13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H.Mackay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the ‘Prime Minister whether the Governmentwill take action to ensure that all manufactured tobacco labelled “ Australian,” shall be true to name, and not contain imported leaf?
– Such control would be difficult, because of the extent to which Australian leaf is blended with the imported article ; but I shall ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to inquire into the suggestion.
– The Assisitant Minister for Trade and Customs is reported in the Melbourne Argus of yesterday as having said that it was easy for me, as leader of the United Country party, to declare that Australian tobaccogrowers should he paid 5s. 2d. per lb. ; but that, when I was Federal Treasurer, he was paid only 2s. per lb. If the honorable gentleman was correctly reported, will he inform the House on what authority he made that statement, and whether all the other assertions he made on that occasion wore equally inaccurate?
– I made that statement believing it to be true. It was based on the report of the Tariff Board, which sets out that the duties on unstemmed, unmanufactured tobacco have been -to the 22nd August, 1929, 2s. ; from the 23rd August. 1929, 2s. 8d.; from the 22nd November, 1929, 3s.; from the 10th July, 1930. 3s. 6d. :and from the 4th December, 1930, 5s.’ 2d.
– In viewof the apparent mental confusion of the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Perkins) between the Customs duty levied on tobacco and the price paid to the growers, will the Prime Minister supply him with accurate information before he sets out on another tour?
Question not answered.
Mr.RIORDAN.- Did the Assistant Minister for Defence advise the Queensland Tobacco Growers Association that the Government was favorably considering a reversion to the Scullin tariff, and that that schedule had his sympathy and support? Further, did the honorable gentleman declare that unless his Government took some definite action to relieve the position he intended to resign from the Cabinet?
– The only reply that I gave to inquiries that were addressed to me on the subject was to invite those concerned to make any representations they cared concerning the Government’s proposals. I supplied such persons with a copy of the Tariff Board’s report to enable them to inform their minds as to the Government’s intentions, and 1 intimated that their representations would receive proper consideration.
Rural Credits Branch
– Is the Treasurer aware that, since the Commonwealth Bank obtained control of the Government Savings Bank of New South W ales, many persons who had obtained advances for house-building from the rural credits branch, and had paid their instalments regularly for five years, have been threatened with eviction because, owing to unemployment, they cannot maintain their payments? I have been informed that some of the houses thus compulsorily vacated have fallen into disrepair, and the security of the bank is diminishing considerably. “Will the Treasurer inquire whether the purchasers who are temporarily embarrassed can be allowed to continue in occupation of their homes until their circumstances improve?
– I shall be glad to refer the honorable member’s request to the Commonwealth Bank Board.
– Will the
Prime Minister inform the House what action the Government proposes to take in regard to the five-day week in the Commonwealth Public Service?
– I shall take an early opportunity to make a statement onthe subject.
– Following the reduction of the duty on tobacco, a primary product, in accordance with the report of the Tariff Board, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) whether he will request the board to prepare a list of secondary products in respect of which it has recommended a reduction of duties?
– Further references to the Tariff Board will be made from time to time. The schedule which I tabled in this House a fortnight ago contained between CO and 70 reductions, which, with few exceptions, apply to secondary industries.
– I have received the following telegram from the secretary of the Local Producers Association at Rockhampton : -
Meeting Goovigen cotton-growers view with consternation and alarm proposed alteration tariff schedule. Past two season’s crop complete failure through drought. At reduced price hopeless continue. Large numbers compelled abandon farms, join unemployed. Appeal you use best endeavourshave matter reconsidered Tariff Board. Persistence proposal tariff end industry causing great loss all concerned, also swelling unemployed.
In view of the seriousness of the matter, will the Prime Minister have it reconsidered by Cabinet at an early date, and in the event of the honorable gentleman visiting Queensland to investigate the sugar industry, will he extend his travels to the cotton-fields in order to obtain firsthand information of that industry also?
– Cabinet will give early consideration to the representations made by the honorable member, and when I visit Queensland, I shall be glad to gain first-hand knowledge of the cottongrowing industry.
– Having regard to the complaints by merchants and grocers during the early part of this year of a shortage of sugar in Hobart, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the Government proposes to establish sugar depots in Hobart? What are the present arrangements for ensuring supplies to the Tasmanian people? What supervision is exercised, and how do the wholesale prices in Hobart and Launceston compare with those on the mainland?
– The honorable member having been good enough to advise me of his intention to ask this question, I am able to furnish the following reply : -
No complaints from merchants regarding shortages of sugar at Hobart have reached my department for some years. Early this year, however, a complaint as to shortages was made by the Secretary of the Retail Grocers Association of Tasmania, but departmental inquiries in Hobart showed that unsold stocks in merchants’ stores have not been less than 66 tons for any week since the 5th September last, the average weekly surplus being over 100 tons. The Government, therefore, does not intend to establish a sugar depot in Hobart, or to request the Queensland Government to do so.
The present arrangements at Hobart were instituted on the 14th September, 1931. They provide for the wholesale merchants holding at all times, and at the expense of the Queensland Sugar Board, double the surplus stocks which were previously held, and which for at least two and a half years had been sufficient to avoid any shortage.
There is no regular supervision by the Commonwealth Government, but all complaints are promptly investigated.
The Sugar Agreement deals only with cash sales by the Queensland Government, or its agent, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. The prices in both Hobart and Launceston are - to wholesalers, £37 6s.8d. a ton, less 2 per cent. discount for cash; to retail grocers and housewives, £37 6s.8d. a ton for net cash. Until the 14th September, 1931, delivery was given in each city, ex ship’s slings. Since that date free delivery has been given within the Hobart city area, as Hobart is the capital city. These cash prices are exactly the same as in mainland capital cities, where free delivery in the city areas has always been given.
– I rise to a point of order. It was agreed during last Parliament that questions on notice and the replies to them should be handed to the Clerk, without being read, and I suggest that the time of the House is now being wasted by the Minister replying at length to a question ostensibly asked without notice though in reality notice was given to the Minister informally. Moreover, questions without notice, should, I suggest, relate to matters of real urgency. The Minister is now making a statement which could only properly be made by leave of the House.
– The replies to questions on noticeshould be handed to the Clerk, but the question to which the Minister is now replying has been asked without notice, that is, it has not been placed on the notice-paper, and, therefore, the Minister is in order in replying to it.
– Will the Prime Minister make a statement declaring what stage the negotiations have reached concerning the failure of Lord Kylsant to meet the payments due for the purchase of the Australian Commonwealth line of steamers ?
– The matter is under the consideration of the Government, which is being supplied with the fullest information from London. When that information is complete, the Government will go into the matter thoroughly, and the House will be notified of the position as early as possible.
– Last night the Minister for Trade and Customs said that the ad valorem duty on reapers and binders was from 27^ per cent, to 28£ per cent. Since he must be aware that the reapers and binders used in Australia come from the United States of America and Canada, does he now adhere to that statement?
– The information on that subject which I used in my speech yesterday was supplied to me by officials of the Customs Department shortly before I entered the chamber.
– Last Saturday morning a deputation composed of members of the Queensland Parliament interviewed the Minister for Trade and Customs in connexion with the tobacco duties. Will the Minister state the personnel of the deputation, and by whom it was introduced?
– The deputation consisted of Mr. Morgan, the Minister for Transport in the Queensland Government, and Messrs Kenny and Nimmo, members of the Queensland Legislative Assembly. It was introduced by my colleague, the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Francis).
– Is there any truth in the report that has been circulated that the secret deputation introduced to the Minister for Trade and Customs last Saturday has been promised a restoration of the previous duties on tobacco?
– The deputation referred to was open to the press, and was attended by a pressman, but no definite promise of any kind was given to it.
– What is the cost per gallon of manufacturing petrol from the shale obtained at Newnes?
– I shall obtain that information for the honorable member.
– Does the Government intend to allow the shale oil committee to expend any further portion of the £100,000 allocated by the last Government for the absorption of surplus miners? Does the Minister for Industry know of .any negotiations between the Government and representatives of private enterprise for the taking over of .the Newnes shale oil lease?
– This matter is under the control of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator McLachlan), who visited Newnes the week-end before last, and went into the whole matter there. He is now in consultation with the officers of the developmental section of the Prime Minister’s Department, but no announcement can be made at the present time. In reply to the second part of the honorable member’s question, I have no knowledge of such negotiations.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether the statement made by the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Perkins) at a country show during the week-end, regarding further constitutional powers being sought by means of a referendum, may be accepted as an announcement of the policy of the Government?
– I have not seen the statement referred to, but when the Government intends to propose any amendment of the Constitution, an official statement on the matter will be made in this chamber.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Perkins) whether he will give honorable members any information he can as to when the referendum to which he referred in Sydney is likely to be taken with the object of amending the Constitution to give the Commonwealth Government power to force the New South Wales Government to pay overseas bondholders?
– I made no such statement. I said that legislation was before Parliament to give the Government power to take action to preserve the good name and honour of New South Wales. I also said that I believed that the people of Australia, and particularly the people of the district in which I delivered the speech, were behind the Government in that move. I added that if the legislation then under consideration proved ineffective, no doubt an appeal would be made to the people to alter the Constitution, in such a way as to clothe the Commonwealth Parliament with power to do what it desired to do in that regard. I leave honorable members of the House to put upon my remarks the interpretation which must have been given by those to whom they were originally addressed.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs have inquiry made into a report that has reached me that about 2,000,000 incandescent lamps have been imported at a very cheap rate from Japan?
– I shall be pleased to have inquiry made into the matter.
– mat ia the policy of the War Service Homes Commission with regard to ex-soldiers in occupation of war service homes who desire to have their premises connected with the sewerage system? In a number of cases the occupants are up to date in their payments, and the municipal authorities are prepared to connect their houses with the sewerage system, and to permit repayments for the work to be made over a certain period. All that is required is that the commission shall guarantee the payments ?
– Under the War Service Homes Act, power is given to do what the honorable member suggests; but, at present, no money is available to the department for this work, or for any similar purpose, and I regret very much that no grant can be made.
– As Victorian manufacturers of wire nails and barbed wire have to buy their raw material from a New South Wales combine, which receives protection by the exclusion of British wire, and as this combine is dumping barbed wire and nails into Victoria at a cost less than it charges for its raw material, because Victorian manufacturers will not keep out of New South Wales and Queensland, will the Minister for Trade and Customs consider the reduction of the duty on nail and barbing wire, as was recently done in regard to fencing wire and wire-netting, so that Victorian manufacturers may obtain raw material, and thus be enabled to carry on their businesses %
– That subject is receiving the very earnest consideration of the Government.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a statement in a recent issue of the Sydney Morning Herald to the effect that Mr. H. P. Brown, Director of Posts and Telegraphs, has recommended that Mr. Stuart Doyle be appointed controller of the new broadcasting scheme? Has Cabinet agreed to such a recommendation? If not, will this House be given an opportunity, before any appointment is made, to discuss the personnel of the board, and particularly the chairmanship of it?
– My attention has not previously been drawn to the statement referred to by the honorable member. If, and when, the Broadcasting Bill is passed by both Houses of the Parliament, the Government will take the full responsibility for determining the personnel of the proposed commission.
consideration by premiers conference - Provision of Work - Distribution of Military Stores.
– Is the Prime Minister able to inform me when the next Premiers Conference will be held, and whether the agenda for it will provide for a discussion of the unemployment problem? Will he also inform me whether an opportunity will be given to this House before the holding of the conference, to consider any proposals of the Commonwealth Government for the solving of this, problem of paramount importance?
– I am unable to say definitely when the next Premiers Conference will meet. After the receipt by the Government, in the last day or two, of the report of the Transport Committee set up by the last Premiers Conference, I communicated with the Premiers of the States with the object of ascertaining whether they desired an early meeting of the conference in order that the report of the Transport Committee could be considered without delay,” or whether, in view of the possible inconvenience .of two meetings of the confer ence within a short period, they wished to defer consideration of the report of the Transport Committee until the holding of the conference at which consideration is to be given to the financial arrangements for next year. I have already informed honorable members that the subject of unemployment is receiving the attention of a sub-committee of Cabinet, which has been requested to draft proposals, for discussion by the Premiers of the States. I cannot say whether the proposals of the Government will be submitted to this House or not before the meeting of the conference. Our main object is to co-operate with the States in doing something which will help the unfortunate unemployed in the near future.
– In view of the definite assurances given by the United Australia party candidates at the last federal election that a change of government would mean a restoration of confidence, a flow of credit to Australia, the provision of jobs for the jobless, and work for our growing boys and girls, will the Prime Minister give me an assurance that before the House rises for the Easter recess he will announce the Government’s plan to bring about the much desired millennium promised by the candidates of his party during the election campaign?
– I have already replied to the question of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in replying to questions by other honorable members on this subject
– With a view to alleviating the distress of the unemployed during the approaching winter months, I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government will make available to approved authorities any surplus stocks of clothing and supplies in the naval and military stores, so that they may be issued to our people who are in such deplorable need?
– Any stocks of surplus stores that can be so distributed are already being made available through charitable organizations. If the honorable member or responsible authorities will make application to the Commandant at the Victoria Barracks, Sydney, advice will be furnished in regard to the distribution of any stores which may be available.
– In view of the tragic circumstances in which many of our unemployed will be placed during the coming winter, will the Commonwealth Government exploit every avenue in an effort to afford relief and sustenance to those who will suffer?
– If the Commonwealth Government takes such action, it will be for the first time in the history of this country, and entirely out of keeping with the methods that were adopted by the Scullin Government. I assure the honorable member that this Government is much concerned about the condition of our unemployed, and that it is giving the problem special attention. It especially will do all in its power to relieve their distress during the winter months.
Mr.WHITE. - Is it a fact that the Stores Branch of the Defence Department has already distributed clothing to the value of approximately £150,000 to necessitous cases in the different States, in addition to relief granted by the States.? Further, can the Assistant Minister for Defence inform the House whether the supply of military clothing is so dangerously depleted that mobilization would be retarded if Australia were involved in hostilities?
– The Commonwealth Government has distributed as much as possible of the military clothing that is available, and an investigation is now being made to guide its future action in that direction. I am unable to confirm the fears that he expresses in the con- cluding sentence of his question.
– As the last war was a war to end war, and as the Commonwealth Government has set aside a considerable sum of money to send a delegate to the Disarmament Conference, surely the matter of the mobilization of troops should not arise; so that any available military clothing should be distributed to the unemployed who are in need of covering.
– Order ! The honorable member has made a statement, instead of asking a question. That he is not entitled to do.
– Is the Assistant Minister for Defence aware that his predecessor in the Scullin Government declared in this House that the Lang Go vernment of New South Wales refused to pay freight on any military clothing that was made available for distribution among the unemployed; further, that it would not transport such clothing free over its system of railways? Do those conditions still obtain?
– Yes. The New South Wales Government will not bold itself responsible for the distribution of any clothing that is made available to the unemployed by the Commonwealth Government, nor will it pay the cost of dyeing such garments, an obligation that is cheerfully undertaken by the other States. As a result the Commonwealth Military Commandant, at the Victoria Barracks, Sydney, has to distribute the clothing, while different charitable institutions in New South Wales bear the cost of dyeing.
– Will the Assistant Minister for Defence state whether the method of distribution of military clothing that is observed in Victoria is similar to that obtaining in other States?
– There has been no alteration in the method of distribution of military stores in Victoria since this Government assumed office.
– Will the Prime Minister state when his Government intends to release the magic formula by which the unemployed are to survive on sympathy and promises?
– I assure the honorable member that this Government will settle the unemployed problem as quickly as will the Lang Government of New South Wales.
– Will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of giving honorable members as much time to debate the unemployment problem as was given to the House yesterday to discuss the duties on tobacco ? I ask the question in an endeavour to help, not’ to hinder, and in the hope that our joint counsel may be of some assistance in overcoming the difficulty.
– If we made as little progress in such a debate as we made yesterday when we discussed the tobacco industry, the proposal of the honorable member would be of no practical help to the Government or to the country.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House who are the members of the special Cabinet sub-committee that is inquiring about the relief of unemployment? If the Minister for Customs is not a member of that body, will the Prime Minister take steps to ensure that that gentleman is kept closely in touch with the committee’s desires, so that men may be retained in work rather than thrown out of industry?
– The members of the special sub-committee are the AssistantTreasurer (Mr. Bruce), the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator McLachlan), Senator Massy Greene, and myself. The committee is in a position to obtain any information it desires from the customs or any other department.
– In view of the fact that the Assistant Treasurer is a member of the sub-committee of Cabinet which is inquiring into unemployment, and that he has expressed the opinion that the solution of unemployment depends upon the cultivation and encouragement of private enterprise, will he analyse his theory by applying it to the experience of the United States of America, the home of private enterprise, where there is an army of 10,000,000 unemployed people?
