12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon, Norman Makin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and offered prayers.
– Is the Acting Prime Minister able to reply to the question I asked several days ago regarding the volume of work. in the High Court?
– A statement on the subject is being prepared, and I hope to let the honorable member have it in a day or two.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister if the report is true that vacancies on the High Court Bench are to be filled by judges elected by caucus?
– I am very much surprised that such a question should be asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– Can the Acting Prime
Minister say whether, if by sitting tonight and to-morrow the House can complete its business, honorable members may leave at the week-end for their homes?
– I made a statement on the subject last night, in reply to a question by the Leader of the Opposition. As it is impossible to get throughthe business this week, the House will adjourn this afternoon at the usual hour and re-assemble on Tuesday next.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister say whether the inquiry into the price of petrol is still proceeding? If so, what form is it taking, and when is the House likely to receive a report on the subject ?
– two officials from the Auditor-General’s Department and the Trade and Customs Department are examining books, documents, &c, and I hope that information will be available to honorable members very soon.
– I ask the Minister for Home Affairs whether the Government has yet come to a decision regard ing the request that the Commonwealth and the Victorian Governments should jointly appoint a small committee to report upon the prospects of developing oil at Lakes Entrance?
– I signed a letter to the honorable member yesterday suggesting that the initiative should be taken by the Victorian Government rather than by the Commonwealth Government.
– Has the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs had time to obtain a reply to the questions I have asked on many previous occasions regarding Oregon?
– I have called for reports on the subject, and am awaiting an opportunity to submit a definite recommendation to Cabinet. I hope to be able to let the honorable member have a reply within a few days.
– Will the Acting
Prime Minister say whether there is any foundation for the report that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) and the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) have been appointed a finance committee by the Parliamentary Labour party? If so, what is their relation to the Cabinet? Have they been sworn in as Executive Councillors, and will they attend Cabinet meetings ?
– The honorable member need not become unduly alarmed by what he reads in the press of proceedings at meetings of the Parliamentary Labour party. The Government is at all times prepared to receive information and advice from any source, and the two honorable members referred to are very good sources.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Industry whether there as any prospect of the distributionbefore Christmas of any of the £100,000 voted by this Parliament for the repatriation of surplus miners ?
-That matter has yet to be decided.
Newcastle Relay Station
asked the Postmaster - General, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are : -
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are:-
Excess Officers - Retirement Age
– On the 5th December the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Long) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: - 1 and 2. The existing situation in the Commonwealth Public Service is that it cannot be said that the present staff of permanent officers is in excess of the requirements of the Service as a whole, but the number of officers in certain classes or grades is in excess of requirements in relation to those particular classes or grades. This situation is being met by utilizing the excess officers of those classes or grades in positions of different character, and, to a large extent, of lower classification, occupied by temporary employees or which have become vacant.
The number of positions which have been abolished in departments and the salaries of the officers formerly occupying those positions, whose services are being utilized -as before mentioned, are as shown in the following’ table:-
In addition, there are other officers who are in excess of requirements in particular occupations whose services are being utilized in other capacities. Their positions have not been abolished, this action being deferred until it can be seen whether future developments may demand the retention of at least a proportion of the positions. There are approximately 500 such officers, with salaries and allowances totalling £120,000 per annum.
The total number of officers who have been displaced from their former positions is, therefore,901, and the total of their salaries and allowances is £254,443.
The number of such officers between the ages of60 and65 years of age is twelve.
As at October, 1930, the position in respect of officers60 years of age and over is as follows: - (a) Annual salaries, £320,002.
The actual amount of pension varies from two units (£1 per week) to 10 units (£8 per week). Details of the units contributed for by the 756 officers are: -
On the other hand the Commonwealth would have to provide its contribution to pension for a longer term than would otherwise be the case with officers who would normally remain in the service until 05 years of age, and in addition, payment for furlough due would have to be met.
The position as to expenditure and savings during the first year is as follows: -
A large proportion of theofficers concerned’ are low-paid men, such as postmen, mail officers, mechanics, &c., and. the payment even, of full pension would only give them £2 a week. Others who are contributing to retire, at65 years, if retiredbefore that age;would be in a worse position,as their pensions would be less than £2 a week because of retirement before attaining65 years.
Further, an appreciable proportion of the officers concerned are transferred officers from the South AustralianPublic Serviceswho are protected by the Constitution Act against retirement on the ground of age.
– Yesterday the hon orable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) askedseveral questions relating to the termination of the temporary appointment of Captain T. P. Conway as. Deputy Assistant AdjutantGeneral (Australian Imperial Force) in New South Wales, and in my replyI, stated that information to ‘citable a reply’ to be furnished to question No. 2 not then available, and thatitwould be furnished later.
I am now in a position to informthe honorable member that nothing canbe found in the report of the Royal Commission on Defence Administration to the effect thatthe transfer of Captain Con way from the position of Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General wasnot in thebest interests of the service.
Bill returned from the Senate with a request.
Senate’s Request. - Clause 3: In proposed new section 7a insert the following new subsection : - (2a) This section shall not apply to income which is assessable for the financial year beginning on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and thirty, under the provisions of sub-paragraph (i) or (ii) of paragraph (b) of section l6 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1922- 1930 if that income is distributed out of income which was assessable income of a company under those provisions for any prior financial year.
.- I move-
That the requested amendment be made.
The Acting Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) has conferred with honorable senators on this amendment, and has agreed to accept it.
Itwill exemptthe shareholders of a company from super tax on income distributed to them by that company during the financial year 1929-30 out of income derived by the company in the form of dividends in any prior financial year. The principal object of the amendment is to place trading companies which distribute their profits through the medium of holding companies in the same position as trading companies which distribute their profits directly to their individual shareholders. The existence of a holding company, which may be merely a channel through which a trading company distributes its profits to the persons entitled to them, has the effect, in many cases, of making the profits of two years, in the form of dividends to theholding company and the shareholders of the holding company, subject to the super tax in the first year to which this tax applies, that is, 1930-31. Such a position does not arise where there is no holding company, and individuals interested are the direct shareholders of the trading company. In the latter case the super tax for 1930-31 would be charged only on dividends received by the shareholders in 1929-30 out of the profits of the previous year. As the bill stands, therefore, persons whose interests in a trading company are held through the medium of a holding company are at a distinct disadvantage in thefirst year of thesupertaxascomparedwithindi viduals with direct share interests in a trading company. That this anomalous disadvantage obtains to a serious extent has been demonstrated by reference to a number of actual cases. The amendment which the Government proposes to accept will effectively remove the anomaly.
.- This amendment gives effect to representations which I made in the course of the debate, when the resolutions on which this legislation is based were before the committee, and I am glad the Government proposes to give effect to the request made in another place.
Motion agreed to.
Resolution reported ; report adopted.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
Motion (by Mr. Forde) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act relating to advances on wheat.
Debate resumed from the 11th December (vide page 1395), on motion by Mr. Foede -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.-I regret to find myself in opposition to this bill. The proposal has considerable merit; but, ata time like the present, far more discrimination than has obviously been shown in regard to this matter should have been exercised by the Government in selecting a public work on which to expend a large sum of money. Money is scarce, in fact, practically non-existent, and yet, in the closing days of the session., the Government is proposing to commit the Parliament to an expenditure of practically £725,000. I. am in favour of as much public works expenditure as money can be found for. I should like to see the Commonwealth and the States expending, £20,000,000 this year ; but the simple test that should be applied to all public works expenditure to-day has not been made in this case. No money should be devoted to the construction of works which will not be reproductive at .an early date, and on that test this railway proposal fails. The expenditure contemplated is not likely to return interest to the taxpayers for many years.
It is essential also that public works expenditure should provide a maximum of employment as soon as possible. I was interested last ‘night in listening to the speech of the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey), who declared that if the bill were agreed to 1,000 men would be immediately employed. But the expenditure of only £20,000 is contemplated on the work in the present financial year. If £15,000 pf that were devoted to wages, employment would be found for 1,000 men for precisely three weeks, and if we spent £15,000 over the next six months, employment would be found for not more than 115 men. Yet this ‘ is said to’ be a measure that will relieve unemployment. The Government has not £725,000 to spend on this work. It has not even the £20,000 which it proposes to spend in the present financial year. Like the Gold Bounty Bill, this measure is a piece of sheer electioneeringa mere pretence that the Government is finding work for the unemployed. It is an absolute sham. The party opposite desires to advertise to all the world that the present session must not be closed until something has been done to relieve the unemployed. All that has been achieved is the passage pf the Gold Bounty Bill, which will not employ one man in the next six months, and the precious measure now before the House, which will give employment at the utmost to 115 men for a. period of six months. This -is ‘ the great measure of Christmas relief which this Government presents to 300,000 or 400,000. workless people ! Honorable members ‘ opposite should be ashamed to bring this bill into the House as a means of relieving unemployment. If they think that the unemployed will be fooled by treatment of this kind they are mightily mistaken.
