14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 11.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– At the last sitting of the House, when the motion for adjournment was moved in the early hours of this morning, and the House had resolvedby vote that the question should he put, I put the question “ That the House do now adjourn “. There were a number of calls of “ No “, which were repeated, and I said “ The House will divide “. Some seconds later, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) rose in his place and said that he did not desire a division to be taken, and asked that it be called off. As the movement of honorable members generally indicated that they were about to leave the chamber as if they acquiesced in that decision, I rose and was about to declare the motion resolved in the affirmative, when the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) said “No, we will divide”. I accordingly resumed my seat and ordered that the bells be again rung. The honorable member for East Sydney then rose and moved towards the door. I said “ Honorable members who have called for a division must remain in the chamber and vote.” The honorable member for East Sydney paused momentarily and then walked to the door. I said : “ The honorable member for East Sydney must not leave the chamber.” He looked directly at me, laughed, and walked out of the chamber. I therefore name the honorable member for disobeying an order of the Chair given personally to him.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That the honorable member forEast Sydney be suspended from the service of the House.
– Mr. Speaker-
– There can be no debate; but I shall hear the honorable member forWest Sydney (Mr. Beasley) briefly.
– Would you, sir, be willing to hear the honorable member for East Sydney as to what actually happened ?
– I have no doubt whatever as to what happened.
Ministerial Members. - Hear, hear !
– Order ! I ask honorable members to be silent.
– Would you, sir, as an act of grace, consent to hear the honorable member for East Sydney before any further action is taken?
Ministerial Members. - No !
– Who is in charge of the business ?
– If the honorable member for East Sydney had wished to make any statement, or to offer any explanation or apology, he should have risen before the motion for suspension was moved. He had plenty of time to do so. I deliberately made my statement slowly, and he did not indicate by any sign or movement that he wished to apologize. Honorable members who were present know that the Chair was deliberately flouted and defied. The Chair has to do its duty, and is doing it. It is now the duty of the House to act.
– May I ask permission of you, Mr. Speaker, to make a statement in regard to exactly what did transpire ?
– Order ! I have told the House exactly what did transpire.
– What sort of justice is this, when an honorable member cannot be heard?
Question - That the honorable member for East Sydney be suspended from the service of the House - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . 11
In division :
The division having been taken,
The honorable member for Hast Sydney thereupon left the chamber.
-I did not hear the question clearly, but I suspect that it was one that ought not to have been asked.
– I desire to address a question to you, Mr. Speaker, arising from the motion for the adjournment of the House at an earlier hour to-day. I was one of a number of honorable members who insisted on a division. When you, sir, called honorable members back to the chamber I, together with the honorable members for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) and Reid (Mr. Gander), was prepared to remain and vote. As a division had been insisted on I desire to know now why you left the chair without that division having been taken, and after you had insisted that honorable members should return and vote in that division.
– I have already indicated to the House what happened last night. I now repeat that honorable members who demand a division must remain and vote. After the Leader of the Opposition had indicated that a division was not desired, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), who is the Leader of the party to which the honorable member asking this question belongs, left the chamber, and there was a general movement towards the doors, which indicated that honorable members generally acquiesced in what the Leader of the Opposition had said. The honorable member for East Sydney alone called out” No ; we will divide.” Therefore, when the honorable member attempted to leave the chamber I called him, and him only, to remain.I mentioned himby name, because his was the voice that demanded the division and caused me to order that the bells be again rung.
– For the guidance of myself and of other honorable members, I desire to know from you, Mr. Speaker, the position of honorable members when the division bells are ringing. I take it that when a division is called for, the bells are rung for two minutes, during which period an honorable member is free to move about the chamber, from one side of the House to the other if he so desires, and that he may also leave the chamber and return.For instance, should the division bells ring again in, say, five minutes’ time, and I urgently wished to leave the chamber for a few moments, in order to obtain some papers, or for any other purpose, have you the power to compel me to remain in the chamber? Should I leave the chamber, and return before the bells ceased ringing, would I come into conflict with the Chair?I claim that as a member of this House I have the right, irrespective of the opinion of Mr. Speaker, to leave the chamber, so long as I return to it before the doors are locked. I am speaking now, not of occasions when the bells are rung for a quorum, but when a division has been called for. I should be glad of your guidance in this matter.
– The standing order is so very definite on this point that I am surprised such a question should have been asked. If, however, the honorable member is genuinely desirous of obtaining an opinion from the Chair, I refer him to Standing Order 295, which reads -
A member calling for a division shall not leave the chamber and shall vote with those who, in the opinion of the Speaker, were in the minority.
I have already referred to that standing order. The honorable member desires to know if he is at liberty to move when the bells are ringing. According to May, 10th Edition, page 338, in the House of Commons a member who is present when the question is put must give his vote. Although no desire for a division had been indicated by the Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the New South Wales party had left the chamber, an honorable member, who I was perfectly certain had called for a division a second time, was also about to leave the chamber, whereupon the Chair informed him that he must remain. That is the point. An honorable member has never been prohibited from leaving the chamber when a division is about to be taken, but if he calls for a division he must, according to the Standing Orders, remain in the chamber. It is not a question for the discretion of the Speaker. If an honorable member calls for a division he should be prepared to remain.
– Is not aWhip able to leave the chamber for the purpose of gathering honorable members for a division ?
– Order ! I am sorry if the honorable member cannot appreciate the explanation I have made. I think it should be easily understood.
– When an honorable member rises on a point of order, is he not entitled to speak to that point of order? I ask this question for my future guidance, because last night in Committee of Supply I rose to a point of order, and on being refused permission to proceed with it I was finally named and suspended from the sitting. If an honorable member rises to a. point of order is he not entitled to explain his reason for doing so?
– The honorable member has asked a question in relation to an incident which happened in committee. The Speaker can have no knowledge of what is done in committee, nor would he be correct in giving a ruling on a point relative to proceedings in committee unless a question were referred to him by the committee.
– But if I asked you what you would do in similar circumstances?
– My ruling would depend on the circumstances. No doubt the ruling of the Chairman of Committees would be influenced by circumstances of which he was the sole judge.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) put -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Wednesday next at 3 p.m.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. j. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– Has the Minister for Commerce seen a statement in the Melbourne Argus of yesterday in which the Attorney-General of Victoria is reported to have said that he did not believe that the Commonwealth Government wanted a compulsory wheat pool, or an excise duty on wheat ; that it had thrown the onus on the States; and that the Commonwealth Government would have to alter its bill if there was to be a home-consumption price for wheat in Victoria? Is there any truth in the statement, and if so, does it not reflect seriously on the intention of the Commonwealth Government ?
– I do not know how the Victorian Government, or any of its members, can speak authoritatively as to the intentions of the Commonwealth Government. Those intentions have been stated explicitly in this chamber, and through the press. As to the legislation necessary to give effect to the intention of the Commonwealth Government, I point out that the bill which has been introduced to deal with the wheat industry is similar to that already in existence in relation to butter and dried fruits, and is the only class of legislation which the Commonwealth Parliament is constitutionally capable of passing in this connexion.
– Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to a recent publication, Japan and the Defence of Australia over the nomdeplume “Albatross,” in which emphatic views on Australia’s defence, especially in relation to Japan, are expressed? If so, will the Government afford this House an early opportunity to discuss Australia’s position in the Pacific?
– My attention has been directed to the publication, which I have read I shall bring under the notice of the Prime Ministerthe second part of the honorable member’s question.
– Will the operations of either of the vessels to be commissioned for the patrol of the northern coastline of Australia be extended to Papua and New Guinea ?
– Of two vessels to be provided for the patrol of northern waters, the Defence Department is providing one for the use of the Civil Aviation Department, but it will be placed under the control of the Department of the Interior. It is expected that this vessel will be in operation within the next six weeks. A second vessel will subsequently be put into commission in the same area by the Customs Department, for its own use. No arrangements have been made for a boat to patrol the coast of Papua, but the matter is being considered by the Department of External Affairs.
