12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and offered prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether any reply has yet been received from Judge Drake-Brockman to the suggestion conveyed to him by the Government that he should join in the sacrifice made by all other public servants to rehabilitate the finances of Australia. If so, will the right honorable gentleman say whether Judge DrakeBrockman has agreed to bear his fair share of the burden in this critical period of our existence?
– Judge DrakeBrockman has replied that he cannot see his way to agree to the suggested reduction.
– A message cabled from New York states -
It is understood that representations have been made to the Australian Government by at least one American concern interested in pearl shell against the limitation placed on production. It is insisted that high prices have resulted in a serious diminution in the use of Australian shell and the employment of substitutes.
Has the Department of Home Affairs received any communication of that nature from New York?
– About six months ago, following representations from Broome and Thursday Island that there was over-production of pearl shell, I decided to restrict fishing for shell at Darwin. Later, the Aroe Islands, the only other portion of the world producing mother-of-pearl, also ‘ decided to restrict production. Objections to the restriction on Australian production have been received from a firm in New York, but of all those engaged in the pearl fisheries at Broome, Darwin and Thursday Island, only two have expressed dissent. Indeed, the results have proved the wisdom of the restriction of fishing at Darwin, and to-day the pearl shell industry is one of the few in Australia that are paying their way.
Indebtedness to the Commonwealth.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House what is the present indebtedness of the Government of New South Wales to the Commonwealth in respect of interest paid by the Commonwealth on behalf of that State?
– A settlement has been effected in respect of the indebtedness of New South Wales to the Commonwealth arising out of the failure of New South Wales to pay its overseas interest liabilities and certain interest due to the Commonwealth. The total amount of the payments made by the Commonwealth on behalf of New South Wales was £5,896,781. This sum represents interest, exchange on remittances of interest, and loan charges due overseas. To this must be added £75,473 in respect of interest on the daily balances shown in the accounts between the Commonwealth and New South Wales. Against the total of £5,972,254 thus due to the Commonwealth there must be set off sums totalling £1,412,820 due by the Commonwealth to New South Wales. The net indebtedness of the State to the Commonwealth at the time of the settlement was thus £4,559,434. With the approval of the Loan Council, New South Wales has discounted treasury-bills to provide this amount, and has paid the proceeds of the bills to the Commonwealth. Simultaneously, the Commonwealth paid off treasury-bills for an equivalent amount which had been issued in the name of the Commonwealth. New ‘South Wales is now meeting its interest payments in’ full as they fall due; Steps have been taken to discontinue the legal action instituted by the Commonwealth against the State in this connexion.
– The Adelaide Advertiser, of the 5th October, published the following telegram from Perth : -
According to Mr. W. M. Came, of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, who has returned from England and South Africa, the condition of fruit exported from Australia to the English market compares unfavorably with that from other countries, chiefly as the result of handling en route. The outstanding defect in Australian export was lack of organization to ensure the best handling,he said. In South Africa nothing was left to chance. The handling of fruit on the train and wharf during loading and stowage was supervised. … In Australia it was nobody’s business to supervise the handling of the fruit on the train or wharf, or to stipulate the stowage conditions, or specify the refrigerating conditions in the hold. The fruit was left to the unsupervised control of the railways and stevedores. Stowage was left to the shipping companies, and refrigeration to the company or ship’s engineers.
If the Minister for Markets and Transport considers that Mr. Carne’s comments are correct, will he confer with the State Governments with a view to improving the conditions of transport of fruit and other perishable exports?
– To the statements reported to have been made by Mr. Carne, a reply has been issued by my department. The inspection of fruit for export is carried out by State officials under the supervision of the Commonwealth Department of Markets. Not only do the inspectors visit the orchards, but they follow the fruit to the ship’s side, and they have authority even to enter the hold. That supervision is exercised in respect of all shipments. In the opinion of my department, Mr. Carne is under a misapprehension regarding the conditions governing the export of fruit.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is true that Lord Kylsant has defaulted in respect of the payments due to the Commonwealth Government for the purchase of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers; if so, what steps is the Government taking to safeguard the interests of the Australian taxpayers?
– It is not accurate to say that the White Star Company, which is the purchaser, has defaulted. The company intimated, before the due date, that the payment of the annual instalment of £165,000 for principal on the 1st August would be inconvenient, and asked whether the Commonwealth Government would agree to defer the payment until the end of the year. In view of the company’s circumstances, the Commonwealth agreed to postpone the payment of the principal to the 31st December, on condition that the company paid the interest on the due date.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) - byleave - agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey), and to the honorable member for MelbournePorts (Mr. Mathews), on the ground of ill health.
– To hasten national recovery, and to see if the Government has the confidence of the people, will the Prime Minister emulate the Prime Minister of Great Britain by appealing to the electors, fixing the date of the poll as closely as possible to that of the election in Great Britain?
– The honorable member for Balaclava, like greater lights in his party, prophesied months ago that we would be compelled to meet the electors. Honorable members opposite have adopted every method and ruse known in politics to force us to the country; now they are reduced to asking us to hasten the election.
– Will the Prime Minister negotiate with the leaders of the Opposition and the Country party with a view to having an early double dissolution on the issue of the financial position of the Commonwealth, so as to givethe people themselves an opportunity to straighten out the financial tangle?
Opposition Members. - Hear, hear !
– The applause from the Opposition is warmer than it used to be; but it may not be quite so warm in another place. I shall give the matter consideration.
– What is the posi tion in regard to the proposed wheat bounty of £3,000,000? What steps are being taken to bring that matter to a head, and will the payment be made direct to the wheat-growers ?
– I am in consultation with the State Ministers as tothe method of payment. Next week Ishall confer with the State Ministers of Agriculture, to obtain their opinions on the subject. So soon as that conference ends, the Government will pro- ceed to frame legislation to give effect to its policy.
– Has any money been made available to Queensland for the relief of unemployment?
– The Commonwealth Bank is considering applications from local governing bodies for the financing of works, and is prepared to assist sound business propositions. I understand that it has granted an application from the body which has control of the Brisbane abattoirs, though I do not know the amount of the loan, or the conditions under which it has been made.
– It was stated in she Sydney Morning Herald last week that one of the works which the Commonwealth Bank is undertaking for local authorities is a sewerage scheme at Warrnambool, in Victoria, and that the Minister for Health had interested himself in the proposition and made representations. I ask the Treasurer’ whether other honorable members will have the privilege of making representations on behalf of local authorities, and if so, should they get in touch with him, or with the bank authorities direct?
– It will be remembered that last week the Prime Minister made a full statement regarding what was being done by the Commonwealth Bank in respect of local government loans. That statement was made in order that the local authorities would be informed of the position. In answer to the specific question whether honorable members will be given an opportunity to make representations on behalf of local authorities, I should say that they will probably have that duty and responsibility cast upon them - if they feel disposed to seek it - by the local authorities themselves. They will, however, save themselves trouble if they will allow the local authorities to make direct representations to the Commonwealth Bank.
– Will a limit be placed on the rate of interest that may be charged by banks on advances to local government authorities for the carrying out of works for the relief of unemployment?
– Obviously, that is a matter for the particular bank to which the application is made. The Commonwealth Bank is charging the ordinary rate of interest for such loans. There will he no special interest rate, nor any limit except such as is usual.
Application to Creditors Abroad
– Has the Treasurer received representations from any of the aldermen of the Brisbane City Council with reference to a proposed financial delegation to London and New York for the purpose of obtaining the postponement of sinking fund and redemption of loan payments due by the council. If so, has any action been taken by him to discourage such action?
– No official communication from the Brisbane City Council has reached me, nor, so far as J know, the’ Government, with regard to that matter; but press paragraphs, in which it was stated that the Brisbane City Council intended to send a delegation abroad to make representations in New York in favour of reductions in relation to loans raised on the market, in respect of both interest and sinking fund payments, have been brought under our notice. The Treasury took the matter up, and ‘the Prime Minister, I think, communicated with the Premier of Queensland, asking him to consider whether mischief might not be done by a delegation making such representations, in what would be an unusual way. We learned, subsequently, that the Commonwealth Bank, the bankers of the Brisbane City Council, had also discussed this matter with that body, and as a result had itself undertaken to make representations with regard to sinking fund payments. I understand that the Brisbane City Council has now decided not to send a delegation abroad”, but to ask the Common wealth. Bank to make representations on its behalf.
– The following paragraph is taken from a report which was submitted to the recent Premiers Conference by the Secretariat’ Committee on Employment and Production : -
The committee is satisfied that this industry has definite possibilities in the creation of employment, and as a stimulus to confidence. It is recommended that the Commonwealth Government should assist in obtaining the necessary capital by setting aside a sum of £875,000, out of which advances ii-cured by debentures over the assets would be made to the company or companies on a £1 for £1 basis, and upon a definite arrangement being made to commence the industry. lt is recommended that negotiations by the Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments with the companies be resumed immediately, with a view to arriving at a satisfactory basis for assistance so that the industry may be inaugurated. .
Can the Prime Minister state what’ steps are being taken to give effect to the recommendations of that committee?
– The proposal was discussed on more than one occasion with the Commonwealth Bank. It was submitted among the propositions to provide employment and to establish new industries in Australia. The attitude of the bank is that this is not a banking proposition, but is a matter for private capital, to be raised in the ordinary way by au issue of shares or debentures. The proposal was again revived when the report of the Secretariat Committee was presented, and it was sent, among other proposals, to the Bank Board for consideration ; there the matter at present rests.
– In view of the vote taken in this chamber last Friday in respect of the duty chargeable on petrol sold in cases, will the Minister for Trade and Customs favorably consider refunding to the smaller petrol and oil importing companies the amount they have paid in duty in excess of the amount which has been approved by Parliament?
– As the law stands, when Parliament reduces a duty the reduced rate becomes operative on the following day. I have no power to make refunds of duties already collected.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform me whether he has yet received the report of the Tariff Board on its investigation into the landing of n cargo of Russian timber in Sydney? If the report is not yet to hand, does he expect that it will be available before the timber duties are discussed by honorable members?
– I have not received the report of the Tariff Board on that important subject.
– I direct the attention of the Treasurer to the fact that sales tax is being collected more than once on machinery and other chattels obtained under hire-purchase agreements. The honorable gentleman is, no doubt, aware that such goods may be re-possessed two or three times and re-sold. In such cases, sales tax is charged on each transaction. Will the Treasurer endeavour to remedy this state of affairs by introducing an amendment of the act, if necessary, so that the imposition of this taxation is confined to one transaction? At present injustice is being inflicted.
– It is not intended that sales taxation shall be applied more than once in respect of one sale.
– I know of cases in which it has been applied three times.
– If the honorable member assures me that the tax is being applied more than once in regard to the sale of particular items, I shall have an inquiry made into the subject.
– I have received from the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) an intimation that he intends to move the adjournment of the House this afternoon for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The serious financial position of many occupants of war service homes, and the wisdom, in the interests of the Government and the occupants, of immediate steps being taken to meet the situation.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places
.- I am sure that in moving this motion I shall have, in a general sense, the support of all” honorable members, for this is in no way a party subject. It is not my intention, in presenting my case to honorable members, to criticize the Government or the departmental administration in any way. I intend to discuss the matter on the ground of general policy. I need hardly remind honorable members of the magnitude of our war service homes operations. Altogether 36,808 war service homes have been either constructed specifically for returned soldiers, or purchased for occupation by them. These homes have come into the possession of an admirable class of Australians - citizens possessed of more than normal virtue. These men had behind them, first, their war service. Their disposition to purchase houses, and the capacity that they have demonstrated to look after therm have shown that they are more than ordinarily capable of rearing families and making homes in the best sense of the word. Nearly all of these men are married. The great majority of them are fathers of families. There was, however, one unavoidable flaw in this scheme, namely, that the great majority of the houses, in fact, nearly all the new ones, came into the possession of these men at a time when prices were at their peak. It may be said of practically all the homes that a very full price was given . for them. Nevertheless, the returned soldiers have, as those of us who knew them expected they would, stood solidly by their bargain. At the 30th June, 1929, the position in regard to the repayment of loans for the purchase of these . houses was phenomenal, for the arrears amounted to less than 1 per cent. At the 30th June, 1930, the total amount in arrears was only £117,000, which was precisely 1 per cent, of the amount owing. That was probably a record in housing schemes without parallel in the world. It established beyond all question the disposition and determination of these men to stand to their bargain, circumstances permitting. It also establishes, in my opinion, the claims of the 37,000 or 38,000 purchasers of these homes to the sympathetic consideration of this Parliament now that they have entered a period of depression and relative incapacity to pay. Unfortunately, bad times have come, and this has led to two adverse developments iri connexion with our war service homes, one of which has arisen out of the other. ‘ First there came widespread unemployment, causing heavily reduced earnings on the part of many war service homes purchasers, and the entire disappearance of the earnings of many others. That, in turn, led to the heavy depreciation of the homes. There has been, first, loss of capacity to meet the weekly or monthly payments, and, secondly, heavy average depreciation of anything from 2f> per cent, to 30 per cent. This depreciation has, in my opinion, destroyed, at least to some extent, the incentive of these men to pay.
One can tell in a very few words the story of the very serious drift that has taken place. On the 30th June, 1930, the arrears totalled £117,000, while at the end of last June the total had increased’ to £269,000, making an increased loss in one year of £152,000; the arrears have more than doubled in a single year of the depression period. If we take the number of homes that have reverted to the Commonwealth because of the incapacity of the men to pay, the story is told with equal vividness. On the 30th June, 1930, there were only 215 reverted homes, and twelve months later - that is, at the end of the financial year just closed - that total had increased by 384.. In other words, in all the years between the initiation of the scheme and 1930, only 215 homes were abandoned; but, in the last year of the depression, 384 additional homes were abandoned, making a total of 599. These figures do not include homes which have reverted to the Savings Banks in South Australia and Victoria, which have acted under the scheme as the agents for the Commonwealth. It is estimated that, to-day, some 8,000 or 10,000 men are behind with their payments, and those arrears are sharply progressive at the present dme. In fact, one can say that the arrears arc becoming general. I am bringing this matter under the notice of the Government again because I fear that a chaotic situation w’ill arise, and that the Government will have left on its hands many thousands of these homes.
I come now to the subject of the diminished capacity of the ex-soldier to pay. As I view this matter, the Government must act immediately, if the situation is to be saved. The amounts now due week by week from many of these men cannot be met, because of unemployment, rationing, and reduced wages. In thousands of cases the occupants are confronted with a liability that it is physically impossible for them to discharge. I am not suggesting that the Government is unsympathetic, but I know that the Prime Minister, with his hands as full of business as they are at the present time, may not be aware of the actual situation. - To illustrate the sheer incapacity of the men to pay. I cannot, perhaps, do better than quote from the case as submitted by the men themselves. The United “War Service Homes Purchasers Association of Victoria, in its work and representations, is being fully supported by similar organizations in other parts of the Commonwealth. This association states -
A scheme which depended upon a high stable wage level for success must surely fail when, as at present, the wage level has fallen by 25 per cent.,, and tending lower. The changed ability to pay is clearly illustrated in the case of the basic wage purchaser. When the basic wage level was 85s. per week, the Commonwealth Statist estimated 18s. 9d. as home cost and HQs. 3d. food, clothing, &e. The weekly cost of a standard war service home, i.e., repayment, rates, taxes, insurance and maintenance, amounts to about 27s. per week ; bence the basic wage purchaser had 58s. per week for food and clothing, thus living 12 per cent, below the basic wage standard. To-day the net basic wage is 64g. 6d. per week, of which the statist allows 50s. 2d. for food and clothing, with the basic wage purchaser having still to meet 27s. per week to retain his home and hard won equity therein, can only spend 37s. 6d. in food, clothing, &c. ; hence a 35 per cent, sacrifice of the basic wage standard; a sacrifice which cannot be sustained, and must result in ever increasing arrears and reversions of homes to the commission, and in consequence severe loss in citizenship and finance to the community.
– “What is the value of a home on which the rate of repayment is 27s. per week?
– On the average, between £800 and £900, including rates, taxes, insurance, and maintenance. I think that the Prime Minister will find that the position has been fairly represented.
– Do the . ex-soldiers continue to occupy these homes after they have fallen into arrears with their pay- ments?
– Yes, most of them, and that is a fact which we must face. They continue to occupy these homes with an accruing liability.
– A good many of the anen have left their dwellings.
– Yes; far more in the last twelve months than in the previous ten years. Even if the men are left in occupation of these homes, there will be this growing debt.
– They are no worse off than thousands of other members of the com- munity.
– But the Commonwealth Government is the landlord in this case.
– They are paying low rates of interest.
– I guarantee that the majority of government and private landlords are treating their tenants far more generously than we have treated these ex-soldiers.
– The Government has been generous to them..
– If these men could obtain 10 per cent, of the financial generosity that has been shown to soldier settlers, they would be well satisfied. So far as I can see, a very heavy loss is inevitable.
– What percentage of the men are behind with their payments?
– The estimate is that from8,000 to 10,000 out of a total of some 37,000 are unable to meet their payments, and I would be surprised if the actual number was not higher than that. We must consider the position in life of the average occupant of these homes; they are nearly all men on small incomes. I admit the truth of the remark of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) that their plight is no worse than that of many others; but, from week to week, we do everything in our power to assist needy sections of the community. I might instance the wheatgrowers. I urge that the Government should so shape its policy that the unavoidable loss will be incurred in a manner least hurtful to the Government and to the occupants of the homes. If we simply allow matters to drift, the houses will come back to the Government, and nobody will gain anything. We shall have thousands of houses gradually deteriorating in value, which the Government can let only intermittently, or endeavour to find buyers for. This position was recognized by the War Service Homes Commission, which, for the financial year ended 1930, reported as follows : -
The commission is doing everything possible to dispose of these homes- that is, the abandoned homes- and meanwhile to obtain tenants. The difficult financial position, and the large amount of unemployment throughout the Commonwealth has made it impossible to improve on the figures revealed.
Even at that time the commission was embarrassed by homes falling back on its hands. Seeing that a loss is inevitable in any case, we should make it our object to keep these men in their homes. Of a total of £28,000,000 spent in the erection of these houses, less than £11,000,000 is now owing. The men want Belief to tide them over their period of incapacity to pay.
– Cases can be dealt with only on their merits. The honor able member does not suggest that there should be a general reduction?
– I do not make any specific suggestion ; I urge that the Government should take steps to ensure that the men remain in their homes They have proved themselves a splendid type of householder; they have demonstrated their capacity to hold their jobs, and to meet their obligations. Now that evil times have come upon them, I appeal to the Government, and to this Parliament, to see that these men, who have already paid several hundred pounds each on their homes, shall not lose them. The Government should not continue its policy of drift, which is resulting in the ejectment of dozens of returned soldiers from their homes. The policy now being followed is involving the Government in heavy losses, and it would not cost any more to do the right thing. The case is not answered by saying that the Government is adopting a policy of sympathetic consideration ; that it is not ejecting the men from their homes. The reply to that is that some hundreds went out during last year. If a man is out of work, or severely rationed, it is no consolation or encouragement to him to know that he will not be forced out of hia home, but that his liabilities will continue to pile up.
