer full power upon this Parliament to amend the Constitution. It is now nearly 30 years since the Australian colonies federated. The statesmen who were charged with the duty of framing our Constitution were faced with a gigantic task. They recognized that there was need to bring the people of Australia together. The operations of six distinct colonies had to be co-ordinated and the existing jealousies and fears of their separate communities allayed. Bearing this in mind they framed the best Constitution possible. But they remembered that it was not for them to say the last word upon the subject, and to meet the need for changes that would arise they provided for the amendment of the Constitution by the method set out in Section 128. Many of the statesmen responsible for the drafting of the Constitution were mem-< bers of the first and second Commonwealth Parliaments, and they, therefore, soon discovered the need for constitutional alterations. But although nearly 30 years have since gone by the only substantial alteration that has been made was that effected in 1928, when the consolidation of State debts was agreed to. The late Right Hon. Alfred Deakin, one of the eminent statesmen who took a leading part in the framing of the Constitution, made this important announcement regarding it very shortly after the work had been done : - “ It is but the framework, the ground plan.” That was a very true description.
– They trusted the people.
– We also propose to trust the people to allow us to build upon the framework and add to the superstructure of the Constitution.
Federation was adopted to add. to Australia’s prestige and importance, and to enable her to speak with one voice on national matters. Where there were six conflicting laws, it was intended that there should be one, and not seven. It was never anticipated that the achievement of federation would cause seven sets of conflicting laws to operate within the Commonwealth.
New conditions have arisen since 1901 which make imperative a further extension of’ the powers of the national parliament. Our trade and commerce have grown and our means of transport has increased. We have now more miles of railway than ever before in our history. We are also able to communicate with the remote parts of the Commonwealth by aeroplane and other means not thought of 30 years ago. Our trunk line telephone system and wireless broadcasting service have made us a more united people than was once possible. The motto, “One people, one destiny,” which was framed 30 years ago, is truer to-day than ever before. Yet we are endeavouring to administer our government under practically the original Constitution.
Very early in the life of the federation, Parliament discovered the weakness of the Constitution. One great constitutional lawyer, who is now the Chief Justice ‘ of Victoria, described it as “ the weakest federal constitution in the world.” It certainly is one of the weakest. If you exclude the constitution of the United States of America I do not think that you will find a central or national government in any part of the world attempting to carry on under a constitution so weak as ours is. Before the Commonwealth Parliament had properly taken up its work, motions were presented by its members for an increase of constitutional power, because it was discovered that this Parliament did not possess the authority that the framers of the Constitution intended to give to it. A notable and striking declaration to that effect, with which honorable members are all familar is known as the Harvester judgment. When the first Federal Parliament adopted a policy of protection for the nation, two political parties - the Liberal party, under the leadership of Mr. Deakin, and the Labour party, added a new plank to their platform,, which was known as the “New protection.” This meant that when protection was given to the Australian manufacturers, protection should also be given to our workers and consumers. Subsequently a general election was held. While the people did’ not return any one party with an absolute majority, the Liberal and’ Labour parties in conjunction had a substantial majority.
The result was that an attempt was; made- to put the new protection into operation. But the act by which this’- was done was challenged’, and the High Court, in 1907, in the Harvester case, declared it invalid. That was the first limitation of the legislation of thisParliament by a decision of the High. “Court in interpreting the wording of the Constitution. Soon after that judgment had been given, Mr. Deakin announced in the House and on the public platform that, on the first appeal to the people, an attempt would be made to amend the Constitution. But, in the meantime, the Liberal party fused with the free’trade-conservative -section of the Parliament, and at the 1910 election that promise was not -kept. The Labour party went to the country in 1910, declaring in favour of the new protection once more, and definitely advocating enlarged powers under the Constitution. A Labour Government was elected with a majority in both Houses, and, in 1911, it passed the necessary bills through both Houses, and referred them to the country, but the proposals were rejected by a majority of 248,000 votes. When the 1913 election took place the Fisher Government, undaunted, again submitted similar proposals to the electors, and on that occasion they were defeated by the small margin of -26,000 votes. Now, seventeen years later, we are again proposing to submit proposals for enlarged powers to the people. During all those years there has been litigation as to the powers of this Parliament, powers that it wishes to put into operation to give effect to the will of the people as expressed at general elections. We have had litigation, legal expense, and, worst of all, delays, caused by argument not on the merits of the propositions submitted but merely on legal technicalities.
It is interesting to trace the history of the attempts made to alter the Constitution. An amendment in substantially similar terms has been passed by both Houses on four different occasions. In 1910, although the House of Representatives carried the bill by 41 to 19 votes, and the Senate by 22 to 13, they were defeated at the referendum by 736^000 to 486,000. In 1912, other amendments were passed by the House of Representatives by 41 to 26, and in the Senate by 27 to 4. At the referendum held in 1913 they were defeated by 987,000 to 961,000, there being only a small majority against them. The States of Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia polled majorities in favour ,of the alteration. On the third attempt in 1915, a measure was passed in the House of .Representatives by 39 to none, and in the Senate by 31 to 4. No referendum was taken owing to a war-time arrangement with the States, which was not kept. In 1919, :the proposal was grouped with three other amendments. It was passed in the House of Representatives by 49 votes to 2, and in the Senate by 27 votes to 1, but at the referendum it was defeated by 924,000 to 911,000; Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia polling majorities in its favour. When submitted to the people by referendum, therefore, the amendment was defeated by a very narrow margin in 1913 and 1919, and four of the six States have, on one or other of those occasions polled a majority in its favour. This furnishes ample proof of the difficulties with which we are faced in seeking to amend the Constitution.
The distribution of the legislative powers between the Commonwealth and the States constantly needs readjustment. Increasing complexities in legislation render it necessary to make these adjustments, and there is difficulty in drawing a line of demarcation accurately and satisfactorily. In regard to interstate disputes and interstate trade and commerce, the attempt has been made to draw such a line. But we should not be legislating within artificial barriers ; we should be legislating on real issues. Absurdities and anomalies arise from day to day, and this Parliament cannot remove them. Even its undoubted legal powers have practical limitations. Let me give one illustration. We can build a naval dockyard, but Ave cannot keep it employed. The nation should have a dockyard, and it has one ; but this is .costly and inefficient, because of the restrictions of the Constitution, which declares that the dockyard can be used only for war or naval purposes, and cannot be used in times of peace for the benefit of the people whose capital is tied up in an expensive establishment. That is an absurdity and an anomaly with which this Parliament ought to be able to deal. Every other Parliament in the Empire, with the exception of that of Canada, has full powers. Even the Canadian Parliament has infinitely greater powers than the Commonwealth Parliament. For example, it has full trade and commerce powers. The difference, generally speaking, between our system and Canada’s is that under our written Constitution the power of the National Parliament is limited to certain specified matters, and the residual power is vested in the States, whereas under the Canadian system the provinces have specified powers and the residual power is vested in the National Parliament. The Parliaments of Great Britain, South Africa, and New Zealand have complete power, and they are able to truly represent the people. They are not trammelled by what are called State rights. Nor should we be. The rights of the people should bc considered in legislating for them.
There are many difficulties and disadvantages under our present system. There is the difficulty of specifying the limits of the two sets of powers, and there is the uncertainty of interpretation. A change in the personnel of the High Court may mean a different interpretation of the Constitution, and an alteration of the powers of this Parliament. It may affect the validity of acts of this Parliament that have been in operation for years. A mere change in the personnel of the judiciary may alter the practice of years. Thus, what ought to be a political matter becomes a judicial one. That is surely not in the interests of democratic government. Important issues like this should be decided, not by courts, but by the Parliament that represents the people. This evil is accentuated by the difficulty met with in trying to amend the Constitution. Let me give a few illustrations. Many honorable members may be familiar with the cases I am about to mention, but they are worth recalling. In 1906, the High Court declared that Commonwealth arbitration could not apply to State employees engaged in the railway service. In 1920 that decision was overruled by the High Court, and the whole practice of sixteen years was swept aside. That court, when differently constituted, may reverse the decision of 1920, and adopt again the interpretation of 1906. This Parliament will not know where it is, if it is to rely on the vagaries of High Court decisions.
Take the matter of interstate freetrade. I ask honorable members to look at sec- tion 92 of the Constitution. In the clearest possible language, one could imagine, it declares that there shall be interstate freetrade, and that there shall be no barriers between State and State. There is to be nothing in the way of tariffs to hinder freedom of trade between all parts of the Commonwealth. The framers of the constitution had no doubt as to what they meant; but, when the High Court came to interpret the act, it had many doubts. In 1915, in what is known as Foggitt’s case, the New South Wales Government had acquired the whole of the live stock in that State for its own purposes. So far as that interfered with interstate freetrade - and to some extent it did - there was an appeal to the court, which declared the action invalid.
