8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T, Givens) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Senator E. D. Millen) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjournuntil 3 p.m. on a day to be fixed by Mr. President, which day of meeting will be notified by Mr. President to each senatorby telegram or letter.
Motion (by Senator E. D. Millen) agreedto-
That leave of absence.be granted to every memberof the Senate from the determination of the sitting this day to the day on which the Senate next meets.
– This afternoon Senator Fairbairn gave notice of motion with reference to the proposed new Department of Public Health.. Will the Leader of the Senate (Senator E. D. Millen) regard that notice as a sword of Damocles overhanging the whole proposal of the Government, and not proceed further until the Senate decides the question?
– The bloodthirsty, suggestion about the sword ofDamocles is rather , disturbing after the unanimity that marked the acceptance of the. two previous motions. All I can say is that I shall give the suggestion made by the honorable senator every consideration.
The following paper was presented : -
Defence Act. - Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1921, Nos. 87 and 88.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Senator PEARCE (for Senator Russell). The following answers are furnished by the Department of Trade and Customs: -
– Arising out of the answer, Mr.. President-
– Order! The honorable senator may not ask questions without notice at this stage.
– I only desire to draw attention to the statement that there is no such “ present” intention. The answer is not quite satisfactory.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked, the Leader, of. the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
-The answers are -
All payments have been made to the: Pacific Phosphate Company, but the last four items refer to amounts paid to employees of the Pacific. Phosphate Company as compensation for their loss of office.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Motions (by Senator de Largie) agreed to-
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the moving forthwith of a motion for the extension of time within which the Select Committee on Senate officials shall present its report to the Senate.
That the time for bringing up the report of the Committee be further extended to 31st August, 1921.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator E. D. Millen) proposed -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspendedas would prevent the Bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
– This, I understand, is a Bill for the purpose of varying the Act passed by the Senate some time ago. The contents of this Bill are not before honorable senators, and so I hesitate very much about giving my vote to suspend the Standing and Sessional Orders. The original proposal was passed somewhat reluctantly by the Senate.
The PRESIDEN T (Senator the Hon. T. Givens). - That is not a reason why the Standing and Sessional Orders should not be suspended to permit of the Bill passing through its stages without delay, though it may be a very good argument against the Bill itself. The honorable senator must confine himself to the question of the suspension of the Standing and Sessional Orders.
– Will I be able to prevent the suspension of the Standing and Sessional Orders by calling “No” when the motion is put?
– The honorable senator can only prevent the suspension of the Standing and Sessional Ordersby persuading a sufficient number of senators to vote with him; not otherwise.
– Then I shall record my vote against the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
Senator E. D. MILLEN (New South
Wales - Minister for Repatriation) [2.43].- I move-
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Some months ago the Senate passed a Bill approving of an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and Mr. Basil Lathrop Murray, under which the Western Australian farmers, joined in a corporated movement, were to raise £300,000 for the purpose of erecting grain elevators, terminal and otherwise, and in consideration of that expenditure the Commonwealth Government undertook to advance £550,000 by way of subsidy. Those connected with the movement, after further consideration, have come to the conclusion that it is advisable to start operations upon a somewhat less ambitious scale. It is proposed, therefore, to vary the original agreement to the extent of permitting the cooperative society to commence operations on a. capital of £250,000, on the understanding that the amount to be contributed by the Commonwealth Government shall be reduced pro rata to £440,000. One of the conditions of the agreement is that the farmers themselves must spend £100,000 before the Commonwealth can be called upon to advance any money. They now propose to eliminate many country elevators for their first effortand to confine themselves to the erection of terminal elevators. The matter was so recently before the Senate that itis not necessary for me to say very much in connexion with this Bill. This is one of those cases in which people coming to the Government for assistance show their willingness to help themselves. It is some evidence of their bona fides in submitting this proposal that they undertake to contribute their own money to make it a success. There is a vast difference between those who merely sit on the Government door-mat and ask for public money, and those who come forward and are able to say thatthey are finding their own money as an. evidence of their good faith and their belief inthe. soundness of their project, and then ask the Government for the loan of certain sums. That principle has already been approved by this Parliament in the passing of the previous measure. The only matter for consideration now, I submit, is whether the new proposal which, in effect, reduces the Government’s liability pro rata-the assets remaining the same - ought to be approved. Those who opposed the original agreement submitted can obviously approve of the present proposal.