– It is a little difficult to discover the exact meaning of the honorable member’s question ; but if he has the slightest knowledge of world affairs he will appreciate the fact that the troubles of the United States of America are part of a world-wide financial and industrial disturbance. In some other countries - of which the State which the honorable member represents is an outstanding example - similar troubles have been accentuated by the actions of their governments.
– In view of the fact that the alterations which the Government has made in the cotton duties has led to the cancellation by the spinners of the agreement which they had made for the purchase of this season’s lint from the Queensland Cotton Board, and that the board is not prepared to accept the alternative proposal made by the spinners, will the Minister for Trade and
Customs inform me what action the Government proposes to take to overcome the deadlock which has occurred, and to ensure that a market will be found for this season’s lint?
– This subject will be discussed when the tariff schedule is brought before honorable members at an early date.
Method of Presentation of Budget
– Prior to the dissolution of the last Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee had almost completed an important inquiry, in camera, on the method of the presentation of public accounts to Parliament. In view of the fact that that report might be of great value to both the Commonwealth and State Governments, and that it could be presented without incurring any expense other than that of printing, will the Prime Minister see whether arrangements can be made for it to be presented to Parliament?
– I intend to give notice to-day of a motion which, if agreed to, will probably achieve the object which the honorable member has in mind.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs institute inquiries concerning the promises that were made by his predecessor in office that many additional persons would be employed as the result of the high duties introduced by the Scullin Government, and ascertain precisely how many such people have been employed?
– I am afraid that such an inquiry would be quite fruitless.
– Will the Acting Minister for External Affairs state whether the Government has received any recent communication regarding the trend of affairs in the Far East? If so, is he prepared to make any statement on the subject to the House?
– I have nothing to add to the statement that I made in this chamber on Friday last.
– Will the Minister representing the Attorney-General state whether any complaints have been received by his department recently concerning the operation of the Performing Right Association in Australia. If so, has his department taken any action to investigate the activities of that body?
– I have seen only one or two recent letters on the matter, which has been the subject of constant representation by different sections and individuals in the community. The AttorneyGeneral’s Department has investigated the matter thoroughly, and a speech with regard to it was made by the Attorney-General before he left Australia. The department has taken all steps that are practicable and possible.
6WF BROADCASTING STATION.
– About a week ago, I asked the Postmaster-General what progress had been made with the 6WF national broadcasting station in Western Australia, and was advised that certain tenders had been let, and arrangements made to change the site. That was the position seven months ago. As national broadcasting in Western Australia is not on a footing similar to that in other parts of the Commonwealth, I should like the Postmaster-General to “ ginger up “ his department, so that the broadcasting station in. Western Australia may be completed at an early date.
– I can assure the honorable member that steps have been taken recently to expedite the erection of the broadcasting station in Western Australia. He is much astray in saying that nothing has been done for seven months.
– There is not a brick on the site.
– A national broadcasting station is absolutely essential to Western Australia, the State being an important part of the Commonwealth, and I shall endeavour to get my department to push on with the work.
– I am still receiv ing complaints from wheat-growers in New South Wales, that they are unable to secure, not only the bounty on last year’s crop, but even a reply from the department. Will the Minister say definitely whether his department is making a serious attempt to deal with the position in that State?
– I am glad to be able to report to the House that the payments already made approach half of the total amount of the bounty. The work of distribution in New South Wales is slower than in the other States. If the honorable member will bring to my notice any particular cases in which there is complaint, I shall endeavour to expedite them. Steps are being taken to hurry the distribution of the bounty, and a special accountant has been sent from the head office to the department in Sydney. As the officials of the department and the farmers obtain a better understanding of the procedure, the work of distribution is being considerably accelerated, and I hope to have a final cleaning up within a reasonable time.
– Has the attention of the Treasurer been drawn to the following statement of Professor Gregory, the expert who advised Sir Otto Neimeyer when in Australia: -
It was ridiculous to advocate the freezing of gold in Australian vaults. It should be shipped toNew York and sold, and the receipts transferred to the Bank of England for use on short terms. The profits might- be used to pay part of the overseas debt of the Commonwealth.
I should like to know the Government’s intention in regard to that statement?
– We have now devoted three-quarters of an hour to questions without notice, and I suggest to the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), and any other member who has a question to ask, that he give notice of it.
Several members having asked questions without notice.
– I consider it an abuse of the privileges of this House for honorable members to continue to ask questions after the Prime Minister has stated that notice must be given of all further questions.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
With reference to the land in the catchment area along theUriarra-Brindabella road, in the neighbourhood of Condor Creek, in the Federal Capital Territory, will he state -
What amount has been spent in the last twelve months on (a) clearing, and (6) fencing?
What area has been cleared, and what length of fencing has been erected?
What is the object of this expenditure, and is it proposed that it should continue?
– Replies to the honorable member’s questions will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What sums of money have been expended in each State during the last seven years on wireless broadcasting equipment?
– The information is being obtained.
asked , the Minister for Markets, upon notice -
Will he and the officers of his department do all in their power to assist the Australian timber industry to get a share of any contracts for the supply of railway sleepers which may be advertised in the near future by the authorities in the East who are in charge of the proposed extensions to the Manchurian railways ?
– For several months past the Department of Markets has been in communication with the authorities in Great Britain and China with a view to securing for Australia contracts for railway sleepers. Mr. Gepp, who has recently returned from the East, will also report to me at an early date the result of his special investigation into this matter. I may mention that during the seven months ending January last, 464,531 railway sleepers valued at £110,680 were exported from the Commonwealth, of which 92,118 sleepers valued at £18,650 were sent toChina. I can assure the honorable member that I will see that everything possible is done to secure further business in this material for Australia.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– Accompanied by honorable members, I waited this day upon His Excellency the Governor-General at Government House, and presented to him the AddressinReply to His Excellency’s Speech on the opening of Parliament which was agreed to by the House on the 18th February. His Excellency was pleased to make the following reply: -
I receive with much pleasure the Address which has been adopted by the House of
Representatives in reply to the speech which I delivered on the occasion of the opening of the first session of the Thirteenth Parliament of the Commonwealth, and I thank you for your expression of loyalty to His Majesty the King.
The following papers were presented : -
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules1932, No. 16.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinances of 1932 -
No.6 - Church Lands Leases.
No. 7 - Leases (Special Purposes).
No. 8 - Industrial Board.
– I intend to lay on the table of the Library the report of the Transport Conference, together with some additional information. We have very few copies of this report; but it will be made available to the press.
Motion (by Mr. Fenton) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act relating to broadcasting.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Broadcasting has, within recent years, assumed large proportions, and has become a matter of the greatest importance. It was said at one time that broadcasting was a toy, a mere plaything, but it has since developed far beyond that stage, and has become of national, and even international, importance. It has been encouraged in every possible way by practically all civilized countries. Australia was quick to take advantage of this new science. Broadcasting is still in its infancy, being only about ten or twelve years old. It is true that experiments were carried out before then, but it was not until 1922 that any systematic effort was made in the United States of America and Great Britain. In 1924 programmes were first broadcast to listeners-in in Australia. Since the first broadcasting sta- tions were established great progress has been made both in Australia and abroad. Mistakes occurred, as was only natural, but, on the whole, listeners-in have been well served, while even greater benefits are in store for them.
The system of control proposed in this bill is, as near as practicable, that which is in operation in Great Britain, where the controlling body is known as the British Broadcasting Corporation. Australia cannot, of course, be expected to follow Great Britain slavishly; but there are many good points in the British system which we can with advantage adopt here. It is intended to introduce the commission system of broadcasting control in Australia. In Great Britain and in most other countries broadcasting was first undertaken by private enterprise, but very soon governments found that the business was assuming such enormous proportions, and was becoming so popular, that some system of national control was desirable, and it was brought into association with the post office.
Up to the .present, licence holders in Australia have paid in fees no less than £2,500,000, and the present annual revenue amounts to £403,000. The Amalgamated Wireless Company, in recognition of the patent rights which it holds, receives 3s. out of the 24s. licence-fee paid by each listener-in.
– Are those rights still recognized ?
– The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) knows something of this matter, because it occupied his attention when he was Postmaster-General.
– The company paid only £40,000 for the patent right in the first place.
– These royalties are being investigated now, and we are hopeful that, as a result, the amount paid to the company will be considerably reduced.
– Cannot the Government find out the true position from its representative on the board of the Amalgamated Wireless Company?
– It is largely a legal matter. It has been before the Australian and New Zealand courts, the New Zealand Government having taken up the cudgels on behalf of its licence holders. Owing to some mistake, the case on behalf of the licence holders in Australia was withdrawn, and a verdict was given on the ex parte evidence tendered by the company. The Amalgamated Wireless Company receives each year £50,000 out of the licence-fees.
– Does not the Commonwealth get half of that?
– The Commonwealth is a shareholder in the company, but I do not know exactly what it receives.
– Last year the Commonwealth received only £21,000.
– It is right that the licence holders should know how the money they pay is being divided. As I have said, the Amalgamated Wireless Company received £50,000. The Australian Broadcasting Company, which provides programmes for the A class stations, received £202,000, and the Government, which gets 9s. out of each fee of 24s., drew £151,000. A portion of the money received by the Government is spent on providing and maintaining equipment and expert technical service; but after that has been done, there is still, I am glad to say, a considerable amount which finds its way into the Treasury. The revenue of the British Broadcasting Corporation is now over £2,037,200 per annum, and it is distributed in these proportions - Post Office, £203,720; British Broadcasting Corporation, £1,370,090; and the Treasury, £463,390. The two government departments, Treasury and Post Office, take over £066,000 of the total revenue.
– Upon a per capita basis the return to the Commonwealth is equally high.
– The figures I have mentioned dispose of the belief held in many quarters that since broadcasting was handed over to a corporation in Great Britain, the Government has not participated in the revenue from the service.
– The fee to the public in Great Britain is only about one-third of that charged in Australia.
– It is not so high; in many other countries it is about the same as that charged in Australia, and in some countries it is higher. The broadcasting system iu Great Britain is controlled by five governors, who are operating under a charter, and are assisted by a director and an organizer. The British Broadcasting Corporation was singularly fortunate in obtaining the services of Sir John Reith, under whose capable direction it has developed into one of the finest institutions in the United Kingdom. The fact that a firstclass broadcast is listened to by over 15,000,000 people’ indicates what a wonderful part this service plays in the lives of the people.
The Government has decided to adopt the British system of control, and the bill now before the House follows very closely that prepared under the direction of my predecessor, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr.- A. Green). The Government decided unanimously on commission control, to follow the British system as closely as Australian conditions will permit. I remind the House, however, of the extent to which our conditions differ from those in Great Britain. The British Broadcasting Corporation operates in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, an area of 95,000 square miles ; it serves 46,000,000 people, and has an annual revenue of over £2,000,000. Australia’s area is nearly 3,000,000 square miles; its population is only 6,500,000, and the broadcasting revenue £400,000. A considerable proportion of the income of British Broadcasting Corporation is derived from the sale of periodicals, magazines, and newspapers. It is a very thorough organization, and I do not know of any other institution of modern times that has done so much for the entertainment, education, and intellectual uplift of the British people. I had the pleasure of meeting Sir John Reith when I was in England. At that time the principal broadcasting station was on Savoy Hill, but’ since then the corporation has established a new station, which is undoubtedly the most complete and up to date in the world.
To illustrate the lengths to which a government will go to obtain reliable data for its guidance in the establishment of a broadcasting system, I may mention that the Canadian Government ‘appointed a commission, over which Sir John Aird, president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, presided. The commission visited the United States of America, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and other European countries. I quote two brief extracts from its report.
Everywhere in Europe we found inquiries being conducted under government auspices for the purpose of organizing broadcasting on a nationwide basis in the public interests. . . We have examined and considered the facts and circumstances as they have come before us. As our foremost duty, we have concentrated our attention on the broader consideration of the interests of the listening public and of the nation. Prom what we have learned in our investigations and studies, we are impelled to the conclusion that these interests oan be adequately served only by some form of public ownership, operation, and control behind which is the national power and prestige of the whole public of the Dominion of Canada.
I agree with those sentiments. Broadcasting is not an ordinary activity. Not only does it carry entertainment and education into the homes of the people, but it gives helpful information to even the remotest settlements. Broadcasting would be a simple operation if it were merely to serve city interests, but, particularly in countries of wide expanses, the cities must contribute more or less to the privileges enjoyed by the rural folk.
– That is always so.
– It is, and country folk will readily admit that, but for the immense revenues collected in the great cities, many of the privileges enjoyed by the rural population could not be provided. That principle is recognized as essential to any broadcasting system. It is undesirable to raise the cry of country versus city. I do not intend to do so, as each is helpful to the other.
Iu November last, the New Zealand Parliament legislated for the establishment of a board to control broadcasting. The measure was passed unanimously by both Houses after a brief discussion, and I hope that this bill will have the same happy fate. I understand that the board in New Zealand is already doing remarkably well.
Early in the history of Australian broadcasting four large A class stations were established, the two principal ones being 3LO Melbourne, and 2FC Sydney. Some of the later stations are built on Commonwealth property and some are leased. The Government proposes to take over from the broadcasting companies the services they operate, and to place them under the control of a commission. The programmes will be provided by that body, and for the present, at any rate, the technical part of the operations will be controlled by the Postal Department, which already has the requisite staff and plant. The capital value of the technical assets owned by that department and used permanently for broadcasting is £210,000.
– Will the commission have power to set up later its own technical staff?
– That is a matter to be determined later. The Government will expect from the commission advice on all matters relating to the future of broadcasting.
– The use of the technical staff of the telephone branch will be obligatory.
– That is so. Let no honorable member imagine that in any country broadcasting can be divorced from the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic systems.
-The British Broadcasting Corporation has its own technical staff.
– It has a very large revenue, and serves only a small area, and the underground channels formerly used for telephones are now available for broadcasting.
– It has not to give telephone service over thousands of miles.
– That is so.
Mr.Riordan. - Why establish a commission? Cannot the Postal Department control broadcasting?
– The Government has decided that control by a commission would be more satisfactory. Broadcasting is a comparatively new science, and every step forward must be taken on sure ground. Therefore, we cannot do better than follow the example of Great Britain in this matter.
– But this bill provides for a considerable divergence from the British scheme.
– Yes. If we had a special staff whose sole duty was to attend to the broadcasting operations, heavy, and, I think, unnecessary expenditure, to which the listeners-in would object, would be involved.
The postal, telephone, and telegraphic facilities provided in Australia are available even to the humblest homes in practically every part of Australia, and it will be easy for the officials who have been well trained in supplying those services to look after the technical side of broadcasting. Over £200,000 has already been spent on this work, and the Postal Department is splendidly equipped to-day to continue. The Post Office has on its permanent staff 207 highly trained engineers having a specialized knowledge of all phases of communication services, and 2,700 mechanics who are also specially trained for the same purpose. In its research section, fifteen research engineers are engaged, and these are supported by twelve specially selected mechanics. Apparatus of a precision, character, and of the finest quality obtainable, to the approximate value of £28,000, forms the equipment of the research section. The capital value of the technical assets belonging to the department and used permanently for broadcasting purposes is £210,000. This figure excludes the large number of circuits used permanently for inter-connecting studios with pick-up points, and also excludes the value of telephone circuits used for periodically connecting stations when a chain broadcast is being made. At the present time, the national service is furnished by twelve stations. This bill will not apply to B class stations, nor will it deal with the vexed problem of performing rights, and the charges levied by certain record manufacturers with respect to broadcasting; those subjects must be dealt with by other departments, and by other measures. The problem of copyrights is a legal one for the Attorney-General’s Department.
– It is an international matter.
– Performing right charges appear to be based mainly upon an. agreement that has been arrived at.
– Agreements have been made, but they have been broken: I understand that variouscharges have been made by the Performing Right Association to the owners of the B class stations. Of course, complaints in that regard have been made by those stations; but the matter must he dealt with at another time and under other legislation.
– It is entirely pertinent to this debate, I think, to say that the people who pay for the broadcasting service should know how much of their money goes in performing right fees. We pay five times as much in that direction as is charged in Great Britain, Canada, and South Africa together.
– All I can say at this stage is that the Government has this subject under serious review, and it is being inquired into by the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. I believe that we shall be able to introduce a system whereby we shall know the reason for all claims for copyright fees, and we shall know by whom they are made. Speaking off hand, if we were to insist on the registration of copyrights, and even charge a certain fee. it would be beneficial to the national exchequer, as well as helpful to the Performing Right Association and its clients.
There are now 12 A class stations in Australia; one is to be opened next week at Crystalbrook, South Australia. In order to have a proper national system, it is essential to build another eight stations, and when we have about twenty of them properly distributed throughout the Commonwealth, the people will be remarkably well served. There are pockets in Australia, as in all parts of the world, where broadcasting is difficult. For instance, it is not so easy to carry on broadcasting operations in Tasmania as in other parts of the Commonwealth.
