13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Eon. (J. H.Mackay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Post master-General consider the advisability of his department having more control over the “ B “ class broadcasting stations than it has at present?
– The Government is considering the control of both “ A “ class and “B” class stations, and will announce its policy in due course.
The following papers were presented : -
Audit Act - Finance 1930-31 - Treasurer’s Statement of Receipts and Expenditure for the yearended the 30th June, 1931, accompanied by the Report of the AuditorGeneral.
Ordered to be printed.
Norfolk Island - Report for year ended the 30th June, 1931.
– The Gawler Municipal Council, and other local governing bodies in South Australia are of opinion that a reduction of telephone charges would yield increased revenue to the department. Iask the Postmaster-General whether there is any likelihood of a reduction in the present rates?
– I remind honorable members that the purpose of a question is to elicit information, not to give it.
– Last year the operations of the telephone branch of my department showeda loss of £400,000, and the present indications arc that the results this year will not show any improvement. In those circumstances I hold out little hope ofany reduction of charges.
-Will the PostmasterGeneral investigate the possibility that the revenue of the telephone branch would be increased if the department did not insist upon applicants for new services contributing towards the cost of erecting the poles? Is the Minister aware that at many postal depots large numbers of telegraph poles which could be used to carry telephone lines are being eaten by white ants?
– I shall investigate the honorable member’s statement.
– Having regard to a statement made in the House of Commons yesterday that J apanese aggression in the Far East may become a grave danger to Australia, is the Minister for External Affairs prepared to make a statement to the House of the Government’s attitude in regard to the present trouble between China and Japan?
– It is inadvisable to make any statement in this Parliament concerning the possibility of aggression by a nation which is now friendly to us. I repeat my statement of yesterday that the Government is doing everything within its power - a very limited power in such matters - to bring about a peaceful settlement of the present unfortunate trouble in the Far East.
– The British Government is reported to have sent to Japan, through the League of Nations, a very strong note of protest. Nevertheless, yesterday members of the House of Commons were informed by the Secretary for Overseas Trade that licences had been issued for the export of arms to Japan in order that it might continue to make war upon China. In these circumstances, T. ask the Minister for External Affairs what his attitude will be at the Disarmament Conference?
– To the best of my recollection, the cablegram published in the newspapers stated that licenses had been issued by the British Government for the export of arms to both China and Japan. A convention for the control of the private manufacture and sale of arms has long been under consideration, but no effective result has yet been achieved. However, it would not be proper for the Commonwealth Government to attempt to dictate to any other government in the Empire regarding action such as that to which the honorable member has referred.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government intends to encourage a delegation of business men to accompany the political delegation to the Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa?
– The Government has not considered that proposal, and would not, I think, entertain it.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs say whether the newspaper report is correct that the price to be paid for grapes in connexion with the wine bounty shall be 10s. a ton less than it was last year. If that decision has been reached, will the Minister state the reasons for it? Is he aware of the effects of early frosts and drought in the grapegrowing districts?
– The price to be paid for grapes has been reduced by 10s. a ton. It was fixed, as in previous years, after a full investigation by the Chief Excise Officer of the Commonwealth. A substantial factor influencing the reduction was the enormous surplus stock of spirit in Australia at the present time.
– Having regard to the apparent success of aerial photography in connexion with the search for oil, will the Minister for Home Affairs confer with the Minister for Defence with a view to collaborating in the development of this science, and utilising the services of the Royal Australian Air Force?
– Excellent results have been obtained by aerial photography, and the services of the Air Force have been already utilized in this service. The honorable member’s suggestion will be considered.
– Will the Prime Minister state what steps have been taken by the Commonwealth Government to deal with the revolutionary organization known as the New Guard, which is at present drilling in military fashion and endangering the peace of the community?
– If the honorable member’s statement is correct, the control of such operations is primarily the responsibility of the State concerned.
Food Relief for Unemployed
– I ask the Minister for Home Affairs if he has ordered any diminution of the relief to be granted to unemployed persons in Canberra. If so, will he sympathetically consider a reversion to the policy introduced by the previous Government?
– I am not aware of any diminution of the relief available to unemployed citizens of Canberra, but I shall consider the honorable member’s suggestion with a view to providing as much work as can be financed for those in need of it.
Mr-. JAMES asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– Instructions were issued recently that certain men at the travelling unemployed camp who were on a list of men receiving weekly rations, and had qualified for enrolment on the roll for the last election of advisory councillors, were to apply to be registered for employment and to be given the same consideration as permanent residents of Canberra in respect of relief work. Onwork being made available, the issue of rations was to cease. The balance of the men were given one month’s notice, as from the 4th February, 1932, to vacate the camp. The camp was designed in the first place as a rest camp for travelling unemployed, and such men receive a “ walk-in “ and a “ walk-out” ration, and are allowed to remain at the camp for two weeks. Men who produce certificates from the hospital receive rations until they are completely recovered. No travelling unemployed person has been refused a “ walk-in “ and a “ walk-out “ ration. All the men in this camp entered the territory originally from New South Wales. In the ordinary course, they would have received their “ walk-in “ ration and their “ walk-out “ ration and have passed on to New South Wales. The Commonwealth, however, has maintained a large number of them for a considerable period, and granted them many concessions, and thus has saved the New South Wales Government the expenditure of such maintenance. These men are not residents of Canberra, and their maintenance is not a federal responsibility. To assume responsibility for such men would only result in attracting large numbers of unemployed to the Capital City. Consideration is being given to the question of continuing the camp on the present site.
Payment to Overseas Bondholders - Short-Term Indebtedness
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Has the Government considered, or does it propose to consider, the advisability of negotiating with overseas bondholders with a view to persuading them to share with the internal bondholders the sacrifices associated with the recent conversion loan?
– The burden of interest obligations of debtor countries caused by the heavy fall in world commodity prices is at present being considered on an international basis. It is also linked closely with the problem of war debts and reparations. Pending the holding of the proposed international conference in June. next to deal with these subjects, it is undesirable that any statement of policy should be made.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What amount has been paid to each of the States of the Commonwealth, respectively, in the form of special grants and subsidies, by the Commonwealth for each financial year from 1914 to 1931 inclusive?
– The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible.
– The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has asked a series of questions regarding the dumping of barbed wire and nails. Information is being obtained.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
With respect to the proposed appeal to the sugar producers of Australia to reduce voluntarily the price of sugar, in the event of such appeal proving ineffective to secure an adequate reduction, will the. Government take steps to compel the sugar interests to share the financial sacrifices of the country, on the lines of the sacrifices imposed by Parliament on bondholders, public servants and pensioners?
– As pointed out by me in reply to a question without notice on Wednesday last, a definite agreement waa entered into by the previous Government with those associated with the sugar industry. My Government recognizes the existence of that agreement, and it does not propose, by any direct action, that that agreement should be broken, but it feels that the time has come when the parties to the agreement should be invited to reconsider the matter with a view to arriving at a voluntary agreement.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Government has not yet had an opportunity of considering this matter, but will look into it at the first available opportunity.
asked the Minister for Works, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– Arrangements have been made to obtain the Spahlinger formula. This formula has been forwarded and will reach Australia shortly. Until this formula is received it is not practicable to indicate the nature or extent of the tests, or the length of time which will be occupied in testing the formula or reproducing the remedy.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– Sketch plans were prepared in 1924, but the whole question was left in abeyance because departmental requirements were adequately met by the existing accommodation. In these circumstances, and having regard to the economic situation, it is not proposed to take any action.
New South Wales Transport Act
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Whetherhe will take any steps to deal with the unfair application of the New South Wales Transport Act to mail contractors in that State?
– The New South Wales Transport Act relates to services in competition with the government railways. In many instances the mail services do not compete with the railways, and in these cases it is understood that the transport authorities grant exemption to the contractor. In other cases, where mail contractors do not carry passengers and parcels, they are unaffected. It is believed that mail contractors who have had to take out licences are few in number. The Government does not propose to take any action at present.
Motions (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to -
That the House will, at the next sitting, resolve itself into a committee to consider the Supply to be granted to His Majesty.
That the House will, at the next sitting, resolve itself into a committee to consider the ways and means for raising the Supply to be granted to His Majesty.
Debate resumed from the 18th February (vide page 115), on motion by Mr. Lyons -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– It is unusual for a Minister to follow immediately a colleague who has moved the second reading of a government measure; but a number of honorable members have intimated a desire that I should address the House at this stage. I am, however, prepared to abstain from speaking now if there is any objection to it.