– The honorable member’s time has expired;
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr Gullett) said ‘that this was an important matter. I agree with him. The Government has invested £28,000,000 in this enterprise, of which amount £17,000,000 has been repaid, leaving a large amount of capital still invested. I regret that the honorable member did not regard the matter as of sufficient importance, however, to give the Government more than 35 minutes’ notice o’f his intentention to move this motion.
– I endeavoured to find the right honorable gentleman before lunch, but could not do so.
– I am not difficult to find, but my secretary received a telephone message only at 2.25 p.m., to notify me of the- honorable gentleman’s intention. The head office of the War Service Homes Commission is in Melbourne, and it takes time to get information from there. This matter has been raised over and over again. As an ex-Minister, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) must know that if he desires full information it is necessary to give the Government at least a few hours’ notice, so that Ministers may be able to obtain it. The honorable member said that the Government w:is following a policy of drift, and that thi.? policy was resulting in the ejectment of men from their homes. Up to the present only 600 homes of a total of 36,000, have been abandoned, though it is true that the rate at which the houses have been abandoned has accelerated during the last year. However, 600 out o’f 36,000 is not an enormous number. As part of the rehabilitation plan, the Government has reduced the interest payable by returned soldiers to 4 per cent., to which is added $ per cent, for supervision. That represents a reduction of £90,000 by which returned soldiers have benefited, though it is true, of course, that the Government has also benefited by a reduction of interest.
– How much does the Government receive each year from the occupants of war service homes?
– About £1^000,000.
– Of the £17,000,000 repaid by occupants of war service homes, £12,000,000 represents interest. Only £5,000,000 has been paid off the principal.
– That is so, but 1 know of no other housing scheme in which the rates of interest, are so low.
– The houses were loaded with unnecessary costs through mistakes at the outset.
– There may have been mistakes, but one has only to compare the rents paid with those charged elsewhere to realize that the costs have not been excessive. The honorable member for Henty said that values have depreciated. That is true, and no one would attempt to dispute it. It is true of all property. Everybody who has bought a nome, or a farm, or a parcel of shares, now finds the capital value of his property reduced very much. There is hardly an exception to that. That being so, this is surely not the time to permanently write down capital values.
– That is not suggested.
– No; the honorable member did not suggest that. As a matter of fact, he has not suggested anything. The suggestion that values should be permanently written down is, however, the only one that has been made by deputations which have waited upon the Minister. It may be that a general reduction of capital costs will have to be effected. I do not know. But I suggest that no responsible government would attempt to ascertain at the present time the value to which the homes should be written down. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) suggested that each case should be dealt with on its merits. Each case has been dealt with on its merits, and in not one instance during the two years that the Government has been. in office has a returned soldier been ejected from his house because he wa» unemployed.
– That is not correct. I shall submit particulars of a case tomorrow.
– If the honorable member can produce eyen an isolated case I undertake personally to investigate it. From time to time the Assistant Minister, Mr. Cunningham, who has taken over the administration of this work, has brought before Cabinet what might be termed “ border-line “ cases, and in every instance the decision has been generous to the returned soldier.
The honorable member laid great emphasis upon the fact that, during the past twelve months, the arrears of rent on these homes have increased in greater ratio than was the case in any other period. Is that not proof of the generosity with which the law has been administered?
– The alternative would be to eject them. What would the right honorable gentleman say of a landlord who ejected tenants these days in such circumstances?
– The fact that the arrearshave increased is certainly no basis for an indictment of the Government.
– I made no attack on the Government in the matter.
– The honorable member said that the position has arisen because of a policy of drift on the part of the Government. Actually, it is the result of the policy adopted by the Government of dealing with individual cases on their merits. The Government realizes that this is a time of emergency, when everybody is beset with difficulties.
I agree with the honorable member that the small percentage of arrears is really remarkable. About a year ago it was only 1 per cent., and even now it represents just a little over 2 per cent, of the total indebtedness. That stands to the credit of the men. It is also a tribute to the very liberal terms on which the homes were made available. I do not for one minute object to that. These men earned all that they have received, and they have behaved well. It is the desire of the Government to meet them in every possible way. However, the Government has responsibilities in the matter. The money with which the homes were erected was borrowed, and interest has to be paid on it. I believe that the rate of interest charged to the owners of these homes is less than the average paid on money borrowed. Again, that is part of the policy of the federal Government in dealing with returned soldiers.
Unless it can be shown that hardship is being imposed, no case can be made out for a general devaluation, particularly if it is not to be permanent.
– Is it not possible to reduce the rents in cases where occupants are receiving below the basic wage?
– In every case that is submitted to the Minister earnings are taken into consideration, and reduced repayments are accepted where that is considered advisable. It is true that the unpaid amount goes to arrears. That is a matter which will have to be considered, and an adjustment made, when the exact position can be determined. A permanent writing down of these properties is not practicable at the moment. Honorable members must understand that all of these home-owners would have to be treated alike, whether they were in need or not. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) quoted the case of a home for which 27s. a week is paid. I suggest that that must have been a fairly good house.
– That amount includes rates and taxes.
– Which would not be more than £10 a year. The term of repayment for these houses is 37 years. In the case of a dwelling valued at £900, the re-payment is £4 3s. 4d. a month, including interest. On a £700 house the payment is I6s. 2½d. a week, to which must be added4s. or 5s. a week for rates and taxes. I do not think that it would be possible to get any other house worth £700 for less than 25s. a week.
– There are any number available for renting at 12s. 6d. or 15s. a week.
– I am interested to learn where such a house could be found.
– Inthe right honorable gentleman’s own constituency.
– There is not a chance of gettingone there at sucha rate. Apparently honorable members opposite are endeavouring to prove that the act, which was passed and for many years administered by their government, is not a good or generous one.
– It cannot survive this period.
– It is doing so, because every case of hardship is being, dealt with on its merits. The honorable member referred to the very generous treatment that was extended to soldier settlers. Similar treatment is also given to owners of war service homes. Many millions of pounds have been written off the capital value of soldier settlements simply because these men were settled on land that was over-valued. Can honorable members seriously claim that a house that is being purchased for fi a week, over a period of 37 years, is over,valued at £900? Again, take a house valued at £700, for which a repayment of 16s. a week is made. Certainly, those dwellings have depreciated in value since they were erected, but all those matters are taken into account when applications are made to the department.
If the honorable member really wanted to obtain a full statement of the facts and a list of individual cases showing how the costs have been written down to these men, he should, at least, have had the courtesy to give a few hours, or a day’s notice, when the information would have been made available to honorable members.
– Why not have the householders represented on the proposed inquiry?
– I stated that the Government is having a full report made by the department administering these homes; by men who know all about the matter. I distinctly said that there need be no outside inquiry. The Government has confidence in the impartiality and ability of the men administering the department, and looks to them to report on each case submitted. The Minister then deals with the case on its merits, generously. From time to time cases are represented to honorable members which, on investigation, are found to have been mis-stated. There have been instances in which, because a home-owner has bought a piano, or something else that could not be regarded as a necessary, he has been in difficulties. The Government is not responsible for that sort of thing. Such facts are not revealed to honorable members when they are supplied with information. I do not say that those are typical cases. The fact that there is only 2 per cent, of arrears shows that the great body of war service home-owners are playing their part as good, worthy tenants of the Commonwealth. Because of that the Government is more than anxious- to meet them on every possible occasion. While the country is passing through difficult and uncertain times all we can do is to ameliorate the general conditions of the occupants of war service homes, and deal with every case of hardship on its merits.
.-I have already asked several questions in regard to this matter, and had private conferences with the Minister in charge of war service homes. I am not satisfied with the assurance that a sub-committee of the Cabinet is dealing with the matter. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is to be commended, for having moved the adjournment of the House to draw attention to the grievances of the soldier occupants, because the Government has been rather tardy in granting relief; to the men affected, the matter is urgent. The motion is not made in any partisan spirit. All honorable members will admit that what is fair for the creditor is fair for the debtor. Recently the Government, with the support of all parties, enacted financial emergency legislation which permitted the Commonwealth to deduct 22£ per cent, of the interest due on bonds out of the proceeds of which the soldiers’ homes were built. Indeed, some of the bonds will be held by the soldiers. Now the Government refuses to extend to its tenants the concession which it took from its creditors. The protest against the present charges conies, not only from those soldiers who are unemployed, but from the whole body of occupants of war service homes. I know the difficulties with which the Government has been confronted; but the fact remains that hundreds of returned soldiers have been dismissed from the Public Service - 1,500 from the Postal Department alone - and a great many of them are occupants of war service homes. Because so many have been deprived of their employment by the policy of the Government, the splendid record of repayment of principal and interest which the soldier tenants had maintained until recently has been spoiled to some extent. This matter must be regarded not only from the financial and sentimental viewpoints. For sentimental and other considerations the soldiers are entitled to that preference which was promised to them from all quarters. There is also the moral consideration. Those men who, at the invitation of the government of the day, invested their war gratuities in homes, are better citizens than those who squandered their money. The soldiers were induced to settle in areas fairly distant from the cities; now, by economic pressure, they are forced to vacate their homes and the healthy surroundings of the outer suburbs, and, in order to avoid the cost of train fares, are finding cheaper accommodation in the city slums. The Prime Minister, in response to my last question, said that the Commonwealth cannot afford to wipe off its books great sums of money. I remind the House that the Victorian scheme of soldier settlement involved a total outlay of £24,140,000 in respect of only 11,400 settlers. The arrears amount to £3,500,000. The concessions granted by the Government total £4,203,000. Land values were reduced by £250,000, and £1,370,124 has been written off in respect of the excess cost of buildings. Land was in many cases sold to the soldiers at inflated prices by profiteers who did not go to the war. In connexion with the construction of war service homes also the soldiers were exploited; we know of the scandals connected with the supply of timber. All the expenses due to profiteering and faulty administration were loaded on to the cost of the homes. The blame for that does not attach to the present Government, but it has a responsibility to clean up the mess and remove injustices. Of the total sum of £28,711,177 expended on war service homes, £17,000,000 has been repaid; of the repayments £12,000,000 represented interest, and only £5,000,000 was applied to the reduction of principal. The arrears at June, 1930, were only £117,302 - a wonderful record having regard to the fact that in every large body of men there will occur cases of hardship, and there will be a few wasters who will evade their dues. The arrears rose in February, 1931, to £197,591, and in July to £269,347. Even the last-named figure is small in comparison with the total liability of over £28,000,000.
– Even that represents only 2 per cent. In 1923 the arrears amounted to 6.9 per cent.
– The Government can afford to be generous. It is the biggest landlord in Australia, and has invited all the people to join in the general sacrifice by surrendering some portion of their interest, pensions, or wages. Toits tenants, however, who are purchasing homes, and are experiencing the general distress, it refuses adequate relief. I ask the Government to have this matter investigated. The soldiers do not want a starchamber inquiry by a sub-committee of the Cabinet; they ask for an investigation by an independent body which will hear their representations. We should adopt procedure similar to that which would operate in negotiations between private landlords and tenants. The war service homes occupant could rent a house for a rental of 25 per cent, below what he is now paying. Most of the soldiers have already lost a big share of their equity in their homes. Houses for which they paid £800 are probably worth not more than £500 now. A re-adjustment of payments will mean a loss to the Government, but the loss will be greater if action is delayed. Representatives of the War Service Home Purchasers Associations have been to Canberra to interview the Minister, and I have copies of some of the resolutions passed by their organizations -
I suggested to the Prime Minister weeks ago that the municipal valuations for 1932 should be accepted, but he said that that was not practicablei, because the valuations rose and fell according to the times. So should the valuations of war service homes vary according to the economic ‘circumstances of the community. The occupants are allowed 38 years in which to pay for their homes. What will a weatherboard dwelling be worth after the few extra years which, the Government is allowing to those who are unable to keep their instalments up to date? The soldiers ask for a 22£ per cent, reduction of the interest rate. I repeat that what is fair for the creditor is fair for the debtor. Other resolutions are -
Weekly repayment shall be according to the rent factor of the basic wage. The period of the contract to remain unaltered.
The weekly repayment payable by a widow shall not exceed 7f> per cent, of the weekly repayment payable by a soldier’ purchaser.
That arrears accumulating against the purchaser through unemployment and causes incidental to the trade depression over the period January, 1030, to date, shall be adjusted and computed upon the amended basis suggested in preceding proposals. Whereas a purchaser lias forfeited his home throughout the period .January, 1030, to date, such purchaser shall be allowed to present a claim for restoration of his home upon the amended basis according to these proposals.
That the concessions outlined to the United War Service Homo Purchasers Association respecting the treatment of purchaser unemployed, sick, or suffering through the depression, shall be maintained.
The act contains a provision that a tenant whose payments are in arrears may bc sued and ejected. I know that the Government has extended clemency to many occupants and has not taken action for their eviction, but it cannot claim much credit for that; scores of private landlords are receiving nothing from tenants who have lost their incomes. The Government, however, lias still power to sue ;i tenant for his arrears when conditions revive, and I have not heard any proposal by the Government to amend the act to prevent that from being done.
– Should not the tenant pay when he is able to pay? The honorable member is suggesting that the Government should not sue for repayment.
– When conditions revive, those who have fallen into arrears during the period of depression should be given a chance to pay gradually. A man with a family, and earning the basic wage, would require a long period in which to overtake the arrears he incurred during prolonged unemployment. I hope that a conference will be called.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I am glad that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) has said that the motion has not been proposed in a party spirit. The treatment of the occupants of war service homes interests every honorable member. Representing an electorate which includes a large number of group settlements, I am aware of many cases in which the Government has acted generously to the tenants, and has not taken action to have them evicted.
– Nevertheless, hundreds of occupants of war service homes are leaving their houses.
– The honorable member knows that that is not right.
– After all, any government should be a model landlord, lt should not take credit to itself merely for dealing liberally and even generously with its tenants, particularly soldiers who entered into occupation under model conditions of tenancy. Although the terms upon which the houses were acquired were liberal, the incomes of the purchasers at the rime of acquisition were probably from 30 per cent, to 50 per cent, greater than they are now. In many instances, the income has now vanished altogether. The rental payments were adjusted to their incomes at that time. To-day their ability to meet payments is very much worse, and, consequently, they experience difficulty in paying their instalments. Amongst the occupants in the group settlement in my electorate there is a general demand for a review of the conditions upon which the homes were purchased. I have submitted to the Minister in charge of war service homes copies of resolutions bearing on this subject. A loyal supporter of the Government avoids raising controversial matters in the House if private negotiation with the Minister will suffice, but I assert definitely that a general revision of the charges for war service homes would be in the interests of the Government as well as of the occupants, amongst whom there is a great deal of dissatisfaction. I agree that this may not be a time for a revaluation of the properties, as the Prime Minister has said, but there should be a re-adjustment of the payments.
– The Prime Minister said that that has been done.
– It has been done in individual cases, but all individual cases cannot be dealt with in connexion with a scheme involving £28,000,000 worth of property. A general examination of the whole scheme is called for. The occupants of war service homes are aware of the 22^ per cent, cut of interest, war pensions and salaries - and many of them have suffered these reductions - and they want to know why the advantage which the Government is thus getting is not being extended to them. They claim that they are equitably entitled to some mitigation of the instalment payments due to the Government, and attention is directed to the fact that, while the interest upon land advances has been reduced by 1 per cent., the reduction granted to the occupants of war service homes is only one-half of one per cent. Anomalies like this create ill feeling and unrest. It is not Sufficient for the Government to give an assurance that individual cases of hardship will be dealt with on their merits. If what I am told is correct, the Government will be confronted shortly by organized refusals to pay instalments upon the present basis.
– If they get plenty of encouragement from irresponsible persons no doubt they will refuse.
– If the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan) is referring to me as an irresponsible person, I resent that reflection, and ask that it be withdrawn.
– I am not accusing the honorable member; I am merely stating a fact.
– I am merely stating a fact when I mention the discontent that prevails amongst the occupants. I am not desirous of causing further trouble, but it would be foolish to imitate the ostrich by hiding our heads in the 6und. In the New South Wales Parliament, only a few days ago, legislationwas enacted under which all rents were reduced by 22£ per cent. I, in common with other honorable members, have to meet questions by returned soldiers as to why their payments are not reduced.
In addition, the group settlement’ occu- pants point to the fact that unoccupied houses are being let at 14s. and 15s. per week, while they are still being forced to meet their full contractual responsi bilities. I know that there is a difference between the conditions of tenancy and those relating to the purchase of a home ; but the returned soldier wants these things explained to him. It would br much better to have a full examination of the whole position. I hope that something will be done by the Government to reduce payments during -this period of depression. I have told returned soldier? in the group settlements that they have a reasonable claim for a reduction in payments while the depression lasts and where their incomes have been reduced. Their income has become less because wages and pensions have been reduced. There is no doubt that- the group settlement homes were built at undue cost and were overvalued. In 1923, after I had moved the adjournment of the House to discuss’ this very subject, the then Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) reduced the valuation of homes costing more than £800 to that amount, but not of homes costing under £800. Therefore, an occupier who acquired a home for £790 received no benefit at all,, while another occupier whose house : cost £900 wa? given the benefit of a reduction of valuation by £100. That anomaly still exists. Although many of the homes in these group settlements have been faultily constructed, the occupiers are responsible for keeping them in good repair. Many of these men have had to spend large sum’ on maintenance.
– So have the occupiers of other war service homes.
– I appeal to th> Commonwealth Government to carry on the spirit of the model landlord which inspired it when the War Service Homes Act was passed some years ago. That act provided, not for a commercial scheme, bin for the purchase of war service home upon reasonable terms. I recognize that, at the moment, there are difficulties in the way of a revaluation of properties, but there can be some concession made in rentals, particularly in view of the reduced income of the occupant, and of the reduction of 1 per cent, in interest as applied to land settlement. There is a growing discontent among the occupants of these homes. Resolutions have been carried in my electorate and elsewhere, and the Returned Soldiers Conference itself has asked the Government to take action. I therefore urge the Assistant Minister to give some consideration to the request of the various members who have spoken on this subject this afternoon to have a full investigation of the position.
.- It seems to me that there have been a lot of late converts among honorable members to the case put up by the War Service Home Purchasers Association. I represent that association, and for many months have been negotiating privately with the Assistant Minister in preference to taking up the time of this House.
– We have tried that, but failed.
– I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White). I feel that they have put up a good case, and that the men concerned have a good case; but I remind those honorable members that I said all that they have stated this afternoon when I was opposing the introduction of the Premiers’ plan. I then pointed out that the plan would upset previous conditions, that the purchasers of homes would be £1 a week worse off as a result of the wage reductions under the plan, and that unless the contract conditions were altered it would be impossible for some hundreds of railway engineers and others in the Newport and similar workshops to carry out the conditions of their contract. These men entered into contracts according to their capacity to pay. Many of them were young married men at the time, and their liabilities have now increased enormously. Their income has been reduced as a result of the wage reductions under the Premiers’ plan. As ‘the honorable member for Henty has said, many of them have given up their homes.
– About 380 of these men left their homes before the plan was given effect.