– And Tasmania receives least consideration.
– When the necessary funds are available, Tasmania will be supplied with broadcasting facilities. Even the British Broadcasting Corporation, with its remarkable financial resources, finds difficulty in supplying a completely satisfactory service. I recently read in the British press of serious complaints regarding the broadcasting service supplied to Wales. The Government desires to go on with* the work of erecting addi tional A class stations, and these will be placed principally in country areas, so that the people in out-back districts may be catered for.
– Western Australia has not yet an up-to-date national station.
– The difficulties in Western Australia are not similar, I think, to those experienced in Tasmania.
– When will the Western Australian station be erected?
– So soon as the Government can obtain the requisite funds. I am quite prepared to admit that it is not fair for the Treasurer to apply to general revenue the fees received from listeners-in. The Postal Department ] as received a considerable amount of adverse criticism with respect to broadcasting, and this is clue, to some extent, to the fa<:t that, part of the fees of listeners havebeen permitted to flow into the genf:..revenue. The revenue received in Germany amounts to £4,000,000 per annum, and in that country the .postal officials are practically in sole control of broadcasting. A great deal of research is proceeding, and we have officers being trained under the auspices of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Although the British Broadcasting Corporation has control over the programmes that are broadcast, it is dependent on :he British post office, in the main, for it.* valuable services. The broadcasting work of that post office is almost identical with that of the Australian post office.
– Does the British Corporation pay anything to the Marconi Company for patent rights?
– I do not know. I understand that quite a number of the charges made in Australia are not justified, and cannot be legally established.
I now propose to refer to Empire broadcasting, with which excellent progress is being made. At the last Imperial Conference a special committee was ap pointed to deal with this matter, and certain recommendations were made. A great station is being erected at Daventry, England, and it is being specially constructed for the purpose of transmitting programmes throughout the Empire. The sum voted for this work, £40.000, has been provided out of the publication fund, and the maintenance and upkeep of the station will involve an expenditure of £42,000 per annum. The difficulty in broadcasting programmes throughout the whole Empire is that in some parts it is night time, while in other parts it is day time. But wonderful improvements in broadcasting are anticipated in the near future. It is anticipated that under the Empire broadcasting system, it will bc possible for naked blacks to listen-in in the jungle to the world’s best operas. We may also reach the period when brownskinned Indians will be able to dance to one of England’s best orchestras, and when fur-clad Canadians in distant snowbound outposts may listen to a description of the running of the English Derby. In order to make available to the people of Australia at an appropriate hour programmes which are broadcast in England at night time, extensive use will be made of the Blattnerphone recording apparatus. With this equipment whole programmes may be “bottled” and put on the air at whatever hour is most suitable for any particular part of the Empire. This apparatus is capable of recording outstanding musical concerts, radio plays, talks, and in fact everything that is put on the air. I believe that by means of wireless we shall be able to bring the different parts of the British Empire into very close touch with each other. I shall not describe in detail what the British Broadcasting Corporation is able to do, but I am not exaggerating when I say that it has organized one of the best orchestras in the world. It will be a great thing for Australians if arrangements can be made for them to listen to relays of concerts by this orchestra. It should also help to deepen our Empire spirit considerably if we, through the wireless, can listen to the greatest British artists, speakers and lecturers, who participate in broadcast programmes.
Television also offers wonderful possibilities. I was an unbeliever in television, and I well remember the feeling I had when, some years ago, I was called upon to participate in the opening of station 3AR in Melbourne and had some notes put in my hand in which it was intimated that the day was not far distant when a farmer sitting in his own home 170 miles from Melbourne would be able to watch the running of the Melbourne Cup, and would know the winner of it as soon as some people on the course at Flemington. Television has undoubtedly bounded ahead. Until comparatively recently, experiments in television were made difficult owing to the lack of finance; but lately millions of pounds have been made available in order to develop this great agency for human instruction and entertainment. I understand that the Baird experts of Great Britain are now collaborating with the German experts with the object of putting into practical operation such principles of television as have been established. While I was in England I had the wonderful experience, at No. 10 Downing Street, of seeing a lady and hearing her speak, although she was twelve miles away from the room in which I was sitting. No doubt the Leader of the Opposition had a similar experience.
– Is provision made in this bill for developing television?
– The bill, of course, deals mainly with wireless broadcasting; but it is unlikely that the proposed broadcasting commission would overlook any great developments in television. We at present possess in Australia suitable equipment for broadcasting relays of British programmes throughout the Commonwealth.
The bill provides for the appointment of a commission of five members - a chairman, a vice-chairman, and three others. The salaries to be paid to these commissioners are on a modest scale. The chairman is to receive £500 per annum; the vicechairman, £400; and the other commissioners, £300 each. These are small salaries, but I believe that they will be sufficient to enable us to secure the services of thoroughly capable men.
– I presume they will be part time positions.
– If we were to set out to obtain the whole time services of firstclass business men, we should have to pay large salaries. The Government feels that it should embark upon this new- era of broadcasting carefully. We’ are not in a position to spend large sums of money on salaries. I know that in other parts of the world the directors of broadcasting receive large salaries; but we have already had an indication that it will not be difficult to secure the services of thoroughly capable persons for the remuneration which we are offering.
– What duties are to be discharged by the proposed commission?
– The functions are described in Part III. of the bill The commission will be expected to “undertake the provision and rendition of adequate and comprehensive programmes and it will be authorized to “do such acts and things as it deems incidental or conducive to the proper exploitation of those things which may be beneficial to broadcast programmes “. The care of the technical side of broadcasting will, as I have said, remain the responsibility of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Clause 15 of the bill provides that the commission shall appoint a general manager and such other officers and servants as it thinks necessary; but it is also provided that the salaries of the general manager and the next six most highly-paid executive officers shall be subject to the approval of the Minister. We know very well that in some business enterprises it is the custom to appoint a managing director, while in others control is vested in a board of directors, which appoints a general manager. The broadcasting commission will be conducted on the latter lines.
– Will the commission have authority over the wireless operations of, say, our inland missions?
– Those operations will remain, as hitherto, under the control of the Postmaster-General’s Department. The amateur transmitting and receiving sets which are in use in Central Australia and elsewhere under existing conditions have been of very great benefit to the people outback. They have made life in remote places much more comfortable for women and children, and have rendered possible, to some extent at least, the provision of medical and other essential services. I am glad that’ even out of our poverty we have been able to allot a grant in aid of these stations.
A number of complaints have been made in connexion with the wave lengths allotted to various stations. The air is a great space, but for broadcasting purposes even it cannot be left uncontrolled. It is essential that we shall maintain an authority to determine the wave lengths and other conditions which shall apply to different stations. I know that some stations have complained that they are subjected to interference from other stations.
– Is the department prepared to rectify such complaints?
– Yes, so far as practicable; but so much depends on the location of stations. When various bodies have applied to the department for permission to erect stations in different places, the department has granted the necessary permission; but it often happens that a station site is selected without proper regard for surrounding conditions. This leads to unnecessary interference. I know very well that at my own home, which is a little distance in from the coast, my wireless reception is often interrupted by the transmission of Morse signals from ships at sea.
– Station 2SM, Sydney, was erected where the department desired it to be built; but the controllers of it have complained that they have been “ jammed “.
– I cannot give, the honorable member any definite information on. that point.
– The controllers of 2SM did not erect a station; they broadcast through station 2FC.
– All I can say is that the Government desires to do the very best possible in the interest of wireless development. I am sure that a commission appointed in the terms of this bill will enthusiastically undertake its work. I believe that seven stations are. operating in Sydney. Under prevailing conditions it is almost inevitable that interference will occur. I assure honorable members that the technical officers of the
Government are doing everything possible to conduct our wireless operations in the best possible way.
– I should like more information about the qualifications required of the commissioners.
– The Government will expect the commissioners to be men of good standing.
– I take it that they will be specially qualified to do the work required of them.
– I am not able at the moment to give the honorable member exact information as to the qualifications required of the governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation, when the control of wireless was transferred from private to government hands in Great Britain; but, speaking from memory, they were expected to be men with no axes to grind. It was recommended that they should be men of independent mind, good judgment, and outstanding ability. I may tell honorable members that it is expected by the Government that at least one lady will be appointed to the Australian commission.
– Will the commission be authorized to appoint sub-committees as the British Broadcasting Corporation can do?
– Yes ; though these will be only advisory bodies.
– Is it proposed that the present allocation of the licence fees shall be maintained?
– It is proposed that 12s. of the licence-fee shall be made available to the broadcasting commission. We hope, of course, that with the developments which will follow, some re-arrangement will be possible in the present allocation ; but the commission will certainly have 12s. of each licencefee, as under present conditions. Of the remaining 12s., 3s. will be set aside for patent rights, and 9s. will be taken by the Government. I hope that the measure will be kindly treated by honorable members, and receive a speedy passage.
Debate (on motion by Mr. A. Green) adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate, with an amendment.
Debate resumed from the 4th March (vide page 671), on motion by Mr. Bruce) -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill will be welcomed by the people of Australia, and the members of my party will not oppose it. I regret that the Government has incorporated in the measure only a small portion of the two other comprehensive insurance bills that were introduced in the Senate, the provisions of which protected policy-holders in mutual and other insurance companies. Ever since federation the Commonwealth Government has enjoyed the power to introduce legislation of this nature, although it has no power to interfere with State insurance. Yet. we have reached the year 1932 before the Commonwealth Government really has begun to legislate in this field, and then only in regard to one of the lesser important phases of insurance. With the exception of New South Wales, the whole of the Australian States already have legislation providing that insurance companies shall lodge deposits with their governments for the protection of policyholders. As investors and policy-holders in that State know to their regret, New South Wales has lagged behind in this respect. There have been tragic failures of insurance companies in New South Wales in recent years, including the liquidation of the Property Insurance Company, the Australian Federal Life and General Insurance Company, in which was incorported the People’s Prudential, Commonwealth Traders, and other associated companies, the Community General Insurance Company, and others of a mushroom nature. Notwithstanding the fact that it possessed the necessary power to do so, the Commonwealth Government took no action to protect the people of New South Wales, nor did the State legislature come to their rescue. That territory has thereforebeen a happy hunting groundfor go-getters and the spieler-type of company promotors. On the other hand, Tasmania introduced protective insurance legislation in 1874, while South Australia fol lowed suit in 1882, Western Australia in 1S89, and Queensland in 1901. The States provide that the following deposits shall be lodged by insurance companies : -
Under this legislation the Commonwealth Government proposes that the deposit shall be £40,000 for general insurance, and £50,000 for life insurance, while the amount to be lodged by companies which have their head-quarters outside the British Empire is £60,000. Notwithstanding the comparatively small deposits required by some of the States, the aggregation of the deposits represents a respectable sum. The following are the particulars : -
I am unable to obtain information as to whether the States will have to hand back to the insurance company the margin of difference between the deposits specified by their legislation and those stated by this measure. I have endeavoured, too, to ascertain from the States the amounts that they hold in cash and securities, but only three have had the courtesy to reply. In fairness to those that have failed to do so, I acknowledge that there may be some difficulty in obtaining the information readily, and that it may be forwarded to me later. I am not a States righter. Rather am I a federalist. For that reason I welcome federal action in this matter, but I am reluctant to give approval to any legisla-
J/r. Blakeley. tion which will, by its operations, call upon the States to relinquish cash or securities which would embarrass them. I have learned unofficially that the provisions of this measure will not operate harshly in that regard, and I hope that my information, is correct. In committee I shall ask the Assistant Treasurer to give honorable members an assurance in that regard.
The great trouble about insurance is that it has encouraged a number pf people to fleece the public, and men who have been engaged as canvassers on commission, have decided to form insurance companies of their own. The whole thing was so easy. A flashily-furnished suite of rooms and the assistance of glib tongues was ail that was necessary. Capital was not an essential. Those gogetters scoured the country looking for business, glibly assuring potential clients of the stability of their company. They even entered the realm of third party motor insurance. The result was a tragedy to the policy-holders. I remember that, only a few years ago, a number of members in this chamber were left lamenting when a mushroom concern collapsed. Throughout Australia, and par.ticularly in New South Wales, investors have been robbed of considerable sums of money. That, would not be so bad, because, after all, those who have money to invest in insurance companies are in a different position from persons who are endeavouring, by paying small regular instalments, to provide for their families. It is with this class of persons that I am mainly concerned in connexion with this legislation.
The great pity is . that this Government has seen fit to present now only a small portion of the legislation that was twice passed by the Senate. I mention, incidentally, that on each occasion the Government that permitted the introduction of that legislation fell almost immediately. I hope that the hoodoo will continue. The legislation which the last two Governments proposed to introduce in this chamber dealt with all phases of insurance. It embodied - registration ; winding up of companies; transfers and amalgamations; provision for security of insured persons in connexion with deposits by companies, statutory funds, statements, returns, investigations, policies and protection of policies; payment of policy money; registrations, assignments and mortgages of policies, audit and children’s insurance. Perhaps the most important clause in the bill of 1929, which I hope the Government will lose no time in introducing, was that which provided that before any canvasser or gogetter could even advertise, make application for subscriptions, or issue prospectuses, permission must be obtained from the Commonwealth Treasurer. In 1908, a Commonwealth royal commission was appointed to inquire into insurance, and after considerable investigation reported as follows : -
Owing to the nature of the legislative enactments of the several States of the Commonwealth relative to the conduct of life insurance business, and the fact that these have all had a common basis, viz., the English acts of 1870 to 1872, there does not exist in Australia the same degree or convenience and want of equity from variations in State legislation that are to be found in America; but even here the diversity is of such an extent that the enactment of a uniform federal law superseding the existing State legislation would represent a distinct gain to the companies transacting life insurance business in Australia, and, indirectly, to their policy-holders since under it the present necessity for lodging separate deposits and returns of revenue, expenditure, assets, liabilities, &c, with the separate State governments would be obviated, the deposits and returns lodged with the Commonwealth Government, applying to the whole of Australia.
An opinion which held good in 1908 holds good to-day. One wonders at the lack of interest shown by various Commonwealth Governments since that time in dealing with this important social service. Although it may be said that the last Government showed no great haste to deal with insurance, we must concede that it was continually dealing with matters of urgent public importance, in an endeavour to prevent a financial crash in this country. Nevertheless, we did facilitate the introduction of insurance legislation in the Senate, and made provision for its introduction in this chamber. Most of the general and life insurance business in Australia is in the hands of the mutual companies, and there are interesting particulars available showing the great necessity for the governments of this country to protect the large number of policy-holders, most of whom are of the working class. I have a return showing that in the ordinary departments of mutual societies there are 676,310 policies, the sum assured being £234,429. In other societies and companies there are 225,304 policies, the sum assured being £59,855. In the industrial department of mutual societies there are 1,127,472 policies, the sum assured being £53,559, and in other societies and companies, there are 471,159 policies, the sum assured being £16,371. Any legislation that we pass must provide adequate protection for approximately 2,400,000 policy-holders. Even in those States where deposits are lodged the protection is not adequate’. In New South Wales there is absolutely no protection. I, therefore, welcome the bill, but urge the Government to take the earliest opportunity to bring down to this chamber the remainder of the original bill. I am sure that the Government would be afforded every facility by honorable members to pass a comprehensive insurance measure which would enable the Commonwealth Parliament to exercise a power given to it under the Constitution, and thus bring about the federalization of insurance.
