12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
– by leave - In connexion with the recent negotiations in regard to the war indebtedness of Australia to the Government of the United Kingdom, it has been agreed between the two Governments that the following statement be made: - “When the Prime Minister of Australia attended the Imperial Conference last year, he discussed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the question of the revision of the terms on which Australia’s war indebtedness to His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom was funded in 1921. The negotiations were continued after the Prime Minister’s return to Australia.
The indebtedness funded under the Agreement of 1921 represented the advances made by His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom to His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia for war expenditure, and totalled £92,480,156.
At the time when arrangements were made for these advances, His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia expressed the desire that Australia should bear the whole cost of its war effort. Accordingly, it was agreed that the moneys would be lent to Australia at the rates of interest at which His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom itself borrowed them. This principle ‘was embodied in the Funding Agreement of 1921, which provided that the average rate of interest on the indebtedness would be £4 18s. 4d. per cent, per annum, representing the cost to Great Britain of raising the loans from which the advances were made.
In addition, the Funding Agreement provided that His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia would make sinking fund payments sufficient to bring the total annual payment for interest and sinking fund up to 6 per cent., and thus provide for the repayment of the total indebtedness during a period of 36 years from 1921.
In the recent negotiations, His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia asked that the rate of interest be reduced, that the period for repayment of the principal sum be extended, and that the half-yearly instalment of £2,774,404 due on the 31st March, 1931, be funded.
In support of this claim, His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia represented that whilst the heavy annual payments under the present agreement had been within Australia’s capacity during years of buoyant revenue, the serious fall in national income had entirely altered the position. Moreover, unemployment, reductions in wages and general governmental expenditure, greatly increased taxation and high exchange charges, had enforced heavy sacrifices on the Australian people, and had considerably increased the relative burden of interest payments, including those under the funding agreement.
His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom replied that, in their view, the 1921 agreement represented a fair and generous interpretation of the desire expressed by the Commonwealth to bear the whole cost of their war effort. The annuities represented only the actual cost of the advances to Australia, and the reduction of the Australian payments meant throwing an additional burden, at an exceptionally difficult time, on the United Kingdom taxpayers, who had also to face very great difficulties in respect of debt, taxation and unemployment.
At the same time. His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom stated it fully sympathized with the Commonwealth’s present difficulties, and, in spite of Great Britain’s grave problems, both financial and economic, was ready to respond to the appeal of the Commonwealth by a substantial temporary reduction of payments due. Accordingly, His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom expressed its willingness to agree that His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia should have the option of postponing four half-yearly payments, of £814,200 each, of the sinking fund on the Australian indebtedness to His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom. In postponing these payments, His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom did not propose to increase the amount of future annuities, but only to prolong the period of repayment by two years. His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom hoped this offer would be accepted as a sincere endeavour on its part, despite its own difficulties, to share the burden under which the Commonwealth is labouring.
His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia expressed appreciation of the friendly spirit animating this offer, and, in accepting it, acknowledged that it w)ould give material temporary relief.
The effect of this arrangement will be a reduction of over £1,600,000 per annum in the payments to be made by the Commonwealth to Great Britain under the funding agreement during each of the next two financial years, and the extension of the period of repayment of the principal debt by two years. The Commonwealth budget will also be relieved of the exchange charges which would have been payable if the repayments had not been deferred.
His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia still holds the view that there are good grounds for an extension of the period for the repayment of the Australian debt to Great Britain. His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, on the other hand, considers that as repayments of capital will be entirely suspended for two years, and a further revision of the period of repayment would not afford any immediate relief, consideration of the question is at present neither necessary nor desirable.
His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom expresses the hope that by 1933 the economic situation in Australia will have so greatly improved that the need for any further revision will not arise.
.- by leave - Honorable members and Australian citizens generally will receive with great interest and real relief the statement by the Prime Minister. Those feelings will, however, be tinged with regret that the economic circumstances of Australia should have made necessary such an appeal to the Government of Great Britain. The alterations in the funding agreement have been arranged in the right way - by friendly approach and negotiation and not by bluster and threats. If we ever lose our friends in Great Britain it will be our own fault. In 1926, when Mr. Bruce and I were attending an Imperial Conference, we approached the British Government with the object of securing a revision of the funding agreement in a manner favorable to Australia in relation to both the period of repayment and the rate of interest. At that time, however, the relative economic circumstances of Great Britain and Australia were such that we felt unable to press our representations further. I welcome, as I believe the Australian people will, the announcement the Prime Minister has made.
– by leave - My attention has been drawn to a letter published under the heading, “Ugly Rumours “, in the Labor Daily, Sydney, of 10th April, over the signature of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), in which he accuses me of rushing the tabling of the duty on petrol in containers of less than 40 gallons at the last moment before the adjournment of the Parliament for the Easter recess. He also states that there are ugly rumours afloat, that it is well-known that this duty will close down all small concerns operating in Australia, and that it will leave an open field for exploitation by the big combined oil interests. These statements are not only untrue, but also very unfair; and it is a pity that the honorable member did. not make some effort to ascertain the facts before rushing to the press and making irresponsible statements and contemptible insinuations. What was done was what the big oil companies, comprising Shell, Vacuum Oil Company, Atlantic Union, Texaco, and others did not want us to do. No tariff question has received more consideration than that of the duties on petrol. It is one of the most contentious subjects which have been before the Government. The proposal to charge an additional 1-Jd. per gallon on petrol in containers covering both drums, and tins and cases, was first included in the schedule introduced on the 11th December, 1929, as a deferred duty as a result of a decision made by Mr. Fenton before he went to England, and it had quite a lot to recommend it. The deferred duty was, however, postponed from time to time, pending an investigation by the Tariff Board. The Board reported on the 6th November, 1930, and recommended that the deferred duty be applied to petrol imported in cans and cases, but not to petrol imported in drums. The Board’s recommendation was put into operation on the 25th March, 1931, four months later, after the whole matter had been fully eonsidered by a sub-committee of Cabinet. It cannot, therefore, be said, with any semblance of truth, that this decision was rushed. Furthermore, the duties imposed were not what were asked for by the major oil companies. The Tariff Board’s report has been circulated for the information of honorable members. It recommended against the additional duty on petrol in drums for the reason that largesize drums were not being made in Australia, and there was no certainty, on account of the cost of manufacture, that the duty, if imposed, would lead to local manufacture. Further, in the opinion of the board, it would probably be more profitable to import the petrol in drums than to import it in bulk and pack it into locally-made drums. The duty would merely add to the cost of the petrol without conferring any benefit on any local industry. The board added that to permit importation in drums over 40 gallons would enable the independent importers to continue a business which otherwise they would have to forego, and that it was desirable that the competition resulting from their operation should be preserved. The board, however, considered that, as, at present, a number of well-established plants in the Commonwealth producing cans and cases are capable of supplying the whole of our requirements, there appeared to be no good reason why the petrol sold in cases and cans should not be packed in Australian-made containers. It pointed out that the local manufacturers are at a disadvantage in competing with imported cans and cases containing petrol and on which no duty is levied. The board did not think that much additional employment would result from the imposition of the duty, but if not imposed there was likely to be a loss in existing employment. The board stated further that, if the duty were imposed, some of the package business would be diverted to bulk, but any disability suffered in this respect by the independent importers should be greatly minimized if they can continue to import petrol in drums. On the 19th November, 1930, Mr. Cornforth, of the Vacuum Oil Company, Mr. Darch, of the Shell Company, and Mr. Ryan, of the Atlantic Union Company, waited on the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) and myself and made representations in favour of the deferred duty being imposed on petrol in drums as well as on petrol in tins and cases. Mr. Darch said that the Shell Company had an established industry making tins and cases, and had to pay 8d. per case duty on raw material, while its competitors could import their petrol ready packed without additional duty being charged. He further stated that protection against tins and cases alone would not be sufficient because the importation of petrol in drums was killing the tin and case trade, and that, if protection were given, the difference in price between packaged petrol and bulk petrol would not be increased. He added that if the protection were not given against petrol in drums, the case and tin factories would have to close down and that 100 hands had already been put off, reducing the number of employees from 500 to 400. He expressed the opinion that if the duty was not placed on drums as well as cans and cases, it would be better to put it on none. Mr. Cornforth also stated that if the suggested duty were put on tins and cases only, it would have the effect of practically putting the tin and case plants out of existence, and it would materially affect the local canister makers because the case business of to-day would revert largely to drums. Mr. P. J. Gleeson, of United Oil Products Company, Melbourne, representing the independent importers, interviewed me in January, 1931, and stated, among other things, that his company did not want the deferred duty to be placed on petrol in drums because that was the only way it had of bringing in supplies. On the 19th February last, a deputation, introduced by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), and the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), urged that the deferred duty be operated on petrol in drums as well as on tins and cases. At this deputation the following bodies were represented: -
The Chambers of Manufactures of all States except Tasmania, Victorian Box and Can Makers Association, Canister and Drum Manufacturers of all States except Tasmania, Sheet Metal Workers Unions, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.
Shortly before the resolutions of March were introduced, Senator Millen, on behalf of the Vacuum Oil Company, of which company I understand he is a director, made strong representations to me and to the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs, that the duty should be imposed on petrol in drums as well as on petrol in tins and cases, and failing that, that no duty should be charged. From what I have said, it will be learned that the major oil companies and other parties interested, except the independent importers, desired that the deferred duty should be imposed upon petrol imported in drums as well as petrol in tins and cases; that it would be of no benefit to impose it upon petrol in cans and cases only, if petrol in drums were excepted. Having these representations and reports, the Tariff Sub-committee of the Cabinet, after full consideration, decided to adopt the recommendations of the Tariff Board and included the item in the March tariff proposals accordingly four months after the report of the Tariff Board had been received. These recommendations, in the opinion of the Tariff Board, were founded on the evidence submitted to the board, and the sub-committee could see no good reason for departing from them. Instead of resulting in the closing down of the small concerns, the action taken should have quite the opposite effect. That it should, as alleged, leave an open field for exploitation by the big combined interests, is incomprehensible, in view of the representations made by and on behalf of the major companies, which distinctly indicated that the additional duty on petrol in tins and cases only did not suit them, and would be ineffective from their stand-point, unless it were imposed on petrol imported in drums as well as in cases and cans. The following statement is taken from an article headed, “ Petrol in Bulk,” which appeared in the Melbourne Argus of the 10th April, 1931 : -
It is explained by the oil companies that no reduction has been made in the price of motor spirit in cases and tins, owing to the fact that the recent duty of l*d. a gallon on petrol imported in this form has not been extended to petrol imported in drums. In the last few years the oil companies, which have established extensive plants in the Commonwealth, have had to face increasing competition from sources which have not incurred a capital outlay of any extent to carry on their business “in Australia. The oil companies state that these competitors render no service to Australia, and operate only in the few most selected centres. On the other hand, the combined capital investments in the Commonwealth of the leading oil companies, it is stated, approximate £20,000,000,- and the annual wages bill of the companies concerned ranges from £6,000,000 to £8,000,000. The competitors of these companies import their supplies in drums, tins, and cases, but now that the impost of 1 1/2 d. a gallon on petrol imported in tins and cases comes into operation, the use by them of tins and cases may cease. The competitive trade may now be restricted by these importers to petrol in drums, which will not have to carry the extra charge of Hd. a gallon duty. A few years ago, the principal oil companies decided to import their motor spirit in bulk, and some of them established tin and case plants in Australia. The bulk importing system brought considerable demands to Australian tin and case makers, with the result that their businesses expanded, and a great many more persons were employed than formerly.
The managing director of one of the large oil companies said yesterday, that as petrol imported in drums was exempt from the duty of lid. per gallon, which applied to petrol in tins and cases, it would probably be found necessary for the oil companies to discontinue to supply petrol in cases and tins. When existing contracts with Australian canister makers had been completed, he added, they would not be renewed, because it would be necessary to use drums. Thus a large number of workers would have to be dispensed with. Primary producers in the more distant parts of the Commonwealth would be put to inconvenience, because it would be necessary for them to take drums. Many farmers and others preferred to purchase motor spirit in cases and tins, because they valued the packages. It was unlikely, however, that they would pay a high price for petrol in cases and tins when it could be obtained in drums for about 3d. per gallon less. Should the duty be imposed on petrol imported in drums, there would be no need to suspend operations of the case and tin plants, and petrol in cases and tins would participate in the reduction in the price applied to that in bulk and drums.
Notwithstanding this, there has recently been some activity in the can and case business. In New South Wales an order for 4,000 four-gallon tins per month has been placed with a local manufacturer by one of the oil companies. Another company has stated its intention of ordering requirements locally after present stocks are depleted. The Queensland Can Company has recently received an order for 100,000 tins from one of the large oil companies, and a sample order for 150 cases has been placed with a case factory at Perth. Referring again to the allegations of the honorable member for Werriwa, I do not know what, if any, “ ugly rumours “ are afloat, but I do most emphatically resent the imputations conveyed by such statements, as the action taken by my colleagues and myself was open and above board, and was based on a report of the Tariff Board, a body appointed by the Bruce-Page Government. The report has been made available to honorable members, and to the public. That report, in our judgment, contained recommendations which seemed to provide a fair and reasonable solution of the difficulties of the conflicting interests concerned.
.- by leave - It is difficult to follow the statement as read by the Minister for Customs (Mr. Forde).
– The honorable member can read it in Hansard.
– I intend to do so, and I shall answer it at the proper time. Unless I make some reference to it now, however, it may appear to the public that I have no answer to it at all, or that I am evading the issue. The Minister accused me of making irresponsible statements. Nothing that I have said has been half so irresponsible as the statements made by the Minister.
– The Minister declared that my statement was irresponsible.
– He said that it was untrue.
– Yes, he even went so far as to say that. I repeat that ugly rumours are in circulation regarding this matter. I have evidence of that but I left it at home, thinking that no discussion would take place on this subject until the tariff debate came on. I am prepared to stand by every line I wrote in the Labor Daily.
– Let us hear what the ugly rumours are.
– It is all innuendo.
– I am not dealing in innuendoes. We know that, in spite of the Tariff Board’s report, the Minister informed honorable members that he did not intend to impose this duty.
– I said that it was not intended to put a duty on petrol drums.
– In spite of his promise, the Minister, just before members left for their homes, tabled an amended tariff schedule imposing the new duty. It was done with almost indecent haste, the Minister’s action suggesting that there had been some sudden occurrence which had caused him to change his mind. It was evident that it had nothing to do with the Tariff Board’s report, because that report was in the Minister’s possession at the time when he informed the House that it was not the Government’s intention to impose the duty. I shall leave the matter at this point for the time being, but when the tariff debate, which has already been too long delayed, comes on, the Minister will hear more from me.
– The honorable member and his colleagues can force the Government to bring on the tariff debate.
– We can do nothing of the kind.
– They can force the Government to bring on the debate or get out.
– That statement is as nonsensical as a great many others for which the honorable member is responsible.
– Unfortunately, I supported the honorable member and his friends for a long time before I learned how nonsensical their ideas were.
– If honorable members will not obey the Chair, I must take action to ensure their obedience.
– When the tariff is being discussed, I intend to use every available means in my power to defeat this item, and I shall then give my reasons fully.
– Has the Minister for Defence come to any decision yet in regard to the distribution to unemployed persons of surplus military stores of clothing and boots? If so, how is the distribution to be made ?
– It has been the practice in the past to make available for distribution to unemployed persons surplus stocks of clothing which was unsuitable for military purposes. However, in view of the great distress prevailing among a large number of the unemployed at the present time, and the possibility of the distress being greater during the coming winter, the Government has decided to make available for distribution oversized and undersized clothing. Altogether 73,000 articles, including jackets, greatcoats, and breeches, will be made available. The stores are held principally in New South Wales and Victoria, and will have to be distributed on a pro rata basis to the States, which have no stocks themselves. The distribution will bb made on condition that the State Governments shall bear the cost of dyeing, and will defray freight charges. The New South Wales Government cannot see its way to pay for dyeing, and in the case of that State other arrangements have had to be made. It has been decided that distribution will be made to each federal electorate in New South Wales, and each member representing an electorate will assume the responsibility of finding out what organization in the division is prepared to defray the cost of dyeing.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Customs been drawn to the quoted price of £30 10s. a ton for 26-gauge corrugated galvanized iron in Western Australia? This represents a considerable increase on the previous price. Has the Minister yet received any reply to the representations he promised to make as a result of the letter I read in this House dealing with secret rebates given by Lysaght Limited, and, further, has he received any report from the Tariff Board with regard to restraint of trade by the iron and steel merchants ?
– I have not seen the report, but if the honorable member brings it under my notice I shall hare that matter and others mentioned by him inquired into, and a reply will be given.
– Will the Government communicate with General Alcala Zamora with a view to establishing trade relations with Spain to enable Australian butter, wheat, &c, to be sold there? Is it a fact that the unknown destination of the exKing of Spain is Canberra? Is it also a fact that the abdication of two leaders and potentates in Australia synchronized with that of the King of Spain yesterday, and that they have led their followers over to dance a fandango in a new king’s camp?
– The honorable member may not offer a personal observation when asking a question.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a statement that two leaders have led their followers over to a new camp, as stated in the Canberra Times to-day? - I refer to the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell).
– I am not acquainted with all the intricacies of the international and parochial matters referred to by the honorable member. I shall give the question consideration.
– Is the Minister for Home Affairs aware of the existence of a company calling itself Naturalization Services, or of any other organization of that kind, which circularizes aliens with a view to obtaining their naturalization on payment of a feel Will the Minister have inquiries made with a view to preventing aliens from being exploited ?
– Upon the new regulation coming into force dealing with the charge for naturalization, persons in several of the capital cities, and some of the provincial towns, attempted to make money at the expense of those desiring naturalization. Immediately the matter was brought under my notice I made a public declaration warning those wishing to become naturalized not to pay to any person or company any money in connexion with such services, as they were absolutely free.
Notice of motion by Mr. Nairn with reference to Ordinance No. 18 of 1930, - by leave - withdrawn.
– -I have received a communication from the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) intimating that this afternoon he desires to move the adjournment of the House in order to direct attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The position in which residents of New South Wales, and taxpayers of other States, find themselves owing to the proposed action of the New South Wales Government in respect to its future financial obligations.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
.- The Prime Minister stated last night, on the motion for the adjournment of the House, that the New South Wales Government had recently paid certain interest which was due on the 1st April on account of its American debt, but had declined to pay interest to British investors on 3 per cent, and 5 per cent, loans then falling due, and had also failed to pay the sum of £453,000 on account of Australian indebtedness during the last two months. I congratulate the Government on having kept the name of Australia high by meeting those obligations, although, unhappily, the name of New South Wales has been dragged in the mud.
This default on the part of the New South Wales Government is the most shameful act in the whole history of the British dominions, and it raises most important issues, touching both our national honour and our material interests. What we have to consider is how we can most quickly counteract the effect of this action of the Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Lang), and prevent its repetition. Three immediate questions arise. Will the default of New South Wales tend to compel default on the part of the Commonwealth, and, if so, what can be quickly done to prevent that? What can be done to protect the taxpayers of other States from being unfairly burdened with the payment of interest on debt that New South Wales has incurred? What steps can the Commonwealth immediately take to ensure that money raised by taxation in New South Wales, for the specific purpose of paying interest, in a considerable part of that State, shall be applied in a legal and constitutional manner to the purposes for which it was raised? This default of New South Wales damages not merely the external credit of that State and of Australia, but it also imposes great disadvantages upon the whole country.
