12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and offered prayers.
Action of Senate.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister a question concerning the- action taken by another place in connexion -with the Central Reserve Bank Bill. That action, in my humble opinion, is likely to have very serious consequences.
– Order! It is not permissible to offer an opinion or comment when asking a question.
– It is the seriousness of the action taken that impels me to adopt this course. . I should like to know whether the Prime Minister will inform the people of Australia and the Empire as a whole that another place has taken action which is likely to affect adversely the credit of Australia, which the Government has endeavoured to improve.
– The Governmentwill take proper action at a suitable time.
– Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to make available to honorable members the report of the Coal Commission? I have been informed that the report has been printed.
– I have promised honorable members that as soon as the reports have been received by me from the Government of New South Wales they will be distributed. I shall keep that promise.
Report of Conference
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state when the report of the conference that was recently held between the Tariff Board and the timber interests will bc made available?
Mr.FENTON. - A number of reports, of which this is one, is in the hands of the Government Printer. When they are received, they will be made available to honorable members.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Home Affairs been drawn to statements that have appeared in English newspapers - notably the Manchester Guardian, to the effect that the aborigines of North and Central Australia are being seriously exploited and ill-treated? Has he taken steps to obtain a report on the matter, with a view to ascertaining whether there is any foundation for such statements; and, if so, would he give this House, and through it the public, any information that is in his possession?
– There is no foundation for the statements that have appeared recently in the Manchester Guardian regarding the treatment of the aborigines in North and Central Australia. The policy of the Government is now being developed. So far its application has resulted in medical officers being appointed, one at Katherine River and a second at Alice Springs, and negotiations are in train for the appointment of a third medical officer at Camooweal, to serve the Barkly Tablelands. Then large reservations for aborigines have been made available at Arnheim Land and in the lower portion of Central Australia. The wages and conditions and the general well-being- of the aborigines are matters constantly receiving the attention of the Government. A report ls now being prepared for the Pan-Pacific Conference that is to be held at Honolulu this year. That report will set out the policy of the Government. The statements that it contains will be given publicity by the Trade Commissioner for Australia in New York and the High Commissioner for Australia in London.
– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “the parlous condition of the Australian dried fruits industry “.
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
.- I regret the necessity for taking this action, particularly at a time when this Parliament has before it a great deal of important work; but so serious is the position that has arisen in the dried fruits industry that I consider that it should be brought before this House and the Government.
A deputation, representative of the Australian dried fruits industry, waited last December upon the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin). It was introduced by me, and supported by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) and the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb). That deputation informed the Prime Minister that, owing to the large expansion that had taken place in the industry, and the competition that it had to meet from California and Symrna, the result of which was the reduction of prices on the overseas markets, production in Australia had become unprofitable. The right honorable gentleman was also apprised of the fact that the banks were refusing to give further credit, and that it was imperative that the Government should come to the assistance of the industry. The deputation submitted certain proposals for the stabilization of the industry. Briefly, it requested that a sum of £200,000 should be made available by way of a bounty, spread over a period of three years, the undertaking being given that the money would not be drawn upon unless the prices obtainable were below production costs. The production costs assessed by the deputation were considerably lower than those estimated by the Development and Migration Commission in a report that it submitted two or three years ago. In passing, I may say that that commission held an exhaustive inquiry into all phases of the industry, and furnished a most comprehensive report. The attitude of the deputation is clearly indicated when I say that its assessment of production costs was considerably lower than that of the Development and Migration Commission. In reality its assessment was below the actual cost; but the deputation considered that the present was a time when everybody should be prepared to make sacrifices. It indicated its readiness to make sacrifices but stated that the whole of the burden entailed by the existing economic situation should not be borne by the growers. It considered that, at the expiration of three years, the overseas markets would have recovered sufficiently to enable the industry to carry on. The Prime Minister received the deputation sympathetically, and promised to have an inquiry made into the scheme that it submitted. Mr. Gunn, lately of the Development and Migration Commission, was detailed by the right honorable gentleman to investigate the proposal put forward. He visited the settlements, took evidence, and submitted a report which, I understand from a letter that the Prime Minister sent to the deputation, was unfavorable to the scheme that it had outlined.
On the 4th June last another deputation waited on the Prime Minister. It was introduced by me, and supported by honorable members belonging to different parties. It consisted of growers who are actually engaged in the industry, and was representative of the River Murray settlements in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. That deputation stated a case for the immediate salvation of the industry. It informed the Prime Minister that the banks had practically closed down upon further financial assistance, and that it was impossible for the growers to continue pruning and ploughing operations in preparation for the next year’s crop without a minimum cash advance by the Government of £65,000. The Prime Minister was sympathetic and stated that he would go into the matter, but he stressed the financial difficulties in which the Government found itself. Replying to questions that were asked in this House last week, the right honorable gentleman stated that the Government had not yet come to a decision, but that the matter had been placed in the hands of two Ministers for investigation and report. There it stands at the moment.
I have received a number of telegrams and letters stressing the urgent necessity for the Government to come to some decision, so that the growers will know where they are. I quote one, which is typical of all. It was sent to me by a man whom I know well, Mr. Black, of Nyah West. He is an expert grower of high quality dried fruits, and he has been most successful. His telegram reads -
Growers very anxious. Many leaving blocks. More must go shortly; their position tragic.
I have also received a letter from another grower, who is a reputable man. whom I know well. He states his position quite frankly, and it is typical of the’ general position throughout the industry. Extracts from his letter will convey to honorable members more eloquently than any words of mine the difficulties through which these men are passing. He states -
I hope that you can do something to expedite the Government’s decision in regard to the granting of assistance to us poor unfortunates, because the position is now very acute and unless help comes soon, God only knows what will happen to hundreds of the old settlers. I enclose herewith a statement of my own position; you will notice that for the purpose of financing, the packing sheds have fixed the estimated return net in the sweat box of sultanas at £20 “per ton, and lexias at £16 per ton.
The fruit is sent by the grower to the packing shed in the rough state. It is then cleaned, stemmed, graded and marketed. The net return to the grower is what he gets for the fruit in the sweat boxes. The letter continues - and as you know that the cost of production in round figures is £40 per ton you can see at a glance that ho one can go on long at this rate. Personally, I am £300 worse off than I was at this time last year. I had a long talk with a leading packer yesterday. My packers and he tell me some of the banks have instructed them thai ‘they are not to finance growers with goods and money in excess- of the estimated value of their 1930 crop, this financial assistance to cover all goods required during the year, and money to harvest next ‘season’s ‘cro’p. In my case you ‘will see tha’t the estimated value of my crop (sultanas were all three, crown and two crown, more three crown £han two crown, and ‘lexias three < crown and four crown, all good ‘fruit ) is £42’4, and that goods required and money to pay rates, insurances, interest and harvesting W31 crop -is £305, or £81 more than they will advance me, leaving nothing for living allowance foi- my wi’fe, self and “family, or to ‘pay for any ‘labour that ‘I require, a’nd as you know I am not ‘able to do the hard work on the block myself, and have to employ labour for pruning (I do a lot o’f this myself) ploughing, irrigating, and cultivating.
This costs approximately £75 to £100 per year, and wc must perforce subsist on air or give up »nd he kicked off the property which I have owned for 38 years; and this is to ‘ be ‘the fate of hundreds of other old settlers who have made the dried fruits industry, and spent their whole lives in ‘it, ‘and now they are getting old men and unable to work as:they could in their younger days. The end will, I’ suppose, be ‘the ‘ old-age ‘ pension.
The dried fruits industry is under an Arbitration Court award, and the basic wa’g’e is ‘£4 -4s. a -week. The industry can no longer pay that wage, so some of the older growers have to face the position of either leaving their blocks or calling for tenders for working them, and, in that way, get round the Arbitration Court award. The letter continues -
I will just give you a few other illustrations of what is happening without mentioning names -
I hear to-day that certain people have have let their work to four Jugo-Slavs (130 acres vines) on a 50-50 crop basis. In the meantime they pay the Jugo-Slavs £2 each per week, and have an adjustment after the crop.
A block at Irymple, has been leased to two Greeks.
Another grower has let all his work on contract to the Greeks, and this is what is happening every day. Soon it will be all Greeks, Jugo-Slavs and perhaps a few Italians.
In Mildura crowds of men surround the Australian Workers Union office seeking employment. Unfortunately, most of them are unable to obtain it, and have to keep walking the streets. That is the actual position in the dried fruits industry to-day. The letter continues -
I am now giving you this information in all sincerity, and you can make what use of it you like, only keep my name out of it as much as possible, but if you want to use the information to Mr. Scullin or the Government, you have my permission to .make what use you like. I do think it a d- disgrace that a supposed reputable bank should dispossess old settlers and then sell to Greeks. . . .
In the meantime the Government are talking of finding millions to give bonus and bounties on the production of cotton, flax and linseed, shale oil, paper and God knows what other industries, trying to start new industries, and won’t give a farthing to hell’, save an old industry and old pioneers. To my mind ‘this seems rotten politically, and I do hope that you can succeed ‘in getting some measure df justice for ‘us. Personally I ‘think that the £65,000 the “deputation asked for is totally inadequate to be of ‘any good, ‘except .as a temporary palliative; here we are, we have to .pay £4 4s. a week for pickers and other work, which can’t be done at the present prices of fruit in London; and it will mean that no Australian Workers’ Union men will be wanted soon, and all the work will be given to Southern Europeans, who will work for considerably less than a Britisher. Compulsion will cause us to employ them, so you can tell what this settlement will be in another five years. . . .
P.S.- 1 might add ‘that in 1020 I was offered £6j000 cash for ‘this property - to-day I could hardly give it -.away.
The majority of the growers* do not desire a reduction of ‘wages un’der the award. They prefer to have the ‘wherewithal “to pay existing rates. There is a great demand for. labour at harvesting time for a period of from four to six weeks. It is not merely local labour that is then employed; men come from great distances. In the fruit-picking season Mildura is the Mecca for the workers of three States-South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria. Many miners come from Broken Hill for a change of employment. These men camp on the bank of the river waiting for the harvest to begin. They are not employed until the morning, of the day on which picking is started, and so soon as the work is finished they are dismissed, and go on the road, once again. The growers recognize that a high rate of wage is of advantage, because it enables them to obtain labour during harvesting time. There is always a plentiful supply of good labour, and the growers are well satisfied with it. But, unfortunately, the price of dried fruits has fallen, and the growers are in the position of not having the wherewithal to pay existing rates. Unless this Government takes action to place the industry on a profitable basis the growers . will have no option but to agitate for a reduction of wages or to leave the industry altogether. The dried fruits industry is important, although it is not so widespread as are the dairying and wheat-growing industries. Few honorable members are interested in it; and therefore, I should like to read to the House a statement that has been issued by the Australian Dried Fruits Association. It is as follows:-
Production. - The total production of dried fruits in Australia for the years 1929 and 1.930 was as follows: -
The Commonwealth consumption of all these fruits is about 12,000” to 13,000 tons, equal to 18 to 20 per cent.