– Can the Minister for the Interior say when the cadetships for the New Guinea service will be filled, and if they have been filled will he make a statement on the matter?
– I shall refer the honorable member’s question to the Minister for External Affairs.
Ministerial Statement: Leave to Make Not Granted
– In reply to a question put to me last week by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) I promised to make a statement relative to matters affecting the territory. I ask leave to do so.
Leave not granted.
– Will the Minister make available to the press his statement as to the Government’s developmental policy for the Northern Territory?
– I shall certainly do so.
– In view of the assurance given by the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs that the Department of External Affairs is to be strengthened, will it be possible for the Government to consider a previous request which I made that periodical summaries of international events should be made available to honorable members?
– I shall again bring the matter under the notice of the Minister for External Affairs.
– In regard to press reports of probable Japanese military action in Northern China possibly resulting in that area with a population of 100,000,000 persons coming under the domination of Japan and of the great importance of this matter, particularly to the Australian nation, will the Acting Leader of the House advise whether the League of Nations has communicated with the Commonwealth Government or has the Commonwealth Government yet taken action to bring the matter under the notice of the League? If so, can the Minister make a pronouncement on the subject?
– The honorable member should give notice of the first part of his question. In reply to the second, I understand that China has made no representations to the League.
– I have been trying to get an answer to a question for two years. Previously, I was referred by a former Minister to apply to the Royal Commission on Wheat. I have written several letters but can obtain no satisfactory reply. In view of the difficulty that a citizen has in judging what the price of bread should be over the counter when the price of wheat a bushel is varying so much will the Minister make inquiries as to what a fair price for bread over the counter would be if based on the average price of wheat during the preceding month?
-I understand that Sir Herbert Gepp carried out an investigation in New South Wales along the lines indicated by the honorable member. If that is so I shall endeavour to obtain any information that may be available. If there be none I shall give consideration to the point he has raised.
– What interests does the Commonwealth Government hold in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Limited, which has been supplying large quantities of oil to Italy? If the Commonwealth Government holds any interest in this company, does not the Government consider that some objection to the sale of oil to Italy should be offered by the Commonwealth?
– The Commonwealth holds no interest in the AngloPersian Oil Company Limited, but it is interested in the Commonwealth Oil
Refineries Limited, in conjunction with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Limited. The other information should be sought by giving notice of the question.
– In view of the dire straits of the meat producers of the Northern Territory, will the Minister for Commerce inform the House from the official report of Australia’s leading meat adviser, Mr. J. B. Cramsie, of the carrying capacity of the Barkly Tablelands and its possible annual production of chillers suitable for export under correct methods of planning a vast area?
– The Government is now giving consideration to the matter of Mr. Cramsie’s report, and further information will be supplied subsequently.
The following papers were presented : -
Sales Tax Assessment Acts- Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1935, No. 111.
Wheat Bounty Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1935, No. 101.
. -I move -
That Statutory Rule No. 19 of 1935, amending the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, be disallowed.
I thank the House for its courtesy in allowing this motion to stand over until my return from abroad. On the6th March, a regulation was issued which includes sulphur in the list of goods, the importation of which is prohibited except with the consent of the Minister. Section 62 of the Customs Act, as passed in 1901, gave to the Minister power to prohibit the importation of certain classes of goods, but on that occasion Parliament clearly defined the classes of goods that should be prohibited from entering Australia. They were mainly to be matters affecting the health and morals of the people, and goods made by prison labour. A long list of goods that could be prohibited was embodied in the schedule, but recognizing the impossibility of making provision for all classes of drugs. &c, a general power to prohibit was given. This power up to 1913, was only used to the limited extent I have indicated. But, since then, the Government has looked upon it as a power to control the imports of every class of goods into Australia. The matter was referred to the High Court, and the High Court held that this general power of prohibition was given to the Minister for Trade and Customs, but I believe that that judgment would he reversed by the Privy Council, if the question could be submitted to it.
The Customs Act of Great Britain contains a provision somewhat similar to tL.it of the Australian act under which power is given to prohibit the importation into Great Britain of arms, ammunitions, explosives, or any other class of goods. The Imperial Government began to use that power as the Commonwealth Government is using the power of the similar section of the Australian act, and a case was ‘ taken before the King’s Bench Division in respect to the matter, with the result that a decision was given that the power given in the Imperial Act applied only to goods of a like description to those specified in the section. No general power was given. I firmly believe that it was never intended that the power given in section 52 of the Australian Customs Act should be used to justify the imposition of a general prohibition of imports. The Scullin Government used it in that way, however, for it applied the section to more than seventy items. If governments wish to prohibit imports on such a large scale, they should approach Parliament and obtain specific power to do so. We are being subjected to Executive control in Australia to too great an extent altogether, and to a degree that is entirely unjust, both to Parliament and the general public. Only such imports should bo prohibited as Parliament definitely specifies.
I am strongly opposed to the restriction that has been placed upon the importation of sulphur. I have fought for the last twenty years for the free importation of sulphur into Australia because of its value in the manufacture of fertilizers. I well remember the dreadful condition of the agricultural industry of South Australia in the early years of this century, when Professor Lowry became Director of Agriculture of that State. Professor Lowry inaugurated a widespread campaign to encourage the use of superphosphates which, before very long, resulted in a marvellous improvement of the circumstances of the farmers of the State. Many agriculturists who yielded to the persuasions of Professor Lowry and used superphosphates systematically found themselves growing rich because of their remarkably increased yields. It was not very long before the use of artificial manures became general throughout the States, and there followed a notable advance in the value of wheat lands. In numerous instances the yields of farms were doubled. Top-dressing of grass lands with superphosphates became general, with a consequent increase in the productive capacity of the land, and the increased demand for this fertilizer resulted in a reduction in price. In the circumstances, this Parliament should do nothing to hinder the liberal use of superphosphates.
When a duty was first imposed on sulphur in 1920 by Mr. Rodgers, the then Minister for Trade and Customs, a crisis developed, one result of which was that the Minister lost his seat at the succeding election. I was responsible for a committee being appointed to inquire into the additional cost of superphosphates, and it was agreed that the imposition of the duty had caused an increase of the price of superphosphates by 6s. 6d. a ton. After some time, the Government withdrew the duty and granted a bounty of £40,000 a year to the Broken Hill companies in respect of the sulphur they produced from their zinc slimes. The total amount paid under that bounty measure was £4S0,000.
– It had the effect of reducing the price of imported sulphur.
– That is not so. I am not at the moment offering objection to the policy that the Government adopted. I mention the matter simply to show that a great deal of consideration has been shown to the Broken Hill companies. I hold firmly to the view, however, that nothing whatever should be done that will tend to increase the price of superphosphates to the farmers. The embargo on the importation of sulphur imposed by a regulation dated the 6th March, 1935, is likely to have serious reactions. Superphosphates are to-day being manufactured in Australia by several large companies; Not so long ago, the price of ordinary superphosphates was £5 15s. a ton, but 1 have been informed that the shareholders in at least one of the companies now operating obtain their supplies for a little less than £3 a ton. The market price to ordinary purchasers is a little more than £3 a ton. The superphosphates companies operating in Australia have been able to increase their output to a very large extent by reason of the fact that superphosphates are to-day being used for the top dressing of pastures, whereas, until comparatively recently, their use was limited to land required for the growing of cereal crops.
The embargo on the importation of sulphur is making it impossible for some companies to make favorable contracts. This must have the ultimate effect of increasing the price of superphosphates. In this connexion, I direct attention to the following paragraph from a letter which was recently sent by one of the big superphosphates companies to the Trade and Customs Department -
In reference to our conversation of to-day re importations of sulphur into Australia, I beg to confirm my message that when I submit cabled offers from the United States of America to yon it is essential that you give immediate replies. lt is impossible for shippers, as a rule, to leave offers open for any length of time and so the suggested regulation (hat permits must bo. granted may easily become impracticable should any delay occur in the issuing of such permits. Such a delay might readily mean the loss by you or our other customers of a good purchase at a favorable rate. It frequently happens that an opportunity of freighting occurs, but an immediate answer to the shipper is necessary.