– The wage reductions have brought about impossible conditions. Men who struggled for years to meet their obligations under the war service homes scheme have left homes which have since been let to other persons at a lower rental. I am not criticizing the Government. The Assistant Minister has met individual cases. In no case has an occupier been expelled, but I know that some hundreds of these men were under notice of compulsion when this Government took office. Happily those notices were immediately cancelled. I agree with the Assistant Minister that it would be impossible to write down values permanently; but surely it is obvious to everybody that the conditions under which these men purchased their homes have completely changed. Their incomes have been reduced, and while that position obtains their rentals should be reduced. One reason why some of these men have left their homes is that they cannot hear the mental strain of having their arrears piling up. The Assistant Minister has said that, in some cases, payments have been reduced. That is so, but the fact remains that the reductions have been placed under the heading of arrears, and the arrears are becoming so stupendous that the occupants have left their homes, despite the fact that they have been meettheir obligations for the last ten or twelve years. There has been a reduction of £1 a week in the income of the man who, prior to the operation of the Premiers’ plan, received £5 a week. Some of these men, in times of prosperity, bought pianos and furniture for their homes, and, perhaps, sent their children to public schools. There is no reason why those things should now be given up or taken into consideration in arriving at reductions of rentals. I know that the Minister received a deputation and promised that a sub-committee of Cabinet would give consideration to its request; but nothing definite has been done. The men concerned are becoming more and more disheartened. All they ask is that the Government will have a small and inexpensive inquiry undertaken, or allow them to elect a representative who will place their views before the sub-committee of Cabinet. That, I think, is not an unfair request.
– I join with the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) in their representations to the Assistant Minister. A great deal of dissatisfaction exists among the occupants of war service homes, and their request that they should be allowed to state their side of the case is not unreasonable. The Prime Minister himself has admitted that there are two sides to a case in nearly every instance. I have received a circular from the war service homes purchasers asking for a departmental inquiry at which they can be represented. I know that the departmental, officers are sympathetic, but. they are bound by the terms of the act and the regulations. The Minister himself has been sympathetic in administering the act, but everybody has to be sympathetic in this time of depression. The honorable member for Flinders referred to the Premiers’ plan ; but let me say that months before that plan came into operation I met a large body of war service homes occupants from Footscray and other districts, and they asked that they might be allowed to put their views before a committee of inquiry or to the Minister concerned. They wanted their case to be judged on its merits. We certainly should make no reductions in the case of men in full employment and in receipt of a reasonable wage. These men have not asked for that.
– Not many of them are in full employment.
– At least 10,000 of these occupants of war service homes have, since they entered into their contracts to purchase homes, suffered a decrease in wage, and they are not now able to meet their commitments. Many private landlords have, within the lust eight months, reduced rents from 35s. to 20s. They have made that concession without parliamentary enactment. They have realized that their tenants, in view of the changed conditions, cannot afford to pay high rents, and they are quite prepared to accept lower payments so long as the homes are kept in a proper state of repair. They know that if the homes were empty they would soon go to rack and ruin.
– Is the honorable member suggesting a permanent revaluation of these homes?
– No speaker this afternoon has suggested a permanent reduction in the value of war service homes. The occupants of these’ homes should be given some concession so as to tide them over their difficulties. At least they should be allowed to state their case. I admit that the Assistant Minister has devoted more time than have previous Ministers to investigating individual cases. He is big in physique, and I think that he is big in heart. His sympathies must go out to the occupants of war service homes. When private landlord* are reducing rents, surely the Commonwealth Government cannot stand aloof and remain a hard-hearted landlord, such as the private landlord has been generally characterized.
– That is an absolutely unfair statement of the position. The honorable member is suggesting that we are unfair landlords. ‘
– We are asking on, that the Government should do what many private landlords have already done.
– The Government has been much more generous than many private landlords.
– More than 10,000 people are affected by the complaints thai have been voiced this afternoon, and some attention should be given to their condition. Many occupiers of war service homes have paid a considerable sum off the cost of their homes during the years they have been in occupation of them, and as they have an equity in the properties, some consideration should be given to them in the present distressing period. I hope that if an inquiry is granted a representative of the occupiers of war service homes will be appointed to the committee.
.- 3 regret that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) was compelled to move this motion. Only to-day I received a letter from the Secretary of the Returned Soldiers Protection Association in my electorate, in which reference was made to the difficult position of many occupiers of war service homes as a result of the depression through which we are passing. While I was Assistant Minister and in charge of the War Service Homes Department, a request was made to me that the capital value of these homes should be written down by 25 per cent. I have no doubt that a similar request has been made to the present Minister. It is now being asked that a reduction of 10 per cent, shall be made. 1 have given very full consideration to this subject, and am quite satisfied that the prices paid for many war service homes was far higher than it should have been, even bearing in lii ind the conditions that prevailed when the purchases were made. Some of the war service homes in Hobart are an absolute disgrace. I do not blame the present Government for that.
– Whose fault was it?
– The fault of those in authority at the time.
– This is not a party political matter.
– I agree with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) ; but I again assert that it was an absolute disgrace that some of the war service homes built in Hobart and its vicinity should have been laid upon such unsound foundation. Many of the homes that I have in mind will not last for the time the soldiers have to pay for them - which is 26 years in the case of weatherboard houses and 39 years in the case of brick - for they are in such a state of serious disrepair to-day that the occupiers of them, because of unemployment, or reduced earning capacity, are quite unable to carry out the necessary renovations and renewals.
– Many homes have been built in unsuitable areas.
– That is one of the factors which makes the position so difficult to deal with. In my opinion, the capital value of some of these homes should be written down by 50 per cent. The earning capacity even of war service homes purchasers in permanent work has, in most cases, been reduced by more than 20 per cent., and it is absolutely impossible for these men to meet the obligations which they entered into some years ago. I know that the Government has dealt sympathetically with cases of hard ship which have been brought under its notice. It has been said that a number of men have been ejected and a number of others prosecuted; but it would be illuminating to some honorable members to learn of the number of cases of men who. have unfairly attempted to evade their payments. I have said on other occasions, and I repeat now, that if all the men who are purchasing war service homes and are in a position to meet’ their obligations promptly and regularly would do so, they would make it a lot easier for other men who are not so fortunate. A large percentage of the ejectment orders which have been issued have been in respect of men who are in constant employment at fair wages
– The percentage of arrears is so small that there cannot be many cases of that kind.
– The trouble is that some war service homes occupiers force the department to issue ejectment orders before they will make payments which they should make without the issuing of such orders. It has been argued that the Government should extend the period for the repayment of the purchase money for these homes. But the returned men who are purchasing homes are not favorable to that course .because, as they rightly point out, it would mean, in quite a number of cases, that the houses would have fallen into ruin before the expiry of the period of repayment. The steps which the Government has taken to assist men who have fallen into arrears with their payments, are helpful, but it must be remembered that the amounts left unpaid are accumulating and must be paid at some time. I hope that the Government will give earnest consideration to thiB important subject. It would be difficult to write down values by 25 per cent., but they could be written down 10 per cent. That proposal is worthy of earnest consideration. It would be a good plan to hold an inquiry into this subject, and to provide for a representative of the occupiers of war service homes to participate in it. If the war service homes purchasers had a direct representative on the committee of inquiry, they would feel that the full facts would be adduced in every case, and that everything would be done fairly and above board. Certainly a large number of purchasers of war service homes should be relieved, to some extent, of their liabilities to the Government.
– I shall not speak at length on this subject, butI wish to ask honorable members to consider one aspect of it particularly. The mover of the motion has suggested that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the subject, with the object of granting some redress to the purchasers of war service homes. It seems to me that honorable members on both sides of the House are satisfied that many occupiers of war service homes are suffering under a great disability, which should not be allowed to continue any longer. If honorable members are agreed on this point, why prolong the agony? There is a pronounced tendency in this Parliament to delegate to some other authority work which it should do itself, and to shift the responsibility for action on to other shoulders. I hold the view that, if we believe that relief should be given to the occupiers of war service homes, we should give it at once, and not delay action pending the making of a protracted inquiry at considerable expense. Let us look at the subject from another aspect. When the pensions payable to soldiers and their dependants came up for review, the Premiers Conference did not suggest conferring with the individuals likely to be affected, but itself made an immediate decision. It declared that a definite percentage reduction should be made. If that policy could be applied to pensions, why cannot it be applied to the purchasers of war service homes? If a fair and equitable decision is to be made in this matter, the reduction should not be on a 10 per cent. basis, but on the per cent. basis, which was considered equitable in regard to pensions. Let us be honest about the question. We should deal with this matter without, hesitation, and do to-day what ought to be done. I have not at my disposal so much information on this subject as some other honorable members. My electorate is industrial in character, and my constituents are not very greatly involved in respect of war service- homes. But I know very well that thousands of trade unionists in other electorates are so involved. Many of these men have suffered the loss of their employment, and many others have suffered both a reduction of wages and a rationing of work. It appears to me, therefore, that from whatever angle the subject is viewed, a case can be made out for the granting of immediate relief by the Government. Ample time has been given to the Minister in charge of this department, and to his colleagues in the Cabinet, to consider every phase of this subject. Many questions have been asked in the House, both with and without notice, in regard to war service homes, and the Government cannot truly say that it has not had time to consider the position. It has been watching the developments for a long while, and it should be in a position now to say definitely that immediate relief will be granted to these people, who are so desperately in need of it, and are being asked to shoulder a burden which is impossible for them to carry.
– In view of the fact that there is a general desire to complete our discussion of the tariff schedule, I hardly think the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) was justified in moving this motion.
– Then why is the honorable member occupying time in discussing it?
– In order to prevent the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) wasting the same amount of time in talking platitudes which are fit only for the ears of the mixed bathers of Manly.
The remarks of honorable members opposite come with bad grace, seeing that the present Government cancelled ejectment orders issued by the previous Ministry. ‘I understand that the- rate of interest paid by the occupants of these homes was only about 5 per cent.; no other citizen could have a home built for him on such munificent terms. I understandthat the rate has now been reduced to 4½ per cent., so there is no justification for another reduction. The Government is deserving of commendation for its generous treatment of these men in the present difficult times, but there are limitations to government gene- rosity because of the financial position that exists to-day. If the gold lying idle in the vaults of the banks had been utilized for the building of homes for exsoldiers and others, it would have served a useful purpose. Personally, I would prefer a war service home valued at £1,000 to £1,000 worth of the gold lying unproductive in the vaults of the banks. The Commonwealth has £15,000,000 worth of gold that is earning nothing. If it were spent in building houses, shelter could be provided for those who need it, and in that way some benefit would be derived from the gold. The Government is endeavouring to alter the present financial system, and if it succeeds, it will, perhaps, be in a position to be more generous than heretofore in its treatment of the occupants of war service homes. It need not be ashamed of its conduct towards these men. I have been assured by s”ome of them that they have been treated well with respect to their payments. It cannot be regarded as satisfactory that on homes valued at £28,000,000 only about £11,000,000 is outstanding. If money had been spent years ago in the building of homes, instead of being hoarded up in gold, great benefit would have accrued.
In submitting a motion for the adjournment of the House for the ventilation of this matter, honorable members opposite appear to be seeking political limelight. Were they in power to-day, the occupants of war service homes would be treated with less generosity that has ‘ been shown to them by the present Government. ‘ I agree with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) that it is better to leave the ex-soldiers in these homes, despite their inability to meet their payments, than to have the houses empty. Too many of our people are forced by present circumstances to camp out, or take any meagre shelter thai is available to them. The work of home building by the Government might well -be extended. As soon as the necessary power is obtained by the Commonwealth Government, it should build homes for not only ex-soldiers, but also other needy and deserving sections of the community. I consider that members of the present Ministry need not reproach themselves over their conduct in this matter; they have acted magnanimously.
.- The Government has been endeavouring to deal with this difficult situation for many months, and no new light has been thrown upon it by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett). It is well known that the occupants of war service homes were induced to take them on their return from the late war. They were said to have been provided with houses valued! at £800, but it was merely a case of a contract having been let for the erection of st house for that amount, and, in many cases, in my opinion, the ex-soldiers were robbed. Very few of the homes were worth the amounts at which they were valued.
– It wa3 a commercial transaction.
– Yes; but, in many instances the interests of the occupants were not safeguarded, and they had no voice in regard to the erection of the buildings. In my judgment, they were deliberately robbed. The honorable member for Henty said that, if the home purchasers had only 10 per cent, of the benefits received by soldier settlers, they would be satisfied. It must be admitted, however, that the conditions under which ex-soldier settlers were placed on farms were monstrous. Bad as were the conditions on which the occupants of the war service homes were provided with houses’, the soldier settlers received much worse treatment. The latter took up their land at a time- when butter was fetching 3s. per lb. and apples £1 per bushel. They were, placed on land that had been given an inflated value, and from the outset they had no chance whatever of succeeding.
– They were compelled, in some” cases, to cultivate certain kinds of plants.
– That is so. When their land reached the productive stage there was no market for their crops. The inaccurate statement has been made repeatedly that the primary producers have been sacrificed by this Government. The honorable member for Henty has had the temerity to suggest that the treatment received by soldier settlers was more favorable than that meted out to the occupants of war service homes. Honorable members opposite apparently have no sympathy wilh the men and women who are struggling in the country, and on whom Australia must depend to get it out of the financial mire. .Many of the occupants of war service homes were ejected by the previous Government.
– Rut this Government cancelled 200 ejectment notices.
– Yes. Were the present Opposition still in power, many more would have been turned out of their homes. What are the circumstances of the soldier settlers, who are said to have received particularly favorable conditions ?
– I said nothing of the sort.
– The honorable member should not have made such a comparison. The soldier settlers . have had worse experiences than the majority of people. The time is not opportune to reduce the capital costs of any service. We must take into consideration the depressed conditions generally, since there is now a prospect of an improved outlook for Australia; but no ex-soldier should be turned out of his home. Every consideration should be given to those who are unemployed. There should be suspension of the repayments for the time being, and, if circumstances justify such action lit a later stage, the capital costs should be written down. Otherwise, there would be a piling up of heavy liabilities that the occupants would be unable to meet, and, when they had a chance of reemployment, there would be no incentive for them to go back to work, because they would owe so much. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) referred to inflated wages amounting to £5 per week.
– I spoke’ of the inflated value of the houses, and suggested that, if the wages of the occupants rose again, the valuations should be increased.
– I do not consider £5 a weak an inflated wage. I am agreeable to the writing down of the valuations, but there is a time for everything. Honorable members opposite, in moving the adjournment of the House, are merely delaying the business of Parliament in order to secure popularity with the electors. If this is not a party matter, we should work hand in hand, aud try to relieve soldier settlers, as well as the occupants of war service homes.
– I recognize that the matter under discussion raises a most difficult problem. When I first entered this chamber, I had occasion to make many representations on behalf of the occupants of war service homes to the Minister of the day, who was the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and he invariably dealt with each case on its merits. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has promised this afternoon that that course will be followed.
– That will not meet the position, because 384 of the occupants left their homes during the last financial year.
– I know quite well that some returned soldiers have vacated their homes, but I know also that some who had been ejected were restored to their homos by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), when he was administering the War Service Homes Department. So far as I know, there have been no evictions from war service homes during the regime of the present Government. In the electorate which I represent there have been none. During the illness of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) I dealt with his correspondence, and several cases of returned soldiers came up for review, and in every case the returned soldier received full satisfaction. Representations were made on behalf of some returned men by the Cessnock Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and I arranged thai, the Minister should visit’ the district, and inquire personally into the cases. When the honorable member for Hunter recovered, he informed me that there was no need for the Minister to visit the district, as all the cases had been satisfactorily settled.
– There are more war service homes in that electorate than in any other.
– There are certainly a great many, and the conditions of some of the tenants is deplorable because, for nearly two years, there was a lockout on the coal-field. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Culley) said that some returned soldiers in war service homes were able to pay their rent, but .did not. That is one of the difficulties facing the administration. If all those who were able to pay would only do so, it would be possible to accord better treatment to those who are honestly unable to pay. I know of men holding good positions in the Public Service who have refused to pay anything for the last twelve months, and became very resentful when the screw was put on them.
– Does the Minister agree that that is so?
– The Minister knows that it is so.
– He is silent.
– There may not be any who have not paid their rent for twelve months, but I know of some who have paid none for nine months.
– I do not know whether the Minister is fully aware of what is going on, but those who administer his department know all about it. I should be agreeable to do as the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) suggested, namely, reduce rents by 22$ per cent. That has been done quite recently in New South Wales. The act has been parsed, and comes into operation to-day. A man whO, on the 30th June last, was paying 25s. a week will now have to pay only 19s. 7d. a week. It would be of great help to returned soldiers if we were able to reduce their rent by 2s. a week. I hope that each case will be dealt with by the department on its merits. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) wanted something more than that. There are some who wish for a sweeping reform, but, in my opinion, if such a reform takes place it should be effected by this Parliament.
.- The matter brought under the notice of this House by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) will, I am ‘ certain, receive the most sympathetic consideration from honorable members in all parts of the House. The fact that the honorable member has felt it incumbent .upon him to bring this matter forward is to me a clear indication that his chickens are coming home to roost. The honorable member was one of the most vociferous in demanding that economies should be effected, and wages reduced.
– I have never advocated the reduction of wages, though I have advocated the reduction of civil servants’ salaries.
– The honorable member demanded clamorously that costs of production should be brought down, and he said that this was impossible while wages, fixed by the Arbitration Court awards, remained at an artificially high level. Now, when the honorable member has had his way, he finds that his policy is calling forth the curses, instead of the blessings, of the public.
– Let the honorable member wait until the electors of Corio have finished with him.
– If the honorable member wishes, I am prepared to contest the Henty electorate against him, or he may come to Corio and contest that seat with me. I am not afraid of him, or of Major Casey either.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Norman Makin). Order! The honorable member should address himself to the subject before the Chair.
– The returned soldiers are now the victims of a policy advocated and supported by the honorable member for Henty. They are suffering from a diminution of income, but they still have to meet certain fixed charges under the contracts into which they have entered, with the result that they are in difficulties. The position of returned soldiers, however, is not different from that of thousands of other persons who entered into long term contracts for the purchase of homes.
– In this case the Government is the landlord.
– That is true, but the Government should have regard, not only to returned soldiers, but to other sections of the community as well. If the Government makes a reduction in the capital value of properties held by returned soldiers so as to allow them to escape part of the obligations into which they have entered, then every other section of the community has an equal right to have excess capital values written off their properties. To do that would cause general confusion. I am prepared to admit that returned soldiers have some claim.
– That is generous of the honorable member !
– But they have no greater claim, in my opinion, than any other section of the community, and if a reduction is to be made in their case, it should be made in all others.
– The honorable member does not’ think that returned soldiers have any special claim!
– At the present time, returned soldiers who are in receipt of pensions are not in so serious a predicament as the average wage earner who has no pension, but has certain fixed charges to meet out of a reduced income.
– Is the honorable member taking into consideration the soldiers’ war service?
– Having regard to the reduced incomes of ordinary citizens, they are as much entitled to consideration by this Parliament as are returned soldiers, and there ought to be no distinction made between returned soldiers and other sections of the community.
– Now the honorable member has come out into the open.
– Already the returned soldiers have received from this and the State Parliaments very generous treatment. They pay a lower rate of interest on the capital value of the homes they occupy than is paid by other members of the community.
– Does Hie honorable member not think . tha* they should receive any privileges?
