16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr; Speaker (Hon. W. M. Nairn) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
-Can the Minister for the Army say whether it is a fact that Mr. Hermann Homburg, ex-member of the Legislative Council of South Australia, and a prominent member of the Liberal-Country Party Union, who was interned, has been released on bond?If so, will he indicate to the House the terms of the bond upon which this man has been released from internment, and will he say who made representations on his behalf to the Government?
– The person referred to by the honorable member was interned towards the end of last year. Just prior to my visit overseas I was in receipt of a recommendation of the Advisory Committee which sat to hear his appeal. Following consideration of that recommendation, Mr. Homburg was released upon certain restrictive conditions, as is customary in cases of this description.
Those conditions are most stringent. It is not my practice to indicate any of the conditions imposed upon an internee who has been released, nor do I think that I should do so. It is sufficient to say that those conditions are sufficiently stringent to protect the interests of the Commonwealth.
– Will the Treasurer lay on the table of the House, for my perusal, the papers relating to the income tax assessment of Mr. James Yates, glace kid manufacturer, of No. 2 Newmanstreet, Newtown?
– No. The secrecy of the Taxation Department is well known.
-I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that after the detection of tax evasions perpetrated over a number of years, the income tax of James Yates, of 2 Newman-street, Newtown, was finally assessed at £220,000? Is it also a fact that, on representations made by Mr. L. O. Martin, formerly Minister for Justice in New South Wales and now Minister for Works and Local Government, the amount of federal taxes assessed against this individual was reduced by approximately £40,000?
– I cannot say whether the statements of the honorable member are facts or not.
– by leave - Some little time ago I indicated to the House that the Government intended to appoint a royal commission to inquire into the circumstances surrounding what is known as the Abbco bread case. I now inform the House that the Government has decided to issue a commission upon the terms which I shall presently read, subject to the qualification that the Government has sent to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) a copy of the proposed terms of reference for his consideration, and is prepared to alter them to conform to any reasonable suggestion which that honorable gentleman may make. The general terms which are intended to he included in the commission to be issued to Mr.
Justice Maxwell of the State of New South Wales, sitting as a FederalRoyal Commissioner, are as follows: -
It will be appreciated by honorable members that the terms of the commission are wide. It is the desire and intention of the Government that the fullest inquiry shall be made into the matters referred to in the commission in order that both the Parliament and the public may be fully satisfied. Subject to any alteration of the terms of the commission which the Leader of the Opposition may suggest, it is proposed that the commission shall issue to-morrow.
Mr.ROSEVEAR (Dalley).- by leave. - In my opinion, unless the Minister for the Army (Mr, Spender) includes in the commission reference to the company which he previously said had fallen down on the job of contracting for this bread after the contract had been taken from the Abbco Company, the whole inquiry will be futile. It is true that the contract was taken from Abbco and given to another firm of bakers which, if the information I have received from its principals is correct, was absolutely “ rail-roaded “ out of the contract. It did not fall down on the job.
– That is the position.
Mr.ROSEVEAR.- When Major Rigney, an inspector on behalf of the Commonwealth, made it impossible for this firm to carry on, there was no alternative but to let the contract go back to Abbco.
– Are there only two bakers in New South Wales?
Mr.ROSEVEAR.- No ; but there are circumstances associated with the contract which I could explain, although I do not propose to do so at the moment. Abbco was caught red-handed, not by Commonwealth officialswho were there to supervise matters on behalf of the Commonwealth, but by officials of the Weights and Measures Department of the State of New South Wales. Had it not been for the intervention of the State authorities the possibilities are that neitherRigney, who was looking after this matter on behalf of the Commonwealth, nor any other Commonwealth official, would ever have brought the matter to light, and that the Commonwealth would still be robbed through short-weight bread being supplied under Army contracts. In a previous statement the Minister said that the reason why the contract went back to Abbco was that Mr. White’s firm was unable to carry it out, and had fallen down on the job.
– I said nothing of the kind.
Mr.ROSEVEAR. - If the Minister will read Hansard he will find that he said that White had fallen down on the job.
– I did not say that. That opinion was expressed by the Inspector-General of Administration.
Mr.ROSEVEAR.- The Minister put that reason forward to this House without any intimation as to whether or not he accepted it.
– Why should I?
Mr.ROSEVEAR.- The Minister put that forward as a report on the case, and the Government used the report as a justification for giving a further contract to the company which had already defrauded it. Now, if we turn to the State legislature, we find that the Minister for Justice in New South Wales pleaded as justification for remitting the major portion of the fine the fact that the Commonwealth had given another contract to the Abbco Bread Company after its conviction. This is the information that has been given to me: The first morning after White got the contract Rigney, who had been so lax in his inspection of bread on behalf of the Commonwealth, went to White’s bakehouse and. said, “All this bread is not baked at your place “. White replied, “No, I have not the plant at the moment to bake it all, but I have friends who are assisting me, and I have ordered the necessary plant”. Rigney then said, “ This is not 6-hour bread ? “ White replied, “ 6-hour bread is not required in the contract; 12-hour bread only is specified “. Rigney, however, said, “ I want 6-hour bread, or I will stop your contract “. White said, “ I cannot do it, nor can any other baker without breaking the law of the State by beginning before the regulation hour “. Rigney said, “You will have to do it”. White then said to him, “ I will have to break the law “. To this Rigney replied, “ Break as many laws as you like, and we will protect you. Abbco have already broken the law 60 or 70 times “. That was from the man whose job it was to protect the interests of the Defence Department. White then said, “I will give it a go to-night “. There were only three persons who knew of his intention - Rigney White himself, and another master baker who was going to assist. They closed all the gates leading to the building, and all the doors of the building itself, so that they would not be interrupted at their work, and started baking at midnight. They had no sooner started than an inspector from the State Department came through the window and caught them red-handed. I do not object to that ; I think the inspector did a good job, but I am suggesting that Rigney, who had been so lax in safeguarding the interests of the Commonwealth, endeavoured to force this new man out of the contract; that he conspired with this man, White, to break the law of New South Wales; and that all the evidence points to the fact that he, having conspired with White to break the law, put the inspector on to catch him red-handed. Those are the circumstances associated with the taking away of the contract from White. He was harassed from the first moment he took over the contract, and those who were in opposition to him were not satisfied until they got the contract back to the Abbco company. That is why I say that matters relating to White are really the core of the whole inquiry. If you make a searching inquiry into the reasons why White was unable to carry out his contract, you will get to know who was trying to prevent him from doing so ; whether Rigney was a conspirator in the first place with the Abbco Bread Company to defraud the Commonwealth, and whether he deliberately sabotaged the interests of the Commonwealth while the original Abbco contract was in operation. But all those matters are to be excluded from the inquiry.
– That is not so.
– I can visualize what will happen. White is not to be represented before the commission, and no inquiries are to be made as to why he fell down on the contract. Thus the Commonwealth inquiry is to take the same unsatisfactory form as did the State inquiry.
– It is to be conducted by the same judge.
– Yes, and that is another reason why I protest against the constitution of the commission. I do not know whether this is correct, but I have been given to understand by the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales that, for the first time in the history of the State, the Leader of the Opposition who had laid a charge of maladministration against the Government was not represented at this inquiry by counsel whose particular business would be to justify the charges, in the same way as a Crown Prosecutor seeks to prove the charges brought against an accused person in the criminal court. Before the State Roy.al Commission in this case, a legal man was retained to assist the commissioner, that ‘being as near as they got to having anyone to represent the public interest. However, I am prepared to say that one letter which was produced before the commission as an excuse for the bread being light in weight, was only half quoted by the person assisting the commission.
– Is the honorable member suggesting that part of the letter was suppressed?
– I am not suggesting it, I am stating it. I am saying that this person deliberately suppressed the second half of the letter written by White to McLeod, a letter which, as White ha3 told me, was dictated by McLeod himself. I am not going to judge the Minister for Justice in New South Wales. He has done what many other Ministers for Justice, drawn from all political parties, have done in the past - he has reduced a fine. I am not concerned with that, but I say that, because there was no one at the inquiry to represent the public interest, and no one to represent the man who laid the charges, the Royal Commissioner in New South Wales heard only one side of the case. In the absence of some one to represent the public at. the inquiry, the case was prejudiced. Now, it is proposed that this same judge should inquire into another phase of the case in which he may conceivably be handicapped by the findings he has already reached in the New South Wales inquiry. Therefore, it is quite wrong that this particular judge should be chosen for the job. It is entirely wrong that the man around whose activities the whole inquiry will largely turn, and whose failure to complete the contract provides the officers responsible for placing the contract with the only justification for giving it back to the Abbco Bread Company, should not be heard and represented before the commissioner. If they can “get away with it” and prove that R. J. White and Company fell down on the contract, that will be the only justification they can offer for giving to this fraudulent company another opportunity to rob the Commonwealth. The terms of reference should include the case of R. J. White and Company; how he came to receive the contract; what happened; and how it was made impossible for him to carry out the contract. If it can be shown that the officer, who was lax in his duty and who failed to determine this fraud against the Commonwealth, was interested in dragooning this man out of the contract, then the Government must go further afield and discover the extent to which bribery and corruption are taking placein the services. The Abbco Broad Company is one of the biggest industrial concerns in my constituency, but I am not concerned with possible political repercussions. As this firm has dealt fraudulently with the Commonwealth, the Government must not shelter any of its officers but should institute an exhaustive inquiry into the allegations. No inquiry can be exhaustive and conclusive unless a different judge from Mr. Justice Maxwell is appointed and unless the contract let to R. J. White and Company and all circumstances surrounding it are investigated.
Mr. SPENDER (Warringah- Minister for the Army). - by leave - In ths beginning, I made it perfectly plain that the terms of this royal commission were not final, and I indicated that I had invited the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), who, I assumed, would speak for every member of his party and represent every view in his party in respect of the matter, to express in any way he chose any qualification or alteration of the proposed commission.
– The Leader of the Opposition consented to my making a statement, so the Minister has nothing to gain by saying that.
– Yes, but I wish to make it perfectly plain that the Government desires the fullest probe into the matter. For the honorable member to suggest otherwise is unfair and nonsensical.
– I did not see the terms of reference.
– Quite true! They are being conveyed to the honorable gentleman now. They were completed this morning, and they should be with the Leader of the Opposition shortly.
– Does the Minister propose to consult, the Leader of the Opposition regarding the appointment of the royal commissioner ?
– No. I am consulting the Leader of the Opposition only with reference to the terms of the commission. The speech of the honorable member for Dalley went to a large extent into the merits of the very subject which the royal commissioner will be called upon to decide. I regard it as not being a function of the honorable member, and certainly not of a Minister of the Crown, to prejudge a case, when the whole of the facts are to be placed before the royal commissioner. Furthermore, I do not propose to analyse the allegations of fraud that have been made in this case. The royal commissioner will decide them.
Having said that the Government desires the fullest investigation of the case and has invited the Leader of the Opposition to consider the terms of the commission, I desire now to point out that the very subject to which the honorable member referred is clearly covered by the terms of that commission. Nevertheless, I am prepared to make the terms more specific so as to cover that part of the ease. The contract which was let to R. J. White and Company lasted for some days. What I. stated, and the honorable member can verify this by reference to my remarks in Hansard, was that I could not say why the contract fell to the ground. The report of the Inspector-General of Administration declared that the company could not carry out the contract; and the honorable member is confusing the issue by placing in my mouth words that were contained in that document. The position was that after a few days, R. J. White and Company did not, in point of objective fact, carry on with its contract. One of the terms of reference in respect of which there is to be inquiry is the making of a new contract with the Abbco Bread Company immediately after the discontinuance of the contract of R. J. White and Company.
The last clause of the terms of reference includes “ any other matters relevant or in connexion with the foregoing “. No one will contend that it was not relevant to determine why a contract, immediately before the second one let to the Abbco Bread Company had not been carried out. F should think that it was clearly covered by the terms of the commission. To meet the honorable member’s suggestion, however, I undertake to have a specific reference made to that matter so that there will be no possible doubt about the matter.
A statement has been made by the honorable member for Dalley - I assume with due sense of responsibility for his utterance - against the counsel who assisted the commission in New South Wales, a man who, from my personal knowledge of him as a member of the Bar of that State, is a person of integrity and reputation and I deeply regret the remark that was made about him.
– I agree with the Minister.
– The remark, to say the least, was most unfortunate. It was an irresponsible utterance.
– Will the Treasurer say whether it is a fact that in the United States of America, a country with which Australia is cultivating the closest ties, it is a practice to print for public information the incomes of the biggest taxpayers ? If so, will he state the objections, if any, to the adoption of a similar salutary practice in Australia?
– I was not aware that it was a practice in the United States of America to publish that information, but I cannot see that any good purpose would be served by adopting it here.
– Before the Government compels owners of dollar securities to realize on them in order to augment dollar funds, will the Acting Prime Minister take into .consideration the possibility of certain of those shares increasing :in value in the near future and by obviating loss to the holders of those securities increase the amount of dollar funds here?
– The observations made by the honorable member have been thoroughly examined by the Treasury, which can see no good reason for departing from the existing practice.
– Has the Acting Prime
Minister given consideration to the suggestion which I made in the House for the Government to restrict the sale of rights to acquire shares, as has been done by shareholders of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited?
– The statement that the honorable member made to the House recently has been submitted to the Capital Issues Advisory Board for consideration.
– by leave - Yesterday the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) referred to a letter which he had sent to the Minister for the Interior regarding statements made by Mr. Jim Tully and Mr. ‘Charles O’Brien relative to the use of unsuitable timber in the construction of culverts on the road from Richmond to Singleton. The honorable member complained that he had received no advice regarding the matter from the Minister for the Interior. The honorable member’s letter was dated the 17th February, 1941, and was acknowledged by the Minister for the Interior on the 19th February, The Minister intimated that inquiries would be made and a further communication would be addressed to the honorable member when information regarding the matter had been received. As the road in question is being constructed by the Main Roads Board of New South Wales, the matter was referred to that board for advice regarding the statements made by Messrs. Tully and O’Brien. No report has yet been received from the Main Roads Board. The Commonwealth Works Director in Sydney was asked on the 17th March to get in touch with the board at once and endeavour to expedite the receipt of the report. Immediately the reportis received advice will be sent to the honorable member.
– In view of the serious charges which I made in this House some months ago concerning the inspection of military boots, which have been borne out by facts disclosed recently, does the Government propose to appoint a royal commission to inquire into the whole of the ramifications of this business? If not, will the Acting Prime Minister explain why in connexion with boots a different course is being pursued from that followed in relation to bread?
– The matter is at present receiving the consideration of the Minister for the Army.
Sir FREDERICK STEWART.Yesterday the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) asked me whether the Commonwealth Government was still making its usual contribution in full to the cost of the League of Nations, and whether a list could be supplied of those nations who were members of the League when war broke out, and of those still making their normal contributions. I am now able to state that the position regarding financial contributions to League of Nations expenditure is as follows: -
On the outbreak of war in September, 1939, there were 45 effective members of the League whose names are set out in the attached list. In addition, Albania, Chile, Hungary, Italy, Peru, Spain and Venezuela, although they had given notice of withdrawal from the League, nominally remained members of the League owing to the fact that two years’ notice is required for withdrawals to become operative. Between that date and the end of 1940 the expulsion of Russia from the League in December, 1939, and the absorption or occupation of Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway and Poland have put an end to the effective membership of those countries. The Budget of the League for 1941 which was adopted in September, 1940, accordingly made no provision for contributions by these countries and also reduced the contributions of China, Finland, France and the Netherlands by 50 per cent. In the circumstances, although the Budget reduced League expenditure by 50 per cent. to a total of approximately £A.770,000, the Australian contribution did not diminish proportionately, and was assessed at a sum approximating to£A.34,000. The depreciation of Australian currency as compared with the Swiss franc in this period was also a factor which prevented any substantial reduction of the Australian contribution. The Commonwealth Government received advice as to the amount of its assessment last December and in considering the desirability of continuing its contribution it took several factors into account: -
1 ) Every possible effort had been made to cut down League expenditure.
The League and kindred organizations are still performing practical tasks of great utility. In this connexion I should explain that some part of the League’s work is now being carried on at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton in the United States of America, and that the International Labour Office is installed at the McGill University, Montreal, Canada. The work of the League in economic and financial matters and in the control of the opium traffic is regarded as of particular importance.
The United Kingdom Government and other members of the British Commonwealth were in favour of continuing financial support to the League.
A wide recognition that it was necessary to maintain in being some organization for international collaboration.
It was therefore decided that the full assessed Australian contribution of£A. 34,000 should be paid in six bi-monthly instalments in accordance with the usual practice. The Australian contribution under the 1940 League Budget amounted to £A.42,200. The honorable member will realize that it is impossible at this stage to indicate which countries will pay their assessed contributions for the year 1941.
List of Members of the League of Nations at the Outbreak of War in September, 1939.
– The Minister for
Commerce will recall that I recently made representations to him on the sub ject of the shortage in Tasmania of barley and wheat for pig feed. Has the right honorable gentleman been able to ascertain whether supplies ofbarley and wheat are available for Tasmania for that purpose ?
-Supplies of barley and wheat are available at the price at which the Wheat Board is able to sell. I shall ascertain the exact quantities and convey the information to the honorable member.
– In view of the Government’s decision to appoint a royal commission to inquire into certain troubles over bread, and because of certain allegations overboots, matters which are all internal business affairs of the Department of the Army, will the Minister for the Army institute an inquiry as to the usefulness of the institution known as the Board of Business Administration, or is my advice proving correct, that it is of as much use to the Army as mistletoe on the mallee?
– I do not give very much weight to the opinion of the honorable gentleman with respect to matters regarding the administration of the Army or the Board of Business Administration. The boardis doing a very fine job.
– Assuming that the impossible has happened - that the Minister for the Army and I, having disagreed, the honorable gentleman has proved to be right - I now ask him whether he can provide me with some information as to why the Board of Business Administration has not taken steps to deal with certain matters raised in this House? If it hastaken such steps, will the honorable gentleman say why they have proved to be so futile?
– I confess myself totally unable to answer a question couched in such general terms, and I do not propose to try to do so.
Pact with Axis Powers.
– Is the Minister prepared to make a statement to the House with regard to the Yugoslavia-Axis Pact?
-We have notyet received any official infor- mation regarding the details of the pact which has just been entered into between Yugoslavia and the Axis. It is apparent, however, that some understanding has been arrived at between them, following intense diplomatic pressure involving all the known wiles of intrigue and threats, as well as persuasion and less desirable tactics. It is also equally certain that the action of the Yugoslavian Government in entering into this agreement, far from receiving the consent of the Yugoslavian people, was overwhelmingly opposed by them. It is true that this agreement seems to have effectively precluded the much-desired Balkan bloc against aggression, but, after all, it was not unexpected and, we hope, will not seriously interfere with the task of the Empire in connexion with the Balkan situation. We are not without hope that when the details of the pact become known, it will not be quite so serious as some of us have apprehended.
– I have just received a telegram from the Primary Producers’ Association of Western Australia in the following terms: -
Dispute between State Government and Associated Banks still unsettled. Many farmers in desperate plight in consequence. We recommend our members urge Minister Commerce use utmost pressure secure prompt settlement of differences.
Will the Minister for Commerce take action to grant immediate relief to these unfortunate people whom this Parliament intended to receive assistance without differentiation?
– Following the representations made by the honorable members for Swan (Mr. Marwick) and Forrest (Mr. Prowse) last week, I communicated with the Western Australian
Government. On Monday last,I received a telegram from that Government saying that a conference between the Agricultural Bank and the trading banks of Western Australia was being arranged to see if the difficulty could be overcome.
– On the 6th March I protested to the Minister for the Army against a proposal to transfer the NonCommissioned Officers Training School at Geelong to a property belonging to the Fair bairn family on the Ballarat-road near Fyansford.. I now ask the honorable gentleman whether the Government has yet decided to avoid such a wasteful expenditure of public money by retaining the school at Geelong?
– I shall endeavour to answer the honorable member’s question to-morrow.
– Is the Minister for External Affairs ableto give honorable members any information, additional to that published in the newspapers, concerning the terms of the recent Russo-Turkish agreement? Does the honorable gentleman believe that the agreement will materially affect the Turkish attitude towards coming events in the Balkans ?
– I am not in a position to give any official information concerning the exchange of assurances between Russia and Turkey. We hope, however, that the Soviet assurance will strengthen the attitude of Turkey, and perhaps of other Balkan countries, in their resistance to threats from the Axis Powers.
