8th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Introduction of Powder Post Beetle
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs if he is in a position to answer a question I put on the 7th September concerning the introduction of the powder post beetle in timber?
– On the 7th September, 1922, Senator Garling asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs the following questions: -
The Minister for Trade and Customs now supplies the following answers: -
The following paper was presented : -
– I ask the Leader of the Senate if he has noticed a statement which appeared in the press to-day with regard to an official who is said to be drawing two very large salaries? Is that statement correct, and, if not, what are the facts?
– The honorable senator asks me something which it is beyond my competency to answer. He wishes to know whether a statement appearing in the press is correct or otherwise. On general assumption, I should say,No. I cannot say anything more definite. If the honorable senator would be more specific when he seeks information I should endeavour to answer him.
– Is it a fact that a Mr. Semmens is drawing two salaries from the Commonwealth?
– Yes. Colonel Semmens is drawing a salary as Chairman of the Repatriation Commission. When it became necessary to retire Lieut.-Colonel Walker from the position of War Service Homes Commissioner, Colonel . Semmens was called upon to undertake the duties of that office, and was paid a salary, in addition to the first salary he received, far the performance of the additional duties. His appointment as Acting War Service Homes Commissioner has ‘been renewed from time to time pending the passage of the Bill to be introduced to amend the War Service Homes Act.
– I ask the Minister whether he does not think that the officer acting as War Service Homes Commissioner should foe called upon to give the whole of his time and attention to the duties of that office at a salary of £1,500 a year?
– Either of the positions occupiedby Colonel Semmens require his full time and attention, but honorable senators will recognise that the Government were confronted with an emergency upon the retirement of Lieut.Colonel Walker. It was necessary that an officer should be appointed to carry out the duties of the position immediately, and the Government considered that the best they could do in the circumstances was to invite the Chairman of the Repatriation Commission to temporarily discharge the duties of War Service Homes Commissioner.
Assent to the following Bills reported : -
Loan Bill (£12,000,000).
Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1822-23.
First Reading. “ Possible Breakdown of the Parliamentary Machine “: Censure Motions: Collective Cabinet Responsibility: Election of Ministers and Duration of Parliament - Chemicals in Warfare - Tasmania and Commonwealth Revenue - Finance : Commonwealth Bank : Profits : Management - Overseas Mails: Time of Transit: Poundage System - Public Service Arbitration - Public Expenditure : Recommendations of Economies Commission - Control of Sugar Industry : Reduction of Price - Northern Territory - Industrial Peace Act - Navigation Act and Coasting Trade : Tasmania and Papua - Prices of Superphosphates - Contingencies - Colonel Semmens and General McCay: Duplication of Positions and Salaries.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator E. I). Millen) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a first time.
.- There are certain matters which, perhaps, do not come within the ambit of a dry financial measure,but which, nevertheless, are of the first public importance. I think they should be discussed particularly, as in accordance with a familiar parliamentary precedent, an opportunity to discuss them is afforded on the motion for the first reading of this measure. I thought that other honorable senators would have intervened to unburden themselves on matters of importance, and that it would not be necessary for me to speak at this stage. I shall confine myself to referring to two or three matters only which are, I consider, of very grave national concern.
I do not propose to discuss finance. That is a matter of great importance to a Government, but we shall have an opportunity, I hope, later on to discuss it more particularly. The financial situation of the Commonwealth, although one of difficulty, is nevertheless one which appears most favorable when compared to the position in most other countries. Whilst it may be commented on in general, and in particular, in a way which may be of interest and profit to the Commonwealth which we help to govern, I do not intend to devote myself to that task at this stage. No one is quite sure what the duration of this Parliament will be, and it is necessary for those who will have to give an account of their stewardship shortly to address themselves to questions of public importance whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I intend to speak of two matters which require far-reaching and long-enduring attention until reform is effected in one particular and very active performance is accomplished in another. I want to refer to these matters because I fear we are faced at this time with what I regard as a possible breakdown of the parliamentary machine.
– The parliamentary machine is all right.
– No; it is not all right. I have had, for many years, very grave misgivings as to its acting properly in the national interests at certain junctures and in face of certain contingencies. The parliamentary institution is a very old one. It is almost a platitude to say so. It has been the means by which the cardinal principles in virtue of which we are governed were placed on the statute-book long before the Parliament assumed its present form. Parliament itself will endure, I feel sure, so long as Democracy endures. I wish to allude to a development of parliamentary life which, it appears to me, may prevent the parliamentary institution from giving to the people, in full measure, those salutary results which are expected from it. What has happened since the Senate was called together for the transaction of public business on the 28th June last is an adumbration of what may occupy the attention of the people, though not with profit, for a. year or two to come unless they recognise the position into which we have drifted, and its contingencies. During the nine or ten weeks that have elapsed since the assembling of Parliament, eight or nine censure motions have been launched against the Government in another place. In fact, there have been so many that most parliamentarians have lost count of them. I am sure that, excepting the officers in another place, nobody can state definitely just how many attacks have been made upon the Government with the intention of dispossessing them of the Treasury bench.
– And they were quite deserved.
– I am not going to discuss the merits of those censure motions, except to illustrate how they have paralyzed parliamentary operations this session. These motions of censure have arisen from two causes, namely, from our present system of collective Cabinet responsibility, under which a Government have to resign if an adverse vote is carried against them on any pretext whatever, and from activities which. Governments in the past have not been called upon to undertake. -
– Cannot you add as another reason that the Government in another place have not had a good working majority ?
– The honorable senator’s interjection will help me to illustrate my point presently.
– Is the honorable senator blaming the people for sending to this Parliament representatives holding such a diversity of views?
– Not at all. I believe in giving the people every chance to express their opinions, no matter how diverse they may be. The honorable senator’s interjection, like that made by Senator Thomas, will help me to elucidate my point with regard to collective Cabinet responsibility. This principle will work tolerably well provided there are only two parties in a Parliament, and one with a majority.
– Are there really more than two parties?
– There are, and it is precisely to that point that I am coming in a moment. I am not one of those who believe in doing anything to militate against the success at the elections of the particular party to which I belong. If I believe in principles which are the professed principles appertaining to a certain party, then I want that party to be returned in triumph when an appeal is made to the electors. But if the electors, in their Wls dom, send three or four parties to this Parliament, it is clear that our parliamentary machine, in such circumstances, will fail, and continue to fail. This principle of collective Cabinet responsi bility, as we understand it to-day, is of comparatively modern growth.
– But do not parties work on a basis of compromise ?
– That is true, and an understanding like that may, in certain circumstances, have applied to it such terms as intrigue, wire-pulling, and other similar epithets.
– That is the inevitable accompaniment of many parties.
– No, it is not, as I shall proceed to demonstrate. Our system of collective Cabinet responsibility lias, I believe, outlived its usefulness. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) himself said - and, therefore, I cannot be accused of saying anything to injure the prospect of my party at the poll - that his Government would be enabled to carry on in another place with a following of thirty members. Now, thirty members are, manifestly, not n majority of the membership of another place, and I predict that if the Ministerial party is returned with only thirty members, we shall, because of the existence of this doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility, have a period of political chaos, party intrigue, wire-pulling, negotiations, or whatever it may be termed, which will not be in the very best national interest. Twenty or thirty years ago, when I was a lad and attended meetings, the parliamentary representative, when he sought a renewal of the people’s confidence in him, was invariably, subjected to interrogation as to how he had voted in regard to certain measures, not, as at present, as to how he had voted in respect of his party. Under our present system, of collective Cabinet responsibility, if the member of a party votes once or twice according to his own convictions and against the party, to support which he was sent to Parliament, he will, in all probability, find the full strength of his organization against him and his candidature denounced. Parliament is elected for three years, and long before the three years have elapsed we hear talk about a favorable time to go to the country. This Parliament is expected, normally expected, to be so watchful of the position as to commit felo-de-se some time before the natural time of its expiration. In order to present a good face to the country all sorts of pretexts are seized for censuring the
Administration, or dispossessing it temporarily of the Treasury bench, in order that the people may be to a certain extent hoodwinked, and not called upon to vote according to their opinion of the actions of their representatives, but wholly and solely in the interests of party. Six, seven, eight, or nine - I really do not know how many - motions of censure have been tabled in connexion with a very prosaic matter indeed, namely, the sale of sugar. A battle has been fought in another place in connexion with the question of whether another id. per pound should be charged for that commodity. If seven or eight censure motions can result from a Government activity in one line - a Government activity which is beyond the ordinary scope of legislative functions - how many motions of censure would be introduced, and how would Parliament function, if Government activities were spread over a still wider fieldi The instability of Parliament as a legislative institution will be demonstrated beyond cavil, I am sure, in time, to the more reflective of the electors. Our Judges are appointed for life, and so long as they show the ability and integrity that they are supposed to possess, nobody dreams of removing them from their high office. To the honour of the Australian Judiciary it may be said that almost without exception - in fact, I do not know of any exception in Australian history - Judges occupy their positions both in State and Commonwealth Courts until they are removed by death, or resign from ill-health or some other cause that is entirely personal. If a Judge gave a decision that was revoked within a few months by a superior Court, and he was called upon to resign, what would we think of the system on which our judicial administration is based?
– What is the honorable senator’s argument?
– It is an argument for men of responsibility to be elected for the full term of three years, so as to allow members to address themselves to the duty primarily placed before them when sent here, that is, to consider measures and not the duration of Ministries.
– Who would elect the Ministries?
– This Parliament.
– Would it not result in piebald Ministries!
– Do we not have piebald Ministries now at times?
– Can you imagine Senator E. D. Millen and Senator Gardiner in the same Cabinet?
– I can quite readily imagine it. Can you imagine the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and Senator Gardiner in the same Cabinet? They were on one occasion.
– It was not the same Mr. Hughes.
– I can imagine a man of the people, possessed of such administrative capacity, and whose integrity would have so impressed itself on his fellow members, that he would be elected to the Government benches, irrespective of the fact that he belonged to a numerically large or small party.
– You forget that one of those parties does not represent the people at all.
– I do not forget any of the salient points of my argument. You, Mr. President, are elected by the suffrages of this Chamber to the high and honorable position that you occupy, with very great credit to yourself, and that credit is reflected upon this- Chamber. I, in a secondary position, have been elected by the suffrages of my fellow senators to the position of Chairman of Committees.
– Here or upstairs?
– Here. What would be thought of you, Mr. President, and what would be thought of me, if, as has happened in my case, I gave a ruling which was unsatisfactory to the rest of the Chamber, and if, because my fellow senators disagreed with my ruling and referred it to yourself, I became so petulant as to at once resign from the Chairmanship of Committees? What would be thought of your action if a decision of yours was not upheld by the Senate as a whole, and, in consequence of it, you petulantly and unnecessarily, notwithstanding the respect we have for you, resigned? I venture to say that your fellow senators would be astonished, and would say that this Senate could not be operated in accordance with actions of that character. Some stability must be preserved with regard to the filling of positions of this kind. The people of Australia will yet see, as they are beginning to see in Tasmania, that there are other lines of action which ought to be observed in carrying on parliamentary government.
– I thought the converse was the case, and that the experiment in Tasmania had put the people off your idea.
– No. Under tie old, and now acknowledged as archaic, system of representation, we have had in this Parliament, which is only a little over twenty years old, three parties. We have had a Parliament in which public opinion was so evenly represented that the party occupying the Treasury bench had a majority consisting of only the Speaker’s vote, and that result was also achieved by the old system of election. Therefore, to attribute multiplicity of parties to the system of proportional representation or preferential voting is altogether out of the consideration of sensible men. Would sensible men, running any other institution, act as we have done in the operation of the parliamentary machine? Although the .representation in this Chamber is very much of a party character, and one party has an overwhelming majority of senators to represent its views, owing to the fact that no action which this Chamber can take affects the constitution of Ministries, measures are debated and voted upon more in accordance with the individual opinions of senators than they are in another place. I am not casting any aspersions upon the character for independence and integrity of members of another place. It is because of the existence of this outworn principle of the collective responsibility of Ministers, to which they still have to profess adherence and give practical assent that such a position exists.
Honorable senators may say, “What do you suggest?” I have no hesitation in answering. I would be a very poor critic if I were not a constructive one. This is no newlyacquired opinion of mine. When I was in the Tasmanian Parliament, I obtained leave to bring in a Bill which had for its object the election of the Ministry by the members of the House of Assembly. In that I was the successor to the late lamented Sir John McColl.
– Was the method of election, by proportional representation?
– That did not matter, but it could have been done. If the honorable senator wishes me to pursue my argument at length, I oan do so.
– It is rather an important matter.
– It is important only if it secures men of integrity and ability to perform the administrative functions of government. In. regard to legislative measures, we are the judges. The method of the constitution of the Ministry does not affect the number of senators or of members of another place. It does not affect public opinion in the country at all. Public opinion should be reflected by members in their support of measures. If I am sent here to SUPport certain measures, is it not my duty to support them, irrespective of the fate of the Government? In actual application, however, members of another Chamber very often find that they cannot do what they promised their constituents they would do. Honorable senators think that it is a very remarkable thing to propose elective Ministries. In the Tasmanian Parliament I obtained leave to introduce a Bill, but, not being one of those people who attempt to do the impossible, I refrained from introducing it, knowing that it would only be debated and defeated. Party feeling was so clear cut and so intense at that time that the conjunction of circumstances was not favorable to the proper discussion of any such principle. The result of introducing the measure would only have been a waste of parliamentary time; but I see a condition of affairs now, and I see con- .tingencies in front of Parliament and the Australian people, which demand that a certain educational influence should be exercised. The people should be told what is in front at them, and I see it in no cloudy vision. I would have them told in terms which permit of no retraction on my part. They should be told that Cabinet as it exists to-day, in accordance with the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility, will not satisfactorily enable the Australian Parliament to work in connexion with the promulgation of measures which are designed for the satisfaction of the needs of the people. It is very simple to work this thing. Why do Parliaments exist for three years in this country instead of five years, as in some other democratic countries? Why is the life of Parliament three years here and two in some other countries ? Our Parliaments exist by virtue of a Constitution which is itself an enactment. If I had the opportunity, I would pass a measure which would provide for the election of Ministers for the full life of Parliament. There is nothing very remarkable in that.
– Does not the honorable senator see-
– I see a great number of things which I will explain to the honorable senator, and I see them with no very muddy vision either. Let us assume that such a measure had been passed. When Parliament met, members would address themselves to the task of electing Ministers. I assume that if one. party was in an overwhelming majority it would, until a new parliamentary atmosphere had been created, elect most, or probably all, of the Ministers from its own ranks. I admit that, in such circumstances, the result would not be greatly different from that which would follow the return to Parliament of a party with a Ministry shouldering the doctrine of collective responsibility. Given one party with a working majority over all other parties, and the present system functions fairly well. I am not impugning it because of its operation at a time when one party has a substantial parliamentary majority over all other parties, but I am giving utterance to the sentiment that the- parliamentary machine is put out of operation directly there is a substantial representation of more than two parties. I would elect Ministers for three years.
– Suppose one of the Ministers did something corrupt.
– He could be impugned separately. The Senate has power to cause the occupant of the chair in Committee, or the Hon. the President of this Chamber, to vacate his position at a moment’s notice.
– Ministers are elected for three years now, and are only turned out when successfully impugned for something.
– They may be impugned for a hundred and one reasons which do not belong to a proper consideration of parliamentary measures. Suppose that Mr. Charlton, the Leader of the Opposition in another place, had so impressed his integrity and parlia mentary fitness upon honorable members that they elected him to fill a portfolio for the simple reason that they valued certain qualities which he personally possessed, quite, apart from the fact that he represented a certain political party. He might have been elected to a Parliament with what we call a “ red “ objective, and under auspices which many of us think it is absolutely essential to combat with all our political strength and nerve force. If the majority of members in another place was against the passing of any of the measures which Mr. Charlton would be unwise enough to suggest in consonance with the objectives of his party, those measures would be rejected.
– And he would be called to account by his own party.
– Not at all. That is where the honorable senator is at sea. The administration of his Department might be excellent.
– Does the honorable senator think that his party would put up with it?
– J am not concerned with his party. I would remind the honorable senator that there are democracies where people of conflicting races, who speak different languages, are the electors. I have known of instances where Ministers have been elected in the manner I have suggested, and where they have retained their portfolios although the representation of their party in Parliament has disappeared completely in the political sense.
– In Switzerland, where Democracy works better than anywhere else in the world.
– Supposing die honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) were elected to the present Cabinet, every measure he submitted would be thrown out by a hostile House.
– Possibly so.
– Then, what would the position be?
– A member of an opposing party elected in such circumstances would not bring down measures which he knew would not be accepted by the parliamentary majority.
– That would be placing him in a false position.
– Not at all. Is there any form of government in Australia - municipal or otherwise - where administrative work is carried on in circumstances such as exist at present and as we attempt to maintain parliamentary administration and legislative life?
– Does the honorable senator think it profitable to institute a comparison between municipal and parliamentary government?
– Municipal life broadly gives-
– That is not answering my question.
– I was about to say that municipal government probably comes much closer to the life of the people than does parliamentary government.
– If the footpath in front of one’s gate requires attention, probably it does.
– No one knows how difficult is the scientific government of nations in a modern sense more than I do. I do not profess to have had anything like Ministerial experience, but I do know that given a party which has not an absolute majority, and prolonged parliamentary adhesion to the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility our present system works very badly indeed. If the electors think that it is desirable to return one party with an absolute majority over other parties, satisfaction may be achieved; but does the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) guarantee such a result? If he does not, what will be. the position if an occasion arises such as the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. “Watt) ventures to predict, when there will be at least four parties in another place? It is well for members of this Chamber, who live in an atmosphere aloof from another place-
– We ought to.
– It is well for honorable senators in this Chamber to tell the Ministry the position by which they may be confronted if such a contingency should arise. We would have a period ‘of prolonged turmoil and intrigue, during which there would be very little satisfactory legislative and administrative work performeed in the interests of the people. The world is in such a state that I do not think the people in a continent such as Australia, should be saddled with a general election more than once in every three years, or with the inconvenience of the turmoil and intrigue thatwould doubtless ensue with three or four parties in Parliament. If there is to be no fixity of tenure given to the men whom their brother electors have returned after very wise consideration, the Departments of the Commonwealth Government of Australia will be administered in such a way that the. national interests must be detrimentally affected. The reform is a simple one.