– I think that every section of the community ought to be dealt with fairly and justly, and I am not going, to allow the honorable member to make political capital out’ of the position of the returned soldiers. That is what he is trying to do now. He is trying to exploit the returned soldiers in the hope that it will assist the fortunes of the party with which he is associated. I know of no instance, since the Labour Government has controlled the administration of this department, in which occupants of war service homes have not been dealt with sympathetically. Immediately the present .Government took office it cancelled 200 ejectment orders which were pending for non-payment of rent.
– It did not cancel all the orders.
– It would have done so if it could. In my own electorate, every returned soldier who has applied to the department for relief has been generously treated. In view of the record of the department, how can the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) seriously suggest that control should be taken out of the hands of the Minister? The Prime Minister stated that the matter of war service homes administration had been referred to a sub-committee of Cabinet for consideration. Every case will be dealt with on its merits, and the Government will see, so far as is humanly possible, that no hardship is inflicted od any one occupying a war service home. The pity of it is that the administration with which the honorable member for Henty ‘was associated ever initiated the war service homes scheme. Had the provision of home3 for returned soldiers been left’ to the State Governments, to be worked through the State Savings Banks, as was eventually done, the capital value of these homes would never have been so grossly inflated.
– The State Governments bought farms for the returned soldiers at inflated values.
– That may be so, but the Commonwealth Government was just as much responsible for the inflation of land values as were the State departments which directly administered the schemes.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– As the Minister in charge of war service homes, I propose to deal briefly with some of the points which have been raised during this debate. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) did not tell the House what he thinks should bc done for the relief of the occupants of war service homes.
– Again and again I have asked for an inquiry.
– The honorable member assured the House that the matter was brought forward to-day in a non-party spirit. All honorable mem- bers will agree that this is not a party political matter. Three interests are involved - that of the soldier, that of the administration, and that of the general public. The sum of £28,700,000 of loan money is invested in war service homes; and upon it interest has to be. paid. If the interest is not paid by the men who are using the product of this money, those who are getting no advantage from the expenditure will have to be more heavily taxed. All Australian governments are operating to-day on overdrafts. This is not a time of abundant revenues, and no government, whether Labour or Nationalist, can afford to give anything- away.
– The interest on the money borrowed by the Government has been reduced.
– We charge to the occupants of war service homes the amount we pay for the money. I am glad that all honorable members have borne testimony to the manner in which the present Government has dealt with cases of hardship. If an honorable member believes that any man has been wrongfully evicted from a war service home since the present Government has been in power, I challenge him to examine the official files and then say that that soldier has not hada fair deal.
– I can give the names and addresses of men who have been wrongfully evicted.
– I deny that they have been wrongfully evicted. Many of the statements made at meetings of returned soldiers are based on inaccurate information. Thehonorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) conveyed to the department certain allegations that are not in accordance with the facts. Other honorable members, to whom representations have been made by soldier tenants, have not always been told the truth. The statement has beenmade that the houses from which soldiers have been evicted have subsequently been rented for less than the tenant-purchaser had paid. Of a rental of 22s. 6d., more than 6s. is an instalment in reduction of the principal. The actual rental is thus reduced to about 16s. The honorable member for Reid brought to my notice a statement by the Bankstown sub-branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Association, that four war service homes from which soldiers had been evicted were let for lower rentals than had been paid by the former occupants. On investigating the complaint, 1 found that the four houses were rented for 15s., 16s., 17s. 6d, and 22s. 6d., respectively. The rental of 15s. was fixed because the house had been left in a state of serious disrepair by the previous tenant. The house had not been lived in ; it had been literally knocked to pieces, and the commission had to incur expense in repairing it. When the present Government assumed office, the war service homes administration was about to serve many notices of ejectment upon unemployed returned soldiers. The Government ordered that the notices be withheld, and to. this generous treatment a portion of the increased arrears is due. Naturally, if payment is not enforced, arrears will increase. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr, White) said that through unemployment many soldiers are leaving their homes and going to live in the slums of the city. That that is not so is proved by the fact that of 36,000 homes built by the Commission, only 384 became vacant last year.
-I said that many of the soldiers are leaving their homes and going to live in the slums. Many others will do so unless the Government shows consideration to them.
– The honorable member is stating what is not true. Surely he will accept my assurance.
– On a point of order. The remark of the Minister that I said something which is not true is unparliamentary, and offensive to me. I ask that it be withdrawn.
– The expression used by the Minister is unparliamentary. I ask him to with-
– I do so. The statement of the honorable member for Balaclava is incorrect. I am convinced of that by the investigations that I have made. No unemployed occupant of a war service homes has been evicted during this Government’s term ofoffice; but some occupants have to be threatened with eviction before they will pay what is due to the commission. There are men iu the professions, the Public Service, and in business1 who can well afford to pay, yet will not do so until they are threatened with ejectment. .Only a few weeks ago I signed an authority to eject a State Minister of the Crown who is drawing £20 a week. He would not pay until we took proceedings against him.
– Name him.
– The honorable member would not be any happier if he knew; the man to whom I refer is not a member of this Parliament. The statement has been made that the wooden houses will be worthless by the time the last instalment on them is paid. I deny that. If a house is well cared for, it should be worth approximately as much at the end of 25 years as it is to-day. The wooden house in which I was born was erected 52 years ago, and it is worth more to-day than when it was built. Unfortunately, many honorable members are being stampeded by the meetings of soldiers in their electorates, and some are going so far as to ask that the values of the houses be written down to present market levels. A soldier loses nothing through the temporary depression of the property market unless he is compelled to sell .now. If he continues to occupy his home his equity remains intact. Many of the men who have vacated their war service homes were in a -hopeless position over a period of years, even before the depression, and at their own request they were relieved of contracts which they had no chance of completing. Some of them were in receipt of incomes of from £5 to £8 a week ; yet they were unable to meet their payments, and the Government was compelled to issue notices of ejectment. They admitted that they had no chance of meeting their engagements, and asked to bc released from them. In regard to the war service homes generally, if values were written down to the present market levels, n tremendous burden would be thrown upon taxpayers who are not interested in war service homes. Those who are purchasing houses under the credit foncier system of “the State Savings Bank of
Victoria are paying 6 per cent, on the principal, and the maximum currency of a loan is 30 years. The minimum deposit is 25 per cent., but the War Service Homes Commission has erected homes for soldiers for deposits as low as £10.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 257b.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What progress is being made with the distribution of the Queensland allocation of the £100,000 grant from the Commonwealth f)1 the relief of excess coal-miners?
– The sum of £7,000 was allocated to Queensland from the Commonwealth grant of £100,000 for the repatriation of surplus coal-miners. The administration of this fund was entrusted to a small committee, comprising the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation in Brisbane, as chairman, the Commonwealth Sub-Treasury Accountant, and a representative of the miners as members. In a report, dated the 18th September, the chairman of the committee stated that an amount of £2,670 had been distributed to date, and that a number of applications for assistance was under consideration by the committee. Assistance has been granted for various purposes, mainly to place men on small holdings, and to establish others in business which offers a degree of permanency.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he has any information as to the personnel of the Russo-Trading Agency, to which the cargo of Russian timber, which recently arrived at Sydney, was consigned?
– The cargo in question was consigned to the order of the Russo Export Agency, Sydney. No definite information is in possession of the department regarding the constitution of this body, but the Tariff Board is making full inquiries into the circumstances under which the shipment was imported, and it is understood is making particular inquiries regarding the agency.
asked , the Prime
Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow.: -
Alleged Statements of Director of Public Works
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Importation in Containers.
– On the 17th September, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) asked the following question, upon notice : -
How many gallons of petrol were imported in containers into the Commonwealth during: each of the following months, viz.: - January, February, March, April, May, and June, 1931?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 16th September, the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) asked, without notice, whether it was the intention of the Prime. Minister to present to the House a statement showing the total amount of loans uncoverted in connexion with the recent conversion proposal, and in particular the amount of federal loans unconverted showing in detail the amount of each federal issue unconverted and the several dates of maturity. Insofar as the information desired is available, it is set out in the following table: -
The existing dates of maturity of the Commonwealth securities included in the above table are as follow: - 1931. securities - 15th December, 1931. 1932 securities - 15th December, 1932. 1933 securities -15th February, 1933. 1934 securities - 31st May, 1934 and 15th November, 1934. (The amount maturing in 1934 has not been analysed so as to show separately the amounts maturing in May and November in that year.) 1935 securities -15th March. 1935, and 15th September, 1935. (The amount maturing in1935 has not been analysed so as to show separately the amounts maturing in March and September in that year.) 1936 securities - 15th December, 1936. 1937 securities - 15th March. 1937. -
The State securities mature at varying dates in each year. Of the amount maturing in 1931, £1,399,402 represents holdings in the New South Wales loan which matured on the 10th August, 1931. The above figures do not include securities for approximately £30,000 in respect of which extended time given for notification of dissent has not yet expired. These tables do not include securities in respect of which notices of dissent have been withdrawn. The numbers of persons who dissented from conversion are as follow: -
The dissents have been further analysed under the following groups: -
– On the 16th September, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) asked me, without notice, to make available to the House the full text of the agreement under which the Commonwealth Bank has absorbed the Government Savings Bank of Western Australia.
A copy of an agreement between the State of Western Australia and the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia, in relation to the transfer of the assets, liabilities, and business of the Government Savings Bank of Western Australia, has been laid on the table of the Library.
– On Friday last, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) asked me a question, without notice, in regard to a Mr. G. K. Radygin.
I have made inquiries which confirm the statement I then made that this gentleman has no official status in the Commonwealth of Australia.
The following papers were presented : -
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 111.
Financial Emergency Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, Nos. 99, 110.
Public Service Act - Appointment of F. G. Lumley, Department of Health.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Public Health Ordinance - Regulations (Sale of Food and Drugs).
Transport Workers Act - Regulations amendedStatutory Rules 1931, No. 122.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Consideration resumed from the 2nd October(vide page 455), on motion by Mr. Forde -
That the schedule to the customs tariff be amended.
Division 8. - Earthenware, Cement, China, Glass and Stone
Item 239 (Refractory Bricks.)
– During the hearing before the Tariff Board, carborundum refractory material was mentioned, and all parties tacitly agreed that it should be omitted from the classification, because it is not produced in Australia. Carborun- dum refractories have certain outstanding characteristics, including high thermal conductivity, which is essential for (lie economic operation of some special types of furnaces. I suggest to the Minister that this material has been inadvertently included in the schedule, and I ask him to consider whether action should not be taken in the Senate to have it eliminated. In the past the duties were: British, free; intermediate, 5 per cent.,; and general, 10 per cent. As this material is not in competition with Australianmade refractories, it should continue to be admitted free of duty.
– Any carborundum refractory bricks that are not manufactured in Australia are admitted free under departmental by-laws.’ As, ‘ therefore, no hardship is imposed, I cannot see my way clear to give to the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) the assurance for which he asks. Refractory bricks are used in a large number of industrial establishments, including steel and gas works, and glass factories, and we cannot allow the production of them to languish. The Australian industry is capable of supplying nearly every type of refractory brick that is now employed, and any special classes that are not produced here are admitted without payment of duty.
Item agreed to.
By omitting the whole of sub-item (b) (twice occurring) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item : - “(b) Earthenware, brownware, and stoneware, including glazed or enamelled fire clay manufactures, n.e.i., and all kinds of porous insulating blocks, ad val., British, 35 per cent.; intermediate, 40 per cent.; general, 60 per cent.
– This item deals with earthenware and imported materials that are in everyday use in the building trade, such as washing basins and the .like. I submit that the duties which have been imposed are excessive. Many of these articles cannot be manufactured in Australia, and the local manufacturers themselves have admitted before the Tariff Board that much, of the material which is made here is not equal to that which is imported. They have expressed satisfaction with a duty of 25 per cent., yet the Government imposes a duty of 35 per cent, against Great Britain, which is the home of manufactured earthenware’ and pottery of the highest quality !
Let me give an example of the manner in which the policy of the Government operates. A firm in Sydney tendered and obtained the contract for certain work, including 48-in. sinks, at the sanatorium at Waterfall. Delivery of these sinks ought to have been made in a few weeks. The firm of Dinmore and Company, of Queensland, undertook to produce them within eight weeks; but after repeated applications for delivery had been made to them by the contractor, who was being pressed by the architect and by the Public Works Department of New South Wales to complete this urgent, work, they were obliged to admit that they were incapable of manufacturing the article. A delay of -five month* was thus caused, and the contractor had to seek the permission of the Minister to import what he required. Did the honorable gentleman grant the application after obtaining the advice of his tariff officers? Oh, no! That is not the procedure that he. adopts. He sent the letter of the contractor to Dinmore and Company, and asked them whether he should allow the goods to be imported. I put it to the committee that the submission of such a request to a trade competitor was utterly unfair and unreasonable. Finally, the department consented to the goods being imported. The same firm also asked Dinmore and Company to provide other sanitary fittings that are in daily use. That order was placed in June, 1930, but although fifteen months have since elapsed the goods have not yet been delivered. I have had supplied to me certain correspondence on the matter, which discloses the fact that all sorts of excuses have been made for the failure to deliver. The prospectus of Dinmore and Company states -
Already there is a good all-round demand for the company’s output, the principal buyers being the Queensland Public Works Department, the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Board, hospitals, asylums,- &c. . . . The company’s fireclay products can successfully compete with the imported manufacture of sanitaryware from the Southern States, and elsewhere.
That prospectus was issued before the existing duties were imposed. Notwithstanding the added protection that has been given, this firm is no more likely to be able to supply the orders that it may receive, even in the present period of depression in the building trade, than is the man in the moon. The following extract from evidence given by Mr. F. W. Duesbury, representing R. Fowler Limited, on behalf of the Australian manufacturers, on the closing day of the inquiry by the Tariff Board in August last, indicates the position: -
Mr. Duesbury. Since our adjournment yesterday,I would like to report to the board that we have met Mr. Mayo and Mr. Courtenay. After discussion with them on the subject of sanitaryware, and the evidence that was given yesterday, we have come to what we consider to be a reasonable amendment of the tariff which is agreeable to all sections of the industry. This amendment will take theplace of 241 (e) on the schedule which I handed in this morning . . . Instead of 241 (e) as it appears on that schedule, it will read as follows: - 241 (e) Sanitary and lavatory articles of all descriptions made of earthenware including glazed or enamelled fireclay manufactures - where the f.o.b. British and foreign port net price (after all discounts have been allowed) is 18s. per article or less, ad val. British, 35 per cent.; intermediate, 50 per cent.; general, 75 per cent. Whore the f.o.b. British or foreign net price (after all discounts have been allowed) is over 18s. per article, ad val. British, 25 per cent.; intermediate, 40 per cent.; general, 00 per cent.
Question by the Acting Chairman. - Could you explain, shortly, what the effect of that will be? Will that have the effect of separating the articles that can be made in Australia?
Answer. - Against the better-class article that comes from overseas.
Question. - The Australian manufacturer admits that, as far as quality is concerned, it should not be loaded up with any further duties?
Answer - Yes, that 18s is the demarkation point between the two.
It is abundantly clear that the item should be amended in accordance with the wording suggested by the Australian manufacturers themselves after they had gone very fully into the whole question. I submit that the duties are too high, that the locally-manufactured material is not equal to the imported article, and that many items are not being produced in Australia. There is also the disadvantage of the unreasonable delays that occur in the delivery of goods that are ordered. I, therefore, move -
That the item be amended by adding the following: - “ And on and after the 8th October, 1031- (B) Earthenware, brown ware, and stoneware, including glazed or enamelled fireclay manufactures n.e.i., and all kinds of porous insulating blocks, ad val. British, 25 per cent.; intermediate, 35 per cent.; general, 40 per cent.”
– At the present time there is a prohibition operating against the importation of sanitaryware. I am sorry that I cannot accept the amendment, because the Australian factories are now making wonderful progress in the development of this industry. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) has put up a good fight on behalf of a gentleman who for many years imported high quality earthenware. The honorable member has referred to the delays that have occurred in the delivery of goods ordered from local manufacturers. I also, if I cared to do so, could mention cases in which considerable delays have occurred when goods have been ordered from abroad. We stand to-day for a protectionist policy which is building up the manufacture of pottery in Australia. I have been through the establishment of R. Fowler Limited, and so far as it is possible for one to judge by an inspection and an investigation of their work, I am convinced that they are placing on the market a very fine article.
The Tariff Board, it is true, recommended no increase on this item, except in regard to certain sanitary and lavatory earthenware.
The board appears to have based its conclusions, so far as domestic ware is concerned, on the fact that one manufacturer who produces a fine range of pottery ware showed marked progress under the protection accorded by the 1921-28 tariff rates, and on the fact that the granting of the applicants’ requests in regard to certain individual items of domestic ware would present serious difficulties of administration. The Government acknowledges the latter fact; but it is inconceivable that a market for over ?300,000 worth of domestic earthenware and brownware, which present no manufacturing difficulties, should be allowed to be catered for by overseas firms, when additional protection will assure further employment to local industry. With regard to sanitary and lavatory ware, the board drew attention to the fact that the evidence tendered indicated that the operations of the local manufacturers are confined to the production of the lower grades of sanitary and lavatory ware, for which there is a general demand. Such ware of a more exclusive and expensive type is not manufactured locally. Accordingly, the board recommended the rates imposed in this schedule only in regard to sanitary and lavatory articles of earthenware, &c, the net f.o.b. price of which is 18s. per article or less. The Government does not agree with the board’s conclusions, as the admission of the better quality and higher-priced goods would displace a certain proportion of the locally-manufactured kinds if they were admitted at lower rates of duty.
There are quite a number of earthenware manufacturers in Australia, and these are equipped to supply the whole of Australia’s requirements with the exception of the finest quality ware.
– Some time ago T interviewed the Minister in regard to this matter, and he promised to look into it. It is not my desire to injure in any way the local manufacturer; but if hospitals and like institutions are compelled to bear the burden of a heavy duty on the many articles of sanitaryware that are not made in Australia, considerable hardship will be caused.
– The point is whether building operations at hospitals are being restricted by this duty.
– Any sanitary ware which cannot be manufactured in Australia should be imported free. We should not hold up building operations at hospitals.
– The Minister has now placed a prohibition on these articles.
– Some of the importers, even the one referred to by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) buy from Fowlers, of Sydney, and sell to hospitals and other institutions. There is no holding up of build ing operations because of the inability to obtain sanitary ware.
– The large hospitals require certain articles which cannot be manufactured here, and it is only fair in the interests of the public that those articles should be imported free of duty; otherwise we are placing a tax upon the people.
– No hospital building has been held up because of the imposition of this duty.
– I am connected with the building trade, and I know that many builders have complained that their operations have been held up because of the delay in obtaining from overseas, goods which cannot be locally made. I am, at all times, prepared to support local industry, but, in this instance, I think an injustice is being done to the hospitals and the public generally.
– The Minister has given the impression that the firm to which I have previously referred purchased from only one Australian pottery, but I have already instanced the Dinmore pottery, which claims to be able to manufacture any class of ware in Australia. Even before the imposition of this duty it said that it was able to compete with overseas firms. That is stated in its prospectus. Now this firm is to have the protection of this duty. I have given an illustration of the delay that takes place in obtaining sanitary ware from abroad. Goods ordered from the Hoffman Potteries, of Melbourne, on 16th January last, did not arrive until 7th August.