– Even if the proposal is viewed as Senator Earle views it, those opposed to the original agreement under which the Commonwealth was liable to find £550,000, must regard as an improvement an amending agreement reducing the Commonwealth’s liability to £440,000.
– No; because the fact that the Western Australian farmers have been unable to raise the capital which they expected to be able to raise makes the proposal look more shady.
– The honorable senator will agree that there are not many of the State Governments that at the present time find it easy to raise capital.
– If the Western Australian Government were behind this proposal there would not be the same objection to it.
– My honorable friend is getting back to the merits of the original agreement. I gather from his interjection that he was opposed to that agreement. It is, however, part of a law passed by this Parliament, and whether this new proposal is approved or rejected, the old agreement remains. I am correct, therefore, in saying that this is a proposal to reduce the liability of the Commonwealth. If it were bad business for the Commonwealth to undertake to find £550,000 for this enterprise under the original agreement, it must be regarded as an improvement if nowthe Commonwealth is asked to find only £440,000.
– It might be better to cancel the whole agreement.
-Parliament can, of course, do anything, but it could not in decency cancel the agreement, having regard to the obligations to the company into which it entered. The question we have to consider really is whether the company proposing to start on a smaller scale than they originally contemplated, Parliament should approve of making its own contributions under the original agreement proportionately less.
– What part of the original scheme is it proposed to eliminate?
– The country elevators. A review of the whole position has led those responsible for the venture to come to the conclusion that it would be desirable to start with the terminal elevators only, letting the enterprise develop gradually rather than start with a full-blown scheme. The measure I submit to the Senate is a very simple one. I am not following the usual procedure of the Standing Orders, because, in view of the fact that we are about to adjourn over some weeks, it would be undesirable to leave this company in a state of suspense when they desire to proceed with their operations.
– Are the shares of the company paid up, or is there still a liability of 10s. per share on them?
– That does not affect the matter, because the Commonwealth Government would be secured under the clause of the original agreement, which requires the company to find the first £100,000 before we advance anything. When they find £100,000 the Commonwealth advances’ £200,000 to the company.
– I ask whether the 240,000 shares referred to in the schedule to this Bill are £1 shares paid up to 10s., with a liability of 10s. pershare still existing?
– Yes ; but an application to the Commonwealth Government for the full amount of its commitments under the agreement can succeed only if the company calls up the other 10s. per share, because under clause 14 of the original agreement, it is provided that advances by the Commonwealth to the company shall be made from time to time by instalments at the rate of £2 for every £1 provided and expended by the company. They are raising to-day £123,500, and when they have done so, the Commonwealth Government will be liable under the original agreement to advance them £2 for every £1 of that amount.
– After the company has spent £100,000.
-That is so. When the company wants more money from the Commonwealth, they must first call up the 10s. per share of their own money before they can make a claim upon the Commonwealth.
– The Commonwealth Government will advance only in the proportion stated ?
– Yes; £2 for £1 found by the company, and they must find the £1 first. Theamount of unpaid capital representedby the shares they hold is, in the circumstances, as well in the pockets of the shareholders, until it is needed, as it would be locked up in the company’s safe.
– If the Commonwealth is the milch cow, of course.
– There is no reason for suggesting milching about this proposal at all. The denunciation of effort on the part of farmers is surprising coming from Senator Pratten, who sometimes poses as their friend.
– But we are dealing in this Bill with Western Australian farmers !
– Then Senator Pratten’s opposition is geographical? The Senate approved of the original proposal, and I see no advantage in reviewing now the terms of the originalagreement. The question which the Senate has to consider now is whether it will approve of the slight modification of the original agreement proposed by this Bill involving a reduction of the capitalof the company from £300,000 to £240,000 and a prorata reduction oftheliability of the Commonwealth in respect of the enterprise from £550,000 to £440,000.
