12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr.Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took thechair at 3 p.m., and offered prayers.
– There is misconception in the minds of some persons in Tasmania regarding the terms of the arrangement made by the Government with the firm of Guinness and Company, of Dublin, for the removal of the sur-tax on imports of stout. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs make a statement on the subject for the information of those interested ?
– In view of the agreement by the proprietors of Guinness’ stout to purchase ‘4,000 bales of Australian hops, of which 2,500 bales was surplus from the 1930 crop, and for which no market could be found, the Government decided to remove the 50 per cent. special duty on stout, and also to remove the restriction by which importations of Guinness’ stout were limited to 50 per cent. of the quantity imported during the twelve months ended the 31st March, 1930. The tariff protection of 3s. 6d. per gallon afforded by Parliament to the Australian stout was, however, not interfered with.
Before taking this action I conferred with my colleague, the Minister for Markets, who caused inquiries to be made into the position of the hop industry in Australia, and he advised me that in the interests of that industry it was desirable to find a market for this surplus production, and, in his opinion, the bargain was justifiable.
The price obtained was £5 per cwt. o.i.f. English currency, or a total of £42,000. Owing to the high exchange rate this amount will involve a payment of £57,000 in Australian currency to Tasmanian hop-growers, and enable many of them to continue operations which would otherwise have been curtailed, or, possibly, would have ceased altogether.
In view of the foregoing facts the Cabinet, after mature consideration, decided to authorize the necessary action to enable Tasmania to dispose of its surplus hops.
Conditions: Queensland Meat Industry
– The Treasurer stated in the newspapers that, with a view to relieving unemployment, the Commonwealth Bank was prepared to make advances on advantageous terms to municipal councils and other local governing bodies. I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that the bank refuses to make any advance unless it is satisfied that the work upon which the money is to be expended will be absolutely reproductive?
– The impression I gained from my conversation with the chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board was that the bank was prepared to consider applications from local governing bodies having power to borrow for useful works. I did not understand him to say that thebank would restrict advances to works that would return a profit. The conditions were that the works upon which the money was to be expended should be of a useful character - the extension of a sewerage scheme, for instance - and that the borrowing authority should he in a sound financial position, and be able to meet its obligations in respect of both the interest and the principal. I would be astonished to learn that the hank had imposed any greater restrictions than those. If the honorable member is aware of useful works involved in applications by local authorities which have been rejected by the Commonwealth Bank, and will let me have particulars of them, I shall be glad to discuss them with the chairman of the bank.
– In regard to the statement that £65,000 is to be made available by the Commonwealth Bankto the Queensland Meat Industry Board, I ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been directed to the following pronouncement by the Premier of Queensland : -
Mr. Moore said that itwas extraordinary to road that £65,000 was to be made available.
He could not understand it. Perhaps, when the board went to the Commonwealth Bank and sought an overdraft it mentioned a possible limit of £55,000. It was amazing to him that an ordinary business overdraft transaction should be put in asa loan from the Commonwealth Bank to the Commonwealth Government. It is ordinary banking business, said Mr. Moore, and this is really divulging the private business of the bank.
Has the Prime Minister’s attention been directed to that paragraph, and if so, has he any comment to make?
-I take this opportunity to inform honorable members that, in future, questions requiring explanation by references to newspapers must be brought up on the adjournment, and not at question time. This subject was raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) on Friday. On this occasion the question may be asked.
– I have not seen the paragraph referred to. My comment upon it is that the Premier of Queensland has misconceived the whole position. None of these loans is from the Commonwealth Government. No statement has been made either by me or by the Commonwealth Bank authoritiessuggesting that.
– The Premier of Queensland does not say that any such statement has been made.
– The paragraph read by the honorable member is to that effect. It has never been suggested that the Commonwealth Bank is making these loans available to the Commonwealth Government. What we did was to ask the Commonwealth Bank to make loans available to State governments and local-governing bodies direct. In the announcements of the Treasurer and myself to the House, it was clearly stated that the Commonwealth Bank was making these advances direct to local governing bodies, and that is the position.
– In view of the fact that in some States this season’s wheat will be harvested at the end of November, and that speculators may be busy acquiring wheat to the disadvantage of producers, will the Minister for Markets introduce and endeavour to have enacted, before the approaching adjournment of the House, the Government’s proposal for the assistance of wheat-growers?
– I am working to that end.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is true that the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales holds £30,000,000 worth of Commonwealth stock. If so, cannot the Commonwealth Bank redeem that stock, and thus provide funds for the relief of old depositors in the State Savings Bank who are unable to draw upon the funds lying to their credit?
– The Government Savings Bank of New South Wales holds a large amount of Commonwealth Government securities which have not yet matured, and haying regard to the present position of the loan market and the funds available, it is not practicable for the Commonwealth Bank to take over from the State institution immature stock. In addition to Commonwealth securities, the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales holds securities issued by the Government of its own State, some of which have matured, but for the redemption or repayment of which neither the State Government nor the Loan Council can make provision.
– Will the Government consider the erection in Canberra of some fitting memorial to the late General Sir John Monash?
– The Government will consider the matter.
– Has the Prime Minister yet received from the Federal Industrial Registrar a report regarding better methods of policing awardsin order to prevent sweating in the textile trade ?
– The AttorneyGeneral has received a report, and will make it available at an early date.
Application forWage Reduction.
– The following paragraph appears in the Sydney Morning Herald: -
Chief Judge Dethridge said that the court was not inclined to reduce wages when the only result of that reduction would be inflation of profits already adequate. The tremendous fall in the national income had brought about a fall in labour costs, as well as in other expenditure. It was of no benefit to the community in a time of distress to transfer from the wage-earners to the shareholders, the 10 per cent. reduction if the profits of the shareholders were already being sufficiently filled . . Mr. Derham said that he was appearing for the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and eighteen or nineteen other respondent companies.
I ask the Prime Minister what is the attitude of the Government’s representatives on the hoard of directors of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited in regard to this application before the court?
-I entirely agree with Chief Judge Dethridge that no good purpose can be served by taking from the workers’ pockets to add to the already adequate profits of any company. That is, however, a matter for the court to determine. With regard to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, I have already made it clear to the House that under the existing conditions the Government has no control over this company. We were not even consulted or notified when a change was made in the general managership. The agreement gives the company four representatives on the board as against three government representatives, and, therefore, we have no control ; but we have appointed a new director to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. He is a trusted officer of the Treasury, and because of this appointment we shall be kept in closer touch with the Board of Directors and be able to put our views on any specific question before it.
– Is it a fact that the Government intends to take a referendum on the question of the abolition of State governments, and if so, will it be taken in conjunction with the next general election, or separately?
– Some time ago the Government introduced three bills, which were passed by this House, representing the Government’s policy on constitutional reform. They were sent to another place, and rejected. They will again be sent to another place for submission to the people.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In the event of the British Government passing legislation to prevent profiteering, will he request his Cabinet to consider a bill to check the prices of foods such as bread and meat, with the object of providing that bread sold over the counter shall be sold at a fair price based upon the selling price of wheat, and meat sold over the counter shall be sold at a price fairly proportionate with the wholesale price of meat in the carcass, such prices to be based on the monthly average of sales of wheat and meat?
– It is not considered that legislation for the regulation of prices of bread and meat would be within the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth.
Sick Leave Granted to Staff
asked the PostmasterGeneral,upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1. (a) Telephonists, 12.5 days per officer; (b) telephonists, 13.9 days per officer; (c) clerks, all sections, 4.53 days per officer; (d) postmen,11.4 days per officer; (e) mail officers, 12.2 days per officer. 2. (a) Telegraphists, 9.5 days per officer; (b) telephonists, 9.09 days per officer; (c) clerks, all sections, 5.06 days per officer; (d) postmen, 10.8 days per officer; (e) mail officers, 12.8 days per officer.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1. (a) No.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Mr.FORDE. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
2.A list of the books will be handed to the honorable member. Publication of the list is not considered advisable, as it would tend to advertise the books.
– On the 9th October, 1931, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked me the following questions without notice: -
I am now in a position to supply answers to his queries as follow : -
– On the 8th October the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) asked me a question without notice, as to the action taken by the Queensland Government to give effect to the decision of the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers regarding the reduction of the interest rate on mortgages.
As promised, I have made inquiries into the matter. The Financial Emergency Act 1931 passed by the Queensland Parliament, provides for a reduction of 22½ per cent. in interest rates on all mortgages with a minimum rate of 5 per cent. per annum. Provision is made for the mortgagor to apply to the court failing agreement between mortgagor and mortgagee. The act follows generally the lines of the draft bill prepared at the conference.
– On the 8th October the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) asked me how many of the dissentients in the recent Commonwealth conversion loan have converted portions of their holdings.
It is evident from correspondence received at the Treasury and from reports from the inscribed stock registries, that many persons who dissented from conversion have converted portion of their securities. No special record of such cases was kept by the registrars of stock, and it is regretted further particulars cannot be secured without a detailed examination of the records of all cases of dissent. This would involve considerable labour and expense.
– On the 18th September last the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) asked the Minister for Markets the following questions, upon notice : -
I now desire to furnish the following replies to the honorable member’s questions : -
– On the 8th October the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) asked if the Government had further considered allowing the purchasers of war service homes to meet their commitments with respect to those homes by selling Commonwealth bonds, and if it had not, would it do so?
It is regretted that arrangements cannot be made for the acceptance of bonds in payment of moneys clue by purchasers of war service homes. If bonds were so accepted it would be necessary for the Treasury to turn them into cash, and the Treasury has no means for doing this except by sale on the market, which would be undesirable.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth and State Ministers - Re cord of proceedings of Conference held in Melbourne, 10th to 14th August, and 1st to 12th September, 1931.
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - Report of the Repatriation Commission for the year ended 30th June, 1931.
Ordered to be printed.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - No. 25 of 1931 - Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia.
Navigation Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 121.
Norfolk Island Act - Ordinances of 1931 -
No. 2. - Marriage.
No. 3 - Education
No. 4 - Partition.
No. 5 - Trustees.
No.6 - Importation of Plants.
No. 7 - Police.
No. 8 - Registration of Dentists.
No. 9 - Companies.
Motion (by Mr. Theodore) agreed to-
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to approve an agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia of the first part and the States of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh parts respectively.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
– I ask leave to move that the second reading be taken at a later hour this day.
– I object.
Leave not granted.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) put -
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the Treasurer to move that the second reading of the bill be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . 41
Question so resolved in the affirmative by an absolute majority of the members of the House.
Motion (by Mr. Theodore) - put -
That the second reading of the bill be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . 42
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Theodore) agreed to -
Thathe have leave to bring in a bill for an act for carrying out and giving effect to an agreement between the Common wealth of Australia of the first part, and the States of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh parts respectively, relating to the conversion of the internal public debts of the Commonwealth and the States, and for other purposes.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
– I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
There are two measures upon which I propose to address the House, the bill of which I am now moving the second reading, and that of which the second reading will be moved to-morrow, which is ancillary to the measure now under consideration.
The outstanding public debts of Australia were considered in regard to a financial rehabilitation plan the particulars of which were settled at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held in Melbourne in June last. This plan involved among other things - including the reduction of private interest rates on mortgages and bank loans - economies in governmental expenditure by the reduction of salaries, wages, invalid, old-age, and war pensions, and also in relation to certain classes of fixed money claims, a very substantial portion of these claims being the interest that had to be paid on Government securities. To effect a saving in the annual interest bill of the governments of Australia, it was necessary to provide for the conversion of all the outstanding loans under terms which would reduce the interest rates. As no cash subscriptions were to be invited, it was obvious to those attending the conference that the conversion or redemption of 100 per cent. of the debts could not be expected. Usually, when a loan matures, action is taken to provide for its redemption by issuing a conversion loan, and inviting cash subscriptions at the same time, and the cash subscriptions are sufficient to meet the unconverted portion. That course was impracticable in this case, because of the magnitude of the necessary conversion and the disturbed condition of the Australian money market at the time. It was held that the conversion could be justified on the ground of national necessity, or by obtaining the sanction to it of the large body of holders of government securities; but we could not hope to obtain the sanction of every one of those bondholders. For one thing, it was impossible to get into touch with them all. There were more than 300.000 individual holders of government securities of various kinds, and they were scattered throughout the Commonwealth, and some were abroad. By no conceivable means could their consent be obtained in advance. But we could approach a substantial part of these holders by offering conversion terms, and allowing them to express their willingness to convert or their intention to dissent. That was the course adopted. When the details of the scheme were being considered at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, the consensus of opinion was that compulsion would be justified: but it was recognized that there were advantages in providing for conversion upon a voluntary basis, giving to bondholders the opportunity to participate voluntarily in the sacrifices involved in the rehabilitation plan.
– Why did not the Government give the same opportunity to the pensioners?
– If the honorable member puts that question seriously, my reply is that there was no contract between the pensioners and the Government. Pensioners - old-age, invalid, exsoldiers and others - enjoy their rights under acts of this Parliament, and although what was done by amending these acts may have inflicted hardship, it cannot rightly be held to be a breach of contract. On the other hand, a definite contract was entered into between the bondholders and the various governments to which they had lent their money. As I have said, the consensus of opinion at the conference was that, because of the financial emergency, the various governments might be warranted in providing for compulsory conversion, thus setting aside the terms of the contract with the bondholders. It was, however, thought that a conversion could be carried out on a voluntary basis, though there was the tacit understanding that if a substantial portion of the loan were left unconverted, that portion would have to be dealt with somewhat in the manner now proposed.
The results of the conversion plan will be best understood by the consideration of the following figures: -
The amount held by dissentients was thus a little less than 3 per cent. of the total outstanding public debt. This being so, it must be recognized that the conversion loan was a complete success, the response being equal to the most sanguine anticipations. This has justified the proposals of the conference for the conducting of the conversion. A little more than 97 per cent, of the holdings were converted, and the cost of the conversion operation was only about £50,000, a very small amount compared with the magnitude of the loans converted - of which about £19,000 was spent on advertising, and the balance in printing forms of application, and bonds, on postage, and on the services of various persons who assisted in the conversion operation.
The annual savings in interest to all the Governments for a full year in consequence of the conversion will be about £6,500,000, taking into account the £16,655,759 worth of securities hold by dissentients.
The following table shows the total number of conversion applications actually lodged: -
Several problems connected with the conversion operation were fully discussed by the Premiers Conference in June, and the decisions in regard to them incorporated in the Debt Conversion Agreement Act which was passed by Parliament a few weeks ago, and was the basis of the conversion operation. Among those problems was what should be the maturity dates of the new securities. The general plan of the Debt Conversion Act provides for the amounts converted being spread equally over ten maturity dates, which range from 193S to 196:1. Authority to vary this mode of allotment was given. It was provided, for instance, that the method could be varied in respect of holders of amounts not exceeding £1,000. Such amounts could be allocated to two or more maturity dates. Authority was also given to deal separately with the holdings of trustees. Other classes of securities affected were those in respect of which there were special circumstances, those held by savings banks, and those in the nature of overseas trade money investments. In respect of holdings of £1,000 or less, the following maturity dates have now been fixed : - First £200, 1938; next £300. 1941; next £500, 1944. Particulars showing the result of this allocation are not yet ‘available.
Many applications were received from the trustees of hospitals and charitable institutions, pensions funds, sinking funds, and other trust moneys for special consideration in respect of holdings of larger amounts than £1,000. The trustees concerned either desired allocation over early maturity dates, or to special dates. Sympathetic consideration has been given to all these applications, and so far as possible, the desires of the trustees have been met. Approximately £3,000,000 has been specially allocated on behalf of trustees.
– Why was special consideration given to the holders of tax-free securities ?
– The holders of tax-free securities were entitled to hold their securities free from taxation until their dato of maturity. If the tax-free security matures at ally time up to the 31st December, 1934, such stock will be automatically concerted, and other maturity dates fixed for it, the holders of such securities receiving new securities which will be taxable. The holders of tax-free securities who have notified their intention to convert have preserved their right to freedom from taxation for the remaining period that the stock has to run. For example, if 1933 is the maturity date of a tax-free security, it will be free of taxation until that time, but the new security which will replace it will be taxable.
– Then there is no concession ?
– No; there is merely the preservation of existing rights.
The variation of maturity dates on the ground of special circumstances was subject to approval by the Loan Council. The council has agreed to later maturity dates being arranged in all cases where the holders so desired. In a number of other cases it has agreed that special circumstances warranted the allocation of securities to early maturity dates.
In the case of all savings banks, including the trustee savings banks of Tasmania, the existing maturity dates of the old securities have been maintained. Authority for this was provided in the Debt Conversion Act.
Special consideration has been given to an amount of £3,800,000 of oversea trade money investments held in Australia, and, in all cases, except one, maturity dates have been arranged to the mutual satisfaction of the Treasury and the oversea traders concerned. Traders generally desired the right to early redemption, whereas the Treasury desired some deferment of the old maturity dates in order that the redemption of the bonds could be so spread as to enable payment to be made from the sinking fund.
The maturity dates of the old securities were-
The maturity dates arranged for the new securities are -
The fixing of new maturity dates for investments representing overseas trade money presented an easier problem than the fixing of such dates for some other investments, and, with one exception, the arrangement made is satisfactory to the parties concerned.
– That arrangement will limit the amount available for the relief of Australian bondholders who may be in need of financial assistance.
– The honorable member points out that because of the use of the sinking fund for the earlier redemption of overseas trade money investments, there will be less available for the relief of necessitous bondholders domiciled in Australia ; but it is not possible to ease the situation for certain bondholders without encroaching upon the privileges of others. I do not know whether the honorable member thinks that we should not have made any attempt to meet the special requirements of overseas investors whose trade money was tied up in government securities.
– My complaint is that, iD this conversion operation, the Government is showing preference for cases overseas, while overlooking the claims of needy Australian bondholders.
– That is a cheap gibe. The matter was fully considered at the Premiers Conference, and all governments represented at that gathering agreed to the basis upon which it should be settled.
We had also to make provision for treasury-bills held by the Commonwealth Bank and other banks, against overdraft accommodation provided for the various governments, and the Debt Conversion Act provides that securities issued to a bank in exchange for treasury-bills outstanding at the date of the commencement of the act shall be discounted at the rate of 4 per cent., the bills to be subject to such other conditions as the Loan Council may determine. The act provides, further, that these treasury-bills shall not be subject to the other provisions relating to the conversion of old securities. Although the Debt Conversion Act was not assented to until the 6th August, and did not come into operation until the 10th August, the reduction of the interest rate on treasury-bills was effected as from the 31st July. Treasury-bills totalling £21,720,000 matured on the 31st July, but the banks agreed to renew them at 4 per cent., without waiting for the Debt Conversion Act to be brought into operation. As previously, those bills had been discounted at 6 per cent., the reduction of 2 per cent. in the discount rate represented £434,000 per annum. All treasury-bills issued since the 1st August have been discounted at the rate of 4 per cent. Treasury-bills are, therefore, not referred to in the bill now before the House.
