13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. 0. H. Mackay). took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Minister for Commerce aware that 1,398 tins of egg pulp, manufactured in Adelaide, and shipped per SS. Bendigo arrived in London a fortnight ago, And that advice has been received that of the tins already inspected, three have been found whose contents are unfit for consumption, whilst others contain fine chaff or what appears to be fine particles of poultry manure? Is the Minister aware that the egg pulp was produced by machines, notwithstanding that the regulations governing egg pulping prohibit their use? Will he call for a report from Inspector Carroll as to why he permitted this consignment of egg pulp to be exported, and why he permitted the use of machines contrary to the regulations?
– I am unaware of the circumstances mentioned by the honorable member, but I shall call for a report regarding this consignment, and let the honorable member have an answer later.
” THE FIVE YEAR PLAN” FILM.
– I have received from Mr. Boote, editor of The Worker, in Sydney, the following telegram: -
Company here willingto show “ Five Year Plan “ film in House at own expense. Wired Minister to this effect.
Has the Prime Minister received such a telegram, and, if so, will he favorably consider this offer to afford honorable members an opportunity to view the film?
– I have no knowledge of such a telegram; but, in any case, the Government has given full consideration to this matter, and does not intend to permit the film to be exhibited.
Restrictions in United Kingdom.
– by leave - I desire to make an announcement regarding the marketing of Australian meat in the United Kingdom.
As honorable members are already aware, the wholesale prices of all classes of meat have declined to ruinous levels during the present year. It was the recognition of that fact that made possible the preferential arrangement reached at Ottawa. But the restrictions upon foreign beef, mutton, and lamb do not commence until the 1st January next, and the plan for the regulation of bacon imports has not yet had time to operate. Since the Ottawa Conference the market has become progressively worse, and a continuance of the prices obtaining today will bring ruin to producers.
The British Government has taken the matter in hand, and has made arrangements for the following restrictions on shipments of meat from foreign countries during the months of November and December of this year, compared with the quantities shipped in the same months of last year : -
Mutton and lamb - 20 per cent.
Chilled beef - 10 per cent., to be increased to 20 per cent, if, within the next two or three weeks, meat prices do not rise to the level of June, 1932.
Bacon - 20 per cent.
In the following table the prices of beef, mutton, and lamb in the United Kingdom market in June, 1932, are compared with the present prices: -
A return to the prices of June, 1932, in two or three weeks’ time would be a very rapid improvement, considering the present condition of the market, and would pave the way for still further improvement in the future. The Commonwealth Government has been in consultation with the British Government, and is collaborating with it in an effort to improve the present serious position. In consideration of the British Government introducing these restrictions upon imports of foreign meat - which are in advance of those provided by the Ottawa agreement - the Commonwealth Government has agreed that Australian shipments of mutton and lamb during November and December of this year shall not exceed 90 per cent. of the shipments during the corresponding months of 1931. The Commonwealth Government believes that the limitation of supplies to reach the United Kingdom during the next few months is essential if the existing stocks are to be cleared, and the glut terminated. It is certain that its collaboration with the British Government in the manner I have indicated is in the best interests of Australian meat producers.
It is due to members and to the producers that I should indicate what is involved in the decision which has been made. In the quarter, July to September, 1931, Australia shipped to the United Kingdom 23,500 tons of mutton and lamb, while in the corresponding quarter of this year the quantity shipped was 15,750 tons, which was a reduction of 33 per cent., due, unfortunately, to the unpayable price level. Shipments in the last quarter of 1931 were :- October, 15,000 tons; November, 11,000 tons; December, 7,200 tons. The 10 per cent, reduction agreed upon for November and December, 1932, will mean that shipments shall not exceed 16,380 tons, as compared with 18,200 tons in the corresponding months of last year.
The indications are that the volume of exports in the next two months, without restriction, would be much more than 10 per cent, below the figures for November and December, 1931. The Commonwealth Government will collaborate with producers and meat exporters in carrying out the arrangement that has been made.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that over 2,000,000 persons in Great Britain are unemployed, and that hunger marches and food riots are taking place there? Can he explain the curious anomaly referred to in his statement this afternoon, which has been caused by the action of the Commonwealth Government in preventing the shipping overseas of foodstuffs necessary to meet the situation?
– The Government of Great Britain itself is responsible to the people of that country, and in order that it may do what it thinks necessary in the circumstances, it has asked the Commonwealth Government to make this slight concession - which as a matter of fact may not prove to be any concession at all - because, as I pointed out in my statement, it is probable that the actual shipments, even if there were no restrictions, would be at least 10 per cent, under the shipments of last year.
– What quantities of Australian mutton and lamb are held by exporters in cold storage in Australia and in Great Britain, and will not the limitations of export referred to in the Prime Minister’s statement be to the advantage of these exporters, and to the disadvantage of the grower?
– I shall obtain the information for him as soon as possible.
– by leave - -Recently the fact was brought to the notice of the Royal Commissioner on Performing Rights, now taking evidence in Sydney, that the manufacturers of gramophone records in the United Kingdom and on the continent were imposing certain conditions in connexion with the use of their records for public performance. The local manufacturers of gramophone records were asked by the Commissioner to submit a statement of their claims, if any, in respect of the use of their records for public performance, by broadcasting or otherwise. A representative appeared before the Commissioner and submitted that the manufacturers were entitled, by virtue of the combined effect of the Copyright Act and the Patents Act, to impose such conditions as they might think ftl in regard to the public performance of their records. The effect of admitting such a claim would be that, in addition to any arrangement that might be made for the payment of a fee for the performing right, a further fee might be demanded for the use of a gramophone record. It is considered by the Government to be most desirable that this inquiry should cover all the aspects of this difficult and intricate question, and as some doubt exists - in my view, a considerable degree of doubt - as to whether the present terms of reference enable the commissioner to inquire into this new claim, it is proposed to issue an additional commission enlarging the terms of reference, to enable the royal commissioner to inquire into the following matters: -
Any questions that have arisen or may arise between persons interested in the manufacture, use, or sale of any mechanical contrivances by means of which any musical or other work may be mechanically performed, whether so interested under or by virtue of the Copyright Act of 1912, or otherwise, and persons interested or concerned in using such contrivances for the purpose of, mechanically performing such musical or other works in public, whether as persons authorizing or controlling such performance, or as persons on whose premises such performance takes place, or otherwise; and
The rates, methods and conditions of payment, if any, to the persons interested as aforesaid in the manufacture, use, or sale of such contrivances by the persons interested or concerned as aforesaid in using such contrivances for the purpose of mechanically performing such musical or other works in public; and
To make recommendations with respect to those matters.
The Commissioner hopes to be in a position to commence the inquiry into this aspect of the matter on the 14th November, at the Commonwealth Bank Building, Sydney, and all persons interested in the manufacture of records, or in the use of records for public performance, are invited to be present on that occasion. The commissioner will probably sit inMelbourne at a later date. I repeat the invitation which I issued some tame ago to all persons who wish to submit evidence on any aspect of the inquiry to communicate with the secretary to the commission at the Commonwealth Bank Building, Sydney.
-Recently I asked the Postmaster-General whether it was intended to fill vacancies for linemen in Western Australia by appointing letter carriers from the eastern States. I also asked a further question relating to the transfer of telegraphists from the eastern States to fill vacancies in Western Australia. Has the Postmaster-General had time to complete the inquiries that he promised to make into those matters?
– It is true that a number of temporary employees passed the examination held in May, 1930, for linemen, and that, because of a serious curtailment in departmental activities, they did not receive appointment. In point of fact, the services of these men were dispensed with because there was.no justification for the department to retain temporary employees. Difficulty has also arisen in finding the means for satisfactorily absorbing considerable numbers of permanent officers of the, department who had become redundant because of reduced business, and the position was further complicated by the fact that a number of messengers, permanent employees of the department, had reached adult age, necessitating the payment of adult wages at a time when there was no means of finding suitable employment. These youths, in a very large number of cases, have had to be retained on work normally undertaken by juniors receiving a very much lower wage In the hope of finding suitable outlets for these two classes of officer, it was arranged by the Public Service Board and the department to call applications from permanent Fourth Division officers desirous of obtaining positions of linemen in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania. It will be recognized that the department has no option but to explore every possible avenue for re-adjusting the staffing situation in order that, if the whole of its permanent force must be retained, it shall be employed to the best advantage, enabling the department to function without wasteful expenditure.
In reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green), let me say that the statement that officers stationed in Sydney have received notification of transfer to Perth is inaccurate. The position is that there are a number of officers in Perth who are regarded as inefficient, and, in addition, there are certain vacant positions for telegraphists. In the meantime, the services of telegraph messengers and other junior officers are being utilized to assist in the manipulative work there. In other parts of the Commonwealth, including Sydney, the department has a large number of skilled telegraphists in excess of the requirements. In order to explore the possibility of bringing about a re-adjustment of staff, the Deputy Directors in both Sydney and Melbourne were asked to ascertain whether any of the excess telegraphists would be agreeable to a transfer to Perth. The matter is still in course of investigation, and no decision has yet been reached to make any changes. Nevertheless, it appears likely that such transfers will have to be undertaken.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to state what action is contemplated, or has been taken, to bring about a reduction of interest payments on Commonwealth loans in. Great Britain?
– I am not in a position to make any statement at this juncture, beyond assuring honorable members once again that the position is being watched very closely particularly by the representatives of the Commonwealth in Great Britain.
– Recently I asked several questions relating to reductions in the pay of the members of the defence services^ and the disparity between the rates of naval ratings and those of the other arms of the service. Is the Prime Minister in a position to make a statement regarding the rates of pay of the various arms of the service?
– The Minister of Defence is this afternoon to make the following statement in the Senate regarding this matter: -
The Cabinet to-day readied a final conclusion upon recommendations made by the Naval Board last week with reference to certain re-adjustments of naval pay and conditions. It has been decided -
To grant travelling concessions between their homes and ships to ratings of the navy when proceeding on and returning from annual leave.
To increase the present rate of child endowment of Cd. per diem (£9 2s. 6d. per annum) to approximately £13 per annum, which is the rate payable in the Public Service.
To increase the allowance in lieu of . rations whilst on leave from the present rate of ls. 4d. per diem (equivalent to the cost price of the uncooked ration) to 2s. 3d. per diem.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to a report which appears in to-day’s Canberra Times, which states -
It is believed, that the assistance which will be given by the Commonwealth Government to the wheat industry will be £1,000,000 for superphosphates and £1,250,000 for farmers in need of the export bounty.
Is this report correct, and is this the measure of assistance that will be given to the wheat-growers?
– I hope to make to Parliament during this week a definite statement of the intention of the Govern: ment on this subject.
– I have received a cablegram from the Australian Grain Shippers Association of London, with which many of our Australian wheatgrowers are associated, which reads as follows -
Expected Preferential Bill will be passed present form to conform with, all grain must be consigned from Australia to United Kingdom which, according to advice, means Bill of Lading must be issued exclusively United Kingdom, to obtain free entrance. This precludes sending for orders according charter party. Also precludes using United Kingdom ports unsold balance, unless named in separate Bill of Lading if ordered Continent first port discharge stop. Same applicable parcels with United Kingdom Continental options. Imperative you see Australian Government urging immediate action otherwise restrictions new bill will lower values to great detriment Australian farmers.
What action, if any, does the Government propose to take to see that ordinary trading conditions shall be maintained from Australian ports ?
– I presume that the question is based on the interpretation of “First sale” in the Ottawa agreement. If that is so, the question reveals an entire misconception of the meaning of that provision.
– If Australian shippers had an offer from the East for a cargo of wheat, and accepted it, would such an act interfere with the free entry into the United Kingdom of other cargoes sent there ?
– This question, apparently, is similarly based to that of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. McClelland). In amplification of my reply to that honorable gentleman, let ma say that the term “First sale in the United Kingdom” is intended to refer only to the original sale, and shipments of goods to the United Kingdom have no bearing whatever on shipments to any other part of the world.
– Will the Minister for Commerce explain what would be the position if a shipment of wheat were despatched overseas, part of it for Italy, and the remainder for Great Britain ; would the latter portion be free of the duty of 2s. per quarter?
– The interpretation to which I have already referred has been confirmed by the Dominions Office. It is that the article in question applies only to the first sale in the United Kingdom of the original shipment or part thereof which enters the United Kingdom, and not to any shipment of wheat or metals made to any other part of the world. The provisions of the article do not apply to subsequent re-sales in the United Kingdom.
– Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to make a statement to the House as to the purchasers of the Australian Government Line of steamers who have defaulted in their payments for the ships? If not, why not?
– I shall make a statement on this subject as soon as possible. All the time that elapses before I can make such a statement will be devoted by the Government to the safeguarding of the interests of the Australian taxpayers.
– I say emphatically that the Government is doing nothing.
– Order !
– In view of the fact that alleviation of unemployment in the Federal Capital Territory is the sole responsibility of the Commonwealth Government, I ask the Minister for the Interior whether, in consequence of the very strong and disquieting statements made at the meeting of the Canberra Advisory Council yesterday, and reported in to-day’s press, he will confer with the Cabinet with a view to the taking of im mediate steps to relieve the alarming poverty which is increasing in Canberra ?
– This subject is already under the consideration of the Cabinet. I understand that a deputation in regard to it will wait upon me this afternoon. I have made certain inquiries which seem to show that the position is hardly so bad as suggested by the report referred to by the honorable member.
– Will the Prime Minister inform me when the existing air mail contracts will expire?
– I shall furnish the honorable member with the information he desires.
– On the 14th October, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) asked me what were the intentions of the Government with respect to the appointment of trade representatives in the East. I am now able to advise him that arrangements are being made for a convention of producing, trading, financial, shipping, and all other interests concerned, to discuss the whole subject of our Eastern trade, including the appointment of trade representatives in Eastern centres.
– Will the Prime Minister inform me whether the report of the committee appointed to investigate the subject of civil aviation, which was expected on the 12th of October last, has yet been received, and if so, when it will be made available to honorable members?
– The report has been received, and is now being considered by a sub-committee of Cabinet.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the report published in the press that emus are being hunted in Central Australia by machine guns mounted on lorries? If so, will he inform me who is responsible for this farce, and who is footing the bill?
– I sha’ll obtain full information for the honorable member; but tlie Minister for Defence informed me only to-day that the Defence Department is not paying the cost of the expedition.
Workmen’s Compensation Act
– Prior to the Scullin Government vacating office, an ordinance was prepared, and was ready for issue, providing that workmen’s compensation should be payable to employees in the Federal Capital Territory. Will the Minister for the Interior advise whether that ordinance has yet been issued? If not, why not, and when may its issue he expected?
– The ordinance referred to has not been brought under my notice. I shall make inquiries on the subject, and advise the honorable member as to the result.
” IN LENIN’S COUNTRY “ FILM.
– In view of the fact that something in the nature of a riot occurred amongst students of the Sydney University, as a result of the screening of the propagandist film “In Lenin’s Country “, will the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Guy) take steps to have this film sent back to “ Lenin’s country,” as is to he done with “ The Five Year Plan “ filmaccompanied by any doubtful owner of the film ?
– - The existence of the film referred to has not been brought under my notice. I shall have the matter investigated.
– Is the AttorneyGeneral aware that, the Italian Government has requested the governing board of the League of Nations to convene a technical conference to discuss the introduction of a universal 40-hour working week, in order to alleviate the existing depression and unemployment? Further, has the honorable gentleman been informed that the governing body of the League of Nations has decided to call a preparatory technical conference in January next to discuss this proposal, the conference to be constituted of one government, one employers’ and one workers’ representative from each country? Has the Commonwealth Government received any invitation to be represented at such ari important conference?
– The Commonwealth Government has been informed of the proposal to inquire into this important matter, but the information so far at my disposal is to the effect that the meeting in January is to be a preliminary meeting of a committee, and that it is probable that the subject referred to will be placed on the agenda for the next International Labour Conference. The Government will bear in mind the importance of this matter in considering whether Australia shall or shall not be represented at the next conference of the International Labour Office.
– Is it a fact that inspectors of the Commonwealth Bank and of the Post Office are duplicating the task of inspecting the activities of country post office branches of the Commonwealth Savings Bank? If so, is there any reason why such wasteful duplication should not cease?
