13th Parliament · 1st Session
The Senate met at 3 p.m., pursuant to the notification of the President.
The President (Senator the Hon. P. J.Lynch)took the chair,- and read prayers.
– I have to announce to the Senate that on the 20th March last I received from Senator Sir HalColebatch a letter resigning his place as a senator for the State of WesternAustralia.
I have further to inform the Senate that’, pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution, I notified the LieutenantGovernor of the State of Western Australia of the vacancy caused in the representation of that State by the resignation of Senator Sir HalColebatch, and thatI have received through His Excellency the Governor-General from the Lieutenant-Governor of Western Australia a certificate of the appointment of Herbert Bray ley Collett as a senator to fill such vacancy.
Certificate laid on the table, and read by the Clerk.
Senator COLLETT made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.
– by leave - By the departure of Sir HalColebatch, the Senatehas lost a very distinguished Australian. To- that gentleman has been paid the unique honour - which, I believe, is unprecedented in Australian politics - of having been appointed to represent his State in London as Agent General for a second period, with an interval between each. No member of the Senate held a higher conception than Sir Hal Colebatch of the spirit of federation, and his objective, while a member of the Senate, was always to uphold the high ideals of the great man who founded the Federal Constitution. He was one of the leading Australian economists, and also an eminent authority on constitutional matters. That was evidenced in the prominent part that he played as a member of the Royal Commission which inquired into the Federal Constitution. He possessed a wonderful fund of knowledge, and his powerful eloquence was always backed up by an exceptional memory and unfailing courtesy. He is a great Aus-> tralian, and a true Western Australian. My regret at his loss to the Senate is tempered by the belief that in his new sphere of labour he will be of greater service to his State and to the Empire than he was even while in the Senate.
Senator Sir HARRY LAWSON (Victoria) [3.7]. - by leave - Whatever views we may hold concerning the political opinions of Sir Hal Colebatch, all of us were drawn to him by feelings of goodwill, and were attracted by his fine personal qualities. There is no doubt that, by training, as ‘well as by temperament, he was admirably fitted for public service. It is universally agreed that he discharged with fidelity and outstanding ability the duties of his high office in this Senate. He was a great thinker, and a fearless, forceful and eloquent debater, who always compelled attention when he addressed the Senate. On a previous occasion, he represented his State as Agent General in London; and the fact that he has been re-appointed to that office is a striking tribute to the success that attended his representation on the first occasion. We shall, indeed, miss him from the councils of the Senate. He was always a prodigious worker. For many years, he laboured on the Royal Commission on the Constitution; and, as a member of the Select Committee on Central Reserve Banking, his industry was enormous, his counsel most helpful. It is a pleasure, that is tinged with regret, to pay a tribute to his splendid public service, and to the fine work that he did as a representative of Western Australia.
Assent to the folio-wing bills reported : -
Appropriation (No. 2) Bill 1932-33. Appropriation (Works and Buildings) (No.
Protection Bill 1032. Bills of Exchange Bill 1032. Colonial Light Dues Appropriation Bill 1932. Colonial Light Dues Collection Bill 1932. Colonial Light Dues (Rates) Bill 1932. Committee of Public Accounts Bill 1932. Commonwealth Public Service Bill 1932. Financial Relief Bill 1932. Income Tax Assessment Bill 1932. Income Tax Bill 1932.
Invalid and Old-age Pensions Appropriation
Bill (No. 2) 1932.
Judiciary Bill 1932.
Jury Exemption Bill 1932.
Sugar Agreement Bill 1932.
Patents, Trade Marks and Designs Bill 1932.
Wheat Bounty (Claims) Bill 1932.
War Service Homes Bill (No. 2) 1932.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) [3.12]. - by leave - Since the Senate last met, a former Minister of the Crown and a member of the first Parliament of the Commonwealth has passed from our midst. I refer to the Honorable Josiah Thomas, who died in Sydney on the 5 th February last. He had a notable career in the State and Commonwealth Parliaments, extending over a total period of 35 years. He entered the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales in 1894, and, on the inauguration of the Commonwealth, transferred to the Commonwealth Parliament, being elected as a member for Barrier, a seat which he held until he retired on the expiration of the sixth Parliament. Mr. Thomas was elected a senator for New South Wales at the general election of 1917, and after -being defeated at the general election of 1922, was again elected in 1925, his term expiring on the 30th June, 1929. He attained ministerial rank early, being Postmaster-General in the first Fisher Ministry. In the second Fisher Ministry, he was Postmaster-General for approximately eighteen months, and Minister for External Affairs for the remainder of its term of office. As a ministerial colleague of the late honorable gentleman, I am in a position to know “what great zeal and ability he brought to bear upon the problems confronting him. I invite honorable senators to extend their deep sympathy to his widow and family, and therefore move -
That this Senate expresses its deep regret at the death of the Honorable Josiah Thomas, a former member of the Commonwealth Parliament, and Minister of the Crown, places on record its appreciation of his meritorious public service, and tenders its deep sympathy to his widow and family in their bereavement.
