12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
– by leave. - On the motion for adjournment on Friday last the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) referred to a statement which appeared in Smith’s Weekly regarding expropriated properties in New Guinea. Until the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) drew my attention to the matter about half an hour ago, I was not aware that my name was involved. Smith’s Weekly stated inter alia -
Linden says that the fifty-fifty division of the ?22,000 waa “ a business proposition “. Fullerton says so. Present Minister, Frank Anstey, says so. from the context and implication it ib made to appear that a dis graceful piece of blackmail was a business proposition to which I gave my endorsement, I have never at any time made such a statement as that attributed to me. Of course, my denial is worth no more than the affirmation of the other party, but, happily for me, it is supported by my past conduct. When I returned from New Guinea I interviewed Mr. W. G. Harvey, the Custodian of Expropriated Properties, and drew his attention 1o the complaints in New Guinea thai these Germans were not getting even 50 per cent, because the sharks at the- Australian end were taking more than half. I protested against this practice, and told him of rumours in New Guinea that he was a blackmailer, and was receiving the money. He assured me that his hands were perfectly clean, and that except for a period after he first assumed office, he had held that certain properties were wrongfully withheld from the Germans, and that he thought that when they were sold the money realized should be repaid to the original owners. The Treasury, he said, had always rejected that advice, and he invited me to peruse the files. At that time Linden was still holding on to about ?1,000 of the total of ?22,000, and Mr. Harvey used his influence to prevent him from retaining that, sum. It is clear, therefore, that so far from my having said that this blackmail was good business, I assisted to prevent its continuance. I notice that, very late in the day, the Auditor-General has come into the picture. These events took place two years ago, and he has only now drawn attention to them. If he had consulted the files, and the late Custodian of Expropriated Properties, he would have obtained much more information than is contained in his report.
CONSULAR REPRESENTATION in Australia.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the position in. regard to the proposed appointment in the Commonwealth of a consul to’ represent the Russian Soviet Republics in Australia!
– I have the information ready, because I expected some questions on account of the statement that has appeared in a section of the press that I have invited the appointment of a Russian Consul. That would have been quite an unusual and improper procedure. The facts are that in December last the Russian Government inquired, through the British Government, whether the Commonwealth Government had any objection to the appointment of a Russian representative in Australia. In reply, I asked on the 16th January that the Russian Government be informed that the Commonwealth Government would be prepared to accept a Russian consular representative in Australia, subject to the usual condition, that the person proposed was acceptable, and subject also to a reciprocal undertaking in respect of propaganda. At the same time I indicated that the Commonwealth Government did not at present contemplate the appointment of a consular representative in Russia. That is consistent with the present practice under which the Commonwealth Government does not appoint consular representatives of its own, but British consular officials act for it whenever necessary.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether, in view of the reported persecution of the church in Russia, it would not be in the best interests of the Commonwealth if the appointment of a Soviet representative in Australia were postponed, especially as no Australian representative is going to Russia ?
– As to representation in Russia, I have already said what the procedure is. I have told the House what was done last January, as the result of inquiries made in December. All the inquiries and negotiations that took place were conducted through the British Government. Any future action that we may take will also be decided on after consultation between this Government and the Government of Great Britain.
– Will the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) consider the advisability of increasing the duty on wattle bark imported from South Africa ?
– On several occasions the honorable member has strongly represented to me that the duty on wattle bark should be increased from £3 to at least £4 10s. per ton. The matter is receiving the consideration of the Government. For obvious reasons no announcement of its intentions can be made at the present time.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to a paragraph in this morning’s newspapers to the effect that Australian notes are being sold in London for 14s. each? Has he given full consideration to the possible effects of the action of the Government or the Commonwealth Bank in refusing to honour its promise to pay gold upon presentation of the notes? I understand quite well the ill that this procedure is intended to remedy, but does not the right honorable gentleman agree that the remedy is worse than the disease?. Repudiation of the promise made by the Treasurer to pay gold for Commonwealth notes is not calculated-
– The honorable member is not in order in expressing an opinion when asking a question.
– Will the Prime Minister give due consideration to all the circumstances that may arise out of the refusal to redeem the notes?
– There is no obligation on the part of the Commonwealth to redeem Commonwealth notes in London.
– It should redeem them wherever they are presented.
– The right honorable member is quite wrong. The notes bear a promise by the Treasurer to pay gold for them upon presentation at the head office of the Commonwealth Bank in Australia, and I emphatically deny that that obligation is being repudiated. In regard to the restriction of the credits of Australians travelling abroad, that action was taken by all the banks, and not by the Government, although it is approved by the Government. Those persons who are endeavouring to obtain extended and large credits, in order that, as tourists, they may take millions of pounds out of this country are not, under existing conditions, patriotic Australians. Some of. these, because they cannot get all the gold they want are, according to reports, taking away notes and, apparently, endeavouring to sell them in London. That may not do much good to Australia’s credit on. the other side of the world ; but there is absolutely no repudiation on the part of the Commonwealth Bank.
– I wish to know whether the notes shown in the last budget statement, approximating some £5,000,000, were lent to the British Government at the rates of interest therein shown, and whether they were used in London for any particular purpose? Is their circulation in London causing the present situation, and are they being used to meet Commonwealth obligations ?
– Some time ago the Commonwealth Bank Board arranged to remit to London a portion of its reserves, to be held there on behalf of the Commonwealth Notes Fund. That money is held there, not in Australian notes, but in negotiable securities, and as a matter of fact, it has proved very useful in assisting to meet the exchange position.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that in 1917, when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister, the Australian note was selling in Colombo at 15s. 6d.?
– I do remember hearing something about that, but I did not associate the fact with the occupancy of the Prime Minister’s office by the right honorable member for North Sydney.
-It is reported in the Adelaide press that Count J. Pietrasanta, a visitor from Italy, has expressed the following opinion : -
A good portion of the Italian meat supply was imported from the Argentine, but it should bc possible to take much more from Australia. . . Canadian wheat had largely found its way on to the Italian market, but the Australian product, by reason of its blending properties and gluten contents, appeared to offer favorable opportunities for greater use than at present.
In view of the urgent need to increase Australian exports I wish to know whether anything is being done to popularize our products in Italy?
– I can assure the honorable member that the department is doing everything that can be done to exploit every market, not only for wheat and meat, but also for all our other exportable products. This work is in hand, and will be carried out to the best of our ability.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to announce the Government’s decision in regard to the proposed closing down of Jervis Bay Naval College and Duntroon Military College, or other suggestions to amalgamate them, or to lease one for a public school? Bearing in mind the natural anxiety of the parents of the cadets and of the staff of the colleges, I ask the Prime Minister to make an early decision on the matter.
– No proposal to close either of the colleges has been put forward. The Government and the Defence Department are trying to see in what direction we can save some of the cost of running these establishments, which is extraordinarily high. We are now investigating the possibility of amalgamation or retrenchment. We cannot carry on the two. colleges at the existing costs.
– Is there any foundation for the statement attributed to the Minister for Defence in the press as having been made in Adelaide on his way to Western Australia recently, to the effect that the Jervis Bay College would be closed down at an early date ?
– That matter waa under consideration at the time, for reasons that I have already given to this House. After the Prime Minister and myself had visited the Jervis Bay institution, we recognized that, if possible, it should be continued. . It may be interesting to the Leader of the Opposition to know that the expenditure on the two colleges will be cut down at least to the cost of one.
– In view of the critical position of the bush timber-milling industry, as a result of the competition of imported cheap labour foreign timbers, can the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs give any hope of relief to that industry ?
Mr.FORDE.- In reply to the honorable member, who has been actively interested in the timber industry, and also in reply to other honorable gentlemen who have asked questions on the subject, I wish to say that the whole matter is now under consideration, and probably at an early date a decision will be given by the Government.
Dr. MALONEY (through Mr. C.
Riley) asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Has Mr. Broughton Edge’s agreement with the previous Government, to make geophysical surveys in Australia, been terminated?
Was the result of the surveys satisfactory, and when will the Minister issue a report on the subject?
What is the approximate cost of Mr. Edge’s geophysical surveys?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Minister for Trade” and Customs, upon notice -
What was the total value of the overseas trade of Australia for the years ended 30th June, 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1929, in exports as compared with imports?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Government does not think it would be warranted in giving serious consideration to any proposal for the variation of existing loan contracts merely because of changes in price levels.
Duty and Excise
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What amount was received in Customs duty on imported whiskies during the years 1927, 1928, and 1929, and what amount was received in the form of excise duty on Australian whisky during the same period?
– The statistics are recorded in financial years. The figures for the financial years 1926-27, 3927-28, and 1928-29 are as follow :-
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the Canadian Government’s method of handling the national finances has increased the note issue of that dominion since 1927, resulting in unemployment being reduced to only 3.7 pur cent. of the population, will the Treasurer consider the question of an increase in the Australian note issue with a view to lessening the steadily increasing rate of unemployment throughout the Commonwealth, contributing to the destitution and suffering of Australian citizens?
– I do not think that the expansion of the note issue in Canada has had the beneficial effect ascribed to it by the honorable member. The Canadian unemployment statistics show that while the percentage of unemployment in trade unions was 3.7 for part of 1929, it rose to 6 per cent. in October of that year.
– On the 21st March the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in- a position to inform the honorable member as follows: - 1.913 up to 28th February, 1930.
Victoria- 1st June. 1929-1 2th July, 1929.
New South Wales- 15th July, 1929-29th August, . 1929.
Queensland - 2nd September, 1929-1 9th September, 1929.
New South Wales - 23rd September, 1929- 4th October. 1929.
Victoria- 7th October.1929-23rd October, 1929.
South Australia - 24th October. 1929- 31st October, 1929.
Western Australia - 4th November, 1929- 5th December, 1929.
Tasmania - 12th December, 1929-20th December. 1929.
New South Wales- 30th December, 1929- 10th January, 1930.
Victoria - 13th January, 1930-24th January, 1930.
South Australia - 28th January, 1930- 7th February, 1930.
Victoria. -10th February, 1930-28th February, 1930.
New South Wales - 3rd March, 1930- 7th March, 1930.
Queensland - 10th March. 1930-28th March, 1930.
Itinerary No. 1 Assessment Appeal Tribunal -
New South Wales- 1st June, 1929-3rd August, 1929.
Queensland- 5th August, 1929-20th August. 1929.
New South Wales- 2nd September, 1.929- 20th October, 1929.
Queensland - 4th November, 1929-1 8th December, 1929.
Hobart - 3rd January, 1930-23rd January, 1930.
New South Wales - 30th January, 1930- 11th March, 1930.
Queensland - 12th March, 1930.
Itinerary No. 2 Assessment Appeal Tri bunal -
Victoria - 1st June. 1929-9th October, 1929.
South Australia - 1 0th October, 1929- 20th October, 1929.
Western Australia - 23rd October, 1929- 2nd November, 1 929.
South Australia - 5th November, 1929- 21 st November, 1929.
Victoria- 30th November, 1929-12th February, 1930.
South Australia - 13th February, 1930- 28th February, 1930.
Victoria - 1st March, 1930.
New South Wales- 31st March, 1930- 17th April. 1930.
New South Wales- 28th April, 1 930-1 0th May, 1930.
Victoria- 1 9th May, 1930-30th May, 1930.
South Australia - 2nd June, 1 930-5 th June, 1930.
Western Australia - 10th June, 1930-26th June, 1930.
Victoria- 1st July, 1930-4th July, 1930.
New South Wales- 7th July. 1930-1 8th July, 1930.
Queensland - 21st July, 1 930-1 st August, 1930.
New South Wales - 4th August, 1930-1 nth August, 1930.
Future itinerary of Assessment Tribunals has not yet been arranged.
– On the 19th March the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: -
Control of Canteens
– On the 20th March, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follow : -
It is important to note that the canteen system in England covers the army and air force as well as the navy, and entails a special business organization.
The following paper was presented -
Ordered to be printed.
.- I move -
That the passage of the foregoing resolution shall be an instruction to the Government to appoint a royal commission to consider and report upon -
I recognize that the introduction of a subject of this nature on private members’ day may cause it to be regarded as one for purely academic discussion, but, in my opinion, the matter is not considered often enough. We are apt to take it for granted that our present parliamentary system is unalterable, and that we should fit ourselves into it; any proposal that challenges it is too often regarded as presumptuous. This is one of the most difficult reforms that it is possible to bring about, particularly if there is any suggestion in the direction of a reduction of the powers of the executive. Obviously, under our present system, when a party assumes office a proposal to whittle down its powers under the present system is not likely to be greeted with enthusiasm, much less adopted by the Government of the day. A party obtains control and assumes the most extensive, and, one might almost say, dictatorial powers under the present method of government. When with the revolution of fortune’s wheel the Opposition is returned to office, it also readily accepts these powers, and continues to adopt the same dictatorial policy. So we go on from year to year, and from Parliament to Parliament, under the same old system. When it is suggested that we should change it, as I have done in a previous Parliament, we are met with the defence that our present System has taken centuries to develop, and has won renown for the British people, who are credited with having a genius, for self-government. The assumption is that the system of parliamentary procedure laid down by the British House of Commons is one that we in Australia, having slavishly adopted, should continue to follow.
When the hardy pioneers of the Motherland came out to this country to develop it, one of the first things that they did was to claim similar rights and privileges to those enjoyed by them in England. They set up their parliamentary institutions, and, not unnaturally, they modelled them on the lines adopted in the land from which they had come. In all our State Parliaments we have adopted the rules and procedure of the House of Commons. It is true that in our Standing Orders there is a slight modification, but on the whole it can be fairly said that the rules and procedure of the House of Commons nave been closely followed in the Commonwealth and State Parliaments. The assumption is that this system is accepted unreservedly, and is challenged in Britain itself; but that is not the case. There is a growing agitation to-day, even in Westminster, for the alteration of the present system of government. It is rather strange that the agitation for it there is stronger than it is in Australia. I have before me the report of a special commission on the Ceylon Constitution. In 1927 a petition was presented to the British Government by the Legislature of Ceylon, asking it to appoint a commission to visit the country and report on the working of its Constitution, and on any defects in administration that might have arisen in connexion with it. It was also asked that the commission should consider any proposals for the revision of the Constitution, that might be put forward, and report as to what, if any, amendments of the Orders-in-Council now in force should be made. The personnel of the commission was as follows: - TheRight Honorable the Earl of Donoughmore,. P.C., K.P., chairman ; the Bight Honorable Sir Matthew Nathan, P.C. Ireland, G.C.M.G.; Sir Geoffrey Butler, K.B.E., M.P.; and Dr. T. Drummond Shiels, M.C., M.P.
The London Times, in a leading article, commented on the fact that the commission had not recommended that the British system should be slavishly followed by Ceylon. On page 42 of the commission’s report, I find the following remarks under the heading, “Modern democratic tendencies” -
And here we should like to say toy way of interpolation that even if the possibility of party-government were more conceivable than we think it to be, the Ceylonose might none the less resent their subjection to such features of it as are deplored by a growing body of democratic opinion. It is no secret that within political parties in Great Britain inquiries ore constantlybeing undertaken to ascertain whether the machinery of Parliament cannot be reformed so as to make it more responsive to public opinion. It is frequently contended that with every session the subordination of the House of Commons to the Cabinet increases, and that the occasions on which members of the House are permitted to record a free vote are becoming less and less frequent. It is certainly true that the subjection of the private member and the gradual obliteration of his individuality has been increasingly conspicuous at Westminster in recent years. Nor is this the case in the British Parliament alone; the protest of the individual against his supersession, whether in parliamentary institutions or in other deliberative bodies, is almost world-wide. While in other countries experiments have been made with the object of restoring the authority of the individual member of the Legislature, no definite measures have as yet ‘been proposed* in Great Britain for the remedy of the present state of affairs; it cannot bc doubted, however, that substantial modifications in the existing procedure will not be long delayed.
– What is the date of that report?
– It was presented to the British Parliament in 1928. Under the present system, we have what that commission referred to as the growing domination of the executive, and every student of parliamentry institutions in this country should recognise it. Acting on the rather plausibly expressed principle that where we have responsible government we must have responsibility of the executive, there has grown up in Australia, in this and in the State Parliaments’, and probably more in this legislature than in those of the States, a growing domination of the executive, which has reached such a stage that it can be fairly said that, so far from the Parliament controlling the executive, the executive for some considerable time past has actually dominated the Parliament. Let me review what occurs to-day. In discussing this subject I shall not criticize the present Government nor any other Government. I shall endeavour to deal with the principle in a dispassionate manner.
Under the existing system we have tin executive which has very great power. Theoretically it is under the control of Parliament when Parliament is sitting. When Parliament is not sitting it has complete charge of public affairs. It administers our various departments; expends huge sums of public money voted by Parliament for public purposes ; makes important appointments to the Public Service; and discharges a thousand and one other duties. It decides when Parliament shall sit and rise, and determines the nature and order of parliamentary business. Frequently, under the present system, this all powerful executive arrogates to itself power that rightly belongs to Parliament. To illustrate my point, I shall give two concrete cases ; one of which relates to the previous administration and one to the present Government. Again I repeat that I am not criticizing these Governments for acting as they did ; they merely conformed to the practice that has grown up. Nor shall I discuss the wisdom or folly of the decisions made.
During a recess in the previous Parliament the executive decided, and announced, that the Commonwealth system of compulsory industrial arbitration must be abandoned. This involved the scrapping of fourteen or fifteen acts of parliament. The decision was of far reaching importance to the whole Commonwealth. The executive did not consult Parliament, nor even the members of its own party before making the decision. The decision was first announced in the press. It might be said that the Government had to obtain parliamentary approval of the decision before it could become effective, but it came to Parliament committed to the policy. Parliament, in that case, decided not to approve of the action that had been taken. The then Prime Minister thereupon advised the representative of the Crown that Parliament should he dissolved and the advice was accepted.