This shows clearly that if manufacturers could be allowed freedom to make contracts with the shipping companies when favorable opportunities occur it would be to the advantage of the industry; but it is absolutely essential that the companies should be free to make these contracts at the very moment the opportunity offers. If delay occurs because of the necessity to refer any matter to the Customs Department, the opportunity may be lost. The company to which I have referred desired to import its year’s supply of sulphur, but was permitted to import only sufficient for six months. The consequence was that its supply for the following six months cost it an extra £3,000, which will ultimately be passed on to the farmer. Nothing should be done to hinder the production of superphosphates on the most favorable terms possible, seeing that they are of such immense importance to the primary industries of Australia.
I have moved this motion with a desire to induce the Government to reconsider its decision. If the Government will not withdraw this regulation of the 6th March, 1935, it should at least amend it so that it will apply only to sulphur required for purposes other than the manufacture of superphosphates. I should offer no objection to that.
It is only fair that I should intimate the reasons given by the Government for declining, up to the present, either to withdraw or to amend the regulation. In a letter which the Minister for Trade and Customs wrote to one company which asked for reconsideration of the regulation, it was pointed out that -
The action taken by the Government arises from treaty negotiations with Japan and Italy.
The letter also stated -
The regulation giving the Government control of imports at this stage has been introduced as a provisional measure with two objects in view : -
To prevent users who may anticipate the outcome of the negotiations from building up excessive stocks,
To discourage users from entering into long-term commitments which may prove a source of embarrassment to themselves and to the Government later.
I cannot see that any embarrassment is likely to follow an amendment of the regulation as I have suggested. Surely the people who manufacture superphosphates know their own business better than any public official can possibly know it. I cannot see how either the company concerned or the Government could be embarrassed if a manufacturer was granted permission to import say 12,000 or 15,000 tons of sulphur for the manufacture of superphosphates. We know that Italy exports large quantities of pyrites and superphosphates, and the United States of America also obtains large quantities of sulphur from Rio Tinto for the manufacture of dyes and sulphuric acid. I cannot conceive of any circumstances in’ which permission to import sulphur for the purpose of manufacturing superphosphates in this country is likely to have any embarrassing effect. I urge honorable members to read section 52 of the Customs Act in order that they may satisfy themselves that the prohibitory power being exercised by the Minister is much more comprehensive than that provided in the section. As honorable members know, Imperial Chemical Industries has recently established works in Australia, and nothing should be done to delay the development of this enterprise in the production of high-grade fertilisers. I have no desire to hinder the arrangement of favorable trade agreements with other countries, but it should be possible to make such agreements without subjecting the primary producers to the danger of increased costs of commodities absolutely essential to their welfare. The regulation to which I object is far too restrictive in its incidence. I appeal to honorable members, and especially to those of the Country party, to support my motion, first, because the Government is exercising a power which Parliament never intended to delegate to it; and, secondly, because the restriction of imports of sulphur into Australia is likly to embarrass bath the manufacturers of superphosphates and the primary producers.
– I support the motion moved by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory).
A co-operative superphosphate company in Melbourne twice complained to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) against the operation of the regulation, which includes sulphur among the list of goods the importation of which is prohibited except under licence from the Minister, but on each occasion he failed to give a satisfactory reason for its retention. The company sought per mission to import supplies of sulphur sufficient to last it for a year, but after some delay licence was granted for the importation of supplies sufficient for only six months. The company thereby missed an opportunity to make its purchases at a reasonable price, and consequently it had to spend about £3,000 more than it would have had to spend had it, without delay, been given the permission to import. Consequently, the cost of superphosphates, which are essential to primary production in Australia, must be increased. A co-operative company must inevitably pass on this increase. If any justifiable reason exists for the retention of the regulation, the Minister should, put it forward. When it was gazetted we were told that it was for the purpose of enabling the the Commonwealth to discuss reciprocal trade arrangements with other countries. As the chief sources of supply are Italy, Japan, and the United States of America, the justification for the regulation was understood at the time. A considerable period has elapsed, however, and it appears that the necessity for the regulation no longer exists. As the result of its operation, the price of sulphur has been materially increased, and the costs of primary production have risen. Unless there is some good reason to the contrary, the Minister should accept the motion and enable the manufacturers of superphosphates to import their requirements without interference.
.- I also support the motion. The Government and Parliament should recognize the national importance of superphosphates. The bounty on superphosphates has enabled primary producers to apply this chemical manure to a greater extent than formerly, with consequential benefit to the productivity of the land. In some areas the carrying capacity of the land has been more than doubled by the use of superphosphates. The questions involved in the motion cut to the roots of our national prosperity. The primary producers in New South Wales, in comparison with those in Victoria and Western Australia, use a remarkably small quantity of superphosphates, but, if New South Wales made greater use of fertilizers its productivity would be greatly increased. When I recently visited a relation who has a property in New South Wales he said to me : “ Before you go, I should like you to see’ the old paddock. It has changed remarkably since We have been using superphosphates on it.” I inspected the paddock, and it was being used for dairy cattle, whereas formerly it had not been fit for the grazing of store sheep. My relation pointed out that clover had made its appearance. Actually the clover was there before the superphosphates were used, but the manure had forced its growth. Sulphur is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of superphosphates, and the Government, by placing obstacles m tho way of its importation is hindering the development of the productivity of the soil.
.- The future prosperity of Australian agricultural and pastoral industries depends largely on the use of superphosphates, and I support the proposal that the importation of sulphur for the manufacture of superphosphates should not be hindered. Many millions of pounds have been invested in the development of irrigation systems in this country as a means of increasing the production and carrying capacity of land; but, as an irrigationist myself, I have found, in common with others, that it is not possible to continue to apply water to land and at the same time maintain the fertility of the soil without the continued heavy application of superphosphates. Widespread repercussions on primary industry, particularly those industries dependent on the irrigation systems, must follow restriction of the importation of sulphur, which results iri increased cost of superphosphates.
The regulation prohibiting importations of sulphur except under licence was intended by the Government to be used as a weapon in negotiating trade treaties with foreign countries; but, despite the fact that it has been in operation for a considerable period, no apparent benefit has accrued. On the contrary, many instances of detrimental effects on superphosphates companies can be cited. Reference has been made to the experience of the Co-operative Superphosphates Company of Victoria, whose operations have brought about substantial reductions of the price of superphosphates. Farmers who have purchased superphosphates on terms have also benefited from reductions of the amount of interest involved in the purchase agreement. Some months ago that company was instrumental in a strong deputation approaching the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) with regard to this matter. The interest taken by honorable members of this House in the deputation was indicative of the general feeling at the time that the restriction on sulphur imports should not be continued. About 25 honorable members accompanied the deputation to the Prime Minister, and sought the revocation of the regulationToday, I think the case is doubly strong.
– Mr. Speaker, I desire to direct your attention to the state of the House.
– A quorum is present. I counsel the honorable member for Denison to be more careful.
– The regulation has been in operation sufficiently long for the Government to have ascertained whether it is a useful instrument in the negotiation of trade agreements. In my opinion its operation should be discontinued, because it involves the manufacturers of superphosphates in heavier costs which eventually have to be borne by the primary producers. It accordingly reacts to the detriment of the people’ of Australia.
– I join with the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) in seeking the discontinuance of the regulation. I have been negotiating with the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr.. White) for a considerable time with the same purpose. The Minister has assured me that there is no restriction of trading sulphur, although instances have been cited of the difficulties which the regulation entails upon sulphur importers. I do not think he appreciates the way in which sulphur is imported into Australia. It comes here in shiploads. Purchasing companies should not have to apply to the Minister each time for a licence to import their requirements. Business men have to know whether they can import their requirements. The damaging effects of the ministerial policy are shown by the experience of the Victorian company mentioned. Desiring to import supplies for twelve months, it was given permission to import only sufficient to last it for six months. The cost of the manufacture of superphosphates was raised because the manufacturers could not purchase sulphur at a favorable opportunity and price. The enormously increased use of superphosphates following the granting of the bounty on fertilizers was followed by a correspondingly increased production, as well as a reduction in the cost of the fertilizer because of the increased quantities used.When the restriction on sulphur imports was introduced twelve months ago, the Minister explained that it had been framed for the purpose of giving the Government a weapon to use in negotiating trade agreements, but so far no benefit has resulted.Restriction on trade such as is provided for in the regulation is opposed to the professed policy of the Government - support of the principle of private enterprise. By this regulation the Government is preventing private enterprise from carrying on a successful business, and it should retrace its steps.