Before speaking about the unconverted securities, I wish to refer to the eminent success of the recent conversion loan. Its success was due largely to the recognition by the great majority of bondholders of their obligation to participate in the sacrifices of the nation, and to co-operate with the Government in its attempt to restore the financial stability of the Commonwealth. Doubtless, also, they had in mind the mutual advantage that would accrue from this course because of the fact that a successful conversion would mean that the national finances would be placed on a sounder basis, and the nature of the bondholders’ security would thus be improved. All bondholders who converted voluntarily acted with much prudence and with great consideration for the interests of the Commonwealth. I should also express, on behalf of the Government, its highest appreciation of the assistance given by the National Appeal Executive, which attended to so many matters necessary to ensure the success of the loan ; to the many public men who gave so freely of their services; to the various banks and savings banks, which not only converted their own holdings, in most cases without hesitation, but also made available the services of their staffs to assist the Government; to the stock exchanges, which, by creating a favorable atmosphere, contributed materially to the success of the loan; to the life and other assurance companies which converted their holdings without hesitation, and otherwise assisted; to the newspapers and broadcasting companies which gave favorable notices and publicity to the operation ; and to the trustee companies, which were faced with a very difficult problem because the conversion of their holdings was the conversion, not of their own investments, but the conversion of the savings and investments of those for whom they are trustees. The Government appreciates all that was done by these various organizations and individuals, and I think it is due to them that proper recognition of this should now be made.
The problem of the unconverted loan now remains to be attended to. It was recognized, at the outset, that it would arise when the main conversion plan had been carried through. Nobody anticipated a 100 per cent conversion. But it was impossible at the time when we were settling the conditions of the main conversion loan to lay down conditions that would apply to the unconverted portion of the public debt. Any such attempt would have been construed as an attempt to bring pressure to bear upon the bondholders. Yet it was recognized that some action would have to be taken to deal, in a more or less drastic manner, with those who refused to convert. I notice that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) is smiling atwhat I am saying.
– That is because the Treasurer is now using the big stick, although he declared that this would not be done. Why not be honest about the matter?
– I am trying to be honest. I do not know whether the honorable member suggests that I am not honest in this matter.
– Then why twit the honorable member for Fawkner with smiling; he is smiling because he knows that the Treasurer is “ putting it over “ the people.
– I was not twitting the honorable member for Fawkner - I was congratulating him. If the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) smiled a little more frequently we should get along much better.
– I am concerned with the position of those bondholders whose “ poverty and not their will “ dissents.
– That is something which we have to consider very carefully. It is also a matter which the Premiers Conference which was called subsequent to the closing date fixed for the conversion appeal, had to take into account. I have said that 97 per cent. of Australia’s internal debt was voluntarily converted, the holdings of dissentients amounting to only £16,655,769. Those who converted have willingly made sacrifices of income, and perhaps incurred hardship through the deferment of payment of principal, and it would be unfair to that overwhelming majority of our bondholders if those who dissented were placed in a more favorable position. This fact was recognized by those who attended the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, and there was no disagreement regarding it. In Melbourne, for three weeks, we were engaged mainly on the discussion of this problem. We adopted, tentatively, schemes which were subsequently abandoned in favour of others after the examination of every possible phase.
Let honorable members now consider what are the alternatives to what is being proposed by the Government in regard to the unconverted portion of the debt. It is not sufficient to criticize the Government for having decided to use compulsion; our critics should state what they would do in the same circumstances. The Government could have followed any one of three courses. First, it could have taken no action, merely allowing the unconverted debt to stand as it. is now. It could have accepted the conversion of those who volunteered to convert, and allowed the dissentients to hold their present securities receiving on them the full rate of interest, and the principal on the due maturity dates. Secondly, it could have taxed the holdings of dissentients with the object of subjecting them to a sacrifice at least equal to that suffered by those who had converted. As a third course, it could have converted all the holdings of dissentients, and that is what we propose to do. If the Government had followed the first course, and had admitted the right of those who had dissented to continue to enjoy the full rate of interest payable under the old bonds, and their right to repayment on the due date-
– In other words, if the Government had honoured its compact.
-Yes, if it had honoured the compact in full - let us put it in that way.
– The Government would not have been asked to do more than that.
– No it would not, buta man may, though asking for no more than the honouring of the compact. be guilty of the grossest selfishness when, by refusing to convert, he fails to accept his proper share of the national sacrifice.
– Because he will not submit to repudiation !
– I have already pointed out that there are factors of mutual benefit associated with this conversion, factors which benefit the bondholder on the one hand, and the Government, that is, the nation, on. the other. The nation benefits by having to pay a reduced interest bill, and by obtaining easier conditions in regard to the repayment of the loans. On the other hand, the bondholders, though asked to accept a lower rate of interest, and to wait longer for the redemption of their principal, are getting, so wc hope, better security for the eventual repayment of the money borrowed. In my opinion, those who could afford to accept a lower rate of interest, but refused to bear their share of the sacrifice in which their fellow citizens were involved, due to the present financial emergency, have acted selfishly. They have not taken into account the difficulties of the nation, or the difficulties of their fellow citizens. They are not prepared to make any sacrifice; they stand for their pound of flesh.
– Have not some bondholders converted part of their holdings, and dissented in respect of the rest?
– Yes, that is true of some bondholders. I proposed to explain that aspect of the matter, but 1 was drawn off by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), who appears to be making a defence for the dissentients.
– No, I am not.
– I hope the honorable member is not.
– He is merely talking about the Government honoring its contract.
– Let the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), who is so concerned about honoring contracts, now say definitely where he stands. Is be in favour of a conversion, and if so, does he favour the compulsory conversion of that portion of the debt regarding which dissents have been lodged? lt would bo most inconsistent of the honorable member to complain of the action of the Government in bringing in a bill for the compulsory conversion of the public debt - and, therefore, for the partial repudiation of the contract with the bondholders - when the very essence of the honorable member’s own policy, the policy which was fathered by the Premier of New South Wales, and supported by him, is the reckless and unrestricted repudiation of every kind of contract.
– Was not the Treasurer a party to the sending of that telegram to the Prime Minister-
– Which invoked one of the replies with which “ Brennan and Moloney concurred “?
– I shall name the honorable member for Adelaide if he continues to interject.
– 1 may discuss that with the honorable member some other time.
– Honorable members must realize that while the Treasurer is speaking I shall require them to behave in an orderly fashion, and if they persist in interjecting after they have been called to order, they will be summarily dealt with.
– The Government could not adopt the first method which I outlined, because it could not have found the money to redeem the securities when they fell due.
– Do a great many of the securities fall clue together, or are they fairly well spread out?
– A very considerable portion of the unconverted securities are maturing this year, or in 1932. In the present state of the money market it would be impossible to raise funds to redeem those securities, some of which fell due on the 10th August last, and others mature on the 15th December next, while still others are due for repayment in December of next year. If we raise the money in Australia, we shall exhaust the market, and make it impossible to secure funds for the relief of unemployment, and the rehabilitation of industry. It would need practically all the available resources of the money market to redeem the securities of dissentients.
The second proposal was to tax the holdings of dissentients, and in that way to force them to accept their share of the national sacrifice. Most of these securities mature so soon, however, that the Government could not, even if it imposed a tax of as much as 100 per cent, on the interest payable for the remaining period, obtain from the dissentients as much as will be sacrificed by those who have converted their holdings. For that reason the taxation proposal was not regarded as reasonable.
– In any case, it would have been merely giving with one hand, and taking away with the other.
– There are those who contend that we could tax interest heavily, even, possibly, up to 100 per cent., without involving ourselves in a breach of contract; but I do not say that that is-, a sound argument. Of course, it is quite impracticable to raise by. taxation sufficient to redeem the securities falling due in December next. Even if we taxed to the fullest extent the interest now payable, the taxation would be on only a half-year’s interest. If those security holders were paid off, and their interest were taxed, they would not have contributed in anything like the same measure as those who have converted. The only effective way in which an equivalent sacrifice could be brought about would be to impose a capital levy upon unconverted bonds; but it is thought by the Government that a better course to follow is that adopted under this bill, that of compelling conversion in the terms arranged for the conversion of the main public debt of Australia, and endeavouring to ,meet cases of hardship, to particulars of which I shall refer later. If we can make proper provision to meet such cases, these can be no real complaint about the policy adopted at the Premiers Conference, and the action of the Government in seeking to enforce the conversion of the whole of the unconverted stock.
There is a point which honorable members must keep in mind, both with regard to the real measure of sacrifice made by the holders of the old bonds, and with regard to the nature of the hardship that some holders who are forced to convert may suffer. Some say that it is wrong that we should compulsorily convert certain holdings, because the owners of those securities may need their money. It is true that if the maturity date is altered to a much later date, we may inflict hardship upon the bondholder, that is to say, he will be deprived of his money for a longer period ; but most of the cases of hardship that are usually alluded to in this connexion are those in which the maturity date is an early one - this year, next year, or the year after. The bonds had a certain market value before the conversion was provided for, and they will have a market value after compulsory conversion has taken place. They have a market value to-day. If honorable members will consider the case of the person who is holding long-dated securities, and is complaining of being compelled to convert, it will be seen that he is really no worse off to-day than before, with regard to having access to his capital. Nor is there a great difference between the market value of the present securities and that of the old. If the bondholder wanted his money under the old security, he had to sell it, and accept the market price for it, and he will have to do the same under the new security.
– Will not the Commonwealth Bank make advances on the new security ?
– Yes ; the bond or stock is just as good a security now as it was before the conversion operation. Whether the bank has funds with which to make advances is another matter; but I think that the new security is an infinitely better one, for the purpose of bank advances.
To compare the old with the new market values, I have had worked out the average net prices of the 5¼ per cent. stock maturing in 1936, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942 and 1943. I take the 5¼ per cent. stock because, with the 22½ per cent. reduction, the net interest is brought down to about £41s. 4d. per cent., and this stock is, therefore, comparable with the present 4 per cent. stock. The average mid-month prices on the Stock Exchange were - April, £920s. 4d.; May, £88 10s.8d.; June, £80 17s. 7d.; and July, £788s. 6d. The average price in the last two months was a little under £80 for the 5¼ per cent. stock. Now, take the net prices of the 4 per cent, securities in the new loan. We find that on the 12th October, the 1938 stock was quoted at £84 5s.; the 1941 stock, at £82 8s. 9d.; the 1944 stock at £818s. 9d.; and the stock of later dates was from £785s. to £800s.1d. The lesson to be learned is that the market value of the existing securities, even with the reduced rates of interest, is about on a par with the market value of the old securities.
– It shows that the new security is the better one.
– The Treasurer has given the quotations after it was known that the compulsory conversion was to be brought about.
– That may have had some effect on the market price; but it should not have done so. Even if we take the earlier months - April, May, and June - there are higher prices, the average being about £90. But what would be the trend of the market to-day if there had been no rehabilitation plan, and no conversion loan ?
– We do not know.
– But we can make a very good estimate.
– Look at the rise of nearly £16 in the price of Australian securities in London in the last fortnight.
– Yes. The prices of Australian securities, at the present time are sound, and are bound to improve, so long as we continue to manage our financial affairs properly, and maintain sane government in Australia. Under the rehabilitation plan, including the conversion loan operation, I think that the value of our securities will be enhanced and not reduced.
The number of bondholders who dissented from the conversion is 29,113, and the amount of their holdings is £16,655,769. The following table shows how these bondholders are distributed throughout the Commonwealth: -
By February, 1933, about £9,600,000 of the holdings of dissentients would ordinarily have matured. It will be agreed that great difficulty would be experienced in the next three years in redeeming the maturing bonds. It is certainly impossible to meet the securities maturing before the end of next December.
– What is the average holding of the dissenting bondholders?
– I have an analysis of the dissentients, and the securities falling due up to 1938 and after. The figures are as follow7 : -
– Does that exceed the amount to be paid in the same period to the privileged overseas holders?
– No. The amount to be repaid with respect to trade investments is about £3,800,000. In regard to the nature of the holdings, the following analysis has been made -
Some individuals who hold very large blocks of government securities have dissented from conversion. Five persons with holdings of about £50,000 each ; a similar number holding about £100,000 each, and two with over £200,000 each have dissented, as have also two others, each of whom held over £1,000,000. We must consider these facts in our attempts to act fairly towards all bondholders in any scheme of compulsory conversion.
I want now to show how the Ministers at the Premiers Conference endeavoured to meet the various problems involved. On the 1st September, 1931, after the conversion operation had closed, and when the results were fairly well known, a statement was issued by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Premiers Conference. That statement, which is included in the printed report of the conference which has been tabled to-day, reads -
The Premiers Conference considered the progress results of the National Debt Conversion Loan, which showed that conversions totalling £450,000,000 had been lodged and that dissent had been notified in respect of £14,230,000.
Those figures have since been increased. The statement proceeds-
The conference feels that a complete voluntary conversion would be a wonderful achievement for Australia, and appeals to all those who have dissented to reconsider their decision in the national interest.
Conference was unanimously of opinion that persons who have dissented cannot be placed in a more favorable position than those who have converted.
Advices received by the loan authorities showed that the postponement of dates of maturity under the conversion loan will cause personal hardship in certain cases of individual holders. This hardship is most acute in the cases of small investors whose entire savings have been invested in shortdated government securities, and who were dependent upon repayment of these securities on the due date in order to provide for their necessary maintenance.
The conference is of opinion that, these cases can be mct by a proportion of the Government sinking funds being made available from time to time for redeeming a proportion of the holdings of individuals whose circumstances necessitate this form of relief.
Correspondence received indicates that many small holders who dissented would not have dissented if they had known that provision would be made to meet genuine eases of personal hardship. They also are accordingly invited to withdraw their dissent.
When the conference re-assembled on the 2nd September, the chairman reported the progress that had been made with the loan conversion appeal, and after discussion it was agreed that an appeal should be made to dissentients to send in notice of the withdrawal of their dissent not later than the 7th September. After that notification appeared in the press, 2,740 notices of dissent were withdrawn, the amount involved being £2,565,628. Those figures are not included in the totals I have given regarding notices of dissent. On the 4th September, the chairman laid on the table of the conference a draft agreement, and later it was resolved -
That, in view of the fact that holdings of 97 per cent. of government securities have been voluntarily converted, the conference agrees that the small proportion of securities which have not been converted,be converted on the same terms as the others, and that legislative action accordingly be taken.
It was after that unanimous decision of the Premiers Conference that the proposed new agreement was drawn up by the Solicitor-General for the Commonwealth in consultation with the Crown Solicitor of Victoria. The agreement was carefully considered by the Premiers and other Ministers attending the conference. It was regarded only as a tentative agreement, subject to alteration after consultation between each of the. Premiers and their respective Crown Law authorities ; but, with that exception, the agreement was signed there and then by the representative of each of the governments. As a result of consultations between the Crown Law authorities of the Commonwealth and some of the States, it was found that modifications were necessary, and, consequently, it was decided to substitute a new agreement for the draft agreement then approved. The agreement which I now submit to the House for ratification differs from that accepted by the Premiers only because of representations made by the legal authorities mentioned. I have indicated what took place at the Premiers Conference to show the unanimity which existed among the Governments of Australia.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) asked whether any considerable number of persons who had agreed to convert a portion of their holdings were included among the dissentients. While it is impossible, at this stage, to say what proportion of dissenters come within that category, it is evident, from correspondence received by the Treasury, the banks, and the inscribed stock registries in the States, that some bondholders have agreed to convert a portion of their holdings while dissenting with respect to the remainder. I do not know the amount involved.
After a full discussion, the Premiers Conference decided that the only logical way to deal with dissentients was to compel them to come under the conversion loan plan in the same way that those who voluntarily converted their holdings did. At the same time, it was recognized that cases of genuine hardship would haveto be met. That such cases were not confined to dissentients, correspondence received by the Treasury, the various banks, and the registrars of stock showed clearly. Thosecases were carefully considered. The Treasury examined 491 cases of dissent with a view to ascertaining the reasons for not converting. The following statement shows the reasons given : -
– Were those cases typical of a large number of dissentients?
– The dissentients number over 20,000. I propose to give the House a few typical examples to show the reasons why bondholders were unwilling to convert their holdings. The first is that of a bondholder who had invested £300 in 6 per cent. bonds maturing in December, 1932. The investment represented the life savings of an elderly couple, who stated that they would be deprived of sustenance if their holdings were converted. A second case is that of a man who voluntarily converted £500 out of a total of £800. He is 70 years of age, and, being unable to work, desires to retain £300, to be paid to him in instalments, if necessary, in order to meet living expenses. Another is a case in which a widow has bonds to the amount of £1,600, maturing in 1937-38. Her husband is dead, and she has four young children to rear. The maintenance of the family is dependent upon an income from government securities. This woman does not draw the widows’ pension. Another woman has bonds amounting to £300, maturing in 1933. Her earnings as a music teacher are negligible. She has £108 locked up in the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, and needs the £300 for maintenance purposes. Still another woman has bonds to the value of £500, maturing in 1931, held in trust for her mother, an invalid requiring the constant attention of a qualified nurse, who is paid £2 10s. a week. The only other income of this couple is £15s. per week received from the sale of a house, the purchase money of which is £20 in arrears. It will be necessary to realize on the bonds to provide maintenance. A man of 61 has bonds amounting to £100, due 1931. He is out of employment, and has no prospects. His son is also unemployed. He has a son-in-law, with a wife and three children, who cannot obtain work. The father’s savings are almost exhausted, and the family will shortly have to apply for charity. There is a widow of 70 who holds bonds to the value of £200. She is in bad health, has £100 in the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, but no other means. A woman with bonds to the value of £528 has a son who has sustained a fractured spine, entailing heavy medical and hospital expenses. The boy has been in hospital for six months, and the mother has only a very small income. An elderly couple, the husband being an invalid, have bonds amounting to £450, but no other means. One man with bonds to the value of £1,050, held on behalf of his aged mother, who is now bedridden, requires some of this money to maintain her. [Leaveto continue given.]
– Are those cases taken at random from the list?
– Yes, and they are typical. They undoubtedly indicate the necessity for special consideration where the circumstances warrant it.
– Are they cases of the kind that will receive consideration ?
– Yes. If the honorable member will have patience, he will shortly learn the class of consideration that it is proposed to extend to them. I have already indicated that when the Premiers met in conference in Melbourne, it was realized that cases of hardship would result from the conversion. Immediately after the loan had closed the Prime Minister made a statement to the effect that action would be taken to meet cases of real hardship, and, on that assurance, people were appealed to to withdraw their dissent.
– Is it not possible that there are many similar cases that have not notified the hardship they are suffer- ing?
– Yes. Relief will be granted to those who have converted as well as to dissenting bondholders, where hardship is proved. When considering claims for relief, requirements for maintenance must take precedence, and next will come unalterable commitments, for mortgages on homes,&c. Each case will be dealt with on its merits. Generally speaking, the payments for bonds are not desired in lump sums, but can be made in small amounts, to meet needs, periodically.
– Will the Minister decide the matter?
– The final responsibility is always with the Minister. The scheme which the Government is propounding will enable the administration to be done by the Commonwealth Savings Bank, which has offices throughout the Commonwealth, and whose officers are experienced in dealing with a similar class of business. Where cases of special difficulty arise, which involve consideration as a separate class, the question whether such classes can be met will be referred to the Commonwealth Treasurer. The Treasury will devote £1,250,000 up to the 30th lune next out of the accruing sinking funds to meet cases of hardship, and not less than £1,000,000 per annum thereafter for several years.
