6th Parliament · 1st Session
The Clerk acquainted the Senate that he had been informed that the President, acting under medical advice, was confined to his home, and was therefore unavoidably absent.
The Deputy President took the chair at 3.1 p.m., and read prayers.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister of External Affairs say when the report of the Chief Commissioner for the Panama Exposition, Mr. Deakin, will be placed on the table of the Senate or before Parliament?
– About a week ago I promised Senator Needham or another honorable senator further information on the subject.
– I asked a question a week ago.
– As the information with which I have been supplied pretty well answers the question of Senator Needham I will take the opportunity of reading it -
Mr. Deakin presented a report to the Prime Minister, who referred it to the Minister of External Affairs. The Minister returned it to the Prime Minister, with a suggestion that, as Mr. Deakin’s was a departmental, and not a Royal Commission report, it should be returned to him with the intimation that it should be submitted to the Minister of External Affairs, who controls the affairs of the Commission. The Prime Minister accordingly returned the report to Mr. Deakin on the 18th instant, and it has not yet been received in this Department.
– Can the Minister of Defence give the Senate any further information in connexion with the complaint I brought forward yesterday regarding the disposal of goods of the Red Cross organization in Egypt?
– JEer Excellency Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, the President of the Red Cross Society, Australian Branch, has kindly made available the following cablegram, -which she has received in answer to inquiries as to the alleged sale of Red Cross goods, from His Excellency Sir Henry McMahon, the High Commissioner for Egypt: -
Inquiries made from all hospitals in Egypt, no instance known of sale of Red Cross goods.Soldiers are entitled to purchase goods from value 2s. up to 5s. per week in military hospitals. Probably some one has confused military administration with Red Cross.
The Defence Department has also cabled asking for a report from the officer in charge of the Australian Intermediate Base Depot in Egypt, as to whether that officer has any knowledge of, or can obtain any confirmation of, the allegations made as to traffic in Red Cross supplies.
– Has the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral received an answer to the question I asked some time ago in reference to the Continental Tyre Company?
– The following is a lengthy answer to the question : -
The Continental Tyre Company has not been singled out for special treatment. The same principles have been applied as in the case of all other companies on the enemy list. The circumstances of the company are somewhat different from those of other companies, and especially the nature of its wares; but it has been dealt with on exactly the same principles as are being applied, for instance, to Siemens Brothers and the Australian Metal Company, the scope of whose transactions are much larger.
This Government decided to declare as having enemy character a class of companies, owned or controlled by enemy subjects, with which trading had not previously been legally forbidden; and in initiating this policy it was necessary to avoid injustice and injury to our own people. The rules of international law relating to enemy property on land must be considered, and applied evenly all round; and the difficulties of applying a general rule in such a way as not to cause serious industrial and commercial disturbance to the community are very great.
With regard to Siemens Brothers, for instance, if all pending transactions were to be terminated without regard to circumstances some enterprises of great importance to the community, undertaken by Commonwealth, State, and municipal authorities, will be abruptly terminated.
The same principles apply to certain large contracts and indents with the Australian Metal Company.
When it is stated that the total value of the transactions referred to reaches some £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, it will be readily understood that the whole matter requires very careful consideration. It is receiving careful consideration, and the public bodies concerned are being communicated with.
– Arising out of the reply, will the Minister say why the other rubber firm doing the same business has been closed up entirely, and the Continental Tyre Company is allowed to trade ?
– I ask the honorable senator to give notice of the question.
– Will the Minister of Defence make public the terms of the arrangement entered into by the military authorities with J. Cook and Sons regarding the return of the effects of deceased soldiers, and also the procedure by which relatives may obtain possession of the effects?
– I am under the impression that that has already been done in answer to a question asked in the Senate, but in order to make doubly sure I will see that the information is again made public.
– Has the Minister of Defence noticed the statement of the Minister for the Navy that the War Committeehas control of the arrangements at the military camps, and, if so, is that statement correct?
– I have not seen the statement, but certainly it is not correct.
– Did the honorable senator say “the War Committee” or “a Committee “ ?
– A Committee composed of a number of members from two political parties. There is only one Committee, and that is the War Committee. The honorable senator need not trouble about words.
– It is not correct to say that the Parliamentary War Committee or any Committee has control “ of the arrangements at the camps.
Victoria Barracks, Sydney ; Newspaper Charges
– Is the Minister of Defence able to furnish any information in reply to my question as to the practice in New South Wales of enrolling recruits, and then giving leave for some time before they go into camp?
-I have not yet received a reply to that question, but I have a reply to the honorable senator’s question regarding the condition of the recruiting rooms at Victoria Barracks in Sydney.
– I shall be glad to have that information.
– In the Senate recently the honorable senator directed my attention to certain statements that had appeared in the Sydney newspapers reflecting on the arrangements made by the New South Wales District Head-Quarters Staff for the examination of recruits for active service. I brought the matter under the notice of the District Commandant, and have -received the following reply: -
The enrolling offices are situated in suitable buildings at the western end of the barracks, and, until recently, the system adopted was for recruits to pass from this office to a large drill hall, deposit their clothing, less trousers, boots, hats, and coats, on tables and pegs provided for that purpose, under the supervision of the military police; thence for medical inspection and vaccination to rooms (14 feet distant), formerly occupied by the A.A.M.C. Militia. These floors are of asphalt, not cement, and strips of matting were provided, on which recruits stood while being medically examined.
The statement concerning the cleanliness of the building in which the men deposited their clothing is absolutely incorrect, as the floors (wooden) were swept daily, and occasionally disinfected. Some slight congestion was noticeable on two or three occasions while waiting authority to increase the number of medical officers from four to six.
These arrangements worked satisfactorily, and were quite adequate until the recent wet weather set in, when alterations were made which permit of the whole of the work of the medical examination being carried out in one building.
The work of recruiting has been carefully watched by myself and staff, and any alterations that were deemed necessary were promptly carried out. I have no hesitation in asserting that the press accounts referred to are misleading, and in some instances absolutely incorrect.
On receipt of this reply the Commandant was asked to state specifically which of the statements in the Press were misleading, and which absolutely incorrect. The reply to this is as follows : -
The following statements are misleading: -
The paragraph which refers to a boomerang-shaped lake et seq., inasmuch as. the water referred to was such as collects in the water table on an ordinary well-formed macadamized road, and would have to be crossed when passing from one detached building to another.
The statement that “it takes a man some three hours under ordinary circumstances to fill in the papers and undergo a medical examination.” With the exception of men who arrive at the enrolling office before 0 a.m., the whole of the applicants (varying from 300 to 500 in number) who presented themselves were dealt with between the hours of 9 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. Each man, on completion of his examination, was given leave till 1.45 p.m., when the whole were paraded and sent to Liverpool. The average time was only 30 minutes.
The following extracts are absolutely incorrect: -
” That recruits are required to wait for the doctors on cemented floors,” inasmuch as the room referred to has an asphalt floor, and contained strips of matting, on which men stood while being examined,
“That the rooms in which recruits were examined were dirty and unhealthy.” The size of the room referred to is 45 feet x 27 feet x 14 feet, and is well ventilated, there being three windows and three fanlights, which provide adequate light and air. The room is, and always has been, periodically disinfected and kept in a clean condition.
– Will the Minister of Defence make available to honorable senators the evidence taken at the inquiry into the conditions of affairs at the Liverpool Camp, on which Mr. Justice Rich based his findings and recommendations.
– So far I have not seen the evidence. If it is available, I shall see that honorable senators are furnished with it.
