12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.Norman Makin) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and offered prayers.
– I have received from Mr. T. Capper, the honorary secretary of the Hurstville branch of the Australian Labour Party, a letter, in the course of which he says -
I am directed to place before you the emphatic protest of this branch in regard to the action of the Postal Department in recently destroying a large number of copies of a working-class publication, the Red Leader.
The writerrequests me to act in the matter. Recently, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr.Ward) was informed by the Postmaster-General that copies of the Red Leader were destroyed on legal advice that the publication offended against the laws of the Commonwealth. Can the Postmaster-General inform the House in what respect the publication offended againstthe laws of the Commonwealth, and if the embargo applied to one issue only. If so, willhe promise that future issues will not be interfered with?
– I shall refer the matter to the Postmaster-General, who will furnish a reply later.
– Is thePrime Minister aware that of 599 war service homes which havereverted to the Commonwealth Government, no fewer than 384 reversions took place during the last financial year as a direct result of the depression? That total does not take into account reversions to the commissi on’s agents, the Government Savings Banks of South Australia and Victoria. In view of the very serious loss thus caused to the Commonwealth, and the hardships imposed on occupants of the homes, will the Government give further consideration to the suggestion that an impartial tribunal be appointed to investigate the wholesubject of war service homes?
– The officials controlling war service homes were not appointed by the present Government, but I have every reason to believe that their administration is quite impartial, and I can imagine no better investigation than they would conduct. The Government is awaiting a complete report by the officers of the commission on the whole subject of war service homes..
– With a view to the alleviation of unemployment in Melbourne will the Treasurer waive sales tax in respect of tram cars built by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, which is a semi-public body?
– The application of the sales tax to transactions of that nature would have to be considered apart from the employment involved. Representations on the matter have been made to theGovernment, and are under consideration now.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral yet received the report of the judge who inquired into the Jacob Johnson case? If so, when will it be made available to honorable members?
– The report reached the Prime Minister only this morning, and I have had no opportunity to do more than glance at it. It will be laid before the House to-day, or at a very early date.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs received the report of the Tariff Board on the shipment of Russian timber that arrived in Sydney some months ago? If so, will he make it available to honorable members?
– I do not think the report has yet been submitted. It will be made available to honorable members as soon’ as practicable after it is received.
– The Treasurer stated yesterday that the Commonwealth Government has not yet paid the interest due at the end of August to bondholders who dissented from the recent debt conversion. Will the honorable gentleman admit that such failure amounts to default on the part of the Federal Government?
– The securities which matured on the 15th August are State stock, mostly issued by the Government of New South Wales. The failure to pay the interest and principal on the date of maturity was not default; it was due to a difficulty which arises under the debt conversion plan.
– Can the Prime Minister inform the House whether Mr. G. K. Radygin, who is described as the sole representative in Australia of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, enjoys any official status in the Commonwealth?
– So far as I am aware, he has no official position; but I shall inquire into the matter, and let the honorable member have a further reply.
Attitude of Newspapers
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether it is a fact that the Argus and other conservative organs give full publicity to questions and statements hostile to the tariff policy, but not to the replies of the Minister?
– I have noticed that criticism ofthe Government’s tariff policy by members of the Opposition, inside and outside Parliament, sometimes in the form of prepared statements which have been handed to the press, is published in the Argus and other conservative newspapers, but some of my replies are not published at all.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs give personal attention to a ruling by his department in connexion with the proposed importation of a silver cross for the Anglican Cathedral in Brisbane. The customs schedule refers to works of art either framed or unframed, and I understand that the department has ruled that, because a cross has no relation to a frame, it cannot be a work of art.
– The matter has not yet been decided, but I understand that the cross in question is a work of art. I have called for a report by an officer in Brisbane, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) may rest assured that sympathetic consideration will be given to the application which has been made by a Brisbane lady who desires to present a cross to the AnglicanCathedral in that city.
– Yesterday’s newspapers published a telegram from Perth stating that the Western Australian Government proposes to employ about 6,000 men within a month, and later 10,000 men, on works to be financed by an amount of £1,100,000 provided by the Commonwealth Bank. I ask the Prime Minister whether that amount is a special advance by the bank to the Government of Western Australia, or merely portion of the money advanced to the various State governments for the continuation of works in progress?
– I have no definite knowledge on the subject; but I am quite confident that the amount referred to is part of the sum advanced by the Commonwealth Bank to all State governments for the continuation of their works programmes.
Proposed Debenture Issue
– The newspapers of to-day report that the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales has applied to the Commonwealth Bank for permission to issue to old depositors a special currency in the form of debentures which will be slightly smaller than Commonwealth Bank notes. Has the Prime Minister any knowledge of this proposal?
– I have not been consulted about it; I know no more than has been published in the newspapers.
.- I move-
That the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
Next Monday is a public holiday, and my motion is made in compliance with requests by honorable members of all parties. I agreed that the House would not meet on Tuesday if satisfactory progress wore made with the tariff this week. Yesterday, the progress was very satisfactory, indeed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Advances to Local Governing Bodies
– The newspapers report that the Commonwealth Bank is making money available for certain works to be carried out by local governing bodies. Particular reference is made to works at Warrnambool and the hydroelectric scheme in New South Wales. Will the Prime Minister inform the House how application should be made to the Commonwealth Bank for such assistance ?
– Prior to the last Premiers Conference, I invited all governments to prepare proposals for useful and reproductive works, and to ask local governing bodies to submit schemes with a view to the absorption of some of the unemployed. A number of proposals were submitted through the State Governments. Others were submitted direct or through the bankers of the State Governments to the Commonwealth Bank. Let me say further that the Commonwealth Bank will considerany sound proposals of a reproductive character submitted by local governing bodies. But the bank authorities ask that these bodies shall first get into touch with their own bankers, and then if the co-operation of the Commonwealth Bank is desired, the bank will be prepared to act in conjunction with other banks in connexion with approved schemes. If the bankers for the local governing bodies are unable to take up any matter, those concerned can get into touch with the Commonwealth Bank Board direct.
– In view of the activity of the communist organization in Australia, and the entry of so many Soviet officials and agitators here, will the Government take steps to declare these bod ies illegal societies ? Will it also, apply more rigorously the provisions of the Immigration Act, to prevent the further entry of Soviet officials, and take steps to deport the agitators who are already here?
– The AttorneyGeneral’s Department keeps itself well informed of the activities of the organizations referred to, but I shall bear in mind what, the honorable member has suggested.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral, while he is making inquiries about Soviet organizations, keep in mind the organization known as the New Guard, which is out to destroy constitutional government in this country?
– Yes, so far as my mind is not otherwise engaged.
-Can the Prime Minister inform me if a proposal for the installation of the system of bulkhandling of wheat was submitted or discussed at the recent Premiers Conference, and, if so, was any decision arrived at?
– Among the proposals submitted in respect of works to be put in hand, was one from the Western Australian Government for the installation of the bulk-handling system of wheat. So far as I recollect, that was the only proposal of its kind put forward, and nothing definite was stated except that a certain sum of money would be required if that work were to be put in hand. No details were submitted, and no discussion took place on the subject.
Excise and Production
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Transfer to Canberra
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will he consider the making of arrangements for the Tariff Board to be permanently located at the Seat of Government, at Canberra, and, where practicable, for all public inquiries to be held there?
– The Tariff Board inquiries require the attendance of numerous witnesses, and the practice is for the board to visit the different capitals as may be necessary. It would be a great hardship for the board to require all witnesses to come to Canberra, and it is considered that the best interests of all concerned are served by the board being located at one ofthe principal capital cities.
French Retaliatory Embargo
asked the Minister for Markets, upon notice-
Whether he has received any information to the effect that the Government of France has decided to prohibit the importation of hardwood railway sleepers from Queensland, as an indication (as stated in the cablegram In the daily press) of retaliation against the increaseof the Australian tariff against French-products ?
– I have not received any official intimation regarding the matter mentioned by the honorable member. I have investigated press statements with respect to similar action taken by other countries, and stated to be in the nature of reprisals against the Australian tariff, but these allegations have proved to be groundless. I am, however, having inquiries made into the specific question brought under notice by the honorable member, and will advise him of the result as soon as possible.
The following papers were presented : -
Tariff Board - Reports and Recommendations -
Boot Lasts and Treesof any material.
Crown Seals, Granulated Cork, Corks and other Cork Manufactures.
Cut Glass Bottles and Decanters.
Gloves - Harvesting, Driving, Housemaids’ and Gardening.
Hot Water Bottle Stoppers.
Writing Ink, Ink Powders, and Liquid Drawing Ink.
Ordered to be printed.
New Guinea Act - Ordinances of 1931 -
No. 25 - Natives’ Contracts Protection.
No. 26 - Uncontrolled Areas.
No. 27 - Marriage.
No. 28- Stamp Duties (No. 3).
No. 29 - Mining.
War Service Homes Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules, 1931, No. 119.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - No. 24 of 1931 - Common Rule - Compensation for Overtime, Sunday duty, &c.
Canned Fruits Export Control Act - Fifth Annual Report of the Canned Fruits Control Board, for year ended 30th June, 1931, together with a statement by the Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Mortgagors’ Interest Reduction Ordinance - Regulations.
The following paper was ordered to be printed: -
Bankruptcy Act - Third annual report for period 1st August, 1930, to 31st July, 1931 (presented on the 17th September, 1931).
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Consideration resumed from the 1st October (vide page 421), on motion by Mr. Forde -
That the schedule to the customs tariff be amended.
Division 6. - Metals and Machinery
Items 197, 200 and 203 agreed to.
Item 204 (Cooking utensils).
.- I rise to say that I do not propose to call for a division upon this and other items under which the duties imposed are unnecessarily prohibitive, but it must not be understood that honorable members generally on this side of the chamber -I arn not able to speak on behalf of all of them in respect of the various tariff items - acquiesce in these proposals merely because they do not occupy time in calling for divisions on them.
– It is, indeed, pleasing to have the apology of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) for the extraordinary attitude which honorable members opposite have generally taken up on the tariff. It is true that they have stone-walled the various tariff items, and their speeches one after the other have been mere repetition.
– I rise to a point of order. The Minister has referred to the discussion which has taken place in this chamber as stone-walling. As that expression is offensive to me, and is also a reflection on the conduct of the Chair, I ask that it be withdrawn.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. McGrath).The right honorable member has not raised a point of order.
– I rise to a point of order. As the Minister has made no reference whatever to the item before the Chair, I suggest that he is out of order.
– I am discussing this item in the same manner as did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It has been said that the reason why the Opposition has gone on strike-
– The Minister must confine his remarks to the item before the Chair.
– The reason apparently why this and many other items are not being discussed is that the Opposition has not the capacity to carry on an intelligent debate.
– I rise to a point of order.Is the Minister in order in commenting upon the conduct of the Opposition during this debate? He has rarely been in the chamber during the past twelve weeks, and, therefore, knows little or nothing of what has taken place.
– The honorable member has not raised a point of order. I shall ensure that every honorable member confines his remarks to the item before the Chair.
– I oppose this item, under which the British preferential rate has been increased to 50 per cent. Aluminium and enamelled cooking utensils are light, but bulky, and consequently the freight on them is in itself a high protection. Not only is this duty of 50 per cent. prohibitive, but the British preferential rate has been reduced by 5 per cent., although the previous margin was considered necessary in order to assist our trade with Great Britain. Nothing should be done at this stage to interfere with British trade, particularly when no disability is being inflicted upon this country. Apparently, in fixing this duty, no regard whatever was paid to Great Britain and to the maintenance of preferences.
I do not agree with the views expressed last eveningby the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and the Leader of. the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), and I propose, in the interests of the public and of my constituents, and as a responsible member of the Opposition, to continue to point to what I consider to be tariff anomalies and injustices.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the item before the Chair.
– I am endeavouring to do that. I shall continue to point out any glaring tariff anomalies which I consider are inflicting a gross injustice upon the community.
Item agreed to.
Item 206 postponed.
By omitting the whole of sub-item (c) (twice occurring) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item: - “ (c) Mortice Locks, Mortice Lock Sets,
Kim Locks, ad val. - British, 55 per cent.; intermediate, 70 per cent.; general, 75 per cent.”
By omitting the whole of sub-item (d) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item : - “ (d) Kitchenware (other than electrical heating and cooking appliances) manufactured of wire, tinned plate, plated metal, or a combination of such materials, with handles of any material or without handles: Metal stove toasters; dish, pot, pan or plate washers or scrapers; metal soap racks; metal can openers; metal soup ladles; cooks’ forks; metal corers and peelers ; egg whisks or beaters; aspestos mats; ice picks, per dozen - British, 3s.; intermediate, 3s. 6d. ; general, 4s. ; or ad Val. - British, 45 per cent. ; intermediate, 55 per cent.; general,65 per cent.; whichever rate returns the higher duty.”
– The duty under this item has been increased from 35 per cent. to 45 per cent., although it relates to. tools of trade which are in common use by the working men of this country.I protest against this excessive duty being imposed upon articles which are in constant use by the working men of this country. If the implements necessary to a tradesman for his work are increased in price, what chance is there of reducing the costs of production? The duties proposed under this item will place an unnecessary burden on every section of the community.
.- Item 208 c deals with mortice locks, mortice-lock sets, and rim locks, which bear ad valorem duties of 55 per cent. British, 70 per cent. intermediate, and 75 per cent. general. I cannot understand why these articles have been singled out for such heavy duties. As a manufacturer of such goods, I claim to know something about them. In the latest issue of the Chamber of Manufactures Gazette, it is pointed out that the duties on this item have been lifted to suit the convenience of certain importers. I move -
That the itembe amended by adding the following: - “And on and after the3rd October,1931-
Mortice locks,mortice-lock sets, rim locks, ad val., British, 45 per cent.; intermediate,60 per cent.; general.65 per cent.
A men dm en t n ega ti v ed .
