15th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr.Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have to announce that I have received a return to the writ which I issued on the 28th April last for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Griffith, inthe State of Queensland, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Francis Matthew John Baker, and that by the endorsement on the writ it is certified that William Patrick Conelan has been elected in pursuance of the said writ.
Mr.Conelan made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.
Relations with Government.
– In view of the fact that yesterday it was made plain that some new use had been made of the Country party, affecting the conduct of business in this House, will the Prime Minister intimate to the Parliament and the country the full extent of any change of programme resulting from this new understanding?
– If the honorable gentleman refers to the programme of business before the House, I am not aware of any change of it.
– The Canberra Times this morning published the report that when, last “night, the vote was taken to apply the guillotine to the Supply and Development Bill, I walked out of the chamber. This report is without foundation and the statement . it contains is quite untrue. I was seated at the side of the chamber when the vote referred to was taken, but was paired with the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney), who on Tuesday night asked me to grant him a pair because his brother was seriously ill. I willingly did so. Unfortunately, the honorable member’s brother has since passed away. I am sure that the honorable member has the sympathy of all honorable members. Had I been free to. vote, I should certainly have unhesitatingly supported the Government.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to indicate ‘to the House when he proposes to give to honorable members an opportunity to discuss the motion which stands in my name on the notice-paper in regard to the contract for additions to the Sydney General Post Office?
– I had intended to make immediately an important statement on the matter, the subject of the motion of the honorable gentleman, but I am not yet in a position to make it because certain information for which I have asked is not yet to hand. Should it come to hand within the next few minutes I shall be able to make the statement during question time; but if not, I shall at a later hour ask the leave of the House to make it, presumably immediately after the dinner adjournment. The matter, as I now see it, is an important one, and I shall certainly deal fully with it to-day.
High Court Decision
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to inform the House as to when the High Court is likely to deliver its judgment in respect of the validity of existing wheat legislation?
– I regret that I have no knowledge as to when the judgment of the High Court will be delivered, but I sincerely hope that, for the benefit of all concerned, it will be delivered during the present sittings of the Parliament.
Increase of Personnel
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the decision of the Lyons Government, to increase the personnel of the Tariff Board, to permit of its subdivision and the consequent simultaneous examination of references in connexion with new and existing industries, has yet been acted upon ?
– The decision of the Lyons Government referred to by the right honorable gentleman has not yet been acted upon but is still the subject of review by the present Government.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs confirm the report that the Anglo-Russian negotiations have broken down, and that Russia intends to negotiate with Germany? If this report be correct, can the honorable gentleman give any indication as to the reasons for the breaking down of the negotiations and as to whether the Australian Government has tendered or will tender any further advice in respect of this most important matter?
– I understand that the British official wireless this morning announced that the AngloRussian negotiations had broken down, but gave no reasons therefor. I believe that the negotiations with Germany, of which mention was made, are trade negotiations. The Government has not received an official endorsement of this message.
– Is the Minister for External Affairsable to disclose the steps that have been taken to make known Australia’s special interests in relation to the proposed Anglo-Russian pact? Will he state to the House the opinions of the Government in view of the expressed determination of the Prime Minister that this country should take an active and live interest in shaping international politics in the Pacific?
– I shall be glad to take the honorable gentleman’s suggestion into consideration, and will furnish him with a reply at a later date.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether he is yet in a position to reply to the question that I addressed to him the week before last, in respect of candidates for the Royal Australian Navy?
– Since the question was asked I have had an opportunity to acquaint myself of the position in relation to the particular case referred to. Applications numbering 43, of which six were from South Australia, were received for admission to the Royal Australian Navy. Those six applicants were given a provisional medical examination in their own State, and two of them failed to pass it. The remaining four were sent to Melbourne for a final medical examination and interview. One of the four failed to pas3 the second medical examination ; the other three were not successful in securing selection, and were so notified on the 27th February. I believe that, in the particular case which the honorable gentleman has in mind, the parents of the candidate were notified of his nonsuccess on the 1st March. Prior to being interviewed in Melbourne, all of the candidates were measured for uniforms on account of the fact that, if chosen, they would have had to go to England at an early date, and it was necessary for the clothing factory to have the measurements immediately. The candidates were given clearly to understand that the mere fact of their being measured for uniforms did not indicate that they would be selected. Further applications were called, because the candidates offering in the first instance were not up to the requisite standard.
Broadcasting Station 2 KY.
– I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether you are aware of any forms of the House under which I could compel, or oblige, or constrain, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) to attack my administration in connexion with the temporary closing of wireless station 2 KY ?
– I am not sure of the purpose of the honorable member in asking the question. Does he refer to something done in the House by the honorable member for East Sydney?
– Is any honorable member entitled to oblige another honorable member to open up a matter in the House to which he continually refers by interjection?
– I do not understand the purport of the honorable member’s question.
– Seeing that the guillotine is in operation in respect of a very important measure, I ask the Prime Minister whether he will either move an amendment to the motion to provide that the time occupied in questions may not shorten the time that would otherwise be available for the consideration of the bill, or else refuse to answer any further questions without notice?
– I am very largely in the hands of honorable members.Seeing that only a limited time is available for the discussion of the measure to which the honorable member has referred I am quite prepared to ask honorable members to defer any further questions until to-morrow, if that course should meet with their approval.
Re-imposition op Embargo.
– Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to make his promised statement in respect of the policy of the Government concerning the embargo on the admission of potatoes from New Zealand ?
– by leave - The Government has recently given much consideration to the economic position of the Australian potato industry, with special reference to the fact that the arrangement made by the previous Government in regard to the admission of New Zealand potatoes into Australia expired on the 31st May, and has decided not to renew that arrangement which, in fact, did not result in the importation of any potatoes other than a special experimental shipment of under two tons. I am communicating with the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and informing him that the prohibition on the importation of potatoes will be continued pending a complete and prompt investigation into the position.
The Federal Potato Advisory Committee has been invited to make suggestions to the Government regarding measures designed to stabilize the potato industry. It is anticipated that representatives of the committee will visit Canberra for this purpose and will confer with the Commerce Department in regard to the matter. The suggestions made by the committee will be considered by the Commonwealth Government in consultation with the Agricultural Council.
From time to time citrus growers in Australia have complained that the continuance of the prohibition on the importation of potatoes has adversely affected their industry. I have informed the chairman of the Federal Citrus Advisory Committee that I will receive a deputation from the citrus-growers and give them an opportunity to state their case. When these steps have been taken, the permanent policy to be adopted will be considered and announced.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation inform me whether it is correctly reported that a contract has been prepared in the last few days, and is about to be signed, between the Civil Aviation Department and certain air lines for the provision of subsidized services? If so, is any subsidy to be granted to the company known as Air Lines of Australia in respect of the service between Sydney and Brisbane? If that is the case, will the Minister insist that any subsidies shall be conditional upon the re-establishment by Air Lines of Australia of the service which formerly operated between northern river towns and Brisbane?
– The honorable member asked me a question about this subject recently, and he has also discussed it with me privately, and I have since made inquiries into it. I was under the impression that aircraft had ceased to call at Lismore owing .to the inadequacy of the aerodrome there. I now understand that this is not so. Air Lines of Australia suspended the service because the business did not warrant its continuance without a subsidy. The company had been informed by the department that the inter-departmental committee had recommended that this line did not justify a subsidy. That is the situation at present.
– Having regard to circumstances previously referred to, I ask honorable members to defer until to-morrow questions which are not absolutely urgent.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral make available the precise details which govern the payment of allowances to postmistresses and postmasters conducting allowance post offices throughout the ‘Commonwealth? At present the persons conducting these post offices are not aware of the manner in which their allowances are calculated. I should also like the honorable gentleman to intimate whether the
Government will make provision for these officers to become insured as public servants, seeing that they are obliged to pay insurance in respect of persons they employ ?
– The answer to the first part of the question is: “ Yes “. I shall give consideration to the second part of it.
– Will the Minister, for Defence inform me whether the Port of Sydney was closed by departmental instructions during the gun practice that occurred at Middle Head and North Head recently. If so, did the captain of the Mariposa contravene those instructions by virtue of the fact that his ship passed North Head just as the guns fired, with the result that considerable damage was done to the ship?
– Certain restrictions were placed upon shipping on the occasion referred to by the honorable member, but reports received by me indicate that there was no appreciable interference with the exercises by shipping. I haveno further information on the subject.
– Yesterday I asked theMinister for Civil Aviation, with reference to press reports that he was favorably considering the creation of a “larger Air Force Reserve, as the result of representations made by aero clubs and individuals, including himself and myself whether he would make an early statement dealing with the extent of thisdesirable reform. The Minister replied that he made no statement to the press as indicated by me. I now draw his attention to the following report which appeared in The Herald, Melbourne, of the 29th May last :-
Under the plan for the subsidized trainingof reserve pilots, young men would be trained at reasonable cost by aero .clubs and flying schools and reserve officers would be given facilities for “ refresher “ courses, the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Fairbairn) said to-day. . . .
Mr. Fairbairn made this announcement after he had received in private a deputation from the president of the Associated Aero Clubs (Mr. Cecil McKay), and the secretary (Mr. Guy Moore) .
Mr. Fairbairn told the deputation that the Government agreed in principle with the proposals of the aero club and was already acting on those lines.
The report of the Air Board and his department would survey the capabilities of aero clubs for taking a more active part in the air defence of Australia. The report indicated that it would be possible to build up a trained air reserve at comparatively small cost.
In view of that report will the Minister tell the House a little more on the subject ? Or was. he misrepresented?
– I thought I made it quite clear when I was replying to the honorable member yesterday that I did not make any statement of what was the Government’s policy, but that I merely told the press of inquiries which were being made. The honorable and gallant gentleman was himself a Minister long enough to know that a Minister does not express an opinion on what is the responsibility of another Minister.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 31st May (vide page 1042).
Clause 10 - (1.) The Minister or any officer or class of officer authorized in that behalf by the Minister or prescribed may, except in offices or positions wholly administrative or clerical in nature, employ such persons as are necessary in connexion with any factory established or deemed to have been established by the Governor-General in pursuance of this act.
– I move -
That the words “ offices or positions wholly administrative or clerical in nature “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ such administrative or clerical offices as the Governor-General directs.”
As the clause stands it is a question of fact in each case as to whether a position can be regarded as being administrative or clerical in character. The amendment will facilitate administration, because it will leave the consideration of this point to the Governor-General in Council and thus any doubt as to whether particular positions should be created under the Public Service Act or not, will be dispelled.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 11 agreed to.
Clause 12 verbally amended, and, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 13 - (2). All persons who at the commencement of this act are members of any board constituted by or under any regulations deemed in pursuance of sub-section (1.) of this section to be regulations made under this act, shall, without any further appointment, approval or nomination, but otherwise subject to the regulations, be deemed to be members of that board.
– I move -
That sub-clause (2) be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following subclause: - “ (2.) The boards established by, or appointed in pursuance of, the regulations made under the Defence Act which are specified in sub-section (1.) of this section, shall, as constituted immediately prior to the commencement of this act, but subject to any regulation made under this act, be deemed to be boards established by or in pursuance of regulations deemed to be regulations made under this act.”
This amendment is merely a redraft designed to improve the expression of the intention of the clause.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 14 and 15 agreed to.
Clause 16 (Regulations).
.- I move -
That at the end of the clause the following sub-clause be added: - “ (2.) Nothing in this act shall authorize the making of any regulation -
depriving any trade union or any member of a trade union of any right conferred by any law of the Commonwealth or of any State;
altering or affecting any provision of any agreement between an employer and a trade union to the detriment of such trade union or of any member thereof;
invalidating in whole or in part any rule of any trade union;
restricting the freedom of any employee to change his employment; or
altering to the detriment of any trade union or of any employee’ any rule practice or custom obtaining before the coming into operation of this act in any industry or branch of an industry.
In this sub-section ‘ employer ‘ includes the Commonwealth and every authority of the Commonwealth and ‘ trade union ‘ includes any organization registered under the law of the Commonwealth or of any State and any branch of such an organization.”
My amendment is designed to prevent the Government from using this regulationmaking power to control labour by exceptional legislation. Every one who had experience in respect of this matter during the last war, either here or in England, will remember that legislation was passed, more especially in England, which brought munitions workers under exceptional control. There was not a great deal of it done here for the reason that the then Prime Minister, although he had left the Labour party, was to a great degree in sympathy with the unions. My amendment does not in any way derogate from the powers of the Arbitration Court, or the Public Service Arbitrator, over the conditions of persons who come within the ambit of their jurisdiction, but is intended to prevent what every body believes will be done if no restraining steps are taken. It is intended also to prevent the making of regulations to control labour in the munitions industry. Such regulations may set up new tribunals to deal with persons employed in that industry, and deny to them the opportunity to go to existing tribunals. They may set up new conditions of labour and abrogate existing customs in factories, or override the rules of unions, or prevent labour from moving freely. I have inserted paragraph d deliberately in my amendment, because the Munitions Act 1915, in England, provided that a person employed in a munitions factory was not free to change his employment without obtaining what was called a leaving certificate, and that provision has appeared in a modified form in all subsequent legislation of the same kind. During the Great War, Sir William Irvine, who was a leading member of the Victorian Bar and afterwards Chief Justice in Victoria, expressed the opinion that, notwithstanding section 49 of the Defence Act, regulations could be made under the War Precautions Act compelling men to serve overseas. That is to say, he pointed out that a regulation under the act would enable the Government of the day to disregard and override altogether the provisions of section 49 of the Defence Act that no one shall be compelled to serve out of Australia. I am quite satisfied to rest upon the opinion; but, apart from that, I am not prepared to take the risk of this legislation in the stress of war being interpreted so as to give the Executive power to control labour. The proposals that I makes are simple, obvious, and just. The first proposal is that any right that a trades union has at present shall remain to it unaffected by any regulation made under this legislation; that is to say, no regulations shall deny the right of the trades unions to go to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, the Public Service Arbitrator, or any State arbitration tribunal to enforce awards, shall send them to other courts, or shall alter or affect, to the detriment of a trade union or any member of a trade union, any right possessed by the member or the union. I propose the inclusion of paragraph b in clause 16 for this reason: There is now in the -iron trade an agreement between the Commonwealth and some of the unions, including the Amalgamated Engineers Union. The Commonwealth has agreed not to attempt to upset that agreement by any proceedings in the Arbitration Court. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) is well aware of the position. That agreement is not an award of, or registered at, the Arbitration Court, and the Government has agreed that it will not disturb it by proceeding in the court. But for the proposed new provision the Government would be able to disturb the agreement by making a regulation. Proposed new paragraph c prevents the making of any regultion - invalidating in whole or in part any rule of any trade union.
The rules of trade unions are subject to State law if they are registered in the State Courts, and Commonwealth law if they are registered in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The disciplinary control of the arbitration courts,
State or Federal, is quite sufficient control over the rules to prevent a trade union from being oppressive or tyrannous, or anything like that, and there is no need for any one else to interfere. But without this proposed provision it would be possible under this legislation for the Commonwealth Government to make regulations abrogating the rules of trade unions and to take power which at present can be exercised only after due inquiry by an arbitration court. The next point refers to -
Restricting the freedom of any employee to change his employment.
That was done in England by statute during the war, and it could have been done here by regulations under the “War Precautions Act and could, in my opinion, which is based on the view of Sir William Irvine, be done by regulation now. Proposed new paragraph e refers to-
Altering to the detriment of any trades union or of any employee any rule practice or custom obtaining before the coming into operation of this act in any industry or branch of an industry.
I define “ employer “ as including “ the Commonwealth and every authority of the Commonwealth “. I put that in expressly, because it may be said that the Commonealth is not bound unless it is expressly mentioned. I define “trade unions “ as including “ any organization registered under the law of the Commonwealth or of any State and any branch of such an organization”. The object of this amendment is to prevent what is popularly known as industrial conscription. It is to prevent the Commonwealth Government from controlling by regulation the working conditions of men employed in the production of munitions. It may be said that Parliament can disallow regulations. So it can when they are laid before the House, but Parliament can be kept in recess for long periods and regulations can be made and enforced, and Parliament have no say. Apart from that, the Government, having a majority, could prevent the rejection of regulations upon which it insisted. It is not a question of distrust of the Ministry or any of the Ministry. It is being wise before the event. I am shutting the stable door before the steed is stolen and not placing too much trust in the present custodian of the steed. Unless such a provision as this is made, organized labour, labour in general, will feel that its position is endangered while the legislation is in operation. If regulations are made, so far as we can do it, organized labour, trade unions and members of trade unions, will be protected by my amendment against actions of the Executive. I submit that the right of trade unions under existing legislation to approach industrial tribunals of the State or of the Commonwealth to enforce awards obtained from those tribunals should not be abrogated by any regulation made under this legislation - should not be abrogated at all.
– The honorable gentleman referred to an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and a union. Does he know how long that agreement is to operate?
– I cannot say. I do not want to go far into that. My information is that such an agreement does exist. I certainly say that arrangements which have been made, whether by compulsory awards or by voluntary agreement, should not be subject to being altered by regulations made by the Executive. I submit that the Executive should not be, by the passing of this bill, able to acquire power to impose servile or quasi-servile conditions upon the munitions workers of this country, by preventing them from moving freely from one employment to another, or by altering existing conditions and customs of industry.
– In time of war?
– Exactly. That is the argument. In time of peace we must be prepared for these things, because in time of war we shall be met with such arguments as those of the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane). We notice this over and over again. In time of war there is no real attempt to control employers, and make them serve the interests of the country. The attempt is made always on the workers.
– Every other man outside the unions will be called upon to serve.
– I am quite satisfied that the spirit in which the honorable member for Barton approaches this in peace-time will be the spirit in which a large number of honorable members will be prepared to approach it in war-time. What he thinks now a great number of honorable members, wiser than he, will think in war-time. Therefore, in peacetime, when our minds are not filled with the prejudice which at present animates the mind of the honorable member, this Parliament should make it clear that the conditions of the workers shall be preserved. We have an assurance from the Minister that there is no intention to worsen the conditions of workers by any regulation under this legislation. If that be so, there is no objection for the inclusion in this bill of a provision, expressive, clear, and definitive, that no regulation shall empower the Government to destroy the conditions of Australian workers and industries.
– I agree in peace-time, but I should not agree in war-time.
– If those conditions are to be altered tomeet an emergency, they should be altered by act of Parliament, not by a regulation made by the Executive, and I do not think that, if an emergency does arise, it should be only the workers who are regimented. Having regard to the fact that we have tribunals, there is no reason for the Executive to take over the control of labour in any case. I am not asking that labour should be free from the control of industrial tribunals. I say that, subject to the control of those tribunals, and of the law, they should be free from any other special restrictions; that no special tribunals should be created for the purpose of dealing with the matter, and no special legislation should be passed for that purpose. We know the feeling that the late Mr. Justice Higgins had about the creation of special tribunals, and we know the feeling that the British people have always had about the same matter, the Court of Star Chamber, and the Court of Ecclesiastical High Commissions, being examples. I do not think it is desired that the Executive should . have power to override established tri bunals. This legislation has been prepared in contemplation of war. Under it the Executive is to be given a blank sheet on which it may write anything it likes.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse.)The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– I regret that, before the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) commenced his speech, there had not been circulated an amendment which is to he moved by the Minister in charge of the bill.
– This amendment was circulated since the guillotine was introduced, and yet it would be put automatically by the Chairman, although the amendment circulated by the honorable member for Bourke prior to that would not have been put.
– This amendment was not in my hands until this moment.
– I recognize that. I regret that the amendment which includes, and substantially covers, the subject matter of the amendment of the honorable member for Bourke, was not placed before him before he commenced his speech. The contribution of the honorable member for Bourke is of considerable value, and while I do not agree that there exists power to make regulations covering some of the matters touched upon in his amendment, I appreciate that, if there is any doubt, it should be resolved in the bill. With that object I have endeavoured to meet the wishes of the honorable member for Bourke so as to make certain that the matters which he has in mind shall be excluded as the subject of regulations under the bill.
The amendment of the honorable member for Bourke would have the effect of excluding Commonwealth employees, as well as private employees, from the operation of this legislation. The first part of his amendment states -
Nothing in this act shall authorize the making of any regulations -
depriving any trade union or any member of a trade union of any right conferred by any law of the Commonwealth or of any State.
That has been adopted in the amendment I have circulated.
– I am satisfied with that.
– The Government amendmentincludes the additional words “ relating to rates of wages or conditions of employment “. The second paragraph of the honorable member’s amendment is as follows: -
The provision in the amendment foreshadowed by the Minister is as follows -
– Subject to what I desire to say about “ employer “ I accept that.
– In regard to paragraph c, I accept the opinion of the honorable member that it may well be that regulations made under this clause might impose some restriction upon trade unions. As it was never the intention of the Government to take action in that direction, it is well to resolve any doubt, and the Government, therefore, has accepted his proposal. Paragraph c of the honorable member’s amendment states -
That provision is contained in paragraph e of the Government’s amendment. Paragraphd of the amendment of the honorable member for Bourke is as follows -
That has been accepted in its entirety. Then, paragraph (e) which states -
– I took the wording from the English Munitions Act.
– I appreciate that. The proposals of the honorable member for Bourke have been accepted with certain minor alterations. The point of conflict between us is whether the provisions of the amendment shall be extended to apply to employees of the Commonwealth. To that extent, the amendment of the honorable member is not acceptable to the Government because, in respect of employees who are covered by the Commonwealth Arbitration Act, as are employees of the Commonwealth, the court can make awards inconsistent with any law of the Commonwealth. The Arbitration Court can make an award with regard to matters within its jurisdiction, notwithstanding anything in any act or regulation. The Commonwealth has never denied the right of its employees to approach the Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Bourke instanced one matter which is undoubtedly true. I understand that an agreement was entered into between a union and the Commonwealth under which it was agreed that the Commonwealth would not make any application to the court to vary the agreement. That, however, cannot be urged in support of the general principle for which he contends.
– I regret very much that this amendment was not in my hands before I spoke ; otherwise I should have shortened my speech. The issue is this: The Government wants to exclude all persons employed by the Commonwealth in munitions factories from the scope of my amendment. There will be two classes of persons employed in munitions factories, namely, those employed in factories owned by private persons, and controlled by the Commonwealth under this legislation, and those employed in factories owned by the Commonwealth itself. The Government agrees not to attempt to control by regulation persons employed by private manufacturers, but it desires to reserve the right to control in that way persons employed in its own factories. That is to say a member of the Amalgamated Engineering
Union, or of the Boilermakers Union, working in ammunition factories at Footscray or Maribyrnong, could be controlled by regulation under the provisions of this legislation. I submit to the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender) that he has taken the wrong act. I understand from what he has said, that he desires to exclude permanent employees of the Government from the operation of my amendment. The Arbitration (Public Service) Act covers all persons employed permanently or temporarily by the Commonwealth, or any authority of the Com monwealth, and includes employees of the Commonwealth munitions factories.
– Surely the honorable member does not object to that?