That is the only point raised by the Bill.
– I was opposed to the original agreement, and the reasons given by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) in support of the Bill now before the Senate only increase my opposition to the proposal, because the objections urged against the original agreement have been shown to be well founded. It was anticipated that there would be difficulty in raising the necessary capital, and a proposition which in the early stages suggested a glorious prospect does not now seem so inviting.
– In that case the thing to do is toreducethe liability.
– Itis nota difficulty in raising capital; but having eliminated the country elevators from the original scheme, the company do not now require as much capital as they previously required.
– I feel that I am in the position of a director of a financial concern that agreed to advance money for what was a glorious proposition, and the people to whomwe agreed to advance the money now say, “ Thething is not as good as we thought, and we will not do what we said we would do. We will not construct the country elevators, and, therefore, we want you to alter the agreement you made with us.” I think that that confirms me in my attitude in regard to the first proposal, and justifies me in continuing that opposition to the proposal now before the Senate; though I shall not continue that oppositionas I might do until the time at our disposal expires.
In New South Wales there are some indications that the working of the elevatorsis going to be more costly than the old system of handling wheat. We should not condemn a new systemon theresults of its first trial.Possibly when it is in full working order it will prove to be a splendid system . The money required by this company should be advanced by the Western Australian Government. It is purely a State matter. Money should be advanced by the Commonwealthonly on the condition that the proposal has the indorsement of the Western Australian
Government. The members of that Government know what is being done in their State, and if it is not good enough for them to say to their own farmers “ We will pledge the State’s credit to the Commonwealth Government to obtain the money you require,” we should not enter into any undertaking of the kind.
In New South Wales at the present time there is a proposal well afootby which a number of unionists hope to establish woollenmills. The mills are to be established inconjunction with the New South Wales Government. Provided the State Government agree they are going to take over the old gaol at Parramatta - because in New South Wales, as a result of practically ten years of Labour administration the number of criminals has been reduced to such anextent that the gaols are going entirely out of use.
– That may arise from a hesitancy or disinclination on the part of the New South Wales Government to lock up criminals.
– I am very pleased to be able to saythat sinceLabour has been a dominating influence in the State, the records show a considerable decrease in. the number of criminals. This shows that the more intelligent Labour method of dealing with affairs has brought abouta very desirable result.
– Order! I do not see what that hasto do with the Bill.
– If you, sir, will permit me to make my speech in my own way, you will be assured when I finish that what I am now saying is strictly relevant to the agreement proposed by the Bill. The Parramatta Gaol is lying practically idle, and a company is being formed, working in conjunction with the New South Wales Government, to establish woollen mills at the gaol. A large amount of capital will be represented in the building, and the unionists are prepared to contribute a large amount out of their own pockets. If that organization came to the Commonwealth Government, and said, “ We desire you to treat us in exactly the same wayasyou propose to treat the Western Australian farmers underthisagreement andmakeus a similar advance,” what would the Minister say to sucha request?
SenatorFairbairn.-I think thatthe Western Australians have had enough of
Government interference. It has brought them to their knees financially.
-I am still waiting fora reply to myquestion from the Ministerin charge of the Bill. Itis a fair question to ask why I should consent to an alteration in the agreement with the Western Australian farmers if the Commonwealth Government are prepared to make advancesonly to a favoured section. That is not a fair proposition to put before this Parliament. If we are going to enter upon the business of money lenders, it would be far better topass a special Bill under which people could borrow money from the Commonwealth for starting private business concerns. We shouldlet all come in under the same conditions. I admit that the proposal now made reduces the liability of the Commonwealth by a few pounds, but the responsibilitiesof theshareholders of the company are also reduced.
SenatorFoster. - When these people could not make a success of the enterprise under an agreement making the Commonwealth Government liable for an advance of £550,000, how is it expected that they will be able to make a success of it if theadvance asked for is less than that amount?
– The £550,000 was to be advanced on the original programme; but the company now propose to proceed with a less ambitious programme.
