14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs read the paragraph published in yesterday’s Canberra Times which stated that the Australian tobacco crop this year is expected to showa decline of up to 1,500,000 lb. compared with the production last year, and that he has entered intoan arrangement with the tobacco manufacturing companies for its purchase at prices ranging from 4s. per lb. for bright leaf down to 2s.1d. per lb. for dark leaf ? Has he yet received any authoritative report regarding this year’s probable production, and is the press statement correct that he has arranged for its disposal ?
– The statement referred to by the honorable member was unauthorized. As I informed the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) recently, it is yet too soon to estimate what may be done in regard to the disposal of this year’s tobacco crop. On account of the ravages of blue mould the crop will be a small one of probably under 3,000,000 lb. The principal tobacco manufacturing company, however, has indicated that it will purchase all the bright mahogany and higher grades of tobacco produced. No arrangement has so far been made in connexion with either the price to be paid or the disposal of the dark grades, and it is premature to indicate what is likely to happen in those regards.
– In view of the fact that this year’s tobacco crop is estimated to be only one-tenth the size of the crop of two years ago, will the Minister, when negotiating with the tobacco manufacturing companies for the purchase of this year’s crop, make arrangements also for the purchase of those stocks of tobacco which have been in the hands of the growers for the last three years? If he does so will he see that the companies take into consideration the added value imparted to the tobacco by maturation?
– The weight of a tobacco crop does not necessarily indicate its value. There is no difficulty in selling good Australian leaf. The carry-over from year to year is, in many cases, quite useless, and it would probably be better to follow the Canadian practice, and destroy all leaf not sold. This year’s crop amounts to only 3,000,000 lb., while 4,000,000 lb. of Australian tobacco could be absorbed. How much of the crop will actually he sold depends upon the proportion of high-grade leaf which it contains. The usual proportion has been about 40 per cent.
– I wish to direct a question, without notice, to the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page). In view of the alarming drop in the production of tobacco in the Commonwealth, will the Government give the growers sufficient protection to compel the tobacco monopoly to purchase all leaf of usable quality, instead of the Minister for Trade and Customs being placed in the humiliating position of having torun, cap in hand, to the combine?
– I shall reply to this question on behalf of the Acting Prime Minister. If the honorable member for Kennedy does not desire the Government to negotiate with the various tobacco buyers, let him say so. Each year the Government has endeavoured to sell the crop for the growers, because it realizes the plight in which they find themselves; hut protective duties will not cure blue mould, the ravages of which, both this year and last year, were responsible for the smallness of the crop.
– In view of the fact that the opinion of the Minister that most of the tobacco held by the tobaccogrowers, owing to their inability to dispose of it during the last three years, is worthless is contrary to that held by the tobacco-growers themselves, andthat the opinion of the growers is substantiated by the fact that in many cases recently they have made sales of tobacco which the companies refused to purchase last year, will the Minister have a departmental inquiry made as to the value of the tobacco still in the hands ofthe growers?
– I am afraid that the honorable member has misunderstood mo, if he asserts that I said that most of the tobacco of past seasons still held by the growers is worthless. What I said was that much of it was worthless, and that is correct, because most of it is tobacco of a dark grade for which there is a sale for only a limited quantity each year. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) is aware that representatives of the departmenthave conducted a departmental inquiry, and inspected the tobacco in the areas where carry-over stocks are still on hand. While some of the dark tobacco is saleable each year, it is obvious that it cannot all be sold when there is a stronger demand for the higher grades.
– As my previous question referred to usable tobacco and not to leaf affected by blue mould, can the Acting Prime Minister give an undertaking that usable tobacco will be purchased during this season? Does not the Acting Prime Minister think that it is a coincidence that since the removal of the high duty blue mould has developed to such an extent that the tobacco combine will not purchase the whole of the tobacco crop, although it did so when the higher duty was in force? I should also like to know whether the right honorable gentleman, and the party which he leads, are still in favour of a duty of 4s. and a reduction of1s. in the excise?
– The honorable member is aware thatthe two last seasons have been very wet, and that blue mould has been prevalent in the tobacco districts. The other point raised by the honorable member has already been answered by the Minister for Trade and Customs.
-Will the Government give an undertaking to purchase all good usable tobacco passed by the tobacco expert of the Department of Agriculture in each State?
– The Government does not intend to purchase tobacco from any one.
– Owing to the large number of youths possessing high educational qualifications who are leaving school each year with no prospect of obtaining employment, will the Acting Treasurer state whether the Government will consider a lowering of the. age of eligibility for an old-age pension from 65 to 60 years in the case of males, and from 60 to 55 years in the case of females, with a view to enlargement of the existing opportunities for the absorption of these youths in industry?
– -The honorable member has raised a matter of policy, which it is not customary to announce in reply to questions.
– To-day’s press contains a definite statement regarding the imposition of restrictions on the export of chilled beef. Will the Acting Prime Minister inform tho House in fuller detail of the reason for such restrictions, and give an outline of the whole of the circumstances surrounding the decision to impose them?
– by leave- In the recent communications with the British Government on the subject of meat supplies, efforts have been made to agree upon arrangements to operate pending the projected discussions between British and Commonwealth Ministers.
The arrangements made in regard to frozen meat have not imposed any hardship on Australian producers. Frozen meat is customarily held in store for quite lengthy periods, and is released according to the needs of the market. The temporary arrangements do nothing more than define the extent to which this practice shall be followed.
The position in regard to chilled beef is entirely different and is a separate problem for solution, quite apart from the question of the quantitative limitation of total supplies. The British Government proposes to place definite limits ou the proportion of the total beef imports from Australia which shall be supplied in a chilled condition. The view of the Commonwealth Government is that there should be no such limit. It desires that the successful results of scientific and practical investigations shall be permitted to have full commercial application. Great loss would be sustained by Australia if this were not permitted.
Following upon the receipt of a cable from the British Government yesterday, it has, unfortunately, been necessary temporarily to suspend the export of chilled beef. Some carcases which would have been shipped as chilled beef within the next few days will have to be exported as frozen beef.
The Prime Minister will arrive in London to-day, and will immediately consult with the British Government on this aspect of meat supplies. I shall make a further statement on the subject within a few days.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs received a report from the officer appointed by his department to investigate the books of General Motors-Holdens Limited? If so, will he make it available to this House?
– The report referred to, which was made simply for the convenience of the Government, has been received. The information which it contains will be considered by Cabinet in conjunction with the report of the Tariff Board on motor body panels, to which it relates.
– Is the Minister for Customs aware that the motor bodybuilding industry in South Australia is at present employing 4,554 persons, most of whom are men ; that the amount paid away in wages in 1934 was-
– Order ! The honorable member must not give information under pretence of asking a question.
– Has it been brought under the notice of the Minister that during last year motor bodies to the number of 20,434-
– Order ! A few sitting days ago, I drew the attention of honorable members to what constitutes a breach of the rules governing the asking of questions. Questions should not be framed in such a way as to convey an opinion, or to offer information which an honorable member thinks that a Minister should possess. The purpose of a question should be to elicit information.
Mr.STACEY.-Willthe Minister for Trade andCustoms state theamount of wages paid bythemotorbodyindustry in South Australia during 1934,thenumber of motor bodiesmanufactured in that year, and the quantity ofAustralian timber, leather, andother materials used an the industry?
– I amafraid that I cannot answer the questioncompletely at the moment ;but I believe that the wages paid in the industry in South Australia last year was about £794,000. If the honorable member places his question on the notice-paper, I shall be glad to supply him with the further particulars sought by him.
– Is the Minister aware that, owing to the large number of 1935 model cars arriving, or soon to arrive in Australia, motor car importers will have to place large orders for motor bodies; and as the result of this, will he expedite the tabling of a tariff schedule setting out the decision of the Government in regard to motor body panels, thus allowing motor importers to know their position? Will he also make the Tariff Boardreport on motor body panels available to honorable members?
– All these considerations are being taken into account by the Government. They were taken into account by the Tariff Board.
– Is the Minister aware that Holdens Limited and T.J. Richards Limited, both of Adelaide, are in a position to build all the motor bodies and motor panels required in this country for many years to come?
– In the questionswhich have been asked during the last two weeks we have had what practically amounts to a tariff debate on motor panels. I am not aware of the facts claimed by the honorable member.
– Has the Acting Treasurer any information regarding the rumours that are current that certain of the major oil companies are evading the payment of income tax?
– I am glad to be given an opportunity to answer such a question. I need simply say that the whole of the taxation for whichthe oil companies have been assessed has been paid. The Commissioner of Taxation finds it more difficultin some cases than inothers, owing to the composition of certain companies, to arrive at a basis of taxation whichhe regards as fair and proper. Any delay there may so far have been in the assessment of certain companies has been due solely to his efforts to fix such a basis as would enable him to assess those particular companies in a way that would place them under the obligation of paying what is fair and proper. I give to the honorable member and to the House the assurance that no oil or any other company will be permitted to evade its liability to pay a proper measure of taxation.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether the Government hasyet decided how manymemberswill constitute the proposed Australian Banking and Monetary Commission, and from what sections of the community they will be selected ?
– The Government has not yet fully considered that aspect of the matter.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister administering War Service Homes intimate when he intends to introduce the proposed legislation for the alteration of the War Service Homes Act, which was promised by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) prior to his departure for England?
– I believe that the Minister in charge of War Service Homes has already stated that, while he is overseas, he will make inquiries regarding the housing systems in operation in other countries, so that he will have complete information on the subject when he returns.
– Could the Acting Treasurer state why it is that anhydrous ammonia and calcium chloride, which are exempt from sales tax when, used in refrigerating plants in the dairying industry, are not also exempt when used in refrigerating plants in connexion with the fruit industry?
– I am aware of the anomaly to which the honorable member has referred, and I can only say that it is one of those inevitable anomalies which crop up “in regard to exemptions when attempts are made to limit exemption to a particular industry. The matter is at present receiving the consideration of the Government.
– In view of the possibility of a very large export trade in fruit and vegetables developing between Western Australia and India, will the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether anything has yet been done in regard to the promised trade agreement with, that country, and, if so, what stage have negotiations reached?
– I know of no promised trade agreement with India. The Minister in charge of Trade Treaties has conducted some negotiations, and the Government of India may have submitted certain proposals by letter, but nothing in the nature of serious negotiation for an agreement has taken place. If the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has anything useful to put forward which might be the means of increasing our trade with India, a country with which we have an adverse trade balance, the Government will be glad to hear of it.
– In view of the importance of developing aviation in Australia as speedily as possible, will the Minister for Trade and Customs consider the removal of the embargo on American aircraft entering this country? Is he aware that, if the embargo were lifted, aeroplanes could be sold in Australia for £500?
– I am not aware that if the embargo were lifted aeroplanes could be sold in Australia for £500, nor do I know to what kind of aeroplanes the honorable member refers. As for the first part of the honorable member’s question, American aircraft are not given a certificate of airworthiness by the Defence Department in this country. That is a matter which concerns the Defence Department. From time to time this question has been taken up, particularly in respect to commercial aircraft, but I do not think that it can be said that the development of aviation in Australia has been retarded because we have, up to the present, confined our purchases mainly to British machines.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister state whether it is the intention of the Government to send a Minister to New Zealand for the purpose of negotiating a trade treaty with that dominion? If so, will he disclose to the House the identity of the Minister, and when the mission will bo undertaken ?
– The identity of the Minister cannot yet be disclosed ; but it is hoped that after Parliament rises arrangements will be made for the sending of a Minister to conduct negotiations.
– Can the Acting Treasurer state whether any of the £2,500 which has been granted for the assistance of the pearling industry in Western Australia has yet been made available to the Government of that State? If it has been held up, what is the reason?
– So far as I know at present- and my information is 24 hours old - the money has not yet been paid over. I do not know what is holding it up. We have made certain offers to the Government of Western Australia; but I do not think that discussions have yet reached a point when Ave shall be asked actually to hand over the money.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the House when the Tariff Board will proceed with the urgently necessary inquiry into the position of the pearling industry?
– The Government recently granted & bounty to the industry for one vear, and at the same time asked the Tariff Board to inquire whether a further bounty was necessary, or whether the bounty should be continued. As the board arranges its own programme of investigations, and, a3 the reference to it was made only a few weeks ago, I cannot say when this inquiry will be hold; but an advertisement will appear in the press regarding it, and I shall inform the honorable member concerning it.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that .the biscuit industry in South Australia has received a severe blow by reason of recent legislation, being subject to a 5 per cent, sales tax, and burdened also with the flour tax, which causes double taxation? Is the Minister also aware that the industry will be still further affected adversely by the tariff schedule which reduces the duty on imported biscuits? Will the Minister look into this matter, with a view to retaining the former duty on this commodity?
