12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and offered prayers.
– Will the Minister for Defence inform me whether it is correctly reported in the Canberra Times this morning that 20 returned soldiers have been dismissed from the Defence Department following an investigation by a Public Service Inspector ?
– I have not seen the report mentioned by the honorable member. The Public Service Board has been conducting an investigation into the Defence Department to ascertain whether there are any excess officers in it. So far as the investigation has gone, six surplus officers have been discovered, and not 20 us reported. Probably the final number will be greater than that. It is not the intention of the department to dismiss any men before Christmas.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister inform me whether it is proposed to bring down any bills additional to those which have already been forecast, before the House rises?
– I know of none at present.
– Does not the Government consider it necessary, in view of the perilous position of the country, that Parliament should continue to sit right through the Christmas holidays, and that honorable members should not rush away from Canberra at the earliest moment?
– If public business demands it, the Government is quite prepared to keep Parliament sitting right up to the holidays, and to resume the sitting immediately after them.
– Is it not a fact, or a justifiable surmise, that the present sitting of Parliament is being deliberately prolonged in order to make it unnecessary for honorable members opposite to return to their constituencies empty-handed,?
– The sitting of Parliament is not being deliberately prolonged.
– Is there any truth in the rumour circulated in the House this morning that the present session may end on Friday of next week?
– There are many rumours in circulation, but I know nothing about the session ending on Friday week.
Assistance to Farmers
– -Has the attention of the Acting Prime Minister been drawn to a letter from a wheat merchant, published in a section of the Melbourne press, to the effect that substantial sales of Australian wheal might be made in France if some preference could be given to French imports? The letter states that it should be possible to place 12,000,000 bushels of our wheat in France. Has the Acting Prime Minister any knowledge of this, and have any steps been takento secure a reduction of the heavy duties against Australian wheat ? Will the honorable gentleman also inform me whetherthe Government proposes to take any further steps to assist the wheat-growers in their present difficulty?
– Negotiations have been proceeding for the sale of Australian wheat in France, but I am not yet fully acquainted with the results. The Prime Minister will also take the subject up with the Italian Government while he isin Italy on his way back to Australia. The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) will endeavour while inCanada to make arrangements for the sale of both our primary and secondary products in that country. My reply to the second part of the honorable member’s question is that he knows very well that the Government is doing everything that can be done to assist the farmers.
– Is the advance of 2s. per bushel to the wheat-farmers by the CommonwealthBank conditioned in any way? Will the Commonwealth Government or the State Governments, or all of them, be required to accept responsibility ? Is it proposed to make any additional guarantee to the farmers?
– At present no further guarantee is contemplated by the Commonwealth; I cannot speak for the States. I do not say that negotiations will not proceed with the State. Governments with the object of further assisting the farmers in regard to freight and. other charges.
– I am afraid that the Acting Prime Minister did not appreciate the full meaning of my question. I desire to know whether the advance of 2s. to be made to the farmers by the Commonwealth Bank is in any way conditioned by a guarantee against any losses That may be incurred. Will the bank be guaranteed against any losses by the Commonwealth or the States, or both!
– The Commonwealth Bank is making the advance of 2s. wholly of its own responsibility.
Mr.CURTIN. - Is it at all possible for the Commonwealth Government to give further consideration to the practicability of carrying out the Perkins plan to assist the wheat-growers?
– The Government carefully considered the recommendations made by Professor Perkins and placed before the wheat-growers’ conference, but could not see its way clear to impose the proposed tax on flour..
– I direct the attention of the Acting Prime Minister to the following cablegram published in this morning’s issue of the Canberra Times : -
The retiring Australian Trade Commissioner (Mr. Brookes) stated that both the United States and Australia were “ greatly to blame for the present world depression.” “ I can speak more freely as a retiring official,” he said. “Both Australia and the United States have promoted a spirit of isolation,and as a result have lost valuable markets, and the United States is now feeling the pinch.”
Mr. Brookes also states that, in his view, a further factor of the low commodity prices lies in the hiding away of gold by United States and France. Tariffs also prevented a return to prosperity.
Will the honorable gentleman inform me whether the Mr. Brookes “ mentioned in the cablegram is identical with the gentleman who was chairman of the Tariff Board for some years, and, if so, whether he has forwarded to the Government any statement containingviews similarto those expressed in the cablegram?
– Mr. Brookes was formerly chairman of the Tariff Board. The Government has not received any report from him of the nature mentioned by the honorable member.
Mr. BLAKELEY. “ Oanberra Times “ Article.
– In view of the article which appears in the Canberra Times this morning in appreciation of the Minister for Home Affairs, does that honorable gentleman intend to recommend the payment of a subsidy to this newspaper ?
– I direct the atten tion of the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs to the following report which appears in yesterday’s issue of the Sydney Sun : -
Tobacconists are pained and puzzled by the chopping and changing in the duties and taxes on tobacco.
The latest alterations on imported and local tobacco will probably mean further price readjustments sooner or later.
An official of W. D. and H.O. Wills stated to-day that it’ was almost certain that there would be fewer cigarettes in a packet, or alternativelyan increase in the price. Probably certain lines of tobacco may go up, too.
In view of the evident intention of the tobacco combine to increase prices, will the Acting Minister immediately instruct the Customs Department to conduct an investigation into the price of tobacco, and subsequently make an official statement to the public on the subject? This is particularly necessary, seeing that the combine made enormous profits at the expense of the public last year.
– I have not seen the report which the honorable member has quoted, but I shall give it very careful consideration. The recent alteration in the duties on tobacco should have relieved the position from the point of view of the tobacco manufacturers, and not increased their difficulties, and any alteration in prices should be downward and not upward. I shall have the matter looked into, and make a statement in regard to it.
– Does the Government propose this year to reduce the amounts to which the States are entitled under the main roads grant?
– The sum of £2,000,000 has been voted for distribution this year under the Federal Aid Roads agreement, and I presume that the money will be available to the States pursuant to the terms of the agreement.
Representations by Rowntree & Co. and Reckitt & Co.
– Is the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs yet in a position to make a statement in regard to the application made by Messrs. Rowntree & Co. and Messrs. Reckitt & Co., two British firms, for permission to import certain commodities into Australia pending the making of arrangements for the manufacture of them here?
– Further investigations are being made in connexion with these applications, and it is hoped that a decision will be arrived at very shortly.
– In view of the acute position in the building trade in South Australia, referred to yesterday by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price), in regard to the supply of Oregon, when does the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs expect to be in a position to make a definite statement on the subject ?
– As I stated yesterday, this whole matter is being again considered in consequence of the persistent representations of the honorable member for Boothby. I hope to be able to give a decision in regard to it within a few days.
– On the 5th November I asked for certain information in regard to dismissals from the principal departments of the Public Service and certain sub-departments of it, such as the Federal Capital Territory Branch of the Home Affairs Department. After a delay of three weeks I was given some information in regard to dismissals from the main departments of the Service, and was told that investigations were proceeding in connexion with the sub-departments. As this information should be easily available, I shouldlike to know when I may expect a reply to my question.
– I regret the delay in supplying the information asked for, and I shall see, if practicable, that it is obtained as early as possible.
– Has the attention of the Acting Prime Minister been drawn to the following remarks contained in an English review which supports Labour party candidates -
The full account of the conference between Sir Otto Niemeyer and the Prime Minister of Australia and the State Ministers has now reached this country. Sir Otto’s admonitions were evenmore severe than the cabled summaries indicated, and if Australia can find a similarly outspoken authority and send him to London to overhaul the finances of the Mother Country we shall be quits, and things will probably remain unchanged.
Will the Acting Prime Minister consider the possibility of sending the Minister for Health (Mr. Anstey), or the Assistant Minister for Industry (Mr. Beasley), to the Mother Country in order to give the British Government up-to-date advice, and, at the same time, relieve Australia of the danger of their presence in this country?
– As the honorable member has raised this question, he is evidently a likely candidate for the position. In that case we may expect him to make early application.
– I desire to know whether any occupants of war service homes have been evicted during recent weeks, and whether the Acting Minister can give an assurance that no future evictions will take place without his consent, or at least, without his investigation and approval?
– No returned soldiers who are out of employment are being evicted from war service homes. The administration of the department is even more sympathetic to-day than it was when the Nationalist party was in power.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice-
Whether any recommendations or suggestions have been made to the Naval Board by RearAdmiral Evans in connexion with the reorganization of the Royal Australian Navy; if so, will he make any such recommendations or suggestions available to honorable members?
– In his capacity as rear-admiral commanding the squadron. Admiral Evans submits recommendations to the Naval Board from time to time in regard to various matters arising out of the working and operation of the Australian Navy. These recommendations relate to naval defence matters with which the British Admiralty are concerned, and are necessarily of a secret nature, and it would not be desirable, in the public interest, to give publicity to such recommendations.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The erection of the building is in progress, and installation of the equipment is expected to commence next month.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
What is the total cost of alterations and additions to thu ‘.” “ turrets (including Oilcooling systems) on H.M.A.S. Australia and Canberra since those vessels arrived in Australia?
– £41,900. This is the estimated cost; the actual cost is not yet available.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he can supply the following information : -
The number of excess officers in the Commonwealth Public Service, and the annual amount of salary paid to such officers ?
The number of excess officers in each department, and the number who are between the ages of 00 and 05 years?
The annual amount of salaries paid to officers between60 and65 years of age, and the number of such officers in each department?
The amount of superannuation payable on retirement to officers at present between the ages of60 and65 years ?
The amount, if any, that would be saved by retiring forthwith the officers between the ages of60 and65 years?
– Information is being obtained, and will be made available as soon as possible.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he make inquiries as to the cause of the great discrepancy between the fall in wholesale and retail prices during the last twelve months, and if, as recent press reports indicate, wholesale prices have fallen 20 per cent. and retail prices only 10 per cent., will he make inquiries as to the cause of sucha great discrepancy between the prices paid to the actual producers and the prices charged to the actual consumers, with a view of making the fluctuations of wholesale prices more correctly reflected in the retail prices operating in the same place and at the same time.
– I am advised by the Commonwealth Statistician that the latest data available indicate for Melbourne a decline in wholesale prices of 19 per cent., and a decline in retail prices of food and groceries of 16 per cent. Part of the difference is due to the fact that the constitution of the wholesale regimen differs from that of the retail regimen, and an even greater part to the fact that in all countries wholesale price? are more sensitive to speculative fluctuations than are retail. Wholesale figures are collected for Melbourne only.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the financial position of this country, will he, before the completion of the appointment of the Governor-General, consider the matter of reducing the salary of the office below £10,000 per annum?
– Although the GovernorGeneral has not actually assumed office, it is considered that any proposal for an alteration of the salary of this office, at this stage, apart from the question of the legislative action that would be involved, would not be in keeping with . the spirit of the Constitution.
asked the Acting Treasurer, upon -notice -
Will ho ascertain whether -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether a ruling has been given by the Commissioner of Taxation that chaff bags, cornsacks, woolpacks, &c., are subject to sales tax, despite the assurance given to the contrary by the Prime Minister in reply to a question on the 21st July last?
– No such ruling has been given. A ruling was given in regard to imported bags used for marketing flour, bran and chaff. The law taxes these.
asked the Acting
Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will the Government make any definite announcement upon the question of protection to the Australian aircraft industry, or state whether the Tariff Board’s report dealing with this industry will be submitted to Parliament before theHouse rises ?
– A report was recently received from the Tariff Board, but has not yet been given consideration. It cannot be definitely stated at present when it will be submitted to Parliament, but I expect to be able to make it available to honorable members at an early date.
Sworn Statements - Interest Rates
asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
Whether he can give any information upon the following: -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Default by Purchasers.
asked the Acting Trea surer, upon notice -
Is it a fact that the purchasers of the Commonwealth Shipping Line have defaulted in their payments for same; if so, what is the present position, and what action is being taken in regard thereto?
– It is not a fact that the purchasers of the Commonwealth Shipping Line have defaulted in their payments. The instalments payable under the contract have been paid on the due dates, together with interest as provided under the contract.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Information is being obtained, and will be made available as soon its possible.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Fenton) read a first timo.
The following papers were presented : -
Audit Act - Transfers approved by His Excellency the person administering the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia - Financial Year 1929-30 - Dated 24th November, 1930.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 137.
Debate resumed from the 4th December (vide page 1024) on motion by Mr. Blakeley; -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- In this measure the Government is asking Parliament to agree to a proposal to abolish the North Australia Commission, to terminate the division between North and Central Australia, and to revert to the system of administration that existed prior to the passing of the North Australia Act 1926. The decision to revert to n system that has been condemned by almost every person who has visited North Australia, and particularly by the representative of the Northern Territory in this House (Mr. Nelson) is a remarkable one.
The present system was introduced by the Bruce-Page Government, and it was expected that some co-operation would be forthcoming from the States of Queensland and Western Australia, which were asked to concede to the Commonwealth a portion of their territory for inclusion in North and Central Australia. The Minister did not suggest in his second-reading speech that the members of the commission had failed in their duty, or that they had not endeavoured to do everything possible to develop the Territory.
It was the duty of the commission to plan and recommend developmental works relating to roads, water supply and shipping services that would benefit .the territory. There is no doubt that, if the Commonwealth had continued to enjoy the prosperity that prevailed a few years ago, a great deal more would have been spent upon what, I think, we all agree, are very necessary works.
The Northern Territory comprises 523,630 square miles, which is one-sixth of the total area of Australia; and its resources are, possibly, as great as they are claimed to be by the honorable member for the Northern Territory, and the many experts who have visited it from time to time. According to the Commonwealth Tear-Book, the area of North Australia is 287,056 square miles, of which 160,860 square miles are held .under pastoral lease. It is an astonishing fact that half of the latter area is held by only six persons. We ha.vo been told from time to time that there is both good and bad land in the territory, just as there is iu other parts of Australia; but it is, nevertheless, extraordinary that half the land held under pastoral lease should be occupied by only six individuals. The reason for the Northern Territory remaining unattractive, is its isolation. That fact is given prominence in the initial report of the commission, presented to this House in May, 1928. Under the heading, “Possibilities of developing the resources of North Australia “, that report states -
It will bc appreciated that, with the availability of lands in other parts of Australia nearer the centres of civilization - with transport, access to markets, and utilities towards ordinary comfort, far in advance of those in North Australia - there is little inducement unless at least additional transportation and communication facilities are provided, for people to invest money in North Australia.
The commission had every opportunity to form a reliable and very definite opinion of the value of those lands, and I am prepared to accept its views rather than those of a casual visitor. It is easy to realize that, with a population of 6,500,000 in the whole Commonwealth, the tendency is to settle as near as possible to the centres of civilization; only when we have a considerable addition to our numbers can we expect an overflow to the Northern Territory. In the course of its investigations, no fewer than 10,000 miles were traversed in different portions of the territory. According to a map that I have seen, it would appear that the members of the commission have travelled right across the area in various directions. I am inclined to think, therefore, that its report can be accepted as representative of the value of the lands in the territory.
I was greatly impressed by the speech delivered in this House by the honorable member for the Northern Territory. He has taken a keen interest in the development of this portion of Australia, and his representations should be carefully considered by the Government.
I contend that the Minister did not make out a good case for the proposal to abolish the commission, and to revert to the system of divided authority. The honorable gentleman said that the commission had been given a certain task to perform, and that it bad failed to carry it out on account of the lack of funds; consequently, he had come to the conclusion that it was an unnecessary body. According to the figures that he supplied, the cost of administrative salaries and contingencies for the financial year 1925- 1926, was £83,501, and that for the year 1929-30, it was £S9,350, an increase of £5,749, which practically equals the salaries of the three commissioners. He also informed the House that he proposed to save between £8,000 and £9,000. We are most anxious to induce the Government to cut out all unnecessary expenditure; but Ministers seem bent on sacrificing efficiency and neglect the really big avenues of economy. As the appointment of the commissioners does not expire until August next, and it will probably be necessary to compen- sate them for the earlier termination of their agreement, the saving will be so slight that I marvel at the Government having allowed the Minister to bring this measure down at the present time. If the Government believes that the present system of commission administration is not achieving the best results, the Minister should have submitted a scheme which would give the citizens of the Northern Territory some measure of local government.
The Northern Territory was taken over from South Australia in 1911. Up to that time the expenditure upon it had amounted to approximately £6.000,000, for which the Commonwealth became responsible. Since then a further £6,000,000 has been expended upon it; and it is an astonishing fact that there is very little to show for that huge expenditure. There has been practically no increase in the population; and, as the commission has pointed out, while there is land available in other parts of Australia nearer to civilization, there is little inducement for people’ to invest their money in the Northern Territory. According to the official Tear-Booh, the population ‘was 4,S57 in 1900, it had dropped to 3,S98 by 1926, and it had increased slightly- to 3,9S2- by 1928.