There is a persistent rumour that the Government has entered into an arrangement with a contractor in Australia in connexion with the financing of .this railway. ‘
– That is not true.
– I am not making a sinister suggestion; but since there is no money in sight for this railway, and the prospect is that next yean will be still more difficult financially, the Government should make some statement as to how the £725,000 is ‘to be raised for this work. The rumour is that it will be financed by the issue of bonds or by some other irregular means. On general grounds I shall have the greatest satisfaction in voting against the bill.
.- When the proposal was referred to the Public Works Committee, it was in a somewhat, different form from that, in which it is now presented to the House. It was’ then intended to lay a : third rail from Bed Hill to “Adelaide to provide a standard gauge line in conjunction with the existing 5-ft. 3-iu. railway. Will the Minister state whether, in the :event of the line being built ;1from- Port Augusta to Bed Hill, the, original idea of the third rail will be ‘.adhered to ? I cannot understand any railway engineer making such a recommendation., . The first duty of a railway engineer .is tq study the safety of passengers by. train. Mr. Clapp, the Chief Commissioner of Victorian Railways, stated very’ definitely in evidence that a locomotive travelling over a third-rail line at speed, and carrying a big load, would float on the rails, and that the least obstruction would tend to derail it.
– Where is there a thirdrail line being operated in the world at the present time?
– There are four of them in America, covering many miles, according to evidence given by Mr. Webb, late Commissioner of Railways in South Australia.
– They are not being operated except where the traffic is slow. When rounding curves there is a third rail for a considerable distance, and the instructions issued to drivers compel them to slow down. The Commonwealth Commissioner of Railways did not know of any railway system where this third rail was in use, except for short distances and with slow traffic. I hope that in no circumstances will a thirdrail proposal from Red Hill to Adelaide, be adopted. The recommendation made by me at the time to which I have re ferred would have saved the Commonwealth £200,000. It is easy to reduce a gauge from 5 ft.3 in. to 4 ft. 8½ in., but it would be impossible to increase it from 4 ft. 8½ in. to 5 ft. 3 in. without incurring heavy expenditure.
I should like to know how far the Government intends to proceed with the proposal this year. Is it a fact that only £20,000 is available? The surveying of a railway line involves a lot of detailed work. It is the duty of a Minister, when introducing a railway proposal, to place all the plans upon the table, but that has not been done in the present case. I have not seen any detailed surveys, and if they have not been made, practically the whole of the £20,000 will be swallowed up in their preparation. As the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) pointed out, the estimate that has been brought down is based on that prepared four years ago.
– I understand that tenders will be called for the work.
– Did the Minister say so?
– Tenders will be called.
– That puts a different complexion on the matter, because there will be Competition for the work. I am satisfied that the estimates of fouryears ago could be reduced by at least 15 per cent. The prices of all metals havedropped enormously, and the cost of materials must have fallen correspondingly. With the reduced cost of living and material,I am hopeful that, if the work is carried out, the expenditure upon it will be considerably less than was estimated three or four years ago.
– When the honorable mem ber supported the proposal of the Public Works Committee, which involved a break ofgauge at Port Pirie, was it not his idea that ultimately there would be the one gauge right through?
– Of course it was; but it. must be noted that at that time I opposed the third rail.
– This bill makes provision along those lines.
– I realize that this bill will not alter that; it provides an opportunity for having one gauge right through at a later date. 1 hope that the Government will not consider any third-rail proposal, because of its particularly dangerous character.
.- I am opposed to the measure, mainly on financial considerations. The Government is not able to carry out works to which it is definitely committed, because of the difficulty of finding the necessary money, and it is surprising that it advances this proposal. The financial troubles of all the States are due mainly to the fact that they are losing large sums on their railway systems. We have been told from time to time by the PostmasterGeneral, that he could profitably spend thousands of pounds upon the provision of postal services that are essential in country districts if the money could he found. Instead of being extended, those services are being curtailed on account of the financial stringency.
It is unquestionable that seats were won by the Labour party in Tasmania at the last federal election because of the definite assurance that a Commonwealth line of steamers would be provided for traffic between the mainland and that State. It is recognized by all that the absence of an adequate service is one of. Tasmania’s greatest disabilities. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Lyons) . some mouths ago was obliged to confess to a representative body that, he met in conference in Tasmania that on account of financial difficulties the Government was unable to fulfil that election promise. The people of Tasmania accepted the position in a. reasonable spirit. They said, “We expected, we desire, and we need a very much better service than is provided, but we recognize and appreciate the difficulty in which the Government finds itself”. What will they say now that this proposal to expend approximately £1,000,000 on a railway which has been under consideration for some considerable time, and has been shelved in the past because of the difficulty of raising the necessary money to construct it, has been brought, forward again? I have no desire merely to criticize the Government ; but I cannot support this proposal. One of the reasons advanced in favour of it is that travellers on the existing route prefer to make the journey from Port Augusta by road, because of the breaks of gauge. In spite of the fact that road transport is being more and more preferred every year, and it has been found necessary to curtail’ railway services almost everywhere, the Government proposes to construct yet another line. From time to time 1 have expressed the view that when private enterprise has difficulty in financing works proposals, the Government should, if possible, make available funds for public works generally. I am always anxious to see put in hand work that will give employment to our people. This proposal, however, I do not consider will readily provide employment. It will not be reproductive, and there are many other more profitable works that could be put in hand if the Government, could find the necessary money.
– The House was naturally somewhat surprised when it, was confronted with this proposal, and that feeling was intensified by the failure of the Government to furnish a business-like reason for its adoption at a time like the present, find in such curious circumstances. Honorable members have not been supplied with information with respect to the interest charges, and their bearing on the total expenditure. We have been informed that the return in excess of interest and working expenses is estimated at about £6,000 a year; but that is to be obtained by . taking traffic from existing lines in South Australia. There has not previously been less likelihood than exists at present, of expenditure upon such a railway proving advantageous. The proposal merely is to provide another line that will give greater convenience to the travelling public. If we were asked to assent to a proposition that would open up a great mineral field or make available a large tract of arable land, we could consider its value to the country and its importance economically. There is no such feature in this proposal. The Minister was unable to tell us anything to justify us in agreeing to this propostal to assist in the provision of work for the unemployed. Wo know to-day that South Australia, in common with every other State, is harassed financially by its railway system. In New South Wales an endeavour was made to avoid a deficit of £2,000,000. That was successful, but then the Government found itself faced with a further deficit of £4,000,000. South Australia is in a somewhat similar position. Were it not for the capital expenditure on our railways, and the consequent heavy, interest burden, this-, country would be in a sound financial position. .’ In Australia there arc 4.25 miles of railway for every thousand of population. That percentage is exceeded only by one European country. We have expended in Australia over £300,000,000 on railway construction, and the annual interest charge on that outlay is £15,000,000. No action has been taken in the past to make provision for the redemption of loans expended on railway construction or to wipe out the cost cf railways that are not paying or likely to pay. Yet we are asked in this time of depression to support a proposal to construct a. new railway at a cost of over £1,200,000. The country that it is to serve is already served by a network of railways, and to provide a route hundreds of small properties will have to be cut through.
– The railway will follow stock routes for miles.
– The railway will open no new country. It is one of the extravagant proposals that entered the minds of federal politicians some years ago, when they imagined that the’ prosperity of Australia was so great as to permit, of the provision. of a uniform gauge throughout the whole continent, regardless of cost.
– The honorable member knows nothing about this proposal.