The Government has consulted with the Commonwealth Bank, and the details of the scheme are now being completed. I believe that if it is found that cases of real hardship will require the disbursement of a greater amount than I have mentioned, it will be possible to arrange with the Commonwealth Bank to provide additional funds. I have discussed the matter with the chairman of directors of the bank, and he agrees with me that that should be possible. The bond scheme that is contemplated will be a thoroughly sound one, and should be satisfactory to bondholders.
– To whom will claimants apply ? The Commonwealth Savings Hank?
– Although they have been considered in draft, the details of . the scheme have not yet been completed. Bondholders will make a declaration as to their circumstances, the nature of the bonds held, amount, when acquired, and so on. The Government has no information to go on except such statements, but it does not wish to subject bondholders to an inquisitorial investigation. Applicants are merely required to convey the facts to the officers who will have the discretionary power of deciding claims.
– Would this be a proper way to invest sinking funds?
– Yes, but it is first necessary to obtain the sanction of the trustees of the National Debt Sinking Fund. As chairman of that body, I have convened a meeting to take place in Canberra on Thursday next, when I shall submit the proposal to my colleagues. It is not strictly in accordance with the usual practice of the trustees, who invest the funds where they will earn most money, either by the retirement of existing securities or by some other means of investment. However, as the Commonwealth Government has no other fund to draw upon for the purpose, I am of the opinion that the trustees will agree to the proposal. It is in conformity with the legislation governing the administration of the sinking fund, as it will secure the retirement of an equivalent amount of outstanding loans. I admit frankly that the trustees could retire a greater proportion of the funds by using this £1,250,000. to buy stock at a discount upon the market. At the same time, I do not think that any honorable member will quarrel with the proposed use of the sinking fund.
The agreement incorporated in the bill does not bear the signature of the Premier of Western Australia, but I anticipate that by the time we are in committee I shall be able to substitute for the present schedule another bearing the signatures of all the parties to the agreement. There will be no alteration of the text of it. As set out in the schedule, it is the agreement accepted by all the parties. Wc are still awaiting the signature of Western Australia.
– Has the agreement been ratified by all the State Parliaments ?
– No; but it will not come into force until it has received ratification in all the seven Parliaments. Like the first debt conversion agreement, it will be followed up by a Commonwealth Debt Conversion Bill, to carry into effect the terms of the agreement.
The State of Victoria has been told by its legal advisers that as additional authority for the Commonwealth legislation, it is prudent that the State should also pass legislation referring the subject-matter to the Commonwealth Parliament, or empowering it to legislate to give effect to the agreement. The Commonwealth Crown Law authorities do not agree that it is necessary for the States to do this, but if the States are willing to take the action which the legal advisers to the Victorian Government have recommended it will make assurance doubly sure.
– This measure has already passed the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
– Yes, but the agreement is not yet signed. The position is exactly as I have explained; we are still awaiting the signature of the Western Australian Government, which, I anticipate, will coma to hand before this bill gets through the committee stage.
I suggest that it would be convenient and would save a good deal of time if the debate on the bill I am now moving, and that on the Commonwealth Debt Conversion Bill (No. 2) were taken together. The subjects covered by both measures are inextricably interwoven, and there can be no difference in the elements of debate oneither.
– Incases of hardship will the bond be redeemed at par?
– If the arrangement with the bank is that the Commonwealth Savings Bank will take over the bond, creating a deposit in the name of the bondholder, it will be done at par. But the conditions have not yet been fully settled, and I ask honorable members to refrain from asking for further information on the point until I am able to submit to the House the full details.
Debate (on motion by Mr.Lyons) adjourned.
– As the two measures, the Debt Conversion Agreement Bill ‘‘No. 2) and the Commonwealth Debt Conversion Bill (No. 2) are of a cognate character, the debate on both can be taken on the first, but no honorable member will be deprived of the right, if he so desires, to speak on the second.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Committee of Public Accounts Act1913-1920.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
Ordered - by leave -
That the second reading of the bill be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) agreed-
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1921.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
Ordered - by leave -
That the second reading of the bill be made an order of the day for a later hour of this day.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill and the PublicWorks Committee Bill are small measures brought in to carry out a promise I gave to Parliament during the discussion of the Estimates that I would consider the matter of reducing the size of the Public Works Committee and the Committee of Public Accounts, and I suggest that a general discussion on both bills may be taken on the first.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– The only question raised by these measures is whether the membership of one committee should be reduced from nine to seven, and that of the other committee from ten to seven.
– Why not abolish both committees?
– That matter has been considered; but both committees serve a useful purpose, and I do not think that it would be advisable to abolish them. These are not government measures in a strict sense; they cover a matter which comes under the control of Parliament, and are being introduced to enable Parliament to declare its views upon it. Personally, I think that both committees should be retained. I was rather inclined to a membership of five, and I discussed the point with the chairmen of the committees, who, in turn, discussed it with their members. It was demonstrated to me that there were difficulties in the way of reducing the membership to five, because of the need to maintain party representation from both chambers. I have, therefore, suggested that the number should be seven, which is a big drop from ten in one case and nine in the other. Section 3 of the Public Works Committee Act provides for the appointment of nine members - three from the Senate and six from the House of Representatives. The rates of remuneration fixed by the act have already been reduced by 20 per cent. by the Financial Emergency Act. When this matter was previously before the chamber, the chairman of the Public Works Committee (Mr. Lacey) urged the reduction of the number of members of his committee to seven, and intimated his intention to move an amendment to that effect, but he refrained from doing so on my undertaking to go into the whole matter. During the same debate the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) expressed the opinion that the membership of the committee should be reduced to five, and I believe that it is generally considered that both committees should be reduced to seven or five members. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) moved that the committees should be abolished, but that was defeated. Accepting that vote as a direction from the House, the Government submits the two measures now before the House. The Works Committee recently recommended that its number should be reduced to seven - two from the Senate and five from the House of Representatives. After full consideration, the Government decided to give effect to that recommendation, and the bill makes provision for four to form a quorum. The Public Works Committee recommended also that the act be amended to provide that the Governor-General - in practice, the Cabinet - should, from time to time, appoint one member of the committee as chairman, at a fixed remuneration of £250 per annum, but the Government does not propose to adopt that suggestion. It is interesting to recall that when the Public Works Committee Bill was being dealt with in committee, in 1913, Mr. Boyd, then member for Henty, suggested a committee of six- two from the Senate and four from the House of Representatives. Sir William Irvine, who represented Flinders, thought that the number should be eight - two from the Senate and six from the House of Representatives. The Prime Minister, then Sir Joseph Cook, moved an amendment to that effect, which was carried. Subsequently, the Senate amended the bill to provide that that chamber should have three representatives and the House of Representatives five. A compromise was eventually reached by providing for three members from the Senate and six from the House of Representatives. In New South Wales the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works has seven members, three from the Legislative Council, and four from the Legislative Assembly. The Victorian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways consists of six members, two from the Legislative Council and four from the Legislative Assembly, whilst in South Australia the Public Works Committee, which was appointed under the act of 1927, has seven members, two from the Legislative Council and five from the Legislative Assembly. Besides effecting economy, it is thought that the reduction of the membership to the number now proposedwill make the committee less unwieldy. The Government confidently recommends the bill to honorable members.
.- I am glad that the Government has decided to reduce the membership of both the Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. This alteration is long overdue. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) will recall that when he was chairman of the Public Works Committee, and I was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, we waited upon the Government of the day and suggested that the membership of each body should be reduced to six. I realize that so long as party considerations influence appointments to the committees, six is an awkward number, but there is no reason why the committees should be elected on a party basis. During the six years for which I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and you, Mr. Speaker, served with me, partisan considerations had no influence upon our work. The alterations now proposed will not save much money, and I am confident that the Government, in introducing those bills, is not actuated primarily by considerations of economy. The main objections to the present numbers are that they make the committees unwieldy ; smaller committees will do much better work, and I hope that the Government will yet agree to reduce the number to six. Surely it is not beyond our power to make an arrangement between the two cham- bers for the election of committees on a basis that will be satisfactory to all.
– These committees deal with the expenditure of public money. Why should the Senate be represented upon them?
– So long as wc have joint committees, the Senate must be represented, but I see no reason why these committees should not be appointed by the popular House.
– The Senate also is very popular.
– It is at the present time, because the check it imposes upon the legislative machine has been the salvation of the country in recent months. We, in this chamber, represent the people, whereas senators represent States. If the Government will agree to a proposal for an amendment of the act in order to confine the representation on the committees to this chamber, I shall support it.
– How shall we deal with the Senate?
– I appreciate that difficulty, but if the representation were confined to this House, each committee could bo reduced to five members. The Prime Minister did not state whether the Government intends to give immediate effect to the proposed alteration.
– I ‘understand that the Public Accounts Committee is engaged on a very important investigation; while that is proceeding any alteration of the personnel would be unwise.
– Wc would not interrupt that inquiry.
– The Government would be well advised not to alter the personnel of the Public Accounts Committee until new appointments are made after the next general election.
– I agree not to alter the membership of the Public Accounts Committee until the inquiry now proceeding is completed; that will take only a few weeks longer.
– I am glad to have that assurance. The Public Works Committee is practically in recess, because no new public works are at present being proposed.
. -I agree with the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) that the membership of the committees should be reduced to six. In 1921, when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister, I, as chairman of the Public Works Committee, wrote to him urging that its membership should be reduced to six. Later the honorable member for Oxley, who was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and I attended a meeting of the Bruce-Page Cabinet, and again urged that the numbers should be reduced. I believe that if the chairman were appointed by the Parliament - which would mean in practice, the Government of the day - and were given a casting as well as a deliberative vote, a committee of six members, two from the Senate and four from the House of Representatives would be most effective. The election of all the members from one chamber would create a bad precedent, and cause complications with the Senate. Senators also represent the people; they are elected on the same franchise as we, and by larger constituencies.
– Previously they insisted upon having representation.
– And would do so again, 1 am sure. The chairman should bo paid a fixed salary.
– And fees also?
– Decidedly not. My object would be to ensure that meetings would be held only when there was work to be done. The act might well be made more strict in regard to the attendance of members. For nine years I was chairman of the Public Works Committee, and I noticed that, on occasions, members entered the committee room merely to have their attendance recorded, and then left.
– Did they get paid for that?
– Yes ; the chairman has no power to withhold fees from them. Undoubtedly meetings are held occasionally for the purpose of drawing fees rather than to do work; whereas if the chairman received an annual salary, and was, in effect, the representative of the Government, he would convene meetings only when there was public business to be done. I can assert confidently that the Public Works Committee has saved to the Commonwealth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
– Could not all the advice it collected have been obtained in other ways?
– What is the use of the committees?
– They have been wonderfully useful. The Public Works Committee’s investigation of the Cockburn Sound NavalBase and the sub-base atFlinders resulted in tremendous savings, and the stoppage of extravagance.
– Members should serve on committees without fees at a time when the country is so poor that it has to reduce pensions.
– How could a few members be expected to devote themselves to the work of committees, when other members who gave no such service were as well remunerated? That would be wrong. Undoubtedly, committee work imposes on some members big obligations.
– They mop up £2,000 a year for fees.
– That is untrue.
– Order !
– I withdraw the word “untrue”; the honorable member’s statement is incorrect. For one year while I was chairman the fees amounted to only £980, and in another year to only £1,200, although £2,000 was provided on the Estimates. Some honorable members do not appreciate the value of these committees. I have had no experience of the Public Accounts Committee, but I have read some of its reports, and to say that they are valueless would be most unjust. As a result of my own long experience as a member of the Public Works Committee, and having no interest in what I am now proposing, I suggest to the Prime Minister that a committee of six members presided over by a chairman elected by the Parliament, and having a casting as well as a deliberative vote, would function well and economically.
– Is the honorable member suggesting a chairman in addition to the six members?
– No; the Government would nominate the chairman for election by this House.
Mr.Scullin. - That suggestion was considered by the Government, but was not favoured, because one member of the committee would be the absolute nominee of the Ministry.
– The members of committees are usually selected by the various parties-
– Not definitely by the Government.
– No; but the Ministerial party appoints a majority of the members of the committee, and, in practice, a ministerial nominee becomes chairman. The Government, which has to bear the financial responsibility for the work of a committee, has a right to appoint a chairman in whom it has confidence, and who can be trusted to conduct the investigations with due regard to economy. I have no axe to grind in this matter, and Ispeak with great experience of the working of the Public Works Committee. This committee has no work at present, and. this year it is costing the country nothing. While there is no work for its members they are not receiving fees. With regard to the Public Accounts Committee, the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) knows best whether the work that it is doing is essential. I am not associated with that committee, and I know nothing of what it is doing. If my proposal were adopted, these committees would be more effective. I repeat that the work of the Public Works Committee has probably saved this country £1,000,000.
– Its members are a lot of numskulls.
– If the honorable member were a member of that committee, his great genius would no doubt enable him to solve every problem put before him.
– For no consideration would I become a member of that committee.
– I do not know that the honorable member has ever been asked to do so.
– Most honorable members on the committee engineered the position.
– The honorable member is imputing motives which are decidedly unjust and unfair. I have never engineered my appointment to the Public Works Committee, and I have never asked any honorable member to support me.
.- This measure is long overdue, and I am surprised that the Government has not abolished these committees altogether. There is no work for them to do, and we are faced with a financial crisis. Yet the members meet for half an hour on several days of the week and draw fees.
– The Public Works Committee is not sitting, because no work has been referred to it.
– The Public Accounts Committee is sitting, and its members arc drawing fees. When I interjected that the expenditure of one committee was £2,000 per annum, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said that I was misinformed, but I notice that last year the vote for the Public Works Committee was £2,165, of which £1,942 was expeuded. Therefore my statement was approximately correct. Last year the vote for the Public Accounts Committee was £1,605, and the expenditure £1,806. The estimate in that year was greatly exceeded. I should be ashamed to be in the position of the members of that committee who arc drawing between them £l,S0ti in addition to their parliamentary salaries, while the poor unfortunate oldage pensioners have had their pensions reduced. The Government would bc taking a step in the right direction if it suspended these committees for at least twelve months. Even if any works were recommended by them, the Government could not carry them out, because of the financial stringency.
.- I regard the Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee as relics of the antiquated system of “ perks “ for parliamentarians. They should undoubtedly be abolished. I propose to move as an amendment that this bill be withdrawn and another bill introduced to provide for the abolition of these committees. They are entirely unnecessary, particularly in this time of financial stringency. The introduction of this bill to reduce the number of members on the committees is a concession to the demand of honorable members generally, when the Estimates were being discussed, that there should be a definite reduction in parliamentary expenditure. It is admitted that the Public Works Committee has nothing to do, yet its staff is being maintained. For what purpose?
– Surely the staff is doing something?
– Although the committee is doing nothing, the staff is still in existence and carrying out its duties, apparently, adequately and satisfactorily from the Government’s point of view. Surely the fact that there is no work for this committee is a clear case for its abolition. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has stated that the Public Works Committee has saved this country probably £1,000,000, but that is an absurd statement. Any government that is responsible for an obvious waste of expenditure of £1,000,000, which can be pointed out by a number of amateurs, should meet its fate on the floor of this House. The protest against such extravagant expenditure should be made here, and not by a number of members who examine details of which they have no more knowledge than the man in the moon.
– Not even of engineering. .
– I admit that they may have a knowledge of underground engineering, but I am referring to the legitimate avenues of the engineering profession. In that respect they are totally unqualified for the positions which they hold, and the operation of the committee under such circumstances is nothing more than a farce at public expense. I am opposed to the retention of the committee on that ground. The honorable . member for Swan gave good reasons for the abolition of this committee. He said that some of its members attend meetings, hear the minutes read, walk out, and then draw full fees. In order to prevent the abuse of the public revenue, he suggested that the chairman should be given a salary, so that he might check the artifices resorted to by the ordinary members to ensure the collection of fees. He is to be the economist on the committee, the master of the group, to prevent them from drawing fees to which they are not justly entitled. Surely there can be no greater argument than that proposal for the abolition of this committee.
It is quite true that the Public Accounts Committee i3 pretending to do something, and doing it badly. Its members set out to examine the disabilities of South Australia, and its chairman conducted an inquiry into Australia House. Of what value is either report, and what qualifications did the members hold which would enable them to make a proper examination into either sphere of activity? As the weather is getting warm, the time ia opportune for a further investigation by this committee into tho disabilities of Tasmania. Such duties should not be allotted to members of this Parliament ; they are properly the function of an interstate commission, which should be a permanent institution in our public life as provided by the Constitution. It may be said that that would be more expensive. I agree that it would. But the work would be done properly, and we would be supplied with really valuable information, instead of with reports upon such matters as tho administration of Australia House.
– That was an excellent report.
– Reports of that nature are placed in a pigeon hole in a department, where they soon become covered with dust, and forgotten. They are never quoted. They do not furnish information to which reference can be made, and upon which action can subsequently be based.
– A good deal of money was saved in connexion wilh Australia House,
– And it was spent again.
– One nian was dismissed, and two others were appointed to do his work.
– Docs the honorable member say that we have saved no money on Australia House?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.A chauffeur and a personal servant of General Ryrie were dismissed, and a motor car sold - trifling matters of that nature instead of a comprehensive and general reconstruction.
– As a result of the action taken, the party to -which the honorable member belongs has been able to procure a candidate for Corio. What more does he want?
– Any person selected to contest that seat would defeat the honorable member. What was wanted in connexion with Australia House was, not pettifogging alterations and trifling economies, but a definite statesmanlike policy in relation to the representation of Australia in Great Britain. That has been needed for many years. Nothing that this Government has done has improved the position in any way. The duty of inquiring into the disabilities of different States should be undertaken by impartial persons who are not members of this House, There have been times in the history of the Commonwealth Parliament when more than half of its members have been drawing fees in addition to their parliamentary allowance, if we take into consideration the Ministry, the whips, Mr. Speaker, the Chairman pf Committees, and the members of the Public Accounts, Public Works, and Other committees as well as payments made to other members. That is not right, and it was never intended. How can parliamentary institutions be properly conducted when there is such an incentive to a person to retain his position in Parliament no matter how it may be conducting the business of the country? No country can tax itself into prosperity. The only way in which Australia can regain prosperity is by lightening the burden of taxation; and in existing circumstances that can be done only by reducing public expenditure. By abolishing these committees we can reasonably, legitimately, and honestly meet the public demand for a reduction of expenditure, without doing a scintilla of harm to our parliamentary institutions, and thus improve to some extent the financial position of this country. I, therefore, move -
That all the words after the word “be” be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ withdrawn and that another bill lie introduced to provide for the abolition of the committee
– I second ihe amendment with pleasure. I shall not repeat the statements that I made when the Estimates were being considered, but what I then said still holds good. At the present time particularly, there is no need for either of these committees. I can say of the Works Committee, at any rate, that it has a very able secretary. He could carry out all the investigation that is required, and obtain as much information as can the committee. As a matter of fact, I believe thathe marshalls the evidence under existing conditions. He could examine witnesses, and make whatever recommendations were necessary.
