13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– by leave - The Government has made arrangements for the Assistant Treasurer (Senator the Hon. W. Massy Greene) to visit New Zealand to discuss with the Dominion Government trade matters generally, as well as the particular question which arose recently with respect to the importation of fruit. At the meeting of the Cabinet’ early this week, it was decided that, as all the Ministers dealing with trade and commerce are members of the House of Representatives, which is about to begin the discussion of the tariff schedule, it was not practicable for any of them to leave the Commonwealth at the present time. But as the Senate will not be meeting immediately, and Senator Massy Greene, having been Minister for Trade and Customs, has an extensive knowledge of trade matters, it has now been decided that he shall proceed to New Zealand immediately. Earlier this week, the Commonwealth Government urged upon the Government of New Zealand that a restoration of the status quo in regard to the importation of fruit, pending a discussion between representatives of the two governments, would be in the ultimate interest of both countries.
In informing the Prime Minister of New Zealand of the Commonwealth Government’s decision with reference to Senator Massy Greene, I have again urged that the status quo should be restored pending the outcome of the discussions. Senator Massy Greene will leave Sydney on the 16th March.
– In connexion with the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers is the Government yet in a position to make an announcement to the House regarding the amounts due to the Commonwealth by the purchasers, and the stage reached in the negotiations to secure the payments of those amounts?
– I expect that the negotiations will be completed shortly, when I shall immediately make the information available to honorable members.
– Has the Minister for Commerce been informed of the action of Denmark and Sweden in exporting cream to Great Britain, where it is churned into butter, to avoid the payment of the customs duty of 15s. per cwt. on foreign butter? If so, does he intend to discuss the matter with the British Government ?
– I have no knowledge of the matter other than is contained in newspaper reports, but I shall have inquiries made with a view to taking appropriate action.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether any negotiations have taken place between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth regarding the restriction of imports of Australian butter? If any representations on the subject have been made by the British Government, what is the nature of them, and the Commonwealth Government’s reply thereto?
– The Commonwealth Resident Minister in London has conferred on this subject with representatives of the British Government. The attitude of the Commonwealth Government is in accordance with the advice tendered by the Dairy Produce Export Control Board. The matter is now being reconsidered, and at the invitation of the Government, members of the board will arrive in Canberra to-morrow to confer further with the Minister for Commerce.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the customs duties on iron and steel plates, plain or tinned, have been referred to the Tariff Board, and if so, whether any report has been received from that body?
Have the by-laws relating to iron and steel plates been amended?
– The duties on iron and steel have been the subject of negotiation between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. When I am in a position to announce any definite decision I shall do so.
– -Will the PostmasterGeneral state whether the Government has given notice to Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited of the termination of the agreement under which the company receives £60,000 per annum on account of .alleged patent rights ?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Notice of the termination of the agreement has been given.
– Some time ago I asked the Prime Minister whether the Government would consider the taking of a referendum on an amendment of the Constitution in relation to industrial powers. The right honorable gentleman replied that the Government would consider the matter. Has any decision been reached ?
– No; the Government has not yet had an opportunity to deliberate on the subject.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral take steps to enforce the Crimes Act by asking the New South Wales Government to arrange for the closer supervision by the State police of revolutionary propaganda urging the overthrow of the existing form of government by armed force?
– I shall communicate with the Government of New South Wales, and invite the co-operation of the State police in the manner suggested.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral seen a cable message in to-day^ newspapers in which one Eric Campbell, leader of the New Guard in New South Wales, is reported to have stated that he was travelling through Poland, Germany, and Italy in order to make himself more conversant with the Fascist organization; that time was never so opportune as the present for the adoption of fascism in New South Wales; and that not only did Mr. Lang need watching, but also Mr. Stevens, who is paving the way for socialism ? In view of .that statement, and of the fact that the Fascist organization known as the New Guard is definitely opposed to democratic government, what attitude does the honorable gentleman’s department intend to adopt when Mr. Campbell proposes to return to Australia?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable gentleman refers. Even though it be a fact that 00’011el Campbell intends to visit Poland, Italy, and other countries, that will not necessarily involve any action by the Government upon his return to Australia.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state what action has been taken to institute an inquiry, in accordance with the promise made four months ago by the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, into the lifting of the embargo on the importation of citrus fruits into Australia? If the inquiry has not yet been begun, will he state when something will be done about it?
– The matter has been referred to the Tariff Board. The case has not yet been heard, but I shall have inquiries made, and let the honorable member know when it is likely to be heard.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral state whether any action is being taken towards establishing a relay wireless broadcasting station in northern New South Wales?
– It is proposed, as part of the policy of the Government, to establish additional relay stations in each of the six States, but a number of important inquiries have had to be made before a decision could be arrived at. These inquiries have been rather more protracted than was anti- cipated, butthey are now nearing completion, and a statement will be made, probably within the next two weeks.
– Is it a fact that the Government has issued instructions that the receipt of food relief is not to be taken into consideration in assessing the amount of pension payable to applicants?
– Such instructions have been issued. It will be necessary to amend the Act, but the Government has anticipated the approval of Parliament to that course.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs yet decided to put into operation the proposal which he advocated in this House as a private member on the 4th November last, namely, that the number of members on the Tariff Board be increased, and that, if necessary, the Act be amended to give power to punish witnesses who tell untruths in the course of evidence given before the Board?
– I understand that the Act already contains provision relating to the punishing of persons giving false evidence before the Tariff Board. As an ex-Minister, the honorable member should know that. Since I have had an oppotunity of reviewing the work of the board, I am satisfied that the present personnel is sufficient.
– Having regard to the increased price received for Australiangrown bananas as a result of the importation of bananas from Fiji, will the Prime Ministerconsider diverting the grant of £5,000 from the Australian bananagrowing industry to the assistance of returned soldiers who are in arrears with their payments on war service homes?
– The undertaking given by the Government to the banana-growers of Australia will be kept.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral state whether Mr. A. E. Heath, who is to be the second Government repre sentative at the International Labour Conference at Geneva, is the same Mr. Heath who was chairman of the employer’s committee during the timberworkers’ lockout, and also chairman of the recent Commonwealth transport inquiry? Upon what grounds has the Government found it necessary to increase its delegation to this conference by thus doubling the representation of the employers.
– Mr. A. E. Heath was chairman of the Transport Inquiry Committee, but I have no knowledge of the other matter to which the honorable member referred. I know that Mr. Heath is or was associated with Saxton and Sons, a big timber company in Sydney. The object of the Government in taking advantage of Mr. Heath’s presence in Europe is to use his very special and extensive knowledge in the consideration ofsubjects which will arise during the course of the conference. I am convinced that the experience and special knowledge of Mr. Heath will enable him to make a valuable contribution to the work of the conference.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs yet received from the Tariff Board its report dealing with the protective incidence of exchange and primage duties?
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs prepared to use every endeavour to bring about the consideration and adoption of the motion on the business-paper in his name for the abolition of the sales tax?
– I have already spoken on that motion, and other private members may now take it up. At the present time it does not concern my department.
– Is it a fact that recently the Minister for Trade and Customs stated that he was in favour of the retention of the sales tax as a permanent institution, despite the fact that in November last he had on the notice-paper a motion designed to bring about its abolition ?
– I should be glad to know when I made the statement to which the honorable member refers. Perhaps he can enlighten me.
Appointment of Cadets
– It has been stated that over 2,000 applications have been received for six cadet appointments in New Guinea. Will the Minister in charge of the Mandated Territory say what procedure has been adopted in handling such a large number of applications, what the present position is, and when the appointments are likely to be made?
– The number of applications received for these appointments was considerably over 2,000. The Public Service Board, with the co-operation of Public Service inspectors in the different States of the Commonwealth, by personal examination, reduced the’ number, first to 79, and subsequently to 26. The examination was a very strict one, involving questions concerning health, mentality, capacity to lead men, and educational qualifications. When the final elimination takes place, it is the intention of the Government to appoint ten cadets to the service.
– -Will the Prime Minister inform’ the House of the result of the Government’s consideration of the appointment of a committee to inquire into the state of the wheat industry in Australia ?
– This question is at present under the consideration of the Government. The report of the conference which considered the matter has been received only within the last few hours. The matter will be dealt with as promptly as circumstances permit.
– Is there any truth in the report that the Minister for Trade and Customs has decided to ration to the extent of 1,000,000 lb. annually the importation of tobacco into Australia? If not, in view of the fact that over 1,000 tons of last year’s Australian crop is still unsold, and the manufacturers of tobacco in this country are importing at the rate of 20,000,000 lb. yearly, will the honorable gentleman consider the imposition immediate y of an embargo upon further importations, in justice to Australian growers who have invested their money, in this industry?
– There is no truth in the rumour that the Government intends at the moment, to ration the import of tobacco. A considerable quantity of last year’s tobacco crop is unusable, and would not be purchased by the manufacturers even at 3d. per lb. The tobacco industry has been very much under the consideration of the Government. The trouble is, that encouragement has been given to the growth of tobacco in districts that are Quite unsuitable for its cultivation. The Government is watching the position, and a statement upon the matter will be made at the appropriate time.
Mr. SPEAKER laid on the table his warrant nominating Walter Maxwell Nairn in the place of Thomas Walter White to act as Temporary Chairman of Committees when requested so to do by the Chairman of Committees.
Formal Motion fob ADJOURNMENT
– I have received from the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) 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, namely, “ The effect and the drastic administration of the recent amendments to the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act “.
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,’
.. - I and my colleagues take this early opportunity of dealing with the effects of - the administration of the recent amendments of the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act so that we may, perhaps in at least some small degree, soften the blow that has been inflicted upon pensioners by this Government. .
It is fitting, I think, to refer briefly to speeches that were made by some supporters of the Government, and by Ministers, on the occasion of the making of those amendments to the act. I well remember one honorable member supporting the Government saying that no real harm would be caused by the amendments to those who were entitled to an invalid or an old-age pension. It was stated that the proposed amendments would not be detrimental to the interests of legitimate pensioners, and that the rate then prevailing, namely, 17s. 6d. a week, would be generally observed. At the time, we remarked that the real effects of the amendments would not be known, even by those who were supporting the measure, until a sufficient time had elapsed to enable its operation to be observed. Every honorable member must now realize how serious are the effects of. this drastic administration. It is our purpose to-day to endeavour to bring under the notice of the Government the seriousness of the position. Ministers should be well aware of it, but it seems that no attempt is being made to ease the situation for the pensioners. Nevertheless, if we fail to get results from the Government by our present action we shall at least have brought the matter under the notice of the vast majority of the people of this country, who, I am sure, will not tolerate what is now happening.
I feel compelled, so that what I say may be recorded in Hansard where the public may read it, to call attention to the attitude of the Ministers now at the table, while I am discussing this serious problem. It indicates that none of them is prepared to take any notice of what is being said on this subject. The public and the pensioners should know that Ministers seem to be not the least bit worried over the matter, and apparently do not wish to hear the opinion of members upon it.
I was about to deal with the most important aspect of the subject, namely, the rate of pension. It was declared by the Government that no legitimate pensioners would be affected. It was suggested that applicants would have no difficulty in obtaining the full 17s. 6d. a week, provided they had no other income; yet very few of the first applicants are now receiving 17s. 6d. a week, despite the fact that they have neither property nor income. I shall quote a reply received by me from the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions in Sydney, dealing with original applications -
The fact that a person may not be earning does not necessarily qualify him for a pension of £45 10s. per annum (17s. Cd. a week). If I am satisfied that a pensioner is likely to earn something, the highest rate of pension, is not payable. v
It seems that if the Deputy Commissioner is satisfied that a pensioner is likely to earn something, he may be deprived of the full pension.
– With the return of “ prosperity “, probably they are all likely to earn something.
– Yes; apparently the Deputy Commissioner, -like the Government, has been infected by this pros,perity bug.
I shall now refer to the answer 1 received from the department in the case of a pensioner 70 years of age. Two years ago, he earned £6, when working on the waterfront, and apparently ‘ because of this the Deputy Commissioner for New South Wales states that if he is satisfied that the man is likely to earn something after receiving a pension, he is not entitled to 17s. 6d. a week. Following that line of reasoning, it could be decided in the case of every applicant that the full pension of 17s. 6d. should not be paid, and there is no means of challenging the decision”, because the department’s word is final. We may appeal to the authority in Canberra, but here, at the present time, the officer who deals with such appeals is the Deputy Commissioner for New South Wales. Therefore, it is an appeal from Caesar to Caesar. Consequently, pensioners and honorable members who take up their cases cannot possibly succeed, so long as in his opinion the Deputy Commissioner is satisfied that an applicant is likely to earn something. The case to which I have just referred is the only one which I shall mention in regard to original applications. It seems to me that if it is at all possible to find an excuse for not paying the full rate of pension of 17s. 6d. a week, the department intends to do so.
Worst of all, even after a case has been contested, and the Commissioner has been got to lay his cards on the table, with the result that the justice of the claim is admitted, the department declines to make retrospective payments back to the time when the original application was lodged. In many instances we have found that after fighting matters out by a series of letters, telegrams, or telephone conversations, we have been unable to get the department to admit that, if a person is entitled to 17s. 6d. a week, he should receive it from the date of the original application.
In another case this reply was received from the department -
It is assumed the husband’s earnings as a casual worker would be £13 per annum. The inference is he has either been or will be offered further relief work.
If that is the method the department intends to adopt in matters of this kind, it is a strange procedure, and I do not believe that it was the previous practice. Some honorable members may call this sympathetic administration ; but if so, it is a new kind of sympathetic administration when the Commissioner may now assume that a person is likely to earn something or to obtain some relief work. There is no certainty in that regard, and there is no chance of an applicant receiving the full amount of pension later, even though it may be shown that the assumption of the Commissioner has not been borne out. Even in the case of a pensioner who has been receiving 17s. 6d. a week for some time, the most mean and contemptible methods are being employed by the Government in endeavouring to reduce the payment from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week, The words “ mean and contemptible “ do not fully express the opinion of both the pensioners themselves and the general public in regard to this matter. The department has also adopted the policy of suggesting that pensioners who are receiving free lodging are not entitled to the full amount of 17s. 6d. a week.
The case has been brought under the notice of one of my colleaguesof a totally blind husband and an invalid wife. They live apart, because each needs the care of some person. The wife lives at Hurstville, in her own home, and because of this the department has assessed her as receiving free lodging at 5s. a week. Therefore, it has reduced her husband’s pension by 2s. 6d. a week.
– The husband died before the case was settled.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has been dealing with this matter. It seems most unfair that because the wife was alleged to be receiving free lodging, the pension of the blind husband was reduced by 2s. 6d. a week. In the case of a family living at Marrickville, both parents are pensioners, and in each instance the pension has been reduced by 2s. 6d. a week, because of profit assessed by the department on the board money paid by two daughters. One girl gives her parents 17s. 6d. a week, and the other 25s. a week ; but as my colleague, the honorable member for Dalley, who handled the case, pointed out, a third daughter has to stay at home to keep house, and any “ profit “ would be needed to maintain her. Yet the department considered that the old couple were receiving sufficient profit to justify a reduction of their pensions to the extent of 5s. a week. It may interest honorable members opposite to hear that this family lost a son at the war, and another was killed inan accident in the Navy; but compensation was not received in either case.
Here is another matter which was also handled by the honorable member for Dalley. It is the case of a son who paid 25s. a week board to his father aged 87 years, and to his mother aged 80 years. The department assessed portion of the board money as profit, and reduced the income of each pensioner by 2s. 6d. a week. These are the methods that are being applied in the administration of the pensions law, after the Government has first of all made it as difficult as possible for original applicants to obtain the full pension. This treatment is being received by those who have been getting the pension for some time, and have been reduced to 15s. a week. This should be interesting to the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Holman), who, prior to the amendment of our pensions law, made a statement in the Sydney Morning Herald to the effect that no legitimate pensioner need worry about the amendments, because they would not adversely affect him.
The subject of food relief was referred to this afternoon during question time.
– The honorable member is late!
– I am not late. I have been long enough in this House to appreciate the fact that when an honorable member proposes to ventilate a grievance with the object of having it remedied, the subject-matter with which he proposes to deal is often brought under the notice of the Government in the House by means of inspired questions. I am sorry that the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Jennings) should have allowed himself to be used in this way.But such tactics “ cut no ice “. The game has been played too often in that way. We have been fighting for months to have the pensions anomalies in regard to food relief adjusted. The position is that if a husband and wife are living together, and the wife or the husband happens to be an invalid pensioner, and the other partner receives food relief, the department regards the food relief as income, and reduces the pension by 2s. 6d. a week, notwithstanding that such food relief is given for only one person. When the State grants food relief it takes all income into consideration, including a pension. If a husband receives food relief and his wife is a pensioner, he receives the relief for himself alone. But in spite of this fact his wife’s pension may be reduced by 2s. 6d. a week. This practice deserves the severest condemnation of every honorable member, irrespective of his party political views. If the department has stooped to this depth on its own initiative, the Government should not hesitate to put a stop to the practice. But I am not unmindful that this procedure was brought under the notice of the Government some weeks ago, and that honorable members opposite are aware of it. Consequently, the responsibility for the continuance of the practice must be shifted from the shoulders of the departmental officers, if it ever rightly rested there, and placed upon the shoulders of the Government. Possibly the Government is of the opinion that if the practice is allowed to continue for a little whiie the present agitation against it will die down and nothing need be. done.
Unfortunately there are some aspects of our pensions administration in relation to food relief which are even much more objectionable than that to which I have already referred. We have had brought under our notice the case of a husband of. an invalid pensioner who draws track rations in the country. Apparently, the department surmises that half of such track rations are sent back into the city to the man’s wife, for her pension has been reduced because her husband has received track rations. Although I have all details of this case I do not wish to reveal the names of the persons concerned.
We have also had brought under our notice the cases of pensioners who have had their pensions reduced from 17s 6d. to 15s. a week, on the ground that they are receiving food relief, although the department knows very well that no pensioner who receives 17s. 6d. a week receives State food relief. This is common knowledge in the city. But if a pensioner who is subjected to a reduction of this kind does not know his federal representative, or is disinclined to make a complaint, he may have to bear the reduction for quite a while. Ultimately, of course, such a reduction can be restored, but any amount that a pensioner may lose during the time it takes to secure the restoration is lost altogether, for the restoration is made without retrospective effect. By subterfuge of this kind, the department has caused certain pensions to be reduced, although it knows very well that food relief is not given to pensioners in receipt of a pension of 17s. 6d. a week. I have only to-day received details of a case of this description. We know that this pension will be restored, but it is deplorable that pensioners should be obliged to forgo 2s. 6d. a week of their pension unjustly in these circumstances.
I come now to our experience of the administration of the department in regard to the sale of property. Provision is made that the Commissioner may give permission to an invalid pensioner to sell his or her property; but. unfortunately, the Commissioner has decided that he will not “permit pensioners to sell their property merely because they are in need of cash.” Pensioners cannot obtain permission to sell their property unless they are prepared to re-invest the proceeds in real estate. In other words, a pensioner cannot obtain permission to sell his property unless he is prepared to use the proceeds as the Commissioner may direct. In one case, the Commissioner has refused to allow a pensioner to sell his property unless he gives a definite undertaking that he will never again apply for a pension. In another case, the Deputy Commissioner wrote that -
It is not the intention to permit pensioners to sell their property merely because they are in need of cash. It is true that a pensioner who has personal estate, such as money in the bank, may operate on it as desired, and is, therefore, in one respect, much better off. However, the law refers only to real property, which cannot be sold or transferred without the Commissioner’s consent, and it is not the practice to give consent unless it is proposed to re-invest the proceeds in real estate.
The department cannot prevent a pensioner using cash deposited in a bank, but it apparently can prevent him from selling his property, even though he wishes to sell it for the purpose of obtaining money to pay for medical treatment. Pf course, the health of a pensioner is not real estate in the eyes of the Government. I could enumerate a number of cases of this character if time permitted me to do so; but I trust that some other honorable members will elaborate this point from their own experience.
I am able to furnish any honorable member, or the officers of the department, with full details of the cases to which I have referred. In regard to -the subject of food relief, I have a statement from Mr. Heathershaw himself, which is in the following terms: -
Where a pensioner or his wife (or husband) is in receipt of food relief, it is the practice to take the value of such relief into account in determining the eligibility of the pensioner to receive pension in excess of 15s. per week.
In view of all these circumstances, we feel compelled to bring these matters publicly under the notice of the Government with the object of giving it the opportunity of saying whether the present policy shall be continued. The Government will no longer be able to shelter behind the administration. If it is prepared to say clearly and definitely that it approves of this policy, we shall know where we are. I have been speaking only of my experience of the administration in New South Wales - I have had no experience of what is happening in the other States. But our knowledge of the New South Wales procedure is intimate, and we have been in very close association with pensioners in all parts of the State during the last three or four months. ^ There is no doubt that if the pensioners are to preserve their interests, they will have to continue organizing along the lines that they have already adopted with such effective results. Through their organization they have a ready exposed, and I have no doubt that on every available opportunity .they will continue to expose, the . contemptible methods that are being adopted.
– The honorable member must use parliamentary language.
– The methods that are being adopted cannot possibly meet with the approval of any honorable member who has, in the past, regarded our pensions law as humane legislation. We ask the Government, therefore, to say definitely whether it approves of what is going on. If it approves of it, we shall know where we stand. If the Government intends to pursue the present policy of the administration, we shall continue our agitation against it both inside and outside of this Parliament.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Unfortunately, most of what the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has said is true. I have had similar experiences, and in consequence of them, have brought ‘various matters under the notice of the Government. I believe that the Government realizes that certain amendments of the law are necessary, and also that certain variations of the administration of the existing law are needed. I say quite candidly that. I do not think that the pensions law is being sympathetically administered. Those who administer this law will have to be given to understand very clearly that this Parliament is sympathetic with our pensioners. We shall not allow any injustice to be done to them.
– We shall show that by our votes.