– I cannot permit the honorable member to go too far into that matter since it is sub judice.
– I shall not discuss the legal aspect of the subject, I am more concerned with the future action to be taken by this Parliament in regard to the raising of taxes to enable us to meet this position. The action of New South Wales must impose great disadvantages and new burdens on the taxpayers of that State, and on those of the other States too. The external damage and the internal burdens thus imposed are in ratio to the size and importance of
New South. Wales to the Commonwealth and the other States as a whole. New South Wales has so large a population, owes so large a debt, and has such great taxation resources, that unless something is done to ensure that a certain proportion of its revenue flows into channels which will enable the Commonwealth to meet its interest payments, there is a definite possibility of the Commonwealth itself being brought to the verge of default.
The people of New England have commissioned me to say, in the first place, that they are not responsible in any way for the fact that the Lang Government is in power in New South Wales, and do not endorse the repudiation proposals of that Government. Innumerable and crowded public meetings have been held throughout that area, at which the desire has been expressed to remove, at the earliest possible moment, the stigma that has been laid upon the people of New England. They desire to pay £2,500,000, which is roughly the interest due in regard to the public works that have been undertaken in that area.
– How can the right honorable gentleman say that the people of New England have commissioned him to make this statement?
– Many conventions have been called, and many meetings held, for the special purpose of considering this matter, and the people desire that it should be brought before this House. Subsequently, a petition will be presented, signed by the great majority of the people of New England, asking this Parliament to take action along the lines suggested.
I shall deal with the position as it is. The public debt of New South Wales is roughly £270,000,000, and her annual interest bill is about £13,365,595, of which £5,343,584 is due in Australia, £7,344,000 in London, and £677,668 in America. According to statements made in this House, the Premier of New South Wales proposes to pay the whole of the interest due in the United States of America, 3 per cent, interest on the Australian debt, and none on the debt in Great Britain. If that policy is adhered to, about £3,000,000 of the £5,000,000 odd due on the Australian commitments, and the whole of the money due in America, will be paid. But I understood from a statement made by the Prime Minister last night that the New South Wales Government has not met its obligations in regard to the Australian debt, so that a further amount will need to be added to the figure that I have given under that heading. Under the financial agreement, the Commonwealth Government is required to find the interest payable on the debt of New South Wales which that State does not pay, and according to my calculations it will be required to find £9,750,000 on this account during a financial year. It appears to me, in the circumstances, that the Commonwealth would be justified in offsetting against this amount the £2,917,417 which, under the financial agreement, it contributes to the New South Wales Government in interest charges. This would leave £6,632,609 to be found. The Commonwealth would also be justified in taking steps to cease the payment of special grants to New South Wales under the roads agreement, the agreement relating to the interest on transferred properties, and so on, which amount to £767,000 per annum. This would still leave £6,187,000 for the Commonwealth to meet which was not budgeted for at the beginning of the financial year.
How can the Commonwealth meet this charge? Figures submitted to the expert committee show that the Commonwealth overdraft on the 1st February, in London totalled £10,220,000 and in Australia, £5,564,000. It appears from the figures published for the nine months of this financial year that those totals will increase rather than diminish, because of the failure of the taxation estimates to be realized. Accordingly it will be necessary for the Commonwealth not merely to find means to meet this additional deficit, but also to provide for the £6,000,000 of extra interest which it will be obliged to pay on account of New South Wales. How can it find this money? It is probable that the litigation arising out of the non-payment of this interest will be carried to the Privy Council, and that a decision may not be reached before the end of the calender year. Even after the final decision is given it may take a long time to enforce. The Constitution provides very definitely in section 51 paragraph, ti, that the Commonwealth cannot discriminate between States or parts of States in the levying of taxation. Consequently the Government cannot put a special tax upon the people of New South Wales in order to recoup the amount that must be paid in interest on account of that State. It will have to impose general taxation on the whole of Australia to obtain this money.
But what field of taxation is left unexplored which is likely to yield millions of pounds? Our customs duties have been increased repeatedly during the last eighteen months with the object of adding to the revenue, but unfortunately the result is that the amount now being received through the customs is diminishing rather than increasing. The amount received so far this financial year is £8,000,000 less than the amount of anticipated receipts from this source for the nine months that have elapsed, and it is quite likely that by the end of the year it will be £10,000,000 less than the estimate. The sales tax has yielded £2,000,000 less than the estimate. The March income tax returns are £700,000 less than the returns for the corresponding month of last year, and the post office receipts are £1,600,000 less than the amount expected to be received for the nine months of the financial year that have elapsed. It must be quite evident, therefore, that it is hopeless to expect to obtain additional revenue from these sources. The Government must look to new sources of revenue to meet these unexpected charges. It is at a disadvantage in this respect compared with the States. The money paid in interest by the State Governments is obtained largely from receipts received from various public services such as the railways, although a certain proportion of the receipts from taxation are also devoted to this purpose. The New South Wales Government receives about 3 per cent, on the total amount borrowed or three-fifths, of its total interest payments through the railways. To enable the Common wealth Government to increase its revenue by £6,000,000, it would be necessary to increase the sales tax by one and a half times above what it is to-day or to in’crease the income taxation by two-thirds of the present amount. Of course, the country. could not bear this additional burden.
In these circumstances, the people of New England desire me to intimate to the Commonwealth Government and Parliament that they are prepared to agree that their liability in respect of these payments shall be determined by some impartial tribunal chosen by the Commonwealth Government. They estimate that this liability is between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000, and they are prepared to meet the interest charges on this amount. They are anxious and willing to pay. They also desire me to urge the Prime Minister and the Parliament to take the appropriate action to ensure that the money which is at present being raised in their area for the specific purpose, amongst others, of paying interest on their debts shall be spent in a legal and constitutional way in meeting those commitments. They pray that they may be allowed to keep faith with the Commonwealth, and with the British and Australian investors who lent their money for the development of this area. They also pray that they may be given the opportunity to maintain their honour and their good name and reputation as British and Australian citizens. They assert quite definitely that they are not responsible in any way for the putting into office of the Lang Government in New South Wales. At the last State election 112,000 voters in this area voted against the policy of the Lang Government, while only 80,000 voted for it. Twelve members were returned for this area opposed to Mr. Lang’s policy, and only two in favour of it. The people of New England prepared a draft constitution, at a convention, which was held recently, which they propose to submit to the Commonwealth Parliament as soon as they can obtain the signatures of a sufficient number of petitioners who will declare their readiness to accept that constitution. They intend to ask the Commonwealth Parliament for permission to carry their own obligations to govern themselves, and to assist the Commonwealth in the difficult times in which it finds itself.
I suggest to the Government that one of two courses may be adopted with the- object of allowing these people to shoulder their own responsibilities. I suggest that it is not possible rapidly, if at all, to secure the assent of the New South Wales Parliament to the proposals of this convention, because there is no certainty when that Parliament will meet or that when it does meet it will approve of the scheme that has been put forward. The people of New England approve of the almost unanimous recommendation made by the Royal Commission on the Constitution for the disintegration of existing States. This commission, which consisted of representatives of the Labour party and other parties as well as of business and other interests, recommended that before any State should be subdivided the proposal should receive the endorsement of 40 per cent, of the electors in the whole of the State, and 60 per cent, of the electors in the area concerned. The commission made that recommendation in the report which was presented to this Parliament in 1929. They recognize that that will occupy some time, and so they urge the Commonwealth Parliament, if it desires that their taxes for this year shall be applied, as they are intended to be, to the specific payment of debts due to Commonwealth and overseas bondholders, to adopt a shorter cut by appealing to the British Parliament to’ exercise its original power to legislate at the request of this Parliament. Section 8 of the Constitution Act provides -
After the passing of this act the Colonial Boundaries Act 1895 shall not apply to any colony which becomes a State of the Commonwealth; but the Commonwealth shall he taken to be a self-governing colony for the purposes of that act.
The effect of that is that from the passing of the Constitution Act the Imperial Parliament will legislate in respect of the boundaries of the Commonwealth only. But there is nothing to prevent the Imperial Parliament, at the request of the Commonwealth Parliament, legislating to provide for the State of New South Wales to be disintegrated as it was when Victoria and Queensland were severed from it. That would be justifiable in view of the special circumstances now obtaining; the State Government and the majority of the members of the State Parliament are refusing to pay the interest due by New South Wales te British and Australian bondholders, but they are discriminating in favour of American bondholders.
– If a referendum of the people of the whole State were taken on the subject of repudiating debts, would not the majority declare in favour of the payment of the debts?
– I am sure they would. The majority of the people of New South Wales, especially the country people in the south, north and west of the State, desire to prevent a repetition of what is occurring to-day, and the only manner in which that can be insured is by giving to them, through a new legislature, control of their own affairs, revenue and expenditure. A referendum by the Commonwealth on that subject might be taken simultaneously with the other. The Commonwealth Parliament, before requesting the Imperial Parliament to intervene, would be justified in conducting such a referendum. It is absolutely necessary that action along these lines be taken, because, unless Ave do something to diminish the power for evil now possessed by the huge State of Kew South Wales in regard to the breaking of federal contracts, the Commonwealth will be landed in difficulties which it will be unable to survive. The people of New England, and I believe of Riverina also, believe that the Federal Parliament should be unimpeded in its responsibility of maintaining the credit and good name of Australia. It is almost impossible to visualize repudiation by any other State, but if Victoria or Queensland were to follow the example set by Mr. Lang, not nearly the same amount of damage to the financial position of the Commonwealth would be done as is being done by New South Wales to-day. I have shown that even if the Commonwealth sets off against the interest payments made on account of New South Wales the payments which would ordinarily be made by the Commonwealth to the State under the roads agreement and in respect of transferred properties, this Parliament will still have to find annually £6,000,000 for the satisfaction of State bondholders. That is a substantial amount; it is three-fifths of the total Commonwealth revenue from income taxation,and default to that extent is a tremendous imposition upon Australia as a whole. The following table shows what would be the effect of a similar default by each of three States: -
Every year more and more agreements are being made between the Commonwealth and the States for co-operative and co-ordinated action. If one State, especially a big State like New South Wales, should break an agreement which has been entered into in good faith and in reliance on the honesty and decency of the contracting governments, there is no penal provision for forcing the defaulting government to keep to its bargain. The word of each government has been taken by the other Australian governments as something that it is natural to rely on, and sure to be honoured. The default of one State tends to destroy the whole edifice of federation. I trust, therefore, that the Government will favorably consider my suggestion to obtain an expression of opinion on thiB question from the whole of the people of
New South Wales. The matter is urgent, and can be dealt with immediately. When a similar position arose in the United States of America, and West Virginia declined to obey the federal law when the balance of the State of Virginia did not, a provisional government was established within ten weeks, and it was able to collect taxes. It is right, in the present circumstances, that the taxation due by the people of the north of New South Wales should be collected by its own government and used to meet its federal liabilities. If that is not done, the position of the Commonwealth will be materially worse. That is how we in the north see things. We desire to assist in meeting the difficulties of the Commonwealth, and we put these suggestions before the Federal Parliament and the Commonwealth Government at the earliest possible moment. We shall substantiate them later by petition, disclosing the names of the people in that area who are in this movement.
.- The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has brought before the House an important and serious matter. He has -made certain suggestions for meeting the difficulty caused by the default of New South Wales. In the first place, let me say that I appreciate the fact that the people of the northern parts of New South Wales are anxious to honour their political obligations. For my own part, I am of opinion that the majority, if not the whole, of the people of that State, wish to do this, and I believe that if a vote could be taken my belief would be proved to be correct.
The speech of the right honorable member for Cowper raised many important and serious questions. He pointed out that the obligation that has been cast upon the Commonwealth Government by the default of New South Wales is very serious, and he stated that the people of t’he northern parts of New South Wales desire action taken by the Commonwealth Government to enable them, at least, to meet their obligations, so that they may not be under the stigma of default. The honorable member indicated three ways in which what they desired could be done. .First, he said, a new State could be set up with the consent of the Parliament of New South Wales. That method at present is, of course, regarded as impossible. The second was the adoption of the recommendation of the royal commission that inquired into the Constitution, amending the Constitution so that a vote may be taken on the subject over the whole area of New South Wales, including the portion of .the State concerned. But such an alteration of the Commonwealth Constitution would require a referendum to the whole of the people of Australia, and the proposal would have to be approved by a majority of the people as a whole, and in a majority of the States. An opportunity will be given to the people of Australia to amend the Constitution at the first opportunity, and when that happens I hope that the people will clothe this Parliament with constitutional powers to enable it to meet circumstances like those which have now arisen, and other circumstances as they arise. The third method suggested, as one which could immediately be given effect, is to appeal to the British Parliament to pass an act to sub-divide the State of New South Wales. That suggestion does not appeal to me, nor to the Government. We in Australia must work out our own destiny, under the Constitution set up by our people. I believe that the people can and will elect parliaments that will preserve the honour and good name of Australia, without it being necessary to appeal to the British Parliament to interfere. The status of the Commonwealth of Australia as a dominion of the Empire has been greatly enhanced, strengthened and broadened as the result of the recent Imperial Conferences. The 1926 conference laid down certain principles, which were given more concrete form by the last Imperial Conference. Australia has now been given complete autonomy. Such autonomy, however, has not been given to the State Parliaments, and that creates an anomoly. There is, therefore, a strong argument for the alteration of the Commonwealth Constitution so that the Commonwealth Parliament may be able to amend the State Constitutions, and give greater local autonomy.
The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) raised the question of practical finance. What are we to do? How are we to meet the new financial obligations cast upon us, which he estimates, after making certain deductions, at an amount exceeding £6,000,000 ? This matter is perhaps sub judice, at all events as to the Commonwealth right of recovery and the legal interpretation of the financial agreement, but not as to the effect nor the amount of the default. Upon judgment being obtained in our favour, this Government will take action to enforce it. There will be no roundabout method required to remove from the shoulders of the people of Australia the obligation that rightly belongs to New South Wales. Regarding the extent of the default, I point out that the interest payments due to British bondholders on the 1st April was about £730,000, or, adding exchange £952,000. The sum of £730,000 is the amount included in the claim embodied in the writ which had been served upon the State of New South Wales. That is the only amount that is sub judice. In addition, the interest payments due to the Commonwealth Government by the Government of New South Wales total £436,000, including £221,000 of ordinary interest and £215,000 of interest due on loans for soldier settlements. That makes a total default of £1,388,000. If we deduct from that the Commonwealth contribution under the Financial Agreement for March, 1931- £243,000- the net amount for which New South Wales is in default is £1,145,000. The total payments due by New South Wales from the 1st April to the 30th June, in respect of interest payable to British bondholders exchange on that interest, and of interest payable to the Commonwealth, are £3,636,000. The amounts which the Commonwealth may hold as a set-off total £1,3S7,000. Therefore, the net obligation which may fall on the Commonwealth by the 30th June next is £2,249.000. Mr. Lang paid to America interest at the rate of 5 per cent., although he refused to pay to British bondholders interest on a 3 per cent. loan.
– Was the full amount of interest due paid to America?
– Yes, and on the due date. It is remarkable that Mr. Lang can speak about differential treatment between nations, when he takes action that differentiates between payment to America and payment to Great Britain. Mr. Lang has stated that the money has been withheld from the British bondholders because it is required to relieve unemployment in Australia. Surely that argument should apply also to the payment of interest due to the bondholders in America. The argument is shallow, and is merely an attempt to obscure the issue.
What is the effect of this default? No advantages will be obtained by Australia as the result of it. The effect of Mr. Lang’s action is merely to place on the Commonwealth the responsibility for paying interest due by New South Wales. As the Commonwealth must recoup itself by collecting the money from the States, New South Wales gains nothing. The burden is not lessened, but only shifted temporarily. Many disadvantages must arise as the result of the default. Our credit, both in London and Australia, has been adversely affected. The time when we might expect to raise money overseas has been indefinitely deferred. In Australia, the proposed wheat loan for the relief of distress among wheatgrowers had to be abandoned, although everything was in readiness for giving effect to it. The hope of a loan for new works in the near future has disappeared. The general effect of the Lang policy in. New South Wales will be- (a) The destruction of confidence in government contracts; (b) The encouragement of breaches of contract by private individuals; (c) The refusal of taxpayers to pay taxation, especially those affected by interest reductions; (d) The reduction of interest to savings bank depositors - there is £31,000,000 of deposits invested in the government securities of New South Wales; (e) The flight of capital from New South Wales, and the curtailment of credit; (/) The inability to raise loans for public works and wheat relief; (g) The serious damage to trade and industry, which will result in unprecedented unemployment.
– Has the Prime Minister any figures to show what amount of money has been withdrawn from the savings bank of New South Wales by depositors ?
– Yes, but I do not propose to quote them.
– I think that the figures should be quoted.
-I do not think it is advisable to make the figures known. The action of Mr. Lang has damaged our trade and industry, and weakened faith in government promises. Government loans are debts of honour, but there is no means of recovering from governments without the possibility of international complications. If governments definitely and deliberately refuse to honour their bonds, which are often termed gilt-edged securities, they break their word of honour to the people. There is nothing more serious than deliberate default. Mr. Lang, when he took office, was, no doubt, faced with great financial difficulties; but these were increased by his own action. He refused to take his place on the Loan Council, excepting st the first meeting after his election, and he refused to co-operate with the Commonwealth and the State Governments in securing financial relief. His action has frightened investors and others, and has endangered the financial stability, not only of New South Wales, but also of the whole Commonwealth. Despite his aloofness, his Government has been generously treated by the Commonwealth and the Loan Council ever since it has been in office. It has been granted money for the relief of unemployment, and has had increased loan allocations. Mr. Lang was offered assistance in securing the money necessary to pay British bondholders on the 1st of April, and also the money necessary for the relief of wheat-growers.
Large sums have been borrowed in Australia for Mr. Lang’s Government, and large renewals of advances have been arranged for it both in Australia and in London. Until Mr. Lang announced his policy of default, the Loan Council and the Commonwealth assisted him in every way. His actions have cut across the Federal Government’s policy and endangered its adoption. The Lang policy, instead of giving relief to unemployed and to starving people as he claimed it would, must ultimately add to their miseries. The right policy is to stand up to our debts, to employ people on works, and to increase production. That is the definite policy of this Government. We cannot assist the unemployed or necessitous wheat-growers if we weaken confidence in this country, and destroy the nation’s credit. We believe in taking proper and permanent methods to meet the immediate situation. With proper assistance from the banks, our policy of providing work for the unemployed, and increasing production, could, immediately, be given effect, but in the absence of their co-operation, this Government has been forced to ask Parliament to approve of new measures to obtain the finance necessary to enable it to carry out its policy. We cannot accept the suggestion of the right honorable member for Cowper, but the Commonwealth Government will take the proper action to recover the amount due to the Commonwealth.
