14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Shorter Working Week
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to confirm current reports to the effect that the Government proposes to appoint acommittee to conduct an inquiry into the subject of a shorter working week in the Commonwealth? If so, will be give the assurance that the committee will be appointed at the earliest possible moment, and that it will report fully on the effect which the modernization of industry, due to the introduction of machinery, has had on the employment position, and as to what is likely to be the trend of such movements in the future?
– The honorable gentleman will remember that in the Speech delivered by the Governor-General at the opening of Parliament, it was made clear that there would be an investigation with the object of ascertaining the root causes of unemployment and possible remedies. The Government intends to proceed with that proposal. At the present time, it is considering what is the most effective form such an inquiry could take. I hope at an early date to be able to inform the House that the inquiry has been instituted and to state the form which it will take. It may embrace the points raised by the honorable member.
– It has been reported that the terms of reference are now being considered by the Government. Is it prepared to allow those who are interested in industrial organizations to submit terms of reference, or to make suggestions, so that the field of inquiry may not be restricted, but may cover the points that they wish to have investigated?
– The object of the Government is to have the matter investigated from the view-point of every interest, which, therefore, will be represented on whatever body is set up. Meanwhile, the Government will be very glad to receive suggestions from any section.
– If and when the Prime Minister decides to appoint an expert committee to consider the hours of labour, will he take steps to ensure that a representative of the trade union movement is appointed to it?
– The honorable member can depend on the Government appointing to whatever body is constituted to consider the hours of labour representatives of every section interested. I now give the definite assurance that the organized workers will be represented on it.
– I have been advised that fourteen temporary mechanics, including a number of returned soldiers, who are employed in the telephone branch of the Postmaster-General’s Department, have received notices of dismissal owing to lack of work. Can something be done to obviate the necessity for these dismissals, as Christmas is approaching, and hardship will be sufferedby these men, all of whom, I believe, have wives and families to support?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Inquiry has already been made to some extent into this matter. According to the limited knowledge that I have of it at the moment, these are temporary men. Only six of them are married, and a review of the circumstances has led to their services being retained. Returned soldiers and married men, of course, have to be given preference. I shall refer the matter to the Postmaster-General. I give the right honorable gentleman the assurance that the claims of these men will be considered in connexion with any additional employment that may be rendered necessary during the Christmas season, soas to avoid, as far as possible, dispensing with their services.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday next, at 3 p.m.
– I have been informed by tourists who have returned from overseas that the information regarding Australia supplied by the staff at Australia House is inadequate and unsatisfactory, and lacks detail; further, that the display of Australian products is altogether insufficient for the purpose of advertising Australia. Will the Prime Minister, when he visits London next year, inquire into these matters, in view of their importance to Australia, and see whether one or two Australians who are sufficiently equipped and well informed to supply necessary information should not be appointed to the staff at Australia House?
– If the opportunity presents itself. I shall have no hesitation in investigating the matter; but I am not satisfied that there is any real ground for the criticism to which the honorable member has referred.
– Will the Prime Minister advise honorable members as to where the office of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment is situated? Is’ that honorable gentleman provided with an office at Parliament House and at one of the secretariats? Has he the services of a private secretary? Why is he not in the House this morning so that we may direct a few questions to him?
– The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Stewart) is best able to inform the honorable gentleman as to the reason for his absence from the House this morning. In reply to the first part of the question, I would point out that accommodation for the Under-Secretary for Employment is provided on’ the same floor as that occupied by the Prime Minister’s Department in No. 2 Secretariat, and that he is associated with the Prime Minister in the discharge of his functions. He is so well provided with accommodation that at present he is occupying the Cabinet Room in that Secretariat. He has whatever staff is necessary for the carrying out of his work.
– Does he attend Cabinet meetings ?
– Whenever the Cabinet deals with unemployment, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment is present at the meeting.
– What is the reason for having the designation “ UnderSecretary for Employment “, rather than “ Director of Employment “. Honorable members might be helped to an understanding of this new departure if they had a knowledge of what is in the mind of the Government?
– I am perfectly sure that the honorable member neither wants to be helped nor to help in regard to this particular matter.
– There is no need for the right honorable gentleman to be insulting.
– Nor should the honorable member be insulting.
Honorable members interjecting,
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order! Honorable members must not interrupt when the Prime Minister is replying to a question.
– The statement of the Prime Minister is distinctly insulting and offensive to me. So far as it impugns my sincerity in relation to the matter of employment, I ask that it be withdrawn.
– I am sorry if I have said anything offensive to another honorable member. I suggest, however, that honorable members give to me the same consideration that I always try to give to them.
– I asked a straightforward question.
– I shall put my answer in another form. I withdraw the words to which objection has been taken, and say that information on the point raised by the honorable member, if given to him, would not be of any help to him. I have given full information in regard to the position.
– You cannot answer my question.
– I ask that that remark be withdrawn.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh was certainly out of order in interjecting; but the. interjection - that the Prime Minister could not answer a question - is not in itself disorderly.
– It was insulting to the Prime Minister.
– Order !When the Chair has given a ruling, honorable members should not interject nor suggest that it is not a good ruling. I repeat, that the remark of the honorable member for Hindmarsh - that the Prime Minister could not answer a question - cannot be considered unparliamentary.
– My interjection was to the effect that it was insulting.
– Order ! The honorable member may not debate the matter.
– I accept your ruling, sir. I can form my own judgment in regard to the attitude of the honorable member. I believe that it coincides with the judgment of many other honorable members. I proceed, then, to reply to the question. The reason for the appointment as Parliamentary UnderSecretary of the honorable gentleman who is dealing with employment, is to give him higher status than he would have were he merely Director of Employment. As Parliamentary UnderSecretary he has access to the Cabinet on all occasions when it is dealing with the matter of unemployment.
– Why did you not tell me that before?
– I have already said to-day that he has access to the Cabinet when matters affecting employment are being dealt with. That very fact, I think, justifies the attitude which I adopted towards the honorable member, who ought to set a better example to honorable members of this House.
– In appointing a parliamentary undersecretary for employment did the Government follow the precedent set by a Labour government in South Australia four years ago, and will the Prime Minister confer with the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) in the matter, with a view to avoiding a repetition of the unpleasant happenings which led to’ the resignation of the person so appointed in South Australia?
– I was not aware of the precedent referred to by the honorable member, but I understand that a previous Commonwealth Government established & precedent when it appointed a parliamentary under-secretary.
– Does not the Prime Minister think that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment should answer questions directly when members seek information in this House? Further, does he not think that it would be better for communications regarding employment to be sent directly te the Parliamentary Under-Secretary instead of having to ‘be forwarded through the Prime Minister’s Department ?
– I am not greatly concerned whether or not the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment gives information directly to members in this chamber, but I point out that no information regarding employment has yet been refused.
– We get the information second-hand.
– The information supplied has come from the head of the Government.
– But he does not direct employment.
– As the Prime Minister’s Department embraces a number of activities, communications must necessarily pass through a central office. So « far, that has not occasioned any loss of time, and I undertake that in regard to the matters to be dealt with by the Parliamentary Undersecretary for Employment there will be no unnecessary delay. I regard the honorable member’s question as a reasonable one, and am not averse from following the course he suggests. I shall therefore look into the matter. Having regard to other questions which have been asked, I repeat that no information has been refused to honorable members because of the procedure adopted.
Proposed Redistribution for Victoria
– Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to a newspaper paragraph stating that the report of the Victorian redistribution commissioners has been completed, and, if so, can he say when it will be made available to honorable members?
– The Melbourne branch of the Electoral Department has informed me that, although the report of the Victorian commissioners has been prepared, it will not be forwarded to me until the maps to accompany it have been prepared by the Government Printer. It is expected that about three weeks will elapse before the maps are ready.
– Can the Minister say where the report in this morning’s Canberra, Times originated, and whether it is true, especially in regard to the electorate of Indi ?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member refers, and, therefore, cannot express an opinion as to its correctness or otherwise.
– Is it the intention of the Government to provide for further sales tax exemptions, and, if so, will a list of the proposed exemptions be brought before Parliament before the Christmas adjournment?
– The Government has no immediate intention of introducing proposals for further exemptions from sales tax.
– Will the Assistant Treasurer instruct the Sales Tax Commissioners to exempt water on mining fields from the sales tax?
– I shall look into the matter raised by the honorable member.-
Report of Investigators - Leases
– Has the Minister for the Interior yet seen the departmental report, following inquiries made into Northern Territory matters during recent years, and, if so, will he consider making available a summary of it?
– I do not think that tho report has yet come to hand, but I will consider the honorable member’s suggestion that a summary of it be made.
– Can the Minister for the Interior state when lessees in the Northern Territory will be notified of the Government’s intention regarding the resumption of leases that are falling due in the near future, and regarding the reduction of rents in those cases where a revision is due within the next year or two?
– I realize that this matter is becoming somewhat urgent, and that a decision will have to be reached at an early date. Consideration, is being given to it, and I hope to be able to make a more definite statement within the next two or three days.
– Has the Prime Minister recently received any complaints regarding the administration of Norfolk Island, and, if so, can he say whether they have been investigated? If he is unable to give an answer now, will he be good enough to arrange for the Minister administering Norfolk Island to make a statement when the Estimates are under discussion ?
– I know of no recent complaints regarding the administration of Norfolk Island, but I will make a note of the honorable member’s suggestion.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Defence been drawn to a statement in the press that Lord Sempill, who has been most generous in his praise of other Australian aerodromes, regards the Commonwealth aerodrome at Essendon as most unsuitable? In view of the fact that the adverse criticism of that aerodrome by Lord Sempill confirms the opinions of others who have studied the airport requirements of Melbourne, will the Minister instruct the Civil Aviation Department to report on the advisability of acquiring and developing as an airport, the excellent site at Port Melbourne known as Fishermen’s Bend?
– Some time ago the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) suggested that investigations should be made as to the suitability of Fishermen’s Bend for an airport for Melbourne. The matter is now being investigated by the Defence Department, which will take into consideration the views of Lord Sempill.
– Has the Minister received a report from the Australian representative at the wheat committee meeting at Budapest that Australia must reduce her wheat exports by 20,000,000 bushels? If so, will he say why it was not made available to honorable members before being published in the press?
– I have already handed to the Clerk an answer to a similar question placed on the notice-paper by the honorable gentleman. I can inform him, however, that no report has yet been received from the Australian representative at Budapest, and that consequently there is nothing to report to the House.
– Has the attention of the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties been drawn to a newspaper paragraph stating that the embargo on the importation of potatoes from New Zealand is to be lifted, and can he say whether or not the report is correct?
– On behalf of the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties, I can inform the honorable member that a conference with delegates from New Zealand is now taking place, and that it is hoped that within a few days negotiations for a more satisfactory trade agreement with the sister dominion will be finalized.
– Will the Prime Minister furnish the House with a list of the works supplied by the various State Governments to be carried out in conjunction with the Commonwealth in accordance with his pre-election promises, and will he say what States have not yet furnished lists of such works?
– I mentioned yesterday that some time ago the Government had communicated with the State governments asking them to submit lists of works, and that only one State had sent in a complete list. Realizing the difficulty of preparing complete lists, the Government has since then asked the State governments to submit, before the Christmas adjournment, a number of selected works which could be proceeded with immediately pending the compilation of complete lists of works which might be undertaken. The one complete list which has been received will be considered by the Government, which will decide which of the works proposed are suitable for construction by the Commonwealth and the States in co-operation. When the several
States have forwarded their lists, and a decision regarding the works to be undertaken has been arrived at full information will be supplied to Parliament.
– On the 16 th November I asked the Prime Minister a question regarding the conditions of the lease of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, whether the report of the inspectors of the plant was available for perusal? I waa informed that the report could be seen at the Customs Office in Sydney. Is the Prime Minister serious in suggesting that honorable members have to chase around to government offices for reports which should be made available in this House?
– Those honorable members who are directly interested - in the matter should find it no great inconvenience to look up the report in the manner indicated. It was not thought necessary to broadcast the report, and I indicated in my reply that it was accessible to honorable members. There was no intention of interfering with the rights of honorable members, and I shall look into .the matter again to see whether there -is any objection to making the report available in Parliament.
– “Will the Minister for Trade and Customs make arrangements whereby Belgian glass, which is to be imported to Australia under the agreement recently made, can be landed at Perth, Adelaide, and Hobart, instead of being carried on to Sydney or Melbourne, and transhipped there to the other ports?
– The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) asked that question the other day, and I assured him that the matter would be investigated in order to see what could be done.
– I have received from the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House this morning for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ That the position of an AttorneyGeneral, whether of State or Commonwealth, being a sacred one, no AttorneyGeneral, whether of State or Commonwealth, should, under any circumstances, accept any money or reward by way of fees or other inducement, to represent individuals, combines or corporations, against his country or the interests of its people.”
– I rise to a point of order. I have no desire to avert discussion on the matter proposed to be raised by the honorable member for Melbourne, but I desire to know whether it is in order for a motion to be debated in thi* House which gives direction or offers advice as to the position or conduct of a State Minister. Should not thos House confine itself to the consideration of the position of Commonwealth Ministers?
– It is my opinion that a motion should not be accepted that gives directions to a State Parliament or to a State Minister. I have several times ruled, in the course of a debate, that criticism of a State administration is not in order, but the rulings depended, to some extent, of course, upon the question which was directly before the Chair at the time. As comment upon a State Minister is quite outside the scope of this Parliament, I suggest to the honorable member for Melbourne that he amend his motion to make it strictly in order.