– The honorable member, when he spoke, was not able to convince me that the railway, when constructed, would be of any use except to South Australia. This railway is to be built by the expenditure of Commonwealth money in a territory which i<s already served by several railways. It is a worse proposition than the Oodnadatta to Alice Springs railway. The wages bill on the railways of Australia amounts to £31,000,000 a year. The Government, instead of rectifying past errors, now intends to make the position worse by constructing this railway. There are many better avenues in which our unemployed can be absorbed. The Queensland Government recently built a railway to Mount Isa - a distance of 60 miles- at a cost of £3,600,000. That railway is to assist in developing that great mine which will eventually give a revenue of millions of pounds to Australia. There are £35,000,000 worth of ore in sight, and it has been proved by the bores that have been sunk that there is £100,000,000 worth of ore in the mine. We should spend any money that is available for the relief of the unemployed in constructing railways for the development of mining fields and agricultural lands. Not one of the argument’s’’ that have been put forward by the Minister in support of the bill is worth consideration. The loss on our existing railways has brought about Australia’s downfall. There is an army of 112,000 men employed on the various railways. Our interest bill amounts to £605 per completed mile of railway. Yet we are now proposing to add .a further 84 miles and 54 chains to our system of railways at an immediate cost of £725,000. Rolling-stock will cost £104,000, and the laying of the third rail £380,000. That will mean an ultimate expenditure of £1,218,000 on a railway 180 miles in length. The present proposal is to construct only 82 miles of that railway. . No argument has. been, adduced that would justify this proposal, and. I certainly do not intend to support it. No engineering report has been submitted with the plans. The book of reference contains no information that would cause one to believe that the railway was necessary. Among the papers laid upon the table of the House there was no report by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. There is no report indicating that the Commissioner has approved of the construction, of. this line.
– That is absolutely untrue. The Commissioner’s evidence contains nine points in favour of the line.
-! said there was no report of the Commissioner accompanying the book of plans and reference. The “ only advantage that this railway offers is greater travelling facilities. The honorable member for Grey has admitted that passengers at present have the option of travellingfrom Port Augusta by rail or by motor car. Now it is intended to construct another line at a cost of £1,200,000. I shall oppose the bill.
– The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) has said that no details or plans of the railway were submitted.
– I said that no details accompanied the plans.
– This proposal was referred to the Public Works Committee, which is composed of members of all parties in Parliament. During its investigation it examined all the details and plans relating to the project. The fullest information was obtained. The committee, after investigating the proposal, reported favorably on it. If the railway is to be constructed, now is the- time to build it. It would give some relief to the unemployed, and in this time- of deflated values, would - cost less than in times of prosperity. In addition, when the line is constructed, the time of the journey from Perth to Adelaide will be reduced by several hours. At present, because of the breaks of gauge, three changes’ have to be made on that trip. This is a national work, and should be carried out, particularly if we are to adhere to the policy of unification of gauges.
– This railway will be a burden upon Australia, for ever.
– Were it not for our railways this country would not have developed to the extent that it has. Railways have been constructed by the State Governments and surely.- they should - be the best judges of their requirements. Although the- interest bill for railway borrowing presses heavily upon Australia, yet the country is still wealthy enough to be able to carry it. I believe that this railway, if constructed,will eventually become a national asset. I therefore hope that the bill will be carried.
– I am opposed to I this bill, and shall vote against it for reasons which I shall submit briefly to honorable members. I protest; in the first place, against the manner in which the bill has been introduced. Section 59 of the Commonwealth Railways Act provides that -
Where there has been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works any public work involving the construction of a railway, the Commissioner shall transmit to the Minister under his official seal the following information : -
This information includes a plan of the railway and of the lands through which it is to pass, a book of reference containing certain specified information, the estimated cost of the railway when completed, the amount of additional rollingstock likely to be required and an estimate of the cost of it, and an estimate of the working expenses and probable revenue of the line, together with certain other information. Section 60 of the act provides that -
If the Minister moves that the House of Representatives declare that’ it is expedient to carry out the proposed work, the information supplied to him in pursuance of the last preceding section shall, at the same time, be laid before the House of Representatives. [ ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether this information has been submitted to the House.
– I have seen the plans and documents laid upon the table by the Minister in charge of the bill, and am of the opinion that they fulfil the requirements of the sections which the honorable member has quoted; but I shall make a further investigation to satisfy myself on that point.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Such information should be available, not merely < to the Minister, but also -to honorable members; otherwise it has no real value from the point of view of debate.
This measure, like the Gold Bounty Bill, has been introduced by the Government with the specific object of providing employment for our people. After months and months of consideration these are the only two propositions which the Government has been able to introduce to relieve the unemployment which is so prevalent. It has been said that these measures will make some work for the unemployed before the festive Christmas seasons One almost hesitates’ to speak of a “ festive season “ in present circumstances. In introducing bills of this nature for the purpose of providing work, the Government is merely throwing the shadow of a substance before starving and penniless people. No one can say that the gold bounty will .result in the employment of any additional men; and, in view of the fact that only £20,000 can be spent on the Port Augusta to Red Hill railway up to the end of this financial year, it is ridiculous to suggest that this measure will ,provide much employment. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) showed clearly that it would only give employment to 115 people. So far as I can see, it is quite likely that more than that number of men will be killed in the rush for the jobs when they become available. Neither this bill nor the Gold Bounty Bill can , possibly do anything effective to relieve unemployment.
In these circumstances, there is no justification for the introduction of the measure at this stage. As the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) pointed out, the main disabilities of the different States are due to the fact that their great railway systems are unprofitable. Railways have been constructed in every State without proper consideration as to the need for them, and their revenue-producing possibilities. Many lines have been laid in the wrong places. In the district through which this railway is intended to pass there are already three lines running parallel to the. pro-, posed route of this one. In fact, there are more railway lines in this part of South Australia, probably, than in any other similar area in the Commonwealth. While it is true that the building of the line would reduce the number of breakofgauge stations on the transcontinental line by one, it would add a break-of -gauge station on the route from the great northwest, over which so many cattle are railed. There is no justification whatever for the building of this line in a district which is already railway infested, if I may use that term, particularly in view of the- fact that the country cannot afford to pay for it.
The railways of Australia are government owned and controlled, while the railways of other countries are privately owned. When particular railways in other countries become unprofitable, their capital cost is written .down. But that is not done in Australia. Our people arc carrying a crushing interest burden in respect of our railways, and so far as I can see, there is little prospect of reliev- ing them of this.. dead, weight. Yet the Government is proposing, for political reasons, to build still another unneces-sary railway. Honorable members opposite, who seem to regard .themselves as. financial experts, have been discussing in the last few weeks the position of Australian bondholders. .- They have asked, first; whether, the bondholders should be paid any of the money owing to them; secondly, whether they should be paid the whole or only1 a part of it; and. thirdly, whether the money, which ‘the Commonwealth has available should be paid to the bondholders or to the workers or some -other sections of the community: But, although they have inveighed against the bondholders so continuously, they “are now supporting .a proposition which will make it necessary for them to ask these same people for additional money. if this railway would open up any new country, or provide railway facilities for people who are at present without them, or serve any. rich mining field, something could be said in its favour; but it is merely a luxury line. In view of the .fact that this Parliament has’been called upon to assist South Australia to cope with her financial disabilities; I have given some consideration to the internal position of that State, and I have been forced to the conclusion that it is suffering to:day because of ill-advised, badly-constructed, and extravagantlyrun -railway undertakings. The interest bill which is crippling South Australia has mounted up mainly because of th6 mistakes that have been made by the Public Works Department there. Surely honorable members will not insist upon adding to these troubles, particularly as this’ proposal will not even provide work f of ““the unemployed- at least for a long while to come.. The Minister in charge of the bill gave us no’ information- whatever as to when the line was likely to be completed, or where “the money* was to come from to pay for it. For all these reasons I shall vote against the bill.. ‘i “ :;”
.- At a time when Commonwealth and State Governments .alike are finding it impossible to raise money for necessary public works, the construction of this line” from . Port Augusta to Red Hill cannot- be justified. . If plenty of money, were available at a reasonable rate, something could be said for building a line which would reduce the distance between certain capital cities, render unnecessary such frequent changing of. trains, and make the journey more comfortable. But we are not living in prosperous times, : and money should not be spent on such an unnecessary undertaking: When it is impossible to find money even for necessary work, we should not go on with a ‘proposal of.:: this sort, which . will cost over £1,000,000. We know also that the area through which the line is to run is well served by the existing railway. Another objection is that motor transport is competing more and more strongly with railways every year, even to the extent of making them quite unprofitable. Surely we ought not to build another railway that will have the effect merely of ‘ adding to tlie constantly accumulating railway losses. I am as anxious as any one to provide work for the unemployed, but such work should be reproductive. It cannot be claimedthat this railway will be reproductive.
