10th Parliament · 1st Session
ThePresident (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained. I will ask that it be forwarded to the honorable senator.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the Commonwealth owns one-third share of the Pacific Cable, and is responsiblefor the greatest part of its business, will the Government request the Pacific Cable Board to embody in its annual reports information showing -
International and other traffic to and from Australia;
Receipts by the board in respect of such traffic;
Cost of maintenance of stations and staff in Australia?
– The replies are as follows: -
Provision on Queensland Coast.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In view of the Minister’s expressed inability to make provision this year for an aerodrome at Rockhampton or for a site for such, will he indicate what are the Government’s proposals for aircraft establishments at principal ports on the Queensland coast?
– Several proposals for the establishment of air transport facilities on the Queensland coast are at present receiving the Government’s consideration.
Bill (on motion by Senator Pearce) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 18th March (vide page 1708), on motion by Senator Chaw-
That the bill be now read a second time.
– ‘I understand that this bill validates certain refunds of income tax. Clause 3, which is the principal provision, states -
When the paid-up value of any shares distributed out of taxed profits has been included in any assessment under the Income Tax Assessment Act, as being income within the meaning of paragraph (6) of section 14 of that act, and income tax has been paid on that value, any refund of the income tax so paid made by -the Commissioner prior to the commencement of this act shall be deemed to be, and at all times to have been, as lawfully made as if that value had been exempt from income tax under that act.
The Minister (Senator Crawford), in moving the second reading, did not give the Senate a great deal of information. I find that the measure provides for the validation of the refund of certain tax paid in respect of bonus shares that had been distributed from accumulated profits, and it validates the non-collection of certain other amounts of tax. A perusal of the bill reveals many technicalities that, in some instances, may be puzzling; but it is clear that the Government, as the result of its interpreta tion of the decision of the High Court in the Webb case, refunded moneys collected on bonus shares. I noticed that the Commissioner of Taxation, in his ninth report, refers in these terms to the High Court’s decision: -
The High Court ruled that the tax was not payable on shares in a new company issued in substitution for shares in an old company reconstructed. The Government, after consideration of the views of the SolicitorGeneral, the Crown Solicitor, and the Crown Counsel in the Webb appeal, decided to announce in Parliament that this money would be refunded.
It will be observed that the Commissioner stressed the point that the decision applied to new companies upon reconstruction. There appears to be no doubt that the Government decided, upon a wrong course of action. I hold that the money was legally collected, and illegally refunded, and that this bill has been introduced to validate the illegality. Three years have elapsed since the refund was made, and Parliament is now asked to validate a wrong action.
– Is the position not rather that the bill will put right what was wrong ?
– That may be so; but Parliament should be very careful in validating wrong acts. When a citizen breaks the law, he, ordinarily, has to pay the penalty. When the Government acts illegally, however, it simply asks Parliament to validate its action. The Minister did not inform us as to the amount of money involved in this repayment, and I hope that he will supply that information. The flat rate tax on companies is now ls. in the £1. The persons to whom the tax was refunded were, in the main, in receipt of incomes of £4,000 a year.
– Not all of them.
– Many of them had such incomes. They were certainly not on the bread line.
– The majority of the holdings in most companies are comparatively small.
– This bill suggests that there is one law for the wealthy and another for the poor. We know that a number of wealthy men have evaded the payment of land tax in this country, and they have not been punished. This bill is inequitable and unjust. It is evidently intended to benefit the rich man, or, as a Nationalist member of the other branch of the legislature termed him, the “ fat “ man. The royal commission that inquired into taxation made certain valuable recommendations. The gist of its suggestions was that dividends or bonus shares should be added to the income of the shareholder, and assessed at the individual rate, less the flat rate already paid by the company. By that system there would be no double taxation. Companies are formed in many cases for the purpose of evading taxation. A company may put certain profits into its reserve account in one year,’ and pay them, out to its shareholders in the form of bonus shares the next year. Thus ‘the Commonwealth is deprived of tax. If the money, instead of being put into reserves is paid out in dividends, the persons receiving it have to pay tax on the dividends as well as the company tax. When the bonus shares are distributed in respect of the current years’ profits the tax must be paid on them; but, by paying the money out of reserves in the following year, taxation, with the exception of the company rate, is evaded. Although the measure could be commented upon at considerable length, I think that I have said sufficient regarding it. I presume that it will receive similar support in. this chamber to that given it in the other blanch of the legislature, ;and will become law. It is really a piece of class legislation, protecting a certain section of the community that is well able to pay this tax. Parliament is again asked to validate a wrong action on the part of the Government. It should hesitate before doing so. The Government has access to the best legal brains in Australia, and there is- no excuse for the blunder. I, therefore, oppose the measure
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL (South Australia) [11.16]. - I am sorry that I was unavoidably absent yesterday when the Minister, in his second-reading speech, explained the provisions of this bill. This appears to be an extraordinary measure. Apparently, the Commissioner of Taxes has not only refrained from taxing the shareholders of companies in respect of bonuses which were credited or paid to them, but he has also gone further, and repaid to other taxpayers the amounts paid by them by way of income tax in respect of bonuses. In my opinion, those who were taxed in respect of those- bonuses, or bonus shares, were rightly taxed. I, therefore, consider that no repayments should have been made. It seems extraordinary that such, a state of affairs should have arisen. I assume that the Government acted on legal advice.