The export quotas fixed by the State Dried Fruit’s Boards for 1929 were: - Sultanas, 87½ per cent.; currants, 75 perCent, (actual export was 80 per cent.) ; lexias, 65 per cent.
In this industry the ratio of export sales to total production is greater than in any other industry in , Australia, primary or secondary, with the sole exception of the woollen industry; but that industry cannot be taken to make a fair comparison, inasmuch as the total wages paid in it in relation to the total amount received from its products is infinitesimal compared with the total wages paid in the dried fruits industry. The wages paid in the dried fruits industry is also relatively greater than that paid in the dairying industry. The statement continues -
For season 1930 the export proportions will be very much the same.
Sultanas are the principal fruit, being about two-thirds of the total production.
During the past two years the prices of sultanas have fallen most alarmingly.
Average prices in United Kingdom: -
During the years 1925, 1926 and 1927 the industry carried on on the sultana, being the predominating fruit; while prices remained high it carried the industry.
During the past three years the currant prices have appreciated, but there is not sufficient tonnage to carry the industry when sultana prices fall. In 1925-1926 currant prices were low, and the Tariff Board advised that growers would have to pull currants out because they had no earthly hope. Despite this very definite assertion by the Tariff Board the prices of currants in 1928, 1929, and 1930 improved considerably, and last year’s currants undoubtedly helped materially to carry the industry along.
I mention this because some critics of to-day may say the sultana has no chance, and the future may prove them to be absolutely wrong.
The difficulties of our industry are undoubtedly due to low prices of sultanas in world’s markets, due to competition and reduced purchasing power, bringing prices down to below pre-war level, and the growers’ cost of production being based , on post-war costs in Australia forcing up the cost of production.
The average prices for fruits for the period 1907 to 1911 were -
Wages were then 7s. per day and water rates 25s. , per acre. Average prices for period 1929-1930 are estimated at -
Wages are £4 4s*. per week = 14s. per day, and . water rate 65s. per acre.
These figures are eloquent of the enormous fall in values received by the grower.
Protection. - The industry is protected against the importation of fruit from other countries. The duty is 6d. per lb., which is quite effective. At present importation is prohibited.
We are unable to make use of the tariff of lid. per lb. to raise prices in Australia and stabilize the industry.
Since the high duties went on we have reduced our prices, and are not taking advantage of more than 2d. of the duty provided. Until November the protection was 3d. per lb., and this may be taken as the highest possible duty we can use as an industry.
It is, however, only on 18 ner cent, to 20 per cent, of our production that we can possibly make any use of our tariff, therefor the effective tariff to the industry amounts to only 0.6d. per lb.
Importance of Industry. - The 1029 crop of sultanas, currants andlexias amounted to 72,000 tons, of which 58,000 tons were exported. Value of export, £2,500,000.
As an export industry, therefore, it is of great importance at the present time, when Australia wants every bit of overseas trade she can get. The only industries exporting greater value are, pastoral, wheat and dairy.
Practically the whole of the settlement of the Murray Valley, from Swan Hill to Morgan in South Australia, depends on the dried fruits industry.
The towns depending on dried fruits are Woorinen, Nyah, Mildura, Red Cliffs, Merbein, Curlwaa, Renmark, Berri, Barmera, Cadell, Kingstone, Waikerie.
Population dependent upon the industry estimated at 30,000. There are over 5,000 growers nearly all working 15 to 20-acre properties, therefore they are “ workers “.
There are quite 5,000 permanent workers employed in the industry, and in the towns and districts, and during harvest time,6,000 additional harvest hands are required.
The industry is controlled by Arbitration Court award, and the basic wage for the industry is £4 4s. per week.
At the present time 80 per cent, of the cost of production is wages.
The wages paid on the 1929 crop for harvesting and packing alone would amount to £500,000, and on the 1930 crop, £450,000.
The industry is a very big employer of labour. Almost every grower in the industry must be considered as a “worker”.
If the industry fails as an export industry, then quite 50 per cent, to60 per cent, of the production must cease, and if that happens, 15.000 people living on the River Murray settlements will have to find employment elsewhere.
That, briefly, is the position of the dried fruits industry. It may be asked whether there is any hope for it. Although sultana prices are now below production costs in Australia, the same position exists in Smyrna and California. It would be callous to allow this industry to die. The cause of the trouble is the overdevelopment of the industry brought about by the Commonwealth repatriation policy, over which the growers had no control. This industry was in a prosperous condition when our soldiers returned from the war. The State Governments having thousands of returned soldiers to repatriate, and unlimited Commonwealth money with which to do it, embarked upon a policy which resulted in a tremendous extension of the industry. Before the war only about 18 per cent, or 20 per cent, of our dried fruits was exported, but to-day over 80 per cent, has to be sold on the world’s markets. It appears likely that the older growers will go to the wall first, and that many of the soldier settlers will follow them. The fact that the soldier settlers are receiving a certain amount of government assistance may defer the day of reckoning for them, but that day must come sooner or later. Probably three-fifths of the present production is due to the repatriation policy of the State Governments. I do not blame either the present or the last Commonwealth Government for the position in which this industry finds itself to-day ; the State Governments are largely responsible, for they went ahead without attempting to co-ordinate their activities in any way. This shows the urgent need for setting up some authority to supervise and control primary production developments in Australia. The last Government laid this duty upon the Development and Migration Commission. I consider that the salaries and methods of that commission were extravagant, but some authority of the kind is undoubtedly needed to supervise the developmental projects of the various States. The growers of these dried fruits urgently need the £65,000 for which I am asking in order to enable them to produce next year’s crop. Seeing that the Government is providing bounties for all kinds of industries, many of which are not even exporting industries, there is justification for asking it to grant assistance to this industry. Recently we passed a measure for a bounty on cotton. We have on our businesspaper, awaiting consideration, measures to provide bounties in respect of sowing machines, flax and linseed, and the production of oil from shale deposits; and we may expect the introduction of a measure to provide for. a bounty on the production of newsprint and coal; As a matter of fact, the dried fruits industry is carrying a relatively greater share of export business than any other primary producing industry in Australia except the wool industry, with which a comparison would not be fair. The Government, therefore, surely will not stand by and say to these people “You must perish, for we cannot do anything to assist you”. If the world’s market takes a turn which will favour our producers, they are quite willing to refund the £65,000 if it is advanced to them. As I have indicated, the banks have withdrawn their support from some of these people, and it will be impossible for them to continue operations unless they are granted relief.
.- I rise with some hesitancy to support the request of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). I realize, of course, that we have many unemployed in our midst to-day, and that the circumstances of those engaged in other classes of primary production are not flourishing; but there are special considerations which justify the granting of assistance to the more needy producers of dried fruits. The first reason that makes me hesitate to ask for this assistance is the present financial position, and the fact that increased taxation has been foreshadowed by the Government. The second reason is that I have no desire to embarrass the Government which I am supporting.
– Nor have I any desire to embarrass the Government.
– I believe that. The third reason why I hesitate to ask for this assistance is that I am beginning to question the economic wisdom of some of the measures that have been taken by this Parliament to assist certain industries. That may sound strange coming from an honorable member who supported the Wine Bounty Bill, but some time has passed since that bounty was agreed to, and a good many other bounty proposals have been submitted to .us. One needs, in these circumstances, to ask when a halt will be called to the application of this policy to industry. I must admit that some doubt has risen in my mind as to whether we should continue introducing bounty measures of the kind that we have had before us recently. But having regard to all these facts, I feel that I owe it to my constituents to request this assistance on their behalf. While every one seems to be making a bid for assistance from Commonwealth funds, the dried fruits growers are entitled to do so. The growers of grapes for the production of wine and dried fruits have a greater claim for assistance from the governments of Australia than any other section of primary producers. As the honorable member for Wimmera said, about 2,000 returned soldiers were forced into this industry - and I use that phrase deliberately - by various State governments. One reason why the South Australian Government forced the soldiers to settle in the River Murray Valley, was that it was not prepared to re-purchase some of the better class estates available at the time for mixed farming. The landlords in the Upper House of that State were responsible for that, and we are now reaping the harvest. We shall continue to reap it as long as I and my children and grandchildren live. I noticed that the argument that made the greatest impression upon the Prime Minister at the deputation which waited upon him some time ago to request that an increase should be made in the wine bounty, was that there was a moral obligation on the Government to assist the grape growers. As the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has pointed out, the older settlers in this industry were, before the war, earning a decent living, though they were not” making a fortune. The dislocation of the industry in other countries consequent upon the war, opened a market oversea for our dried fruits, and this doubtless influenced the State governments, to some extent, to establish many ex-soldiers in the industry. I have no doubt that even if these men had not been settled in it at that time the increased prices obtainable would have caused an increase of production by the civilian settlers; but the settlement of such a large number of ex-soldiers in the industry is the chief cause of the serious over production and the extreme difficulties which are facing the producers today. I was greatly impressed at the deputation to the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), to which I have already referred, by the statement of various returned soldiers that when they first began operations in the industry they know nothing whatever about it, and that the older settlers gave them their training. They therefore strongly protested against the squeezing out of those who had been so good to them. They made it clear that unless assistance was granted to the industry some of the older settlers would have to leave their holdings almost immediately, and that they themselves could only postpone the. evil day, because .they were being granted a certain measure of goverment assistance. That is a tragic position. These old settlers pioneered this industry. I was in the River Murray districts many years ago, and I know that when the original village settlement scheme failed many of the settlers determined to carve out a home for themselves on the Murray, and they did so. It would be deplorable, therefore, if they were now to be forced to leave their holdings practically ruined men. I understand that if this £65,000 grant is approved by the Government the money will be used principally to assist the older settlers. If the Government permits a breach to be made in the wall that is now protecting this industry, through which Southern Europeans may come, these will soon flood the districts, and ultimately obtain control of the industry. We have been informed that when the banks withdrew their support from the Californian producers of dried fruits who were engaged in a highly efficient and well organized business, the Armenians, Austrians, Czecho Slovakians Greeks, Sicilians and Russians swept into the fruit-growing districts there, threw to the four winds the conditions then in operation, and, by drawing upon the labour of their wives and children, drove out 60 per cent, of the original growers. The honorable member has informed us that in consequence of the banks withdrawing their support from some of the Australian dried fruit; growers, a trickle of Southern Europeans is already commencing. To continue the metaphor I urge the Government to throw some mud into the breach that has occurred in the wall, and thus prevent the flood waters from sweeping it entirely away. Another reason why the Government should help this industry is that the value of its overseas exports in 1929 was £2,500,000. We desire to establish credits overseas and to correct our adverse trade balance, and here is an industry which is able to contribute £2,500,000 for this purpose. Moreover, this industry, which is worth £3,000,000 to Australia, pays in wages at least 60 per cent, of the value of its product. Such an industry should appeal particularly to the Government at the present time. There is a precedent for this request. In 1925 the industry asked for a bounty. The bounty was refused, but an advance was made against the crop for the following year. That advance was supposed to be repaid, but I believe that it was, in the main, written off. Some honorable members may ask why, if the industry received a grant in 1925, it should be corning again now with another claim. So far as I can learn, the main reason is that in i92S a series of very severe frosts throughout the grape-growing areas that year inflicted upon growers heavy losses from which they have not yet recovered .