– What does the honor- able member regard as a reproductive work ? ….
– Water conservation is such a work. I agree with what honorable members on this side of the House have said in opposition to the bill. I protest against this proposal, and I- intend to vote against it-
.- Were the Commonwealth and South Australian Governments, rival railway companies, I could understand ‘the ‘Commonwealth Government embarking on this undertaking. Certainly the Commonwealth Railway Department will benefit by the construction of the railway,’ but it can d’O so only at the expense ‘of SouthAustralia, which is in a sorry financial position’, and has been ‘ in- that’ position for many years.’- The building of’ this -‘ line will make ‘her position worse)’ ‘and the’-‘ people of the’’
Commonwealth will be called upon to make still further contributions to her exchequer. The present line from Adelaide to Port Augusta is, at no point more than 60 miles from the sea. For approximately half its length, it runs parallel tq three other lines. The proposed line from Red Hill to Port Augusta will be furthest removed from the sea at its starting point- Red Hill - and that is not more than 16 or’ 17 miles from the coast. From Port Pirie onwards, ‘ I doubt, whether passengers travelling over the new line will ever be out of sight of the sea.
– That will be a pleasant contrast for passengers who have travelled over the Nullabor Plain from Western Australia.
– No doubt, but this is not a time to spend money on luxuries.
– Why did the Government which the honorable member supported favour the construction of this line?
– When the scheme was first propounded by the Bruce-Page Government, the country was much more prosperous than it is now.
-Evidently what was good business when proposed by the last government becomes a useless luxury when proposed by this one.
– Whether or not a thing should be classed as a . luxury, depends .largely on whether those enjoying it can afford to pay for it. The country through which this line is to pass has been well served in the past, and can be served in the future, by the small coastal, steamers that ply on Spencer’s Gulf. If the people of South Australia are so desirous of assisting those on the land by building railways, why have they not constructed, a line south of Wallaroo, iii Yorke Peninsula? That area is not served by any railway, yet it is far richer than that through which tlie proposed line is to run from Red Hill to Port Augusta. The fact is, of course, that the people of Yorke Peninsula are well satisfied with the transport facilities provided by. the small steamers which trade on .Spencer Gulf, and St. Vincent’s Gulf.
The construction of this line will certainly provide some employment for those now out of work, and the. Minister for Defence . (Mr. ; A.,. Green) . apparently regards that as an important reason for beginning it. I remind him, however, that, if work is found for men on the- construction of this line and on its maintenance, the completion of the undertaking will throw out of employment many now engaged on traffic duties on the Terowie to Port Augusta section. There is only a limited amount of traffic between Port Augusta and Adelaide, and; if tlie proposed line .proves as successful as is expected, it must take some- of thetraffic now going over the line from Terowie to Port Augusta. I admit that it will be more comfortable to .travel over the new line. In company with yourself, Mr. Speaker, I once travelled, over the existing, line through this section of the country, and no one was louder than, myself in condemning the “dog boxes” into which we were put at Terowie. Had it not been that I. had the company, of friends who’ were as fond of-.- playing bridge as. I was, the journey would have been almost insupportable. As I have said, however, this is not a time for spending money on luxuries, and because I believe that the money could he spent to better purpose, T oppose the bill.
Mr. MARTENS (Herbert) [12.27 J.The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley), objected to the building of this line for the reason, among others, that South Australia is financially in a- bad way. That, I admit, is true; but it is true not only of the Government of South Australia, but. of most other, governments in Australia and ‘elsewhere. When times are bad, and unemployment is rife, governments should spend as much money as they can,, in order to provide employment. I believe that the construction of this line is warranted. The proposal was agreed to by the South Australian Government, and the Bruce-Page Government, and I, .for one, do not believe that the members of the Bruce-Page Government were a collection of fools. They believed that tlie construction of the line would. be in the interests of Australia1: All over the country to-day there are thousands of unemployed men, and the position will become worse when those engaged -in seasonal occupations . -finish* the work they are doing.- After Christmas an enormous -number of, men will be added to -the ranks of the unemployed. This , proposal .has «. .been thoroughly examined; it. has been reported upon favorably by the Governments of South Australia and of the Commonwealth, and it should be proceeded with in order to relieve unemployment, and to complete another link in the unified railway gauge system.
– When I spoke on the secondreading of this bill I placed on the table of Parliament, for the convenience of honorable members, plans and particulars of the proposed railway. I did not then formally move that they be presented to Parliament. I now do so, in accordance with section 60 of the Commonwealth Railway Act. I have here a plan of the proposed railway, and of the lands through which it is to pass, together with a book of reference setting forth the names of the owners of the land, and a. report of the Commonwealth Railway Commissioner regarding the estimated cost of the work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 -
The maximum cost of the railway, exclusive of rolling-stock, shall not exceed seven hundred and thirty -five thousand pounds.
. -I move -
That the words “seven hundred and thirtylive” be omitted, and with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “six hundred and twenty-five “. ‘
The object of the amendment is to ensure that the maximum cost of the line shall be, at least, 15 per cent, less than the estimate made several years ago before the decline in wages and the slump in prices. The price of steel has fallen all over the world; if it has not fallen correspondingly in Australia, there is no .reason why it should not come down in conformity with the trend of the world’s market. The basic wage in South Australia is considerably below what it was three or four years ago. The Minister may reply that the maximum amount specified in the bill will not necessarily be spent, and that the Government will call for tenders and accept the lowest. That does not dispose of the fact that, if the clause be passed in its present form, the Government will be empowered to accept a tender up to £735,000. Any construction undertaken mainly to provide employment for those who otherwise would be on the dole should be at a cost considerably below what was estimated years ago when prices and wages were higher. The amendment proposes a reduction of slightly less than- 15 per cent., and is reasonable in view of the present financial and economical circumstances.
– I support the amendment, which is designed to bring the bill to some extent into touch with realities. This Parlia-ment has been discussing some very unreal measures recently, and now we are asked in the blithest manner to authorize the Commonwealth to spend up to £735,000 on the construction of a railway without any indication as to where the capital is to be found. When I questioned the Minister on this subject he replied that the money would be provided on the Estimates in the usual way. To my further question as to whether the work was to be financed out of revenue, the honorable gentleman merely answered that I was being facetious.
– The honorable member surely does not think that this amount can be paid out of revenue?
– I suggest that the Minister should seek the advice of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) and the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) who, apparently, have been added to the Cabinet in order to equip it with some ability in finance. I do not know whether the honorable gentleman consulted that superior authority before proceeding with this bill. If he has not obtained the concurrence and support of those gentlemen, he may find himself in difficulties. I cannot work out the relation of these watchdogs to the Cabinet, but it is possible that the Minister will be summoned before this unofficial committee to give an account-of his actions. If we could be assured that this proposal has the unanimous support of the committee of two, as well as that of the Cabinet, we should be able to pass it with more confidence. In the absence of such an assurance, we more humble persons have to make up our mind as best we can. So I again ask the Minister whence the money is to come. The amendment directly raises that question by proposing that the maximum cost be reduced. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has advanced reasons in support of his opinion that, because the estimate presented by the Minister is based upon condition obtaining about four years ago, it should be revised. It is remarkable that the Minister is unable to present an up-to-date- estimate of cost. I doubt whether a proposal of this magnitude has ever been submitted to Parliament unaccompanied by up-to-date information. The Commonwealth and the State of South Australia will, apparently, be involved in an ultimate liability exceeding £1,000,000. The Minister does not appear to know whether the third rail proposal will be proceeded with, but we are asked to support the bill as portion of a larger scheme, although some South Australian members have said that the balance of it will never be proceeded with. The Parliament is asked to appropriate a large sum of money on the basis of estimates that are years old, and cannot be regarded as reliable at the present time. In those circumstances, the amendment is reasonable.