Case of Dr. Barrett
– Does the Minister of Defence consider that it is conducive to proper discipline that Dr. Barrett, having been ordered to return to Australia by the military authorities at the front, should be permitted to remain at the front to administer Red Cross affairs ?
- Dr. Barrett is under the control of the military authorities only so far as his responsibility for the control and administration of Army Medical Affairs is concerned. Anything he may have to do with the Red Cross Society is no concern of the Defence Department. If the Red Cross Society ask any military officer ordered to return to Australia to remain that they may avail themselves of his services in Egypt, I do not see that I can offer any objection.
– Have they done so?
– I say that if they do so I do not see that I can offer any objection, especially in the case of a citizen officer. I cannot see how it would in any way affect military discipline for an independent and private organization to ask that an officer should be allowed to remain in Egypt. I may say that, up to the present, the Red Cross Society have not asked that Dr. Barrett shall be allowed to remain, but if they do make such a request 1 know of no reason why I should not grant it.
– I should have thought my question was sufficiently definite to have enabled the Minister of Defence to make a more definite reply. I pointed out that this doctor had been ordered to return to Australia, and I asked the Minister whether he considered it would be conducive to good discipline that, in the circumstances, he should bo permitted to remain in Egypt to carry out work for the Red Cross Society. I assume that the authorities at the front would not order an officer in the position occupied by Dr. Barrett to return to Australia without good reasons for doing so.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Order ‘ The honorable senator may ask a question to elicit information, but he must not debate it.
– I was merely explaining in order that the Minister of Defence might see the point of my question. I ask whether, in view of the fact that Dr. Barrett has been ordered to return to Australia, it is likely to assist the discipline of doctors, nurses, and others attached to the medical corps at the front that he should be allowed to remain to do Red Cross work when other doctors, and nurses also, have been sent back to Australia.
– The honorable senator is under a misapprehension. Dr. Barrett was not”‘sent back by the Army authorities at the”front. He has been relieved of military duties at the front, and recalled by the’ military authorities in Australia. If a request is made that he may be permitted to remain ‘in Egypt to carry out Red Cross work, I propose to grant it.
– Will the Minister of Defence say when he anticipates receiving the findings in connexion with the inquiries made in Egypt by the British Army Council,on which, according to statements made here, the military authorities have recalled Dr. Ramsay Smith and Matron Bell, and have called upon Dr. Barrett to resign. I assume that when the findings are received they will.be made available to honorable senators.
– I anticipate that the reports will be sent forward by the first mail steamer, and it will be a matter for the Government to decide after perusal whether they shall be made public.
– What is the real reason for the recall of these gentlemen ? They would not be recalled merely for the good of their health, and there must be some serious reason for the action taken.
– Did I not make a statement yesterday? 0
– The Minister’s statement yesterday was broad and general.
– That is all the information I have.
– All that I ask is that the Minister should give us the real reason for their recall. Apparently he does not know it himself yet.
– The honorable senator asked when I would receive the report of the inquiry, and I said I anticipated receiving it by the first mail steamer that left England after the inquiry was made. I know nothing about the reasons, and all the information I had was given in the statement I made yesterday to the Senate.
– Will Dr. Ramsay Smith, as a military officer, have the right on his return to demand a court martial or inquiry in order to clear his character of any disgrace that may attach to his recall ?
– I cannot answer a question of that nature offhand. It depends on what rights Dr. Ramsay Smith has under his regulations.
– Have the military authorities any other evidence or information on which to base their decision to recall the medical officers mentioned than that given by the Minister of Defence yesterday or to-day?
– Has the Minister of Defence received any confirmation of the report circulated to-day that the Allies’ ships have penetrated the Dardanelles as far as the Sea of Marmora?
– So far as I know there is no official confirmation of the news of which I understand the press is in possession.
The following paper was presented: -
Report on the Business Management of the Postmaster-General’s Department by R. McC. Anderson.
Quality of Food: Travelling Conces sions : Illness and Mortality in Camps: Medical Officers.
asked the Minister of Defence,upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Has the Prime Minister yet consulted the Premiers of the respective States, with a view to granting concessions to returned sick and wounded Australian soldiers when travelling on State-owned and controlled railways and tramways?
– The answer is -
A communication was addressed to the seve ral State Premiers on the18th August, asking whether their respective Governments were prepared to grant concessions in respect of railway travelling to returned wounded soldiers during the period of their incapacity. No replies have yet been received.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Will he lay on the table of the Senate a return showing” -
The total number of cases of illness and deaths among members of the Australian Imperial Forces in the various camps of training in the Commonwealth ?
The nature of the illness?
The number of cases in each camp?
– I have no objection. Some little time will, however, be involved in the preparation of the return.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are - 1 and 2. It is understood that there are instances of medical officers attached to the Australian Imperial Forces who are not members of the British Medical Association, but particulars regarding the number or names of such officers are not available.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answer is - 1 and 2. Instructions were issued to all Deputy Postmasters-General on 17th July, 1015, to pay increased forage allowance where warranted. Inquiry will be made whether the increased payments have yet been made, and, if not, what is the cause of delay.
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway : Officers and Men Employed - Federal Capital
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Will the Minister of Home Affairs furnish a full list of officers on the staff of the head office, the Kalgoorlie office, and the Port Augusta office of the transcontinental railway, together with salaries, wages, and allowances for each?
– The answer is-
The information is being prepared, and will be tabled as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers are. -
The information is published periodically. The latest figures are -
Kalgoorlie-Port Augusta Railway, 2,471.
Federal Capital, 650. (By published is meant - Every three months in Minister’s Schedule, and more frequently in press. )
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained. *
Alteration of Gauge
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer is - 1 and 2. It has been pointed out to the Premier of Western Australia that the KalgoorliePort Augusta railway will be open for traffic about the end of next year, and he has been urged to take steps to insure the railway from the western terminus of the Commonwealth line to Fremantle being built 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge in order to provide a uniform track and facilitate transport. A reply from the Premier of Western Australia is expected this week.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are - 1.I am not aware of any such instances in my Department, but if the honorable senator knows of any and will furnish particulars, the circumstances will be inquired into.
Are there any Customs duties chargeable against goods the products of Papua or of Norfolk Island?
– The answer is -
Norfolk Island. - Duties of Customs are not chargeable on goods imported into Australia from Norfolk Island if the goods -
Otherwise they are subject to duty under the General Tariff of the Customs Tariff 1908-11, the Excise Tariff, and the proposed Customs and Excise Tariff 1914.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What is the intention of the Government in the matter of remitting the duty on cornsacks?
– The answer is -
It is not intended to remit the duty on cornsacks.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Long) agreed to -
That Senators Stewart and Maughan be discharged from attendance as members of the Select Committee on proposed removal of Post Office, Balfour, Tasmania, and that Senator* McDougall and Senior be appointed in their stead.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) proposed -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
– I should like to know if it is intended to put this Bill through all its remaining stages to-day 1 I would direct attention to the fact that the measure is not yet in the hands of honorable senators.
– But it will be, before it is debated.
– Unless there is very strong objection, it is my intention to ask the Senate to put the Bill through all its stages to-day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
– In moving
That this Bill be now read a second time.
I would invite attention to the fact that, as it is hoped that there will shortly be an adjournment of Parliament, it is absolutely necessary to secure the grant of Supply over the period which will be covered by that adjournment. That Supply will, of course, require to make provision not only for the annual services of the Government, but also for the carrying on of the works and buildings that have already been authorized under our first Supply (Works and Buildings) Bill. This measure will include that provision.