Possibly a mistake has been made in attempting to develop the Northern Territory from the wrong direction. We know that, nominally, there has been an agreement with South Australia that railways should be built through the Territory, terminating at Port Augusta. It appears to me that the jealousy of South Australia is principally responsible for the troubles of the Northern Territory. The States of Australia were scarcely ready for federation in 1900_, seeing that they were anxious to drive such hara bargains with the Commonwealth. In the case of South Australia, the stipulation was, “We will federate on the condition that the Commonwealth takes over the Northern Territory, with its huge debt, and builds a railway through it so that its trade will come to South Australia.”
– That was not a condition of federation.
– It was the condition upon which South Australia came into the federation. Similarly, Western Australia said, “ Look at the distance we are from the other States; if you are prepared to build a transcontinental railway, we will come into the federation”. So, also, New South Wales said, “We will not agree to the Federal Capital being in Melbourne; if it is established- within our borders we will federate “. The States were too parochial in their outlook, and were not actuated by the true federal spirit. I am sorry to say that South. Australia still exhibits that State jealousy, and is altogether too insistent upon the development of the Northern Territory taking place from the southern end. The commission has furnished a very valuable report on the development of North Australia. In the course of its remarks it indicates the steps that should be taken so that at least North Australia would have a reasonable chance of being developed from what it considers is the right quarter. The report says -
The portion of North Australia which will be first developed is the belt which extends from the Queensland border to the Western Australian border (a distance of over 000 miles). There are many thousands of square miles of country in this belt splendidly grassed with Mitchell, Flinders and other fine grasses and edible shrubs.
This belt of country, in common with the rest of North Australia, possesses “a most important asset in the fact that, although there is a regular” dry season “ for several months each year, the annual rainfall is well assured and plentiful. Prolonged and devastating droughts are unknown. In addition, subartesian water can be obtained almost anywhere at comparatively shallow depths.
It is impossible, however, to properly and expeditiously develop and improve such lands without the provision of a main line of railway communication, connecting the country with the thickly-populated eastern States of Australia, and providing economical means of transport for the carriage of material (fencing, &c. ), in the first place, and, subsequently for the marketing of the stock.
Until the railway from Darwin to Daly Waters is extended to the Queensland border with the ultimate definite object of connecting with Bourke (New South Wales), the capabilities of North Australia will remain relatively low as at present.
This railway extension would traverse the Barkly Tableland section of the belt referred to - an area which is eminently suitable for sheep and a large proportion of which is capable of carrying a sheep to four acres. The area immediately served by such a railway extension would be capable of carrying in the aggregate at least 3,000,000 sheep. In addition, lands on the fringe of the belt, which at present are vacant, would be brought within- economic distance of communication, enabling them to be improved and stocked. Those are very important observations, and they have been borne out by the special report of the Parliamentary Public Works Committee, which went into this matter a few years ago. That committee was charged with the duty of investigating the proposal to build a NorthSouth railway. Three members of the committee spent about three months in the territory, and took evidence from every available source. Their opinion, arrived at after due consideration, was that the Northern Territory could best be developed from the Barkly Tableland area, and that railway communication should be established between Daly Waters and Camooweal. The State of Queensland has a network of railways within a few miles of Camooweal, with an outlet to the seaboard at Townsville. On page 15 of the initial report the committee makes this further reference to the matter : -
Whilst the construction of the line from Daly Waters to the Queensland Border is of vital importance to the proper and economical development of the great area of pastoral country in the Barkly tableland, and also to the whole of the Eastern portion of North Australia as far north as, say, the Roper River, it. is essential to the development of the whole of North Australia in regard toother industries, in addition to the pastoral. In fact, it is considered that, without theconstruction of the line, it would be impossibleto initiate and carry out the development of North Australia on sound and economical lines.
The right honorable member for Cowper pointed out in the course of a very informative speech that the abolition of the Northern Territory Commission was a purely negative act, and would do nothing to further the development of North Australia. With that opinion I am in accord. The Government should not revert to the system of divided control of the territory. The honorable member for Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) also offered good advice to the Minister. There is no doubt that he felt deeply about the matter, and that he meant every word of his impassioned speech when he was dealing with the difficulties under which the territory has suffered. I understood him to suggest that conditions inthe territory had been improved since the appointment of the commission. I appeal to the Government to substitute something in the nature of an advisory council, assisted by experts, if it persists in its proposal to abolish the commission. The Minister said that the Northern Territory Commission had been given a job to do, and, as there was no money with which to do that job, the commission was to be abolished. There is no urgency about this matter. The appointments of the members of the commission do not expire until August of next year, and in the meantime it should be possible to formulate a better scheme than the crude arrangement embodied in the bill now before us. In this, as in other matters, the Government has, I think, done the wrong thing. Throughout this session the Government’s one idea seems to have been to repeal or nullify the best legislation for which the previous Government was responsible. For instance, it made a great mistake in attempting to save money by postponing the taking of the census, and it is making another mistake now by endeavouring to save a few thousand pounds by the abolition of the Northern Territory Commission. The Minister estimates that between £8,000 and £9,000 will be saved in this way, and this money, he said, would be expended on the provision of water and roads. We all know, however, how little can be done in this way with the trifling sum it is proposed to save. The Government should provide for some continuity of control for the territory. Although the commission has been operating for only four years, it has been able to do much valuable work, and the Government is making a grievous mistake in abolishing it without substituting for it something effective.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Yates) adjourned.
Bills Nos. 1a, 2a, 3b, and 4a to 9a brought up by Mr. Lyons, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Sales Tax Bills which were dealt with by the House some time ago, were drafted in considerable haste, and the officers had had no previous experience in the preparation of such legislation. To a large extent the bills themselves were speculative, and it was anticipated that administrative difficulties would crop up from time to time. Such difficulties have, as a matter of fact, arisen. For the most part they have been associated with transactions which took place prior to the royal assent being given to the bills, but subsequent to the 1st day of August, 1930. It was felt when the bills were passed that they were sufficiently retrospective in character to cover all the sales transactions between the 1st and18th of August. In addition to difficulties arising from this source, certain other technical difficulties have arisen, and it is to rectify these that the present amending bills have been introduced. The Acting Prime Minister has announced that the Government does not intend to review the sales tax legislation generally at this juncture. Any comprehensive revision of it must await the return of the Prime Minister. The bills now submitted propose four amendments. A separate bill will be submitted to amend Sales Tax No. 1, in order to ensure that the tax shall be validly imposed on the sale value of manufactured goods which are treated by manufacturers as stock for retail sale.
In regard to the first amendment, estimates of the revenue to be derived from this tax were based upon the assumption that it would operate from the 1st August. But delays occurred which were beyond the control of the department, and although the legislation was considered to ‘be effective for the retrospective collection of the tax, doubts have been cast on its legality. The taxing acts apply only from the date of assent, but the assessment acts provided for the sale value to be the sale value of goods sold on or after the 1st August. It is contended in some quarters that express provision must be made for the retrospective operation of the tax, because the power given by the assessment acts is not sufficient. The Government considers it desirable that the matter should be placed beyond doubt, and, therefore, the levying sections of the several assessment acts are being amended by the insertion of a positive declaration that the sales tax shall be paid on all transactions between the 1st and 18th August.
Mr.White. - What of contracts signed before the 1st August?
– The existing exemption is not interfered with. The amendment proposed is in section 4 of Assessment Bill No. 1, and in section 3 of each of the others.
The second provision is to alter the definition of manufacturer to include tailors and dressmakers who make up articles of clothing from materials supplied by their customers. Under the present definition, “ the manufacturer “ is deemed to be the person who supplies the material to the tailor to be made up. The tax was designed to apply to those persons in business who supply material to be made up for subsequent re-sale, and the private individual who buys a suit length to be tailored for his own use was overlooked. This practice of supplying material to tailors and dressmakers to be made up is widespread. At some stage the tax is paid on the material, but no tax is collected from the individual supplying it in respect of the added value given to it by the tailor or dressmaker. Representative tailors in various parts of Australia have complained that this practice has become more widespread because of the desire of some persons to evade taxation, and tailors who do not wish to depart from established customs have been compelled to do so for their own protection. When the tax was introduced originally, attention was called to section 20d of Act No. 1, which exempts goods sold exclusively by retail by a person not being a person manufacturing goods for human wear, whose principal business consists of the manufacture of goods to the order of individual customers. The exemption was not intended to apply to a person who manufactures articles for human wear, and it was specially designed to exclude tailors and dressmakers making garments to individual orders. That intention., however, has been nullified by the definitionof “ manufacturer “. The amendment now proposed will rectify that, and will ensure payment of tax on the full value of the made-up article, even though the material was supplied to the tailor or dressmaker by the person for whom the article was made.
– That tax will be on the retail value. In all other cases the tax is on the wholesale value.
– That is so, and the object is to remove the existing anomaly between the tailor who makes in the ordinary way and pays tax upon the value of the finished product, and the other tailor who makes up material supplied by customers and pays no tax on the added value he has given to it and the extra materials he has supplied.
– Would that apply to a woman making flannel into shirts for a retail storekeeper?
– No. This legislation was originally intended to apply to goods manufactured for the retailer from material supplied by him. The anomaly I have described was not anticipated.
– Is the storekeeper deemed to be the manufacturer?
– Yes, and so is the individual who supplies a length of material to his tailor.
The third amendment proposes a limitation of the exemption in respect of goods sold to retailers who are mainly engaged in making up goods to the order of individual customers. Section 20d of Assessment Act No. 1 exempts goods sold exclusively by retail by a person (not being a poison who manufactures articles for human wear) whose principal business consists of the manufacture of goods to the order of individual customers.
That was intended to apply to persons who were ordering goods for their own private use, because it was known that a large amount of business was being done in the manufacture of articles for human wear. But the exemption has created a great deal of difficulty. Big business men have been claiming exemption in respect of plant, machinery and elevators ordered for their own use. Many of these transactions are very large, and the department, being confident as to the intention of Parliament, has been collecting the tax in respect of them. By this amendment such collections will be validated.
– Is this legislation retrospective ?
– Claims for exemption in respect of the transactions have been refused., and the amendment will validate the department’s action. Another difficulty has occurred in connexion with monumental masons. They are of two classes. One class of mason quarries the stone and works it into the finished article, and because the article comes direct from the quarry it is a primary product, and is not subject to the sales tax. The second class of monumental mason supplies the rough slab to be dressed by another, and his transactions are liable to the tax. A. distinct advantage is now enjoyed by those who deal with the raw material from the outset, as compared with those who work on a bigger scale, and supply the retail trade. Complaints have naturally come fromthose engaged in the industry on a wholesale basis. While it was not intended in the first place to impose this tax on the small men, it is not fair to permit the disparity between the two sections. The proposal in this amendment is to retain the exemption, but to limit it to taxpayers having an average annual turnover of £500.
– Why fix the turnover at £500, when it is £1,000 in other trades?
– I presume that the Commissioner has given full consideration to that aspect of the matter. There may be a distinction between this trade and others in that regard.
The fourth amendment provides for the excision of paragraph d of section 6 of the Sales Tax Assessment Act (No. 3). In each of the original assessment bills there wasa provision similar to that which it is now proposed to excise. As the result of discussions in committee, suggestions for this amendment were accepted, and this provision was taken out of all the bills except the third. In order to bring this measure into conformity with the others, the fourth amendment is now submitted.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Latham) adjourned.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
.- I move-
That the amount of tax upon each periodical payment of salary shall be -
Chairman of Committees or Leader of the Opposition in either House of the Parliament - the amount which is the equivalent of twelve and one-half per centum of that payment;
That for the purposes of sub-paragraph (c) of the last preceding paragraph of this resolution -
In submitting this motion, it is hardly necessary to add to what has already been said on this matter. The motion is based upon the Income Tax Salaries Assessment Bill, which has been passed by this
House and is now before another place. I am sure that honorable members will have no hesitation in agreeing to the motion, in-order not to postpone again the operation of this legislation. The sooner we put it into effect the more satisfaction will be given throughout the community.
.- Members of the Opposition have already expressed their views upon this proposal. We have stated that it does not go far enough, and is unjust in its incidence as between members of the Public Service themselves, particularly when the position of those receiving less than £725 per annum is compared with that of other members of the community. No object is to be gained, however, by repeating those arguments.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted.
That Mr. Lyons and Mr. Fenton do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Lyons, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from page 1059.
– I listened carefully to the speech of the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley), and received little enlightenment as to the necessity for the introduction of this measure at the present time. He failed to show that the present commission was not doing useful work, nor did he prove that economy would be effected as a result of the passage of the bill. He mentioned that a few thousand pounds would be saved by abolishing the commission, and that that money would be spent on artesian bores.I cannot support the bill.
.- The honorable memberfor Lilley (Mr. Mackay) was not quite correct in saying that South Australia entered the federation on the condition that the Northern Territory would be taken over by the Commonwealth. My State entered the union as readily as any other State, although, in my opinion, it was generally believed that the results of federation would be much different from those obtained. The transfer of the Northern Territory from South Australia to the Commonwealth was considered subsequent to the consummation of federation. The honorable member for Lilley should be aware that, prior to that, South Australia did a great deal in the direction of developing the northern portion of that State. It made a very good effort, in my opinion.
– A wonderful effort, considering its financial position.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member’s commendation. South Australia constructed a telegraph line right through to Port Darwin. The resources of the State might have been small, but its ideals were great. If the affairs of the State had been only a little more flourishing it would, I believe, have accomplished big things in the Northern Territory. It started to bisect the continent with a railway. It built a line from Darwin to Pine Creek, and got as far as Oodnadatta from the southern end. Undoubtedly, it would ultimately have completed the line. It is lamentable that the Commonwealth Parliament did not complete this line years ago, for it would do more than anything else to develop the Northern Territory. The honorable member for Lilley was quite inaccurate in saying that South Australia became a party to federation only because it was agreed that the Commonwealth would take over the Northern Territory. You, Mr. Speaker, know very well that in pre-federation days Mr. Kingston had a little trouble in regard to the development of this territory. A gentleman acting as the spokesman of a coterie of wealthy individuals in South Australia called on Mr. Kingston on one occasion at his office, and made certain proposals to him in this connexion. Mr. Kingston, in a characteristic way, peremptorily ordered the individual out of the room. A number of years later a proposition was also put to the late Mr. Tom. Price, who was then Premier of the State, that the line should be built on the land grant system, and he also rejected it without hesitation. It was after that that Mr.
Price and the late Mr. Alfred Deakin, then Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, made an agreement that this territory should be ceded to the Commonwealth. But this action had nothing whatever to do with South Australia becoming a party to federation. The territory was handed over to the Commonwealth only because the State was of the opinion that the Commonwealth Government, with its greater resources, would be able to develop it better than a single State could do it. A condition was made that the Commonwealth should build the North-South railway line. I have never insisted on the completion of that line simply because it was part of the undertaking made by the Commonwealth with South Australia; my advocacy of the line has always been on the ground that it is essential to the proper development of the Northern Territory. The Public Works Committee has visited the territory and has made recommendations, including a branch line to the Pellew Islands, and the Victoria River country. Apparently, it has covered every part of the territory except that through which a direct northsouth line would pass. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that we still have two dead-end railways in this territory. The sooner they are linked up the better it will be for the territory and Australia. Subsequently spur lines could be run out from the main line into the Victoria River and Barkly tableland country.
I urge that we should look at this subject, not as representatives of the different States, but as Australians. Queensland representatives are evidently not willing to agree to anything being done for the territory unless a railway is run into it from Camooweal ; New South Wales representatives want something done that will beneficially affect that State; Victorian representatives say that they have no interest in the territory; and Western Australian interests want a railway in their direction. Between all these conflicting interests, the larger interest is lost. We should be trying to break down State barriers, at least in the rising generation. But so long as we adopt parochial views in the National Parliament we shall fail to do for this great country what ought to be done for it. It is the duty of this Parliament to develop the Northern Territory, and we should deal with the subject in a broad statesmanlike way. The mere repealing of acts constituting commissions of one kind or another will never get us anywhere. In my opinion, practically everything that can be grown in tropical or sub-tropical country can be grown in the Northern Territory. What we need is a commonsense, comprehensive policy.
I was accused some little while ago of having made a “ Micawber “ speech. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) or the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) accused me of adopting what they called a Micawber attitude, and saying, “ Thank God, that’s done with.” As a matter of fact, Micawber did not make such a statement.
