13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Assent to the following bills re ported : -
Northern Territory (Administration) Bill 1933.
Officers’Rights Declaration Bill 1933.
– Last Friday I asked the Attorney-General, upon notice. for particulars concerning the activities of the judges of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration during the last six months, the cases dealt with in that period, and those now pending in the court. Is the right honorable gentleman yet in a position to supply that information ?
-I have received today a lengthy report which constitutesa reply to the question asked by the honorable member. I shall lay it on the table of the Library, so thathonorable members generally may have access to it.
-Will the Minister for Commerce communicate with the High Commissioner in London, with a view to securing a reduction of freight on future shipments of apples and pears from Australia to the United Kingdom, and also endeavour to arrange for the more orderly arrival of shipments, with the object of avoiding gluts and effecting the more equitable distribution of Australia’s fruits in Great Britain?
- Mr. Bruce is mooting the ship-owners in London to-day, in furtherance of previous negotiations on the subject of freight charges on fruits. The regulation of shipments of fruit to the United Kingdom, I understand, is to bediscussed by the Australian Apple and Pear Council, at a meeting which it proposes to hold in Sydney next Thursday.
– Is it a fact that the Government has notified the New South Wales Egg Marketing Board that it does not propose to grant a subsidy on eggs exported? If so, does the Government intend to assist the poultry industry in any other way?
– The press paragraph upon which the question is evidently based does not correctly interpret the message that I personally sent to the chairman of the New South Wales Egg Marketing Board. I merely intimated to him that the matter was somewhat difficult, as the problem was practically confined to New South Wales. Apparently, he has assumed that the Federal Government has definitely considered this matter, and has decided not to assist the industry. As a matter of fact, the Cabinet has not yet given it consideration, and it is still being investigated by the State authorities in New South Wales.
Tariff Revision Branch
– Are we to take it that the intimation in to-day’s press merely means the re-arrangement of the work of officers of the Department of Trade and Customs, or will an addition to the Commonwealth Public Service be entailed?
– The honorable member has not specified the intimation that he has in mind., but I presume that he refers to the formation of the tariff revision branch of the Department of Trade and Customs. This simply involves an internal re-arrangement of duties, to facilitate the very heavy work of the department, and will not result in any augmentation of the ranks of the Public Service.
Housing Scheme: Interest Rate
– Has the attention of the Minister for the Interior been directed to the recent statement by Sir Robert Gibson, Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, that the Commonwealth Savings Bank proposes to reduce the interest rate on urban and rural mortgages to 4½ per cent., and to semi-governmernmental institutions to4¼ per cent., the reduction to take effect from the 30th November next, ? Will the honorable gentleman inquire as to the possibility of reducing the interest charged on loans taken up under the Commonwealth housing scheme in Canberra?
– I have noticed Sir Robert Gibson’s statement, and shall discuss with Treasury officials the possibility of acting along the lines suggested.
– Is it a fact that the Tariff Board is preparing a report concerning the period that should he allowed for the maturation of Australian whisky? How soon can this report be made available? Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that the continued delay is causing alarm to those business people who are concerned in the manufacture of Australian whisky?
– I am not aware that the period allowed for the maturation of Australian whisky is causing alarm to the distillers. This question was carefully considered by the Government, and the application of the alteration from a three-year to a twoyear period was postponed until 1935. Meanwhile, the Tariff Board is conducting an inquiry into the matter, because of the diversity of opinion as to whether the period should he two or three years. When the report of the board is received, the Government will give consideration to it. I cannot see how the industry will be in any way jeopardized or handicapped in the meantime.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs been advised of the passing of a resolution by the annual congress of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia yesterday, which proposes “ that a world conference of returned soldiers of all nations be held to promote world peace”? If he has, will he do whatever he can to assist the attainment of this worthy object, in the interest of world peace, and to offset preparations for war?
– I have read in the press the report of the resolution, but that is the only intimation with respect to it that I have received. Several conferences have been held recently for the purpose either of directly promoting world peace or of dealing with some of the obstacles to it. I must say that those obstacles appear to be particularly difficult at the moment. Consultations upon a private basis are being held between the leading governments of the world, and it can only be hoped that some result of real value will eventuate. I do not consider it at all likely that a proposal initiated by Australia for a general conference on world peace would lead to practical results.
– Is it true, as the Canberra Times states in to-day’s issue, that the Prime Minister proposes to have a series of all-night sittings, with a view to the early termination of the business of the session ? If it is, will the right honorable gentleman consider the desirability of obviating all-night sittings by meeting in the morning instead of the afternoon?
– I have made no such statement, and given no such indication. Furthermore, the suggestion is entirely at variance with my personal views. I have said that I believe it to bc the wish> of all honorable members to terminate the business of the session at as early a date as possible. No one has a greater dislike than I have of all-night sittings, although occasionally it is necessary to adopt this practice to facilitate business. I assure honorable members, however, that during the remainder of this session the number of all-night sittings will be kept down to the minimum.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the paragraph in a section of the press headed “ Peerage for Mr. Bruce - Expectation in political circles “, which reads -
The elevation of Mr. Bruce, Australia’s High Commissioner in London, to the peerage, is confidently expected or predicted in wellinformed political circles.
Has the right honorable gentleman any knowledge of such a proposal? If the appointment is made, will it interfere with Mr. Bruce’s occupancy of the position of High Commissioner? On the other hand, is it likely that the British Government will raise Mr. Bruce to the peerage in recognition of the work that ho did at Ottawa?
– My attention has been drawn to statements in the press in regard to this matter. Those statements contain the only information that I have upon it.
– “Will the Prime Minister make this afternoon the promised statement in connexion with the Government’s policy towards the wheat industry?
– I am not in a position to make this statement to-day, but I hope that it will be made during this week.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the reply of Mr. Nock, M.P., to a message from Coolamon farmers, that he fears that unless the Federal Government comes to its senses and does something, anything may happen? I should like to know whether the Government regards this as a threat, and if so, whether it is not somewhat belated? Furthermore, does the Prime Minister include this threat in the same category as many other threats, from the same quarter, which, when tested, have simply fizzled out?
– The statement of the honorable member for Riverina, if accurately quoted by the honorable member for Riverina, is indeed serious ; but I can assure honorable members that no threat will influence the policy of the Government in regard to wheat or any other matter.
– The following paragraph headed “Attempt to Sweat Darwin Teachers,” dealing with the Government’s action in regard to the school teachers at Darwin, appeared in the Brisbane Daily Standard of the 6th November last: -
Mr. McKenna, the Director of Education in Queensland, said that the department would stand behind its officers, who, if they returned south, would be absorbed into the State services. To his mind the action of the federal authorities was ill-advised, because the climate was rather trying, and if teachers were compelled to work through the vacation until the schools resumed they would be overworked, and -too tired to give of their best in their visual duties.
-=-1 remind the honorable member that in reading a lengthy newspaper extract he is transgressing the Standing Orders relating to the asking of questions.
– The article continues -
He hud informed tlie Federal Government that the teachers were entitled to all vacations in accordance with the school routine.
– Order ! . I cannot allow the honorable member to continue to read from a newspaper article. Honorable members, when asking questions, must not read long extracts from newspapers or any other authority. The object of asking questions is to obtain and not to give information. The honorable member should have no difficulty in giving to the House the bare essentials of the newspaper extract to which he has referred.
– I wish to know whether the Minister for the Interior has been informed by the Director of Education in Queensland that the teachers there are entitled to all vacations in accordance with the school routine as well as the three months’ long leave at the end of four years’ service, whether it is his intention to insist on this unprecedented action being taken, whether his department has any regard for the welfare of the children of the Northern Territory, and whether he will countermand the instructions given, so as to retain the services of highly-trained school teachers, and thus do justice to the children of the Northern Territory?
– My attention has. not been drawn to the newspaper article in question, nor have I received any communication from the gentleman referred to by the honorable member. As the matter has been mentioned in this House on one or two occasions I made inquiries and found that the teachers hi the Northern Territory receive more favorable treatment than those in the north of Western Australia and in northern Queensland. The curtailment of the Christmas vacation was purely an administrative action on the part of the Administrator at Darwin without any reference to myself. Mr. H. 0. Brown, who has just recently returned from the Northern Territory, is furnishing a report on the subject, and I hope to be able to give the honorable member a complete reply to his question tomorrow.
– Will the Assistant Minister for Defence, if he has not already done so, lay on the table of the House the report of the committee which dealt with the rival claims in respect of landing places for overseas air mails?
– All the matters raised by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie are dealt with in the report of the departmental committee which has already been tabled in this House. The conditions with respect to the calling of tenders are based on the recommendation of that committee.
– Does the department intend to deal with the question of civil aviation by private negotiations or public contract?
– What the honorable member refers to I am at a loss to understand; but, if it, is the special provision in the Estimates of £3,000 to assist smaller enterprises, I may inform him that the Government’s policy in respect of that matter has already been announced, and I see no reason for any departure from it.
– The following paragraph headed “War Disabilities” appeared in London cabled news of yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald : -
In 1919 there were 2,500 ex-service men in mental homes in Britain. Now there were <i,000 while Hie Ministry of Pensions recognized mi additional 32.000 ns suffering from neurasthenia.
Is it a fact that neurasthenia is excluded from consideration by the medical officers in Australia as a disability not due to war injuries, and, if so, will the Minister for Repatriation have the matter reconsidered with a view to giving returned soldiers suffering from this disability an opportunity to receive pensions?
– It is not a fact that neurasthenia is excluded by the Repatriation Department from the list of complaints which entitle returned soldiers to receive pensions. Many applications based on that ground have already been approved, and, in other cases, injuries which have been aggravated by neurasthenia have been regarded as entitling a man to a pension. If the honorable member knows of any cases which, in his opinion, have not been satisfactorily dealt with, I shall be glad if he will furnish me with the particulars, and I shall have them investigated.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral state by what authority, or under what law, a judge of the High Court is able to prevent by threats a firm of engineers from carrying on its ordinary occupationon the ground that the noise constitutes an annoyance to the court?
– In reply to the honorable member - without replying to what is implied by his use of the word “ threats “ - the power is conferred by the Judiciary Act 1903, which contains a section regarding contempt of court.
– Having regard to the fact that members of Parliament have been receiving numerous letters from dairymen’s associations and butter producers protesting against the delay in bringing down legislation for the stabilization of butter marketing, will the Minister for Commerce state whether such legislation will be introduced before Parliament rises for the Christmas recess?
– Almost every day since Parliament has been in session I have stated that arrangements for the marketing of butter will be incorporated in the Government’s general marketing policy. Cabinet has not yet had time to come to a final decision regarding that policy, and until a decision has been reached, it will be impassible to say when the legislation referred to by the honorable member will be introduced.
– Is the AttorneyGeneral aware that a sheep-shearing contractor has been evading, within the boundaries of the Federal Capital Territory, The provisions of an award of the Arbitration Court by paying loss than the prescribed rate of wages to shed hands?
– I have received no report to that effect, and, as a rule, the Australian Workers Union has been active in seeing that awards are strictly observed.
– I have received from the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) 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 serious charge made by Judge Wells that attempts have been made to influence the course of a criminal trial in the Northern Territory “.
Five honorable members having risen in supporting the motion,
– I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
Recently I made similar charges in this House, but evidently the Government did not take them seriously. I laid a charge of immorality against the person in control of a certain mission station; I said that evidence had been deliberately concocted; that other evidence, which would have formed the basis of a criminal charge, had been suppressed; and that there had been maladministration of the police department. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Perkins) evaded the charges, and refused to appoint a board of inquiry. The truth cannot be perpetually suppressed, and if substantiation of my charges were needed, it has been supplied by Judge Wells of the Supreme Court for the Northern Territory. In the Melbourne Herald, of the 10th November, the following article appeared : -
A grave charge of interference with the administration of aboriginal matters in the Northern Territory was made by Judge Wells, in the Supreme Court to-day, in a sensational ending to the trial of Constable Gordon Stott, on a charge of having, on February 1 this year, assaulted an aboriginal at Robinson river crossing, occasioning him actual bodily harm.
Stott was discharged.
Judge Wells said that there was more than a suspicion that the charge of an unbelievably bloodthirsty assault by Stott, which he found was absolutely without foundation, was not laid at the volition of the Crown, but at the instigation of some outside body.
The body he referred to was the Association for the Protection of the Aboriginal Races, administered by the Reverend W. Morley, of Gordon, Sydney. Very strong colour was lent to that suspicion, he said, by the fact that the organization attempted to participate in the trial by briefing counsel.
On the second day of Stott’s trial, Judge Wells indignantly ordered Mr. H. J. Foster, the association’s counsel, out of court, ‘He termed -the association’s intervention as meddlesome, impertinent and mischievous.
To-day, His Honour said that he had already told the association what he thought of it, but he wished to repeat that any attempt on the part of any individual or association having an interest in the ^proceedings to interfere or attempt to influence the course of a criminal trial was grossly improper.
The actions of the association lent considerable colour to the view that the proceedings against Stott were taken under pressure. “When the Crown institutes criminal proceedings, and a charge is proved to be baseless, and I am satisfied that that is so in this case, the unfortunate accused has no redress “, said the Judge. “ He is put to great expense and dragged through the mire of a criminal prosecution, and some of the dirt will stick to him all his life. He has no remedy whatever. “ If any private body or individual is dissatisfied with another’s conduct the way is open to him to swear an information and start proceedings. If the information is bona fide lie will run no risk, but if the accusation is false, and the accused is in the position to prove malice, the informant may find himself liable for very heavy damages. “ In this case I think that, not only lias the Grown failed; to prove the constable’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but I am satisfled beyond doubt, that the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution is absolutely untrue.”
Stott was then discharged.
In his address at the conclusion of the defence, Stott’s counsel’ (Mr. G. W. Mitchell) said that the way the six aboriginal witnesses had repeated the same story in parrot fashion nine months after the alleged occurrence, pointed to the conclusion that they had told a well-rehearsed, concocted story.
Stott had a good record and it was hard tn believe that he was guilty of such a diabolical assault without motive.
Judge Wells. - I cannot believe that Stott, who impressed me in the box, should show such sheer, horrible blood-lust. The weakness in the Crown case is why should Stott thrash a native so dreadfully to obtain a confession he already had.
The Melbourne Age of the same date referred to a subsequent inquiry in the following ‘terms: -
The Borroloola inquiry was held without his receiving notice, and he was asked to leave the room while some witnesses were examined. . . The judge said that if departmental inquiries were conducted by star-chamber methods a drastic alteration was needed. Donegan, Stott’s tracker, said he had never seen Stott ill-treat blacks.
– It was conducted by Dr. Cook, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, and Mr. Asche, an officer of the Crown Law Department. The Darwin correspondent of the Melbourne Sun, as reported in that newspaper on the 11th November, said of the inquiry -
In finding that a criminal charge of having assaulted an aboriginal, preferred by the Crown against Constable Gordon Stott, was absolutely without foundation, Judge Wells, in the Supreme Court to-day, said that the charge was instigated by the Association for the Protection of Aboriginal Races, administered by the Kev. W. Morley, of Gordon, Sydney . . . To-day he declared that he was satisfied that not only had the Crown failed to prove the constable’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but that the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution was untrue. He characterized as “ grossly improper “ any attempt by an individual or association having an interest in the proceedings to interfere or attempt to influence the course of a criminal trial . . . The judge had described the inquiry as “ improper, monstrous, and smacking of starchamber methods “. Stott stated that at the departmental inquiry he was sent out of court for a period, and the judge said that that gave him reasonable grounds for the suspicion that he was not getting a fair deal.
I emphasize the judge’s remark that there was more than a suspicion that charges of almost unbelievably bloodthirsty conduct on the part of Stott were laid by the Crown at the instigation of an outside body, the Association for the Protection of Aboriginal Races. The judge pointed out that by forcing the Administration to lay the charges, the association had evaded any responsibility in respect of what was obviously a “ frame-up “. It knew that if the Crown case failed, the unfortunate accused person would have no redress; whereas had a charge laid by the association failed, the accused would have had an opportunity to obtain redress. I agree with the judge that it is grossly improper to interfere with, or even to attempt to influence, the course of a criminal trial. Referring to the Administration, the judge said -
Their action lent considerable colour to the view that the proceedings against Stott were taken under pressure.