A few months later, however, in Dun.can’s case, a similar act passed by the Queensland Parliament was held by the same court to be valid, and that decision stood until 1920, when in the case known as McArthur’s, Duncan’s case was overruled and we reverted to the original position. In the decision of 1920 a new view was expressed as to the meaning of section 92. It was held by the court that a State authority could not interfere with freedom of trade between the States, but that the Commonwealth could. It was surely never contemplated by the framers of the Constitution that the Commonwealth Government should be able to interfere with interstate freetrade, or put any hindrance in its way; but the court said otherwise. This chopping and changing in judicial decisions is most undesirable.
Honorable members well know that there is the greatest possible uncertainty regarding the powers of the Commonwealth to make anything like a company law applicable to the whole of Australia. The suggestion is that we might pass a company law, allowing companies to register under it, and take the chance of being legally registered or not. In 1910, an endeavour was made to overcome some of the difficulties in this respect and prevent the cost and delay that would be occasioned by Parliament passing legislation and then having it challenged in the High Court. Parliament did amend the Judiciary Act in order to refer to the High Court the question of the validity of any Commonwealth legislation. That would strike a sane man as a sensible tiling to do; but the High Court held that this attempt to give it greater jurisdiction was invalid.
– That provision has been made in Canada.
– Yes ; but, when the attempt was made to embody it in the Commonwealth legislation, the High Court held that it was invalid; that a case must arise on which the validity of the proposal could be tested. The same limitation that is experienced in the industrial field is found in the realm of trade and commerce-
– The Constitution Commission commented on that position.
– Yes, very seriously. It means that there must be a fight, litigation, delay and cost before we can learn from the court whether a law is valid.
Many alterations were suggested by the royal commission. I shall not enumerate them all, but I shall mention a few. It suggested that the Commonwealth should have full power over, aviation. Surely, one would imagine, we ought to have such power. It suggested that the Commonwealth should have full power over navigation and shipping, wireless transmission and broadcasting, and cinematograph films, and that there, should be uniform registration of doctors, nurses and dentists, uniform health laws dealing with drugs and standards of foods, and uniform probate laws, and letters of administration. Those are directions in which it waa suggested that the Constitution should be altered. Under the Constitution as it stands at present, however, if it is desired to make an alteration it is obligatory to secure the assent of the people by way of a referendum, and such a practice involves considerable cost and political turmoil.
The anomalies and difficulties associated with the administration of justice in the Commonwealth were very strongly stressed by Mr. Owen Dixon, now a judge of the High Court, whose evidence is well worth reading. He pointed out that if anomalies and contradictions were to be removed, it would be necessary to make several amendments to the Constitution in connexion with the jurisdiction of the High Court. The Commission recommended that the Constitution should be so amended.
To illustrate the difficulties that arise, let me relate an incident of comparatively minor importance, but one that is causing considerable trouble to my friend the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley). It has been held that under our Constitution a State can surrender a portion of its territory to the Commonwealth, but that the Commonwealth cannot surrender any portion of its territory to a State. “When the Federal Capital Territory was established the Commonwealth took over from the State of New South Wales the Oaks Estate, which includes a part of the town of Queanbeyan. The State authorities now wish to use a portion of that estate for a sewage farm. Obviously it would be undesirable to have a State sewage farm upon Commonwealth territory. The Commonwealth is willing to hand back to the State of New South Wales that portion of its territory but under the Constitution is not permitted to do so. Must we have a referendum to decide whether that shall or shall not be done? If the Parliament possessed the power that the bill seeks to confer, this action could be taken by the passage of a small measure through both Houses.
The immediate and urgent necessity for altering the Constitution lies in the need that exists for giving to the Commonwealth increased industrial powers. We now have powers of conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes that extend beyond the limits of any one State. Every word in that section of the Constitution has cost in litigation probably more than £1,000, in an endeavour to arrive at its meaning. In the first Federal Parliament the late Mr. Justice Higgins moved -
That Parliament shall have full power to make laws as to wages, hours and conditions of labour.
That motion was carried unanimously by the first Federal Parliament, which had in it many of those who were responsible for the framing of the Constitution. The Constitution,, however, lays it down that there must be a dispute, and that that dispute must extend beyond the limits of any one State. It goes further and says that such- a dispute cannot be settled except by conciliation and arbitration.
– And under the latest interpretation of the High Court, it must be a real dispute.
– It has been suggested that the difficulty raised by the wording of the section has long since been removed because it can be made to appear that there is a dispute extending beyond the limits of a State merely by serving a log and complying with other formalities. That has now been upset. But even if it were true, it cannot be denied that the cumbrous methods employed to create disputes and prove that they are interstate in character involve unnecessary cost. The two judgments given recently by the High Court in the coal dispute, however, have shown that it is not possible to make a dispute merely by serving a log, and that before the Commonwealth law can be invoked there must be a real interstate dispute. At this stage I am neither challenging nor criticizing the decision of the High Court that within the meaning of the act there is no dispute in the coal-mining industry. That act, however, was framed in accordance with the narrow limits imposed by the Constitution. The effect of the trouble in the coal-mining industry has been felt in every State of the Commonwealth.
– The dispute is confined to New South “Wales.
– The dispute itself is confined to a portion of New South Wales ; but in that portion are the richest coal deposits of Australia, and it supplies 80 per cent, of Australia’s requirements. The dispute, however, affects every corner of Australia.
– So, to some extent, does every dispute.
– I thank the honorable gentleman for that interjection, because it merely emphasizes my point. If every dispute affects every portion of Australia, we should have the power to deal with it immediately it breaks out, instead of waiting until it has extended all over Australia. I repeat that I am not criticizing the two judgments of the High Court, which may be right or wrong. If they are right, they emphasize the need for an alteration of the Constitution.
– On the contrary, the Constitution is a safeguard.
– We have federal conciliation and arbitration, but cannot operate it in one of the most devastating disputes that have occurred in Australia. Does the honorable member call that a safeguard? Evidently he does not understand the meaning of the word.
– He is a coal-miner now, and knows all about the industry.
– A man must be associated with the coal-mining industry for a long period before he can claim to know anything about it. If the decision of the High Court is right, it emphasizes the need for altering the Constitution. If, on the other hand, it is wrong, it emphasizes the need for placing us beyond the necessity of relying upon incorrect legal interpretations of the law. In whatever way the matter is viewed, there “is grave need for an immediate alteration of the Constitution in the direction of giving to this Parliament full industrial powers. Large sums of money have been spent by employers, not in contesting the merits of various claims, but in an effort to prevent the workers from crossing the threshold of the Arbitration Court. The late Mr. Justice Higgins said on one occasion : -
The way to the court is through a veritable serbonian bog of technicalities . . . the cost and delay of arbitration are chiefly due to the efforts by some to prevent any arbitration at all . . . We are engaged in a game of infamous” word splitting.
The truth of those words has never been plainer than it is to-day. Sir William Irvine, in describing certain limitations imposed by the Constitution said -
When these words are gone I, as a lawyer, will lose an old friend.
The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), speaking in this House on the 9th June, 1926, said:-
In the past a great deal of money has been spent in determining the preliminary question whether a dispute extended beyond the limits of any one State. There can be no justification for the continuance of that position.
Organizations of employers and employees are nation-wide to-day, and it is merely an artificial condition that is not beneficial to the people of Australia to observe State boundaries when it comes to a question of settling industrial disputes. The late M.T. Alfred Deakin made some memorable statements on this subject. In a memorandum which, as Prime Minister, he presented to the Commonwealth Parliament on the 13th December, 1907, he said : -
To restrict the powers of the Commonwealth to the mere imposition of duties, while conditions under which the manufacture of protected articles is carried on differ so widely in the different States, would be to permit discrimination and discord.
Effective and useful as State industrial laws have in many cases proved, their operation is circumscribed by State boundaries, and it can hardly be claimed for them that they either do, or can secure uniformity in the conditions of manufacture throughout Australia. No authority but the Commonwealth Parliament can do this.
In a further memorandum, presented on the 28th October, 1908, Mr. Deakin said : -
As the power to protect the manufacturer is national, it follows that unless the Parliament of the Commonwealth also acquires power to secure fair and reasonable conditions of employment to wage-earners, the policy of protection must remain incomplete.
