7th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Supply of Cornsacks
– I wish, to know whether the attention of the Minister in charge of the Wheat Pool has been directed to a report, appearing in the Age of this morning, of an interview with Major Purcell in connexion with the supply of jute goods? Major Purcell definitely makes charges against the Minister that by his handling of the matter he is sacrificing the interests of the farmers of Australia. Will the honorable gentleman say whether the statements contained in the interview are correct, and whether, if necessary, inquiries will be instituted?
– I noticed the report of the interview referred to, and, though it may. read very well, the statements contained in it are not correct. Over twelve months ago the Commonwealth Government endeavoured to do through the Government of India what they are doing to-day, namely, purchase bags direct through them. The Indian. Government then declined, for various good reasons, to do what we desired. It took us twelve months to accomplish what Major Purcell evidently . was able to accomplish in the course of an interview with the press. What he recommends has been done, but I want to say that the
Indian Government limit purchases made direct through them to supplies required for distinctly war purposes. In regard to the suggested exploitation, I investigated the books of one of the largest firms handling cornsacks in Australia, and found that their return last year was 6d. per dozen on cornsacks sold in Australia. I shall, at a later date, make a detailed reply to the statement appearing in the Age.
– Arising out of the Minister’s reply, I remind him that there are definite statements made in the interview with Major Purcell. One of those definite statements is that the farmers of Australia have to pay an additional amount for their jute goods, owing to the action of the Government in conducting the business through second and third parties, instead of going direct to the jute mills. I hope that the statement promised by the Minister will be complete and in every way satisfactory. It should be recognised that the matter cannot be allowed to rest where it is.
– The Government never at any time placed an order through a second agent, but in each case definitely through the Indian Government.
– Arising out of the Minister’s answer-
– Order! I am afraid that the honorable senator is not asking a question, but is arguing the point. He is not entitled to do that. At this stage he must ask a definite question,
– I shall renew my references to the matter on the next day of sitting.
– I ask the Minister in charge of the “Wheat Pool whether, in making the statement he has promised, he will indicate what will be. the position of merchants in Australia trading in bags?
– I have alreadydone so, with one exception, and that is in regard to the price, which will be announced by the Price Fixing Commission in the course of a few days.
– Might I ask whether this business is not now being done through brokers and agents?
– Not to my knowledge, but I shall make inquiries.
– By leave. - In addressing the Senate yesterday on the Repatriation Bill, in reply to an interjection, I think by Senator Lt-Colonel Bolton, I stated that applications had not been invited from those willing to take positions on the staff of the new Department. I stated, also, that the Department had been inundated with applications, many of which had been forwarded, as honorable senators were aware, through their hands. Speaking from memory, I think I am justified in saying that the Age of this morning says that my statement is to be accepted as an admission that political influence was at work. I wish to deny that absolutely. Nothing that I said was interpreted by honorable senators listening to me as being capable of that construction.
– It was said in a joke.
– I am beginning to recognise that it is dangerous to attempt even a little levity in the presence of pressmen. All that I wished to indicate was that honorable senators knew that applications were arriving, and that many of themselves were made the medium of forwarding those applications. No political influence was exercised, and had any attempt in that direction been made it would not have been responded to.
– I should like to know from the Vice-President of the Executive Council what was the exact reply he gave yesterday on the subject of the exportation of sugar in soldiers’ parcels. In the Age of to-day there is another indication, to my mind, of inaccurate press work, as it is stated definitely that the prohibition of sugar in soldiers’ parcels was at the behest of the British Government. In the Argus the statement is made that there is no prohibition of sugar for export. The confusion caused by these inaccuracies is still continued in the public mind. Senator Grant brought the matter up yesterday, and I should be obliged if the Minister in charge of the business would make the position perfectly clear.
– The answers I gave yesterday to the two questions put by Senator Grant were: -
So far as I know, those answers are absolutely correct.
.- I move-
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This measure provides for vesting in the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner land acquired or to be acquired by the Commonwealth from the States of South Australia and West Australia in connexion with the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway. As honorable senators will recollect, prior to the passing of the Kalgoorlie-Port Augusta Railway Bill in 1911, the State Governments of South Australia and Western Australia had agreed to concede a strip of land of a quarter of a mile in width along the route of the railway, or one-eighth of a mile on either side of the line. They were not at the time able to transfer the land to the Commonwealth, because there had been only a flying survey, and it was necessary to survey the line only for a short distance ahead of the actual construction. No plans could, therefore, be prepared showing exactly what lands were to be transferred by the State Governments. Since that time a number of applications have been made for compensation in respect of the land to be transferred.. The lands acquired from Western Australia are a clean gift. There is no compensation to be paid in respect of lands acquired at the Western end of the line, as they are waste, or Crown lands, but in South Australia, for a distance of about 280 miles between Port Augusta and Tarcoola, there were several pastoral leases along the route of the railway, and the holders of those leases have made several claims for compensation. I am not able at this stage to give details of those claims. The purpose of this Bill is by vesting the lands acquired in the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to give him power in the case of any application for compensation made, within six months after the passing of this measure, to deal with the claim effectively. If a claim is not agreed upon mutually between the leaseholder and the Commissioner, it will be within the power of the Minister for Works and Railways to refer it to a High Court Judge for determination. If a leaseholder desiring to make a claim does not send in his application for compensation within six months, he will lose the right to claim compensation. The Bill will not affect any claims in connexion with which litigation has already been commenced.
– What litigation has already been commenced?
