14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– by leave - I move -
That this House expresses its deep regret at the death of the Honorable David Watkins, member for the Division of Newcastle in the House of Representatives, a member of the first and each succeeding Parliament of the Commonwealth, and a former member of the Parliament of New South Wales, places on record its appreciation of his meritorious public service, and tenders its profound sympathy to the members of his family in their bereavement.
Honorable members will have learned with deep regret of the death last night of Mr. David Watkins, member for the Electoral Division of Newcastle. Mr. Watkins had till quite recently attended the sittings of this chamber, and his death therefore comes as a particularly severe shock to us all.
The life of the honorable . gentleman was, indeed, full of public service, his Parliamentary Gareer having extended over a period of 40 years. He entered the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales as member for Wallsend in July, 1894, and represented that constituency until June, 1901, when he was elected to the first Parliament of the Commonwealth. He represented the Division of Newcastle in this House continuously from 1901 until his demise.
During his membership of this chamber he served onseveral committees and commissions. He was a member of the Select Committee on the Bonuses for Manufacturers Bill 1902, and of the Royal Commission on the same subject in 1903. He was Ministerial Whip in the years 1908-9, 1910-13, and 1914-16, and Opposition Whip in 1909-10, and 1913-14. In 1911 he was Chairman of the Parliamentary Delegation -which visited Papua, and in 1916 was Chairman of the Delegation which visited England at the invitation of the United Kingdom branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association. In 1920 he was a member of the Select Committee on Sea Carriage. .
Mr. Watkins had an extensive knowledge of parliamentary procedure, and, for a number of years, rendered very capable service as a Temporary Chairman of Committees in this House.
The unvarying confidence which, for . so many years, the electors reposed in the late honorable gentleman is a clear indication of the high value which they placed upon his public services. Every member of this House in the present Parliament, as well as in former parliaments, admired his unswerving advocacy of the ‘principles which he espoused, and the earnestness of purpose -which he at all times displayed. He laboured most faithfully and conscientiously in the public interest.
To the members of his family we extend our deepest sympathy.
.- The death of the late Mr. Watkins’ has given a great shock to us all, because, so recently as last Friday, we learned that he was making most satisfactory progress towards recovery after an operation. By his passing, the Commonwealth Parliament has lost a very familiar figure; and I believe I can truthfuly say that every honorable member has lost one who was always a friend. The people of Newcastle are deprived of the services of a tried and honoured representative. In common with a number of other honorable members, I was closely associated with Mr. Watkins for a lengthy period. For more than 40 years he gave loyal and faithful service to the people of Australia. His record is an honorable one, of which any honorable member might be proud. He never swerved from the principles that he espoused, and his reward lay in the fact that the people who originally elected him to Parliament remained true to him throughout a lifetime of service. I join with the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) in extending our deepest sympathy to his family.
– My colleagues and I wish to associate ourselves with the motion moved by the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page).
The death of Mr. Watkins removes a notable figure from Labour politics. In his early days, even though it was unpopular, he advocated the cause of Labour. Throughout his public career and until his death he continued to support such principles as he believed to be in keeping with the party to which he belonged. As the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) has said, he played an active and a prominent part in the affairs of this Parliament, and rendered meritorious service on a number of committees and commissions. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that Dave, as he was familiarly known to us all, will be greatly missed in this chamber, because of his sterling attributes and the assiduity with which he advocated the claims of his electorate. Latterly, when his health was not good, honorable members were ever ready to give practical demonstration of the kindly feelings that they entertained towards him. We deeply regret his passing. That he lived to a grand old age will, I feel sure, be some consolation to those whom he has left to mourn his death. I join with the Acting Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing sympathy with his relatives and friends.
– I join with the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), in expressing regret at the death of the Honorable David Watkins.
The late Mr. Watkins and I were lifelong friends. We entered Parliament on the same day, and maintained friendly relations throughout the succeeding years. For more than a quarter of a centuryhe was my colleague as well as my friend. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the news of his death comes as a great shock to us all. It is at once incredible and terrible to me to see vacant on the other side of the chamber the seat which for so long was occupied by my honorable and very dear friend; over his empty seat shadows hover : memories of events of long ago pass swiftly through my mind as I look across the chamber. I recall very vividly those early days in which he and I were associated in the fight for Labour in New South Wales. I recall those epic conflicts on the coal-fields, in which we fought side by side; those stern, long, drawn-out struggles in this Parliament when we stood together, and those many stirring episodes during his long parliamentary career in which we played our parts. His was, perhaps, the most familiar figure in this Parliament. He held for over 40 years an honoured position in the political life of his State and of the Commonwealth. He was a firm friend; ever steadfast, ever loyal. What he was given to do, he did well. He was an upright and honorable man. He devoted his life to the betterment of his fellow men, particularly that of the coal-miners in the Newcastle district. He had himself been a coal-miner; he was a miner when I first became acquainted with him.
The years have rolled by since those early days. The exigencies of political life have at times divided us, but our friendship remained imbroken. It was but yesterday that he was commemorating with justifiable pride the completion of 40 years of active service in the public, life of Australia. Now he has gone, and we sha*ll see him no more. I had suspected that he was ill, but did not know that he had undergone an operation. I find it impossible at the moment, and am sure other honorable members will find it difficult, to bear with fortitude the shock caused by his death. The strain of parliamentary life is rapidly thinning the ranks of that band of men who, for many years, have made up my little world. But yesterday my friend, Mr. Holman, was taken from us; now Mr. Watkins has gone.
The late honorable gentleman will be sincerely mourned by us all. He made no enemies. No man ever spoke a bad word of him, and certainly he never spoke ill of others. He concentrated his energies upon the district that he represented for so long, so faithfully and so well. His name will be associated . with Newcastle while Newcastle exists. He was of the people, and to the end of his days ho served the people faithfully and well. He never swerved from his allegiance to
Labour ; but lie gave of his best, not only to the Labour party, but to Australia as a whole. We deeply regret his passing, and extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family.
– I desire to associate myself with the remarks that have been, made in connexion with the death of Mr. “Watkins.
I have known him for as long as I can remember. He was always a friend of my family, and since I was first returned to the Commonwealth Parliament I have been in close contact with him in our journeyings between our homes and the Seat of Government. I therefore, speak with deep feeling of my friendship with him. For the last 50 years he has been associated with the industry in which both he and I worked. Throughout a long life he played a notable part in the miners organization which honoured him in a way that few have bean honoured, by conferring upon him life membership. Mr. Watkins established a record which probably is unsurpassed in any part of the world*’, for not only did he represent the Newcastle district in this Parliament from the inception of Federation, but also for several years previously he represented the same district in the State parliament. During that long period of 40 years as a member of Parliament he remained true to the one political party. He was one of the founders of the Labour movement; and entered the parliament of New South Wales as one of its supporters. He never deviated from the principles of the Labour party through all the vicissitudes of the succeeding years. Not even the disruption caused by the conscription fight, in 1916 could shake his allegiance to the Labour movement. It is true that, in recent years, honorable members holding Labour views have had differences of opinion; but, in the main, their aim has been much the same. I feel sure that honorable members of all parties will gladly testify to the loyalty of the deceased gentleman to the principles which he held dear.
Although we shall miss the honorable member from his place in this chamber, the sense of loss will be most keenly felt by those in his home. A more loyal and loving father never lived. The people of the Newcastle district will mourn one who, throughout his many years of political life, did much to encourage and develop that great city of the north. By the passing of Mr. Watkins the Commonwealth has lost a true and loyal citizen, the Newcastle district a faithful and capable champion, and the members of his family a loving husband and father. I join with other speakers in paying my tribute to his memory, and in extending my sympathy to his sorrowing children.
Sir LITTLETON GROOM (Darling
Downs) [11.18]. - I, too, wish to add my tribute to the memory of the deceased member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins). The motion before the House this morning takes my memory back to the time when I first met him in the House of Representatives. He was then a man of considerable vigour and strength who made his presence felt in the chamber. 1 first became intimately acquainted with Mr. Watkins when both of us wortappointed to a committee of the House of Representatives to investigate the iron resources of Australia. During that investigation the members of the committee travelled through various parts of Australia and the deceased gentleman and J were thrown into intimate association. From that time until his passing, Mr. Watkins and I remained close personal friends. He was at all times a true lover of Australia, and a faithful representative of that portion of the Commonwealth which he represented. He was ever a strong champion of those great industries which he assisted to develop in the Newcastle area, because he believed that their development would help to build up a strong nation. Although possessing a forceful personality, particularly in his earlier days, the honorable gentleman never engendered any feeling of hostility ; on the contrary he endeared himself to all members irrespective of party divisions. His name stood for good fellowship, and above all, for integrity. He was respected by every one of us for his loyalty to principle. Naturally, during recent years he lost some of his early vigour, but those higher qualities of loyalty, devotion and friendship remained strong to the last. In his passing we have lost a friend. Whenever I visited the Newcastle district, I could not but be struck bv the fact that, although the late Mr. Watkins was pre-eminently a Labour representative, he had the respect and goodwill of all sections of the community in his district. No higher tribute than that could be paid to him. He leaves behind him a record of devotion to his country, of service to his constituency, and, above all, as the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has said, of devotion to his home and family, by whom he was greatly beloved. Our sympathy goes out to his loved ones and we hope that it will be some consolation to them to know that, on his passing, this Parliament has seen fit to place on record its appreciation, not only of his great service to this country, but, more particularly, of his high personal qualities.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker be requested to transmit bo the relatives of the deceased member the foregoing resolution together with a copy of the speeches delivered thereon.
– I suggest that, as a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased gentleman, the sitting be suspended until 1.45 p.m.
Sitting suspended from 11.22 to 1.45 p.m.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That . the House at its rising adjourn until 1 1 a.m. to-morrow.
– I lay upon the table the following paper: -
Mineral Oils and Petrol and other Products of Mineral Oils - Reports of Royal Commission -
1 ) Majority Report - Hon. John Gunn and A. J. Hancock, Esq., F.I.C.A.
Minority Report - S. Ernest Lamb, Esq., K.C., Chairman.
In moving -
That thepaper be printed,
I advise honorable members that many of the conclusions affect matters under the control of the State Parliaments. I have, therefore, sent copies of the reports to each State Government and asked for an indication from each whether a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers is desired to consider the matters involved. Certain other conclusions deal with the method of collecting income tax, and these have been referred to the Commissioner of Taxation. Other matters again deal with the restriction of trade, and these have been referred to the Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) for report.
– As I have not had an opportunity to peruse the reports, it is difficult for me to raise certain matters that I feel should be discussed. It must be obvious, however, to all honorable members that many matters dealt with in these documents come within the province of this Parliament. We have been waiting for eighteen months for the findings of this commission. In the circumstances, I should like to know what opportunity will be afforded honorable members to discuss this subject, for the people of eyery electorate within the Commonwealth are deeply concerned about it.
– The debate can be adjourned.
– I ask leave to continue my remarks’.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I lay upon the table the report and recommendation of the Tariff Board on the following subject: -
Steel tubular poles.
Ordered to be printed.
– I lay upon the table of the House the following paper : -
In moving -
That the paper be printed,
I direct the attention of honorable members to a statement made in the Senate last Friday by the Minister for External Affairs (Senator Pearce) on matters affecting the League of Nations.
Debate (on motion of Sir Littleton Groom) adjourned.
– On Friday last the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) asked me how many applications by returned soldiers for pensions had been refused and how many increases of pensions had been granted during the last twelve months. I am now able to inform the honorable member that 468 applications were received; of which 409 were granted, and 59 refused. The number of pensions increased was 4,009, and the number reduced 2,526.
– Has the attention of the Minister for the Interior been directed to a report appearing in the Melbourne press on Saturday last to the effect that the conference held on Friday between representatives of the Commonwealth Government and the Government of South Australia respecting the proposal to construct a railway line between Port Augusta and Red Hill, while amicable, had proved fruitless? Can the honorable gentleman inform the House whether that report is correct, and will he indicate the present position?
– The Acting Prime Minister will make a statement on this subject to-morrow when the debate on the Port Augusta to Red Hill Railway Bill is resumed.
– A few days ago, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) made an inquiry as to a report on the advisableness and suitability of Fremantle as an airport. I had no opportunity on that occasion to refer to the matter ; but I now inform him that a report has been obtained on the subject, and I shall convey it to him as soon as possible.
Statements in Circular.
– Has the
Minister for Trade and Customs seen a copy of a circular published by the Henry George League of Australia, and the Sugar Consumers Association, containing grossly misleading statements concerning the Australian sugar industry, and accusing the Government and honorable members of this Parliament of arranging the robbery of the Australian consumers by the sugar interests? Is the Ministeraware that copies of these circulars are being distributed to all muncipal councils in Victoria, with a request that the Government be urged to review its recent decision to renew the sugar agreement? Does the Minister propose to take any action to defend the Government from such unwarranted attacks on its probity and policy?
– I have seen a copy of the circular referred to, and it contains some wicked misrepresentations and gross exaggerations of the Government’s policy in providing assistance to the sugar industry. The statements are so serious that I intend to prepare a reply to them for submission to the House.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister read in the press or had brought under his notice otherwise a cablegram in which reference is made to an article in the London Sunday Times to the effect that the conference between the British Government and the Ministers of the Commonwealth Government will be more important than was at first proposed, and that the subjects to be discussed include the resumption of migration? Will the right honorable gentleman inform the British Government, on behalf of this Parliament, that the resumption of migration is not desired by Australia for a considerable period, and certainly not until all the unemployed people of this country have been provided with work?
– I have not seen the cablegram referred to; but I have already assured the House that the resumption of migration is dependent upon the unemployment position in this country. This in turn depends on our ability to market our products.
– Some days ago I asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General -whether a sum of money was being made available for the erection of a new post office at Rundlestreet, Adelaide. Is the honorable gentleman now able to give me more definite information on that subject than was contained in his reply to my previous question ?
– A sum of money is being placed on the Estimates for the purpose mentioned, and officers of the department are now considering the preparation of plans; but I cannot say when the work will he commenced.
– Will the Acting Treasurer inform me of the reason tor the continued delay in the making of satisfactory arrangements for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions at Lower North Adelaide?
– The matter has been one of negotiation between the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the Treasury, but I hope within the next 24 hours to be able to inform the honorable member of an arrangement which, I feel sure, will be satisfactory to him.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister inform me whether, during the recess, the Government will give consideration to the subject of national insurance, with the object of bringing up a proposal dealing with this important subject?
– The Government will give consideration to the matter.
– In view of the announcement of the Minister for Trade and Customs that he intends to make a statement regarding allegations which, from the point of view of the Government, are alleged to be misleading, will the Acting Prime Minister take steps to ensure that the general propaganda on behalf of the Government will, in future, be less grossly misleading than in the past?
Question not answered.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce whether the Government approves of the encouragement of trading with foreign countries, such as Germany, provided that the existing margins are preserved and that the money thus obtained is used for the purchase of Australian commodities. If so, will the Government give practical support if, and when, the possibility arises?
– The answer to the first part of the honorable member’s question is “ Yes.” As to the second part of it, honorable members generally are aware that negotiations for trade treaties have been undertaken with various foreign countries, including Germany. In every case the most satisfactory arrangement possible will be made.
Australian Representation at 1935 Conference.
– Before the Christmas recess I asked the Attorney-General whether it was the intention of the Government to attach technical advisers to the delegation which would represent Australia at this year’s conference of the International Labour Office, and he replied that it would be considered. I should like to know now, from the Minister representing the Attorney-General, whether it is intended to attach technical officers to this year’s delegation, and, if so, who they will be, and if provision will be made for the appointment of one woman representative?
– I shall consult the Acting Attorney-General with the object of providing the honorable member . with a reply to his question to-morrow.
– With the object of stabilizing the potato industry, and preventing dealers from disturbing the market periodically, and so making growers fearful of the outlook in regard to importations, I ask the Minister for Commerce whether special consideration will be given to this subject with the object of reaching an early settlement with the Government of New Zealand?
– The Government will give consideration to the matter, with the object of reaching an early settlement.
– Is it the intention of the Government to raise the status of the Commonwealth Parliament to one of equality with the Imperial Parliament by ratifying the Statute of Westminster? If so, when does the Government propose to take the necessary action?
– The attitude of the Government on this subject is well known. The question of when action will be taken involves a matter of policy, concerning which information, cannot be given in answer to a question.
– I direct the attention of the Acting Prime Minister to page 21 of the Auditor-General’s report, on which a comment appears concerning the Newnes Investigation Committee’s report on petrol and fuel for use in vessels of the Australian Navy. The Auditor-General states that petrol could be landed in Australia from overseas at 2¾d. a gallon, and fuel oil at 25s. a ton. In view of the fact that the Government has been advised that petrol can be imported into Australia at approximately 5d. a gallon, and that the Australian Navy is at present using fuel oil which is costing £2 15s. a ton, can the Acting Prime Minister inform the House where the Auditor-General obtained his figures, and also what action the Government proposes to take?
– I have no knowledge of the source from which . the Auditor-General obtained his information, but I shall have inquiries made.
– When does the Government propose to introduce a measure similar to the Dried Fruits Act for the purpose of fixing a homeconsumption price for wheat? Does it propose to wait until a conference is held in Melbourne before action is taken?
– The Government has already carried out the first recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry, which is that a sales tax be imposed on flour for the purpose of providing a home-consumption price for wheat. The second point raised in the honorable member’s question involves the granting of permanent assistancey which must await until all Australian governments have been consulted.
– Has the attention, of the Acting Prime Minister been directed to the statement of the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) when placing Australia’s case before the British Government, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 3rd April, that British interests had invested £215,000,000 in Argentina on which no interest had been paid since 1933? Can the Acting’ Prime Minister say how much of this capital is invested in government securities, and how much is in the nature of private investments?
– It is impossible for me to give the honorable member the information at the moment. I shall have inquiries made and supply him with the information he desires.
– Has the attention of the Acting Prime Minister been drawn to cabled messages from Great Britain, in which it is stated that, in its industrial organization efforts in the matter of trade stabilization, the British Government has been subsidizing both the coastal and overseas British shipping companies? Will the right honorable gentleman consider the advisableness of the Commonwealth Government, communicating with the Australian shipping companies with a view to providing a subsidy so that Tasmania may have a direct shipping. link between Hobart and the mainland?
– At present the Government is negotiating with the interstate shipping companies in connexion with the Tasmanian shipping service.
– Is the Minister for Defence satisfied with the present rate of recruiting in the Australian Military Forces, and, if not, what steps are to be taken to improve the position?
– The subject will be discussed by the Council tff Defence, to which body I propose to refer it.
– Oan the Minister for Commerce say when I may expect answers to some questions I asked on notice last week, regarding the exports of wheat and the estimated yield this season?
– I understand that answers have been prepared and are available for distribution to-day.
Debate resumed from the 3rd April (vide page 688), on motion by Dr. Earle Page -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss the general position of the Australian wheat industry, particularly in view of the recommendation made by the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry, which, having inquired most exhaustively into the industry, has thrown a good deal of light upon a very debatable subject. The commission has proved decisively that the difficulties of the wheatgrowers are due, not entirely, as some honorable members suggest, to the customs duties imposed by this Parliament, Taut to circumstances quite beyond our control. The commission has pointed out that the accumulation of world exportable stocks since 1928, due to the difference between the quantity produced and that consumed, is the main reason for depressed wheat prices. As the commission’s investigations extended over eighteen months, and its recommendations have been made after a most careful inquiry into the whole industry, the Government and honorable members generally should alter their opinions concerning the justice of raising the price by the present method of grants of millions of pounds each year. The commission also points out that wheat-growing has become unprofitable in consequence of fanners trying to produce on unsuitable land which must eventually be abandoned. Australian governments have been very lenient to the wheat-growers, and in assisting them have inflicted heavy penalties upon other sections of the community which also need help. It is unfair to impose a sales tax on flour to enable wheat-growers to obtain a higher price for their product. A study of the situation throughout the civilized world shows that practically every European country is now imposing a high tariff on imported wheat. Italy, whioh is imposing an import duty of 9s. 2d. a bushel, in Australian currency, has also stipulated that 99 per cent, of its home-grown wheat shall be used for milling purposes. Japan has increased its area under wheat, and in its endeavour to become self-supporting, has imposed a tariff of ls. 8d. a bushel, in Australian currency, on Australian wheat. Germany has a duty of 13s. l½d. on Australian wheat. Therefore, all countries which used to purchase enormous quantities of Australian wheat are practically excluding the product of this country.
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) will say that the price of Australian wheat is unprofitable, owing to the high cost of production brought about by customs duties imposed on commodities which- the farmers require. That is a ridiculous suggestion; because the real explanation is that all European nations, fearing war at ‘any time, are seeking to place suitable land under cultivation, thus rendering them independent of the outside world. The royal commission pointed out that the area under wheat in the United States of America has increased from 52,000,000 to 62,000,000 acres, which shows that that country must be producing more wheat than its people can consume. The commission also stated that if unrestricted export is permitted the United States of America will always be a serious competitor in the world’s markets. That country can also regulate its home-consumption price in such a way as to enable it to compete in the overseas markets and even with wheat grown in countries where coloured labour is employed. In these circumstances it is foolish to try to fix an artificial export price. The United States of America, with a population of £120,000,000 persons can obtain a higher home-consumption price than any other country, and on that account, export its surplus at a lower price than other wheat-producing countries. Between 1914 and 1932 the area under crop in Canada increased from 10,000,000 to 27,000,000 acres. Canada, which has adopted the bulkhandling system on a more extensive scale than any other country, has introduced the pooling system; but, having failed to dispose of the wheat purchased at a profitable price, the pool had to appeal for Government assistance. The production of wheat in Argentina has decreased from 349,000,000 bushels in 1928 to 162,000,000 bushels; but the figures show that that country is capable of increasing its production. Argentina also introduced the pooling system and fixed a home consumption price equivalent to 2s. 7d. a bushel in Australian currency. In view of all these facts, it is useless for the Commonwealth Government to attempt, as it is doing, to regulate the Australian market. The wheat-growers should organize their own industry. It is clear that the countries of Europe oan no longer be relied upon to take Australia’s wheat, and even Great Britain has embarked upon a policy of protecting its own wheat producers, and to that end has placed a tax of 3d. a bushel on wheat from countries outside the Empire, and is insisting upon the use of a quota of 50,000,000 bushels of homegrown millable wheat each year. The old peasant methods of farming in Great Britain are now being replaced by modern, methods, with the result that the wheat yield has been increased by 25 per cent. It is becoming increasingly clear that Australia cannot produce wheat at a profit in competition with the outside world. In the opinion of the “Wheat Commission, while there may be an improvement in the price of wheat for the time being, it is expected that the price for the 1934-35 crop, from July to September, will not be more than 2s. 4d. a bushel.
Within the last few years various methods of assisting wheat-farmers have been adopted. In 1931 the Scullin Government paid a bounty to the growers on the basis of so much a bushel, with the result that the small farmers got very little and the wealthy farmers, who were carrying on in a big way, got most of the bounty. Twenty per cent, of the growers received £1,800,000, while the remaining 80 per cent, received only £1,542,000. In other words 20 per cent, of the growers received 55 per cent, of the bounty, while 80 per cent, of the growers received only 45 per cent. We have been told by representatives of Western Australia that, as compared with the eastern States, it is necessary to cultivate twice as much land in order to get the same results, so that a bounty paid purely on a bushel basis is unjust. When we pay a bounty most of it should go to those who need it most, but I regret to say that ever since I have been in this House, there has been a clamour from a certain quarter to give most to the man who is already in a big way. In 1932 the Lyons Government came into power and changed the method of distribution of the bounty from a bushel basis to an acreage basis. In 1933 the Government again altered the system of distribution, this time taking cognizance of the taxable income of the farmer. This also gave satisfactory results. In 1931, when the bounty was distributed upon a bushel basis, one grower received no less than £4,381, while other individuals received £1,466, £1,434, £1,006, £1,339, £1,258, £1,483, £1,283, £1,252, £1,170, £783, £516 5s. 6d., £480 19s. 5d., £475 13s. 4d., £958, £791, £714, £702, £826, £771 and £760.
– Is the honorable member in order in discussing the 1931 act?
– The honorable member is in order in making reference to a method of distribution employed in the past.
– I am trying to show that the system of distributing the bounty on a bushel basis, as provided for in this bill, is unfair.
– There is nothing in this bil] about distributing on a bushel basis.
– It is provided that a small part of the grant is to be distributed on a bushel and acreage basis.
– That is not so.
– Then I stand corrected; but, be that as it may, it is true that, under the previous system of distribution, individual growers received thousands of pounds out of the bounty.
– Including members of this Parliament.