– The only portion of the question which concerns my department is that relating to the duty on biscuits, which has been in operation since December last. The British rate is free, and there is an adequate foreign duty. Honorable members are in possession of the report by the Tariff Board on this industry, and they will notice that only one biscuit company appeared before the Tariff Board to present its case. Possibly this company presented the case on behalf of the industry as a whole.
– Nevertheless, the opinion of other biscuit manufacturers is that the duty is adequate.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that an application has been made by a, government institution, namely, the Perth Dental Hospital, for permission to import duty free three Japanese dental chairs at a cost of £21 15s. each? In view of the fact that these chairs can be made in Australia, will the Minister see that the
Government’s policy of encouraging Australian manufactures is observed in this case?
– An application has been received from the Perth Dental Hospital for entry under by-law of Japanese dental chairs. The goods have not been imported, however, and consideration has not yet been given to the request. In dealing with the application, due regard will be paid to the interests of Australian and British manufacturers of these goods.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs been drawn to a statement published in the Melbourne Star of Monday last, in which M. Jean Kokotakis the new ConsulGeneral for Greece, intimated a desire on the part of the Government of Greece to trade with Australia, pointing out that that country produces only half its requirements of wheat, and now imports that commodity from Argentina and Canada, without reciprocal benefits? If the Minister has noticed the statement, what action is contemplated?
– I saw the press report referred to, and, no doubt, the ConsulGeneral for Greece will communicate with the Government in due course. Up to the present time he has not done so; but, when he gets into touch with us, we shall be interested to know what we can sell to his country, so that Australia’s exports may be improved.
– Is the Acting Treasurer prepared to make a definite statement to the House as to the exact position of the debt still owing to the Commonwealth by the purchasers of the vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, setting out the amount owing, the steps which have been taken to recover it, and when it is anticipated that the debt will be paid?
– The Government has been informed within the last week or so that the White Star Line, which is the debtor of the Commonwealth Government, and the only debtor in this regard, is in process of liquidation, with which step the Commonwealth Government is in entire ‘agreement. It is impossible to say what will be the actual outcome, but as soon as the Government is in a position to do so it will inform the House.
– Can the Minister representing the Acting Attorney-General say if there are any legal steps which the Government may take to deal with the failure of the White Star Line in honouring its obligations by testing what might be termed the convenient liquidation by this company in order to meet its debts? If .legal steps can be taken, and it is necessary for something to be done abroad, will he communicate with some of the representatives of the Commonwealth now in London so that the matter may be fully explored?
– No doubt there are steps that might be taken. The law is not so beggared of resources that it cannot get something out of a debtor, but whether in this regard a policy of masterly inactivity is more likely to be productive of results than the legal action which the honorable member suggests, I hesitate to say. The honorable member will realize that I am only acting for another who is himself acting for another in this matter.
– In view of the amount still owing to the Commonwealth in respect of the ships which formerly belonged to the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, would it be possible for the Government to recover the ships for the purpose of re-sale, irrespective of the liquidation proceedings?
– Without committing myself unduly, I venture to state that whether or not it would be possible to do as the honorable member suggests, it would not be advisable to take the course suggested by him.
– I wish to ask whether the Minister for Health can give the House any information concerning the recent gift of £50,000 by Lord Nuffield to be expended on the care of crippled children ?
– I am afraid that I cannot do that. The only portion of the question which concerns the House and the country is that the sum of £50,000 has been paid to the Commonwealth for the purpose mentioned.
– Can the Minister say if any of this money will be made available for dealing with the existing epidemic of infantile paralysis in the State of Victoria?
– I shall make inquiries and inform the honorable member later.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister if it is a fact that the approximate deficit of £3,000,000 involved in the marketing of the 1934 Queensland sugar crop has been occasioned mainly by the necessity to export 300,000 tons of sugar at less than £10 a ton? Is it the intention of the Government to make up that loss by varying the agreement and compelling Australian consumers to pay an extra -Jd. per lb. for the sugar they require?
– Ever since the agreement came into operation the sugar industry has carried the losses incurred on its export trade.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister inform the House when he wil! introduce the proposed bill to effect the rural rehabilitation, and whether during the debate upon it honorable members will be at liberty to discuss the debts of primary producers?
– I trust that, by leave of the House, I may make my second-reading speech on this measure today. Full opportunity will be given to honorable members to discuss the matter of farmers’ debts.
– During the last session of Parliament the Prime Minister stated that he had sought the advice of certain persons competent to give it in connexion with the Government’s rural rehabilitation programme. . Will the Acting Prime Minister state who those persons are, and whether any payment has been made to them? Is it proposed to place before honorable members of this Parliament the report of those persons asa document relevant to the bill dealing with rural rehabilitation?
– Any information received by the Government in connexion with its proposals for rural rehabilitation and debt adjustment has been offered voluntarily and without payment. In the report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry there is a section dealing with this subject and, of course, payment was made in connexion with that inquiry, but apart from that no payments have been made.
– Earlier this afternoon the Acting Prime Minister answered the first portion of my question. I now desire to ask him if it is proposed to supply honorable members with copies of the report furnished to the Government by experts, other than the members of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry, who have been consulted on this subject?
– The honorable member is barking up the wrong tree.
– I am not. I have seen the report. The Acting Prime Minister has stated that the opinion of persons competent to advise the Government had been sought, and that certain advice had been tendered. Does the Government intend to give honorable members access to such additional information as has been given to the Government?
– It is impossible for the Government to supply reports which are not in its possession. Most of the information obtained has been gathered as a result of verbal inquiries, and discussions such as occurred at the inauguration of the Commonwealth Agricultural Council. Information has also been obtained from such persons as the chairman of the Farmers Relief Board of New South Wales, Judge Paine of South Australia, and Mr. Clive MacPherson of Victoria. The Government’s proposal in this respect will be outlined by me when moving the second reading of the bill providing for rendering assistance to those engaged in rural industries.
– Is it a fact that, in association with others, Professor D. B. Copland furnished the Government with a memorandum dealing with rural rehabilitation, and, ifso, is it proposed to make that memorandum available to honorable members ?
– As a member of the Government only since the beginning of November last, I have no information whatever regarding any report by Professor Copland in relation to rural rehabilitation.
-Nor have I.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs in possession of any report by the Tariff Board on the cotton industry which has not been made available to honorable members?
– The honorable member has not stated to which report he refers. All the reports of the Tariff Board on cotton have been tabled, and were acted on in December last.
– I desire to intimate that no further questions without notice will beanswered to-day.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act - Balance-sheets of Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Savings Bank and Statement of the Liabilities and Assets of the Note Issue Department, as at 31st December, 1934; together with Auditor-General’s reports thereon.
Public Service Act - Appointment of G. L. Facy, Department of Health.
formal Motion for Adjournment.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).I have received from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House this afternoon for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The parlous condition of the cotton industry, due to frequent changes in government policy, and the granting of by-law concessions on cotton piece goods and yarns that could be manufactured in Australia.”
Five honorable members having risenin support of the motionr
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I do so because Ihave been reliably informed that the concessions recently granted by the Government to importing interests connected with the cotton industry are keeping out of employment at least 1,300 Australian workers. I make no apology for supporting a policy of adequate protection, because I belong to a political party which stands for the effective protection of Australian industries, the prevention of profiteering, and the safeguarding of the interests of the workers in industry. The granting of concessions in respect of the importation of cotton piece goods and yarns will force the Queensland cotton-growers to export 6,000 bales of cotton this season, and to sell them at £6 a bale less than if the cotton lint was sold in the Australian market. That means a loss of approximately £36,000 to the Queens1- land Cotton Board; in other words, the sum available for distribution among the cotton-growers will be £36,000 less because of the action of the Government. In effect, the Lyons Government has sanctioned the importation of yarns and piece goods equivalent to 6,000 bales of cotton lint. The Queensland Cotton Board, which is a body representative of the growers of cotton, has a carry-over of 547 bales from the 1933 season, and, in addition, 3,400 bales of this season’s crop, estimated at 22,000 bales, are already on hand. Last year 12,000 bales were used in Australia and over 5,000 bales exported. On the basis of a loss of £6 a bale, the growers lost £30,000 last year on the cotton which had to be exported. If that cotton had been used in Australia, an additional £30,000 would have been available for distribution among the growers. Anything which adversely affects the growers of cotton necessarily affects the workers in the industry also. Each season between 4,000 and 5,000 cotton-pickers obtain seasonal employment in the cotton-fields. That they work for varying periods under conditions which are not at all satisfactory is not the fault of the growers, most of whom would pay decent wages and provide suitable housing for the workers if they could afford to do so. Many of the cottongrowers were formerly engaged on railway construction work in the Upper Burnett and Callide districts, and have no desire to treat the cotton-pickers unfairly. They took up land which was thrown open for closer settlementsome time ago, and have worked under great disabilities, as the Minister is aware. The cotton industry, in all its ramifications, is a great natural Australian under- taking, with wonderful possibilities of big developments and continued progress provided that the Commonwealth Government formulates and adheres to a protectionist fiscal policy. In these days of composite ministries, however, there is evidently great difficulty in pursuing a settled fiscal policy of any kind, for some elements in Cabinet are always pulling towards free trade, while others stand for what is said to be a reasonable protectionist policy. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Thorby), who is now on his way to England with the Prime Minister, said not long ago that we could not expect prosperity in. Australia until wetore down our tariff walls.
Mr.White. - He did not say that.
Mr.FORDE. - He made a statement to that effect at a dinner of the Constitution Club, in Sydney. Although the statement was modified a few days later by the Prime Minister, it has so far not been repudiated in any way by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), who is at present Acting Prime Minister.
– Mr. Thorby spoke of uneconomic industries.
Mr.FORDE. - He did not use those words. He said that there would have to be a scaling down of the tariff in connexion with what he called unnatural industries. Thecotton industry, however, is natural to Australia, and is in process of successful establishment here from the primary stage of the growing of the cotton to the final stage of the manufacture of cotton in all its forms. Unfortunately, the vacillation, uncertainty and changeability of the Government in protecting the industry are causing a lack of confidence and a retardation of its development which, in turn, is limiting the amount of employment that the industry could otherwise provide. If a settled policy were put into operation many of our unemployed people could be permanently absorbed in the Australian cotton industry. Both the primary and secondary branches of this industry have been seriously prejudiced by the admission, under by-law, of certain kinds of yarns and piece goods. The Cotton Board has been holding suitable cotton for the manufacture of these yarns since last season, which it hoped to place with the manufacturers under satisfactory conditions, but now it will be obliged to hold the cotton for at least six months longer than would otherwise have been the case, with consequent loss to the growers because of the lower payments that will be made to them. The Australian cottongrowers have undoubtedly been deprived of the Australian market for the yarns that have been admitted under departmental by-law. The Cotton Board, which is representative of the growers, has to budget well ahead, decide what acreage is to be planted, and make preliminary arrangements for the financing of the crop. It has hitherto been acting on the assumption that the whole of the Australian market would be reserved for the Australian-grown cotton. The Minister, some time ago, gave the industry good assurances that led the Cotton Board to believe that it could count on the whole of the Australian market; but these assurances have proved to be weak reeds upon which to lean, for the admission of yarns under departmental by-law must necessarily cause a good deal of manufacturing plant to remain idle in Australia. The raw material for the manufacture of these yarns and piece goods is available here, and trained men willing and anxious to manufacture the yarns, could be put to work; but the Government has, unhappily, yielded to pressure from Lancashire interests. We have had evidence to-day that the British Government does not readily accede to the representations of the Commonwealth Government in regard to meat and other commodities. Again and again the Lyons Government has intimated that it will stand by the recommendation of the Tariff Board; but although the board’s recommendations were, to a considerable extent, given effect to in the tariff schedules tabled some time ago, the Minister admitted certain yarns under by-law,’ behind the closed doors of Parliament. In doing so he unquestionably yielded to pressure from Lancashire, and also from the Country party.
– That is absolute nonsense.
– We all know that a fight occurred some time ago between the Lancashire interests and the Commonwealth Government in regard to this industry, and that the right honorable gentleman who is at present Acting Prime Minister sided with Lancashire against the Australian cotton industry. During the last election campaign, before he was a member of the Ministry, he went through various States of the Commonwealth trouncing the Lyons Government for not yielding to the demands of Lancashire. We may have the explanation of the Government’s recent yielding to Lancashire’s demands in the fact that the right honorable gentleman is now a member of the Ministry. I believe that the whole of the admissions, and also the concessions that have been granted to overseas interests, have resulted from the lack of a proper investigation into the Australian cotton industry and a misunderstanding of its real position. The considered opinion of the Queensland Cotton Board, placed before the Minister for Trade and Customs recently, was as follows: -
The extension of the concessions destroyed the value of the tariff schedule for all practical purposes, as far as the 1934 season was concerned, and the growers received by far the lowest price on record since the rehabilitation of the industry in 1921.
