15th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Acting Minister for Air whether there is a rule which obliges candidates for the Air Force to have had flying experience totalling at least 50 hours, which they must gain at their own expense, at a cost of from £50 to £100? In view of the fact that we are at war, will the honorable gentleman consider the advisability of admitting candidates to the Air Force without this experience?
– There is no rule of the nature suggested. Probably the honorable member has in mind men who apply for the position of instructor. So far as pilots are concerned, there is no such preliminary requirement nf which I am aware.
Publication of Advertisements
– Has the attention of the Postmaster-General been drawn te the advertising by the Australian Broadcasting Commission of the journal that it proposes to issue? Even if this be within the letter of the law, does not the honorable gentleman consider that it is contravening the spirit of the. law? Is it part of the policy of the honorable gentleman to use this public monopoly to displace privately-owned radio publications which for several years have been publishing radio programmes in full without any charge to the commission?
– My attention has been drawn to the matter complained of by the honorable member. I have fully investigated the position. The view of the Solicitor-General, which is supported by weighty outside opinion, is that the commission has statutory power to advertise its publication and any of its other activities. It is no part of any laid-down policy of either myself or any other Minister to permit the commission to publish a journal; the power to do so is conferred on the commission by this Parliament. The Government does not intend to amend the act to rob the commission of that power.
Board of Business Administration
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government proposes to establish a board of business administration in connexion with defence matters? If it does, who will be the members of the board, and what payment will be made to them by way of salary, honorarium or expenses?
– It is the intention of the Government to appoint a body to act as a Board of Business Administration in connexion with the defence expenses of the Government. The board will consist in the first instance of three members, but will probably have other members added to it as time goes on in connexion with specialized activities for which the appointees are suited. The first members will be Mr. Essington Lewis as chairman - he has already been acting for some time and will continue to act in an honorary capacity as adviser to the Government; Mr. Norman Myer, who has also done invaluable work in an honorary capacity in connexion with clothing supplies, and will continue to act in that special way; and Sir George Pearce, who is well known as a man of great ability, sound judgment, and unrivalled experience in defence’ administration in Australia, in circumstances that are familiar to honorable members.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether Sir George Pearce is acting on the Defence Board of Business Administration in an honorary capacity; if not, what remuneration is paid to him by way of salary, expenses or otherwise?
– I shall ascertain precisely the “position in relation to this matter. My recollection is that a very small fee is provided for in the case of Sir George Pearce.
– Ha ha!
– I know that the honorable gentleman would probably be glad to do the work undertaken by ‘Sir
George Pearce, and his parliamentary work, without extra remuneration. I can say quite confidently that any fee payable to Sir George Pearce will be much less in amount than that which would be payable to him having regard to his ability and experience.
Action Taken in Respect of Footwear for the Defence Forces - Ministerial Statement.
– I ask leave to make a statement in respect of action taken by the Department of Supply and Development relating to footwear for the defence forces.
– I suggest that this statement be debated in conjunctionwith Order of the Day No. 12 - “ Department of Supply and Development - Action Taken Since the Outbreak of War - Ministerial Statement - Motion for Printing Paper “.
– I have no objection to that course being followed.
– After I have heard the statement I shall make a decision.
– On the 16th November I submitted to this House a statement informing honorable members of the activities of the Supply and Development. Department. Inthe course of that statement I referred to a concerted attempt by certain boot manufacturers in New South Walesand Victoria to exploit the department and the community by adherence to a predetermined scale of prices when tendering for footwear of the various types required for the defence forces, such scale representing increases of up to 30 per cent, and 40 per cent, on the prices that had previously prevailed.
In view of published denials and protestations from the manufacturers concerned, I think it necessary to place on the records of this House the facts upon which my allegation was based, facts which are supported by relevant documents that I propose to table.
I regret having to affirm that a perusal of these documents, in the light of the surrounding circumstances, discloses a deliberate attempt at war profiteering on the part of at least ten manufacturers, including a number from whom the Defence Department has previously obtained its footwear requirements. At an appropriate stage of this statementI shall name the ten firms concerned.
Towards the end of September, my department was asked to obtain for the purpose of the military and air forces, the following; footwear: -
On the 29th September, 26 days after the outbreak of war, quotations were sought from the principal boot manufacturers of all States, and a large response resulted. The principal item, it will be observed, was the 100,000 pairs of boots, ankle brown. The following were the main quotations for this item, and they were submitted subject to variations of price on account of fluctuations in the cost of leather: -
McMurtrie (New South Wales) Proprietary Limited, Sydney,11s. 8d. less 3 per cent, or11s. 3.8d. net.
ThomasDavies Proprietary Limited, Melbourne, 12s.5d.
William Peatt Proprietary’ Limited, Melbourne, 13s. to 13s. 3d.
Rampling and Hall, Melbourne,13s.1d.
Chas. Trescowthick, Melbourne, 13s.1d.
J.G. Hanson, Melbourne, 13s.1d.
Goodchild Shoes Proprietary Limited. Melbourne. 13s.9d.
Quotations were received also from firms in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart, but for the purposes of this statement, those from the main Victorian and New South Wales firms arc the relevant ones.
It will be seen that at the 29th September the tendering for thisitem was on a. competitive basis, ranging from 11s. 333/4 d. a pair to 14s. l1d. a pair; yet a few weeks later four of these firms - and others - were no longer competitive, but were quoting identical prices for the full range of the department’s requirements.
Subsequent to the receipt of these quotations, I learned that a meeting of representatives of the New South Wales and Victorian Boot and Shoe Manufacturers Associations had been held in the Chamber of Manufactures Building, Melbourne, on the 16th October, at which it was agreed to submit common prices for the various types of footwear required by the defence forces. The prices so agreed upon were : -
Boots, ankle brown:11s.11½d. a pair net cash in seven days, plus surcharges ruling at the date of delivery; boots, half heavy brown: 1 7s.11d. a pair; boots, black heavy: 17s. 5d. a pair; shoes, black airmen’s; 13s. 2½d. a pair.
A comparison of these prices with the quotations submitted by the eight firms already referred to will reveal that the agreed-upon price of 15s.11½d. a pair for the ankle brown military boot was 4s. 73/4d. greater than the lowest quotation received two or three weeks previously.
– For absolutely the same specifications?
– Yes, absolutely the same sample and specifications.
It has been claimed that the meeting at which the price fixing was agreed upon had no official status, and, in the wording of Mr. Salfinger, president of the Victorian association, was “merely a handful of boot manufacturers interested in military footwear “. Inquiries however, revealed that this meeting was attended by 22 representatives from. Victoria and fourteen from New South Wales, and was presided over by Mr. Salfinger. Since Mr. Salfinger’s firm is not interested at all in military footwear, it is presumed that he was acting in his official capacity, and the presence of 36 representatives of the boot industry would also seem to exclude the idea that this was an adventitious and unofficial gathering. The fact that we were later told officially that the 36 individuals represented 29 firms only, does not weaken this presumption.
Immediately after this meeting, a number of firms which had been engaged, or were interested, in the manufacture of footwear for the forces, communicated with the Contract Board, withdrawing their previous quotations, and substituting the prices fixed at the manufacturers’ meeting of the 16th October. One of the firms concerned, McMurtries (New South Wales) Proprietary Limited, was frank enough to indicate in its notification -
This price (15s.11½d.) was arrived at after a conference in Melbourne with the Victorian shoe manu facturers.
I refer honorable members to the firm’s letter of the 18th October, which will be seen in File No. 5, letter c in the schedule that I shall table. That letter was sent to my department.
– They are great supporters of yours.
– I do not know whether they will be after this,and I care less !
In view of the withdrawal of tbe quotations and the fact that, in the interim, certain increases of the price of leather had been authorized, it was decided to re-invite tenders for full requirements closing on the 24th October, so that all firms could review their quotations in tbe light of the altered conditions. When the tenders were received, however, the results of the meeting of the manufacturers were quite apparent. In Victoria and New South Wales the following ten firms adhered to the fixed prices : -
Thomas Davies Proprietary Limited, Melbourne.
Rampling and Hall Proprietary Limited. Melbourne.
Lynn Shoe. Proprietary Limited, Melbourne.
McMurtries Limited, Sydney.
Maxim Shoes, Sydney.
Rightwear Shoe Company, Sydney.
McCamley and Sons, Sydney.
ForestBoot Factory, Sydney.
It is interesting to note that McMurtries Limited, Sydney, and Messrs. J.C. Hanson, and Rampling and Hall, of Melbourne, had recently been prepared to supply, or were actually supplying, boots, ankle brown, to the same sealed pattern and specification at prices up to as much as 4s.11½d. less a pair than the price fixed by the boot manufacturers ; yet these firms recast their quotations to the 15s.11½d. a pair so fixed.
It was, of course, appreciated that there had been some increase of the price of leather, but this increase had already been investigated and determined by the price controller, and at that time amounted to 7½ per cent, on upper leather and 62/3 per cent, on sole leather on the prices ruling on the 1st September. Translated into terms of value, and applying even the higher percentage to the whole boot and not to the leather content only, the increase would be less than ls. On the leather content only it would be much less than ls.
It has been suggested that when the manufacturers concerned fixed 15s.11½d. a pair for the ankle brown military boot they contemplated providing a boot superior to the department’s sealed pattern and specification. References to the original tenders ami correspondence which I am tabling will, however, show that the tenders, both before and after the manufacturers’ meeting, were based on the identical sample and identical specification. Moreover, representatives of the manufacturers whom I met in Sydney on Friday last were emphatic in declaring that boots built to this standard were an excellent production and, in the words of Mr. Salfinger, “ comparable with the 1914 boot, and nothing better could be made.” lt was suggested, however, that some of the boots recently supplied were not in strict conformity with the specification. This suggestion is being closely followed up, but what I wish to emphasize is that the manufacturers themselves quite clearly discard the idea that the increased price sought by them had any relevancy to improvement in either type or quality.
On being apprised of the manufacturers’ meeting and its results, I gave instructions that the attempted exploitation was to be combated with the utmost vigour; and I am pleased to report that, with the assistance of manufacturers in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, who were not parties to the price-fixing agreement, we were able to place orders for 100,000 pairs of military boots at approximately 3s. a pair less than the price fixed by the October meeting.
Our experience in respect of each of the other types of footwear is equally interesting and equally condemnatory of the attempted exploitation. For boots, half heavy, of which 15,000 pairs were required, it was found possible to obtain the full quantity at 13s. 9d. a pair as against the 17s.11d. a pair fixed at the meeting on the 16th October. Messrs. Rampling and Hall, Melbourne, in October, 1939, one month after the outbreak of war, quoted and were allotted an order for 3,400 pairs of these boots at 13s. 9d. a pair. It is remarkable that this firm, when quoting for an additional quantity, tendered at the fixed price of 17s. l1d. a pair for boots which they had but four weeks previously been able to supply for 13s. 9d. a pair.
In the case of the boots, black, heavy, of which 4,800 pairs were required, the order was placed at 14s.10d. a pair as against the price of 17s. 5d. a pair fixed at the meeting. The Lynn Shoe Proprietary Limited, Melbourne, was allotted an order for S.900 pairs of these boots in August, 1939, at 12s.11d. a pair; yet following the meeting of manufacturers this firm increased its quote to 17s. 5d. a pair.
It is perhaps not out of place to mention here that at the time the meeting of manufacturers was held, on the 16th October, inquiries had been instituted by the Department of Commerce for 24,000 pairs of military boots for the Egyptian Government, and it was freely rumoured in trade circles that this was but the prelude to very large overseas orders. I refer members to the first paragraph of the letter from Messrs. Johnston and Sons, Brisbane, file No. 11, and the last paragraph of the letter from Right-wear Shoe Company, file No. 8. These expectations apparently played no small part in creating an atmosphere which was considered to be favorable to substantial increases of the prices to be exacted for A ustralia n requirements.
During the past few days I have been apprised of a further large requirement of 100,000 pairs of military footwear, and in view of the circumstances I have detailed, it is my intention to proceed under the National Security Regulations, which require manufacturers to give preference to government orders, and leave the matter of price, in the event of non-agreement, tobe determined by arbitration. Under this arrangement it is proposed to call upon certain of the manufacturers to deliver to the Commonwealth, weekly specific quantities of boots until the whole of the requirement is satisfied.
When meeting the boot manufacturers in conference last week, I indicated that it was my intention to place the whole of the facts before Parliament; but in order to exclude any unfairness, I offered to table, simultaneously with my statement, any explanations which the manufacturers’ organization desired to make. My purpose was to afford to the manufacturers concerned an opportunity to justify or explain the series of incidents to which I have referred. My offer to table any such documents would have given their explanation equal and concurrent publicity with my own relation of the facts. The only response to this invitation is the document, tabled in file No. 12, from the secretary of the New South Wales BootManufacturers Association. It will be noted that this document is entirely silent on the circumstances of my serious charges. Honorable members will hardly fail to appreciate the significance of this silence.
I lay on the table the following documents : -
SCHEDULE OF DOCUMENTS.
File Number 1.
Thos. Davies Proprietary Limited, Melbourne. - Contents -
Letter from company, dated 2nd October, offering to supply boots, ankle brown, at 12s. 5d. a pair net. and boots, half heavy, at 13s.10d. a pair net, seven days.
Letter from company, dated 19th October, submitting an approximate price of 16s. a pair net, seven days, for boots, ankle brown.
Letter from company, dated 24th October, submitting price of 15s.11½d. a pair net, seven days, for boots,ankle brown.
File Number 2.
Rampling and Hall, Melbourne. - Con- ten ts -
Letter from firm, dated Srd October, offering to supply boots, ankle brown, at 13s.1d. and boots, half heavy, brown, at 15s. 6d. a pair net.
Letter from firm, dated 24th October, offering to supply footwear at the following prices: -
Boots, ankle brown, 15s11½d. a pair net.
Boots, half heavy, brown, 17s.11d. a pair net.
Boots, half heavy, black, 17s. 5d. a pair net.
Shoes, airmen’s 13s. 6d a pair net.
Boots, black, officers’, 16s.11d. a pair net.
Shoes, black, officers’, 15s. a pair net.
C. Hanson, Melbourne. - Contents -
Letter from company, dated 3rd
October, offering to supply boots, ankle brown, at 13s.1d. a pair net.
Letter from company, dated 24th October, offering to supply boots, ankle brown, at 15s. 11½d. a pair net.
Boots, half heavy, brown, 17s.11d. a pair net.
Boots, half heavy, black, 17s. 5d. a pair net.
Shoes, black, airmen’s, 13s.1½d. a pair net.
Boots, black, officers’, 17s.1½d. a pair net.
Shoes, black, officers’, 15s.1d. a pair net.
File Number 4.
Lynn Shoe Proprietary Limited, Melbourne. - Contents -
Letter from company, dated 2nd October, intimating that whilst they were unable to quote prices they could deliver 400 pairs of boots, ankle brown, and 200 pairs of boots, half heavy, a week.
Letter from company, dated 7th October, intimating that the price of the boots, half heavy, would be 15s.6d. a pair net.
Letter from company dated 24th October, quoting prices, as under, for the footwear indicated -
Boots, half heavy, black, 17s. 5d. a pair net.
Boots, half heavy, brown, 17s.11d. a pair net.
Boots, ankle, brown, 15s. Hid. a pair net.
File Number 5.
McMurtrie (New South Wales) Proprietary Limited, Sydney. - Contents -
Letter from company dated 30th September quoting11s. 8d. less 3 per cent, for boots ankle brown in accordance with military specification.
Letter from company dated 3rd October intimating that their offer of11s. 8d. less 3 per cent, of 30th September applied to their boots up to size 10 only, and that size 11 would be1s. in advance and size 12 2s. in advance of the price quoted.
Letter from company dated 18th October intimating that 1,500 pairs only could be supplied at11s. 8d. plus 7½ per cent, and that for the balance 15s.11½d a pair net would be required, that price having been arrived at after a conference in Melbourne with the Victorian shoe manufacturers.
Letter dated 25th October from the company quoting 13s. 2½d. a pair net for shoes black.
Sydney. - Contents -
Letter from company dated 19th October covering quotation for the supply of boots ankle brown at 15s.11½d. a pair net.
File Number 7.
Maxim Shoe Proprietary Limited, Sydney. -
Quotation dated 24th October for supply of boots ankle brown at 15s.11½d. a pair net.
File Number 8.
Rightwear Shoe Company Limited, Sydney.Contents -
Letter from the company dated 19th October offering to supply boots ankle brown at 15s.11½d. a pair net and indicating that in the event of their not being successful they intended to tender for the contract received from Egypt for military footwear.
Edward McCamley and Sons Proprietary Limited, Sydney. - Contents -
Letter from company dated 24th October covering a quotation for the supply of boots ankle brown at 15s.11½d. a pair net.
File Number 10.
Forest Boot Factory Proprietary Limited, Sydney. - Contents -
Letter from company dated 23rd October covering quotation for the supply of boots ankle brown at 15s.11½d. a pair net.
Johnson & Sons, Brisbane. - Contents -
Letter from company dated 21st October intimating that they had been advised that the Federal Government would be requiring 600,000 pairs of army boots during the next few months, in addition to which requirements for the Egyptian Government and possibly other Empire governments were to be drawn from Australia. The letter contains an offer of 15s.11½d. a pair net.
File Number 12.
Letter dated 24th November from thu secretary of the Boot and Shoe Manufacturers and Allied Trades Association, Sydney, covering a statement submitted by the Association.
– Will the Prime Minister agree to the submission to the House of the statement just read by the Minister in such a way as will enable us to consider it in conjunction with previous statements made by the Minister in regard to the activities of the Department of Supply and Development, the latter being covered by Order of the Day No. 12?
– I am entirely agreeable to that suggestion. Perhaps the best thing to do is for my colleague to move that the paper be printed, and the debate on it can be taken concurrently with the debate on Order of the Day No. 12.
Motion (by Sir Frederick Stewart) proposed. -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Curtin) adjourned.
– Will the Acting Minister for Air say whether his department can expedite the work on the Albany aerodrome site in order to help the unemployed at Albany? I am in receipt of the following telegram : -
President Waterside Workers Albany informs me owing lack shipping many his members unemployed. Urge you expedite deferred expenditure. Landing ground drainage and runways offers immediate opportunity providing work enabling men earn something for Christinas. (Signed) Alex Thomson.
– The Department of Civil Aviation proposes to spend £2,000 on extensions to tbe Albany aerodrome. This proposal, together with a request that the amount be made available out of the unemployed relief grant, has been despatched to the Department of the Interior. I shall request the Minister for the Interior to expedite consideration of the proposal.
– Is it a fact that pilots with A class licences and little flying experience have been given commissions in the Air Force whilst holders of B class licences possessing greater experience, who have been called upon from the reserve for the period of the war, are threatened with discharge from the Air Force?
-Iam not aware that the general position is as stated by the honorable member, but should he wish to bring any specificcase under my notice I shall bc glad to have details from him.
– Is there any foundation for the report published in the press yesterday, although contradicted over the air this morning, that the German pocketbattleship Deutschland has been sunk?
– I have no confirmation of that report.
– Has the Prime Minister yet been able to consider the matter raised in a telegram which I sent to him last Saturday regarding the effect of the licensing system for the export of hides and skins? As 300 employees of the woollen mills of F. W. Hughes Pty. Ltd., at Botany, are to be dismissed, some of them to-morrow and the balance on Friday, can he say whether, in order that Australian mills may scour any class of wool and thereby retain employment for the men engaged in the industry, the Government will revise the policy whereby wool with a yield of 44 per cent, or over must be sent to the United Kingdom for scouring?
– I referred that matter to my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, who will make a statement in relation to it.
– by leave - Upon the recommendation of the (Commonwealth Prices Commissioner the export of hides and skins, except with the consent of the Minister for Trade and Customs, was prohibited on the 20th September, 1939, pending a marketing scheme being devised. The commissioner recommended that no restriction should be imposed upon the exportation of sheepskins in wool. This recommendation was adopted, and no restriction was placed upon the export of woolled sheepskins until the 19th October, 1939, when it was decided to grant permits only for skins which had been firmly purchased in Australia for export on or before the 18th October. In view of the difficulties being encountered by regular exporters of sheepskins with regard to finance, storage and maintenance of overseas connexions, this decision was reviewed on the 14th November, and it was decided that permits should be issued allowing individual exporters of sheepskins to export quantities equivalent to their exportation.1? during the month of November, 193S.