– I understand that litigation has been commenced in one or two cases. This measure will not affect those cases, but claims that may subsequently be made. If the claimant can come to a mutual agreement with the Railways Commissioner, his claim will be paid. If no agreement has been arrived at within six months, the claim will be referred to a Judge of the High Court. In the event of the Court determining that the benefit conferred upon the claimant by the construction of the railway is in excess of his claim for compensation, he will be liable to compensate the Commonwealth Government to the extent of that excess. The object of this provision is, I suppose, to limit the number of claims for compensation.
Debate (on motion by Senator Mcdougall) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 2nd May (vide page 4323), on motion by Senator Millen -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– By the courtesy of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen), I have had an opportunity of reading portion of the report of his. speech made yesterday; but still Ifeel it is hardly fair that the Senate should be called upon to debate the Bill with the little preparation that has been afforded honorable senators, and I hope that other honorable senators will be given a further opportunity of considering the measure before they are called upon to discuss it. There are, however, one or two points to which I shall direct attention. ‘
I appreciate to the full the many difficulties that confronted the Minister when he launched this repatriation scheme, because I have been in close touch with one of his highest officers in Melbourne, and I know that the work involved was extremely heavy. I hope that in its administration there will never be any attempt * to’ cut down expenditure so far as it relates to the special purposes of the Act, but that every endeavour will be made to fitly repay those men who have suffered as a result of the war. I had intended to say something concerning the applications for appointment in the new Department, but the Minister’s explanation this morning has made that unnecessary.
On the question of determining what is a living wage, I think some difficulty will be experienced, because what might be a living wage in one part of Australia will not be so regarded in another part of the Commonwealth. Some scheme, should be inaugurated, as has been done in Great Britain, of standardizing certain articles of clothing and necessaries of life for the service of repatriated soldiers and their wives and families, so that they may not suffer at the hands of exploiters.
– I may inform the honorable senator that when I used the term “ living wage,” I thought of accepting the rate judicially fixed as a living wage in the different States.
– That is one reason why I object to it. I would prefer that the Department should fix the amount to be regarded as a living wage, and especially that an attempt should be made to standardize the necessaries of life for the benefit of our repatriated soldiers and their families. I noticed from a Canadian paper that the authorities there are entertaining the idea, following the example set by Great Britain; but whether it has been actually put into operation I do not know. I hope that the Minister will give the matter his careful consideration.
Another matter that is likely to cause trouble is that of determining the suitability of men for certain work. Who will be the judge? In my opinion, the man himself should judge whether he is fit or not for certain occupations. I know of many men who have tried different jobs and found that none suits them ; and very often a man might appear suitable for a certain work, but actually would be quite unfitted for it ; so I think that he himself would be the best judge as to the suitability of work offered to him. If men are dissatisfied they will have the right of appeal to the State Boards, and, if still dissatisfied, they may appeal to the Commission in Melbourne. That might be all right for a man who has money to keep him while he is making his appeal, but we know what it. would mean for other men.
– The men will be involved in no cost at all.
– Is it proposed to pay a man while he may be appealing against the decision of a State Board,?
– If the honorable senator will look at the regulations he will find that the Deputy Comptroller will have authority to grant each man sustenance on his own responsibility, and during that time the man, if still dissatisfied, may put his case before the Court.
– I will accept the Minister’s word for that, because, as I have already said, I did not have an opportunity of going right through his second-reading speech; but the act of appealing will take time, and I object to the principle of allowing any outside authority to determine whether a man is suitable for certain work or not.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that a man himself shall judge, and that so long as he refuses work he will be entitled to sustenance ?
– He will, of course, have to prove that he is unfitted for heavy work.
Yesterday, when the Minister was quoting the rates of sustenance to be paid, I asked him why it was proposed to limit the allowance to a soldier with a wife and four children, and Senator Guthrie also took up the refrain. The rates proposed are, for a soldier without dependants, £2 2s. per week ; a soldier with a wife, £2 12s.; a soldier with a wife and one child, £2 15s. ; and thereafter an additional 3s. 6d. per week for each child up to four, so that a soldier with a wife and four children will be insured a weekly income of £3 6s. I again ask : Why stop at four children 1 Is it suggested that £3 6s. - the allowance for a. wife and four children - is also a living wage for a soldier with a wife and eight children? We all know that it costs almost as much now to “boot” children as it did to keep them twelve months ago, and I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that the authorities in New Zealand are going one better than Australia, for there they pay allowances up to five children. I noticed a paragraph in the press recently, stating -
It is officially announced that the allowance to soldiers’ children has been increased 6d. per day, making 10s. 6d. weekly. Under the new system a wife with one child will receive her husband’s allotment of 3s. per day, her own allowance of 3s., and ls. 6d. for each child, a total of 52s. 6d. weekly. The pay to a wife with two children will be 63s.; three, 73s. 6d.; four,. 84s. ; five, 94s. 6d.
– But is it not a fact that 21s. of that amount comes out of the husband’s pay?
– I am not saying that it does not. I am drawing a comparison of allowances paid in New Zealand and the rates proposed in Australia. It does not matter where the money comes from. In New Zealand a soldier’s wife with five children will get 94s., as against 66s. in Australia for a wife with four children, and I maintain it is not equitable to stop the repatriation allowance at four children.
– That is not the New Zealand repatriation payment, is it?
– No; but that is quite beside the question, and I would seriously urge the Minister to consider the advisability of extending the benefits to patriotic men whose families consist of more than four children. I know of a man who left ten children behind him, and there are plenty of such instances throughout Australia. The other day I sent to the Minister a list of twenty-five soldiers’ wives, not one of whom had less than seven children. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will consider my sugges-tion.