– The change is a simple one!
– The change and the reform would be material and salutary. There would not be the necessity of asking the people to foot the bill for the cost incurred in connexion with a general election as frequently as is done under the present system; and I venture to predict that if the members of three or four parties are returned to the next Parliament; the position will not be any more satisfactory than it has been during the past eight or ten weeks, during which numerous censure motions have been moved. The practice of the past doesnot commend itself to sensible people, and I cannot imagine reasonable men conducting the ordinary affairs of business on the lines we have been compelled to adopt because of collective Cabinet responsibility during the last few months. If a measure is defeated, why should it be incumbent upon the Ministry to resign? I do not look upon that as a necessary proceeding. If a Minister brought down a measure to Parliament which was not altogether acceptable, that should not be a reason why the Government should resign. It should not be even an occasion for reproach, as such a Minister would be acting within his individual rights and in full accordance with the views of his electors. If a Bill was not altogether acceptable, surely it could be remodelled or completely withdrawn without the necessity of the Government resigning as a whole. Is there anything illogical in taking up such a position? Parliamentary government, like other forms of government, is somewhat of an expedient, but the system will endure so long as Democracy endures. But we. are bound to face the difficulty and remove the excrescences.
– And not to add others equally objectionable.
– No; but no one can prove that the principle of elective Ministries is objectionable, because wherever it has been tried it has been more or less successful, and markedly successful in one of the latest and most steadfast Democracies the world has ever known.
– And of which the world knows scarcely anything.
– The world at present is all agog because of scientific men taking heed of the dictum of a scientist who is an inhabitant of that particular Republicto which the honorable senator refers in such slighting terms - I allude to Einstein. That small Republic has helped to move the world in half-a-dozen different directions, and it has produced a system of democratic parliamentary government which has merit, and which, I believe, would be acceptable to the Australian people, who, after all, are not devoid of the democratic sense, adhering to the system of collective Cabinet responsibility only because we are British in our traditions, somewhat conservative, and do not recognise in the changing conditions of modern parliamentarylife that the system is, to a very large extent, outworn. As an Australian senator who has to go out and defend his opinions before the Australian people, I recommend them because of the parliamentary systems they have adopted, the legislation they have favoured, the diversity of political opinions that exists amongst them, and the necessity of legislating wisely in the interests of the Commonwealth, to gravely consider the wisdom of giving the Ministry in our very short-lived triennial Parliaments a term of office equivalent to the life of the Parliament itself.
– What is the alternative?
– The alternative is, in the near future, a state of political turmoil which will be costly, and, perhaps, disastrous, to the best interests of the people.
– Does the honorable senator not think that the wisdom of the people will determine that Parliament shall be composed of two parties, instead of the multitude of parties he seems to fear ?
– If the wisdom of the people is exercised to secure that there shall be only two political parties in Parliament, the present institution will continue to work, but because a bullock dray works satisfactorily, it is not advisable to say that we will retain that form of locomotion, and defer the use of the motor car. Simply because, in certain circumstances, an existing machine works satisfactorily enough, let us not forget the danger that there may be that it will work unsatisfactorily in circumstances thatare more likely to be realized than is the contingency to which the honorable senator has alluded, no matter how desirable that might be from his or my party point of view.
– What about the American system, with Ministers outside Parliament?
– I do not believe in that. I believe that the Ministry should be chosen from those elected by the people to represent them in the Legislature.
– Every man might vote according to bis conscience if Ministers were outside Parliament.
– Does the honorable senator think that it is undesirable that members sent to this Parliament should vote according to their respective consciences ?
– The honorable senator contends that they do not do so because of votes of censure.
– Does Senator Thomas really believe that honorable members in another place are concerned only with the merits of the measures on which they are asked to vote, and not with the effect which their vote may have upon the Government, because of the adherence to the principle of collective responsibility ?
– The vote determines the merit of the measure on which it is taken.
– No, it does not. I do not wish to further pursue this matter. I think I have ventilated it sufficiently fully to cause thinkers amongst the electors of the Commonwealth to give some consideration to it. Consideration will have to be given to it, because, no matter how much we may desire the existence of two parties - and the existence of one would be preferable if it were a party that would give its sole consideration to the welfare of the people of Australia - human, nature being what it is, we know there will be diversities of opinion. It is because of this I pronounce the dictum that, in the near future, the parliamentary machinery, and particularly that section of it represented by another place, will not work satisfactorily. I recommend the people of Australia to give some consideration to my remarks, for such a contingency as I have outlined is well in sight.
I propose to deal now with an entirely different matter, and one which has perhaps a more intimate bearing on our national safety than has that to which I have already alluded. Australia must be preserved before its parliamentary institution will have an opportunity to work either well or ill. Honorable senators will perhaps recall the fact that during the war I put a notice of motion on the business-paper, to the effect that it was desirable to attach a staff of chemists to the Defence Force of Australia. Chemical warfare had been engaged in, but it had not attained the magnitude which it subsequently reached during the war period. Private members do not get very frequent opportunities for the full discussion and determination of matters which they desire to ventilate either here or in another place, because of the exigencies of Government business. I do not retract my opinion in regard to the necessity of very extensive scientific research, as a helpful and necessary factor in the operations of the Australian Army. The Armistice came before I had an opportunity of ventilating my opinions on this matter. A new Parliament was elected, and my notice of motion automatically disappeared from the business-paper of the Senate. The new Parliament has almost lived out its term. We have had a few years of a kind of peace, that transition period from war to peace which almost invariably ensues when there has been a conflict between two or more nations. I am very optimistic. I do not group myself with pessimists. I believe there is something good in humanity which will in the long run triumph over evil, but I am sorry to say that the very much desired goal is still very far away. We seem to be getting again into a state of affairs when the peace of the world is likely to be very gravely endangered as between the more important nations. This, I fear, is so, notwithstanding the deliberations of Conventions, which have had the very best objects in the world in view, and notwithstanding the satisfactory nature of some conclusions that have been arrived at. Last month I put a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence in regard to the scientific preparations which, were being made or ought to be made to help the Australian Forces in connexion with the very fast developing feature of warfare, known as chemical warfare. Whilst I received a reply which was satisfactory enough, as far as it went, it did not indicate that any great measure of preparation or precaution was being taken in Australia.
I have for my object in speaking to-day the informing of the people of Australia so far as a senator speaking in his place in Parliament can inform them of the nature of the developments in connexion with this singular phase of warfare. I have for my object the creating of a popular opinion which will “be reflected through the members elected to the next Parliament, and which will be, in effect, an instruction to the Administration, of whatever political colour it may be, not to neglect this most important feature of possible warfare in the future. I have come to the conclusion, after very grave consideration, that the wars of the future, if unfortunately we are to have such combats, will be of practically very short duration.
– Some people entertained that opinion prior to the last war.
– I did not, but I do entertain that opinion at this time. In my view the nation that can establish supremacy in the air, provided that it is the equal of the nation with which it is engaged in war, in its knowledge of the factors of chemical warfare, will triumph very speedily indeed. I do not believe that there are many people in Australia, not even including our soldiers who suffered in clouds of gas, who fully realize the pitch to which this means of waging war has attained. I conceive it to be my duty to do something in the way of educating public opinion, and in causing that public opinion, when educated, to be reflected in this or succeeding Parliaments.
I find that scientific works dealing with this .method of warfare are- very difficult to procure in Australia. I will not say that our Australian chemists would be found lacking in scientific knowledge which it is their province to acquire and develop, but I have reason to suspect that in Australia at the present time there is not that profound scientific knowledge of this matter which it is desirable that our scientists should possess. I have here articles written by foreigners which I intend to avail myself of, and which refer to a work published by two military officers in the United States of America. I have every reason to believe that there is only one copy of that work in Australia. I may be wrong, but I have a shrewd suspicion that I am right in making that statement. I have seen it, but only in very fugitive fashion. Fortunately, the articles from which I intend to quote contain very copious references to excerpts from that work. I intend to have this information circulated in Hansard. A good many Australian people do read Hansard, notwithstanding the gibes that are made from time to time in regard to parliamentary institutions, and through means of the country press and other journals, of perhaps not such great importance as the metropolitan newspapers, the people are able to secure, from time to time, a more concise idea of the actions of their parliamentary representatives than it is sometimes believed they obtain.
I thought that some honorable senators had made preparation to speak on matters which they deemed of importance, and that, in the interval, I would have had an opportunity to make a more studied preparation of the remarks I am about to utter, and I, therefore, claim the indulgence of the Senate. I propose to quote from an article written in a foreign language. It has appeared in a scientific publication of the very highest order of merit, which has been long established, and to which members of one of the first literary and scientific institutions of the world are frequent contributors. The article is entitled “ The War of Gases and the Future.” or, translated into idiomatic English, “ The War of Gases in the Future.” It was written by a French scientist, and I may say that I was astounded at the. mental attitude of this gentleman, when we consider the attitude which the French in general took towards their recent enemies and opponents, the Germans. We might have anticipated that chemical warfare would be classed as something diabolical, something inhuman and inhumane, something which it would be. considered as in no conceivable contingency should be. employed at all. Yet we have this Frenchman saying that he did not accuse the Germans of inhumanity because they employed toxic agents in warfare. He accused them of bad faith in the breaking of agreements, and, unfortunately, this is a contingency which must be kept in view at all times, irrespective of the nations that may be signatories.
– Except the British.
– I have no knowledge of the British having broken any agreement of that nature. At a Convention which sat at The Hague on the 29th July, 1899, the representatives of the European nations engaged to forbid the employment of projectiles having for their object the spreading of asphyxiating gases or other deleterious substances. Thus, it will be seen that the employment of gases for the destruction of human life was foreseen long before the recent world’s war, and, therefore, the employment by the Germans of a toxic agent was not -a new discovery.
– It was foreseen fifty years before the war.
– Yes, and used. I could produce historic instances of toxic agents having been used thousands of years before the last great war. The point which this French writer makes is that nations, many of them,, will break any agreement if they think their national interests are at stake, and, in such circumstances, they will use gasesor other chemicals in warfare. Thus heaccuses the Germans of bad faith in the recent war. He and two American officers at the head of the Chemical Research Department of the United States actually claim that the use of toxic agents is quitein keeping with our conceptions of humanity, and not so objectionable as the use of mutilating projectiles hurled from rifles or cannon. This is a very remark- able statement. Arguments similar to those used against the employment of chemical agents in the last war were employed against the use of gunpowder by those who relied on bows and arrows, as we note from statements which the genius of Shakspeare attributes to one of his characters. Gunpowder, as we know, was objected to 300 or 400 years ago, and this French scientist points out that we must expect the employment of these toxic agents when nations go to war, if they think that, by their use, a victory will be achieved. This may be regarded as argument Number 1, for the greatest care being taken to protect ourselves in this regard. This French scientist goes on to point out, also, that it is useless to interdict the production of these chemicals, because they are part and parcel of the industrial, development of every manufacturing nation, and enter into Ihe multifarious processes of. important peacetime industries. From this, he argues that to incapacitate Germany from producing toxic agents which may be employed in warfare would be to completely destroy her industries.
– The dye industry, for instance, is the principal source of these destructive chemicals.
– It is from the dye industry, as the Minister indicates, that nearly all of these toxic agents are produced. But it does not follow that because, in combination, they are destructive of human life, their employment in industrial processes can be checked.
– Do you think that the embargo against their use ought to be raised ?
– No, that is not my argument at all. My argument is,, that because in warfare they will be used by unscrupulous nations, it is absolutely essential that Australia should be scientifically protected, and it is only because I wish to stress this point that I am adducing this evidence. The French scientist complains that, while the Chemical Research Department for War Purposes in the United States is being carried on at an expenditure of millions of dollars per year, the French chemical research activities involve an expenditure of only 100,000 francs, approximately £5,000. I do not, of course, accuse the people of the United States of any aggressive intention, but I point out that, at the present time, there is at Washington, in the service of the United States’ Chemical Research for War Purposes, a personnel of 1,200 scientists. The war strength of that Department was 10,247 men engaged in the manufacture of chloropicrine, phosgene, yperite, bromobenzylcyanide. Those very words are in themselves nightmares, and are suggestive of hellish “ shandygaffs “ produced for the destruction of human life. Then there is another chemical known as “ Lewisite,” which is called by this French scientist, “ chlororinyldechloroarsine. “ I am somewhat at a disadvantage in that I have to translate .this article as I proceed. This is a statement credited by this French writer to a Brigadier-General Fries, head of the Department of War Chemistry in the United States of America -
In a warfare of the future, this gas will be shot off from cannon in the form of clouds. The toxic gases will penetrate through the ventilation systems of all hostile vessels. The toxic clouds will be poured out in torrents from the bombs of aviators, or be sent under the water by submarines. For example, there will be white phosphorous, which will burn, and cannot be put out. Our programme is ready.
This French scientist comments thus : -
What a suggestive picture of the future war, in the course of which the Union believes it will be able to employ diphenychloarsine, of which it holds 2,000 tons in magazines at Edgewood!
The work from, which I make these quotations is not readily available in Australia. I have seen the only copy, and was permitted to look at it as a great privilege.
– What magazine are you quoting from?
– From the Revue des Deux Mondes. I understand that no less than twenty-six substances of the most deadly character may be employed in toxic warfare, and that the mixtures into which’ two or more of these substances enter number sixteen, so there are actually forty-two deadly agents available for use in modern chemical warfare.
I have very carefully preserved an extract from a statement made by Sir William Ramsay, the noted British chemist, at a conference of chemists at Canada, to the effect that there has been discovered a toxic agent so deadly that one part in 5,000,000, mixed with ordinary atmosphere, would destroy human life, and that as yet no respirator had been devised as a protection against it. He declared that it could be solidified, and carried about in the knapsack of an ordinary soldier, very much like a piece of sausage. With all these contingencies, it is essential for us to be up and doing, and I recommend the Government to give early consideration to this most important matter. This French scientist goes on to state -
There is no domain in which the future possibilities are greater than in chemical warfare, and there is no field where time lost in research preparations willhave more disastrous consequences. During the world war toxic gas was shown to be one of the most efficacious factors of combat. Were it only on this account this arm will never be abandoned. Its use cannot be suppressed by any agreement.
There will always be found some nation that, in the anticipation of domination, will use some toxic agent of which it believes it possesses the sole secret. It is an unhappy thing that this possibility should have to be remembered and provided for, but it is only through trial and tribulation that anything worthy of merit can be obtained.
Life is not as idle ore,
But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And batter’d with the shocks of doom,
To shape and use.
There are “ shocks of doom “ and trials to be endured, and unfortunately, no matter how optimistic we may be, we are given pause at times by the doleful and pessimistic utterance that the world as a whole, and mankind itself, together furnish both the demons and the damned. When we read the list of these gases, and learn what can, be done with them, we can well understand that there is some pardon to be extended to persons who give utterance to such pessimistic sentiments, but we owe a debt to our race, and in the interests of posterity it is our bounden duty, no matter what the cost, to provide against such terrible contingencies as are suggested by the scientist to whom I have referred. The article itself deals with gases of all kinds, gases that destroy the skin and gases that destroy life. Some can be used only for a short period, but this scientist points out that one great advantage of chemical warfare is that while the effect of an ordinary shell does not endure, the effect of the toxic agent endures for hours, and, may be, for days. I have been told by an Australian, who attained a captaincy in theRoyal Engineers, that it was the undoubted knowledge possessed by the Germans of the bombing squadrons in readiness to attack Berlin, and drop on that city bombs each containing at least half-a-ton of Lewisite that constrained the Germans to ask for an armistice when they did.
– Apart from Berlin, the Germans were pretty rocky at the Front.
– Yes, and they were given the medicine at the Front that they had been first to use. I would point out that this French scientist says that the French, who are very eminent in chemistry, were precluded by the Hague Convention from employing an arm which, might have saved to them the lives of three-quarters of a million soldiers. It was because France was a signatory to the Hague Convention that it did not make use of gas sooner. The article shows that Kling, as a chemist, was so superior to the artillery in scientific knowledge that, when Paris was bombarded by “Big Bertha,” the artillerists of France and of the world outside of Germany insisted that the projectile could not have come from a gun, and that natural factors prevented even a moment’s consideration being given to the suggestion that the shell had been discharged from a gun. But Kling, the chemist, who subsequently became so famous in regard to French chemical warfare, stated at once that the shell had been projected from a cannon. Thus the chemists proved themselves to be greater authorities on ballistics than the artillerists who had devoted themselves to that study.
It has been wisely suggested that the Institute of Science and Industry could be asked to address itself to this question, and be furnished with the necessary funds and personnel at the earliest possible date. I was one of those who, when the Institute was being created, said that as similar Departments existed in connexion with State activities the Commonwealth should subsidize those activities rather than create a new Department. I believe I was right, certainly in regard to the activities which the scientific institutions of the various States are called upon to exercise in peace time. But, seeing that we have established the Camm on wealth Institute of Science and Industry, and the institution will increase in value as the population grows, its undoubted scientific resources should be availed of, and it should be given powers and funds sufficient to enable it to develop itself as an adjunct to our system of national defence. With only 6,000,000 people, we claim a continental possession which is jealously envied in many quarters, and may be challenged at any time in the hurlyburly of world politics. It behoves us, therefore, to use the scientific knowledge at our disposal for the purpose of maintaining this continent as a possession for ourselves and our children.
The other day there was an answer given to a question put by Senator Thomas to the Minister whose duty it was to reply, and the answer was to the effect that Tasmania was shown, with certain reservations, I will admit, to contribute only 2 per cent, of the revenues of the Commonwealth. I wish to point out that Tasmania pays a great deal more than that to the Federal revenue. Anybody who goes to that State will see at once that the standard of comfort there does not materially differ from that of the mainland ; in many respects it is superior. In Customs duties and in many other ways-
– Over 90 per cent, of the articles consumed in Tasmania on which duty is imposed have, for their port of entry, Sydney or Melbourne.
– Yes, and the duties collected are credited to those States.