.- I cordially support this bill. My only complaint against it is that it does not go far enough. It deals simply with deposits, when it should deal with every phase of insurance. The Commonwealth has power under section 51 paragraph xiv. of the Constitution, to deal with insurance, and the exercise of that power is long overdue. In fact, during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government, a bill dealing with life insurance was actually brought down. It passed the Senate, and had been introduced in this chamber. When the election took place, it unfortunately lapsed. During the next parliament Senator McLachlan introduced the. measure as a private bill. It was passed by the Senate with the concurrence of the government of the day, and brought down under my name to this chamber. Despite the enthusiasm of the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley),’ who was Minister for Home Affairs in the Scullin Government, no day was set down for its discussion, and it suffered the fate of all unfinished projects at a general election. I urge this Government not to leave any stone Unturned to put this legislation on the statute-hook, not merely this partial measure, but a complete measure dealing with, not only life insurance, but also fire, marine, accident, and other forms of insurance. There is no more important subject on which the Commonwealth Parliament may legislate than insurance, particularly from a social point of view. Insurance, in effect, is simply a system of pooling losses, and is of special importance to the small man in the community, much more so than to the rich man. Insurance is practically the substitution of a social co-operative provision for an individual provision by a distribution of losses and elimination of risk. What it does in effect is to ensure that the man whose house remains undestroyed by fire, helps the man whose house has been destroyed by fire. [Quorum formed.] The man who has the good fortune to live to a ripe age contributes to the support of the dependants of those who have the unfortunate experience of dying early. The man whose motor car has not been stolen helps to replace the motor car that has been stolen from another man. The essence of insurance transactions is that the payments by the insurance companies are made at a time when the recipient is in financial distress. Therefore, no parliament can take too much care in safeguarding the funds of insurance societies, and in making certain that the manner of their investment is absolutely satisfactory and safe, that the funds at the disposal of the insurance companies, held practically for trust purposes, will be available when required, and that the overhead expenses of the companies are not such as to prevent full payments from being made at the proper time. There is a vital necessity in the public interest for the passing of legislation on a most comprehensive scale. The business is of a fiduciary character. It is in the nature of a trust for people who in many cases are not able to look after themselves. That applies particularly to life insurance, to almost every transaction in respect of which the date of the maturity of contract is remote. If a man insures his life and dies before his policy matures, his widow needs to be certain that the money for which her husband scraped and pinched during his life time, will be paid to her. The object of insurance is to benefit a policy-holder in time of dire necessity, or to enable his dependants to carry on after his death. The complexity of insurance business, particularly marine insurance, which is concerned with happenings in all parts of the world, makes necessary a great deal of supervision. Furthermore, cases arise of the mal-administration of insurance” funds which have a serious effect upon -the community. These factors make it imperative that there should be a general Commonwealth law covering the operations of insurance companies throughout Australia. We especially need a Commonwealth law to guard the investing and insuring public against possible injury from mushroom companies. In Australia there are several highly successful companies, such as the Australian Mutual Provident Company, the Mutual Life and Citizens Company, and the National Mutual Insurance Company, which have handled their business so satisfactorily that unscrupulous company promoters have been able to point to them as a reason why it would be profitable for the public to invest in other companies. Frequently. through lack of experience or insufficient capital, such new companies have failed, and loss has been sustained by the shareholders and policy-holders. Commonwealth rather tha* State supervision of insurance operations, is necessary, so that conditions may be uniform in all States, and because social life in this country is becoming increasingly Australian rather than merely State-wide in its outlook.
Greater stability is required in insurance business, and one method of obtaining this is by direct supervision of insurance funds under legislation passed by Parliament, while another is by providing that due publicity is given to the balance-sheet and transactions of insurance companies. Various methods have been suggested for ensuring security to shareholders and policy-holders. One of the least valuable, in my opinion, is that provided in this bill, namely, the lodging of deposits by companies. That may have the effect of preventing the growth of mushroom companies, but the amount of the deposit in the case of large companies is so insignificant compared with their liabilities that the security provided is negligible. Something more is necessary, and I hope that before the debate on this bill is concluded the Minister in charge will signify the intention of the Government to bring down another measure at a later stage dealing with all aspects of insurance. One method of obtaining greater security is to require that companies shall effect a proper separation of the various funds under their control. It should be possible for any one looking at the balance-sheet of a company to ascertain exactly what is its financial position, and where its funds are invested. I recognize that, in connexion with the measure now before us, there is need for haste. Were it not so I would suggest that this bill be enlarged to incorporate the provisions I suggested. My experience has taught me that if one does not take the opportunity of introducing amendments to a measure when it is before the House, one may have to wait a long time before a new and more comprehensive measure is introduced. I hope that the Government will, in future legislation, stipulate that proper financial statements shall be prepared by insurance companies, and also make provision for the investigation of accounts if necessary. It should also be provided that the policies issued are just from the point of view of the policy-holders. In the past, insurance canvassers have fre quently induced people to take out policies which have not provided the holders with the cover they thought they were receiving. Policy-holders sometimes do not read their policies until the time comes to make a claim, and then they find that they have all along been under a misapprehension. Definite provision should also be made in regard to the surrender of policies, and for a general audit of insurance accounts. Such matters as the assignment and mortgaging of policies should also be covered by Commonwealth legislation, so that all policy-holders will know exactly where they stand, and uniform practice obtain all over the Commonwealth.
This bill deals only with the matter of deposits. To that extent I am in favour of it, although I am disappointed that it does not go further. It aims to protect the funds of insurance companies from the rapacity of a particular State. That is necessary at the present time, because we must recognize that injury to any insurance company, large or small, must be felt also by large numbers among the general public. It is the first duty of this Parliament to obviate such danger. It is important also to protect the interests of shareholders and policy-holders from the directors of the companies themselves. Those who take out policies and pay premiums furnish most of the funds in the possession of insurance companies, and they should be protected by law against the machinations of fraudulent or foolish company directors. The public should also be protected from unscrupulous company promoters.
I trust that, at a later date, the Government will bring down a bill which will meet with general approval. I understand that the bill dealing with life insurance passed last session by the Senate met with hardly any opposition there, and I am sure that, were it brought before this chamber, it would meet with a good reception here. The State of New South Wales is at present hopelessly behind the rest of the Commonwealth with regard to insurance legislation. For many years it has been the happy hunting ground of unscrupulous company promoters, and for that reason I am glad that, this measure, if passed, will, to some extent, bring it into line. “When the insurance hill was submitted to the Senate last year, it contained some provisions which seemed to conflict with the direct interests of the States. The Senate is the chamber which is charged more particularly with the protection of State interests, and it amended the bill in such a way that it met with the approval of the State Governments. I intend to vote for the second reading of this bill, and to assist its speedy passage through this chamber.
.- It is desirable that the law as to insurance generally should be codified as early as possible. This bill is a useful contribution covering one aspect of the insurance problem. The only aspect with which I am much concerned is the position of self-insurers - as to whether they will be liable under this bill in some circumstances to lodge deposits. There are persons and companies which do their own insurance, sometimes entirely for themselves, sometimes in concert with others for their mutual insurance. I know that it is not intended that selfinsurers should be required to lodge deposits, and I believe that the greater number of them will be outside the scope of this measure. Where a company merely establishes a reserve fund to be drawn upon to meet losses of its own property, it is clear that this bill would not affect it. It would not come within the definition of insurance business as set out in the bill.
– Such a fund would really be an addition to reserves.
– Yes, an addition for the specific purpose of insurance. The insurance business contemplated by the bill does not connote insuring one’s self, but the giving of an undertaking to indemnify some other party. There are some private insurance schemes in which the insurers do give an undertaking to parties other than themselves. I refer more particularly to certain workers’ compensation schemes, in which an undertaking is given to indemnify the worker in the event of injury. Some of those schemes are approved by the Treasury of a State. Deposits have to be lodged with the State Treasurer, and those deposits are available to satisfy the claims of injured workers. I shall cite a typical example. Section 10 of the Workers Compensation Act of Western Australia makes it obligatory on employers to insure, but it contains this exception -
Provided that if an employer proves to the satisfaction of the Minister that such employer has established a fund for insurance against such liability, and has deposited at the Treasury securities charged with all payments to become due under such liability, the Governor may, by order in council, exempt such employer from the operation of this section.
Under that scheme the employer undertakes liability to a person other than himself, namely, his employee. Insurance business is thus defined - “ Insurance business “ moans the undertaking of liability to make any payment, or to make good any loss or damage, contingent upon the happening of a specified event, and any business in relation thereto . . .
That means, I believe, an undertaking of liability in respect of any person other than the insurer ; thus distinguishing between insurance “business and self insurance. I am certain that the Government does not desire that those firms which have already established schemes of the nature I have indicated, and made deposits with the State Governments, should be required to deposit’ £50,000 with the Commonwealth Government. I ask the Minister in charge of the bill to refer this point to his officers, and at a later stage to give the House an assurance that the bill will not affect self insurers.
.- Had the Assistant Treasurer (Mr Bruce), when moving the second reading of this bill, explained the real motive for its introduction, honorable members would have been treated as intelligent adult’s rather than as children. The right honorable gentleman, in emphasizing the need for protecting policy-holders, dealt at length with the failure of insurance companies in the United Kingdom. What he said may be quite true, but the purpose of those statements was only to mislead honorable members and the public regarding the real reasons for this legislation. Those of us, however, who have watched closely recent events, understand very clearly why the bill has been introduced. We have been told that there is need for a uniform insurance law throughout the Commonwealth. If that be so, the uniformity should be in regard to insurance generally, and not merely in regard to that one phase of insurance with which the bill deals. If deposits are to be made by insurance companies with the Commonwealth Government, that obligation should apply to all States. The mere declaration of the amount of deposit to be made by each company engaged in insurance business is not uniformity. Reference has been made to tlie fact that on two previous occasions a comprehensive insurance bill was placed before this Parliament, and not proceeded with only because elections intervened. So much lime having been given to proposed legislation of this character, the Government must have had at its disposal all the data necessary for the introduction of such a bill as the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has declared to be necessary. Why then has the Government not introduced such a bill? If a uniform and comprehensive insurance law for the whole of the Commonwealth, was necessary when the earlier bills were introduced, it is equally necessary to-day, and if the Government were sincerely desirous of dealing with this matter, it had the draft legislation at hand, and the requisite majority in both chambers to enact it. If the public is so much in need of protection against the occurrences in the United Kingdom and Australia, which were referred to by the Assistant Treasurer, why did not the Government’ legislate on those lines? The answer is obvious. The Leader of the Country party said that it is necessary to give this measure a speedy passage, but he did not explain why, because he wished to hide the reason for haste. We are entitled to expect reasonable frankness from honorable members. What have they to hide? Why do they not state candidly the undeniable reason for this bill? As soon as it was mooted, mild, consternation was caused amongst State Governments already holding cash deposited by insurance companies. They complained of the serious embarrassment which would be caused to them if this Parliament enacted those provisions of the bill which would necessitate the transfer to the Common wealth of the deposits held by them. The Premier of Queensland and others expressed great concern, and apparently as a result of representations to members of the Senate the bill was amended to relieve State Governments of the obligation to hand over to the Commonwealth deposits they have already received. The explanation is that they could not hand over those moneys because they have applied them to other purposes. I quote the comment of Mr. Barnes, the Treasurer of Queensland; dealing with repudiation, and the financial position of this State, he is reported in the Brisbane Courier of the 26th February, as having said -
Certainly if the Federal Government were to insist on proceeding with those provisions in its insurance bill which would require Queensland to pay over certain moneys held as deposits from companies, the finances of the State would be weakened very materially.
Queensland is one of the States which, according to Commonwealth Ministers, are honouring their obligations, and faithfully adhering to the Premiers plan; because of such conduct they must be given every help to tide over their difficulties. They would not be so dishonest as to use for other purposes moneys deposited with them to guarantee the rights of insurance policy-holders! They may boast of their cash balances, and claim that they have balanced their budgets; they may slug their own praises at meetings of the Loan Council ; but the Treasurer of Queensland has admitted candidly that his Government has used for other purposes money received to safeguard the interests of insured persons. Probably a similar situation exists in other States, and I do not wonder at their refusal to let the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) know the exact amount of cash deposits actually in their possession. It would be unwise on their part to make such information public, because it might be utilized in connexion with further representations that must be made at future meetings of the Loan Council and Premiers conferences. We have been told that New South Wales was particularly backward in legislating to protect the public against “ go-getters “ and tinpot insurance organizations formed for purposes of exploitation. Previous State Governments may deserve condemnation for not having provided.,this protection which is declared by the right honorable member for Cowper to be necessary; I do not condone their laxity, but I remind the House that not until the present Government in New South “Wales introduced a measure to correct that omission were steps taken to induce the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate in this field. The organizations with which the right honorable member for Cowper is associated took action to cause the Legislative Council to prevent the necessary protection being afforded to policy-holders. While anti-Labour sections complain that New South Wales is still the happy hunting ground for insurance exploiters, they use their political organizations to prevent the enactment of corrective measures. Many of the antiLabour members of the nominee Legislative Council are deeply interested in insurance companies, and they have their own interests to serve. Self interest has been the guiding principle of their parliamentary careers. Having been appointed for life they have not to go before the people periodically to give an account of their stewardship, and they take particular care to protect the interests of themselves and the associations with which they are connected. Therefore their opposition to the insurance bill introduced by the Lang Government was to be expected. When the interests which were disturbed by Mr. Lang’s bill got into touch with their representatives in this Parliament all that had been said in years gone by of the need for a comprehensive insurance measure went by the board, and the Government decided that this Parliament must legislate quickly to prevent the New South Wales Parliament from demanding deposits from the insurance companies as other States have done. Of course the Commonwealth Government has declared very definitely its attitude towards New South Wales, and the Government of that State; it is prepared to adopt any means to prevent the New South Wales Parliament from functioning as it thinks fit. But obstacles will have to be overcome before even this bill, which discriminates between States, can operate. The New South Wales Government will not stand idly by while this Parliament exercises its legislative powers, not to protect insurance policy-holders, but to prevent the State Parliament from doing what it is justly entitled to do. That is proved by the fact that great care has been taken to provide that the bill shall operate from a certain date. Retrospective legislation is to be passed providing that the Commonwealth law shall override that of a State. Sub-clause 2 of clause 6 gives power to the Treasurer to call upon a State government, at any time, to hand over to the Commonwealth any deposits by insurance companies that it may have in its possession. If, at the next general election in Queensland, a change of government took place, as appears likely, and the new Government refused to follow the bankers’ policy of so-called financial rehabilitation, the Treasurer of the Commonwealth could, for political reasons, demand that the Queensland Government should hand over £1,400,000 now deposited with it by insurance companies. If a new government were called upon to pass over such a large sum to the Commonwealth Treasury, it would probably be seriously embarrassed in giving effect to its policy. If my opinion on this matter is correct, I have drawn attention to a serious aspect of the bill. I am satisfied that the financial policy that the State Governments generally have followed up to the present time has failed, and a drastic change must necessarily be made. I object to the power given under this clause to do something that would embarrass a State government that had the temerity to launch out upon a financial policy opposed to that of the Commonwealth Government.
It is not necessary to consider in detail the provisions for the protection of depositors. Those who put their savings into institutions of the kind referred to in this bill should receive all possible protection; but insurance should be provided on national lines. That is th, policy of the Labour party. New South Wales has a government insurance scheme in operation, and it is working very satisfactorily. It has resulted in a considerable reduction of premiums, and has been of benefit to the whole community. Since the object of this bill is to embarrass the Government of the State from which I come, I shall oppose it.
.- In supporting the request of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) for the exemption of self-insurers, I ask the Minister to take a note of the points to which I shall direct his attention, so that the interests of self-insurers will be safeguarded, which is, I am sure, the intention of the Government. In certain industrial concerns in, at least two of the States, sickness and accident insurance funds have been built up, on a cooperative basis, by means of subscriptions from employers and employees, and are administered by trustees representing both employers and employees. Very useful work is being accomplished on a nonprofit basis by means of these funds, and in addition to affording monetary relief in the event of sickness or accident, the movement is valuable in promoting good industrial relations between employers and employees. The States to which I refer are Victoria and Tasmania^ In the latter State, another insurance organization has been established to meet the needs of workers who suffer from occupational diseases. Under an act of the Tasmanian Parliament known as the “Workers Occupational Diseases Relief Fund Act, contributions are received from the employers and from the employees, and a further payment is made by the State Government. The result is that a fund has been established from which employees suffering bona fide from occupational diseases are compensated upon a scale that is laid down. It is provided, that, where, in the opinion of the board thai administers the scheme, an individual company is sufficiently stable to look after the matter of insurance on its own account, it shall* be exempted from the general operation of the act. Two large companies in Tasmania operate under that exemption today, with the result that neither the Government nor the employees are called upon to make contributions; the companies themselves carry the whole of the risk. This is an eminently liberal arrangement from the employees’ point of view, and it is valuable in promoting good industrial relations. I have no doubt that the Government has no desire that the present bill should prejudicially effect the interests to which I have referred; but I am not satisfied that the definition of “ insurance business “ makes the position sufficiently clear ‘to ‘relieve employers and employees from anxiety concerning the effect of the measure on the two types of insurance that I have mentioned. I hope that at a later stage the Minister will make such alterations as may be required to leave no doubt on this point.
.- It is clear that the bill was brought down . in haste, for there was no preliminary intimation that such a measure would be introduced. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) had an insurance measure on the stocks for a year or two, and he outlined several directions in which the interests of the public might be safeguarded. This bill provides for a maximum deposit of £50,000 by life insurance companies, and of £40,000 by fire insurance companies. It seems to me that the Government will need power to examine the balance-sheets and books of the companies, and, therefore, I consider that the present bill does not deal thoroughly with the subject. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator McLachlan), when introducing the measure in another place, said that it was designed to protect the people of Australia from improper use of the deposits lodged by insurance companies, and to bring about a uniform practice. That is what I desire to see accomplished under the bill. Such a measure is long overdue, but I am afraid that the interests of depositors are not properly safeguarded under this proposal. Six or seven years ago, before Mr. Lang came into power, New South Wales was the happy hunting ground of personsinterested in making money quickly by means of life and fire insurance business. If the Commonwealth Government of the day had done its duty it would have prevented a great deal of the loss caused by the depredations of persons whose main desire was to accumulate wealth in the shortest possible time. I regret that the bill gives no power to examine the accounts of insurance companies.