– A motion framed in the same way as mine was once carried against the Government in the New South Wales Parliament by a huge majority, and resulted in the resignation of the Honorable E. Barton, and the Honorable R. E. O’Connor. Mr. B. R. Wise had resigned from the Parkes Ministry previously. I have been forced to move the adjournment of the House in order to have this matter discussed, because, owing to the pressure of public business, private members’ business has been rescinded.
– I ask the honorable member to discuss the point of order.
– I am prepared to amend the motion as you have suggested, Mr. Speaker.
– I am rather surprised at the . point of order taken by the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies). T cannot conceive upon what basis of justice or propriety it should be seriously argued that any honorable member of this House is debarred from discussing the status, duties or conduct of a Minister of the Crown of any State of the Commonwealth, or of the Commonwealth itself, or of any country in any part of the world, if the matter discussed comes within the purview of Commonwealth politics or maybe involves consideration of the relative claims and rights of a Minister of State of a State, and a Minister of State -of the Commonwealth, the dividing line between the two, the duties and responsibilities of each. I shall personally be very sorry, indeed, if the honorable member for Melbourne alters the purpose of his motion, thus conceding the point that honorable members are debarred from discussing such a subject in the terms in which he proposed to have it discussed.
– It is unnnecessary to discuss the point of order further, as the honorable member for Melbourne has indicated that he is willing to amend the purpose of his motion. I have now received from the honorable member for Melbourne an amended communication, in which he intimates that he desires to move the adjournment of the House in order to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ That the position of an Attorney-General, being a sacred one, no Attorney-General should, under any circumstances, accept any money or reward, by way of fees or other inducement, to represent individuals, combines, or corporations against his country or the interests of its people “.
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn. - It is a somewhat chilling experience on an occasion like this to be received with a point of order such as that which was raised by the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies). However, I waive that aside, being content to let the public judge for themselves the justice of the case. I first became concerned over this subject when, upon the advice of a well- known journalist, I attended one of the sittings of the royal commission which was inquiring into the petrol industry. The room in which the inquiry was being held was so small that there was not room for all the advocates appearing for the oil combine to get seats at the table. They were led by the most important legal man in the State of Victoria - the Attorney-General - and there were no fewer than nine altogether. There was not one legal man representing the public. I make no accusation whatever against the commission, of whom the members were Messrs. S. F. Lamb, H. J. Gunn, and J. Hancock. They are as honorable as men could be, and were acting in the capacity -of judges. There was an officer in attendance appointed by the Government to assist the commission, but no legal man had been briefed to cross-examine the witnesses for the combine, though the witnesses against the combine were rigorously cross-examined by counsel which the combine had retained. The sense of injustice aroused in me was so strong that I resolved that I should try from my place in Parliament to prevent such a thing ever occurring again. I am anxiously awaiting the appearance of the report of the commission, as I believe that it will be of great use to Australia, and will assist those who are fighting against what is the most powerful combine in the world. Be that as it may, I wish to recall the connexion of Lord Reading, formerly Sir Rufus Isaacs, with the Marconi interests while he was AttorneyGeneral in the British Government. The case was referred to at the time as the “ Marconi Scandal. “ Sir Rufus Isaacs was bitterly attacked by Mr. Cecil Chesterton, brother of the great G. K. Chesterton. In the Eye Witness he stated bluntly: “ Isaacs’ brother, Samuel, is chairman of the Marconi Company. It has, therefore, been secretly arranged between Isaacs and Samuel that, the British people shall give the Marconi Company a very large sum of money through the agency of the said Samuel and for the benefit of the said Isaacs. “
The matter was referred to the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, and later, action was taken by Sir Rufus Isaacs and Herbert Samuel in a claim against Mr. Cecil Chesterton for damages for defamation. Mr. Justice Darling heard the case. The defendants put in an expression of regret and full apology. Nevertheless a very strong team of advocates, headed by Sir Edward Carson and Mr. E. E. Smith, was briefed by the plaintiffs. Had Sir Rufus Isaacs made any money by taking these shares neither he nor Mr. Lloyd George, who shared them, would have risen to the great positions they attained in their political careers. Luckily for Sir Rufus, he lost money on the shares he had bought. He had purchased them believing that the Marconi Company concerned - the American company - had nothing to do with the English company in London. Luckily for him the shares dropped in value, but the public outcry which followed this case emphasized the intense feeling against any suggestion that a British Attorney-General should go outside his position to make money, and gives rise -72 the conclusion that such action on the part of such an officer would have condemned him to certain oblivion so far as his parliamentary .career was concerned. During the whole of the time this case was being tried in court, Sir Rufus had the decency to follow the wellestablished English precedent of absenting himself from his seat in Parliament. The chairman of the committee, which was formed to inquire into the matter, reported that Sir Rufus had acted in perfectly good faith, believing that the American company in which he had bought shares was not connected in any way with the solvency, success, or contracts of the English company. To the honour of Sir Rufus Isaacs let it be said that he would never have done what he did had he realized the consequences of his action or the assumptions that would be based upon it. So much for Lord Reading !
I come now to the case of Sir William Irvine. The Marconi Company was again involved. Apparently it secures on its behalf the services of the highest legal authorities available whether these men happen to be members of a government or not. I maintain, however, that any gentleman holding the high and sacred position of AttorneyGeneral should never, on any account, accept any fee or emolument from such a collection of human beings as the oil control whether they be combines, individuals or corporations. I could not imagine a Higinbotham or a Higgins, or even a gentleman of the type of Mr. Latham, who has just vacated the position of Attorney-General in this Parliament, doing such a thing. When Sir William Irvine was accused of being in the pay of the Marconi Company, the only difference between his case and that of Sir Rufus Isaacs was that he made money out of the shares he held and retained it. whereas Sir Rufus lost money. Furthermore, Sir William Irvine followed an unprecedented course which only such a man as he would follow - he remained in Parliament while his case was, as it were, being tried by his colleagues; and when the division took place he was saved by one vote, that vote being the majority by which the Cook Government held office.
Let me now refer to the Stavisky scandal which caused such a stir in France, and caused the public throughout the world to believe that judges, Attorney-Generals, and even members of Parliament were controlled by Stavisky for his own fell designs. Dealing with this case the Fortnightly Review, of March, 1934, stated -
The immediate reactions of this scandal have been political and professional. Among the latter is a severe decree issued by the Ordre des Advocate, which declares that a barrister who is also a deputy, must not in future appear in any case for or against the Government, and must not defend or advise any one accused of a crime connected with a public appeal for money for the director of a company so accused.
I have been informed by one who is conversant with French law that this provision will in future absolutely prevent any member of the French Parliament from acting as an advocate in any case against his country or the interests of his people. So rauch for the Stavisky scandal !
I shall now deal with an incident which occurred in the New South Wales Parliament. .A motion similar to mine was moved in that parliament by a private member. . So severe were the strictures passed in the course of the debate on the actions taken by those who Bat on the Government benches that many statements had to be withdrawn.
Ultimately the discussion resulted in a memorable division - the ayes securing 69 votes and the noes 48. In consequence of this decision, Mr. Edmund Barton, the then Attorney-General, and Mr. B. E. O’Connor, Minister for Justice, the same night, resigned their positions. Dealing with this ease, the Honorable George Black, in vol. 3 of A History of New South Wales Political Labour Party, of which he waa one of the founders, said -
On 7th December, 1893, C. A. Lee (member for Tenterfield during 33 consecutive years) on a motion of adjournment, discussed a recent declaration by the Attorney-General (Edmund Barton, Q.C.) to the effect that: “ The Railway Department, an regards the Crown Law Department, had ceased to be a department of the Crown, and, therefore, that the Attorney-General and other members of the Cabinet were entitled to appear against the Railway Commissioners in the law courts “. This announcement was so clearly made in order to permit the heads of the Crown Law Department - The AttorneyGeneral and the Minister for Justice - to earn large fees by appearing for the great railway contractors, Proudfoot, McSharry, and others, then continually before the courts, that the House was eager to show its disapprobation of what was generally viewed as dishonest and disloyal behaviour. Barton’s audacious and abusive quibbling in defence did not better the position, nor did his ad misericordiam statement that an adverse vote would cover him, “an honorable man . . . with infamy and dishonour “. As Joseph Cook said, “ It sounded like an appeal from Dr. Jekyll for mercy for Mr. Hyde”. Nor did Crick’s threat, that the Ministry would resign if an adverse vote were taken, prevent a number of the Government’s followers from voting against them, and so the numbers for the ayes were 69 and for the noes, 48. Of those who were originally returned as Labourites, Gough, Hutchinson, Johnston, Morgan, Murphy, Newton, Nicholson, and Sheldon voted with the Government. Despite Crick’s threat that the Ministry would resign if the control of the House were taken out of its hands, Dibbs excused himself on the following day (8th December) for clinging to” office by saying that he refused to be dismissed by a snatch vote (of 117 out of 141 members) and thereupon adjourned the assembly until 16th January, 1894. In the interim, he purged the Cabinet of some portion of its delinquencies by securing the resignation of Barton and R. E. O’Connor from the positions of Attorney-General and Minister for Justice. The marooning of those members of the crew did not, however, cleanse the administration ‘ from complicity in the eyes of the country. Dibbs was doomed to dire defeat, and his followers already felt it in their bones.
I have here also an extract from New South Wales Hansard, of 7th December, 1893, page 1742, in which Sir George Dibbs, dealing with the resignation of B. R. Wise a3 Attorney-General in the Parkes Ministry, said -
I only desire to make one or two observations. When the honorable and learned member for South Sydney, Mr. Wise, waa Attorney-General in the Parkes Administration, I placed a motion on the paper condemning the honorable member. What fort That he marked his own briefs as AttorneyGeneral in the Crown Solicitor’s Office, and that a gentleman in his position had no right to receive a salary from the Government for performing the work of Attorney-General and to mark his own briefs, and thus estimate the value of his own services. That is what I called the attention of the House to by motion, and 1 presume that is the reason why the honorable and learned member retired from the Parkes Administration.
No man can serve God and mammon; no man can serve two masters; no man should be allowed to take money from his country, and, at the same time take money, in the shape of fees, or in any other way, to fight against the interests of his country on behalf of any combine or oil company. If this question were put to the people I would stake my political existence on my claim that they would uphold the views I have just expressed. I am reminded of the betrayal PI Christ by Judas, as described in holy writ. Whence came the 30 pieces of silver which Judas took? They did not come from God ; they came from mammon, and for that paltry sum Judas betrayed his Master to His crucifixion. I hope this House will definitely express its views on this matter in such a way that no Attorney-General in the future history of this Parliament will dare to take money from his country, which pays him well for his services, and at the same time ““accept* money to act on behalf of interests which are opposed to the welfare of his country.
The history of the oil industry is one of murder, bribery and corruption. In this connexion I invite the attention of honorable members to the following statement by the Right Honorable Sir Arthur H. Hardinge, at page 278 of his book A Diplomatist in the East: -
The first important duty which confronted me a few months after my arrival at Teheran was that of securing for a British company an important concession of Persian oil-fields.
Although oil waa believed to exist in abundance on the shores of the Persian Gulf, its deposits had never been seriously developed; but my predecessor, Sir Henry Drummond Woff, believed - and his opinion waa supported by a Persian-Armenian financier named Kitabji Khan - that it might not improbably be found in abundance in the Turco-Persian frontier region, which is traversed by the great pilgrim road from Teheran through Hamadan to Bagdad. Sir Henry Wolff accordingly wrote a letter of introduction, brought by a Mr. Marriott, whom he recommended in it to my good offices, and who would, he went on to say, explain to me fully the character and objects of his mission. te main end, which appeared to me well deserving of support, was to win the goodwill of the Persian Government by assigning shares in the proposed development of the rich oilfields believed to exist in Western Persia to some of its most influential Ministers, including the Grand Vizier himself. I accordingly at once interviewed that statesman, and strongly urged that the concession, which had been already laid before him and which, if I remember correctly, gave exclusive rights to dig for oil throughout Persia, except in the provinces bordering on Russia-Azerbaijan, Ghilan, Mazenderan and Khorassen - to a>n Australian mining magnate, a Mr. D’Arcy, who was ready to finance the undertaking. The Grand Vizier declared himself prepared to fall in with the project, but he suggested that a letter - to be written by me, in the Persian language, embodying its main features - should be immediately drawn up for submission to the Russian Legation. He was aware that M. Argyropulo could not read Persian, more especially in the written or “ shikaste “ character, which is illegible, owing to its peculiar abbreviations, even to scholars familiar with the printed language. He also knew from his own spies that the Russian Oriental Secretary, M. Stritter, who alone could read it, was about to leave Zergendeh, the summer residence of the Russian Legation, for a short sporting excursion in the neighbouring hills. He therefore sent the letter to Zergendah, where it lay several days untranslated, awaiting M. Stritter’s return, and as no objection to the proposal contained in it was made by the Russian Minister, who could not read it, and never suspected the importance oT its contents, all the Persian members of the Government supported the Grand Vizier’s decision to sign the concession to Mr. D’Arcy. M. Argyropulo was far from pleased when he learnt what had actually happened; but the Grand Vizier could not be blamed for the accidental and temporary absence of his Legation’s Persian translator, and the Russian Minister accordingly adopted the sensible course of accepting the accomplished fact. He required, however, some compensation at the hands of the Persian Government, though he had to wait a little time for it.
Motion (by Mr. Gander) agreed to -
That the honorable member have lea** to continue his speech.