– I shall have inquiries made info the matter.
The following papers were presented : -
Tariff Board - Reports and recommendations -
Wrought iron and malleable cast iron fittings for pipes, and cast iron fittings for pipes of less than two inches internal diameter.
Varus, woollen or containing wool.
Ordered to be printed.
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1 032. No. 120.
Motions (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) on the ground of urgent public business.
That leave of absence for two months be given to the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) on the ground of urgent private and public business.
That leave of absence for one month bc given to the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) on the ground of ill health.
– I have received from the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House this afternoon for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ The desirability of imposing conditions on Commonwealth grants for unemployment relief, requiring that not less than the basic wage shall be paid, whether the works carried out are fully or partially paid for from Commonwealth moneys”.
Five honorable members having risen to support the motion.
– I feel impelled to bring under the notice of honorable members a matter associated with the disbursement of Commonwealth moneys for relief purposes, in connexion with which the Government is not specifying proper conditions and wages. As a result of the amendment of the 1932 Loan Act, a committee was set up in South Australia to assist the Commonwealth and State Governments to expend these moneys on work of a profitable and useful nature, in a manner that would afford the maximum of relief to our unemployed. Upon this body the Commonwealth Government has two representatives. Recently, it. applied to the Commonwealth Government for a grant of £20,000, to be used in subsidizing graziers, farmers, and others engaged in primary industry in South Australia, in the employment of those now out of work. It is hoped that primary producers, by this means, may be enabled to undertake work which they would not otherwise put in hand for some time. The grant is to be made on condition that it does not result in displacing any one now employed. The Commonwealth, it is proposed, shall subsidize farmers or graziers to the extent of 15s. a week for each person employed, and the. employer, if in a position to doso shall provide another 10s. a week. Suitable board and lodgings are to be provided for the workers, and the conditions of the workers’ compensation shall apply to them.
If this system is introduced, a dangerous precedent will be created. It should be laid down that the workers shall receive the basic wage. Probably the Prime Minister will say that most of those who will find employment under this scheme are youths, but I disagree with him in that. Naturally, the first demand by employers will be for mature men who have had experience in the work to be done. If men of that class are employed, it is reasonable and just that they should receive the basic wage fixed by the Arbitration. Court. The money is not to be spent on sustenance, but will represent wages for work done. Naturally, I approve of any proposal for providing work for those in need of it, but surely the great volume of unemployment at present existing in Australia should not be made an excuse for breaking down the working conditions which have been established for the protection of the people.
This is how the proposed plan will work out : Each man will receive 15s. a week from the Commonwealth grant, besides his board and lodging. According to the last declaration of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, board and lodging is estimated to be worth £1 3s. 5d. a week, so that the worker will receive value to the extent of £118s. 5d. from the Commonwealth subsidy, and his board and lodging. It has been suggested that the employers should contribute another 10s. a week, which would bring the total wages or their equivalent up to £2 8s. 5d. a week. The Commonwealth basic wage is £2 17s. 6d., and the basic wage for South Australia is £3 3s., so that the workers employed under the scheme will receive 9s.1d. a week less than the Commonwealth basic wage, and 14s. 7d. a week less than the State basic wage. The Commonwealth should not be a party to a plan which, if put into operation, will result in breaking down existing working conditions. However desirable it may be to assist primary and secondary industries, we should adhere to the principle that the workers must be fairly paid. Surely, if the Government thinks it necessary to insist on the observance of the provisions of the Workmen’s Compensation Act in order to protect em- ployees, it is equally desirable to protect them in respect of wages and conditions of employment. By reason of its subsidies to the States, the Commonwealth has a direct concern in these relief works, for it is entitled to be heard in regard to the conditions upon which the workers shall be employed. But the Commonwealth Government, in a statement to the Employment Council in South Australia, seemed to go out of it3 way to disavow its interest in the wages and working conditions of the men to be employed. In answer to a question by me the Prime Minister stated last week -
The Commonwealth Government approved . of this grant being made available to the Employment Council, through the South Australian Government, but pointed out that it had not at any time laid down conditions as to labour or otherwise in regard to the expenditure.
When the Commonwealth provides money for relief works, but delegates the expenditure of it to another authority, it should at least lay down the conditions upon which the expenditure shall be incurred. The Scullin Government definitely required that in the disbursement of moneys provided by the Commonwealth for relief works, the award rates should be paid in all cases. The prese3.it Government is remiss in not insisting that at least the basic wage of £2 17s. 6d. a week, which surely is little enough, shall be paid. I am not aware of any other State in which the basic wage is not being paid in connexion with relief works. If the Commonwealth Government were granting a sum for sustenance or doles, it might have some excuse for not conditioning the disbursement, although, even in those circumstances, the Government should realize its responsibility to the unfortunates who are unemployed through no fault of their own. But when value in the form of service is being given in return for wages, there is no justification for paying less than is prescribed by responsible tribunals as the irreducible minimum. Whilst I commend heartily those primary producers who are providing employment by undertaking works which they do not regard as urgent and which otherwise would not be put in hand, I ask them not to be parties to the exploitation of the unem ployed. If they cannot afford to pay the basic wage of £2 17s. 6d., the Commonwealth subsidy should be increased to enable that to be done. By failing to insist upon the observance of this condition, the Commonwealth Government is, through its representatives on the Employment Council in South Australia, conniving at a vicious practice. I ask the Government to realize the seriousness of this matter, and before farther moneys are granted for subsidies or direct relief, to law down a definite condition that the basic wage at least shall be paid and that the margins for skill shall be strictly observed. There is no justification for a government failing to observe a condition which the law imposes upon other employers, and the Commonwealth Government particularly should set an example by scrupulously observing the awards of its own tribunals. I therefore ask the Government to insist upon the payment of the basic wage in connexion with all relief works whether partially or fully paid for with Commonwealth funds.
– I endorse the appeal of the honorable . member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin). The Commonwealth Government should not, wittingly or unwittingly, be a party to the violation of Commonwealth or State legislation. Yet that is happening when the Federal Government allows money granted by this Parliament to be used by a State authority upon conditions other than those awarded by wage-fixing tribunals. In Victoria, the payment of less than the basic wage to relief workers caused considerable unrest a.nd discontent for many months in the early part of this year. State Government departments, municipal authorities, and private employers desired to carry out relief works at rates below the basic wage, contending that in this way the amount available could be distributed amongst a larger number of workers. The relief moneys were used by municipalities and private employers as a means of getting cheap labour, and they tried to have carried out at relief rates works which would have been carried out in the ordinary way at the prescribed rates of pay. As a result, no real benefit was being given to the community, because the money provided by the Commonwealth Parliament was not providing additional employment. Some municipalities which objected to paying less than the basic wage asked for permission to pay the full rates fixed by the court. Then the employers asked the Federal Arbitration Court to set aside the award . rates in respect of relief works, so that they could legally pay less than the basic wage; alternatively, the court was asked to award a lower rate for relief works. The court, realizing that the object of Parliament was being defeated, and that relief works were merely being substituted for the ordinary programmes, refused the application, and insisted that the basic wage should be paid, and that the margins for skill should be observed ; that if carpenters or plumbers were employed at their trade on relief work they must receive the rates to which they were entitled under awards. After months of discord, the Legislative Assembly of Victoria legislated to provide that basic rates should apply to all relief works; where a person was not employed for the full week he should be paid per day or per hour not less than the rate prescribed by award. The Legislative Council at first refused to pass this measure, but after the bill and been sent up a second time by the lower House, it was passed. The result is that at last some real benefit is being derived from the relief expenditure. The workers are getting the prescribed minimum rates for the work they are doing, and are not taking the places of regular municipal employees and others by whom this work would be done in ordinary circumstances. The inducement for municipalities and private employers to have their ordinary works undertaken by relief labour at lower rates of pay has been removed. The ordinary works are carried out under the usual conditions, and the relief employment is additional. Another reason why the basic wageshould be paid is that most relief employment is rationed; a man may get work for only three or four days a week. If a job is distant from the city, a man may be employed for two or three weeks continuously, but he is then put off for an extended period. Under these conditions rationed employees do not average even approximately the basic wage. If the money granted by the Commonwealth may be used as the local authorities or private employers think fit, the rates of pay become so low, especially when the work is rationed, that a man’s earnings amount to little more than the dole. The man who accepts relief work forfeits the dole, and men have to think seriously whether they will continue on the dole or accept employment at rates which amount to little more. Relief expenditure upon the conditions obtaining in South Australia will not yield any real benefit to the community.We might as well expend the whole of the money on maintenance and doles if we do not insist on at least the minimum wage being paid in connexion with relief works. The Commonwealth Government should not allow itself to be made a party to the violation of awards of the federal court and determinations of wages boards. The minimum wage of £3 3s. in Victoria and £2 17s. 6d. in South Australia is low enough - in fact, with broken time it is too low - and the rate should not be further lowered on the plea that relief is being given to the needy. The Commonwealth Government should suggest to the State authorities that, in order that this expenditure shall yield the maximum of value to the community, at least the basic wage shall be paid to the relief workers.
. - When the original provision was made for the relief of the unemployed during the winter months, it was decided that the money made available should be expended by the States with the assistance of advisory bodies, on each of which the Commonwealth would have two representatives. This Parliament felt that the best way to give the relief needed was to allow the States to have a free hand, and to apply their own laws in respect of the expenditure of this money. The expenditure of the money in South Australia has been subject to the law of that State.
– There is no State money actually involved.
– The State had expended about £20,000 on approved works, and money was required to complete them. A portion of the grant made avail able by the Commonwealth was therefore utilized for the purpose. The Commonwealth is not expending the money directly, as in New South “Wales. It is expended on a £1 for £1 basis. Had we laid down conditions at the commencement of the scheme, there would certainly have been much greater delay in beginning the works, and giving relief to the unfortunate unemployed. In order to begin the work as soon as possible, we thought it better to make the money available immediately, and to appoint to each of the State bodies two Commonwealth representatives, who have to approve of works before they are put in hand. That permits the States to carry on relief work unhampered by any conditions imposed by the Commonwealth, except that the money has to be expended on reproductive work, and on work giving relief to the unemployed.
– Were the Commonwealth representatives advised to insist upon the payment of award rates?
– No. We imposed no conditions at all. This expenditure is under the control of the States, and if there is a breach of a State law, the remedy must be found by the State itself. If it were demonstrated that a State was taking advantage of the circumstances of t the unemployed, by imposing unfair conditions, then the Commonwealth would have to reconsider its position. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) emphasized the fact that there was no need for the Commonwealth to lay down conditions respecting the expenditure of moneys for the relief of the unemployed in Victoria, because the conditions laid down by the Victorian Parliament were entirely satisfactory. There is no reason why the government or parliament of each State should not deal with those relief funds as it thinks fit, because it is responsible to its people for the expenditure of the money. I would emphasize the fact that in the case of South Australia only a small proportion of the total amount expended on relief work was made available by the Commonwealth. Money was made available in that State for the purpose of assisting the farmers, because we recognized that the majority of them would not be able to carry on without some re lief. That work was of a reproductive character, and the grant made by the Commonwealth Government to enable it to be carried out was comparatively small. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has said that the Victorian Parliament has insisted upon the basic wage being paid to those employed upon relief work, but that the men employed do not get the full weekly wage, because of the work being rationed. On such works one batch of men would be employed for a certain period and then another batch would take its place. Such conditions could not be applied to the work that is being carried out in South Australia. The men are sent to farms. They receive their board and lodging and, as the honorable member for Hindmarsh has pointed out, an additional amount of 10s. a week. That work cannot be rationed. It is infinitely better for a man to have that class of work and a full weekly payment than to receive the basic wage for two days of the week. That class of work is of a more reproductive character than many other works upon which the money made available by the Commonwealth is being expended. I speak with some experience, because in New South Wales, by reason of our desire to push on with works, many of those undertaken were approved on the bare basis of providing relief for the unfortunate unemployed. I see no reason, in the circumstances, for interfering with the conditions laid down by South Australia. There is no necessity for the Commonwealth Government to make any further grant to the States, for some time, at any rate, for the relief of the unemployed, because they have sufficient money available and plans prepared to provide employment on a bigger scale than before. The expenditure that has been authorized and provided for by the Loan Council is for works to be carried out by the States, for which they are entirely responsible. The Commonwealth does not share in any way in that responsibility, and therefore has no right to impose conditions upon the expenditure of the money by the States. But if it can be demonstrated that advantage is being taken of the unemployed, and that they are being deprived of conditions to which they are justly entitled, the Comm on wealth will reconsider its position.
– At least the award rates of pay should apply to relief work.
– I have said definitely, and this House has decided, that relief work shall be subject to the conditions applying in the State or district in which it is being undertaken. That is the understanding upon which the legislation was passed by this Parliament, and there can be no alteration of the arrangements until the Commonwealth is asked to give further assistance to the States for the relief of the unemployed.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) referred to the fact that in each State advisory committees had been set up to deal with the expenditure of the moneys made available by the Commonwealth for the relief of the unemployed. It may interest him to know that in New South Wales, under the direction of the advisory committee there, certain sums were allocated to municipal councils, for the assistance of the unemployed, and that we can bring before the House, if necessary, evidence to show that, in some instances, the relief work was distributed among certain residents in the municipalitiesconcerned who owed rates to the councils, and that the amount so owing was deducted from their wages. I admit that there is an obligation on the part of every person, who can do so, to pay his rates, but I feel certain that it was never intended that municipal councils should deduct debts owing to them from moneys given to them to be expended for the relief of the unemployed.
– Is the honorable member suggesting that preference was given to those who owed rates?
– It was a mean action.
– It was a contemptible action ; the more contemptible because the unemployed so treated were not informed, when engaged for this work, that arrears of rates would be deducted from their payments. This relief work was given under false pretences, and the action of the municipalities concerned has shown what methods some authorities are prepared to adopt in order to collect what is owing to them by ratepayers who are not in a position to meet their obligations. The Prime Minister, when a member of the Scullin Government, had experience in connexion with the expenditure of Commonwealth money for the relief of the unemployed, and he knows that no difficulty arose in respect of the payment, not merely of the basic wage, but of award rates on relief works. Steps were taken to prevent the State Governments from lowering the then existing standards. He will remember the discussions that took place in the Cabinet, and the methods that were employed to compel the States to pay at least the basic wage. We have been told frequently in. this House, that the man who pays is entitled to call the tune, and there is no doubt that, as the Commonwealth provides these funds, it should call the tune by insisting that the States, in expending this money, should observe the Arbitration Court awards. The argument of the Prime Minister, that the expenditure of this money is subject to the State laws, and his statement that he is anxious to leave the States unhampered, lead us to believe that he has little or no objection to the breaking down of the basic wage provision.
– The State concerned is not providing any of the money that is being expended by it.
– That makes the position worse. We are, therefore, entitled to conclude that the Prime Minister has no desire to preserve existing standards, and that his policy to-day is similar to that which we strenuously fought against at the general elections of 1928, when we contended that it was the desire of our opponents to throw the workers into the open economic ring. That seems to be still their desire to-day. It may seem enough to offer as excuse for what is being done in the difficulties of the rural industries, and to say that the farmers must be assisted; but we must not be unmindful of the difficulties of the workers. They have obligations to meet, and probably many of those who have been given employment under this scheme have to contribute to the maintenance of members of their families who are unemployed. The Government should, therefore, be expectedto give a definite direction in this matter. The previous Government, when I was a. member of it, when it found that any State was attempting to break down award rates for relief workers, did not hesitate to act. In the case of Queensland, that Government attempted to suspend award rates; but in my capacity as Minister, I informed it that if this action were taken, no further funds would be made available. If that could be done by the previous Government it can be done by this Government if it has a real desire to maintain the basic wage; but I do not think that it has such a desire. Many people in Australia must realize by this time that the process of cutting down the mean standards of living that now prevail in Australia can never restore prosperity to this country; but, unfortunately, there seems to be a single-track mind on this subject in the Government and among its supporters. Their desire appears to be to reduce the toilers in industry to the lowest possible level. Because I believe that our working people have made very much greater sacrifices than should have been required of them, I and the members of my party join with the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) in protesting against the continued efforts of this Government to enslave them to a still greater degree.