– No; it was Dick Swiveller
– I had never read David Copperfield prior to the occurrence of this incident; but subsequently I got the book from the Library and read it carefully. The words attributed by the honorable members to Micawber were not used by him. I have not the slightest desire to do anything Micawber-like with the Northern Territory. So far as I can see, we shall never tackle this problem seriously until we come to a decision on the whole subject of unification. We must break down our State barriers, both inside and outside of this Parliament, before we shall be able to look without prejudice at the big problems which are facing the country. We should apply such revenues as the Commonwealth has for the development of the territory in the beat possible way.
I know that we are “ up against it “ financially, but, as honorable members know, I have a plan for overcoming all our problems of this nature. I can submit a scheme at once for finding the necessary money to develop the Northern Territory without leaving a dead weight for future generations to carry. We have, in Australia, the brains, men and material necessary to solve our problems; all we need is the leadership to enable us to take hold of these resources and use them. My scheme involves producing for use and not for profit. Some day a sufficient number of honorable members will see the light - they should be able to see it now - and we shall be able to go ahead with a common-sense programme of development in respect to the Northern Territory and other parts of this great continent. If we would spend the same amount of money on the Northern Territory as we have spent on the Federal Capital Territory, we should see wonderful results. I am a city-bred man, and have never had the opportunity of visiting the Northern Territory. Beltana is the farthest point to which I have been in that direction ; but I have taken a keen interest in everything associated with the Northern Territory for many years. The first speech I made as a” member of this Parliament was on the subject of the development of the Northern Territory. If we would rid ourselves of our State prejudices and settle down, in the right spirit, to a consideration of this problem, we should soon be able to convert the Northern Territory into one of the most profitable and prosperous parts of the Commonwealth.
Sitting suspended from 12.43 to 2.15 p.m.
– Like the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), I have no firsthand knowledge of the Northern Territory. It has never been my good fortune to make a personal investigation of its manyproblems, but I have been at some pains, since taking an interest in public affairs,- to inform myself on matters affecting the territory, both by reading and by personal contact with men who have had a considerable experience of that country. If there is one thing that affects prejudicially the advancement of the interests of the northern portion of Australia - and I remind honorable members that there still lies aslant that northern gate the shadow of a sword - it is the frequent breaking of continuity in the governmental policy in respect of the settlement and development of that vast area. That is demonstrated afresh in this amending legislation.[Quorum formed.] When, during the administration of the late Government, amending legislation was passed under which separate administrations were established for North and Central Australia, it was believed that at last this Parliament had arrived at a fixed policy. I regret exceedingly that that belief has been misplaced.
It is wholly laudible, I suppose, for each successive Minister whose duty it is to direct the affairs of the territory, to conceive, in the exuberance of his responsibility fresh ideas for developing this great area, but I submit that that, more than anything else, has led to lack of continuity of governmental policy. If a Minister intended to establish a definite policy of development, perhaps it would be excusable on his part to break down what his predecessors had done, but when this simply means keeping the administration of the Northern Territory in a continuous state of flux, there can be nothing said either in excuse or in extenuation of such vacillation. I agree with the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) and the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) that unless there is to be some continuity in the policy of the Government in respect of the Northern Territory, no solution is likely to be found of the great problem of its settlement and development. Such a solution is not particularly difficult. The problem is caused to a large extent, by the isolation of the territory. That, of course, can be broken down by one of three alternative methods. First, it canbe broken down by honouring the agreement made with South Australia for the construction of the transcontinental line northwards. That undertaking is based on a vague promise that may be fulfilled to-day, tomorrow, or 100 years hence. The second alternative is the construction of a spur line of railway from the Northern Territory to link up with the existing railway system of North Queensland and so give access to the port of Townsville. The third alternative, and perhaps the best, is to give access from the territory to the outside world via Borroloola to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The adoption of any one of those alternatives would break down the existing isolation of that vast area. But important as they are, they are still dependable upon the success of the pastoral industry. That is the key to the solution of the problem of the Northern Territory. Once pastoral occupation becomes profitable that country will begin to progress. The success of the pastoral industry depends first, last and all the time, on security of tenure. The granting of long leases, the fixing of low rentals and comparative, if not entire, freedom from taxation are the three basic principles upon which the successful and profitable pastoral occupation of the territory depends. Once we place in. the hands of the pastoral lessees the opportunity to make a profit from the industry, the problem of the Northern Territory will be almost solved. It is along those lines that all national development has taken place. In referring to the pastoral industry, I am dealing almost exclusively with the cattle industry, because that is the pioneering stage of the pastoral industry wherever it has been developed. If we make the pastoral lessees in the territory contented by assuring them of a profit from the industry, we shall, in the shortest time, solve the problem of settling and developing that country. Why has not the problem been solved along those lines? I have discussed this matter freely with men who are capable of giving an expert opinion, and have read the views of those who have had the personal contact with the territory that I cannot claim to have had, and the only explanation of the anomaly appears to be that there has been on the part of governments an element of distrust of pastoralists in the territory. Why should that distrust exist? Is there any real ground for it? I submit that there is none, and can be none, unless it be based on political considerations. The antipathy does not vanish, but differs only in degree -when the party in power changes. If the Minister can divest himself of it; if, with statesmanlike candour and courage, he can associate himself and his Government with a. policy that will secure, without political mental reservation or equivocation, to the pastoralists of the Northern Territory and those who are prepared to embark in that industry, an assurance that, for an indefinite period, they will enjoy a security of tenure based on long leases, low rents, and a comparative freedom from taxation, I believe that we shall be on the way to a solution of the problem which hitherto has proved insoluble. Such a result would do infinite credit to the Government, and be distinctly advantageous to Australia.
Debate (on motion by Mr. McNeill) adjourned.
SALES TAX BILL (No. 1a) 1930.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
– I move -
That sales tax be imposed at the rate of two and one half per centum upon the sale value of goods manufactured in Australia by a taxpayer, and treated by him us stock for sale by retail.
The object of the motion is, first to do what it states; and, secondly, to legalize, so far as may be necessary, the collections of tax that have already been made in respect of the goods mentioned. .
The sales tax bills introduced earlier in this session, provided that a manufacturer, should be taxed on the actual sale price of goods manufactured and sold by him. The bill for Sales Tax Act, No. 1, imposed tax upon the sale value of goods manufactured in Australia and sold by the manufacturer. The bill for Sales Tax Assessment Act, No. 1, provided that the sale value upon which the tax so imposed should be levied and paid, should be the amount for which the goods were sold. During the consideration of the assessment bill, the Government agreed that manufacturing retailers should be placed on the same footing as manufacturing wholesalers ; that they should be taxed on the fair wholesale selling value of their products. Accordingly, an amendment was inserted in that bill, the effect of which was to authorize the levying of a tax on the fair wholesale selling value of goods manufactured in Australia and treated by the manufacturer as stock for retail sale. No steps, however, were taken to insert a complementary amendment in the bill for Sales Tax Act, No. 1 ; and, as that act merely imposes the tax upon the sale value of goods manufactured in Australia, and sold by the manufacturer, there is good reason to doubt whether the tax has been effectively imposed on goods that are treated by the manufacturer aa stock for retail sale, notwithstanding that the amendment of the assessment bill purported to authorize the levying of that tax. So far, tax has been collected on the basis’ of’ the amendment inserted in the’ assessment bill ; but the legality of the collection has been questioned in certain quarters. The bill that will give effect to this resolution will make clear the power of the department to collect the tax.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That theresolution be adopted.
.- The resolution can be given a very wide interpretation. Earlier in the day the Minister discussed the incidence of the sales tax in relation to manufacturers of softgoods, and said that tailors who make suits to order, either from material supplied or material that they sell, are to be charged at the retail rate. He has now said that the tax in other cases will he based on the wholesale selling price. Why should there be discrimination against any section? The Tailors Association of Victoria has requested me to endeavour to have the act so amended that its members will be placed on the same footing as other retailers. I ask the Minister to remove this anomaly from the act.
– It is not possible to fix the wholesale value of, say, a suit that is made to the order of an individual; the only basis upon which tax can be collected is the price charged for that suit to the individual. However desirable it may be to fix the wholesale price, no satisfactory system has yet been discovered by the department, although it has made every effort to do so. If this bill be not passed the actions of the department up to the present will not be validated, and substantial collections may have to be refunded, in addition to the legal expense involved in contesting claims.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That Mr. Lyons and Mr. Fenton do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Lyons, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Minister has said that there is no method by which a wholesale price may be fixed when the retail price is known, and has advanced that as a reason for taxing tailors according to the retail price of their goods. Surely the honorable gentleman is aware that the members of other trades are taxed on an assumed wholesale rate ! An engineering firm, for example, that makes iron- work or other furnishings for a building, and sells direct to the builder, does not pay according to the price that it charges the builder, but on an assumed wholesale price. Why should a tailor be exempt from the application of that principle ? There may be other traders who occupy a similar position ; if so, they should all be brought into line. If the Minister is prepared to accept a suggestion, I put it to him that 20 per cent. less than the retail price would be a fair thing. After all, the department fixes the rate at the customs in the case of an importer who sells direct to the people, by adding 20 per cent. to the landed cost. That being so, I cannot see that any difficulty would be experienced in dealing similarly with a retailer. I ask the Minister to secure uniformity in this matter.
– I gathered from the statement of the Minister that the Bill merely proposes to validate an amendment inserted in the original measure.
– It proposes to bring the Sales Tax Act into conformity with the Sales Tax Assessment Act.
– I remember quite well the amendment that was inserted in the assessment bill. It appears to me that this is a consequential amendment, the object of which is to validate what was then done. It is reasonable to ask that the bill be passed as it stands, and that an endeavour be made at a later stage, when other amendments are before the House, to adopt the proposal of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) . I cannot see any reason for delaying the passage of this measure.
– I do not agree that, because the department has been carrying on a practice contrary to law, Parliament should now confirm that practice. There has been too much of that sort of thing lately. The Minister should postpone further consideration of this matter until he is able to give the House an assurance that the anomaly will be corrected.
– It is not possible to effect such an amendment even if it were desired, because of the resolution which has been carried. This difficulty has arisen, not through any wrong interpretation of the law as it stands, but because a. complementary amendment was not made in the act, and the necessity now arises for putting the matter right. We are seeking merely to correct the position, and to do what Parliament intended to do from the beginning. I remind the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that we cannot at this stage deal with the point he raised, because this bill must be inaccordance with the resolution. I have given an assurance that when the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), who introduced this legislation, returns to Australia, the whole matter will be reviewed, and the Prime Minister himself will give consideration to the points raised. We are now collecting all available information to enable us to determine what essential amendments will have to be made so that this legislation may operate equitably.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- Will the Minister state whether the effect of this bill will be to make the sales tax payable on goods imported from overseas, and merely assembled in Australia? If it is intended to validate that procedure, it is carrying the matter to ridiculous lengths. For instance, a lawn mower may he imported in two parts. The work of assembly consists of putting in the handle, and fastening it with a couple of bolts; yet this may be construed as manufacture in Australia. The department evidently cannot say just what constitutes manufacture within Australia. It seems manifestly unfair that the manufactured in Australia heading should be the classification for such cases as I have mentioned.
– This amending bill has no bearing on the point raised by the honorable member. It merely provides that, in the case of goods manufactured in Australia and treated as stock for sale by a retailer, the tax shall be paid in the same way as if a wholesaler had manufactured them in Australia. It does not seek to define goods manufactured in Australia. ,
– Then, this amendment does not refer to imported goods?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from page 1065.
.- I was not present when the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) delivered his very fine address last night, but I have read it since. I admire his unshakeable faith in the Northern Territory, and I agree with him that it is a very important part of Australia. I have not myself been in the central or southern portions of the area, but I have been through the north as far as Pine Creek and the Katherine. I agree with him that there are great possibilities for development in this area, both for agriculture and for cattle and sheep raising. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) said this afternoon that the present Government was hostile to the graziers of the Northern Territory. I do not know how he arrived at that conclusion, and I am certain that this Government has never done anything to justify it. As a matter of fact, the Government is prepared to do everything it can to assist in the settlement of the Northern Territory. I have heard the honorable member for the Northern Territory say repeatedly, both in this House and outside, that in the southern portion of the territory, there is to be found some of the finest grazing and wheat-growing land in Australia.
– Wheat-growing land ?
– Yes, he says wheatgrowing, and he challenges contradiction-.
-What about the rainfall?
– Probably the wheat could be sown at a time to fit in with such rainfall as there is. It is unfortunate that many persons who have never seen the Northern Territory have formed a very poor opinion of it. They imagine it to be nothing but desert.
– They would have formed a worse opinion if they had seen some of it I have been through.
– Perhaps the honorable member has seen a good deal of the poorer country, but there is also some very fine land there. The honorable member must surely admit, if he has been through the Barkly Tableland, that it comprises some of the finest cattle-raising country in Australia. The trouble is that the Northern Territory is to-day very largely land-locked. Before it can be properly developed, land must be made available to the people on reasonable terms. The Government should do everything it can to encourage prospecting for gold and other minerals. Recently, a government geologist reported that the territory was rich in gold, tin and silver lead. I myself saw attractive specimens of those metals when I was there. In order to obtain a quick return from the territory, the Government should foster prospecting in every way. When finances permit, it should subsidize persons prepared to go out prospecting, and it could, without any outlay of cash, assist mining by carrying machinery free on the railways. Rich mineral deposits have been discovered in Queensland and Western Australia, and it is only reasonable to assume that, in that great belt of country joining those two States, similar mineral deposits merely await exploitation. I heard the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) say that there was a gold show in the Pine Creek district which was yielding 1½ oz. to the ton. That is quite good, and is worth following up. Once we get mines working in the territory, land settlement will follow. Small towns will spring up in the neighbourhood of the diggings, and, within ten or fifteen years the now despised territory could be one of the most progressive parts of the Commonwealth.
We are not at present obtaining the best results from the cattle-raising industry in the territory. The country is, undoubtedly, admirable for the raising of cattle. I have seen bullocks from the Northern Territory, the superior of which could not. be found in any part of the world. But there is a danger that, with the decline of the export trade in beef, lessees will become indifferent and not keep their herds up to the standard of a few years ago. The scrub bull may make his appearance, and that will mean deterioration of the herds.
– There are plenty of scrub bulls there now.
– Possibly; if so, it is due to the indifference of cattlemen because of the falling off of the export trade. But I hope that the overseas trade in cattle and beef will be revived. Vestey Bros., who built very fine killing and preserving works at Darwin, at a cost of approximately £1,000,000, have transferred their interests from Australia to the Argentine.
– They were driven out by the labour conditions.
– That is not so. The records of the Darwin Town Council show that the local meat works were responsible for an unsurpassed output.
– During the war, when the men had to work !
– Those men were expert tradesmen ; they took big risks, and they were entitled to a high rate of pay.
– They were being paid as much as. £7 10s. per day. No business could stand that.
– That rate of pay must have been earned on contract, and, of course, it could not be afforded to-day in any part of Australia. The special rates, however, were, probably, because of the urgency of the work and the special nature of the contract. Is it not possible for the Government to arrange with Vestey Bros, and others to resume operations in the Northern Territory? The cattle runs to-day are not yielding the returns that might be expected.
– They cannot do much while the meat works are closed.
– That is so, but the Government should investigate the. possibility of making an arrangement with
Vestey Bros, for the reopening of the works. Some time ago the Commonwealth paid a bounty of 10s. per head on cattle exported. We must endeavour to re-establish the meat export trade in the north of Australia. The three industries that will create prosperity there are mining, cattle-raising, and agriculture. Some critics say that agriculture is impossible, because of the insufficient rainfall. That may be true of wheat and oats, but I. saw beautiful samples of cotton and peanuts grown on the Daly river, and the Director of Agriculture, who travelled with me from Darwin, showed me a telegram from Adelaide stating that peanuts grown in the north had realized tile highest prices ever paid in that market.
– Because there was an embargo on imports.
– Along the rivers thousands of settlers could be engaged in the cultivation of cotton, peanuts and pig-raising. There is plenty of cheap land, the soil is good, and the climate suitable. Many years ago the Batchelor Experimental Farm was established. I do not know who chose the site, but if one travelled the whole of Australia he could not find a sourer piece of land. It is a spewy clay covered with stunted guin trees and kangaroo grass growing to a height of seven or eight feet.
– About SO per cent, of -.the land, including that in the heavy rainfall belt, is inferior.
– The honorable member for the Northern Territory tells a different story. Because the experimental farm failed to demonstrate that wheat and oats can be profitably grown there, many people in the southern States have become convinced that the Northern Territory is unsuitable for agriculture.
– Much of the country would be good for wheat-growing if the rain fell at the right time of the year. I saw one place where cereal crops had been attempted; the soil was good, but the rainfall was confined to the summer months.
– No attempt was made to grow wheat there.
