12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and offered prayers.
– The Sydney Morning Herald of to-day publishes the following telegram from Melbourne: -
It was disclosed to-day that a proposalhas been made for the formation of a Federal Economic Council to deal with the financial position of Australia from time to time, consequent upon the acceptance by the Scullin Ministry of the economy plan. It was said that the suggestion had been made that the council should consist of the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), the Federal Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) , the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board (Sir Robert Gibson), and two’ university professors. Recommendations made by the council would be submitted to both Houses of the Federal Parliament for adoption.
Another proposal was that the life of the House of Representatives and , of the Senate should be prolonged tofive years with a view to putting into operation a five-year financial plan to restore the economic position of the Commonwealth.
I ask the Prime Minister whether the report is accurate, and whether the Premiers Conference, during the unreported committee sittings, considered the formation of an economic council and the prolongation of the life of this Parliament? If so, what steps are to be taken to protect the rights of the people?
– No proposal to constitute a federal economic council or prolong the life of Parliament was considered by the Premiers Conference. The report is a pretty piece of romance.
– The PostmasterGeneral is reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of to-day as having said, in reply to a deputation of representatives of the Federation of B Class Wireless Stations -
The position was that if extremists on one side were allowed to broadcast speeches of a controversial nature, this would excite resentment in another section of extremists on the opposite side, and they would demandthe privilege of replying. This would result ina dog light “ being broadcast.
I ask the Postmaster-General if the report is correct? If so, does his department take the view that the Citizens League of South Australia is a body of extremists? If not, will he ensure that, in future, permission will be granted for the broadcasting of meetings arranged by the Citizens League?
– Some of the matters proposed to be discussed at the meeting of the Citizens League of South Australia were of an extreme character.
-What were they?
– The honorable member knows what they were.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral indicate what were the matters to which his department took exception, and on what grounds the refusal to allow the speeches to be broadcast was based?
– I do not propose at this stage to add to the long statement on this subject that I made last week.
– Did the PostmasterGeneral say that it was his intention to make a full statement as to his reasons for refusing permission to the Citizens League of Adelaide to broadcast addresses ?
– I explained the position fully the other day. The honorable member has also written to me in regard to the matter, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) has also sought information. I told him privately that the reply which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was to receive would also be furnished to him.
– Is the Prime Minister prepared to make a statement to the House concerning the negotiations for the taking over of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales by the Commonwealth Bank? Has the right honorable gentleman received any communication during the last couple of days regarding the rupture of the negotiations?
– The newspaper reports of the latest developments are substantially accurate. I have not yet received an official intimation regarding the final stages of the negotiations, but Iexpect to receive it to-day.
– I understand that the Government proposes to incorporate in the sales tax assessment bills a provision which will permit of any alteration in the sales tux being adjusted as between vendor and purchaser, so that the vendor may recover from the purchaser any increase in the tax. Will the Government extend the same principle to contracts, such as building contracts, involving the supply of material on which increased sales tax may be charged? It is suggested that the procedure provided for in section 152 of the Customs Act might be adopted in connexion with the sales tax.
– The honorable member’s suggestion will be considered when the sales tax assessment bills are in committee.
– Will the Prime Minister make available to honorable members a full list of the new exemptions which it is proposed to make under the Sales Tax Act?
– We are considering a large number of applications for exemption, but very few have been agreed to. We have announced from time to time what exemptions have been approved. A list was given in the budget speech, and another when the Sales Tax Bill was before the House. I, myself, announced further additions to the list when I introduced the sales tax assessment bills. There are, I think, only two additions to be made to the list. We are giving consideration to all applications, and making the result of our deliberations known, so that honorable members may not be induced to entertain the hope that, by hammering away during the debate, they may win further concessions.
– Is that a threat?
– It is an intimation that the Government, having gone into the matter, has made up its mind that there can be no more concessions. Of course, if honorable members submit new requests for exemptions when the bill is in committee, those requests will be considered; but I do not think that there can be many new applications.
– It would save time during the debate if the Prime Minister would state now whether he proposes to delete from the bill the mandatory provision requiring the amount of the sales tax to be shown on the invoice.
– The honorable member can bring that matter up only during the committee stage of the bill.
– In view of the fact that the Queensland Government has stated that the proposals of the Commonwealth Government for the combating of the buffalo fly are not satisfactory, will the Prime Minister make available to honorable members the report by Dr. Mackerras, so that they may have an opportunity to form their own opinions on the subject?
– I understand from the Minister for Home Affairs that the report has already been made available to honorable members.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that a circular letter issued by a Melbourne firm of stockbrokers to its clients has reached many holders of large amounts of Commonwealth bonds in Sydney, and is having a most depressing effect upon them? In view of the favorable comment by the press of Great Britain, the United States of America, and Australia upon the proposed conversion loan, is the right honorable gentleman prepared to make a further statement on the subject in amplification of his interjection to the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) about a fortnight ago?
– When the honorable member for Warringah was denouncing, justly, I think, the authors of this circular letter I interjected that it was a most pernicious document. I repeat that; the letter is full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations. This firm of stockbrokers has been guilty of a most unpatriotic action. Even while the Premiers Conference in Melbourne was working to evolve a plan for the financial and economic rehabilitation of Australia, the firm in question was cabling to the London newspapers misrepresentations of our proposals. I do not think that the firm should be given undue advertisement or the document unnecessarily wide publicity.
– Should not the firm be punished ?
– I am not aware that we have power to punish the authors, but we shall endeavour to refute their misrepresentations without, giving undue publicity to them.
– On Thursday last I asked a question of the Prime Minister regarding the personnel of the committee to be constituted under section 43 of the Financial Emergency Act, to deal with war pensions. The answer gives the personnel of the committee constituted under section 13. Obviously an error has occurred, and I ask the right honorable gentleman to let me know as early as possible the personnel of the committee appointed under section 43.
– I shall furnish the information to the honorable member.
– When does the Prime Minister hope to be able to make known to honorable members the findings of the committee which is inquiring into cuts in soldiers’ pensions, and other payments ?
– The committee was allowed six weeks in which to make a complete investigation, and submit recommendations. I do not know when it will finish.
– Will the Prime
Minister state the precise date on which it is proposed to begin adding exchange to Imperial pensions payable in Australia?
– Arrangements have been completed between the Imperial Government and the Commonwealth Government for the payment of exchange on Imperial pensions, and we are ready to commence payment at once. We are merely awaiting a reply from the British Government.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs any further information to give concerning the decision of the Heinz Manufacturing Company not to commence manufacturing in Australia, seeing that it was granted special concessions to induce it to commence operations?
Mr.FORDE.- The Heinz Manufacturing Company was not granted any concession on the existing tariff rates, but was required to pay full duty on any goods imported. It had an annual turnover in this country of approximately £500,000, and one-half of its products were affected by the prohibition. Subject to the opening of a factory in Australia by the 1st January, 1931, the company was to be allowed to import £30,000 worth of goods, which would otherwise have been prohibited, but on condition that the full duty was paid. The company found, on investigation, that it would not suit it to establish a factory in Australia at that time and consequently it did not import any goods under the arrangement. The concession has since been withdrawn.
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The following shows all the Tariff Board reports which have been received since 1st January, 1931 and distinguishes between those which have been laid on the table of the House, and those which have not yet been so dealt with: -
Apparel - Elastic.
Silk yarns and artificial silk yarns.
China andparianware,porcelainware, earthenware, &c.
Whiting and Paris white.
Buttons, buckles, clasps and slides of erinoid, celluloid,galalith, or any casein material.
Concentrated must - Excise.
Oil and spirit heating and cooking appliances.
Bismuth metal and bismuth salts.
Incubators, foster mothers andbrooders.
Side wheel hand-type lawnmowers.
Galvanized Avon and steelplate and sheet. Bates’ salve.
Masonry warter proofing, dump proofing and preservative products.
Sheets comprisedof asbestos and cement or of similar materials.
Waterpaints and distempers in powder form and kalsominc.
Fractional horsepower electric motors.
Reports Not Yet Tabled.
Ebonite screw bottle stoppers.
Woven wire cloth (fly wire) (Industries Preservation Act ) .
Wall and ceiling parts and decorations.
Braids, fringes, and edgings of textile material (not being for attire).
Incandescent electric lamps.
Electric heating and cooking appliances.
Abrasive papers and cloths.
Sulphate of magnesia.
Timber for manufacture of boxes for fruits for export.
Porcelain ware, including insulators for electrical purposes.
Gloves- Harvesting, driving, housemaids’ and gardening.
Crude petroleum, enriched crude petroleum petrol, and once-run distillate.
Polished stainless steel.
Wheels , and axles for railways and tram ways.
Wroughtslates, slate slabs, androofing slates.
Writing ink, inkpowders, and liquid drawing ink.
Hot water bottle stoppers.
Floor coverings and floor and carriage matof rubber.
Pneumatic rubber tyres weighing each21/2 lb or less, and tubes therefor.
Solid rubber tyres.
Rubber manufactures, n.e.i., and allthe goods covered by item 832 (b), alsoarticles enumerated in item 332 (a).
Bounty on galvanized iron -Question of withdrawal.
Boot lasts and trees of any material.
asked the Ministerfor
Home Affairs, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are at follow: - 1, 2, and 3. About the 6th July, certain general instructions on the lines of the practice which has been adopted by the various States in regard tothe issue of rationrelief to all persons bona fide needing assistance including war pensioners, were issued to the police by myself, and were in the terms of my statement to honorable members on the 15th July, and in reply to questions by the honorable member for Richmond on that date, and also on the l6th July.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. The Civic Administrator, the Chief Lands Officer, the Superintendent, Commissariat Section, and the Superintendent Parks and Gardens Section.
The car in the custody of the Civic Administrator is made available for general transport work when required, and that in the custody of the Chief Lands Officer is also used in routine, by the Property Section.
Inspections have also been made of Jervis Bay lands, which are under my control, and I have inspected Commonwealth property at Jervis Bay, valued at approximately £800,000, with departmental officers, with a view to evolving plans which would result in a return on capital expended.
On such occasions, I was usually accompanied, at my request, by the Lands Officer, who is the officer responsible for all land activities, and during such inspections have used my own and other private cars, government cars, and government and private trucks. Where time and opportunity offered, I took advantage of the excellent fishing available in the mountain streams of the Federal Capital Territory.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
“NEW GUARD” MOVEMENT.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In view of definite statements made by representatives of an organization known as the “ New Guard “, that its organization is based upon military lines -
Is it a fact that the Defence Forces at present available are inadequate to deal with any situation that may arise in this country?
Is it a fact that the defence authorities have encouraged the formation of a military organization known as the “New Guard” movement; if not, what steps have been taken to suppress it? 3.Is it a fact that the head-quarters of this organization are situated in the. Victoria Military Barracks, Sydney?
Is it a fact that paid military officers are assisting in the training of this body?
Is he prepared to sanction the formation upon military lines of an army of workers who have expressed a desire to prepare themselves to resist any attempt to interfere with the rights of the citizens of this country?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What are the reasons for expecting that £100,000 will be saved in 1931-32 from nonpayment of maternity allowance to persons in receipt of income exceeding £260 per annum, in view of the fact that the Commonwealth Statistician estimated that the saving in 1922 would only be £29,000, if the allowance were paid to persons with income not exceeding £300 per annum ?
– The estimate of £100,000 for 1931-32 has been based on the best information available. The increase over the estimate for 1922 is due to the difference in the income limits.
– The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Tully) has asked a series of questions regarding Cockatoo Island Dockyard. The information is being obtained, and will be made available as soon as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– by leave- On Friday last I received the following telegram from the Premier of New South Wales : -
Replying your telegram 22nd July ifthis State agrees accept responsibility payment interest on its public debt, to remain in Loan Council and to effect economics agreed to by recent Premiers’ Conference, will moneys be provided to meet State’s requirements during July, August and September? Necessary that five hundred thousand pounds required for July be provided immediately.
I sent a copy of the telegram to allthe members of the Loan Council, together with a certain recommendation, andI have now received replies from all the States. To-day I despatched the following telegram to the Premier of New South Wales : -
Majority of Loan Council approve follow ing reply to your telegram of 23rd July. On receipt of your undertaking to accept responsibility for payment of interest on New South Wales public debt and to join Loan Council and on your Government passing and putting into operation Premiers’ plan including 20 per cent. reduction in adjustable expenditure as compared with adjustable expendi- tine ill 1920-1930, Loan Council will approve issue of treasury bills for July requirements and will approach bank to make available n mount necessary for July. Requirements of all Governments for August will bo dealt with at Loan Council meeting in August. Requirements for all governments in subsequent months will be dealt with by Loan Council from time to time as required.
– Seeing that the Premier of New South Wales claimed, when he refused to meet the interest payments oversea, that he needed the money for the relief of unemployment, and for the payment of the civil servants, how it is that after having defaulted to the extent of £4,000,000 he still has no money available for local requirements?
– I find it hard enough to carry the responsibility for Commonwealth finances without making myself responsible for those of New South Wales.
– I have received from the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to-day to discuss n definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The reduced payments to invalid and old-age pensioners, and the rejection of numerous claims for pensions during it-he last twelve months.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
.- I am of the opinion that the majority of honorable members did not believe for a moment, when the pensions of invalid and aged persons were reduced, that so much hardship as has been experienced by them would be inflicted. I have been inundated with letters from elderly persons, who have asked why 2s. 6d. a week has been deducted from their pensions. Practically everybody in Australia is under the impression that the oldage and invalid pensions cut would amount to 12^ per cent. That figure was mentioned at the Premiers Conference, but the deduction that has been made is 2s. 6d. a week, irrespective of the amount of pension received. For instance, a pensioner receiving 5s. a week now gets only 2s. 6d. a week, which is a reduction of 50 per cent; whereas in no case have other pensions, or the wages or salaries of public servants, been reduced by more than 20 per cent. This is grossly unfair to the invalid and oldage pensioners. I quite recognize that the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) will say that the pensioners now in receipt of only 2s. 6d. a week must have other incomes; but, in certain cases, that is not so. 1 draw attention to the case of James and Janet Galloway, of Gallow-street Kurri, who had, each been receiving lis. 6d. a fortnight. Their pension is now reduced to 6s. 6d. a fortnight, or 3s. 3d. a week. Mr. Galloway has a house valued at about £300, apart from the house in which he lives. His second house is tenanted by a man who is unemployed and cannot pay rent. Yet Mr. Galloway has to pay rates on the property, as well as on an adjacent block of land which he owns, and has borrowed money to do this.
Evan D. Jones, of Bellbird-street, Pelaw Main, received a pension of ils. fid. a week, or 23s. a fortnight. He has had a fortnightly reduction of 5s., which leaves to him only 9s. a week. In another case, Mr. David Jeffries and Mrs. Margaret Jeffries, of Harle-street, Abermain, who were in receipt of a pension of 19s. 1-Jd. a week, have suffered a combined reduction of 10s. a fortnight, which brings their income down to 16s. 7-Jd. a week. Their pensions have been reduced because, at one time, they owned a week-end cottage at the seaside, in which they used to reside ; but, owing to ill-health, they were advised by their doctor to remove from the seaside. They acted upon that medical advice, and transferred the seaside property, which was merely leasehold, and valued at £100, to a dutiful son who had assisted in keeping them in their old age. They are now paying rent for the house they reside- in. The aged father suffered from miner’s asthma, or some similar complaint.
This property has practically been sold -by the son, who has paid the parents a portion of the money received for it. but the pensions department still regards the old couple as owning that property, and has reduced their pension accordingly. I could quote other cases of a similar nature. Many of the aged persons who are supposed to have income from property apart from, their pensions, have no such income at all owing to the fact that their tenants are unemployed and can pay no rent. They merely have property, and the value in accordance with the assessed value for local government purposes is taken into consideration in fixing their pension, although the property is not revenue-producing. In many cases, they have bought land, and have paid rates on it throughout their lives, but they have not erected residences on that land, and therefore it is not incomeproducing.
I shall give details of the case of Mr. John .Cully, of Marion-street, Cessnock. In a reply that I have received from Mr. J. “Watson, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Pensions, the following paragraph appears : -
Mr. Cully is possessed of land, his equity in which, when his claim was investigated, amounted to 08. He had also in the bank an amount of £52 - a total of £120. It will be seen, therefore, that after allowing for the statutory exemption of £50, it was necessary to make a deduction of £7 from the maximum pension of £52 otherwise payable, leaving a net pension of £45 per annum. As Mr. Cully is in receipt of the latter rate, which is the highest to which he is legally entitled, it is regretted that no increase is possible.
Property seems to be an encumbrance to the owners in many cases. Many property owners are unemployed, and are unable to pay their rates, whereas the individual who occupies the house is often in receipt of a dole from the State Government. The owner of the property, however, although unemployed or a pensioner is, because of being a property holder, refused the dole. If the situation were not so tragic, it would be Gilbertian. The man who owns a property, and gets nothing for it, is made to suffer, although the individual occupying it, and paying no rent, receives the dole. They should be treated alike. It has been the policy of all governments to encourage thrift. When a married couple who have practised thrift throughout their lives, and have denied themselves many of the pleasures that others have had, reach the age of 50 or 60 years, they possibly may have saved sufficient to purchase a house apart from that in which they live. When they reach the age of 65 years they are denied the pension if the property exceeds the value of £400, whether it i3 revenue producing or not. Thrifty people are to-day asking themselves, “Does it pay to be thrifty, in view of the provisions of the law in regard to the granting of pensions?” When the measure which provided for the reduction of pensions was before this chamber the position of the pensioners was not adequately considered. These old people had no organization to submit a case on their behalf, and although honorable members who sit in this corner took up the cudgels for them, they were rumble to avert the hardship that has been inflicted on them. Highway robbers, buccaneers of olden days, pirates, and Australian bushrangers would not have dealt with old people as they have been dealt with in consequence of the passage of the Financial Emergency Bill.
– It is distinctly out of order for the honorable member to speak in such terms of the measures which come before this House.
– It may be true, Mr. Speaker.
– My concern is that the language used here shall be parliamentary.
– I was going to say that Ned Kelly had nothing on them.
– Ned Kelly is dead.
– If he were alive I do not think that his mother would allow him to associate, or play, with those responsible for actions such as those to which I am now referring. I did not think that I would live to see the day when a so-called Labour Government would take from these old people the few comforts which they were enjoying in the evening of their life. I do not think that Parliament intended that such severe hardships should be inflicted upon these people.
I wish also to direct attention to the numerous claims for pensions which have been rejected in the last twelve months. I remember that while I was a supporter of the present Government, the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) said on one occasion that he intended to consult the officers responsible for the payment of our various pensions with the object of seeing whether the administration of the law could be tightened. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman intended to take steps to curtail the granting of pensions, but in view of the number of rejected claims that have been brought under my notice in my own electorate recently, I feel that that is what he intended.
I call the attention of the Prime Minister to the case of Clarence Farmer, of Paxton, 24, an epileptic, who is absolutely incapable of doing anything whatever for himself. His pension was cancelled, and I made representations to the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions in New South Wales, Mr. Theggie, with the object of having it restored. I quote the following passage from the letter received in reply thereto: -
I have to advise that section 22 (1) (h) of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act reads as under -
No person shall receive an invalid pension unless his relatives, namely, father, mother, husband or wife, do not, either severally or collectively, adequately maintain him.
It is regretted that in view of the specific nature of the act, restoration of the pension cannot be considered under existing circumstances.
What does that mean ? Simply this, that the parents of such an invalid must be prepared to keep him or else take the inhuman course of refusing to do so. In other words, they must kick him out of his home before the Government will agree to pay him a pension. This man is absolutely helpless. He needs as much attention as a baby.
Another case in which a pension has been refused is that of Mr. A. C. Harold, of Homesville. This man was certified by his doctor and by the manager of a mine where he had previously worked to be a menace to other miners. He is subject to fits. It was stated^ definitely that it would not be safe for him to go down a mine in a cage with other men lest he would. kick them out of the cage if a fit overtook him on the journey. On this account he will be refused employment at the mine when ii re-opens
– Why was he refused a pension ?
– It was said that he was not totally permanently incapacitated,, although, as I have pointed out, his own doctor and the mine manager both certified that it was unsafe for him to travel down the mine in a cage. The mine manager put him on light work, but owing to the frequency of the seizures he now refuses to employ him. He has taken five or six fits in one day. I have asked that this case be reconsidered. I also direct attention to the case of a man in my electorate who, years ago, committed a crime, for which he served a sentence of two years imprisonment. On this account he has been refused a pension. Is he to be perpetually punished because of his lapse? In my opinion it is entirely unchristian that such a case should be bo treated.
The case of Mr. D. Corrigan also deserves reconsideration. This old man, who cannot work, has hitherto been kepi by his daughter. Tears ago he had a property, but, in consideration of his daughter keeping him for five years, he transferred it to her five years ago. Surely it is not right that he should now be refused a pension.
Cases such as these make me feel th.’it the intention of the Prime Minister, when he said last year that he intended to tighten up the administration of the pension law, was that the granting of pensions should be curtailed.
– The Government can only grant pensions within the meaning of the act.
– Mr. Farmer was granted a pension years ago when his condition was just the same as it is now. The department knew all about his case then. If the granting of the pension was justified then, the cancellation of it this year was entirely unjustified.
– Probably the department has now discovered all the facts.
– These facts are undeniable. Mr. Farmer is 24 years of age; he is an epileptic; ho i? totally incapable of doing anything for himself, and he is being maintained by Iti.i parents, which involves them in great hardship, particularly because of the intermittent work on the coal fields. If they were inhuman enough to put him out of the house he would get a pension.
The case of Mr. E. O’Donnell, of Carringtonstreet, West Wallsend, also deserves consideration. This young man has to use crutches to get about. In times like these, it is almost impossible for him to get work. In reply to my representations to the deputy commissioner in this case I received the following letter: -
I have again looked into this case. The evidence, however, leaves no doubt that claimant is quite capable of a sedentary occupation if a suitable position were available. To find such a position is, however, not the function of this department. Claimant is undoubtedly greatly handicapped, and 1 would like to help him. The provisions of the Pensions Act, however, I am sorry, leave no option but to refuse the claim.
– Physically perfect boys cannot get work these days.
– That, is so. Before a person can enter the Public Service he must pass a rigid medical examination, but it is expected that private employers should employ cripples. The Government should share that duty with private employers, and give cripples an opportunity to enter the Public Service, or, as an alternative, grant them an invalid pension at the least in proportion to their incapacity.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Like the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), when I reached my home last week-end I was besieged by a number of persons whose pensions have been reduced under the Government’s economy plan, but I do not propose to enumerate them. I believe that when this legislation went through the House not one honorable member expected that the maximum reduction of a pension would be more than 121/2 per cent.
– The honorable member voted for the reduction.
– I voted for the general plan, but not for the specific reduction, and I ask that the honorable member should withdraw his allegation.
– If I have done the honorable member an injustice, it was done unconsciously. I accept his assurance that he did not vote specifically for the reduction in pensions, and withdraw my statement.
– I am confident that no honorable member imagined that 2s. 6d. would be deducted from each pension, irrespective of its amount. I know of cases in which men have retired from the Railway Department in receipt of a superannuation payment of 10s. a week, for which they contributed during their years of service. That is being subjected to this reduction of 2s. 6d. a week. I am sure that that was notintended when the Financial Emergency Bill was passed.
– The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) explained the purpose of the bill very thoroughly when he introduced it.
– I did not understand that it was to operate in this manner. Whether the bill was made clear or not, the principle is wrong. I know of one or two cases in which men in receipt of a pension of 5s. a week have had it reduced by 2s. 6d. That makes their sacrifice disproportionately great as compared with that to be made by bondholders.
– In addition to their pensions, such pensioners must have income from property or other sources.
– That does not justify the action taken. I have always held that taxation of this nature is class legislation, and is wrong in principle. It taxes the thrifty, and can have only one result, to encourage people to be thriftless, on the assumption that as a last resource they can fall back on the old-age pension. This action of the Government has accentuated the evil, and will encourage people not to provide for the future.
The motion of the honorable member for Hunter complains of the harsh administration of the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act during the past twelve months. I do not blame the Government so much on that point, because in the past much was left to the decision of medical men in private practice. That fault has been remedied by the appointment of government officials, who now adjudicate in these matters. I know that it is true that, in recent months, it has become increasingly difficult for a person to obtain an invalid pension.
Regarding the old-age pension, I have had a case broughtunder my notice in which an old farmer, after struggling all his life in the north of New SouthWales on a hungry holding, a property so poor that he was uunable to sell it even for a negligible sum, became ill. He went to the Moree baths for treatment, and later lived for a time with his daughter in my electorate. As a result, his old-age pension was reduced considerably.
Mr.McNeill. - How long did he remain with his daughter?
