12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and offered prayers.
Defence Department Equipment
– On the south coast of New South Wales many unemployed persons have nowhere to sleep. They, and. even their children, are livingin the bush, and have only a few bushes to cover them at night. In view of this fact, will the Minister for Defence make available to public organizations and district councils the use of military tents, so that these people may be sheltered from the inclemency of the Australian winter?
– I have received several requests from various States, and particularly from the Premier of New SouthWales, for the use of military camps and drill halls for the housing of the unemployed during the winter. The whole question is being considered by Cabinet. Primarily it is the duty of the States to care for the unemployed, but arrangements will probably be made by which the Defence Department will make available some of its equipment on the States undertaking to return it after the need for its use has passed. Certainly something will be done in that direction.
– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The decision of the Government to alter the existing practice of preference to returned soldiers.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– I have moved this motion to give honorable members an opportunity to voice their protest against the Government’s decision to alter the existing practice of giving preference in employment to returned soldiers.Personally I desire to make a sincere and urgent appeal to the Prime Minister aud the members of his Government and to all honorable members opposite to reconsider their decision to delete from the form of tender for Commonwealth contracts the soldierpreference clause. I trust that they will restore the practice which has existed throughout all the years since the war.
The time during which this motion can be discussed is limited by the Standing Orders, and as many honorable memberswill desire to speak to it, I shall state as briefly as possible the main reasons influencing me in making this protest and appeal. I have been a member of the National Parliament for more than ten years, and have always claimed, with a considerable measure of satisfaction, that during that time all questions affecting returned sailors and soldiers and their dependants have been debated here on non-party lines.We have, irrespective of party, recognized and appreciated the people’s mandate to deal generously and fairly with the nation’s ex-service men and the dependants of the fallen. That is the spirit in which I shall speak this morning.
I utterly fail to understand why the Government has decided to make this change. I have often discussed with trade unionists the policy of giving preference to returned sailors and soldiers, and have never found that they have any real objection to it. In fact, they realize, as we all must do,that if these men had not offered their services for the defence of the Empire and assisted through the tragic years of war to bring the conflict to a victorious conclusion, we should not now be in a position to consider giving preference to soldiers or to any one else. In fact, we should not be in a position, probably, to discuss any matters in a national parliament.
The Prime Minister, in replying yesterday to a question asked by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), said that a great deal of distress existed to-day because of widespread unemployment. Personally, I would gladly assist the Government to do everything possible to alleviate unemployment, for I realize that the Ministry has many great and difficult problems confronting it in connexion with this matter. But I fail to see how an alteration of the policy of preference to returned soldiers will- do anything to solve these problems, or to provide employment for a single additional man. If employment is available for 100 men, I cannot see that the alteration of this policy of preference will make it possible to employ 101 men on the work. Consequently, I feel that we must look elsewhere for the reason which has caused the Government to act in this way, and to overlook the nation’s obligations to the ex-service men. These obligations are just as great to-day as they were ten or twelve years ago.
We all know that the number of exmembers of the Australian Imperial Force is rapidly decreasing. All too surely the ex-members of Australia’s great volunteer army are passing on. A total of 416,800 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Of these 829,946 actually embarked for service overseas, and 262,500 of them returned to Australia. In the last five years, 3,658 soldier pensioners, or an average of two daily, have died. To-day there are 70,000 pensioners. No official record is kept of the deaths of ex-service men other, than soldier pensioners, but it is estimated that 20,000 ex-soldiers have died since peace was declared. Deducting the 70,000 remaining pensioners, and the 20,000 men who have died since peace was declared from the 262,500 who returned to Australia, we find that there are only 172,000 ex-service men remaining. It is probable that more than 50 per cent, of these have re-established themselves in civil life, so that approximately about 85,000 men could be affected by the Government’s decision to abolish preference.
The premature ageing of the men who served in the Australian Imperial Force is most striking. Most of us watched the Anzac Day processions of ex-service men which marched through’ the streets of our capital cities only a week ago, and we must have been struck -by the manner in which these men have aged. The Prime
Minister himself watched the great parade of ex-service men in Melbourne and, with his quick perception of such things, he must also have remarked upon the fact to which I have drawn attention. We have it on the’ very best authority that 99 per cent, of the ex-members of the Australian Imperial Force have already paid, or will some day be paying, the bill for their service, in either mental or physical suffering. Every man’s expectancy of life - to use the phrase of the life assurance companies - has been decreased by his experiences and hardships on active service. Oan this be wondered at? If we think for a moment of the last year or two of service that these men gave in France, we must realize that they were then practically living with death.
I may be pardoned for referring for a moment to my own experience, and the experiences of the men of the regiment of Australian light horsemen which I had the honour to command. The Australian light horse regiments, and the New Zealand mounted riflemen spent a very considerable time in that most unhealthy and unhappy spot - the Valley of the Jordan. - Honorable members are aware that the Jordan Valley is 1,200 feet below sea level, surrounded by the mountains of Judea and the mountains of Moab and Gilead, which rise some thousands of feet above sea level. Malaria and other sicknesses ‘ were prevalent in the valley. I suppose I could’ have counted on the fingers of my hands, the number of men who did not at some time suffer from malaria. Our troops carried on- long after other troops had left the valley. Even the Indian troops, who were supposed to be able to stand that climate, left the area before we did. Occasionally we were permitted to go away for a short rest to a cooler climate. We left the Jordan Valley and moved up to the mountains around Bethlehem, and enjoyed a short change. But I recollect that when the men reached this cooler district - and it was always in the early dawn, having marched through the night - they collapsed in scores, and were unable, in many instances, even to unsaddle their horses. There is no doubt whatever that those and similar experiences must ultimately exact full toll from the men of the Australian Imperial Force.
I do not think it can be said that the principle of preference to returned soldiers has ever been unfairly operated. Many of the men who went abroad on active service sacrificed good prospects in their own trades and callings. We all know that the Australian Imperial Force was recruited from every walk of life. The years that the men were away from their various businesses handicapped them greatly when they returned to civil occupations. Yet how splendidly the great majority of them have struggled to reestablish themselves in civil life. I have not time to-day to deal with this great principle of preference at any length; nor can I refer to the hardship which the system placed upon the shoulders of the youth of the country who were in knickerbockers during the war. During the years immediately following the declaration of peace it was difficult for these lads ‘ approaching manhood to secure positions in the Commonwealth Public Service. To their lasting credit, it can be said that every decent youth accepted the situation, and did not make complaint. To-day we have practically reached normal conditions in regard to the absorption of these young men into the Public Service, and I have no doubt that that is also true of other avenues of employment. The Commonwealth Public Service Act definitely includes the principle of preference to exsailors and soldiers.
I wish to refer to an interpretation of the principle of preference to ex-soldiers given by Sir Herbert Nicholls, Chief Justice of Tasmania, in 1919, at the request of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia and the Hobart City Council, for it is very sound. It is as follows: -
Preference to returned sailors and soldiers does not mean that a returned sailor or soldier should be appointed to an office if he is not capable of performing the duties of it. If a returned sailor or soldier is an applicant, and is capable of performing the duties of the office, and is of good character, he should be appointed.
Great care should be exercised to see that the phrase, “ other things being equal “, is not allowed to operate to deprive a returned sailor or soldier of an appointment which he is capable of filling. The principle upon which preference should be exercised should be as follows : - “ That if, having due regard to efficiency, it is reasonably possible to appoint a returned sailor or soldier to any position, he should be appointed, even though an applicant, who is not a returned sailor or soldier, might be considered to bc slightly better qualified.”
This preference should be given not only in the making of appointments, but also when the services of employees are being dispensed with. When retrenchment takes place in our Commonwealth services, the returned sailor and soldier employees should be the last to be put off provided they have given satisfactory service. During past years I have often listened to the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) when he has been making the most eloquent appeals on behalf of those comrades with whom he served during the war, and on behalf of their dependants. I have also listened to the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), than whom no one has been more urgent in his requests for the fair treatment of returned soldiers. Other honorable members to whom I look for support in this matter are the honorable member for Cook (Mr.. C. Riley), the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Paul Jones) and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge). Surely they must support me in the contention that it is only right and proper that this rapidly diminishing body of men should continue to enjoy the measure of preference in regard to employment which has hitherto been extended to them.
We as a people resent, and rightly so, any suggestion that we might not honour our obligations, financial or any other. Our record shows that we have always stood to our engagements, and no greater obligation rests on the people and parliament of Australia to-day than to continue this measure of preference to a body of men who are fighting against great odds, because they have always hanging over them the possibility of a breakdown in health, either mental or physical, as’ a result of their service overseas. Surely we can continue to give them preference of employment while any of thorn remain. I ask the Prime Minister to reconsider the decision which the Government has reached. I have said that so far as I know, and I have talked to many trade unionists, there is no definite objection on their part to the continuance of the policy of preference to returned soldiers. The question should not be whether a man is a unionist or a non-unionist. Whenever an ex-soldierhas asked my advice I have urged him to become a member of a union. To-day I read a statement allegedly made by the Prime Minister, that he knew of no ex-soldiers who are not unionists. I am sure that he did not make that statement. He knows that there are many ex-soldiers who cannot become members of unions.
Under the policywhich the Government has just announced the first preference will be given to persons who are exsoldiers, and members of unions. Second preference will be given to members of unions, and I am sincere in saying that I feel that the people of Australia will disapprove of this proposal which will have the effect of preventing many ex-soldiers, who are not members of unions, from securing any employment whatever - as far as works carried out by the Commonwealth Government are concerned. I sincerely and urgently appeal to the Prime Minister to amend this clause, and revert to the practice which has been in operation since the conclusion of the wa r.
– I appreciate the spirit, in which the honorable member for Brisbane has approached this subject. He has always dealt with any matter under discussion in a fair and reasonable way. I take no exception to anything thathe has said during the course of his speech. But he has addressed himself to this subject apparently in the belief that what the Government has done is to abolish preference to returned soldiers, although, asa matter of fact, the Government has done nothing of the kind. There is no abolition of preference to returned sailors and soldiers contained in the policy enunciated by the Government yesterday. I wish to emphasize that because of what the honorable member for Brisbane said regarding what the returned soldiers had gone through, and our obligation to them. 1 endorse every word of what he said in that respect; but it was not relevant to the position which the Government has taken up. If the Government were abolishing preference to returned soldiers and sailors the case made out by the honorable member for Brisbane would be a strong one, and difficult to answer. But such abolition of preference is not contemplated, and is not taking place. The policy of the Government is preference to unionists, and within that preference to unionists the preference to returned soldiers still stands. No returned soldier can be denied preference by the Commonwealth Government if he joins a union. Unionism alone has made arbitration in Australia possible. It is true that some unions have flouted arbitration, but as the Leader of the Opposition has said, out of 150 registered unions in Australia one could count on the fingers of one hand those which have not adhered to the principle of arbitration. Industrial arbitration is the policy of this country. Unionism makes arbitration possible, and preference to unionism is the policy of this Government, and has been the policy of the Labor party ever since it has been in existence. It includes returned sailors and soldiers. Honorable members opposite slander the returned soldiers when they suggest that the “dinkum diggers” do not believe in unionism. I applaud, the honorable member for Brisbane for advising returned soldiers to join unions. He said that, there are some returned soldiers who cannot become members of unions, and that is true; but there are no returned soldiers offering for government employment who cannot become members of a union. There are some returned soldiers working on the land who are not eligible for membership of a union ; but such persons are not applicants for government employment. The President of the Returned Soldiers League assured me that over80% of returned soldiers are members of unions. The other 20% include a large number who are not eligible to become members of a union. The small percentage who will not join unions, yet are prepared to benefit by what the unions are doing, are not true to the spirit of the A.I.F.I refuse to believe that the returned soldiers as a body will champion them. My knowledge of returned soldiers-
– Your knowledge of returned soldiers was not gained amongst them.