– I do not think that the Commonwealth Government should dictate the terms under which the money granted for the relief of unemployment should be spent. Reference has been made in this debate to certain municipalities. 1 know from experience that the municipalities of South Australia, which will be granted a portion of this amount for expenditure, will pay award rates. The council with which I am connected has applied for. and obtained, some of this money, and in the spending of it will observe award rates. Personally, I am not favorable to the payment of wages below award rates; but I believe that this matter can be safely left to the Unemployment Council of South Australia. I am glad that certain recommendations which I made in this House some time ago for the spending of . a portion of the unemployment relief grant for the’ assistance of primary industries have been adopted. My only regret is that more has not been done in this direction. Had more of the money been so spent, permanently beneficial work could have been done.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That this bill bc now read a second time.
The object of this measure is to give effect to the announcement in the Speech delivered by His Excellency the GovernorGeneral on the occasion of the opening of Parliament early this year that - < in order to reduce parliamentary expenditure it is proposed to introduce legislation to suspend the operation of the Committee of Public Accounts Act and the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act. If it should be thought desirable to have a parliamentary inquiry into any mutters, it would be possible to constitute a select committee for that purpose.
It is anticipated that the suspension of the operations of the Committee of Public Accounts will result in the saving of approximately £3,000 per annum. That estimate is based upon the actual expenditure of the committee during a normal year. In 1930-31, the last complete year that the committee operated, its expenditure amounted to £3,168.. The Government has introduced this bill because it realizes the urgent; need for stringent economy in parliamentary and governmental expenditure. Since the Committee of Public Accounts was first constituted in 1913, it has rendered valuable service to the Common-‘ wealth and reported on many importantsubjects ; but its continuance is not justified under existing conditions. As was pointed out in the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General, should the necessity arise for a parliamentary inquiry into any matter, it would be possible under the Standing Orders for Parliament to constitute a select committee for the purpose; but such a committee would be a temporary, and not a permanent, body.
This bill contains a provision to the effect, that if the time should come when it is thought desirable to reconstitute the committee it can be done by both Houses of the Parliament resolving to lift the suspension of the act. The introduction of another amending bill would not be necessary. As honorable members know, the Public Accounts Committee has not been operating for some time, but it is considered advisable that this bill should be passed in order definitely to suspend the operation of the act.
– If the act remains in operation as at present, it might be necessary to make certain appointments. If necessity arises for the reconstitution of the committee, the provision in this bill to enable that to be done could be brought into effect. I commend the bill to the House and trust that its provisions will be generally acceptable.
.- The official Opposition is of the opinion that the introduction of this bill was unnecessary. The Committee of Public Accounts has “already been suspended, and as there was no protest from any party in the House at the non-election of a new committee, the position could well be left where it is. I wish to pay my tribute of appreciation to the various committees of Public Accounts which have operated since the original act was passed in 1913. Most valuable work has been performed through this committee, and many economies and considerable savings have resulted from its deliberations. The valuable advice offered by various committees to different governments has, on many occasions, been accepted to the great benefit of the taxpayers generally. If the committee is reconstituted, I think it would be advisable to amend the principal act to provide, as in the case of the Public Works Committee Act, that it may inquire only into matters definitely referred to it by the Parliament. In this connexion I draw attention to the following quotation from the report of the Joint Select Committee on Public Accounts which was brought up on the 20th May, 1932:-
The procedure followed in the case of the Works Committee of submitting a motion to Parliament referring; a subject for investigation should be pursued i/n regard to the Accounts Committee, as this formal sanction by Parliament strengthens the power of the committee, and also affords Parliament an opportunity of deciding on the advisability or otherwise of conducting an inquiry.
I feel that such a committee as that with which we are now dealing could give valuable assistance to Parliament in connexion with budgetary matters and recurring items of government expenditure generally, for it could devote more time to the consideration of such matters than can honorable members individually, and any advice which it offered would have a definite value. If such a committee were authorized to report upon these matters, it would be possible for us to obtain a more satisfactory explanation of various aspects of public accounts than can be had at present.
The considered opinion of the official Opposition is that the passing of this bill is unnecessary from any point of view. The saving in expenditure to which the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has referred, is already being made through the nonappointment of the committee. So long as Parliament chooses to refrain from the making of such appointments the committee must remain inactive, and the savings will continue to be made.
.- The issue is whether the proposal to suspend the operation of the Committee of Public Accounts will or will not effect economy. If it will, every honorable member should support the bill. We claim that we have balanced the budget. We have. But that is largely due to the fact that we have enjoyed a moratorium suspending interest payments. We must grapple with and bring about a substantial reduction of parliamentary expenditure. We have piled up an immense internal debt, and have a staggering floating loan that will be passed on to posterity. This is, however, the most convenient method of finance during a period of depression such as this. It is, therefore, for the Government to explore every probable avenue of economy. Those honorable members who suggest that this committee should remain in operation to inquire into parliamentary expenditure are rather going round in a circle; that would be inquiring about themselves. We have an Auditor-General to make the necessary investigations, but, unfortunately, his recommendations have been ignored for years. I have drawn attention to certain matters which need investigation, subsidies on air mail con- tracts, for example. Let us resolve ourselves into an economy committee and support every move that will reduce unnecessary parliamentary expenditure. The suspension of the operation of the Committee of Public Accounts will effect u saving; therefore, let us support this bill without any waste of time.
Mr. BEASLEY (West Sydney) [4.37 J. - The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) referred to the work that was done by this committee in the past, and stated that although the committee is not now functioning and does not cost the country anything, it would be wise to suspend its operation. If the first part of the honorable gentleman’s claim is correct, what is the necessity for suspending the operation of the committee?
– We are compelled by the act to appoint the committee, and, unless the operation of the act is suspended, the committee is free to make any investigations that it determines upon.
– The Government has a majority on this and other committees, and the chairmen are Government nominees. As any inquiries are made at the instructions of the Government, whose appointees have to support its policy, there is nothing in the argument of the Prime Minister, unless it is feared that certain members of the committee will not take instructions from the Government. In those circumstances there must be some other reason for the bill. Perhaps the Government is simply indulging in kite-flying. Is this being done to enable it to substantiate its claim that it is making every endeavour to reduce parliamentary expenditure? Really, no economy is effected by the’ suspension of the operation of the Committee of Public Accounts and the Public Works Committee; no alteration is being made, for things will be the same in the future as they have . been for the past twelve months. This committee will not function unless the Government desires it to do so. If the Government does not wish it to function there is no need for the bill, which merely seeks to delude the public into believing that economies are being effected when nothing of the sort is the case.
.- The Government says that it is essential that the operation of this committee should be suspended and I suppose- that it has good reason for doing so. There is no work for the Committee of Public Accounts to do, and I see no reason why it should be kept in operation. I admit that in the past it has been useful in recommending grants for South Australia and for Tasmania, but I see no need for its retention in the future. I cannot imagine that the Government would be foolish enough to ask honorable members to waste time in discussing a bill which was introduced without good reason.
.- I entertain a good deal of doubt as to the wisdom of suspending the operation of the Committee of Public Accounts, particularly for an indefinite period. Under this proposal, the suspension will remain in operation until each House of the Parliament resolves that it shall cease. I believe that there is scope for useful work to be done by a Finance Committee, apart from the Executive. I have not been a member of Parliament for long, but I understand that in the past excellent work has been done by the Committee of Public Accounts. There is certainly wide scope for an examination of the public accounts by a body representing all sections in the House, and not dominated by the Executive. Other Parliaments have their Finance Committees, and this proposal to abolish our Committee of Public Accounts is rather an innovation. The House of Commons has a permanent standing committee, and an additional committee to inquire into public accounts. It is admitted that, in recent years, there has been a tendency on the part of parliaments to lose control of public finance. Finance is the essence of government, and if this Parliament is to do its duty properly, it needs to maintain a body to exercise independent supervision of the country’s finances. In practice, honorable members pay little concern to- such matters. I remind honorable members of the way the Estimates for the current year were forced through by means of all-night sittings-
– That is the best way. It saves a lot of unnecessary talk being indulged in merely for publicity purposes.
– That is the view of many honorable members who have a light idea of their duty to the public. They prefer resorting to the forcing tactics of all-night sittings, rather than take the trouble of thoroughly investigating, these matters. However, I am inclined to agree with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that the ; public discussion of these problems does not achieve much. The proper method is to have independent inquiry by a body such as the Committee of Public Accounts. We certainly have an Auditor.General, but the field that he has to cover is too comprehensive to allow him to give his attention to all. details. When the Estimates were being discussed, several amendments were moved providing for reductions by the nominal amount of £1, but in every instance, these were treated as party motions and defeated.
– The honorable member may not discuss business that has been disposed of by Parliament.
– I am merely endeavouring to show the need for a properly constituted body to examine the public accounts, and how futile it is to expect honorable members adequately to discuss publicly the finances of a nation. It is customary when the Estimates are before the Committee for honorable members to indulgein a good deal of criticism, and then to forget about them for a year. I am not criticizing the Government. I am aware that Ministers have a tremendous amount of work to do, and cannot personally investigate all the details of their departments. The result is that departments are run by departmental heads. Prominence is given to that trend in Great Britain by Lord Hewart, in his book The New Despotism.
There is a general demand for economy in government. The latest figures indicate that yearly, our Federal and State Governments -are absorbing about £100,000,000 of the national wealth, which has shrunk from something like £650,000.000 to approximately £400,000,000. How can any country revive under such conditions? The public demand economy in government expenditure, and we should see that it is practised on every possible occasion.
– I ask the honorable member to connect his remarks with the bill.
– The connexion is that governments in themselves do not practise the economy about which we hear se much. .It is necessary that there should be some body, such as the Committee of Public Accounts, to exercise restraint on administrations by carefully observing governmental expenditure. Ministers probably have not the time to do this work adequately themselves, and, in any case, they are not infallible. The House of Representatives consists of 75 members, while the Executive includes less than one-fifth of that number. Many members not on the Executive could be usefully employed on committees, whose duty it would be to make a special examination of various matters, including finance. Admittedly, the old accounts committee was too large, cumbrous, and costly; it should be reduced by one-half. The proposed suspension of the act would be a retrograde step. Members of Parliament have a definite duty to perform in examining, criticizing, and exercising general control over expenditure. If we agree to this bill we, as private members, shall be handing over one of our most important privileges. I am not satisfied with, the measure, and, if the bill is to be passed, I suggest that the period of suspension be limited to the present financial year.
– Will the honorable member move in that direction?
– I shall do so in committee.
.- I should not have spoken to this bill had we not been told that its purpose is to effect economy. The Public Accounts Committee is not functioning at the present time, so that there is no possibility of expense being incurred in connexion with il. I cannot understand why it is now proposed to suspend the act. I know that, under the act, the committee has power to initiate inquiries, so that, had it been in existence now, it might have undertaken some investigation which would involve expense. That risk is not now present. The act should be left in operation so that should Parliament wish some special inquiry to be undertaken, the finance committee might be reconstituted for the purpose. It would then not bo necessary to re-enact the present legislation as will have to be done if this bill is passed. It might be stipulated that, only on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day, could matters bc referred to a committee for inquiry. The Prime Minister has given no reason for the suspension of the act. If it is proposed to wipe out the committee altogether, we might as well be told.
.- I do not think that honorable members realize just what is involved in the suspension of the Public Accounts Committee, which is a most important adjunct to our parliamentary system of government. We should set the cost of the committee against the advantages which its existence confers. Last year, the cost for salaries, contingencies, &c, was only £832. The ‘committee came into existence following some pertinent remarks made in Parliament after the elections of 1913. Sir John Forrest, who was then Treasurer, introduced the bill authorizing the formation of the committee, and, in doing so, made this statement -
All parties and every member ure interested in having a careful scrutiny of the public expenditure. I think that in globo the House exercises supervision, but there is no such minute scrutiny that the committee will be capable of. Sometimes a very small amount is asked for at first for a work, the ultimate cost of which runs into an immense amount of money which was not anticipated by the House at the time of ‘ agreeing to the first outlay. Parliament is often unable to look closely into many matters which it would like to investigate.
Honorable members will notice that those words were spoken quite early in the life of the Federal Parliament. When the committee was established, the annual expenditure of the Commonwealth was £20,000,000; now it is, roughly, £70,000,000. At that time the Commonwealth public debt was £19,000,000; now it is very nearly £400,000,000. If it was necessary then that there should be in existence a body to supervise the expenditure of money and report to Parliament, it is even more necessary now. If we suspend this act we shall say, in effect, to the Cabinet, “ We have implicit faith in you ; you may do exactly as you like.”:
I draw attention to the valuable report presented by the select committee on the presentation of public accounts to Parliament. Honorable members interested in these matters should study that report, which is a most valuable document. ThePublic Accounts Committee initiated theinquiry during the life of the last Parliament, and was practically ready to present its report when the elections were held. The select committee was then appointed from those old members of the Public Accounts Committee who survived the election. This committee completed the investigation and prepared and presented a report, which was considered to be so valuable that special mention of it was made by the Prime Minister in his budget speech, and it was said that several of its recommendations would be carried out. That select committee was, to all intents and purposes, the old Committee of Public Accounts. If the recommendations embodied in that report were given effect, the savings would more than defray the costs of the committee for years to come. Those who sat on the select committee did so without recompense, and I am sure that there are many honorable members in this House who would be prepared to sit on similar committees without any financial reward.
Committees of this sort do immensely valuable work, especially in regard to finance. Can honorable members imagine the shareholders of a company allowing the directors to carry on from year to year without any audit being made? The Public Accounts Committee, when functioning, exercises a continuous audit over public expenditure. It is true that we have an Auditor-General who examines public accounts, but his report is rendered late in the year. When his report is placed before Parliament, it is presented along with the Treasurer’s financial statement, and no time is set aside for its discussion. The reports of the Public Accounts Committee are discussed by this Parliament as they are presented, and in this way their contents are brought forcibly before the notice of honorable members. In Great Britain the Public Accounts Committee was brought into existence as long ago as 1S60. Durell, writing on the subject of parliamentary grants, states on page 103 of his book -
The history of the origin of the Public Accounts Committee deserves more than a passing notice, for, as a vital and essential feature of our present financial system, ithas Largely provided the motive power by which that system has been carried to the position it has now obtained.
The Public Accounts Committee in England is looked upon as an important, and even necessary, adjunct to Parliament. It is the watch-dog of public expenditure. On page 108, Durell states -
Four years later, the passing of the Exchequer and Audit Act marked an allimportant and essential stage in the working out of this system, and provided the improved machinery by which the fullest benefit was enabled to be derived from the labours of the Public Accounts Committee. The effect of the act, much disliked at first, or rather more feared than disliked-
I particularly draw honorable members’ attention to the last phrase. The paragraph continues- was to introduce “an obedience to regulation and a responsibility such as were not previously known.” It is to be observed, however, that the act only provides for the presentation of the Comptroller and AuditorGeneral’s reports to Parliament. The important question of their further consideration is a matter of House of Commons procedure. With a view to securing that permanent provision should be made for this essential link in the chain, the Public Accounts Committee recommended in 1866, on the bill being referred to it, that “ it should be made a standing order of this honorable House, that all reports on appropriation and consolidated fund accounts, and the Treasury minutes prescribed in schedule B of the bill, be referred to the Committee of Public Accounts.” This act, which Lord Morley describes as a monument of the zeal and power of Gladstone in the direction of providing a good system of economy, and in converting the nominal control of Parliament into a real control, was, “ in its peculiar field, an epoch-making statute,” as is shown by the striking contrast, from the point of view of financial regularity, in the public accounts before and after that date.
Some of those remarks are particularly applicable at the present time to conditions in Australia, when economy is so necessary. The Public Accounts Committee has rendered valuable service to Parliament in preventing unnecessary expenditure, and in drawing the attention of honorable members to various items in the public accounts. The Government, pursuing a short-sighted policy of economy, now proposes practically to abolish this committee, which has been doing work that individual members are not able to do for themselves. One witness before the select committee on the presentation of public accounts said -
In its control of the purse lies Parliament’s chief defence against the encroachments of the Executive. There are not wanting signs that some of its outposts are being surrendered. If the retreat continues, we may awake to find that the substance of popular government has been lost.