– Yes, including members of this Parliament, and they fought hardest of all to have the bounty distributed on that basis. I hope that this is the last time that the Government will impose a special tax on flour in order to help the wheat-farmers out of their difficulties. The Government should for ever abandon this practice of paying bounties. The Royal Commission on Wheat stated that a tax of £5 4s. a ton on flour would be necessary to enable a satisfactory home-consumption price to be paid for wheat. It would be most unfair to_ impose such a tax, and if it were done it would lead to a growing hatred of the whole wheat-growing industry in the minds of the public. If the Government can arrive at a decision in regard to the pooling of wheat, provided a fair price is fixed, and the farmer has control of his own production, I shall raise no objection. But if the farmer cannot and will not adopt methods for pooling his wheat I contend that the Government should step in and provide the necessary machinery for the creation of a pool. A fixed home-consumption price of from 3s. to 3s. 6d. a bushel would be equitable and fair, not only to the farmer, but also to the consumer. No one expects the wheatfarmer to work for nothing, but his difficulties are no greater than those con fronting other sections of the community. In Sydney, within the last two or three years, the building industry has almost gone out of existence, the commercial community generally has felt the full effects of the depression, and very few firms have been able to show a profit. During the depression Argentina has fixed a price of 2s. 7d. a bushel for wheat at ship’s side, and if the industry in that country is in a better position than the Australian wheat industry, it is because the Argentine farmers control their own product. In Australia the problem cannot be solved merely by wheat-farmers through their representatives in this House pleading poverty year after year. In 1932, Mr. Field, president of the Farmers and Settlers Association, said that he was definitely in favour of assistance to the wheat industry on a bushel basis. In 1933, when his own wheat was full of rust and disease, he changed his plea, and said that assistance should he granted on an acreage basis. But when the 1934 wheat has been harvested, he and his cohorts, who are always out to dip their hands in the public purse, ask for the scheme in this bill, under which many farmers will receive the bounty who have no right to share in it. Instead of demanding assistance to be helped out of their difficulties, the wheat-farmers should demand the right to control their own wheat. The only reason why there is no unanimity in the wheat industry with regard to the pooling of wheat is shown in the report, of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1932. Wheat-farms operated close to country towns, for instance, in the Riverina, have yielded as high as 38 bushels to the acre, the average of fifteen farms in that district which competed for an ‘ award of the Royal Agricultural Society being 30 bushels to the acre.
– That is not a fact.
– In 1932 the average yield from 60 farms entering the competition in the Riverina, southern slopes and western areas has been 30 bushels to the acre.
– These yields were only from prize plots.
– Under the conditions of the competition the farms had to be scientifically treated, and they had to be 200-acre blocks.
– They were 50-acre plots.
– I am not saying that the average yield for the whole of the land under cultivation in those areas was equivalent to 30 bushels an acre, but 1 do say that there is land in Australia which, properly worked, will produce wheat so cheaply that no bounty would need to be paid. In the north-west of New South Wales, to which many wheatfarmers from the Riverina are migrating, on the famous black soil plains, the wheat yields are probably higher than in any other part of the world. Fresh wheat land 13 continually being opened up in different parts of the country. The report which I have mentioned also indicates that on marginal lands, where the rainfall is uncertain, wheat production is unprofitable. The Wheat Commission recommended that farmers working such land should undertake the growing of wool’ in order to supplement their income. That some of them have already done so is indicated by the decreased wheat acreage in those areas. One of the difficulties confronting us to-day is that farmers can claim bounty on their wheat irrespective of whether they have a taxable income or not. I have mentioned before in the House that there are farmers who have as many as 2,000 ewes on their farms who are making a profit of ls. a head on their lambs, without the return from the wool. As a matter of fact, their sheep and lambs provide them with half their income, yet they are entitled to a bounty on their wheat. Owing to the influence of the Country party the provision that before a farmer should be entitled to receive bounty on his wheat he must show that he has no taxable income has been cut out. These men, irrespective of the fact that they have a good income from their sheep, are entitled to claim bounty on their wheat. Australia is not in a position at the present time to grant aid to any person not in need of it. The position of a farmer should be considered in respect of the whole of his production. During the four and a half years in which I have been a member of the Commonwealth Parliament, the wheat-farmer has , been plundering the public purse unreasonably. So long, as he has been abb’ to secure an unfair proportion of the taxation of the country he has been prepared to do whatever he could to bring pressure to bear upon the Government of the day. That pressure is also beingexerted against State governments. On the extremities of the Riverina areas, where rainfall is uncertain, farmers are certainly in difficulties, but only because in boom-wheat times squatters have disposed of land utterly unsuited to the cultivation of wheat. Men on such land cannot make a profit at wheat-farming and they come to this Government for a bounty. Recently a case came under my notice in which an old lady asked me if I could secure for her an old-age pension. She was possessed of a farm which returned her only £1S per annum. The investigating officers .of the department re-organized the farm arid insisted that the farmer should go in for sheep in order to offset his loss on wheat. We do not object to a farmer who has a hard struggle to make a living getting a fair return for his labour, but -we do dislike men who have built up fortunes in the past being allowed to share in an allocation of this kind. Members of the Country party have done more than any others to insist upon those wealthy men getting a share, when they did not need it, thus increasing the difficulties of these days of trouble and distress. I am pleased to say that the wool-growing industry has never yet come to Parliament for a relief vote. If it has had a surplus, it has always sold it by auction, instead of carrying it over from year to year. In 1928, Canada and the United States of America had a huge surplus of wheat, as the result of which the market has been depressed ever since. The trouble in Australia has not been caused by the tariff, because whatever duties have affected the primary industries of Australia, in relation to the ordinary expenses of the farm, have, at the most, increased the price of wheat by only a halfpenny a bushel. So far as farm machinery is concerned, the depreciation of the currency and the differencein the rate of exchange have been such that machinery is being placed on the market in Australia to-day at the same price as if the doors were wide open to allow it to come in free. Many country members have changed their attitude on these questions. Hitherto, they have flouted the House and hoodwinked the public by asserting that the sales tax on flour was just and fair. I say that that tax never has been, and never will be, just. I believe that any government which insists on putting a direct tax upon the people’s food, in order to vote £4,000,000 to a certain section, is simply driving itself and its followers into political oblivion. The country will not stand for such a policy.
Mr.SPEAKER. - The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– in reply - I desire to put on record the actual report of the Royal Commission on Wheat which led to the allocation contained in this bill. Sir Herbert Gepp, the chairman, wrote to me as follows under date the 20th March, 1935:–
In the supplement to the first report of this commission submitted on the 27th November, 1034, it was recommended that an amount - estimated at £573,250 on the figures then before the commission -be made available to the States for application, at the discretion of the State governments, as a grant from the Commonwealth towards the relief of wheat-growers who experienced specially adverse farming conditions during the wheat year 1934-35.
The amount in question was computed by the commission upon a careful consideration of data collected prior to the submission of the supplementary report of the 27th November last. Conditions affecting the harvest changed in some States favorably and in others unfavorably since these figures were collected. The most recent data obtained by the commission indicate, notwithstanding such changes, that the amount which will remain for the relief of cases of special adversity, from the £4,000,000 provided by the Commonwealth, will be of the order of £573,250.
It is recommended that such amount be distributed as follows: -
In New South Wales, where the acreage under crop was larger than in other States, the average yield per acre obtained by the whole State was roughly normal. This fact, however, does not indicate an absence of special adversity in a considerable number of cases due to:
In Victoria, the average yield per acre was considerably below the normal and the quality of part of the crop has been severely affected. The chief causes have been -
In South Australia, the crops made a wonderful recovery in some districts and the average yield per acre of the State will be about normal. In certain districts there have been specially adverse conditions -
In Western Australia, the average yield per acre for the State will bo lower than normal owing to -
In Queensland, the average yield per acre was somewhat less than normal, and while some farmers obtained excellent crops others suffered more or less severely from -
In Tasmania, the average yield per acre is expected to be below the normal, and the heavy rain at harvest resulted in severe damage to much of the grain.
The allocation recommended above has not been determined upon as a result of the application of a rigid formula, but rather as the result of a careful weighing of the above factors. The application of a hard and fast rule would not have achieved an equitable distribution between the States, having regard to the numerous causes of special adversity, which must be fully recognized and provided for in any scheme of allocation.
Thisrecommendation is approved by all the members of the commission, for and on behalf of whom I am authorised to sign.
The commission consisted of Sir Herbert Gepp, who may be regarded as a Victorian, Mr. Sheody, of New South Wales, Mr. Cheadle, of South Australia, and Professor Wadham, who, I suppose, may also be regarded as a Victorian.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
“(2.) Any amount granted to a State under, this section shall be paid upon condition that it is applied by the State in providing relief to wheat-growers in that State who satisfy the prescribed authority of “that State that, in the production of crops from wheat sown by them during the year One thousand nine hundred and thirty-four, they have suffered serious loss and hardship by reason of -
.- I appreciate the action of the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page), in giving the committee the information which the Government received from the Wheat Commission, regarding the basis on which the money is allocated. It seems to me, however, that, under the suggested allotment of money, farmers who are in the same position but in different States will not receive anything like the same assistance. There are a number of districts in South Australia which this year have harvested almost no wheat at all. In the debate on the bill preceding this one, it was pointed out, with truth, that over 1,000,000 acres of land seeded in South Australia will return less than 3 bushels an acre. I do not think that anything comparable with that condition of things can be found on a corresponding acreage in Victoria. Under the proposed allocation farmers in the counties of Millewa and Weeah in Victoria, who have reaped 3 bushels to the acre or less will receive a certain amount of assistance, whereas across the border in South Australia the farmers in similar districts with similar yields will not be able to receive anything like the same amount of assistance from the South Australian Government. I suggest that the Government should arrange for the grant to be extended to those engaged in the industry in all the States on a like basis. If all are treated equally, there will be no cause for complaint. If it is found that, under such a system, the allocations are the same as are proposed in the bill, I shall have no objection, but I do fear that, under the bill as it stands, farmers in South Australia . and Western Australia will not receive anything like the same assistance from their State governments as will be extended to farmers in Victoria by the Victorian Government, although all are in exactly the same . position. I urge the Government to reconsider the allocation.
– If the bill is looked at without bearing in mind the fact that it refers to only part of a total grant of £4,000,000, the attitude of the honorable member for Grey (Mr. McBride) is quite understandable. But £4,000,000 was made available in respect of the 1934-35 season; of this amount the basis of 3d. a bushel will probably absorb £1,500,000, while the basis of 3s. an acre will account for another £1,926,750, leaving £573,250 to be distributed. The distribution is not on an acreage basis, nor on a bushel basis, but the commission has taken into account, as the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) has just indicated, all those factors which have gone against the industry in certain States. In the north of Victoria, as in parts of New South Wales, there was a very severe grasshopper plague, which no doubt has been taken into consideration. The commission has also probably taken into account the previous allocation made . from the £4,000,000 grant. Victoria obviously suffered in the first allocation, and that is being made up to that State now. Looking at the bill as it stands, without considering all these other circumstances, one would naturally think that Victoria was receiving an undue share, but the vote must be looked at as a whole. When that is done, we must admit that the commission, knowing what is happening in all the States, is in a better position to sum up the situation and recommend the allocation than we are, who know only the conditions in our own States.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Grey (Mr. McBride) that the allocations proposed in this measure are unfair to South Australia, comparing that State’s allocation with that of Victoria. Although I do not want to interfere in the matter of the allocations as between one State and another, and although I recognize that there has been a partial fall in the average wheat yield in Victoria, I should like definite figures to be presented to the committee to prove whether or not that fall in that State has been comparatively more serious than it has been in South Australia. The rate of yield of wheat in Western Australia is well below the average, but South Australia has suffered more than any other State from drought and the grasshopper plague. This year its yield has been seven bushels to the acre and I cannot understand how the royal commission arrived at its computation. The allocation of £127,000 to South Australia, I fear, will provide very little money indeed to relieve suffering among the farmers in that State. Five minutes inquiry from the officers of the Department of Commerce would satisfy the Minister that the wheat yield in Victoria is not so far below the normal yield that that State should be allocated £192,000 compared with £127,000 for South Australia. South Australia depends largely on wheat and wool. I have frequently gone through the country in that State and I can assure the committee that conditions there have been particularly bad this year. I was under the impression that, these allocations were not going to be fixed by the commission, but that this matter was to be referred for decision to the State Statisticians.
– That was only in connexion with the Debts Adjustment Bill.
– I feel that it was just as necessary to follow a similar course in fixing this allocation. Not having gone through this country the commission could not have the same grip of the situation as State officials have. It is questionable whether South Australia can be satisfied with this allocation. It is only during the last few months that the anticipated yield has dropped - far below the figures of the State’s earlier estimate.
– This allocation is based on information supplied in September.
– It has been based on the latest information received from the States.
– I suspect that the Commonwealth Statistician had so much difficulty in arriving at an estimate of the average yields that he eventually accepted the figures supplied by the State statisticians. But as the yield in South Australia has fallen unexpectedly in the interval, this allocation of £127,000 will be less than the State authorities would now estimate as sufficient. The decreased yield is due to a sudden decreased rainfall in the latter part of the season. With the present average yield of wheat so low throughout the Commonwealth, it is obvious that a very serious drop indeed must have taken place in some of the States. Western Australia has experienced a drop, but it has been so serious in South Australia that this allocation does not give that State a fair proportion of the assistance to which it is entitled.
– In order to correct any misapprehension on this matter, I shall describe to the committee, first, the exact method by which these allocations were arrived at, and, secondly, the latest information given by the various States as to their respective yields. Honorable members will recall that in. December last when I brought down a measure dealing with the distribution of £3,500,000, I explained that we would defer the distribution of the additional £500,000, which, was to relieve farmers in necessitous circumstances, until we had sufficient information to indicate the right proportions for this distribution as between the various States. I intimated that in reply to my inquiry on that point the Wheat Commission said it would not be able to supply us with these details until after the actual crop was harvested. As soon as I knew when Parliament was to meet I pressed the commission for the result of its investigations on these lines. It replied that it was unable to give me the figures at that particular time, because it was still awaiting final estimates from the various State statisticians, but that as soon as it received these estimates it would immediately let me have its report. That was about three or four weeks ago. I continued to urge the commission to supply thi6 information, so that we could deal with this matter this session. Eventually, ten days ago, the commission submitted its report. This I immediately submitted to the House, and it has been printed as a parliamentary paper. The information was based on the latest statistics received from the States, and it was on that information that the commission based its conclusions. These figures are as follows: -
– Has the Government received figures for Queensland?
– I have not them in my hand; but the figures for that State are small compared with those for the great wheat-producing States. I shall give the honorable member that information as soon as I receive it.
The Government is impartial in this matter. It did not seek to determine this allocation itself, but asked the commission on what basis it should be made. If honorable members can suggest a better basis the Government will be only too pleased to consider it. I would point out, however, that the members of the commission, having a mass of information at their disposal, which is not made available to honorable members, would be in a better position to view the situation in a more impartial perspective. That is the attitude the Government adopted with respect to this matter.
It is convenient at this stage to deal briefly with the second portion of the clause now under consideration, and to inform the committee that the Government intends to move certain amendments to put beyond all doubt the purpose for which this money is to be applied. This money was set aside on the recommendation of the royal commission to be distributed only to those in a bad financial position owing to losses suffered during the year through climatic conditions and for other reasons. It will be remembered that £3,500,000 was granted for the assistance of wheat-farmers to be distributed on a basis of 3d. a bushel, and 33. an acre over the whole of the Commonwealth, and £500,000 was retained to deal specifically with cases of hardship. The Government has now brought down this measure to provide for the distribution of the £500,000.
It is proposed to amend clause 2, line 4, by inserting after “ State “ the words “ that they are in adverse financial circumstances and “, and in line 6 by omitting the words “ and hardship.” It has been suggested that if the words “ and hardship “ were left in, this would lead to a narrowing of the application of this money. To overcome that difficulty the Government is agreeable to the amendment I have described by inserting the words “ that they are in adverse financial circumstances.” The two phrases really mean the same thing; they differ very little in verbiage but it is sought to make the State governments take a rather more liberal interpretation of this clause than would otherwise be the case. Clause 2 is further amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section: -
In addition it is felt that steps should be taken to provide that in any case where the money is attributed to a farmer because of his bad condition, such money should not be made subject to any bankruptcy proceedings, but should be given to the individual simply in order to grant him relief. With this object in view the Government is agreeable to insert the following new clause after clause 2: -
– This money will be given to the farmer for his own personal use?
– Yes. Another amendment will provide protection for the farmer from the operation of any provision of State enactments that may have been passed. These amendments are on the lines of those forecast by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen), and the honorable member has assured me that as the Government’s amendments will meet what he had in mind, he will not press his amendments.
.- In the report from the Wheat Commission, which the Minister read a short while ago, reference was made to losses sustained by the farmers through the plague of grasshoppers. If this money is to be used to repair damage done by grasshoppers, I should like to know whether it will be used to repair losses which have been caused mainly by reason of certain action taken in New South Wales by the Minister for Agriculture. When the grasshopper plague commenced, the Minister went panicky, and issued certain regulations compelling settlers to continue with poisoning, the penalty for failure to observe this regulation being £50. All the proof required that a farmer carried out this provision was that he applied for two bags of bran, a tin of molasses, and the particular poison. Once the farmers made this application, no action was taken to see that they applied the poison. Much damage was caused through this oversight, and I hope that none of this money is to be used to repair any of the damage. I have every sympathy with farmers who suffered losses through the grasshopper plague, but it is for the Government of New South Wales, and not for this Government, to make good that loss. I hope that funds provided for the eradication of pests will be spent in a proper way. The Government should get into touch with the State authorities on this matter. Great losses are suffered periodically on account of the ravages of pests and diseases and, in the interests of those engaged in rural industries, the Government should speed up the research work being carried on in Commonwealth laboratories. It is far better to disburse £100,000 in eradicating pests than to incur an expenditure of £1,000,000, after great damage has been done, in an effort to repair it.
.- Although I do not represent a wheatgrowing constituency, I am intimately acquainted with the desperate position of the farmers in many parts of South Australia, particularly in the Mallee areas. They have suffered severely through the grasshopper plague, red rust and many other pests which affect cereal crops. The average wheat yield of Victoria has been stated as being 10 bushels to the acre. In South Australia the average is only 9.27 bushels to the acre, and : even on that basis it seems that the allocation is not quite fair. Victoria is to receive £192,000 as against South Australia’s £127,000, and it seems to me that this allocation should be revised. Does the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) intend to bring down an amendment for the purpose of affording additional relief to the farmers of South Australia?
.- Complaints regarding the allocation have been published in various States, including Western Australia; but, of course, these are probably influenced by particular interests. I realize that no criticism is worth much unless it comes from a source where the whole of the facts are known. One point that seems to be agreed upon is that Victoria has been exceptionally fortunate in this allocation. The suggestion has been made that that State, being nearer to the seat of government, had greater opportunities to have its claims advanced than did the more distant States. I should like to feel sure that the Government of Western Australia has had the fullest opportunity to put its case before those who determined the allocation. The Government, so far as I am aware, has had no communication on this matter through the Federal members from that State, and we are unaware whether its position has been fully represented. I trust that the claims of every State have been fully considered, and that the latest information was available to the Commissioners before they came to their decision. Subject to that qualification, I shall support the allocation. I recognize that it should be made by an impartial body.
– I feel sure that no honorable member desires that one State should have an advantage over another in regard to this distribution. The Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) made it clear that those responsible for . the allocation had conscientiously attempted to bring about an equitable distribution in providing special relief to farmers who are suffering from adverse seasonal conditions. The method generally adopted in granting relief in connexion with the 1934 crop is better than that followed in any other season. All those who are conversant with the circumstances of the wheat industry will agree that the seasonal conditions during 1934 were far more adverse, and the adversity was of greater variety, than had been previously experienced. No useful rain was recorded in the early part of the season. Later in the year, heavy falls occurred and when the crop had made some headway, the grasshopper plague burst upon us. The farmers in some of the States suffered because too much rain had fallen. Damage on account of heavy rain was experienced particularly in Victoria, where it rained heavily after harvest had commenced, and this materially lowered the quality of the whole of the crop. According to the Acting Prime Minister, the percentage drop in the total crop has been considered in arriving at the allocation, and it seems to me that the commissioners have been particularly conservative in dealing with Victoria. The latest information in regard to that State is that the yield for this year will amount to , 26,000,000 bushels, whilst the average yield over a long period is from 40,000,000 to 42,000,000 bushels.
– Over a much larger area.
– We are now discussing the allocation of a grant for the relief of farmers suffering through adverse seasonal conditions and the extent to which this year’s wheat yield of a State is below the average over a period of years must be conclusive evidence as to how adverse the seasonal conditions have been. I do not say that Victoria should receive a larger grant than other States, but it suffered more last year than did other States on account of seasonal conditions.
– What is the average yield an acre in Victoria?
– The Minister told us that it was about ten bushels, as against twelve or thirteen bushels in previous years, but I am discussing the total crop. The statement by the Minister seems to indicate that serious thought has been given to the best method of arriving at an equitable allocation, and I consider that this is effected by the bill.
.- The Government, of necessity, had to secure a scheme that would apply equitably and uniformly to the various States. The figures in regard to Queensland have not yet been given, and, therefore, we do not know the relative position of that State.
– Queensland is 8 per cent, below its normal yield, and Tasmania is 6.7 per cent, below it.
– The Minister has a difficult problem before him, and he has apparently endeavoured to do justice to all the States. So long as each has been treated on a uniform and equitable basis there can be no ground for serious complaint, although the grant of £12,000 to Queensland out of the total grant of £573,250 appears relatively small. The administration of this fund will be in the hands of the States, and the basis of distribution will be left to them. I hope that publicity will be given to the method of distribution, because, formerly, some farmers suffered through, submitting late claims. Many of those who are in adverse financial circumstances will, in addition, receive a grant on an acreage basis.
– They will all receive a grant on an acreage basis.
– Therefore, in reality, the relief to be given is greater than would appear to be the case.
.- I cannot see why the grant should be bigger in the case of Victoria than in the case of New South Wales. According to the figures given by the Minister (Dr. Earle Page) the average yield is slightly lower in Victoria, although the acreage planted is substantially greater in New South Wales. The Wheat Commission reported that the area under crop was 3,584,000 acres in New South Wales and 2,981,000 acres in Victoria. South Australia had an acreage of 3,894,000, yet the allocation in its case is only £127,000, compared with £100,000 in the case of New South Wales and £192,000 in the case of Victoria. I consider that only those farmers who are in absolutely necessitous circumstances should be given relief.
A proposed amendment which has been circulated reads -
Any amount applied under this section by a State in providing relief to a wheat-grower, shall bo paid directly to that wheat-grower . . .
I understand that to mean that the wheat-grower shall actually receive the money which is to be made available for his assistance, and that it is not to be handed to financial institutions or others to whom he owes interest.
Section 32a 1 of the Farmers’ Debt Adjustment Act passed recently by the Parliament of New South Wales makes the following provision : -
Any farmer who, while subject to this act, receives any moneys, whether as the proceeds of marketing of any produce of the farm or otherwise, which moneys are receivable by the supervisor in accordance with this act, will account to the supervisor forthwith for same. Any farmer who neglects or refuses to account shall be liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding £100 or to imprisonment for six months.
Under that provision, the majority of the farmers will not directly benefit from their endeavours to make their farms a payable proposition, because whatever is made available for their assistance will pass into the hands of the supervisior for the payment of interest and other charges. I feel that the amendment which I have read does not cover that class of farmer, and I should like it extended so as to ensure that the New South Wales act will not override this legislation. The Commonwealth is finding the money, and the object of the Government is to assist the farmer.
– That is covered by the bill as it stands. The Commonwealth act will override the State act.
– ‘The bill does not provide “ that the farmer shall have the handling of the money for his own personal use.
– That is covered by the amendment I have circulated.
– I cannot agree to the proposed allocation. I have no doubt that the Wheat Commission’s recommendation was based upon figures supplied by the States, and that it acted in good faith. But the yield in some of the States has not proved to be anything like what it was estimated it would be. In confirmation of that statement I have official figures supplied by the Minister for Agriculture in South Australia, which, so far, Victorian members have not been prepared to challenge. Until they can put forward a worse case, they cannot expect honorable members from South Australia to vote for the bill as it stands. This year the wheat acreage is much smaller in Victoria than in South Australia, the figures being respectively 2,861,000 acres in all and 3,130,000 acres, excluding hay and wheat sown for fodder. Consequently, the total yield should be considerably less in Victoria than in South Australia. Yet, according to the statement of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. McClelland), the figure forVictoria is 26,000,000 bushels, whereas the Minister for Agriculture in South Australia has advised that the returns in that State have declined week by week, and that the present estimate is a yield of only 22,000,000 bushels. South Australia has 1,060,000 acres, with an average of 2.85 bushels to the acre, and a further 900,000 acres with an average of from 5 to 8 bushels an aere. Similar figures cannot be given in regard to Victoria. I therefore move -
That the following proviso be added to subsection 1 of proposed new section 6a: - “ Provided that the sum paid to any applicant under -this act, added to the sum paid under the Wheat Bounty Act 1934, shall not exceed an amount in excess of the average amount paid per acre in that State under the Wheat Bounty Act 1934.”
The effect of. that in Victoria would be that, with an average of 10 bushels to the acre, no man could receive out of this fund an amount which, with the bounty payment of 3d. a bushel, would exceed 2s. 6d. an acre. Under the bill as it stands, the farmers in that portion of my electorate which adjoins the north-west portion of the Wimmera electorate - undoubtedly the worst part of Victoria from an . agricultural viewpoint - would probably receive only1s. 3d. an acre, whereas over the border the grant would amount to 5s. an acre. I am not prepared to vote for a bill which would so discriminate between producers in two of the States.
On the 4th April the Minister for Agriculture in South Australia sent me the following telegram after I had supplied him withcopies of this bill, and had solicited his views upon it: -
My Government and myself personally still adhere to protect already sent Prime Minister and consider additional grant should be allotted South Australia. Government considers that special grant to South Australian farmers should be substantially increased in view of large areas returning little or no crop. We urge South Australian members strongly support our request for additional grant.
Honorable members from Victoria are under an obligation to supply figures, if they can, showing that that State has 1,000,000 acres with an average yield of under 3 bushels to the acre. They cannot do so. I am prepared to concede that the average yield over a period of years has been greater in Victoria than in South Australia. Under the amendment, the wheat-farmers in Victoria would benefit to that extent.