– Are there any additional items covered in it?
– There will be some, of course; but none of an extraordinary character. Provision will probably be made in this Bill for some rifle ranges, drill halls, and post offices, for which no provision was made in the other measure to which I ha.ve already alluded. But there are really no new items of a striking character. The measure is really based upon the same average expenditure as was provided for in the Supply (Works and Buildings) Bill, which was passed by the Senate earlier during the current session. The question has been raised of the advisability of the Commonwealth continuing to spend on its public works at the same rate as it spent during the earlier part of this calendar year and the latter part of the financial year. In connexion with this matter, I would like to say that during the earlier part of this calendar year the Commonwealth was faced, in nearly all the States, with a very serious unemployed difficulty, arising largely out of the almost total failure of the harvest throughout Australia. Although we are now practically assured of a good harvest, still the country has not felt the benefit of that improvement, and will not until the harvest is being gathered, and consequently in many of the States there is still a considerable amount of unemployment. This condition of things will prevail until the harvest is absolutely assured, and, until the labour which would otherwise be upon our labour market is otherwise employed, we think we should not Blacken off in our public works policy.
– We see then how much we are depending upon the land.
– I am prepared to grant that, with the good harvest and a keen demand for labour, it would be wise on the part of the Government to slacken off in expenditure on public works, but I do not think the time has arrived yet. We are unable to say that the primary producers are able to absorb labour which would otherwise be employed, and my reply to criticisms of our public works policy is that, while we recognise that in a time of war “we should economise wherever possible, it would be false economy to stop necessary public works - because many of these works are not in the nature of relief works - many of which will show a return for the money expended upon them. I say, therefore, that it would be false economy to stop those works until we have an assurance that the labour employed upon them could be otherwise employed. I also give the assurance that the Government, if the harvest turns out as we all hope it will, and if there are indications that the labour can be absorbed in other directions, do not intend to go full speed ahead with their public works policy, but will slow down in order to give an opportunity for labour which is now absorbed by public works to be diverted to other and probably more productive channels. Otherwise, there is nothing in the Bill that calls for a great deal of comment It is a Bill to carry on the normal public works and services of the Commonwealth.
, - I do not know how honorable senators individually feel with regard to this Bill, but I want to say at once that to me it is utterly impossible, in view of the fact that it has only just been placed in my hands, to say whether or not there is anything in it that calls for criticism. It does suggest to me that the Senate, so far as the financial proposals of the Government are concerned, is steadily going from bad to worse. It is idle to attempt to disguise the fact that it is making a farce of the proceedings to assume that we, as a deliberative body, should be expected to discuss the merits or demerits of the Bill which has just been placed in our hands, with the intimation that the Government intend to carry it through to its final issue. I know that the protest I am now offering is echoed in the minds of many honorable senators who may not be disposed to give effect to their protest against an abuse which I feel certain they recognise is becoming more intense as time goes on. The Minister has given us the assurance that the measure has in it nothing that is abnormal. I do not wish to dispute the Minister’s statement, but the question as to what is objectionable or otherwise largely depends upon one’s point of view. Of course, there .may be nothing objectionable in the Bill from the Minister’s standpoint, but, nevertheless, there may be something objectionable in it to those who are not able to see eye to eye with him. Personally, I have not had an opportunity of considering the Bill. I do not know whether other honorable senators are more favorably situated.
– We are all in the same position.
– I take it, as the honorable senator has indicated, that honorable senators are all in the same position. But I am speaking for myself when I say that this is the first time that I have seen the Bill, and it is utterly impossible for me, during the few minutes that I have had it in my possession, to say whether or not it contains anything that calls for criticism. Therefore, it would be idle to pretend that we are doing anything else than, under duress, giving our sanction to a Bill the details of which we are not familiar with.
– If you moved the adjournment of the debate you would not be in that position.
– I do not want to take that course with regard to a financial proposal. I can only express the hope that if this abuse continues the Senate will insist upon a fair opportunity of dealing with all financial proposals. Otherwise this Chamber must be content to sink into the position of a body, constituted merely to register formal approval to all financial proposals that may be sent from the other branch of the Legislature. With regard to the financial position, I find this Bill deals with certain appropriations for works, and it is a relief to know that there will be an opportunity of reviewing the whole financial outlook when the Supply Bill reaches this chamber sometime within the next fortnight. I do want to stress the fact - and it is a fact, because Senator Pearce admitted it - that there is a call upon the Government, not merely to preach economy, but to practise it. I cannot al together agree with the Minister’s deduction regarding the labour market today. It may be sound policy for the Government to refrain from doing anything that would disrupt the labour market, especially at a time like this, but the Minister seemed to supply the best of all arguments for a very close scrutiny of every proposed expenditure for public works. He said that at a time like the present, when, owing to the failure of the last harvest, there is a considerable amount of unemployment,’ the Government should not add to it by a sudden cessation of its public works policy, but later on, with an improvement of the harvest prospects, the Government would consider the expediency of slowing down its rate of expenditure. That is a general principle which I am prepared toindorse, but I would like to draw attention to the fact that not only is unemployment less obvious to-day, but the statisticians inform us that the percentage of unemployment is fess than it was a little while ago. It is very gratifying to know that this is so, and seeing that the unemployment difficulty has become less acute, it seems to me that the time we have been looking for has already arrived. Instead of waiting to see if the harvest will still further diminish, the fact that unemployment is now diminishing constitutes, on his own argument, a reason for a very close scrutiny of public expenditure.
– To do that would be to build up the unemployed army again.
– I do -not say that. The Minister has stated that if a good harvest should increase employment we can reduce our public expenditure.
– Yes, but you spoke about “ now.”
– Because to-day employment is more easily obtainable - in other words, unemployment is still prevalent.
– There is still some unemployment.
– There will always be some interruption to the employment of a large number of persons.
– Over our way we have a lot of men who have been unemployed for months.
– Tasmania, according to its representatives, is either an unfortunate State or an extremely prosperous one. Whatever it is, it is always ahead or behind any other State.
– Still, there is a lot of unemployed.
– I think that possibly Tasmania is just as sound a State as any other State in the Union.
– So do I.
– If we are going to view the action of the Government with regard to employment, I would like to emphasize this fact : that to-day we have something like 129,000 men on the payroll in connexion with the Military Forces, and that, in addition, there are many thousands more steadily employed in administering to the needs of that Army. The Government are employing to-day a much larger number than ever were employed before. Indeed, they are employing more men to-day than ever the State Governments have employed. That is a considerable set-off against the obligation which Senator Pearce seems to think rests on the Government to continue the public works policy. If we employ more men in one Department, there is less pressure on the Government to still employ the same number of men in other directions. We have had very frequently put forward the fear that there may be a shortage of labour at harvest time.
– You want to have men hanging on.
– The honorable senator knows that I do not.
– Wait till the time comes.
– I want to avoid a financial crash. The honorable senator may go on if he likes, and burn the candle at both ends, but, sooner or later, he will consume it. The most disastrous thing which a Parliament can indorse is a policy that carries on a rate of expenditure unchecked till the crash comes.
– You will get labour for the harvest all right.