– I have mixed with them and worked alongside them. I have taken part in conferences of labour organizations and trade union congresses, and amongst the best unionists of them all were men who were to be found wearing the returned soldiers’ badge. We hear a great deal of talk about preference to returned soldiers, but there is very little of it practised by those who talk the loudest when the best jobs are to be filled. The preference, apparently, is only to be given when pick and shovel jobs are going. The men engaged in such work need the protection they will receive as members of a union. When the present Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Sir George Pearce) visited the Trades Hall in Melbourne to attend a function during the war, a request was made to him on behalf of the Australian Workers Union that a special division should be composed of the members of that great organization, of whom 35,000 had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. It is mostly those men who are to-day seeking casual employment from the Commonwealth Government, and they think that they should not be asked to work alongside non-unionists. Those who wish to obtain preference as returned soldiers can join up with their union in the spirit of true comradeship.
Let me point out what the returned soldiers owe to trade unionism in Australia. Many of them were merely boys when they went away, and when they returned they would have been easy victims for exploitation had their interests not been guarded by the trade unions. A system of vocational training for returned men was put into operation by the Government of which the right honorable member forNorth Sydney was the leader. Who was it who took charge of the training of these men; who guided them in choosing their vocations; and who protected them from exploitation when they went out to seek employment? The trade unions did this work, and rendered an in estimable service to returned soldiers when they were finding their feet after the war. Without the trade unions it would have been heaven help the returned soldiers when they came back to Australia. Let us consider the position of the returned soldiers who did not join the industrial ranks upon their return. Some went on to the land, and were not eligible for membership in trade unions. What kind of treatment did they get from those who shouted for preference to returned soldiers? I could show that all over Australia values of land on which returned soldiers had been settled have had to be written down because some of those who shouted for a fair deal for returned soldiers were not above exploiting and robbing them when they got the opportunity. Even to-day we are confronted with the necessity of writing down values still further.
I endorse everything that has been said about our obligation to returned soldiers. I have said before, and I repeat it, that while the soldiers sacrificed themselves at the war, many of those who stayed behind demanded 6 per cent. for the money they lent the Government in its hour of need, and still expect the returned soldiers to continue making sacrifices. While they go on piling up the interest charges, they are trying to reduce the wages of unionists, among whom are to be found 80 per cent. of the returned soldiers. The position on the waterfront throughout Australia is applauded by honorable members opposite. They claim that they have made the position secure for volunteers by their Transport Workers Act, and their regulations. What is the position? There is preference to nonunionists and preference to foreigners, while returned soldiers, wearing badges, are walking the streets half-starving. Not a word of protest has been uttered by honorable members opposite because of that, nor did they protest when two battalions of returned soldiers were locked out on the northern coal-fields of New South Wales because they refused to work for less than the award rate.
– What has all this to do with the subject under discussion?
– Its relevance to the motion is so apparent that I wonder at the honorable member asking the question. The protection of the returned soldier lies in his union, and preference to unionists protects unionism against those who would break it down. The greatest service that has been rendered and can be rendered to returned soldiers is the maintenance of a strong industrial organization to protect their rights. I have a report from an officer who visited the waterfront at Port Adelaide. There he saw foreigners, some of whom were unable to speak the English language, loading the boats, while returned soldiers were walking about the wharfs unable to get a job. ]3tit no member of the Opposition moved the adjournment of the House to call attention to that injustice! After the war many returned soldiers formed in Melbourne a stevedoring company. Every member of that co-operative body was a soldier. It took stevedoring contracts on the waterfront at Port Melbourne, but in pursuing their policy of preference to volunteers the ship-owners refused to allow many members of that company to be employed in loading the boats.
– They were not willing to do the work.
– They are anxious to work.
M’r. White. - We are not in favour of law-breakers.
– The honorable member apparently believes that a man can never expiate an offence; because of a mistake in conduct for one week, the honorable member would pursue the unionists on the waterfront vindictively for all time. There is a vital difference between the principles of honorable members opposite and honorable members on this side. We stand for preference to unionists.
– We give first preference to the returned soldier unionists. In regard to retrenchment I have time to say only a few words. The policy usually applied - last on, first off - is still in Operation. Nobody will suggest that the man who had been employed for only a month should be kept on in preference to a man who had been in his job for twenty years. That should not operate under any system of preference. The Government yields to none in its sympathy for and support of returned soldiers. And because unionism is the main protection that the majority of them have, and because 95 per cent, of the returned soldiers offering for work to-day believe in unionism, and have no brief for nonunionism, they will pay no attention to the clamour of the Opposition.
.- The action of the Government in withdrawing preference to returned soldiers, except such as are also unionists, is an everlasting reproach to the Labour party. I hope it is not too late for the Government to withdraw from that attitude.
The short space of fifteen minutes for which I am permitted to speak is not sufficient to enable me to do justice to so important a subject, involving though it does a grave injustice to a deserving body of men. I realize that a new generation of workers has grown up since the war and that the problem of finding employment for them is difficult; but the returned soldiers are still entitled to great consideration. They are growing older, and each year suffer more keenly the disabilities caused by war service. Their numbers arc decreasing. In my own unit service and sickness took their toll, and of those who returned to Australia only one man is left. To a greater or less extent all the units of the Australian Imperial Force have been similarly depleted. Those who remain need work.
I read in the Melbourne Herald on the 22nd November last of the suicide of a returned soldier because he had been out of work for some time, and was worried. In Sydney, according to the Canberra Times of the 6th December, “over 200 men demonstrated outside the Returned Soldiers’ Employment Bureau; several were in a pitiable plight, and two brought children in their arms.” Despite these conditions, extremists in the Labour party have been pestering the Government to abolish the principle of preference to returned soldiers. Thu Builders’ Labourers Union, according to the Herald of 23rd November last, carried a resolution calling upon the Government “ to reinstate the principle of preference to unionists in government employment, irrespective of whether the applicant was a returned soldier or otherwise. Satisfaction was expressed at the decision of the Government to suspend the compulsory clauses of the Defence Act.” This Government, which recently abolished a democratic system of compulsory military training, is now introducing a policy of compulsory unionism. The only justification that the Prime Minister offers foi this step is that unionism ranks higher than patriotism, and on that ground he would abandon a humane principle that every Government and party has supported in the past.
When I criticized the defence policy of the Government I was obliged, because of a controversy that had occurred in the press, to clip into the past history of some members of the Cabinet, I showed conclusively that the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) had not played a fitting part during the war years, and 1 quoted the statements of Mr. Fisher and Sir Joseph Cook regarding the honorable member’s utterances. Those members from Victoria who read the Ballarat Boho know the views expressed by the present Prime Minister as editor of that journal in war time.
Those who said that the present Cabinet, being composed entirely of nonsoldiers, would not help the soldiers spoke more prophetically than they knew. When I saw the Prime Minister at the cenotaph in Melbourne on Anzac Day, sharing the salute of the soldiers as they marched by, I felt that because of his war-time views his presence there was a sacrilege, though I realize that as Prime Minister he was entitled to be there, even though he was not qualified to march. In his message to Australia on that memorable day, he said “To-day the living Anzac pays homage to the dead, and we to both.” Homage ! And to both ! Within seven days the honorable, gentleman is threatening the soldiers that they will be deprived of their chance to get. work unless they bow the knee to the union bosses, most of whom they despise, because, while the soldiers were battling on the other side of the world, these agitators were waging a battle of words, and causing strife at home. The soldiers belonged to a finer organization than any trade union. We do not deny that organization in the industrial world is essential, but a trade union is also a political organization, and the Government is wrong in coercing men to join political organizations which will compel them to contribute to levies for political purposes and for the support of strikers. The soldiers have to pay dues to their unit organizations, and to the Returned Soldiers Association. The latter body has rightly kept itself aloof from party politics, but the action of the Government shows who are the real friends of the soldiers, and will compel their organizations to become active, politically. The deeds of the soldiers will survive the brief history of this Government, and they will turn with resentment and disgust from those who thus ignore a national obligation.
During the last election campaign the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) issued a pamphlet in which he promised the maimed soldiers that they would be given jobs in the Public Service. He, and the Assistant Minister for Industry (Mr. Beasley) attended functions on Anzac Day - sacrilegiously, in my opinion -and within seven days the Government announces that the bread will be taken from the mouths of the wives and children of soldiers.
An Australian poet has written “ Forget us God if we forget those noble souls who rose so high.” The action of the Government gives a new significance to “Lest we forget”. The returned soldiers will never forget a party that could be guilty of so despicable an act, of repudiation.
.- My recent illness makes it difficult for me to speak, and, consequently, my remarks on this motion shall be brief. I agree entirely with the sentiments uttered by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), whose past history entitles him to stand up in defence .of returned soldiers. In that attitude I support him. Since my return from the war, practically the whole of my time has been occupied in seeking justice for the soldiers, .their wives and children. The fight for the rectification of their wrongs has been long and strenuous, mainly because of the broken promises of the members of the Nationalist party. Every pledge that was given to the soldiers when they enlisted, promising that Australia would be almost a paradise for them on their return, has been broken by the members of the Opposition, who to-day are uttering platitudes, and pretending sympathy with the returned men. As a friend of the dinkum soldier, 1 endorse the action taken by the Ministry. Every straight soldier believes in trade unionism; a man would not be fit to be a member of the Australian Imperial Force if he did not. The order issued by the present Government will not deny work to one dinkum soldier. But it will ensure that the returned men are not left at the mercy of unscrupulous employers who may seek to exploit them in regard to working conditions and wages. It will ensure also that the laws of this country are observed. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) claims to speak for returned soldiers. I have yet to learn of anything he has clone on their behalf. In this chamber he mouths his love of them, but he lowered himself to the extent of going to the Newcastle coal-fields and seeking to bring about the industrial defeat of two battalions of soldier miners. Could any man be guilty of greater hypocrisy ! Today he supports the ship-owners, who declare that men of foreign birth, many of whom fought against us during the war, should be given preference of employment on the wharves. Yet the honorable member has the audacity to pose as an advocate of the rights of returned soldiers. My history and my work for the soldiers will compare more than favorably with what the honorable member for Balaclava has done, and, as one who has served with the diggers and lived with them in civil life, and has not been reared amongst the “brass hats”, I assure the Ministry that its action is endorsed by 98 per cent, of the dinkum returned soldiers.
– The Prime Minister has commended the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) for the tone in which he opened this debate. If we follow the honorable member’s example we shall prevent the heat which is now being en gendered from becoming too great. .1 find myself in a difficult position. The Government has come down with a definite policy in regard to the employment of returned soldiers and the Prime Minister has said, perhaps not in so many words, that there is nothing new in it; that the principle of preference to returned soldiers has not been abandoned. Let us consider what was the position before the Government brought down its policy. For more than a decade the principle of preference has been part of the warp and the woof of our industrial and national life. Its adoption arose out of the circumstances of the war, and was generally approved by the people of Australia, by whom it has been endorsed at successive elections. They regard it as a good policy. Now it has been challenged. The verbiage in which the Prime Minister expressed the Government’s new policy yesterday was a trifle misleading.