– I am quite in sympathy with the honorable senator; but I suggest to him that in a family of ten, all would not be dependants. Some would be supporting themselves.
– That is true; but the principle should be observed. A member of another place who went away left his son behind to look after his mother. Unfortunately, he lost his life; and now ‘-the son has been victimized in New South Wales. There are plenty of such cases.
Another matter is in relation to apprentices returning who had served portion of their time before enlisting. It is a very difficult question to handle. It comes within the scope of State laws, and I do not know how the Minister is going to overcome the difficulty.
– And it is a very real one.
– I heartily indorse the proposals made in this respect. I take it that the wages to be paid are simply to be the amount which employers can rightly pay for the work done by the apprentices, and that the Government are to add the difference. But the trouble will be that many of the returned youths will have even as long as four and five years to make up. It will not be at all easy to have them complete their apprenticeship term.
– There is a genuine difficulty in some cases, arising from State laws.
– I know that. I have not seen anything in the statement of the Minister as to providing opportunities for soldiers to become employers of labour themselves. That is, that they may be assisted in tendering for work either of a national or public character. There should be provision whereby halfadozen men could get together, and tender for jobs, with some guarantee by the Department that they would be able to carry them out. That which often prevents men from getting a start in life is the lack of proper backing just when they desire to strike out for themselves. Many returned soldiers would gladly avail themselves of assistance in this way, and I trust that the Minister will consider the suggestion.
The Minister made reference to providing settlements for soldiers. I advocated that when, a previous Bill was before the Senate, and urged that it should not be left to voluntary organizations which, in a number of the States, are splendidly endeavouring to provide model settlements. I commend the Minister for his proposal, under the repatriation scheme, to provide model homes for men who are to be employed in factories and the like.
Still, another factor which should be looked to is the fostering of industries in which the men are to be employed. Unfortunately, there is too much importation of goods manufactured in foreign countries by cheap labour. In nine cases out of ten, where a privatecitizen has been enterprising enough to establish any one of those industries, he has met with success. Although the manufacturer has to pay higher wages, he gets better work, and, through systematic effort, he has been able to compete successfully against the cheap importations. In the Senate the other day, I mentioned the matter of enamel required for soldiers’ medals. The Minister informed me that the contractor was waiting for the imported article. This enamel can be manufactured here; but the samples submitted to the Department were, according to its experts, not up to the imported product. That being so, it is for the Government to assist in the perfection of that article so that its manufacture might give employment of the requisite light nature to numbers of returned men. There are many such occupations with which the Minister should make himself acquainted. It is not probable that much could be accomplished at first, but it is only a matter of time. In my own trade, we were told not long ago that we could not manufacture locomotives to compete with the work of other countries, with their cheaplabour. To-day, however, we are making them better and more cheaply than ever they were imported. It is all a question of system, and in that way we can compete with any part of the world. I recommend that the Department schedule all industries, particularly those requiring light labour, and make special efforts to foster and successfully establish new enterprises.
– I have done that. I have consulted all the Chambers of Manufactures regarding suitable industries. The difficulty is that an industry, being new, is not known here, and it is a task, therefore, to find any one who can tell us anything about it.
– Well, I have mentioned one, and I ask the Minister to look after it. There are many others, besides. The trouble is that when a matter is brought forward here by honorable senators who may have some slight knowledge of what they are talking about, questions are asked, and that is about the end of it. If one wishes to push the business further, he must persistently prod the Minister. For about two years I was trying to get the Government to manufacture the electric cables which they require. I pointed out that they could save £100,000 every year on that work. The Postmaster-General went into the scheme, and was favorable, but nothing wasdone. When the Prime Minister went to the Old Country, he, in his zeal to do something for Australia, let a contract for ten years for thevery article which we could manufacture easily with light labour, and at a great saving. Senator Reid. - What did the officials say about that saving of £100,000?
– The Department was agreeable. The PostmasterGeneral saw the value of the suggestion, and approved of the work being com menced, but, unfortunately, the Prime Minister was not aware of the position when he made this contract, which, of course, must be honoured.
– We rightly heard from the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) that the problem facing Australia in regard to repatriation is new. There is no precedent for what Australia will attempt to do. The Minister correctly said that Australia leads all the belligerent countries in connexion with the attempted solution of the repatriation problem. He gave an illustration /of his difficulties from the commencement. I can quite understand that he felt he was sailing an unfamiliar ship on an uncharted ocean, and without knowing his destination. He must have felt, indeed, like a blind man looking for a black hat in a dark room. Last September, a Repatriation Bill was passed which, after much discussion, and much thought on the part of the Minister in charge, practically meant that that gentleman was given a blank cheque. It was only a skeleton measure, and, in spite of all the oratory and all the amendments proposed in another place, the Bill returned to the Senate in much the same form as it had left us. That was largely because the scheme was merely in skeletonia form, and it was felt that’ it must be left to the Minister and his Department, and to time, to evolve the details.
To-day our ideas about repatriation are much more concrete than eight months ago. We have jettisoned many false ideas - many views which the people then held to the effect that because a soldier had served abroad he should be provided for, upon his return, by a benevolent public for all time. We have forsaken that, but have kept to the main principle, that no soldier shall suffer as the result of his sacrifice in fighting on our behalf. We have come back also to the fundamental idea that repatriation is not a benevolent institution, but is what the word actually means - the settling back into civilian life of men who have been in military service. I am glad to hear in the statement of the Minister that this is the main plan of the work of his Department.