I have read very carefully the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the disabilities of South Australia, and believe that in themain it has been compiled from other reports on the subject. There was not the slightest need for the members of that committee to take a trip across to the west coast of South Australia to obtain the information that it gathered.
This bill is the outcome of a promise that was made by the Prime Minister when the Estimates were under discussion, to counter the move that was then launched to wipe out this committee. The right honorable gentleman has said that this is not a party question, but that it is a matter for the House itself to decide. I hope that he will not rally his supporters behind it, but will allow each member to vote as he thinks fit.
Mr.Scullin. - I did not make that promise with a view to preventing the honorable member from moving his amendment. He did move it, and the matter went to a division.
– But as a result of the Prime Minister’s saying that the number of members on these committees would be reduced,he obtained support that otherwise would have gone for their abolition.
-I took the opinion of the House on it.
– That is so. But the right honorable gentleman alienated support from the abolition proposal by stating his preparedness to bring in a bill to reduce the number of members.
– That showed that honorable members were in favour of reduction and not abolition. We have been guided by that vote.
– The Prime Minister’s statement is correct; but victory for him was made possible only because he had the support of every member of the Ministry, and, unfortunately, every honorable member who at that time held a position on one or other of these committees, and did not want to lose it. It would have been more to their credit then had the matter been left to the decision of those who were not financially interested, and the same principle will operate when this vote is taken. I have long held the opinion, based on what I have heard and seen, that positions on these committees arc in the nature of consolation stakes for those members of the Government party who fail to obtain ministerial rank. It is high time that these consolation stakes were withdrawn. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) expressed the correct view when he said that these committees could be abolished without injuring in any way either the work or the prestige of this Parliament. The present is the time to practise economy. It can be practised in this case without causing harm, because the loss of the 30s. for each sitting day that members of the committee receive would not mean hardship to them, seeing that they are in receipt of £800 a year.
.- By one who accepted the inaccuracies and the facetious remarks of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) . as statements of fact, it might well be considered expedient, in the interest of economy, for a motion to be submitted to abolish this Parliament itself. By that means an enormous sum could be saved, and much useless discussion avoided. We should not then have statements made with a reckless disregard for truth.
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to make that observation.
– I withdraw those words, and say that the statements I have in mind are made with a reckless disregard for accuracy. Nor are they in keeping with the dignity of this House. The manner in which mercenary motives are attributed by one member to another causes a bad view to be held by the public in regard to this Parlia- ment, and I deplore it. If evil motives are continually attributed, the public will begin to feel that the Parliament is permeated with mercenary instincts, and will condemn the institution.
I have been a member of the Public Works and Public Accounts Committees. They were established by the Cook Government in 1913, because it was felt that this Parliament did not exercise an effective control over the Executive Government in regard to expenditure on public works, and in connexion with matters affecting general administration. It was because it was considered that Parliament should exercise that control, and be vested with a measure of responsibility, that these committees were established. It is from that stand-point that uninformed members of this Parliament should approach this question, instead of indulging in more or less cheap jibes, and submitting arguments which are not based on facts. The British Parliament, upon which our parliamentary institutions are modelled, has standing committees established with the object ofcontrolling the Executive, and preventing the development of cabinet despotism which is condemned by administrative authorities throughout the British Dominions to-day. It is a matter of indifference to me whether fees, if they may be so termed, are, or are not paid to members of the two committees under consideration; it is the principle underlying the establishment of the committees that is valuable, and should be extended in this Parliament. We have the anomalous position of honorable members opposite seeking to make political capital out of this proposal, while the members of the party with which they are associated in another place are urging the establishment of additional standing committees. To ensure proper recognition of individual and collective responsibility in regard to public finance and administration, the committee system should be extended. Instead of havingtwo committees, we should have a number, the work of which would educate members of this Parliament, a number of whomI submit need educating in the principles of parliamentary government and administration. If they were associated with such committees they would not make statements such as they have made from time to time in this chamber and elsewhere. I presume that on the motion for the second reading of this bill I am entitled to discuss the work of not only the Public Works Committee, but also that of the Public Accounts Committee. In the matter of attendances, I admit that there have been individual cases of abuse ; but not by members of the present Accounts Committee of which I am the chairman.
– Of course not.
– The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has expressed his opinions, and should permit me to do the same.
– I remind the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) that he cannot be permitted to break the continuity of an honorable member’s speech by interjecting. If he does continue to do so, I shall be compelled to name him.
– I shall take prompt action if you, sir, adopt such a course.
– I have known of individual cases of abuse, but there is abuse in connexion with the attendances of some honorable members of this Parliament. Some honorable members, while drawing their parliamentary allowance, have been absent week after week, and month after month. The Parliament should have the power to deal with such persons, or the Standing Orders should prescribe the terms and conditions under which members are entitled to receive their allowance.I would favour the payment of a sitting fee to ensure a more regular attendance of some honorable members. Some honorable members have criticized the committee system merely because they think that in so doing they are expressing public opinion. I agree that no member of such a committee should be entitled to collect a fee unless he attends throughout the whole meeting, and that the fees should not be paid to any member unless the meeting extends over a specified period. But the value of the committee system is not affected by merely isolated eases of abuse. These committees were established at a time when Parliament was conscious of the need to assert its right and authority in controlling governmental expenditure. It is impossible for the members of this Parliament, as a whole, to examine minutely questions of administration, but it is ridiculous, as the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) did, to suggest that a committee of Parliament is incompetent to sit in judgment on the desirability of undertaking certain public works and to determine the amount to be expended on such works.
– For instance, on automatic telephone exchanges !
– I agree that there are cases when references to the committee may be unnecessary. But there are proposed public undertakings into which the Public Works Committee has inquired and prevented, such as the Yass-Canberra railway, the construction of which should not have been left to the Executive or government officials to decide.
In the main, the Public Accounts Committee has, over a period of years, been carrying out a number of valuable inquiries for the Government. It is interesting to note that since the first committee was appointed in 1915, there have been 37 inquiries. Of that number, eighteen were referred to the committee by the Government, and nineteen were initiated by the committee. In addition, there were three other inquiries which were partial references, as the committee was asked by the. Government to report on certain aspects of investigation initiated by it. No fewer than 50 reports, covering 37 inquiries, have been submitted to Parliament since 1915, and the committee’s recommendations have been adopted in 30 instances. The honorable member for Warringah referred to the inquiry conducted by the committee with respect to the disabilities of South Australia. That matter was referred by the Government to the committee, which, after all, consists of members of both Houses, and is representative ofall political parties. The honorable member’s suggestion that the committee is incompetent to inquireintosuch a subject is a reflection upon the aggregate intelligence of Parliament itself. We are apt to throw these insults around; but it should be remem bered that the public will appraise us at our own valuation. It is the responsibility of the parties in this Parliament to see that the best men are appointed as members of these committees. The Public Accounts Committee conducted an extensive investigation into the financial disabilities of South Australia, which asked for a grant of £1,950,000; but the committee’s recommendation ofa grant of only £1,000,000 was accepted by the Government. The recommendations of the committee saved considerable discussion in Parliament, because there was complete unanimity on the committee, upon which South Australia is represented. Surely the saving of time and the securing of unanimity on important matters of public policy is something to be desired. It has been suggested that some of this work which is being undertaken by the Accounts Committee should be the responsibility of an interstate commission appointed for the purpose of determining the relative claims of the different States. That is a proper function of such a committee. The inquiries upon which the Accounts Committee has been engaged have not been a frivolous waste of time. The members of the committee enter upon the work with earnestness, and a desire to produce the best results.
– The honorable member does not suggest that had the committee not recommended a reduction in the grant to be paid to South Australia the full amount would have been given by the Government?
– Certainly not. But the fact that there had been a full inquiry, and that unanimity had been reached on the committee upon which all parties were represented was the means of relieving the Executive of a good deal of responsibility. Such recommendations, when adopted become a decision of Parliament, through a committee of Parliament. It is impossible for Parliament to examine in detail the various aspects of such matters. It is interesting to note that the overwhelming preponderance of the recommendations made by these committees has been adopted by the Government. This Parliament would be stultifying itself, and strengthening cabinet control, if it were admitted that these committees are not serving a useful purpose. I admit that Parliament in a general way controls governmental expenditure, but the committee system exercises a measure of direct control which prevents abuse. To depart from this principle of committees, which is adopted throughout the British dominions, would be a retrograde step. To leave the work now undertaken by these committees to an official bureaucracy on the one hand, or cabinet despotism on the other would be most undesirable.We should extend the committee principle, and assert our right to express our views on matters of public policy in a non-party way. In the first Public Accounts Committee Bill provision was made for a committee consisting of seven members of the House of Representatives, to be appointed under the Standing Orders of Parliament, similar to the Accounts Committee now operating in Great Britain. The bill was sent to the Senate and that body insisted on its right to representation - as it would again if the suggestion of some honorable members were adopted - and the personnel of the committee was increased to nine. That proposal was accepted by the Government; but under the Hughes administration, owing to a difficulty in the. matter of party representation, the number of members was increasedto ten. It is now proposed to reduce the membership on the committees to seven, which would mean that the Accounts Committee would lose three members, and the Works Committee two members. Provision has already been made for a 20 per cent. reduction in fees, the staff salaries have been reduced, the statutory appropriation has been reduced, and a smaller committee will result in further economy.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) attacked my report on the administration at Australia House. That investigation was not undertaken by me on behalf of the Accounts Committee, and discussion upon it is therefore irrelevant, but my recommendations have resulted in a saving of approximately £30,000 per annum. I leave others to determine whether the time I spent in London was wasted or not.
– What does the honorable member think of a committee of six ?
– My committee recommended that the committee should consist of seven members. The Senate will demand pro rata representation. Under the party system the different parties expect representation on such committees, and in the circumstances I consider seven a reasonable number. Originally the Public Accounts Committee was modelled on the lines of the British Public Accounts Committee, but unfortunately it has not functioned in the way intended. The duties of the committee under the Accounts Committee Act are -
I ask critics of the committee and honorable members generally to give some consideration to the wide ramifications of these functions. The committee was appointed to carry out somewhat similar functions to those of the British Public Accounts Committee, which has operated since 1857, and has had tribute paid to it by succeeding administrations, including those of Gladstone and Disraeli. It had been generally felt that it was necessary to have an adequate check upon governments, and the Public Accounts Committee of Great Britain has provided this check. In order to indicate the kind of work that the British committee has been doing, I cite the following illustration from a British parliamentary book entitled Epitome of the Reports from the Committees of Public Accounts 1857to 1925, which has been described as “ The case law of government accounting and public administration “, which indicates the far-reaching powers of this committee, and also gives a fleeting glimpse at the importance and extent of its work. The quotation is as follows : -
Expensesof Special Missions.
We trust no effort will be spared rigorously to curtail the outlay on all missions by restricting the numbers sent and the rates of allowance. In particular we would urge that the practice of allowing actual expenses (of which instances still occur) should bo altogether abandoned.
A conspicuous instance of this practice is seen in the Colonial Office vote in the case of the visit of the Secretary of State to Cairo. In this case a scale of allowed expenses per day was at first fixed by the Treasury, but in response to a telegram from the Secretary of State from Cairo they waived this regular practice and agreed to allow actual expenses in lion of the allowance, i.e., not to impose a limit. In reply to our questions we were told by the treasury representative that this “ would have been unusual before the war, certainly:I cannot say that it is unusual now “.It seems to us that it is very undesirable for unlimited power of spending to be given to any mission, and equally undesirable for a cabinet minister to set the example of asking it.
It will be seen from that statement that government expenditure is very closely scrutinized by this committee.
We all know that a general complaint about the system of parliamentary government in this country arises in consequence ofthe incurring of expenditure on public works without proper supervision. A certain public work is put in hand at, an estimated cost of, say, £30,000. It may actually cost a great deal more than that amount; but there is no subsequent parliamentary investigation to ascertain why the estimated expenditure was exceeded. What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business. When estimates of expenditure are before Parliament, there is not anything like the investigation into them that there should be. Two or three members of each party may show a keen interest in the subject, but there is no direct sense of personal responsibility. On this account, expenditure on public works has very often gone far beyond the estimate, far beyond a reasonable sum, and far beyond what it was intended to spend. Yet no investigation has been made into the subject.
Every economist in Australia to-day condemns the laxity of parliamentary control of expenditure. These men are urging Parliament to be true to itself, and to discharge its duties fairly to the public; yet when it is proposed that a committee shall exercise some oversight of public expenditure - and a parliamentary committee at that - we find honorable members saying “ Away with the committee and more power to the Cabinet “.
– The committee has no power over Parliament.
– The honorable member is dogmatizing as usual. The Public Accounts Committee and the Public Works Committee have power to make reports to Parliament, to direct attention to improper public expenditure, and to propose reforms. I give credit to 95 per cent. of honorable members for possessing a sincere desire to do their best to see that public money is properly expended; but 1 feel disgusted when I hear some honorable members sneer and jibe at other honorable members, and charge them with ulterior motives when they are honestly endeavouring to do their duty. It makes one feel disposed to retire from parliamentary life altogether. Those who make such remarks usually receive their deserts in the long run. An examination of the cost of making inquiries into various subjects by means of parliamentary committees shows that this is an effective and economical way of conducting investigations. Such inquiries also have the result of informing honorable members on many important public questions. To show the comparative cost of inquiries by royal commissions and by the Public Accounts Committee, I quote the following figures : -
Yet some honorable members evidently desire to revert to the old practice of appointing boards, tribunals and commissions which arc beyond the control of Parliament, to make inquiries which parliamentary committees could make with more effect and at less cost. It is surely bettor foi- this Parliament to cause inquiries to be made by bodies which are under its direct control. Such statements as have been made this afternoon in regard to public committees anger me, and force me to speak warmly. An honorable member has said that 1 am speaking in defence of the Public Accounts Committee from fear that I might lose my position as chairman of it. It would not matter to me personally if the committee were abolished. But I assert, without hesitation, that it would be a sorry mistake for Parliament to destroy a body of such proved usefulness. Only the other day 1 read a recently published book entitled Bureaucracy Triumphant by Professor Allen, in which he pointed out that under modern parliamentary democracy there has been a tendency towards indifference, ignorance or apathy in respect to the rights of Parliament, and that this has gradually had the result of causing executive governments to assume wider and wider authority over finance, administration and legislation. In my opinion the committee system provides a salutary check upon the growth of this tendency. Committee members arc imbued with a sense of personal responsibility. The are given a task to do and they do it. In these circumstances it is surely worth the while of this Parliament to maintain this nucleus of members to make inquiries and submit reports on subjects of primary importance.
I have pointed out that the Public Accounts Committee has power to initiate inquiries. Out of the 37 inquiries it has made, 19 have been initiated by itself, including those on such important subjects as the sale of the Commonwealth Government line of steamers and the Pacific Islands mail services. These two inquiries were of great national importance. They resulted in the effecting of widespread economies and notable if controversial reforms. People who criticize the work of the Public Accounts Committee do not understand what it is doing. While the Public Accounts Committee was making its recent inquiry into the finances of South Australia it discovered that between the years 1906-07 and 1929-30 the State deficit was £6,682,000 greater than was revealed by the annual statements of accounts presented to the State Parliament over that period. This coupled with other information, impelled the committee to enter upon its present inquiry into the need for uniformity in government accounts. The committee having due regard for economy has avoided unnecessary travelling between State capitals, and has received many statements by post in preference to incurring the expense of calling witnesses to give sworn testimony. It is following that practice in connexion with its current inquiry into the necessity for uniformity in the presentation of government accounts, the manner in which the reports of the Auditors-General, the budget papers, Estimates and Treasurer’s financial statements are submitted to Parliament. This is a most important inquiry, which has been commended by many people - not by cynics who are prepared to charge the members of the committee with the paltry desire to draw fees, but by such men as Professors Giblin, Copland, Bland, Melville, and Hytten. These men have said that this examination is highly desirable. So have the Auditors-General of NewSou th Wales and Victoria., and such citizens as Mr. Westhoven, the Public Service Arbitrator, and Dr. Earle Page. Many others have also testified to the necessity for adopting some uniform system of preparing public accounts, in order that Parliaments may have a more effective control over, and understanding of, public expenditure. Instead of talking about lowering the prestige and authority of such a body as the Public Accounts Committee, this House should insist upon the committee being given freedom to carry out its most responsible functions. There should be a similar system of accounts committees in operation in every State, as there is in South Africa, in the United States of America, and in Great Britain. One of the objects of this committee is to operate as a check upon executive governments. Consequently, I am surprised that there should be any hostility to it.
Honorable members should hesitate before they pronounce adversely upon the work of the committee.. In a few week’s time, the Public Accounts Committee will submit proposals for the securing of a greater measure of uniformity, and a greater degree of clarity, in tlie presentation of public accounts to the Commonwealth Parliament and the Parliaments of the various States. Over a period of years we have paid away millions of pounds in State gi a Jits, and now, in conformity with the financial agreement, we have certain statutory obligations in regard to payments in lieu of the per capita payments, and it is highly desirable that Parliament should know exactly what it is doing in connexion with these matters. It is impossible for a parliament, in the aggregate, to make a detailed investigation into subjects of this description. The work should be entrusted to small committees.
At the recent Premiers Conference, a desire was expressed for a clear statement of the comparative financial position of the various States; but the experts who were asked to compile this information reported that it was impossible for them to do so, because there was no basis upon which the various accounts could be properly compared owing to the absence of uniformity in government accounting. The Accounts Committee, in looking into this subject, has found that this was the case. There was no uniformity in the accounting methods of the Governments, and it is consequently impossible to make any reliable comparison. Appreciating these facts, the members of the committee, with a high conception of their public duty, set about trying to devise some means of introducing uniformity into the various government accounting systems. The committee is also now dealing with the important subject of the form in which the Estimates are submitted to Parliament. Hitherto, as I have pointed out, it has been impossible for the committee to undertake such work, because various Governments have requested it to make investigations into other specific matters of great importance. As honorable members have objected in the past to the adoption of the policy of referring matters to expensive royal commissions which are beyond effective criticism by Parliament, and as the Accounts Committee has been given ihe statutory power to make such in- quiries, it should be left free to make them. Dr. Earle Page has admitted the importance of this work, and numbers of people who have appeared before the committee have agreed that what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business. Another matter to which the committee is directing attention is the practice of aggregating expenditure in one large amount, and submitting it to Parliament without any details. The committee thinks that, in some cases, many unnecessary details are given. But it is also acknowledged that Parliament is entitled to be presented with accounts properly arranged and clearly presented. When such men as Professor Bland, Professor Giblin, and others commend work of this kind, honorable members should surely bo willing to admit- its value. We certainly should not revert to the old system of drift. It is essential, particularly in these times, that parliamentary accounts and all financial statements issued by public authorities, should be published in such a way that they may be clearly examined and understood. Take, for example, a document like the annual report of the Commonwealth Auditor-General and the Treasurer’s financial statement. If such a statement were presented to a private company it would be closely examined by the shareholders, and they would insist upon satisfying themselves that all the figures it contained were reliable and unchallengeable, and they would deal with the auditor’s criticism. We all know that there have been differences of opinion between the Auditor-General and the Commonwealth Treasury in regard to various matters. A haphazard and unsatisfactory procedure has developed which, personally, I am anxious to see checked. There should be some proper system for the presentation of the Estimates, so that they may be discussed in an intelligent manner in this House, instead of as so often happens, being rushed through without consideration. Very few honorable members concern themselves with the details of governmental expenditure. On more than one occasion the. Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), when in Opposition, urged that our Standing Orders should be amended in order that a definite time could be set aside for the consideration of the various items in the Estimates. 1 agree that this should be done, but it is not enough. A group of members, such as the Public Accounts Committee, should be delegated to examine the Estimates and report to this House. In this way it should be possible to prevent leakages and extravagances in expenditure.I repeat that, personally, I should not be much concerned if the Public Accounts Committee were abolished, but I feel sure that such action would mean a great deal to this Parliament. I, therefore, appeal to the superficial critic to defer his judgment. By examining the position carefully, he will realize that the abolition of the Public Accounts Committee would be a retrograde step, out of keeping with modern parliamentary procedure, and in direct opposition to the expressed views of every expert financial and economic authority who has given consideration to this subject.