– When a pottery ceases active production it takes it . from three to five months to recommence operations.
– 1 am not suggesting for one moment that this particular pottery ceased production. It produces many articles, but, in this instance, goods were ordered from it on the 16th January, and the invoice for then is dated 7 th August. The building industry of this country is being held up because of the imposition of this prohibitive duty. There is no justification for it.
– The prohibition, which has been in operation for nearly two years, was imposed on the ground that the goods could be made in Australia.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Anything can be made in Australia at a price and in a number of years. If the building trade were booming, this prohibition would cause the utmost confusion, the failure of many builders, and a tremendous increase in unemployment.
– Fowlers. pottery is stacked to the roof with all kinds of sanitaryware.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Not this kind.
– Then something that serves the same purpose.
Even this firm asked for a duty, not of 35 per cent., which is now being imposed, but of 25 per cent., on this class of goods. The Minister says that Fowlers pottery is stacked to the roof with all kinds of sanitary ware, but despite that fact it is quite obvious that this is an unfair duty, which is operating against the general public, doing incalculable harm to the building trade, and bringing about more and more unemployment.
.- 1 support the amendment, principally on the point raised by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) that this duty reacts against the hospitals. 1 ti Victoria, though money is being voted for building purposes, difficulty is being experienced in furnishing- extensions. The Alfred Hospital is a case in point. That position is not new. When the duty on cotton wool was before us, we strennously opposed it, and the Minister, seeing that the numbers were against him, wisely deferred it. I hope that he will take similar action in this instance. J shall vote against any duty that places an unnecessary burden upon hospitals and a further tax upon the charitable people who subscribe to those institutions. I was present at the annual meeting of the Master Builders Association, which was held in Melbourne on Monday last, and I can assure him that many unflattering references were made to these prohibitive duties.
– Many men engaged in the building trade, particularly plumbers, have told me that if they could obtain sanitaryware within a reasonable time they would be able to give additional employment. Any delay caused to the plumbers reacts on the painters, the carpenters, and every other section of the building trade. Even from a labour stand-point, the Minister should allow articles that cannot be manufactured here to be imported free of duty. In any case, the Australian manufacturer has a natural protection, because the freight on these goods, which are heavy and bulky, is high.
– The officer who handles all applications for permission to import articles notwithstanding the prohibition proclamation, has informed me that, in every instance, permission has been granted to import a class of sanitaryware in use by hospitals which is not made in Australia. I admit that if certain articles could not be made in Australia it would be unfair to hold up building operations at hospitals by the imposition of a prohibitive duty. I assure honorable members that favorable consideration will be given to applications for permission to admit certain lines that cannot be manufactured here.
– Under by-law?
– Permission will be given to admit those goods. Of course, if a suitable article can be made in Australia, the local manufacturer will receive protection. If the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) will bring before me any cases of hardship, J shall consider them on their merits.
.- Do I understand that the Minister will lift the prohibition to allow these articles to be admitted here, or will they be admitted under by-law? If the latter course is to be followed, let me say that it will be utterly unsatisfactory. On Saturday last I drew the Minister’s attention to certain articles that were being admitted under by-law, although the duty on them was 55 per cent. Let us consider the position of both the importer and the manufacturer if these articles are to be imported under by-law. Because one importer gets the ear of the Minister, who agrees to lift the duty under by-law in his case, the other im- porters will be placed at an unfair advantage unless they are seised of the position and make similar representations to the Minister and the manufacturer who can make the goods is also placed in an unfair position if entry be free.
– In this instance the duty is 35 per cent., but if the article required cannot be supplied in Australia permission will be given to import it, nothwithstanding the prohibition. But I cannot allow it to come in duty free. It will have to bear the duty that is set out in the tariff schedule. That, I think, is only reasonable.
.- It seems that public institutions, such as hospitals, have extraordinary difficulty in obtaining articles which are not made in Australia, and the Government is now asked to assist these institutions by removing the prohibition on certain goods. But even if the prohibition is lifted, these institutions, which are mostly financed by public subscription, will be called upon to pay this outrageous duty, which the Minister himself admits is not designed to protect Australian manufacturers from unfair overseas competition.
– It is a tax on hospitals.
– I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision. I quite agree that the potteries which are distributed throughout the Commonwealth must have protection in respect of their products, but in respect of sanitaryware which is not made in Australia, there should be no prohibition or duty.
Item agreed to.
Item 242 postponed.
Division 5. - Textiles, Felts and Furs. and Manufactures Thereof, and Attire.
Postponed item 105 f 4 -
Piece goods, felt, of wool or containing wool -
. -I move -
That the paragraph be amended by adding - “ And on and after the 8th October, 1931 -
Piece goods, felt, of wool or containing wool, per square yard - British, 9d.; intermediate,1s. 3d.; general, 1s.6d.; and ad val- British, 20 per cent.; intermediate, 30 per cent.; general, 35 per cent.”
The proposed amendment means an increase in the fixed rates on slipper upper felts of only 3d. per square yard British preferential, and 6d. per square yard intermediate and general tariffs. The Tariff Board recommended the rates which were proposed in the resolution of the 26th March, 1931. These rates were lower than those operating in the 1921-28 tariff, and the local manufacturers, Felt and Textiles of Australia Limited, pointed out that although the duties provided were adequate on the medium and higher grade felts, the lower grade could be landed duty paid at a price less than the manufacturers’ cost of production. A departmental officer verified the cost of production of the lowest grade manufactured locally, and information was- obtained from London as to the f . o.b. values of English felts. The figures obtained show that the local manufacturers are at a disadvantage of approximately 2d. per square yard when the exchange rate is not added to the cost of imported felts. As the exchange position is merely temporary * the Government has decided that it shall not be taken into consideration in determining what is adequate protection. The exchange is a varying factor which in six months’ time may differ from what it is to-day. Felt and Textiles of Australia Limited do not manufacture a grade of felt as low as that manufactured overseas. They have found that the Australian manufacturers of slippers use a felt ofreasonable quality, and they have, therefore, concentrated on the manufacture of medium and high grade felts. If the slipper manufacturers can obtain imported slipper upper felt of inferior quality and at lower prices than the Australian manufacturers can supply at, there is a grave danger of them sacrificing the quality of their slippers, and importing the cheaper grades of felt. The main reason why the local manufacturers cannot compete with the low grade lines is that overseas manufacturers of the lower grades use East Indian and other cheap rough wools of a quality not produced in Australia. The importation of these felt piece goods would mean the displacement of similar quantities of Australian felt piece goods, which would have been manufactured from Australian wools. I t is to the advantage of the wool industry that all slipper felt requirements for the felt industry should be made out of Australian wool. The Australian manufacturers use 10,000 bales of Australian greasy wool annually. Competition in the wool market naturally forces up prices. That applies generally to buyers operating on behalf of Australian factories, making felt hoods for hats, worsteds, or woollen goods. To show bow enterprising local manufacturers are in endeavouring to extend sales, 1 may point out that in order to popularize the use of felt slippers in New Zealand, one firm has established a felt slipper manufacturing company in that dominion which to-day supplies practically the whole of the New Zealand market with felt slippers. The whole of the felt is made from Australian wool. Previously the market was supplied with felt of European origin. Very cheap and low grade felts would be detrimental, not merely to the Australian wool industry and the Australian felt industry, but also to the Australian slipper industry. Recent advices from England show that that country is flooded with foreign felt slippers of such an inferior quality that the public is thoroughly dissatisfied with their wearing qualities. This country does not want slippers of such a quality, but the competition amongst slipper manufacturers would compel them to buy inferior felt if it were able to enter the country. There is no doubt that the Australian felt cannot compete with the low grade obtainable overseas, and as the importation of these low grades would reduce the quality of slippers manufactured in Australia, and be detrimental to the sales of Australian felt and wool, it is considered that the rates of duty I have just proposed are necessary to hold the trade for the Australian manufacturers. These rates are still lower than those imposed under the 1921-28 tariff.
Amendment agreed to.
Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.
Division 8. - Earthenware, Cement, China, Glass, and Stone.
Items 244 and 250 postponed.
Items, 251, 255 and 262 agreed to.
Division 9. - Drugs and Chemicals.
Items 264, 266, 273 and 275 agreed to.
By omitting the whole of paragraph 2 of sub-item a and inserting in its stead the following paragraph : - “(2) Soda Ash, British, intermediate, and. general, free.”
– I move -
That the item be amended by adding the following : - “And on and after the 27th March, 1931 -
Soda Ash, British, intermediate, and general, free.
And on and after the 8th October, 1931 -
(a) Soda Ash for such manufacturing purposes as may be prescribed by departmental bylaw, British, intermediate, and: general, free.
Soda Ash n.e.i. per ton,, British, free; intermediate, 20s.; general, 40s.
The object of this amendment is : 1. To admit free of duty under by-law for glass making, soda ash imported from British East Africa by the Australian Glass Manufacturing Company Limited. 2. To admit soda ash free of duty from the United Kingdom, irrespective of the use to which it is put. 3. To provide British manufacturers with a margin of preference of £2 per ton against Russian competition. Soda ash is at present admitted free under British preferential tariff and at 10 per cent, under general tariff, under by-law item 404. The Australian Glass Manufacturing Company Limited, is desirous of the 10 per cent, impost on British East African soda ash being removed in order to cheapen the cost of production. The by-law portion of the amendment will enable that request to be met. Messrs. Brunner, Mond and Company Limited, which is associated with other companies in the production of soda ash and other alkaline products, points out that in the schedule at present before the committee no preference has been afforded to Great Britain. The company’s representative has also stated that Russian competition is likely to be effective on the Australian market at any time.
– Has any Russian supply been received?
– No. British interests could not compete against the prices at which Russia would probably dispose of its products.
-Is all the soda ash required obtainable from British sources?
– Then why not allow the item to go without further discussion?
– The company which controls the supply from Great Britain also controls the supply from Kenya Colony, but prefers to supply from Great Britain.
Amendment agreed to.
Item, as amended, agreed to.
Item 279 agreed to.
Silting suspended from 6.13 to 8 p.m.
By omitting the whole of sub-item (a) (three times occurring) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item: -
By adding a new sub-item (n) as follows: - “ (n) Bismuth Metal and Bismuth Salts, per lb. - British, 8s.; intermediate. 10s.; general; 10s.” By adding a new sub-item (o) as follows: - “ (o) Acetyl-salicylic Acid in powder form, ad val. - British, 25 per cent.; intermediate, 35 per cent.; general, 40 per cent.”
– I move -
That the following new sub-item be inserted: - “ By adding the following to sub-item 1 (B) -
And on and after the 8th October, 1931 -
n.e.i., ad val., British 20 per cent. ; intermediate, 25 per cent.: general, 30 per cent. “
This amendment applies to “ Sulphate of Magnesia (Epsom Salts) “ alone, and only when it is imported in packages, not exceeding 7 lb. net weight. No increase in duty is entailed in regard to sulphate of magnesia imported in bulk. Consequently, the price of this commodity to the farmer will not be affected.
The total consumption in Australia of epsom salts in packets is estimated at 750 tons per annum, but the Australian manufacturers supply only 200 tons of this quantity. Competition in packet salts is experienced chiefly from the United Kingdom. The proposed fixed rate of1d. per lb. on epsom salts imported from that country in packages not exceeding 7 lb. net weight is equivalent to an ad valorem rate of 39 per cent.
The figures given in regard to packet salts indicate that the Australian manufacturers supply only one-fourth of the market, but they are fully confident of securing the whole market if given protection to the extent of the proposed duties. They also consider that the additional business which will be secured in respect of packet salts will enable them to capture a considerable proportion of the bulk salts trade which is at present almost wholly held by Germany. One of the local manufacturers has undertaken not to increase selling prices if the duties on imported epsom salts are increased.
Calcined magnesite mined in Australia and sulphuric acid produced locally are used in the production of epsom salts., and other Australian industries thus derive material benefit from the manufacture of this commodity in the Commonwealth. The printing and allied industries will also secure additional business in the printing and making of cartons and cases if this duty is approved.
The following figures in regard to the sulphate of magnesia trade apply to both the bulk and packet trade, as it is not practicable to dissociate them: -
Capital employed, including land and buildings, £20,000: employees, 24 adults, 0 juniors: wages paid, £4,300 per annum.
The local manufacturers feel confident that, with the promise of further business as the result of this proposal, these figures will be augmented. The duties proposed in respect of sulphate of magnesia approximate those recommended by the Tariff Board.
.- This very important’ proposal has been introduced without adequate informa-tion. It is something entirely new to the members of the committee. The commodity affected is very extensively consumed. We are given to understand that the farmer uses it in 7-lb. packages or even larger parcels and other people in smaller quantities. The Minister has not made any satisfactory statement in regard to the probable effect of the duty on prices. He has merely said that one manufacturer has undertaken that prices will not be increased. At least copies of the amendment should have been, distributed in advance so that honorable members might have had a fair opportunity to consider it.
.- On Thursday night, I said that I had no intention of debating the remaining items of this schedule, because I felt certain that honorable members of the committee would have an opportunity of dealing with them after the members of another place had done so. But the Minister has shown hia contempt for the committee by bringing down an amendment which he did not even deign to circulate. Nothing could show more clearly the futility of debate in this chamber. Even honorable members opposite are ignorant of this proposal.
– How does the right honorable member know that?
– I have been told on other occasions that information in regard to tariff items is not disclosed to members opposite before it is brought in to this chamber, and we believe that that is so. If it is not so, the possibility is opened up of the greatest scandal ever known in this country. We should have copies of this amendment, in order that we may know exactly what is being put before us. If honorable members opposite had early information on this subject I should like to know when it was conveyed to them. Apparently they are willing meekly to accept any proposal that the Minister puts before them, and to swallow holus bolus any statements that he may make. Epsom salts is an article which is used daily. It is necessary for both human beings and stock. It is essential to the health of the community that they should not be constipated. Dr. Charle’s Maclaurin, in his book Post Mortems, says that 99 per cent, of the evils in history were due to the fact that the bowels of the principal actors were not properly controlled and regulated. Yet it is proposed that an important medicine for this purpose shall be made dearer to the people. This medicine is absolutely essential to the welfare of stock, and should be obtainable at a cheap rate. Yet the Minister has seen fit to introduce this proposal without any adequate explanation whatever. The item is not even mentioned in the annotated copy of the schedule which all honorable members are using. I venture to say that very few honorable members have a copy of the old schedule before them. If consideration of the item covering glass could be postponed, there is no reason why consideration of this item should not be postponed, at least until we have had an opportunity to estimate the probable effect of the amendment. The manner in which this schedule is being debated is a disgrace to the country.
– No increase is being made in the duty on sulphate of magnesia imported in bulk. The whole matter was the subject of an inquiry by the Tariff Board, which presented a report on it on the 1st May last. I have religiously carried out the recommendations of the board. If I do not accept the recommendations of the board I “am criticized, and if I do accept them I am criticized. I am quite satisfied that in the eyes of some honorable members, I cannot do anything right.
– I consider that’ this committee is being treated with contempt. Two or three evenings ago the Minister tabled a list of amendments of which no notice had been given. No one except himself and the officers of his department really knew what was proposed. It is not fair to treat the committee in that way. I object to the making of heavy increases in the cost of the medicines of the people. Duties of this kind will affect not only public hospitals but every household in the community.
– The Minister has said that no increase is being made on bulk importations.
– I am not prepared to accept every word that the Minister says. We should be given an opportunity to consider matters for ourselves. Copies of the amendment should have been circulated, so that honorable members could consider the proposal carefully. I confess that I do not know the effect of this amendment. The Leader of the Country party has pointed out that honorable members are working with the annotated schedule. When items are introduced which are not on that schedule we are naturally in difficulties. Heavy increases were made in the cost of the medicines of the people when the 1920 tariff was before us ; but on this occasion some of the increases may be truthfully described as drastic. When there is sickness in a family it should be possible to obtain medicine at a reasonable price. At least the people should not be asked to pay more for their medicines than is necessary, simply to give an advantage to a very few persons in the community.
Amendment agreed to.
Sub-item n postponed.
.- I move -
That sub-item (o) be amended by adding the following: - “And on and after the 8th October, 1931 - Acetyl-salicylic acid, ad val. - British, 25 per cent ; intermediate, 35 per cent.; general, 40 per cent.”
This amendment is moved in order that the duties under item 281 o should apply to acetyl-salicylic acid when imported in any form, and thus arrest importations of this product in crystalline or other form, which would compete with the locally-produced acid.
Amendment agreed to.
By omitting the whole of sub-item (b) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item: - “ (b) Bates’ salve, ad val. - British, 50 per cent.; intermediate, 55 per cent.; general, 60 per cent.”
.- The Government has decided to revert to the 1921-28 tariff rates, as the Tariff Board considers that duties of 30 per, cent. British, 35 per cent, intermediate, and 40 per cent, general, are sufficient to enable the local manufacturer to compete with the imported article. The omission of the item will give effect to the board’s recommendation, and Bates’ salve will be classifiable under tariff item 285 a.
. -I congratulate the Minister upon the reduction of the duties, but I should like some explanation -justifying even that measure of protection for this so-called industry.
– It was in the old tariff.
– A mistake made in the previous tariff is no justification for the continued protection of an industry which employs only one or two persons. The Tariff Board, in its report of the 21st April last, stated -
The applicant engages in the work intermittently on receipt of orders, and at times employs the services of some of his children to cut and wrap up the salve.
In normal times this is an intermittent industry. It is absurd that the National Parliament should be asked solemnly to endorse tariff protection for such a concern. To give honorable members an opportunity to express their contempt for this sub-item, I move -
That the item be amended by adding the following: - “ And on and after the 8th October, 1931-
Bates’ salve, free.”
– I join in expressing profound contempt for this display of statesmanship on the part of the Minister. The Tariff Board, in its report upon this sub-item, states that the applicant had 75 per cent, of the total Australian trade, even under the old tariff. It also stated -
The board is of opinion that the estimate of1s. 6d. per dozen sticks to cover all items in the cost of production other than material is unduly high, and considers that the total cost of production should not exceed 2s. per dozen sticks. Even on the cost of 2s. 6d. per dozen sticks given by the applicant, he should, by a re-adjustment of his selling prices, be in a position to capture the 25 per cent, of the Australian business, which at present is being done in imported salve, without any additional assistance under the tariff.
I always understood that the purpose of the tariff was to ensure the establishment of natural industries, with the object of ensuring national prosperity. This is merely another of the many tariff absurdities and anomalies perpetrated by this Government.
.- The discussion upon this sub-item discloses the absurdity of this Government’s tariff legislation. If the Minister had insisted upon this sub-item in its usual form, Government supporters would have voted for it, and it would have been passed. The Tariff Board reports that the total capital invested, including buildings, plant and machinery, is £1,000. The gentleman who runs this backyard industry, sells to wholesalers in Adelaide, where the article is made and where there is no competition, at from 5s. 6d. to 6s. per dozen sticks; but in Sydney, where there is competition from the English product, the price to the agent is 3s. 9d. per dozen. In Melbourne his price is 5s., less 10 per cent., or 4s. 6d. a dozen. He has agreed, so the Tariff Board states, not to increase his price in Adelaide, but will advance the Sydney price from 3s. 9d. to 4s. 6d. Already he has 75 per cent, of the Australian trade. A backyard industry of this description should not have the benefit of tariff protection. Already we have too many of them burdening the people of Australia. I shall vote for the amendment moved by the honorable member for Henty.