– Are they undertaking a less ambitious programme because they could not find the capital for the original programme ?
– Quite apart from the question of raising capital the company has determined that itis better toerect the terminal elevators first.
– I think that these people found that they had entered upon amost difficult undertaking. I admit thatno one could have foreseenthe change that has occurred in the financial market since the company’s first proposition was made. I do not blame them for that, because Ithink even the most competentfinanciers could not have foreseen what has taken place. Noone, for instance,could have imagined that private banks would becalling up the overdrafts of perfectly solvent firms, and preventing them from making investments, which, underordinary conditions, they might safely undertake. Yet that is what has happened during the interval, and possibly it has caused the company to somewhat alter its outlook. I wish, however, to stress the wrong principle which underlies this scheme. I need no more convincing evidence that its underlying principle is a wrong one than is afforded by the eloquent silence of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen).
– Silence is supposed to mean consent.
– This is really a farming proposition, and from an interjection which he made a little while ago, the Minister seems to think that anybody who opposes this measure is not a friend of the farmer. But it may not be very long before the farmers will wish that we had saved them from their friends. We all know that schemes which look very nice upon paper frequently fall short of the anticipations of their promotors. An honorable senator interjects “ especially Government enterprises.” “Well, here is a private enterprise which is rushing to the Government for the cash to enable it to carryon operations. The opponents of Government enterprise are asking us to approve a Bill which is the very embodiment of the principle which they condemn.
– The farmers of Western Australia are putting their own money into the scheme first .
– And they are carrying the liability afterwards.
– I am not foolish enough to imagine that the Government are prepared to adopt this principle generally. This is a case in which the Western Australian farmers have used their influence to some purpose. They have induced their representatives to put their case so favorably before us that we are going to carry the burden. In this connexion it must not be forgotten that, on account of the richness” of the State which I represent, on account of its population-
– And its absence of criminals.
– On account of the circumstances which I have enumerated, the losses which attach to any Federal enterprise are paid by that State to the extent of about one-half. In connexion with this scheme the losses will amount to about £440,000. I repeat the protest against the Bill which I uttered upon a previous occasion. I shall vote againstthe measure because I do not think that the expenditure of Commonwealth money for such a purpose was ever contemplated by the framers of our Constitution.
– I well remember when, a few short months ago, the original Act. was before this Chamber how enthusiastic were the promoters of the scheme regarding its early success and the very large savings which would be effected to the farmers. - At that time some of us had the temerity - notwithstanding that to a large extent we rely upon the votes of the man upon the land to return us here - to doubt some of the figures which were then presented for our consideration, and to question whether the complete bulk handling of wheat, particularly in Western Australia, would not cost the farmers more than does the handling of that commodity by ordinary methods. I believe that an intense interest was taken in that debate by the Western Australian farmers, and that the effect of our discussion has been that the enthusiasts over this project have somewhat modified their original ideas, with the result that they propose to spend less of their own money, and, therefore, cannot ask the Commonwealth to subscribe as much as they asked it to spend previously. When this matter was last under consideration, figures were given in connexion with the lining of ships, and of the total cost per bushel of bulk handling, which have been completely borne out by every paragraph which has ‘recently been published in Australia regarding this question. If I were a Western Australian farmer, I would not put £1 into the whole business.
SenatorCox.- The honorable senator would starve.
-I acknowledge that, as a loyal supporter of the Government, I occupy a somewhat difficult position.
– The honorable senator has a nice way of exhibiting his loyalty. He said just now that the figures which I put before the Senate upon a former occasion were misrepresentations.
– I said nothing of the kind. Had the Vice-President of the Executive Council followed my statement he would know that what I said was that the figures previously given in connexion with the bulkhandling of wheat have been proved by the evidence forthcoming in New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria to be correct.
– To the honorable senator’s satisfaction, no doubt.
– There is no bulk handling in South Australia.