Until now preference has been given to applicants for government employment to returned soldiers, by reason of their military service, which .the people of this country value very highly. For ten years it has been sufficient for a man to say, “I am a returned soldier with a good record,” and other things being equal, preference in employment has been granted to such an applicant. That preference ran parallel with another which is also part of the national and industrial life of this country, preference to unionists, which has been in existence for twenty odd years. All my life I have been a believer in preference to unionists, and I am responsible for the policy of preference to returned soldiers. I saw nothing inconsistent in the application of both. As the Prime Minister has said, unionism has done great things for Australia. Arbitration is itself the child of unionism; without .unionism it could not have come into existence; without unionism it could not live. Unionism has maintained high standards of wages and of living in this country. The Prime Minister said truly that while our soldiers were fighting abroad, unionism was holding the citadel of industry in this country, so that no man should do it injury under the cover of- patriotism, and those who returned from the war would find industrial conditions no worse than when they left. Those who came back enjoy the fruits of the system which has been built up by arbitration and unionism, and, as the Prime Minister has said, the best friends of the returned soldiers are the unionists. But it is also true that the best friends of the unionists are the returned soldiers. But for the soldiers, where would unionism be to-day? If we had lost the war unionism would have perished. The Australian Workers Union sent 25,000 of its members to fight. For what? Not to fight for shadows but for realities; for the principles which they valued. Among these were unionism and arbitration. They and their soldier comrades were promised that, on their return, other things being equal, they should have preference of “employment. This was a definite and unconditional pledge given to them by the people of Australia. This they have enjoyed for ten years. But a change is being made. Now it is not enough for a man to say “lama soldier “ for this will avail him nothing unless he can also say “I am a unionist.” It is, therefore, abundantly clear that there has been a radical change of policy. In the unions, with which I was associated for a quarter of a century, no nonunionist could expect to get employment. That obtains over a great part of the industrial field. What is the position on the northern coal-fields? There a few scattered units of non-unionists are at work; but the question is, will the unionists return? Non-unionism hardly arises. If then we say to the returned soldier, “ You must join a union before you can obtain the benefit of preference to returned soldiers,” we abandon the policy of preference to ex-soldiers. A soldier gets preference because he is a member of a union and not because he fought in the Great War. I admit that the bulk of the returned soldiers belong to unions, and I have always advised returned soldiers to become unionists. But that is not the point. We have entered into a solemn obligation to do unto these men as they did unto us during the war, and we are now going back on our promise. We are going to say to them, “ It is true that you have fought for Australia and unionism, but unless you join a union you shall be in no better position than you would have been in had you stayed at home “. It is of no use to say to these men, “ If you join a union you shall have preference “. They could have had that preference had they not gone to the war at all. It is true that among unionists returned soldiers of good record are to have preference over ordinary unionists. One fact stands out. A certain body of opinion in this country which has supported for ten years the policy of preference to returned soldiers is now being quietly ignored, and another body of public opinion which has opposed that policy and his insistently demanded a preference which has no regard for military service has managed to force its views upon the Government, and -preference to returned soldiers has gone.
I am exceedingly sorry for that. I have not only by my words, but also by my conduct, shown myself to be a friend of the Government. But on this occasion it has done a very wrong thing. Worse still, it has done a very foolish thing. Sentiment in this country counts for a great deal. Although it is true, unhappily, as the honorable member for Brisbane pointed out, that the ranks of that gallant band of men who comprised the Australian Imperial Force are being thinned with the passing years, they have many friends, and these will feel that a wrong has been done. It may be that only a handful of men is directly affected by what has been clone, but it is not the number that counts. The people of this country will say that our soldiers have not got a fair deal.
What is behind this change of policy? The public will -want to know that. What is the answer to be? It is perfectly true, as the Prime Minister has said, that many persons in this country regard preference to unionists as a bar between them and their ideal, which is the general reduction of wages. With such persons and their ideals I have nothing to do. I stand for unionism, and for preference to unionists. But I stand also for preference to returned soldiers, and I shall allow no abandonment or whittling awa) of that policy. We may appeal to the returned soldiers to join unions, where it is possible to do so, and I believe that the overwhelming majority of returned soldiers are unionists. But as this policy of preference to soldiers affects so few, why attack it? It has been attacked, not because it means nothing, but because in the opinion of those who are supporting it it means a great deal. Since we are to take sides in this question, I stand unequivocally for preference to returned soldiers.
– I only wish that there was more sincerity among honorable members opposite who have spoken this morning.
– The honorable member’s remarks are not in order.
– I have grave doubts about the sincerity of honorable members opposite in respect of their attitude towards the policy of preference to returned soldiers, because that privilege lias not been taken away from returned soldiers at all. They will have the same privilege in future as they now enjoy, subject to the policy of the Government. The men who went overseas fought not only for Australia, but also to kill militarism, and the power of those who were able at all times to bring about war and to make some one else fight it for them. It was for that reason that I went to the Avar. I had no fear of a change in the conditions of Australia during my absence. I knew that when we returned we should be able to engage in our previous employment. The returned soldier, so far as preference of employment is concerned, is in a more advantageous position to-day than the ordinary citizen and the ordinary trade unionist. We are not asking the returned soldier to do anything more than he should do in the civil life of his community when we ask him to conform to the policy of this Government in respect of employment in industry. He owes a duty to the society of which he is a member, and that is the working class society of this country. No decent working class returned soldier would fail to do his duty in civil life as he did it as a member of a military union in France, so that he may enjoy the conditions of industry which have been won for him and his comrades by the trade union movement.
The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), I believe, feels that an affront has been offered to returned soldiers. To whom is the returned soldier most indebted for the conditions that he enjoyed in France? He was paid 6s. a day, the maximum amount that was paid in either that or in any previous war. But that would not have been his remuneration had the matter been left to the forces of capitalism for which he fought.
– The honorable member opposed conscription.
– Yes. When you conscript a man for military service you may take from him his life, which you cannot give back to him. Returned soldiers who lost an arm or a leg have not been given its equivalent; yet the nian who subscribed to war loans received £100 for every £98 invested, and with interest has doubled his outlay. I ask honorable members opposite to be fair to the returned soldier and those who are now carrying the burden of the war. The late Senator Bakhap, who wished to have conscription or, as he termed it, universal service, applied to our citizens, said that our soldiers should fight for the same rate of pay that was paid to the soldiers of other countries - ls. 2d. a day - and that they had no right to receive a greater payment than others who were fighting. I say without fear of contradiction, that but for the standard of wages that has been fixed as a result of the efforts of trade unionists, our soldiers would not have been given 6s! a day. It was the Melbourne Trades Hall which demanded that the wives of our soldiers should be given a separation allowance, and the then Acting Minister of Defence (Mr. Jensen) agreed to that course being adopted. On every occasion when returned soldiers have suffered hardship their case has been fought by those who sit on this side of the House. I have in my possession this morning a letter from a lady in Victoria who cannot obtain a penny from the Defence Department now that she is the widow of a returned soldier, although the department agreed to give her late husband a military funeral. Why talk about doing a fair thing for the returned soldiers when similar instances occur every day ! While this Parliament was sitting in Melbourne the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) moved an amendment to an income tax bill to provide that the incomes of returned soldiers should be exempt from taxation. The late Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) on that occasion said that returned soldiers did not either want or require any such spoon feeding; and he declined to accept the amendment. Every genuine move to benefit the returned soldiers has been made by those who now sit. on this side of the House. The claim that returned soldiers should be given preference in employment in pick and shovel work and similar lowly occupations appears to lack sincerity. I have referred previously in this House to the case of a postman, who at one time delivered my correspondence in Adelaide. He had been in the Postal Department for two years, during which period his salary had been increased. But as soon as he asked to have applied to him the provisions of the Public Service Act that had been enacted exclusively for the benefit of returned soldiers, giving this and other departments the power to make their positions permanent, he was shifted to another position, and was then declared inefficient and advised to apply for an invalid pension. “ That occurred while the late honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) was Postmaster-General. The principle of preference was ignored in that case, because the returned soldier had asked to be made a permanent officer, a concession to which he was entitled under the law. Yet no action was taken by members of the then ministerial party to see that the Government which they supported stood up to its promise. The policy of preference to trade unionists has the support of this country. When its opponents last threw down the gage of battle to its upholders in this Parliament, they were routed. Sir Joseph Cook and Sir William Irvine went to the country because Mr. King O’Malley had established a form of preference, and the Labour party was returned with a majority of members in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Preference to trade unionists is the natural outcome of the efforts of trade unionists to raise the standard of the worker, and since it became the established policy of this country it has never been changed by a vote of the people. If we went to the country to-morrow on the question of giving preference to returned soldiers to the exclusion of members of a generation that has grown to manhood since the termination of the war, it would be found that the people are still solidly behin’d the principle of equality of rights for all citizens and taxpayers.
– Does the honorable member consider that time has relieved us of the necessity to observe our promise ?
– I am glad that the honorable member has raised that point. In moving his motion the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) made some damning admissions in that direction. At the present time there are 70,000 war pensioners, and they cost the country merely £7,000,000 a year, notwithstanding the promises that were made to our soldiers. Yet bondholders who never did a tap are receiving in interest £17,000,000 a year. The honorable member for Brisbane rightly said that the returned men can be observed to be growing prematurely old. That is an * admission that the war is having its effect upon the health and strength of those who fought in it. The soldier who is fit and “well has been paid off. When he returned he was given a gratuity, and there our obligation to him ceased. But to the soldier whose health has been undermined we are still under an obligation, and we cannot escape from it until he “ goes under “. The honorable member for Brisbane also referred to the thinning of the ranks of our returned soldiers. He described better than I can do the awful conditions that existed in the Jordan Valley, and the vicissitudes experienced by those who fought there. Is it the best we can do for such men to give them preference to toil and moil, and not protect their wages and conditions by the only institution that can achieve that object - trade unionism? The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) referred to the cases of the men “who are suffering disabilities because of the war. I welcome that admission. I say that large numbers of men are so suffering. But when it is a question of doing a fair thing by them, and I move in that direction, I receive no support from honorable members who sit opposite. They know how frequently I have moved in this House to discuss the ease of tubercular men who went overseas.
Mr.White. - The honorable member has not done so since I have been a member of this House.
– If the honorable member consults the records of this House he will find that I am stating the truth. I am prepared to give the returned soldier all that he is entitled to receive, but not at the expense of his brother civilian. The trade unionist is his cobber to-day. He can meet and talk over old times with his associates of other days on occasions such as that which he saw in Melbourne last week. But when it is a question of what his wage envelope will contain at the end of the week, and the hours that he has to work, he will find that his cobbers are the union secretary and other trade unionists. I believe that honorable members opposite are ill-advised in challenging the Government on this matter. The Government is doing what is honorable and correct, in accordance with its policy. It is not doing any injustice to the returned soldier. I am quite satisfied that the bulk of the people will agree that it is doing the right thing.