– I do. For me to agree to the proposal made by the Assistant Treasurer would mean that I should be surrendering to the Government’s arbitrary regulation-making power all employees in factories owned by the Commonwealth or by an authority of the Commonwealth. The Assistant Treasurer attempted to recommend that qualification of his by stating that the Public Service Arbitrator could make awards for all of these persons. Apparently, he has been told that that is so, and possibly has not appreciated the fact that this House could, at the request of the Government, disallow any award made by the Public Service Arbitrator. Under section 22 of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act, an award made by the Public Service Arbitrator could, as the Assistant Treasurer properly said, override existing laws, but it could not do that without the consent of the Government. Section 22 provides -
The Arbitrator may make a determination which is not in accord with an award or order of the court, but, except as provided in this section, is not empowered to make any determination which is not in accord with the laws of the Commonwealth and the regulations made thereunder.
The section continues to say in effect that the Arbitrator may, where he thinks it proper to do so, make a determination which, in his opinion, is not in accord with an existing law or regulation of the Commonwealth, but in that case he must forward the determination to the Prime Minister and to the Attorney-General. The Prime Minister then has to cause the determination to be laid before both
Houses of Parliament, and the AttorneyGeneral has to advise whether or not it is in accordance with any law or regulation of the Commonwealth. If the AttorneyGeneral holds that the determination is not in accord with an existing law or regulation of the Commonwealth, either House of Parliament may prevent it from coming into operation by passing a resolution disallowing it. Therefore, in spite of all assurances given by the Assistant Treasurer, should the Attorney-General advise the Government that a determination made by the Public Service Arbitrator is inconsistent with regulations made under this measure affecting the employment of persons in munitions factories, either House of this Parliament would be able to reject that determination. That is one of the dangers which I contemplate under this new legislation. I do not want to see this Government, or any other government, invested with power to prevent, by regulation, the Public Service Arbitrator, or the Arbitration Court, from functioning effectively.
– This bill would not do that.
– In my view, that possibility does exist. I submit that there is reason for believing, according to one of the best opinions in this country, that theCommonwealth Government could, under this clause, make a regulation governing conditions of employment and wages of persons employed in Commonwealth munitions factories, and that any determination made by the PublicService Arbitrator with a view to overriding that regulation, giving more favorable conditions to the employees, could be disallowed by either House of this Parliament. There is no real reason at all for denying to munition workers in government factories the protection which is to be given to corresponding workers in private factories. I submit that the Government should reconsider its decision in this matter. I can understand the claim that permanent employees of the Commonwealth Public Service do not need this protection, but the Government is going further than that, and denying such protection to temporary employees in government factories. My view is that if this clause is accepted in its present form, a regulation could be made covering the Commonwealth munitions factories at Maribyrnong or Footscray, providing that no person should leave these establishments without the consent of the Government or the manager. The Assistant Treasurer has agreed that that is a possibility. If employees of government factories are to be exempted from this provision, then a man accepting employment at a government munitions fac- tory would not be able to leave that establishment without the consent of the Government, yet could be dismissed at any time. If the Government desires outside labour to believe in its bona fides in this matter, then it should go the whole distance and bring the Commonwealth, as well as private employees, under the operation of this legislation. I do not .think there should be any line of distinction between persons employed in government factories and others employed in private factories.
– I listened with great interest to what the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), and the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender) had to say on this question, but I am strongly of the opinion that neither gentleman has correctly foreseen the “conditions under which a country like ours would operate in- the event of war. If that eventuality became a fact, this Parliament would- have better things to do than to argue about regulations governing the operation of workers in munitions factories. Its main job would be to secure output from these factories. Whether the employees worked eight, nine or ten hours a day would be a secondary consideration. It will be just as well to recognize that position frankly. A country fighting for its existence as ours would be in the event of an invasion, would have no time to worry about arbitration awards. It would have two important considerations : one to see that an effective fighting force was kept in the field, and the other to ensure that munitions -and supplies were kept up to that force. If arbitration awards had to be broken then they would be broken, and they would be broken with equal facility and determination by a Labour government or by a government representing honorable members now on this side of the House. When a determined effort is required there is nothing quite like an old Labour leader, smitten for the time being with an overdose of patriotism. Such a leader would not be at all fussy about whether or not the words of an arbitration award were adhered to.
With all due respect to what the Assistant Treasurer is putting forward, the power which makes this provision in this Parliament; and in case of necessity - such necessity being active military operations - the same power could take it out of the act or vary it. There is no point in overlooking these considerations. Whilst I do not doubt for one moment either the desire or the determination, of Ministers to act in accordance with what is here being provided. I am looking further ahead. I hope that these honorable gentlemen will not be burdened with the awful obligation of being in office during a period of war, although I should be perfectly prepared to trust the present Minister in any circumstances. A country fighting for its existence has to deal with conditions that are not contained in or governed by an act of Parliament. Therefore, we might just as well be perfectly frank, and not attempt- to deceive ourselves. From the viewpoint of the welfare of this country, and particularly in a state of war, neither the proposal of the honorable member for Bourke nor the amendment of the Minister, would be worth the paper on which it is written.
– Conscription !
– I do not care by what name it is called. A country fighting for its existence would not be fussy about such a matter, or about the methods employed in order to gain its objective. Furthermore, under such conditions, it is the Government that is the most heartless and ruthless which attains its objective, not one which studies Arbitration Court awards and regulations, and other minor matters, while men are being shot. For heaven’s sake, let us face the situation ! Let us tell the people what has to be done in the event of our having to defend ourselves, and not attempt to put forward what every honorable member on both sides of the chamber knows in his heart of hearts would not receive a moment’s mercy or grace if it stood between our winning a nd losing.
– If we who sit on this side of the chamber previously entertained any suspicion in regard to the omission by the Minister (Mr. Casey) of the very important provision under consideration, it has certainly been accentuated by the warped statements of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). If we thought that any member of the Cabinet had or was likely to” have such a narrow outlook, we should want the matter to be made absolutely watertight before we would trust the Government. I do not believe that either the Minister, or the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender), desires to do what we have in mind; but we cannot help being doubtful because the Government’s amendment does not include the provision which is the basis of the whole matter. At the moment, the largest number of employees engaged on the production of arms and munitions generally is employed by the Commonwealth Government and the governments of the States. If provision be not made in respect of the largest employer, those whom we wish to protect will be left unprotected. The Minister argues that the Government must not be regarded as an employer. Yet in this case it is the largestemployer ! Let him explain his statement. I admit that, throughout, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) and other Ministers have told us that there is not the slightest intention to interfere with the standards which the trade union movement enjoys in these particular industries. Then why not include the amendment? History teaches us that the attitude suggested by the honorable member for Barker was the principle cause of supplies being held up in Great Britain. The British Government called to its aid medical and other professional advisers, in an endeavour to obtain the best results, and gradually but surely the hours of labour were reduced, rates of wages were increased, and more attention was paid to the observance of union conditions, and as the result output was increased.
– The munition workers were paid much more than were the soldiers in the field.
– The result at which the British Government aimed was achieved. Experience during the last war proved that better results follow the cessation of onslaughts on working conditions. Because of the more reasonable attitude then , adopted, the trade union movement agreed to sacrifice certain union practices - not altogether in respect of wages or hours. It accepted the promise of the employers that restoration would be made at the termination of the war; but that promise was not fully observed, and there were years of bitter fighting to regain the conditions previously enjoyed. Some of those conditions have not yet been restored in their entirety. The British Government, under Lloyd George and others, obtained a progressively increased output of munitions monthly by conceding better working conditions, fewer hours, and higher wages to both men and women. The honorable member for Barker favours the narrow, one-sided attitude of the person who believes in the policy of the big stick. That policy has always failed, as it will always fail in Australia, and we on this side of the chamber must help to cause its failure. Why can the Minister not join with us in preventing any encroachment upon the working conditions of the people during a period of emergency? The Minister for Defence listens to the overtures of the representatives of different organizations, and agrees to certain conditions when a good case is presented to him. An examination will disclose that, because of his proper understanding of the working conditions of the people, the output of munitions has been increased. We want that attitude to be maintained in the future. I do not believe that good results will accrue if employees are sweated either by the Government or by private enterprise. The Australian worker give3 of his best when the conditions of his employment are to his liking. In some of the largest industries, the conditions operating to-day are not equal to those of 1929. We want to maintain what we already have. I believe that if the position in relation to the employer were straightened out, the honorable member for Bourke would be satisfied.
– I would.
– I am certainly not satisfied with the position as it stands. The only employer which the Government’s amendment excludes is the employer of 90 per cent, of those who are engaged in these industries to-day. Why should this large-scale employer be excluded from this protection of employees? I suggest that the Minister should meet our wishes, and make the job complete. I believe that he will discover that the wholehearted cooperation of those who are employed by the Government can be obtained only by meeting them in matters of this sort. The right honorable gentleman has repeatedly denied that the Government desires to encroach upon the conditions of the workers. If he means that, why does he not include the Commonwealth in the list of employers? I am on rather delicate ground when I- suggest that, in times of panic, when the mental outlook of the people is unoalanced, statements such as those made by the honorable member for Barker would influence even the minds of the judges of the Arbitration Court itself. I make no suggestion of dishonesty when I say that.
– It sounds like it.
– We understand psychology better than does the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane). The psychology of the court could be affected. I invite the Assistant Treasurer to give the matter further consideration, or at least to elaborate in much greater degree why the Government, as an employer, should be treated differently from any other employer,
– It appears to me that the Assistant Treasurer (Mr, Spender) is looking at this matter largely from the legal aspect, rather than in respect of the practical application of the idea. He has gone through the acts relating to the powers of the Commonwealth and the Public Service Arbitrator, and regards them in the restricted form in which they apply at the present time. He fails to realize the broadening influence which will be exercised under the new conditions that will be brought into existence by this legislation. In the broadened sense, the act will cover a multiplicity of trades and callings, and the tendency will be towards greater friction, instead of smoother working and an acceptance by both parties of awards and other legal decisions. I have under consideration by the Government at the moment a case which concerns a number of workers employed at Spectacle Island, and, I think, Newington, in connexion with magazines, the assembly and storage of shells, and the like. These workers have appeared before the Public Service Arbitrator in respect of the matter -of annual leave. After much preparation, their case was submitted to and argued before the Arbitrator. In its preparation, costs were incurred. Evidence had to be collected, and witnesses had to submit themselves to cross-examination. The union observed all of the processes laid down by the tribunal, and finally arrived at the point of obtaining a decision. Although the decision did not quite meet the wishes of the union, it went a good way towards effecting the reform desired in regard to the employment of the men. The Public Service Arbitrator having given his decision, regulations under the Defence Act, were brought into operation, with the result that the Arbitrator’s decision was nullified.
– But the decision of the Arbitrator prevails.
– It does not.
– The award of the Arbitrator, being in conflict with the gazetted regulations, ceased to have effect. The regulations were gazetted in order to defeat, if necessary, an award.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has stated the position more forcibly than I had stated it. As gazetted, the regulations are in conflict with the award of the Arbitrator. Naturally, the workers look at these problems, having in mind the principles generally .accepted by the community at large. In Australia, industrial arbitration is the recognized means to be adopted for the settlement of industrial disputes and the fixing of wages and conditions. When the workers are able to convince the Public, Service
Arbitrator of the justice of their claims, and he awards them certain wages and conditions, they expect the Government to abide by the award.- Now it is proposed that if an award is made which may displease the Department of Supply and Development, authority shall be provided for. it to issue overriding regulations. Any suggestion that that is likely to occur will naturally arouse hostility. That is exactly what has happened in the case to which I have referred. The new Department of Supply and Development will be concerned with the operations of very many temporary employees. It seems to me that the Assistant Treasurer, in his remarks, had in view only permanent employees.
– No; the argument applies to both temporary and permanent employees.
– If that is the Assistant Treasurer’s view, the refusal of the Government to accept the original proposal of the honorable member for Bourke in respect of these employees becomes all the more serious. As a matter of fact, most of the employees engaged in the kind of work under consideration are classed as “ temporary “. Although their employment may continue unbroken for many years, they are not “ permanent “ employees in the sense that public servants are permanent. ‘ They do not enjoy superannuation benefits or other privileges which apply to the Public Service. An extension of the principle to which I have directed attention to, let us say, Garden Island, where many employees are engaged in the wide range of occupations involved in shipbuilding, would undoubtedly cause serious trouble.
– Those employees do not come within the jurisdiction of my department.
– They would do so if the Government were to take over the operations on Garden Island under the powers granted in this bill.
-This bill gives authority for that to be done. The time to deal with such a situation is now, and not after war had actually occurred. In that event, it is highly probable *hat this new department would acquire the controlling interest at Garden Island. The persons employed there would, in such circumstances, at once come within the regulations proposed to be set up in this bill. If subsequently he made an award and this new department took steps to override it by the issue of these regulations, it is obvious that serious industrial “trouble would occur. “We should consent to nothing in this bill that would in any way imperil public confidence in arbitration. If the Government is able to evade the awards of prescribed tribunals by the issue of fresh regulations, a deplorable state of affairs is likely to occur. I cannot overlook ‘the possibility of the workers at Garden Island being involved with the workers at Spectacle Island. If both were engaged in definitely governmental activities, as would be the case if the Government took control of Garden Island, and the conditions of the workers there were interfered with by the issue of new regulations a serious condition would at once have to be faced. As the Assistant Treasurer has made it clear that he looks at this subject in its widest ramifications, we must insist upon the acceptance of the amendment of the honorable member for Bourke in the form in which he has moved it. Lt becomes now a matter of dimensions. While the outlook was serious when the regulation-making power was thought to apply to only a limited number of employees, it becomes infinitely more serious now that we see the possibility of its being applied to very many men engaged in a wide range of trades and callings. The Government should not be permitted, bymeans of the exercise of this power, to override or interfere with Commonwealth and State awards. Any suggestion that that is likely to occur will be received with the greatest hostility by the workers, and I have no hesitation in frankly informing the Government of this possibility. Industrial arbitration has been the settled policy of this country for many years, and we should not permit the Government to interfere with the awards of duly constituted tribunals.
– What about when the country is engaged in a life-and-death struggle ?
– That old argument is not likely to carry any weight with us. It is strange that whenever a lifeanddeath struggle is said to be proceeding the workers are expected to suffer every disadvantage with equanimity. We should deal with this problem calmly now, and not wait until war propaganda has roused the passions of people. The Labour party will insist upon the application of the democratic principle upon which the amendment of the honorable member for Bourke is based. We are not prepared to authorize any government authority to override, by regulation, the awards of the prescribed industrial tribunals of this country. A good deal is heard from time to time in this Parliament about the danger of government by regulation. We fear the application of that principle in this case, and we shall resist it to the very utmost. No public official should be able to do by regulation what the Parliament itself would not do by legislation, and what the people at large would not tolerate, for a moment. I urge the Government to accept the amendment as a whole.
– The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has complained that this matter is being considered from the legal aspect.
– I said that the Assistant Treasurer looked at it in that way.
– Well, I shall look at it as a layman. We should be clear in our minds as to the persons whose wages and conditions are likely to be involved. These fall into three groups. First come the permanent employees at government munition factories. Their conditions are determined by the Public Service Arbitrator. Apparently this dispute has arisen in regard to them. Secondly, come the civil employees whose conditions are governed by the munitions supply regulations. In the event of dissatisfaction on the part of these workers the Public Service Arbitrator can be required to consider the matter. Finally come the individuals who will work in the annexes to be set up, and whose conditions will be determined by Commonwealth or State arbitration tribunals. A condition in the contract made with the persons operating the annexes sets out that the wages and conditions of their employees must be according to the awards of the appropriate arbitration tribunals. The Public Service Arbitrator has been operating, under the Arbitration (Public Service) Act 1920, for nearly twenty years, and I believe his awards have given satisfaction. My advisers tell me that in only one case since this tribunal was established has Parliament disallowed an award.
– That was a very serious case.
– But it occurred ten or fifteen years ago.
– I have just directed attention to another case.
– I shall make inquiries into the matter referred to by the honorable member, but speaking by and large, I think it will be agreed that the activities of the Public Service Arbitrator for nearly twenty years have given general satisfaction. Now the honorable member for Bourke is suggesting that a provision should be put in this bill which, in effect, will amend the Arbitration (Public Service) Act.
– I wish to make it impossible for awards to be overridden by regulations.
– Anyhow, conditions change in the course of twenty years.
– Does any honorable member suggest that great and growing dissatisfaction exists with the awards of the Public Service Arbitrator ?
– Some very curious awards have been made.
– On the high side, yes; but I am unaware of any great and growing dissatisfaction with the work of this tribunal.
– Why should the Government interfere with the awards?
– The Government has not interfered with them. In only one case, excepting that to which the honorable member for West Sydney has referred, has . Parliament- not the Government - ever disallowed an award.
.- I think that the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has rendered good service to the Parliament by submitting his amendment, and the fact that to a large extent it is acceptable to the committee proves that there is substance in it.
– The principle has been accepted.
– Yes, but the exception taken to it by the Minister (Mr. Casey) has accentuated the fears in the minds of many honorable members. I shall confine myself to one illustration. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender) commended the honorable member for Bourke upon his proposal, and admitted that all doubt should be resolved; but, according to the Government, we should not resolve the doubt in respect of Commonwealth employees. It has been said by the Minister in charge of the bill that the Opposition desires to amend the Arbitration (Public Service) Act.
– In effect.
– No; that is only one phase of the matter. The most important phase is the fear, whether well founded, or otherwise, that in time of war, industrial conscription would be put into operation.
– My proposed amendment would not have that effect.
– I think that it would, and the object of the amendment under consideration is to remove that fear. Take one point in regard to which the amendment before the Chair would resolve a doubt. It would prevent the making of any regulation “restricting the freedom of any employee to change his employment.” That, in my opinion, is most important, because if, in time of war, an employee could not leave one job and go to another, he would be subjected to industrial conscription. The Government is prepared to prevent such restriction of private employees, but it wishes to except public servants. A workman who is a member of a trade union may obtain employment at one of the munitions factories. There would be nothing under the Minister’s proposed amendment to prevent the proclamation of a regulation to compel him to remain there irrespective of his working conditions. That is the very thing which the Opposition is trying to avoid.
– It is better to keep him at work than to give him the “sack.”
– That is exactly what Hitler says in Germany. The leaders in totalitarian countries say that it is better to compel men to work in specified industries.
– The department would be able to “ sack “ them.
– Yes, but there would be nothing to prevent them from being chained to the wheel, whether they liked it or not. The Minister regards it as necessary to resolve doubts with respect to the rights of private employees, but he is not prepared to grant similar protection to a temporary employee in a munitions factory who may wish to improve his industrial position. Why did the Government include in the proposed amendment circulated by the Minister the following provision : -
This section shall not be construed to empower the making of regulations -
restricting the freedom of any employee to change his employment.
Is that paragraph merely bluff and padding? If not, it should have as much application to a person employed in a government munitions factory as to one working for a private employer.
Mr.Curtin. - Does not the Minister intend to reply to the right honorable member for Yarra?
– The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has undoubtedly rendered valuable service with regard to this clause; but, when the Government wishes to omit a most important paragraph of the amendment, the Opposition naturally objects. The Government’s acceptance of most of his amendment proves that. The right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has supplied cogent reasons why the whole amendment should be accepted, and I endorse them. I am at a loss to understand why the Government is unwilling to yield this point. In the industrial area which
I represent are thousands of men who would suffer if the restriction which the Government contemplates imposing were to operate. Within the last twelve months, 2,020 men have been added to the staff of the munitions factories in my electorate, many of them, unfortunately, having been out of employment for a long period. In the event of an emergency arising they might be able to secure employment under more favorable conditions than those offered by the Government, as an opportunity may occur for them to enter into some enterprise, ind their liberties in that regard should not be restricted. Although the conditions of employment in the Government service are generally satisfactory, they are not always the best obtainable. Evidently, judging by the declaration by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), some honorable members supporting the Government are prepared to make men work under any conditions. The attitude of those honorable members demonstrates the necessity for the protection sought by the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Bourke. In England, during the Great War, many men employed in the railway services were transferred to munitions factories or were engaged on work connected with munitions. They were promised an 8-hour day while the war lasted but after the war was over they had to go on strike in order to obtain it. Neither the Minister nor the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender) has attempted to give reasons why men employed in the Public Service should work under different conditions in respect of their rights and liberties from those of private employees. I protest against the attitude of the Government, as indicated by its proposed amendment. If smooth cooperation is to be obtained between all parties in regard to defence preparations, the Government should accept the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Bourke. It should not be possible, by regulations, to deprive a member of a trade union of any industrial right merely because of a national emergency. The views expressed by members of the Opposition are reasonable.I am reminded by the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) that railway employees in New South Wales were made public servants so that the wage during the depression could be applied to them and similar treatment may be given to railway employees whose services may be required in the manufacture of munitions. [Quorum formed.]
– Listening to some of the speakers, whose views, I admit, have been moderately advanced, one might be inclined to think that the Government was trying to “put across “ a new set of onerous conditions in connexion with its own munitions factories ; but that is not the position. It is attempting to maintain the same set of conditions which have operated satisfactorily in the past, and will, no doubt, do so for many years to come. I was asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) to reply to the speech by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), but I consider that my previous remarks were, in effect, a reply to his argument. Under the Government’s proposed amendment, the conditions that have operated, with complete satisfaction for many years, will be maintained. The effect of the amendment submitted by the Opposition would be to amend, in an important direction, one of the main provisions of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act. The Government is not prepared to take such a step in these circumstances. It believes that the present arrangement is fair, and is working well. I deny any suggestion that the Government is attempting in any covert way to “ put across “ something to the disadvantage of workers in munitions factories. Nothing of that sort at all is in its mind.
.- Following the refusal of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) to accept the Government’s amendment in substitution of his own, because it excludes certain employees whom he wishes to be protected, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) declared that this is a war measure, and in a time of war awards must go. That is the first time we have heard expressed on the floor of this chamber the real motive behind this measure. An Assistant Minister (Mr. Holt) declared earlier that there was no necessity for the Government to introduce the bill because it already possessed power to carry out all of the proposals embodied in the measure. Contrast that statement with the declaration of the honorable member for Barker. The honorable gentleman says that this is a war measure and that in a time of war all awards, workers’ rates of pay and conditions of employment must go, but he does not say that in a time of war all profits also must go. Obviously, he speaks as a representative of big business in this country which, directly or indirectly, is connected with the armaments ring. Those interests will not be called upon to make sacrifices; indeed, they will be given an opportunity to make profits in a time of war. While the wages and conditions of the workers are ruthlessly cast aside, the profits of big business will rise higher still. Not only will the workers of this country be put in the front trenches in a time of war, but they will also be called upon to make sacrifices in munitions factories. In view of the honorable member’s remarks, this measure savours of what we might expect from a totalitarian government. It has been said that we are drifting in that direction, and the honorable member for Barker verifies that view.
The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) said that there was nothing sinister -behind the Government’s move.
– I do not think that I used the word “ move “.
– The right honorable member said that there was nothing sinister behind this measure. If in a time of war, workers are required to produce munitions for the armies in the field, they must be satisfied with their conditions. Otherwise serious industrial trouble may result. References have been made to what took place in England during the Great War. The Government has said that it ‘ believes in the principle of arbitration and that it has delegated to a tribunal power to make awards governing every form of industrial undertaking, and if it is honest it will have no option but to abide by its declared policy, and ensure that the decisions of the tribunal will stand notwithstanding the fact that conditions may have altered since the awards were originally made. What has been said already by honorable members on this side of the chamber indicates clearly that each of us will support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bourke.