.- The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has rendered a service in bringing this question before the House, thus enabling the Prime Minister to take advantage of a convenient opportunity to make a statement. Recent events have demonstrated the value of the financial agreement to the Commonwealth, and to the people of Australia as a whole. If a State had defaulted in the absence of the financial agreement, almost inevitably the Commonwealth would, in order to protect the general credit of the governments of Australia, have been forced into meeting the amounts due. Under the financial agreement, however, the Commonwealth Government has the right to meet those amounts, and to take legal action to recover them from the default ing State. An agreement between Governments rests upon the good faith of the governments concerned, but when the financial agreement was drafted, and an amendment was made in the Constitution dealing with this matter, provision was made for the enforcement of the agreement, not only in the terms of the agreement itself, but also in the new section 105a of the Constitution. I suggest to the Government that if it should find any difficulty of a technical nature in the enforcement of the agreement, reference should be made to section 105a, sub-section 3 of the Constitution, which provides that the Parliament of the Commonwealth may make laws for the carrying out by the parties to the agreement of the terms of the agreement. I am sure that this House, and this Parliament as a whole, with very few dissentients, would support the Government in any proposal for new legislation designed to carry out the agreement made by the Commonwealth and the States. I specifically mention that, because it is possible that legislation by this Parliament might facilitate matters on this occasion, or in the future.
The right honorable member for Cowper referred to those portions of New South Wales which desire to dissociate themselves from the action of what I shall call the Sydney Government.
– That is a petty thing to say. The honorable member knows that he is speaking of the New South Wales Government.
-The honorable member knows quite well to what I am referring. I have the right, I think, to make a distinction between the mind of that Government, and of the people of New South Wales as a whole, the majority of whom are certainly opposed to the action of the Government. In many parts of New South Wales exception is being taken to the policy of the Government, which is, of course, in the legal sense, the Government of New South Wales. Sections 101 to 124 of the Constitution, which have to do with the formation of new States, can only be applied after the fulfilment of many conditions. One of these is the consent of the Parliament of the State concerned. The actual result is that those parts of New
South Wales which are dissatisfied with the present Government of that State can secure separation only with that Government’s consent. That appears to me to be an extraordinary position, and one which would justify the application of an extraordinary remedy. The right honorable member for Cowper suggested that this is a proper occasion to make application to the Imperial Parliament to pass legislation to deal with the matter. As a general rule, I would not favour any proposal to go outside Australia for the purpose of obtaining legislation affecting Australia. When, however, a very desirable object is to be achieved, when those concerned feel very strongly on the matter, and have sound reasons for so feeling, when the credit of the country is at stake, then, I suggest, consideration should be given even to an extraordinary remedy of this character. Suppose a particular area of New South Wales, containing a population greater than that of some of the existing States, to be practically unanimous in its desire to form itself into a new State, and suppose that practically unanimous desire to arise from a definite infringement of the law by the Government of the State ; and suppose the Parliament representing the whole of Australia to be also practically unanimous in its wish to give effect to the desire of the area concerned, then, under those extraordinary and exceptional circumstances, it would be certainly proper to consider the advisability of applying to the Imperial Government to exercise its supreme legislative authority.
– We could do it in Australia.
– Not so long as the Parliament of the State objected.
– We could amend the Constitution.
– We could, but it would be a long and difficult process. At the 1930 Imperial Conference it was expressly agreed by the governments of all the dominions and the Government of Great Britain, that Imperial legislation might properly be passed relating to any dominion at the request, and with the consent of, that dominion. That is a useful reserve power, and should, I believe, continue to exist. In normal .circumstances no one would dream of suggesting the utilization of such a power, and it is only because of the present very exceptional circumstances that I suggest that the Government should at least consider the desirability of taking what I admit would be extraordinary action to deal with an extraordinary situation. If the Government and Parliament of New South Wales saw that there was a real risk of losing a large part of the area of the State, that would, I believe, prove more effective at the present time than any threat of legal proceedings. I suggest that the Government should seriously consider this proposal.
.- When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) states his readiness to ask the Imperial Government to interfere with the governmental affairs of this country, it makes one wonder where we are drifting. I am convinced that the statesmen of Great Britain have more sense than the Leader of the Opposition, and that if any such request were made they would tell us to settle our own difficulties. It is not likely that Britain, in this day and generation, would consent to get herself embroiled in quarrels with her overseas dominions. When the day comes that the Imperial Government, at the request of the self-appointed advocates of vested interests, interferes with the domestic affairs of any of her dominions, on that day will begin the dissolution of the British Empire. Honorable members opposite who scoff show that they have learned nothing from history. I should like to see more evidence of the spirit of Sir Henry Parkes in matters of this kind ; a greater determination to safeguard the right of this country to govern itself. When Sir Henry Parkes was Premier of New South Wales he refused to allow a ship-load of Chinese to land in Sydney. The British Government cabled to him stating that he was interfering with the rights of the Chinese nationals under a treaty entered into by Britain. Sir Henry Parkes, who was not an Australian, but an Englishman, cabled back that Britain could alter her treaties or Australia would make her own. That is the spirit we need in Australia at the present time. It is tragic to see honorable members get up in this House and say that we should appeal to Great Britain to settle our difficulties. Such an attitude is a confession of incompetence, and honorable members who would make that appeal ought to resign their places in this House, and allow the people to elect in their places members with the courage to govern the country whose representatives they are.
As for the agitation in favour of the formation of new States, it is remarkable that the only time the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) becomes active in this matter is when he finds himself in Opposition. It is useful to him then ; but during the five years when he held office under the Bruce-Page Government, when he was in a position to dictate its policy, he was silent about new States. He is somewhat like the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), who is prepared to go to jail now for the sake of new States, but who for the last five years sat in his place, and said nothing about them.
– The honorable member is misrepresenting me.
– -Yes, I am doing the honorable member an injustice. He did speak very feebly on the subject on one or two occasions. For my part, I do not wish to see new States created. I desire this Parliament, and this Parliament alone, to be the supreme legislative authority in Australia. After listening to the speeches of the right honorable member for Cowper and of the Prime Minister, one could not help sensing the atmosphere of mutual admiration in which the subject was being discussed. All parties in the chamber appeared to be ready to join forces in an attack upon the Premier of New South Wales. They are all ready to fight the one man, holding a responsible public position in Australia, who is prepared to strike a blow for those who are down, and out, who is really sincere in his desire to relieve the misery and distress prevailing throughout the country. There was a strange unanimity in all sections of the House in support of this attack. Whenever there is a “ dinkum “ fight to be fought, and not a sham political contest between rival office-seekers, Ave have the spectacle of the erstwhile warring sections in this House coalescing in an attack on any one who has the courage to challenge vested interests. However, bad as this Government is, we are not prepared to contribute to its defeat so that it may be succeeded by one willing to use machine-guns on the workers. We will not exploit any political situation in order to defeat the Government unless it is absolutely essential.
– If the honorable member is not careful, it will be too late for him and his friends to use their power.
– If the Government is defeated, it will not be by our votes. The only way in which it can be forced out of office is by the defection of some more of its supporters. That is our attitude, despite the intriguing of the parties opposite. Honorable members opposite are sadly disappointed, and they are now behaving like children. The Prime Minister said that the policy of this Government Avas to look after the unemployed. That may be its policy, but there the matter ends. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) seemed to be getting a grip of things when he sat on this side of the chamber, but now that he has crossed to the other side he is hopeless.
– I do not talk one way and vote another.
– Yes; he supported the wheat bill to humbug his electors, but voted against the Fiduciary Notes Bill.
Quite recently the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) moved the adjournment of the House, and the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) complained of the short notice given of his intention; but the Prime Minister cannot complain on this occasion. Apparently the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) informed him a couple of weeks ago that he desired to bring this matter under notice. I am convinced that the whole affair has been well stage managed, in order to have another crack at Jack Lang. Before long, all parties will have to take part in a real contest before the electors. The Prime Minister was one of the star “ reds “ in Victoria a few years ago; but apparently the responsibilities of office have toned him down. He is now prepared to kick Lang, and to join the Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader sf the Country party, in any kind of frame-up for that purpose.
– Yet the honorable member and his friends keep the Prime Minister in power.
– Yes; because the party opposite would be worse. We are in a most unhappy position. We have to support, for the moment, the best of a set of “ duds “, and we think we have chosen the best of a bad lot.
Despite all the talk about repudiation and the honoring of obligations, honorable members are willing to borrow more money in order to pay interest, thus piling up the burden of debt that future generations will have to bear. In their political cowardice honorable members repudiate the right of the unborn babe to live. They repudiate the right of men, women, and children to shelter and sustenance. They never hesitate to throw the wealth of this country into the maw of capitalism. Honorable members opposite may laugh, but the loud laugh speaks the vacant mind. We cannot honour our obligations, and we all know it. If a private institution had to do what the Government is doing to-day it would be bankrupt.
– Will the honorable member answer the charges made against Mr. Lang?
– I told the Treasurer in the caucus-room that he had never put up a fight in his life, and he is fighting to-day because he is being hunted like a fox.
– Why did Mr. Lang pay interest in New York, and not in London ?
– That is his business. The Treasurer has no more idea of running for Dalley than I have. I suppose that he will go back to Queensland.
– Why run away from the question that I have asked?
– I am not called upon to answer it. Mr. Lang is the man who did the job.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Those who know the honorable member for Werriwa will realize that when not making a speech he is one of the mildest of men imaginable, but in addressing this House he reveals two remarkable defects - a chronic tendency to handle the truth very carelessly, and a disposition to talk in a manner that would do credit to the most approved demagogue in the Sydney Domain. He has taken advantage of the attitude of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) to misrepresent what has been done by that gentleman and myself in this House in the last six or seven years. It is well known to all honorable members that on several occasions - I can recall three - I have submitted motions on the subject of new States, and every time a new Parliament has been opened I have placed a motion on the notice-paper with a view to bringing this matter before the attention of the House. I am pleased that the right honorable member for Cowper has brought the position of the people of New England under the notice of this Parliament in connexion with the default of New South Wales. Owing to the limitations of the Standing Orders it is not possible for a private member to bring up a matter that is more or less academic, but for some time past the people of New England, a good many of whom I represent, have been agitating for the consent of the Parliament of New South Wales to the establishment of a government of their own. I do not intend now to deal with the constitutional difficulties in the way of that reform, but a situation has arisen that justifies the representatives of that area in this chamber in bringing the wishes of those people under notice. The Treasurer suggested that we had no commission to do this.
– No. I asked what was meant by saying that honorable members had a commission to do it.
– I think that the right honorable member for Cowper answered that question. I have had a good deal to do with public meetings and conventions in New England in the last few months. All those gatherings were largely attended by representative people in that area, and the general desire was that the earliest action should be taken in this Parliament to let this House know the feeling of New England towards the monstrous act of repudiation by the New South Wales Government. The agitation for a new State in Northern New South Wales has been proceeding for years, and it is not defensible alone because of the sudden act of repudiation, but, allowing for the constitutional difficulties, a rid the fact that we have had to recognize that the establishment of a new State would be a long and difficult process, there comes a stage at which we are entitled to ask for some support from the National Parliament “in a situation that has brought the agitation to a head. Hitherto, we have based our agitation upon the ground of the general misgovernment of our area, not by the Lang Government only, but by all the governments of New South Wales for many years past. But we did not contemplate that the Lang Government would commit an act of .the grossest infamy, and that more than 400,000 people in Northern New South Wales, who have been agitating for separation for years, would be committed, without consultation, to a policy that must be absolute anathema to every person with decent and honorable instincts. The repudiation action of the New South Wales Government came upon us like a bolt from the blue, and is hateful to the vast majority of our people.
It may be said that some people living in Northern New South Wales support the Lang Government; but I point out that only 70,000 votes were recorded for the Labour party at the last election, while 112,000 were recorded against it. Although our people returned to Parliament members who had no mandate to approve of a policy of this description, we are committed to it for the next three years. This policy will be disastrous to the State, and will be an everlasting humiliation to all her citizens.
We have approached the National Government with this request on the grounds of emergency and urgency. We are prepared to shoulder our own obligations. If there is no other way of enabling us to do so than by invoking the aid of the British Parliament, we ask, as people who have been seeking self-government for many years, that such aid shall be sought. Every time the request of the people of New England for separation from New South Wales is referred to in this Parliament, honorable members opposite jeer and sneer at the advocates of the new State, and put every possible difficulty in the way of the achievement of their objects.
– Would the honorable member support a referendum for the abolition of all States?
– Certainly not. It is ridiculous to ask me such a question. That policy is quite antagonistic to the movement which I represent. We are prepared to support the holding of a referendum with the object of revising the Commonwealth Constitution to give this Parliament power to facilitate the establishment of new States or provinces. We are reiterating our desire for separation at this time, because of the disgraceful action of the New South Wales Government, which we feel makes it impossible for us to hold up our heads as honorable citizens of that State. Our people have been bled white by the taxation imposed upon them by the New South Wales Government; but the present Government has increased this taxation by 33-J per cent. Four hundred thousand of us are now contributing about £10 per head in direct taxation to New South Wales. The revenue received from us is in the neighbourhood of £4,500,000. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has indicated that the interest debt in respect of works constructed in New England is about £2,500,000 per annum. Seeing that we are contributing very much more than that amount to the New South Wales Government, we are justified in expressing our indignation against the shameful way in which that Government is robbing us. We are not receiving value for the money we pay to the New South Wales Government. It is not being used for the economic development of our area, and, consequently, we feel that it is the last straw for us to be connected in any way with a policy which involves the repudiation of honorable obligations. We have not subscribed to that policy at any time, nor have we ever subscribed to the policy if the party responsible for it.
If the Commonwealth Government intends to adopt the attitude that it can do nothing for us, and that the Imperial Parliament is not likely to concern itself with our request we are at a dead end. If the Government will not agree to the holding of a referendum to ascertain the view of the people of New England on the separation of that area from New South Wales, we ask it to give the
Imperial Parliament the opportunity to provide for the consultation of our people on the subject. Many honorable members opposite favour an amendment of the Commonwealth Constitution which will give this Parliament the power to amend the Constitution; but we are opposed to that policy. We ask the Government to convey to the Imperial Parliament the request that a homogeneous community of nearly a half a million people, which has been agitating for self-government for several years, shall be given the opportunity to declare, by referendum, its desire for separation from New South Wales. We would prefer, of course, that the Imperial Government should grant our request straight out; but if it does not feel disposed to do that, it is surely not too much to ask that the mind of our people on this subject should be ascertained by referendum
– Would New England want six senators like the other States?
– Of course, and if we had them the status of the Senate would be improved. We desire our wishes to be given effect in a constitutional way. We object to being associated any longer with a government of welshers If this Government is really opposed to the welshing policy of the Lang Government, and if it has any backbone, it will at least take the responsibility of forwarding our request to the Imperial authorities. It should be remembered that the Imperial Parliament still has sovereign power to create new States in the Commonwealth. We are still members of the British Empire in spite of the views expressed by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini). It is deplorable to us that the policy of the New South Wales Government should be advocated in this House; but, as the present Government has declared its opposition to it, we feel that it should assist us to achieve our desire for separation from New South Wales. If the people of Australia were given an opportunity to express their mind on our proposal, I am sure that, in their present temper, they would approve of it, and relieve us of the disgrace of continuing our association with the present New South Wales Government.
– I rise principally to direct attention of the failure of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) to deal with the real issues that have been raised by the action of the Premier of New South Wales. The honorable member regards the Premier of New South Wales as a courageous man, the saviour of the country, and the only Labour leader who is willing and able to help the workers of Australia. That is the pedestal upon which the honorable member places Mr. Lang.
– The honorable member for Dalley was placed upon a pedestal until he was found out.
– You are afraid to face Mr. Lang in Dalley.
– The honorable member for East Sydney is a political neophyte, and I do not intend to take any notice of his impertinent and foolish interjections. The honorable member for Werriwa spoke for the full time allowed him by the Standing Orders, but did not touch the ethical and practical issues raised by the action of the Premier of New South Wales, though he claims to be a supporter of that gentleman’s policy.
– There is a lot that the honorable member for Dalley does not know about ethics.
– I shall not waste any of my four and half minutes in dealing with the honorable member’s interjections. The honorable gentleman has accused this Government of running away from certain issues; but he himself, like Mr. Lang, whom he supports, has run away from the issues that have been raised. I ask him how he can justify the action of the Premier of New South Wales in paying New South Wales interest due in New York, and repudiating that which is due in London. If this action can be defended upon any reasonable grounds it is not too much to ask the honorable member to defend it. If the repudiation of overseas interest is justifiable in relation to Great Britain, why is it not justifiable in relation to New York? Why has there been differentiation in favour of the United States of America and against Great Britain? These are reasonable questions, and the honorable member should have some reply to them. I point out that, although certain of the English loans repudiated by Mr. Lang have an interest rate of only 3 per cent., and that those due in New York are in respect of money raised at £58s. 8d. per cent., the New York interest has been paid and the British interest left unpaid. On what principle can such differentiation be defended ? Why has the Premier of New SouthWales and those who support him refused to tell us on what grounds they favour the payment of interest due to a foreign country, and the repudiation of that due to a British country? Like his leader, Mr. Lang, the honorable member for Werriwa has run away from that question. When I asked him for a reply to it he descended to personal abuse of myself.
There is another aspect of this subject which merits attention. Mr. Lang has defended his repudiation policy on the ground that we should not be paying high rates of interest upon war loans while returned soldiers and workers are unemployed in Australia. He lias created the impression in the mind of a section of the public that his action has led to the reduction of interest on war loans. But that is not so, as has been pointed out a dozen times. Mr. Lang’s action has not resulted in the reduction of a single penny in the interest charges on war loans. The interest payments which he has repudiated are due on loans raised for the construction of public works in New South Wales, and not on war loans. New South Wales is not answerable for the payment of a penny piece of interest on our war debt, and nothing that Mr. Lang can do can abate to the extent of a single shilling the interest due on these debts. The payment of that interest is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. Mr. Lang knows this, but he chooses to ignore it, and continues to mislead those who follow him. At the Premiers’ Conference held in this very chamber in February last, at which Mr. Lang announced his intention to repudiate the payment of interest overseas, the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and I pointed out to him that the adoption of that policy would not relieve Australia of the payment of this interest, but simply shift the responsibility for it from the New South Wales Government to the Commonwealth Government, because the Commonwealth Government is under obligation to meet all interest charges which are not met by the States. It was also pointed out to Mr. Lang that only a small portion of the overseas debt was war debt, and that even that small portion was not a liability of New South Wales, but of the Commonwealth. Yet in his campaign on this subject Mr. Lang is continuing to mislead the people. Neither he nor his supporters have been candid with the rank and file of the Labour party in New South Wales or elsewhere. They are running away from issues which have to be faced, and running away from them in the most dishonest fashion.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 119.
Standing Orders suspended to enable questions upon notice to beanswered.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– Information is being obtained.
Supply of Railway Material.
Prime Minister, upon notice -
With reference to cabled information some months ago, of the amendment of Mr. Boyce in the British Parliament permitting Australia to benefit under the China Indemnity Bill, under which £3,000,000 then awaited expenditure on railway material within the British Empire, and a further £8,000,000 was to be made available, half of which has been allocated for expenditure on railway material within the British Empire, in which Australia is entitled to participate in the £4,000,000 and £3,000,000 by supplying hardwood sleepers: -
) Have tenders for hardwood sleepers yet been called for by the China Board of Trustees, or any other authority under the act mentioned?