To prevent that development, a public accounts committee is necessary. The personnel of this House underwent considerable changes in 1929 and 1931, and many of the present members of the House are not familiar withthe work which the standing committees did. A return furnished to Parliament shows that from the 1st January, 1923, to the 30th June, 1929, 21 inquiries by royal commissions were held at a cost of £107,765, or an average of £5,132 each. In the same period, sixteen inquiries were conducted by the Public Accounts Committee at a total cost, including salaries, contingencies, &c., of £19,556, or an average of £1,222.
– The royal commissions and the Public Accounts Committee handled different subjects.
– Some of the inquiries were into similar subjects. For instance, the royal commission on Western Australia’s finances cost £5,681, whereas the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into the disabilities of South Australia cost only £1,682. The Development and Migration Commission conducted an investigation into the economic condition of Tasmania at a cost of £14,973, whilst a similar inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee cost only £1,524. On the score of economy, I recommend to the House that the activities of the Public Accounts Committee be resumed.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the committee’s inquiries were as thorough as those by royal commissions?
– Independent testimony was given that the disabilities of South Australia and Tasmania were more deeply probed by the Public Accounts Committee than by the other bodies that investigated the same problems. In regard to Tasmanian affairs, constructive suggestions were made by the committee, to which the State Parliament gave effect by amending legislation. In its report on the method of presenting public accounts - practically completed at the end of the last Parliament, but formally completed and presented to this Parliament by a select committee with almost the same personnel - the committee dealt with (1) parliamentary control and procedure in relation to the public finances of the Commonwealth; (2) the form in which the Estimates, budget papers and other financial statements are presented to and dealt with by Parliament; and (3) the desirability of uniform methods of accounts for the Commonwealth and the States. The witnesses whom the committee heard on these subjects included Professors Bland, Brigden, Copland, Giblin, Hytten, and Melville, the Auditor-General of New South Wales, the Auditor-General of Victoria, the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator (Mr. Westhoven), and Mr. Barton, consulting accountant. All of these gentlemen testified that a regular oversight by a public accounts committee was essential to parliamentary control of public finance. The AuditorGeneral’s report is not presented until late in the year. In Great Britain the Auditor-General and a high senior official of the Treasury attend every meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, and the reports of the committee and the AuditorGeneral are submitted to Parliament simultaneously. Until recent years, when the Commonwealth Public Accounts Committee undertook inquiries delegated to it by the government of the day, its activities were restricted. It was not able to function as was intended when it was first brought into existence and as the British Public Accounts Committee functions. Instead of suspending indefinitely the operations of the committee, the Government should re-appoint it, and by regulation give to it the powers and status it should have. In the interests of economy, which is the watchword of the hour, the Government should withdraw this bill. If the committee be revived with adequate powers, it will act as the watchdog of Parliament, and either prevent or draw attention to improper expenditure. Investigation after improper expenditure has occurred may seem like locking the stable after the horse has been stolen, but the making public of an act of extravagance or maladministration will, enable measures to be taken to prevent its repetition. After all, the Auditor-General’s report,, too, is more or less a post-mortem pronouncement. The report presented by the Select Committee on Public Accounts drew attention to the fact that, in the last Parliament, supplementary estimates for three years, covering the expenditure of £1,746,687 from the Treasurer’s Advance, were passed through this chamber in less than an hour. If the Public Accounts Committee had been functioning under appropriate regulations, such expenditure would not have been approved without proper investigation.
– But the committee was functioning during at least two of the years covered by those supplementary estimates.
– That is so; but it was hampered by the fact that it had not been given the powers and the status it was originally intended to enjoy. Its (meetings had not been attended by the Auditor-General or a high official of the Treasury. In addition, its time was occupied by inquiries into extraneous matters.
– Why not abolish the committee and establish a new economic committee, on which the Auditor-General could serve?
– That is not necessary. A better course would be to withdraw this bill and give to the committee power to function fully. Although the economies recommended by the committee have enabled immense savings to be effected, the total expenditure on its account last year was only £832. The Government does not seem to have any idea of the value of the Public Accounts Committee. It proposes to save nearly £1,000 by suspending its activities, thereby depriving honorable members of the services of an expert committee aided by the Auditor-General and a senior member of the Treasury. The Public Accounts Committee has in the past been of considerable assistance to this Parliament. Recently, it inquired into the finances of South Australia, and during its investigations it discovered that over a period of years, from 1906 to 1928, there had been a discrepancy of £11,000,000 in the public accounts of that State.
– That fact had been previously pointed out to the Government of South Australia by the Auditor-General of that State.
– ^1 suggest that if the reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor-General were introduced into, and considered by, this House simultaneously, honorable members would have a better knowledge of the financial position of Australia generally. Colonel Durell, writing of the Public Accounts Committee of Great Britain, said -
Such decisions moreover are accepted by thi: Comptroller and Auditor-General, though an Officer entirely independent of the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury. The extent to which the work of the Comptroller and the Auditor-General goes has been really defined by the various decisions of the Public Accounts Committee, and to those decisions he. as in duty bound, would as an officer of Parliament submit. The Public Accounts Committee has now become a permanent feature in our finance system. Comparatively early in its history testimony to its value was given by Disraeli, who declared that it was of immense utility in bringing the entire revenue and expenditure of the country under the control of the House of Commons.
The intention underlying the appointment of the Public Accounts Committee was to bring public matters of all descriptions directly under the eye and control of Parliament. Durell continued -
In pointing out abuses in the management of the public finances, an,d in suggesting remedies, and. furthermore, in investigating and reporting to the House its opinion on disputed points of account between the Treasury and any department or functionary entrusted with the collection or expenditure of public moneys.
Honorable members will recollect the dispute that arose between the Commonwealth Treasury and the AuditorGeneral concerning certain trust funds. That dispute raged for some time, and finally was referred to His Excellency the Governor-General who, acting on the advice of the Treasurer, decided in favour of the Treasury. The method of keeping trust funds and of allocating trust moneys is a serious matter for this House, and had that dispute between the Treasurer and the Auditor-General been referred, in the first place, to the Public Accounts Committee, as could have been done under the then existing regulations, it would have been settled very much earlier and more satisfactorily.
– I am afraid that the honorable member is making a rather long drawn-out illustration.
– I suggest to the Prime Minister that most honorable members will be quite prepared to serve on the Public Accounts Committee without fee, so that they might be given an opportunity to investigate public accounts and finance generally, and thus gain a knowledge that would be of considerable value to them in the discussions in this House. The bill should be withdrawn and a regulation prescribed giving to the Public Accounts Committee powers which are held by similar committees in Great Britain, South Africa and Canada. I shall vote against the second reading of the bill.
.- I hope that the Government will not withdraw the bill, and I congratulate the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) on having moved its second reading. I am afraid that I cannot visualize- a Public Accounts Committee with the powers which the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) wishes to confer upon it, and I do not think that I shall live to see such a committee in existence. I disagree with the statement of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) that the Public Accounts Committee would be of more value than the Government itself in bringing about economies. There is no likelihood of any report of a committee composed of members of this House being given serious consideration by the Government. The honorable member for Richmond said that the cost of this committee last year was £800, but I submit that that sum would barely meet, the salary of its secretary. The average expenditure on that committee was considerably more than that stated by the honorable member. Few reports of parliamentary committees receive the attention and consideration of honorable members to the extent that they should. The honorable member far Richmond said that as the expenditureon royal commissions was much greater than that on the parliamentary committees, it would be more economical to continue the committees. In the main the reports of royal commissions are pigeonholed and disregarded, like a recent report of the Accounts Committee regarding the presentation of the public accounts. It is unfortunate that the Government does not give the House an opportunity to discuss the report of the Auditor-General, because it contains some valuable information which should interest honorable members generally. I have no wish to say anything further about the Public Accounts Committee, but if a fight takes place in respect of its suspension, I shall take the opportunity to say a few of the nasty things that can be said about it.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Guy), adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill provides for the suspension of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act. The intention of the Government was announced in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech delivered at the opening of this Parliament. The urgent necessity for n. reduction of parliamentary expenditure influenced the Ministry in arriving at its decision to recommend to Parliament the suspension of the operations of the Public Works Committee. This body in the past proved itself a useful institution indeed. It did much good in the public interest, saved a good deal of mousey, and was instrumental in preventing manyunnecessary proposed works from being undertaken.Butcircumstances have changed. There is not a great deal of public work on foot at present, so that there is practically nothing for the committee to do. It is estimated that the savings through the suspension of the committee will amount to approximately £8,000 per annum. The expenditure for 1930-31, the last complete financial year during which the committee was in operation, was £2,848, made up as follows: - Fees of members, £906; salaries of staff, £1,438; travelling expenses, £449; contingencies, £55. The expenditure has bsen a good deal heavier in some years when a considerable amount of travelling was necessary. The committee has not functioned since the dissolution of the last Parliament. Under the original act, the committee was empowered to investigate all works of which the estimated cost of completion exceeded £25,000.
A provision is included in this bill that the suspension of the act may be lifted by a resolution of both Houses of the Parliament.
If an inquiry is desired into any public work while the act is suspended, the Standing Orders of the Parliament provide for the constitution of a parliamentary select committee which could makethe necessary investigation.
In submitting this bill, the Government has in mind a particular work whichshould, ordinarily, have been referred to the Public Works Committee for investigation, namely: - “The construction of a reservoir at Black Mountain, Canberra “. This work forms part of a larger scheme to improve the Canberra water supply. The original water supply scheme designed in 1912. was a progressive work, capable of development as the city extended. The main works, comprising the Cotter Dam and the Stromlo and Red Hill reservoirs, were decided upon before the first Public Works Committee was appointed. In 1921, the committee recommended a scheme for the construction of distributary works within the city area, and this work was carried out.
Consideration has since been given to a comprehensive scheme to provide for the growing demands of the city overthe next ten years, but the execution of it depends entirely on the development of Canberra. At present, the demand for water in the peak periods of the summer is such that the supply is strained to its utmost capacity, and immediate relief is necessary, particularly on the north side of the river. The first section of the tenyears’ scheme to he undertaken is : -
This work will ensure an adequate supply of water to Canberra and Queanbeyan for a number of years, and no further constructional expenditure should be necessary until 1935-36. Funds for the reservoir, £12,100, have been provided on this year’s Estimates, and the main will be undertaken in 1933-34.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Holloway) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 4th November (vide page 1933), on motion by Mr. Marr -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Commonwealth Government is responsible to the people for the property entrusted to its care, and in order that this may be protected, certain regulations have been made which apply equally to the regular forces of the navy, army, and air force, the volunteers in these three services, and the members of rifle clubs, who form a fairly large part of the personnel at present attributed to the defence forces. The arms, accoutrements and equipment issued for the use of trainees consist of articles of definite, and, in- some instances, considerable value to the Commonwealth, and of extraordinary variety. These include rifles, saddlery, signalling equipment, technical equipment of various kinds, clothing, boots, musical instruments and a hundred and one other articles that I could enumerate. It is a simple matter to issue this equipment against the signature of the recipient, and that is the normal procedure; but it is not quite so easy to obtain repossession of it from a recipient who cannot be traced. The bill provides thai, the onus shall be upon the recipient to explain what has happened to any article which he has failed to return when called upon to do so; but it also provides that in extenuation of inability to return any stores, the plea of lawful disposal may be advanced. This is a very wide term. It covers, for instances, a fire in the house. If it can be definitely established that articles of which re-possession is desired by the department were probably in the house when the fire occurred, the return of them would not be demanded. Clothing or equipment which has been condemned by medical officers, on account of insanitary or unhygienic conditions, would also be covered by the term “ lawful disposal “. Such reasons would be accepted as a full acquittance by the authorities. The last provision of the bill amply protects the recipients of equipment, for if they can establish that their inability to return equipment does not arise from any negligence or wrongful omission that explanation will be accepted. It will be seen, therefore, that a man who has a good case need not worry.
Reference has been made during this debate to the issues of military clothing to the unemployed, but I point out that all such clothing is writ-ten off the Defence Department’s stores immediately it is issued, and it thereafter ceases to be the concern of the department. When such stores are issued, vouchers are obtained in respect of them, and the responsibility of the department is ended. I take it that if any military stores came into the possession of an illegal association, every honorable member would desire to protect the department. Undoubtedly the tracing of military equipment has become definitely more difficult since the suspension of universal military training. Formerly, a register was kept of everything that was issued, and, as the department maintained close touch with the trainees, the equipment could be traced easily. But in these days of voluntary service the situation is different. Old friends of mine who are still in the department tell me that it is very hard now to keep a proper tally of the equipment that is issued. For the reason that this bill will strengthen the hands of the department without harassing individuals, and that
.- We were told when this bill was introduced that it was both small and unimportant ; but we have seen, as the debate has progressed, that several important principles are involved, which, in my opinion, are much bigger than the merely illegal possession of military clothing. The most important provision of the bill is that which removes the onus of proof from the accuser to the accused. It has become a habit lately, particularly in connexion with Commonwealth legislation, to make things easier for the Crown and more difficult for the defendant. In a number of cases, the onus of proof has been shifted from the accuser to the accused, as in this one. This fact makes it important that we should carefully consider this bill. In my opinion, it is a denial and a defiance of democratic thought, and an entire reversal of a principle of British jurisprudence, which has been honoured for the last 150 years, to place the onus of proof upon the accused. There might bo extenuating circumstances in this instance, which would make such an action entirely subversive of the principles of justice. The reason for the introduction of this bill is paltry in the extreme. It appears that a certain individual who had left the military forces neglected to return a second-hand military overcoat. Neither the Minister who introduced the bill, nor honorable members opposite, who have supported it, have suggested that such action is frequent. Because of an isolated instance of the kind we are being asked to over-ride an accepted and cherished principle of law, that the onus of proof shall rest upon the accuser and not upon the accused. It appears that when the individual concerned did not return the military overcoat issued to him the department took legal proceedings against him on a charge of wrongful possession. Upon a decision adverse to the Government being given in the lower court, the matter was taken to the High Court. In fact, every legal instrument in the Commonwealth has been used in an endeavour to prove that this individual was wrongfully in possession of a second-hand military overcoat worth only a few shillings. At a time when we are casting about to effect economies, the Government of Australia is vindictively pursuing a person who gave voluntary service to the country, in an endeavour to prove that he is in possession of a second-hand overcoat, the intrinsic value of which would not be a couple of shillings. We must consider the matter in its proper perspective. I do not think that any honorable member will claim that trainees are adequately recompensed for their service. They receive a military education, which will, possibly, be of value to the nation on some future occasion. For the purposes of their training they are supplied with a uniform. Even from a hygienic point of view it is unwise to ask a trainee to wear a uniform that has been worn by others.
– Only the greatcoat is involved.
– My argument applies to all articles of clothing. Having been issued with the uniform, the trainee is held to be thereafter responsible for it. The bill provides that -
If it. is proved to the satisfaction of the court that any such article was in the possession of the defendant at any time prior to the time at which he was required to deliver up the article, he shall be deemed, in the absence of proof by him of the lawful disposal of the article, to have continued in possession of the article up to the time when he was required to deliver up the article.
The fact that he received a uniform, for which he signed, is deemed to be sufficient evidence that at all material subsequent times he was in possession of that uniform. We know how easy it is to lose one of our personal belongings. It may bc a hat; it may be an umbrella. Those are everyday occurrences. How much easier it is for a trainee to be dispossessed of part of his accoutrement. Somebody in camp might consider that his neighbour has a better-looking coat, and quietly acquire it. The possibilities of a trainee losing a garment are infinite. Yet it is expected that, in addition to giving voluntary service to the nation, he shall be a watchdog over his equipment. There is only one way of “ lawful disposal “ of military equipment, and that is by handing it back to the military authorities.