Mr.R. GEEEN (Richmond) [12.11].- When this motion was moved by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) in a very quiet speech, I thought that heedwould be paid by the Government to his appeal to it to rectify this wrong; in other words, not to continue to make a fool of itself. But the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has introduced into the debate the heat which was absent from the speech of the honorable member for Brisbane. Nowadays, whenever the right honorable gentleman is criticized in any way, he indulges in the elocutionary acrobatics that he learned at South Street. On this occasion he forgot to refer to the merits of the case which was brought forward.
– He made the honorable member annoyed.
– I always become annoyed when a man tells me lies in argument.
– Order! The honorable member must withdraw that statement.
– The statement was of general application. I always become annoyed when a man tells me lies.
– Order ! The honorable member has offended a second time.
– What I said had no special application. I always become annoyed in certain circumstances. However, if you wish me to withdraw the statement, I shall do so.
– I require its withdrawal.
– Then I withdraw it. The speech of the Prime Minister differed from that of the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates). I am surprised that that honorable member should claim that we should forget our cobbers. He said that the best cobbers of the returned soldiers nowadays are the union secretary and the trade unionists; and he argued that the returned soldiers should forget those who went through hell with them, and be content with meeting them once a year at a re-union.
– The honorable member cannot accuse me of having made that statement. If there is one man in this House who stands up for the digger, it is I.
– The honorable member, I candidly admit, has been an upholder of the diggers. I was, therefore, the more surprised when he said that the returned soldier should forget those who shared with him the dangers of war, and should realize that his cobbers are to be found among those who were probably responsible for the 1917 strike or the 1918 Perth conference - the cobbers of the Treasurer and other men, who had not the “ guts “ to go over to the other side of the world to fight for Australia. The Treasurer has not participated in this debate, but on a former occasion when the subject was being discussed he said that he was proud to associate himself with the Perth conference. When thousands of trade unionists on active service called to their comrades in Australia for help, what did they do? They sent their representatives to the Perth conference.
– I did not attend the conference at Perth.
– I have some information which I shall put on record in Hansard some day - I regret that I have not time to do so to-day - which will indicate what the Treasurer had to do with the Perth conference.
– Does the honorable member still assert that I attended the Perth conference?
Mr.R. GREEN. - I shall deal with that on another occasion. The Governsaid yesterday that -
In view ofthe distress through widespread unemployment the question of the distribution of labourhas given theGovernment serious concern.
How is employment to be distributed in the future? There is to be none for the returned soldier. As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has said, “ something has happened.” The men who went to the other side of the world to fight are to be kicked out by the Labour Government.
– They can join the union and keep their jobs.
Mr.R. GREEN. - Is there a single honorable member opposite who took the platform during the conscription referendum campaigns in favour of an affirmative vote?
– How did the men on the other side vote?
Mr.R. GREEN. - Never mind about that. There is not one honorable member opposite who took the platform in favour of conscription. Yet they are now endeavouring to conscript the returned soldiers by obliging them to join a union. Many returned soldiers are unionists, but some returned men object to joining a political union. They will not support the Labour party because of the attitude it adopted during the war. I have said before in this House, and I shall repeat, that every cold-footer in Australia sheltered himself behind the skirt of the Labour party during the war. These persons all found their affinity in the Labour party. While their friends were overseas fighting for them, they were digging themselves into good jobs here, and after the war they told the returned men they could fight for themselves. We could not expect a Cabinet, every member of which is a cold-footer, to continue the policy of preference to returned soldiers.
Every office in the Government and every office that honorable members could fill in this House is filled, with one exception, by a cold-footer. The claims of the returned men in the Labour party were entirely overlooked.
Let us look for a moment at what will happen under this new policy. If there are two jobs with four applicants for them, and two are unionists, but only one a returned soldier, and the other two are non-unionists, one of whom is a returned soldier, the jobs will go to the returned soldier unionist and the unionist, and the non-unionist returned soldier will be overlooked. There is hardly a trade union in Australia which does not contain members of every colour. Black, brown, white, and brindle men and women are admitted into the trade union ranks. This new policy means that preference may be given to niggers, “ chows,” and other foreigners in preference to returned soldiers. Everybody knows that the Australian Workers Union is full of foreigners.
I have a pamphlet entitled Labour and the Returned Soldier, which was issued under the signature of “ E. G. Theodore, Campaign Director Australian Labour Party, Trades Hall, Sydney,” who is now the Treasurer of the Government, and the super cold-footer in this House. In it the Treasurer accused the Bruce-Page Government of doing the very thing that his Government is now doing. This shows the hypocrisy and cant of honorable members opposite. One paragraph in the pamphlet reads -
Returned soldiers have been curtly dismissed from their employment in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, the Lithgow Small Arms Factory, and the War Service Homes Department. Whether they were limbless or maimed did not matter. The Bruce-Page Government have stated that owing to a policy of retrenchment their services would no longer be required.
Soon after the new Parliament metI asked the present Postmaster-General for a statement of the Government’s policy in regard to returned soldiers, and he intimated that he intended to do just what the previous Government had done. The following sentence also appears in the pamphlet -
It is one of the cardinal points of Labour’s policy to give a fair deal to returned soldiers.
Surely that is the acme of cant and hypocrisy. Within seven days of our having listened to the insincere mouthings of the members and supporters of the Labour party in regard to our returned men, we have been told by thi3 non-soldier Cabinet that it intends to discontinue the policy of preference to returned soldiers and to repudiate the promises made to them. With possibly one exception, every member of this Government was fit enough to go to the war. I desire to read a copy of a letter sent by the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), as campaign director for the Labour party at the last election to a nonpolitical party sub-branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia. It reads -
Australian Labour Party, 32 Goulburn-street, Sydney.
Dear Sir, - I am mailing under separate cover a number of Labour and the Ex-Soldier pamphlets which we are widely distributing throughout New South Wales. I am anxious that all your members should be in possession of a copy of this pamphlet, and earnestly solicit your help in the distribution. . . .
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) is to be congratulated on the manner in which he has approached this subject. He has at all times displayed an earnest and genuine interest in the welfare of returned soldiers. The same cannot be said of some other honorable members opposite. The fierce outbursts of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) show clearly that they have supported the motion in order to gain a political advantage from it. When the policy of the Government n this subject was announced yesterday by the Prime Minister, there were cries of “ Shame “ from some honorable members opposite; but those same honorable gentlemen were silent when members of the Labour party, when in opposition in the last Parliament, charged the BrucePage administration with treating returned soldiers unsympathetically, denying them a pensions appeal board, and failing to provide them with employment. They were also silent when the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) associated himself with us with the object of forcing the Government to set up pensions appeal boards, as requested by the returned soldier organizations and the members of this party. Notwithstanding all the barking of honorable members opposite about preference to returned soldiers, the policy was never fully applied during the regime of the previous Government. On the rare occasions when exmembers of the Australian Imperial Force were appointed to highly-paid positions it was not really the result of preference to the returned men, but of preference to the brass hat. Under the Nationalist regime the policy of preference to returned soldiers was practically worthless. The only work that returned men received preference in from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was work on the concrete board or cutting rock for the laying of telephone conduits. Too many strings were pulled to enable the preference policy to be properly applied, and I say quite frankly that it had behind it principally humbug and hypocrisy. “ All things being equal the returned soldier shall receive preference.” Just imagine how that can be abused, and how it has been abused for political purposes, and in the interests of those who are the friends of persons in power. At the present time we have the spectacle of the Public Service Board denying preference to returned soldiers, because non-returned soldier members of that Board consider that the military records of former Australian Imperial Force men have not been satisfactory. Who are the members of the Public Service Board that they should again penalize a returned soldier for what was, perhaps, some minor offence committed on the other side of the world? There has not been actual preference to returned soldiers in the past. Personally, I am not in favour of preference to returned soldiers at all, and I have made that quite clear to my constituents in the Cook electorate. Returned soldiers want, not preference, but the opportunity to work, and they certainly do not want preference at the expense of their own relatives and dependants.
The Transport Workers Act, which was fathered by the Leader of the Opposition when he was a member of the last Government, struck a greater blow at- cbe interests of returned soldiers than anything this Government has ever done. I have seen a list of the licensed workers for the Port of Adelaide, and over 80 per cent, of the names are those of foreigners. The Bruce-Page Government scrapped preference to returned soldiers on the waterfront, and gave it to nondescripts from Southern Europe. Honorable members opposite, who were returned to this Parliament as the representatives of capitalism, have allowed the returned soldier to be exploited by profiteers and rack-renters. The armistice did not mean the end of the war for the soldiers. Upon their return here they were confronted with a barrage of high rents, high rates of interest, and exorbitant prices for foodstuffs and building materials, and those who had been shouting for preference to returned soldiers were silent when they and their dependants were being exploited. I took part in a debate on this subject when returning on a troopship from Europe, and it may surprise honorable members opposite to learn that a substantial majority of those soldiers were opposed to the principle of preference. “What they wanted was a general improvement in conditions, so that work might be found, not only for themselves, but for every one else in the community. We have had twelve years of Nationalism since the war, but the alleged friends of the returned soldier have allowed the country to drift. The only times they spoke about preference to returned soldiers was on the recruiting platform and immedately after the war, or at ladies’ afternoon tea parties, or when an election was on. There have been twelve years during which they could have shown their genuine regard for returned soldiers, but after that lapse of time collections are still taken up in the streets for tubercular anc] other soldiers. Those things remind us that the war is not yet finished for the soldiers who are still confronted with disease and destitution. The Bruce-Page Government also failed to protect returned soldiers from the competition of imported goods made by cheap labour overseas, often in ex-enemy countries. Returned soldiers were out of work in Australia, and factories were idle, while the country was being flooded with shiploads of cheap goods from overseas.
After all, why should returned- soldiers receive preference as against other men who are not returned soldiers, but may have greater responsibilities to bear? 1 know of men who are unable to provide even the necessary nourishment for their wives and families because they are unable to obtain work. Why should a strong, returned soldier without encumbrances receive preference of employment over those men? The preference policy also inflicts hardship on young men who were not of military age during the war but who are now the sole support of widowed mothers. The honorable member for Richmond said that the diggers were getting it in the neck. They have been getting it in the neck ever since the armistice, especially under the BrucePage regime. Reference has been made to soldier settlement schemes, but those schemes were mostly instituted for the benefit of profiteers and “ boodlers.” On the Kanama soldier settlement in the Hume district 70 or 80 men were placed on land which it was estimated would cost £60 an acre to clear. What chance had they to make a success of the undertaking? Less than half a dozen are left there now, and the rest have gone out on the roads, broken in health and fortune. The question of preference to returned soldiers should be reviewed, and the efforts of the Commonwealth ami State Governments should be concentrated on bringing about such a condition of affairs that every one, returned soldiers and others, will be able to find happiness and prosperity.
– I join with the mover and seconder of this motion in protesting against the extraordinary and dastardly policy respecting the employment of returned soldiers announced by the Government yesterday in cancelling the preference hitherto given to ex-service men.
– The honorable member is not in order in using the word “dastardly” in that connexion.
– I shall amend my statement by saying that it is an act of dishonour for the Government to repudiate the promises made by the people of Australia to the soldiers when they enlisted. The last speaker said that these promises were never -mentioned except on the recruiting platform, or when soldiers were being welcomed home; but I remind him that those were the very occasions upon which the promises were made. The honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) said that the time had come when we should dishonour those promises.