If not, when can such a’ request be anticipated, and what notice will tenderers receive?
– No information has yet been received as regards the calling of tenders for hardwood sleepers for China, but the Department of Markets is in touch with the authorities and is taking steps to ensure that Australian producers have ample opportunity to participate in supplying, any requirements of this nature.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Statistical Register of South Australia, 1928-29, gives the total acreage planted with vines in the County of Adelaide as 14,588. This total is made up thus : -
The districts in which this acreage is planted are given in the publication mentioned thus: -
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– Inquiries will be made and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Agricultural Machinery - Tractors
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What amount has been collected as sales tax on agricultural machinery and tractors, including parts thereof?
– It is regretted that the information cannot be supplied as detailed statistics are not kept.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The matter is under consideration, and will be dealt with when theJoint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts has reviewed its recommendations for further assistance to Tasmania in the light of the terms of reference which were announced to Parliament on 26th March last.
asked the Prime
Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– On 25th March the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to advise the honorable member as follows : -
The following paper was presented: -
Commonwealth and State Ministers - Conference held at Canberra and Melbourne, February, 1931 - Report of Proceedings and Decisions (in. substitution for the Report tabled on the11th March, 1931).
Debate resumed from 15th April (vide page 872), on motion by Mr. Parker Moloney -
That the bill be now read a second time,
Upon which Mr. Gregory had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after “bill” be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “be withdrawn with a view to the proclamation of the Wheat Advances. Act 1930 and the further amendment of the said act so that effect may be given to the guarantee of three shillings per bushel f.o.b.”
.- One of the principal conclusions to be drawn from this debate is that there has been a great deal of bungling in the handling of the wheat problem. We have discussed the position of the wheat-growers several times in the last twelve months, and have done “nothing of practical value for them.
To try to apportion the blame for this failure would be futile, for the mere placing of the culpability on this or that party would not help the farmers. I hope that we shall be able to devise means by which a little practical aid may be afforded them. All members who have spoken during this debate have recognized the claims of the wheat producers to special consideration, and if we are really sincere we should approach the problem with a determination to find ways and means of giving assistance to them. Of the three schemes which have been submitted to the House the principal one is that put forward by the Government for the relief of wheat-growers by the issue of a fiduciary currency. That proposal is of no practical value to the farmer, because the bill to give effect to it will not be passed. Men needing assistance will see no virtue in any scheme that will not produce the necessary money. Even though this measure should be passed by this House it will never become operative; it will merely be sent forward to another place in the expectation and almost certain knowledge that it will be rejected there. For that reason alone this fiduciary currency proposal should be discarded as of no practical benefit to the farmers. But, irrespective of the principle involved, the scheme could not render assistance to the wheat-growers within six or eight months. I do not question the bona fides of the Minister for Markets, but if be is really desirous of helping the man on the land he will discard this method as unacceptable to the Parliament as constituted, and proceed to develop some alternative that has more hope of success. That most worthy of consideration is a proposal to impose a sales tax of £7 4s. a ton on flour. The only objection urged against that is that it may increase the price of bread, but that anticipation is not justified by the experiences of the past. A sales tax of £7 4s. a ton on flour is equivalent to 4s. a bushel of wheat. If 4s. were added to the ruling rate, the price in Australia would be raised to about 7s. On occasions the price of wheat has been higher than that.
– Such a tax would increase the price of a 4-lb. loaf by 3d.
– Not necessarily. During the year 1921-22 the average price of wheat in Australia was 9s. a bushel, and the average price of the 2-lb loaf in the four chief wheat-producing States was 5.8d. In the year 1928-29, the average price of wheat was only 4s. 9d. a bushel ; yet the average price of bread was 5.65d. Although the price of wheat in 1928-29 was 4s. 3d. a bushel lower than in 1921-22, the price of bread dropped only .15d., or less than one farthing. In the light of those experiences, I see no reason why an increase of 4s. a bushel in the price of wheat should be reflected in a dearer loaf. [Quorum formed.] The proportion of wheat in a loaf of bread is comparatively small. In one shilling’s worth of bread the wheat content on present values is only 1-Jd. The remaining 10-Jd. is distributed between the millers, bakers and distributors. Therefore, it is possible substantially to increase the price of wheat without causing anything like an equivalent increase in the price of bread. The greater portion of the cost of bread is represented by the wages of the millers’ employees, bakers, and carters, and overhead costs and profits. Already wages have fallen, and they are likely to decline still further. Rents also have decreased. These two factors should be sufficient to counterbalance an increase of 4s. a bushel in the cost of the raw material. There is a tendency to-day towards greater competition in trade, and there should be no increase in the price of bread should a sales tax be imposed on flour. If any increase in the price of bread did take place, the State Governments would not be slow to counteract it by fixing the price of that commodity. If the Government is not prepared to impose a sales tax, it should at least apply for an internal loan in order to provide assistance for the farmers. When the proposal of a bounty of 6d. a bushel was announced, it was stated that the scheme would be financed by an internal loan. Within a week the Premier of New South Wales made his threat of repudiation, and the Commonwealth Government immediately abandoned its proposal to apply to the public for a loan, believing that any chance that it had of being successful had been destroyed by Mr. Lang’s statement. But that statement has not half the’ force in Australia to-day that it had immediately it was made. When it was made there was considerable doubt whether the majority of the members of this Parliament would adopt the repudiation policy of Mr. Lang, but I am glad to say that, with the exception of five honorable members, this Parliament generally definitely decided to have nothing to do with the policy of repudiation. In any case the people of Australia are not likely to permit Mr. Lang to carry out his threat. If an appeal were made to the public to subscribe to a loan of £6,000,000 for the relief of the wheat-farmers, I feel sure that the people would respond, as they did when the last appeal for £28,000,000 was made. The interests of the banks and other financial institutions are bound up with the wheat industry. The Government would be justified in floating a loan, because even if it were not fully subscribed, the deficiency could be made good by imposing a sales tax to enable some small measure of assistance to be given to the wheatfarmer. Every apparently practical scheme submitted by the Government has been associated with some unsatisfactory and unacceptable condition. The objectionable feature of the first scheme was the principle of compulsory pooling. The proposed guarantee of 3s. a bushel had to be abandoned because it could not be financed. Now the proposed bounty of 6d. a bushel under this bill is associated with the principle of inflation, which is certainly objectionable to the majority of the members of this Parliament. Notwithstanding my desire to assist the farmers, I am compelled to vote against this measure. If it were placed on the statute-book it would be of no value. It would not be operative, and would serve merely as an excuse on the part of the Government for not giving effect to any other scheme. Once this measure is passed the farmers can say good-bye to any assistance from this Government. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to compromise by accepting the proposal of this side of the House to impose a sales tax on flour. If he does that, he will receive the gratitude of the farmers and great credit from at least the decent minded and right thinking people of Australia. We cannot all have our own way. We must come to some compromise to make any progress at all. If the Minister persists in his attitude the farmers will re ceive nothing, and their hopes will be disappointed. There is no prospect at all of any assistance being given to them so long as this bill is associated with the principle of inflation. Honorable members opposite have produced figures in an endeavour to show that wheat production is no longer economical, but if we abandoned wheat production what would become of Australia? It would mean throwing thousands of additional men into the ranks of the unemployed. It would indeed be a policy of disaster to abandon wheat production. We must keep our lands in cultivation. I hope that the Minister will take a national view, and in the interests of the farmers agree to a compromise on the lines suggested by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart).
.- This bill gives satisfaction to none. Even the Minister himself cannot be satisfied with its provisions. It is the last throw of a desperate man, and he has risked his all on this legislation. What has the Minister offered the wheat-growers of this country? He has offered them on paper 6d. a bushel, but virtually 4 1/3 d. a bushel. The average crop per acre in Australia last year was about twelve bushels.
– It was 114 bushels.
– I am erring on the safe side. Twelve bushels per acre at 4-J. a bushel works out at 4s. 6d. per acre. That would be of no assistance to the wheat-grower. He is being deceived by this Governm’ent. In proposing to pay this bounty to the wheat-growers, whether they need it or not, the Government is making a further mistake. It is true that a loan is to be raised to assist necessitous farmers, but the bounty is to be paid regardless of the financial position of the wheat-growers. It will be paid to the farmers in Western Australia as well as to the farmers in South Australia, although there is no comparison between the needs of those two groups of growers. In Western Australia wheat is being grown on cheap lands, which were purchased at a price that enables wheat to be grown profitably. In South Australia, in Victoria, and in a certain, portion of New South Wales, exorbitant prices were paid for wheat lands, which precludes any chance of making a profit.
The payment of this bounty will but prolong the agony of these men. The wheatgrower, in respect of this bill, is like a man. in deep water clutching at a straw in the hope that it will buoy him up, but the moment he grasps it he realizes that it has no stability and will not prevent him from drowning.
– Another bedtime story.
– It is a bedtime story so far as the wheat-growers are concerned. They are being lulled into a sense of security, but soon they will receive a rude awakening. The growers in Queensland are in a more fortunate position, because in that State there is a guarantee of 3s. lOd. a bushel. In the other States the farmers are to receive a bounty whether they need it or not. I recognize the difficulties that confront the Minister, but why deceive the wheat-growers by leading them to believe that something is being done for them when actually they will receive no material benefit at all? The question of Government assistance to the people on the land is a vexed one. When the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister, the hop-growers of Tasmania found themselves in difficulties, and asked the Commonwealth Government to assist them. They were given a sum of £25,000 on the written guarantee that when their crops were sold in London, the first fi25,000 received would be handed to the Commonwealth Government. If Government assistance in every instance were given on those lines all would be well. For years I have opposed the principle of Government assistance being given to producers -who find themselves in financial difficulties, because there is no end to it. When we consider applications for assistance upon their merits, it often happens that our sympathies carry us away, and lead us to do things which are economically unsound. We should get down to fundamentals, and consider whether or not a proposal for relief measures up to sound principles. Some time ago, a great case was made out for the relief of the hop-growers, and they obtained assistance. It was not long before the tomato-growers of Bendigo made similar representations, and again the Government came to their assistance. Then the doradillo grape growers along the rivers fell on evil times. Could the Government stand by and let them go under? No; it came to their assistance also. Now the Government is called on to do something for the wheat-growers. No one denies that the wheat-growers are in great difficulties to-day. It is costing them more to grow wheat than that wheat can be sold for in the world’s markets, but this measure would not solve their problems.
– What about the sales tax on flour?
– That would certainly help, but, unfortunately, the honorable member’s amendment is out of order.
– It has not been ruled out yet.
– It certainly will be ruled out. Of course it rests with the Minister.
– The honorable member ought to consult the Minister for Agriculture in Queensland to find out what he would think of the sales tax on flour.
– The wheat-growers of Queensland are not interested in this measure. They are provided for, being already assured of 3s. lOd. a bushel for their wheat. There is something wrong with the wheat industry of Australia, and this measure will not remedy the trouble. The disease affecting the wheat industry is over-capitalization, a complaint which has stricken, not only the wheat industry, but practically all our other primary industries as well. [Quorum formed.] Until a readjustment can be made in land values, it will be impossible for the wheat industry to pay its way. I am opposed to this bill, on the ground that it is illusory - that there is no meat in it - that it will not be of any material assistance to t]u wheat-farmers, and, further, that the money will be paid to those who do not, as well as those who do, need assistance. My chief objection to the bill, however, is that if carried it will necessitate an issue of fiduciary notes. I am opposed to the issue of such notes, and I do not desire that any vote of mine shall furnish an argument for the Government in support of the issue of such currency. The Government has been told repeatedly by the banks that money is not available to finance a wheat marketing scheme, so that the only way the Government can find the money under this proposal is to issue fiduciary notes.
– The honorable member wants dear money for the farmers.
– I do not; but this proposal will not benefit the farmers, any more than did the unpegging of the exchange. “We were told that the farmers would reap the full benefit of the exchange if it were allowed to go to its natural level. They have reaped some benefit, but not all. They, in common with other sections of the community, have been called upon to pay the additional charges. As a matter of fact, I doubt whether the farmers have benefited by more than 25 per cent, of the increased exchange rate.
– The position of the wheat-farmers would be desperate without an unpegged exchange.
– I admit that the unpegging of the exchange has helped, but the farmers have not obtained the full benefit of the higher rate, nor will they obtain the full benefit of what the Government proposes to do for them under this proposal. They, in common with all other taxpayers, will, be called upon to make good their share of the cost. The primary producers have always paid a very large proportion of the taxation collected. We must find some other method of assisting the wheat-growers, and I know of no better way than that hinted at by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). We know that every honorable member in this House is desirous of helping the men on the land, and if representatives from every party were to meet I am convinced that a proposition could be outlined that would be acceptable to all. The present proposal has nothing in its favour, but a great deal against it, and I shall have great pleasure in recording my vote against the bill.
– I have very little to add to” what I said in my second-reading speech on this bill, but I desire to refer to some of the statements made by those who have criticized the method by which it is proposed to finance this scheme. All honorable members are agreed as to the seriousness of the plight of the wheat-farmers, and all are desirous, so they say, of coming to their assistance.
The Government has put up a definite proposal, which has been criticized by honorable members opposite, but not one definite alternative has been put forward. It is all very well for honorable members opposite to say that they will not accept the new method of creating money. As a matter of fact, it is not new; it has been adopted successfully in many of the older countries. Honorable members opposite have not shown that we cannot assist the farmers in the manner proposed, and do so without any injury to the community. They have not shown that any harm would be done to Australia by raising £18,000,000 through the issue of fiduciary notes, £6,000,000 of which would be used to help the wheat-farmers. The whole burden of their attack was that the Government’s scheme was fantastic. They must know that the mere use of a stupid adjective of that kind is not sufficient to condemn a proposal. No honorable member opposite took the trouble to show that in any country where this method of raising money has been tried it has worked disaster. No honorable member was able to prove that our proposal, if put into operation, would in any way affect this country to its detriment.
The proposal is ‘ a very simple one, namely, to raise £6,000,000 by means of an issue of fiduciary notes, the money to go to the necessitous farmers of Australia, many of whom, through their organizations, have asked Parliament to pass this bill. Some honorable1 members opposite said that the responsibility for the passage or defeat of the measure rested on me. They would like to be able to shift the responsibility from their own shoulders. Such of the wheat-farmers as have expressed themselves have made it clear that they regard the responsibility as resting upon honorable members opposite. The Government has put forward a definite policy, and if the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), and his friends, vote against our bill, upon them will rest the responsibility of justifying themselves in the eyes of the farmers. So far he has not given his reason for not supporting the method proposed by the Government to provide relief for the wheatgrowers. It was said by one honorable member on this side that members of the Opposition opposed the bill because it came from this party. If that is not the reason for opposing it, I have not heard any other definite reason advanced. I have not heard any member on the other side attempt to show wherein lie the defects of the policy of raising money as proposed by the Government. Nobody has suggested that this country is so bankrupt that the issue of credit contemplated would not be justified for the assistance of a section of the community that is down and out. All we hear is on all fours with what was said in 1910 about the “ Fisher flimsies “. I believe that one or two members of this House to-day stated at that time that those notes would not be worth 5s., but not one of them was prepared to accept less than 20s. for them. Although the foolish statements made in 1910 may be repeated in this chamber to-day, that does not prove the policy of the Government in this matter to be unsound, particularly as there is no other feasible way of meeting this desperate situation.
– That talk will not go down with the farmers.
– The farmers will require much sounder argument than has been submitted by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) if he votes against this bill.
It was amusing to hear the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) when he’ submitted his amendment to providean advance of 3s. a bushel. Allowing for the difference between the present price of wheat and 3s. a bushel, an amount of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 would have to be provided, and it would be necessary to resort to an advance of credit to make up that sum, just as is contemplated under the present proposal. The honorable member was so illogical in his argument that he could not have been serious about the matter. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has explained a dozen times why the bill for the advance to the farmers of 3s. a bushel was not proceeded with. The measure was passed by this House, and immediately the Government asked the Commonwealth Bank Board to make the necessary finance available the Board replied that it had been informed by its legal advisers that this could not be done constitutionally.
– The request to the Commonwealth Bank had regard to the 2s. advance provided for in the bill, and not the Commonwealth guarantee of 3s.
– Did the Government obtain a guarantee from the Commonwealth Bank that the 4s. could be financed ?
– That is another matter. We called their bluff in regard to that by proving up to the hilt that the necessary arrangements to provide that 4s. were made with the Commonwealth Bank.
– Did the Bank give any reason why the first proposal was unconstitutional, and did the Government endeavour to put it in a constitutional form ?
– The Board said that after consulting their legal advisors they could not make that money available. Their advisors told them that, under the Constitution, Parliament could not guarantee the bank against loss.
– Why could 4s. a bushel be guaranteed, and not 3s. ?
– The 4s. was a guarantee connected with the Wheat Marketing Bill with which the States were associated. Had the first proposal of the Government been given effect, the second and third proposals would have been unnecessary. Nearly every honorable member opposite who has spoken on this bill has prefaced his remarks by saying that this is the Government’s third attempt to deal with the wheat problem. The fact is that the Government’s policy in regard to wheat marketing was fully set out in the first bill, which was known as the Wheat Marketing Bill. That bill set out the complete policy of the Government in regard to wheat marketing. Provision was made for control, and for the establishment of an organization. When the Leader of the Opposition moved an amendment to provide for a guarantee of 4s. a bushel without a pool, I refused to countenance any guarantee without a full organization. The bill was rejected through no fault of the Government. The Government would have been quite justified at that stage in going no further, but it did go further, and, instead of getting credit for going beyond its stated policy, a complaint was beard. I repeat that the Government’s policy was contained in the Wheat Marketing Bill, and when it was defeated in another place, by friends of honorable members opposite, the Government would have been justified in proceeding no further in the matter.
I do not consider it a sound policy to offer guarantees unless there is complete organized control as provided for in the Wheat Marketing Bill ; but I realize that desperate circumstances justify desperate remedies, particularly when honorable members on both sides of the House favour action along the lines proposed. I have always claimed that unless we give control to the growers themselves, backed by a board on which there should be at least one Government representative, we cannot properly safeguard the payment of a guarantee. Whatever happened regarding the second and third proposals they were brought forward only because the Government was defeated, through no fault of its Own, in regard to its declared policy as set forth in its first bill.
– Does the Minister now say that the Government is powerless to help the wheat-growers unless it is allowed to print notes?
– I shall answer that question. What are the alternatives to this proposal? Under present circumstances we can conceive no other means of rendering the necessary assistance. I think that the Leader of the Opposition said that he would favour the Government’s plan if we could raise the money by loan, but the honorable gentleman knows what has happened in regard to loans. There was a meeting of the Loan Council at which the Government proposed to raise the necessary money by way of loan. Although the Loan Council unanimously agreed to the floating of the proposed loan, the foolish statement made immediately afterwards by the Premier of New South Wales was not conducive to the success of such a move, and it was generally agreed that it would be useless to make it. The position has not altered since then.