– I support the motion moved by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory)-
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 119.
Debate resumed from the 6th December, 1934 (vide page 905), on motion by Mr. curtin -
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable to establish a system of family allowances payable to widows with dependent children.
– A good deal of time has elapsed since the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) moved this motion, and the matter has now come forward somewhat unexpectedly, so far as I am concerned. Therefore, I do not propose to discuss it at any length.
Motion (by Mr. Paterson) put -
That the debate be now adjourned.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 6th December (vide page 911), on motion by Mr. Thompson -
That a referendum be taken to secure the approval of the people of Australia to the recommendations of the royal commission of 1927-28 for the amendment of the Constitution.
– This motion deals with a very important subject. It was moved by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) several months ago, and the debate was adjourned until to-day. I have not had time to peruse the various speeches delivered on the subject, or to look up the copious notes which I have prepared, believing, as I did, that it would not come on until a later stage. Therefore, I do not propose to discuss the matter at any greater length to-day.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) put -
That the debate be now adjourned.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority … 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 11th April, 1935 (vide page 1281) on motion by Mr. Bernard Corser -
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that constitutional alterations be provided to permit of the organization of primary producers on an Australian basis, with complete sectional control of internal and external marketing of each primary product,such control to be exercised exclusively by the organized producers of such commodity enabling them to speak with one voice and authority in regard to any arrangement which may be deemed by them to be necessary to conserve their interests.
.- By submitting this motion the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) has shown that he realizes the difficulties which beset Australia in endeavouring to provide organizations for the marketing of the products of its great export industries, and the form of the motion itself shows that the honorable member is aware also of the legal difficulties we shall have to overcome because of the division of the trade and commerce powers between the Commonwealth and State Parliaments. I suppose no other country is faced with greater difficulties than is Australia in attempting to legislate for marketing control. We have been able partially to overcome such difficulties by means of co-operative action between the Commonwealth and the States. For example, we have passed legislation in this Parliament in relation to the marketing of dairy produce, and the States have passed similar legislation dealing with the marketing of such produce within their own borders. As honorable members know, the powers of the States in this respect are confined entirely to intra-State trade, whereas the Commonwealth has power to control only interstate and export trade. This latter power has been questioned in some quarters. The dairying, dried fruits, and canned fruits industries have been ‘ the subject of marketing legislation by the States, and in respect of each of these industries supplementary legislation has been passed by this Parliament to make the State legislation more effective. There is before this House at the moment legislation dealing with the wheat industry by which the Commonwealth proposes to do for the States what the States cannot do for themselves - that is, to regulate interstate trade in wheat by providing a system of licensing.
The honorable member for Wide Bay is, of course, aware that his proposal would entail the taking of a referendum. At a recent meeting of the Australian
Agricultural Council held in Canberra, this matter was considered at some length with particular reference to the wheat industry; opinions were exchanged between the Attorneys-General ofthe various States and the Commonwealth Attorney-General, and the matter is still the subject of correspondence between Commonwealth and State governments. At this stage I can only say that this Government recognizes the importance of the proposal put forward by the honorable member for Wide Bay, and it will continue to give the proposal the fullest consideration. He seeks to enable organized producers of the commodities concerned “ to speak with one voice.” This proposal appears to require that perfect coordination be established between the actions of the Commonwealth and the State governments, so that any legislation passed in this respect will form a complete whole, or alternatively, that complete power to do these things shall be given to one Parliament. I repeat, that this Government is particularly interested in this matter at the present time, and will give to it the fullest possible consideration.
Motion (by Mr. Thorby) put -
That the debate be now adjourned.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 11th April, 1935 (vide page 1285) on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That this House is of the opinion that it is desirable to appoint a royal commission to take evidence in public and report upon -
1 ) The operation of the Australian banking and monetary systems, with particular reference as to whether the Commonwealth Bank is operating in its ordinary trading activities upon as fully competitive a basis as is compatible with sound financial practice; and
Whether it would be desirable to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act to direct that the Commonwealth Bank Board, when determining the exchange rate of Australian currency with respect to sterling, should confer with the Treasurer and give consideration to the need for maintaining Australia’s essential export industries.
.- In view of the fact that the Government has already appointed a royal commission to inquire into this matter I ask for leave to withdraw the motion.
Opposition Members. - No.
– As leave has been refused, I move -
That the Order of the Day be discharged.
.- Seeing that the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) has given notice of a proposed amendment, the mover is not the only person directly concerned with this motion, and he should not be allowed to withdraw it from the noticepaper.
Motion (by Mr. Archdale Parkhill) put -
Th at the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker -Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker -Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . … 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Order of the day discharged.
Debate resumed from the 10th October (vide page 634) on motion by Dr. Maloney -
1) That, in view of the following facts, namely -
that the people of Australia are over-taxed without their permission by vote;
that the estimated wealth of Australia, public and private, is £ 5,000,000,000, as compared with Australia when owned by the aboriginals;
that the people are born, live for a time, and die, without being directly benefited by such wealth;
that the time has arrived when, to prevent Fascism and similar evils, the people should have the power of control over the Government, it is the opinion of this House that the Referendum, Initiative and Recall should be included in the Commonwealth Constitution, and in so far as it is necessary to give to the people full powers to initiate legislation theConstitution should be amended.
That, contingent upon tho passing ot such motion, it bo an instruction to the Government of the day to bring in a bill and take such further action as is necessary to carry into effect this resolution.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) hase3 his motion upon four premises; but doubtless he is prepared to allow his contentions to rest upon the first, which reads : “ that the people of Australia are over-taxed without their permission by vote “. I can hardly imagine how that can be so, because in a democracy such as ours, those who support honorable members on this side of the chamber have a fair idea of the policy of the Government which they are supporting, and of the taxation measures it will bring forward. I cannot, of course, speak for those who support honorable members opposite. At present direct and indirect taxation is drawn from various sources, and in accordance with the needs and interests of the country these sources are drawn upon to a greater or less degree. T cannot conceive of a situation in which an elector could be expected to cast an intelligent vote in respect of each particular class of taxation. It is no secret that governments in this and in other countries have to face complex economic and social problems, and that a large number of these problems are before the Parliament and the people at one time. Et is difficult for the electors to come to an all-embracing conclusion covering a period of three years on the large number of proposals before them, including taxation in its various forms, and the numerous items that make up the policies of the different parties. Of course, the electors cast a mean vote, which records the opinion of the constituencies on the problems of the day as placed before them by candidates. How a definite expression of the electors’ minds can be obtained on taxation problems is beyond my comprehension. The present system of parliamentary government, particularly as it operates in British communities, is a lesson to the world. Even under the present system of triennial elections, a democratic government is confronted with many difficulties. I think that the present form of government, is the most enlightened if it can be worked, and if the dignity and prestige of the parliamentary institution can be maintained on a high level. If, on the other hand, the prestige of Parliamentwere diminished, the people and the country generally would be the poorer. Everything in this world is compromise, democratic government not less so than minor subjects. Our present system of appeals to the people at regular intervals on a whole broad schedule of matters of concern to the country is a reasonable form of government. Any other that necessitates appeals to the people at more frequent intervals would, in a very short time, inevitably break down under its own weight.
The second premise upon which the honorable member bases his case is that the estimated wealth of Australia, public and private, is £5,000,000,000. That computation starts from zero when the country was known only by the aborigines. On the most recent calculations, this sum is probably excessive, but I think we can proceed from the assumption that the wealth of Australia is, at any rate, some thousands of millions of pounds. Any calculations made in regard to the capital wealth of the country can be accepted with considerable reserve, because the value of a country’s assets fluctuates in accordance with changing conditions. The value of capital assets cannot be divorced from the earning power of those assets. can admit, however, that there is, at any rate, a large capital value of goods and fixed interests in Australia.