It may be asked whether the industry is worth saving. I believe that it- is. It cannot be expected, perhaps, that honorable members who do not represent constituencies in which grapes are grown, should be very enthusiastic about the industry, but I impress upon them its importance in relation to other Australian industries. It cannot, of course, be compared with wheat and wool, but it is of considerable national importance. I am aware that the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) are both going to England in the near future, where they will endeavour to obtain an increased measure of British preference for our products. I remind them, however, that before they come back the fruit will be on the vines, and I appeal to them to do something to meet the present position, and to help the Australian growers, who are now in danger of being squeezed out of the industry by southern Europeans, many of whom have been less than five years in the country.
.- I endorse practically everything said by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). His general description of the scope of the industry, and the position in which it now finds itself, was forceful and accurate. I desire, however, to emphasize even more strongly than he did the obligation which rests upon the Commonwealth to get the industry out of its present difficulty. In the first place, although a great deal of the repatriation work was carried out by the States, repatriation was, first and foremost, a Commonwealth obligation, and it was the duty of the Commonwealth to see that the schemes on which it lent money for the absorption of returned soldiers were wisely undertaken, and likely to be successful.
– That should have been done, but unfortunately it was not.
– It could not be done. The States absolutely refused to tolerate any supervision.
– The Commonwealth was paying the piper, and should have been able to call the tune. The fact that the States refused to tolerate supervision does not absolve the Commonwealth of responsibility for the position. History shows that after former wars, when it was desired to repatriate soldiers, governments often expropriated large areas of land, usually that of the enemy,, but not always. The Australian State Governments, which- embarked on the repatriation of soldiers, acted with much, more subtlety. They .placed a great many men in the grape-growing industry, and in this way so increased production as to deprive the old settlers of any opportunity to make profits. The only difference between this method of repatriation, and that followed after other wars, is that the’ original settlers have not been forced to give up their land, but have been allowed to become bankrupt on it. Shortly there will be nobody left in the industry except those who have been recently financed in it by governments to whom they owe so much that the governments’ cannot afford to let them go.
Commonwealth policy has, it is true, done something to help this industry in the past, but it has done a great deal more to hinder it. It has given the benefit of substantial tariff protection for that part of the dried fruits crop sold locally, but that amounts to less than one-fifth of the whole crop. The present Government has increased the tariff protection, but the increase has been of practically no financial benefit to the industry, because prices of dried fruits had already reached a level in Australia when any further increase would lead to a reduction of consumption. In fact, in view of the present hard times, those in the industry feel the necessity of reducing local prices, rather than increasing them. Another result of Commonwealth policy has been to compel the industry to submit to regulation by the Federal Arbitration Court. I am not opposed to Australian workmen receiving the highest wages that can be afforded by the industry in which they are engaged; but there is no doubt that the added costs imposed on this industry by federal arbitration awards have been the cause of unemployment, besides making it extremely difficult for many of the growers to carry on. There could be no better illustration’ of the principle that the Arbitration Court should act under a direction to consider the probable effect of its awards on employment in the industry which is the subject of the award, and in others which might be affected. These are not the only handicaps which have been placed on the industry by this Parliament. Only in last November the tariff on box shooks for the manufacture of fruit-packing cases was increased.
– Is Australian timber used?
– Very little Australian timber is suitable for packing dried fruits. I know of one firm which uses annually about 300,000 cases made from pinus insignia, but Australian hardwood has not been found to be suitable.
– Apart from that, the price is too- high.
– Yes ; the price for Australian hardwood is exorbitantly high. As the result of the higher tariff on box shooks! a total charge of about £7,000 a year for cases for fruit used for
Australian consumption has been placed on the industry. This charge can only be paid out of the wages fund of the industry, and to that extent must tend to put men out of employment. The tariff was imposed for the benefit of a few pet industries and merely serves to illustrate the vicious principle-
– The honorable member is not in order in embarking upon a discussion of the tariff.
– There can be no doubt that the increased tariff on timber has added to the production costs of the dried fruits industry, and will have the effect of throwing men out of employment. A fourth reason why the Commonwealth should assist the dried fruits industry is that it is better business to employ any available funds in helping an old-established and proven industry than in gambling with bounties on highly speculative new propositions. The Government proposes to pay a large subsidy to the cotton industry. Bounties to other industries which for years we have been unsuccessfully trying to establish will make a heavy drain on the revenue. A much smaller sum would keep going a primary industry that is earning for Australia at the present time about £2,500,000 per annum on the overseas market, and is providing a livelihood for about 30,000 people. If the industry is allowed to languish many of those people will have to find employment in other occupations which are already overcrowded. Following an intimation that the Commonwealth would not provide the funds to stabilize the industry, two requests were put before the Prime Minister. One was that the Government should advance to the industry, not necessarily as a subsidy, about two-thirds of the cost of production estimated by the Development and Migration Commission. That modest figure was proposed because representatives of the industry realized the financial difficulties of the Commonwealth, and they hoped that at the end of three years world adjustments would enable the industry to carry on without further assistance. Mr. Gunn reported unfavorably on that proposal, and a deputation waited upon the Prime Minister, and asked among other things that the Commonwealth Government should substantially advise and help in the reorganization of the industry. It was understood that the advisers of the Government had stated that any permanent reorganization would necessitate some change-over from crops of which there was an over-production or the elimination of the less efficient orchards. Such a change should be carefully thought out, and carried into effect with great discrimination. The circumstances of those orchardists who are being financed by the Government and those who are relying on their own resources or on the assistance of private financial institutions differ. If the industry were left to find its own economic level the greatest sacrifice would probably be made by old pioneers who are not financed by the Government, and who are not necessarily the least efficient producers in the industry. A second danger ig that the inferior orchards would not disappear, but would pass into the hands of non-British migrants with low standards of living. Because of these considerations, any scheme of re-organization must be carefully and firmly directed by Federal and State authorities. I understand that the Prime Minister has called for a report from a sub-committee of Cabinet, including the Minister for Markets and Transport. As the honorable gentleman will leave the Commonwealth at an early date, it is imperative that immediate action be taken by the Government to convene a conference of representatives of the industry with a view to its re-organization.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I listened with interest to the case ably and fairly presented by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). He and others who have spoken in support of him are actuated by a keen desire to assist a body of primary producers who are in a very precarious condition. Everybody who understands their circumstances sympathizes with them. The Government is keenly desirous of helping to stabilize the dried fruits industry, but believes that any grant or other assistance that would not mean the permanent betterment of the industry would be useless. Whatever action the Government- takes must be economically sound. Taking a superficial view of the matter one might say that as the producers of dried fruits are obviously in dire distress they should be given the assistance for which the ask; but an examination of the facts shows that such help would be only of temporary advantage, alleviating the distress but not removing the causes of it. The Government hopes to be able to do something substantial that will be of lasting benefit to the industry. The reason why it has not given an earlier answer to the requests of the deputation is that this is but one of many problems that the Cabinet has inherited, and it desires to evolve a scheme that will help to place the industry on a sound commercial basis. This problem is one of the legacies which this and the preceding Government inherited from days gone by, and the solution of it is not made easier by the present financial conditions of the Commonwealth. Primarily this industry was the concern of the States and not of the Commonwealth. During the war the prices for dried fruits soared high, and State Governments, without looking far ahead decided that the industry offered a fine field for repatriation. Unfortunately, when prices fell, many of the soldier settlers found themselves in difficulties. Since then the industry has had assistance in various forms, but none of them brought about that stabilization which should have been the first objective. In 1929 the Australian Dried Fruits Association submitted to the Government a stabilization scheme which included the creation of a fund of £200,000 for three years. The cost of production of currants and sultanas was to be determined by a formula based on the yield per acre. Those growers on the more fertile blocks at Redcliffs and elsewhere, whose crops would average approximately two tons per acre, would not draw upon the fund, but the growers in the lowyielding areas, getting one ton or less per acre, would recover from the fund the difference between their returns and the cost of production.
I state this, merely in order to show that if the stabilization scheme had taken effect it would have meant the establishment of a fund to be drawn on perpetually by growers on the low-yielding areas. If money were poured into that fund for an eternity, I cannot see how those who are on areas described as low yielding - areas that will not yield up to 25 cwt. to thu acre - could be placed on a sound eco.nomic footing, or how it would stabilize the industry. That is borne out by the report which was submitted by the Development and Migration Commission. As that commission was appointed to inquire into this and similar proposals, the Government must take some cognizance of its recommendations.
At the deputation that waited recently on the Prime Minister, the request of the growers was modified. The first request was for a grant of £200,000, but the amount was reduced to £65,000. 1 recognize that that is as low as it would be possible to go. The deputation mentioned that it was intended to utilize thu money in benefiting those who were in distress. Doubtless that condition applies to those who are on the low-yielding areas. The Government would like to make the grant, and I should recommend it if I thought that it would get these people out of their difficulties. But so far as we have gone, it has not been made apparent that any lasting good would be done. Next year they would, no doubt, want another £65,000 or more. We feel that we are in duty bound to look further afield, to see if there is some more comprehensive way of giving assistance. A proper system of preference would do a lot of lasting good; that is one of the methods that the Government considers would be more effective than a costly, spasmodic grant. I quote from the report of the gentleman who went into this matter very exhaustively. Its concluding paragraph states -
The low yields obtained on a largo proportion of the area devoted to dried vines fruits in Australia are due to inefficiency, either of the grower or of the land. [Extension of time granted.)
It is not sufficient to say that growers in California are managing to carry on with an average yield of approximately £1 per acre because, as has been shown previously, the grower in California produces his fruit at a lower cost than the Australian grower, and he therefore has a margin in his favour in fixing the prices which he is prepared to accept tor his fruit.