– In any case, what is the -need for growing wheat in the ^Northern Territory?
– Possibly it would be wiser to devote ourselves to other activities. The Government should seriously consider means of encouraging prospecting, developing mining, and opening up the land for new settlers. I have no doubt that, if we tackle the problem earnestly and systematically, the Northern Territory can become highly productive.
– The development of the Northern Territory is one of the most important subjects that could receive the attention of this Parliament. In the year in which I first entered this House, a good deal was heard of the territory, because its member focussed attention on the land system. Those who were new to federal polities, and had already formed opinions about the north of Australia, were surprised to hear the story told by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson). The information he gave to the House was so contrary to the general conception and the official view as almost to compel the government of the day to withdraw certain ordinances, and introduce the Northern Territory Land Bill. I do not know what the effect of that legislation has been ; but I feel sure that the honorable member well and truly represents the interests of the people of the Northern Territory. He has been in this House for the last eight or nine years, and I am surprised that one who gave to the previous Government valuable information, upon which it was not afraid to act, has apparently been totally ignored by the Government which he now supports. I cannot imagine that he would have spoken as he did on this bill had it been referred to him before it was introduced. His attitude conclusively proves the case against the Government. Once again we have an exemplification of that utter contempt of the views of the man on the spot that has been so largely responsible for the failure of the centralized administration of distant territories. The further away from the seat of government a territory is, the less the notice that is taken of the opinions of residents and those who are able to give first-hand information to Parliament and administrative officials. In order to gain a hearing, one must be practically at the backdoor of Parliament. That state of affairs creates a wrong atmosphere in which to deal with the problems of the remoter portions of Australia. It is equivalent to a declaration by this Parliament that its attitude on these subjects never changes. Although we have evidence from time to time ‘that our attitude is wrong and results in tragic failure, we obtusely and unpatriotically persist in it. The reason is that we are too engrossed in the problems immediately about us, and hand over all others to the control of the bureaucracy.
The Northern Territory comprises about, one-sixth of the total area of Australia, and is recognized strategically as perhaps the most vulnerable portion of the continent. If there is any merit in the representation which this Parliament has given to the Northern Territory, it should be reflected in the notice taken by the Parliament and the Government of the member returned to this House from that area. But from what has happened in this chamber, I am satisfied that he bus been totally ignored, and he had every right to make the attack which he has directed against the Government which he supports. The fact that the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) is not now present in the chamber to hear the remarks of honorable members concerning his administration is indicative of the general attitude of officialdom towards this portion of Australia. No wonder the honorable member from the territory has been so scandalously treated. I realize that he cannot ride rough-shod over the Ministry ; but honorable members generally should attach weight to the arguments advanced by him, and accord him their support, although he sits on the other side of the House. The honorable member knocked the bottom out of the proposal contained in this bill. I have never seen a Minister look more dumbfounded than did the Minister for Home Affairs when the honorable member was stating the case against him. A similar spectacle has probably not been witnessed in this chamber for many years. If the honorable member is ignored in the future, as in the past, he will be able to tell his electors that he has placed the position of the territory frankly before the Government and has received a raw deal.
The Ministry has proved its utter lack of interest in the natural problems of Australia by submitting a proposal which, as the honorable member put it, sets back the hands of the clock, so far as the development of the Northern Territory is concerned. The Government has plenty of capacity for destructive measures, but practically none for constructive effort. Could any case be more flimsy than that submitted to the House by the Minister? He knows that the people of the Northern Territory are far removed from the Seat of Government, and that a .large population on the east coast of Australia will not feel annoyed with the Government if progress in the territory is checked.
– The honorable member does not believe in balancing the budget.
– My point is that the present proposal will nullify all that has been achieved in, at least, the last ten years. The Minister intends to write “ finis “ across the story of the Northern Territory’s development. Once we take such a retrogressive step it will be exceedingly difficult and expensive to undo the mischief that will be wrought. The excuse offered for the introduction of this destructive measure is that money cannot be found for the continuance of expenditure by the North Australia Commission, and that, therefore, that body should be abolished. Is that the Government’s attitude to every department that is short of funds? Has any attempt been made by the Minister to ascertain tho value of the work actually done by this commission? If it has succeeded in putting new faith into the meagre population of the territory, it has justified its existence. We should not ruthlessly abolish it because it is costing a few thousands of pounds a year.
– It has probably saved a great deal more than the cost of it3 maintenance.
– Tes. I should like to see a determined effort made by the Opposition to persuade the Government to withdraw the bill, in view of the criticism that it has provoked. When the attention of the late Government was drawn to the foolishness of a contemplated hasty action, it accepted the warning uttered by the member for the Northern Territory, and withdrew an objectionable ordinance which he said would be disastrous to land settlement there. If the present Government persists in its disastrous proposals, and ignores the representations of the member for the territory, it will show a lack of common-sense.
Another reason why the Government should hesitate to pass this bill, is that the last word has not been said about the Northern Territory. Although Australia is undergoing a period of great economic difficulty to-day, everybody expects that we shall eventually emerge from our troubles. This Parliament should be the last to exhibit a lack of faith in the future of Australia. The attitude adopted in this Parliament to the Northern Territory, is one of the most serious obstacles to the acceptance by the people of any national schemes. A pet idea of honorable members opposite is that of unification, and the moment that subject is mentioned, the exclamation heard on every side is, “ The Commonwealth Parliament could not possibly undertake any further responsibilities. Fancy giving it complete control. Look at the disastrous muddle it has made of the Northern Territory!”
– That territory was mismanaged long before this Parliament had anything to do with it.
– Whether or not that is so, the people generally would hesitate to give this Parliament sole control of the .destinies of Australia. The spirit of the people is one of contempt for its ability to exercise wider legislative powers than were originally vested in it under the Constitution.
– Millions were wasted in Canberra by the party opposite; but it grudged the expenditure necessary for the reasonable development of the Northern Territory.
– All members in this House united in the movement for the transfer of the Seat of Government from Melbourne to Canberra, and, therefore, all parties are bound to continue the work of developing the national capital; but there is no justification for rais ing the cry of “ stinking fish “ in regard to the Northern Territory. It seems illogical for us to begin “white-anting” the whole federal movement by proclaiming our inability to administer the affairs of that territory. The Northern Territory was taken over from South Australia so that it could be developed at a faster rate than South Australia could develop it, and could more rapidly become a new partner in the federation. Why has the Commonwealth abjectly failed to develop this huge area in the’ north ? I believe that it is largely because so many past governments have persisted in the policy to which this Government desires to revert. For many years the territory was controlled by more or less incompetent Ministers. I do not say this in a disrespectful way; but we have to recognize that Ministers have their limitations. After their assumption of office they almost invariably assume that they know a great deal more about the affairs of the country, and are wiser than private members of Parliament. No one will deny that very few members of Parliament would be selected by big business undertakings to control huge developmental works. Consequently, it could hardly be expected that a member of Parliament, upon assuming office as a Minister of the Crown, should forthwith become qualified to handle a gigantic undertaking like the development of the Northern Territory.
– Not many Ministers or members of Parliament have even seen the Northern Territory.
– That is so. Not many of the officials responsible for departmental work in connexion with the Territory have seen it. As the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) has said, the knowledge and experience of the men on the spot is frequently disregarded.
That is what happened in connexion with Norfolk Island, which I visited some years ago. I found that the people could not get into direct touch with the department which had charge 1 of Norfolk Island. They had to approach it through the Administrator, who naturally took care not to lodge any complaints which could be regarded Jas a reflection upon his administration. Subsequently, a royal commission was. appointed to investigate the grievances of the people on the island, and it reported that most of them were well founded. One result of the work of the commission was that provision was made for the constitution of an advisory council, half the members of which were elected by the people, the other half being appointed by the Administrator. The government of the clay recognized that, as a British community, these people, though they numbered only 1,000, had certain rights. If the Government will not agree to the request of the honorable member for the Northern Territory, and honorable members on this side of the chamber, and withdraw the bill, which would mean that the present commission would continue to administer the affairs of the Northern Territory, I hope that it will at least consider the proposal that an advisory council should be elected by the people there. I have not had the opportunity of examining in detail this proposal of the honorable member for the Northern Territory, but it seems to me that it would be highly desirable to give the people there a greater measure of local government than they will enjoy if the present proposals of the Ministry are adopted.
I dispute the statement that the efforts so far made to develop the Northern Territory have resulted in failure. Considering the very poor support that has been given to the people resident there, and the small amount of money that has been spent on actual developmental work, this is one of the most successful areas in the Commonwealth. If the people were given a little more encouragement I believe that they could make the territory the Texas of Australia. In addition to becoming a great cattleraising country, it could also be made the centre of a considerable mixed farming community. Its mineral resources are also capable of great development. On account of the closing down of the meat works at Darwin, and the failure of the Government to proceed with the construction of a through railway line from north to south, not only the cattle industry, but every other industry in the territory, has been very severely handicapped. I have heard the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) criticize the quality of the land in the Northern Terri tory, but I believe that he has seen only a small portion of this great country.
– I saw a fair average of it.
– That is hardly a fair statement, for the honorable member travelled over only one track.
– At any rate, the honorable member for Riverina has formed a poor opinion of the territory.
– Not of all of it.
– I have the greatest respect for his views on such a subject, for I regard him as an authority on lands, pastures, and stock-raising. But the official returns show that the Northern Territory is doing very well as a cattle-raising country in spite of the severe handicaps under which it is labouring. Since 1921, its cattle figures have increased from 400,000 to 800,000; but, unfortunately, the sheep industry has practically disappeared, the figures having fallen from 57,000 to 6,000.
– That is entirely due to transportation costs.
– The territory is, in my opinion, destined to become the greatest cattle province of Australia. If Parliament would recognize the possibilities of this vast area, and push on with the completion of the north-south railway, it would not be very long before we. should see remarkable growth there. I am quite satisfied that the direct northsouth line should be built; not only for strategic, but for developmental purposes. Parliament made no mistake in adhering to the agreement made with South Australia in this respect. This line will be valuable for defence, as well as developmental purposes.
– The military experts do not agree with the honorable member.
– Then they are poor judges. Military strategy is changing very definitely.
– That is not so; it never changes.
– I disagree with the honorable member. I have been reading a book only in the last week or so - 1 can give the honorable member a reference to it - which shows clearly that military tactics and strategy which had been practised for ages, were abandoned a fortnight after the beginning of the world war.
– The honorable member is confused. Tactics are constantly changing, but strategy is not.
– Strategy is also changing. The introduction of mechanized armies has revolutionized, not only military tactics, but also military strategy. There seem to be no accepted ideas as . to what constitutes sound strategy among the armies and navies of the world to-day. I, therefore, do not think that the refusal of military strategists to accept the north-south railway route as the right one really matters. We cannot get away from the fact that it is the quickest and shortest route from south to north. If the Northern Territory were suddenly menaced by enemy attack, then we would have done the sensible thing in building a railway from south to north. We certainly would not have helped our defensive position had we built the railway anywhere else. I am sorry indeed that the Governments that have been in power during the last ten years did not push the railway right through to the north instead of leaving a gap of some 600 miles across the desert. That is now almost unbridgeable because of our financial difficulties. Had the through railway been constructed, there would have been no question to-day about the cattle-raising supremacy of the Northern Territory, and that great tract of country would not be regarded, as it is now, as the Achilles heel of this great continent.
– lt would have been the greatest white elephant in Australia.
– The honorable member is taking a narrow view of this matter, not a national view. The statistics that are now available show absolutely that the Northern Territory railway, which has been completed for only about twelve months, is now showing a profit. The Year-Booh for 1929 shows that the revenue derived from the two railways exceeds the expenditure. I do not know what the figures will be for this year.
– A better year is anticipated.
– So far as last year is concerned, the honorable member for Riverina is quite in error when he says that the Northern Territory railway is the greatest white elephant in Australia.
– It would be if the gap of 600 miles were bridged.
– I ask leave to continue my remarks on another occasion.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Appointment of Governor-General - Wheat Industry : Commonwealth Bank’s Advance: Sales Tax on Flour - Pegging the Exchange - Conversion Loan.
Motion (by Mr. Fenton) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- 1 take this opportunity to make a statement on behalf of the Opposition with reference to the method followed in the recent appointment of a new GovernorGeneral. We have been informed that an appointment has been made by His Majesty the King upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. Appointments to offices iD the Commonwealth itself are made by the Governor-General upon the recommendation of a Minister, and those appointments are the sole reponsibility of the Government, the Governor-General being bound to follow the recommendation of the Minister. The GovernorGeneral exercises no discretion in such matters. According to the formal announcement of the Government, the appointment of the Governor-General has now been made in a similar way. If, as stated, the King acted upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister, His Majesty did not exercise any discretion in the matter. The new GovernorGeneral is the nominee of the Scullin Government, and not of His Majesty the King. The appointment, therefore, marks a distinct and most important change in procedure.
Section 2 of the Commonwealth Constitution provides that the GovernorGeneral appointed by the King shall be His Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth. There is no reference to any advice being given to His Majesty the King by the Federal Executive Council, which is the executive agent of the Commonwealth. It really is the Cabinet acting officially.
Section 62 of the Constitution specifies and delimits the functions of the Federal Executive Council in the following words, “ There shall be a Federal Executive Council to advise the Governor-General in the government of the Commonwealth.” Those words are evidently intended to describe and delimit the functions of the Federal Executive Council. They do not include any function, of advising His Majesty the King. There is, accordingly, no warrant in the Constitution for the practice that has been adopted in this case.
It has been suggested that the decisions of the Imperial Conference in 1926 have in some’ way modified the position. Of course, no opinions accepted by an Imperial Conference can alter the provisions of the Com.monwealth Constitution, but it is open to governments to adopt any constitutional conventions or practices which are not illegal. The Imperial Conference in 1926 adopted a report, which stated -
We proceeded to consider whether it is desirable formally to place on record a definition of the position held by the GovernorGeneral as His Majesty’s representative in the Dominions. That position, though now generally well recognized, undoubtedly represents a development from an earlier stage, when the Governor-General was appointed solely on the advice of His Majesty’s Ministers in London, and acted also as their representative. In our opinion it is an essential consequence of the equality of status existing among the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations that the Governor-General of a dominion is the representative of the Crown, holding in all essential respects the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the dominion as is held by His Majesty the King in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative or agent of His Majesty’s Government in Great Britain or of any department of that Government.
The pronouncement of the Imperial Conference in 1926 did not, in any respect, alter the position of the Governor-General as defined in the Commonwealth Constitution. In Australia it has never been thought for a moment that the GovernorGeneral was representative of the British Government, of any department of the British Government, or of any British political party; he has always been regarded as the personal representative of His Majesty the King.
The report of 1926 does not deal with the procedure to be adopted with respect to the appointment of a Governor-General. It indicates that appointments should not be made solely on the recommendation of British Ministers; but it is clear that it was not intended to exclude the participation of such Ministers as an element in the procedure. The real emphasis of the report is placed upon the personal nature of the representation by the Governor-General of His Majesty the King. The practice in the past has been for His Majesty to ascertain in the first place that a person acceptable to him as his representative, will also be acceptable to the Government of the Commonwealth. Then the formal appointment has been made by the King on the formal advice of British Ministers. Under that practice the choice was the real choice of His Majesty; but that was a choice approved by the Commonwealth Government of the day. Under the policy adopted in the present instance, the choice is that of the Commonwealth Government of the day, and, in all essential particulars, the procedure is the same as in the appointment of a person to an office in the Commonwealth Public Service. One result, therefore, is that as the appointment is the act of the Government and not a personal act of His Majesty, it is open to parliamentary and other criticism, like any other act of the Government of the day. This fact will, unfortunately, tend to diminish the prestige of the office of Governor-General.
– I cannot permit the Leader of the Opposition to express any opinion that may be regarded as a reflection upon the high office of Governor-General.
– I have not done so. I am regretting that certain procedure may bring about that result.
– As it is the responsibility of the Chair to prevent an expression of opinion which may be regarded as a reflection upon the office of GovernorGeneral, I ask the Leader of the Opposition not to proceed upon those lines.
– I do not desire to say anything further on that aspect of the question. The nominee of the Commonwealth Government cannot, in any real sense, be regarded as the personal representative of the King. He will, inevitably, be regarded as the representative of the Commonwealth Government. Accordingly, the new procedure goes far to diminish the reality of the bond of Empire which resides in the Crown. The Opposition in this Parliament is much more concerned to conserve and promote the unity of the British Empire, than to insist upon the exercise of any real or alleged right which emphasizes separation rather than union. The safety and progress of the Commonwealth is bound up with the safety and progress of the Empire. We deplore any act which may tend to diminish or depreciate the sentiment of attachment and loyalty to the Crown which at present exists in Australia.