– My honorable friend says so, but other persons, who are in as good a position to speak as he is, have some doubts on that subject. Already it has been intimated that the State Governments are somewhat concerned, and are taking steps to organize labour with which to lift the harvest. There may not be any great number of unemployed in the country. It does seem to me that the time has arrived when the Government should seriously consider whether it would not be wiser to adopt a policy, not of sudden disruption of expenditure, but of gradually easing down; to proceed rather by an inclined plane than by a sudden drop over a precipice. Unless they do, if the war should continue much longer, as seems quite likely, we shall be faced with a crisis the like of which Australia has never seen. It would be a much sounder policy toproceed by a gradual diminution of unnecessary public expenditure rather than to wait till circumstances force us to bring it to a sudden conclusion. That is all I wish to say with regard to that matter. I admit at once that I am not able to point to any portion of the Bill wherein retrenchment might be effected, for the simple reason that I have had no opportunity to look into the items. That cannot be alleged against me as a fault. I am a victim of circumstances, in common with every other honorable senator. I had, however, hopes from the statement made by the Minister of Defence on Friday afternoon that something would be done in order to assure to the Senate a reasonable opportunity, not merely of voting on these Bills, but of considering them, and considering them in a thoroughly business-like manner. It cannot be pretended that, in bringing on this Bill at a few minutes before 4 o’clock, and asking us to sit until it is passed, any honorable senator, other than a Minister, has an opportunity to consider the details.
– With the contention of Senator Millen, that we ought to be careful as to expenditure at this juncture, everybody agrees; but I cannot assent to his general statement that there cannot be very much unemployment now.
– The statisticians say so.
– Whatever the statisticians say, I hold in my hand a letter that I have just received from a centre in Tasmania which, until very recently, was a very large centre of employment. It comes, not from an irresponsible member of the public, but from a. member of the Tasmanian Parliament, who says -
There is great distress in this district in the amount of unemployment. I am continually having applications made from the unemployed, and am at my wits’ end to know what to do or where to recommend them to go.
The letter refers to Beaconsfield, which was a very progressive mining town until the last year or so, but which is now closed down. I do not know whether Senator Millen’s forecast that a difficulty is likely to be experienced in getting sufficient labour for the harvest is correct or not, but I do know that the statement in this letter is correct - that there is great distress through the lack of employment in at least one industrial centre in Tasmania. I dare say that the same remark applies to many centres in other States. I believe that unemployment is not so acute now as it was a few months ago ; at any rate, at should not be, owing to the fact that we have sent so many of our best industrials to the front, and that others are undergoing training in camp. From every -centre in Australia we can get irrefutable evidence that there is a good deal of unemployment. I am quite in accord with the Minister that it would be very foolish on the part of the Government to close down on any necessary public works simply because we are afraid of the financial outlook. I anticipate that the genius of our people for self-government will evolve a solution of the difficulties. These only exist to be overcome. Those in power must find a way out. In my opinion, it would be suicidal for the Government to begin a retrenchment or starvation policy, to cut down expenditure on any of the big necessary or important public works, simply because the way is not-so rosy as it was, and there may be a little- difficulty facing us in the future. In connexion with the unemployment in the Beaconsfield district in Tasmania, may I point out to the Minister that if he chooses to have investigations made by his experts, he may be able to do something which is absolutely necessary, and which would be to the interests of his Department, and incidentally give relief to the labour market, and that is to establish a munitions factory. Perhaps in Australia there is no other centre which could be more cheaply brought into use for the manufacture of munitions than could Beaconsfield, because an enormous quantity of splendid machinery is lying idle there. If the advice of their experts should cause the Government to consider favorably the establishment of a munitions factory in Tasmania as one of the necessary Defence works incidentally it would go a long way towards relieving the unemployment in the Beaconsfield district. It is, of course, a State question, but nevertheless the people then© are Australians. Although it might be their first duty to look to the State Parliament for relief in distress still they are Federal as well as State electors. This matter has been brought under my notice, and I suggest to the Minister of Defence that if the Department are contemplating the erection of munition works in Tasmania, or the turning of any other machinery establishment to that purpose-
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! I must call the attention of honorable senators to the fact that this is not an ordinary Supply Bill, but a Bill dealing with additions, new works, and buildings, and that, according to our Standing Orders, the debate on the second reading must be strictly confined to the lines of the Bill. So far as I am aware, it contains no provision for the building of munition works.
– Of course, sir, I bow to your ruling, but I did not think I was travelling beyond the scope of the Standing Orders, because this is a Bill to grant and apply a sum for the purposes of additions, new works, buildings, &c.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- As set forth in the schedule.
– I was proceeding, sir, to point out to the Minister of Defence that it might be in the contemplation of his Department to establish new works in Tasmania.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- That might be good advice to offer to the Minister on a different Bill, but it certainly does not seem to me to be relevant to this one.
– My trouble is that if I cannot refer to this question here I shall not be able to do so in Committee.
– I understand, sir, that you have ruled that it is not competent for an honorable senator to discuss the establishment of an ammunition or other factory under the head of “ Defence.”
The- DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- I did not say under the head of “ Defence,” but I said that on the second reading of this Bill it is not competent to do so.
– On page 5 of the Bill, sir, I observe a number of works in connexion with the Defence Department for which we are asked to vote money.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT . - And ‘ on any of those items you can discuss the question.
Senatorde Largie. - Can we not do so, sir, on the motion for the second reading ?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- No.
– I have no desire, sir, to dispute your ruling. On page 3 of the Bill there is an item of £100,000 under the heading of Naval Defence for the various States, but that sum is not itemized. There is” no indication as to how the vote is to be spent, and I thought that a- reference to the establishment of munition works might well come in here.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- I again direct the honorable senator’s attention to the fact that he can elicit whatever information he desires in regard to that particular item, and its application to the various States when the Bill is being considered in Committee.
– I shall leave my remarks on that matter until we get into Committee. There is another question on which the Minister may be able to give some information in reply to this debate. I have heard that it is intended to spend about £40,000 in the erection of a hospital for the Defence Department in the city of Melbourne or its suburbs, if that be so, it seems to me that there has been an evasion of the Public Works Committee Act, which lays it down that any proposals for expenditure upon public works, involving an expenditure of not less than £20,000, must be remitted to the Public Works Committee for report. There is a proviso that in the case of works for Defence, the expenditure may be authorized by an Order in Council. I am not aware that an Order in Council has been issued authorizing this proposed expenditure. Perhaps the Minister oi Defence* will say whether it is proposed to . erect a hospital for the Defence Department in Melbourne at a cost of £40,000, and whether the expenditure is embraced in the item appearing on page 3 of the Bill under the heading of Naval Defence, “Various States- £100,000,” or under the heading, Military Defence, “ Various States and Federal Territory- £200.000.”
.- The amount to be spent on the proposed hospital is part of the war expenditure, which is not confined to Melbourne Similar expenditure is, and has been, taking place in every State of the Commonwealth, not only in the provision of hospitals, but in regard to a number of other works. I should say that from10 per cent, to 15 per cent, of the war expenditure is expenditure on works, such: as huts and other buildings. I do not. believe that Parliament ever intended: that the Government should hang up proposals of this kind until they have beens referred to the Public Works Committeeor any other Committee. If the Government did so they would probably meet with very severe censure.
– Not if there is one? proposal involving £40,000 for a hospital.