– A few months, but all the time he was under an expense on account of his infirmity. I made representations to the department in the matter, and was informed that the full pension would be restored when the man returned to his home. I am sure that that was not intended when the act was framed. The applications for invalid and old-age pensions have recently increased to a considerable extent mainly because our old people, who, for years past, have been thrifty and have endeavoured to do without the pension, have now lost their income through the suspension of payment by the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales and other causes. Why do we not try to remedy this evil by placing the pensions system on a better basis? This Parliament never intended that anything but a graduated reduction, with a maximum reduction of121/2 per cent. should apply to old-age and invalid pensions.
Mr.SCULLIN (Yarra- Prime Minister) [3.51]. - I am astonished that the mover and seconder of this motion should so emphatically declare that no one believed that there would be a reduction of 2s. 6d. from every pension. They have said that the intention to bring about such a reduction was not made clear. The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) spoke on this subject, and his speech, in conjunction with mine, was printed and distributed in pamphlet form to all honorable members for their information. On page 19 of the pamphlet, in which is set out the table of economies, these words appear - “Reduce all pensions by 2s. 6d. a week- saving £1,625,000”. Any honorable member can ascertain the number of pensioners and calculate that a reduction of 121/2per cent. in old-age and in-‘ valid pensions represents that sum. As if that were not sufficient to show the intention of the Government in respect of pensions, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), while the Treasurer was speaking, interjected, “If a person receives an invalid pension of only 5s. a week, will that be reduced by 2s. 6d.?” The Treasurer answered, “ Yes “. It was surely evident that the reduction of 2s. 6d. a week represented a reduction of 121/2 per cent. on the maximum pension allowed. But we did not speak in terms of a reduction of 121/2 per cent.; we said that there would be a reduction of 2s. 6d. on all pensions.
– That is mere wordspinning.
– The honorable member is never anything except abusive. We all regret that it is necessary to reduce pensions, but let me point out to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) that the person who previously received a pension of 5s. a week, and is now suffering a reduction of 50 per cent., is really in a better position than the person who is suffering a reduction of 2s. 6d. in his pension of £1 a week. A pensioner who received 5s. a week was drawing an additional income of 27s. 6d. which brought his total weekly payment to 32s. 6d. That has now been reduced to30s. In addition to their pension of 2s. 6d. a week, these pensioners are able to obtain 27s. 6d. from other sources. That is the law. The administration of the pensions is strict but just. The department makes few mistakes, and I think that that is the general experience of honorable members. The honorable member for Hunter referred to a pensioner who has a house valued at £300, and for which he is receiving no rental. My answer is that if that person is able to establish that fact to the department, the rental value of his property will not be a debit against his pension.
– I am glad to hear that, although I have failed to convince the department of the bona fides of the cases to which I have referred.
– The Prime Minister’s statement is challenged by the Commissioner of Pensions.
– In the administration of pensions there is a big opening for deception, and we have to avoid that as far as practicable. There have been many cases of deception. Only the other day a woman was brought before the court, and it was found that for years she had posed as a single woman and had drawn an invalid pension while she had a husband supporting her. If a pensioner can establish the fact that he is receiving no rental from a property which he owns, the rental value will not be debited against his pension. I have that assurance from the department.
– Has that always been the practice ?
– The value of the property, but not the rental value, will be debited against the pension. If pensioners have properties, surely they can dispose of them?
– Properties are unsaleable at the present time.
– Land has no value today.
– This law . operated when the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) sat behind Ohe BrucePage Government. It has been the law ever since we introduced the pension system. The honorable member did not criticize that law when we had surplus after surplus, but he objects to it now that we are faced with deficits and a financial depression. This is no time for honorable members to criticize. The department is now administering the law even more sympathetically than before, because of the depression.
– That has not been my experience.
– It has been my experience in. every case which I have investigated.
– Does the Prime Minister say that where a property is not revenueearning its rental value will not be taken into account in fixing the pension?
– The property value, but not the rental value, will be taken into account in fixing the pension, that is, if it can be shown that the property has depreciated in value, or that no rent is being paid. I took this matter up with the department to-day, and was informed that it wa3 adopting that practice. The defects in the system, which have been referred to by the honorable member for
Hunter (Mr. James) have nothing to do with the plan of rehabilitation, which has been before this Parliament during the last few weeks, and it is unfair to bring up individual cases at this stage. The honorable member for Hunter has said that I made some statement to the effect that the administration would be tightened up. At that time I was answering th» charge that the officials were doing things which they had no right to do, and I said that the administration was sympathetic, but efficient. Every year the department discovers that certain persons who are drawing pensions are not entitled to them, and in many cases refunds have been made. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) said that many applications for pensions have been rejected during the last twelve months. My reply is that more have been granted during that period than at any other time in . the history of the act.
– The right honorable gentleman knows the reason.
– I do, and I regret it, but it follows that as more people are applying for and receiving pensions, the number of rejections also has increased. During the last twelve months 38,800 applications have been granted and only 7,200 have been rejected. ‘ The honorable member referred to persons to whom pensions had been refused, although they had transferred their property to sons and daughters. That has always been the law. If the old people transfer their property to their children, thus depriving themselves of an asset and a possible income, they cannot prevent such assets being taken into account when their eligibility for a pension is being assessed. It was never intended that old or invalid persons should he allowed to transfer their property to sons and daughters and then claim that they are without means. The honorable member for Hunter says that the basis of the pension is wrong, arid that thrift is being penalized. Of course, the ideal system would be that which ensured a pension to every woman of 60 years of age and every man of 65 years, but if that were adopted we should either have to double the expenditure on pensions or halve the rate. The granting of a pension to every person who reached the prescribed age would cost the Commonwealth £30,000,000 a year. Are honorable members prepared to face that expenditure? It is very easy to say that the conditions and qualifications which at present surround a pension are a tax upon thrift, but surely if we cannot afford to pay a pension to every old person, it is better to provide for those who are in need, and it is preferable to give special attention to the necessitous cases than to affirm that all old people should get the pension and then halve the rate because we cannot afford to pay more.
Mr.R. Green. - Unless we introduce a contributory scheme.
– If that were done a pension could be paid to all contributors. There has been no deception in regard to the reduction of pensions. The Treasurer’s speech in explanation of the financial emergecy legislation has been widely circulated, and is printed in Hansard. He stated clearly that 2s. 6d. would be taken from every pension, but he pointed out that when 2s. 6d. was taken from a pension of 5s. the pensioner was in receipt of other income, and the percentage reduction of his income was less than that of persons who had been receiving a full pension of £1. The disabilities to which attention has been drawn this afternoon have always applied, and it is not right to say that they have been introduced recently as part of the economy plan. The deputy commissioners are always ready to extend consideration where hardship can be established.
.- The Prime Minister has rightly said that some of the circumstances which have been criticized this afternoon have no relation to the financial emergency plan. The Treasurer, when introducing the Financial Emergency Bill, left no doubt in the minds of honorable members that 2s. 6d. would be deducted from every pension whether it was 5s. or £1. Whether that plan be right or wrong the House was not deceived. The refusal of applications for pensions on the ground that the applicants owned property, although it was not producing income, is not a recent development, although probably the hard ship has been accentuated lately because so many properties are yielding no return. I have knowledge of applicants for a pension who have property assessed by the State Taxation Department at over £400. Because of their possession of that property they have been refused a pension, although many of the properties could not possibly produce any income unless the owners were in a position to spend a great deal of money on them. That applies particularly to hush land. The amount at which it is assessed for taxation purposes is held by the pensions department to be its value, although it cannot possibly yield any income.
– Many applicants have held property for years which they could have sold.
– They cannot sell now.
– If they cannot sell their property and it yields no income they should give it away, or forfeit it.
– If they hold the deed of a piece of land how can they forfeit it? I have in mind an old man who had a piece of land which had been assessed by the Taxation Department at £350. He sold it to his son for £28, and the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions regarded the transaction as fraudulent. But the son explained to me that he had bought the block because his father wanted a few pounds. He added, “I paid £28 for it; the transfer fee was £3. I will sell it to you or the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions for £30. I wrote to the Commissioner and offered to forward the deeds to him, but he replied that the land was assessed at £350, and he was obliged to regard that as its value unless the owner successfully appealed.” Actually, the property was not worth £30. There are numerous cases of that kind, and. grave injustice is done to many old and worthy people. The only solution I can suggest is that any applicant for a pension should be abletoremovehispropertydisqualification by assigning the property to the Crown. I would go so far as to say that that should he done in every case. That would overcome, also, the other difficulty in regard to the excess value of homes. I have mentioned these cases, not for the purpose of criticizing the Administration, but merely to draw attention to the need for amending the act in such a way as to prevent hardship of the character I have described.
.- The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) said that, although he voted for the financial emergency plan generally, he did not support the reduction of pensions. The reduction of pensions is part of the general plan, and obviously, by supporting the plan, the honorable member endorsed the reduction of pensions. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has stated that the Government has not practised deception in regard to the old-age and invalid pensions. That may be true, but deception has been practised in regard to the operation of the rehabilitation plan generally. I have read the reports of the proceedings of the Premiers Conference, and the recommendations made toy the experts, and have listened ‘to the debates in this chamber, and throughout them the impression- was conveyed to honorable members that all phases of the plan would be brought into operation simultaneously. The Government, however, has displayed indecent haste to give effect to that portion of the scheme which affects the people who are least able to bear a sacrifice. For the delay in implementing the other portions of the plan, not even those honorable members who are suffering from “ Langitis “ can blame the Premier of New South Wales. The excuse put forward is the failure of the Victorian Parliament to pass the Debt Conversion Bill, and this is attributed to the alleged illness of the Premier of that State. Therefore, the bondholders are to be reprieved until Mr. Hogan has recovered his health; but the old-age pensioners are already being deprived of a half-crown a week. One sheltered and highly-paid official has repeatedly attacked the aged and invalid. Thanks to his handsome salary, if he practises the thrift which he says others should practice, he will never need to apply for an old-age pension. The Auditor-General in his last annual report said -
At the present time, two-fifths of the women over CO and of the men over 65 years of age in the Commonwealth are in receipt of old-age pensions, and the total paid represents a tax on the community of almost £2 per head annually. These figures are extraordinary in view of the vaunted high standard of living in Australia and the opportunities which are supposed to exist in this country for people to ‘ make good.” Considering the favorable conditions which have existed in Australia for the last 80 years, the high percentage of oldage pensioners does not seem justified.
Reasons must therefore be sought as to why so many persons aru dependent upon State aid in their old age, and questions naturally arise as to whether the present conditions under which old-age pensions ca’n be secured are not such as to sap the independence of the people; whether they do not really induce thriftlessness, and whether they do not actually discourage that outlook which impels people to make provision for their declining years. In many cases, the natural disposition to save does not exist. . . .
While it cannot be doubted that many persons have been compelled through ill-health or other misfortune to seek the old-age pension, it is equally certain that many others have qualified for a pension through drink, gambling, laziness, and general extravagance and waste. The liberal provisions of the law make no distinction between these two classes, and pensions are granted even when it is known that some of the applicants in earlier years have lod dissolute and lawless lives. The result is that the saving and thrifty, instead of being able to get the full benefit of their past efforts, arc called upon to contribute by taxation to the pensions of many persons whose previous mode of living has been such as to render them quite unworthy of that assistance.
No more dastardly and cowardly attack has been made on the old-age pensioners, who are not in a position to defend themselves.
– He has not attacked the decent ones.
– If a person on the basic wage were to save the whole of his income he would not be able to pay the whisky bill of many members of this House. This talk of thrift is all so much nonsense. What opportunity have the 400,000 unemployed to save anything for their old age? It is all very well for honorable members opposite to say that the workers squander their money when they are in employment; but the fact is that they receive so little at any time that they are unable to save. Many of the provisions in the act are, in our opinion, harsh ; but while I do not blame the Government for that, it must accept the responsibility for them, having made no attempt to amend the actIt is provided that * a person, to qualify for an invalid pension, must be totally and permanently incapacitated. I do not blame the officers of the department, who must interpret the act as they find it, but all of us who have had experience of this sort of thing know that many deserving applicants are denied a pension because it is said that they are not permanently incapacitated. Honorable members opposite seem to think that the Government should avail itself of every technicality to dodge payment, even to deserving cases. Because an applicant is not permanently and totally incapacitated, they believe that the Government is absolved of any obligation to provide for him, even though he is not able to provide for himself. Recently I had something to do with the. case of a man named Wagner. This man and his wife had a block of land for which they had not even finished paying. At the end of 1928 they still owed £56 on it, and since then they have not paid a penny on it. Probably, they will never be able to call the land their own, yet the assessed value of the block has been set off against their pension. I was instrumental in having the case reviewed, and, after a delay of several months, ‘the department announced that the pension would be increased by 4Jd. a week. At the same time that the appellant received notification of this fact, he was informed that his pension would be reduced by 2s. 6d. a week in accordance with the general pensions scheme.
I know of another case which I would like to bring under the notice of some of the patriots opposite. Daniel Nunan, a returned soldier, was in receipt of a pension, and, on many occasions, he has endeavoured to have his case reviewed. I shall give honorable members his medical record while defending democracy and the Empire, and while seeking to make this country a place fit for heroes to live in. They are as follow: - 1015, injury to head, Gallipoli. 1915, dysentery, Gallipoli. 1910, wounded buttock, Gallipoli. 19.15, pleurisy hemorrhage, England. 1918, malaria or pneumonia influenza, Palestine, on Jordan river.
Operated on, Port Said Hospital, December, 1918, piece of shrapnel removed.
As a compensation for all he had been through, and all he had suffered, this man received a pension of 16s. 9d. a fortnight. Yet honorable members on both sides of the House have defended this wonderful economy plan. I understand that there was to be equality of sacrifice, but while there is no doubt that the returned soldiers and the old-age and invalid pensioners have made their sacrifice-
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. McGrath).The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The examination of applicants for invalid pensions was formerly done by medical specialists in the various capital cities. Since the present plan has been in operation the Government has altered! that arrangement, and applicants are now examined by officers of the Commonwealth Health Department. I do not desire to disparage the qualifications of these officers, but they are primarily concerned with quarantine matters, and applicants for pensions should have the benefit of diagnosis by specialists. This is the age of specialization, and the Government should obtain the best reports available. Last week I asked in the House why the former system of appointing medical referees had been abandoned ; whether it was because they had been found inefficient, or whether the Government hoped to effect economies by the change. I was told that the Government expected to save about £2,900 a year, and that this was the reason for the alteration. The change could not be justified, however, if, as a result, even one deserving applicant was deprived of a pension. The medical referees, under the old system, received a fee of 10s. from the Government for each examination. They gave a negative or an affirmative report, and recommended the amount of pension to be paid. This work is now in the hands of the Commonwealth Health Department, which has of late been subject to considerable criticism. The statement was made by a Victorian Minister recently that there was a tremendous amount of overlapping in this department, and that the whole department could very well be scrapped with the exception of that section which dealt with quarantine matters. Under the proposals for the reduction of old-age, invalid, and war pensions, together with interest reductions, all sections of the community have been called upon to make sacrifices ; but the Government should ensure that it has the best medical advice when dealing with applications for pensions. Under the previous system, the specialists were not employed permanently, but only as their services were required. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter, and, if possible, restore the old system.
. -This charge, stripped of its “ hifalutin “ verbiage, amounts to an allegation that the provision in respect of property held by applicants for pensions is unfair. As a matter of fact, the man in. receipt of an income from property will still be better off than the one without, who is receiving only the bare £52 a year. In regard to the matter raised by the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell), the fact is that most land held in municipalities on a Torrens title was bought or held for speculative purposes, and in its unimproved state is retarding development. The old-age pensions department has proved itself to be very sympathetic when considering property held by pensioners and applicants for pensions. Although the land may be assessed for rating purposes at a fairly high value, the department has considered only its present sale value, and has taken that as a basis for pension adjustment. If the owner of a block of land in a municipality believes that it has no value, he need not pay rates oil it, in which case it will revert to the Crown. If it can be proved that land has no sale value, the pensions department is generally willing to take that into consideration.
– I quoted a case in which a man offered to sell his land far £30, although it was valued at £50.
– I know of cases in which the owner might have received £300 or £400 for a block some time ago, but held on to it in the hope of making still greater profits. The case of one man who holds a block of four acres of land is now under consideration by the old-age pensions department. Not long ago, he could have sold the land at a very good price, but decided to hold on. to it for speculative purposes. By such action, he prevented other people from living in that locality.
Mr.Bell. - Could not such land be asigned to the Crown, and the applicant allowed to draw the full pension ?
– That is a matter for the State Governments to consider,. The Commonwealth Parliament could not legislate in that direction.
– The Commonwealth authorities could lay down, as a condition of the payment of the pension, that the assignment should be made.
– I am informed that the Commonwealth has no power to acquire land in circumstances such as those mentioned. Certain financial responsibility attaches to the ownership of land, and it might not be advisable to saddle the Commonwealth with a liability from which an individual desired to be freed.
– How could the ownership of the land involve liability, if the Commonwealth received it for nothing?
– The ownership of land often involves a liability upon the person who is forced to remain in occupation of it. I wish to say in defence of the pensions department that, so faras the law permits, ithas been most sympathetic in its dealing with invalid and oldage pensioners. It has strained every portion of the act in order to extend privileges to them. Certain honorable members appear to be pandering to the selfish side of human nature. This afternoon we have had an unbecoming exhibition which is as deceptive as the tricks practised round a sporting ring.
– I remind the House of the assurances given in this chamber prior to, and after, the adoption of what has been referred to by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) as “ the Premiers’ blot “, that this new policy would apply simultaneously to all sections affected. There was also much talk about equality of sacrifice, and now we have reached the stage at which the first effects of the application of the plan are being felt, and the people are beginning to understand what “ equality of sacrifice “ really means. During the weekend, members of the group with which I am associated, and, no doubt, many other honorable members, were approached by invalid and old-age pensioners who wished to know the reason for the savage attack that has been made upon their pensions while others such as bondholders and interest mongers to whom this legislation is to apply have not yet been affected.. The proposal emanating from the Premiers Conference, and announced in this House, was that the pensions would’ be cut by 12$ per cent. One- can fully realize how a pensioner in receipt of 5s. 6d. or 7s. 6d. a week would feel, on> finding that his pension had been reduced by 33£ per cent., or, as in some oases, 50 per cent. It has been stated by the Prime Minister that pensioners now receiving only 2s-. 6d. a week have other income amounting to as much as 27s. 6d. a week ; but many of those who are alleged to have such income would be delighted^ to- know where it is. As it does not exist they feel that they are the victims of- a departmental three-card trick. I could quote numerous instances of pensioners suffering hardship because they own blocks of land which they acquired many years ago, in the hope of erecting a home upon the laud at a later period. They have held on to- this land, throughout their lives,, and now the ownership of the property is counted against them in determining the amount of their pension.
– This is the reward for their thrift!
– Yes. 1 am doubtful W] ether, in many cases, the owners- could even- give their land away; owing to the rates that have to be paid.
– - They would- be prepared to” fall in with the proposal of the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell),
– No doubt. The case submitted by that honorable member needed- no further elaboration, and tie honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) utterly failed’ to- clarify the position. As the- honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) remarked, the plan was intended to apply equally to every section throughout Australia-. A month may elapse before any action is taken with respect- to bondholders- who’ are required, to’ convert their holdings to new stock. The Prime Minister has had to rebuke the banking institutions for their failure to stand up to their alleged obligations with respect to the reduction of interest. The cut has been applied first to those least able to bear it. No delay whatever- occurred in giving effect to- the reduction of the slender incomes of invalid and old-age pensioners. The Prime Minister stated that pensioners with property are entitled in the calculation of their pension to receive the benefit of the fall in value or the loss of income from such property. If the Government has come to this decision, let the Prime Minister immediately issue a direction to each Deputy Commissioner of Pensions that all pensions be re-assessed in the light of the statement that he has made to the House this’ afternoon. It hasbeen alleged that invalid pensioners are sympathetically dealt with, but I direct the attention of the House to the following case : - A girl suffering from infantile’ paralysis, who has been receiving, a- pension- for twenty years, has had it: cancelled during the last three months. Is that sympathetic or just treatment ?’
– What was the reason for the alteration of the pension?
– It was said that she was not totally and permanently incapacitated. I understood- the honorable member for Balaclava- (Mr. White) to say that the degree of the disability should be determined by an independent body of medical men who will weigh the evidence properly.
–A medical referee.
– I entirely agreewith that. In Sydney, applications for invalid pensions are referred to a certain medical officer, whose word is final in thematter. He can say to any applicant for the pension, as he did to the unfortunate girl- to whom? I have referred) “ You are not totally or permanently incapacitated/’
– That is the weak’ point’ of the act.
– The honorable member for” Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) realizes that, when the members of his profession differ regarding legal’ matters, a judgeis appointed’ to decide them-. Invalid and old-age pensioners should’ be given fair treatment. No notice is taken of certificates produced by them from their own doctors! One’ man can ignore the recommendation of a- number of doctors’. The applicants’ receive replies couched in such terms1 as these-“ It is regretted that, in’ the circumstances, nothing can be done “, or “ Under the circumstances, it is regretted that the’ decision in regard to your claim must’ stand “. I hope that, at the earliest opportunity, honorable members will agree to an amendment of the law, particularly in regard to the invalid pensioners, to see that justice is extended to them.
.-Other honorable members have as much sympathy as the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) with the old-age and invalid pensioners. I feel that every honorable member is anxious that justice shall be done; but the honorable member has misrepresented the position. I understood him to say that, because a pensioner was drawing 5s. or 7s. 6d. a week, he was less able to bear the reduction of the pension than a person who had been in receipt of the full amount of £1 per week; but that is not necessarily the case. If a pensioner receives a small amount, such as 5s. a week, it indicates that he has some property in reserve; it may be an insurance policy, money in the bank, or house property. I am inclined to think that the Government has adopted a fair method in making the pensions reduction, regrettable as we believe it to be. Many of the pensioners would find a way out of their troubles if the suggestion of the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) were adopted. Numerous cases have come under my notice in which aged persons have been denied the pension because they own property, although it is unproductive. I know of a case in which the parents have sold property to members of their family because they needed money, and could not dispose of the property on the open market. In such cases the department regards the transfer with suspicion, and the balance of the estimated market value is held against the pensioners for all time. I think that some relief should be given in this direction. If an amendment were made to the act to allow the Government to take over the property in exchange for the full pension much relief would be given, and the taxpayers would be protected.
There has undoubtedly been considerable abuse of our old-age and invalid pension legislation; and although the officers of the department are very sympathetic to cases of real need, they must take drastic action in cases of abuse. It is because of these abuses that our pensions legislation has pressed &o heavily on the taxpayers. In a case of pensions fraud re ported in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, it was stated by an officer of the pension’s department that in May, 1923, a pensioner was granted an invalid pension of 35s. a fortnight, which was increased in October, 1925, to £2 a fortnight. This amount was collected until last April. Each year the recipient made a declaration that he was not employed, and was not in receipt of any income; but it was proved that he had been in work almost continuously as a milkcarter for eight years, and had drawn a regular weekly wage of £5 5s. This man had collected £3S2 15s. in pension. He was single, and his mother was in receipt of a pension. I have no doubt that many cases of this kind are never discovered. On a previous occasion, I directed attention to the case of a dairy-farmer, who had fraudulently drawn a pension.
I know that the officers of the department are always anxious to do the fair thing. Genuine cases which are brought under their notice invariably receive sympathetic consideration.
I have participated in this debate principally to point out that it does not necessarily follow that because a person is in receipt of a small pension and has suffered a reduction of it, he has been more harshly treated than a person who has suffered the reduction of a full pension.
– I associate myself with the views expressed, and the protest made, in regard to the treatment of our old-age and invalid pensioners by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), and supported by the members of the group to which I have the honour to belong. During the last week-end, as the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), has stated, we were inundated with representation^ on behalf of old-age and invalid pensioners, and I think it is only right to the pensioners, this House, and the country generally, that publicity should be given to the fact that the application of the provisions of the Financial Emergency Act to the most defenceless section of our” community is working havoc among them.
Only this morning I received the following letter from a lady in my electorate : -
You being the federal member for this electorate, I think it is to you to whom I should appeal for the injustice that has been done me and all other invalids. In my case 1 am in most distressing circumstances. At the present time I am confined to my bed and have medicine to buy. Through the depression, myself and two children have been reduced to poverty. Three of us have been compelled to exist on 30s. a week for a year and ten months. Now your Government has reduced my pension, I do’ not know how we will exist at idi. I think it the cruellest act of any government to commence financial economy on the poor and needy, because we are unable to help ourselves. We helped to place in power men we thought would look to our interests. When our present Prime Minister was leader of the Opposition party he gave himself great praise for getting the increase of 2s. (id. per week on the pension, saying they should have had it long before. Now to think ft is himself has reduced it. It has only been my unfortunate lot to be compelled to exist on the pension since cruel death took my husband from mc in March, 1925. I had been an invalid six years previously. Now, through no fault of our own we are compelled to be reduced to dire want. What will be the end God alone knows.