– I shall read the latter part of the board’s statement a little later.
– -The cotton industry is different from most other industries in that it is very complex, embracing primary producers, spinners, weavers, knitters, dyers and clothing manufacturers. Anything that affects one branch of the industry has its repercussions on other branches of it. That is why a successful national policy must be fairly well balanced so as to distribute the advantages and disadvantages among the various interests concerned. Cottongrowing is at present carried on principally in Queensland, but the secondary branches of the industry, governing the spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing and manufacture of the cotton into clothing, are carried on almost exclusively in the southern States. I do not think a single mill is operating in Queensland.
There is a widespread cry to-day for the placing of our young people on the land, but of what use will it be for us to do that unless we find a market for the products of the land? We shall do nothing to solve the unemployment problem by placing people on the land unless we, at the same time, provide adequate markets for the goods that are grown. The cotton industry is not only natural to Australia, but also provides the raw material for many secondary industries that are absolutely necessary to the welfare of this country. The industry was given its first great impetus in 1920, when the Queensland Labour Government guaranteed the price of cotton for three years. Later the industry was dealt with on a national basis by the Commonwealth Parliament; but it was not until the advent of the Scullin Government, at the end of 1929, that both the primary and secondary branches of the industry were adequately protected, and definite assurances were given that a progressive policy qf protection would be applied as the industry developed. I had the privilege of presiding at a conference in Canberra at which the cotton-growers and the cotton-spinners and knitters, and also the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government, were represented, at which a policy wa9 adopted for the stabilization of the industry up to the end of 1936. It was most unfortunate that with the advent of the Lyons Government, and because of the unsympathetic treatment of the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Sir Henry Gullett) this protectionist policy was broken down. Since 1926, the Tariff Board has made three major inquiries into the industry, and, in addition to these, an investigation concerning spinning and a further investigation regarding the secondary phases of the industry. As the result of each of those investigations, the Board made recommendations, which if they had been given effect to immediately, would long ago have succeeded in placing this industry on a sound basis. The recommendations concerning the primary phases of the industry were not given effect to, or else they were delayed in such a way as to seriously affect their value. This was most noticeable when Sir Henry Gullett, as Minister for Trade and Customs in the Bruce-Page Ministry, held up the Tariff Board’s report from March, 1929, and had failed to act on it before that Ministry went out of office in October, 1929. It was not until the Scullin Government came into power that these recommendations were carried out.
As the time at my disposal is brief, I shall be compelled to pass over many matters concerning the industry which I would otherwise like to touch upon. I think the present Minister was sincerely desirous, at least when he visited Queensland, of doing something to assist this industry in a practical way, and that he would probably have kept the promises he made then but for the influence of the free-trade element in this Cabinet. But for that influence, I believe, he would have continued to support a protectionist policy. At a conference of growers and spinners, he gave the following assurance: -
The Government would take the first opportunity of making provision in the law for giving effect to any recommendation that may be made by the Tariff Board for the removal of any yarns from tariff item 392 (a) (2), but not so far as to conflict with the assurance already given.
The Minister, I believe, was sincere in that intention, but to the amazement of those interested in the industry the Tariff Board schedule was followed by the announcement that any yarns on order before the date of the tabling of the schedule on the 2nd August would be admitted under by-law. This concession to the importing interests detracted very largely from the promises previously given by the Minister. The Queensland Cotton Board, as representatives of the growers, became very alarmed in December, 1934, as a result of an announcement by the Lancashire cotton interests that they understood the Government would agree to the lifting of the duties for a pened of -six months on cotton piece goods and the yarns recently made dutiable for which new orders could be placed. That report was published in the Australian press, and, subsequently, the board got in touch with Senator Foll, who, in turn, so he said, got in touch with the Minister, and later gave the assurance that the Government would make no further concession to the Lancashire interests. On .the 15th December, however, the Minister was reported in the press as saying that Australian importers would be allowed to place fresh orders for cotton piece goods and yarns, to be cleared by the 30th April in quantities .equal to those imported between the 1st January and the 30th April, 1934, and, furthermore, that not only could orders for yarns lodged before the tabling of the Tariff Board schedule be brought in under the same conditions, but new orders placed between the 2nd August and the 13th December could also be similarly treated. The excuse given by the Minister for making these further concessions was that Australian manufacturers were not in a position to supply. The Queensland Cotton Board immediately got in touch with Australian manufacturers, all of whom gave definite statements that they were able to supply the yarns required, and that no legitimate or genuine orders had been placed with them which they were not able to meet. The Tariff Board on page 8 of its report on cotton lint and yarns, dated the 30th November, 1933, put this point beyond question. It stated -
During the past two years the number of spindles in local spinners’ mills for the production of cotton ya-rn has been greatly increased, having risen from 30,500 to 64,000. The capacity of the present spindles greatly exceeds the existing demand for yarns of the class now subject to protective duties. Working two shifts, Australian .spinning mills could, on a basis of one-twelfth ya.ru produce 18,900,000 lb. in a year of 50 weeks, whereas, as already stated, the Tariff Board estimates the Australian demand for yarns subject to protective duties at 5,000,000 lb.
With regard to the yarns for tweeds, drills and denims, &c, all the cotton-spinners have at some time or .other made .cotton tweed yarn and the Tariff Board report on page 23 shows that the Bradford Got ton Mills in particular were producing it in considerable .quantities. [Leans to continue given.] On page 24 the Tariff Board report further states that it is satisfied that Australian mills have the plant and ability to supply, of satisfactory quality, both the quantity and variety of the big bulk of Australia’s requirements in yarns for the manufacture of cotton tweeds, denims, drills, dungarees and cloths of that nature. In support of this, evidence was given that in one State tenders were called for the supply of 50,000 pairs of trousers, preference being .given to Australian drill, denim or duck. These tenders closed on the 21st December for delivery on the 31st January. The denims, drills and pocketings totalling about 25,000 yards of cloth were supplied in a few days.
– In what State was that?
– I do not want to advertise any particular firm or State, but I will tell the Minister later.
– You said it was a State government contract.
– Yes, it was a State government contract; the State was New South Wales. Two years ago the Bradford Cotton Mills of Sydney erected a spinning mill specifically for the manufacture of cotton tweed yarns, and cottongrowers have been holding 547 bales of cotton for this company since the early part of the 1933 season. The Bradford Cotton Mills were promised adequate protection by Sir Henry Gullett before they invested £40,000 in this country. They are still awaiting the fulfilment of that promise. Bonds Industries Limited, Davies Coop Proprietary Limited, and Austral Silk and Cotton Mills, all had large stocks of raw cotton suitable in every way for the manufacture of yarns for tweeds, denims and such like materials, and any demand for these yarns could have been met promptly and without difficulty. These Australian spinners not only were willing to execute all orders for cotton yarn,. but they also circularized all those engaged in the trade who might require any of these yarns. They stated their price but they did not get any ready response because there was a desire on the part .of those who were buyers to import yarns. These, knowing that the ‘Government was in the habit of frequently changing its mind on matters of duties and protection, decided to wait to see if permission would .be granted for further admissions. Sure enough their expectations came true and except for ;one isolated quantity of yarn no genuine orders were received. Then the Minister allowed importations under by-law.
I desire now to deal with cordage yarns, which is the next most important kind of yarn made dutiable by the August schedule. The plant is available in Australia to make this yarn. On page 25 of its report the Tariff Board states^-
The Tariff Board is satisfied that the Australian spinners have the plant to cope with the Australian demand for yarns for the manufacture of rope, cordage, twines, and tho like, and that the extension of their activities to the manufacture of these yarns is desirable with a view to consuming Australian waste, lowgrade lint and linters
The admission of cotton piece goods under the by-law has affected the primary industry quite as seriously as the admission of the cotton yarns. If the cotton piece goods had been made in Australia they would have required as their raw material Australian-made yarns, the raw material for which would have been Australiangrown cotton, and consequently every section of the industry would have benefited by an increase of employment. The industry was also seriously affected by the reduction of duties on edible oil, including cotton seed oil, which was from 3s. British and 4s. general tariff to ls. 6d. British and 2s. 6d. foreign. However, I will not touch further on that aspect at the moment.
When the Minister brought down tariff schedules giving protection to this industry.it was some indication of the Government’s fiscal policy and the cottongrowers. The cotton-growers on the one hand and the cotton-spinners on the other arranged their programme of development, as they had every right to do, in the belief that the -duties would stand. I have no hesitation in saying that the Government blundered badly in interfering with the policy recommended by the Tariff Board and delaying for a considerable period, probably until August or September next, the benefits of the duties that were laid on the table in the schedule which I have mentioned.
– The motion for the .adjournment of the House moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) refers to the “ parlous condition of the cotton industry due to frequent changes in government policy and the granting of by-law concessions on cotton piece goods and yarns that could be manufactured in Australia “. I suggest that the honorable gentleman has completely failed to show in which respect the cotton industry is in a parlous condition.
– If the Minister .goes to the cotton-growing districts he will quickly discover what the growers think of the position.
– I visited the cotton districts of Queensland at about the same time as the honorable member who represents a constituency in which cotton is grown largely, and I am fully informed of the conditions of the growers. It is my intention this afternoon to deal with the facts, and to show what the Government has done for the cotton industry and particularly the growers. If, as has been said, a little exaggeration clears the air, the honorable member has done that, because he certainly exaggerated the difficulties of the growers when he said that about 1,500 people were being deprived of employment because of the Government’s policy.
– I did not; I said that about 1,300 were affected.
– Well, what is another 200!
– I gave the estimate supplied by those engaged in the industry.
– The honorable member exaggerated the difficulties when he stated that 1,300 - I accept the amended figure - have not been employed because of certain action taken by the Government. My comment on that statement is that it is a hopeless distortion of the facts in connexion with the cotton-growing industry. He told the House that, because of the admissions under departmental by-laws, some 6,000 odd bales of Australian cotton “would have to be sold overseas.
– The Minister is misrepresenting me. The manager of the Cotton Board told me this morning that itwould be necessary to sell 6,000 bales overseas.
– The greatest quantity of Australian cotton used in this country during the term of the Labour Administration was 10,000 bales. This year, according to the estimate of the Cotton Board, 14,000 bales will be used in Australia, so the entire story told by the honorable member about the difficulties of the cotton-growers falls to the ground. The truth is that, instead of the haphazard methods adopted by the Scullin Administration, in which the honorable member for Capricornia held the portfolio of Minister for Trade and Customs, this Government, before taking any action, ordered a comprehensive inquiry into all .phases of the cotton industry in Australia, giving particular attention to the position of the cotton-growers, spinners, weavers, and the clothing manufacturers. This was considered necessary because, in the past, bounties had been given indiscriminately and the economics of the industry had never been fully considered. It was felt that a complete overhaul of the industry was essential before submitting proposals to Parliament.
The steps then taken failed in one respect, as I shall show later, but the essential fact to bear in mind is that the proposal was intended, primarily, to help the growers, and it has, I submit, benefited them. Notwithstanding all that the honorable member may say to the contrary, he will not be able to persuade the growers that the action taken by this Government has not been of considerable assistance to them.
– If the Minister consults the growers he will discover that they hold the contrary view.
– I have been speaking to them. When I was in Rockhampton I met a deputation of the growers who informed me that they were quite satisfied with the Government’s cotton policy. The honorable member quoted briefly from a statement made by the chairman of the Queensland Cotton Board. I notice that he omitted to mention that that gentleman had admitted that the provisions in the Bounty Act were not ungenerous, and that the Government was giving appreciable assistance to this important primary industry.
When the Government’s cotton legislation was brought down the chairman of the Cotton Board sent me the following telegram : -
Desire express appreciation your liberal interpretation Tariff Board recommendations as implemented in cotton legislation and supporting tariff schedule. Sincerely trust that anticipations regarding effect on industry will bo fulfilled. In any case you can rely on closest co-operation from primary industry.
– When was that telegram received?
– Immediately following the introduction of the schedule. The Tariff Board recommended that a bounty of 3$d. per lb. on raw cotton would be adequate for the encouragement of the growers, but the Customs Department, through its experts, made a further examination of the industry. I visited the cotton-growing areas of Queensland, accompanied by the honorable member for Capricornia, and saw the conditions under which the growers were carrying on their operations.
After a careful analysis of the evidence taken by the Tariff Board the Government decided that instead of a bounty of 3£d. per lb., the amount should be 5£d. This rate of bounty is now being paid. It means an additional concession of £66,600 this year to the cotton-growers of Queensland. The honorable member for Capricornia forgot to mention that. The Government also appointed the Cotton Supplies Committee. This body decides the quantity of cotton that will be used in Australia and the bounty is paid upon this quantity plus 20 per cent. This year the Cotton Supplies Committee, which is representative of the cotton-growers, spinners, and the Government, recommended that for the 1935 season a bounty should be paid on the entire cotton crop. This being the true position, what valid reason can be advanced by the honorable member for Capricornia for wasting the time of this Parliament in endeavouring to persuade honorable members that the cottongrowers are in a parlous condition? As a matter of fact, the industry has never been in a better position. The Queensland Cotton Board estimated that the crop this year would be 20,000 bales. Actually it is 27,000 bales, and as honorable members are aware, last week I brought down an amending cotton bounty bill, the purpose of which is to make the money available to the growers a week earlier than is provided for in the act.