– Item 208 d shows the absurdity of the Government’s tariff proposals. This item deals with kitchenware, on which the British preferential duty is 3s. per doz., or 45 per cent. The articles covered by this heading include many which cost 3d. a dozen or less, so that it will be seen that the proposed duty exceeds 1,200 per cent. I know of an instance in which an agent was charged £10 duty on goods, the invoice price of which was11s. 6d. Previously, the British preferential duty on these articles was 35 per cent. I move -
That the item be amended by adding the following : - “ And on and after the 3rd October, 1931 -
Kitchenware (other than electrical heating and cooking appliances) manufactured of wire, tinned plate, plated metal,or a combination of such materials, wilh handles of any material or without handles; metal stove toasters; dish,pot, pan or plate washers or scrapers; metal soap racks; metal can openers; metal soup ladles; cooks’ forks; metal corers and peelers; egg whisks or beaters, asbestos mats; ice picks; ad val., British, 25 per cent.; intermediate, 55 per cent.; general,65 per cent.
Question - That the item be agreed to put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. McGrath.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Item agreed to.
Items 209, 211, 213, 215 and 216 agreed to.
Item 219 (Tools of trade).
– This item deals with tools of trade for the use of artisans and mechanics, and tools in general use. It covers a wide range of tools in everyday use throughout Australia, including garden trowels. At one time these trowels were manufactured in Victoria, and for that reason duties were imposed on imported garden trowels. The Victorian firm has now gone out of business, so that the only effect of the duty will be to increase the price of garden trowels. It will not assist any Australian industry.
– What were the old duties?
– Previously, these goods were free, if imported from Great Britain, and dutiable at 10 per cent. if from other countries. The duties are now 3s. 6d. per dozen British, 5s. per dozen intermediate, and 6s. per dozen general, although their f.o.b. value is only about 2s. 6d. per dozen. Included in this item are hoes, which every man on the land must have.
– We are lucky that the dutv is not 170 per cent.
– If the honorable member can get any consolation from that fact, he is welcome to it. That, however, will not prevent me from protesting against this increase of duty from free British to 55 per cent. British, plus primage 10 per cent., plus exchange 33 per cent., and numerous other protective advantages. Cheap domestic hoes are being manufactured in Australia, and cost 26s. per dozen, whereas the imported article, which pays 10 per cent. duty, costs only 12s.6d. Hoes which are used by potato, onion and beet growers, are not being made here so far as can be ascertained, thus the imposition of this excessive duty represents a severe penalty upon our primary producers.
– Garden trowels are being manufactured by Plumb and Company, Sydney.
– But fully 50 different tools of trade are covered by sub-item a.
– Articles not manufactured in Australia may be admitted duty free under departmental by-laws. This is done every day. Consequently, local manufacturers who are making the implements covered by this item get the benefit of the tariff protection.
– I have already explained that the Australian cheap domestic hoe costs 26s. per dozen, whilst the imported article is sold at only 12s.6d. Many other tools, including spalling, saw-makers’ chip and scaling hammers, marling spikes, mattocks, picks, and plumb bobs are not being manufactured in Australia, and yet they are subject to these excessive duties.
It is true, as the Minister has stated, that if an importer is prepared to go on his hands and knees, and beg him to allow certain articles in free of duty, this “ Lord High Executioner “ may, in the exercise of the authority vested in him by this Parliament, graciously consent to the importer being allowed to carry on hia business.
– All the tools of trade covered by this item which are dutiable are being manufactured in Australia.
– Does the Minister say that taps and dies are made here?
– I protest against the general public being penalized by the high duties imposed under this item, and I object to the Minister being allowed to exercise such wide administrative power as to enable him to permit or prevent people from carrying on business in this free country.
.- There is provision in sub-item d for the admission of articles covered by this item free in the British tariff if they are not being manufactured in Australia. Before the tools referred to in sub-item a were included in the list of dutiable goods, an inquiry wasmade by a departmental investigation officer, who first satisfied himself that they were being made in Australian factories. Since the duties have been imposed, the output of local manufacturers is improving, but, owing to the prevailing depression, it is not so great as was anticipated. Nevertheless, one manufacturer has entered into a contract for the extension of his plant and buildings at an expenditure of £14,500. The prices of all lines have been reduced since the imposition of these duties, in some cases by as much as 35 per cent., and prices are the same in all capital cities in Australia. So much for the argument of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) that these duties represent a tremendous burden on the working man. All such statements are merely made for political purposes, and are without foundation. As regards stocks and dies, mentioned by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), the advent of the local manufacturer was the signal for drastic reductions in prices. Imported dies for certain sewing machine parts which, under a 10 per cent, duty were costing the Australian user £4 per set, are now quoted at 45s. per set under a duty of 75 per cent. This is a complete answer to opponents of the Government’s policy to effectively protect Australian manufacturers, and also is a welcome exposure of the methods of certain overseas manufacturers, who take an unfair advantage of the, users of these tools in countries where they are not called upon to meet local competition. Since the Australian factories were established, prices for all tools have come down, and importers have also been obliged to reduce their prices.
– I cannot accept as accurate the Minister’s statement that stocks and dies are made in Australia. Anybody possessing knowledge of the business knows that titer* is a very large range of taps and dies, and that to produce them in Australia the manufacturer must have machinery to make the different gauges. But, before thi3 business can be undertaken profitably, the maker must be assured of a far wider market than is available in Australia. I admit that anybody can make garden trowels and hoes, but I am quite sure that there are included in subitem a many tools which cannot be manufactured on a commercial basis in this country. The Minister has reminded us that if they are not being made here they may be admitted duty free under departmental by-laws. That provision is merely a pretence. The whole item ought to be amended so that tools which cannot be made in Australia shall be admitted duty free. Taps and dies vary in size. Some dies are very small, and some are very largo. They cannot be made in Australia, and the Minister should say so.
– They are. If stocks and dies arc not being made here they are admitted duty free under the British tariff.
– I know that; but nobody knows which classes of tools are admitted free and which are dutiable. The men who use these implements are highly skilled workmen, and under the item as it stands, they will have no option but to pay the higher prices which are demanded as a result of these duties.
– Prior to the imposition of these excessive duties, a first-class axe could be bought for 4s. To-day the lowest price is 10s. No one will deny that axes can be manufactured in. this country, but at what price? Because of these higher duties, every person who takes up land is penalized as the result of the higher prices charged for all his tools of trade. I am informed that there are approximately 30 different patterns of hoes, each of which is made in from four to eight different sizes, and although the local manufacturer produces not more than one or two lines satisfactorily, these excessive duties areimposed upon every size. The Minister states that stocks and dies are being made in Australia, but he does not claim that «i complete range will ever be produced here. The demand is so limited that no manufacturer would care to incur the expenditure necessary to install the necessary plant.
– The honorable member did not tell the committee that a good Australian axe costs only 5s. 6d.
– But I have said that before these duties were imposed a good axe could be bought for 4s. The best that the Minister can say in reply to that statement is that the Government is now giving the people the privilege of paying 5s. 6d. for an axe which they could previously purchase for about 4s.
– I referred to a good axe.
– Shovels are also covered by this item. Every one knows that it is absolutely essential for workmen, to have shovels. It is of little use for a man to go out looking for certain classes of work without a shovel. Shovels are not’ made in Australia to any extent. Britain is the home of shovel manufacturing. Shovels are made in very many different shapes and designs, and .are essential to the carrying on of primary production. I protest against our primary producer? being loaded with the cost of this extra duty. It is useless to attempt to do anything; but at least I intend to inform my fellow citizens that this Parliament is approving of these extremely heavy imposts. I hope that some notice will be taken of these remarks in another place, and that this item will come back to this chamber for further discussion.
.- I wish to remove a wrong impression that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) has been seeking to create. He said that the increased duties now being imposed upon axes have led to an advance in price from 4s. to 10s. for an ordinary axe. The fact of the matter is that the axes which our workmen use in the Australian bush are admitted free of duty under departmental by-law. I advise the honorable member to read the by-law. The axes referred to in this item are morticing axes.. The honorable member does not seem to know the difference between a morticing axe and a pole-axe; but he will probably -realize after the next election that there is a difference. Morticing axes are being made in Australia, and are therefore dutiable. The increase in the price of ordinary axes is not due to the duty, but to the policy of the importing friends of the honorable member.
Item agreed to.
Item 220 (Traps, dog and rabbit).
– The British preferential duty on rabbit traps is being increased from 20 per cent, to 45 per cent.; or 10s. per dozen whichever rate returns the higher duty. Taking into consideration the exchange rate, the primage duty, and natural protection in the shape of freight, insurance, and shipping charges, the effect of this impost will be that the local manufacturers of rabbit traps will enjoy a protection of 130 per cent.
– It is a scandal.
– In normal times, the rabbit trapping industry is of considerable value, for we export a large quantity of rabbit skins to Great Britain. In my opinion the existing duties are quite sufficient. We should not make the traps which are used by trappers more expensive than they need be. If the manufacturers of rabbit traps in Australia cannot maintain their industry with a protection of less than 130 per cent, they should go out of business. It is not fair to ask the rabbit trappers to pay the extra cost of the duty. Such an infliction upon them is entirely .unjustified. The price of rabbit skins ia to-day at a very low level, and if wa increase the cost of the traps we may prevent many of our unemployed peoplewho are trying to eke out a bare livingby trapping rabbits from following that occupation. It is absurd to impose a duty of 130 per cent, on rabbit traps, and I protest against it.
.- I wish at this point to repudiate the suggestion of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) that the silence of honorable members on this side of the chamber- implies their acquiescence in these absurd imposts.
– I did not mean to convey that impression; if I did so I ask the pardon of honorable members.
– I remind the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), who has constituted himself the champion protestant on this side of the chamber, that silence is sometimes more eloquent that speech. A dignified protest has been made against these duties by the leaders of the parties which sit on this side of the committee. They have expressed our conclusion that although these proceedings are the reductio ad absurdum of tariff-making, yet it appears entirely futile to attempt to move the Government. I wish to say for myself that my silence during the remainder of the debate on this schedule does not mean my acquiescence in the Government policy.
– It is the silence of disgust.
– I suppose I am entitled to express my disgust audibly.
– I do not suggest that the honorable member for Warringah is not thoroughly justified in voicing his disgust at these absurd impositions; but I wish to make it clear that, so far as I am concerned - and I believe that I am speaking for all honorable members on this side of the committee - silence does not give consent.
Item agreed to.
Division 7. - Oils, Paints, and varnishes.
Items 226 and 227 agreed to.
– Under this item the duty on residual oil and solar oil, n.e.i., is being increased from British1d., intermediate and general 1½d. per gallon, to British 4d., and intermediate and general 4½d. per gallon. The duty on this oil is of considerable importance to shipping generally. Solar oil is distinctly a fuel oil, which is valuable for burning in furnaces. The residual oil affected by the item is used in internal combustion engines of the diesel type. Although since the 27th March the duty on this oil has been 4d. per gallon British preferential and 4½d. per gallon general, provisionhas been made under departmental by-laws that it should be admitted duty free if used as fuel for powerpropelled vessels. I wish to ascertain whether solar oil used for fuel in vessels will be admitted under the old rate if this item is agreed to, and whether the operation of the by-law will be retrospective. I realize, of course, that a bylaw cannot be passed to deal with this particular item until it is ratified. At present the Customs Department is admitting the oil at the old rate. Will the Minister explain the policy that will be adopted if this item is agreed to?
– I move the following amendment -
That the itembe amended by omitting subitems (b) and (c), and inserting the following sub-items in place thereof: -
By omitting the whole of sub-item (b) (twice occurring) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item : - “ (b) Petroleum and shale products, viz.: -
Crude petroleum, residual oil, solar oil -
For use in the treatmentof metallic ores by the flotation process, as prescribed by departmental by-laws - British, free; intermediate, free; general, free.
For use as fuel provided that the recoverable petrol content* of crude petroleum does not exceed1 5 per cent., as prescribed by departmental by-laws - British, free; intermediate, free; general, free,
Foruse in the manufacture of gas, as prescribed by, departmental by-laws, per gallon - British,1d.; intermediate,1½.; general,1½d.
Crude petroleum, crude petroleum with a distillate from crude petroleum, and residual oil, for use in the production of petroleum products by distillation, as prescribed by departmental by-laws -
Having a recoverable petrol content* not exceeding 70 per cent. - British, free; intermediate, free; general, free.
Having a recoverable petrol content* exceeding 70 per cent. - On the total recoverable petrol content*, per gallon - British, 2d.; intermediate, 2d.; general, 2d.
Once-run distillate from crude petroleum for usein the production of petroleum products by distillation, as prescribed by departmental by-laws - On the total recoverable petrol content*, per gallon - British, 2d.; intermediate, 2d.; general, 2d.
Crude petroleum n.e.i., crude petroleum enriched with a distillate from crude petroleum n.e.i. -
Havinga recoverable petrol content* not exceeding 70 per cent., per gallon - British, 4d. ; intermediate, 4½d.; general, 4½d.
Having a recoverable petrol content* exceeding 70 per cent., per gallon - British, 7d.; intermediate, 7d.; general, 7d.
Once-run distillate from crude petroleum n.e.i.. per gallon - British, 7d. ; intermediate. 7d. ; general, 7d.
Residual oilf n.e.i. and solar oil n.e.i., per gallon - British, 4d. : intermediate, 4id. ; general, 4½d.”
Residual Oil for the purposes of this sub-Item shall be as defined by Departmental By-law.
- For the purpopes of this sub-Item the term “ recoverable petrol content” shall mean the quantity of petrol recoverable by distillation when the crude petroleum, crude petroleum enriched with a distillate from crude petroleum, residual oil or once-run distillate from crude petroleumis tested in conformity wth a method or methods prescribedby Departmental By-law.”
