7th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether it is the intention of the Government to immediately take steps to prevent the enormous increases in the prices of foodstuffs and the necessaries of life?
– The honorable senator is well aware, judging by the speeches he has made in the Senate on this subject, of the limited constitutional powers which the Government enjoy in this respect.
– I ask the Leader of the Senate whether he noticed in yesterday’s newspapers a statement attributed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), in a speech which he delivered at Durban, to the effect that he was returning to Australia to fight relentlessly and to the end, with tooth and claw, the Bolsheviks and profiteers. Does not the Leader of the Senate think that the Prime ‘ Minister is misleading the people of Australia, in view of the answer given to Senator Gardiner’s question to the effect that there is no power under the Federal Constitution to enable the Government to fight the profiteers ?
– I can understand the honorable senator’s perturbation at the announcement that the Prime Minister is coming back to fight the Bolsheviks and profiteers. - I submit that he might with more propriety address his question to the Prime Minister himself on his return.
– I ask the Leader of. the Senate whether the fact that the promises and threats in the speeches made by the Prime Minister during the last few months trend in that direction is responsible for the reported retirement of Senator Millen and Mr.
Watt, the representatives of the profiteers in the present Government.
Question not replied to.
– In view of Senator Millen’s answer to my first question, that the Government have not the constitutional power to deal with the increase in the prices of foodstuffs, and in view of the fact that they are extending the powers of the War Precautions Act to deal with wool, wheat,butter and metals-
– Not with metals.
– Then with wool, wheat, and- butter-
– And flax.
– And flax, will the Government extend the powers assumed in this way to deal with those things which the poorer classes in the community have to purchase.
– I suggest that it must be quite obvious, even to Senator Gardiner, - that there is no similarity between legislation respecting the matters covered by the Bill to which he refers and the general fixation of prices. The Bill is necessary to enable us to wind up all those undertakings in connexion with which contracts were entered into, in which the Commonwealth Government is financially involved. It is, on the advice of our legal advisers,’ competent for us to do that as being relative to the war, but that by no means implies that we have the power to go outside the provisions of the Constitution.
– I ask the Leader of the Senate whether the ‘Government is able to furnish, through the Statistical Department or otherwise, any proof that bread is cheaper in Australia than it is in every other country of the world at the present time.
– It is possible to obtain the statistical information, but as it is well within the knowledge of every honorable senator and every citizen outside, I question very much, whether it would be desirable to go to any trouble to obtain it.
– It is a fact, then ? “
– It is a fact.
– That is all I wanted to elicit.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether it is a fact, as stated in to-day’s newspapers, that the Treasurer contemplates advertising the Peace Loan by a short address in church on 31st August. If so, will he inaugurate a friendly competition, and have the same advertisement at the races on 30th August, to see where he can get most money ?
– I have not seen the statement referred to, but if the honorable senator will give me an opportunity of doing so, I shall bring it under the notice of the Treasurer.
– I ask the Leader of the Senate whether it is a fact, as stated in the press, that the French Mission made a donation of £1,000, to be distributed amongst the widows and orphans of Australian soldiers. If so, has anything been done in the matter, and how has the money been distributed ?
– I know that it is a fact that the French Mission, on leaving Australia, did leave such a donation, and for the purpose indicated. I am not in a position to say what has been done in connexion with its distribution, but I shall endeavour to obtain the information for the honorable senator.
– Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate in a position to give me any information in reply to the question I asked yesterday with respect to the dismissal of certain persons from the Commonwealth Public Service as a result of the inquiry by Mr. Barnet?
– The honorable senator will recognise that, owing to the early meeting of the Senate to-day, there has not been much time to obtain a reply to his question. I have put the inquiry on foot, but I am not yet in possession of the information for which he asked.
Profiteering in Leather.
– I have received from Senator Gardiner an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The serious situation that has arisen in connexion with the increases in the prices of hides, leather, and footwear.”
.- I move-
That the Senate, at its rising, do adjourn till 11 a.m. to-morrow.
Four honorable senators having risen in their places in support of the motion,
– I desire to call attention to the very serious situation which has arisen, and the seriousness of which will be considerably accentuated unless some definite, prompt, and, I may say, drastic action is takenby the Government to prevent the profiteering that is now rampant throughout Australia. Of’ course, the prices of hides, leather, and boots have been increased only in common with the prices of other necessaries for the people of this country, but in view of the conditions under which I discuss the matter, I wish directly to show that now that the war is over, there is a very grave danger of the people of Australia having to submit to the hardship of going without footwear and other necessaries, to which the people of other countries had to submit during the war. There is no occasion to reiterate the statement, but I am one of those who believe that the Senate of Australia should put Australia first.
– When has it ever failed to put Australia first, considering Australia’s interest in the Empire?
– If Senator Bakhap holds such views, he will support, at any rate by his voice, the view which I am trying to express to the public at the present time, and that is that if Australia is to be put first the people of this country should have an opportunity to secure at a reasonable price the things which are necessary to enable them to live.
– So they can, in respect to what they produce themselves; tout they have to pay pretty dearly for much that is imported.
– Senator Bakhap, with wider vision than most of us, overlooks the little inconveniences and difficulties which the people have to put up with. Any one with an eye, however, can see what is happening to-day. Business men, following accepted business methods, are purchasing supplies from one end of Australia to the other, and are sending them to other parts of the world, where they can get more for them than they could get here. That is a condition of affairs which this Parliament and the Government should prevent before the markets of Australia are depleted to such an extent,and the prices of commodities so raised’ as to put them beyond the purchasing power of the people generally. There should, be no two opinions in this Parliament as to the desirability of such action. I intend to submit a few figures to indicate the prices charged for leather. What I have to say concerning leather applies with equal force to tweeds, serges, jams and preserves, and to all commodities that can be exported. Commercial men are sending their agents around, buying wholesale and entering into contracts, a year, at least, in advance, and Australia is being depleted of the very necessaries of life for her people in the interests of trade. I venture to say that this is not a party question, and we can all join in trying to. find a remedy for -what is going on.
To show the prices charged for leather, I quote the following from No. 9 Report, on boots and. shoes, submitted by the Inter-State Commission : - :
What has happened since ? What are the prices to-day ? - 9th May, 1919, 103/4d.; 16th May, 1919, 153/4d.; 23rd May, 1919, 17d. ; 1st August, 1919, 19d.
Even before the . regulations were lifted, shrewd business men with an inside knowledge of the possibilities of the market - I am not throwing accusations about in this connexion - and knowing that with the ending of the war this Parliament would not have constitutional power to deal with prices, purchased this commodity in large quantities for export to other countries. I do not object to business men making money in a legitimate manner, but I do object to Australia being depleted of a commodity so necessary for the welfare of its people. Are we to sit down idly and allow the raw material required for the manufacture of boots and shoes to be sent out of the country to such an extent as not to leave sufficient here for our own needs ? If the profit on this transaction is sufficient, the process which I am complaining of will continue. Of course we will be met with the argument that we should not object to the primary producer getting the full market value for his produce, but in reply I say that the primary producer is getting very little of this increase in prices.
– Hear, hear !
– The profiteer - the man who operates in the market to his own advantage - gets the benefit of this increase. He does nothing to increase production. It may be true that in the past he has proved useful in bringing producer and consumer together, but the war showed us that the Government of this country could do all this work much more satisfactorily to both producer and consumer ; that we could dispense with the services of the astute business man, whose one aim, after all, is merely to make profits for himself. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the leather industry to discuss in detail the respective values of leathers employed in the manufacture of boots and shoes, but I am told that for glace kid the price before the war was 1s. 3d. per square foot, and the present price is 6s. - an increase of 400 per cent. The prices for other classes of leather have increased correspondingly, and these rates will keep on rising unless the Go- vernment realize the seriousness of the position. With price fixing removed, and the markets of the world being exceptionally good, there is grave danger of the Australian market being depleted of the raw material. The warehouses overseas Are now practically empty, so the demand for leather is exceptionally keen. But -are we going to- allow the Australian people to undergo serious hardships owing to the export of our raw materials merely that the trade speculator - not the primary producer - may get enormously in- creased prices? Senator Millen will say, no doubt, that the Commonwealth Government have no constitutional power to deal with trade within a State.
– You said so just now yourself.
– I know that, but it is the duty of the Government in these circumstances to immediately ask the people to give them the necessary power. There never was a more favorable opportunity. I am certain that if the Government consulted both Houses of the Parliament, and devised a scheme “to meet this, grave emergency, their action would have an . excellent effect upon the present situation, and that if the question were submitted to the people those powers so necessary for the proper government of this country would be conferred upon the Government by an enormous majority.
The situation, is growing more serious every day. It is no use shutting our -eyes to what is happening; it is no use measuring the sufferings pf the community by” our own per.sonal feelings. My position is, perhaps, as good as it has ever been. I do not feel to an exceptional extent the increased cost of living; but I know that the wage-earning section of the community, and those hundreds of thousands of men who went away to fight for this country and the Empire, realize fully what hardship is imposed upon them when they find that the sovereign which could purchase 20s. worth of commodities before the war will now pur- chase only about 10s. worth. If we want to do the fair thing by our soldiers, the Government should have the necessary .power to control prices. Some people may say, “ Leave our soldiers alone. We will reward them.” Our soldiers are not looking for any bribes or rewards.
– And it is no use holding out bribes to them, either.
– But they are entitled, at all events, to expect that the cost of living shall be something like what it was when they left to fight for this country and the Empire. They expect to be protected from the. profiteers, who have more than doubled the cost of some commodities. It is remarkable that the boot manufacturers themselves claim that they are not making anything out of these high prices. A man who is producing at a fair cost, and desires to keep the retail price down to reasonable limits, finds, under the present circumstances,’ that his goods are snapped up by the profiteers for exportation; so that, actually, he is producing for the benefit of profiteers. It is not possible, however well-intentioned a fair-minded manufacturer may be, to do the right thing by the people; he is compelled to fix his price at market rates in order to prevent his goods being handled by speculators for their own profit.
– That is only your own statement. Have you any proof 1
– The proof lies in the fact that every intelligent person knows that what I am saying is the truth. There can be no escape from the position. If, for instance, I were selling books at ls. each, and were’ making a reasonable profit, and if other people knew that those books would return 2s. on the other side of the world, it is certain that, by direct or indirect methods, exporters or their agents would, obtain them for exportation, and the equivalent of the increased price on the other side of the world would be charged to the general public of this country. The same conditions obtain in the boot manufacturing industry. ‘ In my own State, one big warehouseman issued a statement the other day showing that the increased cost of material obliged him to raise his prices, although he intimated in the advertisement that he was disposing of his present stock at the old price.