.- We are indebted in some degree to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) for the information he has supplied to us, even though he did so unconsciously. He has let the cat out of the bag so far as the Government is concerned. Any anti-Labour government is capable of interfering with the conditions of workers in industry when it declares that a state of emergency has arisen. The mere insertion of provisions in any act of Parliament does not necessarily give to the workers that protection which members of the Opposition desire to secure for them. The speech of the honorable member for Barker could not have come at a more opportune time from the point of view of members of the Labour party, because the workers of this country have already had their suspicions .aroused as to the intentions of the Government. Those suspicions have now been confirmed by the honorable gentleman. Members of the Opposition and many thousands of trade unionists have no doubt that the measure now before the committee, and another which will be introduced shortly, are based on the .pretext that a state of emergency exists. They are designed, in effect, to bring about industrial conscription. Honorable members opposite may ask why, if I am honest in my contention that ‘the mere insertion of a provision in an act of Parliament does not guarantee protection to the workers, members on this side should endeavour to secure any amendments to this legislation. The reason is that the workers of this country have been told for a number of years past that Australia has democratic government, and, consequently, they have felt obliged on many occasions, to accept conditions which are unpalatable to them. They have done so, because they are. democrats. They have said to themselves that, as the elected representatives of the people had determined to do these things, they, as the electors, should be prepared to take the good with the bad. They will be amazed, however, to learn, that, irrespective of what is contained in any act of Parliament, the Government may determine at any time that a state of emergency has arisen and may brush aside industrial awards and impose new conditions of employment. A remarkable feature of the discussion on this measure is that the Government benches were empty while the important clauses dealing with the conditions of workers were being considered, whereas they were full when the clauses dealing with the profits to be earned by the profiteers who support the Government were before the committee. I do not know exactly what procedure has been followed by the Government, but I have just received a copy of a proposed amendment to clause 4, circulated in the name of the Minister, although the committee is now dealing with clause 16. That amendment to clause 4 defines “ war “ as follows : - “ War “ means any invasion or apprehended invasion of, or attack or apprehended attack on, the Commonwealth or any Territory of the Commonwealth by an enemy or armed force.
The threat of attacks on the wages and conditions of industrial workers, which was mentioned by the honorable member for Barker, will, therefore, apply at any time when the Government may decide that an invasion is apprehended.
– The Government could apply these restrictions to-morrow, in a time of peace.
– That is the position. If this legislation is passed, the Government can enforce its provisions whenever it feels so disposed. Every one knows that in recent years Australia has become an imperialist power, and, besides being concerned with its own defence, must provide for the defence of New Guinea. I understand, also, that Australia exercises political control over a great section of the Antarctic. I do not know if there is anything in the Antarctic that may be coveted by a foreign power; nevertheless, the Government may decide that an attack on it is apprehended, and, on that pretext, make inroads on the conditions of the workers.
– The honorable member is not helping his argument with an illustration like that. He would do much better by confining his remarks to New Guinea.
– I have referred to New Guinea already. Statements have been made by some honorable members -I think the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) was one of them. - that, Australia’s frontiers are not even at New Guinea, but at Singapore, Hong Kong, or perhaps some other far-flung portion of the British Empire. Perhaps, if any of those places were in danger the Government could say that an attack on Australia was apprehended, and in that event this legislation would operate. The workers’ organizations are taking the proper stand, in their efforts to resist this form of industrial conscription, by deciding that, irrespective of any decisions of this Parliament, they will use every power they possess to prevent thu Government from giving effect to its will in this way. Only by the efforts of their industrial organizations outside Parliament, supported by their political representatives in the Parliament, can the Australian workers hope to resist successfully the attack that is intended upon them. It is easy for the Government to accept, in an amended form, the proposed amendment of the Opposition. The amendment proposed by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) would at’ least make it a little more difficult for the Government to give effect to its intentions, but it has conveniently accepted those portions which, in its opinion, do not matter a great deal, and has deleted those parts which it believes would hamper its activities. The amendment proposed by the Government reads - (2.) This section shall not be construed to empower the making of regulations -
The definition of “ Trade union “ in the proposed amendment which has been circulated is as follows: - “ Trade union “ includes any organization registered under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State, and a branch of any such organization, but does not include an association of employees in the Public Service “.
The danger of differentiating between the conditions of employment in the government service and in private employment has been pointed out. There have been many occasions on which industrial tribunals, consisting largely of men with an outlook similar to that of the present Government, have deregistered unions whose members have stood up for their rights when attacked by the employers. By the adoption of provocative methods, it would be easy for the Government to cause a disturbance in an industry to which it desired this legislation to apply, and to force action which would lead a tribunal which was sympathetic to the Government’s view to deregister the union. In that event, the workers would lose the limited protection which the proposed amendment would give to them, and would be exposed to injustices, and forced to accept .any conditions which the Government desired should apply to them. I hope that, as the result of this discussion and the fact that the exposure by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has forced the Government to reveal its hand, the workers will realize the need to organize for their own protection. They must be shown where the danger lies, and assisted in their efforts to resist the Government, irrespective of the decisions come to by the legislature. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) said that experience had shown that all attempts to force from the workers their maximum output by the lengthening of the number of working hours and by breaking down labour conditions had proved unsuccessful. That is true; and any future attempts of the same kind under this legislation will also be unsuccessful. If the Government believes that the workers will permit a privileged few to make profits amounting to millions of pounds out of the supply of war equipment, whilst legislation such as this is used to break down existing standards as to wages and working conditions, it will find that Labour will take all steps possible to prevent effect being given to its plans. I hope that the members of the Opposition will take to heart what has been disclosed in this discussion, and will not attempt to persuade the workers that they must abide by the law, merely because certain legislation has been forced through this Parliament by a party which, as shown by recent by-election results, has lost the confidence of the people. No law which has not the support of a majority of the people can be effective. Should the people generally refuse to co-operate with the Government in giving effect to laws which they believe to be wrong and against the interests of the community, no government could enforce such legislation. I hope that the workers will organize to resist the Government should it attempt to take advantage of them; and if any endeavours of mine, either inside this Parliament or outside of it, can assist them, I am prepared to place my services at their disposal. The Government would be quite capable of re-enacting the provisions of the War Precautions Act and of endeavouring to stifle the voice of Labour by imposing heavy penalties upon men who advised any section of the people to resist the application of unjust laws. Labour has never accepted meekly the dictation of the antiLabour forces in this country.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) rose in his place just now to assure the committee that, in spite of what had been said by some honorable members, the Government was not attempting to “ put across “ something. I regard the introduction of this bill as an attempt in that direction. Notwithstanding that the Minister knew the form of the amendment of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) - it had been circulated for several days - he did not circulate his proposed amendment until he was on his feet speaking.
– That was not intentional.
– I do not know what the honorable member for Bourke thinks of it, but the Minister’s action makes me suspicious. He spoke of there being general satisfaction at the awards of the Public Service Arbitrator. He may believe that to be so, but the satisfaction which exists is really only the forced acceptance of things as they are; the people concerned have to accept his decisions. The decisions of the Public Service Arbitrator have not given a great deal of satisfaction to men in the lower grades. The Government says that it wants industrial peace in this country, but I claim that legislation like that which we are now discussing promotes industrial unrest. Nothing is more likely to create unrest and a spirit of revolt than for men doing identical work to be paid at different rates and to work under different conditions. The refusal of the Government to apply this legislation to employees in the Public Service will cause much dissatisfaction. Should workers in munitions factories controlled by private employers obtain from the courts increased wages, or reduced working hours, or better conditions generally, and should the Government either prevent the Public Service Arbitrator from making a similar, award in respect of Government employees or disallow any such award made by him, there must necessarily be dissatisfaction. There are many discrepancies between Federal and State awards for similar work. In Queensland, many State awards provide better conditions than are given under federal awards. The result is that men working alongside one another are treated differently, and, in such circumstances, dissatisfaction is inevitable. That state of affairs could easily exist under this legislation. Because of the absence pf provisions to protect workers in government factories, it may easily happen that the conditions of their employment will be worse than in establishments controlled by private enterprise. That could, only lead to resentment and possible disturbances. Should such varying conditions exist it would be impossible to get the best results from the men. At no time-*- even if the country be at war - can the best results be obtained from men who are treated badly.
Another outrageous provision contained in the proposed amendment was emphasized by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) who pointed out that men employed in government workshops may be prevented from seeking employment under better conditions in private establishments. That provision must make for dissatisfaction and industrial unrest.
I draw special attention to the contrast between the attitude of the Government to-day, when the wages and conditions of the workers are under consideration, and its attitude a few days ago, when the committee was considering the limitation of profits of employers. There is agreement among honorable members opposite that, in the event of war, or the threat of wai-, the workers may have to forego some of their privileges, work twelve or more hours a day, and submit to the scrapping of arbitration awards. They have spoken of the possibility of a ruthless cutting down of the standards of the workers, but in almost the same breath they have said that no restriction should be placed on the profits which their employers may make. Every attempt of the Opposition to ensure that profits shall not be excessive has been resisted by the Government. I say that in the event of an emergency, it should be a case of “ all in “. If the bill provided not only that, in the event of war, would the workers have to accept conditions less favorable than they now enjoy, but also that the wealth of the nation would be thrown into the pool, the Opposition would be able to go some of the way towards supporting it, although I should not go far in the direction of interfering with the conditions of the workers. I believe that if we had had time to examine the other clauses that we have had to let go through because we wanted to deal particularly with this clause since it is of vital importance to the workers, we should have been able to force the Minister for Supply and Development to bring down other amendments and throw them on the table, when members of the Opposition were moving similar amendments. The Minister cannot plead not guilty to doing that sort of thing,, because we have a glaring instance in the case of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn).
– In answer to the contention of the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) that there has never been a case of governmental interference with the awards of the court or of the Public Service Arbitrator, I shall mention two cases in which it has done so. About five years ago, one judge of the Arbitration Court, Judge DrakeBrockman, in violation of the law, reduced the basic wage for a section of the railway men of Australia. The law sets out clearly, and the government of the day knew it, that the basic wage cannot be reduced except by the full court bench of the Arbitration Court, namely, three judges. We asked’ the then AttorneyGeneral, Sir John Latham, to intervene to prevent that violation of the law, but he refused and, when we moved the adjournment of the House in order to discuss it, the Attorney-General put it into the hands of the High Court in order to prevent open discussion. The High Court reversed the decision of the judge and ordered back-pay. The second occurred eight or nine years ago when the Public Service Arbitrator refused to continue to allow the payment of juvenile rates of pay to adults in the postal service and a government constituted similarly to this Government intervened and ordered him to do so. He refused. The Government then asked for and got a re-trial, but the Public Service Arbitrator still refused to order juvenile rates for adult employees. The Government then took advantage of its majority in the Senate to disallow the Public Service Arbitrator’s award and continued to pay men up to the age of 25 years juvenile rates of pay. We cannot forget their action. Ministers say that they do not desire to interfere with the decision of the courts. Why not say so in the bill? The Government’s failure to do so emphasizes our suspicion of the purpose of the exclusion of Government servants from the amendment tabled by the Minister for Supply and Development. We shall not accept it voluntarily and shall force a division.
– We have very few minutes before the guillotine falls. I regret that honorable gentlemen, opposite have been conspicuous by their absence from this discussion, because they do not know the merit of the argument advanced by the Opposition. The basis of the Opposition’s intention is this: All through the discussion the Government has disclaimed that the purpose of the bill is to give to it any power over labour conditions. It has properly said that labour conditions should be determined by tribunals established under the existing law. Very good We ask the Government to live up to that declaration. The purpose of this bill is to organize supply and development to help Australia to meet an emergency which we hope will not arise. In any event, the Government seeks under this bill, which has nothing to do with the regulation of labour conditions, to reserve to itself the authority to interfere by regulation with labour conditions as they relate to the employees of the Government itself. The discrimination is indefensible and it is discrimination that is to be exercised, not as the result of a submission to this Parliament in the light of circumstances of some future event in which Parliament may decide to vary conditions, but by the Executive without reference to Parliament. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) said that all things would have to go in the event of an emergency. That may be the case, but the decision as to whether they should go or stay surely should be made by the Parliament of this country. That is the fundamental distinction between the principle of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) and the principle of the proposed amendment : circulated by the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey). I say to the country, because it seems to bo futile to talk to the committee, that this bill, as it is drawn, would enable the Government, by regulation, to affect labour conditions, not only in factories owned by the Government, but also in factories controlled by private enterprise. The Government proposes to meet objection by waiving any regulation power in respect of private industries and employees, but it will not agree to do so in respect of its own employees. We do not seek to vary under this law the Arbitration Court or seek to interfere with the laws of the States.
– I said, “ in effect.”
– “In effect”? In effect, I say to the right honorable gentleman that he has not the right in organizing industry for purposes of defence to reserve to the Crown the right to interfere with industrial conditions in Commonwealth factories, when such a right is not also extended to the Crown in respect of conditions operating in private factories. Otherwise we should have the anomalous position of members of the one union working at the same process, but for different employers, and subject to entirely different sets of industrial conditions. The consequence of that, I venture to say, would be to embarrass the. Government in its preparations for effective defence.
– We are not attempting to interfere with existing conditions.
– The Government reserves the power to alter existing conditions if it thinks fit at any time.
– That has been the position for twenty years.
– The right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) pointed out that the whole of these restrictions in respect of power to make regulations which the Government has accepted, are restrictions which will not affect the Government in its relationship with its own employees. If it is fair and proper for the Government not to be able to make regulations respecting the freedom of employees to move from one private employer to another, it is right and proper that there should be no interference with the workers in Commonwealth factories, unless such interference is the result of a decision by this Parliament, and not a mere arbitrary declaration by the Executive. We are standing for the rights of this Parliament as against the exercising of authority by the Executive in dealing with the liberty of the subject. I defy honorable gentleman opposite to put forward one argument in support of the amendment foreshadowed by the Minister for Supply and Development, which ‘discriminates between the rights of citizens of this nation.
– Are we seeking to alter the situation that has existed since 1920 ?
– As drawn, the right honorable gentleman’s amendment reserves to the Executive the right to alter the situation.
– To any extent greater than the extent to which it could have been altered in the last twenty years?
– Yes, of course.
– This bill allows alterations over a wider field.
– No, it is the same field.
– The Government says, “ We shall have power compulsorily to acquire goods and thenwe shall have power to do lots of other things. We shall not, in the annexes or factories, engaged in the production of munitions and controlled by private enterprise, interfere compulsorily with existing instrumentalities in dealing with industrial conditions, but we may desire to do so in respect of our own employees “.
– That is not a fair statement.
– It is a proper statement of the case. The Government would not have reserved the right to interfere with its own workers otherwise if that were not so. The definition of “ employer “ in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) is -
In this sub-section “ employer “ includes the Commonwealth and every authority of the Commonwealth. whereas the definition of “ employee “ in the amendment proposed by the Minister is - “ Employee “ means employee other than an employee in the Public Service within the meaning of the Arbitration, (Public Service) Act 1920-1924.
– That does not involve any change from the practice that has ruled for twenty years.
Mr.Scullin. - If, as the Minister would have honorable members believe, the bill makes no changes, it is unnecessary.
– But this bill does make changes. It has been brought forward ‘ with a flourish of trumpets as a comprehensive plan of action to take over production and those engaged in production for the purpose of enabling the country to have equipment which would be available to meet an emergency.
– I should like thirty seconds to reply to the honorable gentleman.
– The right honorable gentleman could have had thirty hours but for his own arbitrary practice.
– My amendment does not affect the right of Commonwealth employees to approach the Public Service Arbitrator. I want that to be quite clear to honorable members, because, although I do not suggest that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) was guilty of distortion, the way in which he put the case might lead honorable members to think that the Government is seeking to infringe or may infringe upon some right of the Commonwealth employees in a way from which it is disqualified by existing conditions.
– The amendment gives the Government power to do so.
Mr.CASEY. - To no greater extent than in the past. The amendment does not affect the right of Commonwealth employees to approach the Public Service Arbitrator to get a determination from him.
The honorable member for East Sydney interjecting ,
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse.)Order! The honorable member for East Sydney must restrain himself, and if he interjects again I shall name him.
– I move -
That the question be now put.
– The honorable gentleman is not in order in doing so.
– I move -
That the Minister be not furtherheard.
– The Public Service Arbitrator is the tribunal provided for the determination of all disputes relating to Commonwealth employees.
– The time allotted for the consideration of the committee stage to the end of clause 17 has expired.
Question put -
That the sub-clause proposed to be added (Mr. Blackburn’s amendment) be so added.
The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. J. H. Prowse.)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so resolvedin the negative.
Clause 16 with the circulated amendment of the Government, agreed to.
Circulated amendment of the Government -
That the following sub-clauses be added: - “ (2.) This section shall not be construed to empower the making of regulations -
Clause 17 agreed to.
Postponed clause 4 (Definitions).
– When this clause was under consideration, the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) pointed out that whereas it contained a definition of “ time of war “ which had been translated from the Defence Act, no definition of the word “ war “ was inserted. As the word “ war “ is defined in the Defence Act, the honorable member suggested that we might include a similar definition in this clause, and I undertook to look into the matter. As I pointed out at the time the word “war” does not occur in this bill except in the phrase “ time of war “ ; but as the honorable member believes that the word “ war “ should be defined, the Government has no objection to doing so. I move -
That at the end of the clause the following definition be added: - “ ‘ war ‘ means any invasion or apprehended invasion of, or attack or apprehended attack on, the Commonwealth or any territory of the Commonwealth by an enemy or armed force.”.
– Would that cover attacks on shipping?
– Yes, quite clearly.
.- The point of having this amendment inserted is that “ time of war “ means a time during which a state of war exists. Unless the word “ war “ were defined and limited in this way it would be possible for the Executive to declare that a state of war existed when there was a western European war and Australia was in no danger of attack. For that reason, I suggested that the limiting definition of “ war “ contained in the Defence Act should be incorporated in this bill.
.- Insofar as this proposed amendment represents another successful effort on the part of the Labour Opposition to improve a futile measure, I suppose we should congratulate ourselves upon it; but as a definition of “ war “ it really carries us no further. War, under the Defence Act, means “ any invasion or apprehended invasion of, or attack or apprehended attack on, the Commonwealth or any territory under the control of the Commonwealth by an enemy or armed force “. That definition is now being put into this bill. Whose apprehension are we to measure in connexion with this clause? What is the standard by which we are to decide that an attack upon Australia is apprehended ? By what standard of judgment are we to conclude that an invasion of Australia is apprehended? I suppose it simply gets back to this, if I understand it correctly, that the Government may declare that it apprehends an invasion or an attack upon this country, just as it may declare to be urgent a measure whichis really not urgent. For several months past I have had a very poor opinion of the judgment of this Government and of the Government which, as the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) so happily said, predeceased it. Who is to say that he apprehends an attack upon this country? The Government has been apprehending such an attack for months past. It has .been acting upon the assumption that an attack is imminent, but such an attack has never come to pass. As I have ventured to state on more than one occasion, the “ jitters “ of the Government have not been justified by events in the slightest degree. Crisis has followed upon -crisis; I have refused to recognize them as crises, and they have passed. I never knew a government more completely barren of crises that this one is at the present moment, and yet it is trying to force this bill on us as a matter of such grave urgency that discussion must be stifled. Presumably, it apprehends the invasion of Australia itself. I should be very sorry to be responsible for the apprehensions of the honorable gentlemen on the other side of the chamber. I do not share their apprehensions. I merely say that there is a danger, and there has always been a danger, that this Government may involve us in war, and as long as it remains in office I shall entertain that apprehension. However, it is an apprehension entirely of what the Government may do, not of what we may be involved in irrespective of the Government. Again, when we speak of an apprehension of war, what kind of war do we mean ? Are we speaking of war in Australia waged for the defence of this . country, or are we speaking of war that might arise out of some of the more recent commitments into which we have entered to maintain peace in central Europe? Which do we mean, war here, or war on the continent of Europe? I have sometimes heard it said that when Great Britain is at war, we are at war. I have never subscribed even to that doctrine. I have proved, I think, that it is constitutionally unsound from a legal point of view, and it is certainly unsound from a commonsense point of view. For the Government, however, it is not only a fact that when Great Britain is at war, we are at war, but it is also true, under our new united front for the protection of democracy, that when Poland is at war we are at war, when France is at war we are automatically at war, and, if I am not mistaken, when Greece is at war we must now, in defence of world democracy, also be at war. Are these the wars that honorable members opposite apprehend? Is that what is implicit in the definition? Are we to understand that we are preparing against something that may take place in central Europe in respect of which we have not been consulted, in respect of which we have no voice, and in respect of which we have no knowledge and no interest? Are we to believe that Australia is automatically at war should hostilities break out in Europe through the operations of the united front, initiated by the great democracies of the world to maintain the peace of the world? The Government seems to believe that we must apprehend the possibility of Australia being at war for such a cause, and it evidently believes, also, that once we are involved in war, in the defence of Poland, for example, we may take it for granted that one of our eastern neighbours, because it is a member of the Fascist axis, will immediately attack us. I have no such apprehension. I do not join with those honorable members who believe that. I repudiate their international philosophy as being traitorous to this country, as well as futile so far as the defence of Australia is concerned. I decline to lend my influence to a policy which would embroil this country in any one of a score of disputes which might arise in a continent other than our own. I have no fear of an attack upon Australia, or a possible invasion. The only state of war I apprehend is a war for the defence of Australia, and I think that, providentially, there is no immediate danger of that. I hope that this Government, which is fomenting war and creating war scares, and lending itself to doctrines of hatred and provocation, will be removed before it succeeds in involving Australia in conflict with another nation.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
New clause -
PART IIa. - Aircraft Assembly. 14a. - (1.) The Governor-General may establish factories for the manufacture or assembly of such aircraft or parts of aircraft as are, in the opinion of the Governor-General, necessary in connexion with the defence of Australia. (2.) Factories established in pursuance of this section shall be maintained and operated in accordance with the regulations.
– Honorable members know of the general framework which the Government proposes to set up in connexion with the manufacture of aircraft. It is proposed to have a general manager who shall, under the Minister and the department, be responsible for the business of aircraft manufacture in Australia by the Government. There are to be set up two central erection shops, one in or close to Sydney, and the other in or close to Melbourne. Apart from what is done in those shops, all the rest of the work of creating components which will be assembled into complete air frames, will be done through this body under contract with the four principal workshops in the States.
– What States?
– The three eastern States and South Australia. The workshops of Queensland and New South Wales will feed the central erection shop in Sydney, and the workshops of “South Australia and Victoria will feed the central plant in Melbourne.
– What is the proposed outlay?
– The actual governmental outlay for capital expenditure will not be large, having regard to the largeness of the undertaking. It will be some few hundreds of thousands of pounds.
– This new clause is equivalent to a new bill.
– It has been before honorable members for a fortnight.
– No explanation of it has been given before this.
– Because it is selfexplanatory. Several of the clauses are concerned with the conditions of appointment of the general manager. It is proposed to create a trust fund, to be known us the Aircraft Trust Account, which will be used as a working trust fund in the same way as is the fund that has been established in connexion with the Government Clothing Factory. Into this account funds will be placed as they are impropriated, and they will be drawn from it from time to time as required to carry on operations.
– This new clause 14a represents the proposals of the Government to establish an aircraft assembly organization at a capital cost to the Commonwealth, according to the statement of the Minister (Mr. Casey), of a “ few hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
– That is capital expenditure.