Honorable members interjecting,
– I draw the attention of honorable members to the fact that, although interjections are disorderly, there appears to be a disposition in this new Parliament, on the part of certain honorable members, to interject- continuously. Such conduct will be severely dealt with. Some interjections are helpful and relevant, but others are discourteous, and I intend to deal very firmly with honorable members making interjections of the latter kind.
– This is a bill for the enforcement of what is generally known as the Financial Agreement. It is a measure directed to the enforcement of existing obligations. It deals with an existing agreement by which all the governments of Australia, Commonwealth and State, are bound, and its object is to make that agreement, with further subsidiary agreements - there are three altogether - effective in relation to all the parties. The object of the main financial agreement was the consolidation of the credit of the Commonwealth and the *> States. It was based upon the belief, which I consider to be well founded, that the financial standing of both the Commonwealth and the States would be improved if we put an end to the competition in borrowing which had raised interest rates, it was thought, against both the Commonwealth and the States. Provision was made for sinking funds, to be contributed to by the Commonwealth and the States, which would provide for the repayment of the debts of all parties within a specified period. The Financial Agreement assumed, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) said last night, the honesty of ail the parties to it, and their desire to carry out all its terms, to improve the credit of Australia and, therefore, benefit all classes of Australians.
Part I., clause 8. of the Financial Agreement sets up an Australian Loan Council, and confers upon the council the power to determine the amount and times of borrowing, on behalf of the Commonwealth and the States, with certain exceptions. Speaking generally, it is provided that future borrowings shall be arranged and made by the Commonwealth. Part II. is temporary in its nature, and it is not necessary to refer to it now. Part XII. demands very careful study in connexion with this bill. Many have assumed that the whole liability for the principal and the interest in regard to State as well at Commonwealth debts is legally imposed upon the Commonwealth by the provisions of the Financial Agreement, and that the substantial liability in respect of these matters falls on the Commonwealth. That was not the intention of those who prepared the agreement. The system which the agreement introduced is essentially a joint one, under which the Commonwealth and the States must perform their respective parts, and it would be quite impossible foi the Commonwealth to perform indefinitely the obligations of all the States as well as its own obligatons under the agreement. The interest liability of the Commonwealth and the States at the present time is £55,000,000 per annum, and it was obviously never intended that the whole of that sum should be paid from Commonwealth revenue. The plan of the agreement contained in Part III. is that in addition to the sinking fund contributions to be made by the Commonwealth and the States, the Commonwealth is to contribute annually toward* the payment of interest on State debts the sum of £7,584,912. That sum takes the place of what were known for many years as the per capita payments. It is provided that the Commonwealth will, in each year during a period of 58 years, provide this sum towards the interest payable by the” States. That is set out in paragraph *b of clause 2 of Part III. In paragraph c of section 2 it is provided that the States concerned shall supply the extra amount necessary, in addition to the equivalent of the per capita payments, to meet their interest a& it falls due from time to time. The words of paragraph c are -
Each Statu shall in each year during the same period of. fifty-eight years pay to the Commonwealth the excess over the amounts to be provided by the Commonwealth under the last preceding sub-clause necessary to make up a3 they fall due the interest charges falling due in that year on the public debt of that State taken over by the Commonwealth as aforesaid . . .
Therefore, the scheme is that the Commonwealth provides £7,5S4,912 towards the interest liability of the States, and the States provide the balance. The Commonwealth is to arrange all conversions, and the sinking fund provides ulti- mately for the repayment of the principal of the indebtedness of both the Commonwealth and the States.
Clause 1 of Part III. provides that, “ subject to the provisions of this part,” the Commonwealth will take over on the 1st July, 1929, the then existing public debts of the States, and will, in respect of the debts so taken over, assume as between the Commonwealth and the States the liabilities of the States to bondholders. Sir Edward Mitchell, K.C., at page 31 of his book on the Financial Agreement, states - lt is clear that, as regards all the Stat* debts taken over by the Commonwealth under clause 1 of Part III. of the first agreement “ as between the Commonwealth and the States “, that language precludes the owners of those particular public debts, i.e., those borrowed up to 1st July, 1928, being able to enforce rights against the Commonwealth directly under that agreement. Their direct remedies remained against the States to whom they respectively originally lent.
This agreement, therefore, does not make a contract between the Commonwealth and the bondholders. There is another provision which is relevant in this connexion. It is paragraph a of clause 2, which reads as follows: -
Subject to this clause the Commonwealth will pay to bondholders from time to time interest payable on the public debts of the States taken over by the Commonwealth as aforesaid other than debts due by the States to the Commonwealth.
Under that provision the Commonwealth agrees, subject to this clause, to pay the bondholders the interest due. That is an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. The whole financial agreement is an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States, and the Commonwealth agrees with the States that, subject to this clause, it will pay ohe interest to the bondholders. I have already read the paragraph (c) which gives meaning to the phrase, “subject to this clause.” The effect of those words is to import a condition into the liability of the Commonwealth to pay the interest to the bondholders. That condition is the provision of the necessary excess, or additional, amount by the States.
I am, at the moment, discussing entirely the technical, legal aspect of this matter. It is important that this should be understood in order that the first part of the bill now before the House may be’ intelligible. The States owe money within Australia, and they also owe money outside it. There are internal and external liabilities of the States, and there are also internal and external liabilities of the Commonwealth. These may be divided into two classes, those incurred before and those incurred after the Financial Agreement was reached, and we may state the position in this way: - The Commonwealth is obviously directly liable with regard to all Commonwealth bonds, whether issued before or after the Financial Agreement, by virtue of the contract contained in the bonds. This liability attaches to both the internal and the external borrowing of the Commonwealth. In regard to the internal liabilities of the Stales, all these, whenever contracted, whether before or after the agreement, are now represented by Commonwealth bonds, and the Commonwealth is liable by virtue’ of those bonds. There is yet another class of liability, namely, the external State public debts incurred before the Financial Agreement. It was in relation to a liability of this kind that default by New South Wales occurred recently. The contracts in those cases are not set out in Commonwealth bonds.
The loan in relation to which default took place was a pre-agreement State loan represented by New South Wales bonds, and in respect of which no bonds have been issued by the Commonwealth. The contract was between the bondholders and the State of New South Wales. The Commonwealth was bound to pay the interest, but it was bound, not to the State bondholders, but to the other States, in accordance with the terms of the Financial Agreement; that is to say, it was so bound if the conditions of the clause which I have just read were satisfied. The State which itself had failed to provide the moneys required under paragraph c of clause 2 of Part III. was not in a position to compel the Commonwealth to find a penny. So far as the other States were concerned they might or might not have such a right; on this occasion they were content to endorse the action of the Commonwealth, and to waive any rights they may have had. Accordingly, in this case, there has been no legal, technical default by the Commonwealth, either to the State bondholders concerned, because with them the Commonwealth had no contract, and no obligation to them was directly imposed on the Commonwealth by the Financial Agreement and the legislation validating it; or to the other States, because the conditions imposing an obligation on the Commonwealth had not been satisfied, as the money had not been provided under paragraph c. In particular, New South Wales was not in a position to sue on account of its own default.
– Did the other States specifically waive their rights?
– I do not know that they specifically waived their rights, but their representatives were present, and sat silent in acquiescence. So far I have referred to the technical position in the strictest legal sense, and it is not an accident that this is the technical legal sense.It depends upon the recognition of the legal principle that an Australian parliament, Commonwealth or State, has no power to legislate with respect to contracts which are not subject to Australian law; that is, to other than Australian contract. If an Australian, whether a private individual or the representative of a government, makes a contract, say, in France, for the loan of money, and contracts to repay that money there, that is a French contract which is governed by French law, and no legislation in Australia can affect the matter. For example, we have recently passed through this Parliament a conversion act compelling certain dissentients to convert their holdings in Australian stock, State and Federal. If that act had been applied to contracts which were not Australian contracts, that is, to contracts made abroad in England or the United States of America, the legislation would be entirely ineffective - the contracts would have remained unaltered in their terms. Lawyers who are interested in the subject will probably remember the cases of Spiller v. Turner, and of the British Australasian Tobacco Company, in which” these principles were laid down. It was on that account that the Financial Agreement was drawn in the manner in which it now appears.