– But that is a different matter. You were arguing just now that a boot manufacturer had to increase his prices in order to prevent his goods from being exported.
– Well, that is the impression I intended to convey. I am not blaming individual manufacturers.
The time is over-ripe for Government interference in this mattter. I know there will be a difference of opinion on the question of fixing prices, and as to the power of the Government under the War Precautions Act. But I say that if we can authorize the extension of “ war precautions “ powers to deal with wool and wheat and other commodities which the Government have been handling ; enterprises which it is now desired to clear up - and ‘ that is a good reason for their action - we can authorize the exercise of powers in regard to other commodities in order to protect the people of this country.
– That is the whole point.
– If the Government have the power, and can exercise it for one purpose, there can be no argument as to whether it is constitutional or not.
– Oh; yes.
– The question is, Have the Government this power to act ? If they have not, they cannot constitutionally use it. On the other hand, if the Constitution does give this power to the Government, then I contend it may be used for any purpose authorized by this Parliament. I realize that the Government have done excellent work in. this direction. I am .not referring to this Government.
– I thought you had made a slip.
– I am referring to -the Commonwealth Government. I do not want any one to say that I declared that this Government had ever done excellent work. I refer to the Government of Australia, which has done excellent work in controlling food supplies in the interests of producers and consumers alike. There is no reason why, if good work has been done by previous Governments, if should not be extended by the present Government. The damage done to wheat by rats, mice, and other vermin is as nothing compared with the loss which would have been sustained by the farmers of this country if they had been at the mercy of the profiteers and agents. The position in the case of increases in the price of leather is a serious one to the most observing section of our community - I refer to those who are bringing up large families - and I appeal to the Government to extend some protection to these people, because, obviously, if a man’s wages has increased by ‘2s. 6d. or 5s. per week, he has lost all that advantage if the purchasing power of those wages is so appreciably decreased that rent absorbs two days’ labour, and, in the case of some families, boots and shoes another two days’, and clothing one day. This Parliament should not allow the present position to continue. Will Parliament do anything? It is all very well to talk of dealing with the Bolsheviks. That term, by the way, is Russian, and is equivalent in that language to our word “ majority.”
– It means “ The people who want more.”
– No ! Just as we use the words “ majority “ and “ minority,” the Russians say “ Bolshe-. vik “ and “ Menshevik.” To-day we read of a. threat by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) that profiteers and Bolsheviks are to be dealt with. That is to say,, the profiteers, together with the majority of the people, are to be assailed tooth and claw. I believe that such will be Mr. Hughes’ policy so far as the majority of the people are concerned, at any rate. While he remains in power the majority of our Australian citizens will be badly mauled. We have won the war, and the Peace has now to be won; tout that will not be achieved by any politician setting one section of the community at the throats of another. This is a time when the Government should proceed constitutionally; not to rend and tear and bite, but to make it impossible for profiteers to exist, and to make it possible for the Bolsheviks - that is to say, the majority - to live under condi- tions wherein they may purchase the necessaries of life at reasonable rates. In seeking means to prevent disastrous increases in the prices of boots and shoes, I know that I have the sympathy of nearly all honorable senators, but the trouble is that their sympathy is not likely to extend to their taking the step of voting against the Government and forcing their hands in the matter of attacking profiteering. Nevertheless, I trust that the Government will promptly and seriously grapple with the great problem.
, - Honorable senators on this side of the chamber are as much concerned regarding profiteering as is Senator Gardiner himself. In hia references to the price of leather, Senator Gardiner states that he does not blame the primary producer, or the manufacturer, but he asserts that there are some intermediaries speculating and profiteering between those two parties. The Government, I feel confident, will look into puch a possibility, and endeavour to discover and unmask those profiteering middlemen, if they exist. It is a matter of vital importance. The cost of footwear is likely to become abnormally high, but I do not see how we can single out the primary producer, and by that means make a successful effort at keeping prices down. There is not a man in Victoria who owns as much as 1,000 head of cattle. Graziers and dairy farmers are established only in a small way. It would be doing a great injustice to saddle those small men with a price- for their hides far below the parity of the world’s markets. The question of profiteering is providing food for thought throughout the world. The suggestion has actually been made in England that any person found guilty of profiteering should be imprisoned.
– In Italy they are hanging them to the, nearest lamp-post; and I think that method is preferable.
– If any one can be proved to be taking unfair advantage of the present arduous times he should be severely punished.
Senator Gardiner remarked that there is constitutional power to continue the various Pools. I am of opinion that where the Government, under their War Precautions Regulations, have entered into contracts, they possess the power to continue those contracts; hut it appears that the advice furnished by the legal gentlemen whom the Government consulted is correct, namely, that the Government have not the power to make fresh contracts.- The Federal Parliament has not the power, but it is a question whether we should not ask the people for the necessary power. I feel that we should consult the electors, and seek to secure that power at the earliest convenient opportunity. The taking of a referendum involves immense cost. I think we would be well advised to wait, and put the necessary question to the people at the forthcoming election. Meanwhile the Government might well look into the whole question, with an idea of ascertaining who are these middle parties alleged to be extracting abnormal profits between producer and manufacturer. I emphasize, however, that it is not fair to single out any particular class, such as the hide producers or the butter producers. In fixing the price of butter, the Government was furnished with a report to the effect that the people engaged in the dairy industry were making only about 26s. a week. No one will describe that as an exorbitant remuneration. Yet those people who, with all their heavy toil, were making only £1 6s. a week were singled out from among other producers, and were mulct in 2d. a lb. upon their butter. That was not a fair procedure, and if the Government seek to do likewise in respect to hide producers, they must bear the same candid criticism. If we are to have cheaper commodities by the process of price-fixing, it follows that all producers should bear their share. The man on the land must be given a fair deal; he has not had it in the past. In Victoria the rural population during the past four years has increased by only 4,000, while the population of our towns and cities has expanded by about 176,000. That indicates that the people prefer to live in the centres rather than in the country, for . the reason that city conditions are more favorable; the payis batter and life is easier. If the Government were to fix the price of hides so that the small man, who has to toil so arduously, would be forced to accept a price below the world’s parity, that would amount to an absolute disgrace. I was disappointed to note that immediately the fixing of the price of hides ceased the cost of leather rose.
-Colonel O’loghlin. - What else did you expect?
– I expected that while the tanners were using in their pits the hides which they had bought at the cheaper rates, they would have continued business at the old prices.
-Colonel O’Loghlin. - You were very simple.
– I may be simple, but I hope I am honest.
– That action might have been in response to a natural trade law.
– At any rate, that is one factor which might well be examined by the Government. I understand that the position to-day is that the tanners have the right to take from the market any hides they may require at the price at which the hides are sold by auction for local consumption. Although an American agent or speculator may be seeking to make a purchase, the local tanner can step in and say, “I require those hides and will take them.” That is a procedure similar to that which holds good with regard to the Wool Pool. Thus we have eliminated the possibility of Australia having to do without leather. The enormous demands in other parts of the world have indicated that if foreign agents had been free to come into our local markets, and buy . up their full requirements, the people of Australia might have had to go without boots and shoes. Therefore, the Government wisely gave the tanners authority to take from the local market any hides they required, and at the market price.
The Government would be well advised to seriously consider the price question as a whole, and to ascertain whether there are speculatorsbusily profiteering. If such practices are going on the Government should possess power to deal in a thoroughly effective manner with the guilty parties. I am confident that thepeople would very quickly confer such power if it were sought. I am glad tonotice that the Prime ‘ Minister (Mr: Hughes), in a speech delivered at Durban, and reported in to-day’s press, stated that he would be at the profiteerstooth and claw when he returned.
– Mr. Hughes sayslots of things, but he never does them; that is the trouble.
– He is prettygood at doing things. One good thinghe did was to leave the party opposite.
– And to join his life-long enemies.
– He has been “whipping the cat “ ever since.
– No; I think it is the party opposite which has been- “ whipping the cat.”
– Take care that your party is not left also when Mr. Hughes returns.
– Honorablesenators opposite may say that Mr. Hughes left their party, but my view isthat he was driven out of it. However, that has nothing to do with the immediate subject of profiteering. Honorablesenators oh this side are just as anxious as those opposite to see that the workersget a fair deal; but we should not single out any one class of our primary producers and make them carry the wholeload. Any scheme which the Government may promulgate will have to be very broad. Indeed, it -cannot be confined . to Australia. Take, for example, cotton goods. . Those materials arechiefly used for clothing the workers. Mr. J. C. Watson, when Labour PrimeMinister of the Commonwealth, objected to the imposition of any duty upon cotton for the reason that that was thematerial of the apparel chiefly used by theworking classes. He desired that commodity to be imported and sold in Australia as cheaply as possible. But how can we control the price of cotton in the United States, which governs themarkets of the world ? Before the war the quotation was under 6d., whereas the price to-day is 211/2d. per lb. for raw cotton. How can we control that price? The clearness of commodities has created a world-wide problem which should be . dealt with by the nations in concert. Italy has ‘already moved in that direction. High prices are at the root of all our industrial unrest, and I am voicing the opinions of other honorable senators on this side when I say that we are as anxious as are honorable senators opposite to see profiteeringprevented in this country.