– In reply to a question submitted by me, the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) said that there is only one way lawfully to dispose of equipment, and that is by handing it back to the military authorities.We know that there are scores of ways in. which a trainee may be dispossessed of these articles, yet he is deemed to be at all times in possession of them. It was suggested by the Attorney-General that one of the reasons for this amending bill is the difficulty of proving possession. I suggest that it is just as difficult for a trainee to prove that an article has been legitimately lost by him as it is to prove that it was lost by or stolen from the authorities. It is unjust to throw the onus of proof on the trainee, when the possibilities of his losing an article are practically limitless. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. E. F. Harrison) suggested that there is some saving grace in the last lines of paragraph b of clause 2, which reads -
Inability to deliver up the article shall not bea defenceunless the defendant proves to the satisfaction of the court that such inability did not arise from any negligence or wrongful act or omission on his part.
That is not very helpful to the trainee, for it is just as difficult for him to prove lack of negligence as it is to prove that the article was stolen or otherwise lost. Apparently, the whole trouble is that the Government has difficulty in tracing these articles. If losses were on a wholesale scale, there might be some excuse for this bill. I presume that, when a trainee hands hack his equipment, he receives a receipt. There is always a possibility that a portion of the equipment might be overlooked; still, theonus of proof will be on the trainee to show that he was not still in possession of that property. As I have already said, the bill is founded on paltry premises. Whether we are dealing with Crown matters or private litigation, it is not unreasonable to expect that the principles of British justice shall be observed. If we wish to protect the little liberty that remains to the subject we should insist upon the retention of that important principle of British jurisprudence -that the onus of proof shall be on the accuser, and not on the defendant. Not one aspect of this amending bill commends itself to anybody who treasures the principle. The proposed provisions will undoubtedly inflict injustice on those who voluntarily serve the community. By hounding down such people and making it incumbent upon them to prove non-possession of a second-hand military uniform that should be put in the incinerator rather than on another volunteer’s back, the Government is adopting a mean attitude, and placing an unfair responsibility on worthy citizens.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In committee :
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Section seventy-nine of the principal act is amended by inserting, after sub-section (1.). the following sub-section: - “(1a.) In any prosecution under this section for failure to deliver up when lawfully required so to do any arms, accoutrements or other naval or military articles belonging to theCommonwealth or to any corps -
if it is proved to the satisfaction of the court that any such article was in the possession of the defendantat any timeprior to the time at whichhe was required to deliver up the article,he shall be deemed, in the absence of proof by him of the lawful disposal of the article, to have continued in possession of the article up to the time when he was required to deliver up the article ; and
.- A suggestion that Ishould like to make is that, when surplus military clothing is distributed, it should be dyed a distinctive colour. It brings His Majesty’s forces into disrepute when military clothing is seen in rags and tatters on the backs of all and sundry, including half-caste and full-blood aborigines. I do not say anything againstthese who are compelled by force of circumstances to apply for this military clothing; but it is derogatory to the forces to have it used in such a way unless its identity is concealed. I thereforeurge that surplus military hats, boots, and clothing of all description should be treated in this manner when it passes out of the possession of the Defence Department.
– I ask the Minister to accept an amendment to make paragraph a of proposed new sub-section 1a read :– “ Itf it is proved to the satisfaction of the court that any such article is in the possession of the defendant . . “
If this amendment is accepted, it will meet many of our objections to the bill. Our principal objection is to the retrospective nature of the clause as it now stands. The onus should be on the department to prove that the accused person is actually in possession of the article at the time he is required to deliver it up. This would place a proper responsibility on the department, and would be in conformity with the usual legal practice.
– I cannot accept the honorable member’s suggested amendment. The clothing and other equipment issued to trainees are inspected by the commanding officers from time to time when the trainees are on parade. It is necessary to protect the commanders of units, because they are responsible for the equipment issued. As one who commanded a unit for many years, I speak with knowledge of this subject. The officer commanding has to acknowledge the receipt by him of every article of clothing, and every piece of equipment issued to the men in his unit, and he is personally responsible ‘for that material. During the war, when I relinquished command of my unit in the Citizen Forces in order to go to the front, I received a bill from the Defence Department for nineteen pairs of leggings which had been issued to my unit, and for which I had not accounted. It is most difficult for the officer commanding to keep track of every pair of boots, every shirt, and every hat issued to the men under his command, yet he is held personally responsible by the department. This bill proposes to make the trainees themselves responsible for their equipment. Honorable members may rest assured that no commander of a unit would deal harshly with the men who had voluntarily enlisted, and placed themselves under hia command. This provision is not aimed at the man who enlists in the forces in order to serve his country, but at those whose sole purpose in enlisting is to ob tain possession of equipment. A man who enlists does so for one of two reasons, either to serve his country or, to obtain possession of military equipment. A circular recently issued in the Newcastle district exhorted men to join the forces, and get their hands on the things they wanted.
.- The Minister’s attempt to defend this clause of the bill is the poorest we have yet heard. Boiled’ down, his statement means that those who join the forces do so either to serve their country, or to get a new Sunday suit. Half of what the Minister said was not appropriate to the proposed amendment at all. The amending clause does not relieve the unit commander of any responsibility, but places an additional responsibility on individual trainees. Honorable members will agree that practically all those who join the Citizen Forces do so for the purpose of voluntarily serving their country. It is a paltry thing for the department to seek this power to pursue a man for equipment issued to him perhaps ten years ago, if he has served so long. Even the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. E. F. Harrison) will agree that the trainees are not generously rewarded for their services, and it is hardly fair to treat them as it is proposed to do. It is not right that the onus of proof should be placed on the trainee, and, in my opinion, the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) should be accepted. Sitting suspended from- G.15 to 8 p.m.
.- The members of the Lang group, who always profess much concern for the downtrodden, would have the committee believe that the purpose of this amendment is to enable the Government to hunt down some person who may be in possession of an overcoat, or some other article of clothing belonging to the Defence Department. The bill refers to “ arms accoutrements, or other naval or military articles “. A military overcoat was mentioned by the Attorney-General last week only because a prosecution relating to an overcoat had disclosed the Government’s lack of certain powers. Nobody but an evil-doer need fear the provisions of this measure. If a member of the forces has, during the year, lost a coat, or even a rifle, he has only to satisfy a regimental board of inquiry that he did not sell it or give it away or dispose of it in some other illegal fashion, and he will be exonerated. A board to inquire regarding the whereabouts of missing articles may be appointed by the commanding officer of any unit; in practice each unit has an annual audit from the Ordnance Department, and if any deficiency is disclosed, a board of inquiry is appointed immediately. At present the commanding officer may be called upon to make good or pay for any deficiency, and that has happened to many officers of the forces. A person who has bona fide lost equipment has nothing to fear. Under the compulsory training system, when every man was tabbed, the improper disposal of military goods was less likely than under the voluntary system. I know of men who have joined the forces under assumed names, declared on the attestation form that they had no convictions, received equipment, and then disappeared. This bill will enable offenders of that character to be dealt with. There is another aspect of this legislation: An organization with worldwide ramifications is trying to undermine the loyalty of members of the forces.
– To what organization does the honorable member refer?
– The League Against Imperialism, which, under date of the 11th February, 1932, issued a bulletin which sets out a series of “ tasks “, the first of which is - to arouse the Australian people, especially workers, sailors and soldiers, and the youth, to the imperialist war danger; to win the transport and other industries, army, navy, and schools, away from the service of imperialism, and to mobilize an antiimperialist front in Australia.
I quote from theRed Road, a book which exposes the workings ofCommunism in Australia. If arms and accoutrements should find their way into the possession of this league or any other organization, the Government should have full power to recover them. Unless a man is an evildoer and is deliberately disposing of equipment wrongfully, he is not likely to be punished under this legislation.
Mr.G ANDER (Reid) [8.5].- We have always boasted of the principle of British jurisprudence, that a man is innocent until he has been proved guilty. But under this bill a member of the forces to whom equipment has been issued, and who cannot produce it when required to do so, will be adjudged guilty unless he can prove his innocence. In reply to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) the Minister made the significant statement that a man enlists for one of two reasons, either to serve his country or to get clothing. Probably the Minister knows that, because of the policy of his Government, the time is not far distant when thousands of men will be obliged to join the military forces in order to get clothing to cover their nakedness. I believe that this bill is intended to empower the Government to recover military clothing from such unfortunates. I shall support the amendment forecast by the honorable member for West Sydney.
– I support the contention of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) that military clothing before being issued to the unemployed should be dyed to distinguish it from uniforms worn by members of the forces. Certainly the regimental colours should be removed from all garments before they are issued to relief organizations. Responsibility for military clothing issued to members of the forces should be placed on the recipient, and not on the officer who issues it. Otherwise carelessness will be encouraged, and men will not care for their uniforms as they should. Some will appear on parade with their uniform and equipment in a condition which will discredit the corps to which they belong. If the member of a football club goes to work in a jersey that has been issued to him, and later appears on the playing field with the jersey in a dirty and torn condition, surely he, not the secretary who issued the garment, should be held responsible. The provisions of this bill will not inflict hardship on men who are “ reasonably honest “ and recognize the responsibility they assume when they take delivery of military equipment.
– Apparently the Minister is not prepared to accept my suggestion, and in order to test the feeling of the committee, I move -
That the word “ was “, first occurring, paragraph (a) of proposed new section 1a, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ is “.
This clause should not be allowed to remain in its present form. The Defence Department or the officer commanding any corps should not have power to take legal proceedings against a mau because he had an article of military equipment in his possession “ at any time.” On the department should be placed the onus of proving that the article was in the man’s possession at the time when the claim for its delivery was made. This clause might apply retrospectively for ten years, and permit the harassment of persons who had long left the defence forces, and in search of employment had shifted their abode many times. Possibly, as a further means of balancing the budget, people might be required to pay for goods and equipment long ago destroyed or worn out. However, my main protest is against, the tendency to-day to legislate in such a way as to throw the onus of proof on the accused. Although this is a comparatively insignificant measure, I and my colleagues believe that every opportunity should be taken to draw attention to the injustice of this departure from a recognized principle of British jurisprudence. If we are not successful in defeating this proposal, at least the prominence given to the matter will put people on guard against similar provisions in other measures.
– I do not think that the bill is intended to be retrospective for ten years; if it were, I would not support it. I ask for an assurance from the Minister on that point.
.- I take exception to the provision that the prosecution need only prove to the satisfaction of the court that a missing article was in the possession of the defendant “ at any time “ prior to the time at which he was required to deliver it up. Those words might cover an article that was in the man’s possession five or six years back. A reasonable time limit should be imposed.
.- The Government realizes that it would be quite unfair to make an ex-member of the forces responsible for equipment issued to him perhaps ten years ago, and such a thing is impossible, because under the Defence Act there must be an annual stock-taking of equipment. Every officer commanding has to account each year for all clothing, accoutrements and equipment under his charge, and all shortages must be explained hy him or investigated by a board of inquiry, and if a person who has been issued with equipment has not returned it and has disappeared, efforts are made to trace him and to compel him to return the equipment.
– At any time?
– A reasonable limit would be placed on the period of possession. The amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) to the effect that the person concerned should be deemed to be innocent unless he were in possession of the article concerned at the time at which he was required to deliver it up is unfair, and cannot be accepted by the Government.
– There is in the Crimes Act a general provision applying to all offences under the laws of the Commonwealth. The offence in this case under section 79 of the Defence Act is punishable by a fine not exceeding £20, or imprisonment not exceeding three months. The effect of section 21 of the Crimes Act is that the prosecution must be initiated within one year of - the commission of the offence.
.- The jurisdiction of the Commonwealth under the Crimes Act and the period that may elapse before action is taken in respect of an offence have nothing to do with our objection to the clause. What we strongly oppose is the placing of the onus of proof on the accused and not on the accuser. If this clause is allowed to pass without amendment, no protection will be given to the trainee or ex-member of the forces who has been issued with equipment. Once he has signed for it, it is deemed to be in his possession even after the lapse often years. If the equipment has been lost, the defendant must prove that it has been lost in a bona fide manner. I suggest that it is just as difficult for the accused to prove that he has lost equipment in a bona fide manner as it is for the Government to prove that the accused has the equipment in his possession. The Commonwealth Government’s failure in its prosecution of an ex-member of the forces, both in the Supreme Court and in the High Court, has shown conclusively that it is difficult to prove that a man has equipment in his possession ; but it is better that that difficulty should remain than that a person should be gaoled merely because he cannot prove that certain articles are not in his possession. One of the basic principles of British justice is that a man is innocent until proven guilty. If the Crown is determined to re-possess itself of any of its property issued to a member or ex-member of the forces it should be compelled to prove that that person has the property in his possession.
– But the person concerned has signed for the equipment.
– Yes, but that does not prevent him from accidentally losing it. If he cannot prove to the satisfaction of the court that he has accidentally lost the equipment, he becomes an offender under this legislation. Paragraph b reads -
Inability to deliver up the article shall not be a defence unless the defendant proves to the satisfaction of the court that such inability did not arise from any negligence or wrongful act or omission on his part.
The onus of proof should be on the accuser and not on the accused.
Question - That the word proposed to be omitted (Mr. Beasleyjs amendment) stand part of the clause - put. The committee divided. (Chairman-mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 40
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 4th November (vide page 1951), on motion by Mr. Gullett -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Scullin had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after “That” be omitted witha view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and negotiations opened for a new agreement embodying concessions to Australian producers and preferences to Great Britain on specified items without endangering our protective policy or depriving Parliament of its power to give effect to the will of the people on general tariff policy.”
.- When the House adjourned last Friday
I was pointing out that the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition was calculated to imperil the Ottawa agreement, which has been entered into for the mutual benefit of Great Britain and the dominions. It is undoubtedly a prudent commercial bargain aswell as a step further to the attainment of a lofty and practical ideal. The criticism of the Ottawa agreement, which has been political and mainly sectional, is certainly not helpful to our general progress and development, and, therefore, is to be deplored. Some critics have suggested that our customs duties are too high, and at the same time that Australian Industries are being placed in jeopardy. They cannot have it both ways. Their reasoning is immoderate and illogical, and confirms the grammatical rule that two negatives destroy one another and make an affirmative. If we remove from our annuls political prejudices, we must admit that the Ottawa agreement, compromise as it isand imperfect as it may be, willcertainlybe of great benefit to Australia and the Umpire generally. That it has obvious advantages has been shown by various speakers. These may be summarized in the statement that Britain, after the advent of the Nationalist Government to office, imposed a 30 per cent. duty on imports, but exempted dominion goods, and thatthat exemption, which would have lapsed this month, has now been extended for five years. That duty covers almost everything that Australia exports, except wool,the greater part of our wool beingsold outside the Empire. The preferences that have been granted fall roughly into five main classes. Substantial and increased preferences have been obtained in respect ofbutter, cheese, apples, pears, canned fruits, dried raisins, eggs and wine. Britain takes practically 95 per cent. of ourexports of these commodities, and there is room on the British market for an expansion of ourtrade in these lines. Good preferences have also been obtained in respect ofcondensed milk, oranges, honey, and other items.
An honorable member asked -by interjection on Friday how it would be possible under this agreement, for Australia to get better prices for her products. I point out to him that Britain has now terminated her trade agreement with Russia. This will mean that no more Russian goods will be dumped on the British market to the detriment of Australian products. This Russian competition was distinctly unfair. We know that Russian agents were instructed to sell their wheat for1s. per quarter less than the price at which wheat From any other part of the world was offered. The elimination of this unfair Russian competition will undoubtedly be beneficial to Australia and Canada.
– Does the honorable member think that the British Government acted fairly in allowing foreign wheat to be dumped against Australian wheat ?
– I do not; but that will not be done now.
It has been stated that if the Ottawa agreement is ratified, our secondary industries will be jeopardized; but that statementcannot be substantiated, for our presentduties will remain in operation, though they willbe subject to review by the Tariff Board. I have discussed the Tariff Board in this House on a number of occasions, and have made it clear that I believe in the board. Most honorable members mustadmit that an expert authority accustomed to takeevidence oncommercial subjects is much better equipped to deal with tariff matters than is this Parliament.
Mr.Martens. - Is the honorablemember prepared toaccept allthe decisions of the Tariff Board ?
– No ; I have nearer said that I would do so. The Prime Minister, in the policy speech which won the approval of the majority of citizens of the Commonwealth last December, as shownby the number of supporters of the Government in this Parliament, made it clear that his party would accept the Tariff Board as a guide, and that is how I accept it.