But whatever the technical legal aspect of the matter, I remind honorable members that, in the long run, all these external pre-agreement State debts - unless they are paid off on maturity out of the sinking fund or otherwise - will be concerted. They will then become Commonwealth debts, and so will be undoubtedly a direct liability on the Commonwealth. I have submitted to the House a legal argument based on the terms of the Financial Agreement. I do not suggest that that general legal position, even if it be accepted by all lawyers - and I think, myself, it is sound - has been present to the minds of the bondholders who hold securities, for whatever period of borrowing. There is no doubt that there was a general understanding that the credit of the Commonwealth was behind the public debts of the Commonwealth, and also of all the States. That being so, it is desirable that legal effect should be given to that general belief and understanding, and that, after the existing legal position has been made clear, no doubt should be left in the minds of the public as to the position hereafter to be occupied by the Commonwealth Government in relation to these matters.
So long as all parties intend and endeavour to carry out their obligations, no difficulty arises, and the technical legal position to which I have referred in relation to pre-agreement debts could be allowed to remain without causing any trouble or difficulty. But the position is radically changed when a government, a party to the agreement, neither intends nor endeavours to perform that agreement, and when it elevates the breaking of promises into a principle of public policy. In such circumstances it is the opinion of the Commonwealth Government that it becomes incumbent upon it and upon the Parliament to leave no room for doubt as to the true intention of the Commonwealth, at least. The Financial Agreement cannot be altered without the unanimous consent of the parties to it, or, in my opinion, at any rate, without an amendment of the Constitution.
– Has that consent been sought?
– No, and it would not be worth seeking.
– - Does not the AttorneyGeneral think that the Premier of New South Wales would be only too glad to have the - agreement amended in such a way as to make the Commonwealth liable for the debts of the States
– He might agree to * do it one day, but that would not be any guarantee as to what he would do the next. The Commonwealth can. if Parliament approves, accept obligations further than those laid down in the agreement. Therefore, to remove all doubt, and to get rid of the present technical position, this bill asks the Parliament to accept on behalf of the Commonwealth, unconditional, direct statutory liability to the bondholders in respect of State debts.
That is the object of clause 4, which contains these words -
The Commonwealth will pay to the bondholders from time to time interest payable on the public debts taken over by the Commonwealth from the States in pursuance of clause 1 of Part III. of the agreement contained in the schedule to the Financial Agreement Validation Act 1028, other than debts due by the States to the Commonwealth,-
Those words are, with certain necessary drafting amendments, the same words which I read from clause 2, of Part III., the only difference being the omission of the words “ subject to this clause “. Clause 4 goes on to provide -
Sub-clause 2 gives rights to bondholders to sue in order to give effect to the liability, and sub-clause 3 appropriates the Consolidated Revenue of the Commonwealth to meet such liabilities.
– What would be the position of the bondholders if Parliament amended this legislation?
– It would be open to Parliament to amend the legislation, but as time passes, all these debts will become Commonwealth securities, and I do not think that much difficulty will arise in the future.
– Could a bondholder obtain the assistance of the High Court in collecting his money during the period for which the maturity date of his bonds was extended under the Financial Emergency Bill i
– Obviously all Commonwealth bonds are already the direct liability of the Commonwealth. Subclause 4 empowers the Commonwealth to sue for moneys which it pays on account of a State, and sub-clause 5 makes such power retrospective so as to validate beyond any doubt action taken last year in connexion with default which took place, and also to cover an existing pending action against New South Wales. So much for Part II. of the bill.
Honorable members are aware that last year New South Wales defaulted in regard to certain interest payments. The Commonwealth paid the amount, as it was entitled to do under the Financial Agreement, and as it was bound to do in the sense which I have explained. A writ was issued on the 13th of April, 1931, and proceedings continued in that and another action until November, when notice of discontinuance was filed. The first action, that which began in April, was for the recovery of £557,519, and the second, which began on the 10th of June, was for the recovery of £220,S75. A great deal of work was done in connexion with these actions, but an agreement was reached in October for their settlement, and the actions were discontinued in November. All that happened in the actions was the issue of the writ and preparation for the delivery of a statement of claim, but it was found that there was so much work in preparing the statement of claim, that it was not possible to draft and deliver it to the defendants, The actions were settled on the basis of an agreement by New South Wales to pay the amount owing, and this was done by what I regard as the mere giving of an I.O.TJ. A further condition was that New South Wales should enter the Loan Council and be bound by the. provisions of the Premiers plan. At the time I agreed with what was done last year, and I agree with it still. I believe that the Government, in the circumstances then existing, acted in the right way. It was the proper course to issue a writ, and then seek to arrange an agreement rather than continue protracted litigation between the Commonwealth and a State on such a matter. It was right for the Commonwealth Government to act, at that time at least, upon the assumption that the agreement wouldbe carried out by New South Wales, and I have no objections to offer to what the Commonwealth Government then did. This year, however, the position is very different. Last year the Government of New South Wales at least gave a week’s notice of its intention to default. This time there was no reason to suppose, until the evening before the interest accrued, that it would default. On this occasion there was not only a more deliberate breach of the Financial Agreement than occurred last year, but also a deliberate breach of the agreement upon which the action was settled last year, which was that the Premiers’ plan would be faithfully complied with. Further, the Premier of New South Wales stated that he had in hand an amount of £458,000, and on being asked on the Friday afternoon if he would on the Saturday morning pay that sum into the Commonwealth account towards meeting the interest commitments of his State, he promised to do so. Yet, when inquiry was made on the Saturday morning as to whether that had been done, it was discovered that that promise also had been broken.
– Was such promise given ?
– It has been officially denied.
– A public statement was issued on the Friday, recording the arrangement that had been made for the paying in of this £458,000. This statement was issued with the concurrence of the Premier of New South Wales. Further, on the day before the announcement of the default, the Government of New South Wales received from the Commonwealth the sum of £243,000 representing its monthly share of the per capita payments then due. That money was provided by the Commonwealth to meet the interest payments of New South Wales, and for no other purpose. Yet the Government of New South Wales was not prepared to utilizeeven that money for meeting its interestcommitments. In view of these facts and circumstances, it appeared to the Commonwealth Government that some other course was necessary than to merely issue a writ and hope for another agree ment, which, like the last, might be broken as soon as it became inconvenient to keep it. The Commonwealth Government was faced with entirely unprecedented circumstances, and the House, in considering this legislation, must realize that. The Government of New South Wales has adopted as a deliberate policy the practice of making agreements when a benefit can be obtained thereby, and of breaking them when it suits its purpose to do so. This practice has not only been adopted as a deliberate policy in action, but has actually been publicly defended by those who claim their place in public life because of their support of this policy. The mere word of an honorable man is sufficient to bind him. A legal agreement binds all who are parties to it, and such an agreement can be enforced against an ordinary individual by suing him upon it, and, if judgment is obtained, by issuing execution against his goods, chattels, land or other possessions. But in the case of default by a State, such measures are neither efficient nor adequate. Our experience last year showed the difficulty of obtaining a judgment against a State, and the delay incidental to such procedure. Further, a judgment obtained against a State could not be enforced by the sale of the State’s property, because that would be impracticable, and if, as some persons have suggested, a receiver were appointed, and put into State offices under a judgment of the High Court, forcible resistance might lead to serious civil trouble. Accordingly it is desirable to apply some other method.
The party to which I belong has been returned to this House with a definite and clear mandate from the people of the Commonwealth, including, I believe, the people of New South Wales, to deal with this matter by an appropriate and effective method. The Country party has been returned with an equallyclear mandate, and I believe that the members of the Labour party, who form the Opposition, are with us in principle on this matter. When the financial agreement was drafted, it was foreseen that there was just a possibility of default on the part of a party, and, accordingly, special legislative powers were conferred upon this Parliament. Section 105 a3 represents a compromise in language between the various parties represented at the negotiations, and it is uponthat section that the legislation now before the House is founded. Section 105 a3 is in these terms: “ The Parliament” - that is, the Commonwealth Parliament - “ may make laws for the carrying out by the parties thereto of any such agreement “. The object of the section is to enable the Commonwealth Parliament, by legislative action, to compel any party, the. Commonwealth Government or Executive, or a State Government or Executive, to fulfil its obligations under the agreement. It is in pursuance of that power that the legislation now being discussed has been introduced. It is legislative action to compel the performance of an obligation which exists. When the question whether an obligation exists or not, or whether or not an obligation has been performed arises, the party affected is entitled, in relation to all matters falling within federal jurisdiction, to a decision of the High Court upon the matter. This Parliament is not able, by its own mere word, tosay “ we state, allege or enact that the obligations of a particular State under this agreement are so-and-so and it must perform those obligations “ ; but it has power to legislate to compel the States to carry out such obligations as do exist. The final decision as to whether a particular obligation exists or not, and its extent and the degree to which it has been performed, is necessarily a matter for judicial determination, and that principle has been carefully borne in mind in the preparation of this measure. Any State or person against whom action is taken under this legislation will, if he takes the appropriate procedure, have his liability determined by the High Court, and a provision is contained in. clause 19 of the bill to the effect that if any question arises as to the liability of the Commonwealth or a State under the financial agreements, or the liability of any person to make a payment to the Commonwealth or a State under this legislation or by virtue of this legislation, it is at once to be removed to the High Court for determination.