– Will the Minister for Social Services inform me when the Government proposes to fulfil the promise it made last December to introduce a measure to provide for a comprehensive housing scheme?
– The policy of the Government in relation to housing or any other matter cannot be dealt with by replies to questions without notice.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Development inform me when he expects the inquiry of the Power Alcohol Committee to be concluded? When does the Government expect to receive the committee’s report?
-From information which I have just received from the Acting Prime Minister, I understand that the committee intends to sit to-morrow night to complete its deliberations.
– In the Sydney Truth of Sunday, the 23rd March, there appeared a report of proceedings taken against a Mr. W. J. Smith, who was charged with having driven a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor. I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether that Mr. Smith is identical with the person with whom the Menzies Government negotiated a motor car monopoly agreement some time ago?
– I am unable to say. The Smith family is a very large one.
– Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General inform me whether it is a fact that delay has occurred in connexion with the transfer of the Mascot telephone service from the manual to the automatic system, with the result that the automatic service will not be available in May as was promised last year?
– I shall make inquiries into the matter and furnish information to the honorable member later.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force was discussed by the Advisory War Council ? If so, was the proposal unanimously supported ? If not, will the honorable gentleman give me the names of the members of the council who opposed it?
– Like the joint meeting of senators and honorable members held in this chamber last week, the proceedings of the Advisory War Council are secret.
– Can the Minister for the Air say whether it is the intention of his department to allow wives of members of the Royal Australian Air Force to enlist in the Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force? If so, will these women be allowed to go to the various States where their husbands are located?
– The honorable member’s question raises a point which I have not considered. I shall consider the aspect of policy involved in it, and advise him of the decision arrived at.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior whether it is a fact, as alleged, that the bitumen used in the damp-course of the new Yaralla military hospital building is not in accordance with the specifications? Will the honorable gentleman cause samples to be taken for analysis in order to ascertain whether the material consists of the ingredients set out in the specification ?
– I shall bring the honorable member’s question under the notice of the Minister for the Interior.
– Can the Minister for the Army say whether any wives of officers of the Australian Imperial Force, other than Lady Blarney, have been given permission to join their husbands or become members of units operating in the same war zones? If so, will he furnish to the House full particulars as to the number of applications and to whom they have been granted?
– I am unaware that permission has been granted to any one other than Lady Blarney since the original decision of the Government relating to women proceeding overseas was made known. There have been many applications for such permits, but I am sure that the honorable member does not want to know the details of unsuccessful applications. However, I learned when abroad that some wives of officers are overseas. Some left Australia before the outbreak of war, and others before the decision of the Government in respect of this matter was made known. They are still there and, so far as I know, the Commonwealth Government has no control over them.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 10.30 a.m. to-morrow.
– Is the Minister for the Army aware that the heavy traffic on roads adjacent to military camps in northern New South Wales is making them unfit for use? In view of the burden thus imposed on local governing authorities, will he consider the desirability of a grant to such bodies in order to enable them to keep the roads in a fit state of repair? I refer particularly to the road from Greta camp to Cessnock and also the road to Largs camp.
– I am prepared to give consideration to the matters referred to by the honorable member.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Development in a position to supply the House with figures relating to the reduction of petrol consumption in the various States since the introduction of rationing? In view of the isolation of Western Australia, will he give serious consideration to the appointment of a member from that State to the Liquid Fuel Control Board?
– As to the first part of the honorable member’s question, I shall have the information obtained and supplied. As to the second part, I shall have the matter brought under the notice of the Minister for Supply and Development.
– In view of the fact that the present Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), when not a mem ber of the Ministry, threatened to upset the Government if it persisted with petrol rationing, are we to take it that his present silence on the subject is an indication that he is convinced of the wisdom of the further rationing of petrol ?
– If the honorable member had followed the course of the Government’s policy he would know that it has been in the general interests of the community.
– Can the Minister for Commerce say whether it is the intention of the Government to make any further advance to wheat-farmers out of the No. 2 Pool?
– I shall bring the honorable member’s question under the notice of the Australian Wheat Board, with a view to seeing whether any money is available for that purpose.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister say whether it is the practice of the Advisory War Council to keep records of the matters discussed at its meetings, as well as of the opinions expressed by members? If not, will he see that such records shall be kept in the future, in view of their probable historical value in years to come?
– The honorable member may rest assured that the proceedings of the Advisory War Council are carried out in a thoroughly businesslike manner and that records are kept.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister inform the House of the days on which it is intended Parliament shall sit next week?
– I had intended intimating at a later stage that the Government proposes that Parliament shall sit next week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the hope that it will then be able to adjourn until after Easter.
– Is the Treasurer aware of the extraordinary headache that his budget has given to honorable members of this House?
– Frivolous questions are out of order.
– Deductions have been made from the wages of workers in industry who in previous years had no taxable income. I hold in my hand particulars in respect of one such worker.
– Order ! Will the honorable member state his question?
– The assessment which I hold in my hand shows that the tax amounted to £1 12s. When the person concerned submitted evidence, in the form of stamps, that £1 16s. had already been deducted from his pay and asked for a refund of 4s. he received, not a refund, but an intimation that another 18s. was to be deducted from his pay.
– Order !
– In view of these circumstances, and the fact that-
-The honorable member will resume his seat.
– Will the Treasurer issue instructions to the Taxation Department that employers in industry are to exercise discretion in deducting taxes from the earnings of their employees who they know were unemployed for long periods during the previous twelve months and did not earn a taxable income?
– The system of collecting taxes by instalments has been set out by the Taxation Department, and is working smoothly. Any anomalies brought to the notice of the department will be given consideration. Anomalies such as those mentioned by the honorable member have been dealt with by the more expeditious issue of assessments and the issue of notices where there are no assessments, so that employers need not deduct monies from the pay of men who present exemption certificates. If the honorable member will bring under my notice any specific cases which call for attention I shall see that they are promptly adjusted.
– Some time ago I suggested that suitable arrangements be made with regard to the assessment of seasonal workers, such as shearers, whohad not in the previous year earned a taxable income. The Treasurer then informed me that negotiations on the subject were taking place. I now ask him whether those negotiations have been finalized, and whether a working agreement suitable to such workers has been arrived at?
– The matters to which the honorable member has referred have been attended to, and the method adopted to deal with them is working smoothly.
– About a month ago I made representations to the Minister for the Army requesting the granting of additional pay to members of the Defence Forces who were called up for compulsory training and whose period in camp was extended by three weeks, thereby causing them to lose additional money which they would have received as wages. The Minister then told me that the matter was under consideration. I now ask him when he expects to be able to make an announcement, on this subject?
– There is no proposal at present to increase the rates of pay of members of the Militia. As to any hardship which has been imposed upon them as the result of their military pay being less than their civil remuneration, I now inform the honorable member that that problem has been dealt with by arranging that cases of hardship shall receive special consideration; by undertaking that efforts will be made to stagger the call-up in respect of workers in certain industries; and by the issue of regulations providing for a moratorium. A perusal of those regulations will indicate that, with a few exceptions, all cases of hardship have been covered. Cases not specifically covered by the moratorium regulations should be dealt with by the Area Officers concerned ; but should any cases with which they are unable to deal arise I myself 3hall be prepared to consider them.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs saywhether his department is in a position to deal with those brewery companies which decline to supply hotelkeepers with beer because they have refused to charge increased prices for beer following the additional taxes imposed on that commodity by the budget? Further, is his department in a position to deal with these companies for restraint of trade ?
– I am unaware of the matters alleged by the honorable member, but if he will let me have particulars of specific instances, I shall be pleased to investigate them.
– I understand that a number of German Socialists and antiNazis were brought to Australia from Great Britain in July last and interned here. Since then, the British Government has reversed its attitude to many of these people. Some of these internees were persecuted by the Nazis before leaving Germany, but later they escaped from internment there. I now ask the Minister for the Army whether the Government proposes to follow the example of Great Britain in regard to these people and give to them the right of appeal against their internment?
– Internees who came here from Great Britain were interned for a variety of reasons which, in the opinion of the British Government, justified their being kept in custody. It is true that since they came to Australia Mr. Morrison, the Home Secretary, has made certain statements which have since been incorporated in a White Paper. The Commonwealth is merely the custodian of these internees ; it is not in possession of the details of the grounds upon which they were interned, nor has it the means of checking those grounds. There has recently arrived from Great Britain a. gentleman representing the Home Government who will consider the cases of some of these internees, after which he will, no doubt, make representations to his government. Should the British Government decide on their release, the
Commonwealth Government will comply with any request to release them, provided that the persons concerned are kept in custody until a vessel is available to take them from these shores.
– Is the Minister for the Army aware of the great inconvenience suffered by troops on week-end leave from the Rutherford, Greta and Largs camps through having to wait long periods at railway stations for the arrival of trains? In view of the hardship suffered by these men, will the Minister endeavour to have the passenger train service extended so that troops when returning to their camps may be conveyed as far as Farleigh or Greta by train?
– I am not aware that the facts are as alleged. If the honorable member will put the matter fully before me, I shall give to it my sympathetic consideration.
– Ministers are not prepared to answer any further questions without notice to-day.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
Thathe 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.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to consolidate and amend the law relating to trade marks and for other purposes.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Extradition Act 1903-
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) agreed to-
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend section eight of the Air Force Act 1023-1939.
Bill brought up. and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a. bill for an act to authorize the execution of an agreement relating to the Empire Air Service between England and Australia.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Anthony) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act relating to the imposition, assessment and collection of a tax upon the payment of wages.
Motion (by Mr. Harrison) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to approve an agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Government of Southern Rhodesia.
Bill brought up, and read a, first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I have great pleasure in presenting this bill to approve a trade agreement entered into between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Southern Rhodesia. The crisis through which we are at present passing has resulted in uniting more closely than ever before the countries of the British Commonwealth.
Comradeship in arms has immeasurably strengthened the bonds of friendship linking together the various units of the Empire.
As honorable members are aware, Southern Rhodesia is playing an important part in the Empire air scheme. Australian airmen are among those now receiving their training in that country. The contacts and associations which they will make during their period of training will undoubtedly have lasting effects, and will do much to bring about closer co-operation and a better understanding between Australians and Rhodesians.
The Eastern Group Conference held at New Delhi late last year provided an opportunity for an official exchange of views with the representatives of the Southern Rhodesian Government on vital questions arising out of the war situation. That conference was, however, in its very nature confined to questions affecting war supplies, and discussions could not take place on the broader aspects of general commercial relations between the participating countries. However, a suggestion by the leader of the Southern Rhodesian Delegation, Captain F. E. Harris, D.S.O., that, at the conclusion of the Delhi Conference, he should visit Canberra for the purpose of discussing the possibility of drawing up an agreement designed to extend the general trade relations between bis country and Australia, was warmly welcomed by the Government. Captain Harris, who is Minister for Agriculture and Lands in the Southern Rhodesian Government, arrived in Australia in December last and, after brief and very cordial negotiations, a basis for an agreement was found which the Government is confident will prove beneficial to both countries.
The economic life of Southern Rhodesia is dominated by the mining industry. Gold, asbestos, chrome and coal arc the most important minerals produced. Tobacco and maize are the chief agricultural crops. Cattle-raising is also important, and in recent years a regular trade in chilled and frozen meat has been built up. Manufacturing is on a relatively small scale, being chiefly confined to the processing of local foodstuffs and raw materials.
Thus, there aire virtually only three Southern Rhodesian products for which market opportunities exist in Australia, namely, tobacco, asbestos and chrome ore. Southern Rhodesia produces high-grade tobacco leaf of Virginia type, suitable for both cigarette and pipe tobaccoes, and has rapidly built up a considerable export trade, particularly to the United Kingdom. It would be an advantage to Australia at the present time if some of our import requirements of tobacco could be obtained from Southern Rhodesia.
There is no question, of course, of Rhodesian leaf replacing the Australian product. The Australian grower is assured of a market for his product. Indeed-, in recent months, consumption of Australian leaf has been running at a higher annual rate than current production. The Government is endeavouring to extend local production along sound lines in order to meet as large a proportion as possible of our total requirements. Nevertheless, for some years to come, local production will have to be supplemented by very substantial imports. The exchange costs involved by these imports are heavy and, in present circumstances, it is obviously advantageous for us to encourage production within the sterling area, thus lightening the burden on the Empire’s dollar resources. Accordingly, the Government has agreed, subject to the approval of Parliament, to grant a tariff preference of 9d. per lb. on unmanufactured tobacco of Southern Rhodesian origin.
No spectacular results are expected, as a result of this preference, but it is hoped that it will be possible to obtain at least some of our import requirements from Southern Rhodesia iri the immediate future. Taking a long view, the extent to which Australia will be able to draw supplies from Southern Rhodesia will depend very largely on the capacity of producers in that country to increase their output of high-grade leaf suitable for blending with Australian tobaccoes.
Crude asbestos is an essential raw material and is at present admitted into Australia from British Empire sources free of both customs and primage duties. In recent years, crude asbestos has been the only important product exported by Southern Rhodesia to Australia. In 1939, the value of the trade as shown in the Southern Rhodesian statistics amounted to some £66,000. Under the terms of the agreement, an undertaking is given that Southern Rhodesian asbestos will continue to be exempt from payment of primage duty and also that, should customs duties be imposed at any time, Southern Rhodesian asbestos will be admitted at the lowest rates accorded to any other country.
Chrome ore, the third item in which Southern Rhodesia is interested, is also admitted free of customs duty but is at present subject to primage duty at the rate of 5 per cent, and accordingly, is also liable to the special war duty of 10 per cent, of the amount of the duty payable. The agreement provides for the abolition of the primage duty on chrome ore of Southern Rhodesian origin, and also contains an assurance with regard to customs duties similar to that given on crude asbestos.
The Southern Rhodesian import market is not a very large one. The population of the country is less than 1,500,000 persons and of this total, only about 60,000 are Europeans. Because of the restricted range of local industry, the country is dependent on outside sources for the greater part of its requirements of consumer’s goods and industrial machinery and materials. The total value of Southern Rhodesia’s import trade in 1939 was about £9,000,000. Australia’s share in this trade has in the past been small. Southern Rhodesian statistics show total imports from Australia in 1939 at £57,000. Wheat is the principal item in the trade, accounting for some £28,000 of the total. The remaining items include textile bags, £5,000; ploughs and other farm implements, £3,000; timber, £2,000; sporting goods, £2,000; gelatine, £1,000; flour, £1,000; and currents and raisins £1,000.
One reason why Australia has failed to secure a larger share of the Southern Rhodesian market is that, because of the existence of a preferential agreement between Southern Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa, many Australian products have been placed at a competitive disadvantage. The present agreement, if approved, will remove that disability in respect of those items of particular interest to Australia. Under the agreement, Southern Rhodesia has undertaken -
Australian wheat flour in the event of permits being issued for the importation into Southern Rhodesia of wheat in the grain and wheat flour in commercial quantities from any other country at rates of duty lower than those accorded to Australia under the agreement. These concessions cover a wide range of products and give Australia an opportunity to supply a much greater proportion of Southern Rhodesia’s import requirements than it has done in the past. The agreement contains the usual reciprocal clause with regard to content requirements. It is subject to the approval of the Parliaments of Australia and Southern Rhodesia and is of indefinite duration, subject to six months prior notice of termination. Gabled advice has been received that the agreement has been approved by the Southern Rhodesian Parliament, and it is proposed to arrange for the agreement to come into force as early as possible after approval by the Australian Parliament.
Whilst I do not wish to make any exaggerated claims for the present agreement, I believe that it will provide a solid foundation for the future expansion of trade between Australia and Southern Rhodesia and will cement the bonds of friendship between the two countries.
In that belief, I commend the bill wholeheartedly to the approval of the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Curtin) adjourned.
.- I move -
. That, on and after a time and date to be fixed by Proclamation, duties of Customs be imposed on the goods specified in the Schedule hereto which -
This tariff resolution is complementary to the Trade Agreement (Southern Rhodesia) Bill and is designed to give effect to the necessary tariff changes consequent upon the trade agreement concluded wtih Southern Rhodesia. The duties will not operate immediately, as approval by the respective governments is necessary before the terms of the agreement may be implemented. Upon approval being given, it is intended to give effect to the proposals by proclamation, from a date to be mutually agreed upon.
The proposals involve a reduction of the customs duty on tobacco leaf, the produce of Southern Rhodesia. This leaf is now dutiable at the general tariff rate embodied in the customs tariff.
The purpose of the proposals is to apply, as provided for in the trade agreement, the British preferential rate incorporated in the customs tariff less 9d. per lb. on Southern Rhodesian leaf entered for the local manufacture of tobacco and cigarettes. The summary of alterations, which has circulated among honorable members, shows the existing rates on Southern Rhodesian leaf and those that will operate when the proposals are agreed to.
Mr.Scullin. - Do the new duties become operative immediately?
-Curren t importations will be subject to the existing rates. There will be no importations under the new agreement until it is proclaimed.
Debate resumed from the 19th March (vide page 125), on motion by Mr. Spender -
That the bill bc now read a second time.
.- This is an important measure, which embodies two provisions, designed to make certain forms of profiteering at the expense of the armed forces of the Commonwealth so unpleasant and so dangerous that the temptation to engage in them will disappear. The bill may be considered under two headings. The first is the provision which makes punishable not only fraudulent breaches of contract with the Defence Department for the supply of provisions, material or equipment, but also negligent breaches. The law at present makes guilty of an offence persons who fraudulently supply to the Commonwealth or officers of the Commonwealth, for use by the Defence Forces, articles of food or equipment of inferior quality or in quantity less than that specified in the contract. Under the bill a person who supplies the Army with inferior goods or equipment, or with a quantity less than that specified in the contract, will be liable to punishment in the case of either fraudulent breach of contract or negligent breach of contract, where the person concerned was in a position in which he could reasonably have prevented such losses to the Commonwealth. This -is an obvious precaution on the part of the Government against a practice which unfortunately has characterized every war. It is tragic that in war-time above all, when the nation is facing its greatest danger and requires the greatest sacrifices from its citizens, such conduct should occur. It occurred during the war of 1914-18, and we know that it is happening now. The amendment is justified, and honorable members may accept the clause in principle.
The second provision deals with the possession of goods on which appears a forged or fraudulent stamp of the Commonwealth, or with the possession of the stamp itself. In this instance, the proposal is to punish the possession of goods bearing the forged or fraudulent stamp of the ‘Commonwealth, or the possession of the stamp itself unless it be proved to the satisfaction of the court by the persons concerned - corporations or the servants of corporations, or individuals - first, that no fraud was intended, and, secondly, that there was no negligence in connexion with the possession of those goods bearing the stamp. This provision is entirely different from the first, because the very possession of goods bearing such marks seems to be a badge of fraud. What is the position if a Commonwealth stamp be found on articles intended to be supplied to the services, and the Commonwealth has not authorized its use? Obviously, there are only two possible explanations. One is that a fraud i3 to be perpetrated, but has not been completed. The other is that there has been some conspiracy against those in possession; and that will constitute a defence. I see no third possibility. I welcome both the proposals, and now turn to a very important feature of the bill. Both provisions will operate as from the outbreak of hostilities. That is to say, by law Parliament will punish in the future acts which have already been completed. In the case of the supply of goods breaches of contract which were not unlawful when they took place may become unlawful from now on. The Minister now proposes by one of the clauses to make the bill operate from the commencement of the war. It used to be thought that the Commonwealth had no power to pass retrospective legislation. Curiously enough it was during the last war in connexion with the coming into effect of the Crimes Act of the Commonwealth that the courts had to deal with the question of whether Parliament had power to pass retrospective legislation. It was held by the courts that there is such power in the Parliament; but possession of such power has to be distinguished from the exercise of it. It may be that when the bill goes into committee the committee will be asked to distinguish between two distinct cases. If there is an element of fraud, dishonesty or dishonorable conduct and the element is defined in the provisions of the bill, it seems to me that the Government is entitled and almost bound to make its law operate as from the commencement of the present war. On the other hand, if it is merely a case of negligent conduct, it may he that the committee will not favour the retrospective provision.
There is no reasonable objection to the second reading of the bill. I agree with those who think that a mere law on the statute-book designed to stop unjustified profiteering in time of war is not sufficient. What is wanted is such a rigorous and ruthless administration of the law that those guilty of profiteering, dishonesty or dishonorable action shall be punished. The question of retrospectivity will require to be considered very carefully by honorable members when the bill is in committee. Personally, I have no real objection to the retrospectivity provisions in the second portion of the bill, because where goods are stamped unlawfully with the seal of the Commonwealth it is obvious that that unlawful stamping is the first step in a course of cheating which merits punishment although it took place months ago. There are some incidental provisions which I think will get over the difficulty in cases of that kind. I support the second reading of the bill.