My second illustration, which “relates to the present Government, is equally apt. While Parliament was not sitting this Government decided to abandon compulsory military training as a part of our defence system. I shall not comment upon the merits of the decision, except to say that I. approve of it. The point is that a question of such vital importance to Australia should not have been determined before Parliament was consulted. If there is one thing that should be put above party considerations, it is our defence policy. But the executive came to Parliament irrevocably committed to the abandonment of compulsory military training.
The executive is, as a matter of fact, a secret junta which dominates Parliament’.
– Parliament must have given authority to the Minister for Defence to make such a decision.
– In my recollection no authority was given for the abandonment of compulsory military training.
– The honorable mem- ber is wrong there, otherwise the action of the Minister would he illegal.
– What happens is that the executive makes the decision and then takes it, not to Parliament, but to the party room. For many years we heard a great deal about the caucus methods and rigid discipline of the Labour party, but my experience is that the parties on this side of the House have equalled, if not exceeded, the Labour party in those respects. The inference to be drawn from the Treasurer’s interjections is that after all Parliament is the deciding authority. But the power of Parliament is more apparent than’ real. Rightly or wrongly, wisely or unwisely, national decisions are now made, not m the chambers of the legislature, but behind the locked doors of the party room. Let us not humbug ourselves by saying that this is a deliberative assembly where national problems are discussed and decided. They arc discussed here, hut they are decided elsewhere. This chamber is now merely an open forum where party debates are staged. Honorable members on both sides of the House troop into the chamber like well drilled and disciplined bodies. They know they must stand by the caucus decisions. I have played the party game and I know the facts. I am not condemning any particular government, but only the system.
Honorable members know very well that, as a general rule, caucus meets at 11 a.m. The members of the Government, after having given many weeks of study to the great problems which face the country, and having consulted the permanent heads of the public departments and accumulated a mass of information, enter the party room and submit their decisions to the caucus. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. the members of the Ministerial party are faced with the impossible task of assimilating the information given to them. Of course they cannot do it. They may talk a lot, and make their protest, but the decisions of the executive arc almost invariably accepted. They are then brought into this chamber for approval; but this is merely-a matter of form. We all know that that is what takes place.
– Section 140 of the Defence Act lays it down that the
Governor-General may suspend the compulsory provisions of the act. Parliament gave him that authority.
– Technically, that may be so, and I accept the honorable member’s reading of the act. In reality, however, such power should not be exercised without the consent of Parliament. What I object to, and what is being objected to more and more in Great Britain, is the subjection of the rights of private members. The average private member not in the Ministry is merely a party puppet. He is a clerk for his constituency and nothing more. Even the outside public are being drilled and disciplined along party lines. An individual member may give a pledge to do or not to do a certain thing; but when he enters this House he may be faced with a situation in which, if he carries out his pledge to his constituents, he may upset a government. Governments have been upset on the vote of a single member, as the last Government was. The member may desire to keep his pledge, but if he keeps it he may have to accept the responsibility of defeating the Government, throwing the country into political turmoil, and saddling it with the cost of another election. Faced with that position he gives his vote, not as he promised, but to save his political party. The people to whom he has pledged himself to vote in a certain way read in the press that he has actually voted in an exactly opposite way. In consequence, there has grown up among the public a feeling of contempt for members of parliament and parliamentary institutions. The evil of the present system lies in the fact that the executive must at all times command a majority in Parliament. It is that which leads to strict voting on party lines, and prevents individual members from exercising a free and unfettered judgment upon the issues brought before Parliament. Any system which prevents members of Parliament from exercising their individual judgment is not good, and an attempt should be made to alter it.
It may be said that the evils of the present system are more easily pointed out than remedied. I think that it is the duty of any one who attempts to point out the faults of the existing parliamentary system, to make some attempt to supply the remedy. I am aware that the system of elective ministries is one that has Deen debated for many years. It has been discussed in this Parliament, and in the various State Parliaments from time to time.
In theory the ideal system would he one in which the executive was selected from the whole of the Parliament, and was representative of its best men. Still one must deal with the matter from the practical point of view. Wisely or unwisely we have in operation the party system of government. ‘ Looking at the thing frankly, one must recognize that the party system is but a manifestation of that social tendency which leads men who think alike to band themselves together to achieve their common object. However much one may deplore- the party system, one must recognize the fact that we have it with us, and any attempt to set it aside by academic debate or the moving of resolutions is merely a waste of time. We must recognize that the reforms of our parliamentary system must be gradual if it is to be effective. Any sudden departure from established tradition would be fraught with danger. The system of elective ministries is in active operation in Switzerland. I referred a little while ago to the secret meetings of Cabinet. In this connexion I propose to quote from a work entitled The Government of Switzerland, by Vincent. Dealing with the cabinet- system, he says -
In Switzerland the federal cabinet ls a creation of the federal legislature, and each secretary holds a separate commission. Tenure of office is not dependent on the president, but is fixed by the constitution at a definite term of years. .”Re-election is possible, but always at the hands of a new legislature. Practically, cabinets in America have a fixed term of four years, but in Switzerland a faithful official has a legal claim upon a three years’ tenure, of which he may not be deprived except by a decree of court. Hence this is not a parliamentary ministry, which rises and falls with the measures which it advocates. It is usually elected by the party of the majority, but does not feel called upon to resign when one of its bills fails to pass. The proposal of legislation is one of the duties laid upon the council; it is expected to lead the way in making and changing federal law, but it has no autocratic monopoly of initiative even within its own party. Any member of the chambers may move the adoption of a bill, but all are submitted to the council for an opinion, and must be returned within a per-, tain time . . . When, however, projects urged or approved by the cabinet are rejected by the legislature, the ordinary parliamentary result does not take place. The self-respect of Ministers is not called in question, because they were elected for the very purpose of giving their honest opinion on legislative proposals, and if this opinion does not agree with that of the legislature, they prepare bills which will be acceptable. Instances are rare witera Ministers resign on account of disagreement with their colleagues or with the majority, and tenure usually depends on their own will in the matter. Men who have proved capable administrators are kept in office term after term. . . . This long tenure has been partly due to the fact that the same party, or some shade of it, has been in power most of the time; but parties have not always upheld the projects of their own’ Ministers, and yet when their terms expired have given the men a re-election. It has also happened that good executive abilities have brought men of different parties into the same cabinet, and tinmachinery of government has run as smoothly as if there were no political differences.
One means hy which we might give private members of Parliament more power in the government of the country would he by the extension of the present committee system. We have already two Standing Parliamentary Committees, the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Works Committee. Members of all parties serve on these committees, and I think that it can be fairly said that they work harmoniously and render good serviceBut there is room for reform. Those committees are too large; their numbers could be reduced with advantage. The Public Accounts Committee roams about the Commonwealth making inquiries after money has been spent. Its powers could be increased with benefit to the Commonwealth. In addition, we might’ have a permanent, standing, committee on defence. To-day,, the Government is considering the fateof the Military College at Duntroon and the Naval College at Jervis Bay. That and other proposals affecting the defence of the country could well be referred to a parliamentary committee. Defenceshould be a non-party matter. The Parliament should appoint a committee,, representative of all parties, towhich any proposal regarding defence could be referred for inquiry and report. The committeewould take evidence from naval and military officers, inspect bases, dockyards, fortifications and ships, and submit . to the-
Government a report upon which it could act. The committee system would give to individual members of Parliament an insight into the major problems of the day. We might very well appoint also an agricultural committee to which could be referred such current problems as the proposed compulsory wheat pool, relief of the wine industry, and assistance to the tobacco industry. Contrast the procedures adopted in regard to wine and tobacco. The Ministry’s decision regarding the wine industry is largely based upon the advice of departmental officers ; honorable members know very little of this intricate enterprise. The tobacco industry, however, is being investigated by a select committee, and as a result of its inquiries individual members will be able to speak authoritatively on its details and ramifications. Instead of a Minister having to run to the back of the Speaker’s chair to ask a public servant what answer should be returned to a certain proposal or criticism, the answer should be furnished by informed members of the House. Under the present system of government by a dominant executive backed up by the Public Service, the public servants are governing the country, and to a large extent, dominate the legislature. The great advantage of an extension of the committee system would be that honorable members could obtain 1 first-hand information for the guidance of their fellow members. To-day, the average member is a mere voting machine. Particularly since the transfer of Parliament to Canberra, time hangs heavily on his hands ; he could be more fully employed.
– The honorable member must speak for himself.
– I am doing so. I shudder at the thought of having the responsibility of speaking for the honorable member. Many private members would be willing to give more of their time to the study of the problems of this Parliament if they were permitted to do so, and we would be better served if instead of relying on public servants to advise individual Ministers, private members were in a position to gain firsthand information regarding many problems. This Parliament should be the dominant body in the governmental system; at present it is not, and, if the existing methods continue, it never will be.
Every member should be free to cast an impartial vote on the merits of any issue submitted to the House.
Another objection to the present system of cabinet responsibility is the upheaval that follows each change of government. Policies are reversed, sometimes violently, and each such reversal involves the waste of a great deal of public money. The last Government set up a costly Development and Migration Commission, which proceeded to surround itself with an expert staff. It incurred a great deal of expenditure and claimed that it was just getting its machinery into working order, and commencing to produce results, when the change of government took place. I offer no comment upon the wisdom or otherwise of the present Government’s action in abolishing that commission, but it is obvious that much public money has been wasted by this violent reversal of policy. There are similar occurrences in connexion with individual appointments. The last Government appointed Mr. Haines to be Australian Trade Commissioner in Canada at a certain salary for a definite number of years. Mr. Haines had been in Canada only a few months when the change of Government occurred, and he either resigned or was recalled and a new appointment was made. These abrupt changes of policy are not conducive to good government. Rightly or wrongly, parliamentary institutions do not possess the esteem of the people ; they are regarded by many persons almost with contempt, and one reason is the impractical and undemocratic system under which we operate. Are the rules and procedure of this House permanent ? Musi we continue for all time to operate the existing machinery simply’ because it is still in use in Great Britain where it originated? Australia has led the world in industrial and social legislation, and surely it is capable of taking the initiative in regard to the machinery of government. The Labour party proudly proclaims that it stands for the rights of the people, for democratic government, and the supremacy of parliamentary institutions. I remind honorable members of the unpleasant truth that ministries come and go. The present Government, like all others, will serve . for a time and then cease to be. Ministers are in power to-day, nobody knows where they will be to-morrow.
This Government now has an opportunity to achieve something enduring, to make some voluntary move that will distribute responsibility and make this particular chamber what it was intended to be, a truly deliberative chamber in which decisions should, and will, be made upon their merits. I am well aware that in putting up the plea in this House for a reform of our parliamentary system, I am largely beating my hands against a stone wall; but honorable members may take it from me that the time will come when the procedure and the customs of this Parliament will be altered. If they are not altered within this Parliament, they will be altered from without.
Mr. THOMPSON (New England) 3.46] . - I have much pleasure in seconding the motion.
– Is it permissible for two speakers belonging to the one party to follow one another in the debate?
– A private member’s notice of motion cOmes under Standing Order 97 that requires a motion to be seconded, and the seconder may exercise his right to speak when he rises to second the motion, or he may formally second it, and reserve the right to speak later.
– I wish to express my approval in the main of the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). I had the honour of seconding a similar motion moved by the honorable gentleman some years ago, when the Parliament was sitting in Melbourne; but unfortunately at that time the debate was not finalized. J. sincerely hope that nothing will be done to prevent the House from taking a vote on this motion, because, if a vote is taken, it will be the first time that, this subject has come to a decision in any parliament, in this country at all events. I have not been able to find any instance of a State parliament taking a vote on this subject, and I think that the very fact of a vote being taken immediately after the discussion will attract a good deal of attention to it among the people, and perhaps give an impetus to the greater consideration of a impetus to the greater consideration of a than is popularly supposed.
It is generally assumed that the subject of elective ministries is purely an academic one, and more suitable for a suburban debating society than for serious consideration by a parliament. There are many such assumptions that arc very popular outside Parliament. The speech of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) indicated clearly that there is a good deal in this subject, and that it would be a good thing indeed for the political welfare of Australia if members would treat it a little more seriously than they do at present. I admit that, at first, it seems utterly impracticable to institute a system of elective ministers in a parliament of Australia, mainly for the reason that wo ave wedded to the party system. Our whole political system is based upon British custom and parliamentary tradition, and we know that the very foundation and superstructure of the British parliamentary system is a cabinet responsible to the Sovereign. Any student of politics in Australia will, if he looks deeply into the subject, question whether there is any necessity for Australia to follow blindly in the footsteps of Great Britain in respect of parliamentary tradition. We seem to have grown up in an intellectual atmosphere in which it is assumed that unless something is done in Great Britain, unless- there is a British precedent, it is dangerous for us to institute anything new. It is predicted by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. ‘Stewart) that the day will come when we shall go our own way in a lot of matters, and that we will not consider it necessary to have British precedent for everything that we do. Up to the present we have not yet reached that stage of intellectual freedom.
It is popularly supposed that the theory of elective ministries is a thoroughly impracticable one, but when we look into it we find that it is not so impracticable after all. It is simply a matter of the will to do. Parliament can do anything that it likes, and there is nothing in the wide world, excepting political alignments, to prevent the members of this Parliament from trying as an experiment the election of a Cabinet from this House ‘ on the basis of proportional representation. That would mean that the largest party in the House would have the greatest representation in the Cabinet, and the other parties would have representation in proportion to their strength. That seems all right in view of the stage that we have reached to-day, and which was reached in 1925, when one party had an overwhelming preponderance of strength in the House and the Opposition appeared to be a negligible quantity. But that position is likely to alter. In 1925 it did not appear as though the party in opposition would reach the treasury bench for at least another ten years. The political atmosphere altered, and new currents of thought began to flow, and inside of four years the large majority which one party had was dissipated and the Labour party came back with an even greater majority. The same thing is likely to happen again. There is nothing more certain than that the party now occupying the treasury bench will, at some time or other, again occupy the Opposition side of the House. Tinder these circumstances the present system may be quite satisfactory.
– How long will the present Government last?
– At the rate that it is going, probably twelve months or two years. The Government will be wise to make the most of its opportunities during the next two years and not to take any risks at the next election. “When the party numbers are as close as they were in the last- Parliament, when two or three men practically held the balance of power, we see the evils of running a country on the old established political lines. Although there is in theory a definite Cabinet responsibility, that is merely fiction because the responsibility for governing the country rests really upon two or three members, and not upon the whole of parliament. There is sitting in this chamber at the present moment a member who assumed the responsibility of defeating the late Government. He had his reasons for so doing, and at the elections the electors endorsed his action.
But at that time the whole of the responsibility of the government of the country was assumed by that particular member.^ The same situation may arise again.
– That is the only defect of the present system mentioned by the honorable member so far.
– Tha t situation may happen again. It has happened in the State parliaments. “We have had the spectacle of the ministries of various State parliaments simply living from moment to moment, depending upon the whim or goodwill of one particular individual.
– Under the elective system could not a vote of censure be passed ou a Minister by a majority of one?
– In that event, the vote of censure would be carried by the whole House on non-party lines.
– How would the honorable member guarantee non-party lines ?
– The answer to that is simple. “We know that honorable members on a great many issues do not. vote according to their conscience. We know very well that in spite of party affiliation, it very often happens that the majority of members behind the Government are not in sympathy with it on a particular matter, but out of party loyalty or fear of the consequences to themselves or to their party, they line up and support the Government. In that case the Government, because of the misjudgment or error of one Minister, would be placed in the position of having to rely upon the loyalty of its followers. Cabinet is generally supposed to stand behind its Ministers just as the partyis supposed to stand behind an individual member, provided that it is possible to do so. Under the elective system, if a Minister committed a serious error of judgment, or was guilty of some dereliction of duty, it would not be necessary for the whole of the Ministry to retire in disgrace. It would simply be a matter of the House passing a resolution expressing an opinion upon the Minister’s conduct, and if that were construed as being a vote of censure, the Minister would automatically retire and his place would he filled by some other member. Under the elective system we would not have the continual crises that occur in politics under the present system. Unless the parties are in great disparity, as they are at present in this House, the political situation is absolutely unstable. When the parties are fairly even and the Government is dependent upon one, two, or three votes, there is no stability from one end of the country to the other. The Ministry is unable to tackle any measure with courage or initiative, and the Opposition is continually making overtures to the members who hold the balance of power. The life of the Ministry is virtually a dog’s life, and the political situation is reflected in the state of the country. There is unrest and a general expectation of an election at any time. Unless there is a wide disparity in the parties, we are not likely, under the present system, to get stable or continuous government. It may be contended that one great drawback of the elective system is that it is mainly a theoretical one except, of course, in Switzerland, and that if, for instance, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) were placed in the present Cabinet they would not agree.
– I should certainly not agree with the honorable member for Wimmera.
– Those gentlemen would be absolutely impossible as far as the Government is concerned. It might happen that the Treasurer would not see eye to eye with the honorable member for Warringah, and, in that case, it might be said that the Cabinet would be unable to function, its members acting like a lot of Kilkenny cats. That is only theory. It would not work out so in practice. We know very well that a lot of the arguments used in Cabinet would be absolutely unacceptable to the honorable member for Warringah. Cabinet would, perhaps, be dominated by its majority of Labour members, and, therefore, the honorable member for Warringah would have to conform to the necessities of the occasion. Realizing that he was in the minority, all that he would have the privilege of doing would be to express his view like any ordinary honorable member. That would not involve his retirement from the
Cabinet or amount to- an expression of want of confidence in the Cabinet. He would have the same right as any other honorable member to disagree with the other members of the Cabinet and to give his reasons for so doing. If the majority of members in the House, when the bill in question was before them, took the same view as the honorable member for Warringah, his attitude would be vindicated. In that case, the rest of the members of the Cabinet would not be called upon to resign. They would pat him on the back and take more notice of his opinion in the future. There are big possibilities in this proposal. I do not say that it will be acceptable to a cast-iron organization such as that of the Labour party; but I believe that the day will come when the principle will attract more attention from all parties. It is regarded as a tragedy when men of proved ability in the political life of the country are suddenly withdrawn from that political life. In every government there is a percentage of men of exceptional ability who stand out above their fellows. It is admitted, even by their victorious opponents, that when such men are turned out of office, perhaps in the prime of life and the heyday of their ambition, the country suffers a great loss. Even if later they are returned to power, their confidence, courage, and initiative are crippled. If the Parliament as a whole considered that the services of such men should be continued, whatever party was in the majority at the time, they would always be available to their country.