The bill is based upon the view that a more prompt and effective procedure than that by way of action in the High
Court is required, and that it is necessary to have a procedure which cannot indefinitely be delayed by an objecting party. The essential provisions of the bill are to be found in clauses 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Honorable members, by reading clause 7, will see that when the proper procedure has been adopted, certain specified revenue of a State becomes payable to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. Under clause8 payment to the Commonwealth Treasurer operates as a discharge of the liability of the individual to a State. Under clause 9 the Commonwealth may sue for the recovery of moneys falling within the specified revenue. Under clause 10 a person is prohibited within the relative period from paying the moneys falling within the specified revenue to any one other than the Treasurer of the Commonwealth or a person appointed by him.
– Does that mean the whole of the specified revenue?
– It means certain selected revenues. Clause 11 is, perhaps from a practical point of view, the most important provision in the bill. It reads -
A payment made in contravention of the last preceding section-
For example, a payment made to a State or State authority when it should have been made to the Commonwealth Treasurer or a person appointed by him - shall not operate in discharge or reduction of any liability to the State of the person by whom or on whose behalf the payment is made, but, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary or any payment to the State, or any assignment (whenever made) by the State of its rights in any liability, the liability shall, subject to this Act, continue to exist until it is discharged by payment to the Commonwealth in accordance with this Act.
The effect of that provision is that where revenue has been specified in the proper manner, an obligation of the debtor - for example, a person who is liable to pay income tax to the State - is not discharged by payment to the State, and if the taxpayer pays the State he is not only guilty of an offence, but also still owes the money to the Commonwealth. With this provision in operation it is unlikely that a State which is within the operation of the Act will receive very much of the specified revenue. The object of these provisions is to prevent the State from receiving what I have called the specified revenue, and to require the State to provide funds for the purpose of satisfying its obligations, and for no other purpose.
Two alternative procedures are provided in the bill. One procedure may normally be. adopted if similar circumstances recur, although I should think that the passing of the legislation itself ought to bring about a solution of the existing difficulties; that there should be no need to put it into operation. Another procedure set out in clause 6 is designed to dealwith cases of great urgency. The procedure under clause 5 is that, first of all, the Auditor-General can be required to give a certificate to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth setting out the amount of money due and payable and unpaid by a State to the Commonwealth under the financial agreements, and the items in respect of which the sums making up the amount are payable.
– Is it on the certificate of the Auditor-General that legal action will be taken?
– Can the AuditorGeneral act only after the close of the financialyear?
– He can act “whenever requested by the Treasurer to do so “. Such a certificate may be obtained at any time. We thought it might be undesirable to wait until the close of the financial year.
The next step is the publication of the certificate in the Government Gazette.
– How many of the general public read the Gazette?
– The Gazette is available to all who will be interested. Having obtained the certificate of the Auditor-General and had it published in the Government Gazette, the next step is for the Attorney-General to apply to the High Court for a declaration that the amount set’ forth in the certificate is due and payable and unpaid. The Treasurer may apply for a declaration as to the whole amount or as to any one or more of the sum’s included in the certificate. It is provided that the certificate of the Auditor-General shall . be prima facie evidence of the matters which it sets forth. It is hoped that this will save a good deal of time. After a declaration has been obtained from the High Court the matter must come before Parliament.
To recapitulate, honorable members will see that first the certificate of the Auditor-General must be obtained; secondly, the certificate must be published in the Government Gazette; and, thirdly, an application must be made to the High Court for a declaration that the amounts referred to in the certificate are due by the States to the Commonwealth.
The next step is the parliamentary procedure. It is provided that each House of the Parliament may resolve that the provisions to which I have referred shall apply in relation to the State specified in the motion, to the extent of the amount declared by the High Court, with respect to the “ specified revenue “ of that State. “ Specified revenue “ means “ such revenue or class of revenue of a State as is specified or described in a resolution passed by each House of the Parliament in pursuance of this act “. The parliamentary resolutions may provide that the income tax revenue of the State concerned, or any other State revenue, may be applied for the purposes set out.
– Would such a decision apply to every taxpayer who contributed to that class of revenue?
– What would happen if more money was received than was required ?
– Certain adjustment provisions are included in the bill.
Honorable members interjecting,
– This is the second time that I have had to call attention to the frequency of interjections. The Attorney-General is entitled to make his speech in his own way, within the limits of the Standing Orders. Every honorable member will have an ample opportunity to express his views on the subject. In these circumstances, I must insist that when an honorable member is addressing the House he shall be given a fair opportunity to state his case, and shall not be subjected to disorderly interjections.
– Clause 7 of the bill provides that as from a date to be fixed by proclamation, and during the currency of the proclamation, the specified revenue of the State shall be payable to the Treasurer, or if the Treasurer, by notice in the Gazette, so directs, to authorized persons. The proclamation may be revoked when it is thought proper to revoke it.
– Will these provisions apply to municipalities, such as the Municipality of Manly?
– No. An alternative procedure’ is set out in clause 6 of the bill. This is designed to meet cases of urgency in which Parliament is prepared to act without a declaration of the High Court having first been obtained; but it is provided that any such action shall be subject to any subsequent declaration of the High Court. As under the provisions of clause 5, the first step is the obtaining of a certificate by the Auditor-General in accordance with the provisions of sub-clause 1 of clause 5. Such certificate must be published in the Government Gazette. If urgent action is desired, motions may then be moved in each House of the Parliament, under clause 6, to the effect -
That the certificate be approved and adopted and that by reason of urgency it is desirable that the provisions of sections 7 to 13 inclusive of this part should apply immediately in relation to the States specified in the motion . . . and should have effect with respect to the specified revenue of that State.
If such resolutions are passed, a proclamation may be made in accordance with the provisions of clause 7 of the bill, and “ the specified revenue of the State “ will become subject to the provisions of the measure, and must be paid to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth instead of to the Treasurer of the State. It is provided in sub-clause 3 of clause 6 that a declaration may be obtained from the High Court while the procedure which I have outlined is going on. In other words, a certificate may be obtained from the Auditor-General and published in the Gazette, and resolutions may be introduced in each House of Parliament, contemporaneously with the making of an’ application to the High Court. The purpose of this provision is to avoid delay.
– What delays are likely to occur?
– It is quite impossible to answer that question; but it may be observed that it is a three days’ procedure so far as the notice of the application to the High Court is concerned. Every effort has been made to ensure that the procedure shall be as speedy as is consistent with the giving of proper notice to the public, the State, and Parliament.
These are the main provisions of .the bill ; but certain other provisions in Part IV. of the measure deal with enforcement against other funds than the revenue of a State. Clause 14, which is the first clause in this part of the bill, confers power upon the Commonwealth to retain certain moneys received on behalf of a State by virtue of the Financial Agreements, or of any decision of the Loan Council. It is provided that those moneys shall be charged with the due performance by the State of its obligations under the Financial Agreements and may be applied in the discharge of any obligations of the State which have accrued under those agreements. But there is an important proviso that if the Auditor-General certifies that the obligations of the State under those agreements have been satisfied, or if the High Court determines that no amount was due and payable and unpaid by the States of the Commonwealth in pursuance of those agreements, the moneys which have so come into the possession or control of the Commonwealth shall be dealt with as set out in clause 18 of the bill, which deals with the procedure in the event of a judgment in favour of a State.
– Could the Commonwealth seize these moneys before taking any of the steps outlined?
– This procedure can operate only “ during the currency of any proclamation.” This part of the bill brings into question the propriety of applying loan moneys due to a State to the discharge of the current obligations of the State. In that connexion I merely make two comments. The first is, as I have already pointed out, that it will be a matter for determination at the time whether this power should be exercised. The second is that, as at present advised, I find it very difficult indeed to conceive how anybody with a sense of responsibility could agree to allow loan moneys to reach the hands of any government which was repudiating its obligations .in respect to interest or principal on other loans. It appears to me to be ihe logically necessary result of such a course of action that no loan moneys should be made available to such a government because it does not recognize its obligations in regard to its current loans.
– A government could not possibly borrow money under those conditions.