– Yes. It was assumed that the provisions of the Income Tax Assessment let of 1922 had retrospective application, so far as bonus shares were concerned; but a subsequent decision was given .that that was not the case.
– Was the legal opinion based on the decision of the High Court in the Webb case ?
– In view of section 4 of the 1922 act, which appears .to me to be very clear, that seems an extraordinary opinion.
– A subsequent decision was given in what is known as the James .case.
– In the Income Tax Assessment Act the definition of income from personal exertion is clearly worded ; it includes income derived from various sources in. Australia, such as earnings, salary, wages, fees, bonuses, and so on. In the Webb case, which dealt with the reconstruction of a company, the position was entirely different. It was held in that case that no part of the shares of the new company which were allotted to a member of the old company could be regarded as profits or bonuses credited or paid by the old company to the member of the new company within the meaning of section 14 of the 1915 act, and that the member was not liable to assessment in respect of those shares. That was an entirely different case from that of the assessmentsmade by the Commissioner in respect of which this validation is now sought. The assessments covered by the Webb case were in respect of the reconstruction of a company and the issue of shares to its. members.
– It was really an exchange of new shares for old shares.
– It was held in that case that they were not profits or bonuses credited or paid by the old company to the member of the new company. But Webb’s case in no way authorized an exemption of bonuses paid by a continuing company to its members. The mistake occurred because of a wrong opinion which was given to the Government regarding the effect of the Webb case. I do not know whether the amount which the Government has lost has been disclosed.
– That information is not available. There is no doubt regarding the provision of the 1922 act, so far as bonus shares issued since the passing of that act are concerned. That provision, however, is not retrospective. This bill is to make it retrospective.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL.Then I take it that these assessments were made under the 1915 act, prior to the passing of the 1922 act ?
– The Webb case was decided in 1922 - it was a decision based on the provisions of the 1915 act - and I understand that, as the result of an opinion given, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), when Treasurer, promised that no further assessments would be made in respect of bonus shares in the hands of the shareholders, and that where assessments had been made, and money paid, repayments would he made. I take it that this legislation has been introduced in fulfilment of that promise.
Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL.T appreciate the difficulty which confronts the Government; but it is unfortunate that this situation should have arisen. The Government is treating it as a matter of honour, although the decision in the James case was that the action of the Commissioner of Taxes, in assessing those shareholders on their bonus shares, was legal. Because of the promise given, moneys which were rightly collected have been repaid.
– That is the position.
– It is unfortunate, ‘but the Government is bound by the promise of the then Trea surer. Were payment again demanded from them, hardship would be inflicted on those taxpayers to whom repayments have been made. Although to a certain extent the honour of the Government is involved, no blame can be attached to it for having taken action on the legal advice tendered. In the circumstances, I cannot see that the Senate can do other than support the second reading of this bill, and thus validate the action of the Government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Validation of refunds).
– I propose to test the feeling of the committee on this clause, which after a lapse of three years authorizes the repayment of certain moneys. The principle is pernicious. The Government should have been more wideawake. It is not right that this Parliament should now be asked to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. I have always hesitated to vote for validating legislation, especially where vital principles are involved, and where it is evident that attempts have been made to evade obligations. To pass this bill would be to encourage a repetition of similar acts. Believing that money rightly due should be paid, I shall vote against this clause.
. -This is the most important clause in the bill, and it deserves the serious consideration of every honorable senator. During the recent war Australian citizens were told that no sacrifice could be too great to win the war and to make the world safe for democracy. But it is common knowledge that many who spoke in that manner did not practise what they preached. The shareholders of many companies in Australia got back in three years by way of profits the whole of their capital investments, and, in addition, they received substantial dividends and big. bonuses. So great did the profits become that many of the companies started a watering-down process. No restrictions were placed on them in that respect.
– Does the honorable senator say that a transfer from reserves to capital account is ‘ ‘ watering ‘ ‘ ?
– That all depends on what the Minister means. If money that would otherwise be paid away in dividends is placed to reserves, and is afterwards utilized for the purpose of issuing bonus shares, I should say it is a roundabout process that can have only one explanation. The object is to avoid taxation.
– It was done for half a century in Australia before there was any income taxation.
– ‘Half a century ago there was no Federal Parliament, and what happened then has no application to the subject we are considering. A number of these companies well watered their stock, and from time to time issued bonus shares. Those associated with companies have frequently told working men and working women that they ought to make provision for a rainy day. What provision did the companies make for a dry season ? They certainly never looked seriously into the future. There is evidence of that in the stock and share register. Honorable senators who live in the atmosphere of the government benches know that what I am saying is correct. Companies which a few years ago were on a high financial level are not so well “ circumstanced to-day, and the explanation is that their stocks have been too much watered.
– The explanation is that their reserves are not good.
– How is it possible for them to have good reserves if, in times of prosperity, they pay out all their profits. Some of them recouped all their capital in three years.
– Does the honorable senator oppose the bill ?
– I do. It is wrong to refund taxation which, according to the Government, was justly paid. It was paid under an act which Parliament passed. Many cases have been decided by the High Court in the last few years, and too large a proportion of them have been decided against the Government and the community. It is time that we looked into the matter from an £. s. d. point of view.
– The proposal contained in the bill was settled when the 1922 act was passed.