There is another drawback which is often stressed. It has been said, “ You may be able to adjust this matter among yourselves - because, in spite of their political affinities and differences, politicians are good fellows towards each other - you may be able to settle down harmoniously under a ministry elected on a non-party basis, but what are you going to do in the country? How will the Labour party explain to its supporters its reason for having taken into the Cabinet a man who is regarded as holding the very antithesis of Labour opinion?” I believe that if the political organizations decided to give this principle a chance, the people would accept their decision, just as they now accept drastic or experimental legislation. They do not spend their time in thinking over or worrying about all these matters. If in the press tomorrow the statement appeared that the different political parties had decided, in the interests of Australia, to experiment with elective ministries, does any honorable member think that the average citizen would be unable to eat his breakfast?
– Whenever there is a grave crisis the first action taken is to abandon the party system of government.
– Exactly. When the war broke out in 1914, the party System of government broke down, and a non-party war-time Cabinet was appointed, because public opinion was totally opposed to the continuation of party differences.
– That happened- in England and Canada, but not in Australia.
– It would have happened in Australia if this country had been invaded. We were able to carry on the existing system because we were- outside the sphere of hostilities, and even then the party differences were not very acute. If the enemy had landed on our shores, would the people have tolerated for a moment the divisions that at present separate political organizations ?
– They would not tolerate elective ministries, either. In war time the practice has been to carry on under the autocracy of one man.
– Would not elective ministries provide the only practicable and common-sense method of facing such a difficulty? Australia may never have to meet such a crisis as that with which the people of Great Britain had to contend during the war years; but we have other difficulties, such as those which are causing us so much concern at the present time. On every hand we hear it argued that these problems should be threshed out in a non-party spirit. The majority of the people of this country, particularly those who are out of work, do not view sympathetically the party differences that prevent those problems from being solved. If they could be convinced that all parties were agreeable to the formation of a cabinet consisting of the outstanding men in the Parliament they would be highly elated, and instead of getting kicks or curses we would be acclaimed with cheers. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) and I appear more or less in the role of super-idealists.
– Lone fishermen.
– Very often lone fishermen catch fish, if they angle long enough.
– They have more chance of catching fish than have those who cast their lines in a crowd.
– This matter has not had sufficient publicity. The best way to educate the people on such an abstract question is to raise it in Parliament. It is five years since the question was first brought up. Its revival has been prevented by the causes to which the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) referred in his indictment of the present cabinet system.
There is only one other argument which I wish to adduce in support of elective ministries. That is, that everywhere cabinet systems that have followed the British model are breaking down. The report of the royal commission on alterations to the Australian Constitution contains references to this aspect of the matter by constitutionalists. They say that the old established cabinet system of Great Britain is sagging at the knees, that there are obvious signs that it is very nearly at death’s door, and that some very radical change will have to take place in the not distant future. That is what is happening in Australia. If it is to work logically, the existing cabinet system must have two-partyism as its basis. As soon as three or more parties are in the field it begins to display many of its natural defects.
– That is more an argument against the parliamentary system than against the cabinet system.
– The report of the royal commission on the alteration of the Constitution quotes authorities who say that in Great Britain the intrusion of a greater number of parties is completely altering the character of the cabinet system. That applies also in Australia ; because it becomes necessary for a majority of the parties virtually to form one party to make the system workable. When there is a tremendous majority representing one political organization, as there %is at the present time, the position is comparatively simple; but when the parties are closer in number, and you have a party like that to which I belong holding the balance of power, it becomes necessary to decide two questions - 1. Whether that party will join with another party to carry out a continuous policy and maintain the form of responsible government; or 2. Whether it will refuse to accept that responsibility, and will sit in a corner to gain a political advantage by tormenting the party that it has allowed to take office. We are witnessing that spectacle in every State, but particularly in Victoria, at the present time.
– The way to overcome that is for a party to be defeated.
– That remedywould be too drastic. Pursued to its logical conclusion, it simply means that the only possible alternative to the present system is for one party to be smashed at the polls. That would not be in the interests of the people. Very much better results are obtained when the parties are reasonably close. It is well known that the two sets of political opinions in this country are reasonably alike, and become widely divergent only upon some extraordinary issue such as was raised at the last election.
There is the further advantage that if ministries were elected within the House we should probably have Cabinet. Ministers who held the confidence of all parties. Under the Cabinet system, particularly as it is applied by those who sit on this side of the House, the men who attain Cabinet rank do not always possess the confidence even of their own party. Although I differ politically from the Labour party, I strongly approve of the system which it adopts, under which the rank and file appoint Ministers. That seems to me to be the natural corollary of the party system. Certain sections may run tickets, but in practice we find that whenever a man has been chosen by the party, whatever irritations or jealousies may exist at the moment, speedily disappear, because it is recognized that no man can be elected by a majority of his party unless he has some merit; he must have made some impression upon the imagination, or the goodwill of his party, and therefore has a claim to the position which a man chosen by another man does not necessarily have. We know that under the British system of one man selecting twelve, thirteen or fourteen other men to share with him the responsibility of government, all sorts of awkward situations arise. Being human, that man naturally picks those with whom he is friendly. He probably has a friend whom he wishes to include in the Ministry, irrespective of what merits he may possess. The person chosen may have a flair for intrigue, and his inclusion in the Cabinet may have the effect of drawing his fangs. Many of our Prime Ministers and Premiers, on the other hand, pick men because of their weakness, so that they will not shine by comparison either with the head of the Government; or one or two of his “cronies.” That has happened times out of number in the political history of Australia-, and has had a greater effect than any other factor in bringing about the failure of cabinets. Of course, it is a political axiom that a cabinet can be too strong. But the strength of a chain is no greater than that of its weakest link; and it is frequently found that the weakest members of the Cabinet do not possess the confidence of the House. For that reason the system adopted by the Labour party is preferable. Why should it not apply all round? Why not apply it fo the whole Parliament? We should take our courage in our hands, bring the whole House together, and say - “ Now we will elect a ministry consisting of the best men in this House.” What an impression that would make on the people of Australia. We might make a mistake, I admit. A particular member might secure election on a ticket, but the fact would remain that he would .be appointed to the Ministry by a majority of the Parliament, and his words would carry more weight with the people than those of a member selected by a Prime Minister or a State Premier.
I strongly endorse the proposal of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) for the development of the committee idea. As one who has had some experience of committee work, I think that one of the great weaknesses of the present system is the fact that there is not enough work for members to do. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) insinuated that those members who had work to do could do it; but he is probably not one of those who are more or less at a loose end in Canberra. Members have different interests and activities; they would not be in Parliament if they had not some ability. Certain members have occupied seats in this House for years, and because they are merely filling the role of party hacks it is presumed that all they need do is to record their votes as occasion demands it. Apart from party considerations, it would be much better to give all members work to do.
– Does the honorable member suggest that they should be paid for it?
– No. They should be allowed the travelling expenses that arc paid to the members of certain committees. The Cabinet would receive much more assistance from parliamentary com.mittees than from paid commissions. Members would then take more interest than they now do in their parliamentary duties, instead of running round their electorates on missions that are not of much value. They would be earning their parliamentary salaries, and would become specialists in certain classes of work. Why should not men like the honorable member “for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), who are experts on agricultural matters, l«3 members of a committee to assist the Government in handling such problems as that relating to the wheat industry? Committee work is a most valuable form of education for a parliamentarian. Through it he gets into touch with the heads of government departments, and probably alters his opinion in regard to them. He realizes what a capable class of men they are, and how ready they are to give Parliament the benefit of their experience. The member himself may have a lazy streak in him, but when he joins a committee he- has to focus his brains on a certain problem, and assist in the presentation of a report that will be helpful to Parliament. I contend that the reports presented to this House by the Works and Public Accounts Committees, as well as by minor committees, have always attracted more notice in Parliament than those of royal commissions, because it is realized that members of the House apply the parliamentary mind to the problems under consideration and give of their best on non-party lines.
– A royal commission is asked for, under the terms of the present motion.
– Yes; but it is n means to an end.
– I am willing to alter the motion in that respect.
– Such committees are practically the basis of parliamentary work in the United States of America. More is heard of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate in that country than of the Congress. If the motion before us does no more than induce the Government to experiment further with committee work it will have more than justified itself. I strongly urge upon the Government, and particularly upon the Treasurer, who has had a long experience as a State Minister, the desirability of seeing if more use can be made of the suppressed ability of private members. [Quorum formed.]
– This motion seems to me rather an attempt to realize what I regard as an unachievable ideal, than a proposal to .deal with something in the realm of practical politics. Arguments can be found to support the principle of elective ministries, but the honorable member for Wimmera (Mi1. Stew-art) and the honorable member who supported him have failed, I think, to convince the House that it is capable of practical application. It is true, as he said, that under the present constitution it is within the capacity of the present Government to bring such a change as -he favours into our parliamentary and governmental system; but I do not think that he seriously regards that as practicable. A government that has been returned after it has placed its policy before the people, is pledged to carry out that policy, to submit the measures for which it has a mandate. It cannot disregard its responsibility for doing this by inviting Parliament to select as Ministers, irrespective of their political views, a certain number of members who opposed this issue at the general election.
– Does the Treasurer suggest that the present system is permanent and unalterable?
– No; I say that the proposal is not within the realm of practical politics to-day, and it certainly could not be given effect during the life of this Parliament, if the present administration is to carry out its policy.
– Would not a ministry elected under those conditions have power to carry out its policy?
– An elected ministry might consist of two or three members of the Nationalist party, two members of the Country party, and eight or nine members of the Labour party. These men would differ fundamentally on vital matters of policy that had been in issue before the election. Who then would determine what course the Government should pursue in regard to them? There would be a discussion round the Cabinet table, and the dominant section of the Cabinet would carry the day. It might determine to bring in a proposal to. alter fundamentally the arbitration laws, introducing a measure at variance with the policy favoured by the Nationalists. If that were done, would the Nationalist members remain in the Cabinet and support the measure? In such circumstances, the scheme is seen to be wholly unworkable.
With an elective ministry each Minister might formulate his own legislative proposals and alone take responsibility for them. That is a system that has been advocated, but it implies disunity in administration. It means the splitting up of ministerial control of departments and legislation. Under that system there would be twelve or thirteen separate units, with each ministerial head- taking sole responsibility for the legislation he initiated; and being answerable, not to the Cabinet, but directly to Parliament. There would be a lack of co-ordination under such a system, which I am sure would lead to greater confusion than now obtains.
– Does not the Treasurer think that .the system would adjust itself in practice?
– I do not contend that it is impossible to bring the elective system into operation ; nor am I denying that there may -be advantages in it; I am mentioning its main defects, which, to my mind, make its introduction impracticable.
This Parliament is now elected on a party basis. If the Prime Minister, who has a commission from the GovernorGeneral to form a ministry, surrendered that commission, and was recommissioned to form a fresh ministry from any part of the House, it could be done under our present Constitution. If this House voted as one unit for the selection of twelve colleagues of the Prime Minister, which section would prevail? The majority would prevail, and the Labour party could elect the twelve. The honorable member has suggested that proportional representation should be adopted, and that implies the continuance of the party system. The real reason why we cannot operate in this country, or in any British country, the elective system advocated this afternoon, is that, we have party divisions, not only in Parliament, but also outside it. Let us consider our political history. There is always a clamour outside for reform, which is repeated sooner or later in the Parliament. Take the rise of the Labour party. Was there not a Labour movement outside Parliament before Labour was represented in Parliament?
– The Labour party became popular by reason of its policy.
– The honorable member may say that parties grow in strength, unity and force after they get parliamentary representation, but undoubtedly they exist before they have any representation in Parliament. That is exemplified in the history of the Labour party. The first Labour contingent in the New South Wales Parliament, which numbered 37, was elected in 1891. The first Queensland Labour contingent, which numbered fifteen, was elected in 1893. But in both States the Labour move was strong, numerically and in sentiment outside of Parliament long before those years. Parliamentary representation of political parties is the outgrowth of organization outside of Parliament. We cannot ignore this fact, moreover we cannot dispense with the party system by anything that we may do here.
The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) referred to what he described as the “ evils “ which have arisen from the party system, and machine politics, which is one of the concomitants of the party system. That problem must be attacked outside, and not inside of Parliament. An attempt was made to justify the abolition of the party system in the constitution of ministries, by pointing to a few instances of extraordinary executive action by Ministers. It was suggested that the power and authority of Parliament was being subordinated to, flouted, or whittled away, by the growing strength of executive governments; but the instances the honorable member quoted were unhappy. Cases have undoubtedly occurred of Ministers exceeding their authority, and flouting Parliament. Some Ministers may have arrogated to themselves authority which properly belongs to Parliament, but that has rarely happened under the Australian system of government. When it does happen it can be remedied immediately by Parliament.
– Such instances might be remedied if members of Parliament were free to vote on the merits of the case.
– If they are not free so to vote the fault is not in the parliamentary or cabinet system; it lies somewhere else. The honorable member said that members of Parliament entered this chamber with gyves on their wrists, and that they were, in fact, caucus slaves. That is an impeachment of an evil quite apart from the particular subject that we are discussing. Every honorable member of this House is free to speak his mind if he chooses to do so.
– I know what happened to a few honorable members who spoke their mind in the last Parliament on the subject of arbitration.
– There are times when a member feels constrained to remain silent; and that constraint would exist at times under any system of parliamentary government. If men find it necessary and wise to act in’ unison for the achievement of a common policy, they must extend loyalty to each other. It is only by that means that they can do anything to achieve common ideals in Parliament or elsewhere. Nothing that we can devise here can remove that fundamental weakness, if it is a weakness, in our system of parliamentary control.
The executive does, I suppose, tend to grow in strength. At any rate there is a variation in the degree of authority it exercises in ‘different periods. There may develop in the course of our history a weakness in legislative power and a strength in executive authority. At other times there may be a weakening of executive authority and a strengthening of parliamentary authority. But Parliament can at all times control that. If Parliament feels that the executive is exercising too much authority and going too far in its administrative acts, it can take steps to rectify the position.
– By upsetting the Government and creating political turmoil.
– The process may be painful, but it can be carried out. One way in which the executive exercises more authority than heretofore is by making regulations, proclamations and orders in council, but the power to do this has been conferred upon it in the statutes approved by Parliament. I have often heard honorable members criticize proposals in hills to give the executive power to make regulations, but Parliament still does it.
– Parliament cannot go into every detail of the subjects with which it deals.
– That is so. Parliament recognizes that it would be foolish to clutter up the statute-book with all kinds of details, and it entrusts the executive with authority to determine details of policy. There is a tendency also for the executive to exercise a growing control over the public purse. It is a tradition that is treasured in British communities that Parliament must control the public purse. As a matter of fact, Parliament does control the expenditure of public moneys either by appropriation before the expenditure is incurred or, if the money is spent before an appropriation is made, by requiring the submission” of supplementary estimates which are almost invariably approved. In many instances in recent years, supplementary estimates have been passed by this Parliament without any examination or a word of criticism. I have always contended that Parliament should jealously guard its privilege of controlling public expenditure, and should insist upon its right to demand an explanation of all expenditure from the ministerial heads of the various departments. There is a tendency for the Commonwealth Parliament to take this responsibility rather lightly.
– Parliament cannot alter the Estimates.
– If it does so, its action amounts to a motion of censure upon the Government.
– It is true that by reducing a proposed vote or refusing to pass a Supply Bill, Parliament exercises one of its vital powers. Parliament is not compelled to endorse the expenditure of any ministry or the expenditure of any single Minister.
– It may desire to censure a particular Minister, but if it does so that is considered a censure of the whole ministry.
– A good deal has been said on that point. The honorable member has said that the censure of a single Minister involves the destruction of a whole ministry. As a rule the acts of individual Ministers are the responsibility of the whole ministry.
– Because the Ministry assumes responsibility for every Minister.
– There is no absolute necessity for that. Where the act of a Minister relates to Government policy, the Minister rarely exercises his authority without the approval of his colleagues. A. ministry is, after all, a body united, and it must be prepared to take responsibility for the actions of its members. Otherwise it would be impossible for it to effectuate its policy. It is a tradition of the British and Australian Parliaments, that Parliament must control public expenditure. Our Parliaments reserve the right to delay the passing of the Estimates until they are satisfied that the proposed expenditure is thoroughly warranted. If
Parliament is not satisfied with the explanations given by Ministers, it can and frequently does reject Supply Bills. Ministries have frequently been defeated by Parliament exercising this authority.
– A Labour Ministry would never be defeated by Labour members voting against it.
– If a majority in Parliament considered that a wrong had been done, they would vote accordingly, and I have no doubt that Labour members would vote with Oppositionists against a Labour Government in that event. The fact that that has not happened so far in Australia is a compliment to the good sense of Labour Governments, .which have clone nothing worthy of censure by Parliament. Control of the public purse is one of the most potent powers of Parliament. By the exercise of that power the administration is kept clean and free from corruption. Every item of expenditure should be subjected to the scrutiny of Parliament.
The mover of the motion has not taken sufficiently into account the differences that exist in the political life of Australia, with its party divisions and totally different outlook upon political policies, and the political life and outlook of other communities. We cannot eradicate our party system by adopting the scheme of elective ministries indicated in the motion. If we attempted to apply that system of government in Australia we should cause unutterable confusion. We should have sitting in the same ministry members pledged to totally different ideals and political policies, and the scheme would be altogether unworkable.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) referred to the American committee system and the important functions which those committees perform. In the United States of America Cabinet Ministers do not sit in Parliament. The legislative work of Parliament is initiated; not by Ministers, but by certain committees. Even the budget is introduced by the Finance Committee, and not by the Minister in charge of finance. The details of the budget are presented by the Treasury to the Finance Committee and are submitted by that body to Congress for discussion. The American parliamentary system is so vitally different from ours that it is of no use to go to the United States of America for arguments in support of this motion. Although the American system is so fundamentally different, I do not know that it is any better than ours.