– I wish to enter my protest against the unwarranted and scandalous robbery that is going on to-day by the profiteers throughout Australia. As Senator Fairbairn said, it is not the producers or the retailers who are responsible, but that class which has made every shilling it possibly could out of the war. Senator Gardiner referred specifically to the price of boots and shoes, but that is only one phase of profiteering. We know that when the embargo was placed on the exportation of leather, hides were stacked as high as the heavens, and that’ the holders were merely waiting for the restrictions upon prices to be removed to charge whatever they liked. ‘The price of boots to-day is a scandal, but high prices are not uniform all over Australia, as one can buy boots in Melbourne at 10s. per pair cheaper than in Sydney. The reason is that the Combines in Sydney are strong enough to keep up the prices to whatever they like. There are beautiful boot shops in Sydney, and more are opening, and one is led to believe that there is strong competition between the different retailers, when, as a matter of fact, most of these large establishments are under the control of a huge Combine, which charges practically what it likes. It is an impossibility for any working man in this country to send his children to school in suitable boots, when a pair of boots for a child of three or four years costs as much to-day as did a pair for an adult before” the war. . The widows of our soldiers are appealing through the. press for assistance, and asking whether, the Government cannot prevent the dastardly actions of the profiteers. The question I asked in the Senate to-day was prompted by the widow of a soldier, who has a family of five to support, and who asked me if I could not get something from ‘ the £1,000 given by General Pau in order to purchaseboots for her children. I told her that that was improbable, but said I would ask a question to. ascertain what could be done. This is surely permissible, because the Government do not appear to be making any attempt to reduce prices. It does not want powder and shot to blow these men off the face of the earth, but only prompt action on the part’ of the Government. The Government should tell the profiteers that they will stock the Northern Territory with cattle, and produce the hides necessary for the manufacture of boots, and prices would come down at once. The profiteers know that they are behind the Government, and are the men who placed them in power. The profiteers found the money to support the Government followers, and, naturally, the Government are afraid to grapple with a great question like this. I hope the Prime Minister will carry out his threat and tackle this question at the root. Senator Fairbairn said that he did not single out any particular section of the community; we do not want to do that, but we want to handle the whole lot. We have let the hide producers and leather merchants loose, and they are influencing other profiteers to rob the people. It is a worldwide movement, and can we. wonder why there is crime, industrial unrest, discontent, and strikes ? We cannot wonder at the people being in a state of revolution when steps are not taken by the Government to prevent high prices. Can we wonder why the people rise and endeavour to get justice? Revolution must come, but not such a revolution as we usually know, where people are hanged and slaughtered, but one that means sweeping out of existence any Government or properly constituted power that stands idly by without endeavouring to prevent this grievous wrong. In Sydney there is a boot manufacturer - a member of the Australian Labour party, and who was a representative of a -working constituency until he resigned - who endeavouredto sell at reasonable prices to the consumer. His boots were marked “ all one price;” “Straight from manufacturer to wearer.” But now he is doomed, and lias to give up because he cannot obtain a living, unless he falls into line with the Combine and buys his leather at their price. .The Government should help men of that description. Instead of threatening profiteers the Government should deal with them and bring them to their senses. In every direction we can see huge buildings being erected, and that could not be done unless manufacturers were making huge profits. Yesterday I went down the street to buy a shirt to keep me warm in this ice-chest, and on selecting a suitable article was informed that the price was 19s. 6d. ‘ Naturally I did not buy, but eventually purchased one at 12s. 6d., which I suppose did not cost more than 3s. 6d. to produce. I do not think the profits are going to the retailers, because according to the report of the InterState Commission, they are only receiving a little more thani before the war. The manufacturers and the “ boodleiers “ are those who are making excessive profits, and instead of receiving, say, 10 per cent, profit, which is a fair return on capital, they are making 75 and 100 per cent. If they had not watered their stock by increasing the number of shareholders they would have made even 200 per cent. “We have been told that we cannot constitutionally prevent profiteering. I have no respect for the interpreters of our Constitution, because their rulings have only to be taken to the Privy Council to be upset. Our Constitution was not framed by the people of this country. It is merely a copy of the American Constitution, which is over a hundred years old. The people of America would alter their Constitution if they had the power. I am not appealing for those who smile and sneer, but for those who have- to suffer. Practically half of the people of Australia voted for an alteration of the Constitution, and the other half voted against it, but the minority has no redress. In Prance and Italy the Govern ment issued orders that prices were to be reduced to the people by 50 per cent., and that was immediately done. Are they prepared to do that here? Many honorable senators do not realize the seriousness of the position, but I. do, as I am brought into contact with poverty every day. Where I am living the people are faced with great adversity, and have to assist one another.. A day may come when we may have again to resort to “Prince Alberts,” and not only men and women, but little children, will have to go without boobs. Women are working without them to-day. Will the Government say that this is to continue, and that they have not the power or the right to interfere? If the Constitution is to be altered let us alter it at once, and whether it is done legally or not, the people will be behind the movement. This would be good platf orm stuff for me on the hustings, but I want action ta’ken immediately. I am anxious to see that the dependants of soldiers whose bones are lying in Gallipoli and Prance get a fair deal. The Government should be game enough to see that men who have fought for their country have an opportunity of supporting their families in reasonable comfort, but they cannot do it on the miserable pittance they are receiving. I am not blaming the Minister altogether, because he is doing what he can, but our constitutional powers are so limited that the Government are tied up and prevented from doing what they know to be right. If the Government deal with food and clothing now as they did during the war they need not go to the High Court to ascertain whether their action is constitutional or not, because the people will support them. I ask the Government to go into the question of not only boots and shoes, but, as Senator Fairbairn said, of every other article that affects the cost of living, and is required to keep body and soul together.
– So far as the motion moved by Senator Gardiner was intended as an indictment of the Government, it is disposed of by a remark of Senator McDougall, who candidly admitted that the Government’s constitutional power was little. That is the first answer to the charge made by Senator Gardiner.
– Why did you not take the greater powers when offered you ?
– Twice we gave the people an opportunity to grant them, and each time the proposal was turned down.
– On a later occasion when a Government, supported by honorable senators opposite, proposed to put a similar proposition to the people of this country, they, as well as senators on this side, agreed that it was inopportune to proceed.
– They trusted the National leaders in the State Parliament, who broke their word.
– By common agreement it. was decided not to proceed further at that time. There is no one in this House, or out of it, who expresses svmpathy towards the profiteers. True sympathizers with their victims are not those gentlemen who go round offering “ good platform stuff,” but those who are making a serious endeavour to try to understand and solve the problem. It is the easiest thing- in the world to make utterances which appeal to those who may be suffering, because one can work upon their feelings, but the way to solve this problem, which is world wide, extremely difficult and complex, is not by inciting people to violence, but by analyzing the situation to see whether we can discover some means of dealing with it. Some reference has been made to the fact that the Government, ‘having proceeded with the Commercial Activities Bill, could have extended that measure soas to make it include other commodities than those which it covers. It is admitted by those who make this statement that in peace time the constitutional powers of the Government in . regard to ‘price fixing are a negative factor. But it is urged that the Government do possess power in this case, as is shown by their introduction of the Commercial Activities Bill. May I remind honorable senators that the constitutionality of that measure rests entirely upon the connexion .. between the matters which it covers and the war itself? It is merely a clearing up pro cess which that Bill is intended to cover. A Bill which enables us to complete contracts made in time of war is a vastly different thing from a measure seeking to deal with all normal activities in time ofpeace. Some legal gentlemen have pointed out that the constitutionality of the Commercial Activities Bill will depend upon the Courts deciding that the period over which it is intended to operate is a reasonable one. They have pointed out that the more we extend that period, the more we shall call into question the constitutionality of the measure. In the same way we shall imperil its validity if we increase the number of subjects which are covered by it. It is not long since honorable senators on both sides of the chamber were clamouring for the repeal of our War Precautions Act. Without differentiating between political par-ties, there was a unanimous demand made in that direction. That demand came with great vehemence from the other side. Even my colleague, . Senator Pratten, demanded, in terms of indignation, that we should immediately tear up that measure, because the Peace Treaty had been signed. Yet now honorable senators come along and ask us to exercise the authority given under that Act.
– Who asked that?
– The members of your own side. T repeat that a general effort was made to influence the Government to get rid of the War Precautions Act at the earliest possible moment. The Government promised to do so, and have proceeded to give effect to their promise as rapidly as possible. Regarding the rise in the price of leather, everybody admits that that has occurred, not because of profiteering activities here, but because of that sharp increase of price which has taken place in Europe consequent upon the condition which Senator Gardiner has described. Owing to the effects of five years of war, the supplies of leather have become exhausted, and now that peace has been re-established, there is an intense demand for it, with necessarily high prices. Senator Gardiner admits thlat. Australia then has to face the question of whether it will sell its goods in the markets of the world, and get the benefit of these high prices, or whether it will offer them at lower prices. Senator Gardiner’s contention is that some middleman steps in and takes’ the profits. I would like ‘him to say whether he insists that the producers of this country should sell their products for less than the world’s parity?
– I certainly say nothing of the kind. I will reply to the Minister for Repatriation at theproper time.
– How can the honorable senator take advantage of the world’s parity unless the prices of these commodities are high in Australia?
– The producer does not get the benefit of those prices.
– Suppose that he does not. Whether the producer exports the hide or some middleman exports it, it will be sold inEurope at the world’s parity, unless we compel its sale for less.
– Did the farmer get the world’s parity for his wheat?
– Either the honorable senator wants the producer to get the full market value of his commodities or he does not. If he does, he cannot give him that full parity by reducing prices. We can, I admit, eliminate the middleman. But that will not result in reduced prices. Suppose that the producers did their own exporting, they would still get the world’s parity for their goods. There is only one way in which we can prevent that, namely, by some parliamentary authority stepping in and saying to the producers, “ Whilst you can get £ 1 for an article exported to Great Britain, you shall sell it here for 10s.” Whilst certain persons in our midst, during a transition period, may be reaping high profits, I refuse to believe that the producers will long allow their operations to be continued. We cannot secure to Australian consumers articles cheaper than the world’s parity unless we compel those who produce them to sell them for less.
– Are our woolgrowers getting the world’s parity for their wool?
– They were getting; more than the world’s parity when they sold it. If I sold my honorable friend a horse for £10, and to-morrow its valuerose to £15, would he give me another £5? The wool bargain, when it wasmade, was a perfectly fair one, and because the world’s parity for wool has increased, our wool-growers have nogrievance. They sold for a price that they were mighty glad to get at the time. Had the market gone down, would they have abated their price? Certainly not. But I have no desire to labour this point. Whilst I have endeavoured to do so, I have been unable to discover any way of securing to the Australian consumer an article at a lower price than the world’s parity without penalizing the producer.. All that we hear in regard to profiteering,, and to the great difference which existsbetween the price which the consumer pays and the price which the producer” gets, arises, in my opinion, from our extremely cumbersome and wasteful system of distribution. Honorable senator s may go to any suburb they choose and traceany article they like from the farm on which it is produced to the home in which it is consumed’. They will then see the multiplicity of hands through which itpasses. Each of those hands extracts a living from it. The most effective way of cheapening commodities to the Australian consumer is by devising a better system of distribution.
– By co-operation.
– Co-operation, not merely between the producers themselves, but between the producers and the consumers. It is positively ludicrous to contemplate the multiplicity of little shops which are to be found in a short street. Recently I took a walk between two cross streets - a walk which did not occupy five minutes - and in that thoroughfare I discovered three confectioners’ shops, two tea shops, and threegreengrocers’ shops.
– How many “pubs”?
– It was after 6 o’clock, so I did not look for them. Any one of those shops could carry on thebusiness of’ the whole three of them.
– Come over here.
– My honorable friends are not directing their mental efforts to a solution of this problem alongthe lines I have indicated. They are rather seeking to create a belief in the minds of the people that there is- an organized effort being made to fleece them.
– The people are convinced of it.