By omitting the whole of sub-item (c) (twice occurring) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item: - “(c) Petroleum and shale products, viz.: -
Naphtha, benzine, benzoline, gasoline, pentanc, petrol and any other petroleum or shale spirit -
1 ) In containers of less than 40 gallons capacity, per gallon - British, 8½d.; intermediate, 8½d.; general, 8½d.
Otherwise, per gallon - British, 7d. intermediate, 7d. ; general, 7d.
Provided that the rate of duty payable on any petroleum or shale products classifiable under paragraph (1) of this sub-item which were ordered before the 20th March, 1931, and which are entered for home consumption on or before the 30th April, 1931, shall be the rate provided in paragraph (2) of this sub-item.”
This alteration was made in the schedule tabled on the 29 th July, and it is necessary that it shall be incorporated in this schedule.
.- I do not wish to occupy the time of the committee in commenting upon the amendment which the Minister has just moved, as I understand that it is in general conformity with the recommendations of the Tariff Board. I have little or no protest to make regarding that aspect of the subject. I wish, however, to call attention to a very strong expression of opinion by the Tariff Board on the amount of protection afforded in this country to local refinery; 1 refer especially to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. I know that this Government did not establish the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. They were established years ago by the Hughes Administration, and various governments since then have continued the policy of that administration. But in view of the abnormal difference between the retail price of petrol in Australia and the wholesale f.o.b. price in the United States of America and other oilproducing countries, the time has surely come for us to cause a complete public investigation to be made into the cost of refining and distributing petrol in this country. Refining in Australia enjoys a protection through the various customs impositions, and an excise of 3d. a gallon on the refined product. The Tariff Board recommended that that 3d. should be reduced to l£d. per gallon. I am sure that that very remakable recommendation was not made without the deepest consideration and exploration of the facts by the Tariff Board, and it should not be lightly set aside by this committee..
It should not be necessary to emphasize the supreme importance of our obtaining petrol at the cheapest possible rate. Its price affects every conceivable cost of production and distribution in this wide continent. It is incredible to me that, if local refining is being conducted on business lines, there should be justification for the tremendous difference between the 2Ad. per gallon f.o.b. that is charged for refined petrol at American ports, and the selling price in Australian capitals of 2s. a gallon. In the country districts, the position bears still more heavily against the purchaser. For instance, at Canberra, the retail price of first-grade petrol is 2s. 6d., and as one goes further inland the price becomes higher. I am not certain, but I strongly suspect that for various reasons, the C.O-R. is not being conducted economically. I cast no reflection upon the management of the concern, whose refining is confined to one State, and because of the limitation of output the cost of refined petrol exported from Victoria is abnormally high. I believe that the C.O.R. was established in Australia with a view to control the price of petrol, to benefit the consumer, lt may have done so for a brief period, but I believe that the excessive cost of refining by the company is the main factor in keeping petrol prices at their present level. The relatively small amount of refining that is done by the company is used by the great importing companies to justify the exceptionally high price that the Australian user has to pay for petrol. I should not have spoken to the item had it not been for the very great importance of the matter. I urge the Prime Minister and the Minister to cause a complete investigation to be made into C.O.R.’s costs. In the past it was urged by governments that the costs of the C.O.R. should not be disclosed, because of the information that might be conveyed to the great importing companies. That plea should no longer be entertained.
– “What about an inquiry into the operations of the Shell Refining Company ?
– I include the Shell Company, but particularly, I want an inquiry that is open to the light of day into the detailed costs of this semigovernmental institution, the C.O.R. In that matter honorable members have a direct responsibility. Should it be that this semi-governmental concern is a positive factor in bolstering up the price of petrol in Australia, the matter is a very serious one, and it leaves the Government and honorable members generally responsible for the existing abnormal price of petrol here. I think that the discrepancy between the price of petrol in America and in the Commonwealth is due, on the part of the C.O.R., to inefficent and uneconomic business methods, and, on the part of the great importing companies, to sheer exploitation of the people of Australia. If the Government refuses to disclose the working costs of the C.O.R., then we cannot get at the big companies, as it is of no use our attacking those companies, and at the same time countenancing the high charges for the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited product. The starting point should be the fullest possible examination of the costs of this semigovernmental institution. If it be found that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is a responsible factor in the prevailing price levels, the sooner we rid ourselves of the encumbrance the better.
.- I listened with interest to the speeches of the honorable members for Henty (Mr. Gullett) and “Warringah (Mr. Parkhill). The latter raised the subject of the duty on solar oils. This schedule really provides for the free admission of solar oils for fuel purposes, and so soon as the schedule is ratified, a by-law will be issued permitting the entry of solar oil duty free.
Replying to the honorable member for Henty, the Government has already taken steps to investigate the costs of refining by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Two capable officers have been appointed to go into and report upon the . matter. When the Tariff Board made its recommendation that the differential rate should be 1-Jd. a gallon, thus increasing the excise from 4d. to 5£d. a gallon, and leaving the import duty at 7d., the manager of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited despatched an urgent telegram to me stating that if the 5£d. excise duty were imposed, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries would have to cease its operations immediately. In that company, of course, the Commonwealth Government has a half share. I shall not deal here with the wisdom or unwisdom of a past government in investing large sums of money in a concern such as the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. On that subject there is room for consider able diversity of opinion. The fact remains that up to the present the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has not brought about any reduction in the price of petrol in Australia. Personally, I believe that there should be a closer liaison between the Government and the management of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. It is true that the Government has had three representatives on the Board of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited since it was established in 1920, whereas the Anglo-Persian Oil Company has four representatives on the board, although it holds one less than half tho shares, but, apparently, it was never their function to make periodical reports to the Government on the management, costs, and future programme of that concern. The £375,001 invested by the Commonwealth Government in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited have not been earning any profit for the Government. Although the company has made substantial profits, these have gone back into the business in order to extend its organization. I remind honorable members that one of the partners in the concern is the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which presumably makes its profits on the sales of its crudes to the Commonwealth Oil Refinery.
It is evident from the figures submitted to the Tariff Board that the costs of refining the C.O.R. are very high. The petrol contents of the crude oil produced by different wells varies considerably; that from the Kettleman Hills wells in the United States of America being as high as 98 per cent. The Government realizes that it is necessary to ascertain whether the crudes used by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited have too low a petrol content; whether it would not pay to purchase others with a higher petrol content or enrich their crudes, thus reducing the refining costs. The petrol content of the crudes used by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited average 30 per cent., whereas those used by the Shell refinery at Sydney may go as high as 70 per cent. In March last the Government called for a report from its analyst as to the petrol content of certain crudes used by refining companies, the purpose being to prevent them from importing crudes with a petrol content as high as 98 per cent., with a resultant loss in customs revenue. The report was submitted to the Government, together with certain recommendations, which were adopted. Complaints were made by the companies, and the matter was further investigated by officers of my department, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Analyst, Melbourne. It was then found that the previous recommendation was impracticable, and a further one was submitted. I referred the whole matter to the Tariff Board for investigation and report. Thatreport has been received, and it is practically on all-fours with the last one submitted by officers of my department. The recommendations in regard to the excise duty differ as to whether it should be 4d. or 5½d. a gallon. That matter is being fully investigated. Evidently, the analyst in Melbourne who made the inquiry had in mind at first the petrol content of crudes that enter Victoria, which is much lower than that of the crudesthat are imported by the Shell Company in Sydney.
– Will the Minister consider the holding of a public inquiry, or the disclosure of all the costs of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries?
– I shall bring that suggestion before the Cabinet at its next meeting. Two very capable officers are to be appointed to make a thorough investigation of the whole question. Unfortunately, the representatives of the Commonwealth Government, both past and present, have not made any report to Parliament or to the Government on the workings of the company unless specially requested to do so on a specific phase of the industry. The information in regard to refining costs given by that and other companies to the Tariff Board was marked “ strictly confidential “, and the board was asked not to disclose it because its publication might benefit their competitors and militate against them.Up to the time that this Government came into office, there was no excise duty on petrol produced in Australia. The excise duty is now 4d. a gallon ; and the import duty has been increased from 3d. to 7d. a gallon. The investigation as to what should be the permanent differential rate is in the bands’ of two officers who have been appointed to go into the matter.
.- I move -
That the following be added to sub-item c of the proposed amendment: -
My object is to register a protest against the duties that have been proposed, which favour the bulk importation of petrol and oil, leaving the field open for exploitation of the whole Commonwealth by the large combined oil interests. This will create a tendency to force out of business small concerns that are at present operating in Australia, to increase unemployment, and to destroy every possibility of cheaper petrol for the consumers of Australia, and there is definite evidence of these tendencies in several directions. I and my colleagues consider that the present duties favour unduly the bulk importation of petrol and oil into Australia at the expense of the smaller interests and the general public. It is as well to have placed on record the opinion of the Independent Oil Importers Association, an organization that has its head-quarters in Melbourne. A letter on the subject, written by Mr. P.O. Spicer, pf that association, states -
On Monday, 27th July, the Major Oil Companie s reduced their price ofsecond grade petrol to the public by a penny per gallon. We have read long letters in the press from these same companies explaining the reason for their high charges, yet immediately the Government imposes an additional primage duty equivalent to¾d. per gallon and notwithstanding the extra duties, taxes and abnormal exchange rate, these companies can afford to reduce their prices! In the previous week these same companies raised the price of their lubricating oils 4d. per gallon on the plea that increased primage duty and sales tax necessitated such action! This does not seem logical to us and we anticipate that then; is another story behind the lowered cost of petrol. The Major Oil Companies, without exception, import petrol in tankers at a huge saving in cost. The Independent Oil Companies, being smaller concerns, import petrol in drums, which costs approximately 5d. per gallon more than when imported in tankers. We would suggest that an attempt is about to be made by the Major Oil Companies to influence the Government to increase the duty on petrol imported in drums and that thu Major Oil Companies have deliberately reduced their prices in order to encourage the Government to impose this duty. Yet the Independent Oil Companies by means of economical marketing have always sold below the “ arranged prices “ of the Major Oil Companies and this competition has always benefited the Australian motoring public by keeping down the Major Companies’ prices and incidentally profits. For this reason the Major Oil Companies have been trying to eliminate the Independents for many years.
It has been urged that the giving of preferential treatment to the bulk, importation of oil would increase employment, by enlarging the activities of the case-making industry. There is no evidence that is in any way tangible that such increased employment would be given in that direction. The opinion of the Independent Oil Importers Association in connexion with the matter may well be considered. It is in the following terms : -
A short while ago, the Government was induced to increase the duty on petrol, imported in cases, to 8id. per gallon, on the grounds that this action would “ help the Australian case-makers “. We challenge the case-makers to prove that they have collectively obtained any increased business since this duty was imposed. The result of the duty has simply caused the cessation of cased petrol imports, which averaged nearly 5,000,000 cases per annum, to the detriment of the Independents and the public who appreciated t1 is convenient package’.
The second point that we have to consider concerns the small companies to whom I have referred. In considering it, we may well take into account the report and recommendations of the Tariff Board on petrol imported in containers, together with the summary of evidence that is to be found on pages 10 and 11 of the report, which is dated Melbourne, the 6th November, 1930. The evidence given by 34 Australian-owned concerns was in opposition to the duty. The inquiry conducted by the board clearly showed that the effect of the duty would be to drive all of those firms out of the business, because case petrol would be too costly to compete with bulk petrol.
The next point to be considered is the effect upon employment of the importation of bulk petrol under favoured conditions. It is claimed by competent authorities that, in the handling of petrol in cases, 3,000 cases will provide twenty men with employment a3 wharf labourers for fifteen hours each, in addition to 40 carters and twelve storemen and packers for sixteen hours each. On the basis of 15,000 cases, twenty men would be employed as wharf labourers for 30 hours, 40 as carters for 32 hours,,and 80 as storemen and packers for 30 hours. One of the industrial organizations chiefly, and detrimentally, affected by the proposals of the Government is the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia. We should consider their views, as they have been expressed by themselves. In a letter that we have received, Mr. W. J. Mills, vigilance officer of the federation, Sydney, first complains that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) went behind the backs of his own colleagues by tabling, at the end . of a session, the regulation increasing the duty on oil in containers of less than 40 gallons, after he had promised his own party that it was not his intention to increase it, by an amount of 1½d. a gallon in excess of the duty imposed on bulk oil imported into the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member is quite wrong when he says that the duty on petrol in cans and cases was imposed behind the backs of my colleagues. That was a Cabinet decision, which was made for the purpose of giving effect to the recommendation of the Tariff Board. The big oil companies wanted the duty to apply to petrol in drums as well as in cans and cases, or, in the alternative, that it should not be imposed at all. We decided against them, by confining it. to petrol imported in cans and cases. That action was taken at the request of the Sheet-metal Workers Union, and a number of members of the Government party who interviewed me on the subject.
– It is claimed that the duty was deferred in the first instance until the 1st June ; but, nevertheless, was tabled and became operative on the 1st May. It is considered that the Minister acted wrongly in rushing the tabling of the duty in that way. It has been pointed out that orders for shipments to arrive in Australian ports prior to the 1st June were, as a result of that action, penalized to the extent of the new duty, with consequent loss to the importers of small packages, to whom I have referred. I shall now resume the reading of the letter from Mr. Mills. He says -
The Minister knew quite well what effect it would have on all maritime unions. He was informed that it would not only create further unemployment, but would be the means of many overseas vessels being withdrawn from the Australian trade. These vessels are coal-burning, as against the oil tankers, which ure oil-burners, and do not require the thousands of tons of coal which must bc purchased in Australia. To that extent thousands nf miners are affected by this lid. per gallon extra duty on oil in containers. One oil tanker will do the work of 50 other vessels i loaded with part cargoes of oil and other general cargo, so you will be able to judge the amount of revenue the Commonwealth and the various States is losing, with lighthouse charges, pilot charges, wharfage charges, tugboats, waterside workers, storemen, trolly and dray men and other workers necessary in the handling of oil in containers, as against bulk oil, which is pumped out and only three men arc required, and the oil is sent out to the various depots in bulk, and very little labour is engaged in the handling of it. Then there is a very important matter, that of the small oil firms, who cannot compete with the oil combines, owing to the fact that they cannot handle their oil in bulk, which would cost very many thousands of pounds. These small firms cannot import oil in containers at a cost of lid. per gallon more than the combine can import into the Commonwealth. Owing to Mr. forde, many Australian oil firms in a small way are almost already out of business through this unfair treatment, and a great number of their employees have been discharged.