– No. The only other provisions in this part of the bill are contained in clause 15, and they also become operative only during the currency of a proclamation. Clause 15 relates to moneys held by banks on behalf of a State, and provides that the chief executive officer of any bank, or the manager of any branch of a bank, may be required to render to the Treasurer, or an authorized person, a return of the amount of the balance to the credit of the State to which a proclamation relates, and pay to the Treasurer any such amounts as he may demand. The receipt of the Treasurer will be a sufficient discharge to the bank in respect of such moneys. The effect of this provision is that the Commonwealth would be entitled to any amounts standing to the credit of a State in respect of which a proclamation has been issued, and a State would not be able to draw upon them. There is also a provision that any transactions under this clause may be reviewed by the High Court. If the Commonwealth could be shown to have acted wrongly in any such matter the State and the bank concerned would have its remedies.
Part V. of the bill provides for the adjustment of accounts with a State in respect of which a proclamation has been issued. Under the provisions of this part of the measure the Treasurer is required to keep an account of the moneys received, and the Auditor-General is authorized to give the Treasurer a certificate upon the discharge of all the liabilities of the State. Clause 18 provides that notwithstanding any proceedings under this act to which the Commonwealth is a party, if, in the final judgment of the High Court, it is declared that no amount was due and payable, or that a smaller amount was due and payable than was set forth in the certificate, the moneys received by the Commonwealth in respect of the State shall be paid by the Commonwealth to the State, subject to any allowances which, in the opinion of the High Court, are fair and equitable. [Leave to continue given.’) In effect the clause means that the High Court may order repayment to the State if the AuditorGeneral, the Parliament, and the Government have erred. It is an attempt to provide for the effective enforcement of -an obligation already undertaken by the parties to the Financial Agreement. If put into operation it only means that a State pays, out of money belonging to it, what it has already contracted to pay. Unless we in this National Parliament are prepared to defend that principle, the future of Australia is dark indeed
Some criticism has been levelled against the Government of the Commonwealth for not having forthwith made- an arrangement to meet the liability of New South Wales on this last occasion. I have already pointed out that it was only on the evening before the day that the payment fell due that information was conveyed to this Government that the State of New South Wales was on the eve of default. I am afraid that when default took place last year, a great many people formed the idea that it did not matter very much as all was fixed up; the Commonwealth paid; New South Wales would later sign a piece of paper; and all would be well No very real or permanent impression was produced on the public mind. It is important in the interests of Australia as a whole that such an impression should be produced upon the public mind in relation to the significance of deliberate default by a government. I’f a government is at liberty deliberately to default, then surely no individual can properly be asked to honour his obligations. A course of procedure such as that adopted by the Government of New South Wales means the undoing of our civilization. Apart altogether from the legal points to which I have referred, and apart from the actual difficulty of arranging t« raise the money here and transferring it to London, it was very desirable that everybody should understand exactly what had been done and whose was the fault. I think that the people of Australia do realize that to-day. Further, the Commonwealth Government desired, if possible, to obtain this amount of £458,000 from the proper source, namely, the funds of the State of New SouthWales, before it engaged the credit of the Commonwealth to that extent. It is hoped that that amount of money may still be found by that State. Up to the present that has not been done.
The course adopted by the Commonwealth Government in emphasizing the significance of default, and in then agreeing to make the necessary provision, and in introducing this legislation, accepting, unambiguously, liability for the future, but at the same time declaring that this Parliament is determined to enforce the obligations entered into under the Financial Agreement, by both the Commonwealth Government and the State Governments, is the course best calculated to promote the true and ultimate interests of Australian credit. I believe that this bill will do a great deal to improve the credit of the Commonwealth. We must now either act - and if we act, it must be effectively and decisively - or allow matters to drift. Allowing matters to drift means inevitable disaster to everybody in the Commonwealth. There are those who profess to protect, particularly, the interests of the poor and the needy in our midst. There can be nothingless designed to promote the interests of those people than a policy of neglect of obligations. The interests of all, but particularly of those who are least able to protect themselves, depend upon the recognition by governments of their obligations under the law of the land. The rich man is able to protect himself; he can hire defence. The poor man depends upon an honest and a faithful government. No government can be so described unless it is honest and faithful in the discharge of its public obligations. Accordingly, this measure is designed as surely in the interests of those who are poor and suffering in our midst as in the interests of anybody else in the community. Any other view may appeal to ignorance, to prejudice and to passion, but, I am sure, will not appeal to the common-sense of the people of Australia.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Scullin) adjourned.
Public Servantsand Elections - Financial Agreement Enforcement Bill - Duty on Artificial Manures - Canberra Unemployment Relief
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I desire to bring before the notice of the House, and particularly of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Hawker), a matter of serious concern, which affects a responsible officer in the Commonwealth Department. I have, at all times, taken intense pride in the fact that our Commonwealth public servants dissociate themselves absolutely from activities of a political nature, and give unswerving loyalty to the government of the day. Particularly do they refrain from participating in a partisan manner in an election campaign. It is for that reason that I am concerned about the matter which I shall submit to the House. During the last election campaign an emergency committee operated in South Australia, representing the political organizations of the Liberal Federation, the Country party, and a body known as the Citizens’ League. I formed the opinion that many of its efforts were of a remarkable character. That to which I shall allude is unfortunate in that it should involve a responsible Commonwealth officer, the head of his department. I hope that some adequate explanation may be forthcoming to cover his action, which otherwise will leave a stigma upon the splendid traditions of the Service. I shall read the following communication and allow honorable members to judge for themselves. It is written upon the official notepaper of the South Australian branch of the Repatriation Department, and bears a file number. It is headed “G.P.O. Box 902e, Pulteneystreet, Adelaide,” is dated the 10th December, 1931, and reads - 10th December, 1931.
If your son is still unemployed, I shall be glad if you will arrange for him to report to the Emergency Committee in connexion with the forthcoming elections - whose office is situated at Trustee Buildings, Grenfell-street, Adelaide - at 11 a.m. on Friday, 11th December, or as soon as possible thereafter.
When reporting, it will be necessary to mention the Legacy Club.
The employment is only of a temporary nature.
That letter demands a. very searching inquiry and an adequate explanation. It indicates that the department was used to render service to a partisan organization. If any indiscretion is attributable to the officer concerned, he should be appropriately dealt with. He cannot claim ignorance of what was behind the request of the Emergency Committee, as the communication states that the services of the youth were required during the “forthcoming election “. . It may be claimed that the official, in a desire to provide employment for this lad, was prepared to use the services ofthe department. That was quite unnecessary, as he could have advised the Emergency Committee to get in touch with the Legacy Club direct.
– That will have to be ascertained by the Minister. Evidently the Emergency Committee applied to the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation for the services of boyswho were the sons of returned soldiers in connexion with the general election.
-The person to whom the honorable member is referring may have been a war orphan.
– That would not excuse what was done. Soldiers and their families are cared for by various organizations, including the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Association, the Limbless Soldiers Association, the Tubercular Soldiers Association, the Legacy Club - which -has a special interest in the welfare of Avar orphans - and the Emergency Committee should have ap plied to them if it desired to employ persons who unfortunately were suffering by reason of war service. Through the intervention of a Government Department the Commonwealth has been directly involved in expense in connexion with this political employment. Government departments should keep themselves entirely free of party political associations, and I have brought this matter before the House in the hope of preventing the recurrence of any such incident.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin)was good enough to notify me this morning of his intention to speak on this matter, and had the adjournment not been moved till this afternoon, as is usual on Fridays, Iwould, I believe, have been able to supply himwith fuller details of the incident, including the names of the junior officers concerned. I am, however, able to offer an explanation whichwill allay any fear that members of the Public Service have been exceeding their duties by taking sides during a political campaign. The Deputy Commissioner for Repatriation is also the senior officer in charge of the division established under section 7 and 7a of the Repatriation Act to deal with the education and training of. soldiers’ children. It endeavours to obtain for them temporary employment as clerks, typists and office boys,whch will give them practical experience. As officer in charge of that section of the repatriation branch in Adelaide, the Deputy Commissioner signed the letter which has aroused the suspicion of the honorable member for Hindmarsh.
– Not suspicion, but resentment.
– At successive elections different political organizations requiring temporary assistance, and desiring to give preference to the orphansof soldiers, have naturally applied to the section of the Repatriation Department established by Parliament for the education and training of such children. The application to which the honorable member for Hindmarsh referred was made by a newolitical organization established in South Australia; on other occasions similar applications were made by other organizations, and officers anxious to do their best for the children under their charge, made the services of the trainees available to any organization, regardless of its political complexion. The fact that it was not done on this occasion for the organization of which the honorable member was campaign director was doubtless due to the fact that it did not use this channel of employment.