It might be argued that the attributes which make a man a good parliamentary leader are entirely different from those which make him a good administrator in a department, and that because both sets of attributes are rarely possessed by one man, some change in our system is justified. That point has not been advanced here, although it has been used in other discussions of this subject. Some men are very able administrators in their departments, and exercise their authority with great distinction. They are able quickly to get to grips with departmental problems. Yet the same men may be indifferent parliamentary leaders or debaters. On the other hand, there may be men of great distinction in Parliament who are indifferent departmental administrators. But we cannot have an ideal system. Nothing has yet been devised which will give us a perfect system of government. The present system is, I think, the best we could have in the circumstances. Referring the question to a royal commission would not get us anywhere. The commission, no doubt, would bring in an informative and learned report, but I am certain that it would not result in the slightest change in the present system. So much work would have to be done before such a fundamental alteration of our political life could be brought about that it would be futile to think that the change could be effected during the currency of the present Parliament.
– I am a supporter of the party system of government because no better system has so far been devised. I am quite sure that the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), and the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), failed to convince the House that a change is practicable or necessary. It was pointed out by the mover of this resolution that we had adopted the British system of parliamentary government, and claimed virtues for it, because of the British genius for parliamentary government. That is so.
The British system has been copied all over the world. As a proof of that the South African Constitution, which is one of the most recently devised, contains no such provision as that suggested in the motion. Nor does that of Germany.
– The German Constitution provides for an economic council that is not part of the parliamentary system.
– It is true that the German Constitution provides for an economic council representative of the States, but that is not comparable to the system advocated by the honorable member for Wimmera.
– Does not the Constitution of the Irish Free State make provision for such a system?
– I think not. The only place in the world where this system is in operation is Switzerland, and there are special reasons for that. Switzerland is a small, comparatively unimportant nation - I say that without disrespect - carrying little weight in the community ofnations. It is inhabited by a populationwhich speaks several different languages. Under such peculiar conditions the only system that can operate with any measure of success is that of elective ministries in conjunction with the initiative, referendum and recall. The honorable member for Wimmera said that there was a wide difference of opinion , in Great Britain as to the merits of the existing system of parliamentary government, and that there was a growing feeling in favour of elective ministries.
– I said that there was a growing dissatisfaction with the existing system, particularly in regard to the subjection of the rights of private members.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL. Any dissatisfaction in Great Britain with the present system of parliamentary government is vented upon the threeparty system. The overwhelming feeling in Great Britain to-day is in favour of the two-party system. One can search the parliamentary records of Great Britain, and the records of all its political organizations, without finding evidence of any serious body of opinion in favour of elective ministries. In
Great Britain there are organizations for the purpose of fostering practically every idea that is of importance or value to the human race, but nowhere has any serious attempt been made to form an organization to advocate the altering of the present parliamentary system by substituting for it the system of elective ministries.
The honorable member mentioned Ceylon. After all, the commission that inquired into the Constitution of Ceylon was not a very representative or authoritative one. If I remember correctly the honorable member said, that the commission reported, in effect, that the British system of responsible government was not suitable for Ceylon, and that some other system should be sought. That was only natural. In Ceylon a mixed population, partly European and partly coloured, has to be provided for, and the British parliamentary system of government would not be suitable.
– In the legislature of Ceylon separate representation has to be provided for the several religious divisions of the population.
– That is so. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) advocated the extension of the present system, of parliamentary standing ‘committees. There is nothing to prevent such an extension being carried out under the existing system. It has been done to a large extent in the House of Commons. Many bills, more particularly on foreign questions, are considered by committees of the House before being submitted to Parliament. If there were more members in this Parliament the system might well be adopted here. Up to a certain point it is actually in operation here. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) is chairman of a select committee on the tobacco-growing industry; a committee which has a somewhat peripatetic existence, and functions sometimes while Parliament is sitting, but more generally during recess.
– Authority for the appointment of that committee had to be obtained by the passage through this House of a special resolution moved by myself. Our suggestion in regard to com mittees to consider legislation is that they should be permanent bodies appointed by Parliament.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.There is no reason why that should not be done, nor is there any reason why the present procedure might not be simplified. It has always appeared to me, however, that there is a certain amount of additional remuneration attaching to membership of standing committees, mainly through the medium of expenses. If that is so, I am not prepared to support the extension of the system, more especially having regard to the limited number of members of this Parliament. There are only 76 members of this House, and when we reckon up the members of the Ministry, the members of various committees, the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees, and others who receive remuneration above the ordinary parliamentary allowance, there are not too many members left who are not participating in the distribution of extra emoluments. If the system is extended any further it will strike a blow at the root of responsible government, because there will never be any chance of an election except by effluxion of time.
– I made it clear that I was not in favour of the payment of the members of these committees; but that they should function for nothing,, except perhaps as regards ordinary travelling expenses.
– I still feel that travelling expenses are allowed on a basis which permits of some difference between the actual cost of accommodation and what is received. However, I do not object to the principle which the honorable member advocates, namely, the investigation by members of this House of matters before they are brought before Parliament in the form of bills. Those honorable members who desire such an outlet for their activities would, I admit, be much better employed in that way than spending their time at the billiard tables. Personally I find that I have plenty to do in looking up matters in connexion with the various bills that come before the House, and in keeping myself informed upon current events. That is my personal experience, and I mention it with due diffidence.
Those who favour the introduction of the committee system have pointed out that it would have the advantage of educating members in regard to different subjects before they came before the House for decision. That, however, applies only to the particular subjects with which they have dealt. For instance, members of the Tobacco Committee will no doubt have an intimate knowledge of the growing of tobacco and cognate matters, but such knowledge will be confined to them. Even assuming, however, that all the members of this House had some special knowledge of particular subjects, it is possible that many of them might not be returned at the next general election, and all their valuable knowledge would then ‘be wasted. Great as is the value of educating members of Parliament, it is, I contend, nothing in comparison to the usefulness to the State of a high-minded, patriotic and efficient Public Service. Members of Parliament come and go, but the Public Service remains. The most potent factor in the system by which the British Empire is governed is not the parliamentarian, but a highminded and efficient Civil Service, which consists of men who do their duty free of political bias, and regardless of what government is in power.
The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) criticized the party system. I refer the honorable member to this statement by Professor E. J.C. Hearnshaw LL.D., Professor of History at Kings College, London, that it is an integral part of democracy. He says -
That the party system is the indispensable concomitant of democracy, is recognized by all the great students of representative institutions. “ Party “ says Walter Bagehot, “ is of the essence of parliament - bone of its bone and breath of its breath.” Sir Sidney Low concurs - “ The divisions into parties,” he says “ is in fact essential to the operation of our constitutional machinery.” The eminent American publicist, Professor A. L. Lowell, remarked to the same effect : “ democracy in a great country, where the number of voters is necessarily large, involves the permanent existence of political parties.” Even the Prussian absolutist, Heinrich von Treitschke, expresses the same deliberate judgment - “An unprejudiced study of history,” he admits “ shows that party is a political necessity for a free people.” Quotations of a similar kind could be produced almost without limit.
If we ask why almost all publicists, and political philosophers agree that party, in spite of its admitted defects, is inseparable from parliamentary government, we find that they reply to the following effect. In a democracy the isolated individual is impotent. In order to give effect to his views and desires, he must associate himself with those who think as he does, and with those whose interests are the same as his own. “How can Demos speak without organization; and how can Demos be organized without party?” asks Professor W. J. Brown. The case is put with conclusive force by Mr. Stephen Leacock in his excellent book on political science: -
The rule of the people can only mean the rule of a majority. Now the only way in which any particular set of people can remain together as a majority, and thus render possible a stable and consistant administration of public affairs, is that the members of the ruling group shall “ agree to agree “ with one another. A modern democratic state without this somewhat artificial and yet essential unanimity would become a brawling chaos of individual opinions.
The successful working of party necessitates regimentation, discipline of a military character, such suppression of individuality. Thereby, no doubt, it involves some loss of enterprise and initiative, some quenching of genius; some extinction of novel ideas. But, as compensation, it simplifies and clarifies political issues; it brings questions forward in such a form as admits of their being answered; it educates democracy by the only means in which it” is capable of receiving instruction; it makes political opinion effective in action. Rightly says Mr. Ramsay Muir: “ our whole representative system turns upon the unending warfare of organized political parties.”
Sidney Low, also an authority and great writer on political science, in his book The Governance of England, says -
In Great Britain there is always the possibility of a majority in the House of Commons legislating in a spasm of reckless violence, at the instigation of a powerful and injudicious ministry. The true check upon a presumptious Government and a hasty legislature is the existence of an alternative party, numbering its adherents by hundreds of thousands in the constituencies, and having its articulate chiefs in the House of Commons itself. It is this which really controls the English Prime Minister, as it controls the American President; both functionaries are aware that their steps will be watched and scrutinized by jealous and capable rivals, having in the country an electoral army which in any case is nearly equal to their own, and may easily become superior. The cheek on the Ministry-in-office is the existence of an alternative ministry-out-of-office, ready and able to take its place at any moment; and such an opposition government in posse is impossible without the two great well-balanced forces, always mobilized and on a war footing.
Great political and parliamentary victories in the history of our nation have not been won by organization, because the British race is not so much concerned with abstract questions, aswith individuals and their personalities. There have been triumphs achieved by great men under the party system. That argument is summed up in these words by Mr. Low -
Attachment to persons, rather than fidelity to principles, is the spirit of our party life. The English nation, as M. Bounty well says, can much more easily dispense with belief in an abstraction than with belief in a man. “ At almost every epoch in it’s existence it has been dominated by the image of some citizen, brave, assiduous, energetic, always ready to stop into the breach, a type of the active virtues which the race conceives to be the highest of moral perfections.
The parties, therefore, instead of being two groups of believers endeavouring to propagate their own particular faith, are two armies of active combatants each desiring above all things to follow its own chosen champion to victory. Not the defeat of a principle, but the defeat of a leader and his “ side “ is the really mortifying thing. In this soldier-like or sportsman-like conception loyalty to the chief is almost the first of virtues. The subaltern, the fighter in the ranks, would not think of deserting his colours, or refraining from putting forth all his strength on the field of battle, because he happened to disagree with his commander’s views on strategy and tactics.
Whenwe hear references to “party hacks “ and “ machine politics “ as terms of opprobrium applied by people to parliamentarians, it is well to remember Edmund Burke’s definition of party to be found in his “ Thoughts on the causes of the present discontents.”
Party is a body of men united for promoting, by their joint endeavours, the natural interest upon some particular principal in which they are all agreed.
To that clear and succinct definition no exception can be taken.
– But it would apply equally to either of two parties advocating entirely opposite principles. It does not dispose of the conflict of parties.
– I am in favour of the conflict of parties, because it is productive of most of the good that is to be found in parliamentary government. I propose to argue later that the two-party system is in the best interests of the community.
– There should be only two parties in this House - the progressives and the conservatives.
– At all events only one of two sides can be taken in a division. Edmund Burke went on to say -
It is indeed in no way wonderful that such persons should make such declarations. That connexion and faction are equivalent terms is an opinion which has been carefully inculcated at all times by unconstitutional statesmen. The reason is evident. Whilst men are linked together they easily andspeedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose itwith united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline,’ communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticably. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practised in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint, efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them ; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy. In a connexion, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use; out of it, the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public.
The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) spoke of the rapidlydisappearing power of the independent individual in Parliament. I invito his attention to this further passage by Burke -
No man, who is not inflamed by vainglory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will full, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
The sentiment and genius of the British race have never been better expressed. I propose to place on record some further observations of Burke, because they so aptly describe the position. He says -
It is not enough in a situation of trust in the Commonwealth, that a man means well to his country; it is not enough that in his single person he never did an evil act, but always voted according to his conscience, and even harangued against every design which he apprehended to be prejudicial to the interests of his country. This innoxious and ineffectual character, that seems formed upon a plan of apology and disculpation, falls miserably short of the mark of public duty. That duty demands and requires that what is right should not only be made known, but made prevalent; that what is evil should not only be detected but defeated. When the public man omits to put himself in a situation of doing his duty with effect, it is an omission that frustrates the purposes of his trust almost as much as if he had formally betrayed it. ft is surely no very rational account of a man ‘s life, that he has always acted right; but has taken special care to act in such a manner that his endeavours could not possibly be productive of any consequence.
Th at applies to and should be taken to heart by a great many men in political life to-day. Burke continued -
I do not wonder that the behaviour of many parties should have made persons of tender and scrupulous virtue somewhat out of humour with all sorts of connexion in politics. I. admit that people frequently acquire in such confederacies a narrow, bigoted, and prescriptive spirit; that they are apt to sink the idea of the general good in this circumscribed and partial interest. But where duty renders a critical situation a necessary one, it is our business to keep free from the evils attendant upon it; and not to fly from the situation itself. If a fortress is seated in anun wholesome air, anofficer of the garrison is obliged to be attentive to his health, but he must not desert his station. Every profession, not excepting the glorious one of a soldier, or the sacred one of a priest, is liable to its own particular vices; which, however, form no argument against those ways of life: nor are the vices themselves inevitable to every individual in those professions. Of such a nature are connexions in politics; essentially necessary for the full performance of our public duty, accidently liable to degenerate into faction. Commonwealths are made of families, free commonwealths of parties also, and we may as well affirm that our natural regards and ties of blood tend inevitably to make men bad citizens, as that the bonds of our party weaken those by whichwe are held to our country.
I propose now to read two quotations from the speeches of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), for whose views the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has, in the past, evinced great respect. The right honorable member for North Sydney, speaking on the referendum bill in 1926, said -
Party government is as much as anything else a fact in public life. We cannot conduct public affairs without combining in parties, because we cannot exist without some sort of organization which, in its turn, depends upon and promotes united action.
Thus it is inevitable that individuals at times have to be silent regarding, and even vote against, what they would prefer to support.
The second quotation is taken from the right honorable gentleman’s book, The Case for Labour, and reads -
In party conflict, political or other, some form of pledge to leaders or principles has always been considered necessary and proper.
The nature of party war compels it. For, obviously, there can be no party at all unless its members accept some common belief or principle to which, formally or impliedly, in “ writing or verbally,they are pledged.
I submit that those are perfectly reasonable considerations and attitudes in respect of our party system.
– Does the honorable member agree with the last statement that he read?
– I am in agreement with the general spirit of that statement, because it refers to a necessary and concomitant part of the system of party government as it exists and is carried on to-day.
– The system of elective ministries does not imply the abolition of the party system.
– If the honorable member admits that, then the major part of the argument submitted by the honorable member for Wimmera to-day falls to the ground. He based his advocacy of the elective system upon what he claimed was the advantage of the absence of party from that system. We find now that the seconder of the motion disagrees with that view. Even in Switzerland, there is not an entire absence of the party spirit from the system of elective ministries. So that if this system is advocated as a means of getting rid of the party system, the argument of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) falls to the ground. Reference has been made, during the course of this debate, to members of parties being compelled to vote against their convictions. It is said that members have to come running into the House when the bells are rung to vote with their party, and whether they agree with it or not. That statement was made in this chamber this afternoon, and it has been made outside by those who have never been members of parties, and who do not understand their procedure. I proclaim to be as free and independent in my views as any individual in this country. I see no difficulty with regard to the application of party discipline. I venture to say that my experience of the party system is similar to that of honorable members supporting the Government. Matters come forward in the party room and are considered, and I agree with, nine out of ten of the decision’s. If the remaining matter is of only ordinary importance, I should not consider it sufficient for me to make a demonstration about, and I should let it go. But if it were a proposal of grave and vital importance, which I could not conscientiously support I should be guided only by my conscience, and no power on earth could induce me to vote against my convictions. I see no reason why the same consideration should not actuate all members of a party. I firmly believe that that spirit and attitude has actuated the great majority of members who come under the party system.
– What happened to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) when he did what the honorable member says he would do ?
– If I differed from my party on a vital principle, I should not wait to be told to leave, I would get out. I should decline to be associated with the party. The following extract from Edmund Burke’s book clearly sets out the position. -
In order to throw an odium on political connexion, these politicians suppose it a necessary incident to it, that you are blindly to follow the opinions of your party, when in direct opposition to your own clear ideas;’ a degree of servitude that no worthy man could bear the thought of submitting to; and such as, I believe, no connexions (except some court factions) ever could be so senselessly tyrannical as to impose. Men thinking freely, will, in particular instances, think differently. But still as the greater part of the measures which arise in the course of public business are related to, or dependent on, some great, leading, general principles in government, a man must be peculiarly unfortunate in the choice of his political company, if he does not agree with them at least nine times in ten. If he does not concur in these general principles upon which the party is founded, and which necessarily draw on a concurrence in their application, he ought from the beginning to have chosen some other, more conformable to his opinions. When the question is in its nature doubtful, or not very material, the modesty which becomes an individual, and (in spite of our court moralists) that partiality which becomes a well-chosen friendship, will frequently bring on an acquiescence in the general sentiment. Thus the disagreement will naturally be rare; .it will be only enough to indulge freedom, without violating concord, or disturbing arrangement. And this is all that ever was required for a character of the greatest uniformity and steadiness in connexion. How men can proceed without any connexion at all, is to me utterly incomprehensible. Of what sort of materials must that man be made, how must he be tempered and put together, who can sit whole years in
Parliament, with 550 of his fellow citizens, amidst the storm of such tempestuous passions, in the sharp conflict of so many wits, and tempers, and characters, in the agitation of such mighty questions, in the discussion of such vast and ponderous interests, without seeing any one sort of men, whose character, conduct, or disposition, would lead him to associate himself with them, to aid and be aided, in any one system of public utility? There was never a clearer statement of the case for the party as against this spurious cry of the usefulness of the individual in Parliament.