– That is what I said. The proposal for the establishment of this elaborate Commonwealth instrumentality for the first time in the history of this nation has been thrown on the table within 40 minutes of the committee becoming powerless to deliberate further upon it. There has been no exposition by the Government of particulars in respect of the undertaking. If it were proposed to establish a Commonwealth woollen mill, or other undertaking, the Government would have to introduce a bill for the purpose. It would have to explain the broad outlines of the scheme in a second-reading speech, and honorable members would then have an opportunity to dissect the scheme > committee. It seems to me to be an extraordinary thing that, after the Supply and Development Bill had been drawn and introduced into this Parliament, and after it had been explained in a second-reading speech, this tremendously important addition should be introduced, representing as it does an expansion of Commonwealth activities of equal importance with any of the other Government instrumentalities now in operation. Never before has there been in any Parliament such an outrageous abuse of a government’s power over its dumbdriven supporters as this. To ask Parliament to authorize . the passage of a measure which, _ in the very nature of things, must lead ultimately to an appropriation act involving a capital outlay of some hundreds of thousands of pounds, is deliberately to affront the competence of the Parliament to control government expenditure. These clauses were not moved seriatim. Ordinarily, a bill would have been introduced to set up this undertaking, and the various clauses would be dealt with in sequence in the committee stage. Here they are thrown altogether. How much is the general manager to be paid?
– I cannot say.
Mr.CURTIN.- Then the Minister does not know how many employees there will , be.
– I shall make my own speech.
– But the Minister has concluded his exposition of the subject. He has submitted it to the committee with whatever facts and data are available. Surely we are entitled to know approximately how many persons will be employed, and, generally, what is the estimated expenditure over a year’s operations? I think I am also entitled to ask why only the three eastern States and South Australia are to be linked up with the scheme, and why Tasmania and Western Australia have been excluded from it? In this proposed new clause, which is only a portion of the bill with which the committee has already dealt, there is power to make regulations in respect of factories. Sub-clause 2 reads -
Factories established in pursuance of this section shall be maintained and operated in accordance with the regulations.
That is giving the Government a blank cheque - an unqualified and unrestricted charter - to maintain and operate these factories, in whatever way it thinks fit. Surely this Parliament, which is representative of the Australian people, is not going to give to this Government the authority to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in order to establish and maintain factories under conditions, which at any rate, have not yet been outlined to this Parliament. Such a course would not be followed in establishing a Commonwealth bank, aCommonwealth shipping line, or, as I have already mentioned, Commonwealth woollen mills, and it ought not to be followed in establishing Commonwealth aircraft factories.
– Have any factories been established ?
– Amendments were circulated a fortnight ago.
– This proposed new clause was not circulated a fortnight ago. This represents the belated day to day acquisition, of knowledge by the Minister, who really will not know what the bill contains until it has been passed by Parliament.
– The proposed new clause was circulated on the 24th May.
– But this proposed new clause was not explained to the committee. This is the 1st June, so that this proposal has been available for about a week. The importantpoint to remember is that, when the Minister moved the second reading of the measure, he had no knowledge of the intention of the Government to incorporate this provision. In these circumstances, there has been no statement of the principle upon which these aircraft factories are to be established, or of the expenditure or commitments which the Commonwealth is to incur. This provision authorizes the Commonwealth to proceed with the establishment of these factories, and in the most airy way the ex-Treasurer, who is accustomed to getting millions out of the air, says that it is proposed to spend a few hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time when the Commonwealth Bank is being asked to extend credit because the. Government cannot raise sufficient loan funds on the money market to meet its actual needs. How far is this Parliament to be stultified in its control of the public purse? I refuse to support a measure that commits us to lay down blindly a basis of expenditure, the extent of which not even the Minister can measure. Surely that is too much to ask this Parliament to do. I had hoped that this proposal would be the subject-matter of a. separate bill, and I now suggest that the right honorable gentleman should withdraw this proposed new clause, which provides for the establishment of aircraft assembly factories, and make it the framework of a new bill. Parliament would then have an opportunity to consider the whole subject on its merits. We cannot discuss it properly at this juncture. The Minister, who is no longer the Treasurer, is not able to tell the committee how many hundreds of thousands of pounds are involved.What is the meaning of “ a few hundreds of thousands of pounds?”. Does it mean three hundred thousand, . five hundred thousand, ten hundred thousand, ora million pounds? Action should be taken by the Government in the direction I have suggested. I am unable to do anything in the matter without the support of the committee. Unfortunately there are spineless honorable members who oppose the Government one day and are loyal to it the next day. In professing to protect the country’s interests they oppose the Government en bloc on tinpot questions; but refuse to stand up to Ministers on major issues because they fear nothing so much as an election. It is hopeless for me to endeavour to safeguard the interests of the country. There is, however, a course open to the Minister which squares with his views. He should withdraw this proposed new clause and make it the framework of a separate bill, and in moving the second reading of it he could elaborate the whole of the proposals concerning the new department. Parliament could then consider general principles, and in the committee stage we could deal in detail with a matter which is to be a tremendously important adjunct to Commonwealth activities. I feel that the committee should not be asked to accept blindly this proposed new clause on the poverty-stricken information given by the Minister in a speech lasting only five minutes.
– I did not hear a word of it
– The honorable member would not have learned much had he heard the whole of it.
– I shall explain the proposal further if the honorable member will give me an opportunity to do so.
– The Minister now says that he will explain it.
– Explain it further.
– Then I shall resume my seat, but I venture to predict that the Minister’s explanation will be a complete exposure of the utter incapacity of the Government to do this job properly.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) apparently misunderstands the position. Every one else knows that the proposed new clause does not provide for the appropriation of hundreds of thousands of pounds as the Leader of the Opposition suggests.
– The Minister said so.
– Before any large amount can be expended under this measure, a bill must be introduced to authorize not only the establishment of these factories, but also the appropriation of money with which they will be financed. The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) is only seeking authority for his department to control the business and to appoint and control certain officers who are to carry out the work. The department controlled by the Minister will have power to select a manager who will organize the manufacture of spare parts and the assembly of aircraft.
– Will no money be expended by the department?
– Not until Parliament appropriates it. No provision is made in this proposed new clause for the expenditure of large sums of money on this department. The Government must come to Parliament for authority before it can expend money on this project in Victoria or in any other State on tha manufacture of parts or on the assembling of aeroplanes. When authority is sought, the Opposition will then have ample opportunity to approve or disapprove of the Government’s proposal.
– Is the honorable member certain that this proposed new clause does not give authority for the expenditure of money?
– The Minister has already given that assurance. The Government has not the power to expend hundreds of thousands of pounds. The words of the Minister, upon which the Leader of the Opposition fastened were uttered by way of an interjection.
– The money has to be voted by Parliament.
– Yes. Money is not now being voted for new works; the proposed new clause gives the department the power to control the undertaking when established. This procedure is preferable to establishing the industry and then asking Parliament to authorize the Department of Supply and Development to control it.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) attempted to generate a good deal of heat,, because I did not give a longer explanation of the proposed new clause. Its meaning is obvious.
– The Minister (Mr. Casey), has already spoken on this provision, and the guillotine is about to fall. By speaking again he is disgracing his position as a Minister.
– The meaning of the clause is obvious.
– The Minister does not want to give the members of the Opposition a chance.
– I spoke very briefly previously because of the time limitation and I wanted to give honorable members opposite a longer period in which to discuss this provision.
– The Minister is occupying our time.
If the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) continues to interject, I shall name him.
– The general plan which the Government has in mind was explained at considerable length in statements made by the late Prime Minister (/Mr. Lyons), and the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The object of this provision is to establish what it is necessary to establish by legislation in order to enable the thinking out of the organization to begin. This project will eventually be a great enterprise and of tremendous value to Australia. Under this provision we are seeking the power to enter1 into a new enterprise, and, broadly speaking, to establish it and to appoint a general manager. The Leader of the Opposition knows full well, as I believe every other honorable member knows, what is proposed, so I do not intend to waste the time of the committee, which is limited. An attempt is now made to make political capital out of my consideration for the time of honorable members. I am chided by the honorable member for Werriwa because I am answering the Leader of the Opposition in greater detail, necessary or unnecessary as that may be.
– Is not any money to be expended under this proposal until next year?
– I will not say that; if a general manager be appointed, he cannot live on air.
– Has a general manager been appointed?
– I rise to a point of order. Is the Minister in order in preventing honorable members on this side of the chamber from speaking by again occupying the time of the committee?
– No point of order is involved.
– If the Leader of the Opposition employs extreme terms which compel me to reply to him, the members of the Opposition have to accept the consequences. In the Defence Act power is given to establish and maintain factories for the manufacture of naval and military equipment and uniforms, and that is the limit of the existing authority to establish factories. It occupies about one and a half lines in the act.
.- The Minister (Mr. Casey) said that certain amendments were circulated on the 24th May. Under this provision it is proposed to set up a new department, the establishment of which has to be discussed in 35 minutes. Proposed new clause 14a enacts -
The Minister for Supply and Development in answer to an interjection admitted that expenditure would be incurred even before Parliament reassembled, and my leader (Mr. Curtin) elicited that this expenditure would amount to a few hundreds of thousands of pounds.
– That is not what I said.
– The Minister indicated airily that the expenditure would be in the neighbourhood of a few hundreds of thousands of pounds. I am sure that if his own money were involved he would regard the position in a different light. This new clause provides for the establishment of an aircraft factory and for the appointment of a general manager. I am as anxious as is any other honorable member to see the setting up in this country of the aircraft manufacturing industry, but I want it to be done properly. I want to be sure that Parliament will have complete control of what the Government intends to do. The method proposed in this bill is most reprehensible, it is an insult to this Parliament, and to members generally. The entire conception is Fascism in excelsis. We could not possibly have anything worse under Hitler or Mussolini. If the Government gets its way the voice of the people will be stifled. The proposal is a negation of every principle of democracy, and I enter my emphatic protest against it.
.- I am rather pleased that the Labour party is opposing this proposed new clause. I agree with honorable members opposite. I am convinced that Government control of industry means waste of the people’s money. A serious mistake is being made in attempting to set up a Government controlled factory of this description. I recall our experience in pre-war years, and particularly what happened in connexion with the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. Rifles which were estimated to cost £3 10s. each, cost between £12 and £13, and many were so faulty that they could not be despatched to the front for use by Australian soldiers. We may have the same trouble with this proposed new industry. I object to Government control of industry, and I am pleased that the Labour party is also objecting to this proposal.
– It will lead to decentralization of industry.
– I hope that the Government will not spend huge sums of money in establishing an industry of this.’ sort, because I am certain that production costs will be very much higher than in establishments under private control. On this matter I shall vote with the Labour party.
.- I am rather surprised at the attitude of the Opposition to this proposed new clause which really represents an endeavour to nationalize a defence industry. That is something to which members of the Opposition might well subscribe. The way in which the proposal is being approached may not be as perfect as it should be, but the principle conforms entirely to my conception of adequate defence preparations. The removal of the manufacture of aircraft in Australia from monopolistic control by private enterprise is a move which has my wholehearted support. Since Parliament will have the power to call for documents and papers, and to examine from time to time the administration of this proposed new department, that should be a sufficient safeguard. I see nothing wrong in the clause. Therefore I intend to support it.
.- In view of the Labour party’s persistent advocacy of State enterprise, I am rather surprised at the attitude of members of the Opposition towards this proposal to establish government-controlled factories for the manufacture of aircraft. The Leader of the Opposition ,(Mr. Curtin) has made a great fuss about this proposed new clause, and has said several things which, we know, and I think he also knows, are not true. This clause empowers the Government to set up State-owned factories for the manufacture of aircraft. I cannot understand why so much objection is being offered by the Opposition to this scheme. During the last twelve months the Government has, on many occasions, been asked in debates on various measures and at question time, whether the manufacture of aircraft in Australia is to be carried out by State or private enterprise. Notwithstanding that the Government’s proposals have been widely discussed both in this Parliament and in the press, opposition did not develop till they were brought down in this measure. I should have thought that so far from criticizing the Government, the Leader of the Opposition would have led his gallant followers in commending Ministers for this endeavour to foster State enterprise.
I do not wholly favour State control of industry. I believe that if the Labour party were in power to-day, and attempted to give effect to this plank of its policy, the country would be ruined in a very short time. As an example of what would happen, I ask honorable members to recall the disastrous socialization experiments made by Mr. Lang, while leading a Labour government in the State of New South Wales. That gentleman, with his followers, has been in the wilderness ever since. I favour the Government’s proposal to establish an aircraft factory as a defence measure, but 1 would not support any attempt to foster State industrial undertakings at the expense of valuable private industries. Private manufacturers should be encouraged to engage in the manufacture of aircraft, but, parallel with these establishments, there should be a governmentowned factory to act as a check on prices. In every community there are avaricious and greedy people whose sole object is to make money, no matter whom they tread underfoot. They should be checked. Not infrequently I find myself in agreement with sentiments expressed by Labour members, but not always with what they do. When they have the opportunity they are as keen after the “boodle” as any other section of the people
I am pleased that it is proposed to establish this State enterprise, and I am hoping that soon we shall have healthy competition from establishments under private control, thus ensuring the production of aircraft at a reasonable price. Honorable members opposite frequently declare that Government supporters are spineless and like dumb driven cattle. I incline to the belief that their trouble is that the Government which we support cannot be driven from office. And with all due respect to the Leader of the Opposition, I suspect that much of what he has said in opposition to this proposal is so much propaganda for political purposes.
– Order !
– Yes, Mr. Chairman, I think thatis the correct word. I believe that the intention of the Leader of the Oposition and his supporters is not so much to impede the Government in the carrying out of this scheme to establish factories for the manufacture of aircraft as to create the impression that in some way they are championing the cause of freedom and the rights of the people in Parliament. They have endeavoured to show that this bill abrogates the rights of the individual, and will interfere with freedom of speech. I contend that there is nothing in the measure that will do any of the things which they allege. On the contrary, it is a step towards the fulfillment of the policy of honorable members opposite. They are never tired of declaring their belief in State enterprises. Now they are objecting to this policy.
– I have not expressed opposition to it. I said that this proposal should be included in a separate bill in order that Parliament might deal with it properly.
– It will be able to do so. I am afraid that, in his attitude to this measure, the Leader of the Opposition has not shown his usual sound judgment. I am sure that the people generally will not believe all the statements made by the honorable gentleman and his supporters this afternoon. The Minister who will have charge of this new Department of Supply and Development will now be able to set about establishing the organization for which provision is made in this measure, but the freedom of this Parliament to deal with the Government’s proposals is unimpaired.
– The time allotted for the postponed clauses and the new clauses has expired.
Heading and new clause agreed to.
New clauses 14b to 14j, and 15a, circulated by the Government - “ 14b. The Governor-General may make regulations providing for the making of arrangements, agreements or contracts for the acquisition, manufacture or assembly of aircraft or parts of aircraft for the Commonwealth. “ 14c. - (1.) For the purposes of this Part, there shall be a Trust Account which shall be known as the Aircraft Trust Account. (2.) An account established in pursuance of this section shall be a Trust Account for the purposes of section sixty-two a of the Audit Act 1901-1934. “14d. There shall be a General Manager of Aircraft Construction (in this Part referred to as ‘the General Manager’) who shall have such powers and perform such duties as are prescribed. “ 14e. - (1.) The General Manager shall be appointed for such term, not exceeding five years, as the Governor-General determines. (2.) If an officer of the Public Service of the Commonwealth is appointed General Manager, the Officers’ Rights Declaration Act 1928-1933 shall apply as if this Act and section had been specified in the Schedule to that Act. (3.) If an officer of the Public Service of a State is appointed General Manager, he shall have the same rights as if he had been an officer of a Department transferred to the Commonwealth and had been retained in the service of the Commonwealth. (4.) The General Manager shall not, without the approval of the Governor-General, engage in any paid employment other than the duties of his office. “14f. - (1.) The General Manager shall receive such salary as the Governor-General determines. (2.) There shall be paid to the General Manager, on account of his expenses in travelling to discharge the duties of his office, such sums as are considered reasonable by the Governor-General . “14c. - (1.) On the happening of any vacancy in the office of General Manager, the Governor-General shall appoint a person to fill that office. (2.) Any such appointment shall be for the remainder of the term of office or for such shorter period as the Governor-General determines. “14h. In the case of the illness, suspension or absence of the General Manager, the Governor-General may appoint a deputy to act for the General Manager during his illness, suspension or absence’, and every deputy so appointed shall, while so acting, have all the powers and authority of the General Manager. “ 14i. - (1.) The Minister may suspend the General Manager from office for inability, inefficiency or misbehaviour. (2.) The Minister shall, within seven days after the suspension, if the Parliament is then sitting, or if the Parliament is not then sitting, within seven days after the next meeting of the Parliament, cause to be laid before both Houses of the Parliament a full statement of the grounds of suspension, and if within sixty days thereafter an address is presented to the Governor-General by the Senate and the House of Representatives praying for the restoration of the General Manager to office, he shall be restored accordingly; but if no such address is so presented the Governor-General may confirm the suspension and declare the office of the General Manager to be vacant, and the office shall thereupon be and become vacant. “ 14 j. The General Manager shall be deemed to have vacated his office if he -
New clauses agreed to.
Remainder ‘of bill agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
– The Opposition had hoped that many of the proposals which it put forward with the object of making the bill fair, and at the same time workable, would be accepted by the Government. We regret, however, apart altogether from our strictures in regard to the procedure followed, that important amendments which we feel had very great merit, and most certainly were necessary to safeguard the interests of the workers, were rejected by the Government. For that reason, we shall vote against the third reading of the bill.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a third time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 6.8 to 8 p.m.
Contract for Additions: Royal Commission
– by leave - Yesterday in answer to a question by the Leader of the Opposition in relation to the proposed additions to the Sydney General Post Office, I said -
The possibility of some speedy investigation of the matters raised in relation to the tenders is now being investigated by me. I have had the advantage of some tentative conversations on the subject with the Leaders of the other two parties in this House, and I shall make a statement to-morrow. In the meantime, I assure honorable members that no contract will be signed.
I do not need to tell honorable members that this undertaking was given by me in good faith, and with the intentions that it should he honoured. I was amazed to discover last evening that, in point of fact, the contract in relation to these works was actually signed at about 47.20 yesterday afternoon, after I had made my statement to Parliament.
I at once put in hand inquiries, not only as to what had occurred, but also as to whether the contract had assumed a final and binding form. As to the latter point, I am advised that the contract is complete and binding. As to the former point, the facts as I know them are briefly as follows -
Last week departmental instructions were given by my colleague, the Assistant
Minister (Mr. Perkins) representing the Minister for the Interior, to the effect that no contract was to be signed until the discussions in Parliament in relation to this matter had been concluded. Yesterday morning, my colleague, the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll), pursuant to my request and a discussion in Cabinet, specifically renewed these instructions. There is, I understand, a difference of view between the Director-General of Works and the Works Director for New South Wales as to whether these instructions, which were undoubtedly received by the DirectorGeneral, were passed on to, or clearly understood by, the Works Director. I offer no opinion as to what the true position is, but I do know that the deplorable fact is that, after I had given my undertaking to this House, that undertaking was violated by the signing of the contract. It may very well be, and indeed there is no reason to doubt, that the whole incident arises either from a confusion of instructions or from some negligence somewhere in the department; but I feel the matter very keenly. I am convinced that, in justice to everybody concerned, the whole affair must be promptly and impartially investigated, and that the questions which had already arisen in Parliament in relation to the acceptance of a tender should at the same time be examined.
Having regard to the nature of the questions involved, I propose that there should he a special committee consisting of three members of the Public Works Committee, together with an architect and a builder, selected as representative of the appropriate federal body in each case, and that such committee shall be invited to inquire into and report upon the circumstances in which a tender was accepted for such additions, and a contract signed in relation thereto.
The successful tenderer, H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, has a binding contract obtained in open competition, and not unnaturally insists upon its performance.
I greatly regret what has happened in this matter, but I think that the House will agree that we are taking the right course. It is of the essence of the relations which should exist between a Prime Minister and Parliament that undertakings given by him should be scrupulously observed, or that, where an undertaking is broken, the reasons for such breach should be plainly stated and adequately examined. It is in the interests of the relations which should exist between public departments and those who offer to become contractors with them, that the whole of the circumstances of this case should be impartially examined and publicly reported . upon. It is in that spirit that I will, in due course, propose to the House that the committee of investigation be set up.
– Will the Prime Minister move that the paper be printed, so that honorable members generally may have an opportunity to discuss it?
– I have not the slightest objection. I lay on the table the following paper: -
Additions to General Post Office, Sydney - Acceptance of tender and signing of contract - Ministerial statement, and move -
That the paper be printed.
– The statement just made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) marks a new and very startling development in the history of this subject. Had the Government acted on the representations made in the House by the Opposition a week ago, the one thing which is irreparable would not have occurred, for this contract would not have been signed yesterday. It will be recalled that more than a week ago this subject was first ventilated by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby). In view of the discussion that took place that day, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) gave notice of his intention to move that the whole matter should be remitted to the Public Works Committee for report. That notice was put at the bottom of the businesspaper by the Government, for, of course, the Government always has control of the business of the House. The motion was put at the bottom of the business-paper on private member’s day.
– With great respect, the Government does not fix private members’ day; it happens automatically.
– At any rate, the motion was put at the bottom of the business-paper by the Prime Minister. He knew, of course, that he had already taken action to ensure that Government business would have precedence over private members’ business’ for the remainder of this period of the session. That meant, in fact, that the Government burked a discussion in Parliament which would have enabled the House to determine whether this matter was one that should be referred to the Public Works Committee.
– The position was that the Government was discussing what course it should pursue.
– It took too long in doing so.
– It took two days altogether.
– Oh, no; because the right honorable gentleman must be aware that last Friday there appeared on the notice-paper a proposal of which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had given notice. I say, with great respect, that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has something more than the status of a private member in this House. At the time he tabled his motion he was, in fact, the Acting Leader of the Opposition, because I was away. He gave notice of his motion on this day week, and the motion appeared on the businesspaper last Friday. This House has sat on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, as well as to-day. It will be fresh in the recollection of every honorable member that, last Friday, in the absence of the Prime Minister, the Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Hughes) was questioned on this subject, and that on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week the Prime Minister himself was asked what opportunity he proposed to give to the House to discuss the motion. Actually, he has given honorable members no opportunity to do so, but yesterday he said that no contract would be signed, leaving the implication that there would be further references in the House to the subject before a contract was signed.
Mr.Menzies. - I said further, “ The possibility of some speedy investigation of the matters raised in relation to the tenders is now being investigated by me.”
– That is so, and I do not hold the right honorable gentleman responsible for the fact that there has been this new and startling development. Contrary, not only to the instructions given by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins; last week, but also to the further instructions given by the Minister for the Interior (Senator Poll) yesterday morning, this contract was signed yesterday afternoon about 4.30 o’clock.
– Who signed it?
– The Works Director for New South Wales.
Mr. CURTIN.The presumption is that the Works Director for New South Wales signed the contract. If he did so, he was probably acting on the statement made by the Assistant Minister in this House on Friday, the 26th May, on which occasion that honorable gentleman said -
The contract had not been signed, but the contractor had been informed that his tender had been accepted. It is the intention of the Government to honour its promise to accept the tender.