During the last war, sheepskins were included in the wool control scheme administered by the Central Wool Committee. It is anticipated that they will be similarly controlled during the present war. On the outbreak of war, negotiations with the United Kingdom Government were confined to wool. When agreement was reached in regard to wool, negotiations were commenced with the Government of the United Kingdom in regard to sheepskins with the object of arranging for their purchase under arrangements ancillary to the wool purchose scheme. Those negotiations have not yet been concluded. When, they are concluded and sheepskins are brought under complete control, supplies will be available to Australian fellmongers The resultant scoured wool will be submitted for appraisement and the pelts will probably come under the control of the Hide and Leather Industries Board.
It is claimed that the decision whereby permission has been granted for the export of sheepskins in quantities equivalent to those shipped by individual exporters during November, 1938, has caused an increase of the price of woolled sheepskins and is likely to result in unemployment in the Australian fellmongering industry. From the information in the possession of the Government, it appears that no difficulties have arisen in this connexion in either Victoria or South Australia.
Inquiries made into the difficulties which are alleged to confront Sydney fellmongers have revealed that since the 31st. August there have been all round increases of the prices at which woolled sheepskins are being sold in Sydney. It appears that these price increases were solely due to competition between local fellmongers. During the period AugustDecember, 1938, purchases by local fellmongers accounted for from 30 to. 35 per cent, of all skins offered. From January until the present time there has been a steady increase of their purchases as tlie following figures show : -
The inquiries have also revealed that apart from the reduction caused by the strike at the Homebush abattoirs, there ha.* been no reduction of the quantities of skin’s offered for sale.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral in a position to say whether any regulation of his department stipulating a 44-hour week for postal employees prevents a postmaster and his assistant from going to their lunch at different hours, so as to enable the people in country districts to secure their mail between the hours of 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.? If so will he see if some method can be devised to enable the motto of his department “ Civility and Service “ to be carried out?
– I should be astonished to find that the arrangement suggested by the honorable member could not be carried out. If he could give to me the name of the office he has in mind, I shall see that arrangements are made to meet the needs of the public.
– Where difficulties are encountered by small business people, home purchasers and persons of moderate means in renewing, on reasonable terms, mortgages as they fall due, such difficulties being caused by war conditions, will the Government take action to enable the Commonwealth Bank to provide such persons with financial accommodation when requested to do so ?
– The. honorable member’s question relates to a matter of policy which will be taken into consideration by the Government.
– Can the Minis ter representing the Minister for Commerce say whether instructions have been issued that barley acquired by the Barley Board must be put in new bags? If so, will he state the reason, seeing that barley for export has for many years been put into second-hand bags ?
– I have no personal knowledge of the matter referred to by the honorable gentleman, but I shall have inquiries made and shall communicate the result to him.
– In view of what appears to be almost a universal complaint by ratings in the Royal Australian Navy of the alleged lowness of their rates of pay, will the Minister for the Army see if it is not possible to make some adjustments of the rates of pay?
– A circular containing statements which are not strictly accurate, has been received by most honor able members of this House. The rates of pay for able seamen are not 2s. a day, as stated in the circular, but 7s. a day. In addition, there is ls. 9d. a day, deferred pay, a marriage allowance of 3s. a day for a wife and ls. a day for each child. There are also free lodging, light, fuel, medical treatment and clothing or an allowance in lieu thereof. The whole question of service conditions is at present under the consideration of the Naval Board. The question of the marriage allowance, has already been dealt with, and I made a statement in relation to it. a few days ago. The other requests have not yet been considered in full by either the Naval Board or the Cabinet.
– In view of the high co3ts prevailing in export industries, which costs must increase as the war continues, will the Minister for Trade and Customs take steps to ensure that no increased duties on British goods specially imported for the export trade will be tabled ? I refer particularly to the stockinette meat wraps used in the export of lambs in respect of which requests are being made for increased duty.
– The Parliament will be given the fullest opportunity to discuss any proposals for increased duties on any commodities.
– Has any report been received by the Department of the Army as to the quality of the boots supplied to the Military Forces. If so, will the Minister make such report available for the perusal of honorable members?
– I have not, as yet, received any such report.
– In view of the need for further provision of aerodromes in the capital cities, will the Minister representing the Minister for Air take into consideration, the advisability of retaining the site formerly used for this purpose at Eagle Farm, Hamilton, Brisbane? I ask this question because I understand that there is a suggestion that the site should be sold.
– The site in question is still in the possession of the Commonwealth Government. I shall see that the representations of the honorable member are given consideration.
– Can the Minister for the Army confirm the report that is now current that an expeditionary force will shortly leave Australia?
– I have nothing to add to the statements that have already been made on this subject by the Prime Minister and myself.
– In view of the approach of Christmas and the hardships suffered by the unemployed and men working at half time, will the Acting Treasurer advise the State Premiers that all relief workers engaged on works in respect of which financial assistance has been granted by the Commonwealth Government, are to be given full employment from the 1st December until Christmas to enable them to obtain the necessaries of life during the Christmas season?
– I shall give consideration to the honorable member’s request.
– Has the Minister for the Army visited the Ingleburn Camp where the members of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force are in training, and has he seen the statement in the press attributed to the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in relation to the sanitary arrangements at th’‘1 camp? Is the Minister in a position to make a statement in reply to the very serious allegation? against that camp?
– -On two occasions I have visited the Ingleburn Camp, the first being prior to its occupation, and the other last Friday. I made a fairly careful examination of the camp, and I am perfectly satisfied with the conditions which exist there and with its layout generally. The first intimation that I had that the right honorable member for Cowper was displeased with the arrangements was contained in a newspaper report, which no doubt was the one referred to by the honorable member.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Army whether, during his visit to the Ingleburn camp, he noticed that the cookhouse is situated in a position which has been provided by excavating a portion of a hill, and that the surplus water from the hill swamps the cookhouse during heavy rains? Did he also notice that the drainage from the various wash-up places goes through the. floor and on to the ground beneath, a condition which would not be tolerated in any municipality in Australia? I also ask whether he intends to give effect to the assurance given to me last week that permanent military camps would, where possible, be sewered?
– My inspection did not reveal the conditions suggested by the right honorable gentleman. I also made it my business to discuss the matter with the cooks of the various units who have to do the work in the cookhouse under the conditions which the right honorable gentleman mentions, and they expressed high praise concerning the layout of the kitchens and the wash-up places. The drainage in all camps is a difficult problem, and I considered that that at Ingleburn camp presents no greater difficulties than that in any other camp, and is capable of being handled in an efficient manner. I stated previously that where possible it is intended to install a sewerage system, but there is no sewerage system adjacent to the Ingleburn camp. The provision of septic tanks in such a camp is of doubtful value, except in the hospital where one is installed. The present system is, in the opinion of the medical authorities, highly efficient and satisfactory.
– In view of the fact that persons generally, and soldiers, suffer from infectious diseases which are jus! as infectious in the early stages as in ihe later stages, why is it not considered necessary to provide sewerage in the camps generally and not only at the hospitals? In view of ‘the position’ being as I have stated, will the Minister for the Army get some outside medical officers to examine the question as to whether sewerage should not be provided generally in the camps?
– I should say that, broadly speaking, the reply to the first part of the right honorable gentleman’s question is that supervision is more easily carried out at hospitals. The right honorable gentleman knows that a septic tank system, to function successfully, requires supervision. With regard to the second part of the question, I believe that the skilled engineers advising the Government in regard to the drainage of camps are sufficiently qualified to enable the most satisfactory drainage scheme to be put in operation in the camps.
– Will the Minister for the Army take steps to ensure that better transport facilities are provided for conveying troops on leave from Ingleburn Camp to Liverpool, so that there may be no repetition of the recent accident which resulted in the death of a soldier through the men trying to crowd into a small bus?
– I am not quite sure what the actual position is in regard to such transport, but I shall make inquiries.
– In view of the fact that mail matter despatched by boat to Darwin takes approximately fourteen days to reach its destination, will the PostmasterGeneral see if arrangements can be made whereby all mail matter despatched to troops in the garrison at Darwin can be sent by air at ordinary rates?
-The rates on mail matter for members of the Militia Forces now in camp and of members of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force are now receiving the consideration of the Government. I shall give attention to the point raised by the honorable member.
– Can the Acting Minister for Air state whether the subsidies which have been paid in respect of inter-capital and inland air mail services are to be continued ?
– An inter-departmental committee was set up to survey the services at present in operation in Australia.
A report has been received and it will receive the consideration of the Government towards the end of this week or the beginning of next week after which I hope to be able to announce the policy of the Government in this respect.
– Can the Prime Minister say when it is proposed to give effect to the assurance given by the Prime Minister to the Leader of the Country party in this House to make another statement in respect of the wheat industry ?
– I did not know that any such undertaking had been given.
– It was.
– Then it appears to have been remarkably intelligent, because I propose to make a statement on the subject within the next 24 hours.
– Is there any like lihood of an early appointment of a representative of the Commonwealth at Washington? Will the Government also consider the desirability of taking appropriate action to attract to these shores the American tourist trade which has been diverted from Europe owing to war risks ?
– I shall make inquiries to ascertain what is being done in regard to the second portion of the honorable member’s question. In regard to the first portion, I may say that for some time that matter has been under the active consideration of the Government, and I hope to be able to make some pronouncement on the subject in the near future.
– Can the Prime Minister state whether a report has been received by the Government from Sir John Cadman, managing director of Scottish Oils Limited, and from the works manager of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, on the oil shale deposits at Latrobe, Tasmania, and, if so, will the Prime Minister make the report available to honorable members?
– I have no personal knowledge of such a report, but I shall have inquiries made into the matter.
– Can the Prime Minister state whether a report which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday last, that the Commonwealth Government has sold 40,000,000 bushels of wheat to the British Government, is correct ?
– I regret to say that so far that report is without foundation.
– In view of a threatened further increase of the price of petrol by retailers, can the Minister for Trade and Customs say whether the Commonwealth Government has sufficient power under the Defence Act or under regulations promulgated under the National Security Act to empower the closest examination into the affairs, including all costs and charges, of the major oil companies, not necessarily within Australia, but also beyond Australia? Is the Government in a position to make the fullest possible inquiries to justify any action which may be taken to increase the price of petrol?
– The Commonwealth Prices Commissioner has full powers to make complete investigation into the costs and prices of petrol. The honorable member can rest assured that no increase of price will be authorized unless it is fully justified.
– In view of the fact that a large number of militiamen will be going into camp for three months early in the new year, will the Prime Minister give consideration to the position of those men who have purchased motor cars and other goods on the hire-purchase system so that their interests may be protected during the period when they are in camp?
– The matter has been considered by the Government in conjunction with the related position which has arisen in connexion with members of the 6th Division, and the Government anticipates being able to announce shortly what is to be done.
– Is the Acting Minister for Supply and Development yet in a position! to make the statement which he promised last week regarding cornsacks?
– It is true that I expected to be in a position to make that statement to-day; but unfortunately there are still some aspects of the matter which I want cleared up. I shall make the statement to-morrow afternoon.
– Is the Prime Minister able to give to the House an assurance that the full text of the agreement between1 the Governments of the United Kingdom and Australia for the disposal of Australian wool will be made available to the House before the end of this period of the session?
– I am not able to make any promise because, as the honorable gentleman probably knows, there are still certain matters outstanding. There is no desire on the part of the Government that there should be any delay in concluding all these matters and in laying the full text of the agreement before the House. We have constantly pressed for a decision in regard to a number of points, but unfortunately they have not all been concluded. Whether they will be concluded in time to enable a statement to be made before the House rises for Christmas, I do not know; but I hope so.
Absence in Great Britain.
– When did the conference take place to which the Minister for Supply and Development was sent as Australia’s representative; how long did it last; when did it conclude; and what justification1 is there for the right honorable gentleman to remain any longer in England other than to gain experience in1 jumping from tanks and armoured cars?
-I am afraid that the honorable member has been misled by too close an attention to the illustrated papers. The fact is that the Minister for Supply and Development went to London, not only to attend formal conferences, but also to engage in a series of discussions and, incidentally, to inspect some of the war activities upon which it was desirable that this Government should be informed. The right honorable gentleman has not been absent very long, and he has been very actively engaged. I may say that every day I receive one, two, or three communications from him about very important matters of principle and administration. I anticipate that, within a few days, he will be setting out for Australia again. The fact is that his total stay in Great Britain will have been very brief and very fully occupied.
– Is it intended to adhere to the policy of dry canteens in military establishments? If it is, will the Minister for the Army extend the policy to operate in regard to officers as well as to men of lower rank? If the honorable gentleman considers it a wise policy will he use his influence with the Government to see that the bar attached to the Parliamentary Refreshment Rooms is closed for the duration of the war?
– The last part of the question probably falls within your province, Mr. Speaker. In order that I may give consideration to the first part of the honorable member’s question I ask him to place it on the notice-paper.
– In reply to a question which I addressed to him on the subject, the Minister for the Army stated that in future tenders for supplies of commodities for military camps would be advertised in the local newspapers circulating in the districts where the camps are situated. Does the honorable gentleman propose to call for fresh tenders, and how long are existing contracts to remain in force ?
– Without looking into the matter I could not say exactly what length of time these contracts have to run. I shall make inquiries into the matter. I take it that the honorable member refers to Rutherford camp in particular.
– That is so.
– I shall see when the contracts terminate and ascertain what the future procedure will be.
– A fortnight ago I asked a question in relation to the importation of literature from the United States of America. Would the Acting Treasurer be good enough to say whether he is able to answer the question, or whether he intends to do so?
– In answer to the honorable member’s earlier question I informed him that the matter was under consideration. It has been referred to the Seaborne Trade Committee, whose report to myself and the Minister for Trade and Customs is expected very shortly. Action, if any should be necessary, will be taken following the receipt of that report.
– In view of the fact that the. Government exercises control over the flotation of new capital issues owing to the need for protecting our internal economy, does not the Acting Treasurer also consider it necessary te exercise a measure of control over existing businesses which expand in such a way as to damage our internal exchange position? I refer as an example to the establishment of a new Sunday newspaper in Sydney in a field which is already well covered, which must result in the importation of additional newsprint valued at tens of thousands of pounds to the detriment of our exchange position.
– The question put to me by the honorable member for Denison was on the same subject-matter. It is at present before the Seaborne Trade Committee whose report is expected shortly.
– In view of the heavy increase of the price of petrol, and possible further increases, will consideration be given to tbe position of mail contractors who, in many cases, now find themselves performing their undertakings at a considerable personal loss? Will these contractors be entitled to some reimbursement by the Postmaster-General’s Department on account of this disability?
– I do not know whether there is a clause in their contracts to cover the mail contractors in that regard. I shall look into the matter.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce yet able to answer the question which I asked him over a fortnight ago on the subject of wool appraisement?
– I was under the impression that the answer had been handed to the honorable member personally this morning, or at any rate, this afternoon. If he has not yet received it, I shall see that it is handed to him within the next half -hour.
– In view of the statement made by the executives of woolbroking firms that at the first series of wool appraisals, the values fixed were at least 2d. per lb. lower than those fixed at the later series, and in view of the fact that the officials under the scheme are sworn to secrecy, will the Prime Minister have an investigation made into the first a ppraisals ?
– I was under the impression that a statement had been made on this subject, but if not, I shall inquire from the Minister for Commerce whether a statement can be prepared.
– In view of the fact that the Victorian State Government has suspended its legislation under which the Fair Rents Court used to operate, so that the Commonwealth might have full control of the situation, will the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether the Commonwealth machinery for the control of rents has been put into operation, so that any undue increases may be dealt with ?
– Under the National Security (Fair Rents) Regulations, power was given to the State governments to act promptly in respect of rents. That power resides now with the State governments individually.
– Does the Prime Minister believe that the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was justified in saying yesterday that no sane man at this stage would apply for an increase of wages ? Seeing that the function of the court is to fix wages in accordance with the cost of living, does the right honorable gentleman consider that that statement was warranted?
– If the honorable member really desires it, I shall make inquiries as to what was said in the Arbitration Court.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether all appointments of persons who engage in censorship work are made by the Commonwealth Government, and whether the instructions they receive regarding the way in which their work is to be carried out are issued solely by the Commonwealth Government?
– I shall ascertain the facts, and furnish the honorable member with an answer to-morrow.
Acquisition by Defence Department.
-Is the Prime Minister as head of the Government, and as coordinating Minister for the various branches of the Defence Department, aware that the Defence Department recently acquired a number of workers’ homes at Rathmines, offering the owners as compensation 50per cent, less than the original cost of the homes? In one case, homes costing £700 and £4S0 respectively, were acquired for £300 and £200. How can the Prime Minister justify offering such inadequate compensation to theworkers, when the Government has brit annexes to big factories without ever acquiring the land upon which buildings were erected, although’ those buildings enhanced the value of the property?
– I know nothing of the matter to which the honorable member has referred, but I shall make inquiries and communicate with him later.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Supply provide more opportunities for persons in Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia to tender for the supply of military equipment, particularly boots? During the last war, some of the largest contracts for boots were given to Tasmania. As no military expenditure is taking place in the States I have mentioned, and as Victoria and New South Wales have apparently abused their opportunity-
– The honorable member is out of order.
– Will the Minister give consideration to the claims of those States where unemployment is steadily mounting?
– The Government has already given sympathetic consideration to the claims of all States in the distribution of defence contracts. So .much is that a fact that we have arranged, in the interests of the more distant States, to accept quotations f.o.b. in the capital cities of the various States in which the goods are produced.
– Some time ago, I mentioned in the House the activities of certain mutual assurance societies, which, I stated, were evading the payment of Commonwealth Land Tax. I further stated that the directors of certain of the companies had been using their positions to benefit themselves rather than the policy-holders. The Minister promised that an immediate- inquiry would be made, and I should like to know whether that has been done, and if so, what was the result of the inquiry?
– The honorable member, on a motion for the adjournment, raised the two points which he has mentioned. Since then, a full investigation has been made into the allegations. The Government is considering the suggestion that the exemption from taxation given to mutual assurance societies confers an unfair advantage on them when it comes to the letting of property. As for the other allegation, it is without foundation. ‘
– Has the Minister for Information yet given consideration to my request to be given an opportunity to peruse all of the papers which the Minister said the Government possessed, in connexion with the dispute in Sydney with regard to Lascar seamen, to enable me to ascertain whether the action of the Government was warranted?
– That matter is still under consideration.
– Will the Minister for Information state whether it is a fact that well-known Melbourne society girls are working in the Department of Information? Has the Minister been informed that some female employees of the department, although engaged in such junior tasks as collecting clippings and sealing envelopes, are driven to their office in limousines? Is the Minister’s daughter a member of the staff? If daughters of well-to-do families are paid by the department, will the Minister see that they are replaced by girls who are in real need of employment?
– My own daughter is working in the office in an honorary capacity. It is a little war job for her, and I make no apology regarding it.
– What about the rest of the question ?
-There are a number of other girls who work in the department intermittently, and are at call. When hundreds of letters have to be despatched urgently - it would be absurd to employ a permanent staff for the purpose - these girls are called upon. They work in a purely honorary capacity. They are not driven to the office in limousines.
Mr. SPEAKER announced the receipt from the Governor-General of a message informing the House that the proposed law, an act to amend the Judiciary Act 1903-1937, which was reserved for the signification of His Majesty’s pleasure had been laid before His Majesty in Council, ‘ and that His Majesty had, by an Order in Council, dated the fifth day of October, One thousand nine hundred and thirtynine, confirmed, approved and declared his assent to it. The Governor-General had caused the King’s assent to be proclaimed in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 147, dated the 23rd November, 1939.
– I have received from Sir John Lavington Bonython, son of the late Sir John Langdon Bonython, a letter thanking the House for its resolution of sympathy.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to consolidate and amend the law relating to patents of inventions and for other purposes.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
Debate resumed from the 23rd November (vide page 1568) on motion by Sir Henry Gullett -
That the paper be printed.