– I do not think that the Commissioner has any right to refuse a pensioner permission to sell his property. Immediately he sells it the object of the act, as amended, is accomplished, because if it realizes over £300, the pension comes down by £25 a year. What the pensioner does with his money should not be any concern df the Commissioner. I have in mind the case of a pensioner in Ballarat, an old man who owns two houses, from ‘which he is supposed to derive income by way of rent. In these days, as every one knows, it is difficult and, in some cases, impossible to collect rents from a certain class of property. This old man gets practically no rent for one of his places, and he is now called upon to find £60 to cover the cost of sewering it. He has informed me that if this were done, he could get a buyer for it, but the Commissioner is withholding consent for the sale of the property. This means that the old man will have to declare himself insolvent, because he cannot raise the £60 to cover the cost of sewering, if he cannot sell it. Another case that has come within my knowledge is that of an old man and his wife with a home that is too big for them. The rates and taxes are too heavy, and they want to buy a smaller home. This old man has been informed that permission for the sale of the property will be given when he finds a buyer. This is an impossible condition. Apparently those who administer the act are unaware of what is happening in the commercial world today. Buyers of such properties are few and far between. If this pensioner managed to find a buyer for his home, and then had to wait for the consent of the administration before he could complete the sale, some other agent would probably get hold of the prospective buyer, and the chance of a sale would bo gone. There should be no hesitancy in giving permission to these old people to sell their properties if they so desire. Most of them would carefully husband the proceeds of such sales, because they are all well up in years, and realize what a few pounds in reserve means to them. They are not at all likely to squander the money, and at least they should be treated with the same regard as those “who have squandered money in the past, and now, being indigent, are drawing a pension. They should not be penalized because, by their thrift in their working lives, they managed to get a home together. I object also to the treatment of pensioners who have £50 to their credit in a savings bank. Some time ago I told the pensioners at Ballarat that they were entitled to have a credit bank balance of £50, without being penalized by way of pension reduction. I told them that, because I believed it to be true. I have since learned that because they receive interest, to an amount of £1 or so a year, their pensions are reduced by a paltry 3d. or 6d. a fortnight. It is no exaggeration to say that the cost in clerical expenditure of keeping track of these deductions will be greater than the miserable economies effected by it. The recent amendment of the act also provides that before the son or daughter of a pensioner is called upon to make a contribution towards his or her upkeep, they must be in receipt of an income of £204 a year in the case of an unmarried son or daughter, and £310 a year in the case of a married son. I understand that that is the intention of the regulation, and I wish full publicity to be given to it, because I have learned that, in the case of a son who is doing his duty by his aged mother and father, by paying 25s. a week as board, the pensions administration regards as income 25 per cent, of all such payments.
– Similar cases in New South Wales have come under notice.
– I am positive that this was not the intention of Parliament. The amendment clearly provides that sons or daughters of pensioners shall not be called upon to contribute towards their maintenance unless they are earning the amounts which I have stated. I am well aware how difficult it is for the Government to finance all its social services, but one which should not be touched by these economy measures is the poor old woman in receipt of a war pension of 5s. or 6s. a week, who, because of this income, has her old-age pension reduced by 2s. 6d. a week. I should add that these payments were first treated as income by the Scullin Government. No government would dare to make direct reductions of war pensions in this way. Nevertheless, that is what is being done. A similar reduction is being made in the case of pensioners who get 16s. a month from lodges. Then there is the case of pensioners suffering from miners phthisis. The Government of Victoria, realizing that these sufferers have a special claim on the community, pays them 5s.. a week for the purchase of medical necessaries to ease their troubles. One of the saddest sights I know of is these unfortunate people walking about the streets of Ballarat in such great distress. If a man suffering from this complaint happens to be married, his pension as well as that of his wife, is reduced by 2s. 6d. a week, simply because he gets os. a week from the State Government. I understand that the Prime Minister has said that this glaring anomaly will be rectified. A majority of the com-‘ plaints are, I believe, due not to the act, in its amended form, but to the administration.
– Do not blame the administration.
– I am positive that it was not the intention of Parliament, when the act was amended, to enact that one-third of contributions made by a .son or daughter should be treated as income when assessing the amount of old-age or invalid pension to be paid. I am certain also that the Government never intended that old people with a deposit of £50 in a bank should be penalized by a deduction of 3d. or 6d. a fortnight in pension payments. I hope that the Government will regard this as a non-party discussion.
– If it does not, will, the honorable member vote with us against the Government?
– No, because I believe that if this Government were supplanted by a ministry which would have the honorable member’s support our pensioners would get nothing. The honorable member and his friends opposite declare their sympathy for our pensioners, but if they put into operation some of the financial measures which the Scullin Government brought down, our pensioners would suffer, as other people suffered when that party was in power in New South Wales. Consequently, I am not making any rash promises. I may add that I am not making this speech foi* votes. I could hold my seat for Ballarat on the votes of the old-age and invalid pensioners alone. I know them. I meet them from day to day, and endeavour to rectify their troubles so as to make their lot in life a little easier. The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) knows that the votes of the pensioners in the Ballarat electorate would, alone, return me to this Parliament.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The subject introduced by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) is one. which, I think, is troubling all honorable members a good deal. We all get sheaves of letters from pensioners complaining of anomalies in administration, and making requests for interviews. I have been interviewed by more pensioners in the last three months than in the whole of my political life before that, because of intricacies arising from recent amendments of the act. I do not agree with the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) that the administration is responsible for the majority of our pensioners’ troubles. One or two anomalies might be traced to the administration, but the majority are the result of the amendment of the act. A point stressed by both the previous speakers was the deduction made in cases in which a son or daughter pays a pensioner 25s. a week. It is the duty of the administration to interpret the law. The act recently passed provides that if, in the opinion of the administration, a pensioner has an income up to’ 2s. 6d. a week, his pension must be reduced to 15s. a week. The department holds that a pensioner derives a profit of at least 2s. 6d. a week from board valued at 25s. There may be some ground for dispute as to that opinion; but the department has to administer the law in what it regards as an intelligent way. In my opinion, the amending act, not the administration, is to blame.
There is one direction in which I consider the administration to be at fault. In cases in which a pensioner is living with a married son or daughter, and paying board up to 12s. 6d. a week. *he depart- ment assumes that he receives a benefit equal to 2s. 6d. a week, and reduces his pensi on accordingly. It is not entitled to do that. It is true that that system docs not apply where the son or daughter is also a pensioner ; otherwise it operates, even though the son is unemployed. The mere face of a pensioner living under his son’s roof is regarded by the department as being worth £6 10s. per annum to him. That is an instance of harsh administration, which, in my opinion, should be looked into.
– Does that system operate without regard to the income of the sou or daughter?
Mr.SCULLIN. - Yes, unless he or she is also a pensioner. I admit that this is a very difficult law to interpret; it is neither fish nor fowl, nor is it good red herring. Indeed, it is most difficult to say whether a pension should be 15s. or 17s. 6d. a week.
– The department says that it is 15s. a week.
– That is the department’s interpretation of the act. There is a proviso that, where there is no other income, the pension may be made up to 17s. 6d. a week ; but the department must first be satisfied that the pensioner has noincome from other sources. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) said that it was not intended to make any reduction of pensions because of contributions from children. I remind him of the spirited debate on that aspect of the question, which occupied this House a whole morning. On that occasion the honorable member forMartin (Mr. Holman) and I had some difficulty in disentangling the problem.
– I misread the clause.
– It was easy to do so. The point is that contributions from children are not regarded as income when fixing the ordinary rate of pension, but, in the amending act, are so regarded when determining whether a pension shall be 15s. or 17s. 6d. a week.
Under a previous reduction of invalid and old-age pensions, war pensions were treated as income; but unless the war pension was in excess of 12s. 6d. a week no deduction was made. Now the pension is brought down by 2s. 6d. a week in cases in which the war pension is only 3s. or 4s., or even 2s. 6d., a week. In my opinion, that is where the law is harsh. It is true that the Scullin Government reduced pensions; but it did not introduce that proposal. I do not see how we can improve matters other than by an amendment of the act. I have with me a letter from a union which provides a benevolent fund for its members. Some of those who are now in receipt of assistance from the fund have contributed to it for over 40 years; but, because they receive 5s. a week from that source, their pension has been reduced by the department to 15s. a week. The same is true of receipts, amounting to a few shillings a week, from friendly societies. Some time ago representations were made to the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Greene) in this connexion, and I understand from him that the Government proposes to make some alterations in respect of persons suffering from miners phthisis. I do not know exactly what the Minister promised, but I understand that no reduction of the pension will be made in such cases.
– That is so.
– I hope that the same principle will apply in the case of persons in receipt of moneys from the benevolent funds of unions and from friendly societies. They are special contributions for illness and infirmity, and no reduction of pension should be made because of them.
One aspect of this matter which, I think, is the most harsh of all, has not been mentioned. I have here a letter informing an applicant for an invalid pension that his application was rejected because “ you are not permanently incapacitated.” I have referred to this aspect of the matter on previous occasions. The department is now interpreting the act strictly. We cannot blame it for that, in the absence of any instruction from the Government to do otherwise. It would appear that the department has received instructions to interpret the law strictly, because I know what its interpretation of the law was previously. I know the officers concerned, and I know how they interpreted the act before this Government came into office. At that time an applicant for a pension who was then totally incapacitated, and likely to remain so for a considerable time, was granted an invalid pension.
– That was not so in every State.
– That was my experience. In the majority of cases the act was administered rationally and sympathetically. Now, a person who has lain on the broad of his back for a year may not get an invalid pension, because he is not deemed by the doctor to be permanently incapacitated. I have in my mind the case of a woman in my electorate who was recently denied a pension, althoughshe had previously been in receipt of an invalid pension for four years. Another case is that of a young man, now 24 years of age, who had received a pension since he was sixteen, but has now had it discontinued. Undoubtedly, the administration is now much more strict than it was; every doctor’s certificate complies strictly with the letter of the law; persons who are really invalids are refused pensions, and thrown on the hard, cold world, because, it is said, they are capable of performing light work. What chance have they of obtaining employment when thousands of able-bodied men and women are unemployed and seeking work? If ever a stretching of the letter of the law is justified, it is in cases of invalidity. I urge the Government to give consideration to this aspect of the matter.
– So long as the invalidity is total, the pensions should be paid.
– Yes, and the interpretation of totality ought to be sympathetic, as it was in the past. I am firmly convinced that, until the law is amended, there will be ground for complaint in these matters.
– It is natural that cases will arise in which the sufferings of certain individuals, whose cases really are- exceptional, are made the ground for a general complaint. Moreover, anomalies will arise from time to time. Such cases come under the notice of the Government more or less regularly, and consideration is always given to them with the object of removing anomalies and preventing injustice. I’ am pleased that honorable members have given specific examples, so that the Government may have an opportunity of investigating the administration of the department, and considering the direct effect of our pensions legislation. Some of the disabilities referred to result not from legislation recently passed, but from that which previously existed.
I appeal to honorable members not to seek to make political capital when advancing cases. I know that that has been done in some instances, and I take exception particularly to the attitude of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) who made it perfectly clear that his chief concern was to do injury to the Government. He intimated that he wanted to get into Hansard the allegation that the Government is not concerned with the proper administration of pensions. He has no basis of truth for charging the Government with indifference.
– While I was submitting my case, the right honorable gentleman sat at the table conversing with another Minister.
– It does not follow, because one Minister engages in conversation with another in connexion with business before the House, that the Government is not concerned with the proper administration of pension legislation. The honorable member’s accusation is in keeping with the tactics employed by himself and other members of his party on all occasions.
– On a point of order. I take exception to the Prime Minister declaring that the tactics employed by this party are designed to have inserted in Hansard only matter that will act to the detriment of the Government. I give that statement an emphatic denial, and ask that it be withdrawn.
– As the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) complains that the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) does not correctly apply to his party, I ask that it be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it. I have no recollection of any member of the corner group having at any time made an utterance that would help the Government.
– I appreciate the compliment. It is not our business to help the Government.
– I do not propose to go into a’ I the cases that have been raised, but I give honorable members generally an assurance that the Government will consider them, also that honorable members on. this side are just as much concerned about the matter as are honorable members opposite. I might add that a number of honorable members who support the Government have appointed a committee for the special purpose of investigating grievances arising from tho incidence and administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) charged one honorable member on this side with having asked a question, the answer to which had been prearranged. Since that honorable member has been in Canberra for the resumption of the session, he has several times submitted the same problem to me. He has every right to ask a question on the subject in the House, and the Government has every right to intimate its intentions in the matter.
The honorable member for West Sydney quoted a communication which he had. received from an official in the Pensions Department, intimating that the department was entitled to estimate the’ income of an applicant when determining the rate of pension to be paid. The Government would be quite prepared to give further consideration to that matter. I take exception to the honorable member’s assertion that the practice is new. The honorable member knows that it prevailed when he was a member of a Federal Cabinet some two years ago.
– It was never applied, nor were these harsh amendments then in existence.
– The practice has obtained for years.
– It applies more harshly now.
– I know that it has specific application to pensions of 17s. 6d. and 15s. a week, but I take exception to the assertion that the practice was not followed in the past.
– That is not a fair presentation of the position.
– It is a true statement of the position. The Government does not desire to shelter behind the administration. The officers who are administering the pensions department t o-day were doing so at the time to which I refer. They are striving to do their duty to the Commonwealth. They must not be held responsible. If the legislation which they are administering results in anomalies or even injustices, the fault is with this Parliament. The Government is glad that ‘ these grievances have been ventilated, as this enables an investigation to be made. If there is justification for any complaint against the administration, the necessary remedy will be resorted to.
– How are honorable members to find the committee of Government members when they wish to submit their grievances?
– The honorable member may submit his grievances to me, and I will deal with them. I merely pointed out that honorable members supporting the Government are so concerned about the matter that they have set up a special committee to put up cases for the consideration of the Government.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) said he felt sure that the administration of invalid pensions was being tightened up, and that instructions must have been given to that effect. I know that he will accept my assurance that no such instructions have been given, and that the department is merely following its customary practice. The fact that individual cases may involve a variation of that practice does not substantiate the right honorable gentleman’s supposition.
– How does the Prime Minister account for the fact that persons whose invalidity has not changed have lost the pension that they were receiving for years?
– There is probably a slight variation in regard to the administration in the different States. My experience in Tasmania, during the years that I was closely associated with the department, first as a State member, and later as a member of this House, is that the act has been administered sympathetically throughout. I know of cases in which the letter of the law has been absolutely stretched so that a pension may be given. There is certainly justification for sympathy to be extended in particular cases. However, let me say that the Government will shortly be amending the act in certain directions. We have already intimated that it will be amended in regard to food relief. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear”* has suggested that the interpretation “laced upon the act by one officer of the department was limiting the effect of the Government’s decision. I assure the honorable member that if there is any ambiguity about the matter it will be cleared up, and that there will be no limitation such as he has indicated. The Government has arrived at a definite decision in regard to food relief and miners phthisis. Other matters are under its consideration.
– Is anything being done in regard to friendly societies?
– That and other matters will have to bc considered.
– Is any alteration being made concerning pensioners who possess homes ?
– Many classes of cases have been submitted to the Government, and wc are prepared to consider every one of them on their merits, in an endeavour to rectify anomalies and injustices. I ask honorable members not to hesitate to place any matters which come under their notice before the Government so that it may deal with them.
.- It is pleasing to know that the supporters of the Government have at last been forced to a realization of their responsibilities, mainly as a result of the efforts of the Pensioners Association outside of this Parliament, assisted by the members of the Labour party in New South Wales. We find that many government supporters are now anxious to create the impression outside, particularly in their own electorates, that they were not associated with the Government in any way in its dastardly attacks upon that unfortunate section of the community known as the pensioners. Let us examine some of the effects of the present legislation. One government supporter said that the hardships that are being imposed under the act are due not to the recent amendments but to the administration. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has said that certain amendments are necessary to the act, and that he does not blame the administration at all for any injustices that are being inflicted under it. As a matter of fact, when this matter was being previously discussed in this House, we, on this side, expressed alarm at the probable effects of the proposed amendments, -and it was then ‘ suggested by the supporters of the Government that the legislation, as amended, would be administered sympathetically by the department. To-day the department is administering the act in accordance with the strict letter of the law. The Government must therefore take responsibility for the present state of affairs. 1 do not know whether it is the intention of the Government to prevent honorable members from obtaining information in respect of particular cases, but I do know that in Sydney the elected representative of the people is not allowed access to files relating to pensioners or applicants for pensions, even although he has the authority of the persons concerned, to obtain certain particulars. When I asked the Deputy Commissioner for Pensions in Sydney for permission to examine a certain file, I was informed that it could not be granted unless with the authority of the Government. In view of that position how is it possible for an honorable member to make representations on behalf of one of his constituents who considers that an injustice is being clone to him in regard to his pension? Complaints have been made that the department is taking notice of anonymous communications, and depriving deserving people of their pensions. The Government now says that inquiries are being made into such cases. In one case a lady was deprived of her pension because of an anonymous communication received by the department. Endeavours were made to have the case investigated, but because the inspector, who was directed by the department to call at the address of the lady concerned, found that she was out’ when he called, the department accepted as truth the contents of an anonymous letter, and the pension was stopped. I made representations on behalf of this person, and, eventually, the administration in Sydney restored the pension, because it realized that an injustice had been done. Subsequently, the file relating to this pensioner was forwarded to the authorities at Canberra, and notwithstanding the fact that the case had been investigated by the Sydney branch, its decision was overruled and this unfortunate woman was deprived of her invalid pension. Had I the time at my disposal I could inform honorable members of the reason that actuated the Government in determining, in particular instances, to deprive deserving persons of their pensions. Because of the various forms and many questions submitted to pensioners, many of them, of advanced age, who are unable to understand the queries put to them, have approached honorable members for their advice. Some of them have become so panicstricken at the possibility of supplying answers that are not absolutely correct, that they are afraid to apply for a pension. The Prime- Minister, speaking in this House on the 16th September last, during the discussion on the Financial Emergency Bill, said that, during the first ten years of the operation of the Pensions Act; the’ average increase of pensions was 5,428, and during the next ten years, 11,149. He said that the increase of pensions in 1929-30 was 13,950; in 1930-31, 22,020, and in 1931-32, 15,0S9. Since the application of the existing legislation, we find that from tho 26th February, 3932, to the 24th February, 1933, the decline in the number of pensions has been 1,015. Those figures show conclusively that the natural increase of pensions is being retarded by the application of the pensions legislation, and the fear of deserving people to apply for pensions. I wish to say, not for the’ benefit of Government supporters, but as a message to pensioners generally, that I do not share the hope that some honorable members on this side seem to have that the Government is sincerely desirous of rectifying the position. I say, to every pensioner, that, with the return of a Labour government, the present harsh administration will cease, and all restrictions and injustices will be removed, so that pensioners may receive that to which they are rightly entitled. Let me deal with some of the suggestions of the Prime Minister. He has said that, in regard to food relief, the Government intends to amend the act so as to rectify an anomaly, but he does not suggest that any retrospective payment should be made to pensioners who have suffered because of that anomaly. The Prime Minister has said that it is not intended that food relief should be taken into account as income against the pension. If the department has wrongly construed the intention of the Government, surely the pensioners concerned are entitled to retrospective payment to make up for the loss that they have sustained in their pensions. I recollect that the honorable* member for Martin (Mr. Holman) in a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 23rd September, 1932, dealt with the charges by members of the Opposition regarding the Government’s proposals to amend the pensions law, and he concluded his letter by saying “ to call that a reduction in pensions was ridiculous “. I hope that he does not still maintain that pensions have not been reduced. The handbook issued by the department fothe information of pensioners and applicants includes certain definitions, and declares that income does not include gifts from husband, wife, father, mother, or children. Yet the department is sending out forms which ask the children to make voluntary contributions towards the upkeep of their parents; apparently the Government desires to make the children pay, if not the whole, at least a portion of the pension now received by their parents. Therefore, the information contained in the handbook is not accurate, and will mislead both existing pensioners and intending applicants. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) speaking in this House last year said -
The administration of the Invalid and Oldage Pensions Act has not been harsh in the past and there is nothing in this bill that will make it harsh in the future. The Government has no intention or desire other than to act sympathetically .
Evidently the sympathy of Ministers and their supporters is limited to pious expressions. I recognize that the department can do no’ other than administer the act as it is, but many of its decisions, which were harsh and unfair to the pensioners, have been rectified as a result of pressure and representations by members of Parliament. I know of an old-age pensioner, whose grandson, not yet sixteen years of age and a partial invalid, earns an average income of 10s. a week by selling newspapers. The department, contending that a profit accrued to the grandparents from the income of the grandson, reduced the pension to 30s. a fortnight. That injustice has since been remedied. But, unfortunately, justice is often tardy, and even after the department has admitted its error, no retrospective payments are made. Surely, if the department admits, as a result of representations by members of Parliament and others, that a pensioner has not been receiving the full amount to which he is entitled, the injustice should be rectified retrospectively.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I have not required the assistance of any pensioners’ association to convince me of the injustice of the amended pensions law. I criticized this legislation when it was before the House, and later experience has merely confirmed my opinion. Still, Parliament has made a law, and until that law has been amended, the best thing we can do is to try to avoid a repetition of some of the hardships which undoubtedly have arisen in the operation of the act. For that reason, I appreciated the criticism by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) ; his remarks were genuinely helpful, and were not of a propaganda character. The anomalies which have been disclosed in the operation of the act call for both legislative and administrative alteration. The administration has been too rigid, particularly in regard to property. The department has assumed the attitude of a mortgagee who will not let up in respect of any claim upon the property of the pensioner. In several instances within my knowledge the attitude of the Commissioner was not justified ; by the exercise of a little discretion existing contracts could have been allowed to continue, without depriving the Commissioner of ample security for repayment of the pension. Some pensioners were so inconvenienced and irritated that they repaid what they had received since the 12th October, and forfeited their pensions.
– That is a harsh alternative to place before a pensioner.
– Yes, and it could be avoided by common-sense administration. When the amending bill was before the House last year, we were frequently promised by Ministers that the law would be sympathetically administered. But the Prime Minister stated to-day that no directions had been issued to the Commissioner. If the administration is left entirely to the discretion of the officials, they must be guided and bound by the terms of the act. An official has not that discretionary latitude which is enjoyed by a Minister. I hope, therefore, that, when anomalies and injustices are brought to the attention of the responsible Minister, specific instructions will be issued to the Commissioner and his deputies as to matters in which they may exercise reasonable discretion. For a long time the department has held that the qualification for an invalid pension is total and permanent incapacity. In my opinion, that ruling is not justified by the wording of the act, which merely refers to permanent incapacity. In regard to that matter, the Commissioner should be instructed by the Government. Undoubtedly, the act requires amendment, particularly in respect of the contributions by children. To treat such contributions as in the nature of income is a great mistake.
– Especially when the contribution is merely in the form of food.
– It is desirable that parents should live with their children, and, under the old law, a pensioner suffered no debit in respect of any advantage he received from living with his son or daughter. Even according to the definition of income in the present act, contributions from children are not included, but by an oversight Parliament provided in section 24 that contributions from children should be taken into account where the income exceeded 22s. 6d.