– There was no party pledge in Burke’s time.
– The honorable member can. discuss that aspect of the matter. I go so far to say that not only the British race, but also its whole genius is in favour of the two party system.
We often hear of the advocacy of measures, not men. In regard to that aspect of party politics, I again quote Burke -
Of this stamp is the cant of “Not men, but measures “ ; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honorable engagement. When I see a man acting this desultory and disconnected part, with as much detriment to his own fortune as prejudice to the cause of any part, I am not persuaded that he is right; but I am ready to believe he is in earnest. I respect virtue in all its situations; even when it is found in the unsuitable company of weakness. I lament to see qualities, rare and valuable, squandered away without any public utility. But when a gentleman with great visible emoluments abandons the party in which he has long acted, and tells you, it is because he proceeds upon his own judgment; that he acts on the merits of the several measures as they arise; and that he is obliged to follow his own conscience; and not that of others; he gives reasons which it is impossible to controvert, and discovers a character which it is impossible to mistake. What shall we think of him who never differed from a certain set of men until the moment they lost their power, and who never agreed with them in a single instance afterwards? Would not such a coincidence of interest and opinion be rather fortunate ? Would it not be an extraordinary cast upon the dice, that a man’s connexions should degenerate into faction, precisely at the critical moment when they lose their power, or he accepts a place? When people desert their connexions, the desertion is a manifest fact, upon which a direct simple issue lies, triable by plain men. Whether a measure of government be right or wrong, is no matter of fact, but a mere affair of opinion, on which men may, as they do, dispute and wrangle without end. But whether the individual thinks the measure right or wrong, is a point at still a greater distance from the reach of all human decision. It is therefore very convenient to politicians, not to put the judgment of their conduct on overt acts, cognizable in any ordinary court, but upon such matter as can be triable only in that secret tribunal, where they are sure of being heard with favour, or where at worst the sentence will be only private whipping.
Professor Hearnshaw, Professor of History at King’s College, London, in his Democracy a.t the Crossways, says -
For the alternative to the two-party system is the group system, such as obtains in France; and the group system is the Devil’s own device for the destruction of democracy. It opens the flood-gates for the entrance of log-rolling, intrigue, bribery, self-seeking, debased bargain- ‘ ing, falsehood, treason. It eliminates responsibility; puts an end to all continuity or C;/1culability of policy; and brings to the front in politics, the crank, the charlatan, and the knave.
– Is that the honorable member’s opinion?
– It is an opinion in. which I entirely concur.
– In this agricultural country, which party should get out?
– I am not suggesting that any party should get out ; I am merely discussing this question in an abstract way. I wish to place on record the following passage, taken from an article by Professor Hearnshaw, in the February issue of the Nineteenth Century -
The two-party system, indeed, is vital to the smooth and efficient working of the parliamentary machine. This elementary truth is stated in unequivocal language by a long succession of constitutional authorities whose words I should have liked to quote had space allowed. Among thom are Lord Bryce, Professor Henry Sidgwick, Sir Sidney Low, and Dr. A. L. Lowell. So recently as June last, in the English Review, Mr.. H. A. L. Fisher observed that “ in our own country effective parliamentary government depends on the twoparty system.” One writer, however, has distinguished himself above all others by the eloquence and emphasis with which he has stressed the necessity of the limitation of parties to two. That writer is Mr. Ramsay Muir, both .of whose masterly works, Peers a.nd Bureaucrats (1010) and ‘National SelfGovemment (1918), should be consulted by those interested in this theme. In the earlier work he denounces the group system; condemns the electoral device of proportional representation precisely because it is destructive of the two-party system, which, he says, is “quite fundamental to our system of cabinet rule.” He further observes that “ it is when the great parties break up into shifting groups, not pledged to steady support of the government, or to persistent opposition, and, therefore, capable of being tempted by the promise of gain, that corrupt bargaining will begin to appear.” It is in the later work, however, written when the Labour party was the third party that Mr. Muir deals most fully with the menace of the three-party system. Would that his weighty words could be pondered by the present Liberal Party ! The two-party system, he says, is “ the only system whereby parliamentary control of the executive can be ma.de effective.” He warns that “ a coalition of shifting groups involves log-rolling and corruption.” He drives home by striking examples the significant fact that “whenever smaller groups were formed by scission from the two great parties, they always tended to be merged again in a very short time.” He observes that “ the two-party system is a real safeguard against a decline in the standard of public rectitude,” and ends his impressive - indeed, conclusive - argument by enumerating six merits of the two-party system which counterbalance all the defects that may be incidental to it. Briefly summarized they are as follows: ( 1 ) It ensures stability and coherence in the government; (2) it secures the maintenance of an incessant and watchful criticism of all legislative ‘proposals; (3) it acts as a safeguard against political corruption; (4) it serves to simplify and clarify the issues nf national politics; (5) it identities policies with prominent leaders - e.g., Home Rule with Gladstone; (6) it inspires politics with the fine and honorable spirit of sport, and gives it the interest of an exciting game. The two-party system, he concludes, is ““one of the vital elements of the British Constitution.”
To the powerful arguments for the two-party system advanced by Mr. Ramsay Muir many others might he added. On the theoretical side it might he urged that when any problem is analyzed into its constituent clements, when issues aru disentangled, and when the ultimate questions are put one by one, two answers alone are conceivable in each case - cither an unqualified “Yes” or an unqualified “No.” And this argument might be reinforced by the consideration that there are only two lobbies in the House of Commons, so that, however loudly third parties may assert themselves on the hustings, in Parliament they are bound to be either disintegrated or absorbed. On the practical side it might be demonstrated that the two-party system is the indispensable prerequisite of a strong democratic administration ; that under it alone is a responsible opposition possible; and that it is the only mode in which the rule of the majority can be effectively attained.
The system of elective ministries is, after all, mostly a subject for a debating society. I have dicussed the matter in its abstract, and also in its practical, application.
– Would it not be a good thing to tell us what the honorable member thinks about it?
– I agree entirely with the views that I have quoted. When a division takes place in this House can it be said that there are more than two parties? Both the mover and the seconder of the motion failed completely to make out a case for the changi they propose. The system that they advocate is not seriously considered by responsible constitutionalists iu any part of the world other than Switzerland. It is not suited to either British instincts or ‘the British methods of self-government. The system that has stood the test of time, and that shows no signs of being replaced by any other, is the system of party government that lias been established by the practice of the British House of Commons and that has been followed in all of the great. British dominions.
.- I have listened with great interest to the glorification by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) of the two-party system; but, unfortunately for himself, that honorable member sits on a side of this House on which there are four distinct parties.
So far as I have been able to follow the arguments of the mover and the seconder of the motion, those gentlemen accept the party system, but are distinctly opposed to the party Cabinet. They want a Cabinet selected not from within the ranks of one party, but from those who are regarded as the best men in the House. In the course of their arguments they stated that we should not slavishly follow the English system because there is a party Cabinet in England. They have forgotten a portion of English constitutional history ; otherwise they would know that it was to the advantage of democracy that the party Cabinet followed the selected Cabinet. From the institution of the English Cabinet system until late in the eighteenth century the Cabinet was selected, usually by the King, from those whom he regarded as the best men.
– They were never selected by the legislature.
– Even now in theory the members of the Cabinet are selected by the King. After I had heard the views of the mover and seconder of the motion,
I referred to a copy of Dr. Hearn’s The Government of England, and from it I make the following quotations: -
But the distinctive characteristic of the Cabinet., and the feature which is essential to its successful and complete operation, is its political unity. The Cabinet is not an ordinary board. It is literally a partnership of Privy Councillors for administering, the Government. If it fail or if it succeed, its failure or its success is that of the collective body. Whatever internal difficulties it may have, its voice and its action are single. If one of its members should commit any error or become involved in any difficulty, the blame attaches, not only to him, but to all those who either’ actually concurred in his views or at least authorized him to act in their behalf. . . This principle is of very recent growth. When the Tories caine into office i” 1710, the displacement of a few of the great officers of state was spread over a period of four mouths; and Burnet denounces as wholly unparalleled so sudden and so complete a change. In 1742, on the fall of Sir Robert Walpole, Mr. Pulteney, who demanded, but with little practical success, a change of measures as well as of men, complained of his inability to do more than make a very partial alteration in the administration. When negotiation’s were opened with the elder Pitt in 17(!3, he declares that he and his friends must “come in as a party”; and insisted upon removing all those who had supported the peace, the acceptance of which was the cause of his resignation, and upon supplying their places with members of the Opposition. But these demands were regarded us so extraordinary and so violent, that, although the urgency was great, the negotiations were broken off. … I think that the second Rockingham Ministry, that of 1782, was the first of modern ministries. It arose from the hostility of the House of Commons to the previous administration. It involved an almost complete and simultaneous change of the Royal servants. It was founded on the distinct understanding that measures were to be changed as well as men; and that the measures for which the new Ministry required the Royal consent were the measures which they while in opposition had advocated…… Yet even this Ministry had little cohesion. It retained as its Chancellor Lord Thurlow, who remained in office at the express desire of the King, and steadily opposed in the House of Lords all the measures of his colleagues. But short-lived as it actually was, and destined from its constitution to no lengthened existence, it was the nearest approach to a Ministry that the country had yet seen. Thirty years afterwards we find a remarkable advance upon the views as to changes both of measures and of mon. In 1812 Lords Grey and Grenville declined to enter upon negotiations for a comprehensive administration. It was proposed to form a coalition Ministry, in which the Whig party should have a majority of one. The offer was declined on the ground that to construct a Cabinet on a system of counteraction was inconsistent with the prosecution of any uniform and beneficial course of policy. . . These principles have with scarcely any exception been since that time carried steadily into effect. The Executive Government is carried on, not by unconnected departments, but under the general superintendence of a supreme board. That board has a quasi corporate existence. Each part is sensitive to the success or the failure of every other part; and the whole includes within its vitality the political existence of each member. … It thus appears that the Cabinet, in the sense of a political committee of the Privy Council acting together as one body and on the principle of mutual responsibility, and as such subject to a simultaneous and general change, is of very recent origin.
Th at shows that the creation of the party Cabinet system has had a most democratic result. This work says that George III. - who was the most reactionary of the Hanover Kings - was so annoyed at the creation of the party Cabinet system, and the democratic results that accrued from it, that he seriously contemplated a retreat to Hanover; but that desirable event did not occur.
One effect of the solidarity of the Cabinet is to obtain democratic legislation. With a Cabinet such as is contemplated by the honorable member who has submitted this motion, there would he very little progressive legislation. It is the driving force of the whole ministerial body that often causes the passage of democratic measures. I recall that the Women’s Suffrage Bill in Victoria was passed by the Legislative Assembly of that State more than six times. On every occasion when it was sent to the Legislative Council except, of course, the last time, it was rejected. How was it that it was eventually passed by that chamber? Simply because it was submitted by different ministries. In each of those governments there had to be a certain number of members of the Legislative Council, who had to support the measure. Because of the doctrine of the solidarity of the Cabinet, such members of the Legislative Council felt that they had to support whatever measures the Cabinet decided to introduce, and gradually, by reason of the change of ministries and the increase in the number of legislative councillors pledged to support the reform, women’s suffrage was ultimately passed into law. If we had ministers disunited upon any definite policy, we should have very little legislation of a progressive nature. Ministers are only human, and in their desire for re-election they would, under the proposed system, be very complacent towards demands from members. At the present time members always try to meet the desires of their constituents, and sometimes they do not show much backbone in dealing with them. If the proposal under consideration were carried into effect, the constituents of the Ministers would be the members of the House, and every Minister would try to please other members in order to make his re-election sure. The system would be extremely dangerous.
Now, more than ever before, we require members who will stand up against unreasonable demands by constituents, and who will protect the public purse against any raid made upon it. What the mover of the motion apparently wants is not a legislative leader; he is asking for a departmental administrator. Perhaps there is a good deal of doubt whether it is wise to combine legislative leadership with the functions of our executive officers. But that is part of our system of responsible government, and I do not see any way to avoid the combination. The honorable member’s proposal might lead to more expert departmental administration,but it would certainly be dangerous from the point of view of legislative and political leadership. I can see that it would seriously retard democratic progress, and therefore I am opposed to it. If the paragraph of the motion that relates to the appointment of additional permanent parliamentary committees had been submitted in’ the form of a separate motion, I should think, from what the Treasurer has said, and from the views expressed by honorable members generally, that it would probably have been accepted ; but I do not imagine that the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) would obtain a majority in this chamber in favour of the motion as it stands.
Debate (on motion by Mr. C.Riley) adjourned.
Notice of motion by Mr. R. Green relating to the export of stud sheep called on, and (on motion by Mr. Bayley) postponed until the 17th April.
– I move -
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that action be taken to make possible an Australian primary producers’ organization with complete sectional control of the internal and external marketing of each primary product, such control to be exercised exclusively by the organized producers of such commodity, which would enable the producers of any such commodity to speak with one voice and authority in regard to any arrangement which may be deemed by them to be necessary to conserve their interests by entering into agreements with other overseas primary producers’ marketing organizations, and by such means secure an equitable return for any such commodity in the markets of the world.
In submitting this motion, I am not actuated by a desire to have increased powers conferred upon the Commonwealth Parliament so that Parliament would control marketing; I merely wish to have greater trading facilities afforded to the primary producers than they now enjoy, so that they may be able to control the marketing’ of their own products. To-day a State has power to organize marketing within its boundaries, and the Commonwealth has power to organize export marketing. But there is no single legislative authority with power to bring into being an Australian, organization, other than one under voluntary, honorable agreement between the producers, or by an agreement of all six States and the Commonwealth. To-day, one State can organize the marketing of a primary product, but there is no power to restrict exploitation of that organized market by other States. Under the powers asked for by the motion, such exploitation would not obtain. Throughout Australia to-day there is evidence of a desire to give the primary producers a full return for their labour; but, unfortunately, owing to the inactivity of certain States and the dilatoriness of organizations within those States, there has been failure to organize the primary producers in such a way as to prevent overlapping and com petition that has proved detrimental to their interests. Constitutional alterations are necessary to give to the Commonwealth full trade and commerce powers, which alone would permit of the organization that I desire to see effected. Some may say that the Commonwealth powers over export and interstate trade should be sufficient to do everything that is required; but, until the Commonwealth is given power to deal with trade within the States, it must be obvious that there is a large field in which the Commonwealth cannot interfere, and, although full power could be granted by agreement on the part of every State, it must be apparent that it would be difficult to obtain that agreement.
The action proposed to be taken, according to the wording of my motion, is whatever action may be considered by the Government to be necessary to bring about this desirable state of affairs. Although I am certainly convinced that an amendment of the Constitution is necessary, if the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney), or any other Minister, can show that we can bring about an Australian- wide organization in any other way, and obtain the benefits of such a system, I would readily agree to an alternative course. Since 1922 I have interested myself in this matter, and in1 925 I submitted a motion in the Queensland Parliament on the lines of my present proposal, and gave prominence to the idea embodied in it. On my entry into the Federal Parliament I tabled another motion on similar lines, but, owing to circumstances, a decision upon it was not reached. To-day I am submitting the same proposal - and honorable members will remember that I moved a similar motion last year - in the hope of impressing on honorable members generally the necessity to do something to enable producers to obtain the full fruits of their labour, instead of. being deprived of a fair return through influences over which they have no control. I make no secret of the fact that such power, if conferred upon an Australianwide organization, would assure to the primary producers reasonable prices for their commodities, and also secure to the consumers a marketing organization that would not increase the prices paid for those commodities over a period of twelve months. Nobody who desires to see Australia a’dvance will deny that it is essential to study the interests of the primary producer,, and protect him against influences that work in the interests neither of the producer nor the consumer. To-day the producer is in an unfortunate position owing to the fact that there is much trafficking in the marketing of his commodities, which is not to his advantage or to that of the people generally.
The cost of living would not be increased if we gave to the primary producers the right to market their commodities and made, where possible, a standardization of prices. To-day, if we had a bad season in one State, that State may be flooded with the products of a more fortunate part of Australia; but, if a standardization of prices were brought about by a scientific organization of marketing, providing for a fair return to the producer and protecting the community by providing it with a commodity at a price which, on the average, would be no greater throughout the year than lias to be paid to-day, the producer would be in a better position to secure the full value of his labour. We should eliminate the cut-throat competition which prevails at present. If we had a marketing board operating along the lines that I propose, a vast amount of benefit would accrue. Under existing conditions the Queensland maizegrowers, for instance, might set up a marketing board and thoroughly organize their industry with the object of obtaining a fair price for the maize marketed in Queensland ; but produce agents in the other States might, at an appropriate time for themselves, market- a large quantity of southern maize in Queensland, and so entirely upset the local market. Under the present interstate freetrade provisions of the Constitution, that kind of thing might occur in relation to any commodity. Although the producers may organize within a State, their good intention to stabilize the market may he entirely nullified.
Every honorable member realizes that it is essential that Australia should do everything possible to encourage primary production. We have all, at some time or other, honestly expressed the hope that the conditions of this section of the community will be improved. This is an opportunity for action. Unfortunately our agriculturists have been very hard hit during recent years. The number of people engaged in primary production in Australia has decreased latterly, and there has been a consequent decline in production. If we improved our marketing arrangements we could do a good deal to overcome the disabilities under which they are labouring. It is not suggested that exorbitant prices should be charged, but only that steps should be taken to secure, for the primary producers, the most effective organization. One of the objects of my motion is 1 to eliminate unnecessary and wasteful competition. An improved system of marketing would do this. It would also stimulate production. The existing state of affairs has caused a great deal of depression. At present the producers cannot alter this, nor oan the State or Commonwealth Parliaments; but this Parliament can, at least, express the opinion that an increase in its constitutional power over trade and commerce would enable it to do something to improve the lot of the primary producers. I ask for that expression. It must be apparent that it would be in the best interests of industry generally for the producers of a particular commodity to control the marketing of it; for they undoubtedly are the rightful custodians of their own property. They could gather reliable information upon the’ problems of production and distribution, and do the best thing for themselves, and so for Australia generally.