– It is only two or three weeks ago that evidence was given by a well-known shipping expert in Sydney that thecost of lining vessels to enable them to take away bulk cargoes of wheat would be somewhere in the region of the figures which were given in this Chamber during the debate upon the original Bill last session. Upon that occasion it was stated that, upon the basis of bags costing 14s. or 15s. per dozen, there would be a saving effected by bulk handling, and it was pointed out that it was unlikely that the price of jute goods would revert to pre-war figures. To-day cornsacks are worth about only one-half of what they were when that discussion took place. Since then we have had further evidence, not of a very satisfactory character, regarding the silos which have been erected in my own State. We have alsobeen told that the Victorian Government unhesitatingly declare that they will not go in for the bulk handling of wheat. Consequently, all the arguments which were advanced last session in opposition to this agreement, as an agreement which is calculated to benefit the farmers, hold good to-day. As a loyal supporter of the. Government, I find myself in somewhat of a difficulty. The original Bill was passed last session. We did not force the motion against its second reading to a division. Those of us who then thought that the measure did not represent good business either to the Government or the farmers of Western Australia should hail with satisfaction the fact that the risk which will be incurred under this measure is less than it was formerly.
– The honorable senator said that every paragraph which has recently appeared in the newspapers was in opposition to the scheme. I have read most of them, and I think that they are lies. One statement was that the Wheat Board had paid £2,500 for the conversion of a ship into a bulk-carrying vessel in Sydney. As a matter of fact, we have never paid a single penny to convert any vessel.
– I was speaking of the evidence which was given before the Select Committee in New South Wales upon agriculture, which was presided over by Sir Joseph Carruthers. One of the principal witnesses at that inquiry stated that the conversion of a ship into a bulk carrier of wheat would cost within a few pounds of the figures which I submitted in this Chamber last session. I agree with Senator Gardiner that both the original. Act and this Bill seek to perpetuate a. false principle. If the Western Australian farmers required any help to build silos for the bulk handling of wheat, the requisite money should have been loaned to the Governmentof that State, which should have Been under an obligation’ to repay it to the Commonwealth Government, just as was done In New South Wales. It would be interesting to know what has actually occurred in connexion with this proposition since it was last before the Senate. I read somewhere that the Legislative Council of Western Australia had thrown out the entire proposition.
-It had not time to finish its consideration of the Bill.
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council has not told us of the peculiar circumstances under which the measure was rejected. Then, we have a right to know upon whose land these silos will be erected, and what security the Commonwealth will have in the event of their not being used. I regret the innovation which the Government have made in this direction.
– Is the honorable senator supporting or opposing a reduction of our commitment in regard to this enterprise?
– The Bill represents thelesser of two evils, and that sums up my own opinion of the matter. I do not intend to vote against the measure, because I recognise the difficulty in which the Government find themselves owing to a bargain already having been entered into. But I am not prepared to say that the observations which I have offered this afternoon will be received altogether unsympathetically by honorable senators. The Bill seeks to introduce an innovation of an exceedingly dangerous character, and to establish a precedent which we need never have created. Whilst I am sorry that this has been done-
– The honorable senator welcomes a partial undoing ?
– I do. I have nothing further to say upon the measure.
– When this matter last came before the Senate, I believe I had a considerable influence in persuading some honorable senators of the wisdom of the course proposed by the Government, and so impressed was Senator Pratten with the arguments that I brought forward in support of the measure, that when he rose to speak he rather addressed the farmers of Western Australia than the members of this Chamber, and admitted atthe time that he was so doing. Had Senator Pratten only given me an opportunity of speaking before he did, I would probably have taken most of the sting out of what hasbeen said to-day. I considered that the speeches which the honorable senator made to the farmers of Western Australia on the previous occasion were very wise. Because I considered them so, sounding as they did a note of caution, I made it my business particularly to draw the attention of Mr. Harper, one of the managing directors of this concern, to them; and I have not the slightest doubt that theyhave been given considerable attention by the farmers of Western Australia, and have beenin a measure responsible for the reconsidered proposition which is now before the Senate. Senator Gardiner insinuated that probably the Western Australian farmers were getting money out of the Federal Government on account of the influence exercised on the Government by Federal members. I wish to give that insinuation a denial, and at the same time to make a protest to the Government with regard to their actions in this matter. Until 6 o’clock this morning, or thereabouts, I did not know that there had been any’ revision of the agreement. When the matter was firstintroduced into the Senate, I did not know it was in existence until the day before. I think that applies to every other Western Australian senator who is not in the Cabinet.