There is another aspect of the matter to which I wish to refer. It is a general principle that judges should have nothing to hope for and nothing to fear from any government. It is a matter for regret that, in this instance, that principle has been infringed by making a promotion from the Judicial Bench. It is obvious that if the practice now adopted is continued, justices of the High Court can look for further advancement from the Government of the day. Their positionas interpreters of the Constitution is such that this procedure may create an atmos phere of suspicion when decisions are given; particularly if those decisions are in favour of the Government.
The matters to which I have referred have nothing whatever to do with the question of the appointment of a person, born in Australia, to the office of GovernorGeneral. The essential point, and one which I emphasize, is that the Opposition considers that the interests of Australia can better be served by the appointment of a Governor-General by his Majesty the King than by any Commonwealth Government whatever political party it may represent. As the previous practice has worked well, there is no reason to make a change. The Governor-General has always been regarded as the personal representative of His Majesty, and I am glad to say as such has enjoyed the respect and confidence of the people of Australia.
.- Had I known that it was the intention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) to raise this subject, I should have brought some notes which I have on the subject, particularly with respect to the relations of the Prime Minister of Australia with the Sovereign. There is not the slightest doubt that the attitude adopted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) supports the inference that the Prime Minister of Australia has not the power to advise the Crown that is possessed by the Prime Minister of Great Britain. But since 1926 it has been accepted that the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth has as much authority to advise the Crown on Australian matters as has the Prime Minister of Great Britain on matters of British interest. Therefore, we have to revert to the authority which the Prime Minister of Great Britain has with respect to British matters. For the information of honorable members I quote the following extract from King Edward VII - a biography by Sir Sidney Lee : -
Nominally, the Prime Minister and the other Ministers of state are the King’s servants: in point of fact they are his masters. When the King decrees that th s or that appointment shall be madehe speaks in the voice of his Prime Minister, and in practical effect all laws are made by decree of Parliament which it is beyond his power to modify or reject. Constitutional purists often insist that the. constitutional sovereign is a mere automaton moving at the will of his Ministers, and they define constitutional sovereignty in broad terms as the antithesis of personal or arbitrary sovereignty. Every constitutional king has to assent in his public capacity to much which is obnoxious to him in his private capacity. As Bagehot says : “ He must sign his own death warrant if the two houses unanimously send it up to him.” The constitutional monarch reigns, but does not govern: he has little power although great influence: and he respects thelaws and customs which deprive him of arbitrary power of action.
There is not the slightest doubt that that is the position also in Australia.
I shall quote an instance of the appointment of a Governor-General in opposition to the wishes of the Sovereign, to show how completely the authority to make such appointments is in the hands of British Ministers.” In 1907, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, who was not persona grata with the Crown at the time, was Home Secretary in the Government of Great Britain. The Prime should be appointed Governor-General of South Africa. The late King Edward VII. objected to the appointment. Mr. Asquith insisted upon its being made. The King persisted with his objection; but, finally, realizing that it was a matter for his Ministers, assented to their wishes, and Mr. Gladstone was made the first Governor-General of South Africa. Later, again under protest, the same King made him a viscount.
The following extract from Sir Sidney Lee’s biography of King Edward VII., chapter xvi. is apropos, although it does not refer particularly to the appointment of Governors-General: -
On the 10th March, Lord Morley, at the Cabinet Council took the decisive step of proposing Sinha as the legal member of the Viceroy’s Council, and the Cabinet unanimously approved. Morley put his point of view to the King that day, though he feared the King was not in full agreement with him.
His Majesty’s reply was -
My dear Minto. - Many thanks for your long and interesting letter of the 4th inst., in which you give me your reasons why you consider it desirable that a native of India should form part of the Viceroy’s Executive Council.
As you hold such strong views on the subject and have given me many cogent reasons for such a new departure, I am very unwilling to differ from you as well as the Secretary of State on the subject. At the same time I hold very strong and possibly old-fashioned views on the subject, which my son, who has so recently been in India, entirely Shares. You yourself admit that the peaceful future of India is very far , from being assured. To take, therefore, a very clover native onto your Executive Council must necessarily be a- source of much danger to our rule in the Indian Empire.
That illustrates the feeling which existed at the time. May I point out, also, that recently a Burmese native was appointed Acting Governor-General of Burma? .
– We are discussing, not that aspect of the matter, but the constitutional provision involved in the declaration made by the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) from Australia House. The extract from this work continues-
With that the correspondence closed, and a day or two later the King formally approved Mr. Sinha’s appointment. In the event the appointment turned out to be a good one, though the King’s’ prediction that “the Government of India will in future be always obliged “ to have an Indian on the Council proved to be correct.
A quotation from the same work that I think will appeal to the Leader of the Opposition is as follows: -
Even the two great prerogatives of the dissolution of Parliament and of the cession of territory were challenged by Mr. Balfour in 1904-5.
Up to that time there had always been a deliberate assertion of the right of the Crown to oppose the Prime Minister and other Ministers. The extract goes on to say-
When Parliament was dissolved in 1905, at the request of the Prime Minister, the King’s displeasure was by no means minimized by Mr. Balfour’s statement that the House of Commons could insist upon a dissolution and that the Cabinet had dictated it. The Prime Minister also held that Ministers might be selected or dismissed without reference to the Crown. More than this, treaties were made and territory was ceded by act of Parliament more than once during the reign, Mr. Balfour arguing, on the occasion of the cession of territory involved by the Anglo-French agreement of 1904, that the assent of Parliament was necessary. In both cases, Mr. Balfour won his point. Later on a few peers were created at the request of the Prime Minister, and in spite of the King’s protests, “Crown” appointments became the patronage of the Prime Minister. However much the King disliked a parliamentary bill, it is doubtful whether be would ever have dreamt of exercising the dormant royal veto.
– That is ancient history* and no one questions it.
– The point made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) was that the Constitution distinctly states that the King makes the appointment. That is quite so. There is not the slightest doubt that in British constitutional law the Crown is officially the executive. But it possesses only the husk; the real power lies with Ministers, who advise the Crown. Our Constitution, and our acts of Parliament, constantly refer to the fact that the ‘King does certain things. The King does only what his Ministers recommend him to do; he is obliged to approve them. It is just as well that this clear declaration has been made by the Prime Minister in Great Britain and the Acting Prime Minister in Australia. The appointment in question has been made by the King; therefore, the provisions of the Constitution Minister, Mr. Asquith, desired that he have been complied with. But it cannot be disputed that in every Australian matter, from the appointment of the Governor-General down to the appointment of the lowest grade of public servant, the King acts on the advice of his Ministers in Australia, and that the only persons who have authority in this Commonwealth a ie those who are elected by the Australian citizens to act as Ministers of. the Crown.
– I wish to refer briefly to the announcement made yesterday by the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Forde) with respect to the proposed advance of 2s. a bushel f.o.b. for wheat. The honorable gentleman stated that the advance meant approximately ls. 6d. a bushel to the wheat-grower. That is not correct; on an average, Sd. a bushel is deducted for rail freight and handling charges, leaving in the hands of the wheat-growers approximately ls. 4d., or possibly ls. 4½d a bushel.
– Less the cost of bags.
– I intended to mention that. 1 may say, in passing, that the Victorian voluntary pool has made arrangements to pay a flat rate of ls. 6d. a bushel. That, however, is only an internal business arrangement. Out of the ls. 4d. or ls. 4£d. a bushel, a grower must pay at least 3d. a ‘bushel, or 9d. for a three-bushel bag, leaving him a net return of ls. Id. a bushel, which is slightly more than half the amount of the advance of the Commonwealth Bank. In short, the growers will receive less than £11,000,000 of the £20,000,000 involved, in a harvest of 200,000,000 bushels. Such an advance is totally inadequate. In the district in which I live, the wheatgrower will receive under the advance only ls. Id. a bushel, which is exactly the price of a 4-lb loaf of bread in that district.
There are several aspects of this matter to which I desire to refer very briefly. First, the advance is to be made under the rural credits provisions of the act, which provide for advances up to SO per cent, of the value of the product. The amount of the advance is actually from 7d. to 8d. a bushel less than the market value of the wheat, in the greatest slump on record. In short, the Commonwealth Bank is taking absolutely no risk, and, in effect, has done nothing for the growers. Without any pressure or any representations by the Government of the day, the various voluntary pools throughout Australia could have received from the Commonwealth Bank, under the rural credits provisions of the act, exactly the same advance as is being made to-day.
– What is the f.o.b. price to-day?
– From 2s. 7d. to 2s. Sd. a . bushel; it fluctuates, but very slightly, in the different ports of Australia. Actually, the Commonwealth Bank will give an advance of from 7d. to Sd. less than the actual price of -wheat on the world’s markets to-day. Under the Rural Credits Act there is provision that any advance made must be repaid within twelve months, and it has been- the policy of the Commonwealth Bank to discourage speculation and encourage prompt realization of the produce - wheat, dried fruits, canned fruits, and such like - upon which any advance is made. I should like to know from the Minister- if that policy is to be pursued in regard to this pitifully small advance on wheat under which the bank is taking no risk. If so, I submit it will render the whole thing a farce. To enforce the realization of the Australian wheat crop upon the present slumped markets of the world would, in my opinion, be mid-summer madness. Of course, I recognize the dangers of the speculative holding of primary produce, but there are exceptions to every rule, and if ever there was a time when at least a judicious marketing of our primary products, particularly wheat, should be adopted it is now. It has been suggested in some quarters that the present Australian wheat crop is to be realized upon in order to raise money to balance Australia’s Loudon account-
– The Government cannot do that.
– At any rate, it has* been threatened.
– I want to know, also, whether that policy is or is not to be adopted. I urge the Government to bear in mind that the present is a time when our wheat crop should -not be sacrificed, as it would be, by following the procedure of enforcing realization as a consequence of an advance under the Rural Credits Act.
– What course would the honorable member advise?
– First of all, by some means or other, I would have the advance to the grower increased to at least the pitifully small amount of 2s. at sidings, instead of the ls. 4d. now proposed. I also suggest that the Commonwealth Government, by announcing through a Minister that a sales tax upon flour is impracticable, has adopted the policy of allowing the consumers of Australia to benefit by the misfortunes of the Australian wheat-grower.
– They are benefiting by the action of the Senate. ,
– That is a matter I have not the time to discuss now; but to compel the wheat-grower to sell wheat for local consumption at the present world’s parity price is a gross injustice, and some such expedient as a sales tax on flour should be adopted to permit of his getting at least 4s. a bushel for so much of his wheat as is used for local consumption. The State Governments are vitally interested financially in this matter. They have advanced millions of pounds to settlers, and they have means for appointing price-fixing tribunals, by which millers and bakers can be prevented from taking advantage of the present low- price of wheat to unduly increase their profits. Some one is making undue profits between the men who grow wheat and the consumers who buy bread, and if the Commonwealth Government has no constitutional power in some respects, it should at any rate, either by means of a reasonable sales tax or in some other way, put the price of wheat for local consumption at a reasonable level, while allowing the State Governments to see that the whole of the advance is not passed on to the consumers as it has been suggested may be done. It is a national necessity to-day to help the farmer. The problem is not the farmer’s alone, it is the nation’s. At a time when the farmer is up against things as he never was before, because of primage duties, sales taxes, embargoes, and customs schedules, such as the new duty on fencing wire, additional imposts have been heaped upon him. This is not fair. The wheat-growers are in a state of revolt. Let me read one telegram I have received among many. It is from Ultimo in my electorate, and reads as follows: -
Resolution passed unanimously at Ultimo. “AH wheat-growers pledge themselves to withhold wheat until the Government has fixed 5s. a bushel for local consumption.”
That is signed by the secretary _ to the Farmers’ Defence League. It is typical of the spirit of revolt that is spreading among the wheat-growers to-day, and if the Government does nothing, leaving the position where it is, the rural industries will experience the greatest financial crash this country has ever seen, and the farmers will bring down with them the storekeepers, the business men, the city warehouses and secondary industries. I emphasize the seriousness of the present position. I know the difficulties that Ministers have inherited as no other Government has, but pious resolutions and statements with regard to doing everything possible for the wheat-grower are useless. I give Ministers credit for having attempted to do something by means of the bill which was rejected by the Senate, but beyond that effort they have done nothing for the wheat-grower except to pile burdens upon him. It is time they took some steps to give the primary producer a fair deal.
.- The announcement made by the Commonwealth Bank Board with regard to an advance on wheat must cause this nation grave concern. I endorse the statement of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) that the actual price for delivery at country sidings will work out at about ls. 4fd. a bushel, which will considerably reduce the aggregate amount of money to be actually made available to the wheat-growing industry. After years of neglect, the Parliaments of Australia have come to a time when they must face the issue or court national disaster. For years the primary industries have been supporting speculative ventures in the commercial life of this country. It seems undeniable that the financial resources of Australia have been brought to such a stage- by the constant drain upon them by different governments, that industry is called upon to make every sacrifice to meet the extraordinary national position. There is. however, not the slightest doubt thai if there is no national organization established or national influence developed to prevent economic pressure being brought to bear upon the individual producer, he will be compelled to unload the whole of his products on a market that is already overloaded. That must be avoided. It is certain that, in accordance with the law of averages, an orderly system of marketing would, if established, confer benefits, not only on the farmers, but on the community as a whole. There has been an extraordinary decline in the price of primary products within recent months. According to figures published in the Quarterly Summary of Australian Statistics, the price of agricultural products, taking 1,000 as a base, fell from 1,600 to 1,384 between June and September of this year, and there has -been a very rapid decline since. Surely it should be possible to arrest that decline. If proper co-operative action were taken by the Commonwealth and State Parliaments, it should be possible to secure for the primary producers a better return than they have been receiving, without in any way exploiting the consumers. This matter has never been properly gone into, probably because, until recently, the seriousness of the position was not realized. The wheatfarmers have in the past contributed very materially towards the prosperity of Australia, and it is only reasonable that they should now receive some assistance from the community in their time of need. The necessary financial arrangements can surely be made by the Commonwealth Bank, the institution which was able to give unsecured credit up to ?20,000,000 in support of other industries. The parity price of wheat at Liverpool is 2s. 7Jd., and although I do not recognize Liverpool parity as authoritative, it should be possible for us to advance at least 2s. a bushel to the farmers here. The Commonwealth Bank has behind it the people of Australia, and, if through it a guaranteed price can be assured to the farmers, it will give them a feeling of security. To-day I received a communication from the representative of 300 storekeepers in New South Wales, stating that in many instances the liquidator was already in possession of their premises, and most of them were at their wits end to know how to carry on.
– Will not the moratorium do for them all that is necessary?
– It will cover them in respect of past debts ; but will not ensure necessary supplies to the farmers for the future.
– That is so. The time for merely looking on has passed, and some action is imperatively demanded of us. There should be established, through the co-operation of this Parliament and of the State Parliaments, an authoritative body able to speak for the wheat-growers as a whole, and in., a position to meet and overcome the difficulties with which they are confronted.
– I was impressed by the remarks of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons), and I believe with him that a solution of the difficulties confronting the primary producers can only be found in co-operative action by the Commonwealth and State Parliaments. I have given much thought to this matter for several years, and, if honorable members will look at the noticepaper, they will see’ there in my name a motion outlining the very same scheme now asked for by the honorable member for Calare. The Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney), in dealing with the wheat industry in Britain, came up against the difficulty which I sought to eliminate by the proposal contained in my motion. On the 3rd December, there appeared in the Sydney newspapers the following statement issued by Mr. Parker Moloney : -
Mr. Moloney revealed that Russian competition in wheat was still a matter for anxiety. He would discuss this, also the general position, with the Victorian Wheat Corporation representative later in the day. “ Requests have been made to me by American and Canadian interests to discuss wheat with them when in Canada. I am finding difficulty in my discussions from the fact that there is no organization in Australia to speak with one voice.”
That is the real trouble. There is no authority to speak with one voice. The Minister cannot speak on behalf of the organized producers of wheat, and, therefore, he is handicapped in his negotiations, and he will be helpless in discussing the matter later in Canada and
America. Neither this Parliament, nor any State Parliament, nor any organization, can speak for all of the wheatgrowers, and we cannot empower them to speak with one voice through a national organization until we induce the people to strike off the constitutional shackles that bind us. The sooner this Parliament endeavours to get power to permit producers to organize, control and market their own commodities the better. It is’ lime that, irrespective of party divisions, we united in advancing the principle enunciated by the motion standing in my name on the notice-paper -
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that action be taken to make possible an Australian Primary Producers’ Organization with complete sectional control of the internal and external marketing of each primary product, such control to be exercised exclusively by the organized producers of such commodity, which would enable the producers of any such commodity to speak with one voice and authority in regard to any arrangement which may be deemed by them to be necessary to conserve their interests by entering into agreements with other Overseas Primary Producers’ Marketing Organizations, and by such means secure an equitable return for any such commodity in the markets of the world.