The third point is that “people are born, live for a time, and die, without* being directly benefited by such wealth.” If I may say so with all respect to th,. honorable member, a contention of thar sort overlooks one of the most outstanding movements of tho last generation - the extraordinary spread of wealth that exists to-day as compared with 25 or 30 years ago. That statement is not merely rhetorical ; there are many figures to sup port it. In all civilized countries,’ particularly English-speaking countries, there has been within the last century a definite tendency towards a spread’ of wealth. Prom being the special perquisite of a small property-holding group wealth is to-day much more widely spread among all sections of the community, and the wage and salary-earners of this country have now tremendous vested interests in the capital goods of Australia, apart altogether from their earning power. I have made a good deal of research into these matters, and have compiled figures which I shall place before the House in support of this contention. For instance, in 1910, life assurance policies, which are a big feature in the life and possessions of the average man of Australia, numbered885,400, and the sum assured was £113,000,000. In 1933, the last year for which I have been able to obtain complete figures, there were in existence over 2,500,000 policies, and the total sum assured was not less than £365,000,000. That is to say, the number of policies in existence in 1933 was nearly three times the number in existence 25 years ago, and the average value was substantially higher. The proportion of the population insured 25 years ago was about 20 per cent. as compared with about 40 per cent. at the present time. That is my first item of statistical evidence.
The Savings Bank deposits may be regarded as next in order of importance in reflecting the spread of wealth in this country: In 1910, there were about 1,500,000 deposit accounts totalling approximately £53,000,000; to-day, there are over 4,000,000 accounts totalling over £212,000,000. Taking into account the increase of population in the 25 years, the savings per head of population to-day are two and a half times greater than in 1910.
– What is the average?
– I have not worked out the average. The position has improved since these figures were compiled.
Another index of material value in this connexion is the number of homes that are either owned or in course of being owned by the people who live in them. In 1911, there were 442,000 homes owned by occupants or in the course of being acquired ; in 1933, the last year for which figures are available, the number had grown to 797,000, or nearly double what it was 25 years ago.
The funds standing to the credit of friendly societies in Australia furnish another indication of the steady spread of wealth. In 1916, the first year for which complete figures have been compiled, these funds amounted to £7,500,000. By 1932, sixteen years later, they had grown to £14,750,000. I have attempted to make a calculation of the value of the probable capital assets of what might be called the wage and salary earners of this country. I have made my calculation on a most conservative basis, the actual figures being probably considerably more than those I shall use. On the most meagre calculation the capital assets of the wage and salary earners of Australia to-day total over £1,000,000,000; that is in addition to the wage and salary-earning power of that most important group of people. In nearly all English-speaking countries during the last 25 years, the figures have advanced in something like the same ratio. There has been a tremendous increase in the spread of wealth, and the figures are ascending all the time, on what actuaries would term a straightline curve. The significance of these figures cannot be disputed. The healthy and salutory tendency towards a spread of wealth is far from finished. We, in Australia, are singularly free from great accumulations of wealth in individual hands, and in no country in the world is wealth more evenly distributed. In the past, before the depression, many calculations were made of the per capita ownership of wealth in various countries. Some of the great institutions in the United States of America have spent a good deal of time and money in making calculations of this sort - all of them tentative and on bases that admitted of contentious argument, but if the same basis is adopted in all cases, there is found to be in every country of any consequence a greater spread of wealth each year, and an increasing tendency away from extreme radicalism. I rely on the arguments I have given, which, I submit, with respect to the honorable member, I have cast in no sense of exaggeration. From a strictly debating point of view, a great deal more could be made of the argument if one desired to do so. I suggest that the end is not yet. In Australia, the whole trend of the economic and social life of its citizens is towards a greater and more healthy spread of the national wealth and well-being.
The fourth point made by the honorable member -for Melbourne is that “ the time has arrived when to avoid Fascism and similar evils the people should have the power of control over the government “.
– How does the Treasurer define similar evils?
– I leave that to other honorable members who have more personal knowledge of those evils. The whole point of the honorable member’s contention is that the people have not adequate control over the Parliament. In an ideal society, I suppose, more intimate control might be desirable, and, what is more practical, might be possible. But I contend that, in an imperfect world, the great complex of social and economic problems that are the bones of contention between governments and oppositions are such that it is impracticable to submit them for solution to the mass ‘of the people almost daily. Many of the problems are of great complexity. Indeed, some of them appear at times to be almost insoluble, and I do not think that they would be made any more soluble by a more frequent appeal to the people than we have to-day. After all, if a government goes against the expressed will of the people, it very soon learns its lesson. Luckily, this Government has not had any such lesson from the people, and I think honorable members on both sides will admit that no such lesson is in prospect. All the figures which should be accepted as an index to the political opinions of the majority of the people of Australia have been ‘continuously moving in the same direction, and in the right way, from the point of view of the masses, since the first Lyons Government came into power. This Ministry has had no indication from the people that more frequent appeals to them than are now provided for are necessary or desirable. Individual members are in touch with their electorates, and they know the feeling of the people, whose opinions are expressed more pungently than at other times every three years. If any dissatisfaction with the first three years of the administration by the Lyons Government existed, it would have been expressed in the election returns; but no indica tion of dissatisfaction was given at the election held a year ago. On the contrary, the people, in their wisdom, returned to power the parties from which has been formed the present, composite Government, which has a large and comfortable majority. That is a practical expression of the people’s will, and I have no doubt that, two years hence, when another appeal will be made, the Ministry will have no reason to change its mind as to the policy that it has adopted. During the last four years in which the parties on this side of the House have been in power, every confidence has been shown in them. I do not say all of the people are satisfied with the present Government, and with everything that it has done, Occasionally a section expresses resentment of some of its actions, but displeasure is more frequently shown concerning those of the Opposition. It is neither possible nor desirable to please the whole of the people all the time. It is occasionally brought to my notice that some of the taxpayers’ associations are not so much in accord with. What the Government is attempting to do as I should like. In respect of land taxation, we have friendly discussions in this Parliament, and we do not all hold similar views. Our debates regarding the sales tax are often lively and enlightening, and various opinions are expressed. So one might proceed in respect of almost every activity of government. I am sure that the vast majority of the people are in accord with the policy of the Government in the matter of defence; but, of course, a small minority holds a different view. On almost every aspect of government there are sections of the people who have special interests, and would express themselves dogmatically in defence of them.
With all the respect which honorable members generally feel towards tha honorable member for Melbourne, I contend that the business of government has, even within my limited personal experience of it, reached a stage where it is quite impossible to refer back to the people at frequent intervals all of the problems - and many of them are interacting - with which the Government is faced. For these broad reasons I find myself obliged to contest the general proposition submitted by the honorable member.
– I support the motion. The subject of the initiative, referendum and recall is one of first-rate importance, and deserves the serious consideration of the House. The Treasurer has given -us a lecture on economics, but I am afraid that his figures are much out of date. I cannot imagine that he has stated his real opinions on the matters mentioned by him. I regret that he has made this a party question. We are not discussing whether the present Ministry is popular with the electors, but whether the Constitution should be amended in the interests of the people generally by embodying in it the initiative and referendum. I should say that the evidence that has accumulated at least during the last eight years, and particularly during the depression period, disposes of almost every contention advanced by the Treasurer. There was never a time in the history of this country, or of the world, when there were so many mendicant people or organizations as there are to-day, or when those with incomes were taxed so heavily in order to support those with no incomes at all. Had the Minister confined, his remarks to returns produced during the last census, the ground on which he tried to support his argument that the national income was more uniformly distributed now than previously would have been cut from under his feet because those returns showed that there was a larger number than ever before without any income at all. Therefore, his contention that the national income has been spread more uniformly among the people than ever before, and that everybody is becoming more and more prosperous, is false, and is totally unsupported by reliable statistics.