Personally, I have been much puzzled and much confused when I have attempted to reduce the problem with which we are confronted to figures. I noticed particularly that the Minister, in his many explanations regarding this important matter, has never got down to figures of any sort. He has not even told us how many soldiers the Department has so far assisted, how many have returned from abroad-
– Yes, I gave that information yesterday. “Dp to 31st December last year the number who had returned to Australia was, approximately, 50,000, those discharged numbered 40,000, and those who have been assisted totalled 26,000.
– At any rate, the Minister has never attempted to get down to figures in regard to what this problem may mean to Australia.
– It is impossible to do that. ‘
– I think that when we first directed our thoughts to repatriation it was announced that the expenditure in this connexion would probably amount to £60,000,000.
– The honorable senator’s statement is incorrect, if he will pardon me for saying so. No estimate of the cost has ever been officially given. Sixty million pounds was the amount mentioned by me on one occasion as showing what the scheme would cost if pre sent methods of land settlement were continued, and on the assumption that a certain number of soldiers were placed upon the land.
– Quite so. But no attempt has been made to forecast how much money the whole scheme of repatriation will cost the Commonwealth and how many soldiers the Department will have to deal with. I quite recognise the extent and difficulties of the problem. According to the Minister’s statement just now, up to the 31st December last 50,000 soldiers had returned to Australia. As a considerable number have returned during the first four months of the present year, I think that at least one-fifth or one-fourth of the soldiers who have gone overseas have already returned to our shores. Seeing that that is so, we have, I think, some’ glimmerings of light to guide us in connexion with the magnitude of this problem.
– We are able to form just about as reliable an estimate of it as we are able to accurately forecast the rainfall for 1919.
– Not at all. Today I think we may safely say that onefifth, if not one-fourth, of the soldiers who will return to Australia have already returned.
– Does not that depend upon the duration of the war 1
– Of course it does, but I am one of those who believe that the war cannot continue very much longer, and that a decision must be reached in the not very distant future. Certainly, the Democracies of the world will not allow the struggle to continue for another four, years.
I am pleased to observe from the utterances of the Minister that this problem of repatriation is to be treated on the lines of common sense, so that we shall not have to face in the future such a large problem as we thought would confront us, provided always that reasonable conditions obtain for the development of Australia. There are very many thousands of men who will return to the Commonwealth when the war is over who will ask no help at all. The more facilities we can provide in the way of restoring them to their former civilian employment immediately upon their return the better will it be for the Repatriation Department. But upon this matter I shall have something more bo say upon the Defence Bill, which, I understands will come up for our consideration either to-day or on the next day of sitting. Upon the question of land settlement, however, I desire to say a few words.
Honorable senators will doubtless recollect that some time ago repatriation in connexion with land settlement loomed very largely. I am ‘glad to note that the Minister does not stress that aspect of the matter to-day in the way that he did eight months ago, and that there is exhibited a disposition to place upon the States, who own th’e land, the responsibility for the land settlement of our returned soldiers. I hope that no attempt in that direction will be made by the Commonwealth in connexion with the repatriation of our fighting forces. Any effort by the Commonwealth to settle our soldiers on the land is, to my mind, foredoomed to ignominious failure. Indeed, I am not at all sure that any land settlement in connexion with returned soldiers will be successful. As the Minister has observed, repatriation is largely a question of psychology, and, if I know anything about it, the psychology of the soldier is gregarious. He has been accustomed for years to comradeship and to the company of his fellows, and to settle him upon the land a mile away from his neighbour would be to invite failure. I repeat that this question of land settlement is one with which the States should deal, and the Minister will be well advised if he recognises that.
The question of repatriation - although it may be largely a question of weekly payments, pensions, &c- - is also one, broadly speaking, of work. I feel strongly that the problem would very* likely be cut in half if the Government would only take their courage in both hands, and deal with the Tariff straightway. It seems to me that we have two alternatives, before us. If plenty of work is available the evils arising from unemployment will be comparatively small. But if we experience bad seasons and distress, the question of repatriation will loom very largely. I was pleased, indeed, to listen to the remarks of Senator McDougall, who stressed the necessity for the establishment of new industries. X ask the Government to carefully consider that aspect of this matter. Such new industries as the manufacture of wire ropes-
– I think that Senator McDougall spoke only of telephone cables.
– No. His idea, I think, was the establishment of an industry for the manufacture of wire ropes and copper cables for postal and other requirements. If such an industry were established in our midst, it would be worth a good deal to the country, and, though it might involve some waste of revenue, we could at least get some value for the money thus expended. Another industry which might well be considered in connexion with this scheme of repatriation is that of the manufacture of newspaper. There are scores of thousands of tons of precious freight now being utilized in the importation of newspaper from abroad. Yet we have all the raw materials for making it. We have the wood pulp, the vegetable fibre, and the prickly pear, which, I am informed, makes as good newspaper pulp as can be manufactured in any part of the world. Only a few months ago one of the representatives of Tasmania stated on the floor of this chamber that experiments in that State in connexion with the manufacture of paper pulp from timber had been eminently successful, and complained that the Government were not offering a bounty for its manufacture.
– I do not think that he said that.
– He complained that the Government had fallen short of its duty by withholding a bonus for the manufacture of paper pulp, seeing that the experiments which had been conducted in Tasmania had been reported to be eminently successful.
The Minister has also asked honorable senators to suggest something in connexion with soldiers’ settlement. He rightly said that he was hesitating as to whether it was wiser to build houses around particular industries in connexion with repatriation - in order that the soldiers might be kept together - or to allow them to live in a scattered way, the same as do other members of the community. I think that the solution of this difficulty depends very largely on the number of soldiers who are to be dealt with. If the .Minister has to deal with only fifty men in a particular industry, it will not be worth while to create a special. settlement for them. But if he has to deal with 500 or 1,000 soldiers in connexion with any industry, he probably can learn a good deal from Port Sunlight-
– It is not a question of organizing villages, but of the desirableness or otherwise of segregating a, number of persons who, owing to the war,, have become more or less crippled.