He concludes -
In my opinion the proposal put forward by the Australian Dried Fruits Association would amount to a bonus to the low-yielding blocks, and would not stabilize the industry. At the end of the three-year period suggested by the association, growers obtaining low yields would be in a similar position to that in which they are placed to-day.
The Government must be guided to a considerable extent by that report. It was its arrival while the Government was considering the matter that led to the delay that occurred in giving a reply to the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). The report refers to the big drop that has taken place in the prices obtained for sultanas, the decrease being from £68 to £35 in five years. That fact has been largely responsible for the trouble in which the industry finds itself. Another contributing factor is the position that has been created by the low yield of a large proportion of the blocks.
The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) referred to the duty on shooks, but neglected to mention that when fruit is exported a rebate is granted.
M.r. Hawker. - That does not apply to home consumption.
– It applies to 80 per cent, of the fruit, because that quantity is exported to-day.
– The figures quoted by the honorable member for Wakefield were not correct.
– That is so; the cost is lower than he stated it to be. The rebate upon export nullifies the duty that is imposed on shooks.
I referred a little while ago to the assistance that has been given by various governments to this industry.
– Will the Minister detail the assistance that has been given?
– At the present time Great Britain gives a preference of £7 a ton in the case of sultanas and lexias, find £2 a ton on currants.
– I thought that the Minister was referring to assistance that had been given by this Government.
– I spoke of this and previous Governments. The point that I want to make is that, notwithstanding what has been done in the past, the industry is still in difficulties. If a remedy can be found - and it ought to be found - that will lead to the effective stabilization of the industry, we should do our best to find it. There is a flat rate preference of £14 a ton in Canada, in which country the sales of Australian dried fruits have made a considerable advance recently. The Prime Minister and I will do what we can to extend that preference in Canada, New Zealand, and other countries in which there is scope for improvement, during our visit abroad. Some years ago the Commonwealth Government made available a loan amounting to £200,000. Evidently that has not led to the stabilization which is needed. At the present time the Commonwealth subsidizes a publicity campaign in the United Kingdom on a £ for £ basis. As a result of that publicity, the dried fruits industry has obtained a larger share of the British market than it had formerly. The amount already expended in this direction is £88,000. Then there was the elimination of the inspection fee of Id. per’ cental on dried fruits exported, amounting in the aggregate to £5,500. Recently, this Government increased the import duty on currants and raisins from 3d. to 6d. per lb.
– That has not been worth a red cent to the industry.
– I cannot understand the honorable gentleman making that statement. Surely the increased duty must have afforded a degree of protection against the importations of foreign dried fruits.
– Practically none, because the advantage derived by the industry amounted to, only one-third of the increase.
– Does the honorable gentleman say that it had no effect on the importations of fruit from other countries?
– It does only what the dumping duty did before.
– The duty on dates was increased from Id. to 3d. per lb. According to the testimony of those who understand the industry and the admissions of honorable members who are interested in the dried: fruits areas,, that increase should indirectly have the effect of swelling the local consumption of our dried fruits.
Despite these attempts to benefit the industry, it is in trouble to-day. The Government deeply sympathizes with the growers. It is not of the slightest use extending sympathy to the growers in this industry unless that is accompanied by a practical proposal to place it upon a sound footing. This subject has been agitating my mind for some time, and, acting upon the advice of the Development and Migration. Commission, I have decided to call a conference of those connected with the industry. That decision is in accordance with the request of the deputation that waited” upon the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin). The following persons will be invited ‘to attend the conference :- 1
A member of the Water ‘Conservation and Irrigation Commission of New South Wales.
A member of’ the State Rivers and -Water Supply Department of Victoria. .
A member of the Irrigation and Drainage Commission of South Australia.
Six representatives of the industry - two from VictOria,–two from ‘South Australia, one from New South Wales, and one from Western Australia., ‘ .
One representative of the Commonwealth Dried Fruit Export Control Board. ,
One representative of each of the’ State Dried Fruit Control Boards’ in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.
Representatives of the State Governments concerned-.
It is proposed at an early date to call those representatives together with a view’ to overhauling the industry, and ultimately placing it Upon a sound basis. The Government prefers” to” do that rather than to assist the’ industry by granting it certain sums this ye’ar and next year, with no effective or lasting benefit. The position of this and other primary industries will ‘be discussed at the forthcoming Economic . Conference in England in connexion with the suggested, bulk purchase of Empire produce. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has asked that £65,000 be made available for the dried fruit industry. I can only promise him that I shall give the matter further consideration in the light of the facts that he has placed before the House to-day. ‘
– I wish to compliment the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) on the manner in which he has placed the parlous position of the dried fruit industry before this House. Unfortunately, other primary industries in Australia are in a similar condition, chiefly because of the unsound financial policy which has been adopted in this country for some considerable time. Any assistance that we may now give to the industry will be only a palliative, and this Parliament should try to devise some economic basis upon which our industries may be properly established. Yesterday we had a big discussion on the question of labour. The labour industry is protected, yet no protection has been given to. the dried fruits industry. It has been shown by the honorable _ member for Wimmera. (Mr. Stewart) that the cost of production in that industry has increased by 100 per cent., while, at the same time,, the price of the commodities produced has fallen considerably. I am reminded of . the potent and apt remarks of a grower in the Shepparton, district, who attended a deputation to the Prime Minister in connexion with the dried fruit industry. He said, “Mr. Prime Minister, you have placed three babies on our doorstep; not we, but you, are the father of them.” Mr. Bruce asked, “What ave these babies ?”. The grower replied, “ You put the customs tariff on our doorstep, and as a result I have to pay 12s. 6d. for a shovel, which at one time cost. me 5s. 6d. The price .of all machinery that I require has been similarly increased, yet I get no more for my fruit. The cost of living has increased, and you put the Arbitration Court on my doorstep. I now have to pay twice the wages I used to pay, and I get no more for my fruit. Then you put the Queensland Sugar Agreement on my doorstep, which, made jam so dear to the people that I cannot get rid of my fruit.” .Those arguments are sound. The false standards that we have set up are now bringing the chickens home to roost. We should reconsider and recast the whole position. The following is a resolution that Was recently carried by another class of primary producer ‘
As the reduced prices of world’ wheat have already lowered the standard of living of the primary producers, this conference calls upon the Federal and State Governments to take such steps as will bring about a readjustment nf standards with other sections of the community, who, in the last issue, depend upon the wealth created by primary producers.
Is not that a reasonable request?
– Is the honorable member supporting the request of the honorable member for Wimmera?
– I am ready to stand behind it, although, if granted, it must be but a palliative. A certain prelate has said that nothing that this Government has done will put Australia right, until we produce both primary and secondary products, so they can be sold in the markets of the world at a profit. The dried fruits industry, in this land of sunshine, should be able to sell its products in the markets of the world at a profit. Our facilities for growing wheat are greater than those afforded in other parts of the world, but, unfortunately, we have established standards that are ruining everybody, including those responsible for them. It is claimed that the workers are getting a pocketful of money, but of what use is that when its purchasing power is equal to that of half a pocketful of money formerly ?
– Does that position apply in the Argentine?
– How is it that foreign countries are able to run their industries at a profit? Are not their peoples better off than we are, even though their standards are lower than ours? How is it that so many of our people are unemployed? Is it not because this country has been administered on a rotten economic basis for. so long?
– The honorable member stuck to the Bruce-Page Government for seven years.
– The low standard of intelligence in this chamber is displayed by the fact that the Government intends to place a further burden on the very timber in which this fruit is cased, and on the very paper in which it is wrapped. Is not that economic idiocy? I support the motion, although I think that any assistance that may be given to the dried fruits industry will be but a palliative, and eventually prove to be futile.
.- My sympathies are with the primary indus tries, including the growing of small fruits. ‘ The great majority of the primary, producers of Australia are suffering from an increase in the cost of production and a severe fall in the price of their produce marketed overseas. Thehonorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) has attributed the decline of our primary industries to the peculiar economic conditions of Australia, and the high standard of wages and living. During and after the war high prices ruled for primary produce, and every country in the world planted new areas in an effort to increase production. Those areas are now in full bearing. As a result, it is practically impossible for us to compete successfully in the world’s markets. In England the position has become so acute that in some places small fruits are being rooted out and other crops are being substituted. I suppose that that is happening throughout the world. Eventually the production of fruit throughout the world will ease considerably and prices will increase. Therefore, it would be wise for us to assist this industry for the time being, so that we may take advantage of the world’s market when prices improve. No other part of the world should be able to compete with us in the production of primary commodities. It is essential that the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney) or some other member of the Cabinet should visit the Old Country and America with a view to obtaining preference for our primary products in those countries. Australia is in a bad financial position, and the primary producers have to foot the bill. The money must come from the land. I regret that the honorable member for Wimmera is not in favour of bounties that have been proposed in connexion with other industries. We “have passed several measures for the payment of bounties on primary products in the hope that increased activity in those industries will eventually absorb a larger proportion pf our unemployed. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) complains of the tariff burdens upon our primary producers. Tariff duties are imposed for the purpose of encouraging the production in Australia of all commodities required by primary producers. I do not agree with the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) tha’t the cost of case material is a burden on producers in the dried fruits industry. That timber is free of duty if intended for use as case material for exported fruit. If hardwood were used for this purpose, it could be supplied from the local market, and in this way employment could be given to “hundreds, if not thousands, of Australian workers. At present a great deal of fruit is exported in pine cases, and the exporters are allowed a rebate of the duty. Consequently, Australian timber competes on unequal terms with imported case timber. I. consider that the Government is doing everything that is possible to meet the wishes of those engaged in the dried fruits industry, but I should like to see some measure of relief given to them. The honorable member for Forrest went on to say that the present unsatisfactory position of our primary producers was the direct result of our existing rotten economic system. If what he says ia true, I am wondering why for seven years he supported a government that really was responsible for this condition of affairs. If our primary industries receive assistance on sound lines, they will, in time, be able to compete satisfactorily with producers in other countries in the world’s markets. We have a splendid climate for the production of all classes of fruits, and I feel confident that the visit to Great Britain of the Minister for Markets will result in great good to our primary producers. This industry should not be allowed to languish, because when prices in the world’s markets again advance, as no doubt they will in time, it is important that we should bc in a position to take advantage of the improvement. If the industry is neglected, valuable time will be lost in bringing fruit-growing areas again into production. Assistance now will be well timed, and will provide a considerable amount of employment for those who are in need of it in Australia.