– This debate marks the arrival in the Australian political arena of the youngest of our Commonwealth departments. Just how this youngster came to appear we do not know. The speech by the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett), who is in charge of this infant, was singularly devoid of any information on that point. Looking at the circumstances immediately prior to the establishment of this department, I think that honorable members will agree that there was little necessity to superimpose upon the means we had- of collecting information and news, another government department at a cost of £22,500, which cost will be considerably exceeded, I should say, before the infant is much older, since most of these departments have an awkward habit of increasing in cost at a much more rapid rate than their parents expected at the outset. For some months, each member of the Cabinet, with few exceptions, has had his own publicity officer attached to his staff, and has, therefore, been in an excellent position to issue such statements as seem to be best to himself. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) is similarly catered for, and so am I as Leader of the Country party. Therefore, there was little to be gained* by having this ‘extra department. Moreover, a very useful service was performed by the Department of External Affairs in issuing a valuable fortnightly publication, Current Notes, and the information section of the Department of Commerce also did fairly useful work. In addition, we had an extensive system for the collection of news, both overseas and local, in the hands of the press organizations. Much of this news was received by cable, and some by wireless, but, at any rate, we had a system for the collection of news to which the present Department of Information can add nothing of importance, as far as can be ascertained at the present time.
I claim that the proper department to handle official information is the Department of External Affairs, because that will be charged with the responsibility of supplying to this Parliament, the press and the public, from time to time, authentic statements as to the position of affairs overseas. But the situation is complicated by the fact that, during wartime, certain negotiations take place between ourselves and other powers. Certain military questions may arise, such as the recently reported peace overtures, which must not be discussed in the press. Therefore, in addition to the natural restraint that may be exercised by those handling news services in wartime, there must be some sort of control in the form of a censorship over the dissemination of news. Recognizing that the Department of External Affairs must deal with that matter, we come to the consideration of the kind of information that this new department is to handle. “What is it to collect? What is it to disseminate? Surely it is not suggested that it is to engage in the collection of news within
Australia? It would be very interesting to know how it becomes necessary for the department to have a great number of volunteers at work sending out thousands of letters. For what reason are they employed? Surely it is not suggested by the Government that a department costing at least £22,500 a year will be able to set up a new organization in Australia that will be more authentic and more trustworthy than that of the press to-day?
Referring even to press news, there are some points which the Minister may well clear up at an early date.” There was a report yesterday of the sinking of the German pocket battleship, Deutschland. To-day, in one section of the press, it is stated that what really happened was the sinking of a British armed merchantman. One section of the press said that this vessel was sunk by a submarine 150 miles south of Iceland, . whereas another section of the press named the same vessel and gave the same tonnage, but alleged that it had been sunk in the Indian Ocean by the German pocket battleship, Admiral von Scheer. Surely the Department of Information should be able to exercise some control in regard to statements of that description. We may have the opportunity to hear something on that point from the Minister in the not far distant future. There are two main sources already established for the dissemination of this information, one the newspapers and the other the wireless broadcasting stations, both national and commercial. To some extent the commercial broadcasting stations are linked with the newspaper services. It is not suggested that the Department of Information ‘ should supplant those sources in any way, so any activities that it undertakes must be superfluous to those engaged in by the newspapers and broadcasting stations. I grant that from time to time information may be given out by the Minister for Information or his assistants, but what happened here yesterday would make us extremely sceptical about the reliability of that information. Last week the Department of Information circulated to honorable members a statement issued by the Department of Commerce dated the 14th November which gave most interesting information in regard to our marketing activities abroad, but yesterday honorable members received another statement which simply states -
This memorandum is to notify you that circular (C.14 of 17/11/39) headed-
“WAR-TIME MARKETING OP PRIMARY PRODUCTS “
is withdrawn from circulation.
– The honorable member had something to do with that I think.
– That may be, but surely to heaven Parliament is entitled to know whether this new department has .any objective, any guiding principle whether the Government is making statements which it can stand to or statements which it has to withdraw. Honorable members are entitled to know what was wrong with the first statement and what was the reason for its being withdrawn from circulation. I have grave doubts as to whether the Department of Information on its performances is likely to give satisfaction in this regard. I do not know whether .other honorable gentlemen were similarly blessed, but on Saturday morning I received through the post in a big official envelope from the Department of Information five photolithograph copies of a speech made here the other day by the Prime Minister. There is no necessity to create a department to do that sort of thing. A previous Minister for Defence used to send out copies of every speech that he made at the Manly Town Hall without the aid of any department of information, so there again I have grave doubt as to the necessity for this new department.
I have two strong suspicions about the reasons for the formation of this department. One suspicion is that, when the British Government, for reasons unknown to us, established a similar department, it was felt by the Commonwealth Government that whether it was right or wrong, justified or unjustified, timely or untimely, we had to follow suit. The other suspicion that I have is this: I remember that during the currency of the last war the words “ British Official “ attached to any statements, amongst the troops at any rate, called for a good deal of hilarity and jocular comment as to the veracity of many of those statements. For instance, it is ‘undeniable history that one of the best battleships of the British Navy was sunk off the Irish coast a few days after the last war broke out, but the sinking was never officially admitted until after the war was over - a period of more than four years. I also remember one interesting instance which came under my notice of the lack of reliance that the British troops placed on “ British Official “. On the 30th August, 1915, in France, when the First Battalion from New South Wales was engaged at a place called Peronne, my battalion followed. We came upon an abandoned German steam-roller which had steam up. There were plenty of wags’ among the troops and in. the locality there was plenty of chalk. Some one chalked on the steam-roller “ Captured by the First Battalion “. Another improved it with “ Captured by the First Battalion Cooks “, another ‘ with “ Captured by the Military Police”, and another, “Captured by the Waacs “, but the crown of the lot was “ British Official : Shot down in flames “. In time of. war we have to adopt one of two attitudes on information. Either we come out quite frankly and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth whether it pleases us or not; or - and I would adopt this alternative - we tell the public that certain information, for military and national reasons, cannot be divulged, and make no bones about it. All of this talk about “ the whole truth and nothing but the truth “, to any one who has experience of the subject, is so much talk. I nearly used another expression, but I got into trouble the last time I used it.
– At any rate, we all know, whether we have one or twenty departments of information, that there is certain information which cannot be. released during wartime. The proper thing for the Government to do is to tell the people that that is so. It should not endeavour to delude the people into believing that this new department” will do a lot of the wonderful things which the Minister suggests that it will do.
Under the old system the wartime censorship had its faults, but it certainly did the work. Why is it necessary to take military censorship out of the hands of the Defence Department and put it into the hands of the Department of Information? I understand that the Defence Department did the work tolerably well. I do not suggest that the Army has any desire to retain the duties of the censorship, because the work involves one of the worst responsibilities that the Army ever had to undertake. Still more interesting would be an answer to this question: Why was it necessary to take the Cinematograph Branch from the Department of Commerce and place it under the control of this new department? The Department of Commerce was doing a special job in a special way. How in the name of common sense the work of the Cinematograph Branch can be linked up with the Department of Information I do not know, unless the real purpose is to try to justify something which cannot otherwise be justified. Likewise, the old system under which the press collected and disseminated information worked fairly well. Nobody has ever suggested that the press is exactly the fountain of truth. The newspapers get their cables from overseas. They cannot check the truth of what they receive from overseas, and they have to publish it just as to-day they have published reports from two cable services, which, I am interested to note on information I have received, were supposed to be working in common from the 14th November, giving entirely different versions of the sinking of the Rawalpindi, one alleging that the vessel was sunk in the Indian Ocean and the other giving the locality as south of Iceland. How that disparity comes about I do not know.
I cannot see the necessity for a special Commonwealth department for the collection and dissemination of information, with a Minister at the head and underneath him a Director of Information in each of the States. Below that we have all sorts of committees in the capital cities and, judging by the Minister’s statement the other day, we are to have similar committees in the country areas.
– That is the way they economize.
– Those committees are honorary bodies.
– Honorary I I have very vivid recollections that early this year we had a National Health and Medical Research Council, which was supposed to be entirely honorary. I know a great deal about that council. It was not honorary. Indeed, it would be interesting to know what it cost before the Government was done with it. Although it cannot be so much as the Department of Information will cost the Government for the first twelve months, I am sure that it was a considerable amount. On a question of the result derived from that expenditure, I ask the Minister for Health (Sir Frederick Stewart) “ Exactly what did the people of Australia get out of the National Health and Medical Research Council scheme ?”
My next point relates to the method to be adopted by the department in distributing information. Does it propose to guarantee the accuracy of news which is published in the newspapers? Is it in any way connected with the press? Does the censorship which the department imposes to-day carry any warranty of the accuracy of the news appearing in the press and broadcast over the radio networks? If it does not carry such a warranty, I suggest that the Minister will have something to explain before very long. Another important aspect is the department’s relationship to local information. Since now we have evidence that one of the duties of the department is to distribute copies of speeches made by Ministers, even to honorable members who have themselves heard the speeches in this chamber, I should like to know what, eventually, the department will develop into. Does the department take the attitude that it must justify the speeches made in this chamber by Ministers; and, in fact, must it justify those speeches? If that be so, we must conclude that the job of this new department is to engage in controversy in connexion with statements made by Ministers. My view is that, if a Government department distributes copies of statements made by Ministers, the public will naturally expect that department to take responsibility for the accuracy of the statements themselves; and should any controversy arise out of their publication, I imagine that any one having an objection will apply to the Minister for Information for confirmation or otherwise. At that rate it would not be long before the Minister for Information became engaged in a first-class controversy in regard to some departmental matter, or some aspect of Government policy. Important questions of public controversy may develop from small beginnings. I could name two or three such matters which, if they formed the subject of comment through the Department of Information, would produce immediate reactions ; but I shall not. Those matters may be raised in this House at any time. I think one was mentioned to-day. The upshot may be that the Minister will find himself engaged in an awkward debate with people outside this Parliament. I admit that the department is in an experimental stage, but I should like the Minister to answer this question, which I put to him by interjection the other day : “ What is the relationship between the Department of Information and Amalgamated Wireless -(Australasia) Limited in regard to the broadcasting of Australian viewpoints over short-wave stations?” My experience of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, when I was Postmaster-General, was such that I would have taken action in this House had I held office much longer than I did. I regard Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited as one of the greatest profiteering concerns in Australia, and the great pity is that the Commonwealth Government owns one more than half of the shares in it. The Minister for Information, if he is responsible for Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, will have difficulty in explaining the disparity that exists between the cost of sending a radio message from shore to ship through Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the cost of sending a message from New Zealand to the same ship.
– Surely the honorable gentleman does not suggest that I am responsible for Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia.) Limited? How could I be? It is a company with a capital of £1,000,000.
– Some Minister should be responsible for the company’s activities. The time has arrived when this matter should be cleared up so that the public may know exactly what Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited-
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).I direct the honorable member’s attention to Order of the Day No. 17 on the noticepaper. It appears to me that the honorable member is anticipating debate on that measure.
– That order of the day relates to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, not to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, which is an entirely different concern1. I ask the Minister to tell. Parliament upon what terms and conditions Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited is undertaking the broadcasting of programmes on behalf of the Department of Information.
– I shall give to the House a full statement upon the conditions of that overseas service before it is initiated, probably on one day next week. I point out to the honorable member that it was my intention to make such a statement; I shall not make it merely in response to his demand to-day.
– I shall await that statement with interest. If information issued by the department, especially in connexion with overseas news, is not verified and does not carry the warranty of the department, then it is of no more value to the community than is the news which comes through the ordinary channels of the press and which in many cases should be dubbed “ rumour “. If, on the contrary, the department takes the stand that it will not guarantee anything that is published until its accuracy has been verified, the news will be stale by the time it reaches the general public. The department, in my opinion, must decide actually what truth is. That is a very awkward question, which even Pontius Pilate himself would not decide. Again and again there will be the gravest conflict between truth and fact, truth being that which a man believes, and fact being that which he can prove it. Awkward questions will arise from that distinction during wartime. If the department is to decide what truth is, I suspect, perhaps mistakenly, that it will regard it as its duty to see that only the truth reaches the public. If that be the case, then, perforce, it must ensure that what it considers to be not the truth must not reach the people. As a consequence, an awkward system of censorship will be imposed by the department within Australia.
– We had such a system during the last war; it could not be worse.
– I cannot speak with authority on that point, but all of us, even honorable members opposite, must recognize that during wartime there must be some limitation on the dissemination1 of news. Obviously we cannot publish to the world facts which may be awkward for us in a military sense, awkward for us in a political sense, and, since we have many contracts for sale and barter with other governments, awkward also for us in a commercial sense. Therefore, there must be some censorship of news which, in time of peace, would naturally not be tolerated by a democratic community.
Prior to the establishment of the Department of Information, every facility existed to ensure the distribution of information setting out departmental views. If we are to accept the position that to-day no statements may be issued by government departments, except through the Department of Information1-
– That is not so.
– Then we get the still more extraordinary position. With some twelve or fourteen government departments already in existence - it is becoming difficult to keep track of them - each with its right to make official statements on its own behalf in order to suit its own purposes, there is superimposed this Department of Information. For what ? All I can say is that I could have understood the action of the Government had it taken certain steps to provide for a better and more prompt dissemination of information through the Department of External Affairs, but I cannot understand it setting up a new Department of Information which is to cost £22,500 a year. The information that could have been disseminated through the Department of External Affairs could have carried the Government guarantee just as the information that will be disseminated through the Department of Information will carry it. The more the Minister has to say about this department the less we are able to understand the genesis of it and the purposes which it is intended to serve. In my opinion, the sooner the Government has a second thought on this subject, as it has had on several other subjects recently, and consigns this department to the oblivion from which it should never have emerged, the better it will be for the Parliament and also for the taxpayers of Australia, who are expected to find the additional £22,500 required for the purposes of the department.
.- If we expect the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett) to sift out the truth from the many statements that are made in wartime, it seems to me we are expecting a little too much from him, and, in fact, more than it is reasonable to expect. I confess, however, like the Leader of the Country party (Mr. Archie Cameron), that this department has not come up to expectations. The pronouncement that the Government intended to establish the department was hailed with a good deal of pleasure, for the cable service was not very satisfactory. News was scarce and unreliable, and it was felt that the new department might be able to go a considerable distance to supply the public with news which would be marked by a fair measure of reliability.
– What have we got by it ?
– The most notable achievement of the department, up to date, seems to have been the publication of a libel on the Leader of the Country party.
– I appreciate the support of the honorable member for Perth.’ It is the kind of support he is giving to most Government measures at present. I am most grateful to him for it.
– If the Minister feels that way about a little criticism, I shall perhaps add more to what I have said.
– I have no doubt that the honorable member will do so. He is doing this kind of thing in respect of all Government measures.
– Does the Minister suggest that neither he nor his department should be criticized ?
– Not at all.
– The Minister has explained, with a certain modesty, that a great deal of useful information has been circulated by his department and that, by the desire of .the department, the source from which it was obtained was not acknowledged. It is quite surprising to me to find such reticence in respect of a department controlled by the honorable gentleman.
– This department is out not to advertise itself, but to distribute information. Whether that information appears under the name of the department or not is a matter of absolute indifference to it.
– Does not the department take the responsibility for the information it distributes?
– The department is quite prepared to take responsibility for any information that it issues.
– If I may be permitted to get in a word or two, I should like to say that the achievements of the department have been marked not so much by the spreading of information, as by an indulgence in propaganda. So far I have not seen evidence of any useful work. /Since the Minister has seen fit to resent a little criticism, I shall tell him plainly what my view of his department is. I regard this department as just another of the brilliant conceptions to which we have become accustomed from the Minister. A number of his conceptions have been brilliant, and the prospectuses which he has issued have led us to expect big things; but the actual results have been very small. The Minister reminds me of what we call in commercial circles “ a one-trip traveller “. Such a traveller will go into a town and, on his first trip, create a wonderful impression and take the place by storm. On his second trip he will be far less effective, and on his third trip he will come an absolute “ flop “. That is my estimate of the Minister and this department, following, as the whole idea does, upon other “ stunts “ which the honorable gentleman has already inflicted upon the Government. I have not forgotten how he led the Government into-
– I rise to a point of order. I suggest that the honorable member for Perth should be asked to adhere approximately to the motion before the House.
– I am not able to hear clearly what the Minister says in support of the point of order.
– I had no intention to make any such references to the Minister, and probably should not have done so had he not gone out of his way to interrupt me and tell me that I had no right to offer any criticism of the Government.
– I did not do so.
– Naturally, I feel provoked. The new department suffers from the fact that the Minister threw himself into it without having first organized his scheme, and without having paid due regard to how his ideas would develop. Already the department has floundered. There is no kind of a suggestion of coordination. In my opinion, this department, if it is to act as a central department of information, should co-ordinate Government statements on national affairs and distribute them. I understand that there has been no co-ordination whatever. The Defence Department has two publicity officers, and the Supply and Development Department also has a publicity officer. Now we have a department created for publicity purposes. Yet the other publicity agencies in existence are still proceeding independently. For a department organized to provide the public with reliable information to act without co-ordination with other departments in the issuing of statements on national affairs is, in my opinion, fantastic. It is fantastic also that the department should not have access to the publicity sections associated with the two main arms of our defence services. If the Minister would say something that could justify the existence of his department and its right to continue as a separate information bureau, he would do something much more useful than he is doing by interjecting.
There are, I believe, certain limited spheres in which this department might usefully be engaged, but the work could be done without the heavy expense now being incurred. The Minister has referred to the very useful service which the department is performing in supplying information to country newspapers which cannot afford comprehensive and expensive cable services. In supplying such newspapers with reliable information, the department is rendering a definite service to people who live in country districts. At the same time, it should be pointed out that some of the articles supplied have been rather ponderous and have contained more comment than information.
Another sphere of service for the department would be in the preparation of replies to German propaganda that is circulating within Australia. Some of this propaganda is extremely clever. It is framed on the lines of the German propaganda in Great Britain, but is couched in terms designed to influence Australians. So far, the Department of Information has done nothing to reply to this propaganda.
In one respect, I can commend the Minister. I refer to the action he has taken to establish a short-wave station, which could act as a mouthpiece for the distribution of national information on behalf of Australia. It is unfortunate that action along this line was not taken some time ago.
– It was urged upon the Government from this side of the House months ago.
– There has been a demand for a short-wave station from members of all parties. I make no claim to having conceived the idea - none at all.
– I am beginning to think that the Minister will be sorry that he has conceived any ideas if he has to listen too long to the kind of comment that is coming from his own side of the House.
– I am used to it.
– The Australian Broadcasting Commission should have taken action in this connexion some time ago.
Another useful service that the Department of Information might render in the future has relation to the publicity which the Government will need when it is making applications for loan money for war purposes. The department might be able to do something to put people into the right frame of thought and mind to subscribe to the war loans that must come If it does that, it will do something oi substantial value. So far, however, a good deal of the noise that has ‘been made about the appointment of the committees which are being organized has been unwarranted. I have not heard of these committees having rendered any useful service, and I fail to see how they can assist the department in the mere collection and distribution of information. In any case, work of that kind could have been done more satisfactorily by smaller committees. However, I foresee that when loans are being floated for war purposes, these committees may be of some value. I suppose that the Government is committed to this expenditure, and I suppose, also, that we shall have to look to the Minister ‘and his department to do the best that can be done to give some real service to the community for the money that is being expended; but I hope that the Minister will not be too resentful of criticism as such resentment causes bitterness. Although I am prepared to agree that the department may be able to render some useful service in a limited sphere, I am of the opinion that it could have been done at much less cost. The department should have been organized on less ambitious lines.
.- When this department was constituted it was intended to discharge two functions which, in the last war, had been discharged by the Defence Department, and the merit of the idea behind its creation was that it would entrust to a civilian Minister, and to civilian methods, the administration and the discharge of the functions which were formerly entrusted to a military Minister and to military methods.
– One function?
– No, there are two: first, the function of saying what should be given out; and, secondly, the function of saying what should not be given out; the function of giving information, and the function of censorship.
The function of giving information was described in the last war, and in the immediate post-war period, as propaganda. That word has so many unhappy implications and connotations that we have abandoned it, and to-day we say we are giving information. We know that wartime information falls short of truth ; at best, it is only relative truth.