The Bruce-Page Government appointed a commission representative of the Labour and anti-Labour sides in politics to investigate, the subject of national insurance. That, commission travelled throughout Australia, and presented its report exactly five years ago this mouth. National insurance was an important part of the policy of the present Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) when he was Prime Minister; but the scheme propounded by the commission was promply shelved. Although opposing political parties were represented on that body, the members endeavoured to arrive at a compromise. Senator J. D. Millen, who was chairman, did excellent work in that capacity, and it must have been heart breaking to him and to the other members of the commission to find that their labours had been of no avail. If the Government considers £50,000 to be a sufficient deposit to accept from insurance companies, I should like to know why the following sums are required from the companies by State Governments: - Victoria, £449,000; Queensland, £1,500,000; South Australia, £490,000; “Western Australia, £559,000; and Tasmania, £280,000?
– No doubt there are many insurance companies in those States.
– That is probably the explanation.
Life and fire insurance companies have run wild in Australia. Any effort to prevent the immense waste caused by having 37 life insurance companies, and 42 fire insurance companies operating here should be supported by honorable members opposite who are interested in commercial economy. Of the 37 life companies operating in Australia only six are purely mutual, and only one is a government institution. The number of life policies in operation is 908,807, and the value of them is £290,313,414. The surrenders reach the surprising figure of 12 per cent, annually. The expenses of management amount to 9 per cent, of the income, and commission and other expenses to 8 per cent., making 17 per cent, in all as the cost of running the business. This rate is far higher that it should be. If we had one Commonwealth life insurance office it would be beneficial to the people. The establishment of such an office would not necessarily mean that the other companies would be swept out of existence; it would mean that a spirit of healthy competition would be evoked.
New Zealand has had a government life insurance office in successful operation for 20 or 30 years, which has been able to police the life insurance business of the sister dominion just as effectively as the Queensland Government insurance office has been able to do valuable work of a similar nature in the northern State.
There are 42 fire insurance companies operating in Australia, New Zealand and FijiThis is a matter of particular interest to primary producers, who are called upon to pay extortionate premiums to secure cover against the risk of fire. The premiums paid to these 42 companies in 1929-30 totalled £8,304,000, while the losses accounted for £4,829,000. On a percentage basis, losses accounted for 58.15 per cent, of the income, and other expenditure for 33.66 per cent.; while the trade surplus totalled 8.19 per cent. The result of the operation of the Queensland insurance office has been that premiums have steadily fallen. I have not the exact figures, but when I last made an inquiry into this subject, I ascertained that the insurance rates of Queensland were to-day very much lower than when the State office began operations. 1
Honorable members opposite must surely recognize that considerable economies could be effected by standardizing the insurance business. A multiplicity of companies cannot possibly lead to efficient activities. I regret, therefore, that the Government has not seen fit to introduce a comprehensive insurance bill. This measure has been brought forward with some desire other than the real improvement of the insurance business; but whether it is designed to bring the Premier of New South “Wales to heel or not, I am certain that nothing but good could follow the introduction of a bill designed to stabilize the whole of our insurance operations. I hope that before very long a measure of that kind will be brought down for the consideration of the House.
– The introduction of a measure of this kind has been too long delayed. Such legislation is essential to the welfare of the people of this country. It is highly desirable, in my opinion, that the insurance business of all the States should be placed upon an equitable footing. With the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), and the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin), I think that something more should be done to protect the insurance schemes established by employers and employees. I do not believe that the object of this bill is to destroy the cooperative insurance movements which have been set on foot by various private enterprises in Australia in order that the welfare of employees may be safeguarded in the case of misfortune overtaking them; I believe that it is to protect the interests of thrifty Australian citizens who should not be left open to the exploitation of bogus insurance companies which, in the past, have been able to do a good deal to injure the best interests of the workers of this country. In these circumstances I am surprised that honorable members opposite should have shown any opposition to the bill. They must have read into the measure some ulterior motive. Surely honorable members who represent New South Wales constituencies must realize that the policyholders in insurance companies would be protected by the lodging of deposits by the companies. Only recently, investigations have been made in New South Wales which have demonstrated beyond question that bogus companies have been operating there for some time. Some of these companies have actually robbed people who have been so ill-advised as to take out policies with them. This has meant a degree of distress too terrible to contemplate. Although this bill is not all-embracing, it certainly does do something -to meet an unsatisfactory position in New South Wales. It has been said that the measure is aimed definitely at the New South Wales Government. Even if that be so, we must remember that “ hard cases make hard laws “. It is absolutely imperative that the welfare of the people of New South Wales should bc protected. The stability and credit of the State, and the value of its stocks and securities, will be improved if insurance companies are required to make deposits in accordance with the terms of this measure. I remind honorable members that the bill has already been passed by members of another place, who have been elected for the purpose of watching the interests of the States. We may take it, therefore, that State interests have been conserved in this measure. It is certainly undesirable that any government should be able to confiscate the funds of insurance companies in order to carry out pet schemes of its own. I support the bill, because I think such legislation is necessary in the interests of the nation.
– The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) made an informative and interesting speech on the subject of this bill early this afternoon, and I do not think it necessary to cover the same ground. I wish, however, to urge the Government to bring down a comprehensive insurance bill. It is regrettable that the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), who was Prime Minister of this country for about seven years, should have shelved a bill which he had had drafted on this subject during his period of office. It is evident that the real reason for the introduction of this small measure has not been stated in the speeches made by government supporters in this chamber, or in another place; there is undoubtedly more behind the bill than meets the eye.
Royal commissions have been inquiring into the subject of national insurance in Australia for twenty years, and on various occasions have recommended that a uniform Commonwealth insurance law should be passed. In these circumstances, it is regrettable that the Government has not seen fit to do more than’ it is proposing to do in this bill. We know very well that mushroom insurance companies have, in the past, robbed the thrifty people of Australia of thousands of pounds. Similar companies have done the same kind of thing in other parts of the world. It was for this reason that the British Life Insurance Act was passed in 1870, and that the Queensland Labour Government introduced the Queensland Insurance Act in 1916. I am sorry that this Government has not given more attention to the experience of the Queensland insurance office in the last fifteen years. The Queensland Government, under the act of 1916, was empowered to transact all classes of insurance, and it is actually carrying on fire, life, accident, and marine insurance on competitive lines with considerable success, as shown by the progress and growth of the business year by year.
This bill was not satisfactory to the. States in the form in which it was originally introduced; but I understand that it became acceptable because amendments were made to it in another place, which provided that security lodged with a State government prior to the 1st Febuary, 1932, may remain so deposited, and that the provisions of the bill will not apply in such cases so long as such deposits are so held.
The time is ripe for the introduction of comprehensive legislation to provide for national insurance throughout Australia. It has been shown in Queensland that the establishment, of a State office is beneficial to both the State and the insurers. The position in Queensland at present is that the State Government is able to take credit to itself for having -
The fire insurance section of the Queensland State Insurance Company has effected reductions of up to 33½ per cent. in premium rates, and as a result of these reductions and the annual bonus distribution to fire policy-holders on prescribed risks, the amount saved to the insuring public of Queensland during the past five years amounts to over £3,000,000. If this Government were to introduce insurance legislation providing for the establishment of a Commonwealth national insurance department operating on similar lines there would be a tremendous saving to the Australian policy-holders generally.
– I remind the honorable gentleman that his party was in power for over two years.
– During which time we had not a majority in the Senate. Because of that, and because a number of honorable senators are interested in proprietary insurance companies, it was impossible for the Scullin Government to secure the passage through Parliament of a national insurance scheme.
The success enjoyed by the life insurance section of the Queensland State Insurance Department has been phenomenal. Within three years, at the first valuation, it was paying bonuses, and now, after having been fourteen years in existence, the company is paying a bonus which begins at £3 and runs as high as £3 14s. per £100 on whole life policies, while the minimum and maximum amounts declared on endowment assurance policies are £2 and £2 10s. respectively. The amounts insured to date with the Queensland State Insurance Company exceed £S,830,000. Only one other Australian insurance office has declared a bonus so early in its career, and few, if any, have declared bonuses in such a short period, which in any way approach in liberality those declared by the Queensland State office.
I mention those facts to remind the Government of the wonderful success that has attended the national insurance scheme that was sponsored by a Labour Government in Queensland, in conformity with Labour’s policy to nationalize insurance. The sooner such a scheme is adopted for the whole of Australia the better it will be for the tens of thousands who are at present charged excessive premiums by profiteering private companies. The Queensland State Insurance Department has proved that a well-managed State concern can be of greater benefit to the public than any proprietary company, whose chief purpose is to make profits out of its policy-holders. I admit that there are mutual provident insurance companies in Australia which are doing excellent work, but not one can show as good results in such a short time as those disclosed by the operations of the Queensland State Insurance Department. The present Assistant Treasurer is likely to be a member of a Commonwealth Government for another three years, and I hope that he will exhibit a greater interest in this matter that he did on a previous occasion, when he carried a measure only to the introductory stage. I trust that he will introduce a more comprehensive bill, dealing in a national way with this important subject, which is now merely being tinkered with in order to enable the Commonwealth Government to deal with a certain delinquent State administration. As the measure proposes to protect policyholders, I shall support it. My only regret is that it does not go far enough.
.- I propose to support the measure; but I rise merely to direct the attention of the right honorable gentleman in charge of the bill to clauses in connexion with which it might be w-ise to say something further when we reach the committee stage; I refer to those which relate to the investment of funds that are to be lodged with the Treasurer. The depositor may choose from certain prescribed forms; of investment; if he fails to do so, the-, choice will be made for him by the Treasurer. In the definitions clause, among: other forms of approved security which appear perfectly unobjectionable, there is specified in paragraph f -
Unencumbered titles to freehold lands in the Commonwealth and first mortgages of freehold lamia in which the sum secured does not exceed two-thirds, or such other proportion as the Treasurer determines, of the improved value of the lands;
My attention has been called to that paragraph, which has caused some concern among managers of exceedingly stable insurance companies, particularly one that has its head-quarters in Great Britain, and is operating on a large scale in the Commonwealth. It is conceivable that, in ‘ certain circumstances, companies might find themselves with their securities invested in first mortgages on properties the actual value of which was rapidly depreciating, and that this might be a cause of great embarrassment to them, because clause 20 provides that -
The fear is expressed that a company might make the necessary deposit, which might be invested in an approved security of a depreciating character, and at a later date might be called upon to make a further deposit to bring its deposit up to the original value, although the direction of the investment had been determined by the Treasurer himself. Naturally, while the present Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer are in office that fear has very little substance, and the companies to which I refer have every confidence in the present Administration. However, as this legislation is to be permanent, I suggest that paragraph / of clause 3 might be further considered.
Clause 6 provides that, within three months after notice is given by th?
Treasurer, insurance companies shall make a return embodying certain information. It has been represented to me that in the case of concerns which have their head-quarters abroad, there may be mechanical difficulties in the constitution of the company itself, preventing it from supplying such a return within three months, and that a somewhat longer period, say, six months, would be a safer provision. That alteration, wouldbe a convenience to companies I have in mind, supposing there is to be no objection to it from the point of view of the Treasurer.
If my present understanding of the measure is correct, those two small weaknesses might repay further consideration, and I beg to recommend their revision to the right honorable gentleman in charge of the measure.
Mr.ROSEVEAR (Dalley) [5.56].- In my opinion, next to banking, insurance is, perhaps, the most vital activity that affects the people of Australia. Because of that reason, if a national government intends to deal with the problem of insurance it should do so in an effective manner. In the past, policy-holders have been exploited unmercifully by bogus companies promoted by swindlers, and it is essential that any scheme sponsored by this Government should adequately protect the interests of the public. This is not a national insurance scheme. It merely tinkers with State activities with the definite object of harassing the Government of New SouthWales.
I am indebted to the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) for stating so frankly thathe would support this bill, if only because it provided the Commonwealth Government with effective means to deal with the Government of New South Wales. He rather intimated that there is a fear that, with the permission of the Nationalist majority in the New South . Wales Legislative Council, Mr. Lang may pass certain insurance legislation which will frustrate the efforts of this Government. The honorable member appears to be afraid that Mr. Lang will misuse the deposits lodged by insurance companies under the proposed State enactment. I may as well be equally frank and tell him that some of the Nationalist State Governments of Aus tralia have already used deposits lodged by insurance companies in order to pay the salaries of their public servants. This bill provides a special getaway for such administrations, by enabling them to retain existing deposits and employ them as they see fit.
We are assured that the Commonwealth Parliament has had power since federation to deal with insurance legislation. Royal commissions have exhaustively reviewed this problem, and have recommended that uniform insurance laws should be introduced. This is not uniform insurance legislation. It seeks to bring about uniformity only with regard to deposits. It does not deal with national insurance generally. Why, then, has this Government failed in its duty? Why, too, does it insist that one State should hand over the deposits which it has received from insurance companies, and exclude other States from similar action, merely because they happen to have passed prior legislation dealing with the subject? If uniformity is to be effective at all, it should have general application. The deposits should be lodged at one centre. No preference should be shown to any State, and no discrimination exercised. The Senate has at different times passed two measures dealing with insurance. They were sponsored by senators, not of the Labour party, but of the party which the Government and its supporters represent in this House. Why did it not previously occur to them that there was dire necessity for demanding deposits from insurance companies to ensure their good faith ? Is the lodging of deposits with the Commonwealth Treasury likely to prevent wealthy insurance companies from defaulting? The other night the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), referring to a company called, I think, the Albert Company, said that it was so large that it had absorbed 25 other companies, and that the fact that it was immense and wealthy did not prevent it from defaulting. If a similar company were to spring up in Australia, would the fact that it had lodged deposits with the Commonwealth Treasurer prevent it from defaulting? I think not. On the other band, the lodging of deposits with the Commonwealth Treasurer would be an effective bar against any new competition entering the insurance market to the detriment of the wealthy companies controlling insurance operations in Australia. It would hobble and prevent private enterprise from entering this sphere of business, but* would not in any way prevent a w?ealthy company from defaulting. If a national scheme of insurance were adopted, the Government would be able, not only to give substantial guarantees to the people who insure under the scheme, but also to assist those who, through circumstances over which they had no control, could not continue their payments. In this respect it is interesting to study the statistics published in the Year-Book for 1929, under the heading, “Ordinary life assurance “. The policies discontinued in Australia in 1929 were - by death and maturity, 17,280, covering an amount of £3,933,620; policies surrendered, 15,823, covering an amount of £4,409,649. I understand that in some cases of surrender the companies did give financial consideration to the people concerned. In 1929 there were 42,538 policies forfeited, representing the sum of £11,461,656. Under a scheme of national insurance, policy-holders who were financially embarrassed for the time being, would be able to suspend their payments until they were in a position to meet them. The Year-Booh for 1931 contains a fairly complete table setting out ordinary and industrial life insurances and Australian liabilities for the year 1929. The paid-up capital of shareholders amounted to £1,729,408. The companies possessing that capital are, I presume, the companies referred to in the Year-Book. Their liabilities are shown as £106,641,600, and their assets as £134,598,978. They, therefore, have surplus assets of £27,957,000 on a paid-up capital of £1,729,408, arid an annual dividend and cash bonus to shareholders of £750,837. It is no wonder that these wealthy insurance companies are so anxious to keep competition out of this field. As a means of keeping out genuine competition nothing Could be more acceptable to these companies than the demand under this legislation to lodge cash deposits with the Commonwealth Treasury. They realize that the lodging of deposits, in itself, would not be an effective safeguard against default on their part. Insurance, next to banking, is perhaps the most vital problem confronting the people of Australia.
– Did the honorable member -support the Lang scheme in New South Wales?