– Order ! The honorable member has incautiously drawn my attention to the fact that a motion on this subject appears on the notice-paper. It is not permissible for an honorable member to anticipate business that is to come before the House, and the honorable member will not be in order in further discussing the merits of the proposal he has just mentioned.
– I shall not transgress further. I sincerely hope that an authority, which will be able to speak for all the wheat-growers of Australia will be established at an early date, because to-day we are in dire straits with wheat at the starvation price of 2s. a bushel. The trouble’ is not threatened, it is with us now, and we should immediately take steps to rectify it. The only means of doing that is to ask the people and the State Parliaments, at the earliest possible moment, to agree to remove those constitutional limitations which prevent us from giving to the producers the right so as to organize that they can speak with one voice.’ If that be done, they will be able to get from the Commonwealth Bank greater financial assistance, subject to the necessary guarantees, control the distribution and marketing of wheat throughout Australia, fix a reasonable price for local consumption, and handle the exportable portion in the markets overseas. To-day, the United States of America and Canada are endeavouring to control wheat prices in the world’s markets and to overcome the troubles that are due to market manipulation and speculation. If Australia and other wheat-growing countries join with them we may establish a system of orderly marketing, not only within the Commonwealth, but. in all markets of the world. I hope that this Parliament and the State Parliaments and the people will be willing to concede the necessary powers to the producers, so that they may- adopt the only course that will lead to an effective and permanent solution of their difficulties. I appeal to the Federal Government to ask for these powers.
.- The economic crisis that must inevitably develop in each of the wheat-growing
States, if nothing is done to provide for the growers at least some shelter from the disaster that threatens them, will be so serious that any expectation of balancing budgets this year or even next year will be impossible of realization. Upon the Government devolves the responsibility of devising some alternative to the Wheat Marketing Bill which was rejected in another place. It is not sufficient for Ministers to say that it made certain proposals, which were not carried out, and that there its policy ends. Economic bankruptcy threatens the industry, unless the heavy loss that is likely to be incurred in the marketing of this year’s harvest is borne by the nation as a whole instead of by the producers alone. It is obvious, having regard to the cost of production and other obligations, that the wheat-growers cannot profitably market their wheat at present prices. A loss in the realization of the crop seems inevitable. Is that loss to be borne by the nation or left on the shoulders of those who responded to the exhortation of the Commonwealth Government to grow more wheat? I do not agree that it was wrong to encourage more extensive production this season, but, as the response to that appeal is likely to involve serious financial loss, it is right that the whole community should share the burden. There should be, at least, some equality in the distribution of the burden. I siiggest this, not only because of its abstract justice, but also because, in the event of its not being attempted and indeed carried out more or less successfully, it is certain that, next year and probably also in the following year, the wheat industry of Australia will be practically valueless to the economic life of the nation. The implications, nationally and socially, and from the point of view of government finance, are so tremendous that any proposals which, at the moment, seem practicable, should not be looked at too censoriously. That is to say we should not regard them with too critical an eye, in. considering whether or not they are economically sound. Any remedy, however partial or imperfect it may appear to be, that is calculated to keep our wheat-growers upon their areas, and encourage them to continue their operations next winter, must be regarded as a contribution towards the speedier recovery of Australia economically. Any other contrary course will merely mean the prolongation of this period of depression. I put it to the Government with the utmost seriousness that it will not get within miles of budget equilibrium, if I may use the vernacular, unless immediate steps are taken to protect this, shall I say, our most important Australian industry. For my own part, I say quite frankly, as the representative of an industrial and residential community, that I can see nothing unfair in the Perkins plan. It seems to me quite legitimate to spread a share of the losses from the sale of wheat over the consumers in Australia. To my mind it is not a sufficient answer to say that the adoption of that proposal would mean an increase in the cost of living. I regard the cost of such essential commodities as bread, meat, or water, as a legitimate subsistence charge against the nation, and consider as beside the point any arguments intended to demonstrate that increased prices for them mean an increase in the cost of living. If it is considered equitable, and as a contribution towards finan cial equilibrium, to increase the price of tea, I see nothing illogical in at least making a contribution towards the protection of the wheat-growing industry by an increase in the price of bread, even if the adoption of the Perkins plan will mean that, which I do not admit. It appears to me to be monstrous that there should be such a tremendous disparity between the price of wheat in Australia, and the price of bread to our people. Even if the Perkins scheme would mean an’ increase in the cost of living, I should feel justified in advocating the plan before any intelligent community, because of the enormous economic consequences to the nation if some effort is not made to enable the wheat industry to carry on. One other suggestion is that the Commonwealth should approach the States, which have sovereign authority, with a proposal to purchase the wheat crop on such terms as may subsequently be devised. It may be practicable for the Commonwealth and the States, conjointly, topurchase the Australian wheat crop, provided the State Parliaments pass the requisite legislation to constitute marketing authorities. In view of the early approach of Christmas, and the fact that this Parliament, as well as the State legislatures, will probably be dispersing soon, it seems to me that this scheme would involve delay, and that, in the end, nothing would be done.
– Wheat is being marketed already in some of the States.
– I know it is. Consequently, it would be of no use to now ask State Parliaments to pass legislation to constitute wheat-marketing authorities. I, therefore, suggest that the Government should seriously reconsider the practicability ofcarrying out the Perkins plan.
.- I support the suggestion made by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). We may differ from him as regards certain phases of the wheat industry, but we are all agreed about the need for prompt action to enable our wheat-growers to carry on until next year. I agree with the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) that a definite period of time must be allowed for the giving of effect to schemes such as those suggested by the honorable member for
Calare (Mr. Gibbons) and the Honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). I am not clear as to what is implied in their references to co-operation between the wheat-farmers of Australia and wheatgrowers in other countries. I have in my hand a copy of the American Review of Reviews for September, 1930, containing the report of an interview with Mr. A. H. Legge, chairman of the Farm Relief Board. In the course of his statement, Mr. Legge said -
Since there is no hope for a foreign market, and no possibility of defeating the law of supply and demand, it behoves the farmer to face the difficulty resolutely, fully determined to overcome it. If it costs the farmer more to raise his products than he can sell them for, he is doomed to failure. He must either reduce the cost of production or increase the sales price.
Mr. Legge then referred to certain classes of industry in which he thought it might be possible to reduce production costs, but we know from experience in Australia that this is a very long process. When asked for a suggestion to raise the market prices for primary production, Mr. Legge said -
The only way is to cut the supply until it does not exceed the demand. The farmer must survey the market. We will survey it for him. He must determine how much of his commodity is needed, and cut his acreage sufficiently to supply only that demand.
In Australia we cannot afford to cut our acreage. On the contrary, we must devise some means by which we can keep it up, because our financial stability depends entirely upon the successful sale of our commodities overseas. Two suggestions have been made for the relief of our farmers. One is the adoption of the Perkins plan, and the other, which was mentioned by the honorable member for Wimmera, is the unpegging of the exchange. As to the latter, governments have some moral responsibility; but under present conditions exchange is controlled by the . Commonwealth and associated banks. On this point Mr. Buckland, the chairman of the Bank of New South Wales, in his address to the shareholders at the last annual meeting, said -
The rationing of customers, by which of late banks have sought to restrain the purchase of sterling, has been due to a reluctance to raise the rate, j at which , the Commonwealth Government buys the Condon money needed to pay the overseas interest and other national charges. In this they have responded to the lead of the Commonwealth Bank and have honoured the exchange agreement.
That is a practical admission that the export industries are being taxed to the extent to which exchange is pegged for the ‘benefit of the Commonwealth Govern- ment. A day or two ago I asked the Acting Treasurer whether the Government had made representations to the Commonwealth Bank on this subject, and he said that it had not. I did not follow the matter up by asking whether representations had been made to the bank that it should not peg the exchange. It is unlikely that that has been done. Perhaps the Minister will supply information on that point. To-day the wheat industry is tottering for a crash. If disaster overtakes it, many growers will be ruined; but the ruin of the growers will not be as permanent as the suffering that will be inflicted upon the people in the cities. I urge the Ministry, if it feels disposed to dismiss the case of the wheat-growers with an economic tear, and pass on to its other caucus problems, to contemplate the havoc that may be wrought in city constituencies as a result of the ruin toward which it is allowing the farmers to drift.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– The “Perkins” plan, and the unpegging of the exchange.
– Are both those things desired ?
– The unpegging of the exchange is something to which the industry has a perfect right.
– If the Commonwealth Bank is adopting its present policy to help the Government, there cannot be much doubt that if the Government made representations to the bank it would discontinue it. Since the hour is late, I shall not pursue the matter further at the present time; but I urge the Acting Prime Minister and the Government to give it consideration.
.- It is rather late in the day for the Opposition to be making a scene over the plight of the wheat-growers. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) supports the establishment of a wheat pool, and I maintain that the only way in which the growers can escape from their present difficulty is by handling and marketing their own wheat under a pooling system. This Government stated some time ago that it could guarantee the farmers the price of 4s. a bushel. It obtained an assurance from the Commonwealth Bank to that effect, and I believe that that payment could be made. A proposal to that effect was embodied in a bill which was passed by this House and rejected in another place. If the measure had been accepted by the other branch of the legislature, the Commonwealth Bank could have financed the wheat scheme, and paid 4s. a bushel, without great loss, to the growers throughout the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) laughs. I defy the wheat experts and financial authorities sitting on the. Opposition benches to show that a wheat pool based on the handling by the growers of their own products for the next five years would not return them 4s. a bushel. Wheat is one of the staple products of this country, and if it is not marketable, along with wool, then, as sure as night follows day, this country will crash.
– What is the honorable member going to do about it?
– If the honorable member will restrain himself, I shall submit a suggestion which may be acceptable to the farmers, if not to the “ intelligentzia “ on the Opposition benches.
Under the system of marketing pools in operation in Queensland to-day, the wheat-growers of that State are receiving 4s. a bushel for their crop. Bread costs 4¾d. per 2-lb loaf, delivered to the doors of the people, the price being fixed by a board in Brisbane. That is the answer to those who say that this country would have gone bankrupt if the proposal to finance a Commonwealth wheat pool had been put into effect. The scheme was not to be financed by the Government, but by a pool through the Commonwealth Bank. The Commonwealth Bank Board said that it could have financed the scheme and paid 4s. a bushel. I maintain that representatives of the State Departments of Agriculture should be summoned by the. Acting Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Forde) with the object of inviting the wheat-growers to agree to the establishment of a pool for five years for the marketing of their products, negotiable certificates to be issued to the growers on the delivery of their wheat. Such a proposal could be discussed by the men actually engaged in the production of wheat, and they could accept or reject it as they chose. A wheat pool could be established, and a price of 3s. a bushel paid over the next five years. The price of wheat may be 4s. a bushel next year, and that would give a margin of1s. a bushel to cover losses. During the next five years, owing to world marketconditions, a certain number of growers will be forced out of business, as happened in the cattle industry from 1919 until a year ago. During the latter period, it was unprofitable to raise cattle, but to-day the industry is coming into its own again. I do not favour the application of the sales tax to wheat, because it would work unfairly in those States operating a pool and would increase the price of bread at a time when this should not be necessary.
During war periods, and in other national crises, means are devised for overcoming difficulties such as are now being experienced in connexion with the wheat industry. Australia has an exportable surplus this year of 160,000,000 bushels, and we shall use, say, 40,000,000 bushels for home consumption. A guarantee of 3s. a bushel for export and 5s. a bushel for home consumption would enable bread to be sold all over Australia for 5d. a loaf. It would return 80,000,000 shillings, which, on 160,000,000 bushels, would mean an additional 6d. a bushel to the producer, or a total of 3s. 6d. a bushel for our exportable surplus. The price of bread is fixed in Queensland, and at Mount Isa, which is about 1,400 miles inland, a loaf is sold at the same price as at some places on the coast, despite the fact that freight amounting to £14 a ton is incurred on the flour railed from the seaboard, making the total cost of a ton of flour at that centre £23. The people there pay 6d. a loaf, which is the price charged in many of the coastal cities of Queensland.
During the next five years we shall witness many changes. is ridiculous to say, “ Reduce wages,” and believe that that will be an end of the matter. There will have to be a reduction in the cost of distribution and, no doubt, of production. Land values must fall, and taxation aud interest rates must be reduced. There are some who say, “ Christmas is upon us. Let us wait and see what happens “. The people of Australia are paying over 600 politicians to safeguard their interests, and if we fail to do something which will enable the farmer to market his grain we shall be giving to the taxpayers a very poor return for the cost of government. Honorable members talk about the manipulation of the finances of the banks bringing about inflation. I submit that the issue of negotiable certificates, such as I have suggested, would not bring about inflation; that the scheme that I have outlined would return to our wheatgrowers 3s. 6d. on their exportable surplus.
The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) said that the Government was interfering with the administration of the Commonwealth Bank, and. had caused it to peg the exchange rate in order to give the Government an advantage in the matter of its securities and loans. Others have claimed that the Commonwealth Bank is dictating the policy of the Government. The Labour party was responsible for the creation of that bank, and I contend that the bank should be used in the national interests, not in the interests of the capitalistic section of the community. It should be used to finance the -staple products of the country. Our wheat and wool industries are crumbling. I warn honorable members that with them must crumble the city industries, in which case the country will teem with unemployed. The banks say that they have riot got any money. What has become of it? If wo allow the wheat harvest of Australia to rot, will that return us any more money? On the other hand, the scheme that I have outlined will augment the finances of Australia, and is capable of achievement without any alteration of our Constitution. If wheat for local consumption were sold for 5s. a bushel, the price of bread could still be reduced and fixed at 5d. to the consumer. That has been proved in Queensland, where a price-
AO. Riordan. fixing act permits profits on essentials to the extent of 15 per cent. A good deal of the trouble is attributable to poor methods of distribution. In Brisbane, where I live, I have seen the vehicles of two or three bakers supplying the needs of those in my own- street - American motor cars, fueled with American petrol, and lubricated with American oils! The cost of that has to be borne by the worker and the man who tills the soil; by those who complied with the. request of the Government to “ Grow more wheat.” And now they are to be offered a mere two bob f.o.b. per bushel of wheat. If I were a farmer, and could not get a price equal to the cost of production, I would burn my wheat and join the throng of unemployed in the cities rather than go to the trouble of harvesting it. Then would come about what the banks of this country are working for so strenuously, the destruction of our social system.
.- The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) reminded me of a man lecturing to a drowning man on the art of swimming. We do not want to know about what should be done in. future; we have to cope with the pressing needs of the moment. The position is appalling, and prompt action must be taken. Too long have honorable members on both sides been asking the Government to make a pronouncement of what it proposes to do.
There are only one or two ways in which the Government can give satisfactory assistance to the wheatgrowers, and the most feasible is that which has been suggested by Professor Perkins, a sales tax on flour used for local consumption. The Acting Minister for Trade and Customs claims that that would be impracticable, as it might increase the cost of bread by Id. or 2d. a loaf. Similar reasoning discloses that the acceptance of the Government’s Wheat Marketing Bill would have involved an additional 7d. per 4-lb. loaf to the people of Australia. I cannot conceive why the Government does not bring forward some scheme which will guarantee the farmer a more satisfactory price for his wheat. I agree with the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) that we are in a most dangerous position. I am receiving letter after letter and telegram after telegram from Western Australia, where a certain combination of growers has resolved not to transport its wheat to the railway. That, of course, would be foolish, because it would mean that the farmers would get nothing at all for their industry.
– But the threat is indicative of what is in the minds of the farmers.
– Exactly. The farmers are beginning to think that the Government desires to export their wheat and sell it overseas merely to obtain advantage of the exchange rate and give nothing in return. I desire to see the Government do two things. First, let it introduce a sales tax on. flour. I know that the present financial position of the country precludes the granting of a bounty on production; but I am more than justified in asking for this sacrifice on the part of the people in the cities. For the past five or six years Government after Government has increased the cost of everything required by the man on the land. Those who grow wheat and wool have paid the bills and provided the financial subsistence of the rest, of Australia.
– The Government was prepared to guarantee 4s. a bushel. Why the need for a sales tax?