The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), and others, have suggested that a sales tax of £2 10s. per ton should be imposed on flour over a period of years, and that the proceeds should be used to guarantee the bank in an advance of the amount required; but there are many objections to the adoption of that course. The Ministers for Agriculture, in the various States, could no doubt give honorable members opposite substantial reasons why such a scheme could not be put into operation. The New South Wales Parliament, for instance, has passed a bill which authorizes the Government to acquire flour at £7 10s. per ton, retail it at £10 per ton, and use the net proceeds for the assistance of the farmers. It is estimated that this action might have the effect of increasing the price of a 4-lb. loaf of bread by Id. If an additional tax of £2 10s. per ton were imposed on flour, bread would probably be increased by 2d. per 4-lb. loaf, and the New South Wales Government would probably object to such a happening. Action is also being considered in Victoria to fix the price of wheat for home consumption. It will be seen therefore that the imposition of a sales tax on flour would result in dangerous duplication. There is a widespread demand in favour of the reintroduction of the Wheat Marketing Bill.
– When does the Minister propose to re-introduce it ?
– At the earliest possible moment. The policy laid down in that bill would, if put into operation, give permanent relief to the farmers; but the policy of imposing a sales tax on flour would give them only temporary relief, and as it would need to be continued for a number of years it might endanger the prospects of giving full effect to the scheme contained in the Wheat Marketing Bill. An integral part of the policy laid down in the Wheat Marketing Bill is the power given to the States for the fixation of the price of wheat for local consumption, so that any loss incurred in the payment of a guaranteed price of wheat in respect of the portion of the crop exported might be made up by the extra price obtained for local consumption wheat. The farmers would not thank us for imposing a sales tax on flour if it endangered the operations of a permanent wheat marketing scheme.
The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) should be the last to criticize the sincerity of the Government’s desire to assist the wheat-growers. I well remember him visiting me in my room after the other place rejected the Wheat Marketing Bill last year. He strongly denounced the members of that chamber for their action, and I concurred in his remarks. There is a reliable test of sincerity in matters of this kind. It is to be found in the division lists. All the members of the Labour party in this chamber, and in the other place, voted in favour of the Wheat Marketing Bill. That is the best test of sincerity, and if the members of the other parties had stood up to the test the farmers of this country would not be in their present difficulties. The honorable member for Echuca used the strongest language in denunciation of the members of the other place who voted against that measure. He also denounced the methods that were adopted to secure the defeat of the bill. It is well known that the representatives of the wheat merchants of Australia left Canberra the Dight before the vote was taken in the other place with the boast that they knew that the numbers were all right, and that the bill would be defeated. In all the circumstances, I am amazed that the honorable member for Echuca should forsake the honest and straightforward attitude that he adopted at that time.
– I have not forsaken the attitude that I then adopted.
– I am pleased to hear it.
I told the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that, in this speech, I would give him the reasons why the Government could not accept the amendment he intended to move with the object of giving effect to the provisions of the Wheat Advances Act. The Government considers that it is unnecessary and useless to go on with that measure for the conditions which made the proclamation of it impracticable at the end of last year still exist. I have said definitely half a dozen times, and the Minister who was acting in my stead at that time has also said definitely, that the Commonwealth Bank Board obtained legal advice to the effect that the proposed government guarantee of the bank against any loss that might be incurred in paying 3s. per bushel f.o.b., for this season’s wheat could not be given effect because of constitutional difficulties. There should therefore be no misconception in the mind of the wheatgrowers on this subject. I repeat that there would have been no need for this measure or for the proposed bounty of 3s. if the Wheat Marketing Bill, which embodied the policy of the Government had been agreed to. The steps since taken by the Government were due to a realization that the position of the farmers was desperate. When the Wheat Marketing Bill was defeated in another place, through no fault of the Government, it could have easily rested on the policy it had attempted to put upon the statutebook.
– The Government could not.
– The Government would have been justified in doing so. If the honorable member had piloted through the House’ a measure embodying the policy of a government of which he was a member, and the bill was defeated in another place, would he feel called upon to change his policy and introduce some other proposal which he regarded as unsound? I said in the first place that any method that might be suggested would be incomplete if it were not allied to that control of marketing which the Government’s original bill proposed. Our second measure, and the bill now before the House, have been rendered necessary wholly by the opposition which the Government encountered in another place.
– Hear, hear! Now I again ask the Minister whether, having regard to all these facts, he still says that the Government is powerless to do anything for the wheat-growers unless allowed to print notes?
– Having failed to get its policy accepted in another place the Government feels that the existing desperate situation can be met only by the creation of a fiduciary currency if the wheat-growers are to receive help in the quickest possible way.
– Then the Minister’s answer to my question is “ yes “.
– My answer is as I have stated. This bill would not have been necessary if the Wheat MarketingBill had been passed.
– Introduce the original bill again.
– That will be done very soon, and I urge honorable members of the Opposition to utilize their spare time to impress upon their friends in another place, who so far have lacked sympathy with the wheatgrowers, the urgent need of going to their aid. It is for them to convince the opponents of this bill how utterly stupid is the contention that the provision of £6,000,000 of fiduciary currency will be harmful to the people. No proof has been adduced that this proposal is unsound. If this measure and the Fiduciary Notes Bill be enacted £6,000,000 will be available for the relief of the farmers. Of that amount £3,500,000 will be distributed to them as a free gift, and the other £2,500,000 will be disbursed by the States. All of the money will go direct to the wheat-growers. No honorable member will deny that the farmers would receive the money with open hands. They are in a desperate position, and the resolutions they have passed show that they are anxious for the assistance which the Government proposes. This is the only definite and practical means of providing help immediately, and if it is rejected the responsibility will rest upon honorable members opposite, and nobody else.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Gregory’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . . . 31
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
This act may be cited as the Wheat Act 1931.
.- This is a suitable clause upon which to state the real nature of the bill, the second reading of which has been carried by a large majority. I doubt whether a single member who voted for the measure really believes that it will ever operate, or that any one will get 6d. out of it. I make that observation with reference to every honorable member who voted for the bill. Although this measure is to be called theWheat Act 1931, that, I contend, is a complete misnomer. I suggest that it ought to be called the Wheat Promises Act No. 4 of the year of grace 1931. This is the fourth attempt of the Government to deal with the question of wheat. The other three have failed. The first I opposed.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) opposed every one of them, including the Wheat Marketing Bill.
– Why the Minister keeps on saying that we opposed the Wheat Marketing Bill, when every one knows that we did, I fail to understand. He is much more satisfied with himself than is anybody else.
– The Leader of the Opposition did not call for a division on that bill.
– The Minister has made the same speech on this subject about twenty times in this chamber. I wonder when the Minister was in Opposition how many times no division was called on bills against which he had spoken. Of course, everybody knows that there were scores of such occasions.
– That is not so.
– This bill should not be called the Wheat Act 1931 at all. It will never have any relation to wheat, because its operation depends entirely upon the passage of another bill.
– Not necessarily.
-The Minister expressly and explicitly admitted to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) that this bill would not operate, even though passed by this Parliament, unless another measure recently passed by this chamber was passed in another place. Accordingly every honorable member who supports this bill supports the other measure in principle.
– That is a gross misrepresentation.
– I understand that some honorable members who disagree with the fiduciary issue have said that they are justified in voting for this bill because there is a provision in it for raising money by way of loan. The Minister has knocked out the bottom of that argument completely and entirely, because he has said that the money cannot be found except by a fiduciary issue. When one wills an end, one wills the only means by which that end can be attained, and honorable members have been told by the Minister in charge of the measure and by the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) that not one penny will be paid under this bill to the farmers unless there is a fiduciary issue. For that reason I say that this bill is misnamed. It is obviously a political device to catch the politically innocent. To secure the support of certain honorable members on this side, the Minister has omitted from the bill any reference to the only means whereby the bill can become operative. Surely we should look at realities and not at shams. What is the reality of this bill? This is a proposal to raise £6,000,000 by a fiduciary issue, and by no other means, for the assistance of the wheatfarmers. For that reason the Opposition voted against the bill, knowing quite well that it was only a device to procure votes, and to enable the Government to pretend, as the Minister for Markets has pretended throughout the country, that those who vote against this impossible measure are somehow opposed to the interests of the farmers. That is not the case, and every honorable member knows that full well.
– The honorable member seems to be disturbed.
– I am not disturbed, but my remarks are arousing such enthusiasm among the supporters of the Government that I am forced to raise my voice. I cast my vote on the second reading of the bill with the greatest satisfaction, and I shall have the greatest pleasure in explaining my attitude to any audience of farmers or of any other section of the community anywhere in Australia.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
.- The position of the wheat-farmers to-day is the most desperate in the whole history of their existence, and I refuse to make them a pawn in any party squabble. The Country party has shown that it is ready to support any measure brought down by this Government to remedy or alleviate the serious position of the farmers, even though it may not be in complete agreement with its proposals. First of all the Government proposed to guarantee the farmers 4s. a bushel; and then introduced a later bill to guarantee them 3s. a bushel. We supported both of those bills, and just before the dinner adjournment to-day, we endeavoured to carry an amendment requiring the Government to proclaim the act under which the farmers were guaranteed 3s. a bushel. The bill was passed through the House three months ago with great eclat, and later it passed the Senate also. Yet the Government has refused to proclaim the act, although it declared that its provisions would prove the salvation of the farmers. The present bill, instead of securing to the farmers a return of 6s. 6d. a bushel as promised them by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons), or 4s. or even 3s. a bushel, merely offers them a bounty of 4£d. a bushel; nevertheless we are prepared to support it. The machinery of the bill is faulty, and the amount offered paltry, but we intend later to move an amendment for the imposition of a sales tax on flour, to redeem an immediate loan for the assistance of the wheat-farmers. Even if we cannot carry that amendment, we should like to see this bill put on the statute-book, because we do not believe that the Government has very long to live. When it is dismissed from office, public confidence will be restored, and the incoming government will have the choice of half a dozen different methods of financing this scheme.
– I remind the right honorable member that he cannot be permitted to make a secondreading speech at this stage.
– I wish to reply to certain statements made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). He said that the bill had a direct connexion with the Government’s proposed fiduciary note issue. I desire to point out that the bill has nothing whatever to do with the fiduciary note issue, and can operate absolutely independently of it. If any further proof were required of that, other than the terms of the bill itself, it is to be found in the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition himself to the effect that, notwithstanding any provision in any other act, all moneys payable by virtue of this bill shall be paid out of money borrowed in accordance with the provisions of the bill. That shows conclusively that there is nothing in the bill to connect it with an issue of fiduciary notes, apart from ministerial declaration. On one occasion an income tax bill was introduced into this Parliament, and was declared by the Minister to have a certain meaning. After it had become an act, it was declared by the High Court to have an exactly opposite meaning, although the intention of Parliament at the time it was passed was quite clear. The financial provisions of the present measure are exactly the same as those incorporated in every loan bill passed through this House.
– I again ask the honorable member to keep to the clause.
– The Country party will attempt, during the consideration of the remaining clauses of the bill, to improve it in such a way as to make the financing of the scheme certain. If the Government will not accept our proposition, it must accept the responsibility for refusing it. It will then be evident that the Government is bringing forward this measure simply as an electioneering bait to catch the farmers. However, the Government ‘will not always be in office, and when it is turned out, this scheme can be used to help the farmers, as they should be helped.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 (Repeal of Wheat Advances Act 1930).
.- This clause provides that the Wheat Advances Act 1930, shall be repealed. The Wheat Advances Act, if I remember rightly, was passed as recently as December last. It was one of the most remarkable pieces of legislation ever passed by any Parliament in any country. When the bill was before the House, the Government was told in the kindliest manner from this side of tho House that the act could never possibly operate, that the proposals which it contained for paying the guaranteed price of 3s. a bushel for wheat by means of advances from the Commonwealth Bank, those advances to be guaranteed by the Commonwealth Government, which could obtain funds only from the bank itself, were of such a nature that the act must inevitably fail. The bill was introduced, I think, by the present Minister for Customs (Mr. Forde). He is a gentleman who always has a great deal of enthusiasm for his measures, whatever his understanding of their significance or effect may be. He, perhaps, had more enthusiasm than the present Minister for Markets (Mr. Moloney), who, when introducing the present bill, and in his reply to the second-reading debate served up to the House what could only have been his election speeches. Their character wa3 such that they could not be effective except in surroundings in which there was not a close contact with reality. The Minister for Customs boomed his bill through. He has a fine, resonant voice, which is, of course, a very useful aid to effective legislation. He overrode all objection with a volume of sound without meaning. The Government was warned that the act could never come into operation. It never did come into operation. For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth we had the spectacle of a government having submitted legislation to the Parliament of Commonwealth, and getting it passed through both Houses, appealing humbly to the citizens of Australia a month later to regard the act as a dead letter. Those were, I think, the exact words used. Now we are asked to go through the solemn farce of repealing this inutile and ineffective measure. I support this clause wholeheartedly, and I suggest to the Government that it should introduce what I may call an omnibus bill, to repeal quite a number of the acts for which it has been responsible. I do not know how much longer this Government is going to remain in office, and the indications are that Ministers do not know either. I agree entirely with the principle of this clause, which is that legislation introduced by this Government should be repealed. The principle is sound, and ought to be extended. I am glad to find myself in agreement with the Government at least in this, and I have the very greatest pleasure in giving the clause my support.
.- I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) upon his action in calling together the different branches of his party with the idea of securing unity. No doubt it has been a most successful conference as demonstrated by their votes this afternoon. I can well believe that the Leader of the Opposition desires that much of the legislation introduced and passed by this Government should be repealed.
– Very nearly all of it.
– That desire on the part of the Leader of the Opposition must make it plain to the farmers of Australia just what his attitude toward them is. The Wheat Advances Act of 1930 which, by this clause, it is proposed to repeal, was introduced by the Government which counted as one of its leaders the man who now it is predicted, is to become the leader of a united’ Opposition. The men who are now being boomed as the potential saviours of the nation, and who have been taken to the bosom, of the Opposition, were those who fathered the legislation which it is now found necessary to repeal. If the primary producers were in a position to finance the marketing of their own products, 25 per cent, of our population would not be starving to-day. Yet, although the position is so desperate, every effort by the Government to help the farmer is made a joke of by the crowd of galoots opposite, who are in comfortable enjoyment of their salaries. It is time that the larrikinism of members of the Opposition was stopped. We are proposing to repeal the 1930 act, and the Opposition’ professes to be very pleased about it.
– In three months time the Government will be repealing this measure.
– If this measure is inoperative that will be due to the attitude of honorable members sitting in Opposition. It is time that thecountry assumed control of the arrangements for the financing of its own primary products, instead of leaving them in the hands of bank boards, and other financial associations.
– How is that to be done?
– A step in the right direction has been taken in connexion with the present proposal. Every day, almost, we see in the press announcements that big building programmes will be undertaken once public confidence is restored. How, I ask, could public confidence be restored under a government supported by a rabble such as that sitting on the Opposition benches, consisting as it does of six or seven different parties? Confidence could have been restored long ago if this party had had a majority in both chambers.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the clause under discussion.
– It is necessary to repeal the 1930 act to enable the present measure to operate. The Commonwealth Bank said that it was unable to finance the 3s. guarantee, but no objection is raised to the proposed fiduciary issue to finance the present scheme. Some honorable members opposite are mean enough to accept the fiduciary issue for the assistance of the farmers, but are not prepared to help the 25 per cent. of the people who have no purchasing power.
– TheCountry party voted for this bill to a man.
– Yes, and I hope that they will induce their friends in another place to support it.
.- The repeal of the 1930 act is strongly objected to by wheatgrowers throughout the Commonwealth. Whatever may be our opinion on that measure, and our objections to some of its details, the fact remains that, by virtueof the act having been passed by a majority in both houses, Parliament has given a direction that the growers are entitled to 3s. a bushel f.o.b. If, as the Minister has stated, the Commonwealth Bank, after consulting its legal advisers, declared that it had no power to pay that 3s., the Government should have taken steps to provide the money in some other way. Why did not the Government incorporate in the Fiduciary Notes Bill a proposal for the payment of a sum equivalent to 3s. a bushel ?
– The question that arose was not whether the money should be raised bya fiduciary issue or by the Commonwealth Bank, but whether there was power in the act to make the appropriation.
– Is there no way in which to put the principle of the guarantee into effect?
– That is the advice received.
– If it is impossible for the Government to guarantee the payment of 3s. a bushel, what of the proposal to guarantee 4s.?
– That was proposed under a wheat marketing bill which brought all the States into the scheme, and overcame the constitutional difficulty.
– Allowing that all that the Government says is correct, one still desires to know on what principle the wheat-grower will be guaranteed the equivalent of 41/2d. a bushel. The need of the wheat-growers is no less urgent to-day than it was when the3s . guarantee was proposed; in fact, their need is greater now. The growers want to know why there has been this drop from 4s. to 41/2d. a bushel. They know nothing of the intricaciesof constitutional law, and they will keep on asking that question. It is generally acceptedthroughout the Commonwealth by the growers that they were promised 3s. f.o.b. under the measure passed by both Houses, and now we have this bill, which proposes to repeal that act. A certain amount of confusion has beencaused,and there has been financial loss by those who held their wheat, anticipating that the 3s. guarantee would be put into operation. I propose to vote against the repeal ofthe 1930 act,because it involves a moral obligation thatshould havebeen honored.
.- This clause furnishes a further indication as to who is really governing this country. I can understand the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) being pleased about the proposed repeal of the 1930 act, since this course of action has been precipitated by the interests which the honorable gentleman represents in this chamber. Under the present monetary system, and while the Commonwealth Bank is governed by such men as are now in charge of it, this Parliament will always be placed in the position of having to revise its attitude to matters of finance. Consciously or unconsciously, the Gibsons, the Drummonds and the rest of them have the capitalistic outlook. They cannot be expected to have any other attitude of mind; but I quarrel with any government that reappoints such men to the board of the Commonwealth Bank. The proposed repeal of the 1930 act shows again that the Commonwealth Bank is part and parcel of the private banking institutions. It is useless as a national institution, and it will continue to be ineffective so long as it is constituted on present lines.
– What should the bank do that it has not done?
– In the first place, it should have done what it was asked to do under the Wheat Advances Act. Of course, the bank is conducted to-day in the interests of the institutions whose interests would be affected if the 1930 measure were put into operation. This clause demonstrates clearly that the Government has no effective voice in the realms of finance.
– Then why support it?
– As I have already said, the present Ministers are a bad lot; but the Leader of the Opposition and his followers would be much worse. The Constitution clearly provides that if the Senate rejects or fails to pass a bill the Government may re-submit it after the expiration of three months.
– It had not the courage to do so.
– For once I agree with the Leader of the Opposition. The Government has miserably receded from one position to another, and has not had the courage to stand its ground. So long as it remains rn office, it seems to me it will continue to do this kind of thing. It is allowing the bankers to govern Australia. The board of the Commonwealth Bank would not allow effect to be given to- the provisions of the Wheat Advances Act because the Government would not intimate its willingness to allow wages and pensions to bb reduced. It is to the credit of the Government that it would not go so far as that. The Wheat Advances Act was not proclaimed, simply because the banks said that it should not be proclaimed except under certain conditions; and the Government has complacently accepted that position. We shall have to repeal more legislation unless the Government takes its courage in both hands. To-day it is like a ball with a dent in it. When the dent is pushed out in one place a bigger dent is caused somewhere else.