The Assistant Minister also said -
The Government has entered into a bond with the contractor which it must honour.
He added -
The Government feels that its honour is at stake and that it must sign the contract, after having notified the contractor of the acceptance of his tender.
I do not know whether departmental officers take cognizance of what is said by responsible Ministers in this House. They may, of they may not, do so, for we are now faced with a statement by the Prime Minister that in this matter they have hot taken cognizance of a direction given to them by the Assistant Minister last week and again by the Minister for the Interior yesterday.
– If the direction was given !
– That is a very sound presumption.
– Now that an inquiry has been arranged I shall not canvass the merits of this very nasty subject. To do so would be quite unbecoming to myself, at any rate, and I speak only for myself. I have my own views on the subject. I thinkthat there should be a full examination of the whole of the circumstances of the case. I am not yet satisfied that the terms of reference which I construe will be submitted to the investigating body in the terms of the Prime Minister’s statement are either adequate or sufficiently comprehensive. The right honorable gentleman said that there would be an inquiry and report upon the circumstances under which the tender for these additions was accepted, and the contract signed, and other matters relatingthereto.
– That is very wide.
– I know it is. But there should be an investigation into all the departmental activities in connexion with this matter. A review should be made of the reasons why the previous Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) and the previous Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) agreed upon a type of building, why the previous Minister for Works approved of that particulartype of building, and why their successors in office reversed their predecessors’ decision. I am advised that the present Minister for the Interior himself approved of the proposals of the former Postmaster-General and the former Minister for Works.
– All of those matters could be inquired into under the suggested terms of reference, and I would desire them to be investigated.
– That is satisfactory.. The whole matter should be investigated, including the proposals in respect of the type of building, the manner in which the alternative tenders were invited, and also the reason why the second lowest tenderer was unable to get terra cotta from Wunderlich Proprietary Limited at the same price, forthe same quantity and quality, as the successful tenderer could get them.
– Would the honorable member favour bringing into the ambit of the inquiry the question of the destruction of the existing building valued at £300,000?
– I am concerned with the contract for the erection of the building to cost about £400,000 , I am not concerned with the acquisition of the land on which Hoffnung’s premises stand.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition sponsored a motion that the whole of this matter should be investigated by the Public Works Committee, and that would have embraced the question as to wether or not the building should be erected. But at this stage much more important principles are at stake. It appears to me that the inquiry is now of a character which calls for some judicial investigation. I am not content with the proposal that it should be made by three members of the Public Works Committee, although I am in favour of Parliament being identified with it. And I am not concerned very much, although I see no special value in the proposal in having a builder and an architect on the committee of inquiry. I believe that an inquiry conducted by three members of the Public Works Committee, presided over by a judge of a Supreme Court, or, preferably, a justice of the High Court, would be necessary to make certain not only that there shall be a judicial probe into this matter, but also that the factual aspects of the matter shall be subject to ventilation and to discovery by somebody trained in that sphere of work. The right honorable gentleman knows that now it is more than a question of the relations between one tenderer and another, or. of the relations between former Ministers and present Ministers. Now, the honour of certain participants in this matter, if not at Stake, may be in question. I can quite appreciate that those who” may be called before this investigation may desire to be represented by counsel in order that their interests may be properly safeguarded. That throws upon the Prime Minister the responsibility of making certain that this inquiry is vested with powers equal to that of a royal commission. Otherwise, it appears to me, it will not be sufficiently comprehensive in its scope, or sufficiently judicial, in its character.
– If there is the slightest difficulty about obtaining evidence from any witness this committee will be armed with all of the powers of a royal commission.
– Why not start off on the right foot now?
– I do not mind.
– This latest development not only puts a new complexion upon the whole matter, but also makes the thing appear even more awkward than it did prior to yesterday; that is to say, what has taken place in. connexion with the disregarding of assurances from Ministers last week and as late as yesterday had not arisen previouly.
– The honorable member is not suggesting that I am showing any unwillingness to have this matter investigated ?
– Not at all.
– It sounds like it.
– The right honorable gentleman has moved that the paper be printed and I am asked to debate it. Indoing so, I am suggesting what I consider to be the right procedure to be followed in order that the most complete assurances may be given to the public and to the Parliament, and in order that the inquiry should be what the right honorable gentleman hoped it would be. I am suggesting that the investigation should take the form of a royal commission and that it should be presided over by a judge. I know the difficulty in getting their Honours of the High Court to act in this capacity.
– For how long has the honorable gentleman held that view of the appointment of a royal commission and having a Supreme Court judge?
– In connexion with this matter?
– I have formed that idea within the last few hours. Until yesterday I was quite satisfied that the Public Works Committee should investigate the matter, and until yesterday I should have been satisfied with a panel of that committee to investigate it. But the right honorable gentleman is now obliged to tell the House that there is more in this matter than the question of tenders - there is the disregarding of instructions given by the Minister and also by the Prime Minister himself, which, I suggest, places’ the right honorable gentleman in a position that he recognizes as being improper in that he has been unable to fulfill the assurances which he gave to Parliament.
– Until tenminutes ago, I was under the distinct impression that this form of inquiry was agreeable both to the honorable gentleman and to the Leader of the Country party.
– No. Right throughout this matter, in the tentative discussions which took place between us, the right honorable gentleman will recall, I think, my very first suggestion was that the committee of inquiry should be in the nature of a mixed commission.
– Of this kind.
– No. I reminded the right honorable gentleman that when it came to the question of inquiries into air-force accidents, I had repeatedly urged that the Air Accidents Inquiry Board should have recruited to it the services of a judge or magistrate. Why should I draw upon that analogy if I did not have clearly in my mind the idea of associating some magistrate or judge with this inquiry? .
– The honorable member astonishes me.
– The right honorable gentleman astonishes me when he now says that I did not make it clear to him that there ought to be associated with this inquiry, a justice of the. High Court or a judge of a Supreme Court. The right honorable gentleman will admit, I think, that he said to me, “ You know you cannot get a justice of the High Court “.
– Adiscussion took place between us.
– If the honorable gentlemanwants the whole of our conversation repeated, I shall repeat it.
– I have no objection. I said until yesterday that I would be satisfied with a mixed committee of the type that has now been suggested, but yesterday I did not know that the right honorable gentleman’s instructions had been disregarded.
– The honorable gentleman knew that at 11.30 this morning.
– And it was at 11.30 this morning that we discussed whether the services of a justice of the High Court, or a judge of a Supreme Court, could be secured.
– And the last suggestion made in our conversation was that in a case of this kind the proper thing to do was to have a mixed committee, consisting of members of Parliament and persons outside.
– The right honorable gentleman misunderstood my suggestion. When I suggested the appointment of a mixed committee, he replied that they could attach a builder and an architect as assessors to the committee.
– That was a minor point.
– The right honorable gentleman now suggests that these assessors should be made members of the committee of inquiry. I regret this misunderstanding between myself and the right honorable gentleman as to whose relationship with the matter I have no criticism to make whatever. I conclude with the statement that in my view the investigation contemplated should, first, have all the powers of a royal commission from the very start, and, secondly, whatever be its composition it should be presided over by a justice of the High Court or a judge of a Supreme Court.
..- It is almost impossible to conceive that in this country at this time such a position could arise as hasbeen detailed here by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to-night. This matter has been the cause of controversy in this House, in connexion with which, some eight or nine days ago, a formal motion for the adjournment of the House was moved in which ten or twelve honorable members, including two Ministers, participated. Furthermore it has been thoroughly ventilated in the Sydney press and questions concern- . ing it have been raised daily, whilst specific statements have been made by the Prime Minister, and by other gentlemen, that no contract would be signed until the matter had been discussed. Despite all of those facts,which are known to every one in the community and not merely to honorable members or to officers of the department, we are faced to-night with the position that, while a discussion was going on in another place for two days with regard to this matter, this contract has actually been signed, and the matter at issue has apparently been settled. Out of the indescribable muddle and incompetence which seem to surround the treatment of this question by the present Government, the only satisfactory feature to emerge so far is the clear statement which the Prime Minister has made to-night in which he has set out the position so fairly before honorable members. That is something that one can understand. I myself have not participated in previous discussions with regard to this matter, but, as Acting Leader of my party, the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) participated in those discussions, and he agreed, before it was known that the contract was signed, that a committee of inquiry pf such a form as is suggested here should be set up. This afternoon, however, he told me that the Prime Minister was of the opinion that the matter had been concluded, that he was awaiting some further information from Sydney which would enable him fully to determine the matter, and that he would make a statement here to-night. It seems to me that the whole position has changed with the declaration of the Prime Minister that the contract has been signed, and I agree with the Leader of .the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) that it now calls for an inquiry into the whole of the circumstances by a royal commission, which can examine, on sworn evidence, every aspect involved.
– With the widest possible terms of reference.
– Yes. Another aspect with which I am concerned, and it is something to which I should like the Government to address attention, is that up to this very moment we thought that all of the other tenderers for this contract were going to get fair play as the result of the inquiry that was to be made. But if, because of some dereliction of duty somewhere in the Government Service, a contract is to be maintained to the detriment of other tenderers without an examination, an intolerable position will be created from the point of view of justice and fair play to the general community. Whatever compensation may he necessary in order to ensure evenhanded justice between the tenderers, it seems to me that this Government and this Parliament should make provision for it so that the status quo ante of .yesterday can be re-established. That seems to bc essential. Otherwise, of what use would be an inquiry ? Before to-day it was suggested that an inquiry should bc held to determine who really should have the contract. When this matter was debated in this House a few days ago the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) suggested that fresh tenders should have been called once it had been decided to vary the decision of the previous Government and the conditions of the contract. I am at a loss to understand why this Government, which consists of ten members of the previous Government, should vary the decision of that Government.
– I understood that it was a decision of the Minister. I have never understood that it was usual for the letting of a contract to be referred to the Cabinet.
– The position, if I may say so without dealing with Cabinet matters, was that Cabinet said, “We reckon that these tenders are ready to be submitted to a sub-committee, which can go ahead with the letting of the contract”. As the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) pointed out, that sub-committee came to a decision and made application to the Treasury for the money, and it was only because the Government went out of office before .the money was available that the other tenderer was not informed and put in the position which H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited occupies as the result of the action that has now been taken. I do not desire to argue that aspect. What concerns me is the state of affairs which now confronts us. First of all, there should be a fixing of responsibility for this apparently gross blunder.
– Hear, hear!
– It is impossible for the Government or individual Ministers to shelter behind departmental officials. The Government must regard itself as responsible, for who else could be? If we once say, as was said in the previous debate, that we must take the advice of departmental heads against the decision of the Minister, we allow matters to be taken out of the hands of Parliament. We cannot, then, when there is trouble, put the blame on the officers. Such a practice would be in conflict with our ideas of constitutional democratic government. We are placed here to govern this country, and the Ministry must accept full responsibility for the official deeds of public servants. Responsibility for the fault which has been admitted by the Prime Minister must be fixed, but that is a matter for determination, not by a royal commission, but by the Prime Minister. Secondly, there is a question as to the equal rights of all tenderers in this matter. As a general principle we accept the lowest tender.
– That was done in this case.
– Originally, the lowest tender, which was for a stone-faced .building, was accepted. Attempts have been made to suggest that there is a real reason for the change from stone facing to terracotta facing, but to my way of thinking no really valid reason for that change has been given. In any case why now should it be possible for this contract to be completed in this way? The right thing to do when the change was decided was to call for new tenders. There should be a royal commission to determine the whole general issue, but there should also be action by the Prime Minister .to deter-, mine responsibility for - the blunders. That can be determined very quickly. When my deputy (Mr. Thorby) said to me yesterday that three members were to be chosen to make general inquiries, I was prepared to accept that proposal, but this incident calls for more than that. The public will demand that it be investigated to the fullest possible degree by the highest possible judicial tribunal that we can get. A royal commission would unearth the truth. Hints of unsavoury dealings, which, I hope, are baseless, would be probed and there would be no cloak of guilt. That would be assured.
– Two points stand out clearly in the state of affairs with which the House is faced. The first is the very emphatic backing of the statement which the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) made in this House eight days ago by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) tonight. On that occasion the PostmasterGeneral stated that .the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) and myself, during our terms of office, had been guilty of arriving at decisions against the wishes of departmental officers. From the Prime Minister’s statement to-night it stands out very clearly as proved up to the hilt that certain members of this Government have no ideas except those of the heads of their departments, who, apparently, are prepared to proceed with their ideas in defiance of ministerial instructions. That is a state of affairs which cannot be solved or absolved by an inquiry by any mixed committee or any royal commission. That is a matter for which the Government is responsible. That is a matter for which the Prime Minister must answer in this House and nowhere else. The second point concerns the type of inquiry which shall be held. From the time that this thing came up first it has been clear that I, with my colleague the honorable member for Calare and others, am one of the persons chiefly concerned, but for my actions as a Minister of State in the previous Government, I am npt to be answerable to a member of the Architects Association or to a master builder. I am answerable to this House and if any charge be made against me I will answer to this House or to a royal commission agreed upon by this House and consisting of the type to which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) referred. But to ask me, to ask any ex-Minister of State, to go before a. member of the Architects Association or the Master Builders Association, some of whom are up to their eyes one way or another in this thing, is wrong. The inquiry contemplated by the Prime Minister is of a type that I shall go before only under summons and under protest.
– The honorable member may get a summons.
– A constituted authority consisting of members of this House or the other House) or both, and a judge of a Supreme Court or justice of the High Court, I shall go before willingly, and explain my position, and if I am found guilty by it I shall not require any advice as to what I must do.
– I should not start to defend myself yet if I were the honorable gentleman..
– If the Prime Minister had sat in his place on Wednesday of last week and listened to the debate, this state of affairs would not have arisen, because I am perfectly certain that the right honorable gentleman would have quickly realized the state of affairs with which he was faced. But he ignored the debate; if my memory is correct he was not here for one minute of it. Had he been here he would have challenged some statements made by his own Ministers. Consequently, it is not a case of defending myself, here, or before a committee of inquiry if one be set up. If members of this Government, which includes ten members of the previous Government, upset a decision arrived at by members of the previous Government without cause being shown, there must be raised some suspicion of the validity and wisdom or something else of the judgment of the sub-committee that made the recommendation on which the previous Government acted. I stand solidly for the right of Parliament to govern this country, and for the acceptance of responsibility by Ministers. I exercised the responsibilities of a Minister for a while, and, possibly, some honorable members did not agree with the way I acted, but I am answerable to this House and to nobody else.
.- 1 was Acting Leader of the Opposition when the honorable member for Calare and former Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) moved the adjournment of this House to deal with this question, and it was the first that any of us, outside the Ministers who had been dealing with it, had heard of it. The speeches which followed showed that there was a sharp conflict of opinion on important points between former Ministers and present Ministers. The honorable member for Calare was emphatic that the Director-General of Works agreed with him that stone facing was preferable to terra cotta for the new Sydney General Post Office. The honorable member for Barker and former Post.masterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron) was also emphatic that the DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs agreed that a stone-faced building was better, or, at any rate, suitable for the requirements of the Postal Department. Then we had statements from the present PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Harrison) and the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) representing the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) which conflicted with those of the former Ministers. We on this side of the House did not. set ourselves up as authorities as to whether the building should be terra-cotta faced’ or stonefaced, but it was very evident that the whole question had been muddled, and that the honorable member for Calare had given the matter very serious consideration bef ore he decided to accept the lowest tender for the erection of a stonefaced building. His action was agreed to by his colleague the former PostmasterGeneral and another Cabinet Minister who was a member of the sub-committee> which had been created by the Cabinet, as well as by the Minister who is now the Minister for the Interior. It was said that Senator Foll had yielded to pressure from the present PostmasterGeneral to change his opinion when the Menzies Ministry was formed, and had endorsed his recommendation that the building should be faced with terra cotta. Then we were amazed to learn that Wunderlich Limited, in a £13,000 order, had offered terra-cotta materials to H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited for £2,600 less than it was prepared to sell the same material to the next lowest tenderer. Wunderlich Limited has a complete monopoly of the manufacture of terra-cotta tiles. The question as to the reasons for reversing the former Minister’s decision -to have a stone-faced building erected has not been satisfactorily explained. It was because of all these factors that the Opposition, after considering the matter carefully, empowered me to give notice of motion in this House to have the whole matter thoroughly investigated. The terms of that notice of motion were -
That, in the opinion of this House, the proposed work of the erection of additions to the General Post Office, Sydney, should be at once referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for early inquiry and report, and, in the meantime, no action should be taken to enter into any contract in relation to this work.
To put it mildly, I was astonished to discover next day that my motion had been placed near the foot of the notice-paper. I fully expected to have an opportunity to submit that motion in order to open the way for a full and frank discussion, which would have demonstrated the wisdom of referring the matter to the Public Works Committee for inquiry and report. I admit that the Prime Minister, was absent on that day - he was taking part in the Wilmot -by-election campaign - but the Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Hughes) stated in reply to a question which I asked : “ I can give to the House the assurance that in whatever position the matter stands at the moment, it will remain in that position until the House next meets, and an opportunity is given to discuss it “. Other honorable members asked questions relating to the matter and, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has stated, the Assistant Minister representing the Minister for the Interior made a statement which probably gave an idea to some officials, including the Works Director in New South Wales, that the Government intended that the contract should be signed. The Assistant Minister said -
The Government has entered into a bond with the contractor, that it must honour. Usually eight or tcn days elapse between the making of a decision to accept a tender and the actual signing of the contract. In this matter the Government feels that its honour is at stake and that it must sign the contract, after having notified the contractor of the acceptance of his tender.
He was pressed to give an assurance that the contract would not ‘be signed before the House met again, and honorable members had an opportunity to discuss it, The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) definitely asked for that assurance and, on the motion for the adjournment of the House on Friday, the Assistant Minister gave, with the utmost frankness, the assurance we sought. I expected that the House would be given an opportunity to discuss the question when it first met this week, and when that did not occur, I hoped that the discussion would take place on the following day. In view of the disclosures made to-night by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), that, notwithstanding the assurance given to the Parliament yesterday by the Prime Minister, the contract was signed in Sydney, the matter has taken a more serious turn and I consider that the Leader of the Opposition is now fully justified in pressing for the appointment of a royal commission. My opinion is strengthened by the very definite statements made by the Leader of the Country party (Sir Earle Page), and by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). The honorable member for Barker was one of the Ministers mentioned in the controversy. No accusation was made against him, but no doubt he would be called as a witness if an inquiry were conducted by the Public Works Committee or any other body. . He has stated definitely that he was not prepared to give evidence before a committee of the kind now proposed by the Government. He favours the appointment of a royal commission. If he adopts that attitude, and he is quite justified in doing so, others who are vitally concerned will surely do likewise. I appeal to the Prime Minister to reconsider the whole matter in the light of the advice that has been tendered by the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Country party, and the honorable member for Barker, to appoint a royal commission presided over either by a justice ‘of the High Court of Australia or by a judge of one of the supreme courts. Such an inquiry would meet with the entire satisfaction of everybody. It is important that the persons appointed to the commission should be disinterested. They should not have any axe to grind or be associated with the present tenderers in any way. If an architect is to be appointed, he should he far removed from association with all persons tendering for public works in New South Wales. If the Prime
Minister will give an assurance that he will select such a person we can feel confident that he will give effect to his promise. When the subject of the acceptance of the tender was first introduced by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), it was lightly brushed aside by the Government. We were told that it was a storm in a teacup ; that there was no need for any fuss as it was merely a matter of letting a contract. No charge was made then, but it was asked that the fullest investigation be made by the Public Works Committee. If the Government had acted promptly when I gave notice of my motion the contract would not have been signed. The matter has now gone so far that nothing less than a royal commission, presided over by a justice of the High Court or a judge of a Supreme Court, will satisfy the House.
.- The most remarkable feature about this matter has been the apparent reluctance of the Government to permit any discussion or inquiry ever since the matter was first raised by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. “Thorby). It has been a change this evening to hear suggestions from the champions of private enterprise among the members of the Government party and the Country party that there may have been underhand dealings in connexion with the letting of the contract.
– May I ask who suggested that underhand methods had been employed?
– In the recent discussions, honorable members opposite appeared to be quite certain that the gentlemen who control private enterprise were beyond any suggestion of underhand dealing in connexion with the letting and -acceptance of tenders. I am not satisfied with the undertaking to appoint a committee of inquiry given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). Many .such committees have been appointed by antiLabour governments whenever there has been a suggestion of questionable dealings involving any of their supporters. All of the circumstances in this case are highly suspicious. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to say that he gave an undertaking which, due to some misunderstanding, had ‘ ‘been violated. If the right honorable gentleman wishes the House to know the facts, - he should make available to it the instructions issued to the Commonwealth DirectorGeneral of Works, or the Works Director in New South Wales. Surely Cabinet Ministers are competent to give a direction which will not be misunderstood. Surely they are able to instruct the Director-General of Works, or the Works Director in New South Wales, either to sign a contract or not to sign a contract. There could be no misunderstanding about the wording of such a direction. Yet the Prime Minister wants intelligent members of this House to believe that the Government has nothing to hide. The very committee which he has suggested would be a loaded committee. Its constitution would be such that it would inevitably bring in the kind of report that the Government wanted. Judging by the reports that have been submitted by committees of inquiry appointed by anti-Labour governments, the only question that those committees have ever inquired into has been the size of the brush needed to whitewash the people concerned in shady dealings. The alacrity with which the contract under discussion was signed after members of the Opposition had asked for an inquiry gives rise to keen suspicion. Fancy the Prime Minister and . one of his responsible Ministers having the audacity to assure this House that they gave instructions, either to the Director-General of Works or to the Works Director in New South Wales, that the contract was not to be signed, and then to inform the House that, due to some misunderstanding, the contract had been signed. Failing the presentation of more substantial evidence to the contrary, I feel that somebody had a particular interest in ensuring that the contract was signed before this House had an opportunity to discuss it. Why does the Prime Minister require an architect upon the proposed committee of inquiry? Is that architect to inquire into the form of construction most acceptable to the Government? That is not the question which needs investigation at this stage. Why also does the Prime Minister want a master builder to be appointed to the committee? One of the master builders involved in the dispute over the acceptance of this tender has already been connected with a dispute with the brick combine in New South Wales over another matter, and it is quite possible that the master builder who would be selected by the Government as a member of the committee would be one whose views were already known to it. There is no justification for the appointment of a master builder or an architect to the proposed* committee, and should a committee of this House be appointed, there would be no justification for the Government to have a majority representation, because the Government is amongst those who are involved in this case. If an impartial committee is appointed a majority of its members must represent the party which is not involved in the dispute - the Labour party. The appointment of any other kind of committee would be a waste of time, because it would only conduct a prolonged inquiry, and finally submit a report in which the Minister and the Commonwealth DirectorGeneral of Works and the Works Director in New South Wales would be exonerated. I can anticipate the substance of such a report. It would be to the effect that the whole matter was regrettable, that the contract was signed after the Prime Minister had given an undertaking to the House that it would not be signed, that nobody was to blame and that the whole thing was the result of a misunderstanding. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it is very difficult where money-bags are concerned to secure an impartial inquiry. If a High Court justice were appointed to preside oyer a public inquiry, and those who were involved had the right to appoint counsel and anybody was at liberty to give evidence, it is possible that at least some of the truth would be brought to light. Honorable members should not be satisfied with the undertaking given by the Prime Minister. We want something more than he has offered us.