Another statement which he made was as follows : -
The ideal of the Constitution is equality and uniformity in all national matters. With that end in view, it prohibited the imposition of taxation in such a way as to discriminate between States or parts of States. The ideal oan hardly be realized if uniformity of protection is coupled with wide diversity in the conditions of manufacture.
A rather important statement was made by the late Mr. Justice Higgins on the 27th October, 1927, in evidence before the royal commission. I venture to assert that no man could speak with a fuller knowledge of the subject than that which he possessed. He was asked: -
It has been stated before this commission that it is impossible for a federal body handling industrial matters to understand the conditions of mcn situated at, say, Hamilton in Victoria, and Townsville, Queensland, and that as the places are so wide apart and the conditions so different, the Federal Court could not possibly do justice in such a situation; do you consider that to be a legitimate objection?
His reply was: -
As I have stated, the federal power may create a federal tribunal for Townsville and one for the Hamilton people, but the truth is that there never was a country in the world as Australia in which the population was so homogeneous as to habits, conditions and ideals. The differences are very small in the main features, but the idea is not that the Townsville and Hamilton people should come to Melbourne, but that the Federal Parliament should have power to create local tribunals, as well as tribunals to deal with disputes extending beyond the limits of one State. It is a question of the proper machinery, and the industrial discontent which is fostered by unreasonableness in conditions is a very important consideration in giving the full power to the Federal Parliament.
The royal commission in its report agreed that the arbitration power should not be operated by conflicting authorities. A majority of its members considered that it should be operated only by the States, and the minority that the Commonwealth should operate it. Quite recently the people emphatically gave their verdict in favour of the Commonwealth having the power to deal adequately with conciliation and arbitration. The duty devolves upon this Parliament to give effect at the earliest possible moment to the expressed will of the people, so that not only may we have Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration, but also do away with conflicting and overlapping laws.
I wish to draw the attention of honorable members to the scope of this proposed amendment. Section 128 of the Constition confers almost complete power to amend the Constitution. The necessary legislation must be carried through both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament by an absolute majority, be referred to the people, and be assented to by a majority of the people of the Commonwealth as well as by the majority of the people in a majority of the States.
– There is a qualification in the last paragraph.
– The qualification in the last paragraph is capable of alteration by being referred to a referendum of the people. The only restrictions that are placed upon the power of the Commonwealth to. amend the Constitution are contained in its first eight sections. Those sections contain implications which presume a federal system, although they are not very clearly set out. The amendment we propose is to include a new section. 129. It reads - 129. Notwithstanding anything in the last preceding section, the Parliament shall have full power to alter the Constitution in the. following manner: -
The proposed law for the alteration thereof must, after the lapse of one month from its origination in a House of the Parliament, be passed by an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament, and be assented to by the GovernorGeneral.
That proposed amendment of the Constitution, if carried, would not in itself alter the legislative powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, and whether federation or unification is to be the national policy would depend on the future action of Parliament, which in turn depends on the vote of the people. This amendment would enable Parliament, by an absolute majority in each House, to amend the Constitution, but until Parliament passed the necessary legislation the Commonwealth legislative power will remain asit is. The Constitution, however, would be more flexible, and the methods of altering it easier and less costly.
It will be said that the Commonwealth desires to control all State activities.
– The amendment would give this Parliament absolute power.
– It would give power to this Parliament to alter the Constitution in any way. To those who say that we want to take control of everything, big or little, and to run the country from Canberra, we can give many answers and arguments. Probably the best is to be found in the action of this Government in connexion with the roads agreement. We made an offer to the States, and they unanimously agreed to it, that we should cease to control the work of making roads. That illustration is one of many showing that we do not wish to interfere with the States unnecessarily. If the amendment is carried, Parliament may alter the Constitution as it requires enlarged powers, and bring down legislation to carry out the will of the people. That process would not bring about chaos, because we should be giving effect to our election programmes as approved by the people.
That is not possible to-day. Even emergency legislation is subject to the ratification of the people, or the rejection of the Government. The following statement by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), is to be found in Hansard of the 9th June, 1926, page 2830 : -
The Constitution must not be regarded as sacrosanct. We should be prepared to profit by experience, and should seek to provide for the needs of the present and anticipate, as far as possible, the requirements of the future.
I endorse every word of that statement.
– I still agree with what I then said.
– There are different methods of amending the Constitution. We can appeal to the people, and that means endless referendums and endless cost. We can adopt the method employerd on four or five previous occasions of asking for enlarged powers, and stipulating in what direction they were to be used. In that event, we would at once be met by the familiar question, “ Why ask for more power than it is intended to use ? “ There would be a political upheaval, and even if the appeal were successful Parliament might use only a portion of the power so granted. The people on several occasions were advised to vote “ No,” because if a mistake were made it would be difficult to restore the Constitution to its original form. The people have been advised - “ When in doubt vote No.” The amendment of the Constitution is not like the election of a Parliament which will last for a term only. If the Constitution is altered, the alteration may remain for all time.” That has always been the fatal argument against increasing our powers under the Constitution, but under this proposal that argument fails. If we grant to the Federal Parliament power to alter the Constitution, and if we make alterations that are not desirable, the people can alter the Parliament, and thus bring about another amendment of the Constitution. There is no disputing the fact that increased industrial power? to-day are urgently needed. If we are to pilot this country through this difficult period ; if we are to establish a proper system of Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration, with local committees wherever they may be effective; if we are to do anything to justify the verdict of the people to continue the system of Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration, we must go back to them and ask them to give us the power to make a comprehensive amendment of our industrial legislation. Increased industrial powers are urgently needed. Other powers are necessary, and we arc taking the earliest opportunity to go before the people who elected us to try to get those increased powers. We are seizing the opportunity to get further powers to enable us or future parliaments to amend the Constitution simply, expeditiously, and without cost. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) said yesterday that the referendum would cost £100,000. The right honorable member Cor North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) pointed out that the Leader of the Opposition, as the legal adviser to the late Government, insisted on the Governor-General dispersing this Parliament at a cost of £100,000.
– Was that a wrong thing to do?
– There is to-day infinitely more justification for an appeal to the people to get additional legislative powers to strengthen conciliation and arbitration than there was for the Government to make a forced appeal to the people to abolish our arbitration system.
– We had no intention of abolishing that system.
– The late Government intended to abolish Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration. One statement that the honorable gentleman made in the past was that Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration was essential for the preservation of peace in industry. The people agreed with him when he said that; but disagreed when he changed his views. The failure of the late Government to honour its promise has made it necessary for us to appeal to the people for increased power. In 1926, speaking in this Parliament, Mr. Bruce said that an opportunity would be given in the next session to have a constitutional discussion of increased powers. I’m the same year the Government appointed a royal commission to collect information for honorable members to discuss during the proposed con stitutional session, and to report upon its investigations. That commission was appointed in 1927, and it cost this country £18,700, but the constitutional session was.never held, and an appeal to the people was not made.
Wc are taking this early opportunity to discuss the Constitution, and its recasting, and to appeal to the people to enable us to carry out the promise made by the late Government in 1927. If the referendum costs £100,000 that expenditure will be incurred as a result of the broken promises of that Government. We at least are keeping our pledge to the people. Improved industrial machinery is urgently required, and that expenditure is a bagatelle compared with the national loss caused by one protracted industrial dispute. If this Parliament is given increased powers over industrial matters we shall be able to improve the present arbitration system. Then again we shall most likely encounter difficulties in the Constitution from time to time. Some of those difficulties have been enumerated by the royal commission, and certain changes have been recommended. We are asking that this Parliament be given power to amend the Constitution along the lines of the election programmes submitted to the people.
We are facing a critical period, and emergency measures may be necessary. Some emergency legislation was passed in wartime, and wartime power was used to safeguard the people. I do not suggest that we are passing through a war period, but some aspects of our financial and economic position to-day are quite as serious as many of those with which we had to deal during the war. We are passing through a critical time and our watchword is economy. We must attempt to balance our trade. We ask for increased powers so that we may prevent this country from being exploited from within while we are balancing the trade from without. Yet we have overlapping of the functions of the Commonwealth and the States. I submitted a list of instances of overlapping to the Premiers’ Conference, but received little encouragement. We shall get little help from1 the conflicting Parliaments of Australia.