.- I support the amendment. This railway cannot pay its way for years, and when it does, that will be largely at the expense of State instrumentalities. The expenditure of money on a losing proposition, even to relieve unemployment, at a time when the country is desperately hard up, is evidence of recklessness, and of failure to appreciate the circumstances of those who are out of work, and those who fear that they may be. Such a proposition can be justified at this time only if it is carried out very cheaply, and 15 per cent. is the minimum saving that should be made on the estimate of four years ago. The honorable member for Gippsland has mentioned items of cost which are very much lower to-day than when the estimate was first prepared. This committee should have an assurance that all the savings mentioned by him will be effected. When works are undertaken principally for the relief of the unem-. ployed, the expenditure should be spread as widely as possible, in order to benefit the maximum number of persons. If £110,000 can be saved on the estimate of four years ago, that sum will be available to provide work for others of the appallingly large army of unemployed in all parts of Australia. No section of the community should be more ready than the unskilled labourers to make some sacrifices, so that the; limited funds available may give relief to more of their fellows. The sooner we accept the principle that works to help the unemployed should be carried out cheaply in order to spread the benefits and avoid saddling the country with unnecessary debt, the better for the unemployed and those who have work but do not know how long it will last..
.- The amendment would serve no useful purpose. The estimate of cost was based on a basic wage for construction workers of 15s. 4d. per day. Since it was prepared the wage has been reduced by only 4d. The estimate of revenue was founded on the figures for 1924, when the basic wage was, if anything, lower than it is to-day. There are ample safeguards against wasteful expenditure. The work will be thrown open to public tender, and there may be a half a dozen tenderers, including the Commonwealth Railway Commissioner. The Governmenthas not yet decided whether the work shall be carried out by day labour or contract. The line may cost more than the £625,000 suggested by the honorable member for Gippsland, but the committee may rest assured that all possible savings will be effected.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.30 p.m.
– The Minister is not prepared to accept my amendment, on the ground that the reduction of wages in South Australia is a comparatively small one. It is almost inevitable, however, that before the railway can be put in hand a further reduction will occur. Though the line could be constructed to-day for less than £735,000, the committee is asked under this clause, in effect, to give authority to the Government to accept a tender that, does not exceed £735,000. If the work cannot be done for a substantially smaller sum thanthat, it should not be carried out of all. There has been a tremendous reduction in our national income, and a big fall in the value of everything Australia produces, and . railway costs must conform to the altered circumstances.
– The public revenue is safeguarded, since public tenders will be invited for the work.
– I admit that a saving may be made; but we should not pass a clause authorizing the Government to accept a tender up to £735,000. There will probably be further falls in the price of materials and wage rates,andthe committee should express the opinion that this line should notbe built, unless at a cost 15 per cent, below the amount set down in the clause as the maximum.
– I strongly support the amendment. A considerable reduction has taken place in the cost of railway construction since the estimates of four yearsago were prepared. There is no reason why this work should notbe carried out cheaply. The report ofthe Commonwealth Railways Commissioner showsthat most of the country through which the line will run lends itself to cheap construction. In 1922 and 1923 the prices of metals were at their maximum; but, since then, there has been abig fall in-metal values. Wages have come down, and labour-saving machinery has been introduced. The cost of rails is much lower to-day than it formerly was. I am not so pessimistic as to imagine that, wages will be much lower in the near future than they are to-day. I suppose that a track-layer, similar to that imported for use in the construction of the east-west railway, will be available for this work. Iam even hoping that the Labour party will show a little common sense, and amend the navigation laws so that shipping- freights may be reduced.
– The Government is not prepared to agree to a reduction in the wages of the men who will be employed on this work.
– Wages are down now.
– Only 4d.aday, as compared with the rate ruling on the 10th November, 1927, when the estimate was made. Although this work is intended to relieve unemployment, it will not be carried out by men working at 50 per cent, below the basic wage; award rates will be observed. The fact that tenders will be invited, and that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner will submit an estimate in competition with private tenderers, ensures that more than necessary will not be spent on the work. It may he possible to carry it out for less than, the present estimate of £735,000; but it would jeopardize the whole undertaking to limit the expenditure to £625,000. I admit that there should be a slight reduction in the cost of rails, and that matter will be taken into consideration by the tenderers.
– The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner will submit merely an. estimate.
– And he will not bo bound by it.
– He will give an honest, estimate, which will provide a checkon the private tenders. The money for the construction of the line will be obtained, in the usual way in which amounts have been made available for railway undertakings in the past, and Parliament will havean opportunity to pass judgment on the vote when the nextEstimates are under consideration.
Question - That the words proposed, to lie omitted (Mr. Paterson’s amendment) stand part. of the clause; - put. The committee divided. (Chairman- Mr. McGrath. )
Majority . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 6 to 10 agreed to.
Clause 11 (Appropriation of moneys).
.- This is a rather important clause, and one upon which the Minister failed to give information when requested to do so. Is it likely that the cost of the construction of this line will be defrayed out of moneys standing to the credit of the loan fund? It may be possible to finance without difficulty the present year’s estimated expenditure of £20,000, but how is it proposed to finance the balance? “Will there need to be new loan appropriations in the near future, or are there moneys lying to the credit of the loan account?
.- I understood the Minister to say last night that only £20,000 will be ‘ made available this year. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey), yesterday afternoon stated that the South Australian Government is providing relief for the unemployed at the rate of £16,000 a week. Taking those two statements together, are we to understand that this project will provide employment for only eight or nine days for those who are out of work in South Australia?
– -Natu rally, some delay is unavoidable in putting in hand a work of this character.
– Is this, then, merely “bluff”?
– That is unworthy of the honorable member. This Government is not in the habit of “bluffing”.
Those who are acquainted with governmental administration know that upon the passage of a bill like this steps have to be taken to obtain the sanction of the Loan Council. That, of course, can be done by telegram j and it is not anticipated that any objection will be raised by the Loan Council, because during this financial year the amount required will be only £20,000. Some unavoidable delay will bc caused also by tenders being invited through the Commonwealth Gazette and the newspapers. Tenderers will have to be allowed sufficient time to prepare estimates of the work, and to submit their tenders, and, probably, another month will elapse before that will be clone. Then the tenders will have to be carefully considered by a board, as well as by the Government, before a decision is made as to the successful tenderer, or whether the work shall be carried out by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner and his staff. The work cannot be commenced the day after the tenders have been received. The commissioner was asked what sum he would require for this financial year assuming that the work could be commenced with a minimum amount of delay, and his estimate is £20,000. Tint sum will supplement the money that is being spent by the South Australian Government upon the relief of unemployment. The expenditure of even £20,000 in a State like South Australia will do something towards alleviating the distress of unemployment. That, however, is not the principal object of the ‘bill. As I have stated previously, governments are justified in embarking upon public works during a period of depression, instead of waiting for prosperous times when private enterprise is employing a large number of men and unemployment is reduced to a minimum. We have, unfortunately, a large army of unemployed at the present time.
– Is that why only £20,000 is to be made available?
– It is necessary that Governments should, wherever possible, put in hand work of this character that will afford relief. It is not the fault of this Government that only £20,000 is to be spent this year. We have been criticized for having brought forward this proposal, the argument being that it is unsound ; yet. now we are being attacked on the ground that action was not taken earlier. There will be a very substantial expenditure on this line next financial year, and that will mean the provision of considerable employment, chiefly in the electorate of the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey), who has been unwaveringly consistent in his advocacy of the speedy completion of this undertaking. There is no need for the anxiety which the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has displayed.
The funds for the construction of this line will be obtained from the Loan Account, unless the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) can suggest some better or more speedy method of obtaining them. The Loan Council will be consulted in the usual way before the Estimates for 1931-32 are adopted, and Parliament will have an opportunity to consider those Estimates.
.- The committee is greatly indebted to the Minister for having cleared up the misapprehension created by the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) last night, relative to the amount of unemployment that this proposal will immediately relieve. That honorable member stated quite definitely that 1,000 men would be put to work at once.
– That is an absolute untruth ; I said from 800 to 1,000 men.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. McGrath).The honorable member for Grey must withdraw the first part of his statement.
– I withdraw it.
– The honorable member definitely told the House yesterday that, as a result of the passage of this bill, 1,000 men would be employed immediately upon this work.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member said that this proposal would enable a beginning to be made simultaneously in several places. I am extremely glad that the Minister has cleared up that misconception, because it would have been most unfortunate had 1,000 workless people in South Australia been led to believe that they were to obtain work this side of Christmas. The Minister has now told us that a month will be taken up in the preparation of plans, another in calling tenders, and a third in considering those tenders. The real truth is that this precious measure will provide no work for the unemployed during this financial year.
– I say definitely that it will.