The only point of the whole measure that gives me trouble is that upon which the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt) dilated at the end of his speech. I do not like any retrospective legislation which makes something a crime which was not a. crime at the time it was committed. That is dangerous and wrong. Our great cousin, the United States of America, forbids the passing of retrospective criminal legislation. At all events,I believe there is no retroactive criminal legislation in the United States of America, and no special legislation of that nature.
– Not only is retroactive criminal legislation forbidden in the United States of America, but also retroactive civil legislation.
– Yes, but in practice they have got round the law in regard to civil legislation. The change proposed to be made in the law is this: Under section 78c: - which this bill seeks to amend - it is an offence to commit a fraudulent breach of contract. The Commonwealth has a civil remedy - an action for damages - against the contractor who in breach of his contract supplies an inferior commodity, whether his breach is fraudulent or merely negligent. It can prosecute criminally if the breach is fraudulent, but, not if the breach is merely negligent. The alteration will make such negligent breaches criminal offences in the future. To this I raise no objection. But it will also provide thata contractor may be prosecuted criminally and may be convicted of a criminal offence for a merely negligent breach. Here I oppose the amendment. It is wrong to say that for an act or omission which, when it took place, was not criminal, any person may now be treated as a criminal offender. That is done by making this amendment apply as from the beginning of the war. This provision will enable the Commonwealth to launch prosecutions against any person who has since the beginning of the war delivered goods inferior in quality to those stipulated. Upon such a contractor will be thrown the burden of proving two things: first, that he had no intention of defrauding the Commonwealth, and, secondly, that he neither knew nor had the means of knowing that he was supplying an inferior article. He must exclude the possibility not only of fraud, but also of negligence on his part. If he does not succeed in doing both, he will have committed an offence, and the bill provides that he may be punished if the offence be prosecuted summarily by a fine not exceeding £100 or six months’ imprisonment, or both, and if the offence is prosecuted upon indictment, in which case he will have a jurytrial, by a fine of any amount or imprisonment for any term, or both. I submit that that is a very bad and dangerous principle, and the fact that we are dealing with a class ofcase in which the public is very interested, and in respect of which the public mind is easily inflamed, should make us very careful about what we are doing. It is in respect of this class of case that we can easily make an inroad on British conceptions of justice and fair play. The gap we make in the wall which protects these conceptions isa gap through which may enter other invasion’s. I submit that it is a wrong principle that a person who has done something which was not a criminal offence at the time of his doing it should, by a subsequent alteration of the law, be liable uo criminal punishment for it. I concede that it is wise to make this provision for the future, and that we should provide that a person who contracts with the Government does so at his peril, and that, if he fraudulently or negligently fails to supply the article he covenants to supply, he should be punished. I cannot conceive of any situation so grave as to demand that a person who did a thing which, at the time of his doing it, was not criminal, should at some future time be punished as a criminal for doing it. That is my objection to this legislation. It has been suggested that the persons who may suffer by this measure will not be working men, that they will be employers and capitalists, and therefore there is no need for anybody to be concerned about their interests. That does not appeal to me. I believe that the principles of freedom and justice should be applied to all the King’s lieges without respect to persons or classes. I am not to be induced to support a principle like this by the fact that it will be used against persons or classes of persons I do not represent in .this House. I am sorry to see a bill of this kind introduced, but it is all of a piece with the general regression from the principles of freedom and liberty which we have made during this war.
– I rise at this stage to say a few words upon this bill because my criticism of it relates to principle rather than detail. Therefore, my observations .are more appropriate to the second-reading than to the committee stage of the measure. I see a danger arising from the natural indignation which people feel in a time of war at the thought that some who are not exposed to the terrors and dangers and hardships of war are, nevertheless, employing the opportunities of defence preparations for their own enrichment and aggrandisement. I see in the feeling arising from that emotionalism a real danger that we may depart from principles of justice in order to pass legislation which, having been conceived in a praiseworthy desire to do the proper thing, may, nevertheless, be made the installment of passion and prejudice. On the very first page of this bill* I see repeated what I consider to be the vicious practice of placing the burden of proof on the accused. I have always been opposed to that. It is in the very essence of the criminal law that every person is regarded as innocent until he is proved guilty, and - it rests upon those alleging guilt to prove it. The onus of proof of guilt rests no less upon the Grown than upon the private individual. It has been for many years a practice of the Commonwealth to reverse the order and to pursue the easy course of declaring certain things to be an offence, and then - stating in so many necessary words that the averment - to use a favourite phrase - is prima facie proof of guilt. That is a retrograde movement in jurisprudence. It is common in Commonwealth laws, but it is to be deprecated, and as far as I have opportunities I have never failed to register my protest against any measure which contains a clause of that kind. The principle runs right through this bill, as it ran right through the war precautions measures passed during the last war, so it has become familiar to the people. Governments having discovered that this is a convenient and easy method of prosecution, it has been continued ever since the last war.
I have a further criticism to offer. I confine myself to criticism. I do not intend to go further than that, for I realize that it would be futile to do so. There is, inherent in this measure, a principle which has the result of making mere negligence a crime. That reminds me of the general trend of the law in regard to what lawyers know as mens rea, the guilty mind. Even in the more primitive stages of British jurisprudence it was recognized, as a fundamental of the administration of justice, that the guilty mind had to be proved before the crime could be established. The guilty mind was proved by the act of the person charged, on the theory, which is just, that a man intended the natural consequences of his act. Therefore, having proved an act, it was said to be reasonable to infer, if all the attendant circumstances were in harmony,- that the person intended- the guilty consequences of it. We have departed far from that principle. We have cumbered not only the statute-book but also the by-laws of municipal authorities and the regulations issued under statutory authority, with provisions which make the mere commission of an act a crime or a quasi-crime, irrespective of the mental state of the person charged. It is only necessary to say “You did it”. To take a simple example : Because a personwalks across the street in defiance of the street lights, it is said that he broke the law, and the intention is immaterial. Having proved a certain act, or set of acts, it is assumed that there was a criminal intention. We are now carrying the principle even further, because we are making mere negligence a crime. Negligence is usually dealt with in the civil courts on the basis of compensation, lex talionis. If a man injures another by negligence he is not by reason of that fact alone amenable to the criminal law. He is usually amenable to action through the civil courts. The matter is argued there to determine whether there was negligence, and if so, whether it was on both sides, where the major negligence occurred, and what was the proximate cause of the accident. If a criminal case arose out of a street accident, for example, the civil and criminal aspects are sharply differentiated: that is, between negligence and crime which may in certain circumstances amount to manslaughter, or, in less serious circumstances, to a breach of the traffic law. I regard with disfavour the extension of the criminal law beyond the orbit of the guilty mind, to matters which may be adequately dealt with by the civil law. I leave the point there.
This bill makes a further encroachment On popular liberties by retrospectively providing that conduct which was not a crime at the time of the commission of the act is now clothed with criminality. The quality of an act should not be susceptible of alteration months, and in some cases even years, after its commission by means of action by the legislature. I make my protest against this procedure. I suppose it is about the hundredth time that I have done so, in my fairly long political career.
These encroachments upon our civil liberties become more varied and ingenious as time passes. It is the practice of the Crown to surround itself with able lawyers who perform the special duty of making it easy to launch prosecutions and secure convictions. This procedure has been continued without much resistance on the part of those whose acts may, in later days, make them the victims of such ingenuity. That aspect of the subject should not be lost on members. As members of the popular chamber of the legislature, and representatives of common people who are not consulted as to the machinery of the law, we should endeavour faithfully to discharge the duty that rests upon us to protect common people from being enmeshed in forms of law to which they may have to submit, but about which they have never been consulted.
.- This bill is much more suitable for discussion by members of the legal profession than by laymen. In fact, all who have spoken to it so far, are members of the legal profession. However, as a layman, I desire a little information. The bill rightly provides for the imposition of severe penalties on contractors who endeavour to defraud the Commonwealth.. I ask the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) whether similar penalties may also be imposed upon persons who enter into collusion with contractors found guilty of offences? Clause 4 of the bill makes it an offence for a contractor to apply “without legal authority any mark or design or the impression of any seal or stamp indicating that the goods have been accepted by or on behalf of the Commonwealth for delivery “. I desire to know whether an official who acts in collusion with a contractor in causing an illegal mark or design to be impressed on goods, will also be subject to similar penalties ?
– Such a person may be dealt with under section 73c of the principal act.
-He would also be liable to prosecution independently of this legislation.
– It is obvious to me that a dishonest official might enter into a conspiracy with a contractor to defraud the Government. Such a person should certainly be liable to prosecution.
– He would be liable not only under section 73c of the principal act, but also under other legislation.
– Would he not billable under section 5 of the Crimes Act?
– He would.
– I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister that any person who acts in collusion with a contractor will also be subject to penalties.
.- My principal criticism of this bill is thai it leaves too many loopholes through which guilty persons may escape. I notice several honorable gentlemen smiling. I have seen bill after bill presented to this Parliament,- and I have read of other measures that have been presented to other parliaments, with the express purpose of dealing with individuals who attempt to commit frauds. It has always been said that the measures will meet the cases they are designed to meet. Yet frauds continue to be perpetrated.
– If the honorable member can point to any holes I shall be glad to do my best to block them.
– The Government has said that it is against profiteering. The frauds that have occurred in connexion with the supply of military boots are, in themselves, a form of profiteering.
– This Government will never stop profiteering.
– That is true. The main reason advanced by the Government for the introduction of this hill is to deal with frauds that have been discovered in connexion with the supply of footwear for the fighting services, yet I question whether the people who have engaged in such fraudulent practices will be very much concerned about the measure. They will be able to engage the most competent lawyers in the community to serve their ends, and, it is most likely that they will escape the consequences of their fraud. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) doubtless intends to launch certain prosecutions after this bill has been passed, but I do not think that these proposals will meet all the needs of the case, nor do I think that they will clear up the scandal that has occurred.
On the 16th May last, I brought before Parliament definite evidence that a public official had been victimized because of his desire to prevent inferior boots from being foisted upon the Commonwealth Government. The Government knew what was going on, for my case was based upon facts obtained from departmental files, but nothing at all was done to correct the evil. Instead, one of the gentlemen who was responsible for this state of affairs was promoted. It is true that the Government has inspectors to whom instructions as to how they shall conduct their work have been issued. Those instructions include the following :-
It is most important that tlie utmost care and vigilance in the examination of goods submitted by contractors for acceptance, be exercised by all members of the examining staff.
It is to be clearly understood that the maintenance of contract supplies in conformity with scaled pattern, specification, &c, is considered so important that any instance of laxity on the part of the examiners in this respect that may be brought to notice will be regarded in a serious light,
Mr. S. G. Gill, who was at that time the chief examiner in New South Wale3, endeavoured to carry out those instructions faithfully, and, because of that, as honorable members know, was compelled to resign his position in the Public Service of this country. The official file shows that one of the charges against Mr. Gill was that certain manufacturers objected to him because he insisted that the specifications should be strictly adhered to. This was discovered only after the matter had been ventilated in this Parliament, The file contains the following report by Mr. Potts, at that time the head of the department : -
It has been apparent to me for some time that Mr. S. G. Gill, senior examiner of boots and leather-work in Sydney, is temperamentally unfitted to efficiently conduct inspection work without causing endless friction with and irritation to contractors. He is too exacting in his demands on manufacturers and expects production to be strictly to the letter of the specifications which, of course, is out of the question under the present emergency conditions . . . A climax was reached yesterday when a deputation from Sydney boot manufacturers called on me, and stated that they refused to tender for boots while Mr. Gill was in charge of the inspection work in Sydney. In view of the urgent need for large production and reasonable inspection, I would recommend an immediate change . . .
The Government supported the attitude adopted by Mr. Potts; yet it now desires the public to believe that it wants to prevent fraudulent practices, such as the supply of inferior footwear to members of the Defence Forces. Honorable members should realize that it was not a case of a superior officer finding fault with Mr. Gill, but one in which the boot manufacturers, whose products he was there to inspect, objected to him. If my memory serves me correctly, the deputation consisted of Mr. Michaelis of McMurtries Proprietary Limited, Mr. A. E. Matthews, a contractor to the Government, and Mr. Goldstein of the Rightwear Shoe Company. Those men were representatives of three of the firms which, only a few weeks previously, the then Minister for Supply and Development (Sir Frederick Stewart) had denounced in this House for having conspired to defraud the Government by forcing up the price of boots. Because of the outcry resulting from recent disclosures, the Government now endeavours to save its face by introducing legislation which it claims will deal effectively with such persons. It will not deal effectively with them. The result of this legislation will not he different from that of legislation enacted in New South Wales to deal with monopolies. Honorable members know that legislation was passed in that State to deal with persons who combine to sell goods at artificial prices and thereby exploit the public. Some time ago a prosecution under that act was launched against members of the brick combine, but the companies charged were able to prove to the satisfaction of the court that the purpose for which they had combined was not to exploit the public. Accordingly, the action was dismissed, with costs against the Government of the State.
– If the facts justified that decision, why should not the case have been dismissed?
– The Minister appears to be anxious to defend the monopolists. Will he say that the brick companies did not combine to protect their interests and to remove their chief competitor, the government brickworks of New .South Wales? Will he deny that subsequently the price of bricks increased?
– The judge conveniently said that all that the combine did was to stabilize the market.
– That is so ; but the fact remains that, after their greatest competitor had been removed, the price of bricks was increased to the public.
– ls the honorable member laying a charge of collusion against the judge?
– Notwithstanding what is contained in acts of Parliament, the fact remains that, with few exceptions, those who sit on the benches of our courts of justice are adept at discovering grounds for doubt and give the benefit of the doubt to persons in influential circles who enage in fraudulent practices. I can understand the Minister’s desire to protect these people, because they are supporters of the Government and provide the funds with which Government candidates contest elections. Many of the heads of these exploiting concerns are personal friends of Ministers. I have here an advertisement which was published widely in New South Wales during the last general election campaign. At that time the then Minister for Supply and Development was fighting a strenuous battle against his opponents. One of the issues of the campaign was the supply of inferior boots to the Defence Forces. It is significant that the very firm which is now charged with having supplied inferior boots to the Government came to the defence of the Minister. This advertisment of Fostars Shoes Proprietary Limited, which was published throughout New South Wales, states that the Government was getting full value for the money expended by it on boots. It reads -
It has been most difficult for our soldiers to accustom themselves to heavy military boots in this war, when every one in civil life wears light shoes, whereas before last war every man wore boots.
The present price of 14s. 44d. is a fair one to all parties, and any increase would only go from the pockets of tlie general public to those of the manufacturers, without any gain in boot efficiency.
That advertisement was inserted in the press in order to assist the election campaign of the then Minister for Supply and Development, The people of Australia know that Fostars Shoes Proprietary Limited is only a trade name, behind which is Mr. Harry McEvoy, who is a personal friend of the Minister. Indeed, when I charged the Minister with being a friend of Mr. McEvoy he did not deny it.
The Government would have the public believe that with this bill on the statutebook there will be no escape for persons who act fraudulently in connexion with defence supplies, but it would be well to study the bill in order to see the loopholes that are provided.
Clause 3 seeks to amend section 73c of the principal act by adding at the end of sub-section 1 the words, “ , unless he proves that he supplied the article, material, equipment or beast without intent to defraud and that he neither knew nor had the means of knowing that the article was so inferior or less in quantity or that the material, equipment or beast was so inferior “, and at the end of sub-section 2 the words, “ , unless he proves that he received the article, material, equipment or beast without intent to defraud, and that he neither knew nor had the means of knowing that it was supplied in contravention of this section.”
– The honorable member has not shown that there is any loophole there.
-It would not be a difficult matter for Mr. McEvoy to prove in any court that he “ neither knew nor had the means of knowing that the article was so inferior “.
– Is that the loophole?
Mr.WARD.- Yes. The bill should provide that the persons who will benefit from any fraudulent action shall be punished, and not that some foreman or employee shall suffer,
– Who should be made responsible ?
– A director of a factory who seldom goes near to the sources of production could always escape, as others have done in innumerable cases, by claiming that the defrauding was done without his knowledge or consent.
– Obviously, the honorable member has not read the bill.
– I predict that, should any prosecutions be launched under this legislation, few of them will be successful, and that those which succeed will be cases in which small traders are involved. If betting were permitted in this chamber, I should be prepared to wager that a substantial penalty will never be imposed against any big manufacturer under this legislation. I have already shown how the brick combine in New South Wales was permitted to escape, notwithstanding the existence of legislation designed to deal with monopolies. How can we expect the friends of the monopolists, profiteers and racketeers, who sit on the Government benches, to introduce legislation which will effectively control profiteering? If we examined the lists of shareholders of some of these concerns, we should probably find among them the names of many honorable members sitting opposite. The only way to deal effectively with this problem is to place in control of this country free men who are not tied to vested interests. We have any amount of evidence to produce before a properly-established tribunal. Proposed new section 73e is as follows : -
Where a person to whom section seventythree c or section seventy-three d of this act applies is a body corporate, every director and every officer concerned in the management of the body shall, in respect of any act or fact constituting an offence by the body under either of those sections, be guilty of the like offence unless he proves -
that the act or fact constituting the offence took place or existed without his knowledge; and
that he did not have reasonable means of preventing the act or fact taking place or coming into existence.
That eventually throws the responsibility on the employee, because the director of a firm may visit the business premises only infrequently. Therefore, he could say that what took place was without his knowledge, and he could not have prevented it.
– That is not sufficient. Will somebody take the honorable member away and teach him something about the English language?
– I did not hear the Minister’s interjection.
– It does not matter.
– -I agree that it probably does not matter, because those who are engaged in fraudulent practices have already, no doubt, been presented with a copy of the bill and approved of its terms. That is what we would expect, from the Minister. We cannot escape, the fact, however, that no provision has been made for hearing the evidence of Mr. Gill, for instance, the ox-hoot inspector, who lost his position in the Common wealth Service because lie refused to pass boots of inferior quality. The Minister has no reply to that. What facilities are being provided to enable him to make disclosures which, I am confident, would amaze everybody? Is the Minister aware that it has been the practice of certain inspectors to suggest to contractors that they might secure their leather requirements from a. certain firm? Those who followed this advice received further orders. For some mysterious reason, those who did not follow it received no further orders, or wry few. The Minister has not told us whether it is proposed to make the measure sufficiently wide in its scope to cover every aspect of fraudulent trading. Why? Because the Government is afraid of. involving some of its own Ministers. Let us have an open inquiry, and let men like Mr. Gill, and others who are prepared to give evidence, come forward and tell what they know. If the Government is not prepared to do that, let it not attempt to fool the House and the people that it is making a genuine attempt to check fraudulent practices. After this measure is passed fraud will still be practised, and it will be practised with the tacit approval of the Government. Prosecutions may he launched against certain people, but it will be found that very few, if any, of the prosecutions under this measure will be successful. I protest against this attempt of the Government to prevent the holding of a proper inquiry into the boot scandal. Instead of bringing in a measure of this kind, the Government should appoint a royal commission armed with full power to inquire into every aspect of the matter, and before which every citizen, who believes that he has anything of value to say on the subject,
would be able to give evidence. If the Government wishes to deserve public confidence it should .state clearly that, even if Cabinet Ministers are involved directly or indirectly, in the scandal, they will have to face the full consequences. Any prosecutions that are launched should be pressed home irrespective of the persons who may be affected.
.- I believe the Government is justified in bringing down this measure. Its appearance is most timely. Although, on principle, we should oppose anything in the nature of retrospective legislation as it affects the criminal law, I think the Government is justified in its action in this instance. In the boot contract case, for instance, the boots had not actually been delivered, but large quantities were found on the firm’s premises, stamped with a false die, or with a die improperly in the firm’s possession. It is clear that the firm had every intention to defraud the Government. However, I understand that the bill applies not to boots only, but to commodities of all kinds, including foodstuffs.
– That is so.