That letter expresses the feelings of despair felt by a large section of the community which has been seriously affected by this legislation.
None of us wish to attribute the responsibility for this distress to the permanent officers of the pensions department. I am glad to be able to testify from personal knowledge that the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions in New South Wales, Mr. Theggie, and his officers, have always been thoroughly sympathetic with pensioners, and have been prompt in their attention to the representations made to them from time to time. The fault is the fault of this House, for having permitted this legislation to pass. Those who were responsible for the passage of this act should be reminded of this fact on every possible occasion.
I also think that it is desirable that the House should take notice of some of the ex-tracts from the report of the AuditorGeneral read by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward).
– Can the honorable member’ point, to any one statement which is untrue or incorrect?
– I can point to many statements which are absolutely inhuman. Here is a statement which the honorable member for East Sydney did not quote -
Having regard to he enormous proportions to which old-age pensions have grown one is forced to inquire how the old and indigent were assisted before the introduction of oldage pensions.
The Auditor-General did not mention whether he thought we should carry our imaginations back to the dark ages. He went on to say -
It is certain that such assistance was largely rendered by the children, who, at that time, exercised what was then regarded as a duty, and made sacrifices from which the children of to-day have freed themselves, or have been relieved by the operation of the old-age pension law. Probably, however, the proportion of the aged poor in pro-pension years was lower than to-day, because of the realization that poverty in old age could bc avoided only by saving during their earning period.
Such sentiments, in existing circumstances, add gross insult to injury, and it is deplorable that they should have been expressed. In my opinion, an emphatic protest should be made against the expression of these entirely senseless opinions upon a situation in respect of which the officer concerned is apparently entirely incompetent to express an opinion.
When we read statements of that kind we are entitled to consult the pages of English literature with the object of finding some passage which graphically describes the debased mentality which can express such opinions. I advise honorable members to turn to the works of Charles Dickens, and particularly to a passage from The Chimes, in which the story is related of Trotty Veck, an old man who eked out a precarious existence as a porter, who has been discovered sitting on the doorstep of a building about to eat his dinner. The inspecting party halts in front of Trotty, and an order is made that the dinner shall be brought up for inspection. There is some hesitation on the part of Trotty Veck, but the self-important visitors demand the production of the dinner. I quote the following paragraphs from the story : - “ Come here t What is that? Your dinner?” “ Yes sir “, said Trotty, leaving it behind him in a corner. “ Don’t leave it there “, exclaimed the gentleman. “Bring it here! bring it here! So this is your dinner, is it?” “ Yes sir “, repeated Trotty, looking with a fixed eye and a watery mouth at the piece of tripe he had reserved for a last delicious tit-bit, which the gentleman was now turning over and over on the end of the fork.
He who had Toby’s meat upon the fork called to the first one by the name of Filer, and they both drew near together. Mr. Filer being exceedingly short-sighted, was obliged to go so close to the remnant of Toby’s dinner before he could make out what it was, that Toby’s heart leaped up into his mouth. But Mr” Filer didn’t eat it. “ This is a description of animal food, Alderman,” said Filer, making little punches in it with a pencil case ; “ commonly known to the labouring population of this country by the name of tripe.” “ But who eats tripe? said Mr. Filer, looking round. “ Tripe is, without an exception, the least economical-
This is where the Auditor-General’s report bears comparison - and the most wasteful article of consumption that the markets of this country can possibly produce. The loss upon a pound of tripe has. been found to be, in the boiling, seven-eighths of a fifth more than the loss upon a pound of any other animal substance whatever. Tripe is more expensive, properly understood, than the hothouse pineapple. Taking into account the number of animals slaughtered yearly within the bills of mortality alone, and forming a low estimate of the quantity of tripe, which the carcasses of those animals, reasonably well butchered, would yield, I find that the waste on the amount of tripe, if boiled, would victual a garrison of 500 men for five months of 31 dayseach, and a February over. The waste! The waste!”
Trotty stood aghast and his legs shook under him. He seemed to have starved a garrison of 500 men with his own hand.
I suggest that passage is suggestive of the irony and scorn with which documents, such as this report of the Auditor-General deserves to be treated.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to confirm the statement of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) that the fact that honorable members on this side of the chamber have not taken amore prominent part in this debate is not to be accepted as evidence that they are in any sense unsympathetic with old-age and invalid pensions. Every honorable: member of’ the House could tell harrowing stories of the distress and suffering whichis occurring in Australia at present; but it. would not serve any useful purpose, nor confer any real benefit upon the sufferers to do so. The whole situation was thoroughly explained whenthe Financial Emergency Bill was beingdiscussed. I am aware, of course, that the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) was cooling his heels outside the chamber during part of the debateon that measure. It was the honorable member’s fault, as well as his misfortune, that he had to leave the chamber. Honorable memberswho were present during the debate on the provisions of the Financial Emergency Act, which refer to this subject, understood the position clearly. It all comes hack to the question that was asked on that occasion, “ What is the alternative to the proposal of the Government ?” It was made quite clear that if the present reductions did not operate, the maximum old-age and invalid pension that could be paid would he from 9s. to 12s., instead of the 17s. 6d. a weeknow being paid. My position can be stated in a very few word’s. I did not like voting for any reduction of the old-age or invalid” pension, but I preferred to agree to a reduction of 2s. 6d. a weekrather than see those pensions cut down to 9s.or 12s. a week, and most otherhonorable members were guided by a similar reason in arriving at their decisions. It is of no use to beat the air now, or, as the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons; said, to address “ hifalutin “ talk tothe gallery. The inevitable has happened, and we are all sorry for it; but the difference between the attitude of honorable members in the corner, and that of the majority of other honorable mem bers is that, whereas they are merely endeavouring to make political capital on? of the matter-
– That is not true.
– Order! The honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) must withdraw that statement.
– I have no desire to transgress the rules of this House, but the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) stated what is a deliberate untruth.
– The honorable member is merely aggravating his offence. I ask him to withdraw his statement immediately, and to apologize to the Chair for having aggravated the offence.
– I merely made an interjection-
– I name the honorable member for Martin. .
– I did not catch what was said by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge), but I request your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, in order that I may ask him to take the usual course when transgressions such as his occur, and to withdraw his statement, apologize to tho Chair for having aggravated it, and let the House proceed, with its business. In the heat of debate, many things arc said that would not be littered in other circumstances.
– I withdraw my statement and apologize to the Chair, but I express regret that provocative interjections pass unnoticed, and go unpunished.
– Order ! The honorable member must realize that the Chair cannot permit him to make such a statement. He is going dangerously near to causing me to suspend him, without submitting the matter to the House. He must apologize unreservedly, and without any comment.
– I apologize as you desire, Mr. Speaker.
.- Had it not been for the insinuation of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) I should not have spoken to this motion. The honorable member has followed his usual procedure and, whether deliberately or otherwise, has misrepresented honorable members in this corner. His remarks conveyed the impression that the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) was voluntarily absent from the chamber when the vote was taken which authorized a reduction crf old-age and invalid pensions. It is well known that the honorable member for Martin was suspended for the duration of that sitting, having been named by the Temporary Chairman of Committees (Mr. Crouch) without being given an opportunity to express regret for an interjection that he made. Had he been given that opportunity, the honorable member would have apologized, and remained in the chamber to vote against the reduction.
– Order ! I cannot allow that subject to be traversed.
– I merely desire to correct the misapprehension that would otherwise arise from the remarks of the honorable member for Warringah. That honorable gentleman also insinuated that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) in submitting this motion, and others who have supported it, are actuated by political motives. The honorable member for Warringah, unfortunately possesses a mind that sees political partisanship in every action that does not meet with his approval, and measures other people’s corn with his own bushel. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) referred to the motion, and to the comments of certain honorable members as “ hifalutin “ talk to the gallery. No doubt he had in mind his promise to the farmers of 6s. 6d. a bushel for their wheat, of which honorable members opposite made considerable .political capital during the last general election.
Since the reconstruction plan, which should really be known as the redestruction plan, has been in operation, many anomalies have made themselves apparent in its application. That is usual with legislation that is rushed through without thought to its economic effect. I shall not permit myself to transgress the Standing Orders by elaborating certain issues, but I point out that honorable members in this corner and a few others did their utmost, in the teeth of a united stand on the part of the Nationalist and Country parties and the Government, to prevent these reductions from coming into operation. Hansard records the names of those who voted for and against the proposal. As has been pointed out by the honorable members for Hunter (Mr. James), East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and others, these provisions are operating very harshly, and something should be done to ameliorate the position of those affected. The returned soldiers’ organizations were able to bring pressure upon the Government which resulted in a modification of the reductions in certain cases, with very little loss of revenue to the plan - I make it quite clear that I do not complain about the -action of the returned men - and I hope that the motion of the honorable member for Hunter will have a similar effect with regard to reductions in old-age and invalid pensions. I urge the Government to take into consideration the cases that have been mentioned, and others of a like nature, and to lighten the burden where it is found to he oppressive.
I may have missed a portion of the Treasurer’s explanation, but I certainly did not understand that there was to be a general reduction of 2s. 6d. a week in old-age and invalid pensions. I was under the impression that the maximum reduction was to be 12^ per cent. However, whether the Treasurer made the intention clear or not, that does not make it easier for the persons affected. I hope that, even at this late hoar, the Government will realize the injustice of the imposition and rectify it, even though it means the loss of a little revenue. The law, as it stands, bears with exceptional harshness upon certain members of the community, and immediate steps should be taken by the Government to alleviate the burden.
– In the course of this debate it was stated by interjection that the old-age and invalid pensioners are in the unhappy position of having nobody to look after their interests. Whatever may be said as to the adequacy or inadequacy of the existing scale of old-age and invalid pensions, it cannot be seriously denied that the pensioners have a friend in every honorable member in this Parliament. That is very natural, because there are many old-age and invalid pensioners in the Commonwealth, and every honorable member has a number of them in his constituency. Apart altogether from that, it is, I hope, a common attribute of human nature to desire to the very limit to extend just, and even generous, treatment towards those who, by virtue of oldage or invalidism, have special claims upon the State.
It has to be acknowledged that, apart from the interest taken by members of Parliament in the claims of pensioners, the act is administered, not only ably, but with extraordinary sympathy, and even generosity, on the part of the public servants whose duty it is to administer it.
It is clear’ that the motion before the House arose out of a misunderstanding, it being evident that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) had not clearly understood the terms and conditions under which this inevitable reduc tion was to operate. That misapprehension has been completely cleared away by the statement and the quotations of the Prime Minister, which have left it beyond all doubt that the percentage reduction had regard to the total pension, and noi to the minute partial pension, the very natural theory being that the person with the smallest old-age pension is not necessarily the person who, as a citizen, is worse off than one having a full pension. While the honorable member for Hunter advanced his motion on the basis of a misunderstanding, those associated with him did not allow their natural modesty to prevent them from using the opportunity to make a further, if somewhat irregular, onslaught upon the Government’s plan. It is well understood by honorable members on both sides, although the understanding is not always expressed or admitted, that the policy of the Government in regard to pensions arose from its determination to defend the claims of the old-age pensioners to the very limits of its powers. That has been its policy throughout. It is true that, arising out of this policy, there has been an attempt to make a good deal of cheap political propaganda. That, in the proper place and at the proper time, will be assessed at its true value.
– I rise to a point of order. The Attorney-General’s statement that the speeches from this corner are cheap political propaganda is inaccurate and offensive.
– It i3 quite a common parliamentary expression.
– It is not true in this instance.
– There are, in connexion with the Pensions Act, a number of anomalies, which each of U3 would like to have removed, and I shall be happy to take part in a general debate ou the subject at some convenient time, with a view to removing many of these anomalies. For instance, in connexion with the invalid pension, it has been pointed our that the phrase “ Totally and permanently incapacitated,” would, if literally construed, exclude from pensions many persons who should be included in pension rights, and that has been so strongly felt that, by interpretation and common agreement, the Pensions Department itself has liberalized the meaning of that somewhat arbitrary phrase. It has been pointed out, too, that the possession of land is often a burden rather than a benefit to the pensioner. I cannot agree that a solution of that problem is to be found in unloading such unsaleable and unproductive land on to the Crown; but that is another difficulty which should be made the subject of discussion and solution at the proper time. Cases in which a husband and wife are unhappily estranged often lead to anomalies, because, although they are living apart, unless they have- been separated by formal court order, they are deemed to be sharers in the aggregate income of both. We have had experience of the anomalies arising from that fact, and it is something that should be cured.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 257n.
Debate resumed from the 21st July (vide page 4134), on. motion by Mr. Forde -
That the bill be huw read a second time.
– The proposals in this bill, although few in number, raise some important considerations. The first proposal is to alter the definition of goldbuyer. I quite agree that some alteration of the definition is necessary, because in some States the position is quite clear and definite, but in other States, where the practice of gold-buying is not nearly so common, the position is not so clear, and some alteration of the definition such as is now proposed is really necessary. The bill also provides that the lessee or owner of the mine shall pay to the tributer 50 per centum of any bounty received under the act on the gold won by him. That is surely not a fair proposal. It seems reasonable and sound to ensure that the man who actually digs the gold shall at least get some benefit from it, but when one considers all the aspects of gold-mining, and the purpose for which the bounty is being granted, one must conclude that this provision is unnecessary. At present the tributer is not unfairly treated. His share in any bounty is regulated by his arrangements with the mine-owner, and up to the present he has not complained that any serious injustice Kas been done to him. This provision will interfere with the rights of contract which at present exist as between the tributer and the mine-owner. It will not confer any material benefit upon the tributer, because if the mine-owner is, as is now proposed, compelled to pay half of the bounty which he receives to the tributer, he will make certain other conditions which will not be so favorable to the tributer. Up to the present the arrangement between the mine-owner and the tributer has been upon a giveandtake basis. It is a matter of contract. If this provision is inserted in the bill it will bring about a cancellation of all tribute to the tributer except that which the mine-owner is compelled to make to him, and consequently the position of the tributer will be much worse than it is at present. I oppose this provision.
I understood, when the bounty was firstgranted, that it was to be used for the encouragement of the gold-mining industry generally, to enable the mines to be equipped with up-to-date plant, and, as far as practicable, to place the industry upon a scientific basis. If this provision is included in the bill, no benefit will be conferred upon the industry. At present the tributer has no legal claim to share in the bounty except through the arrangements which he makes with the mineowner, and hitherto fair dealing has prevailed. But if this provision is made law the tributer’s position will be altered in a way which will discount all the advantages that he at present receives under the act. This proposal was only recently contemplated by the Government. That is shown hy the following definition in Statutory Rule No. 74, which is now lying on the table of the House : -
The following classes of persons are described as’ gold-producers for the purposes of the definition of “gold-producer” contained in section 3 of the act - -Tributers. who, under the terms of their contract with the lessees or owners of the mine, are entitled to sell the gold won by them from the mine.
Obviously it was intended under that statutory rule, which is dated the 8th June, 1931, that the tributer should make his own arrangements with the mineowner or the lessee of the mine. The
Minister now nullifies its effect by introducing this new provision in the bill. It is entirely unnecessary. Surely the mineowner who spends a considerable sum of money in developing his mine, and in equipping it with up-to-date plant, should not be compelled to pay to the tributer, who is merely the instrument in obtaining the gold, half of the bounty received by the mine-owner on account of that gold. This provision is unjust to the industry generally, and will give the tributer an unfair advantage which will ultimately work out to his detriment.
– Often the tributers find the gold for the companies.
– I have not the least doubt that that is taken into consideration when the terms of tribute are being arranged.
– Should not the tributers get a share of the bounty on the gold they find?
– The fossicker who wins gold by his own unaided effort is certainly entitled to the bounty, but the tributers are in a different category, and the making of a hard and fast rule that they shall receive 50 per cent. of the bounty would only hamper the industry.
The original intention of those engaged in the industry was that some special authority should be created to assist in the administration of the bounty, and ensure its effective utilization for the benefit of the industry. At a meeting presided over by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who controls the Council of Science and Industry, a proposal was adopted that the Government should constitute a gold council of qualified men, who would take an intelligent and intimate interest in the gold-mining industry. They were to receive moderate fees. The fact that a Minister presided over the conference was regarded as an indication that the proposal would have at least the benevolent sympathy of the Government, and the representatives of the industry were surprised when the Minister for Trade and Customs intimated that the Gold Bounty Act would be wholly administered by his department in conjunction with the State Mines Departments.
– And the experts in the States.
– Admittedly the State Mines Departments employ many highly qualified engineers, metallurgists, and other experts, but what is needed is a Federal body that will coordinate the efforts of State departments and those directly engaged in the industry. The officials of the Trade and Customs Department have multifarious duties to attend to ; they have to deal with a mass of bewildering details affecting many other industries, and I cannot believe that they have either the time or qualifications to deal adequately with gold-mining. With all respect to the Minister for Trade and Customs and his officials, I do not believe that his department can effectively blaze new tracks, collate information, keep in touch with mining developments throughout the world, and afford information to mineowners and likely investors in Australia and abroad. These functions require the attention of a group of specially qualified persons.
– We haveno objection to representatives of the industry functioning in that way so long as the Government is not asked to finance their activities.
– If that is the only objection on the part of the Government, I have no doubt that it can be overcome.
– Such a council would be financed out of the bounty.
– The modest fees that would be paid to the members of the council, and the other incidental expenses, would be provided by the industry ; the general public would not bo burdened.
– In any case, the addi tional expenditure might be justified by the increased prosperity of the industry as a consequence of the establishment of such a council.
– Yes. I believe that such a council would give an additional impetus to the industry.
– What would be the duties of the council?
– To take an intimate and systematic interest in the administration of the gold bounty, and to concentrate upon work which today is everybody’s business, and therefore nobody’s business.
– There are six State mines departments.
– This is Commonwealth legislation, and the existence of six departments of mines emphasizes the need for a co-ordinating authority. The dairying and dried fruits industries, and others, are helped by the operation of export control boards.
– Which are financed by the industries concerned.
– The proposed gold council would be financed by the industry.
– The export control boards have to explore new markets.
– The gold council would explore new fields for the production of gold, which, to-day, is of paramount importance to the Commonwealth. I do not pretend that my suggestions are the last word on this subject. I have put forward the proposal for the establishment of a gold council because I believe that it would be in the interests of the industry. At any rate the proposal is entitled to more consideration than it has yet received.
.- I entirely dissent from the view expressed by the. honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) regarding the position of tributers. It is true that as mines became poorer, and the companies are unable to operate them, tributes are let to working miners. When some of the big mines on the Golden Mile, Kalgoorlie - which have produced literally tons of gold - began to decline, they were let to tributers. While the ore bodies were sufficiently rich, the companies could afford to work the mines with paid labour,but as values declined the tributers. were let in upon conditions that assured to the companies a proportion of the gold won, sometimes sufficient to enable the payment of dividends to be continued.
– The tributer takes a portion of the risk.
– That is so. If tributers do not win much gold they work for below wagerates, but if their efforts are productive, the company also benefits. The mining branches of the AustralianWorkers Union at Kalgoorlie and Boulder, and also the Tributers
Associations are unanimously of opinion that the tributers should receive 50 per cent. of the bounty. I hold that opinion myself, and I think that it is entirely justified. The honorable member for Warringah said that it had not been asked for. That is incorrect. Furthermore, the Chamber of Mines at Kalgoorlie was favorable to the tributers receiving 50 per cent. of the gold bounty. Later, at the request of the London directors, they took up the attitude that this provision should not be made part of the bill.
– What is the usual arrangement ?
– Under the Western Australian Mining Act tributers are to be paid 50 per cent. of any premium received. This is being contested at present in the courts of Western Australia in regard to the premium received on gold by way of exchange. I think it wise to have the provision inserted in the bill, so that there may be no doubt that it is the intention of the Commonwealth Parliament that 50 per cent. of the bounty shall go to the tributers. On the Golden Mile the tributers have produced 100,000 oz. of gold which, at the present rate of exchange, is equal to approximately £500,000.
.- This measure represents another volte face on the part of the Government. At first the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) would have nothing to do with a gold bounty. They said that it was stupid and uneconomic. Then the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane), and the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones), were able to exert some pressure, andthe Prime Minister and the Treasurer saw their way to agree to the payment of a bounty of £ 1 an ounce. Now it is proposed to reduce that bounty to 10s. an ounce. Of course, I know thatthe exchange rate makes gold worth more at the present time, but the exchange is an unknown quantity, and may fall at any time. I do not intend to oppose the second reading of the bill, but I wish to point out exactly what Parliament has been asked to do. We have been told that we must produce more gold ; that we must encourage men to go on digging out this yellow metal, the pursuit of which has ruined the health of thousands of citizens.
– Gold put Australia on the map.
– Because the world was just as stupid about it then as it is now.,
-Would the honorable member substitute I.O.U’s. for gold?
– I would like to see the honorable member hungry, and offer him a chunk of gold to eat. In my electorate there are hundreds of men in the sanatorium suffering from miners’ phthisis and kindred complaints. There they linger, expectorating their lives away.
Evidently, we have no gold with which to pay this bonus. If we had, we would not need to pay the bonus. We need the gold for currency, and so we pay men a bonus to go and dig it up. What is that bonus to be paid in? As was pointed out by that wonderful financial journal, The Bulletin, we are going to issue paper notes with which to pay the bounty on the gold produced. Men will be urged to search for gold, to burrow in the ground like rabbits and wombats, and on the gold they win we shall pay them 10s. an ounce in paper.
– Gold is as valuable as coal, anyway.
– It is not. The honorable member needs to revise his thinking. Goal is a source of power, and can be used as a means of producing necessary things. Gold is only good for filling teeth and, according to the latest findings in dental research, it is not much use even for that. By paying 10s. an ounce in paper we encourage the production of gold. Having got the gold, we proceed to issue more paper on the strength of it, so that this precious gold standard of ours is to be sandwiched in between two piles of paper. Let us assume that the gold is valued at £4 an ounce. The standard value fixed under the Banking Act of 1844, introduced by Sir Robert Peel, was, I think, £3 17s. 101/2d. an ounce. This was the act which set the standard for our absurd currency laws, and Peel himself, three years after it was passed, said that it was the most stupid, damned thing he had done in his life.
– Order !
– I am merely quoting what the Prime Minister of England said. Let us put the value down at £4 an ounce. Out of every ounce of gold produced we shall make four sovereigns. The bounty of 10s. will bring the price up to £4 10s. an ounce, and. on the strength of that ounce of gold we shall issue £16 in paper. If the nation can issue four £1 notes against one sovereign, it can issue three notes against nothing at all, because there is no backing against three of the notes which it issues against the sovereign. Each note carries a promise to pay £1 in gold, but there is only one sovereign buried away for every four notes.
– There is something better than nothing behind the other three notes.
– What is it?
– There is one sovereign behind four notes. Under the other method there would be nothing at all behind any of the notes.
– It is this principle of having a gold standard, and then issuing four notes for every sovereign, that has caused all the banking crises in the history of the world. Years ago the Queensland bankers, in order to prevent foolish runs on the banks for gold, induced the Queensland Government to pass the necessary legislation to create as legal tender a State note issue.
This Gold Bounty Bill presupposes a gold shortage, otherwise it would be indefensible. No doubt the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr.Forde) will say that the bounty will be responsible for the employment of 10,000 or 15,000 or perhaps 50,000 men. As I said when the previous gold bounty bill was before the House, if the bounty has the effect of putting people to work, it is good. If our creditors overseas are prepared to take gold in discharge of our debts, then let them have gold if we can give it to them. If they were foolish enough to* accept yellow sand, or blue sand, or any other useless thing in settlement of their claims, I should be just as content to put men on the beaches separating the blue and the yellow sand from the rest. Sup- pose that one of the prospectors who will be induced to go out searching for gold as a result of this bounty were to make an extraordinarily rich find. In times of depression men, who would ordinarily be engaged in useful industry, frequently engage in the search of minerals rather than live on the dole. Well, suppose one of them found that all the hills round Canberra were filled with gold, or that the. blue mountains were solid gold. Then, I suppose, we should all go chasing the gold, and all of us would starve, because nobody would be doing anything useful.
– I rise to a point of order. This bill proposes to make certain amendments to the Gold Bounty Act, and I submit that it is riot competent for the honorable member, on this amending measure, to discuss currency in general.
-The honorable member will not be in order in making a speech covering the whole subject of currency, but he is in order in drawing such deductions as he has already drawn. If he goes too far afield, the Chair will correct him.
– If this bounty serves to encourage prospecting, and results in the eventual discovery of inexhaustible ‘quantities of gold, it will not. add one iota to the real wealth of the country. It would not provide food or clothing for one human being, nor create one of the things necessary to human life. In Australia, nature has been bountiful almost to the point of prodigality. Thrice the amount of food and clothing required by the people of this country could be provided from what is now produced here, and this wealth is sufficient to enable us to create a currency without the use of gold. All that is necessary to provide for the health and contentment of the people is to be found here. If Australia contained mountains of gold not one penny piece would be added to the real wealth of the people.