The important function of the Department of .Information, that which is of greatest importance and interest now, is, of course, the function of censorship. Everybody will admit that in a time of war, as the Leader of the Country party (Mr. Archie Cameron) has said, it is necessary to p revent facts, or information which may be useful to the enemy, from being transmitted to the enemy, although the utterer or transmitter of them may be perfectly innocent of any disloyal intention. It is necessary to do that, and, therefore, it is also necessary to endow some authority with the power of saying that those things should not be published. If you give to an authority that power you must also give to it very wide discretion. As the result, we get what is called the preventive censorship, which says that the actual publication of these things should be prevented. It is not a case of the publisher being punished afterwards. Therein lies the danger to the liberties of the people. The great jurist, Blackstone, said that liberty of the press consists in laying no previous restraints upon publication and not in freedom from censure for criminal matter when published. As an answer given to-day indicates, the censorship in this country is divided into a publicity censorship covering censorship of the press, cinema and broadcasting, which is a function of the Department of Information, and the censorship of communications such as letters, telegrams, radio telegrams and cablegrams, which is a 7-esponsibility of the Department of Defence.
– Does it include letters ?
– Yes, and that censorship is dealt with by the Department of Defence. Under a power conferred upon him by the National Security Act, the Minister for the Army, on the 6th October, delegated to the Minister for Information, the powers and functions conferred upon him in relation to the censorship of newspapers, and other publications. The order dealing with that transfer was published in the Commonwealth Gazette, No. 99. With the terms of that order I do not think anybody can quarrel very much, but I understand that the censors are operating under not that order, but an earlier instruction that I have seen, which is a much larger document and is supposed to be confidential. Although I have not closely examined it, the document appears to me to confer upon the censors very much wider and much more stringent aud dangerous powers than those conferred by the order published in the Gazette. These rules, which are in operation to-day, are dated the 29th August, 1939, and they bear upon them the following serial numbers : - C12360/39 and P1459. They are issued in a green pamphlet. I am told that the effect of the position operating to-day is that the order published in the Gazette is for public consumption. That order sets out the limits of censorship for public information; but, in fact, the censor has much greater powers, and is operating under instructions which are much ‘ more stringent. I hope that that is not so. If it is so, I hope that it will be stopped. It is a good thing to have the censorship vested in a civilian, and particularly a civilian who, like the Minister, has had experience in journalism in both peacetime and wartime.
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that I know nothing of such a second list.
– It is an earlier instruction. I believe that these censorship rules have been transmitted to every newspaper office in this country, and that the newspapers are operating under them and not within the liberal limits of the order published in Gazette No. 99.
– The order in the Gazette is misleading?
– Yes, to the extent that it leads the public to believe that the censorship is milder and less stringent than it actually is. The order published in the Gazette makes it appear that what is to be censored is the communication of news, facts, matter or information which may be useful to the enemy. Paragraph 3 of that order reads -
A press censorship authority may by order in writing require the editor or printer or publisher of any newspaper or periodical, and the author or printer or publisher of any matter intended to be printed and published, to submit to him before printing orpublication any matter intended for publication which contains any information or statement with respect to -
Then a number of things are set out. But sub-paragraph (VI) reads -
Any other matter whatsoever information as to which would or might be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy, or prejudicial to the public safety, the defence of the Commonwealth or of any other part of His Majesty’s Dominions, the efficient prosecution of the war, or the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.
I am given to understand that what is happening - and I believe it - is that although regulations have been made which deal with what is mainly describedas prejudicial propaganda by the method of punishment after it has been uttered or written, the censorship prevents the publication of not merely facts and information but also views which the censor thinks are undesirable from the Government’s point of view.
– There is not very much wrong with that.
– I think that there is. Regulation 42, made under the Defence Act, reads -
A person should not -
Where any person is convicted on indictment in respect of a contravention of this regulation by reason of his having published a newspaper, the Court may by order direct that, during the period specified in the order, that person shall not publish any newspaper in Australia.
A person who is charged with this offence is given an opportunity to answer the charge before a magistrate, and to defend himself. The Minister will remember the care which this House took in order to ensure that the trial before the magistrate should be in open court, and that no obstacle should be raised to the publication of the proceedings of that court. But that is defeated by giving the censor power to say that anything about to be published must first be submitted to him and, should he deem it to bo prejudicial to the defence of the Commonwealth, or likely to cause disaffection, he shall prevent it from being published. The difficulty there is that we do not trust to the law to deter the publication of such matter by punishing the person who has been proved to have published it.
– All of the harm would be done by then.
– All I can say is that on this matter this House has been deceived by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and other Ministers, because the national security legislation was put through this House on the promise that there would be the minimum of infringement of ordinary civilian rights, and, although it might be necessary to invest the Minister with power to make regulations, that such regulations would be tabled and could be disallowed by the House. Thus every one would know the extent to which the liberties of the people were being curtailed. In addition, the person charged with an offence would be prosecuted in open court, and a report of the evidence would be made available.
Among other things which the newspapers have received are instructions that they, themselves, are to censor the reports of the speeches of members made in this House.
– That is a fact.
– We decided not to censor the speeches of members but that they would be published in Hansard as made in this House.
– Why was my speech cut to pieces in September?
– The Minister knows perfectly well that he has no power to interfere with the publication of debates which take place in this House.
– And I have said that there is no intention of doing so.
– The Minister is contradicting a statement which I did not make. He is endeavouring to compel newspapers to apply a censorship to their own reports of speeches made by honorable members. This is an extract from an instruction, dated the 16th November, which has gone out to the newspapers: -
Tt is possible that during the present session of the Federal Parliament, some members may disclose information which it is most undesirable to publish, It is not suggested that such statements would bc made deliberately; nevertheless it is not desirable that they should be published. While reports on parliamentary debates are not at present subject to censorship, the censorship authorities rely upon the discretion of editors to ensure that no statements are published in respect of parliamentary debates which would be subject to censorship if they were made elsewhere.
The Minister has no power to censor the debates of this House, or to censor Hansard reports. If that is going to be done it will be done by this House, as it was done before. The point I am making is >this : What is the good of all the guarantees we have attempted- to secure for the freedom of speech and discussion during the war if the Minister - and as a civilian he has not the excuses of soldierly training or military bias - can brush them aside and say, “ I will see that you have no chance of saying, or’ writing, these things. It will not be a question of bringing you before the court and charging you with an offence. You will not have the chance of saying these things, because your own press will be prevented from publishing them.” The Department of Information could be doing a lot of other useful things, because it cannot successfully repress everything. The more it represses the more will be circulated, and in worse and more dangerous form. The best thing this department can do is to allow the people to express their opinions and to refute these opinions if it can.
– Does the honorable gentleman suggest that there should be no wartime censorship?
– There should be a wartime censorship of statements which may be useful to the enemy. That does not include repression of the expression of opinion. It is most important that in this country, and, indeed, in other countries also, there should be the fullest freedom to every person to express his opinions.
– Hear, hear!
– Even if there should be a repression of the expression of opinion in this country, nothing on earth, except, of course, elaborate restrictions and the most despotic repression, could prevent the people from hearing the views of the peoples of other countries. Like the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) I had some experience of the censorship exercised during the last war. I know that the censoring of a publication does not prevent the matter which would have been published from being disseminated throughout the country by other means.
– Is not there such a thing as a treasonable utterance?
– Such utterances are punishable under the law as it now stands.
– There may be a point at which freedom of speech should be checked in time of war by the ordinary courts, but I shall not be a party to constituting any person to be a judge to decide beforehand whether a person who has no opportunity to defend himself and against whom no information has been laid, shall be denied the right to express himself freely. In every time of war there is freedom of speech to those persons whose views are acceptable to the Government and no freedom of speech to persons whose opinions are not acceptable to the Government. If the Government were te* say that no opinions except those which it authorized for publication should be expressed, it would be consistent; but it does not do that. The way the censorship is being administered in Australia means that people can be prevented from saying what they believe to bc their duty to say.
– If it is a harmful statement, the harm is done as soon as it is published.
– The Minister is assuming that the statement is harmful. The law provides a means whereby the question as to whether or not a statement is harmful can be decided.
– After the harm has been done.
– Obviously the Minister is quite unfitted for his present position. I had thought that it would be an advantage to have a civilian in charge of the Department of Information, but I should much prefer to have the Minister for the Army (Mr. Street) in charge of it than the present Minister for Information. The issue as to whether an utterance is treasonable or disloyal is a matter which the court should decide, in the same way as a court decides whether an act is murder. That issue is decided, not by cutting off the head of the suspected person, bat by twelve good men and true in a properly constituted court.
Should the suspected person be found guilty, he is punished. In that way, others are deterred from committing similar offences. That is the only way in which such things should be decided in a free country. Whether or not certain opinions should be expressed is a matter for the courts to decide. If freedom to express opinions is to be repressed or suppressed, the decision should rest with a body set up by law for that purpose. Moreover, the decision should be given in public according to settled rules of law and accepted principles of evidence, and not according to the will or whim of any official. I think that most people in this country will agree with me in that.
About the war they should also be compellable to publish replies. That brings us back to my argument that the only way to deal with opinions is to answer them, not to repress them. Once the people believe that the Government is repressing the expression of opinion, they will conclude that the Government has no answer to such opinions. They will always believe that in a democratic community a responsible government will not repress unless driven to repression. They will always regard repression as the last resort of the despot who has no answer to an argument. Only the person who has no answer will take refuge in rt pre.-.sion and suppression. In this connexion, I am reminded that Jupiter, according to the story of Lucian, frequently walked with a peasant and had many discussions and arguments with him. One day, when the god had no answer to the peasant’s argument, he said, “ If you keep on saying that, Agricola, I shall strike you down with one of my thunderbolts “. Quickly came the retort, “ Now, Jupiter, I am sure that you have no answer; you never talk of thunderbolts unless you are in the wrong”. A government which resorts to repression when it has an answer to an argument “is not only despotic, but also foolish. Repression is not an answer; on the contrary, it gives the impression that there is no answer to the opinions expressed. One of the functions of the Department of Information is that of supplying people with the means of weighing the arguments that, are put before them. One thing which affects the minds of many people to-day is that the present war is a war between certain international financial interests and certain bankers. Many people absurdly think that the war is being waged by the great financial nations of Europe - Britain and France - backed by that other great financial nation, the United States of America, against Hitler, who has disorganized the banking system and taken from the banks the control of finance, lt is a groundless and absurd belief, but it is, nevertheless, held by many people. The way to deal with that belief is not to repress the expression of it, but to answer it by pointing out its absurdity. If the Department of Information will proceed along those lines, and answer the arguments that are advanced from time to time, it will discharge a useful function. I hope that it will do so. It will cost a good deal of money, and it should not have been created unless it will do some useful work in the community. A department whose end and aim is to prevent the people from saying what they want to say would be a hindrance, not a help, in this Avar. If the cause for which Australia, as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, is involved in war is right - as I believe it to be - that rightness is demonstrable and can be proved by argument only and not by repression and suppression.
– I take a broad view of the establishment of the Ministry of Information, for I know that it is a corollary to what has been formed in Great Britain. As recently as last month there was some consternation in the British Parliament in connexion with the British department. I think that it is our duty to defend ourselves against incorrect propaganda which is being disseminated in other countries. We in Australia, are in a much more fortunate position1 than are the people of South Africa, where German influences are at work in an attempt to bring about disaffection among the people. A similar state of affairs exists in other parts of the world. There are many people in this country who are of the opinion that the British Ministry for Information is not carrying out the functions for which it was established. Conditions in Australia are not unlike those which caused consternation in Great Britain, and led to a statement being made in the British Parliament by Sir Samuel Hoare. He explained that the war had taken a course which was not expected, and that the people were asking for information about things which had not happened, or did not exist, in which circumstances the Ministry for Information could not possibly supply answers. The people of the Empire expected that, almost immediately following the declaration of war, there would be air raids on Britain, and for that reason women and children were evacuated from London in large numbers. Sir Samuel Hoare went on to say that their expectations in that respect had not been ‘ realized as, so far, there had been no particularly sensational or horrible events to relate. We in Australia are far removed from the seat of danger. Certain persons are anxious to find fault with the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett) and the department under his control because fearful war horrors are not being disclosed daily. Sir Samuel Hoare continued -
Arrangements have had to be made beforehand on the assumption that there would be destructive air raids and that the capital might be cut off from other parts of the country.
The primary object was to establish, in conjunction with the press, a system of communication so that in the event of London being cut off accurate information, could be supplied from other centres to the people of Great Britain and of the Dominions. Sir Samuel Hoare also said -
The second reason was that so far there had been very little information to give - with a few conspicuous exceptions there had been no dramatic events.
Mr. Greenwood had said that it was better to trust the people and to give them whatever news was available, whether it be good or bad. It is true, as Sir Samuel Hoare has stated, that, so far, there has been very little information to give to the people. Apart from the sinking of merchantmen and several aerial combats, the war has not been waged with the intensity that some anticipated. Experience in the last war led us to believe that in this conflict we could expect similar devastation, and because there has been an absence of reports concerning major engagements, some have become impatient. Reports have appeared in the American pros? announcing the sinking of the
Deutschland, but such reports have not been confirmed by the Admiralty, possibly because the movements of supply ships endeavouring to locate that vessel would be altered. Such information should be withheld in the interests of the Empire. I sympathize with the Minister for Information and support him in his desire to provide an organization which will give the public the truth, and at the same time assist the newspapers to conserve the interests of the Australian people by making available only such information as is in the public interest. I believe that the Minister is endeavouring to do the correct thing, and I trust that he will be able to build up an organization that will be instrumental in supplying truthful information concerning current events.
.- Although a supporter of the Government, I feel that I am entitled to offer some criticism concerning the Department of Information. I would remind the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett), who seems somewhat restive under criticism, that when a private member and a supporter of the Government he utilized every opportunity to criticize several members of the Ministry, including an ex-Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page).
– The honorable member is not discussing the motion.
– I have investigated statements made in this chamber a few nights ago concerning remarks alleged to have been made by an officer of the Department of Information at a meeting which he addressed in Brisbane, and although I find that the officer concerned did not mention any name, the press report of his remarks did an injustice to the Leader of the Country party (Mr. Archie Cameron).
This new department which has been set up must justify its existence by the service it renders to the people. I am opposed to the establishment of new departments of State, because, generally speaking, expenditure is increased without a corresponding increase of the service provided. An examination of the cost of government over the last five years shows that there has been an extraordinary increase, which, no doubt, accounts to some degree for the agitation in certain parts of Australia for the abolition of State Parliaments. State Parliaments are not alone responsible, because costs in the Commonwealth sphere have increased enormously within the last few years. A great deal is due to the penchant of members and departmental officials to create new departments in order to increase the importance of their own positions. The following table shows the degree to which expenditure in Commonwealth departments has increased : -
The only exception is that of the Treasury where, for a time, there was a decrease of £11,000. The expenditure of that department, which in 1928-29 was £757,000, had increased by 1932-33 to £2,253,000 due to the introduction of sales tax, an increase of over £1,560,000 per annum. It will be seen from the table that the cost of conducting Commonwealth departments increased from £7,404,461 in 1933-34 to £S,350,204 in 1938-39, an annual increase of £945,743 or a weekly increase of £18,187. We have been informed by the Minister that the estimated cost of the Department of Information for the remainder of the financial year is £22,500, and it is reasonable to assume that for a full year the estimated cost will be between £60,000 and £70,000. For the expenditure of such a large sum we are justified in asking for a reliable and efficient service. Where is the justification for the establishment of this department ?
We should not consider this subject from the point of view of a totalitarian State department established with the object of giving the people only certain information. I understand that it is the desire to give reliable news concerning the progress of the war, and to that I offer no objection; but that service is already being provided by the daily newspapers with’ the exception of a few journals representing small organizations. The Department of Information should collaborate more closely with the British Broadcasting Commission in the presentation of news; because at present we are receiving only a curtailed news service from that source. The Associated Press has, I understand, placed certain obstacles in the way of the presentation of news because of the competition with their journals. The Minister for Information might well consider collaborating with the British Ministry of Information in order to ensure that the Australian people get an unhindered news service from Daventry. Only a few days ago, when a rather important and interesting first-hand account of mine-sweeping operations in the. North Sea was being broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation from Daventry, the rebroadcast in Australia was cut off in the middle of the talk because the time limit had expired. When the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts talks on various subjects, it frequently happens that Australian listeners, by reason of the restriction of the rebroadcast by Australian stations to ten minutes, have an opportunity to hear a portion of the talks, and have no means of learning what they are all about unless they subsequently read the daily press.
Another matter which I should like to discuss briefly at this juncture is the provision of a short-wave service in a foreign language. I have been in correspondence with the Minister for Information on this subject for the last six weeks or more, and I must say that I have not been encouraged by his replies to my letters.
– The honorable member wanted a position for somebody.
– I did not care whether he got the position or not. The circumstances were that a highly qualified Austrian gentleman, with every reason to detest the Nazi regime to the uttermost, offered his services in connexion with a foreign-language broadcast. The reply that he received was that no talks on short wave in a foreign language by a person who was a foreigner would be desirable.
– It was desired that a person, giving a talk in the enemy tongue, should not be of enemy nationality or origin.
– Only by short-wave broadcasts in the language which they understand can we reach enemy subjects abroad. By this means, we can put before them a psychological point of view that they can understand and appreciate.
– Quite a number of British people speak foreign languages well.
– I beg to differ from the Minister on that point. Another matter, which has been dealt with by the Leader of the Country party (Mr. Archie Cameron) is the conflict of interest between Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and the Australian Broadcasting Commission in relation to this matter.
– Both will be associated with it, at least at the outset. I shall make a full statement regarding the matter before the House adjourns next week.
– I have reason to feel not altogether comfortable regarding the position existing between these two organizations. If the matter is left entirely to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, it is reasonable to expect from experience that the charges will be fairly high.
The Minister for Information also stated that he has formed a considerable local organization to assist his department. He said that the Chambers of Commerce, the secretary of this, and the president of that organisation - -in fact, every body - showed a disposition to co-operate. I sometimes wonder what it is all about, very much as I wonder, at times, what the Department of Information is about. What useful function can this local organization serve that cannot already be served by the department itself with its officers throughout Australia with their ears to the ground? I regard it as a political gesture which means nothing. The justification for this new department remains to be seen. It is quite true, of course, that the war, so far, has not given any department of information very much scope, because nothing of any great moment has occurred to stir the people, other than the sinking of a few ships and the explosion of a few mines.
– If the war keeps on long enough our appetites in that direction will be satiated.
– As things are developing, the Government will have to give serious consideration to the desirability of handing back the Cinematograph Branch to the Department of Commerce.
– It is only a wartime exchange because the branch was not busy where it was.
– If it was not busy where it was, is it likely to be any busier now? The Government will also have to consider handing back the censorship to the Defence Department where, in all probability, as the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) finally admitted, it properly belongs. It might very well hand back all of these departments to their proper owners, making arrangements for the Prime Minister’s statements to be issued by the Prime Minister’s publicity officer and the statements on external affairs by the publicity officer of the External Affairs Department, and so save the country approximately £50,000 or £70,000 a year. That may seem a small amount, but at least if the Government did this it would be a gesture to the people that it is anxious to conserve our financial resources with a view to expending them where more reasonably useful results could be achieved.
– I listened with interest to the statement of the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett), but, so far, I have not been able to learn much of the practical usefulness of the new department. I was interested to receive from the Minister yesterday a letter, which was addressed to me, not in my capacity as a member of this Parliament, but as the occupant of an office of the kind which, as honorable members will appreciate, very often comes to us because of our membership of this Parliament. This letter was addressed to me in my capacity as president of the Launceston Musical Comedy Society, and after setting out the purpose for which the new department was formed, extended to me an invitation to attend a meeting to be held at Launceston this week to initiate the formation of a local information council. Since then I have endeavoured, without success, to find the slightest value in the establishment of such a council in Launceston. I am indebted to the Minister for his letter, however, in that it gave fuller information on certain aspects of the functions of the new department than was given in the official statement which the Minister made in this House last week. The letter reads -
The department has been created with the sole purpose of justifying and sustaining the cause for which the United Kingdom and the Dominions and their Allies are fighting; and at the same time to spread as widely as possible within the Commonwealth, sound information which has direct and indirect bearing upon the conflict. The department will also engage in oversea propaganda which will keep the world day by day informed of Australia’s activity in the war and will, at the same time, counter enemy propaganda of an untruthful or an unfair kind.