– The world has been frequently convinced of many things which upon investigation have been proved to be either inevitable or not to exist at all. I (have very much greater hope that relief to the consumers will be gained by remodelling our distributing system upon lines which I do not propose to indicate now- lines which will permit of the elimination of the wasteful effort which , at present obtains.
– That means, to some degree, an extension of the Socialistic principle.
– It is necessary for the honorable senator to define what he aneans by “Socialistic.” If a number of people combine to do collectively something which they can do better that way than they can do it individually,” I do not regard that as Socialism. Socialism is generally understood as a movement to destroy individual effort. That which, although done collectively, is done to stimulate individual effort, . is not Socialism.
There is just one other matter to which I desire to address myself. Honorable senators must recollect the position in which Australia stands to-day. We are carrying an enormous burden of debt. Hardly an orator mounts a public platform without reminding the people of the prime necessity for stimulating production, in order to enable us to carry that burden. We shall not help ourselves to carry it if we deprive our producers of the full value of the market which is open to them,or if we adopt the altruistic attitude of selling our supplies abroad for less than the world is willing to pay for them, in order that we may consume similar commodities at lower prices than at present obtain. It is of the utmost importance to the Common1 wealth that the prices of our primary products should be high. Every increase that we get for our wool, our leather, our meat, or our metals means so much additional wealth coming into Australia. Do honorable senators wish to stop that? Yet that is the effect of what they are advocating, unless they are going to say to the producers, “You shall sell your commodities in Australia at a fixed price, and the surplus you may export and get whatever price you can for it.”
– There is another remedy, namely, to increase wages.
– Increased wages will not make the price of boots in the shops any cheaper.
– Where shall we get the money with which to pay high wages if we do not export?
– I am not now discussing the question of the distribution of the article produced. I am endeavouring to show that Australia, carrying, as she does, this enormous burden of debt, must be very careful indeed of any steps she may take which are likely to affect the amount of money she receives for the produce which she sends abroad. That is only applying to the nation the same principle as we adopt for ourselves. I admit that the position to-day is such that unlessa remedy be found for it, or unless it eases up naturally, we shall be called upon to face a crisis.
– You will get it, too.
– I admit that, and I admit also the sinister suggestion contained in the interjection by Senator Grant, and thoroughly understand it. But that is not the way to solve the difficulty.
– I know how to solve it, and so does the honorable senator.
– I apologize to the Senate if I have unconsciously put a thought into the mind of Senator Grant as a result of which he will inflict another land-tax oration upon honorable senators. This matter is too serious and complicated to be dealt with by mere generalities, and honorable senators who content themselves with general accusations and do not direct their minds to an honest endeavour to solve the problem are not helping the victims of profiteering or the country itself.
– Senator Millen’s concluding remarks were very interesting, and pertinent to the subject under discussion. He says that it is the duty of Australia, in order that we may meet our great war debt, to add to the wealth of the country by exporting its products. That is a very sound policy, but what I am amazed at is that producers in this rich Australia of ours are exporting their products to other parts of the world and selling them there at a lower price than is charged to the local consumer. That applies not only to leather, hides, and footwear, but also to meat. If I may be pardoned for a brief reference to meat, I may say that, although we raise the meat here in Australia, it is being sold in London much more cheaply than to the local consumer in Australia. Senator Mulcahy. - Is the honorable senator speaking of the retail . prices in both places ?
– I am speaking of the retail prices. My statement is open to investigation, and it is a fact.
– I think that the honorable senator has been misinformed.
– What is the price of meat in London ?
– I can tell the honorable senator that meat for which people are paying ls. 3d. per lb. in Melbourne is being sold in London for 5fd. per lb.
– That is a grossly inaccurate statement.
– I repeat it, and the statement is correct. In Australia we raise the cattle, tan the hides, and make the boots, and, strange to say, we are paying more for boots to-day than is paid for them in many other parts of the world .
– We pay higher wages for making them.
– I admit that, but that does not account for the disparity between the price of leather here and elsewhere. An embargo was placed on the export of leather some time ago by the Government. During the operation of that embargo the price of boots was higher, in my opinion-, than it should have been, but immediately the embargo was lifted the price of boots rapidly rose still higher. I should like to add that the leather that is being used in ‘ Australia is not the best that Australia produces. I speak as a father of a family, and I know that it costs 4s. 9d. for halfsoling the boots worn by a boy of mine, nine years of age. Those half-soles are worn out in about -a fortnight. How is itpossible for the father of five or six children, receiving £3 a week, to pay such prices ? We know how children wear out their boots, and while, if the leather supplied were of good quality, the position here would not be so bad, the fact is that the leather retained here is inferior, and the best leather produced in this country is sent abroad and is there sold at a lower price than is charged for leather of an inferior quality sold in Australia.
– That is a difficult statement to swallow. The honorable senator says that we are sending away our best leather and selling it abroad at a lower price than is obtained for inferior leather here. That is an astounding statement.
– If Senator Mulcahy is astounded by mv statement, I invite him to disprove it. I believe that the embargo on the export of leather should be reimposed. If it were, it would lead to some reduction in the prices charged here for leather and for boots.
A remarkable thing in connexion with profiteering is that the first thing the Government did when the Armistice was declared was to abolish their price-fixing under the War Precautions Act, and the last thing -they did was to remove the restrictions on liberty and freedom of speech. A certain amount of censorship still exists. Ever since the price-fixing regulations were abolished, the prices of various commodities have been soaring ‘up day after day. We have been informed through the press that, on his return, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is going to fight the Bolsheviks and profiteers. Senator Gardiner has made a reference to the meaning of “ Bolshevism,” and I think we know very well what the word means.
The term “ Bolshevik “ is hurled against members of the party on this side in a very insulting way. If there are Bolsheviks in this country, they are the supporters of the party opposite and of the Ministry governing Australia to-day; they are the men who are battening on the community as a result of the war and the blood spilt during it. They are the true Bolsheviks within the meaning of the term as used by the Prime Minister and those who support him.
There is a way to settle this matter of the high prices of leather and other necessary commodities. Constitutionally, this Parliament has not the power to deal with the matter, and I say that the Government should at once submit to the people proposals for the alterationof the Constitution to give this Parliament the necessary power.
– That is what honorable senators opposite are after.
- Senator Bakhap says, noisily and angrily. that that is what we are all after.
– But he agreed to the War Precautions Act.
– I am one ot those who opposed its extension.
– Under the War Precautions Act the Government could do all that they desired to do.
– Being in a state of war at the time, we had the power to pass the War Precautions Act.
– As Senator Bakhap knows, the War Precautions Act practically abolished this Parliament.
– This Parliament passed the War Precautions Act because it was constitutionally competent for it to do so in a time of war.
– The War Precautions Act abolished this Parliament, and gave to the Government of the day arbitrary powers, which we know were used in a certain way. We are now informed that the Government intend to continue the exercise of those arbitrary powers for the fixing of the prices of certain products. As Senator Gardiner has already contended, if they have the power to fix the price of sugar and butter, they can also fix the prices of other commodities. It is a poor consolation to the chil dren who have to go barefooted to school to-day to be told that they may be helped when we have altered the Constitution. The. Government can act in this matter of the regulation of prices if they desire to do so. In my opinion, they do not desire to do so.
Senator Bakhap this morning asked a question about the price of bread. The reply he obtained was not very consoling to the people of this country, although it was . no doubt entirely satisfactory to himself. He was informed that, according to statistical records, bread is dearer in other countries than it is here. That is no consolation to the fathers or mothers of children in Australia who cannot procure sufficient bread for them because of the high price charged for it.
– They have a poor chance to get it anywhere else if they cannot buy it here.
– They cannot buy it here. Prom day to day it is brought under my notice that men and women here in Melbourne, at the Seat of the Government of the Commonwealth, though in continuous employment, cannot buy sufficient bread for their children because of the high price charged for it. It is no consolation to these parents to be told that bread is dearer beyond the seas than it is here. That will not feed the hungry who are here.
It is . well that this matter has been brought before the Senate by Senator Gardiner in order that the people may be given some idea as to what should be done to save them from the profiteer. If the Government would re-impose the embargo on the exportation of leather that would help considerably to secure cheaper boots for the people.
– When I entered the Senate chamber this morning I did not anticipate that the matter now under discussion would be a subject of debate. For some time past it has been my intention, when a suitable opportunity offered, to speak on this question of prices, which is so agitating the minds of many people. I find this morning, what has been evident to me for some time past, that this cry about profiteering is going to be used by certain people in this Parliament, irrespective of party, and, in fact, is going to be advanced as an argument for an attack upon the Federal Constitution.
– Do you regard the Constitution as sacred ?
– It is not absolutely sacrosanct; but I am going to. do what I can to prevent unnecessary and superabundant powers being conferred upon this Parliament.
In discussing a matter such as this world-wide rise in prices, let me say that it is essential for the prestige and dignity of a responsible Parliament, representing what is supposed to be one of the best educated Democracies in the world, that we should notindulge in fustian; that this subject, which has employed the energies of some of the ablest economic minds in the world - minds well disposed to the ideals of Democracy - should be considered by our politicians, who ought to be practical philosophers, without tearing passion to tatters. There is a tendency to ignore the operations of fundamental economic laws, and to confuse them with the exceptional and occasional avarice of individuals, which can always be found in every community because of the vagaries of human nature, but which, even though we may acknowledge its existence, constitutes but a very small factor in this world-wide rise in prices. I am not one of those who honour avarice, but it is desirable, in the interests of the nation, to encourage thrift. I do not think that honour should be paid to a person because of his wealth, if the possession of that wealth be not accompanied by other qualities, which humanity for ages past has agreed to honour.
If I may say so, without arrogance and egotism, I hope to discuss this subject without passion, but with a recognition of those economic and industrial forces which are operating throughout the world. It seems to me that when senators ask the Government to do this and that to bring down the price of commodities, they are ignoring certain economic factors which, as I have said, the very best men in the world have agreed to regard as highly important. In the first place, articles of prime necessity, produced in Australia, can be sold, without exception, outside of the Commonwealth, at a profit, proving beyond all doubt that local prices are not higher than elsewhere. Butter, when there is a superfluity in production, can be sold most profitably in outside markets. Wheat, flour, and wool,. cheese and meat can be similarly disposed of. In normal times our harvests are so bountiful that it is necessary to export at least one-half of the wheat produced in Australia. All articles of prime necessity can be marketed to advantage in the markets of the Old World as well as in the older world of Asia. This being so., does it not follow, and is it not plain to every one, that prices in Australia are not abnormally high, and that the situation here must be considered in its relation to world-wide increases in all commodities ? This movement has been going on for a very long time. Let us recognise that this rise in the price of commodities is one of the results that might have been expected from the withdrawal of about 20,000,000 of the world’s very best and most vigorous manhood from productive enterprises to engage in warfare for about four years. Does not this fact lead any ordinary mind to the supposition that commodities are not at the present time in such abundance as they were, before the war, and that necessarily prices must rise ? International trade is of such volume and extent that higher prices in any one country must be reflected in the country of production. Have we forgotten also that paper money has been issued to the extent of hundreds of millions of pounds in every civilized, and, indeed, in every partially civilized country? We learned from the cable news the other day that the ‘ British Government had increased the circulation of paper money to the extent, of £260,000,000, and I have some figures relating, to paper currency taken from an important French publication. I did not expect to take part in this debate, and so I must translate the information as briefly as I can. I find that on the 1st January, 1914, there was in circulation in France six milliards in bank notes and four milliards in gold. To-day there is a circulation of 33 milliards in notes. I have even seen French bank notes of the value of 25 centimes (about 21/2d.) in the hands of returned soldiers in Tasmania.