.- [ am not in agreement with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini). I conclude from his remarks that he desires to prevent tributers from participating in the gold bounty. I agree with the Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) that, but for the tributers, many of the old mines that are still being worked would have become idle long ago. and the unemployed would have been further increased. I do not favour the establishment of a committee or council, particularly on the lines laid down in the original measure. This would be an expensive excrescence, and we should not place an extra burden on the industry. The Mines Departments in the various States are well equipped to look after the interests of the industry. I understand that the services of their officers are at the disposal of the Department of Trade and Customs in dealing with any technical difficulties that may arise from time to time. Up to the present time, no bounty has been paid, and I understand that no payment will be made until the beginning of the next calendar year. The honorable member for Werriwa imagines that the people would be no better off if mountains of gold were discovered in Australia. The increase in unemployment owing to many avocations having been closed to miners and others in Victoria and other States in which mining operations have been carried on extensively in the past, has led to increased energy in the search for gold. It is gratifying, however, to know thai for the first six months of this year, the yield of gold in Victoria has doubled, compared with the corresponding period of last year. It is estimated that nearly 5,000 men are searching for the precious metal in Victoria. When Australia previously experienced a severe depression - I refer to the collapse of the land boom - a great impetus was given to gold-mining, and men who were unable to earn a penny in the cities did well on the gold-fields.
– But those who advocated a gold bounty now favour a council.
– I do not agree with the honorable member. Owing to the unfortunate depression now being experienced, thousands of persons who knew little about gold-mining went out in search of the precious metal. The Minister for Mines in Victoria is doing everything possible to assist prospectors by supplying tents, tools, and sustenance money. Advice is given as to the best districts in which to search for gold, and all the expert knowledge of the officers of the department is placed at their disposal. If a movement is made to establish a council, I am afraid that it will provetobean unwieldy,uprofitable, and unworkable body. All the necessary machinery is already available in the States, and it is at the disposal ofthe federal authorities. I am glad that consideration is to be shown to the tributers who have done much to keep the old gold-fields in operation.
.- The Minister has made a general reference to the bounty, and has explained that the Government desires to alter the method of paying it. The bounty itself has already been discussed in this chamber, and I believe that the altered policy is a mistaken one. The whole object of the original measure was to make gold-mining in Australia attractive to people overseas, and toinduce capitalists from the Old Country and other parts of the world to employ large numbers of men in the industry under new methods, the employees to be safeguarded against the horrors that were associated with mining in the early days. Before the unfair alteration was made, that scheme gave promise of practical results. In my electorate, I had communications from groups of British capitalists, who wished to know who owned promising “ shows “ that were worth looking at, with a view to the investment of their capital in them. Those inquiries, I understand, have ceased because of foolish interference with a measure which provided for as limited a bounty as has been mentioned in connexion with any previous legislation. No bounty is likely to be paid up to the end of the present year, and, therefore, the request of the industry for a gold council is sound. The bill provides, apparently, that a tributer shall receive half the amount of the bounty paid with respect to gold won by him. I understand that that proposal emanated from a group in Western Australia. It has not been discussed by the rank and file of the miners in any part of the State that I represent, but, although the Victorian Chamber of Mines objects to it, I believe, that the average working miner would accept it as offering some assurance of payment to them of a reasonable portion of the bounty. A mine in my electorate’ may be on the point of being closed down, and eight or nine men may be offered permission to work in a certain part of it. I understand that they will have to supply labour and explosives, while theowners of the property willprovide haulage, cartage and other facilities, the gold bounty obtained being shared equally between the men and the owners. A representative of the industry has told me that this proposal savours of interference with arrangements made between mine-owners and tributers. Ifthat be so, I suggest that the matter could be adjusted when the clause is under consideration inthe committee stage.
Sittingsuspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– I wish to develop my argument in favour of including in this bill provision for the appointment of an Australian gold council. It will be remembered that some months ago a very important and largely-attended conference ofthose interested in the goldmining industry was held in Melbourne. I have a copy of the minutes of that meeting,which includes a record of those present. I should like permission to have it included in Hansard unread. [Leave granted.’] The document is as follows : -
Brief Notes of Meeting Held at Commonwealth Offices, Melbourne, on Friday. 9th January, 1931, at 2.30 p.m.
Sena.tor the Hon. J. J. Daly.
Senator A. J. McLachlan, South Australia.
David Arthur, Esq., New South Wales.
George Klug, Esq., Melbourne (Representative Chamber of Mines, Kalgoorlie).
Harold Nelson, Esq., Representative Northern Territory.
Senator Daly, in opening the conference, said that in accordance with the promise made to the executive of the Gold Bonus Delegation he had called this conference together for the purpose of exploring means by which the gold-mining industry might be able to reap the full advantage of Commonwealth assistance in the form of the gold bounty.
Faced as we are with serious economic difficulties accentuated by the fallen prices of our staple products, the Commonwealth Government is looking to the gold-mining industry to come to the assistance of Australia as it has done in past crises.
It is indeed encouraging to note that already oversea capital for the development of this industry is beginning to find its way to Australia. The lure of gold is magnetic. As we nil know, it has proved a very great factor in the development of Australia. Indeed, it can be said that the rapidity of our progress is fundamentally due to the discovery of gold and it can be said with equal truth that countries devoid of this precious metal tend to retrogress rather than progress.
He was not concerned at the moment so much with the provisions of the Gold Bounty Act, but more with ways and means of implementing the provisions of that act so that the industry - and through the industry - Australia - may rea,p the full advantage of the assistance which the Commonwealth Government lias undertaken to provide. Sporadic attempts have been made from time to time to effect the codification of mining laws and regulations, but these attempts have been largely stultified by lack of unity within the industry itself. The diverse conditions governing the industry have often produced colifusion in the minds of investors and have rendered our mining propositions less attractive to oversea capital. He was firmly convinced that rehabilitation can only be achieved by the industry itself. The power to restore the industry to something approaching its pristine prosperity is reposed within the industry itself, and he felt confident that State Governments will whole-heartedly cooperate with the Commonwealth Government and the industry in any earnest endeavour which might be made to bring about the restoration of prosperity.
Organization is essential, and he could not suggest a better form of organization than that adopted by other industries to whom assistance has been given. He invited the attention of the conference to such industries as the dairying industry, the dried fruits industry, and the canned fruits industry. In the case of these industries the Commonwealth Government undertook to render certain assistance and the industries themselves then set about putting their own houses in order. These industries each established central controlling bodies in the form- of control boards vested with nation-wide authority. These boards enabled the industries to present a united front to the world and thus reap the full advantage of governmental assistance.
If the gold-mining industry struggles on in a disintegrated fashion, all the efforts of the Commonwealth and the State Governments to resuscitate the industry will prove futile. Proper organization is essential not only from the point of view of attracting capital but also from the point of view of economical exploitation of our vast assets.
The gold bounty campaign was directed by men of considerable enthusiasm, several of whom are here to-day, and he was much impressed with their tenacity of purpose and the “long view” which they took; he thought the industry would benefit greatly by co-opting the services of these men to form tha nucleus of a co-ordinating and controlling body. Because of our present grave economic difficulties and because of the delay which must result, after consultation with those of the executive who mct him in Canberra he agreed with the contention then put forward that the first controlling body should be established for a period without recourse to ballots throughout Australia. This conference is thoroughly representative of the Governments of Australia and of the industry, and he suggests that it would be appropriate for it to appoint an advisory council which could make recommendations to the Commonwealth Government regarding the form of control which should bc instituted, the personnel of the controlling authority and. the powers and scope which that authority should exercise.
The title of the controlling body is not a matter of major importance, but he ventured to suggest, subject to any other proposals which may be forthcoming, that this body be called ’ The Gold Industry Advisory Council “. He agreed with the contention that the personnel of the council should comprise two representatives of Western Australia, because of the preponderating production of that State, and one representative of each of the other States. The Ministers for Mines of each State should be members *ex officio of the council with power to delegate their authority to their Directors or Under-Secretaries, as the case may be, in the same way as the Commonwealth Minister for Customs would be a member cm officio of the council with power to delegate his authority to the Comptroller-General. The Minister for Development and the member for the time being for the Northern Territory would also be members of the council ex officio.
He now left it to the conference to consider the proposals which he had put forward. If these proposals meet with the approval of those who are present, he suggested that the conference proceed to appoint the advisory council, which would in turn evolve concrete recommendations along the broad lines which ho hud associated.
In conclusion, he desired to express, on behalf of thu Commonwealth Government, appreciation of their response to the invitation to be present at this conference to-day. Hu was aware that many of the members had travelled from distant parts of Australia at much inconvenience to themselves, thus serving to emphasize the’ keen interest which they had evinced in the industry and the part which it is capable of playing in the restoration of national prosperity. He had much pleasure in declaring the conference open for discussion, and thought that perhaps the best method of procedure would be for the various representatives present to address the conference. ifr. fie Bernales, as chairman of the Gold Delegation which waited upon the Federal Government recently, thanked Senator Daly for the kind remarks he had made concerning the industry, and assured the senator that their earnest endeavour would be extended to carry out the provisions of the act to the best of their ability, and that, with the good-will of tlie Government behind them, they no doubt would be able to do much to bring back prosperity to the gold-mining industry in Australia.
Mr. F. 8. Mar(,e (New South Wales) apologized for the absence of his Minister, the Hon. J. M. Baddeley, but brought his assurance that the New South Wales Government would give every consideration to the suggestions and recommendations which this conference may make as the outcome of their deliberations. Ho desires to point out, however, that, owing possibly to an oversight in the drafting of the original bill, New South Wales, Queensland, and one of the other States were not included in the provisions of the bill by reason of the fact that they had no licensed gold buyers. He suggested, therefore, the advisability of the advisory council, as contemplated by Senator Daly, giving consideration to this matter in the light of an amendment to the act to enable these States to participate in the bounty provisions.
The Hon. J. P. Jones (Victoria) said, he desired to give his assurance that the officers of his department would be only too willing to do all they possibly could to assist in the rehabilitation of the gold-mining industry in Australia. He was not aware how the conference proposed to approach the problem surrounding the industry, but conceived that the questions now before the conference were not so much questions relating to the gold bonus as they were questions of general administration of the industry itself. He had lately been looking over the list of gold yields, which indicate a rapid decline over the last few years, and he considered that every endeavour should be made to bring about the restoration of the industry within Victoria, which would carry with it increased prosperity to the community. At the present time they had about s!00 or 300 men searching for gold in thu various fields of the State. He did, however, desire to indicate to the conference that, although Victoria was whole-heartedly in accord with the sentiments expressed by Senator Daly, it” would not be party to any expensive department being created in connexion with the proposals already referred to and that if such a creation were contemplated, Victoria would be reluctantly compelled to participate.
The Minister said that the questions raised b the Hon. J. 1’. Jones were matters essentially for the Customs Department, but he personally did not fear there would be any extra expenditure involved. The general idea underlying the proposals for the establishment of the industry was that the council, which it wasproposed to form, would be created for the express purpose of assisting the Government to curtail expenditure, rather than to lend itself to any proposal for additional expenditure.
The Hon. E. A. Atherton (Queensland) expressed himself as being in entire accord with the proposals enunciated by Senator Daly in his opening address, and considered that in carrying out such proposals they would be taking the bust possible steps at the present juncture to meet the exigencies of the situation.
The JJ on. lt. 8. Richards ( South Australia ) prefaced his remarks by stating that South Australia would do all that was possible to assist the Common wealth Government in the administration of this particular act. He considered the proposals submitted by Senator Daly for an advisory council were fundamentally sound, and were such as commended themselves to him personally. He raised the point, however, as to the constitution of the executive body contemplated, and was in doubt as to whether there was any special necessity or virtue in one State having more than one- representative. He appreciated fully thepreponderating position occupied by Western Australia in the gold-mining fields of Australia, and although lie personally did not propose to oppose the suggestion for two representatives from this State on the executive council, he would like the opportunity of bringing it forward so that it could be ventilated in discussion during the sitting of this conference. He also raised the question of expenditure, and asked for advice as to whether his conjecture was correct that expenditure to be incurred would be provided for by regulations under the act.
The Minister indicated that the industry would have to bear its own expenses which, of course, may or may not be taken out of the amount of bounty received, but this was a matter purely for the discretion of the industry itself.
The Bon. J. Scaddon (Western Australia) expressed himself as being in entire agreement as to the desirability of creating an advisory council, and referring to the question of representation thereon by Western Australia, considered it was open to argument as to whether Western Australia should have two representatives. In Western Australia they had many varying conditions in different districts, in fact, conditions were so diversified a* to make it extremely difficult to secure the services of a representative acquainted with all these differences. Consequently, he thought two members would be required. This, however, lie considered was a matter which the conference could decide, but he asked it to bear in mind the increased production of gold which may come from Western Australia as a result of the proposed measures contemplated in the Gold Bounty Act. The output in Western Australia for many years past had declined, but with the impetus to the industry by the enactment of recent legislation, it was confidently anticipated that the Government next year would be required to provide some £200,000 for gold-mining due to the anticipated increased output which is expected to take effect in Western Australia during the coining year. He felt, however, that whatever increased output of gold should accrue, not only to Western Australia, but to the whole of the mining-fields in Australia generally, such increase would not be sufficient to flood the markets of the world. There was a ready market for gold, and the Government and the industry ought to get together as contemplated in the provisions for the establishment of this advisory council, and do their utmost to assist in the production of gold, which incidentally, will redound to the credit of Australia generally.
He raised the question as to the methods of exploiting the gold, and stated that in the past many mines had been worked by taking out the rich portions and leaving the lower grade ores untouched. He held the view that the State is for all time the landlord, and that the gold-miner is merely a lessee of that portion of the territory which is granted to him, and that miners should be compelled to work the mines in the most advantageous and economic manner to the industry and the State, irrespective of the desire of some of the miners to work it under conditions easy to themselves, but which leave the lower-grade ores more inaccessible than ever. These were matters which might be given the earnest consideration of the advisory council when framing the regulations.
The lion. G. James (Tasmania) stated that Tasmania knew full well the value to be derived from efficient and economic working of mines, and expressed himself as in entire agreement with the suggestion for the establishment of an advisory council, as contemplated, to see that such conditions were carried into effect. He realized that Tasmania was comparatively small to other States of the Commonwealth, but pointed out similarly with other States, there had been a serious decline in the gold production of their State during the last 50 years. During this period the gold produced had been in the vicinity of £8,000,000, and there was every reason to believe that, in several of the known fields, there was a possibility of gold being produced which, in the past, had not been thoroughly exploited.
The Minister thanked the State Ministers for Mines for their expressions of opinion, and added that before calling upon the other members present, he would like to call upon the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde”) .
The Bon. F. M. Forde stated that, as Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, it had been his pleasing duty to pilot the bill through the House of Representatives. He congratulated the Ministers and others who had taken so keen an interest in the gold-mining industry, that their efforts had been rewarded by the passing of this bill, and he was earnest in his desire to see real development take place -under legislation as now enacted. Senator Daly had stated that the act will be administered by the Department of Trade and Customs, and it was confidently contemplated that such administration will be carried out without ‘ the employment of any additional officers. He had also noted Senator Daly had stated the advisory council proposed to be established will be financed by the industry itself, and will not be a charge upon other States or the Federal Government, and consequently, with this assurance, he felt that the wishes of the Victorian Minister for Mines would be fully met. Coming as he did from a mining State like Queensland, he took more than a passing interest in the industry, and was of opinion that the act will give a stimulus to the industry which will be the means of encouraging the flow of additional capital from overseas, and consequently, will assist in the alleviation of the employment- situation which is now exercising the minds, not only of the Government, but of all industries. He regretted his inability to remain during the course of the proceedings, but wished them every success, and intimated he would . read with interest the decisions arrived at as a result of their deliberations.
Senator McLachlan expressed his profound pleasure on the consummation of a desire which had been in his mind for a considerable time. He stated that he was of a similar opinion to that expressed by the Victorian Minister (The Hon. J. P. Jones) relative to the desirability of not creating any expensive organization to carry out the functions of the advisory council or executive body as may he constituted. He also would like to see some step taken to answer the criticisms that have been, and are being, levelled against the goldmining industry in Australia from time to time, and he considered that the bill would be of extreme service to this end, and would also be the means of giving assistance both to the Government and to the people of this country in rehabilitating this languishing industry.
Mr. Keane, M.H.R., endorsed the suggestions made by the honorable the Minister, that some such body should be created so that they would have an opportunity of assembling, and discussing the great problem surrounding the revival of this industry. He was of the opinion that by sound legislation on broad lines already laid down, it would be one of the means of assisting to deplete the army of men who are at the present time unemployed, and would give them an opportunity of being placed in profitable channels of employment at a time when the Governments were anxious to do all they could to relieve this situation. The idea of a council he considered to be excellent, and he considered that they should get to work immediately in order that they may bring down their charter for incorporation in the act.
Senator J. D. Millen appreciated the remarks of Senator Daly, and stated he had great pleasure in supporting the proposals.
Mr. Harold Nelson (Northern Territory) assured the conference that the people of the Northern Territory appreciated the efforts of the Federal Government to bring about, by practical means, the restoration to prosperity of the gold-mining industry, and he ventured to suggest that, although the Northern Territory is far removed from any gold exploitations of any magnitude, there were ample resources which could be tapped, and which possibly may yield excellent results. The surface has been hardly scratched, and there was every possibility that much good may accrue by pioneering in this territory. He had much pleasure in assuring the conference of the whole-hearted co-operation and. assistance of the territory.
Mr. George Klug thanked Senator Daly for the invitation to be present, and stated that they all appreciated the benefits that were likely to accrue from the gold bonus. He, however, had received an intimation from overseas interests that some of the conditions were perhaps a little too onerous from the point of view of the man who is to work on the job, and he hoped that an opportunity would be given, on the establishment of the executive body, for these matters to be ventilated.
Ho stated that the Government could rest assured the industry was anxious to do its atmost to assist, not only the Government, but the taxpayer, in an endeavour to restore prosperity to the gold-mining industry, and he would like to emphasize the desirability of giving the people who supplied the capital as much relief as could conscientiously be given in any suggestions which they may put forward.
He indicated that the Chamber of Mines, Kalgoorlie, had received an intimation from certain overseas interests suggesting that the Chamber of Mines insist on representation on the committee to be set up for the framing of the bonus regulations, and that no regulations should be approved until the London buyers, representingthe bulk of the capital, have had an opportunity of considering them, together with the text of the act of Parliament.
Mr. A. A. Boyd (Queensland) stated that with the contemplated assistance now proposed by the Government many deposits formerly considered unproductive would now come within the possibility of profitable production. Queensland for some considerable time had declined in gold production, not because the gold ceased to exist, but rather because of adverse conditions which made it no longer an economic proposition. He felt that, with the granting of this assistance and the altered exchange, which would undoubtedly take place, Queensland, within a very short time, would again be in a position to produce this commodity.
Mr. J.G. Stanfield (on behalf of the Chamber of Mines, Victoria) expressed his pleasure at the measure of relief accorded the industry by the Federal Government. It had not come up to the expectations laid down, nevertheless they were grateful for what had been done, and felt that the interest and enthusiasm it aroused would have beneficial results so far as Victoria is concerned. He strongly advocated the desirability of proceeding along the lines already suggested, and if, at a later date, certain of the conditions imposed were considered or found to be too irksome, they could approach the Federal Government for some abatement thereof.
Mr. David Arthur (New South Wales) advised the conference that in New South Wales they had now somewhere approaching 3,000 men out prospecting, due in the main to the revival of the industry by governmental assistance and sympathy. He expressed himself as being in entire accord with the suggestions of Senator Daly, and hoped than an executive would be formed capable of giving earnest consideration to the problems to be solved, and anxious to do everything possible to further the interests of this industry.
Mr. de Bernales welcomed the suggestion of the Minister that a council be formed, and reminded the conference that the industry had undertaken the obligation of providing a sum of £20,000,000 of gold within the next ten years. It, therefore, behoved every one to do his best to promote the prosperity of the industry and to assist, not only the Government, but the taxpayer also, to bring back to the industry that measure of economic and efficient management which would do so much to bring to fruition the ambitions they had set themselves to accomplish.
With regard to the English investor, he pointed out that the shareholders in this industry were just as keen on efficiency as any other interested body. The industry itself, however, had the right to guide its own destiny. The ramifications for benefiting the industry were manifold, and, in his opinion, no better or more effective step could have been suggested than the one now before the conference, which, if agreed to, would not only do much to augment the prestige of the industry, but would also be of great service to the Government and to the people of Australia.
The Bon. J. Scaddon then moved - “That in the opinion of this conference it is desirable to form a Gold Industry Advisory Council, to consist of the following ex officio representatives, viz. : -
The Honorable Minister for Customs, or his deputy;
The Honorable Minister for Development. or his deputy;
The representative in the Federal House of Representatives for the Northern Territory, or his deputy;
The Honorable the Ministers for Mines, or their deputies, of each of the States of New South Wales. Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, and seven (7) members or their deputies, two of whom to represent the State of Western Australia so long as the gold production of that State exceeds 50 per cent. of the total gold production of the Common- wealth, and we recommend thefirst council to consist of the following gentlemen : -
Messrs. C. de Bernalesand J. L. Thorn, Western Australia;
Senator A. J. McLachlan, South Australia.”
Seconded by Mr. R. Keane, M.H.R., and carried unanimously.
Meeting of the Executive.
It was agreed that the council should meet in theCommonwealth Offices to-morrow morning, at 10 o’clock, Saturday, 10th January.
I believe that a very large body of opinion is in favour of the appointment of a gold council. Such a council would be able to do a great deal to promote the bestinterests of the industry. It could, for instance, advise on ways and means of thoroughly exploiting gold-bearing country so that not only the high-grade, but also the low-grade ore could be worked. One of our great troubles hitherto in this industry has been that the eyes have been picked out of the various mines that have been opened up, and the properties have than been abandoned. A gold council, composed of representative men with an expert knowledge of the industry, would be able to recommend processes and methods suitable to particular districts.
– I am aware that it has been argued that the setting up of this council would be costly ; but I understand that the representatives of the industry have been in consultation with the Minister in the last few days. I sincerely hope that some agreement has been reached, and that the Minister will agree to include in the bill a provision for the establishment of the proposed council. It has been argued also that because the Mines Departments of the various States have expert officers associated with them, there is no need for a gold council. I am well aware that the officers of these departments have done, and are doing, excellent work in assisting prospectors and others to open up mining shows, in collating necessary geological information, and in other ways; but I believe that they would welcome the assistance of a gold council composed of experts in the mining industry. Such a council would undoubtedly create confidence among overseas investors. “We need more capital in Australia, ; and I believe that if mining investors abroad were convinced that goldmining could be developed here without undue government interference, they would be more ready to invest their money in it. It is certainly clear to us that they are not willing to invest their money in the wool or wheat industries, in railways which do not pay, in road construction work which is unnecessary, and in water schemes the necessity for which has not been proved. On the other hand, if theycould he surethat all gold-mining propositions in which investments were invited had been given the most expert consideration, they would be willing to invest their money in them. I do not think that it was ever intended that the officers of the State Mines Departments should be called upon to interfere in ordinary mining operations. If a gold council were established it could make arrangements for all necessary investigation and exploration work to be done by persons not in theemploy of the Government.
– Will the honorable member enumerate what he thinks should be the functions of this council?
– The council shouldbeunder the control of the Minister.I believe that it could do good work in advising mining investors what type of plan to install in mines in. different parts of the Commonwealth with the objectof working high, medium, and low-grade ores.
– Competent inspectors wouldbe able to give advice on such a matter.
– The officers of the State Mines Departments would be glad to have this outside help.
– If the council were established less money would he available to the gold-producers by way of bounty.
– I do not suggest that an expensive body should be established. I think a council of eight experts could be set up. If these were elected by registered gold-producers, there could be no suggestion that jobs were being created for different persons. The council could’ be called upon to do anything that the Minister thought to be necessary. Such a council would undoubtedly give some stability to the industry. Stability is certainly lacking at present. When we desire to do anything to assist the wheat industry or the wool industry we seek the advice and help of experts. It would be just as logical for us to seek the advice of experts in the gold-mining industry now that we are trying to do something to encourage it. I quite realize that the officers of the State Mines Departments are able men, but there are outstanding experts, who are not government employees, who could give splendid assistance. I do not think that there is any need for us to fear the setting up of this council because of the cost that it will involve. I hope that the Minister will be able to giveus some information about his recent conferences with representatives of the industry on this very point. The object of this bill is undoubtedly to encourage the establishment of gold-mining on a large scale. If a few big mining fields were developed, work would be provided for many of our ironworkers, engineers, builders, tradesmen in other industries, and unskilled labourers. The purpose of this measure is to get big capitalists to invest their money in big mining fields to provide for the employment of big bodies of men. We must do something to encourage the investment of big sums of money here if this industry is to be developed.