The increasing numbers of depositors in savings banks have been used many times to disprove claims of the workers for improved standards of living. Not long ago Mr. Latham, a member of the staff of the Commonwealth Bank, was called upon by the Pull Bench of the Arbitration Court to justify the claim that the masses of the people were becoming richer, as the Treasurer tried to prove this afternoon. It was shown, however, that there are some 300,000 working-class depositors in savings banks, and that the average amount of their deposits is between £16 and £17 ; but it was not disclosed that the depositors generally were more prosperous. It was revealed that at regular intervals they placed small sums in the banks, but periodically withdrew their savings for the purpose of defraying their living expenses, the result being that their balances remained at about the same level all the time. It was proved that those who had any income at all received so little that they could not pay for many of their requirements out of a week’s, or even a month’s income; but, by banking a shilling or two each week they eventually accumulated sufficient money to make necessary purchases. The presiding judge, in examining Mr. Latham, agreed that no average artisan in Australia, even when wages were high, and when he received a full week’s wages, could immediately purchase boots or shoes, a costume for his wife, or a suit of clothes for himself, or pay a deposit on a mangle or a piano ; he therefore had to save until he could afford to do so. [Quorum formed.]
A graph prepared from the returns of banking institutions for the purpose of ascertaining whether an argument similar to that advanced by the Treasurer was correct disproved the Minister’s contention. It showed that the savings of 300,000 depositors moved very like King Bruce’s spider - climbing up a little one day, but slipping back the next. The- returns showed that more revenue has been raised by way of taxation, and more people have been receiving pensions in Australia in the last five years than during any similar period. To make an absolutely fair comparison, we should have regard to the percentage of the population that is in receipt of sustenance or relief. It will not he denied that it has been higher during the last five years than ever before in the history of the Commonwealth. All the evidence goes to show that in this period taxation has become heavier in order to provide for the needs of those who, having no income, have been recipients of relief in some form. In the light of the economic facts how can the statement of the
Treasurer be substantiated? If, as the honorable gentleman said, the people of Australia are becoming richer and richer and the national income is steadily increasing, what is the explanation of the larger number of people dependent upon some form of Government relief? The truth is that because the economic situation of the Commonwealth has become worse, the Government is forced to impose heavier taxation upon people with incomes to meet the urgent requirements of those who are without income. Is it not true that at the outset of the depression, some years ago, there came to this country a number of financial and economic messiahs from Great Britain to advise us concerning the measures necessary to meet our threatened difficulties? Those experts told us that greater sacrifices must be demanded of the people in order to prevent the entire collapse of the financial and economic structure of the Commonwealth. Following the report which they submitted to the Government, Parliament considered and approved of measures which, imposed onerous burdens on the poorer sections of our people. Some of us were really ashamed of those proposals, but we felt that, as legislators, we were in some respect responsible for the situation which had arisen, and for that reason we were reluctantly forced to accept them. I feel sure that if the Treasurer had made a detailed examination of the economic situation of Australia during the last decade, he would not have attempted to side-step the issue; but it is obvious that, because of the state of the notice-paper the Government is playing for time and is not taking this debate seriously.
– The Government is not in any predicament over the state of the notice-paper.
– On several occasions during the last six months we have heard the Treasurer assert that owing to increased commitments in respect of pensions and payments to the States to relieve distress, it was difficult to know where to get the money.
– I did not say that.
– Perhaps the honorable gentleman did not use those words, but he has, on many occasions, referred to the financial difficulties which confront the Commonwealth.
– And he has spoken of the financial assistance that is given to the States.
– Tasmania, at all events, is receiving generous consideration.
– That is probably because the financial condition of Tasmania demands it. [Quorum formed.]
Although this motion has been on the notice-paper for some considerable time, the debate this afternoon has been sprung upon the House, so it is not likely to receive the consideration which its importance demands. There never was a time in the history of the world when thinking people were so much concerned about proposals to restore economic order out of the chaos which has been caused by the dislocation of world trade due, not to the decline of national incomes, but to their uneven distribution, and the adoption, in so many countries, of the policy of economic nationalism. This is evidenced by the large number of representatives of political parties which submit themselves to the electors of all countries and propound all manner of schemes and formulas to get the world out of its present economic troubles. Australia is in exactly the same position as other countries and this is evidence of discontent with the present system of government.
– The League of Nations has indicated plainly enough that the present chaotic condition of world affairs is due to the refusal of countries to trade with one another.
– I was the Australian delegate to the League of Nations Assembly some years ago and took part in the discussion of the unsatisfactory condition of world trade. There was general agreement that the existing chaos was due to the causes which I have mentioned.
– That is not the true explanation.
– There was, I repeat, general agreement that the fall in the . incomes of millions of people in all countries had so lessened the demand for goods and services that world trade had become completely disorganized. I feel sure that the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), who was our representative at the League of Nations Assembly this year, will, in his report to this Parliament, bear out my statement. Surely this is obvious to every student of world economics. “Why is this Government worrying about ways and means to get out of its present difficulties? Why is it endeavouring to obtain more money to meet the demands made upon it by States for financial assistance? Why has it been obliged to decrease the exemption limit for taxation ? Why has it been obliged to reduce pensions and superannuation payments to its public servants? The Government has been doing all these things because the number of unemployed in this country has been higher than ever before. I know that the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) will not agree with many of my conclusions, but he will not deny that the primary industries, which he so strongly supports in this chamber, are in the same position as other industries. Although, during the whole of his political life, he has been opposed to Government interference with industry and trade and commerce, he must admit now that some assistance must be given to our primary producers if they are to be extricated from their present difficulties. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) struck the right note a few days ago when he said that we were living in a new world, and, because it was a new world, we should be prepared to accept new ideas, even if they were distasteful, in order to improve our economic conditions. One suggestion is that the people of this country should have more effective control of their parliamentary institutions, by means of the referendum initiative and recall. When I was in Geneva as a representative of the Commonwealth, I discussed this system with many prominent people in Switzerland including representatives of the Swiss Railway Employees Federation. I told them that the initiative, referendum and recall bad aroused a certain amount of interest in Australia and, in view of their experience in the working of the system, I asked them if they would recommend its adoption in Australia. One man to whom I spoke told me that the people of
Switzerland were not then so enthusiastic about it as they had been, but when I asked him if they would abandon it, he said “Oh, no. People are always afraid to vote for a change. They now have the right to initiate legislation and to demand a vote upon measures which may be passed.” When I questioned him further and asked if he thought that I should recommend its adoption in Australia, he said “ Yes, because although many people may vote against a new proposal, they will also vote No ‘ when you try to take away what they already have.” He told me that the people of Switzerland would retain it for their protection against any attempt to deprive them of privileges already won. By its means some years ago the Government of that country was foiled in an attempt to deprive the workers of a 48-hour week. Had the system operated in Australia at the time, the probability is that the people of this country would not have agreed to the reduction of pensions and salaries, and in all likelihood would long since have demanded an alteration of the policy of the Commonwealth Bank. If the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) really believes that our institutions should gradually, but surely, he made more democratic, and that power as well as wealth should be distributed more evenly over the whole of the people, the soundest method to adopt is that proposed by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney). I believe in. the initiative and the referendum, and am convinced that that system is favoured throughout Europe. I am sorry that honorable members have not discussed the matter more seriously. One would expect that when such a matter was brought before this Parliament those who have some knowledge of economic and political history would give serious consideration to it. I support the motion. [Quorum formed.~
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) has suggested, first, that the people of Australia are overtaxed; and, secondly, that they are born to live for a time and die without being directly benefited by the great wealth of the Commonwealth. The supporting speaker, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), then endeavoured to show that the people of Australia are poorer to-day than they were in past years.Without going back to the period referred to by the honorable member for Melbourne, when Australia was held by aborigines, I should say very definitely that the people of Australia are to-day much more prosperous than they were half a century ago. I admit that small sections are faced with temporary difficulties, and that poverty exists in isolated cases. But there will always be poverty among certain sections. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports also said that our taxation is higher, and the number of pensions greater. My rejoinder to that is that 50, 60 or 70 years ago, the standard of living was comparatively low, and that no old-age pensions system was in operation in Australia. Unquestionably, we have taxed ourselves largely for the purpose of improving our standard of living, by providing all sorts of facilities, conveniences, public utilities and comforts which the people of 50 or 60 years ago did not enjoy. It is not necessary to do more than examine the homes of the people, from the richest to the poorest. They are undoubtedly of a much higher standard than were the homes of 50 or 60 years ago. This,I think, indicates that the people of to-day are much better off than were their forefathers. How many of the homes of 50 or 60 years ago were furnished as are the homes of to-day? How many were supplied with electricity? How many had water and sewerage facilities? Even the production of gas was only in the elementary stage in a few of the large cities and important towns at the time of which I speak.