– You do not impugn the answer in the way given?
– No. Tasmania is small superficially, but so successfully have we colonized the State that the population per square mile is the second thickest among the whole of the States. Tasmania sacrificed millions of pounds in the early days of Federation through, loss of Customs revenue.
– A Commission proved that you did not lose a penny.
– Twenty odd years ago Tasmania had substantially fewer people, and yet it then paid £400,000 odd in Customs revenue. The duties credited to it after Federation amounted to a little over £200,000. “What became of the other £200,000!
It was the loss that Tasmania sustained because of the advent of Federation. I supported Federation, and I want to explain the circumstances in which Tasmania, from time to time, is made to appear as a State in an inferior and subsidiary position. Tasmania has spent a very large amount of borrowed money on roads, and with very good results, but its railways have only a short haulage, and, therefore, are not so profitable as those on the mainland. Just as a cabman would prefer to drive one a mile for 7s. 6d. to conveying him 100 yards for ls. 6d., so it is more profitable for railways to haul for long distances. This small State, which may add, in the near future, most substantially to the revenues of the Commonwealth, is to have some consideration, and I ami sure it will get it from the legislators from the larger and more populous States.
– You are getting £85,000.
– And we will take all we can get, for we are entitled to it at present. “We will not always be the small brother of the Commonwealth family.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– I have listened with considerable interest for one and a half hours to the speech delivered by Senator Bakhap. He has touched upon two certainly very important question’s. The first of these relates to the incompetence of the parliamentary machine. That is a very old question. It was dealt with by Napoleon, who said, when he was asked to express .an opinion on the efficiency of the British Parliament. “It is all right so long as you have two parties, but it will burst up >when you get three parties. He spoke in more polite French than that. I cannot say, in my experience, that it is a good working machine. It has been thought necessary lately for the Ministers who control the machine to take up various activities which have hitherto been carried on by private enterprise, but I think they have burned their fingers so severely that they will not be likely to go much further in that direction. Senator Bakhap has suggested that elective Ministries would be a panacea for this admitted evil. I doubt that very much. I have not sufficient faith to believe that Mr. Hughes and Senator Gardiner, if elected to the same Ministry, could carry on together.
-It is marvellous what members can do when they get into Cabinet together.
– I suppose the honorable senator has found that out himself, but I do not think that men of such conflicting views as Mr. Hughes and Senator Gardiner could really become reconciled. Parliament should deal with far fewer things than it deals with now, and the work should be done more thoroughly. Practically the whole of the work of Parliament is now done in the last two or three days of the session, and the consideration given to Billsis of a most perfunctory character. We are often confronted in this Parliament with the dreadful alternative of voting for a measure of which we do not approve, or of voting to put out of office Ministers who are satisfactory to us. The best advice I can give to the Ministers who control the parliamentary machine is to do fewer things and do them better. (Bills should be considered thoroughly, instead of being passed rapidly and perfunctorily at the end of a session. I do not think that elective Ministries would tend to solve the problem. If the Federal Parliament had stuck to what it was originally intended should be its duties, such as the large questions of Defence, Customs duties, and the like, instead of dipping into little municipal undertakings, and entering into conflict with the State authorities, we would have had a much happier time in this Commonwealth.
Another question touched upon by Senator Bakhap was the danger of another nation in time of war springing a terrible gas system upon us. I asked a high military authority whether we had made any preparation against gas attack, and I am sorry to say his reply was that nothing of the sort had been done in Australia. Senator Bakhap has suggested that the evil might be met by referring the matter to the Bureau of Science and Industry. I was with Senator Bakhap in trying to prevent the passage of the Bill which pro vided for the creation of that Bureau. I thought the work it would do was one of the functions of government which might safely be left to the States, but the Bureau having been created, the Minister representing the Minister for Defence mightrefer this question to it. I am not in favour of a large sum of money being put at the disposal of the Bureau. To do any really effective work, and to carry chemical experiments to a satisfactory conclusion, would require a very elaborate machinery, and an enormous number of chemists. My idea is to ask the Bureau to keep in touch with the experiments that are being conducted in other parts of the world, and particularly in England, where, no doubt, this matter is being exhaustively discussed and preparations for the future are being made at great expense. I do not think that, in a small country like Australia, we can afford to go into this problem exhaustively. To tap nature’s secrets, sealed deeply as they are, would be a most expensive process; but by the means I suggest we might get a practical protection from a possible gas attack, which, I think, is a serious danger to Australia.
I desire for a few minutes to speak of the Commonwealth Bank. It is our great State Bank, and it has been in existence for nine years. I think it is advantageous to review what has been done, and to consider whether some steps cannot be taken to improve the machinery of that great institution. I have before me the annual report of the Bank of New Zealand, which includes a report of the proceedings at the annual meeting of the proprietors. There is an agitation in the Dominion for a bank on similar lines to the Commonwealth Bank. The report says -
There is only one State Bank in Australasia, and it is contended that the success which has been attained by that institution, founded nine years ago, warrants the foundation of a similar institution in New Zealand. The conditions of the two countries are, however, entirely different. One-third of the capital of the Bank of New Zealand is owned by the State, and the Government appoints a majority of the board of directors. TheState Bank referred to, which serves a population of more than four times that of New Zealand, has not, during the nine years of its existence, made any contribution to the public revenue whatever, eitherin the shape of dividends or taxation. True, ithas amassed a surplus of £3,792,726, which remains in the business, and is practically its working capital. The Bank of New Zealand, on the contrary, during the last nine years, has, exclusive of £375,000 bonus sharesissued to the Government, contributed to the revenues of this country no less a sum than £2,171,450.
The credit at the Commonwealth Bank of £3,792,726 is in two separate accounts. Half of it is in the retention account, which may be paid to the Government, and the other half is in a reserve account. The agreement between the Government and the Bank is that half the profits shall be put to a retention account, which the Governor of the Bank “may” at any time pay to the Government.
– Did not the Commonwealth Bank save the country between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 in floating loans ?
– That is a very vague question. I am not aware that the Bank did what is claimed for it, but I am aware that it charges the Government the full market rate of exchange. Muchof the sum of over £3,000,000 which now appears to the credit of the Bank may represent exchange paid by the Government. In ordinary banking transactions there are two rates of exchange, one for the public and one for the great corporations. In the old days, the Government always got from the private banks the benefit of the lower rate, but now they are charged the full rate by the Commonwealth Bank. I would be very much surprised to hear that the Commonwealth Bank has saved the Government between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000. The Governmenthave received nothing from the Bank towards the reduction of taxation. The sum of £2,171,450 which the Bank of New Zealand has contributed to the revenues of that country is made up as follows : -
I understand that the Commonwealth Bank does not pay any land tax, although it voluntarily pays many municipal rates. In addition to the amounts paid by the New Zealand Bank to the Government of the Dominion, a sum of £65,463 has been paid to local bodies for rates. I think that the Commonwealth Bank has paid as much as that, if not more, in local rates; so, therefore, the question of rates does not come into the comparison. The actual amount of cash invested by the Government of New Zealand in the bank is £875,000. To this amount has been added bonus shares for £375,000, thus creating by a transfer from the Reserve fund a capital interest in the Bank of £1,250,000. The annual dividend paid to the Government on its capital in the Bank is now £112,500. The interest payable by the Government on the loans issued to provide the capital it has invested in the Bank amounts to £32,500, leaving a net annual profit to the Government of £80,000. The last balancesheet of the Commonwealth Bank shows that its ordinary banking department holds £26,000,000 in deposits, principally in the Savings Bank department. The Bank does not help the ordinary man requiring assistance as the Bank of New Zealand does, and if greater facilities were provided it would be decidedly advantageous to those engaged in commercial pursuits.
– Does the New Zealand Bank have a Savings Bank Department ?
– No. The amount of deposits held by the Commonwealth Bank is £26,000,000, while the advances to customers amount to only £14,000,000, and it will be seen from these figures that this great financial institution, which is holding such vast sums of money, is not assisting the people to any considerable extent - at any rate, not to the same extent as the New Zealand Bank is. The deposits of the Bank of New Zealand, exclusive of those of the Government, on the 31st March stood at £19,500,000, while the advances in the Dominion amounted to £21,700,000, proving conclusively that greater financial assistance has been given to the primary producers in the Dominion than has been given by the Commonwealth Bank to Australian producers.
– On a smaller capital.
– Yes, because the Commonwealth Bank advanced only £14,000,000 out of £26,000,000, and the New Zealand Bank £19,500,000 out of £21,700,000.
– How is the amount of £26,000,000 made up?
– Of deposits, and it represents the total capital employed by the Bank. The report goes on to say -
It can undoubtedly be claimed that the experience of the last two years has proved the strength of the banks and their capacity to handle a critical position with judgment, courage, and consideration for their customers.
Our private banks have also handled very difficult situations with a good dealof judgment.
– Did I understand the honorable senator to say that the New Zealand Bank had advanced £21,000,000 out of a capital of £19,000,000 ?
– The deposits amounted to £19,000,000.
– How can £21,000,000 be advanced from a capital of £19,000,000?
– The amount I mentioned is exclusive of Government deposits.
– That ought to be taken into account.
– I have made these few remarks because I think it is time legislation was introduced to provide for the control of the Bank being placed in the hands of a board of directors. If the Commonwealth Bank amalgamated with some successful financial institution performing similar work, and the Commonwealth were given power to appoint, as has been done in connexion with the Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, a majority of the directors the position would be more satisfactory. The present system must terminate, because it is unwise to have the Commonwealth Bank handling such large gums of money when the public do not benefit, and refunds are not being made by the Bank to the Government which would be the means of reducing taxation. Without the Commonwealth Bank taxation would be lower.
– We would have lost considerable sums in connexion with the flotation of loans.
– I do not think there is much in that.
– The Governor of the Bank claims that money has been saved in that direction.
– I have not been very closely into that phase of the question, but if other honorable senators have it is their duty to bring the facts before the Senate. If some of the funds at present at the disposal of the Commonwealth Bank were available to the Government, I believe the income tax could be considerably reduced. From time to time, ugly stories have been circulated concerning the administration of the Bank, but I trust there is no truth in them.
– Does the honorable senator think that the Commonwealth Bank could be managed better by a Board than by the present Governor?
– The management would be more satisfactory. At present there is nearly £4,000,000 standing to the credit of a reserve and redemption account, ‘ a portion at least of which should be handed to the Government for use in the direction I have indicated. A considerable amount of revenue has been lost in consequence of the present policy, because if much of the money now held by the Bank were in private hands it would be taxable, whereas at present it is not. The result has been that taxation has been increased to a greater extent than would otherwise have been necessary.
– The profits if handed to the Government would be equivalent to the amount lost in taxation.
SenatorFAIRBAIRN. - Probably.
– Has the Commonwealth Bank been the means of cheapening the rates of interest?
– No ; I understand the rates charged by the Commonwealth Bank and private institutions are identical.
-The only instance in which the Commonwealth Bank rate is lower is on the interest it allows depositors in the Savings Bank branch.
– Yes ; and that is detrimental to the public.
– That is against the Bank.
– I am not responsible for the statement as to whom it is against; the position is as I have stated.
– The Commonwealth Bank charges 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. interest on overdrafts, which rate is also charged elsewhere.
– It never charges more than 6 per cent. on overdrafts.
– The honorable senator is quite wrong. I know it charges the Government more than private banks charge for exchange, so that it amounts to much the same. I have merely done what I considered was my duty in bringing these facts before the Senate. If we could establish a position such as exists in New Zealand, where the Government holds shares in an ordinary trading financial institution, the difficulty would be solved. The Government cannot trade, because, notwithstanding the attempts made to prevent it, political influence steals in somewhere. An effort should be made by the Government to amalgamate with some other institution and appoint a majority of the directors as the New Zealand Government have done with great advantage. The Commonwealth Bank is too large an institution to be controlled by one individual.
– It is too big a job for one man.
– Yes; because it seems impossible for one man to control the vast sum intrusted to that institution.
– A little while ago I saw a statement in one of our newspapers to the effect that communication between Great Britain and Australia by steam-boats is not any quicker to-day that it was twenty-five years ago. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) made a similar announcement, and I believe he said that twenty-five years ago the passage could be made in less time than it takes to-day. Rapid transit between the two countries is most essential, particularly if immigration to. Australia is to be considered, because one of the great difficulties encountered in encouraging persons to emigrate to Australia is the tremendous distance which separates Australia from Great
Britain. We cannot, of course, shorten the distance; but we can reduce the time, and it is difficult to understand why quicker passages cannot be made when we consider the numerous improvements that have been effected mechanically and otherwise in steam vessels during recent years. I sent a telegram a few days ago to the Post and Telegraph Department, asking to be supplied with a statement showing the contracts entered into previous to and since Federation with steamship companies for the carriage of our mails, in order that I might see whether any advance had been made. The Post and Telegraph Department was good enough to forward to me this morning the following statement: -
With reference to your telegram of 11th September, 1922, asking that you might be furnished with the terms of Orient mail contracts previous and subsequent to Federation, showing the hours of service and subsidy paid, I forward hereunder the desired information. The last contract prior to Federation was one arranged by the British Post Office, and it terminated on 31st January, 1905.
Italian port to Adelaide . . 696 hours
Adelaide to Italian port . . 708
It is only fair to say that, whilst the mail boats previously came direct to Adelaide, they now put in at Fremantle, and this must take a little longer. It is hardly fair, in the circumstances, to compare the time taken under the old contract of 696 hours with the 638 hours occupied under the existing contract.
The 190G contract provided for a run from Brindisi to Adelaide in 638 hours, and. the present provides for a service from Toulon to Fremantle in ‘632 hours. In the interval we have been able to decrease the time occupied in the carriage of the mails by only six hours. .
I do not hesitate to say that the payment of a subsidy for the carriage of our mails is one of the reasons why the time has not been much more substantially reduced. I think we should now review our position, and that, instead of continuing to pay a subsidy for the carriage of mail matter, we should adopt the poundage rate. It may he admitted that in the commerce between countries there is a time when it is necessary to pay a subsidy for the carriage of mails; but when trade and commerce and the intercourse between countries have sufficiently increased to bring about competition in shipping facilities, the continuance of a subsidy for the carriage of mails, instead of helping to bring about a quicker service, tends to retard progress. The payment of a subsidy obviously tends to lessen competition between shipping companies. “We know that business people say that competition is the soul of ‘business, and the experience of the last twenty years has proved my contention that the ‘payment of a mail subsidy has been one of the causes for the very slight reduction which has taken place in the time occupied in the carriage of our mails between lie Commonwealth and the Old Country. Shipping companies tendering for a contract requiring ships of a certain size, and that they shall be run at a certain speed and to a certain timetable, look for a contract extending over from seven to ten years. It is obvious that the company securing such a contract will base its tender on the run of the slowest boat in its fleet. If swifter vessels are used they will not be run at a speed which will cover the distance in quicker time. If they were, the Government might say, “ It is clear that you can carry the mails more quickly than you have contracted to do, and why not put on boats that will enable you to do so?” I think the .time has come when we can afford to take the risk of not subsidizing any company for the carrying of our mails.
The Orient Company is the one with which we have a contract at the present time, and I want it to be fully understood that I have not a single word to say against that company. I have always been very favorably disposed towards the Orient Company. I remember that years ago, when the Governments of Australia were putting up a fight for the employment of white crews, the Orient Company came to their assistance, and accepted a contract with that condition. I remember, also, that some years ago, when travelling on one of the Orient boats from Adelaide to Albany or Fre-mantle, during the parade on the Sunday the captain of the vessel said to me, “I am sure that you will be pleased to know that not only is every member of our crew white, but every one of them is a British subject.” Towards the Orient Company, then, I have only the friendliest feelings; but I still think that the time has come when we can no longer afford to take the risk of continuing to pay a subsidy for the regular delivery of our oversea mails, in view of the fact that we have a Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers. I am glad to know that, so far as that Line is concerned, there exists at the present time the most amicable relationships between the seamen and the management. I trust that those relationships will continue. Both management and men should realize the advantage to the public generally of the men being treated well by the management, and the men should recognise that the boats must be controlled by the management. ‘
We shall, I think, be in a perfectly safe position if we now adopt the poundage system for the carriage of our mails. We have five Commonwealth, steamers travelling to the other side of the world, and we can look for at least one voyage every four weeks. I understand that these vessels might be able to give us more than thirteen trips in the twelve months, but it is sufficient for my case if they can give that number. These boats travel as fast as do either the Orient or the Peninsular and Oriental boats. . It is claimed that the quickest way to travel from Australia to England is to go overland to- Fremantle, and take passage on one of the Bay steamers, the actual time between London and Fremantle being thirty-one days as compared with thirty-four days by either the Orient or Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s vessels. It is only fair to say, however, that one reason why passage by the Bay steamers is quicker is that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s vessels call at Marseilles and the Orient Steam Navigation Company’s vessels at Toulon. From Port Said to Fremantle the time Occupied is twenty-nine days by the vessels of all three lines.
Senatorcox. - How are you going to get the mails from Port Said to Toulon?
– Before the war there was an arrangement for express mail matter to be picked up by swift vessels, and I understand that is done now. Magazines and other similar mail matter would reach Australia three days earlier by the Bay vessels than by steamers of the Orient and Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Companies. At present we are paying a subsidy of £130,000 to the Orient Steam Navigation Company and poundage rates to vessels of the Commonwealth Lines. On a four-weekly service this represents, I understand, about £20,000 a year, for which we get exactly the same service.
Senatorcox. - Does the British Government pay us any poundage rates?