– I rise to order. The honorable member has misrepresented me.
– The honorable member cannot raise a point of order on the ground that he has been misrepresented.
– I desire that the honorable member should withdraw a remark which I consider misleading and insulting.
-If the honorable member has been misrepresented he will have an opportunity of explaining himself when the honorable member for Moreton has finished his speech, but I cannot call on the honorable member for Moreton to withdraw anything he may have said unless in saying it he contravened the rules of debate. If the remark were regarded as offensive,. I could, of course, call upon him to withdraw it.
– His statement that I said that the promise to the soldiers should be dishonoured is offensive, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– I have only a limited time in which to speak, and therefore I withdraw the statement, if I am required to do so.
– The honorable member has qualified his withdrawal by saying that he withdraws only because his time is limited. His withdrawal should be unqualified.
– The honorable member has withdrawn the statement complained of. I do not consider that he qualified his withdrawal.
– The honorable member for Cook said that the soldiers had been promised on the recruiting plat form, and when they returned, that they would be given preference of employment. He also said that the time had come for the situation to be reviewed. If he means that the time has come to review a definite promise given to the soldiers, what inference can be put upon his remarks other than that I have mentioned? Preference to returned soldiers was granted without any qualification, except that of good service. Provided a soldier could satisfy the Government of the day or its officers that his behaviour had been satisfactory, nothing more was necessary to qualify him for preference. Any Government which so shortly after the war, and within seven days of the commemoration of Anzac Day, announces a policy which is completely opposed to what the people have repeatedly endorsed, is giving to the world a false impression of the real sentiment on this subject in Australia. The people have declared at every election since 1914 that they expect the promises made to the soldiers to be honoured. Nothing could be more regrettable than that the nation should lose its soul and honour and do damage to its national reputation by repudiating its promises to its returned soldiers and their dependants at the behest of extremists outside this Parliament. Honorable members are elected to carry out their pledges to the people; at no time during the election campaign did Labour candidates tell the electors that, if returned to power, they would abolish the principle of preference to returned soldiers. No doubt this policy was dictated at the recent Labour conference which rejected the moderates in the Labour ranks and gave control of the movement to extremists of the Jock Garden type. I am amazed that the Government should, at the behest of such men, do a grave injustice to the returned soldiers. A solemn obligation rests on the Government to give preference to soldiers, both in employment within the service and in connexion with all contracts on behalf of the Government. What the Government is offering now is no preference at all. The nation charged the Commonwealth Government with the duty of giving preference to returned soldiers. Now they have repudiated that responsibility and handed over to trade union officials and union secretaries of the Garden type the duty of carrying out the people’s pledge of preference to returned soldiers. Now the soldier has to go to the Trades Hall and beg the union secretary’s authority to get employment in connexion with work done by or on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. But there was no need when enlisting for a man to get the authority of the Trades Hall or of a union secretary. The situation that has been created is almost unbelievable. The Government’s action involves a gross repudiation of a national undertaking, and I am sorry that returned soldiers should have lived to experience such dastardly ingratitude on the part of this Parliament.
– Order ! I warned the honorable member earlier to moderate his language.
– It is difficult to describe the Government’s conduct in mild language. The whole of the Australian people will abhor what has been done. The Government’s excuse for the repudiation of a national promise is the existence of acute distress. Surely that is an additional reason for giving special consideration to men who risked their lives for Australia and returned nervewrecked, shell-shocked, maimed, and with their health generally undermined. The fact that the labour market is limited, making it more difficult for these men to earn a livelihood, merely increases the obligation of the Government. This is a time when instead of evading its responsibilities it should make the principle of preference to returned soldiers more effective. During the last election campaign all sorts of extravagant promises were made by Labour candidates to returned soldiers. I quote from the pamphlet issued by the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), Labour Campaign Director in New South Wales-
PLACING oi’ Partially Incapacitated Returned Soldiers in Employment.
The placing in employment of partially disabled returned soldiers is a very hard problem. But for the sympathetic treatment of them by employers, it would indeed be almost impossible to solve. These men could all be found positions in the Public Service, doing useful work and, thereby, distributing responsibility over the whole of the taxpayers; not, as now, leaving it to a very few to carry. This could be done without in any way impairing the efficiency of the service.
That is a definite promise that employment would be found in the Public Service for partially disabled soldiers. Yet the Government, instead of honoring that promise, is repudiating entirely the pledge of the people to the returned soldiers. This breach of faith is revolting to the conscience and sentiment of the Australian people who urged their young manhood to go overseas. Many young fellows who responded to the nation’s call in the years from 1914 to 1918 found themselves, on their return, more or less committed for all time to doing unskilled labour, to which the policy of preference mainly applies, because in the years when they might have been qualifying for some trade or profession they were risking their lives overseas. The nation sought to offer some compensation by assuring them that they would receive preference of employment. The repudiation of that undertaking W thin twelve years of the signing of the Armistice is a stigma on the good name of Australia. I strongly appeal to the Prime Minister to reconsider his attitude on this question.
.- I add my tribute to the sincerity of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) ; that quality has characterized all the speeches that I have heard him deliver. I recollect hearing him relate how for months he fought in support of the claims of a returned soldier, and ultimately succeeded in getting from reluctant officials back pay amounting to hundreds of pounds. The men who fought on the other side of the world should not be required to fight for their rights in their homeland. Hundreds of returned soldiers continue to suffer injustice because they were not fortunate enough to have so persistent a champion as the honorable member for Brisbane. I recollect also reading in the newspapers of maimed soldiers in Victoria who were endeavouring to make an honest living by weaving cloth and selling it to the public at reasonable prices, who had to send a deputation to the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to complain that their supplies of raw materia] had been shut off by the merchants in Flinders-lane. Evidently the big importers of cheap foreign goods feared their opposition and nipped it in the bud. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) charged the Government with having absolutely repudiated the principle of preference to returned soldiers. I deny that; the Government has not repudiated the principle. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said that unionism has done great things for this country and that the soldiers fought for unionism and arbitration. The BrucePage Government sought to smash arbitration, for which the soldiers fought, and what would have followed is indicated by the attitude of the ship-owners ‘towards the workers on the wharves. The righthonorable member for North Sydney also said that the overwhelming majority of returned soldiers have joined trade unions. Whom are we to consider - the overwhelming majority who have joined the unions or the small minority who refuse to do so? We want 100 per cent, of the soldiers in the unions to maintain the fight to keep work in Australia for Australians and not for foreigners. The Government still stands for preference to returned soldiers. One honorable member made much of the fact that the Cabinet does not include one returned soldier. The policy of preference to returned soldiers has always been qualified by the phrase “ other things being equal.” I have not heard one soldier member of the .Labour- party squeal because he is not in the Cabinet.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 119.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs; upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Submission of Questionnaire
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer 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 Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether a reasonable percentage of aeroplanes and parts (excluding engines, instruments and wheels) of Australian manufacture could be included in tenders for the Defence Department ?
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will he furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
With reference to the question asked by the honorable member for Cook on the 10th ultimo, relating to the number of officers in the Royal Australian Navy who are entitled to draw pensions in respect of service in the Royal Navy, is the Minister yet in a position to furnish complete replies to the questions; if not, when is it anticipated that the desired information will be available?
– I regret that the information is not yet available, but I shall endeavour to expedite the reply.
asked the. Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the amount, according to the latest available information, of -(a) the demand liabilities. (b) the time liabilities, (c) advances by the banks to customers, (d) bills receivable, and (e)bills payable within the Commonwealth - of banks carrying on business within the Common wealth ?
– The exact information asked for is not available from the returns furnished by the banks under the Commonwealth Bank Act, particulars of which are published in Commonwealth Gazette, No. 10, of the 14th February, 1930, page 164. The following information is taken from . those returns : -
Broadly speaking, deposits not bearing interest may be regarded as the demand liabilities and the deposits bearing interest together with the bills in circulation as the time liabilities. At a later stage I will suggest that the term “demand deposits” be substituted for the term “ demand liabilities “ now appearing in the Central Reserve Bank Bill. Advances by the banks to customers and bills receivable are included in the banking returns under the heading, “All other assets.” Substantially the total of “ nil other assets “ represents the total advances plus the bills receivable. The amount of “ all other assets “ as shown in the returns for the December quarter is £297,678,248.In compiling the above information from the returns published in the Gazette, the figures for the Rural Bank Department of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales and those for the State Bank of South Australia have been excluded, as those banks will not be required to maintain reserves with the reserve bank.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
In view of his statement that the situation at Darwin was well in hand, although some of the unemployed were still on the Resident’s verandah ; also of the Melbourne Herald’s report on Wednesday last that “ the ‘ siege ‘ of the Government Resident’s office by militant unemployed continues,” will he state what action was taken, and whether the Government has anything further to report?
– Certain negotiations are in progress, and the Government Resident has full authority to act. There is nothing further to report at this stage.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What was the quantity and value of bags and sacks imported into Australia during each of the past three years?
– The quantity and value of bags and sacks imported into Australia during each of the past three years were as follow : - 1926-27-7,429,160 dozen, value £4,316,592 (includes bags n.e.i., value£7,345, quantity not recorded ) . 1927- 28-6,362,599 dozen, value £3,640,348 (includes bags n.e.i., value £6,610). 1928- 29- 7,365,698 dozen, value £4,098,972 (includes bags n.e.i., value £7,129).
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– It is anticipated that the report will be available about the end of June next.
– On the 30th April, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) brought under my notice a letter which he had received from the secretary, Pyramid Co-operative Limited, in which it is stated that since the tariff went through, Lysaghts have increased the price of galvanized iron 30s. per ton.
I have made inquiries and am now informed that the price of Australian-made galvanized sheets has not been increased in any way, and that any advance made in the prices of imported galvanized sheets is due entirely to the present high cost of exchange.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) agreed to -
That the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday next at 3 p.m.
The following paper was presented: -
Quarantine Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 43.
Debate resumed from8th April (vide page 925), on motion by Mr. Parker Moloney -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The importance of the wheat industry to Australia and to all sections of the community is such that the proposals in this bill demand the close attention and consideration of every honorable member, and, indeed, of the public as a whole. The wheat and wool-growers provide the tremendous bulk of Australian exports. The figures for the year 1927-28 show that, excluding specie and gold bullion, the value of the exports of Australia was £140,352,872, of which wool accounted for no less than £66,000,000 and wheat for over £14,500,000. Those figures show the importance of these primary industries to Australia as a whole. The maintenance of the general standard of living in the community depends more upon the success of these industries than upon that of any others. In speaking of the success of industries, I mean their ability to produce and sell at a profit. It is said from time to time that the aim of social organization, particularly on the industrial side, ought to be production for use and not for profit. I can understand that as an ideal, in a system of society entirely different from that in which we live, but having regard to the fact that Australia, and the Australian standard of living, depend upon the profitable sale of our commodities overseas, it is quite useless to speak of production for use and not for profit in the case of these two commodities. What is the sense of speaking in Australia of producing wheat for use and not for profit? How is use to be measured? Surely no one would suggest that Australia would be better off if we produced only the amount of wheat required for home consumption? Obviously that would be a ridiculous position to adopt. That being so, we must endeavour to produce as much wheat as we can, and to sell the excess production at a profit abroad. Unless we are able to do that, any increase of production becomes a loss socially, economically, and from every point of view. Accordingly, it is quite useless to consider any problem presented by the Australian wheat industry from the point of view of socialism and conceptions of that character. If either the wheat or the wool industry should prove to be permanently incapable of producing at a profit, the position in Australia would be indeed serious. The scale of these industries is so great that it would be impossible to solve the problem of any long-continued inability to produce ti t a profit by levying on other industries for their support. In the case of small industries, that may be done, but in the case of gigantic industries of this description, if they are operating upon an uneconomic basis, it is impossible to support them over any considerable period by levying upon the community at large. Accordingly, if the market price of wheat and wool should continue low, which I hope will not be the case, no other course could be adopted in the interests of Australia than to reduce the costs of production. That may be an unpleasant thing to contemplate, but if prices should remain permanently low there would be> no other solution of the difficulty. It is useless to hide our heads in the sand and to tait about the maintenance of standards of living which under such circumstances would bc obviously impossible.