– The setting up of such a council would lead to duplication.
– The honorable member has a. New South Wales brain of one cell. I am talking about an Australianwide council, charged with the duty of encouraging gold-mining in every State. We are all glad that the production of gold in Victoria has increased greatly in recent months. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) told us this afternoon that the yield had been increased by 100 per cent. in the last six months. If the Government will accept the suggestion for the establishment of an Australian gold council, it will open the way for the development of mining on a big scale, and, consequently, for the employment of large numbers of men. If that muchtobedesired end is achieved by this bill, it will be the only measure which the Government has introduced which will have had that effect.
– That is hardly fair to the Ministry.
– The States took the whole credit for the grant.
– They provided work for the unemployed.
– Yes, in digging holes and chopping off weeds. This legislation has a chance of providing permanent employment for a number of men for whom no other work is available.
– What about the thousands of men whom the Minister said would find work as a result of the measures he has introduced ?
– The gold-mining industry is about the only industry which has provided additional work. In Victoria alone, there are 15,000 men engaged in that industry.
– Do they all get the basic wage?
– No ; but they get more than they do in New South Wales, where they get no wages at all. These men receive from 30s. to £2 a week.
In order to make the bill complete, it should provide for the establishment of a gold council. If the Minister would agree to the appointment of such a body, he would achieve the biggest success of his political career ; he would go down in history as the man who introduced legislation which substantiated his claim that the measures introduced by him would provide work. While I do not say that the higher tariffs have not provided additional work, I do say that they have not done so in the same proportion as the gold bounty has done. The establishment of a gold council, while not being a heavy charge on the revenue, would provide some security to the gold-mining industry. I repeat that legislation providing for a gold bounty is not a small man’s measure. Its object is to attract capital from overseas ; and already it has been successful in that direction in both Queensland and Western Australia. In order to complete the good work, the bill should provide for the establishment of a gold council, and should ensure that the men who produce the gold will get the whole ofthe bounty. The bill is worthy of the support of every honorable member.
.- There are only two matters in connexion with this bill to which I desire to refer. The first is the omission from the measure of any reference to the proposed gold council, and the other, the inclusion of a clause dealing with tributers. This clause will, in my opinion, prove a source of irritation. Already there are contracts in existence under which tributers receive a proportion of the gold they win. I take it that, in such cases, the tributers would be entitled to the bounty in the same ratio as they share the gold they find. Far from serving any useful purpose the bill will interfere with many existing contracts, most of which provide for the gold won to be divided on other than a fiftyfifty basis. The clause will also prove difficult to apply to future agreements. Some of the agreements with tributers are most complicated. Moreover, the contracts vary considerably. Generally, the mine provides certain plant, and the tributer does the work and provides the fracture. Some agreements guarantee that the ore will produce a certain quantity of gold per ton, while others do not. The agreements vary according to the nature of the mine to which they refer. In the case of a mine that is practically exhausted, and where the prospects are poor, the tributer demands a large proportion of the gold which is obtained, whereas he is prepared to accept a smaller proportion where the ore is richer. It is not practicable to provide in an act of Parliament a fixed proportion of the gold as the share of the tributer. If we provide that the tributers shall get 50 per cent, of the gold, we shall upset a number of existing contracts. There is no necessity to do so. If the tributers are satisfied with 50 per cent, of the gold, the contracts will be made accordingly; if they require 75 per cent., the contract will stipulate that proportion. The tributers can make their own arrangements, without the necessity of an act of Parliament to support them.
The only other matter to which I desire to refer is the proposed gold council. I am afraid that there is a good deal of prejudice against such a council, on the ground that it would provide billets for certain people. That is easily prevented. All that is necessary is to limit, or even to exclude, the expenditure in that direction. The Minister could limit the expenditure to, say, the same amount that is allowed to a committee of this House, which is not very much ;’ or he could decide that the Government would not pay any expenses at all, in which case I have no doubt that those interested in the gold industry would be prepared to find the money. The objection that the establishment of a gold council would interfere with the State Mining Departments is without foundation, seeing that the proposal has the approval of the leading men in the Mines Departments of the States. Moreover, the scheme which has been proposed provides that the Directors of Mines in the various States shall be on the committee. There is no attempt in the bill to take the control of goldmining out of the hands of the State departments. It should be remembered that those departments deal with purely local affairs, whereas the object of the proposed gold council would be to encourage capital from abroad for investment in gold-mining. The attraction of capital from abroad should be the responsibility of some authority other than the State Mines Department. The gold council would be in much the same category as the boards which control the dried fruits and other industries, the members of which are men with a wide knowledge of the industry concerned. The gold council would act largely in an advisory capacity in the interests of the industry generally. In my opinion there are no sound grounds for opposing the proposal. The appointment of a gold council should be of great advantage to the industry; it would supplement the good work already accomplished by means of the bounty.
.- I am in favour of everything that is contained in this bill and am also pleased that some of the suggestions made at a recent conference in Melbourne have not been embodied in it. The widening of the scope of the definition of “ licensed gold-buyer “ is required in the interests of the industry, while the proposal that tributers shall get 50 per cent, of the bounty on any gold obtained by them is only fair. Born and brought up in a mining district, and having been in touch with mining all my life, I know that many mines which are working to-day would long ago have been abandoned were it not for the efforts of tributers. A common practice has been, when mining companies get off the gold, and are no longer able to pay dividends, to let the mines to tributers, who work it. It has frequently happened that on the expiration of the term of the tribute, gold has been showing, whereupon the company has again carried on, and has been able to pay further dividends. One mine in my electorate which was worked many years before I was born is still being worked by tributers. Seeing that in many cases the tributers discover the gold for the companies, it is only right that they should share to the extent of 50 per cent. in the bounty paid on the gold which they discover. I congratulate the Minister on having made provision accordingly in the bill. .
– Should not the tributers get 75 per cent.?
– I am satisfied with 50 per cent. I did not favour the reduction of the gold bounty by 50 per cent. as provided in a bill which recently came before us. Why should the gold bounty be reduced by 50 per cent. when the bounties payable in respect of other primary industries are to be reduced by only 20 per cent.? Such an unfair discrimination against the gold-mining industryis difficult to understand, especially at a time when gold is so much needed. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) said that we could not eat gold. I suggest that, in that respect, gold bears at least favorable comparison with the paper money which the honorable member would manufacture. The honorable member spoke of a sandwich composed of two layers of paper money with gold between them. I suggest that if he were given the opportunity to choose between the filling and the out sides of such a sandwich, he would take the gold filling. It has also been said that gold would not save a man who was dying of thirst in the Sahara desert. I remind him that even our great staple product, wool, would be similarly useless in the same circumstances. But whereas gold might not, of itself, be of much use to a starving man, it can be used to purchase the things he most needs - food and clothing.
– The same is true of notes.
– No. Gold has a definite value in all countries, but that is not so in the case of notes. The standard price for gold is £4 4s. ll1/2d. per oz. While the prices of other primary products fluctuate, the price of gold remains stationary. Gold has to bear all the burdens which have been placed on the gold-mining industry through the tariff and otherwise without being able to pass on the increased cost.
It has been explained that the reason why the bounty on gold is to be reduced by 50 per cent., while bounties granted to other industries are to be reduced by only 20 per cent. is that the gold industry obtains the benefit of the exchange. Surely that advantage also applies to other industries. I protest against what I consider to be an unjust discrimination against an industry which should receive every encouragement, particularly at this juncture.
I approve of the proposed new subsection 7. The authority which will be set up will see that proper labour conditions are observed in the industry before any bounty is paid, which will prevent the exploitation of employees.
In his. second-reading speech, the Minister referred to the appointment of a gold council. To that I have the strongest objection, whether its members receive remuneration or not, as I believe that such a body is quite unnecessary. I agree with the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) that if a person needs meat he should go to the butcher, and if he requires a haircut he should go to the hairdresser. If it is desired to know the gold possibilities of certain country, the matter should be referred to specialists, who are to be found in the Mines Departments of the different States. . The honorable member for Bendigo has given me a list showing the constitution of the proposed gold council. In looking through the names I see that two of the suggested members are mine managers from Western Australia. Another, from Victoria, is a legal manager, and quite possibly knows very little about goldmining. He would be more concerned about the legal aspect of a company’s affairs. Another is a mine manager from Queensland, while the fifth is Dr. Arthur, from New South Wales. Then comes Senator Millen, from Tasmania, who was, I understand, a mine manager. The last member is Senator McLachlan from South Australia. What his gold-mining qualifications are I do not know. That body was referred to by the honorable member for Bendigo as a collection of experts. I am afraid that I cannot endorse his opinion. If a number of experts is required to constitute such a council, let them be drawn from the mining departments of the different States, a procedure which would not involve additional expense.
– It is a curious thing that “experts” do not discover the gold. That is done by practical miners.
– That is a point to which I am coming. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) stated that the gold production of Victoria had doubled itself in the first six months of this year as compared with a similar period last year. The honorable member is a little out, but that was very nearly the case. The following are the exact figures: -
What has caused that ? No gold council was in existence. Had the council been appointed it would no doubt have taken great credit for the additional production. The reason for that increase was the financial assistance granted to prospectors by the Victorian Mines Department. If money is to be paid out of the gold won, it should not be given to any highlypaid council such as is suggested, but to the men who produce it.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) referred to the dried fruits, canned fruits . and other boards. Let me remind the hon orable member that those bodies have a distinct task to perform, to control the export of the product, find markets at the best prices available, arrange freights and insurance, and so on. There are no such problems in connexion with the gold industry, as there is no difficulty in obtaining a market for all the gold that we can produce. Every assistance should be given to the prospectors to encourage them to find gold. Recently we saw a very fine nugget in the King’s Hall, the ? Golden Eagle1’. That was not found by a gold council, but by a lad, and was the product of practical mining. Company promoters have done more to’ injure the gold.mining industry of Australia than has any other influence. In my young days I worked at a very good mine, the “ Loch Fyne “, which was turning out, at that time, about 2,000 oz. of gold a month. Company promoters got to work and very quickly half a dozen “ pups “ were floated, including the Loch Fyne Consolidated, Loch Fyne Central, North Loch Fyne, South Loch Fyne and the Loch Fyne Extended. They were brought to the notice of the public with a flourish of trumpets, attractive prospectuses claiming that they were all continuations of the main reef. They were successful only for the promoters. Those who put their money into them were indeed sold a pup.
The honorable member for Bendigo said that one of the objectives of the suggested council is ‘.to establish confidence. Would the flotation of such companies as those just referred to by me establish confidence?
– Such companies would not be floated if a gold council existed.
– Was it considered needful to have a gold council years ago, when Bendigo was producing gold? It was not. The discovery of gold acts like a magnet. Whether the locality be Alaska, New Guinea, or anywhere eke, the lure of gold is sufficient to attract both population and capital-; a gold council is not needed. At one stage of the debate an honorable member interjected very rightly, that if the gold council were established it would mean a lessening of the assistance that would otherwise be given to the prospectors. I cannot see that there is to be a representative of the- miners or the tributers on the suggested council.
It is my desire to see the gold-mining industry flourish again in Australia. I repeat what I have said before, that there is more gold under the ground in Australia than has been taken from it. That opinion is endorsed by experts. Australia has produced about £630,000,000 worth of gold. If we could only discover another “ Golden Mile “ or two, or a few more slugs suchas that we recently saw in the King’s Hall, all would be well. We do not need a gold council to do that. My namesake in Victoria, the Honorable J. P. Jones, Minister for Mines for that State, is a great advocate of assisting the goldmining industry, and it is because of his sympathetic help that gold prospecting has done so well in that State recently. I should like to see the Victorian scheme extended. Quite a number of men have spoken to me recently about the matter, one of them only last Saturday. He was a married man, with no gold-mining experience. Under the existing conditions in Victoria, no person can obtain the grant of8s. a week - which is given to married men while prospecting - if he is without gold-mining experience. That is only right. But the scheme could be extended by allowing parties to go out under the leadership of a practical miner, without all of the members necessarily having gold-mining experience. I am sure that the result of such an extension of the idea would be gratifying.
In his budget speech the Treasurer stated that some £9,000,000 was expended in Australia last year to assist unemployment. If we could only earmark £1,000,000 or more to send out prospecting parties such as I have suggested, the result would be beneficial to the nation. The Victorian Government expended a little over £36,000 to assist prospectors, which is about equivalent to the increased amount of gold won for the last months I have mentioned.
– So that the Government has got the money back already.
– That is why I want the scheme extended. Alluvial goldmining experience is easily picked up, and even scientific prospecting can be readily mastered.
In the early days, when there were no roads, our pioneers settled in the wild and mountainous parts of Gippsland. I venture to say that if we offered our unemployed the basic wage to live in that country without doing any work, they would refuse to go there. Our sturdy pioneers with their wives and families travelled on packhorses, cutting and winning their way through the scrub to make a home for themselves, and here and there in various parts of that country are to be seen mounds and heaps of stones marking the resting place of those who fell by the wayside. It is better to help men to work in that country than to give them the dole and keep them in idleness at places like Broadmeadows. When the gold boom took place in Castlemaine, Bendigo, and other places, men would not stay in thecities. They left their clerical occupations, and worked on the gold-fields with pick and shovel. Times have now altered; men are satisfied to live on the dole, and to give nothing in return. They prefer to play football matches. I do not believe in that at all. Work should.be given in return for pay. I support the bill. I congratulate the Government uponnot yielding to the pressure placed upon it to appoint a gold advisory council. Such a body would be an excrescence on the gold-mining industry, and by appointing it we would be superimposing a burden upon an already overburdened industry.
.- I cannot claim to have been much enamoured of the original Gold Bounty Bill when it was before this chamber, but I am pleased to hear from honorable members that the bounty has been the means of increasing employment in this country. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) has said that the gold bounty has done far more than the tariff to provide employment for our workless people. On every occasion that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) has increased the tariff, he has justified his action on the ground that it would increase employment in Australia. Unf ortunately, increased tariffs and prohibitions have had little or no effect upon unemployment.
The debate on this bill has centred around the clause dealing with tributers. under which the mine-owner is compelled to pay 50 per cent, of the bounty to the tributer who has won the gold. A proposal to appoint a gold advisory council, although it does not appear in the bill, has also been discussed. But such a body is quite unnecessary. The gold-mining industry is already receiving assistance by way of the bounty, and there is no need for an advisory council.
Mention has been made to-night of the gold-mining industry in Victoria, Western Australia, and Queensland, but no reference has been made to South Australia, which is the central State of the Commonwealth.
– It is the backbone of Australia.
– I agree with the honorable member. Considerable progress has been made in the gold-mining industry in South Australia. At Burra, which at one time produced large quantities of gold and copper, prospectors have found a splendid show. That show, if it is properly developed - and, of course, the bounty will assist materially in that direction - will be of real benefit to that State, and to Australia generally. If the gold bounty has increased employment to the extent el aimed by some honorable members to-night, then the Government’s action in instituting it has been fully justified. I support the bill. I do not think that a gold advisory council is necessary, particularly in view of the fact that most of the States have established mines departments from which the Federal Government is able to obtain any information that it desires on the subject of goldmining.
.- When the gold bounty bill was before the House I thought that its object was to encourage the development of big lowgrade propositions. Any one who has a knowledge of prospecting in Australia knows that this bill is of little value from the point of view of prospecting, because a prospector who produced gold twelve months ago will not receive payment for it until some time next year. For that reason, I assume that the object of granting the bounty was to develop big, lowgrade shows which are incapable of being worked by individuals or small groups of prospectors. A certain company has recently taken an option over the Palmer goldfields, where dredging operations are being carried out, and it says that it is prepared to invest £500,000 there. The original company was unable to obtain capital, and although it struggled along for a time, it eventually failed for lack of capital. Its members were getting but a bare living from their work, and they will be no worse off when the new company develops the mine, because, in all probability, they will be employed there Only a few days ago a company sent an expert to examine another show, but he reported that, although the mine was a reasonable proposition, it was too small, and there was not a sufficient quantity of stone to warrant the erection of a large plant on the lode. There should be in control of the gold-mining industry an advisory council representative of the Australian Workers Union, the organization which controls the workers in the industry, and of those who have invested their capit al in it, or control by those engaged in the industry. Such a body would be of considerable assistance to the various State mines departments, which now provide certain grants to prospectors. I admit that the State system is somewhat lax. A prospector, say, at Percyville, applies, through his State member, for a prospector’s grant, and if the Mines Department is satisfied that he has a reasonable proposition, it grants him £2 a week for three months. The proposition is not investigated, and the prospector is given no geological instruction. If, at the end of three months, the prospector applies for additional assistance, the warden for the district, who usually knows little or nothing about gold prospecting, will investigate the show and accept as accurate every statement of the prospector. He will report that the shaft has been sunk to a certain depth and that the prospector has done good work during the three months, and additional assistance is justified. The recommendation of a warden who is not a geologist is of little or no value. The clause relating to the payment of 50 per cent, of the bounty to the tributer who has won the gold has been fully discussed. In Queensland, the mineowner will accept a tribute of 10 per cent., 15 per cent., or a royalty, according to his arrangement with the owners. There is no necessity for this clause. As it stands at present it will impose a hardship upon the tributer, who is entitled to the full value of the ore produced. I am entirely against this foolish policy of government interference in industry.
– The mine-owners and the tributers have asked for this clause, and they should know more than any one else what they require.
– They should certainly know what they require. I heard the Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) say that the prospectors and the Australian Workers Union had asked for this amendment, but I have received no representations from tributers on the point, and I should think that the provision is more likely to prove a hindrance than a benefit to this class of miner. A tributer on a 15 per cent, basis understands that he has to pay to the owner 15 per cent, of all gold recovered, on the basis of £3 17s. 6d. per ounce, and not 50 per cent, of the 10s. bounty in addition. I think that the whole of the bounty should go to the tributer. If these men are desirous of having this amendment made they must be able to see further ahead than I can.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) has spoken in opposition to the appointment of a gold council. The honorable member having been a member of a parliamentary committee which inquired into the tobacco industry, must be aware of the great impetus given to that industry in its initial “stages by the appointment of a commission. The council provided for in the bill will comprise a mine manager who is a practical man; and a representative of the employees, who is a practical man and a government representative. These people would probably work in conjunction with a geologist representing the Mines Department. Such a body of men should be able to get to work without the old slip-shod red-tape methods usually associated with government control of industry. If those who are interested in the gold-mining industry are desirous of having such a council, acting independently of government control, I do not think any restriction should be placed upon their desire in that respect. If I were in control of an organization of employees in the mining industry, I should certainly welcome the appointment of such a council.
– It means imposing an additional burden on the industry.
– Was not an additional burden imposed on the taxpayers of the Commonwealth by the appointment of Mr. H. P. Brown, as Director of Postal Services?
– There are capable officials in each Mines Department.
– Yes. Each Mines Department has an under secretary who has risen step by step in the Public Service, and whose knowledge of mining can be summed up in a few words, “ He knows the act he has to administer.” There are also geologists attached to each Mines Department. When a practical miner has prospected a field, the geologist comes along to tell him the nature of the country in which the discovery is made and where best to sink a shaft.
– And he is followed up by the gold council.
– Yes, very often to correct what the geologist has ordered. Take the case of Mount Isa. The Americans who invested £2,000,000 on that field did not act upon the advice of the State geologist. They followed the advice of their own supreme council, with the result that to-day Mount Isa is being profitably worked, and giving employment to a large number of men. It is a low-grade show with which no individual miner would have a chance of making a success. With the price of silver and lead what it is to-day, no one would have been working on the field had it not been for the company’s report. At Kidston, on the Etheridge, there is a hill all honeycombed as the result of the efforts of practical miners, but the field is no longer a small man’s proposition. There are not more than twenty or 30 men to be found upon it to-day, but companies are looking it over because there is a possibility of machinery making it quite a good show. I want to show what experts did in regard to Kidston. The report of the geologist was that a battery should be erected on the hill so that the whole of the hill could be worked with the aid of a steam shovel, but a mining inspector, probably a friend of the hotelkeeper, arranged to have the battery erected in front of the hotel. The miners have toincurthe expense of carting their ore nearly three miles to the battery.
– It would have been cheaper to shift the pub.
– Quite so. The miners would gladly have defrayed the expense of the removal. I mention this incident to show how farcical the advice of the so-called experts sometimes is.
A few years ago £60,000 or £70,000 was made available by the Bruce-Page Government for the encouragement of gold-mining. According to the Minister for Home Affairs, that sum has not yet been exhausted. Government assistance is a great incentive to the search for gold. As a matter of fact, despite what has been done by various State Governments to encourage gold production, the improvement noticeable in recent months is directly attributable to the present economic position. Men have been forced by their circumstances to search for gold. A rush to-morrow of the size referred to by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) would absorb all our unemployed. The recent discovery outside Gladstone caused a rush of many hundreds of men.
– Is the honorable member in favour of this bill?
– I am. I was one of the advocates of the payment of a gold bounty when many, who are now advocating it because it has the appearance of being successful, were by no means its enthusiastic supporters. The bill will be responsible for bringing additional capital into Australia. Even if half the amount which is said to be coming here reaches this country as a result of this legislation, its passage will have been justified. But I do not think that the bill will be of much assistance to the prospector. He should be assisted through the State Mines Department. It will rather serve to develop big low-grade propositions, which it is unprofitable for prospectors to touch.
.- In my opinion the Government is not justified in increasing the number of bounties to include a bounty on gold-mining, which will not lead to fresh discoveries of gold, nor is it justified in interfering in what is purely a State function. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) was right when he said that it is not the geologist who discovers gold. My experience and my reading show that gold discoveries are mostly made by accident. During the 1891 shearers’ strike in the Clermont district, many of the better class of men, instead of busying themselves in fomenting strife, began to prospect the country, with the result that a very rich alluvial discovery was made. I remember that it was the Gympie and Charters Towers discoveries which saved Queensland in the 1893 financial crash. Those discoveries came at a very opportune time. Although the mines still contain valuable deposits they cannot be worked at a profit on account of the increased cost of production, and the machinery on them has been sold for a song. It was fortunate that the residents of these districts were able to develop the rich fruit and dairying lands, with the result that monthly dividends have taken the place of monthly calls. I shall support the bill for two reasons. One is that it is supplementing what the States are already doing in the discovery of gold. Every State offers inducements to prospectors in the form of financial grants and advances for equipment, and in those ways effective help is rendered to the industry. My second reason is that the gold-mining industry, like others which are receiving bounties from the Commonwealth, is deserving of recognition and assistance. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) must accept the blame for prolonging this debate, because he introduced a new subject of discussion by proposing the constitution of a gold council, and opposing the participation of tributers in the bounty. I am opposed to the formation of a gold council, and I am surprised that the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane), instead of explaining to the House what the proposed body is intended to accomplish, and the probable cost, preferred to get permission to include in Hansard certain proceedings which he called minutes. He stated that the council would be financed out of the bounty. I object to that; a bounty of 10s. an oz. will not in itself prove a great stimulus to prospecting, and if it is to be depleted by the payment of travelling allowances and fees to members of the council, very little money will be available for the assistance of the industry. Another objection I have is that there is no necessity for a Commonwealth department or a gold council to advise mining companies as to their method of operation. Such interference could not be tolerated. There is in every State a fully-staffed mines department, and the Commonwealth should draw upon these founts of expert knowledge on matters of administration. There are wardens with from 30 to 40 years’ experience who know every gold-field, and their advice should be of great assistance to the Commonwealth Government. I would prefer their guidance to that of the engineers, lawyers, and business men mentioned by the honorable member for Bendigo.
– The only experts in the mines departments are the geologists.
– My experience of them is that they are useful in assessing the extent and value of ore bodies after these have been discovered by practical men. To my surprise, the honor* able member for Warringah objected to the proposal that the tributers shall participate in the bounty. I regard that as one of the attractive features of the bill. I do not share the fear of the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) that, the tributers will suffer under this legislation: Owners never let a payable mine on tribute. Only when a mine has ceased to be payable, are tributers called in, and it is just that they should be protected by being assured of at least half the bounty.
– Why limit a tributer to half the bounty? Is he not entitled to the lot if he works on a percentage basis?