– Yes. At present we have a four-weekly mail service with the Orient Steam Navigation Company and ‘ Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s mail vessels. We are paying £130,000 subsidy annually to the Orient Steam Navigation Company. We get back some portion of this in the form of poundage rates paid by the British Government to the Orient Steam Navigation Company on outward mail matter, and on the other hand we pay poundage rates to the British Government on mail matter sent from Australia by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s vessels. Some time ago I asked for figures dealing with this position, and those supplied referred to conditions obtaining prior to the war. I do not know whether the poundage rates now are the same as those in force before the last Madrid Conference. Up till 1914 we paid the Orient Steam
Navigation Company £170,000 per year, and poundage rates amounting to £27,000 to the British Government. Under that arrangement there was a fortnightly service, and the bulk mail matter by the vessels of both companies would be much about the same. On the other hand, the British Government paid the Commonwealth £52,000 poundage for mail matter brought to Australia by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s vessels, so we had an advantage in that respect, due to the fact that mail matter to Australia was heavier than from Australia to England. My contention is that there is no occasion to pay a subsidy at all, and that an arrangement on the poundage basis would be more satisfactory, because the vessels of the respective lines would then begin to compete one against the other. It is not all to the advantage of a company to be in receipt of a subsidy, because a subsidy implies certain restrictions. For instance, the vessels must keep to a certain time table, and must maintain a certain speed, and be subject to certain fines if mails are delivered behind schedule time. There is enough trade and commerce in Australia to insure keen rivalry if all the vessels are on the same basis. We have a tremendous trade, and there is no doubt that, with competition on equal footing, some of the finest vessels of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation and Orient Steam Navigation Companies would visit our shores. I should hesitate to make the suggestion but for the fact that the Commonwealth Line of Steamers is so well established.
– But there are not enough of our own steamers.
– I have already stated that we can be given a four-weekly service with the Commonwealth vessels, and we are getting a four-weekly service from both the Orient Steam Navigation Company and the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. I have no hesitation in saying that the Orient Steam Navigation Company would prefer no subsidy at all so long as no other company is subsidized.
– Upon what do you base that statement?
– On a speech delivered some time ago by Mr. (now Sir) Kenneth Anderson, the general manager of the line. His statement was to this effect -
There was a general impression that the mail contract was a mere by-product or makeweight in the running of such a line as the Orient Pacific. Nothing could be farther from the fact. The contract was a determining feature. Ito determined speed and type, and the rate and regularity of sailings, without any consideration whatever to economic or commercial conditions. On the other hand, the earnings were governed entirely by competition with swift steamers, the building and running of which were governed by economic conditions, and by those alone. That being so, they could quite understand that the earning power of mail steamers, relative to their size, was always on the down grade, while their expenses, owing to the more onerous requirements of a mail contract, were always on the up grade. ^
Naturally the Orient Steam Navigation Company would not care to compete with any other company that was in receipt of a subsidy, because a subsidy does help. But if no subsidy at all were paid all the vessels would be on an equal footing, and competition would insure “a good service.
– Under their own conditions; and that would mean Lascar labour.
– But I am not so sure that the experience of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company with Lascar labour has been entirely satisfactory.
– But there must be regularity of service for the development of trade and commerce.
– Competition will insure regularity. We are told that competition is the soul of business. Some months in the year, when the traffic is very small, it is quite possible that the Orient Steam Navigation Company would send no boats at all, or would send only their inferior vessels. If the Commonwealth did not have its own line of steamers, I would not ask that this should be done. The private companies do not wish to lose the trade that they have enjoyed. There are a number of people in England who say that the time is past when lines should be subsidized. Most of the shipping companies are naturally against subsidies, because these interfere with proper competitionIt is a serious matter that communication with Great Britain is no quicker now than it was twenty-five years ago. Two or three days ago it was pointed out in the press that a number of British shipowners had been discussing the possibility of utilizing oil-driven steamers between Great Britain and Australia. The Commonwealth steamers are oil driven; they are looked upon as cargo vessels rather than as mail boats, although they carry a certain number of passengers. Nevertheless, these steamers are doing the trip between Port Said and Fremantle just as quickly as the contract mail steamers, and no doubt the time of the journey could be shortened by the Commonwealth steamers if necessary. Why give a private company £130,000 a year to do what our own Commonwealth steamers are doing for us for £20,000, and probably less ?
– When a. mail steamer caters for passenger traffic, it must call in at the various ports.
-I quite recognise that it is not fair to say that the Commonwealth steamers travel more quickly from the Old Country, but from Port Said to Fremantle the Commonwealth steamers travel as quickly as the mail steamers.
What would have been the interest on overdrafts during the war period if there had been no Commonwealth Bank? I have been told by business men that, had it not been for this Bank and its fixed rate of interest on overdrafts, the rate would possibly have been higher. It is only fair to give credit to the Commonwealth Bank on that account. A Treasurer of New South Wales once told me that when he, as Treasurer, desired to enter into negotiations with the Bank of New South Wales and the Commercial Bank on a certain occasion they demanded certain terms. He stipulated other terms, and neither party would give way. At last the Treasurer said, “ I cannot act on your terms until I consult the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank.” One of the directors (Sir Russell French), with whom he was negotiating, then turned to the representative of the other bank and said, “ I think we had better discuss this matter a little longer.” The result was that the Treasurer succeeded in getting his terms. There, again, is an instance of the fairness of giving credit to the Commonwealth Bank. When the late
Premier of South Australia (Hon. A. H. Peake) wanted money and the banks would not agree to his terms, he went to England. He failed to get his terms there, and on returning to Australia the local banks thought they had him in the hollow of their hands, but the terms required were obtained from the Commonwealth Bank. Again we must give credit where credit is due.
If the people of Australia are being saved a considerable sum of money because of the competition of the Commonwealth Bank, the existence of the Bank is of national advantage. Matters of this nature must be taken into consideration in connexion with Commonwealth Government activities, and that is why I wish the Commonwealth Steam-ship Line ito be continued. Before a new contract with the Orient Company is entered into - I understand the present contract is only of twelve months’ duration - I hope the Government will inquire as to whether it would not pay Australia better to adopt the poundage system instead of giving a subsidy. It is certainly most serious that there has been no reduction in the last twenty-five years in the time occupied in voyaging between Australia and Europe.
In the Governor-General’s Speech it was foreshadowed that the Government intended to remove a certain section of the Public Service from the operation of the Arbitration Act. I am opposed to that, because I favour arbitration. The Civil Service has as much right to go to arbitration as any other members ot the community. Some time ago the Government introduced a Bill that became law under which a special arbitrator was ap- pointed for the Public Service. The Minister in charge of the Bill (Senator Pearce) gave a very excellent reason for its introduction, and I think it influenced honorable senators a good deal in supporting it. The Minister pointed out that there was a good deal of difference between employment inside and outside the Public Service, and it would be wise to have an arbitrator to deal specially with the Service. Why are the Government continually changing their minds in regard to the Service? I am reminded of a story told to me by Senator Pearce a little while after the war began. A recruit went to Broadmeadows, and after a short period of training decided to leave the camp. His reason was given in these words, “ First I am told ‘left wheel,’ and then ‘right , wheel: The fellows out here don’t seem to know their own mind. If they knew their own mind, I would be prepared to stay on.” It seems to me that the Government do not know their own mind about the Public Service. At one time Parliament is asked to place the Service under a special arbitrator, and now it is contemplated to remove a certain section of the Service from the privileges of arbitration. I admit that the Government have not yet come down with their proposal. I have stood for many years for the great principle of arbitration. I think it would be a very unfortunate thing if Parliament were asked to decide what the wages of civil servants should be. I am not dealing with the question from a State stand-point. The Government of New South Wales has suggested removing civil servants from the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court, and the Sydney Morning Herald has applauded the Government for that proposal. The newspaper pointed out that there was some reason for the ordinary employee having a right to go to an Arbitration Court, because his employer might desire to exploit him unfairly; but that there was no fear of that as far as the civil servant was concerned, because he waa an employee of the State, and the Government would not desire to exploit him. It further pointed out that even if the Government did desire to exploit him, there were members of Parliament who would see that it did not act unfairly towards him. That statement, if it means anything, means that Parliament should fix the wages of a large number of civil servants. I have no hesitation in saying that the worst possible institution to determine the wages of civil servants is Parliament. That would be intolerable. I understand that one of the -principles for which the National party stands is industrial peace. That means that we should allow men to submit their claims to an impartial Judge, who should decide as fairly as possible between man and man. It has also been said that if a person outside Parliament fixed the wages of the employees of the Government, that would interfere with the Budget, and would be tantamount to dictating terms to the Treasurer. The same statement might be applied to the purchase of materials. The PostmasterGeneral is going to spend £9,000,000, a large amount of which will be for the purchase of materials, such as switchboards, buildings, and telegraph lines. He has to accept the prices quoted in the market. If prices go up or down 10 per cent, or 25 per cent, after he has made his estimate, he must pay the difference or do without the goods. I am opposed to interfering with the principle of arbitration, and I should be very sorry to see the Government introduce a Bill with the object of taking away the right of public servants to arbitration. Some time ago in New South Wales there was a tremendous upheaval in the railway service. It was touch and go as to whether the men on strike would win or not. The great reason why the public came to the rescue of the Government, and saved the’ railway system from utter chaos, was because there was a Board to’ which the men could appeal. The Government said to the men, “ You can appeal to the Board, and we will allow it to decide the questions in dispute.” The men refused to go to the appointed Board. Had the Board not been there the men would have won, with, the natural consequence of chaos. The public said, “It is a fair, square deal, and if the men will not accept the proposal we will stand behind the Government.” They did stand behind the Government.
I come now to a matter relating to a question which I submitted recently, and which was answered by Senator Millen. I asked -
I think that was a fair question to ask. The answer was -
I do not hesitate to say that that answer is complete piffle, and ought not to have been supplied to any member of this Chamber. The recommendations of the Commission have been in the hands of the Government for a number of years. It cost, we are told, £2,400. I assume that in that amount there is one item which is not included, namely, the salaries of two or three very prominent civil servants, who for twelve or eighteen months were relieved of their work in order to bring up their report. The report has been presented to Parliament, and I have asked, I think rightly, whether any economies have been made. Although the Minister does not appear to pay any attention, I intend to press the question, and shall continue to press it, until I have received the information I am seeking. I do not think that it is a fair answer to my question to say that the Government cannot tell me what the economies have been, and that, although they have done’ something in the way of housing accommodation and staffing, they cannot say* exactly what. If there have been any economies, this Chamber ought to be informed of them. As a senator I have a perfect right, if money has been spent on a Commission, to know whether any economies have resulted. I believe it * would be as easy to find a grain of wheat in a bag of chaff as to find any economies that have been brought about as a result of the Commission. I was very disappointed at the answer furnished to me. It was not even an artistic answer. I have a great admiration for the way in which Departments can sometimes give answers. I have often travelled in the suburban trains of one of our great capitals, and I complained to one of the high officials that the lights were not burning properly. He said he would make inquiries. His idea was that they started lighting up earlier at that particular station, and the gas consequently went out at 9 o’clock. He went home at 4.30, and when there was a blaze of light on one occasion he asked for a report regarding it. The report was received about a fortnight afterwards. It admitted the fact, but said that a plumber was fixing up the lights, and when the train whistled he had to jump off quickly. When he received the report, the official said it was very satisfactory, and he did not want anybody to be hurt by getting off a train, but added that, as he had travelled several times at 4.30 and the lights were always on, he would like to know whether that particular plumber got on the train every day, and whether he was. always caught at that particular moment. That was something like an artistic reply; but in this Chamber Ministers do not even give an incorrect reply artistically. I doubt whether the Minister who answered my question would have accepted such an answer and given it to any other honorable senator. He would have treated any other honorable senator with more courtesy.
– I think we all get artistic replies.
– But this one was inartistic. They did not even pay me the compliment of giving me an artistic answer. I intend to keep pegging away until I get an answer. I doubt whether there have beenany economies. I was reading the other day an interesting life of Cardinal Manning. In it reference was made to a very important Commission on housing the poor, on which he sat together with the then Prince ofWales, afterwards King Edward VII. It was stated that Cardinal Manning was the last surviving member of the Commission, and that up to the time of his death not one recommendation made by it had been carried out. I feel that if the Government could show that they had carried out anyof the recommendations of the Economies Commission, they would be only too willing to let the Senate know of it. I have been confirmed in my view that whatever a Commission recommends the Departments are opposed to. I am anxious to know if the Government will be good enough to obtain some further information for me.
– If they do not, what will the honorable senator do?
– I do not know exactly what course I shall pursue; but, it certainly is not a joking matter.When the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) was Treasurer the Commission was appointed, and he said it was. going to do great things. The Minister who introduced the Public Service Bill in the Senate also referred very favorably to the economies that were to be effected in consequence of the Government giving effect to certain of its recommendations. Notwithstanding this, I cannot receive a satisfactory answer to a civil question, and I resent very much the manner in which I have been treated.
– In view of statements which have lately been made concerning the sugar industry, and alsoa resolution of the National Federation in this State which reads, “ That at the end of the present term in March next the Sugar Agreement be discontinued,” this opportunity should not be missed, particularly by a representative of Queensland, of doing something which may be the means of stiffening the Government.
– Does the honorable senator want to stiffen them?
– I am anxious that they shall display some backbone in the matter of the Sugar Agreement, be cause in connexion with its suggested renewal and also in relation to the date of the general election it is impossible to get a definite statement from the socalled strong-man Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), or the members of his so-called strong Government.
– Does not the honorable senator think that discussion on the sugar question should be delayed until the Committee, which is at present inquiring into the whole question, has submitted their report?
– I intend to deal only cursorily with those questions which are being inquired into; and to refer more particularly to the industry as a whole.
– That is what the Committee are doing.
– That does not prevent me at this stage from dealing with the sugar industry and making certain comments on the position as I see it. The Government should certainly give some clear indication as to what their attitude will be, and the answers given to questions in another place, which probably Senator Wilson has not seen, justify me in bringing the matter forward at this stage. The alternative of Government control, so far as I can see, means nothing short of a return to monopolistic control by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Should that occur, many disadvantages which do not now exist would again have to be encountered, although, of course, it is unlikely that the workers engaged in the industry would be compelled to give their labour for 22s. 6d. a week, as was the case some years ago. We have heard a good deal concerning what transpired at a meeting of the Housewives Association held a month or two ago, and I shall endeavour to remove the impression which exists in some quarters that the opinions expressed at that meeting were those of a great bulk of the consumers. I attended that meeting, and, judging by the experience gained at a late public gathering in Melbourne, I am led to believe that that of the Housewives Association was a “packed” gathering, and consisted of people who attended with the object of forcing the hands of the Government not only to reduce the price of sugar, but to terminate the Agreement and allow the control to revert to the ColonialSugarRefining Company. I attended the meeting of the Housewives Association, and quietly noted the attitude adopted, principally by those hon- orable members of another place who support the Government, and who declared against continuance of control. The opinions expressed at the meeting certainly do not represent those of the vast bulk of Melbourne consumers.
– Some members of the honorable senator’s party were on the platform at that meeting.
– Yes, but they did not oppose the continuance of the Agreement. They did object to the price of sugar remaining as high as it is at present, and to some extent I agree with them.
You, Mr. President, as well as other honorable senators, know that in Queens land there is a consumers’ case which has been put forward from time to time in that State, and as I have had occasion to go fully into the question I can appreciate its importance. The consumers in Queensland, as well as those people in other States who have to look at every shilling before it is spent, do not wish sugar to be retailed at 5d. or 6d. a lb., but naturally desire to obtain supplies as cheaply as possible. What has amused me in coming to Melbourne is that the late agitation has been directed solely against the price of sugar as if itwere the only commodity that is high in price. While the cost of living in Melbourne is practically double what it was in prewar days, we cannot reasonably expect the. retail price of sugar to be 3d. per lb., as it was some years ago. Having given a little study to the reasons which have necessitated the great increase in prices throughout the world, I have come to the conclusion that we shall never reach the time when prices of some commodities will be 100 per cent. less than they are to-day, and when economic stabilization is reached, prices and wages willbe probably 50 per cent. higher than before the war. High prices are sure to remain when we consider that the war cost the world £40,000,000,000, and that the interest on that expenditure has to be met. Sugar is never likely to be at the pre-war retail rate of 3d. per lb.
– Not at the present cost of production.
– No, because the cost of living to the growers and those engaged in the works, at the mills, and in the refineries, is much higher than it was when the retail price of sugar was at the rate I have mentioned. If it recedes to 4½d. per lb., that is as far as we can expect it to go while the cost of other commodities remains at the present level.
– ‘How does the honorable senator suggest overcoming the difficulties of the fruit producers?
– There are fruit-growers in Queensland as well as in the southern States whose interests have to be conserved, and, although bananas are not preserved, in the canning of pines and stoned fruits, such as those grown in the Stanthorpe district, large quantities of sugar are used. The Premie* of Queensland, Mr. Theodore, on 17th March, 1922, made the following statement prior to a gathering of the Chambers of Commerce in Hobart -
I quite realize, of course, that the interests of the fruit-growers in this and the other States deserve every consideration, and that those industries should be fostered anc! encouraged. Ae a matter of fact, the (interests of the fruit-growers run. along parallel lines with those of the sugar producers. It is the hig manufacturing industries in the southern States that are using the fruit-growers as pawns in their game of self-advantage. It is noteworthy that the Queensland fruit-grower does not join in the southern chorus against the Queensland sugar industry, for the reason that he knows the real position, and realizes that his interests and .those of the sugar producers are common. £t will be seen that the fruit-growers in Queensland do not want dear sugar any more than those similarly engaged in the southern States; but they appreciate the importance of the sugar industry and the difficulties which have to be met. If any fruit-grower in Australia desires to continue making the large profits made during the war, when sugar was cheaper here than in any other part of the world, he will have to use sugar produced by black labour, and thus assist in destroying the Queensland industry.
– Would the honorable senator compel the industry to shut down?
– That is not necessary as fair as. the home consumption of jams and confectionery is concerned. If we are to maintain- the large export trade built up during the war in competition with black-grown sugar, one or the other will have to go. It is impossible for us to produce sugar in Australia with white labour at the cost for which it can be produced by black labour outside.