– A week earlier!
– The honorable member for Capricornia admitted, when I introduced the bill, that the Government was acting generously. Now he merely says, “ What is another week ? “ In any case the honorable gentleman’s complaint is somewhat belated and, as I have said, the growers would know that the story which he told this afternoon was very much exaggerated.
His comment on the action of the Government in admitting under, departmental by-laws manufactured yarns and piece goods, can easily be disposed of. When bringing down the cotton legislation I pointed out that it was part of a comprehensive scheme which, to be successful, depended upon the co-operation of the growers, spinners, and weavers, and I emphasized -
Consideration will be given to the admission of denims, drills, and the necessary yarns under by-law if the Australian manufacturers are unable to meet all demands, and a shortage of them is proved to exist.
That was said months beforehand. If the manufacturers wanted the business, they could have got busy and accumulated stocks. But, instead, they were busy on the manufacture of other lines. Some of them said that they were unable to obtain weavers for this class of work. As a matter of fact they did not seek it, yet told me that they could have supplied all demands, whereas according to their evidence the people dependent upon the supply of dungarees, drills, and denims as their raw material were unable to obtain supplies. In fact, in October last, a deputation consisting of clothing manufacturers and retailers and members of the New South Wales Chamber of Commerce and others waited upon me, and pointed out that they were being seriously handicapped because of the inability of the local manufacturers to supply them with their raw materials. One member of the deputation was very emphatic. He said that he had been obliged to dispense with the services of ten hands during the preceding two days. The honorable member for Capricornia apparently does not mind what unemployment is created in clothing factories so long as it may bring about some problematical employment in a weaving mill. The members of the delegation were unanimous in their declaration that they were unable to obtain supplies, but, not satisfied with esc parte statements, I ordered a full departmental inquiry to ascertain how much material was in hand, and what manufacturers could supply certain lines. I am perfectly satisfied from the advice tendered by my advisers as the result of that investigation that the manufacturers were not capable of supplying the necessary quantity at that time.
– Did the Minister consult the manufacturers themselves? They say that nobody inquired of them.
– In reply to that I quote from a statement made by one of the companies which is as follows: -
We have been unable to get any samples that are comparable from the local mills. The few we have we submit for your inspection, but they are very poor indeed and quite unsuitable for overalls.
– The same old story.
– I admit that there is often unwarranted criticism of a local product, but these people are manufacturers and makers of a raw material for other manufacturers, and must “ deliver the goods “. Another company said -
We therefore endeavoured to obtain particulars of materials from Australian mills, but although two months have passed since this new tariff item came into operation, we can obtain no satisfaction from the manufacturers here. One or two samples have been obtained (these are submitted) and the price quoted is precisely the same as the landed cost of a similar weight imported under the new duties, but we do not know if this price is based on the cost of imported yarn at present in stock, or upon the assumed price of the Australian yarn. The samples are far below the quality of the British, and in addition it is not revealed as to whether the various weights are proposed to be produced.
– Was not the dispute as to quality and not quantity?
– What is the date of that statement ?
– Some time in October. The honorable member for Capricornia has said that a certain State of the Commonwealth, when it inquired about materials, was told it could get all the raw material it wanted in Australia. If that is so, why is it that the Queensland Government had to purchase its supplies abroad? That statement may be news to the honorable member, but I repeat that the Queensland State Stores Board had to place an order overseas for khaki drills. The plea made by the honorable member for Capricornia is due for a watering down if the action of the Queensland State Stores Board is representative of the Queensland Government’s action. This government department states that an unsuccessful endeavour was made to obtain supplies of khaki drill required for uniforms of police and other government officers, and that anorder was placed abroad for supplies.
– What is the date of that advice ?
– The inquiries were made some months ago. The Queensland Government, in common with the New South Wales Government, gives preference in its purchases to the Australian industry, and if it finds that it cannot get its full requirements in Australia, it has to obtain them from abroad. The tariff was brought down in August last. Certain orders were placed overseas, and, when it became obvious that there was a shortage of supplies here, permission was given for the supplies on the water to be allowed in free of duty. Even after these had come in there was stilla shortage. The honorable member for Capricornia has spoken of the admission of yarns, and said that that is something which cuts across the sales of manufacturers; but I remind him that yarns are the raw material for the manufacture of the finished goods, and many firms are dependent upon regular supplies of yarns to keep their hands employed. If piece goods are allowed in, it is the natural corollary that yarns should be admitted, too. The Department of Trade and Customs has kept a careful check on the quantities that have been admitted.
– Is the Minister doing nothing to stir up the manufacturers?
– Yes, the manufacturers came to me and said that they were able to supply; but our investigations showed that the quantities they were able to produce would make provision for only a few weeks supply.
– How many men have been dismissed during the last few months ?
– These firms have all been exceedingly busy. Between August and December last year, 200,000 yards of cotton denims, &c., and 923,000 lb. of cotton yarns were ordered. The Government, for the matter was taken to Cabinet, seeing that a shortage still existed, decided that something had to be done. This was done because the seriousness of the position was realized and not, as the honorable member for Capricornia imagines, owing to pressure from Lancashire. As a matter of fact, there was a strong protest from Lancashire mills, but they did not appreciate the fact that these duties covered only about 3 per cent. of the production they exported to Australia. Their protest, therefore, was out of all proportion to the facts. When the shortage became apparent, the Government permitted entry of the goods then on the water, and took a survey of the usual orders which the manufacturing houses had placed from time to time. We allowed them another ration equivalent to the supply of the first four months of 1934. Nothing could be fairer or more impartial than that action. The Government could not discriminate. Some importers are saying that certain others who took the risk of ordering beforehand have profited and that they have not, while manufacturers claim that they have lost orders. The answer to that is that manufacturers of cotton piece goods will get all the business when they arein a position to supply requirements.
– They say they have been in a position to supply.
– They have not. The position is that any piece goods will be permitted entry duty free up to the 30th April, 1935. What I say emphatically now, I said when the cotton piece goods schedule was brought down - that if there was any weak link in the chain of ^operations, .if the manufacturers sat .back and did not supply requirements so essential for the carrying m of -other industries, and in consequence unemployment was .created in metropolitan centres, imports would again be permitted under by-law. The Tariff Board estimated .the annual Australian requirements of cotton denims, &c, at 3,006,000 square yards, and of cotton yarns at 3,200,000 lb. The period of usage which .supplies admitted under by-law will .cover is estimated to be six and a half months for cotton denims and from six and a half to seven months for cotton yarns. That is easing the situation, because the Government will not allow one section of the industry to be depressed because another section fails to come up to its responsibilities. Recently there was a .good deal of unemployment in the building trade among plumbers and .tank makers because of inability to secure the necessary quantities of galvanized iron, partly because of a strike in Newcastle and partly because the consumption had outrun local supplies. To meet the position, the Government admitted .galvanized iron free of duty, in large quantities. One lot consisted of 10,000 tons and another lot of 13,000 tons. It could have been imported previously by .any person upon payment of the duty tuen imposed, because no embargo existed. The Government has .acted in precisely the same way in connexion with cotton piece .goods.
The cotton-growers have never been better off than they are at the present time under ‘the bounty scheme, which is infinitely more to their advantage than any scheme that previously operated. The recommendation of the Government was for a higher ‘bounty than that recommended by the Tariff Board, and .the concession thus given will represent an additional £66,000, while the number of bales used in Australia will exceed that of the previous year by 2,000. This is a sign that prosperity in the cotton-growing industry is not round the corner, but has returned with considerable vigour. It also proves that the arguments which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition strove with :such .ardour ito advance, with a view to proving .that the unemployment in the industry is greater to-day than it was previously, are .quite fallacious.
Mr. BEASLEY (West Sydney) [4.1 J. - It i3 to be regretted that th’i3 highly controversial subject, which involves Queensland from the angle of cottongrowing, and the electorates that we represent in New South Wales from the view-point of spinning, should he debated under the condition of an adjournment motion which imposes a time limit upon the speeches of honorable members. It resolves itself merely into a matter of one side saying one thing and the other side saying another.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) has referred to the parlous condition of the industry in Queensland. It must be admitted than no honorable member is more qualified than he to express an opinion upon that section of the industry which is established in Queensland, because he represents ,a cotton-growing district, and consequently must be well acquainted with the conditions that exist in it.
– It is a very big district.
– I accept his word in the matter. But I affirm that my colleagues and I also are qualified to put the case of the spinning section of the industry, with which we are closely associated. It certainly can be stated quite definitely tha* this section is in a parlous condition. The Minister need only pay ;a visit to the “mills to obtain silent testimony to the fact that a large quantity of .plant is lying idle.
– In the Bradford Woollen Mills, for example. Only three weeks ago, in company with other honorable members, I made myself acquainted with the facts that I am now relating. They are also well known to a number of men -who have lost their employment as a result of the action of the Government. A large percentage of them have approached us to assist them to obtain relief work in other directions. As to “whether or not the number affected is 1,300, I am not in a position to say, but 1 -should imagine that the Deputy Leader of the -Opposition has been rather conservative in placing it at that figure for the whole of the Commonwealth.
Mr.White. - A new mill has been built in Melbourne and commenced operations yesterday.
– I have no knowledge of that; but I can speak of what I have witnessed, and that is as far as I am prepared to go. I have not the exact figures, but I know that whole shifts have been dispensed with because of the action of the Government in this matter. The Minister’s reply to this assertion is that other persons in the manufacturing business are involved and that, had action not been taken by the Government, their employment would have been jeopardized. It would appear to be a struggle between conflicting interests, and that, whichever interest can bring the greater pressure to bear upon the Government,’ secures the acceptance of its suggestions. The honorable gentleman referred to Chambers of Commerce, and to firms such as the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) may mention later.
– The clothing manufacturers.
– We know the class of people that is largely engaged in that trade. I have no desire to speak disrespectfully of them,’ but it is common knowledge that a great deal of sweating is practised by them. It seems to me that there is a clash of interests, and that success attends the efforts of whoever can exert the greater pressure.
– No. The decision was made on the merits of the case, and the Government was satisfied that there was a shortage.
– Let us deal with the merits of the case. At the Bradford Woollen Mills a whole shift was shut down. The Minister suggests that that is counterbalanced by greater activity in the clothing manufacturing business.
– The Bradford mill was bigger than was needed, and is gradually being brought into full production. In Melbourne a similar mill had its capacity doubled recently.
– That is not borne out by the facts. The advice that we have received ought to carry equal weight with that tendered to the Minister. He has suggested that an economic basis is now being reached, and that the loose methods adopted by the Scullin Government have been discarded. I remind him that the same set of officers was responsible for advising each Government. If that argument may be used to destroy the case made out by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, a reflection is cast upon the officers of the department, because the inference is that they can be called upon to give whatever advice the Government wishes to receive.
I believe that the Minister avoided the most contentious aspect of this problem; that is, the attitude adopted by Lancashire. There is no doubt that overseas interests have proved that a little direct action is all that is necessary to bring this Government to its knees. The definite declaration that a boycott would be applied against certain lines of Australian primary produce was sufficient to cause the Government to run up the white flag and make a complete surrender. The Minister avoided any mention of that throughout his speech. He might be considered to have displayed wisdom in that respect. This is really the whole basis of the trouble. The industry has good grounds for complaint. I have a detailed account of the different stages through which the matter has passed, covering reports that have been submitted, and statements that have been made by the Minister,but time will not permit of my going into it. It is clear, however, that the industry has been misled to such an extent as hardly to know where it has stood. The following will give some indication of the lengths to which some of those interested are prepared to go: -
There is every evidence that somebody has been dishonest in connexion with the making of the case tojustify free importations up to the end ofApril next. In support of this it may be mentioned that a big Sydney firm, on the 8th December, received three wires from Perth asking for ridiculously large quantities of cotton piece goods for prompt delivery. This particular concern arranged with its agents to interview these prospective buyers, and was amazed to learn that the three buyers stated that they knew nothing whatever of the inquiry, and were not even interested in any purchase. This surely calls for some public investigation.
– I can give the statement of the managing director of each firm to the effect that the inquiry was made.
– I make one statement and the Minister makes another, and the House is not in a position to judge as to which is correct.
– We know whose statement to accept.