– This is another indictment of this wretched Government’s “ work for all “ policy, and its wholesale promises of employment. The Minister, having brought down schedule after schedule, each of which was to provide work for scores of thousands of men, and having failed lamentably to do anything for the workless, now comes along with a sham railway proposal to provide work for the unemployed.
.- I would not have spoken but for the statement of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) regarding what I said yesterday.
– Look up Hansard.
– I know what I said. During the last few weeks the honorable member for Henty has made a record number of irresponsible statements. What I said yesterday was that I had been informed that this work would provide employment for from 800 to 1,000 men.
– I did not say immediately, and if the honorable member is sober he will admit it.
– I demand the withdrawal of that statement, which is grossly and personally offensive. It is characteristic of the honorable member for Grey.
– The honorable member must withdraw the statement.
– If it is offensive, 1 withdraw it. During a visit to my electorate last week-end, I was particularly careful to prevent the very misconception of which the honorable member has complained. I made a statement to the press that the Government had decided to introduce a bill for the construction of this railway. I pointed out that after the bill had been passed by Parliament’ the proposal would have to pass through many stages before the actual construction of the railway commenced. I even emphasized the fact that, before the railway could be constructed, permission would have to be obtained from the Loan Council, and that, therefore, men should not be stampeded into going direct to the job in the belief that work would start immediately. That is the opposite to what the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) inferred. Men who are accustomed to railway construction work are not likely to be stampeded into going direct to the job, although they know that the contractor will eventually require from 800 to 1,000 hands.
– Who made that statement?
– It has been made by the Minister, by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, and by the public press. There is no need for the honorable member to try to make capital out of the unemployed positron. He knows full well that his party is responsible for the unemployment in Australia to-day, and that he and his kind are responsible for the unemployment throughout the world.
.- When I referred to clause 11, I was trying to ascertain from the Minister how the money for the construction of this line would be obtained. He thereupon became satirical, and informed me that the phraseology of the bill was orthodox. That is quite evident, but what I want to know is where the money is to come from and when it will be possible to give employment to the people. The Minister has given no information on those points, and I suppose that he has none. There is no doubt that the greater portion of the 20,000 will be absorbed in making a permanent survey of the railway and that, of course, will take a considerable time to complete.
Clause agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendment) :
Clause 3 -
Senate’s amendment. - After the definition of “ licensed gold-buyer “, insert the following definition : - “ ‘ mine ‘ includes any place; pit, shaft, drive, level or other excavation, bore drift, gutter, lead, vein, lode or reef wherein or whereby any operation for, or in connexion with, mining purposes is carried on; “. .
Motion (by Mr. Forde) agreed to -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Bill brought up by Mr. Forde, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move- -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In introducing this bill I desire to outline briefly the history of the events leading up to the present position in the wheat industry, and to explain the proposed action of the Government following the passing of this legislation. Honorable members will doubtless recollect that when the Government came into office, urgent representations were made by honorable members representing wheat-growing electorates, and by farmers’ organizations, that a wheatmarketing bill should be introduced to provide a scheme for the orderly marketing of wheat grown in Australia. The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) accordingly convened a conference, which was attended by representatives of State pools and farmers’ organizations, and, as a result, the Wheat Marketing Bill was drafted and presented to Parliament. Honorable members know that it passed this House, but was defeated in another place. The bill provided for a guaranteed price of 4s. per bushel for wheat at country stations, and the Commonwealth Bank agreed to find the money subject to the Commonwealth Government’s guarantee. With the defeat of the bill, that responsibility was lifted from the shoulders of the Commonwealth Bank Board.
Shortly after the Minister for Markets left for the Imperial and Economic Conferences, strong representations were made to me to review the position of the wheat industry, and although the’ path was beset with many difficulties, l agreed to can a conference of wheat-growers, and the representatives of marketing organizations, including merchants and millers. That conference was held at Canberra on the 11th and 12th November last. It was representative of every interest in the wheat industry throughout Australia. It was hampered, however, from the outset by the fact that there was on the statute-book no legislation which would enable the industry to give effect to any of its recommendations which might be acceptable to the Government. That was a considerable disadvantage. The conference submitted to the Government certain proposals, the principal one being the imposition of a sales tax of :t’7 4s. a ton on flour, the proceeds of the tax to bo distributed among the wheatgrowers by way of a bounty. Such a tax would have increased the price of flour in Sydney from £8 10s. to £15 14s. a ton, and in Melbourne from about £9 at that time, to about £16 4s. a ton. The Government, however, on examining the scheme found that it would be well nigh impossible to administer, and the Ministry, therefore, decided not to accept it. Eur therm ore, it would no doubt have resulted iti an increase in ‘the price of bread. Had the Commonwealth Government full control of the prices of commodities it would have been possible to fix the price of bread ; but, in the absence of price-fixing machinery, it was not possible for any action in that direction to bo taken by this Government. Flour and bread are used more extensively by the poor than by the wealthier section of the community. Many children of poor families eat bread and butter or bread and jam three times a clay. The wealthier section of the community has variety of diet, and does not cat nearly so much bread as the poor, so any increase- in the price of flour and bread would have placed a heavy impost upon those least able to pay.
The result of the conference was somewhat disappointing to the Government, which, however, continued to give serious consideration . to the situation of the industry. Representations were received from day to day from members of both sides of the House in respect qf giving assistance to the wheat-growers. The Government on three occasions made representations to the Commonwealth Bank - twice through myself, as Acting Minister for Markets and Transport, and again through the Cabinet. We asked that an advance of 2s. 6d. per bushel f.o.b. be made by the bank to the wheat-farmers. The bank considered the proposal, but intimated that it was unable to grant more than 2s. per bushel f.o.b., which is equivalent to from ls. 4½d. to ls. 6d. per bushel at country railway stations. The bank conveyed that intimation by letter, which was received by the Acting Prime Minister on the 4th December, and published in the press on the same date. What the- Commonwealth Bank agreed to pay was 80 per cent, of th,market value of wheat. The announcement of the advance proposed by tinCommonwealth Bank was received with disappointment, not only by the wheatgrowers, but also by a large section of the wheat distributing organizations. It was pointed out that the rate of advance was no higher than what could be obtained by growers from trading banks or merchants in the ordinary course of business. The position of the wheatgrowing industry was becoming more and more acute. There are 50,000 wheatgrowers throughout Australia, and the industry itself employs a considerable amount of labour. In addition to the growing of wheat, there is the manufacture of flour and the utilization of railway workers, carters, labourers, and all the employeesin the wheat-fields and flour-mills of Australia. When the bottom fell out of the world’s wheat market, the unemployment problem in Australia was seriously accentuated. The Government was faced with the fact that thousands of the wheatgrowers were on the verge of being forced off their holdings. The banks were foreclosing on mortgages. Because of the wheat-growers not being able to pay their way, many business men have already become bankrupt, and more will follow them after Christmas, unless something is done to meet .the situation. The repercussion of anything like this will be felt in every part of the country in the additional unemployment that will occur in town and country. Consequently, the Government regards this problem as of national importance, and considers that the people, as a whole, should be prepared to assist iu solving it, and if necessary carry a portion of any financial loss involved in its solution.. The price of wheat on the world’s market is lower to-day than it has been for the last 36 years, and Australia is faced with the task of disposing of a record crop, the saleable surplus of which is estimated at 160,000,000 bushels.
Every public man and almost all members of the various political parties appealed to the wheat-growers to grow more wheat this year. The farmers were told that by doing so they would render a great national service. It was said that a record crop would enable us to export a larger quantity of wheat, and so assist us to correct our adverse trade balance. In response to this appeal the farmers taxed their credit to the very limit. They obtained the largest possible overdrafts from their banks, and also secured every assistance possible from merchants and others iu order to sow a record area. Unfortunately, as tilings have, turned out, the more they sowed the greater will be their loss; but they acted patriotically. They believed they were helping the nation in its difficulty. The Government, therefore, hopes that the nation will now turn round and help them. We realize the difficulties of the situation which faces us, but feel that something must be attempted to assist the. farmers. Honorable members of this House and those of another place have moved special adjournment motions in order to discuss the plight of the farmers. When the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) moved such a motion the other day I believe that he was supported by every member of the Country party, many members of the Nationalist party, and also by honorable members on this side of the chamber. During that debate the Government was criticized for its failure to take further action to meet the situation. I, therefore, hope that its action in introducing this bill will be approved, and that the measure will have a speedy passage through this House, and alsothrough the other place.