I wish to say something on the suggestion that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are out to gain full control of the sugar industry . We .know that a good deal has been said in this connexion by witnesses at the inquiry into the Sugar Control. One witness, a Mr. A. H. Price, sand that he preferred control by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and this was put as the attitude of the wholesalers who deal in sugar. He preferred their distribution to the distribution of sugar by the Government. It was claimed by another witness an behalf of the retailers that they required a margin of 20 per cent, on sugar, and that that represented only a fair profit for grocers. It was said, further, that they had a margin of only 14.6 per cent., and that they were losing 6.4 per cent, in distributing sugar, taking the handling costs of the Inter-State Commission at 21 per cent, as a basis. The information I .have does not bear out these statements with regard to distributing costs. In Great Britain the wholesale discount rate on sugar is 1 per cent., and in the United States the rate is 2 per cent. In Australia, on large quantities, the discount is 6 per cent. The cost of freight is a matter which needs consideration. I mention these matters because we generally hear a great deal said about the wages paid to workers in the industry to-day. The shipping freight on sugar from north Queensland to the southern markets was at one time lis. per ton; it is to-day £2 per ton, or more than the freight from Java on vessels on which coloured crews are employed. It will be seen that the freight has made a big jump up. I believe that it is to these matters, and also something of a lack of proper control by the Government, that much of the delay in a reduction in the price of sugar is attributable. The wages for cane cutters and workers in the raw sugar mills are regulated’ by the Queensland Courts, whilst freights and distributing: costs have not been controlled. The following figures will give some idea of the relative increase in costs : Raw sugar, 68 per cent. ; wages, 80 per cent. ; and freights, 260 per cent.
– The honorable senator is not consistent in suggesting that the shipping freights should be regulated by competition with coloured labour, whilst the price of sugar should not be so regulated.
– I did not say that. I said that the present freight is more than the freight from Java by vessels carrying coloured crews and from a much longer distance.
– The inference was that the freight should come down to that charged on such vessels.
– I do not advocate that at all.
In connexion with the present agitation against the continuance of Government sugar control, . I have gathered some material which I intend to submit to the Senate. I think it will be admitted that there is an undoubted tendency on the part of those who support the Government to oppose the continuance of the Sugar Agreement. That, I think, can be seen from their criticism.
– All the criticism of the Government on the sugar question came from those opposed to the Government, the honorable senator’s colleagues.
– No; on the question of price there was criticism, but not on the question of control. Every well-wisher of the great Queensland industry regards any reduction in the price of sugar at the present time as a very serious matter. We find an agitation here against the continuation of the Sugar Agreement, but all parties in Queensland recognise its continuance as the best solution of the problem. The opponents of the Agreement refer to it as a socialistic job, and the Melbourne press, or a section of it, refer to it in that way. A similar term might be applied to other Government activities, such as the compulsory Wheat Pool. There is not the slightest doubt that a section of the supporters of the present Government are against the continuance of the Sugar Agreement, just as they were against it in 1915, when the Sugar Purchase Bill was introduced. I have here a few extracts from the debate on the second reading of that measure, which was moved by Mr. Andrew Fisher on 1st September, 1915. The Sugar Agreement was between the Commonwealth Government, the State Labour Government of Queensland, and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The Commonwealth Bank, of which we have heard a little lately in connexion with the discussion of sugar, financed the transaction. Mr. Fisher, in moving the second reading of the Sugar Purchase Bill, said -
Ido not think its result will be anything but beneficial to the Commonwealth. The Governor of the Bank will protect the interests of consumers as well as the interests of the Commonwealth.
I now come to statements which are echoed to-day by the section of the supporters of the Government to whom I have referred. They were represented at that time, amongst others, by Sir John Forrest, afterwards Lord Forrest. He was one of the spokesmen of the opposi tion to the Sugar Purchase Bill, and he said -
It seems to me that this is an undesirable interference with the sugar industry of Australia. I am afraid that there is too much of this sort of thing going on. This seems to be another socialistic enterprise for which no necessity has been shown, or even attempted to be shown.
We are hearing to-day an echo of those words of the late Lord Forrest. I find that Sir Joseph Cook, who was at the time Leader of the Opposition, said -
In allowing this Bill to pass I wish to put on record, once more, my protest against these socialistic enterprises of the Government being put through in war time.
Referring to Mr. W. M. Hughes, he went on to say -
The Attorney-General made it clear that this Bill was in pursuance of the socialistic programme of the Labour party.
There, again, is a statement which recently has been echoed time and. again in the Melbourne press and from different platforms on which the question of sugar control has been discussed.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– I shall quote from the speech of Mr. Finlayson, who represented Brisbane in 1915, because such speeches are illuminative as showing the political mind of those who made the Sugar Agreement,which may yet, I make bold to say, determine the fate of the present Government.
– It was a war-time measure.
– Yes, and, despite that fact, it was a good measure. The return to control by the Colonial. Sugar Refining Company would certainly not be in the best interests of any section of the community. Mr. Finlayson said, when speaking on the Sugar Purchase Bill in 1915-
To-day more cane than ever is being planted because of the confidence created in the future of the industry by this measure. Indeed, the reason for this Bill is that there was every prospect of a specific statement by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company that it would be necessary to raise the’ price because of the shortage of supplies. This Bill has been introduced to protect the people against fictitious prices and exploitation.
The reason for the comparatively high price of sugar in Australia to-day is the earlier short supplies, the want of confidence in the industry, and the need to buy abroad, coupled, of course, with the f ailure of the crops. That the Agreement was a very satisfactory thins; for Australia, as a whole, is shown by the fact that the price at one time would have been ls. to ls. 6d. per. lb. if the world’s market rates had been allowed .to rule. On account of Government control, £12,000,000 has been saved to the consumers.
The alternative to Government control is control ‘by the ‘Colonial Sugar Refining Company. I do not say that everything connected with the company is bad. I dare say there is not another company in Australia that has such fine organization and methods of production. I do not suppose there is another company that has brought the art of refinement to such a pitch of perfection. I have seen the company’s refinery at Brisbane, and it seemed to me that it had done away with labour costs to such an extent that one almost trembled when he thought of the future of the workers. It would appear that very soon such a stage would be reached that it would merely be necessary to press a button and the refining machinery in all its processes would work almost without attention. It is not a good thing, however, to allow any small section of the people to capture the whole of an industry, and so run it as to enable them to extort any price they liked. Before the Sugar Agreement was made that was very largely the position occurred by this company ‘ in regard to the sugar industry.
– Did they extort?
– Before the Agreement was entered into they did, I think, take a larger share of the profits of that industry than they were entitled to.
– Any larger profits than any other industry of the same magnitude at that period ?
– I would not say their profits were the largest, but they were certainly among the most prosperous companies in Australia.
– Do you know what percentage they made on their capital ?
– All sorts of percentages have been stated, and it is difficult to arrive at the exact position. Mr. Bamford, the member for Herbert, who is a supporter of the present Go vernment, stated in 1912, in the debate on the Sugar Bounty Bill -
The cream of the profits goes to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. In 1005, instead of the increase in the sugar market benefiting the grower, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company reaped the fullest advantage, and distributed it amongst shareholders in a jubilee bonus of 2J per cent.
In 1006 the Colonial Sugar Refining Company made a new issue of shares of 15,000, at their par value of £20 each. Shareholders had to pay £5 each share, which meant a £15 present to them on the par value; but as the Colonial Sugar Refining Company shares at the time were worth £42 in the open market, the gift actually amounted to £37 a share. That is one of the ways in which the profits are disbursed. Instead of the increased profits from higher markets going to the men who produced the cane,, the whole of it went to the shareholders of the company.
In June, 1008, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company made an even more valuable gift to its shareholders. It passed resolutions whose effect was that 17,500 new shares were, given to the shareholders at their par value of £20 each, but the shareholders received an absolute gift of £47 with each share, because the actual market value at the time was £47 per share. It must be remembered that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company for considerable periods paid dividends of 10 per cent, on the original capital of about £2,000,000, whilst they .had, at the same time, .built up their assets as against their liabilities bv over £1,000,000.
– Do you know how long it took the company to do that?
– Yes; and I have already paid a tribute to their splendid organization and the high pitch to which the art of refining has- been brought.
– What was the price of sugar in 1912?
– From 2%d. to 3d.
– About 3di.
- Mr. Bamford went on to say -
Some of this profit came from refining raw sugar imported by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company from Java and Mauritius; but allowing for that, I have shown ‘ that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s profits are such as to warrant them paying a bigger price for their raw. sugar, which would enable a higher price to be paid for cane and the farmers to pay a living wage. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company will not brook _a competitor, for when one was established in Balmain, Sydney, they in 1907 bought it.
Now, dealing with the cost of living generally, I wish to emphasize that every article that one needs costs about 100 per cent, more than it formerly did. Boarding-house charges are about double what they were. I am wearing a pair of Sydney boots that cost me £2 10s., although four years ago I could purchase a similar article for 21s. For a hat. which cost 10s. 6d. or 12s. ten years ago, I now have to pay 25s. There has been a terrific howl in Melbourne in the last three months about the price of sugar, as if an extra ls. a week is the only thing that matters in our household economy. I recognise that behind the cry for cheap sugar are the jam-makers, but apart from them is a greater force, and I should like to know what it is. It seems to me that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company want to resume their old control. There is a strong section trying to remove the present control so that there will be practically no Government trading at all. It is desired to do away with every one of those Government enterprises that started during the war and still have some measure of Government control left. Whatever may be said about the Geelong Woollen Mills and the Canungra Saw-mills, I do not think that any honorable senator can show why the Government control of the sugar industry should be removed. I saw the other day a statement in one of the Melbourne papers that sugar was sold in New Zealand on 7th September at 3d. per lb. ; but it would, be necessary to inquire whether that was grown by black labour.
– It certainly was.
– There was nothing in the Melbourne press to show that. The statement was printed in large type, and the inference left to the casual reader, who does not trouble to think matters out for himself, was that that sugar was grown by white labour. Without Government control, where do you get? The only alternative is the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s control. The Melbourne Age has taken a prominent part in the agitation, and probably a good deal of the propaganda in its columns has been paid for. The incessant battery and the working up of scare headlines could lead to no other conclusion than that there was a good deal of interested animus behind it. Where is the inquiry going to end? I could also quote from the Melbourne Age of 18th September, 1912, some comments on Mr.
Bamford’s remarks. I heard his statement, and nothing that I have read since has been so illuminating to me regarding the profits of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company before the Sugar Agreement was made.
– It would be interesting to know what profit the Age is making at 2d. per copy.
– In the years gone by the leading papers made something like £100,000 a year. I do not know what the present rate of profit is. The papers which howl about the rise from 3d. to 6d. in the price of sugar have themselves enjoyed 100 per cent, increase - from Id. to 2d. - in the price of their papers. The Housewives Association is, very obviously, a well-packed organization, which is very Victorian and very Conservative. I attended the gathering they held and I had the interest and pleasure about a month later of meeting a large number of people who more truly represented the masses. They took the unmistakable attitude that, as far as they were concerned, they were not worrying about an extra ls. a week in the price of sugar so long as white labour was employed and decent rates of wages were paid in Queensland. They recognised that Victoria and the great manufacturing centres got their quid pro quo. Apart from the large quantity of manufactured articles sold in Queensland, about 4,000 workers from Victoria and the southern States go to work in the cane-fields every year. People who are more representative of Melbourne sugar consumers have said to me that as far as they were concerned the amount involved in the matter of sugar was so small, when compared with the landlordry, or land robbery, of this city, and the increase in the prices of other articles, that it was trivial. They were not so much concerned as Mrs. Glencross’ followers iri the remarkable gathering held in Collins-street two months ago. The Melbourne Age, in September, 1912, severely criticised the Colonial Sugar Refining Company for making large profits. In indorsing what Mr. Bamford had said, the Age wrote - “It (the profit) comes from the sugar-refining business because the company is strong enough to pay almost what it likes to the growers for its cane, and to charge almost what it likes to the consumers for the completed article.” That was the Age’s criticism of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s monopoly control at that time. The Age cannot have it both ways - it cannot have Government control, which it claims is Socialistic, and at the same time have private control. In previous years the cost of everything was lower. In this city board and lodging was obtainable for 25s. per week, whereas to-day it costs £210s. Those figures indicate the economic position of the ordinary citizen to-day.
– The cost of living is coming down.
– There is no sign that landlordry, or land robbery, has given up squeezing the consumers. Why should one article, such as Queensland sugar, be picked out for special criticism ? There are special reasons why there should be some protection in that industry. That is one of the things which has led me to collect some information regarding the state of the political mind in this city and in Australia generally during the last ten years. The Age agreed that a wage of 22s. 6d. a week was a black man’s wage, and was not sufficient for a white man to live on. It quoted an honorable member, who said that the Colonial Sugar Refining monopoly laid its tribute on workers, growers, and consumers alike. The Age had a remedy at that time. When we hear of that and other newspapers talking to-day of socialistic “jobs,” it is interesting to recall what they advocated at that time. They kicked the then Labour’ Government for its slowness in not taking power to wipe out the Colonial Sugar Refining monopoly control. The Age advocated the establishment of Government refineries, and said, “ It (the Government) might establish refineries of its own and compete against the methods of the company.” It ridiculed the Labour Government’s contention that it had not the power to do so under the Constitution.
– That was tried in Queensland.
– Not to a great extent, and not to the extent which the Age advocated. Here was the Age, a capitalistic newspaper, advocating Government trading to the extent of establishing refineries to compete against this powerful and wonderful organization, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
– They have become wiser by experience.
– I do not know their state of mind to-day, but they advocated Government refineries in 1912. Every one who has studied the question knows that one way to establish Socialism is to drive capitalistic organizations out of existence by competition. Apparently the Age had in mind the idea that one way to get rid ofthe Colonial Sugar Refining Company was to establish Government refineries and by competition drive the company out of existence.
– The Royal Commission on the sugar industry did not favour the establishment of Government refineries.
– Refining is a remarkable and highly technical business, and I believe the high degree of technicality which pervades the whole business alarmed at least one member ofthe Commission, who was expected by his brethren at that time to be strongly in favour of the nationalization of refineries and the taking over of the industry by the Government.
– The evidence against the nationalization of the refinery business was simply overwhelming.
– That is a matter of opinion. I am only stating facts. One member of the Commission could not see his way to furnish a minority report advocating nationalization. If I had been on the Commission I might have taken a different view.
I will now deal generally with the interests of Australia in regard to the sugar industry. As I stated before the tea adjournment, there is a consumers’ case in Queensland for cheap sugar. There is also a fruit-growers’ case in that State for cheap sugar. In Queensland, we do not want to pay more for sugar than any other member of the community pays. I have met many good Labourites who take that view, and I think it is a sound one. No one wants to pay 4d. for sugar if he can get it for 2d.; or £1 for a hat if he can get it for 10s. ; or £2 for a cottage if he can get it for £1; or 2d. for the Ageif he can get it for1d., to come right home to the critics of the Government control of the sugar industry. I think the sugar industry must he treated in a different way from any other industry. Senator Lynch is prepared to say that the Labour party to-day is communistic. I say it is not. My predecessor in this Senate took the then Premier of Queensland (Mr. Denham) to task many years ago for saying that the Labour Government was a communistic Government. There is a difference between Communism and Socialism, and the late Senator Adamson called Mr. Denham to order because of the looseness of his terms. We hear those terms misused a great deal to-day.
– The honorable senator’s party has altered its objectives a good .deal since those days. It is now “ Socialization,” which is not “ Socialism.”*
– The only difference in the progress towards the socialistic objective of the Labour party is in the matter of improving Government enterprise by the introduction of a share of responsibility by the workers.
– That is Syndicalism.
– It is a socialized adaptation of the Whitley scheme, which was introduced in England in order to bring about harmony between capital and labour. Any one who has had anything to do with co-operative enterprise, who has studied the need for proper coordination and subordination, and the proper direction of a body of men, without the necessity for cringing or servility, who has had due regard for the need for proper discipline, and a due appreciation of the difficulties of those who have charge of enterprises, will admit the difficulty of getting workers of all shades, from the high-collared gentleman at £1,000 a year to the man on the bread-line, to understand that they have to do a fair day’s work. One of the difficulties of Government enterprises in the past has been to secure a proper recognition of the personal duty of each man to do his share. The new proposal of the Labour party has overcome that by giving the workers a share in the control of any socialized or controlled industry. At the start they would not necessarily have a commanding share, but at least a share. This is one of the proposals to overcome the increasing combat between capital and labour, and it will prepare the workers for greater industrial advance.
– Ought the railway workers of Queensland to be given a share in the management of the Queensland railways?
– The railwayworkers in Queensland are no different from the railway workers in any other part of the world. By putting responsibilities upon them we would have a greater chance of complete industrial success than we would have under a system of Government enterprise where the workers were not represented on the eontrolling Board and had not a conscientious feeling that it was a point of honour with them that each man should do his share.
– When the honorable senator speaks of co-operative concerns, does he mean that the workersshould share the losses as well as theprofits?
– I am speaking of giving them a share of the control, of an undertaking. The interjection raises a different aspect of the matter, and it is a phase of the question I shall have an opportunity of dealing with more fully later; but it must not be forgotten that the workers now bear a. share of any lasses in the form of taxation.
– Mr. Willis said that the socialization of an industry meant control by those engaged in it.
– That is the objective, but we are speaking now of the transition stage. That is the only difference between the old socialistic objective and the policy of the Labour party in Queensland at present’.
– The Colonial Sugar Refining Company has a perfect organization without that.
– It may have as regards the refining, but not in other directions. In dealing with this industry we have to realize, that if the land is not put to its present use most of it will re- turn te its original wild state. Whenthe retail price of sugar was very low in previous years, growers not only were compelled to go out of business, but there was also a shortage of supplies, which caused considerable inconvenience because consumers had either to go without or purchase’ sugar produced by black labour. Moreover, if the sugar areas in Queensland become deserted to any extent there will always be the risk of invasion by coloured people.
– More so than before the Sugar Agreement was entered into?
– Yes. I have already quoted testimony to show that the position before the agreement was not altogether satisfactory. It must also be remembered that the average price of other commodities is 100 per cent, higher than before the war, and there is no reason why the sugar producers should not receive a proportionately high rate for their product. Frequent reference is made to the sugar barons, and, although it is true that some have done well out of the industry, there are a number of others who have gone out of business.
– Have they retired ?