– The mine-owner who has invested capital in leases, development, and machinery, must be regarded as having some rights. Under the provision in the bill, if tributers obtain 100 oz. of gold, and they are working on shares, 50 oz. will go to the owners, and the bounty will be snared equally by them and the tributers. That is a reasonable and just arrangement. The most satis factory feature of the bill is that it proposes to halve the rate of the bounty provided in the previous bill. I do not believe that the payment of 10s., or even £1 an oz., will lead to great developments or to the introduction of capital. Past experience has shown that gold-mining is not a very profitable industry. Having regard to the total COS of Australia’s gold yield to date, the money expended on mining for gold would have been much better invested in almost any other industry. However, the Government having first declined to pay a bounty on gold produced, subsequently agreed to the payment of £1 an ounce, which, owing to the depression, is now to be reduced to 10s. Although I regard this policy as an invasion of a domain effectively occupied by the States, I shall not oppose the bill. The provision relating to conditions of employment and rates of pay, however, is unnecessary. I am aware that such conditions are in other bounty legislation introduced by this Government; but I regard them as duplicating to some extent the functions of the Commonwealth and State Arbitration Courts. The creation of another tritunal will not tend to economy, nor make for the general good of the people. For the reasons I have stated, I shall support the bill, and I hope that the sanguine anticipations of the Government will be realized.
.- I am astonished at the views expressed by some honorable members in regard to the proposal for the establishment of a gold council, particularly when I compare their attitude to the gold industry with that they have adopted towards other industries that are assisted by bounty legislation. Is it not reasonable that the goldmining industry should be afforded an opportunity to organize its activities upon a unified basis? Is it not likely. that the best form of organization will emanate from those actually engaged in the industry, and primarily concerned with its welfare? It is not wise to entrust every industrial and productive responsibility to officials” who have been employed in the Public Service all their lives. In this way we may become excessively bureaucratic, and limit both the avenues of information and the sense of initiative.
The best results to the industry may be expected from guidance and control by those who are associated with its fortunes, rather than from men permanently attached to the civil administration. In reply to what has been said by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones), I remind the House that this legislation is concerned, not so much with exploration and prospecting, as with the exploitation of known bodies of ore. These are very extensive, and we have to organize for their commercial development.
– Does the honorable member say that no new discoveries are to be expected ?
– No, but I submit that we shall show greater wisdom in applying ourselves to the scientific treatment of the bodies already discovered than in risking our fortunes haphazardly to the probabilities or improbabilities of future discoveries. That brings me to the important part which the gold council would play in the attraction of capital to the industry. The honorable member for Indi has rightly said that the goldmining industry, unlike other primary industries, has no marketing problem. Those other industries have, however, no production problem, which in the goldmining industry is the paramount problem. Because of present day costs, known bodies of ore cannot be developed to the greatest advantage by old methods of treatment. Therefore, we have to attract capital, not only to preserve the industry, hut also to build up sufficient resources for the installation of costly equipment. Owing to the fact that this industry has not attracted capital to any extent during the last decade, its apparatus, equipment and technique are hopelessly antiquated. The miners of Australia bear the stigma of not producing as efficiently as miners in other countries, not because of lack of zeal or inefficiency, but solely because the industry in this country is not mechanically and chemically equipped as well as it is in other lands. No mines department will attract new capital to the industry or can advise what processes will be most effective in realizing the purpose of the bounty. The case stated by the honorable member for Bendigo in favour of the establishment of a gold council has not been effectively answered by those who are opposed to that proposal. I do not dispute the contention of the honorable member for Indi that the increase in the gold’ yield of Victoria during the last six months is due to the activities of prospectors ; but, after all, that yield is an infinitesimal part of the total output of the Commonwealth. Indeed, the gold yield of five of the States is very small in proportion to that of Western Australia. That State is the paramount gold-producing State, and the increase in its yield during the last six months has been attributable entirely to the activity of companies in improving the processes for the treatment of low-grade bodies.
– The fact remains that the greater part of Australia’s total gold production was in Victoria.
– For many years Western Australia has been producing between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of the annual production of the Commonwealth. I have the utmost desire that Victoria shall increase its output, but the fact remains that the gold-mining industry is primarily located in Western Australia. That State has recognized the importance of efficiently operating the existing mines, and that can be done only by the installation of uptodate equipment, which will be impossible unlesswe attract capital from overseas. This matter must also be studied from another angle. Having regard to the economic position of the Commonwealth and the undoubted disquietude overseas with respect to the stability of government stocks, I very much doubt if, during the next five or ten years at any rate, any Australian government is likely to secure very substantial subscriptions to overseas loans. Therefore, Australia must seek assistance from overseas, to the extent that it needs a reinforcement of its capital resources, by way of industrial undertakings. It cannot look for help by means of loans for the purpose of conducting governments, and can expect a replenishment of its diminished capital resources only by ensuring a substantial industrial attraction to overseas investors. Our principal primary industries, such as wheat and wool, are at present in such a state that they offer no attraction to add to the capital already invested in them. Therefore, the only real investment, that Australia can offer to other countries is through the instrumentality of the gold-mining industry. I do not say that that is a desirable state of affairs, but when examined “from the standpoint of the realities of the present situation it appears so obvious as not to require statement.
– A new goldfield may be “discovered.
– One never knows what good fortune will accomplish; but it is « poor kind of statesmanship that depends upon the adventitious turn of a coin or some stroke of good luck.
It seems to us that in this instance we have the possibility of providing for an elective body representative of the gold.mining industry drawn from all the States and including representatives of governments in order to protect’ their interests to the extent that those interests are at stake. May I say to those honorable members who have objected to any portion of the bounty being made available to finance the gold council, that only three weeks ago they quite cheerfully reduced the gold bounty by 50 per cent., as a part of a plan of national rehabilitation? They said that it was imperative that the gold producers should have withheld from them 50 per cent, of the bounty. My reply to the remarks of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) is that this bounty differs from other bounties in that it is not paid on the total production of the industry, but only on that portion of the production in excess of the total quantity produced last year. It is, therefore, a bounty which differentiates in its incidence to the extent that it stimulates production. The importance of a gold council as an advisory body is manifest when we realize that a company with an obsolescent plant, and not deriving a full return from its mine, may participate in the gold bounty, not because of anything that it has done, but because some other company or groups of companies have utilized capital to the full extent by installing modern treatment plants or processes and have so become responsible for increasing the gold yield of Australia. For that reason it seems that the industry is entitled to such a council, which would operate, not only in the interests of the governments concerned, but also on behalf of overseas investors. The pronouncements of such a body will not have the hallmark of an official departmental statement in the sense that they will not be the stereotyped reports which a department would make; but they will, in every respect, be a declaration of men concerned, not only with the prosperity of the industry, but also with its permanency, which I venture to suggest is an important factor when we consider the importance of the gold-mining industry to Australia.
Honorable members have asked what the proposed gold council will do and how it will be constituted. The council will offer dispassionate and independent , advice to the Government regarding a comparison of working costs iD various mines in order to bring about a maximum of gold production without ruining the life of a mine, and in that way offer, as it were, some sort of guarantee to overseas investors that gold-mining in Australia is, an organized industry, participating in go- .vernment revenues in the form of bounties. The council will be expected to exercise some form of restraint upon those engaged in the industry, who might abuse the financial resources of the industry in order to benefit immediately irrespective of the consequences to the nation. It has been said that the Mines Departments in the various States can undertake this work; but I venture to suggest that there is nol that universal confidence in official pronouncements from, such sources as some honorable members believe. I also believe that it not desirable that, the industrial life of this country should be controlled entirely by the public administration, particularly as some honorable members adhere to the principle of the organization and control of industry by those engaged in it. The proposed gold council will, 1 understand, consist of eighteen or nineteen members. It will include two representatives of the Commonwealth Government, a representative of each State Mines Department, and each State - and for the purposes of the act the Northern Territory is to be considered a State - will be given an elective representative on the council.
While the production of Western Australia exceeds 50 per cent. of the gold production of the Commonwealth that State will be entitled to two representatives to be elected by those engaged in the industry. The chief function of the council will be to elect the executive which, in every sense, will be a representative rather than a self-appointed, body.
– Are retired bank managers likely to be elected?
– I remind the honorable member that a prominent member of the Commonwealth Bank Board is a retired bank manager. If I am to declare that any person who has retired from an important post is no longer fit to hold a responsible office, there are hundreds, apart from those associated with the industry, who would come under the ban.
– We need an advance in mining technique.
– Because we have not had a gold council the advance in mining technique in recent years has not been as good as in other countries. It is for that reason that the treatment of ore bodies per unit of labour in Australia does not compare favorably with other countries. That is not because those engaged in the industry are inefficient, but because we have not adopted scientific methods, the proper technique, or used the most up-to-date metallurgical or geological equipment such as other countries have utilized. By that means, other countries have been able to attract capital while we have not. The gold-mining industry is not comparable with our wheat or wool-growing industries. If a man invests £5,000 or £10,000 ina wheat farm that amount will be sufficient for the maintenance of the farm for 50 or perhaps 100 years. He can replace the wastage of plant and equipment as part of the usual cost of management without any additional capital. Mining is essentially a different proposition. From the time when the first ton of ore is taken out of a mine its life commences to end, and the plant and equipment has to be removed when once a mine ceases to be capable of commercial exploitation. There is an enormous depreciation. As there is no certainty in the life of a gold-mine, the gold-mining industry, more than any other industry, requires a continuous supply of new capital. Unless other countries realize that we are adopting a policy of assisting the industry, it is not likely to prosper. We have to attract capital from overseas. I do not believe thatin the present circumstances it is within the capacity of Australian Governmentsto attract large capital sums from outside Australia. It is notorious that our credit is impaired, and that there is not that confidence on the part of overseas investors in Australian governments that would lead us to the expectation that overseas investors will invest money in Australian loans for some years ahead. Therefore industries are the only means by which we can obtain capital from overseas, and the only industry that offers any attraction at present is the goldmining industry. I believe that it should be organized for the purpose of increasing production and should be given some self expression. It should be permitted to make definite representations of a responsible nature, not only to Parliament, but also to overseas investors. For these reasons I believe the proposed gold council will operate not only to the benefit of the industry, but in the interest of the Australian nation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and - by leave - passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The objects of this bill are (a) to give effect to the announcement in the budget speech that the general exemption of incomes from personal exertion would be reduced from £300, diminishing by £1 for every £3 of the excess over £300, to £250, diminishing by £1 for every £2 of the excess over £250; and (b) to remedy a few defects in the act which have been disclosed either as a result of a judgment of the court, or as the result of recent experience in the administration of the law.
The proposals contained in the budget announcement need no further explanation. The bill is also designed to overcome the effect of a decision of the High Court relating to the calculation of rebates of tax on dividends. The principle of company taxation, introduced in 1923, was that a company should be taxed at a relatively small rate upon the whole of its income, and that a shareholder receiving a dividend out of income so taxed should obtain a rebate of tax at his own rate or the company’s rate, which ever was the less, on so much of the dividend as was included in his taxable income. To discover the part of any dividend included in the shareholder’s taxable in- come the department deducted from the full amount of the dividend any of the allowable deductions which were properly attributable to it. In the recent case of Douglass v. The Commissioner of Taxation, the High Court held, in effect, that the part of a dividend which is included in a shareholder’s taxable income is the whole of that dividend. Parliament intended merely to prevent double taxation,, and in limiting the rebate to the net amount of dividends on which a shareholder is taxed, calculated on the departmental formula, double taxation is avoided. The decision of the High Court, goes further than is necessary to prevent double taxation, and is to that extent a negation of the principle of company taxation adopted in 1923. It is, therefore, considered necessary to insert a provision to give effect to the original intention of Parliament, and to ratify the departmental practice which has obtained since 1923. [Quorum formed.]
It is also proposed to exclude the special tax on property income from the calculation of rebates of tax on dividends. The provisions . dealing with rebates on dividends were drafted in the expectation that they should relate only to the normal rates of tax payable by companies and shareholders. Where a company pays the special tax on its income from property, the shareholder is specifically exempted under the Rates Act from that special tax, when ho receives a dividend paid by the company out of that income. Hence, there is no need to provide for any rebate of that special tax. If the law were not amended as proposed, it would be open to a shareholder to claim a rebate, not only of his normal tax on any dividend received by him, but also of the special tax on property income for which he is liable in respect of that dividend. This position would, to a large extent, defeat the purpose of the special tax on property income.
In clause 4 of the bill it is proposed to indemnify companies against liability for additional tax on interest paid to absentee debenture holders and depositors where such tax is imposed after the debentures are redeemed, or the deposits are withdrawn. This proposal is inserted as the result of representations made on behalf of the various banks. Every company, in addition to being liable to pay tax on its own taxable income, is liable to pay tax at the ordinary company rate upon all interest paid or credited to absentee depositors or debenture-holders. In the case of banks, withdrawals of deposits bv absentees are of common occurrence. When such withdrawals take place, it is necessary to retain out of the principal and interest payable to the absentee an amount sufficient to meet the tax on all interest paid to the absentee, which has not been assessed at the time of the withdrawal. As a bank, in such a case, is unaware of the rate of tax which will be subsequently imposed on such interest, it has no option but to retain an amount based on the rate of tax in force when the deposit is withdrawn. If the rate subsequently imposed is higher than the rate in force when the deposit is withdrawn, the bank is compelled to pay the additional tax out of its own funds. This position arises in connexion with the increase of 5 per cent, in the rates proposed for the present financial year.
Clause 5 entitles a married woman or a widow to make deductions of life insurance premiums, superannuation payments and medical and funeral expenses paid in respect of herself, husband and family. This provision will remove an obvious injustice. Precedents for the amendment are to be found in the income tax laws of the United Kingdom and of New South Wales. The intention is to place a. woman who maintains a home and family on the same basis as her husband would be if he were performing those duties.
Authority is taken in clause 7 to ratify arrangements which it has been found necessary to make for the effective collection of tax on premiums paid to Lloyd’s insurances. It was considered inequitable that income derived by Australian insurance companies should be subject to income tax, whereas income derived from insurance premiums by Lloyd’s, who have no offices in Australia, and who pay no, rent, rates, taxes or duties in Australia, should be exempt from income tax. The provision which was made last year to deal with the position - section 28b of the principal act - was associated with another provision which prohibited a deduction of premiums paid by any taxpayer to any insurance company which did not carry on business in Australia in a principal office, or by means of a branch, or through any other representative empowered to receive and deal with premiums. The second provision was precautionary, and was inserted because of the doubts existing as to the effectiveness of the provision to tax premiums paid to Lloyd’s. The literal effect of the two provisions was to impose double taxation, i.e., by taxing the premiums in the hands of the insurer, and disallowing a deduction of the premiums in the assessment of the insured. Since the proposals were inserted in the act, certain difficulties have arisen which have proved to be practically insuperable in the absence of further legislation ; and negotiations have been taking place practically continuously for the past twelve months between the department and the underwriters and insurance brokers concerned with a view to solving the difficulties. The negotiations have shown that the only possible method of collecting the tax on premiums paid on Lloyd’s insurances is to arrange for its deduction at the source at the time such premiums are paid, and for the furnishing of annual returns of tax so deducted.
– Are there any figures available showing the amount involved?
– No; but it is a considerable sum. Both the committee of underwriters at Lloyd’s and the insurance brokers at Lloyd’s, who are carrying on business in Australia, have undertaken to pay the tax on that basis, and, in fact, they have actually deducted tax on all premiums received during the financial year 1930-31 at the rate in force for that year. As the law stands, the rate of tax applicable to such premiums will be the rate imposed by the Income Tax Act 1931, which has not yet been passed. In order to give effect to the arrangements mentioned, it will be necessary to authorize the assessment of premiums paid to Lloyd’s at the rate in force at the time of payment of the premium. This is effected by the additional sub-section to section 28b, inserted by clause 7 of the bill.
Part of the arrangement which has been made is that the Australian resident who pays the premium upon which tax is payable, will be furnished with a certificate to the effect that tax has been deducted from the premiums so paid, and that such resident, by furnishing that certificate with his annual return, will be entitled to a deduction in respect of the premiums upon which tax has been paid. To give effect to that part of the arrangement, it is necessary to amend the second proviso to section 23 (1) a to permit of a deduction in respect of premiums paid to Lloyd’s in any case in which arrangements to the satisfaction of the commissioner have been made for the payment of tax on those premiums. This is provided for in amendment a of clause 5 of the bill.
It is practically impossible to make any brief explanation of the difficulties associated with taxation of premiums paid to Lloyd’s, hut it may be mentioned that they are not due to any unwillingness on the part of the underwriters at Lloyd’s to pay the tax. The difficulties mentioned are associated with the peculiarity of the organization at Lloyd’s, one of the features of which is that practically every policy is taken up by a different set of underwriters, with the result that the premiums paid under each policy represent income derived by a legal entity - a company within the meaning of the definition prescribed - which is distinct and separate from the legal entity deriving premiums under any other policy.
– Is thisa bill to amend the act?
– Yes; to carry out what we strove to do last rear.
It is proposed to enable holding companies which are liable to pay the special tax on property incomes, to deduct the special tax from preference dividends paid out of the income so taxed. The incidence of the special tax on property incomes has been somewhat inequitable in the case of certain classes of holding companies. The effect of the tax is that when a company distributes its profits to a holding company, the holding company is liable to pay the full amount of the tax - at present1s. 6d. in the £; as proposed, 2s. in the £. When the holding company has preference shareholders, it is under a contractual obligation to pay a dividend of a fixed percentage to such shareholders. Consequently, in the absence of any special legislative provision, the special tax which any such company is liable to pay on its income from property, is payable only out of the balance of its profits remaining after the payment of the preference dividend. The result is that the full burden of the special tax on income from property is borne by the ordinary shareholders of the company. The object of the amendment proposed in this bill is to enable any such company to deduct from dividends payable to its preference shareholders the amount of the special tax payable by it on its property income out of which it pays dividends to preference shareholders.
The purpose of clause 10 is to prevent mortgagees passing on to mortgagors income tax payable in respect of interest received under mortgages. Many existing mortgages contain provisions which have the effect of imposing on the mortgagor a liability to pay income tax on the interest payable to the mortgagee. A provision to prevent mortgagees from so passing on their income tax was inserted at the inception of the Commonwealth Income Tax in 1915, but the provision was more or less rendered ineffective by a decision of the High Court in the case of Brett v. Barr-Smith. That decision showed that a mortgagee could avoid the provision by simply stipulating for a high rate of interest subject to a reduction on prompt payment to a lower rate to be fixed by reference to the amount of income tax payable in respect of the mortgage in terest. No steps were taken to overcome the High Court’s decision until last year when there were certain indications that mortgagees who had not previously been exercising their rights to pass on income tax to mortgagors would do so for the purpose of passing on the special tax on property income. To prevent this, a provision was inserted in the second of the amending acts of last year, which made void any provision in a mortgage deed having the effect of including in, or adding to, any interest payable by the mortgagor, the income tax payable on the mortgage interest. Since then cases have arisen which show that last year’s amendment did not go far enough. One means of avoiding its effects is to include the stipulation as to payment of the mortgagee’s income tax in some document of other instrument which is not a part of the mortgage deed.
Another weakness of the provision as it Stands is that when the rate of interest fixed by the mortgage is reducible upon prompt payment to a lower rate to be calculated by reference to income tax payable on the mortgage interest, the interest payable by the mortgagor is technically the interest at the higher rate and, therefore, it cannot be said that the provisions of the mortgage have the effect of including in or adding to that interest any income tax payable by the mortgagee. The two weaknesses mentioned are dealt with by an extension of the definition of mortgage to include any collateral or supplementary agreement, and by the insertion of an additional sub-section in section 94 to provide for cases in which the mortgage interest is reducible by reference to the income tax payable by the mortgagee.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Lyons) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 17th July (vide page 4082), on motion by Mr. Brennan (vide page 3415).
Upon which Mr. Latham had moved, by way of amendment -
That the words “ that dominion has requested “, clause 3 of the schedule, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words “the Parliament and Government of that dominion have requested.”
– As the House has approved of the suggestion of the Chair that the motion be taken in sections, I intend that the first section shall be to the end of clause 3 of the schedule. That is the clause upon which an amendment has been moved. That will mean a complete debate. Honorable members may deal subsequently with any matters that arise out of the later clauses.
– On a question of procedure : Although no notice has been given of an amendment, there are certain matters that I wish to have considered in relation to clause 2.
– If the honorable member intimates that he so desires, I shall put the question to the end of clause 2.
– This is rather a strange procedure. May I ask what is the limitation of debate on each clause?
– It was the desire that a general expression of opinion might be given in what was equivalent to a second-reading debate, and that, as the various clauses and any amendments moved thereto were being considered, honorable members should be required to limit the debate to the actual text of the particular clause or amendment. I hope that honorable members will discuss the first two clauses in such a way as to cover the ground that ordinarily is covered on the motion for the second reading of a hill.
.- I wish to refer briefly to some of the observations that were offeredin the debate that took place on this matter when it was last before the House. Some honorable members, but particularly the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) appeared to think that there were certain dangers to the Commonwealth and other dominions arising out of this proposal. Judging by the position that has been established in Great Britain itself, and the attitude of mind of British statesmen within recent years, this and other dominions have complete freedom in relation to their own affairs. I am con fident that neither Australia nor any of the other dominions will surrender a single right under the Statute of Westminster. In certain respects, that legislation may make those rights more plainly understood. I am quite satisfied to accept the opinion of statesmen like the late Mr. Bonar Law, and Mr. Winston Churchill, who were Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer respectively of Great Britain. Long ago they made the definite statement that if Australia or any other dominion wished to go even to the extent of declaring itself a republic, Great Britain could not do other than acquiesce in the proposal.
– There is no need for this legislation, if that be so.
– There is very little need for the written word. I am confident that if this ever became irksome or intolerable to any dominion, it would not be tolerated, and that neither Great Britain nor any other member of the British Commonwealth of Nations would attempt to enforce it. The British Government learned a lesson, bitterly perhaps, in the American War of Independence. That war had a salutary effect in relation to not only Great Britain, but also all other nations, in that it established definite principles governing the treatment of dependencies. There is thus much ado about nothing on both the Government and the Opposition sides of this House. The Government, by the introduction of this proposal, is merely translating into black and white what has been and always will be taken for granted, and insisted upon if ever it is challenged.
– There is the very important fact in regard to the Merchant Shipping Act that the Imperial statute has been held to override the Australian law on the subject.
– I agree that that is so. I have no objection to what has been taken for granted for many years being put in writing; but it seems to me that whether it be written or not it will apply because it has the general consent of all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Any attempt at restriction would be stupid, because it would spell the end of the Empire.
The Merchant Shipping Act, I agree, is in a different category. “With that exception, very little will be gained. For that reason,” so far as I am concerned, the House may pass the motion as quickly as it likes.
– The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), with commendable modesty, said that he hesitated to intervene in this debate, feeling that in regard to this subject he was a political minnow among Tritons. I share the honorable gentleman’s feeling. However, I have taken the keenest interest in the various conferences that have been held since 1926, and that have resulted in the statute to which this Parliament is now being asked to give consent - the Statute of Westminster. Like the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), I feel a deep distrust of this attempt to confine within the limits of a precise legal formula the broad and sympathetic relations which have hitherto existed between the British Commonwealth of Nations. It will probably be said that this attitude is due to the instinctive distrust with, which the layman is inclined to regard the subtle workings of the law, but it is more than that. I feel that each of the steps which have led up to this latest development has been marked by a certain vagueness and lack of definite conviction among those to whom we look for guidance in matters of this kind. The Balfour committee defined the mutual relations of Great Britain and the dominions in that now historic declaration which was adopted unanimously by the Imperial Conference of 1926. Honorable members will recollect that the members of the committee agreed that nothing could be gained by attempting to lay down a constitution of the British Empire. They considered, however, that the position and the mutual relations of Great Britain and the dominions should be defined. The committee said -
They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Yet the report of the committee added -
A foreigner endeavouring to understand the true character of the British Empire by the aid of this formula alone would be tempted to think that it was devised rather to malu mutual interference impossible than to make mutual co-operation easy. Such a criticism, however, ignores the historic situation. The rapid evolution of the overseas dominions during the last 50 years has involved many complicated adjustments of the old political machinery to changing conditions. The tendency towards equality of status was both right and inevitable. Geographical and other conditions made this impossible of attainment by the way of federation.
That it was not necessary to go among foreigners to find differences of opinion as to the real effect of the adoption of the report was shown by the right honorable member for North Sydney, the week before last, when he quoted the highly contradictory utterances of the former Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Bruce, Mr. McKenzie King of Canada, and General Hertzog, of South Africa, as to the practical outcome of the conference. I think that many thousands of people throughout the Empire must have regretted then the development which made it possible for General Hertzog to declare that the British Empire from then on would exist in name only, even though the Balfour declaration was merely an attempt to define a state of affairs which was already actually in existence, and had evolved quite naturally.