– It depends on the side of the House on which an honorable member sits. The honorable member for Wentworth would accept the statement of the manufacturing section. We know what were his associations before he became a member of this House, and apparently whatever he asks for he can get. He ought, therefore, to refrain from interjecting.
– That is a deliberate mis-statement.
– The point is that when the milling people made the inquiry-
– If I am given leave I shall read the statement of the managing director of each of the three firms. I would have done so earlier had I known that the matter was going to be raised.
– The following figures throw an interesting sidelight on the influence that Lancashire has been able to exert: The total exports of cotton piece-goods from Great Britain between 1913 and 1933 declined by 5,588,772,400 lineal yards, or 72.5 per cent, of the trade. The reduction in the cotton goods trade as the result of Australian action is but a small fraction of 1 per cent.
– I have already said that.
– We are not only Lancashire’s second largest customer, but it has lost a smaller proportion of its 1913 trade with us than has any other country in the world. That is the position so far as Lancashire is concerned. It is remarkable that it should be able to exercise such an influence upon the Government. The statements made by the Minister, and the reports of the Tariff Board, subsequent to the action of the Government, prove conclusively that it was in Lancashire that the pressure was applied. A paragraph that appeared in a Brisbane newspaper on the 7th January last is couched in the only terms that apparently the Lancashire interests understand. A gentleman named Mr. Webster, who is general manager of the Queensland Cotton Board, is reported to have said that the only way in which these people could be brought to a proper sense of proportion in regard to this matter was by the boycotting of Lancashire goods in Australia. It was the threat of a boycott that induced the Commonwealth Government to make a complete surrender. I believe that the only effective retort to such a threat is to give those who threaten a dose of their own medicine. Mr. Webster says that Australia purchases annually 147,000,000 square yards of Lancashire cotton piece goods. I have just been notified that the Commonwealth Gazette, published to-day, contains the announcement that raw Chinese and raw Indian cotton may be admitted under bylaw provided it is used for the manufacture of woven union textiles not later than the 30th June, 1935.
– That class of cotton is not grown in Australia. The mill to which the honorable member has referred imports that Chinese cotton.
– That is similar to the argument which was used in connexion with woolstra
– The honorable member does not understand the position. Certain short-staple cotton which is grown in India and China has to be imported.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- This industry has had a very checkered career-
Motion (by Mr. Thompson) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . 6
Questionso resolved in the affirmative.
Original question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) put -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend section three of the Sales Tax Procedure Act 1934, and to insert in that act a. new section twelve a.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) put -
That the bill be now read a first time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority … . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
– Two hours having elapsed since the House met, under Standing Order 119 the notices of motion on the business-paper may not be proceeded with.
– I ask leave to move the second reading of the bill.
Leave not granted.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) put -
That the Standing Orders he suspended to enable the remaining stages to be passed without delay.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell)
Majority . . . . 14
– There being an absolute majority of the members of the House present, the question i3 therefore resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) put -
That the second reading be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill brought up by Dr. Earle Page and read a first time, and - by leave - the second reading was made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
SALES TAX ASSESSMENT BILLS (Nos. 1 AND 9) 1935.
Bills brought up by Mr. Casey and read a first time, and - by leave - the second reading wa3 made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill and the Sales Tax Procedure Bills (Nos. 1 and 9) 1935, all of which are now before the House, are to amend existing sales tax acts. As these measures, although legislatively distinct, actually form one framework, I suggest, sir, that in moving the second reading of this bill, I should be permitted to refer to the other two bills mentioned.
– Do they all coyer the same subject?
– They all relate to second-hand goods although other minor matters are covered.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Following the usual practice in the discussion of cognate bills, honorable members may on this bill debate the other measures mentioned by the Minister.
– On the 13th December, 1934, the full High Court decided in the rase of Ellis and Clark Limited that second-hand goods are not subject to sales tax. After most careful consideration of the effect of that decision the Government has decided, first, to amend the law to ensure the retention of the tax paid on second-hand goods from the commencement of the sales tax legislation until the 13th December, 1934, the date on which the High Court gave its decision, and, secondly, to provide for the exemption on second-hand goods on and after that date, except in respect of leased goods, which I shall mention later. These decisions are embodied in the three bills now before the House. The Sales Tax Procedure Bill 1935 provides that the tax paid on second-hand goods prior to the 13th December, 1934, shall not be refunded. The Sales Tax
Assessment Bill (No. 1) 1935, amends the definition of “ goods “ to exclude second-hand goods. This will be incorporated in all the other sales tax assessment acts with the exception of Sales Tax Assessment Bill (No. 9) 1935. It also contains supplementary provisions to prevent inferences being drawn that the High Court’s decision applies also, in certain circumstances, to goods other than second-hand goods. On the 13th December, 1934, the full High Court decided, in the case of Ellis and Clark Limited, reported in 51 Argus Law Reports, page 59, that second-hand goods were not subject to sales tax.
After a most careful consideration of the effect of that decision, the Government has decided -
These decisions are embodied in the three bills now before the House.
The Sales Tax Procedure Bill provides that tax paid on second-hand goods prior to 13th December, 1934, shall not be refunded.
The Sales Tax Amendment Bill (No. 1)amends the definition of “ goods “ to exclude second-hand goods. This will be incorporated in all the other Sales Tax Assessment Acts except No. 9. It also contains supplementary provisions to prevent inferences being taken that the High Court’s decision applies also in certain circumstances to goods which are not second-hand.
The Sales Tax Assessment Bill (No. 9) provides for the continuance of sales tax on leases of second-hand goods except in the case of leases of goods under hirepurchase agreements. Each of the three bills contains other provisions, mostly of a minor nature, to which brief references will presently be made. The most important, and probably the most contentious, feature of this amending legislation is the provision in the Sales Tax Procedure Bill to ensure the retention of tax paid on second-hand goods prior to the High Court’s decision. The Government recognizes that this legislative action is likely to be opposed vigorously in the interests of those who saw in the High Court’s judgment the possibility of obtaining an unexpected return of moneys paid by them into revenue. It is, therefore, desirable that the reasons for the Government’s action should be fully explained. In order to do this, it is necessary to state briefly the attitude which has been taken up, in connexion with the taxation of second-hand goods, by the several governments which have held office since the inception of the sales tax.
Under the original sales tax scheme, before the tax became law, it was intended that goods should bear tax once only. To that end, there was inserted in each of the Sales Tax Assessment Bills before Parliament in August, 1930, a provision to exempt, under each act, goods which were subject to tax under any of the other acts. ‘ While the bills were still before Parliament, it was decided, mainly for the reason that generally it would be impossible to determine whether or not second-hand goods had previously borne tax, that the original scheme would be impracticable of administration.For that reason, the provisions for the exemption under each act of goods subject to tax under any other act were deleted duringthe passage of the original bills through Parliament, and a new scheme was provided for the relief of double taxation by regulation, based on proof by any taxpayer concerned that he had paid or borne double taxation in respect of particular goods. These circumstances clearly indicate the deliberate intention of the government which introduced the sales tax to include second-hand goods within the scope of the tax. More specific confirmation of that intention is to be found in the refusal of the then Prime Minister, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), to accept an amendment moved for the exemption of second-hand mining and agricultural machinery and implements. The intention that sales tax should apply to second-hand goods was re-affirmed on several occasions, not only by the government which introduced that tax, but also by each of its successors, and by Parliament itself. Many examples could be quoted but I shall refer to onlytwo ofthem. First, an amendment moved in August, 1931, for the exemption of second-hand plant and machinery sold with a business as a going concern was rejected; secondly, the law was amended in October, 1933, to pro- vide for the exemption of such secondhand plant and machinery. In view of these clear indications, it was obviously the duty of theCommissioner of Taxation to proceed with the collection of sales taxon second-hand goods. Accordingly, for a period of over four years, sales tax was levied upon second-hand goods.
– Had a vendor of second-hand goods the right to appeal at any time against the assessment of the commissioner as in the case of land tax assessments?
– He had no right of appeal to a relief board. I shall deal with the right of. appeal later.
Mr.Nairn. - Sales tax was not levied on all second-hand goods.
– Sales tax has been collected on all second-hand goods sold by registered dealers, excepting goods which have been specifically exempted. I hope that the House will understand that it is only the tax on second-hand goods sold by registered dealers that the Government has ever claimed. Following upon early manifestations of opposition to this taxation of second-hand goods, the Commissioner of Taxation obtained from the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor, and other highly accredited legal sources, advice to the effect that the collection of sales tax on such goods was in accordance with the law. From the 16 th September, 1932, until the judgment of the High Court was delivered, the collection of sales tax on second-hand goods was unequivocally supported by the case of Searl’s Ltd., in which theSupreme Court of New South Wales decided that a manufacturing company was liable to sales tax upon the sale of its second-hand office furniture and fittings.
It is estimated that approximately £250,000 was collected as sales tax on second-hand goods prior to the date of the High Court’s decision, and that at that date the collections from that source amounted to about £50,000 per annum. As the decision of the High Courtwas naturally a matter of serious concern to the Government, it instituted inquiries into the incidence of the tax secondhand goods with a view to determining whether its continuance was justified. It also sought the advice of eminent counsel. The provisions ofthese bills arethe result of those inquiries.
The decision to abandon the taxation of second-hand goods on and after the date of the HighCourt’s decision was actuated by the following considerations: -
– That is a bad reason.
-Secondly, inquiries have shown that the incidence of the sales tax in the case of second-hand goods is in many cases productive of competitive anomalies in that only registered dealers areobliged to pay the tax.
In deciding to amend the law to ensurethe retention ofrevenue already collected as sales tax on second-hand goods, the Government was actuated by the following considerations : -
-Does the High Court decision upset the decision of the Supreme Court of New South Wales?
– I think it does. Although the actions were along different lines, they both hinged on the right of the Government to tax second-hand goods. Other considerations were -
It would not be in the interests of the community as a whole.
– That argument applies to any embezzlement.
– I shall be prepared to deal with that aspect of the matter in committee, if the honorable member will bring it up. The Government’s decision to abandon future tax on secondhand goods involves the sacrifice of a considerable annual revenue, which is as much as the Government can afford to lose. If, in addition, the refunds were made, it would be necessary for the Government to levy an equivalent amount of taxation - in some other direction. Such a course would merely have the effect of shifting the burden of that amount of tax from one pair of shoulders to another. A further point is -
The effect of the Government’s decisions in this matter will be to ratify, by all legal means necessary, the attitude taken up by the Commissioner of Taxation immediately upon the publication of the decision of the High Court in the case to which I have referred - an attitude based upon legal advice obtained by him at the time.
Public criticism of the attitude of the Commissioner of Taxation indicates the likelihood of the Sales Tax Procedure Bill, which endorses the Commissioner’s attitude, being opposed on two grounds, namely -
The Government’s answer to the first ground, that all tax paid on second-hand goods prior to the High Court’s decision should be refunded, is that such tax was collected not only in accordance with the intention of Parliament, and under the law as judicially interpreted prior to that decision, but also in accordance with the deliberate policy of the several governments concerned. It is the sole function of any Government, in bringing down its revenue measures, to decide what shall be the particular subject-matters of taxation, and if the decision of a court should show that any such measure is technically inadequate to cover some intended subject-matter of taxation, it rests with the Government alone to determine what legislative measures shall be taken to effectuate its intention. To admit, as a principle, that the Government, irrespective of its policy, shall accept and retrospectively apply the decisions of the High Court, would be tantamount to establishing the unprecedented principle that it is the function of the High Court to define and limit the policy of the Government.
As regards the claim that the refusal to refund tax paid on second-hand goods will unfairly discriminite in favour of persons who refused te comply with the departmental demands for tax on such goods, it may be stated that, in the absence of special considerations, such as those which exist in the present case, the Government recognizes the desirability of treating all taxpayers alike.
The special considerations which have actuated the Government in deciding not to provide for the recovery of tax unpaid in respect of second-hand goods prior to the High Court’s decision are -
-What is the amount of such unpaid tax?
– It would be difficult to calculate even the approximate amount, but honorable members may rest assured that it is relatively small - a few thousand pounds compared with the quarter of a million that has been paid. The other reasons are -
Mr.Scullin. - Is all the unpaid tax covered ?
– No ; but a substantial portion of it is.
The second-hand goods case has forcibly drawn attention to the fact that the finances of the Commonwealth, so far as they are affected by revenue collected from sales tax from August, 1930, onwards, will remain in a disturbing state of uncertainty unless legislative action is taken to prevent similar situations arising in the future. It may be necessary in the near future to amend the law to provide a definite time limit for the making of any refunds of sales tax. For the present, however, the Government has decided to provide for the limitation of refunds only in cases similar to the second-hand goods case, that is, cases where goods which have been taxed in accordance with the intention of the Government are held by a court to be outside the scope of sales tax.
-Will that apply to these three cases?