While it is true that it is the function of the States to do everything possible to improve our methods of production, and encourage greater production, it is also true that the proper marketing of our products is vital to the welfare of our industries. No one could reasonably object to the’ language in which my motion is couched, and I appeal to honorable members generally to give me their support in my endeavour to prevent the accumulation of stocks of particular commodities in one State and send them to other States with the object of upsetting the market.
Under our present limited constitutional power, it is not possible for us to organize the marketing of primary products for home consumption. As I have said, if one State alone organizes along sound lines, the good work may be rendered entirely ineffective by merchants in other States taking advantage of the market. It is unfortunate that, while we can set up export control boards, we cannot control the local market. It has been possible to do something by means of the Paterson scheme, and honorable agreements; but until the producers are able to control the internal and externa) market they must remain in a precarious position. At present we have no organized means of obtaining reliable information as to the condition of the market in r,he various States. If an Australian primary producers’ organization, with complete sectional control of the marketing of each primary product, were set up, such an authority would be able to gather data which would be valuable, not only to the producers, but to t.he Government, and to everybody engaged in commercial pursuits.
Our primary production is of immense importance to Australia. Of our total exports, the agriculturists are responsible for 37.29 per .Cent. of the production ; the pastoralists for 66.11 per cent., and the dairy farmers for 19.75 per cent. “We should, therefore, do everything possible to foster these industries, and encourage the people engaged in them. But so long as our constitutional limitations render it impossible to make adequate provision for controlling the local market, our producers will be handicapped in their competition with producers of other countries, who in almost every case are able, effectively, to market their products in their own country. A marketing scheme, controlled by au elective body, as I. suggest, would be able to organize both the home and export market. In 1927-28 the total value of the wool we exported was £66,097,118; wheat, £14,629,000; hides and skins, £9,107,918; butter, £6,905,933; sugar, £4,020,095; lead, £3,516,236; milk and cream, £1,107,450; dried fruits, £1,601,832; timber, £1,164,000; and wine, £1,580,000. It will be ap- parent, therefore, that if we could improve our marketing’ arrangements, it would possibly benefit export. It should be possible for us to make arrangements to use the time and energy of the best men available to handle this tremendous problem. A most useful organization would gradually be brought into being if representa.tives of all the different industries were brought together in an Australian bureau of agriculture. This body would be able to provide the Commonwealth Government with reliable data whenever proposals are made for increasing the tariff. It could also advise the Government, on the effect that any proposed tariff alterations would have on other industries, and in a general way it could direct our whole marketing business. Moreover, it could give reliable advice in regard to the industries which could be advantageously developed, and those which could not economically extend their activities. We all know very well that the various State Governments and also the Commonwealth Government have encouraged returned soldiers and others to undertake production without being able to make effective provision for the marketing of their produce. , An organization such as I have suggested could give the various Governments advice, which would enable them to avoid encouraging over-production in nonexportable commodities.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to S p.m.
– As time goes on, the need for such organizations to enter into arrangements with primary producers in other parts of the world will bc emphasized. Only last year the wheatgrowers of Canada and the United States of America initiated a scheme of coordination for their mutual benefit, and, although the full value of the understanding has not been reaped this year, it is certain that in succeeding years the primary producers of both countries will derive considerable advantages from it. If Australian wheat-growers arc similarly organized, they will be able authoritatively to negotiate agreements with other wheatproducing countries in regard to marketing. Until some such arrangements are made, primary production throughout the world cannot be scientifically organized. We have evidence from many quarters that countries producing the same commodities find it necessary to collaborate in the interest of their producers. The South African farmers who visited Australia recently asked that representatives of the Australian producers should confer with them in South. Africa with a . view to reaching an agreement that would he to their mutual advantage. Even in British parliamentary circles suggestions of greater organization within the Empire have been made. One proposal involves freetrade within the Empire. I do not suggest that Australia would entertain that for a moment; but if our producers were organized they would be able to exchange ideas with other parts of the Empire regarding the exchange of preferences. The appeal I am making on behalf of the producers is not new. In 1922, I spoke in the Queensland Parliament on the Primary Producers Organization Bill introduced by the present federal Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) when Premier of that State. I said that I would support the measure, but I added -
Certain amendments, highly democratic and in the interests of the primary producers, are essential, and I hope the bill will be improved in those particulars.
If the Minister will accept an amendment which will be of the greatest advantage, I would suggest that he should kindly consider sectional interests, and try and bring them together more for the management of their various sections of agriculture, so that the maize people throughout Queensland can meet as maize people, and they can have their district council or their supreme council to deal with maize interests, the same as the butter people now have under their co-operative management and their co-operative associations. We want control of industry by those engaged therein.
In the face of that statement no honorable member can truthfully say that I opposed the bill.
– The honorable member did oppose it, and so did the members of the Country party in the Queensland Parliament.
– All Country party members, including myself, supported the bill, and I quote my words from the QueenslandHansard -
You could best help the primary producers by giving them the sectional organizations to enable them to look after their individual interests. I offer this suggestion hoping to help the Minister.
I added -
One great trouble is that the bill limits coordination of effort to the State, and that it does not give the primary producers of Queensland the opportunity of becoming part of an organization which is essentially in their interests - an organization which can extend itself throughout the Commonwealth and so bring the interests of various industries together. Until that conies about we cannot get the best results in Australia in any of our rural industries. To-day we have in the different States people in the same industry working against each others interests, fighting each other in various markets, whereas we should have an organization combining industrially all the interests of the producer of a particular commodity right throughout Australia: and further -
I support the bill and hope to improve it.
When the bill was in committee, Country Party members moved an amendment in favour of sectional organization, so that the producers of each commodity could control their own destinies. The Government of the day opposed it, but after the Marketing Act had been in operation two years the Government was pleased to propose an amendment providing for sectional organization instead of placing all primary producers under the grouped control of one council of agriculture.
In asking for an alteration of the Constitution to give to the primary producers the right to control their own destinies throughout Australia we are not asking for something that is unfair. Trade unionists would not tolerate for a moment a system which would enable men from one State to enter another State and work for wages below the local award rate. Yet under existing conditions an organization in Queensland, Victoria, or Western Australia, which is endeavouring by coordinated effort to improve the financial returns of the primary producers, may find its efforts defeated by competition from an unorganized State. This is done not necessarily by the producers, but by speculators who buy a commodity in a State where the price is low and exploit the higher market in the organized State. It is necessary that we should have power to prevent the continuance of such practices. If we do not protect the interests of the primary producers we cannot develop Australia. Unless we make their lot prosperous we cannot expect land settlement to develop. The prosperity of the man on the land means prosperity to the whole community. Today Australia is suffering through an adverse trade balance, and the Prime Minister has asked the wheat-growers to come to the assistance of the nation by increasing their crops. The primary producers can, and will, help the Commonwealth out of its difficulties if they are given a fair opportunity.
Surely we should not be deterred by constitutional obstacles from undertaking a thorough organization of the industry. The world is overcoming difficulty after difficulty, and science is advancing to new triumphs every day. Last night Marconi, 12,000 miles away, pressed a switch which illuminated 2,800 electric lamps in the Sydney Town Hall. When such an achievement is possible it is not too much to expect that something will bc done to remove the constitutional barriers within this country; Agricultural development is an important factor in the economics of the nation. We have spent £1,100,000,000 of loan money in the development of the country with a view to increasing production and thereby augmenting the national wealth. In the railway systems £300,000,000 has been invested, the interest on which amounts to over £14,000,000 yearly and wages and salaries £31,000,000. We look to primary production to pay that interest bill, and wages and salaries in connexion with the maintenance and operation of the railways. About £7,000,000 worth of shipping is engaged in Australian waters, and we have expended millions of pounds on roads to enable produce to be brought to the railways and the markets. We have so much capital invested in these various ways that we should seriously consider a proposal that will help to meet our loan obligations and employ profitably the railways and other State utilities, which have been created for the purpose of developing the country. We have not by any means exhausted the resources of Australia. Only 6.12 per cent, of our land is alienated; 3.25 per cent, is in process of alienation; 51 per cent, is held on licence or lease; and 36 per cent, is still in the possession of the Crown or used by the various governments. It is clear that Australia has hardly touched the fringe of its developmental possibilities; but before primary production is further stimulated we must give closer attention to the problem of marketing. If we cannot market our products successfully it will be futile to settle more people on. the land. I sincerely hope that the motion will be accepted in the spirit in which I have moved it. I feel sure that the people will be prepared to grant to this Parliament the extended powers I have suggested, and the exercise of them will be in the interests df industrialists as well as those engaged in primary production.
– I second the motion. The honorable member for Wide Bay has made out a very good case for a substantial increase of our constitutional powers to enable the primary producers more effectively to market their produce within Australia. The argument of the honorable member undoubtedly leads to that conclusion. He merely states that that is the way out, without indicating the kind of constitutional amendment that he considers would be necessary. Of course that is really a matter for the Government to decide. I go a little further and suggest that this is the time, while the Government is delving into constitutional questions, to give serious consideration to a proposal to assist the primary producers of Australia by establishing an efficient organization within Australia. It seems extraordinary that at a time like this, the only section of the community to which both the Federal and State Governments can appeal with any confidence, to help the country out of its troubles, is the only section that is handicapped by inefficient machinery in conducting its activities throughout this country. A few years ago the very suggestion that the primary producers should be organized like other sections of the workers of the country would be ridiculed, particularly by the distributing or middlemen interests. Even to-day most of the efforts of the primary producers to establish organizations in particular industries are strenuously opposed by the distributing interests, which go between the producers and the consumers. Most honorable members will realize that the defeat of the various attempts by State Governments to control pools of wheat and other commodities have been mainly due to the hostile propaganda of interests that for a long time have had a very good innings at the expense of the primary producer, particularly the small farmer.
The proposal presented to the House by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) is very simple. It is not that he desires that the Government should extend its activities throughout the primary industries. His suggestion is that the Government should assist primary industries by providing machinery to enable the primary producers to set up and control an organization of their own. The absence of such federal machinery has been fatal to most of the efforts of State Governments to establish organizations for the producers. Nearly every State in Australia to-day has passed or is thinking of passing legislation to enable the wheat-growers to organize. Queensland has had a marketing act in operation for some years, and New South Wales for the last two years. I understand that the Victorian Parliament has now before it a marketing bill which has the approval of all parties. This is not a party issue at all. In Victoria the need for assisting the primary producers is so great that all parties in the Parliament have joined together in an endeavour to give the farmers the benefit of organization. It is quite obvious that the Commonwealth Parliament can . do nothing, because it has not the necessary constitutional power, but as constitutional amendments are in the air this is the time when the Government should give serious consideration to the proposal of the honorable member for Wide Bay, with a view to including it in the proposals that are. to be placed before the country in the near future. The absence of any such proposal will destroy a lot of the interest and enthusiasm of the primary producers in respect of any scheme of constitutional alteration. They will conclude that they are still being overlooked, and that although the Federal and State Governments are appealing to them to come to the rescue of the nation by growing more wheat and wool and to organize’ themselves, yet those Govern ments are not prepared to go to the length of putting before the people proposals to benefit the primary producers by every means at the disposal of this nation. It is really a simple matter. I suppose that the great majority of the people of Australia are solidly behind the Government in its appeal to the primary producers, and in the big cities to-day the accepted remedy for all our troubles is that the farmers shall grow more wheat. The people in the cities are now waiting for the farmers to increase their crops, although they have hardly had an opportunity yet to get on with the job. If it is up to the farmers to do this big thing for Australia, surely it is up to Australia to do the big thing for the farmers. This is a matter of urgency and should not be postponed until next year or perhaps the next election, particularly as the farmers have been invited to save the nation from financial and economic disaster.
To show that it is utterly impossible for the producers to handle their industries efficiently in the absence of a central controlling organization, I need only refer to the operation of the various State marketing acts. In Queensland, a State which has been controlled for some time by a Labour Government, the Marketing Act has been highly successful, according to the statement of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) and other Queensland members. Thai act may have been successful, but only in the case of Queensland. As the honorable member for Wide Bay has pointed out, that machinery has been used in order to give the Queensland primary producers a benefit which, in all probability, has reacted adversely on the primary producers of New South Wales. As a matter of fact, this problem of competition between the primary producers of Queensland and New South Wales is very acute. It has exercised the minds of the primary producers of northern New South Wales since before the war, and particularly in time of drought. There is a definite current of complaint amongst the producers of those States, although when the opportunity offers they do not fail to take advantage of each other. That is only human nature. If the Commonwealth would step into the field and pool the resources of that particular industry under some organization, so that it could be controlled by the primary producers, then that spirit of competition, hostility and selfishness would rapidly disappear, and the primary producers would soon begin to realize that they were part of a great national organization, reaping the benefit of their national outlook. The attempts in New South Wales to organize the farmers under the Marketing Act have not been highly successful. There have been two attempts to establish pools in that State, and one of the principal arguments used by the interested parties to defeat them was that a pool would be of benefit only to the wheatgrowers of one State, and that the wheatgrowers of the other States, if they had a glut of wheat, would flood the New South Wales market, and practically knock the bottom out of the local marketing organization. It has often been said that if the primary producers had at their disposal an organization which would enable them to control their internal market, they would adopt a greedy and grasping attitude, and would enthusiastically lend themselves to any movement to increase prices against the consumer.
– Such a suggestion is an insult to the intelligence of the farmers.
– It undoubtedly is, but that suggestion is being continually made. In spite of the fact that there has been no organization in existence to enable farmers to regulate the supplies of the wheat in the local market, the price of bread has risen enormously. No one pretends to-day that the consumer in the capital cities is getting the benefit of cheap primary products. The farmer gets for his product a price that in many cases is below the cost of production, yet the consumer is paying a price for his bread that in the opinion of the farmer is considerably above the cost of production.
– Does the honorable member suggest that an organization controlling the marketing of a product would consider the consumer?
– I do not say that it would consider the consumer as a matter of policy, but I do say that had the primary producers any effective machinery enabling them to regulate the supply in the local market, they would not countenance any policy of exploitation.
– They would get the best price possible for their product.
– They would regulate supplies to prevent a glut of the market. That could be done without any serious effect upon the food supplies of the consumers in the big cities. Let me give one instance. The potato-growing industry, in New South Wales at all events, and I think also in Tasmania, is utterly unorganized. When the potatogrowers of northern New South Wales - where are grown perhaps the best potatoes in the world - have a chance of getting good prices on the Sydney market, there is a glut of potatoes from Tasmania. Tasmanian potatoes can get into the Sydney market ahead of potatoes from northern New South Wales, and the price which the northern New South Wales potatogrowers usually obtain is regulated by the supplies from Tasmania. There have been attempts by the growers, both of New South Wales and Tasmania, to combine to overcome this difficulty, which is fatal to the success of. the potatogrowing industry in New South Wales. But because of the absence of any federal intermediary or machinery that can be effectively operated, the potato-growers have never been able to come together and combine in their own interests. Another illustration is the honey industry. Recently under the New South Wales Marketing Act, the Honey Marketing Board was appointed, but that body has not been satisfactory, mainly because ithas no national ramifications. It is essentially a NewSouth Wales activity. A similar position applies in Victoria. The producers of each State are able to organize only within their own boundaries, and they have to compete with the producers across their borders. That has been mainly responsible for the failure of the various marketing organizations in Australia.
– The honorable member is making a good speech in favour of unification.
-It is a matter not of unification, but of a federal system of control. I have always contended that the Commonwealth Parliament should bc the authority to provide legislative machinery to . enable primary producers to organize their industry throughout Australia.
– Any such scheme would have to bo compulsory.
– I suppose that to a large extent it would.
– What, would be the good of it unless it were?
– The farmers would not object to compulsion if it were in. their interests. Why should they not look after their own interests? They are the only section of the community who to-day are not organized. It is suggested, with manifestations of horror, that the farmers might misuse any machinery th.’it was put in their hands to enable them to organize themselves and control their local market, but there is not the same horror-stricken attitude in regard, to any other section of the community. If it is a fair thing for the workers who are employed in secondary industries to organize themselves - and nobody denies that it is - to obtain the highest return possible for the only commodity that they have to sell, surely it is a fair thing for the primary producers to do so ! At the present time they are being acclaimed as the backbone of the nation, and its only hope in the solving of the problems that confront Australia. They will never he organized until this Parliament is able to secure from the people the necessary constitutional authority to set up any machinery it thinks fit in the - interests of our primary industries, which are infinitely more profitable to Australia than are our secondary industries.
– The secondary industries are complementary of the primary.
– They may bo; but in actual cash value the primary industries are very much more valuable to Australia. Yet they are the only industries which are not being assisted by the national Parliament to operate effectively.
I commend the motion to the House and trust that - if not to-night then at least before the motion is disposed of - it will make a gesture that throughout the length and breadth of the continent will gladden the hearts of the woolgrowers, the meat-producers, and every other class of primary producer.
.- The motion moved by the honorable member for Wide. Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) is one with which this House is familiar. The honorable gentleman admitted that when he introduced it last year he did not get very far with it; although at that time the party to which he belongs had several members in the Cabinet. He has also stated that the principle underlying the motion is embodied in the policy of the Country party.
– I did not use those words.
– Did the honorable gentleman speak for himself, or for his party?
– I spoke for myself. But it is the policy of the Country party, and a plank of its platform.
– That party was in power for six years, yet took no action to give effect to this proposal.
– It was introduced only a year ago.
– The honorable gentleman will have great trouble in making the country believe that this is any more than stage-setting, or playing to the gallery. He spoke about similar legislation which was passed by a Labour Government in Queensland. That is the only State in Australia where such a proposal has been given effect.
– It could not give effect to this because there is no constitutional authority to do so.
– The honorable gentleman said that he supported this principle in Queensland, so far as the State Government there could give effect to it within the confines of the State.
– I made no such statement.