– In that respect 1 do not think that the hill goes far enough. It will not in all cases reach the real culprit, because it deals with effects, not causes. Frauds arc practised because many of the contractors are in the hands of financiers. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) referred to clothing contractors who, because they did not have the necessary funds to buy raw material and pay wages, had to borrow from financiers, who squeezed them until they were tempted to defraud tlie Government in order to get some return for themselves. We have heard a good deal about one ‘ bread contractor whose affairs are to be investigated by a royal commission. It is pretty generally known that most bakers are in the hands of the wealthy flour-milling combines, who squeeze them so hard that, in order to make anything for them selves, they must try to defraud their customers. This point i3’ brought out very well in the following article which appeared recently in Smith’s Weekly: -
Combine that Shrieks for Public Probe.
High time people wakened to the rule being run on them by the flourmilling ring.
Gross overcharge for-bread is because bakers are forced to work to master millers’ “ say so “.
Combines of master millers are determinedly preventing free and fair trading.
Their stranglehold on the baking industry must be exposed by searching inquiry.
In Melbourne, combines of mill-owners have their hands clutched ruthlessly on the throats of the bakers. Millers dominate 80 per cent, of the baking trade.
Great majority of individual bakers are financially gripped by the combines.
They have been financed by the combine in such matters as purchases of businesses, credits for supplies, payments for machinery and loans towards operating costs.
Flourmilling ring sees to it that the bakers stay encumbered.
Ring can then dictate prices of raw materials, exercise complete control over the trade, crush out non-combine operators and, most important <to the master millers, force up the price of bread exorbitantly making large profits in the manoeuvres.
Bakers are forced to buy flour that has had every vestige of valuable vitamin content, milled out.
An attempt to purchase flour from a noncombine miller in the belief that his product will give a better bread; if they make any move towards decreasing the price of the loaf
Word goes around in the combine to suppliers of yeast and suchlike products. To all on whom the baker depends for his dough.
Supplies shut off.
If the baker comes to heel, he is let off with a fine. If he defies the combine, he finds shops being opened around him and selling bread at “ cut “ prices. His customers are canvassed and told where they can get cheaper bread.
Anything that can be done to squeeze the “ rebel “ out of business is done.
On numerous occasions Smith’s has drawn attention to instances of this deliberate gangsterism.
It is rampant in Melbourne.
By its means, price of bread is being kept up so that the capital value of baking businesses controlled by the combine may bo increased.
Consumer hasn’t got Buckley’s chance of obtaining a fair deal. Neither has the baker who attempts to see that the consumer gets’ a fair spin.
This hill does not touch those people who are the real cause of racketeering. Before it is passed, the Minister should incorporate a provision that would bring them within its scope.
– The onus should not be thrown entirely upon the contractor, but, where necessary, should be placed upon the original manufacturer. Frequent reference has been made to the quantity of goods supplied, but so far, in respect of bread1, no reference has been made to quality. How is a baker to know whether’ the gluten has been extracted from the flour before it has been sold to him by the miller, a practice, which, I understand, is fairly common? I know of a shopkeeper who was fined recently for selling milk that was below standard, but he sold it in exactly the form in which he received it from the dairy company. The same thing might happen in the case of the beer which is sold in military canteens. How is the vendor pu’blican who ha.s received it from the breweries to know that it is up to standard? I suggest that inspectors should be appointed to check the quality of foodstuffs supplied.
– Is the honorable member prepared to move an amendment in committee to achieve that objective?
– Yes. Like the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), I consider that proposed newsection 73d contains a serious loophole. Under this provision, proceedings might bc instituted against an official of a corporation, perhaps the secretary. The mere fact of his being an official of the enterprise renders him liable, unless he can prove that he had possession of tlie goods, die, device, seal or stamp without intent to defraud and that the mark was applied to the goods without his knowledge and without his having the means of knowing of its application. A further objection to this provision is that prosecution may proceed on mere averment, and the onus of disproof is thrown on the accused. In a British democracy, a man is presumed to be innocent until his guilt has been proved. In this instance, however, an officer of a corporation is presumed to be guilty and is required to prove not only his innocence, but also that the offence occurred without his knowledge. A person appearing in court - except, of course, learned counsel who is being well remunerated for bis appearance - is naturally a little nervous, and his nervousness might be construed as evidence of guilt.
– The honorable member is displaying strange solicitude for the profiteer!
– That is not so. I desire to ensure that a man should not be deemed guilty until his guilt has been proved. The bill throws no such responsibility upon corporations to prove their innocence. Only the individual employee has such onus placed on him.
– An amendment to meet that position has already been submitted.
– I shall withold further comment until I have examined it.
– Three features of the bill call for comment. Clause 3 amends section 73c of the principal act by omitting the word “ fraudulently “ where it occurs and by adding at the end of sub-section 1 the words - unless he proves thathe supplied the article, material, equipment or beast without intent to defraud and that he neither knew nor had the means of knowing that the article was so inferior orless in quantity or that the material, equipment or beast was so inferior.
The Government should make a differentiation in order to protect persons who, prior to the introduction of this measure, have been guilty merely of negligence. The Government proposes to make the bill retrospective, and a person who is proceeded against under these provisions must prove, first, that he supplied the goods, or used the dies or devices without intent to defraud, and, secondly, that he was not guilty of negligence. A distinction should be drawn between a person who might be proceeded against in the future and another who might, prior to the introduction of this legislation, have been guilty of negligence merely, but who had no intention to defraud. The onus rests upon him to prove not only that he did not intend to defraud, but also that he was not negligent. The Minister should include in the measure a modifying provisionsuch as “ except in cases where the supply took place before the commencement of the act.”
-Such anamendment has already been submitted by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt).
– I come now to my second observation. A person charged under this legislation is required to demonstrate his innocence by proving that he had possession of dies, goods or stamps without intent to defraud and that the mark was applied to the goods in question without his knowledge and without his having the means of knowing of its application. A strong distinction should be drawn between a case of negligence in time of peace and negligence in time of war. The mere possession of a stamp or die by which goods might be marked is criminal negligence in these times, and it should be made clear that the possession of such dies is akin to the possession, under criminal law, of counterfeiting apparatus. Possession itself, under this amendment, should be made prima facie evidence of criminal negligence, which should be punishable in accordance with the penal clause of this legislation.
Thirdly, I am not satisfied, if the Government is sincere in its desire to arrest the frauds of which notice has already been given by the Minister, and other frauds as yet undetected, ‘that the penalties are adequate. The only way in which to prevent such breaches is to make the penalty a fine not exceeding £1,000, or imprisonment for five years. The present proposal is to inflicta fine not exceeding £100, or imprisonment for six months. Profiteering at the expense of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force is most dishonorable.
– If a person be proceeded against by indictment, he is liable to be fined an unlimited amount, or to be imprisoned for an unspecified period.
– I am glad to hear that. The public is looking to the Government to prosecute vigorously any person suspected of profiteering, which in these times of emergency is a dispicable and dishonorable act. I commend my three suggestions to the Minister for consideration.
.- My ears were tickled when I heard the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), by interjection, blandly protest a little while ago that the Government intended to prevent profiteering. He uttered the remark while wearing a “ poker face “ and I have no doubt that he would have the community at large believe that he meant, in fact, that the Government has sternly set its face against profiteering. If honorable members cast their minds back to the 21st September, 1940, the date of the federal election, they will recollect that all the profiteers and exploiters were ranged on the side of Government supporters. No profiteers or exploiters contributed to the funds of the Labour party, the members of which were assisted by the pennies of the working class, who desired to end this system of capitalism which brings so much misery and destitution to a large section of the community. All the exploiters supported the Government. They occupied the chair at the election meetings of Government supporters; they applauded their cause; they contributed to their party funds; and they turned on their radio stations and broadcast all the filthy records that they could muster to misrepresent the case of the democracy of this country. Now, on the 26th March, 1941, the Minister protests that the Government is determined to prevent profiteering. It sounds to me very much like the devil reproving sin.
Whilst the Minister is quite approach.able and helpful in many ways, I am concerned not with his personality, but with the cause that he and honorable members opposite represent in this House. During the last war, the Government which was led by a Labour renegade, protested that it would end profiteering. At that time, a well-known butcher was fined a sum of no great magnitude for selling bydatidinous meat to the troops. The offence was us reprehensible as any that has been committed, or is likely to be committed, in the present war. The years have rolled by, and the gentleman has since, according to the fiction that is used, “ been honoured by His Majesty, who has been pleased to confer on him a knighthood “. Naturally, he is, as we would expect him to he, a representative in Parliament of the United Australia party.
– Is the honorable member jealous because a. title has not been bestowed upon himself?
– I belong to a political party that does not accept titles. I ask the question, what is any aristocracy, or any nobility of any country in any age but, mostly, a collection of successful scoundrels, and their degenerate descendants !
– Order !
– Most of the factories that are manufacturing clothing for the services are financed by a pawnbroker of Port Melbourne. If proceedings be taken under this bill against a manufacturer of clothing, certainly nothing will happen to the financier, whose exactions upon the manufacturers are mostly responsible for the tergiversation mentioned or contemplated by the Minister.
Recently I raised the question of the protection of workers’ wages, and I asked that a government contractor should be obliged, before he became entitled to the final payment, to submit to the authorities a statutory declaration that lie had paid award wages and observed award conditions. The Minister further replied that the position was already protected by Commonwealth and State laws, and that if I had any information to supply in relation to non-observance of award conditions he would be pleased to in vestigate it. The purpose of my question was to make contractors liable for penalties not only for offences against State and Federal industrial laws by nonobservance of award wages and conditions but also, if they made false declarations, for wilful and corrupt perjury. I wanted an assurance that such contractors would be liable to a term of imprisonment. However, I cannot expect this Government readily to accept a proposal of that kind. That aspect of industrial affairs does not, as I have said, vitally concern this Government or greatly appeal to it. The Minister replied, that the matter might be considered later if I could submit information. I now inform the Minister that the Victorian Public Works Department requires contractors to the State government to submit statutory declarations that award rates and conditions have been observed before approval is given for final payments. Even, the Melbourne City
Council, which is more tory than any other representative body of its kind in the British Empire, has been more open-minded on a matter of this sort than are the honorable gentlemen opposite who direct the destinies of this great Commonwealth. At present a charge of subversive activity has to be proved to the satisfaction of the court by the people who laid the information on which the charge is based, or by those who make the arrest. Persons charged with that offence and others equally heinous have the right to demand that the case against them be proved. I join with other honorable members in urging that we should not lightly take away the right of an accused person to require the Crown to prove its case.
I regard this Government and its immediate predecessors as the representatives of predatory wealth. No matter how much Ministers might protest, no matter how much honorable members opposite might protest, that cannot be denied. I use the term “ predatory wealth “ because it was first used by another and earlier Roosevelt, who also was President of the United States of America, in the fight which he waged against the great trusts. There are trusts, combines and monopolies here, and I have not the slightest doubt that, if this bill be passed in its present form, it will be possible for big corporations to smash small contractors by various schemes. No doubt they will be able to plant their stuff on small concerns and. by making reports to the authorities later on, make it impassible for the small concerns to carry on. I do not believe that this Government intends to stop profiteering. Profiteering cannot be prevented while capitalism lasts, and this Government does not intend to end capitalism or set up a new order, either now or after the war.
– What does the honorable member mean by capitalism?
– The exploitation of the community for the sake of profit. Though the honorable gentleman may be a very distinguished member of the New South Wales bar, he has certainly not yet displayed any evidence that, he knows anything about economics. If he did he would realize that the accumulation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands is accompanied by much . undeserved destitution and /poverty at the other end of the social scale, and generally leads to a state of affairs which should not he accepted in any allegedly Christian community. The position is becoming worse and worse in this country, and the appointment of men like Sir Bertram Stevens, a worn-out politician, at a princely salary of £4,000 a year-
– Order ! I shall not again remind the honorable member that he must address himself to the bill before the House.
– I was endeavouring to make a comparison between those who are benefiting under capitalism and the profiteers whose activities this Government says it is attempting to curb. I am sorry if I have been unable to make myself clear, but I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have the very best intentions in the world of addressing myself to the bill, and, in doing so, of enlightening, even if I cannot convert, those benighted unfortunates who sit on your right in this chamber, and who assist the exploiters of the community to pursue their nefarious ends.
– in reply - When the honorable member foi- Barton (Mr. Evatt) spoke on the bill I understood that he expressed the views of the Opposition, and the issue became quite clear. The honorable gentleman drew a distinction between clauses 3 and 4 of the bill. He acknowledged the need for retrospectivity in the measure so far as clause 4 was concerned, but denied the need for it in respect of clause 3. He admitted the propriety of throwing the onus of proof in cases such a.* this, upon the person charged, and so I then thought that the issue between the Opposition and the Government was in substance merely the need for retrospectivity in respect of clause 3; but after several other honorable members from the Opposition had spoken it became apparent that there was no certainty of view in respect of- the matter at all. Indeed, the divergence of views almost ran t.o extremes. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. ‘ Brennan) protested vehemently against the proposition that there should be any burden of proof thrown upon a person in whose possession were found goods manufactured for supply to the -Commonwealth and bearing a false mark. He declared that such a placing of the onus of proof was inconsistent with British justice. It seemed somewhat strange that a gentleman who, at many times, has indulged in invective against profiteering, and who, with the honorable members for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has charged the Government with being solicitous for the profiteer, should, with al] his legal experience, say that this measure should not be brought down. That attitude revealed a strange solicitude for the persons against whom, these honorable members say, their activities are directed. I do not propose to deal with the remarks of the honorable member for Batman beyond saying that there is every justification for this provision in a time of war, particularly when dealing with a contractor for the Crown, who is charged with fraud, and who if he did not have the burden of proof thrown upon him, as this bill proposes, might very well escape from his delinquencies. As to the honorable member for East Sydney, the less said about his speech the better. He directed not a word to the bill ; he merely indulged in his usual torrent of words, revealing nothing except the mania which seems to possess him that there is good in nobody but himself. Whilst I do not deny his fluency in words I sometimes challenge his knowledge of their meaning. He said that there are loopholes in this legislation; but when he was challenged to indicate them he could make no response. He was content to make the allegation that there were plenty of loopholes, no doubt thinking that that was a pretty good line for the press and good publicity for one who poses as the protector of the poor. The cold fact is that when he was asked to indicate the loopholes, he could make but one suggestion. The honorable member said, “ Why, the executives would be able to escape by transferring tlie blame to their subordinates “. Then, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), who sits upon his right, and is a lawyer, pulled him by the sleeve and said, “ Have a look at this “. Whereupon, the honorable member for East Sydney tried to back his way out, and with an indifferent amount of success. It is hardly worth while to do any more than say that his outburst was characteristic of him and did not touch upon the real issue in the bill. Another member of the Opposition said that the bill goes too far, and still another said that it does not go far enough, but neither indicated how far it should go. So, we are left with the remarks of the honorable member for Barton, who raised the only issue, namely, whether there should be retrospectivity in respect of clause 3.
– What about the question of possession?
– I have dealt with that. I adopt entirely the remarks of the honorable member for Barton. I can find nothing except the badge of fraud when goods bearing a false mark are found in the possession of a contractor, and when that mark happens to be one which indicates the approval of the Commonwealth clause 4 will unquestionably come in. The issue of retrospectivity should not worry unreasonably any one desirous of stamping out profiteering in this country. I admit that there is a distinction between clauses 3 and 4 and I am. prepared to have another look at the point taken by the honorable member for Barton ; but I suggest to him that no amendment should be moved which seeks to limit the retrospectivity of these clauses. It is true that, as clause 3 now stands, it makes negligence a penal offence, but the power to prosecute would be exercised only in appropriate cases. If the negligence were not of a gross kind, but only technical, the legal officers of the Crown would not advise a prosecution. The power is there in broad form, but it would bc used only in proper cases. If, for example, a contractor had shown gross negligence in the supply of goods, and his negligence were discovered the next day, a month afterwards, or even six months later, there would he just as much reason to prosecute him as if the negligence were discovered at the time it occurred. I indicated in my secondreading speech that the Government was determined to deal with this problem effectively. It is easy for the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), in the manner characteristic of him, to accuse honorable members on this side of the chamber of being concerned only with grinding the faces of the poor, but I suggest to him that he will find many honorable members on his own side of the House in total disagreement with his views.
– Who are they?
– The honorable member knows them as well as I do.
I ask the honorable member for Barton to reconsider in the light of whatI have said his proposal that the retrospective effect of clause 3 should be limited.
– I desire the Minister to consider the elimination of retrospectivity.
– Well, I am asking the honorable member to consider my view, and he is asking me to con- sider his. I hope” that the scope of the clause will not be limited. The Government should have authority to bring within its power of attack, and within the field of justice, all who are found guilty of reprehensible conduct, irrespective of when the offence occurred. The Government isjust as much concerned with the prevention of fraud as are any honorable gentlemen opposite.
– Will the Minister consider making the possession of false dies prima facie evidence of criminal negligence ?
– Possession is already prima facie evidence.
– That is provided for in the bill in substance, though not in form.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma.
Debate resumed from the 19th March, 1941 (vide page125), on motion by Mr. Spender -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill seeks to effect a short amendment of the Crimes Act. At present the law provides that any person who imposes or endeavours to impose upon the Commonwealth by any untrue representation “whether made verbally or in writing” shall be guilty of an offence. The offence is committed only if the untrue representation is made verbally or in writing. The bill seeks to amend this provision by omitting the words “ either verbally or in writing”, and inserting in their stead the words “ in any manner whatsoever “. Cases may occur, as the Minister pointed out, where, without a word being said or a document being signed, the Commonwealth will be imposed upon and defrauded. A person may defraud the Commonwealth by conduct only. This is likely to occur in a time of war, for example, by the wrong use of the King’s uniform.
– A nod or a wink may be sufficient.
– That is so, and both a nod and a wink will now be taken care of, for the object of this bill is to make untrue representation “ in any manner whatsoever “ an offence. The only question that can arise in connexion with this bill, in my opinion, is as to whether the new provision should take effect as from the beginning of the war. The principle to which I referred earlier this afternoon in connexion with the Defence Bill may also apply here. There is often justification for providing that, in relation to acts of moral turpitude, the law shall operate as from an anterior date. It is not as though some neutral or innocent act is being converted into a crime. The fact is that it is now proposed to correct a slip in the writing down of the criminal code in order to cover past cases of fraudulent conduct, and there is good reason to fix the commencement of the amended law as at some significant date, such, for example, as the date of the outbreak of the war. I support the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Silling suspended from 5.44 to8 p.m.
In committee (Consideration re sumed) :
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
.- I desire to know the attitude of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) to the moderate proposal which was outlined this- afternoon from this side of the Bio use that, so far as the offence of a negligent breach of contract is concerned, the provisions of this legislation shall be prospective only, and that a person should not be treated as a’ criminal and punished with a heavy fine or imprisonment if at the time the offence was committed it was not a criminal act. I regard this as a serious matter indeed. From the commencement of the war I have seen fi gradual deterioration of the regard for freedom and the old-established principles that used to prevail in this country. If we agree to legislation which makes criminals of persons who had no criminal intent when they committed certain acts, and could not have been, convicted of a criminal offence at the time, Ave are disregarding principles which have been held strongly by our forefathers and have inspired the English legal system generally. I understand that some members on this side disagree with that view, and that, therefore, there will be on this side a division on the question; but I think that the Government should act fairly in this matter. It should make, perfectly clear that’ this proposal to punish not merely fraudulent breaches of contract, hut also negligent breaches of contract, make the punishment for negligence prospective only’.
– I have considered carefully the point to which the honorable member for Bourke lias referred. I think that the distinction between -clause 3, dealing with the supply of food, and clause 4, which deals with the possession of Commonwealth marks and the like, is a real one, -and that the Minister should give effect to the suggestion of. the honorable member for Bourke, but confine it to clause 3. That can be done best, not by amending clause 2, which is now before the committee, hut by amending clause 3 along the lines of a proposal which has been shown to the Minister. I emphasize that the proposed amendment is in no sense an attempt to shelter the profiteer. All that it does is to made sure that, in respect of past acts in which there has been no fraud, but -merely negligence, on the part of the contractor or an officer of the Commonwealth, the new crime shall not aPP’ly- ‘ There is a case for applying the criminal law, but that case is not so strong as is the case against applying it. The Minister in his speech this afternoon suggested that the best safeguard i.-> to allow the matter to rest in tlie discretion of the Commonwealth law authorities, but I do not think that it would be right to do that. In my opinion, Parliament should take the responsibility of saying that it will not elevate negligence into a crime, and make its law operate in respect of a past transaction, but that in the future it will treat the negligent supply of goods to the Commonwealth us a criminal act. It will be a good thing to adopt the new rule, but the opinion on this side of the committee is that it should not apply in respect of past transactions. That is an entirely different thing from the position which arises under clause 4. I shall support the proposal of the honorable member for Bourke, but I repeat that we on this side have no sympathy whatever with the profiteer. We believe that the way to deal with him i3 along the lines proposed in clause 4, and also by other methods already provided for by law or which might be employed by an amendment of the law.