That letter embodies the views of the members of the federation in every port in Australia. In another communication a Melbourne firm, Messrs. Watt and Company, on behalf of the small importers, ‘^rnakes the following statement : -
Has the Government ever thought of imposing a special duty on petrol imported in hulk? It seems an extraordinary thing to us that these monopolists have had everything their own way, whereas, in effect, they should hu penalized. The importation in bulk means an almost complete negation of employment,, as all that has to be done on the arrival of the vessel is to turn on the tap and connect it with their tanks, whereas the independents employ wharf labourers, carriers, storemen, and numerous other allied trades.
Altogether, an overwhelming case has been established in support of the contention that the passage of the duties now proposed will tend to increase unemployment at a time when it is a growing menace throughout the Commonwealth. I strongly urge upon the Government the desirability of accepting my amendment.
.- In this matter the Government accepted the Tariff Boards’ recommendation, which was against the wishes of the major oil companies. When this Ministry came into office, representations were made to it for the imposition of a duty on petrol imported in cans, cases and drums to bring about the manufacture of those containers in Australia, to prevent their importation from the United States of America, and their use in Australia as “ empties “ in competition with the product of cask and can manufacturers in this country. I think that the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) was Minister for Trade and Customs at the time, and the Government put a deferred duty on petrol brought in in cans, cases and drums, the duty to operate from the 1st May, 1930. As Acting Minister for Trade and Customs I referred the whole matter to the Tariff Board for investigation and report. The board went into it carefully, took evidence in all the States, and recommended that the duty should be levied on petrol imported in cans and cases, but not on petrol imported m drums. The reason given was that factories in Australia were making cans and cases, but not drums. It was pointed out that in order to retain employment for the Australian factories, it was desirable to adopt that course, because a duty on petrol brought in in drums v/ould eliminate the independent oil importers who brought in the bulk of their petrol in those containers. For verification of this I would refer honorable members to ;page 16 of the Tariff Board’s report, dated the 6th November, 1930. The drums arc of 44 gallons capacity, and that is why the schedule before the House, in order to eliminate petrol in 44-gallon drums from the duty, refers to containers of 40 gallons and under.
A number of deputations were received by the Government on this subject. Mr. J. D. Marriott, secretary of the Sheet Metal Workers Union, of Sydney, and Mr. E. Voight, assistant secretary of the Trades and Labour Council, Sydney, and secretary of the Tariff Committee of the Trades and Labour Council, were present at a deputation which waited on the honorable member for Maribyrnong and myself on the 23rd July, 1930. The following interests, were also present: - Richard Hughes Ltd., Union Box Coy., Sydney, Sheet Metal Workers Union of Australia, canister makers Adelaide, Fremantle and Melbourne, Queensland Can Coy. Ltd., Timber Workers Union, representatives of Melbourne and Queensland case manufacturers, Labour councils, Sydney, and the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. Mn. Marriott, supporting the request that the duty be imposed on petrol in drums,’ us well as in cans and cases, said -
Relative to thu manufacture in Australia of cans and drums, in my experience 1 can any that there are numbers of firms all over Australia that have been turning out the 4- gallon containers, and can still do so. So far as the manufacture of drums is concerned, any decently-equipped metal shop turns those drums out. If the extra duty is to be put on them, the members of my organization will benefit; it would mean the employment of hundreds of our members who are at present unemployed.
At the same deputation, Mr. Voigt said -
So far as we are concerned, we believe a larger number of people would be found work if the duty were put on than if the duty were deferred. I would like you also to bear in mind that when any new tariff policy is inaugurated by the Government, it is bound to hit somebody if it is effective. That is the viewpoint of the Labour Council, and the Minister should assess, as well as he can, the amount of work that would be involved if the duty is put into operation as against what loss there may be with the waterside workers and the transport workers in their case. We are convinced that a larger number of people would be found work if the duties were put into operation.
M r. M. B. Duffy, general secretary of the Trades Hall Council, Melbourne, at the an me deputation, said that he was putting the point of view of the Victorian timber workers and the Victorian sheet metal workers, at whose request he was pre- -ii-ni at the deputation. He strongly urged that the duty be imposed on petrol in fans and cases, as well as on petrol in drums. In specially stressing the need to put the duty on petrol in cans and cases, he said -
I have had considerable negotiations with tho C.O.R. regarding the carrying out of this work wit): in the country, and they have told us on more than one occasion that the demand for local cases is falling off. I want to press forward the claim this deputation is making.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong, who was then in charge of the Trade and Customs Department, said that as there was a considerable conflict of opinion and interest on the matter, the Tariff Board might have to. consider the whole subject and submit a recommendation to the Government. The matter was later referred to the Tariff Board by me when I was Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, and the board, as stated previously, took evidence in all States, and submitted a recommendation that the duty be imposed on cans and cases, which recommendation the Government adopted.
Another deputation waited on me on the 19th February last. It was introduced by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), and the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), and it was urged that the deferred duty should operate on petrol imported in drums as well as on petrol in tins and cases. Al this deputation the following were represented: - The Chambers of Manufactures of all States, except Tasmania; the Victorian Box and Can Makers Association ; the Canister and Drum Manufacturers of all States, except Tasmania; and the Sheet Metal Workers Unions of Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. They all stressed the advisability of putting the duty on petrol imported in drums, as well as on petrol imported in tins and cases. The big oil companies want the duty imposed in both cases or in neither. Placing the duty on petrol brought in in tins and cases only force? concerns such as the Texaco, Atlantic Union and Vacuum Oil companies to provide for their can and case, trade by placing orders for those containers locally, whereas they could otherwise obtain supplies at cheaper rates from America They said that if the duty were put on petrol entering Australia in drums as well as in cans and Cases they would place orders for all those containers locally, but if they could not get it on both kinds ofcontainers they wanted it on neither The Government, in deciding to put . the duty only on petrol imported in cans and cases, in conformity with the recommendation of the Tariff Board, acted contrary to the request of the big oil companies.
On the 19th November, 1930, Mr. Cornforth, managing director of the Vacuum Oil Company, Mr. Darch, of the Shell Company, and Mr. Ryan, of the Atlantic Union Company, waited on the honorable member for Maribyrnong and myself, and made strong representations in favour of the duty being imposed on petrol imported in drums, as well as on petrol in tins and cases. They declared that, failing the duty going on petrol in drums as well as petrol in cans and cases they would prefer it to go on neither. So much for the statement that the major oil companies wanted the duty to go on petrol in cans and cases. I have also had interviews from representatives of the Sheet Metal Workers Unions in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, pointing out that the canister factories obtained large contracts from certain big oil companies for the manufacture of cans that were formerly imported. One order was for 250,000 4-gallon cans. The Tariff Board pointed out that if the duty were, put on petrol in drums, it would have the effect of wiping out the independent oil importers, while the imposition of the duty on petrol imported in cans and cases would protect the local manufacturers, put more trade their way, and still leave the independent oil importers in operation.
– Whenever petrol is mentioned, all honorable members become exceedingly alert. In my opinion, the public of this country demand that the Commonwealth Government, either on its own initiative, or in conjunction with the State Governments, should have the oil business investigated from top to bottom. The public will not be satisfied with mere tariff arrangements, regarding which there are conflicting views. Notwithstanding the statement just made by the Minister, certain representations were made to me, both before and after I relinquished charge of the’ Customs Department, and the evidence regarding the effect of the duties on employment in Australia is so conflicting that it is most difficult to determine the merits of the case. A large number of persons have been deprived of employment because of the duty placed on petrol imported in containers.
– There is no doubt about that.
– Quite so. The Minister has stated that employment has been provided in Australia in the manufacture of petrol tins. I understand that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has made its cans here ever since it began refiningpetrol in Australia. I have in my possession a white paper, issued by the British Government, showing that althoughoil is not produced in Great Britain, it is conveyed long distances from London to various parts of the United Kingdom, and sold at most reasonable prices. Its association with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company is much more satisfactory than ours-. I am not saying anything against the company, but merely pointing out that the British Government is in the happy position that, during the war, it purchased £6,000,000 worth of debentures in the company, and has since then, been more than repaid for the money invested. The association of the British Government with that company has had a steadying effect on the prices charged for petrol to the consumer. I had been hopeful that by means of joint action between the Australian governments and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, we might have been able to have prices reduced in this country. It ‘is well known that years ago an attempt was made by the major oil companies operating in Australia to levy toll on the consumers of petrol, but that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Company came to the rescue and, by refusing to raise its price, forced the other companies to reduce theirs within a few weeks. I understand that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Company is now associated with the other four major companies operating here. I do not agree with the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) that any inquiry into the affairs of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries should be public.
– It would be useless otherwise.
– I do not agree with that. The Commonwealth Government is financially interested in the company, and if it possesses any trade secrets there is no reason why they should be given away. Our object could be achieved by making a close investigation into the operations of the company.
– If the company’s methods are bad, there could be no objection to exposing them.
– No, but in the process, we might injure a concern in which the taxpayers are interested to the extent of £250,000.
– Is the investment worth while ?
– Up to the present it has been. I have always looked upon our association with the oil business as a means of preventing the exploitation of the public.
– Is it having thateffect ?
– Not now, I am afraid. The public, knowing the prices at which petrol is sold in other parts of the world, will not be satisfied with anything short of a complete inquiry into petrol costs from the oil well to the garage.
– The supply of petrol should not be left to a monopoly.
– I agree with the honorable member. When I was in Vancouver, a deputation pointed out to me that the imposition of a duty on petrol in. containers might lead to the restriction of shipping services between the western ports of Canada and the United States of America and Australia. Vessels were going direct from United States of America ports to the unloading points in Australia as far north as Cairns. I am in some doubt at the moment as to , how I should vote on this matter. I feel much more inclined to vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) than for that of the Minister.
– My proposal does not go so far as that of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) when he was Minister. He proposed to put a duty on drums, as well as on cans and cases.
– The whole question was referred by me to the Tariff Board. If I think it proper, I am not afraid to lay myself open to a charge of inconsistency. If one receives conclusive proof that a certain line of action is right, there is no harm in changing one’s opinion. When I was Minister, I received a deputation from country users of petrol protesting against high prices. One large deputation told me that, if the small petrol-importing firms were wiped out, petrol users in the back-blocks would be at the mercy of the great combines. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) stated that petrol-users in Canberra were compelled to pay 6d. a gallon more than was charged in the capital cities. I am prepared to entertain favorably any proposal which may have the effect of reducing petrol prices. We must keep the big petrol companies in check. I know the two officers of the Customs and Audit Departments who are conducting the investigation into petrol prices, and they are good men. They will do all they can; but they have not the power to go into the matter as fully as would be possible if the Commonwealth and State governments co-operated in prosecuting a full inquiry.
.- The Minister referred to the recommendation of the Tariff Board in regard to this item. I have here an extract from the Tariff Board’s report of 6 th November, 1930, on the proposed duty on petrol containers, and I ask the Minister whether it is correct. It is as follows : -
While not suggesting exploitation on the part of the major companies, the board consider! it desirable that the competition ‘which has hitherto been brought about by the operations of independent importers should be preserved.
If that is what the hoard -recommended, why has not its recommendation been respected in the preparation of the present tariff schedule?
– The honorable member has correctly quoted an extract from the Tariff Board’s report; but the board also said in the same report that the imposition of a duty on petrol cans and cases would not result in the wiping out of independent importers; and that, in the interests of employment in Australia, there should b’e a duty on cans and cases, but not on drums.
– The board’s predirection has been falsified by events. 1 have moved an amendment on behalf of the honorable member for West Sydney, the leader of our party (Mr. Beasley), and every member of our group supports it. Very strong repre- sentations on this matter have been made to us in Sydney by federal industrial organizations, which express the opinion of workers in every port of Australia. Mr. Mills, of the Waterside Workers Federation, has expressed the opinion in a letter that only the large oil companies have benefited as a result of the duty imposed by the Federal Government.
– The large oil companies want us to remove the duty on cans and cases.
– I hope that the Minister will see his way to accept my amendment. Is it likely that a monopoly, which finds it profitable to import oil in bulk, should desire to abandon that form of transport after the oil has been landed at Australian ports? Is not every one familiar with the bulk motor truck delivery service of the monopoly oil interests?
– “Nearly all the big oil companies, which have not their own factories here making oil containers, have been getting such containers made abroad, and have been importing oil in them. That applies to the Texaco Company, the Atlantic Union Company, and the Vacuum Oil Company. The duty has had the effect of causing these companies to place orders with Australian firm3 for the manufacture of containers.
– The evidence is overwhelming that the new duties are operating in favour of the big companies, which have been responsible for highpriced petrol and for the closing down of the small concerns, with the result that hundreds of workers have been thrown out of employment, and have remained unemployed. If the Governmentwishes to relieve unemployment, which it should recognize to be a national menace, it should accept my amendment, the purpose of which is to provide employment for those who have been thrown out of work as a result of the new duty.