The Government has examined all the proposals that have been made for assisting the wheat-grower, and has come tothe conclusion that the only practicable method of helping him is to guarantee him a fair price for his wheat, having, regard to the present price of wheat on the world’s market. It has decided, aftervery careful and serious consideration, to guarantee the grower 3s. per bushel f.o.b., equivalent on the average to about 2s. 6d. at country sidings for f.a.q. wheat of the 1930-31 crop.
Owing to the financial stringency, the Government cannot make any money available for this purpose without the assistance of the Commonwealth Bank, but it is prepared to guarantee to the Commonwealth Bank the repayment of any loss involved in connexion with the disposal of the wheat on which the advance is made. If honorable members approve of this proposal, as I hope they will, the hill should be passed before the Christmas recess. I, therefore, again appeal to honorable members to deal with the measure expeditiously. Although the representations made to the Commonwealth Bank, first by myself, as Minister for Markets, and, secondly, by the Cabinet, to grant additional assistance to the wheat-growers, were not successful, it is felt that if this request is backed by honorable members of all parties, as it will be if this bill is carried unanimously, the bank will be prepared to make the necessary advances. The Government is of the opinion that the bank should make this advance available, in view of the unprecedented circumstances of this case, and the possible effect on every class of the community if some assistance is not given promptly to the wheat-growers.
The estimated wheat harvest of the Commonwealth for the 1930-31 season is 175,000,000 bushels, of which about 15,000,000 will be required for seed, leaving 160,000,000 bushels to be sold. The present f.o.b. price of wheat is about 2s. 6d. per bushel. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the average price for the season does not exceed that amount - though it may easily do so - the total loss on the guarantee would be £4,000,000. It is a question whether the whole nation, or the wheat-growers alone, should bear this loss. In view of the fact that the wheat-growers responded to the appeal of the nation to grow more wheat in order to assist in the rectification of our adverse trade balance, it is felt that the nation should assist the farmers in the matter. The Government does not take such a pessimistic view of the future as is taken in some quarters, but considers that the average price throughout the season will be higher than 2s. 6d., f.o.b. Indeed, it has received information that large shipments of the present season’s wheat have already been made at an appreciable advance on that figure.
The exchange rate affects the position considerably. I believe that the rate is likely to be raised in the future.
– It should have been increased long ago.
– I agree with the honorable member. A 10 per cent, increase in the exchange rate would represent about 21/2d. per bushel, or approximately £1,500,000 on our exportable surplus of wheat. The subtraction of that amount from £4,000,000 would leave £2,500,000. The price of wheat would thus only have to advance by 33/4d. per bushel to altogether liquidate this loss. I do not deny, however, that there is some risk, and, may be some loss, in making this guarantee, but I feel that the nation should be prepared to go thus far.
– The farmers are carrying a much bigger loss than that.
– That is so. Even if they were paid this guaranteed price they would still be producing wheat at something below the actual cost of production.
– They would still be producing at ls. 6d. below the actual cost of production.
– The honorable member for Echuca is well informed on these subjects, and if that is his opinion, I am prepared to accept it. The wheat industry is of such transcendant importance to Australia that assistance to the growers to the extent now proposed should readily be granted by Parliament. Some honorable members may be of the opinion that, the exchange rate will remain stationary; but I predict that it will advance; if it does so, the amount of the advance will be equivalent to the payment of a bounty on such wheat as is exported. This would help to reduce any loss that might otherwise have to be borne by the Commonwealth. The Government considers that the situation is sufficiently serious to justify it in calling upon the people to help the farmers. Unless such assistance is granted, many wheat-growers will be compelled to abandon their farms, and many business men in country towns, as well as some in the capital cities, will become insolvent. The result would undoubtedly be that unemployment would increase disastrously.
A letter, in which is enclosed a copv of this bill, has already been forwarded to the chairman of directors of the Commonwealth Bank.
– When was that done?
– The letter was posted to-day. As the Minister dealing with this measure, I deemed it my duty to communicate personally with the chairman of directors pf the bank, and advise him of the action that the Government intended to take. I told him that the bill would be presented to Parliament immediately, and that the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton) would communicate with him in regard to it. I considered that that courtesy was due to him. The bank is being asked to help the nation in its emergency by making the advance on the guarantee of the Government, backed by the resources of the whole of Australia. Anticipating a favorable response from the bank, the Government has introduced the bill.
– If an unfavorable reply is received, what does the Government propose to do?
– An experienced poli tical friend of mine once advised me never to jump until I came to the stile. The bill provides for a guaranteed price of 3s. per bushel for wheat of the 1930-3.1 season, of f.a.q. quality, less dockage in respect of wheat below f.a.q. quality. The guaranted price is on a f.o.b. basis, or it.? equivalent, that is, the farmer will receive for f.a.q. wheat 3s. per bushel, less railway freight and handling and other charges, either to the port of shipment in the case of wheat for export, or to the miller’s store in the case of wheat for manufacture into flour.
The actual guaranteed price to the farmer will be 2s. 5d. or 2s. 6d. per bushel at country railway stations. It is specially provided in the bill that, on the delivery of his wheat to the country siding, the farmer will receive 2s. per bushel. This, it is hoped, will afford him much relief in his present very difficult financial circumstances. The extra 6d. that will be advanced, in addition to the ls. 6d. which the bank itself has undertaken to advance, will make a hig difference to the farmers and assist them considerably. It must be remembered that it costs the farmers approximately 3d. per bushel for bags for their wheat, and other charges come to a considerable amount. The extra 6d., therefore, will be wonderfully helpful. Honorable members know that an additional return of 10 per cent, in a business can make all the difference between profit and loss. While this extra Od. will not turn a loss into a profit for the farmers, it will enable them to face the future with a good deal more courage than they could otherwise do. The Commonwealth Bank has been asked to arrange for the necessary finance. The bank last week decided to make an advance of 2s. a bushel f.o.b., and we have asked that this advance be increased to 3s. f.o.b. Organizations, such as the cooperative wheat pools, which are being financed by the Commonwealth Bank, will receive the necessary “ funds to make a first advance of 2s. a bushel when the wheat is delivered at country railway sidings, and to meet necessary expenses such as freight, handling charges, &c. Provision has also been made in the bill for proprietary distributors such as wheat merchants to obtain the benefit of the guaranteed price, provided they pass it on to the growers.
– That, I take it, is the purpose of clause 4. Will the Minister say how it is proposed to deal with wheat already delivered?
– I shall refer to that presently. Proprietary firms will be required to arrange their own finance, and to pay the growers a first advance of 2s. a bushel on delivery at country sidings. At the end of the season, or when it is well advanced, the merchants will, provided the conditions of the guarantee have been complied with, receive if necessary from the Commonwealth Bank such amounts as are required to bring the price realized by the sale of the. wheat up to 3s. a bushel f.o.b., or its equivalent.
– In the meantime the merchants will finance themselves?
– Yes. This will apply, not only to wheat delivered in the future, but to all wheat harvested since the beginning of the season. Although the merchants naturally do not favour this proposal, I believe that, as a body, they are very reasonable men, and are public spirited enough to co-operate with the Government of the day in making the scheme a success. Representations were made to me that the advance should be made only on wheat marketed through pools; but on inquiry I found that such a provision would inflict a tremendous amount of hardship, because harvesting has been in progress for some time. Hundreds of thousands of bushels have already been delivered. There is a torrent of wheat pouring into the silos, and shipments are going abroad every week. It was necessary to give every consideration to the interests of merchants and wheat-growers in the States where there are no pools. For instance, in New South Wales, the present Government intends to legislate for the inauguration of a compulsory wheat pool, but there will not be time to have it in operation for this season’s harvest. As honorable members know, there was a change of government in that State recently, and it has been impossible to get the legislation through. Not more than 10 per cent, of the wheat grown in New South Wales is sold through pools. One pool in that State is run by the Farmers and Graziers, and another by Dalgety & Company. Ninety per cent, of the wheat is sold through merchants. In Victoria from 50 to 60 per cent, is marketed through the Victorian pool. In South Australia about 50 per cent, is marketed through a pool, and the percentage is even higher in Western. Australia. In Queensland, where there is a compulsory pool as a result of legislation passed some years ago by a Labour Government, the whole of the wheat is handled by the pool, and, being just about sufficient for local consumption, is sold at a fixed price of 4s. a bushel.