.- I support the amendment because, while the direct saving in expenditure might be regarded as trivial, it is a step in the right direction, and this measure of economy could be effected without inflicting hardship upon anybody. I do not deny that these parliamentary standing committees have done valuable work. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) has submitted an extraordinarily good case for the retention of the Public Accounts Committee. I do not allegethat the members ofeither body have been actuated by the desire simply to draw fees and travel the countryside. I merely assert that good as their work has been, these are extraordinary times, calling for the strictest economy in all government departments. Expenditure must be curtailed where this can be done without inflicting hardship. Other committees, acting in a purely voluntary capacity, have clone good work in the past, and I suggest that this system be extended. One honorable member has alleged that onehalf of the members of this House receive extras in the form of allowances as members of a committee or as Cabinet Ministers. If these committees are necessary, as the honorable member for Reid has urged, they should be reconstructed, and continued on a purely voluntary basis during this period of depression. I should like tosee the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into all government expenditure. This course was adopted in Victoria about four years ago, when an outside auditor was called in to assist the State auditor in an examination of all items of government expenditure. Their report was an exceedingly valuable one, and, although it was shelved for some time, certain of their recommendations were adopted with advantage to the State. Business methods for the conduct of Commonwealth departments are urgently needed. If the services of an outside auditor were utilized to assist the Commonwealth Auditor-General in an overhaul of Commonwealth expenditure, I feel sure that the resultant report would contain a number of valuable recommendations. Without in any way reflecting upon officers of the Public Service, I can say that when largess is distributed in the form of such foolish proposals as a fiveday week, and when we have so much overlapping of Commonwealth and State services, it is obvious that reform is urgently needed. Some time agoMr. Jones, the Minister for Public Works in Victoria, directed attention to the overlapping of the Commonwealth Health Department with its plethora of medical men, who have little to do. The activities of that department could very well be curtailed, except that portion of it which deals with quarantine. The honorable member for Swan (Mr, Gregory), who has had long experience as chairman of the Public Works Committee made what appeared to me a somewhat amusing suggestion. Apparently his idea of economy is to reduce the number of members, thus saving expenditure on sitting fees, and to pay the chairman a stated salary, the idea being that he would see that the committee did not meet, too often ! At the moment, the Public Works Committee has nothing to do, because there are no Commonwealth public works in progress, so that the committee is not costing the Commonwealth anything by way of members’ fees. Yet he suggests a fee even when the committee is not sitting. Both parliamentary committees could very well carry on voluntarily for a time. Further economy might be effected by paying members of Parliament sitting fees only. We should then see whether the attendances would be better than under the present arrangement. I suggest that a business commission be appointed to report on all phases of governmental expenditure. The need for this has been persistently urged from time to time in all the States, but members of Parliament seem to be deaf to the appeal. The Auditor-General has on numerous occasions directed attention to these much needed economies, but, as the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) pointed out, his comments have given rise to very little discussion in this House. If an outside board of business men, including accountants, were appointed to mate an inquiry along the lines of the Victorian Royal Commission, I feel certain that it would recommend many economies, including possibly the abolition of the two parliamentary standing committees, and other costly and superfluous Public Service activities.
Sitting suspended from6.12to8 p.m.
.- ] am inclined to agree with the opinions expressed by those honorable members who say that these committees should be done away with. I have no desire to speak disparagingly of those who have served onthe committees. I have not been associated with the work of the committees in a direct sense, and I am convinced that the committeemen have approached their tasks with the desire to do the best for the country in the circumstances. Neither do I propose to refer to any monetary reward which members of the committee may have obtained. If they have received any remuneration for their work, good luck to them; I leave it at that. I believe, however, that the committees should be abolished, for the reasons stated by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). It is not many months ago since the private banks of Australia, through their representative on the Commonwealth Bank Board, directed this Government to reduce its expenditure in certain directions. The Government agreed to do what it was told. I am not influenced by the arguments of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), who spoke of the need for maintaining the dignity of this chamber, nor by the arguments adduced by some other honorable members this afternoon that the abolition of these committees might create the impression outside that even this Parliament might be abolished. If I accepted the view that this Parliament, or, at any rate, this chamber ought, in order to justify its existence, to be really in control of the Government of Australia, then I should be compelled to advocate its abolition because, as a matter of fact, it is not governing. We, the members of this chamber, may call ourselves the representatives of the people, elected to give effect to a specific policy by means of the legislative machinery at our disposal, but we are not doing it. We are being governed by other forces, and we should admit it, and not be unduly disturbed by what may be said of us for making this fact widely known. If we accept the decision of those who have declared that government expenditure should be cut in the direction of reducing old-age, invalid and soldiers’ pensions, then we should carry that policy a little further, and effect a further saving by abolishing these committees. That is why 3 support the amendment. I have had some practical experience of the work of one of these committees, although not directly represented on it. As an Assistant Minister, I had to do with the carrying out of a resolution passed by this House in connexion with the construction of a lighthouse vessel at Cockatoo Island. The proposed work was referred to the Public Works Committee for investigation and report. I shall be frank, and inform honorable members that the decision to build the ship was arrived at before ever the proposal was referred to the Public Works Committee. In order that the Government might be properly informed in regard to the matter it called into consultation the Director of Navigation, and the officer in charge of lighthouses, who advised the Government as to the most suitable kind of vessel for the class of work which has to be done on the coast of Western Australia. It was after the Government had obtained all that information that we realized the necessity, according to legislative requirements, of referring the matter to the Public Works Committee.
Mr.Fenton. - Under that section of the act which requires that proposed works costing over £25,000 shall be referred to the committee.
– Yes. Our having to refer it to the committee caused some delay and irritation, because it was our desire to get on with the work so as to provide employment for those in need of it.
– I suppose the fact that the vessel could have been built abroad for £50,000 less did not affect the honorable member at all.
– The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) would probably have been affected by that consideration, but we looked at it from the point of view of providing food, clothing and shelter for those engaged in the industry here, and, having that in mind, 1 am pleased that I was associated with the proposal. Well, the proposal was referred to the Public Works Committee, which conducted its investigation. It called the same officials into consultation as we did, and in due course presented a lengthy report. The report was submitted to this House, and, after being discussed, the committee’s recommendation was adopted, and the report was printed. Subsequently, to my astonishment and dismay, I learned that, although this House had agreed that a certain type of vessel should be built, certain departmental heads concerned had met in conference, and decided that a different type of vessel should be constructed.
– That shows the value of the committee.
– It shows that those honorable members who blame the workers for the high cost of certain undertakings would be fairer if they blamed the departmental heads who changed their minds after everything had been decided upon, and radically altered the designs. In this instance, the change of mind on the part of departmental heads involved the switching over from a single screw vessel to a twin screw, and, incidentally, the scrapping of £800 worth of blue prints, as well as the alteration of the registration at Lloyd’s, and the general construction of the vessel.
– Who was the responsible Minister?
- Senator Barnes was the Minister for Works, but I had a good deal to do with the matter, because the resolution authorizing the work had been passed by this House in the first place. Naturally, I believed that when this House carried a resolution, and after the PublicWorks Committee had inquired into the matter and made certain recommendations no other power had the right to make alterations. I believed that the will of this House should prevail, and I refused to allow the design to be altered, because of some petty difference between departmental officers. I directed that the vessel should be built according to the original design, and that was done. I have not been associated with the affairs of this House for a sufficiently long period to have gained any further experience in regard to the work of these committees. Honorable members who have been here longer may quote other instances in support of their arguments, but that experience convinced me that the PublicWorks Committee was called into the matter only because, as the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) prompted me, the act stipulated that, because a certain amount of money was to be spent, the proposal had to be referred to it. The honorable member forReid (Mr. Coleman) put up an enthusiastic defenceof these committees, but I wish he had been as enthusiastic in defence of the interests of those persons who have suffered as a result of the reduction of government expenditure undertaken at the direction of authorities outside Parliament. He supported economies at the expense of those who cannot defend themselves; namely, the old-age, invalid, and soldier pensioners; I am. prepared to go a step further, and support the present amendment, so that an economy may be effected by the abolition of these committees, because no hardship will be inflicted.
.- I congratulate the Government on bringing down these two bills, but I cannot support the amendment of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) that the committees be abolished. I am not, at present, a member of either committee, but I have been a member of one, and I recognize the value to this country of the work they do. I notice that those who have most to say against the committees, and are most in favour of their abolition, know least about them. The mover of the amendment said that he knew nothing about them, so that, on his own admission, he is totally unqualified to criticize them. The honorable member for Warringah heartily supported the sale of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers, because they were costing the country £500,000 a year. The proposal for their sale was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee, which reported in favour of it. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) referred to that matter. I agree with the statement of the case submitted in this House by the present Chairman of the Accounts Committee. When I was a member of that committee, we had occasion to inquire into matters pertaining to war service homes. If all the facts regarding that matter were known, honorable members would admit that, as a result of the inquiry, hundreds of thousands of pounds were saved, particularly in regard to tim ber contracts. It is impossible for the Government, without the assistance of such committees, to examine as closely as is necessary, the expenditure of large sums of money. These committees are the cheapest machinery the Federal Parliament possesses. The sum of £2,000 a year allocated for their expenditure is a mere bagatelle compared with the good they accomplish. The committees are appointed on non-party lines, being selected from all parts of the House and, because of their constitution are able to prevent log-rolling in connexion with contracts. They have a most steadying effect, and any sensible government should be glad to have the advice of a body of men who are able to call before them the most able witnesses in the Commonwealth, and who can make a close inquiry into the books and accounts of firms with which the Government is concerned. The work of these committees is of inestimable value to the people of Australia. The proposal that the membership of these committees should be reduced to seven is a reasonable one. Occasionally, a member may abuse his privileges by attending merely for the sake of the fees to be collected; but, during the eight years for which I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I saw little evidence of such conduct. I have noticed neglect of duty, on occasions, by members of this House with regard to their ordinary parliamentary work. While I hope that the Government will devise means of bringing to heel any member of a committee who makes use of his position for personal gain, I consider that a member who serves on a committee in the interests of his country is entitled to have his expenses defrayed.
.- I am rather surprised at the arguments advanced in favour of the payment of the members of these committees. I am not prepared to say that they do not perform valuable work; but there seems to be a conspiracy between members on both sides for the purpose of keeping the truth regarding the position from the people.
– The honorable member must withdraw that remark. It is unparliamentary.
– I withdraw it, and say that members on both sides seem to have united to prevent the case from being accurately placed before the people. Before I became a member of this House, I was of the opinion that the members occupied full-time and fully-paid positions. I had no idea that, in addition to the ordinary parliamentary salaries,certain “ pickings “ were available to members selected from both parties for positions on committees.
– What about Ministers?
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) probably has ideas about a change of government, and a ministerial position for himself. If he cannot obtain a bounty on wheat, he probably hopes to get some other benefit. The leaders of parties find the appointment of certain members to these committees a convenient way to placate their members, and so to solidify their forces as to prevent the breakaways that have occurred in this House recently. In one instance, a member of the so-called Labour party was offered the position of Chairman of Committees; in fact, he was selected by the caucus to occupy the position. He was to supplant the present Chairman of Committees, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) ; but, because of the fact that the Government did not have as many supporters in the House as it would like, it was not able to make the new appointment. Consequently, the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), who was the selected Government candidate for the chairmanship of committees, had to wait until there was a vacancy in the Cabinet.
– He received a consolation prize.
– Of course. When the tariff was under discussion in this chamber, it was stated that there was a conspiracy between the trade union representatives and the manufacturers to keep the truth from the consumers; but, in the present case, there seems- to be a desire in the House to hide the truth from the public. It has often been stated, in reply to questions, that members of this House receive only £800 per annum. I shall endeavour to obtain a list of the sums actually received by members, so that the people may be informed precisely what their remuneration is. If members think that they are not sufficiently paid at the present time, let them honestly advocate an increase in their salaries. If they are sincere in their desire to do the work of the nation, as it is termed, they should be prepared to carry it out, at least during the present period, without extra payment.
It has been argued that the payment” received by members of the committees merely represents out-of-pocket expenses. I have never been a member of one of these committees, and I am willing to accept the statement that they render good service. Some members declare that it is unjust to infer that they come to Canberra from mercenary motives; but I ask whether the object of their visit is merely to recuperate their health, or whether they come to the Federal Capital because they occupy highly-paid positions. I daresay there would not be many aspirants for membership of the Federal Parliament if the remuneration were on the level of the basic wage. Those members who advocate payment for services on these committees probably hope that, when vacancies occur, they will be appointed.
– The honorable member should speak for himself.
– The honorable member who interjects has been an aspirant for many of these honours in the past. I have no doubt that, the proposal of the Government will be agreed to; but the members of my group, at least, will tell the people of the attitude of the majority of members to a proposed cut in their own “ perks,” compared with the stand taken in regard to the reduction of the invalid and old-age pensions.
– Lazzarini must be telling them now.
– That is a matter for the honorable member for Werriwa himself; he is one of the members who would lose his seat on the Public Works Committee under the Government’s proposal. If these committees are doing valuable work, they should be permitted to continue it, but their services should be given without extra remuneration.
– I congratulate the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) on taking this early opportunity of carrying out the promise made by him when the work of the committees was previously under discussion. My only complaint is that the bill does not go far enough. I would much prefer to see the membership of each committee reduced to five. We all well know what the procedure is at the meetings of these bodies. When a witness is called, he is examined by the chairman, and each member in turn is entitled to submit questions to him. This means that after the first two or three members of the committee have made their inquiries the rest of the examination is mainly repetition. All the evidence is taken down by official reporters, and is printed. I am entirely opposed to the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), and I am inclined to think that he does not understand the functions of either of the committees. When the tariff was under consideration, the honorable member ranged from textiles to machinery, and from whisky to agricultural products, and to do him justice, I admit that he discussed them ably, but he relied to a great extent on information with which he had been supplied. I do not imagine that he would claim to have a sufficiently wide knowledge of the subjects under discussion to enable him to supply the detailed information with which he furnished us. 1 think that tho honorable member has been unjust to the members of the committees in regard to the work performed by them from time to time. I had the privilege of being a member of the Public Works Committee for eight years, and my experience of its activities is that its members discharge their duties conscientiously and most efficiently. But no member of either the Public Works Committee or the Public Accounts Committee would pose as an expert. The departmental officers come forward with their proposals, and the very fact that these ure subject to close examination by members of the committee makes the officers exercise the greatest care. 1 do not suggest that the officers arc not reliable; they are most reliable and capable; but it is a good thing that their proposals should be discussed before a committee which acts as a jury and decides whether the proposals are well founded.
– The committees also take evidence from outside experts.
– Yes ; professional men in various walks of life are called in to criticize the departmental proposals, and much good results.
I rose, particularly, to draw the atten-
Mou of the Prime Minister to the anomaly due to the fact that members of the Public Accounts Committee are paid what are termed travelling expenses, while members of the Public Works Committee receive what are described a3 fees. Eoi- ordinary meetings members of the Public Works Committee receive 30s. per day, and £1 per day extra is granted as a travelling allowance. I understand that the members of the Public Accounts Committee are paid £2 for each meeting, irrespective of whether they sit in Canberra or elsewhere.
– That is not the position. The members of the Public Accounts Committee receive no travelling allowance for meetings held at Canberra when Parliament is in session. For such meetings they receive 25s. per day, loss 20 per cent.
– I am perfectly well aware that they do not receive a travelling allowance when sitting at Canberra; but they receive fees. I understand that the members of the Public Accounts Committee do not pay income tax on their fees. That also is an anomalous position. The members of both committees do important work, and I think that they should be paid alike; but they should not- be exempt from taxation.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) stated that the Works Committee had an expensive staff which was operating at the present time. If that, is so, the position should be altered. In Mr. Whiteford the committee has a most valuable officer who has had large experience in various Commonwealth departments. Since he is a highly-paid officer, he should be transferred to a position in which hia duties would be more in keeping with his ability. An officer on a lower salary should be made secretary to the committee. I think that the House would be ill-advised if it supported the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Warringah.
– The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) said that although the Public Works Committee costs a good deal, it does no good. I was a member of that committee when it was first appointed, and 1 know that many important matters came before it. for consideration. One of them was the proposal of tho designer of Canberra, Mr. Burley Griffin, that each settlement in the Federal Capital should be provided with a septic tank. That proposal was so abhorrent to Parliament that the matter was referred to the Public Works Committee for investigation, with’ the result that it was rejected in favour of the present sewerage system. Had that proposal not been referred to the Public Works Committee, septic tanks with all their attendant dangers to health, might have been installed in Canberra.
Another proposal in connexion with the Federal Capital was the provision of a lake to cost about £900,000. The Public Works Committee investigated that proposal, and recommended that the lake be not constructed. That decision, besides saving the country nearly £1,000,000, obviated the risk of large areas of land being swamped. I was chairman of the committee for three years, and I know that its recommendations have saved the country hundreds of thousands of pounds. If time permitted, I could give instances of some of those savings.
– The bill constituting the committee was agreed to unanimously.
– One important result of the appointment of the Public Works Committee is that departmental estimates of the cost of public works are prepared with greater care than was the case formerly. Previously it was not unusual for a departmental estimate of cost to be exceeded; but now the departmental officers, knowing that their estimates will be the subject of an inquiry, are more careful.
– .But their estimates are still exceeded.
– That may be so in some cases. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) pointed out that the departmental estimates are now also subject to review by outside experts. During this period of depression the Public Works Committee might, perhaps, go into recess. I understand that it has done so. That is a matter for the Government. As there is no work, being done by the committee its members draw no fees. Speaking from experience, I can say that a member of a committee, who has to travel about the country, living in hotels, is not much in pocket through being a member of a committee. I have not been a candidate for appointment to any committee for a number of years, because I prefer to be at home rather than travel about the country. Although the committee has done, and is still capable of doing, good work in the interests of the country, the Government is taking a step in the right direction in proposing to reduce the number of members to five.
.- I regret that during this debate so many reckless statements and unpleasant innuendoes have been made. One honorable member, no doubt unconsciously, belittled Parliament itself by what he said.
– Not unconsciously.