– I am not asking for is. a bushel. If the sales tax on locallyconsumed flour were imposed, as has been proposed, it would add 6½d. or 7d. a bushel to the price of wheat; and if the exchange were unpegged it would still further assist the farmers. After the conference between the representatives of the financial institutions and the Treasury, as Senator Colebatch pointed out a few days ago. letters were sent by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to all the large exporting houses that were likely to exercise the privilege of setting up their own exchanges, not at the request of the Commonwealth Bank, but at the request of the Prime Minister, asking them to put their exchange through the banks at the rates fixed. The concluding paragraph of that letter stated that unless the exporters did what they were asked to do, the Government would be compelled to take other steps. In other words, it would commandeer the wheat and use, for government purposes, the money obtained through the operation of the exchanges. I speak specifically for the wheat-growers of Australia who are opening up new country. These unfortunate farmers have been compelled to pay from 50 per cent. to 70 per cent. more for their commoditiesbecause of the assistance givenby governments to the parasitical crowd which lives on the primary producers, and it is only fair that in the time of their grave trial they should be granted this extra assistance..
– What does the honorable member mean by “parasitical crowd”?
– I mean those who have benefited by the extraordinarily heavy duties imposed on manufactured products.
– Does the honorable member mean the manufacturers? Mr. GREGORY.- Yes ; and the sheltered class in the community which enjoys high wages under Arbitration Court and Wages Board awards.
– Then I shall have a word to say presently for these so-called parasites.
– The primary producers have been legally robbed year after year through the imposition of these high duties. I know that there is an inclination among the farmers to refuse to grow wheat next year; but the farmers of Western Australia cannot afford to take that course. I do not know by what ways and means they will be able to sow their seed next year ; but it is essential that the Government should give them some assistance now to counter-balance the disaster caused by the collapse of the wheat market. The country owes a great deal to its farmers. Honorable members on both sides of the House have appealed to the Government to do something to assist this unfortunate class in the community, and I sincerely hope that we shall hear something more from the Ministry than that “ The matter is being considered “.
If sales taxation is imposed on flour there might be an increase in the price of bread, though there is no need why there should be.Not long ago bread was being sold in Coburg at 5d. and 5½d. a 4-lb. loaf.
– The millers -at the conference said that the price of bread would be increased if sales taxation were imposed on flour. The Commonwealth Government has no power to fix prices.
– The State Governments have the power to do so.
– Only one State has the machinery to do it.
– Even if there were an increase in the price of bread in consequence of the imposition of such taxation, it would not make bread any dearer than it would have been had the Government’s proposed guarantee of 4s. a bushel for wheat at railway sidings been adopted. I urge the Government to give this assistance to the primary producers, who have been so seriously hit this year. It is necessary for us to export produce to the value of £36,000,000 annually, towards the meeting of our interest bill, and the people responsible for this production should have this small measure on consideration in the time of their severe trial.
.- I believe that every honorable member of the House is most anxious that the Commonwealth Loan, now on the market, should be a success. But it will be necessary for us to obtain £500,000 a day from now until the loth December if we are to obtain the £28,000,000 required by the Government. We all hope that a sum largely in excess to this amount will be received. To-day I asked the Acting Prime Minister upon notice -
His reply was as follows : -
I appeal to every honorable member, irrespective of party considerations, to support the loan.
– The honorable member can count me out straight away.
– I am sorry for that.
– I intend never to participate in a loan of this kind.
– Notwithstanding the honorable member’s remark, I still hope that honorable members on all sides of the House will do their utmost to ensure the success of the loan. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition will endorse my appeal. If the Leader of the Country party were here, I am sure that he would do so; but in his absence, I confidently anticipate the support of the Deputy Leader of the party.
.- (by leave) - The honorable member for Melbourne intimated to me that he intended to make an appeal for wholehearted support of the loan. I most heartily and cordially endorse the appeal. Members of Parliament, officers of the Public Service, and members of the general public, should all subscribe to the loan; all who are identified with Commonwealth activities should subscribe to it to the utmost of their ability. I consider that the credit of the Commonwealth is largely bound up with the success of the loan. It, therefore, is the duty of all who love their country to do their best to make it a success.
.- Touching on the piteous and pathetic appeal that has just been made to the patriotism of the people, and the request that they should still further embroil themselves in interest payments, I wish to say that the honorable member for Melbourne, who made the appeal, should know, and the Leader of the Opposition who supported it, is, in my opinion, quite satisfied, that the loan will be oversubscribed.
– I shall be glad if it is.
– The financial interests dare not let it fail. They will further consolidate their position by oversubscribing it. I did not think that this matter would be brought before the House by means of a piteous appeal to honorable members, but that it would be introduced and dealt with in a statesmanlike manner. The honorable member for
Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) would have us do nothing to cure the paralysis that is attacking the body politic. I cannot sit here and listen to him without uttering my protest, as I did when that paralysis first made its appearance.
The other matter which has been referred to is to me more vital because it relates to the productivity of the country and the results that will accrue to those who have answered their country’s call and produced more wheat. We are now asked to manipulate the most magnificent harvest we have ever reaped. The Almighty has so blessed this country that the harvest which we shall reap this year will constitute a record. Yet, instead of concerning ourselves with seeing that the people shall be better fed and able to look forward confidently to the approaching season with which peace and goodwill are generally associated, in a joyous recognition of the bounty of Providence, we are asked how we can manipulate the harvest so that those who have produced it are not left stranded as a result of their efforts. The position that confronts us in relation to wheat has to be faced also in the case of every other product that this country seeks to produce.
– But not to the same extent.
– To a greater extent. It is not on values that a man feeds himself. He wants bread, not the price of a loaf of bread; he wants meat, not the price of a joint of meat. If the harvest is an abundant one all the people should be better off because of it. I believe that those who produce food are entitled to eat it. Providence has been good to us in that we have the promise of an abundant harvest, but the man-made financial system under which we live is being manipulated to such an extent that the time of this Parliament is being taken up with piteous pleas to the Government to do something for the farmers. Notwithstanding that they will reap more than they expected, they are faced with ruin. Ruin in the midst of plenty! What an anachronism ! What a commentary on our civilization that the more we produce the more we work our own undoing! Yet that is the position which confronts us. We plead with the Govern ment to do something immediately or the most serious results will follow. How often have honorable members opposite said that it is not the duty of governments to interfere in industry; that their function is to govern, not to trade? What is wrong with allowing those who control the harvest also to market it? Why should they go down on their knees to the Government asking for something to be done?
– We should let the farmers buy and sell in the markets of the world.
– That is where the Government comes in. It is the duty of the Government to see that advantage is not taken of the position in other countries. Honorable members opposite are inconsistent ; when it suits .them they urge the Government to interfere in industry, whereas at other times they condemn it for interfering.
The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) suggested that the Government should unpeg the exchange rate; yet, according to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), the exchange was pegged at the request of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank.
– At the request of the Government.
– That may be so. It is now suggested that the Government should demand the unpegging of the exchange. The honorable member for Gippsland shakes his head; but did he not say that he wanted the exchange unpegged? When a bill dealing with the establishment of a reserve bank is before us, honorable members opposite claim that the Commonwealth Bank must be sacrosanct and free from government influence; but when they consider that it is necessary to deal with exchange they demand that the bank be forced to unpeg the exchange. I am aware that the bank functions according to the policy of its directorate. I know also that in 1924 the right to draw notes to the value of £15,000,000 was given to the banks. Had those notes been drawn, then, there would have been no talk of inflation, notwithstanding that the note issue would have been increased by £15,000,000. At times the .Government is condemned for not stepping into the breach j at other times it is condemned for doing so. I was a member of the Federal Executive of the Labour party during the war period when wheat was sold overseas at 5s. 3d. a bushel. Because of a protest the price was forced down to 4s. 9d. a bushel for home consumption. We were then devising ways and means to tide the Commonwealth over a critical period. We knew that exploitation would take place, and we wanted to protect the farmer as much as we protected the workers, whom the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has described as a parasitical crowd which battens on the farmers. Later, the honorable member said that he referred to the manufacturers and trade unionists in sheltered industries. I shall show what the trade unionists proposed at the time to which I refer. They proposed that the farmer should be paid award rates for himself and those members of his family who were engaged in the production of wheat, that the price of wheat for home consumption should be fixed on that basis, and that the Government should use its best endeavours to market the surplus. That proposal was along the lines of the Paterson butter scheme and the sugar embargo. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) asks that the price of wheat for home consumption be fixed at 5s. a bushel. He maintains that if that were done the position of the farmers would be relieved and we could satisfactorily market the balance. Something of that nature has been proposed by honorable members on this side. The Labour party believes in organized marketing and in placing the burden of taxation on the shoulders of the whole community rather than on a section of the people- The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) favoured Professor Perkins’s scheme, which is to spread the loss over the whole of the consumers. That would mean an increase in the price of bread, for which the consumers would have to pay. It can be passed on to them, but when I suggest that we should do something, which is perhaps unorthodox, to give relief to 250,000 unemployed people, I am told that the suggestion is impracticable. This will be the third Christmas which many unemployed will have to spend without sufficient means to buy necessaries of life. My suggestions are not given ordinary consideration ; they are ridiculed in the leading articles of practically every newspaper in Australia. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is given publicity in the press so that my arguments may be belittled. If the press would give me the opportunity, I should have no difficulty in knocking out’, the honorable member’s arguments. Early in the session, the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) realized that there was a chance of balancing the budget and of meeting the obligations to which our capitalistic system had committed us, if the farmers would put their shoulders to the Wl,heel and ensure a bountiful harvest. We did not want the farmers to be exploited, so we proposed a wheat marketing scheme, which, unfortunately, was opposed violently by the majority of honorable members opposite, and defeated iu the Senate. The wheat merchants issued circulars urging honorable members not to support the Wheat Marketing Bill. What have they to say now? The following statement is taken from a circular issued by the Adelaide Corn and Produce Exchange, and signed by G. G. Nicholls, secretary : -
This exchange feels that it would lie neglecting a public duty if it failed to protest against any such unwarranted legislative interference with trade, mid to warn you that any such interference is likely to precipitate a still more grave and acute financial crisis than exists at present, which will of necessity react disastrously upon the whole community in general and upon producers in particular.
When this Government proposed a scheme which would enable the farmers to obtain a profit on this year’s harvest, it was strenuously opposed by the farmers’ representatives, including the Adelaide Corn and Produce Exchange.
– That exchange is noi representative of the farmers.
– In any case, it has not been denied by the farmers or their representatives. In my State, farmers finance committees were formed, and men travelled throughout the country agitating against the proposals of the Government. Although the honorable member for Wimmera may deny that the Adelaide Corn and Produce Exchange represents the farmers, yet we must accept it as an authoritative body, with some connexion with the primary producers. The honorable member will not deny that Bunge Proprietary Limited, Dalgety and Company Limited, John Darling and Sons, and Louis Dreyfus and Company, are entities in the marketing of wheat as between the producers and the consumer overseas.
– I deny that those companies are farmers’ representatives.
– At any rate, they have a big influence upon the majority of the farmers, and it was their influence that was responsible for another place getting the “ wind up “ and rejecting the Wheat Marketing Bill, although the solo object of that measure was to assist the farmers. The following extract, is taken from a circular issued by the firms . I have mentioned, and I must admit that its most illuminating : -
We are quite able and willing to supply all the money required to pay for Australia’s next wheat harvest, even if three times the normal area were planted. We use our own money, brought from abroad mostly by telegraphic transfer, so that we do not place any strain on the Australian banks and other financial institutions. We are also prepared, as is customary with us, and as we did last season, to make advances to farmers who do not wish to sell for spot cash at the beginning of the season. Our advances are generally made at a lower rate of interest than is being paid by the Commonwealth Government for loan money, and they are regulated, of course (as all such advances should be), by the market for wheat overseas.
It is quite evident from that statement that the wheat merchants were at that time able to finance Australian wheat harvests without in any way interfering with the money market here. What is wrong with the Commonwealth Bank and the other banks? I always thought that borrowed money came out here in the shape of goods; but that is evidently not the case. Money is sent out here by telegraphic transfer. All that is necessary isa tap, tap, tap in London, the vibration of a few wires and a tap, tap, tap in Australia, and, hey presto! £40,000,000 is available for financing our wheat harvest. Oh,ye hypocrites!
– Order !
– I am referring to those who are responsible for the issue of that circular, and those who subscribe to it. They are hypocrites and pharisees. This nation has never been better off, and, paradoxically, has never been worse oft. if I refrained from raising my voice in protest against the inaction of the Government to relieve the poverty and misery which the unemployed have suffered during the last twelve months, I should not be worth my job. This is not a question of the harvest. We have wheat, meat and dried fruits in plenty, yet, when I go home to Adelaide, I find that 25 per cent. of the people of that State are either starving or on the breadline. It is a shame. The farmers should not be exploited any more than the city workers. They should have the assistance of this Parliament to tide thorn over their troubles. We should rescue them from the clutches of the wheat merchants, who can, by telegraphic transfer, without unpegging any exchange, hold them in the palm of their hands and juggle with them, as I said the other day, as treasurers juggle with deficits and surpluses. Unless something is done for the unemployed, at the same time as we assist the fanner, I shall continue to raise my voice in protest. We should hark back to theday when the boot was put into the usurers, and they were told to “get out,” because they were turning the temple of God into a den of thieves.
– I wish to add a few words regarding the tremendous and unprecedented difficulties facing those who are engaged in the wheat industry. I remind the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fen ton of the request submitted to him last week by a deputation consisting of members of the three parties in both branches of the legislature. The members of that deputation did not merely inform the Acting Prime Minister that something should be done for the wheat-growers, but suggested that the only practical way to assist them at this juncture-the harvest is already being gathered and it. is impossible to introduce special legislation - was by adopting the proposal brought forward at the conference by Professor Perkins, of South Australia. That is, 1 contend, the only policy which can be adopted at present, as under it there is no necessity for the State Parliaments to intervene.
– I understand that it would merely necessitate the passage of a bill imposing a sales tax upon flour.
– And for the payment of a bounty on wheat.
– It is unnecessary at this stage to go into details; but I do not think there are any insurmountable difficulties in connexion with the pro,posal. We have been informed that the Government rejected that proposal because it might result in increasing the price of bread to the consumer.
– That was one of the reasons.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister and the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport if they think the people of Australia have the right to obtain from the farmers a commodity at a price which will involve an enormous percentage of the wheat-growers in bankruptcy.
– I believe that if the Upper Houses of the State Parliaments would pass price-fixing legislation, as was. done by the Queensland Parliament to fix the price of bread, there would be no objection to the imposition of a sales tax.
– That may be so. Other suggestions involved an amendment of the Constitution, which would take a considerable time. As there is need for immediate action, I submit that the most practical means by which real assistance can be given to the wheatgrowers is to adopt the proposal submitted by Professor Perkins. Even if the scheme he suggested involves some slight increase in the price of bread - I do not think it would, seeing that the margin between the price of bread and that of wheat is now so great as to be indefensible - the consumers should not object. Any increase in the price of bread would not be greater than would have followed the passage through both Houses of the Wheat Marketing Bill. I urge the Acting Prime Minister and the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport to again bring the proposal I have mentioned before Cabinet.
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.- Latham), and to express the hope that every member of the community who is able to do so will assist to make the Conversion Loan the success we hope it may be.
– I support the remarks of those who are urging the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank to review the decisions given in connexion with the financing of the wheat crop. I hope that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank will realize the tremendous responsibility cast upon them in this matter. They should remember that the bank is guaranteed by the Commonwealth Government, which has the whole of the resources of this great continent behind it. If the directors of the Commonwealth Bank fail to utilize their power to the greatest possible extent in assisting the wheat-growers during a great national crisis they stand condemned, and the Government should take the necessary action to deal with the matter.
– In what way ?
– Surely the Government has sufficient constitutional authority to prevent the ruin of thousands of those engaged in one of the most important primary industries in Australia. No one can deny that if the situation that has developed within the last few months is not handled with courage and sympathy a tremendous financial crisis will follow. The party of which I am a member cannot be blamed for the position which has arisen in the farming industry. The Labour party’s policy, which it endeavoured to bring into effect, provides for the establishment of wheat pools, and a guaranteed price at least equal to the cost of production. The people of Australia have no right to expect any man to produce a primary commodity at less than the cost of production, and I believe they do not want him to do so. I regret to find that honorable members opposite who so strenuously opposed the Wheat Marketing Bill, and who went out of their way to stiffen the opposition to its passage in another place, are now complaining of the inactivity of the Government. Those honorable members, and many of the farmers, unfortunately, believed the wheat ^merchants who said that the farmers would secure a fair price for their wheat, that ample funds would be available for its purchase, and that they would do better in the open market than under a compulsory pooling system with a guarantee. I can appreciate the point of view of the man who honestly believes that an open market is the best and who is prepared to stand by the result of such action; but I cannot understand a person who knows anything about the matter, conscientiously saying that an open market in connexion with primary products is to be preferred to the compulsory pooling system, backed by the guarantee of at least the cost of production. The great difficulty of all who are on the land has always been to obtain the cost of production. I have had considerable experience of this matter, because I have been reared on the land, and have witnessed the struggles of my neighbours in this connexion. Nothing is more pathetic than the plight of a farmer who cannot find a market for his produce at other than a sacrificial price. It is quite possible that the wheat merchants who are handling the present season’s crop may find themselves unable to finance the purchase of the whole of the crop even at the meagre price that is ruling to-day. No language is strong enough to condemn those who went out into the country and opposed the establishment of the proposed wheat pool in Australia. I regret to say that some men who were placed on the board of the Commonwealth Bank by honorable members who now sit opposite were in the ranks of those who led the opposition to the pool. It is hardly to be expected that those who then opposed us will now do anything to assist the country to escape .from the position in which it finds itself. It would appear that these men have been the emissaries of the wheat merchants and the market riggers. The wheat-buyers were so strongly represented in the councils of our opponents that they were able to persuade even the nominees of the Government on the Commonwealth Bank Board to go out and oppose the creation of a pool.