– It should not use it.
– This section of the department was set up with the approval of previous parliaments to look after the interests of soldiers’ children, and it is the duty of the officers in charge of it to notify the children under their care of any temporary employment that is available. ‘The fact that a girl or boy might be employed in typing political matter does not affect the principle; the same attention would have been given to any application, no matter from what political organization it had been received.
– Apparently, it is not necessary to subsidize the soldiers’ labour bureaux.
– They do not confine their operations to soldier’s’ orphans as this section of the Repatriation Department does. It seeks to give them practical experience during their training, and when the training is complete, endeavours to find employment for them, as do many other educational institutions. The action of which complaint has been made to-day was entirely impartial; it was taken not to help any political organization, but rather for the benefit of the children concerned. I cannot see that this practice derogates in any degree from that high standard of impartiality and loyalty to whatever government may be in power which honorable members rightly expectto be maintained by the Public Service of the Commonwealth.
.- I request the Prime Minister to forward by telegram to the State Premiers a synopsis of the Financial Agreement Enforcement Bill, so that the governments of the different States may have an opportunity of knowing what is proposed before the consideration of the measure is resumed by this House.
The tariff schedule of 1901 placed duties of 15 per cent, and 25 per cent. on sulphate of ammonia as a chemical. At that date it was not used to any extent as a fertilizer, but in recent years its manurial value has been appreciated, and it ~is now used extensively in rural industries throughout the Commonwealth. Parliament has provided that superphosphates if manufactured within the Empire shall be admitted duty free; a small duty is imposed on superphosphates imported from foreign countries. The schedule admits “ manures, n.e.i. “ duty free, but by some extraordinary reasoning the Trade and Customs Department decided some years ago that nitrates and other fertilizers might be used as substitutes for sulphate of ammonia, which they classified as a chemical subject to the 15 and 25 per cent, duties. That is ridiculous. I have repeatedly protested against this ruling, and I urge that while the schedule remains in its present form these fertilizers, including sulphate of ammonia, which are not imported for use as chemicals, shall be admitted duty free. It should be unnecessary to remind the House of the wonderful results that have followed the extensive use of artificial manures. Any honorable member who appreciates the need for the extension of land settlement and the increase in rural employment will admit that fertilizers imported from abroad should not be subject to duty. I hope that early action will be taken to give effect to what was undoubtedly the intention of Parliament.
.- The Attorney-General this morning protested the concern of the present Government for the poor and unemployed, but the callousness of Ministers towards those in need is indicated by the reply given this morning to a question I addressed to the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Parkhill) regarding unemployment relief in Canberra. I understand that for the last two years the unemployed living in the various camps were allowed full rations by direction of the previous Government. The present Minister for Home Affairs proposes to discontinue that maintenance, and in future travelling unemployed are to receive rations only on arrival and departure from the Federal Capital Territory. That is harsh treatment of people who want to work, and through no fault of their own cannot do so. The reply that I received from the Government set out that the responsibility of supplying food relief to these men rested with the Government of New South Wales, and not with the Commonwealth authorities. The unemployed have interviewed me, and I find that a considerable number of them come from the States of Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. Twelve of them have been refused rations, and after the 24th of this month, no more rations will be issued to 43 of them. I claim that this is inhuman treatment of men who are in dire distress through no fault of their own. The claim of the Government that the feeding of the unfortunate section of the people who are without means of sustenance is not a responsibility of the Commonwealth will not bear investigation, in view of the fact that the persons to whom I refer are temporary residents of the Federal Capital Territory. My firm belief is that it is the desire of the Government to embarrass the Government of New South Wales by throwing on it the responsibility of maintaining these men. The Federal authorities do very little in the direction of providing food relief for the unemployed, and the time has arrived when the resources of the Commonwealth should be available to relieve the suffering of this unfortunate section.
I desire to correct a misrepresentation by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), who stated last night, on the motion for the adjournment of the House, that machinemen could earn £6 a’ day in the coal-mining industry. That is a wild and incorrect statement, as many of them receive less than the basic wage. I cannot understand the Minister making such an assertion, unless it was as a result of the banquet which he attended last night.
– The honorable member may not reflect on the AttorneyGeneral in that manner.
– If the money spent on a banquet last night in entertaining persons who have plenty had been devoted to the relief of the unemployed, the Government would have displayed a humanitarian spirit. I am reminded of the biblical words -
For whosoever hath to him shall be given and he shall have abundance; but whosoever hath not from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.
The Government adopts this policy with a vengeance. I hope that the Prime Minister will give serious consideration to the position of the unemployed. The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) has announced his decision, which, I understand, is to demolish the unemployment camp at Canberra, so that no more shelter shall be available for these unfortunate men, and no further encouragement will be given to other unemployed to seek shelter in the Federal Capital.
.- The reduction of 10s. per ton in the price paid for grapes by wine-makers who desire to secure the bounty on export wine is not justified under present circumstances. It may be argued that the bounty has been reduced, and, that, therefore, relief should be afforded to the purchasers of the grapes, but as last spring there was a very heavy frost throughout the main wine-grape growing districts -of South Australia, and very dry conditions, practically amounting to a drought, have been experienced since, the growers will be hit hard enough without having to suffer the additional loss of 1 0s. per ton in the price of their product. Omitting the name of the firm mentioned, 1 shall read portion of a letter that I have received. It indicates the position of the grape-growers in South Australia, owing to their treatment by some of the wine-makers -
Information has come to hand, which we have every reason to believe is authentic, that certain wine-makers are endeavouring to have the price of grapes reduced by 10 per cent, from the price fixed by the Minister for Trade and Customs for the i931 vintage. We beg to point out that such action is unjustified. Growers here are struggling for their very existence. Those who delivered grapes to … in 1931 have not yet received any payment whatsoever for same, nor has any one been given any form of negotiable security. The last instalment of 25 per cent, for 1930 was paid only a few weeks ago, and without interest, while, in many cases, interest has had to be paid by growers to the banks on overdrafts. This is the true position.
I notice from a press report - and no statement has been made by the Minister other than that published in the press - that, in future, it is intended that the wine-makers who receive the bounty and do not pay for the grapes, shall pay interest at, I think, 6 per cent. If that is thu intention of the department, I hope that the Minister will make a clear statement to that effect, and that the department will see that the arrangement is strictly observed.
The grape-growers last year were so much in the hand3 of the winemakers that they had to process many tons of their own grapes in order to dispose of them ; but this year, I hope, their grapes will be sought, and that is one reason why I object to the 10s. per ton reduction at a stage when the winemakers may need the grapes. In regard to the Beaume test3, I hope that some of the things which I was informed were done last year will not be done this year, but that the, growers will be paid in accordance with the tests and be given an opportunity to check those tests. The Minister stated, in answer to my question to-day, that one of the reasons for the reduction in the price was the tremendous stocks of spirit held in this country, but it seems to me that the reduction will benefit certain sections of growers along the Murray, at the expense of the grapegrowers in the older districts of South Australia. I point out to the Minister and the House that the old growers in various parts of South Australia were penalized by the development, under government pressure, of grape growing areas along the Murray, and in other parts of Australia. It seems to me that it is hardly just at this stage, when the growers in the older districts are carrying light crops, that they should be compelled to accept a reduction of 10s. per ton in the price of- their grapes. I realize that the die has been cast, but I regret that a reduction, which I do not consider to be necessary, has been made.
– In replying to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), I shall say nothing about his personally offensive remarks; I do not consider that they will do me any harm in the estimation of those who know me. But I am compelled to refute his statement that I had been guilty of inaccuracy in remarks adressed by me to the House. Let me, therefore, refer honorable members to pages 212 and 228 of the report of the Royal Commis sion on the Coal Industry, 1929. I said last evening that I was speaking of the 1928-1929 period. The following particulars, which appear on page 212 of the report, bear out my statement that miners had. worked only three or four days a week -
The following table provides a general summary of the average earnings of employees (other than salaried staff) during the vear ended 30th June, 1028:-
On page 288 the commission’s report states -
The outstanding anomalies in the contract rates paid to miners at the present time are: -
The excessively high rates paid on all seams and particularly on the thick seams of the Greta field. The amount of excess in these rates over and above the rates necessary to provide reasonable earnings add substantially to the cost of production of coal.