– They would be municipal notes.
– I have also seen Belgian notes of very low denomination and German notes, taken from prisoners, of the value of one mark. English Treasury notes of the value of 5s. have been issued, and I have heard that notes were issued down to the value of 2s. 6d. In Russia, during recent years, bank notes have been issued of the value of one kopeck, a denomination so low as to be worth no consideration at all in Australia. With this tremendous volume of paper money thrown upon the world., and with 20,000,000 of the young men withdrawn from production, might we not expect that commodities should increase in price? Is it not a fact that paper money is automatically discounted by a rise in prices, and therefore should not this factor receive the careful attention of every politician who, if he is worth anything in that capacity, should be an economist?
I would like to say a few words about butter, cheese, meat, hides, and tin. I have some knowledge of what are regarded as cheap-labour countries, and I remind honorable senators that in China, where there is a population of 300,000,000- some people say 400,000,000 - there is a very vigorous peasantry; perhaps the best nourished in the world, and certainly the best nourished for their number. In that cheap-labour country the price of pork, fowls, and bacon is higher than in Australia. In China, no big millionaire combinations have been operating for years to bring about a rise in prices as is alleged in other countries, and accompanying this movement there has, too, been a rise in wages. All this is going on in a country which, till recently, had no relation with the commercial systems of other nations which are undergoing the same experience. How, then, can anyone, with a knowledge of the intricacies of these laws, get up and ask the Government to do something equivalent to an attempt to dam the waters of the Atlantic with a mop ? Nothing less than the employment of those 20,000,000 men who have been withdrawn from production for several years to engage in war will bring about a fall in prices.
I intend now to say something about our local prices for bread, butter, cheese, and meat. In another place a recentlyelected member of the farming community, whose speech might well be perused by honorable senators, voiced the views of the primary producers and showed, beyond all doubt, that people engaged in dairying in Victoria at the present time were not receiving 9d. per hour for their labour. Do honorable senators who are clamouring about the price of commodities desire a return to the times when our farmers got 6d. per lb. for their butter ? Go on the land ! Yes, go on the land, and produce commodities at these prices for people who live in the congested cities of this country. Is that what honorable senators want? Bread is cheaper in -this country than in any other.. What do honorable senators want ?
– We want to see bread down to 3d. per 2-lb. loaf.
– I would like to give honorable senators some information about the lives of some people who are on the land. The other -day I met an old friend of mine who, like myself, had been a miner and adventurer in many places. Over a friendly drink we were discussing the high prices of commodities here, and I alluded to the fact that butter was 2s. per lb. He said he was surprised it was not 4s., and told me of a mutual friend’s experience in the dairying industry. He said that our friend had bought 25 dairy cows and engaged a certain number of men to help him in connexion with the business. When Christmas time came round he said to them - “ I suppose you are off to the sports at the township.” They replied that they were, whereupon he expressed the hope that they would have a good time. “But,” he added, “be sure and come back to-night to milk the cows.” They then informed him that they were off for a week’s holiday. Naturally he resented this intimation, because, as he pointed out, he could not attend to the- milking himself singlehanded. One word led to another, with the result, finally, that they told him they were not going to milk his cattle and that he could emigrate to Bulgaria or some equally unpleasant and inhospitable country. This gentleman, of course, went out of the dairy business. I know another friend who combined the business of dairying with that of hotelkeeping in a mining district. His wife ran the hotel in the day-time. He had exactly the same experience. In his case the men went away for a fortnight, and told him he could do what he liked ; they did not care whether his cows were steam engines or not, and this, notwithstanding that he offered a fortnight’s holiday, on full pay, at the end of the milking season. This man also does not see much that is attractive in the dairying industry. And I might go on to point out that the butter factory in that district, at which formerly 1 tons of cream per month was delivered, now gets less than 3 tons. In the face of these experiences, naturally my friend expressed surprise that the price of butter was not 4s. per lb. The only people who find this occupation at all profitable are the men with wives and children, who have some sort of family or co-operative interest in the business. They stick together and they get on very well, doing somewhat better now than fifteen or twenty years ago.
– The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I was glad to have the admission from Senator Fairbairn, during the course of this debate; that the increase in the prices of the necessaries of life is responsible for all the industrial discontent at present existing in this country. No statement made on this side of the Senate has been stronger than that, and I welcome it because I believe it to be true - coming from such a source. The remarks of Senator Millen were interesting, but he cleverly evaded the real point at issue. Ifc is incontrovertible that, immediately the Government raised the prohibition upon the exportation of hides, up went the price of leather, and the people had to pay from 25 per cent, to 50 per cent, more for their shoes and boots. Do the
Government regard themselves as powerless to keep down the constant increasein the prices of our daily necessaries? The Government were actually responsible for the recent rise in the price of shoes, and they should not forget that the price at the time was quite 50 per cent, above the quotations ruling prior to the war. The embargo on the exportation of. leather was lifted on 14th May last. That followed a conference between primary producers, the meat companies, hide brokers, and tanners. Immediately the country was over-run with American and. overseas buyers. The pre-war price of sole leather, taking July, 1914, as a basis, was 14cl. to 16d. per lb. The. price fixed by the Federal Government in 1917 was 21d. per’ lb. The present price is from 24d. to 30d., and still the figure is soaring. Since Senator Millen has invited suggestions, which he said would be welcome if they were likely to have any effect on exorbitant prices, I submit this practical proposal, namely, that the Government re-impose the embargo on the export of leather and hides, except at a certain figure. Until the people of Australia can secure boot leather at something like reasonable cost the Government will be justified in continuing that embargo. Senator Millen admitted that profiteering was going on in our midst, and he agreed that it was due chiefly to the middleman. Surely something can be done to put a limit on his operations. There is an enormous margin between the price paid to the producer for his hides and the cost to the consumer for the finished article. The middleman gets it. Senator Millen says, however, that the Government have not the necessary power. What will be the nature of his reply when the Minister is asked how far he is prepared to go in recommending that the people grant the Federal Government increased powers under the Constitution ? In connexion with the Commercial Activities Bill the Government propose to extend the powers granted them under the War Precautions regulations, but in relation only to dairy produce, sugar, wool and flax.
– It is not those articles about which we are concerned, but the completion of contracts.
– Do the Government say that they could not have extended the operations of those regulations ? No doubt, that will be Senator Millen’s reply when he is asked the question in the course of the debate upon the measure to which I have just alluded. When the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) returns to Australia an interesting position will arise. He has announced his intention to fight with tooth and claw relentlessly to lie end the Bolsheviks and the profiteers. How is he going to fight those latter gentry ? What a farce it is ! The Prime Minister announces one course of procedure, while a fellow member of his Cabinet, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Millen) states that the Government- have no power to fight the profiteers. As a matter of fact, both statements are empty and farcical. Neither will bring comfort to the people. What the public would prefer to hear is just how far the Government are prepared to go’ in extending the Federal authority during that difficult period when we must wait for the consent of the people for additional constitutional powers. If the Government had the interests of the people really at heart, they would, without the loss of one day, ask the people to grant the powers required. The various State Governments, with one accord, seek to shift blame for inaction on to the shoulders of the Federal . authorities ; and the Commonwealth Government, in their turn, endeavour to thrust the responsibility back on to the States. Each authority hides behind the other.
– The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) stated definitely that the Government had not the necessary powers.
– What is the use of the Government saying they have not the power unless they state, at the same time, that they intend to seek the power?
– Even if the Government said that, it would require too long to get it for us to be able to use it to deal with this immediate problem.
– Then must the Government wait idly for the extension of the constitutional power ? Cannot they take some steps meanwhile ? Even if they had not legally the power, I am con vinced that the people would be willing to acquiesce in the Government straining the Constitution somewhat in their efforts to grapple with the problem of profiteering.
– Rabbit skins are worth about l0d. to-day. Would the honorable senator use the War Precautions Act to bring the price down to prewar figures?
– We do not eat rabbit skins, and I shall not discuss the subject. I am interested just now in the cost of the people’s foodstuffs, and the Government, together with their supporters, go with me so far as to admit that Australia is facing a crisis. Yet the Government reiterate that they have no power.
SenatorDE LARGIE (Western Australia) [12.59]. - The Senate must be grateful to Senator Gardiner for having initiated this debate. It is evident, however, that those who howl the loudest about profiteering have given the subject the least attention. Senator Gardiner should haveknown better than to reply as he did to an interjection of mine relating to- the wheat industry. His response showed that he had given no attention to the subject.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
– I do not suggest that a. senator should be familiar with the details of every industry in Australia-, but it is his duty to have some knowledge of what is undoubtedly the greatest industry of Australia - the wheat industry. . Senator Gardiner evidently is not aware that the wheat industry is the most sweated industry we have in the country. He is actually advocating a policy which, if put- into practice, would really accentuate the conditions every fair-minded man should deplore. We have only to consider the price of bread and wheat in Australia during recent years to understand the true meaning of further reducing the price. Senator Gardiner referred to the condition of the wheat, and the manner in which it has been attacked by mice and weevil, but these conditions (have been brought about solely owing to the absence of “shipping facilities. If we were to reduce the price of bread, who would lose by it? The losers would be those who, by the sweat of their brow, are carrying on this great industry. Does he think that the workers in the wheat industry should be sweated to provide cheap ‘bread for the men in the city who are in receipt of from 50 to 100 -per cent, higher wages than the rural worker? It would be disgraceful if anything were done in the direction Senator Gardiner suggests. I do not intend to speak by and large, but to give actual facts of prices obtaining ki, Australia. The price of wheat in Australia is fairly well known, but it is not generally realized that during the warAustralian wheat has been sold at the lowest price of any farm product in the world. In America, the producer has been getting 9s. 2d. per .bushel for his wheat, whilst our farmers have been receiving a miserable pittance of 4s. per bushel.