Some States will agree, but others “will disagree. If we can get the State Parliaments, with their several Houses, to agree at one time on any particular point we shall be very fortunate. Such a thing would not happen more than once in twenty years. In London we are maintaining Australia House and six AgentsGeneral. Those offices could well be coordinated ; yet we have had no encouragement to do that. We have conflict in regard to health laws, and the control of films. The latter question was brought up at the Premiers’ Conference, but “no support was given to the Commonwealth except from one or two States. It is rarely that we can get unanimity among the States. Even in respect of uniform rolls, although the franchise is the same all over Australia, all the States have not yet fallen into line. Every State that has fallen into line has saved money, and the Commonwealth has saved money. In Western Australia the Legislative Council on more than one occasion have refused to put through legislation to bring about a uniform roll. Eventually we hope to get all the ‘States into line. There are many reasons why the Commonwealth should have additional powers, particularly when we are subject to the jealousy of State Parliaments. We should each be as departments of one firm, and not competing institutions as we are to-day. In regard to the proposals for organized marketing of wheat the wheat-growers of Australia and the Commonwealth Government may be in agreement, and yet this Parliament may be denied the opportunity to establish a pool because of the limitations of the Constitution. We are dependent upon the speedy passage of legislation through seven parliaments, and in this way we are hampered in a critical period in the nation’s history. The mother of parliaments, whose Constitution has grown out of the experience and wisdom of many generations, can do anything that the majority of the members in both of its Houses agree to do; it is not subject to the limitations that fetter this Parliament. Under its authority goods can he bought in bulk and distributed; the Australian Parliament cannot even legislate for selling in bulk because it is hamstrung by an obsolete constitution. I have mentioned by way of illustration only a few of the many restrictions placed upon this Parliament; from their own knowledge honorable members can multiply them tenfold. The restrictions are so unreasonable and opposed to commonsense that it is impossible to get the majority of people to believe that they exist.
– We have done very well in spite of them so far.
– The fact that we have made such remarkable progress in spite of our restrictions is not reason why they should continue. People believe that because the National Parliament is able to legislate in some matters for all Australia, it can do anything it wishes to do. It cannot. We may have to take steps to restrict imports and to promote manufacturing industries in order to balance our overseas trade. In so doing we may place the people at the mercy of the profiteer. If we discover that some manufacturers are taking advantage of the protection conferred by the tariff to profiteer at the expense of the community, we can remove the duties. But by so doing we punish all manufacturers for the faults of some. On the other hand the manufacturers may play the game, but the distributors may charge excessive prices. Are we to penalize the manufacturers because of the faults of those who sell their goods? Full power to legislate will restrain profiteering, even if it is not put in operation.
I have read in the newspapers a contention that it is undemocratic to give to this Parliament power to amend the Constitution, which at present can be amended only by a referendum of the people. Government by a parliament elected on adult franchise means government by the people, and we have to choose between government of the people by themselves through parliament, and government by law courts through technicalities and definitions of musty parchments. No one who understands the spirit of democracy will deny that a parliament elected on adult franchise is more responsive to the will of the people than a musty parchment, interpreted by a court dealing in legal technicalities. The people can alter the personnel of parliament from time to time, but even a majority of the electors of Australia cannot alter the Constitution. Those who say that the referendum provided for in the Constitution is democratic mis-state the position. Before any referendum can be carried it must be affirmed by four of the six States. Thus 650,000 electors in three dissenting States could defeat the will of 2,900,000 electors in the other States. It is possible to get a four to one majority vote in favour of an alteration which yet cannot be carried because it is not endorsed by a majority of the States. Is that democratic? If we extend the powers of this Parliament we extend the powers of the people. Acts of parliament can be amended or repealed; constitutional alterations are difficult. Constitutional changes by Parliament could be easily repealed and the people’s will would prevail. In five of the States are legislative councils elected on limited franchises, and those who so loudly mouth democratic principles in defence of the Constitution are upholders of those second chambers in the States. This Parliament is subject to their will when proposing measures, such as the organized marketing of wheat, that may be in the interests of the nation.
– They are very useful at times.
– Very useful in the view of the honorable member, but not in the view of the majority of the people. In five of the States the will of the people is thwarted by Upper Houses, and in the Commonwealth, by the Constitution.
I have broadly outlined the Government’s proposal; the details may be discussed in committee. The broad principle contained in the bill is that this Parliament shall have power to amend the Constitution as, and when, required; not by a political upheaval to throw the Constitution into the melting pot, hut to take additional powers as they are wanted, and as the people declare that changes shall be made. The Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliaments of New Zealand and South Africa have full powers. Although South Africa has provincial parliaments, the Constitution can be amended by the Union Parliament. Why should the various other parliaments within the Empire have powers that are denied to the Australian Parliament? Are we not as fit to be entrusted with full powers as are the British Parliaments, and the national legislatures of New Zealand or South Africa. Since 1926 the Commonwealth has enjoyed a new status; Australia is a nation, and subject to no external restrictions; and the ties that bind the Empire are mainly ties of kinship. Therefore, the restrictions on this legislature are selfimposed, and we propose to go to the people, the creators of parliament and the makers of the Constitution, to ask them to strike off the fetters that bind the National Parliament.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Latham) adjourned.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
As my speech on the preceding hill for the alteration of the Constitution covers the general principles contained in this measure, I shall reserve any detailed remarks on this hill for the committee stage.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Latham) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 12.40 to 2.15 p.m.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The principal purpose of this bill is to prevent the very heavy loss of revenue which would result from the continuation of the present wording of certain provisions of the Land Tax Assessment Act as interpreted by two recent judgments of the High Court. The judgments were delivered towards the end of last year in connexion with the following cases: - McGeoch v. Commissioner of Taxation, regarding the application of the existing definition of “ unimproved value “ in ascertaining the unimproved value of an improved property, and the Northampton Pastoral Company Limited v. Commissioner of Taxation raising the question whether the present terms of section 28(3) of the Land Tax Assessment Act impose a liability to land tax on leases from the Crown where the lease is subject to resumption of the whole or part of the land or where the rent for the lease is subject to re-appraisement.
In the McGeoch appeal the court upheld the appellant’s contention that the present wording of the definition of “ unimproved value” when being applied to an improved property requires the Commissioner of Land Tax to ascertain the value for which a sale could be made of the land, if it were in that condition in which it would probably have been at the date of the sale if it had never been improved. As the appellant’s land was situated in an area thickly infested with prickly pear, and had only been kept free from infestation by the annual expenditure of money, it had to be assumed that if the improvements on the laud had never been made, that land would also have been thickly infested with pear. In that condition its selling value would have been negligible, having regard to the selling value of similarly infested land in the district. The court declined to take into account the fact that the appellant, when purchasing the land a few years previously from the owner, who had kept it free from pear, had fixed his purchase price having regard to the necessity to expend an amount annually in order to eradicate any new pear that might grow on the land. The department had acted upon the rules previously laid down by the High Court in several judgments, that the unimproved value of an improved piece of land could properly be deduced from its improved selling value, by deducting from the improved selling value, the value to the property of the existing improvements on or appertaining to the land. This practice had been followed by the department ever since the land tax was imposed in December, 1910, and it had not previously been challenged by any taxpayer. In following the practice in the McGeoch case, the department took the price which the appellant had given for the land as it represented the fair market value of the property as it stood.
Seeing that that price had already made full allowance for the annual outlay necessary to maintain the land free from pear, the department merely deducted from the sale price the value of the structural and other improvements on the land, including the value of clearing the timber which had originally grown on the land. The court rejected that practice, notwithstanding that it had previously been sanctioned by several judgments of judges of the High Court. The latest judgment is applicable not only to what may be termed “ prickly pear land,” but also to lands situated in all parts of Australia where vegetable and animal pes:*: abound, and would over-run the land if not kept in check. Its result on the revenue, if so applied, would be extremely heavy. A very large percentage of country lands would cease to be taxable because their unimproved value would be either nothing at all, or so low as to be outside the scope of the tax.
It is clear that this result was never intended by Parliament. It is certain that the original practice of the department, which was confirmed by several judgments of judges of the High Court, represents the intention of Parliament in this connexion. Mr. Justice Isaacs, in a dissenting judgment in the McGeoch appeal, strongly criticizes the majority view which has produced the present anomalous position, and with equal strength, supports the previously existing practice. In order that proper effect may be given to the obvious intention of Parliament, the definition of “unimproved value “ has been recast, so as to enable the department to arrive at the assessable unimproved value of an improved property by reference to standard .sale prices of comparable lands sold in an unimproved condition where that course is possible, or to ascertain the unimproved value of the improved . property by first ascertaining its improved selling value in the light of all disabilities and liabilities to which it may be subject, and deducting therefrom the present-day cost of making the existing improvements on the land, that cost being adjusted so as to make reasonable provision for any depreciation which may have taken place in the physical condition of the improvements compared with a new condition.