[S.7J. - During the second-reading debate I drew a clear distinction between clause 3 and clause 4. At the same time I indicated that there was no vice, but indeed a virtue, in the retrospective provisions of clause 3. As the clause stands, it would be an offence to deliver goods which as the result of negligence were not in accordance with specifications, being inferior in quality or less in quantity: I suggest that there may be great variations of the degree of negligence. It appears to me that if there be gross negligence in respect of a Commonwealth contract, it matters very little whether that negligence took place before or after a certain date; in each case it is equally reprehensible.
– If the negligence is gross, it probably amounts to fraud.
– It does not necessarily amount to fraud. There are many cases of gross negligence in which fraud is not proved. If gross negligence be found to have been exhibited on some earlier date, I see no moral ground upon which a man should escape punishment. It appears to me that the Opposition, in advancing this proposal, is seeking, not to make subject to penalty a man who is guilty of gross negligence, although no fraud can be proved; he is to be protected, because past events are to be blotted out and the act will operate only as from a future date. The contention of the honorable member for Barton (Mr, Evatt) is that the act should not be retrospective. My proposal is that the. legislation, should be made retrospective, so as to catch such people as contractors who are guilty of such negligence as, in tlie opinion of the law authorities of the Common wealth, should cause them to be placed on trial. If an amendment is to be moved it would be more appropriately moved in respect of clause 3; but although I am not prepared to oppose such an amendment, it must come from the Opposition.
– This bill proposes to establish a precedent. If the proper interpretation of this clause is that something which was not regarded as a crime six months ago is now to he regarded as a crime, and legislation to that effect is to be made retrospective, I should say that that is wrong. I do not think that the proposal of the Opposition can rightly be construed to mean that we are trying to protect the exploiter, and. I am sure that the Minister does not really think so. Surely no one would suggest that a man should not be punished if found guilty to-day of having committed a murder ten years ago. The law provides (hat murder is punishable whenever a person, is found guilty of that crime.
– The discussion of this proposed amendment - I understand that it has not yet been moved - has been rather interesting. I believe that the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt) drew a distinction between negligence and fraud.
– I admit that there is a difference. A study of the regulations governing any of the fighting services will show that negligence is one. of the most serious offences with which, a man can be charged. A contractor who in times of war undertakes to supply, goods of a certain quantity and quality,, but through negligence fails to do so,, ought to be punished. Although there: may be cases in which negligence is notfraud, I say that, in . the circumstances which face us at present, negligence on; the part of any contractor to the Commonwealth for the supply of goods and services constitutes a serious offence. As a layman, I am not able to gauge the gradations of offenders and offences.. Nevertheless, I think it may be extremely difficult to decide what constitutes negligence on tlie one hand and fraud on the other. In any case, the consequences to those who depend upon those goods and services may be just as disastrous, whether the reason be negligence or fraud. By a proper system of inspection fraud may be checked ; but if a man merely neglects to do something which he should do the position is more difficult, and therefore I. am of the opinion that the Government is entitled to adopt a strong attitude in dealing with offenders. On this side of the House there is, generally speaking, a disinclination to accept the principle of retrospectivity where the criminal la.w is concerned ; but I do not think that any honorable member on the other side could successfully argue that, because there was some flaw in the drafting of legislation, people who .set out to defraud the Commonwealth should be allowed to go scot-free. That is a proposition which the Opposition would find great difficulty in “ selling “ to the public, and they should consider the matter carefully before they move any amendment which would have such an effect.
– The Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) had not proceeded very far in the mild defence of his proposition before he thought fit to introduce into the discussion what I may designate as pure politics. He was not slow upon occasion to attribute to me, and perhaps to others, the advocacy of a ‘policy which tended to the excusing and protecting of profiteers. That,- 1 suggest, is hardly worthy of one who lays some just claim to be a lawyer of standing. Of course, it is totally incorrect. I had thought that we might examine this matter according to the elementary principles of justice, that we might venture to have regard to the foundational principles which have been established by centuries of experience. In this case, the proposal of the Government is not only to clothe the quality of negligence with the the quality of criminality, but also to make of negligence, which was not a criminal offence at the time the act was committed, a criminal offence to-day. To that proposition I expressed my opposition, on stated grounds. I thought I might, with safety, address my argument to the Minister in general terms. To pass a law making a criminal, offence of an act of negligence committed at the beginning of September, 1939, when it was not, according to the law as it then stood, a criminal offence at all, would be to do violence to my conception of what the criminal law ought to be. The Minister juggles with terms. He says, as did the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), that gross negligence should be treated as a criminal offence, but that, in the case of minor acts of negligence, the Crown would not prosecute. This is mere rhetoric. In wartime, especially, I am not prepared for a single moment to accept the view that the Crown would not prosecute for a minor act of negligence. I say, too, with confident belief, based on experience, that there is not a court in this country, from those of the lowest jurisdiction to the High Court itself, which is not affected in war-time to a greater or less degree by the popular hysteria. I could, if time allowed, and if it were appropriate to a discussion of this kind in committee, cite a number of instances in support of that statement. I have read judgments of the High Court, I have seen decisions by stipendiary magistrates, I have noted numerous instances in which penalties grossly out of proportion to the nature of the offence itself have been imposed by courts in war-time, consonant with the public emotionalism . ‘ which is generated in time of war. A popular legislature like this has to guard against such possibilities, and it is the duty of us, who are in a special sense workingclass representatives, particularly to guard against it. For that reason I take leave to point out that the Minister is merely juggling with words when he presumes to say that such and such a course of action would be taken in the case of gross negligence, but that another course of action would be taken by the Crown in the case of minor negligence, in respect of which the Crown would not initiate a prosecution.
– Such a distinction has always been drawn in courts of law. There is negligence which amounts to criminal action, and other negligence which does not.
– Where negligence is of such a kind as to infect the act with a criminal character, it is treated as a crime. An act of negligence such as driving a motor car in a crowded thoroughfare at a high speed, and in disregard of the rules of the road, though there may be no intention on the part of the driver to kill, and though it may be foreign to his mind to do injury to another, becomes infected with a criminal character, having regard to the circumstances. The legislature says, in effect, “ This man’s intention was not to kill, but his action in so driving a motor car at that time, or in those circumstances, is evidence of a state of mind which brings it into the realm of mens rea, or criminal intention “. It is evidence of a state of mind which the law rightly provides shall be punished as a crime. That is how the crime of manslaughter finds a place in the criminal category. The law says that if there is criminal intent the act becomes a criminal offence. If the negligence is as gross as the Minister indicates, then it is not mere negligence at all; it is a criminal offence arising from the state of mind of the person who commits it.
– With great respect, that is not so.
– Just as it is a criminal offence to drive a motor car in the way I have indicated, so it is a criminal offence to commit any other act in which the element of gross negligence originates in a criminal state of mind.
– A man may be quite drunk, and drive a motor car in such a way as to kill somebody without mens rea, yet he would be charged with manslaughter.
– In the case of the man so driving a motor car, the legislature has said that, if he disclosed a state of mind which induced such an action, then it was a criminal offence. Under the law it has been rightly made such an offence on the ground that there was a clear mental condition of reckless indifference to life which caused the death of another person. Unless there was present that reckless indifference to human life there could be no conviction for manslaughter. There is no distinction known to the criminal law between the quality of an act of gross negligence and one of lesser negligence, unless the gross negligence is capable of being raised or lowered to the level of a criminal act involving mens rea.
– As a proposition, Ido not think that would be supported by any court in the land, and I am sure that the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt) would not support it.
– It is elementary.
– I know, my dear Watson!
– I would not think of submitting a proposition in law except an elementary proposition. I know something of the history of law, and of the history of what I have described as mens rea - the criminal mind. I also know something of this matter of negligence as well as what is due to the State from the person who breaks the criminal law.
– Something, but not enough.
– Not a great deal, perhaps. I make no such pretence when speaking of just elementary matters which ought, to be within the knowledge of the Minister for the Army. If he were approaching this matter divested of political considerations, he would admit that I am right. The Minister has been good enough to say that if the amendment is to be submitted and carried, it must be submitted and carried, not by the Government, but by the Opposition. Surely the Government, con scious of the right thing and determined to carry it out, can depend upon a majority in the committee to give effect to its belief regarding this important matter, which is wrapped up in the conduct of the war. But no ! The Minister “ passes the buck”. It has tobe done by the Opposition. The Minister declared that, it would not be right to do it, and that if any political odium is to come from doing it, members of the Opposition, not this immaculate Government, must take the responsibility. A strong government, surely !
– The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– As no other honorable member has risen to continue the discussion, I shall add a few more words. Just at that critical moment when the axe fell, I was thinking, with due reverence, of a great historic occasion appropriate to Easter, when a Roman governor shirked his responsibility, saying to others “ Look you to it “. In similar fashion, the Minister passes this on to the Opposition. Fearlessly, the Labour party will accept the responsibility, and any political odium that may attach to it. In a word, it will do the right thing whether or not it is popular. It will divest the Minister of the responsibility of doing what he considers to be the right thing, because of the political circumstances which make it impossible for him to do it. He regulates his conduct first, by a counting of the heads and secondly, by a consideration of what the public will say.
From the beginning, I have endeavoured to discuss this matter on sound lines consistent with the development of British jurisprudence. I thought that the honorable gentleman had respect for British jurisprudence. I have been inclined to flatter him overmuch-. Whatever may be the principal motives for his conduct, it is perfectly evident that in weighing politics on one side and justice on the other, he has decided on the side of political safety and “ passed the buck”.
.- Whilst the Government and the Opposition can agree on the principles underlying the bill, it is evident that the methods to be adopted in order to rope in the profiteers give rise to a difference of opinion. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) declared that if honorable members do not accept the measure in its original form, they do not desire to prevent profiteering. His outlook suggests to my mind the attitude of a person who gives to another person a pitchfork with which to kill a snake. If the man looks askance at the weapon and remarks that he does not consider it suitable for the purpose, he is immediately accused of having a liking for snakes and being unwilling to destroy them. That reasoning is the basis of the Minister’s challenge to the Opposition. “Whilst I am prepared to support any measure that will prevent profiteering, particularly during a period of national emergency, I fail to see how legislation of this nature will achieve that objective. During the last war, royal commissions investigated allegations of profiteering, where the wrong-doing was apparent. Arising from their reports, prosecutions were launched against the offenders, but I cannot recall one instance in which such prosecutions were sustained. Bearing in mind that experience, I cannot see how this legislation, which has been made retrospective, can fulfil the high hopes that its sponsor holds for it. If the authorities are unable successfully to proceed against profiteers in the act of committing the breaches, how does the Government expect a prosecution to succeed if it be launched some time after the offence has been committed ? Prevention is always better than cure. In my opinion, the nationalization of industry is the only way to prevent profiteering in war-time. As the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) demonstrated earlier, this despicable practice is occurring in nearly every branch of industry. He cited various instances, including the “ ring “ of flour-millers who control the small baker’s, and the brewery combine which controls the hotels. As a result of the so-called system of rationalization, the sinister system of racketeering has crept into our economic structure, and the only preventative is for the Government to assume control of industry. Unfortunately, there is ho indication that the present Government is even considering such a suggestion.
The Labour party has charged the Government with being the instrument in Parliament of “ big business “, which will sacrifice nothing in the cause of patriotism. In war or in -peace, the object of “ big business “ is to make profits; they aTe the be-all and end-all of its organization. My principal objection to the legislation is that it carries’ on the vicious principle which has crept into our jurisprudence during the last 25 or 30 years, of placing on the accused the onus of proving his innocence.
– Is the honorable member a friend of the profiteer?
– The honorable member should make it perfectly clear where he stands. It is amazing that the opposition to the bill should emanate from the Labour party.
– The logic of the Minister differs from my own as chalk differs from cheese, because our motives are different. At present, on the unsworn evidence of “ pimps “, a man may be flung into an internment camp, and the onus of proving his innocence rests upon himself. He might be requested to prove that his grandfather was not a German, or to bring evidence to show that twenty years ago he was not in a certain place. That most undesirable system is creeping into every phase of our life, and it is to a similar principle in this legislation that I object most strongly.
.- It is difficult to understand the attitude of the Opposition to this bill. lor months, honorable members opposite have cited instances of profiteering and in the circumstances one would naturally expect them to support any legislation designed to curb this dishonorable practice. Personally, I am in favour of the legislation. For some hours, I have listened attentively to members of the legal profession discussing the measure. People outside this Parliament cannot but be confused by the arguments which have been advanced by some honorable members during the debate on this bill. A good deal has been said about negligence and fraud. In my humble opinion there is a marked difference between the two; but to judge by .the speeches made by some honorable members, one would think that fraud and negligence were much the same thing. I trust that the Minister will not depart from the stand he has taken in connexion with this clause. Honorable members opposite would have the people believe that we on this side of the chamber are not interested in curbing the rapacity of the profiteers. That is not so; we are just as much concerned as they are that nobody shall be allowed to enrich himself at the expense of the people at a time like this. I trust that the clause will be passed in its present form.
.- I desire at the outset of my remarks to make it clear that I do not see eye to eye with some of my colleagues in regard to this clause, though I am not misled for one moment by the claims of honorable members opposite that they are genuinely desirous of getting hold of the profiteers. One might just as well expect a dog to bite itself, as expect this Government to hurt the profiteers. In any of the fashionable clubs in the capital cities of Australia politicians of the United Australia party may be found fraternising with the profiteers whom to-night they have made some pretence of condemning. If honorable members opposite were genuine in this matter, I would have no objection to making this measure retrospective to the commencement of the war. Indeed, I would agree to its being made retrospective to a much earlier date; but if its retrospectivity were made too great the result would be very unfortunate for the Government, because it would mean that most of the Government supporters would be in prison, and as the inmates of prisons cannot vote many honorable members opposite would find it difficult to secure their return to this Parliament at the next elections. I said earlier that in my opinion the Government was using this clause as a device to prevent the holding of a proper inquiry into certain phases of the supply of military equipment, particularly service footwear. By making this clause retrospective to the commencement of the war it is possible that, following a public outcry, similar to that made in regard to the boots scandal disclosed recently, a prosecution will be launched under this measure, but such a prosecu tion will no doubt finish in the same way as the prosecution launched against the brick combine in New South Wales - if the case be not dismissed the court will probably find that the guilty person is some person unknown. I prefer to judge the sincerity of the Government by the results it will achieve. I would be the first to admit that I had been wrong in my judgment of its sincerity if I found that, within a period of, say, three months, our gaols were overflowing with profiteers; but I do not for one moment expect such good results to flow from the passage of this bill. Every time a public outcry is raised against some public scandal, the Government to save its face will make some show of taking action, but even though this measure is made retrospective to the commencement of the war, all of the Government’s friends and supporters will continue to enjoy their liberty. I advise those honorable members opposite who object to this particular provision not to be too greatly concerned about it, because it might lead to the opinion that the Government is sincerely desirous of dealing with profiteers, whereas it is only indulging in a little window dressing.
– I do not desire to number myself among the category lastly referred to by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), but I desire to make a few comments on what appears to be the extraordinary attitude of the Opposition in relation to this clause. For a long time past we have heard protests - in. my opinion, empty protests - against profiteers, mostly for political purposes, and now when the Government, which, it is alleged, is the protector of the profiteers, brings down a bill to deal with profiteers the Opposition seeks to modify it so that the people who have been guilty of gross negligence in the past may escape penal consequences for their actions. I do not regard the clause as vital, but I do regard it as important. Therefore, I propose to test the views of honorable members opposite in regard to it. At least three members of the Opposition have protested against the onus of proof being thrown upon the poor profiteer.
– Who are they?
– The honorable members for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), Calare (Mr. Breen), and Batman (Mr. Brennan), and others. All of them have protested that the placing of the onus of proof on the accused is contrary to the principles of British justice. They have indulged in all the guff usually advanced by those who have no firm ground on which to stand. I know that honorable members generally are against profiteering; when the vote is taken on this measure they will have an opportunity to show where they stand. There may have been many cases of reprehensible conduct; time alone will reveal them. The honorable member for Batman said that he is not prepared to leave it to the advisors of the Government to decide whether a prosecution should be launched in such cases. I remind him. that the court will know whether the evidence proves a technical offence or a real offence. If the offence be but a technical one no punishment would he inflicted, but if it be a real offence the punishment will fit the crime. If gross negligence is proved, no matter if it had been committed at the commencement of the war. it should be punished. I throw upon the Opposition the onus of carrying this clause.
Clause agreed to.
Section seventy-threec of the Principal Act is amended - (a)by omitting the word “fraudulently” (wherever occurring) ;
by adding, at the end of sub-section (I.), the words “, unless he proves that he supplied the article, material, equipment or beast without intent to defraud and that he neither knew nor had the means of knowing that the article was so inferior or less in quantity or that the material, equipment or beast was so inferior.”; and
by adding at the end of sub-section (2.) the words “ , unless he proves that he received the article, material, equipment or beast without intent to defraud, and that he neither knew nor had the means of knowing that it was supplied in contravention of this section.”.
Section proposed to be amended - 73c. - (1.) Any contractor, purveyor or other person, and any employee of a contractor, purveyor or other person, who fraudulently supplies to the Commonwealth or any officer of the Commonwealth for use by the Defence Force -
any article of food which is inferior in quality to or less in quantity than that specified in the contract, agreement or order under which it is to be supplied; or
any material, equipment, or beast of draught or burden which is inferior to that specified in the contract, agreement or order under which it is to be supplied, shall be guilty of an offence. (2.) Any officer of the Commonwealth who fraudulently receives for use by the Defence Force any article of food, or any material equipment, or beast of draught or burden supplied in contravention of this section, shall be guilty of an offence.
.- I move -
That in paragraph (b), after the word “ that “, second occurring, the following words be inserted : “, except in cases where the supply has taken place prior to the commencement of the Defence Act 1941,”
I am surprised at the course the debate has taken and at the attitude of the Minister. The Opposition has done everything to assist in passing this piece of legislation.
– Everything? The Opposition has not even been able to get agreement amongst its own followers.
– I admit that we have not been able to agree in every detail.
– The Opposition is not in agreement even upon principle.
– I pointed out during the second-reading debate that this bill makes a material alteration of the criminal law, but on the whole that, as its effect should be excellent, we strongly supported it. The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) put his finger on the key to the problem when he said that there is an enormous difference between negligence and fraud. I trust that the honorable member will see that that is the whole basis of the proposed amendment. Recognizing that difference, we have agreed to the making of a very great alteration in the law. At present the law provides that if a person makes a contract with the Defence Department for the delivery of, say, 20,000 suits of military clothing, and the supply is short by five or ten uniforms, he breaks his contract. He may be sued by the Commonwealth for recovery of the value of those goods; alternatively, damages may be recovered against him for breach of contract. Wow, under the law as it will be when this bill is passed, the individual who commits that fault may be convicted of fraud. The short supply might have been the result of negligence, but from now on such a person supplying short to the Defence departments may be prosecuted criminally although he has not been guilty of fraud at all. That is a very drastic alteration of the law, but, as I have said, .we have agreed to it. Yet it is a very far-reaching principle. I know no legislation, either in England or in any other part of the British Empire, which contains so drastic a provision. “We have agreed to it; but that does not satisfy the Minister. The honorable gentleman wants to go farther and provide that if at any time since the outbreak of war a contractor short-supplied half a dozen uniforms, he will be liable to prosecution although there is no fraud.
– Supposing that he had been guilty of gross negligence twelve months ago in palming off poor-quality stuff on the forces?
– If the honorable gentleman uses the term “ palming off “ as everybody understands it, the offender can be convicted under this measure because it. is clear that “ palming off “ imports an intention to defraud. There is, moreover, a vast difference between negligence and gross negligence. In the case of ordinary negligence it is unfair to prosecute persons because of something that occurred twelve or eighteen months ago. Persons who have not carried out their contracts may be sued for damages, and from now on the Minister will be able to launch a criminal prosecution against them. With me this is a matter of principle. But tlie Minister is trying to snatch some political capital for himself out of a measure which the Labour party is loyally assisting the Government to enact. The honorable member for Boothby summarized the point at issue when he drew a clear distinction between fraud and an intention to deceive the Commonwealth, on the one hand, and mere negligence on the other hand. Every honorable member opposite must appreciate the cogency of the argument.