.- I have taken a great interest in petrol prices, and particularly in the matter of the deferred^ duty imposed on petrol containers. When I was a member of the Labour party, I made many representations to the -present Minister on the subject. In my opinion, the Government has treated the small oil companies most unfairly in the matter of this deferred duty. When it was first imposed, it was deferred for three months, and in February last the three-monthly period was about to expire. When I brought the matter up’ in caucus, the Minister for Trade and Customs took me Outside, and said that he would defer the duty for another three months, and that when Parliament met at the end of February it would be abolished. Before I left the party, the Minister extended the deferment for three months, thus intimating to the small oil companies that they might order supplies from abroad, and have them cleared before the duties became operative. A Minister may table a tariff schedule to-day,# and another to-morrow altering the duties. I am not caviling at that, but in this instance the Minister gave a distinct promise, which was published in a gazettal notice, that from the 1st March to the 1st June these goods could be imported at the ordinary rate of duty. Yet, in spite of that, before half .of the three months had expired, the Minister issued instructions that the duties were to become operative.
– And in spite of the fact that on the 17th April, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) drew pointed attention to the whole matter.
– This is a most unsavoury affair. Many small oil companies were ruined. They ordered supplies from abroad, and while the petrol was on the high seas, the new duty came into operation. It was useless for them to appeal to the Minister, or to point out that he had broken his word. They could not even get a sympathetic hearing, and had no chance whatever of obtaining a rebate of duty. That is the position as it exists to-day.
Sitting suspended from 12.U5 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have referred to the Minister’s repudiation of the notice published in the Commonwealth Gazette that the duty would be deferred for three months, and to his definite promise that the duty would be repealed when Parliament met. In confirmation of that very definite statement, I shall read the following letter, dated 13th March, which
I sent to the secretary of the Vigilance Committee in Sydney : -
I am in receipt of your letter of the 9th instant, and can assure you I have already strongly urged the repeal of this duty. Apart from the work expected, I am opposed to give the petrol kings a complete monopoly in the sale of oil. Mr. Forde has promised me the deferred duty will be repealed.
I have also a copy of a letter written by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) to that committee in which, after stating that he would oppose the duty, he said : “ The Minister has promised to repeal the duty, and should he go on with it I will oppose it.” Those letters are dated the 11th and 19th March respectively, and show that I am not trusting to memory in the matter. A definite promise was made, and now the Minister, in the interests of the big foreign combines, bus broken his word, which has resulted in ruining one or two small companies. Men who acted in the belief that the Minister’s word was his bond sent their orders abroad ; but about six weeks after the notice appeared in the Commonwealth Gazette and the oil was on the water the Minister suddenlv terminated the arrangement and landed these persons in a most unfortunate position. The Minister has stated that this duty is being imposed in order to provide employment. That I absolutely deny. In defending the proposition before a deputation that was introduced to him by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), who asked for a duty on cases and drums, the Minister contended that it would be the means of providing employment. I should like the honorable member for Flinders to tell the wharf labourers in his proposed new constituency at Port Melbourne that he intends to vote for the imposition of a duty on petrol in cases as a means of providing them with employment. Every one knowsthat in the matter of unloading the big oil steamers do not provide any employment on the wharfs as the cargo, which is discharged by pipes, can, from an average sized vessel, be unloaded within two hours. A small vessel, carrying, say, 15,000 cases of petrol, provides from 15 to 30 hours work each for 78 wharf labourers, carters and storemen. That is not a bad day’s work for 78 men. Yet, the Minister has the cool audacity to say that these duties are brought in to provide employment. They will have the effect of closing up every small company and wilh result in the dismissal and dispersal of their staffs. It will not mean the employment of an extra man by the big combines, which, with the means at their disposal, will be able to completely eliminate all competition. The farmers in Victoria have always been able to purchase petrol in cases at from1½d. to 2d. a gallon less than the prices charged by the major companies. Again and again they have called for tenders, but they have never been able to get petrol a fraction of a penny cheaper from the big companies. The smaller concerns were always willing to supply it at from1½d. to 2d. a gallon cheaper.
– Both duties are applicable after the oil has been landed.
– It is all very well for the Minister to say that petrol in drums is imported without an added duty. Let me poi nt out that there are thousands of users of petrol who cannot afford to buy a drum of petrol, which costs a considerable sum of money. They can afford to purchase a case, and that is as much as their purse will allow them to buy at a time.
– It can be obtained from the local storekeeper.
– How much does a drum contain?
– About 40 gallons. Apart from the injury to the smaller companies, these duties will have a most serious effect upon the users of petrol in Northern Queensland. Vessels coming from America with consignments of timber and other cargo, and which call at ports as far up as Cairns, will have to discontinue in the service if consignments of case oil are not available. These statements have been made by certainsmall companies, and I believe them to be true. I expect the amendment moved by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) will be carried. I have good reason to believe that it will. I trust that the Government Whip will not arrange pairs for any of these gentle men. I have a letter from the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones), offering his strong support for a reduction. I have also received similar communications from the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), and the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge). One of the strongest opponents of the Government’s proposal was the present Minister for Repatriation and Health (Mr. McNeill). No man is more capable of answering the statements of the Minister in the matter of giving employment than that gentleman. Mr. McNeill gathered all the information and supplied me with a good deal of valuable matter. He is bitterly opposed 1 6 these duties, and I expect him to vote in accordance with the statements he made prior to becoming a member of the Ministry. The Minister spoke of deputations of trade union secretaries coming to Canberra on several occasions. I should like to ask those trade union secretaries who paid their expenses to Canberra and who was behind the proposition they were supporting. I guarantee that the trade-unionists’ organizations did not pay their expenses. Many trade unionists’ organizations are bitterly opposed to these duties, and two or three trade union secretaries gave evidence before the Tariff Board against them. That proves conclusively that fewer men will be given employment if these duties remain operative. I trust that a majority of the committee will vote against the Government’s proposal.- In conclusion, I should like to say that I was associated with the party opposite for many years; and I little thought I would see it standing up in defence of the interests of foreign monopolists and exploiting the users of oil in this country.
– And I little thought that I would see the honorable member associated with the Nationalists.
– At any rate, I am associated with a party that is game enough to stand up against the monopolists of this country. I did not think that it would ever be my duty to. stand »i this corner and attack honorable members opposite for defending the oil monopolists operating in Australia. The subject of oil is at present most unsavoury. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) said that the oil sold in Australia is bought in America at approximately 3^ cents.
– Recently a number of American oil wells were closed down.
– Yes, apparently because there was no market for the product. Notwithstanding this, we are still being exploited by the big importing oil companies. The small companies;, which are not strong financially, are trying to keep down prices, but a Labour government is giving added protection to foreign monopolists! I trust that the Government’s proposals will be defeated in the interests of those who are looking for work, the farmers, and the general users of petrol in this country.
– I support the amendment. Petrol in containers is used almost entirely by persons living in the outback parts of Australia; city- users are able to obtain the benefit of the services provided by the distributors. This is another instance in which people in the outback parts of Australia have to pay more for what they require in order tq provide employment for a com.paratively small number in the city. For instance, in The electorate of Kalgoorlie, which i3 larger than the State of Victoria, practically all the petrol is transported in containers, for which the- users have to pay an enhanced price merely for the benefit of certain small factories -in other parts of Australia. We have been informed that the Vacuum Oil Company proposes to spend something like £1,000,000 in erecting a new plant, but the company naturally expects that amount of capital to be returned by the users of petrol. Those settled ;in the more remote parts of the Commonwealth are performing a national work, and should not be further penalized. The adoption of these proposals means transferring a good deal of the business in crude petroleum from the Netherlands to the United States pf America, which is contrary to the policy of honorable members opposite. We should encourage reciprocal trade by doing business with those countries which trade with us. It would appear that in this instance the trade unionists have disagreed as to who is to receive the spoils. Some are in favour of additional work being provided, for those employed in box and can factories, and others wish the work to be given to those on the waterfront. For the first time the “ wharfies,” through their representative, are asking for a reduction in the duties. The Minister referred to the representations which have been made to him. Honorable members must have been struck by the fact that those pushing for this duty and squabbling amongst themselves have been the trade unionists, on the one hand, and on the other the big oil companies - these old vicious combines that have such an extraordinary hold upon this Government. Those are the only two sections for which this Government has any consideration. I did not hear anything in the Minister’s speech in advocacy of the claims of the users of petrol. According to the Minister, they appear to be the last persons who should receive consideration. I also recognize that some of our friends on the other side of the chamber who are supporting this amendment may have in view the possibility of assisting their friends in Russia. There is every likelihood of getting petrol from Russia.
– Is them;.;., any thing wrong with that? *P^-‘
– I’ did not object to it so long as we get it at a reasonable price. Petrol is one of the few good thing3 we can get from Russia. While it may be well to scrutinize the motives of those who are supporting the amendment, I gladly accept support for any amendment the purpose of which is to reduce customs duties, and particularly to afford relief to the unfortunate people in the back parts of Australia who are so hard hit by the general incidence of this tariff.
– I am supporting the amendment moved by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge), and I agree with the sentiments expressed by the honorable member and by the representative of the Waterside Workers Federation, who has pointed out that the effect of the present duty has been to bring about the withdrawal of quite a number of vessels from the Australian trade, and thus cause misery and starvation to many thousands of waterside workers throughout Australia. No class in the community has suffered more acutely as the result of the tariff impositions of this Government than the waterside workers. Vessels that came to Australia loaded with freight now come half loaded, and do not require anything like the number of men formerly employed to “discharge and load them. They come into a port and leave the same day. The misery one can see on the waterfront of Sydney is harrowing. At one time in point of tonnage and employment of labour on the waterfront Sydney was one of the first five ports of the world, but now its glory has departed. “ Change and decay” have taken its place. The extraordinary feature of this matter is that a Labour government should be found to be bolstering monopolists. The committee has now under consideration a proposal to dig down deep into the pocket of every user of petrol for an exorbitant price to put into the pockets of the five major millionaire oil companies in Australia, mostly of American origin. Surely the appeal of the wharf labourer to get some work to do will not fall on deaf ears.
– Not only the wharf labourer but the carter and the storeman.
– Yes; men employed in all the cognate trades germane to the one under consideration. Surely an appeal on their behalf will not fail to have some influence on . those who claim to be the chief custodians of their interests. Honorable members opposite say that their first object is to further the interests of their own class, yet in this instance they are prepared to discriminate against their own class in favour of the five major oil companies in Australia. In Reuters Commercial News it has been stated that the oil and petrol that we use and for which we pay from 2s. to 2s. 6d. a gallon is produced and sold in the United States of America at less than 3 cents per gallon. It is sold all over North America, at a small addition to the 3 cents. It is the people of Australia out of whom the oil companies are making their profits. All tho principal newspapers of Australia re- cently announced that so much petrol is being produced in America that certain steps have had to be taken to limit production. A number of the wells have been sealed to curtail the supply of oil and petrol. Yet the Commonwealth Government makes no investigation into the matter; it makes no representations on behalf of the general public or the workers. On the contrary, it uses its tariff proposals to assist the big oil companies to increase their monstrous and outrageous demands and impositions upon the people of Australia. It was thought that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited would afford some protection to the people of this country, but it has failed to do so. I suggest to the Government that it is time some investigation was made as to why the Commonwealth representatives on the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited Board, exSenator Findley, and others, arc doing nothing to protect the interests of the Australian public. They have, apparently, only one interest, and that is to draw fees.
– The honorable member suggests a searching investigation ?
– Yes, and a searching public investigation. Tho major oil companies have no greater friends in this country than the Ministry and those who support this particular item of the tariff. I have heard no justification for the item. The Minister made a long, rambling statement, consisting, in the main, of extraneous references and irrelevancies, but he did not once touch on the kernel of the position, or refer to that which has been agitating the mind of every user of petrol in Australia - why this essential, which costs so little in the country of its production, should cost so much in Australia. I support as strongly as I can the suggested reduction of the duty, and the purpose of the amendment, which is to provide some employment for the waterside workers of Australia.
.- It has been my opinion for many years that the users of petrol in Australia have been paying too much, and if it is true, as the honorable member has stated, that petrol is sold in America for 3 cents a gallon,
I can see no justification for the high prices charged in Australia. Petrol imported in containers was a small check on the big oil companies, because, as explained by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), primary producers could buy petrol in containers at a cheaper rate than was .charged by the big oil importers. One would imagine that it would be the other way about - that the major companies could supply more cheaply than the importers of petrol in containers. But the Competition of this petrol sold in containers was irritating to the big companies. It prevented them from reigning supreme. This additional duty of 1-J-d. per gallon has removed that competition and allowed the big concerns to attain their wish to reign supreme iu the petrol world, and to charge the consumers whatever they please. I am opposed to the building up of wealthy monopolies. It is no wonder, that these companies are wealthy when they charge not less than 2s. 2d. n gallon for petrol which can be sold in America at 3 cents a gallon. It ha3 been said that the effect of the proposed duties will be to provide work for makers of cases and cannisters. Any one with eyes must be aware of the means adopted by the big oil companies of Australia to distribute petrol in bulk throughout the country towns. Their plea that further work will be provided by preventing the importation of petrol in cases is, therefore, mere camouflage. The little work that may be given to tho makers of canisters and cases will bc more than offset by the work taken from the wharf labourers. The unloading of a consignment of case petrol employed 100 men for two or three days, but a bulk shipment can be unloaded in two or three hours. The imposition of this additional duty is giving more to those who already have much. I agree that a searching investigation into the operations of the big oil companies should be conducted ; a reduction in the price of petrol is long overdue. I support the amendment because I realize that the little competition which it will facilitate will impose some check on the operations of the big companies.