– Not if there is oneproposal involving an expenditure oS £50,000. When we know that thousands of sick and wounded soldiers are coming back to Australia it is the duty of the Government to have hospitals ready for them. They cannot unload that responsibility upon any Committee, and I am sure that Parliament would not ask them to do so. This is work which has to be taken in hand at once. In order that honorable senators may know the urgency of the matter, I may inform them that we were first of all told that no wounded soldiers would leave Egypt for Australian until September, because of the hot season. That intimation, in our . opinion, gave us plenty of time to make necessary arrangements. A month after getting that information we received a cable informing us that the Kyarra was leaving Egypt with a certain number of wounded” soldiers. A week later we were informed? that the Ballarat was leaving, and then that another and yet another ship were* leaving with sick and wounded soldiers, and without any withdrawal of the previous information that no wound? tP soldiers would leave the Base until September. This meant that in a very short space of time the Government were called upon to -provide accommodation fosr hundreds of wounded soldiers, whom they thought, acting on the information stro>plied them, they would not be receiving’ until October. If we had gone through the procedure of the Public Works Committee Act in connexion with proposals for expenditure to provide hospital accommodation the returned wounded soldiers would have been stranded. What is the position to-day in Melbourne? Every public hospital is full. If, in many cases, we had not rushed up the necessary buildings without waiting for the authority even of a vote of Parliament, the men would have to be put into tents. What would the public have said then ? Let me remind Senator O’Keefe that the Public Works Committee Act covers only the ordinary expenditure of the Commonwealth, it would include, for instance, expenditure upon ordinary buildings for defence purposes. “Unless proposals for such expenditure were otherwise exempt where they would involve over £20,000, they would be referred to the Public Works Committee. This has already been done in the case, for instance, of the buildings at Westernport. It was never intended that war expenditure, and especially upon hospital accommodation, should be referred to the Committee. If that were done, the members of the Committee would have to visit the sites and take evidence, and it would lead to endless delay. Obviously it is the duty of the Government to make this provision as soon as they become aware that it is necessary. The provision that is being made in this case is of a temporary character. With respect to the particular hospital referred to, I may inform honorable senators that the land on which the expenditure is to take place is worth the money we are paying for it, and we have, in addition, a large building which will be immediately available for hospital purposes. It is necessary to spend more money for additional temporary buildings around the permanent building that is on the land at the present time. If, at the close of the war, the property is no longer required, we shall be able to sell it for probably more than we gave for it. The result will be that we shall have had the use of the property rent free.
– That looks like a good bargain.
– It is one of the best bargains we have been able to make. I quite understand that the honorable senator was only asking for information, and I am sure that when he knows the facts he will be the last to say that the proposal for this expenditure should be investigated by the Public Works Committee. In connexion with war expenditure, the Government must take the responsibility for their action. If they blunder they must take the blame, and if they succeed, though they will probably not get much credit, they will be entitled to credit. With regard to the other question of the supply of munitions, that is really a matter for the State Governments to deal with. We have referred to the Governments in each State, inviting their co-operation in the manufacture of munitions for use in the present war. The State Government of New South Wales are taking certain definite action. So are the Western Australian Government. If the Government of Tasmania care to take action, we are willing to accept from them an undertaking to supply a certain number of shells. If they have the machinery in Tasmania suitable for the purpose, I should say that, following the lead of the Governments of New South Wales and Western Au’stralia, they would do well to utilize it. I can only say, in reply to Senator Millen’s criticism, that I do not think that we can say that the present position as regards employment is quite satisfactory. Certainly, the figures show that there is a decrease of unemployment, though we are not, I think, yet out of the wood. If Parliament votes this money, and the increase of employment continues, there is no reason why the whole of the money should be spent. If we find that the ratio of unemployment continues to decrease, some of the less urgent works may be stopped, and the money saved. If unemployment disappears, as we all hope it will, expenditure on the less urgent works can be postponed. Parliament, in the circumstances, will be wise in voting the money asked for, in case it is required. ,
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time. //;. Committee:
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 postponed.
Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
– Perhaps the Minister will give the Committee some idea of the new buildings contemplated under the control of the Department of Home Affairs, appearing’ under the heading - Defence, Naval, “ Various States, £100,000,” and, under the heading- Defence, Military, “ Various States and Federal Territory, £200,000.” These particular votes appear the more peculiar because those immediately preceding them are set out as for the different States. The amount’s under the heading, “ Defence, Naval,” set out for the different States, come to £19,600, whilst the general items for the “ various States “ is £100,000. Under the heading, “ Defence, Military,” the items particularized for the separate States come to £39,300, whilst there is a vote of £200,000 for “ various States and Federal Territory.” I think that the Committee is entitled to some explanation of these votes, that they may know what they are being asked to approve.
– I can only say, in answer to the honorable senator, that we do not set apart a certain sum for public works, to be cut up amongst the various States in proportion to population. The amount is determined by the requirements of the Commonwealth in respect of public works in the various States. If, for instance, we take the item of £100,000 for expenditure in the various States for naval defence, the honorable senator will understand that that is expenditure which cannot be allocated to a particular State. It is for the benefit of the whole of the Commonwealth. In connexion with naval works, it is, for instance, necessary to provide dredgers. These may be needed at Westernport, Victoria, and later at Cockburn Sound, Western Australia. Their cost could not be allocated entirely to either State, but must be put down to all the States as a sort of moveable liability.
– The specialized State items under the head of “ Naval “ amount to £19,600, and the undefined items for all the States to £100,000. If it is possible to give details of the smaller amount, it is surely possible to show what is included in the larger. So under “Military,” the amount specified as allocated to each State is £39,000, whilst the unallocated total is £200,000, again five times as much. If the Naval or Military Department intends to do such work as the Minister suggests, the Committee ought to be taken into their confidence. I do not object to the amounts themselves, but we ought to know what they are for.
– The Naval Administration is divided into districts. Thus in New South
Wales certain votes, such as for drill halls, boat-sheds, &c., will be allocated for the different district establishments. But that State happens to contain the dockyard, the naval ordnance stores, and other establishments forming the head-quarters of the Australian Fleet. The expenditure on these works is not properly chargeable to the naval district of New South Wales, and is, therefore, charged to the various States. As these represent the biggest part of the establishment, the expenditure on them is greater than on the ordinary district administration. Similarly in Victoria, in the case of the Military Administration, drill halls in course of construction are chargeable to the Victorian district administration ; but the new wing being built at the Victoria Barracks for the use of the Central Administration isi.properly chargeable toall the States.
Schedule agreed to.
Postponed clause, preamble, and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 4th August, vide page 5554) :
In addition to any abstract or statement, the Commissioner may, by notice in writing, require any company to furnish him with particulars of the new, discontinued, and existing business of the company in any financial year to which any account, abstract, or statement relates.
. - The fire insurance companies have drawn attention to the difficulties which this clause will impose upon them, because much of their business is for short periods. The Attorney-General promised an amendment to meet their wishes, as there would be no occasion for them to furnish returns for business of that nature. I am not prepared with an amendment yet, and the clause might well be postponed.
– The clause would impose on fire insurance companies a duty which it would be difficult to discharge in regard to insurances for short periods. In many instances, also, insurances are transferred from one company to another, and it would be difficult for a company to give a return of such business that would faithfully represent its business for the year, and enable the Commissioner to rightly judge its solvency. A similar argument applies to insurances for short periods against accident. The clause requires to be almost entirely redrafted, and in the meantime could conveniently be postponed.
Clause 44 -
The Commissioner may publish any accounts, abstracts, statements, or returns deposited by any company with him under section 41 of this Act, and any comments or queries made by him thereon, and any answers furnished by the company to any such comments or queries.
– I should like to know from the Vice-President of the Executive Council whether the publication of these accounts will be mandatory, and whether there will be a public, or merely a semi-public disclosure of them ?