– No. Many have been pushed off the land owing to adverse circumstances, and in any case itis a poor man’s industry. Some time ago a man who had six months earlier been engaged in road -trenching, and who apparently had then no better prospects in life than to derive his livelihood from’ the use of- a pick and shovel, came to my office as a member of a delegation of sugarplanters. I asked him if he had made a change, and when he said he had gone into the sugar-growing business I was surprised to learn that he had been able, with the limited capital at his disposal, to engage in the sugar “business. In sugar-growing, as in all rural production, a little capital is required, and certain preliminary costs have to be met, but this young man said that he had managed to make a start, and was hoping to do well. There are very few sugarplanters in Queensland who have been able to retire from business, as a number of farmers in the Wimmera and the Mallee have been able to do after having made fortunes out of wheat or wool, and to ‘ take up their residence in Geelong, Melbourne, or other favoured districts.
– But .there has been a big increase in land values.
– Yes, in consequence of circumstances arising out of the war; but those conditions are not likely to continue. From the evidence given at the inquiry being held into the sugar industry, it appears that govern mental control has not been all that it should have been, and there has ‘been ‘a little autocracy accompanied by the weaknesses which are usually present under such control, and a desire to do twenty jobs when one is sufficient.
– The honorable senator must have obtained his information from the head -lines in the newspapers.
– Not at all. The statements made by gentlemen whose names have been published in connexion with the inquiry are sufficient proof that the work has not been carried on in a business-like way, and that ‘there has been too much of what is termed by some, “ the Government stroke.”
– The honorable senator should not complain df statements appearing in the press when he accepts those statements which suit his argument.
– Certain statements have been made which make it appear that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has done better in recent years under the so-called Government control.
– As far as the refining operations are concerned, the profits of the Colonial Sugar Refining Com.pany are about the same under Government control as they were before.
– The figures I have read from time to time, and the evidence of Mr. Bamford, would lead ohe to the almost certain conclusion that they made more in the years prior to the Agreement, because one has to take into consideration the purchasing power of money. The cost of living in Melbourne as compared with the north is very marked, and when a measure is submitted to the Senate providing, for a reduction in the salaries of parliamentary’ representatives, it will be my duty to give it very close attention, because experience has shown me that to-day one requires £400 or £500 where £200 would have been sufficient in normal times.
I shall probably have more to say on the sugar industry and the settlement of our northern areas when the. Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Pearce) is dealing with his policy for the development of the Northern Territory. Although I am not as conversant with the situation as perhaps Mi”. Walker, of Bundaberg, or Senator Crawford, I have had a long experience of the sugar question, and believe that the industry mustbe maintained on a seminational basis. When an import duty of £6 per ton was first imposed there was a’ certain section of Free Traders in Sydney who strongly advocated the abolition of the duty, and who cared little whether the industry thrived or went under. The northern areas are suitable for the production of certain commodities, and the population is mainly to be found - apart from the mining population at Charters Towers and Chillagoe and other mining camps - along the coast-line. The only substantial settlement in Queensland is in the sugar districts, and it has increased steadily since the deportation of the kanakas. The inland population is comprised of those engaged in sheep or cattle raising, as mining has declined considerably, and if the sugar industry is not kept on a firm basis much of the land now under cane must go back to its original state. We have to consider the question with our eyes open, irrespective of Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, or any other ‘ism. We must decide whether the industry shall be in the hands of private enterprise or conducted on a semi-national basis. It is all very well for those who reside in favoured spots on the mainland or on choice selections in Tasmania to say that private monopoly should have control; but those who know the conditions which exist in the northern areas realize that if they are to be developed the work must be done in a semi-socialistic spirit. I trust that the Minister for Home and Territories will bear this in mind in framing his policy for the development of the Northern Territory, where, for years, we have been endeavouring to do something, and where the net result has been the closing down of the meat-works. The development and settlement of the Northern Territory is a national task, and the first step to be taken must be in the direction of providing adequate railway facilities to draw northward the population which has a tendency to spread along the coast line. There are some who say they prefer the interior, with its heat and dry roads, where the water-bottle gives out, and they are forty-eight hours without a drink; but they are not telling the truth. They are the people who, notwithstanding their expressions to the contrary, are always anxious to get back to the cool shades beloved of their forefathers. The difficulties have been such that for 100 years’ private enterprise has endeavoured, faltered, and failed, and if early and successful settlement of the Northern Territory is desired, it will only be by carrying out the work in a semisocialistic way.
The sugar industry has been made a white man’s industry, and must be treated considerately, and not only from the point of view of a narrow private enterprise. A majority of the members of the Senate may believe that individualism is better than Socialism in nine cases out of ten, but we have to consider the tenth case also in which a measure of Socialism may be clearly necessary. We know the dreadful alternative if Northern Queensland is not occupied by those engaged in the sugar industry, or possibly in the cotton industry should from £10,000,000 to £15,000,000 be invested in that industry. If we are to have an increased population in Northern Queensland engaged in the sugar industry, the cotton industry or similar industries, it can only be by the adoption of some measure of paternal Socialism in our dealings with those industries. We shall have to recognise that men and women settling in those districts are deserving of every help, and more deserving of assistance than those who have remained in the more favoured latitudes of the southeastern corner of this great continent. We must consider the difficulties which Australia will have to face in the future.
– The honorable senator wishes to frighten us.
– I have no wish to create undue alarm, and from my knowledge of Senator Elliott it would not be an easy matter to frighten him. But honorable senators are aware that what may be referred to in jocular fashion in one generation may be the accomplished deed of the next. There is a sufficient task before us in maintaining our hold on Central Australia and the northern regions of Australia to give concern to even the strongest amongst us. It is claimed that the best results in development will be obtained by private enterprise and individualism, but the experience of the past has shown that so far from that being the case in the areas to which I have referred the efforts made to develop them have resulted in waste and loss.
I regard the sugar industry as one of the bulwarks of our title to the occupation of this continent. A spirit of parochialism is displayed between Melbourne and Sydney, and that is not the political attitude which is going to help Australia.
– Is there not the same spirit displayed between Queensland and South Australia?
– There must be very little of that spirit exhibited between the States referred to by the honorable senator, as I can scarcely recall an instance of it.
– What about the North-South line which Queenslanders want to shove over into their ‘State?
– I do not want particularly to do that. I shall take an early opportunity of expressing my views on the NorthSouth line, and it will be seen that they are in accordance with the sentiments I have expressed here to-day. Honorable senators may be disposed ro smile at what they may regard as a somewhat visionary view, but the position as I see it will, I think, .have to be faced or Central Australia and the northern regions of this continent will become inhabited by one of the coloured races of the Asiatic archipelago. It has astonished me to find that the people of “.the south have the impudence to make such a howl about a rise of 100 per cent, in the price of sugar, in view of the fact that there has been almost a similar increase in the price of every other commodity, and that for many years to come it is probable that prices will continue to be 50 per cent, in advance of pre-war prices. I hope that we shall obtain from the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Government in the Senate a definite statement as to where the Government stand on the question of sugar control. Whether the price of sugar can be reduced to 5d. or to 4½d. per lb. is a debatable matter, and the fruitgrowers and those engaged in the canning of fruit in Queensland desire, in common with those engaged in similar industries in the south, to obtain as cheap a supply of sugar as possible. I wish to remind the members of the National Federation, who passed a resolution in favour; of the de-control of sugar, that they are faced with alternative of a Colonial Sugar
Refining monopoly control, and all the evidence I have given to-day shows that that was condemned, root and branch, in past years. I hope it will not be returned to. Now that Mr. Hughes has flitted from Bendigo to North Sydney he may feel in a stronger position to oppose Victorian criticism, and I hope we may look to him to tell us before the elections come off what he intends to do in connexion with the future control of the sugar industry.
Senator KEATING (Tasmania) f8.53’. - There are only a couple of matters which I shall take the opportunity of ventilating under cover of the motion for the first reading of this Supply Bill. I hope not to engage the attention of the Senate at any very great length. A few years ago we passed a measure known as the Industrial Peace Act. Several times since it was passed it has been the subject of questions addressed bv me to Ministers in this Chamber. More than once I have asked when it was intended by the Government to utilize the provisions of that Act for the purpose of promoting industrial peace in th« various industries of the Commonwealth. So far as I know, the only instance in which the provisions pf the Act have been used for the purpose which the Act was passed to achieve was in connexion with the coal industry. A Coal Tribunal was established, and for a considerable time afterwards it “was, I think, more, than once pointed to by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) as an illustration of the successful working of that method of establishing industrial peace. Other critics thought that it had established industrial peace in the coal-mining industry, but at the expense, not at all of the industry and those immediately concerned, but of the general community. Be that as it may, the coal-mining industry is the only one to which, so far as I know, the Industrial Peace Act has been applied. Speaking for myself, as one of the senators who supported the measure through all its stages, I may say that I was rather enthusiastic and optimistic in regard to it. I believed, as the Prime Minister seemed to believe, that its passage was ushering in the dawn of a new era of industrialism in the Commonwealth. We proposed bv that measure to establish a Commonwealth Council of Industrial Representatives, District Councils of industrial representatives, Special Tribunals to deal with special cases, and Local Boards. I hope that before the session ends the Government will make some definite pronouncement as to whether or not they intend that the Industrial Peace Act shall .remain on the statute-book practically a dead letter, or whether they intend to utilize its provisions in connexion with industries other than the coal-mining industry. I believe that employers and employees concerned in different industries would welcome the application of the provisions of the Industrial Peace Act to the industries in which they are engaged.
As regards arbitration, it has been often said that it is upon its trial. The arbitration system has its defects, as we all know, it has been costly, cumbersome and slow. It has been costly and cumbersome largely, I believe, because of a provision of the original Act, which excluded members of the legal profession from the Courts unless both parties to a dispute agreed to employ them. I believe that their exclusion has in very many instances multiplied the evidence enormously. I mean bv that that a great deal of irrelevant evidence has been introduced. Extraordinary powers were given by the Act to the Court with regard to the admission of evidence, and it has not been a function of the Court to shut out evidence which in ordinary litigation would not be admitted. If legal assistance had been used by both parties to disputes in a great many cases, the legal advisers of both sides would themselves have seen the relevance or irrelevance of proposed evidence, and much that now occupies the attention of the Arbitration Court, and has occupied it in the past, would never have been put forward. The time of the Court would not have been occupied unnecessarily, and the mind cif the Court would not have been affected, as it must necessarily have been, by even irrelevant evidence. That is one of the reasons why arbitration proceedings have proved costly, cumbersome, and slow. An attempt has recently been made by the Government to remedy the slow despatch of the business of the Court by the appointment of extra Judges. Whether those appointments will achieve the end desired remains to be so .’I, but I still think that, notwithstanding the numerical strength of the Arbitration Court, many disputes existing and before that tribunal will take a very long time to be reached. The longer their determination is put off, the stronger will be the feelings generated in the minds of those affected, and especially in the minds of the employees concerned.
I hope that with regard to both these matters before the session closes the Government will make a clear and unmistakable pronouncement of their general attitude and policy with regard to the application of the Industrial Peace Act, and any amendments of the general arbitration system.
– I understand the Government have proposed to strictly limit the application of arbitration to purely Commonwealth disputes.
– I am not speaking so much of that as of the procedure applicable to disputes that have been already covered, or are proposed to be covered, by the general arbitration law. It was proposed to deal with many of these disputes under the provisions of the Industrial Peace Act by the round-table conference method. In connexion with matters that extended beyond a single State, provision was made in the Act for a Commonwealth Industrial Council. Where disputes threatening Commonwealth extension were limited to a particular State, or where their focus was in a particular State, it was proposed that they should be dealt with by a District Council of employers and employees. Local Boards were to be established to deal with local matters in such cases, and special tribunals to deal with special matters. That was the scheme of the Industrial Peace Act. When it was before Parliament, it will be remembered by honorable senators that one of the Judges of the High Court, then acting as President of the Arbitration Court, seemed to see in the measure a deliberate design on the part of the Government to derogate from his high office, and so to speak, to disestablish the whole system of arbitration. Any such attitude as that was repudiated by the Prime Minister, and the Industrial Peace Act has remained on the statutebook. The Arbitration Act has also remained. The Arbitration Court is still functioning, and its personnel has been increased. But the procedure for pre- renting disputes and providing means of settlement should be swift and certain.
Another matter that is of considerable interest to the State I have the honour to share in representing has been touched upon at some length by Senator Thomas. I refer to the overseas mail contract. It was urged that the Government should, instead of renewing the contract with the Orient Steam Navigation Company, consider the advisability of making arrangements that would enable’ us to have our mails carried to England on the International Postal Union poundage rates. I am not prepared to go as far as Senator Thomas in that regard, but I do believe with him that for the sum the Commonwealth is now paying the Orient Steam Navigation Company, compared with the sums paid to them in prewar days, we are not now getting anything like an adequate quid pro quo. That may be due to the circumstance to which Senator MacDonald has referred - the fact that throughout the Commonwealth practically every necessity has gone up in price approximately 100 per cent. It may be that the services we are getting from the Orient Steam Navigation Company to-day have gone up in price, if not in value, by 100 per cent. We have a contract with the Orient Steam Navigation Company which is not of very long duration. The pre-war contract was, I believe, one of seven years, and I think it was at the request of the Orient Steam Navigation Company that it was fixed for that period, previous contracts not being for such a long term. As the Orient Steam Navigation Company proposed, and the Government desired, that a considerably improved class of steamer should be employed, the company required more than the ordinary term. Now, however, the term of the present contract is short. That seems to be the attitude of the shipping world generally in regard to such contracts to-day. Senator Thomas has pointed out that there is a disposition against the receipt of subsidies by shipping companies, because it is thought that the subsidy is not a quid pro quo for the extraordinary conditions imposed on the subsidized company.
I cannot go as far as to advocate the carriage of mails on the poundage rates, because we would not then be able to require any of the mail steamers to visit the various ports of Australia. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company have a contract with the London Post Office under which it carries mails monthly to Australia, and their dates are so arranged that they work in conjunction with the Orient Steam Navigation Company, the result being that the two companies between them give a fortnightly service each way. During the period of the war Australia did not have anything like a regular service. Before the war the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company had a fortnightly contract with the London Post Office, and the Orient Steam Navigation Company had a similar contract with the . Australian Government, with the result that a weekly service was maintained, but during the war both contracts fell to the ground, and honorable senators will have fresh in their memories the appalling position of affairs that existed. At times we used to get two or three English mails in one week, and then for two or three weeks, or perhaps more, there would be no English mail at all. That might to some extent be the position again if Senator Thomas’ suggestion were adopted. It could not be quite as bad as that, because the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company has a monthly contract with the London Post Office, and that company would carry our mails back to England at poundage rates, and to that extent we would not be in the chaotic condition that obtained during the war.
In this connexion I am reminded forcibly of the peculiar position in which Tasmania stands, especially in regard to the Orient Steam Navigation Company’s contract. In common with the other States, Tasmania bears its share of the cost, proportionate to its population, of the Orient Steam Navigation Company’s contract. The Orient Steam Navigation Company’s vessels call at the capital cities of the other States, but Hobart, which enjoys the advantage of having the best port of all, is not ordinarily an obligatory port of call. When Sir Kenneth Anderson was visiting Australia last year in connexion with the Orient Steam Navigation Company’s contract, Parliament was not sitting, and I took the opportunity of placing myself in communication with that gentleman, the then Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise), the Premier of Tasmania, and others, and I put forward the claims of Hobart to be. treated as a port of call, at any rate during certain months. I gave an assurance that I was presenting the views held by every representative of Tasmania in the Federal Parliament. That view I brought before the PostmasterGeneral, and suggested that if any contract was finalized between the Government and the Orient. Steam Navigation Company, which did not have regard to the rights of Hobart, opposition to it must be expected from Tasmanian representatives in both Houses when the agreement came up for ratification. A contract was entered into, and it was stipulated that the Orient Steam Navigation Company’s vessels in February, March, and. April should call at Hobart on the return voyage to London for the purpose of lifting fruit - that being the time when apples and pears are forwarded from Tasmania to the United Kingdom. The Navigation Act having come into force before the end of last year, vessels were prevented from engaging in the coastal trade of Australia unless they conformed to the requirements of the Act in regard to rates of wages, scale of accommodation, and matters of that kind. It appears that neither the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company nor the Orient Steam Navigation Company had conformed to those conditions, and they could not carry passengers or cargo between any two ports in Australia. About twelve months ago a deputation from Tasmania, representative of many interests there, came to Melbourne and waited on the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) in connexion with this matter. The Minister was asked to exercise his power and grant permits to these vessels to carry passengers between Sydney and Hobart during the fruit season. After hearing the views of the deputation and of the members accompanying it, he said he would consider the whole matter. Evidently he did give the subject careful consideration, because some time elapsed before a reply was made. But it was unfavorable to the request. The provisions of the law under which he was asked to grant this permission are contained in section 105 of the Navigation Act of 1921, enacting new section 286 -
Where it can be shown to the satisfaction of the Minister, in regard to the coasting trade with any port or between any ports in the Commonwealth or in the Territories under the authority of the Commonwealth -
It was put to the Minister that the service between Sydney and Hobart was inadequate, and that, therefore, some relief should be afforded. The Minister in reply said he did not think that the service was, or would be, inadequate, but those who have to travel, and who do travel, between Hobart and Sydney are just as capable as the Minister or his officers of judging, and the opinion is unanimous that the service during the summer season is very inadequate, both as to the measure of the accommodation and its character. I understand that it is intended to ask the Government again this year for these permits.
– Was permission refused conditionally and unconditionally?
– Yes; it was refused absolutely. When the Navigation Bill was passed the principles underlying its provisions regarding the coastal trade were sound and in conformity with Australian sentiment. The measure was designed to protect people in Australia who had invested their money in shipping, and to insure that the employees in the industry should get a fair deal. In fact, it was designed to protect both employers and employees against cheap foreign competition in the coastal trade. That is all very satisfactory for those .States that have an alternative method of communication. Tasmania is the only State of the Commonwealth which is an island, and, consequently, it is the only State dependent wholly and utterly upon seaborne communication, not only with the outside world, but even with its sister States.
– The same thing applies -to some of our northern ports.
– Not wholly and utterly, because they are connectable. .1 sincerely hope that when these representations are placed before the Minister this year consideration will be had for the peculiar and isolated situation of Tasmania. We, in Tasmania, have felt this isolation keenly, because for about four years in succession, at the end of one and at the beginning of the following year, we have been, to all intents and purposes, practically cut off. from normal and reasonable communication with the mainland.