– No; only to future cases. It is considered that the only cases of this class likely to arise in future are those in which goods taxed under Sales Tax Acts Nos. 1 to 4 are held to be outside the scope of those acts because they are not “ manufactured “ goods.
– That seems to make the injustice more unjust.
– It is a sad story.
– The Sales Tax Procedure Bill, accordingly, contains a provision to prevent future refunds of tax paid in such cases unless the tax is paid under protest and the taxpayer succeeds in an action taken by him, within six months after the tax was paid, for the recovery of that tax.
– Supposing the taxpayer cannot get his case before the court?
– If he initiates proceedings within that time he will be covered. This means that the benefit of a judicial decision adverse to the revenue will, in this limited class of case, be received only by the successful litigant.
Decisions by the courts on what constitutes “ manufacture “ for sales tax purposes suggest that there is a distinct possibility of judicial decisions being given to the effect that goods at present being taxed are not “ manufactured “ goods.
– Did the court hold that only manufactured goods could be taxed under any of the sales tax acts?
– That is inherent in Sales Tax Act No. 1, in which “manufacture” is defined.
– Can the law discriminate between those who apply to the court and those who do not?
– I shall be able to deal at greater length with that point at the committee stage of the bill. The attitude of the Government is that, as all goods subject to commerce in Australia, except goods declared to be exempt, were and are intended by Parliament and the Government to be taxed, the revenue collected in respect of such goods is not to be depleted because of some future and unpredictable judicial decision to the effect that any such goods are not “ manufactured “ goods. It was originally considered, and it is still considered, that goods in Australia fall into two groups only, namely, imported goods and goods manufactured or produced in Australia, and that any goods which are not imported are necessarily goods manufactured or produced in Australia. All such goods which enter into the commerce of the country should, if not expressly exempt, share the burden of the tax, and the exclusion of any such goods on the ground that the processes by which they are obtained do not constitute “manufacture”, definitely narrows the intended field of the tax and discriminates unfairly between one class of goods and another upon technical grounds which have no reference to the commercial character of the goods. It is therefore considered that revenue which is now being collected on any such goods is a proper receipt and should not, in any circumstances, be refunded except to ‘the taxpayer who succeeds in obtaining a judicial decision to the effect that the goods are not “ manufactured “ goods. The difficulties would be immediately overcome if it were possible to make a comprehensive definition of “ manufacture “ which would be legally effective, but for constitutional and legal reasons this is extremely difficult, if not, impossible.
Two points should be specially noted in connexion with the provisions of the Procedure Bill for the limitation of refunds in this class of case. The first is that the provisions will apply to a very limited class of case, and will not affect the refund provisions of the existing law in their application to the ordinary cases of overpaid tax, that is, cases in which tax or sale value is wrongly calculated, or cases in which tax is paid on goods which are covered by the terms of some exemption or other provision. The second point is that the limitation of refunds by the Procedure Bill will not impair any rights the taxpayer may have by way of objection and appeal or otherwise. If the bill becomes law a taxpayer who considers that any goods in respect of which he is required to pay tax are not “manufactured “ goods, and desires to have his opinion tested, will have several alternative courses of action, including the following : -
– Why not allow an appeal to the Belief Board?
– I shall deal with that point later. It will be seen from what I have said that the rights of any such taxpayer will actually be extended by the Procedure Bill. The real effect of the limitation provided by the bill is that the benefit of any judicial decision that tax i3 not payable in such a case will be limited to the actual litigant. It should also be mentioned that the limitations sought to be imposed, by this bill upon the making of refunds are far less stringent than those which it is usually found necessary to impose in any form of indirect taxation. The essential character of an indirect tax, such as sales tax, is that it is imposed in the contemplation that it will be passed on by the taxpayers to other persons. In such a scheme of taxation, the actual taxpayers do not, generally speaking, bear the burden of the tax. It is therefore proper that the right of taxpayers to obtain refunds of the tax should be limited to special cases. This is definitely exemplified in the Commonwealth Customs Act which limits the right of refund to cases in which duty has been paid on goods which have, before importation, or while under customs control, been damaged, pillaged, lost or destroyed, and to cases in which duty has been paid under manifest error of fact or what is known as patent misconception of law. I refer honorable members to section 163 of the Customs Act 1901-1933. Furthermore, no refund is allowable even in these special cases unless application is made within three days after the goods have passed from customs control or after duty has been paid, subject to the discretion of the Comptroller-General to allow further time in special cases of manifest error of payment. It is true that the Customs Act also provides for a general right of payment of duty under protest, but this confers no right of refund. Its effect is merely to confer a right of legal action, within a period of six months, for recovery of the duty paid. This provision is made in section 167 of the Customs Act. A similar general right of payment of sales tax under protest is not necessary or desirable in view of the general refund provisions of the existing law.
Sales Tax Assessment Bill No. 1 contains supplementally provisions which are considered desirable in view of the High Court’s decision on second-hand goods.
The Government has been advised that the view might possibly be taken from certain dicta in the second-hand goods case, and in fact, has been taken, that goods which are not second-hand are, in certain circumstances, outside the scope nF the sales tax. The circumstances indidicated are wholesale sales of goods by a person who sells principally by retail, and who, therefore, pays or bears tax when he acquires such goods. Perhaps I may be allowed to explain the precise nature of these transactions. There is a class of sales taxpayer who sells principally by retail but who, at the same time, sells by wholesale, sometimes to an extent of nearly 50 per cent, of his turnover. The amount of tax paid by wholesalerretailers amounts to about £250,000, and it is thought desirable that any doubt About the position of such traders should be dispelled, and their legal position clarified. A retailer-wholesaler is an individual who carries on transactions both retail and wholesale. He is called a retailer-wholesaler, and not a wholesalerretailer, because retail transactions predominate in his business. When, such an individual either imports goods or buys them by wholesale he is not allowed under the law and the regulations to quote his certificate, and thus he has to pay for these goods prices which include sales tax. When he sells this same parcel of goods by retail there is, of course, no further sales tax payable on them. When, however, he sells them by wholesale after having bought them by wholesale then, as the law stands at present, and will continue to stand, that separate transaction by wholesale for a second time attracts sales tax. Thus the goods concerned will at this point have borne sales tax twice. However, under the regulation power, the Commissioner is able to make a refund of the amount of sales tax paid on the first transaction, that is, on the purchase or importation of goods by the retailer-wholesaler, and the Commissioner, of course, makes such refund in all cases in which he considers it proper to do so. In actual practice the retailer-wholesaler deducts the first tax from the second when furnishing returns of his wholesale sales, indicating the two points at which tax has been paid, and he makes the deduction himself by a calculation in his return of the sales tax paid the first time.
– Why not make it on the second return?
– Because the whole frame work of the act provides for the collection of the tax on the wholesale price, that is, at the highest price, before the goods go into distribution. This scheme has worked quite smoothly, and is absolutely essential to prevent competitive anomalies arising as between retailerwholesalers and those who may be described as wholesalers proper. The continuance of this practice is thought possibly to have been jeopardized by the recent High Court judgment which has been construed in certain quarters to mean that the sales tax legislation generally provides for sales tax to be paid once only in all circumstances.
Upon mature consideration, the Government’s advisers consider that such, an interpretation of the High Court’s decision is unsound. Neverrtheless, because of this element of doubt, the Government is advised that it is desirable to make a declaratory amendment of the regulation-making power in connexion with double taxation so as to make it quite clear that the view suggested is contrary to the intention of Parliament.
Clause S of assessment bill No. 1 contains an amendment to that effect. Because of the possibility that this amendment might be construed as an attempt to overcome, for the future, the High Court’s decision on second-hand goods, it is considered desirable also to make a declaratory amendment of the definition of “goods” to expressly exclude second-band goods. This is dealt with in clause 2 of assessment bill No. 1 Now I come to matters which may be considered apart from the other two bills.
– Will the retailerwholesaler still pay tax on retail sales under this amendment?
– No. The position of thu retailer-wholesaler is not disturbed.
– He pays once?
– Yes. He does not pay sales tax on a second retail sale. When he sells wholesale a second time he does pay sales tax, but in that case is entitled to a refund in the circumstances f have mentioned. I come now to the amendments proposed to be made to the Sales Tax Act Amendment Act No. 9. This act, in its present form, deals with the taxation of leases, and hire-purchase of goods ‘by registered persons, that is, by persons who are registered under the act by ‘ reason of their being manufacturers or wholesale sellers of goods apart from their dealing in second-hand goods. The main objects of this act were: First, to ensure that leases of goods under hire-purchase agreements would be subject to sales tax; and, secondly, to prevent escape, from sales tax under the other sales tax acts which would be readily possible if the taxation of leases were not provided for, or in other words, to prevent an actual non-taxable sale taking place under the guise of what is technically a lease. The provisions of assessment bill No. 9, so far as they relate to or affect the taxation of second-hand goods, are designed principally to block up what would otherwise be serious loopholes in the law, arising out of the immunity of the sales of second-hand goods in the future.
New goods leased for a short term for a proportionately small consideration, under the law as it now stands, would be taxed on a proportionately low sale value. As such goods when leased would become second-hand, it is necessary to provide that they shall be taxed upon again being leased in order that tax will eventually be collected on the full wholesale value of the goods. Hence it is necessary to include second-hand goods within the scope of act No. 9. Clause 2 of assessment bill No. 9 provides for this, but to effectuate that provision, it will be necessary also to introduce a bill to amend taxing act No. 9 to provide for the imposition of tax on leases of second-hand goods. It is necessary also to amend assessment act No. 9 to prevent loss of revenue which would otherwise arise by registered persons making short-term leases of new goods to prospective buyers with the result that - (a) tax would be paid upon a nominal value under act No. 9; and (b) tax would not be payable upon the subsequent sale of those goods, as such goods would then be second-hand goods, and therefore not subject to tax under any assessment act relating to sales of goods. Assessment bill No. 9 provides for this by empowering the Commissioner, in such cases, to tax the full wholesale value of (he goods when they are leased. Of course, he would only do this if he suspected there was intent to defraud by the fictitious arrangements I have described. In the same bill, provision is made for the exemption of second-hand goods leased under hire-purchase agreements. Such transactions are substantially sales of goods, and it is considered that there is no justification for distinguishing’ between these transactions and ordinary sales so far as second-hand goods are concerned.
– How does the department define the difference between a hirepurchase agreement and a lease?
– Under a hire-pur.chase agreement the goods eventually become the property of the purchaser, but under a lease, they do not. I have given a general description of the principal provisions of these three bills. There are, several provisions in assessment bills No. 1 and No. 9 which do not relate to second-hand goods, but which have been inserted because this is regarded as a convenient opportunity to bring into the act several other amendments that are thought to be necessary. In assessment bill No. 1 these amendments briefly are: First, a provision to exempt goods exported from Australia by a registered person, but not exported for sale. There are a number of cases where a person or organization manufactures goods in Australia and exports them for his or its own use outside Australia, but not for sale. Such a transaction now attracts sales tax although, if the same individual were to buy goods manufactured in Australia by somebody else and export those goods for his own use abroad, they would not attract sales tax. This is an obvious anomaly and the Government seeks to rectify it.
Assessment bill No. 1 provides, secondly, a repeal of the provision for rebates of tax paid on raw materials for the manufacture of taxable goods. Itis proposed to provide for all such rebates by regulation. I shall explain the details of that decision at the committee stages. It is a small alteration and does not disturb existing practice. Thirdly, provision is made to place penalties for offences under any assessment act on the same basis as that provided in the Sales Tax Procedure Act for similar offences. These amendments were promised last year during the debate on the bill to amend the Sales Tax Procedure Act. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) was interested in this aspect of the matter when the procedure bill was before the House and during the debate on that occasion I assured him that at the first opportunity the Government would deal with the penalty provisions in all the sales tax acts on the same lines as in the procedure act.
Mr.Clark. - Do I understand the Minister to say that goods purchased for one’s own use are free of sales tax?
– No; goods manufactured in Australia by an individual and exported outside Australia for that indi vidual’s own use but not for sale are exempted from sales tax.
– What class of goods would be covered by that provision?
– Many classes, usually machinery. Other goods included in the provision would be goods manufactured by wine-makers, such as barrels manufactured and exported for their own use outside Australia.
– For instance, mining machinery sent to Fiji in such circumstances would be exempt under this provision ?
-Probably. It would also apply to various articles utilized by wine-makers who do their own cooperage. It applies, I repeat, only to goods that are exported for the exclusive use of the individual exporting them and not for sale.
In assessment bill No. 9 there is a provision to enable tax on goods leased by hire-purchase agreement to be collected during the month following that in which the goods were leased. This amendment will involve no alteration of the usual practice in these cases.