– I am prepared to give the honorable member who made the statement the benefit of the doubt. Although I have been a member of the Public Accounts Committee during the life of this Parliament, I support the Government’s proposal to reduce the number of its members. Since one of the provisions of the bill is that every sitting member of the committee shall cease to hold office when the measure becomes law, the personal aspect does not arise. Every member of a committee who votes for the bill votes to throw the whole thing into the melting pot, and to give every other member of this House an opportunity to become a member of the committee, if he so desires.
Dealing now with the merits of the case, I desire to say that these committees can, and do, perform very good work. Every State has its Public Works Committee and its Public Accounts Committee. Great Britain, the United States of America, France, South Africa, and, indeed, practically every country in the world, has its finance committee, whose functions are very important, indeed. 1 refer honorable members who may have any doubt on that score to Durell, who has shown the value of such a committee in Great Britain. Speaking from my experience as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I repeat what has already been said regarding party feeling being entirely absent from the committee meetings. I agree with those honorable members who have contended that a committee of ten is unwieldly, but I do not think that five members would be sufficient. I favour the proposal of the Government to reduce the number to seven. It must be remembered that on these parliamentary committees both Houses of this Parliament are represented, and also that, rightly or wrongly, it has been the practice to appoint to them members representing the different political parties.
– And also to give the several States representation.
– It would be impracticable to give the States, as well as the several political parties and both Houses of the Parliament, representation on the committees if the number of members were reduced to five. In ray opinion, there should be seven members on each committee.
It has been said that some members of these committees have drawn their fees although they have attended the meetings only for a short time. I have no knowledge of the working of the Public Works Committee, but I can say that I have no knowledge of any such thing having taken place in connexion with the
Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member. Had I come across anything of that nature. 1 would have objected. If the statements made by the honorable members for Hunter (Mr. James) and Swan (Mr. Gregory) are correct, honorable members have every right to object. With one exception, every inquiry undertaken by the Public Accounts Committee during the life of the present Parliament has been put in hand as a result of a reference to it by the Government. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) showed lamentable ignorance in respect to the activities and functions of these committees when he suggested that an inquiry into the disabilities of certain States was a matter for a royal commission rather than a parliamentary committee.
– I did not suggest any such thing.
– The honorable member suggested that it was a matter for an interstate commission.
– That is different.
– On more than one occasion the Public Accounts Committee has recommended the appointment of an interstate commission. The statement of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) that whereas nine out of ten reports made by bodies other than the Public Accounts Committee had been pigeonholed, the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee were generally followed is worthy of the consideration of honorable members.
– There is also the question of cost.
– That, is so, A royal commission would probably cost nine or ten times as much as the Public Accounts Committee to make an investigation. If honorable members will deal with these committees on their merits, they will realize that they are capable of performing excellent work, and, therefore, I urge them to allow the bill to pass. The Government’s proposals make for economy in that it is proposed to reduce the number of members. I support the bill.
– I have not been a member of either of these committees; but I am convinced that they have done useful work, and have saved the country many times their COSt, It is equally clear to me that in the past there have been some abuses; but I cannot understand members of the committees seeing those abuses continue year after year without drawing attention to them. If such abuses were general, it would be the duty of any member of a committee, not himself guilty, to report to the Minister what he knew, and if the Minister did not put a stop to them he would be justified in drawing the attention of Parliament to the matter. It is rather late to tell us of these abuses after seven or eight years have expired. There have probably been abuses; but I think that they were not so great as have been represented. Nevertheless, I hold that the regulations regarding the sittings of committees and the payment to members require tightening up. In that respect this discussion will prove useful.
I agree that there is not much work for the Public Works Committee to do in the immediate future; but I point out that if no works are being undertaken, no great expense is being incurred. The Public Accounts Committee should be a most valuable auxiliary to the government of the day. It is impossible for any government to make a careful scrutiny of all the matters that come before it. Only a committee can carry out effectively the detailed investigations which ought to be made into some of the matters which come before Parliament. I know of no body which could carry out these investigations more effectively and at less cost than a committee composed of members of both Houses of Parliament. There is a good deal to be said for the proposal to reduce the number of members on these committees. My experience is that a small committee is better than a large one. Large committees travelling about the country have been responsible for a good deal of the adverse comment we have heard to-night. Smaller committees, in addition to being more economical, would do the work of the country more effectively, and for that reason I shall support the proposal to reduce the number of members to five.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Archdale Parkhill’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . . . 30
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Section two of the principal act is repealed and the followingsections inserted in its stead: - “2, - (1.) As soon as conveniently practicable after the commencement of this section, and thereafter at the commencement of the first session of every Parliament, a joint committee of seven members of the Parliament, to he called the Joint Committee of Public Accounts ( in this act referred to as ‘ the committee’), shall be appointed according to the practice of the Parliament with reference to the appointment of members to serve on joint select committees of both Houses of the Parliament.
Section proposed to be repealed. 2. (1 ) As soon as conveniently practicable after the commencement of this act, and thereafter at the commence- ment of the first session of every Parliament a joint committee of nine members …. shall be
– I move -
That the word “ seven”, proposed new section 2 (1), be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “five “.
I have heard quite a lot of honorable members declare that five would be a sufficiently large number for this committee, and, after hearing their arguments, I agree with them.
.-I hope that honorable members will realize that seven is the lowest number that can be effective on the Public Accounts Committee. If the number were less the representation of all parties would not be satisfactory. Again, from time to time, a member of the committee falls ill, and it would be necessary to make the quorum three, which would not be effective. I hope that honorable members will not agree to the amendment.
.- I support the amendment. No matter what number is chosen, the Public Accounts Committee could not be fully representative of all States and parties represented in this chamber. We have one party which consists of only four members, all from New South Wales. Again, it would be absurd to give the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) representation on the Public Accounts Committee. Yet he is a separate entity; a party unto himself. It is only right and proper that the Government in power should have a majority on the committee. I do not. think that any sound argument can be advanced against the proposal to reduce the number to five. It is my opinion that better work can be accomplished by a smaller committee.
. - I believe that there should be at least six members on the Public Accounts Committee, with a chairman, appointed by Parliament - which really means the Government - having a deliberative and casting vote. However, I understand that that is not acceptable to the Government. As I consider that five is too small a number, that it would make the committee unworkable if one or two members became ill, and that a very small committee can not do as good work as a larger one, I shall vote for the clause as it stands.
– The Government closely considered the proposal to make the number of the committee five. If accepted, it would mean that the Senate would have only two representatives, one from each side. That would leave three from this chamber, two from the Government side and one from the Opposition, which would, I consider, be inadequate. If one or two members were ill it would be impossible to obtain a quorum. . 1. believe that six could do the work of the committee, but then the provision of a chairman would complicate matters. The only practical method would be for Parliament to appoint him, and that would probably mean the appointment of the Government nominee. It is desired to keep these committees as free as possible from government control; to have them independent bodies. Naturally, the Government side is represented by a majority, but no member of these committees owes his position to government nomination. I believe that it can be truthfully said that the committees have acted fairly and independently. It would be a great pity to disturb that arrangement.
Question - That the word proposed to be omitted (Mr. Gabb’s amendment) stand part of the clause - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . 22
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
.-I should like to know whether the Government will agree to make the quorum three, instead of four. ,
Mr.scullin. - I ask the committee to retain four as the quorum.
.- I should be glad if the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) could tell me what fees are paid to the members of the Committee of Public Accounts, and how they are authorized. My information is that members of this committee do not pay taxation on their fees,whereas members of the Public Works Committee are obliged to include their fees intheir taxation returns.
– I cannot answer the question about the taxation of the allowances paid to members of these committees, but the fees paid to members of the Public Accounts Committee are £1 10s. per sitting in the case of the chairman, and £1 5s. per sitting for other members. I n addition, members receive £1 a day in respect of travelling on business of the committee away from the Seat of Government when Parliament is or is not in session. That allowance has now been reduced by 20 per cent.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 (Members holding office at commencement of this act).
.- I should like to know why the provision of the Public; Works Committee Act which prevents Ministers of the State, the President of the Senate, the Speaker, or the Chairman of Committees of either chamber from becoming members of that committee is not included in the Committee of Public Accounts Act?
– There are no Ministers on either committee. The Public Works Committee Act is certainly more elaborate than the Committee of Public Accounts Act. The latter seems to have been drafted hur- riedly, and, as a matter of fact, contains no provision for a quorum. Many provisions of the Public Works Committee Act are not to be found in the Public Accounts Act. However, as I did not feel inclined to overwork Parliament in regard to this legislation, I have brought down merely the essential things. I can assure the honorable member that there is no danger of Ministers going on cither of these committees.
.- During the second reading, the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) stated that it was not his intention to bring about the abolition of the existing Public Accounts Committee until it had completed an inquiry upon which it is now engaged; but, if this bill goes through in its present form, it will necessitate a fresh election, and none of the present members of the committee may be chosen to sit upon it again. I suggest, therefore, that a new clause be inserted to provide that the act shall come into force upon a date to bo proclaimed.
– The point raised by the honorable member is sound. It was the intention of the Government that this legislation should come into operation forthwith, and, that being so, there was no need to insert a proclamation clause; but it would be a pity to interfere with the personnel of the Public Accounts Committee until it has finished with its present inquiry, which the chairman of the committee assures me will take the committee a few weeks only. I shall move to insert a new clause to provide that the act shall come into force upon a dale to be fixed by proclamation.
.- It seems to me that, clause 2 is sufficiently wide to cover all that is required. It reads as follows : -
As soon as conveniently practicable after the commencement, of this -session and thereafter at the commencement of the first session of every parliament, a joint committee of seven members of Parliament to be called the Joint Committee of Public Accounts shall be appointed.
Surely that could be construed to mean that it would not be conveniently practicable to appoint a new committee while the present committee is engaged in an inquiry. It would be rather unfortunate to interfere with the committee before it has completed its investigation.
Clause agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) agreed to -
That the following new clause be inserted: - 1 a. This act shall commence upon a date to be fixed by proclamation.
– In order to give effect to the suggestion made by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), I move -
That the following new clause be inserted:- “ 2a. After section 2a of the principal act the following section is inserted: - 2ab. No Minister of State shall be a member of the committee. No President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, or Chairman of Committees of either House of Parliament shall be a. member of the committee.”
– I have no objection.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments, report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I move - .
That all the words after the word “ be “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ withdrawn and that another bill be introduced to provide for the abolition of the Committee.”
This is the amendment I moved this afternoon on the Committee of Public Accounts Bill. I have no illusions as to the unpopularity of any move to curtail what honorable members regard as privileges, though I do not regard them as such; at this stage in the history of the country, I regard them as gross extravagances. Whatever arguments might have been adduced in regard to the usefulness of the Committee of Public Accounts, with which arguments I heartily disagree, they cannot be applied to a Public Works Committee, which, it is admitted, has no work to do and will have no work to do.
– The committee certainly will have work to do.
– In new of the stringency of the public funds, there is very little possibility of the Public Works Committee functioning during the current year. It is not functioning at the present time, and I am, therefore, entitled to say that, so far as practiwai politics are concerned, it is not likely to function in the near future. It has a staff to bc kept in existence. Is it fair to the general public that a committee should bc kept in existence and a staff retained when it. is admitted that the committee has no work to do and when there is no reasonable probability of its having work to do? I do not propose to repeat the arguments that I advanced on the other bill, none of which were affected by the avalanche of self-interested criticism to which they were subjected.
– I second the amendment. During the last two or three weeks, it has been brought particularly under our notice that in regard to public works that may be undertaken by the Commonwealth or the States, the duty of saying just how much money shall be spent upon them, and what works shall actually be carried out does not rest upon any government. We have, to-day, a number of statements by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that, arising out of the last Premiers Conference, representations as to what works are to be carried out and what amount of money is to be made available for them have to be made to the Commonwealth Bank Board. If it is not for this House to determine what work should be undertaken to provide employment for the thousands who to-day are seeking employment, I fail to see the need for a Public Works Committee. Was the Public Works Committee asked to inquire into the sewerage scheme at Warrnambool, or the electrical scheme on the north coast of New South Wales, or the abattoirs at Brisbane? This Parliament had no say as to whether those works should be undertaken.
– They are not to be undertaken with parliamentary money.
– The banks will’ not trust the Parliament or the Government to decide what works shall be put in hand. Ordinarily those matters would be determined by Parliament, but to-day only such works can be undertaken as the banks themselves approve. The powers of this Parliament have been definitely handed over to the financiers, who to-day are dictating public policy in all its forms. Therefore, we might as well be frank with the people, particularly with those who seek our aid and think that we can relieve their distress ; we should let them understand that we are not permitted to decide these matters. I propose to take any and every opportunity to expose the working of the financial machine so that the people will know what is the paramount authority in this country to-day.
.- The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) and others have stated that the Public Works Committee maintains a clerical staff although it is doing no work, and is not likely to do any in the near future. I ask the Prime Minister to inform the House whether the committee is maintaining a staff in idleness?
.- The Public Works Committee is not now functioning, but if governmental works were being undertaken it would resume its investigations. Therefore, I cannot support the amendment for the abolition of the committee on the grounds that it is not functioning at the present time. I am, however, interested in the expenditure of public money. A certain amount of money is being made available by the Commonwealth Bank for the relief of unemployment by the alteration of a meat works to provide an abattoirs at Brisbane. No more flagrant misuse of public money was ever contemplated. A former Queensland Government proposed to establish abattoirs at Brisbane, find sought the advice of experts from Sydney and Melbourne who roundly condemned all the existing meat work3 in the Brisbane metropolitan area, and said that no expenditure upon conversion of any one of them would produce suitable abattoirs.
– What has this to do with the bill?
– The expenditure of public money is involved.
– The money to be advanced by the banks is not public money.
– When a bank advances money which has been deposited by the public it is investing public funds. The expenditure on the abattoirs will not produce employment for more than a few people, and will merely bring up to date obsolete works that can never be thoroughly satisfactory. It is idle to say that the money involved does not belong to the public. It is true that the proposal will not be investigated by the Public Works Committee, but if the Government had anything to do with the financing of it, as the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) suggested, the matter would be referred to the committee. It is unfortunate that that cannot be done, because a parliamentary investigation would prevent the advance of money for a rotten job.
– The matter with which the honorable member is dealing is outside the province of the bill.
– I cannot support the amendment. The Public Works Committee has given excellent service to the people. One of the first inquiries undertaken by the original Public Works Committee related to the construction of a dam on the Molonglo River in connexion with the development of the lakes scheme for the Federal Capital. The Government of the day proposed to carry out that work which had been endorsed by departmental officers, and was estimated to cost £100,000. The Public Works Committee reported against the project, and Parliament accepted its recommendation, thus saving £100,000 to the public treasury. I could mention many instances of savings amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds effected by both the Public Works and the Public Accounts Committees. There is, however, scope for economy in connexion with the activities of the former body. Much of the work it does is of a routine nature. I refer particularly to the inquiries into proposals for the construction of automatic telephone exchanges. I can see no justification for the committee visiting South Brisbane to inquire whether the plans and specifications drawn up by the experts of the Postal and Works Departments are correct, and three months later journeying to Perth to conduct an almost identical inquiry there.
– That shows how farcical the proceedings are.
– The proceedings are not farcical, but I believe that money could be saved by eliminating inquiries into repetitive works such as the construction of telephone exchanges. Individual original works proposals should be investigated. The act wisely provides that no work estimated to cost more than £25,000 shall be undertaken until it has been inquired into and reported upon by the Public Works Committee, but if some safeguard could be inserted in the act to obviate the need for the committee to visit various States or various centres within one State to report on automatic telephone exchanges a considerable economy could be effected.
.- I cannot understand why the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) did not move for the repeal of the Public Works Committee Act instead of asking the Government to withdraw this measure and introduce another to provide for the abolition of the committee. I thought that an honorable member so anxious to save the public money would have the common sense to suggest the more direct and effective method. The honorable member said that no member of the Public Works Committee has any qualifications for reporting upon projected undertakings. Apparently, their ignorance is equalled by that of the honorable member in regard to parliamentary usage. At the present time, there is no need for the committee, and I hope that the Government will find temporary employment for those permanent officers employed by it who, otherwise, are likely to be unoccupied for a long period. The committee itself must be kept in being, because past experience has shown how necessary such a body is. I recollect the inquiry into the proposal of the Government of the day for the construction of a railway from Yass to Canberra, and the excitement in this chamber when the committee reported against the project. Many honorable members suggested that- the committee should be abolished and urged that the railway be built, despite the committee’s adverse report. The line was estimated to cost £750,000, and time has confirmed the committee’s opinion, that it would not pay the cost of axle grease.
The inquiry into the Kidman-Mayoh shipbuilding contract was outside the ordinary functions of the committee. The Hughes Government proposed that the wooden vessels constructed by that firm during the war period should be sent to Cockatoo Island Dockyard to be completed. The committee’s investigations disclosed, that if the ships had ever put to sea they would have sunk in the first storm. Had it been possible to give effect to the committee’s report the Government would have saved in respect of a disastrous contract about £130,000, but it did recover as a result of arbitration £75,000 from Sir Sidney Kidman, who, although no party to the scandals, had to bear the financial consequences. But for this inquiry the cost to the Government would have been over £200,000, and probably the lives of over 100 seamen. I mentioned this afternoon the wasteful expenditure that was prevented in connexion with the Henderson Naval Base at Cockburn Sound and the sub-base at Flinders. Several millions of pounds were saved by the committee’s reports, but I lost a number of friends in Perth and Fremantle, because the committee, of which I was chairman, recommended that construction work in the Henderson base be discontinued. I anticipate that when the financial outlook improves other big works will be proposed, which this Parliament will require to be investigated. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) said that money was expended unnecessarily by the committee in investigating proposals for the construction of automatic telephone exchanges, and he referred particularly to the committee’s visit, to Western Australia. Two members of the committee represented that State, and were in Perth on private business. They, and the chairman, constituted a sectional committee, the -chairman being the only member to visit Western Australia especially for the inquiry. Only about three meetings of the subcommittee were held ; it will be seen that no unnecessary expense was incurred in connexion with that investigation. Although the mechanical equipment of automatic telephone exchanges is standardized, there is often room for differences of opinion as to the most suitable site and the danger from fire in adjacent buildings.
– Ministerial responsibility has ceased if the Government is so dependent on committees.
– Docs the honorable member think it advisable to leave these matters entirely to the judgment of public officials? In the early inquiries into automatic telephone exchanges the committee sought evidence from representatives of manufacturers throughout the world, and insisted that specifications should require that all parts be interchangeable, so that if any extension of the work were found necessary in the future the Government would not be at the mercy of the original contractor, who had installed patent appliances which he alone could supply. For instance, if a contract for the erection of a telephone exchange for 10,000 subscribers were let to one manufacturer, and its extension to 30,000 lines subsequently became necessary, the whole contract would not be in the hands of that firm. These matters were given great attention by the committee. I have received repeated assurances, particularly from the Works Department, of the appreciation of the work of the committee, more particularly in respect of outside evidence, which has been very helpful and not in the least detrimental to Commonwealth departments.
– What happened with respect to telephonic communication with Tasmania?
– I know nothing about that. I feel quite satisfied that if the act were now repealed, within a few years, when we start to carry out public works, a keen demand would arise for an investigating committee of this sort. The Public Works Committee has, in the past, done good work, and saved the Commonwealth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Its value is fully appreciated by the various departments, and we shall be making a big mistake if we repeal the act entirely.