– The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) has lived up to his reputation of being able to give the least possible information in the greatest possible time. When the honorable gentleman was accorded, the courtesy of an extension of time, he should have shown a little more consideration to those honorable members on this side who wished to speak to the motion. This industry has been subjected to a forcing of growth by the State Government departments, which not. merely encouraged growers to plant certain areas with sultanas, currants andlexias, but absolutely compelled them to do so. This action, by Victoria and South Australia chiefly, is justification for the claim now being made for assistance. If the growers had engaged in the industry independent of Government action, and if, as the result of their activities, overproduction had followed, they would only have had themselves to blame. But as I have stated, their present condition is the outcome of governmental action, and it seems to me that they now havea strong claim for assistance. The Minister said that, in considering what should be done, it must be careful that its action was economically sound. I quite agree, but submit that such a view is in marked contrast to the policy of the Government as enunciated yesterday by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) in the discussion in committee on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. The Minister’s attitude yesterday clearly indicated that the Government did not consider that the economic effects of Arbitration Court awards need receive the slightest consideration.
– This is only one of the honorable member’s Scotch jokes.
– There is nothing in the nature of a joke about my remark. What I am stating is the sober fact. If we examine all avenues through which improvement might be secured in the methods employed in this industry, we are forced to conclude that there is very little hope for improvement as regards marketing methods. There is already, in existence a highly efficient marketing system in connexion with the industry. The Dried Fruits Export Control Board contains not only capable representatives of growers but also very able business men in the city of Melbourne - men who, although they themselves are not engaged in the industry, give up much of their time to forward the interests of our fruitgrowers. Their one purpose is to do everything possible to obtain the highest overseas prices for Australian dried fruits. Possibly something may be done to obtain an increased preference in Great Britain. The Canadian preference on sultanas is twice as great as that given by the Mother Country, and on currants it is seven times greater than the preference in the English market. As a result, we have practically captured the currant market in Canada, notwithstanding the intense competition from California. New Zealand has latent upon the statute books a deferred duty of £18 per ton on dried fruits. This duty is not yet operative, so we may be able to come to some arrangement with the Government of that county. It would be of great value to us if New Zealand can be induced to grant us as a reciprocal benefit this deferred duty by putting it in operation against imports from foreign countries. Already we sell a good deal of our fruit to New Zealand, but the trade is done at cut-throat prices, so it is of little value to us. With regard to processing also, there has been some improvement. The grading is better than it was, and there has been a reduction in the number of the packing sheds, in con-, formity with recommendations made by the Development and Migration Commission, so it cannot be said that the industry is not doing everything that might be reasonably expected of it to help itself.
Reference was made this morning to the advance of £200,000 made to the industry by the previous administration. It may be of interest to honorable members to know that if interest is taken into account, more than the amount advanced had to be written off. We now have to consider which is the best method to permanently assist the industry. The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) said this morning that this assistance must be in such a form as to be of permanent value to those engaged in the industry and to the Commonwealth. But the honorable gentleman did not indicate what was in his mind, and I suggest that this problem has been before the Government long enough to enable it to formulate some plan. In my opinion the only one way to help the industry is to arrange for the vines in the blocks that are least productive to be rooted out with compensation to growers
– The Bruce-Page Government was in office for six years and did nothing.
– During my term of office, the industry was not in anything like its present unfortunate position. The situation now is so serious that the Government must decide quickly as to the form which the assistance shall take. I suggest that a conference be held with representatives of the States interested, for this is as much a State as a Commonwealth problem, to devise some scheme under which the vines may be rooted out on the least productive plots, and the growers compensated. The amount required to compensate the growers could be provided partly by the Government, and partly by those growers who remain in the industry, and whose position will be improved as a result of such action. Steps could be taken by the State Governments to prevent further planting for a period of years..
.- In the few moments remaining for the discussion of this motion, I shall endeavour to state briefly my views on the present unfortunate situation of those engaged in the dried fruits industry.- I .am interested in this matter because so many of the growers are returned soldiers, and I know that they are urgently’ ‘in need of help. The Minister should immediately endeavour to conclude a reciprocal arrangement with Great Britain to grant increased preference. As mentioned by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), British preference on dried fruits is only about one-half the . preference which we enjoy in the Canadian market. At the moment there is a Labour Ministry in England. Let the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker ‘ Moloney), get in touch with it either by cable or wireless. advise it that the situation of our growers is desperate, and strive to obtain an increase in the British preference on a reciprocal basis. In return for a greater measure of preference, we might give larger tariff f con cessions to British motor cars or in some other direction. Our greatest competitors in this market are growers in the United States of America and in Turkey. As regards the former nation, the balance of trade is already very heavily against Australia. I am particularly concerned about the position of our returned soldiers, and I earnestly urge the Minister for Markets to get busy on their behalf. This Ministry surely must have much in common with the Labour Government of Great Britain. Unfortunately, it has, in its tariff policy, discriminated in many items against imports from France and Italy, and now the Governments of those countries are retaliating. We now have a good opportunity to improve our trade relations with Great Britain and these other countries. If we can get a greater preference for our dried fruits on the British market, the industry in Australia will be rehabilitated, instead of being bounty-fed and a burden on the people. Already we have many schemes for the payment of bounties on production, and unless we can come to some arrangement with the Government of Great Britain for reciprocal preference, the dried fruits industry also will be able, to establish a strong claim for this form of assistance. I hope the Government will take prompt action.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 119.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable questions on notice to bc answered;
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– I have asked the Commonwealth Bank for advice in regard to the first question. On receipt of the reply, I will furnish the information desired by the honorable member.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Commonwealth Savings Bank -4 per cent, on first’ £500’, 3½ per cent, on £501-£1,000; 3 per cent, on £1,001- £1,300. ‘
Government Savings Bank of New South Wales - 4 per cent up to £1,000.
Victorian State Savings Bank - 4 per cent. up to £1,000.
South Australian Savings Bank - 4¾ per cent, up to £500; 4½ per cent, on £501-£1,000.
Western’ Australian Savings Bank - 4 per cent, up to £500; 3½ per cent, on £501-£1,000; 3 per cent, on amounts over £1,000.
asked the Prime Minis ter, upon notice -
What were the terms of the agreement between the Government and the Commonwealth Bank with respect to the financing of the proposed wheat pool?
– As I indicated in my reply to the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, satisfactory arrangements were made with the Commonwealth Bank Board for the financing of the wheat pool. Authority was provided in the Wheat Marketing Bill for the entering into of agreements with the central authority to be set up for the control of the Commonwealth wheat pool. No formal agreement could be made with the Commonwealth Bank until the Wheat Marketing Bill was passed by Parliament.
asked the Prime
Minister, upon notice -
What amount of money has Australia expended in all other commodities from the United States of America?
– I am looking into the matter with a view to ascertaining if the desired information can be readily obtained, and shall advise the honorable member as soon as possible.
System of Payment
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
-The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Parliaments have been qualified to take declarations in connexion with invalid and old-age pension applications. This notification appears on pension forms printed subsequent to January. 1929.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What were the Commonwealth cash balances at 30th June, 1930, (a) in Australia, and (b) in London?
– The answers to the right honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Having regard to the following quantities and values of Oregon imported free into Australia for use underground for mining purposes as prescribed by departmental by-laws -
will the Minister say whether adequate assurance is given that the Oregon so imported is used exclusively underground for mining purposes ?
– The information will be obtained.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
and that thousands of our Australian timberworkers are unemployed, with the prospect of their numbers being considerably increased as a result of the competition from foreign timbers?
– The information will he obtained.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The royal commission is about to resume its sittings to take further evidence. So long as the matters referred to in these questions are under consideration by the commission, it is not thought desirable to answer the questions.
Pay - Pensions
– On the 9th July the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: -
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
In committee: (Consideration of
Senate’s amendments) :
Senate’s amendment -
Insert the following new clause: -
Section ninety-one of the principal act is amended by inserting in paragraph (c), after the word “registered” (first occurring), the words “and kept registered.
.- I move-
That the amendment be agreed to.
The short bill to which another place has made this and two other amendments was introduced for the purpose of setting up a Commonwealth court of bankruptcy, presided over by a federal judge. As the result of experience during the two years in which the act has been in operation, a number of amendments to the measure have been suggested from time to time, and the Government is now preparing a comprehensive bill to cover these, which it hopes to introduce at an early date. There is, however, an urgent demand for the making of the amend- ments which honorable members are now being asked to consider. These amendments are non-controversial, and the Government agreed in another place that they should be made, and now asks honorable members of this committee to accept them.
Section 91 of the principal act which it is now proposed to amend provides that the property of the bankrupt divisible among his creditors shall not include, inter alia, chattels in respect of which a bill of sale has been filed or registered. Under the New South Wales Bills of Sales Act 1898, a bill of sale is not valid as against the trustee of a bankrupt estate unless it is renewed at least once in every twelve months. This amendment provides that any bill of sale which comes within the scope of section 91 must not only be filed or registered, but also be kept registered.
.- This amendment was one of a number concerning which I wrote to the AttorneyGeneral at the request of the mercantile community of Sydney. I am glad that the Government has seen fit to accept it. Several other amendments to which I referred in my letter may also wisely be made as the result of our experience of the working of the act. As the AttorneyGeneral has said, this amendment is entirely non-controversial, and I agree with everything he has said in connexion with it.
Motion agreed to.
Senate’s amendment -
Insert the following new clause: -
– I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Section 158 of the Bankruptcy Act provides that if a meeting of creditors is held under Part XI. of the Act, “composition and assignments without registration,” no proceedings shall be taken in relation to the affairs of the debtor concerned under Part XII,, “Deeds of arrangement.” Under the section as it stands it is impossible to take proceedings under the “ deeds of arrangement “ provision if a meeting of creditors has been held under Part XI. Sometimes cases occur in which all parties wish to proceed under Part XII., but cannot do so because a meeting has been hel’d under Part XI. The object of the amendment is to enable such a change to be made when a majority of the creditors and debtors desire it.
.- This amendment also will improve the principal act, which is at present remarkable in that it contains Parts XI. and XII. dealing with substantiallv the same matters, but providing for different procedure. Both parts deal with arrangements, to use a general word, which have been assented to by a sufficient number of creditors to give validity to the proceedings, without the obtaining of a formal order of sequestration. When the bill for this act was drafted in 1924, the States had- different methods of dealing with the same subjects, and the only way in which to secure a sufficient measure of agreement to make possible the introduction of the bill was to continue the different procedures which were in use in the different States to accomplish substantially the same end. I hope that the Attorney-General, by consultation with the various authorities, or by some other means, will be able to provide, in the amending bill which he has told U3 is to be introduced, for the repeal of. one or other of these part3 of the Act, or for the consolidation of them so that there may be a uniform practice throughout Australia. At present those concerned in this branch of the law in the several States hold different views on the subject; but I hope that their differences may be reconciled.
Motion agreed to.
Senate’s amendment - .