– The clause stipulates that the Commissioner may publish any accounts, &c. That officer, I assume, will exercise very close supervision over insurance companies, because he will be responsible for their safe working throughout Australia. The best method for protecting the public interests is that of giving publicity to the accounts of these various institutions. This clause vests the Commissioner with the necessarypower to do that. Of course, there may be some accounts which it would be a distinct disadvantage to publish, and the publication of which, instead of protecting the public interests, might have the very opposite effect. The Commissioner, therefore, is to be vested with discretionary powers.
– Does not the next clause provide that any shareholder may demand a copy of the accounts, and if that be so, the accounts will have to be printed.
– This clause deals with the Commissioner, whereas the next clause deals with the rights of the shareholders of insurance companies. There is a distinct difference between what the Commissioner “ may “ do, and what insurance companies “ shall “ do. I cannot recall, at the moment, exactly what returns will be published under this provi sion, but it is quite certain that publicity will be given to the balance-sheets and other statements affecting the financial position of insurance companies. At the same time it is necessary to vest the Commissioner with discretionary powers. Then, I would point out that if all these accounts were published at the expense of the Government, the cost involved would be enormous. On the other hand, we have no desire to injure insurance companies by compelling them to publish accounts which would be useless alike to the shareholders and the public.
– This clause defines the duties of the Commissioner in relation to insurance companies in much the same way as the duties of the Auditor-General are denned in relation to the public accounts. To my mind there should be an annual review by the Commissioner of the different insurance societies, according to the accounts that he may have investigated. He will be the guardian of the public interests in connexion with this particular class of business. He will be vested with extremely large powers, and he will be expected to exercise them in such a way as to safeguard the interests of those individuals who are concerned with the transactions of insurance companies. The clause leaves undetermined the frequency with which these returns shall be published. If it be necessary that the Auditor-General shall undertake an annual review of the public accounts it is equally necessary that the Commissioner shall undertake a periodical review of the business transacted by insurance companies. In the absence of some such review, we shall be endowing him with powers which will be of no public utility. To my mind there should be a publication of accounts at certain specified periods of which the public should be informed.
– I cannot add much to what I have already said in regard to this matter. I take it that the whole principle underlying the Bill is that full publicity shall be given to the business that is transacted by the various insurance companies. In this clause we are endeavouring to lay it down that the Commissioner snail not. only publish their annual returns, but that he may ask questions upon them.
– It is proposed to give him very wide powers.
– Yes. Where a man is charged with the responsibility of safeguarding the public interests, he must be vested with large discretionary powers. We must always recollect that behind the exercise of such powers is the controlling influence of public opinion, which really imposes an effective check upon them. The clause is perfectly clear. It states-
The Commissioner may publish any accounts, abstracts, statements or returns deposited by any company with him under section 41 of this Act, and any comments or queries made by him thereon, and any answers furnished by the company to any such comments or queries.
It may be said that the Commissioner might make inquiries and publish replies to the injury of a certain company’s business, but we must recognise that the Commissioner would not be likely to do anything that was unfair. Moreover, there would be the check in the form of public opinion. Those who understand the working of the publicity machine know quite well that if any injustice is done in any part of a big public Department, such as the Postal Department, External Affairs, or Customs Department, there is always prompt application to have the injustice removed. The Commissioner, I am satisfied, would not attempt to do anything unjust to any particular company.
Senator READY (Tasmania) [4.54J. - There is a good deal in the argument advanced by Senator Senior. After a fairly long experience of the six State Acts, we ought to be able to place in this Bill provisions specifically setting out what the Commissioner shall publish and what should be left to his choice. Surely we ought to be able to determine exactly what matters should be published in the interests of the general community. I submit there is a danger here of giving the Commissioner absolute power to publish or withhold, as he thinks fit, documents sent in by the various companies. Surely, in a matter such as this, it should not be left to the Legislature to call for returns in connexion with various matters relating to the control of insurance in Australia. There are certain matters which should be clearly defined, and in connexion with which it should be obligatory on the part of the Commissioner to publish. Additional information, if required, could be asked for in the House. We have heard several complaints of government by regulation, and to me this seems to be an extension of the principle. I would suggest that the Minister in charge should postpone the clause, and see if it could not be made more definite in the direction I have indicated.
– My objection is that under this Bill we are creating an office the head of which will be required to do certain things in the interests of the public; but the public will be unaware what he is doing unless the information is published. The situation will not be met if the information is kept in the archives of the office. It is not desirable that the Commissioner, in the exercise of his discretion as to particular information to be published, should bring certain companies into the limelight.
– He could publish a summary in each case.
– Yes, and give his opinion, based upon the investigation of the accounts, as to the progress or stability - and particularly the stability - of the offices over which he has supervision. While, under the clause as it stands, the Commissioner may publish certain information, he is directed to do it in a spasmodic and unmethodical manner. If there happened to be a feeling of insecurity in the public mind, the publication of information concerning a particular company might ruin its whole business; but if the Commissioner simply stated in his annual report that an investigation had taken place with regard to a certain office, and that certain remedies had been adopted, the public mind would be eased, and danger to the company averted. We should provide that the Commissioner, in publishing this information, would be simply doing his duty, and thus he would avoid public criticism. I hope the Minister will give a wider scope to the Commissioner in the interests of the general public.
– Before I decide whether to postpone the clause or pass it, I would like to direct attention to clause 41, which provides that every account, abstract, statement, and return which a company is required to make shall be printed and signed by the chairman of directors, as well as by another director and the secretary. This claus© insures publicity, and clause 45 states -
A printed copy of the lust deposited account, abstract; statement or return shall, on the application of any shareholder or policy-holder of the company, be forwarded to him by the company free of charge.
– On application.
– Yes. Insurance business being probably the most profitable in Australia, we can rest assured that the directors will take every care that their balance-sheets are kept well before the public, so we need not go out of our way to legislate for publicity. After a company has made its printed return to the Commissioner, as provided under clause 41, we find that under clause 44 the Commissioner has power to query any statement in that return, and he may publish those questions. The position, I think, can quite safely be left in that official’s hands. Their interests are safeguarded, but I do not think it is desirable to say definitely that the Commissioner shall publish such-and-such returns, because the returns and balancesheets from insurance companies might become very voluminous.
– The Auditor-General does not submit all the returns and balancesheets which he receives from the Departments under his supervision.
– I quite understand what the Auditor-General does, and what he does not do. Suppose that we were to tighten up the clause to such an extent as to lay upon that officer the duty of publishing abstracts of any returns deposited with him. Surely my honorable friend can realize how wonderfully the returns from insurance companies might grow in volume if they saw the opportunity of getting information concerning themselves printed and distributed broadcast at the public expense. I am decidedly against any legislation to compel the Commissioner, or indeed the Government, to make use of the columns of the press for that purpose, because, although it -secures a certain amount of publicity, it imposes a great hardship in various directions. Indeed, the newspapers are so crowded with other matter of a similar kind that the desired publicity is not obtained. Clause 44 appears to me to be all right, but if any honorable senator thinks that it is not, I do not mind a postponement of it until we get another opportunity of dealing with it.