– What will happen if wheat sold through a pool returns a price of a little more than 3s. ?
– The Government is guaranteeing only 3s. a bushel. If the wheat fetches 3s. 3d. a bushel, the guarantors will not be required to provide anything. The guarantee is for the purpose of bringing the price up to 3s., if the wheat, realizes less than that amount. If the wheat fetches 2s.11d.a bushel, only1d. a bushel will have tobe made up.
– What will happen if the merchants refuse to advance 2s. a bushel ?
– In that case, we can imagine that there will be a rush by the farmers to sell their wheat through the nearest pool in order to obtain the advance of 2s. We do not wish to antagonize the merchants; we realize that it is necessary to have their cooperation in order to make a success of the scheme for this season. If this bill becomes law, I believe that the merchants will co-operate as fully as they are able. [ say that advisedly, because I took it upon myself to get in touch with them when this proposal was first mooted, and we discussed the matter thoroughly. Those managing the wheat pools are, of course, most anxious that the scheme should be inaugurated. They have no grievance at all, and the merchants, who might be said to have a grievance, have had an opportunity of stating their objections, which we have met as far as possible.
Full power is given in the bill to make the necessary agreements and to protect the public interest. The scheme will be administered by the Minister for Markets, and very close supervision will be exercised over its operation by the Department of Markets. Naturally, a considerable amount of administrative machinery will be required, and this can be provided by regulation. The Government, being desirous that the scheme should be a success, does not adopt the attitude that it knows everything about the wheatmarketing business. It suggests that an advisory council be appointed, comprised of representatives of the merchants and of the pools, to confer with the Department of Markets in regard to the framing of regulations.
– That is outside the terms of the bill.
– Yes. If the bill becomes law, merchants will be asked to co-operate, and give any advice they can. Regulations will be made under the act to provide that farmers who sell their wheat to millers will receive 3s. f.o.b., and 2s. as a first advance at railway sidings.
– What will happen if they sell to millers in their own town ?
– The regulations will contain provisions which will enable the necessary check to be kept. Growers who sell to millers will not be excluded from the benefit of the guarantee. I understand that this is important to South Australia, where a mill sometimes takes all the wheat grown in a district.
– What about seed wheat ?
– Details of that sort will be covered by regulation. Clause 4 (4) and 5 (3) require the farmer to authorize a pool or merchant, as the case may be. to sell his wheat as promptly as possible. This will prevent any undue holding of wheat because of the guaranteed price, and will assist in the financing of the scheme by the Commonwealth Bank. I have said enough at this stage of the bill to explain its main provisions; it can be discussed more satisfactorily in committee. The Government has put the scheme forward after a good deal of consideration, as something likely to be of benefit to the wheat-farmers of Australia. It believes that the farmers should not be made to. bear the whole burden of any loss which may be incurred on the wheat crop. Even if we render them this measure of assistance, they will still suffer a loss, because they have produced a record harvest at the request of the Prime Minister. Honorable members of this House and of another place have now an opportunity of supporting this bill, so that it will go forward as an assurance to the Commonwealth Bank that, not only this Government, but the Parliament of the Commonwealth, is behind the guarantee of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. for the 1930-31 crop.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Latham) adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate without further requests.
– I desire to make a statement by way of personal explanation, on the ground that I have been misrepresented. At an earlier stage of to-day’s proceedings I said that the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey), when speaking on the Port Augusta to Red Hill Railway Bill, had led this House and the unemployed in South Australia to believe that 1,000 men would be immediately employed on the construction of the new railway, and, further, that the men could be employed at a number of places simultaneously. My remarks were heatedly challenged by the honorable member in a manner somewhat offensive tome. Thanks to his courtesy, I have been - able to look at the report of his speech, and the words he used were these–
It has been estimated that the work of constructing this railway would employ immediately from 800 to 1,000 men. There are manypoints from which the railway couldbe commenced.
A little further on he said -
If 1,000 men were put to work immediately on the construction of this railway, it would give immediaterelief to the unemployed in South Australia.
I have nothing to add, and I leave the point, at issue between us to the judgment of honorable members.
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) still suggests thai I said that the men would be employed immediately. In the first part of the statement from which he quoted 7 said that it was estimated that work would be found immediately for from 800 to 1,000 men. The honorable member for Henty stated earlier that I had said definitely that 1,000 men would be put on. I did not make that definite statement. I was guided by the estimate of others who said that it would be done. Then I added that if 1,000 men were put to work immediately, it would give certain relief to the unemployed. My rather heated reply to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition this afternoon can be corroborated by a statement prepared by me and published in the Register on the 1stDecember. In that statement I was particularly careful to warn the workers against the belief that they could start work on this job immediately. The newspaper statement said -
There was still some procedure to bo gone through, but he hoped that construction would start very soon.
-i rise to apoint of order. My personal explanation was in reference to a statement made by the honorable member in this House, and I submit that he is not in order in quoting from an entirely different statement made in his electorate.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) said that a certain impression had been convoyed by a statement made by the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) in this House. The honorable member for Grey is entitled to quote any other statement which will help to explain his speech in this chamber, so long as the quotation . has direct relation to the subject, raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– My statement continued -
The billto provide for the scheme,I am. assured, will be introduced, but even the passing of the bill does not mean that the work will be carried out. Permission has to be obtained from the Loan Council for the Commonwealth to spendthe money required. Permission is to be sought immediately, and. pending a decision the bill will be proceeded with. … It has not yet been decided whether the line will be constructed by contract or day labour, but competitive tenders will have to be called.
Even in the statement quoted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I said that tenders would be called, andthat proves that I did not intend to convey to the workers that this railway would be commenced immediately. It is clear that I did not make the statement which the honorable gentleman has attributed to me.
The following papers were presented : -
Port Augusta to Red Hill railway -
Plan of railway, showing lands through which it is to pass.
Book of reference setting forth the names of the owners of the land on the route, &c.
Report by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner in regard to the estimated cost of the railway, &c.
New Guinea Act - Ordinance of 1930 - No. 22- Appropriation 1930-31.
Northern . Australia Act -
Central Australia - Ordinance of 1930 -
No.15 - Employees’ Accommodation.
North Australia- -Ordinance of 1930 -
No. 18 - Employees’ Accommodation.
No. 1 9 - Pearling.
Scat of Government Acceptance Act and
Scat of Government (Administration)
Act- Ordinance of 1930- No. 21 - Court of Petty Sessions (No. 2).
conversion Loan - Businessfor remainder ofsession-hourof Meeting.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
Honorable members will be pleased, to learn that, according to the latest figures available, £16,213,650 has been ‘ contributed by 31,936 subscribers to the £28,000,000 Conversion Loan. Each day has seen a new record established, and to-day, being Australia Day, we anticipate that thesubscriptions will eclipse those of any previous day. Remarkably successful demonstrations in favour of the loan have been held in Melbourne, and I believe in other capital cities. Having regard to the short period for which the loan has been open, the response has been most gratifying, and the indications are that the full amount will be subscribed.
.- All honorable members must have heard with satisfaction the announcement made by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton). Honorable members on this side of the House appreciate very much the intense patriotic effort of the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) to make the loan a success.
May honorable members assume that the business now before Parliament represents the full programme which the Government desires to be dealt with before these sittings terminate? If so, I suggest to the Acting Prime Minister that if the House meets on Tuesday at the usual hour, it might, with advantage, meet at 11 a m. on Wednesday, and, if necessary, on Thursday at the same hour. Those honorable members whose homes are not far- from Canberra axe not greatly inconvenienced, except by the cancellation of their engagements, by a few extra sittings at the end of the year, but others come from distant States, and would like to reach their homes before Christmas.
– To the business now before the House will be added a bill, to amend the Arbitration Act. There may be one or two other small items.
-Will the Acting Prime Minister undertake that those measures will be introduced at the earliest possible moment so that honorable members may have an opnortunity to study them?
Mr.FENTON.- Yes. The Government has no objection to meeting in the mornings, if necessary, in order to expedite the transaction of business, but in any case those honorable members who desire to leave Canberra before the termination of the sittings will probably be able to arrange pairs.
Question resolved in the affirmative. .
House adjourned at 3.54 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 December 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19301212_reps_12_127/>.