It has been said during this debate that if this agreement becomes operative, and another severedepression overtakes Australia, it willbe impossible for usto remain solvent. That line ofcriticism has been adopted both inside and outside of this Parliament, but in my opinion it indicates an unnecessary feeling of alarm. because the concluding paragraph of article 16 of the agreement reads as follows -
In the event of circumstances arising which, in the judgment of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, or of His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia, as the case may he, necessitate a variation in the terms of the agreement, the proposal to vary those terms shall form the subject of consultation between the two Governments.
As the Prime Minister indicated this afternoon, an alteration has already been made in the meat agreement. This shows clearly that necessary alterations can and will be made. Honorable members must realize that the Tariff Board has a colossal task ahead of it. It will start on the basis of the crude schedules, involving hundreds of items, which were blithely tabled by the energetic- Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), when he was Minister for Trade and Customs. This honorable gentleman frequently told us that the adoption of the schedules he tabled would result in the employment of tens of thousands of additional people; and although the unemployment figures steadily mounted during the regime of the Scullin Government, the honorable member kept on repeating the same old story. The tariff in operation when the Lyons Administration assumed office was based largely on Capricornian opinion ; it was not the reflection of the opinion of the people of Australia. Those schedules had to be ratified before an election could be held. The Tariff Board will, therefore, be required to review all the existing duties, and this will be a tremendous task. A contradictory view is taken of our tariff. “We have low protectionists like. the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), who are almost freetraders, and we have high protectionists, like the members of both branches of the Labour party in this Parliament, who are really prohibitionists. On Friday last, I challenged any honorable member opposite to say whether he -would not support a proposal that all the existing duties be increased by 50 per cent. The Honorable Alfred Deakin, who is acclaimed as a statesman and an advocate of sane protection, said, on one occasion, when he was deal- ing with the subject of high duties, that if the duties were too high, they would merely pull down the flag of protection, and raise the black flag of prohibition.
The Ottawa agreement has been attacked on the ground that the five years for which it will remain in operation is too long a period, but honorable members opposite were quite agreeable to a long term for the sugar agreement-
Honorable members interjecting,
– I request honorable members to refrain from repeated interjections. I also ask honorable members on both sides of the House to realize that when the Chair calls for order, the call must be obeyed.
– Continuity is essential in an agreement of this description. Progress cannot be measured in a season. It may take , five years or a decade to achieve results, and the .agreement cannot be pulled up to see how the roots are growing. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), in the course of his speech dealt, to a certain extent, with the growth of the idea of preferential trade within the Empire, and showed that the present stage had been reached only after many years of negotiation. The subject came verymuch under notice at the Colonial Conference held in London in 1887. On that occasion, the Honorable Alfred Deakin said -
Although preferential trade is one of the best and one of the few means of drawing closer the bonds of unity, and although it is a question of fundamental importance, so far us I can judge, unless a very great change indeed comes over the manner of regarding fiscal questions in this country (England), it is almost idle for us to raise the issue.
Mr. Deakin also realized that the consummation of federation was necessary in Australia before anything very effective could be done to realize the ideal. The subject was considered again at the Colonial Conference held at Ottawa in 1894. The South African representative (Mr. Hoffmeyer) was successful in having a motion carried at that conference, approving of preferential empire trade. This resolution was reaffirmed at the Colonial Conference of 1902. But, as honorable members know, the Cobdenite roots of freetrade struck very deeply into the life of the English people. It took years to propagate and foster the preferential trade idea. An epic “fight for preferential trade within the Empire occurred at the Colonial Conference of 1907. Publicity was not given to the speeches delivered on that occasion, so that we have not such full knowledge of what was said then as we have of what was said during the Ottawa Conference, and during the recent discussion of this agreement in the British House of Commons. We do know, however, that all the dominion Prime Ministers, with the exception of the Prime Minister of Canada, favoured preferential trade. Mr. Winston Churchill, who now advocates preferential trade, but was then strongly opposed to it, met the Canadian Prime Minister on his arrival in London in 1907, and did his best to keep him away from the influence of the Australian Prime Minister (Mr. Deakin), who was the greatest protagonist of preferential trade. Very skimped precis were published of the debates on that occasion, but we know enough to be able to say that Mr. Deakin fought so strenuously for the ideal that Jose, the historian, wrote subsequently that-
For SiX weeks lie maintained an output of nervous energy (on a campaign of public speaking unparalleled in political history) . . that might, if conserved, have kept him alive and dominant in Australia to-day . . . Ho came back to Melbourne a broken man.
I have never previously, in my speeches in this House, referred to Mr. Deakin, but the Minister for Customs, in dealing with the subject of preferential trade, somehow omitted to mention Mr. Deakin’s name, and I thought it only right that reference should be made to the lofty ideals of this great, man whom we all admired, and whose memory we cherish. The result of the 1907 conference was bitterly disappointing, as the following paragraph from the blue-book, issued after it, will show: -
His Majesty’s Government was unable to give its assent so far us the United Kingdom was concerned, to a reaffirmation of the resolutions insofar as they imply that it is necessary or expedient to alter the fiscal system of the United Kingdom.
Although the British people then held fast to their belief in what was called “ a free breakfast table “ - and I believe quite a number still hold to it - Mr. Deakin, after his return to Australia, introduced into this Parliament a tariff schedule which showed that Australia was sincere in her attachment to the ideal of preferential trade as a means of tightening the bonds of Empire.
In 190S that tariff was put through after a stupendous debate. The Leader (Mr. Scullin) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) would do well to read that debate, for it would assist them to form a clear interpretation of what protection and prohibition mean. Finally, that tariff was embodied in our statute-book, and Australia gave Great Britain a preference which she had previously preached, and has, for 25 years since, practised. The result has been that, despite her scanty population of 6,500,000, Australia has become Britain’s second-best customer. This country is second as a customer only to India, with a population of 300,000,000, and we buy goods from Great Britain to the value of £8 10s. a head of our population in comparison with the purchase by the people of the United States of America from the same source at the rate of 7s. 7d. a head. That is not the result of sentiment only nor of mere circumstance; it is the fruit of the efforts of men of vision. Even though honorable members opposite may not favour every item of the agreement, they should be big enough and display sufficient vision to acknowledge that it is for the good of the whole Empire and, therefore, support it. That would be preferable to allying themselves with foreign countries-
-The honorable member is not in order in using such terms when speaking of honorable members of the Opposition.
– I object to the words used by the honorable member and ask that he should apologize for having used them.
– I refuse to apologize to the honorable member.
– The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has used an expression to which exception can justifiably be taken, and I ask that he withdraw it.
– If the honorable member objects, I withdraw the statement. There was a slow realization by Great Britain of the need of Empire preferences. During the earlier colonial conferences, as they were called, the idea was a nebulous one. Then followed an amiable tolerance for the national aspirations of Australia and the other dominions. Now, after Russia has repudiated her debt to Great Britain, an amount almost equal to Australia’s national debt, when Argentine has refused to pay overseas interest, and when China is involved in the turmoil of a civil war, the Mother Country realizes that the idea of preferential trading within the Empire is right, and should be encouraged. Great Britain now understands that to trade within the family is better than to trade with the stranger, the alien, and the foreigner. That is why I made the statement to which honorable members opposite have taken undue exception. The Great War also taught Great Britain the lesson that in times of great crisis the dominions would rally to her aid. It is unnecessary for me to recapitulate the events of those times; their history is too recent. I merely remind honorable members how the co-operation of its various component parts saved the Empire, and that the part played by Great Britain in the war probably saved civilization. It may be that the proper co-operation of the various units of the Empire will save the world from another such calamity.
The late Alfred Deakin, when referring to preference, declared -
It is scarcely possible to use a single word which could cover all that is associated with the greatest trade movement within the Umpire for the co-operation of all its parts.
I have said sufficient regarding the last war to make it plain what cooperation means in such times. In spite of the League of Nations and agreements such as the Kellogg Pact, to which Russia and Japan were signatories, war has occurred between those two countries, without negotiation. Preference connotes defence. It is on Great Britain that we lean, on the fleet which the Mother Country maintains. We pay an inadequate amount for our own defence. Imperial economic unity would also stimulate our trade, and cause additional ships to trade between Australia and England, so building up the greatest mercantile marine in the world, which played such an important part during the war as an adjunct of the British navy. That would come with preferential trading, as well as the creation of a greater amount of business between the postal departments of this and the Old Country, and the development of the wireless and cable services, so that, through the British Empire, there will be a web of communications around the world. Nor must I omit the air service, which annihilates distance and which will, in a comparatively short time, be carrying human freight from Australia to Great Britain in from ten to eleven days. Those matters are bound up in preference, and honorable members opposite should be big enough to realize that they are all covered by this agreement, which represents a further step towards the attainment of our ideal.
Of course, this is a business bargain, but it concerns principles as well as money. The very existence of the units of the Empire depends on the existence ofan agreement like this in times of peace as well as in times of war. For in times of peace we are fighting an economic war, and are unfairly handicapped. We know that Russia, which is trying an experiment in socialism upon a backward people, is flooding the world with propaganda, because it realizes that its system cannot survive unless the whole world adopts communism. . We have the agents of that nation in our midst. Only yesterday they made a demonstration in Melbourne, and a couple of days ago they were in evidence in Sydney. We have honorable members objecting to the banning of certain soviet films.
– Order !
– I submit that all this is apropos of preference. It concerns preference for our own people, and against even those who, born in our midst, are not proud of their British blood. We must be protected from them and their allies by preference. The technique of the Russian republic is to undermine other nations by propaganda, and by the dumping of cheap wheat and even manufactured goods such as soap, &c, action which was so conspicuous in. England during the regime of the last Labour Government there.
– Why did England buy those goods?
– Because it had in power persons like the honorable, member, who never raises his voice to ban Russian goods, or advocates “Buy British, and buy best.” The Russian Soviet endeavours to undermine the workmen in our community by worming into trade unions, becoming officials, and then dominating their policies, as was the case in New South Wales.
– Order ! The honorable member must connect his remarks with the bill.
– Perhaps I am elaborating this subject more than I should ; but we should be alive to the fact that the Ottawa agreement has its bearing on all these matters, and consolidates this wonderful Empire of ours. The British Empire has nothing to apologize for.
– What about its people who are hungry?
– I suppose the honorable member lias never been hungry. He is like Ghandi, professing to be anxious for the down-trodden women and children, and then, when trouble comes, pushing them into the vanguard. What is wanted is a little more British blood in our community.
– The honorable member has never suffered; that is why he is so callous.
– I have suffered as much as has the honorable member. We are all used to him. Personally, I do not take him seriously.
Preference covers not only trade; it relates, also, to the migration of industries. Honorable members opposite must, in fairness, admit that under a preferential tariff industries will migrate to this country and bring in their train the stock that we need - Britishers. I do not advocate any flood of migration, which would be unfair to our labour market ; but I am in favour of attracting carefully-selected British people to our shores.
– And Irish.
– I include Scotch and Irish. At present, unfortunately, the
Government’ of the Irish Free State is the only one which stands out from this agreement, because it is dominated by a brooding fanatic who lives on the hatreds of the past.
– He is not Irish.
– He is the Spanish onion in the Irish stew. If we got the flood of British migration that we need in Australia, we should, because of out greater population, be able to lessen our excessive overhead expenditure. We need more people, and we should get them under a policy of preferential trade within the Empire.
There is a league of nations mightier and more stable than that which has its head-quarters at Geneva, a league which has played its part in the march of progress and civilization - the British Empire. In the trials of the past, and the recent crises of the world war and the world depression, its members have passed through great adversities together, and, in the process, have learned greater appreciation and understanding of each other. If we believe that this example to the world of amity and cooperation should be encouraged; that its greater stability is for their common benefit and their national destiny, then we must concede that’ the Ottawa agreement is another step towards that consummation of the greatest good to our Empire and the Australian people.
.- First, I should like to express my regret at the absence of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) during this debate because of illness. I hope that the honorable gentleman will quickly recover, and soon take his place in this House again. I also express regret that our other Australian delegate is not here, the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce). Those ‘two gentlemen might have been able to elucidate much that is at present dark in this agreement, and so, perhaps, have enabled us to understand, matters more clearly.
As a lifelong advocate of the freest Empire trade, and especially of reciprocal Empire preference, I feel compelled to blame the Government for the barren results of the Ottawa Conference. For that conference the stage was wonderfully well set. A remarkable psychology was created to ensure that the greatest forward step in co-operation within the British Empire should be effected. The spirit in which Great Britain, the mother of all the dominions, went to that conference is best expressed in the words of Mr. Stanley Baldwin, who said -
We went to the Ottawa Conference with a clear objective - to lay the foundation of an economic policy that would ensure that both now and in the future an increasing volume of Empire trade would be brought about as far as possible by the lowering of trade barriers as between the several members of the Empire.
Unfortunately for these ideals, when the Minister for Customs presented the agreement to the House it was accompanied by a schedule which increased the foreign duties on no fewer than 440 items. The Australian Government did not display the same spirit throughout these negotiations as did the British Government. The attitude of Australia is typified by the statement of the Minister for Customs when he almost exultingly declared -
It does not reduce the protective level of our Australian tariff. It does not call upon the Australian Government to reduce that level; on the contrary, while it does not reduce the protective level against the British importer, it very generally increases the protective level against the foreign importer. [f that attitude continues to prevail, the result will be nothing less than tragic. It will probably result in the British Empire losing the lead which it has taken in the economic rehabilitation of the world. The lead may pass to the United States of America as a result of a democratic victory in the forthcoming presidential election in that country, and the United States of America may then take the first steps towards freeing international trade.
– The United States of America certainly took the lead in tying it up.
– That is true, and I had hoped that the British Empire would take the first step towards loosing the shackles. The Empire was already leading the world in monetary reform, and it is not the fault of Great Britain that it is not leading in tariff reform as well. Every publicist and statesman in Great Britain has said, not once, but many times, that Great Britain has resorted to the use of tariffs for the purpose of forcing other countries to reduce theirs. It is recognized in Great Britain that tariffs by strangling world trade have contributed more than anything else to the prevailing economic depression. It is a tragedy that in Australia we should have the two largest political parties vieing with each other to raise Australian tariffs to the point of prohibition. The Government party is reluctant to give Great Britain anything in the way of tariff concessions, while the Labour party will quite frankly give her nothing at all. The meanness and sordidness of this attitude almost passes belief. What would one think of a sou who so treated his father, if that father had done for him as much as Great Britain has done for us. Suppose that the father had provided the land for the boy on which to begin farming, as Great Britain found this country for us. Then the father finds the equipment to work the farm, and advances money at a cheaper rate than the boy could get it for anywhere else, ‘as Great Britain has done to us per medium of the Trustees Security Act. While the produce is growing and improvements proceeding the father defends the farm against marauders, as the British fleet has defended us. Then, when it comes to disposing of the produce of the farm, the father helps the boy to find markets as Great Britain has helped us by granting us preference, by continually advertising our goods, and by the creation of the Empire Marketing Board, and by passing the Merchandise Marks Act. When, in return for all these favours, the father asks his son to buy some more of the goods the father manufactures, the son tries to force from him the last farthing on the bargain, we should have a parallel for what Australia is doing in her relations with Great Britain.
It can be shown also how stupid, even in our own interests, is this exhibition of meanness. Great Britain is prepared to give us almost everything in the way of preferential concession if we will concede a little that really matters in return. Yet the Minister has told us that it is proposed to keep the duties against British goods at their present level, and to antagonize foreign customers by raising, the foreign .duty on 440 items in order to provide the agreed on margin of preference for British goods. Surely the idea of imperial economic unity, to which I thought every one in Australia with a grain of intelligence subscribed, implies that the trade barriers between the various partners of the Empire should be as few as possible; that there should be the freest exchange of goods between Empire units, and that there should be that’ measure of protection against foreign goods which would ensure the maximum degree of intra-Empire trade. With a properly worked-out plan of Empire development and industrial progress we could make the whole Empire practically a home market for the produce of the various Empire units. By rationalizing our industries, or parts of them, or if similar industries in different parts of the Empire were established, allotting to each special fields to exploit, we should be able to lessen the overhead costs of production to such an extent as to make more effective for our purpose even lower protective duties against outside countries than now e’xist. The magnitude of a task of this kind should have fired the imagination of the delegation which represented Australia, and should have inspired the broadest possible policy resulting in the bringing back of an agreement worth while, rather than the paltry gains provided for in this agreement.