– The sooner a scheme of national insurance is brought down to this House the better I shall be pleased. But I am positively certain that national insurance, with all the safeguards and the assets of the Commonwealth of Australia behind it, would not suit the interests represented by the honorable member for Wentworth. The insurance companies have at times sought to control governments in respect of legislation. I remember the outcry that was raised in New South Wales about the Workmen’s Compensation Act. The private insurance companies - private enterprise - declared that they could not afford to insure under that act, and that if they did, the exorbitant premiums would be beyond the means of the average person. The State insurance office, which was inaugurated by Mr. Lang, entered the insurance field, and within three months reduced the cost of premiums by 33J per cent. When the private insurance companies realized that their game of bluff was ended, they were eager to effect insurances under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, and when the State insurance office subsequently effected a further reduction of 20 per cent, the insurance companies followed in its steps. To-day private enterprise in New South Wales is effecting insurances under that act at about one-third of the original estimated cost. As has been indicated by the honorable member for Wentworth, this legislation has been introduced for the purpose of denying the Government of New South Wales the right to legislate along similar lines. I am in agreement with the honorable member if he says that the lodging’ of the deposit demanded under this legislation will not be an effective bar against default on the part of insurance companies. They will default in spite of the deposit. If honorable members opposite are serious when they say that there should be uniformity in respect of the laws governing insurance throughout Australia, they should be prepared to allow the deposits to be controlled by one central authority - the Federal Treasurer. It is because some of the governments of the other States would be embarrassed if the Commonwealth were to demand the handing over of deposits lodged with them by insurance companies that clause 8 has been inserted in the bill. It is designed to have a sort of double-barrelled effect, but it will have no effect if its purpose is to prevent the wealthy insurance companies from defaulting. If this legislation is designed to embarrass the Government of New South Wales, the Premier will resort to other means to obtain revenue. I say that, even if it is considered to be an admission that that Government would use insurance deposits in the same manner as Nationalist Governments in the other States have used them. I am indebted to the honorable member for Wentworth for having spilled the beans by admitting that all this talk about the necessity for insurance companies to lodge deposits with the Commonwealth Treasury so that the interests of the policy-holders may be safeguarded, is camouflage. Despite the efforts of this Government to overthrow the Premier of New South Wales, the Lang Government will exist in that State long after the members of this Government are forgotten.
Sitting suspended from 6.12 to 8 p.m.
– The reception accorded to this measure has been generally cordial, the chief complaint of its critics being that we have not gone quite far enough. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) said that he was quite in accord with the principles of the measure, but deplored the fact that the Government had not on this occasion brought down a full and complete measure to take over the control and regulation of insurance throughout Australia. What he said was largely echoed by the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), and several other speakers. The Government considers that insurance is a matter that should be dealt with by the Commonwealth, and that Parliament should exercise the power given to it by the Constitution, and I hope that, at a later date, a complete measure dealing with the whole subject may be submitted to honorable members for their approval.
As I pointed ou£ when introducing this bill, a comprehensive measure has on two occasions been passed by the Senate, but owing to the intervention of a general election on each occasion, that legislation was never completed. Except for the criticism that this measure did not go far enough, the honorable member for Darling approved of the bill, but said that he did not want to see any sudden, drastic, or immediate action taken by the Commonwealth which would embarrass the States which, at the present time, have control of insurance, and have accepted deposits paid by insurance companies in accordance with State laws. I assure the honorable gentleman that there is no intention to embarrass the States in any way. Under this measure power is taken to allow the deposits to remain with the States, and pro tanto, to be regarded as deposits required under federal law. The honorable member also was not sure whether the States would be required to hand back to the companies deposits in their possession of a value above that required by the federal law. There is no intention to require anything of the kind to be done at the present time. Things will be allowed to remain as they are, pending the introduction of a wider and more general measure for the regulation of insurance on a federal basis.
With one exception, the other points raised were more or less committee matters. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin), and, I think, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison), discussed the matter of self-insurance, or internal insurance schemes established by various business concerns. I am prepared to deal with those points in committee, though I think that they are, to a large extent, met by the bill as it stands. I intend to propose an amendment to the definition of insurance business, which will clear up most of the difficulties raised by honorable members. That amendment is to strike out after the word “means” the words “the undertaking of liability to make any payment “ and to substitute “ life insurance business, and includes the business of undertaking liability. The position is further safeguarded by clause 15, which provides that the Treasurer is to have discretion to exempt certain kinds of insurance businesses.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) suggested that though this bill had been introduced with an air of great simplicity, as one purporting to safeguard the interests of policy-holders in insurance companies, and to protect the public against mushroom and fraudulent companies, this is really camouflage to disguise certain insidious and dreadful designs of the Government. I assure the honorable member that the whole object of this measure is to protect the rights of policyholders, and to make sure that security will be available in the event of any company meeting with disaster. The honorable member, has, however, forced me to make a few remarks regarding the present Government of New South Wales. The honorable member for West Sydney is very difficult to please; apparently nothing will satisfy him. I have been accused of being at times a trifle outspoken regarding New South Wales, and a little too free in my comments on the Premier of that State, and the actions of his Government. But when introducing the present bill I did not say anything on the subject. The honorable member for West Sydney has now forced me to abandon my reticence. The purpose of this measure, as I have said, is to protect policy-holders, and to safeguard their security. A. bill is now before the Parliament of New South Wales providing -that insurance companies must deposit security with the Treasurer of that State, and one might imagine that that action was being taken on behalf of the policyholders. But a significant feature of the measure relates to the security which has to be deposited. The word “ security “ is used, but the word “ securities “ is not used at all. From beginning to end the bill stipulates that money shall be lodged. In every other measure designed to protect the interests of insurance policy-holders it is always provided that money or securities may be lodged ; but in the New South Wales bill there is no reference to securities at all. In the New South Wales
Parliament numerous amendments were made to the insurance bill, and they were all alike. They were to the effect that after the word “’ money “ the words “ or securities “ be inserted, the purpose being that securities in addition to money, might be lodged as a deposit. The New South Wales bill is not a comprehensive measure to deal with insurance with a view to protecting the interests of policy-holders. It provides merely that insurance companies shall deposit securities with the Government, and what distinguishes the measure from all similar legislation is that the lodging of security is always defined as the payment of money. It is essential in the interests of the policyholders and the insurance companies that action be taken by the Commonwealth Government to prevent large sums of money from being drawn from the insurance companies into the coffers of the State of New South Wales, there being grave doubt that such money would ever be available to protect the interests of policy-holders.
Honorable members will note that it was not I who introduced this matter into the discussion; that responsibility rests on the honorable member for West Sydney. Since he has raised the issue, I have no hesitation in saying that, if there were no other reason for introducing this measure, the action of the New South Wales Government makes it imperative that steps should be taken by the Commonwealth Parliament to protect the interests of insurance companies in New South Wales. It is extraordinary that the Government of New South Wales, which has so much to say about helping the poor and suffering, and those upon whom misfortune has descended, should introduce a measure, the undisguised object of which is to draw into the coffers of the State large sums of money from insurance companies, so that the Government may carry on a policy which, although it may believe it to be right, every thinking person recognizes- is bringing the State to irretrievable disaster.
The honorable member for West Sydney asked why this measure was being treated as urgent. If he really wishes to know, my reply is that it is because of what is being done in New South Wales at the present time. This measure is urgent because it is necessary to take steps to protect the interests of insurance companies, which hold such a large proportion of the savings of the people of Australia. It is necessary to ensure the stability of those companies, in which the majority of the people are so vitally interested. There is no section of the community, hardly an individual, in fact, who is not concerned with the soundness of the insurance companies which operate in this country. I have no hesitation in saying that it is to protect these institutions, and through them the interests of the public, that this bill has been introduced.
The honorable member for West Sydney stated also that other State Governments have received these deposits, used them for their own purposes, and, in short, done what obviously would be done by the Government of New South Wales if such moneys were allowed to reach its hands. The allegation against the other State Governments is absolutely untrue. In each State the Insurance Act prescribes what shallbe done with the deposits when they are received by the Government, and how the rights of the policy-holders shall be protected. The reflection upon the integrity of the governments in those States which already hold deposits from those carrying on insurance business, has not the slightest justification. A more sane and accurate view was expressed by the’ honorable member for Darling who recognized that embarrassment would be caused to any State Government if it were suddenly called upon to hand over large sums of money because Commonwealth legislation had required a change in the custody and control of such funds. Such a demand was never contemplated in the insurance laws of any of the States. TheCommonwealth Government has no desire to embarrass the States. It intends to introduce a comprehensive measure to deal with insurance, and, in the meantime, no hasty or ill-considered action will be taken to require the States to hand over to the Commonwealth the deposits they now hold. The State legislation under which those deposits have been made will be kept alive, pending further Commonwealth legislation on the subject.
The honorable member for Martin (Mr. Holman) canvassed the possibility of the Treasurer investing the deposits of a company in freehold properties, and, subsequently, when the securities depreciated, requiring the company to restore its deposit to its original value. The Government does not desire that that shall occur, and no doubt in committee such a contingency can be provided against. Whilst this is not the comprehensive insurance measure that the Government and other honorable members desire, it is at least a step towards uniformity throughout Australia. The measure is urgent, and I hope that the House will deal with it expeditiously.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 52
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
This act shall commence on a date to be fixed by proclamation.
– I move -
That the following words be added: - “ which shall not be earlier than the first day of February, 1933”.
That will allow twelve months beyond the date to which the bill is to be retrospective, and will afford the Government an opportunity to prepare and introduce a comprehensive insurance measure in accordance with the desire expressed by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) and other supporters of this bill. On two previous occasions bills to deal with all phases of insurance throughout the Commonwealth were introduced into this Parliament; apparently there is still a general desire that this Parliament shall legislate comprehensively on the subject. My amendment, if agreed to, will give the Government a chance to do what is required, and, at the same time, preserve to New South Wales rights that are now enjoyed byother States. It will also serve to unmask the real purpose of this bill. If the committee does not accept my amendment discrimination will be shown, and the Labour party of New South Wales will at least know where the Government stands on this matter.
.- I support the amendment. The clause is too vague, and the committee should fix a date for the issue of the proclamation. The argument has been advanced that only by action such as is proposed under this bill can uniformity be obtained. Therefore, we should fix the date of the proclamation so far forward as to enable all State Governments to realize on their securities and deposit them in one place, presumably the Federal Treasury.
– I cannot accept the amendment. The necessity for this measure is obvious, and no discrimination will be exercised under it. The repetition of the charge that discrimination will be shown is unwarranted.
Question - That the words proposed to be added (Mr. Beasley’s amendment) be so added - put. The committee divided. ( Temporary Chairman - Mr. Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 46
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 (Definitions).
.- I move -
That the words “‘prescribed securities “, paragraph g in the definition of “ approved securities “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ securities specified by regulation as approved securities “.
This amendment covers one of the points to which I referred in my second-reading speech. The words “prescribed securities “ are used in clauses 18 and 20 of the bill in such a way that some confusion might be caused. The same phrase is used to describe securities which a company may deposit in place of a money deposit, and later to indicate the list of securities in which money deposited may be invested. My amendment, which has been prepared in consultation with the draftsman, will remove any ambiguity.
.-Thereis a possibility of confusion occurring if the definition is left as it appears in the bill. I am, therefore, prepared to accept the amendment of the honorable member for Martin (Mr, Holman).
– The meaning of the word “ prescribed “ is fixed by the Acts Interpretation Act. Has the honorable member for Martin considered that point ?
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That the words “ the undertaking of liability to make any payment, or “, in the definition of “ insurance business “ be omitted with a view to insertin lieu thereof the words, “ life insurance business aud includes the business of undertaking liability”.
The definition which appears in the bill is so wide that it might go further than the Government desires. The amended definition is clear, and will, I think, remove an objection which the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) took to the definition which appears in the bill.
. -It is the practice in this Parliament to circulate printed schedules of amendments to bills. I do not know Whether the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) is endeavouring to introduce a new procedure. Honorable members should be afforded an opportunity to judge for themselves the real effect of any amendments which are proposed. I understood from the second-reading speeches of honorable members that they desired to make this bill more, and not less, comprehensive. As a protest against the failure of the Government to circulate these amendments, I shall vote against the proposed alteration.
– I agree with the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) that it is the practice to circulate printed schedules of any amendments of substance; but when it is discovered during the second-reading debate that minor amendments are desirable, these are usually made, although printed details of them have not been circulated. I am extremely sorry if the honorable member has not had a typewritten copy of the alterations which the Government is proposing, and I shall see that he is furnished with one immediately; but I assure him that the amendments are of minor importance.
.- Obviously, there has not been sufficient time since the conclusion of the second-reading debate to print and circulate proposed amendments to the bill. I am glad that the Government is bringing this definition into conformity with the ordinary definition of “ insurance business “. Clause 15 of the bill gives wide power to the Treasurer to exempt certain classes of insurance business.
– The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) has courteously handed me a typewritten copy of the amendments which the Government proposes to move to this bill. It is apparent, therefore, that the Minister in charge of the bill has extended a courtesy to the official Opposition which he has not extended to other parties. The right honorable gentleman may consider these to be minor amendments; but surely it is our right to determine for ourselves the real significance Of them. I still feel that it is necessary, at this early stage in the life of the Government, to indicate that we expect Ordinary courtesies to he extended to us. I shall vote against this amendment as a protest against the procedure which the Government is adopting.
– I do not desire to influence the honorable member for West
Sydney (Mr. Beasley) in the casting of his vote; but I trust that he will not oppose the amendment merely on the ground of a lack of the courtesy that should be extended to him. In order to remove any possibility of misunderstanding on that point, I offer the honorable member my most sincere apology if I have been guilty of what appeared to him to be a lack of courtesy. Any seeming discourtesy was, I assure him, entirely unintentional, and I regret it.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. Bruce’s) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Temporary Chairman - Mr. Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 44
Question so resolvedin the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 (Application to Territories).
– Has the Government power to apply this act to the Mandated Territories?
– It will apply to all of the territories of the Commonwealth.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 (State Insurance).
– Does this mean insurance conducted by State Governments?
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 -
Amendment (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to-
That the word “exclusively,” sub-clause 2, be omitted.
– I move -
That the words “ society of insurers,” subclause 2, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ or on account of a group of insurers (no member of which is a company or is acting on behalf of a company).”
This is the clause to which I referred in my second-reading speech, which specifically refers to the operations of Lloyd’s in Australia. On examination it was considered that the words “society of insurers” was not the correct designation for Lloyd’s, and that that corporation could more accurately be described by the words which form my amendment, the phrasing of which prevents ordinary insurance companies from avoiding compliance with the deposit provisions of the measure. It merely means that a number of people acting as agents for Lloyd’s may lodge one comprehensive deposit instead of a number of separate deposits.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 7 (Deposits under State Act).
Provided that this sub-section shall not effect the operation of any State Act, in force on the first day of February, One thousand nine hundred and thirty-two, in so far as the State Act imposes stamp duty upon licences issued to persons engaged in insurance business. (2.) Where, at the commencement of this Act, any amount or security is, in pursuance of any enactment which upon such commencement ceases to have effect, held by a Stateor by any authority of a State by way of deposit on account of any person carrying on insurance business, the State or authority shall, when so required by the Treasurer, return the amount or security to the person by whom the deposit was lodged. (3.) So much of any amount or security as is in the form of money or approved securities and is returned to any person under the last preceding sub-section shall, if that person continues to carry on insurance business after the commencement of this Act, to the extent of the deposit required to be lodged by that person under this Act, be lodged by that person with the Treasurer forthwith as, or as part of, the deposit so required.
– I move -
That the word “ thirty-two,” sub-clause 1, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ thirty-three.”
The purpose of my amendment is to counteract the obvious discrimination that this bill seeks to exercise. Provision is made for the retrospective action of this legislation in order that the Commonwealth Government may thwart the intention of the Government of New South Wales, which is about to introduce a measure providing that insurance companies carrying on business in that State shall lodge deposits with the Government. Discrimination is shown by allowing other States, which now hold deposits from insurance companies, to retain those moneys. Obviously that is a necessary step, because those governments have already expended those moneys. We have heard a good deal about this bill bringing about uniformity in insurance legislation. That, of course, is a myth. The measure is designed to discriminate against the State of New South Wales, and it will act to the detriment of that State if it really has force of law, which remains to be proved. My amendment, if accepted, will make the application of the bill uniform.
– Sub-clause 1 reads -
After the commencement of this act, no State act, whether passed before or after the commencement of this act, to the extent to which it requires a person carrying on or proposing to carry on insurance business to make any deposit or to make any payment by way of licence fee, or to make, as a condition upon which that person may carry on insurance business, any other payment, shall, subject to this act, have any force or effect.
The effect of that sub-clause is that after the passing of this legislation no State act which requires a deposit by any insurance company shall have any effect. The proviso, the operation of which the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has suggested should be postponed until 1933, states -
Provided that this sub-section shall not affect the operation of any State act in force on the first day of February, One thousand nine hundred and thirty-two, insofar as the State act imposes stamp duty on licences issued to persons engaged in insurance business.
In other words, the proviso will allow a State to continue to enforce the payment of licence-fees which are at present levied on a person carrying on an insurance business in that State. I cannot accept the amendment.