.- I am under the impression that a good deal of confusion exists in regard to what is involved in the bill. The measure is a short one, and deals with a portion of the bounty for this year which the States are to administer. The principal act provided broadly that £4,000,000 should be made available in the form of a bounty to wheat-farmers who had some production. Part of the bounty is to be paid on the basis of 3d. a bushel, and the remainder on the basis of 3s. an acre sown. That left £500,000 of the £4,000,000 for allocation among farmers in specially necessitous circumstances. Necessitous circumstances is defined in the bill as -
In these circumstances, I submit that the average yield of a State can be no guide to the committee in determining what shall be done with the remaining £500,000. That the yield of a State may fall from an average of, say, 12 bushels to an average of, say, 10 bushels, is no evidence of “ specially adverse seasonal conditions “, though it may indicate generally adverse seasonal conditions. Farmers who have suffered as the result of tie generally adverse conditions will receive the ‘bounty of 3d. a bushel on thenproduction, and 3s. an acre on the acreage sown; but they should not be brought within the provisions of. this bill, which is intended to benefit specially necessitous farmers. I would say that not even farmers in what are known as the marginal areas, where the normal yield is from 7 to 8 bushels an acre, who experience a falling off in their yield to from 5 or 6 bushels an acre, should be paid grants out of this money unless they can show specially necessitous circumstances. It seems to me that this measure represents an attempt to make a last-minute revision of the general principles of relief set out in the report of the Wheat Commission. Broadly speaking, the commission, having explored all the circumstances of the industry, came to the conclusion that a bounty should be paid to farmers. It was felt, however, that neither the bushel basis, nor the acreage basis would be sufficient to meet all the circumstances of the case, so both methods were adopted. But we know that towards the end of the season a plague of grasshoppers occurred in two
States, and rust was very prevalent in an important area of Western Australia. I believe that the provision of this £500,000 was intended by the Wheat Commission for the relief of farmers suffering from these specially adverse conditions. Farmers living in a part of a State which experienced particularly adverse seasonal conditions, as against those of other parts of the State, should be considered in the distribution of this money ; but the fact that adverse seasonal conditions were general throughout tho State should not be taken as a reason for attempting to distribute this money among all the farmers of that State. It is to guard against this happening, I submit, that the words “ specially adverse “ were used. It was intended that this money should be distributed among only a small proportion of the wheat-growers of Australia who were in particularly dire straits because of the reasons mentioned in the bill. In respect of the great majority of the wheat-growers, the assistance will be provided out of the money voted for distribution on the bushel basis and acreage basis. Farmers who suffered in consequence of specially adverse seasonal conditions or the grasshopper plague, or the undue prevalence of rust, would fall within the provisions of this measure. I do not think that those who suffered damage from hail should be considered, for it is the practice of all provident wheatgrowers to insure against hail. But no one “would anticipate the grasshopper plague or the exceptionally severe effects of rust, and insure against them. If the £500,000 now being provided is spread as widely as some honorable gentlemen seem to desire, it will be of no real use in mitigating the exceptionally unfortunate circumstances of the people whom we really wish to help. The mere fact that there has been a decline of acreage and a decline of yield is not sufficient to justify farmers in a particular State being granted part of this money. The provisions of the bill, plus that of the amendment proposed by the Minister in charge of the measure, to the effect that adverse financial circumstances shall also be considered in relation to the two paragraphs that I have already cited, seem to me to meet all the circumstances of the case. I warn the committee that if any attempt is made to apply this money to the benefit of farmers generally, because of generally adverse seasonal conditions, the real purpose of the bill will be defeated. I am not competent to speak of the position in South Australia, but if the allocation made by the bill is insufficient to meet the situation there it would be wiser for Parliament to make a special grant in that case than to review the allocation recommended by the Wheat Commission.
.- At first glance the allocation proposed in the case of Victoria seems unduly high in comparison with that proposed for the other States; but I recognize that it is almost impossible for individual members to give a proper judgment on that subject. I, therefore, prefer to accept the recommendation made by the Wheat Commission after a full inquiry. Having heard the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. McClelland) speak of the magnificent crops that have been obtained in that area, one is tempted to suggest that the farmers there should be able to help themselves out of the accumulated returns of their good years; but I do not press the point. Any alteration of the proposed allocation should be made, I suggest, only after the Government has been satisfied, upon further examination, that it is necessary in order to ensure equity as between the States. My main concern is that the money now being provided shall be paid directly to the farmers. I am totally opposed to the use of the money by the State for the purpose of liquidating debts to the Crown of particular settlers. Something of that kind has been done in the past I believe, but the object of the money now being granted is to provide assistance to individual wheat-growers to enable them to continue in production. I do not think that we should try to limit too severely the interpretation of “ adverse circumstances “. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) made mention of insurance against hail. It is the normal custom of the farmers of Western Australia and South Australia to insure against hail, but they have been so poverty stricken during the last few years, that I should not be surprised if many of them have been forced to cease taking this precaution. We need not unduly concern ourselves about the secondreading speech of the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane). Every fair-minded person who has given any thought to the subject must realize that the people of Australia have been saved a vast sum of money in the course of years by reason of the fact that they have been able to obtain wheat for home consumption at ls. a bushel less than world parity price. To suggest, in the face of the fiscal policy of this country, that wheat and wool should be sold here at lower prices is unfair, for in respect of everything that has to be brought here the people pay higher prices. The adoption of a different principle in respect of our great primary industries would be absolutely unfair to the primary producers, for it would mean inflicting hardship on one section of the people, and affording patronage to another.
.- Honorable members have shown a good deal of confusion of thought in discussing this measure. We are dealing with an industry which cannot be expected to maintain uninterrupted operations year after year on the existing basis, which is uneconomical. The wheat industry should not be left at the mercy of the political party that happens to be in power for the time being, seeing that it provides more employment than any other industry of the Commonwealth. The Wheat Commission indicated quite clearly, in its report, that for several years past the consumers of Australia have been obtaining their wheat for ls. a bushel less than import parity. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) carefully avoided any reference to that point when he was making his second-reading speech. As regards the allocation of this money, I confess that I cannot follow the process of thought which led the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) to suggest that there is an obligation on Victorian members to prove that there are in Victoria wheat-growing areas in a worse position than any wheatgrowing areas in South Australia, where 1,060,000 acres of land are producing on an average 2.9 bushels to the acre. I cannot see that there is any obligation on us to prove that we, in our State, have done something even more foolish than was done in South Australia, where so large an area of marginal land was placed under wheat. According to the official figures, the average yield in South Australia has fallen off by 10 per cent., while the average yield in Victoria has fallen by 20 per cent. Those are the only authoritative figures we have to guide us, and we must accept them. The South Australian members seem to overlook the fact that there is in their State no large wheat-growing province like the Wimmera in Victoria, with its high average wheat yields, and high average costs and values. A low yield in part of South Australia might return to the grower as much for his labour as a higher yield in the Wimmera, where the price of land is high on account of the high average yield. I do not desire to do an injustice to any State; but, in my opinion, the proposed allocation is fair. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) (suggested that New South Wales was not getting a fair deal under this proposal, but the official figures show that in New South Wales there has been only a 9 per cent, decline from the average annual production.
I do not now intend to move my proposed amendment to this clause, because the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) has moved an amendment that will have the same effect. I do not think that the word “ hardship “ should be used to define the condition of those eligible to receive assistance under this scheme. The inclusion of that word would probably lead to a harsh interpretation of the act, just as the inclusion of the word “necessitous” did under a previous scheme. The amendment to be moved by the Acting Prime Minister provides for the insertion of the words “ that are in adverse financial circumstances “, and I think this definition will prove more satisfactory, and will probably induce the State authorities to interpret the position more sympathetically. It should not be necessary for a wheat-grower to prove that he is absolutely insolvent in order to be eligible for assistance. We do not wish this money to go to wealthy men. It should bo used to assist that great middle class of producers who have suffered loss during recent years, and who have had difficulty in financing their farming operations.
All honorable members are in agreement that this money should be paid directly to the wheat-growers, and as that is now the intention of the Government, I shall not proceed with the amendment which I have circulated. I agree with the suggestion of the honorable member for Darling that, if possible, it should be made clear in the bill that the money is to be for the personal use of the farmer.
– The proposed amendment of the Government will make that clear.
– I am also desirous that those wheat-growers who happen to have gone off their holdings this year, but who raised crops last year, should not be debarred from the benefits of this scheme. I have in mind particularly soldier settlers who were placed by the State Government on Mallee lands which have since proved to be unsuitable. Those men are now, as a part of government policy, being transferred elsewhere, or are being paid something to get out. It is only right that they, who battled along for years and shared all the hardships of the other growers, should receive some assistance. I understand that the Crown Law authorities have given an assurance that the word “ wheat-grower “ will be interpreted so that they can be included in the scheme.
– I believe that in this measure we are carrying out the intention of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry, which recommended that £500,000 should be made available to farmers who are in worse circumstances than the average, and who have from various causes experienced an adverse season. I quite approve of the carrying out the intention of the commission and the manner in which this money is to be allocated among the various States, but I doubt the correctness of the figures upon which the Government is working. They are not the latest, and the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) should defer consideration of this matter until he can either verify those figures or have them corrected. We should not look on this from i.he point of view of one State against another. Our purpose should be to distribute the money equitably in accordance with the distress or hardship experienced by farmers in the various States. If the figures used by the Government are corrected, or brought up to date, and the money divided in accordance with the recommendation of the royal commission I shall be satisfied. In that case, I think, South Australia would get a larger share, and New South Wales would get about the same as under this scheme. New South Wales will have about a 40,000,000 bushel crop, and its proportion, £100,000, is fairly satisfactory. South Australian farmers are in a particularly bad way, and it does not seem to me that Victoria is twice as badly off as South Australia or Western Australia. I urge the Acting Prime Minister to have a check made of the figures.
.- It seems to me that, in considering a system of allocation, we should give consideration to the position of those in contiguous areas in. different States. For instance, under the scheme as proposed, farmers in the Wimmera may receive 2s. an acre, while those just across the border in South Australia, on exactly the same kind of land, may receive only ls. I also suggest that the Government should defer consideration of this clause in order to obtain the latest figures available.
– I have been informed by the law officers that the proposed amendment standing in my name will have the effect of preventing money which will be distributed under this proposal from being seized by State supervisors and trustees. The proposed new clause 3 states that section 7 of the principal act will be amended by the inclusion of the following- proviso :-
Provided that nothing in this section shall affect the right of a wheat-grower to receive payment direct of any amount payable to him by way of relief under section 6a of this act.
Section 6a of the act deals with the right of trustees to get possession of relief money. The position, therefore, is fully safeguarded.
The amendment moved by the honor- ‘ able member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) will not increase the amount of money available for South Australia, but it might interfere with and even lessen the distribution of money in other States. It is not a real solution of the difficulty, and the Government cannot accept it. Nor can it accept the other suggestion that has been made, to reserve a proportion of the total vote to meet the possible difference between the actual conditions found at the end of the harvest and the estimated conditions now, as was done in the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Bill, where £2,000,000 out of the £12,000,000 was left over for subsequent distribution to correct possible anomalies. On consideration, that seems an absolutely hopeless thing to do in this case, because it is obvious that the amount which will be given to necessitous farmers will not be an average. One man, whose position is very bad, will get more than will another who, although in adverse financial circumstances, has not fared so badly. There will not be an actual average amount given to each farmer, but every case will be considered by the State authorities on its merits. The decision must rest with the States. If we reserved £100,000, it seems to me that we should be laying it aside indefinitely for many months, whereas the money is really required for quick, relief. The Government was disturbed in mind because it was not able to hand it over to necessitous farmers last December. The only reason why it was not done at the time was that the Government had no direction from the Wheat Commission as to the way in which it could be clone. To hold up a considerable portion of the total vote now will not assist the farmers as they should be assisted. As an old proverb says, he gives twice who gives quickly.
– What will happen in the case of the farmer in New South Wales who refuses to come under the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Act? Will his circumstances be inquired into? Will his case be considered?
– That has nothing to do with this bill. Every farmer who applies, whether he comes under the other act or not, will be dealt with. In reality the majority of those who come under this bill possibly will not come under the other at all, because their position is so desperate that they have no reasonable prospect of righting themselves. The money provided by this bill is really intended to assist their personal needs. The commission, of course, had the latest possible figures up till a fortnight ago, when it made this recommendation. Within the last week the Commonwealth Statistician has been in touch with the State statisticians, and the figures I read out previously, giving the average diminution in the yield per acre on the basis that I have indicated, were his figures. It is true, as the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) says, that eight or nine counties in South Australia had a very rough spin, with an average yield of less than three bushels an acre. They cover 32 per cent, of the wheat-growing regions of South Australia, but I take it that the position in the other areas is not nearly so bad.
– I also pointed out that another 900,000 acres yielded only from five to eight bushels to the acre.
– I should say that the proposed allocation to South Australia under this bill would make from ls. 6d. to 2s. an acre available for that area of over 1,000,000 acres in the eight or nine counties referred to, even if the other 900,000 acres are in as bad a position as the honorable member for Barker says - as I have no doubt they are. I further point out that the commission did not say that the money was allotted on the basis of the respective yields per acre. If the bill is allowed to go through now, the figures can be gone into before it is dealt with in the Senate. If in the meantime it is found that the wide discrepancy of 7,000,000 bushels exists - the difference between the 29,000,000 bushels the Statistician worked on and the 22,000,000 bushels that the honorable member for Barker mentions-
– The best estimate that I have yet seen for South Australia is 26,000,000 bushels.
– If the yield is as low as 22,000,000 bushels, that can I. found out by to-morrow, and I shall be willing to have the matter revised in the Senate, so that it may be dealt with in this chamber again later. It is important that the bill should he passed at the earliest possible moment. If the honorable member for Barker is prepared to accept my assurance and withdraw his amendment, I shall then move the amendments which I have circulated.
Amendment (Mr. Archie Cameron’s) by leave - withdrawn.
Amendments (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to -
That after the word “ state “ fourth occurring, sub-section2, proposed now section6a, the following words bo inserted: - “that they arc in adverse financial circumstances and “
That the words “ and hardship “, subsection 2, be omitted.
That the following sub-section be added to the clause: “ (3) Any amount applied under this section by a State in providing relief to a wheat-grower shall be paid directly to that wheat-grower “.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Motion (hy Dr. Earle Page) agreed to -
That the following new clause be inserted: - “3. Section 7 of the Wheat Growers Relief Act (No. 2) 1934 is amended by inserting at the end thereof the following proviso: -
Provided that nothing in this section shall affect the right of a wheat-grower to receive paymont direct of any amount payable to him by way of relief under section Ca of this act.’ “.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments ; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) proposed -
That the foregoing message bo referred to the Committee of Supply.
.- I move -
That all the words after the word “That” he omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “this House, having sat less than 40 days since the Kciianil ejection, strongly disapproves of a recess of five ‘ months, which includes the first three months of the next financial year, thus preventing Parliament from controlling the finances of the nation and meeting the grave economic position which recent world happenings tend to make increasingly acute.”
I presume that the amendment is not unexpected by the Government, because I have, on many occasions, protested against the proposal to close up this Parliament, particulaTly for the early portion of the financial year. One of the fundamental duties of Parliament is to control the finances, and that can be done only by preliminary discussion of the next financial year before the House adjourns, or by meeting early in the financial year to indicate the intention, of Parliament with regard to finance. The present Parliament was elected last September. If we adjourn at the time anticipated we shall have sat about 37 days, and then there will be a recess until next September. I consider that this is treating with contempt a parliament that, was so recently elected by the people of Australia. This dereliction of duty is more to be condemned in times such as these, when the fullest attention and most serious consideration should be given to the manifold problems confronting this country. If the Government really feels that it is capable of dealing with these vast problems without any advice or aid from Parliament, then one would expect Ministers to manifest their superior ability by masterly and intelligent action; instead they have displayed masterly inactivity. The doors of this Parliament will have been -closed during this financial year for fourfifths of its existence. Even during the limited period that this Parliament has been allowed to sit, the greatest activity the Government has displayed has been in the application of the “ gag “. Members gatheT from all parts of Australia. They come with a desire, and, in many cases, serious preparation, to make their contributions to the discussion of weighty problems. How can the elect of the people satisfy those who have chosen them unless they are permitted to attend to the duties imposed upon them - and to attend to them in the Parliament to which they were elected? The Government has slowed down shamelessly. To close Parliament for the remainder of this financial year, and to keep it closed for the first three months of the next financial year, is, in my opinion, a shocking misuse of power and a reckless neglect of public duty.
The Government some ‘ time ago appointed a number of royal commissions, the reports of which have, just been received. Instead of Parliament being asked to consider them, it is going into recess. The report of the Petrol Commission was tabled to-day. It has cost £8,750, and I do not know what extra amount up to date. The Wheat Commission, whose report was tabled recently, cost £15,192. Those two royal commissions cost approximately £24,000. Are those costly reports to be merely pigeon-holed ? It was surely not the intention of Parliament, when it agreed to the appointment of those bodies, that their reports should be submitted, and that Parliament should then at once rise until towards the end of this calendar year. Then there is the report of the Wheat Commission; what has been done with regard to that? Practically nothing. One of the recommendations of that commission was that a compulsory wheat pool should be set up for the marketing of wheat. Are we not to be allowed the right to consider that important recommendation? It is of no use for the Government to say that the House will meet again in September. With our experience of the last two or three years we cannot be satisfied by that reply. The Country party and the Labour party have advocated the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool, but every year this proposal has been side-tracked by statements that there has not been sufficient time to consider it, or to take a ballot of the farmers, or to establish a pool before the approaching harvest. No doubt we shall be met again with each of the excuses that have been put forward on this matter in previous years. Now that the leader of the Country party is the Acting Leader of the Government, one would have expected that this. Parliament would have been kept together to give serious attention to that feature of the report of the Wheat Commission. Other aspects of primary industry also call for urgent consideration. Surely, because we pass a measure that will adjust the debts of about one-eighth of the farmers of Australia, it cannot be said we have discharged our obligations to the primary industries? Then, again, there is the very big question of unemployment. Much remains to be done in handling that problem. In fact, we have not even had foreshadowed the comprehensive plan for dealing with unemployment which was a feature of the Government’s policy during the last election campaign. A Minister was to be appointed to deal with this matter; but the Government appointed an under-secretary instead. That gentleman has gone abroad, but unemployment still remains with us. Those are important, questions. There are others. There was the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to hold an inquiry into the banking system. Is this House to be given an opportunity to discuss the terms of reference of that commission, assuming that it is to be appointed? Such a discussion has not yet taken place. Surely these are pertinent questions which this Parliament has the right to ask before voting on a bill to provide Supply for three months of the next financial year. The Government already has Supply to the end of June, and this bill is to grant Supply up to the end of September. In such critical times as the present this Parliament should not be closed for such a lengthy period, and certainly it should not be kept closed for the first three months of the financial year, in which period the Government will commit the country to certain expenditure without giving this House the opportunity to discuss it.
Again, there is the acute problem of marketing our products overseas. Owing to the limited time at my disposal, I do not propose to discuss this matter at any length. I am merely indicating at the moment that, instead of considering its adjournment, Parliament should be considering these outstanding questions. I am not protesting against the rising of the House in time to allow honorable members to return to their homes for Easter; nor am I opposing a reasonable recess of a month or so, but the present proposition before the House is something which this Parliament should not be considering. This measure is not the usual formal supply bill which goes through as a matter of course; the Government is not in need of Supply, as it has Supply to the end of June; but it asks for the passage of this measure so that it oan close Parliament until September. Any one who votes against my amendment will be voting for that recess, and toclose Parliament for a very lengthy period in a critical time.
Parliament should be asked to consider what will be the effect on this country if overseas restrictions on our meat imports are persevered with. We should bo kept in session so that we may watch the progress of negotiations overseas in this matter, because if those negotiations fail then we will have to reconsider our financial position and our trade balance. That trade balance is diminishing. That fact every thoughtful person must view with considerable anxiety. It cannot be dismissed in the light and airy way in which the Government attempted to do so quite recently. I do not propose again to cover the ground I went over when this matter was previously discussed ; but I recall that there was then practioally no anxiety on the part of _ Ministers ; on the contrary, their attitude was that everything was all right, because the immediate situation was all right. Are we not to look to the future? Are we not to take count of what may happen within the next year or two? Simply because our London funds are sufficient for the remainder of this year, or, even for next year, are we to assume that everything is all right, instead of noting the movements taking place in the wrong direction, and considering what may be theircauses and effects? Parliament, I claim, should be seriously considering those matters to-day. When we considered this matter previously we had the figures for seven months. We have since received the figures for eight months of the year. They show that our favorable trade balance has dropped by £23,585,000 compared with a favorable balance for the corresponding period of last year. This is surely a serious matter, and it is a development which should be urgently considered. The apologists for the Government point to the fact that we have £68,000,000 of London funds, and that, therefore, our trade position is secure. But that figure includes £15,000,000 of the note issue reserve, and if we are to take this amount into consideration in such a connexion we are practically in the position of using our last “ shot “. If we deduct that £15,000,000 from the total amount, it leaves £53,000,000 as representing our London . funds at the 30th June last. Since then, however, we have not been sending sufficient out of the country to pay for our imports, plus our obligations overseas. I would estimate that to-day our London funds total approximately £43,000,000, which is a much smaller amount than the £68,000,000 argued upon by the Government and by certain alleged economists. It is true that the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) placed the amount of London funds at £50,000,000, but that was at the 30th June; from that amount must be deducted amounts which have diminished that total in the interval. I suggest that the total of our London funds to-day would hardly be a reasonable drought reserve; and nobody can guarantee that we may not experience a drought in the near future. It is true that when we were considering this matter two years ago, my warning, similar to that I am now voicing, proved to be needless. I predicted on that occasion that we should find ourselves on the wrong side of the ledger. That prophecy was not borne out by results, but what caused the change in the serious conditions then indicated ? A fortuitous rise in the price of wool which increased the payments for our exports by £20,000,000.
– The drop was just as fortuitous.
– But the rise was fortuitous and certainly unforeseen, and it still remains unexplained. Yet the Government does not hesitate to take full credit for the unforeseen and fortuitous circumstances of that rise.
– Why should it not?
– The Government might just as well take credit for sunshine and rain; but it could not take credit for the honorable member’s presence on’ its side of the House. I ask honorable members to treat this matter more seriously than the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) evidently likes to treat it. Is the Government relying upon some future stroke of good fortune? Is it not just as reasonable to suggest that it may suffer a reverse in the future? What then? The Acting Treasurer and, I think, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), referring to our London funds, claimed that it is not necessary for Australia to pile up big funds in London. Why not? If we can accumulate them why not do so? These honorable gentlemen reply “ We do not require them; we require only sufficient to pay for imports and overseas commitments Are we never to contemplate reducing the burden of our overseas indebtedness? I suggest we should consider doing so very seriously; we should consider the transfer of our indebtedness abroad to Australia. When I first took my seat in this Parliament in 1922-23, one of the first things to which I drew attention was the large accumulation of our funds in London, which had been principally brought about by high payments to Bawra, following the high prices then being received for wool, and, in addition, by funds resulting from previous loans. On that occasion the position was the reverse of what it has been in recent years. We had such a favorable trade balance then that we could not raise money for financing our exports; we could get plenty of money for the financing of imports, and imports were allowed to flow in. The Federal Government collected huge customs revenue and had surpluses. It reduced taxation instead of reducing our debts, and particularly our debt overseas. At that time of prosperity I suggested that some of that indebtedness should be transferred to Australia, and that we should use surpluses to pay off some of our overseas debt. Had I known then as much as experience has taught me since, I should have suggested that a great deal of our surplus revenue should be placed in liquid investments in London to meet future overseas commitments. If we’ had had £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 to our credit in London in 1929-30, the history of Australia would have been rauch different from the tragic story of those years when we were forced to bring in drastic tariffs and embargoes that were necessary in order to- prevent Australia from defaulting. I do not propose to speak at any further length. I move this amend- ment because I wish to test whether honorable members want to work on or whether they approve of the closing of Parliament in a critical time; whether they are prepared to hand over the control of the finances to the Executive, or whether they will claim their rights as representatives of the people to have a voice in this control. The control of finance is the prerogative of the people, and Parliament is the representative of the people. If this measure is passed we shall be committed to certain expenditure for the first three months of the next financial year without any preliminary discussion on this matter being afforded this Parliament. ‘ That is wrong in practice and I urge honorable members to oppose such a proposal by voting for my amendment.
. - I endorse the criticism levelled against the Government by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) regarding the brief duration of this session. Apart altogether from other matters, it has deprived me of opportunities to deal with important matters appertaining to the Northern Territory. However, I am pleased that a bill has been introduced to give some measure of self-government to the residents of Norfolk Island. The measure shows that at least the Government acknowledges the right of the people in isolated territories of the Commonwealth to some voice in their local affairs. I consider that the Government might have gone a step further, and, subject to veto, extended to the Norfolk Island council the power to make its own laws.
The Commonwealth stands alone in theEmpire in the grudging manner in which it treats its outlying communities. Canada allows its Yukon territory, which has a population of only 4,150, to govern itself through an elected council. The Falkland Islands, with 2,392 inhabitants, has an executive and legislative council. The Mandated Territory of New Guinea, with a European population of under 3,000, has a legislative council which has even risen to the dignity of printing a Hansard report. This council passes its own laws. Papua is in a similar position, and as Norfolk Island is now to have partial self-government, the only
Cinderella is the Northern Territory.