There are four articles in the agreement which will make me vote for it, but what they provide for is so obvious that it should never have been necessary for them to be imposed upon Australia by outside pressure. In article 9, for instance, Australia undertakes to protect only those industries which are sound and which have a reasonable prospect of success. Surely no country in the world would adopt any other policy. That should be an axiom of our national policy; it should not be second nature willi us, but first nature. What Britain has really done in requiring us to agree to this article looks like providing a padded cell for the protection of a people suffering from economic madness.
Then there is the question of the scale of preference. The agreed upon rate of preference varies from 15 per cent, to 20 per cent., according to the duty on various kinds of British goods. In order to apply this preference over the whole range of goods, the Government has increased the already high Scullin tariff against foreign imports in over 300 instances, while leaving the tariff on British imports as it was before. Of what value this is to us, let the Minister for Trade and Customs explain. In a speech delivered on 14th November, 1930, the present Minister for Trade and Customs, when speaking in support of a motion for the adjournment of’ the House, which I moved to protest against discrimination against British products in favour of those of the United States of America, said -
The Labour Government has gone through the farce of keeping up some 10 or 15 per cent, preference to Great Britain in the new tariff schedule, but it would not matter if the wall was 100 per cent, higher against the foreigner, because in innumerable cases in which the preferences stood in favour of Britain for many years, British imports are now impossible.
Now, on top of that tariff, higher foreign rates are to be imposed. Surely this is a paltry policy to be pursued by Australia, which is a part of a mighty empire that possesses one-quarter of the land surface of the globe; which has within its borders one-quarter of the world’s population; that is crossed by every meridian of longitude and every parallel of latitude; that produces practically every commodity needed by man; that ha3 immense power-resources, both of fuel and water; and that has, in respect of many commodities, practically an absolute monopoly. The Empire produces 44 per cent, of the world’s wool, and practically all the fine wool. It produces 70 per cent, of the world’s gold, 90 per cent, of the nickel, 65 per cent, of the rubber, 40 per cent, of the tin, and does one-third of the world’s trade. Surely the proper development of such an empire requires something more than the appearance before the Australian Tariff Board of representatives of British manufacturers. What is needed is a properly conceived plan that will ensure that each part of the Empire will develop along its own natural lines; that it will foster its natural primary and secondary industries in such a way as to permit of the greatest possible co-operation between the various parts of the Empire, so as to effect a real rationalization of Empire production,, and a reduction of production costs. It should be possible by such action to reduce costs and lower tariff barriers as well.
The other day there was a great deal of talk about a circular issued by one of the banks stating that production costs would be increased as the result of the Ottawa agreements. There would be no need to increase costs if we framed and put into operation a proper plan of imperial development. That plan would seek to use the resources of the Empire in the best possible way, and by scientific co-operation reduce the costs of production and the cost of living within the Empire, and make more effective and even lower tariff barriers than those at present raised against foreign competition. To evolve such a plan we should, before the politicians met at Ottawa, have had consultation, discussion, and research by business representatives from various parts of the Empire to decide upon a common business policy. I have advocated this step for some time past, and was, therefore, interested to read in the London Times, of the 10th September last, the following paragraph : -
There is little doubt that better results would have been achieved if the objectives of Empire policy could have been agreed on beforehand and definite lines of approach to them examined by business men.
I am convinced that at such a conference the commercial interests operating in various parts of the Empire would be able to arrive at a useful and workable agreement on many points. Two years ago, a meeting of this kind was arranged between the iron and steel manufacturing interests of Great Britain and Canada, with the result that Britain now supplies 25 per cent, of Canada’s market for iron and steel, as compared with 3 per cent, previously. I am sure that the same thing could be done in regard to other commodities, and between other portions of the Empire. Were such conferences held and agreements reached, the province of Parliament would be to ratify the agreements.
I regret that the results of the Ottawa Conference have been so meagre. The frame of mind in which the British delegates entered the conference made it possible for tremendous advantages to be achieved by all parts of the Empire had the delegates the courage and vision to seize the opportunity. The results have been so poor largely because the hopeful atmosphere which at first prevailed was chilled by the cold wind of Canadian and Australian sectionalism. In regard to Australian sectionalism, it is worth while to review the attitude of members of the present Government, particularly our delegates to Ottawa. In March, 1930, I set out in a speech at Benalla the Country party policy for helping Great Britain and ourselves by the adoption of a system of reciprocal preference, and in the May following I moved in this House a motion which was seconded by the honorable member for Gippsland, advocating the encouragement of increased Empire trade, and indicating the manner in which that could be brought about. The present Minister for Trade and Customs ridiculed my proposal, and in an article which appeared” in the Melbourne Herald of March, 1930, he wrote -
The vital question now arises not only as to whether we in Australia are likely to be able to give more in the future, as under the Baldwin scheme we would be expected to do, but as to- whether we are likely to find it possible to maintain the preference of recent years. I a,m definitely of the opinion that Australia’s disposition and capacity to grant preference of substantial value to British manufactured goods are diminished rather than increased.
I call attention to that statement, especially as to our disposition being diminished. He continued–
Before Britain would entertain full duties on any terms at all, she would probably demand more preference than we have been giving; certainly she would not accept less. If there is one thing true about Australian politics at the present time, it is that we are going head down for protection of the completest kind for our own manufacturing industries. At no time since our tariff making began long ago in the colonies has the disposition to erect holus bolus a comprehensive set of protective duties been so pronounced. The truth is that this prohibitive duty campaign brings .the end of appreciable preference to British man nf actu red goods within measureable distance. The Beaverbrook proposal discloses on the face of it, such a depth of ignorance of Australian industrial aspirations and achievements, that its birth and advance are almost beyond credence.
To a large extent that attitude of the Minister for Trade and Customs has been maintained by the present Prime Minister, who has stated that he will do nothing in regard to British preference, or any other tariff matter, unless he is fortified by a prior recommendation of the Tariff Board. I desire to know what, then, is taking place in regard to the 250 requests which, according to the Minister’ for Trade and Customs, were made to the Commonwealth Government by the British Government in February last. The Tariff Board had ample time to examine them before our delegates left for Ottawa. The agreements ratified in the House of Commons incorporated the actual fiscal details, and mentioned the treatment to be accorded to specific items. In the agreement now before us is incorporated merely a general formula, by which the rate of preference is to be regulated. Surely it was possible for our delegates to go to Ottawa with definite concessions to offer to the United Kingdom in respect of a large proportion of those 250 items. I believe that had they done that, they would have been able to bring back much more than this agreement represents. I said on the eve of their departure that I wished them God Speed, and trusted that they would bring back the maximum concessions obtainable. In my opinion the development of Empire trade along lines that will permit trade barriers to be lowered, affects the rehabilitation of not only Australia, but also the whole world. If we are to stagger along for years before we reach a true basis, Australia and other countries must in the meantime suffer a great deal of distress.
In connexion with an ordinary bacteriological culture, if the micro organisms are placed in a sympathetic medium, the culture will grow very freely, but if the slightest trace of acid is introduced, all growth is inhibited. Similarly, we had a sympathetic atmosphere in Great Britain at the Ottawa Conference, and we could have obtained almost any concessions had we developed that atmosphere by signifying our willingness to give as well as to take; but selfish sectionalism and lack of courage have had an acid-like effect in preventing satisfactory development of the Empire plan.
When we examine the concessions actually obtained at Ottawa, we find that those relating to butter, zinc, lead, &c, were really the result of action taken by the Country party, especially Senator B. D. Elliott, in February last, which was initiated primarily to obtain, concessions in respect of the 20,000 tons of butter that was en route to England when the Import .Duties Bill was introduced into the House of Commons. As a result of the representations then made, we secured not merely concessions for that quantity of butter, but also inclusion in the Import Duties Bill of 10 per cent, concessions on the articles named. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) may laugh, but we were able to tell the Dairy Produce Control Board 24 hours before the Government knew what was happening, that a concession was to be given in respect of these commodities. That concession covered only the period, February to November under the Import Duties Act, and the Ottawa agreement has done no more than put it on a five year basis. That extension is a definite gain, I admit, but we could have got much more if we had had greater vision, and the courage to declare that we recognized that the old policy, which has been so long dominant in Australia, was not suitable to cope with modern conditions. For many years, Australia has been like St. Simeon Stylites, who perched himself on a high pillar in the Syrian desert, and with Iris gaze focussed on his navel, sought to solve the problems of the world. Australia has been content to isolate itself and gaze at his own anatomy. But to see ourselves in proper perspective, let us compare what is happening to us, with what is occurring in other parts of the world. The report of the Imperial Economic Committee, published in 1930, points out that in the years 1913 to 1928, whilst the export trade of the world increased by 18 per cent., that of Canada by 105 per cent., and that of New Zealand by 45 per cent, Australia’s had grown by only 10 per cent. This young, undeveloped country with unlimited /resources, has enjoyed less than the average growth of world trade; surely that is significant. This failure to expand is largely due to the fact that in Australia during the last fifteen to twenty years there has been a tendency to tax very highly all the mechanical equipment for factory and farm, despite the fact that we were unable to manufacture such goods commercially. During those years the imports of machinery,metals and manufactures, ranged in value from £25,000,000 to £80,000,000 annually, notwithstanding that the duties against the United Kingdom were from 35 to 50 per cent., and against foreigners, from 60 to 70 per cent.
Mr.White. - The right honorable gentleman was Treasurer during the years to which he refers.
– During some of them, and in 1925, the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) introduced alterations and, in fact, a new item, 415, to the schedule to admit free of duty such British articles as could not be commercially made in Australia. He recognized the soundness of that principle, and the alteration he made was hailed by the London Times as a great advance on the previous fiscal policy of the Commonwealth. The Tariff Board, in its last annual report in reference to the admission of machinery and machine tools at lowest possible rates, said -
The board is convinced that no other one factor, excepting the rise of world’s price levels, which is outside the control of the Commonwealth, would go so far to increase demand and reduce unemployment as would a marked reduction in the prices of these and other commodities.
Here was an obvious means of approaching the British Government with an offer of preferences that would be worth while. Probably, many of the 250 items suggested by Great Britain for concession duties affected machines and metals. The Bruce-Page Government designed by-laws to enable machinery to be admitted free of duty, but there was always somebody to suggest that these articles could be commercially made in Australia. That is happening at the present time, and only last week I received a letter from the Metal Manufacturers’ Association asking me to fight for the enforcement of the principle of admitting duty free, machinery and other requirements of industry that are not commercially produced in Australia, that is to say, at a reasonable cost. I analysed the field of possible mutual help in Empire trade, and found in one year that of £4,500,000 worth of goods which would have come under this by-law only £1,200,000, or 25 per cent., was admitted free; and the duty paid on the balance was roughly 50 per cent. of its total value. That indicates how these duties increase the cost to the consumer. Further examining the distribution of the trade, I found that of a total import trade of £43,000,000 in metals and machinery and certain other goods in 1928-29, foreign countries secured £22,400,000. Of this amount, £16,632,000 was severely competitive, and Great Britain secured only 21 per cent. of the total. I suppose that no product is better known throughout, the world than Diston’s saws, yet £25,263 worth of saws was imported from Great Britain, and £39,587 worth from other countries. Amongst other imports were -
Here is a wide field for concessions; we could wipe out the “ commercially made “ classification, and replace it with a more detailed and a new schedule of preferences, giving greater advantages to the United Kingdom, and helping our producers by reducing the cost of equipment.
The Ottawa agreement has been signed, and I welcome the signing of any binding contract of this nature as a definite cooperative advance. But already the agreement has been modified in regard to meat, because new circumstances have arisen ; and similarly, I suggest, that there should be continuous examination of this agreement with a view to devising new means of improving our trading relations with Great Britain. I should like the Government to declare what has happened in regard to the 250 items upon which Great Britain sought concessions. Have those concessions been granted? Was Mr. Baldwin right when he stated -
In Australia, the Tariff Board shall review the position so as to ensure that within a reasonable period the protective duties shall be reduced to a level that will give United Kingdom producers full opportunity of reasonable competition in the dominion markets as the basis of the relative costs of economical and efficient production.
Or was the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) right when he said of the agreement - lt does not reduce the protective level of our Australian tariff. It does not call upon the Australian Government to reduce that level.
Which of those statements is correct? I should like to know whether they can both be correct; I believe we can give Great Britain definite concessions without reducing our protective duties over the wide field I have mentioned; but many of those duties are, as the Minister has admitted, already too high, and the margin of preference should be given by reducing the British and not increasing the foreign duties. The Government should examine that position carefully. Now that the agreement is signed we should try to open up for Great Britain an increasing field of trade, and obtain in exchange something more useful than somewhat illusory preferences.
– To what preferences is the honorable member referring?
– For instance, instead of a preference on wheat of 3d. a bushel given only if we offer our wheat to the United Kingdom based on world prices, I should like a definite dominion preference independent of all other considerations. If we could, by lowering the tariff on certain items, promote employment, say in Birmingham, Nottingham, Glasgow, and other centres in Great Britain, we should have a reasonable chance of getting in return concessions that are tangible and not capable of a great deal of misunderstanding such as has been abundantly shown by the cables in regard to wheat which have been read in this House to-day. There are many definite lines, some of which I have already referred to in this House, upon which an investigation could be made, not merely by the customs officers, but by persons engaged in manufacture and trading. Unlike honorable members opposite, I am not perturbed about the five-years’ term of this agreement. I should like it to be a perpetual agreement, a growing agreement, vital alive, one which is continually being amended on more and more favorable terms both to Great Britain and the dominions, in order to make the Empire a real economic unit, improving not only our own industrial position but also that of the world at large. I should not be averse to the term of agreements being ten years in respect of certain industries where understandings between manufacturers in Britain and Australia had been arrived at. I am not afraid of the recommendations of the Tariff Board being too low. During the regime of the Bruce-Page Government, many of the recommendations of the board were not given effect, because we considered the rates recommended to be too high. Although the agreement prevents us from imposing duties higher than those recommended by the Tariff Board, we should not be prevented from imposing duties which are lower than those recommended by the Tariff Board.
– Was not the late Mr. Pratten a member of the Bruce-Page Government?
– Yes, and he did much for Imperial preference, as a study of the tariff schedules introduced by him will show. There are in the agreement four articles which, as I have said, appear to me to be extraordinary. Why there should be need for a specific statement in an agreement between two partners in the Empire that Australia should protect only sound industries passes my comprehension. It ought to go without saying. Why should it be necessary to insert in the agreement that the representatives of British manufacturers may appear before our Tariff Board ?
– They do so to-day.
– Those articles show how suspicious Great Britain must be of our tariff methods. However, 1 see no harm in their incorporation in the agreement.
I regret that greater mention is not made in this debate of the discussions that took place at the conference on currency. I am pleased to note that the conference did not hesitate to deal with that subject on the most comprehensive lines, and to try to envisage the whole problem. The representatives of the various governments concerned agreed that a world-wide rise in wholesale prices was desirable, and that they should promote a policy of low-interest rates with an abundance of short-term loans. I suggest that this Government is not following the recommendations of the currency conference, which stated that there were three main lines of procedure for the various governments of the Empire to follow. The first was that they should try to reduce interest rates, and to use short-term money abundantly. During the last week or so, the present Government has resisted the attempt of the Premier of New South Wales to try to reduce the rate of interest in Australia to 3i per cent. The second line of policy suggested by the currency conference was that an attempt should be made to maintain exchange stabilization consistent with the objective of raising price levels. It will be remembered that for the last two or three months we have been trying- to secure a decision from the Government on this very question. The decision of the conference was reached early in August, and since then, despite the fact that prices of wheat and meat have fallen to an extent never previously experienced, and that the prices of butter and other produce have also fallen, the Government has done nothing to remedy the position, nor has it made a declaration regarding the stabilization of exchange. The third recommendation of the conference was that there should be a smooth and efficient working of the machinery of international trade. I should think that the most unlikely thing to make the machinery of international trade work smoothly and efficiently is this Government’s action in increasing foreign duties on 440 items. That is more like putting sand instead of oil into the workings of international trade. The Government should secure margins of preference, not by increasing foreign duties, but by reducing British duties, and I shall move to that effect later. We have enough enemies in the world without making any more by any tariff folly on our part. The door is not yet closed to discussion with Great Britain on this matter. I believe that this agreement, if it does nothing but promote continuous consultation between the governments of the Empire, will have achieved something worth while. I urge the Government to use every effort to secure lower duties and a reclassification of the whole of the tariff schedule so as to make possible a wider range of benefits. The tariff schedule of the United States of America contains something like 10,000 items, while our tariff schedule has only 600 or 700 items. The schedule of the United States of America’ provides for the maximum number of absolutely free items, so as to ensure the efficient and continuous working of the manufacturing industries of that country and the supply of equipment and raw materials at lowest possible prices. I should like to see appointed a permanent Imperial economic committee, its personnel drawn from business men, manufacturers and producers of the various dominions, their duty being to ascertain ways and means of promoting Empire trade which will excite not the pity but the admiration of the world.