– I had not the advantage of hearing the
Minister’s opening statement, but I quite agree with what has “been said by the honorable members for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) and Indi (Mr. Jones). The people of this country have long been anxious to know why the price of petrol has risen to such an exorbitant figure. The Minister has made no attempt to deny the statement that the price of petrol in America, making due allowance for the difference between the American and Imperial gallon, is about 3d., as” compared with from ls. 2d. to ls. 3d. in Australia, after deducting duty and retailers’ profit. The honorable member for Warringah drew attention to another fact that is agitating the minds of the Australian people. Many years ago, at my suggestion, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was formed for the purpose of assuring to. the people an adequate supply of petrol from British sources, and I have been very much disturbed in mind, as others have been, to see this company marching hand in hand with those whom it was designed to check and correct. That is an anomaly that requires explanation. If it be said .that there is no understanding between Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and the other big companies, language has lost its meaning. Is it mere coincidence that year after year the price of Commonwealth Oil Refineries’ spirit keeps pace with the price of American oil, rising when American oil rises, and falling when American oil falls? The source from which the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited derives its crude oil is entirely distinct from the sources of American crude oil. Yet, although the raw material used by Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is sold to the British Navy at approximately 5d. a gallon or less, we in Australia are unable to buy the finished product below the price fixed by the five major oil companies. It is true that one of these five is not American, but it is equally true that these companies have parcelled out the world among themselves. Some countries are allotted to the Shell group; others to the American group. No doubt competition is maintained in those territories which are still in dispute, but over the greater part of the world they work amicably together to the great and lasting disadvantage of vast numbers of motorists. Australia, however, is their paradise; into it no serpent enters. The honorable members for Indi and Warringah referred to the work of which the waterside workers have been deprived. Huge tankers discharge a consignment of bulk oil in. a few hours. In America the oil is poured into the tanks, and in Australia it is drawn off; very little labour is employed. Having regard to the present state of the national exchequer and Australian industry, does the Minister contend that, in this age in which industry is largely dependent upon the internal combustion motor, the price of petrol is not a serious, often fatal, handicap to progress? We know how it affects the waterside workers, but what of the manufacturers and the men on the land? The latter are urged time and again to bring their methods up to date; they do so, but are dependent upon American petrol for the means of taking off their crop. The oil companies stand at the gate and levy toll on every human being in this country, and that corporation which was established for the purpose of safeguarding the interests of our people, and over which the Government has supreme control, might, for all the practical use it is, have its habitat in New York or some other American city. There is another aspect of this problem. Those who have read the admirable report of Dr. Woolnough, Commonwealth Geologist, are aware that he is convinced that oil in payable quantities exists in Australia. While Australia is filled with unemployed and the persons who have money and are the mainspring of industry are taxed so heavily that they have nothing left to carry on industrial enterprise and so provide employment for idle hands, under our feet are wells of incalculable wealth which require only to be located and tapped. Although the Government is assured by Dr. Woolnough, after a prolonged visit to America, that oil in commercial quantities is to be found in Australia, not one penny is being provided for prospecting on the lines which he suggested. On the one hand is the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, an enterprise in being, that walks submissively hand in hand with the American oil companies and obeys their slightest behest. On the other hand, are subterranean supplies of oil which, if tapped, would invigorate this country and enable us to be independent of the United States of America, All that we require is £25,000 or £50,000 for prospecting. Not one penny can we get; but the oil companies can get all that they ask for. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark.
– There was so when the right honorable gentleman was Prime Minister.
– I established the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited.
– It joined the combine, and the right honorable gentleman made it absolutely impossible for the Government to control it.
– What nonsense ! “ The Lord gave “ and the Lord can take away.
– The right honorable gentleman handed over Australia body and soul to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
– The honorable member, when addressing his constituents at the last election, spoke of the wonderful things that Labour would do if it were returned to power; but, after two years of office, when this country is plunged into the depths of an economic abyss, he says that that which was done eight, nine, or ten years ago hangs round the neck of this Government Iike a millstone, making it powerless even to undo that which has already been done. I challenge him and the Government to introduce this afternoon, or any day, legislation, taking from the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited the power which he says prevents a reduction in the price of petrol. If such legislation were introduced this Parliament would gladly assent to it.
– Why did the right honorable gentleman give that power to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited ?
– I gave the power because, while I was in office, the company dared not abuse it.
– The agreement which the right honorable gentleman entered into with the company makes any alteration impossible.
– Not so. That agreement, whatever it is, was made with this Parliament. I feel sure that I am speaking on behalf of every honorable member on this side of the chamber when I say that, if the Government would bring in a measure to amend that agreement - if it prevents government action - this Parliament would approve of it.
– With compensation as provided in the agreement entered into by the right honorable member.
– For two years this Government has allowed this position to continue, and now it puts forward this trumpery excuse that what I did in 1921 or 1922 prevents any action being taken against the American companies. I say that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited walks hand in hand with the American companies, -and that nothing prevents this Government from dealing with it. The people of this country want to know why this position is allowed to continue; why money is not made available for prospecting for Australian oil. If there is in the agreement with the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited any provision which prevents this Government from taking action, why does it not throw upon this Parliament the ‘ responsibility of refusing to -amend the agreement: Let me tell the Minister for Home Affairs that that cat will not jump. Why in the present unstable state of the finances and of Australian industries generally, are the people compelled to pay six and seven times as much for this vital commodity as the people of America pay? The farmer in the United States of America can purchase petrol for 5 cents. But what does the man in Australia pay for it?
– About 60 cents.
– It is an intolerable position. I believe that it was the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) who said that what is required is a searching inquiry by an impartial body, so as to probe the petrol position to the depths; but it requires no probing. Any one can see that there. is” a nigger, in the woodpile. Let us get_ him out. I call upon this Government to act and to cease talking.
.- The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has informed the committee that he established the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited some r,en years ago. That is true, but, unfortunately, during the regime of the right honorable gentleman and his successor, the ex-member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce), that company fell down on its job. It was years before October or November, 1929, that this company commenced to walk hand in hand with the American companies. I have been anxious throughout that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries should, by active competition, bring about a substantial reduction in the price of petrol. The right honorable member for North Sydney accused this Government of not taking action during its two years of office to control this company, but let tuc tell him that if this Government, say a month or two after the elections, had decided to replace the two directors, who were appointed by previous administra.tions, and who have fallen down on their job, it would have been accused of making political appointments. Only a fewminutes ago the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) referred to the appointment of ex-Senator Findley as the Commonwealth Government’s representative on the directorate, and suggested that we were quite satisfied so long as one of our members was drawing fees. Ex-Senator Findley, as the representative of the Commonwealth, is receiving £300 per annum, and he is the only gentleman on the directorate who has any wish to t benefit the petrol users of the Commonwealth. The position is that directors supposed to be representing the Commonwealth are working hand in hand with American interests. I have protested time and time again against the action of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries in allying itself with the American companies. When those companies announced an increase, in the price of petrol, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries immediately followed suit. I am not out to protect the interests of the major companies. I am just as keen as any other honorable member to bring them under effective control, but I approach this item as I have all other items from the point of view that by passing it, we shall provide additional employment for our people in the manufacture of cases and tins.
– At whose expense?
– Honorable members opposite, who profess to show wonderful sympathy for the unfortunate people outback, suggest that this item is an additional burden upon them. They also suggest that the minor companies are rendering great service to the primary producers. But to that suggestion I give an emphatic denial. These minor companies are doing the bulk of their business in and around the metropolitan areas. They import petrol in 40-gallo.n drums, which, will not be accepted by many of the shipping companies or the railway authorities on account of the risk. Consequently, the people outback cannot get them delivered by rail. Moreover, they are not carried in our coastal vessels. It has been suggested that these duties will prevent wharf labourers and other transport workers from obtaining employment. That argument could be advanced in connexion with other commodities that might be imported. It might be contended that oils and other commodities should be allowed to enter this country in bottles, in order to provide work for wharf labourers, and that no regard be paid to the claims of the Australian glass-making industry. Boots and shoes, neatly packed in cases, could, on the same ground, be imported. That argument will not stand. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) complained that the Government has failed to provide money to conduct a search for oil in Australia. He referred to the report of Dr. Woolnough. Official publications from the United States of America show that Australia is supposed to have the second largest oil deposits in the world. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether this year, or last year, was tho time for Australia to provide £250,000 for oil prospecting. How far would the £25,000 or £50,000 suggested by the right honorable gentleman go in prosecuting the search for oil? It would scarcely scratch the surface. The right honorable gentleman, and others, denounced the Government for having failed to do this, that, and the other thing. I ask what did Nationalist Governments do when they were in office. The right honorable gentleman from North Sydney did not use the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to control the American oil companies when he was Prime Minister. During the many years that Mr. Bruce was Prime Minister, all that he did was to threaten the American oil companies that if they attempted to get Australia by the throat he would do certain things. He did nothing. The present Government has been handicapped in dealing with these companies because of the directors appointed by the Hughes and the Bruce-Page Governments. I repeat that had this Government attempted to replace those directors by men who would place the interests of the petrol-users of the Commonwealth first, it would have been accused of making political appointments. I support this item because I believe that we should manufacture in Australia the containers required by Australians.
– I listened with amazement to the speech of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), in which he attempted to blame the present Government for the result of his own government’s actions. It is easy for the right honorable gentleman, as a private member, to say what he would do by way of legislation ; but I point, out that it is about ten years since he laid down the conditions of which he now complains. It was he who entered into the agreement, which was signed by him on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, and later was ratified by an act of this Parliament. He says to-day that what the law has given, the law can take away.
– I said that what the Lord has given, the Lord can take away.
– Evidently, I did noi hear the right honorable member aright. Tn any case, the inference was that the power that entered into this agreement was the power that could get out of it; that the legislation which ratified the agreement could unmake it. The right honorable gentleman knows that that is not so; he is .aware that any legislation introduced to break the agreement would bo- in the nature of repudiation. The agreement contains provisions whereby the Government may ultimately secure control of the company, it provides that at the end of fifteen years the Government may buy out the company! But two years’ notice must first be given ! I remind the right honorable gentleman that, although he was in office for a number of years, and later sat .behind another government for several more years, nothing was done. Does he expect the present Government, which has been in office for only two years - the most strenuous years in Australia’s history - to undo in two years all the wrongs of the past?
Another clause in this precious agreement entered into by the right honorable gentleman provides that the Government and the company shall be partners, the Government being represented on the directorate by three members and the company by four members. I remind him that the agreement cannot be amended by legislation without the consent of the other party to it. The right honorable gentleman knows the nature of the agreement into which he entered; he knows that it. was ratified by an act of Parliament; yet he now says that if the Government will bring down certain legislation, he will support it. His statement is cheered by honorable members sitting in opposition. I accept his challenge; the Government will go into the matter.
– Do so now.
– The Government has not rushed to upset everything that was done by previous governments. Probably a criticism than can justly be directed against it is that it has been too fair in carrying out the obligations inherited from its predecessors. There are two companies in which the Commonwealth is supposed to be partners, but in each case one partner - the Commonwealth Government - is kept ignorant of what is being done with public moneys. The Government has been endeavouring to surmount the difficulties which have faced it. Probably it will soon decide to appoint to the directorate of both companies departmental representatives who will watch the public interests.
– Hear, hear !
– If, after an investigation has been made, it is found that legislation is warranted, and if, moreover, the position can be met in that way,. I shall take the right honorable gentleman at his word.
– “If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans”-
– There will be no “ ifs “ and “ ands “. Something definite will be done when we can do it.
– What a change!
– A lot of changes will be necessary before the present Government can put right the things which the honorable gentleman put wrong.
– When does* the right honorable gentleman propose to make a start?
– Probably sooner than the honorable gentleman expects. Surely, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) cannot forget the agreement into which he entered, or that he endeavoured to bulldoze Parliament into entering into an agreement with a certain wireless broadcasting company in order that it might be placed beyond the control of Parliament?
– That is not true.
– The records show that it is so. I tell the right honorable gentleman, and others who think with him, that the Government will go right into both these proposals, and that in future it will not be so concerned as formerly about certain aspects.
– Why not deal with the American oil companies.
– The right honorable gentleman set out to fight the American oil companies and, during that fight, he entered into this agreement. He knows what went on. during his own term of office, and during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government, yet he did nothing. Now he abuses the present Government for not having put everything straight during the two years it has been in office.
– How long has he been out of office?
– He was in office long enough to do something had he so desired. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) for many years supported a government which did nothing. For two years the present Government has been trying to straighten out the financial tangle which it inherited. The matters under discussion to-day are some of the byproducts; but we shall deal with them in due time. The present Government would halve done . much more in regard to this company had it not been tied by the agreement entered* into by the right honorable gentleman. Short of repudiation, the Government will go to the limit to deal with it.
Coming now to the item itself - which the right honorable gentleman did not touch to any extent - I point out that it was placed in the schedule only after a careful examination had been made by the Tariff Board. Honorable members opposite have had a good deal to say about the Government not having adopted the recommendations of the Tariff Board in certain instances. I do not say that the Government ought to adopt, in their entirety, all the reports of the Tariff Board. This is one of the very difficult questions that was submitted to the board. The application was for a duty on petrol in containers, tins and drums, and the Tariff Board, after investigation, reported that a duty should not be imposed on petrol in drums, but on petrol in tins. The argument put forward in support of its recommendation cannot be disregarded. It is urged that the manufacture of cases and tins provides a considerable amount of work for Australian operatives. On the other hand it is argued that the duty on petrol in tins means less work for wharf labourers and carters. I consider that the argument as to the effect on carters is somewhat weak, because as much work will be provided for carters in carting petrol in tins and cases that are made in Australia, as in carting petrol in tins imported from other parts of the world. In view of the facts, honorable members, must take full responsibility for their action if they vote against the item, the rejection of which will put out of action an industry that employs a large number of men. Our only object in imposing those duties was to provide work.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Tariff Board also reported that the competition, due to the operation of the independent importers against the importers of petrol in bulk, should be preserved ?
– Yes, and for that reason the board declined to recommend the imposition of a duty upon petrol in drums. I may add that the major oil companies do not wish the item to stand in its present form. They stated definitely that, unless the Government imposed the duty on petrol in both drums and tins, they would prefer neither, so in this matter we are not considering the wishes of the big oil companies. The competition of independent importers is being maintained by these duties. The manufacture of tins and cases is an established Australian industry, and it is growing. If honorable members reject the item they must take responsibility for throwing a large number of men out of work.