Tho new definition of “unimproved value “ contained in the bill has been the subject of conferences of departmental officers with senior and junior counsel who represented the Commissioner before the High Court in the appeal, and it is considered that it will ensure the expression of the intention of Parliament and restore the practice previously followed by the court and the department.
In the appeal of the Northampton Pastoral Company the court decided that the present terms of sub-section 3 of section 28 of the Land Tax Assessment Act 1910-1928 do not impose a liability to laud tax on leases from the Crown where the lease is subject to resumption of the whole or part of the land or where the rent for the lease is subject to reappraisement during the term of the lease.
The Court’s reasons for this decision are that the words of the existing law can only refer to leases where the period for which the lease is granted applies to the whole of the land covered by the lease, and where a definite rental for the whole of the period of the lease is reserved by the lease. The Court pointed out that if the land or any part of it which is covered by the lease is subject to resumption upon the expiration of a specified period which is less than the period of the lease, it cannot be said that a lease in that land or part exists for the full period specified in the lease, and where rent reserved by a lease is subject to reappraisement of rent during the currency of the lease, it cannot be said that the annual rent for the unexpired period of the lease is ascertainable for purposes of the calculations required by the act. The judgment is applicable also to all kinds of leases whether they arc leases of Crown lands or of privately-owned lands, where the terms of the lease’ expose it to resumption of the whole or part of the land or to re-appraisement of rent during the currency of the lease.
The Land Tax Assessment Act sought to impose land tax on the following kinds of leases: - (1) Leases of freehold lands either from the free-holder or from a mesne lessee; (2) leases from the Crown under conditions giving right of purchase, that is, New South Wales conditional leases, and South Australian leases with right of purchase, and also perpetual leases without revaluation; (3) leases from the Crown without right of purchase for agricultural pastoral or grazing purposes, and homestead, mining, and timber leases. The two firstmentioned kinds of lease were specified in the original Land Tax Assessment Act. The third class was -not specified in the law until the passing of the 1914 amending act. There are some private leases which have been granted for definite periods at a rental fixed for a part of that period subject to alteration for the remainder of the period of the lease. These are leases where the rent is sub’ject to re-appraisement, and in the light, of the judgment of the court in the Northampton Pastoral Company’s case, would be exempt from land tax. Conditional leases or leases with right of purchase from the crown and perpetual leases from the crown without revaluation, which is without reappraisement of rent, are, in some cases, subject to resumption of part of the land. Therefore, those particular leases would not be taxable in the light of the judgment of the High Court.
It is quite clear that Parliament intended that all three kinds of leases as described should be subject to land tax, but that intention has been nullified by the court’s judgment. The amending bill has been drawn to cause the original intention of Parliament to be effective, not only for future assessments, but also for all past years, but without depriving those taxpayers who have been successful in their appeals to the court from the benefits of any judgment they may have obtained before the passing of the bill as an act.
If the judgment of the court were applied for all past years in all cases in which assessments include leases where the land is subject to resumption wholly, or in part, or where the rent reserved by the lease is subject to re-appraisement, the Commonwealth would be obliged to refund over £1,100,000. This sum exceeds the total land tax which has been assessed for all years in respect of those Crown leases which were included in the Land Tax Assessment Act by the 1914 amendment, because it includes land tax assessed on some conditional leases or leases with the right, of purchase and perpetual leases without re-valuation which were specified, in the original Land Tax Assessment Act 19.10. The amount does not take into consideration the tax paid on private leases where rents have been subject to alteration during, the currency of the lease. The Commonwealth cannot, in. these circumstances, make refunds, of tax paid, for past years, nor can the Commonwealth now permit lessees to. escape payment of any tax still; outstanding. Consequently the bill provides for. the retrospective operation, for all assessments back to and including that for 1914-15. This will cover all assessments of Crown leases without right of purchase for agricultural, pastoral, or grazing, purposes and homestead, mining, and timber leases which Parliament sought to make taxable in and after that year. Those particular leases ceased, to be taxable after the 1922-23. assessment. The past assessments of the remaining sorts of lease previously described will also be validated, and statutory authority will exist for the inclusion of such leases in future assessments.
– What is the reason for making the provision apply to all past years ? There is no legal necessity for it.
– A sum of £1,100,000 has already been paid into the revenue of the Commonwealth in respect of taxation on these leases. There is no legal; obligation on the Commonwealth to refund the amount, but we have to recognize this : Whatever principle is involved in the cases- submitted’ for the determination of the High Court, is also involved in other cases, and” whatever benefits may accrue- of have accrued to leaseholders who have secured judgments may also be claimed by other leaseholders, who have been assessed on exactly the same- type of leases, and who-have paid taxation. They would undoubtedly consider that they had a> moral claim for the- refund of the taxation paid by them. It would be a very serious thing if we had, at this stage, to refund £1,100;000 which has been paid by way of land taxation on such leases between 1915 and 1923. As Parliament undoubtedly did, intend that the tax should apply to that class of lease, and did not for a. moment, intend that leasessubject to resumption or re-appraisement of rent should escape that tax, we should take this opportunity of more fully ex: pressing, the intention of Parliament.
– Then this bill is. designed to. exclude a supposed moral right, rather than a, legal one ?
– It is more than that. There is, still a, number of cases in, which the leaseholders have been assessed; for taxation, but their taxes have not yet been paid. They have lodged objections^ and if we did not alter the law they would have the right of securing the same relief from the High Court as was granted in the Northampton case. The Commissioner would’ be unable to collect the outstanding taxes, and the court would undoubtedly order the repayment of some of the taxes already collected by the department. In the cases which have been decided by the High Court its judgment has involved a total tax of £22,631 but there are other cases on all fours with these, in which objections have been lodged. Those objections are still alive, and, if determined in. favour of the lessees, would involve the loss of £337,000.
– What is. to. happen in cases where a settlement has been arrived at between the taxpayer and the department ?
– In those cases the settlement will’ stand.
– Will the Minister give an assurance to that effect?
– Yes. The settlement will remain as effective as. a determination in the High Court.. It is perhaps necessary that I should justify the application of this proposed law in its retrospective, operation, back to 1914, for, the question will doubtless be asked why the bill should take effect for a period so far back as- that. It will be understood by honorable members who have followed, the operations of our land tax, law that, unless this bill were made retrospective it would be of. no effect whatever, because the- taxation upon the major, portion of the. leases affected by the principle involved in the judgments has ceased since 1923.
The. Commonwealth Land T.ax Act. was introduced in 1910, but was npt. made to apply, to certain Crown leases until. 1914. Fr.om the= first- year that the tax was applied to those Crown leases objections were lodged by the persons assessed. These objections were made against the valuation, the assessment, and in some cases against the law itself. Although for one reason or another none of the major appeals came before the High Court for final settlement Until 1928, a constant agitation against the tax was maintained. The agitation was started and generally carried on by interested parties. I do not say it offensively, but there certainly was great objection to the application of the act to pastoral leases. This has come under the notice of successive governments from 1914 until now. In 1918 the Treasurer of the day, the Eight Honorable W. A. Watt, as the result of representations made to him by pastoralists and others, suspended the collection of the tax and authorized an investigation into the principles of it, the manner in which the act was administered, the basis of valuation and other aspects of the subject. But when he suspended the collection of the tax he did not suspend the making of valuations, nor the issuing of assessments.
That work went on year after year, notwithstanding that the collection of the tax was suspended. In 1918 a royal commission, of which Sir George Knibbs was chairman, inquired into the equitableness of this form of taxation. That commission made an exhaustive inquiry into the whole subject. Its scope was very wide, for it was authorized -
I quote the following paragraphs from its recommendations and conclusions : -
Paragraph 11 of the recommendations reads -
With respect to Section (c) of the terms of submission to the commission, your commissioners are of opinion that, in general, the taxation of Crown leaseholds should be continued, but should be modified in the following way.