– In other words, the farmer has been making a hig loan to the Empire.
– In days of prosperity, when other workers were doing fairly -well, the farmers of Australia were grinding away at low rates of wages. I have obtained from the Government Statist some figures . showing the variations of the price of bread in Australia. In spite of the reasonable bread prices ruling during recent years, we find men in this Senate deploring the cost of the necessaries of life. Senator O’Keefe made such a statement, and when I asked him what particular line he was referring to, he did not reply. I ask -him to realize the conditions of the men who are employed in producing bread, meat, sugar, ‘butter, and milk, and, at the same time, to consider the price of those articles to see whether there is anything unfair in what they receive. With the exception of the sugar, decent wages are not ‘paid to any of the men responsible for raising those products. On the whole, the middlemen have little to do with the price of the articles I have referred to, which are all necessaries of life. The middleman does not affect the price of sugar, and, although the wages paid in that industry- are fairly high, the retail price of the commodity is only 3Jd. per lb. We are getting the cheapest sugar in the world. In the dairying industry, the men work very long hours for 365 days in the year, and’, if honorable senators really want thefacts they will find them in the report of the Inter-State Commission, where a very vivid picture is drawn of the degradation that exists amongst those who handle milk. What does Senator Gardiner propose doing to improve the conditions of these workers? What doesSenator O’Keefe suggest - further reduction of prices and more sweating for those who work on cow farms ?
– I did not have time to make suggestions.
– You took great care not to; you side-stepped.
– You took care tocut into my fifteen minutes.
– I intend giving the price of certain articles.
– Refer specifically to leather and the lifting of the embargo.
– This has nothing to do with leather. I am dealing with the prices of the necessaries of lifeto which the honorable senator referred.
– They can be used only as an illustration, because the standing orderis definite. The adjournment of the Housewas moved to deal with a specific subject, and the discussion must be relevant. The question relates to ‘the price of hides, leather, hoots, and shoes, and the debate must be on that.
– I am quoting the prices of the necessaries of life to illustrate my argument. According to the figures of the Government Statist, the price of bread in Australia, in 1913 before the war, was, for a 2-lb. loaf, 3£d. ; in 1914, it was the same; and in 1915 it was raised to 4id. That was a year when a Labour Government was in office.. When Senator Gardiner was a Minister, prices reached their highest point. Did” he do anything- to prevent profiteering? Absolutely nothing ! In 1916, the price was reduced to 3-jd. ; and in 1917 and.’ 1918 it was the same. In 1919, up to the present time, the price of ai 2-lb. loaf has been 33/4 d. Considering our high social and prosperous conditions, bread at that price is dirt cheap, and is produced by sweated labour. The sweated labourers are the wheat-growers of Australia, and they are the men whose conditionsSenator Gardiner should endeavour to improve. But, apparently, he would degrade them still more. For two or three years we could not hear anything from Senator Needham but mice and weevil. He was in favour of the wheat being practically given away to enable the people to get cheap bread. Let him go into ourprincipal agricultural communities and see the men who are sweating at their work for twelve and thirteen hours a day for seven days a week, living inmiserable . hovels and wearing ragged clothes, and them see if he will cry out for cheap necessaries of life. It is disgraceful for men who come here to represent the people to make such statements. If they knew the actual conditions existing in our rural industries, they would be ashamed to open their mouths. If Senator Needham does not know that these awful conditions exist in Western Australia, then he has been neglecting his duty as a public man.
– You do not want cheap bread?
– I do not want sweating of any kind.
– It is leather we are talking about.
– If leather is to be cheap, we must have cheap beasts from which the hides can be taken. Do any honorable senators opposite ever suggest that the articles produced by town workers should be cheaper? Does Mr. Tudor ever talk about cheap hats? We must consider the cost of articles other than bread. Honorable senators opposite donot want to reduce the wages of the city workers, but they want them to enjoy cheap articles produced by other men. It is disgraceful to suggest that men who are doing the pioneering work in this country, and living like hermits, should be asked to produce cheap bread for such men as Senator Needham, Senator Gardiner, and their supporters. If there are poor and needy in our midst who cannot purchase the necessaries of life, it should be the duty of the Government to give subsidies to allow them, to get them at a lower figure. We should not have food . produced by one section of the community at a cheap rate at theexpense of -another section, but that, undoubtedly, is the attitude favoured by Senator Needlham, Senator O’Keefe, and
– No; but we use it. If there has been any undue inflation of the price of leather, we are quite prepared to deal with it; but I am referring more ‘particularly to the phase of the question mentioned by Senator Gardiner and Senator Needham. I know profiteering is. going on in the community; but I hold that profiteering is’ not confined solely to the middleman and the manufacturer, as there is profiteering in wages, to some extent, in this country. Why Should the farm labourer work for 9s. a day when the town labourer is receiving 13s. per day?. These are facts that cannot be ignored; and if we are going to stop profiteering, let -us consider it in all its phases.
-Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
.- I have listened to the debate on this matter with much interest, because I do not think Parliament could discuss a question that is of more importance to the whole of Australia than is this one. The question is not confined to Australia only, ‘but is a world-wide one. Honorable senators opposite have said that we in Australia are not suffering to the extent that people are suffering in other parts of the world. Yet it cannot be denied . that we are suffering from profiteering. I agree with the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) that the best thought of the community should’ be devoted to discovering a remedy for the existing state of things. The responsibility for ft must attach somewhere; and if we commence by sheeting home that responsibility to the proper quarter, we shall, at least, have taken one step towards relieving the sufferings of the consumers. I have a vivid recollection of a time, prior to the war, when some very talented gentlemen opposite travelled the length and breadth of Australia, telling the electors that they should not take to themselves certain necessary powers under our Constitution - powers that were essential to adequately protect them from the very evils under which they are labouring to-day. Senator Bakhap, in his contribution to the debate this morning, charged honorable senators on this side of the chamber with a desire to wreck the Constitution of the Commonwealth. I will plead guilty to a desire to wreck it to the extent of giving the people power to protect themselves from imposition.
– We are not going to give the honorable senator power to interfere with our internal trade, and perhaps to wreck it.
– I am one of those who believe that the people should have absolute power to give expression to their views through their parliamentary representatives. It is a stupid thing for us to be governed in the way that we are being governed to-day. When Senator Gardiner charged the Government with neglect this morning, the reply of Senator Millen was, “ You know very well that we would like to remedy this evil, but we have no power to do so.” The Government say they are powerless to remedy the existing condition of things, and we know that they are. Everybody is concerned about the evil of profiteering, and everybody has a remedy of his own. I know that, economically, many of those remedies are unsound. But the responsibility attaching to this evil must be placed upon the right shoulders - that is to say, upon the shoulders of the Government of this country; but for them, there would have been no restrictions imposed on the. powers of this Parliament.
– Does the honorable senator believe in the referendum ?
– I shall not shirk my task of saddling the people with a fair measure of responsibility, as well. But we foresaw the difficulties with which we are now confronted, and honestly attempted to remedy them. We told the electors of Australia that they should take to themselves sufficient power to enable them to give expression to their desires in . a legitimate way. But what did honorable senators opposite do? They stumped the country from one end to the other ; they made use of all the elements which are being used by the profiteers to-day, to mislead the electors and to induce them to restrict their own powers. Fancy a sane people imposing restrictions upon themselves. It reminds me of a man who cannot take three or four drinks and recognise that he has had enough, but who must go the whole hog, and whose only remedy for his drunkenness is to sign the pledge and write his name in a Bible, in the firm belief that these things will save him. The electors had the power to prevent the operations of the profiteer, and they refused to exercise it. Consequently, they are responsible for the High prices which we are paying for our commodities to-day. A good deal has been said by Senator de Largie about the farmers of this country. He has affirmed that we desire to see the primary producer getting the very least that is possible for the work that he does. I do not believe, for a moment, that any honorable senator wishes to see the farmer working for anything but a reasonable return for his enterprise. But honorable senators opposite, who loudly proclaim their desire to help the wheatgrower, were responsible for allowing the profiteers to fleece him of £150,000 during the past three or four months in connexion with the sale of bags. The Government purchased those bags for 5s. 6d. per dozen and sold them to a man who was not a farmer. The Government knew perfectly well that as soon as this individual got the 30,000 bales of bags he would sell them to the producers at a very much increased cost. It is stated, on the authority of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) that the balance of this stock of bags is now being sold to the profiteer for 9s. 8d. per dozen, and that he is selling them to the farmer for 15s. per dozen.
– In accordance with the arrangement which was made.
– The only arrangement which could have been made was one between the profiteer and the Government which sold the bags. The farmer is paying the difference between 9s. 8d. and 15s. per dozen.
– At what price can those bags be purchased in India now?
– They were bought last year by the Government, according to the Prime Minister’s statement, for 9s. 7 l-5d. per dozen. The Government sold them, not to the farmers of this country, but to the profiteers, who made out of them a profit of £150,000. Then the Government, in order to shield themselves, said that they would put into the Wheat Pool £117,000 out of the profit which they had made on bags, in order to reimburse the farmer for the £150,000 of which he had been robbed through their instrumentality. These figures are taken from Ministerial statements. Upon their own showing, the Government have made only £11,000 profit on the purchase of the bags.
– The honorable senator should know that for more than twelve months those bags were open for sale to anybody who would buy them.
– That does not matter. The Government have been accused, on more than one occasion, by the co-operative societies of the farmers with not allowing them a chance to purchase the bags at all.
– That statement is not true.
– Then the. honorable senator should contradict the statements which have been made in the daily press and in another place.
– For more than twelve months, those bags were open to purchase by anybody in the trade in Australia at 9s. 7d. per dozen.
– Then the Vice.President of the Executive Council contradicts the statement which was made bv the Acting Prime Minister in September of last year. Honorable senators opposite admit that profiteering is going on in this country. They have led the people to believe that they have an honest desire to remedy the evil if they can ; but they plead that they have not the power to do so. We fought two referendums on that question. I admit that the war has caused many problems to arise with which we were not previously confronted ; but if there is one thing more than another which it has demonstrated, it. is that there are certain persons in this country who resemble the thief who rushes into a man’s house when it is on fire, steals all that he can, and then gets away as quickly as he can. These persons, notwithstanding that the very existence of the Empire was threatened bv war, were prepared to avail themselves of every opportunity to fleece the people of this country to the limit. The supporters of the Government know perfectly well that profiteering is rampant in our midst. Yet no mention was made of it in the Ministerial statement, and no remedial proposal was outlined. Why did not the Government say frankly to the electors, “ There is only one way in which this evil can be remedied. In the first place, we must have a broader Constitution. We need to be armed with greater powers, and then we shall endeavour to free you from the disabilities under which you are suffering”? They have not done that. They have not embraced the opportunity to make themselves right with the electors of this country. Twice they have fought against enlarging the powers which have been conferred on this Parliament by our Constitution. Yet they now excuse their inaction in this matter of profiteering by declaring that they have not the power to deal with it.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– There is one thing on which honorable senators on both sides can agree. Profiteering is unquestionably going on, but it is certainly not confined to war time. Wherever there is trading, and persons hold stocks of goods that appreciate in value, they are entitled, under ordinary commercial laws, to make extra profits in proportion to that appreciation.