Although the Northern Territory returns a member to this chamber, for all the good he can do, he might as well not be here. I pride myself on having a knowledge of the Northern Territory which might be of considerable use to the Department of the Interior; but, apparently, it would be completely foreign to the policy of the department to do anything so unorthodox as to discuss terri-, tory matters with anybody who knew anything about the country. At the present time, I understand, many important mining ordinances are being drafted, yet their contents are kept a close secret, so far as the people of the territory or their Parliamentary representative are concerned. When the department has decided what is to be done in regard to these matters, I have no doubt that we shall be told about it. A similar position prevails with respect to the lands policy of the territory, and so a host of misunderstandings are being perpetuated by ordinances’ which are framed without reference to the inhabitants. This is a very unwise policy, particularly as the people and their representative are anxious to help the Government make a good job of territory legislation.
I trust that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) is not annoyed at my plain speaking. I know full well that he would be equally outspoken if he were in my position. I understand that he will visit the territory a few weeks hence. I particularly welcome that visit, because the Minister, himself, is a land man, with training that should fit him to understand our difficulties. Let me assure him that I shall do everything possible to assist him, and any other honorable member who may visit the territory, to secure a grasp of its problems, before the return of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) from Great Britain. When the right honorable gentleman reaches Australia I propose to extend an invitation to him to fly to some central point in the territory to meet its people, so that they may place before him personally their request for a greater measure of self-government, and the granting of a vote to their member in this House. So far as I am aware no Prime Minister has ever visited the territory. Although its population has increased by 30 per cent, in the last fifteen years, its present emptiness is a sufficiently vital matter to justify a little first-hand attention by the head of a government. At the present time a petition is being signed by the residents, and 3 hope to present it to His Excellency the Governor-General before the end of next session.
Before I entered Parliament, Mr. Speaker, I made a promise that I would resign in six months if I did not obtain the vote in this House. In view of the absence of the Prime Minister and other Ministers in London, and the delay that has occurred in receiving the petition from the people of the territory in regard to this matter, I feel that it would be futile to attempt to force it to a conclusion at the present time; but, immediately the Prime Minister returns, I propose to take it up. If I do not succeed I will stick to my pledge. My electors will be told that I am wasting my time and that they ought to consider very seriously whether it is worth while having any representative at all under the present conditions.
Mr. BEASLEY (West Sydney) [4.50;. - I support the amendment. A large number of honorable members will experience great difficulty in supporting the Government if they follow the course which their consciences should direct because the amendment declares that Parliament should not be closed at the most important period in the history of this country. As the debate proceeds, it may be contended from the Government side that the object of closing Parliament this week is to provide an opportunity for honorable members who live in distant States to return to their homes for the Easter period. But that will not justify the initial delay in summoning Parliament to deal with the many matters which honorable members, of necessity, ventilated from time to time by the process of submitting formal motions for adjournment. This method is most unsatisfactory, because the limitation of debate prevents speakers from dealing fully with their subjects, and difficulty is found in arriving at definite decisions. With the exception of the present week, I believe that almost every day this session circumstances have arisen which have forced members to adopt this unsatisfactory course. Parliament should have been in session at least a month before it was called together, if an early adjournment were considered necessary prior to Easter. Apart from that consideration, however, there is nothing to prevent us from re-assembling after the Easter holidays, in order to have full time for the discussion of the important problems requiring attention.
One matter which was not mentioned specifically by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) was the trade treaties which the Government is now discussing with foreign countries. I understand that already preliminary discussions have taken place with representatives of the Japanese Government. According to press reports - the only source from which honorable members can obtain information as to the course of events - Japan has pointed out its adverse trade balance with Australia. Apparently this calls for a number of concessions to Japanese interests, according to what we can hear of the Government policy, and it appears that the Government is likely to give way in this direction. But if, owing to Japanese competition, further inroads arc made upon the secondary industries of Australia, our already serious unemployment will be increased, and the home market for our primary producers will be further diminished. Honorable members are not given an. opportunity to discuss these problems, or to obtain definite information as to the Government’s intentions regarding them. If the Parliament were kept in session, we could take the first opportunity, when the negotiations for the conclusion of trade treaties are in progress, to express the opinion of our constituents upon them ; but, if Parliament is allowed to remain in recess for six months, the final decisions will probably be reached when the elected representatives of the people have no voice regarding them. Despite adverse criticism regarding these methods of entering into agreements without the sanction of Parliament, by individual members who usually support the Government on most matters, they fail to take action when opportunities arise for them to give effect to their criticism, because the steam-roller processes ki the party room, in which their rights in the Parliament are, to some extent, challenged by the party machine, prevent them from doing so, and they seldom vote in accordance with their expressed opinions ; the country suffers accordingly.
Throughout this session we have had great difficulty in ascertaining the actual policy of the Government on the subject of the restriction of export of primary produce. It is useless for the Acting Prime Minister (Dr Earle Page) to wave his hand and say, “ The policy of the Government will be carried out.” I claim to take as keen an interest as possible in the proceedings in Parliament, and in what takes place at election and in fact at all other times, but I must confess that I have not been able to decide what the actual policy of the Government is on this matter. During the election campaign, we were told that at all costs the restriction of exports would be opposed. The Acting Prime Minister was most pronounced in his declarations on this subject, yet he was the first member of the Government to go back on his promise, withdraw the permit’s and enforce restriction of the export of meat. We cannot, therefore, place any reliance upon the statements of responsible Ministers as published from time to time. Rather than candidly face the facts, they seem to be hoping that some situation will arise to tide them over awkward periods. To prevent us from testing their real intentions, they close the doors of this Parliament for lengthy periods. Those honorable members who were here during the life of the Bruce-Page Government will recall that similar tactics were employed in those days. In 1928, discussions occurred on this very subject. The old dodge was resorted to of keeping Parliament closed for as long as possible. That Government met Parliament for shorter periods than any other administration.
– It saved the country some money.
– It was very largely responsible for the acuteness of the extraordinary period of depression through which we have been, and are still, passing. I do not wish to remind the House of the unkind things which were said of the Acting Prime Minister by an honorable member who is now sitting with him in the Cabinet. That was condemnation from his own side, and it is hardly necessary for me to add to it. The tendency which then prevailed is again evident, and we are forced to the conclusion that the same influence is at work. I am inclined to the belief that the idea originated in the mind of the right honorable member who at the moment leads this House. The form, of government under which we operate is supposed to give to the representatives of the people full opportunity to voice their views and mould the legislation of the country. It is obvious, however, from its decision to close the Parliament, that the Government does not wish that democratic principle to be observed. It is urged that the negotiations which are proceeding overseas are so delicate that it would be unwise to allow this or that to be said because a prejudicial effect might be the outcome. There has been a disposition to silence honorable members when information has been sought, and to prevent them from giving expression to the beliefs of a majority of the people. It is unfortunate for Australia that its case has not been put in the most forcible manner in the most influential quarters overseas. The tendency has been to use diplomatic language, which misinterprets our intentions. A week-end newspaper has described as absolutely farcical the developments that have taken place in the negotiations. It has pointed out that the use of more candid and more straightforward language by the Australian delegation would achieve much better results for this country, because overseas interests would then realize that Australia meant what it said and would employ the same tactics that the overseas interests had adopted to enforce its will upon us.
– That appeared in Truth.
– It did. I remind the Minister for Defence that after the last elections in New South “Wales this newspaper eulogized the present Premier of that State for the wonderful service he had rendered, and that gentleman acknowledged in equally appreciative terms the splendid service it had rendered tn him. In the article to which I have referred, it points out that overseas interests have to deal with the Prime Minister, who has the backing of the people of Australia in his refusal to accept restrictions on the export of our products, and goes on to say -
He will have te put into . plain words what is being felt on this side, that, unless Australia is going to get a fair deal, then the extension of the reduction of interest on bonds, which was compulsorily forced upon the Australian investor in Australia, will also be enforced upon the investor overseas; and directly he makes that threat a squeal that will be heard world-wide will arise in Throgmortonstreet and the British Government will have to take heed. This is no time for half measures and polite words. The Commonwealth has got rights which have got to be enforced, and the sooner the Elliots and the Runcimans understand that, the better.
I wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments. There has been too much backing and filling by those who have spoken on behalf of Australia. If these overseas interests are told definitely that action will be taken to prevent them from drawing large sums by way of interest from investments in this country, we shall get a fair deal from those who are conducting’ the negotiations in regard to meat exports. But if this Parliament is closed, honorable members will be denied the opportunity to focus attention upon that aspect of the matter. When those of us who are spared return in September, Australia will have been committed to an agreement from which it cannot escape. That is what. happened in connexion with the Ottawa agreement. When Parliament re-assembled, despite the fact that certain of the provisions of the agreement were shown to be contrary to the best interests of a large proportion of the people of Australia, it had already been signed on the dotted line and could not be varied in any respect.
I am pleased that this opportunity has been taken to voice the protests of honorable members of the Opposition. Other honorable members also must appreciate the difficulties that confront their constituents. During the debate on the measure for the adjustment of farmers’ debts, some honorable members, who only a few months ago claimed that prosperity had returned and that confidence had been restored, spoke honestly and straightforwardly of the conditions of those whom they represent and of the necessity for action that would effect their rehabilitation. The Debt Adjustment Bill that we have just passed is merely as a drop in the ocean, and will not solve the problem. The administration of this law is to be handed over to the States. Not knowing what methods the States may adopt, we should be in a position to override them and direct that justice be done if we consider that a wrong course is being followed, but this cannot be accomplished if the Parliament is closed for the next six months.
I have been advised that the lengthy recess to which I earlier referred as being typical of the attitude of the Bruce-Page Government towards the parliamentary institution, extended over a period of 11 months. I do not believe that there is a parallel to that in the life of the Commonwealth Parliament.
– The Parliament sat for only 9 days in 12 months.
– The right honorable gentleman who is now in charge of the House may have been responsible for that. If he wore, it would appear that he is again resorting to the same practice. In all Parliaments it is most desirable that the Government should be made acquainted with the point of view of its opponents, even though those opponents may not be able to influence the course of legislation.
– The Acting Prime Minister believes that nothing succeeds like recess.
– This Parliament consists of members who come from all parts of Australia. I should have thought that the Government would have welcomed the opportunity to hear their views in relation to negotiations of such importance as those that are now being conducted. That, however, is not the case. Quite recently, in a speech which he made at an Anniversary day function held at the Savoy Hotel, the High Commissioner for Australia declared that the year 1935 would be the most critical in the history of this country. Yet this Parliament has so far been in session for only four weeks, and will probably sit for not more than two and a half months in all during the year. It will be said, of course, that there will be supply bills upon which subjects of a general charac ter may be discussed. I contend, however, that we shall not have an opportunity to deal with problems, the consideration of which will not arise in the conduct of the ‘ ordinary business of Parliament. The Government ought to call members together again just after Easter, so that they may be kept abreast of the negotiations overseas in regard to meat restrictions and the projected trade treaties with foreign countries, and may have an opportunity to voice their opinions where, as representatives of the people, they are expected to do so.
– The arguments adduced by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr, Scullin) and supported by the Leader of the New South Wales Labour party (Mr. Beasley), indicate a fundamental difference in the attitude adopted towards parliamentary life and the problems of the community between those honorable gentlemen and honorable members who sit on this side of the House. Honorable members opposite continually advocate the day labour principle. In the practice of my profession, I judge of the success or failure of my operations, not by the length of time occupied upon them but by the results obtained. One must judge this matter fairly, by considering the important factors of public life and the way in which the matter of national policy should be faced.
Governmental life has two main features. There is, first, the legislation^ which, after deliberation, is passed by this Parliament. Unquestionably, the contribution made to such deliberations by those who are not in the Government not only is important but also has very great value. But considerable preparation by the Government itself should precede the introduction of legislation. Information has to be gathered from every available source, and a decision come to in regard to underlying fundamentals. Concurrently, the administration of the country must be carried on. Everyone who has held office knows that satisfactory administration is not possible with Parliament sitting continuously, as parliamentary calls impose an added burden on a
Minister’s time and energy. Throughout my life I have argued that legislation, if it is to be directed to the real needs of the people, must be the result of Ministers learning at first-hand the requirements of those who are actually engaged in every phase of industry. I shall indicate presently some of the results that have followed the adoption of this procedure by the Government, but I shall first make a few personal observations. It has been suggested that we are more or less running away from our jobs by allowing Parliament to go into recess ; but that is not the case. Everyone knows the peculiar circumstances which faced this Government, and which still face it. The Government was formed on the 8th November last, while Parliament was actually sitting ; but notwithstanding that fact, Ministers have been able, by meeting in cabinet day after day, at what are usually regarded as very inconvenient hours, to prepare - and submit to Parliament very important legislation. It is necessary to spend time in “ preparing business for Parliament. Personally, as Minister for Commerce, I, and many of my officers, have been working nearly 24 hours a day for seven days a week to prepare the case in regard to Australian meat and to ensure that business will be ready for submission to Parliament. That is also true of other Ministers and other departmental officers. I have held conferences with representative citizens and organizations in various parts of the Commonwealth, and have rushed, here and there in order to meet people individually and collectively to ensure that the best possible thing shall be done for the country. Every one knows that the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has made a full time job of his work. Even during the Christmas recess, when private members were on holiday, he took three or four statisticians with him on a fishing expedition so that during the whole of that time they could feed him with figures to equip him better for the work he had in hand.
In addition to all that, it was necessary that our delegation to Great Britain should be fully informed of all the available facts relating to our various prob lems to enable them to negotiate successfully the important matters that would come under their notice. We realized that the delegation might bc called upon to deal with, not only the meat industry, but also other important Australian industries. They had to be equipped to face, with confidence, a very wide range of problems. As honorable members have shown by the cablegrams they have quoted, many subjects in addition to the meat industry are being dealt with abroad, which must inevitably affect not only the welfare of this country at large, but also our own personal outlook. I have publicly stated on many occasions that my own attitude to certain domestic policies and problems will be materially altered according to the decision of the British Government on the representations made to it by our delegation. If Great Britain insists on the policy of restricting our exports, then my attitude regarding the development, and the rate and time of development of certain industries in this country - even uneconomic industries - must undergo a change, so that we may be enabled to give employment to our people if they are forced out of exporting industries. It would be quite wrong for us, in view of the negotiations that are now proceeding in Great Britain, to proceed, at this stage, to discuss the tariff schedule. We should first know the conclusion of the negotiations, because our attitude will, undoubtedly, be affected thereby.
The honorable member for West Sydney suggested, though the Leader of the Opposition did not emphasize the point, that during the whole time these important overseas conversations are proceeding this House should remain in session so that those engaged in the negotiations could be subjected to a continual fire of criticism. But we all remember that a few years ago on the return of the present Leader of the Opposition from Great Britain, after his visit as Prime Minister, he told us that his efforts there had been practically sterilized and nullified by reason of the actions in this House, or within the precincts of the House, of those who were supposed to be his supporters. Satisfactory negotiations are impossible under those conditions. Honorable members should bear in mind that any trade treaties formulated during the present discussions in England will need to be ratified by this Parliament before they can become effective. Nothing can be done by the Government which must not ultimately come under review by Parliament. When the proposed treaties are submitted to honorable members they will then have the opportunity to deal with them. So much for the suggestion of the honorable member for West Sydney. If it . were agreed to, it would prevent the administration from doing any useful work and might prejudice the success of our delegation abroad.
In the course of his remarks the honorable gentleman said that eleven months had elapsed between the sittings of Parliament at one period during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government; but he was careful not to say that that period had not fallen within one financial year, or even one calendar year. Nor did he say that it included a period during which the -Prime Minister of the day was visiting Great Britain. He also neglected to remind us that the Prime Minister brought back from Great Britain on that occasion proposals for the granting of British preference to our products, which, when subsequently implemented, were a greater boon to Australia than any other thing done in that direction up to the time of the Ottawa Conference. The Bruce-Page Government was able to do so rauch for the welfare of Australia because it sought to secure the recognition of certain fundamental facts in the legislation it introduced. This is shown to have been accomplished because the major legislative enactments of the Parliament during the regime of that Government still remain on the statute-book despite the intervention of a Labour government in the meantime, and during the depression have proved to be the sheet anchor of Australia. I refer, for example, to the legislative measures which resulted in the constitution 6f the Loan Council and the ratification of the Financial Agreement. We all know that when the Financial Agreement was being debated in this chamber, it was opposed by the Opposition.
– The right honorable member should remember that I advocated an affirmative vote at the referendum upon it.
– I admit it; but the agreement was severely criticized by the Labour party when it was under consideration in this chamber. As other instances of the beneficial legislation passed during the life of the Bruce-Page Government I. mention the Federal Aid Roads Act which was the first, constructive measure of the kind to be introduced. It provided for a definite scheme of employment in country districts over a period of ten years. The amending Commonwealth Bank measures which made the Commonwealth Bank a real central bank and set up the Rural Credits branch of the bank, were also passed at that time. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research was brought into existence, also, and every one who has followed the history of this Parliament knows that the Scullin Government did its be3t to amplify the work of that body. The first step towards the unification of the railway gauges of Australia was also taken during the life of the Bruce-Page Government, when the Kyogle to South Brisbane railway line was built and much information gathered on the general subject of the unification of railway gauges. The legislation providing for the organized marketing of our primary products, which has been of such great value to our primary producers during the past few years, in that it has enabled them to continue their operations in a time of great difficulty, was also passed during that period, and has proved the foundation of all succeeding State and. Commonwealth legislation. I refer to the Dairy Produce Control . Act, the dried fruits legislation, ‘ the canned fruits legislation and the Wine Export Bounty Act, among others. That these measures were fundamentally sound was shown by the fact that their operation was maintained by the succeeding government, only minor and consequential amendments being made to them.
Even since the 8 th November last this Government has been able to introduce legislation which will rank in importance with the major legislation of the past.
– “Rank” is the word to use.
– I refer to the Pensions Bill, the farmers’ ‘ debt adjustment measures and the Wheat Growers Relief Bill, which will prove of inestimable value to Australia. I regret that an honorable member should have used the word “ rank “ in connexion with them. The provision of £12,000,000 for the rehabilitation of our rural industries will be of vast value to1 this country. Honorable members opposite sought to amend these measure& in certain respects, but I point out thai, they did not disagree with a single fundamental principle in them. When they were not successful in obtaining the insertion of the amendments they proposed - which were all additions! - they supported the general principles of the measures. It is proper to mention, also, that during the life of this Government appropriations to the amount of £6,500,000 have been made for public works. Those measures have been drafted so as to bring into operation a new principle that will be of great value to the people of Australia in the future. I refer to the arrangements made for public works to be done by the Commonwealth and State governments, acting in co-operation with local governing authorities. That is a tremendous advance for this Parliament to have achieved. The adoption of a home-consumption price for wheat is also worthy of mention. It may be said that with the passage of the legislation that this House has been considering to-day, practically all the major recommendations of the Wheat Commission will be implemented. Valuable work has also been done by this Parliament during this period of its sitting in connexion with invalid and oldage pensions and, here again, the Opposition found itself in complete agreement with the fundamental principles of the measures introduced by the Government, even though an attempt was made to incorporate certain other amendments in the legislation. Arrangements have been made during the life of this Parliament for a national agricultural policy to be determined by the Australian Agricultural Council, which will enable us to stand up to many of the agricultural difficulties we are facing.
It has been suggested that instead of going into recess, Parliament should devote its attention to the reports of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry and the Petrol Commission. Some honorable members seem to think that we should at once proceed to consider these reports. I remind them, however, that practically all the recommendations of the wheat commission which can be implemented by this Parliament solely have been considered by it and action taken. Certain other recommendations made by it affect the State parliaments, and must be considered in cooperation with the State governments. We are of the opinion that it would be better in every way for us to consult the State authorities before attempting to draft legislation to give effect to those particular recommendations than to cause hastily-drafted measures to be passed which it would subsequently be necessary to repeal. That is what happened in connexion with certain bills affecting the wheat industry introduced by the Scullin Government. We prefer to secure the fullest possible co-operation of the State governments before introducing legislation.
I have had the opportunity to read the reports of the members of the petrol commission, and I assure honorable members that the matters dealt with therein which fall wholly within the powers of this Parliament are very few indeed. Certain matters which affect the States, and fall within the ambit of State powers, are also dealt with. For this reason, as I stated earlier to-day, the Government has forwarded copies of the various reports to the State governments, and is seeking to ascertain whether they are prepared to meet in conference and discuss these matters with the object of joint action being taken by giving effect to such of the recommendations of the commission as may be approved. I regret that more copies of the report are not available at the moment.
I can promise honorable members that when Parliament re-assembles after the recess, they will have an abundance of time to discuss the measures that will be brought before them, and that those measures will be characteristic of the previous legislation to which I have referred, being wide in their scope, comprehensive in their conception, and just and fair in their ideals, so that they will make an appeal, not only to honorable members who support the Government, but also to the whole of the people of Australia, with the result that, when they are placed on the statute-book, they will remain there permanently, no matter what government may happen to be in office.
.- Notwithstanding the somewhat humorous suggestion that the coming recess, like the previous one, may afford an opportunity for Ministers to gather certain statisticians to go on a fishing expedition, where they will be able to talk about big catches, the reply of the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) entirely missed the major aspects of the criticism which led to the moving of the amendment. It appears to me to be quite unprofitable, at this stage, to embark upon an examination of what took place years ago. It is quite true that certain legislative measures of a. major character were passed during the regime of the BrucePage Government ; but it has to be borne in mind that that Government was in office for a period of seven years at a time of remarkable advancement in Australia, and of general expansion of its industries. But there is another side to that history which the right honorable gentleman did not mention. Although certain advantages may have been reaped by Australia as the result of that sevenyear period of administration, a considerable price will ultimately be paid, and, in fact, has already been paid, for some of the things that were then done. T mention, for example, the tri-partite agreement in respect of overseas settlement in Australia, which has contributed more than anything else to the present difficulties of the rural industries of this country. There is to be borne for ever a very considerable annual liability because of the losses which that scheme involved. That scheme was arrived at by the very process which the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) has defended this afternoon, and which the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.
Scullin) have condemned; it was arrived at prior to any opportunity on the part of. this Parliament to discuss its major principles, and the whole authority of Parliament resolved itself into-a question as to whether or not it would ratify acts to which the Government had committed the country. Agreements such as those in contemplation now between Australia and the linked Kingdom, and between Australia and other countries, may be good or bad; but most certainly there appears to be an obligation of statemanship that, before the representatives of this country engage in such discussions, they shall be fortified by at least an expression of opinion by this Parliament in respect of the fundamental principles on which we believe our trade relations shall rest. Nothing has .been done in that connexion, however. The circumstances of this hour and of this year are entirely different from anything which the Acting Prime Minister experienced during his previous identification with the Government of Australia. During his seven years as Treasurer, the world was on what is called an even keel. However disturbed the Great War had left the international situation, there was not, at least in prospect, any grave economic world collapse, and such problems as the nations had to face they could for the most part resolve without international consultation, and without provoking violent international repercussions. But the present position is quite otherwise. There is not a man in this Parliament who can, with any degree of justifiable optimism, look forward hopefully to the next twelve months. We are in a deranged world. All the visible portents are of evil. It is undoubted that the economic pressure on other nations, as well as on ourselves, makes it almost inevitable that there will be acts in international relations which render it Snore than ever necessary that the representatives in Parliament, chosen by the people, shall be able to participate in the carrying out of such defensive and other measures as are required, not only for the economic security of the country, but for its physical security as well. Is there any indication in the political situation of the world today other than instability? Can ‘we be certain- that the influences reacting from economic pressure -will be such that budget provisions for the next year can be safely made by this Parliament at the present time ? It appears to be clear that, in giving the Government supply for the first three months of the next financial year, before the accounts for this year have been examined and understood, and before any prognosis of next year’s obligations can be accurately measured, we are taking an unjustifiable risk. Is it reasonable that we should hand over the authority of Parliament to the Government so that it may, so far ahead, commit the country to scales of expenditure, and resulting obligations to collect taxation? The fiscal position is such that we do not know now what will be the consequences on the revenue of the tariff schedules recently tabled in this House. In three months’ time we would know, but before we have that knowledge we are being asked to commit the nation to a scale of expenditure based on the assumption that present rates of revenue and expenditure will be approximately maintained. That is not right. We have already definitely increased our interest obligations for the next year, and I disagree with those who presume that our overseas interest bill can be’ further reduced by additional loan conversions. I think that there is an end to the favorable conversions of our London indebtedness. The international situation, financially, is not nearly so good now as it was a year ago; and the activities of the High Commissioner have been brought to an abrupt termination.
I .draw the attention, of honorable members to the closing circle of Australian markets. Negotiations are in progress, but negotiations have been attempted before, and have failed. I ask honorable members to recall that not quite three months ago negotiations were conducted’ in this very city with representative’s of a sister dominion, and they absolutely failed. If . we were unable to come to a suitable agreement with a sister dominion’ in regard to trade matters, what possibility is there of the’ general trade- position of Australia being dealt with satisfactorily in these piecemeal agreements which the representatives of the Government are seeking to make? Yet it is being impressed upon us that we must refrain at all costs from jeopardizing the success of those negotiations by passing any critical comments upon those engaged in them.
There are one or two things which Parliament could be usefully engaged upon instead of going immediately into recess. The situation as between the States and the Commonwealth is not one that can be passed over lightly. In fact, it constitutes an urgent problem. In three States, particularly, there is grievous discontent with the federation; and in the others, while there may not be popular discontent, there is at least grievous dissatisfaction by responsible State administrators in regard to the financial relations between the States and the Commonwealth. In order that we may grapple with the problems confronting Australia there should be an immediate readjustment of relations between the States and the Commonwealth so that we might first of all appease popular discontent with the Federal Parliament, and, in the second place, so shape the structure of government as between the States and the Commonwealth that the various governments may function as complementary parts in the general mechanism, thus facilitating the working out in practice of proposals for the better ordering of the economic obligations of the country. Under the present system the Commonwealth Government makes up its mind to vote a certain sum of money in order to satisfy an outcry on behalf of the wheat-growers or some other section of the community, and the whole responsibility of this Parliament apparently ceases the moment the money is voted and the people are taxed for it. The Commonwealth throws upon the States the burden of administering the scheme, whatever it may be. Theirs is the hard work. They become, in effect, the foster parents of the children so airily begotten by this Parliament.