Insert the following new clause -
– I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
This clause is taken from section 8, subsection 3, of the New South Wales Bankruptcy Act 1898, and its intention is to vest in the court a discretion to say that frivolous or technical objections shall not be allowed to defeat the deed of arrangement if the court is of opinion that the deed is in the interests of the main body of creditors. In other words, a creditor who has not signed the deed shall not take advantage of it as an act of bankruptcy, if the court is of opinion that the arrangement, as embodied in the deed, should stand. There is a strong, and I think just, demand for such a clause, particularly in New South Wales, in which State the greatest number of deeds of arrangement are entered into, and where there is the greatest need for the proposed amendment. Let me give an example. A creditor stands out of an arrangement, and then threatens to make the debtor bankrupt on the ground that the deed of arrangement is an act of bankruptcy. The object of the threatened proceedings in such case is not usually to make the debtor bankrupt, but to force him to buy off the outstanding creditor by entering into a more favorable arrangement than applies to all other creditors. If the creditor does take bankruptcy proceedings under these circumstances, the court has no option; it must make a sequestration order. The amendment enables the judge, on the application of the trustee, to refuse a sequestration order if he thinks it better for the creditors that the estate should be administered under the deed of arrangement. This, probably, is the amendment that is most urgently required.
.- This is a proposal to increase the discretion of the court. The amendment is urgently required, and I have pleasure in supporting it.
Motion agreed to.
Resolutions reported; report adopted.
Debate resumed from 3rd July (vide page 3682), on motion by Mr. Beasley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I regard this bill, in the circumstances, as non-controversial. The only matter with which .it- deals, which might, in other circumstances, have required further consideration, is the proposal to reduce the number of members of the Public Service Board. It appears to me, however, that in the present financial circumstances of the Commonwealth we ought to seize almost any opportunity to reduce expenditure. Every effort should be made to see whether two members are able to do the work of the board. The other provisions of the bill seem to me to be entirely such as may be properly considered in committee, and, therefore, I do not propose to occupy the time of the House further at this stage.
Question resolved in the. affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Status of Ministerial private secretaries).
– I welcome this clause. The gentlemen who act as Ministerial private secretaries or as private secretary to the Leader of the Opposition in either House are often and, indeed, generally members of the Public Service. But by their assignment to these duties, and their acceptance of these positions, where they obtain valuable experience which will be useful to them in almost any office in the Public Service which they may .afterwards be called upon to fill they are sometimes prejudiced in their subsequent employment. The object of the clause is to ensure that they shall not be prejudiced in their careers in the Public Service by accepting these duties. As I have said, it is, as a general rule, a valuable experience for a public servant to have the breadth and extent of experience that result -from acting as private secretary to a Minister or oven to the Leader of the Opposition. I entirely approve of the proposal, and I assume that the board will at once proceed to put it into operation. I am glad to observe that it is proposed that the section shall be taken to have become operative on the 1st January, 1930, and I assume that the salary and status of any officer affected by the clause will at once be determined by the board. I am aware . of an officer in the Service who has acted very efficiently to a number of Ministers for a number of years, who has been seriously prejudiced _ owing to the existing law. I hope that the clause will be agreed to, and that the board will act under it immediately.
Clause agreed to.
Section fifty-five of the Principal Act is amended - (a.) by inserting in sub-section (1.) after paragraph (g) the following paragraph: - “ ; or (h) has wilfully supplied incorrect or misleading information in connexion with his appointment to the Commonwealth Service,”; and
Suction proposed to be amended - 55. (1.) An officer . . . shall be amity ofan offence.
.- Section 55 of the Public Service Act, which relates to offences, is an important one, and it is proposed in the clause to add a new offence to those already specified. Where one of these offences is committed by an officer, he may be charged and dealt with in the manner provided by the section, subject to appeal, and ultimately he may be dismissed because hie has committed ‘one, of these offences. It is, therefore, important that there should be no looseness or ambiguity in the description of the offences. It is proposed now to add a new sub-paragraph making it an offence if an officer has “wilfully supplied incorrect or misleading information in connexion with his appointment to the Commonwealth Service”. I suggest that it would be desirable to insert after the word “supplied” the words “to an officer”. I presume the intention is to deal only with the case of a person who, in, or in connexion with, his application has wilfully given incorrect or misleading information to the Commonwealth, or to somebody representing the Common wealth. As the amendment is drawn it is rather vague. I suggest that the section ought to be limited to a person who has wilfully supplied incorrect or misleading information to an officer or a’ny other person acting on behalf of the Commonwealth, as for example, a medical officer. The addition of such words would remove the ambiguity, and, I think, cover the ground.
– I see no reason why such an amendment should not be accepted. It might be advisable to insert the words “to any officer or other person acting on behalf of the Commonwealth.” The object of the clause is to deal with an officer who has given information of a misleading character in the course of a medical examination.
Amendment (by Mir. Latham) agreed to-
That after the word “ supplied “, proposed new paragraph h, the words “ to any officer or other person acting on behalf of the Commonwealth,” be inserted.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses5 to 8 agreed to.
– I move -
That the following new clause he inserted : - “2a. After section thirty-seven of the principal act the following section is inserted - 37a. - ( 1.) Any officer of the Permanent Naval or Military Forces of the Commonwealth, not more than thirty years of age. who is a graduate of the lloyal Australian Naval College or of the Royal Military College, and any cadet of either of those colleges, may, if his services are in excess of requirements in the Naval or Military Forces, be appointed by the hoard, without examination, and, if the board thinks fit’, without probation, to an office in the third division of the Commonwealth Service. (2.) The Governor-General may at any time by proclamation declare that no further appointments may be made in pursuance of this section, and thereafter no further appointments maybe so made’ “
In my second-reading speech I mentioned the reasons which actuated the Government in framing this amendment. Abour 30 cadets in the Royal Australian Naval College and the Military College at Duntroon will be redundant as a result of alteration in the defence policy, and it is intended by this amendment to provide an opportunity for their absorption in the Public Service. The clause also provides that at any time a proclamation may be made by the Governor-General to discontinue this practice. The Government feels that means should not be left open indefinitely for persons to enter the Public. Service other than through the ordinary prescribed channels.
.-I welcome this new clause because it at least provides an opportunity for a number of cadets and graduates of Duntroon and the Royal Australian Naval College to obtain positions in the Public Service after their services with the Defence Department have been terminated. The amendment provides that they may be appointed to the Public Service without examination if they are not more than 30 years of age. I suggest that there is no reason why the application of this provision should be limited to persons who are not more than 30 years of age. Some of the graduates of these colleges are now more than 30 years old. The Government, in my opinion, owes a special obligation to the graduates of the Naval and Military Colleges who have lost their positions because of retrenchments in the Defence Department, or because of changes of naval or military policy. These persons have devoted their lives to preparations for the defence of the Commonwealth. The majority of the graduates have seen service during the war, and by adopting a professional career in the Navy or Army they have, especially if they arc more than 30 years of age, put themselves out of the running for positions in ordinary civil life.
– Does the honorable member know how old the oldest of the graduates is?
– I am informed that some of them, at any rate, are over 30 years of age. Duntroon. has been in existence since 1913, or a little earlier. The actual appointment of any one to the Public Service can be made only through the Public Service Board; it is not a political matter with which any Minister has anything to do. The board will consider each application, whether the applicant be a cadet or graduate, and will determine whether or not he is a suitable person for appointment. Is there any reason why the comparatively small num ber of graduates who are over 30 years of age - a minority of those affected - should be excluded from the possibility of obtaining employment trader this provision? The provision itself does not confer a right to a position, so why should it not be left to the Public Service Board to find positions for such retrenched graduates and cadets as it properly can? I ask the Minister to strike out the words “not more than 30 years of age “. All these men are young, or in early middle age, and suitable for appointment to the Public Service. I shall not move an amendment, because I wish to hear what the Minister has to say on this point. I can understand that there may be reasons for giving special consideration to naval officers who are not more than 30 years of age, because they are bound by a contract; but I am not aware that a similar rule operates in the case of graduates of Duntroon.
– The age of appointees will affect their superannuation contributions.
– That objection could probably be met. This is a very special class of case, and some arrangement might be arrived at.
.- I support the plea of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and I wish to speak particularly on behalf of the graduates of Duntroon who served in the war. Honorable members on both sides of the House who were away at the war will remember with particular pride these young Duntroon graduates. No youngsters of finer type were ever turned out by any country at any time. They were a grand set of boys, modest in their bearing, efficient in their work, and a source of satisfaction to all Australians who saw them. A majority of the graduates who served in the war are now over 30 years of age, but not much over it. Many of them have already been hard hit by the rationing system introduced in the Defence Department, and, unless a miracle occurs, many of them will soon find themselves out of the department altogether. If the Government can see its way to leave the appointment of such officers to the discretion of the Public Service Board, I am sure that it will meet the wishes of honorable members on both sides of the House. Even if the Minister cannot come to a decision now, I hope that he will give us his assurance that our request will be sympathetically considered by the Government before the bill is sent to another place.
.- I support the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and of the Deputy Leader (Mr. Gullett). If the words “ over 30 years of age “ are not deleted from the clause it will shut out from the benefits of the provision all returned soldier graduates of both colleges. Those graduates who are under 30 years of age did not have an opportunity of serving. The number of those who will be excluded by this provision is not great; the graduates of the naval and military colleges suffered many casualties. I endorse what was said by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition regarding the good qualities of the graduates. I have many times extolled them in this House. As adjutants and staff officers with the Australian Imperial Force units and as officers in the navy they were a great asset to Australia. Most of them employed in the Defence Department have already suffered a reduction of pay through the system of rationing, and ultimately many of them may lose their positions altogether. They are being encouraged to leave the department, but if there is an opportunity of retaining them in the Public Service the Government would be wise to seize it. They have had excellent training, and their travel and experience should fit them admirably for administrative work. Many of them are probably better qualified to fill Public Service positions abroad than those who would, in the ordinary course of events, be appointed. They are all comparatively young men. I do not think that there is one of them who has yet reached the age of 40. Something should be done for the men from Duntroon, and also for the graduates of the Royal Australian Naval College, some of whom hold the rank of lieutenantcommander.
– Most honorable members appreciate, I think, the circumstances which surround the general organization of the Public Service. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.