– A similar anomaly applies to contributions from friendly societies and benevolent funds.
– That is not so important as the contributions from children. The definition section is inconsistent with section 24, and we should re-enact the old law whereby contributions from children were not treated as income. We must recognize that the pensions law is very intricate, and that a great deal of hardship and inconvenience is inevitable in the early operation of the new provisions. The discussion to-day will serve to bring prominently before the Government the difficulties that have arisen in the operation of the act. Every honorable member will aid the cause of the pensioners if ho will bring to the notice of Ministers anomalies and injustices which require amendment, and the Government should be prepared to consider such representations with a view to the submission to Parliament of amending legislation which will remove or soften some of the hardships that undoubtedly have arisen.
.- As time passes, honorable members are becoming increasingly aware of the unfortunate effect of the last amendment of the law relating to invalid and old-age pensions. Not only have many existing pensioners been adversely affected, but intending applicants have been intimidated and prevented from applying for a social benefit to which they are entitled. The Government seems to have done everything possible to make the pension as unattractive and humiliating as possible to intending applicants. Every honorable member is aware of the added difficulties which have arisen out of the amendments made by this Parliament last year, and, even though all the anomalies be removed and the injustices rectified, pensioners will have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of pounds to which they were rightly entitled., but were denied through the harsh and unjust administration of the act. The Government cannot transfer to the officials the responsibility that rightly belongs to it. It is unfortunate that Ministers and their supporters should seek to excuse themselves for enacting a harsh law by throwing the blame and responsibility upon the officials who are administering it. My experience has convinced me that the officials are as sympathetic as the law permits them to be, but as loyal public servants they must administer the act according to its terms. Therefore, those who enacted the present cruel legislation should be honorable and fair enough to bear their responsibility, and not shelter behind officials who are not able to defend themselves.
– What is the pension -15s. or 17s. 6d.?
– There is no doubt, according to the departmental circular, that the maximum old-age pension is 15s.
– It is evident that, in practically all cases, the assumption of the department is that the maximum pension is 15s. a week, instead of, as formerly, 17s. 6d. a week. Only in very special cases is a pensioner granted 17s. 66. a week.
– For pensioners who have no other income, the pension is still the same as that fixed by the last Government.
– I have here a copy of a communication from Mr. H. Theggie, Deputy Commissioner of Pensions, which makes my point clear. It is as follows : -
With reference to representations made by the Hon. J. Lamaro, M.L.A., concerning the case of Mr. Edward Hodges, of No. 1 Marlboughstreet, Leichhardt, I have to advise that the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act provides that the maximum rate of pension shall be £39 per annum-
I leave it to the Minister to work out how much that is per week.
– If the honorable member will read the whole of the letter, he will find that what I have said is true.
– I have nothing to hide, and I shall read the rest of the letter. It continues - except in instances in which it is satisfactorily established that a pensioner has, or will have, no income other than pension.
In view of the fact that Mrs. Hodges receives free board and lodging (which is valued in accordance with the terms of the act at £32 10s. per annum, half of which is deemed to be the income of the pensioner), Mr. Hodges is not entitled to a higher rate of pension than £39 per annum, which he is at present receiving.
Another anomaly is that section of the act which provides that a parent, who has been assisting with food or clothing his children or other persons who may be out of employment, may have the value of such assistance taken into consideration in assessing his pension. If, during the previous five years, the amount so expended exceeds £100, the applicant may become ineligible to receive a pension. A person with £100 in the bank is entitled to receive a pension, subject to a reduction of £5 from the maximum, but if he spends the same amount on relieving a son or daughter who is out of employment, he may lose his pension rights.
.- The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) expressed a wish that a remark of his should be recorded in Hansard. I have been invited to attend meetings of old-age pensioners, which have been addressed by members of the group to which the honorable member belongs. The speakers have quoted from Hansard reports of speeches delivered in Parliament in support of their contentions, but have neglected to point out that, immediately after the speech was delivered, some one else rose and proved that what had been said was untrue. I also object to the action of certain honorable members in organizing meetings of old-age pensioners, and instructing them not to send their complaints to the member for their own district, but to forward them through the political organization to which the speaker belongs. When that sort of thing can happen, politics, have fallen to a pretty low state. I heard speakers at one such meeting say that the object of the Government in passing this legislation was to punish the invalid and old-age pensioners; yet the persons who made such remarks had themselves excited the minds of the old people, and made them panic stricken by misrepresenting to them the position regarding pensions. Even if all this agitation resulted in having the pensions increased, it would not compensate the old people for the injury done to their health.
There should be, in my opinion, some means devised for obtaining more ready decisions on pension matters. When I have pressed for an immediate decision, I have been told that nothing can be done until a ruling is obtained from Canberra. It would be better for the Government to appoint a Minister whose special duty it would be to interpret the act according to the will of Parliament. I do not believe that the Minister in charge of the act has paid sufficient attention to detail. He has overlooked many things that could have been put right without delay, thus preventing a great deal of suffering.
I do not believe that it was ever the intention of Parliament, when the act was passed, that a pensioner should not be allowed to sell his property in order to enable him to live. No one believes that a pensioner can live on 17s. 6d. a week without some assistance from relatives or some other source. If it can be shown that the pensioner must sell his property in order to obtain income on which to live, he should be permitted to do so. It will be agreed, I think, that the intention of Parliament was that children who refused to assist their aged parents, should not be permitted to benefit as the result of the division of their parents’ property after death. With that I agree, but when no such consideration arises, pensioners should be allowed to sell their property in -cases of .necessity.
The act should not be construed so as to discourage aged parents from receiving free board from their children. The original Pensions Act was passed largely to encourage parents in their old age to make -‘their home with their children, instead of having to go into asylums and poor houses. Thirty or forty years ago, o’d men and women were herded into such institutions, and the Pension’s Act was intended to furnish some assistance to children who were keeping their parents in their old age. T know of one case in which one of the children keeps the mother and father without receiving any payment for board and lodging; but the old people receive only £39 in pension between them. Children should be encouraged to join up with the old people, and make their home together, so that their lives might be happy. I do not believe that the Parliament would ever have passed the amendment to the act if honorable members understood that it was to be interpreted as has .been done. The anomalies to which I have referred still exist, although they have been frequently brought under the notice of the Minister by honorable members on this side of the House, as well as by members of the Opposition. In my opinion, the Minister in charge of the act has been negligent in regard to these matters. A point, that ought to be stressed is one that I brought under the notice of the Minister three months ago. Many invalid pensioners have been attended for years by a medical man who thoroughly understands their condition; yet, when they are called upon by the board to submit themselves to a medical examination, the determination of their eligibility or otherwise for an invalid pension is governed by the report of an entirely different medical man, whose only knowledge of their disability is that gained from the one examination. In some cases, I have forwarded the certificate of a private doctor who has been in attendance upon a pensioner, and have asked that it be placed before the government doctor who has had to conduct the examination, but that has not been done. I believe that the department still refuses to follow this course.
– It is most satisfactory to have the assurance of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that the Government again proposes noamend this much-amended act. It is evident that, at least during the life of this Parliament, amending measures will be introduced every few weeks, in an endeavour to rectify mistakes that will be brought before the notice of the Government. The Government has seen fit to appoint a committee from the members of its own party. The existence of that committee has so far been kept a secret, many members being unaware that it was functioning until the announcement was made by the Prime Minister to-day.
– It was appointed only to-day.
– The Prime Minister did not say so. The inference that I drew from his remarks was, that it had been functioning for some time. But it does not matter whether it was appointed to-day or last week. As it is evident that honorable members are violently in disagreement concerning the terms and conditions imposed by this patchwork act, the Government should make the matter a non-party one, and instead of appointing a hole and corner committee from the members of its own party, which will deal with the question from a purely partisan point of view-
– That is not so.
– It is a party committee, and will bring down proposals that possibly will have the backing of only the party that it represents. It is not often that Ministers grace the chamber with their presence during such an important debate, and honorable members are under a deep obligation to those who are in attendance this afternoon. I suggest to them that while there is still time, they should bring before the Cabinet the advisability of appointing a non-party committee, including members of the party to which I belong, as well as members of the Opposition, to review the act, and submit proposals for the consideration of the Cabinet before the amending bill is introduced. A good deal of trouble would thus be saved, and we should go a long way towards simplifying this complex legislation, which has had such a disturbing effect upon pensioners, and has reacted strongly upon public opinion throughout Australia. During the course of a visit that I paid to my electorate only last week, I was invited to address a gathering of old-age pensioners. The room was filled with these old people, 30 or 40 of whom were obliged to avail themselves of the assistance of sticks and crutches, while many were physical wrecks. That experience shows the keen interest that is taken in the matter by the old-aged. Not one of those present had the vaguest notion of the real effects of this legislation, or of the terms and conditions imposed by it. I do not in any way blame the administration. It is an impersonal body, and has no political bias. Its duty is merely to interpret the act. I differ from the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), who argued that the Minister has the right to direct the administration as to the manner in which the act shall be interpreted. That is an entirely novel theory, which has never previously been advanced. No Minister has the right to go behind the terms of an act of Parliament - in other words, behind the back of Parliament itself - and give to an administration directions that may be entirely at variance with the terms of an act or of the will of Parliament. The act itself should be explicitly worded, for the guidance of the administration. It is quite evident, therefore, that any blame lies upon the Government, because of its cursory and negligent drafting of this act, and its far too hasty action in altering established principles.
I accept the invitation of the Prime Minister to place before the House cases in which amendment of the act .s urgently required. I consider that the administration is overworked, that it has far too rauch responsibility imposed upon it, and that it is compelled to carry odium and blame that rightfully attaches not only to the Government, but also to this Parliament - which, after all, is the final authority.
The present administration of the act differs in many respects from what it was intended to be, judging by speeches that were delivered by Ministers and Government members during the debate that took place when the last amendment of it was made. I remember the AttorneyGeneral’s explanation of an amendment concerning the transfer of property to a son or a daughter, particularly a daughter, who had looked after an aged parent up to the time of his or her death. The honorable gentleman then, said that no trouble would be experienced in such a case; that where a daughter had dutifully looked after a parent for some period, the property would not be taken from her. He did not stipulate what the age the daughter should be in order to come within that category. I have handled the case of a young woman who has faithfully fulfilled the exact conditions mentioned by the Attorney-General; she has looked after an aged parent who has not very much longer to live, but because she is only about 26 years of age, and is a working girl, I am informed by the administration that there is no guarantee that the house will be left in her possession upon the death of her parent. It would thus appear that only a woman who is herself entitled to receive a pension, can benefit in this way. Had that been made quite clear at the time, I feel certain that a majority of honorable members would not have voted for that provision.
– Has the girl to whom the honorable member refers contributed to the cost of the house?
– She is an only daughter, and has been looking after her aged parent in the house in question.
The secretaries of various hospitals have informed me that 28 days must elapse before these institutions are entitled to any payment on account of pensioners who are inmates of them. They ask why they should be deprived of this money for 28 days, at the expiration of which period they receive only 3s. 9d. a week. This is a very strong grievance, and I suggest that the Government give it consideration.
The next question that I wish to raise concerns the transfer of property. I have come to the conclusion that the Government made a mistake when it amended the act to provide that an old-age pensioner must sign away his or her property.” It is this provision that has caused a large number of pensioners to surrender their pensions; and there is not the slightest necessity for it. I defy any legal authority to show that either the Government or the administration derives any advantage from compelling these old people practically to make a gift of their property to the administration. Every effective purpose may be achieved under the act, and under the policy of this Government, by leaving matters as they were before the amendment was made. When a house is sold, the administration has the right to collect whatever pension has been paid from the stipulated date. Even the mortgage provisions do not require the signing away of the property, because under the act, the Commissioner has the power to safeguard the amount due on account of pension paid. One of the greatest troubles of the administration is to induce these old people to act in accordance with this monstrous and quite novel feature. I do not believe that it applies in any other country in the world, and it was never contemplated by either this Parliament or the originators of the oldage pensions system. It is not only iniquitous, but also totally unnecessary, and could easily be altered by a short amendment of the act. I hope that the Government will move in that direction in the near future.
– I desire to deal briefly with the administration of the act in connexion with the provision relating to homes. Every law passed by this Parliament is administered by some public servant, and there must be in this House a Minister who is responsible and can answer i’.or that administration. That is the position in which we find ourselves to-day; consequently we are justified in appealing to the responsible Minister concerning any question of administration.
The experience that I have gained during the last three months has proved to me that, at any rate in country districts, great difficulty has arisen in connexion with the provision which enables the Pensions Department to defray the cost of a pension out of the proceeds of the sale of a home upon the death of a pensioner. That has caused not only trouble, but a considerable degree of consternation. I am acquainted with several cases of persons who have forfeited their pensions rather than submit to this condition. I have also found that pensioners have handed in their pension cards rather than have their families subjected to an inquiry concerning their ability to support them. I urge the Government to reconsider the advisability of repealing the section which makes a pensioner’s home a charge upon his pension. I am not now dealing generally with property, but am confining myself to the principle of the home. If there is anything we should encourage, in order to raise a large body of men who will stand by the nation, it is the desire to acquire and possess one’s own home. It is a natural instinct in the British race to desire possession of a home. Once a man has obtained a home there grows’ up round it a wealth of sentiment and of tradition which become to him almost the guiding principles of his life. The trend of this legislation, which makes property a charge on the pension, is directly contrary to the general principle underlying the acquisition of homes by the people, and consequently is exceedingly bad. I could mention several cases in which sentiment is the predominating factor. I am acquainted with the case of an old-age pensioner whose home is only an ordinary workman’s cottage of no great value, but it has been the home of the family since before the time when Queensland became a separate colony. The position now is that the eldest survivor has absolutely nothing by way of income from any source other than the old-age pension. The family has lived continuously in the home, and this person has looked after the brothers and sisters until they launched out for themselves, but none of them is in a position now to provide for that person, or to preserve the old home. For strong sentimental reasons, this person, although over 70 years of age, wished to abandon the pension rather than allow the home to be sold on death, and thus be lost to the family. Surely the home sentiment is to be encouraged as much as possible. For many years, pensioners have been entitled to retain their own homes in their families. In a number of cases before me, working people have obtained, or are still in process of acquiring, homes by making considerable sacrifices. They have felt that their life savings will be represented by their homes, and they will have something to hand down to their children. They have been taking this action in accordance with the pensions law, so that they have been encouraged by this Parliament to acquire their own homes. Writing to me from Victoria, < one man points out that he has saved all his life in order to obtain a home. He has sewered, repaired, and maintained this property, and paid rates and taxes on it, in the belief that his services to the country would be recognized if he fell into want; but now as the recipient of an old-age pension he finds that this property, which he thought he had earned the right to have retained by his family, may be sold on his death. Three weeks ago an old lady wrote stating that she now found that her little home could be sold after her death in order to pay for her pension, and asking me to inquire if the Government is prepared to pay the rates and taxes, and bear the cost of repairs to, and maintenance of, this property, or is she to continue to deny herself by bearing this cost out of her pension of 17s. 6d. a week. The answer of course is that the Government will not do this, and that the home may ultimately be sold. There are very many of such cases.
– Does the Government claim a first charge on the property?
– Yes, and in this particular case there is no prior mortgage. From the 12th October last until her death the liability of the pensioner will increase, and the Crown will have the right to enforce its . claim at her death by realizing on the property. In my electorate, as elsewhere, there are building societies through which people are acquiring their own homes. I aru dealing only with the case of working people. Often the parents have been unable to keep up the payments to the society, and their children have made such financial contributions as they have been able. But no receipts have been obtained by the children from their parents, and there is nothing to show what payments have been made by them. The payments were made in the usual course of domestic life, and finally the certificate of title to the property was made out in the name of the father or the mother. Now the pensioners find that on their death their properties are liable to be sold by the Crown. We are told that if the children have. a legally enforceable claim against the estate, the Crown will waive its charge; but it is very difficult in these cases to prove such a claim. The children have helped in the acquisition of the home, but in the end the pension of the parent will be paid for with the money obtained from the sale of the home which they have helped their parents to acquire unless they can establish a claim. After the death of a parent, the Commonwealth authorities will decide whether the children have a legally enforceable claim, or whether they have any legal interest at all in the estate, or whether the case is to be dealt with merely as one of hardship. I think the Commissioner is trying to help by giving a ruling in advance. In Brisbane, the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions is doing what he can sympathetically to administer the act; that is my experience of him. The administration does not deal with claims in an arbitrary manner, nor try to impose hardship on applicants.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Unlike the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), I do not blame officers of the department for the hardship experienced by invalid and old-age pensioners owing to the manner in which the law is administered. My experience of the department in New South Wales is that the officials have always given sympathetic consideration to the cases that I have placed, before them. The handbook issued by the Government distinctly states that income received-by pensioners in the form of friendly society benefits shall not be assessed against them as income, but that rule has not been observed. In the case of a pensioner named Scott, of Abermain, who was in receipt of 5s. a week from a friendly society, the pension was reduced by 2s. 6d. a week. I telephoned the Deputy Commissioner in regard to this matter, and he to’d me .that income from friendly societies should be included in the. return, but would not be assessed as income. Those were his exact words to me, but Scott has had his pension reduced, because of the payments received by him from a friendly society. The handbook issued by the Government also states that payments received by pensioners during illness, infirmity or old age from any trade union, provident society, or other society or association, shall not be regarded as income. Despite this, there are cases where money received from the Miners Accident Relief Fund has been assessed as income, and a deduction made from the pension accordingly. We were assured by the Prime Minister that the act would be sympathetically administered, yet that promise has not been carried out by the Government. The department, apparently, has tried to be sympathetic in its administration, but there is somebody at the back of it who directs its policy. Certain honorable members on the opposite side have blamed Senator Greene for this, alleging that he instructs the department in regard to matters of administration.
Apart from the matters to which previous speakers have directed attention, there is the case of a man who made application for an invalid pension, and the department did not deny that his incapacity resulted from his employment in this country; but it was said that he had become a charge upon the State within three years of his arrival in Australia, through entering a charitable institution. The department took steps through the immigration authorities to have the man deported. He got into’ touch with me, and I pointed out to the immigration officials that the man had workedat the Bellbird Colliery for two years and one month. He arrived in Australia in August, 1927, and worked at the colliery until September, 1929. Then he had a heart seizure in the mine, and he has been treated at the Cessnock Hospital periodically up to the present time. On account of that, the department said that steps would be taken to have him deported. I informed the Minister for the Interior that the Cessnock Hospital was not a charitable institution within the meaning of the act, owing to the fact that the Miners Federation had an agreement with that institution under which members of the organization paid contributions which entitled them to free treatment at the hospital in the event of accident or sickness, and that this man had paid his contributions for over two years. The immigration authorities finally notified me that they would not take action in this matter. I pointed out to the pensions department that the man was entitled to the pension, but the case has never been decided. The department has submitted it to the Crown Law authorities for an opinion as to whether the man is entitled to the pension, and those authorities have recommendedthat a pension should be paid; yet no payment has been made. It will be interesting to know from what date, in this instance, the pension is payable.
Motion (by Mr. Gander) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Original question put. The House divided. . (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. H. Mackay.)
Majority . . . . 22
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) - byleave - agreed to -
That Mr. White be discharged from attendance on the Library Committee, and that, in his place, Mr. Casey be appointed a member of the committee.
The Minister for Trade and Customs laid on the table reports and recommendations on the following subjects: -
Piece Goods, woollen or containing wool (Addendum to report presented on 16th November, 1932).
Ordered to be printed.
The following papers were presented : -
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act -
Regulations amended -
Statutory Rules 1932, No. 131.
Statutory Rules 1933, No. 10.
Customs Tariff (1932) : Special Duties (No. 4) : Primage Duties (No. 2) : Customs Duties (Canadian Preference, No. 2) : Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 1) : Special Customs Duty (No. 5) : Excise Tariff Amendment (No. 3)
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the. 8th March (vide page 61) on motion by Sir Henry Gullett (vide page 1167, Vol. 135)-
And on motion by Mr. White (vide page 55) -
– I congratulate the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) upon his elevation to the Cabinet, and upon his having been given charge of such an important portfolio as that of the Minister for Trade and Customs. The honorable gentleman may rest assured that he will be given every assistance by honorable members on this side of the chamber so long as he walks in the straight and narrow path of adequate protection for Australian industries. 1 do not intend at this juncture to discuss in any detail the schedule now before us. Opportunity to do that will be afforded when the different items are under consideration. But I would advise the Minister to familiarize himself, as soon as possible, with what is going on in the factories of Australia, by making personal inspections of them. I hope that he will not depend too much on what he is told by other people. I realize that the honorable gentleman has a very difficult task ahead of him; that he is not altogether a free man ; and that he must try to placate the differing fiscal interests in his own party. The Government speaks with about a dozen voices on fiscal questions, and the Minister has the exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, task of harmonizing the freetrade views of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) with the protectionist view of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton). He must bear in mind that oT,e of his Cabinet colleagues, the Leader of the- Government in the Senate (Senator Pearce), adopts the role of a freetrade eagle when he is in Western Australia, his home State, and yet has the temerity to attend manufacturers’ dinners in the eastern States in the role of the mild protectionist dove. As further evidence of the conflict of views on fiscal questions among members of the Government, I remind the committee that the Leader of the Government (Mr. Lyons) was a high protectionist not long ago. He approved, at that time, of the high duties imposed by the last Administration. The new Minister must also bear in mind that the Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce) belongs to a school of fiscal thought which desires to give preference, if possible, to the manufacturers of Great Britain, with the object of forcing Australia to remain principally a primary-producing country.
– That is a remarkable statement to make without supporting evidence.
– We have had considerable experience of the right honorablemember for Flinders, and we know his views. Our most recent experience of the right honorable gentleman was at the Ottawa Conference. The plain fact iE that this Government has not got the courage of its fiscal convictions, varied though they may be. It has, therefore, looked for some convenient vehicle on which to unload its responsibilities, and it has found it in the Tariff Board - a body which consists of gentlemen appointed by a government of the same political party as itself. I shall not say anything about the public servant who is a member of the board, except that he is a very capable and conscientious officer; but it cannot be denied that the board, was appointed by a government tinged with freetrade; I refer, of course, to the Bruce-Page Government.. But quite recently one member of the board was dropped - without reason so far as we know. Certain members of the board were re-appointed, but one was not so favoured..
– Who was that?