– They could refuse toco-operate.
– They could refuse, but by so doing they would be refusing to help constituents which are no less theirs than the Commonwealth’s.
– But the States have refused to surrender powers to the Commonwealth.
– It is true that proposals have been made which involved the surrender of powers by the States to the Commonwealth, and the immediate reaction to some proposals by the States has been a negative one. The Constitution, defining the position between the States and Commonwealth, has not been reviewed since 1897. Nearly 40 years have passed since the machinery of Australian government was shaped, and there has been very little adjustment of it since. Certain amendments have been initiated by this Parliament, and have been carried through without consideration of the interests of the States, and, in some cases, in such a way as to increase the difficulties of the States without enhancing the value of the service rendered to the people. One instance of this is provided in the federal aid roads agreement, which was not the subject of a constitutional change, but which was made in the exercise of the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament. It was carried out in such a way as to land the States in grievous financial difficulties. They were encouraged to spend large sums of money in the construction of roads, with the idea of pleasing the constituents of the Country party in both the Federal and State spheres. In addition, it was represented to them that they would be able to find work for large numbers of their people. In actual fact, once the money was found by this Parliament, and the roads made, the responsibility for maintaining them, and even of finding the greater part of the interest on the money, was thrown upon the States.
– The States agreed to the scheme?
– Yes; but, as in the case of most of the agreements between the Commonwealth and the States, it was an agreement between unequal parties. The States had no adequate power to resist an unfair bargain. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), in an interpolated reply during the speech of the Acting Prime Minister, directed attention to the financial agreement, which is another example of the complete abandonment of the principles on which federation was established, and the Federal Constitution written.
It is true that the six States accepted the financial agreement, but it is also true that they agreed to it only after the rights, which the original framers of the Constitution had given to them to a continuous share of surplus revenue, and of the proceeds of customs taxation, had been taken from them by legislation enacte’d by this Parliament. This, for a period, left the States without any resource.
– Those payments were to be continued for a period of ten years only.
– Yes, but the States were told that if they did not accept the terms of this Parliament the payments would cease altogether. Constitutionally and legally the States had no appeal and no redress. They had to accept the best bargain they could come to, no matter how unfair it was from their point of view. It is idle for this Parliament to blind itself to the fact that the preservation of federation is vitally necessary to Australia. I believe that the maintenance of federation is fundamental to the preservation of Australia’s nationhood, and I say that coming from the place where I do come from; but in order to preserve federation there must be made a workable system, having regard to the fact that there are State Parliaments which have imposed on them very onerous responsibilities - responsibilities which they cannot effectively discharge unless this Parliament sees to it that they are also given the resources with which to carry them out.
This Parliament proposes to go into recess for five months. There is no earthly justification for such a long recess. It is a travesty of the amendment to argue that the attitude of the Opposition is that this Parliament should be continuously in session, allowing Ministers no opportunity for study and research, or for contact with the electors. The point of view of the Opposition is that there should be a short recess and that Parliament should meet early in the new financial year, in order that such commitments as Australia incurs shall be immediately considered by the Parliament which, in the last analysis, is responsible for them to the people. That is the essence of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
Next month’s meeting of the Council of Agriculture in Canberra has been instanced in the debate as a reason for a recess of five months, but its members will disperse at the end of six weeks. Their conclusions will ‘be made available to the parliaments of the States, and I presume that honorable members of this Parliament, who are usually the last to be informed regarding such important matters, will then be informed of what has taken place. What then will be- the position from the viewpoint of rural industries? Is anything to be done for them until Parliament meets again in September? When Parliament does meet, the budget will first have to be considered, and then the tariff must be discussed - each in the light of such reports as will be presented to us by the delegation now overseas. It is fairly certain, so far as those of us who are at all accustomed to parliamentary procedure can foresee the situation, that the first two months after the House meets will be taken up with the discussion of matters which oan no longer be put aside. Such conclusions as may be reached by the Council of Agriculture at its meeting next month cannot, in the ordinary run of things, come before Parliament for reasonable consideration until the end of November, by which time we shall be rushing towards another recess. Thus the deliberative character of this Parliament is being destroyed, not by recesses, but by unduly prolonged recesses, and, which is worse, by recesses at the wrong times.
I feel that democracy is another institution which this Parliament should consider. All over the world a conflict is raging between representative government and dictatorship. The competence of democracy is at stake. It can be maintained only by the efficiency and dignity of its parliamentary institutions. Our parliamentary institutions in Australia should not be made the butt for the gibes of those who misunderstand the situation, and who can quite easily bc misled into believing that this Parliament thinks of nothing but long holidays. These reactions, which are instinctive in the minds of the people, are dangerous in this era, when the very structure of democracy itself is being assailed. I hope that the deliberative character of this Parliament will be maintained. I believe that, in order to maintain it, that element which is at least fundamental to parliamentary authority in the British structure of government, namely, control of the public expenditure, should not be allowed to be threatened, let alone jeopardized. We most certainly do more than threaten parliamentary control of public expenditure when we see nothing of a budget until four months after the financial year has begun. If, in conclusion, I may venture a prophecy, next year’s financial position will not be nearly so satisfactory to either the Commonwealth or State governments as is the present one. So far, the consequences of the fall in wool prices have not been reflected in this year’s State or Federal budgets. They most certainly will manifest themselves in the taxation collections next year. I also venture the opinion, that the State railway revenues will not be so good in the financial year beginning on the 1st July next as has been the case this year. The continuous, but perhaps not spectacular, contraction of Australia’s oversea markets is steadily lessening the volume of traffic on the Australian railway systems. Furthermore, the conflict between rail and road traffic is also threatening the interest-earning ability of the railways. Thus their position will throw an increased burden upon the taxpayers. I mentioned this in a speech the other evening, and I return to it now because of its relationship to the larger issue - the unwisdom of assuming that the financial considerations, which at present justify the Government in being optimistic with respect to next year’s position, will be borne out by events. Finally, Australia is part of a world in convulsions, a world in which no man can see clearly what next month’s situation will be. Whilst the world, to say nothing of ourselves, faces such dark and uncertain prospects, I submit that it is an act of unwisdom, if not worse, for this Parliament to go into recess for five months.
– With a good deal of what the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) has said, this House is, I am sure, in entire agreement. Nobody wishes to see the deliberative character of this Parliament destroyed. Everybody desires to see it controlling the public expenditure. Every member of it agrees that an amendment of the Constitution in certain directions is necessary, and almost imperative. These are statements of the position that might be addressed to various subjects, bat they bear little relation to the motion now before the House. They are sentiments with which we are all in agreement, and which might form part of a speech by any honorable member on the general political outlook of Australia. So far, however, as concerns their application to the gravamen of the charge which is made against the Government to-day, I submit that tilley have little relation to it. The subjects to which they relate are wide and diversified, and could be well discussed in a general debate in which we could all take part, but they provide no justification whatever for the amendment moved by the right honorable the Leader Q.f the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). The honorable member for Fremantle speaks of the difficulties of the future, and of the uncertainty of world conditions. He was, of course, absent from Parliament for three years prior to his last reentry, and those three years were equally as critical as, if not more critical than, those which we now face. What was done during those three years was very little different from what is being suggested now. After all, what is the position, and what is the time of the House being spent upon at this stage? It is probably only the matter of meeting a month earlier than the Government intends. The Government is asking for Supply for three months, but it does not necessarily follow that it will take full advantage of that grant in order te meet Parliament in September. It is quite possible that it will call Parliament together in August, and the three months’ Supply is asked for, so that, immediately Parliament reassembles, the Government may be able to bring down its proposals without a protracted debate following a request for another month’s Supply. The honorable member for Fremantle attacks the Government, wanting it to’ meet Parliament in July, whereas there, is every probability of its meeting Parliament in
August. In the circumstances, I suggest that there is not a great deal of difference between the contentions of the Opposition and what the Government really proposes to do. Nobody on the Government side desires to take advantage of the fact that Parliament is not sitting, and nobody would charge the Government with such an intention. In any case, the Constitution under which this Parliament sits makes Parliament entirely supreme. The honorable member spoke of the collection of revenue’ during the recess, but he knows perfectly well that no new taxation may be collected by the Government without the previous approval of Parliament. The views, therefore, expressed by the honorable member exaggerate the position, and misrepresent the conditions which attend the carrying on of Parliament under existing circumstances. Different parties and different governments have different ways and different standards of conducting the business of Parliament. For my part - and I suggest that this represents the view of members sitting on this side of the House - the value and effect of legislation cannot be judged by the time that, is occupied by Parliament in putting it through. The criterion must be its character and effect. I submit that much that has been done within the last four weeks of the present session will be of special value to the people of this country. Had not the Government taken charge of the proceedings, the work upon which Parliament has been engaged in those weeks might easily have taken four months. If it had, that apparently, would have satisfied the Opposition, who would have been able to say “ Parliament is sitting,” as if there is special merit in the mere fact that Parliament is sitting. I contend, on the other hand, that the merit lies in the value of the legislation which is passed, and in the fact that it is passed in a business-like way. After all, who is in charge of the business of the country? Surely it is not the Opposition, or the different sections of it. The Government is in charge of the business, and it is responsible to the people for w*hat is clone with it. The Government has been deliberately put into power with that responsibility by the people, who have said that the members on this side of the
House, and the Government that is in office, shall control this Parliament, and the business of the country, while the Parliament lives and the Government is in office. Because considerable latitude is given to the Opposition and to the respective leaders of it, I beg them not to jump to the conclusion that they are running this Parliament or the country. It is only reasonable that the Government, and the members on this side of the House, who were placed here by the people at the last election, should have an equal if not a greater say in what is to be done in governing this country.
We say emphatically that, while this delegation is in London dealing with the most difficult trade problem that Australia has had to face for many years, it should not be embarrassed by party discussions in this House.
– Why not send Parliament overseas also?
– Unintelligent interjections from honorable members will not alter my statements. These are not only my own clear “and definite views on this matter, but also the views of honorable members on this side of the House; they are also, I believe, the views of the people of this country. In any important discussion, whether it be of a business, commercial or any other nature, those participating require that their negotiations be free from the embarassments of outside sources. Every intelligent person will agree with that view. Surely, therefore, when the business concerns the interests of the whole of the people of Australia there is a greater reason why the delegation which left this country to endeavour to secure concessions and advantages, and at least a fair deal for the future progress of this nation, should at least be permitted to discuss those questions without embarrassments or handicaps deliberately set up by people who are politically opposed to them, and who do not act in any patriotic sense for the progress of their country. Honorable members may guffaw at my remarks, but to me this is a serious and important question, and one which should not be treated lightly.
– It is very serious when the Minister suggests that this Parliament is on a par with outside influence.
– I do not desire the honorable member to be under any misapprehension with regard to my remarks. I do not regard Parliament as an outside influence in a colloquial expression of the term, but surely I have made it clear that this delegation should be permitted to carry out its negotiations free and unfettered by statements and discussions going on at the same time which would handicap them in their negotiations and bargaining overseas.
– Is that why Parliament is being closed up?
– No ; but it is a reason why this Government is not prepared to have discussed in this House the same matters that it has certainly been invited to do in reply to questions by honorable members.
Reference has been made by the honorable member for Eremantle (Mr. Curtin), and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) that certain things done by the Bruce-Page Government had, in their opinion, been of disadvantage to the people of Australia. On that point, I would remind the House that the majority of the things done by the Bruce-Page Government still remain on the statute-book to-day.
– Is that not because the Nationalists have had a majority ever since ?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.The honorable member is a sort of Rip Van Winkle, or else he lives in Tasmania., or in a very distant part to which federal politics do not easily percolate.
– The Minister need not be insulting.
– I am not insulting. The honorable member who has interjected, however, evidently forgets that since the period to which I refer Nationalists have been out of office for a period of two years. When an honorable member makes such an interjection as has just been made by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), surely he expects to receive “ a Roland for his Oliver “. The honorable member for. Hindmarsh (Mr.
Makin), I suppose, expects me to throw an arm around the honorable member, and kiss him; but I am not prepared to do anything of the kind.
– Order ! That matter is irrelevant.
– The honorable member for Fremantle dragged into this debate the federal aid roads agreement. He dragged it in by the neck. That particular legislation was one of the best actions ever undertaken by a government of this country, and to-day it is regarded by most people as such. The honorable member also dragged in the £34,000,000 migration agreement, and made certain allegations of what had happened under that agreement to the detriment of this country. As a matter of fact, his only criticism of this agreement, which he indicated was a tri-partite agreement, was that it did not work; but that fact has been due to the actions taken by governments similar to that now in power in Western Australia, which wasted all the money it received under the agreement, and to-day has nothing to show for such expenditure.
– Preposterous !
– The criticism which the honorable member has directed against this Government is quite preposterous. In no sense can this Government be held responsible for the huge expenditure of money which was made in the various States under this scheme, for which expenditure nothing but wreckage remains. None of those things affect the present position. I repeat that, boiled down, all this fuss and fury is apparently directed against the Government over an adjournment of a month or less than the period to when this Parliament will adjourn.
There are many important matters yet to be dealt with by the delegation now overseas. To show the unfairness of the criticism levelled against the Government in this debate I point to the fact that the honorable member for Fremantle made play with the fact that no trade agreement has yet been made with New Zealand. From his own experience of politics he knows perfectly well that such an agreement could not have been made up to the present.
– Tasmania came into the picture.
– Certain States are treated under the federation far better than they deserve. I recall a statement once made by the Honorable W. A. Watt, who was once Treasurer of the Commonwealth, to the effect that if a certain State desired a statue to indicate its nature the most fitting would be that of a man standing up and holding out both hands in a beggarly fashion. The honorable member is quite aware to which particular State that reference was directed.
– The honorable member’s remarks will help a great deal to preserve the federal spirit.
– Apparently every contribution under federation must come from the largest States, and these must not be allowed to refer to omissions on the part of the other States. The smaller States may be constantly attacking the federation and no one must say that their attitude is foreign to the spirit of federation. But when the criticism goes the other way allegations are made against those voicing the criticism that they are doing something to the detriment of federation.
– The Minister believes in might being right.
– I believe that justice is right and that is the principle which actuates the Commonwealth Government and which will assure its tenure of these benches for a considerable period to come.
Apparently some honorable members prefer that Parliament should sit constantly so that they will be kept occupied in Canberra and thus will be able to keep out of their own electorates. Such honorable members do not like to be constantly among their constituents. We are not all in that position. Some of us do not want to be up here and always absent from our constituencies. I live in my own electorate and frequently meet my electoral They also meet me when I am in the city. The fact that some honorable members prefer to be constantly in Canberra instead of having to meet their constituents, is responsible for much of the opposition they have shown to the Government in this particular matter. There is no justification for this amendmentother than the usual political party claptrap that is customarily indulged in at the conclusion of every session.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
.- The speech delivered by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) affords a clear demonstration of the truth of the argument which has been advanced from the Labour side on many occasions - that Australia is governed not by this Parliament, but by overseas interests. The Minister made it apparent that the Ministry wishes Parliament to go into recess until the bankers and others overseas have met the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in conference and dictated the economic policy to be adopted by Australia. This method of government has been in operation for too long a period. Since the advent of Sir Ernest Harvey in 1927, we have had a series of visits from financiers and others from overseas, and Great Britain has declared, through the Secretary of State for the Dominions, Mr. Thomas, that Britain comes first. Every dominion except Australia is apparently prepared to fight for its economic independence; but, since the last war, politicians associated with the party now in power have bartered the interests of this country for position, titles and pay, and Australia has become the cinderella of the Empire. It behoves us to consider seriously whether this policy is to be allowed to continue, or whether we are to be courageous enough to declare to the world that we shall enunciate our own economic policy, and maintain it. Possibly the most childish of the utterances of the Minister for Defence was his statement that honorable members desired Parliament to be kept in session because they were afraid to meet their constituents. As a matter of fact, we meet them at least every week-end, and we hear accounts of their trials and troubles, whilst Ministers wish to rush into recess to prevent us from ventilating the grievances of the people. The Minister for Defence is more happily situated than many other honorable members ; he meets a good many of his constituents in the Hotel Australia.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) accused the Government of following the example of the Bruce-Page Ministry, which met Parliament on only 9 days in one period of twelve months. I regret to notice that the present Ministry is following the example of that Government, which was responsible for the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, attempted to destroy federal arbitration, and bartered away some of Australia’s finest assets, such as the Commonwealth woollen mills. Another thing standing to the everlasting discredit of the BrucePage Government was the sabotaging of the Commonwealth Bank, making it a bankers’ bank instead of allowing it to do the work of the nation. By giving the private banks the right to expand credit and the right to draw notes from the Commonwealth Bank, they were allowed to create £60,000,000 of fictitious wealth, precipitating the financial crisis in which the “tragic” Treasurer left this country in a financial mess in a most perilous time in its history. Another government had the sorry task of cleaning up the wreckage. The recklessness and inefficiency of that Government were such that Australia sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. It was not right for the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) to use this debate to place on record the number of matters which he says can be substantiated. I would wipe out every record of the work of the Bruce-Page Ministry, because none of its acts was in the interests of Australia. Everything it did was for the benefit of overseas money lenders and a few overseas trusts and combines that have branches in Australia.
Whilst I believe that this Parliament should be kept in session to deal with the problems that confront this country, the present Government does not approach them with the right attitude of mind, and will never solve them. Nevertheless, if the Parliament is kept open, the spot-light of publicity can be turned upon the actions of Ministers, and the wrongs inflicted upon the people can be ventilated. This Government is not prepared to adopt a policy of reconstruction on Australian lines for Australian people, but listens to the dictates of any globe-trotter. The Acting Prime Minister said he would judge the doings of Parliament by the success of its work, and not by the time occupied in debate. If the right honorable gentleman had been no better doctor than he has proved to be a politician, he would never have risen to the head of his profession ; but, as lie has often been told, in his case a good doctor was spoilt to make a bad- politician. The right honorable gentleman desires that Parliament, shall be closed, so that the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) may go fishing! He said that he was working 24 hours a day on the meat question. If so, he is making a sorry mess of it, and it is high time he gave somebody else an opportunity to work a few hours a day upon it from an Australian point of view. We are now asked to vote Supply to the amount of £6,704,000, and some of the money will not be expended until eight months hence. This proposal is surely unprecedented in the history of this Parliament. I can recall no occasion when a Treasurer has asked for an emergency Supply Bill to be passed when the Government had already had Supply until the end of the financial year. The request for Supply three months beyond the end of the year is made for one specific purpose, and the Minister for Defence let the cat out of the bag. The object is to keep the doors of this Parliament closed while overseas interests dictate the economic policy of this country.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in the last Parliament, told the people that the Parliament had to break up six months before its time because the opinion of the people had to be obtained on grave economic problems. That was the reason given for holding the general election six months earlier than the usual time. Members of the United Australia party and the United Country party informed the electors that those grave economic problems had to be solved quickly. The Government met the House for two or three weeks before Christmas, and then closed the doors of Parliament for three months. We have now been sitting for four weeks, but no attempt has been made to solve one of those problems, and Australia is in a worse economic position than when the Government was given a fresh lease of power. Every economist tells us that the world has yet to go through the most trying phase of the depression. Apparently, the parties which support the Government share that view, and they now pretend that the best way to find a solution of our difficulties is to close Parliament, and wait until somebody overseas dictates to us as to the course we should follow. When Mr. Bruce was leader of the Nationalist party, he stated at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers that Australia must agree to a restriction of exports. He said that it was a policy of despair, but we could not help ourselves. The Acting Prime Minister has announced that he and his party will fight restrictions to the last ditch, yet the Government hoists the white flag and weakly surrenders to overseas interests.
The Acting Prime Minister talked glibly about the appropriation of millions of pounds for the benefit of the unemployed. He also referred to the Government’s rural rehabilitation scheme, and to other matters. The next twelve or eighteen months will show who is right and who wrong. Everything that has been done with the object of rehabilitating Australia will merely have the effect of driving this country further into the slough of economic despond. Within the next few months, the Government will be asking Parliament to rescue it from the morass into which it has floundered. On behalf of the Australian people, I protest against the bartering away of Australia’s interests to overseas capitalists. If the current negotiations represented an attempt by one people to come to the aid of an equally depressed people, I should say, “Let us close the Parliament, and do the best that we can “. But they are nothing of the sort. The British people are treated just as are the Australian people. The parliamentary system is being used in a puerile and fruitless attempt to apply a little more of Australia’s resources to the rehabilitation of other parts of the Empire, and to the support of a rotten and crumbling system. I represent a large and important electorate. On behalf of my constituents and of the people of Australia generally, I protest against the decision to close this Parliament for a lengthy period. Of what is the Government afraid? The Leader of the House says that he will not countenance debates in this House concerning the negotiations that are taking place overseas. Who has a better right to discuss them and to canvass their application to this country, than have the elected representatives of the Australian people in this Parliament ? If we, as the governing body of the Commonwealth, have not the right to speak on behalf of the Australian peoplewhateverouropinionsmaybe, democracyisashamandhambug.You peoplewhosometimestalkaboutthedis- ruptiveforcethatarechallengingthe existenceofdemocraticgovernmentyou, andnotwe,givethemtheopportunityto strengthentheirorganization;because thiscontinuingfloutingofthewillofthe peopletellingthemonethingatelection timeandthendoingdiametricallythe opposite.iscalculatedtomakedemocracy stinkintheirnostrils,andcauseparlia- mentaryinstitutionstotoppleaboutour ears.
– I introduce myself into this debate solely to reply to one or two matters that have been raised on the side of public finance by certain honorable members of the Opposition.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has again raised the subject of the trade balance and the balance of payments. I do not believe that honorable members generally wish to revive the debate that took place recently in this chamber on that subject. I have no wish to do so. The Government has stated its views upon the matter, and given the grounds upon which they were based. It has expressed the opinion that there is no cause for anxiety in regard to the present position.
The right honorable gentleman has quoted me as having said that it was not necessary to accumulate big reserves of funds in London. I am not conscious of ever having expressed sentiments of that sort. I certainly think that it is necessary to provide as large funds as are possible in London. I point out, however, that those funds accumulate not by reason of actions by governments, but rather because of economic conditions which rise and fall. At the moment, the tendency of economic conditions is towards their reduction. Not being gifted with clairvoyant instincts, all that I can say is that the only point of interest to this House and this country is, as to whether the state of our London funds is such as to cause anxiety either now or in the immediate future. The statement of the Government, which has the backing of the opinion of the Commonwealth Bank Board, is that it is not. I do not think that any good purpose is served by casting our minds into a hypothetical future, in an attempt to decide whether or not some danger is to be apprehended. There may well be. On the other hand, there may not be ground for such apprehension. The Chairman of the Common wealth Bank Board has said that the London funds are adequate for all legitimate trade requirements. That is as far as it is wise to go at present.
The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) raised points that I consider may be regarded as controversial. He took the liberty of predicting that there would be no further favorable conversions in London, and, according to my understanding, made the statement with a certain degree of satisfaction.
– I did not make it with any pleasure whatever.
– Then I misinterpreted the honorable member’s tone of voice. His statement is a remarkable one. Does it improve our chances of obtaining favorable conditions? What good purpose is served by the making of it, except that of furthering the function of the Opposition, which is to oppose, in season and out of season, either with or without reason?.
– The last conversion was a pronounced failure.
– I believe that the honorable gentleman derives a certain satisfaction from that.
– I do not.
– Well, then, why mention it ?
– Because I want this Parliament to face the facts.
– Why soil one’s own nest? Those of us who are imbued with patriotic feelings, and want to see the best results obtained no matter what government is in power, have to exercise the greatest care to see that statements are not cabled abroad from this Parliament which might lower the credit of Australia in London. I cannot believe that a cable which stated that a leading member of the Opposition had ventured such an opinion as the honorable member has voiced, would not be construed as one damaging to our interests in London. I challenge the honorable member to suggest what good purpose is- served by a nestsoiling statement of that sort. When it comes about, if it does come about, would it not then be time enough to deplore it? Why, in advance, with nothing to go on, merely opine pessimistically that the days are past when Australia can effect her conversion loans on a favorable basis in London? I submit that no good purpose is served, either to Australia or to the honorable member’s side in politics, by a statement of that character.
The Acting Prime Minister has announced, in terms that I think admit of no misunderstanding, that what this Government is aiming at is quality and not quantity in regard to legislation and the length of sittings. The right honorable gentleman pointed out that many lines of investigation, many avenues of legislation and constructive action, have to be considered in the relative calm of a parliamentary recess. I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition will agree that it is an extremely difficult task during the strenuous period when the House is in session to give to these matters the time, thought and investigation that are essential.
I shall give to honorable members an outline of the matters that are being dealt with at the moment in the Treasury alone, and invite them to say whether in their opinion they can be threshed out as they should be while Parliament is in session, with every Minister working 24 hours a day to cope with the immediate business of the House. Within the next few months there is to be a conference upon matters of public finance. It is to be held prior to, and will report to, the next Loan Council meeting. Then there is the . Loan Council meeting itself, the most important of the year, at which the deficits of governments, and their borrowing and works programmes for the next financial year, are to be canvassed and discussed. The decisions there made will have a bearing on the conditions during the whole of the ensuing twelve months. This May meeting is “ the “ meeting of the year.