– This Government does not settle constitutional matters; the High Court settles them, and, occasionally, also “ settles “ the Governnent. The Minister explained the bill in a manner characteristic of him. He has a genial way of submitting business to the Senate. He has a pleasing personality, and is not disposed to annoy or ruffle any one unnecessarily; but, in justice to himself and his Government, he ought not to have been so brief. I know there was some anxiety to get the bill through before the dinner adjournment. He simply told us that it was a validating bill. The Treasurer in another place gave an explanation that was historical, but the Minister here says in effect that it is “a mere matter of form . “ It is not going to be “ a mere matter of form “ with me. I shall endeavour to ascertain from the Minister the amount of taxation refunded to companies, or to persons associated with companies, and I am also anxious to know the names of the companies.
– Nothing has been refunded to companies.
– I refer to the individual members of companies. There is no material distinction. The refunds are made to the shareholders. Where are these companies, and who are their shareholders? The Minister might also inform us how much those shareholders contributed to the funds of the Nationalist party during the recent election.
Honorable senators interjecting,
– There is no need for honorable senators opposite to get angry or indignant. It is ‘well known that a war cannot be waged without money, and that that statement embraces the “ war” that finished last November. We know that the money for the election was provided from somewhere, and I ask, by whom ?
– Does the honorable senator imagine that the Nationalist Government would descend to that kind of thing?
– In any case, the party managers would not let the honorable senator know. The Government should accept some responsibility for the drafting of bills. It hits every facility for obtaining the best legal advice, and if those in charge of the Law Department had done their work as well as we have a right to expect of them, this bill would not be before us. Similar validating legislation has been submitted to us in the past. It is a serious thing to exempt any section of the community from what the Parliament has decided is a just responsibility. The average person is never too eager to pay taxation, and we can assume that those associated with companies will secure the services of the best legal luminaries in Australia in an effort to evade the law. On several occasions citizens of this country have successfully contested the validity of acts of this Parliament.
– The Government acted on the advice of Crown Law officials.
– They are liable to make mistakes, and have, in fact, made more than one mistake.
-(Senator Newland). - The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– During the secondreading debate I asked the Minister to inform the Senate how much money was involved in the bill. The Minister did not condescend even to reply at the close of the second-reading debate. I repeat the question. What is the amountinvolved, and to whom will it be paid?
– I have already told the committee that the information is not available.
– This is a bill to validatea bad act. Although it is the result of bad advice by the Crown Law Department, the Minister is not able to tell us the amount of money involved . Surely the Commissioner of Taxation could inform him. I think I am asking only a fair question of the Minister. The clause reads -
Where the paid-up value of any shares distributed out of taxed profits has been included in any assessment under the Income Tax Assessment Act, as being income within the meaning of paragraph (b) of section fourteen of that act, and income tax has been paid on that value, any refund of the income tax so paid made by the Commissioner prior to the commencement of this act shall be deemedto be, and at all times to have been, as lawfully made as if that value had been exempt from income tax under that act.
I am surprised that the Minister is not in a position to inform the committee of the amount of money involved.
-It would mean an examination of many thousands of assessments.
– Would it have taken three years, the period during which this bill has been under consideration, to make that examination?
– It is not three years since judgment was given in the James case.
– As the Minister is not in a position to inform the committee of the amount involved, further consideration of the measure should be postponed until that information is forthcoming.
– I have already informed the committee, by interjection, that information as to the amount involved is not available, and that to obtain it would take considerable time and involve great expense, as it would necessitate an examination of thousands of assessments. I cannot see that the amount involved is at all material to the issue. We have to decide whether it is right or wrong to validate the repayment of taxation collected on bonus shares. It is immaterial whether a few. pounds or ?100,000 is involved; it is a question of whether the clause is right in principle. Complaints have been made because I did not give the Senate more information in moving the second reading of the bill, but I felt at the time that I gave all that was necessary, particularly as the measure does not deal with the principle of taxing bonus shares. That matter was dealt with in the consolidating bill passed in 1922. This is simply a short amending measure to give effect to the intentions of Parliament, and also to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Taxation which reported that bonus shares should not be taxed first in the hands of the company and then in the hands of the individual shareholders. It has been said that profits should be distributed by companies in the form of dividends as earned, but anyone with commercial experience will recognize that that would be wrong. One of the reasons why Australia is so prosperious at present is that companies as well as individuals have not distributed all their money as it has been made, but have placed a certain amount to reserve, and as their businesses ‘have expanded have converted their reserve funds into capital and issued what are. termed bonus shares. That is not watering stock, as alleged by Senator Findley, because for every share issued an equivalent in cash is retained in the business of the company. I believe a majority of senators are of the opinion that we ought to encourage rather than discourage such a practice, because as the businesses of the country expand increased capital will be necessary to conduct them, and that will be obtained very largely by joint stock companies placing a reasonable amount to reserve every year and. issuing it from time to time in the form of bonus shares. It would be unfair to tax bonus shares in the hands of shareholders, because although a certain amount may be placed to reserves from year to year, and taxation paid on it by a company, bonus shares may be issued perhaps once in ten years, and taxation on those shares would probably have to be paid by the holder in one year. In such cases his rate of tax might be three or four times greater than if the amount represented by the bonus shares were added to his income year by year as earned by the company. The purport of the bill is to make retrospective the law in regard to bonus shares as was intended when the consolidating bill of 1922 was passed. It was believed at that time that the provision had a retrospective effect, but as it was decided otherwise by the High Court in the James case, this amending measure is submitted to correct the omission inadvertently made.