In accordance with a recommendation of Lord Balfour’s committee, a conference met in 1929 to examine certain matters in connexion with the operation of dominion and merchant shipping legislation. I consider that Australia was extremely fortunate in having as her representative at that conference a constitutional lawyer of such high standing as Sir William Harrison Moore. That conference recommended specific legislation by the Parliament at Westminster to give legal effect to the principles which had been set out in the Balfour declaration. The Imperial Conference, of 1930, approved this recommendation, and decided that the Parliaments of the dominions should adopt resolutions asking the Imperial Parliament to enact a statute that would have that effect. The resolution before us sets out the precise form that that statute is to take. There are many Britishers, and I include myself among them, who have watched with grave doubt this attempt to compress within the rigid confines of a legal formula the relationship between the dominions and the Mother Country, a harmonious relationship, after all, which has been broadly based on complete mutual understanding and faith, so aptly likened by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to the trustful understanding which should exist between parents and children. I have tried to be a good Australian, and I am jealously proud of Australia’s high place in the councils of the Empire, and, therefore, of all the world ; but I am forced to question the wisdom of the whole of these proceedings. I definitely regret that the matter, at least in its broadest aspects, was not left at the adoption of the Balfour declaration.
We are faced, however, with a practical problem in the motion which we are now considering. Again, perhaps, with a layman’s distrust of legal technicalities, I feel that this motion, in its precise terms, requires most careful and complete examination. I stress the opinion that this is due to a document so profoundly important to our Commonwealth of Australia, and to the British Commonwealth as a whole. 1 am not altogether convinced that the motion has received such an examination. My feelings of doubt on this score were, to some extent, allayed and justified by the searching, speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition a week or two ago. I do not propose to follow the honorable gentleman in his detailed examination of the clauses of the motion. I felt much more satisfied, after hearing his careful analysis of the position, and 1 was relieved that he had brought to the light of day a matter of such vital importance as that covered by clause 3. He pointed out that, as the clause stands, the Parliament of the United Kingdom might be requested by the government of a dominion to pass an act extending to that dominion, and would be virtually bound to do so, though the Parliament of the dominion might not have been consulted on the matter, or, if it had been consulted, might even have refused to pass theact. Obviously this would be a disastrous power to place casually in the hands of any government. It is not a matter of whether the government would dare to use it wrongly. The whole purpose of this motion is to define and make foolproof, so far as possible, an understanding, the moral force of which is infinitely greater than any power, such as fear of the electors, which might be thought to safeguard Australia against such misuse of governmental responsibility. I shall support the amendment to be proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, which will have the effect of making a. request from both the parliament and the government of a dominion necessary before the Imperial Parliament can pass an act affecting that dominion. This appears to be a proper and essential safeguard. I approve also theother more technical alterations suggested by the honorable gentleman, which will have the effect of safeguarding the position of the States, and of reserving the Commonwealth’s right to repeal the act itself in so far as it applies to Australia. Frankly, I would have welcomed an amendmentproposing that clause 3 be entirely deleted. 1 cannot see that any good will emerge from its adoption, and I fear that, at some time in the future, it may lend the Empire into a great deal of trouble.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
– Paragraph 1 of clause 2 provides that the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 shall not apply to any law made after the commencement of this act by a Parliament of a dominion. If honorablemembers will turn to clause 53 of the report of the conference, they will find the following: -
We recommend that effect be given to the proposals in the foregoing paragraph by means of clauses in the following form : -
The Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 shall cease to apply to any law made by the Parliament of a dominion.
That proposal is now before the House. The conference recommended further -
We have, therefore, proceeded on the basis that effect can only be given to the principles laid down in the report of 1920 by repealing the Colonial Laws Validity Act1865 in its application to laws made by the Parliament of a dominion, and the discussions at the conference were mainly concerned with the manner in which this should be done. Ourrecommendation is that legislation be enacted declaring in terms that the act should no longer apply to the laws passed by any dominion.
– I am reluctant to interrupt the honorable gentleman, but I remind him that clauses 1 and 2 have been agreed to, and that the House is now considering clause 3.
– I submit, Mr. Speaker, that there must be some misunderstanding. Before you left the chair temporarily I intimated that I wished to Speak upon clause 2, with a view to sub.mitting an amendment.
– I understood that was the intention of the honorable gentleman, but the Clerk of the House certifies that, during my temporary absence from the chair up to clauses 1 and 2 were agreed to.
– I understood, with the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) that the vote just taken did not include clause 2, and as the honorable gentleman has pointed out, he especially asked that the general debate should be upon clause 1, so as to give him an opportunity subsequently of addressing himself to clause 2.
– In view of the apparent misunderstanding I think that the wishes of the House will be met if I direct that the vote just taken be regarded as agreement to clause 1 only of the schedule.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Corangamite may, therefore, proceed with the discussion of clause 2.
In accordance with the recommendation in paragraph 53, a clause as follows: - “(!) The Colonial Laws Validity Act 1S06, shall not apply to any law made after the commencement of this act by the Parliament of a dominion. “(2.) No law and no provision of any law made after the commencement of this act by the Parliament of a dominion shall be void or inoperative on the ground that it is repugnant to the law of England, or to the provisions of any existing or future act of parliament of the United Kingdom, or to any order, rule or regulation made under any such act, and the powers of the Parliament of n dominion shall include the power to repeal or amend any such net, order, rule or regulation, in so far as the same is part of the law of the dominion.”
– I regret that the consideration of this important subject should be left till such a late period of the session. I have on two or three occasions asked the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) when the House would have an opportunity to discuss this statute, which I regard as of vital importance to the Commonwealth, because it effects so materially the basis of all our legislation. Indeed it would not be wide of the truth to say that this is the most important matter with which the Commonwealth Parliament has been called upon to deal since its inception. The general impression seems to be that the Colonial Laws Validity Act limits our constitutional rights. There could be no greater mistake than to assume the correctness of that belief. That, act which, by paragraph 1 of this clause, we are seeking to render inoperative, really gives us increased constitutional rights, was enacted in consequence of a decision against the legislative powers of the State of South Australia. It contains the following declaratory section in regard to that State : -
Whereas doubts have been entertained respecting the validity of divers laws enacted or purporting to have been enacted by the legislatures of certain of Her Majesty’s colonics, and respecting the powers of such legislatures, and it is expedient that such doubts should be removed. . . .
Other sections, instead of limiting, really strengthen our legislative rights, so that the act itself may be regarded as our Magna Charta. It should be noted also that the Canadian Parliament does not propose to go the length contemplated by the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) in the resolution now before the House. It is merely seeking the repeal of sections 2 and 3 of the Colonial Laws Validity Act. Obviously, therefore, we should be committing a blunder if we adopted the proposal contained in paragraph 1 of this clause.
– The honorable member submits that we should continue under the restrictions of that legislation?
– There are no restrictions, save in its clauses 2 and 3. I propose that we shall continue under the powers given to us by that legislation, section 2 of which provides that any colonial law which is, or shall be repugnant to the provisions of any act of parliament extending to the colony, shall, to the extent of such repugnancy, but not otherwise, be void and inoperative. Hitherto there has been confusion with regard to the validity of certain of our legislation, notably the Navigation Act and admiralty jurisdiction, because of its repugnance to some provisions in the Colonial Laws “Validity Act. If honorable members will turn to section 50 of the report, they will find the following: -
Wc think it necessary, however, that there should also be a substantive enactment declaring the powers of the Parliament of a dominion, lest a simple repeal of the Colonial Laws Validity Act might be held to have restored the old common law doctrine.
This is a recognition of the fact that if we repeal the Colonial Laws Validity Act, without substituting for it a definite and positive enactment, we shall get back to the common lawposition and its implications before 1865. Canada is not in agreement with the course that Australia is proposing to take. Apparently the Attorney-General intends to accept three or four amendments of this statute. If he does so, I do not know where we will get. It appears as though the Imperial Parliament is to be asked by Australia to repeal the Colonial Laws Validity Act, in so far as it relates to Australia. Canada, on the other hand, has decided to ask that the act be retained, but that the repugnancy provision be removed. When this subject came before the Canadian Parliament, it was referred to each province for consideration. Quebec held out against the other provinces at first, hut afterwards fell into line with them. Canada is prepared to accept the provisions of section 5, whereas the AttorneyGeneral is suggesting that Australia should reject them. Yet he is not proposing anything to take their place. The section referred to reads as follows : -
This section came under the consideration of the High Court in the case of The King and McCawley, with Mr. Justice Isaacs and Mr. Justice Rich on the bench. It was held that that provision gave us full legislative power to alter our Constitution, but that the power of amendment was limited only by our 1901 Constitution itself. There is a danger in taking away any power that we may have at present to alter our Constitution. Canada was not in the same position as Australia. That dominion found that even if the Colonial Laws Validity Act were repealed in so far as it related to Canada an enactment of the Imperial Parliament would still be necessary under the British North America Act of 1867 to enable her to alter her constitution, as she has no constitution other than the Imperial Act. But in any case Canada did not want to be hampered as the Attorney-General is proposing that we hamper ourselves. If we pass the provision now before the Chair, it will be necessary for us to revise clause 4 by inserting this clause; -
All laws or reputed laws enacted or purporting to be enacted by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, which have received the assent of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth shall be and be deemed to have been valid and effectual from the date of such assent for all purposes whatever, notwithstanding anything otherwise contained in any other Statute.
I have given notice of an amendment in these terms, which are substantially in accord with a section of the Colonial Laws Validity Act, which the Imperial Parliament passed to meet the case of South Australia. If we agree to the AttorneyGeneral’s proposal, we must make some such provision as that which I have indicated, or we shall revert to the old common law position. I do not know how the Attorney-General can have overlooked this point. The Colonial Laws Validity Act is of the utmost importance to Australia. It goes right to the roots of our existence as a Commonwealth. In fact, I regard the matter as of such vital importance that unless my amendment, or some similar provision, is agreed to, I shall vote against the whole proposal. To do otherwise would, in my opinion, amount to the selling of every right that we have as a people. If we pass the Statute in its present form, we shall undoubtedly have to go to the Imperial Government a little later and ask it to give us back something that we have given away by own own carelessness. I want this to be the final interference with our status, and that this shall be the final Imperial Act affecting Australia.
I agree that it is necessary that the provision in regard to repugnancy should bc removed; but that is a very different thing from- the complete repeal of the act in so far as it relates to Australia. The views of the different Parliaments of the Empire are extraordinarily divergent on this subject. Australia apparently wants the Colonial Laws Validity Act, including the repugnancy provisions, repealed. Canada wants only the provisions relating to repugnancy repealed. South Africa wants the act retained. New Zealand wants the statute in its completed form . re-submitted to her for consideration. Unless we are careful, we shall reach a chaotic position among the dominions. It seems to me that the Attorney-General cannot have read, or if he has read he cannot have appreciated, the provisions of paragraph 51 of the report of the conference on the operation of dominion legislation.
– Will the honorable member read the paragraph?
– I am quite willing to read it again. It is as follows : -
Wo think it necessary, however, that there should also bo a substantive enactment declaring the powers of the Parliament of a dominion lest a simple repeal of the Colonial Laws Validity Act might be held to have restored the old common law doctrine.
– It may be that some honorable members do not understand what the common law doctrine is.
– The common law doctrine is that which existed before statute rights were created. Common law comes down to. us from time immemorial. Statute law alters that position. It means that instead of the common law position which insisted on a subservient legislature - a legislature without any proper legislative authority - the colonies have been given definite rights under the Colonial Laws Validity Act. Apparently, that is to be abolished, and we are to get back to the old common law doctrine.
– Where is the common law on record?
– It is based on common sense, the decisions of judges, precedent upon precedent principle upon principle, and legal decision after legal decision. It includes Saxon, French, Norman and Roman law. If statutory provision is not made, we shall, in order to ascertain the position, have to go through all the laws of England, and study numerous text books, all of which are not available, and even if they were, they would require careful study over a period of years. No man knows the whole of the common law. We in Australia inherit the whole body of English law. I move -
That sub-clause 1, clause 2, bc omitted.
– The Government cannot accept the amendment, because it would be fatal to the whole intention of the resolution, and, in my opinion, fatal also to the spirit and the meaning of the decisions of the conference of 1930, and of the preceding conferences upon which the theory of dominion status, as it is recognized at. present, has been developed. By some extraordinary process of reasoning which, frankly, is beyond me, the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) argues that we should not ask the British Government to repeal, so far as it affects Australia, the Colonial Laws Validity Act. In accordance with the recommendation in paragraph 53, it is proposed to insert a clause as follows: -
The honorable member appears to suggest, that by the repeal of the Colonial
Laws Validity Act which, as to some of its parts, declared the rights of the colonies, which previously they might not have been deemed to possess, we shall set up a prior condition, under which, presumably, the parliament of the United Kingdom might exercise over a dominion an authority, by legislation or . otherwise, greater than that possessed by virtue of the Colonial Laws Validity Act. My answer to that is that co-incidently with the constitutional position there has existed this statute law at “Westminster, which expressly declares, even to the present day, that any law passed by a colony - which for our purpose means a dominion - that is repugnant to a statute of the United Kingdom, shall, to that extent, be void and of no effect.
– Sub-section 2 should remain.
– It does remain, and, therefore, it is a complete answer to the contention of the honorable gentleman ; because, no matter what other constitutional or legal rights may be claimed as having been in existence prior to the Colonial Laws Validity Act, it is clear that, by virtue of our constitutional position, as well as of our legislative position, we will have complete power to legislate for Australia. That is to say, we will have that complete power insofar as we were previously affected by any external authority. We are still, of course, bound by the limits of our own Constitution. We expressly abstain from affecting the position as between the States and the Commonwealth as a whole. So far as any external authority is concerned, and expressly in relation to the United Kingdom, the adoption of this clause in the law of the United Kingdom will effectually put an end to any statutory or legal authority being exercised over Australia by the parliament of the United Kingdom.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral explain the necessity for the reference in section. 1, to the effect that the Colonial Laws Validity Act shall not apply?
– It is put there for the express reason - and, perhaps, the honorable member would be right in contending that to some extent it is superfluous - that this authority which has been exercised over Australia as a dominion has been exercised by virtue of the special power contained in that statute. Therefore, we refer to that statute as being the source of the authority exercised. Probably if it were not referred to at all the second part of the section would in itself cover the ground.
Perhaps I overstated it when I said that the rejection of the first part of the section would be fatal. Nevertheless, to eliminate that section would be to suggest at least that, notwithstanding what was contained in sub-section 2, Australia desired that the Colonial Laws Validity Act should, in some way, actually or potentially, operate in Australia. That we do not want to arise.
– Is it a fact that the Canadian Parliament has made representations to be permitted to retain the Colonial Laws Validity Act, as was suggested by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch)
– I shall refer to that in a moment. It should be added that it is desired to preserve uniformity in this resolution. It is true that in some cases special sections have been added, but the sections with which we are now dealing are common to all the dominions. New Zealand proposes to add a section having special reference to that dominion, and Canada has done the same, but the body of this resolution has been adopted in common by all the dominions. I have not full information as to the intentions of Canada in the matter, but I have some details to which I shall refer.
– Am I right in assuming that the date of this report by Sir Harrison Moore is 1929?
– And our Constitution was framed in 1901. Will the honorable gentleman explain why section 51 was inserted in the report?
– I cannot enter upon an explanation of that nature now. A note before me reads -
A conference of Ministers representing the nine provinces of Canada met at Ottawa on the 7th and8th April, to discuss with the Federal Government constitutional questions arising out of the Imperial Conference. In the resolution approving the recommendations of the special conference on dominion legislation, which it is proposed to embody in the Statute of Westminster, it was expressly provided that nothing in the proposed legislative changes is to be taken as implying any new power to alter the British-North America Act, and further, that the legislative restrictions now being removed from the dominions, should also be expressly removed from the Canadian provinces. The Premier of Quebec, notwithstanding that bis special point had been met by the reservation regarding the British-North America Act, withheld his approval until he had had a further opportunity of consulting his colleagues. The representatives of the other eight provinces unanimously approved the resolution. In the course of the discussion, the representatives of the western provinces strongly advocated securing Canada’s right to amend her own Constitution, and Mr. Bennett intimated that the Federal Government would call a conference at some opportune time to investigate this problem.
For the information of honorable members I shall refer to the New York Times of the 9th April, 1931, which contains the following: -
The provinces of Canada, in conference today with the dominion government, decided to “accept, with a reservation, the British Government’s offer of equality of status, represented by the proposed Statute of Westminster. The reservation was in connexion with the British-North American Act, which is equivalent to the Canadian Constitution. The minority rights accorded to subjects of French descent and to Roman Catholics are secured to them through this instrument, and it was agreed that the proposed measure of complete autonomy would not include the right to amend this act. The Federal Government issued a communique setting forth the agreement as follows : -
That the status quo should be maintained insofar as the question of repealing, altering, or amending the British-North American Acts was concerned, and that definite safeguards should be inserted in the proposed Canadian section of the Statute of Westminster to ensure that no powers would be conferred by that statute in this respect. That provision should be made that, except as to the provisions of the British-North American Acts, the Colonial Laws Validity Act should no longer apply to acts of the Parliament of Canada, nor to acts of the legislatures of the provinces.
The Prime Minister stated that at some future date a constitutional conference would be convened at which representatives of the dominion and of the provinces, might consider the conditions upon which the provisions of the British-North American Acts might thenceforth be amended or modified. The final draft of a new section to be inserted in the proposed Statute of Westminster was submitted at this morning’s session, and its purport was generally approved, but action was deferred for two weeks in order that representatives of provincial governments might have an opportunity to consult their colleagues with regard to it.
Unlike our Constitution, the Canadian statute is based upon the British-North America Act, so it seems certain that if these reports are up to date and correct the repeal of the Colonial Laws Validity Act has practically been accepted.
– I think that it will be found from a later report that that is not so.
– I am utterly unable to understand what is really worrying the honorable member about this matter. I know that his concern is not to preserve the right in the Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate for Australia - although that is the point of view of some persons in this, and, perhaps, other dominions - but that his desire is completely to enfranchise Australia to legislate for herself.
– That is so.
– Then I say that once this declaration is embodied in the Statute of Westminster it immediately gives legislative effect to what has long been the constitutional position, namely, that Australia as a dominion has an unchallengeable right to pass her own legislation affecting her own affairs. Neither more nor less than that is desired by the Government.
– Will former legislation under the Colonial Laws Validity Act be invalidated by this statute?
– No ; it guarantees our future powers only.
– When I spoke previously on ‘ this subject I made it plain that I regarded this legislation as a dangerous innovation to which we should not have subscribed, but having subscribed to it, we should make it. perfectly clear that before finally adopting it we understand what we are doing. From the debate it has become increasingly clear to me that Australia does not know what it is doing. I realize, as the Attorney-General has said, that the amendment of the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch), if accepted, will have a fatal effect on the clause, and even on the schedule, but I wish to go a little beyond where the honorable member for Corangamite led us in his remarks. I am opposed to the second paragraph of this clause which deals with- repugnancy.
If the Colonial Laws Validity Act is to be repealed, and we are to avoid this aspect of repugnancy, it is clear that in this clause resides one of the chief difficulties with which this Commonwealth will be faced at some undefined period in the future. It will throw this Commonwealth into the vortex of international complications. It is all very well for the Attorney-General to say that we have an unchallengeable right to do what we like with our Constitution, and to make laws as we think fit, and that we have complete powers to legislate for Australia. Acknowledging thoserights and agreeing that those powers should be possessed by Australia, I ask, are we equally agreeable to meet the consequences in which they may involve us? That is a point which should be settled before this debate closes.
– Surely one follows the other. If we are not prepared to meet the consequences we should not ask for the passing of this legislation.
– I am not at all clear that this House has any definite and complete understanding of what this legislation means.
– What are the consequences?
– One of the consequencesis that we might divest ourselves of the rights which we now enjoy as an entity of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
– What are those rights?
– They are the guarantee of safety that the British Navy and our association with the British Commonwealth of Nations give to us.
– How are they affected by this legislation?
– They are definitely affected by it. We are claiming to ourselves certain rights, the consequences of which may bring us into violent contest and contact with other nations whose ideals and ambitions are utterly foreign to our own. We are bereft of a navy and of any system of defence.
– We have the “New Guard.”
– We have the “New Guard “ and the gang that sits in the ministerial corner. It is all right to pass legislation of this nature provided that we have the wherewithal to defend the rights which we are taking to ourselves, but I submit that we have no defence, and are not likely to have any adequate defence for some time to come. We are told that Canada and New Zealand have adopted a different attitude on this legislation. Australia seems to be prepared to walk into an impasse which will land us God knows where, and no speaker in this House to-night has given an adequate assurance that in passing this legislation we are not doing something wrong.
– Neither Canada nor New Zealand has taken up different ground on the vital points of this legislation.
– Nothing that the Attorney-General has said on this subject has clarified the position. I realize the difference that exists between the Canadian and the Australian Constitutions. There is a real lack of understanding on this important subject, and I have the gravest doubts as to the wisdom of the course that we are now taking. I plead with the Attorney-General to delay a decision on this legislation. If a vote is to be taken to-night I am prepared to vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Corangamite rather than walk blindly into the cul da sac presented by this legislation.
.- It is a great pity that this measure is being forced through this House in the expiring hours of a tired Parliament. I have noticed that honorable members have little or no interest in this subject, and that little or no consideration is being given to it.
– There has been no lack of consideration. I spoke on the subject a fortnight ago, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) about a week ago, spoke on it, and circulated amendments. This legislation has been before us ever since.
– It would be better to leave the position as it is, and to keep to the Balfour declaration. There is no necessity for this legislation, seeing that Australia’s position in the Commonof Nations is quite clear without it. The fact is that certain honorable members who attended the Imperial Conference felt it incumbent upon themselves to show something for their work, and this legislation is the result. It would be much better to adhere to the principle enunciated at the conference of 1926 to the effect that this Empire consists of a number of autonomous communities which are bound together, not by written document, but by ties of kin and friendship.
– This is giving effect to the resolutions of the 1926 conference.
– It is givingthe views of participants in that conference.
– The honorable member will recognize that the House is now dealing only with clause 2.
– I recognize that. I shall make my remarks on the next clause.
Clause agreed to.
In accordance with the recommendation in paragraph 55, a clause as follows: - “No act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a dominion as part of the law of that dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that act that that dominion has requested, and consented to, the enactment thereof.”
Amendment (Mr. Latham’s) negatived.
.- When discussing the motion, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), who, unfortunately, is unable to be present because of illness, indicated certain objections he had, and intimated he would frame amendments to meet them. He has since circulated certain amendments, with w hich, I am given to understand, the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan) is in agreement. One of them relates to this clause, and I move it on his behalf. The object is simply to ensure that a request for British legislation extending to Australia shall not be made by the Commonwealth Government without authority from the Parliament of the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has a prior amendment.
– I move -
That the following proviso be added 10- clause3: - “ Provided that this section shall not prevent the Parliament of the United Kingdom from enacting, upon the request of the Parliament and of the Government of any of the States of the Commonwealth of Australia, an act to enable the separation of any of the States from the Commonwealth of Australia, or the establishment of new States within the said Commonwealth.”.
I do not wish it to be inferred that I am in disagreement with the amendment moved on behalf of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). Clause 3 reads as follows: -
No act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a dominion as part of the law of that dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that act that that dominionhas requested and consented to the enactment thereof.
My amendment contains no aspiration whatever in favour of separation. It only continues to dissenting people in different parts of the Commonwealth the existing power to obtain relief from the British Parliament which they may not be able to get from the Commonwealth Parliament.
– That is a distinct invasion of our Constitution.
– No; it merely preserves an existing right. The Commonwealth Constitution is a statute of the Imperial Parliament, and I think that the power which gave should have the power to take away, provided it is taken away with the consent, and at the request, of any of one of the States which were brought into the Commonwealth by the original act. It may also assist in theformation of new States. The Imperial Conference of 1926 has become historic by reason of what is known as the Balfour Declaration, that the people of the dominions constitute autonomous units bound together by no written ties, and entirely independent of one another. There was to be nothing in the nature of a written constitution. For the future the dominions were to remain bound together on a purely voluntary basis. I am now asking that the guiding principle of the greater body, the Commonwealth of
Nations, previously known as the British Empire, should be maintained in respect of the smaller body, the Australian Commonwealth. If we claim that it is most desirable, and, indeed, essential that we should be an independent part of the greater Commonwealth, we should apply the same principle in respect to our own community. Voluntary effort has been the leading principle of British statesmanship for many years. I refer to the example in South Africa and, later, in Ireland, and to the suggestion to extend the same principles to India. The application of them in South Africa and Ireland has proved so acceptable that they have been adopted in other parts of the dominions, and I am now asking that they should be adopted in Australia. If there is any desire on the part of any section of the people to retire from the Commonwealth they should be given opportunity to do so. I do not believe in having a Commonwealth which is kept together by compulsion. Success is never obtained by compulsion. The greatest difficulty the British Empire had for many years in regard to the Irish question was the compulsory element. Similar difficulty was avoided in the case of South Africa by giving the South Africans complete autonomy. I am asking for the same right in respect of our own people.
– The honorable member wants to give to a State the right to secede from federation.
– Yes ; if there is on the part of any section of the people a unanimous desire to retire from the federation, I do not think that the other sections of the Commonwealth should attempt to compel them to remain in it.
– What about the word “indissoluble”?