– Mr. Berchdolt. The Government appointed in his place a gentleman who had been an assistant railways commissioner in New South Wales. I do not know why it did not make a clean sweep of the board; but quite evidently it desired to replace Mr. Berchdolt by a person holding similar fiscal views to itself. Apparently it wanted to make sure that the board would be so composed as to take a lead from the government of the day, and submit reports to Parliament which would be in harmony with the views of the Government.
I ask honorable members to contrast the flabbiness of the fiscal policy of this Government with the bold policy of the Scullin Administration, which was prepared to take full responsibility for its actions. It may be said by some that the Scullin Government made mistakes in its customs administration ; but if mistakes were made they were honest mistakes which favored Australian industries, Australian manufacturers and Australian workmen. This Government has made mistakes which will lead some Australian manufacturers to ruin and increase unemployment in this country. When the Scullin Government adopted its policy of high duties it was said that the price of manufactured goods would be greatly increased, but our actual experience has been that, in many instances, the price of our Australian manufactured goods has decreased at an average of from 20 to 50 per cent.
The Minister told us, in the course of his speech, that certain instructions had been given to the Tariff Board. He said that articles 9 to 12 of the Ottawa agreement had been placed before the board, and that it had been informed that these represented the views of the Government, and also the views of this Parliament. The Minister also instructed the board that the principles underlying these articles were to be taken into consideration by the board in exercising its function of reviewing our existing customs duties and making recommendations in regard to them. The articles to which I have referred are in the following terms : -
Protection by tariff shall be afforded only to those industries reasonably assured of sound opportunities of success. (
That there shall be full opportunity of reasonable competition on the basis of the relative cost of economical and efficient production.
That the tariff will be reviewed in this light.
That no protective duty shall be imposed against United Kingdom goods in excess of the recommendation of the Tariff Board.
In other words, a definite lead has been given to the board. It cannot be doubted that the board has been instructed to review the tariff in a downward direction. Possibly it was for this reason that one gentleman who was formerly a member of the board has lost his position and some one else has been appointed in his pla.ie.
– All that we have done is to bring the Ottawa agreement under the notice of the board.
– -Members of this Government, when speaking of manufacturers, frequently make the assertion that Australian manufacturers and those engaged in our secondary industries will not suffer as the result of the Ottawa agreement. If that is so, how will this agreement be the great boon to British manufacturers that it has been said that it will be ? The representatives of Great Britain at Ottawa have said frequently since their return to England that the agreement will benefit British manufacturers, and yet we have been told that it will benefit Australian manufacturers and the workers of this country; obviously, it cannot have both results. In my opinion the carrying out of the agreement will undoubtedly increase unemployment in the secondary industries of Australia.
The secretary of the Australian Industries Protection League, Mr. Hume Cook, attended the Ottawa Conference, and heard practically everything that was said there. He collaborated with certain delegates who went to Ottawa from Australia, and has a sound general knowledge of the agreement. Speaking recently at the annual meeting of the Australian
Preference League, in Melbourne, Mr. Hume Cook was reported to have said -
He expressed his admiration for the ability of Australia’s leader at the Ottawa Conference (Mr. Bruce), but, he added, the former Prime Minister, either by instinct or unconscious bias, had leaned rather too much towards the United Kingdom side, and not quite enough towards the Australian side. He would have liked him to have been more Australian in his statesmanship.
Let me remind honorable members that Mr. Hume Cook is not a Labour man. He entered this Parliament in the early days of federation as a Liberal and a follower of Mr. Alfred Deakin. I think he was defeated for the Bourke seat by the present member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey). No one can say that his criticism of the Ottawa agreement is inspired by party political bias. I still hold the view that what took place at Ottawa was the greatest ramp ever attempted on behalf of manufacturers in the United Kingdom against the best interests of the manufacturers of this country.
– The late Mr. Sam McKay held the contrary opinion.
– He spoke before these schedules were brought down. Notwithstanding the assertion of Ministers that Australian manufacturers have nothing to fear from the agreement made at Ottawa, I believe it to be inimical to the interests of our manufacturers, and I invite honorable members to note what Mr. Walter Runciman, president of the British Board of Trade, said in the House of Commons on the 26th October last -
Woollens, cotton, machinery, leather, and various other goods will come within the activities of the Tariff Board in Australia, which, it is believed, will initiate a downward movement of tariffs in the interests of stimulated trade within the Empire.
Mr. Runciman spoke, knowing his book. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) applauds his statement. The honorable member is known as a rampant freetrader in everything except, perhaps, a tariff on tobacco, onions, and potatoes. Mr. Baldwin, the leader of the British delegation at Ottawa, speaking in the House of Commons during the debate on the agreement, said this -
I maintain that the Ottawa Conference lowered tariffs. It has introduced the principle of reasonable, not prohibitive tariffs, and a start has been made to remove the dominion tariffs from politics by the establishment of tariff boards. We have secured lower tariffs from countries which hitherto practised high protection.
Does not that indicate clearly the views of the British delegation with reference to this agreement? Speaking on the same subject, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said -
Canada and Australia, two of the most industrialized dominions, have given up the idea that the home markets were to be reserved entirely to home manufacturers. The United Kingdom’s policy was, firstly, to help her own home market, and, secondly, to give an expanding share of the import market to the dominions.
The policy of the Federal Labour party is to reserve the Australian market for Australian manufacturers in those lines that can be produced “ economically “ and “ efficiently “ in this country. Why put into employment me,n, women, boys and girls of other countries and drive out of employment the men, women, boys and girls of Australia? Surely charity begins at home? The Empire Marketing Board has adopted as its slogan, “ Preference for the products of Great Britain and then preference for the products of the dominions “. Is there anything wrong with this slogan for Australia: “Preference, first, for the products of Australia, and, secondly, preference for the products of the British Empire “?
– That is our policy.
– The actions of the Government indicate, the opposite. The Minister told the committee yesterday that the Ottawa agreement was intended to have a profound influence on both the volume and direction of future trade in the British Empire, and should stimulate a healthy reaction in all industries. That sentiment sounds all right, and it looks well in print; but, as a matter of fact, it is a mere platitude, because the Ottawa agreement imposes too great a sacrifice on the people of Australia for the small benefits that will accrue to our industries.
One of- the most noteworthy pronouncements with regard to the Ottawa Conference was that contained in the circular issued by the Bank of New South Wales on the 2nd November last. That bank, as honorable members are aware, employs competent economists to study the trend, of world events, and it paid particular attention to. the effects of the Ottawa agreement on our wool and wheat industries, concerning which it said -
The nut effects of the Ottawa agreement on these goods will be to increase their costs of production in the long run, or to maintain higher costs than are justified, without any countervailing advantage in higher prices.
The circular generally discounted the benefits claimed for the Australian meat, butter and other primary industries. Because the Bani of New South Wales had the courage to challenge the Ottawa agreement, in this way, it was taken to task by one prominent member of the Government, who declared that it had no right to criticize the probable effect of the Ottawa agreement.
It is not my intention to refer in detail to all the primary industries that have been adversely affected by the Ottawa agreement, but I should mention important industries established in my own State - canned pineapples, bananas, and rum - all of which have been seriously affected. The chairman of the Fruit Marketing Board, which is representative of banana-growers in Queensland, stated, in a letter which I received to-day, that the last two shipments of Fiji bananas, the importation of which is now permitted under the Ottawa agreement, brought down the price of Australian bananas by 2s. a case, and that the loss to the Australian banana-growers as the result of two shipments has amounted to £1,800. If that is the disastrous result of two shipments, what is likely to happen during the next twelve months?
I note from the speech of the Minister that the Tariff Board has already intimated that it wishes to reconsider at least eleven reports made by it during the last three years, in the light of the Ottawa agreement, and the intimation received from the Government. The tariff items concerned include socks and stockings,, hats and hoods, millinery, wearing apparel, electric irons, bolts and. nuts, deck spikes, &c. As all these articles can be, or are being manufactured in Australia, is there any justification for a policy which encourages English manufacturers to turn out these goods in Great
Britain, instead of establishing factories in Australia under a high protectionist policy, thus giving employment to Austral. an operatives s And why are these items to be reconsidered? They ure to be reviewed because of the provision in the Ottawa agreement that “ there shall be full opportunity for reasonable competition “ by British manufacturers, who, it seems, are to share the already restricted Australian market with our manufacturers. We have the capital, the factory equipment and the workmen to manufacture all these requirements, without importing them from overseas. I agree, of course, that in respect of those articles which cannot be manufactured in Australia, we should give preference to the manufacturers in the Mother Country.
The right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) when speaking yesterday on the subject of unemployment, said this -
It is incumbent on this Parliament to so shape its policy that confidence in industry will not be undermined.
That is very nice. But what has this Government done with respect to our secondary industries? Will any honor: able member deny that the confidence of those engaged in them is being undermined by the action of this Government in whittling away the protectionist policy brought down by the Scullin Government? Already there have been reductions in respect of 157 items, although the Government has been in office a little over twelve months. And we should remember that its policy to date may be taken as an indication of what we may expect in the future. Now that the Tariff Board has been re-constituted’ better to interpret the fiscal policy of the Government, it is being importuned to bring in further reports, the effect of which will be to cause greater instability in our manufacturing industries. Because of what has happened since this Government assumed office, people with money to invest in secondary industries will not care to risk it because they do not know what further action may be taken by the Government in the near future. .
The Minister for Trade and Customs will, I know, assert that our manufacturers have confidence in this Government; that they believe it will not do anything adversely to affect our secondary industries. On this point, I ask honorable members to listen to what Mr.F. F. Robinson, vice-chairman of the Austral Silk and Cotton Mills Limited, and brother of Sir Arthur Robinson, an ex-Nationalist Attorney-General of Victoria, said in the course of his address at the last general meeting of shareholders of that company -
It is with great concern that I have to state that the sale of cotton yarns produced by our mill has been affected seriously by the action, or rather inaction, of the Federal Government during recent months. More unfortunately, this has led also to short time at the mill, and to the dismissal of employees.
Mr.White. - Action in what way?
– By allowing yarns manufactured in foreign countries to be imported and to compete unfairly with Australian cotton yarns. Although requests have been made to the Government to rectify the position, I have yet to learn that the necessary action has been taken. I hope that the Minister will take notice of what was said by the deputation which waited upon him recently. Those who declare thatour manufacturers have complete confidence in the present Government, would do well to listen to what the vice-chairman of the Yarra Falls Company Limited, the biggest worsted mill in Victoria, said in his address to the shareholders at the last annual meeting -
At present, your mill is fully occupied, but reading between the lines of this Ottawa agreement, I can see signs of trouble ahead, and, personally, I do not think that any textile manufacturer will be at all anxious to launch out into further extension whilst this present uncertainty continues. To put it quite plainly, the present Government has passed the onus of the situation on to the Tariff Board to decide whether Australian manufacturers should exist or not . . . Article 10 of the Ottawa agreement contains a very serious menace to all Australian industries, and the possible application of this clause would seriously endanger the present standard of living of the Australian worker. Already we are being faced with the position that merchants here are holding back their orders.
That is the opinion, not of a Labour high protectionist, but of a Nationalist chairman of one of the biggest manufacturing concerns in Australia. BrigadierGeneral Bennett, the chairman of the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures, and incidentally a good
Nationalist, also seems to have lost confidence in the present Government because of its tariff policy. This is what he said after the last schedules were brought down -
Australian manufacturers had already experienced a cancellation and cutting down of orders in consequence of the latest tariff schedule, and they had been compelled to dismissa large number of hands . . . The new tariff schedule showed how hollow and insincerewere the Government’s election promises of effective protection to Australian industries.
– When did he say that?
– Immediately after the last tariff schedules were brought down. The tariff-slashing policy initiated by this Government, and greatly accentuated by the Ottawa agreement, strikes a serious blow at the great secondary industries of this country, which give employment to approximately 500,000 persons. New industries will not now be encouraged to begin, as they were under the Scullin tariff, because under article 12 of the Ottawa agreement, the hands of Parliament are tied for a period of five years, unless some future Federal Labour Government can devise a means of getting around it, and restoring to Australian industries the whole of the Australian market. Because of the instability in industry and loss of confidence in the Government, practically no new capital will come from abroad for investment in Australian industries. Consequently, the proposed development of existing factories will be held up. As the already restricted Australian market is to be divided between Australian and British manufactures, there will be an increase in the importation of products from Great Britain, and more of our people will be obliged to go on the dole. Manufacturers have told me that they are not prepared to extend their factories while this instability continues. They have not known from one week to another what new tariff schedule would be introduced by the successive Ministers for Trade and Customs who have held office since the present Government came into power. The only man in the Ministry who had any decided protectionist views found things too hot for him, and he had to get out. The diminishing of the local market for our primary producers, which must follow the whittling down of the protectionist policy, must have a serious adverse effect on our primary industries. The Paterson butter scheme, of which the Acting Leader of the Country party is so proud, depends on the Australian market for about £4,000,000 per annum in order to provide a bounty on the butter exported. I urge the Government to stay its hand before irreparable damage is done to the great secondary industries of this country.
I hope that the visit of the Prime Minister to Newcastle was but the forerunner of many such visits to other great centres of secondary industry in Australia. At Newcastle, the right honorable gentleman saw i.n the works of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company some 3,000 Australians employed; at Lysaght’ s another 1,000, at Ryland’s about 800, at Vickers 300, and, in addition, those employed in the new lamp factory established there by Philips, and at the new pipe works and other establishments. The Prime Minister admitted that before he visited Newcastle he had no idea that Philips’ lamps were made in Australia. Yet he is the head of a Government, and says “ Aye “ to what a half-baked freetrade Minister for Trade and Customs says when he brings in proposals for reductions of duty.
Tho manner in which imports are increasing is revealed by the Statistician’s figures. For the seven months ended the 31st January, 1932, the imports into this country were valued at £24,932,000. For the corresponding period of this year the total value of such imports was £35,652,000 - an increase of over £10,700,000 in seven months. The Government has been warned by some of its economist friends of the results which may be expected from a continuation of its fiscal policy. Professor Copland, of the Melbourne University, said recently -
Imports are now coming into Australia at a rate in excess of what we could afford if the present export prices continue.
Even Professor Giblin criticizes this great increase in imports, and says that Australia will not be able to pay for them. These imports will accentuate the already serious position in regard to our trade balance, and will have an adverse effect on Australian secondary industries. The Prime Minister said the other day that unemployment was a great problem. Statistics show that, on an average, one Australian is thrown out of employment’ when goods of Australian production to the value of £864 are diverted overseas. On that basis, the diversion of the output of Australian factories to the extent of 1 per cent, would throw 4,465 workers out of employment. A diversion of 10 per cent, would multiply that number ten times, while a diversion to the extent of 20 per cent, would throw 89,311 workers idle. Those figures do not take into account the hundreds of boys and girls who leave our schools every year. Where will they obtain employment if not in our Australian factories? Of course, the importing agents may come into their own again. But how many do they employ? A man who imports hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of goods may employ a typist and a clerk; but if the goods he imports were made in this country hundreds of Australians would be given employment.
From time to time the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) has strongly criticized the Scullin Administration, as have other honorable gentlemen on the Government benches. They seem to forget that when that Government took office strong action was necessary to stem the tide of imports. The Scullin Government was confronted with two great problems - the protection of Australian industries, and the rectification of the adverse trade balance. It had received a mandate from the people of Australia to put into operation, not what some call a scientific protectionist policy, or what others describe as a policy of reasonable protection, but one which would, in fact, effectively protect Australian industries. It was authorized to place embargoes on imports, if necessary, in order to ensure the home market to Australian industries. That Governmentdid not delegate its powers to the Tariff Board, or to any other subordinate body created by Parliament. It carried the burden on its own shoulders, and was willing to accept full responsibility for what it did.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) quoted certain figures in order to show that there had been increased em- ‘ployment in the iron and steel works at
Newcastle; but he omitted to say that they were the result of the protectionist po1 icy of the Scullin Government, causing an increased demand by factories that draw their raw materials in the form of steel bars, rods and sheets from the steel works. Australian manufacturers had to go to Newcastle for new supplies when their stocks became exhausted, and consequently there was greater activity in the works there. During the eight years prior to the assumption of office by the Scullin Government, Australia’s aggregate adverse trade balance amounted to £111,000,000. In order to rectify that adverse trade balance, strong action was necessary, and Consequently the Seullin Government prohibited the importation of certain luxury lines, and rationed the importation of other articles. We lived to see Great Britain put a similar policy into operation in order to rectify her adverse trade balance. Speaking in the House of Commons on the 20th April, 1932, Sir Robert Home, an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, said -
One of the things upon which we may congratulate ourselves is the success of the tariff policy which has been adopted. . . . We are now importing less, and therefore saving the country’s money and doing more within our own borders. . . . More than all, we are able to say that 250,000 more of our people are in employment than six months ago.
Sir Robert Home regarded that as a great achievement, as indeed it was. To use a phrase which has been repeated a good deal of late, Great Britain “ tuned in “ to Australia’s policy. The action taken by the Scullin Government to stem the tide of imports has been adversely criticized by honorable gentlemen who place party political considerations before the interests of their country. Surely honorable members who indulge in that criticism know that our national income had fallen by £200,000,000 per annum, and that our adverse trade balance had reached a colossal figure. Not only so, but the interest commitments of the Commonwealth during the Bruce-Page Administration, plus adverse trade balances, amounted to £260,000,000. The Scullin Government, in an endeavour to make this country live within its income, had to decide whether it would depend on the exchange rate alone or, in addition, restrict imports. Reliance on the exchange rate alone would not have prevented the importation of luxuries, and so, after collaboration with the Tariff Board and the officers of the Trade and Customs Department, that Government decided on the strong measures which I have indicated. When I took charge of the Trade and Customs Department, I found that previous administrations had indulged in a policy of pseudo-protection, under which local manufacturers were subjected to the most intense competition from overseas manufactures, with the result that there was an incessant struggle between Australian manufacturers and importers. Each section retained a portion of the ‘Australian market, but neither made any headway, whereas had the whole of that market been open to either section the result would have been lower prices to the Australian consumer, as was the case when the Labour Government made the protectionist policy effective and Australian manufacturers were able to reduce their prices by from 20 per cent, to 50 per cent. The outcome of the policy adopted by the Scullin Government was not only to rectify the adverse trade balance, for 34 branch factories of big overseas manufacturers were established in Australia, and 75 new and important factories also set up in this country. Those establishments provided work for between 4,000 and 5,000 Australians as a nucleus, and as they developed, so additional hands were taken on. The result of that policy is seen in the following figures relating to Australia’s trade balance. In 1929-30, Australia’s adverse trade balance amounted to £33,380,000 ; but in the following year it was converted to a favorable trade balance of £15,296,000, excluding bullion and specie. The following year that favorable trade balance was further increased to £30,795,000. That remarkable change was the result of the wise policy adopted by the Scullin Government, and it is idle for the present Government to claim that its policy has placed Australia on an even keel. Unfortunately, the trend today is in the opposite direction. The excess of exports over imports for the seven months ended 31st January, 1’932, amounted to £17,900,000, while for a similar period during the present financial year the figure had dropped to -£8,917,000. Honorable members are aware that, being a debtor nation, Australia needs to have a favorable trade balance of approximately £30,0.00,000 each year in order to meet her interest and other charges overseas.. Although seven months of this financial year have passed, our trade balance is little more than a quarter of the required sum.
I have proved conclusively that, as a result of the high protectionist policy that prevailed under the Scullin Government, there has been no increase in the price of commodities manufactured by Australian factories. As a matter of fact, generally speaking, reductions have resulted therefrom averaging from 20 to 50 per cent. Moreover, overseas manufacturers are quoting Australian merchants lower f.o.b. prices than they are quoting to other countries in which there is no local competition. Here are. a few examples -
In South Africa, there is keen competition from the German iron trades, which accounts for the lower prices obtaining there. Again, the prices for foreign agricultural implements in South Africa, British East Africa, and New Zealand are higher than in Australia, where overseas manufacturers have to face local competition from the Australian manufacturers.
I know that some honorable members claim that the Labour party is not in favour of British preference. As a matter of fact, many opponents of the Scullin tariff invented, and still repeat, the cry that that Government deliberately adopted a policy of reducing preferences to Great Britain. That is far from the truth. The facts are that the Scullin Govern ment reduced the margin of preferences to Great Britain on 55- items and subitems, while it increased that margin on 244 items and sub-items, representing a favorable balance to British manufacturers of 189 items and sub-items. The value of Australian preferences to Great Britain has varied from £5,000,000 to £10,000,000. Questions directed to different Ministers for Trade and Customs have elicited varying replies, the late Mr. Pratten giving the amount at £10,000,000. I calculate that the value of Australia’s preferences to Great* Britan total approximately £7,500,000 per annum, while the Mother Country’s preferences to Australia are worth roughly £1,000,000 per annum.
– That has all been changed by the Ottawa Conference.
– Many changes haveoccurred as a result of Ottawa, principally against the best interests of Australian secondary industries. Australia., has been buying from Great Britain at. the rate of 167s. per capita, with a population of 6,500,000, while the United. Kingdom has been buying from us at. the rate of 27s. per capita, with a population of 48,750,000. Inter-empire trade is a commendable objective, but there is surely nothing wrong with our safeguarding the interests of our own industries while giving that preference on goods not manufactured in Australia. It is on that account that Mr. Hume Cook, the secretary of the Australian Industries Preference League joins issue with this Government and with its Resident Minister in Great Britain, who, he thinks, leans too much towards the English manufacturer, and is, consequently, somewhat biased against Australian manufacturers.
Perhaps the critics of the Scullin Government’s policy might be prepared to accept the conclusions of an independent authority in regard to British trade with Australia. I shall quote one. In his 1930 report on Economic and Trade Conditions in Australia, His Majesty’s Senior Trade Commissioner wrote as follows : -
United Kingdom manufacturers must accept the fact that what was their second largest export market will offer a very much reduced demand for their product over , a number of years. It is desirable that there should be no unnecessary misunderstanding of the causes of that reduction. An opinion seems to prevail in some quarters that the tariff alone is the cause. It may be hoped, however, that it has been made sufficiently clear in preceding pages that the main causes are financial, and that a very heavy reduction would have occurred, tariff or no tariff.