– There is, at present, in Australia a distinguished visitor, in the person of Sir John Cadman, who waa sent to Persia to deal with matters arising out of the rescission of the AngloPersian oil agreement. Persia was naturally extremely disturbed over the way in which the business had been handled, and demanded the payment of £1,000,000 in the first year and £1,000,000 in the following year, as compensation. Ultimately it was agreed, after a terrible fight, that Persia should be paid £1,000,000 a year for 60 years in settlement of its claims. In view of this experience, the Commonwealth Government should do everything possible to ensure that its oil resources are not in any way alienated from the Australian people
.- I wish briefly to supplement the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney). In my opinion a person who occupies an office of profit under the Crown, ‘ and particularly a responsible Minister, should by his acceptance of such office place the whole of his services at the disposal of the Crown. It should not be possible for wealthy individuals or corporations to call upon his services for fee or reward. This should be particularly so when there i3 any likelihood of the affairs of such an individual or corporation being made the subject of investigation by the Crown. We must most jealously guard the rights of the people, and take all possible steps to prevent the improper intrusion of wealthy persons or institutions into affairs that are the concern of the Government. A gentleman who accepts such an office as that of Attorney-General should not desire or be permitted to accept a brief from an outside body. I do not suggest that persons who accept such an office as that of Attorney-General should be expected to surrender all their outside interests, because they cannot expect to retain office permanently ; but they certainly should not be permitted to become pecuniarily interested in proceedings that are the subject of investigation by the Crown. In such cases public policy is involved, and their services should be wholly at the disposal of the Crown. It would be quite wrong, I consider, to deprive the Crown of the services of responsible officers in a time of crisis when their services might be of immense value to the whole community. With all respect to the present distinguished occupant of the office of Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, I submit that Parliament should indicate very definitely that Ministers of the Crown shall not allow their services to be retained by rich corporations, such as the oil companies, at a time when their practices are the subject of investigation by the Crown,
– Say “by the Commonwealth. “
– I say “ by the Crown “, whether it be the State or the Commonwealth. In my opinion persons who occupy offices of profit under the Crown do not act with strict propriety when they accept private briefs. I hope that in the future we shall jealously guard the interests of the people in this connexion. Wealthy individuals and institutions should not be allowed to intrude into spheres from which they should be excluded, and persons who accept office under the Government, whether as Ministers of the Crown or otherwise, should not be permitted to accept lucrative briefs if by so doing there may arise even a suspicion that they are putting their private interests before the public welfare. This motion is timely, for we should indicate clearly that in the opinion of this Parliament responsible public officers are guilty of definite impropriety in accepting briefs from rich corporations the activities of which may at any time be the subject of investigation by the Crown.
.- As a working class member of the profession which, according to Shelley, is “ skilled to snare the feet of Justice in the toils of law”, I venture to say a few words on the motion of the honorable member for Melbourne. The honorable gentleman has raised a question which is, at once, interesting and important. Naturally I should be one of the last to restrict or curtail the rights and privileges of members of the legal profession. It is sometimes necessary in this, as in other unions, to stand shoulder to shoulder with one’s colleagues to protect their rights and submit the view-point of the profession or. calling concerned. As I have said on other occasions, the Attor ney-General and I are not members of the same union. I am a member of the union which habitually does the work; the honorable gentleman is a member of the union which habitually draws the fees.
– That has not been the fashion in my time.
-Nevertheless there is kinship between us, and by virtue of being a general practitioner I am permitted to occupy a position of respectful homage to members of the other branch of the profession. I have no desire to restrict the rights or privileges of members of the legal profession, but it is true, and I am sure that the Attorney-General will be the first to admit it, that the public interest is paramount and above private considerations. The public interest in this matter has more than once been debated in this House. The present Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Hughes) has himself taken part in discussions of a similar character and laid down high ethical principles. I recall that this matter came up for consideration as far back as 1913, and as recorded on page 944 of Hansard of the 9th September of that year, Mr. Fraser, who was then the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, moved the following motion -
That, in the opinion of this House, Ministers of the Crown should not violate the code of rules of positive obligation laid down by the British Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith), which rules read -
Firstly - That Minister ought not to enter into any transaction whereby their private pecuniary interest may even conceivably come into conflict with their public duty;
Secondly - That no Minister ought to accept any kind of favour from persons who are in negotiation with or seeking to enter into contractual of pecuniary relations with the Government;
I have no knowledge, certainly within recent years, of any member of the bar having consciously or even actually violated that rule, but there have been occasions when the borderline has been reached. In that debate a number of members of the bar participated, including the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), the late member for Bendigo(Mr. Arthur), a distinguished member of the bar, and other legal men, all of whom debated the matter on a high plane. It was pointed out that public opinion was naturally somewhat sensitive upon this subject and that the positive obligations laid down by the late Mr. Asquith should be most strictly observed.
– I think that the late Mr. Asquith practised.
– I have no doubt that he did, with distinction, in many courts. During the debate on this subject in 1913, in which 1 took a subordinate part, Mr. Arthur said -
Clearly, the question is not whether the ruins of the profession govern the matter, hut whether the Attorney-General can stand before thu community and say, “ Although I am retained by the Marconi Company, I can still maintain an unbiased attitude. I cannot be suspected even by many people of being biased.” He knows, and we, too, know, that he is not, but it is the suspicion of the many to which we must have regard, and it is by that principle that the honorable gentleman should steer his course.
The then Attorney General had a general retainer from the Marconi Company, which was in litigation with the Commonwealth. I cannot, of course, go into details. The position envisaged by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) is, however, somewhat different, but not, in my opinion, essentially different. Oil is a subject on which litigation is frequently, if not constantly, had. Certainly it is constantly under discussion in the parliaments of the States, of the Commonwealth, and of the world. It lies at the very basis of peace and war, order and good government. Every ona knows that vast interests are involved in oil. Its production and sale are disturbing factors in the relationship of nations as well as individuals. Competition for oilfields has been a potent factor in bringing about war. The matter which we have in mind at present, is the royal commission which inquired into certain aspects of what is known as the oil combine. A royal commission takes its authority from the Crown itself; it is investigatory, but also judicial. The inquiry was into a subject which not only would be likely to be a matter for dismission in the parliaments of the country, but would almost certainly become so. In the motion of the honorable member for Melbourne there is no suggestion that any positive rule of law or of practice has been violated ; at least that is the manner in which I prefer to interpret the motion, but there is involved in it a ques-tion of judgment and good taste. The position of Attorney General - the leader of the bar of the Commonwealth - is, as the honorable member for Melbourne suggests, perhaps not a sacred one, but one which ca: is for the deepest respect. I suggest that in matters of that kind, which are of great public interest and which are discussed in Parliament, the country should have the first call upon the service and disinterested advice of its chief law officer, and that he should keep himself free and disentangled from pecuniary interests - from accepting a brief on behalf of any oil company, trust or individual likely by its or his operations to prejudice the public interests.
– The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– I agree with what is implied in the observations of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) - that this subject, which can be discussed quite dispassionately, raises a general issue which is not without importance. I want to take this opportunity to point out to the House the position of the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, as I understand it, and, incidentally, I. shall probably refer to the position of an attorney-general of a State. But before doing so, I should like to correct one statement made by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), which has been made elsewhere and which he has no doubt inadvertently repeated. He said that in connexion with the recent investigation by a royal commission into the petrol industry the public’ was not represented by counsel. The public was represented by counsel throughout the inquiry. The Commonwealth retained the services of Mr. Russell Martin, and subsequently Mr. Bowie Wilson, of Sydney.
– Were not they appointed to assist the commission?
– Yes; but both were there to represent the public interests, and to cross-examine such witnesses as might be called. In addition, if any honorable member, in a moment of great leisure, cares to peruse the records cif the Royal Commission on Petrol he will find that the witnesses called for the oil interests were subjected to very lengthy cross-examination by an extremely competent cross-examiner, Mr. Lamb, K.C., who was chairman of the royal commission. I do not wish to take up any more time in discussing that aspect of the question, or to become involved in a discussion of the procedure of the royal commission, which would be improper. I wish, however, to make a few general references to the attorney-generalship. In the first place, the Royal Commission on Petrol was a commission appointed by the Commonwealth Government. Insofar as any government had any interest in the proceedings of the royal commission, it was the Commonwealth Government, and no Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, in my opinion, would consider himself at liberty to appear as counsel before a Commonwealth royal commission, because the general object in appointing such a commission was to inform the mind of the Commonwealth Parliament, and to invoke the judgment of the Commonwealth Government. The Petrol Commission was a Commonwealth commission, and its work was not participated in to any extent by any State Government.
– But there is a common Crown.
– The Crown in Australia is not a common Crown in the strict sense of the term. There is a Crown in right of the Commonwealth and a Crown in right of the States, and nothing has been more clearly established than the complete dissociation between the Crown in. right of the Commonwealth and the Crown in right of a State. Consequently, although I was Attorney-General for the State of Victoria at that time, the matter came before me purely as a private practitioner. It was not a case in which the Crown of Victoria was directly or indirectly a party, and I was, therefore, at liberty to accept a brief. For the information of honorable members I may point out that the practice in relation to the attorneygeneralship varies in various parts of the world. Reference was made to the position of the Attorney-General of England. He, certainly, does not carry on private practice, but he enjoys complete monopoly of fees on all Crown briefs, or at least on all Crown briefs not taken by his colleague, the Solicitor-General. Therefore, although the Attorney-General of England is paid a salary, speaking from memory, of £7,000 a year, he draws fees for conducting Crown cases, which in an average year total another £15,000. Queensland retains that system. Many honorable members will recall that when my late learned friend, Mr. T. J. Ryan, was Attorney-General in that State he enjoyed an extensive and remunerative practice in the courts on behalf of the Queensland Government.
– They have never had a legal man there since.
– I think that the Attorney-General in a recent government appeared ; but the point I am making is that the Queensland Government permits the Attorney-General to appear for the Crown. The Commonwealth Constitution completely excludes the AttorneyGeneral of the Commonwealth from appearing for the Crown.
– For fees.
– Yes ; for fee or reward. I am talking in the sense of appearing or practising. The same rule applies in the State of Victoria. It follows from that - indeed it does not need to be drawn from that, for it proceeds from ordinary propriety - that no AttorneyGeneral will appear against the Crown, or against any department of State. The result is that, by our practice, the Attorney-General is completely excluded from that large field of work. If be is to practise at all - and the best interests of the community, I submit, are not served by having an Attorney-General who has given up practice, and has ceased to have an active and intelligent association with the law - he must practise in relation to private clients. When I say that, I am stating what has been the belief and the practice of every AttorneyGeneral who has occupied the position which I now hold in the Commonwealth. It is true that references have been made to attacks made at some stage on Mr. Justice Barton, afterwards Sir Edmund Barton, Mr. Justice O’Connor, and Mr. Irvine, now Sir William Irvine. If there be any sin, it is respectable to sin in the company of men of the eminence of those I have mentioned.
– That is a personal argument.
– The point I wish to make - and I think it will appeal to the honorable member for Batman - is that when those gentlemen occupied the p081: tion of Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, they at least carried on an extensive private practice. Mr. Isaacs, as he then was, during the time he was AttorneyGeneral, quite properly maintained the largest practice at the Victorian bar. Mr. Latham’s opportunities for practice, like mine at present, were severely restricted by the fact that this Parliament meets in Canberra. But, to the extent that he could, in very occasional instances he appeared in Court. My learned friend, the honorable member for Batman, is not, as he has pointed out with becoming modesty, a member of the bar; but he is a solicitor of long and extensive experience and practice, and I have yet to learn that he retired from practice when he was Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. On the contrary, I venture to think - in fact I have personal reason to know - that he continued hie practice as a solicitor, and no doubt he continued to act as adviser and solicitor to the large organizations which had engaged him in the past as their legal adviser.
– To whom did he give briefs ?
– I desire to discuss this matter in a perfectly dispassionate way. The honorable member for Batman will not quarrel with these observations, because he knows that it has always been recognized as regular for an AttorneyGeneral to carry on his private practice to the very limited extent he can while holding the office of chief law adviser to the Crown.
– Every business man in the House would agree to that.
– I agree with that remark. If the privilege of carrying on some part of his private affairs is to be denied to the Attorney-General, then logically it should be denied to every other honorable member.
– But the circumstances are different in the case of members of the legal profession.
– Having established, as I hope I have, without much difficulty, the right of an Attorney-General to private practice, let me turn to the. specific allegation which is involved in the motion which is before the House. The mover objects to an Attorney-General taking money “ to represent combines, oil companies, or individuals, against his country or the interest of its people.” That proposition involves a series of conclusions which may or may not be wellfounded. The honorable member submitted his motion on the assumption that the Shell Oil Company of Australia, for whom I appeared before the royal commission, is automatically to be regarded as an enemy of Australia. That, may I point out, was one of the matters to be inquired into by the royal commission itself. I do not desire, and I suggest that no honorable member should desire, to anticipate any conclusion to be arrived at on that point. The same principle is involved when attacks are made upon criminal advocates. Some persons have said to them : “ You are appearing for a murderer “, or “ You are appearing for a burglar “. A little wisdom and suspension of judgment would indicate that the very matter to which that advocate is directing his attention is whether his client is a murderer or a burglar. If we do not wish to rush to conclusions, we should not be too prone to say that some lawyer has broken his obligation to humanity or decency by appearing for a particular client, or. that some medical man has broken his obligations to humanity by rendering medical service to a murderer or burglar.
The motion refers to combines, companies or individuals. Does that mean that an Attorney-General, by way of private practice, in a matter in which the Government of which he is a member has no interest either for or against, must, from now on, say to any client in respect of whom a brief -is offered to him, “ Oh, no! I have had a look at you, and you are a corporation; you are a combine; you are a wealthy individual “ ? Am I to say to a company that sells oil or anything else, “ I cannot appear for you “, although I may say to a trade union, “Yes, I can appear for you”? That is a perfectly legitimate argument, because
I have appeared many times for trade unions. If the principle of the motion is to he accepted, on what basis is the Attorney-General to decide in future whether he is to exercise his admittedly sound and well-founded right to practise in his private capacity? I suggest to honorable members that the assumption underlying this motion is ill founded.