The handicap placed upon the use of machines, especially on the Greta seam, through the extravagantly high tonnage rates for machine-men cutting coal. The evidence showed that even though severe limitations were put upon the amount of work done by machines, machine-men frequently earned more than £3 per day, while the general average, whore correctly recorded, was £2 6s. The sworn evidence of one manager was, that, on existing rates, a machine-man operating an electrically driven arc wall machine in his colliery could earn from £6 to £6 10s. per day working for the full time of the shift.
That is what, I spoke of last night. I said that statements to this effect were contained in the report, and I have shown that to be true. Further on in its report the commission again mentions the remarkable disparity between the earnings of the miners and of other workers. On the Greta field, for 1928, the average daily earnings of the miners were 41s. lOd. ; at Newcastle they were 30s. 5d. ; on the southern fields 28s. Id.; and on the western fields 32s. Id. These rates are from 35 per cent, to 90 per cent, higher than the daily average rate of shift men. I am concerned’ only to show that I was speaking accurately last night. I suggest that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) should read this report for himself, and he would learn something of the matter.
– I ask the honorable member to read the comments of the judge regarding the number of men earning less than the basic wage.
– The high rates to which I have referred constitute one of the reasons why thousands of miners are earning nothing at all on the coal-fields; but the honorable member cannot understand that. It is obvious that the reconsideration of these conditions is required in the interests of all the men on the fields, except those who happen to be in work at these high rates.
– Does not the AttorneyGeneral favour piece rates?
– I do, but the rates should be reasonable. At the present time, the high rates paid are making coal too expensive, with the result that the demand is diminishing, and men are being thrown out of work. Honorable members opposite should devote themselves to the study of this subject in order to bring about a revision of the rates, which are indefensible having regard to the interest of the men themselves, and of the industry in general. In this way they might do a real service to the men on the coal-fields.
.- I desire to bring under the notice of the Prime Minister a communication which I have received from the Bundaberg section of the Queensland Cane-growers Association. It is as follows:- -
I am instructed to advise you that at a well-attended and representative meeting of cane-growers in this district, representing 1,600 cane-growers, a resolution was unanimously carried to lodge a protest against any alteration in the sugar agreement. Also, on behalf of the cane-growers in this district, an invitation is extended to Mr. J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister, to visit this sugar district and Rain first hand knowledge of the growers’ conditions.
I, personally, can assure you that the perturbation caused by the pronouncement made recently by the Prime Minister, cannot, by any stretch of imagination, he realized other than by those directly affected.
As the representative of that district, I invite the Prime Minister to pay a visit to the cane-growing districts of Queensland during the parliamentary recess upon which we shall enter shortly after Easter. It will be a revelation to him, and he will learn much of the industry if he approaches its investigation with an open mind. During the recent election campaign honorable members opposite asked the electors to place them in power so that public confidence might be restored, and unemployment mitigated. In the sugar industry 25,000 persons are directly employed, and over 100,000 othei’3 are directly or indirectly dependent upon them. The ships which carry Queensland sugar to the southern States return to Queensland loaded with goods manufactured in those States. When the last Government renewed the sugar agreement for three years from the 1st September last, it was done only after very careful consideration, and a public inquiry by a committee representative of the cane-growers, the millers, the fruitgrowers, the consumers, the manufacturers, and the Commonwealth Government, and it was presided over by Mr. Gunn, Director of Development for the Commonwealth. The Government merely carried out the majority recommendation of that committee. Even the minority recommendation was only for a reduction of id. per lb., which, for the average weekly sugar consumption of 6 lb. for a family of a man, his wife and three children, would- represent a saving of only l-£d. a week. Tho Prime Minister, in his statement favouring a reduction of sugar prices, did not indicate the price at which he thought sugar should be sold, but hig mere statement constituted a severe blow to the stability of the industry. The sugar industry employs a large amount of labour, and the crop is such that it has to be planted eighteen months before any return is obtained. It is- a ratoon crop, and the cane is cut from the first, second, and sometimes the third ratoon. It is necessary that the growers should know what the future has in store for them. A solemn agreement has been made for a period of three years, between the Commonwealth and the Government of Queensland, regarding prices, and an embargo has been placed upon the importation of sugar for a period of five years. Any loose suggestion that this agreement will be torn up cannot but injure the industry. Security is necessary if the industry is to continue to employ large numbers of “ people. Another point which I desire to place before the Prime Minister is that, owing to over-production in the sugar industry, the growers are obtaining only pre-war returns for their cane. Of the sugar produced each year £3,000,000 worth is exported overseas. Only 13 per cent, of the growers in Queensland are earning enough to pay income tax. I hope that the Prime Minister will visit Queensland, and make a personal study of the industry.
– Yesterday the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked a question relating to the treatment of unemployed in the Federal Capital Territory. I desired him to place his question on the notice-paper, which he did, and a reply has been prepared. I propose to read the reply so that honorable members may see that the position is not as represented by the honorable member for Hunter. The reply is as follows: -
Instructions were issued recently that certain men at the Travelling Unemployed Camp, who were on a list of men receiving weekly rations and had qualified for enrolment on the roll for the last election of Advisory Councillors were to apply to be registered for employment, and to be given the same consideration as permanent residents of Canberra in respect of relief work.” On work being made available, the issue of rations was to cease. The balance of the men were given one month’s notice as from the 4th February, 1932, to vacate the camp.
The camp was designed in the first place as a rest camp for travelling unemployed, and such men receive a “ walk-in “ and a “ walkout “ ration’ and are allowed to remain at the camp for two weeks. Mon who produce certificates from the hospital receive rations until they are completely recovered.
No travelling unemployed person has been refused a “ walk-in “ and a “ walk-out “ ration.
All the men in this camp entered the Territory originally from New South Wales. In the ordinary course, they would have received their “walk-in” ration and their “walk-out” ration and have passed on to New South Wales.
The Commonwealth, however, has maintained a large number of them for a considerable period and granted them many concessions, and thus has saved the New South Wales Government the expenditure of such maintenance. These mon are not residents of Canberra and their maintenance is not a federal responsibility. To assume responsibility for such men would only result in attracting large numbers of unemployed to the capital city.
Consideration is being given to the question of continuing the camp on the present site.
It is obvious, therefore, that, instead of treating the unemployed in the camp without any consideration at all, a number of them have been regarded as residents of the Territory, and have thus become entitled to the benefits of residence.
– How many have been treated in that way?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.About 30. It is clear from the reply which I have read that every consideration has been given to the unemployed in this city. As a matter of fact, they have been treated better than have the unemployed in Hew South Wales.
– What about those who came here on a “ walk-in walk-out “ basis?
– I have here a report from Major Jones dealing with that aspect of the matter. There are in Canberra 29 men who have been drawing rations for over twelve months, though they should have been on a walk-in ‘walk-out footing. In addition, each of them received a week’s relief work prior to Christmas, and an extra week’s rations during Christmas week. It is very properly suggested in the report that those who are not on the electoral roll of the Territory cannot rightly be regarded as residents, and must be looked upon as travellers. That is the course which the Government has followed. It was never intended that we should establish in Canberra a permanent camp for unemployed who might come from various parts, of New South Wales, and place upon the Commonwealth the responsibility of maintaining them. The camp was established as a rest camp, with the idea of giving the men a ration in and a ration out, the same as has been done in New South Wales. Since the beginning of this year the travelling unemployed passing through Canberra have averaged twelve per week, and in tha Queanbeyan district the number is somewhat similar. I mention these matters to indicate that the unemployed in Canberra have been treated generously at the hands of the Government. We are under no obligation to the men who, by some means, obtained, enrolment at the time of the last’ election in Canberra, but out of consideration for them, intermittent employment has been given. We have been no less generous than the States in extending consideration to the unemployed; but the Government has now decided not to maintain a permanent unemployment camp, in Canberra merely to encourage unemployed from all over Australia to come to Canberra and be maintained here at the public expense. Nothing has been done regarding the cubicles at the camp. We are now considering whether, in the public interests, it would not be wise to have one camp instead of several as at present. The unemployed in Canberra have not been treated inhumanly; on the other hand, the treatment .meted out to them has been reasonable, if not generous. Although it has been decided to discontinue giving rations .to the travelling unemployed, I have, since taking office, extended the rationing from week to week ; but it cannot be extended further. I have treated the unemployed with every consideration, due regard being paid to the interests of the Territory and of the public generally.