That confirms my statement in this chamber about a week ago that the pro- ceedings at the inquiry were undoubtedly “ crook “. According to the judge, Tammany methods were employed in this inquiry. Although Stott was charged with having committed a most serious offence, he was sent out’ of the room when the most damning evidence against him was tendered, thereby giving him no opportunity to defend himself by crossexamining witnesses. Yet, on evidence given in those circumstances, a finding was arrived at, and certain individuals were persecuted. A statement by a judge of the Supreme Court that the mission sought by false evidence to convict an innocent man is too serious to be overlooked. Had the Administration forced the society to do its own dirty work, Stott would have been able to claim substantial damages. So well was the evidence concocted that nine months after the alleged occurrence numbers of natives could recite almost word for word the evidence tendered at the inquiry. The presiding judge said that the treatment of Stott was “monstrous”. Every honorable member will agree with him that if departmental inquiries are conducted by star-chamber methods, a drastic alteration is urgently necessary. Unfortunately, this is not the only instance of star-chamber methods having been adopted, and men penalized without having heard the evidence against them. The case of Stott is only an outstanding example of a more or less regular practice. A week or so ago, I said in this chamber that, if given the opportunity, I would submit evidence to a commission of inquiry to prove that on a number of other occasions framed-up charges had been laid by certain missionary societies. The judge’s statement that the evidence against Stott was false bears out my contention. I knew that Stott was innocent when I spoke on this question before, but as the case was then sub judice, I refrained from saying more than that when cases had been proven against certain persons connected with one mission, the Government had refused to take action, although it had prosecuted one of its own officers against whom a “framed-up” charge was laid. I then appealed to the Minister to see that justice was properly administered in the Northern Territory. The Sydney Morning Herald recently published a leading article on the adminis- tration of the Northern Territory, the concluding portion of which reads -
He complained, on the same occasion, that the Government had been placed, largely through circumstances, in an unfortunate position - a position in which both action and inaction might equally be blamed. While sanctioning the Warren expedition (which would probably have gone out in any case), the Government has no present intention of acting itself, if only because the wet season is at hand. Warned of that same factor, the missionaries have replied that they do not expect that the wet season will seriously hamper them. It would, of course, be idle to pretend that all, even of those who admire their courage and sincerity, are convinced that their move is a wise one. Nor are all their brethren unanimous. But surely the Government itself should have some mind in the matter. A constable has been murdered, and it is impossible to imagine Sir Hubert Murray in Papua, for instance, marking time while a mission contingent went forward to deal with natives who had got out of hand. Even investigation should have been a government responsibility, undertaken at once, when word first caine of the murder.
The Minister will see that the press is fully aware of the inactivity of the Government in dealing with these questions. Its inactivity in this instance cannot be excused and savours of condoning the offence of which I have complained. The leading article in the Sydney Morning Herald uses the words “But surely the Government itself should have some mind in the matter.” The Minister should have a definite opinion with respect to administrative matters that come under his control, but, as the Sydney Morning Herald correctly states, the inactivity of the Government is such that it leaves the matter where it previously stood, and places the responsibility upon an outside body. In the same article the question is asked whether Sir Hubert Murray, the Administrator of Papua, would “mark time “ in dealing with unruly natives ? Would the Minister responsible for the administration of Papua countenance any delay on the part of the Administrator of that territory, in matters of this kind ? lt is always the custom to make natives obey the law, and if they are ever allowed to get out of hand, the responsibility is immediately placed upon the Administration. The evidence discloses that the Police Department is controlled by outside influences, and that the v Administration adopts star-chamber methods in order to victimize its officers.
It is clear that the missions are guilty of framing evidence.
– Is the honorable member referring to missions generally, or to one mission only?
– I refer to the Roper River Mission, and also the Association for the Protection of Aboriginal Races.
– Is the latter a mission?
– It is, in every sense of the word. [Leave to continue given.] The missions are guilty of framing evidence.
– The honorable member might discriminate between the missions.
– I am now referring to the Roper River Mission and the Association for the Protection of Aboriginal Races. Definite charges have been made by both of them, and those affected have no redress,even when found innocent. Stott is not the only officer penalized in this way. Abundant evidence is available to show that discontent exists throughout the whole police force in the Northern Territory, due largely, to favoritism, the employment of starchamber methods, and the ignoring of advice. My charges against the exsuperintendent of the Roper River Mission and the association mentioned still stand.
– The ex-superintendent was not a clergyman.
– No, but he was superintendent of the mission. A full inquiry should be made into the charges I have made against the administration, and into those made by the representatives of the Roper River Mission and the Association for the Protection of Aboriginal Races. Recently the Minister wrote mo asking me to forward the correspondence I had received on this subject, and in my reply I referred him to a telegram which I had sent to his department some weeks ago, and of which I have not received an acknowledgment. I told the Minister that I was not prepared to give him the names of those who had supplied mo with information, because under the existing conditions I felt that the men concerned would be severely dealt with. I also told him that if he would guarantee an inquiry before which witnesses could appear under proper protection, all the evidence necessary to substantiate my charges would be forthcoming. It is the responsibility of the Minister to clear up serious charges of this character. I do not wish to be forced into the position of reading a lot of the evidence which has been tendered, because much of it is of a filthy nature. If, however, there is no other means of redress I shall, in the interests of those whom I represent, be compelled to bring the evidence before the House, although it is of such a character that it should not be incorporated in Hansard. If the Minister asks me to disclose the names of my informants, I shall have to say that there is “ nothing doing.” If the Government stands for justice and fair play, the only course open to it is to grant an inquiry such as I have suggested.
– What kind of an inquiry?
– A fortnight ago I expressed the view that the finding of a committee consisting of one member of each party of this House would reflect the general opinion of the members of this chamber. I thank the judge in the Northern Territory for having given publicity to the wrong-doings of the Administration, which are obvious to everybody but the Minister. I shall not rest until justice is done in this matter. In view of the fact that the whole administration of justice in the Northern Territory is being brought into contempt, and having regard to the startling statement made by the judge, I urge the Minster not to dally with the matter further, because it will be in the interests of the mission stations and of good government to ascertain the truth about this affair immediately.
– The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) would appear to have presented a good case against the administration of justice in the Northern Territory, but he has founded his arguments on false premises. He alluded to certain remarks by Judge Wells, of the Northern Territory Supreme Court, in connexion with a case that is only part heard, the second charge being still sub judice. My attention was directed to the remarks which the judge is supposed to have made - varying versions of them have appeared in different sections of the press - and as they were of such a serious nature, this morning 1 issued u statement to the press and telegraphed to the newspaper at Port Darwin dissociating the department from the reported remarks of the judge that the department had been influenced in its action by the missions. That assertion is, not only quite erroneous, but also most unfair to the Reverend Mr. Morley of Sydney, and for that reason I had a statement prepared contradicting it. Mr. Morley had nothing whatever to do with the legal proceedings. They were launched, at the instigation of the department only, the missions knowing nothing about them miti] subsequently. The statement which I have issued in fairness to the mission is as follows: -
The Minister for the Interior (Hon. J. A. Perkins) stated to-day that Iiia attention had been drawn to the reports published in the press regarding the finding of the Supreme Court of thu Northern Territory in the case aga.inst Mounted Constable Stott, who was charged with ill-treating aboriginals.
The judge of the Supreme Court is reported to have stated that the prosecution was not lodged at the volition of the Crown, ‘but at the instigation of an outside body. Reference was made to the Association for the Protection of Native Races.
Mr. Perkins desires to make it perfectly clear that the prosecution was laid on facts in the possession of his department, and that the decision to prosecute was not influenced in any way by any outside body.
Some time ago, a letter was published in the Northam Standard, Darwin, by a Mr. Cahill, in which very serious allegations were made against Mounted Constable Stott in regard to ill-treatment of aboriginals. The Government appointed a. board of inquiry to investigate these allegations. The prosecution of Constable Stott was decided upon in the light of the report of the Board of Inquiry and not on any representations made by the Association for the Protection of Native Races or any other institution.
– Who constituted that board ?
– Mr. Asche, the Drown Law officer in Darwin, and Dr. Cook, the Protector of Aboriginals.
– Is that the inquiry to which the judge referred?
– That _ was the original inquiry. From that inquiry the matter went to the lower court which committed the man for trial. The department dissociates itself from the remarks of Judge Wells. This matter was first brought under notice by Mr. Cahill, whom the honorable member for Northern Territory may know personally. As this case was reported in the Darwin press, the department has sent the following communication to the Northern Standard -
Reported in press judge stated charge against Stott was not laid at volition of Crown, but at instigation outside body namely Association Protection Native Races. Desired you insert statement in Northern Stamford to effect that prosecution was lodged by direction of Government on facts before department and that decision to .prosecute was not influenced in any way by any outside body.
That is an absolute, statement of fact, but the honorable member has merely made a charge against the missions.
– I have not; the judge has done so.
– We have contradicted the judge. Judge Wells is a most worthy man. Up to the present time wo have had nothing but the most favorable reports concerning him, and we believe him to be a most capable judge. But, according to the press reports, he has certainly made a misstatement if he has declared that this case was instigated by anybody other than by the department over which I preside. After the prosecution had commenced, the Reverend Mr. Morley came on the scene, and asked the department whether he could appear in the case. We told him that it was not a matter for the department to decide, and that if he wished to appear in the proceedings he should consult the court.
– Should not the judge know who instigated the prosecution?
– He should; but I am pointing out that it was instigated solely by the department.
– Why was a barrister sent from Sydney?
– I am coming to that, point. After the prosecution had begun, the Reverend Mr. Morley approached us to see if he could appear in the case. We told him that that matter was not one for the department, but that he would have to ask the permission of the judge. Section 58 of the Aboriginals Ordinance provides that at the hearing of any proceedings in respect of offences against the ordinance, the magistrate or justices may permit any person to address him and examine and cross-examine witnesses on behalf of any aboriginal or haltaste
The Association for the Protection of Native Races desired to be represented at the trial of Stott, and made an application to the judge accordingly. There the matter ended so far as the department was concerned.
-But the judge said that he reached his conclusion on the papers before him.
– Then all I can say is that he has come to a false conclusion on those papers. The statement I have issued to the press to-day amounts to an emphatic denial of what the judge has said. If the judge did say what has been attributed to him by the press, he must have misinterpreted the papers, or he has had something before him which did not correctly represent the facts of the case.
– Has the judge contradicted the press statement?
– No ; he has scarcely had time to do that. The statements appeared only in last Friday’s press. I do not say that the judge did not mate the statements attributed to him, but, if he did, he has acted like the honorable member for the Northern Territory, on false premises, and has said something untrue concerning the department.
– Not “ false premises “.
-I say that it is untrue. The case was initiated by my department, but it appeared for the first time in the Darwin newspaper, when Mr. Cahill made charges against Stott of ill treatment of natives of such a serious nature that the department was compelled to take action. We asked Mr. Asche, the Crown Law authority, and Dr. Cook, two gentlemen presumably with high reputations^ otherwise they would not have occupied their important positions, to investigate the charges; and they said that, in their opinion, the charges warranted a prosecution. The matter went to the lower court, and that tribunal thought that the evidence justified committal for trial by the Supreme Court. Only the first of the charges has been heard, and, in view of this fact, it is hardly fair to discuss the case at all. If there is no more foundation for the charge against the ‘ Roper River Mission Station, which was mentioned in this chamber some days ago, there is not much justification for it. Only to-day I have received a letter from the ex-superintendent of the Roper River Mission, in which he also asks for an inquiry.
– Then why cannot we have an inquiry?
– The Government may decide to hold an inquiry, but the position at present is that the officers of the department consider that there is no case for one. The available information on this matter was referred to the AttorneyGeneral in the first place, and he said that he could not see that there was any ground for a criminal prosecution. I cannot understand the attitude of the honorable member for the Northern Territory. What good effect does he expect to achieve by the publication of the “ filthy evidence “ to which he has referred ? Does the honorable member want to brand all missions as failures? Is he against all missionary enterprise and all missionaries? Even if one missioner has failed - and 1 do not say that he has- - would the honorable member allege that every mission had failed? Personally, I have great faith in these missions.
The honorable member has said that the policy of the Government in respect of native affairs in the Northern Territory has been weak. I remind him that after Constable McColl was murdered recently, following upon the murder of some aborigines, the Government thought of sending an expedition of about 25 men into the area concerned to apprehend the murderers; but there was straight away a cry throughout Australia, in the press and elsewhere, against such a policy. The expedition was immediately branded as_ a punitive body.
– Which it should have been.
– Apparently some honorable members think that a punitive expedition should have been sent; hut there was so much opposition to even a - suggestion of that kind that action of any description was delayed pending the visit of Mr. Brown, the permanent head of the department, to the Northern Territory. Mr. Brown was at that time on his way to Darwin, and arrangements were made by the Government merely to send supplies and to await a report from him before taking any further action. In any case the proposed party could not have been sent then because no ship was available. In the meantime missionary -societies and also individuals throughout Australia made protests to the Government, which thereupon decided to ascertain what other proposals could be made to meet the situation. It seems certain that had police visited those areas at the time bloodshed would have occurred, and this was what everybody desired to avoid. Although murders have been committed by these people we must remember that they are not civilized, and so cannot be held wholly responsible according to our method of judgment.
– The people are not all aborigines.
– Our information is that the people in these areas are all practically full-blooded aborigines.
The honorable member for the Northern Territory has referred to what would have been done had similar murders been committed in New Guinea, but the Northern Territory cannot be. compared with New Guinea. The conditions are entirely different. We should have to deal with only a handful of men in Arnheim Land, whereas in New Guinea wo are required to deal with large tribes, well trained in warfare. It must be remembered, also, that much evidence “ is available of the civilizing effect of mission work in. the Northern Territory. When the Groote Eylandt Mission was established the natives there were just as uncivilized and” barbarous as those of Caledon Bay are now, but they have since become practically civilized. The Methodist Mission at Millingimby also started work among natives who were quite intractable, but have since become considerably civilized. Representations have been made by the Government, both directly and through the press, for arrangements to be made to enable the missionaries to como into personal contact with the natives, and 1 have no hesitation in approving of that course, for I honestly believe that the missionaries will succeed there as they have already succeeded in other places. It has also been suggested that a permanent mission be established at Caledon Bay, and I am inclined to believe toast this is desirable. We think it would be far better to establish a mission than to send a force which would probably have the effect of causing bloodshed. In consequence of the good work that the missions have done, I think they should not be disparaged in any way. It may be that an individual missionary has failed, although it has not been proven up to date, and the missionary concerned has requested ‘that an inquiry be made into the charges against him; but even if the charges are proved that would not be a justification for the condemnation of all missions. The Government has nothing whatever to hide. It has acted honestly and straightforwardly. Charges were made which it would have been wrong to disregard, and certain reports have been furnished in connexion with the Roper River Mission, but other inquiries are still proceeding. It may bc that the Government will accept the suggestion that a committee of inquiry be appointed, but, on the other hand, that course may not be necessary. The Government will do whatever it thinks right in the circumstances.
– I view with considerable concern the statements made by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) today, and also the statements he made a few days ago of a similar nature. The matter cannot be left where it stands at present. A searching inquiry is absolutely necessary into these charges to ensure that justice shall be done. If people who have broken the law are escaping the punishment that they rightly deserve it is a serious matter. We cannot allow criminality to remain hidden. As much ‘ light as possible should be thrown on this whole subject. The reputation of this Parliament and of the Government are at stake. I do not take second place even to the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Perkins) in my admiration of the work that Christian missions are doing for native races. I have had several opportunities to gain first-hand knowledge of the exceptionally fine services that missionary societies are rendering to the native people in the Pacific, and I have no doubt that the service being rendered by them to the natives of the Northern Territory is of equal merit. Such splendid work deserves the sincere admiration of this Parliament, and of the community at large. Of course, it is just possible that magnificent work may be marred through undesirable conditions which appertain to particular missions or individual missionaries. I am sure that the honorable member has no desire to reflect on the good work that has been done by our great Christian missions, but he declares he is able to substantiate the charges that he has made, and, in the circumstances, the Government cannot allow them to go unchallenged. It is imperative that it should have a thorough investigation of the circumstances, as it should not allow this cloud to hang over missionary societies. With all earnestness, I entreat the Government to recognize the need for taking immediate action, and to grant the request for an inquiry so that any person found guilty of misdemeanour may be appropriately dealt with.