A number ofrecommendations were then set out, most of which have been acted upon. The clear opinion one must arrive at after reading that report is that it recommended the continuance of this form of taxation, because it found it “not more onerous “ than the application of land taxation to freehold. That investigation did not terminate the agitation against the tax. In consequence of further strong representations, the Government, in 1921, referred the subject to a royal commission, over which Mr. Warren Kerr presided. The report of that body, which was presented to Parliament on the 2nd November, 1921, referred in section 6 to the “ taxation of lessees’ estate in Crown leaseholds “ in the following terms: -
While we are agreed that in principle there are substantial grounds for not discriminating in taxation between interest in freeholds and interest in leaseholds, we are unable at this stage to recommend the continuance or otherwiseof taxation of lessee’s, estate in Crown leaseholds. This issue will find appropriate place in the recommendation of the commissionon the subject of land taxation as a whole which will be included in our later report.
The subject was referred to again in the fourth report of the commission, which was presented to Parliament on the 13th June, 1923, from which I quote the following paragraph : -
After careful consideration of the question of the taxation of lessees’ interests in Crown leaseholds, we are unable to discover any principle of taxation upon which such interests should be relieved of land tax, if other interests in land are taxed. We are, therefore, of opinion that the question of exempting lessees’ interests in Crown leaseholds from taxation must be considered wholly from the point of view of policy as between the Commonwealth and the States.
That must be regarded as an authoritative opinion of a royal commission appointed for the express purpose of advising the Government whether this form of taxation should be continued, and whether it was just. The commission could see no reason for discriminating in favour of lessees’ estate in Grown leaseholds so long as land taxation was applied to other classes of tenure. Subsequently the commission made a report to Parliament which included a number of recommendations with respect to the administration of the act relating to land taxation, and taxation ofleaseholds in particular. The report was made under the following headings, among others: -
Method of valuation to beadopted.
Valuation of each parcel of land.
The right of resumption as determining the lease tenure.
Re-appraisement of rent.
Whether the191 4-1 5 valuations should be adopted us the basis of the tax on Crown leaseholds for all years.
That report was presented to Parliament in 1925.
– But in the meantime Parliament had abolished the tax.
– That is so. That commission consisted of Messrs. Warren Kerr, John Jolly, and Maurice Duffy. The recommendations covering the administration of the land tax law were duly acted upon in almost every particular, and have formed the practice of the department since that date in regard to methods of valuation, rights of appeal, and the other subjects into which the commission inquired. In 1923 the exTreasurer (Dr. Earle Page) brought down a bill in which it was proposed not only that the taxation of Crown leases should be abolished, but that any tax collected after the Treasurer suspended action in 1918 should be refunded. Parliament passed the measure after amending it with the object of preventing the necessity for refunding the taxation already collected. In other words, Parliament approved of the abolition of the taxation of Crown leaseholds as from 1923, but insisted upon the collection of the tax for the years for which it had been assessed. I submit that that has a very important bearing upon the measure we are now considering. The various royal commissions which inquired into this subject have indicated that the intention of Parliament in 1914 was to tax the interests of lessees’ estates in Crown leases, and when such taxation was discontinued in 1923 Parliament itself indicated positively that the tax already imposed would be collected. It deliberately refused to cancel the tax outstanding at that date. In these circumstances we have the clearest possible justification for amending the law to enable the tax now outstanding which was levied before 1923 under the Land Tax Act of 1914 to he collected, and to prevent the necessity for refunding the taxes already collected. We are not seeking to set aside auy judgment of the High Court, which, I suppose, would be a wrong thing to do in principle.
I do not think that any serious objection can be taken to the bill. A number of objections to assessments issued in past years are still current, and if the law is not amended as proposed those who have been assessed can have their cases brought before the High Court and obtain judgments against the department, in which case their liability to taxation would be removed. But Parliament has time and again declared that it intended such persons to pay taxation, and many have paid the tax. The need for passing the measure at an early date is that those persons who have such live objections shall not be put to expense. Should they commence legal proceedings, certain costs would be incurred; hut, if the law is altered before they can do this, such expenditure will he avoided.
There is only one other matter to which to refer, the proposal to restore the application of land taxation to golf clubs. The Commonwealth land tax did apply to land held by golf clubs until a couple of years ago, when, by an amendment introduced by the last Government, it was exempted. I see no reason why such land should escape taxation. Racing clubs are subject to land taxation, and I do not think that golf clubs can be classed in a different category. They are not like cricket and football clubs, whose games are conducted largely in public parks or on other laud from which the public is not excluded.
– Some clubs play on public lands.
– The majority do not.
– League football matches are held on lands from which the public is excluded.
– The public certainly has to pay to witness the league games; but it must be admitted that golf is an exclusive game, and I cannot see why the golf clubs should not pay tax on lands that would be subject to taxation if they were not specially exempted. If there were more municipal golf clubs, something might be said in favour of an exemption.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Latham) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Theodore) proposed -
That the resumption of the debate be made mi order of the day for next sitting.
– I urge that, before the adjourned debate is made an order of the day for any particular day, wo should have the assurance that sufficient time will be allowed to enable honorable members generally to consider the subject.
– Why is it necessary to pass the bill next week?
– I have pointed out th at there are a number of live objections to assessments, and therefore it is necessary that Parliament should deal with the measure expeditiously to save expense to possible litigants.
– Why next week instead of the week after?
– Every day’s delay is serious. Only two or three weeks ago a judgment was given in a case affected by this legislation. Persons who are interested will probably endeavour to obtain similar judgments. I agree with the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) that the subject is an involved one, and that honorable members ought to have an. opportunity to consider it. A copy of my speech will be supplied to him as soon as it .is available, and he will be able to peruse it during the week-end.
Motion agreed to.
Debate resumed from 13 th March (vide page 144) on motion by Mr. Scullin -
That the paper be printed.
.- Certain information given to the House this morning, in answer to questions addressed to the Government, was of such an unsatisfactory nature that I now feel it my duty to refer to it. The Prime Minister was asked what arrangements had been made by the Government to fulfil the promise of the Minister for Markets and Migration (Mr. Parker Moloney) that 4s. a bushel would be paid to the growers of wheat when they delivered it at railway sidings. What is exercising the minds of a great many farmers and farmers’ representatives is whether arrangements can be made to finance the heavy payments that will be necessary during the eight or ten weeks when most of the wheat grown in Australia is delivered. The Prime Minister assured the House this morning that if there was a compulsory wheat pool the Government would stand behind the Commonwealth Bank in finding the necessary advance to the growers. But he did not indicate that the Government, had any assurance from the Bank that the necessary funds could be found. We know how difficult it is to-day for the Government to raise money to meet its ordinary obligations. Men are being dismissed from the government works in various parts of Australia, owing to the scarcity of money. If the Government cannot finance programmes of work entered into months ago, how can it raise very large sums through the Commonwealth Bank, or any other channel, to meet the first payment in connexion with the wheat pool? The Minister for Markets was particularly explicit on this point. A statement purporting to have been made by him has -found its way into the daily press of the important wheat-growing States. The Adelaide Advertiser is the daily newspaper that has by far the largest circulation throughout the wheat-growing districts of South Australia, and, in its issue of the 21st February, the following telegram from Melbourne appeared: -
On his return from Canberra to-day the Minister of Markets and Migration (Mr. Parker Moloney) said he desired wheatgrowers throughout Australia clearly to understand that, provided an Australian compulsory wheat pool is formed, consisting of representatives of wheat pools appointed in each State, growers will receive the full amount of the guaranteed 4s. per bushel on delivery of f.a.q. wheat at country stations. Mr. Moloney remarked that the impression appeared to prevail that the guaranteed amount of 4s, would only be paid in instalments. That was not correct. The Government desired that the farmer should obtain the guaranteed amount in full as soon as the wheat had been delivered at the country station.
– That seems to be unambiguous.
– It is. I have no doubt that that press announcement has been seen by officials of the Department of Markets, if not by the Minister himself. I understand that under previous wheat pools there were times when the money that the Commonwealth Bank had to find amounted to as much as £18,000,000. Considering that men are being paid off to-day because the Government - cannot find sufficient money from week to week to keep them employed, the farmers are entitled to an assurance as to the arrangements that can be made to pay them approximately 4s. a bushel for their wheat within a comparatively few weeks. If this were the only case in which one of the Prime Minister’s colleagues has shown much optimism, went out on his own, there would not be much to worry about, but the Prime Minister has given us a statement as to what the Government is prepared to do, and it falls a good deal short of what the
Minister for Markets is reported to have promised the farmers’ representatives. Before the last election, as has been said already in this House, and without contradiction, the following statement appeared over the signature of “ E. G. Theodore, Campaign Director of the A.L.P. Trades Hall, Sydney” :-
Placing of partially incapacitated returned soldiers in employment. - The placing in employment of partially disabled returned soldiers is a very hard problem.