.- The industry covered by this sub-item is established in my electorate, and the product is a well known commodity in Australian households. South Australia has very few industries. Consequently, the people in that State have to pay a heavy toll to manufacturers in other States. Many industries now employing thousands of Australian workmen started in a small way. With reasonable protection this industry should one day reach considerable dimensions.
– Following the publicity given to this subject some time ago, Mr. William Usher, the manufacturer of Bates’ salve, Norwood, South Australia, addressed to several honorable members a circular letter in which he gives reasons why these high duties should be imposed. This is one of them -
I have three grown-up sons who are out of employment; also two married daughters whoso husbands are also out of work. I have to sup port them all, and can get no rebate from the income tax authorities, butI am trying to pull through, and sympathetic action from the Government will be very helpful, as I could boost with confidence, feeling no others could take advantage of my efforts.
It was never intended that the tariff should be used for such an absurd purpose.
Item (on motion by Mr. Forde) omitted as on and from the 8th October, 1931.
Postponed item 281 n -
By adding a new sub-item (n) as follows: - “ (n) Bismuth Metal and Bismuth Salts, per lb., British, 8s.; intermediate, 10s.; general, 10s.”
.- I move -
That the sub-item be amended by adding the following: - “And on and after the 8th October, 1931 -
The duties indicated in my amendment are recommended by the Tariff Board. Since the imposition of the original duties, the board has made an inquiry, and in its report dated the 24th March last, it recommended that the sub-item be amended in the direction indicated in my amendment.
.- When one contrasts the duties mentioned in the Minister’s amendment with those in the schedule, he realizes how carelessly this tariff has been drawn up. . Seven minutes ago a proposal was brought down for a British preferential duty on bismuth of8s. per lb., and now the Minister is prepared to reduce it to 2s. 3d. per lb. He has evidently been informed of the necessity for allowing bismuth in at a reasonable rate. The Australian product is sold to-day at about 8s. 9d. per lb., yet previously we were asked to vote a duty of 8s. per lb.
– That duty has been in operation for fifteen months.
– Yes. The landed cost of imported bismuth was about 15s. 9d. per lb. I presume that the local manufacturers asked for that enormous increase in the duty, but why did the Minister accede to their request? Bismuth is an essential ingredient of patent medicines, and it is commonly prescribed by doctors. Many persons are compelled to take this drug practically throughout the year. I regret that the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) is not present at the moment. He would be able to inform the committee of the numerous forms of bismuth that are prescribed by medical practitioners for different purposes. It. was a monstrous act on the part of the Government to impose the duty of 8s. per lb., and I congratulate the Minister on having, at this late hour, seen fit to submit an amendment for the reduction of the duty to 2s. 3d. per lb. This belated action emphasizes the many shortcomings of the Government in dealing with the tariff. One hopes that, when it reaches another place, there will be a further opportunity of reviewing some of the mistakes which the Minister and the Government have made.
.- Whether I accept or reject recommendations of the Tariff Board, I am criticized by honorable members opposite, so it is impossible for me to do anything right in their eyes. These duties affect an important industry. It is certainly a new Australian industry, and as the result of the duty, it has been firmly established. The company engaged in the manufacture of bismuth products is Elliott Brothers Limited, of Sydney, who have invested £15,000 in plant. For some time they have been developing two bismuth metal mines, and have spent £30,000 on the project. The total number of their employees to-day is 65, of whom 50 are engaged in mining and 15 in refining. Their weekly wages amount to £390. The present output is sufficient to supply the whole of Australia’s requirements.
– Why was a duty of 8s. per lb. granted?
– Because the company has to compete against a great combine.
– Why is the duty now to be reduced to 2s. 3d.?
– The Tariff Board went into the whole matter, and it has assured me that the duties now recommended will enable the company to carry on. The company itself states that it will not be able to compete with imported bismuth with the protection now proposed; but 1 am satisfied that these duties will give it a fair measure of protection. The company claims that it is necessary to ratify the present duty of 8s. per lb., and that if that course were adopted, it would be able to treble its output, and seek overseas markets. If its expectations in this regard were realized, it claimed that it would work three shifts a day, while employment would be provided for 100 miners and 35 refinery hands. The Tariff Board considers that the company’s anticipations of being able to enter the export market are fully justified by the weight of the evidence tendered at the inquiry. The present selling price of bismuth is 8s. 9d. per lb., and the company has given a guarantee not to increase the price. The Tariff Board considers it fair and reasonable, and states that it compares favorably with the London price in November, 1930, of 7s. 6d. per lb. The local materials contained in the finished product represent 98.12 per cent., and the quality of the article is excellent. The local company is prepared to supply any Australian manufacturer with bismuth at the world’s parity price, but not below 6s. 6d. per lb. The board regards that offer as fairly reasonable. This company is an institution in the drug and chemical world, and it possesses considerable financial resources. It was not prepared to engage in production until it was adequately protected against an outside combine. Since the Government has accepted the recommendation of the Tariff Board, I expected that this duty would be agreed to without opposition.
Amendment agreed to.
Item, as amended, agreed to.
Item 290 agreed to.
Division 10. - Wood, Wicker and Cane.
By omitting the whole item and inserting in its stead the following item : - “291. Timber, viz.: -
Logs, not sawn, viz.: -
.- I move -
That sub-itemc be amended by adding the following after paragraph 1 : - “And on and after the 8th October, 1931-
) Cedar the produce of British Borneo and Cedar and Kauri the produce of British Solomon Islands, ad val., British, 5 per cent.; intermediate, 5 per cent.; general, 10 per cent.”
Logs from the Solomon Islands now come in unsawn. Previously, from 50 to 60 men were engaged in cutting them up in Australia. Since the present duties have been imposed the logs have been kept in bond in the hope that the tariff would be altered. Some time ago, representatives of the union of the timber workers engaged in this industry and the employers approached the former Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Fenton), and I think that he was impressed with the case put forward. In view of the possibility of these duties being reviewed, the men were sent back to work, but since then they have been put off again. A large number of logs are now in bond, and they could be cut up by Australian workmen if the duties were reduced. I am a 100 per cent. protectionist; but, so far as I am aware, these logs do not compete with any Australian timber. Similar material is the kauri that comes from New Zealand in sawn boards, which give practically no labour to Australians. The logs from the Soloman Islands could be sawn in Australia, and my desire is to give work to our own people. It is an anti-porous timber, which is used for vats, sinks, and other vessels which are required to be watertight. I would not vote for the elimination of the duty if this timber competed with any Australian timber; but I am assured that it does not do so. The only timber with which it comes into competition is New Zealand kauri. We should give preference to timber which enters Australia in logs, and thereby gives employment in Australia, against timber which comes in as sawn boards. The only complaint I have heard against this timber is that it is not felled and prepared by Australian labour; but I have since made inquiries, and am assured that that work is done by Australians, who are paid Australian rates of wages, and, in addition, an allowance for living away from home. Most of the money paid in wages is sent to the dependants of the men in Australia. Seeing that this timber does not compete with native timbers, and that it provides work for 50 or 60 Australian workmen, who are temporarily out of employment pending a revision of the duties, the committee should accept the amendment.
– I support the amendment. I have brought this matter up on several occasions in this chamber. I mentioned it in connexion with the Estimates, when we were dealing with a subsidy of £8,000 per annum to Burns, Philp and Company, to encourage trade with the Solomon Islands. I then pointed out that it was anomalous that we should pay that company a subsidy to foster trade with the Solomon Islands while in other ways we discouraged trade with that place. I pointed out, also, that, whereas timber from the Solomon Islands was subject to a duty of 30 per cent., timber from British Borneo was dutiable at only 10 per cent. Some time ago the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore ) invited honorable members to speak their minds regarding certain Queensland timber interests. I accepted his invitation, and asked for an explanation of the different rates of duty.
Mr.Forde.-The honorable member is not helping his case.
– The Solomon Islands Company has its head-quarters in Australia, and, as has been pointed out by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), it employs Australians, and pays them Australian rates of wages, plus certain allowances. That company, moreover, buys its supplies from Australia. The North Borneo company, on the other hand, is registered in North Borneo, and it is alleged that much of the timber which it ships to Australia actually comes from Dutch Borneo. The only reason that I have heard for this discrimination between timber from the Solomon Islands and that from North Borneo is that the former competes with Queensland timber. If the reason for the discrimination is that Queensland timber interests are affected, I invite the Minister to say so. The company in the Solomon Islands trades principally with Melbourne and Sydney; it brings the timber here in the form of logs, thus giving work to Australians in cutting them, and, therefore, I submit that it should be treated at least as generously as is the North Borneo company. Timber from both sources should be subject to the same duty - preferably 10 per cent.
.- I appeal to the Government to acquiesce in this amendment, which seeks to remove an anomaly, and to do justice to an Australian company operating in the Solomon Islands - a company formed with Australian capital, which employs Australian workers at Australian rates of pay, plus a special allowance. It is true that the North Borneo company is operating in British territory; but it is in no sense an Australian company. It employs principally coloured labour. I cannot understand why the product of a timber company operating in North Borneo should be subjected to a duty of 10 per cent., while timber imported from the Solomon Islands should bear a duty of 30 per cent.
– In one case the timber is cedar, and in the other it is kauri.
– Experts in the trade assure me that that is not so. I have given this matter some consideration, and understand that the two timbers are practically identical. Moreover, they do not compete with any native Australian timber. I ask the Minister to give the amendment his favorable consideration, failing which I suggest that the item be deferred.
.- Although a rabid protectionist, I have moved the amendment now before the Chair. I rise to dissociate myself from the statements of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White).
.- I do not know why the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway) should wish to dissociate himself from any statement that I have made. I have given the facts in this chamber on several occasions: I have not made any implications, nor have I drawn any conclusions.
I have pointed out that timber from the Solomon Islands bears a duty of 30 per cent., whereas similar timber from North Borneo is dutiable at only 10 per cent., and the only explanation I have heard is that the Queensland timber interests wish to exclude the timber from the Solomon Islands.
– The honorable member is prejudicing the whole case.
– The Minister read to me a telegram that he had received, opposing the importation of timber from the Solomon Islands.
.- I am opposed to the reduction of the duties ou this item. I have here a statement by the company operating in the Solomon Islands, setting out that it employs a considerable amount of labour. I leave it to honorable members to imagine the kind of labour that it employs. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway) said that this timber does not compete with Australian timber. I remind him that we have, in Australia, timber suited to every purpose.
– Tasmanian blackwood is superior to this timber from the Solomon Islands; yet practically every Australian timber mill is closed. A good deal has been said about this timber from the Solomon Islands being brought here in logs and providing employment for 60 or 70 Australian workers. I remind the committee that, in Tasmania alone, 2,500 timber-workers are at present unemployed. The only good a reduction of the duty would do would be to benefit the few whites who -superintend the natives in the Solomon Islands.
– Has the honorable member ever been there?
– I have been on adjacent islands, where I have seen the natives at work.
– The honorable member was silent regarding Russian timber.
– I was not. I can. inform the committee that the Minister has done everything possible to prevent the entry into Australia of timber from Russia. It is interesting to note that, although we were told by the Opposition five or six weeks ago that about a dozen ships were on their way to Australia with Russian timber, they have not yet arrived here. Personally, I would have mo greater objection to timber from Russia than to timber from the Solomon Islands, seeing that Russia does” buy Australian products, whereas that is not so in the case of the Solomon Islands. We should endeavour to find employment for our own timber-workers and, if necessary, wc should place an embargo on the entry of timber from other countries.
– It is unfortunate that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) should prejudice his case by suggesting that there was something sinister in the fact that there was a higher duty on logs from Vanikoro than on timber -from North Borneo. The timber which comes here from North Borneo is cedar, whereas most of that which is imported from Vanikoro is kauri.
– On many occasions I have asked the Minister to explain the reason for the difference between the duty on timber from the Solomon Islands and that on timber from Borneo, but he has not done so.
– The honorable member brought up the matter late at night, on the motion for the adjournment of the House. The question we have to determine is whether we stand for protecting the Australian timber industry against importations of timber from Vanikoro, where, on the admission of the representative of the company, eight or ten white men are employed in superintending 70 or 80 natives. When. I was assured by the representative of the Vanikoro company, who, in contrast to the attitude adopted by the honorable member for Balaclava, has always submitted his case reasonably and courteously, that his company’s timber does not compete with any Australian timber, and then found that the Tasmanian timber interests were opposed to this timber coming in, although the hardwood sawmilling interests of Queensland had no objection to it, I sent a telegram to Mr. Hyne, “a well known- saw-miller at Maryborough, in the electorate of Wide Bay. He is one of the officials of the Hard wood Sawmillers Association of Queensland, and telegraphs as follows: -
Queensland can supply Australia’s requirements timbers mentioned, or their equivalent. Most strongly object reduction and hope in interest of Australia you will oppose any tampering with timber tariff. (Hyne).
I have another telegram from Mr. Duffy, a Country party member of the Queensland Parliament, and well known, I have no doubt, to the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). ‘ It is as follows : -
Queensland timber interest strenuously oppose any reduction. Duty kauri and cedar logs Vanikoro, Solomon Islands. Ample supply, no sale here. (Duffy).
Here is another telegram from Mr. Skyring, a saw-miller in Rockhampton, Central Queensland. I was assured that no saw-millers in Queensland had any objection to these logs coming in, because they did not compete with Australian timber. Therefore, I was justified in ascertaining the opinion of Queensland saw-millers and I find that they do object. Mr. Skyring’s telegram is as follows: -
Ample supplies cedar and kauri in the north. Should be protected. ( Skyrings)
It is clear, therefore, that Queensland timber interests are opposed to the importation of these logs. I leave the Tasmanians to speak for themselves. British Borneo buys approximately £40,000 worth of primary produce from us each year. That was taken into consideration when the Government decided not to impose a 30 per cent, duty on special cedar
Iogs coming from British North Borneo. We did not wish to lose that market for Australian butter, canned fruits, &c. If honorable members wish a higher duty to be placed on logs from Borneo, I am prepared to listen to their arguments. While there are thousands of Australian timber-workers out of employment, I am not going to vote for a reduction of duties which are keeping out of Australia timber from Vanikoro, a black-labour country, where it is produced by 70 natives under the direction of ten white men. The admission of such timber to Australia throws Australian timber-getters out of work, and puts them on the. dole. Only a certain amount of timber is required in Australia each year. If it doe* not come from Vanikoro, it will be supplied from Australian forests, and I stand for the fostering of the Australian industry. I believe that it is possible to build up a bigger trade between Australia and New Zealand. If we are to give a share of our local timber market to any country outside Australia, I should prefer that it were given to New Zealand, where we have a good chance of disposing of some of our secondary products, rather than let it go to Vanikoro, where only ten white men are engaged in this industry.
– It cannot rightly be said that Queensland timber interests raise no objection to the remission of duty on kauri timber; they claim that Queensland produces a kauri timber equal to that imported either from the Islands or from New Zealand. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), who has thrown a spanner into the works in regard to this amendment, has not succeeded in advancing the case even for the interests for which he spoke. I do not support the granting of concessions to Borneo. I do not see why it should enjoy any advantages over other British protectorates; if a concession is to be granted to Borneo, why should it not be extended to the British Solomons as well? I do not favour the granting of a concession to either place, but one is as much entitled to it as the other. The proposed duties are 5 per cent, and 10 per cent, for British Borneo, and it is asked that the same preference should be extended to the Solomon Islands. That seems to be only fair. We should not forget, however, that under our present agreement, kauri timber is allowed to enter free from New Zealand. Of what use is it to grant preference of so much per cent, to the Islands, when kauri timber, either sawn or in logs, can be brought in free from New Zealand? Such importations constitute a greater danger than the granting of concessions even to the Solomons. I am opposed to the granting of timber concessions even to New Zealand, or to any other British possession or protectorate. We have in Australia millions of feet of hard and . soft timbers; we have the man power to work them, and need only the market. Our softwood forests are rotting year by year for want of milling, and our bushmen and teamsters are idle. We should protect the Australian timber industry, so that Australia may learn to use her own timbers. I hope it will not be accepted by honorable members that Queensland is responsible for the imposition of these duties. It is the desire of every timberproducing State of the Commonwealth that reasonable protection shall be afforded to the industry. Every imported log which enters into competition with the local timber industry must do some damage to Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia.
– Western Australia does not think so.
– The honorable member for Forrest does not think so, but those who are idle in Western Australia for lack of orders for timber do not agree with him. I trust that the Minister will not give way, and allow timber to come into Australia in competition with the local industry. Some timbers cannot be produced in Australia, and they must be imported.
– Oregon, for instance.
– I believe that it would be advantageous to place a total prohibition oforegon importations. It might be useful for scaffolding and for mining purposes, but we have in Australia timbers quite suitable for such work. If we had to depend upon our own timbers we could get along with them very well. Victorian mines and those at Broken Hill are the only ones in which oregon is used. In Queensland we use our own native timber. I would be prepared to place an embargo upon the importation of Oregon pine, to ensure that we use our own timbers, and provide employment for our own men.
.- The arguments of the Minister were unconvincing. One of his reasons why we should favour trade with Borneo, while refusing to admit timber from the Solomon Islands, was that trade with British North Borneo was of great value to Australia.
– Vanikoro has only ten white men employed in the timber industry.
– I am not concerned with that now. The Minister said, I think, that our trade with British North Borneo was worth £43,000 a year.
– Approximately that.
– I have here a copy of the Overseas Trade Book for the year 1928-29, and at. page 66 there is a table showing the trade of the various islands with Australia. It shows the trade done with Fiji, the Gilbert Islands, Norfolk Island, the Solomon Islands, the Territory of New Guinea, Tonga, and “ other islands.” I presume that British North Borneo is included in the “ other islands,” and that the Statistician did not consider our trade with that country of sufficient importance to merit separate mention. The total trade of the Solomon Islands is valued at £4S2,567, of which amount £308,977 is represented by imports. Australia supplied no less than £94,S02 worth of primary produce.
– But Vanikoro is an island in which there are only ten white men concerned with this industry.
– Our trade with British North Borneo totals approximately £43,000, whereas our trade with the Solomon Islands, in primary produce alone, totals £94,802.
– We are not now concerned with the Solomon Islands, but with British North Borneo.
– We are comparing the Solomon Islands with British North Borneo. In addition to the primary products I have mentioned, goods to the value of £78,000 which originated in other countries, principally Great Britain, were forwarded from Australia to the Solomon Islands, making our total trade with those islands amount to £173,5S8. If it is the desire of the Minister to foster trade with British North Borneo because that country buys £43,000 worth of goods from us, how much more, necessary is it to foster trade with the Solomon Islands, with which our trade is worth £173,588? It passes my comprehension why we should differentiate between the timber of North Borneo and that of the Solomon Islands.
– Is the timber from North Borneo produced by coloured labour ?
– The class of labour employed in North Borneo is almost identical with that employed in the Solomon Islands, but, according to the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), much of the labour employed in the Solomon Islands is Australian.