.– I desire to associate myself and my colleagues with the motion submitted by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Pearce). I knew the late Mr.
Thomas during the greater part of his political career, and I was largely instrumental, I believe, in securing his return to this Parliament on the first occasion. I sincerely regret his death, and express my deep sympathy with his widow and family in their great bereavement. He was of a- lovable and kindly personality, and although I differed largely from him on political matters, I recognize that he brought great earnestness of purpose and insight to bear upon the work that he endeavoured to do for the people of Australia. His comparatively early death is to be generally regretted.
– I endorse all that has been said in connexion with our late colleague, Senator Thomas. Although I did not know him for a long period, he was the first senator with whom I was associated when I became a member of this Senate. I found him genial and helpful, and anxious to help any new senator, and I received greatbenefit from my association with him. He was earnest in all that he did, and his one desire was to do his best for Australia. I amsure that the heartfelt sympathy of all honorable senators goes out to his widow and sons. Our loss is great, but their loss is infinitely greater.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - I am in thorough accord with the remarks of the previous speakers. I had the privilege of being acquainted with the late Mr. Thomas some 40 years ago, when he was a member of theNew South “Wales Parliament. Later he was elected to the House of Representatives, and subsequently became a member of this Senate. When a citizen of this country exhibits those qualities which induce the choosing public to re-elect him on so many occasions to parliamentary positions, it shows that he is possessed of no mean qualities. In his early career, before he entered politics, Mr. Thomas was well on the way towards making a considerably independent living; ‘but, having chosen to serve his country in the public arena, he fared as many other disinterested young men have frequently done, ending up not quite so prosperous as he might have been had he devoted his talents solely to advancing his personal interests. In my opinion, he belonged to that rather rare class of public men who are willing to give of their best for the advancement, of the public weal, and the improvement of the conditions of the people, irrespective of the fact that it may not be to their personal advantage to do so. In the family circle a serious gap has occurred, but if the surviving relatives walk in the worthy footsteps of the late honorable gentleman, they will help in some measure to fill the void.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.
[3.20]. - by leave - Death has claimed another former member of the Commonwealth Parliament in Sir Elliot Johnson, who died on the 8th December, 1932, at Geelong, Victoria. The late Sir Elliot Johnson entered the Commonwealth Parliament in 1903 as the member for Lang, and he continued to represent that constituency for a quarter of a century. He had the distinction of having been elected on three occasions to the responsible position of Speaker of another place - namely, in July, 1913; June, 1917 ; and February. 1920. His Majesty honoured him in 1:920 by creating him a Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. His knowledge of public affairs and, more particularly, of the duties appertaining to his distinguished office, are well known, and the able manner in which he carried out the high and important functions of that position will be remembered by those who were associated with him. A daughter, Miss Flora Johnson, mourns his loss. I ask honorable senators to join with me in extending to her the deep sympathy of the Senate. J move -
That this Senate expresses its deep regret at the death of the Honorable Sir William Elliot Johnson, K.C.M.G., a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, places on record its appreciation of his notable public service, and tenders its deep sympathy to his daughter in her bereavement.
.- I desire to associate myself with the Leader of the Government (Senator Pearce) in expressing, on my own behalf, and on behalf of the Opposition generally, regret at the death of a most courteous gentleman in the person of the late Sir William Elliot Johnson. He was known to the members of both Houses of this Parliament as a quiet, modest gentleman, and those who were fortunate enough to come into close contact with him found him a true friend. I sincerely regret his passing, and I join with the Leader of the Government in expressing sympathy with his daughter in her bereavement.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.
[3.24]. - by leave - I desire formally to announce to the Senate that on the 14th January, 1933. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Walter White, D.E.C., V.D., was appointed by His Excellency the Governor-General to be Minister for Trade and Customs vice the Honorable Sir Henry Somer Gullett, K.C.M.G., who resigned that office on account of illhealth.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act - Balance-sheets of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Commonwealth Savings Bank at 31st December, 1932, and Statements of the Liabilities and Assets of the Note Issue Department at 31st December, 1932; together with Auditor-General’s Report thereon.
British Phosphate Commission - Report and Accounts for the year ended 30th June. 1932.
I ndustrial Property - Protection of - International Convention (signed at The Hague. 6th November, 1925).
League of Nations -
Special Assembly, March, April, July and December, 1932, to consider the SinoJapaneso dispute and the admission of Turkey to the League - Reports.
Thirteenth Assembly, September-October. 1932 - Report of the Australian Delegation.
Legal Proceedings in Civil and Commercial Matters - Convention between His Majesty and the President of the German Reich (London, 20th March. 1928).
Norfolk Island - Report for year ended 30th June, 1932.
Northern Territory - Report by the Administrator on the Administration for the year ended 30th June, 1932.
Air Force Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No.16- No. 46- No. 58.
Arbitration (Public Service Act) - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. -
No. 30 of 1932 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 31 of 1932 - Commonwealth Foremen’s Association.