He explained how good to the returned soldiers private employers had been, and concluded with the following statement : -
These men could all be found positions in the Public Service, doing useful work, and, thereby, distributing responsibility over the whole of the taxpayers; not, as now, leaving it to a very few to carry. This could be done without in any way impairing the efficiency of the service.
On the 26th November last the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) asked the Prime Minister the following question : -
Will the Prime Minister inform the House what steps have been taken to fulfil the promises made on behalf of his party during the recent election campaign to the effect that, if that party were successful at the polls, a Labour Government would find work in its various departments for all disabled returned soldiers?
The reply which he received was -
I am responsible, so far as election promises are concerned, only for the statements made in the policy speech that I delivered in the name of the Labour party.
I know that the Prime Minister did not make such a promise. He went on to say, “ We have never made such an outrageous statement.” The point I wish to make is that the wheat-growers to-day occupy a position analogous to that which at that time was occupied by the returned soldiers, and that reliance cannot be placed upon any promise made by any member of the Government.
The Prime Minister’s speech suggests certain measures to which I hope that I shall be able to give support; but as the representative of a primary producing district I certainly cannot approve of his action in practically ignoring the important subject of unemployment, nor of the manner in which he proposes to adjust the exchange situation. Taken as a whole, the policy of the Government appears to be to apply quack remedies to our fundamental troubles. I agree with the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that a slipshod attempt, is being made to restrict imports and encourage exports. Although the situation may be temporarily relieved, our last condition will be worse than our first. The existing unemployment has been brought about principally by the severe shrinkage that has occurred in both the volume and the value of our primary production. The fall in the price of wool and wheat, the losses of sheep, occasioned by drought, and the partial failure of the wheat crop over a large portion of Australia, have brought many wool and wheat-growers, to the verge of ruin, and reduced their standard of living- to a level that would almost make shudder the peasants of some European countries. In districts that have suffered from drought year after year the soil is- drifting and the sand is almost blocking the doors of the houses* The people who occupy small holdings in those districts suffer hardships which are never felt in places where there is a regular rainfall. Their spending capacity has diminished almost to the vanishing point; consequently they are unable to purchase- the goods that are manufactured in the cities, with the result that large numbers of those who otherwise would be engaged in the manufacture of such commodities have been thrown out of employment. What remedy is suggested in tha speech of the Prime Minister? He almost omitted to mention the problem of unemployment. The only reference to it is that which is contained in a short paragraph towards the end of his speech, which reads -
There is no doubt that the action of the Government in tabling tariff schedules embracing more than 300 items arrested to a considerable degree the growth of unemployment.
That action of the Government certainly has not prevented the growth, of unemployment. On the contrary, the number of men who are now out of work dissipating their energy and lowering their physique in the search for it, is greater than it was six months ago. In a few, districts inthe vicinity of Melbourne and Sydney a certain, number of men may have obtained employment as a result of the in-. troduction of the tariff schedules;- but if that is so it has been largely at the expense of other persons elsewhere who have lost their jobs. I am not an opponent of tariff duties that- can be imposed without increasing- the cost of commodities that are required by other industries. I admit that in some cases higher duties make- possible a greater measure of mass production, and enable the commodities thus produced to be marketed at a cheaper rate; There are many such duties which, it is competent for a representative of a primary producing district, to support-.. Everybody is anxious to provide, whereever possible, the maximum amount of employment. This, however, does, not apply to a majority of the industries that are being pampered by the high priests of protection. Figures that have been prepared by the Director of Agriculture in South Australia and published in- the Agricultural Journal of that State indicate the tendency of protection within recent years in relation to articles that the farmer needs. During the last fifteen years> the cost- to the farmer of farm machinery has increased by 73.7 per cent. A great deal of that increase has taken place since the termination of the war. The farmer who makes use of Australian bred horses, instead of American-made tractors, has had the cost of the necessary harness increased by 81.6 per cent. The price of tools and similar small articles that he needs to carry on his farming operations has been increased’ by 164.5 per cent. These figures relate to the prices that were charged prior to the recent raising of the duties. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) referred last night to petrol. That is only one item that is connected with the, power requirements of the farmer. The duties have been raised considerably, upon different classes of timber. Certain timbers are needed to make the cases; in which our fruits are sold. I admit that there is a rebate of duty in connexion with cases used’ in the export of fruit;, but the retention by the Treasury of tens of thousands, of pounds that have been so contributed by the growers in the dried, fruits industry, until their product has been exported, lias added considerably to the difficulty they have experienced in financing their operations. There is no rebate: with respect to the smaller cases that are needed to supply fruit to the Australian consumer. The dried fruit industry is one of the primary industries to which it has been found possible to give some slight measure of protection; but the benefit which it receives is limited by the fact that this commodity is to some extent a luxury and that, therefore, additional costs cannot be passed on indefinitely. It has not been found possible to raise the price of dried fruit sufficiently to cover the additional costs that have had to be borne by the industry. It is an industry which, through all its stages, gives the greatest amount of employment of all the primary industries, and any duty which has the effect of increasing the cost of production must lead to the reduction of its labour requirements. To-day there is a danger of Southern Europeans procuring a strong hold in the fruit-growing industry similar to that which they have secured in another industry. To that extent the protection or extra employment which is given to some sections of the timber industry is offset by the extra cost and difficulty that the increased tariff places upon the industry. These extra duties, particularly in regard to some important timbers, do not to any great extent enable local timbers to be substituted for imported timbers. They have merely added to the cost of the imported timber, and that, in turn, has added to the cost of building. Of all the trades in Australia, the most depressed is the building trade.
Not only are the increased duties passed on, but the local article is sold at a price equivalent to that charged for the imported article before the duty was increased, and in a -great many cases the local article is of inferior quality. Only yesterday I received a letter from a neighbour of mine informing me that he had bought a spare spring for his car. Recently there was a substantial increased duty imposed on springs. This particular spring bore the name of a well-known Australian maker. The ends wore roughly turned over, and the bushings were uneven and loose. Another neighbour of mine is using an Australian-made harvester. He obtained spar? parts from the Australian manufacturing company, but is having a good deal of trouble with them, because they are apt to break.
He was advised to obtain Canadian spare parts. This particular machine was modelled on a Canadian machine, and the parts are interchangeable. When the Canadian spare parts were fitted they proved to be satisfactory, and no further trouble was experienced. That is a further handicap which the policy of protection is placing on the farmers. The Prime Minister’s policy statement does suggest some antidote, but it is a thoroughly ineffective one. We ‘must re-organize this country along the lines suggested by several honorable members on this side earlier in the debate. The producer, and particularly the producer who exports, must be enabled to produce more economically, so that he can meet overseas competition. In addition, his products, by being produced and sold at a lower cost, will be made available to a greatly increased number of people. That is the system upon which the prosperity of the United States of America and Canada has been built up. The standard of wages and living in those countries is at least as high as that in Australia. In many respects, particularly in the growing of wheat, those countries have not the natural advantages that Australia has. They have not a dry climate enabling harvesting to be carried on over a considerable period and allowing each farmer to have his own machinery. Our dry climate enables an economical method of harvesting to be employed, by which the wheat is headed and threshed in one operation. Our wheat-farming is worked on a larger scale on the average than it is in America and Canada. There are some enormous holdings in both those countries, but on the average the wheat farms there are from one-third to one-half of the size of the holdings of Australian farmers. Those conditions should make it possible for wheat to be produced more cheaply in Australia than it is in other parts of the world, but our local restrictions have increased the cost of everything that the farmer needs, and reduced him to the level of the farmer in other parts of the world.
– Are not the inflated land values responsible for that?
– Judging by the interjection that the honorable member made last night, in regard to wool, he certainly has little or no acquaintance with primary production. Land values are one of the factors which have increased the cost of production; but they are falling fast. I know of one instance in which land, changed hands a few years ago at about £8 an acre. It has since been sold at £3 an acre, and the purchaser is now wondering whether he will be able to get his money back. The costs of production have been affected largely by the restrictions that have been placed upon the machinery and other articles required by the producers.
– What restrictions?
– Restrictions against imports, which have led to increased freights because of the fact that there is no backloading for vessels. The Prime Minister has quite definitely set his face against any direct tackling of the question of costs. He has said that the costs of production and development are too high to permit of the expansion of our industries. They are certainly very high, and a great deal higher than they need be, but that is due to the action not only of the present Government, but also of preceding governments dominated by the rich districts of New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. This has led to an increase in costs, which, in turn, has brought many of our industries to the verge of ruin. The Prime Minister intends not to tackle the question of costs, but to make a clumsy attempt to cancel them. The wheatfarmer has been taxed to the utmost, but now he is to be given a sop. Increased duties have been imposed on everything that he uses, and now it is suggested that, to sweeten him, he should have a pool under which he will receive a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel.