I agree, in the main, with the general observations of the honorable member for Batman upon the standards to be applied to this question. I have indicated, as shortly and as clearly as I may, such qualifications as I myself would make in relation to it, but I suggest that no motion should be carried which would lead inevitably to the conclusion that the man who happens to be the law officer of the Crown at any given moment is to be submitted to exclusion from any participation in his private affairs, which is not equally applied to other persons in Parliament.
As honorable members know, particularly for those who practise professions, and whose incomes, therefore, cease when they walk out of their own doors, it is not a very easy matter to enter Parliament. When they become members of Parliament, they necessarily sustain losses, and when they take ministerial office they necessarily sustain much greater losses. But it is a wise provision that, to the extent that the time which the due discharge of their public duties will permit, such as are members of the legal profession should be allowed to engage in their own affairs in order to maintain contact through practice and hard experience with the body of law which they have to administer.
– The. Attorney-General’s answer to the motion suggests that the assumptions advanced are not well founded, and that, in effect, we should not rush to draw conclusions without being apprised of all the circumstances of the case. If the honorable gentleman had been a member of this House on the occasion when an adjournment motion was submitted by me for the purpose of securing the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the operations of the major oil companies, and had listened to the comment and general approval of honorable members on all sides of the House, he would have been forced to recognize that the general opinion of the Parliament, which, after all, is a reflection of that of the country, was that there were good grounds for the conclusion that these companies were not operating in the best interests of the people. The whole problem must be approached from that angle, and honorable members can only be guided by the information at their disposal. It is fairly safe to say that everything is not quite right in the oil business, and that there is something radically wrong in regard to the charges imposed by the Shell Oil Company, and the remarkable power and’ influence which it wields both in Australia and in other parts of the world. On that score, we are entitled at the outset to claim that our assumptions are not groundless; that our suspicions are warranted, and, therefore, we are justified in taking some steps to check this company’s operations.
A point has been raised as to the right of the Crown in the Commonwealth and the right of the Crown in the States - whether the authority of the Crown is similar in both spheres. In a strictly technical sense, there may be grounds for the conclusions of the Attorney-General in that regard ; but, when the interests of the people are at stake, we must take a practical view of the matter. The community has the right to combat the inroads made upon its interests, whether by combines or anybody else, and to talk about the difference between the authority of the Crown in the States and its authority in the Commonwealth is only splitting straws. Such arguments carry no weight with the public at large. Apart from the views which the members of the legal fraternity might advance, it has to be remembered that the legal profession is on an entirely different footing in this Parliament from that of any other. Parliament, makes the laws with which the legal fraternity are concerned. Therefore, members of the legal profession do not fall within exactly the same category as medical men, or men of any other trades or professions. When royal commissions are appointed, terms of reference are drawn up, and by this means the scope of inquiries may be restricted or widened in accordance with the wishes of those whose legal mind is applied to the basis on which the inquiries shall be conducted. Have we not all noticed, on many occasions, when royal commissions have been appointed to investigate the operations of public activities, combines and the like, that those who stand for the interests of the people are prevented from carrying out certain investigations because the chairman of the commission says that these inquiries are not included in the terms of reference? It shows what power and influence are exercised by those associated with the legal profession in determining how far a royal commission may go in its inquiries, and, consciously or unconsciously, the ambit of these investigations is frequently restricted.
Members of the legal fraternity hold retainers from certain big combines, of a character which, though not actually requiring them to appear in the courts on behalf of their clients, calls upon them to determine from time to time the action which should be taken in relation to certain matters. Suppose, for instance, that the Attorney-General of this Parliament held such a retainer, and that he had been advising such a combine in regard to its public activities over a long period of years, and suppose at some stage later on, while he was still holding the office of Attorney-General, this Parliament saw fit to appoint a royal commission to inquire into the activities of that company. As chief law adviser of the Commonwealth, the Attorney-General would be in a position to determine the basis and scope of the inquiry, and to settle the terms of reference.
– He would be prevented from lending his best endeavours to the interests of the Commonwealth.
– That is so.
– Then such a man should not enter Parliament.
– We have to be perfectly natural about these things; our minds are not divided up into a dozen different compartments, which would permit us merely by the closing of a door leading from the office of the combine and opening another door leading to the office of the Attorney-General to shut out completely one set of ideas. It is not reasonable to expect that any man can so control his mind by the mere shutting of an office door. We all have our feelings in one way or another, and it would be unnatural if we were not influenced by our convictions. When the Parliament decides to undertake certain inquiries, the terms of reference are determined by the chief law adviser of the Commonwealth. They may be disclosed to Parliament, but without legal training honorable members generally are obviously unable to say whether the terms submitted are sufficiently embracing to meet the particular case in question. The determination of these questions must be left to the Crown Law Department over which the Attorney-General has control. This is a most unfair and unsatisfactory position if the AttorneyGeneral has outside interests. I concur in the opinion expressed by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) that, if this matter were submitted to the people, they would not stand for it. The question of the price of petrol was a very live one when the royal commission to inquire into the activities of the oil combine was set up. But some procrastination has taken place in connexion with that inquiry, despite the fact that the public mind is still inflamed on the subject of oil prices. In New South Wales, when it was learned that the then Attorney-General for Victoria, Mr. Menzies, was appearing on behalf of the oil combines, the public was considerably stirred. It was felt that the Shell Oil Company, by bringing the State Attorney-General into its case, was seeking to create an atmosphere of respectability for the company.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I have been intensely interested in the presentation of the case by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) and particularly in the contribution to the debate by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), but the rejoinder of my distinguished and learned colleague, the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), set out so clearly the principles which should govern the conduct of members of the legal profession, that it appeared to me to leave no room for misunderstanding or criticism. The speech of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), however, makes further comment necessary, for it reveals a misunderstanding of the position as set out by the honorable the Attorney-General.
Briefly stated, what the honorable member for West Sydney said was that a lawyer ought not to act for any individual or corporation in matters opposed to “ public interest “ and, in the opinion of the honorable member, “ public interest “ is so easily determined that- once having been given expression through the agency of any governmental institution, whether municipal, State or Federal, there is no room for any misunderstanding as to what that is. In other words, the voice of the people once having been heard, the legal profession, and particularly the head of the legal profession, the AttorneyGeneral, is precluded from ranging himself against that voice, no matter whether he be tha Attorney-General of a State or of the Commonwealth.
I do not agree with that contention at all. What is in the public interest ? How is this to be ascertained ? Take the position of a lawyer who appears on behalf of an oil company. My honorable colleague pointed out that the question at issue in any inquiry, whether it be before a commission or a judicial tribunal, is whether the oil company is acting against public interest. ‘ That is the question before the court or commission. If the point had been established so clearly that the guilt of the company was patent, there would have been no need for the inquiry.
– Does not the oil company stand in the position of defendant?
– Suppose it does; the court is to inquire into and report upon the charges levelled against it. It was alleged in the recent inquiry that this company was a monopoly, and that it was acting against the public interest. The company denied this. Mere assertion is not proof, and consequently the question was remitted to a royal commission. In effect, we said “ Find out the truth.” The position of the company was analagous to a case in which a man is charged with murder or with burglary. The question the court has to decide is whether he is a murderer or a burglar. In this case the point to be decided was whether, as a fact, the oil company had acted against public interest by charging an excessive price for oil. At the time the AttorneyGeneral appeared that point had not been decided, and no one was able to Bay whether the company had acted against public interest or not. Are we to say that a man who has appeared for a corporation, whether it be an oil company or any other company, before accepting the office of Attorney-General is unfit to hold that office? If so, no man who has ever appeared for an oil company or for any other corporation could enter Parliament.
– I was speaking, of holding a retainer.
– Suppose the honorable member appeared for a- trade union and later on that trade union was involved in some violent outbreak - we have never had them in this country, but it might easily happen - would he say that he should never enter this Parliament because’ his clients had committed some offence against the law and against public interest ?
– That is not the point.
– I was about to give the honorable member an illustration to show how difficult it is to determine what is and what is not the interest of the public. In 1911 or 1912, the government of the day prosecuted what was known as the Coal Vend, a combination of coal and shipping companies. It was thought that they were acting against public- interest and a prosecution was launched. Mr. Justice Isaacs, in a lengthy, and what I regarded as a magnificent judgment, decided in favour of the company. The case was taken to the High Court on appeal, and the High Court held that the alleged monopoly was not acting against public interest, but that, in fact, it was responsible for reducing the price of coal, and freight rates. Further, the High Court held that higher freight rates could reasonably be charged in order that decent wages might be paid to the seamen. So that after years of effort to restrain this monopoly and to protect public interest - I was the spearhead in this effort - the court held that this monpoly was not against public interest, but had, in fact, promoted it. It was made clear that we had been prosecuting a body whose one aim was the advancement of public interest. As honorable members know, I have appeared in court, mainly for bodies of organized labour, and it has fortunately happened that these bodies have been reasonably successful in avoiding the consequences of what ever misdeeds may have been laid at their door.’ My practice lay in that direction. A lawyer is a person who appears for a client; takes up his case, and, having argued the matter before the court, unless the case comes before a higher tribunal on appeal, that is an end of it. Would honorable members say that a lawyer should go through life with his client’s misdeeds hanging like a millstone round his neck. What is public interest? Is public interest advanced by the honorable member’s advocacy of certain principles? We deny that. I say that the public interest is advanced by the advocacy of right principles.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The argument in the interesting speech made by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) consisted, in effect, of two propositions and a conclusion. The first was that the Attorney-General has, while AttorneyGeneral, the ordinary rights and duties of a professional advocate. The second was that the ordinary right of a professional advocate is to accept briefs from any client, and that the ordinary duty of a professional advocate is to accept a brief from any client without deciding himself whether that client’s case is right or not. From that he drew the conclusion that he, as Attorney-General, was entitled, while Attorney-General, to appear for any client. With the second proposition, I do not very much disagree. I concur in the view that it is not for a professional advocate to refuse his services to a client because he may not be sure that his client is an honest man. The actual determination of whether a client has or has not committed the offence with which he is charged, or whether he is or is not subject to liabilities to which it is contended he is subject, rests with the court. If each professional advocate were to say, We will refuse to appear for a man of whose right, of whose equity, we are not convinced beforehand, “ it is clearly then a combination of professional advocates to do that would deprive men of the right to be heard in court. A professional advocate’s duty is to say on behalf of his client such things as his client would honestly say on his own behalf if he could speak for himself. If the major premises of the argument is to be conceded - and I do not concede it - the Attorney-General has established his case.
If an Attorney-General is, while Attorney-General, to have the ordinary right, and the ordinary duties of professional advocates, it follows that he cannot be required to discriminate between his private clients, and that he cannot properly be asked to say, “ I will deny my services to this defendant; I will give it to that defendant “, or that, *’ I will deny my services to this plaintiff and give it to that plaintiff “. No professional advocate can be called upon todo that. His duty, as I apprehend it, is that he is to regard himself as a minister of justice and the vindication of justice can be achieved only after the interests of the different parties - whether they boCrown and subject or party and party - have been tried by a competent tribunal and decided on the evidence adduced. But because I hold that view I disagree with the major premises which the Attorney-General has advanced. I donot think that the Attorney-General should have the right of private practice. The Attorney-General described it as an undoubted right. It is “ undoubted “ only as many other things are said, because they are customary, to be undoubted. A famous Lord Chancellor - Nottingham - in the time of Charles II., when he received a present, as was the custom in those days, to influence his decision in a case, used to put the present beside him and exclaim, “ O tyrant custom “ ; but he did nothing to break down that custom. Ultimately it was broken down. The Attorney-General of the Commonwealth occupies a position different from that of an ordinary advocate. He is at the summit of the legal profession. He is the leader of the legal profession in the Commonwealth, as in my State. He owes that position hot merely to his professional ability and training, but to the fact that he has been appointed to be the Crown’s legal adviser in the Commonwealth. In other words, he is the legal adviser, the legal representative, of the people of the Commonwealth of Australia. I think that the public cannot feel certain that such a man is doing his duty to the public if at the same time they see him appearing as the advocate of persons whose interests may come into collision with the interests of the public. It may be conceived, although I find it difficult to conceive it, that a man is able to keep his mind divided, so to speak, into watertight compartments - to keep entirely distinct the impression he receives as advocate for a private interest and the impression he receives as representative of the public interest. The virtue of a man may be over-estimated, and many things that we say of one another are merely polite hypocrisies. We do not believe that a man can at the same time be the guardian and custodian of the Commonwealth interests, and the private advocate of a person or a corporation, whether it be a trade union or company, which may from time to time come into conflict with Commonwealth law and the public interest. This view of the position of Attorney-General was taken by a man who stands out in the history of Australian public and professional life - as the Bayard of the legal and public life of Victoria. George Higinbotham, when he first became Attorney-General of Victoria, and, later on, when he again filled that office, took the stand that he would not engage in private, practice, that the allowance which he received from the State entitled the State to the whole of his services. He conducted a considerable practice, but appeared in court only as an advocate for the State. He was engaged in numerous cases in Victoria, including the famous case against the railway contractors, appearing for the State without fee or reward other than his salary as AttorneyGeneral. He did not appear against the State, but he did conduct State cases. We have such cases to-day. Although
Attorney-Generals are by the Constitution forbidden to take fees from the Commonwealth, we have had cases in which they have appeared for the Commonweal,th and have done so obviously without fee or reward. It is quite proper that they should do so.