-Probably I had in my mind the influence of the members from Western Australia, who have weight with the Government.
– Protests have been made in this Chamber, from time to time,that the Federal Government and the State Governments entirely ignore the existence of senators elected by the States for the especial purpose of looking after their interests. The Federal Government constantly ignore that fact, and so do the Governments of the States. Since I have been in this Parliament, I have not heard on a single occasion from the Government of Western. Australia, and, so far as this matter is concerned, although I went out of my way to let the farming people of Western Australia know that I was particularly interested in it, and requested them to keep me in touchwith what was doing, the fact remains that until 6 o’clock this morning I did not know that this thing had come about.
– You are in just the same boat as the others.
– I know that other honorable senators have been ignored, and it would have served these people right if we had not been here to attend to this measure. Still that does not alter the fact that it is a very good scheme. The scheme itself I thoroughly approve, but the method of bringing it into existence I thoroughly disapprove. If, when the original scheme was introduced, honorable senators were prepared to advance the larger sum of money, I have no doubt that the point of view of most of them to-day , even of those who opposed it, will be similar to that of Senator Pratten, and that they will be willing to grantthe smaller sum, in spite of the fact that some of them originally granted the larger sum, with a certain amount of doubt.
– You said, by interjection, that these subscribers were taking the liability. Are they not taking only the limited liability of their subscription ?
– Precisely ; but there is a reserve liability of 10s. per share in respect to all these shares, and thefarmers who have subscribed 10s. per share are still liable for an additional 10s.
– Is not that only about 25 per cent. of what the Commonwealth is lending ?
– It is threefifths. It is in the ratio of 3 to5.
.- When the original measure was before theSenate last year,Iwasasstrongas any honorable senator in my opposition to its passage.ThatBill was carried, and we have tomakethebestofit.
– Theonly trouble is that the reduction is not greater.
SenatorPAYNE.- Yes. I am pleased thatthe Westralian farmers whoare interested this scheme have been wise enough to approach the Federal Government for amendments such as are now beforeus,while at the same time retaining in the original Act the full power conferred by that Act with regard to the future extension of their scheme. But there is no amendment suggesting that the total amount which the Common- wealth may advance to the company shall be reduced. By clause 13 of the original agreement itis provided that the amount whichmaybe advanced by the Commonwealth shall not exceed £550,000.
– That is amended byclause 2 of the schedule to this Bill .
– By substituting £440,000 for £550,000. But clause 3 of the new schedule provides -
Notwithstanding the provisions of clause 2 of this Agreement the maximum amount to be provided and advanced by the Commonwealth tothe Company under the terms of the principal agreement shall be £550,000 when not lass than 300,000 shareshave been allotted to shareholders approved by the Commonwealth and paid up to10s. per share.
Therefore, the original terms of the schedule are retained, provided the additional capital is found by the company. We are now being asked to approve of relief being granted to the company with regard to the immediate raising of the capital, but at the same time the company retain the right to claim £550,000 from the Commonwealth Government if they go on with the whole scheme, and if, in doing so, they raise the additional capital provided forin the original Act. Is that correct?
– That is right.
– That being so, I have no opposition to offer. The company have gone the right way towork. It would havebeen foolish for them to undertake the liability of the proposed country silos if they are satisfied that the scheme can be successfully carried out in the immediate future by making silo provision at the terminal ports. Idid not approveofthescheme originally, andam just as firm in my oppositiontotheCommonwealth dealing with private indi- viduals or companies as I was last year. I believethe medium should always be the State Government, through which money may be lent bytheCommonwealth to the people ofany State.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendm ent or debate.
Senate adjourned at 3.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 May 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1921/19210513_senate_8_95/>.