Latham) pointed out, the nature of the Service is such that it should be beyond all possibility of outside interference or influence, irrespective of what government is in power. It is highly desirable that the control of the Service in regard to its classification and the filling of vacancies should be in the hands of an authority removed entirely from politics. In regard to the absorption of cadets and graduates of the Naval and Military College, the Government has endeavoured to meet the position as fairly as it can. There is a difficulty, however, in extending to those over 30 years of age, the provision which we are now considering. The Service is comprised of a number of divisions, and persons covered by this amendment will be eligible for appointment of the third division, at salaries up to a maximum of £312. Appointments will be made at the prescribed rates for age up to 21 years, and at advanced rates for ages beyond that. There is a regulation fixing the age limit at 30 for officers Other than returned soldiers eligible to be appointed to the third division. If we extend the age limit we open the way for the appointment of outside persons to this and higher divisions. We must remember that many public servants have seen active service, and have been at pains to qualify themselves after their return. Officers in the higher divisions are called upon to possess special qualifications, and it is obvious that an injustice might be done to them if persons from outside the Service were admitted to their divisions.
– Very few would need to be admitted.
– My short experience of Public Service matters has convinced me that it is very difficult to move in any direction other than in those prescribed and laid down by regulation, and followed for years past. Any attempt to depart from established practice is sure to create trouble. We cannot overlook the rights of officers already in the Public Service who have taken the pains to qualify themselves by hard work for advancement. I appreciate what has been said by honorable members. Everybody must regret the necessity for putting out of employment those men who have given good service to the Defence Department. I should like to give effect to the sugges- tions of the Leader of the Opposition; but to do so would cause difficulty. The Government has given very sympathetic consideration to the subject, and if possible provision will be made for officers possessing special qualifications.
.- As I am able to speak a second time on this matter I earnestly submit to the Minister that many of these officers would be welcome in the Public Service, particularly those who have had special training as staff corps officers and those who have graduated as engineers and survey officers. In the Naval Forces there are also specialists in wireless telegraphy and engineering who would be a real asset to the Public Service. I realize the difficulty of the Government in preserving the equilibrium of the Public Service; and the march of promotion, but I am sure the Minister will admit that the small number over the age of 30, and who have had special training, should receive special consideration. Seeing that only a small number are concerned it seems unfair to discriminate, particularly as the clause detrimentally affects those who graduated some time ago and many of whom saw service overseas. Will the Minister confer with the Minister for Defence as to the actual number concerned and endeavour to see if the difficulty cannot be overcome?
– I shall adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for Balaclava and arrange for a representative of the department to confer with the Minister for Defence to see if anything can be done to assist those possessing special qualifications without interfering with the usual routine of the Public Service.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Beasley) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-24.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
– I move -
That in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-21 it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to this House the result of its investigations, viz.: Construction of steamer for- the lighthouse service.
As announced to the House when this proposal was referred to the Parlimentary Standing Committee on Public Works on the 27th March, it relates to the construction of a vessel for the lighthouse service on the Western Australian coast. At present the lighthouse work is being carried out by the steamer Kyogle, which is 28 years old, and which was purchased by the Commonwealth as a second-hand vessel in 1924. The Kyogle, which is at present engaged ia attending lights on the Western Australian and North Australian coasts, is a coal-burning, twin screw, steel vessel of approximately 1,200 tons displacement ana is of light construction. She was purchased for the lighthouse service in 1924, for the sum of £12,750 and an additional amount of £3,477 was spent in alterations and repairs, making the total cost £16,227. She is capable of a speed of ten knots; but her economical speed is seven knots. The cruising radius is 1,080 knots at ten knots speed and 1,480 knots at seven knots speed. Since the date of purchase the average cost of maintenance of the Kyogle has been £2,200 per annum, and in view of the age of the vessel it is likely to increase yearly. Opinions differ as to the cost of putting the Kyogle in a seaworthy condition. At present the vessel is in a bad state of repair, and, with vessels of that character, it is usually ascertained when repairs are commenced that the cost is always greater than was originally anticipated. ‘
– Is that not also the case in connexion with the construction of vessels.
– Not to the same extent. I am dealing with the question of repairs, and I think honorable members wilt agree that when these are undertaken, particularly on vessels of this kind, it is found when one pi* - is removed that others have to como out. In these circumstances it is difficult to ascertain what the actual cost of repairs will be.
– Did not the cost of the seaplane carrier greatly exceed the estimate?
– The right honorable member is viewing this subject from the wrong angle. The question of building a new ship is a totally different matter. The position in regard to the Kyogle is that the repairs are of such a character that it is anticipated that it will cost from £10,000 to £15,000 to place the vessel in a proper sea-going condition. In addition to that the maintenance costs are estimated to be from £2,000 to £3,000 a year. The Public Works Committee has conducted a thorough investigation into this proposal and is satisfied that, considering the slow speed of the vessel, it is uneconomical to retain it in the service. The committee recommends that in order to establish a greater degree of efficiency the Kyogle should be replaced by a single screw oil-burning steamer of about 1,400 tons designed to have a cruising radius of 3,000 miles. The vessel is to be 195 feet in length, 34 feet breadth with a depth of 17 feet. The cargo capacity is set down at 300 tons, the loaded draft 13 feet, and the speed ten knots. It is proposed to provide accommodation for twenty passengers and to carry a crew of 28. The steamer will be of the double bottom type, and ample provision has been made for fresh water for domestic use, and feed water and ballast tanks. The vessel is to be built of steel to Lloyd’s’ classification, and in accordance with the Board of Trade and Navigation Act requirements. The requisite number of bulkheads will be fitted to comply with subdivisional requirements for a passenger vessel. The ship is so . designed as to be thoroughly stable in light condition, thereby obviating the necessity to carry permanent ballast. It will differ from other steamships of similar size in that it is intended for lighthouse work and will be built to a special design. It will be suitably strengthened forward because that portion will be subjected to chafing by lighthouse buoys brought alongside for examination and repair. The question of accommodation has been given special consideration. It is proposed that the forward hatch shall hold 200 tons, and the after hold 100 tons of cargo. The vessel will be equipped with life-boats to accommodate 30 persons, a motor-boat, two surf-boats, a small dinghy, refrigerating plant, wireless, and an automatic alarm device. From the consideration that has been given to this matter by the Public Works Committee and by departmental officers, honorable members may be assured that the vessel will be of most modern design. The estimated cost in round figures is about £120,000, but it is felt that this amount, may be reduced. If the work is carried” out at Cockatoo Island Dockyard as is intended a lot of equipment available at that depot can be utilized. The employees at Cockatoo Island Dockyard have been engaged in breaking up old cruisers. A good deal of the surplus plant has been disposed of, but there is still a fair quantity of good material that could be used in equipping this vessel. The committee, and those who have been associated with the proposal, are of the opinion that the estimated cost can be reduced. These opinions have been backed up by ample evidence.
– Are tenders to be called ?
– The Public Works Committee suggested that tenders should be called for this work, but since the report has been received the Government and the department is of the opinion that that is not a wise course to adopt, particularly in view of the situation which exists at Cockatoo Island. The Government is of the opinion that the work should be carried out at that depot, and feels confident that the House will support its proposal. If I briefly outline the activities of the previous Government in connexion with shipping construction, and give the prices quoted by other shipbuilders, and by Cockatoo Island, it will be seen that that department has faithfully discharged its duties to the late Government, and I am sure will do the same to this Government. In the opinion of the Works Department, there are only three yards in Australia which can tender for this work. They are, Cockatoo Island Dockyard; Walsh Island, which is owned by the New South Wales Government ; and Morts Dock and Engineering Company, of Balmain. It is true that the price for labour and material would be the same, whichever yard undertook the work; but there are overhead costs at Cockatoo Island that are not borne by the others. Cockatoo Island is a government institution, upon which an enormous amount of money has been spent. It has the most up-to-date plant and equipment in the Commonwealth, the maintenance and upkeep of which has to be provided for, even if it is not given work of this kind. The Government considers that it would not be sound policy to give this work to an outside firm when its own plant is available to undertake it. By reason of the fact that Cockatoo Island is a government concern, it has had placed upon its operations certain restrictions that do not apply in the case of outside firms. Honorable members are aware that, under a High Court decision, given in connexion with the building of electrical equipment for the Bunnerong power station in Sydney, Cockatoo Island is prevented from undertaking work for outside firms. Therefore, the least that the Government can do is to enable it to carry out government work. Although exception may be taken in some quarters to the existence of the island as a government undertaking, and the expenditure that has been incurred upon it, the Government must do whatever it can to assist it to carry on in the circumstances that prevail. The Government would not bo able to justify itself in the eyes of the people if it gave this work to another yard when its own yard was practically idle.
There is another aspect that must be considered. If tenders were called for the work, a sum of between £300 and £400 would have to be spent in preparing plans and specifications. It would not be fair to ask an outside firm to go to the expense of tendering unless it had a reasonable chance of securing the work. In the preparation of the plans, Cockatoo Island Dockyard has been in consultation with the Navigation Department. It has gone very exhaustively into the requirements, aud has drawn up tentative plans for the construction of the vessel. If tenders were called, outside firms would have the benefit of a large amount of the work that has already been done by Cockatoo. I also consider that we have an obligation to the men at Cockatoo Island, many of whom were brought to Australia to undertake this special class of work, in the same way that we are under an obligation to the men in the Defence Department. These men are highly skilled in the engineering trade, and during the war served this country equally as well as many others. They were encouraged to engage in the ship-building industry in Australia, and, as a consequence, they now find themselves unable to obtain other employment. I feel confident that every honorable member will agree that no one can quibble at the work that has been carried out at Cockatoo Island for a number of years. I have in mind a contract that was given to another yard to build a yacht for the New Guinea Administration. It may be argued that some blame for what occurred may be attached to those who drew up the specifications; but the work was so muddled that when the vessel was given a trial it could not attain anything approaching the speed that was intended. The engines had to be taken out, and the construction of the vessel altered. Finally, Cockatoo Island was asked to make the vessel suitable for the conditions that obtain on the New Guinea coast. In the long run it will prove far more economical to utilize the services of specially trained men whom the Government has at its disposal, than to allow the work to be done by others who have not had equal training or experience. When the Census and Statistics Bill was under consideration recently the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) made a strong plea on behalf of those members of the clerical section of the community who, at the moment, are unable to obtain employment. He said that the taking of the census at the ordinary decennial period would provide employment for those men, and for that reason more than any other the Government should reconsider its decision to postpone the matter. That argument applies equally in the case of these highly skilled men at Cockatoo Island. The circumstances in which they are placed warrant the Government in taking advantage of any opportunity to provide them with employment.
In 1924 the Bruce-Page Government approved of the acceptance of the tender of Cockatoo Island Dockyard for the construction of two steamers - the Cape York and the Cape Leeuwin - for the lighthouse service. The estimated cost was £250,000, and the actual cost £244,000. That proposal was not even referred to the Public Works Committee. I say nothing against that; if the Government of the day considered that the steamers should be built, I endorse its action. So strongly did it feel the necessity for putting the work in hand, that tenders were not publicly advertised, but four establishments were asked by the lighthouse branch to tender. The tender of Cockatoo Island was £233,124; that of Walsh Island, £239,230; and that of Poole and. Steele Limited, Adelaide, £276,000. Morts Dock and Engineering Company Limited declined to tender.