– Whose fault is that?
– We do not care whose fault it is, whether it is the fault of the employers or the employees, the companies, the engineers, the stewards, the firemen, or the seamen. We only know that through their disputes we have been cut off from the mainland, and we say, in effect, “ A plague on both your Houses’”
– You mean you do not care so long as you get what you want?
– We are not so much concerned as to where the fault lies so long as our communication with the mainland is unbroken.
– And you do not care who pays. ,
– We do: for the travelling public pay eventually. But what we are most concerned about is this. In the past we have loyally subscribed to the principles underlying the Navigation Act for the preservation of our coastal trade for Australian ships, but we vainly expected some return from both owners and employees in the industry. We want the available shipping to call at as many ports’ in Tasmania as possible, and we ask that the Government should, at any rate, give sympathetic consideration to our requests that British mail steamers should be allowed to call at our ports and carry passengers to and from Hobart during that particular period of the year to which I have referred. I am not quite sure at this moment whether the Minister said he could not, on the Statute, grant the permission asked for, or whether, in his refusal, he confined himself to matters of fact. Certain representations were made to the Minister that this power had been exercised with regard to portion of the States and Territories under Commonwealth control, but the Minister said that the cases were not parallel, and that the legal authority he had for granting permission in those cases was not applicable to the request from Tasmania. If the Minister or the Government withheld the permission because of lack of statutory authority, I suggest that the Government should consider the necessity for an amendment of the Act so far as Tasmania is concerned, so as to exempt that State from these provisions of the law.’ I have very good precedent for this suggestion. The Navigation Bill, as honorable senators who were here long enough will remember, was not the legislation of a day or of a session. The first Bill was introduced as far back as 1904. Another was introduced in 1907, was debated in that year and in 1908. and, like the Bill pf 1904. it lapsed. It was not until 1910 that the Bill passed in 1912 was introduced, and ‘that measure did not receive the Royal assent until towards the end of 1913.
– It was practically the same as the Bills introduced in the earlier sessions.
– Not wholly. In the Bill of 1904, introduced by the first Deakin Government, there waa this clause - 296. Until the railways of the State of Western Australia are connected with the railways of the State of South Australia, the carrying of passengers between Western Australia and South Australia by any British ship ordinarily carrying mails to or from the_ Commonwealth sim 11 not be deemed engaging in the coasting trade.
This provision exempted only British mail steam-ships from the provisions of the Bill. It did not include vessels of the Messageries-Maritimes or the Norddeutscher Lloyd Companies. That Bill lapsed, but the Bill introduced by a Deakin Government in 1907 was practically the same, with this proviso to clause 279 -
Provided further that, until the railways of the State of Western Australia are connected with the railways of the State of South Australia, the carrying of passengers between a port in Western Australia and any. other port in Australia by any British ship ordinarily carrying mails to or from the Commonwealth shall not be deemed engaging in the coasting trade.
That carried the exemption further. Under the 1904 Bill, until the Western Australian railway was built, a Peninsular and Oriental or Orient boat could carry passengers from Fremantle to Adelaide and from Adelaide to Fre- mantle. Under the 1907 Bill, until the railway was constructed, a Peninsular and Oriental or Orient boat could carry passengers not merely between Fremantle and Adelaide, but from Fremantle to Brisbane or any Inter-State port, and from Brisbane to Fremantle. These were the Bills put before this Senate in the early days of the Navigation Bill. In 1910 another Bill was introduced, which finally passed both Houses in 1912. It contained a provision at the beginning of it as to when it should come into operation. It was reserved for Royal assent on the 24th December, 1912. The Royal assent was proclaimed on the 24th October, 1913. It took us until 1912 to pass (I Navigation Act which the Government had first introduced in 1904. As the Minister has said, it was not “rush legislation.” Then it took ten months to get the Royal assent. The first provision of the Act is -
This Act may he cited as the Navigation Act 1912, and shall commence on a day to be fixed by proclamation after the King’s approval thereto has been proclaimed in the Commonwealth.
The Act could not commence to operate until after the 24th October, 1913. Then we come to Part 6 of the Act, which deals with the coastal trade. It there provides that - 284. This part of this Act shall, except where otherwise expressed, apply to all ships (whether British or foreign). 285. This part of this Act shall come into operation on a date to be fixed by proclamation, but shall not come into operation on the date fixed for the commencement of this Act, unless the proclamation fixing that date expressly declares that this part is to come into operation on that date.
First of all, the Act was passed in 1912. The Royal assent was proclaimed in October, 1913, and, except for Part 6, which relates to the coastal trade, the provisions were to come into operation on a date to be proclaimed after the Royal assent was proclaimed. Even that proclamation did not bring Part 6 into operation; that only comes into operation on a subsequent proclamation. So far as Western Australia was concerned at that time, the East- West line was either’ constructed or in such a stage of construction that the position of the State was assured, and the necessity for the insertion of a temporary provision of the character appear in the Bills of 1904 and 1907 had entirely disappeared.
I think I can fairly ask, in connexion with this matter, that when it is brought before Ministers again, as I understand it will be, they will give it most sympathetic consideration, and will remember what was in the mind of the Government and Parliament of the day in regard to Western Australia so long as that State was cut off from ordinary rapid means of communication with its sister States. I hope they will remember what Tasmania has gone through, not during the last summer season, but in the four summers before that. Our means of communication with the mainland, we have learned by bitter experience during the last five years, are very precarious. We hold communication with our sister States by very uncertain strings. It is hard to know exactly when our ordinary means- of communication will be suddenly cut off. In all the circumstances, I hope that the members of the Government - for I take it that the Minister who may receive any representations of this kind will hardly deal with them finally, but will take them to Cabinet - will consider the peculiar position that Tasmania occupies. It is the one State that is geographically isolated. It is the one State which, during recent years, has never known where it is with regard to communication with the sister States. I hope they will realize that Tasmanian members, who have recognised and approved of the basic principles of the
Navigation Act, feel that they must, in all the circumstances to-day, ask for the fullest and most sympathetic consideration of the peculiar position of their State. We have good ports in . plenty, and the means of communication are not difficult. We want to avail ourselves of as many means of communication with our sister States as possible. I do not think it will be asked that these vessels should carry cargo, or come into competition with the ordinary coastal cargo traders of Australia. The provisions with regard to Western Australia, in the two Bills to which I have referred, applied only to passengers. The provisions of the present . Navigation Act empowering the Minister to give permits in certain cases, enable him to give permits to carry both passengers and cargo, and, I suppose either alternatively. I believe that the representations from Tasmania will be confined merely to the fruit season, and also to- the mail steamers of the Orient and Peninsular and Oriental Companies, which run under contract with the Australian and British Governments. The request will be confined to passengers only. In all the circumstances, I think that Ministers may well see their way to comply with such a limited request without any breach or derogation of any fundamental principle that underlies our navigation legislation. I take this opportunity of asking the Government, through the Minister, whom I thank for the attention he has given to my representations, to give the fullest, fairest, freest, and most sympathetic consideration to these representations when they are placed before them later?
.- I do not know that I would have taken any part in the discussion that has arisen m the motion that the Bill be read a first time, had it not been for a reply which I received from the Minister a few days ago to a question that I put to him regarding the price charged to the consumer of superphosphates in Tasmania.
– That is the mistake of giving answers.
– It is the mistake pf giving an answer that does not reply to a question. Honorable senators will remember that only a few months ago when the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was touring Australia he made a special feature in his addresses to the electors in the ii-ural centres of the fact that Australia now had command of the phosphatic rock pf Nauru and Ocean Island, and that the result would be that the rural producers in Australia would reap untold benefit through having an assured supply for almost all time of this valuable commodity. During his remarks he referred also to the fact that with the cheapening of the production in Nauru, and the necessary reduction in the freight on the raw material to Australia, farmers could reasonably look in the near future for a considerable reduction in the price of the finished article. Last Friday I asked the following question of the Minister representing the Prime Minister in this Chamber : -
In view of a statement made by the Prime Minister on the 4th August last, that a reduction of the price of phosphates from Nauru and- Ocean Island to the manufacturers of about 283. per ton had been made, and in view of a statement appearing in a Tasmanian newspaper of 4th September thai the retail price of superphosphates had been reduced only to the extent of 7s. 6d. per ton, will the Minister say when the users of superphosphates can expect a reduction in price proportionately equivalent to the reduction in the price of the phosphates to the manufacturer?
The reply furnished by Senator Pearce was that, Tasmania being isolated from tlie mainland, from whence it had to draw its supplies, the consumers there would have to pay freight and distributing charges. That was no reply to my Question. Later on, the Minister stated that the reductions which had already come into force were as follow : -
Victoria, from £6 3s. to £3 10s. .per ton; reduction,, 13s.
South Australia, from £5 10s. to £4 0s. per ton; reduction, fi 4s. per ton.
The point I wish to make is that if there is a reduction of 28s. per ton in the price of the raw material to the manufacturer, and if each ton of raw material will produce half a ton of superphosphates, jit naturally follows that there is a reduction in the cost to the manufacturer of 14s. per ton. If that 14s. per ton applies to the Victorian producer of superphosphates, it should also apply to the producer of superphosphates in every State in the Commonwealth. That Tasmania or Queensland have to pay heavy freights on the finished article from Victoria or New South Wales, or wherever manufactured, does not bear on the question. They have always had to pay those freights and distributing charges. Now that a reduction of 28s. per ton has been made in the price of the raw material, 1 claim that it is the duty of. the (Government to see that the users of superphosphates throughout Australia receive a reduction in the price of the finished article equivalent proportionately to the reduction in the price of the raw material.
– Would not that necessitate the Government fixing (prices ?
Senator PAYNE.If the Government had not placed the fact of the acquisition of Nauru and Ocean Islands so prominently in the policy which they enunciated a few years ago, I would say that they might not be justified in interfering with the distributers of superphosphates in regard to the fixing of prices; but when they have maintained all along that they were out in the interests of the primary producer of Australia in regard to the superphosphate tirade, surely it is reasonable that they should cause inquiry to be made in order to ascertain what justification, if any, exists for one State reaping a benefit of only 7s. 6d. a ton, while Victoria gets a benefit of 13s. a ton, and South Australia a benefit of 24s. a ton, £s compared with the prices ruling a few months ago. In Tasmania, as in every other State, it is becoming more and more essential that superphosphates should be used regularly in order to keep up the yield from the soil. To a farmer who uses fertilizers on a large area, the amount represented by the difference between 7e. 6d. and 14s. per ton is very considerable in helping him to tide over his difficulties. I trust the Minister will have inquiries made into the matter, because, if the Government are supplying the manufacturers with the material to carry on production at the lowest price, it is only reasonable that the Government should ask them to pass on the reduced price to the consumer at the earliest possible moment.
I was very much interested in Senator Heating’s remarks in regard to the operations of the Navigation Act as far as Tasmania is concerned.
– The same applies to Papua.
– I believe it does. For the past two fruit seasons the pioneers in the export of fresh fruit have not had a fair deal, because, although they have overcome many of the difficulties which at the outset appeared insurmountable, they are now faced with disabilities which should not exist. When shipping fruit in ocean-go:ng steam-ships to the markets of the Old World they always obtained the top prices, which materially helped them to make ends meet when the season was over. The vessels of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Steam Navigation Company shipped only small quantities of fruit when compared with the larger tonnages carried by cargo-carrying vessels, and. this gave the fruit-growers in Tasmania an opportunity of shipping from 20,000 to 30,000 cases at a time, which enabled it to reach the market in London when stocks were fairly clear. Consequently, the fruit commanded a higher price, which resulted in the average of the whole crop being reimunerative. In consequence of the operations of the Navigation Act, that method of conveying a special class of fruit to the London market has been taken entirely from the fruit-growers. Further, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, in conjunction with the Orient Steam Navigation Company, carried a large number of passengers to Tasmania each year during the tourist season; and, in addition to carrying tourists, the vessels resumed their passage to England with consignments of fruit. Tasmania, and Hobart in particular, has been deprived of the benefits that have accrued from year to year through the additional tourist traffic that obtained solely owing to the fact that the vessels of the companies I have mentioned were available for passengers to travel by. T understand that the passengers who travelled by the Peninsular and Oriental Company and Orient Steam Navigation Company were not of the same class as those who travel during the ordinary tourist season to Tasmania. “Appletrippers,” as they were designated, were able to make the passage to Tasmania under most favorable conditions, and consequently many paid an annual visit to the island State, which, as Senator Keating has said, has been severely handicapped owing to its isolation from the mainland. I want to urge the Minister to seriously consider the suggestion made th:s evening, and to give hie attention to the whole question, not only from the stand-point of Tasmania. If the interests of the ‘island State are protected, any other State in the Commonwealth will not be detrimentally affected; but, if Tasmania benefits in consequence of the granting of the permits sought, the advantage must be felt to a certain degree on the, mainland. I have been informed that it is the intention of the people of Tasmania, who are very much agitated over this matter, to arrange for another “deputation to wait upon the Minister, and if the Government can see their way clear to g:ve the matter favorable consideration at an early date, they will not only confer a benefit on the State of Tasmania, but will improve its general outlook, particularly as far as the export of fruit is concerned.
– Why do you not run your own ships?
– Tasmania is not big enough to run ships to Great Britain; but, as the honorable senator is doubtless aware, Tasmania has a fairly good service of its own between Melbourne and Launceston.
– There was considerable tourist traffic between .Sydney and Hobart under the old system.
– Yes; the tourist traffic between those ports when the mail steamers were running was increasing year by year, and we are very anxious to see those conveniences restored as early as possible, not only for the convenience of the tourists, but for the benefit of fruit-growers, who recently have been experiencing great difficulties. During this season especially they have had to suffer materially in consequence of the damage to fruit in transit, and as the steamers I have referred to possess the best facilities for the carriage of fruit to the markets of Great Britain, I trust that every effort will be made to meet Tasmania in the manner suggested.
– I did not intend speaking at this juncture, but in view of the statements made by Senator MacDonald on the sugar question I feel obliged to reply. The people of Victoria are very much indebted to the honorable senator for his effort, as he himself characterized it, to enlighten public opinion in this State, on the sugar question. When I interjected as to his attitude towards the fruit-growers, he dismissed the question with a mere gesture. He said that if they desired to retain the export trade which they won during the war by having cheap sugar without importing the black-grown commodity, it was useless for them to hope to carry on. If that is so, the sooner we face the position the better, because many hundreds of returned soldiers were induced to take up irrigation land in this State in the belief that the export trade would not only be maintained, but would be developed. If they are to be condemned to extinction the Government will be faced with a serious problem in relation to thi money spent on repatriating these men. In fact, it seems that they will have to compensate them, because, by continuing the Sugar Agreement, they will be preventing them from making a living. We are also spending enormous sums of money in conserving water in the Murray Valley, and the success of that work depends to a very great degree on the extension of irrigation settlements in that area, which will ‘ also have to be abandoned if the statement of Senator MacDonald is authoritative. The honorable senator also dealt with the profits derived from the industry, and assured us that, prior to the war, when sugar was 2½d. per lb., the Colonial Sugar Refining Company was making huge profits. What has become of those profits to-day? . The Colonial Sugar Refining Company is limited to a charge of £1 per ton for refining, and has to make its profit out of that as best it may. All the other enormous profits must be distributed between the sugar-growers, the workers, and the shipping companies, which probably get some revenue from the industry, as freights have been increased. In addition, there is the huge increase from 2£d. to 6d. per lb., considerably over 100 per cent., which has also disappeared in some unaccountable way. Is it fair and reasonable that the Government should ask us to continue control if all this leakage of profit occurs, when it is admitted by Senator MacDonald that the control of the industry, as exercised by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, resulted in the people getting sugar at a reasonable price ? I understand that the utmost we can hope for, even after the losses of the Government have been met, is a reduction to 4½d. per lb. if the control is continued. If that is the case, the sooner the Government hand over the business to the efficient control of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company the better it will be for us ‘all. Senator MacDonald went on to say that if we continued the Government control of sugar we might hope to settle the tropical parts of Queensland with sugargrowers. It is not clear where they would find a market for their produce if sugar remained even at 4Jd. per lb. If, as I understand, the present area under sugar in Queeusland supplies sufficient to meet Australia’s requirements, where is the surplus production to be disposed of unless there is a marked reduction in price? If I followed Senator MacDonald correctly, and the theories of his party are carried out, when the sugar industry is established in a highly prosperous condition it is to be taken over entirely by the field-workers, who are to acquire the whole of the profits of the industry. It would appear that the object at which the Government will aim if the sugar control is continued will be the establishment of Queensland sugar-workers in . a sort of communistic paradise, up there in the north of Queensland, and that they are to be perpetually subsidized by the people down here.
– Those people will have to pay in another way in the shape of an increased duty if the Sugar Agreement is not continued.
– To what end ?
– The continuation of the sugar industry.
– The sugar industry was carried on prior: to the war without the Sugar Agreement, and, as I have said, I am informed that the production of the industry at the present time is sufficient to meet Australia’s annual requirements of sugar: I fail to see why we should be asked to continue making sacrifices for the benefit of those engaged in the sugar industry, particularly when we know what is the ultimate aim as disclosed by Senator MacDonald.
– The honorable senator does not mind Senator MacDonald pushing “ Queensland’s barrow “ ?
– I do, if the effect is to ruin the prospects of great numbers of our returned men who have been induced to settle on the land in Victoria with the expectation of making a living by the development of our fruit industry.
– I do not intend to be drawn into an argument on the sugar question. We have a Committee at present most thoroughly investigating the matter of the sugar control. That Committee will report to Parliament, and I prefer waiting until the report is before us in proper form before I discuss the matter.
We have another Supply Bill before us, and I have perused it with such intelligence as I possess.
– Is the honorable senator going to discuss the Bill? He will be the first to do so.
– I think it is time some one did discuss the Bill. I have listened to honorable senators wandering all over the shop, and not touching the subject-matter of the Bill, and it is, therefore, perhaps as well that something should be said about it before the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) replies to the debate. The Bill was placed in my hands only this afternoon, and I find that it proposes the appropriation of £2,000,000.