– We have had no case of men abstaining from private practice.
– No; and “ Tyrant custom “ is on the side of the Attorney-General and that of the Minister for Health, who has so ably assisted him to-day. But just as the custom of sending presents to judges in the past has broken down, so should we also break down the custom by which a man, who owes his pre-eminence in the legal profession to the fact that he is a public officer, holds himself out to receive private remuneration. It may be that we shall have to consider the question of remuneration - that we shall have to make the position of the AttorneyGeneral unique and pay him more than we pay ordinary Ministers. I do not think we should pay him very much more because I believe that the opportunity of rendering public service is part of the reward that a public man receives, and that his remuneration is not to be computed in mere pounds, shillings and pence.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The Opposition, in bringing this matter before the House, has chosen its own ground for debate* and has adopted as the chief basis of its argument the ethical question involved in this discussion. That is the only aspect of the case that has been put forward by members of the Opposition who have so far discussed it. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) said that no rule of law had been broken by the Attorney-General, nor had any rule of practice been broken by him. It was, he said, a matter of allaying suspicion on the part of the people, as if any man in public life, no matter how exemplary his conduct might be, could hope to completely allay the suspicions of some people regarding almost every act that he performs.
– I do not think the honorable member is quite fair. Having regard to his judicial position, the acts of the Attorney-General should always be beyond reasonable suspicion.
– Let us take it as the honorable member for Batman has put it. From the point of view of the Opposition this is a question of ethic3, or, to quote the honorable member for Batman, one of good taste. Following upon the remarks of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), who claimed that the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth ought not to engage in private practice, I would point out that honorable members opposite seem to have entirely overlooked the measure of protection which is given this Parliament, and the people, first of all, by laws passed by this and other Parliaments, and secondly by the almost inconceivably high standard of ethics, from the point of view of laymen, which is set by the legal profession, the medical profession, and even by the somewhat humbler profession to which I belong. As an example of the standard of ethics that is set by the medical profession - rand this is something that should be remembered by those who would judge men in the position of the Attorney-General in a different way altogether from that in which they would judge honorable members engaged in business - I would point out that it is a principle of the profession that if a member of it makes a scientific discovery then he shall not patent or capitalize for his own advantage that discovery, but shall make it available free of charge for the benefit of mankind. That is an example of the extraordinarily high standard of ethics which obtains in the medical profession, and what applies to that profession applies with equal truth and force to the profession of the law. The people are protected, first of all, by law. The honorable member for Batman says no law has been broken by the present Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), nor has any rule of practice been departed from. I assume that he means, when he says that the Attorney-General has broken no rule of practice, (that the ethical standard set up by the bar council and by the most highly respected and most eminent members of the legal profession has not been violated in any way whatever. I appeal to “all honorable members who desire to do justice to a gentleman occupying the highest and most respected position in his profession, to bear carefully in mind this admission of the honorable member for Batman. I also put it to them that if it is not competent for the AttorneyGeneral to engage in private practice the same objection may be urged against other legal gentlemen who are private members in this Parliament. It has been argued that the appearance of the Attorney-General as counsel for an oil company might create suspicion in the public mind that he was unconsciously biased, and, therefore, not likely to act in the best interests of the people. I remind honorable members that Parliament is the final arbiter and judge of the propriety of its Attorney-General’s actions, and if it is not proper for the holder of that office to engage in any form of private practice, then it is obviously not proper for any legal practitioner, who is a member of this House, to sit in judgment on the actions of the Attorney-General. That is the logical sequel to the views of the honorable member for Batman, and the honorable member for West Sydney. If one follows up this line of thought one arrives at this position - that however qualified any honorable member might be in the conduct of his profession or business, he would have no right to engage in any business at all. It seems to me, therefore, that legal members, particularly of this House, who criticize the attitude of the Attorney-General, are really sitting in judgment on their own conduct. I say, emphatically, that even if the holder of this office is open to criticism, it is not on the ground that he may not be acting in the public interest, but that he may not be able to give enough of his time to the satisfactory discharge of his ministerial duties. Knowing the AttorneyGeneral as I do, I would not urge that objection against him. Strangely enough, no honorable member opposite has raised this point in the discussion. Possibly, they are well aware that they would not be able to establish a case on such grounds. I urge honorable members to take a reasonable view of the situation. The criticism of the honorable member for Batman and the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) is based on academic rather than practical grounds, and for this reason it fails.
– I commend the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) for having brought this important matter before the House. In the public interest this issue should be settled once and for all. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) made a special appeal in defence of his ministerial colleague the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies). While he was speaking, an honorable member sitting behind me, interjected that the right honorable gentleman was putting up Aunt Sallys merely for the purpose of knocking them down again. He argued that if the Attorney-General could not hold ministerial office simply because ho had accepted a retainer from the Shell Oil Company, other members of the legal profession, who had engaged in private practice, would similarly be debarred from membership of this Parliament. That point is not involved in the motion. The facts are not as the right honorable gentleman stated them. If the AttorneyGeneral or any other member of the legal profession had, while still a private member, appeared on behalf of clients in private litigation, no one would question the propriety of his action. This is the issue which we are asked to consider : Is it right for the Attorney-General to act as counsel against the Crown in cases likely to affect the interests of the State? The honorable member for Melbourne has specially emphasized this phase of the Attorney-General’s legal activities. Everyone knows that in nearly every country oil interests and national interests have been or are in conflict.
The arguments used by the right honorable member for North Sydney this morning were in marked conflict with those which he employed in 1913, when a motion for the adjournment of the House was moved to discuss the action of the then Attorney-General, Mr. W. H. Irvine, now the Chief Justice of Victoria, in having accepted a retaining fee from the Marconi Company which was in litigation with the Commonwealth Government. The report of that debate is to be found in volume LXX. of Hansard and the excerpts from the speech of Mr. Hughes are to be found on page 961. This is what the right honorable gentleman said on that occasion -
The very fact that the Attorney-General handed over the matter to the Minister of External Affairs and refused to attend a Cabinet meeting when the matter was discussed are proofs as strong as Holy Writ that the motion which we are now submitting is amply warranted.
The motion submitted on that occasion was on all fours with the one now before the House. The right honorable gentleman went on to speak of the rules of the bar and the personal and professional honour of members of the legal profession, saying -
It is no use referring us to the rules of the bar.
This morning the right honorable gentleman spoke of the rules of the bar -
We must remember how the conception of public duty has evolved. It is not so very long ago since a man could be AttorneyGeneral and, at the same time accept a brief against the Crown. Such a practice was at one time fully sanctioned by the rules of the bar. But public opinnion has swept by the rules of the bar, and the bar lags panting after public opinion.
That position seems to have been emphasized by this morning’s discussion -
From time to time it brings up its antiquated procedure to the level of civilization, which always goes on ahead, therefore I say most emphatically that it is not for us to ‘bo concerned with the rules of the bar. We are concerned with rules of conduct governing public men in the execution of their public duties. We do not jay for one instant that the rules of the bar are not in perfect accordance with honour and morality so far as they arn designed to protect the interests of clients. They are. But that is not here to the point. Here is a case where there is a conflict of interests.
The words of the right honorable member for North Sydney might very well be applied to this discussion. As is well known, the rules of the bar are laid down by the bar itself. By this I do not imply that they are not in conformity with our ideals of public morality. All I wish to convey is that, as they are laid down by the bar, we may take it that they are drawn in the interests of those who practise at the bar.
– When Mr. Bruce took office he relinquished the directorships of the companies in which he was interested.
– Exactly. If a member of the legal profession, or for that matter, any person associated with business, believes that acceptance of ministerial office would conflict with his personal interests, he should not seek to become a member of Parliament. The act on his part is entirely voluntary. He appears before his constituents to solicit their votes. If, following his election, he accepts ministerial office, he should entirely divorce his personal and private interests from the discharge of his public duties. It cannot be argued that a penalty is imposed upon any man who accepts ministerial rank. I hope that the House will carry the motion. Up to to-day I have nothing to say against the Attorn eyGeneral for what he may have done, because as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has pointed out, he has not violated the ethics of his profession. But I should like this House to reach a decision in this matter now, and declare that it is no longer competent for an attorney-general to accept briefs or appear against the Crown.. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has reminded us that at one time it was not considered improper for judges to receive presents from interested litigants. That practice has long since been abandoned ; it would now be considered most reprehensible for a judge to receive presents. “We may assume, therefore, that future generations will as strongly disapprove of future attorneys-general accepting retainers from corporations or individuals likely to be involved in litigation against the Crown. They will consider that such action is not in the public interest. “We on this side desire a decision on this important issue to be made to-day. If in the opinion of the House the practice is considered undesirable, we should like it to be discontinued at once, thus allaying suspicion in the minds of the people that the holder of this high office may not be acting in the interests of justice.
– I do not think that the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), or those honorable gentlemen who have supported the motion, would advocate, as a general principle, that membership of this Parliament should debar members of the legal profession from engaging in private practice of any description. If that were laid down as a principle, the choice of the people would be very much restricted, and the result would not be in the public interest. I understand that the honorable member for Melbourne has brought this forward as a special case, his contention being that the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) has done something inconsistent with his duties as Attorney-General either of the State of Victoria or of the Commonwealth, and in violation of the ethics of the legal profession.
Let us consider the position in which the honorable member for Kooyong was placed as Attorney-General of Victoria. While acting in that capacity, the honorable gentleman accepted from the Shell Oil. Company a brief to appear on its behalf before the Royal Commission on the Petrol Industry. I have not heard any evidence put forward to show that that in itself was in any way improper. It could only have been improper had the honorable gentleman disqualified himself from acting in the beat interests of the people whom he represented as AttorneyGeneral. It would appear, that, on the contrary, there was no likelihood of conflict arising between his interests as the representative of the Shell Oil Company and those of the State of Victoria of which he was AttorneyGeneral. Indeed, I do not think any notice would have been taken of the matter but for the fact that the honorable gentleman was later appointed AttorneyGeneral of the Commonwealth, in which position he was called upon to act in art entirely different capacity. No doubt it was his duty to sever his association with the Shell Oil Company when he accepted that position. I understand that the inquiry by the royal commission had been completed before he even nominated for a seat in this Parliament, and that he surrendered whatever retainers he held from the Shell Oil Company beforehe tookhis seat in this House.
– That is so.
– That being so, I cannot see that any conflict of interest could arise between the discharge of his functions as Attorney-General and whatever he might have done as a private practitioner. I would liken his position to that of a judge. Generally speaking, a judge is appointed from the ranks of barristers in active practice, some of whom have a large number of clients. Whatever briefs a man may hold when he is elevated to the bench are immediately handed over to another barrister. I have never heard it seriously argued that the ever-present likelihood of having to adjudicate in cases in which former clients might be parties, is a disqualification for a judgeship. It frequently occurs that a judge has to sit in judgment upon persons for whom he has acted as advocate at the bar. The ethics of the legal profession are sufficiently high to ensure dispassionate decisions by judges even in cases in which old clients are litigants. The adoption of the principle that a man must not accept a position on the bench if he is likely to be called upon to adjudicate in cases in which persons with whom he has formerly been associated are parties, would mean that no member of the legal profession could receive such an appointment. Nor could any lawyer be appointed to the office of AttorneyGeneral, because occasions must necessarily arise when decisions have to be given affecting the interests of former clients and friends. I am sure that not only members of the legal profession, but also honorable members who accept high ministerial positions, are quite competent to divorce themselves from former private associations and to discharge their functions honestly, quite irrespective of the fact that they may have had business dealings with individuals likely to be affected by their decisions.
Question resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 1.6 to 2.15 p.m.
The following papers were presented : -
Bankruptcy Act - Sixth Annual Report, for period 1st August, 1933, to 3 1st July, 1934.
Ordered to be printed.
Papua Act - Ordinances of 1934 -
No. 13 - Pearl, Pearl-shell and Bechedemer.
No. 13 - Native Plantations.
No. 14 - Public Service (LieutenantGovernor’s Travelling Allowance).
No. 15- Mining.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to provide procedure in relation to the collection and recovery of sales tax and for other purposes.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
alteration of allotment op TIME.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That the consideration of the vote “ The Department of Defence”, be postponed until Tuesday next.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 29th November (vide page 698).
Proposed vote, £168,850.
– Numbers of residents of Australia who desire to become naturalized British subjects find that the fee of £5 is an obstacle. Several elderly ladies came to me during the election campaign and said that as they had married Germans or Swedes, or men of other nationalities, they were deprived of a vote; they would take out naturalization papers if the fee were not so high. I suggest either that the fee be reduced to, say, £2 or £3, or that, a provision be inserted in the act providing for a lower fee in cases of hardship. Officers of the Investigation Department whom I have consulted have expressed a willingness to give sympathetic consideration to a reduced fee in some cases, although they think that it might be unwise to make the regular fee so low as to open the door too widely to trouble. It would be well to vest in the officers concerned a discretionary power either to accept a reduced fee, or to permit payment of the fee by instalments. We should encourage to become full citizens of this country those who have proved satisfactory during residence for many years in Australia.
There are some objectionable features associated with the Arbitration Court, which should be removed, and I hope that the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) will, so soon as his duties permit, agree to meet representatives of the persons directly concerned, with a view to discussing their removal. There is considerable discontent at the slowness of the court, not only in regard to the hearing of the cases which come before it, but also in regard to the procedure preliminary to hearing. On one occasion recently, the delays nearly led to direct action being taken, and I hope that the experience will not be repeated. The appointment of another conciliation commissioner, while not costing a large amount, would avoid much of the delay which now occurs.