.- First of all, I should like to congratulate the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Perkins) on not having allowed himself to be stampeded by those who desired him to resort to armed force before trying peaceful measures. These natives are child-like in nature, and the Minister was justified in approving the more moderate and merciful course. If the present peaceful mission fails, I hope that the Government will give every consideration to the proposal that has been submitted by the Reverend Webb to establish a mission station in the Caledon Bay district similar to those which exist elsewhere.
I admit that this matter has exercised my mind a good deal since the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) first made his charges against mission administration. I have a great faith in missions, and keep in touch with them by reading a good deal concerning their activities. I know that they are doing good work. However, if there is any good ground for the charge of gross immorality I demand that it be inquired into, no matter how high may be the position of the person concerned. If there is any truth in the further charge that a society, whether missionary or semi-missionary, has attempted to prostitute the ends of justice by being guilty of a frame-up, it is absolutely necessary for the Government to have the matter investigated. I disagree with the honorable member in one respect”, he urged that on the committee there should be representatives of every party in this House. I see no reason why independents should be excluded.
– That was entirely an oversight on my part.
– I accept the assurance of the honorable member. ‘ It has been my good fortune to visit the Hermannsburg Mission in Central Australia, and I keep in touch with its work. If the Lutherans of South Australia had not sent consignments of vegetables and oranges to the mission there, during the great drought some years ago, many additional deaths would have resulted from scurvy. That station has just emerged from a short drought, and I am sure that, it will continue to prove that its establishment, is in every way justified.
I hope that the Government will cause an inquiry to be made into the charges that have been lodged by the honorable member for the’ Northern Territory. This is the second occasion within the last three weeks on which he has obtained support to move the adjournment of the House in order to present his case, and if the Government merely intends to ignore his charges his presence in this chamber is futile. I appeal to the Government to probe the matter. If what the honorable member has stated is well founded, he is to be commended on his courage in making public, so unsavoury a matter. If it is proved that he has acted precipitately, before thoroughly sifting the evidence, then he is not fit to be here as a representative of the nation.
– That is right.
– I am glad that the honorable member appreciates the responsibility of his action. I appeal to the Government to have the matter cleared for it cannot be allowed to rest where it stands.
.- The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Perkins) stated that the information that had been received by his department had been forwarded to the Northern Territory for the information of the prosecution. The judge sums up on the evidence placed before hiin, and as a result of bis training, he should be in a better position *o sift and interpret the evidence than the Minister or the officers in his department. The honorable gentleman also said that the charges differ. I submit that, although the verbiage may be a little different, they are substantially the same.
There are many aborigines in the electorate of Kennedy, and I believe that much good work can be done for them by mission stations. I certainly do not hold a brief for any man who ill-treats an aborigine, and I am. aware that on occasions the natives need protection. In Queensland they come under the care of a chief protector, who is assisted by district officers; and, generally speaking, I find that their best protectors are the local clerks of petty sessions or the police. Recently there appeared in the newspapers a report that an aboriginal woman had died as a result of ill-treatment by
I lie policeman, who had arrested her, with others, in connexion with a charge of cattle stealing. It is difficult to believe that the constable really flogged the woman, as alleged, day after day while bringing her to Darwin, but any doubt about the matter could be cleared up by exhuming the body.- If the man in charge of the escort was guilty of cruelty, adequate punishment by the court, would be fully justified. The Minister did not really explain why Judge “Wells ordered - out of court Mr. Foster, who was appearing on behalf of the Association for the Protection of Native Races.
The later report of cruelty, appearing in the southern newspapers on Friday last, was sufficiently serious to justify the Minister in obtaining a full statement from the authorities at Darwin. The people will not tolerate ill-treatment of the aborigines. The Minister has told us that he is endeavouring” to ascertain the correctness or otherwise of the allegations. Reputable newspapers, like the Melbourne Herald and Age., or the Sydney Sun, would not publish, such statements if they were not satisfied as to the reliability of their representatives at Darwin.
– We do not challenge the correctness of the report of the trial, but we think it only fair that the judge should be given an opportunity to express his opinion of the report.
– If the judge is fit for his position, he should be in a better position to state whether or. not the charges are true. If the information upon which the charges were laid was supplied by the department, all I can say is that it must have been extremely vague; Every one who has had any experience with the aborigines knows how unreliable they are. For example, if two aborigines saw a man kill a bullock they would both tell different stories of the incident. Their unreliability in the witness box was well illustrated in the Carpentaria murder case. One aborigine, Billy Wilson, admitted that he had cut the woman’s throat and showed how it was done. Later he gave an entirely different version of his part in the tragedy. I am satisfied that, if the legal representative of the Association for the Protection of Native Races was removed from the court, Stott’s counsel would have no difficulty in getting at the truth. I hope that the Minister will lose no time in having the charges investigated. If the constable did ill-treat the aborigines he should be dealt with.
Question resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1022-33.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 10th November (vide page 4431).
Prime Minister’s Department
Proposed vole, £307,550.
– I support the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) with regard to the failure of the board to give members of the Commonwealth Public Service a chance to apply for the vacant position of Works Supervisor in New .South Wales. This position was filled by the board about three months before the date fixed for the retirement of the officer holding the position. It is claimed that there are in the Public Service a number of officers with qualifications far superior to those of the man who was appointed. I am informed that the successful candidate was not a permanent officer of the Commonwealth Public Service. I, therefore, should like to know what steps were taken by the board to ascertain whether or not there were other officers in the Service capable of filling the position. The Commonwealth Gazette, which is the only medium through which officers have an opportunity to learn of the existence of vacancies, contained no reference to the vacancy in this office and the intention to fill it. The Minister would please me if he would explain how a Donpermanent officer was aware that the office of Works Supervisor, Sydney, was vacant. The administration of the Commonwealth Public Service has always been free from any suggestion of favouritism. This appointment, however, I consider savours very much of favouritism. I regret that members of the Service were not afforded every consideration and facility. One officer had studied for seven years to qualify for ‘this position, his course including sanitary engineering, and the duties of a clerk of works. He also holds a builder’s foreman’s certificate. The Public Service Board, in reply to his appeal, stated that the position of Works Supervisor had to be filled by an officer of experience, particularly one with expert knowledge of plumbing, water and sewerage, and gas services. To me, that seems to be a pretence to cover up an irregular appointment. What steps did the Public Service Board take to ascertain whether any officer possessed the necessary experience? Apparently none. The committee should exercise the utmost vigilance in regard to the rights of Commonwealth public servants. A works supervisor should have a thorough knowledge of, not only the services to which the board refers, but also all branches of the building trade. The officer whose cause I am espousing, spent seven years in qualifying himself to fill this position ; yet, for some extraordinary reason, the Public Service Board gave him no opportunity to apply for it. The first intimation of the existence of the vacancy was the appointment of an outsider over the heads of permanent men who had served the Commonwealth faithfully for a number of years. The issues that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) and I have raised are of sufficient importance to justify the fullest consideration. When appointments are to be made, whether to low or to high positions, every officer of the Service should have the fullest opportunity to submit an application.
– The honorable members foi- Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) and Cook (Mr. Riley) nave implied that, because the vacancy in the office of Works Supervisor, Sydney, was not advertised in the Commonwealth Gazette, and applications to fill it were not invited from officers within the Service, the regulations governing appointments to the Service were not observed. That, however, is not the ease. The Public Service Act and regulations do not make it obligatory to notify vacancies in the Gazette and invite applications from officers within the Service. The notification of vacancies in the Gazette is a matter for the discretion of permanent heads and chief officers. -
– That is definitely wrong, because it leaves the door open to abuse.
– The case referred to is apparently that of Mr. A. W. Kairi, who was appointed on probation as Works Supervisor, Works and Services Branch, Sydney, on the 4th May last. When the vacancy in this office occurred, the Works Director reported that the best interests of the branch would be served by its being immediately filled, and he recommended the appointment of Mr. Kaill, who at the time was a temporary works supervisor in the branch. No one could have a better knowledge than the Works Director of the class of man required, and he is acquainted with the qualifications of all the men in the department. Mr. Kaill, who is a returned soldier, had been employed as temporary works supervisor during the preceding four years, prior to. which he was for several years supervisor of plumbing. Therefore, he is not new to the department, but, on the contrary, has had lengthy service in it. In recommending the appointment of Mr. Kaill the Works Director advised that he held water, sewerage, and gas-fitting licences, and that it was necessary that one of the works supervisors attached to the branch should hold those licences, in order to represent the department in connexion with works of that nature at conferences with officials of the various boards concerned. Following a departmental recommendation to the Public Service Board, the board issued a recommendation to the Governor-General that Mr. Kaill be appointed to the position on probation, under section 47 of the Public Service Act. The board certified that, in its opinion, no officer was available in the Commonwealth Public Service who was as capable of filling the position as the person recommended for appointment.
– What steps were taken by the board to enable it to come to that decision ?
– I do not know. 1 presume, however, that the board is as conscientious in the performance of its duties as is the honorable member. It is responsible if an unsuitable appointment is made. The board’s recommendation was approved in Executive Council on the 17th May last. On the 22nd of that month, copies of the papers relating to the appointment were forwarded to the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Clerk of the Senate, to be laid before Parliament in accordance with subsection 2» of section 47 of the Public Service Act. It would appear, therefore, that the usual procedure has been adopted in this case. There is no foundation for the suggestion that outside influence was brought to bear. I have communicated with the Works Director, who has stated that, if the appointment had again to be made, he would choose the 3ame officer, because he believes him to he the most capable man for the position.
– Does he know of the officer who underwent a course of study for seven years?
– The officer appointed has served in the department for over seven years, and holds the necessary certificates. I cannot see that there is anything wrong in what was done, or that the Public Service Board is deserving of censure.
. The proposed vote for this year is £307,550, compared with an actual expenditure last year of £254,237, an increase of £53,323. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is responsible for the largest proportion of the increase. Honorable members might not offer the slightest objection to that, if they were given some information as to the investigations which the council is conducting, and the manner in which the expenditure is being incurred.
The vote for the High Commissioner’s Office is increased by £1,200. That also may be quite justified. I should like to know, however, whether the item includes the expenses incurred by the High Commissioner in the discharge of his duties as the Australian representative on the Council of the League of Nations. The thought cannot be escaped that the same body of taxpayers who furnish the means to maintain the office of High Commissioner, also bear the financial burden of maintaining in London Agents-General of the individual States. I believe that much of the expenditure thus incurred is absolutely wasted. What is wanted in Great Britain to-day is a number of general agents under Commonwealth control, rather than Agents-General, even though these latter may be capable of purchasing the house in which Captain Cook lived, and of having it sent to Victoria. It is deplorable to relate that one AgentGeneral, upon his return to Australia, had nothing good to say of Australian products, but disseminated information of the “ stinking-fish “ variety. AgentsGeneral are paid high salaries, and the least that they can do is to endeavour to have faults rectified instead of broadcasting them. Quite enough propaganda of that kind is issued without their assistance. Some of us have had personal experience of the splendid work performed by the officers attached to Australia House, one of whom is its best advertiser of Australian produce that we have in the Old Country. I refer to Mr. Hyland. Had we more men of his ability operating in England, particularly among the women folk there, the consumption of our products “would be greatly increased. The various Agents-General pay little or no part in the financial arrangements between Australia and Great Britain. At times complaints have been made that the High Commissioner does not take the Agents-General sufficiently into his confidence in connexion with financial matters, but it would be a good thing for Australia if the Agents-General were ignored altogether, because they are an expensive superfluity. It was thought when federation was established that a High Commissioner in London with a well-equipped staff would be sufficient representation for Australia. I should like to know the reason for the increased expenditure in connexion with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the High Commissioner’s Office and. the audit office.
.- I wish to endorse the remarks of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) because, in addition to the increased expenditure in connexion with the Prime Minister’s Department, we also have to take into consideration the increased salaries to which the Parliament agreed to about a fortnight ago. The increased expenditure in connexion with the Prime Minister’s Department is astounding; particularly in view of the urgent need for economy and the reductions of expenditure that have taken place in other departments. The staff of the Prime Minister’s ‘ Department seems to have been greatly increased, but that, I suppose, is unavoidable, since the Government ‘is endeavouring to take control of nearly every industry in Australia. It seems to me that no effort is- being made by this department to exercise that economy which the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has preached in every other direction. I do not know why the question of whether the States should have Agents-Generals in London or not should concern the honorable member for Maribyrnong. Some of the Agents-General have been fine business men, which has rarely been the case in regard to the High Commissioner, excepting of course the present occupier of that position, who has done wonderful work in London in connexion with loan conversions. I believe that his efforts on behalf of Australia will result in a big saving in regard to, not only loan conversions, but also our other financial obligations. A. certain amount of the increased expenditure is on account of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and I dare say that the. results of that expenditure will be far-reaching and of great value to Australia. I ask the Prime Minister to explain the reason for the increased vote of £50.000 in his department.
– Many matters have been raised by honorable members in connexion with the Prime Minister’s Department, but I shall deal first of all with the remarks of the honorable . member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) who referred particularly to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the High* Commissioner’s Office in London. In connexion with the council, for some years there has been a large amount of money in the trust account, but this year it has been necessary to place a larger sum on the Estimates.
– Has the trust account become exhausted?
– Yes, and it has been necessary to make provision for an increased expenditure of £35,000. In addition, the expenditure has been increased on account of the restoration of salaries under the Financial Relief Act.
The increased expenditure in connexion with the High Commissioner’s Office is about £1,136, and a great deal of that expenditure is accounted for by the retirement of Mr. Collins, the late financial secretary and adviser to the High Commissioner’s Office. In lieu of furlough, six months’ salary has been paid to that officer.
– Was Mr. Collins paid that amount by act of grace?
– Every officer of the Public Service is, upon retirement, entitled to furlough. Most officers, when they retire, are entitled to twelve months furlough, but as Mr. Collins had already taken six months’ leave, he was due only for a further six months’ leave.
– What sum was paid to hint?
– Mr. Collins retired from the Service on the 13th September, 1933, and was paid £775 in lieu of furlough to the 12th March. In addition there was a payment of £51 to female officers on the High Commissioner’s staff on the occasion of their marriage. A similar concession is granted to all female members of the Public Service who become married.
Last week the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Wafckins) said -
If there is truth in one-half of the information thathas been given to me on behalf of small companies that have been established with the object of reducing the price of petrol in Australia, concerning the tactics adopted by one of the major oil companies, the scope of the Petrol Royal Commission should be widened.
In reply to that statement let me say that the terms of reference of the commission are to make inquiry and report upon the operations of the importation into Australia and the refining, treatment, distribution, sale, &c., of mineral oils and petrol, and the following matters in relation to: -
It is considered that the terms of reference are sufficiently comprehensive to meet the requirements of the honorable member.
– Has the Petrol Commission gone into recess?
– The commission is at present engaged on the most delicate and difficult part of its work, because one of its members, the special accountant, is examining the books and documents of the companies.
– Is the chairman drawing his daily fee while that work is proceeding?
– I shall ascertain that information.
On Friday last the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) referred to the provision of £600 for free courses at universities, and asked for information regarding it.
I now inform him that applications are invited annually from officers of the Commonwealth Service for free places at universities in architecture, arts, commerce, engineering, law, public administration and science. The maximum number of free places offered in any year is 22. The universities remit half the fees, and the Commonwealth provides the other half. Applicants are interviewed by an advisory board, comprising the Public Service Inspector, a representative of the university concerned, and local heads of departments, who report to the Public Service Board which of the applicants are regarded as the most suitable for the grants. The purpose served by the grant of the free places is to improve the usefulness of the officers in their service to the departments in which they are employed, and to add to the general efficiency of the Public Service.