– I was astounded to learn this afternoon that the contract, which has been discussed in* this House on several occasions since I raised it on a formal motion for adjournment, had been signed. I do not wish to recapitulate those points which have been dis cussed already, but I say emphatically, as one who approved of the previous contract, that the only course open to the Government is to appoint the highest tribunal possible to investigate all aspects of this matter. I strongly urge the Government to give an assurance that it will appoint a royal commission because, undoubtedly, the signing of the contract has changed the whole position. If necessary, the House should be adjourned now to give the Government an opportunity to consider its own position, and to prepare the terms of reference for the commission, so that they could be considered by Parliament as soon as possible. We have had one illustration already of the trouble that can be caused by delay. It is unprecedented for Parliament to receive an assurance from a Prime Minister, and then to learn that it has not been honoured. I do not blame the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in this respect. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Prime Minister dishonoured his promise to Parliament; but as the contract has now been signed, there is no doubt that Parliament has been ignored. In view of the knowledge I have of the transactions from when it was first decided to construct additions to the General Post Office in Sydney up to the present, I believe that there is every justification for the appointment of a royal commission. I make an earnest appeal to the right honorable gentleman to give the House an assurance now that a royal commission will be appointed and that before the’ House adjourns to-night, before there is any further misunderstanding or damage done, the terms of reference to the commission will be announced. I am not prepared to accept the signing of the contract as the end of the matter.
– The right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) occupies a position of great importance in that he is the head of the Commonwealth Government of this country and as such the interests of all it represents must be protected. I am sure that he understands that in a matter of this kind the feelings of the public are aroused to a greater degree than they are in other matters.
This Parliament has supreme authority. When the head of the Government makes ti declaration as he did in this instance that declaration must he respected. If it is not, the people will begin to lose faith in the system of government which they support. We have reached the stage at which the members of this Parliament and of the general public are beginning to think that Ministers do not exercise any real authority and, in effect, the real authority is exercised in departments or offices away from this Parliament. It is a very serious position.
– It is a little disquieting.
– It is very serious from the point of view of the public. It is most extraordinary, as the right hoaorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) said, that nothing like this has happened before.
– Not that we know of;
– We have never experienced what we have witnessed to-night, and I feel sure that honorable members on both sides of the chamber feel that the circumstances are regrettable. On Thursday last, I asked the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) whether he would state definitely if the contract had been signed, and he replied that it was not a matter for him to decide, but was one for the Works Department. He said that he had no authority to sign contracts. A question in similar terms was then directed to the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) who represents the Minister for the Interior. He said that he would refer the question to the Minister, and went on to relate what had already been mentioned. The Assistant Minister informed me personally later in the day that the contract had not been signed and he intimated that so far as he knew there was no intention of its being signed until the whole matter had been cleared up. I should like to know if the Assistant Minister or the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) definitely issued instructions to the department on this matter.
– If instructions were issued that the contract was not to be signed until this matter had been disposed of by Parliament, we must then follow it up to the gentleman who signed the contract, and ask if the head of the department from whom ministerial instructions were received imparted that information to those below him who possessed authority.
– My information is that the Director-General of Works received instructions that the contract was not to be signed until after the discussion in this House had terminated.
– How did he misunderstand the instructions?
– I do not know.
– It is amazing to find-
– If the honorable member will permit me I will complete my answer to his inquiry. I understand that the Director-General of Works communicated by telephone with the Works Director in Sydney, who, I am informed, says that he was not so instructed. We at once have a conflict of opinion on a very important matter and that is one of the matters to be inquired into.
– The Minister, I should say, must have imparted that information last Thursday, because it was on that day that a specific question was asked.
– Yes, within half an hour.
– Yes, the Assistant Minister advised me that he was proceeding to make the necessary investigations; and knowing him as I do, I know that he would pass on th# instructions. In a work such as this in which, as the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) intimated, £500,000 of public money is involved, and there is a controversy between ex-Ministers, arguments over two tenders, manoeuvring between contractors such as Wunderlich Limited, who have a monopoly over terra cotta, and John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited, who partly control the supply of sandstone, it is surprising to find that important instructions should be sent by telephone when the usual practice is to transmit such instructions by letter or by telegram so that there shall be a record on the files.
– An urgent telegram would have been on record.
– The Prime Minister must appreciate-
– The honorable member is not arguing with me because I fully agree with him. I was thoroughly astonished to find that the instructions were not in writing and their receipt acknowledged.
– We are reaching the point-
– The honorable member will soon reach the point at which I started my statement.
– We all must agree that the usual practice was not followed in this instance, and that this course has been adopted for the first time. This is sufficient to cause serious concern, not only to the Prime Minister, but also to Parliament, to our system of government, and to the general public. The position is sufficiently grave to justify a close examination of all the facts. A committee such as has been suggested would have great difficulty in determining the point just raised. The committee would be informed that instructions were sent by telephone; but if a further question were asked as to why the usual practice was not followed, possibly a satisfactory answer would not be forthcoming, and little progress would be made. The Prime Minister has suggested that on the proposed committee there should be three members of the Public Works Committee. That committee as at present .constituted consists of nine members.
– The Government will want the three members of the Public Works Committee to be drawn from its own supporters.
– How is the selection to he made? It is proposed not to refer the matter to the whole committee, but to select only three of its members. “The House has not been informed as to *ihe basis of the selection; consequently, we are inclined to believe that the selection may not meet with our approval.
– .Some of the members of that committee are aspiring to be Ministers.
– Naturally, the leaders of the other two political parties would be consulted as to personnel.
– I submit with every respect that the leaders of all parties would feel relieved if the personnel was not selected in that way, and that the whole matter was not referred to a body such as is suggested. It is also intended that an architect and a builder should be appointed to the committee. When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) was speaking, I interjected that builders, are all involved in contracts of this kind.. Those who have followed up the reports in the press on this subject know what has happened between Wunderlich Limited and John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited. It would be unreasonable to select a builder engaged in the construction of cottages in the outer suburbs. A builder of some standing would be selected, and preferably one associated with large undertakings who comes in contact with the purchasing and handling of large quantities of, building material. If one were associated with the production or handling of terra cotta, such as is used in modern buildings, he could not be expected to give an impartial decision. No builder would take the risk of temporarily losing his standing and prestige in the industry in which he makes his living, and in which thousands of pounds may be invested in plant, merely to meet the needs of a temporary inquiry.
– It was not intended that an inquiry should be made from the point of view of the Government, but that it should be an impartial inquiry. I shall accept the honorable member’s word that no builder would be impartial.
– I am taking the right honorable gentleman’s point of view that the Government is impartial.
– So it is.
– And the Government will finish up by making the Minister for the Interior the chairman.
– And the honorable member for East Sydney the court crier.
– I believe that I have put the position fairly clearly, and I feel sure that the Prime Minister, as leader of the Government, will see that the inquiry is so arranged that its entire deliberations will be free of all suspicion.
.- I do not think that there is anything wanting in candour or clarity in the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on this subject so far as it goes ; but I venture to suggest that it does not go far enough. It refers to “ this matter but, in view of the right honorable gentleman’s statement this evening, it is no longer “ this matter “, but “ these matters”. The -latter matter, which has come to light this evening for the first time is, in my view, the more important of the two. The first-phase is the question raised in this chamber by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) when he moved the adjournment of the House in order to direct the attention of honorable members to the letting of a contract relating to the Sydney post office. He said that, although that contract had been approved- and accepted by him, apparently later there had been a departure from that decision, and the offer by another contractor favoured. The second phase of the matter is that originated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) this evening. This phase is the responsibility pf Ministers of the Crown for action taken by departmental heads. That, in my view, is the more important issue. In both of these matters I suggest that the Government has complete responsibility. If it had acted on the suggestion made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), and the honorable member for Calare, who asked for a complete investigation of the circumstances, the position in which we find ourselves to-day would not have arisen. Inasmuch as the Government obviously shirked inquiry it seems to me obviously fair to say that responsibility in the first place rests upon the Ministry. It ignored its duty to which its attention had been drawn by speakers representing the Labour Opposition and the Country party. Representatives of both of these parties requested an inquiry - nothing more than an inquiry - to get to the bottom of the matter and disclose all the facts. I charge, the Government with complete failure of duty in its obvious desire to cloak the matter up and prevent a full investigation in this chamber or outside Parliament. On the question of the tenders, I am no judge as between the relative merits of terra cotta and sandstone facings, and I offer no opinion regarding the class of treatment proposed for the Sydney post office. I only know that the facts were, in the first place, placed before this chamber by the honorable member for Calare and that an investigation was burked by the Government. From -that has arisen the very regrettable position in which we now find ourselves. I gave the Prime Minister credit for candour and clarity in what he has said this evening; but he appears to imagine that the position is still merely one of inquiry into the contract for the erection of additions to the Sydney General - Post Office.’ I consider it has proceeded far beyond that.
The issue now is, inter alia, how far may a departmental head disregard the directions of this Parliament before committing this country to a contract by affixing his signature to a document? 1 do not propose to say, as a matter of law, how far a departmental head may commit this Government or the country. The Prime Minister himself is apparently satisfied that a binding contract has been entered into. I would have thought that such a contract would not be complete without some departmental minute as suggested by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) bearing the signatures of Ministers of the Crown and possibly that of the Governor-General. It may be that the head of the department concerned, acting as agent for the Commonwealth, has authority to bind the Commonwealth by his signature and that, in this case, he has done so. I do not judge the officer.
The honorable member for “West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has brought out the fact that the communication from this Government to the departmental officer was merely in the form of a telephone conversation. That method of communication on a matter of such importance must be deprecated and most sternly condemned as being entirely insufficient. I think that the Prime Minister agrees with me on this point. If he does, Ministers may be held blameworthy for having adopted a method so liable to misconstruction.
– I am afraid that the honorable member for Batman has, no doubt unintentionally, misconstrued what I said. I said that the communication between the departmental chief or subchief to the Works Director in Sydney had been by word of mouth. I made no reference to the communication between the Minister and the head of the department because, in many cases, that is very frequently by word of mouth.
– I did misunderstand the right honorable gentleman, and I was most anxious to discover whether the immediate blame, in the ordinary sense of that word, attached to a departmental officer or to a Minister. The Ministry, of course, must accept responsibility for its executive acts, whether they are carried out by Ministers or by departments; but from the point of view of personal blameworthiness, I would like to make sure whether the undertakings given in this chamber by Ministers in the clearest and most emphatic manner had not, with equal clearness, been conveyed to the departmental officer in Sydney. It seems to me that in such a casecommunication by word of mouth would not be sufficient. The instruction should have been conveyed by urgent message or telephone or telegram, committed to writing, and confirmed by letter in most unambiguous language.
– Why was there any great haste in this matter? Could not the instruction have been given quite adequately by letter? What difference would a day have made?
– A day mattered, I suppose, because, if my memory serves me rightly, Ministers who have spoken on this matter gave honorable members to understand that at one stage, although the contract had not- actually been signed, the Government had pledged its word by notifying a contractor of the acceptance of his tender and so had undertaken certain obligations. Inasmuch as that was the position, it seems to me that it was a matter of the gravest urgency that a communication should have been sent to the proper person in Sydney, conveying the decision of the Government, at the apparently unanimous request of this Parliament.
I have no doubt that, so far as he is concerned, the Prime Minister has placed the whole of the facts before the House. I ask him to realize, however, that the matter which should be examined by the proposed committee of inquiry is something more than the relative merits of terra cotta and sandstone in the Sydney post office. Also that architects and builders are by no means suitable persons to inquire into high matters of State and the responsibility of Ministers of the Crown to Parliament and to the country. The right honorable gentleman will no doubt admit that, although the acceptance of a tender was the matter which originally caused all this trouble, that has become a question of relatively subordinate importance to the much greater subject of ministerial responsibility. I insist that what has been done or what has been left undone by Ministers, either through dereliction of duty or in defiance of this Parliament, is something for which the Ministry, and the Prime Minister, as the head of the Government, must accept full responsibility. The Ministry is responsible also for official acts by departmental heads, in error, especially when that error has arisen from instructions imperfectly or inadequately conveyed to the officials concerned.
My principal object in rising to speak, however, was to ask the House to realize that the important question is that which has been divulged for the first time to-night, and that both matters flow from the Government’s dereliction of duty in failing, in the first place, to have this whole question probed when it was raised by the honorable member for Calare.
. Apparently all honorable members agree that an inquiry should be made into this matter, and that such steps should be taken as will allay public apprehension which has arisen from the extraordinary circumstances of this case. There is the first unusual circumstance of a contract, which was intended to be given to one tenderer, being given to another, owing to the decision of one Minister being reversed by his successor. There is also the second and more extraordinary feature, namely, that a contract has been signed by a government official in defiance of the expressed orders of Ministers of State. That procedure is even less understandable when one remembers that this subject has been before the public for more than a week, and that, on at least three occasions, public declarations have been made by Ministers, and published in the press, that no action would be taken which might prejudice any investigation. The personnel of the committee which is to inquire into this matter has been raised, and I submit that a disqualification of the personnel ‘proposed arises from the fact that objection to it has been taken in this House. If that committee were to commence its proceedings in an atmosphere of objection, no matter how capable or impartial it might be, its report would not be accepted with confidence by the public.
– I assure the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) that he need not labour the question of composition of the committee, because when I put it forward I understood - erroneously as I now know - that the personnel would be acceptable to both the other parties.
– I am glad of the assurance given by the right honorable gentleman. The committee of inquiry should consist of the people who are the best able to do the work. It is of extreme importance that we should not add another error to the tragedy of errors that has occurred.
.- It seems extraordinary that a contract involving an expenditure of over £400,000 could be signed by the Director of Works in Sydney practically without any documents to show that he had been instructed to do so. I am not particularly concerned about an investigation of whether the proposed new building should be faced with terra cotta or sandstone; the dispute has gone far beyond that. It seems to me that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself has a grave responsibility in this matter, irrespective of whether an inquiry be held or not. If an investigation be made by anybody other than one having the powers of a royal commission, it will probably prove a white-washing inquiry. I have a vivid recollection of certain charges made by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) years ago, when he secured the appointment of a royal commission; but the terms of reference made it impossible for the right honorable gentleman to bring out the facts to which attention should have been directed. It is well-known that royal commissions frequently make long investigations, and that ‘ no practical results are obtained from them. Is an inquiry to be held on every occasion when a public servant lets a government down ? The Prime Minister should have stood up to his own responsibility in this matter, and should ‘have put the Director-General of Works and the Director of Works in Sydney through their paces. He has had opportunities to institute more inquiries than appeal- to have been made up to the present time.
– Does the honorable member think that I should have acted both as judge and executioner?
– When the contract was signed contrary to his instructions, the right honorable gentleman should have taken immediate action. I do not say that he should have summarily dismissed any officer, but he should have satisfied himself whether the course that was adopted was due to a misunderstanding.
We have been told to-night by the Prime Minister that he has been let down with regard to a solemn undertaking given by him to this Parliament, after representations had been made on the matter by the Opposition aud the Country party. I have no doubt that he intended to make good his promise, but somebody has disregarded his instructions. If corruption or patronage be suspected with regard to the tenders for this work, I agree that the matter might well be investigated by a royal commission, but such an inquiry is not justified merely to find out whether one public servant conveyed instructions to another. If these officers have not discharged their duty, the Prime Minister should deal with them. I have not much respect for some of the methods of private enterprise, but I am certain that in circumstances similar to those now under discussion private firms would not go to the expense of long inquiries.
According to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), certain .members of the Government are merely rubber stamps for public servants. If the practice disclosed to-night may be taken as a sample of the administrative methods of the Government, those Ministers will continue to ‘be rubber stamps. In other countries many books have been written showing that responsible government is degenerating to a bureaucracy of higher paid public servants, and that parliamentary control is being whittled away. If a royal commission is to be appointed to deal with the matter under discussion, it should investigate governmental administration -generally, and ascertain to what extent public servants follow the directions of Ministers.
– I blame the Ministers.
– So do I. In this instance, public servants have deliberately let the Prime Minister down. He has been placed in the embarrassing position of having given to this Parliament an undertaking which has not been honoured. Frankly, I consider that this is a matter with which the Prime Minister himself should deal. He should not establish any investigating body in order to evade his own responsibility. The right honorable gentleman told us to-night that an instruction had been given to the DirectorGeneral of Works at Canberra that he was to tell the Director of Works in Sydney not to sign a contract involving an expenditure of over £400,000. I submit that a contract of that magnitude should not be valid unless signed by a Minister. In this instance, tie matter was finalized by means of telephone conversations, of which there is no record. Instead of a telephone conversation, a telegram should have been despatched, and this should have been followed up immediately by a letter. Communications of this kind can be traced. It may be necessary for a royal commission, or some judicial body, to’ inquire whether a contract was cancelled and another tender was accepted, because one contractor was able to obtain material a couple of thousand pounds cheaper than another ; but the flouting of instructions given to public servants is a matter which should be dealt with by the Prime Minister himself.
I understand that the right honorable gentleman proposes to appoint a tribunal consisting of three members of the Works Committee, and also an architect and a builder. The main question that should be considered is “Who is responsible for letting the Prime Minister down”? I take it that one member of the Works Committee would be selected from the United Australia party, one from the Country party, and the third from the Labour party, or there might be two members from the Government side and one from the Opposition. I submit that this would not be the kind of committee which should investigate a matter of such importance as that under consideration, and further, that such a committee would necessarily bring in a recommendation on party lines. Certain facts which ought to be divulged might be suppressed Therefore, a most searching inquiry should be made by a royal commission having the widest possible terms of reference.
– I appreciate the desire of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to clear this matter up by the appointment of a committee, which course was agreed to by the leaders of the Country and Labour parties, after consultation with him. I now hope that they have changed their minds with regard to this matter, in view of the information that the contract was signed contrary to the instructions of the Government. The Prime Minister should now exercise his own1 discretion as to the kind of inquiry that should be made, but it is essential that the whole of the facts should be thoroughly investigated. Some time ago, when I introduced the subject of the proposed additions to the Sydney General Post Office, very little interest was evinced by honorable members. Although a discussion has taken place over a difference of £1,451 between two tenders, the main issue is the expenditure of £1,250,000, which the whole of the work will involve. I repeat that we are chiefly concerned, not as to the kind of stone with which the building is to be faced, but as to the dismantling of the present edifice and the construction of a new one. I trust that any inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the signing of the contract will embrace not only the difference in value between terra cotta and sandstone, but also the necessity to demolish the present building, which has cost the Government £300,000, and construct a new one at a cost of over £400,000, on the site on which .it now stands. Despite the fact that the existing building would meet the requirements of thu Postmaster-General’s Department, this expenditure is to be incurred at a time when it is said that small country post offices and other postal facilities cannot be provided because the necessary money is not available. The only reason given by the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs for the demolition of the acquired building, is that it is not of sufficiently strong construction to carry the weight of the postal sorting machinery to be installed in it. That ‘ is the thinnest of excuses for the demolition of this beautiful six-story building in Pitt-street. My rejoinder is that the tonnage carried in it by the wholesale hardware firm from which it was purchased was probably far in excess of what is proposed to be placed in it.
– Order ! The honorable member is going far beyond the statement made by the Prime Minister and the proposed inquiry.
– The House is discussing the submission of the matter to some tribunal, whatever may be its composition. I suggest that the inquiry should embrace not only the difference in cost between one facing material and another, which is only £1,451, but also the reason for increasing the expenditure already incurred on the purchase of the site to a total of £1,250,000 by the demolition of the existing building and the erection of a new one, instead of utilizing the present building for postal purposes.
.- Having participated in the debate which took place on this matter last week - I was speaking upon it when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) entered the chamber - I take this opportunity again’ to express my view. Every honorable member will realize that the Prime Minister must feel very keenly the position in which both he and his Government are placed. While searching for some individual or individuals to be made a scapegoat or scapegoats, the right honorable gentleman must examine his own responsibility and that of his Government in respect of the position that has arisen.
When the debate took place last week on a motion by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison), in defending the present Government’s reversal of the original decision, poured scorn on his predecessor for having overridden departmental opinion. What should now concern the Prime Minister and his Ministers is the length to which they propose to pursue the policy of examining and reversing acts of their predecessors because they hold different political beliefs.
– That, of course, is utter nonsense.
– It is a fact; that is proved by what has occurred. There was only one point at issue in the debate last week. It was, not whether the Sydney General Post Office should bo faced with sandstone or terra cotta, but why the lowest tender in a suitable material was not accepted. If sandstone was not a suitable material, why did the Department for the Interior call for tenders for a building faced with that material?
– I understood that it called for alternative tenders.
– Alternative tenders were invited, for the obvious reason that it was desired that the lowest tender in the most suitable material should beobtained; and the lowest tender submitted for all classes of material was that- accepted by the Minister for Works at the time. What we now want to know is how it has been possible for the word of .the Prime Minister, given in this House yesterday, to be disregarded. All of us agree that the right honorable gentleman was sincere in his determination that this contract should not be signed ; yet in spite of the fact that he is the head of the Government of Australia, the contract was signed in defiance of his undertaking.
On Wednesday of last week the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior gave an assurance in the House that the contract would not be -signed at least before the following Tuesday. Therefore, that instruction must have been given. Yet the contract was signed yesterday. Who gave the second instruction ? That is a very pertinent question. If the matter is to be referred to a royal commission, the issue should be, not whether the building ought to be faced with sandstone or terra cotta, but in what manner is the administration of this country being conducted - what authority have Ministers over their departments, and how effectively are they exercising control. -Those are the matters which a royal commission should probe, not a matter that has gone beyond recall. No wrong would be rectified by inquiring whether or not the proposed building ought to be faced with sandstone or terra cotta, or whether John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited or some-other firm has not done the right thing, unless the Government is prepared to introduce an act to cancel the contract that has been signed, and hold itself responsible for the payment of any compensation. We must remember that this contract is not one for extensions to a small bush post office at a cost of about £50; it is one of the largest works being undertaken in Australia “at the present time. We are told - with every apology and regret, I agree - that unfortunately, the instruction not to sign the contract went astray, and that, inadvertently some officer signed it. In view of the publicity that has been given to the matter, not only in this Parliament, but also in every newspaper in Australia, and because the Government allowed the matter to drift as though it were a contract for the extension of a small out back post office at a cost of £50, instead of making absolutely certain that the contract would not be signed, the question to which the Prime Minister must apply himself is - what redress is open to this Parliament; how is justice to be done? Whilst I have every sympathy - and I think that every honorable member must have - for the Prime Minister in the position in which he has been placed, it nevertheless is his duty and responsibility to the country and this Parliament to see that during the tenure of office of . his government, and, if possible, of any future government, nothing of this sort can again occur.
– in reply - It has been suggested by two of the last three speakers that a responsibility is placed upon the Prime Minister in this matter. Insofar as they refer to a responsibility imposed upon me politically, of course, that is true. I have a political responsibility for any error into which my government or any member of it may fall. I have also a political responsibility for any error into which those who are responsible to any of my Ministers may fall. I do not seek to avoid it. Further, I have a personal responsibility to see that undertakings which I give to this House are carried out. It is because I know that, that I made to-night what I think all honorable members will admit was a full statement as to what had occurred. But another kind of responsibility was suggested by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini). He rather discounted the idea of an impartial inquiry, and said, in effect, that if I were any sort of a Prime Minister I would deal with the officials who had been guilty of error. Let me say right away, Mr. Speaker, that if members of the Public Service, as individuals, are to be accused of any fault, their judges arc not to be their temporary political masters. Every public servant has a perfect right to an examination of any charge that is made against him, and so far as I am concerned he will continue to have that right. I am not going to sit in judgment on officials, and I certainly am not going to arrogate to myself the right to say to Jones, Brown or Robinson, “ You have let me down ; I dismiss youfromthePublicServiceofthis country That would be an intolerable position.