Question - That the clause stand as printed - put. The committee divided.
Majority … … 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 18th March(vide page 1709), on motion by Senator Wilson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The purport of this bill is to grant an extension of time for the repayment of advances made and in some cases to release growers from the responsibility of repaying advances under the Dried Fruits Advances Act of 1924. I understand that the principal act provides for the repayment of the advances made on the 1925 crop, plus interest at the rate of 6 per cent. The only feature of the bill to which I object is the appointment of a board to carry out the work entailed, which I think could be performed by departmental officers. Will the proposed board cost very much ?
– I do not think the cost will exceed £300. A good deal of the work will be done by officers of the department.
– Could not all the work be done by Government officials ? I understand that a number of returned soldiers will benefit if this measure is passed. The Minister stated that 4,500 people participated in the advance, and. received £204,000. He also quoted figures to show that the prices received for lexias and currants in 1925 did not pay the growers, the decline in values being£65s. per ton in the case of lexias and £9 3s. per ton for currants. I realize what a handicap this means to the people engaged in the industry. They deserve assistance. I intend to support the bill, particularly since the Minister has assured us that the cost of inquiry will not be heavy.
.. - Those who will be affected by the measure represent a section of the com- munity whose hours of labour are long, whose work is hard, and whose financial return has not been commensurate with the amount of work performed. When this subject was before the Senate some time ago, I told the Minister then, and I tell him to-day, that we ought to hesitate before we proclaim from the housetops that there is room in Australia for any number of people to settle on the land.
– There is room.
– Of course there is room. But is there a reasonable prospect of their being successful ? There is room, for instance, for millions of people on either side of the east-west railway, but they could not make a living there. Would the Minister and those who support the bill encourage relatives from overseas to come to Australia, and settle in an industry like this, where people are asking for government aid ? This kind of settlement at present does not spell progress. The Minister can afford to smile, because, whilst he is in the industry himself, he knows that, be the seasons good or bad, his income as a Cabinet Minister will go on until June next. Other people in the same industry are not in that happy position. They deserve our sympathy. I am not opposed to government assistance, but I question the wisdom of inducing other people to come to Australia to engage in this industry.
– It is only a matter of time before the industry will improve.
– The position of the sultana industry is much better than it was two years or even twelve months ago.
– The Minister’s optimism is not endorsed by other men who ought to know what they are talking about. If the prospects of the people in the industry are as the Minister suggests, where is the need for the appointment of a board to consider cases of hardship ? I know there is a disposition on the part of some of those people to be relieved of their liability altogether. The Minister has assured us that each case will be dealt with on its merits. He has told us that the cost of the inquiry will not be more than £250 or £300. If members of the board intend to travel to different parts of Australia to inquire into individual cases, the expenditure will be very much in excess of the sum stated by the Minister.
– If the course indicated by the honorable senator is adopted, yes; but there is a businesslike way of tackling the problem.
– Of course, we know that the Minister is the only business man on the Government side ! It is a pity that the South Australian electors did not give him a further lease of political life, so that the Government could continue on sound business lines ! If his department has been conducted on business lines, is it not absurd to appoint a board to inquire into cases of hardship ? No doubt, the Minister considers himself an up-to-date business man, and unlike old-time Cabinet Ministers, has in the department over which he presides all the essential information concerning this industry. And yet he talks about the necessity for the appointment of this board !
– I can imagine how the honorable senator would criticize me if I set out to conduct a personal investigation into cases of hardship instead of appointing a boards
– If everything in the department is so up to date as the Minister has suggested, all the board will have to do will be to apply for information in respect of any case that comes before it, and the department no doubt will forward the desired information at express speed.
– Though the honorable senator has declared that he believes that the people engaged in the industry deserve some relief, he is not prepared to leave the’ matter in the hands of the Minister, and he criticizes the proposal to appoint a board.
– My remarks are prompted by the belief that we should hasten slowly in regard to settlement of people on areas where certain sections of the community, who are already engaged in this primary industry, are for the moment financially embarrassed. I rose mainly to say that it is inadvisable to spend further money to increase settlement in those avenues of production. I am not opposing the bill. I am only uttering a note of warning.
– I should like’ some information from the Minister (Senator Wilson) before the bill passes the second reading, particularly concerning the position of those engaged in the growing of currants. The Minister stated yesterday that the sultana industry was in a more favorable position. Are we to understand that the growers of currants who, it appears, have to be helped with a subsidy each year from the Consolidated Revenue, are to be encouraged to go out of the business and concentrate on the production of sultanas? If this course is adopted, is it not likely that there will be a glut in sultanas, with the result that those engaged in the business will be in the position of the currant growers of to-day?
– It will be a serious matter, because it will be three or four years before the curran’t, growers who turn their attention to sultanas, will get a return. In the meantime, they will require assistance.
– As Senator Findley has indicated, it will be a serious matter if men on the River Murray settlements have to be carried by the Government for three or four years until their areas come into profitable production again. If we have to vote money every year for the industry, I doubt whether it is worth while continuing, in the business. Failure in soldier settlements is not confined to areas set apart for settlement on the River Murray. In the Stanthorpe, Beerburrum and Samford districts of Queensland, there has been a large number of failures owing to the fact that inferior land was made available for soldier settlement by the State Labour Government. Some of the country made available to soldier settlers within 20 or 30 miles of Brisbane had been passed over by practical primary producers as unsuitable for cultivation.