The honorable member also referred to the provision of £826 in respect of the High Commissioner’s Office on account of salaries of officers on retirement leave and payments in lieu. That matter I have already explained.
The honorable member also raised the question of freight and cartage, including removal expenses, for which an amount of £1,192 is provided, and he asked how the expenditure had been incurred. Provision was made in this amount to meet the expenditure involved in the return of Mr. and Mrs. Bruce, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins to Australia. When the Estimates were framed, it was anticipated that the appointment of a High Commissioner would entail travelling expenses for himself, his wife, and family, from Australia to London. Provision has also been made for the exchange of an officer on the High Commissioner’s staff, which is due to take place during 1933-34.
There was a further question regarding the allowance of £1,328 to the Resident Minister in London, and it was asked whether this was in addition to the allowance ordinarily provided for the upkeep of the position. Under the High Commissioner Act, provision is made for the payment of expenses, not exceeding £2,000 a year, to the High Commissioner for an official residence. This is provided as an allowance under item 10. During the time that Mr. Bruce was Resident Minister in London he received what would have been paid to him if- he had been High Commissioner instead of Resident Minister. The provision referred to is the equivalent of the allowance payable to a High Commissioner. “When the Estimates were framed, it was not known that Mr. Bruce would cease to be a Minister on the 6th October, and become High Commissioner on the 7th October. Less than half the amount provided for the “Resident Minister will now be required: but Mr. Bruce will receive, during the balance of the financial year, what would have been paid to him had he been High Commissioner from the 1st July, 1933, to the 30th June, 1934. He will draw £3,875, which amount includes his parliamentary allowance and ministerial salary.
– Is the cost of living higher in London than in Australia?
– A special living allowance is always paid to officers transferred to London, whether they be senior or junior officers.
The honorable member for West Sydney also asked for an explanation regarding the sum of £600 for freight and cartage in connexion with the office of the Commissioner-General in the United States of America. The term of transfer of the officer now filling the position of accountant in New York has exceeded the usual three years, and an exchange is, therefore, overdue. Provision has been made for the cost of transport of the officer from America, and the transport of an officer, with his wife and family, to take his place in the New York office. Under the other items the ordinary provision is made to meet the cost of upkeep, &c, of the CommissionerGeneral’s office in the United States of America.
.- I should like some further information regarding the actual amounts paid to, and on behalf of, the High Commissioner in London. On more than one occasion this information has been sought, but the issue has been evaded. We have been told that Mr. Bruce will receive £3,875 a year, which, I take it, represents a salary of £5,000 a year, less the statutory deductions. How much, in addition to that, is paid for- the residence which he occupies ?
Those visiting Australia House in London are usually struck by the unAustralian atmosphere of the place. The casual visitor encounters officials who have not the slightest knowledge of Australia. In the days when the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was in existence, one encountered officials in the shipping department who could not say whether the ships were plying to Sydney or Kalgoorlie. Both places meant about the same to them ; in fact, they knew less on such subjects than the average schoolboy of ten years of age. I think we might very well have a larger proportion of Australian-born public servants employed at Australia House. If the salaries paid are not sufficient to enable Australians to be sent to do the work, that is another matter, but I should be glad to know just why a greater effort has not been made to staff the office with Australians. In the Canadian and New Zealand offices one generally meets officers who were born in and know all about the countries whose interests they represent.
– It is true that the Minister has given us some information regarding certain matters I raised, but I am not yet convinced that he has replied directly to my queries. I understood him to say that the sum of £1,192 for freight and cartage, in respect to the travelling expenses of Mr. Bruce and Mr. Collins, had been placed on the Estimates when it was thought that those gentlemen would be coming back to Australia during this financial year. It seems to me that men who have the privilege of going overseas to represent Australia are not slow in treating themselves to the best that is obtainable, although other people have the greatest difficulty in obtaining even bare justice. The expenditure under this item seems to me to be beyond all reason. If a detailed account of the expenditure were provided, perhaps honorable members would see that many items charged to the expense of the Commonwealth might reasonably have been borne by the travellers themselves. There seems to be a tendency among highly-placed officials to book things to the Commonwealth, and let it go at that, while those in less exalted positions have every penny of expenditure most carefully scrutinized. Before I became a member of this Parliament I had some experience of this, and practically had to submit to the third degree before’ I could receive the expenses due to me.
Last year an allowance for expenses was made to the Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Bruce) for £2,109 over and above his salary of £3,825. I should also like an itemized account of that expenditure to be placed- before us. It might then be found that the country was paying for Mr. Bruce’s attendance at many functions for which he might reasonably have paid himself. I should like to receive from the Minister an assurance than an itemized account will be laid on the table of the Library, where it may be perused by honorable members and by press representatives.
Mention has been made of the appointment of Mr. Keith Officer to the position of Liaison Officer in London, a position that had previously been found to be unnecessary. For a considerable time the work was carried out by another officer - presumably Major Fuhrman - who assisted me when I was in London, and displayed an intimate knowledge of international questions, particularly those associated with the League of Nations. Throughout the Public Service it is recognized that Mr. Keith Officer’s appointment was due to the desire of the Government to find a position, at a good salary, for this man, who came from so select a quarter as the Melbourne Club. Fearing criticism, the Government waited until there was a fairly long parliamentary recess before appointing him. I am opposed to such appointments.
– What is Mr. Keith Officer doing in London?
– I do not know. Some months previously the Government announced that a liaison officer was unnecessary. When the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) retired from this office, a re-organization of the High Commissioner’s Office took place by direction of the then Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin).
- Mr. Duffy was appointed to do the work previously performed by Mr. Casey.
– In order to find a position for Mr. Officer, who had only a temporary position in the Service, the claims of permanent public servants with many years’ experience of international affairs were disregarded. In addition to his salary of £582, provision is made for a special allowance of £200 a year to Mr. Officer. It would appear that, in view of the criticism of the salary set down for this position, the Government has devised this means of escape. Why cannot the Government be honest in the matter, and say that the salary of Mr. Keith Officer is £782 per annum ? In protesting strongly against this appointment, and the methods adopted in connexion with it, I can only say that the action of the Government in this instance sets a precedent for future governments to follow.
.- I compliment the Government on having expended last year on ministerial travelling expenses a sum considerably less than the expenditure in previous years. Under this heading, £7,07 S was spent by the BrucePage Government in 1928-29. In the following year the amount was £4,593; in 1930-31, £2,564; in 1931-32, £2,775; and in 1932-33, £1,S36. An honorable member who draws attention to excessive expenditure in this and similar directions does not increase his popularity; but it is gratifying to me to know that the publicity given to past extravagance has led to a considerably reduced cost for 1932-33.
– I desire to express my satisfaction with the valuable work carried out by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Although the council furnishes a report each year, unfortunately not much publicity is given to it, so that the public is not aware of its activities. In its report for the year ended the 30th June, 1932- the last report available to honorable members - the council mentions that it is tackling a number of problems of great importance to .Australian primary industries, among them being diseases affecting plants and animal life. One paragraph on page 5 reads -
One of the most important activities of the Division of Plant Industry is in relation to plant diseases, from which it is estimated that Australia suffers an annual loss of no less than £ 1 2,000,000.
Honorable members will agree that if scientists can reduce the destruction caused by these diseases, they are, in effect, increasing the value of our primary production. On page 20 of the report, under the heading ‘'’Entomological investigations,” the council states -
No estimates of the total loss to Australia through the depredations of insect enemies are available, but Dr. ,L. O. Howard, formerly Chief of the United States Bureau of Entomology, has stated that, in his country, the economic losses due to insects amount to £400,000,000 annually, or. in other words the work of more than 1.000,000 men is nullified every year.
That paragraph indicates the importance of the problem with which the entomological section of the council is dealing. Its investigations may prove of immense value to our agricultural, pastoral, and fruit-growing industries.
In an address to the Queensland Butter and Cheese Managers and Secretaries Association, Professor J. K. Murray, principal of the State Agricultural College at Gatton, urged that the Government should assist the dairying industry by undertaking additional dairy research. He suggested the establishment, particularly in Queensland, of an institute of dairy research, and pointed out what was being done in other countries. Special mention was made of the work of the State agricultural colleges and the Federal Department of Agriculture in the United States of America, and of the Dairy Research Institute at Reading, England, where the late Dr. Stenhouse Williams had control of much valuable work. He mentioned also the Hannah Dairy Research Institute in Scotland, which had done good work on the production side of the industry, a branch in which many dairy research institutes had done their most valuable work. Professor Murray said that those whom he addressed were particularly interested in research which might solve the numerous problems confronting them in manufacture and storage. I hope that the Government will give this matter its most earnest consideration. Sub-tropical areas have their own peculiar problems, and I therefore urge the Minister to a3k the council to advise him as to the best means of extending the services of the department in this direction.
.- The importance of scientific research into insect and plant diseases, cannot be too strongly emphasized. Most of the pests which afflict Australian primary producers have been imported without their parasites, and for- that reason they are more destructive here than in their native habitat. Recently the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research introduced a parasite to counteract the lucerne nea, with most gratifying results. Another pest which is found iri practically every Australian State is the red-legged earth-mite. It is a native of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, but in those countries it is not a scourge. Unless we can introduce its parasite, which also is to be found in Mediterranean countries, this earth-mite will continue to do much harm in Australia. Dr. Tillyard, of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, informed me recently that insufficient funds were available to send an officer to Mediterranean countries to secure the parasite. Money spent in research of this kind is wisely expended, and I commend to the Government the suggestion of the honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) in this connexion. The investigations of the officers of the department may prove of the greatest value to the primary industries of this country.
.- Will the Minister (Mr. Marr) explain the item, “ Legal costs of Privy Council appeal - proposed abolition of New South Wales Legislative Council, £324 “. This amount was paid in 1931-32. Who received the money and who authorized the Commonwealth Government to fight the ease for New South Wales when the New South Wales Parliament is supposed to control the destinies of that State ? Why should’ the Federal Government “ butt in “’ where it has no right? The first ballot for the election of a new Legislative Council in New South Wales shows that theaction of the present New South Wales. Government has not been very effective..
– ‘Will the Minister say how the amount of £600 to he appropriated under item No. 9, “Mining and metallurgy”, is to be expended?
.- It was once the practice to provide an annual grant of £50,000 to encourage, prospecting for -gold and other precious metals, and as the mining industry can absorb more of the unemployed than any other industry in Australia, why has this grant been discontinued? During periods of financial and economic depression the gold-mining industry has always come to our rescue, and as the price of gold is steadily increasing, the industry should be encouraged. The payment of a gold bounty assisted the industry for a time, but the £600 provided in this vote will not be sufficient to defray the expenses of sending a prospecting party to the Croydon goldfield, or to Charters Towers field, which has produced over £2,000,000 worth of gold. As the amount to be appropriated is not sufficient to enable a useful investigation to be made, the whole responsibility in this respect must be borne by the State authorities. Improvements in treatment methods have been made not as the result of recommendations by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, but through the activities of private enterprise. The adoption of efficient methods has now made it profitable to work lodes from which only 5 dwts. of gold a ton can be obtained. As a result of improved treatment methods introduced by an American company, the Mount Isa mine is being profitably worked, and is now providing direct employment to over 1,200 men. Provision should be made for a highly qualified geologist to report to the Government on mining shows for which private capital is sought before a prospectus is issued.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has also been endeavouring to cheek the spread of the buffalo fly pest, which is finding its way into Queensland, by framing regulations under which cattle from the Gulf of Carpentaria, and from the Northern Territory, cannot proceed beyond Kajabbi, which is 50 or 60 miles from Cloncurry, until they have “been sprayed. They are obliged to have a further spraying at Julia Creek. If a butcher at Cloncurry purchases cattle from the Gulf of Carpentaria they must be sprayed at Kajabbi, trucked to Julia Creek, and then driven hack 100 miles by road in order to comply with the State regulations. While negotiations have been proceeding between the Commonwealth and the State authorities those engaged in the cattle industry have had to submit to unnecessary inconvenience. Very little progress has been made in the eradication of the blowfly pest, which is causing enormous losses to sheep-owners.
There is also an item “ Prickly Peargrant for investigation, £4,500 “. It i3 nearly ten years since the Queensland Government introduced the cactoblastus, an insect which is now ridding large areas in. Queensland of prickly pear. Will the Minister explain why .any further expenditure is necessary for investigation in this direction.
– The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) has asked a question regarding the expenditure of £324 in respect of the appeal to the Privy Council in what is generally known as the Legislative Council case. The honorable member asked, “Who got that money?” As I appeared personally as Commonwealth Attorney-General in that case, I think, -perhaps, it is as well to say that I did not get any of it. A provision in the Commonwealth Constitution permits Ministers and- members to be paid certain allowances for services rendered to the Commonwealth, but the receipt of any further fees or rewards from the Crown would result in the forfeiture of the seat of the member concerned. When the Attorney-General appears for the Commonwealth in any court he receives no fee. The rule is different in some of the States, and very different, indeed, in Great Britain. The amount to which the honorable member for Reid has referred represents the ordinary solicitors’ costs, and the fees of the gentleman who appeared as my junior, and who was paid, in the ordinary way. I refer to Mr. Fullagar, who is now a King’s Counsel. The Government was able to save a considerable sum because Mr. Fullagar happened to be in London, in connexion with another case, when the appeal was heard. I understand that the honorable member for Reid is somewhat exercised in mind about another appeal to the Privy Council in relation to the recent Legislative Council election in New South Wales, and is wondering whether the Commonwealth might intervene in those proceedings. No suggestion of intervention has been made to the Commonwealth, and, as I understand the issues involved in those proceedings, there appears to he no reason why the Commonwealth should even consider intervention. Very different questions arose in the case heard last year, however, for it raised some important general considerations with respect to the effect of a provision in a constitution for its alteration as the result of a referendum, and a decision of the Privy Council in a certain direction might have had real significance in relation to the Commonwealth as well as the State of New South Wales. It was, therefore, considered that there was good reason for the intervention of the Commonwealth in that case ; but, as I have stated, I am unable to see why the Commonwealth Government should even consider intervening in the proceedings referred to by the honorable member.
– Will the Minister give an assurance regarding the future fight?
– I see no prospect of intervention being considered; but, on my present knowledge, I should hesitate to give any such absolute undertaking, as I cannot have a full knowledge of future contingencies.
– I think that every honorable member wall agree that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is deserving of high praise for the work it is doing. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir . Littleton Groom) desires more extensive investigations to be made with regard to the development of the dairying industry.. This matter has been receiving consideration, and the Government will give the council all the assistance it can to carry out further inquiries.
The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) wishes to know why further expenditure is needed in the work of eradicating the prickly pear, since the cactoblastus has already proved effective in destroying the pear. I remind the honorable member that .ill the credit for the introduction of the cactoblastus should not be given to the Queensland Government. The amount provided on the Estimates is to be granted to the Prickly Pear Board, which has been supervising this investigation for a number of years The cactoblastus was introduced from South America some years ago by the former Bureau of Science and Industry, but I do not doubt that the State authorities in Queensland had as much to do with its introduction as had any other Government. The most amicable co-operation between the Commonwealth and State authorities was obtained, and it cannot be doubted that to whatever authority the credit is mainly due, the work done has been of tremendous value and has proved eminently successful. The sum provided in these Estimates is for continuation of the work of supervision of the distribution of the cactoblastus, and for prevention of the annihilation of the parasite by other pests. We hope that the work will be so successful that the prickly pear will eventually be completely eradicated.
The honorable member for Kennedy also asked why the grant previously made to encourage the search for precious metals has ‘been stopped. That vote was eliminated by the Scullin Government, which stated that further grants should not he made - and the present Government supports this view - because, owing to the tremendously increased price of gold, it is now unnecessary to pay for exploratory work. When gold is discovered, the find more than repays for any expenditure involved.
The buffalo fly regulations, to which the honorable member for Kennedy has referred, were imposed by the State authorities in Queensland.
– Does the Minister approve of them?
– I am prepared to give the State authorities all possible assistance in enforcing them.
– What progress has been made in the investigation concerning the parasitic wasp?
– I shall make inquiry regarding that matter and furnish the honorable member with a reply later.