– I am sorry that my amendment, which provided for the withdrawal of this bill and the proclamation of the Wheat Advances Act, was not accepted by honorable members. It is significant that that act did not contain the provision which was in the Wheat Marketing Bill that, notwithstanding that certain of its provisions might be found to be unconstitutional, the remainder of the measure should continue to be enforceable’. That provision which would have enabled the Government to enforce compulsory pooling, and at the same time claim that the payment of a guarantee of 4s. was unconstitutional. The Minister has not told us which parts of the act passed in December are unconstitutional, nor has he told us why those parts cannot be repealed, and the remainder of the measure put into operation. There is no doubt whatever that a definite promise was made to the farmers that the Government would pay them 3s. a bushel f.o.b. for their wheat. In a speech which he made on this subject some time ago the then Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) said -
I appeal to all the political parties in the Commonwealth and State Parliaments, which urged the farmers to grow more wheat with the object of correcting our adverse trade balance, to do everything possible to protect this industry. It is not the fault of the farmers that the bottom has fallen out of the wheat market. The farmers responded nobly to the call that was made to them, and they should receive every assistance from the different governments.
I am quite satisfied in my own mind that if a sales tax on flour were agreed to, and it were provided that the revenue received from it should be hypothecated for the assistance of the farmers, there would be no difficulty whatever in finding the money required to make the advance payments. Both Houses of the Parliament agreed to the proposal of the Government that 3s. a bushel f .o.b. should be paid for wheat; yet only four months later we find honorable members going back upon that promise. I hope that we shall have an opportunity later to reply to the remarks made on this subject by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). For my own part, I can see no difficulty in finding money to make this advance to the farmers, assuming, of course, that the Government earnestly desires to make it. The then Acting Minister for Markets, in moving the second reading of the Wheat Advances Bill, said -
There is no doubt whatever about the meaning of the language of the bill. The bank will provide the money that is necessary, and the Government will refund it to the extent of any loss that is incurred on the final realization of the crop.
In these circumstances I must refuse to vote for this clause, and I hope that there is still sufficient honesty in Parliament to cause the majority of members to do likewise. There is no justification whatever for repealing the Wheat Advances Act, and it is absolutely disgraceful that it should even be suggested. In fact it is nothing more than a deliberate repudiation of a definite obligation created with the approval of both Houses. It is ridiculous to say that it would be unconstitutional to provide for the payment of a bounty on -wheat. Last year we were deluged with bounty bills. Australia has been paying bounties on the production pf iron and steel for many years, and it was even suggested last year that we should pay a bounty on sewing machines. The proposed bounty on wheat merits the support of every honorable member, for if the farmer fails, no one can say what will happen to Australia. It is disgraceful that Parliament should be asked to pass this clause.
.- I regret that honorable members opposite have suggested that the Government does not really desire to assist the farmers. The only reason why it is necessary to repeal the Wheat Advances Act is that the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank, having obtained legal advice, has intimated that the measure is unconstitutional. It seems to me that if it is unconstitutional to appropriate money for the payment of a bounty on wheat, it is unconstitutional to appropriate money for the payment of the maternity allowance. The decision of the Commonwealth Bank Board in this connexion has raised a very serious issue. It appears now that the Bank Board has only to decide that a measure is unconstitutional and it can entirely set aside the decisions of this Parliament. The inability of the Government to give effect to the provisions of the Wheat Advances Act has resulted in a serious disorganization of the wheat industry - a disorganization which may have tragic results. The position is so difficult in Mew South Wales that the State Government has had a bill drafted to provide for the revaluation of country lands, with the object of determining what is termed their productive value. This has been done doubtless because of the serious condition of the wheat industry this year. In my opinion, the Board of the Commonwealth Bank has refused to provide money for the purposes of this act principally because it is out of sympathy with the objects of the measure. A continuation of this policy will, undoubtedly, mean that the Government of the country will be in the hands of the financial institutions and not of the Mational Parliament, and this is a matter which should receive the earnest attention of Parliament.
.- About four months ago this House passed a bill which provided for a guaranteed price. of 3s. per bushel f.o.b. for wheat. The Government was to pay the farmers a first advance of 2s. upon delivery of their wheat at railway sidings, and other payments were to be made later. That measure was certainly in the real interests of the wheat-farmers. The Parliament and the country accepted in good faith the assurances of the Government, and I strongly resent the fact that, through the blundering and ineptitude of the Ministry, the wheat-farmers have been sorely disappointed and reduced to their present tragic circumstances. When the Wheat Advances Bill of 1930 was being dealt with, harvesting was in full swing. Many growers had had an opportunity to sell at a very much better price than they were able to obtain later, but those merchants who had been previously operating were frightened out of the market. The then Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) was assuring the fanners that everything would be right, that the machinery for the payment of a bounty of 3s. would be in operation, and they would receive all that had been promised to them. Week after week went by, and although the promises of the Government were reiterated, nothing was done to honour them. Now we are told that the act of last year must be repealed, for constitutional reasons. If constitutional obstacles to the operation of the act exist, why were they not discovered six months ago? The people are asked to trust Parliament, but what confidence can they have in a Government or Parliament which imposes on them in this manner? I strongly object to the repeal of the act. It promised to the farmers the payment of a bounty in real money. Now the Government promises a smaller payment in fictitious money. I am sure that this offer will never be worth anything; for that reason I voted against the second reading of the bill this afternoon, and I shall vote against this clause to repeal the Wheat Advances Act.
.- Although I voted for the second reading of this bill, I am opposed to the repeal of the Wheat Advances Act of 1930. I listened with amazement to the statement that the act was never operated because of legal obstacles. Unless my memory betrays me, we considered in the Labour party’s room whether we would accept 2s. 6d. a bushel offered by the bank. I invite the Minister to produce a document relating to the matter that was placed before caucus. If it was possible for the bank to pay 2s. 6d., obviously no legal difficulties existed. The real trouble was that whilst the bank offered 2s. 6d., the Labour party insisted upon 3s. Pro bably that was the reason why the bank subsequently sought for legal reasons to excuse the non-payment of the guarantee. Neither the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) nor the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) was in Australia when the bill was passed, and I resent the statement by them that legal difficulties have prevented effect being given to the measure. If the act is not repealed, and no benefit results from the bill now before us, it may still be possible to render some assistance to the wheatgrowers under existing legislation. Therefore, I shall vote against the clause.
– This Parliament has never witnessed a more humiliating spectacle than it sees to-night. Three months ago the act which we are now asked to repeal was carried by 37 votes to 9, and we were assured by the Minister in charge of the measure that it would be of real help to the wheat-growers. Ministers were reminded at the time that legal obstacles might be encountered, and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) offered his assistance as a constitutional lawyer to assist the Minister in so framing the bill as to obviate that possibility. That fact is on record in Hansard. The Minister blandly assured us that he was advised that nothing in the bill was unconstitutional. It was common knowledge that the Commonwealth Bank had offered a payment of 2s. 6d., and that caucus had insisted on 3s. If there are legal obstacles to the operation of the act, and I doubt that -
– What does the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) say?
– He is distinguished by his silence and absence from the chamber. If legal difficulties had existed, they could have been readily resolved by the simple expedient advocated during the consideration of the measure, namely, the imposition of a sales tax on flour in accordance with the suggestion that had been made by Professor Perkins. The then Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) had been continually changing his position. In November, he declared that the Commonwealth Bank could not pay a first advance of ls. 6d., notwithstanding any guarantee that might be given by Commonwealth or State Governments. Yet on the 11th December, he said that the Commonwealth Bank could easily make a payment of 3s. a bushel on the guarantee of the Commonwealth Government. The honorable gentleman said -
Certain questions have been asked during the debate about how the scheme in the bill will be financed. I thought I had made the position quite clear in my second-reading speech. The Commonwealth Bank will find the initial advance of 2s., which will be paid to the voluntary pools upon the delivery cf wheat at the rail sidings, and so much of the remaining shilling as will be necessary to meet freight and other charges will be provided from time to time.
– This is not provided for in the bill.
– It is impossible to provide everything in the bill, but the Government will have power to make regulations. It is nonsensical for the Leader of the Opposition to quibble on such matters. I have circulated certain amendments designed to remove any doubt that there might be in connexion with the method of financing the crop.
It is obvious that the act was not passed hurriedly or carelessly. Every honorable member who voted for the bill was aware of the facts.
– The second reading *as agreed to without a division.
– That is so. Any difficulties which subsequently arose were due to the inability of the Government to find the money. The Commonwealth Bank could make the payment if a sales tax were imposed on flour, and according to the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), and the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), the bank can still find the money if the Fiduciary Notes Bill is agreed to or a loan is floated. Clearly, there are no constitutional difficulties in the way. All that is wanting on the part of the Government is the will to find the money required in the simplest and quickest way. Apparently, although caucus may have been sincere, the Government regarded the Wheat Advances Act of 1930 as merely a bait for unsuspecting farmers. It is a scandal that we should be asked to repeal a measure the second reading of which was carried almost without dissent only four months ago. Money can be found to finance the payment of 3s. a bushel instead of the paltry 4 1/2 d. that the Government is now offering. I ask honorable members to declare, by their votes, that the Wheat Advances Act shall remain on the statute-book. Even the passing of this bill will not be a reason for its repeal.
.- In one respect, the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) is demonstrating some knowledge of husbandry; as he puts out his new bait he collects the old one. Unfortunately, both baits were laid for the wheat-grower, and the new one contains the more virulent poison, I propose to vote against the repeal of the Wheat Advances Act, because, with all its defects, it is better than the measure now before us. I did not like some of its features; but it was not tacked on to such dangerous financial proposals as the fiduciary currency legislation. Moreover, it offered more adequate relief to the farmers. A payment of 3s. f .o.b., on this year’s wheat would probably lift half the farmers out of their difficulties, for the time being at any rate. This bait of 4 1/2 d, saturated, as it is, with poisonous financial dope, will merely serve to accentuate the difficulties of the wheat-growers.
.- I congratulate the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) upon his magnanimity in proposing to repeal the Wheat Advances Act of 1930. At least he may claim that he was not responsible for that measure, which was piloted through the House by the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) with remarkable confidence, and even arrogance. It was generally known at the time that the Commonwealth Bank would not find the money for the payment of 3s. a bushel, and that the bill was designed, not to assist the wheat-farmers, but to make political capital out of the embarrassment of the bank. The proposal to repeal the act is extraordinary. The Government’s pretences of assisting the farmers have steadily diminished. Its first attempt to that end was said to be worth, to the wheat-growers, about 2s. 6d. a bushel ; the second dropped to 10d., and this bill now before us offers a mere 4jd. This measure is a gross insult to the farmers, who are being held very cheaply by the supporters of the Government, and particularly by the Minister for Markets. Since they pose as the farmers’ friends, why this delay in facing the farmers ? Why wait for the challenge on the Fiduciary Notes Bill to go to the country? It is well known that the Government’s present hold of office is extremely precarious. Why does not the Government obtain the endorsement of the farmers instead of going through this wretched humiliation of being dependent upon certain honorable members who have broken from the Federal Labour party ? The Minister has again and again spoken of meetings of farmers throughout the country who have declared themselves in favour of this bill - meetings at Wagga, Northam, and elsewhere. If the farmers are shouting in their enthusiasm for this bill, why not test it at a general election? Why this wretched and sordid clinging to office? I throw out that challenge to the supporters of the Government.
– On a point of order, I wish to know what is the relevance of the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition?
– I have listened attentively to the honorable member for Henty. He has referred to the bill, clause 2 of which is under discussion. I ask him not to take too much liberty, and to confine his remarks to that clause.
– Clause 2 has reference only to the Wheat Advances Act 1930, which it repeals. It was not to that question that the honorable member for Henty was addressing himself.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I am indebted to the honorable member for Hindmarsh for his assistance. I have asked the honorable member for Henty to confine his remarks strictly to the clause.
– I shall closely observe your ruling, sir. I am surprised that honorable members on that side of the chamber should waste the time of this Parliament in a long discussion of this still-born measure, which will never come to life, instead of appealing to the farmers whose friendship they claim to have.
– On a point of order, I draw your attention, sir, to the transgression of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in again referring to a general election.
– If any reference to the possibility of the suffering farmers being given an opportunity to express an opinion upon this positive epidemic of futile bounty measures is out of order, then I shall cease my remarks; I can well understand ‘ that any reference to a general election at this stage is anathema to the supporters of the Government.
.- The speech of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) once again indicates that there is no desire on the part of the Opposition to get down to tin tacks, and to attend to the business of this country.
– He is wasting time deliberately.
– On a point of order, I submit that the honorable member for Adelaide is imputing motives.
– The honorable member for Adelaide has had time to utter only a dozen words, and at this stage I am not prepared to rule that he has imputed motives.
– If we are to challenge one another on mere colloquialisms, we shall be playing the giddy goat.
– The honorable member should speak for himself.
– I am referring to myself. The honorable member, I think, knows the story of the man who sold his fish for 100 stripes so that his, partner should bear half of them. The honorable member for Henty, instead of discussing the repeal of the 1930 act, deliberately taunted the Minister. He was spoiling for a fight, and he tried his hardest to get one.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! I cannot permit the honorable member for Adelaide to proceed on those lines. I remind him and other honorable members who propose to speak, that clause 2 deals with the repeal of the Wheat Advances Act 1930, and so long as I am in the chair I intend to keep the debate strictly confined to that clause.
– The honorable member for Henty has said that the Government when introducing the previous bill knew that the bank would not finance the scheme, and that it was put up deliberately to be turned down by the bank. He questioned the integrity and honesty of the Government in its efforts to give some relief to the farmers. Clause 2 deals -with the repeal of the act of 1930. It has been found impossible to give effect to that legislation.
– I understand that there is a legal flaw in the act, but my own opinion is that the act is being repealed because of the stranglehold of the banks on the community. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) have accused the Government of insincerity, and the honorable member for Plenty has accused it of lack of courage to face the country.
– The farmers would clean up the whole lot of us if we went to the country.
– -I do not think so. I am convinced of the bona fides of the Government. I believe that both in the 1930 act and in the bill which preceded it, the Government really tried to do something for the farmers. Now the position has become really acute, and the Government has resorted to what, in my opinion, is the most reasonable way of meeting the situation. It is absurd for honorable members opposite to suggest that we should leave the 1930 act on the statute-book. Are we to work it in conjunction with the present measure?
– The Government has an obligation under that act.
– The Government has tried to meet its obligations, but because of the activities of honorable members opposite, and their friends in the Senate, it has been prevented from carrying out its intentions.
– But that bill passed both Houses.
– Honorable members who voted for that measure did so in the same spirit as that in which they voted for the present one, hoping that it would be rejected in another place. I desire that something definite should be done to help the farmers.
– Then why refuse to leave this act on the statute-book?
– Because I do not desire that the policy of the Government should be dictated by a minority. The Government has submitted its proposals, and it would not be worth its salt if it allowed itself to be swayed by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory).
– But the policy of the Government three months ago was to pay the farmers 3s. a bushel in accordance with the terms of the act.
– Circumstances are not the same now as they were three months ago. The submission of this bill to Parliament has split the Opposition into warring factions. The Country party has remained solid in support of it, hoping against hope that it will be turned down in another place. Honorable members opposite are guilty of insincerity who, on the pretext of discussing this clause, have launched an attack upon the Government and its policy. Why, asked the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett), does not the Government go to the country on the matter? He became quite warm in discussing the matter; in fact, I have never before seen a man wax so ferocious in so short a time. If the Government goes to the country on this issue I am satisfied that it will receive the support of the wheat-farmers, who recognize that the Government is sincerely desirous of helping them.
– I intend to oppose clause 2 of the bill. No convincing reasons have been advanced by the Minister for the repeal of the 1930 act. One reason which seemed to emerge a little more clearly than any other from the haze which surrounds the issue was that considerable difficulty was associated with the advancing of cash for the payment of 3s. a bushel promised in the 1930 act. How can the Minister expect us to be satisfied with that explanation, when he, and others associated with him, have been reiterating that had an earlier bill been passed, 4s. a bushel would have been paid at railway stations for wheat?
– The honorable member knows that the situation was entirely different. The States were all behind the first scheme.
– I should like the Minister to explain these matters more fully when he replies. The bill for the act which it is now proposed to repeal was passed through this House without a division. It was also passed through another place, and became an act. Having become an act, under which Parliament undertook to pay 3s. f .o.b. to the farmers, I regard it as a contractural obligation upon this Parliament to make the payment. This attempt to repeal the act under cover of an inconspicuous clause in this bill seems to me to be nothing short of repudiation. I shall certainly oppose the passage of the clause.
– The proposal to repeal the Wheat Advances Act emphasizes the confusion which the Government has created in its ineffective efforts to assist the wheat-farmers. When the Minister for Customs (Mr. Forde) was introducing that measure, he spoke with such earnestness and assurance that he convinced a number of honorable members of this House that the Government would really be able to find the money it promised to pay the farmers. Unfortunately, there had been published a clear and definite statement from the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to the effect that it would not be able to advance more than 2s. 6d. a bushel.
– That is not true.
– The record of Hansard, were I permitted to quote it, would prove the truth of what I have stated. It was made clear that a sum of £4,500,000 would have to be advanced by the Commonwealth Bank, over and above the estimated return from the sale of wheat. The Commonwealth Bank Board intimated that it would not be able to find that amount, and, in consequence of that statement, I, and many honorable members of this House, voted against the bill. We recognized that if the Commonwealth Bank could not extend credit to cover the advances, the Government would have no alternative but to inflate the currency, and to that we were not prepared to agree. A little later, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald pointing out that the amount for which the Commonwealth Government was making itself responsible would be, not £4,500,000, but £8,000,000. The Leader of the Government in the Senate declared that the Government was unable to find any money at all. In such circumstances, is it surprising that members of this House, who wished the farmers well, refused to fool them further by assisting in the passage of a measure which, it was clear, could not be implemented. After the bill had become an act, the Minister for Customs (Mr. Forde) had to endure the humiliation - which no other Commonwealth Minister has ever suffered - of telling the farmers, who had been depending on the promise of the Government, that they must fend for themselves, because they could no longer place any reliance upon the legislation which had been passed.
– That was no fault of the Government.
– The Minister does not deny the facts of the case as I have stated them; all he can now say, when he is driven into a corner, is that it was not the fault of the Government. Whose fault was it then? Who misled the farmers ? Who told them that the money would be found, and that they would receive 3s. a bushel for their wheat? Who but the Minister for Customs, backed up by his Government? It was the same Minister who admitted later that the Government could not do what it had promised, and that the farmers would have to get out of their difficulties as best they could. The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), who at that time was in London has since returned, and he now tells us that a marketing bill is to be introduced. In answer to a question he stated this afternoon that the bill would be introduced before the elections. It is evident, then, that he regards the present bill as certain to fail, and he proposes to have another shot at it later. The 1930 act was a fraud perpetrated on the farmers, and in that respect it was akin to the present proposal.