– Obviously , . the best course to adopt will depend largely on the number of men who are to be provided for in a particular locality. Clearly, it would scarcely be worth while to make provision for a small number. However, that is a matter the consideration of which may well be left to the development of the scheme later on.
The Minister intimated, during the course of his remarks, that he has asked Dr. Fetherston to report upon certain matters connected with the health of the soldiers after their return. I think that the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), too, made one or two interjections, calling me to account because I questioned the ability of Dr. Fetherston, as a specialist, to undertake this particular work. Whilst I have no objection to any report which may emanate from the Principal Medical Officer of the Australian Military Forces, I think that there are more eminent specialists than he is upon the nerve complaints with which soldiers are so often affected. I have no desire to throw any aspersions upon the professional ability of Dr. Fetherston, but merely because he was- Chief Medical Officer here in peace time-
– He was not Chief Medical. Officer in peace time.
– Merely because he has attained his present position by seniority, or because he was appointed early in the war, it does not follow that he is pre-eminently fitted to do the thing the Minister has asked him to do. I shall say no more about the matter in the absence of the Minister for Defence, but among men in the street there are rumours and whisperings that Dr. Fetherston has gone Home for quite another object.
– I said that Dr. Fetherston went Home on a mission intrusted to him by the Defence Department, but that as he was going I had asked him to obtain special information for me.
– As the Minister has raised the reason for the doctor going Home, I say that we have been informed in the press that he has been asked to find out why 10,000 men have been recruited here and sent to England, and then found when they reached England to be medically unfitted for the job they had taken on. Surely the reason for that could be sought in Australia? Any one who knows anything about what has been going on regarding recruiting knows it was the -fault of the medical officers of Dr. Fetherston’s Department that these men were recruited in the first place. I know of my own personal knowledge-
– Not all the medical men who have examined recruits belong to Dr. Fetherston’s Department.
– My honorable friend has only to refer to the medical officer’s report in connexion with the return of the Nestor some time last September.
– May I suggest with much humility that this portion of the honorable senator’s remarks would be more appropriate on the Defence Bill?
– I admit I have been somewhat ‘discursive regarding Dr. Fetherston, and will accept the honorable senator’s suggestion.
I congratulate the Minister most sincerely upon his very broad vision in connexion with his Department, and on his careful and discreet building up of the very complicated scheme of repatriation. The matter has been taken in hand by the Minister with much enthusiasm, and he has given to it much thought, and doubtless many long hours of weary vigil. I wish him success in every way. It is probably the most knotty problem that any , Minister could take up’, probably the most thankless job that any man could carry on, and I am sure the Minister has the sympathy of all the members of theSenate in his task. This is not a party question. It is a question towards the solution of -which we can give only a little help, and do no more than indicate our opinions on fundamental issues. I hope the Minister will not forget that it is also a psychological question, one of sympathy and patience towards the. men who have gone through so much for us. I hope also with other honorable senators that the Department will ultimately be manned entirely by returned soldiers, as I believe the spirit of comradeship and mateship existing amongst soldiers will make them sympathetic towards those with whom they are dealing. I congratulate the Minister so far on the success he has achieved, and on the sound fundamental principles he has laid down in connexion with the Department. I am sure that one and all of us on both sides will give him all the help and sympathy we can. I trust the problem will not be so big as we now fear it will be. I hope that in the future Australia will hum with production and industry, for if that comes to pass, under wise guidance by the Government of the day the problem will rapidly diminish as the years run on.
.- I also offer my congratulations to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) on his explanation of the Bill. I have had many opportunities of listening to explanations of intricate pieces of legislation, but I have never listened with greater pleasure or advantage to the explanation of any Bill than I did to the deliverance of the Minister yesterday. It was the most lucid, carefully thoughtout, and Completely explanatory speech on a most difficult problem that it has ever been my lot to listen to. I also listened with much pleasure to the contribution of Senator McDougall, from which there was a total absence of carping criticism. Every word he spoke was evidently uttered with a sincere intention to assist the Ministry in taking on this big problem.
In dealing with the problem, for which there is no precedent’ and no experience to guide them, the Ministry, while considering the reasonable interests of the taxpayers and the interests of the genuine, thrifty returned soldier, and while taking every precaution to guard the fund against attempts to exploit it - for there will be amongst the returned men, as there are amongst every body of men, some who will do their utmost to do so - must not consider the economical side of the expenditure on this proposition. Nothing that Australia can do will be too much for the dependants of those who have made the supreme sacrifice, or those who have offered to make it on behalf of Australia. No payment that can be made to these men either during the war or on their return cam adequately compensate them for what they have gone through or what they have offered . to sacrifice. A man who takes up arms in defence of his country looks for his reward in the realization by his countrymen that he has done it for his country’s good. To seek to pay such a man by a few shillings a day while away, or by the reward of a few pounds on his return, would be an insult to his manhood. Although we who remain in Australia cannot compensate the returned soldier for what he has done for us, the Government must not consider expense in doing all that is humanly possible to make the lives of these men happy, peaceful, and prosperous in the future.