I need scarcely add that the new department in its work will be completely free from political party colour or activity. The necessity for such a department is, in the mind of the Government, very strong. In brief, the Government believes that Great Britain and the Dominions have in this war a good cause, and that war was forced upon us. It wishes to keep these facts clearly before our own Australian people, and as many people as we can reach in neutral countries.
The Department of Information is of a temporary nature for the duration of the wai-. I am now setting up a limited central head-quarters in Melbourne. The choice of Melbourne is unavoidable owing to the fact that the Defence and Supply Departments and the Postmaster-General’s Department (which is responsible for communications) are located here. Thus most of the members ot the War Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, will be compelled to spend a great deal of their time in Melbourne. I, in my present position as Minister for External Affairs, must be always in close touch with Mr. Menzies.
Much of the real work of the new depart, ment, however, will be carried out through an honorary council of information and committees to be established in each of the six States, with a small State executive of the department working under r my direction, and nt their service. You aru cordially invited to attend a meeting at which plans will be dismissed for the formation of the council. If you wish to associate with yourself the secre- tary of your organization and any other particular member, they will be warmly welcomed.
These councils will be built up, I hope, of representatives of religious, educational, social, industrial (primary and secondary) business, and other activities on the widest possible basis. In addition a number of outstanding citizens will be co-operated because of their special qualifications as publicists.
A meeting to initiate the formation of the Launceston Council and committees will bc held in King’s Hall, Charles Street, at 3.30 p.m. on Thursday, 30th November. I hope it will be possible for you to attend. If, however, it is not possible, perhaps you would be good enough to arrange for a deputy to represent you.
I will not now attempt to explain the details of the proposed organization, as I do not wish to make this letter unduly long. I should be grateful for advice from you whether I may count on your support. If you will bc accompanied when you attend the meeting, will you please let me know who will be with you.
There are several points in the letter that have given me considerable food for thought. I am wondering how these committees, which are to be appointed in the various States, together with the small councils which are to operate for them, will be kept free from political influence. Apart from that, I cannot understand how these organizations are to be of any use in the issuing of news to the people of Australia or of other countries. The whole organization will be unwieldy, and will be responsible for delaying the presentation of news until it is out of date. It is proposed this year to expend £22,000 on the department, and I cannot see how that expenditure can be justified. It is an axiom among journalists that there is nothing so stale as yesterday’s news, but there will be no hope of getting anything from this department except stale news. I am not making any charge against the Minister. He has been given this job to do, and he is trying to make the best hpcan of it. I have no .doubt that he will put his heart into it, and he is himself a journalist, but I still cannot see how the department will serve any useful purpose. There is no reason why news cannot be circulated through the channels already in existence. The present organization may need a little strengthening, but there is no reason for creating a new department just because it has been done in Great Britain.
I am also strongly opposed to the proposal that the department should be located in Melbourne. The Minister has said that that is necessary because the Departments of Defence and Supply, and the Postmaster-General’s Department, are there. That may sound plausible on the face of it, but the fact is that defence news is, for the most part, subject to severe censorship, and I understand that the Department of External Affairs, which might reasonably be expected to exercise an influence upon this censorship, is to remain in Canberra. It seems to me that the location of the Department of External Affairs in Canberra, and the Department of Information in Melbourne, both under the control of the one Minister, is likely to lead to a great deal of confusion, more than offsetting any possible good that might result from having the Department of Information in the same city as the Departments of Defence and Supply. I have been informed that, because the Department of Information is located in Melbourne there has already been considerable delay in regard to correspondence. Letters have been posted later than the date shown upon them, and’ this, in conjunction with the delay in the preparation of the matter concerned, has resulted in the information reaching the newspapers too late to be of much use. Some of this delay may, of course, be incidental to the creation of a new department, and the trouble may in some degree be remedied when the organization is complete.
I have also been informed that there exists in Canberra a very complete organization for the collection and dissemination of news. All of the metropolitan newspapers have trained staffs in Canberra, and the value of this organization will be largely nullified if the head-quarters of the new department are to be located in Melbourne. I believe it to be true that the quickest and best news cover is to be found in Canberra. After all, this is the National Capital, and I am convinced that this is the place where the new department should be, if there is any reason for having it anywhere. I have on previous occasions raised this question of the location of Commonwealth departments, and this seems to be a particularly appropriate time to bring it forward again when the creation of a new department is in contemplation. I cannot accept without a good deal of reservation the statement of the Minister that it is unavoidable that the Department of Information should have its head-quarters in Melbourne. These are days of rapid communication, and if it is necessary that one centre should keep in touch with another, Melbourne should avail itself of the existing facilities to communicate with Canberra rather than Canberra with Melbourne. News could be despatched more quickly and more efficiently from the Federal press gallery here in Canberra than from anywhere else in Australia. I see no justification for establishing the head-quarters of the new department anywhere other than at Canberra, where it would be near the Department of External Affairs, whose expert officers are trained in the dissemination of news. Therefore, I urge the Government, even at this stage, to reconsider its decision. How can the Minister justify the establishment of the Department of Information in Melbourne since his head-quarters as Minister for External Affairs are in Canberra? There must be divided control.
– I cannot be in two places at once. I should prefer to be in Canberra, if circumstances permitted it.
– That supports my argument that the head-quarters of the Department of Information should be located here.
– Shall I go to Launceston ?
– We do not wish the Minister to establish the Department of Information in that city, but I repeat that its head-quarters should be in the National Capital, where we have the skilled officers of the Department of External Affairs. The Minister should forget that his home is in Melbourne.
– That is unfair. T have lived in Canberra for years at a time, when I have had my department here.
– So many departments and officers are being transferred to Melbourne, and so many members of the Cabinet are Victorians, that there appears to be a desire, even if it be an unconscious one, to concentrate administrative work in Melbourne.
– There is no better place.
– I admit that Melbourne has been well described as the “ Queen city of the South “. Neither am I unmindful that a little over a century ago a resident of Launceston set sail for the mainland of Australia, and when he reached the River Yarra he declared, “ This will be the place for a village”; but that fact does not justify the Government in establishing in Melbourne departments which should he administered from Canberra. I shall not silently acquiesce in any decision to set up a department outside the National Capital, but continue my active opposition to the practice.
.- I do not think that any member of this chamber can accuse me of being an unfair critic of the Government, but I consider that a certain amount of comment is called for in this matter. I am somewhat disappointed at the setting up of this new department, because, in my opinion, the work to be undertaken by it could have been done in and through the Department of External ‘Affairs, which has all the machinery necessary for the purpose. It is staffed by most efficient officers, and I am quite satisfied that the work could have been done successfully through that department. I am not certain that the Government was wise in its choice of the Minister. who is in charge of the Department of Information. I have spent a considerable time this afternoon in reading speeches made by the Minister for Information (.Sir Henry Gullett) during the period when he was out of the Ministry, and I have found no instance of his having had a good word to say about the Government or anything done by it. His criticism of the Ministry was most severe. When he was not a member of the Government, nothing that the Government did was right, and I am afraid that we cannot expect the best results from such a Minister.
Since the establishment of the new department, the Minister has visited the various States, addressed meetings, and formed large committees, but I do not anticipate that much good will come from that. Several weeks ago honorable members were promised that certain information would be supplied to them, but they have looked for it in vain. Prior to the establishment of this department, certain information was posted in our rooms daily by officers of the External Affairs Department, but since then we have had nothing. Any information supplied to us on request has been read by us in the press beforehand. The Government, even at this late stage, would be wise to reconsider its decision to set up this new department, because I do not consider the proposed expenditure to be warranted. The department will cost over £22,000 a year, yet the Department of External Affairs could have carried out the work successfully. If the Government persists in its decision, I am in agreement with the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) that the work should be done from Canberra. I am an advocate for concentrating administrative work in the National Capital. When the seat of Government was transferred to Canberra, every effort should have been made to transfer all Commonwealth administrative activities to this city, and I hope that the Department of Information, if it continues to operate at all, will do so from Canberra.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– We are dealing with a department which has been recently instituted, and which, in its potentialities, can be said to represent one of the most important of the various activities which the Government has set going since the onset of war. It will be acknowledged that it is of the first importance to Australia that not only our own people, but also, indeed, the people of as many countries as we can influence, shall be fully informed about why we are at war, the cause that we seek to defend, the general principles which have influenced us in the manner in which we shall conduct the war, and the kind of world that we shall seek when the war is over. The future of civilization is involved in a proper termination of this war. I use the term “ proper termination “ in order to distinguish what I hope will be the conclusion of this terrible struggle from that which marked the previous one - a settlement which merely sowed bitterness in central Europe and, ultimately, step by step, unloosed all the conditions and passions- which the world had hoped had been overcome as the result of the war that had been fought to end war. I agree that there ought to be in this country an authoritative source of information to the people of Australia and a reliable vehicle to the people of other countries, so that they may know what is being said in Australia and distinguish that which is irresponsibly or speculatively said from that which is authoritatively said. I do not seek in any way to abate the rights of ‘ individuals to state their opinions, but it would be a mistake for the people of other countries to form their judgment as to the public conscience of this nation on any of the number of utterances or articles which all of us can recall as having been said or published even since this war started. Therefore, I am not opposed at all to the establishment of the Ministry of Information in order to make available to our own people and to other peoples what can be said to be authoritative, even official, declarations as to what the facts are.
There are vested interests in this country which may find satisfaction! in the state of war. Indeed there are interests in this country, as in other countries, which seek to make a profit out of war; interests which would be quite satisfied, so long as they were safe themselves, to allow an undue prolongation of the struggle. In standing up for the defence of this nation, I hope that at, least we shall keep in mind that there is in this country, in character if not in magnitude, the same set of circumstances and interests as have in other parts of the world, led to policies and actions which have been detrimental to other countries, and, most certainly detrimental to the larger interests of their own peoples. The Department of Information, therefore, can do a very important work.
I welcome the intention of the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett - it is not his suggestion, as he readily acknowledges - that there shall be shortwave wireless transmissions to other lands and other peoples. I hope that there will be secured by the department competent linguists, who can put to the peoples of those countries, more particularly the countries adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, in understandable terms, matters of great importance to the people of Australia, and that those other peoples in turn will be able to comprehend clearly and constantly that we seek neither territorial nor other gains at their expense; that we do not threaten the proper rights of others; that we respect their title to a place in the sun and only ask that we also be respected. If there is anything in goodwill as an important factor in the securing of world peace, most certainly the preservation of goodwill among the already declared neutrals is one of the most important functions of government, not only as a possible factor in the early termination of the war, but also because of the important strategic consideration of lessening the number of nations with which we may find ourselves at war. Therefore, it is an obligation on the Government to have regular and systematic contact of the right kind with all countries with which we are not now at war, not only in order to minimize the number of opponents that Australia may have to meet, but also to ensure as far as possible that our position will be constantly understood. Thi3 department is to engage in that kind of work and I give it encouragement. I venture to say that if that work be well done we shall do service to Australia; indeed, service to the world.
It has been said that information can lie of two kinds - that it can be national in its character and consist of news, and that it can be propaganda and consist of views. Here we need to be clear-headed. J do not object to a statement to other countries of what would be considered, to be views, provided that there is on the part of the Minister and his officers a clear understanding of what can be said to be the views of the Australian nation. Wo have to distinguish between the special position of political parties and what can he construed reasonably fairly by intelligent commentators as the general position of the Australian people. The broadcast to the peoples of other countries of views as well as news will not only help them to interpret the news, but also will be part of the whole case which we submit to the world at large and to our immediate neighbours in particular. There is an immense field of knowledge which has to be covered in that important activity.
We are at present dependent on the Netherlands East Indies for the greater part of our petrol requirements, and the balance of trade between the Netherlands East Indies and ourselves is against Australia. There is in this nation a very considerable marketable surplus if we could find the ships to transport it, and who knows but that as the result of the general shipping problem of the world it may not be possible for a considerable portion of what otherwise would be unsold primary products to be marketed in the Netherlands East Indies, India, or in the countries which border the Pacific, all being less distant from Australia than the customary markets to which our exports have hitherto been consigned. That is a commercial adjunct to the problem that will arise during the war, with which short-wave stations may be able to deal to our advantage.
When we come to consider the question of information within Australia, I venture to say that there has to be on the part of the Government a meticulous observance of what is due to this Parliament and to the country. In no circumstances must information be coloured in a way of which some of us in other vocations have had practical experience. The department should be the place of appeal by commentators, writers and publicists generally as to the facts upon any particular situation, or the facts relating to the conduct of the war. Everybody knows that the newspapers are privately conducted enterprises with policies which they seek to further and their presentation of news is more or less unconsciously affected by the objectives of their executives. I divulge no secret of the profession that I formerly followed in saying that that is the case, and because that is the case, it is very desirable that from now on the Australian people should be able to look to the Ministry of Information to decide what are the facts as that tremendously disputed and controversial field in which newspapers engage, because even matters that ought to be matters of fact are often exaggerated upwards or depreciated downwards, with the result that it is easy for the reader to gain a wrong impression of the situation.
The press, and nowadays the radio, become tremendously important in time of war, and insofar as government policy affects these instrumentalities which enter into the daily lives and minds of the people we need to lay down clearly what is the function that the Government should discharge. Sir Samuel Hoare, who is a member of the British War Cabinet, said about a year ago that it seemed to him to be essential that the press should continue in wartime. The press meant by Sir Samuel Hoare was the free press, the press which exists for the publication of views that are debatable - not the press that supports the government only or the opposition only. Any reasonably well-conducted newspaper that conforms to the ordinary civil laws ought to bo allowed to carry on in time of war, because in the war the liberty and safety of the people are more at stake than they are in time of peace. There should be no despotic authority over opinions of good citizens in time of war because it is alleged that it is not safe to allow the people to know everything. In a democracy the responsibility for government rests with the executive and the responsibility for authorizing the executive rests with the parliament, and I am not afraid of the opinions of those citizens in Australia who differ from me. I am not fearful of those who have misconceived the situation, and I do not believe that the Australian people are unable to stomach bad news in the conduct of the war, any more than I believe that they would become unduly inflated with what could be but a temporary success. Sir Samuel Hoare went on to say that nothing so much alarmed the country, that is Britain, at the time of the general strike as the absence of news and the inability on the part of the ordinary citizen to know what was going on.
We are, after all is said and done, a free people, but in order properly to exercise our freedom we must have some facts upon which to base our judgment. We must know something about a particular matter that is the subject of public interest in order to decide what we ought to do or will do as individuals - whom we shall support and with what cause we shall ally ourselves. It should be noted that, in this connexion, I use the word “ we “ not in an editorial sense, but to express the popular demand to be informed of the march of events.. The absence of news in time of Avar would create in this country apprehensions which ought not to exist, and might easily constitute a foundation upon which national unity would be very difficult to maintain. Indeed, absence of news might cause national unity to disappear.
Sir Samuel Hoare went on to argue his point by saying that wartime would mean restrictions which would not entirely be connected with censorship itself. Economic problems would dictate the publication of newspapers smaller in size. Therefore the smaller and more independent journals, that is to say, more independent of conventional views, would have greater difficulty in surviving. Thus the newspaper sources of information open to the public would tend to become less, in the sense that news could not he made available because it was wartime, and war conditions also lessened the supply of general neWS. Sir Samuel Hoare went on to deal with the censorship of news in peacetime, to which, he said, he was strongly opposed. He added that it was important that his views should be stated then, because in time of war it Avas very probable that not very much notice would be taken of him. He then said -
Even in wartime I should like to see the censorship worked upon lines that are in harmony with our general conception of the place that the press should occupy in our national life, as a platform and a safety valve for purification and an independent bulwark of the public morale.
The Minister for Information has signified his acquiescence in that declaration. Therefore, I very much regret that I have to bring to his notice a recent violation of that general principle by the department which he administers. On Friday last there arose, at the camp at Woodside, in South Australia, a matter which was considered by those concerned to require ventilation. I have since represented this particular subject to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Street), and I shall not deal with it at length now, but it related to a matter which, in- the interim, has been greatly altered. This submission was made, in the first place, to my very able colleague in the Labour movement, the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of South Australia, the Honorable R. S. Richards. Mr. Richards, believing that it was important that the matter should be ventilated, made a statement to the press of Adelaide on Saturday. On .Saturday night a newspaper called the Mail is published in that city. Mr. Richards also made a statement to a representative of The Advertiser, the next issue of which was not published until the Monday morning. I understand that although The Advertiser this morning published a version of what Mr. Richards said, his statement was first completely censored and later partially censored. That is to say, it was completely suppressed for a period. I
Avas for so long associated Avith the press and had such an intimate experience of the censorship in what I prefer to describe as a previous incarnation, so long ago Avas it, that I know that when a newspaper says that it has not suppressed something it means that it has allowed a part of it to be published subsequently; therefore there has not been a total suppression. Thus I say that this statement by Mr. Richards Avas completely suppressed for a while and then partially suppressed. The matter did not relate to any news that would he of significance to the enemy ; it did not relate to any treasonable activity in Australia.
– To what did it refer ?
– It referred to the conditions obtaining in respect of men going on leave before being transferred to the East for training in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force. That is a matter of first importance and it should be dealt with on its merits. The question of whether proper transport facilities were provided is a matter for decision by the Minister. Most certainly it is one for representation by members of this Parliament if complaints are made, and it should not be withheld from the knowledge of the Australian people. I must add that the Minister for the Army took action when I brought the matter to his notice.
– It has been fixed.
– As the honorable gentleman says, it has been fixed. But it would not have been fixed by now if I had not been told about it, or if my friend, the Leader of the Opposition in South Australia, had not been told about it. I am not aware of what is going on in many places throughout Australia, but apparently some people have a certain amount of confidence in my willingness to represent cases that have merit in them, and in that way matters of this kind come to my notice by a roundabout route. There was no cause for the censorship to jump down on that item of news about the Woodside camp; I draw attention to it at this early stage in the life of the Department of Information because it affects the censorship aspect of the Minister’s work, and because the kind of news made available to the Australian public will determine whether or not this important department is functioning in a way that will meet with the approbation of this Parliament. I give to the Minister the utmost credit for sincerity in hoping and desiring that his department will function properly; but I cannot help recalling to mind my indirect victimization by the censorship during the last war. I do not mind admitting that a Labour Prime Minister was in office for a considerable portion of that period. Speaking in London in August, 1917, that Prime Minister, the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes, was reported to have said -
In his capacity as a Minister in Australia it had been his duty to impose restrictions on the press. He had neverbeen able to convince the press of the necessity for these restrictions; and indeed, in his own most positive moments, he had doubts about them himself. Through him the Australian press censor had his being. But he had never been able to understand the working of the censor’s mind. Nor, often, could the Australian editors. That was their grievance.
That statement was made by the present Attorney-General after three years’ experience of the censorship working under his own administration, and after the most extraordinary exhibitions by himself of ruthless interference with public opinion, from about September, 1916, until the time of his arrival in London.
In 1917, the British Government appointed commissioners to inquire into industrial unrest in certain areas - T point out to the House that this is not irrelevant, because it relates to the manner in which the public are deprived of news - and the commissioners, in a report published in the debates of the House of Commons on the 2nd December, 1920, said-
The Government have all through been toomuch afraid of the public; they have not realized how solid and unbroken is the determination to finish the war, and they seem to have been led by a few spasmodic outbreaks and irresponsible utterances to the opinion that there was a dangerous element who might misuse any information it obtained.
That view was expressed this afternoon by the Leader of the Country party (Mr. Archie Cameron), who said that the public should not be given all of the information available. The commissioners went on to say -
The result has been that the public has been kept in the dark, not only on military matters, but on matters on which no necessity for secrecy existed.
When 1 recall what took place under the censorship in Australia during the last war - I notice that the Minister is frowning; obviously he has the same outlook-
– My frown had no relation to what the honorable gentleman was saying.