– No one disputes that there is a difference.
– Then why cannot the Minister accept the reasonable amendment that I have moved? Every honorable member, surely, appreciates that proposals for retrospective legislation in relation to the criminal law must be closely scrutinized. The Opposition has agreed to & provision that this legislation shall be retrospective in respect of fraud; but it considers that a similar enactment in regard to negligence is very dangerous. I do not desire to make political argument on this issue. All I ask is that my amendment shall be treated on its merits, and that no attempt shall be made to gain a party advantage out of the situation.
– We do not desire to do that. .
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) stated the principle very clearly in his speech.
– The fact is that the honorable member for Barton does not know which members of his party stand behind him in connexion with this amendment.
– At the moment I am considering the issue as an individual, and the Minister, also as an individual, must admit the justice of the case I am stating. I ask him to accept the amendment not as a concession to the Opposition, but as a matter of justice to the community at large. If we had a perfect system of justice there would not be any need to argue this case, but because we recognize that negligence is> one thing and fraud another we should take care to distinguish between them in this bill. I am quite prepared for the Government to go back as far as it likes in dealing with cases of fraud, but negligence is in an entirely different category. If a contractor fails to discharge his duty, the Government has a civil remedy, for it can take action for breach of contract. If a breach of contract and nothing more has occurred, the aid of the criminal law should not be invoked retrospectively. We agree that in the future every person who contracts with the Government to do certain things must perforin his duty strictly or suffer the consequences. Surely that is a reasonable attitude to adopt. I ask the Minister to forget for the moment that there are 70 other members of this committee, and to consider this issue as he would do if he were sitting at the conference table. In such circumstances I am confident that my proposal would appeal to his sense of justice. Any one with the slightest knowledge of the basis of British jurisprudence will admit that it has always frowned upon retrospective legislation in relation to penalties. I hope that this matter will not be determined by an appeal to prejudice. I desire to punish profiteers, and I think the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) has suggested one of the solutions of that problem; but that is not before us at the moment, and I wish to keep strictly to the point which we have now to determine. The Opposition holds the view that for the future all cases of negligence should be punished, but it does not consider that past cases of mere negligence should be made crimes. ‘For that reason I hope that my amendment will appeal to honorable members generally.
– I desire to correct a few remarks made by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt). In the first place, I am not concerned with gaining any political advantage. It is all very well to make remarks of that kind, but they get us nowhere. Secondly, if Iwere sitting at a conference table ray attitude on this proposal would be exactly as it is at the moment. I say deliberately that actions may be revealed in the future which indicate that persons or firms have been guilty of grossly negligent conduct in supplying goods to the Commonwealth for the use of the forces. Merely to say that such individuals or firms should be punished in accordance with the civil law would be, in my opinion, quite inadequate, for that procedure would fall far short of the needs of the case. The Government should be empowered to bring all such cases of negligence within the law. Those who are pretending that they wish to bring the profiteer to book can have very little regard for the principles of justice if they decline to accept this clause as it. stands. I say that many of the speeches made by members of the Opposition might lead to suspicion that it was not unlikely that some one had been whispering in their ears.
– That is not true.
– Some one has been whispering in the ears of certain honorable members and they have been listening, or they would not say that it is imposing an undue obligation on the defendant, in a matter of this kind to require him to prove that he is not guilty.
– The Ministermust know that that is false.
– I make the statement deliberately, and I know that it is getting under the honorable member’s collar. Some honorable gentlemen opposite who have stated definitely that it is wrong to place the burden of proof on the defendants, yet pretend that they are the protectors of the poor! It is pure humbug for them to say so, just as it is pure humbug for them to say that it would be an undue burden on an alleged profiteer to require him. to prove his innocence. The honorable member for Barton considers that it is quite proper that in certain circumstances the burden of proof shall be placed on the defendant, as, for example, in relation to a charge that he possesses a false stamp.
– I do not deny it.
– Yet it is also said that it is not in accordance with the principles of British justice to place a similar obligation upon individuals in relation to charges of gross negligence. The members of this Government have been charged with having favoured profiteers. We utterly deny the charge. I say in all seriousness that if this amendment be carried cases of proved gross negligence on the part of contractors in the supply of goods to the Commonwealth may be revealed in the future and there will be no penal provision in the act to catch them up. Who then will be responsible for the failure to punish those concerned ?
– What about Maxwell?
– I know that, the honorable member has suggested collusion. Even to-day he has suggested that a justice of the Supreme Court, who is a man of integrity and probity, has been guilty of collusion, but I treat his suggestion with contempt. In any case, the amendment which the honorable member for Barton desired should have come before us in a form different from that which he has suggested if it is to achieve his purpose. He has used the words “ except in the case where the supply has taken place prior to the commencement of this act “. I suggest that the use of those words would be unwise, for if they are placed in the legislation they might have the effect of making the act retrospective to 1903, for they would probably be interpreted in relation to the principal act. I therefore suggest to the honorable member thathe should consider the merits of alternative variations of the wording of his amendment. Either he should use the words “ prior to the passing of the Defence Act 1941 “ or - and I prefer this suggestion - the amendment should be in this form -
Either of the two forms I have suggested would be better than that adopted by the honorable member for Barton. I say, with a. due sense of responsibility, that I regard this as an important matter, though not vital. There may be cases of gross negligence which should be dealt with, even though they have occurred prior to the passing of this measure. All serious negligence in respect of contracts antecedent to this legislation should be dealt with; otherwise profiteers may go unpunished.
.- I appreciate the purpose of the suggestion of the Minister and 1 ask leave to amend my amendment by inserting the words “ passing of the Defence Act 1941 “ in lieu of the words “ commencement of this act “.
Leave granted ; amendment amended accordingly.
.- AllI can say about the several speeches addressed to the committee by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) on this bill is that I believe that when he reads them he will be thoroughly ashamed of them.
– I do not think he will be ashamed of them.
– Well, I do, for 1 have a better opinion of the Minister than the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) seems to have. But I have been disappointed by the consistent way in which he has lent himself to every attempt that has been made since the war began to reduce the liberties of the people. I do not hold a brief for the profiteers. In fact, I am not now concerned for them.. I hold a brief for what I believe to be the important fundamental principles of the law relating to civil liberty in this country. These are the only things worth fighting for, and they mark the distinction between this country and Germany. The principle before us may be relatively unimportant in comparison with a number of other principles, but it is nevertheless important. The principle is this : Law is intended to be a rule of conduct by which men may know the extent of their obligations to society and the nature of the punishments attending a breach of those obligations. People should know the things for which they can be punished and the things for which they cannot be punished. They should know this before they act. It is an injustice of the grossest kind to expose a man to punishment for an act which, at the time he committed it, was innocent and not punishable by law. We should not, even by the will of a. majority of the members of this Parliament, revoke this principle.
– Not even if the act is of the most reprehensible kind?
– Not even then! It is wrong and unjust for even Parliament itself to say that an act which was not a guilty act at the time it was done shall be made a guilty act and become punishable. The Minister may remember an illustration used by Macaulay in distinguishing between cases in respect of which retrospective legislation was proper and cases in respect of which it was improper. He referred to the famous Portland vase of very great value in the British Museum. It was broken deliberately and an attempt was made to pass a law through the House of Commons to punish the person who broke it, but the legislature refused to pass the law. It was not willing to make an offence an act which was not an offence at tlie time it was committed. The Minister seems to regard as jocular some of the remarks made by honorable members on this side of the committee. That is one of the worst aspects of the honorable gentleman’s attitude. “With all his ability, he seems to have no sense of the value of public liberty. I can see that in the course of time there will be no substantial difference between the concept of public law and civil liberty in this country and the concept of public law and civil liberty in Germany. One of the first charges made against the Nazi Government of Germany was that, in spite of the provision in the constitution against the passage of retrospective criminal legislation, it enacted a law dealing with the burning of the Reichstag which made arson a capital offence, instead of an offence punishable by imprisonment only. The Government does not give any details about this alleged gross negligence. It merely says that there may have been a number of such cases and that if it can prove that a man has before the enactment of this bill negligently carried out a contract and carelessly delivered inferior goods to the defence services, it wishes to have the power now to prosecute him.
– And why not?
– Because by doing that the Government would break down a long-standing principle of justice and would set a precedent which would be invoked in the future for further attacks on the rights of the people.
– If an act were wrong when it was committed, why should it not be punishable?
– But it would not have been wrong in law.
– It would have been reprehensible both in a moral sense and from a national point of view.
– According to the law at present, it would be only a civil wrong; it might not even be that. It might only amount to a breach of contract, for which the Government could recover damages. It is improper that a thing which is not a criminal offence at the time of commission should he mad’: a criminal offence at a subsequent dateThat point is of great importance. I would rather see a number of profiteers escape punishment than see what I regard as an important principle broken down. It is the old argument of Caiaphas that it is better that individuals should suffer than that the community should suffer. I am not defending profiteers,. I do not claim to express the general feeling of honorable members on this side of the chamber. I believe that some of my colleagues in Opposition are in agreement with the Minister. They are entitled to their opinions. But when the Minister charged those of us who support the amendment advanced by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt) with being friends and supporters of profiteers, he did a discreditable thing for which people will not honour him, for which this Parliament will not honour him, and for which I, although my opinion may not matter, do not honour him.
.- The fallacy of ad hominem argument is as old as Aristotle, and I am surprised that the Minister should have indulged so excitedly in attacks on honorable members on this side of the chamber who have supported the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt). The Minister is at issue with some members of the Opposition over the question of whether gross negligence should be punishable retrospectively or not. I submit that if negligence be gross in the way in which the Minister would have us understand . it, then it must amount to fraud.
– That would not be supported by any court of law.
– The Minister has insisted emphatically on the use of the adjective “ gross “, and he intends to convey to honorable members an interpretation of it which means that in certain circumstances negligence would amount to fraud, which is already dealt with in the bill. I, in common with other members of the Bar who are honorable members of this committee, regard it as novel to hear the tort of negligence described in this Parliament as a criminal offence. Legally, that is an improper description of negligence, according to the view taken by courts of law from time immemorial.
– Offences have more than once from time immemorial proved both a tort and a crime.
– That is so, and the tort of fraud is in fact a crime; but the tort of negligence is not a crime, and negligence can only become a crime when the acts of omission or commission occur in such circumstances that the accused may be arraigned within a criminal category. In the example cited by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), the indictment would not be for negligence but for manslaughter, and in every case in which negligence amounts to a crime, the indictment must be in the criminal category. If honorable members will look at the wording of the bill they will see that the accused will be obliged to discharge the onus of proof by showing that he supplied goods and commodities without intent to defraud, and that he neither knew nor had reasonable means of knowing that the article was inferior. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Barton does not seek to detract from the element of fraud which is dealt with in this sub-clause. It provides merely that those persons who may have been guilty of negligence, as such, since the commencement of the war, but prior to the passage of this legislation, shall not be punishable under this measure. As the honorable member for Barton has said, it would be a most important innovation in the realms of British jurisprudence to remove the tort of negligence into the category of crime. In spite of what the Minister has said, we are seeking to get at the profiteer.
– That is a new one.
– It is obvious that the Minister is using this committee as an election platform. When the honorable member for Batman asked the Minister whether he would include in this clause an outline of the degrees of culpability, the honorable gentleman evaded the question and said that when such matters came before the courts, it would rest with the courts to decide whether the offences were merely technical or involved gross negligence. The honorable member for Batman endeavoured to show that the prosecutions would never reach the courts, because the decision as to whether the prosecutions should be launched would lie in the hands of the Crown Law Department and its officers. In effect, those officers would say whether an offence was technical or one of gross negligence. It was wrong of the Minister to say that these matters would be for the courts to decide. The amendment submitted by the honorable member for Barton is a very proper one, and is in accordance with British principles of fair play. Nobody who has campaigned against the Labour party would say that its members do not sincerely carry out their expressed pledge to rid the country of the type of profiteer which I described this afternoon as being the most despicable and dishonorable that can ravage any country. The Minister lost all sense of proportion when he sought to evade the acceptance of responsibility for the insertion of this amendment, which he says he does not regard as vital although he considers it to be important. The amendment proposes to do nothing more than translate into law the ordinary principles of fair play.
– The legal members of this committee have discussed this matter in very close detail and, as a layman, I attempt, with a certain amount of diffidence, to state what I consider to be the purport of the amendment. There are two paramount aspects of this matter. The first is that fraud is alleged to have been practised. The clause as drawn provides that, where fraud is discovered, it shall be punishable even in retrospect to the beginning of the war. The Opposition accepts that principle in respect of fraud. Fraud has always been a crime according to the law of this country, and we have no argument with the Minister in relation to punishment for it. The view of the Opposition is that the amendment in no way seeks to lessen the power of the machinery which the Minister wishes to have devised in order that the Government shall be fully competent to deal with fraud or suspected fraud, leaving it to the courts to determine whether or not the accused is guilty. The second aspect is that the bill seeks to make an offence of what is called negligence; that is not fraud. Although the bill provides that, from its translation into law, negligence shall become an offence, it also provides that the Government shall have power to impose penalties for negligence which occurred eight or ten months ago, as though it were at that time a criminal offence. The Opposition says that fraud is in a different category from negligence. The law has always presumed that there is a radical distinction between the two. With that we agree. We say, therefore, that fraud can be dealt with retrospectively, because fraud was an offence prior to the passing of this bill, but with respect to negligence we submit that that which this Parliament to-day makes an offence should be punishable only from the date upon which Parliament declared it to be an offence.
– Would the honorable gentleman say that that proposition holds good, no matter how reprehensible the negligence may be ?
– The Minister is now asking me to act judicially. He asks me to assume the function, not of a law maker, but of an interpreter of the law. I submit that the law, whatever it is, should be clear and decisive to all citizens. Fraud has always been an offence; negligence has not.
– Cannot the honorable gentleman visualize a case of gross negligence which is so close to fraud that it would be difficult to distinguish it from fraud?
– I have a very vivid personal recollection of what can happen under legislation of this kind. I delivered a speech in Perth on a given night. That speech was not an offence under the law of the land at the time. Two days later his Excellency, the GovernorGeneral in Council, proclaimed a regulation, signed by one of the colleagues of the Minister for the Army, and on the very next day I received a summons to appear in court, where I was charged with an offence thatwas committed before the law was passed which constituted it an offence, and before any copy of the regulation was available. No copy of the Commonwealth Gazette could be produced in court, and the proceedings were adjourned by the magistrate. When the hearing was resumed, the State Commandant came into court, and swore that he had received a telegram stating that the regulation had been gazetted. I was fined £50, with the alternative of three months’ imprisonment. I appealed to the High Court of Australia, and the Commonwealth did not even enter an appearance.
– What does that prove?
– It proves the danger of passing a law which makes an offence to-day of something which was done 48 hours ago, let alone something that was done a year ago. If the proprietor of an establishment is prosecuted for negligence in respect of something which occurred months ago it is more than likely that the responsibility will be thrown upon one of his employees. He will say, for instance, that he does not know wh ether 40 pairs of trousers, or whatever it may be, were delivered on a certain date, and some employee will have to stand the racket.
Mr.Spender. - Under this bill the directors or executive cannot escape.
– It will be found in practice that if prosecutions be launched in respect of events which took place six or eight months ago, there will be a serious risk of convicting the innocent while the guilty escape. We do not say that negligence should not be punished. We say that, from now on, it should be punished.
Mr.Spender. -Suppose that, in respect of some past event in which it is impossible to prove fraud, the Government has lost money due to the gross negligence of a contractor; is that person to be subject merely to the civil penalties, or is he, in the interests of the Commonwealth, to be visited with penalties under the criminal law?
– In this bill the Government is seeking retrospective powers to punish people for actions which were not an offence when the actions were committed. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt) and the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) have put forward the proposition that in a democracy the law, if it is to be respected, must be clear and decisive, and the penalties for breaking the law should be set out clearly. The Opposition, supports that proposition. We have always urged that the Minister should have authority to ensure that there is a proper examination of all work done under contract, that there should be no opportunity for jiggery-pokery. The Opposition has done its utmost to protect the country, not only from fraud, hut from waste also. We want to punish negligence in the future, but we doubt the wisdom of suddenly converting this country into a totalitarian state. Insofar as the Government seeks power to deal with fraud retrospectively it can have all the power it wants, but in respect of negligence we say that it should declare that, from now on, negligence is an offence and shall be punishable as an offence, and the public should know what penalties have been fixed. It seems an extraordinary thing for this legislature to be prescribing penalties for the doing of things which were not an offence at the time they were done.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr.Evatt’s amendment).
The committee divided. (Temporary ChairmAn - Hon. J. A. Guy.)
Majority . . . . Nil
– The result of the division is, “Ayes”, 30; “Noes”, 30. The numbers being equal, I give my casting vote with the “ Noes “.
Question resolved in the negative.
Amendments (by Mr. Spender) proposed -
That in paragraph (b ) the words “ the means “ be omitted and the words “ reasonable means “ . inserted in lieu thereof.
That in paragraph (c) the words “the means “ be omitted and the words “ reasonable means “ inserted in lieu thereof.
.- By these amendments the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) is altering the bill in favour, if I may use his own argument, of the profiteer.
– If the honorable member so desires it, I shall withdraw the amendments.
– At present there will be no defence unless the accused proves that he lacked the means of knowing that the article was inferior or less in quantity than was specified in the contract. He would have to show that he could not have prevented the loss to the Government. By the amendments, a loophole is provided. Although the contractor could have stopped the actual loss to the Commonwealth, he may now he acquitted by showing that he did not have any “ reasonable “ means of so doing. I do not object to the amendments; I think that they are reasonable; but to the extent they go, they are in favour of the accused. In that respect, they correspond to the amendment that has just been disposed of by the committee. Let not the Minister say that the Opposition has the slightest sympathy with profiteers or with persons who have been charged with being profiteers.
– I ask leave to withdraw the amendments.
Leave not granted.
Amendments agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section seventy-threed of the Principal Act is repealed and the following sections inserted in its stead: - “73d. - (1.) Any contractor who has in his possession -
any goods (being goods of a like kind to goods which he has contracted to supply to the Commonwealth for use by the Defence Force or any portion thereof, or being goods of a like kind to goods which are suitable to form a constituent part of, or to be used in the manufacture or production of, goods so contracted to be supplied) -
to which is applied, without lawful authority, any mark or design or the impression of any seal or stamp indicating that the goods have been accepted by or on behalf of the Commonwealth for delivery for such use;
to which is applied any mark or design or the impression of any seal or stamp so nearly resembling any such mark, design or impression as is referred to in the last preceding sub-paragraph as to be likely to lead to the belief that the goods had been so accepted; or shall be guilty of an offence, unless he proves that he had possession of the goods, die, device, seal or stamp without intent to defraud and that in relation to any such goods, the mark, design or impression was applied without his knowledge and without his having the means of knowing of its application. “73e. Where a person to whom section seventy-threec or section seventy-threed of this act applies is a body corporate, every director and every officer concerned in the management of the body shall, in respect of any act or fact constituting an offence by the body under either of those sections, be guilty of the like offence unless he proves -
that the act or fact constituting the offence took place or existed without his knowledge; and
that he did not have reasonable means of preventing the act or fact taking place or coming into existence. “ 73f. - (1.) An offence under any of the five last preceding sections may be prosecuted either summarily or upon indictment, but an offender shall not be liable to be punished more than once in respect of the same offence. “ (2.) The punishment for an offence under any of the five last preceding sections shall be - (a.) if the offence is prosecuted summarily - a fine not exceeding One hundred pounds or imprisonment for six months or both; or, in the case of a body corporate, One thousand pounds; or
if the offence is prosecuted upon indictment - a fine of any amount or imprisonment for any term, or both. “ 73g. Where a body corporate is charged with an offence under section seventy-threec or section seventy-threed of this act, it shall not be a defence to show that the particular act charged was not done by a servant or agent of the body corporate in the course of his employment, or that the servant or agent who did the act or some superior servant or agent by whose direction the act was done had not an intent to defraud, and, although it is proved that there was no such act or state of mind on the part of any such servant or agent, the body corporate may be convicted unless from all the circumstances of the case the court is satisfied that there was no intent to defraud.”.
Amendments (by Mr. Spender) agreed to -
That in the proposed new section 73d ( 1 ) (a) (i) after the word “been” the following words be inserted : “ inspected by or on behalf of the Commonwealth or have been “.