– The gap between rich and poor is wider to-day than it has ever been.
– That is absolutely incorrect. Compare the existing educational facilities, which are provided practically wholly out of taxation, with the educational facilities of 50 years ago. Compare the hospital services, the general health services, with those of half a century ago. All public utilities and social services are provided to a greater or less extent out of revenue raised by means of taxation. Do not the existing transport facilities represent wealth? Are not the railways, roads, tramways and motor transport services beneficial to every man, woman and child, giving them comforts that were not dreamed of 50 or 60 years ago? What I emphasize is that, if the people of Australia wish to continue to enjoy these comforts, and demand additional comforts, as well as facilities and utilities of various kinds, they must be prepared to work and pay for them. In the various towns of Australia the municipal authorities have spent large sums of money to improve the conditions of residents. Every improvement represents wealth to the people. The wealth of this country is not seen only in the accumulated balances in the savings banks. [Quorum formed.] In the dissemination of news and information by newspapers and other journals, considerable progress has been made during the last 50 years. It is no exaggeration to say that each week hundreds of newspapers and journals, which are sold at a merely nominal cost, circulate among the people. Is not that development but another evidence of our accumulated wealth? Again, in the matter of food and clothing, the standards to-day are far superior to those of half a century ago. Present-day citizens have the choice of a greater range of better clothing, and of a greater variety of foodstuffs, than their forefathers had. Fifty years ago people living in country districts were almost devoid of entertainment and amusement other than that which they themselves organized; but to-day the wealth of the country has made possible to them a variety of cheap entertainments and means of enlightenment and amusement. Science, investigation and discovery have brought many developments which go to make conditions much more enjoyable than they were in the last century. Wireless is only one of a number of facilities now enjoyed by the people which were unthought of half a century ago. Does any honorable member suggest that a wireless receiving set in a home does not represent added wealth? It provides a means of entertainment and enlightenment, and represents the expenditure of wealth. A comparison of conditions to-day with those of 50 years ago reveals that in every direction the people of to-day are better off than their forefathers were. Even the fact that more persons are in receipt of old-age pensions to-day than twenty years ago supports my contention.
– The greater number of pensioners is evidence of greater poverty.
– That Australia is able to spend nearly £13,000,000 a year in paying cash pensions to invalid and aged persons who, 50 years ago, would have been unprovided for, is evidence of the country’s wealth.
– There are more old people in the community to-day than there were then.
– There is not a higher percentage of old people. Fifty years ago the poor had to carry on to the best of their ability. They did not enjoy conditions comparable with those in which the poor of to-day live. No parliament in Australia would tolerate to-day the extremes of wealth and poverty which existed 50 years ago. The pioneers who developed this country carved their homes out of .the hush, and lived in dwellings of bark, or of wattle and daub - a type df building for which ten.au t3 could not be secured to-day. They lived in a state of poverty because at that time the country had very little accumulated wealth. They did not enjoy a regular and frequent postal service, but had to be satisfied with intermittent deliveries of postal articles. They had no proper educational facilities for their children, or hospital facilities for their sick, whereas people living in outback districts to-day have their schools, hospitals, water supplies and other public utilities.
– More men are carrying their swag3 to-day than was the case 50 years ago.
– Half a century ago working men in rural districts carried their swags many miles to the various sheds in the country; to-day, they travel in comfort to their work in motor cars and railways. Fifty years ago the wealthy squatters, of whom honorable members opposite are prone to speak somewhat disparagingly, had to travel long distances in horse-drawn vehicles over poor roads in order to receive medical attention, whereas to-day, in their highpowered motor cars, they are able to travel quickly along well-made roads, which have cost the country many millions of pounds. It is not only the graziers and the wealthy country people who travel in -their motor cars along well-made rural roads to-day; their employees also have these facilities at their disposal, and can cover in a few hours distances which another generation required many days of hard tramping to do. I appeal to honorable members on both sides of the House not to decry their own country, or misrepresent the conditions obtaining in it. Admittedly serious disabilities have still to be overcome, but we must all recognize that Australia possesses vast reserves of accumulated wealth. These reserves are gradually being distributed amongst all sections of the community. The facilities, comforts and amenities, governmental and municipal, public and private, which have improved the conditions of living, and the better clothing, food and water supply, and the many other conveniences to which I have referred as being available to the people of Australia, represent only a proportion of the accumulated wealth, in which everybody shares.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Earle Page) adjourned.
Question - That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for Thursday, the 12th December next - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. j. Bet,l.)
Majority . 10
– Order ! The honorable member for Dalley is out of order.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I should like some definite pronouncement from the Government in regard to the motion which I submitted to-day for the purpose of disallowing the regulation which prohibits the importation of sulphur into Australia. I was under the impression that the Acting Leader of the House would make a statement in that connexion. I can assure him that unless some satisfactory explanation is forthcoming I, and, I think, many other honorable members, will vote against the motion for the adjournment of the House.
.- I protest against the adjournment of the House at this early hour when, because of the lack of facilities to leave Canberra until 8.30 o’clock, honorable members of the Opposition were given to understand that the House would not adjourn until the dinner hour. I also protest, as respectfully as I can, against the manner in which Ministers have treated the business sheet to-day. It is not unwarranted criticism to say that the debate on each motion which has been tabled has been perfunctory, even casual, and, furthermore, of such a character as to justify the application to it of the term “ evasive “. In short, because of the fact that, apparently, the Government has not had sufficient numbers to suspend the Standing Orders, it has resorted to a series of devices which have had the effect of practically wasting this important day in the deliberations of this chamber. I urge my protest the more strongly, because it appears to me incongruous that honorable gentlemen should have been compelled by the Government to remain sitting until 3 a.m. this morning, and then to meet again to-day only to find that, because of the difficulties in which the Government allowed itself to become involved, they were expected to take part in deliberations without any effort being put forward by the Government to bring those deliberations to a conclusion.
I entirely agree with the protest of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory). The motion he moved earlier to-day refers definitely to the administration and authority of the Government, and I, like other honorable members of the House, was anxious that a vote should be taken on it. The Standing Orders prevented the continuance of the discussion at the time the debate was adjourned, but there is no reason why the remainder of the time available to-day should not be devoted to it, so that a decision could be reached. I realize, of course, that the Government is in difficulties 5 but I have no hesitation in saying that these are due to the incompetent way in which it has submitted its business to Parliament. The facts warrant the making of that statement. Much of the confusion in the House this week, and a good deal of the resultant unpleasantness, can be laid at the door of the Government itself, because of the incompetent way in which it has dealt with the business.