Much has been said by the opponents of our protectionist policy about the alleged retaliation of foreign countries. The Scullin Government realized the inevitable penalty that its tariff would impose on certain countries, and the possibility of retaliation, owing to ignorance or a lack of appreciation of the true position in Australia. As the alternative was default, it decided to take the risk of retaliation. Incidentally, it had received a clear mandate from the people of Australia to put an effective protectionist tariff policy into operation. There was no unfair discrimination, but the policy of granting extensive preferences to the United Kingdom necessitated a stringent limitation of importing trade, even with foreign countries with which Australia had a favorable trade balance. Many foreign countries have not been unmindful of our critical position, France being the only one which has enacted legislation designedly aimed at Australia, in the form of high duties on wheat and butter. The reasons underlying these impositions are that France desires to protect her own industries, for she produces more wheat than Australia, coming fifth on the list of wheat-producing nations. Her ordinary tariff on wheat is 3s. 6d. a bushel, equivalent to a duty of over 100 per cent. Naturally, that duty prevents the importation of any considerable quantity of wheat. France produces more butter than she can consume, and has instituted what is practically a prohibition against the importation of that commodity. These, facts show that France’s action against Australia is part and parcel of her protectionist policy, her tariff being highly protective and the subject of complaint by other countries.
The fact that many of our principal export products competed with similar goods produced in France was recognized as far back as 1918, when in his report as leader of the French Mission to Australia, General Pau stated -
Australia will understand that a great agricultural nation such as France, which is an exporter of agricultural products, must in this particular provide a reasonable measure of protection for herself. But we shall not be able to forget that our comrades-in-arms during the Great War have a right to special consideration, and we shall be glad to admit their products in large quantities, not alone including those which have hitherto been free of duty, but also those on which our maximum rates were imposed.
Certain members of the Nationalist and Country parties, who are continually criticizing the tariff on the score that it invites retaliation, are actually extending a direct invitation to foreign countries to employ that weapon against Australia.
Honorable members will recognize that the desirability of absorbing approximately 200,000 unemployed men who for years were engaged on loan construction works constitutes a most urgent problem, and that it is impossible of solution by providing work in the primary industries alone; we must also look to our great secondary industries to assist us. The figures that I shall now give form a most interesting comparison. Taking the value of primary industries and secondary industries on an employment basis, we find that, since 1911, the population of Australia has increased by nearly 2,000,000, or about 40 per cent. The value of production of primary industries has increased in that period by £154,000,000 or 135 per cent., and- the number of employees engaged in primary production has decreased by 44,000 or 9 per cent., although the lesser number cultivates 9,000,000 more acres of land and produces an additional 200,000,000 lb. of wool. On the other hand, the value of production from secondary industries has increased during the same period by £287,000,000 or 215 per cent., and the number of employees engaged in secondary industries has increased by 138,000, or 44 per cent. Those figures are for a normal year, 1928-29.
Quite a number of persons who advocate a low tariff policy, amounting almost to f freetrade, claim that they speak on behalf of the primary producers of Australia. As a matter of fact they do not. The primary producers of Australia have definitely enjoyed the benefits of protection, and received advantages which have compensated them for any burden indirectly imposed by the tariff. Wool buyers representing Australian woollen mills competing for wool at wool sales cause an upward tendency. The Bruce-Page Government appointed an economic committee which estimated that the total cost of protection to the Commonwealth was £36,000,000. Of this sum, £10,000,000 was the estimated cost of protecting certain primary industries. Those economists estimated that primary producers reaped a further advantage amounting to £12,000,000 by reason of reduced railway freights, Commonwealth aid to roads, the erection of silos, &c, by agricultural departments, facilities afforded by water . conservation schemes, and so forth. They were granted additional benefits by bounties on gold, cotton, wheat and linseed; by export control votes for dried fruits, canned fruits, dairy produce industries, wine and other primary produce, overseas marketing votes, and the exercise of a cattle tick control. So that, exclusive of bounties and other assistance, the total .assistance afforded to primary production by protection and subsidies amounts to £22,000,000 per annum. That amount can be placed against the cost of protection to the secondary industries of approximately £26,000,000. Much has been said about the adverse effect of protection upon the butter industry. Let us examine the position. We know that the industry is highly protected. It is one of the largest employing industries in Australia and it opens up great possibilities for the development of new areas, because the men put on the land can obtain an early return from their labours. The Australian butter producers are, in effect, receiving from the consumers of Australia a bounty of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 a year. Some of the primary products which receive protection are - milk, butter, cheese, sugar, tobacco, dried fruits, bacon, hams, pork, lard, wax, poultry, eggs, live-stock and pigs. In 1929-30 Australia produced £49,389,000 worth of these foodstuffs. The value of such goods consumed in Australia was £40,819.000, while exports were valued at £8,579,000.
The local market ^consumed 82$ per cent, of these foodstuffs and 17$ per cent, were exported. In 1929-30 we exported 107,000,000 lb. of butter, valued at £7,000,000. We consumed 191,000,000 lb. valued at £15,000,000. The average wholesale price of butter overseas was ls. 3$d. per lb., whereas, in Australia, it was ls. 7$d. per lb. So much for the contention that all our primary producers are burdened with an enormous load of. protection. Actually, other charges such as interest are a much greater burden upon them.
I come now to the alleged disabilities of Western’ Australia under the protection policy of Australia. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) have always been loud in their condemnation of this policy. They complain that Western’ Australia suffers greatly under federation. I refuse’ to believe that the electors of that State are as hostile to tariff protection as are some of their country party representatives in this House. I have analysed the position respecting Western Australia, and I find that the estimated total revenue derived by the Commonwealth from this State in 1929-30 was in the neighbourhood of £4,000,000, while the expenditure incurred by the Commonwealth ou behalf of that State in respect of contributions towards interest and sinking fund payments on State debts, roads grants, special grants, war pensions, invalid and old-age pensions, maternity allowances, loss on post offices, interest and sinking fund payments on war debt, defence, and other essential services performed by the Commonwealth, totalled in the vicinity of £5,000,000, It will thus be seen that, under federation, Western Australia enjoys an advantage on the balance-sheet of about £1,000,000 per annum. This comparison surely is the only test that can be applied to the States in a chamber pledged to uphold the federal system. It is always well to remember that the total schemes approved under the £34,000,000. migration agreement, amount to £8,677,516 for the whole of Australia, while Western Australia’s proportion was £4,749,188, or more than that of all the other States put together. The total concession which would accrue to Western Australia by way of interest and other concessions in regard” to these schemes, is estimated at about £1,750,000. The contention of the honorable members for Swan and Forrest, that the policy of protection has failed to provide employment, is refuted by the official figures, which show that since the war the secondary industries have absorbed 100,000 additional workers, whereas, despite the expenditure of £35,000,000 in settling returned soldiers on the land, there are now 50,000 fewer people employed in primary industries than there were in 1911. At the same time, the area cultivated has increased by 9,000,000 acres, and the production of wool by 200,000,000 lb.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I congratulate the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) ‘ on his accession to office, perhaps with the mental reservation that the acceptance ot” the portfolio of Minister for Trade and Customs may not be a cause for congratulation, and, possibly, commiseration would be a more appropriate word. I also congratulate the Minister on the admirable sentiments expressed in his speech last night, and I assure him had the speech been the schedule it would have satisfied rae absolutely and completely. But, unfortunately, a perusal of the schedule shows that the Minister has not been able to give effect to those sentiments. It is true that the method of dealing with the very contentious Item No. 174, which, as disclosed by the schedule and explained by the Minister, is to itemise a large number of products which are not made in Australia for free admission from Great Britain with a duty of 15 per cent, outside, instead of allowing them to be admitted by means of by-law, is certainly a great improvement. It is true also that this amending schedule is perhaps the first to contain more reductions than increases, but we who always welcome reductions can rejoice only in a most subdued manner, and with a moderation in strict accord with the extent of the reductions. As some of these reductions represent only 5 per cent, on duties of 50 per cent. British, and 70 per cent, general, we realize that while they appear on the credit side of the ledger, at any rate, from our point of view, perhaps not from the point of view of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr.- Forde), there is not much to boast about in connexion with them. It is appalling that in the first tariff schedule to be brought down after the passing of the Ottawa agreement there should appear on page after page items showing duties of 45 per centBritish and 65 per cent, foreign.
– Did the honorable member approve of the reduction of 400 per cent, in -the duty on tobacco?
– I supported the Government on that occasion. What is more I am prepared to support this or any other Government in reducing by half the duty on every item of the tariff including those affecting the primary producers, always provided it is done all round. I am prepared to support an all-round reduction of tariff. It is a calamity that we should find duties as high as these put into a new schedule, and at the same time be told that the Tariff Board has taken into consideration article 10 of the Ottawa agreement, which provides for competitive rather than prohibitive tariffs. During the last three decades, many parliaments have witnessed the tabling of tariff schedules, and one of the most notable features of practically the whole of the schedules has been the progressive raising of duties. At one time, a duty of 10 per cent, or 20 per cent, was regarded as adequate, but now the duties are two and three times as high, and so accustomed have we become to duties of 40 per cent, and over, which are really abnormal, that we are in danger of losing, if we have not already lost, our sense of proportion. In 1929 the Bruce-Page Government felt that the then existing tariff-the Pratten tariff - was in need of examination, and five prominent economists were appointed to make a complete inquiry into the effects of the tariff upon the costs of industry. The most complete economic inquiry ever made in Australia was made by that committee, and the following is a short extract from its recommendations: -
The final effect is to raise the general price level (excluding luxuries) by 10 per cent, above prices with a purely revenue tariff. Taking government assistance into account, costs of production in the export industries are raised9 per cent. by protection. The effects of this cost are to increase the number of industries and the volume of production which cannot subsist without the tariff or other assistance. It leads to claims for compensating assistance and even to subsidies for exports. The cost of the Tariff becomes a cause of its extension. Part of the tariff is required as a protection against its own costs. . . We consider that further and uneconomic increases in the tariff are probable unless some action is taken to apply economic principles to the tariff. Our conclusions on effects indicate that the total burden of the tariff has probably reached the economic limits, and an increase in this burden might threaten the standard of living. It is important, therefore, that no further increases in, or extensions of the tariff, should be made without the most rigorous scrutiny of the costs involved.
The conclusion reached by these economists, that the costs of primary industries were increased by the Pratten tariff to the extent of 10 per cent., was based on that particular period when the prices of primary products were about twice as high as they are to-day.If a 10 per cent. increase in costs were occasioned on prices existing in 1928 under the Pratten tariff, what must be the burden on the exporting industries to-day, when the prices of primary products have been practically halved. The committee which recently reported on the wool industry estimated that the increased cost of production of wool due to the tariff was 2d. per lb.
– That is a ridiculous estimate.
– It may be regarded by the honorable member as ridiculous.
– Does the honorable member accept it?
– I do.
– I am astonished at the honorable member.
– Unlike the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) and Mr. Hume Cook, I do not measure the cost of duties by estimating the amount which the Government collects. I should add to that amount the large sum which goes into the pockets of people as a result of the protection of the tariff, and which must be regarded as an additional cost due to the tariff. With the average price of wool at 8d. per lb., the cost of 2d. per lb. as estimated by the economists represents 25 per cent. of the total price. The price of butter fat to-day is about equal to the average price of wool, while the price of wheat at country sidings is about 2s. 2d. a bushel. Generally speaking, prices are about half, and in some instances less than half, of those ruling at the time the economists made their report on the Pratten tariff, yet the tariff to-day is not merely relatively but actually greater than it was at the time that report was submitted.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Amongst other things the economists stated -
We consider that further and uneconomic increases in the tariff are probable unless some action is taken to apply economic principles to the tariff.
Their first fears were quickly realized, because, before the end of 1929, the Scullin Government was on the treasury bench, and there had commenced an orgy of high tariff making - the raising of duties all round, frequently without reports from the Tariff Board, and in some instances in defiance of such reports. Duties already prohibitive were being fortified by a surtax of 50 per cent. and embargoes on a scale hitherto unprecedented were being proclaimed, all of this being done on the plea of restoring the balance of trade. By this means the natural corrector of unbalanced trade, an increase in the exchange rate, was kept at bay until it was long overdue. These tariff excesses, which piled increase on increase throughout the two years of the Scullin Administration, were condemned not only by members of the Country party, but also by leading members of the present Ministry, who were then in opposition. The honorable the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) - no, the right honorable; I am pleased to be able to apply that additional prefix to his title - the Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill), the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who later became Minister for Trade and Customs, and others, made robust speeches in condemnation of the then existing tariff. On the 28th April, 1931, the AttorneyGeneral, who was at that time Leader of the Opposition, delivered a speech which was certainly more restrained than that of his colleague, the Postmaster-General, but, nevertheless, was most forceful. He quoted an extract from the report of the economists as proof that the Pratten tariff wa3 defeating its own object, and urged that in future we should consider the effect of every item in the tariff on the cost of primary industries. Dealing with the inter-Imperial aspect, the AttorneyGeneral stated -
In sonic cases in this schedule increases have been made in the general tariff and in -the intermediate tariff which, on the face of it, would seem to extend a preference to Great Britain ; but the effect of the preferences is abolished because the British rates are so high that it is impossible to export many British goods to Australia. In this connexion it is important for us to remember that we must do everything we can to retain the good-will of Great Britain, which we have enjoyed for so many years. Some items in the tariff imperatively demand reconsideration from that angle. . .
That is true to-day. From that very angle there are many items of the tariff which imperatively demand reconsideration. The right honorable gentleman concluded an admirable speech with a plea that the then government should not make the tariff a party matter. He said -
I hope that the Government will not seek to have the tariff treated as a party measure. Generally speaking, a considerable amount of latitude has been allowed individual members in the consideration of past tariff schedules, and I ask the Government not to regard this schedule merely from the party point of view, but to allow its own supporters to vote as they think proper on each item.
I hope that the present Government will adopt the policy for which the Attorney-General pleaded with such sweet reasonableness from this side of the House in 1931. In urging that course, I am fortified by the statement made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in his policy speech -
The electors will bear in mind that, on our side of the House, there is no whipping on the tariff. Members vote as they please.
The speeches of the Postmaster-General were exceedingly interesting. On the 1st May, 1931, when dealing with the Scullin duties, he said -
The tariff means and always has meant the infliction of a severe and sometimes grinding form of taxation on the masses of the people . The facts stand out as clearly as the . peak of a mountain; the masses have received no compensation in the way of additional employment for the taxation imposed upon them and the country has received no substantial or lasting benefit in the shape of increased national income from the unscientific tariff schedules tabled by this Government. . . Briefly, _I stand for a lower tariff generally.
A most excellent sentiment! Before the year closed, the Scullin Administration was out of office, and the leading members of the Opposition who had condemned the high tariff had formed a new government. Two of the new Ministers some months later went to Ottawa, and played an important part in negotiating the agreement between the UnitedKingdom and the Commonwealth. The principal features of the agreement, as regards the undertakings of this Parliament, are the provisions for widening the margin of preference to Great Britain, and articles 9 to 14, with which we are more or less familiar. In discussing this schedule, we are entitled to ask - (1) How does it conform to the report of the economists in 1929; (2) How does it carry out the requirements of the Ottawa treaty, especially article 10; and (3) How does it conform to the principles expressed by Ministers when in Opposition ? The economists said -
The total burden of the tariff has probably reached the economic limits; and an increase in this burden might threaten the standard of living. It is imporant, therefore, that no further increases in or extensions of the tariff should be made without a most rigorous scrutiny of the costs involved.
Most of the increases in the Scullin tariff were made without any scrutiny by the Tariff Board. The Deputy-Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) boasted of that only a few hours ago, and approximately 150 of these items, still not reported upon, remain as a blot upon this present schedule, despite the Attorney-General’s solemn quotation of the warning by the economists. The honorable member for Henty, until recently Minister for Trade and Customs - I regret that his health prevents him from being in his place in this chamber - made a notable speech on the .Ottawa agreement, and on the same day tabled the schedule we are now discussing. It was a disappointment and disillusionment to many of us who, having regard to the great height to which duties on British goods had been raised by the Scullin Administration, and having been privileged in the last Parliament to listen to the chorus of condemnation by present Ministers, had hoped that a substantial increase in British preference would be provided by a lowering of the rates on British goods, rather than by the increase of rates against the foreigner. But in the Gullett schedule additional preference was provided in 321 instances by raising the foreign rates and allowing the British to remain unchanged, and in only 118 instances by lowering the British and allowing the foreign to remain unaltered. In three instances out of four, the additional margin of preference was provided by an increase of the foreign rates. Bringing those figures up to date in the light of the alterations proposed yesterday by the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr.White), there are approximately 330 items on which the duties have been increased, and only 160 on which they have been reduced. Therefore, in two cases out of three, we are still providing a larger margin of preference to the United Kingdom by the simple expedient of raising the duties on foreign goods. I welcome these reductions, although some of them are extremely small, but I regret that because of the rash promise by certain members of the Ministry to the manufacturers on the eve of the last election, that the duties imposed by the Scullin Government would not be reduced before they had been reported upon by the Tariff Boa rd–
– That promise was made not to the manufacturers but to the people.
– In my opinion, it was made to one sectionwhich was peculiarly interested. Those duties imposed by the Scullin Government without reference to the Tariff Board are to be regarded by the present Ministry as sacrosanct until an overworked Tariff Board has had an opportunity gradually to make its way through them, a task that may occupy another two years. The retention at the present level of these 150 items upon which the board has not reported is in direct conflict with the recommendation of the economists that no increases in the tariff should be made without the most rigorous scrutiny of the costs involved. If the duties proposed by this Government are examined in the light of the Ottawa obligations, what do we find ? Even in the schedule introduced yesterday, there are still duties of 45 per cent. against British goods, and 65 per cent. against foreign goods, and it is difficult to regard duties of that magnitude in addition to the natural protection afforded by ocean freights, insurance, exchange, &c., as competitive. Yet we contracted in article 10 of the Ottawa agreement to impose against Great Britain only duties which were competitive and not prohibitive. We have widened the margin of preference to Great Britain according to the letter of the agreement, but if the duties existing prior to the Ottawa Conference were regarded as a6-ft. wall against Great Britain, and an 8-ft. wall against other nations, and the Ottawa agreement obliged us to increase the difference from 2 ft. to 3 ft., have we complied with the spirit of the treaty when in two cases out of three we have left the wall against Great Britain at 6 ft. and raised the 8-ft. wall against the foreigners to 9 ft., in order to make the 6-ft. wall look lower? In some other cases the wall against British goods has been reduced, but not below 5 ft. 9 in. I have already quoted the AttorneyGeneral’s remarks in 1931 about sham preferences. Unfortunately those remarks are still applicable to a large extent. Article 10 of the agreement is as follows: -
His Majesty’s Government in the Commonwealth of Australia undertake that during the currency of this agreement the tariff shall be based on the principle that protective duties shall not exceed such a level as will give United Kingdom producers full opportunity of reasonable competition on the basis of the relative cost of economical and efficient production, provided that in the application of such principle special consideration may be given to the case of industries not fully established.
It says, “During the currency of this agreement”; not half-way through the currency of the agreement, or towards the end of it ; but, in effect, at the earliest possible moment. I regard article 10 as the most important in the agreement. In that article we pledge ourselves not to give such protection as will automatically keep the whole of the Australian market for our own manufacturers. If we wish to secure the home market for ourselves, we must beat our competitors after affording them an opportunity to compete on a reasonable basis.
Article 10 was ratified just before Parliament rose, and we must assume that the many Tariff Board reports prepared before last December were not necessarily prepared with article 10 in mind. Therefore, they ought to be reviewed. It is not sufficient that the reports are recent; to be beyond suspicion they must have been made since article 10 was adopted. I know that the Minister said that the Tariff Board had conformed substantially with the provisions of the agreement. The board, he said, had informed the Government that 201 reports, which had been submitted by the board covering a lengthy list of subjects during -the last three years, were considered provisionally to meet the requirements of the Ottawa agreement. Regarding these, the Government took the view that it had, for the time being, substantially complied with the agreement. I trust that the Government will continue to think so only for the time being, because it seems to be a somewhat airy way of disposing of article 10 in its relation to the 201 items reported on by the Tariff Board during the last three years. I urge the Government not to ask the committee to ratify any duty in this schedule, which has not been reviewed by the board in the light of article 10. Otherwise, when reductions are recommended and tabled by the Minister, serious delays in giving effect to them will occur which otherwise might have been avoided. It is, I think, known to honorable members that reductions operate immediately upon being tabled only if the duty which is to be reduced has not been ratified. Therefore, it seems to me that it would be a test of good faith on the part of the Government regarding its anxiety to implement as early as possible the Ottawa agreement if it would refrain from doin<* anything which serves to delay putting into effect recommendations for reduced duties.
A good deal of opposition has been expressed in this chamber to article 10, but now that it is ratified I trust that all members will feel that Australia is in honour bound to carry out, in the spirit and in the letter, the obligations entered into between Australia and Great Britain, and that the agreement will be implemented at the earliest possible moment. The Tariff Board is apparently producing reports at the rate of 67 per annum, if we are to take the record of 201 reports for three years as a criterion. If that is the top speed at which the board can work - and I do not flee how it can work any faster with its present, limited personnel - it seems to me that this agreement with Great Britain will have run perhaps half its course before all the items have been reviewed. We ought to speed up the process, even if it becomes necessary to increase the personnel of the board, because the widening of the margin of preference by the simple expedient of raising duties on foreign goods is not carrying .out in any degree the spirit of the agreement.
I now come to my third point, namely, how does the schedule conform to the principles expressed by present Ministers when they were in Opposition in 1931? I shall take a specific item, fencing wire. I remind the committee that during the Bruce-Page regime, there was no duty on fencing wire imported from Great Britain, though there was a duty on foreign wire. The Australian industry was assisted by means of a bounty of 52s. a ton. The Scullin Government abolished the bounty, and imposed a duty in its place. By that action it said, in effect, to the manufacturers, “ The community as a whole can no longer afford to pay you this subsidy through the Treasury. We shall, therefore, compel one section of the community, which is still less able to pay it, a section composed of farmers who are receiving only 2s. 2d. a bushel for wheat, 8d. per lb. for wool, and 8d. per lb. for butter, to carry the “burden in the future, to pay the subsidy to you in the form of the additional price which you will be able to impose under cover of the duty “. In 1931, the late “Mr. P. G. Stewart, then member for Wimmera, moved an amendment to revert to the Pratten duties on fencing wire, under which British wire was admitted free. For that amendment we received the whole-hearted support of members of the United Australia Party. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is reported, in volume 132 of Ilansard, page 129, as follows: -
Except perhaps the unemployed, the primary producers . are the greatest sufferers from the existing depression.. Theirs, is a desperate condition, and the Government has admitted it. 1 say definitely that, if the nation as a whole cannot afford to maintain .this industry by the payment of a bounty, the primary producers should not he called upon to carry the burden ; the industry should be allowed to go out of business. I am quite prepared to allow the old bounty to continue if the money can possibly be found. … I repeat, if the time has come when the nation cannot afford to pay for this essential national industry, it is better for us to abandon it.