– Does the honorable gentleman suggest that 4s. a bushel could have been paid this year1? “ That was a cock-and-bull story!
– I do not know whether the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) intends that statement to be taken seriously. I have a distinct recollection 8f the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) making the authoritative statement that the Commonwealth Bank Board had considered the matter and had agreed to finance the pool on that ‘basis. Although that statement was repeated many times in this chamber, as well as in the Senate, there was no denial by individual members of the board that the guarantee had been given. It is not for us to say where the bank would get the money to finance a pool, that is the bank’s business; but it is undeniable that the Government was definitely promised the guarantee.-
– That is very doubtful.
– That statement is unworthy of a member of this Parliament, though the canard was sedulously broadcast with the object of deceiving the farmers into voting, against the pool. Unfortunately, many of those men have to be saved to-day from the consequences of the actions of their so-called leaders.
– Place the correspondence on the table, so that we can see it.
– It may be that there is no correspondence. But will the honorable gentleman deny that Sir Robert Gibson interviewed the Prime Minister in regard to the matter ?
– Oh, no; that is another story.
– Does the honorable gentleman believe that Sir Robert Gibson would allow the Prime Minister to misrepresent him in connexion with a matter of such vital importance? If he would, he is not fit to hold his present position. If it were merely a personal matter, he might overlook it and say that it was not worthy of consideration; but, being a matter that concerned the interests of every person in the community, it was his duty to take notice if the bank was being misrepresented. It ill becomes members of the Opposition to doubt the word of the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Markets and Transport, given deliberately in this chamber.
I believe that an effort should be made, in co-operation with the States, to remove from the market in Australia at least one year’s supply of wheat. A very large area of the land that was put under crop this year, will not be available .next year. In many of the districts that I have the honour to represent, there is very little fallow left for this year. If we have a bad season next year, it is certain that we shall be down in our wheat, production many millions of bushels. I have always advocated the storing of, at. least, twelve months’ supply of wheat, in view of the droughts that are likely to occur, extending over two, three, or four years. The district in which 1 was born and reared has an average annual rainfall of 29 inches, yet crops were below average in five succeeding years. No one can say that we shall not have similar droughts over a. large area and for extended periods in the future.
I contend that it is the duty of the Commonwealth Bank Board, seeing that the bank has the guarantee of the Commonwealth behind it, to apply its energies towards a solution of the problem with which we are faced. It should endeavour, in cooperation with the State and Federal Governments, to finance the acquisition, at a reasonable figure, of a year’s supply of wheat for local requirements. The current year’s supply for local consumption should be made available at a figure that is not below the cost of production - somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4s. a bushel. A meeting of the Loan Council should be convened at the earliest possible moment; and, as soon as the loan that is now on the market has been dealt with, a further loan should be raised for the special purpose of financing the wheat-growers, so that they may remain on the land.
– I call attention to the state of the House.
– That is not fair, considering the importance of the debate. I urge the honorable member to withdraw his call for a quorum.
– We on this side have been gagged too often.
– I point out. to honorable members that it has been ruled that, a quorum having been called for, there can be no withdrawal.
– I hope that the primary producers of Australia will note the fact that a Nationalist member has tried to prevent discussion upon their present difficulties. I repeat and emphasize that the Loan Council should be called together at the earliest possible moment, in order to go into the question of raising a local loan for the purpose of financing nien on the land. It is unfortunate that constitutional difficulties hamper the Commonwealth Government. The fact that the primary producers are to-day in a position in which neither the Commonwealth Government nor the State Governments, acting independently, can bc of much service to them, should more than anything else induce them to vote for unification.
– The Federal Government is pushing Western Australia out of federation.
– The honorable member said that Western Australia did not want a wheat pool, and now he is complaining of the disabilities of the primary producers of his State because of the low prices prevailing. He has always been most illogical. He has always opposed anything of a progressive nature, and wails over the disabilities of his State. He and his colleagues in another place have been particularly inconsistent in regard to the wheat question. I hope that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank will realize the tremendous responsibility which rests upon them, and that they will give sympathetic consideration to the representations made on behalf of the primary producers in this chamber that more assistance should he given than the bank appears to be prepared to give up to date.
.- I rise merely to draw attention to the real matter at issue. References as to what occurred six months ago are useless. Assistance to the farmers in their present crisis is the matter that demands immediate action if this Parliament is capable of doing anything to meet the situation. It is useless to try to .place the responsibility upon the Commonwealth Bank Board. I agree with the last speaker that 2s. a bushel, which, it is said, will be paid by the board, is a very small contribution, and not a very’ useful one, and I hope ti ** the Acting Prime
Minister (Mr. Fenton) and the other members of the Cabinet will use whatever influence they have to try to obtain an even better contribution. But it must be remembered that the Government’s funds at the present juncture arc very largely represented by the bank’s funds. The capacity of the Government to assist the farmers depends upon the capacity of the bank to assist them. If the assistance which the bank can give is limited to the extent of the offer already made, the financial ability of the Government to assist is limited to the same extent. While, therefore, I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will do what he can with the bank in this connexion, I wish again to remind him and Ministers that the Perkins scheme which has been put forward offers very good prospects of affording some useful assistance to the farmers by spreading a little of the hardship of the present situation over the whole of the people of Australia. It is not too late for the Government to reconsider the scheme, if it is desirous of giving assistance to the fanners. With soma little trouble, no doubt, the details could be worked out.
M r. Morgan. - When the sales tax bills were going through, we were assured that a sales tax was comparatively easy to administer.
– Quite so. If there is a desire to assist the farmers, the details can be worked out without great difficulty.
– The distribution of the bounty would create the difficulty.
– I daresay that there would be difficulties; but in such matters difficulty is generally associated witli the getting of something to distribute rather than with the actual distribution. Before we meet again after Christmas, I hope that the Government will realize what is likely to happen to Australia if the farmers go out of business. If we cannot profitably produce wheat in Australia, the crash, which every one knows is threatening, will be precipitated, and what will be thought of Ministers if they do absolutely nothing for the wheatfanners and allow that crash to come?
– The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), who originated the debate this afternoon on this allimportant question of the position of the wheat-farmers in Australia, has always, along with other honorable members representing wheat-growing districts, taken a very keen interest in the subject. But I think every one realizes the importance of the wheat-growing industry to Australia; at any rate, every member of the Ministry docs. Every one deplores the fact that the industry is in such a parlous condition to-day, mainly because the bottom has fallen out of the wheat market. The price of wheat is lower today than it has been at any time in the last 36 years. . That is a matter which is entirely beyond our control, but unfortunately, it happens at a time when the prices of other commodities - wool, butter, sugar, dried fruits, wine, beef, and everything we export to the other side of the world - have fallen. Furthermore, the Government is being asked to assist this industry by the payment of a bounty, when, not long ago, it came into office with an empty treasury and an accumulated deficit of £5,000,000, and it is faced with requests from berry fruit-growers, soft fruitgrowers, canned fruits and dried fruits people, and quite a number of other sections of primary producers for bounties to enable them to get a reasonable return for their products. Taking a broad view of all these industries, their position presents a very formidable difficulty, a fact which I believe the honorable member for Wimmera and other fairminded representatives of primary producers appreciate. Immediately after it came into office the Government showed its practical sympathy with wheatgrowers by convening a conference, at. which the proposed wheat marketing bill was formulated.. The farmers who assembled at that conference were shown the utmost sympathy, and every attention was given to what they said they wanted in the form of an Australian-wide marketing scheme for theirwheat. Under the proposed scheme machinery was provided for fixing an Australian price, not as the result of a direct sales tax and a bounty, but by farmers’ representatives on State wheat pool boards acting in consultation with an Australian Wheat Pool Board - quite a different matter froma direct sales tax bill and a subsequent bounty bill, which, would require the sanction of this Parliament. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) will remember that, when he was fathering what is known as the Paterson butter scheme, the dairy farmers of Australia asked the late Government to give the scheme legislative backing. The Government of the day was not prepared to do so. It told the farmers to place their scheme on a voluntary basis, and they did so, and fixed the price of butter on the Australian market. They raised the price by 4d. per lb. The consumers, however, would not have tolerated a government which sought, by legislation, to do the same thing. The consumers admit the right of the farmers to control the market if possible, because they see all other sections of the community organizing for the protection of special interests. The Wheat Marketing Bill, which would have given the farmers the necessary machinery, was, unfortunately, defeated in another place. It is true that the bill gave the farmers power to fix an Australian price for wheat, and the Commonwealth guaranteed 4s. a bushel for wheat, and the Commonwealth Bank agreed to find the money, subject to the Commonwealth and State Governments guaranteeing the amount; but the rejection of that bill absolved the Commonwealth Bank from all obligation in connexion with the matter. After the defeat of the Wheat Marketing Bill, some members of this Parliament, representatives of farmers’ organizations, and of certain State Governments, asked that a conference of wheat interests be called. Representatives of the millers, the merchants, and the growers attended the conference, and what has become known as the Perkins scheme was put forward. It provides for the imposition of a sales tax of ?7 4s. a ton on flour, which would increase the price of flour in Sydney from ?8 10s. to ?15 14s.; and in Melbourne from ?9 to ?16 4s. It was estimated that approximately ?5,000,000 would be raised in this way, and the money was to be distributed as a bounty “to the wheat-growers after the passing of the necessary legislation. That scheme presents real difficulties in administration. It was examined by experts at my request; and their opinion was that, in the absence of an orderly wheat-marketing system throughout the whole of Australia, it would be almost impossible to administer. No great difficulty would be encountered in collecting the sales tax, but it was considered to be practically impossible to distribute the proceeds of the tax among the 50,000 wheat-growers of Australia, and exercise the necessary check against imposition. It could be done in States that handled nearly all their wheat through a pool, as Western Australia and Queensland are doing. New South Wales, however, has in operation only a haphazard sort of wheat pool that handles but a small percentage of the wheat grown. In Victoria the pool handles only 50 per cent, of the wheat, and in South Australia the voluntary pool handles about the same amount. It was suggested to Professor Perking at the wheat conference that the sales tax was too high, and that it might be cut in half. Professor Perkins’s reply is set out in the following extract from the records of the conference : -
Professor PERKINS. - I want to say on behalf of my Minister that he looks upon an increase of 3d. per bushel, which would be the increase to the grower if the scheme were divided by two, as valueless.
– You mean halving your scheme would be valueless.
Professor PERKINS. - Yes; and I certainly agree.
Mr. TRETHOWAN I am quite with the last speaker that anything less than 11 4s. will be of no material benefit.
The millers, who were represented at the conference, said that the imposition of the sales tax would result in the price of bread being increased. In my opinion, it is a great pity that there is not in operation in the various States, price-fixing machinery such as that set up by tho Labour Government in Queensland, so that a commissioner might fix the price of bread at a figure that would prevent the consumers from being fleeced.
– New South Wales had such a system.
– It is not in operation to-day. We were told that the Legislative Councils in some of the States, being elected on a property franchise, would not pass price-fixing legislation. In South Australia, I believe, there is a system, of price-fixing, but it is not effective. ‘ ii
The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) quoted a resolution -which emanated from Ultimo, calling on the Government to fix the price of wheat at 5s. a bushel for local consumption. I have great sympathy with the wheatfarmers who made that request, but, unfortunately, this Government has no power to fix the price of wheat for local consumption. The honorable member for Wimmera suggested that the provision in the Commonwealth Bank Act relating to rural credits, which fixed the period for advances at twelve months, had a tendency to force farmers to realize on their wheat quickly at reduced prices. It is unfortunate if that is so, and it is certainly not the policy of this Government to force farmers to sacrifice their wheat at low prices. The Common-, wealth Bank is operating under an act passed during the regime of the last Government, and, in order to overcome the difficulty to which the honorable member has referred, it would be necessary to bring in legislation amending the Commonwealth Bank Act. Even if the act were amended, it would still be for the Commonwealth Bank authorities to determine whether or not accommodation would be granted for a period greater than twelve months.
I am heartily in sympathy with those who have stated that the exchange should not be pegged. They point out that if it were allowed to rise to its natural level, lt would be equivalent to a bounty on exported produce. One honorable member
Said that if representations were made to the Commonwealth Bank Board by the Government, the board would probably remove the restriction on the free movement of the exchange rate. As a matter of fact, representations have already been made by the Government, and the exchange rate was raised from £6 10s. to £9 per £100. I think it should be allowed to go higher. Some of the leading economists of Australia, such as Professor Copland, Professor Giblin and others, even went so far as to advocate that the exchange rate might be raised -to 20 per cent. They pointed out that, notwithstanding the extra cost of remitting interest overseas, there would still be a clear credit balance in favour of Australia as a result of the higher rates. I fully appreciate the difficulties with which the wheat-growers are confronted, and I” believe that something unorthodox willhave to be done if we are to remedy the position. Finance must be arranged to enable ‘the farmers to put in next season’s crop. If nothing is done, a great many of them will have to walk off their properties, losing everything they have. To-day. there waited upon me a deputation comprising the honorable members for Wimmera, Gwydir, Wannon and Calare, and other honorable members representing wheat-growing districts, with a request that the primage duty on cornsacks and superphosphate, and the sales tax on agricultural machinery, should be remitted. Only a little while ago the Government was asked to lift the duty of Id. a gallon from kerosene, and that has been done. In regard to the primage duty and sales tax, I promised the deputation that I would have its request carefully considered between now and the) next meeting of Cabinet. That proposal -will probably be discussed at the next meeting of Cabinet. The Government ‘made strong and earnest representations to the Commonwealth Bank Board that a first advance of 2s. a bushel be paid at country railway stations. On two occasions I waited upon the Chairman and the Governor of the bank to urge that payment, and I quoted statistics to show that it could safely be made. The board considered the request, and decided that it could not advance more than 80 per cent, of the current market value of wheat. Undismayed, we again brought the matter before the members of the board at a conference in Melbourne on the 1st December, and represented that an extra 6d. per bushel would not greatly increase the risk to be borne by the bank; The directors, after further deliberation, decided to offer a first advance of 2s. f.o.b., which is equivalent- to ls. 6d. at country railway stations.
– It is equal to only ls. did.
– That may be so.It costs from 6d. to 7$d. to take the wheat from country stations to the seaboard. The Government is prepared to do anything practicable to assist the wheat-farmers; but I believe that they, and honorable members, appreciate the difficulties which confront us. Harvesting commenced a month ago, and legislation to pay a bounty to the wheat-growers could not be passed and become effective before the 1st January, even if Parliament sat continuously. The proposal would certainly be strenuously resisted, and I know that members of the Nationalist party would not support a sales tax of £7s. 4s. a ton on flour. We cannot forget, either, the attitude of another place towards the Wheat Marketing Bill. It would probably reject any further measure to assist the farmers. However, the whole matter of assistance to the wheat industry is being re-surveyed by the Government in the light of recent developments, and the door is not shut against further assistance. The Government is prepared to approach the Commonwealth Bank again for a first advance of 2s. a bushel at country railway stations. It is prepared to consider the request made by the deputation to-day for the removal of the primage duty on cornsacks and superphosphates. Any other helpful suggestion that may be forthcoming from any part of the House will receive the earnest attention of the Government. But honorable members must appreciate that the wheat-growers are only one section of the primary producers who are asking for assistance; the producers of dried fruits, soft fruits, and canned fruits, and other primary producers, also are asking for help. Unfortunately, owing to the decline in the world’s prices and the reduced purchasing power of the people, many primary industries are in a deplorable state, and probably steps will have tobe taken to assist them that would be considered unwise in normal times. Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at6.24p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 December 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19301205_reps_12_127/>.