The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) spoke of the work of the staff at Australia House, and of the apparent lack of knowledge on the part of some of the officers concerning the Commonwealth. I am sure the honorable member does not wish to be unfair to that staff. On the occasion of my last visit to the Old Country I found its members generally to be most efficient.
– They are, if they are Australians.
– Occasionally an officer, whether of English or Australian birth, may be found to be inefficient. On the 1st July last, the number of persons employed at Australia House, excluding the maintenance staff, numbered 156, of whom 80 were males and 76 females. Of this total, 27 males, or nearly 34 per cent., of the staff were Australian-born, and 20 officers, or 25 per cent., had lived in Australia. No fewer than 34 officers, or 32.5 per cent., had served during the war with the Australian Imperial Force or the Royal Australian Navy. Quite a number of the Australian officers now employed had been demobilized in London, and appointed there. Honorable members should classify them as being as good Australians as if they had been, sent to Australia House from this country. No member of the female staff is of Australian birth, and only three of them have lived in Australia.
– Why cannot an Australian girl, if she goes to the Old Country, obtain a position on the staff at Australia House?
– If a position were available, I should say that she should receive preference; but I do not suppose any honorable member would suggest that typists should be sent from Australia to London at Government expense. The cost of transferring an exchange officer to Great Britain to act at Australia House would be £400.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) desired to know how much the High Commissioner, Mr. Bruce, was receiving for his work in London, and remarked that certain amounts were hidden. I think that he was most unfair to Mr. Bruce, because, if Aus tralia paid lum £50,000 a year, it would not be more than Mr. Bruce deserves, in view of his valuable services to the Commonwealth. I shall give the honorable member the actual figures relating to payments to Mr. Bruce, both as High Commissioner and Resident Minister in London. Under the High Commissioner Act, 1909, it’ was provided that the following payments should be made to a High Commissioner : -
Under the financial emergency and relief legislation, these amounts were reduced as follows : -
As Mr. Bruce will be remunerated for part of the financial year as a Minister, and for the other part as High Commissioner, provision has been made as follows : -
In addition, salary as a Minister and allowance as a member were paid to Mr. Bruce until the 7th October, 1933, when he resigned, and was appointed High Commissioner. His total payments for the year will be approximately £3,875.
– What about the removal expenses?
– These Estimates were prepared before Mr. Bruce was appointed High Commissioner, and provision, to the amount of £250, is made for his and Mrs. Bruce’s return to Australia. Provision is also made for the return of Mr. and
Mrs. Collins to Australia, £250 being allowed for this purpose. On the assumption that a new High Commissioner would need to be appointed, provision is made, in an amount of £400, for the fares of the new appointee and his wife and family, if any. An amount of £400 is also included in the Estimates to provide for the exchange of an officer at Australia House, who is due to return to Australia, by an officer in Australia who is to go to London to take his place.
The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) referred to a proposed vote of £600 under theheadi ng “ Mining and metallurgy “ for an investigation into the subject of the treatment of complex ores with a view to obtaining processing information for the extraction of their mineral content. This is intended to provide for the metallurgical examination of concentrates and residues. The investigation is being made by Dr. Stillwell, whose work is f acilitated by an annual subsidy of £320 from the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, and the provision of laboratory accommodation in the geological section of the Melbourne University.
.- This will be a suitable opportunity for a representative of the Government, preferably the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), to explain why the policy of appointing a Resident Minister in London has been abandoned, and the practice of appointing a High Commissioner restored. About twelve months ago, when Mr. Bruce was appointed Resident Minister in London, we were told that this step was desirable in order that there should be constant and direct contact between the Cabinet and the London financial authorities so that whatever was done in regard to debt conversion would have the full approval of the Cabinet. We were informed that negotiations of a most delicate character involving the need for constant consultation were necessary. Why has the Government changed its policy in this regard? In my opinion, a full explanation of the reasons for the change should have been given to honorable members when the change was made ; but as the Government failed to take advantage of that opportunity to explain its position, it certainly should do so on this occasion. If it were imperative twelve months ago to have a Resident Minister in Loudon why is it not imperative to-day? We all know that the financial work in which Mr. Bruce is engaged is by no means completed. Why is it now desirable that he should work on a different basis than formerly? If careful oversight and complete co-ordination were necessary twelve months ago, why are they not necessary now?
– I support the request of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) for a statement in justification of the Government’s change of. policy in regard to Australian representation in London. When a short bill to amend the High Commissioner Act was introduced into this Parliament about a year ago, we were told that it was rendered necessary because Mr. Bruce was going to London as Resident Minister and not as High Commissioner. Previous to that time, High Commissioners were not allowed to engage in private business activities, but when Mr. Bruce went to London as Resident Minister the act was altered to enable him to fulfil certain duties as High Commissioner without withdrawing from his business activities. I wish to know whether Mr. Bruce, now that he is High Commissioner, will stillbe able to engage in private business affairs? If so, he will be in quite a different position from any of his predecessors in the office of High Commissioner. Many people were of the opinion that the amendments of the High Commissioner Act were made solely to meet Mr. Bruce’s convenience. I wish to have an explanation of the present position. If there were objections to previous High Commissioners engaging in private business affairs what has happened to remove those objections? It seems to me that there is a good deal to be said against the High Commissioner for Australia sitting on directorates and other boards of business institutions. The whole position should be clarified.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The basic principle governing the appointment of a High Commissioner is that the term of office, salary, and allowances shall be sufficient to make possible the appointment of a person who can dissociate him- self from private business activities. The High Commiss i oner is really the business agent in Great Britain of the Commonwealth of Australia, and., while negotiating delicate business transactions between one country and another, he gains possession of information which, if he chose, he could use to great personal advantage were he engaged in private business. Section. 7 of the principal act reads -
Apersonappointed to be the High Commissioner shall not during his tenure of office be oract as director or agent of or hold any office in any companyor syndicate, whether incorporated or unincorporated, or hold any other employment, or engage in any business, whether within or without the Commonwealth.
The Right Honorable S. M. Bruce, when member for Flinders, was appointed Resident Minister in London, an office which required him to perform the duties which are usually allocated to a High Commissioner without imposing on him the obligation to discontinue his private business activities. I do not suggest that Mr. Bruce acted improperly if, while he was Resident Minister, he gave some attention to the affairs of his company, but while he had liberty of action as a private business man there may have been room to cavil regarding the salary and allowance paid to hi.m. He is no longer Resident Minister. He is High Commissioner, andas such is required by the act to make certain personal sacrifices. I should like to know now whether the appointment of Mr. Bruce as High Commissioner is subject to the qualifications of section 7 of the principal act, or whether it is governed by the provisions of the amending measure which was agreed to last year?
– It has been rightly pointed out by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) that the High Commissioner Act of 1909 was amended last year to provide that a Cabinet Minister appointed as Resident Minister in London might attend to the duties of High Commissioner. At the time the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) explained that it. was necessary ‘to have some one in London who possessed the ability and experience of Mr. Bruce, so that he could negotiate important loan conversions that were then imminent. The action of the Government has been thoroughly justified.
– That is not what we are dismissing.
– I am replying to the implication by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), that Mr. Bruce went to London as Resident Minister for the purpose of representing his company and carrying on private work, which he could not have done had he been appointed High Commissioner.
– That has not been mentioned.
– While the honorable member for Hindmarsh did not make that specific statement, he implied as much.
– I did not have that thought in my mind.
– If my interpretation of the honorable member’s remarks is incorrect, I withdraw it. The conversion of several big loans having been successfully effected, Cabinet considered a few months ago whether Mr. Bruce should be recalled to Australia and another Resident Minister in London appointed. As there remained many more loans to be converted, and these operations would require for a long period the attention of a person highly skilled in finance, Cabinet concluded that the wisest course would be to ask Mr. Bruce to accept the important position of High Commissioner. This was done, and the outcome was his appointment under the terms of the principal act.
– Why was the amending measure introduced last year?
– So that a Resident Minister could be appointed who, among other duties, would act as High Commissioner. Cabinet, considered that no one could fill the position of High Commissioner with more dignity or ability than Mr. Bruce; consequently,he was appointed to the position. I assure honorable members that the appointment was made subject to the qualifications contained in the principal act, and that Mr. Bruce does not retain a position in any private business, not even in the firm of Paterson, Laing and Bruce.
.- The Minister for Health (Mr. Marr) has made some remarkable statements, one of the most extraordinary being that the present High Commissioner is worth £50,000 a year to Australia. I suggest that, like the premature references to the death of Mark Twain, the honorable member’s claim is greatly exaggerated.
– I mentioned that he had effected conversions which saved Australia £1,600,000 a year in interest and exchange.
– Now the Minister declares that Mr. Bruce has been appointed High Commissioner because his services are indispensable to the Government. Yet, before the dinner adjournment, the honorable gentleman said that a sum of over £400 had been provided as “ removal expenses “ and fares. Apparent^ Cabinet contemplated another appointment, and not knowing the size of the family of the new appointee, made generous provision for transport expenses. Evidently at that time Mr. Bruce was not “ indispensable,” as the Minister for Health now declares him to be.
I regret that additional provision has not been made for research in connexion with the extraction of oil from coal and shale deposits in Australia. It is remarkable that the Government should set aside something like £1,500,000 for the purchase of warships, aeroplanes, and other forms of mobile defence, and neglect the all-important essentials of motor spirit and fuel oil. At present, Australia is entirely dependent on foreign countries for its oil supplies, and it is estimated that the stock of oil normally carried in this country would last for only one month should replenishment from outside sources be made impossible. I do not know if, in any other item of the Estimates, there is further provision for investigation of mining and metallurgy, hut I hope that the Government intends to exploit the possibility of extracting oil from coal, so as to make Australia independent of overseas supplies.
.- I am not at all satisfied that the explanation tendered by the Minister for Health (Mr. Marr) with reference to the appointment of Mr. Bruce as High Commissioner. It will be recalled that I asked him specifically to state the reason for departing from the innovation introduced twelve months ago of having a Resident Minister in London, and reverting to the former practice of appointing a High Commissioner. In his reply, the .Minister said that the amount of work entailed in negotiations for the conversion of Australian loans rendered it desirable to appoint Mr. Bruce to the High Commissionership for a period of five years - a longer term than was provided in the legislation relating to his appointment as Resident Minister. Surely the nature of the work required of the Resident Minister was apparent when the Government appointed Mr. Bruce? If Ministers were not seised of the magnitude and probable duration of that financial undertaking, all I can say is that they were lamentably ignorant. The appointment, as we know, was made in order that Mr. Bruce might carry on loan conversion negotiations in London, and, as a member of the Cabinet, be constantly in direct consultation with his ministerial colleagues. Only twelve months of the period of office had elapsed before the Government reverted to the old practice of appointing a High Commissioner, the office which Mr. Bruce now holds. The Minister has not frankly explained the reason for the change. Probably I can do so. Mr. Bruce was, I suggest, appointed High Commissioner because Ministers, becoming alarmed at the trend of political events in Australia, due to the possibility that the Country party would stand by its challenge to the Government in respect of certain matters of policy, determined that so rich a political plum as the High Commissionership should be assured to a member of their own party.
– The honorable member is not discussing any item before the Chair.
– I am discussing the provision in the Estimates for the salary of the High Commissioner, and contend that I am entitled to review the circumstances surrounding the appointment of the present occupant of that office. If it is not competent for me to discuss the subject on this item, what opportunity will I or any other honorable member have to secure information? The Minis- ter should be more candid and make a full explanation of the reasons for the’ appointment. The creation of th: office of Resident Minister in London was an innovation, and was considered by the Government to be necessary to ensure the success of pending loan conversions. But something has happened since then. I believe that I have interpreted correctly the reasons for the Government’s changed policy, and the appointment of Mr. Bruce as High Commissioner.
.- Honorable members are entitled to further in formation than has been given to them up to the present time concerning the Appointment of Mr. Bruce as High Commissioner. This subject was fully dis cussed when the bill to amend the High Commissioner Act was bef ore the House last yea]: Section 7 of the act provides -
A person appointed to be the High Commissioner shall not during his tenure of office bo or act as director or agent of or hold any office in any company or syndicate whether incorporated or unincorporated or hold any other employment, or engage in any business, whether within or without the Commonwealth.
It would’ be difficult to express in more definite terms what is required of the holder of that office. To evade that disability, the Government inserted in the act last year new section 9a, which empowers the Governor-General to issue to any Minister or member of the Executive Council, a commission authorizing him, during the pleasure of th& Governor-General, to exercise the powers and to perform the duties conferred upon or assigned to the High ‘Commissioner. Because of section 7 of the original act, it is possible that he could not be appointed to the office of High Commissioner. During the debate on the amending measure honorable members on this side of the chamber contended that the intention of the Government was to appoint a certain gentleman to the position. We stated further that if the amending section were not inserted the present holder of the office could not be appointed. Subsequent events have proved that we were right. Mr. Bruce has been appointed, but even now there is considerable doubt about the legality, of the Government’s action. Mr. Bruce was appointed Resident Minister for a term of two years, but at the expiration of only one-half of that period the Government changed its mind and appointed him definitely to the position of High Commissioner for a period of five years. The Minister for Health (Mr. Marr) has just explained to the committee that Mr. Bruce was appointed under the principal act. and that the amending section inserted last year does not affect the appointment. Lt must hi obvious that the High Commissionership is governed by section 7 of the original act, which, as I have shown, enacts that the holder of the office shall not have interest in any business undertaking, and therefore shall not be entitled to receive any funds from any commercial enterprise. I should like to know if, before , appointing Mr. Bruce to the High Com- .missionership, the Government had inquiries made as to whether he still retained interests in any business undertaking. It will be recalled that, in the last election, the Flinders seat was contested by Mr. Bruce who was still in London, and the Government broadcast the statement that he was unable to return to Australia because at the moment he was concerned with his business interests overseas. Therefore, it is not sufficient for the Assistant Minister now to say that Mr. Bruce is not connected with any commercial undertaking. The committee is entitled to know definitely whether or not Mr. Bruce had relinquished his connexion with commercial enterprise when he was appointed. If he had not, I submit that he was ineligible for appointment as High Commissioner and is liable to penalties provided under other legislation for breaches of Commonwealth law. It may be possible that Mr. Bruce has severed his connexion with commercial undertakings and is not now receiving any remuneration from them.
– I have said that to the committee twice already.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £692,150.
.- The subject with which I intend to deal has been discussed on many occasions during the last twelve months, but we have not had an opportunity to consider it except in connexion with other legislation. I refer to those sections incorporated in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act last year, which attach the property of pensioners. It will be remembered that when the Financial Relief Bill was before the House recently, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) announced his intention to submit an amendment for the repeal of those obnoxious provisions in the Invalid and Old -Age Pensions Act, but following an assurance from the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that we should have an opportunity to discuss the amendment of that act, no action was taken. We learn now that it is the intention of the Government to adjourn Parliament on the 24tli November - I do not know the reason for such haste - and so far there has been no intimation from the Government that it intends to introduce legislation dealing with this important matter.
– It will be introduced.
– I hope it will, but I do not intend to take the risk of its not being brought forward in time. Therefore I move -
That the amount be reduced by £1.
I move this amendment as an instruction to the Government to introduce legislation to repeal those provisions of the I nvalid and Old- Age Pensions Act which make pensions paid a charge on the property of pensioners. The Prime Minister promised that the law in this respect would be amended, but so far we have heard nothing further of the legislation to give effect to that promise. I now wish to give honorable members an opportunity to show whether they meant all they have said on this subject.
– The right honorable gentleman should not forget that his Government inserted those provisions in the act.
– On other occasions I have heard the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) misrepresent what my Government did, and what we proposed to do in respect of pensions. Our proposal did not force any pensioners to cancel their pensions. It is true that we inserted in the bill provisions relating to the property of pensioners, but we stipulated that property to the value of £500 would not be regarded as property within the meaning of the act. Having considered the matter further, my Government withdrew that provision. But the honorable member for Ballarat supported the second reading of the bill before that action was taken, and made no effort to have the provision withdrawn.
– The right honorable gentleman also supported the provision, and voted for the second reading of the bill.