The. present Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) made a very good speech, from which I quote the following: -
For the reasons that I have given, I put it to the committee that the wiser course in the interests of the community and of the industry itself, as well as of the iron a”nd steel industry and the coal-mining industry, would be not to impose the duty proposed by the Government.
Then the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) stepped into the ring, and said -
The Minister and other Government supporters of the policy of high protection have argued that these industries only require protection :in the days of their infancy, and that when they have passed through the embryonic stage they will be able to stand upon their own feet and face unflinchingly the withering blast of competition. I should like to know when this industry will grow feet and be able to stand upon them? . . . The burden of assisting this industry under the bounty system Hell, with whatever fairness there is in this world, upon all sections of the community, and the primary producers were not called upon to hear an inequitable share of the load. But the effect of protecting the industry by means of a tariff will be that the users of this wire, who arc principally primary producers, will have to carry practically all the burden. Every party believes that the primary producers must be assisted by a reduction of their costs, but at what point are we to begin to reduce those costs? We all realize that Australia’s only hope of immediate salvation lies in bringing new money into the Commonwealth by means of the export of our primary products. That fact stares us in the face. Yet when the committee has a legitimate chance- to reduce the coat of production to the farmers, members of the Government side either stay out of the chamber, or remain silent and allow these impositions to continue. I protest in the strongest possible terms against this unfair treatment of the primary producers by supporters of the Government, failing to seize this opportunity to assist them. . . I shall certainly have the greatest pleasure in supporting the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart).
That was what the present PostmasterGeneral thought about* it, and I was proud of him at the time. The present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), speaking to the same amendment, said -
As one who was associated with the Government which introduced the present proposals for protecting this industry, I find it necessary to explain how it is that I am compelled, by force of argument, to adopt now an attitude the reverse to what I then took up. . . To-day the primal y producers are in an infinitely worse position to carry an extra burden than they were.
– What will be the extra burden imposed on them?
– Under this system the burden is borne by only one section of the community, whereas under the bounty system the financial burden rests on the whole community.
– Where is any extra” burden involved ?
– In the higher price that has to be paid by the users of the commodity upon which heavy customs duties are imposed. Surely it cannot be contended that if customs duties are removed and a bounty is paid, the burden will be borne by the same people. Whatever may have been the ability - it was not great - of the primary producers at that particular time to carry the burden, their position is infinitely worse to-day. I agree with those Who contend that any extra responsibility in maintaining a national industry should be borne by the nation as a whole, and not by a particularly small section of the community which at present is labouring under adverse conditions. . . . In view of the fact that assistance cannot be given to them in the way we desire, surely we are not justified in insisting that only a certain section shall carry a burden which should be borne by the whole of the people. In view of all the circumstances, I am compelled to change my attitude, not with any desire to interfere with the iron and steel industry, or to reduce the number of men employed in it, but to afford some relief which must be granted to the primary producers of this country.
In spite of those splendid speeches, we find that the duty still remains exactly as the Scullin Government left it. The Prime Minister referred to the strength of the arguments which had induced him to change his opinion. The then Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin)’ was himself so impressed by those arguments that he postponed the item, and we did not reach it again during the life of that Parliament. It has now come before us again, and I ask those Ministers whose remarks
I have quoted to reconcile, if they can, the continued existence of the duty with the speeches they made in 1931. At that time they said that they were not prepared to load the impoverished primary producers with this indefensible tax, and two of them, at least, said that it would be better for the industry to go out of existence. Is it an oversight that the duty has been allowed to remain? It is hard to accept such an explanation in view of the fact that the members of the present Government did almost the same thing in connexion with galvanized wire. It will be remembered that, while present Ministers, then in Opposition, supported amendments that I moved in 1931 in connexion with galvanized iron, they refused to amend that item when they had the power to do so until the matter had been referred back to the Tariff Board, and that body had refused to alter its original recommendation. Does a’ policy which, when in opposition, is regarded as wrong, become right when one sits on the Government side? At the proper time, I propose to move an amendment to restore fencing wire to the “BritishFree” rate, where it stood during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government.
The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) referred last night to evidences of returning prosperity. Occasionally, there is an apparent flicker of a return to prosperity; but while present costs continue, there can be no really permanent return to it with wheat at 2s. 2d. a bushel, and wool and butter at 8d. per lb. I do not for a moment suggest that the tariff could be so reduced as to bridge wholly the reduction in costs required; but it could go a long way further than it has gone. The Minister referred to the use of the tariff in such a way as to hold a fair balance between primary and secondary industries. That is a very laudable sentiment. But what sort of a balance exists to-day between those two sets of industry? The economists tell us that, comparing present prices with those for 1911, and adopting the figure 100 as the 1911 price of both primary products and manufactured goods, to-day that of primary products represents 112, while that of manufactured goods represents 200. Until we can bridge to some extent that tremendous gap between 112 and 200, or between 11 and 20, we cannot have any semblance of prosperity ; and if the gap continues too long, a smash is inevitable. We cannot bridge it wholly by means of the tariff, but we can go much further than has been gone. Reductions that were reasonable two or three yearsago are absolutely inadequate to-day. A fixed part of the policy of the present Government is to abide by the reports of the Tariff Board. Article 9 of the Ottawa agreement pledges us not to exceed the recommendations of the Tariff Board. It is not consistent with the holding of these views by the Government to retain in our schedules duties that have been raised without report by the Tariff Board. We cannot have it in one way and not in the other. No duty should be sacrosanct merely because it was imposed by a previous Government, if it was imposed without a report from the Tariff Board. For that reason I move, as an amendment to the original motion of the former Minister for Trade and Customs in introducing the Tariff Schedule in October last -
That after the words “ United Kingdom “ the following words be inserted : - “ And that the Government, without delay, submit a further schedule, which will carry out the terms and the spirit of the Ottawa agreement with respect to increased preference to British goods, in the following manner: -
Duties against British goods to be reduced to the level of the 1021-30 tariff in all cases where they have been raised above that level without report by the Tariff Board.”
– I feel sure that honorable members have listened with very great interest to the speech of the honorable member (Mr. Paterson), and that they generally welcome him in his position as Acting Leader of the Country party, while deploring the unfortunate event that has led to his occupying it for the time being. This chamber is accustomed to hearing thoughtful and original speeches from the honorable member. It might, therefore, be considered an unfortunate circumstance that so much of his speech this evening consisted of quotations. I, however, have very considerable gratification and satisfaction in recognizing that, so far as his quotations from my own past efforts are concerned, I believed in what I then said, and I believe in it now. I hope that we shall be able to put into effect the principles which, on other occasions, I have enunciated.
The honorable member has moved an amendment, the effect of which would be to reduce to the level of the 1921-30 tariff all British duties in cases where there has not been a report by the Tariff Board. It appears to me that that is a very rough and ready method of dealing with a most difficult and highly intricate question. It is, I suggest, quite impossible for a responsible assembly to adopt a general rule of such a nature, by going back a number of years to a former standard. World conditions have changed very markedly in recent years. The tariff to which the honorable member wishes to revert and which he himself supported was regarded as a very high one compared with tariffs of earlier years; and tariffs that have since been imposed are higher still - in some instances, I consider, much too high. But I am not prepared to work on a tariff in accordance with any rule of thumb. It appears to me that every industry must be considered in relation to the special circumstances of that industry.
We are charged with the responsibility of the government of Australia, so far as matters affecting the tariff are concerned. We find ourselves in a world in which modern mechanical and technological changes have produced a radical alteration in the character of industry. We find that human labour power is less important than it used to be. All over the world men are being displaced by machine production. . When one learns of machines that can make 2,500 cigarettes a minute, and of other machines that take our wool in at one end, scour it, comb it, spin it, weave it, turn it into patterned cloth by the application of photo electric cells reject -flaws, and turn it out at the other end in measured lengths, rolled, parcelled and labelled., without a human hand having rested upon it in the meantime, one must recognize that we are living in an entirely new age, and are faced with problems that are very different indeed from those of olden days. Only a little inquiry is needed to convince any honorable member that work which a few years ago required many men to do, can now be done by a couple of men and a machine. This has led to a large displacement of human labour power, and it also should lead to a recognition of the fact that much of the capital plant in the world is obsolete, and that in that respect industry ought to be placed upon a new basis. One result has been that goods can be turned out with such rapidity, and in such quantity, that it is very easy to dump any surplus in a foreign country.
The position of the world to-day is that in nearly every country the producers, whether they be primary or secondary, want a monopoly of their own market and free entry into other markets. That does not unfairly summarize the position. Nations have become much more conscious of themselves than they used to be in relation to industrial and primary production. The consequence is that there are large surpluses floating about the . world seeking aD outlet. By a removal of duties, this country, like others, could probably receive goods very cheaply for a time, but it would do so at the expense of the destruction of our own people and comp’ete’ uncertainty regarding the future. There are some industries in which world production is still sufficiently organized to enable them to take advantage of an unguarded market, and to flood it in such a way as to put an end to local industry, thereafter charging their own prices. These floating surpluses in not only secondary, but also primary products, threaten the industries of all countries. Accordingly, it is necessary to-day to look at tariffs from a different point of view from what was possible in the relatively stable conditions of the past. I doubt whether anybody in the world to-day would be able to prepare with complete intellectual satisfaction to himself a tariff that would suit the needs of any country, however they might bedefined. It is very difficult, indeed, to attempt to legislate under conditions such as those. We are all aware that the disturbing condition of exchange has upset all tariffs. A tariff is relatively permanent, but exchange may shift from day to Jay, and it is impossible for any legislature to anticipate all the twists and turns of potential events. Accordingly, while in the past I personally may have been prepared to assert that a particular rate of duty was the right rate, I admit that my view to-day is that it is impossible for anybody to be absolute in these matters. If that be the position, one conclusion is that we should be very careful in disturbing the status quo, so long as we are surviving in this distressed and chaotic world.
The honorable member for Gippsland proposes that, with one blow, we should revert to the 1921-30 tariff, except in cases in which the Tariff Board has already reported. In the last Parliament, as the honorable member has said, I objected to some of the duties that were then introduced. I concede that some of those duties remain in the tariff that is now presented; I have no wish to evade the significance of that fact.
– My proposal applies only to duties on British goods.
– Why did I and other honorable members who were associated with me in the last Parliament object to some of the tariff proposals of the last Government? It was because they were made without what we regarded as proper inquiry; that was the basis of our objection.
– It was only an allegation
– They were made without what we regarded as proper inquiry, and we considered proper inquiry to be investigation by the Tariff Board, in the absence of which members are able to formulate a tariff only upon the basis of representations made to them by interested parties on one side or the other. It was because of the unsatisfactory nature of that basis in dealing with the tariff that the Tariff Board was instituted. Under the Tariff Board system, members are able to read the contentions and evidence of both sides, and they have an opportunity to make inquiries for themselves upon a reasonable and impartial basis. It was on that ground that I, on a number of occasions, objected to tariff proposals made in the last Parliament. This Government adopted, at the last election, the definite principle that its general rule of action would be that it would not alter the tariff without reference to the Tariff Board. That, of course, is a principle which involves a certain amount of delay .in action; but it does not imply a mechanical or slavish adoption of Tariff Board reports. I have known occasions in the past on which the Tariff Board has made rather obvious errors and mistakes, and no government would be prepared to agree in advance to adopt all the recommendations of any Tariff Board. But this Government has accepted the general principle, not as an absolutely inflexible and universal rule, that it will not vary protective duties without reports from the Tariff Board, and in adopting that principle, it believes that it is acting in the interests of not only honorable members themselves, who will thus have full information before being called upon to make important decisions, but also the community as a whole.
The honorable member for Gippsland has moved for reductions of duties in a large number of cases, presumably upon the ground that a reduction of duties, if not necessarily, at least normally, means a reduction in prices to the consumer of the goods. Of course, it is believed by many persons that whenever a duty is put on certain goods, the prices of all those goods within the tariff area, whether locally produced or imported, are increased by the amount of the extra duty. That, I venture to say, is an ancient and hoary fallacy. Sometimes, the price of the goods is increased by the amount of the’ extra duty. In the case of goods which are entirely imported, and in which there is real competition between the importers before the duty is imposed, obviously the imposition of the ‘additional duty will increase the price of the goods by the amount of the added duty; but where the effect of the duty is to obtain the home market for our own manufacturers or producers, and there is competition between them, it does not follow that the price of the goods will be increased either by. the amount of the duty or at all. It is easy to cite cases in which the imposition of a duty has led to a decrease of price on account of the fact that our own manufacturers” have obtained the market, and by competition among themselves have brought down the price. I can give au example from my own experience. I have a motor car, and, I am sorry to say, it is the same car that 1 have possessed for many years; I shall soon be sending it to a museum. I formerly paid £11 for an imported battery for my car, but now that a duty has been placed on batteries, and the manufacture of these goods has been undertaken in Australia, I pay only £4 or £5 for one. I could give other illustrations, but I wish to deal :rather with general principles. I believe that there is a real risk of manufacturers exploiting the community, and precautions must be taken against that danger. There is also a real risk of importers exploiting the community. Both have happened in the past, and the wise course is to devise a tariff which will prevent their occurrence.
I have said before, and I repeat now, that it appears to me that one of the functions of a tariff is to obtain the home market for a country, such as Australia, for consumption of goods which can be manufactured here in large quantities, where there is a large market for them, and where modern methods can be adopted. In such cases, there is no reason whatever why the imposition of a duty should lead to an increase of price within the boundaries of Australia. We have many examples to show that such is the position. That is one class of industry in the protection of which we render a service to the community. I regard the matter of tariff as effecting not merely the industries that seek protection. One must also consider the interests of thc3 community as a whole. That brings me to the other point mentioned by the Prime Minister in his policyspeech., which was repeated by the honorable member for Henty, the predecessor of the present Minister for Trade and Customs, when he introduced the tariff to the House in October last - that this Government considers it most important to regard the effect of the tariff upon costs iri the community, and particularly upon the costs of primary production. The tariff has a real effect on costs, but that effect is often exaggerated. We are producing consumption goods in Australia as cheaply in many lines as anywhere in the world, but we must carefully watch the effect of duties on costs of production, because we shall not render any real, service to the community if, in order to assist a relatively small industry, we impose a heavy burden on a large and important one. In applying a protective system it must be remembered that there are some industries which, in my opinion, are vital to any community that aims at ordinary standards of modern civilization, but they are few. The only one that I can mention with certainty in this connexion is the iron and steel industry. I am aware that the protection given to that industry raises many difficult and controversial points; yet it appears to me that, having regard to not only the natural ambitions of any people aiming at nationhood, but also the unfortunately disturbed condition of the modern world, in which so many hopes of perpetual peace have been dashed to the ground aud disappointed for many years at least, it would, be quite unsafe for Australia to be without a real iron and steel industry. Therefore, it appears to be necessary in the interests of the people as a whole to see that there is an effective iron and steel industry in this country.
– But not by making one section pay for it.
– As a matter of fact, every section in the community uses iron and steel products to a considerable extent. They enter into the construction of every house, and of almost every major article used. The suggestion that these products are used only in the rural districts has been made many times in the House, but it has no foundation in fact. We all know that these products are used largely throughout the country districts, but they are used elsewhere as well, and this should be remembered. When one considers the effect of a duty of 20 per cent, on an article, the real significance of it in expenditure depends largely on the character of the article. If it means that 20 per cent, is actually added to the price of say, shirts, socks, or collars, it involves a large additional expenditure in the course of a man’s life; but, if it is an extra duty of 20 per cent, on the cost of an’ article which lasts for 20 or 30 years’, it is a much smaller burden on the individual or on the enterprise concerned. As iron and steel products generally last for many years, the proper way to work out the effect of the added cost of an increased duty on industry is to divide the duty by a factor bearing a relation to the probable life of the article. When that is done it will be seen that it is fundamentally fallacious to regard duties on goods of the nature of capital plant and duties upon consumption goods as being in the same class from the economic point of view.
One other principle which the Government has adopted, and which it adopted at the last election, was that, speaking generally - it is impossible to lay down universal and absolutely mathematical and dogmatic rules in these matters - the Government is opposed to monopolies. Of course, there are some public services such as the supply of water, gas and the like which have to be monopolies; but, generally, the Government is opposed to prohibitive duties which tend to create monopolies. That is one reason- why one of the principles embodied in the Ottawa agreement, reproducing almost the policy speech of the Prime Minister, was that tariffs ought to be on a comparative and not - a prohibitive basis. I am well aware of the tariff propaganda that has been used by interested parties on both sides. Often we have been told that the middle path is the safe one, or, as the Latin proverb runs, in medio tutissimus ibis. The proverb is sometimes wrongly interpreted as meaning “ The ibis in the middle is the safest bird,” but the Government has found from experience that that is- by no means the truth. The Government has been going straight ahead in pursuit of a worthy ideal, yet it has been enfiladed from both flanks. The result of following the middle path in tariff matters is that those who believe in freetrade or modified freetrade shoot at the Government from one side, and those who favour prohibition, and say that if we reduce one duty by 1 per cent, grass will grow in the streets, shoot at the Government from the other side. The fact that the Government is being fired at by those who tend towards extremism on both sides, though they sit on the same side in this chamber, is, I think, testimony at least to the fair mindedness and the honest efforts of the Government to carry out a policy which is in the general interests of the, community.
The amendment of the Acting Leader of the Country party should not be accepted. It is a rough and ready treatment of a very delicate condition of affairs. It would be a mistake to do anything at present which would involve the risk of the closing down of important industries in this country. It may be said that that would not be the effect of it; but the honorable member is making the same proposal in relation to a large group of items. He wants to bring them down to a level which happened to be accepted in a certain past year ; but there i3 no evidence whatever that that level bears any relation to the facts of to-day, the circumstances of the world having changed entirely since then.
Primage and exchange are factors which have to be considered, and which have arisen since then. Let me say a word or two about them. Primage is, admittedly, a revenue duty.
– With a protective incidence.
– It is entirely a revenue duty placed on the statute-book for the purpose of revenue only; but in some cases it necessarily has a protective incidence. It is obviously impossible, from the revenue point of view, to remove all primage. No one has had time to work out the full effect of the honorable member’s amendment; but it may have a greater effect on the revenue than an all round removal of primage. The honorable member has said nothing on that aspect of the subject.
– It may increase the revenue.
– That has not been suggested, except by the honorable member who has interjected ; but I take it that if it increased the revenue, it would add to the burden of the community, which is hardly the intention of the mover of the amendment. Clearly, the effect of the amendment on the revenue has not been considered.. No one can tell how far it would go or what would be the result of it.
Then we must consider the exchangeposition. There is no rough and ready method of dealing with exchange. All the countries of the world are afflicted with the same problem as ourselves in this respect, and, having regard to recent events in America, and to the instability and uncertainty of the currencies of the world, it would be quite impossible to fix a tariff in accordance with any level of exchange that might obtain at a particular moment. I admit that unsatisfactory feature of this or any other tariff, but whatever we do in relation to exchange, might, according to the principles upon which we act to-day, be quite wrong to-morrow or next week. We can simply take to-day as our basis, bearing in mind, I suggest, not only the necessity for preventing the growth of monopolies and the bringing down of costs, but also the danger of the shutting down of the industries of Australia by ill-considered and hasty action. We shall be able to watch the position if the committee gives effect to the Government’s proposals.
I have said that some criticism has been levelled at the tariff proposals which the Government introduced in October last. The honorable member for Gippsland and the publicity organization of his party have been particularly identified with this criticism. The effect of the charge against the Government is that it undertook to put the tariff upon an economic basis - to use a general phrase, tq consider its relation to the cost of reduction, and to implement the Ottawa agreement for the purpose of freeing trade, whereas it has increased the duties upon no less than 400 items. Honorable members of this committee know the degree of truth that there is behind that allegation. The statement is true only in a technical sense.
– I did not use that figure.
– I can show the honorable member the report of an interview with himself which appeared in a Victorian journal entitled The Countryman, in which he drew particular attention to these 400 items.
– I have never used that figure.
– I shall not argue whether the number was 400 or a few less than that. The point is that every honorable member of this committee knows the true facts of the case. As we desired to obtain immediate advantage from the Ottawa agreement, it was necessary to deal at once with the tariff. In dealing with it, we had to apply to our circumstances a particular formula that had been agreed upon. In the application of it we had the option of two courses, either to reduce the duties on British goods and leave the prescribed margins between them and whatever duties on foreign goods happened to be in operation, or, where the- margin did not exist to increase the foreign duties. The choice was unsatisfactory from any point of view ot considered tariff-making; but the important thing to do was to bring the Ottawa agreement into immediate effect in the interests of the primary producers of this country, so that they might at once obtain the advantage of it. It was not possible to inquire at the moment into every industry, so the Government had to make up its mind how it could best give effect to the formula. Having regard to the uncertainty of conditions throughout the world, and to the undesirability of doing anything blindly that might prejudice our own industries in Australia, we adopted the course of raising the general tariff on these 400 items or so. While it is quite true therefore that the general tariff has been raised on 400 items, more or less, that circumstance has been used scores of times to carry on an unfair propaganda against the Government. Any honorable member who examines the schedule will see that these increases affect, almost without exception, articles which are imported from Great Britain. The increase of the duties therefore has not made the slightest difference to costs in Australia, and is consequently of little significance in considering the cost of production. It appears to me that these matters should be looked at from the point of view of reasonable reality, and that mere figures should not be used, as they have been used, for the purpose of making an entirely misleading impression upon the public mind.