– In war time?
– In war time this occurs to a larger extent than at other times, because without any effort on the part of those who hold stocks of goods, there ds an appreciation in their value. Th, interference with shipping transport in itself causes great appreciation in the value of goods. I wish to deal with this matter from a trader’s point of view. I have had 40 years of experience of trading in Minderslane, and profess to know something about it. I suggest that this is a matter which should not be debated with party heat. It constitutes one of the biggest problems confronting not only the people of Australia, but of the civilized world.
It is quite idle to say that people are not taking advantage of the circumstances of the hour; but I wish to direct attention to the enormous complexity of the problem, whether it is handled by a Labour or by a Liberal Government. One may pass by a hundred shops in this commercial city of Melbourne and find a great many articles of the same character in each marked at the same price; but while some of the traders, in selling those articles at that price, may be doing a perfectly legitimate thing, and may not be profiteering in any sense, others who held stocks bought at pre-war prices may be guilty of it. We have to consider what profiteering is. In my view, profiteering is cornering. The profiteer is a man who deliberately takes steps to corner the supply of a particular article in order that he may subsequently exact an unfair profit from the sale of it. In a great many oases there is to-day an enormous appreciation in the raw materials of certain manufactures. That can be seen in the case of cotton goods. As a result, in the retail shops in Melbourne, to-day, the prices of cotton goods are three or four times as high as they were some time ago, but this inflation of prices is not profiteering.
– The dealers in woollen goods manufactured in Australia are the worst profiteers of the lot.
– Wool has brought higher prices because it is worth more in the markets of the world. Two things have probably combined to cause the increase in the price of wool - the disturbance due to the war, and the limited supply of the particular class of woolwhich is demanded at this time; because there are fashions even in wool. When I was a member of the Tasmanian Parliament, and at the same time a retailer carrying on business in Hobart, I was dealing in woollen materials in a pretty large way. The Government of the day, needing extra revenue, increased the ad valorem duty on woollen goods from 15 per cent, to 20 per cent. I happened to be doing a very fair business, and was fortunately in possession of a large stock of those goods. My next-door neighbour also had a large stock; but a good many of our neighbours in the same business, carrying on in a more or less handtomouth fashion, did not possess large stocks. My neighbour and I knew that, whatever we did at the time, sooner or later we should have to pay 5 per cent, more for woollen goods.
– Does not the foreigner pay the increase in price due to the imposition of protective duties?
– Senator Gardiner heed not ask such a question of a trader. The trader buys on the invoice value of goods, subject to the expense of importing them. That expense may be the expense of transport, plus the duty, whatever it may be, imposed at the port at which the goods are landed. My neighbour and I, having large stocks of woollen goods, knew that, sooner or later, we would have to pay 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, more for the same goods, subject to market fluctuations that apply in all cases, -and Consequently our policy was gradually to- advance our prices for such goods rather than to suddenly raise them. Let me tell honorable senators that it is not a simple matter to advance prices in the retail trade. If customers do not know as much as does the trader about all the goods in his warehouse, they very often know quite as much about a particular article. There are a great many standardized goods, and traders must be able to give a very solid reason for any advance in the prices of those goods, as their competitors would be likely to take advantage of any unreasonable rise in prices. I suggest to honorable senators that in advancing the price of woollen goods in the circumstances I have indicated, my neighbour and I were tak- ing only a legitimate advantage of the appreciation in the value of the goods due to the imposition of the extra duty. Honorable senators, if they are prepared to argue fairly, will admit this when they consider that, if the duty on woollen goods, instead of being advanced from 15 per cent, to 20 per cent., had been reduced from 15 per cent, to 10 per cent., the circumstances would have been all the other way. Producers of potatoes in Tasmania, who, -setting aside the difficulty due to the restriction of shipping and to the influenza epidemic, could, if they landed their produce in New South Wales or in Queensland, obtain £12 per ton for them, are charged with being profiteers for asking in Australia the proper value of that which they produce. They are not profiteers. If honorable senators charge them with being profiteers, what about the time when those same producers had to leave their potatoes in the ground because the price which they would fetch would not pay for the cost of digging them?
– Who gave them anything then?
– No one did. I have known potatoes to be sold in Tasmania in 1892 or 1893, I think, for from 15s. to 25s. per ton.
– We are dealing with the increase in the price of leather.
– I shall deal with the increase in the price of leather also. Is the man who has potatoes to sell to-day to be characterized “as a profiteer for charging what he is legitimately entitled to get for his produce? In the same way, why should not the man who produces hides, or the tanner who makes them into leather be allowed to obtain the market value for the article which he manufactures? We cannot attribute the increase in price to any Ring, although the middleman may come into the business to a certain extent. As Senator Millen has said, the middleman might to a considerable extent be done away with; but he cannot be done away with entirely, because he fulfils a necessary function in the interests of the community.
– Why should we pay more for an article here than is obtained for the same article overseas?
– I do not accept Senator Needham’s dictum. He told us this morning that something was sold in, London for53/4d. per lb. which cost1s. 3d. per lb. here.
– That is an absolute fact.
– I do not suggest that the honorable senator does not think so, but I believe that he has been misinformed, and he did not say what was the particular article to which hereferred.
– I told the honorable senator that I referred to meat.
– An Englishwoman told me that it was selling in London for from 2s.8d. to 3s. per lb.
– I have said that we are dealing with a most complex matter, and it is worthy of an honest inquiry, without party feeling. Such an honest inquiry into the question might very well be made.
Much has been made of the fact that this Parliament has not constitutionally the power to deal with this question, and it is suggested that the people should be asked by a referendum to give the necessary power. The referendum is an instrument of government which our friends opposite believe in, but for which they do not care . very much when its results are not in accordance with their own views. They forget that at a referendum the people of Australia declined to give these powers to the Commonwealth Parliament. I may say that I helped in that, whatever the value of my help was, and honorable senators on the other side freely blame the party on this side for the result of that referendum. They overlook the fact that a cardinal feature of our Federation is that the Commonwealth Parliament is only to do the work delegated to it bythe States who created it, and these States retained the power todeal with matters of domestic concern themselves. The people declined to transfer those powers, and did so by means of the instrument of government which our- honorable friends opposite have as a plank of their platform.
– Let us try it again, and the honorable senator will see.
– I do not believe in the referendum. In my opinion, the last two referenda disgraced the name of Australia.
To come back to the question of leather, honorable senators opposite do not follow out these things in their proper sequence, and I shall remind them of a little history. They probably know as well as I do that some years ago the tanners and curriers and other people engaged in the manufacture of leather appealed to Mr. Justice Higgins, in the Arbitration Court, for the betterment of their working conditions. As a result they got larger wages, shorter hours, and better conditions. That was due to a decision of the Arbitration Court, which a good many of our honorable friends opposite are denouncing to-day.
– The honorable senator has never heard a denunciation of the Court from any honorable senator on this side.
-I am not dealing with this as a personal matter. ‘ I refer to members of the Labour party elsewhere. Let honorable senators take a commonsense view of the question. What followed upon the adoption of more expensive methods of manufacturing leather ? Necessarily the tanners having to pay higher wages to their operatives raised the price of leather to meet the increased cost of manufacture. If honorable senators contend that the leather manufacturer should pay the increased cost, the answer is that he would be ruined straightway, and people’ do not go into a business to be ruined.’ The leather manufacturer had a right to demand and obtain a higher price for his leather. The price of leather went up. Whether it went up more than it ought to have done I cannot say, but if it did that would have been profiteering, and not legitimate. What naturally followed upon the increase in the price of leather was that the price of boots went up. A little later the boot operatives appealed to the same Judge in the Arbitration Court, and, finding that their conditions were not as good as they ought to be in a civilized country like Australia, he made an award which improved those conditions. What followed upon that? Naturally, a further rise in the price of boots. Was there any profiteering in that? Incidentally, I will admit that some men may try to obtain a larger profit than they are entitled to, because of an increase in the cost of manufacture. That is not confined to war-time. It goes on continually in trade and in other avenues as well. It is human nature, and a failing with which we must reckon whenconsidering this problem. The Government have tried to deal with the matter to a certain extent by the imposition of the war-time profits tax.
– Does the honorable senator call that trying to deal with the matter?
– I- cannot expect that honorable senators oppositewill agree with all that I say. A war-time profits tax was imposed, but whether it was sufficiently heavy will be a matter of opinion. My honorable friends opposite are often concerned to know who are the guardians of the profiteers and capitalists in Australia. I can soon tell them.
– Let us have it.
– They are the people who floated debentures for the benefit of a class of capitalists who do very little good for the community, and made those debentures free of taxation. That was done by a Treasurer of the Commonwealth.
– Who was that?
– A former Leader of the Labour party in another place.
– The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I realize that this is by no means an easy matter to solve, but the whole of the State Parliaments have the necessary power, although, unfortunately, they are dominated by the same type of representatives, the friends of the profiteers, as are to-day on the Ministerial benches in this Parliament. It would be too much to expect, in the present circumstances, that any of the State Parliaments would deal with the profiteers, because the Upper Houses of our State Parliaments practically control the whole of their legislation. The Commonwealth Parliament is elected by the whole of the people of Australia, and, in my opinion, should have power to deal with this problem.
– But you said just now that we were dominated lb)’ the profiteers.
– I stated that members of the Ministerial party very largely represented the profiteers, and that, in consequence, this Parliament is not at present prepared to legislate against their interests.
– And yet you want all the power to legislate conferred upon this Parliament.