.- I am sorry that the Government finds it necessary to repeal the Wheat Advances Act. It has been suggested that the Government might have informed itself as to the constitutionality of the measure before having it passed through the House. Last year both Houses of Parliament agreed to an amending arbitration act. That caused considerable debate both here and in another place, managers were appointed by both Houses, a conference took place, and the bill was accepted, but, when an attempt was made to put it into operation, the High Court declared that certain clauses were ultra vires of the Constitution. I believe that the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) was right in saying that the Commonwealth Bank Board was prepared to advance 2s. 6d. a bushel, but it might have found itself in the same difficulty as in regard to the 3s. The Government decided not to fool the growers by promising to pay them 3s. a bushel, but to adopt a better method of assisting them. The Leader of the Opposition stated twice before the dinner adjournment to-night that the Opposition was opposed to the action of the Government in regard to the 1930 act, and he suggested that the Country party was not part of the Opposition. I am sure that the present measure will be carried, and I hope that the relief expected will be made available to the farmers at an early date. I am personally aware of the terrible plight of the farmers, and I realize that the Government has a genuine desire to help them. If the effort now being made is frustrated, the fault will not lie with the Government.
– By this clause the Government proposes to repeal a measure that was supported in another place as well as in this House, particularly by the Country party. I object to the Government throwing out one of its own measures, which was to have been of great advantage to the primary producers. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane), and other honorable members opposite, expressed determination at the end of last year that the House should not adjourn until the Government had done something for the wheat-growers and the unemployed. They even held up the Labour caucus, and the outcome was that the act of 1930 was passed. The bill was introduced on the 12th December, and it was accepted by both Houses, but we are now invited to repeal it. The Government must have hoped that it would be thrown out, so that it could tell the country that the Opposition would not do anything in the interests of the farmers. If that was not the reason for its introduction, what good reason for it can be advanced?
– It was designed to give the desired relief,
– But it bas given no relief, and it has blocked every other scheme. On the 12th December last the Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) said that the Government had had under consideration the many schemes put forward by the wheat organizations, and had come to the conclusion that the only practicable method of helping the growers was to guarantee them 3s. a bushel. The Acting Minister used these words -
The Government has examined all the proposals that have been made for assisting the wheat-grower, and has come to the 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, after very 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.
That promise became operative, and the Government should have proceeded to carry it out. I object to the innuendoes of honorable members opposite, in referring to the action of another place in opposing the 4s. guarantee, when the Government now proposes to repeal a measure guaranteeing 3s. that has become law. Whether private members supporting the Government thought that it would be possible to make the advance of 3s. I do not know. but it is apparent from the statement that I have quoted that the Cabinet knew that the Commonwealth Bank would not advance that amount. In December last the Acting Minister, the honorable member for Capricornia, said -
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 Acting Minister said that the bank had rejected the proposal embodied in the 1930 measure, but he felt that if all parties were unanimous the bank might be induced to grant the assistance for which that bill provided. That shows conclusively that the Government was aware of the fact that the bank would not make the advance, and had refused to do so before that measure was brought down on the 12th December last.
– It was hoped that the bill would be rejected in another place.
– Whether that was so or not, the fact is that it was passed by both Houses. It was the means selected by the Government to assist the farmers. The farmers asked for a sales tax on flour, but the Minister said, “ We have chosen this means of assistance, and we are going to guarantee the payment of 3s. a bushel to the farmers.”
– I said that the payment was conditional on the Commonwealth Bank finding the money.
– The Minister’s statement has just been read by me. He claimed that the Government representations to the bank had failed. I do not propose to support the repeal of a measure that has been passed in both branches of the legislature in the interests of the primary producers. The Government and all members should stand to what has been secured for the farmers. We should see that the Government finds the money promised by the Minister, and provided for in the 1930 act.
.- It is difficult to believe that there is much sincerity in the protestations of honorable members opposite. Up to the present time they have apparently never been in doubt as to why an advance of 3s. a bushel could not be made, but to-night they see an opportunity of indulging in mock heroics which they think will deceive the growers. It would be more creditable on their part to do something tangible, instead of wasting the time of the committee and causing further delay. I do not believe that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) is unaware of the difficulty that made it impossible to provide an advance of 3s. a bushel. All the talk in the world will not enable us to escape from the simple fact that, when the Commonwealth Bank was asked to make the advance, its reply, as has been stated many times, was that it had been informed by its legal advisers that it could not constitutionally make the money available. If it is suggested that legal advice should have been obtained before the measure was presented to Parliament, my only comment is that it is easy to be wise after the event. It is time that honorable members opposite ceased jumping in the air and coming down again in the same place. The wheatgrowers of Australia want help, and the Opposition should help the Government to render it to them. I direct the attention of honorable members to the following provision in the Wheat Advances Act:-
The Minister m.ay arrange with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, or a prescribed authority, for the making by that bank or authority, either directly to growers of wheat or to any prescribed co-operative organization on behalf of such growers, of advances in accordance with this act, and may guarantee to that bank or authority the repayment of any advance made by the bank or authority in pursuance of the arrangement.
The Acting Minister for Markets endeavoured to obtain the money to make the advance in accordance with the provisions of that section; but the bank intimated that its legal advisors were of the opinion that Parliament could not constitutionally guarantee the repayment of any loss that might be incurred.
– That was owing to the bad draftsmanship of the bill.
– That had nothing to do with it.
– If that is the only argument the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) can use he may be satisfied when I tell him that the bill was drafted by the parliamentary draftsman and that the Government, naturally, accepted his advice. The whole trouble is that honorable members opposite are now doing their utmost to make political capital out of .the misfortunes of the farmers.
– The Acting Minister for Markets did well under the circumstances which prevailed at that time.
– That Is the only fair way to look at the position. I am not addressing my remarks to those honorable members opposite whose mam object is to make political capital for themselves. What did the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) do this afternoon when the vote was about to be taken on the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), which provided for the withdrawal of this bill and the substitution for it of the Wheat Advances Act? They had not the courage to remain in the chamber. They walked out. In this circumstance it is disgusting to hear them speak as they have done this evening.
The plain fact is that the Board of Directors of the Bank accepted the advice of their legal advisors to the effect that the Government could not guarantee the bank against loss.
– Was this opinion furnished to the Bank Board after the bill was passed?
– I believe so. The legal advisors of the Government were of the opinion that the Government could guarantee the bank against loss, but the bank, naturally, preferred to accept the advice of its own legal authorities.
– I wish it to be quite clear that this advice was given after the bill had been passed.
– It was given after the passage of the bill.
– Then of what use is it for us to retain the act?
– It is of no use at all. We are only wasting time in discussing this clause.
– The Crown Law advisors still maintain that their view is correct and the view of Mr. Menzies, K.C., incorrect.
– But the Board of the Bank naturally accepted the advice which its own counsel gave it.
I now come to the point raised by the honorable member for Angus (Mr. Gabb). He said that the bank was prepared, some time ago to guarantee the farmers 2s. 6d. per bushel for their wheat. But I point out that that undertaking by the bank was -
Subject to conditions meeting th» banks requirements as to proper security to the bank, marketing and other necessary provisions safeguarding the banks interests.
It was felt at that time by honorable members on this side of the chamber, as well as by some honorable members opposite, that as 2s. 6d. per bushel was only equal to the ruling price for wheat there would be no advantage to the wheatgrowers in accepting the bank’s offer. In good faith my colleague, the Acting Minister for Markets, did his best to provide 3s. per bushel for the farmers, and it was not his fault that this amount was not paid.
– Is there any reason why this bill should not be dropped and the printing press used to finance the scheme laid down in the Wheat Advances Act?
– If 3s. per bushel were paid, the difference between that figure and tho ruling price of wheat would amount, on the season’s crop, to about £6,000,000. In all the circumstances the Government felt that it was advisable to adopt the means set out in this bill, rather than some other means, of assisting the farmers, and it is deplorable that some honorable members opposite should persist in arguing that some other plan should be adopted.
.- The committee is becoming accustomed to tirades such as we have just heard from the Minister for Markets. Every honorable member on this side of the chamber who opposes a proposition made by the Minister is charged with trying to make political capital for himself. It is remarkable that such statements should be made by the Minister for Markets of all honorable members, for he is the most extravagant and extreme political partisan in the chamber. No man seeks so consistently as he does a petty political advantage.
– I rise to a point of order. What has the lecture by the Leader of the Opposition to do with the clause before the Chair? I question the relevancy of the honorable member’s remarks to the subject-matter under discussion.
– I shall expect the Leader of the Opposition to connect his remarks with the clause.
– The Minister for Markets is almost incessantly charging members of the Opposition with trying to make political capital for themselves, and we are about sick of his lectures. The honorable gentleman has only one speech on the subject of wheat, and he repeats it over and over again.
I am in the unpleasant position on this occasion of having to support the Minister and the Government, for I regard this clause as sound; but I feel my position keenly. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) also created a difficult position earlier in the discussion. I found myself in cordial agreement with the- first part of his amendment, which provided for the withdrawal of this bill; but I was totally opposed to the second part of it, which provided, in effect, for the substitution of the Wheat Advances Act for the- bill.
We should like to hear the Minister for Markets deal with some of the voluble arguments advanced by the Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) last December in favour of the Wheat Advances Act. That honorable gentleman spent a considerable, although I do not say an unreasonable, time in extolling the merits of that measure, and it would be interesting to hear the Minister in charge of this bill discuss that speech in conjunction with this clause. I have heard at least four times the statement that advice was given to the Government concerning the legal aspect. The Minister might frankly admit that the Commonwealth Bank was not prepared to find the money. We all know that was the real reason for the failure of the Wheat Advances Act ; so why waste the time of the committee in trying to disguise the fact?
.- In connexion with the passage of the Wheat Advances Act of 1930, the Government has been charged with having been insincere and with having attempted to fool the farmers. I was in close touch and co-operation with Ministers in the preparation of that measure, and it is only fair to them that I should declare that, in my opinion, the charge is not true. I believe the Government was sincere. If any criticism of the Government’s actions is warranted it is that the introduction of the legislation so late in the session mitigated against that deliberate consideration of it which was desirable. In regard to the handling of the bill by the then Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde), having regard to the fact that he was dealing with a measure not directly affecting a department of which he was continuously in charge, and that he had suddenly to deal with a subject with whose past history he was not familiar, he piloted the bill through the House with conspicuous ability. It is unjust to suggest that ineptitude on his part contributed towards the failure of the legislation. After listening to the’ Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney) this evening, I came to the conclusion that the Government had abandoned the Wheat Advances Act rather too hastily. He told us that the Crown Law authorities still maintain that the bank’s legal advisers are wrong, and that the bank could constitutionally pay the 3s. bounty. In those circumstances the Government, might have pursued- the matter further in an endeavour to test the correctness of the advice tendered to it.
.- For a couple of hours I have been trying to get the effect of this clause in order that I may cast an intelligent vote upon it. To my interjection, while the Minister was speaking, he courteously answered that after the Wheat Advances Bill had been passed, when the Government approached the Commonwealth Bank for a payment of 2s. 6d., the bank replied that it was advised by its lawyers that it could not constitutionally make any payment to the farmers. If that is so,, what justification is there for retaining the act on the statute-book, unless the Government is prepared to engage in a long legal fight to test the correctness of the bank’s attitude?. In the circumstances I shall sup* port the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) in voting for the repeal of the act. I very much regret that to-night we have seen on both side3 of the chamber evidence of the party politics against which the people throughout Australia are protesting. Constitutional risings and protests are occurring all over the Commonwealth, but the farmer is still without assistance, and can expect none under the Wheat Advances Act. I shall vote for the clause.
– I am astounded that, after the explanation given by the Minister, members of the Opposition should want to retain an act that cannot be operated. They carefully skated over the attitude of the Commonwealth Bank, although they well know that it is the real culprit. Had the Wheat Marketing Bill been passed, the bank would have found the money to pay the 4s. guarantee. Subsequently economic conditions changed, and, encouraged by the newspaper outcry against interference with the banks, the directors of the Commonwealth Bank adopted an arrogant attitude. If tomorrow the members of the Opposition were asked to support the Government in forcing the banks to find the money with which to succour the farmers they would immediately refuse. Therefore, to-night they are merely trying to make political capital out of the wheat-growers. The statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) reminded me of a cocky who put a cow rug on a horse and expected to get milk from the animal next morning. I am afraid the honorable gentleman, like the cocky, will leave with an empty pail.
Question - That the clause be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. McGrath.)
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 - (1.) Bounty under this Act shall be payable on the production of wheat which has, since the first day of October One thousand nine hundred and thirty and prior to the commencement of this Act, been sold or delivered for sale, or which is sold or delivered for sale on or before the thirty-first day of October One thousand nine hundred and thirty-one or on or before such later date as is prescribed. (2.) The quantity of wheat upon which bounty is payable to any grower, shall be such quantity as bears to the total quantity produced by him and sold or delivered for sale the same proportion as the total quantity of wheat exported from Australia during the period commencing on the first day of October One thousand nine hundred and thirty, and ending upon the thirty-first day of October One thousand nine hundred and thirty-one, or upon such later date as is prescribed, bears to the total quantity of wheat sold or delivered for sale during that period. (3.) For the purposes of this section, the quantity of wheat exported from Australia during the period specified in the lost preceding sub-section shall be deemed to be the equivalent of seventy-five per centum of the total quantity of wheat produced in Australia and sold or delivered for sale during that period.
.- The bill provides that the bounty shall be paid on only 75 per cent. of the harvest. The net amount that will be paid to growers will, therefore, be but 41/2d. a bushel. That will be very disappointing to our wheatfarmers, who have been led to expect at least 6d. a bushel, as stated in clause 5. It is estimated that our total wheat harvest this season will be something like 209,000,000 bushels. The estimate of the Government of 142,000,000 as the exportable surplus will be at least 11,000,000 bushels under the actual amount. I urge that at least 6d. a bushel should be paid, not only on the exportable surplus, but also on that used for local consumption. That would mean that instead of a bounty of £3,500,000, an amount of £4,750,000 would be involved. I understand that I should not be in order in moving an amendment that would increase the appropriation required under the bill, but I beseech the Minister to give favorable consideration to my proposal.
– That cannot be done here.
– Then I move-
That all the words after “payable “ subclause (1) be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following - “ Upon all wheat of the season 1930-31, sold or delivered for sale before the thirtyfirst day of October, One thousand nine hundred and thirty-one, but shall not be payable upon wheat sold for seed purposes or used for seed.”.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. McGrath).I must rule the amendment out of order, as it seeks to increase the amount of the appropriation required under the bill as it now stands.
– All the talk in which honorable members have indulged during this debate has got us nowhere. I would willingly have given £50 to the Canberra Hospital to enable the farmers of Australia to witness these proceedings. I have advanced a reasonable proposal. Obviously, a bounty of 41/2d. a bushel is of little use to our farmers. However, as my amendment has been ruled out of order, I leave it to the Minister and the Government to do what I am unable to do.
. -There is one aspect of clause 4 which very seriously affectsWestern Australia, and I, too, have a request for the consideration of the Minister.When this scheme was debated at the Premiers’ Conference, in January last, an arrangement was entered into for the payment of 6d. a bushel on all wheat produced for sale in Australia. As the proposed Commonwealth contribution to the scheme was insufficient to pay the 6d. a bushel, it was arranged that the difference should be made up by the various producing States introducing legislation that would fix a uniform price throughout Australia on wheat used for local consumption. Those States which exported a very large proportion of their harvest and consumed only a small proportion locally were less favorably situated under such a scheme than States in which the reverse was the case. For instance, inWestern Australia the local consumption amounts to about one-fifteenth of the harvest, while in Victoria it is about one-third to one-quarter of the quantity produced. In order to achieve the object of the conference, it was arranged that the bounty to be given by the Commonwealth should be paid on the exportable surplus.
The bill is drawn to provide a bounty payable on all wheat produced and sold or delivered for sale. The effect of that alteration means to Western Australia a sum calculated at £201,000. I believe an arrangement was made with the Commonwealth that payment should be made on the basis of the exportable surplus. I move -
That after the word “ sold “, first occurring, sub-clause 1, the words “ for export “, be inserted.
The clause would then provide that the bounty should be payable on all wheat produced and sold or delivered for export.
.- I wish to point out to the Minister the inequality which exists under this bill between the different States. The export proportion of the crop of States with small industrial centres is much higher than that of the States with large industrial centres. For instance, the export proportion of Western Australia, because of its small population is something like 90 per cent. of the wheat grown. It is, therefore, difficult for States like Western Australia and South Australia to assist their wheat-growers by enacting legislation for the fixing of local prices. One way in which the inequality as between States could be met would be to impose a sales tax on flour. The Minister, in his reply to the second-reading debate, said that he was not prepared to accept an amendment to give effect to a sales tax, because it would upset the arrangements made by the more populous States to fix a home consumption price for the benefit of their wheat-growers. If those States are to have a considerable advantage in respect of their ability to help their wheat-growers by fixing a local price, it is only fair that in States like Western Australia and South Australia the bounty should be payable on a larger proportion of wheat. I therefore propose to move that in sub-clause 2 the word “Australia” be deleted with a view to substituting the words “ the States in which the wheat was grown,” and at the end of the sub-section, after the word “ period “, to add the words “ in that State.” If the amendment is accepted, it will have the effect of making the bounty paid to any
State equivalent to the proportion of the wheat which the growers in that State have to export, and that would do something to remove the inequality which at present exists under this bill, and which excludes the possibility of helping the wheat-growers throughout Australia by a uniform tax on flour. The Minister has said that one of his objections to a sales tax is that it would interfere with the local arrangements of the Government of New SouthWales.
– My principle objection is that a sales tax on flour would be a hindrance and an impediment to the Wheat Marketing Bill in the direction of fixing prices for local consumption in all the States, What the honorable member is proposing would differentiate between State and State.
-Under the Constitution there is no objection to differentiation in respect of bounties, but customs duties have to be uniform.
– I think that this is an appropriate time for me to move my amendment.
– I have a prior amendment.
– In that case, I have pleasure in giving way to the honorable member.
– The honorable member’s amendment is, I think, somewhat on the lines of the amendment of the honorable member for Swan.
– It has the same objective.
.- I was desirous of supporting the amendment of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), to delete sub-clauses 2 and 3, but that amendment was ruled out of order on the ground that it might tend to increase the rate of bounty. Actually, the bounty is equivalent to 41/2d. a bushel. The amendment of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) would be entirely unworkable. No matter what bounty is given, it must go to the producer of the wheat ; but if it were paid upon export it would be absolutely impossible at this late stage to find out who the producer was. The clause as it stands favours Victoria and
New South Wales, but will hit South Australia and Western Australia rather hard. I should like to see the bounty reduced to 41/2d. a bushel, and paid on production rather than on the basis of 75 per cent. of the production exported.
– The effect is that a bounty of 41/2d. a bushel will be paid on all the wheat produced.
– It is equivalent to 6d. a bushel on the exportable surplus of wheat.
– That would be the case if the exportable surplus were only 75 per cent., which it is not.
– Western Australia and South Australia will suffer. Figures that have been prepared by the Wheat Pool in Western Australia show that in New South Wales, on a crop of 60,000,000 bushels, the quantity required for local consumption would be 44,800,000 bushels; whereas in Western Australia, with a crop of 47,500,000 bushels, only 2,700,000 bushels would be needed for home consumption. If the bounty is at the rate of 41/2d. a bushel on 75 per cent. of the production, Western Australia, instead of getting £1,120,000, will get only £918,750. I should like the Minister to provide that the bounty shall be 41/2d. a bushel, and that it shall be paid upon the total production. It cannot be paid upon export, because it would be absolutely impossible to follow wheat that was produced for export. It is essential to provide, either in the bill or in the regulations made under it, that the bounty shall be paid to the producer alone, not to any wheat buyer. How can a distinction be drawn between wheat sold to a miller and that sold to a person for export? Those States whose local consumption is lower than that of others will receive a smaller proportion of bounty. I am sure it is the desire of the Government to be fair to all the States ; but that ob ject will not be achieved under this proposal. Therefore I hope that the Minister will agree to the deletion of subclauses 2 and 3, and to the fixing of the bounty at 41/2d. a bushel.