The Government stands before Parliament on the policy which it put to the people at the last general election. That policy is to be discovered in the policy speech of the Prime Minister. In view of certain publicity that has been given to events which preceded the delivery of that speech, I think it necessary for me to say that the policy of the Government is not to be found in any agreement or supposed agreement made with any group or party antecedent to the election. It is true that a unity conference was held in Sydney of which the present honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) was secretary. I am glad that the honorable gentleman is now a member of this House instead of being the secretary of a unity ..conference outside. I was present at that conference, and know that it reached a tentative and provisional agreement on certain matters affecting the tariff and other subjects. That agreement was carefully described as tentative and provisional, and it was, upon completion, to be submitted to the several organizations represented at the conference. It was an imperfect and incomplete agreement. It was suggested that the conference should deal with eight or nine subjects, but it only dealt with five, of them. An election followed with admirable results. In consequence of the election and other events happening at that time the conference’ did not finish its task, and the policy which was being considered was never submitted, so far I know, to any organization, although one of the terms of the agreement was that it should be so submitted. It was not submitted for the reasons that it was never completed, and that there was no time to submit it. I know that it was never submitted to the Nationalist party, and I have yet to learn that it was ever submitted to and adopted by the Country party organizations or the other organizations represented. However that may be, the policy of the Government is, in fact, in accordance with the general terms of that agreement. But it is because the policy of the Government was approved by the electors, and not because of any agreement that was made earlier, that the Government is following its present course in this chamber. The policy of the Government, I repeat, is to be discovered in the policy speech which was delivered to the electors by the Prime Minister without consultation with any other party. I presume that the policy speech of the Leader of the Country party was made without consultation with other parties, and I am sure that the Leader of the Labour party did not consult us before he delivered his policy speech. The Government recognizes that it is natural for its policy to be criticized by the opposing parties. We rather anticipated such criticism, and the fact that it is coming from both parties, other than the Ministerial party, helps to confirm us in the belief that we are following the right and the reasonable course.
The honorable member for Gippsland has referred to the propriety of free votes on tariff matters. The United Australia Party does not bind its members by the majority decision of the party) but it must be recognized, as the Minister said in his speech, that Parliament has adopted the Ottawa agreement, and that that agreement deals with certain specific items which are embodied in this schedule. The Government, therefore, hopes and looks to obtain the support of honorable members in respect of those items. It is impossible for us to pick and choose from the terms of the agreement. Those who think that they can always get everything they want in every agreement they make are destined some day to wake up. Every agreement must allow for a certain amount of give and take, and that is the case with the Ottawa agreement. The schedule now under consideration gives effect to many of the terms and provisions of the Ottawa agreement. Many other items are left as they were - not because the Government necessarily agrees with them, but because it is necessary at the earliestpossible moment to place the tariff on the statute-book in a statutory form, instead of allowing it to remain in the form of resolutions.
– Will the Government accept amendments?
– Of course, the Government would quite willingly accept any wise amendment submitted. I repeat that, while the Government is allowing to stand items which have remained unchanged for a long time, but in which it does not necessarily believe, it is because it considers that we ought to get a tariff on the statute-book instead of allowing it to remain in the unsatisfactory condition in which it has been for so many years, namely, operated by resolutions not approved by both Houses of the Parliament. In the meantime, the Tariff Board will be investigating other items, and, as its reports are presented to and considered by the Government, they will be submitted to Parliament. Probably further amendments will be proposed on quite a number of items which, in the present schedule, are formally submitted to the committee.
– I hope so.
– It is also the hope of the Government that there will be amendments to some items which have been unchanged in the tariff for so long because of the lack of evidence upon which a change in either direction could be justified at the present time. In respect of some of these items, it may be wise to make a reduction; in respect of others, it may be wise to increase the duties. 1 decline to accept any general principle of what might be called high or low tariff. Industries and commodities differ. The requirements of industries, the interests of industries, the relation and well-being of industries to the well-being of the community as a whole, differ almost as much as the products of industries themselves differ. While a duty of 5 per cent, might not be justifiable in one case, a duty of 50 per cent, might, with abundant justification., be imposed in respect of another item. I therefore suggest that there is no general rule to be applied with regard to tariff matters; that every item must be considered on its merits. By this I mean its merits, not merely in relation to the interests of those who claim protection under the legislative enactments of this Parliament, but also in relation to the real interests of the community as a whole. That is the course which the Government proposes to adopt.
.- I listened with a great deal of interest to the speech just delivered by the right honorable the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham). I listened with equal interest to an earlier speech of his, when, as Leader of the Opposition, he was speaking for the plaintiff in tariff matters. This evening he appeared in the role of counsel for the defendant. But, while to-night’s speech was an excellent one, the arguments employed by the right honorable gentleman were diametrically opposed to those used by him when in opposition, and which induced me, during the last election campaign, to tell the people of Western Australia’ that, if the United Australia Party candidates were returned to power in conjunction with representatives of the Country party, they could expect some relief in the fora: of tariff concessions. But I have been disillusioned, and to-night I am a stronger secessionist than ever.
The Attorney-General to-night dealt mainly in platitudes, and at times he was in very deep economic waters. He spoke, for example, of the influence of modern machinery on production, and spoke of a fleece of wool going in at one end of a machine and coming out at the other end the finished article, parcelled and labelled without the hand of man touching it. I remind the right honorable gentleman that, when he was Leader of the Opposition, and when he used other arguments against the tariff items brought down by the Scullin Government, there was just as much modern machinery employed in industry as there is to-day.
I commend the speech of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson). He directed the attention of the committee to the real crux of the difficulties iu which we find ourselves to-day. He reminded us that those primary industries which are in such a desperate plight were not established subsequent to the introduction of the Pratten tariff, and that despite the more recent efforts to give relief to our producers, the intrinsic value of our wheat is lower than it has ever been in Australia. Wool, a so, is at an unprofitable price level. The AttorneyGeneral has told the committee that the Government cannot accept the suggestion made by my leader to reduce the duties against British goods to the level of the 1921-30 tariff in all cases where they have been raised above that level without report by the Tariff Board.
A1 though all sections of the community were expected to share in the sacrifices necessary to restore financial stability in Australia, the secondary industries of this country have not made anything like the contributions required of our primary producers. Do honorable members realize that the whole of the decline in the cost of living in Australia is due to a fall in prices received for our primary commodities, and that despite the serious decline in income from their products, our primary producers are expected to pay as much for their requirements now as in times of prosperity? Have honorable members any appreciation of the difficulties that would confront the nation if our wool and wheat industries were destroyed owing to the heavy burdens imposed upon them by high tariffs?
The Attorney-General has told the committee that it would be wise to take the middle course. I submit that the Acting Leader of the Country party tonight indicated the safe middle course for this Parliament to adopt. His proposal does not imply, as the Attorney-General suggested, anything in the nature of extreme freetrade; it is the safe middle course. The graph to which the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) referred to-night, sets out clearly the relative positions of our primary and secondary industries. Taking 1911 as the base year and 100 as the base figure, the price level for products of secondary industries to-day stands at 200, whereas the price level for primary products stands at only 112. This disparity cannot be allowed to continue, because it means disaster for the nation. Every honorable member who studies the position dispassionately must acknowledge that unless our primary industries are encouraged and expanded so that new money may be brought into the country, the economic structure of Australia will be destroyed. Our purpose, therefore, must be to devise some means by which these price levels may be brought closer together. Unless definite action to this end is taken, unemployment in this country must increase, and the credit of the nation will be injured. In the circumstances, I think we had every right to expect constructive proposals from the AttorneyGeneral to-night. When the right honorable gentleman was in opposition he emphasized that it should be possible for certain natural - secondary industries in Australia to be developed on economic and efficient lines to supply the requirements of the Commonwealth, and also export their surplus to other markets. I submit that it should be possible to do this, and so to widen the area of employment. Unfortunately, we have attempted too much. The British Economic Mission - the Big Four - warned the Commonwealth of the danger of attempting to develop uneconomic secondary industries, and urged that attention should be confined to those industries which could be established on a competitive basis and give employment to large numbers of our people. There are such industries in this country. Some were established without protection; others with a tariff of 10 per cent. And because they were established’ on a competitive basis, they were able to satisfy the requirements of the Australian people and also to engage in export trade. In that direction lies our only hope of carrying a larger population in Australia. As the Minister pointed out, primary products constitute 96$ per cent, of our export trade, and secondary products only 3$ per cent. Australia, being a debtor nation, it is essential that new money should be introduced from the sale of our products. For this life-blood of industry we depend entirely upon our primary producers. This being the case, Parliament should not countenance any action which may impede the efforts of our primary producers to maintain the credit resources of this country.
The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) is well aware of the position. When he was Prime Minister he made an appeal to our farmers to grow more wheat, and so maintain our credit structure. In that appeal his vision was clear. He appreciated the part which our primary producers played in the building up of this nation, but when his Government increased the tariff burden on primary producers, he made the greatest mistake of his career. The present Government came into power largely because its supporters declared that they would make every effort to rectify that mistake.
I regret to say that there is still much cause for dissatisfaction. The speech of the Attorney-General to-night was evasive. He avoided the real issues that were stated so clearly by the Acting Leader of the Country party. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) gave . me the impression that he considered it a crime that Mr. Berchdolt should have been removed from the Tariff Board, because so he said, that gentleman was a good protectionist. In my opinion, any man who is known to be a good protectionist or a good freetrader- should not be appointed to a Tariff Board which is supposed to be impartial in its recommendations. If the Government wishes to have an impartial board to make tariff recommendations in the interests of the people and not in the interests of particular industries, that board should be coin posed of men of proved impartiality - not protectionists or freetraders. That body should not be influenced by any government for the time being in office. It should be composed of men capable of deciding whether the protection asked for by those engaged in any particular industry will be in the best interests of the country as a whole.
– Where shall we find such men ?
– Probably among the professional men of this country. Unless we get such men the board’s reports will be misleading and we shall continue to worship the fiscal golden calf. Political pressure in Australia is so strong that every government seems compelled to bolster up that section of industry which the Minister himself said provides only Z per cent, of our exports. An examination of the tariff will show that nearly all the goods which are admitted free into Australia are materials and tools of trade for Australian manufacturers. I agree that they should come in free, but I do not agree with the high protection afforded to the manufacturers thereafter. Why should not the primary producer also get his tools of trade free? He is obliged to keep the other industries of the country going, while paying the highest prices for everything he requires, and receiving world prices for the goods he has to sell.
– He is assisted by bounties on wheat, butter and superphosphates.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition quoted some remarks by Mr. Hume Cook in an attempt to influence this House. The honorable member knows that Mr. Hume Cook is a paid propagandist for the manufacturers of this country. The honorable member tried to teach his “grandmother to suck eggs when he said that the people of Western Australia dd not know their own business, and that that State was making money as a result of federation of which it was not aware. The honorable member places himself above the royal commissions which have examined the effect of federation not only on Western Australia, but also on South Australia and Tasmania, and which, after the closest examination, have admitted that those States suffer serious disabilities. The royal commission appointed by the Bruce-Page Government to inquire into the disabilities of Western Australia set out clearly in a unanimous report that the chief causes of the lack of progress of that State were the tariff and the Navigation Act. A majority of the committee assessed that damage at £500,000 a year for a number of years, while one of its members went so far as to say that the only possible solutions of the difficulty were either that Western Australia should secede from the Commonwealth, or that it be given fiscal autonomy for 25 years. I repeat that that report was made only after the closest investigation by a. royal commission, not one member of which was a Western Australian. Notwithstanding the recommendation of the commission, the BrucePage Government agreed to pay Western Australia only £350,000 a year for five years, and then promptly raised by a greater amount the tariff, which was the cause of the State’s disabilities. A royal commission appointed in Western Australia recently found that the direct cash disadvantage to that State of federal laws, such as the tariff, exceeded £1,000,000 per annum, yet the present Government has granted Western Australia a mere £500,000 per annum, while failing to alter the Scullin tariff to any extent. It also proposes to send a delegation of Ministers to Western Australia to tell the people of that State that they are getting on splendidly under federation. I say these things because honorable members appear to be concerned that Western Australia is rebelling at the burden placed upon its people in their attempt to develop onethird of this great continent. If we are to maintain Australia for the British people, the country must be populated and developed; but it is impossible to do so under existing Commonwealth laws and standards. Even when a royal commission has taken into consideration the obvious disabilities resulting from federation, it has not covered all the ground, because it has not taken into account the loss of trade to Western Australia. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) referred to an arrangement with the British Government whereby £34,000,000 was to be made available, under certain conditions, for developmental purposes in Australia, and said that some of that money was spent on land settlement schemes in Western Australia. A few years ugo the general cry was, “ Go on the land, my boy.” Hundreds of men have gone on the land only to find now that there is no market for what they produce, and that they are unable to meet their commitments. Every State has had to write off millions of pounds in connexion with land settlement schemes. By compelling the men on the land to buy in the dearest market in the world when they must sell their produce in open competition with the goods of other countries, we are placing on them an impossible burden. In one year, Western Australia bought from the eastern States goods ‘ valued at £10,600,000, and in return sold to them goods valued at *£1,200,000. Western Australia’s adverse trade balance in that year was £9,400,000.- It has been computed that if Western Australian farmers had been free to buy their requirements in the open market in which they sell their products, they would save between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 a year. The honorable member for Capricornia makes no calculations along those lines. when he speaks so disparagingly of Western Australia. He seems to forget that the people of that State are compelled to pay for one ton of Queensland sugar as much as would buy three tons of sugar in the open market. That means a direct loss to them of £450,000 per annum. But that is hot the whole of their loss. The serious aspect of this question is that our policy has offended potential customers. Had the people of Western Australia been free to buy their sugar in the open market, they could have entered into reciprocal trade with other countries. Our policy has had the effect of causing other nations to impose retaliatory tariffs which injure Western Australia more than they do the eastern States. As reports have clearly shown, Western Australia suffers all the disabilities of a protective policy, while sharing none of its advantages. The Government professes to -be desirous of assisting the primary producers of this country; yet it was slow to provide £2,000,000 to assist the wheat industry last year. Ever since I entered, this House I have said that that is not the best way to do things. The producers of wool and wheat and other export commodities ask on!” to be left unshackled, in which case they are prepared to stand on their own feet, and not be burdened by the support of other industries. Had they been left alone they would, before this, have lifted Australia out of her difficulties. The policy of this Parliament, which is dictated by those in the great centres of population, is inimical to the best interests of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. Prior to federation, those States were in as good a position financially as were the other States, but federation has had a withering effect on their development. A dairyman in Western Australia who erected a dairy recently paid £31 a ton for the galvanized iron he required. No reduction was made in the price of that commodity, although for his butterfat he received only 8£ per lb. If he has to sell his wheat at half price, why should he not also receive galvanized iron at half price? The whole position is grossly unfair. To me it is a marvel that honor.able members who see the position, and realize that this country is dependent on its “export industries, will not say, “ This is my country, and I will tell the truth. We cannot ‘develop exotic industries to the despoliation and utter destruction of those industries upon which we live.” That is what we are doing to-day, and, unless we alter things, we shall be disgraced in the eyes of posterity. I am sorry that the House does not appear to be in a mood to accept the mild proposition of the Acting Leader of the Country party (Mr. Paterson).
Articles 10 and 11 of the Ottawa agreement have given a certain impression to the people of Australia, but the speech of the Attorney-General and the tariff schedule which has been placed before us give no indication that things are to.be brought down to a competitive basis. Do honorable members regard duties of 65 per cent., 75 per cent., and 85 per cent, as placing the goods affected on a competitive basis? So long as we disregard these clauses, we cannot expect the British people to think that we have kept our part of the agreement. If the Government had introduced a tariff schedule which placed these things on a competitive basis, there would not be much to complain about, because even the most ardent freetrader would not suggest that, at one stroke of the pen, all these protective, duties should be removed. Seeing the damage that high protection has done to our main industries, and the unemployment it has created, it is time for the position to -a reviewed. Every increase in the tariff has resulted in further unemployment. I should like honorable members of the Opposition to realize that fact. It is all very well for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to claim that, if protected, this and that industry would employ so many more; that, if the tariff is reduced, thousands will be thrown into unemployment. The fact is, that whenever there has been an increase of our tariff, an increase of unemployment has followed. Every four minutes that the honorable members and his party were in office a man lost his job.
The position in Australia is most serious. That was made even more evident to me when I attended a conference of wheat-growers recently. It is contended that over 75 per cent, of our wheat-growers are insolvent. The wool industry is similarly placed. If the Government of the day cannot keep those persons on their holdings it will be a sorry thing for every other industry in Australia, and if honorable members can do no more than giggle when these truths are explained, and persist in worshipping the fiscal golden calf, let the blood be on their own heads
– The terms of the schedules that are being discussed bring the Ottawa Conference prominently before us. As a result of that most doubtful achievement, we are asked to decrease the protection which was previously granted to many of our primary and secondary industries. 1 am particularly concerned about that portion of the Ottawa agreement which relates to our meat industry. It is well known that when our representatives were conditioning the affairs of Australia at Ottawa, they obtained alleged concessions in connexion with a meat quota. It was agreed that the Argentine should not exceed its 1932 exportations of beef to Great Britain by more than 10 per cent., while its mutton exports to the United Kingdom were not to exceed the 1932 figures. I have in mind another agreement, also signed in Canada, and arrived at after tactful and able negotiation on the part of an ex-Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), on behalf of the Scullin Government. It was a most comprehensive agreement, covering many phases of Australian production. Among other things, it provided for the supply of certain of our primary products which we were not then in a position to export to Canada, for example, peanuts. So soon as Australia was capable of supplying Canada with sufficient peanuts the sister dominion was to impose a tariff on peanuts with a preferential margin of from 15 to 20 per cent, in our favour. Australia does not yet export chilled beef, ‘ which forms .the major portion of Great Britain’s meat imports. It is now practically certain that, with the application of science to meat problems, we shall shortly be exporting chilled beef. If it were possible for the Scullin Government to arrange an agreement, which anticipated future production, surely that could .also have been done by the recent delegation to Ottawa. Obviously, if the British Commonwealth of Nations is to remain united, its members must trade preferentially among themselves. The following figures show Britain’s meat imports for 1931 : -
The Australian meat quota that has emerged from the Ottawa Conference is tragically small in comparison with those figures. While we export only 95,000 tons of frozen beef, mutton and lamb annually to Great Britain, New Zealand, with a smaller territory, exports 161,000 tons, and South America 663,000 tons to the same market. As a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, wo are entitled to a definite and greater quota. Vested interests, headed by Vesteys Limited, which has huge holdings in South America, cracked the whip vigorously and effectively, and ensured that our quota was incompatible with our potentialities. In 1930 Australia exported 40,000 tons of frozen beef to Great Britain, while the South American exports to the same source amounted to 455,000 tons of chilled and 60,000 tons of frozen beef. What a contrast!
As I have previously pointed out, Great Brit ain imported 773,000 tons of pig products in 1931, to the value of £46,090,000. There are unlimited possibilities in Australia for the production of pig meat, yet no provision was made at Ottawa for the expansion of this trade. We simply remain a competitor on equal terms with the rest of the world. In 1931 the sources of Britain’s bacon imports were as follows: -
There, again, -are tremendous possibilities for the expansion of a great industry in Australia, but the Government neglects them. We are lowering our tariff and receiving nothing in return. It is the duty of the Government to make definite provision to protect the future of our primary producers and to encourage them in their efforts to bring about that state of affairs which is so essential if Australia is to progress as a nation. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) rightly pointed out that primary production plays a most important part in this nation’s affairs. If at any time our imports exceed our exports, then it is obvious that we shall be faced with a similar set of circumstances to those which faced the Scullin Government when it took office. A nation can trade outside of its own domain only in gold or com- modities. We have not the gold to export, and in order to meet our overseas ob igations, it is essential for us to produce exportable commodities. Once the primary production of a country breaks down, we can say definitely that it has collapsed. We must encourage primary production because upon it depends our very existence.
I asked a question to-day regarding some unfortunate settlers who, like other primary producers in all parts of the world, have been drawn into the vortex of depression, and who, through no fault of their own, have become financially embarrassed. These men are in debt to the Commonwealth Government, which is. their landlord, and this Government, without any consideration for them whatever, has published notices in the Commonwealth Gazette to the effect that their , goods and chattels are to be sold at auction. I asked whether the Govern-‘ ment would introduce a moratorium ordinance for the Northern Territory to protect sett ers against being “ sold up “ “by the Government for arrears of rent, and of other payments due in connexion with their blocks, and the reply that I received was that as each case is now dealt with sympathetically on its merits and every consideration is given to deserving settlers, there is no necessity for such an ordinance. It is well known that those who administer acts of. Parliament or ordinances must administer them according to the strict letter of the law. It is for them not to interpret the intention of Parliament ; they must administer the act or ordinance as they find it. Therefore, the statement of the Government that it will administer each case sympathetically is only so much eyewash. The present position is tragic. Only” recently, one unfortunate settler in the Northern Territory, in preference to allowing the Government to seize his farming implements and stock, shot his horses, and then committed suicide. Every other country is to-day legislating in order to protect its primary producers from the actions of rapacious bankers and money lenders. Yet this Government is taking no action at all in regard to these settlers in its own territory. It simply says that it is sympathetically administering an act which was framed in a year of comparative prosperity.
There are numerous instances in the Northern Territory of men who are being “ sold up “ lock, stock and barrel. These men have put in years of work, and if they leave their properties, no one will replace them. Therefore, the Government is reaping no advantage by selling them up. One unfortunate settler who has a small holding of 30 or 40 acres, could not put it to production because the Government had locked his tools and farming implements in the police station. Another unfortunate settler took his own. life, but others have said that they will defend their property, for which attitude I certainly commend them. This Government is meting out harsh treatment to many settlers in the Northern Territory, and it is time that the general public were informed of the position. In South Australia there are no farm foreclosures, as the Government has taken legislative action to prevent bankers and others from taking advantage of the plight of farmers who are in straitened circumstances. Many settlers in the Northern Territory, who have done good work and have put their all into their holdings, have become financially embarrassed because of adverse seasons and the low prices ruling for their products; and because of that, the Government has, in some instances, taken away the whole of their implements and advertised their properties for sale. One man who was in arrears in respect of his rent, could not find a market for his cattle, so he asked the Government to take a lien on them. It refused to do so. The settler was then forced to drove his cattle on a long, hazardous trip at the wrong time of the year, and out of 650 head he lost180 head during the first part of the journey. Yet we are told that these men are receiving sympathetic treatment at the hands of the Government. Every consideration should be given to those who are prepared tobattle against adversity in an effort to produce the real wealth of this country. The following paragraph appeared in the Age of the 22nd February last: -
The House of Commons to-day passed the second reading of the Home and Empire Settlement Bill, which had been introduced as a private measure by Mrs. S. A. Ward, Con servative member for Connock (Staffordshire). The bill empowers the Dominion Secretary to co-operate in schemes of land settlement in Britain and the dominions, and in the direction of establishing training homes for agriculturalists in preparation for the time when settlement overseas is resumed.