– I could frown about the censorship myself, and I did frown about it almost daily during the last war. It cost this country £175,000. Approximately 500 persons were employed under the censor and the maximum number employed in any one year was 187 in 1918. In April, 191S, the then Minister for Defence, Sir George Pearce, had been so upbraided by the press generally that he called a conference at which it was my duty to be present. My political views represented an infinitesimal minority among the gentlemen associated with that conference; I say that straight away. Only three of us could be said to adhere in any way to the views held by honorable gentlemen who sit on this side of the House. All of the other editors who attended that conference represented newspapers which, by and large, gave a general and, indeed, in most instances, a whole-hearted support to the Government. A sub-committee appointed by the conference drew up a report which, in the words of “Professor Ernest Scott, compiler of the Official History of Australia in the War, “ practically all its members unanimously affirmed “. That report stated -
That the only proper function of the press censorship is to prevent the publication of matters that might be of naval or military value to the enemy, offensive to an ally, or likely to embroil us with a friendly power.
I subscribe to that declaration. That ought to be the proper function of a censorship. The sub-committee then presented a finding, which the conference adopted, couched in the following terms : - lt protests against the use of censorship for political purposes, and further declares that the employment of the censorship to prevent publication of matter which, in the opinion of the censor, is calculated to prejudice recruiting, has itself become highly prejudicial to recruiting by hindering the redress of grievances.
That is the point to which I return in relation to the matter which arose at the Woodside camp. “ By hindering the redress of grievances “, may be expounded in the following way: by not allowing the public to know that there are grievances, by therefore making it difficult for public men or members of Parliament to take action, because they may not know or, if knowing, may not have sufficient public opinion formed behind them to redress that grievance, the Government being adamant either owing to financial considerations or for other reasons. The very fact that there is unvoiced discontent, unvoiced because it is prevented from being stated to the public, is itself a core around which national division and national disunity are certain to germinate. At this early stage it is desirable to put on record our experience and our deductions from our previous knowledge of the censorship, so that the Minister and his officers may have a clear conception of what they owe to the Parliament and the country. As the Minister himself has said, this very important department is as yet experimental. When we had our last experience of the censorship approximately 1843 newspapers and periodicals were being published regularly in Australia. The number is somewhat smaller to-day. Many newspapers and periodicals will not require any aid from the Department of
Information, but others, anxious to avoid the publication of misstatements or inaccuracies, will appeal to it for assistance. It is, therefore, of the first importance that the department shall be soundly staffed and that its work shall be done with a maximum of expedition. The Minister realizes that he is dealing with news. It is perfectly true that news 24 hours old loses its vitality and that rapidity in the collection and presentation of news is essential. News, hot news-
– Hot news is unsafe news!
– I mean, of course, hot news that has been verified. That is of value. I am moved to make these remarks because a little of the data which the department seems to be distributing has reached me. I take it that the matter to which I refer came to me from the Ministry for Information. It may, of course, have come from the Ministry for External Affairs.
– I cannot say unless the Leader of the Opposition shows it to me.
– Exactly. The effectiveness of the work of this department will depend greatly upon whether the news is made available quickly or otherwise.
One of the activities of the department adumbrated in the Minister’s statement was voluntary work. The honorable gentleman said that a good deal of the work was being carried out by honorary councils in the State.
– That is for distribution purposes only.
– Does the Minister mean that these councils are concentrating on the distribution of leaflets?
– No; not necessarily. There are various organizations which have held meetings, and so on.
– I am not quite sure what the Minister intends to convey, but I know that he has called meetings of a great variety of organizations in the various capital cities. As the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) stated, the president of a musical society was invited to attend one meeting. In many places throughout Australia representatives of a great variety of organizations have been invited to attend meetings at which the Minister or the principal officer of his department in the State, or some other officer, has delivered an address. I have not attended any of these meetings, hut I have read reports of them.
– Full reports of the various meetings have been published.
– I have read some of the reports, and all I can gather from them is that a speech had been made in which it was stated in effect that the Minister had declared, as he has declared in the House, that it was the purpose of his department to make available the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It was said that the department was concerned in the effectual presentation of reliable news of occurrences at home and abroad, so that the Australian public would always have available a complete knowledge of events. That is the sort of speech that one would expect to be delivered at such a place. But the Minister is making a mistake if he expects, by the organizing of public assemblages of this kind, to distribute information effectively. His department should confine its attention to the supplying of information to newspapers, radio stations, and so on. Educational authorities, university professors, and others in like circumstances should be kept informed. The motion picture interests might also be kept in mind, if we include them among the educational instrumentalities. If the department were to keep such interests as those informed it would do much more effective work than it will do by using its machinery to whip up people to public meetings in order to hear addresses or receive pamphlets for distribution. [Leave to continue given.]
If the department confined itself to the issue of reliable data and to documentation for the guidance of newspapers, radio stations and the like, as well as to publicists who desire to make speeches or to write articles, we should be assured that these authorities would have what we call “ the bones of the thing”. In other words, their speeches or articles could be relied upon as to facts and statistics. Persons who wish to make speeches or write articles on, for example, the relations between
Britain and Poland, or Britain and Belgium, should be able to go to the department for information. They should also be able to obtain from it authentic information on such a matter as the latest “ lineup “ of neutrals. If the department were to devote its attention to matters of the kind I have indicated it could perform a useful service.
I put it to the Minister that the only points upon which I have profound discontent are the whipping up of people to public meetings and the entrusting of the work of his department to honorary councils. I agree with the honorable member for Bourke that it is far better that the censorship should be entrusted to a civilian department than to the Defence Department.
– The honorable gentleman went back on that.
– I think he said something to the effect that the exception he made was in relation to the Minister, but that was only after he became annoyed.
I conclude with the reflexion that it is not new for Australia to experience a censorship, and it is not new for us to see newspapers used for the purposes of propaganda as to the activities of governments during the conduct of a war. I believe that a Department of Information may serve a very reliable purpose internally in that it may be a source of authoritative news and impartial in the presentation of facts to the people. It can be, too, a channel through which the view of Australia may be conveyed to overseas countries. I conclude by a quotation from John Milton, who, in 1644, wrote -
Give me liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberty.
Those words should be written up as a slogan in the office of every censor acting under the authority of this department.
.- We are discussing a statement of the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett). After listening to the contributions that have been made to this debate, not only by members of the Opposition, but also by some members on the Government side of the House, it would appear that this new department has been wrongly named. lt should have been termed the department for the suppression of information. Probably a still more suitable name for it would be the United Australia party war propaganda committee. That, at any rate, would be a correct definition of it. The only thing that 1 can say in favour of the department is that possibly the Minister in charge would be no more usefully employed if he were in charge of any other department.
The people undoubtedly regard this new department as a public joke. This is the first occasion, I believe, on which we have been told that a public department should be dependent to a very great extent on voluntary help. The Minister for Information has engaged a bevy of Melbourne society belles to do the work. These women, according to the Minister, are employed in a voluntary capacity, because the nature of the work is such as to make it impracticable to employ persons regularly. So far as I can understand, the only information that the department has disseminated is that contained in speeches of members of the Government. I cannot imagine how work of that kind can possibly become urgent. If there is real work to be done the Government should give it to people to do on a regular basis. If these society belles in Melbourne are anxious to render some service to the Government or the country they should offer themselves to some voluntary organization such as the Red Cross Society. Any work which the Department of Information has to do and which requires the services of girls should be given to girls who are in need of work.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) that, so far, the chief concern of this department seems to have been to popularize war. Nothing which is considered to tend towards the prevention, or the hindering, of the Government’s war policy receives any consideration whatever from this department. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) raised the question of whether the activities of the department should be discharged as at present or as a branch of the Defence Department. Personally, I believe that the officers of both the Defence Department and the Department of Information are liable to abuse any power given to them. If there is one thing that we should be morecareful about than another at present, it is that the liberties of the country and the right of free speech of the peopleshall be preserved. People should be permitted to express their opinions freely, even though they may happen to be hostile to the Government.
We had an illustration recently of the manner in which this department misuses its powers. An industrial dispute occurred, involving some Lascar seamen, who had left their employment in Sydney, not because they were anxious to prevent the Government from proceeding with its war plans, but merely because they thought that, in view of the additional risk they were called upon to take by going to sea, they were entitled to some additional remuneration, and in cases where it was desired to be returned to their home port. When these requests were refused they left their vessels. The Department of Information prevented the publication of information about the dispute. When the Minister for Information was asked some questions on the subject in this House he said the dispute was due, not to unsatisfied demands for an increase of wages, but to the operations of certain sinister influences which were seeking to foment trouble and were hostile to the continued prosecution of the war. The Minister said that he had evidence to this effect in his possession, but when he was asked to make it available to honorable members he evaded the issue. He will, doubtless, continue to evade the issue by meeting all requests to release the information with the reply that “ the matter is still under consideration “. It will, of course, remain under consideration until Parliament goes into recess. 1 shall indicate the extremes to which these gentlemen can go. When I asked the Prime Minister who was responsible for the appointment of the gentlemen, engaged in censorship work, and from whom they were to accept their directions - whether directions were to be given to them solely by the Commonwealth authorities - the right honorable gentleman said he would make inquiries. So far, I have not received that information from him. But on this point I am able to give to the
House some information which was given to me by a gentleman who, I assume, was appointed to the censorship staff by the Commonwealth Government. The censorship has been divided into two sections, one dealing with publications and the other with communications. Those engaged in the second section recently interfered with the transmission through the post of certain matter which was duly stamped and accepted for transmission. I referred the matter to Professor Nicholson, who is in charge of the communications sections of the Censorship Branch in Sydney. I asked him whether this particular matter had been seized and prevented from being transmitted through the post, and, if so, why had the department taken such action. He replied that he Avas not able to give me that information, and added that he was not obliged to give it. I said, “ Surely you are able to tell me if certain action has been taken, and the reason for such action.” Professor Nicholson insisted that he was unable to give me that information. I then asked him, “ Who instructed you not to give any information concerning action taken by your branch?” He replied that they were British instructions. I then said, “ Did you say that they were British instructions? “ He replied, “ Yes, instructions from the British authorities “. I then said, “ This is Australia. Do instructions from the British Government apply in the Commonwealth of Australia ? “ He replied, “ Yes, they apply in every part of the British Empire.” I wish to know whether the Minister is aware of what is happening in regard to the whole of the activities of his department, and, if so, whether it is a fact that these men arc receiving instructions from the British Government in addition to those given to them by the Commonwealth Government. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) pointed out this afternoon, that two sets of instructions had been issued in regard to censorship. One was an order which was published in the Gazette. Evidently, as the honorable member said, that order was meant for public consumption. The Minister stated that he had no knowledge of the second set of instructions, but the honorable member for Bourke said that he had seen them. We must conclude, therefore, that they exist. What honorable members are anxious to know is whether the second set of instructions referred to by the honorable member for Bourke are those to which Professor Nicholson referred as having been issued by the British Government. Honorable members can appreciate the dangerous position into which we are drifting in regard to censorship, particularly those honorable members who talk so much about the necessity for defending democratic principles, including the right of free speech. In order to show in what way these powers are likely to be abused, I shall give the Minister an instance of what happened only to-day in regard to the activities of his department. Questions were asked of the Prime Minister regarding a circular which had been distributed to honorable members concerning naval conditions. The Prime Minister replied, and later made a statement to the press elaborating the reply which he gave in this House. After the statement had been given to the press, however, the Censor prevented the newspapers from publishing it in full. That indicates the state of affairs into which we are drifting in this country. We are supposed to have democratic government. We do not know who has been responsible for the appointment of these gentlemen; yet we are told that the only way in which this department is to exercise its powers is in preventing the enemy from getting information likely to assist him. Would the Minister suggest that the Prime Minister would make a carefully prepared statement to the press which would contain anything likely to hinder the successful prosecution of the war ? On the other hand, is the suppression of the Prime Minister’s statement an early indication of the extremes to which these gentlemen can go in order to curtail freedom of speech in this country? When the National Security Act was going through this House, assurance after assurance was given by Ministers, including the Prime Minister, that civil liberties would not be interfered with beyond what was absolutely necessary. *I should like the Prime Minister now to inform_the House whether he believes that these powers are being abused. Although the Censor has determined that the Prime Minister’s statement should be censored, the right honorable gentleman himself, so far as I am aware, has not yet withdrawn that statement. Evidently he still believes that his statement is completely in order.
I rose merely in order to make a few observations in regard to this department, because I agree with quite a number of honorable members that expenditure in this direction is useless.
– And dangerous.
– Y - Yes, and dangerous. I have been waiting patiently to hear an authoritative statement on behalf of the department as to what is happening overseas. Only to-day, I read a statement in the Argus attributed to Lord Raglan, late of the Grenadier Guards, who was attached to the Department .of Information in England. He said that he was sick and tired of wasting his time. He had been given a few books to read, and was asked if he wanted assistance. He decided to resign, because he realized that the activities of the department were sheer waste. The Minister has called together representatives of various interests in the different States to gatherings, which one might liken to United Australia party mothers’ meetings; at these assemblies he voiced meaningless phrases, after which all had a cup of tea. Such gatherings were merely so much show. If he takes as long to give us our first authoritative statement in regard to what is happening in this war as he did to write his portion of the official history of the last war, then this conflict will be over before we get that statement. When is the department to commence to function? For how much longer must the public wait for an authoritative statement from the Minister? So far, the activities of the department have been sheer waste. The sooner honorable members become alive to the necessity for abolishing it, and bringing about a proper organization of whatever machinery may be really necessary for a censorship of news, the better it will be for all of us. Is the Government’s intention merely to build up some bureaucratic machine in this country which will be supreme even over Parliament itself? As these gentlemen have already stifled the voice of the Prime Minister, we can imagine what action they would take in respect of a private member. Honorable members who believe in democratic government, and in defending the liberties which they allege they enjoy in this country, should realize that those liberties are rapidly being filched from them by this Fascist-minded Government. They should ascertain exactly what is happening in regard to this department. They should insist on the fullest information being given to them. They should not be satisfied with replies of the kind which the Minister has so far attempted to put across in this House, in which he says that requests will receive consideration and that certain statements made by honorable members are untrue. A mere assertion by the Minister that a statement is untrue does not prove that it is not true. To-day, I asked a question with regard to the use of government cars by the volunteer workers to whom I have referred, and the Minister replied that the cars were not being used by those people. If honorable members wish to know the truth of the matter, they should ask for a complete statement in regard to it.
– The honorable member referred to limousines.
– If the Minister says that they were not limousines-
– Nor any other kind of car.
– I challenge the Minister to furnish a complete statement- to the House with regard to the use of government cars. If that is done, honorable members will find that many cars have been booked up in the Minister’s own name for the use of volunteer workers.
– I flatly deny that.
– The Minister’s denial means nothing. If the Minister wishes to disprove my statement, let him produce, for the examination of honorable members, a complete record of the use of government cars in recent months.
– The honorable member’s statement is utterly untrue.
– I urge honorable members to exercise the greatest vigilance and care with regard to this department. If they make inquiries regarding the activities of these particular gentlemen, I think they will agree that the greatest service they can do to the people of Australia is to abolish this department, which is being used merely as a medium for the dissemination of United Australia party war propaganda.
– It appears to me that this department is divided into two sections, one dealing with censorship, and the other with information. So far as the first section is concerned, certain progress has beer made. An organization has been set up, and certain forms of censorship have been applied. Much debate has taken place on that point. Various honorable members have given to the House their knowledge of the application of the censorship, and have dealt with the history of censorship generally. We are aware of the abuses of censorship. .We are mindful also of its threats to freedom of speech. Most honorable members, in the course of their public careers, have experienced the hand of the censor. I have not been immune from experiences of that kind. However, as that aspect of the censorship has been fully dealt with by honorable members, I do not propose to dwell upon it. I intend to make a few observations with regard to the information section of this new department. This branch will experience great difficulty in the distribution of news in competition with the daily newspapers and other publications which have at their disposal world-wide organizations for the collection of news. Newspaper enterprises have such wide ramifications, enjoy so great an influence, and possess such efficient means for the collection of details from various parts of the world that it would be almost impossible for any other organization to compete with them. I do not know whether the Minister hopes to be able to compete with the press, bu’t I scarcely think that that can be the intention of the Government. Indeed, I do not think that it would be possible for the new department to supply to the public information in regard to happenings overseas more quickly than is the case at present.
– Hear, hear!
– In addition to the dissemination of news by means of news papers and the radio, knowledge of current events is conveyed to the public by well-informed commentators, whose specialized knowledge of history, geography and economics enables them to make valuable deductions from happenings in Europe and elsewhere. Therefore, it appears to me that if the department did attempt to compete with the existing facilities it would not be in the race at all.
– Hear, hear!
– We should look at this matter in a practical way, and not expect from this department information available from other sources which it cannot supply. Circumstances have changed greatly since the war of 1914-18. 1 understand that information as to the movements and proposals of countries ruled by dictators is not available in the same degree as it was in. the past. In Germany, for instance, it is not now the custom for those in power to indicate their intentions, as in a democracy the Government informs the parliament of its purpose and obtains its approval before final action is taken. Rather is it found that, under a dictatorship, final decisions are determined by a few persons, and consequently the sources of information which previously existed are not now available. Indeed, in many instances no indication of the Governments intention is given until action has been actually taken. But when something does happen, the agencies which exist for ‘ the acquiring and the dissemination of news cause the facts to be flashed across the world; news which, a quarter of a century ago, would have been sent by cablegram is now dispatched by the almost instantaneous medium of radio, so that within a few hours of any important event taking place the whole world hears of it. So great has been the advance in the spread of information during the last two decades that even if the Government were to devote all of its energy to this new department, I believe that it would be outdistanced entirely by other agencies.
I desire to show in what ways the new department may serve a useful purpose. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr.
Blackburn) said that there was certain work which it might do. The Minister must appreciate that members of the Opposition fear that the department will be used to justify whatever policy the Government decides upon in the conduct of the war. At the moment, the heat and passion which were associated with the previous war have not been engendered to any considerable degree. Certainly, boiling point has not yet been reached. So far, there has been no great agitation, and consequently the differences between the Government and its opponents Iia ve not yet fully developed; But we do not know what the future may hold in this connexion. Naturally, the Government will seek to justify its policy, but the course followed by it may be entirely wrong in the view of many persons in the community. The Government may take action of which the Opposition strongly disapproves. Time alone will prove whether that will be so or not; but the Minister should have regard to the fact that many honorable members on this side of the chamber have vivid recollections of what happened between 1914 and 191S. Some of them suffered a good deal at the hands of the then Government for their courage in expressing views which conflicted with that Government’s intentions. Honorable members cannot be expected to have forgotten the sufferings and hardships which they and others endured at that time, and for that reason the Government should not be astonished if they fear that such things may happen again. Now is the time to express such fears in the hope that there will not be a recurrence of former happenings, for what happened before can happen again.
I wish now to make some suggestions as to the way in which the department may make information available to various sections of the community. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) spoke of meetings which had been called in the various States to discuss this subject, and the Minister said that the purpose of the meetings was to arrange the organization whereby information could be made available through the various organizations represented at such gatherings. Certain sections of the community are interested in the war only, or particularly, as it affects them. For instance, many trade unionists are concerned with any possible action of the Government in the industrial field which may affect their employment. The new department would render a great service if it supplied full information of the Government’s intentions in regard to industry generally. It may be said that it is not desirable for the Government to disclose any detailed intentions in regard to such matters as the building of .ships and aeroplanes, but it appears to me that much good might result if some pronouncement on these and kindred subjects were made, so that the trades which would be called upon to supply the necessary skilled labour could plan accordingly.
– No agency could do that better than the press.