That in the proposed new section 73d ( 1 ) (a) (ii) after the word “ so “ second occurring the following words be inserted : “ inspected or
That proposed new section 73e be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following proposed new section : - “ 73e. Where a person to whom section seventy-threec or section seventy-three d of this act applies is a body corporate, the body and every person being a director or a person concerned in the management of the body shall, in respect of any act or fact specified in either of those sections, be guilty of an offence unless -
that the act or fact took place or existed without the knowledge of any director, or of any person concerned in the management, of the body; and
that no such director or person concerned had reasonable means of preventing the act or fact taking place or coming into existence; or
in the case of a person being a director or person concerned in the management of the body, he proves -
that the act or fact took place or existed without his knowledge; and
that he did not have reasonable means of preventing the act or fact taking place or coming into existence.’ “
That in proposed new section 73f(1) the word “ five “ be omitted and the word “ six “ inserted in lieu thereof.
That in proposed new section 73f (2) the word” five “ be omitted and the word “ six “ inserted in lieu thereof.
That in proposed new section 73f (2) (a) after the word “corporate” the following words be inserted : “ a fine not exceeding “.
That proposed new section 73g be omitted.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 19th March (vide page 127), on motion by Mr. Hughes -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- To this measure no objection can be raised. In many Acts of Parliament, there are references to a Minister or Department of State, and it happens that neither the Minister nor the Department of State exists at present. The proposed amendment in clause 4 gives a little more elasticity to the administration in such cases Clause 5 dealswith offences that have been committed by corporations, and clause 6 re-defines in broader and clearer language the present power relating to the making of regulations. Having no objection to the measure, I support the second reading.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Harrison) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Raw Cotton Bounty Act 1940.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Harrison and Mr. Collins do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Harrison and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill amends the Raw Cotton Bounty Act 1940. It has become necessary because of serious disturbances in world raw cotton markets, and their effect on the incomes of producers of raw cotton in Queensland. The bill will ensure an average net return to producers of 12½d. per lb. of raw cotton in respect of the 1941 and 1942 crops, after taking into account their profits from oil and cattle fodder made from cotton seed. This amount is equivalent to a return of 4.3d. per lb. of seed cotton which the Government and Parliament intended to give to growers when the Raw Cotton Bounty Act 1940 was enacted.
A review of changed circumstances overseas will make clear to honorable members the necessity for immediate action to protect the position of cotton-growers.For six years, the Commonwealth Government’s policy has been to allow cotton-spinners to obtain Australian, or foreign, raw cotton at Australian import parity, duty-free prices. In order that Australian cotton-growers should receive remunerative returns, they have been paid, through the Queensland Cotton Board as the producers of raw cotton, rates of bounty which fluctuate exactly in accordance with variations of the spot price of American middling raw cotton at Liverpool at the end of each week of the Queensland production. The present basic bounty is 4¾d. per lb. on a basic Liverpool price of 6d. per lb. As the actual Liverpool price is more or less than 6d., the actual bounty is that much less or more than 4¾d. with a maximum bounty of 5½d. per lb. Until some time after the war started, this system worked to the complete satisfaction of cottongrowers and spinners in Australia, because the normal relationship between the Liverpool price and cotton values in other world markets was always maintained, viz., the Liverpool price averaged about -Jd. per lb. more than American prices.
In the Raw Cotton Bounty Act 1940, the former basie bounty was increased from 4-jd. to 4 3/4 d. per lb., the extra 1/2 d. being given partly to prevent the then slightly abnormal excess of the Liverpool price over American prices from injuring our cotton producers’ returns. Recent announcements in tlie press disclosed that, the Liverpool Cotton Exchange will cease to exist, as from the 31st March, 1941. lt has been expected for some time that the Liverpool Cotton Exchange might close, and this eventuality has been provided for in the present act. Had the disturbance of the market, with its effect on the Liverpool price, been the only factor affecting the bounty, the closing of the Liverpool Exchange, and the consequent reliance on the New York Cotton Exchange for the basis of the bounty payments, would not have rendered this amendment necessary. A more serious position has, however, developed owing to extreme price-cutting by Brazil, and market weaknesses arising from the record excess carry-over of 15,000,000 bales in the United States of America, which has been financed by the Washington Government at more than present market values. The present price in New York is approximately 2d. per lb. sterling less than the Liverpool price, with a strong tendency to drop lower. In view of the fact that the price of Brazilian cotton is approximately 20 per cent, lower than American cotton, it will form the basis for determining the Australian import parity price. Consequently, the price received by the growers will be so low that their returns will not yield them a profit; hence tlie necessity for the provision in the bill which will ensure to them a return of 12id. per lb. of raw cotton.
It will be seen that the effect of present world, prices will be to reduce the net return to Queeusland growers on their seed cotton (below the 4.3d. per lb., expected by Parliament when the 1940 act was passed. How much below the price will be, will depend upon the influence of the excess American carry-over of cotton and the surplus Brazilian cotton available on an already depressed market. Australia’s raw cotton position is seriously weak. Our consumption is now over 70,000 bales per annum, but Queensland’s crop this year is expected to be only 15,000 bales. Maintenance of the 15,000 bales production for 1941 requires immediate action in order to ensure the reasonable net return of 4.3d. per lb. of seed cotton. Such a return, guaranteed in advance, will be vital if our production for 1942 is to expand sufficiently to meet the requirements of our fighting service, should war break out in the Pacific.
The hill will enable the Queensland. Cotton Board to receive bounty for each week’s production, on a basis to be determined by the Minister as provided for in the present act, during each week. Then, shortly after the end of the season, the Cotton Board will receive an interim payment in a lump sum, bringing the net return for all cotton, as close as possible to 12$d. per lb. Later, when the exact figures are available, the final payment of bounty necessary to ensure a net return of 12.M. per lb. will be paid. In an attempt to reduce the possible extra bounty cost of £50,000 under this bill, I propose to arrange that all spinners shall promptly confer with the Queensland Cotton Board with the object of buying the 1941 Queensland crop at more than present import parity prices, thus reducing the Commonwealth’s bounty liability by the total value of such increase. Unless some such agreement be made, the extra bounty cost for the anticipated 1941 crop will be approximately £50,000. I believe that the House will appreciate the seriousness of the unexpected wartime emergency which now confronts our cotton-growers, and will, therefore, support this bill, which will relieve the situation to the satisfaction of the industry.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Evatt) adjourned.
Bill brought up by Mr. Anthony and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Anthony) proposed -
That the second rending be made an Order of the Way for the next sitting.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Parliament: Order of Business; Secret Meeting op Senators and Members: Sittings - Rationing of Newsprint - Corporal William Browne - National All-party Government - Man-power and Resources Survey Committee: Attitude of Mr.Mair - Wheat Industry : Drought Relief - Pensions : Aged People in Remote Districts.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
Honorable members will not be deprived of their rights to-morrow as the Government intends to proceed with the consideration of private members business.
– For the whole of the day?
– I will not say for the whole of the day. Private members’ business will be proceeded with for the greater part of the day.
– The Government promised that honorable members would have an opportunity to attend another secret meeting of members of both Houses of the Parliament at which they would be able to question Ministers on statements made during the two recent secret meetings; but because the Government was not able to “gag” members last night it has pouted like a child and has now denied us that right. Is it to be understood that members are now released from their selfimposed obligation not to raise in the House any of the matters which they have heard in the course of these secret meetings and upon which they intended to ask questions at some further secret meeting? We are vitally interested in the successful prosecution of the war.But are we to be silenced forever because the Government refuses to listen to strictures which we believe to be fully justified? Is the Government to be permitted to force Parliament into recess some time next week in. order that it may continue its war effort in the present imperfect way? I have indicated on more than one occasion that I have very little faith in this Government or in the manner in which it is performing its duties. I charge the Government, for the most part, with a lack of capacity. For that reason I had hoped that Ministers would have been prepared, at a joint secret sitting, to listen to observations which honorable members might have to offer. I thought that perhaps they might learn something that would be of value to them. But apparently, like the Bourbons, they learn nothing and forget nothing. In their lack of wisdom, they desire Parliament to go into recess and members to disperse to the four corners of Australia so that Ministers maybe able to do in a manner which will suit their convenience what they consider to he in the public interest.
I am indebted to the officers of the Parliamentary Library for a statement showing the number of days, arranged in weeks, on which the British House of Commons devoted itself to public business in 1940. The details are as follows : -
I consider that it would be a miracle if this Government ever agreed to this Parliament sitting for five days in two successive weeks, followed by four days in the next week. When Parliament sat so frequently in Great Britain last year, London was being subjected to particularly heavy bombing.
– If honorable members opposite had not spent so much time in speaking on the motion for the adjournment of the House last night a secret meeting could have been held.
– Surely a secret meeting could he held at some other time. Is it necessary for honorable members opposite to retire to their beds at 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock at night in order to get their beauty sleep? Could they not, on occasions, in a time of national crisis, remain up until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.? When the British Parliament was sitting so continuously in the middle of last year, the evacuation from Dunkirk was being effected. Although the world was witness ing one- of the greatest military epics of all time, the House of Commons continued its regular sittings. The total number of sitting days of the House of Commons last year was 131, against which we have to place our puny 40 days, most of which were begrudged by the Government.
– The members of the Ministry should be ashamed of themselves.
– I fear that they have lost all sense of shame, though I compliment the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) upon an overdue accession of wisdom which he showed in resigning from the Country party.
I wish to refer to the unsatisfactory conditions upon which newsprint is being rationed. Many religious, cultural, scientific and trade journals are being greatly restricted in their size, effectiveness, and, possibly, in their circulation, by reason of the procedure adopted by the Government. The Acting Collector of Customs in Victoria, Mr. J. M. Silk, recently sent a communication to Mr. E. T. Spackman, Australasian Secretary of the Australasian Institute of Secretaries, 11 Bank-place, Melbourne, relative to an application foi1 a.n “ authority to use “ paper in the production of the institute’s quarterly publication The Secretary in Australia and New Zealand, in which the department requested that the size of the paper be reduced. Journals of the classes to which I have referred have been called upon to reduce the size of their publications by 25 per cent. Very little space is devoted by these periodicals to :the publication of advertisements. Most of the matter which they publish is of a highly technical and informative nature which is of considerable value to their subscribers. The saving in paper made by the restriction of the size of these journals is infinitesimal. If the Government really wishes to reduce the quantity of newsprint used in Australia it should turn its attention to the activities of certain big newspaper proprietaries in the capital cities. We all know that on Thursday evenings, Saturdays, and Sunday mornings certain newspapers produce issues running into between 30 and 40 pages which contain up to 60 per cent. of advertisements. It would be far better for the Government to insist on the restriction of advertisements of “ rag shops “ and other trading organizations than to compel cultural and religious journals to restrict the size of their publications.I believe that departmental officers would welcome a ministerial instruction of this description, because the administrative cost of supervising the publication of numerous cultural journals, some of which have a circulation of only 400 or 500 copies, is out of all proportion to the savings effected. I hope that this reasonable request will receive sympathetic consideration from the Government.
I now wish to submit to the Government certain representations that have been made to me by the Melbourne subbranch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia concerning Corporal William Browne, V.85688, for his case presents some extraordinary features. Corporal Browne enlisted with the Australian Military Forces that served under the Imperial Government in the South African War. He received wounds in the leg and was ultimately discharged with an excellent character and awarded by the Imperial Government a pension of 2s. a day for that wound. That pension has continued until now. Owing to his wound he was ineligible to enlist in the Great War of 1914-18, and could not offer for overseas service in the present war. In June of last year, the Commonwealth Government, through the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, called upon all ex-soldiers of previous wars who could do so to offer their services in ga rrison battalions, for clerical or other duty. Mr. Browne, who was at that time in a clerical position in Melbourne, considered that he would be of use to the Government, and offered his services on the clerical staff of the Pay Branch of the Australian Military Forces. He was medically examined, accepted, and sent to the Military Camp at Balcombe, Victoria, where he was employed in the A.A.P.C.. and attached to No. 2 Training Depot, Balcombe, under LieutenantColonel Conran, and the Paymaster, Lieutenant Maddern.
Under date the 24th June, 1940, Lieutenant R. Maddern gave Browne the following certificate: -
This is to certify that the bearer, Sergeant W. Browne, of the A.A.P.C., was attached to No. 2 Training Depot, Balcombe,under Lieutenant-Colonel Conran. During that period he carried out his duties with every satisfaction to myself as Paymaster and the unit concerned. (Sgd.) R. Maddern,
From the time of his enlistment on the 20th June until the 25th August, 1940, Browne served under Lieutenant Maddern and was not absent from duty through sickness or any other cause. On the 25th August he was suddenly ordered to report at Craig’s Buildings, Melbourne, and appear before Lieutenant Monohan. On his arrival there, he was instructed by Lieutenant Monohan to report to the hospital at Broadmeadows Camp, whither he was taken under escort of another corporal. On his arrival, Major Freed- man asked why he had been sent there, and neither he nor the corporal who took him could give any reason. Communication was made with Craig’s Buildings, with the result that Major Freedman detained him in hospital for examination. He was sent to Caulfield Camp Hospital for X-ray, returned to Broadmeadows, and sent to Dr. Webster, specialist, for investigation of a chest condition. On the 3rd September he was given Discharge No. 3992, certifying that he was discharged from the forces as medically unfit, not occasioned by his own default, and was told that he was suffering from tuberculosis.
After his discharge he reported immediately to the Central Tuberculosis Bureau of the Government of Victoria, in Lonsdale-street, Melbourne for X-ray and examination with the result that he received a certificate as follows: -
Apex - Appearances suggest some old scarring in the right upper lobe.
Sputum - Negative. [Leave to continue given.] He then went to his own medical man, Dr. W. J. Mackillop, 283 Moreland-road, Coburg, who provided the following certificate: - Mr. W. Browne, of 4 Murdoch-street, West Brunswick has been a patient of mine for the past three years. I have treated him for bronchitis on some occasions.
It has been a surprise for me to learn of his discharge from Home Defence Service on account of active T.B. In my opinion this sentence of the equivalent of life is not deserved. This opinion is based on the following facts: -
Dr. Webster’s investigations -
In view of these facts, I have no hesitation in saying that his chest is non-active and that the decision given by the Southern Command should be rescinded. Mr. Browne is the type of man needed for Home Defence work.
Yours truly, (Sgd.) W. j. MacKillop.
An appeal for his re-enlistmentwas lodged with the Minister in October, 1940, and on the 20th November the following reply was received: -
With reference to your letter of October, 1940, in which you bring under notice the case of V85688, Corporal W. Browne who was discharged from the Garrison Battalion as Medically Unfit, I am directed by the Minister for the Army to inform you that this soldier appearedbefore the Referee Medical Board on 27th August, 1940, and was found to be permanently unfit for service. It was further found that his condition was not attributable to or aggravated by his Military Service, and in view of this report, it is regretted that his re-enlistment cannot be considered. (Sgd.) J. T. Fitzgerald,
Secretary to the Minister.
Since that date he has been submitted to a further test at the Central Tuberculosis Bureau, and on the 6th November, 1940, the following report was supplied by that body: -
There are some old sears on the right upper lobe, but these have not altered appreciably in the last two months, and do not suggest any recent activity.
The Melbourne sub-branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia therefore asks that the Government reconsider this case on the following points : -
Re Mr. W. Browne, of Murdoch-street, West Brunswick, who was recently discharged from Home Defence Duties.
In my opinion this man is now in a better state of health than at any time since I have known him, four years. He has an ankylosed left knee, due to war injuries, but this does not prevent him from carrying out clerical duties, which I think he is suited for.
I consider his chest to be an old quiescent tuberculosis lesion of many years ago, and now completely healed and non-active. This opinion is based on the result of numerous pathological tests and serial X-Ray examinations. This would not be a menace to the health of those with whom he should be working, and with clerical duties given him should be non-injurious.
Yours sincerely, (Sgd.) W. J. MacKillop.
This man is now living as well as he can on a pension of 2s. a day paid to him by the Imperial Government for his services in South Africa. He has lost his clerical employment and is debarred from employment in the Army, not on the ruling of tuberculosis experts or specialists, but. on the ruling of a board of medical officers, none of whom has ever specialized in tuberculosis and several of whom are merely general practitioners. The Minister for the Army should not be satisfied with the report of the medical board. In view of the weight of evidence adduced in support of the man’s claim for reenlistment, a further examination should be conducted by a specialist board including the best tuberculosis experts in Melbourne. If that be done the Melbourne sub-branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia will be satisfied that the man has received just treatment. Until that is done that body will continue to feel that a grave injustice has been perpetrated on one of its members.
.- 1 regret very much that the House last night did not have the opportunity to hold a secret meeting, due to the tactics of some honorable members opposite, including the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). For nearly two and a half hours last night I listened to all sorts of charges relating to corruption, bribery and misrepresentation. If the honorable gentlemen who made all those accusations believed one-tenth of what they said their sense of duty would force them to throw their full support behind a national government. I do not believe that all of the statements made were sincere. Those few honorable gentlemen deprived other honorable members of a- chance to hear Ministers speak in secret on a variety of important subjects.
– The honorable member is not in order in referring to the previous night’s discussion.
– At the last secret meeting I learned a great deal about conditions existing not only in Australia but also overseas, and ever since then I have been waiting patiently for another such meeting to he held. Certain honorable gentlemen last night deliberately prevented the House from terminating its ordinary sitting in order to meet in secret. If even one-twentieth of the charges they made last night-
– The honorable member must realize that he is not entitled to-night to traverse last night’s discussions in this chamber.
– I sincerely trust that honorable members opposite will soon come to a full realization of the gravity of the situation in which Australia is to-day, and that they will join in the formation of a national government so that we may make a 100 per cent, war effort. Until that time arrives Australia cannot, produce the full effort that is urgently needed. But when it does arrive the complaints which were made last night can be dealt with by an all-party government.
.- A week ago I stated in this House that the Premier of New South Wales was withholding his co-operation from the Commonwealth Man-power and Resources Survey Committee, which was established by the Advisory War Council. Earlier on the same day the Acting Prime Minister (M’r. Fadden) told me that he was not aware of (ibis fact. I spoke briefly on the motion for the adjournment of the House that day in order to -bring the matter definitely under the notice of the Acting Prime Minister and the Government, but I understand that since then, nothing has been done by the Premier of New South Wales, and that, in fact, he has not answered the last communication sent to him by the chairman of the Manpower and Resources Survey Committee. I desire, therefore, to place the whole matter on record so that the Government shall be in full possession of the factsAbout two weeks ago, the Sydney Morning Herald published the following report : -
The federal committee to survey manpower and resources has been informed by the Premier, Mr. Mair, that any information it requires from State authorities will haver to be supplied in writing through himself.
That means that Mr. Mair has constituted himself censor of what the officer; of his department may state to the committee. That is an extraordinary thing for a man to do, particularly when, as Premier of the State of New South. Wales, he has promised to co-operate in every way with the Commonwealth Government in the prosecution of the war effort. This was his first chance to prove the sincerity of his promise. Thereport continued -
Members of the committee are dissatisfied with the Premier’s ruling, and claim that it shows a spirit of non-co-operation which contrasts strongly with the helpfulness shown by other sections of the community which lui ve done everything possible to help the committee. So far the committee has no specific powers for compelling the attendance of witnesses, because it was considered that these would not be necessary.
It is unfortunate that the Man-power and Resources Survey Committee was not constituted a select committee, and given: full powers to compel the attendance of witnesses so that evidence could be taken in the proper way. So far, no statement has been made to this House by any Minister regarding the constitution of the committee and its powers and functions. So far as I understand the position, the committee has no real standing; it is not even constituted under the National Security Regulations. It is most unfortunate that the Government did not establish it in the ordinary way, and provide it with all the powers that it requires.” I believe that the members of the committee are earnest and anxious to give good service, but they are greatly hampered by the attitude of the New South Wales Premier. The chairman of the committee, Mr. Spooner, would not comment on the matter last night except to say that he had written a further letter to the Premier of New South Wales which, be hoped, would produce satisfactory results. Speaking in the House last Wednesday, he said that he hoped that the misunderstanding would be cleared up. Apparently, however, there was no misunderstanding. Mr. Mair knows exactly where he stands, and he has ignored further communications from the committee. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), a member of the committee, said last night that the committee wanted to obtain, in addition to the views of the Mate Government, which would be supplied formally under Mr. Mair’s plan, the views of individual State officers, who were experts in their own particular fields. He continued -
Inquiries of this sort cannot be conducted satisfactorily by a series of questions submitted in writing, or by general statements by a government. By personal interview, points can be followed up as they arise.