I hope that we shall be able to preserve our present Australian standard of living, but in order to do that we must deal with economic facts as they really are, and not as we would wish them to be. lt is hoped that the drop in the prices of wheat and wool will be only temporary. To meet a temporary emergency, measures can bc justified which as a part of a general policy would be quite unjustifiable. I have said that I should regard it as hopeless for Australia to adopt a general policy of subsidy by other sections of the community to industries so large and important as the wool and wheat industries, but where there is a temporary emergency, other principles emerge. To meet a temporary difficulty, sustenance in the form of a subsidy, bounty, or guarantee of a minimum price may he justified. Speaking generally I have said that I should regard with apprehension any general proposal to subsidize either the wheat or the wool industry, because that would bc an admission that we were getting into an impossible position; but the present circumstances in the ease of the wheat industry are exceptional indeed. We have had in many parts of Australia a severe and long continued drought. A large number of farmers are in straitened circumstances. From the point of view of the community as a whole, leaving out of account the particular interest of the unfortunate farmers, it is impossible to abandon them to their fate, because if we did so, we should not be making a contribution to the economic or the social well-being of the general community. The wheat industry* is much loo important for us to do that. Prices at present arc about equivalent to the cost of production, and in some cases, even below it. The general financial and economic position of Australia, with which honorable members are familiar, is such that it is important indeed that there should be an increase in the production of the country. The Commonwealth Government has been joined by the States in appealing to the farmers to grow more wheat, not only in their own interests, but also in the interests of the nation as a whole. It would be an invitation to farmers to add to their difficulties and to face possible ruin, if a larger crop should mean only a larger loss; therefore there must at least be some degree of certainty that a favorable response to the invitation will not result in disaster to the individuals concerned. Large additional areas, including land which has not previously been used to grow wheat, are now being broken up; stubble is being ploughed in, and large quantities of seed are being sown, in response to these invitations, and in consequence of the statement made on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, and concurred in by a number of Ministers of Agriculture at the conference that was held in Canberra, that a minimum price of 4s. a bushel would be guaranteed for this season’s wheat. I take it that it is estimated that 4s. a bushel will at least save the farmer from any loss. Having regard to the difficulties of the existing situation, and the invitation of
I desire to say a few more words before I deal with the other element of the Government’s .proposals. What exactly does that proposal for a guarantee mean? I should like to have a definite and an authoritative statement from the Minister on that point When he moved the second reading of the bill, the honorable gentleman said that in fixing the amount of 4s. a bushel the Government had gone to the limit. I believe that every honorable member who heard him. assumed - in fact, the words that he used made it clear - that he referred to the financial capacity of the Commonwealth and the States at the present time. Accordingly, every one believed that what was in contemplation was the payment out of Consolidated Revenue of any sum necessary to bring the price to 4s. a bushel delivered at railway stations. Clause 10 of the agreement which is annexed to the bill plainly contemplates actual payments of money by the Commonwealth and the States. It provides that if the proceeds of the sales of wheat in the season 1930-31 are less than the amount of the payments to the wheat-growers, with interest, freight, and other expenses added, the Commonwealth Government will pay to the Commonwealth Bank half of the deficiency and each State will pay its proportion. That clause evidently means that there is to be a real payment from Consolidated Revenue by the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States if the amount realized should, upon a proper account having been taken, be found to be less i,han 4s. a bushel. Clause 5 of the bill itself is based on the same idea, because it appropriates money for the purposes of the agreement. But there are not lacking indications that there is no real intention to pay anything under this guarantee; that the proposal is, not for
– It is said that there will be no losses.
– If there are no losses, no difficulty will arise; but the guarantee is useful only on the hypothesis that there will be losses.
– It is necessary to make that provision.
– According to the Melbourne Age of the 19th February last, at the Canberra conference the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) explained that the Commonwealth would bear 50 per cent, of the loss, and the States would bear the balance of the loss proportionately. That generally has been the idea of honorable members. Then Mr. Stewart, M.P., asked who would fix the price for local consumption; and the Minister for Markets replied as follows : -
The board would do that. If losses were sustained by the pool overseas it would be possible to so regulate the local price as to make good the loss.
– As to minimize the loss.
– “As to make good the loss.” The principle is the same whether it be “make good” or “minimize.”
– The bill does not expressly say that.
– The bill contemplates losses on overseas sales being made good out of Consolidated Revenue, half by the Commonwealth and half by the States, on the. basis set out in the agreement. I raise this point so that we may know what we are doing. At the present time, I understand that the Government proposes to accomplish that object in the manner provided by the bill; and the meaning of the provisions in the bill is that the deficiency is to be paid by the Commonwealth and the States on the basis set out in the agreement. But what is being said here and there - unauthoritatively, I agree - together with the remark made by the Minister at the Canberra conference, suggests another method of dealing with the matter; that is to say, to provide what is called an Australian price, as has been done in the case of butter, and to charge the Australian consumer a price sufficiently high to prevent any loss to the pool. If that system is adopted, of course, the guarantee will not come into operation, and there is no need for it. I understand, however, that the bill means what it says; that this is a guarantee, and that it does not involve the principle of an Australian price to make up for losses on export.
– I believe that the only purpose of the question that was asked at the Canberra conference was to ascertain just what the powers of the board would be.
– Do I fairly express the position when I say that it is not intended to use this machinery for the purpose of preventing any loss by fixing anAustralian price?
– As I pointed out at the conference, the board will have complete power in regard to these matters.
– I have made clear the point that there are two distinct methods of handling this matter, and that there is a great deal of difference between them. Under one method the guarantee is a real thing and involves the payment of any deficiency from Consolidated Revenue. The other method involves the fixing of a high Australian price to make up for any losses that are incurred by sales abroad at lower prices.
– There is a third possibility.
– These two methods are distinct. I am sorry that I have not succeeded in obtaining from the Minister a definite statement of the Government’s intentions.
– My understanding of the matter is that there has been no qualification of the statement that the Government will guarantee the price. The local price will be fixed at a later date, and its fixation will not take anything away from the guarantee.
– That is definitely stated in the bill.
– If the local price is fixed sufficiently high it will prevent any loss, and then the guarantee will not be effective.
– How can that be done before the season has run its course?
– It must be done after the season has run its course, and there has been a preliminary payment of 4s. a bushel upon delivery at railway stations.
– Therein lies the value of the guarantee.
– I quite agree with that, and am not disputing it, I am dealing with what I may call the question of the ultimate financing of the proposal. It is important to know whether the Consolidated Revenue is to make good the deficiency, or whether a deficiency is to be prevented by raising the local price.
– It would be possible for the deficiency to be so great that it could not be covered by any increase in the local price.
– That is possible. But I hope that the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) does not suggest that the local price is to be raised to a height at which no loss can be incurred overseas.
– I do not think that that is suggested for a moment.
– That is not suggested anywhere in the bill.
– I am dealing with the financial aspect of the matter. I have pointed out that there are two distinct methods of handling the subject.
– Is not the amount of the difference between 4s.8d. a bushel and world’s price, if there is a loss, to be made up?
– That is whatI understand. But if the local price were raised to 6s. or 7s. 6d. a bushel, there might be no deficiency and the Government would not pay anything.
– That is a possibility.
– I am endeavouring to ascertain from the Minister his idea of the manner in which the scheme is to be administered.
– That is shown in the bill; any loss is to be made up by the Government.
– I have dealt with one aspect of the proposal of the Government, and have said that I am prepared to approve the principle of it. The subject of a guaranteed minimum price is quite separate from that of a compulsory pool. It is obvious that there can be a guarantee of a minimum price without any compulsory pool, and also that there can be a compulsory pool without any guarantee of a minimum price. The guaranteed price has proved to be a sufficient inducement to farmers to grow increased areas of wheat; but a compulsory pool will not add a single acre to the area under crop.
– It may even prevent some areas from being sown.
– That is so; but that is a matter of speculation on which I am not qualified to offer an opinion. A compulsory pool certainly will not add a single acre to the area under crop this year.
– Why not?
– A large area has already been sown, and no reason can be suggested why a compulsory pool should add to it. We have had a considerable experience of compulsory wheat pools in Australia. I have examined the figures which show the sowings in the years during which the pools operated. The pool years were from 1915-16 to 1919-20, and the area under crop in each of those years was as follows: -
I am perfectly aware that in the war years many factors operated to make it difficult for the farmers to maintain normal operations. Among these were the difficulty of transport and the absence abroad of many farmers and farm workers. But the compulsory pool applied to two harvests after the war. The plain fact is that in the pooling period the acreage under wheat decreased from 12,484,512 acres to 6,419,160 acres. Since that time there has been a big increase in the acreage. I quote the following figures from the Commonwealth Y ear-Book for the period 1923-24 to 1928-29 : -
– Yet the Government opposes freedom of action !
– In the light of the figures I have quoted it is reasonably apparent that the existence of a compulsory pool has not anything to do with the area under crop. This depends upon the world’s market and the general condition of the industry.
– Might not the compulsory pools have had the effect of stabilizing prices and so encouraging the farmers to plant larger areas subsequently?
– I do not think so.
– They did have that effect.
– Th e word “ stabilization “ does not mean anything. It may be possible to so stabilize an industry as to kill it. Nothing that we can do in Australia can stabilize the world’s wheat market, for we export only 3 per cent. if the world’s consumption. The Minister for Markets practically admitted that he did not expect the policy outlined in this bill to have any effect upon world prices.
Because the compulsory pooling system can have no effect upon the area of wheat sown it should be considered apart from the subject of a guaranteed price. The Minister was quite frank in introducing this bill, for he said -
This bill contains the proposals of the Government for the stabilization of the wheat industry. Although it relates only to wheat, it indicates the general policy of the Government in connexion with the marketing of our great primary products.
In other words, the compulsory pooling system of marketing is part of Labour’s policy for the socialization of industry, and the means of production, distribution and exchange. It is strange that whenever the objective of the Labour party is mentioned honorable members opposite try to disown it. If the policy is worth anything they should not be ashamed of it. Every one knows that for many years thu present Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) has advocated in good seasons and in bad, a compulsory wheat pool; and he has shown quite clearly that in his opinion it could have nothing to do with the present difficult position of the industry.
– Then why has not the Leader of the Opposition the courage to oppose it?