.- From this item has evolved a general discussion upon the operations of the C.O.R., and the ramifications of the major oil companies in Australia. I have searched in vain for the reasons which actuated the Government in imposing these duties. I have already consulted with the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and other members of the Ministry with regard to the serious position arising out of the huge importations of petrol from the United States of America, and, in fairness to the right honorable gentleman, I must say that I believe he and members of the Ministry are just as keen as anybody else to bring down the cost of petrol to users in Australia. The people of this country are being robbed by these big oil companies, which have spread their octopuslike tentacles throughout the commercial life of this country, and are not deserving of consideration at the hands of this Parliament. Quotations published daily diclose that, for the last three or four weeks the price of petrol f.o.b. New Orleans and New York is 33/8 cents per gallon. As freight to Australia cannot exceed1d. per gallon, the price charged here is out of all proportion to its cost. Officials of one of the biggest companies in Australia informed me in Sydney a week or two ago that his company could land the best grade petrol for 5d. per gallon.
– Why does it not do so?
– The several companies are landing it for about that figure, but they camouflage the real position by publishing false returns.
– Why did not the honorable member, when he was in office, put a stop to it?
– It is only recently that the real position has been disclosed. I do not blame this Government for the present position. On the contrary, I give the Ministry credit for endeavouring to bring down the price, but I doubt if the duties imposed in this item will effect this much needed reduction. Cheap industrial power is an essential to progress. I am afraid that this tariff item will not make possible any marked reduction of power costs. One reason given by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) and also the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) in support of the duties was that they would mean additional employment in the manufacture of tins and cases. Apparently they overlook the methods adopted for the distribution of oil in Australia because, as a matter of fact, not a great quantity is delivered in tins and cases. All the major oil companies have independent systems for distribution by means of bulk oil wagons to various centres, and they exact high prices from consumers. In Canberra, for instance, petrol is 6d. per gallon higher than in the other capital cities of the Commonwealth. The people generally would support the Government if it could put the “ screw “ on these companies and compel them to reduce their prices to a reasonable level. The maximum price charged at Honolulu which, I admit, is United States of America territory, for the last’ five years has never exceeded1s. per gallon, and, while the f.o.b. quotation to the Solomon Islands users is less than1s., prices in Australia are much higher.
– It can be landed in Australia for less than1s. per gallon ex duty.
– I have already explained that it is landed in Australia at about 5d. per gallon. If we add the duty we ought to be able to get it for1s. 3d. or ls. 4d. per gallon, which price should return a handsome profit to the companies. Any legislative proposals to bring down the price to Australian users would have my heartiest support, but I cannot see how this item will achieve that end. The Prime Minister stated that the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was responsible for the establishment of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries. I would, however, remind him that the directors of that company are appointed for a given period, and if the Government deems a change desirable it may be made from time to time. The Commonwealth holds 50 per cent., plus one, of the shares in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries, and, as all honorable members know, the numbers of shares held counts in the appointment ofnew directors. I am not suggesting that the Government is endeavouring to evade any of its responsibilities in this matter; but if it can compel the Commonwealth Oil Refineries to take certain action in the interests of petrol users in Australia it will have my support. I fail to see why that company should not be able to exercise its influence in the matter of price-fixing and eventually put the other companies in their proper place. The Prime Minister was unkind enough to say that the BrucePage Government, of which, at one time, I was a member, had done nothing to safeguard the interest of petrol users. The facts do not support the charge made by the right honorable gentleman. The Bruce-Page Government provided an additional £250,000 for the purpose of erecting a number of huge tanks in the principal ports of Australia with a view to the importation of petrol in bulk. All of the tanks have not yet been completed. I appreciate the difficulties of this Government, and, as I have said, I will give it every support in any legislative measures necessary to force the major oil companies to bring down the price of petrol to a decent figure. I fail to find in the Tariff Board’s report any reason to justify the Government in giving the applicants what they ask for. The adoption of the Government’s proposal will not help ‘Australia, but will help the monopolistic companies which hold her by the throat.
– The Vacuum Oil Company is totally opposed to this duty. A couple of weeks ago it made a definite request that the duty should be taken off.
– I would not believe the Vacuum Oil Company, or the Shell Company, even if it went down on its knees. These two great companies have been holding a pistol at the head of our people for years. If honorable members are convinced that this octopus should be fought, let them join forces and fight it. I do not believe that the adoption of this duty will help Australia. On the other hand, I believe that it will help such monopolistic companies as the Vacuum Oil Company and the Shell Company.
– But the companies do nol want this duty. They desire the amendment of the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) to be adopted.
– If we wish to help Australia to get cheaper oil and petrol we should encourage competition. The Vacuum Oil Company and the Shell Company are doing all that they can to smash the small oil companies which are buying oil in bulk in the United States of America and shipping it to Australia in comparatively small quantities. We should encourage the small companies to do this, with the object of introducing some competition into this business in Australia, and so reducing the price. This great oil octopus has spread its tentacles throughout the world. In Africa, its prices for petrol are1s. higher even than in Australia. In the islands of the Pacific, for which Rabaul is the centre, the price varies up to 4s. 6d. a gallon according to the distance of the particular port from Rabaul. It is the same with lubricating oil. This product is not refined so highly as petrol or kerosene, yet the companies are charging 8s. 6d. a gallon for it in Australia. They even own the containers in which it is sold, from the large tanks right down to the bottles which we see in use at garages. How can it be said, therefore, that there is a big industry in the manufacture of these containers and bottles in Australia? Honorable members who argue along that line talk with their tongues in their cheeks. I intend to support the proposal of the right honorable member for
North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). If the Government is sincere in its desire to reduce the price of petrol and oils - and I believe that it is - let it set up a special expert committee to make a thorough investigation into the whole position, with the object of doing something to reduce the prevailing prices.
.- This debate has developed into an argument as to whether we should assist monopolies or do away with them. If one thing more than another has convinced me of the insincerity of the Opposition in respect of this item, it is their attitude in regard to monopolies. Whenever it has been proposed to deal with the distributing monopolies of this country, it has been the Labour party which has set out to enlighten the people. We have done our best to remedy the existing defects in our method of distribution. Whenever Labour in politics has suggested that greater constitutional power should be given to this Parliament to deal with distributing and other monopolies, the proposal has been strongly resisted by honorable members opposite.
– The honorable member should say by the State governments, and particularly the Government of New South Wales.
– The Labour party has, on several occasions, endeavoured to obtain the consent of the democracy of this country to an enlargement of the constitutional powers of this Parliament, but its efforts have been thwarted by the activities of honorable members opposite. It will take more than the wild gestures of the right honorable member for North Sydney to convince the people that he sincerely desires to reduce the price of petrol and oil in Australia. If ever the people of this country are able to obtain petrol and oil at reasonable prices, it will be due to the actions of the Labour party, and not to the actions of those who to-day have hurled across this chamber the charge that the Government is protecting monopolies. The Opposition has used all the mental and monetary power at its command to prevent the Labour party from obtaining constitutional power to control monopolies and combines. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) was all astray in his arguments. If his proposal is carried the amount of work available to our people will be reduced. The Tariff Board made an exhaustive investigation into the aspect of the subject with which he dealt, and has shown conclusively that a good deal of additional labour will be needed to give effect to the policy which the Government is proposing. If we followed to their logical conclusion the arguments of some of the honorable members who have opposed the Government’s proposals, we should pull up our railway lines and use horse teams for transportation purposes. We should be saying in effect that railway engines were no good, and that the steel rails should be ripped up.
– Does the honorable member believe in monopolies?
– We have come to a stage in our development when the trustification of the means of distribution is more or less inevitable. The scientific development of trade and industry has made it absolutely essential that the national Parliament should bo equipped with power to control and direct the trusts and combines which have grown up. We have reached the stage in our fiscal development when we must recognize the economic truth that trade and commerce must be developed by the private or the socialistic trustification of the means of distribution.
It has been said that the wheat-farmers have been greatly inconvenienced through the adoption of the existing means of distributing petrol and oil; but how are these requirements distributed? We know that the farmer who requires oil fuel for the engines on his farm obtains it principally from bulk lorries which travel far into our outback areas and deliver petrol as and where it is required. Some farmers may buy containers, in which to keep supplies, but usually they buy more or less limited quantities from the bulk wagons which visit them periodically. The latter is the means employed to serve ninetenths of the community. It has been pointed out by the Tariff Board that the imposition of the duty proposed by the Government would provide additional employment. On that ground alone it should receive our support. It is contended by honorable members opposite that if this amendment were carried, it would, by some mysterious means, lessen the cost of petrol to the consumers. That, I submit, is all moonshine. It is evident that the fixation of the price of petrol is in the hands of a monopoly. If honorable members opposite desire to attack that monopoly, let them appeal to their political colleagues in the State Governments to take the necessary action. The Commonwealth has no power to regulate the price of any commodity in a State. That power rests with the State. If honorable members opposite are prepared to urge the State Governments to take that action, they will have my support, and that of other honorable members on this side.
– The Prime Minister delivered himself of some observations concerning the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and myself that call for a reply by me. The attitude of the right honorable gentleman reminded me of a young woman drawing up her skirts preparatory to negotiating a puddle. He was very careful where he placed his feet. Being charged with permitting an American monopoly to’ impose exorbitant prices on the users of petrol in Australia, the Prime Minister seeks to shelter himself behind an agreement entered into more than eleven years ago by the Government which I had the honour to lead; an agreement designed to insure to the people of Australia the supply of petrol at a fair and reasonable cost. The right honorable gentleman implied that, but for that agreement, things would now be very different; petrol would be like manna, to be had without cost. That agreement has hindered him so sadly that he is to this day floundering about, impotent! But the right honorable gentleman intends to take up my challenge. He will cause exhaustive inquiries to be made ! We have raised ghosts, he declares, that we shall never be able to lay. Let those whose business it is beware of the consequences.
I have not had time to go through the agreement again at length, but I shall read section 14 of the schedule, the operative section. It states -
In order to insure the full success and development of the oil-refining industry in Australia, the Commonwealth will, so long as the prices charged by the refinery company for products of refining are considered by the Commonwealth fair and reasonable, but not further or otherwise1 - - and subject to this -
. that the price of petrol sold by the Commonwealth Oil Refinery is in the opinion of the Commonwealth Government fair and reasonable- certain privileges are granted to the company. There is the power of the Government to deal with the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. It is not as the Prime Minister said, powerless. Upon the Government rests the responsibility of declaring now that these prices are fair and reasonable.
After all, what did the right honorable gentleman say? That eleven years ago something was done. Since then the millenium has come. Its banner-bearers have been in office two years. Now they come, like spoilt- children, crying, “We cannot do this because, ten years ago, au agreement was entered into.” Precisely: It is an agreement that vests in the Comm monwealth Government the right to deny to this company any advantages at all if it charges the public other than fair and reasonable prices. No man can say that the present prices are fair and reasonable. Let the Prime Minister stand up to his work. He was placed in, office to govern this country. If there is any legislation standing in his road, in the name of heaven, let him declare what that legislation is. His excuses are childish, and his attempt to evade his responsibilities has been blown to the winds. His denunciation falls from me like hail from an iron roof. What does it matter? The point is that if the Government had had the courage to do what it ought to have done, the price of petrol to the consumers in this country would now be fair and reasonable.
.- This is a most important item, one that merits very careful consideration by this committee. We are all greatly concerned about the supply and price of petrol in Australia. When I first came to this chamber-
Motion (by Mr. Ward) agreed to -
That the question bc now put.
Question - That Mr. Eldridge’s amendment of the amendment (Mr. Forde’s) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. McGrath.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment of the amendment agreed to.
Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
.- I move -
That sub-itemd be amended, by adding the following: - “ And on and after the 30th July, 1931-
Turpentine substitutes -
1 ) As prescribed by departmental by-laws, per gallon, British, ½d. ; intermediate,1d.; general,1d.
N.e.i., per gallon, British, 7d. : intermediate, 7d.; general, 7d.”
The object of the amendment is to prevent an evasion of the revenue by the use of turpentine substitutes for petrol.
Amendment agreed to.
Item, as amended, agreed to.
Item 230 agreed to.
Item 231 -
By omitting the whole of sub-item (e) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item : - “(e) (1) Colours, dry, viz. : -Red Lead.
Litharge, and Sub-oxide of Lead, per cwt., British,15s.; intermediate, 17s.; general, 19s.; or ad val., British, 40 per cent.; intermediate, 50 per cent.; general, 55 per cent. whichever rate returns the higher duty.
Colours, dry, n.e.i., per cwt., British, 3s.; intermediate, 3s.; general, 4s.; or adval., British, 20 per cent.; intermediate, 20 per cent.; general. 30 per cent. whichever rate returns the higher duty.”
– I move -
That sub-item e be amended by adding the following: - “And on and after the Srd October, 1931 -
Colours, dry, n.e.i., including Litharge, per cwt., British, 3s. ; intermediate, 3s.: general, 4s.; or ad val., British, 20 per cent.; intermediate, 20 per cent.; general, 30 per cent. whichever rate returns the higher duty.”
The Government took action in the March, 1931, resolution, to increase the duties on these goods. The applicant company has intimated that, so far as it is aware, recent importations of both litharge and red lead have been negligible, and that consequently it is not anxious that the increased rates shall be imposed. Evidently the company is relying on the current rate of exchange to protect its manufacturing operations. As it is satisfied with this position, the Government does not intend to proceed with the proposed duties. The amendment signifies a reversion to the rates that ruled under the 1921-28 tariff, and should therefore prove acceptable to honorable members opposite.
Amendment agreed to.
Item, as amended, agreed to.
Items 232 and 237 agreed to.