Question - That the word proposed to be omitted (Mr. Beasley’s amendment) stand part of the clause - put. The committee divided. (Temporary Chairman - Mr. Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 40
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– Sub-clause 2, if my interpretation of it is correct, provides an opportunity for the Commonwealth Treasurer to authorize, at his discretion, that whatever amount or security a State may have deposited with it, shall be returned to theperson by whom the deposit was lodged. During my second-reading speech, I stated that this provision would give power to the Treasurer to direct, at his discretion, that funds lodged with, for instance, the Queensland Government, which funds, according to the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) amount to £1,400,000, shall be returned to the insurance companies concerned. No reason has been given for the insertion of this sub-clause in the bill, although it will enable the Commonwealth Government to place in an embarrassing position a State that may, in the near future, be experiencing the conditions prevailing in New South Wales to-day. I have mentioned Queensland as an illustration, because there is likely to be a change of government there shortly, and if there is a new government, it may adopt an attitude to this bill similar to that which the Tasmanian Government is taking against another measure which has recently been passed by this Parliament. This legislation is coloured with party politics. I am not prepared to permit the Commonwealth Treasurer to exercise thispower to the detriment of New South Wales, andpossibly, to the detriment of other States in the near future. According to Mr. Barnes, the Queensland Treasurer, if his Government were forced to disgorge the funds lodged with it by insurance companies, the State would be in a serious position. I can imagine how ruthlessly this power will be applied by the Commonwealth Treasurer if a change of government takes place in Queensland. I warn the supporters of the Government, who represent States other than New South Wales, that this provision is likely to react against them. I refuse top ilace in the hands of this Governmentpower which will enable it to sabotage the efforts of a Labour government to finance its operations. I move -
That sub-clauses 2 and 3 be omitted.
Mr.BRUCE (Flinders- Assistant Treasurer) [9.28]. - This sub-clause has been inserted in the bill in order to assist the States. One method of dealing with the whole problem would have been for the Commonwealth to require the immediate return of all securities and moneys deposited with the various States, to the insurance companies concerned, and the immediate payment by those companies to the Commonwealth of the prescribed amount of security. The Government does not believe that that would be a fair or wise thing to do. To demand that the transfers should take place immediately would dislocate the finances of some of the States. This demand is not being waived for the reason suggested by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), namely, that the States have committed some breach of trust and spent the money; but because under the law of most of the States the Treasury may re-invest such deposits in State securities, and most of them have done so. This clause has been inserted to protect States against the inconvenience of having to call in these moneys at short notice. The change-over from State to Federal control of insurance can be made in an orderly manner, and when it, is completed there will, I trust, be one federal insurance law dealing with all phases of insurance business.
.- The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) has said that some of the States would be seriously embarrassed if they were required to hand over immediately the deposits lodged with them by insurance companies. The suggestion is that if they were required to do so, they would have to repudiate the obligation. It is all very well to say that the deposits are represented by State securities, but the fact remains that the money has been spent by the State Governments for their own purposes. That is why the Treasurer is to be allowed to enforce the repayment of this money or not as he thinks fit. The Assistant Treasurer has said that it would embarrass some of the States if they had to refund insurance deposits. That is true, and the determination of the Commonwealth Government to enforce the provisions of the Financial Agreement against New South Wales is embarrassing that State. The other States would also be embarrassed if they were treated as this Government proposes to treat New
South Wales. It is clear that this bill has been introduced in a vindictive spirit, and represents a continuation of the Government’s policy against New South Wales. If the Acting Treasurer were consistent he would strike out the words “when so required by the Treasurer,” and make it obligatory on every State to refund deposits. If he did that many honorable members on the opposite side of the House would vote against the Government, or, at any rate, would be absent suffering from a convenient illness when the vote was taken. It is remarkable that the Commonwealth Government had no desire to protect the interests of policy-holders until the Government of New South Wales introduced a measure for that purpose. Now this bill must be rushed through with all urgency. The Treasurer, according to the bill, is to be allowed at his discretion to require States to refund deposits, and it must be clear to every thinking person that the discretion which will be exercised by the Assistant Treasurer will be exercised against the present Government of New South Wales.
Question - That the sub-clauses proposed to be omitted (Mr. Beasley’s amendment) stand part of the clause - put.
The committee divided. (Temporary Chairman - Mr. Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 38
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 8 and 9 agreed to.
Clause 10 (Deposits in respect of life insurance business).
.- There is some ambiguity about this clause when read in conjunction with clause 3, subclause 2. Sub-clause 1 of clause 10 provides that a person carrying on a life insurance business shall lodge with the Treasurer money or securities to the value of £50,000. Sub-clause 2 of clause 3 provides that where the insurance business carried on by any person consists only of life and accident insurance that person shall, for the purpose of the act, be deemed to carry on only one class of business. Will the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) state what deposit will be required in the case of such a business ?
– A person carrying on such a business would be required to lodge a deposit as for a life insurance business.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 11 to 15 agreed to.
.- I move -
That after the word “ Treasurer “ second occurring, sub-clause 2, the following words be inserted: - “or within such further time as is specified in the notice “.
Certain companies, including some of the largest and most stable operating in Aus- tralia, carry on business in other parts of the world, and for them to make a return of their liabilities within three months might be physically impossible. The amendment will allow the Treasurer to grant such extension of time as he thinks the circumstances may warrant.
– I accept the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 17 agreed to.
– I move -
That the words “prescribed securities “, subclause I, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ securities prescribed for the purposes of this section “.
The amendment will remove the ambiguity to which I referred earlier, and will distinguish the securities in which the deposits may be invested from those securities which may be accepted, in lieu of money, as a deposit.
– The amendment clarifies the clause, and links up with an earlier amendment in the definition clause. I accept it.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 19 to 27 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) - by leave - put -
That the bill be now read a third time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 40
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- The Government has given close consideration to representations which have been submitted by returned soldiers and other members of the Commonwealth Parliament, the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, and other returned soldier organizations that a committee be appointed to inquire into the unsatisf actory circumstances of many purchasers’ of war service homes, with the object of formulating proposals in the interest of purchasers and of the war service homes scheme. The Government is sympathetic toward these purchasers, and wishes to ensure their continued occupation of their homes, provided this can be done with justice to the men themselves, and to the taxpayers. Accordingly the Government felt that the matter could best be dealt with in the first place by means of investigation by an independent body. Ithas therefore appointed the following returned soldier members of the Commonwealth Public Service to act as a committee of inquiry: -
Chairman. - Mr. J. L. Treloar, O.B.E., Director of the Australian War Memorial, Home Affairs Department, Melbourne; previously acted as Secretary of the Australian Section of the Wembley Exhibition.
Member. - Mr. W. C. Thomas, Dip. Com. L.I.C.A., Sub-Accountant, Commonwealth Treasury, Canberra; is also Custodian of ExPropriated Property, Public Trustee and Controller of the Clearing Office.
In view of the financial position, the Government has decided to confine the personnel of the Inquiry Committee to suitably qualified returned soldier members of the Commonwealth Public Service, who will conduct the inquiry at their existing salaries, plus travelling allowances.
The Inquiry Committee will be requested -
The committee will be asked, in making any recommendation under the terms of its appointment, to take into account the financial position and obligations of the Commonwealth, and the financial position of taxpayers generally throughout the Commonwealth. In any recommendation dealing with the payment of instalments, including arrears, of the amount of any purchase money or advance, the committee will be directed to frame its proposal so as to cover a period not exceeding five years. The committee will be required to furnish its report and make its recommendation within four months from the date of appointment.
– Early this year I had an opportunity of visiting Tasmania, and through the courtesy of certain prominent gentlemen there, I was able to visit some of the large apple orchards. When inspecting one of these orchards, it was brought to my notice that certain regulations which are the cause of great anxiety hang over the heads of the growers, although, up to the present time, effect has not been given to them. Large areas are planted with apple trees of the Hoover and Prince Alfred varieties, and these are listed among the varieties the export of which may be prohibited. I understand that these are good varieties, and although they are now being exported, the Minister for Markets may give effect to the regulations at any time, and thus prohibit their export. On the 9th November, 1928, the Supervisor of Exports sent the following communication to the particular grower whose position was brought under my notice : -
In connexion with the forthcoming overseas fresh fruit export season, attention is directed to the following amendments to the Commerce (General Exports) Regulations, which have been submitted to the Minister, and which, on approval, will take effect from the 1st January, 1929: - “The Regulations are to be further amended as from 1st January, 1931, to provide that the export of the following varieties of apples shall be prohibited. . . .
Then follow the names of several varieties of apples, including Alexander, Allington Pippin, Hoover, and Prince Alfred. This grower informs me that he has received very satisfactory account sales for his fruit, and he thinks that the growers should be permitted to export the varieties which they find to be payable, provided they market a good sample of apple that is true to description, so that the buyer receives a fair deal. Growers are not likely to continue to produce fruit which is unsaleable; it is in their best interests to ship overseas only good export varieties. Honorable members, will, no doubt, be surprised to learn that these growers stand in this position, that at any time the export of their fruit may be prohibited, after it has been packed and sent to the waterfront. My correspondent says -
So far as I am aware, plenty of these Hoover apples are shipped from New Zealand to the
United Kingdom and find a ready sale there. I hope that the axe which continually hovers over the heads of those of us who grow the varieties of apples put on the prohibition list, as per quotation above, will be removed, so that we will be able to look forward to tending our trees with every confidence that we shall be permitted to market the fruit from the said trees continually.
The Markets Department should see that the growers are not left in an uncertain position. They have been engaged in the industry for a long period. Some of their trees appear to be 30 years old, and are producing large quantities of fruit. I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to this matter, and, if necessary, obtain additional information regarding it, so that the growers may be relieved of their anxiety.
.- One of the safeguards in a democratic Parliament is that certain members are prepared to take up any case presented to them by anybody who has a grievance, and although many unsubstantial grievances are dealt with in this National Parliament, it is certain that serious grievances will not escape notice. The case brought forward by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) falls within the category of cases which are forwarded to members considered to be imbued with the spirit of agitation, because their correspondents know that their- grievance will be ventilated. In taking up this matter, the honorable member for West Sydney is no doubt performing a useful public function. The particular complaint that he raises is that the export of certain varieties of apples may be prohibited, and he has dealt particularly with those known as Hoover and Prince Alfred. Some time ago, a considerable quantity of these apples was grown in various parts of the Commonwealth. They are early varieties, and being of a soft nature, do not carry well. But, on the other hand, there are occasions when, because they are ahead of the general crop, and, despite the fact that the loss to the growers may be considerable, they bring in a fair return, compared with the average price obtained for the whole of the apple crop. These varieties often arrive on the other side of the world in a relatively poor marketable condition, and this fact is detrimental to the good name of Australian apples generally. The honorable member remarked that some of the trees of this variety in Tasmania had been planted, I think, 30 years. On the other hand, there are many other trees of this variety in that State which have not been planted so long. The Tasmanian State Fruit Advisory Board, which is a semi-statutory body, has been advising the growers to graft over the stocks of such trees as the Hoover and Prince Alfred varieties to other and more profitable sorts. As the supply of these soft apples diminishes, the value of this fruit as an early variety increases, and therefore, a few growers who have persisted in their cultivation may have obtained exceptional returns; but in handling a fruit which does not stand the long period of transit to the overseas markets, they are doing something which may damage the good name of other varieties of Australian apples.
The discrimination provided for under the proposed regulations complained of has been made only after the fullest inquiry by officers of the department, upon the advice on various matters of officials of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the experts in the State agricultural departments. If the honorable member will give me the name of the gentleman who has provided him with the information furnished to the House, I shall be pleased to have the grievance further investigated; but according to the information supplied by my officers, who, I understand, are guided by the best scientific advice obtainable, there is no justification for allowing the growers of one or two special varieties of apples to risk the good name of Australian export apples, the trade in which amounts to from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 cases per annum. Nothing is more important to Australia than the maintenance of the good name of her exports. Every honorable member of the House, and particularly those who represent constituencies in which shipping is a.n important factor, should jealously guard our export standard, and do everything possible to see that the inspection of exports at the seaboard is rigidly carried out, otherwise our good name may become tarnished.
.- I feel impelled to urge the Government once more to give us an assurance that it intends to do something definite to relieve the deplorable position of the tens of thousands of unemployed persons in our community. A very serious time lies ahead of these people during the coming winter months. During the month or two approaching the Christmas season some reduction occurred in the unemployment returns; but Ave cannot anticipate that there will be anything but an increase in those returns in the next few months, for those who have been engaged in seasonal occupations in country districts will undoubtedly, with the advent of the cold, wet weather, begin to drift back to the cities. This will intensify the unfortunate position, which at present prevails in the metropolitan area of the different States. The condition of industry throughout Australia has not been improved since the assumption of office by this Government. The plight of the unemployed is likely to be accentuated this winter, because many workers, who hitherto have been able to maintain themselves . and their families out, of the slender savings which they have been able to accumulate in better days, are now reaching the end of their resources. This must mean that the condition of the workers will be far less favorable this winter than ever before. Many of our people have been unemployed for as long as three or four years, and are now in desperate, need of winter clothing and shelter. The Government recognized the paramount importance of this problem, because it made reference to it in the second paragraph of the .Speech which the Governor-General delivered at the opening of this Parliament. I do not suggest that the relief of unemployment is the responsibility of any one party ; but I desire that we shall realize that there is an urgent need for us all to bring our collective wisdom to bear upon the subject. This is undoubtedly the greatest problem which faces Australia, and it cannot be said that we have done our duty if we allow Parliament to go into recess at Easter time without having done anything to cope with the position. I urge the Government to provide an opportunity for the House to discuss this subject, and to make suggestions for the relief of the people. It is the obligation of all of us to do everything we can to get out of the present impasse, and to strive to solve the most perplexing problem which faces us. The prospect of the coming winter for our unemployed fellow citizens is tragic in the extreme, and I appeal to the Government to give us an early and good opportunity to offer suggestions for the relief of the position.
– I direct the attention of the Government to the alarming spread of tick among cattle in New South “Wales, and urge it to do something to prevent the infection of fresh areas. In the past six weeks tick infested cattle have been found 200 miles south of the point where for many years infestation was thought to stop. The Stock Department of New South Wales has made a close inspection of cattle-hides in the last week or two, and has discovered dead tick in hides which came from places many miles west and south of the areas previously thought to be infested. The danger is very much more extensive than it was thought to be even a few weeks ago. Thousands of cattle with blood that in the presence of tick would cause the spread of redwater fever have been moved in different districts, and this means that other cattle might with the spread of tick become infested with the disease, and may get redwater, with the resultant heavy mortality - a mortality which has varied in the past from 60 per cent, to 80 per cent, in some districts. If anything like this happens it will be a national calamity. I understand that the Stock Department of New South Wales has, after strenuous efforts, obtained £5,000 for the purpose of building new dips in those areas which have recently become infected. I urge the Government to endeavour to find another £5,000, in addition to the subsidy which it is at present paying towards the cost of eradicating the pest, so that a sufficient number of new dips may be immediately constructed to ensure that cattle moving from place to place shall be clean. If possible, the tick should be forced back to the Queensland border. “ It was felt until a few months ago that the action which had been taken to prevent a spread of tick infestation had been successful, for there had been no southern extension of the plague for eight or ten years; but it is now certain that the plague is extending southwards at a rapid rate. The New South “Wales Government is doing good work in trying to prevent the spread of the pest, but on behalf of the rest of Australia it needs and deserves the assistance of the Commonwealth Government in dealing with this subject. The spread of tick will be a calamity to the Australian cattle industry, and I appeal to the Government to do everything possible to prevent any extension of the tick-infested area.
.- I regret that it is necessary to detain honorable members at this late hour, but the problem of unemployment is of such urgent importance that it is essential that we shall discuss it. The Prime Minister indicated to-day during question time that he would answer no further questions on the subject. That being so, honorable members are forced to take the opportunity which the adjournment motion provides to bring the matter more definitely under the notice of the Government. Everybody knows that during the recent election campaign the United Australia party placarded New South “Wales with a statement that if they were returned to power, unemployment would be relieved immediately, and prosperity restored in the country; but so far as I can see not one extra job has. been provided for the unemployed since this Government assumed office. As a matter of fact, all the attention of the Government has been devoted to an effort to crush the Lang Government of New South “Wales. The electorate of Hunter has passed through a more serious time in consequence of unemployment than possibly any other electorate in the Commonwealth, for the mining industry was the first to feel the effects of the depression. There are men in my constituency who have not worked for five years. Where 14,000 men were engaged in coalmining in my electorate before the depression, only 8,000 are now so engaged; and where the 14,000 were working eight days a fortnight, the 8,000 are now work ing only four days a fortnight. If the Government would do something to stimulate secondary industries, a demand would be created for coal and other primary products, and a degree of prosperity would result which would benefit, not only northern New South Wales, but the whole Commonwealth. The Government of South Africa has provided a bounty of 9s. per ton on export coal. Surely this Government could do something to encourage the coal-owners to try to recapture the export coal trade which has been lost. Our export coal trade has fallen away since 1925-26 by 2,720,631 tons. Where, in previous years, the port of Newcastle was exporting coal to 35 different countries, it is now supplying the wants of only 24 countries overseas. The mine in which I used to work had an average output of 3,000 tons a day. That has fallen to 1,000 tons daily, and many other mines are similarly situated. The opportunity presents itself to the Government to assist the industry by granting a bounty on export coal. The Scullin Government imposed a primage duty upon coal, to discourage steamers which traded in Australian waters from taking in sufficient coal overseas - particularly from Germany and South Africa - to do the round trip. Unfortunately, that has not had the desired effect. I suggest that a prohibitive duty should be placed upon coal that is burned in Australian waters by such vessels.