I understand that in July last the Department of Labour and Industries in New South Wales, in. conjunction with the Public Service Board, made a survey and classification of all unemployed labour in New .South Wales. Evidence in regard to that should be forthcoming from the officers who prepared the report. I agree with the honorable member for Dalley that the officers themselves should come before the committee to give their evidence. I myself sought to appear before the committee to give evidence on certain matters, and I was informed by the chairman that I should prepare a statement in writing for submission to the committee. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if the chairman wants State officers to appear in person to give evidence, he should have no objection to my appearing personally also. I have received 40 letters from various persons stating that they could employ a great many skilled and unskilled workers if the Government constructed annexes to their business premises as had been done in the case of a few big firms, or, if they were able to obtain credit to take up contracts. If that were done, it would clear up the unemployment problem in my electorate, where there are at present between 2,000 and 3,000 persons out of work. A great many of them have written to me, and here is a typical letter -
I have applied for a job in munition work as fitter and turner at 132 George-street, Sydney, and I got back a reply to say, “No unskilled labour wanted”. What does that mean? If you could do anything about it I would be very pleased.
Here is another letter, dated the 23rd January, 1941 -
In answer to your letter of the 10th instant, I wish to state that I have filled in three forms so far for employment. Surely that ought to be enough. I have had no results so far, but I am hoping for good results Wit your kind assistance.
I am receiving letters of that kind day after day, yet Mr. Mair will not do anything to help relieve the position. The matter was raised in the State House, and Mr. Mair reiterated the Government’s determination not to allow departmental officers to give direct evidence before the committee. I should like to know the reason for his attitude. It has been suggested that the State Government, which has had all this information in its possession for a long time, could itself have done something to relieve the unemployment position if it were sincere. It has received from the Commonwealth Government hundreds of thousands of pounds for unemployment relief, but instead of employing men on defence works as it was supposed to do, it used the money to relieve itself of the necessity to draw on the proceeds of its unemployment tax. The State Government collects £9,000,000 a year in this way, but it has been expending only about a quarter of that amount on unemployment relief. Perhaps that is why it declines to co-operate with the Man-power and Resources Survey Committee, or it may be on account of a personal feud between the Premier and the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner), who disclosed that the Mair-Stevens Government had faked the budget. Since then there has been bad blood between them. If that is the reason for the Premier’s attitude, it is playing the political game pretty low down, since it has the effect of keeping unemployed men walking the streets. So that I may not be accused of exaggerating the position, I propose to quote part of the leading article published on the 11th March in the Daily Telegraph. It is as follows : -
Mr. Mair’s refusal to supply the Federal Man-power Committee with any information except in writing through himself is an absurd piece of obstructionism.
The committee wants facts about unemployment and man-power resources in New South Wales.
It doesn’t want letters from the Premier.
It was appointed to get results - quickly.
The men in New South Wales who have the necessary facts at their fingertips are the experts and officials whom Mr. Mair wants to keep in the background.
The Premier has frequently offered to cooperate wholeheartedly with the Federal authorities.
Here’s his chance.
He should help the Man-power Committee to do its work efficiently.
Australia is up against the toughest industrial problem in its history.
A Federal Government spokesman said on Sunday that our expanded munitions programme required thousands more skilled men.
No. I proposal to overcome this shortage is increased technical training facilities.
The only thing wrong with the proposal is that it is years late.
Five years ago Mr.Essington Lewis, now Director-General of Munitions, said that Australia was 20 years behind other countries in the work of technically educating the younger generation of its artisans.
In 1936 the New South Wales Minister for Education (Mr. Drummond) said that the States lacked the money to train the skilled labor needed by our secondary industries.
The Commonwealth Government always had a constitutional excuse for doing nothing.
Now, the Federal Government must do thoroughly a job it has dodged for years.
Recently, the Minister for Labour and Industry (Mr. Holt), replying to a deputation which waited upon him, said that the problem of unemployment, in the form in which it was found in New South Wales at the present time, was a challenge to the resourcefulness of the Government and its statesmanship. Well, here is an opportunity for the Government to show its resourcefulness and statesmanship and to take steps to implement the powers and functions of the committee. Here is an opportunity for Mr. Mair to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in getting on with the war effort, and in doing something to relieve unemployment.
– I hope that the secret meeting of Parliament which, unfortunately, had to be cancelled last night, will be held in the near future. When the matter was under discussion last night there was opposition from some honorable members on both sides of the House. There were others who emphasized the need for such a meeting, not only so that we might hear statements from Ministers, but also so that honorable members might place before the Government certain facts about the mobile and fixed defences of the country, and about proposed strategic roads. In addition, there were many who hoped for an opportunity to hear what members of the Advisory War Council might have to say in criticism of the Government’s policy. This, however, is what happened : Seventeen members, including one who said that he was not prepared to sacrifice his rights as a private member, spoke at great length, and thus prevented the holding of the secret meeting. I hope that when the press reports the debate of last night, and the present discussion, the names of those seventeen members will be published for every one to read.
– Order! The honorable member must not discuss speeches which were delivered last night.
– Some of us wanted particularly to discuss the matter of strategic roads, and fixed defences in coastal areas. Work on such projects is just as necessary, in many respects, as work in the munitions factories, and would provide employment for a great number of persons. Now they must remain out of work, largely because a secret session was not held last night. I am not blaming anybody but I say that the namesof those seventeen speakers should be published widely throughout the country. I ask the Acting Prime Minister to reconsider his decision of last night, and provide an opportunity for private members to discuss these matters at a secret session.
.- I desire to draw attention to the position of the wheat farmers in New South Wales for whose relief £1,000,000 was voted by this House last year. That was three months ago, and honorable members were of the opinion at the time that the situation was urgent. A serious position prevailed in the drought-stricken areas and honorable members were informed that unless relief were provided immediately, many farmers would be forced to leave their holdings. In response to that appeal, the Commonwealth Parliament provided £1,000,000 and deputed the State governments to distribute the money. Three months have since elapsed, the wheat-growers have not received the urgently-needed assistance, and it seems as if the Commonwealth will have to police its good intentions ‘by bringing pressure to bear upon the States, which have not yet distributed the money. In New South Wales, inquiries are continually being received from farmers as to when the money will be available. Some of them are encountering extreme hardships, because storekeepers can no longer allow them credit, and financial institutions, to which they are in debt, are pressing them for repayment. Unless action be taken immediately, all of the benefit that should accrue from the allotment of the £1,000,000 will be nullified. In a letter to me dealing with the situation, a representative citizen of central western Now South Wales, whose company has been associated with the wheat industry for a number of years, wrote -
Day in day out, we are being questioned by farmers in regard to tlie £320,000 drought relief payment to wheat-growers. Can you get any information as to when the application orme will be available?
That sum represented the allocation to New South Wales, and, to date, no indication has been given as to when even the application forms, which will be distributed to farmers desiring to participate in the distribution, will be issued. After the forms have been completed, the claims of the farmers will have to be considered on their merits before the money is finally disbursed. Evidently the Commonwealth Government, having performed its duty to the farmers by providing the money for drought relief, must now enforce the speedy distribution of the money. Some time ago, a gentleman who is now an honorable member of this House, disclosed that public funds in New South Wales had been juggled, and perhaps a similar manipulation of accounts is occurring at the present time. The State may be recreant to its trust; it may be using the money for purposes other than that for which it was allotted (by the Commonwealth. In the circumstances, the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) should ascertain when New South Wales proposes to distribute the money, and if the reply is indefinite, he should bring pressure to bear upon the State in order to ensure that the farmers shall be granted speedy relief.
Changing conditions in the western towns of New South Wales, brought about by the war, are causing hardship to aged couples. A general exodus from western towns has taken place because of the attractive labour conditions in the metropolitan area, and through enlistments for military service. In many homes situated on the outskirts of these towns live aged couples, many of whom are in receipt of a pension. Perhaps a son formerly worked in the neighbourhood and lived at home, whilst another one might have lived some distance away and seen his parents only once a month. With the depletion of the younger section of the population through the exigencies of the war, many such homes are now inhabited only by one aged person, for whom the isolation and solitude are dangerous. The local police usually keep an eye on the welfare of old residents, and the new conditions have considerably increased their responsibility. From personal experience, I know that if an invalid or old-age pensioner does not come to town at regular intervals, some one must go to his residence and ascertain the cause of his absence. On more than one occasion, when making such a visit, we found that the aged person had died a few days previously. In one small country town during the last six months, three such lonely deaths have occurred. One person had been dead for a fortnight before the police arrived. Because of the loneliness and the fear that tragedy might overtake them when no one is near to assist them, many aged folks desire to rent or sell their homes so that they may move to town; but because of the rigidity of the Pensions Act they would be deprived of their pension, or the amount which they receive would be reduced if they were to follow their inclinations. The Minister for Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) should place a liberal interpretation upon the act so as to relieve their hardships.
.- I was not present during the earlier part of the remarks of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), but I arrived to hear sufficient of his speech to understand that he was referring to the problem of smaller factories which, in the view he expressed, had not received a fair share of the orders that were available. He spoke also of the problem of unemployment, particularly as relating to his own electorate. The honorable member may be sure that those problems are immediately under the consideration of the parliamentary committee that is inquiring into the man-power and resources of the Commonwealth. Only four weeks have elapsed since the committee held its first meeting, and for more than half of that period Parliament has been in session. Therefore, it has not been possible for the committee to meet so often as it normally would. Nevertheless, it has covered a great deal of ground and has given much consideration to matters to which the honorable member referred. As to the details, quite obviously the committee depends to some extent upon information that reaches it. The committee invites the co-operation of all honorable members in supplying it with information relating to their electorates. If honorable members know of cases which they feel justified in placing before it, or desire to urge their claims before it, they can help us very considerably by communicating to us such details, and particulars of what they know concerning the factories. That invitation applies not only to the honorable member for Reid but also to other honorable members, particularly those repre senting industrial areas. I hope that it will be possible for the committee during the next few weeks to see as many of these eases as can be examined physically, or to interview cases, but we must, in the first instance, rely upon receiving information. We are already obtaining information that has been assembled in other quarters. It may, or may not, be complete. Honorable members representing industrial electorates can aid the committee materially and, indeed, a responsibility devolves upon them to see that the committee is ‘seised of all the facts concerning their electorates.
– Has the committee any power to summon witnesses?
– The honorable member knows the powers of the committee in that respect.
– The Government might be able to assist the committee.
– The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) stated that if the committee found it necessary to seek such power, the position would be considered in the light of events as reported to him from time to time. With one exception to date, the committee has had no reason to approach the Acting Prime Minister. It has been able to interview no fewer than seventeen officials of the Commonwealth Public Service, and has full access to the information in their possession. It has received advice from the Government of Victoria that when it is ready, it will be able to interview the officials of that State. During last weekend the committee visited Victoria, but as it had to interview a number of other gentlemen it did not approach officials of the State Public Service. I mention that because the difficulties that were foreshadowed when the Acting Prime Minister spoke of powers for the committee have not been encountered in any direction other than that to which the honorable member referred. I hope that those difficulties will be removed. If the committee can complete its deliberations and investigations without being granted expressed power, so much the better. Members feel that, by private interviews and by discussions with union officials, public officials, and those in charge of the administration of industry, they can obtain very full information. We prefer to secure it in that way, unless we are faced with a difficulty which cannot be overcome. The honorable member may rest assured that the matters of which he spoke are well in the mind of the committee. Indeed, they have already been the subject of investigation in principle, and will now be the subject of investigation in detail, particularly if honorable members will supply information.
.- Whilst I must plead that I did not have the advantage of hearing the speech of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), I conclude, from what has already been said by the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Spooner), that he addressed himself to the general problem of unemployment, and the application of machinery that might be available to contribute to the war effort. I have no illusions about the task that the Government has given to the parliamentary committee which it appointed to survey the man-power and resources of the Commonwealth. The committee has been asked, in short, to solve a problem that the seven governments- of Australia have failed to solve. That problem is most important, not only to the war effort, but. also to the Government and the Opposition. In short, the Government has been challenged that it has not used the available manpower and machinery resources of the Commonwealth, and we have been given the task of applying the men to the job and of discovering whether suitable machinery is in fact available for use in the war effort. The problem is one of immense proportions. I trust that the members of the Opposition, representing in the main, people who to-day are looking for work, will give the committee every assistance. May I remind them, and particularly the honorable member for Reid- (Mr. Morgan), that sharp-shooting at the committee or at the problems which the committee has to consider is not assistance. The committee is prepared to meet anybody and to consider any proposition. In my capacity as a private member of this House I find that, whilst many people representing business interests who complain of not being given an opportunity to share in the war effort, are prepared to put their case to individuals, they are diffident about stating their case before the committee. Those who have complained that their offers of assistance to the Government have been ignored should be prepared to put their case to the committee.
– They want to be allowed to give evidence.
– I give the honorable member the assurance that the committee will welcome any evidence such men are prepared to give. Every claim of this sort will be fully investigated. One of the committee’s problems is the placing of men in employment. Neither the Government parties nor the Opposition can disclaim responsibility for the unemployment situation.
– Does the committee propose to furnish an interim report?
– I see no reason why an interim report should not be furnished. In conclusion, may I remind the House that the Man-power and Resources Survey Committee is tackling a problem that has baffled the seven governments of Australia. The committee has been sitting intermittently for only three weeks, and to expect us to solve in that short space of time a problem that has baffled the seven Australian Governments for years is to ask too much. I appeal to honorable members to give to the committee all the information they possess regarding suitable machinery not now employed in the war effort. If they know of suitable machinery which is not being utilized we should be glad to hear of it. I again appeal to honorable members to realize the magnitude of the task confronting the committee and not. to hinder its work by sniping at it.
– I am unable to understand why the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) has criticized the Man-power and Resources Survey Committee.
– I did not criticize it; 1 made constructive suggestions. The honorable member was not. in the chamber when .1. spoke.
– I had the advantage of hearing the arguments put forward by the honorable member for Reid on this subject. It seemed to me that his main object in discussing this subject was to suggest that the committee was not alive to its job.
Mr.M organ. - Not at all. The committee is doing a good job.
– I am glad to have that admission by the honorable member. I believe, however, that any normal person would have come to the same conclusion as I did after hearing the honorable member’s remarks. The committee has made every effort to get all the information which it thinks will help it to deal with the problems with which it is faced. No committee has applied itself to its task more assiduously than has the Man-power and Resources Survey Committee. I remind the honorable member for Reid that the committee, which was appointed only three or four weeks ago, has been asked to tackle a problem involving the employment of 28,000 workers who have been out of work for years. Various sources of inquiry has been tapped, and so far we have not been definitely refused access to material information. If such a refusal be encountered I feel sure that the powers of the committee will be widened to compel production of the information. The honorable member for Reid has said that he has received letters from about 40 manufacturers who have complained that, although they have offered their plants for use in the war effort, their offers have not been accepted. If the honorable gentleman will make those letters available to the committee, inquiries will be instituted. I have already suggested to him that he should do so. I understand, however, that he wants all those people to give evidence. If that were done I should say that by the time they have concluded their evidence the honorable member will complain that we have been sitting six months and have not put anybody in work. In the comparatively short time at our disposal between the sittings of the House there is little opportunity for the hearing of protracted evidence. The committee welcomes criticism of a constructive nature, but sniping tactics will get us nowhere.
.- in reply - Representations have been made by several speakers with regard to holding another secret meeting of members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. I assure honorable members that it is not the wish of the Government to refrain from carrying out its promise in this respect, and I point out that this matter is entirely in their own hands. For a secret meeting to be held a member of the Government must move the adjournment of the House. Unfortunately during the debate that ensues on that motion, it has been the custom for honorable members to wheel out the parish pump and place it right in the middle of the floor, and indulge in political acrobatics. On Tuesday night the result was a debate of such long duration that the holding of a secret meeting of members of both Houses was impracticable.
I propose to refer briefly to the observations of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) with regard to the rationing of newsprint. I have no doubt that in a matter of this kind the honorable gentleman does not overlook the paramount importance of the conservation of dollar exchange. He may rest assured that the Government would not be prepared to insist on extensive rationing schemes unless they were essential for the welfare of the country. The specific matters referred to by the honorable member will receive my consideration. If he will give me details in relation to the particular journal to which he referred, and they reveal that it is as valuable as he said, I shall give every consideration to the case.
Concerning the matters raised by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) there is no occasion for me to do more than to say that they are in the hands of a capable committee whose findings will, no doubt, satisfy the honorable gentleman.
The subjects referred to by other honorable members will be placed before the appropriate Ministers in due course and will, I have no doubt, receive careful attention.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Postmaster-General’s Department - Thirtieth Report, for year 1939-40.
Bankruptcy Act - Rules - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 55.
Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 50.
National Security Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 194’1, Nos. 51, 52, 53, 54, 59, CO, 61.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, Nos, 57, 58.
House adjourned at 11.29 p.m.
Iiia following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– I am now in a position to answer the honorable member as follows : -
It is not considered in the public interest that particulars of the numbers and serviceability of air-force aircraft should be disclosed for publication. I will discuss the matter with the honorable member privately.
e asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the congested condition of the trans-Australian railway and its total inadequacy in case of defence needs, will he take into consideration tlie early construction of a 4-ft. 8i-in. railway from Kalgoorlie to Perth?
– Having regard to all the circumstances and particularly to the expenditure which would be involved, the work suggested by the honorable member could not be included in the present defence programme of the Commonwealth.
Invalid and Old-age Pensions.
r asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answer : -
The total amount of revenue collected on air mail correspondence from Australia to Malaya. India. Palestine and Egypt during the years’ 1938-39 and 1939-40 was £7,704 and £20.495 respectively. During July, 1938, and the period September, 1939. to Juno, 1940. inclusive, the charges were at the rate of 9d.. ls. Id., ls. 6d. and ls. 6d. per half oz., respectively for letters and half rate for postcards. For the intervening period the charges were uniformly Sd. per half oz. for letters and 3d. for postcards.
The revenue collected for the half year July to December. 1940. was £51.015. The revenue included in the foregoing figures represented by correspondence from Australia to member? of the Commonwealth forces in the Middle Fast was for the year 1939-40. £5,660, and for the half year ended 31st December, 1940. £34,912. Commencing on 22nd November, 1940. a reduced rate of 9d. for letters weighing not more than half an oz., and 5d. for postcards was introduced for correspondence addressed to the Australian forces abroad when transmitted by the Empire air mal service.
r asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 4. My attention has, as the result of the honorable member’s question, been drawn to the press article in question. The remission of penalties imposed under acts of any State is a matter which concerns that State only. The Commonwealth Government, even if it so desired, has no power to appoint a royal commission into this matter.
Canberra : Evasion of Awards by Employers.
n asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
In cases recently heard in the Australian Capital Territory where gross breaches of wages and conditions have been proved against employers, does the Government intend to take against such employers action which may serve as a deterrent from further similar breaches?
– I have no knowledge of any cases recently heard in the Australian Capital Territory where gross breaches of wages and conditions have been proved against employers. I may state, however, that a serious view is taken of all breaches of Industrial Board awards. All complaints are investigated and, where sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution can be obtained, proceedings are invariably instituted. As an indication of the attitude of the Government in this matter, the maximum penalty for any breach of an Industrial Board award has been increased from £20 to £100, whilst the maximum penalty for a like offence under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitra tion Act remains at £20. I may add that the Industrial Inspectors have experienced great difficulty in securing evidence from employees to substantiate allegations made by them. Prosecutions cannot be instituted on hearsay evidence, and I am not prepared to authorize the institution of proceedings unless the employees concerned are prepared to stand up to the allegations made by them by attending court and giving evidence on oath.
Australian Broadcasting Commission:. Royalty Payments on Gramaphone Records.
l asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What is the total amount of special duty on motor chassis’ and parts collected for use as a bounty for the encouragement of the manufacture of motor car engines in Australia T
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The total amount of duty collected at .7d. per lb. on motor chassis and parts up to the 31st January, 1941, was £1,484,141.
Australian Broadcasting Commission’ BILL.
n. - On the 14th March, the honorable member for Barker, (Mr. Archie Cameron) asked, without notice, whether steps would be taken to ensure the attendance in the House of Mr. C. J. A. Moses, general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (at present serving abroad with the Australian Imperial Force) during the debate on the bill to amend the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act.
Consideration has been given to the honorable member’s request, but the action suggested is not considered necessary.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 March 1941, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1941/19410326_reps_16_166/>.