– Statements made in the press sometimes are not sufficiently authoritative to convey conviction. We frequently read of the Government’s intentions in certain directions, only to be told later in some official pronouncement that the report is incorrect. Personally, I do not readily accept unauthorized statements which I read in the press, and it is for that reason that I have frequently advocated that pronouncements of Government policy should be made in the Parliament. Should the Government embark on a policy of aircraft construction, skilled labour of various kinds will be necessary. Some time will elapse in obtaining men possessing the requisite skill. The men may be in Australia, but they may be scattered, some in north Queensland, others, perhaps, in Western Australia or Tasmania. If it were known that the Government intended to embark on such a programme, and that certain skilled labour was required, those concerned could plan accordingly, and thereby avoid any attempt that may be made for the dilution of labour to which the trade unions are opposed. Proper planning and organizing would avoid many difficulties. Of my own experience I can speak of the lack of proper planning by the Government in connexion with some of its undertakings. I have in mind particularly naval construction and matters affecting the metal trade industries. Authoritative information on such matters would be of great value to the particular sections of the community concerned, and would prove of real benefit in the crisis.
It may be that the new department will function as a clearing house for information of various kinds. Regular memoranda containing necessary information could be issued to the various departments. During the recent parliamentary recess I found it impossible to obtain from the Department of Commerce definite information regarding wool appraisements, the storage of wool, the movements of ships and tugs, appointment of staff, and so on.’ I could not ascertain even the name of the secretary of the State Wool Committee, his address, or the powers vested in him, nor could I learn by what means representations to that body could be made by persons who desired either to dispose of their .products or to obtain information. Probably other honorable members had a like experience, and it- may be that in respect of other departments also a similar state of affairs existed. The dissemination of this type of information by the new department would be of great importance, in view of the tremendous powers now vested in the Government by the National Security Act. Almost every day regulations are made by some Minister pursuant to the authority conferred upon him by that statute, which permits certain decisions to be made and matters of policy to be implemented which formerly would have required special legislation by the Parliament. As the result of the exercise of powers which the Government has taken to itself we do not know what problems we are up against until we receive complaints from our constituents. This practice has resulted in dissatisfaction and confusion among the people generally. A matter which might well be considered by the Minister for Information is the coordination by his department of information regarding the activities of the various departments, boards and committees established by the Government. Grave dissatisfaction exists in regard to tenders for equipment for governmental purposes, because of the inability of prospective tenderers to secure copies of specifications from the local Tender Board. A few weeks ago a Sydney firm was invited to submit a quote for certain telegraphic requirements of the Government. The intimation that a quote was desired reached them for the first time on Saturday, and they were informed that the tender was to be in Melbourne on the following Tuesday. When they applied to the Tender Board for a copy of the specifications, they found that no copy was available, nor was a copy to be had from the Ordnance Branch of the Defence Department. But for representations made by me that the time for quoting should be extended for 48 hours the Sydney firm would not have had an opportunity to submit a price. This incident gave rise to a good deal of dissatisfaction and created in the mind of this firm an impression that the work was being cornered by people nearer to head-quarters. I have no wish to drag into this discussion the exercise of Melbourne influence, but that was certainly put forward as a reason why the Sydney firm was not given a proper opportunity to submit a price in this instance.
Apart from the dissemination of actual war news, the Department of Information could perform a very valuable service, not only to members of Parliament whose duty it is’ to serve their constituents as best .they can, but also to those interested in government contracts, such as business firms and trade union workers, if complete information regarding all phases of government activities were co-ordinated in the various branches of the department. For instance, the department should be able to supply full details regarding the marketing of primary products - wool, wheat, hides, skins, beef, lamb and mutton - the control of which now rests almost entirely in the hands of a multiplicity of boards and committees set up by the Government. What chance has the average primary producer interested in dried fruits, butter, hides, skins, or any other commodity to obtain information which would enable him to determine whether or not he is getting a fair deal in regard to the prices at which his commodity is sold, and a fair share of the markets available for its disposal? Instructions could be issued to the heads of all Com- monwealth departments to supply the Department of Information with the fullest details of every move, decision and activity of boards or committees operating under government control. For instance, what does the average wool-grower know of the ramifications of the Central Wool Committee? Are we expected to go - to the Central Wool Committee in Melbourne or to the State committees to ascertain what is being done in certain directions?
– If the honorable member did so, the Central Wool Committee could not tell him because its members are under an oath of secrecy.
– Secrecy should not be carried so far as it is to-day. That point, however, has still to be argued.
– It could not bc argued successfully.
– That is so. The information that these boards and committees could supply would be very valuable, and if they were compelled to make periodic reports on their activities such reports would have a restraining influence on their operations. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) referred to-night to the censorship imposed under the ‘National Security Act. From what the honorable gentleman has said, it appears that a public officer has been exercising power which he is not entitled to exercise. It may be that a similar position exists with regard to many of these boards and committees ; they may be making decisions” and issuing instructions regarding certain matters, thus altering the whole course of events, by the wrongful use of power. The great danger is that powers may be delegated to these boards and committees greater than those possessed by the Parliament. The only way to impose a check on their activities is to provide that all regulations made by them within the ambit of the power conferred upon them shall be available at some given centre.
.- The Department of Information is one of the greatest jokes I have ever known. Two or three of the so-called informative leaflets sent out by the department which I have seen have merely contained a rehash of the news published in the daily press some days before. Before the department was established it was the practice for the Prime Minister to make statements to the House regarding the international situation; but those statements were only a re-hash of items that had already been published in the press. One means of eliciting information is the asking of questions in the House. To-day I addressed the following question, upon notice, to the Minister for Information : -
Does lie approve of the action of the censor in opening letters from honorable members of this House addressed to persons in other parts of the British Empire?
The answer given by. the Minister was -
Postal censorship is based on regulations which are uniform throughout the Empire, and only government and diplomatic mail is exempted therefrom.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) stated to-night that Professor Nicholson, of the New South Wales Censorship staff, said that he could not disclose certain information because instructions not to do so had come from Great Britain. Where were these postal censorship regulations first framed; how did they become Empire-wide; and what proof have we that they are, in fact, uniform throughout the Empire? I do not swallow the Minister’s statement too easily, because I know that the various dominions exercise a good deal of discrimination in regard to the procedure they adopt. The answer given by the Minister is typical of the information supplied to honorable members by the Government.
– Without opening a. letter it is difficult to tell whether it is in fact sent by a member of this House.
– People outside of this Parliament do not go to the federal members’ rooms, write letters and post them there. I have yet to learn that unauthorized persons make use of stationery provided for members of this Parliament. If a letter is enclosed in an official envelope issued to honorable members surely that is sufficient to show that it contains a letter written by a member of this Parliament. Is it suggested that unauthorized persons would use official envelopes provided for honorable members? The Minister expresses no opinion as to that; he merely says that the postal censorship is based on regulations uniformly adopted throughout the Empire. Like the statement made by the New South Wales Censor in reply to a question by the honorable member for East Sydney, the Minister suggests that this policy is dictated from the centre of the Empire. It is interesting to note that some busybody, who has no right to do so, is permitted to read a letter sent by a member of this House to a friend in another dominion. Any member of this House who swears allegiance to His Majesty the King should not have his letters censored. I have been asked if I know of more than one instance in which a member’s letter has been censored. I hope I shall never hear of another case.
– I could cite an instance of a letter addressed to a member of the Australian Cabinet being opened by the British censor.
– That may be the source from which the Government got the idea. It may be that the British censor had good reason for doing so. We have been told by the Prime Minister on more than one occasion that the rights of the individual would not be suppressed by any form of censorship unless, in exercising them, he was doing something which may be of value to the enemy. A portion of an article which appeared in a recent issue of Common Cause, the journal of the Coalminers Federation was excised at the direction of the Censor. That passage merely pointed out that it was necessary to organize in such a way as to bring about at the conclusion of hostilities a better state of affairs than obtained after the last war. After representations had been made by the honorable member for East Sydney, the Prime Minister admitted that he did not approve of the action of the Censor in that instance. What action is taken by the Censor with regard to news commentaries broadcast over the air? Night after night statements such as those which were excised from Common Cause are made by the “ Watchman “ and Dr. Louat, of 2GB, Sydney. Both of these gentlemen have repeatedly urged the need for organization for the peace, but no attempts have been made by the Censor to restrain them. I say that censorship is a very dangerous thing. I am not enamoured of any kind of censorship, though I recognize that it may be necessary to prevent the publication of certain information that might be of real value to the enemy. Once a censorship is established, however, it does not content itself with the suppression of information of that kind ; it suppresses matter that could very well be published. During the last few days it was frequently - reported that the German battleship *Deutschland had been sunk. The report has been affirmed and denied half a dozen times, until now we do not know what the truth is. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) surprised me by saying that, even if the report were true, it might be unwise to publish it. Why, I ask, should that be so? The British Government does not hesitate to publish the number of ships that have been sunk by mines and submarines, or to inform the public regarding the ships that have been scuttled by the Germans. Therefore I see no reason why we should not have been told the truth about the Deutschland. I believe that the public should be told the truth; they cannot be told too much. They would be better citizens, and would have a fuller sense of their responsibilities if the authorities took them into their confidence. There is too much secrecy and humbug at the present time. If they were allowed to know the truth, the people would be the better for it, and the Government would be none the worse. I have a great admiration for the people of this country. They can take a knock if it is coming’ to them, and there is no reason why the Government should try to pamper them. I know something about the censorship that operated in Australia during the period 1914-18. I know that whole columns of the Daily Standard, the Labour newspaper published in Brisbane, were sometimes blacked out by order of the censor. There was not even time to re-print the paper. Some of the matter that was suppressed at that time would make interesting reading if it were published now. In the Queensland Parliament, reference was made to certain things that took place at that time, and those references were published in Hansard No. 37. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister, and he threatened that any one who re-published those statements would be arrested. The threats were not carried out, but there was tremendous agitation over the matter at the time, and during the disturbance “ Billy “ was hit on the head with the famous egg at Warwick. There is no need for censorship of that kind. Stupid and prejudiced suppression of opinion achieves no purpose, and merely serves to arouse ill feeling. I am opposed to censorship of any kind, but if the Government has made up its mind that the people are not sufficiently grown up to be entrusted with the whole truth, then the censorship should have only a very limited application. The great bulk of the work done by the censorship department achieves no useful purpose whatsoever. The Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett) has told us that the work is being done by an honorary staff. He denied the statement by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that certain activities had been carried out at the cost of the department, and the Minister would he well advised to disprove the honorable member’s statements if he is able to. If he can show the statement to be false he will have demonstrated that the honorable member for East Sydney has been telling lies, and is a man who is not worth listening to. I do not believe, however, that the Minister will be able to disprove the statement. I have not a great deal of confidence in ministerial assertions. For instance, the Postmaster-General answered a recent question of mine in part only, saying that it would be dangerous to give all information.
– I said that it would affect the person concerned.
– The Minister gave that excuse for withholding information, notwithstanding the fact that I had been supplied with it in answer to questions covering the last twelve years.
– I said that if the honorable member could show me that he had been supplied with similar information on previous occasions, I would furnish it this time.
– I cannot see why I should be put to the trouble of writing letters to the Minister to prove the point when he has all the information available in his own department. My complaint is that the Minister allows his department to he run by officials, instead of running it himself. Of course, I know why the information is not being supplied on this occasion. The rent of the old shack has been raised, and there is no other place to which the post office can be removed. I have no patience with being told that it is unwise to supply certain information publicly, but that the file will be laid on the table and may be perused by honorable members. In nine cases out of ten there is no reason in the wide world why the information should not be published.
We have to rely on the public press for information regarding what is taking place overseas, and we are often told that we cannot take too much notice of what appears in the press, the suggestion being that the Government is the sole fount of authoritative information. Then, weeks later, a re-hash of the news that has appeared in the papers over the intervening period is solemnly dished out by the department as something new. That is only wasting time. If this Department of Information is not able to supply us with anything better than this periodical re-hash of neAvspaper stories, there is no justification for its existence at all. If it can supply us with information not available from other sources, well and good ; otherwise let the newspapers do the job. Recently, the honorable member for East Sydney asked a question of the Prime Minister, who supplied an answer, and then, later, gave a more lengthy statement on the same subject to the press. The censor, however, got to work on the statement which had been issued to the press, with the result that it did not appear. What was the sense of that? Surely no one will accuse !the Prime Minister of having made public information that would be of use to the enemy. It would appear that there is some one influencing the censorship who is of more importance even than the Prime Minister - some one, perhaps, who has been sent here from Great Britain.
.- After listening to the Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett) I am not satisfied that this new department will be used, not to provide information, but to suppress it. I realize, of course, that during wartime certain information that might be of use to the enemy should not be published, ibut once a censorship is set up, it can be very easily abused. During the last war, the censorship operated very harshly, and I hope there will be no repetition of those abuses on this occasion. The Minister does not impress me as a person who is disposed to be fair to the political opponents of the Government, and I am afraid that the department will be used to suppress the opinions of those who differ politically from . the Government. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are regarded in all democracies as things of the utmost importance, and they should be guarded jealously. I am afraid that these organizations which Lave been set up in the capital cities by the Minister to work in conjunction with his department will become propaganda centres for the United Australia party, and that they will be used to suppress the views of honorable members on this side of the House. We have to depend on the press for information regarding the war overseas. Some of the matter that appears in the newspapers is true, and some is not; we have to make up our minds what to accept and what to reject. I believe that the time has arrived when the people of Australia should be treated as adults. There is no reason why news should be suppressed merely because it is bad. The people should be told of the reverses that we suffer in this war just as we are told of successes. I am quite prepared to accept the bad news when it comes, and I know that the majority of the people in Australia are ready to do the same. They will not crack up - they want to know the truth. Frequently, however, statements are published in the newspapers one day and denied the next, so that the public do not know what to believe. There is need for the release, from time to time, of official statements, putting the facts clearly before the people. That, however, is all that is necessary, and there is certainly no need for a separate department of information. This has been called a war of nerves, and the Minister seems to think that it is necessary to protect the nervous systems of the people of Australia. Therefore, he has created an organization which the people do not want, but which will be used by the United Australia party to serve its own ends. I fear that, even at election time, it will not hesitate to suppress the views of opposition candidates. I was in Sydney during the last war, when I heard a man declare, in the course of a public address, that he belonged to the One Big Union. He was pulled off the stand, charged, and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment because he disobeyed the censorship laws, although the citizens of a democracy are supposed to be entitled to freedom of speech. Who are the stalwarts who are to compose the committee to be set up in Hobart? Tea parties will probably be arranged by the National Federation to hear what the Minister is doing to help win the war. The right to broadcast messages to the people will, perhaps, be extended to members of his own party, but I see no reason why this privilege should not be shared by members of the Labour party and representatives of the trade union movement.
– The Government is not anxious to boost the Labour party.
– Itis bent, of course, on keeping the Labour party out of office. We should fight for freedom of speech. There should be no suggestion that members of the Labour party would convey to the public information likely to be of use to the enemy. We have no desire to help the enemy to deliver a blow to any part of the British Empire.
I am in agreement with the Leader of the Opposition that it is desirable to suppress certain information, but I Avish to know why the department is to have a large staff, and why so much money is to be expended by it, because I have no doubt that its funds will be used to play political tricks to the detriment of the Labour party. The people of all political beliefs are asked to assist in prosecuting the war to a successful issue. It is essential, therefore, that from time to time the public should be informed candidly of the progress of the war. The best means of spreading accurate information regarding operations in the theatre of war is through the press. We should certainly not permit one political party to take advantage of another.
I asked a question in the House to-day with regard to a certain matter, and the Minister replied that it was not in the best interests of the public to supply information regarding it, but I obtained it from another quarter. I inquired regarding the rent paid by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to the insurance company which owns the office used by the commission in Hobart, and the Minister, acting like a dictator, asserted that it was inadvisable to furnish a reply to that question.
– Would that information help the enemy?
– No. I was seeking information in order to show that the Government was hiding something with regard to its own management.
The “ Minister for No Information “ stated recently that the war had not yet begun. If that is the kind of news he proposes to furnish to the people, it is high time his job was handed over to some body else. He is accustomed to writing stories, but the people do not desire his bed-time stories. What they wish to know is the true position, with regard to the war. I have asked for certain information, from the Minister for the Army, and he has dodged behind the censorship. He will do that in order to cover up any mistakes that he makes. But it is the duty of members of this Parliament to preserve the rights of the democracy.
I recall the intolerable persecution of members of the Labour movement when the conscription issue was being fought in 1916 and 1917. At that time men were batoned and imprisoned because they dared to oppose conscription. The present Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) was then a great force in the land, and men who spoke freely on behalf of the rights of the people were driven from the streets and cast into prison as though they were felons. I personally was batoned by policemen, because I dared to speak against the imposition of conscription. I was threatened with imprisonment, although men near and dear to me were fighting overseas to end the brutal suppression of individual liberty. I am afraid that propaganda similar to that resorted to in Germany will be practised in Australia; but the people of this country are prepared to face up to the position. If they are made aware of the unvarnished facts there will be no reaction that will be advantageous to the enemy. Certainly no member of the Opposition will do anything to assist the enemy.
No doubt the “Minister for Propaganda “ will accuse members of the Labour party of being anti-British. He put that tale over before on one occasion. He even threatened me with violence, because I dared to disagree with him. He said to me, “I ought to give you a thump under the earhole”. This is the Minister who is to be in charge of the censorship. What chance would I have of fair consideration from a Minister who threatened me in that way when he was a private member ? The Government had better appoint a new Minister, as quickly as possible, because I am afraid that the present occupant of the office will do much to damage the interests of the democracy. He should not be allowed to carry on the powerful organization of which he is in charge, because I am afraid that he will use his position against the working classes. If there is one member of this House who has proved himself vindictive in attacking the Labour party, it is the present “ Minister for No Information “. The money proposed to he used in carrying on this new department should be expended in paying decent wages to the troops in the training camps.
– One is forced to the conclusion that the only members of the House who are in favour of the establishment of the new Department of Information are the Minister who is in charge of it and the other members of the Cabinet. From all sides of the House one has heard adverse criticism of the development and management of this department, and one finds difficulty in discovering favorable comments in the speeches of Government supporters. The Leader of the Country party (Mr. Archie Cameron) is highly critical of the proposal, as outlined in the ministerial statement, and, on the Opposition side, the scheme is naturally viewed with much suspicion. The Labour party, through its leader, has made it clear that it will do nothing to hinder the defeat of “ Nazi-ism “ by the British Commonwealth of Nations, and will co-operate with the Government for that purpose. But we find that the
Minister for Information (Sir Henry Gullett) has been entrusted with the development of a department that will have very wide ramifications which we learn are already being unjustly used. Its staff is said to consist largely of honorary workers distributed throughout the big cities of Australia, and, in the opinion of many people, most of these will be supporters of the party to which the Minister belongs. I know that he has invited co-operation; but, in view of the way in which the censorship has been exercised, according to speeches delivered by honorable members, one must be suspicious of the intentions of the Government. I agree entirely with the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) that the authorities dealing with the censorship should be civilians rather than military men. Our experience in the last war taught us that civilian control is far preferable to military control. When one learns that a statement amplifying remarks made in this House by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has ‘been censored, one wonders to what extreme the censorship will be carried. Up to the present time we have had no evidence that reasonable restraint will be exercised.
The first paragraph of the ministerial statement gives a description of the aims of this new department and about a dozen further paragraphs deal with what is proposed to be done. The Minister says that it is intended to assemble and distribute information over the widest possible field, and by every available agency, and to keep the mass of the people as enlightened as possible and their spirit firm. I know of no better way in which the spirit of the people can be kept firm than by letting them know the truth. The Government has been unfair to the Parliament, and particularly to the Opposition, because it has not made available a great deal of information that we ought to have had. There are many others who feel as I do. As a member of Parliament, I am frequently asked for information concerning war developments, but I am unable to repeat more than I have read in the newspapers. When Parliament is in session honorable members should be the first people to get official information. They should- not have to get their news secondhand from the press.
Regarding censorship, there should be no restrictions in the nature of a restraint on criticism of the Government itself. The Government should see that the elected representatives of the people and citizens who have given attention to public matters should have the right to express themselves freely and reasonably. I concede that it is possible for such statements to be made as would warrant the laying of a charge., but there is the law to deal with that. If the censorship is operated in such a way that written or spoken views for which the writer or speaker would be responsible can be prevented, the Government will make the public of this Commonwealth uneasy.
To cite an example of misleading information, recently it was announced - I do not know whether on the authority of the Department of Information - that the munitions establishments in my electorate had received orders from the British Government for the supply of munitions. The newspaper announcement was -
Footscray district may expect a boom industrially with the ordering of millions of pounds worth of munitions from Australia by the British Government.