Then there is to be a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, which will endeavour to decide upon corollary legislation designed to achieve uniformity of taxation and to be complementary to the legislation introduced into this Parliament six or eight months ago to amend the Income Tax Assessment Act. In this connexion, the Commonwealth has to confer with the States on a wide range of subjects. It hopes to effect a considerable degree of uniformity of practice, and to confer a tremendous boon on taxpayers by the adoption of very much more simplified assessments and taxation measures. That is a tremendous hurdle, which will entail at least a month’s careful thought and preparation by responsible officers in the Treasury.
The Commonwealth Grants Commission is to sit within the next month. As honorable members know, this is an adjudicating body as between the three States which are claimants for financial assistance and the Commonwealth. That commission has already made one annual report. It is now preparing the basis of its” second report and recommendation to this Parliament as to the grants which should be made to the three claimant States for the year 1935-36. Any honorable member who has gone through the first re-port will realize that the principles enunciated in it have to be considered first by the Treasury and then by the Government, and the decision has to be made as to whether they are acceptable or otherwise. Honorable members will remember that the main principle is that of an average deficit for Australia, and the extent to which the three, claimant States shall have deficits higher than the average. I do not suppose for a moment that that principle . will be accepted without certain reservations. What those reservations shall be, has yet io be determined. That is only, one of several principles which are laid down by the commission and which have to be discussed.
Then there is the budget. As the Leader of the Opposition knows better than I do, that does not spring full.lledged from somebody’s mind, but requires many .months of work to evolve. Actually, for the last two or three months, trial budget schemes have been cast up month by month, and have become more nearly accurate as the end of the financial year approaches.
The Treasury also has several legislative proposals which have still to be investigated and thoroughly threshed out before they can be taken to Cabinet.
– There is nothing new in all that.
– Nothing at all; and I am glad that the right honorable member recognizes it. The Government has many months of hard work ahead of it which cannot be done while Parliament is in session.
– Similar work has been done previously with Parliament in session.
– While the right honorable member’s Government was in office Parliament was in recess for many months at a time, and rightly so, for constructive . legislative proposals for the government of a country cannot be carried on satisfactorily with Parliament continuously in session. There seems to be some disagreement between the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Fremantle on this subject. The honorable member for Fremantle indicated by his remarks that he would be quite content if Parliament sat again some time in July.
– I said that Parliament should sit again early in the new financial year.
– I remind honorable members that if Parliament sat for even one day after the end of the financial year a supply bill would be necessary; otherwise it’ would not be possible for our ordinary day-to-day commitments to be met, and public servants to be paid.
Even if Parliament met in the middle of July a supply bill would have to be passed.
– Parliament could sit for three days a week and Ministers could still do their administrative work satisfactorily.
– That would be quite impossible. A supply bill must be passed. Whether the period to be covered is one, two or three months is a matter for the Government to determine. The bill to be introduced is to provide for the needs of the country for three months. A bill to provide for the needs of two months might be sufficient; but the Government does not wish to be flung into another debate of this description immediately Parliament reassembles. It is desirable to provide for our financial needs for a maximum of three months so that another measure of this description need not be introduced before the budget is brought down, whenever that may be - I think possibly in August. The honorable member for Fremantle seemed to be fearful that by agreeing to the passage of this bill the committee might do something which would affect the rates of expenditure; but he need not disturb himself on that account, for the bill will be based on the expenditure of the first three months of the present financial year. Honorable members may rest assured that it will contain no controversial provisions, and will not affect matters concerning which special appropriations are made. The amount will be roughly the actual amount of expenditure for the first quarter of this year.
– It exceeds that amount, I believe.
– Only because certain payments are heavier in the first three months of this year. I need hardly assure honorable members that the Government has the best interests of this country at heart. This is shown most conclusively by the quality of the legislation it has introduced. The country at large, I am sure, is very happy and contented under the aegis of this Government, so the bill may be passed without any fearfulness as to. the future.
.- I support the amendment. It is wrong, in principle, for Parliament to go into recess for such a long period as that proposed by the Government. I do not think that we should be asked to grant Supply for three months of the next financial year. I have always understood that Parliament governed the country, and that all expenditure was properly authorized ; but it seems to me that the Government is proposing that money shall be expended first and the authority for its expenditure given long afterwards. That ‘ does not appeal to me as proper. The circumstances of last year were different from those of this year, for an election was held in September and obviously the government of the country had to be carried on during the election campaign. But what was excusable in those circumstances would be inexcusable in the circumstances of to-day. Although I agree with a good deal that the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) said, he did not justify in any way the proposal for such a long parliamentary recess. I know very well that in these difficult days it is no sinecure to be a member of the Government. It is, of course, desirable that serious consideration should be given to all the grave problems that confront not only Australia, but also the other countries of the world. Some of the subjects mentioned by the Acting Treasurer were contentious, and will be difficult to deal with; but that seems to me to be all the more reason why Parliament should sit to discuss them. The honorable member deprecated certain remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) and the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) on the ground that they tended to jeopardize the interests of Australia with regard to certain contemplated conversion operations abroad; but I ask him to reflect on the embarrassment caused to the Scullin Government by statements made by members of the then Opposition when the Prime Minister of the day was engaged in delicate negotiations in London. Many things were said at that time which seriously embarrassed the Scullin Government.
– That is not ‘ so.
– The Minister for Defence himself made statements of the kind.
– I challenge the honorable member to cite even one such statement of mine.
– I do not propose to spend my time examining Hansard; but such statements are to be found in it, and the honorable member is aware of that fact. In reply to the remarks of the Acting Treasurer on the speech of the honorable member for Fremantle I may say that the overseas financiers are not at all concerned about the political complexion of governments. All that they need to be assured of is that governments will meet their obligations. They are not interested in whether people are white, black or brindle, provided that the financial obligations entered into on their behalf are met regularly. The reason why Australia’s recent loan conversion operations in London were not so successful as we desired was that our trade balance is slipping badly. We are heading for another financial crash, and I think the Acting Treasurer knows it. Australia’s national debt has increased to £1,237,000,000 on which the annual interest burden amounts to £45,045,000. Six and a half million people cannot carry the interest burden of this everincreasing debt, and honorable members who sit on the treasury bench must be forced to realize that fact.
The Minister for Defence, in replying to a question that I asked him, by interjection, about certain legislation that had been placed on the statute-book, made a statement that did not redound to his credit. It is true that if a Labour government assumed office in this country and had a majority in both Houses of Parliament, it might not attempt to remove all the legislation which the antiLabour Government has placed on the statute-book; but 1 am quite sure that it would quickly alter the basis of our financial operations with the object of preventing the heavy increases in the national debt that are occurring year by year, and it would use the machinery of the Commonwealth Bank for this purpose. In this connexion I direct the attention of honorable members supporting the Government to certain statements made by Dr. L. C. Jauncey, in a book entitled Australia’s Government Bank, which he dedicated to the Honorable King O’Malley, founder of the Commonwealth Bank, reminding them, at the same time, that the writer had no axe to grind. Dr. Jauncey said -
The Commonwealth Bank is well secured, for it has the whole of Australia at its back, and any profit really goes back to the people, as it either goes to form a reserve for the bank that belongs to the people, or it is used to repay the debt of the Commonwealth.
Originally a product of the Labour party, the bank was intended to assist the ordinary man in financing his projects, but during the war the Commonwealth Bank became the foundation of Australia’s financial structure and occupied a key position in the war policy of the Commonwealth. The national importance of the institution has increased since that date so that the Commonwealth Bank has become the centre of Australia’s programme to thwart the depression.
It is suggested by honorable members on this , side of the House that if the Commonwealth Bank were allowed to function as it was intended, it would be the bulwark of Australian finance, and we should not need to borrow, at a high rate of interest, money with which to finance public works during this time of depression.
Several days ago I asked a question in this House concerning the agreement between the Commonwealth Government and Tasmanian Steamers Proprietary Limited, the company which operates the shipping service between Tasmania and the mainland. Since then I have been supplied with a copy of the agreement, and while this document furnishes some useful information regarding the service which the company is called upon to maintain, it does not throw any light upon the factors which induced the Government to strike the particular bargain it did. The agreement defines the nature of the service to be maintained, the speed at which the vessels must travel, and the number of voyages to be undertaken. There are also stipulations regarding necessary safeguards, the overhaul of the vessels, &c, with which I agree; but between the months of May and October the Nairana is to be withdrawn from the coast run and the service is to be maintained by the Taroona. Thus, during a. period of 56 days, and in extraordinary emergencies it may be three months, the company may maintain a service with one vessel travelling from Melbourne to Launceston, and from Launceston round the north coast, thus increasing time of the voyage by approximately six hours. That is a worse service than we have had for many years, yet the company is being paid a subsidy of almost £1,000 a week. I do not object to a reasonable subsidy, but the company should give in return for it a proper service at reasonable freight and passenger rates. When I sought particulars as to how the agreement with the company was arrived at, no satisfactory information was forthcoming, but I received the following letter from the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), dated the 17th January: -
The financial side of the undertaking was carefully investigated in all its aspects by an independent accountant, but it was found impossible, having regard to the necessity for a reasonable return on the capital invested in the new steamer and in maintaining the s.s. Nairana in the Melbourne-Burnie-Devonport run, to require, in the terms of the contract, that there should be any reduction in fares and freight rates at present operating.
That may be the opinion of the Prime Minister and of the accountants who advised him, and perhaps if I had all the particulars before me I should be brought to that way of thinking also. At the present time, however, I am- not satisfied, and’ I feel that I have .good reason to be suspicious that this company has put over something in the nature of a “ frame-up “ at the expense of the people of the Commonwealth.- When Tasmanian Steamers Proprietary Limited was formed in 1921, the signatures of two persons appeared on the original articles, and they held one share each. The rest of the 250,000 shares into which the capital of the company was divided were held by Huddart Parker Limited and the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. The inference is that these companies nominated two dummies to form a company, and to that company, which, in effect, was themselves, they chartered certain vessels with which to run the service, the object of the whole manoeuvre being, apparently, to demonstrate that it was not possible to conduct the service without receiving an increased government subsidy. In recent years this subsidy has been increased enormously. Perhaps the Minister for Defence (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) had that fact in mind when he referred to Tasmania in such derogatory terms. I object to remarks of that kind. Tasmania is a partner in the federation, being bound to the Commonwealth with bonds that resemble the marriage tie. When the Loongana was put on to this run the subsidy paid by the Government was £13,000. In 1921, when the Nairana was put on, the subsidy was raised to £30,000. Now that the Taroona is being put into the service the subsidy has been increased to about £50,000 a year. The trouble is that, although the subsidy has increased, the service has not improved. No extra trips are being run, and the service is worse to the extent that the vessels are taken off one by one for annual overhaul. The Commonwealth Government will not win any credit in the eyes of the Tasmanian people for its handling of these negotiations.
The fares have also been increased since the inauguration of the new service. I have no ‘ objection to luxury cabins, and if people want to travel in them they should pay for them, of course. I believe that the fares should have been reduced to a reasonable minimum in order to compare more favorably with those charged on the New Zealand ferry service between Wellington and Lyttleton where the distance is approximately the same. There the second-class fare is 20s., and the firstclass fare 27s., while the charge for a deck cabin is 32s. 6d. This service is availed of by thousands of people, and the vessels must maintain an average speed of 20 knots, whereas the speed on the Tasmanian service is only sixteen knots, which is about the same as that of a wool freighter from Australia to England. In 1915, the single fare from the mainland to Tasmania was £1 lis. 6d. first-class, and the return fare was £2 12s. 6d. To-day the single fare is £2 10s. first-class, while the return fare is twice that sum. The second-class fare to-day is £1 13s. single fare as against £1 ls. in 1915. The return second-class fare in 1915 was £1 lis. 6d. It is evident that this company is not giving the Tasini ani an people the service to which they are entitled. Tasmania has great natural advantages, and if the fares were reduced so as to be within the reach of people with limited means the tourist industry would receive a tremendous fillip. I suggest that at least this House should be taken into the confidences of the Government by being informed fully of what actually took place when negotiations were going on to determine the existing contract, because the companies that are really operating the service are Huddart Parker and Union Steamships Limited, and they, after all, are only subsidiary concerns of the Inchcape Combine.
– Then why was the honorable member fighting for them the other night?
– I have never fought for them and am not fighting for them now. My attitude to-night is quite consistent with the attitude I adopted on the occasion to which the Minister for Defence refers. I was fighting then for a government line of steamers, to ply between the mainland and Tasmania. The Taroona, which was recently put on the Bass Strait route, was on the Peninsula and Orient building programme before ever she was thought of for the Tasmanian service, indicating that she belongs to the Inchcape Combine in the final analysis. The fullest information about this contract should be given to honorable members on this side of the House, so that wo may inform our minds of what has actually happened. We should not only be told the result of the investigation that took place, but also be given all the material and the details which led up to the contract being entered into.
The Minister for Defence interjected just now that I could not produce any statement of his reflecting on the Government or the credit of Australia. The following speech by the honorable member appeared in Hansard on the 28 th November, 1930:
I desire to voice my protest against the haphazard way in which the Government is conducting the business of the country. There is not the slightest justification for the House not meeting on Tuesday next. Cabinet has frequently met in Melbourne at a week-end, and the business of the country, has still been conducted in this chamber. Apparently, there is to bc the usual performance of the “ Brawlers’ opera “ in “ cawk-ass “, and the business of the country is to held up in consequence. I put it seriously to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton) that if the ramshackle contraption in this Parliament that terms itself a “ Ministry “ does not take care, it will fall to pieces before much longer.
That pretty effectively answers the Minister’s interjection to me. I do not mind very much being referred to as a Rip Van Winkle, just for a change. It does not hurt me much, and it certainly does not prevent me voicing my views in this chamber on behalf of the people who sent me here. I hope that we, on this side, will have every opportunity to express our views before the Government actually commits Parliament to expenditure. Whether or not what we say finally influences the Cabinet in determining what legislation is to be brought forward, we shall at least have the satisfaction of knowing that we have put forward the point of view of this side of the House prior to legislation being enacted.
– So far as I have heard in this debate, no suggestion has been made that the Government will be empowered, for the three months under discussion, to expend any money in excess of the Estimates granted for the present financial year. To my mind the objections voiced by the Opposition to the Government’s proposal seem to postulate that honorable members opposite rather desire reductions of expenditure on Commonwealth governmental affairs. If that is correct, they are entitled to expect a considerable measure of support from this side of the House, but, if that is their real intention, I must say that it has been very cleverly disguised, for what purpose I am, at this stage, unable to define. I feel that the only potent argument which could be put against the Government’s proposal to-night has not been used by the Opposition. It is a constitutional argument, which I will put to it for its consideration. It is this: Power over the expenditure of public money is vested in the two Houses of the Federal Parliament. If I were in opposition, I should have put it to the Government that half the Senate goes out ou the 30th June next, and in putting a supply bill before the Senate, the Government is asking men whose terms are to expire on the 30th June, to vote money, the taxation to raise which they will never be called upon to impose. Four States completely changed their senatorial representation at the last election, so that one-third of the personnel of the Senate has been altered. The new senators, whose political views we do not yet know quite accurately, may take an entirely different view of this bill from what the present Senate takes. Had the Opposition attacked the Government from that angle, it might have had some ground upon which to stand, and some justification for the use of the time of Parliament in voicing its views. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition refers, however, to something which has been going on for the last five years. The world is in a state of flux. We do not know exactly what form of social order will finally emerge from the huge cauldron in which everything is being melted. No man is able to predict what the markets will be by the end of this financial year, nor oan any one say with certainty what the international situation will be. Much as I am concerned about the future prosperity of this country, any measures we may take for the prosperity of our primary and secondary industries -will be rendered null and void if we are faced with a set of international conditions which we find ourselves as a unit of the British Empire unable to control. I put it to the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) that even from this side of the House proposals and suggestions have been made which might have a vital bearing on the future of this country. Notwithstanding that fact, there are some most valid reasons why there should not be discussion and debate on certain matters ait the present time. We are attempting to secure from the Imperial authorities, not only some definite statement pf policy, but also some clear-out undertaking in regard to certain commercial and tradingmatters. To have Parliament in session discussing and dissecting these matters whilst another set of Ministers is attempting in London to arrive at definite conclusions, would be, to my mind, the height of folly. Whilst those negotiations are in progress, this Parliament can very well be in recess. We should present to the United Kingdom a united front, and, with all due respect to the Opposition, 1 feel that its members have no justification for believing that Ministers have gone to London to sell Australia to the financial interests or to anybody else. I feel sure that those four gentlemen have at heart the true interests of this country just as much as, I hope, the members of the Opposition have. In matters of this kind, possibly a little less could be said about what the financial interests are doing, and a little more thought given to what the ultimate outcome of the negotiations will be. For the life of me, however, I am not able to discover how we can possibly hope to bring negotiations in London to a successful conclusion simply by keeping Parliament open, in order to dissect, discuss, and debate various ways and means of arriving at certain conclusions and giving effect to our decisions.
A good deal has been said to-night in regard to democracy and what it means. We are told that we should keep Parliament open in order to give expression to the views of democracy. I have never understood democracy in that light. I may be one of the more conservative members of this Parliament. I do not know whether I am, as I have not got to know its members very well yet; but I suggest that, under our system of representative democracy, the only time when the ordinary voter has a chance to express himself is on election day. In ‘between elections, the government of the country is entrusted to the Executive, and the making of the laws is entrusted to Parliament. It is only to carry out the function of legislation - and here I may say that in most instances the fewer the laws the better it is for the community - that Parliament needs to meet at all. One of its legislative functions is the granting of money, which is the origin of the motion now before the House. When it comes to matters of big international import, affecting the trading opportunities of this community, the man in the street, whilst collectively he may have some idea of what is going on - Tennyson spoke about “ The common sense of all keeping a fretful realm in awe “ - does not, on the average, know much about them.
Furthermore, he does not care. That is the most unfortunate feature of present- day democracy. In days not long gone by, the possession of the vote was looked upon as a great honour, something to be striven after and achieved. Men were not satisfied until they secured the franchise for every male over the age of 21. They then extended it to all women over 21 - .probably one of the worst things they ever did. There was a time when men in the State of Victoria were prepared to spill their blood for the franchise, yet within 50 years of that time this Parliament had to carry, a law to compel people to cast their votes. The men of one generation were prepared to defend the Eureka Stockade in order to get the vote, yet the Commonwealth Parliament had to compel their descendants to use it. That is not a very good recommendation for modern democracy. My view of modern democracy is that the average person is much more concerned about sport, such as surfing, golfing, rowing and racing, than he is about, the affairs of the country. It is only towards election time that he begins to consider public affairs at all. Then the votes of the masculine section are largely influenced by party considerations, and the other section votes to a great extent according to the way its husbands, fathers and sweethearts tell it. The question has also been raised as to whether this country is drifting towards a dictatorship. I have thought about that matter for quite a few years now. When we study the rise of to-day’s dictators we find that all of them came from a section in politics which has its counterpart in this country in the Opposition of this Parliament. None of these dictators has sprung from any section in any way akin to that represented by the parties composed of honorable members on this side of the House. The dictator of Italy rose from what is generally regarded as the bottom rung of the social ladder, and in Poland, Russia, Turkey and more recently in Germany, a similar development has occurred.
– It happened to your party.
– The Leader of our party is not the kind of man to become a dictator; he is not of the material out of which commandersinchief are made. There may be one Minister at the table whom I might agree would qualify for dictatorship. However that is by the way. While we may talk glibly about democracy and the rights of democracy, and such talk does not very much affect me, I contend that if anything in the nature of a dictatorship is likely to supersede our present form of government in this country, the dictator will come from the Opposition ranks. Already, in fact, the Opposition party has supplied one man in one particular State who has come closer to assuming a dictatorship than has any other Premier of a State this country has yet known. Possibly I am an old conservative democrat - who has no liking whatever for dictators, whether they come from the top or the bottom social stratum. It is just as well to recognize the possible sources of dictatorships when we talk about them.’ I am confident that no member of the two parties represented on this side of the House has so great an opinion of himself that he desires to lay down the laws for the whole of the Commonwealth-. - not even the Minister for Defence. I am sure he would not take such a duty upon himself, although, if presented with a cocked hat and a carving knife, he might prove a good actor in the role of Napoleon in a pantomime.
We are considering very serious matters to-night, and of these we must take a broad view and recognize that so long as the executive is carrying out the law of the country as it stands on the Statute-Book, and so long as one-third of the members of that executive are in London engaged in very delicate negotiations, we should not remain assembled here increasing the probability of our doing something by our differences to embarrass them. This might happen despite our having the best of intentions. In this respect I am reminded of the saying of an Italian poet - “ The way to hell is paved with good intentions “. We should guard against the possibility of discord arising in this House thereby conveying the feeling to countries overseas that we do not constitute a united Commonwealth. Therefore, as much as I would like to see Parliament remain in session to discuss one or two important matters which I have particularly in mind, we should take a ‘broad view of the situation and adjourn until July or August. I emphasize the point that if this House now grants to the Executive Supply for the first three months of the next financial year, we will not compel an adjournment of Parliament until- the 30th September. The mere fact that the House agrees to this bill does not necessarily mean that the House must adjourn until the 30th September. It can be called together at the wish of the Executive at any time in the interval to transact the business of the country. Considering all these aspects, and in view of the unprecedented circumstances now prevailing, there is no justification why the measure before the House should not be adopted.
.- I lodge my protest against the action of the Government in this matter by supporting the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr, Scullin) because I recognize that there is much useful work which this Parliament can attend to immediately. If the Government followed the course suggested in the amendment it would be fulfilling the promises it made to the -people at the last election that it was going to give immediate attention to the problem of unemployment, and cooperate immediately with the States in’ certain schemes to deal with this matter, besides adopting other measures immediately for the relief of unemployment. Since the election this Parliament has not sat for anything like three months.
– It has sat for 35 days.
– This is not what the people were led to expect from the Government’s candidates at the last election. Parliament should realize that there are many important matters which require its urgent attention. Some of these are : the trade position overseas, the matter of quotas and tariffs and certain aspects of the administration of war service homes into which a committee inquired in 1932. Despite the recommendations of that committee occupants of war service homes are still being evicted from homes in every part of the Commonwealth. It reported in favour of certain adjustments being made and I remind honorable members that the scheme covering those adjustments will expire in June of this vear. That is a matter demanding urgent consideration.
Other important subjects have been mentioned, and when we consider that the delegation at present overseas is practically pandering for justice for this country, it is time that our representatives in such negotiations discarded all politeness and in no uncertain manner told the representatives of overseas interests just exactly what Australia wants and will demand. This country has done everything possible to put its house in order. For instance, we have attacked wages and conditions of employment, and evicted occupants from war service homes, and last but not least, we have forced bondholders in this country to accept certain reductions of interest, although overseas bondholders still enjoy to-day higher rates of interest, which requires from Australia a huge annual payment. The English bondholders must be told frankly that what we have done to our own bondholders we shall do to them, if they remain unwilling to agree to more equitable terms from this country. It is time that our representatives overseas stopped mincing matters. The British Secretary of State for the Dominions in a recent speech said that whilst he had admired the great progress made by Australia, he noted that in doing this over the 147 years it had become cheeky. If such an important representative of overseas interests talks in that vein, we must be prepared to 3end bolder advocates in our behalf overseas, mcn of the kind who, I suggest, can be found on this side of the chamber. Australia has played its part so far as the welfare of the Empire as a whole is concerned, yet we find the British Government giving foreign countries better treatment and financial accommodation than it is prepared to extend to us.
I have awaited this opportunity to place before the House an aspect of the administration of the war service homes. I was requested by representatives of the municipality of Cessnock to bring this matter forward by way of an adjournment motion in order that full publicity might be given to the conditions governing the purchase of a certain home.
The case is that of the late Mr. J. Shakespeare, an ex-mayor of Cessnock, who at the time of his death was a purchaser and an occupant of a war service home. Recently he was killed in a mine fatality. Immediately afterwards a public subscription was taken up in Cessnock, and the surrounding districts, for the purpose of helping his widow to pay off the balance of this home. Such was the information supplied by the department to the committee supervising this appeal that the members of the committee came to the conclusion that, in view of the fall of values of homes of all descriptions during recent years, a better house than that occupied by the distressed family could be purchased for half the amount claimed by the department to be owing on this home. This committee, which is known as the Shakespeare Benefit Committee, is of the opinion that the best memorial that can be provided in memory of this man, who was of a charitable nature, an ordinary worker in the mines, who had disbursed in charity more than his financial position would really permit him to do, was to present the home free of debt to his widow and family. On the 26th February, the committee wrote requesting me, in order to give the most publicity possible to the benefit movement, to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of placing the facts of the amount of the original loan, repayments and interest charges on Mrs. Shakespeare’s home before honorable members.
The position surrounding this case is as follows: The committee deputed me to secure from the Commissioner the figures relating to this home. This information showed that outstanding liabilities as at the 1st April, amounted to £437 10s. 8d. The total repayments made amounted to £521 2s. 3d., this sum consisting of repayment of loan £144 9s. 10d., interest £343 lis. Id., and deposit, fees and insurance £33 ls. 4d. The total amount of the original loan was £578, and at present the arrears amount to £91 14s. 3d. of which amount £4 0s. 6d. represents interest, and £83 principal. In this case we find that the original loan amounted to £578, and that after the late Mr. Shakespeare had paid off £521 2s. 3d. there was still a debt of £437 10s. 8d. owing. This is not bad business from the point of view of the War Service Homes Commission. When I approached the Commissioner with regard to this case he replied that he was powerless to alter it, and that my only course to achieve such an end was to interview the Minister. Just prior to his departure abroad, I interviewed the Minister (Mr. Thorby), but the only concession which he stated could be given was that the interest on the £90 of arrears would be waived. He said that the department could do no more than that. This committee intended to pay off the loan in a lump gum. They had sufficient money for the purpose, but they do not propose to pay the full amount. They intend to pay what they consider as reasonable and equitable having in mind the present-day value of homes. Every honorable member recognizes that the value of homes has fallen approximately 50 per cent, since 1932. That fact is stated in the report of the commission for that year after making inquiries into this aspect. I claim that something should be done by the Government to ameliorate such conditions as I have described, instead of rushing Parliament into recess for a five-months holiday. This action, I contend, is in sad contrast to the trooping overseas of the present delegation where its members will feast sumptuously and associate with Royalty, and generally have a jolly good time, while a lot of people in this country are in want, and workers are being ejected from homes over which the Government itself has direct control.