In this case we have had a remarkable series of events. When I fifst heard of the discussion about the’ Sydney General Post Office, I understood that it involved the one question as to whether the new building should be faced with sandstone of with terra cotta. My personal view of that- if it be of the faintest interest to honorable members - is that I like sandstone, and detest terra cotta. Consequently, ifI had had to decide the matter I have no doubt that I should have made exactly the same decision as I understand was made by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby). But that is a matter of personal taste, Subsequently, after my government had taken office, my colleague the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) decided, on what seemed . to him to be good advice, that the appropriate material for the facing of the building was terra cotta. Let me remind honorable members - because a certain degree of murk has blown across this landscape - that the tender accepted by him was the lowest tender received for a building faced with terra cotta. The previous Minister - I think wisely -had decidedthat alternative tenders should be called, in order that he might discover the lowest prices for a building faced with either terra cotta or sandstone.
– Did hot the present Minister for the Interior agree to sandstone in the first place”?
– I understand that at first he was of the same opinion as I am - although he did nol discuss the subject with me, and in anycase it was not my business -but subsequently, when experts and the post-officeauthorities represented strongly that terra cotta was the better material, he fell in with that view. But I do not wantto go back over all that; I merely refer to itbecause it appears to be the starting point of this controversy. Then the adjournment of the House was movedtodiscussthismatter, and a debate ensued. Subsequently - I think it was the following day- the Deputy Leader of the Opposition(Mr.
Forde’) introduced a motion that the matter should be referred,not to a royal commission let me remind honorable members,buttothePublicWorks Committee.
– At that time, the contract had n6t been signed.
– I know that. The fa6t remains that his motion was that the matter of these tenders and the man ner in which they were’ dealt with should be referred to the Public Works Committee”.
– Circumstances have altered since then.
– At that time, there either was some suggestionof dubious practice in relation to this matter- which I do not believe - or there was hot. I must confess to a passing feeling of wonder as to why honorable members who thought at that time that the Public Works Committee was the proper body to deal with the matter, now declare with’
Enthusiasm that an investigation by members of Parliament wouldnot be adequate. I merely refer to that in passing.
– The honorable member for. Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) said that he would hot give evidence before the Public Works Committee.
– I admit that opinions on this subject have been far from unanimous: No doubt the giving of evidence by the honorable member for Barker will depend partly on his own will, and partly on whether he receives a. subpoena to attend before any tribunal which may be appointed.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has raised certain points in relation to a statement that I made earlier. Let me say right away that in the course pf this debate nobody has said more plainly than I did in my opening speech that there are matters here to be investigated. I am determined that they shall be investigated. Although some extraordinary insinuations have been made during this discussion, the only real argument’s that are left are as to the form of the tribunal and the terms of reference. As to the terms ofreference, let me say at once that I am not wedded to any particular form of words. I drew the form of words whichI usedearlier because it seemed to be sufficiently wide to cover every matter of controversy that I have heard raised. I shall read the words again- and that such committee shall be invited to inquire into and report upon the circumstances under which a tender was accepted forsuch additions, and a contract signed in relation thereto.
If that is not a wide expression, covering the whole of this argument as to the acceptance of a tender, and as to how the contract came to be signed, I shall welcome suggestions by honorable members as to what further, or other, form of words should be used. What is more, I shall be completely happy to confer, if they are willing to do so, with the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Country partyupon the actual form of any terms of reference that may be employed. I can say no more, and I do not desire to say any less than that.
The other question is as to the form of the tribunal. Unfortunately - and I blame nobody butmyself for this - I came into the chamber this evening under a complete misapprehension of the facts. I thought that the Leader of the Opposition I admit that I understood him wrongly, and I accept his statement - as well as the Leader of the Country party had agreed to this form of tribunal. I now learn that when the Leader of the Opposition gave some approval to this form of tribunal he wasnot aware of the new fact that the contract had been signed. I thought that he knew of it; that was my mistake . I am now involved in an argument as to the form of the tribunal which I did not expect to arise. I thought that on one point at least I was on common ground with the other leaders in the House, but I now discover that that is not so. The suggestion has been made that greater satisfaction would bo given by the establishment of a royal commission of a judicial kind. Let me say to honorable members that whenthis matter first came before me, and I was considering it this morning, that was exactly the form of tribunal which I had in mind. It was only after discussion that I thought that the other form of tribunal would probably be more acceptable to honorable members.
Mr.Gregory.-Make it wholly judicial.
– In the circumstances, I have not the slightest hesitation in agreeing to the appointment of a royal commission. I want the fullest inquiry into this matter, and have said so from the beginning. I certainly have nothing to hide, and I am certain that my colleagues have nothing to hide.I am equally certain that all honorable members and the public are well entitled to be told just how these things have happened. We shall have a royal commission, and we shall secure the services of a judge as royal commissioner. Moreover, the royal commission will have all the necessary powers, even the power to compel my friend, the honorable member for Barker, to give evidence.
– I shall be there to hear his evidence.
– I have but one further observation to make. Some extraordinary things have been said during this debate. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), in what I can scarcely characterize as a restrained speech, made certain suggestions in connexion with this dispute over terra cotta and sandstone. I jotted down some of his phrases ; they include “ underhand dealings “.
– Hear, hear!
– “ Questionable dealings “.
– Hear, hear!
– “Shady matters”.
– Hear, hear!
– And “ suspicious circumstances “.
– Hear, hear !
– Those are grave charges to make. Are they made against me;’ are they made against any of my colleagues; are they made against any member of the Public Service? I notice a remarkable silence.
– The Prime Minister knows that he is merely trying to lead me into a trap.
– Would not the right honorable gentleman say that there are suspicious circumstances ?
– Frankly, I do not regard them as suspicious ; but I certainly intend to have a royal commission appointed so that these facts may be examined objectively. I say to the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) that if any member stands in his place in this House to speak on a matter in which the conduct or attitude of Ministers, or of a member of the Public Service, is concerned, and, under the cover. of parliamentary privilege, uses expressions of the kind that I have just quoted, it is his plain duty to go before the royal commission, and, on oath, give such evidence as will demonstrate whether or not his allegations have any foundation.
– I said that the circumstances were gravely suspicious; and they are.
– The right honorable gentleman did not make clear the position of the other tenderers.
– That is a matter we shall have to consider further.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 7th May (vide page 312), on motion by Mr. Street -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Forde) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 31st May, (vide page 996), on motion by Mr. Spender. -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Mr.CURTIN (Fremantle - Leader of the Opposition) [10.13].- The Opposition is agreeable to the passage of this bill. The Government is adopting the routine procedure for replenishing the trust fund out of which invalid and oldage pensions are payable each year. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender) stated last night, in introducing the bill, that the amount of money now in the trust fund would not be sufficient to pay all the pensions that would fall due during July. The amount of the proposed appropriation is larger on this occasion than it has been in recent years, which is due to the fact that invalid and old-age pensions are costing more each year. The practice of paying” this money into a trust fund was adopted years ago in order to meet a certain constitutional obligation to refund surplus revenue to the States. Had it not been for the adoption of this device it is questionable whether invalid and old-age pensions could have been provided so early in the history of federation. Certain objection has been raised from time to time in different States to the use of the trust fund device, in connexion with different recurring Commonwealth payments. For myself, I have never been able to agree with that criticism. This procedure is, in my opinion, both proper and convenient. Had it not Been adopted legislative difficulties would have been experienced by this Parliament. Unfortunately, it is not permissible, in dealing with this bill, to discuss the conditions under which pensions are payable. Otherwise honorable members would doubtless take the opportunity to do so. The Opposition is in sympathy with the proposal to appropriate this money.
.- Ordinarily I should not rise to speak on a non-contentious bill of this character. I do so on this occasion because of the circumstances in which the bill was introduced. I have found, from long experience, that it is wise on the part of the Government to consult the leaders of the other parties in the House concerning the order in which bills will be submitted. “We had no intimation at, all that the Government proposed to present this bill when it did. I suggest to the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender) that it would be reasonable and, indeed, courteous, as well as being in accord with the traditions and practice of this House, for the Government to give some intimation to party leaders of the business which it proposes to introduce from time to time. If it does so, it will find that its business will have a smoother passage through the House.’
The procedure being adopted in regard to the replenishing of the invalid and old-age pensions trust fund was devised originally to ensure that the Commonwealth Government would not have surplus money available in the Consolidated Revenue Fund at the end of each financial year, and thus be obliged to distribute it to the States. The. provision of trust funds is the only way in which the Commonwealth can deal effectively with such a matter as the payment of invalid and old-age pensions in respect of which it is not practicable to balance accounts every year. So that there may be continuity of operations, it is desirable that the trust fund method be continued. I support the bill.
.- An inference that must be drawn from the fact that the Government is not proposing that a larger appropriation be made for the purposes of invalid and oldage pensions is that it has no intention, in the near future, to increase the rate of pension. Had it any such thought in mind, it would obviously have suggested that a larger sum be appropriated. I believe that the appropriation of the amount proposed will not fully satisfy the people of this community in general, or the invalid and old-age pensioners in particular. Some move should be made to increase pensions in accordance with the increased cost of commodities. Undoubtedly the cost of living has increased since the rate of pension was fixed at £1 a week. Seeing that many millions of pounds is being expended by the Government in certain other directions, the Parliament should not hesitate to request that an increase be made of the rate of invalid and old-age pensions. Our pensioners should not be expected to subsist on the small amount at present being paid to them.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Older ! The honorable member may not discuss the rate of pension in dealing with an appropriation bill of this character.
– All I wish to say is that as the amount to be appropriated is not being increased, the Government will, in effect, tie the hands of the Parliament, and so prevent it from increasing the rate of pension which I believe-
– Surely the honorable member must know that what he is saying is not in accord with the Standing Orders.
– I cannot accept that. What I know is that the Government is not appropriating under this bill sufficient money to meet any request that might be made for an increase of the pension rate.
– The rate of pension cannot be discussed under this bill. The honorable member’s leader realized that.
– Surely I am entitled to discuss rates of pension-
– Order ! I cannot allow debate on these lines. The honorable member must not argue with the Chair. The position is well understood by all honorable members.
Mr.Brennan. - It is not understood by me.
– Order !
Mr.Brennan. - I deny that it is understood by me.
– The honorable member for Batman is out of order.
Mr.Brennan. - I rise to a point of order. You, Mr. Speaker, attributed something to me, and 1 deny.it.
– I said that the honorable member’s interjection was disorderly.
– You stated that every honorable member in this House - that includes me - is well aware that the rate of pension may not be discussed under this bill. I do not understand that, and I believe that your ruling is incorrect.
– It is, of course, possible that the Chair may have made a mistake in saying that all honorable members understood the position.
But I supposed that the honorable member for Batman, as one of the oldest members of the House, did understand it. Discussion of the rate of pension has never been permitted on a bill such as that now before the House.
– In view of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether what I wish to say will be in order. The appropriation made under this bill is too small by comparison with amounts appropriated for other purposes. The Government should make a larger amount available for invalid and old-age pensions, in order to cover possible increases of rates and the granting of more liberal conditions to pensioners.
.- I am somewhat in the dark as to what matters can be discussed on the second reading of this bill. As one with a limited experience in this House, who has been greatly confused by your rulings, Mr. Speaker, I shall feel greatly obliged if you will inform me exactly what I may say under this measure.
– The honorable member has asked a question which I cannot answer. What he is entitled to discuss under this bill is, clearly, the amount of the appropriation, which is stated precisely in the Governor-General’s message. Beyond that he may not go.
– I shall make an attempt to discuss the appropriation recommended in the Governor-General’s message. The message recommends an appropriation of £15,000,000 for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions. This brings to my mind the facts that in the press this week I learn that this Government is expecting a surplus of £1,000,000, that this Government proposes to spend, over a period of three years, £63,000,000 in arms and armaments for the destruction of life; and that there are in this country not only a great number of very deserving people in receipt of invalid and old-age pensions who will be paid out of the money which is to be appropriated under this bill, but also that there are vast numbers of deserving people who will not receive any of it. I suggest to tha Assistant Treasurer that he should give an indication to this House that he will prevail upon his colleagues in the Cabinet to agree to provide for the amount to be appropriated under this bill to be supplemented by the estimated surplus of £1,000,000, and to be distributed in a more generous fashion.
– The method of distribution of this appropriation cannot be discussed under this bill.
– I rise to a point of order. Under an ordinary appropriation bill, such as this Parliament will have to pass shortly, we may discuss anything included in it. Under a bill for the appropriation of money for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions surely the House is entitled to discuss any matters in connexion with the subject for which the money is to be appropriated. If that be not so, the debate will, in my opinion, be so completely limited as to be absolutely nugatory and purposeless.
– The honorable member has raised a point that I had supposed was already well understood. He is apparently confusing an appropriation bill with a supply bill. Under an apropriation bill it is not in order for an honorable member to discuss any matter in respect of which the money is to be appropriated.
– It is obvious, Mr. Speaker, that I shall not be able to make the particular points which I wished to make without transgressing your ruling. I do not desire to question your ruling; I am aware that we have not the numbers present to carry a motion of dissent from it.
– Order ! The honorable member is now surely disputing the ruling of the Chair. If he wishes to discuss my ruling he must move a motion of dissent.
– Move it! We should not be silenced.
– If I may do so without transgressing your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I wish to discuss the method of payment of invalid and old-age. pensions. For some considerable time there has been a public controversy as to the method by which pensioners should collect their pensions. The Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) stated recently that he would consider payment by cheque. Before any decision is arrived at in regard to that matter I should like to offer a few brief comments upon it. I understand that the present policy adopted by the Pensions Department is to leave to pensioners the option of drawing their pensions in cash or by cheque; but this arrangement is not generally known to the public. In response to a public appeal, a previous government with which I was associated made arrangements for the payment of pensions by cheque to those pensioners who so desired.
– I am sure that the honorable member will realize that this matter should not be discussed under the appropriation bill. Many other opportunities will be given for the honorable member to deal with it.
– I shall be satisfied if the Assistant Treasurer will consider my observations.
– I shall be glad to discuss the matter with the honorable member privately.
– 1 realize that the scope of the debate on this bill is limited. The amount to be appropriated seems insufficient to provide for all of the people who ought to be entitled to pensions; but a private member may not move for its increase. We are handicapped in every direction by the way in which the bill has been presented. We should be entitled to say that the amount to be appropriated by the Government for this purpose is insufficient to meet the just demands of invalid and aged persons who are at present not catered for. It must be within the knowledge of honorable members that many persons who are continually applying for the old-age pension would qualify for it were this grant made a little more liberal.
– Order !
– I wish to conform with your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I shall not transgress in dealing with the title of the bill. I suggest that the title is incorrect. It is, “ A bill for an act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum, for Invalid and Old-age Pensions “, and clause 1 reads “This act may be cited as the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Appropriation Act”, whereas it ought to be, because of those who are not covered by it, “ The Invalid and Old-age Pensioners’ Deprivation Act “.
– Order !
– Surely, Mr. Speaker, I can comment upon the title and citation of the measure. I feel that because of the limited amount proposed to be appropriated under this measure, many people who are justly entitled to pensions will be deprived of them.
– Order ! I cannot allow the honorable member to continue in that strain. He appears to be trying to evade my ruling.
– No. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that it is not the case.
-The honorable member says that this measure deprives certain claimants of pensions. That is a criticism which cannot be permitted on this bill.
– I do not wish to clash with the Chair on the established practice of this House, but when we believe that an amount proposed to be appropriated by the Government in order to meet the needs of the poorer sections of the community is insufficient, our criticism of the Government should not be stifled.
– Discussion is not being stifled. Under the Standing Orders I cannot allow the discussion to continue in this strain.
– The Standing Orders are wrongly interpreted.
-Order! If the honorable member holds that view it is open to him to move that the ruling of the
Chair be disagreed with; but it is distinctly out of order for honorable members to argue with the Chair.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I think, with the utmost respect, that it is a mistaken one.
– Order! Honorable members have behaved in a’ most extraordinary manner. I point out to those honorable members who have disputed my ruling that their own leader, without any intervention on the part of the Chair, did not attempt to deal with the matters which they are attempting to discuss, because he knew he would not be in order in doing so.
– I move -
That the ruling of the honorable the Speaker - that rates of pensions and other matters involved in the payment out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of £15,000,000 for invalid and old-age pensions may not be discussed on the motion for the second reading of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Appropriation Bill - be disagreed with.
– I second the motion.
– In accordance with the Standing Orders, the honorable member’s motion will be adjourned until to-morrow.
.- I understand that the amount of £15,000,000 proposed to be appropriated under this measure is to be paid into a trust account. Can the Assistant Treasurer (Mr, Spender) give us any idea as to the present state of that account? How much is it in credit? Is it really a matter of extreme urgency that this measure should be passed to-night, or to-morrow? Will the Government be unable to pay the pensioners if the passage of the bill be delayed, say, for a fortnight or a month ?
– The trust account has a sufficient credit to make pensions’ payments up to the 30th June next.
– Am I right in assuming that the estimated cost of invalid and oldage pensions for the whole of the financial year ending the 30th June, 1940, is £15,000,000?
– I should like the Assistant Minister to explain that. If I were permitted to do so at this juncture, I should like to discuss various phrases of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, because I could advance many reasons why pensions should be liberalized. That would involve an increase of this appropriation. Perhaps the Assistant Minister can tell us whether the proposed appropriation of £15,000,000 will be sufficient, or insufficient, to meet the payment of pensions during the next financial year, and whether this trust account is likely to show a credit, or debit, balance at the 30th June, 1940. It is very important that we should know the exact state of this account from time to time. Some trust accounts are in debit whilst others are in credit. I am glad to know that there is sufficient in this account to meet payments up to the 30th June next. Am I right in assuming that the estimate of the Treasury has proved so accurate that the amount now standing to the credit of this account will be exactly sufficient to meet payments up to that date? I should think from the way in which the Commonwealth medical officer is putting invalid pensioners off the list that the account would be a good deal in credit. Am I to assume that the trust account will not be in credit at the close of this financial year, or is the Assistant Treasurer only guessing when he says that there is no more money in the account than is needed to meet pensions until the 30th June? Unless the Assistant Treasurer foresaw that this question would be asked, he could hardly have had opportunity in the short space of time in which he has been a Minister to look into these trust accounts. Of course, as a lawyer, the honorable gentleman has the reputation of being able to see as far around the corner as the next man; but I did not know that he knew where these trust accounts are, how many are exhausted, and how many are in credit.
– I know about this trust account.
– I should like to see the invalid and old-age pensions trust account in such a good position as to make it possible for an increased appropriation to meet the increased demand.
– Order !
– As the result of Mr. Speaker’s ruling, I should strike trouble if I pursued that line of argument any further. Probably the Assistant Treasurer will be able to assure me that there will be no shortage of funds on the 30th June, and to tell me how much the fund is iri credit at present. I am afraid he is guessing when he says that the amount appropriated for this year will be only sufficient to meet needs.
– I am not guessing. I gave the House the information which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is seeking when I delivered my secondreading speech.
– It is extremely difficult in the welter of second -read ing speeches that are delivered by Ministers for honorable members to be conversant with every detail, but I accept the Assistant Treasurer’s assurance that he did deal with that aspect. I desire to be assured that, if there should be a surplus in this particular trust account, it will not. be filched for general revenue, as surpluses in other trust accounts have been filched. I can cite the trust account of £1,000,000 collected from the imposition of a duty on imported motor chassis for the purpose of giving a bounty on motor cars manufactured in Australia.
– That is not a trust account. The money was never appropriated.
– It should be a trust account. The House was assured that the moneys would be paid into a trust account, but they have been confiscated for some other purpose. I want to be assured that there is no danger of an impecunious Treasurer at the end of this financial year utilizing for some other purpose any funds which may be to spare in the invalid and old-age pensions trust account. If there should be a shortage of funds, what action does the
Assistant Treasurer contemplate to replenish the account? In the past trust accounts have been overspent, and that has been used as an excuse for the imposition of extra taxes to make up the deficit. I suggest that this appropriation should be increased from £15,000,000 to £16,000,000, so that when honorable members have the opportunity for a wide discussion on the shortcomings of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act they may be able to tug at the Assistant Treasurer’s heart-strings and cause him to liberalize the act. The bottom would be knocked out of the trust account if the .act were liberalized, unless it contained more funds than this bill appropriates. In the short space of time in which the Assistant Treasurer has been in office he has shown himself to be sympathetic in respect of pensions. Let us hope that when he deals with the legislation which depends on this appropriation he will translate his sympathetic outlook into sympathetic action.
– Order ! I have allowed the honorable gentleman a great deal of latitude.
– I do not wish to transgress the Chair’s ruling, but I want the Minister to consider at this juncture the advisability of increasing the appropriation by £1,000,000 so that the trust account will be ‘able at a future date to meet all contingencies, thus avoiding the possibility of the Assistant Treasurer having to come to Parliament cap in hand for more funds to meet the needs of the invalid and old-age pensioners. If the hour were not so late I should speak at much greater length and probably induce the Assistant Treasurer to increase the appropriation in order to enable the Government to be more generous and restore pensions to those thousands of invalid pensioners who have been removed from the pensions list.
– Order ! The honorable member will resume his seat. I ask the honorable gentleman not to behave as he is doing. He has tried every means that he has considered to be at Ms disposal to evade the ruling of the Chair.
. I object to this class of legislation, “which puts the cart before the horse, by approbating money for twelve months before the budget is introduced. This procedure stultifies honorable gentlemen, because when the budget is brought down and honorable members have the opportunity, which is denied to them on this bill by the Standing Orders, to move for greater consideration to be given to the invalid and old-age pensioners who are affected by it, the Government counters such moves by a declaration that insufficient money has been appropriated and that nothing can be done. The Treasury has sufficient money in the fund at the moment for the payment of pensions until the budget is brought down, and an opportunity is afforded to discuss the matter fully on the Estimates. That was the procedure when I first entered this Parliament, but apparently it has been varied in an endeavour to avoid embarrassing criticism. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender) said nothing to indicate whether the £15,000,000 which is to be appropriated will be adequate. He gave no indication of the extent to which demands on the fund might be increased because of an increase of the number of pensioners. What does he propose to do if £15,000,000 should be not sufficient? Will applicants, in all respects qualified for a pension, be refused one because not enough money has been appropriated? I do not think that £15.000,000 will be enough to meet all demands during the next twelve months, and the Assistant Treasurer would be well advised to increase the amount by £2,000,000, or perhaps £3,000,000. There seems to be no shortage of money for other things, so let us make sure that there will be no shortage for this. The Government is cutting its estimate very fine, like a shopkeeper weighing out a pound of sugar to just the turn of the scales. The Government is hoping to get away with it, but we should not expose the pensioners to such a risk. The Assistant Treasurer has not cited any statistics to show what is the anticipated increase of the number of pensioners that may be expected during the next twelve months. We know that, with so many men on relief work, a high percentage will break down in health, and come on the pensions fund. Moreover, there is an increasing tendency, in industry to dismiss the older men, and these also will become applicants for pensions. No account of these factors was taken by the Treasurer. He simply looked at the figures, and saw that £15,000,000 was appropriated for the year ended the 30th June, 1939, and fixed the same amount for the year ended the 30th June, 1940. It is probable, however, that the amount will not be sufficient and, in view of the dire distress that might be caused by a failure of the pensions fund, we should take steps now to increase the amount of the appropriation.