.- In addition to what has been said by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), I hope that the Prime Minister will take into consideration the suggestions of the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley). Both as PostmasterGeneral and Minister for Works I have had some experience of the work of the committee. Engineers of the Postal Department know when an exchange has outlived its usefulness, and reached the point at which it is uneconomic to extend it, and it is necessary to substitute an automatic exchange. The department, after thoroughly investigating every possibility of development in regard to a particular exchange, makes its recommendations to the Minister. The PostmasterGeneral then automatically refers the proposal to the Public Works Committee, which takes evidence from the experts in the department, and obtains, in turn, the information already supplied to the Postmaster-General. It then submits its recommendataion to the Minister on similar lines to that submitted by the department.
– That shows ibc farce of this committee.
– It is a farce. I cast no reflection upon the members of the committee, because my experience is similar to that of the honorable member for Swan. I know that when distant inquiries have had to be made, the committee, of its own accord, has appointed a sectional committee so as to minimize expense. For instance, a sectional committee carried out an investigation in Western Australia. I, therefore, refuse to criticize the members of the committee, because I know that they have carried out their work conscientiously. The committee also investigated the construction of the road from Goulburn to Canberra. This work had already been decided upon by this Parliament, and the previous Government, taking it for granted that Parliament was in favour of the construction of the road, had one particular section of it completed without referring the proposal to the Public Works Committee. The road was practically finished when, as Minister for Works, I was informed that the committee had not inquired into the project,and, willy-nilly, I had to refer it to the committee. The committee’s recommendation was useless, because the work had already been done. I suggest that we shall not save much by reducing by two or three the number of members on the committee. It would be better to recast the whole method of investigation, and I suggest to the Government that it consider amending the existing legislation so that this Parliament, when it is fully satisfied that it has all the information available on a certain project at its disposal, need not refer it to the Public Works Committee for investigation and report.
– Where would the honorable member draw the line?
– If members of this Parliament, as a committee, arc competent to investigate proposed works, surely as ordinary members they, are competent to express an opinion upon them, and any work with respect to which they are satisfied that additional information is required could bc referred to the committee. At the present time there is no justification for the Public Works Committee, and it will be a long time before it is required to carry out further investigation. I hope that, whatever else is done, the Government, will ascertain whether the existing legislation cannot be amended to safeguard the position for all time.
.- I should not have spoken had it not been for the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons). From what he has said I am satisfied that he does not know very much about the activities of the Public Works Committee. In his efforts to belittle that committee, he could not have used a worse illustration than that of the Postal Department. At one time I was a member of the committee, and I know that in its investigations it saved this country many thousands of pounds, particularly in respect of automatic telephone exchanges. Goodness knows what it would have cost the Postal Department in respect of the dehumidifying plant at these exchanges, had it not been for the investigations of the committee. Some of the officials of the department have been obsolete for a very long time. In Sydney these officials submitted an estimate of about £30,000 in respect of the installation of new mail handling appliances. The committee was severe in its criticism of the proposal. That work has since cost about £150,000 and it is not finished yet. Had the departmental project been put in hand it would have cost at least £500,000.
– The committee has always accepted the estimate of the Postal Department.
– It has not. I admit that apart from automatic telephone exchanges, not one work reported upon by the committee during the past five years has been put in hand.
– What about aerod romes ?
– One aerodrome was started, but I do not know whether it has been finished. No money is at present available to carry out works, but I am satisfied that so soon as we return to normal times the committee’s activities will increase. I do not think that it should be abolished. There is no better body of men than the Public Works Committee, and in its investigations in the past it has saved this country over £1,000,000.
– Does the honorable member wish to change the personnel ?
– I do not wish to change anything just at present.
– Not the Government?
– That is another question. I am prepared to support the bill, with a reduction in the number of members on the committee.
.- I support the amendment. It is similar to the one which was moved to the previous bill and, therefore, the same arguments apply. The further the debate develops, the more it reveals the unbusinesslike relations between the committee and the Commonwealth departments. One honorable member has actually told us that the members of the committee had an infinitely better knowledge of the Postal Department than the experts who run it. That may be so, but I doubt it. I support the amendment because, if carried, it will bring about a reduction in overhead expenditure. It will not be much, but it will be in line with the general rehabilitation plan, and in addition will not cause any hardship or suffering to the community. All investigations into public works should be undertaken on business lines. Honorable members opposite have criticized the action of the Commonwealth Bank, and for election purposes are endeavouring to create hostility towards the banks because they will not release credits; but surely they know that the banks cannot release credits that they do not possess. They are merely reservoirs that collect credit from various channels and reticulate them to the various needs of commerce. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) has given an instance of the red tape methods practised by the government departments and the committee. He has shown how one Pooh Bah refers a certain matter to another, and so on. That, of course, is a costly process. I do not know what thestaff has to do when the committee is idle; but ‘ the Prime Minister has promised to tell us. I understand that, at one time, when the Commonwealth Parliament was functioning in Melbourne, the office of the Public Works Committee was situated in Collins-street, some distance from Parliament House, so it was necessary to employ a messenger. Later, when the office was transferred to the House itself, the messenger was still retained, and even after the Parliament transferred to Canberra, the staff remained the same. The members of this Parliament are in the position of directors of a company. We owe a duty to the taxpayers of Australia who are the shareholders, and it is time that we advocated more economical methods, however small, in matters of management in every direction. As this is one direction in which expenditure can be saved I intend to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) which provides for the abolition of the committee.
.- As the debate proceeds I am more than ever convinced that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) providing for the abolition of the Public Works Committee should be agreed to. Two exMinisters have, in giving their experiences, thrown some light upon the subject. We have been informed that three undertakings which should have been referred to the Public Works Committee were practically completed before they were referred to that committee for investigation.
– That is not the fault of the committee.
– No; but it shows that the work can be efficiently carried out without such an investigation.
Mr.Fenton. - If the construction of the Canberra-Goulburn road had been referred to the Public Works Committee, the proposal might have been rejected.
– That may be so. I have heard so many ex-members of that committee tell us how much money it has saved that I am wondering how this country has got into its present financial mess. If there are so many experts in our midst one wonders why Canberra has been foisted upon the people of Australia. I ask the right honorable the Prime Minister to answer the questions submitted to him by the honorable member for Darwin ( Mr. Bell) as to the duties being performed by the staff of this committee. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) said that, in his opinion, automatic telephone exchanges were the only public works inquired into by the committee which have been proceeded with during the last five years. According to the Estimates for the present financial year, the Public Works Committee employs a secretary at a salary of £750, a clerk at £300, and a messenger at £300 per annum. The secretary and the messenger - I do not know the clerk - are efficient officers. The messenger is an obliging and able man. The point I wish to make is that this unnecessary expenditure is being incurred by a government which claims that it has put into operation a financial plan under which drastic economies arc being effected. Is this a fair example of the economics being exercised throughout the Public Service of this country? If this is a sample, no wonder taxpayers’ organizations are protesting against the expenditure in the Public Service. 1 can hardly believe that the Government will permit a secretary of a committee that has no work to do to continue to draw a salary of £750 a year. I ask the Prime Minister if the Government intends to continue such a system. In this instance £1,350 is being paid annually in salaries in order to keep in existence a committee which has no work to do. There is no need to dispense with the services of these officers, as quite a number of public servants are reaching the retiring age, and their positions will have to be filled. There are other avenues in which the clerical officers could be engaged, and particularly the secretary, who I consider is one of the most able officers in the Commonwealth Public Service. If the secretary were placed in the Taxation Department investigating the cases of those who are evading income taxation his services would result in a more satisfactory return than is at present being received from this source. If the Government allows this system to continue, its administration is likely to be criticized from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. Those of us who assisted in cutting old-age pensions should not permit this committee to remain in existence merely to enable certain officers to receive their salaries. If we do, we are not playing the game with the old-age and invalid pensioners and the taxpayers of this country. I supported a reduction in pensions because I thought such a reduction necessary in the interests of the Commonwealth, and of the pensioners themselves, but I cannot support this unjustifiable expenditure. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said that the services of such a committee would again be necessary; but, if so, the committee could be reconstituted. As we have been reducing pensions and making drastic cuts in other directions, we should not allow a committee which has no work to do to remain in existence.
– The position is very simple. If the committee has no work to do it cannot function. Under the Public Works Committee Act the committee cannot conduct an investigation into any proposed work until Parliament directs it so to do. It is true that the committee has investigated certain public works which have not been proceeded with ; but that has not been the responsibility of the committee, but of Parliament.
– That has resulted in saving money.
– Probably it has. It is, however, an exaggeration to say that, with the exception of automatic telephones, none of the works into which it has inquired has been proceededwith. The work given to this committee is primarily the responsibility of the Government. The act under which the committee is operating provides that any work, the estimated cost of which exceeds £25,000, shall be submitted to the committee for investigation and report. I do not think it practicable to amend the law in the direction suggested by the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley). but the Government could discuss with the committee the question of unnecessary duplication in the matter of inquiries. It could confer with the committee as to whether the construction of an automatic telephone exchange in Brisbane does not involve the same class of work in Perth. In such cases there should be no need for the committee to duplicate its work in order to comply with the law. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) claimed that in the case of the inquiry into the Perth exchange, the chairman of the committee was the only member who travelled to Perth for that purpose. In all matters of this kind, room can be found for criticism; but I think it will be admitted that, over a number of years, the Public Works Committee has justified its existence. It has been suggested that as the committee has no work to do it should be abolished; but let us hope that the time is not far distant when public works will again be proceeded with. If the amendment were adopted, it would be necessary, when conditions became normal, to introduce legislation reconstituting the committee. In the meantime, no additional cost is being involved. The only other point to be dealt with is with respect to the staff. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) has worked up some heat with respect to the necessity for economy. In the first eight months of this Government’s administration, and before any cut was made in salaries or pensions, it reduced administrative expenses by £1,000,000. The Government has endeavoured to dispense with duplication wherever possible. We cannot deal with every difficulty immediately and in the right way. Within the last month or two the Government has been devoting its attention to the position of the staff of . the
Public Works Committee. There are three officers, a secretary, a clerk, and a messenger. The clerk has been transferred to another position. The messenger is engaged as such in this building, and I believe that he is doing good work. The secretary deserves all that has been said concerning him; he is a very capable officer. It has not been easy to place him, but he has not been idle. Wherever heads of departments have been able to employ him, his services have been utilized. As a matter of fact, his name was before the Cabinet recently when a transfer was made from one department to another. We are carrying in our departments a number of officers who are classed as excess. They are not excess in the sense that they are doing nothing- as a matter of fact, they are continuously employed - but merely because they have not been appointed to some permanent position. There are a few even in my own department. I believe that it will be some time before there will be much work for this committee to undertake, and that, meanwhile, we shall have to find suitable employment for the secretary. He is a permanent officer, and cannot be dismissed.
-Can you not transfer him?
– We have already transferred the clerk and found other work for the messenger. I believe that the Department of Home Affairs is utilizing the services of Mr. Whiteford at the present time. One department borrows from another when it needs a good man for any special work. These excess officers in our departments cannot be dismissed. In some cases the loss of their services would be very serious. In the Postal Department we still have some surplus officers.
– Is there a sufficient number of inspectors in the Taxation Department?
– The honorable member has made that suggestion previously, and I have interviewed the Taxation Commissioner regarding it. I am not in a position to judge, but the Commissioner is. When additional inspectors or other officers are needed, application is made by the department to the Public Service Board. The Commissioner must protect himself. Nobody would be more ready to condemn him than would the honorable member if his estimates were increased. He endeavours to keep down his administrative costs; and he has a right to do
– The other day in Sydney one man was ordered to pay £1,300 additional taxation. The extra expenditure would be well justified if it led to the prevention of evasions.
– The fact that these defaulters are being discovered and made to pay proves that a good deal of vigilance is shown, and that the department is administered efficiently. There may be need for extra inspectors; I cannot say whether there is, or is not. I am not so sure that the honorable member is qualified to direct the Commissioner as to what he should do. Honorable members may rest assured thatwe are not countenancing the keeping of men in idleness. I consider, however, that it is wise to keepthis law on the statute-book. I hope that it will not be long before there will be work that can be referred to the committee.
– Meanwhile, nothing would have been saved by abolishing it.
– Not one penny, because no expenditure is incurred unless there is work for it to do.
The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) made a statement which I do not wish to pursue very far, because my remarks would not bo relevant to the question before the Chair. No public moneys are being expended on abattoirs in Brisbane; but a certain sum is being advanced as a bank loan to a private body. We have no authority over it, and no responsibility with respect to it. I believe it has been alleged that this Government claimed credit for having obtained that money from the bank, and loaned it. We have not claimed to have made any such loan. All that I have said is that we requested the State governments and local governing bodies to put works in hand, and asked the banks to make advances for that purpose to them. The responsibility for the class of work proposed, and the security offered, rests with the bank and the local governing body concerned. I ask the House not to accept the amendment.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Archdale Parkhill’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Section three of the principal act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - “3. - (1.) As soon as conveniently practicable after the commencement of this section, and thereafter at the commencement of the first session of every Parliament, a Joint Committee of seven members of Parliament, to be called the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works (in this act referred to as ‘the committee ‘), shall be appointed according to the practice of the Parliament with reference to the appointment of members to serve on joint select committees of both Houses of the Parliament.”
Section proposed to be repealed -
– (1.) As soon as conveniently practicable after the commencement of this act, and thereafter at the commencement of the first session of every Parliament, a Joint Committee of nine members of Parliament . . . shallbe appointed . . .
.- I move-
That the word “ seven”, proposed new section 3 ( 1) , be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ five “.
Surely honorable members are satisfied that five members are ample ! It has been shown that this committee has very few inquiries to make apart from those in connexion with automatic telephone exchanges.Two ex-Ministers have informed us that references to the committee are usually made when the work is practically finished. If the committee is to be merely a figurehead, it should not foe necessary to have on it more than five members.
Question - That the word proposed to be omitted stand part of the clause - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr . Mc Gr at h . )
Majority . . 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
.- I desire to submit an amendment in accordance with the suggestion that I made during the debate on the second reading of the bill. I then referred to the great deal of duplication that takes place in connexion with the work of the Public Works Committee, particularly in ‘relation to proposals for the installation of telephone exchanges. Section 15 of the principal act reads as follows: -
No public work of any kind whatsoever (except such works as have already been authorized by Parliament, or which are authorized during the present session, and except works for the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth exempted by Order of Council from the operation of the act), the estimated cost of completing which exceeds twenty-five thousand pounds, and whether such work is a continuation, completion, repair, reconstruction, extension, or a new work, shall be commenced unless sanctioned as in this section provided.
I move -
That the following new clause be inserted: - 3a. Section fifteen of the principal act is amended -
by inserting in sub-section (1) after the word “ except “ the letter “ (a) “,; and
by inserting in sub-section (1.) after the word “Act” the following words “ and ( b ) works exempted by resolution passed by both Houses of the Parliament from the operation of the act “.
If my proposal were agreed to the committee could be saved a great deal of unnecessary work.
– But the committee wants work.
– I am concerned not with what the Public Works Committee wants, but with what this committee wants. In my opinion the amendment is a commonsense proposal. It would obviate the necessity for referring to the committee such works as telephone exchanges, which are similar in all respects to proposed works previously investigated by the committee. Both Houses of the Parliament could declare by resolution that, as the plans and specifications for a particular work were identical with those of another work previously reported upon by the Public Works Committee, the work in question need not be referred to it. It might be argued that if this proposal were agreed to an unscrupulous government could use it for its own ends, butwe do not deal with unscrupulous governments in this Parliament. I have no fear that any government would use this provision for its own ends.
– But what does the honorable member mean by “ similar in all respects “. It would be difficult to find two works similar in all respects.
– It is quite evident that the honorable member for West Sydney has not read many of the reports submitted to Parliament by the Public Works Committee.
– But I know a good deal about telephone exchanges.
– By “similar in all respects “ I mean the same in the main details, such as, for instance, ventilation, dust prevention, the number of subscribers to be provided for, and the nature of the building to be constructed.
– The only difference that could arise would be with regard to suitability of site.
– That is so; but if we have any confidence at all in our executive officers, and in the professional staff of the Public Works Department we should be able to trust them with such a matter. It may be taken for granted that at least one honorable member of the House would know something about any site that could be proposed for a telephone exchange or a post office. He would lodge a protest, declaring that, in his opinion, the site was not suitable for an exchange, and the House would demand a further investigation. I believe that the advantages to be gained by the adoption of the amendment would far outweigh any loss that might accrue.
– I am inclined to accept the amendment, but there is one point which, I think, should be clearly understood. Honorable members should remember that the provision requiring all works estimated to cost £25,000 to be submitted to the Public Works Committee for inquiry and report, was inserted as a protection against a government that might be disposed to push on with a heavy programme of expenditure on public works. The fact that the amendment requires a resolution to be passed by both Houses before any works proposal can be exempted from the provisions of the act commends it to me. At present works proposals may be referred to the committee by a resolution of this House, and the amendment provides that any project can only be exempted from the act by resolution of both Houses. It may be urged that the amendment would enable Parliament to. prevent time being wasted upon art, inquiry which would be merely a duplication of a previous inquiry into works of a similar nature.
– It would also stop criticism.
– On the other hand, it might be urged that the amendment would enable a government with a majority in both Houses to exempt every works proposal regardless of its probable cost, from an examination by the Public Works Committee.
– It would nullify the act.
– I do not think it would do that, especially in the light of this discussion. The purpose of the amendment is not to prevent the Public Works Committee from inquiring into projected works, but to give Parliament power to exempt from the operation of the act any work, an inquiry into which in the opinion of Parliament, would merely be a duplication of work already done. If this is clearly understood it is not probable that any government would submit a motion to both Houses to exempt any particular work. I think the amendment safeguards the position, and the Government is prepared to accept it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) - proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I do not often speak on the motion for the adjournment, but I wish to bring before the House a matter of very great importance to the people of New South Wales, namely, the position of the Government Savings Bank in that State.
This afternoon the Treasurer, in replying to a question submitted by me, furnished certain information about that institution. The bank has extensive assets in the form of Commonwealth Government securities, but those are locked up, and its depositors, who comprise chiefly the working classes, many of whom are in necessitous circumstances, are unable to draw upon their accounts. Because they have money in the Savings Bank they are unable to secure a pension. 1 am informed that the Savings Bank has between £29,000,000 and £30,000,000 worth of government securities. If this is so, the Commonwealth Government is under an obligation to assist the State bank to relieve those of its depositors who stand so much in need of financial help. I do not know what the Government can do; but, as a layman, I consider that it should, through the Commonwealth Bank Board, provide the State Savings Bank with credit to the amount of about £10,000,000, so that it can meet the demands of its necessitous depositors.I believe that the Government is anxious to do what is possible to relieve this distress, and, as this is not a party matter, I hope that something may be done. Some friends of mine have their life savings deposited in the State bank, and, because of the difficult position in which the institution now finds itself, they are unable to operate their accounts. The fact that the bank holds Commonwealth securities to the amount mentioned should surely be ample security for the Commonwealth Bank Board, which should come to the assistance of the State institution. I hope, therefore, that some action will be taken without delay to give relief to a very deserving section of the people in New South Wales.