– I again direct the attention of the Minister to the fact that, while this division of the Bill gives the Commissioner complete control over insurance offices, and enables him to do all the things which the Minister has indicated, the Bill contains no provision for a report, or even an abstract of returns, to be tendered to any other person. He will be a sort of little king in his Department, and his will will be absolute, for there is no provision for any one to control or check him, or to call in question any determination. I suggested to the Minister what I thought was a via media. I pointed out that if it were provided that at specified times the Commissioner should render an abstract of the returns he received, which would be available to Parliament and the public, there would be the same sort of supervision over him as. exists over the Auditor-General. I know from experience how valuable is the report of the Auditor-General when we are engaged in discussing the Estimates. This Bill provides for the appointment of an officer who will be practically the Auditor-General for the Insurance Department. It is proposed to allow him. to accumulate information regarding the operations of insurance companies. He may publish a precis of the information, or he may not, but it is not provided for in this measure that it shall be his duty to furnish an abstract for the information of Parliament. Apparently, we are to take no cognisance of the business which is to come under his supervision. I submit that some provision of that kind should be made. It seems to me that the Bill only empowers the Commissioner to select the information which he wishes to be published. It does not indicate in a general way the sort of information which he shall publish or embody in his report. I urge the Minister to provide in this or a subsequent clause that there shall be a review of the insurance business by the. Commissioner annually, or, if he thinks that that would be too often, once in three years. Surely we have a right to know from time to time what he has done in his office. I challenge the Minister to point out how, under the Bill as it stands, it will be possible for any honorable senator to ascertain what the Commissioner has done, except by going to the trouble of perusing the accounts in his office. If publicity is what the Minister wishes to secure, an abstract of the results of the Commissioner’s supervision ought to be published periodically.
.- I again urge the Minister to consider the point which Senator Senior has raised. However this clause is looked at, we cannot get away from the fact that the Commissioner is being intrusted with very wide and enormous powers. The head of every other public Department is required to furnish an annual report on its work.
– Under clause 6 the Commissioner will have to report annually to the Minister.
– I am very glad that Senator Guy has drawn my attention to paragraph c of clause 6. It will remove one objection to this clause, for it provides that we shall get at least an annual report on similar lines to the annual report from the Land Tax Commissioner or the Public Service Commissioner, narrating the work of the Department and giving details of the business he controls. But even with that objection removed, I think the Minister would be well advised to postpone the consideration of the clause in order that he may be able to lay down specifically the classes of subjects on which the Commissioner shall report annually, and so save honorable senators the trouble of asking at odd times for the production of various returns. In my opinion, his duties in that regard ought to be clearly defined in a specific claus*.
– As Senator Guy has pointed out, the duties of the Commissioner are clearly defined in clause 6. To my mind, clause 44 is alf right as it is. I do not see any occasion to alter its wording, because if the desire is to give more publicity to the returns furnished, it may be done by way of a new clause, or an addition to an existing clause. I, perhaps, ought to take the blame for the intermittent manner in which this measure has been deal£ with, but that has been due to the state of public business. I am still of opinion that there is no occasion to alter the provision that the Commissioner may publish abstract statements. Senator Ready has pointed out that extraordinary powers are being given to that officer, but I venture to point out that if he has to control such a huge concern as the insurance companies in Australia, he ought to be endowed with extensive powers.
– But we could define hia powers.
– The fact that the Commissioner will be a public officer, and that the Government will be responsible for Eis administration of the Department, is an ample guarantee that he may safely be entrusted with extraordinary powers. It must be borne in mind, too, that the people will always have a voice in indicating how the Department shall be. managed. It may appear to some persons to be a very roundabout way, but to my mind it is a direct and clear method for controlling a public officer in the exercise of statutory powers. I am not alarmed at the fact that large powers are being conferred on the Commissioner by this measure. The experience of the last twelve months has shown us what large powers have to be granted at times. It must always be remembered that the humblest citizen will have the right of appeal to a Court to protect his interests if they are trespassed upon in the administration of this measure. Being as we are, a people accustomed to be governed by law, I am not afraid of giving wide powers to the Commissioner.
– Do not forget that an appeal will lie only to the Supreme Court or the High Court.
– That, of course, will be a great protection to people.
– Somewhat costly.
– It will not be costly to an insurance company if the Commissioner is found to have used his powers unwisely or against a clear interpretation of the law. Suppose, for instance, that a company is called on to appeal to a Supreme Court to protect its interests. What will happen ? If the Commissioner is found to be in the wrong the costs will be awarded against him, and the company will not have to pay any costs. My experience, however, is that law is costly. We legislated here on the subject of trading with the enemy. It was understood that the law was very definite and clear in its terms, but a Court has decided that a certain power was not given, and therefore an individual cannot be interfered with. In this case we lay down distinctly the functions of the Commissioner, the powers he may exercise, and the claims which he may make on the insurance companies. He will be the umpire between the companies and the public, and we have made provision that there shall be furnished to him information concerning the operations of the companies for the benefit of the shareholders and the general public.
– I ask the Minister to agree to postpone this clause. In my opinion, it clothes the Commissioner with uncommon powers. According to what has been revealed, he will have power to make public information of specific cases. There is nothing specific in the clause referring to the Commissioner’s report. He may examine so many offices, and explain that he finds them in a certain condition. But under this clause he may hold up any particular society before the public. As the Minister has himself admitted, this may be followed by a lawsuit, involving heavy costs. The previous clause has been postponed, and as this is related to it, I ask the Minister to postpone this clause also.
Clause 45 -
A printed copy of the last deposited account, abstract, statement, or return, shall, on the application of any shareholder or policyholder of the company, be forwarded to him by the company free of charge.
.- It appears to me that considerable abuse may arise under this clause. It would be competent for a number of shareholders or policy-holders in a company to pester it by continually demanding that the company should send them returns, abstracts, or statements by post, free of charge. I have no desire to limit the power of shareholders in these companies, but I think it is unreasonable that a shareholder or policyholder should have the right to demand that a company should at any time send in a copy of a statement or document by post, free of charge. If the demand could be made once in each case it would not be open to so much objection. A company might be called upon for considerable expenditure on postage under a provision of this kind.
– Such a provision is very general, but it is seldom availed of.
– A shareholder or policy-holder hostile to the management of a company might mulct it in consider able sums for postage by continued demands for these returns.
– He would be injuring his own company.
– He might be proposing to sever his connexion with the company, and he could involve it in considerable expenditure by demanding that a number of returns should be posted to him free of charge. I think it would be well to omit the words “ free of charge.” That might overcome the difficulty. I have no doubt that the companies would have no objection to supplying shareholders and policy-holders with copies of documents they desire. I should be glad to hear Senators Guy and Senior on this matter. As the clause stands, it seems to me that it might work injuriously to a company without any advantage to the shareholders.
.- This provision is of almost universal application to all kinds of societies, but, as I interjected when Senator Ready was speaking, it is very seldom availed of.
– Does it apply to building societies?
– Yes; and to friendly societies and life and fire insurance companies.
– Is there such a provision in the different State Acts?
– I think so, but I cannot be positive on that point for the moment. The advantage given to shareholders and policy-holders is very seldom availed of. I think it is right that if a shareholder desires to have a copy of the annual statement or other return of the company in which he is interested, he should be entitled to get it. Generally speaking, the different societies are only most anxious to have their statements and reports distributed. I was at a meeting of a society at Launceston on Monday last, and I will guarantee that the statement presented there will be promptly sent to the Bulletin, in order that it may be commented upon. Societies are usually anxious for the distribution of their reports to advertise the advantages they offer. If a society can produce a good statement of accounts, it will be glad of the advertisement it will receive by its distribution to- every shareholder.
– There is something in what Senator Ready has said, to the effect that it should not be necessary for these documents to be posted to shareholders upon application free of charge.
– If a report or return would be a good advertisement to a company, I admit that it would be glad to send it free of charge.