I come now to the long standing difficulty associated with work on the waterfront. Those concerned in Victoria and South Australia have been waiting a long time for a satisfactory solution of the trouble. Probably the port of Melbourne provides the worst example in Australia. The ex-Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) endeavoured, in his own way, to improve conditions on the Melbourne waterfront, by introducing a regulation, intended to be permanent, governing the engagement of labour there. The job has been only half done, and, as things are still in the experimental stage, the regulation cannot be said to have been either accepted or condemned. The real difficulty is the unfair discrimination still being shown in the selection of waterside labour generally. In the past there might have been grounds for giving preference to volunteer or “ loyalist “ workers on the waterfront, but to-day those men are almost non-existent there, although the numbers of so-called “ loyalist “ workers have been maintained by the inclusion of men of all nationalities who cannot be said to be entitled to preference, because of anything that they did to assist the country in a time of difficulty. That is the cause of a lot of discontent.
Another grievance is the accommodation, or lack of it, provided for that section of the waterside workers at Port Melbourne who are not what are described as volunteers. Some time ago we sought to settle the trouble between the volunteer and the regular labourers by getting from Judge Beeby a declaration of what constituted a volunteer waterside worker. About a year ago he gave that decision, but, unfortunately, no notice has ever been taken of it. The ship-owners will not recognize it, and no assistance has been forthcoming from the court or from Parliament to enforce it. Apart from that, however, the conditions under which waterside labour is picked up is a disgrace to the State of Victoria, a blot on the seaport of Melbourne, and an offence to the sight of those people who pass through the port. The workers are subjected to almost brutal indignity. The volunteer labourers are picked up in a suitable room, where provision is made for them to meet the employers, and where shelter and decent conditions are provided. The other workers, however, are picked up out in the open, where they have to stand “in all kinds of weather without any shelter, and without proper means of being approached by the shipowners’ representatives, who stand on empty tanks and select the men as tho buyers of old selected slaves in the market. It has become such a scandal that I feel justified in directing the attention of the Attorney-General to it. No proper sanitary arrangements exist, and the position has become so bad that the municipality has called on the harbour authorities to put an end to it. About a year ago, I succeeded in getting the Chairman of the Harbour Trust, Mr. Holden, who has since died, to agree to a proposal for the erection of a suitable building for the accommodation of waterside labourers. It was agreed to erect a building and equip it with telephones, rostrums, &c, together with a readingroom for the men, and the building was to have been opened at the same time as the new Centenary bridge. Something must have gone wrong with the scheme, however, because, although the bridge was opened a few weeks ago, the building has not yet been begun. I know that plans were prepared, because I saw them. I gave evidence regarding the dimensions of the building, and the rostrums and other accommodation required, and the engineer was called into the room in my presence and instructed to proceed with the work. I suggest that the Attorney-General look into this matter, and do what he can to have the trouble rectified. I trust that he will be able to complete the work started by his predecessor who introduced the regulation. I also ask him to refresh his memory regarding the decision given by Judge Beeby a little over .a year ago as to who may bo regarded as original volunteers, entitled to the preference promised by the Government and the ship-owners.
.- I join with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) in an appeal for sympathetic administration in so far as it affects trade unionists in good faith on the waterfront. I have no qualifications as representative to speak for them, but I have some knowledge of the position by reason of the fact that I administered the Transport Workers Act, and had a good deal to do with employment on the waterfront, while I was in office. Of course, wages and conditions are matters still within the purview of the court, and the Minister cannot interfere in functions that are clearly those of the court. There is something more than pathetic, however, in the long drawn out vendetta that has been waged against the genuine waterfront workers. For nearly ten years, we have heard of the volunteers who came to the rescue of the ship-owners in their time of trouble. I did not have a very high opinion of them when they were engaged, being, as they were, casual workers who came forward to reap some benefit at the expense of waterside workers and genuine and loyal unionists during a time of industrial trouble. This was done to the great distress of those men who had made their homes on the waterfront, had reared their families there, had helped to maintain the local shopkeepers, and are still entitled to be recognized, in view of the special knowledge they have of the work, as the bona fide workers in that industry. There is no doubt that these people have been harassed, and that there has been a prolonged endeavour to drive them off the waterfront. Most of the volunteers have disappeared now, and I think the present Minister would desire to assist in making conditions a little better and fairer for the genuine waterside workers, and I hope that he will succeed in doing so.
I ask the Attorney-Genera] for an assurance in regard to the reporting branch of the Attorney-General’s Department. When 1 was administering the department a good deal of the work of the branch wa3 being done by outsiders, and there was a certain conflict between the claims of those who were regular members of the staff and others who considered that they had claims to this employment. I took the view at the time, and I think it was the official view also, that the claims- of the staff should be supported, and that its members should be employed to the utmost. I do not know what its precise significance may be, but the appropriation this year represents a substantial decrease as compared with the expenditure on this branch in 1933-34.
– The appropriation is increased from £6,526 to £7,657. The decrease in comparison with the expenditure in 1933-34 is explained by the fact that last year unforeseen abnormal expenditure was incurred under this heading.
– I hope that the Minister Will stand up for his own department, and that -he will ensure that regular Commonwealth employees are, engaged before outsiders in the work for which this expenditure is proposed.
I notice an increase of the vote for bankruptcy administration.
– That is a sign of the times.
– Those times have been with us for some years now.
– They are getting worse.
– In any case, I ask the Attorney-General to explain in detail the reason for the proposed increase under this heading.
I am very interested in the Commonwealth Investigation Branch. As to one phase of it, I asked a question of the Attorney-General yesterday, and he replied that the matters about which I inquired are sub judice. I do not know the tribunal before which these matters are sub judice, but I accept the Minister’s assurance, and therefore I can only discuss this item generally without special regard to any matter . claimed to be now - before the courts. Later on, however, I shall seek information concerning the chief officer of police at Canberra in his capacity as head of the Investigation Branch. Perhaps I should not warn the
Attorney-General, but I certainly warn the chief officer that I propose to make as searching an inquiry as I can into certain reports which have been furnished to the Minister by the Investigation Branch. Judging by statements in the press, and also judicial dicta some of the reports made by this officer in regard to recent cases, have been very inaccurate and unreliable. Reports made to me by this officer in connexion with one important matter, when I was AttorneyGeneral, were very inaccurate and unreliable. If they were not inaccurate because of incapacity on the part of the gentleman who made them, they were rendered so through partisanship and bias. I am very loath to cast any reflection on an officer of any department, especially one attached to a department with which I have had ministerial responsibility. But I am compelled to do this : When my first cause of complaint came under my notice, I said little about it, but at the time I made a minute which suggested that we might reasonably hope for better things in the future. If I may judge by recent events, however, there was no ground for my hope. I suggest to this officer that he should not regard himself as a political emissary, or as one having personal views on communism and labourism, but that he should devote himself to a disinterested execution of the duties with which he is entrusted, and that he should obtain information, if he is asked to do so, and be careful that it is compiled with thoroughness and without bias. Unquestionably, I have noted much bias and much evidence of inaccuracy, and much less than due regard to what we would reasonably expect of an officer in his position. My present remarks may be taken as an indication of my intention to press this matter further on a suitable occasion, because honorable gentlemen on this side of the House feel that investigations by this department really amount to a kind of prosecution, and even persecution, on the part of senior officers against people who are thought to entertain political and social opinions that are not in harmony with those held by the chief officer.
– In the brief time at my disposal, I shall have to content myself with replying that the various matters that have been raised by honorable members will be duly considered. On two matters, however, I shall make particular observations. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) indicated that it was the desire of organized Labour to confer with me concerning the Arbitration Act, no doubt, with a view to suggesting amendments of that statute. I assure the honorable gentleman that I shall give them every opportunity to do that. It is my desire to confer with representatives of employers’ and employees’ organizations at the earliest possible moment, in order to learn from them what might be called the contemporary view of the working of the act. Every facility will be provided for that” to be done. The honorable member spoke to me last night about the state of affairs on the waterfront and I was surprised to hear what he had to say. I propose at once to communicate with the ship-owners organization and the harbour trust to see whether some means cannot be evolved promptly to remedy a state of affairs which, I agree, is deplorable.
The matter relating to the Investigation Branch of my department, referred to by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), is one upon which I cannot say much. The honorable gentleman’s experience of the department is greater than my own. I was surprised to hear what he said about the Chief Officer of that department. In justice to that gentleman I wish to observe that my own brief experience of his work is that he makes his investigation when directed to do so and, so far as I have been able to notice, without any of the defects alleged by the honorable member. As specific instances are to be brought under notice subsequently, we shall hear more of these allegations in due course. I agree that the duty of officers of the Investigation Branch is to conduct their investigations under the direction of the Government in a nonpartisan spirit. I hope that that will always be done.
– Order! The time allotted for the consideration of the proposed vote for the department of the Attorney-General has expired.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Interior.
Proposed vote, £352,000.
– I wish to obtain some information from the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) on several matters which relate to the Federal Capital Territory. Recently the department has altered the system of collecting rents from occupiers of property owned by the Government. Formerly the rents were collected through the department by means of deductions from the wages of the occupiers at a rate determined by the amount of money earned. The Government has now appointed private firms to collect tinrents. The tenants concerned fear that, this change may work to their detriment and lay them open to possible eviction. Information regarding the arrears of. rent has been furnished to the collectors and the occupiers of the properties feel that they may be called upon to make payments irrespective of whether they are in regular employment or not. It is felt, also, that the Government may have taken this course with the object of relieving itself of any responsibility for any action taken by the rent collectors that may lead to the eviction of tenants who, because they are only in intermittent work, cannot meet their payments. It is not suggested by these people that those who are able to meet their commitments should be relieved of the obligation to do so. People who can pay, should do so, and this is the opinion of the people who have brought this matter under my notice. Bui unfortunately, many of those concerned are quite unable to make the payments that are required of them. The people desire that the former arrangements shall be reverted to, and that they shall not be left to the mercy of private rent collectors, with the possibility of eviction from their homes. I hope that the Minister will make a clear, definite statement on this point.
I wish now to refer to the conditions governing the provision of food relief or work in lieu of food relief. I understand that the Government is able to purchase its supplies, under contract, at prices below those which apply to ordinary private purchasers. This, of course, is a satisfactory arrangement foi- the Government, and probably enables food relief to be provided at a lower cost than would otherwise be the case; but unfortunately people who are given work in lieu of food relief, and receive a cash payment for their work find that they are not able to purchase with the money they receive the same amount of food as the Government could provide for a similar sum. This is due to the fact that business people, generally speaking, charge more for goods bought over the counter in the ordinary way than for goods supplied to the Government under contract. The result is that people who are given work in lieu of food relief find that they do not receive sufficient to provide themselves and their families with adequate nourishment. Perhaps the Minister will agree that, in future, those working for food shall be able to obtain it at the rates paid by the Government.
Under the Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance in operation in the Federal Capital Territory, a workman who has met with an accident during the course of his employment receives two-thirds of the wage he was receiving at the time he was injured; but, if the rate of wages should fall, the compensation is also reduced. Those concerned say that, as their commitments, particularly in respect of rent, remain at the same level, they would like the Government to make some remission of rent and other such liabilities while they are receiving a lower income.
In connexion with food relief, the Government should not take into consideration the payments made to sick or injured members of friendly societies. In most cases the payments to members of such societies are used to defray the cost of medicinal and other necessaries, which would not be required by a person in normal health. The payment received by a father of a family from a friendly society is regarded .by the Government as income; but, as it is usually expended on medicine, it cannot be used for the purchase of .food and clothing. As friendly society benefits are based on contributions by members, the Government should discontinue the practice of treating payments to sick and injured members as income, so that the home life of those so unfortunately situated might be improved.
These matters have been discussed by the branch of the Austraiian Labour party in the Federal Capital Territory, the members of which have asked me to represent their views to the Minister. I hope that their requests will receive hia favorable consideration.
– Some time ago the Commonwealth Government commenced the construction of a Commonwealth building in Anzac Square, Brisbane; but up to the present only the foundations have been completed. Had construction been expedited, work could have been provided for stonemasons, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, and painters, and at the same time the payment of rent to owners of private buildings could have been obviated. A definite promise was made last year that the work would be proceeded with, and that the building would be well advanced by the end of the year. Although some improvement has been made in the Federal Members’ Rooms at Brisbane, the accommodation available is totally inadequate. Some time ago we were in-formed that rooms would be allotted to federal members in the Commonwealth Bank building, but subsequently the ex-Minister for the Interior said that such room3 would be too expensive, and that accommodation would be available in the building that was being erected. At certain periods of the year, particularly during a recess, the rooms in Brisbane are used extensively by federal members, who, however, find it impracticable with the present unsatisfactory accommodation to interview constituents or to carry out effectively the clerical work which devolves upon them. As. considerable inconvenience is caused at present, I trust that the Government will arrange for the new building to he completed at the earliest possible date.
During the past five or six months Queensland federal members who do most of their clerical work in the Brisbane rooms have had difficulty in securing the services of a shorthand-typist to attend to their correspondence. At times there are ten federal members in Brisbane requiring clerical assistance. Until six or eight months ago we had the services of a permanent typist who, until she resigned, devoted the whole of her time to our work. When another typist was requisitioned, we were informed by the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs, who is in control of the building, that as he had no authority over the federal members’ rooms we should make our request to the Minister for the Interior or the Works Director. Representations were made, and a temporary typist was appointed. Previously the work had been given to a permanent typist. We claim that a temporary typist should not be engaged for duties of a more or less confidential nature. If the Minister makes inquiries into this matter he will find that we have been asking for this assistance for some time.