– i am opposing it. The Minister for Markets would have been proud at any time to introduce a bill for a compulsory wheat pool, because he knows that it would tend towards the Labour objective of the socialization of industry.
The history of the adoption of this policy is interesting. Several honorable members opposite, and one or two members of the Ministry, took part in the Labour conference in Brisbane in October, 1921, when the policy was adopted. I quote the following statement by the present Prime Minister from the report of the debate at that conference on “ nationalization versus socialization “ :-
Nationalization was but State capitalism, under which they would still have the wage system. … lit was proposed to nationalize industries and give the workers a say in the management. As the scheme progressed, so the system of Socialization would spread until there would bc representatives of each industry elected to a Supremo Economic Council, which would take the place of Parliament.
At the same conference, the present member of Adelaid, Mr. Yates, said: -
They might as well say straight out that they were fighting for the abolition of profit, and for production for use, not profit. He, himself, was out at all times to abolish the present system, under which they lived.
Mr. Theodore then asked
How would the socialization of industry apply to agriculture? How would the farmer get on ?
Mr. Yates replied
Hu would be no worse oil’ than any one else.
– I do not care what the Leader of the Opposition calls it; I can see nothing wrong with giving the farmers full control of their own business.
– If this bill is passed the farmers will lose control of their own business. At present they do control it. It is significant that the proposal for a compulsory pool is associated with the proposal for a guaranteed price; but whereas the guaranteed price is for one year only, the pool is for three years. If the farmers take this bait they may find themselves obliged to pool their wheat indefinitely. The pooling system involves complete bureaucratic control of all the wheat grown in the States which adopt the scheme. It also involves the issuing of licences for the interstate and intrastate transport of wheat, the export of wheat and the sale in Australia of inferior wheat. Inferior wheat will be controlled by the pool, although there will be no guaranteed price -for it. The plain fact is that the whole of our wheat will be sold by one authority. We have been told that the State wheat boards will be representative of the wheat-growers; but it cannot be denied that all the wheat will be sold by one authority. Consequently the farmers will lose all control of their wheat.
– Is not this a rationalization scheme.
– I do not care whether the honorable member for Parkes calls it rationalization or anything else. I do not believe in rationalization per se. I shall require to examine any rationalization scheme to ascertain the effect of it upon industry and the. community in general before approving of it. The honorable member is not making any useful contribution to the debate by calling this a scheme of rationalization.
Under the compulsory pooling scheme there will be only one seller of Australian wheat. All our wheat will be in one basket, and if the basket is dropped the whole industry will suffer. The recent pooling experiences of the United States of America and Canada are well known.
– They are not, well known.
– Were those pools compulsory?
– If honorable members will allow me to continue my speech without interruption they will learn my views. I had no intention of saying that the American and Canadian pools are compulsory. It is perfectly well known that the Canadian pool handles only about 60 per cent, of the available wheat. The farmers run great risk when they put all their wheat into one basket, or, at any rate, a large quantity of it. Sometimes this works out well, but the extent of the disaster when it works out wrongly is increased by the existence of large selling organizations. Why, then, should such a proposal be made? The first reason that can be alleged is that it is in accordance with the policy of the Labour party - its general policy of organizing industry under some sort of State control. Of course, it begins with only a little State control; the full measure of control is to be introduced gradually.
– Does the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) consider that the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland hold socialistic views regarding the control of industry? Those two Governments are ardently supporting the wheat pool.
Several honorable members interjecting
– I ask honorable members, and particularly the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), to be kind enough to assist the Chair in maintaining order. There is a running fire of interjections, for which no honorable member is more responsible than he is. Others also are offending, but their offence is largely due to the manner in which they have been provoked by the honorable member for Warringah. I ask him to assist his own leader, and to assist the House, by not provoking honorable members to interject.
– I raise the question of privilege. I protest, Mr. Speaker, against the way in which I have been singled out by you for lectures, as though I were a schoolboy and you my schoolmaster. I am here as the elected representative of a constituency, as you are yourself,, and the fact that you at present occupy the position of Speaker gives you no right to speak to me in the way you have been doing.
– -I rise to a point of order. It is not competent for the honorable member for Warringah, under a proposal to support his privileges, to make an attack on the Speaker. There is a well-known course of procedure in stating a case of privilege, which is usually followed by an appropriate motion. It is entirely out of order for an honorable member, because he has been, in my opinion justly, reprimanded, to attack the Speaker.
– I am not fearful of any charge which may be made against mc regarding my decisions as Speaker of this assembly, and I am, therefore, willing to give the honorable member for Warringah the fullest liberty1 to state his case, provided he concludes with the customary motion.
– I maintain that my interjections have been of the customary kind, neither provocative in character nor irrelevant to the subject under discussion. Most of them have followed interjections made by honorable members on the other side of the House. Ministers have interjected as much as 3 have, and their interjections have been more provocative than mine. While I am at all times ready to uphold the dignity of this chamber, and submit to the ruling of authority, I consider that I should not be singled out, as I have been during the last few days, for correction by the Chair. I am not a schoolboy to be scowled at. nor should I be spoken to as if I were a dog. Honorable members have their rights in this House, just as the Speaker has, and I protest against the manner in which honorable members are being treated by the Speaker, in glaring and scowling at them, when calling them to order, and against unfair singling out of honorable members to reprove them.
– The honorable member promised to finish with the customary motion.
– I promised nothing.
-The honorable member did.
– I did not. i am under no obligation to move a motion.
– I. shall name the honorable member if he does not behave. He has not kept faith in that he has not concluded his remarks on the question of privilege by moving the customary motion. Since I have occupied this Chair, I have sought to treat honorable members with uniform fairness and justice. I have tried to be strictly impartial in all my rulings, and I have required all honorable members to conform so far as possible to the Standing Orders of the House. One of those Standing Orders makes interjections of all kinds disorderly, and if it were strictly applied, every member who interjected would be called to order immediately. During this Parliament no other member has been more persistent in interjecting than the honorable member for Warringah. I have been mindful that he desires to take a very real part in the debates, and that he occupies a position on the Opposition side of the chamber; but there is no reason why I should give him liberty to disconcert the proceedings of the House I require strict obedience to the ruling of the Chair, and in regard to the order of our proceedings it is for me to determine the propriety or otherwise of any honorable member’s conduct. I am responsible for the good order of the House, and I shall see that every member, be it the honorable member for Warringah, or anyone else, pays regard to the best traditions of parliamentary practice. I have said no more to the honorable member for Warringah than he deserves, nor than I would say in the case of any other member, including a Minister of the Crown, if it were necessary. I resent the statement that I have singled him out for special treatment. Such treatment as he has received has been due to his lack of consideration for others, and to his repeated disobedience of the Speaker’s admonitions.
– I was inquiring into the reasons why it was proposed to establish a compulsory wheat pool, and I- had gone so far as to suggest that it was be cause the Labour party believe in organized bureaucratic control of industry. That statement, unfortunately, aroused the protests of honorable members on the other side of the House, though I thought they would have received it with avidity as a concise expression of their political creed. It has been said that the pool is to be under the control of the growers. Of course, it must be recognized that the working growers cannot take any real part in the control of the pool; that it must be left in the hands of men engaged more or less on the commercial side of the wheat industry. The pool must eventually drift to a large extent under government control, and that, of course, meets with the desires of Ministers themselves. This Government believes in itself - a little less now than it did a few months ago, perhaps - but still sufficiently to think that it can control anything to the advantage of some one or other. This is a move in the direction of governmental monopoly. A compulsory wheat pool certainly will he a monopoly; that is its whole purpose. Certain activities are suitable by their nature for government control. These include certain, public utilities, such as water supplies, and to some extent, transport, though the people of Australia are beginning to scratch their heads over government-controlled transport, which lias involved the creation of a great army of persons dependent upon the State for a livelihood. But an ordinary business enterprise can never be carried on satisfactorily in the long run under governmental or bureaucratic control. A wheat pool board, even though it be largely administered by persons in the industry itself - that is, associated with the industry probably on the commercial and financial side - cannot be expected to work as efficiently as if the wheat were handled by institutions acting upon ordinary business principles.
With a monopoly we lose the tremendous advantage of a comparative standard of business efficiency. Where only one body is operating there can be no standard with which to compare its efficiency. If it has public money behind it we run all the risks associated with Government enterprises. It is apparently believed in some quarters, I cannot tell why, that a compulsory pool will bc more economical than the present system, It will still be necessary to employ a whole army of persons to receive deliveries of wheat, and to deal with it. It has been said that there will not be competing agents at the stations and country centres, but substantially the same amount of work will have to be done in regard to the same amount of wheat, and substantially the same number of persons Wl have to be employed. No intimation has been given, however, as to who is to be employed on this work. Either the existing agencies will be used, or a great new bureaucratic agency will be set up. If the existing agencies are used, as they were in war-time, we shall employ the co-operative societies and the wheat merchants. It is not. clear whether both these agencies are to be used, but judging from the constitution of the Canberra wheat POOl conference, it would appear that one of the Government’s objects is to give a monopoly of wheat control to the co-operative concerns. They will still be doing the middleman’s work, and will be doing it for the benefit of their own. members. We have had plenty of experience of compulsory wheat pools in Australia. I believe they were necessary in war-time; it was the only way available then for handling the wheat, but though the pools were necessary them, and there was every conceivable motive for them to work in harmony and with efficiency, there were yet gigan tic losses, most astounding frauds, and lamentable corruption. Men who were not qualified for the task were put in charge of huge sums of money, trusted with tremendous responsibility, and required to make delicate decisions.
– Lack of shipping, duc to the war, was the cause of most of the troubles experienced by the wheat pool.
– Lack of shipping, due to the war, was not responsible for the many guineas which I earned in the course of inquiries into charges of wheat pool corruption, nor for the losses suffered as a. result of incompetence and mismanagement. There is great difference between a person in business on his own account, who knows that the losses of his enterprise will have to be borne by himself, and a person engaged in a governmental monoply without competition and without any standard of comparison. The present voluntary pools have not enjoyed a record of consistent success. Sometimes they have paid as well as the wheat merchants, but audited figures show that on occasions they have paid markedly less. In connexion with the South Australian pools, accountants conducted in 1927 an examination of the open market prices and the pool prices for the years 1924-25 and 1925-26. The prices obtained in the open market in the former year were no less than 6-d. per bushel above those obtained by the pool, and in 1925-26 the open market again beat the pool by 3£d. a bushel. If all the wheat from South Australia had been in the voluntary pool for those years enormous losses would have been sustained by the farmers. The Minister has suggested - and the phrase is commonly used during this campaign - that those who are opposed to the pool are denying to the farmer the opportunity to organize. The farmer already has the fullest opportunity to organize; he can act as he chooses, but if he is forced on to the Procrustean bed of pooling, he will have no choice and no freedom.
– What freedom has he now ?