We are conducting our part of the war in this country under the voluntary system, and I am strongly opposed to every kind of economic conscription, although I am a straight-out conscriptionist, in that I would compel every man, rich or poor, to take his fair share of responsibility to defend the nation. I am against any system which may force one man to go in consequence of the exigency of the circumstances in which he finds himself, whilst another man is able to resist and remain. Reports have come under my notice showing that a system of that kind has been in operation in Australia. I had the opportunity last Sunday of listening to a number of speeches in the Sydney Domain. I had the honour of hearing a speech delivered by Captain Carmichael, when he was asking for the last twelve of the thousand men with whom he went into camp on’ Wednesday. I also heard a number of other speeches which I did not agree with, but the speakers all seemed sincere, and I also heard an official letter read from an employing firm in ‘Australia stating that it had invited the resignation of one of its employees in order that the eligible men of Australia might be relieved for military purposes-.
– There is a good deal of that:
– The honorable senator is probably somewhat to blame for it, because he favours the voluntary system of recruiting, which does not represent the true policy of Democracy, inasmuch as it does not place on every man, who Has a right to a share in governing his country, his share of the responsibility of defending it. However, that matter is in the past, and it is no use talking about it. I am sorry that attempts at economic conscrip- tion, such as I have described, are being made, and I shall always resent them.
I was not favorable within my inner mind to levying a tax upon bachelors and eligibles while the war is in progress, because that also has a tendency towards economic conscription. It has a tendency to tax one eligible man, who can ill-afford the £5 or £10, and in a measure press him to go to the war, while the richer eligible can pay the penalty without any difficulty.
– Did you not vote f or that tax ?
– I am prepared when the war is over, for the purpose of repatriating the men who have gone to the war, to vote for a stronger tax on the eligible of Australia than has even yet been suggested.
– Without exemption ?
– Without exemption at all. Every man who is eligible to go to the war, and has refused to go under the system adopted by the Commonwealth should certainly be made to pay a considerable amount towards the repatriation and future comfort of the men who have made the sacrifice. Hence I repeat that whatever difficulties there may be in raising the money, and whatever the cost, the Ministry must not consider them, but, while safeguarding the interests of the soldiers and taxpayers, must insist on the people of Australia doing all that is humanly possible to make the conditions of the men who return better in the future.
On the subject of vocational training for returned soldiers I agree with every word that has been said as to the desirability of making our returned men self-reliant and. producers of national wealth. While recognising the great services these men have rendered to me and to my fellow citizens, I do not for a moment believe that on their return they should be kept in idleness. Their comfort should undoubtedly be considered, but they should be expected to become producers, and we should instil into their minds the, feeling of, self-reliance, which always tends to make a good citizen. The Minister for Repatriation has made a very explicit statement regarding voca tional training, but it appeared to me that, in view of its merits, the honorable senator passed over very lightly, the scheme propounded by Colonel Fitzpatrick. This scheme must have cost the author a good deal of study and research. He proposes an agreement between employers in different industries, for which a returned soldier might be prepared in the course of twelve months, the indus-“ trial unions connected with those industries, and the Government. He suggests that 33 per cent, of the standard wage in these industries might be provided by the Government. The proportion of this payment should be higher during the first part of the apprenticeship, if I may use that expression, and become gradually less towards the end of the apprenticeship. It seems to me that that is a scheme by which large numbers of our returned men might be trained in different- industries already established in Australia. I am given to understand by the author of the scheme that assistance to give it effect has been offered by employers and unions concerned in different industries. They are prepared to do all they can to train the returned men and to welcome their employment in those industries. I recognise that it is necessary to have some regard to the proportion of returned soldier trainees employed in a particular industry. If the Minister has- not given full consideration to this scheme, which is very clearly set forth in a pamphlet issued by Colonel Fitzpatrick, I would recommend him to look into it, as in my view it contains suggestions which would be an improvement upon the Government’s scheme.
The proposal of the Government to establish industries specially for the vocational training of returned soldiers seems to me to be surrounded by many difficulties. No industry in Australia occurs to me at the present time in which the Government could launch out upon the employment of returned soldiers without coming into direct competition with established industries of the same kind. This has been one of the difficulties always associated with governmental industrial undertakings, Immediately a Government starts the manufacture of an article, private citizens engaged in the manufacture of the same article at once create an agitation against the Government, on the ground that they ire employing their money in common with the money of other taxpayers in the manufacture of something which enters into competition with the articles upon the production of which they depend for a living.
– Is it not the same thing to employ the taxpayers’ money in subsidizing an employer?
– No ; because in that case the employer gives a quid pro quo. He undertakes the training of the returned soldier, and pays the trainee a wage which for a time he does not earn. The employer loses something in that way for which he is entitled to compensation from the Government desiring the training of the returned soldier.
– The same argument applies.
– I think it does not. If Senator Senior were a manufacturer of boots, and the Government established a boot factory for the vocational training of returned soldiers, that factory would not pay its way. Every pair of boots manufactured there worth £1 would probably cost 25s. to make, and the honorable sena’tor would have to pay a proportion of that extra 5s. to enable the Government to manufacture the pair of boots in competition with him in his own business.
– Not if the Government factory were properly conducted.
– Senator O’Keefe does not realize the difference between a properly-established business, whether governmental or private, employing trained men and run on business lines and an institution which would be largely educational. The educational departments of Australia are not revenue producing.
– No one would think of starting an industry wholly with untrained returned soldiers.
– Surely the purpose of the proposed Government industries is to train the returned soldiers, and so these national businesses, undertaken for the purpose of repatriation, would not be conducted on purely business lines.
– If a graduated scale of payments were made it would come to the same thing.
– If Senator Senior were a manufacturer of boots he would realize that it would not be fair to him that he should be brought into competition with a Government factory supported by the taxpayers’ money and established for the purpose of educating returned soldiers. I urge the Government to be very careful about establishing industries for the education of returned soldiers. I confess that I take far more kindly to the system, of vocational training expounded by Colonel Fitzpatrick than I do to the Government’s scheme.’