This ends a rather lengthy description of the provisions contained in the three bills to amend existing sales tax measures, which I think it was proper for me to put before honorable members. The Government has been at great pains to discover means of overcoming the difficulties arising out of the High Court decision without causing undue hardship. It has not been easy by reason of revenue considerations and because of constitutional and other legal difficulties. In order that honorable members and the general public may have an opportunity to study the Government’s proposals, it is intended to let a period of at least a week pass before these bills are brought to the committee stage. I commend the measures to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Forde) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) proposed -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Forde) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) proposed -
That the bill be now reada second time.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Forde) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure, as honorable members are aware, has been introduced to assist distressed farmers to recover from the desperate plight in which the slump in prices has placed them, despite their heroic efforts to avert disaster. It has been brought forward in fulfilment of undertakings given in the policy speeches of both the Prime Minister and myself during the last election campaign. The debt of the community generally to the primary producers of Australia for their efforts during the depression has never been properly realized and, in my opinion, it can never be adequately repaid. Although prices for primary products were unprofitable, the farmers of Australia during those years, in order to enable Australia to meet her financial commitments overseas, grew more wheat, produced more wool, manufactured more butter, canned more fruit and exported more meat than at any previous time in our history. By continuing to export a huge volume of primary production they contributed in no small measure to the maintenance of Australia’s credit abroad and thus made it possible for other industries to carry on and keep in employment a large number of persons who, in other circumstances, would have lost their purchasing power. But, as we all know, our farmers were only able to do this by drawing, to a large extent, upon their capital reserves; in other words, they exported their capital. Because of the low prices ruling for their products they were compelled to work at a loss and the result has been an increase of the debt burden on farmers throughout Australia.
The persistence of low values ever since the depression, has made necessary some form of debt adjustment. State governments have attempted to give relief by the issue of stay orders, protection certificates, and various forms of moratoria to enable the farmers to withstand the pressure of their creditors and carry on from year to year.
In addition to these measures to prevent farmers from being overwhelmed by their debts, the States have also endeavoured to assist them in their current production by providing finance for seasonal operations and other necessary forms of rural activities.
These measures do not, however, go to the root of the trouble; they merely postpone the evil day of reckoning. The debt burden of the farmers, although in many cases suspended, still remains. Undoubtedly, but for this measure of assistance, with a small increase of prices for rural products in the world’s markets, many farmers would be completely overwhelmed by their liabilities, which, having been frozen, would thaw out and engulf them.
What is necessary is to give farmers a reasonable hope of an improvement in their position in the anticipation of an early improvement in world prices. This may be achieved in some measure by the introduction of these legislative proposals to ease a debt burden which, at the present time, presses so heavily upon them. It is hoped, by permanently getting rid of some portion of their debts, to ensure to them some equity in their properties, even on the present basis of values. The States, as I have explained, have attempted to meet the position. So that honorable members may more clearly appreciate what has been done, I have had prepared, and have circulated, tabulated statements and other information of specified cases which, for identification purposes, may be cited as cases “ B “, “ C “, “ D “, and “ E “, showing the position of certain farmers whose position may be regarded as typical before and after composition arrangements have been accepted by the creditors. These I shall ask leave to publish in Hansard at the close of my speech. The particulars furnished in respect of case “ B “ show what has been done under State legislation, and how necessary it is that those activities should be supplemented by financial provision so that a greater Dumber of farmers may receive assistance and be encouraged to carry on. I may add that the cases to which I have alluded have actually been handled by a farmers relief board in one of the States, and I understand that they are on all-fours with similar cases dealt with under legislation passed by other State parliaments.
An examination of case “ B “ will reveal the modus operandi. If honorable members will examine the figures relating to the position of this particular farmer before composition, they will see that the secured liabilities included Crown dues, £2,000; first mortgage - land and collateral second mortgage, £1,920; hire- purchase tractor, £100, with a suspended liability of £246; and a bill of sale over plant and machinery of £252, of which £120 was regarded as secured. The amount due to sundry unsecured creditors was £628, so that the total liabilities of the farmer were £5,146. Against that amount the farmer had assets, comprising land, £3,960; sheep, £270; the amount paid under the hire-purchase agreement for the tractor, £100; plant and machinery, £120 ; and live stock, £80. His total assets amounted to £4,530, leaving a deficiency of £616.
The problem confronting the board was to put this man in a solvent position so that he could carry on under existing conditions and feel that he had some equity in his property.
– Who were the unsecured creditors?
– I assume that they were storekeepers and other suppliers of the farmer’s requirements. In that case the composition was facilitated by a reappraisement of Crown dues from £2.0ii to £1.400- under the State law the Farmers Relief Board is authorized to do this - the tractor was returned to the hire company and £50 was paid in full settlement, and the holder of the bill of sale and the unsecured creditors were paid 10s. in the £1 in full settlement. The amount required . to effect the composition - £490 - was obtained from the first mortgagee by way of an additional advance on the existing securities. Under this arrangement the total liabilities of the farmer were £3,810, comprising
Crown dues £1,400, and first mortgage - land and collateral second mortgage, £2,410. His assets were £4,430, comprising land, £3,960; sheep, £270; plant and machinery, £12£); live stock, £80. The surplus of his assets over liabilities was £620, compared with a deficiency, prior to composition, of £616. This improvement in his position gave him a reasonable opportunity of winning through.
– The first mortgagee was the only creditor who did not make any contribution towards the composition.
– He advanced a?i additional £490, thus taking an additional risk, in order to make the composition possible.
– Who made the principal sacrifice ?
– The Crown, of course.
– All of his creditors contributed. Honorable members may say what they like in criticism of this arrangement, but the fact is that the farmer, whose position is represented by case “ B,” is to-day better off to the extent of £1,236, than he was before the composition was effected,. and he now has an equity in his property.
– At the expense of the Crown.
– The arrangement was made by the Farmers Relief Board after a complete examination of the position. The creditors were called together and asked if they could come to some understanding amongst themselves which would make possible such an improvement in the position of the farmer concerned as would enable him to carry on, and as a result the first mortgagee expressed his willingness to make an additional advance of £490. In this particular case it was possible to make a composition because one of the creditors was willing to make a further advance for the purpose of straightening out the farmer’s position. In certain other cases relatives of farmers have been willing to take over some portion of the liability to enable them to overcome their difficulties. But, unfortunately, there are thousands of farmers whose creditors may not be in a position to make a further advance, or who have no relatives who can bring cash into the pool to enable a composition to be made. Tie Commonwealth, is attempting to bring into this field a certain sum of money to supplement the State concessions so that it will be possible to arrange a satisfactory composition with the. creditors.
– Will not the provision of this money make the position of the money-lenders more secure?
– In many cases, oven with the. limited funds made available in South Australia and New South Wa’les, it has been possible to secure either a substantial reduction of the total amount of the mortgage, or a substantial reduction of the interest charged by the mortgagee - supplementary and additional to that provided for by legislation in operation in those States. I could quote many instances of substantial reductions having been made by the mortgagee himself for the purpose of giving the farmer an opportunity to win out. I do not say that this has been done from philanthropic motives; rather has it been due to a belief that it is far better to save three quarters of the total assets than to lose the lot by forcing the farmer through the Bankruptcy Court. Those who lend money to a farmer do not want to possess his land; they prefer that he should be put in a position to pay his way. The Commonwealth enters into this particular field, as I have said, for the purpose of making available a certain amount of cash to permit of compositions being made with creditors in such a way as to wipe out portion of the debt of a farmer who otherwise under the State law might have only a certain amount of debt temporarily suspended against him, and who would become liable for the whole of it if any improvement took place in his position. It is believed that, as the average amount necessary to effect a composition is from £300 to £400, the amount of £12,000,000 which we propose to make available, will be sufficient to assist a tremendous number of farmers throughout Australia. It is estimated that at least 30,000 farmers will be assisted as a result of this scheme,’ and possibly 40,000.
– Why should not the secured creditor come in when the composition is made?
– In many cases he does come in. In numerous instances the secured creditor has loaned, say, £2,000 on the security of a property valued at £5,000. If he made the rate of interest very low because of the big margin of security surely it is unreasonable that when a slump comes he should be forced to take less than that to which he is entitled, having regard to his security.
– Is it contemplated that Commonwealth money will go into compositions with first mortgagees making no reductions ?
– In some cases, yes; but in others they will be making substantial reductions. The position in most cases is that the mortgagee is making a material contribution to enable the farmer to make good. In some cases he is actually releasing a certain amount of the debt. The Commonwealth is entering this field for the purpose of making cash available-
– To the banks.
– Not to the banks. Practically no benefit will accrue to the banks as a result of the provision of this money.
– They will reap the benefit.
– At the present time the banks, as a rule, have a security much above their advances because of the margin they originally insisted on when making advances. If honorable members, instead of interrupting me, would state their objections during the debate, I should be able to answer them when replying.
– Before the composition referred to in case “ B “ was effected, the amount due under first mortgage, land and collateral, was £1,920; after composition that sum was increased to £2,410. Does the farmer pay interest on the £2,410?
– It is not a question of interest. The extra advance of £490 is added to the debt of £1,920 which already existed. It is difficult at the present time to get accurate data in regard to the total amount of the farmers’ debts. It is estimated that there are, roughly, 250,000 farmers in Australia, and the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry has estimated that the debts of wheat-farmers amount, roughly, to £151,000,000.
– To whom is the money owed?
– To all classes of creditors.
– To the storekeepers ?
– Of course a very considerable portion of the amount is owed to storekeepers. A large portion of thi3 estimated total indebtedness, however, is owed by farmers who have a very definite equity in their properties, and who, therefore, will not need to come under this scheme because they can make the necessary arrangements to finance themselves. There are, broadly speaking, three classes of farmers throughout Australia. First, there are those whose financial position ki such that they can look after themselves, and make any provision they desire for the settlement of their debts. There is another class of farmers, on marginal lands or dry areas, whose position is so desperate and whose prospects are absolutely so hopeless that it would be useless to attempt to help them by mere debt adjustment. In Victoria some of these men are being dealt with by the Closer Settlement Board, which is making them a grant to abandon their holdings on the ground that it is better for the State to adopt such a course than to keep them, on sustenance, on areas producing only three or four bushels to the acre, and so giving no promise of success. There is a third set of farmers whose position is more or less typified in the instances given in the memorandum which has ‘been circulated among honorable members. These farmers have, in some cases, liabilities in excess of their assets; in others, assets greatly exceeding liabilities, but not liquid assets. Their position is very difficult because of their inability to obtain ready money and because working expenses take everything they get from their places. These are the farmers that the Commonwealth is endeavouring to assist. Our object is to give these men a chance to make good, because we feel that neither the States by themselves, nor the Commonwealth by itself, could put into operation a scheme of the magnitude necessary for their relief. . The Commonwealth proposes to supplement the efforts of the States by this cash assistance, and is attempting to secure from the farmers the greatest possible measure of cooperation. This matter was discussed with tha States at a conference of Ministers of Agriculture held in December last. The whole proposal was put before the various governments, and, as a result of that discussion, a comprehensive scheme to deal with the matter was drawn up. The representatives of the Commonwealth pointed out that it had not the slightest desire to invade the States’ spheres of action. It was recognized that the position of the agricultural industry in the various States varied. For instance, in Queensland, where very little wheat is grown, and where the farmers for years have been getting a home consumption price, the position is very different from that of wheat-farmers in South Australia or Western Australia, or of those engaged in wheat production in the mallee lands of Victoria and Western New South Wales, who are dependent upon the export market for the disposal of their produce. It was thought that the States should prepare schemes for the utilization of this money in debt adjustment, and that the Commonwealth should give- them the financial backing. We felt that if a certain amount of money could be made available to enable cash compositions to be made with creditors, it would not only be of advantage to the farmers and their creditors, but also would have a very definite effect upon employment generally throughout Australia.
The Commonwealth indicated that it desired to lay down three main principles in connexion with the allocation of this money. First, the grant was to be made for the adjustment of farmers’ debts, and not for the purpose of making advances for plant or improvements on existing farms or for carrying on farmers during the period of adjustment. Secondly, the money was to be made available for assistance to individual farmers, and not for the purpose of relieving State budgets. Thirdly, in order to prevent waste, the money should be granted only to those farmers who had a reasonable prospect of successfully carrying on after a composition had been made. Those farmers who had no prospect of marketing their produce under existing conditions, should be transferred to other avocations under a general rural rehabilitation scheme.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8 p.m.