– I believe that Senator Guy is right in saying that a similar provision may be found in the Acts dealing with a number of societies, and, if that be so, the Committee will not be far wrong in allowing the clause to go as it stands.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 46 -
Penalty: One hundred pounds
Senator SENIOR (South Australia^ [5.28]. - This clause deals with confidential information which must be supplied by companies to the Commissioner under a penalty of £100. The Commissioner is restricted from publishing it except for statistical purposes. I want to refer to the clause in connexion with the matter which we previously discussed on clause 41, with which it may be said to be co-related. We must draw the line very clearly between what is confidential information and what may be published. A little while ago we were told that we must trust the Commissioner, but now we are being asked to pass a clause which’ will leg-rope, tether, and hobble that officer. A company in sending information to the Commissioner may claim that it is confidential. Who is to determine the matter ? Some of the confidential information may be published for statistical purposes.
– If a company has an awkward balance-sheet which it does not desire to divulge, it can send it to th« Commissioner marked “ confidential.”
– The honorable senator has anticipated what is .in my mind. This is a Bill which we cannot run through as fast as possible, and this clause certainly requires consideration By marking their documents and returns “ confidential,” these companies may prevent the Commissioner publishing the. very information which, in the interests of shareholders and the public, he may consider it necessary to publish.
– This clause does not apply to accounts covered by the other clause referred to.
– It may not apply to accounts, but it may apply to information concerning methods adopted by a company in doing its business. It may apply to certain claims which a company may have accepted, and under this clause, by merely marking its reports to the Commissioner “ confidential,” it may prevent the publication of information concerning the very kind of business which may, in the opinion of the Commissioner, make it insecure. In my view, this clause counteracts the benefits which the Minister has claimed will follow from the adoption of the previous clause referred to.
– The ordinary reports, statistics, and statements of a company will not be confidential returns. I remind Senator Senior that the clause provides that a company shall furnish to the Commissioner such confidential returns as the- regulations prescribe.
– That means that we are once more legislating by regulation.
– I do not know why there should be so much objection to that form of legislation, seeing that it is easier to disallow a regulation than to amend a Bill. If the Senate is not sitting the regulation will have force during the recess, and immediately the Senate reassembles it must be laid on the table. If exception is taken to it, the debate on the question must take precedence of other business. Senator Senior has shown by his detailed knowledge of the Bill that there will be cases where it will be necessary for the Commissioner to obtain from the companies certain information that it isi not wise to publish. The regulations will clearly set out what is to be confidential information, and what may be published. We are making it clear that publicity shall be given to all the matters dealt with in this division of the Bill, which are necessary to enable the ordinary citizen to form a correct judgment of the stability of any company. It is then provided that the companies shall furnish the Commissioner with confidential returns, with the further proviso that such confidential information may be used for statistical purposes, but not “ published or divulged in a form which would enable the information supplied by the company to be identified.”
– Who determines whether the information supplied is confidential or not?
– The Government determine it before the regulations are promulgated. A parallel case is to be found in the war census returns. Under them the public will shortly be called upon to furnish much confidential information about their private affairs. It would be a gross breach of confidence to publish any private details of that character, but the aggregate results will doubtless be used for statistical purposes, and may rightly be published without doing any one a personal injury.
– Clause 41 provides for all the necessary returns, abstracts, and statements. What else is there that can be regarded as confidential information, publishable for statistical purposes?
– A lot of information about the position of clients is confidential.
– That could not be used for statistical purposes. For instance, mortgages on insurance policies will be covered by the information regarding mortgages. The confidential returns are to be prescribed by regulation, and are therefore altogether outside the general scope of the Bill. Is it to be left entirely to the regulations to define what is confidential and what is public information ? If used under sub-clause 2, the information will become public property, and therefore no longer confidential, even though it mav not be particularly identifiable. The clause is simply overloading the Bill. The confidential information can be of no value of the Commissioner, who, after all, will be a public servant, and must take the responsibility of making public any information he receives. These considerations apply with all the more urgent, seeing that the clause has a penalty of £100 attached to it.
, - I do not agree that the clause is unnecessary. It might be necessary for the Commissioner as the guardian of the public interest to know how the funds of an insurance company were in vested, although it would not be necessary to make the information public. In some of the States the insurance companies may with their surplus funds engage practically in the business of banking or advancing money on large estates, and the Commissioner mav be promoted, by some public statement that a certain company is investing money detrimentally to the policy-holders, to seek to obtain confidential information from the company. He should be in a position to do this, although it would be essential for him to keep the information confidential when he obtained it. The clause can do no injury, and may do a great deal of good, because the problem of the investment of the surplus moneys of companies is one of the most difficult that they have to face. They all want to find safe investments from which their money can easily be withdrawn again if required. The regulations will prescribe what is confidential information, and what may be published, and we may safely leave it to the Commissioner to make inquiries as to how moneys are invested, and to regard those inquiries as confidential.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 47 agreed to.
Clause 48 -
Every company which has shareholders shall keep a book containing the addresses of the shareholders of the company, and shall, on the application of any shareholder or policy-holder of the company, and on the payment of the prescribed fee, furnish to him a copy of such book.
, - This clause is in the nature of a very large order for the Commissioner. I need scarcely point out that the book containing the addresses of the shareholders of an insurance company may not be printed. It may need to be copied, and the “ prescribed fee” may be a very large one. Some of the limited liability companies doing business in Australia are proprietary companies in the sense that their proprietors live in foreign lands. It seems to me that if we provide that a copy of the addresses of the shareholders in all insurance companies shall be deposited with the Commissioner, and shall be open to inspection by any shareholder, we shall be doing all that is necessary. We are not justified in giving to every shareholder the power to ask for a detailed list of all the shareholders in any company with which he may be connected.
– I think that the position would only be complicated if we decided that the Commissioner should keep this book. We must recollect that in this Bil] we are not legislating merely for the needs of to-day. I trust that the measure will represent the last word in insurance legislation for some time to come. If a man desired to obtain a list of the names and addresses of some hundreds of thousands of shareholders in an insurance company, it would scarcely be fair to compel the company to supply him with that list free of charge. The clause in its present form, I think, adequately meets the case. Under another provision in the Bill power is given to any shareholder to inspect the shareholders’ address book, and if he wishes to obtain a copy of that book it is only reasonable that he should pay the prescribed fee. It is just as necessary to protect the insurance companies as it is to protect the individuals. The former must not be liable to be harassed by a shareholder simply because he may disagree with their method of conducting business. In my own State, I recollect that when a large insurance company desired to extend its operations to Great Britain, one or two shareholders who objected to that move, as a result of their energetic and persistent opposition, involved the company in considerable expense. In my judgment, . the clause ‘.in its present form should be adhered to.
Clause agreed to.
Order of Business.
– In moving -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
I wish to inform honorable senators that it is proposed to ask the Senate to meeton Tuesday next. We shall, of course, meet to-morrow, and we shall then have before us the amending War Precautions Bill, which deals only with one phase of the main Act. I hope, too, that we shall have received the Supply Bill from another place. I believe that an understanding has been arrived at under which the consideration of that Bill in the other branch of the Legislature will be finished to-night. Its discussion here will afford honorable senators an opportunity of debating administrative matters. If, however, the session is to close on Thursday next - as we all hope it will - it will be necessary for us to meet on Tuesday, as one or two important measures yet remain to be dealt with. I make this intimation in order that honorable senators may make their arrangements accordingly.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 6.2 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 26 August 1915, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1915/19150826_senate_6_78/>.