– That is merely playing on a word which the draftsman has put into our Constitution. It is one of the objections to an attempt to put such things on paper.
– If the honorable member is stonewalling, we shall be here all night.
– I am not stonewalling. I suggest that we should give to the people of a State who feel dissatisfied with their position in the Common wealth the permission to retire from it. I am not a Separationist at present, but I say that if the people of a State have anything like a unanimous desire to separate the rest of the Commonwealth should not attempt to retain them in the bond.
– The amendment opens up possibilities sodangerous that one can hardly understand such a proposal being put forward in Australia’s National Parliament at this stage in the development of self-government amongst the British dominions. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) desires to confer upon the British Parliament power to meddle in the domestic affairs of the Commonwealth. I believe that if the British Parliament were asked to exercise the power which is sought to be conferred upon it, it would refuse to do so, and thereby would show its statesmanship. In effect, the honorable member for Perth proposes to insert in the Statute of Westminster a provision which will enable any discontented State to ask to be allowed to secede from the Commonwealth, or for any revolutionary bodies in New England, the Riverina or elsewhere, to appeal to the British Parliament to create new States. Such a proposal is intolerable, and I hope that the House will reject it summarily. The amendment is only asking for trouble. If it were carried any attempt to give effect to it would cause dismemberment of the Commonwealth and the Empire. For that reason I am opposed to it.
– The amendment is entirely unacceptable for reasons that should be obvious.
Amendment (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to -
That the following sub-clause be added: - “(2.) In the case of the Commonwealth of Australia, the request and consent referred to in thelast preceding sub-section shall be construed to mean the request and consent of the Parliament and the Government of the Commonwealth “.
Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
In accordance with the recommendations in paragraph66, clauses as follows: - “ Nothing in this act shall be deemed to confer any power to repeal or alter the
Constitution or the Constitution Act of the Commonwealth of Australia otherwise than in accordance with the law existing before the commencement of this act. “ Nothing in this act shall be deemed to authorize the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to make laws on any matter within the authority of the States of Australia, not being a matter within the authority of the Parliament or Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.”
.- On behalf of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) I move -
That the following words be added to the clause - “ or to authorize the Parliament or the Government of the Commonwealth without the concurrence of the Parliament and Government of the States concerned to request or consent to the enactment of any act by the Parliament of the United Kingdom on any matter which is within the authority of the States of Australia, not being a matter within the authority of the Parliament or the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.”
The second paragraph of this clause makes it clear that the Statute of Westminster shall not authorize the Parliament of the, Commonwealth to make laws in relation to matters within the exclusive power of the States. The words proposed to be added will make it clear that the statute shall not authorize the Parliament of the Commonwealth to request the British Parliament to make alterations in matters within the exclusive power of the States, unless the State Parliament and Governments concerned concur.
– I think the intention of the amendment is already clearly expressed in the clause as drafted. But as the Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Leader of the Opposition consider that the amendment will more exactly define the relations inter se of the Commonwealth and the States, I am prepared to accept it.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That the clause, as amended, be omitted with a view to insert the following in lieu thereof: - “ All laws or reputed laws enacted or purporting to be enacted by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia which have received the assent of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth shall be and be deemed to have been valid and effectual from the date of such assent for all purposes whatever, notwithstanding anything otherwise contained in any other statute.
That means unification. The effect of the amendment is that a law passed by this Parliament and assented to by the Governor-General would at once become effective notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the Constitution. If this were enacted by the Imperial Parliament, this Parliament would enjoy full and complete powers.
– It is a means of getting around the Constitution.
– No. This is a subject which cannot be discussed in a few minutes. Unfortunately this Government is not sufficiently Australian in spirit or loyal to the Labour party to give effect to one of the principal planks of its platform, which I, in common with other members of the party, am pledged to support. By this amendment we could provide an opportunity for the Imperial Parliament to do what we desire in order to ensure complete autonomy in our own affairs. A plank of the Labour party’s platform reads -
Complete self-government for Australia as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations . . . All legislation except such as appears inconsistent with Imperial treaty obligations, to be assented to on the advice of Australian Ministers only.
The Commonwealth Constitution to be amended to provide -
Unlimited legislative powers for the Commonwealth Parliament, and such delegated powers to the Statesor provinces as the Commonwealth Parliament may determine from time to time . . .
This is our last opportunity to provide this Parliament with complete authority. It is easy for honorable members opposite to say that a section in the Constitution permits our 1901 Constitution to be amended if the people desire. Section 128 of that Constitution is so restricted that practically the power of amendment fails in the most vital issues. The members of the Country party favour the creation of new States, which involves constitutional amendments, and there is not the slightest doubt that in time the Constitution will have to be amended in other directions. Unfortunately the Commonwealth Parliament is absolutely fettered as a result of the agreement with Mr. Reid and New South Wales in 1901 to limit its amending powers. At that time it was distinctly understood that the powers of State Parliaments would be restricted, and that State Governors, and a good deal of the paraphernalia associated with State Governments, would disappear.
– There is a constitutional way in which that can be done.
– That may be so. Section 128 of the Constitution, which was introduced at the instigation of the late Sir George Reid, provides that “ This Constitution shall not be altered except in the following manner . “ The conditions are then set out. The time has come when the people of Australia wish to alter the present system. For instance, some favour the creation of new States, three in New South Wales, and two which could be established in Queensland and two in Western Australia. It is not a matter of whether such a policy is right or wrong, but of giving the Commonwealth Parliament the power to do what is considered necessary in the interests of the Australian people. Under the present Constitution the Commonwealth Parliament cannot abolish State Parliaments nor can it limit their powers. If we do not embrace this opportunity we shall be fettering ourselves for all time. We are completely hidebound.
– The Constitution can be amended if the people so desire.
– Section 128 of the Constitution does not give the powers required. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) should realize that only a month ago a case involving the referendum provision in the Constitution of New South Wales came before the High Court in connexion with the abolition of the Legislative Council in that State. The Constitution of New South Wales can be amended only in a certain way. It was stated before the committee which inquired into the working of the Commonwealth Constitution that section 128 is a complete fetter, and this has been supported by the decision of the High Court in the case mentioned. If we do not make the necessary provision on this occasion we shall be preventing the people from exercising their rights. I am not suggesting that the creation of new States is essential ; but the Commonwealth Parliament should have the right to decide such an issue, and this is its last opportunity to secure that power. According to the Attorney-General, we shall not have an opportunity to make any further requests to the Imperial Parliament on matters of this kind, and with that I entirely agree. This must be our final request. I have previously referred to the position in Canada with respect to which the AttorneyGeneral has apparently been misinformed. He quoted from a New York newspaper which reports certain proceedings in the Canadian Constitutional Conference.
– I gave the honorable member all the information I had.
– That is so. The Attorney-General quoted theNew York Times to the effect that the Province of Quebec had objected to certain of the clauses; that the matter was adjourned with a view to its being reconsidered; and that afterwards Quebec had agreed to the proposal. I have here a copy of the Toronto Globe of April 9th, 1931, which states -
It was also agreed that provision should be made that, except as to the provision of the North America Act, the Colonial Laws Validity Act should no longer apply to acts of the Parliament of Canada, nor to acts of the legislatures of the provinces.
What the New York paper did not state was this -
Meanwhile, the final drafting of a new section to be inserted in the proposed Statute of Westminster was submitted at this morning’s session of the conference, and its purport was generally approved, but its final acceptance was deferred for two weeks in order that representatives of provincial governments might have an opportunity to consult their colleagues with respect thereto.
– That is exactly what I read.
– What I said was that Quebec disagreed with the proposal at first, and then, a fortnight afterwards, decided to use the dominion’s own powers of amendment.
– That does not appear.
– It appeared in the London Times, and in a Canadian paper, of a date about three weeks later than the one I have quoted. I do not accept any rights of the Imperial Parliament at this stage of our constitutional development to amend our constitution as the constitution of an equal State ; but if the courts want the written word I shall not oppose it.
Those who support this amendment will, by their votes, declare themselves to be Australians who believe that the Australian nation should have full power to govern itself. Those members of the Labour party who vote against the amendment will be breaking their solemn pledges in their federal platform. This matter touches the foundation of my political beliefs. I regard it as of perhaps greater importance than anything else we have dealt with since federation. Those on the other side of the House who oppose this amendment are seeking to deny the Australian people the exercise of those rights which they innately possess.
– The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) appears to be very earnest in the advocacy of this amendment, but there is one vital objection to his proposal, and that is that the Parliament of the United Kingdom would not entertain it for a moment. It is proposed in the amendment to ask the Parliament of the United Kingdom to pass a statute which would have the effect of declaring that any law passed by the Commonwealth Parliament would thereupon run, whatever the rights or claims of the States might be. That is a very easy road to unification, and to those who desire such a condition to be brought about it appears, no doubt, a very simple step to take. I do not believe, however, that the Parliament of the United Kingdom could be induced to take such action, in view of our declaration that we do not intend this resolution to interfere with the rights of the States. Moreover, we do not desire to trouble the Parliament of the United Kingdom over a proposal to amend our Constitution. We may rely for that upon the powers we possess under our Constitution.
– I am surprised that the honorable member for Corangamite should put forward this proposal.
– I am somewhat surprised also. We have ample power to amend the Constitution. We seem to be a long time making up our minds as to what we want, but there is no doubt that we possess full power of amendment.
With great respect to the honorable member for Corangamite, I cannot entertain his proposal that we should ask the Parliament of the United Kingdom to passany kind of a law we desire, without regard to the rights of the States, or of the people as a whole - the people who have a right to be appealed to in regard to proposals for the amendment of the Constitution.
– If this amendment were accepted and acted upon by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth Parliament would have power, among other things, to extend the life of Parliament, and to impose conscription.
– It would confer power to do a great many things. I ask the House to reject the enthusiastically advocated proposal of the honorable member for Corangamite.
Question - That the clause, as amended, proposed to be omitted (Mr. Crouch’s amendment) stand part of the motion - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
.- On behalf of the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), I move -
That the following new clause be added - “7 - (1.) None of the following sections of this act [namely, clauses 1, 2, 3 and6 above] shall extend to the Commonwealth of Australia as part of the law thereof unless that section is adopted by the Parliament of the Commonwealth and any act of that Parliament adopting any section of this act may provide that the adoption shall have effect either from the commencement of this act or from such later dateas is specified in the adopting act. (2.) The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia may at any time revoke the adoption of any section of this act “.
The first paragraph of this clause is substantially identical with a clause proposed by the New Zealand Government at the Imperial Conference, to meet the position of that dominion. It means that, after the statute has been passed, the Commonwealth Parliament will still have the option of adopting, or of abstaining from adopting, any of the . constitutional changes proposed. The second paragraph provides further that the Commonwealth Parliament may, if it thinks fit, revoke its adoption of any of these changes.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition conferred with me in relation to this proposed new clause. Although I consider that it overlays a little the terms already approved by the Government, nevertheless it tends to make more certain what we want to make certain. No objection, therefore, is offered to it.
– I wish to record my pleasure at the fact that the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), has had this provision brought forward. It is said that we have to adopt what is passed on our behalf by a superior Parliament. I have always taken up the attitude - and I still adhere to it - that we have the right to legislate apart from any act of the Imperial Parliament. Our rights are inherent. Rights cannot be given by one authority to another equal authority. The Statute of Westminster may be useful to judges and those who look to written constitutions to justify their ‘ existence. This is a necessary clause, because it says that, although another authority may assume that it has some jurisdiction over us, we do not admit that jurisdiction until we have passed our own Act of Parliament in relation to the matter.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Remainder of motion agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
The following papers were presented : -
High Commissioner of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom - Report for 1930. Cotton Bounty Act- Return for 1930-31.
Flax and Linseed Bounty Act - Return for 1930-31.
Iron and Steel Products Bounty Act - Return for 1930-31.
New Guinea Act - Ordinance of 1931 - No. 20 - Companies.
Papua Act - Ordinance of 1931 - No. 1 - Native Labour.
Papua and New Guinea Bounties Act - Return for1930-31.
Power Alcohol Bounty Act - Return for 1930-31.
Public Service Act - Regulations amended -Statutory Rules 1931, No. 89.
Sulphur Bounty Act - Return for 1930-31. Wine Export Bounty Act - Return for 1930-31.
Wednesday, 29 July 1931
New South Wales Government and the Loan Council: Broadcasting of Political Speeches.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
Honorable members will recall that, when the House assembled, I read a copy of a telegram that I had forwarded to the Premier of New South Wales. To that telegram I have received the following reply: -
Reply your wire of to-day undertakeon behalf of Government to meet conditions stipulated. Please expedite provision July requirements.
That means that responsibility for the payment of interest on all the public debt of New South Wales will now be assumed by the Government of that State, and the Loan Council can, in future, operate as a fully constituted body. It now remains for the New South Wales Government to pass, and to put into operation, the legislation necessary to give effect to the rehabilitation plan agreed to at the Premiers Conference. Immediately that has been accomplished, the Commonwealth
Bank will be asked to make available the cash requirements of the New South Wales Government for July, and the requirements of all governments will be dealt with at the next meeting of the Loan Council.
.I feel sure that honorable members will be pleased to have the latest information on this matter from the Prime Minister. It is satisfactory, up to a point, to know that the Government of New South Wales is now prepared to carry out its undertaking to the Premiers Conference to give effect to the rehabilitation plan. Just in what form it will carry out that undertaking remains to be seen, but all the conditions rightly laid down on behalf of the governments of the States are to be complied with. Subject to these conditions being observed, assistance to New South Wales may be forthcoming; if they are not carried out, assistance will not be given. That appears to be a victory for the other State governments and the Commonwealth Government over the Government of New South Wales, and to that extent the position is satisfactory.
I rose particularly to make reference to the action of the Postmaster-General’s Department in refusing to allow the broadcasting of the speeches delivered at a meeting that was held in Adelaide recently by the Citizens’ League, and to draw attention to the unsatisfactory way in which the Minister dealt with the request from members on this side for information as to the principles on which the censorship is exercised. I raised this question, in the first place, by asking the Prime Minister, in the absence of the Postmaster-General, whether he was aware that the censorship had been exercised, and that a ban had been placed on the broadcasting of the speeches to be made at that gathering. Of course, I did not expect that the Prime Minister could tell me offhand what the position was. At a later stage, I was informed that information on the matter had been sought from the Postmaster-General’s Department, and the reply was to the effect that political broadcasts were permitted only of speeches delivered by leaders of political parties. That was not a correct statement of the position, and the pronouncements that have since been made by the Postmaster-General bear out my assertion. We all know perfectly well that the first statement made was not correct. It might be correct, so far as A class stations are concerned, but my question related entirely to a B class station, namely, 5AD, with which an arrangement had been made by the Citizen League of Adelaide for a broadcast of its meeting. Broadcasts by B class stations of political matters have frequently been made in the past ; not merely the speeches of leaders of political parties, but also those of persons not associated directly with political parties at all. It seems to me that wrong has been done in this matter, and that there has been suppression of free speech by the Government. I do not wish to import any heat into the discussion of this matter, but I ask the Government to give further consideration to it. In the particular case to which I have directed attention, there would not have been even a party demonstration ; it was proposed to discuss certain questions of a political character.
– From what view-point?
– That does not matter.
– Not so long as it is from the honorable member’s point of view.
– When I was PostmasterGeneral, I permitted certain broadcasts, and I did not inquire whether those who were to speak held views different from my own; nor would the Government have taken the stand that it has adopted in this matter if it had given it further consideration.
– The honorable member does not believe in free speech. He suppressed Mr. Lang’s speech in Melbourne.
– I did nothing of the kind.
– The honorable member supported the suppression of it.
– The honorable member knows nothing about that matter. I appeal to the Government to realize that what was done in the case to which I have directed attention was not fair, and no good can result from such action. The meeting was one at which it was proposed merely to discuss matters of concern to the public of Australia. The PostmasterGeneral, in his reply to the deputation from the associated B class stations, said that he was determined to oppose anything in the nature of extremist propaganda, apparently, because somebody else would wish to reply to it. The organization in Adelaide can in no sense be regarded as an extremist body, unless it can be so described because it intended to broadcast speeches in opposition to communism. Despite all the noise coming from those members who pose as believers in freedom of speech, I maintain that the action of the Government involved a breach of that principle. Looking at the matter without prejudice, it must be recognized that there has been a breach of principle, and because of that, and not because of the particular organization which preferred the request, I ask the Government to reconsider the decision reached, and to give an assurance to the “Parliament and to the country that the censorship will not be exercised on party lines.
, - From the applause that greeted the Prime Minister’s statement concerning the telegram received by him from the New South Wales Government, one would imagine that that was the only government that was looking to the financial institutions for assistance. That Government is not alone in wanting loans from the banks. Every government in Australia has been living on overdrafts for the last twelve months, the only difference between the New South Wales Government and the others being that all other governments, Labour and National, have submitted to the dictates of the banks. While the other governments have gone back on every principle for which they previously stood, the Labour Government of New South Wales has fought the banks to the last ditch. At the present time the bankers are in complete command because of the cowardly surrender by this Government. But despite this surrender, the fight will go on, and it will never end while there is a private banking institution open in this country, and while we have in office a servile government that will tolerate dictatorship from them.
.- I add my protest to that made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) concerning the ban on the recent broadcast of speeches arranged from an Adelaide B class station. Honorable members are cognizant of the regulations governing the broadcasting of speeches from A class stations, and I think there is a general agreement as to the policy laid down. But B class stations are in an entirely different position. Every night of the week those stations are broadcasting political speeches, and, so far as I am aware, hitherto there has been no complaint or censorship. Station 2KY Sydney and 2GB Sydney are frequently used for this purpose; I understand there was a political broadcast from 2GB the night before last. As A class stations are semigovernment activities, some censorship of the speeches put over the air from those stations is, no doubt, desirable; but the Postmaster-General was entirely in the wrong when he referred to the censorship of speeches delivered from B class stations. As a general rule, those speeches are paid for, and it is not necessary to ask for approval before the broadcast. If now this is to be the policy of the Government, it should take away from all B class stations the right to broadcast all speeches, irrespective of the subjectmatter contained in them.
.I join with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) in protesting against the action of the Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) in placing a ban upon the broadcasting of speeches delivered at the recent meetings of the Citizens League in Adelaide. The subjects discussed by the various speakers at that meeting had relation to the wheat pool, the sugar embargo, communism and the burden of taxation, and the citizens of Adelaide were quite entitled to expect permission to carry out the broadcast as arranged. I, therefore, consider that the action of the Postmaster-General was against the interests of free speech and detrimental to the interests of the people.
– Would the honorable member approve of communists having the right of reply?
– Certainly I would, because I believe in the right of free speech. I have asked several questions in. connexion with this matter and the replies received on each occasion referred only to A class stations; whereas SAD Adelaide is a B class station, and as such we assumed that it was at liberty to broadcast political matters. If speeches of this nature are broadcast from 2KY Sydney and the Melbourne “ B “ class stations, surely the same privilege should be given to the citizens of Adelaide.. In order to hold a wireless licence one must pay 24s. per annum to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and of this amount the Government receives Ss. Why should South Australia be singled out in an attempt to suppress free speech? Citizens are indignant that the freedom of the air has been denied them, and I hope the Government will reconsider its decision.
– I appeal to the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) to make the position of B class stations clear. As is well known to everybody, all political parties have been in the habit of using B class stations for this purpose for some considerable time, and there has never been any suggestion, by those who control them, that the subjectmatter of speeches to be broadcast had to be censored. So long as it was not blasphemous, seditious, or indecent, there has hitherto been absolute freedom in the broadcasting of speeches dealing with matters of public interest from those stations. I hope that the Prime Minister will clarify the position for the guidance of the public generally.
.- I have received a number of telegrams from electors in my district protesting against the action of the Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) in preventing the broadcast of speeches delivered at the recent meeting of the Citizens League in Adelaide. As one of the subjects dealt with at that meeting was the proposed Commonwealth wheat pool, it is possible that the ban on the broadcast will be used by opponents, in South Australia, of the Government’s wheat marketing scheme to strengthen opposition to it. The Government should allow B class stations to broadcast speeches dealing with both sides of that important question, so that the wheat-growers, who are most vitally interested, may be fully informed upon all phases of the subject. There should be no discrimination one way or the other.
– Does the honorable member think that 5 AD would allow that?
– It should ; but if there is any doubt about the matter the Government should intimate to the owners of all B class stations that there must be no discrimination against either side in a political controversy. I believe in absolutely fairplay to all parties. I have broadcast speeches front B class stations, and, up to the present, I have never been required to submit a precis of my speeches. I hope, therefore, that the Government will reconsider its decision in this matter, and that permission will be given to use B class stations for the free expression of views on all matters of public interest.
.The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has just told us that the Premier of New South Wal.es has agreed to assume responsibility for the payment of interest, on its overseas debt. I should like the right honorable gentleman to inform the House of the nature of the assurance given by Mr. Lang, and if the Government of New South Wales has promised to pay to the Commonwealth Government the arrears amounting to about £4,000,000. Has any promise been made in that connexion ? I should also like the Prime Minister to inform the House whether, in any future distribution of Commonwealth money among the States, he will debit New South Wales with the total amount of its arrears before a new allotment is made to it?
– Broadcasting is a branch of the activities of the Government with which I am not very familiar. So far as I have been able to ascertain the facts, the matter is in the control of the Director of Posts and Telegraphs. Mr. Brown, hut, of course, all departments arc under ministerial control, and the Ministry must take the responsibility for everything that is done. I understood from a conversation that I had with Mr. Brown some little time ago that there is a right to exercise control over all matter that goes over the air, and that it is necessary that there should bc such control. The question has been raised -whether the control has been exercised on party political lines. I assure the House that that will never be done with the consent of this Government. I entirely agree with the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) that the air should be used as. equally as possible by all sides in politics.We must recognize that what applies to A class stations in this regard must also apply, to some extent, to B class stations; otherwise there might be a monopoly of the air. Those who could afford to pay most would use the air most. I will call for a report on the specific complaints that have been made, and will ascertain whether the procedure followed In those cases has been the procedure which was adopted previously. I assure honorable members that there is not the slightest desire on the part of the Government to curtail broadcast speakers to those who hold the same view as the Government holds.
– Will the Prime Minister obtaina full explanation of why the particular meeting to which I directed attention was censored?
– I will do so. I understand that the recommendation came from the Director of Post and Telegraphs, and that it was endorsed by the Postmaster-General. I will ascertain whether the usual thing was done in that case. It is known to all honorable members that limits have been placed on the use of the air for political purposes. In certain cases, only the recognized leaders of recognized parties have been permitted to broadcast.
– That is so in connexion with A class stations.
– It is also the case in regard to B class stations. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) himself has had speeches broadcast recently from B class stations in Adelaide, Ballarat, and Sydney; I have spoken oncefrom Canberra ; and the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) has spoken once from Adelaide, and once from Melbourne.
– He spoke from Brisbane.
– That was on an earlier occasion. The Leader of the Opposition hag used the B class stations four times to my one.
– He paid for his broadcasts.
– Everybody has to pay. Hitherto a definite limit has been placed on the use of wireless for broadcasting political speeches. My use, of the air has been limited just as has the use of other honorable members. On one occasion, an organization in my own electorate desired to broadcast the speeches at a function held in my honour but it was prevented from doing so.
– It was prevented from using an A class station.
– It was also prevented from using a B class station.
– It was advised to broadcast through a B class station.
– That was on another occasion. I confess thatat the moment I do not know how far the control of broadcasting political speeches extends; but I have a good deal of confidence in the judgment of the Director of Posts and Telegraphs.
– Will the Prime Minister ask the Postmaster-General why he said the other day that he refused to allow the Adelaide programme to be broadcast because it was clearly antiLabour ?
– I have already asked him a question on that point, and he told me that what he meant to say was that it was clearly a political programme.I think honorable members will admit that the Postmaster-General was very inconsiderately baited on that occasion.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has asked what guaranteewe have that the New SouthWales Government will meet its interest obligations. We can only accept the undertaking of a government. The Government of New South Wales made the declaration that it would not pay overseas interest. Consequently, the Commonwealth Government had to assume the responsibility for its payment. Now, the Government of New South Wales has declared that it will abandon that policy, and it has undertaken responsibility for its interest obligations.
– Will it be called upon to pay in cash?
– No governmentis paying in cash at the present time.Is this respect the Government of New
South Wales will be placed on exactly the same footing as the other governments. It will not receive any privileges, nor will it have disabilities placed upon it which other governments do not carry. Lot us hope that the Government of New South Wales will give full effect to its undertaking, that it will pass the legislation it has undertaken to pass, and that it will honour all its obligations, so that the responsibility for doing so may be lifted from this Government. If we take that stand we shall be showing a more united front from the financial point of view. Such action on the part of all the governments of Australia, irrespective of their political opinions, will raise the credit of Australia very much higher than it is to-day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.28 a.m. (Wednesday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 July 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310728_reps_12_131/>.