– The circumstances that we now face in connexion with the business of this House are, in some respects, the most extraordinary that I have known during my seven or eight years membership cif the Parliament ; and they will, no doubt, tend to bring into ridicule, not only the Government, but also the parliamentary institution itself. When the debate on the motion of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) for the disallowance of a certain statutory rule was adjourned, honorable members generally understood that it would be resumed at a later hour this day. I was personally interested in the subject and had hoped that it would be further discussed. I have had a notice on the business-paper for many months. On two occasions, in order to meet the convenience of the Government, I have agreed to the postponement of the discussion on it. It now appears that I am to i receive no consideration for having agreed to meet the convenience of the Government. Apparently, the Acting Leader of the House (Dr. Page) wishes this sitting to end two hours earlier than it need end. The members of the Government should not forget that private members have some rights in this Parliament. I do not know what course the honorable member for Swan intends to pursue in order to bring about a resumption of the debate on his motion, but I assure him that I and my colleagues will support any step that he takes to obtain a vote on that motion. It seems, however, that certain honorable members opposite do not wish to express their opinion. Although they profess to represent the primary producers, their action in this matter is diametrically opposed to them. I hope ‘that a sufficient number of them will vote against the motion for the adjournment of the House at this unnecessarily early hour The Government is not acting fairly by honorable members, and the methods it is pursuing are . naturally causing . resentment. The motion that I have on the notice-paper should have been discussed months ago, but the Government has so far declined to provide an opportunity for the discussion of it. In the circumstances I hope that rh is motion for the adjournment will be defeated.
.- I join with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and the other two honorable gentlemen who have spoken on the subject in protesting against the proposal to adjourn the House at this early hour. Tt cannot be denied that the Government and its supporters have taken this action to burke discussion on matters of vital concern to the people of this country. The action taken may be strictly in con formity with the Standing Orders, but the Government could easily have found a means to enable honorable members to continue their consideration of various matters on the business-paper for at least another two hours.
I wish to refer to the unsatisfactory manner in which the Government is dealing with the problem of unemployment. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment (Sir Frederick Stewart) has been back in Australia now for some weeks, and it is high time that the Government made a pronouncement of its policy in the light of any submissions he may have made to it. We should be informed of its intentions in regard to our fellow citizens who are still unemployed, and also of the action it proposes to take to deal with the root causes of the problem. Numerous promises were made on behalf of the Government during the last election campaign that if it were returned action would be taken to provide employment for our people who needed work. It was said then that a member of the Government would be appointed to deal specifically with employment matters. A Minister was so appointed, but shortly afterwards, the Cabinet positions were reshuffled, with the result that he disappeared. His place was taken by the Under-Secretary for Employment. The honorable gentleman appointed to that position has spent the better part of a year in touring the world, and we are now entitled to know what information and what recommendations he has made to the Government, particularly in view of the fact that since his return he has made several speeches on the subject. Our information on such an important matter should come, not through the public press, but through statements made on behalf of the Government on the floor of this House. In view of the approach of the Christmas season, I make a special appeal to the Government to intimate without delay what it intends to do to provide a little extra assistance for the unemployed so as to afford some additional cheer to them through the Christmas season. A substantial amount of money should be made available at once to assist the most necessitous cases.
– The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) asked earlier to-day for information regarding the dates on which various classes of pensions would be paid to meet the special circumstances of the Christmas season. I now intimate that old-age and invalid pensions due on the 19th December will be paid on Wednesday, the 18th December. It so happens that, in certain States, the 2nd January, which should be the pensions pay-day, will be a bank holiday. In those States the pensions will be paid on the 31st December. War pensions are due for payment on the 26th December, but will be paid on Thursday, the 19th December.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) protested against the proposal that the House should adjourn at about 4.30 p.m., and in backing up his protest he claimed that the motion for the adjournment was moved because the Government did not happen to have 38 members present in the House so that it could force its will in the matter of ordinary business. Honorable members, particularly those on this side of the House, are vividly aware of the events of the last 48 hours. The Opposition is well aware that the Government has a full programme of important business to pass, yet it takes every opportunity to delay the programme and waste the time of the country.
– That is untrue.
– -The people should be made aware of the degree to which some honorable members of the Opposition take advantage of every conceivable form of the House in order to waste the time of Parliament and stop the Government from, getting its legislation through the House. The truth of that is known by every honorable member, but in the face of that knowledge the Leader of the Opposition has taunted the Government with not having 38 members, an absolute majority, in this House, so that it can enforce its will on the Opposition by sledge-hammer methods. The degree to which the Opposition is willing to hinder the Government in carrying out legislation for which the country is waiting is shown by his speech. I was astounded, and so also were many other honorable members, at this atttitude. Many other grounds on which he could have based opposition to the adjournment were ignored so that he could taunt the Government for not being able to use the sledge hammer on the Opposition to stop it from wasting time. That is the position, and the sooner the people realize it the better it will be.
– On a point of order, is it not disorderly for the Treasurer to accuse the Opposition of wasting the time of Parliament? I ask that his remark be withdrawn.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).It was not attributed personally to the honorable member.
– As a member of the Opposition, I take exception to it.
– I listened carefully to what was said by the Leader of the Opposition, and the accusations made by him were equally as forcible as those made by the Treasurer. I allowed a certain amount of latitude on both sides. There was no reflection personally on the honorable member for Dalley.
.- Having had a good deal of experience of how the business of private members is brushed aside for the purposes of the government of the day, I appreciate the grounds of the protest of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and I am sure that if the Acting Leader of the House (Dr. Earle Page) would assure the honorable member for Swan that he will have an opportunity-
– Let me speak and T shall be able to do so.
– The right honorable member should also give me an assurance that I shall be able to complete my motion regarding the initiative, referendum and recall. Members of the Government should remember that one day they might occupy a position similar to that occupied to-day by the honorable member for Swan. I may inform the Minister that the delivery of one more speech would have finished the debate on my motion. £ commend the House to read my speech, because if they do so they will see that there is something in the proposition that a country, when it has the rule of initiative, referendum and recall, is genuinely democratic. I hope that the rights of private members will not depend on the whim of governments in future.
.- On behalf of the Government, I wish to assure the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that the question of the admission of sulphur, in which he is so interested, will shortly be dealt with by the Government. Before dealing with it, the Government is awaiting the return of the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties (Sir Henry Gullett), who is expected to be back in this Parliament the week after next. I think the honorable member is aware that the imports of sulphur were subjected to license some little time ago in order to make it easier to negotiate trade treaties. I hope that the question will be solved promptly and in a manner satisfactory to the honorable member.
– Will the Minister give me a definite assurance that if the Government does not decide to repeal the regulation, honorable members will have an opportunity to deal with the matter in this chamber?
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Thorby) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.44 p.m.
n asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Minister for Com merce, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained, and will be supplied later to the honorable member.
Mr.Rosevear asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
s. -The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister for
Commerce, upon notice -
e.-The information is being obtained, and will be supplied later to the honorable member.
en asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he place on the table of the House, for the information of honorable members, the report of the committee engaged in the North Australian and Western Australian geophysical survey, as far as the work has been completed?
– The Government has received the report covering the period ended the 30th June, 1935, of the committee appointed to direct and control the Northern Australia survey, and arrangements are being made for it to be tabled in the House next week.
r asked the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– It is provided in the regulations under the Commerce Act that dairy produce intended for export shall be forwarded to an appointed place for inspection by Commonwealth inspectors. In approving of any establishment as an appointed place, the Department of Commerce may attach conditions to such approval. One condition which has been imposed is that the owner of the premises shall provide all equipment, labour necessary for weighing, handling and examining the dairy produce. This condition has been observed, in the past, in all States except Queensland, and the owners of the appointed places meet the cost involved in providing this assistance. The same conditions had not previously applied in Queensland, because the graders employed by the State were using the same appointed places for examination of dairy produce for State purposes, and those graders themselves performed the services which, in other States, were provided by the owners of the appointed places. Recently, the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments reached agreement in regard to the elimination of duplication in the examination of dairy produce. The inspection at appointed places in Queensland, of dairy produce intended for export, is now carried out by Commonwealth officers, and the same conditions as apply in other States are now operative in Queensland.
e asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. There were 6,843 non-official post offices in operation as at 30th June last, and the total amount of allowances paid for the conduct of those offices during the last financial year was £616,417. As the basis of payment is the same, irrespective of the sex of the person in charge, information is not available as to the number of non-official postmasters and postmistresses, respectively nor as regards the total amount paid to each of the sexes.
Steamers for Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
s. - On 7th November, 1935, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) asked me a question without notice, in regard to the construction
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 November 1935, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1935/19351121_reps_14_148/>.