.- The Ottawa agreement, which has been said by the supporters of the Government to embody wonderful concessions to this country, does not indicate that a very great margin of preference has been given to Australian industry. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), in the early part of his speech, condemned the agreement, and later said that it was his intention to support it. If the Country party stands for anything at all, it should stand for the primary producers. I ask the right honorable member for Cowper what advantage the wheat-grower is likely to get from the agreement? Why were the producers of wool, which is the main exportable commodity in this country, so completely forgotten at Ottawa? Then, again, great things have been claimed by the supporters of the Government for the meat industry as a result of this agreement. In my opinion, the British delegation at Ottawa simply played with the Australian delegation, because the agreement provides for a great measure of preference to Great Britain, and very little to Australia. The Australian secondary industries have been sacrificed in order to give some little benefit to the primary industries. In view of the Prime Minister’s statement to-day regarding the concession on meat, we must conclude that there is nothing very binding in the agreement in respect of meat. We are told that we are to obtain the advantage of a concession on meat after 1933, that from the beginning of next year there will be a restriction placed on the imports of foreign beef into Great Britain, and that up to the end of 1933 a preference of 5 per cent., reaching 35 per cent, in 1934, will be granted to Australia. The British Government can review the meat agreement in 1934 if it desires to do so. As the Prime Minister indicated this afternoon, there is likely to be a conference of the various meat producing countries with the object at arriving at a different agreement. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, representatives of Brazil and the Argentine have agreed to confer with representatives of the United Kingdom on the subject of British meat importations. If the Ottawa agreement is satisfactory to the Argentine it is quite evident that it cannot be satisf actory to Australia. Argentine, as we know, sells chilled meat, and we sell frozen meat, on the London market. No government can compel its people to buy frozen meat if they have acquired a taste for chilled meat.
If it is argued that the agreement will force prices up in Great Britain I reply that no government is likely by parliamentary action to do anything to increase the cost of living. The ‘British Government is no more likely to tax the principal items of the food of the British people than this Government is likely to tax the principal items of food of the Australian people. The Country party has been trying for a long while to get the Commonwealth Government to agree to a sales tax on flour, but hitherto its efforts have been unsuccessful. Can they then hope that the British Government will impose a tax on the foodstuffs of the people ?
One of the dangers that I see in this agreement is that it may lead to retaliation. The Leader of the Country party frequently argues in this House that our policy of high duties is likely to cause retaliation. We often see advertisements in the newspapers advocating that the people who reside in suburban areas should trade in their own suburbs. The Ottawa agreement is really designed to get the different parts of the Empire to trade within the Empire. But where will that policy lead us?- Great Britain buys only 30 per cent, of our wool clip. We have to sell the other 70 per cent, elsewhere. What will the other customers for our wool think of this agreement? Will they not be likely to make similar agreements with other countries? We know that only 30 per cent, of our wheat goes into Great Britain. We are to be allowed a preference of 3d. a bushel over world parity on this quantity, but what is world parity ? We know that there is a London parity and an Eastern parity. When this agreement comes into force the London parity will disappear. It has been said that Russia will not now be able to sell her wheat in Great Britain. But she mil sell it elsewhere. No one has suggested that she will go out of production. Wherever she sells it, the sale will affect world’s parity price. If the wheat is dumped on foreign markets it will affect the price there, and this will be reflected in London. The same remark might be made in regard to Australian beef, mutton and lamb. In the September quarter of last year we exported 26,000,000 lb. of lamb and mutton to Great Britain, but in the corresponding quarter of this year we placed only 4,000,000 lb. of lamb and mutton on that market. This falling off of 22,000,000 lb. is serious. [Quorum formed.] It appears to me that the primary producers in our chief exporting industries, such as the wool and wheat industries, will get little or no monetary benefit from this agreement. One of the Australian representatives at Ottawa was Mr. Angliss, who is an exporter of meat. Are the cold stores of Great Britain chock full of meat? Is an effort being made to restrict exports to enable exporters to get rid of the surplus in cold storage? Is this why there has been such a restriction in our export trade during the last quarter? The Government should have made sure that the real primary producers of Australia were represented directly at Ottawa. The Country party claims to represent the man on the land, but did it make any protest against the personnel of the Ottawa delegation? We know very well that that delegation left Australia with an open cheque. The real interests of the primary producers and manufacturers of this country have been sacrificed to those of countries which exploit coloured labour. Our own people, who must find work for their boys and girls, have been left lamenting. The lifting of the embargoes imposed by the Scullin Government has destroyed the home market for our primary producers. Every one interested in primary production knows that the home market is the best market.
The Government acted against the best interests of this country when it virtually placed the fiscal policy of the nation in the hands of the Tariff Board. If such a tribunal is qualified to determine our fiscal policy, a commission of three persons would be just as well qualified to deal with the other problems of government which, properly, should be determined by this Parliament. As a matter of fact, there has been a complete “ sell out” at Ottawa by the Australian representatives.
The Minister for Trade and Customs told us that the case for the Australian meat producers was stated at Ottawa by the leader of the delegation, Mr. Bruce; but this right honorable gentleman was advised by Mr. Tout and Mr. Angliss, who are not qualified to speak authoritatively for the real primary producers of this country. Mr. Tout and Mr. Angliss represent not the cattle growers, but the meat exporters. In dealing with the meat agreement, the Minister in his speech said -
Certainly, the case for dominion beef was not an impressive one. Of the total amount of 1,399,000 tons of beef of all kinds consumed in the United Kingdom in 1931, 800,000 tons was of home British origin. Four hundred and sixty-four thousand tons of chilled beef and 59,000 tons of frozen beef came from South America, chiefly from the Argentine, 57.000 tons of frozen beef came from Australia, and 19.000 tons of frozen beef came from New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand supplied only 5i per cent, of the total consumption and 13 per cent, of the total beef import. Nor was that the real weakness of our case. As honorable members know, chilled beef is more attractive to butchers and consumers than frozen beef, and we in Australia are still awaiting on science for a process that will enable us to transport chilled beef over the long journey to Britain.
The claim of the Minister that the meat agreement is a great concession to the man on the land cannot be substantiated, for it cannot have any effect until 1933, and may be reviewed by the British Government in 1934. The agreement is not binding on the United Kingdom for five years as are the concessions given by the Commonwealth Government to the United Kingdom.
– Does the honorable member say that the position of Australia is worse than it was?
– Yes. I do not think that even the honorable member will argue that it is any better. Clearly, the bottom has fallen out of the meat market. There is six months’ supply of meat in cold storage in Great Britain. The Prime Minister read a statement this afternoon to the effect that the Government had agreed to a further restriction of imports into Great Britain.
– The honorable member is in error in that statement.
– The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Cameron) may think so; but that does not prove the correctness of his assertion. As a result of the restrictions which will operate during the years 1932, 1933 and 1934, there will be a falling off in our lamb and mutton trade with Great Britain, to the advantage of the Argentine, which is not restricted from sending chilled meat to the British market. Again, take the alleged preference of 15s. per cwt., or l£d. per lb., on butter. Denmark has been a heavy supplier of butter to Great Britain. Do honorable members seriously think that Danish producers will go off that market simply because of this negligible concession ? They will simply drop their price, and make our preference useless. Because of those things, I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition.
Before any agreement was entered into, the producers of butter, meat, wheat and other Australian products should have been called into conference, and asked to submit recommendations. .Even now, it is not too late for the Government to consult those who are making these sacrifices. I object to an outside tribunal having the power to fix the policy of the Government in connexion with the overseas marketing of our products. I think that our primary producers and our manufacturers should have been consulted before the conference was held. Article 11 provides that
United Kingdom traders may make representations to the Tariff Board. Have our primary producers ever had an opportunity to put their case before the Tariff Board?
– On many occasions.
– Who has stated their case?
– I have done so, several times.
– Perhaps from ‘ an individual point of view, but where is the organization ?
– The Wool-growers Association.
– It represents the big man only. There is no organization representing the closer settlement men, with from 3,000 to 5,000 sheep each. Recently a committee was appointed to inquire into the wool industry. What representation does it give to the small men? There is Mr. James Clark, who owns about 150,000 sheep, and who would be considered to be a big grower, but what about the small man ? And what concessions have the banana-growers, cottongrowers, and tobacco-growers received? The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) claims that Queensland will get most advantage from this agreement. If that is a fact, I say, “ God help the other States ! “
The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) said that wages are too high; that the cost of production must come down. In 1929, when fixing the basic wage, Chief Judge Dethridge said that if there were a general 10 per cent, reduction in wages the pastoral, shearing, and all other industries would improve. Has that been borne out by results? Since then wages have fallen, in some cases, by 30 per cent., and the mass of the people have been deprived of their purchasing power. The vicious thing about it is that other charges have not fallen proportionately. The honorable member for Gwydir said that in 1928 the wages on a certain run in New England amounted to £5,000 per annum. They have since fallen to £3,000, or a drop of 36 per cent. On the other hand, the interest bill for the same property has increased during that time from £1,800 to £2,121 per annum, or an increase of 12 per cent. The honorable member has not fought for a reduction of interest charges.
– He put up a most strenuous fight for the reduction of interest.
– The honorable member certainly puts up a good scrap for his absent friend, but neither he nor his party has done anything to bring about a reduction of interest.
– I did, in this House, only last week.
– The Scullin Government was in power for two years, and did everything possible to effect a reduction in interest, lt did, in fact, secure a reduction in interest. Why did not honorable members opposite do the same thing for the primary producers as they did for the bankers? They had Sir Robert Gibson, the representative of the bankers, brought before the bar of the Senate in connexion with the Central Reserve Bank Bill when the Labour party was fighting to secure for the people some relief from the banks. Is the same opportunity to be given to the interests affected by the Ottawa agreement to state their case at the bar of this House?
– The Country party will do that.
– If it does so as well as it stated their case in connexion with the Central Reserve Bank Bill, the Wheat Bill, and cotton and tobacco matters, God help the primary producers. Neither this Government nor the Country party has done anything to reduce rail freights. Where is the consistency of a Government, which continually cries for reduced costs of production and at the same time increases taxation? Industry has no chance to absorb our unemployed. Every reduction has been made at the expense of the poorer section of the community. There has been no reduction in shipping charges, which are a big item, particularly in connexion with the wool industry. Nor have Dalgety’s, Goldsbrough, Mort, and others reduced their selling charges for wool.
For a time the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) was a member of a New South Wales Government. What did that Administration do to reduce the Sydney Harbour charges, which are the highest in Australia?
Another industry to suffer, the Australian timber industry, received encouragement from the Scullin Government, and was just finding its legs and producing under white-labour conditions when this Government assumed office. I notice that this agreement provides for a 20 per cent, preference on logs. To justify that, the Minister said that wo shall obtain a 10 per cent, preference on our hardwoods, which previously were not specified. This preference to the product of cheap coloured labour countries will throw our Australian timber workers out of employment. The other night, when replying to a deputation of banana-growers, the Prime Minister said that when we began our White Australia policy it was not with the intention of depriving ‘ the. black mau of a living ; nor was it intended that we should give 20 per cent, preference to timber hewn by coloured labour. That is allowing British Borneo imports to come in on something (more than their competitive basis. We have gained nothing from the agreement in respect of timber.
What concessions have we obtained in regard to metals? The agreement provides that metals produced in Australia shall be offered to the United Kingdom at world parity prices. What are world parity prices to-day for such metals as zinc, lead, and copper? It is evident that we stand to gain nothing from the agreement as a result of this provision. So far as this portion of the agreement is concerned, it is merely so much camouflage, but it is likely to provoke retaliation by foreign countries in respect of other industries. In 1928, we had an adverse trade balance with the United States of America of £36,000,000 but with Germany, France, Japan, and Italy we had a favorable trade balance of just about the same amount. Some of those countries are still good customers for our wheat, wool, and other products, but- they may be driven to retaliate against us.
– Some of them have already done so.
– And they will probably do so to a greater extent. When France imposed a duty of 6s. 8d. a bushel on Australian wheat by way of retaliation against the Scullin duties, the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) protested very vigorously.
Under the agreement, a certain fixed quantity of bananas from Fiji is to be admitted into Australia at a duty of 2s. 6d. a cental. Replying to a deputation which waited upon him in regard to this matter, the Prime Minister said that this was a small concession in return for what we were likely to gain from trade with Fiji. I do not believe that anything we are likely to gain will compensate for the loss which the Australian growers of bananas will suffer. It is true that a limit has been placed upon the quantity of Fiji bananas which are to be admitted ; but this concession is the thin end of the wedge. It has been said that Fiji I bananas will be admitted only to Sydney and Melbourne; but how is the agreement to be policed to prevent the bananas from going elsewhere as well ? Melbourne and Sydney are the chief markets of Queensland and New South Wales. The Prime Minister said that the Government would guarantee that the limit of 40,000 centals a year would not be exceeded, but I believe that it will not be long before still larger quantities will be imported, and then our Australian hanan a-growers will be forced out of production. I remember what happened to the tobaccogrowers who, under the protection afforded by the Scullin Government, increased their acreage, only to be left in the lurch when the duties were reduced by the present Government. If I believed that Australia would derive any substantia] benefit from the Ottawa agreement, I would support its ratification, though I believe that the Government should not enter into any agreement which would tie the hands of itself or its successors for a period of five years, nor do I believe in articles 9, 10, 11, and 12 which deprive this Parliament of its right to say who shall determine our fiscal policy. It may be claimed that the Scullin Government tied the hands of Parliament for five years over the sugar agreement, but that is not true. The sugar agreement was made for a period of only three years, with the right of review at the end of that period.
– Does the honorable member believe in the financial agreement?
Mr.RIORDAN. - If the honorable member looks up the speech I made on that subject in the Queensland Parliament, he will see where I stood on the matter. I hope, for the sake of the country, and that of the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), that the Ottawa agreement will not be ratified.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Blacklow) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.23 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The excess of the revenue of the Patents Office, Melbourne, over its expenditure for the year 1931-32 was £1,932. The estimated excess for the year 1932-33 is £2,920. The operation of the Financial Emergency Act has been responsible for averting a certain loss for the years in question. The figures for 1932-33 do not take into account the cost of the proposed transfer of the Central Patents Office from Melbourne to Canberra.
t. - Information is being obtained in reply to a series of questions, upon notice, asked by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) in regard to the price of butter.
y asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
en asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
When will the report of the Development Branch in regard to the fertilizer industry be available to honorable members?
– The report referred to has come to hand, and is at present receiving the consideration of the Government. Pending completion of such consideration, I am not in a position to furnish the information desired by the honorable member.
en asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
y. - On the 4th November, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) asked the amount of duty paid, if any, on 127,942 cwt. of molasses imported during 1931-32 from Fiji by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, of New South Wales.
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following answer: - “ Practically all the molasses that enters the port of Sydney from Fiji is imported by the Colonial SugarRefining Company Limited. This company also uses large quantities of Queensland molasses in its distillery at Sydney. There is no customs duty on imported molasses, but a primage duty of 10 per cent. is at present in force. The amount of primage duty collected would be approximately £794.”
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 November 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19321108_reps_13_136/>.