– It is interesting to recall some of the observations that were made by members of the honorable member’s party when the Primary Producers’ Organization Bill was before the Queensland Parliament in 1922, and to contrast them with the honorable gentleman’s statement that this principle is embodied in the platform of the Country party. The Primary Producers’ Organization Bill was introduced in Queensland with the object of giving to primary producers the right to organize solidly, and control the marketing of their own products. A prominent member of the Country party, Mr. Barnes, said during the passage of that bill, “ The scheme was toned-down Sovietism. It was revolutionary in the extreme.”’
– He is not a member of the Country party.
– The honorable gentleman will not deny that the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) is the Leader of the Country party in this House. That right honorable gentleman made the following statement concerning the measure to which I have alluded :
The policy pursued by the former Queeusland Government had been to make the farmer the toad under the Labour Government’s harrow, and his produce the plaything of government officials.
Yet the honorable member for Wide Bay >(Mr. Bernard Corser) now says that he supported those proposals of the Queensland Labour Government when they were introduced in 1922 ! He is merely “ a voice crying in the wilderness.” Last year he brought forward this proposal, but got nowhere with his own Government, but he waxed eloquent to-night when pleading with this Government to give effect to the proposal. I do not quarrel with him for expecting to get from this Government something that he failed to get from his own. I remind him, however, that he is advocating what is tantamount to the declared policy of this Government. He must be aware that a similar proposal has been on the platform of the Labour party for many years, and that at the last election we said that if we were returned to power we would immediately take steps to give effect to it. So far as the Constitution will allow, this Government will advance in the direction of giving effect to a policy that will enable the primary producers of this country so to organize themselves that they will be able to take charge of, and run their own industry, free from the influences that at present operate against them, and -which cause to be diverted from their pockets hundreds of thousands of pounds that should be theirs as a reward for their labour. The honorable gentleman cannot be unmindful of the fact that, within a very few weeks of the assumption of office by this Government, it took steps to organize one of the most important of our staple industries, the wheat industry. I, as Minister for Markets, presided in this city over the most representative conference of wheat-growers that has ever assembled in any part of the Commonwealth. That conference itself declared that its business should be conducted on strictly non-party lines; and from the beginning to the end its deliberations were carried on in a strictly non-political atmosphere. That was a decisive step, and the only step that could be taken within the limits of the Constitution, to give effect to proposals such as that which the ‘ honorable gentleman now advocates. He said - and I agree with him - that it is not possible for the Commonwealth Government itself to set about the organization of the wheat-growers. It is not within the power of the Commonwealth Government acting- alone to take . action by which the producers of any particular commodity in Australia to-day can so. organize their industry as to have complete charge of it. Unfortunately, this can only be done in a round-about way by co-operation with the States. The present Government adopted the only method available to it. It proceeded to co-operate with the State Governments. It called a conference of the Ministers for Agriculture in the various States, and the representatives of every organization of wheatgrowers throughout Australia. I think that all who attended the conference recently held in Canberra, or are familiar with the nature of it.s proceedings, will realize how totally disorganized those primary producers are. That lack of organization has for many years left them at the mercy of those who have too long been exploiting them. This conference was the first real attempt by the Commonwealth to hold out a helping hand to the wheat-growers, and give them a form of organization that will enable them to extricate themselves from their present difficulties. The Government proposes to introduce a measure - I hope that it will be brought down next week - to give effect to the scheme outlined at that conference and unanimously accepted by it.
What we are doing in regard to the wheat industry we propose to do with respect to other primary industries, if the producers themselves indicate to us that they want the orderly marketing of their products. Thus the Government will be doing exactly what the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), has asked for in his motion. I hope that when the Government brings down its proposal next week for a Commonwealth wheat pool it will have the wholehearted support of the honorable member.
– I hope that we shall have the support of the whole of his party.
– Yes. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has already stated that he will stand behind the Government’s proposal, and I think that he said he spoke for his party. I agree that the Government has been compelled to adopt a round-about method of approaching the problem, but under the Constitution it could take no other course. If, at the forthcoming referendum, the people agree to the bill conferring on the Commonwealth Parliament power to alter the Constitution as the need for it arises, the Parliament will have complete power to do what is advocated in the motion. I trust that the honorable member for Wide Bay will support the Government in that measure also, to enable it to do in a direct way what it can now do only in a round-about fashion.
– Will the Minister promise that my scheme will be given effect to if that bill is agreed to?
– If the Government’s proposals are carried at the referendum, the Parliament will be able to amend the Constitution from time to time as necessary, and thus be in a position to pass any appropriate legislation.
The statement of the honorable member in regard to the difficulties now besetting the primary producers will be endorsed by everybody who is acquainted with the conditions under which they labour. He said that during the past few years production had declined, and the number of producers in the rural areas had decreased. That is a significant fact. He also said that the principal reason for this was the lack of a proper system for the marketing of their products, and I quite agree with him. This position is not entirely the fault of the primary producers themselves. I consider that it is the duty of a government to give the producers a lead by telling them that if they thoroughly organize themselves, it will be prepared to hear their representations, and, so far as it is humanly possible, give effect to them. The honorable member is quite right in saying that their difficulties are largely due to a lack of proper marketing facilities. I think that he will agree with me that previous governments are to blame for not doing something in the direction he has indicated.
– In 1926 the late Government tried to obtain power to do what the honorable member desires.
– I was here during the period when that Government was in office. I know it tried to obtain certain powers, but it never really indicated that if it got them it would set about to introduce the reform embodied in the motion.
– The late Government had as much power as the present Ministry has.
– Yes. Although the Labour party has not yet secured the powers it tried to obtain for the Commonwealth Parliament years ago, it is not content to let matters rest there. All it can possibly do to-day is to indicate its proposals to the States, and seek their co-operation in order that effect may be given to what it considers the right thing to do in the interests of the primary producers. If the proposed constitutional powers are not granted, this reform can only be brought about in a most irksome fashion that will cause great delay, not only to the State and Federal Governments, but also to the primary producers. We are now endeavouring to get the six States into line regarding the proposed Commonwealth wheat pool. Some of the States say that they will pass the necessary legislation, but some have not given a definite reply. The Premier of South Australia, for instance, says one day that he will do it, and on another occasion declares that he will not. One section of his cabinet is in favour of the proposal, and another opposes it. It would be difficult to know where that Ministry stands in the matter.
Motion (by Mr. Thompson) proposed -
That the question be now put.
Question - That the question be now put - put. The House divided.
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate interrupted in accordance with sessional order.
That Mr. Parker Moloney have leave to continue his speech upon the resumption of the debate.
– I move -
That, inaccordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act, 1913-1921, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, viz. : -
Construction of steamer for the lighthouse service.
This vessel is required for lighthouse services on the Western Australian coast, at present carried out by the lighthouse steamer Kyogle which is 28 years old. She was purchased secondhand by the Commonwealth in 1924. In many respects she is not entirely suitable for the work, particularly because of her small fuel-carrying capacity which, owing to the great length of coast line to be navigated, involves frequent returns to port for refuelling. This would be obviated if a new steamer of the type proposed were engaged in the work.
The steamer will have a displacement of approximately 1,000 tons. She will be 195 feet in length, 35 feet in breadth, and 18 feet in depth, and will be constructed of steel. She will be fitted with steam-driven triple expansion engines and oil-fired boilers. The vessel will have a steaming radius of 3,000 miles with a cruising speed of 10 knots. The construction will be to Lloyd’s highest class. and in accordance with the requirements of the Board of Trade and Commonwealth Navigation Act. Construction will be undertaken by arrangement with the management of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard. Australian labour and material will be utilized to the’ greatest possible extent. The estimated cost is £120,000.
– Will this vessel be similar to the York and the Leeuwin?
– It will be somewhat similar, but more modern.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
Clause 2 -
In this act, unless the contrary intention appears - “ the trustees “ means the trustees appointed by this act.
Senate’s amendment. -
After “ by “ insert “ or under “.
Clause 5 -
The Director, the Secretary to the Department of the Treasury, and the Secretary to the Department of Home Affairs shall be the trustees of the fund.
Senate’s amendment. -
After “ Affairs “ insert “ and such other person as the Minister may appoint “.
– I move -
That the amendments be agreed to.
The bill provides for three trustees, namely, the Director of the Observatory, the Secretary to the Treasury, and the Secretary to the Department of Home Affairs. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) suggested, when the bill was under consideration in this chamber, that a fourth person should be appointed. It was felt that Mrs. Duffield, the widow of the late Director of the Observatory, should be made a trustee. When the bill was before another place, an amendment to that effect was agreed to, and the Government is quite prepared to accept it.
.- I am glad that the Government will accept this amendment, for it will cause to be added to the board of trustees a lady who is particularly interested in the work of the observatory.
Motion agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Moving Pictures - Export of Australian Fauna - Loan of Defencecamp Equipment - Coasting Provisions of Navigation Act - Sale of Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers.
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair - proposed -
.- One of the most important influences on the social life of to-day is the moving picture. It would be hard indeed to determine the effect of this form of entertainment upon the community, psychologically and otherwise. The “ talkie “ is, however, exercising a much greater influence than the silent moving picture. This remarkable invention must inevitably play an important part in the development of the nation in the years immediately ahead of us. For the purpose of ensuring that the effect of these forms of entertainment shall be good, Parliament has appointed a board of censors. I do not know what remuneration the members of the board receive, but I have no doubt that they are fairly well paid. But, even if they have undertaken the work purely from patriotic motives they have fallen down on the job, and have failed to realize their responsibilities. That the matter is of more than passing concern is shown by the comment that is published in the newspapers almost weekly. Since this House re-assembled I have asked two questions of the Minister, and they have been answered flippantly, almost defiantly, at the instance of the department or the censors. The Minister cannot realize his duty, or he would have given me an assurance that the board will function as it should. I quote this comment by the Melbourne Argus -
The declaration of the Acting Minister for Customs (Mr. Fordo) that the Federal Ministry intends to exclude undesirable and immoral moving pictures is satisfactory so far as it goes.
I have not seen that declaration by the Minister, but if it was made, no attempt has been made to give effect to it. The Argus continued -
But there are many pictures which are neither immoral nor undesirable in the generally accepted sense which can do incalculable harm to young and old. Films which are oversensational, which deal with what is called the “ underworld “ which emphasize falsesocial values or which wrongly represent phases of life, as in the tedious “ back-stage “ series, should also be carefully censored. Mr. Forde made no reference to pictures containing offensive or ugly American slang. Not only do some of these give currency to improper words and phrases, but educationists have observed with alarm their corrupting influence on the speech of the rising generation. The power of impressions which are conveyed at the same time through the eyes and ears cannot be overestimated. American slang, combined with native slovenliness of speech, might result in a hideous Australian jargon. The educational interests of children are inseparable from their moral interests.
That is a nice little homily for the Minister to digest, and it supports my opening remarks. The Argus has clearly stated what the public expects of the Government. The pictures are a growing menace to the morality and culture of the community. I have always been proud of the morals and manners of my fellowcitizens. I have not had much opportunity to make comparisons by globe-trotting, but what I saw when I was abroad during the war period convinced me that Australian morals and manners compare more than favorably with those of other countries. To protect that high standard the censorship must be made more rigorous. I quote now the opinion of native-born Australians who are jealous of the credit and culture of their country. The Sun of the 20th March published this report of a debate at the conference of the Australian Natives Association -
An attack on American films and the alleged failure of the censors to do their duty was made to-day at the Australian Natives Association Conference here by Mr. T. J. Carmody ( Malvern ) .
Conference carried his motion. “ That this conference considers the growing influence of foreign films to be inimical to Australia’s national welfare, because of the effect on the moral outlook of the young and the unsatisfactory economic effects of the present position, and urges the Federal Government to impose a substantial tax on all remittances from Australia to producers or distributors of films not produced within the British Empire.”
Moral Tone Getting Lower. “ Morally the tone of American pictures being imported is getting lower and lower each year,” said Mr. Carmody. “There is no term I can use that would be sufficiently strong to describe the tactics of American film producers to try to popularize their films. They are raking the mullock heaps of their big cities.”
He added that even his own children, who had never seen a talkie, were using the American slang and nasal twang picked up by mimicry from playmates whose parents allowed them to assimilate the atrocities offered them in pictures. “ I think censorship has been a most diabolical failure, and I think we should start a move to tell censors forcibly that they are not being paid to let these things into Australia.”
Money Should be Taxed. “ Degradation of the morals of the Aus tralian nation cannot bo computed commer cially,” he added, “ but there is an economic aspect to the case. Last year £1,100,000 went out of this country into the hands of American producers as clear profit.
By taxing this money we may be able to make it not worth while for these films to be sent here. That would open the way for British films, which are of a high quality.”
Apart from the economic aspect of this problem, I am concerned to see that the censor passes only films that will give wholesome entertainment to the people. When I am at my home in Adelaide I do not enter a house of amusement once in twelve months. I get my recreation inmy home or in the. garden, and if I do not care for canned music, I can sing a little for myself. I see picture-shows only when I am at a loose-end, and have no other means of occupying my idle moments. During my recent visit to Melbourne and Tasmania, I saw four picture-shows, and if I was able during that brief period tofind two films that were wholly objectionable, how many more must be seen by more regular patrons, who do not bother publicly to express their disgust? People pay to be amused, and they are entitled to get their money’s worth. I paid top prices, and felt inclined to leave the theatre. I recollect on one occasion meeting Mr. and Mrs. S. M. Bruce at the Paramount Theatre, Melbourne. On the following day I asked Mr. Bruce what he thought of the show, and he replied, “I go to these houses to be amused, not to see that sort of stuff.” However, he neither did nor said anything by way of protest. But if the censors were doing their job, neither Mr. Bruce nor I would have been taken down for our money. Another interesting extract is from the Adelaide Advertiser -
In an address on cinema films to the Housewives Association yesterday, Miss P. Watson, of the Teachers’ Training College, said that a German neurologist, in 250 films analysed, had found 07 murders, 51 adulteries, 19 seductions, 22 abductions, and 45 suicides. Amongst the chief figures represented as heroes and heroines in these films were 176 thieves, 25 prostitutes, and 35 drunkards.
A fine company to entertain and educate the community ! If something is not done as a result of this united protest,I shall not hesitate to raise the matter again. I have a daughter and three grandchildren. I am no prude, but I do not wish them to get their ideas of life from films in which the’ principal characters are immoral or criminal. Miss Watson continued -
The average American film, had a demoralizing and pernicious effect on children. The pictures were based on American standards, which were opposed to the British and Australian ideals of morality- and law and order. Many films also delighted to feature domestic squabbles and expounded a callous disregard for marriage laws.
There had always been ft vast difference between the American and British viewpoint on these matters, said Miss Watson, and the motion picture was breaking the difference down to a dangerous degree. “ Grotesquely , Unreal.” “ From our point of view,” she said, “ most of what is shown on the screen is grotesquely unreal, gives utterly false values of living, and tends to lower the whole moral and social fibre of our community life.
Miss Watson said she was not opposed to the motion picture generally, describing it as one of the most important factors in the development of intellectual and social life in the last 25 years, but she was strongly in favour of a higher standard and a greater percentage of British films. The British film, she said, was not only of a better standard, but was free from the American slang, which was gradually being acquired by school children, to the debasement of the language.
She advocated stronger action by the public generally with regard to the standard of pictures shown, and said that if an agitation was made for British films they would probably be forthcoming in large numbers. In that respect the lack of action on the part of the public was, to a large extent, to blame.
What Miss Watson has said is indisputable.
– And apparently she takes a live interest in public affairs. We must realize that sensational and prurient films are staged only to increase the profits of the exhibitors. If large audiences can be attracted by an exhibition of bare legs and suggestive incidents, which appeal to the more depraved sections of the community, the picture people do not care how pernicious the influence on the minds of the people. I am surprised that the censors pass films which are filled with awful American slang and mannerisms. But even our own people must share the responsibility for the spread of these faults. One can read in the Register, or the Sydney Sun of the doings and sayings of “ Fashionplate Fanny” and Bingo Bill”. We spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on an educational system to teach our kiddies to speak the King’s English, and affluent newspapers are doing their best to undo that good work.
– Is the honorable member a killjoy?
– Have I said anything that would- suggest that? I do not mind the honorable member indulging in mixed bathing, because I believe he can behave himself, but if he becomes a wild beast he should be locked up.
– Does the honorable member wish to curtail the joys of life?
– I wish to curtail any influence that tends to lower the high standards of our nation. I complained to the Minister regarding the picture “ Hallelujah.” It commenced by showing a negro and negress approaching the pastor’s house to be married. They had with them eight children, and they told the pastor that they wished to” save their good name. That was pouring ridicule on the marriage tie. Then a young cottongrower realized on his crop, and was shown in a drinking den in company with a woman. She winked to another man in the corner, who came forward,, and hy means of loaded dice relieved the young planter of the whole of his pile. Finally he saw red and commenced to shoot up the saloon ; he succeeded only in killing his brother. This was the most degrading parody on the Christian religion I have ever seen. After a great, show of penitence, the young fellow became an evangelist, and was shown riding an ass in a street procession. That was a parody of an incident in the life of our Saviour. Some people in the crowd jeered at him, and he immediately hopped off the ass and knocked a couple of them out. The next scene showed a baptismal gathering, and the struggles of a big negress during her immersion knocked over three of the other candidates. That again was a parody. The part portraying a revival meeting was a crowning insult to the Christian religion. In reply to my complaint, the Acting Minister sent me a confidential letter which I intend to read. I asked him upon what grounds, moral, musical, educational or religious, the picture had been censored, and whether in his opinion it met the requirements of the public. In reply he sent me a copy of the following letter from the Chief Censor: -
This film was viewed by Colonel Hurley and Mrs. Glencross on the 1st November last, and 1 alao saw about half of the picture with them. We discussed it afterwards at some length and it was decided to pass it.
We believe it to be a sincere attempt to portray in a dramatic way certain phases of negro life and character, and from our reading and knowledge, especially in regard to their moral standards and the excessive and extraordinary manifestations of religious hysteria on the part of that race, it did not appear to us to bc overdrawn. If the same incidents had been enacted by whites it would, without any question, have been rejected.