– That would increase freights.
– The honorable member must blame the Government which he supports for increasing freights, as it disposed of the line of steamers that brought about a reduction in freight rates which benefited the primary producers whom he represents. The bunker coal trade of Newcastle alone has declined in recent years to the extent of 49,000 tons per annum. If the Government adopted my suggestion, immediate relief would be given to a number of unemployed, with resultant benefit throughout Australia. I speak not for propaganda purposes, but in all sincerity, in a desire to better the conditions of these unfortunate people. I cannot make out why the miners of Wonthaggi do not insist that the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) should cause his Government to take action to improve the coal trade. Unless the Government gives prompt effect to the promises that were made by its supporters on the hustings the existing discontent in Australia will attain greater proportions than honorable members opposite imagine.
– I desire to bring under the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the Assistant Minister in charge of Repatriation (Mr. Francis) one or two matters in connexion with invalid and returned soldier pension claims. Since my election as member for Brisbane, I have received numerous complaints from persons who have had their applications for invalid and soldier pensions - particularly the former - rejected. I have approached the authorities in connexion with every complaint, and it has been pointed out to me that the reason why the claims for invalid pensions are rejected is that the persons concerned are not wholly and totally incapacitated. I am aware that that is strictly in accordance with the act; nevertheless I contend that if our legislation is framed in such a manner that it debars those whom I know to be totally incapacitated from receiving a pension, something should be done to amend it. I know of one instance in which an applicant was examined by three doctors, two of whom were private practitioners, and the third the government medical officer. Both private practitioners certified that the claimant was a fit subject to receive an invalid pension, but the government medical officer certified to the contrary. In administering the Workers Compensation Act, the Queensland Government Insurance Office ordains that where there is conflicting evidence from two medical practitioners a third shall be appointed as referee, and his opinion shall be final. I urge the Prime Minister to have the Commonwealth Pensions Act amended so that a more liberal interpretation may be given to these claims, also that the honorable gentleman will issue a recommendation to the officers concerned that a referee doctor shall be called in when conflicting opinions are given, and that his decision shall be accepted.
.- I regret that it should be necessary for honorable members to discuss such an important matter as unemployment on the adjournment, but seeing that the Government is refusing to answer questions relating to this subject, we have no alternative but to avail ourselves of the opportunity afforded by the adjournment to do so. Every time a question is asked as to what the Government intends to do concerning the unfortunatepeople who are unemployed, or to give effect to the policy on which Ministers were elected, it begins to make comparisons with the position in New South Wales. Such comparisons do not fill people’s stomachs. In any case, Mr. Lang is not Premier of other States, where there are large armies of unemployed ; he is not President of the United States of America, where there is also a large army of unemployed. When the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) was speaking upon the unemployed position, the honorable member for Grey (Mi-. McBride) laughed. I can assure the honorable member that every opportunity will be taken to let the workers of Port Pirie know the attitude of their representative in this chamber. To show how far the Government is prepared to meet the requirements of the people, we find that it has driven, or intends to drive, from the Federal Capital Territory 30 or 40 unemployed. Surely the finances of the Commonwealth are not so straitened that we cannot feed such a small number of unemployed, but must drive them out of the Territory.
– Just as winter is coming in !
– Yes. The Government has talked glibly of holding conferences; but what are the unemployed to do in the meantime? Many conferences have been held, and the only tangible result has been piles of documents and reports; nothing in the shape of assistance to people who are starving. The Government believes that all it needs to do is to issue some used military and naval clothing to keep the unemployed warm during the winter months. If that is the best it can do, the sooner it gives way to a real. Labour government, which is prepared to do something tangible for the unemployed the better. Every proposal that has been put forward, or attempt made by the Government of New South Wales to provide work, for the unemployed has been sabotaged by the representatives of the Federal Government and the other State Governments at the Loan Council. If the New South Wales Government is not able to provide employment for all the unemployed in New South Wales, it is at least prepared to feed them, which is more than the Commonwealth Government is prepared to do in respect of a handful of unemployed in the Federal Capital Territory. Indeed, the State Government is providing rations for 30 residents of the Territory whom the Federal Government is not willing to feed.
Out of a total outlay of £12,000,000 the New South Wales Government sets aside £7,000,000 to feed the unemployed. It is determined, at all costs, that the people of the State shall be fed. One’ of the first actions of the Commonwealth Government has been to throw out of employment, not men engaged in secondary industries or workers in industrial centres, but thousands of primary producers. Supporters of the Labour party are, therefore, not the only persons affected by the attacks of an anti-Labour government upon the conditions of the people in Australia. I support the suggestion of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) that the Government should set apart a time for the discussion of this very important question ; not in the hope that it would be of any advantage to the unemployed, because I feel sure, judging members of the Ministry individually and collectively, it is of little use to hope for assistance for the unemployed from them, but because it would enable the people generally to see what the men they have elected to this Parliament are prepared to do to assist the unfortunate unemployed. Honorable members on the other side of the chamber do not know what it is to go hungry. Indeed, when the House sits after midnight they must be provided with a fourth meal for the clay. I offer no apology for admitting that I was one of the great army of unemployed before I entered this Parliament on the 7th March last, and I am not forgetful of the sufferings of those who have made it possible for me to sit in this chamber. I ask the Government to set aside a day for the discussion of this question, so that every honorable member can say where he stands, and so that we may see if this Government i3 really desirous of doing something beyond extending sympathy. I hope further that honorable members will not be whipped into line and prevented from talking as the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Hutchinson) was prevented from talking when yesterday he wished to discuss the tobacco duties.
.- The right honorable the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) has referred to the spread of the cattle tick from northern New South Wales southward. This is a matter of serious concern; but we shall not achieve very much by hasty action, or merely making available further sums of money. For many years the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales and Queensland have been spending large sums in attempting to prevent the spread of the tick. Cattle dips were established, and what were believed to be the most effective precautions were adopted to protect from the tick the herds in the southern portion of the continent. That expenditure is controlled by a board presided over by Dr. W. A. N. Robertson, the Director of Veterinary Hygiene, who is an officer of the Commonwealth, and on it are representatives of New South Wales and Queensland. Yet despite these precautions, the tick is advancing southward. The Government is not, as has been suggested, sitting idly by, and doing nothing. Dr. Robertson is at present in Canberra, and Ministers are in close consultation with him as to the wisest course to pursue. But, I remind honorable members, there is a considerable divergence of opinion as to what is the wisest course to take. We have to determine what is the best course, and I can assure the House, that any quarrel that may be taking place at present between the Governments of the Commonwealth and the State of New South Wales will not interfere with our co-operative action in dealing with this situation. ( ..There will be no stopping of any subsidies to New
SouthWales. If drastic action is necessary, action similar to that taken in connexion with the rinderpest outbreak in Western Australia, the Commonwealth will not hesitate to co-operate with New South Wales.
– The destruction of cattle would not eradicate the tick pest.
– I do not suggest that it would ; but we are prepared to co-operate with New South Wales so as to arrive at and apply the best and wisest methods of fighting this menace, just as we cooperated with the Government of Western Australia in stamping out the rinderpest outbreak.
The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) suggested that certain action should be taken with regard to invalid and war pensions. He suggested an alteration of policy; the appointment of an independent doctor and the referring of disputes to an independent arbitrator or referee, whose decision the Government should accept as the basis on which action would be taken. There are many things to be considered before such a policy as that could be adopted. With regard to individual cases, I suggest that the most satisfactory way of dealing with them would be for those concerned to make representations to the Minister with a view to a thorough examination and investigation.
Several honorable members have addressed themselves to the wide and serious problem of unemployment. I regret that I cannot deal with the speech of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) in quite the same way as I shall reply to the speeches of other honorable members who spoke on this subject. When the honorable member began, he seemed to be speaking with deep sincerity, but almost in the next breath he gave utterance to expressions so appallingly political as to destroy the first impression made on my mind. The honorable member for Hindmash (Mr. Makin) and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) dealt with unemployment, and the latter referred to its effect upon the coal industry. I quite agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh that we should approach this subject free from politics, in an effort to give material assistance to the unemployed. Yet it is difficult to discuss the subject in a non-political atmosphere, because of the fundamental divergence of views as to the manner in which the problem should be grappled with. One suggestion is that the Government should provide moneys for public works ; another is to increase the sustenance allowance; and a further suggestion is to relieve unemployment by the conferring of the benefits to be gained by the free expenditure of government revenue or any loan moneys that may be raised. It is contended that we should adopt methods which at best would be merely palliative. That might be a wise action within reason, in order to tide us over the worst of our troubles. But the real problem is how to start this country on the road to prosperity and to place our people in employment. It is difficult to keep politics out of this issue. Australia has made considerable progress during the last eighteen months towards the possiblility of a restoration of prosperity.
– I thought that possibility had arisen only since the 19th December last.
– What is the Government doing to assist the coal industry?
– Immediately I begin to speak certain honorable members cannot resist the opportunity to create a political atmosphere. That bears out my reference to the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney. He cannot help himself, because if is his nature to introduce party politics into all his remarks. Australia’s position has materially improved in the last eighteen months, mainly because the costs of production in this country have fallen considerably. That has led to greater competition in the export trade, with benefit to the community generally. It has helped internally by increasing the value of wages, so that, although wages have been reduced, the workers are possibly better off than before. These factors help Australia, and if we can obtain the external assistance which practically every nation in the world requires, it will go a long way towards helping us out of our difficulties. Every nation is to-day in trouble. The United States of America is probably in a graver position than any other country. The difficulties of the nations can be overcome only as a result of an increase in the price of world commodities. If that increase takes place and” our production costs have been reduced, Australia’s return to prosperity will be enormously accelerated.
– How does the right honorable gentleman reconcile his present attitude with his attitude towards the mining, industry? At one time he urged the miners to accept a reduction in wages, and now that they have accepted a reduction, they are in a worse position than before.
– -Honorable members who have been interjecting have had an opportunity to put their case before the House. The Assistant Treasurer is endeavouring to reply, and, in fairness to him, they should be prepared to listen to what he has to say.
– We must reduce our production costs to a reasonable level, and not adopt the policy that so many people have advocated, of increasing internal prices. Although such a policy, might give us some immediate relief, it would not help us to return to prosperity, nor would it enable us to obtain any benefit from an increase in the price of world commodities. That is the basis upon which we have to build, if anything substantial is to be achieved. By forcing up costs of production we shall defeat what we all wish to see, the restoration of prosperity. There is a fundamental difference of opinion in the various political camps, because they all start from a different point, although all have in mind, I sincerely trust, the attainment of the same objective.
I come now to the question, where does the Government stand in this matter? Many references have been made to the expectation that the Government would restore prosperity overnight. As a matter of fact, conditions have improved to a certain extent, because the feeling of confidence in the country has increased ; and that is one of the fundamental conditions if prosperity is to be regained. But we must build on that. The question is repeatedly asked “ What is the Commonwealth doing in regard to unemployment ? Who is feeding the people who are; out of work?- The States!” The manner in which, that statement is made suggests that it constitutes a reflection upon the Commonwealth. The contrary is the case. Under the Constitution it is no part of the function of the Commonwealth to deal with these problems. They are State problems. The Commonwealth can give, and has given, a measure of assistance. I am certain that the Leader of the Opposition, the late Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) will agree with me that under the Constitution it is not one of the functions of the Commonwealth to provide rations for the unemployed. The honorable member for East Sydney will probably retort, “What has happened in the Federal Capital Territory? This great Commonwealth, with its abounding revenues, cannot feed 30 people, and the State of New South Wales has to bear the burden on its behalf.” What the honorable gentleman overlooks is that, if unemployment relief were provided in this Territory on other than a travelling basis, we should have unemployed from eVery portion of Australia coming to Canberra.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked me incidentally what opinion was held of me by the coal-miners in my electorate. I admit that they have said some rather crisp things to me and about me, but not of the character visualized by the honorable gentleman. The only occasion when I did not have the usual cheery meeting at Wonthaggi - when there is always a considerable amount of backehat, but no particular animosity - was subsequent to my granting a subsidy of ls. a ton to the New South Wales coal-fields, to stimulate their interstate and export trade. The miners that I represent had not any use for me then. In the Newcastle and Maitland areas we have probably the best seams of coal in the world, judged by their width and the comparative ease with which they can be worked.
– Has the right honorable gentleman ever tried to work them?
– I have never been a coal-miner,- but 1 have performed a good deal of work and exercises. of a physical nature. I am not discussing the difficulty or otherwise of coal-mining, but am merely, affirming, that Australia., is better placed than other countries, in regard to the working of her coal deposits, because these are of a better class than most. Coal is the basic commodity of the whole industrial life of this country ; consequently, can we hope for a return to real prosperity if we adopt the attitude that we are unable to work our coal-fields or produce coal at a price that will enable us to compete with the rest of the world? Is it right to say that we can keep going only by the payment of an export bounty on coal, or the absolute prohibition of the bringing of coal by the vessels that trade with this country from abroad? I invite the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) to give careful consideration to that proposition.
A certain measure of assistance towards the relief of unemployment can be afforded by the Commonwealth in a time of crisis, to tide over the worst period of the nation’s economic and financial sufferings; but in order to do this the necessary money must be raised. In all previous crises of this character there, was the possibility of raising money either in this country or in Great Britain. On the present occasion, however, owing to our general position and the condition of our credit, it is doubtful if we could raise a loan, even on the Australian market. We might, by appealing to the patriotism of the Australian people, obtain sufficient to tide us over our difficulties. But so far as the external market is concerned, we already have ott,t against us so many short-dated securities that whatever we could raise would have to be utilized in discharging existing obligations. The question, how much further can we go in the direction of utilizing bank credits, is one that has to be very carefully considered. It must be remembered that we arc to-day handling the whole of our huge deficits on that system, and that for a long time the money thus obtained has been used upon public works. Even though this might be a wise palliative to apply, there has still to be considered the question of what expenditure can be reduced, and what sum can be made available for this specific purpose. No good service will be rendered by following the oft-repeated suggestion to provide a little work here and there. The only result of such a policy would be to place a few men in employment for a short period, probably undermining still further our finan- cial and economic structure, and eventually causing unemployment to become more widespread. To the question, “ What is the Government going to do ; how is it going to solve this problem,” I frankly reply that nobody can solve it in a simple fashion. The trouble is deeprooted, and the remedy must be a sound and well thought-out one. At the moment, the Government is exploring the whole question, in the hope that it will be able to make suggestions to the States as to a basis on which common action may be taken. Whether we can make any valuable suggestion has yet to be determined. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) will admit that the furthest point he was able to reach was that of saying that if the banks would make available credits for public works a certain number of mon would be placed in employment. That is as far as any government has got up to the present time. Whether it will be possible to do something which will help to solve the problem, I do not know; we are exploring every avenue that suggests itself. It is useless to fix a day for debating the subject; that will not get us any further. What we want is a constructive lead, and when we have that we shall call the States together, and put the matter before them. The Government is not going to deceive the people by holding a debate on this subject in an attempt to make them believe that we can solve the whole problem. It cannot be done in that way, and I will not be a party to suggesting that it can.
– If the Government cannot see its way to afford the relief which is necessary, will it throw the responsibility on the House, and permit the House, in its collective wisdom, to determine a course of procedure?
– The House may be afforded an opportunity of expressing its attitude on this matter, but the responsibility of saying what should be done belongs to the Government, and it cannot hand over that responsibility.
– The Assistant Treasurer said that the Newcastle and Maitland coal-fields were easily worked. Is he aware that on the Maitland field there are more casualties than in any other field in the world?
– If that is a fact, it is most regrettable, and I would be a party to doing everything possible to reduce the number of such unfortunate happenings. But when I stated that the coalfields of Maitland and Newcastle were among the best in the world, I meant only that they were among those from which it. was possible, most economically, to extract coal. That is generally accepted, and surely the honorable member will not deny it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 1 1.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 March 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19320309_reps_13_133/>.