I pay a tribute to the Assistant Minister (Mr. Hunter) for the sympathy he has shown in this matter. I submitted to him recently the case of an unemployed man with nine children, who was to be evicted from a war service home in Kurri Kurri. The Minister caused a stay of proceedings, with the result that this occupant was not callously thrown out of his home. In another’ case, the sum originally borrowed by the purchaser of one of these homes was £540. His payments had amounted to £774, yet he was said still to owe £18 7s. 8d. These men contracted to buy homes when property values were high, and although if the houses had to be sold to-day they would not bring half their original cost price, the occupants are charged in accordance with the old valuations. In 1932 the War Service Homes Commission reported that all these cases must be reviewed by June of this year, but how can the Government properly deal with them if Parliament goes into .recess for a lengthy period? Are the occupants of these homes to be thrown on the street? The widow of a returned soldier was put out of her home in Adamstown. I could go on, almost indefinitely, quoting such cases, but all the Government appears to be concerned about is whether Australia’s policy in regard to exports will injure Great Britain. Many Australians are beginning to think that it is time somebody stood up for Australia. We should not care a tinker’s curse what Great Britain thinks of us. Those who fought for the preservation of their rights, as the people of Ireland have, obtained more concessions than Australia has received for bowing the knee and pandering to Great Britain.
The Government has promised to give consideration to the matter of oil extraction from coal, but no attempt appears to have been made to carry out the promise given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in March, 1932, to a deputation from Cessnock, which was repre-‘ sentative of not only my own electorate, but also Newcastle and Robertson and portion of New England. Although Mr. Rogers and other advisers of the Government have declared that a low temperature carbonization process is not of much benefit in the extraction of oil from coal, the Sunderland Echo of the 31st December, 1934, stated that work for 1,600 men will have been provided by the end of March on the erection of the new coal oil plant, which is being set up near Vane Tempest Colliery, Seaham Harbour. The present scheme will cost about £225,000, but the expenditure on the plant in the course pf the next five years can reasonably be expected to be about £5,000,000. Yet the Prime Minister and Mr. Rogers tell us that we should wait until the plant erected at BillinghamonTees is under way before we take further action in Australia to develop the hydrogenation process. In Wales and other parts of Britain, as well as in Germany, large plants are being established for the extraction of oil from coal.
According to the Far Eastern Review, the South Manchuria Railway - a Government instrumentality which practically administers all development work in Manchukuo - recently announced that after five years of research a new method of low-temperature carbonization has been perfected by which one ton of heavy oil can be produced from two tons of coal. The product is stated to be a good liquid fuel, and capable of being cracked for motor spirit. The Japanese naval authorities have been assisting in the work, which is directed towards obtaining new fuel sources, independent of American, British and Dutch supplies.
I have placed this matter before the House so frequently that I have been twitted by my colleagues with speaking about practically nothing else. At one time, 14,000 coal-miners belonging to the Miners Federation were employed in the northern districts of New South “Wales, apart from officials, boys, and members of other organizations. There were at least 30,000 persons engaged in coalmining operations, but the figure has now dwindled to about 10,000. The sufferings of men whom I knew on the mining fields - old “ pals “ of mine - are acute to-day. At one time they could always put their hand on a £5 or £10 note, but to-day they must accept the dole, despite the fact that it is most objectionable to any man with a bit of pride left in him. I wish that members of the Country party had some coal-mines in their districts, because they seem to have enough influence with the Government to obtain large concessions for the farmers. Have not the coal-miners also the right to live? Has any member of the farming community to accept the dole, or to be turned out of his home as coal-miners have been? Have government grants been made to enable the miners to pay their debts ? Parliament recently granted £12,000,000 for rural rehabilitation, but a great df.nl of that money will pass into the hands of the banking interests - individuals who from time to time evict members of the class which sent me into thi? House, whose only crime is that, although they are able and willing to work, the country cannot provide them with it. I shall not speak further on this subject. T am sick and tired of placing before this Parliament the right of the mining community to some consideration by the establishment of a plant for the extraction of oil from coal. This process is a commercial proposition to-day. Britain, Japan and Germany, having no oil resources of their own, realize the necessity to make themselves independent of outside supplies, on the ground of national safety. In the event of war, which seems to be looming on the horizon, they will have some fuel, at any rate, to meet transport requirements. Australia, however, is far removed from the oil wells of the world. How would it get on in the event of war in the Pacific? Instead of the Government trying to do something to relieve unemployment, as it promised at the last two elections, it now desires to rush into a long recess, although we have sat on only 35 days since the last election.
.- I gather from this debate that elections are looming in one or two States. [Quorum formed.’] I, for one, am very pleased with the progress that has been made by this Government. I consider that it has seriously tackled the problems with which it has been confronted. Today the financial position of Australia is sound, and much greater stability exists than existed some time ago. The unemployment position also has been improved.
– What rot!
– The statistics prove that there is much more employment today than there was two or three years ago; and there are bright indications for the future. The actions of the Government have placed Australia on the road to complete recovery.
In connexion with the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition I have made some research. I have abstracted from the records figures which I believe will prove interesting to honorable members, showing the number of days during which this house sat in the years from 1930 to 1934. There was a six-months’ break in 1934 because it was a year in which an election was held. Parliament sat before the elections for a period of five weeks from June to August, and subsequent to the elections for a period of seven weeks from the 23rd October to the 14th December, a total of twelve weeks. In 1933 the duration of the sittings was :
The sittings in 1932 were as follows:
The figures for 1931 are as follows:
The figures for 1930 are as follows :
– How many days a week? We sat on four and five days a week.
– Only at certain times. Originally it was not the intention of the Scullin Government that Parliament should sit during the absence of the Prime Minister on a visit to Great Britain. That would have meant a recess of something like seven months.
– I was out of Australia for only four and a half months.
– The honorable member for Boothby has overlooked the sittings that were held in November and December of that year.
– The point that I wish to make is, that the Scullin Government proposed a recess of seven months, and that the period contemplated by the present Government is only five months.
– At the end of this year it will have sat for only 40 days in the 12 months.
– There is another side to the matter. The Prime Minister, who is now in England, has to tackle as big, if not bigger problems than those which confronted the right honorable gentleman when he visited Great Britain. Consequently, we are quite justified in adjourning for the period of his absence from Australia. He has also to- represent Australia upon the occasion of the King’s Jubilee. I am glad that he has taken the opportunity to do so, and am confident that he will discharge his duties faithfully and well. On his return the Prime Minister will be able to give us first-hand information regarding the important problems with which he has dealt concerning the future development of Australia.
There is very little merit in the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition. The moving of it can be described as unusual, although there are precedents to justify it. It certainly gives the Opposition a chance to slang-wang the Government, but in the light of the fact that by its actions the Government has placed Australia on a sound footing, it is unworthy of consideration and should be rejected.
– I support the amendment, which while timely, is if anything, overdue. I regret that the three leading Ministers who have spoken did not concentrate upon it, but rather side-stepped the issue by recounting the activities of the Government during the last two or three years. It is difficult to induce Parliament to concentrate upon any issue. It is obvious to honorable members -on this side that at the outset the Government proposed to kill the effect of the amendment by an unbroken silence; but the case was made so strong by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that a reply was drawn from the Leader of the House and two senior Ministers, who became quite excited over the matter.
I support the amendment because it is necessary in the interests of the Parliament and of the people of Australia that the House should be in session while the present serious conditions continue. It has been misinterpreted by honorable gentlemen opposite. The mover of it did not at any time suggest that it was. unnecessary to have short recesses, nor did he argue that Ministers could discharge their departmental obligations with the House sitting continuously. What the right honorable gentleman did say was that Ministers were merely playing at government by closing up Parliament after a session lasting only a few weeks, and failing to concentrate on the problems of the times.
To-day honorable members had placed before them a serious report relating to an inquiry that is two years old. Two years ago this very week, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) moved a motion calling for an inquiry into the activities of the major oil companies in Australia. The report of the commission appointed to make that investigation has just been thrown on the table, and as we are on the eve of a recess of five months’ duration, we shall probably not have an opportunity to say a word about it until the session that will be held after the next Christmas recess. Within the last week, too, an important tariff schedule has been presented, which proposes reductions in 1J8 or 120 protective items, many of which affect struggling industries in this country. The debate on that also will probably be held over until next year.
In the light of these considerations, and of the fact that Supply has already been granted up to the end of June next, there is no warrant for a further appropriation of revenue at this stage. The request for additional Supply before the exhaustion by effluxion of time of what has really been granted, is evidence of government of an extraordinary kind. The appropriation of £7,000,000, which the bill proposes, will make it possible for the Government to close the doors of Parliament until the end of September next. In view of the statement repeatedly made by Ministers and representatives of Australia abroad, that we are passing through the most serious period since the beginning of the depression, that indicates carelessness and indifference. Surely with all these problems in the air, the Government should not expect us to agree to such a long parliamentary recess. This Supply Bill will cover all the departments of the Government. I desire to review the operations of some of our government instrumentalities.
I am particularly anxious to discuss the operations of the Broadcasting Commission. Broadcasting should be one of our greatest national services, but serious discontent is growing throughout Australia at the mismanagement of it. It is an insult to the intelligence of the electors, to say nothing of the intelligence of honorable members, for the Government even to ask that a Supply bill providing for the expenditure of £7,000,000 should be passed after two or three hours’ debate with the object of allowing Parliament to go into recess for five or six months after having sat for only three or four weeks this year, with a very short sitting last year. The Leader of the Opposition was thoroughly justified in moving the amendment. The right honorable gentleman did not object to reasonable recesses to enable the Government to prepare legislation for submission to Parliament ; but he is to be complimented upon having objected so vigorously to the passage of a supply bill almost three months before the exhaustion of the money previously voted for the services of government. We should not oppose the passage of supply bills in the ordinary way, and never have done so, but we submit that in these difficult days Parliament should be afforded every opportunity to deal with the problems that face the country. If a suggestion were made that Australia was being subject to a dictatorship, it would probably be ridiculed in certain quarters; but that is what is happening in actual practice. This country is being governed by the Executive. But, unfortunately, it is an executive which is not acting of its own volition in respect of the many great internal and external problems that face the nation. It is allowing itself to be dominated by another executive operating overseas. It has been said repeatedly to-day on behalf of the Government, that we should make no move in regard to the great industries of this country without the endorsement of the Government of the United Kingdom, or all sorts of serious consequences may follow. The Executive group here is, therefore, clearly under the domination of the Executive of Great Britain, and is really admitting that it is incapable of managing the affairs of this country.
Another subject which should be given immediate attention by this Parliament is the Statute of Westminster, the ratification of which is long overdue.
– I do not know that it should be ratified.
– It has been endorsed, and I believe that 99 per cent, of the people of Australia wish to see it ratified.
– I think that 99 per cent, of the people know nothing about it.
– The honorable member is very egotistical if he considers his intelligence to be so much. higher than that of his constituents. I regard my constituents as intelligent people who are entitled to direct me how to vote and speak in this House.
– I represent my constituents, but I do not take directions from them.
– The honorable member, apparently, has no great opinion of the intelligence of the electors, and particularly of the women voters of this country, for he suggested to-night that they should not have been given a vote.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member said that one of the worst things that this Parliament ever did was to give women a vote. Although our ancestors fought for the vote, he said that the people to-day were careless about using it. If that is so, it is because they are sick and tired of the misgovernment of this country. Such actions as that which the Government is now taking tend to bring Parliament into contempt. It is because of this kind of thing that the people of the present day do not seem to value the vote as their forefathers did. While I admit that the honorable member for Barker has the courage of his opinions, and does not care very much whether his views are popular or not, he is the most conservative-minded member of the House. I do not say that he is any the worse for that; but he is undoubtedly anti-democratic to the backbone. The fact that this Government is governing this country behind the closed doors of Parliament is, I regret to say, bringing our democratic institutions into ridicule. On behalf of the 59,000 electors whom I represent, and also on my own account, as well as on account of the people en masse, whom I regard as being just as intelligent as I am, I object to Parliament going into recess. There are many great national and international problems which should be receiving the close attention of this Parliament, yet we have been told that we must not even discuss the vital problems that are today the subject of negotiation by our representatives overseas. I believe that we should be standing for the interests of Australia. We should not be subjected to the overriding influences of the Imperial Government. The judgment of the politicians of this country was overruled three or four years ago by certain individuals who visited Australia. We were told that they possessed some superior kind of intelligence, but the consequence of our adoption of the policy of deflation which they advised has been misery and degradation to tens of thousands of our people. In the circumstances that face us, we should not be sparring for wind, but should be grappling courageously with our adversaries. I protest bitterly against the proposal to close the doors of Parliament for nearly six months while people overseas take our business out of our hands and then tell us what to do.
Every member of the Government who has spoken in this debate has cleverly side-stepped the issues raised by the amendment, the greatest of which is whether this Parliament shall enter upon a long or a reasonable recess. In view of the fact that Supply has already been granted to the end of June, there is not the slightest justification for asking us to vote an additional amount for the expenses of government to the end of September. No one would object to the ordinary Easter recess; but it would be quite wrong for any honorable member to assist the Government to provide for such a long recess as is contemplated.
In replying to the speech of the mover of the amendment, the Acting Prime Minister gave us a long dissertation upon the achievements of the Bruce-Page Government; and the Acting Treasurer, who spoke later in the debate, made a good speech on the financial situation of the country; but neither of them said anything in justification of the Government’s desire for a six months’ recess.
In view of the fact that the report of an important royal commission is awaiting our attention we should insist upon the resumption of the parliamentary sittings after a reasonable adjournment for Easter. The report of the Petrol Commission, and the tariff schedules that have been laid on the table, would together provide us with ample business ; but the Government is proposing that these shall be ignored for the time being, and that Parliament shall rise on Wednesday of this week. If this occurs we shall certainly not be able to deal with the report of the Petrol Commission until January, February, or March of next year, because we know very well that on the resumption of the parliamentary sitting towards the end of September, the Budget and the legislation arising from it will occupy our attention until the time arrives for the Christmas adjournment. In these circumstances the amendment is a timely and necessary protest against the attitude of the Government.
I regret that an early opportunity will not be provided for us to discuss the operations of the Broadcasting Commission, I take very strong exception to the re-appointment of the present members of the Commission, for I believe that the people of Australia are justly dissatisfied with the biassed attitude that they have shown in the management of this great public service. Broadcasting should be under the full control of the PostmasterGeneral. The situation to-day is that a manager, selected because of his long association with theatrical companies and his extensive experience with 3LO, is compelled to take his orders, like a junior clerk, from a member of the Commission who assumes a knowledge which I think he does not possess. The technicians connected with broadcasting who are attached to tho Postmaster-General’s Department, are also being overridden. The consequence is that the people arc not getting the broadcasting service they are entitled to receive.
The statement has been made by a gentleman abroad, who is said to be an expert, that April will be the most serious month of this year and, in fact, the most momentous of the whole period of the depression. Parliament should, therefore, .remain in session so that honorable members will have an opportunity to deal with any vital changes that may occur during this critical period. Irrespective of its large majority, I submit that the Government is still in duty bound to afford the representatives of the people a proper opportunity to discuss the ‘affairs of the country at reasonable length and in reasonable time. We are entitled to make our protest in the interests of democracy against the dictatorship that we are experiencing at present. I trust’ that some honorable members opposite will see the justice of the contentions that we are making, and support the amendment. In this way we may be able to do something to allay the great volume of public discontent that is growing throughout Australia. Unless a protest is made, I believe that we shall run a grave risk of accentuating the disrespect which the electors of this country are developing for our parliamentary institutions. There was an election in Victoria last week at which only 40 per cent, of the electors voted, although two’ able men fought the election very keenly. That shows how little interest is being taken in the present form of parliamentary representation. The reason is that, though people favour parliamentary government, they do not favour government by executives alone, and that is what we are having forced upon us now. The public is nervous about the numerous tariff reductions which have recently been made, and an opportunity should be provided for the discussion of those amendments before Parliament goes into recess. There is no reason why the amendment should not be carried, and honorable . members opposite who have opposed it have consistently sidestepped the real issue. The tariff schedule which the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) laid on the table the other day reduces the protective duty on 118 items.
– The tariff schedule may not be discussed.
– I merely mention it as one of the reasons why Parliament should remain open. The Government is making a farce of Parliamentary government. It professes to be opposed to dictatorships, yet it is practising a dictatorship itself. It is proposed to close Parliament until the end of September. This is a direct negation of democratic government, and when the people realize what is being done, a wave of indignation will sweep across the country. I protest against the proposed adjournment of Parliament.
.- I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). I was surprised at the replies of Government spokesmen to the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), and the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin). The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey), in particular, became very heated at the suggestion that all might not be well with the economic position of the country. How often did honorable members who support the Government declare that if a Labour Government got into power the banks would close their doors, and the whole country would be involved in ruin? Now, members of the Government advocate a hushhush policy lest plain speaking should haveunfavorable reactions overseas. When the people of Lancashire boycotted Australian produce because of the duty imposed in Australia on cotton goods, Parliament was called together very quickly so that steps might be taken to have those duties reduced. Recently the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) brought down an amended tariff schedule in which the duty on 118 items was reduced.. The effect of those reductions will be to throw thousands of workers out of employment. The Government is afraid of what it has done, and will not allow the schedule to be discussed. I know that the Minister himself is a protectionist, but he has been overborne by stronger oversea forces, and has had to reduce the duties. As for the restrictions on meat exports, it cannot be seriously suggested that it will take the Prime Minister and his fourteen associates six months to conclude their negotiations with the Government of Great Britain. As a matter of fact, the whole thing will be over in three weeks. We know that Britain has agreed to buy from Argentina £45,000,000 worth more produce than it did last year, and that does not look too well for Australia’s trade. We have been told that Britain is faced with tremendous problems, and that her statesmen will look after Britain first. More credit to them for it; that is their job. Our Government too, should place Australia first, and if it had stated boldly, when Great Britain first proposed to restrict the importation of our produce, that it would clap a heavy duty on British goods entering Australia, this matter would have been settled in our favour long ago.
We heard something to-day about the wonderful record of the Bruce-Page Government. One thing that Government did was to stultify the Commonwealth Bank, and turn it into a bankers’ bank, so that it could no longer carry out the functions for which it was intended. The selling of the Australian . Commonwealth Line of Steamers was another achievement of the Bruce-Page Government. That line was inaugurated by the present Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes), and the Bruce-Page Government handed it over to a man who was nothing more or less than a crook, and who served a sentence in gaol for his misdeeds. Because he was a lord we bowed the knee to him, and handed over our shipping line to his keeping. To-day the farmers and exporters of Australia are reaping the fruits of that transaction in high shipping freights. If the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey), or any other member of the Government, carried on his business as the business of the country is being carried on by this Government, he would be bankrupt within a fortnight. The other day we agreed, after only six hours’ discussion, to a proposal for the disbursement of £12,000,000. When we inquired where the money was going, and how it was to be distributed, we were told that it was to be handed over to the States. We were assured that it would be distributed to the farmers ; but I assert, without the slightest danger of effective contradiction, that the money will be used to preserve the assets of the banks and other mortgagees.
– The honorable member should tell that to the farmers of New South Wales.
– I will certainly tell it to them when I go among them in a few weeks’ time. At a conference of the Country party in Ballarat recently, it was stated frankly that the farmers would not get1d. of this £12,000,000, as it would all go to the mortgagees.
– Why are the farmers in favour of it, then?
– For the time being they have been fooled into believing that they will get the money themselves. The Government is afraid of the Country party, following upon recent happenings in Victoria. Before long the eyes of the farmers will be opened, and they will realize that they have been sold to the banks. There was a rebellion among the members of the United Australia party last week, but it lasted for only two days. The rebels found that the Country party was getting everything, and they thought the interests they represented should get something, too. Although the revolt was quickly scotched the Government became scared, and is’ now rushing into recess with as little delay as possible.
We have been told that, if Parliament were sitting, it might prejudice the negotiations proceeding between representatives of the Commonwealth and the Government of Great Britain. The same argument was used at the time of the Ottawa Conference. We were told then that, when the delegates returned, we would have an opportunity to consider the matters upon which they had been engaged, and to say our yea or nay. But when the agreement was presented to Parliament the Government had already signed on the dotted line and there was no option but to affirm it. Ministers enter into negotiations regarding trade treaties, and every day questions are asked from the other side as to what is being done to foster trade with Germany. Many people said “ We will never trade with Germany again but these questions indicate the trend of feeling on the government side of the House. Eventually it is certain that a treaty will be entered into with Germany, without a protest being raised in this chamber.
There is also talk of a treaty with Japan. We have been told by the other side that thereis no desire to have ill-considered legislation, but,- as a young member of this chamber, I have been very dissatisfied with the way business is conducted here. Bills are thrown on the table of the House, the gag is applied, and no consideration is given to legislation. Some members on the other side last week stood up and protested. One member said that he had never been told of the policy then being put f orward by the Government, as it had never come before the party of which he was a member. It was delightful to us on this side to listen to that revolt, but we were amused when the Treasurer cracked ‘ the whip and the honorable member had to come to heel again, even though every word he had uttered was logical and welljustified. As a member representing a large industrial area, I protest against the Government going into recess for six months. The state of the fellmongering industry in Botany is deplorable. Establishments are closing down every week. When recently I brought before the House the question of a bounty on scoured wool, I said that 450 out of 1,400 men were working. To-day only 200 are working. Every week the number employed grows less and less, yet we are told by Government supporters that more work is being given and more people are employed’ in industry. I have given the facts about that industry, but the Governmentsays “ What does that matter to us ? We shall go into recess. We are afaid of our own party, and therefore we shall not give consideration to those industries”. This House should go into only a short recess over Easter, then come back again and hear the report of the delegation regarding the meat export negotiations in London. If it becomes necessary for the Government to ask the assistance of this side of the House to help Australia, it should not hesitate to do so. I am convinced that we shall get nothing out of the negotiations, because of the agreements already entered into by Great Britain with other countries. The British Government has signed an agreement with Argentina for 1936, and, in the White Paper tabled to-day, it intimates definitely that it will not alter its mind or break its word. That is a clear and definite intimation to Australia from the British Government. It entered into the agreement in September’ last year, and will carry it out, with disastrous results to the meat industry of Australia. Not long ago the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) said that in no circumstances would he be a party to the restriction of Australia’s export trade. Yet his Government has agreed to restrictions, because the British Government said that some agreement must be reached and a levy or quota imposed. Australia’s export of meat to the United Kingdom is to be restricted, because the British Government intends to help its primary producers first. If the Commonwealth Government had the courage to help the primary and secondary industries of Australia, and to consider Australia first, instead of giving way to Great Britain and other countries, it would be better for everybody in Australia.
.- I am rather surprised at the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden) taking the Government to task for not being successful in governing the country since it took office. Most of us can remember quite well the position of affairs when this party came into power three or four years ago. Throughout Australia at that time there was a fear concerning the repudiationists of New South Wales. A man arose who claimed to be the mightiest man in the land, but he turned out after all to be only a man of straw. [Quorum formed.] When interrupted, I was drawing attention to the state of Australia when this Government came into power. For six months after it took office, every week was occupied in passing legislation which eventually slew the so-called giant of the Labour movement. He lost his post in Parliament and lost his referendums, and has been in oblivion ever since. He has done nothing that has been a credit to himself or his party for the last eighteen months or two years.
This Government was faced with tremendous difficulties in the first six months of its existence. Extra taxation had to be imposed to balance the ledger. The whole of Australia was in a disturbed state. In New South Wales, the taxation offices were nailed up, and strong men with pop guns were hidden behind closed doors with the idea of creating a revolution of some kind. That mischievous party lost its place in Australian politics altogether, and this Government came in with a reputation that it could be trusted. Confidence was gradually restored. It took the community some time to get over the shock of the closing of the Savings Bank of New South Wales - a deliberate action on the part of the then State Government. Finally, the Commonwealth Government re-established the credit of Australia, and people realized that if they put their money into a savings bank they had the backing of the whole Commonwealth. Since that date, millions of pounds have been added to the accumulated savings of the people. The people could not save money in that way unless increased work was being given and increased profits were being made.
– I desire again to draw attention to the state of the House.
– I have already satisfied myself as to the state of the House.
– I do not agree with the criticism offered by the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden) of the Government’s policy in regard to reemployment. The honorable member may cite an individual case, and I do not question his veracity. When this Government took office, it followed the policy, which had been successfully adopted in many other countries, of raising money by internal loans.
– I draw your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the fact that there are only fourteen members present. 1 should like to know where the other eleven members necessary to make a quorum are, and by what standing order you say that you have satisfied yourself that a quorum is present.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is attempting to be insulting to the Chair. I have already given him my answer, which is a ruling from the 01lair
– A very bad ruling, too.
– The honorable member will withdraw that remark
– In my opinion, it is s bad ruling.
– The honorable member will withdraw the remark he made to the Chair. He must respect the Chair.