– On whose recommendation was it allotted to soldier” settlers ?
– The State Lands Department had sole control of the matter.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon.
– I merely wish to draw attention to the fact that soldier settlers in various parts of the Commonwealth are as much in need of assistance as those in the dried fruit areas. Since the Commonwealth has millions of pounds invested in land settlement schemes, I wish to know if the Government intends to look into this problem. So far as Queensland is concerned, the soldier settlers are clamouring for further assistance.
– The honorable senator may not further discuss that matter on this bill. He may take other opportunities to do so.
– I realize that there probably will be other opportunities of raising the matter, but some time will elapse before the Senate meets again.
– That fact does not justify an irregular discussion.
Senator Sir VICTOR WILSON (South
Australia - Minister for Markets and Migration) [12.20]. - I wish at the outset to inform Senator Foll that the settlers in question have not received a grant. Growers of dried fruits in four States have been assisted. They were in desperate straits, and if the money had not been advanced to them., they would have been forced to abandon their properties. The holdings which constitute the Government’s security for the advances would thus have seriously depreciated in value.
– In my own State many of the soldiers were allowed to walk off their properties.
– I suppose that such occurrences as that are known in several of the States. The Government felt that by assisting those growers they would be able to recover their lost ground, and it is satisfactory to know that the present position of the industry is much sounder than it was when the advances were made.’
– What amount has been advanced ?
– The sum of £204,600. At the time when I asked the Senate to agree to the original measure, Senator Foll criticized it, and asked whether it was wise to bring about an increased production in this industry. At that time the market prospects for sultanas were anything but satisfactory, and the Government anticipated that currants would prove profitable. Unfortunately, currants were a bad selling proposition, but sultanas, on which most of the money was advanced, yielded remunerative returns. The price obtained1 last year was ?68 a ton, equal to ?48 at the drying sheds. If that price could be maintained the industry could be profitably conducted. Although ?165,000 out of the total advance was devoted to the growers of sultanas, only ?13,800 was given to the currantgrowers, and ?25,000 to the growers of lexias. Since then, the Government, by its assistance to the wine industry, has created a market for the surplus product. The distilleries have been largely availed of this year, and although the prices paid by them have not been highly satisfactory, they are much in advance of those paid for the two previous years. The Government is not prepared to spread the repayments over two years until a strict inquiry has beenmade, and, therefore, it has decided to appoint a small board.
– Could not thedepartmental officers be entrusted with the work in order to save the cost of a board ?
– The whole expenditure will not exceed from ?250 to ?300. The department has complete data with regard to the advances, and every case will be considered on its merits. Most of the sultanagrowers are in a satisfactory financial position, while those who have gone in for lexias and currants must naturally be in difficulties. We have to consider whether we shall extend the period for repayment over the next two years, or give further relief. I admit that a waste of money would be incurred in appointing a board that would travel extensively throughout Australia. The Government felt that Parliament should be consulted in this matter, and that a small board within the department could economically accomplish all that is desired.
– Is it not proposed to bring witnesses from their respective districts to Melbourne?
– Power to do so is required in the event of fraud; but ordinarily growers will not be summoned to Melbourne.
– Have the growers informed the Government that they are prepared to abide by the decision of the board ?
– The Government does not intend to place any grower in difficulties; but the matter is entirely one for its decision. So far as. I can see, the present proposal is the most effective and business-like one that could be adopted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Board to deal with applications for release).
– Will the board, when appointed, visit the areas referred to by the Minister, and ascertain for itself the conditions existing there? It would be interesting and informative to know thenumber of persons in Australia who’ are engaged in growing currants, and not making a success of their holdings.
– The board will inquire into that.
– There is nothing in the bill to say what the board will do. When Mildura was first opened up, the absence of railways increased the difficulties of the early pioneers. Many of them suffered, not only inconvenience and hardship, but also financial loss. After federation efforts were made to grant those engaged in the fruit-growing industry, especially those producing currants, a measure of protection, and after persistent efforts a duty of 3d. a lb. was placed on imported currants. With the whole of the Australian market before them, many of the growers did exceptionally well. Their success encouraged others to engage in the production of curl rants, with the result that in time the supply was sufficient to meet the requirements of the home market. At that stage their difficulties really commenced. Yet the Minister, in an effort to solve those difficulties, proposes to place more men on the land to grow more currants.
-(Senator Newland). - The honorable senator’s remarks would have been in order at the second-reading stage, but they are not in order now. This clause deals with the powers and functions of the board. I ask him te confine himself to that aspect of the bill.
– This clause provides for the appointment of a board to deal with applications for release. I assume that those applications will be for release from their financial obligations. How have those obligations beenincurred ? I take it that the board willinquire intoall cases which are brought beforeit, and that it will have power to summon witnesses. Will the board, when its work has been completed, make a report to Parliament? I do not wish to see the men engaged in this industry saddled with obligations and responsibilities which are too great for them. I desire to see them obtain from their holdings returns which will enable them to realize some of their anticipations when they took up the land. Two members of the board are to be appointed by the Minister. Will the third member be appointed by the growers?
– I thought that I had made it abundantly clear that the Government was prepared to accept one representative of the growers on the board.