– It was I who, as Prime Minister, had it withdrawn. There is no analogy between that measure and the cruel act of the present Government, for which the honorable member voted. He would be well advised to refrain from intruding in this matter, because his record in regard to it is a very bad one.
– The right honorable gentleman’s Government proposed to take something from living pensioners.
– I direct the attention of the right honorable gentleman to the fact that he is exceeding the scope of legitimate discussion in criticizing an act of Parliament. He may discuss the proposed appropriation, and the administration of the department.
– I take it that I may move for the reduction of the item by £1.
– The right honorable gentleman may do that. But he will not be in order in criticizing an act of Parliament.
– I draw attention to the fact that during the discussion of the Estimates of the Department of the Treasury for 1932-33, on the 25th October, 1932, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) moved -
That the item, “Secretary, £1,500,” be reduced by £1, “ as an instruction to the Government that the amendments of the invalid and old-age pensions effected by the recently enacted Financial Emergency Act should be repealed, because they are unworkable, and are inflicting unjust hardship on the invalid and old-age pensioners.” Debate upon that sweeping amendment of the act was not ruled out of order. My reply to the interjection of the Minis- tor for Commerce (Mr. Stewart) is that, as a consequence of the action of his Government, 12,000 living pensioners have cancelled their pensions. The proposals of my Government in regard to the property of a pensioner were not to operate until the value exceeded £500. Under the present law, the 12,000 pensioners who have cancelled their pensions so as to save for their heirs the little homes that they have struggled for years to obtain, have lost all that they were receiving, not merely £1 for every £.10 by which the value of their homes exceeds £500 as my government proposed. The Prime Minister has said that these cancellations indicate ineligibility for the pension. If that be so, these persons will not be entitled to receive it if the existing provision he repealed, and the Government will not be put to extra expense. The claim that the cost of pensions would be increased by £500,000 per annum if the property provision were repealed constitutes an admission of entitlement. I believe it was the Minister for Commerce who said the children who did not support their parents were not entitled to inherit any property left by the parents. In the majority of cases the children of pensioners have helped their parents to acquire and maintain homes; yet. this property is to be seized by the Government to repay the cost of pensions.
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman is still discussing the act.
– I submit my amendment to obtain a declaration from the committee as to whether this legislation should stand.
– I support the amendment, because I consider that the amount proposed to be appropriated for the administration of the pensions department is much too low. The illogical and unjust discrimination between those who have a home and those who have not cannot be defended. I am certain that the majority of the Government’s followers, and probably the Cabinet itself, believe that this portion of the act is unjust and illogical.
– The honorable member must realize that he is not in order in describing an act, or any portion of it, as unjust. Moreover, an amendment of the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act is not now before the committee.
-r-But the amount proposed to be appropriated will not permit of this rectification being made within the next few months. The Government definitely promised that honorable members would have an opportunity to review this particular legislation before the Parliament rose for the Christmas recess. This may be the only opportunity that we shall have.
– Oh, no !
– I am glad to have the assurance of the Assistant Treasurer that the Government proposes to honour its promise. But if these Estimates are passed in their present form, the Government may experience difficulty in giving administrative effect to any legislation for the rectification of existing anomalies.
– This vote rnakes provision only for the administration of the office.
– I am aware of that. But the amount provided for the investigative and other activities of the department, is not sufficient. A few days ago I asked the Assistant Treasurer whether the Cabinet would consider the necessity for the alteration of those provisions of the act under which are rejected claims by persons whose only disqualification is their inability to furnish evidence of separation by legal enactment, and the honorable gentleman replied that there was no need to alter the present policy. I have placed before the commission cases in which couples have been separated for from 20 to 37 years. Because of the commendable desire to avoid publicity, some married people do not obtain a legal separation, but simply part by mutual agreement. The case that I wish particularly to mention is that of a man who, having reached the age of 67 years* cannot any longer follow his occupation as a miner. His children are married, but are only able to keep themselves. His character in the mining community near Ballarat in which he lives is irreproachable. Yet, for twelve months, I have failed to secure for him a pension, because he cannot prove that he did notdesert his wife and refuse to maintain
Lis children. The act disqualifies a husband who during the five years preceding his claim for the pension had for twelve months or upwards- deserted his wife or refused adequately, to maintain her. This man has been separated from his wife for 37 years! If the amount proposed to be appropriated is not sufficient to defray the cost of investigations that will enable the commission to grant pensions in such cases, it should he increased. If these investigations cannot be made by the department, and claimants for pensions have not the means to procure the necessary evidence, how is justice to be done ?
– There is no need t© alter anything; the pension should he paid.
Mr.- HOLLOWAY. - The Assistant Treasurer says that the present act does not permit of its being paid. An elderly lady who asked me to investigate her claim was refused a pension because she could not discover her husband’s whereabouts, and, consequently, was unable to prove that he was not in a position to maintain her. I assisted in the search for him, and he was found living in a benevolent home at Talbot, Tasmania. Although old enough to be entitled to an old-age pension, he was receiving an invalid pension, because he was a cripple and was broken down in health. The old lady could not trace his history during the 20 years that he and she had been separated, and consequently was unable to prove that he was not in a position to keep her, with the result that she was compelled to live in a state of semi-starvation in South Melbourne. I feel certain the Assistant Treasurer will agree that there is something wrong with a law which withholds pensions from honest, respectable people in these circumstances.
There is another reason why these Estimates should be increased. Complaint is general concerning the lack of facilities at the pay offices for pensioners, who have to wait lengthy periods. The paying officers say that they cannot provide seating accommodation, or shelter from the rain and. the heat. The conditions in North Fitzroy, which have been brought to the notice of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) and myself, are typical. There the pensioners have to wait in the open for hours.
– What about payment by cheque ?
– That practice has been abolished. The officers cannot improve matters, because they have not the necessary facilities. The owners of St. Luke’s schoolroom in North Fitzroy took compassion upon the old people, and offered to let that room to the authorities. I mention this to show that the plight of the pensioners has been publicly noted. At the Port Melbourne post office, pensioners whom I represent have to waif in a queue on the footpath. It is too much to expect people of 60, 70 and 80 years of age to stand in the heat or the wet for an hour or longer. I know that the waiting period is often longer than is necessary, because of the habit of some pensioners of arriving early in the hope that they will have their business transacted quickly. If the amount appropriated last year was not sufficient to enable facilities to be provided, a larger sum should be voted this year.
I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), because I am opposed to the policy of merely lend.ing the amount of the pension to those who have struggled to obtain homes. As amended last October, the act enables, the Government to obtain a lien on the property of pensioners, at whose death the cost of the pension is recovered.
– Order ! The Chair has ruled that the act may not be discussed.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Chairman. I hope that the amendment will be carried, or at least that a definite assurance will be given by the Government that a day will be fixed for the review of the property provisions of the act and the rectification of one of its worst anomalies, and that” the whole pensions scheme will be placed on the same basis as prior to the adoption of the Premiers plan.
– With reference to the amendment, I draw the attention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) to the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr.
Lyons) has given a definite undertaking that the Government will give further consideration to the subject of pensions.
– The Prime Minister has promised that, before Christmas, a definite opportunity will be afforded to honorable members to discuss this subject. Actually, the matter is at this moment under the consideration of the Government, and it is hoped that before long the Prime Minister will be able to inform honorable members of its decision. In view of that definite undertaking, I suggest that little will be gained at this stage by a discussion of pensions.
– I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Scullin), despite the undertaking repeated by the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey), because we do not know what the Government may decide to do, even when it reviews the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act. The amendment is definite, and indicates to the Government our desire that the whole of the property provisions in the act be deleted.
I should like some information regarding the expenditure on medical examinations. Last year the vote was £6,130, and this year it is £5,000. Do the medical officers receive a fixed salary, or are they paid in accordance with the number of cases they review, or is there a system of payment by results, the measure being the number of applications rejected? Although we have had the assurance from time to time that the act will be sympathetically administered, the departmental medical officers evince the most callous disregard of the feelings of applicants for invalid pensions. I know that some applicants, particularly those who are disappointed, are apt to exaggerate the treatment meted out to them by the medical officers ; but this complaint is general, coming from both successful and unsuccessful applicants, including persons whom I know personally, and of whose integrity and veracity I have the highest opinion. In addition, I have had a little experience of the department and the medical officers attached to it. I am convinced that any invalid pensioner whose case is reviewed by Dr. Ludowici, of Sydney, has little chance of securing or retaining the pension. In one case which I have previously brought under the notice of honorable members, the invalid pensioner was not only epileptic, but also mentally unbalanced. He had been in receipt of an invalid pension for 23 years, during which he had been four times examined, but on coming before Dr. Ludowici, it was discovered that he was really better than he had been 23 years ago, despite the fact that he had suffered from epileptic fits, and had been slightly mentally deranged during the whole of that period. However, on the recommendation of this doctor, his pension was stopped before any other doctor could review the case, with the result that the man became completely unbalanced, and attempted to commit suicide by drowning. He was rescued and placed in a mental home. On the advice of the Minister in charge at the time, I wrote to the pensions department, and the special pleading by the department in Canberra in justification of the treatment meted out to this pensioner was a surprise to me. Finally, the department, in a long letter, admitted that, according to the evidence, this man was qualified for the pension, but that, as he was in a mental asylum, he had no claim. The application form sets out certain diseases for which a further medical examination is not really needed, and epilepsy major, with frequent fits, gives an unchallengable right to an invalid pension. Some time ago, I brought under the notice of the department the case of a young woman 33 years of age, who, all her life, had been subject to epileptic fits. She was also mentally weak, so much so that she was not allowed to shop unattended in the district in which she lived. After the departmental doctor had examined this young lady, her claim was rejected. I protested, and was requested by the department to obtain letters from three or four of her neighbours to the effect that they had actually seen her in fits, since the Deputy Commissioner had stated that one of the usual symptoms, apart altogether from the actual seizure, was the biting of the tongue. I sent to the department the evidence of neighbours who had seen the young woman in fits and received the following reply: -
As regards the statements of neighbours, they can only say that they have seen her iti Jits and it is quite unlikely that they know the nature of the fits.
That evidence was casually dismissed by the department even though it had invited me to obtain it. I then produced a doctor’s certificate certifying epilepsy three years before, when, because the father was employed and able to keep his daughter, he had decided rightly not to apply for the pension. I also produced a certificate from the medical superintendent of a Sydney hospital to the effect that this woman had all the symptoms of epilepsy and that Dr. Porter hud stated that it was quite possible that her seizures were epileptic in character.. Despite this evidence, this woman had to appear before another departmental doctor who finally decided that she was eligible for the pension. In the meantime three months had elapsed during which the pension had been denied to this woman. Another case which I brought under the notice of the department was that of a youth of about sixteen years of age whose right arm and hand were so disabled that his people had to cut up his food for him. When I pointed out that fact to the department and sent in certificates from two doctors to the effect that this boy was Totally and permanently unfit for work, the department replied that although he was inconvenienced by the loss of one arm, bo could perforin work usually done by one-armed persons. The department has resorted to a new excuse. Previously when similar cases were brought under its notice, it stated that the one-armed persons concerned could earn their living selling newspapers. So frequently was that excuse employed that it became necessary to point out to the department that if all the one.armed people began to sell newspapers, there would be more sellers than, newspapers. The department has therefore adopted this new excuse. I do not think that any honorable member is satisfied with the administration of the Pensions Department in respect of invalid pensions.
– The wording of the act is wrong.
– Wc were assured when the act was being amended last October, that while the law appeared to be harsh, it would be. softened by sympathetic administration. The trouble is that what one doctor does, another doctor undoes. The complaint in Sydney is that any applicant who appears before Dr. Ludowici has little or no chance of obtaining a pension, and I suggest that the act should be administered more sympathetically.
.- The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) would be quite justified were it not for the assurance of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that the act would be amended before the Christmas vacation. Therefore we can rest assured that within three weeks at any rate, an amending bill will be before this Parliament. I shall vote against the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition because I have no wish to interfere with the plans of the Government. About a month ago, the Prime Minister intimated that, an amending hill would be introduced; he did not disclose its exact nature, but I firmly believe that it will provide for an exemption of from £500 to £600, and if such an exemption be adopted, it will meet nearly every case of hardship. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has brought under the notice of the committee several matters relating to invalid pensioners. I have not much sympathy with some of those cases. I have been in close association with the department during the 30 years of my political life and I know that, generally speaking, the act is being most sympathetically administrated, although I admit that during the last twelve months I have lost my temper with the department on one or two occasions. The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act to-day, apart from those sections which deal with pensioners’ property, is a better law than when the’ Scullin Government was in power.
– I ask the honorable member not to discuss the act.
– I appeal to the Opposition to withdraw the amendment, because they will only make a farce of the proceedings by pressing it, especially as there is no possibility of its being carried. The Leader of the Opposition is merely seeking a little cheap notoriety. He should be the last to pose as a champion of the old-age pensioners, because he was the leader of the government that first reduced the pensions. He also brought in a further amendment, the effect of which was to deny a pension to any one owning property worth-
– Order ! I ask the honorable member not to continue to disregard my ruling.
– I would not be in the position of the Leader of the Opposition, who himself introduced a far more rigorous measure than the one to which he now objects.
– I shall have to ask the honorable member to resumehis seat if he does not obey my ruling.
– I agree with what the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) said regarding the need for better facilities for the payment of pensions. Treasury officials have stated that the system of payment of pensions by cheque cannot be extended because it is too costly.
– When was that method restricted ?
– Payment was made by cheque up to a few months ago, and then it was decided that no more such payments were to be made. I have myself applied in two or three instances for payments to be made by cheque, but was informed by the department that it could not be done, and that the pensioner would have to make arrangements for a neighbour to collect the money. I trust that the Treasurer will accede to the request that improved facilities be provided for the payment of pensions.
.- The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) seems to have lost much of his ardour for the cause of old-age pensioners. Only a few months ago he con- demned, with every appearance of indignation, those provisions in the act relating to the property of pensioners. Nothing has occurred since then to alter the situation, but now he seems prepared to accept things as they are. Although the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has reminded honorable members that certain amendments to the act have been promised by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), nothing has yet been done, and it is significant that it is proposed to leave the amending legislation to the very end of the session. If the honorable member for Ballarat were consistent, he would have demanded that the Government should bring in that legislation immediately.
– I remind the honorable member that I have already ruled that the act may not be discussed.
– I am not discussing the act, but the attitude of the Government towards the amendment now before the Chair.
– I understood that the honorable member was discussing the act which he wished to be amended.
– The Assistant Minister appealed to honorable members not to debate this item, because the Prime Minister had promised that the act would be amended.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh will recall that, when the Leader of the Opposition (M r. Scullin) moved his amendment, and proceeded to discuss the act, I called himto order. The Assistant Minister said that there was no need for the amendment, because the Government intended to do certain things. In the circumstances, I considered it proper for the Assistant Minister to make that statement, but. 1 cannot allow honorable members to discuss the act on the amendment now before the Chair. The administration of the act may be discussed, but not the act itself.
– I was merely trying to justify the action of the Leader of the Opposition in moving his amendment. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) agrees with what the Leader of the Opposition seeks to accomplish by means of his amendment, but, by some strange process of reasoning, seeks to excuse himself from facing up to the situation and voting for the amendment. He said that honorable members of the Opposition must be aware that there is no chance of the amendment being carried. Honorable members of the Opposition are not aware of any such thing; if all honorable members vote as they have spoken, the amendment will be carried by a large majority. Unfortunately, however, many Government supporters, although they speak earnestly of the wrongs of the pensioners, decline to take the opportunity when it is offered to right them. We are entitled to claim the. support of the honorable member for Ballarat, and of certain other .honorable members opposite, in view of the frequent professions they have made. Even if the Government proposes to introduce amending legislation, there is no reason why this amendment should not be supported.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing legislation. There is no legislation before the Chair now.
– I merely said that, as there is no legislation before us, and no indication of any ‘ being brought down immediately, there was no reason why the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition should not be supported, especially as its acceptance would strengthen the hands of the Government in any action it might take for the relief of pensioners. The sections of the act dealing with property qualifications are unnecessarily harsh.