Tariff: Consideration by the Senate - Case of Mb. Jacob Johnson: Report of Royal Commission - Excise Duties oncigars - Improved Radio Service for Perth - Taxation Department : Appointment of Supervising Officer - Returned Soldiers : Dismissal from Postal Department.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I suggest to the Prime Minister that it would be of great convenience to the members of another place if he would indicate when the tariff is likely to be sent on to them. I understand that a couple of days, or thereabouts, are required to enable the papers to be prepared for the Senate after the tariff has passed through this chamber.
. - For the information of honorable members, I may say that the report of the royal commissioner on what is known as the Jacob Johnson case has been furnished to His Excellency the Governor-General, and transmitted to the Prime Minister. The report reached u8 only this morning. I have but one copy, which will be placed on the table in the Library for the information of honorable members. The necessary copies will be made for dissemination amongst honorable members, but, in the meantime, I shall quote the questions that were submitted to the royal commissioner and his final conclusions, which contain the gist of the report.
– Is the report a voluminous one?
– Yes. The questions that were submitted to the royal commissioner were -
The answers to those specific questions are- 1. (a) No evidence became available after the hearing of the Court of Quarter Sessions of the appeal lodged by Jacob Johnsonagainst his conviction and no evidence is now available which if adduced at the time of that hearing would have been likely to affect materially the judgment of the court.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) referred this afternoon to the financial muddle, and to the heritage left to him by the preceding Government. In that connexion I wish to refer to a reply received to a question that I submitted to-day to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde), regarding the loss in customs revenue in connexion with excise duties on cigars. I said some time ago that I estimated the loss at about £40,000 a year, and I believe that that estimatewas questioned by the Minister during the debate on the tariff. There is an embargo on the importation of cigars. The Minister informed me to-day that importation is allowed to the extent of only 50 per cent. of the importations made during the year ended the 31st March, 1930. The reduction of 50 per cent. in the importation permitted must have resulted in a loss of revenue. The Minister also said, in reply to my question, that on last year’s consumption the estimated loss for the ensuing year caused by the reduction of importations would be £37,987. That amount is very close to my estimate of £40,000.
– There will be an opportunity for the discussion of these excise duties next week.
– I am dealing with the general financial position. I wish to show that it would have been possible to avoid some of the loss of customs revenue. Owing to the embargo on matches, we are losing about £100,000 in revenue annually. I cannot understand the Minister for Trade and Customs claiming that an endeavour is being made by the Government to keep men in employment. There is no industry in Australia in which the employees receive such a high wage as that of cigar manufacture. It seems extraordinary that the Government should have made such an enormous concession to this industry.
.- For some time I have been in communication with the Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) on the subject of an improved radio service for Perth, the present service having proved to be very unsatisfactory. 1 have been assured by the Minister that he soon hopes to provide a new and powerful plant. Is the Minister n’ow in a position to make a definite statement to the House on the matter?
– The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has been indefatigable in his requests for an improved service in connexion with the A Class station, 6’WF, Perth. For several months I have been looking into the matter, and the great trouble has been to provide the necessary funds for improving the station. The department is not prepared te shift the whole plant, but we intend to erect a new station, using as much as possible of the material in the old plant. The following statement sets out the whole position: -
National Broadcasting Service in Western Australia.
The Postmaster-General, the Honorable A. K. Green, has already announced that stops are being taken to improve the national broad casting service in the portion of Western Australia that can bc served by the Perth Station, but he wishes to correct a misapprehension which appears to exist regarding the extent of the work that the department has undertaken. The impression appears to have been created that the intention is to remove tha existing transmitting apparatus from its present site in Wellington-street, Perth, to another more suitable position.
Actually Perth will be supplied with what is virtually a now station. Certain portions of the existing plant that are suitable will be incorporated in the new transmitter; but tha major part of the installation will be entirely of new design and construction. The aerial system will “be of a type new to Australia, representing the most recent developments in broadcasting practice. The antenna portion of the aerial syStem will bo supported by two substantial steel towers, each 180 feet high, while a very- extensive network of ground wires will be needed to form the lower portion of the aerial system.
The new transmitter will be of the most modern design, capable of giving 100 per cent, modulation, and will be provided with a crystal control .master oscillator, guaranteeing frequency stabilization. The power rating of the station will be 3 kw. into the aerial. The present GW.F transmitter is rated on the old basis of power consumed, and it may be interesting to note that on an equivalent basis the rating of the transmitter which is now being constructed will be 10 kw., which is considerably greater than that of any other capital city broadcasting station in the Commonwealth.
It is undesirable, if not impracticable, to attempt to rush through a work of this character in two or three months, which appears to be the period that a number of interested persons in Western Australia consider sufficient for the purpose. It may be of interest to record that the best offers which could be obtained for the rapid construction of broadcasting stations of similar capacity varied from six to twelve months. The department is pressing forward with all phases of the work, and no time will he lost in making the station available for service. The general designs have been completed, and it is expected that within the coming week tenders for the steel towers will be invited. Plans for the layout of the equipment, and the design of the building are in hand, and are being expedited as much as possible.
The Postmaster-General is particularly anxious that the improved conditions should be made available to the people of Western Australia at the earliest possible date, but he wishes to emphasize that the magnitude of the work to bo undertaken is considerable, and it is important that it should be executed in the most efficient manner so that the best results may be assured.
– The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) raised the subject of the excise duty on cigars. The Tariff Board inquired into that matter, and the following is an extract from its report: -
Furthermore, in connexion with the possibility of the employees’ union setting up fresh demands for increased wages and piece rates, the Tariff Board was assured that the workers were conscious of the fact that the future of their industry and its expansion (for which the request for reduction in excise was being submitted) depended solely on the possibility of supplying the consumer with the 7d. Australian-made cigar at 6d., and the 3d. cigar with a fuller weight of leaf. And that to do this it was essential that all four contributors to the final disposition of the produet - the manufacturer, the worker, the retailer and the Government must co-operate to the one end, and that if one or other fail In their part the desired end cannot be achieved, and the sacrifice by the. Government (if made) of £00,000 of revenue would bo absorbed by one or other, of the factors other than the consumer.
Under the circumstances, the Tariff Board ls now satisfied that all factors are prepared to make a sacrifice in order that the consuming public may have the opportunity of obtaining a cigar at a convenient figure, and is prepared to recommend that the request be granted for the reduction in the excise duty from 2s. 8d. to 3d. per lb. on hand-made cigars.
That reduction was made with a view to helping what was looked upon as a dwindling industry. Owing to the high prices charged, these cigars were going out of favour. Any one who looks up the’ figures will see that the consumption of these cigars was steadily decreasing. The cigar-making industry in Melbourne used to employ between 300 and 400 men, but they were gradually being thrown out of employment. It is a difficult trade to learn, and it takes men a considerable time to become proficient. I , am having a further investigation made into the matter, and something more may be said regarding it when the excise schedule is before Parliament. Unless there is some compensating factor, we would not be justified in sacrificing this revenue. As a matter of fact, the revenue which it was said we might receive, was mythical. Had prices continued at 7d. a cigar, it is doubtful whether the public would have continued to buy them, and the consumption would have fallen to such an extent that we should have obtained very little revenue at all.
.- Yesterday I asked the Treasurer a question relating to the appointment in the sales tax section of the Taxation Department of a supervising officer -who was without accountancy qualifications, and who was a non-returned soldier, although there were other officers, both senior and junior to him, who were returned soldiers, and who possessed accountancy and university qualifications. I asked the reason for the appointment, and the reply I received was a typically departmental one, being intended practically to snub me for having asked the question. I was told that the appointment was made in accordance with section 50 of the Public Service Act. There was no need to mention that, because it was known both to me and to the returned soldier officer! who had been passed over. The reply continued -
Every officer who considers he is more entitled to appointment to the position has, and has presumably exercised, his right of appeal against the officer provisionally appointed on the ground of (a) superior efficiency; or (6) equal efficiency, and seniority. The determination of any such appeal rests with the Public Service Board which is required, for the purposes of its determinations, to make full inquiry into the claims of the appellant and those of the officer provisionally appointed.
As a matter of fact, it is not a provisional appointment. The officer was appointed provisionally, but the appointment has since been confirmed. The reply goes on -
As Parliament has entrusted the function of determining such matters in the first place to the permanent head of the department concerned,, and in the second place to the Public Service Board, and as the appeals in this case have not yet been determined, it is considered undesirable that answers should be given to’ specific questions which erroneously assume there is ministerial control of that function. .
I wish to know whether we, as representatives of the people, are or are noi entitled to ask questions, and receive informative replies to them. The answer I received is quite untrue. The officers who were passed over appealed, and their appeals have been decided.. I have here a letter from the Returned Soldiers Executive of Victoria, dated the 3rd February, complaining of this appointment. The letter states that in each instance the appeal was dismissed, and yet I am informed that the appeals have not been dealt with, and the suggestion is that I should not ask any questions about the matter. The Victorian State Executive of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia feels very much aggrieved, and rightly so. This Government can be accused of discriminatory action against returned soldiers, whether intentional or otherwise. Becently, several cleaners iu the employ of the Postmaster-General’s Department were under notice of dismissal. Other honorable members and myself took the matter up, and pointed out that these men were returned soldiers. I will do the Prime Minister and the PostmasterGeneral the justice of saying that they took action, and the men were kept on. Nevertheless, notice appeared shortly afterwards in the Government Gazette advertising for cleaners. I brought the matter again under the notice of the Postmaster-General, and he assured me that the men would be kept on. During the régime ofthe present Government, 1,500 returned soldiers have been dismissed from the Postmaster-General’s Department. They were repatriated into their jobs, and should have been made permanent officers. Many of them are buying homes through theWar Service Homes Department, and, as a result of their dismissal, are now in arrears with t heir payments. Whether intentionally or not, the returned soldier is being eliminated from the Government Service. The reply which I received from the Treasurer is evasive and unsatisfactory. I do not know the man who is appointed. He may possess certain qualifications, but it is claimed that they are negligible compared with those of the unsuccessful appellants. The departmental reply stated that he possessed organizing ability and personality. I ask honorable members to listen to the qualifications of the officers who were passed over, some of whom are senior to theman who was appointed. They are as follow : -
Commerce, Melbourne University, L.I.C.A., L.C.A. ; returned soldier with four years’ active service.
It is evident that those men possess outstanding qualifications, and it is greatly to their credit that, although they lost considerable time overseas in the service of their country, they were prepared after they came back to take courses at Melbourne University.I ask the Minister to see that they are given justice, and also to take steps to ensure that when honorable members of this House) seek information, they are given satisfactory answers.
.- The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) asked when the tariff could be sent to another place. After it has been disposed of here, it will take at least two days to have it printed, and sent up to the Senate. It would be fairly safe to say that if the tariff passes this House next week, it could reach another place in the following week.
I do not know the officer referred to by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), but I gather from the honorable member’s own statement that the appointment was made either by the Commissioner for Taxation or his deputy. An appeal has been made to the Public Service Board, and the board has upheld the appointment. That procedure is in conformity with the act. That was the nature of the reply given to the honorable member; and I am sure that the department did not endeavour to snub him. It merely drew attention to the law which this Parliament passed, and it was entitled to do so. No member of this Parliament, and no Minister, is entitled to bring political pressure to bear on the Public Service Board.
Mr.White. - I raised the matter here because I consider it the right place.
– It would be contrary to the whole spirit of the Public Service Act if Ministers intervened in matters of this kind. It was never intended that Ministers should be influenced by honorable members. If members of this Parliament are to have a voice in Public Service appointments, we shall have to amend the act.
– After an appeal has been heard, Parliament is the only place in which a protest can be made.
– The Parliament stands for preference to returned soldiers as laid down in the act. If it can be shown that departmental administration is not in conformity with the spirit and letter of the act an honorable member has a perfect right to bring the matter up in Parliament. The Government has instructed departmental officers to give preference to returned soldiers in conformity with the law. There is a statutory provision to that effect which must be taken into consideration when appointments are made. In the instance quoted by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) an appeal was made to the Public Service Board which upheld the appointment. All the facts were taken into consideration. Nothing could be done unless we were assured that departmental officers and the Public Service Board were working in collusion to defy the spirit and letter of the act, and no one would believe that.
The honorable member for Balaclava also referred to the dismissal of returned soldier cleaners in the employ of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Practically all of these men were temporary employees. When temporary men are to be dismissed it necessarily means that returned soldiers have to go, as the majority of temporary men are returned soldiers. In this case, dismissal notices were issued to a body of cleaners, because there were redundant permanent officers for whom the department held positions had first to be found. The matter was brought before the Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) and myself, and we realized that their case was particularly hard. Their occupation had not gone, but as work could not be found for certain junior permanent mechanics they were appointed as cleaners. The Public Service Board felt that its first duty was to find positions for permanent men, and notice of dismissal was therefore given to the cleaners, The Postmaster-General studied the ease of these men very sympathetically, and handed the matter over to me when he left for Western Australia. I asked the Deputy Director of Postal Services to hold up the matter.
– That has now been adjusted; but the appointment in the Taxation Department has not.
– The Government is still embarrassed in finding positions for a number of men. We are hoping that under a new ruling with respect to furlough of officers due to retire we sholl be able to oase the pressure in the permanent service.
Mr.R. Green. - If temporary officers could be made permanent after two years’ service, they would all come under tbe one heading.
– It is not easy to do that.The difficulty becomes much greater in times of depression than when conditions are normal.
– Did not the Government makea definite promise to absorb these unfortunate returned soldiers who have been dismissed?
– The cleaners in the Postal Department are being retained, and we are endeavouring to absorb redundant permanent officers. When the activities of the Postal Department increase, the department will endeavour to absorb all the returned soldiers and otherofficers who have been dismissed from temporary employment. For the good of Australia, and in the interests of these men, we hope it will not be long before that can be done. The Postal Department, which is the first to feel a depression, will also be one of tbe first departments to respond when we return to prosperity.We hope that the present situation will soon improve, and that a number of these men will soon be able to return to the positions which they formerly held.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.19 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 October 1931, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19311002_reps_12_132/>.