– The bill does not state the remuneration which the members of the board will receive. The Minister said that theexpenses in connexion with the board would not be more than £250 or £300, but in the past we have had similar predictions from Ministers which have not been realized.’ We should have something more definite in this connexion. I am not satisfied that the board will not really be a departmental board ; it will probably meet in some departmental office.
– Does the honorable senator want the board to meet in the Town Hall?
– I am concerned with the appointment of a business-like board, and, therefore, I hope that when it is appointed it will obtain its information first hand. It is true that the information available in the department will he accessible to the board, but the Minister, as a business man of wide vision and sound judgment, must know that nothing broadens a man’s views so much as does travel.Rather than that the board should live in a departmental atmosphere, . it should travel into the fruit-growing areas, and ascertain for itself the conditions there. It should see how the settlers are housed, observe the progress they are making, and inquire whether they are married or single. Honorable senators will realize that the responsibilities of married men are greater than those of single men.
– Another tribunal, comprising a representative each from “South’ Australia, Victoria, and the Commonwealth, is about to be appointed to inquire into the conditions obtaining in the fruit-growing industry. The board to be appointed under this bill will inquire only into the position’ of the debtors, and not of the industry generally.
– Most of the men who in recent years have settled in our fruit-growing areas played their part in the world war. I have in mind the settlement at Red Cliffs, in Victoria, where in recent years a great transformation has taken place. A few years ago there was no settlement there, but to-day a different scene presents itself. The same is true of other portions of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) agreed to-
That theSenate, at its rising, adjourn till 3 p.m. on a date to be fixed by the President, which time of meeting shall be notified to each senator by telegram or letter.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) agreed to -
That leave of absence be granted to every member of the Senate from the determination of the sitting this day to the day on which the Senate next meets.
.- I move-
That the Senate do now adjourn.
I cannot now indicate the date on which the Parliament will be called together again. Present indications are that it will probably be during the first week in May, but developments in connexion with the League of Nations may necessitate an earlier reassembling.
Earlier in the sitting, Senator Duncan asked the Prime Minister, through me, the following questions with reference to temporary officers in the Commonwealth Public Service: -
I have received the following reply from the right honorable the Prime Minister : -
. - I take this, the only opportunity I have had since ‘the debate on the Crimes Bill, to reply to a reference made by Senator Drake-Brockman to Mr. Collier, Premier of Western Australia. Senator Drake-Brockman made an accusation against Mr. Collier in reference to the retirement of Mr. Walter, a police magistrate. In justice to Mr. Collier, I shall read his reply. Senator Drake-Brockman, in the course of his speech said -
But my view, which is accepted throughout the Empire, is that that is fundamentally wrong, and that deportation is essentially a political act that ought not to be one of the duties of judicial officers. An excellent illustration of that principle has been afforded in Western Australia and Queensland. During the course of the war the present Premier of Western Australia (Mr. Collier) was prosecuted for a breach of a Commonwealth law before a Mr. Walter, who was resident magistrate at Kalgoorlie. In the ordinary administration of the. law, and upon the evidence that was adduced, he was found guilty and fined. He then announced that his turn would come, and that when it did he would deal with Mr. Walter. In the course of time he became the Premier of Western Australia. One of his first acts, if not the first, after his accession to that office, was to sack Mr. Walter, merely because, as a magistrate administering the law of the Commonwealth, he had performed his duty.
The charge made against Mr. Collier by Senator Drake-Brockman was that he “ sacked - to use the honorable senator’s own expression - this magistrate because the latter, in the execution of his duty, fined him. Mr. Collier has sent this reply to me by telegraph : -
Walter was retired by Public Service Commissioner at 63 years 10 month’s age. Puiblie Service Act 1904 fixes retiring age at 60 and confers right upon Commissioner to continue services only as long as desirable. Similar practice followed by all previous Western Australian governments where efficiency thus best served. Surveyor-General King retired by National Government at 60 years 5 months. Chief Electoral’ Officer Stenberg and other’s similar. Fine referred to was for allegedly causing disaffection to His Majesty and waa quashed by High Court fine remitted’ and refund of costs ordered by Commonwealth Government. Walter obviously unfitted to continue magisterial office. bee my statement, West Australian, 28th May, 1924, which I suggest you should read to the House.
The letter in the West Australian was a very long one, and I shall quote only an extract from it.
– I am not attempting to give an explanation. I am giving Mr. Collier’s reply to the charge against him. In the course of his reply to the assertion of Mr. “Walter that his retirement from the position of police magistrate was due to victimization, Mr. Collier stated -
He (Mr. Walter) explained that it was optional whether his services were retained or not after passing the age of 60 years, and admits that his retirement is within legal right, but complains of the manner in which his services were terminated. I must confess that I know of no other proper manner of terminating an officer’s services except the legal and constitutional method laid clown by the Public Service Act and the Superannuation Act, and this procedure is being followed in this case. The position is simply this: Mr. Walter is within two months of the age of 64 years. It is considered that efficient administration will be , best served by retiring Mr. Walter, and in exercising the option which Mr. Walter admits, and which the act has provided, a precedent is being followed which has been sanctified by the custom of all governments which have ever held power . within this State. At random I could name half a dozen senior officers, including one higher-salaried official and one resident magistrate, all younger than Mr. Walter, and I could name a dozen others, including another magistrate, who were a’lso younger than Mr. Walter, who were retired by previous governments for the same reason, or to effect some doubtful advantages. Into the reasons given it would’ not be desirable to probe. It is strange that what has been a virtue in the past, or at least has not called for even a passing comment, should today be termed “ political vindictiveness “ by one who has been treated in exactly the same way as a considerable number of younger men who have gone before. I may remind him that what he characterizes as a conviction for an alleged “ disloyal utterance “ was nothing of the kind. His judicial training should make him more careful. There was a charge of a “statement likely to prejudice recruiting,” which wa? dismissed. It was upon a charge of a “ statement likely to cause disaffection “ that a fine of £25 and costs was imposed, with the ultimate result of the remission of the fine and the’ ordering of a refund of costs by the Commonwealth Government - a tacit admission of a stupid prosecution and an improper conviction. Mr. Walter’s statement that a report was current of a threat of his retirement ten minutes after Labour came into power is barely worthy of notice.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.