– la that not enough?
– I have never known the Government to fail to ask for enough, and I, therefore, suppose that that amount is sufficient. I find it difficult to explain why the Bill was drawn in its present form, and why it should be considered necessary for the Government to do more than say simply, “ We want £2,000,000. Sign up!”
– The honorable senator’s faith in the Government is unlimited.
– Let us hope it will prove not to have been misplaced.
– The Government have given the honorable senator more information than he desires.
– The honorable senator must mean that they are spending more than I desire. I find, in connexion with the vote for the High Commissioner’s office in London, that salaries are set down at ?1,540, and contingencies at over ?6,000. Will any honorable senator tell me that there is any real difference between the form’ in which this Bill is presented and a request by the Government to sign up for ?2,000,000 ?
– The honorable senator must excuse the Government if they assumed that he had studied the Budget-papers, which give the details of expenditure.
– I do not think there is a member of the Senate who could come down to “tin-tacks” in connexion with the Budget-papers. The greater portion of the money asked for under this Bill is asked for under the heading of “Contingencies,” which may mean anything. Take the vote for contingencies for the High Commissioner’s office in London. How am I to know what it is for? People outside might as- ,sume that it is to defray the cost of dinners and the entertainment of visitors that we are asked to vote this money.
– The details are all in the Estimates.
– They are not in the Estimates any more than they are in this Bill.
– The honorable senator cannot have looked at the Estimates.
– If Senator Benny is prepared to continue to sign blank cheques, as some honorable senators have done since I have been a member of the Senate. I am not prepared to do so. The honorable senator’s duty is to make himself thoroughly conversant with the matters on which he votes.
– The honorable senator bad better read the Estimates.
– If Senator Benny, read the Estimates, he would get a headache before he understood them. It is because of the lax way in which honorable senators pass these money Bills that we have the disclosures with respect to expenditure that occur from time to time.
Senator Thomas, in speaking today, criticised the Government very severely; but iri the polite manner which distinguishes him he spoke of the nice and artistic way in which questions are answered by members of the Ministry. My own opinion is that the replies of Ministers to questions, are. not so artistic as they are evasive. They may be very clever, and we may credit the Leader of the Senate with be ing exceedingly astute in his replies to questions; but they do. not supply the “ tin tacks.” To-day I asked a question in connexion with a matter which has been criticised in the public press. I admit that the disclosure made was an eyeopener to me. I had no idea that the Commonwealth had one man occupying two positions at such high salaries. Have honorable senators realized that this man occupying two positions is drawing a higher salary from the Commonwealth than is the Prime Minister of Australia for the elevated position which he occupies ?
– That is hard luck on the Prime Minister.
– Perhaps so, but I am not now discussing whether the Prime Minister receives a salary in keeping with the dignity and importance of his position. The members of the Government themselves admit that there is a man drawing ?1,500 for one position and ?1.000 for another; and that each of these positions, to be properly filled, would require the occupant to give it his whole time and attention. . Th’s one man is occupying two positions and drawing two nays.
– Everybody has known that for months.
– Then I am ‘ not to be included in the “ everybody.” I did not know it, and if the Government have known it my criticism, however severe, is more than justified.
– I made my remark because the honorable senator spoke of having discovered something.
– I had no idea of it previously. ‘
– There -has been no effort to hide it.
– Perhaps not; but let us not get away from the principle. Here the Government are paying a man ?1,500 for one job and ?1,000 for another, whilst they admit at the same time that it would take the whole of his time te carry out the duties of either job. That being so, I submit that we are paying away money for which we are not getting a full return. I do not know Colonel Semmens, but I say that if a man is necessary to fill the position of War Service Homes Commissioner the explanation of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, that the Government did the best they could do in the circumstances, is not satisfactory. Surely he will not ask me to seriously consider how difficult it would be for the Government to get a man to fill either of these positions at £1,000 a year. What is the position with regard to the three members of the Repatriation Commission, who are each drawing £1,500 a year? Two give the whole of their time to the duties of their office, and the third does not. It follows that two of these gentlemen are desperately underpaid, and are carrying the other man on their backs.
– The honorable senator has himself admitted that there is* sufficient in the duties of either position to occupy the whole time of the man, and I say that if this man is giving the whole of his time to the duties of one of his offices, and is carrying them out properly, then the other job is suffering.
– Is there not such a thing as working double shifts?
– No, not on a job of this sort.
– The two offices are very closely connected.
– Perhaps so. Then, why the two salaries? Is there an honorable senator present who will tell me that Colonel, Semmens’ position is of more value or importance than the position of the Prime Minister. About twelve months ago I asked for a return of appointments to officers carrying salaries of over £350 a year, and I was astonished at the way we were going in the making of appointments here, there, and everywhere. I am not a cheap man. I like to pay a man a “ fair dinkum “ wage, and to see that he does the work for which he is paid. In 1920 he was getting £575 a year, according to the press, and when he became a Government servant he jumped to a salary of £2,500. In how many walks of life is a man able to do that?
– I do not know what he got in civil life, but I know what he was worth to the Repatriation Department.
– A man who gets such a salary without taking any financial risk is remarkably well paid. There was another officer who left the Service - General McCay - whose salary as business adviser to the Commission worked out at one period at the rate of £3,000 per annum.
– I think the honorable senator is mistaken.
– That is what was reported, and I hope the Minister will put me right if I am wrong.
Last year I mentioned that I thought members of the Senate would be of greater service to the country, and could render considerable help to the Government, if they were given more work as members of Commissions or Boards. Personally, I waste a tremendous amount of time in travelling to Melbourne, and the public are not getting the full benefit of the services which members of Parliament could render. If more Committee work were done members could be brought more closely in touch with public expenditure. It is through the medium of the public press that even members of the Senate have to learn a lot about what is going on in Government circles. That may be regarded as an extravagant statement.
– No, it is merely a “Wilsonian” statement.
– It maybe, but unfortunately for the Minister it is God’s truth !
– Do we get that from the daily press?
– Yes. If the
Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) spoke from his heart he would admit that one man in two positions was a mistake, and in Committee I propose to move for a reduction of the amount.
– We have had two very interesting speeches in the course of this debate. I refer first to that of Senator Bakhap, who is one of the most well-read and best-informed members. We have also listened to a very interesting address from (Senator Wilson, but not interesting because he is well-read or well-informed, for quite the opposite is the case. As a matter of fact, other honorable senators are not so ignorant as Senator Wilson thinks they are. He has made a virulent attack upon the Government . because of two items in “the schedule to the Supply Bill, “Salaries” and “Contingencies.” The honorable senator must have known that in the Estimates which, he has had the opportunity of perusing for several weeks, all these contingencies are set out in full, and it is only a proportion of them that we are asked to agree to to-night. For instance, there is £52,000 for the High Commissioner’s Office. Every item is set out in detail in the Estimates. ‘Senator Wilson evidently has riot taken the trouble to look at them. Yet he has the audacity to say that the Government are doing an iniquitous thing. I repudiate the suggestion with scorn and indignation.
I wish to refer for a few moments to the address by Senator Bakhap, who apparently had not given the consideration hat would be expected of him to the evolution of parliamentary government in the British Isles. I am alluding to his advocacy of elective Ministries, and his doleful prophecy that parliamentary institutions were coming to grief under the present system. Those who have studied the history of parliamentary government in the Mother Country know that originally the King, the Lords, and the Commons formed the Parliament. Originally the King had the power to levy taxes. He enforced that power against the will of the Lords and the Commons. As time went on he enforced loans, ship money, benevolences, and all kinds of unjust taxation, until the House of Commons asserted its supremacy.
– You mean the rich landed aristocracy.
– I admit that. The House of Commons asserted the power of the purse as against the power of the House of Lords. There are three estates of the Realm - the King, the Lords, and the Commons, and it is a beautiful maxim of English law that the King can do no wrong. Those of us who are of British blood, and understand the true inwardness of British maxims, know that we do not attribute any personal infallibility to the King, but we mean that the King’s acts are all the acts of his Ministers, and so long as he acts upon the advice of his Ministers he is not to be personally held responsible for his actions. The House of Commons established that maxim in the Middle Ages. They had to fight hard to attain it. They had to wade through a bloody civil war, and they finally established the principle that the
House of Commons had the power of the purse, and that the King and the Lords had not. Whom do we mean by the House of Commons? We mean the voice of the people of England as expressed in the lower House, and it is the voice of the majority.
– You are giving us orthodox constitutional history.
– I think I know as much, and, perhaps, a little more about constitutional law than the honorable senator. The House of Commons having established its rule, its power was gradually extended until it now represents practically the whole of the people of England.
– Several parties that never existed before have made their appearance.
– To-day the House of Commons represents a fairly democratic leaven of the people of England. I should be sorry to think that the British people had lost their instinct for parliamentary government, which is one of the glories of the race, and which no other people more thoroughly understand. I should be sorry, also, to think that that instinct had ceased to exist among the people of Australia. Here we are quite as capable as, if not more capable than, any other nation of carrying on parliamentary government without elective Ministries, by reason of the common sense of our people, by effecting compromises where other means are not possible, and by conducting the business of the country according to the traditions of our fathers. In my opinion elective Ministries would be a great mistake, and quite contrary to the customs of British people. It is all very fine to quote Switzerland as affording an example to this country, but we all know that Swiss people are not in the same street with British people in the matter of parliamentary government and in their conception of constitutional rights and privileges.
– I should like to say a word or two in reply to some of the comments that have been made to-day, and, reversing the order, I shall deal first with some references made by Senator Wilson, who complained, and not for the first time either, that Supply Bills are presented in this Chamber in such a way that it is impossible to get at the details. He complains, in a most pathetic manner that almost makes my heart bleed, that because he attends here at some personal inconvenience, and is offering his services for the benefit of his country, his country does not get the benefit of his services because this Supply Bill does not contain some of the details about which he appears to be so anxious. I can only say that if he would take a little trouble he could make himself quite familiar with all the details. This country goes to the expense of printing those details for him to study. If he does not care to do so, then he has no right to charge the Government with suppressing information. Every item with respect to every clerk, every typist, and every doorkeeper is set out in full detail in the papers that have been placed before honorable senators, but, having published it once, the Government does not think it necessary to do so a second time, and include them in every Supply Bill.
– The Bill before us contains none of the details I referred to.
– The details are contained in the papers that have been placed before honorable senators for the benefit of Senator Wilson and other members of this Chamber. If he chooses to ignore them, that is his responsibility.
– Are there details of two jobs and double pay for one man in this Bill?
– No; but the honorable senator’s complaint was with regard to the contingencies. All items that make up contingencies are here.
– Where is this money that is to go to pay this gentleman for the two positions he is occupying?
– I shall come to that later. Senator Wilson’s complaint was that the Supply Bill before the Senate did not set out the details for which the money was required, and I say that all this information, down to the last penny, was available to the honorable senator if only he had sufficient energy and interest to look for it.
– No, it is not.
– Then it is to other honorable senators.
– Senator Benny, for instance ?
– I read out the details for the honorable senator.
– I turn now to that other matter in which Senator Wilson has evinced so much interest, namely, double payment to an officer of my Department. If this had been a permanent appointment under normal conditions, the present position would not have arisen. I have already informed the Senate, in reply to a question, that the Government were confronted with a crisis. The previous War Service Homes Commissioner was retired, and some one had to be appointed immediately to the position for the signing of documents and the performing of other duties, which could only be intrusted to some gentleman with a knowledge of the work. In the circumstances, there was only one thing to do, and as Colonel Semmens was familiar with the conditions of the office, he was invited to take the position temporarily. It was never anticipated at the time that he would have been in the position up to the present, and I shall give the reasons presently. Failing the appointment of an officer familiar with the work of the Department, the only alternative was to appoint a stranger from outside, and the War Service Homes Commission had enough difficulties of its own, without trying the experiment of employing an unknown man. In the circumstances, therefore, it was wise for the Government to select for the position a gentleman with a knowledge of the Department, because the appointment was only a temporary one. It was not possible to bring in an amending Bill last session, because the process of re-organization was going on, and it was not easy to say definitely what form the new Bill should take. Then came the recess, and when the House reassembled the Government intimated, in the Governor-General’s speech, that they intended to bring in a Bill to place this position on a satisfactory footing. Will any one say that, in the meantime, it would have been wise to make any change ? I say it was infinitely better that a gentleman familiar with the duties of the office, even if he had to perform double duty, should continue in the office rather than that we should bring in a stranger for a comparatively short space of time.
There are one or two other matters to which I may now refer. First of all, I direct attention to Senator Thomas’ suggestion that we should substitute the poundage rates for the present subsidy for the carriage of our mails to Great Britain. I do not propose to discuss that now, except to say that I shall bring his remarks under the notice of my colleague.
Senator Keating referred to a matter of considerable importance, namely, the suggestion that the Government should partially repeal the Navigation Act in so far as it applies to vessels plying between the mainland and Tasmania. I understood him to say that representations would again be made to the responsible Minister this year, and, in view of that, I think that if I supply a copy of his remarks to my colleague in Cabinet, and inform him of the representations that have been made, it will be more profitable than if I attempted to discuss the issue to-night myself.
-Will some relief be afforded to Papua as well?
– That is one of the difficulties confronting the Government. Senator Keating very fairly, I think, stated the position. Though we may differ in our views with regard to the Act itself, it was, as Senator Keating has pointed out, the desire of Parliament that Australia’s coastal shipping should be protected from outside competition. This is part of our policy of Protection for the conservation of Australian industries. The suggestion to amend the Act necessarily raises the question of how far we may go to be logical in the way of removing the prohibition with regard to other ports as well. However, that is a matter which, no doubt, those who speak for Tasmania will discuss with the Minister when the joint representations are made this year.
I come now to the interesting speech made by Senator Bakhap on the perennial subject of elective Ministries. On this subject I want to say that there is a tendency to assume that any change for the removal of present difficulties must necessarily constitute a reform; that by the appointment of elective Ministries we would avoid some of the difficulties to which Senator Bakhap refers; but I should like to invite his attention to certain difficulties that accompany the principle of elective Ministries. There is, first of all, the possibility of an absence of unity in public policy. It is quite conceivable that Parliament might elect in charge of Works andRailways, for instance, a man with extraordinarily lavish ideas as to what is to-be done, and at the same time might elect as Treasurer a man of an extraordinarily cautious turn of mind.
– All his colleagues might be opposed to him.
– That is so. The Minister for Works andRailways in an elective Ministry might have extravagant ideas, whereas the Treasurer might be of a parsimonious disposition. That is one of the outstanding difficulties arising from any evolutionary system of that nature. We have had experience of the system in this House. I remember on one occasion, when the chair which you, Mr. President, so worthily occupy, was filled, not by the open and frank voting of members in this Chamber, but by a bargain made between two sections by which certain votes were given to place the nominee of one party in the chair in this Chamber, and certain other votes given to place a nominee of another party in a similar position in a second House. That has happened within my own knowledge. In the State Parliament, when nominations were called for the filling of vacancies on the Public Works Committee, it was not a question of selecting men that the House thought best fitted for the position so much as a matter of bargaining and intriguing for votes. That way is neither creditable to the men nor the House of which they were members. I see no reason to suppose that we would gain much if the Houses are cut up, as Senator Bakhap seems to desire, into many parties.
– I do not desire that, but I say it is a natural consequence of modern development.
– I accept the honorable senator’s correction. It is a fact that elections are determined outside these walls, and the majority party in the Parliament will undoubtedly secure control and appoint its Minister and officers. If there is not a party with a majority, there will be intriguing, manoeuvring, and bargaining.
– Intriguing will undoubtedly take place if there are more than two parties in the next Parliament.
– It is a fact that with throe parties one party will eventually become merged in or swallowed by one of the other parties, and thus we shall get back to the two party system. And this process will go on under whatever system Parliament is elected. One party will lose its identity. This transition has been going on ever since a third party made its appearance in parliamentary life. It is go ng on now. In the last State election in New South Wales there was a third party, called the Country or Progressive party, but, as they approached the elections, they split, onehalf coalescing with the Government, and the other half going on their own account. And that must happen so long as there is in the last resort only two division lobbies. When the question goes to the vote, there are only two parties - one for and the other against. I have never heard yet any suggestion that better Ministerial work would be done under an elective system than under the present system. I have pointed out some of the disadvantages that would come from the elective system. The disadvantages under the present system are only a passing phase. Only a few years ago the Government in Tasmania was paralyzed, and I might as well argue that that was due to the fact that the proportional representation system was in operation, resulting in the balance of one House depending upon, one man’s vote. But the same thing might happen under any other system. All these things are but incidents in the life of Parliaments and Governments. That state -of affairs passed away in Tasmania, and. any disadvantage in our present system will not be of long duration. I believe that if the country wants a thing done it should send into Parliament a party with instructions and the strength to do it. If the constituencies cannot make up their minds upon that, they must not complain if Parliament is not able todo much work. If the constituencies give me a job to do, they must equip me for the doing of it ; if they do not give me the necessary strength and majority, they cannot blame me if I do not carry the undertaking to success.
– The point must be driven home to the electors that the par liamentary machine cannot function under the present system unless a working majority is given to one party.
– With two parties it is only possible for the people to pi on ounce on big issues. If the honorable senator wished to get back to the delegate system I could understand his contention, but I should never consent to be a mere delegate to any Parliament.
– A man is much more a delegate under the present system, than he would be under the system of elective Ministries.
– Upon that point history helps us. I remember that in New South Wales the Labour party, when in office, on one occasion proceeded to elect its Ministers. Within a fortnight of the Government taking office one Minister practically told the Premier to “ go to the devil.” He said, “ I am not responsible to you ; I am responsible to the party.” That made impossible unanimity of Cabinet action, and there could be no uniformity of policy in those circumstances. The same sort of thing would happen again if we had elective Ministries. A man would say, “I do not care about the opinions of -the Prime Minister or of my colleagues; they did not elect me,” and he would proceed to canvass support in the House. The remit would be that there would be no uniformity of public policy; but, instead, a thing of shreds and patches, and the last conditionwould be infinitely worse than the first.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
Senate adjourned at 10.50 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 September 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1922/19220913_senate_8_100/>.