– in reply - Notwithstanding the invitation of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), I do not propose to address myself to anything beyond the terms of the bill, which provides that a certain sum of money shall be appropriated for the purpose of a trust fund established under the Audit Act. The usual amount is £15,000,000, which is paid into the trust fund. If that amount becomes exhausted, a further amount can be paid in to meet pension liabilities. I am now concerned only with the question of whether or not the appropriation shall be made. There is enough in the trust account now to meet payments until the 30th June, 1939.
– At what rate?
– I am not concerned with the rate. In any case, the honorable member knows the rate well enough. I am concerned only that this appropriation shall be made by Parliament, and ho reason has been advanced why it should not.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
.- Although this is an appropriation bill its title is quite inappropriate. -It is obligatory upon the committee to consider the purpose for which the money is being appropriated, and in so doing we should be able to discuss the pensions generally.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) endeavoured to show that the amount to be appropriated is insufficient owing to the fact that many persons entitled to pensions are not receiving them. Unfortunately, he was not permitted to state his case owing to what we consider an arbitrary and incorrect ruling.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse.)The honorable member must confine his remarks to the title of the bill.
– I was submitting reasons why the title is unsuitable. Its title should be “ The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Appropriation Act 1939, the purpose of which may not be discussed in the House or in committee.”
TheCHAIRMAN. - The honorable member is again out of order.
– We are at a disadvantage owing to the fact that Mr. Speaker’s ruling has been challenged.
– Order !
– By the time the dissent from ruling has been disposed of by this chamber, £15,000,000, which is inadequate, will have been appropriated. I should like to know more specifically how that amount is to be expended.
.- The title of the bill should be amended to read “ The Invalid and Oldage Pensions Insufficient Appropriation Act.” I realize that on this measure we are not to discuss other than the appropriation of the money, and, therefore, cannot urge the claims of many who are entitled to a pension. The money proposed to be provided is not sufficient. The benefits of pensions are restricted in their application and should be liberalized. Is the Assistant Treasurer prepared to accept as a suggestion for an amendment that the title shall read “ The Invalid and Oldage Pensions Restriction Act” ? That would be a more appropriate title, because the activities of those who wish to assist pensioners are restricted.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
.- As stated in my second-reading speech, this measure should not be introduced until the budget has been presented, and Parliament has had an opportunity to discuss the Government’s financial proposals.
– I ask the honorable member to discuss the clause now under consideration by the committee.
– I suggest that this measure should not come into operation until the general financial statement of the Government has been placed before the Parliament. The clause provides that the act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal assent, but it should read, “ This act shall come into operation on a date to be fixed after the Government has dealt with the general financial position through the budget “. When the Estimates are under consideration, honorable members have an opportunity to submit appropriate motions directing the Government to increase the provision for invalid and oldage pensions.
– Order ! The matter which the honorable member is discussing is not involved in the consideration of this clause.
– If this bill becomes law at an early date, members of the committee will not have an opportunity to deal with payments to pensioners.
– If an amendment were agreed to on the lines suggested by the honorable member, there would be no money with which to pay the invalid and old-age pensions in July, since the funds available for that purpose are sufficient only to the end of June.
– Acceptance of the clause as it stands would prevent members of the committee from taking action in. the direction desiredby them. [Quorum formed.]
.- I suggest that the Royal assent to this hill should not be given until adequate provision has been made for invalid and oldage pensioners. As the Government has not yet indicated any intention to introduce ameliorative measures, either to increase the amount of the pension or to alleviate the pensioners’ conditions of hardship-
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the clause.
– An appropriation of money is provided for in clause 3, but that does not assist us in deciding whether it is adequate. I merely suggest that the bill should not receive the Royal assent until the general subject of pensions has been dealt with adequately.
.- I feel that it would be a mistake for the Government to submit this measure for the Royal assent until honorable members had had the fullest opportunity to communicate to it their opinions regarding the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. It does not seem to be generally recognized that, in present-day circumstances, the amount provided by the Commonwealth for the payment of pensions to old-aged and invalid people is utterly inadequate to their needs.
– Order ! No amount is involved in clause 2.
– The amount is very directly associated with the question -as to whether or not this measure should receive the Royal assent. It cannot be given the Royal assent unless His Majesty’s representative is aware of the amount tobe provided, and he may be entirely unaware of it. In those circumstances, myremarks are completely relevant to clause 2.
– Order! The Chair has ruled that clause 2 has nothing whatever to do with the amount to be provided. I therefore ask the honorable member not to pursue that line of reasoning.
– I bow to your ruling, sir. I feel, however, that as the people are entirely unaware of the intentions of the Government, and the Govern ment is deaf to our entreaties, the Royal assent should be delayed. I submit that that is completely relevant to the clause. It is regrettable that I should have to take this action. I should not have taken it had I not felt that the giving of the Royal assent would cramp the style of honorable members and prevent them from representing to the Government the needs of their constituents.
– Order! The honorable member may not continue on those lines.
– I am sure that my constituents will be greatly concerned about the Royal assent being given to this measure.
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
Motion (by Mr. Gander) put -
That the honorable member for Ballarat be further heard.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. J. H. Prowse.)
Majority . . . . 3
Question so resolvedin the negative.
.- I do not feel encouraged by recent events to trespass with a long speech. I content myself by saying that what I previously said in regard, to the date on which this measure should receive the Royal assent is in no sense to be taken as a personal reference to Royalty or to the GovernorGeneral, but is based entirely upon my interest in the purpose for which money is to be appropriated. Inasmuch as I felt that that purpose should be disclosed and fully discussed-
– Order ! Neither the purpose nor the amount affects the giving of the Royal assent to this bill.
– Very well, sir, I shall not challenge that ruling, but merely say that my reasons for thinking that the giving of the Royal assent should be postponed are as stated.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 (Appropriation of £15,000,000 for invalid and old-age pensions).
– This clause proposes that there shall be appropriated for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions the sum of £15,000,000. That means that into the trust fund is to be paid now the whole of the moneys which will be required for the purposes of invalid and old-age pensions expenditure as drawn from the trust fund during the financial year 1939-40. By asking the committee to adopt clause 3 in its present form, the Government is really asking the Parliament at this stage to vote the entire provision of this trust fund for twelve months. I know that this has been done in previous years, but I submit that it is a practice which ought not to be continued. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Spender) has told us that there is enough money in the trust fund at present to pay invalid and old-age pensions until the 30th June.
SirHenryGullett. - Merely a few weeks.
Mr.CURTIN. - I agree that it is necessary to vote from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the trust fund sufficient money to meet the requirements of the trust fund for the first three months of next financial year, but what is being done under this clause in connexion with the invalid and old-age pensions trust fund is entirely different from what is being done with every other item of expenditure. In respect of the next financial year, the Government will ask for Supply for a period of from one to three months, as its discretion suggests; it will be for only such period as will be necessary to enable the budget to be submitted to this Parliament and dealt with. I agree that it is necessary to ask for Supply for the maternity allowance and for other purposes of government expenditure until the budgetis passed, but I submit that provision for the invalid and old-age pensions trust fund should be of like duration to that which is contained in the Supply - that is, an interim provision to carry on His Majesty’s Government until the budget is passed. This practice of voting the whole of the requirements, or the presumed requirements, for the ensuing financial year postulates that invalid and old-age pensions are not to be reviewable in the budget of the next financial year. I do not propose to move an amendment, but I suggest to the Assistant Treasurer that the course which has been followed in previous years ought not be followed any longer. I agree that the Treasurer must have money in the trust fund for July and August, and probably for September also. Under another measure which he will ask this Parliament to pass he will need to get Supply, probably for July. August and September. All of the various aspects of government expenditure in the next financial year will be covered for the whole period of the year in the budget, and, therefore, the principle of voting a provisional amount until the budget is brought down is a practice which Parliament must adopt. I cannot see any reason why the principle of three months’ provision is not as sound in respect of pensions as it is in respect of other items of government expenditure.
Clause agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– There is some doubt as to the interpretation of naval regulations dealing with naval ratings. During the last two or three months men have protested to me against the harsh treatment meted out to them. One of them had served for fourteen years and another for over twelve years. The latter completed twelve years’ service with an unblemished record, both as to conduct and ability, but subsequently, on two or three occasions he was found guilty of misdemeanours, and finally was dismissed from the navy. Under the regulations dealing with deferred pay, the Naval Board confiscated the whole of his deferred pay in respect of the period for which he actually served. I submit that that is harsh treatment. The men certainly regard it as such. They claim, too, that they are punished in other ways, such as by having their leave curtailed, or their badges withdrawn. The latter punishment means that their pay is reduced by 3d. , a day, and that they are virtually treated as prisoners on board ship. The naval rating to whom I have referred had had twelve years’ satisfactory service in the navy and was entitled to £160 deferred pay. When I inquired about his case from the secretary of the Naval Board,
I was received, as usual, with every courtesy, but was told that the interpretation of the regulations was not clear. I have tried to-day, with the assistance of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), to ascertain the real intention of the last amendment of the regulations in relation to deferred pay. My impression is that the secretary of the board felt that it was mandatory for the board to refuse any deferred pay in such circumstances. The honorable member for Bourke and I formed the opinion, however, that the board could pay the whole or any part of the deferred pay, or could confiscate it all according to the circumstances of the case. I ask the Minister to give careful consideration to these representations.
The second case to which I direct attention concerns a man who had served fourteen years in the Navy, during which period his conduct had been exemplary. Whale his boat was in Hobart about six months ago, he committed an offence on shore which brought the navy into a measure of disrepute. It was decided that he should be tried by the Civil Court in Hobart. He took the advice of the police and did not defend the case. The magistrate fined him £10, which does not suggest that the offence was so serious as was suggested. When he went back on board he was deprived of his stripes, and also lost ls. 9d. a day for the remainder of the period he had to serve, which was about six months, so that he lost more than £12. This penalty was additional to and greater than that imposed upon him by the magistrate. Further, he was allowed only one day’s leave a month instead of four as formerly, so he considered that he was practically a prisoner on board. He was, in fact, punished twice for the one offence. I ask the Minister to look into his case.
– As the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) has admitted that both he and the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) found it difficult to interpret the naval regulations in regard to this matter, I am sure he will not expect me to give him a considered reply at once. If he will give me the names of the two individuals concerned, I shall make full inquiries into their cases.
.- I direct the attention of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) to two cases in which 1” consider unsatisfactory and contradictory decisions were made by the Naval Board. In one case, the wife of a naval rating applied for the retirement of her husband on the ground of the illhealth of both herself and her husband. After due consideration, the board replied that it could not’ see its way clear to retire the man. The other case relates to Mr. Raymond Gerald .Baker, of 21 Montague-road, Cremorne, who was discharged from the navy on the 20 th October last, at which time he had completed nineteen years of satisfactory service. He applied for an extension of his period of service but, although he had an unblemished record, the board stated that it was unable to approve of an extension of his engagement. Recently I have read in the press that the navy is finding it difficult to obtain sufficient competent instructors for new recruits. It seems to me very strange, therefore, that the board should decline to extend the period of service of a man who, admittedly, had rendered excellent service for nineteen years and who was in excellent health. The replies which the board gives to requests made to it are almost always unsatisfactory in that no reasons whatever are given for its decisions. I wish to know through the Minister how the board justifies the refusal to release one man who is in ill-health, and yet declines to extend the period of service of another individual whose record has been completely satisfactory. In the case of the first man it has been suggested that the board will not release him because he is a good bandsman. Does the navy require good1 bandsmen more than it requires competent petty officers to train new recruits? I ask the Minister to provide me with a more satisfactory reply to the representations made in these cases than that contained in the stereotyped letters that have been received.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following paper was presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &e. - No. 12 of 1939 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
House adjourned .at 11.48 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
e asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. The proposals submitted are still under consideration.
y asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
e asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
r asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Commonwealth Loans: Evasion of Income Tax.
s. - On the 30th May, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) asked me the following question, without notice: -
If the practice of issuing bearer bonds in connexion with Commonwealth loans is continued, as indicated in current advertisements, will the Treasurer take the necessary steps to protect the Commissioner of Taxation against evasions of income tax on the part of any investors in these loans?
I have, as promised, obtained information from my departmental advisers in connexion with this matter, and am satisfied that no special action on my part is necessary to protect the Commissioner of Taxation in the manner indicated.
Special staffs of the Taxation Department are continuously engaged in the detection of evasion in this and other directions. It is likely that to divulge completely the methods of the department in this connexion would defeat the aim of the honorable member’s question as this would tend to place prospective defaulters on their guard against those methods of detection which might be disclosed. However, as indicative of the steps taken to see that all Commonwealth loan interest which should be included in returns is included, it may be mentioned, that after the conversion and consolidation of Commonwealth loans was completed in 1931, the department conducted a most comprehensive examination of the matter, and was able to trace effectively into the hands of bond-holders interest derived by them from the bonds.
Activities of a similar nature are continually in progress, and it is considered that all that can reasonably be done to prevent evasion of this nature is now being done.
It will be recognized that a large amount of interest on these bonds, apart from those held in very large quantities, is received by persons outside the Commonwealth taxable field because their total income, after making all the deductions permitted by the law, does not amount to the statutory exemption, viz., £250.
– On the 30th May, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) asked the following question, without notice: -
In view of the decision of the department to start paying old-age pensions in congested areas at 8.30 a.m., will the Treasurer take steps to have the staffs at the post offices increased so as to avoid inconvenience to pensioners and public alike?
I am advised that no general arrangement has been made by the Postal Department for payment of pensions in New South Wales at S.30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.
It has been ascertained that in a few individual cases, however, payment is commenced at 8.30 a.m. by the Postal Department in order to relieve early morning congestion. So far, payments at 8.30 a.m. have been limited to four paying offices in Sydney and the metropolitan area. In these offices adequate staffing arrangements have been made to avoid inconvenience or delay both to the public and the pensioners.
Royal AustralianNavy: Punishment of Steward - Appointments.
d asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
t. - On the 30th May, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) asked the following question, without notice: -
Will the Minister for Defence assist me to understand a communication which he has addressed to me? Why is it that an officer who served in the Royal Australian Navy as a cadet midshipman, and therefore a very junior officer, whose appointment was terminated owing to unsatisfactory conduct, cannot be allowed to re-enter the Naval Service because of his record, but that the same objections do not apply to his joining the Army, the Air Force or the Militia? Why is there this distinction between the various arms of the Defence Forces, and why is it that persons of lower moral calibre are apparently more acceptable in the Army, Militia, and Air Force than in the Navy?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that I have ascertained that the facts of the case mentioned by him are that in 1934, a boy was appointed to the Naval College for training as a cadet midshipman. He stayed there one term only. His conduct was unsatisfactory in that he absented himself without leave, and stated that he wished to leave the service. His appointment was terminated.
In 1938 he applied to enter the Navy in the Seaman Branch, but the Naval Board rejected his application, owing to his previous unsatisfactory record.
In 1939 he wrote to me, and his letter indicated that he was under the impression that he was debarred from joining the Army or Air Force, as well as the Navy. Accordingly I explained to him that the reason for his non-acceptance for the Navy would not debar him from joining another service.
I wish to assure the honorable member that it is not a question of moral calibre, but of a recruit having in past years expressedhis distaste for naval training, which renders it undesirable to accept him again.
y asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Provided that any marks gained by a cadet during ayear at the end of which he was not advanced to a higher class shall not be included in his aggregate of marks.
Cadets admitted by way of specialentry shall, on graduation, be granted such seniority in the Australian Staff Corps in relation to each other and to other Commonwealth cadets who graduate on the same date as is determined by the Military Board on the recommendation of the Commandant.
Defence: Co-operation of Motor Cyclists.
Mr.Curtin asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Has he received an offer from the Autocycle Union of Victoria to form a motorcyclists’ corps?
If so, what was his reply?
How many motor-cycle units are in existence in the permanent and/or Militia Forces ?
Are these numbers considered sufficient?
t. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s. - On the 25th May, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) asked the following question, without notice : -
Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior arrange for a list of the works to be’ undertaken, together with the names of the contractors and the location of the works to bc placed in a prominent position at the Customs House, Sydney, for the convenience of men who seek employment with the Works Department?
The Minister for the Interior has now supplied the following answer:-
Instructions have already been issued for this to bc done.
Services of Mr. Inigo Jones.
s.- On the 31st May, the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Scully) asked the following question, without notice: -
Has any decision been reached by the Government with a view to securing the services of the Queensland astronomer, Mr. Inigo Jones, who has specialized’ in long-range weather forecasts for many years and whose forecasts over- recent months have been very accurate and,, consequently, appreciated very much by men on the land throughout Australia? When I asked a question of the Minister’s predecessor on this matter, I was informed that an investigation would be made. Has that investigation been completed?
The Minister for the Interior advises that the inquiry is still proceeding.
n. - On the 3rd’ May; the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) asked the Postmaster-General the following question, upon notice: -
Will lie furnish a statement showing the ownership of B class broadcasting stations in the various States, and bring up to date the return quoted in Hansard on the 25th August, 1937?
I now produce the desired statement, which shows that there are 97 commercial broadcasting stations in operation. Of the 97 stations, 35 are operated by companies which have no interest in other stations, and 10 are operated by companies which are substantially interested in or control one additional station in each case. The remainder are dealt with hereunder : -
Advertiser, Adelaide (Advertiser Newspapers Limited) : This company holds the licence for 5AD, and controls the companies holding the licences for 5MLT Murray Bridge, 5PI Crystal Brook and 5 SE Mount Gambier. The company also holds 112,732 shares (in a total of 365,327) in News Limited, which controls 2BH Broken Hill.
Ago, Melbourne (David Syme and Company Limited) : Members of the Syme family hold 1,500 shares (in a” total of 6,000) in 3AW Melbourne, 2,900 shares (in a total of 4,975) in 3HA Hamilton, and controls the companies which operate 3TR Sale and 3SH Swan Hill.
Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited: This company (a) holds the licences- for 2AY Albury, 3BO Bendigo, 4CA Cairns and 4TO’ Townsville; (6) owns all the shares in the companies which operate 2GF Grafton and 2GN Goulburn; (c) by agreement with the licensee conducts the service of 2CH Sydney; (d) holds 3,800 shares (in a total of 5,000) in 4WK Warwick, 2,500 shares (in a total of 5,000) in 7LA Launceston,. 800 shares (in a total of 6,500) in 2SM Sydney, 400 shares (in a total of 4,975) in 3HA Hamilton; (e) holds the licence for 4PM Port Moresby, Papua.
Argus, Melbourne: The Argus Broadcasting Services Proprietary Limited, holds the licences for 3SR Shepparton, 3UL Warragul and 3YB Warrnambool. The Argus also holds 200 shares (in a total of 45,000) in 3LTZ Melbourne.
Commonwealth Broadcasting Corporation Proprietary Limited, Sydney, and/or its associate company Commonwealth Broadcasting Company (Queensland) Proprietary Limited control 2UW Sydney, 4BC Brisbane and 4RO Rockhampton, and hold the following interests in other stations: - 4GR Toowoomba - 1,663 shares (in a total of 3,300), 4MB Maryborough- 530 shares (in a total of 1,000), 4SB Kingaroy- 1,000 ordinary shares (in a total of 3,395 ordinary and 2,515 preference shares).
Courier-Mail, Brisbane (Queensland Newspaper Proprietary Limited) : This company controls the company holding the licences for 4AK Oakey and 4BK Brisbane.
Denison Estates Limited holds 12,764 shares (in a total of 24,230) in Broadcasting Station 2GB Proprietary Limited (2GB Sydney). The 2GB company has interests in other stations, namely, 3AW Melbourne - 900 shares (in a total of 6,000), 5DN Adelaide- 3,747 ordinary and 1,000 preference shares (in totals of 8,405 and 4,000 respectively). The 5DN company, by agreement with the licensee, operates the service of 5RM Renmark.’ In the case of 2UE Sydney, 13,000 shares are held by Sun Newspapers Limited in a total of 30,000.
Findlays, Tasmania : 7BU Burnie - A. P. Findlay holds 2,000 shares, P. A. Findlay holds 1,000 shares, F. M. Findlay holds 1,000 shares, S. H. Findlay holds 100 (in a total of 4,270 shares). 7DY DerbyA. P. Findlay holds 600 shares, P. A. Findlay holds 200 shares, K. A. Findlay holds 100 shares, F. M. Findlay holds 300 shares (in a total of 2,700 shares). The 7BU company holds 1,000 shares. 7HO Hobart - Findlays Proprietary Limited holds 947 shares, S. H. Findlay holds 494 shares, A. Findlay holds 203 shares (in a total of 4,932 shares). 7LA Launceston - Findlays Proprietary Limited holds one-quarter interest.
Herald, Melbourne (Herald and Weekly Times Limited) : This company holds the licences for 3DB Melbourne and 3LK Lubeck. The company also holds the following interest in other stations: - 5AD, 5MTJ, 5PI, 5SE- 182,900 ordinary and 100,000 preference shares (in totals of 553,330 and 168,000 respectively) in Advertiser Newspapers Limited, which controls the stations. 2BH - 7,500 shares (in a total of 365,327) in News Limited, which controls the station. 4AK, 4BK - 15,000 shares (in a total of 450,000 shares) in Queensland Newspapers Proprietary Limited, which latter company controls the stations.
Macquarie Broadcasting Services Proprietary Limited has interests as under: - 2CA Canberra - 2,037 ordinary shares (in a total of 2,700 ordinary and 1,950 preference shares). 2GB Sydney - 3,000 shares (in a total of 24,230). 2HR Singleton- 2,000 shares (in a total of 5,500). 2 WL Wollongong -3,500 shares (in a total of 7,008).
News Limited, Adelaide, controls 2BH Broken Hill and holds 114,843 ordinary shares (in a total of 553,330 ordinary and 168,000 preference shares) in Advertiser Newspapers Limited, which controls SAD, 5MU, 5PI and 5SE.
Transcontinental Broadcasting Corporation Limited controls the company holding the licence for 2KA Katoomba, and operates 2BS Bathurst by agreement with the licensee. There is also a liaison between this company and the licensee of 2KM Kempsey by virtue of the interests of common shareholders.
West Australian Newspapers Limited, Perth, holds the licence for 6IX, and has equal shares (with Musgroves Limited) in the company which holds the licences for 6ML Perth and 6WB Katanning.
Whitfords control 6AM Northam, 6PM Fremantle and 6KG Kalgoorlie.
In no case is there evidence of any infringement of the provisions of Wireless Telegraphy Regulation 48a, which limits the number of stations controlled by any person or firm. It is perhaps opportune, also, to mention that many of the so-called networks or chains of stations are not under common control, but are simply associations of stations arranged for the simultaneous presentation of special programmes to attract large advertisers having widespread Commonwealth interests.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 June 1939, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1939/19390601_reps_15_159/>.