– I have quoted Senator Drake-Brockman’s statement in the Senate. I have read Mr. Collier’s reply, as contained in the telegram forwarded to me, and I have also read an extract from a letter handed to the West Australian, dated 28th May, 1924. I venture to say that what I have read is a complete refutation of the assertion made by Senator Drake-Brockman, which was, in the first place, that Mr. Walter was dismissed by Mr. Collier, because Mr. Walter had imposed a fine on Mr. Collier. Secondly, it answers the charge that it was Mr. Collier’s first act as a Minister.
– The honorable senator has not replied to that.
– The information I have given proves also that Mr.. Collier was wrongly fined, that the conviction was quashed by the High Court, and the fine remitted. In justice to Mr. Collier, who holds a high and responsible position in Western Australia, and who is .not here to defend himself, I have brought this matter before the Senate.
– The statement by Senator Needham, that the conviction was quashed, is not, of course, borne out by the facts which the honorable senator has submitted to the Senate. The fine was remitted by the Commonwealth Government. There was no appeal by Mr. Collier that I know of.
– The honorable senator .should read the telegram, which states that’ conviction was quashed by the His;h Court, and the fine remitted.
– The statement in the telegram, which I have read, is not in conformity with the letter from Mr. Collier to the West Australian, wherein he said the fine was remitted by the Commonwealth Government. Mr. Collier has made two statements, and I am not sure which is correct. In one he states the fine was remitted by the Commonwealth Government, and in another he asserts that it was remitted by the High Court. I see no reason what- ever to withdraw what I have said in regard to this matter. The assertion I made was that Mr. Collier, who at that time was, I think, the Leader of the Opposition in Western Australia and the leader of the Labour party, did in fact come before Mr. Walter, and was, in fact, fined. Mr. Walter, in his judicial capacity, found him guilty of the charge, and Mr. Collier at that time made the threat against Mr. Walter which I have indicated, and which is not denied. As soon as Mr. Collier became Premier of Western Australia, Mr. Walter was relieved of his appointment as a magistrate.
-Under the provisions of the Public Service Act.
– BROCKMAN.That statement might have some merit if Mr. Collier had never threatened Mr. Walter, and it would also have some merit if it had not been the practice in Western Australia for many years to extend the tenure of such appointments where men were fit and capable of carrying on the work, as Mr. Walter is capable of doing to-day. There might also be some merit in the defence now put up by Senator Needham on Mr. Collier’s behalf if Mr. Collier had aopointed a younger man to carry out the work previously performed by Mr. Walter; but, as a matter of fact, he appointed a Mr. Kidson, who is much older than Mr. Walter. Both Mr. Walter and Mr. Kidson are personal friends of mine, and I know that Mr. Kidson was appointed in Mr. Walter’s place. In view of these facts, the defence of Senator Needham on behalf of Mr. Collier is, to say the least of it, very thin. It was considered very thin by the people of Western Australia, who have not accepted Mr. Collier’s pronouncement as a true statement of the facts. I come back to my original assertion, that when we find men of the type of Mr. Collier - who is probably the fairest and most decent of Labour leaders in any of the States - whether of his own volition or at the instigation of those behind him, capable of vindictiveness of this sort, then having regard to this fact in particular, we should not be justified in asking police magistrates under the control of State Governments to carry out judicial functions involving deportation as a sentence. That was the point I was endeavouring to make when I originally addressed myself to the Senate.
– This practice of victimization has been going on in other States for years.
– I know it has, and I quoted this particular instance in Western Australia which I knew of, to stress the point I was making at the time. Honorable senators have heard Senator Needham in defence of Mr. Collier, and if there were anything for me to withdraw I would unhesitatingly withdraw it, but instead I reassert everything I said when I originally addressed the Senate on this matter.
– This morning I asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister in the Senate (Senator Pearce) a question relating to cable matters, to which I received a reply which I consider more than unsatisfactory, and which has excited a certain amount of resentment on my part. To me it is most extraordinary to supply to a member of this Parliament such an answer to a question submitted for the purpose of eliciting information either for the benefit of the Senate or in the public interest. The question I asked was -
In view of the fact that the Commonwealth owns one-third share of the Pacific cable, and is responsible for the greatest part of its business, will the Government request the Pacific Cable Board to embody in its annual reports information showing : -
International and other traffic to and from Australia;
Receipts by the Board in respect of such traffic;
Cost of maintenance of stations and staff in Australia.