The censors let the negroes put anything over, and class the film as grotesque, although actually it is insulting and disgusting to any civilized community. Because that picture had a negro cast the censors, Mrs. Glencross, Colonel Hurley, and Creswell O’Reilly, passed it. Mr. O’Reilly’s letter continues -
From our exchanges we gather that the film has been shown throughout America, and only one Canadian censorship has rejected it. It will also be shown in England. I append for the Minister’s information extracts from certain magazines, not that we agreed entirely with what is said, but to show that there can be different opinions as to the value of the film. With regard to Mr. Yates’s desire to know “ what value was set upon the picture either from an entertainment, musical, or educational point of view,” we think it has no value whatsoever to the average Australian audience in these respects, but the regulations neither require nor allow us to apply these tests in judging a picture.
I should like to know what tests were applied in judging this picture. I want to see the regulations, and to know what are the actual duties of the censors. Their sole work seems to be to sit in a room and watch films. I suggest that they did not see this picture at all. They sent to me extracts from American magazines - the Picture Play of November, 1929, and December, 1929 - commenting on the film “Hallelujah.” Those I am not going to read. I also received an extract from the Educational Screen of November, 1929, and that I shall place on record. It reads -
Have our censors any such directions? The Educational Screen directs that this film is not for youths of from fifteen to twenty years of age, and essentially not for children. Yet it is shown without restriction in a picture theatre in Collinsstreet, Melbourne, and in many other theatres. I suggest that the censors judged the film “ Hallelujah “ on the information contained in the American publications, and passed that literature on to me. It is evident that the censors either did not see this picture screened, or had no respect for the moral basis of our society. If they did see the film screened, and then passed it, I doubt whether they attend any of the churches of this country.
– What was the title of that film?
-“ Hallelujah.” It was shown in the Plaza Theatre, which is so pretty and up to date, that if; attracted more people than even the film itself. Since the publication of my criticism of this film, I have met several persons who have endorsed every word of it. The first picture on a programme may be a decent one and the second a bad one. That is what occured in Hobart, in a programme that included the picture called “ Shanghai Lady.” Honorable members know Miss Watson’s opinion regarding the thieves, prostitutes, and drunkards portrayed in that film. When I sought information from the Minister in this case my language rather shocked him. I can assure the House that it was clean com- pared with the picture itself. I stated the facts baldly, so that there could be no misunderstanding. I asked -
Is it a fact that the picture shown in Hobart on the 28th ultimo, entitled “Shanghai Lady,” is simply a portrayal of lurid scenes in a Chinese brothel, the vicissitudes of a harlot and an escaped life convict, and a complication of jargon slang language which is neither English nor Chinese?
That question epitomizes the picture. The reply which I received to my question about the picture “ Hallelujah “ was as follows : -
The regulations do not require that the Film Censorship Board shall place a definite value upon a film from the points of view mentioned in the question. The regulations provide that nofilm shall be registered which -
is blasphemous, indecent, or obscene “Hallelujah” was each of those to any man with a clean mind or one professing the faith born in him in a Christian community.
is likely to be injurious to morality, or to encourage or incite to crime-
Miss Watson’s statement will show whether that was the effect.-
Let us see whether “ Shanghai Lady “ is blasphemous, indecent, or obscene. The first act opens in a bawdy house, which the lady enters in a state of intoxication. I do not believe that conditions such as those which are portrayed exist. On the contrary, it is my opinion that the picture is overdrawn. The first scene is a disgusting one; although some people may think it is clever. The lady falls out with her associates and eventually is clothed in nothing but her’ underwear - which, I admit, is prettier than her outer garments. Some one gives her clothing and money, and she leaves. On her way to the next town she falls in with a gentleman who has escaped from jail. It has been his good fortune to find a place where he was succoured as she had been. They meet on the train. He has some money, but does not know where he has obtained it. When he escaped from the police he fell into a doorway, and upon regaining consciousness finds money in his pocket. The lady is approached by a person who wants to sell her a fur. She fumbles for her purse and finds that she has lost it; so she puts the “hard word “ on her pal. One of the principal witnesses is placed in a death chamber, and there the picture ends. There is no other story, excepting that of these two “beautiful” characters. Whether they get back to America, Heaven alone knows. America would be better off without such people, if they exist.
The point that I wish to make is that the reply furnished by the Censorship Board side-stepped the question. If the censors cannot see that better pictures than those which I have witnessed are screened, they should be discharged, because they are not doing what they were appointed to do. We should discard all pretence, and save the cost of the board. I know that there is an argument which can be used in regard to the economic side of the question. But I have seen several British pictures and have had no reason to complain of them. At least, it has not been difficult to understand what the characters say. We should give every encouragement to the exhibition of such pictures.
This afternoon I questioned the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) regarding the export of kangaroos from Australia. I have endeavoured to induce him to allow a gentleman in Adelaide to export birds, and have furnished him with particulars of what the industry means to this country. I hope that the Cabinet will consider the wisdom of allowing people who deal in fauna in Australia to have the opportunity to export it.
Just before the House adjourned for the Christmas vacation, I had occasion to wait on the Minister for Defence (Mr. A. Green) in regard to a request made by the Legacy Club for the loan of some equipment for a camp that was to be held early in the new year. To my astonishment, the Minister refused the request. I was appealed to by members of the Legacy Club to see if I could impress upon him the extent of the favour he would bestow, and the saving that would be involved. I did so without hesitation, because I consider that, if there is any body upon which responsibility rests for the results of the war, it is the Commonwealth Parliament, anc! that the Defence Department is the one most concerned. Legacy clubs are composed of persons who endeavour to help the widows of soldiers to rear their children and give them some of the pleasures of. life. I was asked to speak to Mr. Shepherd, the secretary to the department, and did so. He told me that, requests for this camp equipment were becoming so numerous that the department could not entertain them; that unless they took a stand against the practice- they would be inundated with requests, aud the cost would be too great; I know what soldiers’ dixies, ground sheets and trestle tables are. I was in the militia 40 years ago, and have assisted in putting them away. They last a lifetime with ordinary care, even if they are used every clay in the week. I was able to secure a favourable reply by putting it to the department, “Upon whom does the legacy club rest, private individuals or the Defence Department?” Mr. Shepherd informed me unequivocally that this equipment was loaned only at the request of a State Government, but that on this occasion the Minister had changed his view and had consented to the request. When I returned to Adelaide, I met the gentleman who had asked me to intercede -on behalf of the Legacy Club. He thanked me very profusely. I informed him of the reason that had been given for the refusal of the request in the first place, and of the circumstances in which the equipment was usually loaned. He said, “That is quite wrong.” I replied, “ Oh, no, I was told so by the Secretary to the department.” He said, “Well, the Young Australia League boys have just left Adelaide, and they had the very things that we want.” That made me look as big as twopence; consequently, the other day, I asked the Minister the following questions : -
The replies that I received were as follow : -
– They were not soldiers’* boys, either.
– No. The Secretary to the department must have known of the circumstances surrounding the loan of the equipment to the Young Australia League boys, because he would not deal with the request of the Legacy Club without referring to his file. Yet he deliberately gave me the reply that I have placed before honorable members. It is “ up to “ the Minister to see that that officer is more particular in the management of the department, and that when a request is made by a member he shall take the trouble to acquaint himself properly with the procedure, and not place a member iu the invidious position that I occupied.
– I concur to a great extent in the remarks of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr, Yates) regarding the censorship of films, but I desire to mention another matter of considerable importance. When I was summoned by you, Mr. Speaker, to attend the meeting of this Parliament on the 12th inst., I had reserved a berth on the transcontinental train, but heavy rain? had fallen along the line, aud flooded: about SO miles of it, so that it was impossible for passengers to travel over it. On Sunday, the 2nd March, I rang up the stationmaster in Perth and asked if I could get through by train on the following Tuesday. He replied, “You have not the ghost of a chance”. I immediately . motored to Perth in order to move the powers that be so that I might be permitted to travel on either of the two overseas vessels that were then lying in the port of Fremantle, there being no interstate boat until the following Saturday. I telephoned to the Deputy Director of Navigation there, and he telegraphed to the Director of Navigation in Melbourne. These officials recognized that my claim for permission under the Navigation Act to travel on an overseas steamer was justified. “The agents for the two ships that were in port, the Orient liner Oronsay, and the White
Star liner Ceramic, were advised by the Director of Navigation that he would gru nt a permit. I particularly desired permission to travel by the Orient steamer, because then I should be sure to reach Adelaide in time io proceed by train to Canberra for the first meeting of this House after the recess. The agents for the Oronsay telegraphed to the head office of the company in Sydney, and a reply was received that it regretted that it was unable to grant me a passage by that steamer, although tinder the Navigation Act it would have been permissible in the circumstances. This decision was given despite the fact that the company, I was informed, had 300 berths vacant. Messrs. Dalgety and Company, the agents for the White Star line, applied for a permit half an hour before the Ceramic sailed, and I was thus able to travel by that vessel. -
I maintain that, through the Navigation Act, Australia has placed itself in a most invidious position. I, a British subject and Australian born, was not able to travel on a British ship. The Orient Company was advised by the Director of Navigation that if it applied for a permit to grant me a passage it would be given. Why did it not do so? While the overseas companies opposed, tooth and nail, the passage of the Navigation Act, which prohibited them from carrying passengers on our coast without a permit, they do not wish to carry them to-day. After the act had been passed, Lord Inchcape and company said, “ We must set our sails to the wind “. Therefore, they bought a controlling interest in the Australian mercantile marine. One of the great contentions in support of the passage of the Navigation Act was that it would enable Australia to establish its own mercantile marine, but to-day it has less interest in this trade than- it had before the act was passed. Lord Inchcape now controls our coastal shipping. I hope that the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) .-will take cognizance of this position. When Australia finds itself in such a dilemma that the subjects of the Crown are unable, even with the permission of the navigation authorities, to board a ship that is subsidized by the Commonwealth, the situation is most serious.
– How did the honorable member manage to travel by the Ceramic?
– Because Dalgety and Company, apparently reluctantly, applied for a permit on the condition that I paid the fi charged for it. I had to rush down to the boat at the last minute, and my ticket was brought to me on board. It behoves every honorable member to give serious consideration to this position. Owing to the monopoly over Australian shipping that we have given to Lord Inchcape, in the interests of a few seamen, it would be better for us to pension them off for the rest of their lives, or get them to grow more wheat, than to make it impossible to carry the raw materials grown in one part of Australia to the factories in other parts where they are required. We have had evidence that it costs more to bring timber from Tasmania to the mainland than from America to Australia. It has been proved that a factory in Australia is not able to sell its products in other States in competition with manufacturers in other parts of the world., owing to the high coastal freights. When the Navigation Commission took evidence at Cairns, the agents for the Calyx Potteries Co., of Western Australia, had visited Cairns for the purpose of doing business there. A leading firm in that town deposed that it considered the product of this company to be as good in its class as could be obtained anywhere, and it had ordered three crates of this ware from Western Australia, but it found that it had been charged 90s. for a 36 ft. ton, as against the freight of 70s. for a 40 ft. ton from Great Britain to’ Cairns.
When Mr. Samuel McKay, of H. V. McKay Ltd., was examined before the commission, he was asked if he used timber in the manufacture of agricultural implements, and he replied that he required a considerable quantity. The commission wished to know if he used Australian timber, and his answer was “Very little”. He pointed out, in reply to further questions, that local timber was highly suitable for his firm’s purposes, but that the reason for not using it was that agricultural machinery was dear enough already for the farmers to buy, and, if the company purchased silky oak and other suitable Australian timbers, the freight charges would’ increase the cost of the implements to the farmers. He was ashed where the timber was obtained, and he replied, “From Noumea and Borneo.” These are matters that we should take into serious consideration. We should ask ourselves whether we are not doing more harm than good in continuing the fetish of the Navigation Act in a country with 12,000 or 13,000 miles of coastline.
– Was not the honorable member a supporter of the Government that sold the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers?
– The seamen ruined it.
– That was another fetish, which, thank God, we have abandoned, thus saving £500,000 a year. I believe that the day has arrived when Australia should rid itself of everything that is of disservice to it, and develop those things that are of service. We should cut out the exotic growths that are hampering development. It is all very well for the Government to’ urge the farmer to grow more wheat, in order to get the country out of the bog into which it has fallen. The farmers already work from twelve to thirteen hours a day, and. they are now asked to put in another hour or two in an unprofitable business. They are urged to produce more wealth to enable a number of lazy, exotic industries to carry on. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Fenton), is wrong in imagining that good can result from the further spoonfeeding of certain industries at the expense of the primary producers. I hope that the Parliament will assist in removing the shackles that have brought us to this unenviable position. I shall take an opportunity to say more on this matter when the debate on the Prime Minister’s statement of the Government’s policy’ is resumed.
.- It is surprising to hear members of the Opposition attacking the shipping ring. Members of the Country party, who. are now complaining of the poor deal that the primary producer has received from the shipping combine, were responsible for the disposal of the Commonwealth Shipping Line which afforded the only protection the primary producers had against the shipping ring. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) has just informed us that it costs more to send goods by steamer from Perth to Cairns than from England to Cairns. Who is responsible for that?
– The Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was in full operation when the case that I quoted was brought under notice.
– The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) remarked that the seamen ruined the Australian Commonwealth Line. I maintain that the loss of that sheet anchor of the primary producers was due to the shipping ring, which desired to get a monopoly of both our overseas and coastal . shipping. When the Australian Commonwealth Line was operating there was a good deal of industrial trouble, and, if the late Government had not given the Line away, it could have operated in competition with the combine.
– The present Government is not game to re-establish it.
– In 1923 one of the members of the Country party said that its policy was to extend that Line, and yet that party stood behind the Government that destroyed the Line. On the 10th July, 1923, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), who was then Minister for Works, said in this House - “
The platform of the Country party declares in favour of the extension of the Commonwealth Shipping Line by the inclusion of large and fast steamers .with plentiful insulated space for the purpose of carrying perishable products to the markets of the world at reasonable rates.
What happened immediately after the sale of the Government ships? The shipping companies intimated that they intended to increase overseas freights by 10 per cent. Mr. Bruce, fearing the result of such an increase at that time, called the representatives of the companies into conference and appealed to them to hold their hand until the criticism caused by the sale of the Commonwealth-owned ships had died down.
The shipping combine is undoubtedly taking a heavy toll from the primary producers. It charges £1 12s. 6d. per ton for carrying wheat overseas and £10 10s. per ton for wool. It will be said, of course, that wool is a more bulky cargo than wheat ; but as a ton of wool takes the place of only 4 tons of wheat, there is still a difference of £3 per ton against the wool-grower. The snipping companies are, therefore, playing off one class of primary producer against another. If the price of wheat wore to improve immediately, there is no certainty that the shipping companies would not rob the wheatgrower of the benefit of it by increasing the freight on wheat. If the Inchcape combine has secured a controlling interest in the Australian coastal shipping lines, honorable members opposite are responsible for it. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) did not raise his voice on this subject until he began to feel the pinch personally. It was only when he was unable to travel across Australia on the transcontinental railway on his gold pass, but had to use the ships, thathe raised his voice in the interests of the primary producer.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member is making a misstatement and is misrepresenting me. He should know-
– Ican allow the honorable member for Forrest to speak to a point of order, but if he desires to make a personal explanation he must wait until the honorable member for Kennedy has concluded his speech.
Mr.RIORDAN.-I have no desire to misrepresent the honorable member for Forrest ; but to my knowledge the Country party has not made any protest against, the shipping position in recent years. It certainly did not protest against the sale of the Australian Commonwealth line of steamers. It must have been patent to the honorable member for Forrest that immediately the Government-owned vessels were sold the shipping monopoly would increase freights. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said that the seamen had destroyed the line of steamers owned by the Commonwealth : but the blame for what happened must be laid at the door of the previous Government. Mr. Larkin, the exmanager of the Australian Commonwealth Line, did not think that the seamen were responsible for the failure of the line. He made no secret of the fact that the shipping combine did everything possible to prevent the successful operation of the line. There is no doubt that when the previous Government sold its vessels it abandoned the sheet anchor and left the primary producers to imposition and exploitation.
During the war when Australia supplied tho British Government with meat at 4d. per lb. the price of cattle ranged from £10 to £12 per head. Immediately the contract with the British Government ended the print of cattle fell to between £1 and £1 5s. per head. But the Australian consumers did not map any advantage from that. They still had to pay just as much for their meat.
We do not know whether the BrucePage Government worked in conjunction with the shipping combine in selling the Commonwealth Government line of steamers; but the circumstanceswere suspicious. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) smiles, yet he knows very well that the strike of the British seamen was used as an argument for the sale of the government-owned vessels. As a matter of fact, that strike was caused on the eve of the election to prevent the public from realizing the true facts of the case. After the election the Government said that it had a mandate to sell the Line.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The honorable mem-‘ ber for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) said that £ had not raised my voice on the subject of shipping until I was personally inconvenienced. Had he taken the trouble to inform , his mind of the facts he would have discovered that in this chamber and out of it I have constantly discussed this subject. I was able to so move this House that a royal commission was appointed to investigate the whole question. I have not ceased during all the years that ] have been a member of this House to draw the attention of the people of Australia to the manner in which the Navigation Act interfered with and shackled shipping on our coast.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Scullin ) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at - Newdegate, Western Australia - For Postal purposes.
Victoria Park, Western Australia - For Postal purposes.
MOVING Picture Industry: AWARDS ov Merit.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed-1-
That the House do now adjourn.
take the earliest opportunity of requesting the Minister for Customs (Mr. Fenton), who is now in England, to ask Mr. Ramsay MacDonald whether his Government will admit Australian films into Great Britain duty free seeing that we admit British films into Australia duty free?
– I shall give the request of the honorable member full consideration al the earliest possible moment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.27 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 March 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19300327_REPS_12_123/>.