– The honorable member should not say too much about the pool.
– I am not afraid to let honorable members know that I am not a supporter of compulsory pools. The only interest that I have in this direction is in wheat that I grow myself and in that which is grown in my constituency. I believe that voluntary pooling is a good thing provided that it is well managed, and many economies can be effected by handling a larger volume of wheat or any other produce.
– I have known voluntary pools to fail.
– That applies only in cases where the pools have been used to speculate in wheat so as to bolster up the market. There will be an opportunity to discuss the compulsory wheat pool when the bill relating to it is introduced in this chamber. The policy of taxing the primary producer to the hilt and then sweetening him by some little concession is getting us into greater difficulty. Every time there is a world’s fluctuation in prices we shall have a serious crisis to confront. The bait that is being offered by the Government to the primary producer is miserably small. If the Government is confident about the pool, it should guarantee a price for the currency of the pool. If it wants to follow the exampleof Canada, and to keep up prices by holding wheat and carrying it over to the next year, then I contend that a guarantee of 4s. a bushel is altogether too miserable a bait to offer the farmer in return for the surrender of his liberty.
– Does not the honorable member think that a guarantee for the full five-year period would cause more commotion ?
– I do not think the farmer would object to a guarantee for five years. My criticism is that for one year’s guarantee at a comparatively low price the farmer is asked to surrender his liberty for five years.
– What liberty has he?
– He has the liberty to dispose of his own wheat, which he will no longer have if he becomes subject to a compulsory pool. Another objectionable feature is the request of the Commonwealth Government that the States should bear half of the liability for the guarantee. The two States which are substantially dependent on the wheatgrowing industry are South Australia and Western Australia. Both are in serious financial difficulties, and have been heavily penalized during recent years by the burdens placed on their people and governments through the tariff protection of secondary industries that have grown up in the more populous States. This is another way of taking money from the farmer, and then pretending to pay it back to him. The burden of financing is to be shifted from the big commercial and manufacturing States on to the governments of the wheatgrowing States, and ultimately on to the farmers in those States. There is no more justification for asking the governments of the wheat-growing States to bear half the cost of this quack remedy for the ill-effects of other Commonwealth legislation than there is for asking the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria to hear half the cost of protecting the secondary industries that have grown up in those States. The proposal is indefensible, and should be resisted to the utmost by the representatives of the smaller States.
The statement of the Prime Minister shows that the Government deliberately deprived itself of the fine organizations that had been created by its predecessors for providing valuable information for Parliament and the people. By ignoring the Tariff Board, the Government has laid itself liable to all sorts of undesirable lobbying. Suggestions are current that individuals have derived enormous benefits from the new tariff schedules, and for these suspicions there may be some foundation. Such rumours are liable to become current when people, who ask for benefits at the public expense, are not required to state their requirements and give evidence publicly as they were required to do by the Tariff Board. The abolition of the Development and Migration Commission is another blunder which has already been fully discussed.
I draw attention to one other effect which the policy of the Government has rapidly produced. The supporters of the Ministry evidently believe that it is more blessed to dump than be dumped upon. The Customs Act contains stringent provisions against the dumping of imports, and apparently other countries are able to take a leaf from ourbook. This morning I asked questions of the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), regarding the duties placed, by France, on Australian wheat in retaliation for the policy of the present Government. Those duties are absolutely prohibitive.
– Six shillings and sixpence per bushel.
– That is the sort of boomerang effect which may he expected from this indiscriminate boneheaded policy of restriction, which every representative of a primary-producing district should resist.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Riordan) adjourned.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I wish to clear up any misunderstanding which may exist in regard to the Government’s proposal to guarantee 4s. per bushel for wheat delivered at railway sidings. I stated this morning that the Government will not finance the wheat pool ; it will merely guarantee a minimum price of 4s. to the farmer on delivery of his wheat at the railway. The pool will be controlled by hoards constituted of growers.
– Which will arrange finance with the Commonwealth Bank?
– Yes, the Government guaranteeing that the amount to he received by the grower will not be less than 4s. at railway sidings for f.a.q. wheat. Since this morning I have had a telephone conversation with the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), who is in Adelaide, and he. has informed me that, anticipating the formation of a pool, he has consulted with the authorities of the Commonwealth Bank, who have assured him that the bank can make advances immediately the wheat, is delivered at the railway sidings up to the full amount of the guarantee, subject only to whatever re-adjustment is necessary to ensure that the grain is up to f.a.q. standard. The amount of the first advance is a matter for arrangement between the Pool Board and the Commonwealth Bank. But the Minister for Markets is assured by the bank that it will he able to make a first payment equal to the full amount of the guarantee. Of course any further amounts that the wheat realizes willbe receivedby the growers.
.- The Prune Minister and the Treasurer told the House to-day that the Land Tax Assessment Bill must he passed by the end of next week. That measure alters retrospectively to; 1910 the definition of unimproved values, upon which the whole act is based. The bill is, therefore, very far reaching and seriously concerns those persons who pay land tax.
– I ask the honorable member not to go too far in anticipating the debate on the bill.
– I shall content myself with asking that a longer time be afforded for the consideration of the measure by those who are interested.
– I rise to make an explanation with regard to a statement made by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) during the debate on the ministerial statement.
– The honorable member may do that by participating in the debate in the usual way.
– I do not wish to do that. The honorable member for Wakefield said that an interjection I made last night in regard to the price of wool shows that I know very little about the matter.
– Order! If the honorable member has been misrepresented he may put himself right by a personal explanation, but he may not rise on the motion for the adjournment of the House to answer statements made in another debate that has been adjourned.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) tried to throw discredit on an interjection I made last night, and I propose to correct what he said, and’ show that he is the discredited party.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member is not making a personal explanation ; he is simply replying to a statement made during another debate.
– The honorable member has not yet proceeded far enough to enable me to determine whether he is in order; I have already warned him that he may not, on the motion for the adjournment, revive a debate that has been adjourned. But if he desires to offer a personal explanation in correction of any misrepresentation which he may have suffered he will be permitted to do so.
– I seek an opportunity to make a personal explanation so that I may justify an interjection I made.
– The honorable member has now settled the matter himself, and makes it quite impossible that he should continue with his alleged personal explanation. If he desires to correct a misunderstanding or a false impression concerning himself arising out of any feature of the debate, he must do so during the course of the debate.
– I desire to correct-
– The honorable member is not in order in proceeding now.
– I desire to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the action of certain organized manufacturers in Australia who have entered into association with bodies of organized retail distributors for the purpose of forcing up retail prices beyond anything that could be justified by the cost of production. I find with regard to a number of important commodities that there exists a definite understanding between associations, consisting of retailers and certain powerful groups of manufacturers, that the manufacturers shall not supply their products to traders who are not members of the retailers’ ring or association, formed for the purpose of exploiting the public by means of excessive prices. I believe the facts will show that much of the odium attaching to certain features of public policy should really be directed towards those who enter into such associations for the improper control of prices. It appears to be part of a definite arrangement to force prices in Australia up to an undue level, and I regret that certain of the more important manufacturers who have been in receipt of substantial protection from this Parliament are parties to it.
– Let the Government withdraw the protection.
Mr.CURTIN.- That might be effective in regard to manufacturers operating in Australia, but it would have no effect upon arrangements entered into between manufacturers abroad and retailers here, I suggest that an immediate investigation be made into the relationships existing between manufacturers and distributors’ institutions so that we may learn whether high prices are due to wages as af actor in the cost of production or to the manipulation of prices by arrangement between manufacturers and retailers.
– I should like to know from the Government whether the new definition of unimproved value for taxation purposes will apply to freeholdas well as to leasehold land.
– I do not think there is any doubt about that.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. A misleading impression has been created by a paragraph published in to-day’s issue of the Canberra Times regardingmy visit to Rothbury. The statement has been attributed to me that coal-mining is not hard work, and that statement appears without any context. It is also set forth that I handled a pick for an hour or two, whereas any one acquainted with coal-mining knows that coal is drilled, not picked. I had no interview with the Canberra Times, but I shall seek an opportunity later to say something about the coal industry.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at3.50 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 March 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19300314_reps_12_123/>.