– In answering that question I do not desire the financial position of a particular individual to be brought into account. In any industry a. man who is in difficulties will be beholden to the person who can advance money to him. At present there is in the wheat industry a competitive system and the farmer can either sell to the voluntary pool - except in New South Wales where the pool has been discontinued for the last two years - and get such advantages as he thinks the pooling system offers, or he can deal with the merchants. In dealing with them lie can sell at once or forward, or store his wheat, get an advance and sell when he thinks the market is more favorable. Thus we have a very flexible system of wheat marketing in operation, and I have yet to learn that it is not efficient. It gives to the farmer a choice of all possible methods, and the competition between the different agencies is admirable for the grower and for the industry as a whole. No person or organization is in business for philanthropic purposes, neither the cooperative organizations, which are business concerns, nor the wheat merchants are philanthropists: all are seeking to buy and sell wheat on the best terms. In the purchase of wheat the merchants are competing with the voluntary pools and with each
Other, and the farmer has a better chance of getting a good price than if he is forced to bundle all his wheat into a tremendous organization operating in at least three States, and await the declaration of the final dividends. Honorable members know what length of time elapsed before the dividends of some pools could be ascertained, and after our earlier experiences I shudder at the thought of an important industry like wheat-growing being again subjected to such risks. Each agency for the selling of wheat is a check on every other agency, and I believe that the farmer appreciates the choice he now has. The proportions of the total wheat crop put into voluntary pools since 1921-22 have been -
Honorable members will see that the percentages for the last crop put into the pools were : - South Australia, 35 per cent.; Victoria, 45 per cent.; New South Wales, nil; Western Australia, 60 per cent.
The Government proposes the establishment of a compulsory pool for three years and a guarantee for only one year. The period of three years will kill the competing agencies. Probably the intention of the Government is that the pool should last sufficiently long to make it impossible for merchants and other agents to re-establish themselves. The capital now used in Australia by these merchants is approximately £12,000,000; all their organizations will be destroyed if this proposal is accepted, and if after three years’ experience the [“>(i] farmers desire to get away from compulsory pooling, they will experience difficulty in doing so. Honorable members should realize that the world is getting tired of these pools; retaliation against pooling is already in operation in France, Germany, Italy and South Africa. All of these countries have introduced provisions directed against foreign wheat, on the ground that it is either pooled or is about to be pooled.
There is another important feature to which I direct the attention of the Minister. Most of us believed that these proposals will be submitted’ to a ballot of the farmers in the consenting States. The bill contains no provision to that effect, and I ask the Minister whether the Government intends that the farmers shall have an opportunity to- vote.
– As that is not mentioned in the bill I presume that the Commonwealth Government has made an agreement with the State Governments.
– Is it a written agreement that can be produced? [Extension of time granted.] This matter is sufficiently important to be expressed in the bill. We are asked to pass the bill, and leave the ballot to be the subject of an agreement with the States which we have not seen, and the terms of which are unknown to us. I ask the Minister to insert in the bill a provision that a ballot of the fanners on a defined basis must be taken before the scheme becomes operative. That has been done in connexion with various export control bills - those relating to dried fruits and dairy produce, for instance - and there is no reason why it should not be done in connexion with the much more important commodity of wheat. The result of a ballot might vary greatly according to whether the qualifications for voting were ten acres, 50 acres, 100 acres, or one vote per 100 acres. In regard to the election of the State wheat board the agreement annexed to the bill provides that each State may make its own definition of “ wheat-grower “. Clause 4 reads -
Clause 1 of the agreement in the schedule is a very important provision which should be fully understood by the farmers before they agree to these proposals. It reads: -
This agreement shall apply to wheat harvested during the seasons 1930-1931, 1931-1932 and 1932-1933, and during such subsequent seasons as may he mutually agreed between the parties thereto.
That means that the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States which originally subscribe to the pool may, without reference to Parliament or the farmers, indefinitely extend the compulsory pool. I ask the House- to rectify that, and ensure that the farmers shall have an opportunity, after they have had experience of the scheme, to declare whether they wish to continue it.
– Hear, hear ! That i3 perfectly fair.
– I conclude by distinguishing again between the two proposals of the bill - the guarantee of 4s. per bushel, which I am prepared to support, and the compulsory pool, to which I am strongly opposed. The farmers are asked to sell their freedom in order to get a guarantee of 4s. They need not do so; they can get the 4s. without a compulsory pool. If they accept this scheme they will sell their freedom certainly for three years, and possibly for an indefinite period, and all they will get in return will be a guarantee for a single season. I ask that the two proposals be separated so that the House may have an opportunity of defiling with them separately. Accordingly, I move the following amendment -
That all the words after “That” be omitted and the following words be substituted in lieu thereof - “ this House is of opinion that, while present circumstances justify a guarantee by the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States of a minimum price of 4s. per bushel for f.a.q. wheat, season 1930-31, delivered at railway sidings, legislation providing for such a guarantee should be introduced separately from any legislation providing for the establishment of a monopoly in the marketing of Australian wheat by means of a compulsory pool.
If these proposals -re separated then honorable member? *>o believe in one and not in the other will have an opportunity of expressing heir opinions. If the Government persists in joining the guarantee with the compulsory pool, thus depriving the farmer of his freedom and of the opportunities for selling his production through any one of the various agencies which at present exist I shall be compelled to oppose the bill.
– I second the amendment, and shall continue my remarks later.
– I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) on presenting an excellent case for the wheat merchants of Australia. Indeed, had he been briefed by those gentlemen he could not have put up a better case for them, although it was evident that he made use largely of the arguments contained in the circular issued by the merchants and received by all honorable members. The honorable member objects not only to a compulsory pool, which he stigmatizes as government control, but also to a voluntary pool. He quoted instances in the United States of America and Canada to show that voluntary pools had failed. There is no difficulty in discerning what is at the back of the minds of those members opposing this measure, because the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition aims at placing the control of the handling of wheat in the hands of the private agents as before. If that were permitted farmers would not receive the full benefit of their labours. The Leader of the Opposition covered much ground, and dealt with this subject from various points of view, some of his statements being contradictory to his previous statements. I am a farmer, and in common with the rest of the farmers of Western Australia, I have tried the voluntary pool. For several years a voluntary pool has been operating in that State, and I joined it because I believed that it would go a long way towards eliminating the middlemen that live upon the farmers by buying their wheat and selling it abroad. The Leader of the Opposition stated that the number of people associated with the industry under the private trading system would not be reduced under the compulsory scheme. I deny that. The honorable member is either misrepresenting the facts or misunderstands the position. Every little rural hamlet in Australia has at least half a dozen representatives or agents of wheat merchants. They have to be paid, and of course the money ultimately comes out of the farmers’ pockets. It is time that we placed the wheat industry upon a sound basis. We have embarked upon a highly protective tariff in order to assist secondary industries, and it is time that the primary producers of this country should also receive some benefit to compensate them for the high prices that they have to pay for their machinery and other requirements. We have already assisted other primary industries by means of bounties. Wheat comprises one-fourth of the exports of Australia, and it is high time that we took steps to encourage the industry by guaranteeing a certain price for wheat. The wheat production of the eastern States, including Victoria and South Australia, has fallen off considerably during the last two years because of drought conditions. Western Australia alone had a fair wheat yield last year, amounting to about 36,000,000 bushels. I joined the voluntary pool, but, because of the uncertain price of wheat, a large quantity was held by the pool until higher prices ruled. We were promised 6d. a bushel advance in March of this year, but it has not been forthcoming. [Quorum formed.] Up to date 75 per cent. of the wheat placed in the pool has not been sold, and, as a consequence, the farmers have been unable to meet their commitments with their bankers. Had this proposed compulsory pool been in existence in March last £8,000,000 would have been distributed to the farmers of Western Australia. Instead of that only £2,000,000 was distributed, and asa result, in a year of plenty the bankers are foreclosing on the farmers because of financial stringency. The farmers of Western Australia should welcome this proposal for a compulsory pool. They are being assured of a market, and they will make every effort to increase their acreage under production. If the season is good, and with the guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel, they will be able in March of next year partially to meet their obligations to their bankers.
I cannot imagine any honorable members opposing this bill unless they are working in the interests of the wheat merchants, who see in this scheme the possibility of the cessation of their operations for the next two or three years. The establishment of a compulsorypool and the fixation of a guaranteed price for wheat will go a long way towards stabilizing the balance of trade. The Leader of the Opposition raised not one valid argument to support his contention that no more wheat would be sown because of the Government’s proposals. The success of the farmers means the prosperity of the whole of the people of the Commonwealth. I congratulate the Minister for Markets on introducing this bill providing for a compulsory pool, because I cannot conceive of any better means of giving adequate assistance to the wheat industry.
.- If anything were needed to condemn the proposed wheat pool it has been provided by the arguments that have just been used by the Minister for Defence (Mr. A. Green) who apparently has not given the slightest thought to financial considerations so far as Western Australia is concerned. The honorable member has no knowledge of the effect which this guarantee will have upon Western Australia, compared with Victoria and New South Wales, or he would not have spoken as he has done. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later day.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Action by Iron and Steel Manufacturers - Price of Rail Dogs - Federal Aids Road Agreement: Expenditure of Commonwealth Grant.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Before the Easter adjournment I drew the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) to the attitude adopted by iron and steel manufacturers to persons who are outside the combine. According to a recent newspaper paragraph, further complaint is being made in that regard. It appears that persons who are outside the association cannot obtain supplies at the prices and upon the terms at which supplies are made available to those who are within the association. The writer says that four or five firms in Western Australia can obtain supplies, but that he cannot. He alleges that, although he is prevented from buying abroad, he cannot purchase locally. I hope that inquiry will be made immediately into this matter.
I have received a letter dealing with the price of rail dogs. The writer says that the price has jumped by over £9 a ton. His words are: -
We were able to buy rail clogs last year at between £34 and £36 per ton, and on a few occasions were able to pick up small parcels as low as £31 per ton, f.o.r. Fremantle - generally for prompt delivery. The position now is that rail dogs are £4.4. 15s. per ton, and delivery is not less than one month.
I urge the Prime Minister to make inquiry into this matter also.
– I draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the amount of money expended in connexion with the allocation under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement. The Secretary to the Department of Works and Railways has supplied me with a statement which sets out that, in the electorate of Gwydir, the amount allocated to the 30th June, 1930, is approximately £127,000, and that of that amount only approximately £54,000 had been expended up to the 21st February, 1930. Upon some of the roads in question, provision has been made for a very appreciable expenditure, and in some cases no expenditure had been incurred up to the 21st February last. The following is the statement : -
I understand that other country electorates occupy a similar position. In view of the volume of unemployment in country districts in New South Wales, will the Prime Minister institute inquiries of the State authorities to ascertain the position as to why such a small proportion of the money has been spent. If action can be taken to provide work, will the Prime Minister make representations to the State authorities to expend the grant before the 30th June next?
– I am strongly opposed to any combine making a special selection of those by whom Australian manufactured articles which receive protection from this country are to be sold. I assure the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that I will have the matter to which he drew attention investigated immediately. His statement about the rise in the price of rail dogs will also be investigated, and if no adequate reason can be assigned for the higher price, 1 shall endeavour to learn who is the responsible party.
The expenditure of the money allocated under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement is entirely in the hands of the State Governments. There may he valid reasons for the delay that appears to have occurred, and I shall have inquiries made to ascertain whether that is so. The works to which the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) has referred may be held up because surveys have not been completed. There is a probability, however, that the States are unable to set aside 15s. for every £1 that is made available by the Commonwealth Government. If that is the reason, it may be possible to make some special arrangement to enable the States to proceed with the work. One of the objects of the proposal to alter the scheme is to relieve the States of that obligation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.52 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 May 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19300502_reps_12_123/>.