– I have already warned the honorable member that he is not in order in discussing the act.
– In my opinion, the act is not administered with sufficient liberality in regard to the amounts allowed for the maintenance of those in need. I support the request of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) for more suitable accommodation for pensioners at the places where pensions are paid. Although I have no desire to encroach on the territory of other honorable members, I have made it a rule to give to all pensioners who seek my aid the best service of which I am capable. I say that because, from time to time electors in districts represented by other honorable members seek my aid, and I feel that I would be guilty of neglect of my public duties if I failed to assist them. An elector who approaches an honorable member representing’ another district does so in the belief, I take it, that he will receive better service from that member than from the member for his district. I am willing that this principle shall be applied both ways. If an elector in my district chooses to approach another honorable member for assistance, I shall be glad if that member will do his best for the applicant, in which case I shall not complain. I have received requests for assistance to pensioners in the electorates of Batman and Maribyrnong, and I make no apology for having attended to them. Like the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, and, possibly, the .honorable member for Batman. (Mr. Dennis) also, I have received a communication asking me to do what I can to secure better accommodation for pensioners at North Fitzroy.
– For over twelve months I have been making representations on that matter.
– The honorable member’s interjection i3 evidence of the inability of the Government to appreciate the difficulties which confront pensioners at North Fitzroy. If the honorable member is no more successful in his other representations I do not wonder that electors in his district seek the assistance of other honorable members. If this debate results in better accommodation for pensioners being provided at North Fitzroy it will not have been in vain. I hope that the committee will agree to the amendment. The present state of affairs should not be allowed to continue.
.- I shall not support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) for a number of reasons, the first of which is that, even if it were agreed to, it would not accomplish anything. If we agree to reduce this item by fi, as an instruction to the Government to do what the right honorable member desires, we merely instruct it to do what both the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) have already definitely promised to do. Therefore, it would be futile to support the amendment, which I submit, has been moved for political purposes.
– That suggestion is unworthy of the honorable member.
– I had no desire to be offensive. As I have said, I shall not support the amendment, notwithstanding that uo honorable member is more convinced than I am of the need for an amendment of the existing legislation. In the administration of the Pensions Act lengthy delays sometimes take place before a decision is arrived at. I could mention a number of instances in which several months have elapsed between the making of the application and the notification to the applicant that his case was being considered. In support of my statement -I shall mention one specific instance: In October, 1932, a pension was reduced, and in November of that year, I made representations concerning it to the authorities. My letter was acknowledged by the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions on the 22nd November, 1932, and on 31st August, 1933 - nine months later - his decision was communicated to me. The letter stated that the case I had presented had been considered, and that it had been agreed to increase the pension, and to make the increase retrospective for nine months. That decision justified my representations, and proved that the pension should never have been reduced ; but it took over nine months to arrive at that decision. In numerous instances three or four, or even five, months elapsed before a decision was arrived at in connexion with applications for pensions. I hope that the new Minister in charge of the department will see that applications for pensions are dealt with more expeditiously. Even a decision to make a pension retrospective to the date of the application does not meet the needs of the applicant during the intervening period, which may be several months. Although in such cases the applicant gets a lump sum covering arrears, he has had to wait, say, four or five months, during which he has probably endured great privation. -
Another case of hardship which has come under my notice concerns a man and his wife who have no income other than their pensions. The man’s brother died leaving a will, made many years previously, by which the pensioner was to receive a legacy of £500. The department claims that as he is in receipt of £500 he is not entitled to a pension. Moreover, it assumes that his wife has received half of her husband’s wealth, and her pension must be cancelled.
– Would not the wife be entitled to a portion of the pension?
– In the case which I have mentioned, neither the husband nor the wife was paid a pension for several months; the old couple was penniless. Their pensions have not yet been restored to them, notwithstanding my representations on their behalf. In addition a local solicitor, acting in an honorary capacity, has interested himself in this case, so far without result. Although on paper the husband has an interest of £500 in the will, that legacy is not worth 20d. He has. not received one farthing and I doubt whether he will ever do so. The pensioner has agreed to give the department a lien over his interest in the will so that if the money becomes available later the department may reimburse itself in respect of any payments made. In such cases, the department should have discretionary power, or, when in doubt, should refer the matter to the Minister, who should assume the responsibility. It should be an easy matter for the department to determine whether a pensioner is in receipt of any income or possesses some asset which will provide him with his daily bread. As similar cases have been brought under my notice from time to time I sincerely trust that the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) will discuss the matter with the Commissioner to see if. these disabilities cannot be removed. There does not appear to he any reason why the payment of a pension should be interrupted on the mere assumption that a pensioner has an interest in an asset which may never materialize. If a pensioner were in receipt of a few shillings a week there might be some justification for the department reducing the pension, but in the case I have mentioned the pensioner was not in receipt of any income at all. If this difficulty cannot be overcome under the existing legislation, I trust that an amendment of the law will be made during the present session of Parliament.
.-Prior to the passage of the Financial Relief Bill a pensioner receiving 22s. 6d. a week as board from a member of his or her family had his or her pension reduced by 2s. 6d. a week. I therefore assume that in this respect the Government regards 20s. a week as a fair rate for board and lodging. Will the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) say if that is so?
– I did not say so.
– Will he say whether the Government considers 12s. 6d. a week or 15s. a week a fair charge for board and lodging? The Commonwealth Government now allows the State Governments 12s. 6d. a week for the board of inmates of State institutions, where there is every facility for living under a cooperative system, and I understand that on that amount no profit is made. State institutions usually have their own cows and pigs, grow their own vegetables, and the women wash the clothes and bed linen of the inmates. A woman pensioner at Auburn, who has thirteen pensioner boarders, was receiving a pension of 7s. 6d. a week, which was subsequently reduced to 2s. 6d. a week. These thirteen boarders are each paying lis. 3d. per week, or 6d. less than the Federal Government recently paid to State institutions.
– She is conducting a boarding establishment ?
– Yes. Until the act was amended a few weeks ago, the Government was paying to State institutions Ils. 9d. a week for each pensioner inmate. I communicated with the department concerning the reduction of this woman’s pension to 2s. 6d. a week, and the pension has now been cancelled. This old lady cannot receive any profit from the thirteen pensioner boarders who each pay her lis. 3d. a week. I appeal to the Assistant Treasurer to fix a definite rate to cover the cost of board and lodging and thus overcome the uncertainty which now exists. Apparently the department has nothing definite to guide it in this matter. I support the remarks by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) with respect to invalid pensions. The department is not altogether to blame in this direction, because it has to comply with the law. I know of a man who has lost both arms and is blind, but, because he sells matches, he is refused an invalid pension. I also have in mind a young woman, 24 or 25 years of age, who is sub-normal, suffers from epileptic fits, and is nearly deaf, but because doctors say that she is not permanently incapacitated, she cannot obtain an invalid pension. I trust that the Assistant Treasurer will deal with cases of this kind, and see that the existing anomalies are removed. I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr. CASEY (Corio - Assistant Treasurer) 1.9.40] . - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) mentioned the case of man who, having lived apart from his wife for 37 years, cannot obtain a pension. I can only repeat what I said on a previous occasion, that in matters of this kind the Commissioner ha3 wide discretionary power, and can, to a large extent, do what he thinks is just. Subsequent to the honorable member’s previous speech on this subject, the Commissioner assured me that there were no known deserving cases where hardship of this kind occurs. If the honorable member will supply me with particulars of the case of the couple who have been living apart for 37 years, and have now fallen on hard times, I shall personally investigate it.
– I have the correspondence.
– I shall go into the matter. I do not think that any case has been made out for an amendment of the law in this respect. It is preferable that the Commissioner should have discretionary powers in matters of this kind rather than there should be rigid legislative provision. With ample flexibility, it is easy to deal with a wide variety of cases. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) referred to the provision of £5,000 to meet the fees of the medical officers. It may ease the honorable member’s mind to know that these fees are paid only in cases authorized by the department.,, and that the amount is slightly less than it was last year owing to the fact that an increasing number of these cases is now being investigated by permanent officers of the Health Department. Other honorable members have mentioned the inadequate accommodation provided for pensioners at pay offices, and three honorable members, I think, referred to that at North Fitzroy. That office has not been brought under my notice before, but the whole subject of accommodation is constantly under review by the department. If specific information is supplied with respect to North Fitzroy or to any other place, I shall see that it is fully considered. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) is, I think, under some slight misapprehension with respect to the payment of pensions by cheque. Payment by cheque is still made when the pensioners are unable to arrange for warrantees in whom they have confidence to collect their pensions or where, owing to the distance from the post office, or for other reasons, they are unable to receive payment in the ordinary way.
– I do not think that that is so.
– That is the procedure.
– I know of three or four applications which have been definitely refused.
– If that is so, it must be because the department does not consider the excuses adequate.. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) mentioned an instance of what he considered undue delay.
– Yes, nine months.
– After the passage of the amending pensions legislation in October of last year, the officials of the department were working under great pressure investigating practically every existing pension. That pressure has now been relieved, and I trust that in future there will not be any delay in this respect. If the honorable member knows of any cases in which there has been unnecessary delay, I hope that he will bring them under my notice.
The honorable member for Calare also mentioned a husband and wife who had been deprived of their pensions because rhe former was due to benefit to the amount of £500 under his brother’s will. This is the first criticism in my brief ministerial experience of section 52c, which provides that, if a pensioner receives a legacy of £400, his pension ceases, and any amount in excess of £400 is paid to the department in satisfaction of past pension payments.
– I brought this case under the notice of the Chief Commissioner.
– I shall be glad to receive the facts of the case, which, on the. face of it, is a clear contravention of the law.
I can relieve the mind of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander), who referred to a case in which the pension was reduced by 2s. 6d. a week because the pensioner was receiving board money to the amount of 22s. 6d. a week from a member of her family. Prior to the recent amendment of the act, that deduction was made, hut under the present law it will not apply.
In regard to the pensioner who boarded thirteen other pensioners at11s.3d. a week, I suggest that she was conducting a business. She would not keep thirteen pensioners unless she was making some profit, however slight, and that profit, cannot be ignored in the calculation of the pension.If the honorable member has details of this case, and desires to have it investigated, I shall be glad to look into it.
.- I fail to see that any difficulty should be experienced by honorable members in deciding to vote for the reasonable amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). Honorable members who have made emphatic protests in the past against the administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and particularly against the harsh nature of the property provisions, should readily support the amendment. The departmental officials should not be blamed for the present harsh administration of the act, for, generally speaking, they are merely carrying out the policy of the Government. Members of the United Australia party and other honorable members who have condemned the officials, should lay the blame upon the present Government for the instructions that it has evidently issued to the department to adopt intimidatory methods, that will make large numbers of elderly folk afraid to apply for pensions. The officials, with few exceptions, have held their positions for many years. They are proud of the high traditions of their office, and, although they administer the law as it stands, they are personally sympathetic with the pensioners. The harsh provisions of which I complain were in- troduced by the present Government, not at a time when Australia was faced with a deficit of £10,000,000 and a prospective deficit in the following year of £20,000,000, as when the Scullin Government was in office, but when the Government had a surplus of £3,500,000, and was able to hand back to wealthy taxpayers over £2,000,000. This year taxes to the amount of £7,500,000 are being remitted to the wealthy friends of the Government, but the pensioners are still to be deprived of about £1,000,000 per annum in comparison with the amount paid during the regime of the Scullin Government. If delay occurs in the administration of the pensions law, it will be due to the tremendous burden placed on the shoulders of the departmental officers, because of most exacting legislation, and instructions from the Cabinet. Ministers do not wish to take full responsibility for their actions, but desire to transfer some of it to the department.
Until the present law is amended, the officers of the department, despite their sympathetic attitude to the aged and infirm, can do nothing to relieve them of the cruel provisions of the property sections of the act, which make the pension a charitable dole instead of a grant to which every man and woman is entitled on reaching the age of 65 years. I am surprised at ‘the remarks of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), whose leader stated in this chamber three weeks ago that at the first opportunity he would take steps to have the property provisions deleted from the act, hut immediately fled north to look after his property interests. With pensions, as with tobacco and other items, in which certain members of the Country party claim to be deeply interested, when the crucial time for action arrives they are absent. Is there a get-together movement between the ‘Country party and the United Australia party? Is that the reason for the combined party meeting to be held on Thursday next? Is the object to divide the spoils of office, and decide whether the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and you, Mr. Prowse, are to become members of the Cabinet?
– The honorable .member should confine his remarks to the item under consideration.
– Honorable members opposite who supported the recent amendments of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act should not forget that 12,000 persons have been so intimidated that they have been frightened off the pension* list. Since the 12th October, 1932, the homes of deceased pensioners, which have been provided largely as the result of the thrift of their sons and daughters, are to be sold, presumably, by the Government, and the proceeds are to be paid into the Treasury to cover the amount paid to the pensioner since that date. We have been assured that certain action will be taken two or three weeks hence, but were not honorable members promised two or three months ago that the Government would relieve the position of the wheat-growers? The press has stated that this Parliament will go into recess within a fortnight, and when I asked the Minister for Commerce if he would introduce legislation to provide for the orderly marketing of dairy produce-
– I submit that the wheat and dairying industries have nothing to do with the pensions.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I again request the honorable member to discuss the question before the Chair.
– We were informed by the Government that the granting of a wheat bounty or a tax on flour would be considered before the Parliament adjourned, and consideration was also promised of such matters as wheat marketing and legislation relating .to bankruptcy, butter, and the tobacco industry. We were further told that a bill to create a central reserve bank would be introduced. The Prime Minister stated a few weeks ago that he desired to obtain the opinion of Parliament regarding the property provisions of the Pensions Act ; therefore, a majority vote in favour of the amendment should result in the immediate introduction of legislation to abolish these unjust provisions. If it had not been for the determined fight of honorable members of the Labour party nothing would have been heard about the plight of pensioners.
– ‘The object of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition ‘ (Mr. Scullin) is to direct the Government to introduce legislation to repeal the property provisions of the pensions legislation. The only Government reply to the amendment has been an assurance that the subject will be dealt with prior to the Christmas recess.
– We have ‘been told only that it will be considered.
– Apparently the Government is not prepared to say definitely that these objectionable sections of the act will be repealed. It is only willing to consider them. I shall not go back as far as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) in considering what weight can be given to Government assurances. Last Friday we were assured by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that a statement would be made in the House to-day regarding the Government’s policy for the assistance of the wheat-growers. I have been a member of this Parliament sufficiently long to know that one of the objects of an assurance from the Government is to provide it with a breathing space. If the Government finds subsequently that it cannot carry out its assurance, this method provides time for it to formulate the necessary excuses for not doing so. But it is the duty of an opposition to seize on every opportunity to force the hand of the Government. When honorable members supporting the Ministry were in opposition about two years ago they adopted a similar attitude to that of the present Opposition. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) has said that the Government has made a promise. I am surprised that he or any other member of the Country party should place any reliance on a promise by this Government, for we remember that prior to the last election honorable gentlemen opposite made a solemn compact with the Country party, which, according to the members of that party, has not been honoured. The honorable member for Calare himself, just prior to the reassemb-
I ling of Parliament early in October, made some harsh statements in his electorate about promises and undertakings which this Government has repudiated.
– But he has since repented.
– The honorable member for Calare said that the Prime Minister’s word could not be accepted.
– That is so; and the Prime Minister said something about the honorable member tilting at windmills. I am surprised that members of the Country party should now be so ready to accept the word of the Government.
– There is to be a joint party meeting on Thursday.
– Well, we do not wish to spoil their “ get-together “ movement.
The subject to which the Leader of the Opposition has drawn attention needs immediate attention. Every day deputy commissioners of pensions are being called upon to deal with the estates of deceased pensioners. Last week, one of my colleagues asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the Government’s undertaking to introduce legislation dealing with the property section of the Pensions Act, instructions would be given to deputy commissioners to leave in abeyance matters affecting the estates of deceased pensioners pending the passing of the proposed legislation. Surely this is not tod much to ask. We know that small insurance policies often bring, the estates of deceased pensioners to a value exceeding £50, and hardship is caused when such estates are dealt with under the existing law. If the Government is really sincere in its promise to reconsider the present law, it should agree that action in connexion with estates of deceased pensioners, as suggested by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. MoGrath), should be deferred until the amending legislation has been passed. If the Government expects us to accept, its assurance that’ legislation will be introduced it is not unreasonable for us to ask it to issue instructions that estates likely to be affected by its legislation should not be dealt with at present by the deputy commissioners of pensions.