The reply I received to the first question was -
That is not true. I have before me the report of the Postmaster-General for last year, together with the appendix referred to, and the information I have asked for is not embodied in the report. Therefore, the reply to the first portion of my question is most misleading. It is, however, the answer to paragraphs (a) and (b) to which I take particular exception. It reads -
The Government does not consider that any useful purpose would be served in obtaining these details, the compilation of which would involve the Board in considerable work and expense.
The administration of the Pacific Cable Board is not directly the concern of the Commonwealth Government and, no doubt, the Government, has supplied this answer in good faith and at the instigation of the board, because the question would be referred to it for a. reply. It is, therefore, the board that considers that no useful purpose would be served by giving these details. I wish to ask, in all sincerity, not only for my own benefit, but also for the information of other honorable senators, if. an outside body such as the Pacific Cable Board or its officials is to determine whether any question asked in the Senate for the purpose of obtaining information would or would not serve any useful purpose? The Pacific Cable Board is, to an extent, a semi-public body, as the Commonwealth Government has a one-third interest in the enterprise. We do the largest measure of traffic over the cables owned and controlled by the Pacific Cable Board, and yet there seems to be on the part of the board a deliberate attempt to withhold information from this Parliament and from the public. The accounts are kept, the reports couched, and the tables in the report prepared in such a way that, instead of giving the fullest information to this Parliament and those desirous of knowing what the board is doing, they deliberately cover up its operations, and thus prevent honorable senators, members of another place, and the public from knowing what it is doing, and what measure of support is being given by Australia.
– If the honorable senator obtained the information, and it were published, would it not be made available to companies, such as the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, which are competing with the board ?
– The board has not given that, as an excuse. It says that no useful purpose would be served by supplying the information.
-brockman. - That is what occurs to me.
– I considered that aspect of the matter before I asked the question. I have no desire to be responsible for information being supplied to rival companies in which the Commonwealth has no interest. The particulars which I sought would not give ‘to other concerns information which could be used against the board. They have other means of obtaining the information. In fact, the total figures and the business done by the board are given in the report; but the trouble is that the Australian figures are grouped with those of New Zealand, and it is impossible to ascertain exactly what Australia is doing. Seeing that the Commonwealth holds a one-third interest, we should know what business is being done by the board in Australia as compared with New Zealand. It is impossible for us to compare the progress of the work from year to year. We might be doing much more business than the rival company, which is a private concern. The answer to my question states that the particulars, are to be found in the annual report of the Postmaster-General. I say that they are not. The figures published in that report are for the year from 1st April to 31st March, whilst the figures in the report of the Pacific Cable Board are for the year from 1st July to 30th June, so it is impossible to get from the annual report of the Postmaster-Genera] the basis of comparison which I desireto obtain, upon certain phases of the Pacific Cable Board’s business. I feel very strongly on this subject, and resent very much the manner in which my questions were answered, as well as the attitude of the board generally. If 1 cannot get the information which I desire in any other way, I shall table a motion asking for the preparation of a return. . Honorable senators will then have an opportunity to see for themselves whether the affairs of the board are being conducted properly. This cloak of secrecy thrown over the whole business of the board arouses suspicion.
– What is in the honorable senator’s mind?
– If a semi-public business concern such as the Pacific Cable Board does not clearly state what business is being done by it in Australia, one begins to wonder why. It is absurd to say that the preparation of the figures I have asked for would involve considerable expenditure. I am informed, on very good authority, that the information has to be compiled in order that the total amount of the terminal charges each year may be assessed. I believe that the board has the information, and can supply it readily enough, so if T cannot get in answer to a question, I shall have to take other action.
– The only question raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) has been fully replied to by Senator Drake-Brockman. With regard to the matter mentioned by Senator Duncan, I can only say that as the question was addressed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) I shall bring the honorable senator’s remarks under the notice of the Leader of the Government.
– Probably the Prime Minister did npt see the reply.
– The answer was that, on account of the cost involved, it was not considered advisable to call upon the board to supply the information.
– That is not so.
– In the circumstances, I think it is for the honorable senator to show that some practical public purpose would be served in order to justify the expenditure involved.
– I believe the board has the information readily available.
– That, at all events, was the reply furnished by the Prime Minister. I cannot see in what way the public will be benefited by being informed as to the receipts in respect of traffic to’ and from Australia. It has not yet been proved that the information containedinthe annual report of the Pacific Cable Board is not as complete as it should be. The honorable senator also desired information as to the maintenance of staffs and stations in Australia. We know that the Pacific Cable Company is in strong competition with a rival company, and it might be inadvisable - I do not advance this as a reason why the information was not supplied - to furnish its rival with certain details of the Pacific Cable Board’s business in Australia.
– My questions were inspired because of a strong commercial agitation in Sydney for a reduction of the terminal charges and the rates fixed by the board. The board has declared that reductions cannot be made, because of the traffic, but it is believed that if the information I have asked for is furnished, it will be seen that the board can afford to reduce the charges.
– The honorable gentleman did not say that before. Probably the course which he has suggested, namely the tabling of a motion for the preparation of a return, is the better one to adopt. The honorable senator may then advance what he has now said as a reason why the return should be prepared, and if there is any reason why the information should not be supplied the Minister will bo able to indicate it when replying. Obviously the Prime Minister satisfied himself with tho answer supplied by the Pacific CableBoard because it had the approval of the Government. I have no doubt that the board gave tho Prime Minister good reasons why further details were not supplied.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 2.22 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 March 1926, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1926/19260319_senate_10_112/>.