. -I do not support, in their entirety, the remarks made by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley), as to the assistance which, he claims, should be given by the Commonwealth Government to the State Savings Bank of New South Wales. But there is one aspect of the problem which I think should be considered. Section 51 gives the Commonwealth power to legislate with regard to certain matters, including banking, and including State banking if it extends beyond the limits of the State concerned.
The Government Savings Bank of New South Wales is operating outside that State. There are agencies in the Federal Capital Territory, and many people in Canberra have deposits locked up in the old bank. I understand that these depositors are obtaining legal opinion as to whether they can make a claim against the assets of the bank. Everybody agrees that the position of the bankis very serious, and no one desires to say anything that might make the position more difficult. It is stated that a number of its depositors arc really in distress. They are unable to draw upon their accounts, and, because they have money in the bank, they are not eligible for pension relief or for sustenance in the form of the dole. If we can assist the Savings Bank to give the necessary relief to these depositors, it is our duty to do so. I am not at all satisfied with the reconstruction of the bank, and I doubt that it will ever be successful until it is amalgamated with the Commonwealth Bank, because there is no room in Australia for Commonwealth and State savings banking institutions in competition with each other. In Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia amalgamation has already taken place.
– Not in Western Australia as yet.
– The amalgamation is practically complete there, and has been completed some time in the other States.I should not like it to go out as my statement that the New South Wales Government Savings Bank will fail because the Commonwealth Bank has not taken it over; but it is our duty to see that the depositors in that bank do not lose their money, and that the bank does not fail a second time. It is an appalling thing that the money of depositors should be in jeopardy although the bank was guaranteed by the State of New South Wales. When the largest State of the Commonwealth falls down on a guarantee of that sort it is time that this Parliament stepped in and ensured that the bank was put back on a sound footing.
– I propose to place before the House a rejoinderto the statement made by the honorable the Minister for
Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) in answer to matters concerning the hog farm at Canberra which I raised when the Estimates were under discussion.
The reply of the Minister to statements made by me in this House on 29th July, 1931, concerning the Canberra hog farm is not satisfactory, and, in my opinion, was intended to whitewash one of his officers. The Minister stated that he personally investigated the charges made by me, and decided that, on the whole, the allegations were either a distortion of facts or untruths. I now wish to repeat every statement I made as true, and demand an impartial tribunal, such as I originally asked for, to go into the whole mattter. If the Minister wishes to protect himself, as well as those officers he wishes to shield, he will grant this request without further delay.
Let us examine a few of these : the first communication sent by Mr. Brackenreg to Mr. Coles in March, 1928, set out that the Commission wished him to continue on Dennis’s farm until a new piggery was established. Will the Minister deny the truth of that statement? The first letter sent by Colonel P. Owen, and which Mr. Brackenreg confirmed at the first conversation with Coles, sets out that the proposed new city abattoirs would be established forthwith on the adjoining Tot, and that the town water supply would be extended to it. Further, that if the water on the pig farm failed, the water at the abattoirs next door would bc available. ‘ Will the Minister say whether that statement is true or untrue? Again, I stated (1) that the hog farm was to have started on the basis of 500 hogs, and to have been developed to a maximum capacity of 1,500, and (2)_ that the estimated cost of improvements were officially given at £4,33S. I also quoted in detail the official memoranda dealing with these aspects of the farm. Will the Minister state whether those statements were distortions of fact ov untruths? The next, statement is that Mr. Coles was assured that the whole of the work would be carried out promptly by day labour, and he was asked to pay a deposit of £120, based on the assurance that that sum would cover the whole of the costs involved on his farm. Will the Minister deny that this assurance was given by Mr. Brackenreg, or that after nearly two years’ delay more than double the amount of the original estimated cost was incurred on the farm, and that the work still remains to-day in an incomplete and unsatisfactory condition?
I set out in my list of complaints that Mr. Coles was given in writing three definite dates, which were given on three different occasions, on which he could begin occupation of the farm, and that he ordered stock and made arrangements to take possession of the farm accordingly; hut on each occasion found that the Administration had fooled him, thereby inflicting on him irreparable loss as well as inconvenience. Will the Minister say whether these statements were correct, and that the official documents which are extant to prove the statements are just mere fakes intended to injure his subordinate officers? Will the Minister deny that the final order of stud stock amounting to 50 head in all were put up for public auction by the vendors from whom Mr. Coles had originally purchased the stock, and that he had to proceed to Melbourne and pay up to £40 per head for hogs he had originally agreed to purchase for £8 each, and that this increased cost was wholly due to the misrepresentations made as to the date on which the farm would be available for occupation ? Will the Minister deny that under the original lease Mr. Coles was guaranteed all edible garbage from 30 official houses and institutions at Canberra, of which less than half exist to-day, and that, by taking over the collection of garbage on this understanding, Mr. Coles saved the Commission approximately £2,000 per year ?
In my statement I. made it clear that the water supply, as originally intended, was to provide sufficient water for a minimum of 500 pigs, but at no time since Mr. Coles has occupied the farm has this supply warranted keeping that number. Indeed, there have been periods in which the water supply has totally failed. Will the Minister state whether it is true or untrue that in 1930 several pedigree sows in pig died from thirst at the farm; and that, in reply to Mr. Coles’ request for town water, he was informed “ it has nothing to do with the Commission ; it is your pigeon”? Further, whether it is true or untrue that Mr. Coles consulted the police with a view to having proceedings taken against the Commission for cruelty to dumb animals before that body moved in the direction of re-adjusting his pump to obtain a small supply of water still in the water hole? Concerning the reliability of the water supply of the farm, will the Minister state whether it is true or false that, when the supply gave out last year, Mr. Coles was asked by the commission to pay £6 a week for 1,000 gallons a day for over four weeks for water required by his famished herd? Will he go further, and deny that since these complaints were made, he has had to consult the Health Department with a view to securing it’s help towards mitigating the continued cruelty to dumb animals, caused by the failure of the administration to provide water, as well as to ensure proper hygienic conditions being provided at the farm? Will the Minister deny that the store pigs which contracted pneumonia through faulty shelters, and had to be destroyed, arrived from Victoria with a clean bill of health from both the Victorian and New South Wales authorities?
There are many other questions that I would like to ask the Minister, all of which are based on statements made in my report, and all of which are absolutely supported by documentary evi- dence, but why proceed further in this respect? The Minister, while stating that my allegations were distortions of facts, or untruths, has, by his own admissions, demonstrated that everything set out by me was just, fair and true. If this were not so, how comes it that Mr. Coles has been relieved of all rent payments, and that this fact is now paraded as a great act of clemency by the department? Did the Minister have any such scruples when he evicted Creasy from his farm, or has he shown the same amount of consideration towards any one in the Territory not considered persona grata by his subordinates? Is it not his policy to demand justice from all crown tenants unless the official claim could no longer be upheld or substantiated? Is it a fact that, since I made the complaint, Mr. Coles has been handed his registration certificate for the farm, and this notwithstanding the fact that it is not in accordance with the Health Department’s conditions? When my complaints were made, and my fair demand for an inquiry insisted upon, the farm was short of water, and the administration was again haggling about repairing the pump or accepting any responsibility for providing a minimum supply of water. Mr. Coles was asked to pay £10 in advance before any one would be authorized to touch the work, and, although all my statements are claimed to be either distortions of facts or untruths, the engineer has been rushed out, and the pump placed in service once more. And what of the pump? The Minister must know that it was one never sold by Buzacott’s to perform the duties imposed upon it. It is not suitable for the work, and within the last few weeks the manufacturers of the pump have inspected it, and given a written certificate that it is altogether unsuitable for the work it is called upon to do, and is likely to break down at any moment. Yet, on every occasion it broke down before, Mr. Coles’ objections were met by the statement that it did so entirely as a result of his negligence.
Although the Minister indulges in heroics, and exhibits a keen desire to shield an officer, who is known to be responsible for most of the troubles that followed the attempt to establish a government hog farm in the Territory, he does not do Mr. Coles the justice of pointing out that his service in daily collecting the edible garbage of the city has saved the administration, not the few hundred pounds which, he says, has now been returned to Mr. Coles as an act of grace, but thousands of pounds that would have had to be paid to any contractor rendering similar efficient service. In conclusion, I wish to state that I stand by every statement I have made. All of them are true, and all are based on official documents. They point to the fact that a public inquiry is long overdue in regard to the treatment of the lessee of the Canberra pig farm. That being so, I insist that the Minister accede to my urgent request, and have the whole matter investigated by a tribunal independent of his department, or of any one who can be influenced by his officers. The Minister will then have an opportunity, if he desires it, of himself producing the documentary evidence, stated to be in the departmental papers, in support of tributes paid to the subordinate officer he is so anxious to defend. As a matter of fact, such evidence cannot be produced, because it docs not exist.
Mr.Scullin. - Who signed that statement?
– I am presenting it, not necessarily signed, for the purpose of counteracting the statement made by the Minister regarding the information supplied by me during the discussion on the Estimates.
– Who makes all the allegations in the statement that the honorable member has read?
– I am replying to the statement made by the Minister, which was, no doubt, prepared by the departmental officer. I ask that my charges be inquired into, in order to see whether they are true or otherwise. The Minister said that they were untrue, and it is for him to prove it.
.- It has been suggested by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) that the Commonwealth Government should provide funds for the succour of those who have had their money locked up in the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales. I think that we all have sympathy with the plight of Mr. Lang’s victims, but they are not properly the care of the Commonwealth Government.
– Yet they are citizens of the Commonwealth.
– Yes; but the effect of the honorable member’s proposal would be to transfer liability for the acts of the New South Wales Government from the people of New South Wales to the people of the Commonwealth. The Government Savings Bank of New South Wales is purely a State institution, and the difficulty should be remedied by the State authorities. The people of the rest of the Commonwealth should not have any more burdens foisted on them because of the troubles of New South Wales. If the Government of that State can give securities, and submits a business proposition, it can be considered, but it is a matter for the Commonwealth Bank Board, and not for this House.
Some time ago a proposal was made for the amendment of the Standing Orders to prevent repetition of the practice which has become common of two or three honorable members of the House holding up the business of this chamber by uselessly calling for divisions. The proposal was set aside on that occasion in the hope that the warning given would be all that was required to meet the situation; but now the practice has* been resumed in a worse form than before. I noticed that the Votes and Proceedings of the last all-night sitting comprised over twenty pages of printed matter, and consisted for the most part of division lists, in which from 40 to 50 members voted on one side and only three or four names were recorded on the other. I protest against the time of the House being wasted and unnecessary printing being caused by a few members insistingon calling for divisions when they are in a hopeless minority. I urge the Government to consider amending the Standing Orders so that an honorable member may not insist on a division being taken unless five other members support him.
– I desire to bring forward two matters which may seem unimportant, but which are of considerable moment to the groups of people directly concerned. From the shores of the Mornington Peninsula, and, in fact, all along the coast of Victoria, fishermen have sent representatives to me complaining of the increased cost of one of their principal tools of trade. I desire the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) to inquire into the matter, and see if he can help these struggling fishermen, because it seems to me that exploitation is taking place. A price list dated September, 1930, showed that a type of net in common use - it is of 1 1/2-in. mesh, 60 yards long and 400 meshes deep - was obtainable at £6 12s. 6d. ; but in February of this year the same net was priced at £8 6s. The arguments used by the sellers of these nets is that primage duty, sales tax and exchange arc responsible for the increase; but, so far as I can gather, the primage duty and the sales tax cannot be said to be the cause of the increase, though some of it may be due to the high exchange rate. Will the Minister make an investigation into the matter?
– Do these nets carry any duty?
– Not a great, deal. Mr. Gabb. - There must be primage duty.
– When the price lists were published the primage duty did not affect the cost. Owing to the depression, the fishermen are not selling so much fish as previously, and the price of their commodity has fallen. This is a serious matter to thousands of families, and an inquiry into the matter would do i:o harm. If the granting of duties is lo result in reduced wages and increased prices, my advocacy of the protectionist policy will be weakened. Since costs have fallen both in Australia and in Scotland, the tendency ought to be in the direction of lower prices.
Throughout Australia there are many postmasters who are classified as allowance postmasters. Although they have bad their salaries reduced, I make no complaint in that connexion, because there has been no discrimination ; but I do complain that they are paid only ls. an hour - a sweating rate - for any duties they perform between the hours of 0 p.m. and 8 p.m., and that they receive no holidays at all on pay. When they take a holiday they have to pay some one to relieve them. There may be reasons for the department’s action, although it appears to me to be a case of sweating in the Public Service. I hope that the Minister will investigate this matter.
– Reference has been made to the alleged duty on fishing nets and other nets from Scotland. The increased price of these goods cannot be attributed to any protective tariff, because the fishing nets used by fishermen in the Flinders electorate are free of duty.
– They bear a primage duty.
– It is true that they are subject to a primage duty; but that duty would not make much difference to their price. The increased cost is due chiefly to the exchange rates, which have increased considerably of late.
– Are not fishing nets made in Australia from imported material?
– No. They are imported from Scotland, and come in free of duty. This is one of many instances in which the tariff is blamed for increased prices, although in many such cases the articles in respect of which complaint is made are free of duty.
.- The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has read a long statement which obviously came from the same source as another statement which he did not read, but which occupied twelve pages of Ilansard some weeks ago. The political and personal vendetta against certain officers of my department, of which the honorable member has allowed himself to be the vehicle, has been going on for some years in Canberra. 1 regret that the honorable member has allowed himself to be used in this way. I shall not take up space in. Hansard by replying to the statement which he read. During the period that the honorable member was a member of the Cabinet, he was my colleague for several months, and heard frequently of the hog farm; but, being then a member of the Government, he took no action, nor did he make any inquiry regarding the treatment meted out to Mr. Coles. I have had this matter in mind constantly. The persons responsible for this vendetta do not care what vehicle they use, or by what means they achieve their ends, so long as they can besmirch the character’s of officers who are unableto defend themselves in this House. On a previous occasion when this matter was referred to, I said that I had made n personal investigation. I was compelled to do so because, during the past, two years, probably twenty attacks ofa, similar nature have been made. My personal investigation enables me to know what is true and what is not true in the allegations made. I can assure the honorable member that the statement that ho has read is far from the truth ; it is a gross distortion of facts. The reasons for this vendetta have nothing whatever to do with the hog farm; but, in order to injure some of my officers, the hog farm is used as a vehicle, even as the honorable member himself is being used, J have no doubt that the statement which the honorable member has read to-night is already in type for publication in the local press. I shall answer the statement, but not in Hansard. I shall send a letter to the honorable member, and also forward a copy of it to the local newspaper, and I have no doubt that it, also, will be published.
.- 1 should not have spoken had it not been for the remarks of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). I- heartily support tho proposal to eliminate useless divisions. I agree that, where only two or three members want a division, it should he sufficient if the heads arc counted. But the honorable member for Perth referred to a recent all-night sitting. Obviously he obtained his information from the Votes and Proceedings of this House. Had he been here on the occasions referred to, he would have participated in many divisions; but, like many others who ought to have been present, he was not in attendance. During the all-night sitting referred to, many injustices were done in connexion with the tariff. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) put through that iniquitous tax on cotton wool used in hospitals.
– Order ! I cannot allow that expression ; the honorable member must withdraw it.
– May I substitute the word “scandalous”?
– That word also would be out of order.
– Then I withdraw my statement, and say that, during the allnight sitting last week, the Labour party made its contribution to hospital week by passing a duty on cotton wool, which is largely used in hospitals. Honorable members who had previously opposed the duty withdrew their opposition, because of an assurance that the price would not be raised. I say that the protest by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. . Holloway) regarding the tariff is somewhat belated as there were at least 100 items concerning which a similar complaint could be made.
Mr.Forde. - The article complained’ of by the honorable member for Flinders is free of duty.
– The most flagrant case of injustice was that in which the Minister insisted upon increasing the duty on glass lamp chimneys merely because he had been informed that a certain Continental firm was likely to establish a factory in Britain. It is a great pity that Gilbert died so soon, as otherwise lie could have shown the world, in his whimsical way, how tariffs are made in Australia.
.- Again I bring before the Government the matter of granting assistance to depositors in the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, particularly to those who are aged. On a previous occasion the Treasurer intimated that if I could state specific cases he would be prepared to deal with them. I have presented some such cases to the honorable gentleman, one of which concerns an aged couple of about 69 years of age. The amount of their deposit in the bank is £900. They undertake that, if the Commonwealth Government will grant them a pension to enable them to exist they will repay the amount advanced by this Government when the State Savings Bank makes their money available. The Treasurer has not replied to my letter on the subject. I admit that he is a very busy man. He has been particularly engrossed lately coining attractive phrases about “ low-browed, leather-lunged “ individuals, and so on.
I think, with the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley), that the
Federal Government should grant some assistance to the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales. It is well known that that institution was subjected to systematic political propaganda on the part of enemies of the Labour party, designed deliberately to destroy the political existence of Mr. Lang. The attacks of the ex-Premier and the ex-State Treasurer of New South Wales, also of the Federal Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) were especially virulent. Following an irresponsible statement by the last-named gentleman a rush was caused on the bank which resulted in £3,000,000 being withdrawn from it the following day. Eventually the bank had to close its doors. However, the New South Wales State Government possesses Commonwealth bonds to the value of £30,000,000. Surely that is sufficient security to warrant this Government stepping in and assisting suffering depositors who have their life’s savings locked up in the bank. I plead with the Government to do something, and in the meantime to grant pensions to aged depositors who undertake to repay the amount they receivewhen the bank resumes payment.
I t cannot again be said that any people are suffering more from the depression than those in my electorate. The Prime Minister has been through it, and he must be aware of the conditions that exist. The mine at Minmi closed down seven years ago, that at Redhead five years ago, while those at South Aberdare and Stanford Merthyr ceased operations four years ago. On top of other troubles there were sixteen months’lockout.
– The men would not work. Starvation will do them good. They destroyed their own trade.
– The honorable member does not know what work is and would not work if it were given to him. His statements are unbalanced and irresponsible. I appeal to the Federal Government to grant some assistance to the unfortunate people in my electorate. On many occasions the Minister for Defence has been liberal in this respect. Probably he can go no further, and I, therefore, address my appeal direct to the Prime Minister. These people particularly need boots. In many cases in my electorate these unfortunate people have to go barefooted. There are considerable stocks of boots in both our military and naval stores, which could be put to good use if distributed to the unemployed. I appeal to the Prime Minister to use these surplus stores and perform a humane service that would be worthy of any government.
– The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) has raised a very important question to which the Government has paid considerable attention, the suspension of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales. I do not agree that the matter must be confined entirely to one State. It affects the whole of the Commonwealth of Australia. Admittedly the bank was guaranteed by the State Government of New South Wales, and it is primarily the responsibility of the Government of that State, but whatever the Commonwealth can do to relieve the position should be done. There is no power in the hands of the Commonwealth Government to deal with the matter directly, but representations can be made to the Commonwealth Bank. However, it is not fair that I should make a statement on so important a subjectat this late hour. I shall address myself to it again, in the course of a day or so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at1 1.9 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 October 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19311013_reps_12_132/>.