– Then why does British North Borneo receive preference?
– The only reason pui forward by the Minister was that Australia’s trade with British Borneo is worth £43,000 a year, and, therefore, we should deal leniently with the timber on that island. If that argument holds good, how much more necessary is it foi us to deal leniently with the Solomon Islands, with which our trade u- £173,000 a year? The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has placed in my hands the current issue of Overseen Trade, in which I find that the value of the produce exported from Australia to British North Borneo is £24,706, to which has to be added goods to the value of £649, making a total of a little over £29,000.
– What ships carry thai trade to North Borneo?
– The only vessels engaged iri the British North Borneo trade are Dutch, whereas the vessels which carry Australian produce to the Solomon Islands are manned by Australian seamen and owned by companies subsidized by the Commonwealth Government to enable them to carry on the trade. Evidently it is a case of giving with the one hand and taking away with the other.
– Are white sailors employed by Burns, Philp and Company?
– We are not discussing the colour of the crews on the vessels engaged in the Pacific Islands trade ; but, whatever their colour may be, the company which owns the vessels is subsidized by the Commonwealth Government. If it be necessary to assist British North Borneo on a trade basis, it is ever so much more necessary for us to give assistance to the people in the Solomon Islands. According to the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost), these imported tim- bers compete with Australian timbers, but it is possible to argue on those lines in regard to any timber which is imported, and if we adopted the suggestion of the honorable member to prohibit all importations, we should be compelled to use nothing but our own timbers, whether suitable or not for all the purposes to which they were applied. But that is not the point under consideration at the present moment. Honorable members are asking why differential treatment should be meted out to timber from British North Borneo as against timber from the Solomon Islands. The Minister has not answered that point.
– If the honorable member’s figures are correct, the Minister’s figures in regard to North Borneo trade are wrong.
– The figures giving the trade as £29,000 a year related to the year 1928-29. The Minister’s figures may refer to a later period. But until the committee is provided with some further information, I trust it will not allow the item to go through.
.- As a good deal of capital is being made out of the fact that different rates of duty apply to cedar, the produce of North Borneo, I am prepared to move that the rate applying to cedar, the produce of North Borneo, shall be the same as applies to timber from the Solomon Islands, thus sh’owing my bona fides and those of the Government.
.- This is very queer conduct !
– The honorable member is getting all that he asked for.
– The question is whether the Minister was previously right in regard to the duties on timber from North Borneo.
– The honorable member said that there was some sinister motive behind the Government’s proposal.
– The Minister knows well that no mention of the word “ sinister “ has been made by me. Nor have I imputed anything. What I am saying now is that if the Government was right in placing special duties on timber from British North Borneo, there is no reason for altering them.
– The honorable member is anxious to know why discrimination was shown in the first place?
– Yes; if the duties provided in the first place on timber from British North Borneo were correct, the Minister should stand by them. His proposal to place them on the same level as the duties payable on timber from the Solomon Islands does not satisfy me. He is treating honorable members in a very cavalier fashion, and I hope that the committee will not accept his suggested amendment until it has been provided with more information than the Minister has already given.
Mr. JONES (Indi) [9.20 J.- 1 oppose the amendment moved by the honorable member foi- Flinders (Mr. Holloway), and shall heartily support the amendment suggested by the Minister (Mr. Forde). I see no reason why we should go out of Australia for either of ‘these timbers. For four years during the war, not one stick of timber came into Australia. We were self-supporting in the matter of timber, and much of that which is now imported could, with advantage to Australian workmen, be kept out. It is admitted on both sides of the chamber that coloured labour is employed in both the Solomon Islands and North Borneo, and to the extent that timber is brought into Australia from either of those places, it deprives Australian bushmen of so much work. Are we to protect the coloured labourers in the two islands under discussion, or our own Australian bushmen ? Every man who is a big Australian should strive to protect our own. I oppose the amendment before the committee, and will support that which the Minister has foreshadowed, because it will serve to exclude timbers from islands in which coloured labour is employed. I am always prepared to give a preference to our own Australian bushmen. Finer specimens of Australian manhood than those engaged in the timber industry of Australia one could not meet.
.- When I was Minister for Trade and Customs, I was waited on by the people interested in the Vanikoro timber trade, but as the item had already been included in the schedule, I pointed out that no alteration could be made until the schedule was under discussion in this chamber. The time has now arrived when an alteration can be made. Although to a large extent I was responsible for the preparation of the schedule, I admit that, when I came to analyse the situation, I could not understand why a preference was granted to timber from British North Borneo over timber from another British possession, which seemed to be exactly on .all fours with it. When the logs arrive in Australia they afford considerable employment to Australian workmen, and for that reason I shall vote for the amendment moved by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), reserving to myself the right to decide what I shall do in regard to the Minister’s proposal to place both islands on an equal footing. I well remember that, when the timber duties in the Pratten schedule were under consideration, practically the only supporters for the duties, as proposed by the then Government, were members of the Ministry and the two Government Whips. All other honorable members were practically unanimous in standing by the Australian timber industry. But the trade figures quoted to-night have put quite another aspect on the question. We have an Australian-owned line of steamers running between Australia and the Pacific Islands, doing a trade which is of great benefit to Australia, and, so far as I know, the vessels are manned by Australian seamen and engineers. At any rate, the owners are paid a subsidy by the Commonwealth Government. Australia is doing a considerable business with the Solomon Islands compared with British North Borneo. If any preference is to be given, it should be given to the islands with which we do the greater trade.
– Why give it to either?
– I still stand by the Australian timber industry, but I do not stand for an invidious distinction being made between one British possession and another. If they are both put on the same level, it is a different proposition. But the amendment before the committee is that submitted by the honorable member for Flinders, which I intend to support, reserving to myself the right to place the Solomon Islands and British North Borneo on the same footing.
.- 1 oppose the amendment moved by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), because I oppose the importation of overseas timbers. The present condition of our bush workers is tragic. For a considerable time past I have been in close touch with the timber belts of Victoria and Tasmania. To-day the timber mills are lying idle, and some of the finest specimens of Australian manhood, with their wives and children, are practically half starved while waiting till the wheels of industry go round once more. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). If I had my way, I would place an embargo on the importation of all timbers. I agree with the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) thai Tasmania and Victoria can produce timbers equal to any that come from overseas, for furnishings, fittings, or any other purpose.
– What timbers have we in this Parliament House?
– The timbers in this Parliament House, with the exception of the Speaker’s chair, are practically all Australian. Tasmania produces red and white myrtle, huon pine, celery pine, King Billy pine, and various hardwoods that can be used for furniture.
– In the name of goodness, what is preventing their use?
– Their use is prevented by importations, because of the absence of high duties. If an embargo were placed on timber, more Australian timber would be used for furnishings and building purposes, and more employment would be afforded to Australian workers.
– Is there any cedar in Tasmania ?
– No; but our blackwood and huon pine are equal to cedar.
.- It iE fair and reasonable that the duty on timber from the Solomon Islands should be the same as that on timber from British Borneo; but I am astounded that the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway) should desire to reduce the duty on the Solomon Islands product. Because such a reduction would increase the competition with Australian timbers, I am opposed to it. I understand thai if the amendment is defeated the Minister will more to raise the duty on the British Borneo timber to that imposed on imports from the Solomon Islands. I shall support such an amendment. The timber industry operates in all States, provides a great deal of employment, pays royalties to. the State treasuries, provides freight for the railways, and is of benefit to the farmers. It is one of those primary industries which all honorable members should be pleased to support.
.- I shall vote against the amendment moved by the honorable member for Flinders, mid support that which the Minister will move subsequently. I am not in favour of the importation of timber from Borneo or any of the Pacific islands, whether British possessions or otherwise. There is plenty of cedar in Queensland to supply all the requirements of Australia, and other good timbers to take its place when it is exhausted. Both in British Borneo and the Solomon Islands coloured labour is employed; therefore the timber from both countries should be subject to the same duty. I believe that Queensland kauri pine is suitable for all the purposes for which the Solomon Islands product is imported.
– Why is it not used?
– Because the BrucePage Government allowed so much timber to be imported almost free of duty that the Australian industry has not had a fair chance. We arc told that the importation of timbers from Borneo and the Solomon Islands will provide work for our people. If our timber industry is protected and developed it will provide work for a greater number of people, because they will handle the product through all stages from forest stump to the market. If we continue to rely on timber from the islands, what will happen when it is exhausted? Will other timber from elsewhere be imported, or will Australian timber take its place? No timber should be imported until we have used all our own, and that will not be for a very long time. I placed great reliance upon the telegrams which have been read by the .Minister, because I know the people who sent them. Mr. Hyne is partowner of a large saw-mill ; Mr. Skyring is also in a large saw-milling business, and
Mr. Duffy has an extensive knowledge of ‘ timber, and, probably,’ a large interest in the industry. When they speak of the quantities of timber available in Queensland, I accept their testimony. Certain people in Queensland have invested a considerable amount of money in the growing of sugar in the Solomon Islands with black labour. They are providing employment, but not for Australians. People of this type are prepared to invest money in any country in .which wages arc sufficiently low. We had experience of coloured-labour conditions when the Kanakas were employed on the Queensland cane-fields. The people who have invested their money in the Solomon Islands may continue to employ black labour, but they must find some other market than Australia for their product.
– I am opposed to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Flinders. In support of his proposal, he stated that Queensland timber interests are not opposed to it. This debate has clearly shown, however, that they are opposed to it, and for very definite and wellfounded reasons. The importation of kauri pine under existing conditions cannot be justified. Of the fifteen known varieties of this timber three are grown in Queensland, and that that State is capable of meeting the Australian demand, I shall prove by quoting from Timber and Forest Products of Queensland, by E. H. F. Swain, one of the principal authorities on forestry in the Commonwealth -
The original kauri pine timber of Queensland was derived from the trees of the southern species in the Maryborough district. This species is now almost extinct and the remaining scattered trees are being reserved for seed production. The northern species, however, exists in commercial availability, and probably there are 100,000,000 superficial feet in sight.
– Why is it not produced and marketed?
– If this committee is wise it will do nothing to jeopardize the development of those rich timber resources. I understand that the Minister, is prepared to move to raise the duties on Borneo timber to a parity with those on pine from the Solomon Islands.
– I promise that I will do that immediately the amendment before the committee is disposed of.
– On that understanding I shall vote against the amendment moved by the honorable member for Flinders and support that proposed by the Minister.
– Much has been said of the capacity of Queensland to supply the Australian market with timbers capable of taking the place of many that are now imported. At the British Empire Forestry Conference held in Australia in 1928, every Australian forestry expert stressed the danger of overexploitation of our timber resources. Their opinions were endorsed by world experts. The imported furniture timbers are already dearer than any possible rivals except Queensland maple and Tasmanian blackwood, and the Sydney and Suburban Timber Merchants Association declares that if one attempted to purchase 5,000,000 superficial feet of either, the forests of the State concerned would be closed for ten years.
– Test that by giving an order.
– No one wants 5,000,000 superficial feet.
– In 1929 one firm wanted to purchase 600,000 feet of Queensland maple, and had to be content with 250,000 feet. If there is in Queensland so much of this class of timber as honorable members representing that State declare, why is it rationed as strictly as if it were gold? Timber merchants cannot buy the quantities they require. Mr. Lane-Poole, the Commonwealth Inspector-General of Forests, said that the oregon forests in the State of Oregon, in the United States of America, are greater than the areas in Australia from which softwoods, hardwoods and secondary timbers are produced. That effectively answers the points raised from time to time with respect to dumping. The quantity of cut timber produced in one year in the State of Washington, is equal to the total quantity of all timbers we could import at the present rates of duty during the next 60 years. In these circumstances, why should we talk about the timbers of
Australia, the extent to which the trade is exploited and of the necessity to stop importations of timber which would result in denuding our forests?
– What does the honorable member know about timber?
-I am quoting the opinions of experts in contradiction of those of the president of the Apple-growers Association.
– The honorable member’s argument supports a policy of reafforestation. If such a policy were adopted our losses would not be so great.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.The honorable member’s contention supports the point I am submitting. There is an absence of softwoods in this country, without which we cannot carry on. In Australia we have no suitable substitute for oregon, which has to be used in certain classes of work, whatever may be said to the contrary.
– For what purposes is oregon used?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Oregon will always be used in this country.
– I rise to a point of order Is the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) in order in discussing oregon in connexion with the sub-item now before the Chair?
– The honorable member is in order in making a passing reference to the duties on oregon.
– The weight of hardwood is 350 super feet to the ton, while that of oregon is 750 feet to the ton. How can hardwood, which goes only 350 feet to the ton. compete against oregon, which goes 750 feet to the ton? Oregon. used for mining purposes is admitted free of duty in order to protect the lives of the miners. Oregon gives a warning . months before it breaks, whereas hardwood gives no such indication.
– That is not so.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Then why is it admitted free of duty for mining purposes? The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), who suggests that an embargo should be placed upon the importation of Oregon, cannot bo aware that the importations of oregon into Australia total 200,000,000 feet a year. If that quantity is imported into Australia at very high rates of duty, surely it suggests that it is a timber for. which there is no suitable substitute in Australia. Is it likely that importers would pay an excessive duty of approximately 15s. per 100 super, feet in order to obtain supplies if suitable timber could be found in Australia? The imposition of these unnecessarily high duties upon Oregon have placed additional burdens upon the workers of this country, and others who find it essential in building operations. I have an estimate supplied by one of the largest building contractors in Sydney showing the cost of constructing a house of oregon, and with other timbers. I will not quote the details at this juncture, but shall supply them when the duties on Oregon are under consideration. My object in rising in this debate was to reply to misrepresentations concerning oregon that have been dragged in.
.- This discussion arose because of the discrimination in the duties imposed on timbers from British Borneo and the British Solomons. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway) contends that it is unfair to continue the present discrimination between these two sources of supply. I remind the committee that it was not until it was made manifest that the committee would not allow the discrimination to continue that the Minister stated his intention to increase the rates on supplies from Borneo, and thus place importations from that country on the same basis as those from the British Solomons.
– It would be interesting to know why there has been discrimination.
– I am not going into the reasons which actuated the Minister. It has to be made clear that the honorable member for Flinders was justified in bringing down” an amendment to equalize duties as they affect countries outside the Commonwealth. The arguments advanced in support of a continuance of the discrimination do not appeal to me.
For five years I was the federal president of the Australian, Timber-workers Union, and know that while a duty of 30 per cent, is imposed on importations from the British Solomons, similar timber from New ‘ Zealand is admitted free of duty. There isno more anomalous or vexatious item in the customs tariff than that relating to timber. I am entirely unimpressed by the arguments advanced to the effect that unemployment in the timber industry is attributable to the absence of effective timber duties. Unemployment is as prevalent amongst the timber- workers in Western Australia as in any other State, but that is not due to the fact that the Western Australian timber industry is subject to unfair competition from outside the Commonwealth. It is entirely due to the absence of demand for timber, owing to the inactivity in the building industry. By the imposition of these duties we can affect particular classes or groups engaged in the timber industry, but the contention that employment in the timber industry can bo increased by higher duties is to me - and I had long experience in the industry - untenable.
– The honorable member’s comments would apply to any other commodity.
– That is so. I am prepared to support the Minister’s proposals to place the imports from the two sources mentioned upon the same basis. I believe that Australia is in a position to use its own resources for a period in order to meet the demand which exists, but immediately that demand increases, it will be necessary to reduce the duties. It is perfectly true that we have vast timber resources, but from the view-point of the needs of posterity, they are the’ most inadequate of any country. We should be doing wrong to denude our forests of what is an essential requirement, and which will become increasingly scarce as time goes on. merely for the sake of temporary gain. I intend to support the amendment of the honorable member for Flinders., in order to remove what I consider an unjust anomaly, and to support the Minister’s proposal to so amend the duties that similar rates will be applicable to British Borneo and the British Solomons.
.- Honorable members on this side of the chamber, and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) in particular, in discussing previous items, have offered destructive criticism concerning what they term backyard industries. The honorable member for Warringah has consistently objected to the imposition of high duties on the products of small industries which he contends have not a chance of succeeding in Australia. Whatever justification there may have been for his utterances concerning such industries, such arguments cannot be applied to the timber industry. In Australia we have 24,500,000 acres of forests, and, if the requirements of timber-users cannot be supplied at reasonable cost, there must be some reason for which the timber producers are not responsible. The honorable member for Warringah suggested that the Australian forests are being denuded, and that there is no possibility of supplying the quantities of timber required.
– I am speaking from experience. ‘
– I draw the honorable member’s attention to the following table, showing the total forest areas and the percentage to the total area in the different States : -
Although we have 24,500,000 acres of forest . country in Australia, the honorable member for Warringah contends that we have insufficient timber resources. It . is safe to assume that all the timbers growing in our forests are not marketable, and, even if they were, we could not use them. Unless timber is used by the time it reaches maturity, it commences to decay. We have all these younger timbers in the initial stages of growth, ensuring a supply for future generations. I am surprised that this debate has dragged on; I thought that honorable members who believed in Australia would support what is undoubtedly a natural industry of this country. It is quite a sound proposition to impose on timber from British Borneo the higher duty applying to timber from the Solomon Islands.
– Just before the debate on thi, item closes, I wish to break a lance with the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) with respect to some of his retorts to my previous remarks. The honorable member, adopting his characteristic attitude, asked why Queensland, if it had supplies of timber, did not make them available to the rest of Australia. I propose to show why that State does not make its timber available in the huge quantities required by the other States, and I shall do so by again referring to Timbers and. Forest Product of Queensland.* In the course of his remarks Swain says -
The essential feature of the forestry position of Queensland i3 that an aboriginal in sufficiency of building softwood exists for the needs of the civilized State. It is true thai compared with our southern neighbours we are relatively rich in the possession of important hillside forests of Araucaria in the south and of Agathis in the north, whence hail come our supplies of building softwoods in the shape of hoop and bunya pine and of kauri pine, supplemented by _ lesser supplier of the harder and more brittle cypress pin* of the south-west. These assets, however, were always inadequate to the needs of n colony capable of carrying a population in 60 years’ time of 3,000,000 souls, and no amount of husbanding could possibly have overcome the original smallness of the native coniferous timberlands
In the beginning of our settlement we possessed natural coniferous softwood assets measuring in volume between 3,000,000,000 and 4,000,000,000 feet. Some of these asset* have been wasted in pioneering land settle ment processes, but from 1.883 to 1925 wiactually used up for development works 2,450,000,000 superficial feet of hoop and bunya pine saw-logs (exclusive of casingqualities), plus 600,000,000 superficial feet of kauri and cypress. Hence the especial importance to Queensland of its commercial pine wood resources and potentialities.
That is a complete answer to the honorable member for Warringah, who wishes to know why Queensland is conserving its timber resources. I quite share th,views of the honorable member generally on the softwood position in Australia, which, I admit, is weak. We shall have to continue to import softwoods. Statis- tics make that perfectly plain. Australia cannot continue to supply itself with softwoods until its afforestation activities produce commercial forests, and until that time arrives there must necessarily be a shortage of softwoods in this country, and we mustuse imported softwoods. In the meantime we have to balance the tariff so scientifically as to do the least harm to our consumers of softwoods and the most good to our producers of that class of timber.