.- In the first place, it was proposed to pay a bountyof 6d. a bushel onall wheat produced for export. Many wheat organizations, however,pointed out that if that were done quite a number of wheatgrowers would not benefit, because their wheat was not exported; that it would apply only to about 75 per cent. of the wheat produced. Their representations were considered, and were found to be genuine. After consultation with them, and an examination of the matter, it was agreed that it would be more equitable, seeing that the bounty of 6d. a bushel would involve an expenditure of about £3,500,000, of a share of which many wheat-growers would be deprived, to divide the proposed bounty in the proportion that the exportable surplus bore to the total production.
– The exportable surplus in some of the States is 75 per cent. or less, whereas inWestern Australia it is about 90 per cent.
– In a bill of this character, it is not competent for us to differentiate between States. We are dealing with this matter in the interests of the whole of Australia and cannot make an arrangement to suit a particular State only. Assuming that the exportable surplus is 75 per cent. of the total production, we must take that figure for all of the States, not 90 per cent. for Western Australia, and85 per cent. for South Australia, as the case may be. In order that all wheat-growers may benefit equally, it has been arranged to make advances in the manner proposed, instead of paying 6d. a bushel on the exportable surplus.
– Everything the Minister has said justifies the statement of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory). This clause and clause 5 have apparentlybeen inserted in the bill in their present form for the purpose of confusing the minds of the farmers, so that they may think that they are to receive a bounty of 6d. a bushel, when actually they will receive only 41/2d. In my opinion, clause 4 should set out clearly that a bounty of 41/2d. will be paid on the production of wheat. This arbitrary method of regarding 75 per cent. as the exportable surplus is unfair to those
States which have a higher exportable surplus. The amendment of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), providing for the payment of 6d. a bushel on production, was ruled out of order because it exceeded the order of leave for the bill. A message should be obtained from the Governor-General to cover the amendment of the honorable member for Echuca, or the Minister might himself bring in such an amendment.
.- The proposal of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has theadvantage of simplicity. I should like the Minister to explain the effect of the proposal on growers in Queensland, from which no wheat is exported. The growers there will not benefit under the present scheme.
– They will receive 41/2d. a bushel.
– It is true that they will receive 41/2d. for every bushel produced, but the growers in other States, especially in Western Australia, which has a large exportable surplus, will benefit to a greater extent. If the proposal of the honorable member for Swan is accepted, it will not involve the payment of more money. It will merely mean the payment of 41/2d. on 100 per cent., instead of 6d. on 75 per cent.
.- I desire to obtain equal conditions for all wheatgrowers.
– The honorable member must see that the proposal of the honorable member for Swan really amounts to the proposal in the bill itself.
– In the proposal of the honorable member for Swan the conditions would be set forth in simple language.
– This is an export bounty. If Iaccept the suggestion of the honorable member for Swan, the position as it affects the farmer would not be altered. The present wording has been chosen in order to safeguard the constitutional position.
– What the Minister has been saying is just so much nonsense. This is a bill for an act to pay a bounty on the production of wheat. All reference to an export bounty is only so rauch camouflage, designed to make the farmers believe they are to receive 6d. a bushel, when actually they will receive only 4£d. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent the payment of differing rates of bounty by or to different States. The Government could, if it liked, pay a bounty of 10s. in “Western Australia, 9s. in South Australia, and Cs. in the other States if it were given under the head of financial assistance and not limited to the actual commodity named. There can be no discrimination in taxation, we know, but it is not necessary that a federal appropriation should be the same for every State. If the provision were drawn under that section of the Constitution dealing with subsidies to the States, there could be no objection to different rates being paid in the various States. I ask the Minister to have it stated clearly in the bill just what the farmers are to receive.
– The clause has been drafted in this way on the advice of the Crown Law Department.
.- According to the Minister, on the advice of the Crown Law Department the clause has been drafted in this way to provide for the payment of the bounty on the export of wheat, yet the bill itself provides for its payment on the production of wheat. How can the farmers accept the Minister’s explanation? Why is the amendment of 6d. mentioned when it has to be split up into percentages unless the object is to give the measure a more attractive label? The payment is to be 4-Jd., yet the Minister tries to make out that it is a bounty of 6d. I cannot accept the constitutional difficulties to which allusion has been made. If a payment of 4-id. only is meant, there is every chance of a provision making that clear being found to be constitutional, and the farmer may possibly get something more than the smell of an oil rag out of the proposal. I certainly endorse what the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has said, and I also would gladly contribute to the funds of the Canberra Hospital if the farmers could be present here to hear the Minister’s quibbles and tergiversations. I support the amendment, and if it is not agreed to, shall persevere with the amendment of which I have given notice.
.- According to a summary of the Commonwealth Government’s activities issued to-day, a bounty is to be paid on wheat at the rate of 6d. a bushel on the exportable surplus produced in Australia during the 1930-31 season and it is estimated that that surplus will be between 140,000,000 and 150,000,000 bushels comprising wheat as such and wheat the equivalent of flour exported. Already over 50,000,000 bushels of wheat have been shipped overseas. I think that the exportable surplus will be 153,000,000 bushels. If the Minister will say that the bounty of 6d. is to apply to the whole of the exportable surplus it will automatically raise the price of wheat as yet unsold for local consumption by 6d. a bushel. Of course there will be many difficulties in that connexion because of the wheat already held by millers, and the wheat that has already gone into consumption. At any rate those who have wheat still on their hands would be able to get an extra 6d. a bushel. According to the Minister we are to pay bounty on 75 per cent, of the total production. But our exportable surplus is actually more than 75 per cent, of the total production. The summary of Commonwealth Government activities says that the bounty is to be paid on the exportable surplus at the rate of 6d. a bushel. I suggest again that the price all round should be raised by a bounty of 6d. or, if that is not possible, the bounty should be paid on the exportable surplus, which would help the wheatgrowers by securing for them an increased price for wheat yet unsold for local consumption. A bounty of 6d. on an exportable surplus of from 140,000,000 to 150,000,000 bushels might mean a payment of £3,750,000, but if the exportable surplus is found to be 153,000,000 bushels, as I think it will be, the payment will amount to £3,825,000. If, again. 6d. a bushel is paid on all wheat exported or sold locally, payment of £4,750,000 will be required. If the Minister cannot see his way to pay 6d. all round on the exportable surplus, I suggest that he pays an all-round bounty of 4£d. a bushel.
– That is the effect of what the bill proposes.
– It would lead to a much simpler distribution of the money if that were explicitly stated in the clause under consideration. There is confusion in the language employed. For instance, we are told in sub-clause 1 of clause 4 that the bounty is payable on the “ production of wheat”. In another part of the bill we are told that it is payable on the “export of wheat “. A lawyer has informed me that before I can secure the bounty I shall be expected to produce my wheat either in the stack or in a barn. I do not know how I can produce it after I have sold it unless I follow it up until some one in authority has seen it. I know what the clause means, but I do not think that the real intention is clearly expressed.
– I sympathize with the endeavours of honorable members who are proposing amendments, but I think that it is better to leave the bill as it stands, because the Minister has informed us that those who advise the Government on constitutional points have suggested the drafting employed, because they consider it best gives effect to the desire to pay a bounty of 41/2d. a bushel. I shall gladly support an increase, but that would entail the bringing down of another message from the Governor-General which the Government might refuse. If the Minister insists on a limit of 41/2d.it is better to accept the clause as already drafted, because an amendment might eventually be found to be constitutionally out of joint.
– I have already warned honorable members of that danger.
. -I shall move the amendment of which I have already given notice. Clause 8 is designed to prevent interstate trade in wheat, no doubt for the purpose of enabling the Governments of States with large populations to increase the local price of wheat, thus giving the wheatgrowers of those States a special advantage. The clause we are dealing with provides for a uniform bounty of 41/2d. a bushel to apply all over Australia whether the growers are in the fortunate position of the Queensland growers who can get a specially manipulated local consumption price for all the wheat they grow or whether they are in the position of growers in a State such as Western Australia, who can only get a local consumption price for one bushel in every ten. If we make special provisions in this bill to enable the populous States to give their growers special advantages, it is only fair that in the provisions applying to the payment of the bounty a sliding scale should be adopted, so that the assistance would be granted on an equitable basis. I move -
That the word “ Australia “, sub-clause 2, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “the State in which the wheat was grown “, and that at the end of the sub-clause the words “ in that State “ be added.
That would make the bounty payable in Western Australia something over 5d., and in Queensland, where the growers already receive a fair price for home consumption, probably no bounty at all would be payable, because wheat is not exported from that State. The fairness of the amendment should be obvious to the committee. I urge the Minister to remember that this is a national Parliament, and that he is not merely a representative of the State of! New South Wales, which has special advantages, by reason of its industrial population, for securing that with regard to a large proportion of its wheat the growers shall have the benefit of an artificially-raised home price.
– I support the amendment. If the Minister cannot see his way clear to make the amendment in this chamber, I urge him to consider its insertion when the bill reaches another place. The farmers of Western Australia responded to the appeal to produce as much wheat as possible for export, but the local consumption in that State is very small. While in New South Wales 15 bushels is consumed locally for every 60 bushels produced, Western Australia exports 20 bushels for every bushel consumed locally. I ask the Minister to consider whether it will be possible to carry out the suggestion made by the Loan Council regarding the method of granting assistance to growers. The desire appears to be to give a bounty on export, and every effort should be made to ensure that the producers of the wheat, and not the wheat buyers, shall receive the money.
– I have already indicated that, where there is a large exportable surplus, the question would arise whether a State like Western Australia would get as large a sum as States where the local consumption is higher; but I repeat that, under the Constitution, differentiation between the States is not permissible. The Constitution gives this Parliament power to grant bounties on the production or export of goods, “ but so that such bounties shall be uniform throughout the Commonwealth.”
– I am not satisfied that that part of the Constitution referred to by the Minister disposes of the argument of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker). Could it be regarded as differentiation between States if we carried the amendment of the honorable member for Wakefield, which would have the effect of giving a bounty to each and all States on a similar basis? Under the amendment the bounty would be paid on the actual export of each State. That would mean that the growers in Queensland would not receive a bounty, and they do not require it, because they have a local consumption price. Thus there would be no discrimination against Queensland. It could not be said that it was discrimination against a State if it received a smaller amount of bounty than was received by another State because its exportable surplus was lower than that of another State. It does not seem to me that the section of the Constitution which the Minister quoted effectively disposes of the argument of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker). The Minister has rather strengthened the case made out by the honorable member.
– I sympathize with the objective of the honorable member for Wakefield, although as a representative of Victoria, I feel that the amendment, if adopted, would not be in the interests of that State. There is a constitutional difficulty that is fatal to the amendment. If it were adopted, the wheat-growers in Queensland and Tasmania would not receive any bounty, the Victorian growers 3.8d., New South Wales 2.4d., South Australia 4.7d., and Western Australia 5. 2d. Whereas, under the bill, the wheatgrowers in all the States would receive 4-Jd. That shows a decided discrimination as between States. The Commonwealth would, in effect, be saying that the wheat-growers in Queensland and Tasmania could not receive any bounty, and, therefore, they would be discriminated against. As the Minister has stated that the Crown Law authorities have advised that the clause has been drafted in its present form in. order to avoid any constitutional difficulties, I trust that the amendment will not be adopted.
.- I am not opposing this amendment because, as the honorable member for Wakefield suggested, there would be a differentiation against Queensland growers who are doing well under their own scheme, but on the ground that, so far as possible, the bounty should be paid according to the growers’ needs. If the figures just quoted by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) are substantially correct, it. would mean that, on a 4£d. basis, the growers in Victoria would receive 3.8d., New South Wales 4.2d., South Australia 4.7d. and Western Australia 5.2d. As wheat is produced more cheaply in Western Australia than in any other State, there is no reason why those able to produce wheat at the cheapest rate should receive the highest bounty. No wheatgrowers have suffered more severely in recent years than those in South Australia, where some have not even seed wheat. That is also the position in part of the electorate represented by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). Why then should those who have been confronted with such adverse conditions be paid at a lower rate simply because the exportable surplus in the State in which they are conducting their operations is less than that in Western Australia, or some of the other States. I do not think anything would be gained by adopting the amendment, and a grave injustice would be done to certain growers. I trust that the Minister will give further consideration to the suggestion to alter the payment from 6d. a bushel on 75 per cent, of the exportable surplus to the payment of 4 1/2 d. on the whole production.
– There would not be discrimination if the same rate of bounty were paid in every State, and there would not be discrimination if the amendment of the honorable member forWakefield (Mr. Hawker) were adopted.
– I cannot add to what I have already said. I am acting on the advice of the Grown Law authorities.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 - (1.) Bounty shall be payable in the pre scribed manner to the grower of the wheat. (2.) A cheque drawn by any department of the Common wealth, and expressed to be in payment of bounty under this act, shall not be assets in the hands of the grower for satisfaction of his liabilities.
.- I move-
That all the words after “ Commonwealth “, sub-clause 2, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following: - “in payment of bounty under this act shall not be assets available to any creditor of the grower in payment of the debts or liabilities of the grower, and the proceeds thereof, if kept in a separate account, shall not, for a period of six months after receipt by the grower, be such assets “.
The sub-clause in the bill provides that cheques drawn by any department of the Commonwealth in payment of bounties shall not be assets in the hands of a grower for the satisfaction of his liabilities. The intention is that the bounty paid to a wheat-grower shall be used for any purpose he wishes, and shall be exempt from attachment by his creditors. In its present form the sub-clause is a limitation in that it provides that it shall not be an asset in the hands of the growers, and, therefore, could not be used for any purpose. The amendment, if adopted, will enable wheat-growers to use the bounty for the purchase of personal requirements, or household necessities. They will have absolute control over the money.
– I ask the Minister to report progress.
– I cannot do so at this stage.
Motion (by Mr. Latham) put -
That the Chairman do report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee divided. (Chairman: Mr. McGrath.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- It is now within half an hour of midnight and the Minister has introduced practically a new clause, the object of which is to secure that moneys paid to farmers by way of bounty shall not be available by any process of execution. Of course, the farmers who receive the money should be at liberty to spend it, and they will spend it in the discharge of liabilities or in the buying of goods or services. The clause in the bill means nothing at all, and the amendment is an improvement upon it; but I do not think that it achieves the object desired. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to ask that honorable members should be given an opportunity to consider it carefully. It was for that reason that I suggested that progress should be reported.
– The honorable gentleman went further than that.
– It is true that when my suggestion was rejected I moved that progress be reported.
– It was arranged that wo should rise at 11.30 o’clock.
Mr.Bayley. - At 10.15 o’clock the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) informed me that the House would rise in about an hour’s time.
– It is unfortunate if there has been a misunderstanding, it is the duty of honorable members to satisfy themselves that clauses under consideration will achieve what they are designed to achieve. I have a copy of the Minister’s amendment, but I doubt whether any other honorable member except the Minister has a copy of it. The proposed new sub-clause provides that cheques drawn by any department shall not if kept in a separate account be assets available to any creditor of the grower. Speaking generally, cheques are not drawn by departments of the Commonwealth ; but this difficulty could be got over if care were exercised in the administration of the act. It is obvious that if any farmer draws money out of his account, and has it in his house in any form other than the original cheque, it becomes an asset, under the ordinary law, for the satisfaction of liabilities. The proposed new sub-clause will not cover the case of a man who uses this money for cash transactions.
-Wouldmy suggestion to insert after tho word “ liabilities “ the words “ without the consent of the grower,” meet the situation?
– No ; because one of the objects of the amendment is to deal with the proceeds of the cheque. It means, to put it shortly, that execution shall not be levied on money in the bank account. But if the grower draws the money out, then it can be regarded as an asset for the satisfaction of liabilities. The intention of the clause is to prevent that possibility. I suggest, therefore, that the amendment he examined carefully further by the law officers of the
Crown in order to give to growers complete protection.
– The intention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) is to help our wheat-growers. In its present form the clause will not give complete protection to the grower who placed the cheque to the credit of his ordinary current account. Further consideration of the amendment might, with advantage, he postponed. I see the possibility of loopholes being discovered, and the grower being deprived of some measure of protection intended for him.
.- As I read the proposed new sub-clause, if the money is paid into a separate account, and the grower draws a cheque upon that account for the purchase of his requirements, such as superphosphates or machinery, apparently it may be seized by any creditor. On the other hand, if the account is not operated, then the payment to the grower will be valueless.
– Apparently there is no difference of opinion as to the objective of the subclause, and since the Government has asserted its authority in the division which has just been taken, the Minister might very well agree to report progress, so that this provision may be further examined. It is desirable that the grower shall have full use of the money. There are thousands of farmers in all the States with liens on their crops. I know of some farmers who have harvested between 3,000 and 4,000 bags of wheat, yet have not received one penny. They are in dire distress. This is a vital provision. It is desirable that the grower should have complete protection. I hope, therefore, that tho Minister will agree to report progress so that the sub-clause may be further considered.
Dr.EARLE PAGE (Cowper) [11.38].- I protest in no unmeasured terms against the procedure adopted in connexion with this clause. It is of vital importance to thousands of needy wheat-farmers throughout Australia. Although the second reading of the bill was moved a month ago, no honorable member, with the exception possibly of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and the Minister, knows what the proposed new sub-clause means. No one else has been privileged to read it or even to soo it. As Leader of the Country party, I have been endeavouring all night to secure the adoption of certain amendments in tho interests of our growers. We have not offered factious opposition to the measure at any stage. The third clause was passed without debate. The fourth clause was discussed, but I think that even the Minister will admit that every word uttered during the debate was relevant. The fifth clause was passed without discussion, as also would have been the sixth if the Minister had not raised this issue. It is a scandal that, in a deliberative assembly like this, we should he asked to pass a technical clause before we understand fully what it means or before we even see it. When private members desire to submit amendments to bills, the amendments are printed and circulated for the information of honorable members. On this occasion, for the first time in my experience, the Minister in charge of a bill has moved to insert a technical provision without giving members a copy of the amendment. It is not understood even by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), one of the most astute lawyers in this Parliament, or by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) who also belongs to the legal fraternity. Although the Leader of the Opposition offered .to confer with the Crown Law Authorities on the constitutional aspect of the Wheat Advances Bill of 1930, the Government spurned his offer and persisted with the bill in the form in which it had been introduced. To-night we have repealed that measure because of its unconstitutionality, and now, through the attitude of the Government, there is a possibility of the bill before us proving of no real value to the farmers. This is a scandal that should not be permitted, and I, at any rate, will not take such treatment lying down.
– I support the protest of the Leader of the Country party and trust that the Minister will meet the wishes of the committee by consenting te report progress.
Message received from the Senate intimating that Senator Daly had been appointed a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, in the place of Senator Dooley, resigned.
House adjourned ut 11.44 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 April 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310416_reps_12_128/>.