For a number of years I have complained of the unsatisfactory condition of -the General Post Office in Brisbane, and I have urged the Government to erect a new building in keeping with the dignity of the city. Visitors to any city usually observe first the post office, and the town hall. Brisbane, I feel sure, has the most attractive town hall in the Commonwealth, but its post office is a disgrace to both the city and the Federal Government. The citizens had hoped that the erection of a new building would be begun two or three months ago. The City Council contemplated the provision of a square from Anzac- Square to Queenstreet, facing the General Post Office. Several comments on the proposal appeared in the press. The Deputy-Director of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. Corbett, remarked that he was pleased the City Council had resumed a certain amount of property and he believed that the extension of the square to Queen-street would give a lead to the Commonwealth authorities to go on with the erection of a new post office. The Director of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. Brown, who visited Brisbane about that time, agreed that this resumption of property by the City Council would tend to expedite the erection of a new building. Subsequently a statement by Mr. Brown was published in the press to the effect that the Government intended to proceed with the erection of portion of the new structure from the Elizabethstreet side ; but that is a back street. Some of the old buildings were to be demolished and replaced. The citizens of Brisbane urge that the Government should take prompt steps to erect a post office in keeping with the general architecture of the city. The present building is unsuitable for postal purposes, and many of the employees are compelled to work in mere hovels. I directed a question on this subject to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hunter), and asked whether plans and specifications had been drawn up for the erection of a new post office, but, so far, I have received no reply. I understand that the plan3 have been in the hands of the department for many years. The new building should be commenced in Queen-street rather than in Elizabeth-street.
.- About a fortnight ago I referred to the plant at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, and, presumably, from the answer received, the Department of the Interior still has an interest in it, because it has sent an engineer to the island to note the state of preservation in which the plant has been kept. This dockyard, the capital value of which is about £2,000,000, was leased about two years ago to a private company, and this Parliament was asked nine months later to sanction the Government’s action. The plea advanced by the Ministry on that occasion was that if private enterprise took the dockyard over it would be free to tender for private contracts, a privilege not enjoyed under Governmentcontrol. It was urged that this action would increase employment. The Government has given a couple of large contracts to the company, without requiring it to tender for the work, and generous periods have been allowed in which to carry out the contracts. Instead of the company providing additional employment when a private job comes along, it takes its men off Government jobs, puts them on the private work and requires them to work overtime, whilst hundreds of unemployed men are available for such work. The Government has given this company contracts with specially privileged conditions, and the company does not give so much employment as could reasonably be expected. This Parliament is responsible for the ratification of the lease of the plant to private enterprise, and the obli- gation rests upon it to see that the terms of -the lease are observed. I have asked three or four questions about this lease, and they all relate to matters specifically set down in the contract. My questions concerned the amount of rent paid, whether the Government had an inspection of the plant made to ascertain its state of repair, the amount of work given to the lessees by the Government, and, further, how much had been granted to the lessees for the removal or alteration of plant since the lease was signed. All of these matters were definitely provided for in the contract, and the department should, have the fullest information upon them. But it took the Prime Minister a fortnight to answer a question which, one would imagine, could have been answered within 24 hours. In regard to the most important question of all, that of the state of repair of the plant, the reply was that “ the report can be made available to the honorable member for perusal on application to the office of the Shipping Board, Customs House, Sydney. “ I notice that the typewritten reply originally contained the words “ any honorable member,” but “ any “ has been struck out and the word “ the “ has been inserted in its place. We therefore gather that this report is to be regarded as more or less confidential, and that only the honorable member particularly interested may view it. The contract between the Government and the lessees has been approved by this Parliament, and every honorable member must be assumed to be interested in it and to be equally responsible for its observance. This dockyard, worth £2,000,000, has been leased for £1,000 a year for the first three years, a price less than that paid for a lease of a secondclass suburban hotel. One would imagine that every honorable member has equal interest in seeing that the terms of the contract are being carried out. All of tha matters raised in my questions are obligations forced upon the lessees, but they are equally obligations placed upon the Government. If these obligations are not carried out, provision is made in the lease for the rescission of the contract and the reversion of the dockyard to the Commonwealth. I protest against the delay that has taken place in supplying the replies to my questions and to the alteration which restricts to me the right to peruse the report on the plant, when any honorable member who so desires should be able to view it. As this Parliament was a party to the contract, a copy of reports on its performance should be placed at the disposal of every honorable member without the necessity of making application to the Shipping Board in Sydney. Not only honorable members representing New South Wales constituencies, but all honorable members are interested in this contract. Some honorable members representing States other than New South Wales were equally as opposed to the contract as I was, and they are equally entitled to peruse any reports as to whether the contract is being carried out to the letter and whether the necessary inspections have been made in accordance with its terms. Honorable members discover from the meagre information imparted by the Prime Minister that this company has paid £1,000 in rent for the dockyard for twelve months. We also find that the Government, which is bound to place only £30,000 worth of work at the dockyard, has provided an additional £500,000 worth of work.
– Surely a large amount of that money goes in wages.
– The beneficence of the Government in giving an additional £500,000 worth of work should have been sufficient for the company, but we find that in the first year of its occupancy of the dockyard the company took advantage of another section of the lease and asked for the expenditure of further sums of money for the removal and alteration of plant. The period of the lease is, I understand, twenty-one years, and, in view of the fact that the Government has guaranteed £30,000 worth of work annually and has been good enough to increase this amount during the past year to £530,000, the company should have waited at least some time before making this demand for the expenditure of further sums of money for alteration and removal of plant.
– Will the honorable gentleman say what was the loss on the dockyard?
– That is beside the point. I am concerned that plant worth £2,000,000 has been leased on terms which were a disgrace. I want to impress upon honorable members that steps should be taken to see that the lessees are carrying out their part of the contract. I have given figures showing the manner in which work has been thrown to the company by the Government, and my protest is that when I sought information regarding the performance of the contract I had to wait a fortnight for a reply which should have been given within 24 hours, and then I was politely told to approach some employee of the Shipping Board and ask him to be gracious enough to allow me to peruse the report. All honorable members, whether they favoured or opposed the leasing of the dockyard, are interested in the contract, and are sufficiently conscious of their duty to the public to desire to see that the terms of the agreement are observed bythe lessees. The report is not confidential, and should be available to honorable members without their having to make application for it to the department. The Minister interjected that the giving of this contract for thebuilding of two sloops at a cost of £250,000 each would create more work. That is true. I am not objecting to the work going to this dockyard; it may be the only yard at which it can be carried out. But the plea of the Government was that additional work would be provided by reason of the fact that Cockatoo Island was taken over by private enterprise, and would be able to tender for undertakings which the Government could not contract to carry out. The Government has given the lessees £530,000 worth of work within twelve months, and my complaint is that they are not carrying it out in such a way that the greatest amount of work possible is distributed as the result of this arrangement. When repair work to trading ships comes in the men employed on the building of the sloops are taken off to carry out those repairs. The company has been given up to December, 1935, to complete the sloops, and I urge that the Government should see that the company gives the repair jobs to men who are walking about the streets looking for work, instead of handing it over to those who are, and should continue to be, engaged in the building of the sloops. That is not an unreasonable request in view of the fact that the island was handed over to private enterprise in order to create employment, and that the building of ‘these vessels was entrusted to the lessees without calling for tenders. In return for all this, they are not providing the maximum amount of work that should be forthcoming for the unemployed.
.- I wish to endorse the remarks made by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) in regard to the lack of facilities provided for the transaction of public business by federal members in Brisbane. I brought this matter before the House committee, and I was told that I did not use the federal members’ room in Brisbane to any great extent. As a matter of fact, because of the lack of accommodation, I have to ask any deputation that desires to wait on me there to see me at my hotel. There is room in the Commonwealth Bank building that would be suitable for members, but apparently the rent asked for it is more than the department is prepared to pay.
– A contract has been let, and I may say that it is expected to expend £68,000 this year on a Commonwealth building in Brisbane.
– I have it from Mr. Or win, Federal Director of Works in Queensland, that it will take four years to complete that building. -He is a personal friend of mine, and gave me that information when I spoke to him of the conditions under which federal members are expected to meet their constituents there. Some effort has been made to bring about an improvement, but the position is still most unsatisfactory. Every representative of Queensland will tell the House that he cannot take those who wish to interview him to the federal members’ rooms at Brisbane, because there is absolutely no privacy. If a member wishes to interview an elector in the room, other members present have to walk out. What the Minister has said as to the provision of additional accommodation is correct, but the com plaint by the honorable member for Brisbane is also quite justified. Coming to my own electorate, I have received a request for the building of a residence for the postmaster at South Johnston, where land is available. This should secure the favorable consideration of the department. “When the post office at South Johnston was built some five years ago, the council made a cutting in front of it, and people walking down the steps from the post office are likely to fall over the embankment into the cutting because of the failure to provide a protective railing. I brought this matter before the ex-Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs, but the answer of the department was that the responsibility to provide this protection had not been determined. It would probably cost £8 or £9 to erect a railing, and I know that the Director of Works in Queensland would- go on with the job, but that no money is available for it. Surely, an expenditure of £8 or £9 should not be begrudged when it would avoid the risk of broken limbs or loss of life.
When I entered this House, residents of Innisfail could register there for enrolment. On the last supplementary roll for the Innisfail subdivision there were 1812 new names, and for the subdivision of Tully - 28 or 30 miles distant - 431 new electors were enrolled. On the Innisfail subdivision rolls, there are 7,209 names, and on those for Tully, 2,227. To-day, those wishing to be enrolled for the subdivision of Innisfail have to send their enrolment cards to Townsville. The change has been made on the score of economy. Mr. Irwin, when Chief Electoral Officer, told me that he was instructed to cut down expenses, and that in carrying out that instruction he had to close down the Innisfail office. That office should be reopened. Under the present system, residents of Innisfail must send their cards down to Townsville at least two or three days before the closing date in order to secure enrolment. Upon the receipt of these cards, the responsible officer has to make inquiries, and quite a number of people found themselves disfranchised at the last federal election, not because they had failed to make application for enrolment, but because they had gone to the post office at Innisfail with their cards only to be told that the old system had been departed from and that they would have to send the cards to Townsville. The time for enrolment expired before their applications reached the Townsville office. These may seem trivial matters to some honorable members, but they are important to the people of my constituency. I have endeavoured to have them rectified without bringing them before the House, but without success. That is why I mention them to-day.
.- A new Commonwealth Bank building is being erected at Hobart, and I think that provision should be made in it for federal members’ rooms. At the present time, we have placed at our disposal only half a room at the Customs House. When I was interviewing some of my electors recently, I had to seat them in a car outside because the office was occupied, and lt was impossible to stand in the street as it was raining heavily. The federal members’ rooms in Sydney and Melbourne are quite satisfactory, and the representatives of Tasmania merely ask that there shall be provided for them in Hobart sufficient accommodation to enable them to meet their constituents. There are eleven representatives of Tasmania in this Parliament, and they are entitled to the same consideration as the members of mainland States receive. We have no furniture and only half a room in which to receive constituents who desire to interview us, or to meet the convenience of visiting members from other States. I hope that consideration will be given to the request, and that we shall be placed on the same footing as members representing the other States.
.- I direct the attention of the Minister to the unnecessary expenditure incurred in connexion with the management of hotels in the Federal Capital Territory. Until recently there were two hotels under governmental control. Recently the licence for one, the Kurrajong, was withdrawn, so there is now only one government hotel catering for the general public. Some time ago, the manager of the Hotel Canberra, Mr. Evans, was pushed out, and now two officers of the Commissariat
Department (Messrs. Garrett and Bushby) are, apparently, policing the management of the hotel. No privately owned hotel could be carried on successfully under those conditions. These commissariat officers are, I believe, supplied with free motor transport. All this expense is quite unnecessary. If the present manager is incapable of discharging his duties, he should be removed and another man appointed in his stead, because the control of a hotel is a one-man job. However, I think the present manager is quite competent to manage without any interference. The management of the Hotel Wellington, now in the hands of a private licensee, is just as efficient as that of any other hotel in the Federal Capital Territory. During the visit of the Duke of Gloucester, visitors accommodated at the Hotel Kurrajong paid various rates. Two persons were using one room and dining at the same table; yet one was charged £5 5s. a week, and the other £4 4s. Some of the guests, I understand, paid only £2 2s. a week. During the time when honorable member* were accommodated at that hotel, it was efficiently managed by Miss Southwell, without assistance from commissariat officers. Another matter which I should mention has to do with the treatment of some employees who worked part time only. Those who were unfortunate enough not to have homes in Canberra were charged board. One employee told me that after he had paid for his board and meals during his off days, he had the magnificent sum of 1b. 6d. a week; also that some of the female employees had only 4d. a week for themselves after they had paid for their board and meals on their days off. Better treatment would be meted out to animals. If an employee using a horse and cart to remove refuse from the hotels were put off for a day or two, it would still be necessary to stable and feed the horse so that it might be available for work when required. Government employees should not be treated with less consideration.
– The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) mentioned the change made recently in the method of collecting certain rents in Canberra. While it is comparatively easy for the Government to collect rents for houses from its own employees, it is no part of the ordinary activities of a government department to collect house rents from people who are in private employment. It was therefore decided some time ago to utilize the services of reputable firms in Canberra to do this work. I assure the honorable gentleman that it is not intended to depart from the general practice of collecting current rents from government employees, and of endeavouring to make reasonable arrangements for the payment of arrears.