– I congratulate the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) on having put the thin edge of the wedge into the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill). I feel inclined to drive the wedge home; but, out of consideration for the honorable member, I shall refrain from doing so. Australia as a timber-producing nation has few rivals. I believe that our hardwoods are unequalled in any part of the world. New South Wales and Victoria have various timbers; Western Australia has jarrah and other timbers. Queensland, of course, could supply our requirements for many generations to come. Even the little island of Tasmania has a few trees. In my own electorate there is an ample supply of spotted gum, with which no other timber in Australia compares. It is used as a substitute for hickory. The only imported softwood which we need is oregon, but in our mountain ash we have a good substitute, and, fortunately for us, it can be obtained in abundance not far from the Federal Capital City.
– I remind the honorable member that the item before the Chair relates to cedar.
– Cedar is, of course, a splendid timber. Honorable members have spoken of timbers such as woolly butt, ribbony gum, and others which we have in abundance in Australia. I approve of the proposal of the Minister, because I believe that there is no occasion for us to import timber. It would, indeed, be splendid could we produce oregon in Australia, but it is not absolutely essential to us. Our own timbers have been used to a large extent in the building of the
Federal Capital. I rose to support the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan). It is seldom that we see eye to eye and any occasion on which we do see eye to eye is well worthy of mention. I am sorry that the honorable member for Warringah has taken up an attitude against Australia. He seems to be anti-Australian in respect of our timber, workmen, and industries generally. Coming, as he does, from Narrabeen, I should expect him to halve narrow ideas. I support the proposal of the Minister, with a view to preventing the importation of timber into Australia.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. Holloway’s) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. McGrath.)
Majority . . 8
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move -
That sub-item (c) be amended by adding the following: - “And on and after the 8th October, 1931 -
Logs, not sawn, viz.: -
The effect of the amendment will be to make logs from Borneo subject to the same rate of duty as logs from Vanikoro.
Amendment agreed to.
Case of an Invalid Pensioner - Trade with China and Japan - Shipping Freights from Australia.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to bring before the House the case of an invalid pensioner. I have never previously taken this course in regard to a pension, but in the present case I consider that there are special circumstances which justify my asking the House to give the matter its consideration. In June, 1928, this girl, named Phyllis P - I will not give her full name or address, as I do not wish to add to her distress - who lives in a country district in Victoria, was granted an invalid pension because her right arm was completely paralysed. The pension remained in force for two years and was then withdrawn. I wrote to the department and asked for an explanation. I did not know whether the withdrawal was part of the economy plan or not. The matter was subsequently referred to the Government Medical Referee, who, on the 14th July last, reported as follows: -
The invalidity is such as to render claimant permanently incapacitated for work. I, therefore, certify that after full and careful examination I am of opinion that claimant is permanently incapacitated for work and is, in that respect, entitled to a pension under the act.
Evidence was then taken by the local police magistrate, who, on the 20th July, issued the following certificate, which is on the file: -
I find that the person is as when the claim was previously investigated, except that the Commonwealth Medical Referee’s note and certificate on this occasion accentuates the. impossibility of claimant earning a living. She has no property or income and is dependent entirely upon her mother and stepfather, who are in poor circumstances. 1 again recommend that she be granted a pension of £52 per annum.
The case next went before the Deputy Commissioner for Victoria, Mr. William McPherson, who recommended that a pension of £45 10s. per annum be granted without arrears. He added this note: “Give benefit of doubt”.
A few days ago I received a letter from the mother of the girl which sets out the position very clearly. It reads as follows : -
My daughter, Phyllis, tried for a. pension again and was rejected, but it is not proved that she is permanently. incapacitated for all work. I wish they would send an inspector up to see her, if they think she can work. They can see her any time they wish. She has no father to support her. Her father died seven years ago when she was sixteen years. She got the invalid pension for two years, and now they have taken it all off her when she wants it the most. She is in need at present. My husband is only mining and getting very little. He got the miners’ allowance of 8s. a week and now that is stopped. We have nothing in the world to keep her on, and she is not able to work. If they would consider it over again and try and give her. a little - if it was only enough to keep her in food and clothes - I would not mind. I know things are in a bad way at present. I am not asking for a lot for her until things get better. It is terribly hard on me. I would not mind if she had the use of her arm. It is useless, and her right arm too. It is hard for girls with two arms to get work now. Would you try for me, and see if they would give her a little help.
When this girl was first granted a pension it was decided that she was permanently and totally incapacitated. Although the pension remained in force for two years it was withdrawn without any reason being given. I interviewed the officers of the department and the excuse given me for the withdrawal was that the girl might geta position as a companion or nursegirl.
Previously I have accepted the decision of the Treasurer, because I have felt that the attitude of the department in such cases was fair and just. It was only because further and authoritative information was brought to me that I made a personal investigation of the circumstances of the case. This girl could not get a position’ as a companion; she could not do housework; and she certainly could not get a position as a nursegirl when there are any number of girls with the full use of two arms looking for such work. In view of the fact that the Government Medical Referee, the Police Magistrate, and the State Deputy Com- missioner have all investigated this case, and that two of them at least have seen the girl and have certified that she is permanently and totally incapacitated, I feel that an injustice has been done by the rejection of this claim. In the light of my experience, I consider it the duty of every honorable member to investigate all cases in which pensions have been withdrawn to ascertain whether the department is not trying to save money in this way. If this girl was entitled to a pension for two years, she is entitled to one now, particularly in .view of the fact that the officers to whom I have referred have declared that she is totally and permanently incapacitated.
I should like to know how it comes about that a departmental officer in Canberra, who has not seen the girl and cannot have any personal knowledge of her condition, can, in the face of the certificates of the medical official and the police magistrate who have personally examined her, reject the application for the renewal of this pension. It makes me feel’ that the action has been taken because of the financial stringency. I do not think that’ the Government should try to save money at the expense of these people. The evidence is complete that this girl is legally entitled to a pension, and it should be paid to her. It’ is scandalous that an officer in Canberra, who is naturally unable to obtain either visible or oral evidence of the condition of the girl, should be able successfully to resist her application for a renewal of her pension. I realize that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Cunningham), who is dealing with this case for the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), has not had time to examine the file thoroughly, but I appeal to him to look into- the facts with a view to remedying the injustice that has been done.
.- I wish to direct the attention of the Government to the effect that recent increases in freight charges is having upon trade between Australia and certain Eastern ports. The importance of our trade with Eastern countries is recognized by all Australians who know anything about the extent of the business; that is done in these countries, and thetremendous opportunities that they offer for an extension of our trade. The freights ‘from Australia to the East Indies and’ Singapore have not been altered, but’ the freights from Australia to Chinese and Japanese ports have been increased by the Japanese, British, and Australian companies trading to those ports. The increases are alleged to have been made on account of the exchange position; but the exchange rate is favorable between Australia and China and Japan. In consequence of the increased rates that are now operating, while the freight on flour from Worth American ports to China is 18s. a ton; from Australia to China it is from 32s. 6d. to 35s. a ton. The vessels engaged in this trade do not observe Australian conditions. The distance from Australia to these ports is shorter than from America to them, but the freight rates are higher. Our exporters are at a great disadvantage. Freights have not been raised on refrigerated produce, on wheat or livestock: The increases, based on an exchange position which really does not exist, between Australia and the countries; concerned, relate principally to leather, hams, bacon, preserves, canned goode,confectionery and flour. The vessels are registered in the East and carry native crews. As it is highly desirable that we should develop our export trade to the utmost possible limit, these freight increases gravely prejudice our business in certain lines to the East. This question is sufficiently important to demand the immediate attention of the Ministry. I admit that it is not a matter for legislation, but I suggest that the Government should use what influence it possesses to effect an agreement that will be mutually advantageous to all concerned. When I asked the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) some questions recently relating to this subject, he replied that he was examining the position. That is the least he can do. I should like to see some evidence that strong representations had been made to the shipping companies in the interests of our exporters.
– Have freight increases been made by all eastern shipping lines?
– The lines concerned are the Nippon Yusen Kaisha Line, the Osaka Shosen Kaisha Line (Japan), the Eastern and Australian Line and the Australian and Oriental Line (British). The vessels trading to Java and Singapore, upon which freights have not been increased, are those belonging to Burns, Philp Company Limited (Australia), the Royal Dutch Packet Line (Dutch) and the Ellerman and Bucknall Steamship Company (British). I hope that the Government will do all in its power to prevent Australian shippers from being subjected to charges which, apparently, are not justified by the circumstances. I admit that I have heard only one side, and I recognize that there may be other considerations. Nevertheless, I hope that prompt action will be taken by the Government in the interests, not only of Australian exporters, but, obviously, in the interest of Australia as a whole.
– The case cited by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) is similar in many respects to a number of others that have been brought to the notice of the Government. The difficulty is due to what may be termed the failure on the part of medical referees to interpret strictly the provisions of the act relating to payment of invalid and old-age pensions. I have received the following report from the Assistant Commissioner on the case mentioned by the honorable member : -
Claimant applied for pension in June, 1928, five weeks after attaining the statutory age of sixteen years. The departmental medical officer reported that she was suffering from complete paralysis and wasting of the right arm, forearm, and hand. No other disability was indicated. In the doctor’s opinion the claimant was permanently incapacitated for work. An invalid pension was granted, but claimant’s mother was informed that claimant should endeavour to fit herself for some light employment, and that inquiries would be made at the end of twelve months to ascertain what effort she had made in this direction.
The case was reviewed in July, 1929, and pensioner stated, in reply to inquiries, that she had nut made any attempt to fit herself for employment, lt was noted that pensioner’s handwriting was reasonably good. It was decided to continue pension, subject to further review in July, 1930.
Ou review in July, 1930, pensioner again advised that she had not made any endeavour to fit herself for employment. She was again examined by the doctor, who reported that the right arm was quite useless, arid that pensioner was unable to earn any money, and that the only work which she was capable of doing in the house was such as could be done with one hand. A report obtained from the police stated that, apart from the condition of the right arm, pensioner’s general health was fairly good. She was about 5 ft. 2 in. in height, weighed 8 stone, and was well built. The Deputy Commissioner at Melbourne cancelled the pension on the ground that it was not proved that pensioner was permanently incapacitated for work. In arriving at this decision, the Deputy Commissioner minuted the file as follows: - “ The pension has been in force for two years, and apparently no effort lias been made to endeavour to make herself fit for any light employment. It does not seem that it would bc in her own interests to continue pension. The only disability would appear to be in the right arm.”
A fresh claim was lodged in February, 1931. The claim was accompanied by a certificate from the doctor, stating that thu claimant was totally and permanently incapacitated from earning any money. The police magistrate recommended the grant of a pension, his recommendation being based on the doctor’s certificate. The claim was, however, rejected by the Deputy Commissioner, Melbourne.
Upon representations being made to the Deputy Commissioner, the case was again investigated. Claimant was again examined by the doctor, who reported as under on 14th July, 1931:- “ Claimant is suffering from complete loss of power and function of right arm, as the result of infantile paralysis when seven years old. The arm is entirely useless. Her .general condition, otherwise, is somewhat below normal, on account of the semi-invalid life she has had, but not markedly so. Through lost schooling, her educational standard is low. She failed to obtain her merit certificate. The above invalidity is the result of infantile paralysis, as already stated. I am of opinion that claimant is permanently incapacitated for work, and is, in that respect, entitled to a pension. I really fail to seu how this claimant could possibly earn a living, as both physically and mentally she is badly handicapped, and the parents cannot afford to train her.”
The police magistrate again recommended the grant of a pension. The Deputy Commissioner, Melbourne, forwarded the papers to this office, with a recommendation that claimant be given the benefit of the doubt, and pension restored.
The ease was carefully considered in this office, and it was decided on 20th August, 1931, that claimant should not be regarded as permanently and totally incapacitated for work, and the claim -was therefore rejected.
The case has received the fullest consideration. The only real disability is the loss of the use of the right arm. It is not seriously suggested that there is any other incapacity. A passing reference is made to claimant’s general condition being somewhat below normal, though not markedly so, but it is pointed out by the doctor that this is due to the semiinvalid life which claimant has led. The report of the police would indicate that claimant is a healthy girl, and, whilst her educational standard may not be high, neither is it deficient to an extent which would seriously interfere with her chances of suitable employment. The trouble in the whole case is really due to the grant of pension in the first instance, lt is obvious that the Deputy Commissioner who granted the pension was of opinion that claimant could, with reasonable effort, fit herself for some form of employment, and the pension was really granted in order to enable claimant to make the attempt. The fact that she has not made any effort whatever may reasonably be taken as an indication that she has been satisfied to resign herself to a life of “ invalidity “ with the apparent assurance of a pension. Under the circumstances, the grant of pension has been a doubtful kindness.
The real point at issue here is something more than the grant of a pension in an individual case. If a pension is granted in this instance, we will be laying down a principle that any person who has attained the age of sixteen years and has lost the use of a limb is to be regarded as totally and permanently incapacitated for work, and is to receive an invalid pension for life. It is contended that such a principle cannot be admitted. Apart from other considerations, such a course would involve a marked increase in the number ‘ of invalid pensions, with corresponding extra expense to the Commonwealth. It is not possible to say here how much would be involved, but £100,000 per annum would certainly not be an over estimate.
The case is not one for the grant of . a pension, but it would appear to be one of a type which would bo eminently suitable for some form of vocational training.
It should he recognized that the Assistant Commissioner, whose report I have just quoted, is charged with the responsibility of overlooking the work of the Deputy Commissioners, and seeing that the department is administered in accordance with the act. I do not think that any honorable member will seriously contend that a person who has lost the use of one arm is permanently and totally incapacitated from work. Of course, if a matter such as this were decided according to our sympathies, we should like to see the utmost possible consideration extended to all applicants for pensions; but if pensions are to be granted in cases such as that under consideration, it will be necessary to amend the act. Taking an unbiased view of this case, I claim that the medical certificate is wrong, because a person with only one arm affected is not totally and permanently incapacitated, as required under the act, before the pension can be granted. In this instance, the medical examiner has been influenced in his report by generous sentiments.
– There is not the slightest evidence of that fact. The Assistant Commissioner is acting against the evidence submitted to him.
– If the majority of honorable members believe that all applicants for the pension who have lost the use of an arm are totally incapacitated, they must endeavour to amend the law and accept the responsibility of finding the additional money that would be needed to provide them with pensions.
Under the act, as it stands, the Assistant Commissioner had no option but to reject this application. The pension was granted, in the first place, on. the understanding that the girl would endeavour to fit herself for some form of employment. I would remind honorable members that the bill for pensions is mounting rapidly. In a number of cases, there is evidence that the pensioners could be fitted for some form of vocational training, so that they might not always remain a charge on the community. In the ordinary course of events, this girl would, if granted an invalid pension, continue to draw it until she was, perhaps, 65 years old. A number of similar cases have come under the notice ;of the department. When the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) presents his budget, and shows the need for increased taxation, honorable members complain bitterly of the cost of government; but 1 again point out that if a person who has lost the use of one arm is to be entitled to an invalid pension, the House must be prepared to amend the law and shoulder the responsibility of finding the extra money that would be required to meet the pensions bill.
– I was astonished to hear the details on the official file quoted in this case, and I should like to know under what circumstances this course has been rendered possible. It seems to me that if personal matters, and particularly medical and official opinions and reports are to be quoted in full, and are not to be regarded by the Government as confidential, there will be great difficulty in obtaining absolutely sound statements in connexion with these cases. I much regret that the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) has sought to prove his case by this means, and that the Minister has replied by quoting in full from a departmental report. At the same time, I make this suggestion : Everybody knows that at present there is great difficulty in balancing the budget, and that the department is endeavouring to prevent the granting of pensions in cases where the applicants are not entitled to them. No one can. object to that action. But I would urge that extraordinary steps should be taken to prevent any person who is really entitled to a pension from being deprived of it. I also ask that similar treatment should be given to applicants throughout the Commonwealth wherever situated. It is evident, from the particulars quoted, that on one occasion it was thought fit to give this girl, for a term of two years, an invalid pension, which should have been granted only in the event of permanent incapacity. At that time, it was considered that this was a case in which the terms of the act had been complied with; but there is no provision in the law to enable a pension to be granted for a couple of years until such time as the recipient makes up her mind on the subject of vocational training. Under the act an applicant should either receive a pension permanently, or be refused it. It appears that the method now adopted by the department differs from that previously followed. I suggest that an effort should be made to ensure that throughout the Commonwealth all applications are dealt with on the same basis. The leading examiners for the department in the various States should be called together to fix a definite standard on which perma nent and total incapacity may be determined. I agree that the ultimate decision must be made by the head of the department. Before the late Government relinquished office, I discussed this question with the late Sir Neville Howse, with a view to seeing whether it was possible to arrive at a standard which would be uniform throughout the Commonwealth, thereby avoiding any possibility of discrimination.
– It is the discrimination to which I object.
– Does the right honorable gentleman suggest that the case mentioned is one of permanent and total disablement ?
– I would nol attempt to give an opinion in a case which I had not seen.
– The Commissioner is asked to do so.
– It is unfair to ask him to do so unless a definite standard has been laid down by a medical board as to what constitutes permanent and total incapacity. I fear that in some cases pensions are being withdrawn from persons whose physical limitations are almost identical with those of others who are still in receipt of pensions.
– Should the Commissioner, who has not seen a patient, be able to override the decision of the medical officer who made the examination?
– The final decision must rest with the head of the department. He has to make up his mind on the evidence submitted to him. Unfortunately, he has not a fair chance to do so because of the lack of standardization.
– During the past few months I have found, it necessary to interview the Commissioner in Canberra on several occasions. I have always found him fair and courteous. Nevertheless, I have found it much more difficult than previously to obtain approval to an invalid pension. Mr. “Wright, a magistrate and Commissioner of the Supreme Court, who assists me with this work, tells me that never previously has he found it so difficult to obtain an invalid pension, or to get justice for other pensioners. “We deal with over 50 applications for pensions a week - over 2,000 a year. Mr.
Wright was to have provided me with certain data, but illness has prevented him from sending it to me this week. 1 do notsuggest that special instructions have been given by the Government in this matter, but it is evident that it is now more difficult than formerly to obtain an invalid pension. When in Melbourne a few weeks ago, I made inquiries from a friend in this connexion, and he told me that his experience was the same as mine. I should like the Minister to look into that aspect of the question.
– I assure the honorable member that no instructions have been issued by me. The Treasurer has stated on many occasions that the Government has given no such instructions.
– I accept the honorable gentleman’s assurance. The suggestion of the right honorable member forCowper . (Dr. Earle Page) is worthy of consideration. It might be desirable to provide for a smaller pension in cases in which only one limb has been rendered totally useless. At present a person must be permanently and totally incapacitated and unable to earn his living before he is granted a pension. No one can say that the girl mentioned by the honorable member forCorangamite (Mr. Crouch) can do work which requires two hands. The Swiss Government provides a reduced pension where one eye, one arm, or one leg has been lost. A girl with only one limb useless, but otherwise in good health, might be able to do certain classes of work if granted some assistance. Should an amendment of the act be contemplated such cases should be provided for.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.57 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 October 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19311007_reps_12_132/>.