One honorable senator advised the Government to have nothing to do with the resumption of land for returned soldiers. I am not of that way of thinking at all. I know a number of farmers’ sons andfarm labourers who have taken up arms in the defence of Australia who would be glad to have holdings of their own when peace is restored. I realize that because of the Constitutions of the different States it is almost impossible to resume the kind of land best suited for intense culture and occupation by returned soldiers. In my own State of Tasmania we have an Act which enables the Government to compulsorily resume any estate of the unimproved value of £12,000 and over. Under that Act the owner of an estate to be resumed is allowed to retain his homestead and a considerable area around it. In general practice, that means that the kernel is taken out of the nut and the husk or shell left for those who desire to use the resumption for closer, settlement. The party I led at one time in the Tasmanian Parliament made several efforts to reduce the unimproved value of estates which might be compulsorily resumed to £5,000, but the LegislativeCouncil of the State rejects that proposition every time it is made. So that, although there are in places like the Derwent Valley a number of comparatively small estates of an unimproved value of £5,000, £8,000, or £10,000, which would be highly suitable for the settlement of four, five, or a dozen returned soldiers, it is impossible to secure those estates for the purpose.
– If the land is fully utilized now, what is the use of disturbing the present occupants?
– The land is not fully utilized now.
– Then why does not the honorable senator advocate a straightout unimproved land tax?
– Why does not Senator Grant amend the Constitutions of the different States? If he did, it would be unnecessary for me to make these remarks. The Constitutions of the different States are such that the different State Governments are quite unable to effectively handle this proposition.
– They do not desire to do so.
– They cannot do so because of their Conservative second Chambers. I am of opinion that before we can effectively deal with the settlement of returned soldiers on the land it will be necessary for this Parliament to take to itself the right to resume land for the purpose in any part of Australia. We know that any law passed by this Parliament will override the legislation of the State Parliaments. I believe that in the democratic Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament an Act which would give to the Federal Government the power to resume any land in Australia for this purpose would find favour.
– That is what the Bolsheviks did, and the honorable senator growls about it.
– Senator Barnes is, of course, talking “ rot,” and what he has said is not relevant to the question. I do not admit that there have been many failures in Tasmania. On some resumed properties which did not come under the compulsory sections of the Act, men are, I believe, doing very well; but, generally speaking, the areas have been resumed by the State Governments under their land resumptions Acts, and,consequently, are unsuited for the use of returned soldiers. In Tasmania we suggested a kind of co-operative scheme by which the Government would arrange for the preparation of holdings prior to their occupation, and I think this pro-‘ posal is well worthy of consideration by the Minister. In the’ case of Crown lands, particularly areas suitable for orcharding-, the men who desired to take up the land would be engaged at standard wages in clearing, preparing the ground, and planting the trees. If twenty, thirty, or fifty . returned soldiers had made up their minds to go upon the land, they would be employed in this way under the group system.
– But it is necessary now to go 10 miles out to get suitable areas like that.
– As far as the Crown lands are concerned, it is necessary to go back from the capital cities, but not so far from the waterways in our States, though it would be generally in Australia. The same system could be applied to land resumption by the State. In the case of pastoral properties suitable for intense culture, men could be employed on the group system as we, in Tasmania, are prepared to employ them upon Government lands.
– And when the land has been prepared, what happens ?
– The men draw lots for the occupation of the different allotments.
SenatorMillen. - But probably some of the men, at the expiration of the paying period, would disappear.
– That would not matter a great deal, because they could not take the land with them; and, after all, they would only be paid for ‘labour done, and during their term of probation, the overseer, acting on behalf of the Government, would be free to dismiss any men who proved slackers or were unsuited for the work. While employed under this group system, the men would be in receipt of the standard wage, and, in some cases, they would be actually clearing what would be their own future home. I see no reason why this scheme should not receive careful consideration by the Repatriation Department.
– Why are you taking the Minister up in the clouds now by propounding this scheme?
– There is nothing academic or imaginary about this scheme at all. It may be applied’ in any State where suitable land is available. Surely the honorable senator realizes that to do the work of clearing land economically and scientifically it is necessary to provide up-to-date machinery, which could not be made available to the individual settler, and which would probably reduce the cost of clearing by quite 40 per cent.
Another question which seemed te perplex some honorable senators, notably, Senator Pratten, was the position of apprentices who had enlisted. I have had some experience in this matter in my own State, where it has been equitably adjusted. It is only right, if two apprentices enter, say, Government workshops at the same time, and one, after serving twelve months’ apprenticeship, enlists to go to the war, while the other remains behind to complete his term of apprenticeship, thus entitling him to a minimum wage of 10s. a day, that the man who has enlisted should, upon his return, be placed in exactly the same position financially as if he had remained in a workshop, and completed his apprenticeship term. In one case that came under my notice - and I have no doubt that there are many others - we put this scheme into practical operation in the Tasmanian Railway Department, the Commissioner, at the instance of the Government, re-engaged a returned apprentice at journeyman’s wages, and while he was completing his term of indenture. This course is absolutely just, and though it may cost the Government a little more; after all it is their contribution to the solution of war problems. Expenditure must not be considered in carrying out the repatriation scheme. We shall have to find whatever amount of money may be necessary, and those who have not otherwise contributed must find a fair proportion of it.
– If that principle were adopted generally, it might mean considerable expenditure, because I know of men who left positions carrying a salary of £400 a year to enlist as privates.