– I withdraw it.
– The people showed confidence in the Government by their willingness to lend their money, and the result of the Government’s loan policy has been to increase employment. Previously, there were only about 600 men engaged on public works in New South Wales. Hundreds of thousands of men were on the dole. They received a dole ticket and nothing more, and on that ticket they had to take what the then Government’ of New South Wales said they could have. As a result of the policy of the present Government in that State, these people do not have to present dole tickets for their requirements, but now hand over the. counter cash for their goods. That is the difference between the methods supported by members of the Opposition and the methods adopted by a government in sympathy with the policy of honorable members on this side. Honorable members opposite favour a socialistic system of government, under which money would be handed out for nothing, and they seek to break down the system of government by which the great British Empire and this worthy part of that Empire have risen to a pre-eminent position in the world to-day. Honorable members opposite raise only catch-cries; they submitnothing to prove their contents in this respect. Under the Lang Government, people in New South Wales were left to starve, whereas under the system adopted by the present government of the State in the borrowing of loan money for expenditure on public works, they receive pay for their services and are not treated as slaves as they were under the Lang party regime. These are not fables, but facts.
– I call attention to the terrible state of the House.
– The honorable member for Barton.
– In the Newcastle district alone there is evidence of the fact that millions of tons more of coal have been hewed out of the bowels of the earth and have been sent to keep industry going right throughout Australia. Furthermore, the honorable member for Hunter knows that fewer people are now appealing for assistance than when this Government first took office. If I were on the opposite side of the House, I should be ashamed to oppose, as honorable members are now doing, the policy of this Government to re-employ thousands of men. ‘ No electorate has received greater advantages under the schemes undertaken by this Government than has the electorate of Hunter. The honorable member representing the constituency knows that in his electorate many men have been reemployed and are to-day receiving benefits which they would have had no hope of receiving under a Labour government. I point out that Great Britain herself has adopted a similar policy in that respect to that being pursued by the Commonwealth Government. I am surprised to hear the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden) suggest that Great Britain is inlent on doing something harmful to Australia. The very policies we have followed here are being followed by Great Britain, The government of that country is borrowing huge sums of money to embark upon public works programmes to relieve unemployment. A similar policy is being carried out in Italy. In Russia, the workers are being asked to subscribe money at 7 per cent, for the creation of a fund for a public works programme in order that unemployment may be relieved in that country.
I remind the honorable member for Cook that the Ottawa agreement -has proved to be probably the most stabilizing influence in the British Empire. It is one of the results of that agreement that Great Britain and the dominions have recovered from the economic depression more quickly and more effectively than any of the other nations in the world. Despite its huge population and boasted wealth, the United States of America lias not yet come even within “ coo-ee “ of the progress made by either the Commonwealth or the British Government in economic re-adjustment. The present President of the United States said that he would try scheme after scheme until he found one which would rehabilitate America. To-day, I repeat, that the countries within the British Empire stand among the nations of the world as the first to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of their creditors. These countries have made a success of schemes which honorable members opposite have belittled.
Exception has been taken by honorable members opposite to the action of the Commonwealth Government in making £12,000,000 available as an emergency aid to the States. We may differ upon the details of the methods which should be employed by the various State governments in the distribution of this money. Some three or four months ago the Premiers of all the States held a conference to discuss the best means of rehabilitating Australia. A representative of the Labour Government of Western Australia attended the conference, and agreed entirely with the plans of the other Premiers and the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth to bring about an effective scheme of re-employment. Despite the criticism of the honorable member for Cook in this respect, I contend that the United Australia party is the only successful political party in Australia to-day and I suggest, confidently, that that fact will be demonstrated in New South Wales within the next few weeks. [Quorum formed.’]
The honorable member for Cook suggested that Great Britain was selfishly looking after her own interests, implying that Great Britain in order to achieve her own ends would interfere with the progress of the dominions. Any one who utters such assertions cannot have been born in Australia. Nor can he possess British ideals. Rather must he have been fed upon alien propaganda which has warped his mind and has rendered him unable to appreciate the true ideals of British statesmanship, and the justice and effectiveness of British methods. The honorable member for Cook is fully aware that, under the Ottawa agreement, Great Britain made considerable concessions to the dominions, and that we have the assurance from British statesmen that, no matter how foreign countries may fare, the dominions will not suffer in any trade contracts which Great Britain may make. Honorable members opposite speak disparagingly of Great Britain at every opportu- nity, but recently I noticed that even the Soviet Government’s representatives had publicly sung “ God Save the King “.
This is a development of which the honorable member for Cook, when he went to Russia as a representative of the Communist party in Australia, would never have dreamed. Such has been the influence of Great Britain in the past, that every country in Europe to-day is looking to it for advice and assistance. Great Britain appears in the eyes of the world to-day not as a selfish country, but rather as a great country mothering her dominions, and giving to them every benefit possible from the point of view of trade and commerce. I am aware that the honorable members for Cook and Hunter and quite a number of other honorable members are never comfortable when the blessings which the British Empire has conferred on the world are being discussed. On the contrary, they advocate a system of boycotts, a socialistic system which is based on the idea that each country treats itself as the only country in the world. With regard to wheat, Great Britain has imposed a duty of 3d. a bushel on foreign imports. Honorable members opposite are now endeavouring to stir up antagonism towards Britain in connexion with its attitude towards Australia’s meat industry. I contend that in this matter we can trust Great Britain to follow a policy similar to that which it has always followed in the past. The real trouble with the honorable member for Cook in the view he takes of Great Britain is that the spirit of the British Empire is so different from the spirit of Communistic Russia, whose ideals he has upheld for many years. Despite the fact that on one occasion he declared that the Lang Government was the worst government that New South Wales had ever had, it is strange to note the influence of friendship which has resulted in the honorable member and Mr. Lang finding themselves boon colleagues to-day. We can rely upon Great Britain to treat this country in such a manner in the future that nothing but benefits will result, not only to ourselves, but also toGreat Britain. I hope the day will never come when Australia, Great Britain, or any other country will decide that the only object for which people should be governed should be to supply themselves and themselves only in the necessary commodities of life. Just as no man can live unto himself, no country can live unto itself. The nations of the world are dependent upon one another in trade and commerce; the only thing which upset this feeling was the great war, which was generated by avarice and greed and a desire to destroy the high ideals and noble purpose for which British people stand. To-day we know that the followers of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini are not imbued with what have come to be recognized as British ideals, and that their ideas of government are tainted by socialism in the carrying out of which they satisfy neither themselves nor any one else. Australia was the first country to receive the commendation . of the world for the financial policy adopted by it in order to combat the effects of the depression. Congratulations reached the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) even from the Government of the United States of America upon the adoption of a policy which had stabilized industries and provided more employment.
– At “ scab “ wages.
– The only men in Australia who are “ scabbing “ on the workers to-day are the members of the Lang party of New South Wales. The “ scabs “ are those who deny men the right to sell their labour on the market at a fair price. The United Australia party has always upheld the rights of trade unionists, and more of them are in employment to-day than when the present Government took office. Honorable members opposite may ‘be telling lies-
– I take exception to that remark, and ask for its withdrawal.
– As the remark is regarded as offensive, it must be withdrawn.
– Then I withdraw it. As a result of the policy of the party to which I belong, Queensland is prosperous, and, as in New South Wales, unemployment has been reduced.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the House cannot continue to transact business while a quorum is not present.
– I have recently ascertained that a quorum is present.
– This Parliament, having come to the assistance of the Labour Government in Queensland, unemployment in that State has been reduced. In fact, in every State in the Commonwealth thousands of men have been put back into employment. Hundreds of men who could not pay their union fees are now at work. The United Australia partyhas always conceded to trade unioniststhe right to organize and obtain from the Arbitration Court awards as to wages and other conditions. New South Wales stands to-day in the forefront as the most prosperous State in the Commonwealth.
Honorable members opposite have an idea that if Labour could get into power it could bring about a complete rehabilitation of industry by tinkering with the Commonwealth Bank, and causing an inflation of the note issue. This institution, as now conducted, is a source of strength to Australia, because, in every way, it enhances its credit. Eor this fact the people must thank the present Government and the United Australia party. Labour ministries have never governed successfully. More good is accomplished by the present Ministry than would be done by a Labour government if Parliament were kept in session the whole year round. The members of the Cabinet are men whom the people trust, and that is the reason for the increasing success of our party at the polls. We have proved our capacity to govern in the best interests of the people. The honorable member who said that the present Ministry is causing bankruptcy has a mind that is bankrupt of sound ideas. When Labour governments have introduced socialistic schemes such as meat shops, fruit machines, and tin hares-
-The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I have no doubt that those honorable members who could understand the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) found much, wisdom in his remarks.For myself, I regarded his speech as a not altogether unpleasant, passage at arms between himself and honorable members who are familiarly known as the Lang group. In a word, I regarded it more in the nature of a private fight. I support the amendment submitted by my right honorable leader (Mr. Scullin) , but I do not propose to argue directly along the lines of the amendment, or to address myself to the subjects that have been ably and elaborately treated by my colleagues on this side of the chamber. I shall take advantage of this amendment to introduce, for a few minutes, the consideration of a question which might well engross the attention of the Government and its supporters, if they would devote at least a little more time to parliamentary action and less to recess. Hav ing noted the activities and tendencies of Parliament for some years, I am firmly convinced that it is bound to be reduced to aregrettable condition of discredit, if we are called together merely for the purpose of registering approval, willy nilly, of decisions already arrived at by the Executive. I feel that it would be more honest to let the Executive itself take responsibility for these matters, and that Parliament should not meet ; that we should take the direct and the short cut to fascism rather than maintain what is little more than a pretence of parliamentary government.
I wish to direct the attention of the House, and of the country so far as it is interested, to a matter which, I think, is deserving of notice, and in respect of which the Government, in my opinion, has failed in its duty and been guilty of one of those major laches, to use a lawyer’s term, and certainly a dereliction of duty. I take the House away from the consideration of local matters immediately affecting the constituencies, to the duty of the Parliament of Australia in respect of what is familiarly known at the Statute of Westminster, and to the facts and matters leading up to the passage of that statute by the Parliament of the United Kingidom.
In this year 1930 it was my privilege, as Attorney-General in the Scullin Government, and in association with the right honorable gentleman who now leads the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), to attend the Imperial Conference which sat at No. 10 Downing-street. That conference adopted certain decisions in regard to dominion status that had been come to by the 1926 or Balfour Conference, and also recommendations of a committee of legal experts which sat in 1929, to suggest the appropriate method of giving effect to the decisions arrived at in 1926. The general and comprehensive resolution which it adopted included the decision that the Parliaments of the dominions should pass resolutions requesting the Parliament of the United Kingdom to pass a positive statute giving effect as an act of legislation to the decisions of fhe various preliminary conferences which, from time to time, had been held.
On the 3rd July, 1931, after our return from the Old Country, I, as AttorneyGeneral, submitted a resolution in this House. To refresh the memory of honorable members I inform them that I moved the following: -
That whereas the Imperial Conference held at London in the year . 1930, by resolution, approved the report of the conference on the operation of dominion legislation (which is to be regarded as forming part of the report of the said Imperial Conference) subject to the conclusions hereinafter recited.
And whereas the said Imperial Conference, by resolution recommended -
That the statute proposed to be passed by the Parliament at Westminster, should contain the provisions set out in the schedule annexed to the said resolution;
That the first December, 1931 should be the date as from which the proposed statute should become operative;
That with a view to the realization of this arrangement resolutions passed by both Houses of the dominion Parliaments should be forwarded to the United Kingdom, if possible by the 1st July, 1931, and, in any case, not later than the 1st August, 1031, with a view to the enactment by the Parliament of the United Kingdom of legislation on the lines set out in the schedule annexed ;
That schedule is a State document. But the speech which I had the honour to deliver on the subject will be found reported in Hansard of the 3rd July, 1931, at page 3415. I shall not quote the schedule in detail; but perhaps it would be as well to intimate shortly what was contained in it and what was subsequently made the subject-matter of the Imperial statute. The particulars of the schedule, shortly stated, are -
The schedule also contains appropriate provisions in relation to the Admiralty Act. That is a short summary of the provisions of the schedule in respect of which I submitted the resolution which was to become the subject-matter of the act, and it also sums up the position arrived at constitutionally between the component parts of the Commonwealth of Nations from the time that this matter first began to develop as far back as 1917, up to the year 1930.
When that resolution was submitted to this Parliament in 1930 certain amendments in detail were proposed. The majority of them were rejected by the House, but one, to which I personally did not attach great importance, was moved by the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Latham, and accepted.
– Was that the one in relation to Australia?
– It stipulated that a request by Australia should mean a request, not merely by the Executive, but also by the Parliament.
– Was that clause 9 of the statute ?
– The honorable gentleman refers me to clause 9, which reads -
Nothing in this act shall be deemed to authorize the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to make laws on any matter within the authority of the States of Australia, not being a matter within the authority of the Parliament and the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.
That is not the clause to which the addition was made. The honorable gentleman -merely wanted to make it clear that a request for legislation by a dominion, notably bay Australia, should be supported and buttressed by the Parliament and should not be merely a request by the Government. It seemed to me unthinkable that a request of that kind should go from the Government unsupported by the Parliament, but for very good reasons we offered no objection to the amendment. With that sole alteration, the resolution was eventually carried on the voices. That is an important point; because of it, responsibility attaches to all parties to see that the intention obviously appearing from the resolution was finally given effect. It has not yet been given effect. But the Parliament of the United Kingdom has done its part admirably. Pursuant to an arrangement made at the Imperial Conference, under which the resolution was to be forwarded to the United Kingdom not later than the 1st August, 1931, the terms of this resolution were forwarded and the Statute 22, George V., Chapter IV, now known as the Statute of Westminster, was duly passed after a good deal of debate, both as to its main principle and in detail. I think I recollect rightly when I say that it was adopted by a very large majority in both Houses of the British Parliament.
It was a condition in the terms of the resolution submitted to the House of Commons, and now embodied in the Statute of Westminster, that the main provisions of that statute should not come into operation in any dominion unless, and presumably until, its provisions had been ratified, at all events so far as they concerned us, by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is at this very point that I charge the Government with a grave dereliction of duty, because, though years have passed, the Government, having an ample majority in both Houses of the Parliament, has not submitted a proposal, either by bill or by resolution, for the adoption of the statute. All the main provisions of the statute are being held in abeyance because the Government has not thought fit to carry out its part of the contract. There is no reason why it should not do so if honorable members are sincere.
The then_ Leader of the Opposition approved our proposals. He was permitted to submit an amendment - I say permitted because he was then in a minority in this House. The amendment was accepted, and eventually the proposals were placed before the Senate. Although honorable gentlemen of the Opposition in the’ Senate, who were in the majority there, professed to be lukewarm about the proposal, they graciously, though with some show of reluctance, adopted it. The Leader of this Government was at that time a member of the Government with which I was associated, and was pledged and, I hope, is still pledged in conscience, to give effect to the resolution. But, apparently, since he has remained on the other side of the House, though in different company, he Lias suffered his ardour to abate. Although Australia has fitted on the toga of nationhood, it is characteristic of the present Prime Minister and his Government, whenever the name of Great Britain is mentioned, to throw cold water on any proposal declaring Australia’s nationhood. I do not suggest that its failure to ratify the Statute of Westminster affects Australia’s status. Eoi- that matter, I do not think that the decisions of 1926, or any other of these formal registrations of opinion, vitally affect the question. The inexorable hand of destiny has determined Australia’s position as a nation and made it inevitable that she must be mistress of her own affairs; a condition which is no longer denied to exist -
The moving finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on . . .
It has moved on. Even so conservative a statesman as Mr. Bonar Law recognized before the war that Australia’s destiny rested in her own hands. Nevertheless, a nation, like an individual, makes for itself its own valuation and the public opinion of a country moulds and fashions its own status. My complaint is that this Government has written down the stocks of Australia by its neglect and lack of interest in this matter. I complain of the wheedling and obsequious attitude it has adopted towards Great Britain, while British statesmen have led the way for us and do not share with the Government of the Commonwealth its craven fear of being great. With its liberal outlook upon Australian affairs, manifested by the attitude of so great and conservative a statesman as Lord Balfour, Britain has refused to attempt to rivet shackles on Australia in its development, but has appreciated the inevitable and done everything possible to register in a definite way what is neither more nor less than the actual constitutional position whether registered or not.
The matter has taken on a new aspect, which should bring confusion to the Government, in connexion with what is known as the secessionist movement of Western Australia. Nobody, I hope, in this chamber, and no seriously-minded person in any part of the Commonwealth, takes secession seriously. I do not do so, and I hope that the tourists from Western Australia, who are at present giving their State a very bad advertisement before a certain committee in Great Britain, will not take themselves too seriously. At any rate I give them credit for a higher order of intelligence than would appear to be theirs if they really do imagine that they will achieve the disruption of Australia by the representations they are making to persons and authorities, so-called, in Great Britain. But I point out that these persons, who on the other side of the world are avowedly seeking the disruption of the Commonwealth will not fail to make what use can be made of the fact that Australia itself has hesitated to record, officially and finally, the fact of its complete and irrevocable independence in regard to its Constitution and constitutional development. I have not the slightest doubt that all statesmen of Great Britain, whether in the House of Lords or the House of Commons, recognize that no body of persons and no legislature or authority outside Australia has any power or control whatever in regard to Australia’s constitutional development or constitutional changes. It has been suggested that as Great Britain passed an enabling act it may also pass a revoking act. My answer, and the answer of persons much better informed on constitutional matters than I am, is that the authority of Great Britain in the matter passed out of its hands with the act it passed - an act which has been frequently referred to as a characteristic example of its colonizing genius, and a recognition, by it, that there is no possibility of maintaining this Commonwealth of Nations by force, but every possibility and certainty of retaining it in the bonds of goodwill and mutual interest. Great Britain recognizes, too, that even those declarations which have been made in connexion with the Merchant Shipping Act, the Admiralty Act, and certain extra territorial legislation, which seem to have a measure of practical importance, record, for the most part, though there are certain practical legal considerations existing and undisputed facts. This is, therefore, largely a matter of sentiment; but it is disturbing to Australians to find the Commonwealth Government actually hesitating to do the thing which, by the consent of previous non-Labour governments, the British Government, and every intelligent person interested in the matter, should be done.
– Does the honorable gentleman say that the Statute ofWestminster limits or extends our rights?
-I say that it neither limits nor extends them.
– Does it state them?
– It does.
– Even that is a matter of opinion.
– The interpretation of the statute is always a matter of opinion; but I believe that intelligent opinion generally is entirely in agreement with my view that the Statute of “Westminster merely states the fact and sets out the existing constitutional position irrevocably so that it cannot, and will not, be retracted. At this very moment a committee is sitting in London hearing representatives of Western Australia on the subject of secession. The preliminary question is whether the petition from Western Australia is receivable. I have no doubt what the answer to that question will be. The delegation will be politely informed that the matter has passed out of the jurisdiction of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and now rests with the Parliament and people of the Commonwealth. To that extent we are indebted, in this as in many other things, to the Parliament of Great Britain for the instrument of government it has given us - a very imperfect instrument however in my opinion. If I had to vote upon it again I should reject it, but at least it does vest responsibility for the solution of our troubles in ourselves.
– The honorable member’s timehas expired.
Motion (by Mr. Archdale Parkhill) proposed -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . 8
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Scullin’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Belt.,.)
Majority . . . . 8
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Tuesday, 9 April 1935
In Committee of Supply:
Motion (by Mr. Casey) proposed -
That there be granted to His Majesty, for or towards defraying the services of the year 1935-30 a sum not exceeding £6,704,400.
Question - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Prowse.)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Motion (by Mr. Casey) put -
That towards making good the Supply ‘ to His Majesty for the services of the year 1935-0, there be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum not exceeding £6,704,400.
The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Prowse.)
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Mr. Casey and Dr. Earle Page do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Casey, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) put -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 8
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and committed pro forma.
Bill returned from the Senate “with an amendment.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Archdale Parkhill) read a first time.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– In connexion with the gift of £50,000 by Lord Nuffield for the purpose of helping crippled children in Australia, I understand that the Commonwealth Government proposes to set up a trust board to disburse this money. I have been requested by the Queensland Society for Crippled Children to ask that that society be allocated assistance from this fund. The society, which has its head-quarters at Swan-road, Taringa, has been carry- < ing on its work for quite a number of years, and, in order to give the House an idea of the prominent people who support the society in its undertaking, I propose to read the names of some of the office-bearers of the society. These include His Excellency the Governor of Queensland, Sir Leslie Wilson, as patron; Mr. E. J. Hanson, M.L.A., as vice-president; and Messrs. W. A. Jolly, C.M.G., and J. W. Greene, both of whom are ex-Lord Mayors of Brisbane, as members of this committee. I hope that in the disbursement of these funds the Government will see that this society gets its full share. It is caring for a large number of crippled children, and is worthy of participating in any charitable grant.
I desire to bring under the notice of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) the desirability of providing in Canberra suitable parks in which women and children may rest. The residents claim that the city has no park in keeping with its needs, although it is well-equipped with splendid sports grounds and sporting bodies are well catered for in every way. I understand that a suitable reserve and resting ground could be provided at very little cost by converting to that purpose what is known as the Old Acton nursery, which has already been planted with an avenue of trees and is ideally situated in a central position. I ask the Minister in charge of the House to bring this matter under the notice of the Minister for the Interior.
– I desire your ruling, Mr. Speaker, upon a matter which not only affects the Standing Orders of this House, but also cuts right across the Constitution of the Commonwealth. The Chairman of Committees has ruled that, upon satisfying himself that there are a sufficient number of members within the precincts of the chamber to form a quorum, he will allow the business to proceed without a quorum. I invite your attention to section 39 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which reads as follows : -
Until the Parliament otherwise provides, the presence of at least one-third of the whole number of the members of the House of Repre * sentatives shall be necessary to constitute a meeting of the House for the exercise of its powers.
Standing Order No. 23 reads as follows : -
If any member should take notice, or if the Chairman of Committees, on notice being taken by any member, shall report to the Speaker that a quorum of members is not present, the Speaker, standing tip in his place, shall count the House: and, if a quorum be not present within two minutes, he shall adjourn the House till the next sitting day.
Standing Order No. 216 reads -
The quorum in committee of the whole shall consist of the same number of members, exclusive of the chairman, as shall be requisite to form a quorum of the House.
Attached to both of those Standing Orders is a footnote which states that they arc in conformity with the Constitution of the Commonwealth. I contend that, as the Constitution provides that until the Parliament otherwise provides - and Parliament has not so far otherwise provided - no business can be carried on in the House or in committee unless one-third of the number of members of the House or of the committee are in their places. I know that precedents which may lend some weight to the ruling of the Deputy Speaker are given in May’s Parliamentary Practice, but I submit that no ruling of a. Chairman of Committees can abrogate the Constitution of the Commonwealth. I ask you, sir, to give a ruling on this matter for the future guidance and conduct of the House and of the committee.
– I desire, very . briefly, to support the remarks of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini). It may be that I am not fully informed as to the express provisions relating to this matter ; but at the same time the case put by the honorable member is somewhat analogous to the relative force of common law and statute law. It may very well be that the practice has grown up with the approval of the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees of considering as a matter of practical convenience that the mere declaration of the Speaker or the Chairman that he is satisfied that there is a quorum within the precincts of the House is sufficient. But I submit that when a Standing Order is as definite, explicit and clear as that read by the honorable member for Werriwa, no practice inconsistent with it should be allowed to continue. Being asked now to give a definite and considered opinion upon the matter, I submit that you, Mr. Speaker, should be guided by the clear language of the Standing Order, based as it is upon the Constitution. Both the provisions of the Constitution and our Standing Orders are clear, and leave no room for argument. /
.I desire to support the remarks of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr.
Lazzarini), for the reason that honorable members are paid to be present in this House.
– That is why the honorable member himself remained out of the chamber while General Booth was being entertained.
– The worst offenders in that respect are Government supporters.
Motion (by Mr. Lane) proposed -
That the question be now put.
– The honorable member cannot take that action when the Speaker has been asked to give a ruling.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member is in error. The question is that the House do now adjourn. I am asked to give a ruling upon a point that has been raised, and I am prepared to do so, but cannot at this stage since a motion has been submitted “ That the question be now put “.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– To-morrow. Honorable members will realize that the question now before the Chair has no reference to the point of order.
Original question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . 9
Original question so resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.40 a.m. (Tuesday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Sales of Meat: Beef Measles.
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
West Australian Airways: Subsidy Payments.
k asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
In view of the proposal of the Government to establish a fund, the purpose of which is saving the lives and conserving the health of the mothers and infants of Australia, will he give favorable consideration to the proposal by the honorable member for Darling to establish aerial ambulances in the outback parts of the States where lives of mothers and infants arc in constant danger on account of the absence of such services?
– Any proposal which will improve the safety and health of mothers and infants in the remote interior districts of the Commonwealth commands sympathy; there are constitutional and practical difficulties in the way of the honorable member’s suggestion to establish ambulances, but I am now examining the position to determine whether this movement can be assisted in other ways. I will bring the matter before Cabinet at an early date, and will advise the honorable member as early as possible.
Fruit Crop Returns.
e. - The information is being obtained and will be furnished as soon as possible in answer to a series of questions asked by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) regarding fruit crop returns, exports, &c.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Pensions for the Blind.
y. - On the 5th April the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
e. - On the 5th April, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) asked the following, questions, upon notice: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
e. - On the 3rd April the honorable member for Riverina(Mr. Nock) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to advise the honorable member as follows: -
– On the 3rd April the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to advise the honorable member as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 April 1935, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1935/19350408_reps_14_146/>.