.- The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) has suggested to the Prime Minister that before the Government takes any action in the direction of reducing the price of sugar, he should visit Queensland to examine the condition 5 of the industry, but I should like the Prime” Minister, before he accepts that invitation, to inspect the wheat belt of Western Australia to gain a knowledge of the conditions of the wheatgrowers there. I should like him also to go among the small wool-growers, not only of Western Australia, but also of other parts of the Commonwealth, and to take into consideration, not only the depreciation of their assets, but also the poverty in which they live, and to remember at the same time that they are’ called upon to pay a toll of approximately £1 a head in excess of what they should pay on the open market for the sugar that they consume.
– The Queensland Canegrowers Association at Bundaberg has communicated with me also intimating that it desires the Prime -Minister to inspect the sugar cane-fields of that district on his next visit to Queensland. When the Prime Minister made his first statement regarding the sugar agreement, I took the opportunity to. convey to him the invitation of the sugar interests of Queensland to examine the conditions of the industry before taking any action to reduce prices. The right- honorable gentleman has been good enough to intimate that he will be pleased to accept the invitation so soon as his parliamentary obligations and national duties permit. That information has been conveyed to those engaged in the sugar industry. The Prime Minister set at ease to no small degree the minds of the sugar-growers of Queeusland when he made it clear that, in his opinion, the agreement was binding, and that he merely hoped for a voluntary review of its conditions. I have no objection to the’ suggestion of the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse). I regret that many of our wheat and wool producers are receiving a mere pittance, not even equal to the living wage, in return for their work on the land, but there should be no general desire on the part of honorable members to bring to a similar level the producers in an industry that is existing solely because of its complete organization. We should rather seek to lift from depression industries that are suffering. It is not fair to say that the sugar-growers have made no sacrifice. In 1922, the return to the grower was £30 6s. 8d. a ton, and today he has suffered a reduction of £18 a ton, which is even greater than the reduction in the cost of labour and transport and other things.- The sugar grower is, therefore,, suffering . a tremendous reduction in price. This year it is hoped that not £2,000,000 ‘ but £3,500,000, which includes exchange, will be returned to, Australia for the sugar that is exported to markets in competition with black labour countries which cannot produce sugar’ at the price. When examining the conditions of the sugar industry, we should be fair enough to admit that the price of Queensland sugar must be higher than that, of sugar grown by black labour- and selling in the open market at a price less than the cost of production here. I thank1 the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) for his courtesy in accepting tlie invitation of the Canegrowers’ Association to make a personal inspection of the sugar industry.
.- The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has referred to the duties on sulphate of ammonia, and certain other manures, but I must confess that I cannot add to what has been said by successive Ministers for Trade and Customs. I shall, however, be pleased indeed to consider these duties once more, and it would give me the greatest satisfaction if I could give relief on the lines suggested by the honorable member. This is the first time that I have spoken in this House as Minister for Trade and Customs in the present Government, and I take the opportunity to assure, not only the honorable member for Swan, but also others of the deep concern of the Government for the primary producers at this time of financial stress. If during my administration of the tariff, I can do anything to relieve the position of the primary producers in the years immediately ahead it will be my pleasure to do it.
– That has to be done.
– I frankly admit that ; and, if possible, it will be done. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) referred to the price of grapes. I much regret the reduction in the fixed price of grapes for the present season, and I concurred in the recommendation of the Chief Excise Officer with the greatest reluctance and after full consideration of the position. I am sure that the honorable member will agree with me when I say that the price of grapes ever since the bounty has been paid, has been fixed largely on the advice of this officer. He carries to a great degree the respect of all those connected with the grape-growing and wine-making industries, and I think that it will be admitted that hitherto price fixing has been satisfactory. In any case, there has been little complaint about it. The main consideration, as I mentioned in answer to a question to-day, is that we have in Australia a huge surplus of fortifying spirit for which there is at present no market. Capital i3 lying idle because of this fact, and we had to reduce the price of grapes to ensure the sale’ of this season’s crop. It is, however, a minimum price, and if in the districts referred to by the honorable member for Angas, where there has been a partial failure of the crop, a keen demand for grapes arises, then the fixed price will no doubt be exceeded. In addition the growers this year will receive some advantage because they are to be paid at the rate of 6 per cent, on arrears. In previous years, because of the stringent conditions prevailing in the industry, arrears have been heavy and the growers have not been paid interest on money outstanding. This year under the new arrangement they are to be paid at the rate of 6 per cent, on arrears, and that, I think, will be a considerable offset against the reduction in the fixed price.
– Is that to be one of the conditions under which the bounty is to be obtained?
– I think so. The honorable member referred to the Beaume test, and I can assure him that that will be strictly applied.
.- I direct the attention of honorable members to certain inaccuracies in a reply which the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Parkhill) gave to a question this morning in regard to unemployment. The honorable gentleman said that the unemployed in Canberra originally came from New South Wales. That statement was only partly true. It is correct that all the men who enter the Federal Capital Territory come through New South Wales; but many of them ha.ve come here from other States. The Minister said that it was the obligation of the New South Wales Government to provide unemployment relief; but I remind honorable members that this Government is doing everything it can to make it impossible for the New South Wales Government to help the unfortunate people who are out of work in that State. In my opinion, the Lang Government alone is doing its best to meet its obligations to these people. We have been told by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that it is estimated that £12,000,000 will be required for unemployment relief this year throughout the Commonwealth. In view of the fact that £7,000,000 is to be expended by the New South Wales Government alone, it will be seen that that Government is doing more than all others to help the unemployed. The Minister said that he felt every sympathy with those who are out of work. The honorable gentleman - and I do not say this in any disparaging way - has never been compelled to accept food relief, and does not know the suffering that the unemployed have to bear.
– I have had to work hard in my time.
– But the honorable gentleman has never had to accept food relief, and he does not understand the sufferings of these unfortunate people. I have been unemployed, and I know from personal experience that those who are out of work suffer severely. It is not sympathy, but assistance, that these people need. If sympathy could fill empty stomachs, not a man, woman or child in Australia would be hungry; but sympathy is not enough, though it seems to be all that the unemployed can expect from this Parliament. It cannot be denied that the Commonwealth Government is doing its utmost to make it impossible for the New South Wales Government to help the unemployed. The policy of the Lang Government, which is the policy for which I stand, is diametrically opposed to that of this Government. Many honorable members of this House would like to see the Lang Government removed from office; but they will not succeed in removing it so long as that Government looks after the unemployed. In my opinion, the first obligation of a government is to provide food for the people of the country, and the Lang Government is endeavouring to discharge that obligation.
– In reply to the request of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), I. will undertake to telegraph to the Governments of the distant States a synopsis of the Financial Agreement Enforcement Bill. The Governments of the nearer States will be furnished with a copy of the measure.
Reference has been made to a promise I made some time ago that I would visit the Queensland sugar districts, and to statements that I have made that the sugar agreement should be reviewed. I do not propose to diseuss the merits or demerits of that agreement at the moment. I have promised the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. * Corser) that I Will visit the Queensland sugar districts at the first reasonable opportunity. I now promise the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) that I shall look at this whole subject from an Australian stand-point. I intend to take every opportunity I get to inspect many industries with which I have not a first-hand knowledge. I shall visit, not only the sugar districts, but also the districts in which sugar is extensively used. I have no doubt that the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) would like me to visit the districts where the unfortunate grape-growers to whom he has referred are living. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) has. said that the statements that I have made with regard to the sugar agreement have impaired the confidence of the canegrowers. My statements’ should not have had that effect. As the honorable member for Wide Bay has stated, no action will be taken by me to destroy an agreement entered into with the approval of this Parliament. But I cannot accept responsibility for any unreasonable interpretation that may have been placed upon my published statements. I emphasize now that I shall consider this subject from an Australian standpoint. If there is to be any review of the sugar agreement, it must be on a voluntary basis. No advantage would follow an immediate inspection of the sugar districts by me, for, after all, it would not matter very much whether I think that sugar should be sold at a particular price; that is a matter which should be determined by persons thoroughly qualified to express an opinion. At a suitable time I propose to convene a conference of all the parties to the sugar agreement, to reconsider its terms with the object of granting some relief to the sugar consumers of Australia.
– Will that conference be held before the expiration of the threeyear period of the current agreement?
– -Undoubtedly. But any revision of the agreement must be voluntary and not compulsory. A contract has been entered into with the sugar-growers and any variation of it must be made by agreement. I recognize that a binding contract has been made.
– Other binding contracts have been made and broken : that with the bondholders, for instance.
– Has any communication come from the cane-growers which suggests that they would agree to a voluntary revision of the agreement?
– No. The suggestion that this should be done was made by this Government which is representative of all the industries, and of both the producersand consumers of Australia.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at1.7 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 February 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19320219_reps_13_133/>.