– Because I am prepared to trust the Federal Parliament, although, unfortunately, at present the representatives of the profiteers are in possession of the Ministerial benches. Honorable senators opposite assure us that what is required to solve the present problem is more production, but that, in my judgment, would merely mean more profit for those who are already making substantial incomes, and it would not prove a successful solution of the difficulty. The Customs Act provides some remedy, although I am not quite sure that it would work out satisfactorily in the long run. T understand that, under the Customs Act, it is competent for the Minister to refuse permission for the exportation of any commodity should he deem it to be necessary, and I think that if the Minister looked into this question of the shortage of leather he might very well refuse to allow exportation until the whole of the requirements of the people of Australia had been met. But then we do not expect the present Minister for Customs, as a member of the Ministerial party to which I have referred, to do anything of the kind. There appears to be something suspicious’ about the action of the Government in passing regulations, with the concurrence of both Houses, to deal with wool and a number of other com modities, in which they are more or less directly concerned, and not dealing with leather in the same way. If it is a good thing to. deal with wool it should be equally good to deal with leather in this way. There is nothing to prevent the Government from prohibiting an undue exportation of leather, but there is a good deal to be said in favour of the contention that the producers are entitled to get the full market value for their produce. At the same time something should be done to see that a reasonable quantity, at least, of any commodity ;s kept in Australia for home consumption. It is not fair to the people to permit the whole of any product to be exported, if such exportation is likely to prejudice their interests. Fortunately, at the outbreak of the war we possessed a woollen mill of our own. ‘ In connexion with this matter it is always more or less amusing to me to hear honorable senators characterizing Australia as belonging to the people when, as a matter of fact, it belongs to a limited number of people only. The Commonwealth Woollen Mill really is the property of the people, and when the war broke out we were able to manufacture material required for our soldiers’ clothing. Thus we were able to say, with a fair degree of accuracy, what the cost was, and to lay down prices for the output of other woollen mills that had been commandeered. If it had not been for the existence of the Commonwealth Woollen Mill I have no doubt that Australia would have been called upon to pay a much larger sum than that which was accepted by manufacturers for woollen goods furnished by them. The experience in connexion with our woollen mill suggests a way out of the present difficulty so far as leather is concerned. The Government might find it advantageous to produce the leather, and so govern the price; but, unfortunately, we can hardly expect this Government to do anything like that. Personally, I think the Government and this Parliament ought to ,be clothed with full powers to deal with the price-fixing in a comprehensive way. Until we get that authority I am afraid we cannot do very much. It is just as well that the public should be candidly informed that so far as the present Government are concerned no relief can be expected from existing high prices. I am inclined to think, however, that in the near future the Government will be compelled to submit to the people, for their approval, amendments of the Constitution practically in accordance with those that were rejected on two previous occasions. If they do, we may depend upon it that the amendments will be accepted by a substantia] majority. In the meantime I hope the Government will instruct the Minister of Customs to prevent the export of leather or any other commodity that may be required in Australia. This is a perfectly fair request. Now that the War Precautions Act has gone by the board, the Government have left the poorer sections of the community at the mercy of the profiteers. It is a pity -that all the regulations were not repealed, because then the whole of the people would have had the same treatment. -The Government should, as soon as possible, submit the necessary amendments of the Constitution to the people so that when we have a fresh election, and Labour is returned to power, the profiteers may- be dealt with effectively.
– It was not my intention to speak in this debate,’ but I want to take advantage of this opportunity to say a few words in reply to Senator Barnes; to state certain facts, and protect the good name and reputation of my colleague the Minister for Customs (Mr. Greene), who is not guilty of the charge that hasbeen levelled against . him by Senator Barnes: Though the Minister for Customs has taken over the duties connected with the handling of cornsacks. probably I have had more to do with that matter, in recent years, than any other member of the Government. In 1915-16 there was a very heavy harvest in Australia, and a shortage of cornsacks, and a large quantity of wheat had to be stacked on the ground. We communicated . with the IndianGovernment with the object of importing cornsacks, but they definitely refused our request. The following season, when there was again the prospect of a ‘ shortage of cornsacks, we again communicated with the Indian Government, and by that time there was a jute controller in Calcutta. We succeeded ‘in obtaining bags at 9s. 71/2d., as Senator Barnes correctly indicated; but that was based on freight at 120s. and exchange at, roughly, 12 per cent. Senator Barnes said that we “ deluded them with a profit.” How was it made? It was by cutting out exchange to the extent of £72,000.
– Then you lost more than I said you did.
– Following that, we entered into negotiations with the Commonwealth line of steamers and with the British Government, and succeeded in reducing freight from 120s. to 80s. per ton. That is where the profits came in. But, after we had exhausted all British ships available, and all the Commonwealth line of vessels which we could secure, I found (myself in a position where I would have been compelled, had the season been normal, to engage at least four more boats to bring the balance of our order to Australia. The lowest offer made to me from a neutral source was £15 a ton. One shower of rain, had it fallen throughout the Commonwealth during the season in question, would have meant that the sum of £117,000, which was really a trust fund held in reserve, would have gone - in actual fact - to the owners of Japanese vessels by way of payment for bringing the balance of the cornsacks order here. I will not say that it was, by any means, a fortunate fact that Australia was undergoing a dry season; but, in view of the circumstances, I suspended negotiations for conveying the balance of. those bags to the Commonwealth, and thus saved the amount quoted in freight. The Indian Government then notified us - the armistice terms having been arranged - that they would not permit us . to buy any more bags in India. The condition set forth in the previous’ contract in regard to that matter was to the effect that we must distribute those bags through the usual distributing channels.
– The profiteers.
– That was honest business.
– I will not argue 1 the matter, but will confine myself to a statement of fact. That notification was received by the Commonwealth authorities from India, and. I recommended to the Cabinet to make known to the trade of Australia that we were no longer in the business. I recommended, further, that Ave should sell those bags at the earliest possible moment; and that was nearly eight months ago. I publicly advertised and sent out circulars, not only to the various firms in the business, but to co-operative societies and the farmers themselves; yet I could not sell a bag. The reason for that was that the Calcutta market had dropped. I began to wonder then whether that sum of £117,000 would be available, in view of the falling market. The offer remained open for six months; but there was not an individual firm in the trade, nor a farmer in the Commonwealth, who could not have bought those bags, and I would have thanked God and sold them. The bags were eventually sold under the usual contract conditions. _ The trade waited upon me- and the deputation included both cooperative societies and private enterprise - and the speakers begged the Government, seeing that there were so many bags in Australia, to relieve them of 25 per cent, of their contract obligations. I recommended that the Government should accede to that request. Cabinet approved, and the co-operative companies, which now say that they wanted to buy, were relieved by me of 25 per cent, of their written contracts, in view of the dry season.
The next stage was that a drought occurred in India, and the market went up. Upon her limited market, India started profiteering, and the reflection of that state of affairs was shown here. Indeed, I am very doubtful whether we shall be able to secure a sufficient quantity of bags for our requirements. Indian merchants seized the opportunity, and engaged in profiteering. ‘ We cannot in any way control the goods which we import from other countries. I was very firmly con vinced of that during the period in which I was concerned with price-fixing in another Commonwealth Department.
With the drought in India, there was a shortage of jute; but the same drought created a shortage of rice also. Therefore, I am profiteering to-day, in the interests of the farmers of Australia, because I am making full use of the opportunity to sell their wheat at the highest price in the eastern markets.
– That is not the wheat which you sold to .Georgeson?
– I am not prepared to discuss a question which is now before a Commission.
– It would not be discussing it if you were to answer m.’9 question.
– The whole of Australia is involved in profiteering, because of this opportunity to sell Australian wheat at the highest possible price to the people of Japan, India, Mesopotamia, and the East generally. I am not defending profiteering; and I am willing and anxious that the Commonwealth Constitutio’n should be extended at the earliest possible moment in order to give full and unlimited powers to this Par,liament to deal with profiteering. No honorable senator opposite could go further than I am prepared to go in that respect. Profiteering, however, is a big and complex question. We are selling wheat at 5s. to-day in Australia; but, owing to the conditions arising from the war, and very largely because of the shortage of freight, we are securing the last penny possible upon our foreign orders.
When the war broke out, there was no market for rabbit skins and rabbits. Subsequently we secured a contract, and controlled rabbit skins. Prices were fixed, and every one concerned was glad of the fact. The price increased to about 2s. per lb. for rabbit skins. The demand for that commodity was booming all over the world. Our system did not enable us to trace the individual suppliers of skins.
– You never tried to do so. We could have given the particulars to you in twenty-four hours.
– Order! The three hours allotted for the discussion of this motion have expired.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked tie Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
W.hat was the total commission paid in New South Wales in connexion with the last war loan campaign, and of that total how much was paid for subscriptions in the metropolitan area?
– Steps’ are being taken to secure the information desired.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice - r
– Inquiries will be made, and a reply furnished as soon as possible.
Senator - GRANT asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
13 he aware whether there exists an acute shortage of sugar in Sydney, so far as retailers are concerned?
If so, what steps, if any, are the Government taking to remedy any shortage?
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will ho lay on the table of the Senate a return showing -
The names of officials who went from Australia directly or indirectly connected with’, employed by, or attached to the Prime Minister on his last visit to Europe?
The total costs charged, or to be charged, to Australia in connexion with such officials, including their salaries, from the date oi their leaving Australia- till their return?
The total amount charged, or to be charged, to Australia for the expenses of the Prime Minister on the same visit to Europe from the date of his leaving Australia until his return, and the dates of his leaving and’ probable return?
Similar information in connexion with the visit of the Minister for the Navy and officials connected with, or employed by,, or attached to, his staff?
Similar information in connexion with the visit of the Minister for Defence and the officials connected with, or employed by, or attached to, his staff?
– It is not possible, at this juncture, to furnish the whole of the information; but the available information will be supplied as early as pos’sible.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he instruct the experts who have been examining the Blythe River iron deposits to make examinations of all the other discovered iron ore deposits within reasonable distance of the Blythe River mine which may present possibilities ‘of working the whole of the iron deposits of the district in which the Blythe River mine is situated, as one large associated proposition t
– The experts engaged by the Commonwealth Government are being employed to report . solely on the Blythe Baver deposits, and until their report has been received and perused, it is not considered advisable to authorize them to make further investigations.
Report of Ms. McLachlan.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
When will the report of Mr. Mclachlan, dealing with the organization of the Public Service, be laid on the table of the Senate?
– The report is now receiving consideration by the Government. I am’ unable to say when it will be available for publication.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I nquiry will be instituted into those questions.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by ‘ Senator Millen) read a first time.
Imprisoned Men from H.M.A.S. “ australia.”
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Has the Acting Minister for Defence any information to give concerning the boys from H.M.A.S. Australia who . have been imprisoned for infringing certain regulations? I understand they are confined in the Goulburn gaol, and that it is difficult for their parents to visit them owing to the longand costly journey involved.
.- - I have no later information, but I shall make inquiries regarding their position.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.46 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 8 August 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1919/19190808_senate_7_89/>.