I wish now to refer to the medical examination of pensioners to which the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) and certain other honorable mem- bers have already directed attention. It appears to me that some of the medical practitioners who examine claimants for invalid pensions are so incompetent that people who need medical attention would be well advised to avoid them. The suggestion has been made that some of these gentlemen are being paid by the number of the claims they reject. Either they do not properly consider the cases submitted to them, or they are incompetent. I must emphasize the name of Dr. Ludowici, who is noted for his harsh treatment of pensioners. Although a pensioner’s medical history may disclose that for many years he has undergone treatment, in some cases at the hands of specialists, this doctor ignores the .evidence, and overrides the opinions of those who are thoroughly conversant with the case. Eoi- a long time I have felt that a tribunal should be set up to hear appeals from the decision of the examining officer. It will be remembered that prior to the appointment of the Entitlement and Assessment Tribunals, the cases of individual returned men were constantly being referred to in. this chamber. Now, because of the more or less satisfactory operation of those two bodies, such, references are rare. While I do not wish to impose on the good nature of those who belong to the medical fraternity, I am confident that many doctors would be only too willing to make their services available to the Government to decide appeals against the findings of the examining officers. It could be provided, that the decision of the appeal tribunal should be binding on both sides.
My third point concerns pensioners who, because of their ill health, are forced temporarily to vacate their homes and live in suburbs adjacent to hospitals so that they may receive medical attention. When last I brought this subject forward, I had the support of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), which I valued, because he a.s a medical nian can truly appreciate the position. I have previously referred to a typical case, that of an old couple who are pensioners. In order that he might be treated at the Sydney Hospital, it was necessary for the couple to leave their home, which was some fifteen miles out of the city, and reside with a daughter near the hospital. The wife is left in the care of the daughter while the husband attends the hospital for treatment. Unfortunately, the value of his home was assessed against his pension, which was accordingly reduced. I wish it to be understood that the department has dealt sympathetically with the case, and, on my representations, has restored the pension to its former amount. However, I have continually to depend upon the good graces of the Deputy Commissioner, as the matter comes up for review every two or three months, and unless I am quickly on the job, the pension is reduced, and in the interval before I have it restored, the old couple suffer. Pensioners should not have to depend upon the discretion of the Deputy Commissioner in such circumstances. If it can be proved that a case is bona fide, and that the property which has been vacated returns no income, there should be no reduction of pension. These are practical suggestions which should be given effect in the amending bill which the Government intends to introduce. Despite the assurances that have been given by the Government, I think that this is a suitable opportunity to express an opinion upon the property clauses of th act; therefore, I shall support, the amendment.
– In common with members of other parties, members of the Country party are keenly interested in the treatment of invalid and old-age pensioners. When the j Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) recently advanced proposals for the reconsideration of the property sections, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) promised that the matter would -be dealt with before the House went into recess. Since then, we have been informed by the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) that, an amending measure will bo introduced this week.
– No promise was made that it would be introduced this week.
– The bill will be brought down before Parliament rises, and the Government hopes that it will be possible to introduce it this week.-
– In the circumstances, the Country party will await the introduction of the bill before determining the adequacy or otherwise of the Government’s proposals. Consequently, members of my party do not propose to support the amendment.
– The suggested amending legislation will undoubtedly affect a very large proportion of invalid and old-age pensioners throughout Australia. I am very glad to know that the Government contemplates action in the direction indicated, because any person whether or not he is a pensioner, who owns a home is a valuable asset to the community and, as such, should receive every consideration. I do not wish to give a silent vote on the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). The Gooveri ment has definitely promised to bring in legislation to amend the property provisions in the act. This being so, I see no necessity for the amendment and shall vote against it.
.- The assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) expressed the opinion that the act should nor bc too rigid, and that its provisions worked more smoothly when they were flexible and gave wide discretionary power to the officers administering pensions. Hitherto the administration of the property sections has not been all that one could desire; not because the officers have been lacking in sympathy, but because they are obliged to obey the law. Prom my experience of pensions officers, I feel sure that, if they were vested with wider powers, many of the anomalies that now exist would be remedied. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) has mentioned the delay that takes place between an application for a pension and the authority to pay it. In Queensland applications are made to a Clerk of Petty Sessions, who having multitudinous other duties, is forced to deal with claims for pensions as a side line. Consequently very often there is a delay of several weeks before a claim is dealt with. If applications could be made through the postmasters in the various towns, there would be less cause for complaint in this respect. It should also be remembered that payment is made, not from the date of application, but from the date of approval. I do not attach any blame to the pensions officials for the many anomalies that exist. I, in common with other honorable members, frequently receive letters from pensioners whose claims have been reduced by the Deputy Commissioner, whom they believe to be unsympathetic. That is not so. I doubt that there is a more efficient officer in the Commonwealth Public Service than Mr. Metford, the Assistant Commissioner for Pensions. He is a man of broad vision and wide sympathies and, I am sure that, if he were allowed greater discretionary power, he would do the right thing in all circumstances. But he and the deputy commissioners are bound by the act, and despite the assertion to the contrary by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Guy) I assert that they received definite instructions to reduce expenditure wherever possible. The Assistant Treasurer said that if cases of hardship were brought to the notice of the pensions officials, they would receive consideration. I repeat that those officers have no option hut to administer the law. Even the Minister himself is powerless. It is anomalous that a husband or wife who have been separated for many years should be penalized by the property provisions inserted in the act last year. They may have been living apart for twenty years or more, and one may not know if the other is alive or dead, but if one of them possesses property, onehalf of its value is assumed to belong to the other and the pension is reduced accordingly.
– That provision has been in the act for over twenty years.
– I am aware that it has; but the Assistant Treasurer stated to-night that a matter like that could be rectified by administration, and I say that it cannot, without an amendment of the act. I was pleased to hear the Assistant Treasurer say that amending legislation will be brought down this year, but I doubt that we shall see it in the near future. If, however, it is introduced, another will be added to the very few promises which the Government has honoured. Another anomaly in pension administration affects children who may have provided homes, for pensioner parents. I have in my hand a letter from a pensioner constituent in the Cairns district informing hie that he had no property himself and that his wife’s property was a gift to her from their children. The local council has assessed its annual value for rating purposes, al £100. This man informs me that he has been advised by the Deputy Commissioner that there is a charge of £10 10s. against the property in respect of pension payments made after the 12th October last. The son who built the home on the land, the deeds of which are held by the mother, naturally thought that following the death of his parents; he would come into possession of it. The Assistant Treasurer contends that remedy is possible by administration. I dispute that unless the Government is prepared to issue instructions to that effect. If it does that justice will be done to those who are now suffering by reason of the strict administration of the act. If the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition merely hastens the fulfilment of the Government’s promise, it will have1 achieved its object.
.- I am astonished that certain honorable members should doubt the genuineness of the Government’s promise to amend the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. Every promise made by this Government has been redeemed.
At different times it has been asserted that I have expressed agreement with the property provisions of the act. I repeat that I agree with the principle which underlies those provisions.
– Order ! The Chair has ruled that the act may not be discussed.
– In the administration of the act, the amount of pensions paid since the property provisions were enacted may be recovered upon the death of a pen.sioner. I have it on the authority of Deputy Commissioners that as the act has stood for many years, there has been nothing to prevent persons owning property worth as much as £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000, from receiving a pension. Upon the death of the pensioner such property passes to the children.
– I challenge the Commissioner to mention one case of that kind.
– I know of a property that was let for £2 10s. a week. When the pension of the owner was withdrawn, he appealed to me to have if restored, but I advised him to occupy his horrie. He preferred to rent a room for £1 a week,and to apply the balance of £1 10s. to his personal requirements. All Over Australia, possessors of valuable properties have obtained pensions. The act is under trial, but the experiment so far hag proved that the Government is justified in promising to exempt property up to a certain value. That promise is the result, not of pressure by the Country party, but of consultations in the ranks of the Government party;
– Many anomalies in the administration of the act have come to the. notice of honorable members on this side of the chamber: I do not believe it was intended that the pension should be a charge upon properties that have only a small value. I am confident that, within the next week or so, the Government will honour its promises to introduce amending legislation. I am surprised that, in the guise of a Simon Pure, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) should invite the committee to act upon his direction. I assure him that honorable members on this side watch the interests of pensioners as closely as he does, and that they do not go outside their own electorates to canvass for votes, as has been done constantly by some honorable members who have no other stock in trade, and would use the pensioners to further their own ends.
– Does the honorable member accuse me of that?
– I do not accuse the honorable member of that, because I do not know sufficient about him; but I do know something about others who have gone into my electorate. It was a great disappointment to honorable members opposite when the present Government honoured its pledge to restore to old-age pensioners a portion of what had been taken from them twelve months previously.
– Order !
– I ask the Assistant Treasurer to investigate the workings of the Sydney pensions office, which has been understaffed for the last twelve months. The services of experienced officers, who could analyse and decide issues, have not been made available. The number of magistrates is limited, and they are unable to cope with the volume of work that has to be handled. An application for relief led to a number of postal clerks being loaned to the department. These men are not competent to deal with the issues involved in pensions claims. In some cases I have succeeded in obtaining back payments over a period of nearly twelve months. Honorable members must know that 200,000 pensioners suffered no reduction of pension. Actually only 50,000 pensioners were affected by the reductions under the financial emergency legislation, and now that the finances have improved to some extent the Government has not hesitated partially to restore the reductions. Tha administration of the property provisions of the act has been largely thwarted by the action of certain honorable members opposite who have travelled through the country telling the pensioners that if they signed the white card they would lose their homes. Many of the pensioners were deliberately misled, and they lost the pension, not because of any administrative act of this Government, but because of the ill and wicked advice of some honorable members who are exploiting the pensioners in an endeavour to gain votes at the next elections. I have appealed to the Commissioner of Pensions for redress in respect of husbands and wives who have been separated for many years. In one case a man had been separated from his wife for over 30 years, and the department refused him a pension on the ground that he had deserted his wife. .Surely there should be some limitation respecting the length of the period of desertion, so as not to penalize a man for all time because of some error committed many years ago. That is a matter that should be determined by the act itself, and not left to the discretion of the Commissioner of Pensions. Of course, I have no good word for any man who deliberately leaves his wife and young family to the mercy of the world, but I consider that the act should limit the disqualification to a certain period, on the expiry of which application might be made for a pension. I have had considerable experience of the administra tion of the act, and I am convinced that too much discretionary power is given to the Commissioner of Pensions and the Deputy Commissioner. It is time that the act was revised so as to define the powers of the Commissioner. It is the practice of the department to serve upon the relatives of deceased persons a notice to the effect that within 30 days certain moneys due to the Government must be paid by them. Often the disposal of the property and the payment of probate cannot take place within six or twelve months of the death of the owner. Two elderly ladies who were beneficiaries under the will of a brother received notice from the department to find certain moneys within 30 days.
– That is provided for in the act which the honorable member supported.
– It is not. I suggest that the department, instead of issuing a peremptory notice, should invite the relatives of the deceased persons to confer with the Deputy Commissioner and for him to explain to them the intention of the act. The issue of a notice to pay money within 30 days only adds to the grief of the bereaved relatives.
– The honorable member supported the provision of which he is now complaining.-
– The sympathetic administration of the act has deprived the honorable member of most of his political thunder. His colleagues have now almost deserted my electorate. At one time they employed a lady to explain to my pensioner constituents the effect of the act as recently amended by the Government, but as a result of - the administration of the department most of the grievances of pensioners have been remedied. Of course honorable members opposite are greatly disappointed because they are likely to lose many votes upon which they were counting at the next election. I challenge the honorable member -for Reid (Mr. Gander) to show how the 2,000 inmates of the pensioner institutions in his electorate have been injured as a result of the administration of the act. This Government has under the financial relief legislation redeemed its promise to make a partial restoration of pension reductions so soon as the finances permitted, and I, like other honorable members, have received from pensioners a number of letters expressing thanks for the considerate treatment received by them from the Government.
I know of one case in which a man and his wife own a block of land valued at £500. As honorable members know, the practice is to assume that each party owns halfthe property, and certain deductions are made from the pensions on that assumption. In this case the joint pensionwas fixed at £45 a year. I pointed out to the department that in the present state of the property market the land is not worth £500, and produced a land agent’s certificate that the value is only £200. Upon the receipt of this certificate the department immediately increased the pensions by £30. Some honorable members would not know how to get that done. They would tell the pensioners to go on suffering, and to blame the Government for not having given them better treatment. The affairs of the pensioners are quite safe in the hands of the present Government.
.- Ever since the amending legislation of last year was brought in, I have consistently opposed any interference with the property of pensioners, and I have frequently had cause to complain of the harshness with which the act has been administered. A little while ago I drew attention to the case of an old man who applied through his solicitor for permission to transfer a property worth £70, because he was too old and feeble to administer it himself. He wished to sell the property and live with relatives. The request was at first refused, and it was only after protracted negotiations with the Commissioner that the necessary permission was eventually granted. The Government’s security in that property was £20; but, between the making and the granting of the application, the old man died. Cases of this kind make men bitterly resent the present legislation. Moreover, the act draws invidious distinctions between various classes of pensioners. Men who have wasted their money, and have never become possessed of any property, may draw the pension without question, as can also those who have been left penniless, perhaps through no fault of their own, but those who have a little home may receive the pension onlyas a loan.
Seeing that the leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) has received an assurance from the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that legislation will be brought down to amend the act, and that that assurance has been supported by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) and the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to-night. I am prepared to await the introduction of the bill. . I recognize the futility of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Scullin), and, while waiting for the amending bill to be brought down, will vote with my party.
House adjourned at 10.59 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
e asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Is he in a position to state the value of the exports overseas, for the years ended the 30th September, 1932 and 1933 of (a) barley; (b) flour; (c) wheat; (d) butter; (e) cheese; (f) eggs in shell; (g) eggs in pulp; (h) meat; (i) wool; and (j) currants and raisins?
– The information desired hasbeen compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician and is as follows: -
Naturalization of Aliens.
Mr. Gabb naked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
What is till! total number of aliens naturalized tor the period from 11)23 to J 833, and the number, during the same period, from each country of origin ?
s- The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mining Leases in Northern Territory
asked the. Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
s- The information is Using obtained, and will be conveyed to the honorable member as soon as possible.
Imperial Pensions : Effect ok Exchange.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fart that the Imperial Government has made, provision under its National Health Insurance and Contributory Pensions Act for continuing to accept contributions from insured citizens of Groat Britain and Northern Ireland, and also nuking payment of pensions to then), irrespective of what part of His Majesty’s Dominions to which they may migrate, and as many of these people experience considerable difficulty in establishing their claims and continuing their contributions, and also in receiving payment of their pension on account of the difference in exchange rates of the tun countries, will the Government make representations to the Imperial Government, informing it that as the Commonwealth Government acts as agents fur the payment of Imperial Army pensions our Government will also act as agents to assist in establishing and paying the claims of those who hare served the nation in industry?
s. - -As it would not be possible to relieve contributors of the exchange costs involved in remitting their contributions, it is not considered that any advantage would be gained by altering the present system established by the Ministry of Health, London, whereby contributors remit their contributions overseas half-yearly by money order. No information is available as to the number of such pensioners at present residing in Australia, nor the method by which their pensions are paid. If fuller information is supplied to the Treasury on these points further consideration will be given to the question raised.
Tha de With Belgium
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
e. - The information desired would involve lengthy compilation, and on this account. I! am supplying the honorable member with printed extracts from Overseas Trade Bulletin, No. 29, covering the principal items of trad* between Australia and Belgium during the financial years 1927-28 to 1931-32 together with a statement showing the available information for the year 1932-33.
s. - On the 10th November, the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) asked the following questions, upon notice. : -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 November 1933, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1933/19331114_reps_13_142/>.