– The view of the Commonwealth Government is that the States are best able to deal with the details of these problems. Therefore, it is merely insisting upon the observance of the three fundamental principles of debt adjustment, assistance to individual farmers, and the restriction of the assistance to those who have reasonable prospect of carrying on successfully. Any advance made will be, not for the purchase of plant, the effecting of improvements, or the conduct of operations during the period of debt adjustment, but solely for the purpose of dealing with debt composition. We wish to make it quite clear that the general purpose of rural rehabilitation is not being covered by this measure; that problem concerns not merely that section of the farmers which is to be assisted under this measure, but the whole body of farmers as well. It is felt that the general problem of rural rehabilitation can be dealt with only by a continuous and constructive scheme embodying a definite agricultural policy for the whole of Australia. The Australian Agricultural Council will direct its attention to that matter at the meeting which it proposes to hold in April next. Since the gathering held in December, at which was drawn up the general scheme for debt re-adjustment, some of the States have expressed a desire for a modification which would permit of their using the funds to be appropriated under this bill for the purpose, not of debt adjustment, but of general assistance to the farmers. The Commonwealth has strongly resisted that suggestion, because it feels that the money available is barely sufficient to deal with the aspect here covered ; that the other matters raised are quite different from this in principle and handling; and that, if an attempt were made to distribute the money over too wide a field, no portion of it would be properly covered.
I shall now proceed to deal with some of the outstanding features of the bill. The first point is that it follows an agreement made between the States at a meeting held with the Commonwealth Government last December. That agreement is set out in a parliamentary paper which I presented to this House immediately after the meeting had been held. It states what the Commonwealth on the one hand and the States on the other are prepared to do. The total sum to be made available by the Commonwealth is £12,000,000. It will be remembered that in December last arrangements were made for the provision of £1,500,000 from this total to enable those States which passed legislation between the adjournment of this Parliament in that month and the date of the introduction of final Commonwealth legislation, to begin active work. This measure includes that £1,500,000, the division of which was made on a tentative basis fixed by the December conference. That conference felt that the Ministers who then discussed the matter were not in the best position to make a final allocation between the various States; consequently the suggestion was made and agreed to, that a meeting of the Commonwealth and State statisticians should take place. The result of the deliberations of those gentlemen is the allocation which has been made under this bill brought to a definite recommendation by the Commonwealth Statistician.
I desire first to deal with the nature of the proposed grant. The £12,000,000 to be raised by the Commonwealth is to be allocated among the States in the form of a grant free of interest. The Commonwealth will find the interest and sinking fund, and thus become responsible for the ultimate repayment of the amount borrowed to the bondholders who subscribe it. The money will be used by the States for the purpose of effecting debt compositions, and such amounts as are repaid by the farmers who receive assistance will pass into the control of the various State institutions and instrumentalities that implement the scheme, for the purpose of building up a revolving fund that will provide those institutions and instrumentalities with interestfree capital. This v/ill enable them to reduce the general rate of interest on whatever advances they make make in the future to settlers in the ordinary way of business, and, because of that fact, will have a general tendency to lower the rate of interest on money obtained for agricultural purposes from both private and public sources.
– Is the money to be loaned to the farmers?
– Certain of the States propose to regard it as a loan; some may give it outright. South Australia is attempting to spread it over the widest possible area and thus effect a bigger amount of debt composition, by using it as a bonus to “get creditors to make the biggest possible reduction in their debts. The Commonwealth is quite satisfied with the conditions which that State proposes to impose. The matter is one purely for the States themselves in accordance with their general rural policy; all that the Commonwealth says is that any amount repaid must be hypothecated for the purpose of further debt compositions or for advances to farmers to enable the interest rates to be reduced generally.
– Will the advance be free of interest to the farmer?
– In certain States arrangements have been made that all advances shall be free of interest to the farmer. In New South Wales the repayment will be spread over a period of ten or twelve years.
– May some of the money be devoted to compositions?
– It is being made available for the purpose of effecting compositions. None of the money is to be used for the purposes of administration. The cost of administration will be borne by the States, which are ready and willing to undertake that responsibility. The effect which the scheme of a revolving fund, with interest-free capital will have upon the interest rate can be seen, I think, from the results achieved by the Rural Credits Department of the Commonwealth Bank. It will be remembered that, when I brought that institution into existence ten years ago, the provision was made that interest-free capital to an amount of £2,000,000 should be provided., by setting aside for that purpose one quarter of the profits of the note issue each year until the amount stipulated had been reached. The result is that the lowest rate of interest on rural advances in Australia to-day is that which is charged by the Rural Credits Department of the Commonwealth Bank - 3f per cent.
It is anticipated that the total amount of £12,000,000 will be disbursed within three or four years. The investigation of the different propositions placed before the State authorities will take a certain amount of time. It is estimated that the disbursement will amount to from £1,500,000 to £2,000,000 in the first year, and probably £4,000,000 in the second year, when the machinery has been more or less perfected. By the time the total disbursement has been made a certain amount may be returning for further use. The Commonwealth has no doubt that the States are the proper authorities to handle this matter, because in the majority of cases they have already established the necessary machinery. Through the Department of Lands, the Department of Agriculture, Closer Settlement Boards, Farmers Relief Boards, and other instrumentalities, they have many points of contact with the farmers which could not be established by the Commonwealth Government. We are convinced that it would be a mistake for the Commonwealth to attempt to deal in detail with what is essentially a State matter. That being the case, it is felt that no attempt should be made to dictate to the States the details of their schemes, so long as the money is used for individual debt adjustments, and not directly or indirectly to benefit State budgets. The problems to be solved may differ in the various States. The position of Queensland, which has a large number of small farmers, as well as big and small grazing interests, is different from that of Western Australia or South Australia, whose primary producers consist mostly of wheat-farmers, many of whom are on new country. Consequently, each State should propound its own scheme. The Commonwealth is prepared to approve of any scheme that conforms to the three fundamental principles that I have already mentioned.
– Will the fruit-grower and banana-grower come within bill?
– Yes, and the tobacco-grower. The bill provides that the money must be used to discharge, cither wholly or in part, the debts of the farmers by means of compositions or arrangements between farmers and their creditors. “ Farmer “ is defined as an owner, a lessee, or an occupier of land engaged in farming operations on that land. The term “ farming operations “ embraces farming, agricultural, horticultural, pastoral and grazing operations. That definition is considered to be sufficiently wide to bring within its ambit practically all work carried out on the land throughout Australia; but, if any honorable member can make out a case for the inclusion of any other activity, no objection will be raised to its incorporation in the measure. It is provided that the money shall be used only for the benefit of those farmers who have a reasonable prospect of making a success of their operations. As all those farmers who have abundant means, or the opportunity to deal with their own financial position, are practically excluded from the operation of the measure, the authority controlling the distribution of the money will have to be satisfied before any advance is made that there will be some composition of debt, so as to ensure that the farmer will continue his operations.
– Will the States be the sole judges of the competence off the farmers to carry on successfully after a composition ?
-That is a matter which the State authority will investigate.
There is a rather important aspect that I should like to stress. The bill deliberately provides that the money shall notbe used for the purpose of wiping out the debts due by the farmers to the States. It is felt that the responsibility of the States in regard to farmers who come under their control is greater than that of the Commonwealth. In practically every State at the present time some action is being taken which constitutes a recognition of that responsibility.
– Will the States continue to make reductions in addition to what is done by the Commonwealth ?
– They will. I shall refer to what is being done in some of the States with a view to showing that they realize the nature of their responsibility. In New South Wales, for example, there has been during the last three or four years a continuous reappraisement of the Crown land debts of the farmers. In many cases that has resulted in a’ substantial reduction of their indebtedness to the Crown. The Government of New South Wales is so convinced of the necessity for something more being done by the State to assist the position of farmers who are in desperate need, that it is willing to give to the authorities that will handle this money the power to further write down State debts if such action will improve the opportunities to effect a more satisfactory composition and so improve the position of the farmers. For instance, in a particular case, there may be £2,000 owing to the State, a further sum owing to a mortgagee, and still further moneys owing to other creditors. If it is found after the creditors have been called together that an offer by a State instrumentality to knock three or four hundred pounds off its bill is sufficient to induce the mortagee and the other creditors also to offer a substantial reduction, the authority will be able to write that amount off the Crown debt. In Victoria, the Closer Settlement Board has been empowered by legislation passed in 1932 to write down debts in accordance with what is considered to be the present-day valuation of the land, and interest is assessed only on the new valuation. It has been arranged that, in 1937, there will be a permanent writing off of excess indebtedness over and above what is recognized as the productive value of the land, while, in the meantime, interest will be charged only on what is regarded as a fair valuation. In South Australia, I understand, action has been taken on the same lines. I mention these things to show that the States themselves, in some instances, have shown that they are alive to their responsibilities to farmers within their borders. Efforts have been made to have part of this money diverted to the paying off of debts to State instrumentalities, but it is the intention of the Commonwealth that the money shall be devoted to assisting the individual farmers, and for that reason it will resist all attempts to use it for other purposes. The Commonwealth feels that the Commonwealth and State governments should seek to put individual settlers in a position to make a living off their holdings. Nothing we are doing now will prevent any State from compounding debts due to it by settlers.
– Provided it finds tho money itself?
– Of course, and it is only right that the States should find the money for such purposes. A great deal of difficulty was experienced in finding an equitable basis of distribution for the £12,000,000 made available in connexion with rural indebtedness. It was eventually decided by the Commonwealth that the Commonwealth Statistician, after consulting with the State Statisticians, should recommend a basis of allocation, having regard to all relevant factors, including the rural debt situation in each. State.
Various suggestions were put forward by the State Statisticians for the consideration of the Commonwealth Statistician, but he reported that, in his opinion, not one of the suggested methods could be worked out in practice in such a way as to satisfy the reasonable claims of the representatives of all the States, or to produce what, in his opinion, would be a completely equitable allocation.
The Statistician arrived at this conclusion after an exhaustive survey of all the statistical material available oh the subject of rural debts - which was manifestly inadequate for the purpose of allocating the grant - and after detailed analysis of statistics in each State relating to pre- depression and depression values of rural production, relative total populations, farm populations, numbers of master farmers, numbers of rural holdings, and movements in prices and costs of production. After having examined this material exhaustively, the Statistician proceeded to work out an allocation on the basis which seemed to him least open to objection, either in principle or from the interested parties.
The underlying feature of this method was the estimated loss to farmers in value of rural production due to depression prices, which losses brought about the debt difficulties. On the basis of normal average production in each State, the loss was calculated by taking the average of prices for a ‘group of depression years compared with the average of prices for a group of pre-depression years. The losses thus ascertained for the various branches of rural industry in the several States were used as a primary basis of allocation. The final allocation was arrived at after giving weight to other relevant factors, such as changes in relative- volumes of production, available data relating to debts due to the Crown and private creditors, relative proportions of land leased from the Crown in each State, &c.
Finally, the Statistician suggested that, on the basis thus arrived at, £10,000,000 should be allocated now, leaving £2,000,000 in reserve to correct any anomalies that might become apparent under this method in the event of more adequate data being forthcoming later. The £10,000,000 was allocated as follows : -
The Government has decided to accept the proposals of the Statistician in principle, and the bill accordingly provides for the allocation of £10,000,000 on the lines suggested. The Commonwealth has no desire to lay down definite rules of procedure for the States. South Australia and New South Wales have already passed legislation, and have created authorities to deal with the matter. In both of those ‘States it is provided that when a farmer applies for assistance he shall furnish a statement of his financial position and, if, in the opinion of the authorities, it ‘ is a case which comes within its purview, it will call a meeting of creditors, both secured and unsecured, and endeavour to arrive at a voluntary arrangement among them. When such an arrangement has been reached, the fund made available by the Commonwealth will be called upon to pay off or to secure reductions of debts owing to secured and unsecured creditors. The working of the scheme can best be understood by studying a table of specific cases which has been drawn up, and which I ask leave to have incorporated in Hansard. [Leave granted.] In order ito make certain that the money is used in accordance with the Commonwealth’s requirement provision has been made that the Auditors-General of the Commonwealth and of each State shall submit certificates every six months stating whether there has been any breach of the conditions of the grant.
– Will a special Commonwealth tribunal be set up?
– No ; but various State authorities will be set up for the purpose of distributing the grant.
In clause 9 of the bill, provision is made to exclude the operation of the Bankruptcy Act in relation to debt arrangements entered into for the purpose of any State scheme, or any arrangement made under a State scheme. That is necessary in order to make certain that
no settler shall be rendered bankrupt simply because a meeting of his creditors has been called.
This bill will give a definite hope to a very large section of rural producers who, with its help, may be enabled to regain a sound financial position, even with commodity prices as low as they are now. Those possessing a substantial equity in their properties can be helped by existing State legislation; those with no hope at all must be shifted into avocations that can be determined only by careful inquiry and study. It is of no use asking men to keep on producing commodities for which there is either no market at all, or an unprofitable one. For that reason we have called the Australian Agricultural Council into being to evolve a continuous and constructive national agricultural policy, and it will be the duty of this council to devise means by which our rural industries can De restored to prosperity, so that the farmers may make a reasonable living off the land and help to provide employment in the cities as well as in the country.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Scullin) adjourned.
Position after composition -
Case “ C.” - Position prior to composition -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 March 1935, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1935/19350321_reps_14_146/>.