The British Government, anticipating the resumption of migration, wishes to make the necessary preparations in advance. That is a most worthy objective, which should commend itself to this Government. There is ample opportunity for development in the Northern Territory, but we have not a scintilla of evidence to show that this Government has endeavoured to exploit any portion of that territory. One settler who grew a crop of tobacco could not obtain any expert advice upon it, and his product therefore arrived at Sydney in an unsaleable condition. Surely the Government should be prepared to give the men who are working in the territory the advantage of expert advice regarding the treatment of their products. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) has stated that the Northern Territory should be the great exporting centre of Australia. Australia requires exports. If the territory were properly developed, there would be room for the absorption of mostof the unemployed in Australia. The lot of the man on the land is hard enough without harassing him as the Government is doing at the present time. I do not ask for favours for the settlers, but as a mere act of justice Iask the Government to discontinue the prosecution of settlers and the selling up of their homes and farms.
– The honorable member’s remarks are not related to the tariff.
– I am endeavouring to show that in the Ottawa agreement, as in the Canadian trade agreement made by the Scullin Administration, provision should have been made for the possibility of future production. The real wealth of Australia comes from the land, and without sympathetic administration of those matters affecting the primary producer, the Commonwealth will achieve nothing. If the Government gives instructions that the sale of farms in the Northern Territory be discontinued, it will have no reason to regret its leniency. It is idle of Ministers to tell me that the administration is sympathetic; officials are limited by the terms of the act, but the Government can direct them to discontinue the present cruel policy.
– The honorable member must connect his remarks with the tariff.
– Australia will be saved, not so much by tariff duties as by proper consideration to those industries that produce our wealth. I am contrasting the harassing policy of the present Government towards those engaged in the spade-work of development, with its sympathetic attitude to those overseas interests that are trying to destroy Australia’s secondary industries. I. heard the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) and members of the Country party assert that only 2 or 3 per cent. of Australia’s exports are manufactured goods. Surely butter is as much a manufactured article as is a pair of boots. The one is made from the milk of a beast and the other from its hide. Logically, if a comb made from the horn of a beast, is a manufactured article, butter should be included amongst the secondary products that are exported.
I have shown that the Government has not been sufficiently regardful of the future of Australian industries, and I cannot believe that any benefits will accrue from its policy and administration. I hope that before long a wiser government will be in office, and will concentrate on those things which are real and vital, instead of striving after mythical advantages to placate certain sections of our people.
– I move- (1.) That notwithstanding anything contained in -
The reason for the introduction of this proposal is to exempt from duty certain tropical products produced in and imported from the Territories of Papua and New Guinea. It will be recollected that in October last the tariff schedule introduced to implement the Ottawa agreement imposed duties under the general tariff for the purpose of granting preferences on certain of the products of the Colonial Empire. Some of the products on which a duty has been imposed under the general tariff are produced in the Territories of Papua and New Guinea. True, they are produced only in a small way, but their natural market is Australia, and under the tariff schedules already before the House are “dutiable” as the products of Papua and New Guinea are not entitled to admission under the British preferential tariff. The present Papua and New Guinea Customs Tariff Preference Act exempts from duty certain tropical products which were dutiable under the .1921-1930 tariff. It is, therefore, proposed to add to the present list of exemptions the following goods upon which duties under the general tariff have recently been imposed : -
Cocoa beans, raw.
Cocoa shells, raw.
Essential oil, viz. - -Massoi oil.
Ginger, dry, unground
Sago and tapioca, not being packed for household use.
Spices, unground, viz. - Cardamon, chillies, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmegs, pepper, pimento.
Honorable members will understand that this is merely to rectify one of the trivial anomalies arising out of the Ottawa agreement.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
, - This morning I asked the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Latham) a question relating to the proposal of the Government to send two government representatives to the forthcoming International Labour Conference at Geneva.
I desired to learn why it was proposed to send a second representative, seeing that this course had never been taken before, and, especially, as a similar privilege was not accorded to the representatives of Labour. I also wanted to know who the gentleman was who had been selected to represent the Government, so that we. should know how he stood on the important matters which are to be discussed. The conference will concern itself with a. proposal for reducing working hours, and this is a matter of the utmost importance in view of the increasing unemployment attributable to the application of science and invention to industry. Everybody in Australia will be anxious to know something of the man who is to represent the Government at this conference. Mr. Heath, the man whom the Government has chosen, is a prominent member of the Employers Association in the timber trade. As already a representative of the employers has been chosen, the Government’s choice of Mr. Heath is tantamount to reinforcing the employers’ delegation by an additional representative. Mr. Heath has become notorious in trade union’ circles for his advocacy of long working hours. Early in the history of the 44-hour week movement, he was active in opposing the claim of the unions put forward in the Arbitration Court by the present member for Melbourne Ports / (Mr. Holloway). The dispute on that occasion centered around the timber trade, and Mr. Holloway was able to persuade the presiding judge, Mr. Justice Higgins, after a thorough examination of all the relevant facts, that even then a shorter working week was necessary. In later years, during the lockout of the timber-workers consequent upon the notorious decision of Judge Lukin, Mr. Heath was chairman of the lockout committee on the employers’ side. That struggle ,was a long and, at some stages, a bitter one, and in it Mr. Heath played a leading part on behalf of the employers.
– For the protection of the public.
– The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Parkhill) has never been very much concerned with the protection of the public; he is concerned only about his political friends. The Government is now using its authority to double the employers’ representation at the International Labour Conference at public expense, and we oppose its action. The express purpose of the conference is to endeavour to bring the industrially backward countries up to the level of the more advanced countries, and if the Australian Government does not desire this to be done, why does it bother to associate itself with the conference at all? It will be said that Mr. Heath happens to be in London at this time, and it is, therefore, convenient that he should represent the Government. It is a remarkable thing that men of his sort always happen to be in London when they are wanted to represent the Government at Geneva. It is always found possible to furnish them with the necessary credentials to enable them to represent at the League of Nations gatherings the Government *or, as we say in this case, the employers. It will be said, of course, that Mr. Heath’s attendance at the conference will involve no extra expense, but we know that his ordinary expenses from London to the conference and back will be met by the Government, and, no doubt, his full expenses from Australia will be paid by the employers. In any case, why is the Government sending a second representative at all? Of course, the reason is clear to those of us who have been at such gatherings. The Labour organizations are always complaining that they have not had sufficient representation at such conferences in the past. The real work of the conferences is done by a number of committees appointed to investigate and report upon various aspects of the subjects on the agenda paper. The competition for membership of the more important committees is sometimes very keen, and the Labour unions of Australia being represented by a single’ delegate, have to be content with accepting membership of one committee, sometimes an unimportant one, such as the Standing Orders Committee. Their delegate cannot possibly associate himself with the work of the other half-dozen committees, which are. perhaps, all sitting at the same time. In this instance, special provision is to be made for the presence of two government delegates at the conference, so that its views may be placed before the various committees, and its opposition to the introduction of a shorter working week made effective. The . Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) this morning said that Mr. Heath had been chosen because of his experience and ability. The Labour unions know quite well what his record is, arid, presumably, it is known also to the Government. Always he has opposed the interests of the workers, and particu-“ larly their claim for a shorter working week. Now he has been chosen to attend the conference at the expense of the taxpayers, se that he may serve his own interests, the interests of the employers of this country while allegedly representing Australia. The public should know exactly what is happening. We do not deny the importance of Australia’s representation at the conference, because of the rapid changes that arc occurring throughout the world, and because the hours of labour bear an important relation to the problem of unemployment. Why should we not permit labour to have sufficient representatives at Geneva to enable its point of view to be stated adequately? The fact is that Mr. Heath is a prominent employer, and he has been actively associated with every industrial agitation of consequence in Australia. Because he happens to be in London he is to be given Government credentials, and allowed to speak as a Government delegate at the conference, though, in reality, he is a prominent employers’ delegate. Therefore, the constitution of the International Labour Office is to bc violated by allowing an employers’ representative to masquerade as the Government’s second delegate.
– It is unfortunate that the. honorable, member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) is unable to discuss any subject without imputing sinister motives. This is an important matter, indee ‘1, and it is because of the importance o.t the subjects to be discussed at the forthcoming conference, that the Government has appointed, for the first time, a full team of delegates. When I say that, I am assuming that a- workers’ delegate will be appointed ; but up to the present no such appointment has been made. One would suppose, from what the honorable member has said, that something improper had been done in appointing two Government delegates. The constitution of the International Labour Conference is determined by article 389 of the Peace Treaty, which provides that the conference shall bli composed of four representatives of each of the members, of whom two shall be government delegates and the two other delegates representing respectively the employers and the. workpeople of each of the members. In the past, Australia has never been represented by more than one government delegate, one representative of the workers and one representative of the employers. On this occasion, however, Australia is exercising the right, which nearly all the other countries of the world have exercised, of having two government delegates. One of these representatives will be Mr. McLaren, who is Official Secretary in London, and, as all honorable members are aware, was for a number of years Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department. The other representative will be Mr. A. E. Heath, of whom the honorable member for “West Sydney has spoken in exactly the manner that tends to prevent reputable persons from associating themselves with important public work in this country. The representative of the employers will be Mr. Thomas Maughan, who has had extensive experience in industrial matters by acting on behalf of employers. He has been selected by the Government from a number of nominations. It is always difficult to obtain a satisfactory workers’ representative in Australia, because the workers in this country are, unfortunately, not so well or completely organized ns are the employers. They are split into different factions, and quite a number of the trade unions, and leading unions at that, are not prepared to recognize the representative nature of the body that describes itself as the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. This body is not Australasian in any sense. It is Australian at most, but “Australasian “ is a more imposing word, and it is used in the name of this remarkable body. However, since it represents, for certain purposes, a considerable number of the trade unions in Australia, the Government has asked it to submit nominations, and to consult with the trades and labour councils in . the various States in doing so. The Government also asked the Australian ‘Workers Union, which, I venture to say, is one of the finest unions in the Commonwealth, to submit nominations. It was with regret that the Government received a notification that the Australian Workers Union did not regard the International Labour Conference as of sufficient importance or significance to lead it to submit nominations. That is a view in which the Government does not concur. The Australasian Council of Trade Unions has always adopted a difficult attitude, insisting upon the absolute selection of a representative independent of the Government; ‘but this Government is not prepared to surrender its right and its duty under the treaty of having a real voice in the choice of the delegate, and it has accordingly asked both employers and employees to submit three names. The words of the treaty are -
The members undertake to nominate nongovernment delegates and advisers chosen in agreement with the industrial organizations, if such organizations exist, which are most representative of employers or work people, as the case may be, in their respective countries.
The duty of the Government and of the organizations is to choose a person in agreement with each other; neither the Government nor the organization has the right of sole selection. That, however, is a position which the Australasian Council of Trade Unions has always contested, and discussion is proceeding on the matter at the present time. I hope that this body will recognize that all the Government wants to do in relation to the workers’ delegate is to have a real share iri. the choice, and to. be sure that the person chosen is fairly representative of the work-people of Australia. It is impossible to obtain a completely representative person owing, as I have said, to the divisions which exist among industrial organizations in Australia.
Turning to the precise complaint of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), the choice of Mr. Heath, as the honorable member has recognized, will involve very little cost to the Government, because he is no w on the other side of the world. I do not regard it as a disqualification in Mr. Heath that he was prepared to organize, at considerable personal risk, to defend an award of the Arbitration Court and the law of Australia against hooliganism and ruffianism in Sydney. I think that the fact that Mr. Heath was prepared to do so shows that he is a citizen of public spirit and personal courage, and it ought to stand to his credit, and not expose him to the abuse which has been heaped upon him to-night. Mr. Heath is known to be a student of industrial economics, and he has been for many years.
– He knows nothing about the subject.
– If the honorable member who interjects so readily were to meet Mr. Heath in a debate upon industrial matters, I know to which side the judge would award the honours. He is a man of extensive experience, and of a very high order of intellectual capacity and public spirit. We are fortunate in being able to obtain his services. As the Government delegate, Mr. Heath will represent not his own views, but the views of the Government.
– Oh !
– Of course, the honorable member for West Sydney is unable to contemplate the possibility of a man honorably and sincerely doing that.
The question of hours is a very difficult one which cannot be solved by any easy wave of the hand. In 1920, the International Labour Conference agreed at Washington to a universal ‘ eight-hour day. That has not yet been accepted everywhere. Now the proposal is for a universal 40-hour week instead of a 48- hour week. It is obvious that many things must bc brought under consideration in dealing with this matter, other than what a particular individual would do if he were omnipotent. The subject must bc dealt with on a world basis. Wo must consider, for example, what position our Australian industries would be placed in if they were operating on a 40-hour week while similar industries in other parts of the world were operating on a 48-hour week. At the same time, it seems to me that world con ditions’ are changing so much that we should not allow ourselves to be governed by any easy dogmatism on either side. When the 48-hour week was first proposed it was said that it would ruin the country.
– That was said by the right honorable gentleman’s friends.
– The honorable member is incapable of dealing with any matter of principle except on a personal basis. It was many years before I was bom that the proposal for a 48-hour week was discussed. As I was saying, it was then said that it would mean the ruination of commerce and industry. The intelligent comment of the honorable member for West Sydney i3 that that statement was made by my friends! It is really hardly worth discussing some questions with some people.
This question of working hours demands due consideration of the merits of the case, and the Government is examining it with the material at its disposal. The Melbourne Trades Hall Council has made a very » complete examination of the subject recently, and ha3 been courteous enough to supply me with ‘a most interesting report upon it. The Government is considering this document. I have also asked the employers’ organizations to examine the subject. A great deal of material has been obtained in regard to it, not only from various sources in Australia, but also from other parts of the world, and the Government hopes to be in a position to give definite instructions to its representatives.
– Will the Government give us an opportunity to discuss it before the delegates leave Australia?
– I am not prepared to say offhand whether that can be done, but we shall consider the suggestion. Having regard to the very great variations in conditions in industry throughout the world - and I leave out of consideration, for the moment, the countries more particularly concerned with primary and agricultural production - it must be apparent that it would be difficult to arrive at a world agreement. I am inclined to think that as in the case of disarmament, it may be that no country can afford to act with complete independence of any other country. If this is so, it will be difficult to give absolute instructions to any delegates. All I can say is that the matter is being examined by the Government in the all too limited time at its disposal for the examination of so intricate a subject, and that it is proposed to give instructions to our delegates as to the course of action which they shall follow at the conference. This instruction will guide the action of both government delegates.
Mr. HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) [10.46’J. - I agree with the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) that this is a very important subject, and that this conference will be of particular importance on this occasion. I thought that when the Attorney-General was speaking on the tariff to-night, he was getting very near to making some definite proposals to meet the new state of affairs which confronts this anc. every other country by urging iiic need of a shorter working week in industry generally. Because the conference will be so important this year, we are justified in urging the Government to take every possible care to make its team quite impartial. I agree that we should discuss a. subject of this nature impersonally. 3 do not want to say anything against Mr. Heath. I know that he does his work in a most scientific way for the group of employers whom he serves. But . think that the Government has, unfortunately, made a mistake in appointing as its official representative, a gentleman who is an official of the employers’” organizations, a court advocate at times for the employers, and a very powerful man in their interests generally. On this occasion, possibly more than on any other, it is necessary for the Government dele-‘ gates to be strictly impartial because of the very delicate nature of the subjects to bc discussed at Geneva. I agree with the Attorney-General that the peace treaty lays it down that this shall be a three-party, conference. Surely this means that the three parties shall have distinct representation, and that the representatives shall be elected from and by the three parties concerned. Provision is made that when the necessity arises for a larger team of representatives than usual, each of the three parties may appoint technical advisers to accompany its representatives. If the Government wanted a stronger team than usual on this occasion, it could have elected technical advisers and Mr. Heath could have been so elected. I do not think that anybody would have raised any objection to that course, except perhaps that we could have fairly asked that the Labour delegation should also be given the help of technical advisers. But on this occasion the Government is not asking Mr. Heath to act as a technical adviser because of his experience in industrial matters; it has appointed him as a Government representative. I have been in contact with the Attorney-General on a number of occasions in connexion with these matters, and I do not think that he has quite done himself justice in this instance.
– He never does.
– Yes he does; but in this instance I think he has gone just outside the bounds of fairness in selecting as a Government representative a fighting man of the employers’ organizations. In addition to this gentleman, the employers will have the right to take a full team, and as many technical advisers as they like. There is no objec tion to the Government or either of the other parties taking even twenty technical experts to advise their delegates; but the technical advisers cannot vote. That is the important point. As things are, the employers will have two delegates voting for them. I do not speak with any personal antagonism or bias. I think the Attorney-General understands psychology well enough to know that Mr. Heath will not be able to divest himself of his interest as a representative of the employers’ organizations.
– He will vote according to the instruction which the Government gives him.
– I have seen how that sort of instruction works out.
– It is quite impossible, and no one knows it better than the Attorney-General himself, to give direct instructions to a delegate before the evidence to be submitted to the conference has been heard. I do not think that the Government would be right in giving a definite instruction under such circumstances.
– It would be only on the main lines.
– The AttorneyGeneral has said several times to-night that this is an epoch-making conference because .of the unique circumstances surrounding the nations at this juncture. I contend, therefore, that the Government would not be justified in giving definite instructions to its delegates. I do not disagree with its proposal to avoid unnecessary expenditure. A year or two ago, the AttorneyGeneral sent the Official Secretary to Australia House - a good man, I admit - to represent the Government in order to save expense. On another occasion the Ministry appointed an official from London. No one objects to that because the gentlemen appointed wore public officials, and the object was to save expense. But on this occasion the Government has selected an employers’ representative - a man who, while not taking an active part in the fights in the industrial movement, has been the leader in the fight on the hours’ question, which I handled on both occasions when it has been listed for hearing before the Arbitration Court. The first decision in respect of this matter was given by the late Mr. Justice Higgins, but the Government led by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) vetoed it, and, incidentally, broke the heart of Mr. Justice Higgins, one of the be3t men we have ever had in the Arbitration Court. In 1927, we had another test case before a Pull High Court Bench of three judges. On that occasion, after an exhaustive inquiry, two of the three judges gave a verdict in our favour. But again the employers’ organizations used the same power of suggestion until the advantages which we gained from the verdict were whittled away. Under the Peace Treaty, the Government is entitled to send a full team, and as many technical advisers as it likes to appoint. Had it decided to appoint expert advisers to assist the government representatives, I should have respectfully asked for a technical adviser to be appointed to assist the Labour delegate. The Attorney-General spoke of the increased productivity in industry under modern industrial conditions. To be logical he should have gone a step further and suggested a reduction of hours. I am certain that several national groups that will be at the conference will agree on this issue.
I was interested in the remarks of the Attorney-General dealing with the report of the preparatory conference. That report, which was the product of the best statisticians in Europe, discloses that at least half a dozen European manufacturing countries which, hitherto, we have regarded as being more backward than Australia from the point of view of industrial efficiency, and in the general working conditions of the employees, have already introduced a 40- hour week in many large industries, and because of changed economic circumstances a’ working week of four six-hour shifts instead of three eight-hour shifts.
The approaching conference will be a most important gathering. I agree with the Attorney-General and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) that it may mean more to Australia than to any other country, because we have been in the vanguard as regard the hours’ question, but are now a long way behind, and it would be to our advantage to see the hours of labour reduced if other countries did likewise. I think the Government has done wrong in authorizing an employers’ delegate to represent the Government, instead of getting some official, if it could not send a member of the Government. Two statements made by the Attorney-General to-night were not quite correct; but I do not suggest that the right honorable gentleman was telling an untruth. He said that there has always been difficulty in .selecting a Labour representative, and suggested that “there has not been the same trouble with reference to representatives of employers. I know, and so does the right honorable gentleman, that on many occasions jealousy among groups of employers has led to much difficulty. A few years ago the Employers Federation and the Chambers of Manufactures came to close grips over this question. Mr. Ashworth was selected as the representative of the Employers Federation, but the Associated Chambers of Manufactures, not being satisfied with the selection, nominated another representative, and there was considerable parleying, which caused irritation to the Government, before a final decision was made.
– I take it that the honorable gentleman is referring to the previous Government; we asked for names to be submitted.
– No; it was the Nationalist Government. The Peace Treaty provides that delegates representing the employees shall be selected from thelargest organization of workers in a particular State.
Mr.Latham. - It provides that they shall be “ chosen in agreement with the industrial organizations “.
– But they must be selected from the most representative organization of employees, and it gives to the Government the power of veto - not the right to demand a panel of names from which a selection may be made by the Government itself. No one would object to the Government’s power of veto being used in cases of extreme emergency; but it is not right for the Government to insist upon the submission of a number of names so that it, and not the organizations concerned, may select the delegate. I know the reason why the Government has insisted on the right of veto. When I was selected only one name was submitted, and the government, of the. day did not object. I know that in other cases the procedure has been the same. Why should the Government now seek to irritate the workers by asking that it and not the workers should make the selection ?
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Federal Members’ Rooms, Melbourne.
Mr. Bill asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Whether the ?3,000 voted for the new Federal Members’Rooms in Melbourne will cover the cost of same; if not, what additional cost is likely to be incurred?
When is it expected that the rooms will be readyfor occupation?
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
r asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is he prepared to lay on the table of the House the whole of the papers in connexion with the leasing of Cockatoo Island Dockyard, including all offers by prospective tenderers, and a copy of the agreement entered into with the Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Company Limited, now in possession of the dockyard ?
– The relevant papers in connexion with this matter will he placed on the table of the Library tomorrow.
Northern Territory : Development Scheme - Moratorium - Employment of Local Tradesmen - Protection of NorthernWaters.
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
What progress, if any, is being made in connexion with the £15,000,000 development scheme for the Northern Territory?
– Negotiations are still in progress, but no definite decision has yet been arrived at.
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– No. As each case is now dealt with sympathetically on its merits, and every consideration given to deserving settlers, there is no necessity for a moratorium ordinance.
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Whetherhe will issue instructions that preference in employment be given to local unemployed tradesmen and labourers in connexion with the Darwin oil tank construction, thus helping to relieve unemployment in the territory, and effecting a large saving in boat fares ?
– The department proposes to utilize competent local tradesmen and labourers available at Darwin to the fullest extent.
n asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I expect to be able to make available in the course of the next few days the information sought by the honorable member.
r asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– No gold has been shipped by the Government, and the Commonwealth Bank Board has been asked for information as to the gold shipped by the bank.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the negotiations between the Commonwealth Government and the British shipping company which purchased the Commonwealth Line of Steamers regarding overdue payments have been finalized; if so, when will the House be informed of the result of such negotiations?
– As the matter is still the subject of negotiation, the Government is not yet in a position to make any announcement.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– At a later date, when the negotiations now in progress with the British Government for the replacement of the present destroyers of the Royal Australian Navy by larger and betterequipped destroyers are further advanced, I propose to make a statement to the House on the subject.
d asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 March 1933, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1933/19330309_reps_13_138/>.