– Three vessels could be built in England for that cost.
– That may be so.. But surely the honorable member for Warringah is anxious that the situation in Australia should be met, and that, as far as possible, we should provide employment for our own men ! Cockatoo Island serves a useful purpose in many directions from a national point of view. Warships have to be docked, and repairs effected from time to time. Therefore, a highly skilled staff must be retained. From a business point of view, the Government must provide them with as much employment as possible.
No one will deny the necessity for taking every care of and giving every attention to the lighthouses on the Australian coast, so that those who travel on the high seas may be safeguarded. I commend to the favorable consideration of the House the proposal of the Government.
.- There are two points with which I should like to deal. The first is, whether the work should be undertaken; and the second, how and where it should be carried out. Last Wednesday the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) brought down to this House the financial statement of the Commonwealth, and the proposals of the Government for the ensuing year. He showed that it is necessary to make provision for additional taxation to the extent of £12,500,000, and stated that even that will not enable the accounts to be balanced, and £1,500,000 of other money that has become available will have to be used to meet the expenditure for the current year. The right honorable gentleman also stressed the difficulty of the loan position of the Commonwealth, which is greater than it has been in the history of federation. He further urged the necessity for the greatest possible restriction of our loan and other expenditure.
We must examine this proposal to see whether it is absolutely essential at the present time, or whether it can be deferred without impairing the efficiency of the lighthouse service, which, I agree, is an essential service and must be maintained. Regarded in the light of what has been done in the past, and what is being done at the present time in connexion with the lighthouse service, there is no justification for this expenditure, except from the point of view of providing relief work. The Honorary Minister appears to base the whole of his case upon this being a relief work. Honorable members will be able to study the proposal and make up their minds whether it is a proper thing at this juncture to spend £120,000 on a lighthouse ship, principally for unemployment relief purposes. That money will radiate among a very limited circle, and actually will give employment to very few. A great proportion of the steel and other material necessary for the construction of a lighthouse steamer would have to be imported, and it must be obvious that the expenditure of the money for this purpose could not give nearly as effective relief as would the expenditure of a similar amount in other directions.
The Assistant Minister stated that in 1924 the Bruce-Page Government authorized the construction of two new lighthouse ships at a total cost of, roughly, £250,000. Up to that time it had been the custom to hire boats for our lighthouse services. I was Treasurer, and I remember the plea being put to me that, the money should be found, as it would effect a material saving in the maintenance of our lighthouse services. In my virgin innocence I thought that the proposal was a sound one and I acquiesced. Judge my astonishment when, year after year, the lighthouse estimates continued to grow. I commented on the fact and urged the then Minister for Trade and Customs to endeavour to cut down the expenditure. I was informed that it was already down to the irreducible minimum; that the boats, having been built, had to be maintained. When it became necessary to augment our lighthouse services the Government bought the Kyogle second-hand at a cost of £12,000, and about £4,000 was spent in equipping it for lighthouse service. It has been carrying on satisfactorily for some six years. Interest on that £16,000 amounts to approximately £960 per annum, or under £6,000 for the period that the Kyogle has been in our lighthouse service. Contrast with that interest at 6 per cent, without the sinking fund provision on the £120,000 that it is proposed to spend on this new vessel, running into £7,200 per annum in one year or more than the total interest on the Kyogle for six years. It must be remembered that many boats are lying in the harbours of Australia that could be purchased cheaply and utilized for the purpose. The report of the Public Works Committee indicates that the Kyogle has still several years of useful life, and I suggest that it should be ascertained what it would cost to recondition the vessel to enable it to carry on for a few more years.
– The boat has to be sold after it is of no further use to the Commonwealth Government.
– The Government proposes to sell the Kyogle for £5,000 or £6,000. She cost £12,000, and interest on the purchase money has been a mere bagatelle compared with the interest on a new ship. I submit that this is not an opportune time to incur an expenditure of £120,000 on a new ship. I know the Kyogle very well, and remember her maiden trip on the northern rivers of New South Wales. She replaced the Kalatina which was passed out of service in New South Wales because she was supposed to be obsolete. I notice that the Kalatina is still running as a passenger and trading vessel to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Assuming that the Kyogle will be equally as long-lived, I predict that after the Commonwealth dispenses with her services, she will be good for another fifteen to twenty years.
There is indubitable evidence of the urgent necessity to economize. The position is altogether different from what it was in 1924. Australia was then in a comparatively prosperous condition, and the Government was continually reducing taxation. Now the annual wealth produced in this country is declining seriously, and taxation is going up by leaps and bounds. The Government even declares that in order to effect an economy it is imperative that the decennial census should not be taken this year.
– What Australia needs is a wealth census.
– I thoroughly agree with the honorable gentleman. The proposal of the Commonwealth Statistician and the Association for the Advancement of Science was to take a wealth- census concurrently with the ordinary’ census. That would have pro*vided the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) with a solid basis for hia financial premises and arguments.’
The construction ‘of the proposed light. house ship would give work to very few operatives at Cockatoo Island dock. The Assistant Minister referred to the pro’cedure of the Bruce-Page Government when building the Cape York and Cape Leeuwin. I. remind him that tenders were called, and that the work was given to the Cockatoo Island dockyard both as a matter of government policy, and because that institution submitted the lowest tender. I join with the honorable gentleman in applauding the good work that has been done at the dockyard. The skill of its artisans is high, but unfortunately the cost of construction is exorbitant, and infinitely higher than ship-building costs in Great Britain or Germany. The new vessel is to have a displacement of 1,400 tons. I notice that the. Government proposes to defer the duty on all boats over 1,000 tons to the 31st July of next year. Apparently that is because we cannot build boats of that size on a commercial basis in Australia at present. The Government places itself in a different and worse position from that in which it places everybody else.
The problem is, what can be done with the Cockatoo Island dockyard? When this Government assumed office it found that the late Government had been in negotiation with a manufacturing firm to lease the Cockatoo Dockyard with a view to making it a profitable venture. Had that been done, the firm would not have been fettered as the Government is in connexion with the work that can be tendered for by the dockyard. At the present time, under the ruling of the High Court, the Commomvealth. Government Dockyard cannot engage in general engineering business. That is sufficient reason, especially when there is a lack of skilled employment at the dockyard, for placing it in the hands of an outside engineering firm by means of a lease, thus avoiding the restrictions placed upon its work by the High Court. There are many other engineering features that might be produced at the dockyard, which would provide work for skilled men. It would be much more satisfactory to lease the dockyard and provide permanent employment for many men than to construct a lighthouse steamer there, and then when it is finished to put the men off because of no further work being available.
I come now to the question whether we should be justified in carrying out this work in Australia. When this matter was discussed by the Public Works Committee it was suggested that tenders should be called in Australia and overseas. Perhaps it would be better for me to read from the report to show how the committee arrived at its decision. It reads -
Mr. Gregory moved that tenders be called in Great Britain and Australia for the construction of a vessel.
The motion was seconded pro forma by Mr. M. Cameron -
The committee divided on the motion. and so it passed m the negative.
Mr. Cameron moved that tenders be called in Australia for the construction of the vessel.
Seconded by Mr. Curtin.
Mr. Long moved as an amendment that the construction of the vessel be entrusted to Cockatoo Island Dockyard.
Seconded by Mr. Lacey.
The committee divided on the amendment - and so it passed in the negative.
The original motion was then put and carried unanimously.
I have not yet heard any sound reason why that recommendation should be departed from. If this is a relief work - and it seems to me that it cannot be undertaken on any other ground - surely tenders should be invited from Morts Dock, Walsh Island, atid other places which would employ, on such work, as many men as Cockatoo Island Dockyard, if this vessel is to be constructed only to provide employment, why not ‘call for competitive tenders and obtain the maximum amount of employment for the least expenditure? If the cost of construction were less than the estimate of the Public Works Committee further work could be provided elsewhere. This proposed work should be considered from every angle.
– But the Cockatoo Island Dockyard can be used only for shipbuilding.
– Let me inform the Assistant Minister that that dockyard was in a position to build the Bunnerong power plant. I know from my own experience that it is capable of carrying out efficiently many classes of work. Expensive machinery has been installed there, and we should ensure its efficient and constant operation by using it for as many purposes as possible.
– We should practically have to give it away in order to lease it.
– I have opposed the motion by my voice, and I shall oppose it by my vote, because, if the construction of this vessel is carried out at Cockatoo Island it will not provide the maximum unemployment relief for the money expended.
.- I take this opportunity to reply to some of the assertions of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page). Let me inform him that the Public Works Committee, in recommending this proposed work, gave no consideration at all to the relief of unemployment. I realize that sit this critical financial period, any proposal to expend £120,000 should receive the gravest consideration. I also realize that most honorable members have, in their districts, projects which cannot be proceeded with because of the financial depression. But there are other aspects to this proposal. There is a lighthouse service in Australia, and it is essential to maintain it efficiently. The Public Works Committee had to consider whether it would be economical to repair an obsolete vessel or to scrap or sell it and construct a new vessel in its stead. The right honors Lie member for Cowper said that that aspect was not taken into consideration by the committee. My answer is contained in paragraph 20 of the report, which reads - lt was apparent to the committee that, apart from the inadvisability of spending nit excessive sum on an old whip, the employment of a coal-burning vessel of limited steaming radius on a long coast line such as Western and North Australia, where the cost of replenishing bunkers was so high, is most uneconomical. As it is represented that fueloil can be obtained conveniently and at reasonable rates at Fremantle and Darwin, it is obvious that considerable saving would be effected by the employment of an oil-burning vessel. Inquiries were made as to the possibility of converting the Kyogle to oil burning, but the evidence obtained indicated that, although it was possible, it would be somewhat costly, and it was considered inadvisable to incur that expense on such an old vessel.
The committee definitely recommended that a new oil-burning steamer for the lighthouse service on the “Western Australian and North Australian coast be provided as early as possible. It is true tb at members of the committee were divided in their opinion as to whether the vessel should be built by contract or at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, but as to the need for such a vessel they were absolutely unanimous. The evidence disclosed that if the Kyogle were kept in commission heavy expenditure would have to be incurred for its upkeep.
– Were the members of the committee unanimous as to whether the ship should be built in Australia?
– Ultimately, yes. On the question whether it should be built at Cockatoo two members voted for, and three against the proposal. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted’; debate adjourned.
House adjourned at 3.53 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 July 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19300711_reps_12_125/>.