First order is for £2,500,000 and munition workers will be increased within the next 12 months from 8,000 to 13,000. A large number will be employed locally at the Footscray and Maribyrnong works.
On the next day the employment office in Collins-street was besieged by people without any qualifications to engage in munitions work. When that information was made available to the press it should have made clear that the workers who would be needed would be men with experience in the metal trades. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) dealt capably with that aspect to-night, but it is incumbent upon me to impress upon the Government that the trade unions should be consulted and given an opportunity to voice their opinion as to how the provision of war power for skilled work in the munitions industry and those enterprises engaged in the manufacture of aeroplane engines and fusilages should be developed. The number of trained engineers, fitters and turners in this country is limited, and men will have to be trained in the work if our war effort is to be as great as was outlined by the Prime Minister. In order to achieve that effort it will be necessary to draw skilled men from other industries into the munitions industries. It will not be possible to do that without the co-operation of the trade unions. If the Ministry of Information is to justify its existence it will have to be utilized to make the trade unions feel that they are sharing in the work. That would make for better co-operation.
I do not want the Ministry to interpret what I am saying to mean that I am in favour of the establishment of the Ministry of Information, because I am not. I believe, with other honorable members, that this new department will cost a great deal more than the £22,500 per annum which the Minister for Information estimated, and that its functions could be satisfactorily performed ‘by existing departments. In his speech, the Minister indicated that a great deal of the work done by the Ministry of Information will be undertaken by honorary workers. He said that people in various grades of society were giving their services. The Minister would find many deserving women who are seeking for work eminently suitable for employment on the class of work required. Their employment would add to the cost, but, if we are ‘to have this department, we should not be looking for honorary workers who will be willing to do the work in return for the notoriety that they will achieve, and so keep others out of employment. That class of .person could be more usefully employed in doing Red Cross work or other similar war work which, has had the blessing of this Government. It seems that the Department of Information is to be a playground for the people in the higher strata of society, who will do as the Minister wants. That suggests that the department will not altogether be a nonpartisan organization.
– Yes it will.
– Well, that is the way I feel about it. I speak frankly, and without any desire to he unfair. If the department is to be staffed with labour of that kind it will naturally be under suspicion. The Minister should pay heed to the criticism which has emanated not only from the
Opposition, but also from Government supporters and honorable members who sit on the cross benches. The Minister said in his speech -
It was therefore decided to invite all organized bodies in the Commonwealth to cooperate in a voluntary capacity with the department in spreading as widely and as fully as possible all . available information having direct and indirect hearing upon the war.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) declared in the House to-day that he, in his capacity as president of the Launceston Musical Comedy Society, received a letter over the signature of the Minister inviting his co-operation. I am a vice-president of the Northern Light Opera Society and also a patron of the Essendon Operatic Society and I have not received any such invitation. I am jealous.
– The honorable member is only the vice-president.
– That is so, but I take an active interest in the doings of those societies and I have never heard of either of them having received an invitation similar to that which was sent to the honorable member for Bass. I spoke in jest, but I cannot understand why such an invitation was ever sent out.
– Those societies have responsible members, as the honorable member’s own statement proves.
– But in my view it cannot be a serious move when invitations are sent to a comic opera society, especially as the work of this new department is to be directed mainly towards serious propaganda.
– The members of those societies may be musical, but they are none the less good citizens.
– Does the Minister suggest that that is the procedure to be followed ?
– All organizations of all kinds were invited.
– The Minister should see that the mouth-organ bands are not overlooked in developing his plan.
Returning to the more serious side of this debate, I would point out that the Leader of the Opposition mentioned, by way of illustration, what was done in regard to a public statement made by the Leader of the Opposition in the South Australian
House of Assembly. That is a condition of affairs that should not be tolerated and is a gross interference with the liberties of responsible public men. Complaints have come to me of the dissatisfaction existing in regard to the treatment of soldiers in camp. If we are to be prevented from ventilating grievances, those grievances will continue and spread. I hope that the Minister will deal with that position. The facts must be faced.
It appears that we are to have censorship whether we like it or not, but I suggest that the Minister for Information, who is experienced in matters affecting censorship, should issue instructions that would make impossible the occurrence of such things as were described by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who indicated that Professor Nicholson has stated definitely that censorship instructions have been given on an Empire basis. I resent that. We should not accept instructions from any other authority than the Commonwealth Government, whatever party be in power, and those instructions should be made as wide and reasonable as possible. We do not want a repetition of what occurred in 1916 and 1917 when the conscription referenda were held.
I hope that the Government will decide after all that the activities with which this new department is to be entrusted can be carried on without the department being continued. I make no personal reflection on the Minister - he is a partisan and so am I - but I hope that he will exercise such a control over the censorship as to give it a liberal outlook and ensure reasonable treatment of those things which the people wish to have made public during this period. That is the only way in which the censorship can be made tolerable. If that policy be followed there will be far less cause for complaint in the future. When the Minister states that although at the outset he entertained some doubt as to the amount of assistance which the department would be able to give to the great metropolitan daily newspapers, they are now giving the required amount of space, one realizes that those dailies are, at all events, prepared to publish whatever information is given to them. Later the Minister said that 2,500 individual letters of invitation have been issued on his behalf to the bodies which have been mentioned by honorable members to-night and that he has received a gratifying response. The honorable gentleman should have informed honorable members which of the organizations are cooperating. I agree with the suggestion that has been made to-night that reports should be furnished by those bodies so that members of Parliament may know the nature of their activities. Unless that be done, those organizations will be under suspicion. It should be possible, through the agencies which, the Minister states, have already been developed, to obtain from time to time at least a summary of their activities. I trust that, in view of the adverse criticism that has been voiced* to-night by members of all parties, and particularly by Government supporters, the Minister, if this department is to continue to operate, will adopt some of the constructive suggestions that have been offered, so that the public may have confidence that this new department is giving substantial and valuable information to the people of Australia.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Gregory) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is designed to ensure the continuance of the payment of a bounty on fortified wine exported from the Commonwealth. The existing Wine Bounty Act has been in operation since the 1st March, 1935, and expires on the 28th February, 1940, so that if assistance to the industry is to be continued by way of bounty, it is necessary that this bill be made law before the expiration of the present act.
The wine industry of Australia has experienced many difficulties and setbacks in its history. After the last war Commonwealth and State Governments placed a number of returned soldiers on holdings for the purpose of growing wine grapes, and prior to 1924 the industry had been able to dispose in Australia of most of its production. In 1924, however, it became evident that assistance would have to be given to the industry in order to enable it to dispose of the increased production. The only outlet for the wine appeared to be on overseas markets, and after exhaustive inquiries it was decided, in 1924, to assist the industry by way of a bounty on fortified wine exported. The object of the bounty was twofold : First, to enable wine-makers to sell their wine; secondly, to enable grape-growers to obtain a reasonable price for their grapes. The amount of bounty decided upon was 4s. a gallon of wine, but this included an amount of ls. 3d. a gallon which exporters had paid as excise duty on the spirit used in the fortification of the wine, the net amount of bounty being 2s. 9d. a gallon.
Since 1924 the Government has continued to pay a bounty on wine exported, but the rate has varied considerably, and has been at a reduced scale. In 1927 the amount of bounty was ls. 9d. a gallon; in the 1934 act a sliding scale of bounty was prescribed. During the first two years of the operation of that act the rate paid was ls. 3d. a gallon. In the succeeding three years a reduction of Id. a gallon each year was provided for, with the result that the rate for 1939 is ls. a gallon. That is the rate proposed in this bill, with provision for the continuance thereof for a further period of five years.
Payment of bounty on wine exported undoubtedly has been of material assistance to wine grape-growers and winemakers throughout the Commonwealth. The expansion of the export trade in wine has been considerable. In 1924” exports were approximately 142,000 gallons. In 1934 the quantity exported was over 2,600,000 gallons, and during the past five years an increase of approximately 500,000 gallons has taken place. In June, 1939, approximately 18,500,000 gallons of fortified wine was held in bond in Australia. The quantity of fortified wine consumed on the domestic market annually is estimated to be about 3,500,000 gallons, and, unless more facilities be provided for the sale of wine in Australia, there does not appear to be much prospect of increasing local consumption in the near future. If the bounty be discontinued, export will practically cease and the large quantities of wine which are at present sold overseas will be thrown on to the local market, with disastrous results. Australian wine marketed in the United Kingdom meets severe competition from wines made in the United Kingdom from imported must. Sales of this type of wine in Great Britain have increased from 3,250,000 gallons in 1934 to 6,000,000 gallons in 1938. The State Governments of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria are materially interested in this industry, as each government has invested large sums of money in irrigation settlements in which wine grape-growing is an important industry. Discontinuance of the bounty would undoubtedly result in the ruin of hundreds of returned soldier grape-growers, and would cause the interested State governments to suffer heavy financial losses.
The export of fortified wine from Australia has added considerably to Australian credits overseas, the value of exports during the past five years having ranged between £747,000 in 1935 and £920,000 in 1938-39. A large amount of capital is invested in this industry, which employs a considerable number of persons growing the grapes and . manufacturing the wine, and also provides each year seasonal occupation for a large number of grape-pickers, carters and labourers during the vintage period. From 1924 to 1930 the bounty on wine exported was paid from Consolidated Revenue, but in the latter year the burden of financing the industry was partially placed on the industry itself. This was achieved by increasing the excise on fortified spirit by 5s. a proof gallon, the extra amount thus collected being paid into a trust fund, from which the bounty was to be paid. Provision was also made that, if the amount received from the extra excise collections was at any time insufficient to pay the bounty in full, the deficiency would be made up from Consolidated Revenue. The provisions of the Financial Emergency Act in 1932 limited the sum that could be drawn from Consolidated Revenue in any one financial year to £96,000. The Wine Bounty Act also was amended to provide that, should the money available for distribution as bounty be insufficient to pay the bounty in full., bounty should be paid pro rata. During the last two years the money paid into the trust fund provided sufficient money to pay the bounty, and in the last financial year £193,196 was paid into the trust fund, whereas the amount paid as bounty was £167,872, showing a surplus of £25,324.
In this bill provision is made for a contribution from Consolidated Revenue of any amount up to £50,000 in any financial year should the money received into the trust fund be not sufficient to meet all claims for bounty. This maximum contribution is considered to be quite adequate, as the indications are that the amount received into the trust fund from the extra excise collections will meet all demands likely to be made.
Under the wine bounty legislation grape-growers have been protected by the fixation of minimum prices for grapes used in the production of wine for export. These prices are fixed each year by the Minister before vintage, and the procedure has been of inestimable value to grape-growers. It has resulted in grapegrowers generally receiving a reasonable price for all grapes produced, despite the fact that the Commonwealth Government has no authority to fix the price of grapes used in the production of wine sold om the domestic market. Winemakers, generally speaking, have paid for all grapes the prices fixed by the Minister for Trade and Customs since 1927, irrespective of whether such grapes were used for wine to be sold on the domestic market, or exported. There is, however, a feeling of instability owing to the fact that the Commonwealth Government has no power to fix the prices of grapes for use in the domestic market. It is understood, however, that consultations have been held between the various States interested in the wine industry, and that draft legislation is being considered by the States for the purpose of controlling prices and plantings of wine grapes. If prices of grapes in the domestic market and plantings could be controlled, dt would be of immense value to winemakers, as it would, no doubt, protect the value of the huge stocks on hand which, in the main have been produced from grapes paid for at Ministerial prices fixed under wine bounty legislation.
There are some new provisions in this bill. One is the stipulation for a harvesting payment to growers within one month from the delivery of grapes to the winery. Although this is an innovation in wine bounty legislation, I understand that it is a . practice for wine-makers to make advances to growers in order to help them to finance their harvesting operations. [n 1934 provision was made requiring payment to be made for grapes within a period of twelve months. If cash were paid by a prescribed time, a discount was allowed off the minimum price. This provision has been incorporated in the bill, but whereas, in the past the first payment for grapes was payable not later than the 31st July next succeeding the date of delivery of the grapes, it is proposed in this bill to make the first payment clue on the 30th June.
I have dealt with this bill on somewhat general lines but I am prepared to explain any point that may arise when the measure is in committee.
Debate (on motion by Mr. McHugh) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Street) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I ask the Minister for the Army (Mr. Street) to request the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) so to arrange the business for to-morrow as to ensure that two or three very important items shall be dealt with as early as practicable. I should like to know when it is proposed to givefurther consideration to the provision of financial assistance to the wheat industry? I hope that that subject will be dealt with to-morrow.
– I should prefer for it to be deferred for two or three days.
– Then I suppose we are to understand that the manoeuvring is to continue. This is a very important subject, yet the Government seems to intend to leave it suspended in mid-air, like Mahomet’s coffin. Unless something be done soon we shall find it difficult to deal with it as we wish. Are we to understand that the Wine Bounty Bill is to be given preference to to-day’s Order of the Day No. 2 “War Activities of the Fighting Services”?
– Perhaps the Wine Bounty Bill can be taken first if the Leader of the Opposition so desires.
– I am not asking for that to be done. Certain important ministerial statements were made last week, among which were the statement of the Minister for the Army respecting the fighting services, and another by the Acting Minister for Supply and Development, dealing with the disposal of our primary products. I am not offering any opinion as to when the Wine Bounty Bill should be dealt with, but I am concerned about the priority of business. I ask the Minister for the Army to bring my suggestion concerning the wheat industry, war activities of the fighting forces, and the statement of the Acting Minister for Supply and Development under the notice of the Prime Minister.
– in reply - I shall be glad to do so. I think it quite likely that the debate on the war activities of the fighting services will be the first order of the day for to-morrow. That will probably be followed by the debate on the Wine Bounty Bill, after which may come the resumption of the debate on the statement of the Acting Minister for Supply and Development. These remarks are, of course, subject to confirmation by the Prime Minister.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Liquid Fuels - Commonwealth Standing Committee - Fifth Report - Compressed Gas.
Customs Act -
Proclamations prohibiting the Exporta tion (except under certain conditions) of -
Aluminium, unwrought (including scrap) ; Aluminium bars, rods, angles, tees, plates, sheets, circles and strips (dated 23rd November, 1030).
Leather produced from cattle hides and calf skins (dated 16th November, 1939).
Sulphate of ammonia, compounded fertilizers containing sulphate of ammonia, and phosphate fertilizers (dated 23rd November, 1939).
Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 157.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired - For Postal purposes - Biloela, Queensland.
For Postal, telegraphic, telephonic and other like services - Stanley, Tasmania.
National Security Act-
National Security (Prices) Regulations - Orders Nos. 35-39.
Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1939, Nos. 149, 153, 155.
Supply and Development Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939, Nos. 151, 158.
House adjourned at 10.26 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
h asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following information: -
Note. - The method of dealing with applications differs somewhat in the various States. In Victoria, for example, all applications are accepted in the first instance and, after due inquiry, those that are considered unsuitable are rejected. Sometimes an application is not rejected until it is being finally dealt with. No case is actually finally and definitely accepted until the Victorian Board approves and confirms the plan of debt adjustment.
s asked the Prime Minis ter, upon notice -
– No such orders have been received.
Wool : Re-Sale by British Government.
e asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
What are the arrangements regarding the re-sale of wool to British manufacturers?
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answer: -
The Government of the United Kingdom makes its own arrangements for the re-sale of wool to British manufacturers. The terms and conditions are not under Australian control.
e asked the Acting Treasurer upon notice -
Will he supply a statement showing the amount of loans raised in Australia through the Loan Council for the year 1938-39, and give (a) the flotation expense’s, and (6) the approximate amount of interest that will be payable for the periods of the loans?
– The amount of loans raised in Australia through the Loan Council for the year 1938-39 was £85,277,000, including £65,000,000 conversion loan in November, 1938. The flotation expenses of these loans amounted to £547,301. Owing to the fact that some of the loans have optional maturity dates which permit redemption over a period, and that the operations of the sinking fund will affect the amount of interest payable, it is impracticable to give reliable information as to the aggregate amount of interest which will be payable for the periods of the loans.
s asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
l asked the Acting Trea surer, upon notice -
Docs his statement that there would be a favorable’ balance of payments up to £15,000,000 sterling in London this year mean that this would.be the balance in the ordinary overseas trade account or that it would be the balance after overseas interest had been met from the trade surplus?
– The estimate of the balance of payments referred to was arrived at after making provision for the overseas interest charges.
n asked the Minister for
Information, uponnotice -
– Publicity censorship, covering the censorship of the press, cinema films and broadcasting, is a function of the Department of Information. The censorship of communications (i.e., letters, telegrams, radiotelegrams, and cablegrams), is a responsibility of the Department of Defence.
s asked the Minister for Information, upon notice -
Does he approve of the action of the censor in opening letters from honorable members of this House addressed to persons in other parts of the British Empire?
– Postal censorship is based on regulations which are uniform throughout the Empire, and only government and diplomatic mail is exempted therefrom. 2nd Australian Imperial Force: Enlistments from Royal Melbourne Regiment.
y asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
With reference to the statement that search warrants were not required by the police who made arrests of aliens on behalf of the military authorities on the night of the 3rd September, will he inform the House -
Sydney were not searched at the time of the arrests;
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s. - On the 23rd November the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) asked me a question, without notice, as to the action proposed in connexion with the storage of the wheat crop.
I am advised by my colleague, the Minister for Commerce, that considerable discussion on this question has taken place between the Australian Wheat Board and the bulk-handling authorities in the various States with a view to making the best possible use of storage facilities. It is proposed that railway sites will be utilized for storage as in ordinary times. In addition, the cooperation of the State governments is being sought, where necessary, in connexion with the erection of depots.
Government Contracts: Observance op Award Rates and Conditions.
– On the 15th and the 22nd November the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) asked me questions, without notice, regarding the observance of award wages and conditions by sub-contractors under defence and other contracts.
I desire to inform the honorable member that the conditions governing Commonwealth contracts make it obligatory on the contractor’s part to ensure that all relevant awards or judgments and conditions governing the employment of labour shall be observed. It is provided that, should a contractor desire to sub-let portion of the work of his contract, permission must first be obtained, but the contractor is in no way relieved of his responsibility under the terms of his contract agreement.
Kingsford Smith Aerodrome.
t. - On the 23rd November, the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) asked me in my capacity as Acting Minister for Air the following question, without notice -
As it first step towards making the Kingsford Smith Aerodrome at Mascot safer, will the Acting Minister for Air undertake to have the present runway extended for 500 yards t
I now desire to inform the honorable member that arrangements were made some time ago to extend the north-west - south-east runway at Kingsford Smith Aerodrome to provide a hard surface runvway of 1,100 yards. This work will be p:it in hand immediately funds are made available by the Treasury.
Australian Broadcasting Commission : Hobart Studio.
n. - On the 23rd November, the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) asked the following question, without notice -
Has the Australian Broadcasting Commission been called upon to pay an increased rental for the premises leased in Hobart for its studio in the city? What is the annual rental paid by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in respect of those premises?
I am now in a position to furnish the following information to the honorable member -
Presumably, the reference is to the change of ownership of the building in which the com’ mission has leased certain premises and which was recently purchased from the Public Trustee by an insurance company. The rental to the commission has not been increased. For business purposes, it is undesirable to disclose the annual rental paid by the commission.
Broadcasting of Parliamentary News.
n. - On the 23rd November, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Badman) asked a question, without notice, relating to the extension and earlier broadcast of parliamentary news from national station 2CY, Canberra.
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that it is’ impossible to programme the Canberra commentary on the national relay except before 9 p.m. or after 10.30 p.m., owing to the difficulty of providing trunk line facilities between these times. It is inadvisable to programme the commentary before 9 p.m. because important news might be missed. In any case, the commission’s usual news service contains all important information from Canberra that is available up to 8.45 p.m. It is proposed to extend the Canberra commentary to fifteen minutes whenever such an extension is justified.
Collinsville Post Office.
n. - On the 23rd November, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) asked a question, without - notice, relating to the lease of the post office at Collinsville.
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that arrangements have been made for continuance of the existing lease of the Collinsville postoffice premises on the basis of a monthly tenancy.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 November 1939, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1939/19391128_reps_15_162/>.