The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) deplored the delay which he thinks has occurred in connexion with the erection of Commonwealth offices in Brisbane. A contract has been let, and it is expected that the building will be completed in October, 1935. About £68,000 will be expended in the current financial year. It is hoped that when the building is completed Queensland members will have the reasonable accommodation to which they are entitled. The honorable gentleman also spoke of the need for the services of a permanent typist. I am not quite clear if by that he means a typist in continuous employment, or a permanent typist in the sense in which the word is used by the Public Service Board. Two temporary typists are continuously employed in the Federal Members Rooms in Melbourne.
– We want typists continuously employed there.
– I shall see what can be done to meet any reasonable requirements of Queensland members in that direction.
The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) mentioned the need for improved accommodation of Tasmanian members in Hobart. I shall have inquiries made to see if it is possible to meet their wishes in the new Commonwealth Bank building.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) seemed to deplore the fact that Commonwealth work to the value of over £500,000 had been placed with the Cockatoo Island Dockyard.
– No; my complaint is that money has been made available to the firm which now controls the dockyard for the purpose of giving work to men who are at present without employment, and that, instead, the regular hands are worked overtime and no extra employment is given.
– I understood the honorable gentleman to say that so much work had been given to the company that it could not all be carried out this year.
– Oh, no ! The management of the island is taking men off Commonwealth work and putting them on repair work, for which outside labour should be engaged.
– The object of the honorable member is to ensure that the greatest amount of work which can be carried out immediately is given.
– That is so.
-I shall look into the matter. I suggest that hotel management in Canberra, referred to by the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) can be discussed more fully when the Estimates for the Federal Capital Territory are under consideration on Tuesday next.
– Order ! The time allotted for the consideration of the proposed Vote for the Department of the Interior has expired.
Proposed vote agreed to. [Quorum formed.]
Proposed vote, £538,140.
.- Telegrams from the Queensland bananagrowing industry have been received today by a number of honorable members. Apparently, considerable apprehension is felt by banana-growers in that State concerning the likelihood of further concessions being given to Fiji. I hope that the Minister will give the assurance that additional concessions will not be given that might militate against the interests of Australian growers. The surplus production in Australia is about 400,000 cases. The industry is worth approximately £1,000,000 a year to Queensland, and probably an equal amount to New South Wales.
I urge that, in the administration of the department, the Minister will give officers inremote parts of Australia every opportunity to qualify for promotion.
Travelling about, one frequently finds brilliant young men in outside stations who seldom come under the notice of the Collector of Customs, and rarely meet either the ‘Comptroller-General or the Minister, with the result that they are overlooked when promotions are being considered. I suggest that arrangements be made for the ComptrollerGeneral to be freed from some of his duties at head-quarters so that he might make periodical inspections of outlying offices, and thus become conversant with the duties -which have there to be discharged. The men who are stationed in these places lack the expert training and experience that can be obtained only in the capital cities or at the central office. If the Comptroller-General came into personal contact wilh men who show distinct promise, he could see that they were transferred to positions that would enable them to qualify for high administrative posts. “While the trade treaty with Belgium was being discussed the other night, the Minister was asked to make available to honorable members the report of the Tariff Board on the glass industry in Australia, which was made after an investigation held in October and November of last year. Possession of that report before the debate took place would have proved helpful to honorable members. Can the Minister now make it available?
The tobacco industry is of very great importance to Australia. The Minister is fully conversant with the representations that have been made for an alteration of the tobacco duties. An Australian tobacco conference was held in Melbourne recently. I ask the Minister to give representatives of the growers an opportunity to meet him at an early date to discuss the future of the industry. They want him to arrange for a differential rate of excise giving a preference of ls. 6d. per lb. to tobacco made from Australiangrown leaf.
– The honorable member surely knows that an all-Australian conference is to be held in Canberra next Tuesday.
– I was a delegate to the Melbourne conference, which expressed absolute dissatisfaction with what had been done in the past. An early oppor tunity to meet the Minister is desired, and I should like to be a member of that deputation. [Quorum formed.)
.- The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) has asked the Minister to lay on the table certain reports of the Tariff Board. I go further, and ask that the Government will consider amending the law to make it compulsory for all Tariff Board reports to be laid before Parliament within a certain period after their “receipt by the Minister. It is well to remember that the Tariff Board was created to advise Parliament as well as the Minister. It is not possible from newspaper reports to understand the proceedings before the Tariff Board, and therefore members should have the board’s reports before being asked to vote on the items affected.
Anti-dumping duties were imposed in 1921 or 1922, at which time the Tariff Board sat in private and did not take evidence upon oath. Proclamations under the anti-dumping law passed by this Parliament twelve years ago still operate, although most of the conditions which existed then have disappeared. I hope that the Minister will let us know whether it is intended to repeal the proclamations, so that, in the event of further trouble arising, an inquiry can be held before such provisions become operative. I should be glad to have an assurance from the Minister that changes in the administration will be made. [Quorum formed.)
.- The policy of the Government in regard to tariff matters is to continue inquiries by committees or boards until at last a report or recommendation in accordance with its policy is produced. The Bruce-Page Government appointed a special body to inquire into and report upon the tobaccogrowing industry, and, later, adopted its recommendations. Subsequently, the Tariff Board presented a report; but apparently it was not suitable to this Government, for a special inquiry was instituted into the industry. I shall not refer to the duties of customs and excise in relation to tobacco, because now that the
Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) is a member of the Government, the tobacco-growers of this country should feel safe, particularly as only last session the right honorable gentleman moved for an increased duty on imported tobacco and a reduction of the excise duty on tobacco locally produced. [Quorum formed.] I have been asked to represent the North Queensland tobacco-growers a/t a conference of tobacco-growers to be held in Canberra on Tuesday next and to render what assistance I can to the Leader of the Country party. As that gentleman has now achieved his ambition to become Deputy Prime Minister, and has brought with him into the Cabinet a number of other members of the Country party, I <am led to hope that the tobacco industry in this country will once again be placed on a solid foundation. Undoubtedly, the outlook for the industry has not brightened since the coalition government was formed. There is enthusiasm also among the banana-growers at Yandina because of the inclusion in the Cabinet of the right honorable member for Cowper and other, members of the Country party; the growers are no longer afraid that preference will be given to bananas grown in Fiji. Now that the Leader of the Country party is Deputy Prime Minister, I am looking forward to seeing some action taken to stop the rot that is afflicting our primary industries. The Ministry includes also the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) and the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter), both Country party members, though both without portfolios. [Quorum formed.] All this shows how the Country party is bursting with enthusiasm to assist the primary producers. The Tariff Board has recommended the reductions of duties in all directions, and I understand that several reports are still to be presented which will recommend the reduction of duties, not only on secondary products, but on primary products also. Not only will the tobacco industry, the banana industry, and the cotton and peanut industries of Queensland suffer, but those of other States will be affected also.
– Even the canary seed industry may be affected.
– Yes, and it is a most important industry. When the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) was in Queensland, he travelled one day past an area of hundreds of acres under canary seed crop. He remarked to a farmer in whose company he was that it appeared to be a very fine crop of wheat, and was astonished to learn that it was canary seed. He did not wish to reveal his ignorance any further, so he waited until he met a friend, and asked him whether the farmer was “ pulling his leg because he did not think that there were enough canaries in the world to eat all the seed which that crop would produce. He did not even know that the seed was not raised only for canaries.
I should like the Minister, when replying, to state whether the Leader of the Country party has made representations to him regarding the need for increasing the duties on imported tobacco, and reducing the excise on Australian tobacco, and whether he has made any representations regarding the Tariff Board report which recommended a reduction on the duty on bananas.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).The honorable member is now discussing something which is not debatable on the Estimates.
– I rise to a point of order. Is not the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) committing a breach of the Standing Orders by indulging in tedious repetition?
– There is no point of order.
– I ask the Minister before next Tuesday to make himself au fail with the report of the Tariff Board, dealing with the tobacco industry, and to ignore the report of the commission. I ask him to restore the duty on tobacco to the 1931 level, so as to make it possible for those who were, on the strength of the then existing duty, induced to engage in this industry, to make a satisfactory living.
– I desire to emphasize the desirability of the Minister for Trade and Customs keeping a strict eye on the tobacco duties. [Quorum formed.] During one of my visits to Queensland I was present at Mareeba, and heard serious complaints regarding the manner in which tobacco waa being manufactured. Much of it was being made up and sold in a green state, with the result that the public had turned against it.
– The honorable member must connect his remarks with the question before the Chair.
– I shall do so. The Minister for Trade and Customs should employ more inspectors in the tobaccogrowing areas to ensure that a high-grade tobacco is produced. When I was in Bundaberg, I asked a tobacconist why he did not have Queensland-grown tobacco displayed for sale, and he replied that the public would not smoke it. I assume that to be due to the failure of the excise officers to keep a strict watch on the quality of Australian tobacco leaf. This tobacconist placed the facts very clearly before me. He said that, so long as tobacco was produced as it is to-day in those parts, the storekeepers will not be able to sell it; for even the hoboes will not smoke it when it is given to them. Similar reports were made to me when I visited Mareeba, where I inspected various barns and grading-sheds. After the very careful examination I have made of the industry in those districts, I submit that the honorable member for Kennedy is not justified in asking for further concessions for it. My view is that what the industry really requires for its own benefit is stricter supervision. The inefficiency at present evident is due to the fact that growers apparently hold the opinion that tobacco can be grown as easily as cabbages, and that scientific knowledge is not essential to the production of the leaf. [Quorum formed.)
I suggest that goods passing through the Customs Department could be handled more expeditiously than at present. There is need for better organization in this respect.
– Quote a specific case.
– I have been invited by a member of one of the chief importing firms in Sydney to inspect the customs office in Sydney in order that I might see for myself how goods which are regularly imported into this country by this firm are handled. This firm complained that, although the goods in question were similar to those which it has been importing for many years the officers of the department have not yet devised a scheme for scheduling such goods and giving them an expeditious clearance. The result is that merchants generally are put to much trouble in getting their goods through the customs house. Such grievances as these need rectification. I suggest that a more business- like system could be introduced by the appointment of a stockkeeper - a man of commercial experience, and accustomed to handling goods. The ordinary departmental clerk understands little or nothing of dealing with imports. One reputable firm which, for many years, has been importing the same class of locks for use on trunks, complains that every new consignment is subject to the same process of examination and handling as those imported previously. Considerable delay is caused by the red tape methods of the department. I understand that guarantees are not readily accepted by the department, even though offered by reputable firms. In one case a delay of three weeks occurred in the delivery of a certain line of goods. My attention was drawn to the matter and it was not until six weeks later, after I had taken it up with the department and the importers concerned, that the goods were finally released. ,
.- The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) complained that officers of the department engaged on duties in outback districts are not given fair opportunities for promotion. I thought he was aware that the collectors in each State circularize every officer in the department when higher positions, for which they might apply, became vacant. Appointments are then made on recommendations by the Public Service Commissioner. In addition every officer in. the Service has been asked by circular whether he desires transfer to the head office or to some other post. Further, the Comptroller-General, and other senior officers in the department in each State, have travelled a great deal, thus affording outback officers an opportunity to get in touch with them.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) asked that the Tariff Board reports be laid on the table of the House within a certain time. It is not possible to give such an undertaking.
Mr.Gregory. - Some of the board’s reports have not been tabled at all.
– The present Government has not held up any report unnecessarily. Previous governments may have done so, but this Government certainly has not. Obviously, where alterations of duties are recommended by the board, the reports cannot be tabled before the amending schedule is introduced. The honorable gentleman also complained that certain dumping duties are obsolete. I informed the honorable member a few days ago that all these duties are being revised. The Tariff Board is to investigate whether such duties are to be imposed or taken off.
The complaint by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) of delay in the handling of goods is unique. Thousands of entries go through the Trade and Customs Department in all the States, and very little complaint is made by the importers, and when complaints have been investigated we have usually found that the delay was due to the failure of the person concerned to supply a proper entry dealing with the goods.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Houseadjourned at 4.27 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Trade Agreement with Canada.
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Australian Military F orces.
Subsidy to Australian Aero Club.
en asked the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
Whether his attention has been directed to a statement appearing in the press, that a cable was received by the Government on Tuesday night last from Mr. F. L. MacDougall, its representative at the Wheat Committee meeting at Budapest, that Australia may have to agree to farther limitation of wheat exports by 20,000,000 bushels, that is to say, to an export quota for 1934-35 crop of 130,000,000 bushels, instead of 150,000,000 bushels provided by the existing agreement?
– The statement in the press came under my notice, but it was not correct. No such cable was received by the Government.
y. - The information is being obtained, and answers will be furnished as soon as possible, to a series of questions asked by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price), regarding gold production in Australia.
n asked the Minister far the Interior, upon notice -
Will he make available for the perusal of any honorable member so requesting, two reports furnished by ‘the Chief Officer of Police to the Minister, affecting the Kisch case, and referred to by Mr. Justice Evatt in his judgment thereupon?
– No. The matter iB still sub judice.
d asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Will he supply particulars of the work to be undertaken b« unemployed Christmas relief in Tasmania, giving the detank of works involving the expenditure under each heading, except in the case of the road to the Currie aerodrome ?
– I am not in a position at present to furnish particulars regarding the whole of the works which will be undertaken in Tasmania. The “Works Director is at present preparing a detailed programme of works, which will be put in hand forthwith. Those works will include the renovation of the General Post Office,. Hobart, various post offices and rifle ranges throughout the State, the Repatriation Branch Office, Hobart, and he Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart. “Works under the control of the War .Service Homes Commission will include the clearing of vacant war service homes land and renovation of war service homes which have reverted to the commission.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 November 1934, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1934/19341130_reps_14_145/>.