– I repeat that this country cannot compensate fully those men who have gone to the war, but the repatriation scheme launched by the Government will be an evidence of our gratitude to those men who have fought for us. It would be an insult to offer them a few pounds, or a few shillings per day as compensation for what they have done for this country; but it is absolutely impracticable to finance any scheme which would prevent any. man from losing financially by his action in enlisting. I know such a proposal was expounded by a Mr. McLeod, of South Africa. He declared that every man should be conscripted for the war, but that he should receive the same rate of pay as that which he was entitled to prior to the war. That may be all right in theory, but it is impracticable.
– We have to pay the cost of the war, anyhow, so it should not make- such a great difference after all.
– A scheme like that would be impracticable, because plenty of men who have enlisted were in receipt of large incomes in private life, many of them getting from £1,000 to £5,000 a year, so if they were to be reimbursed, their financial sacrifices, it would not be possible to bear the burden of war expenditure.
I am pleased with the example set by Senator McDougall in the course of this debate, and I feel sure that every assistance will be afforded to the Government in giving effect to the scheme. The only note of criticism so far struck came from Senator Pratten, who seemed to think that the Government should have come down with some forecast as to what the expenditure is likely to be. I am sure, however, that on further reflection, Senator Pratten will realize how absurd such a suggestion is. The honorable .senator, by way of interjection, declared that the Democracies of the world would not tolerate this war much longer. What does he mean ? The Democracies of the world are not responsible for the continuance of this war. The autocracy of Germany is to blame for it.
– And from the beginning.
– Yes. If we could only get to the heart of Germany, and ask the people of that country how long they are going to tolerate this world-wide butchery, then we might expect an answer. So long as the people of Germany are in the clutches of the autocracy and the military class, who are now clamouring for world power, so long will the struggle continue. It is humanly impossible to f orecast the amount that will be required for this scheme. We know, that large numbers of men will be coming back, and that we must be prepared to receive them, and that, whatever the cost, it must be borne by the people of Australia, so that, no matter how great the numbers to be dealt with, our returned warriors shall have the very best that Australia can give. The Government shall never receive a hostile vote from me in consequence of their over-sympathetic administration of the Repatriation Department; and, in saying that, I feel that I am expressing the feelings of the great majority of honorable senators. We realize that it is impossible for the Minister to accurately indicate what the expenses will be, or to fully foresee the difficulties with which he will be confronted, or to exactly estimate the failures which are bound to be made.
Realizing these things, we will willingly forgive the Minister ‘if, in his desire to sympathetically administer the Department, he may do something which in its practical administration may prove a mistake. On the other hand, if red-tape is introduced, with all its rigidity, so that injustice is done to deserving men, the strongest condemnation will be meted out.
– It was the party to which you belonged that introduced militarism into Australia.
– I do not understand what the honorable senator is driving at. I am a compulsory militarist, so far as the defence of our country is concerned; but rigid discipline is a different thing when it comes to the administration of a Department such as this.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Keefe) adjourned.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 2nd May, vide page 4326) :
Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section 39 of the principal Act is repealed, and the following section inserted in its stead : - “ 39- (1) Subject to ‘this section, a soldier shall be entitled to be discharged -
Section proposed to be repealed -
Any person who has enlisted as a member discharged therefrom at the expiration of the period of service for which he engaged, unless such expiration occurs in time of war, in which case he shall not be entitled to his discharge until the war has ceased to exist.
– This and the succeeding clause are really the keys to the Bill. There was no opportunity for a second-reading debate yesterday, owing to some misunderstanding. I trust, therefore, that honorable senators may be given, in the circumstances, a little more latitude in discussing the main principles of the measure than otherwise would be sought. I point out the very grave nature of the Bill. I shall prefer to describe it as one for breaking faith with the soldiers. The very crux of it is dishonouring an obligation under which our men went abroad.
– Do you want them all discharged in London as soon as peace is declared ?
– It is quite clear to me that this Bill is going to continue militarism throughout Australia for some indefinite period after the war, that is, if it passes as it is printed. Our soldiers enlisted for the period of the war and four months afterwards. That was the contract - which still stands. I do not dispute that the circumstances which have arisen could not have been foreseen; but, unless the contract is to be a mere scrap of paper, we must very carefully consider this Bill. It provides that, instead of a soldier being able to get his discharge when he returns to Australia, the military authorities, or the Minister for Defence, or the Governor-General - who all amount to the same thing - can by proclamation keep the troops in khaki for an indefinite time after their return. The question of want ing them or not ‘ depends entirely on what the authorities say, and that will probably rest upon the opinion’s expressed by the General Staff. The Minister, in explaining the measure, remarked that circumstances had changed in connexion with the war, and that it was necessary to pass this Bill, because the highest authorities held that it might be a year, if not two, before all our men could be returned. That is a fair statement. It is admitted that it will take a considerable time to repatriate the whole of our soldiers - not forgetting that their transport home will synchronize with the return of the troops of all the other Dominions.
No member of this Parliament would like to aee our soldiers disbanded in England. We would prefer some arrangement whereby they could be kept in their respective units until their return to Australia. But if we, through any Act such as this, give power to the military authorities to keep our troops in khaki an hour longer than they desire afteT their return, and after peace has been declared, there is bound to be trouble.
– I suggest to the Minister for Defence that he report progress so as to give honorable senators the necessary opportunity to look closely into this important measure.
– I have no objection at all. I desired only to have it shown that it was the wish of the Committee rather than the will of the Government to delay the passage of the Bill.
Senate adjourned at 1 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 3 May 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1918/19180503_senate_7_84/>.