No. 32 of 1932 - Commonwealth PublicService Artisans Association.
No. 33 of 1932 - Commonwealth Foremen’s Association.
No. 1 of 1933 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 2 of 1933 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 3 of 1933 - Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia; Federated Public Service Assistants Association of Australia; and Fourth Division Officers Association of the Trade and Customs Department.
Commonwealth Public Service Act -
Appointments - Department of -
Health- E. J. F. Wood.
Interior - A. W. Kaill.
Treasury - R. Wilson.
Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 30- No. 42- No. 43- No. 44 No. 45.
Commonwealth Railways Act - By-laws - No. 61- No.62.
Contract Immigrants Act - Return for 1932.
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 147; 1933, No. 1- No.” 9- No. 18- No. 24 - No. 25- No. 33- No. 30 - No. 49 - No. 51 - No. 53 - No. 59.
Immigration Act - Return for 1.932.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at -
Cootamundra - For Defence purposes
Corowa - For Defence purposes.
Mascot - For Defence purposes.
Nationality Act -
Return showing the number of persons to whom Certificates of Naturalization were granted during the year 1932, and the countries whence the applicants came.
Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 2.
Naval Defence Act- Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 5- No.6No. 50.
New Guinea Act -
Ordinances of . 1932 -
No. 22- Public Service.
No. 23 - Judiciary.
No. 24 - Re-organization of Native Affairs Department.
No. 25 - Supplementary Appropriation 1931.-1932.
No. 26 - Laws Repeal and Adopting (No. 2).
No. 27 - Census.
Ordinances of 1933 -
No. 1 - Mining.
No. 2 - Companies.
No. 3 - Superannuation.
No. 4 - Loan.
No. 5 - Extradition..
No.6 - Birds and Animals Protection.
No. 7 - Motor Traffic.
No. 8 - Immigration.
No. 9 - Post and Telegraph.
No. 10 - Miners’ Homestead Leases.
No. 11- Mining (No. 2).
No. 12 - -Explosives.
No. 13 - Land.
No. 14 - Native Labour.
No. 15 - Customs Tariff.
No. 16 - Stamp Duties.
No. 17 - Advisory Council Ordinance Repeal.
No.18. - Legal Practitioners.
No. 19 - Appropriation (No. 2) 1932- 1933.
No. 20 - Native Labour (No. 2).
No. 21 - Liquor.
No. 22 - Lands Registration.
No. 23 - Lands Registration (No. 2).
No. 24 - Native Taxes.
No. 25 - Laws Repeal and Adopting.
No. 26 - Public Service.
No. 27- Customs Tariff (No. 2).
No. 28. - Salamnua Lands.
No. 29 - Companies (No. 2).
No. 30- Education.
No. 31 - Advisory Council Ordinance Repeal (No. 2).
Norfolk Island Act - Ordinances of 1932 -
No. 7 - Motor Car.
No.8 - Census.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act-
Ordinance No. 1 of 1933 - Supreme Court.
Brands Ordinance - Regulations amended.
Public Service Ordinance - Regulations amended.
Papua Act -
Infirm and Destitute Natives Account - Statement of Transactions of Trustees for the year ended 30th June, 1932.
Ordinance No. 8 of 1932 - Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement).
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Scat of Government (Administration) Act-
Ordinances of 1932 -
No. 22 - Matrimonial Causes.
No. 23- Sheriff.
No. 24 - Coroners.
No. 25. - Juries.
No. 26- Juries (No. 2).
Ordinances of 1933 -
No. 1 - Nurses Registration.
No. 2 - Hospital Tax.
No. 3 - Removal of Prisoners.
No. 4 - Seat of Government (Administration ) .
No. 5 - Meat.
No. 6- Hospital Tax (No. 2).
No. 7 - Juries.
No. 8 - Judgment Creditors Remedies.
No. 9 - Administration and Probate.
Canberra University College Ordinance - Report of the Council of the Canberra University College for the year 1932, together with the Canberra University College Calendar for the year 1933.
Court of Petty Sessions Ordinance - Rules amended.
Hospital Tax Ordinances - Regulations.
Hospital Tax Ordinances - Regulations amended.
JuriesOrdinance - Regulations (Fees).
Nurses Registration Ordinance - Regulations.
Nurses Registration Ordinance - Regulations amended.
Public Baths Ordinance - Regulations amended.
Public Health Ordinance - Regulations amended.
Transport Workers Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 12.
Treaty of Peace (Germany) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933. No. 3.
Performing Rights - Report of the Royal Commissioner (Mr. Justice Owen).
Postmaster-General’s Department - Twentysecond Annual Report, 1931-32.
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 131; 1933, No. 17- No. 54.
Beaches, Fishing Grounds and Sea Routes Protection Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 7- No. 8.
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 61.
Customs Act and Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 22- No. 38- No. 40.
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 39.
Dried Fruits Export Charges Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933. No. 20.
Export Guarantee Act - Return showing assistance granted -
To 31st December. 1932.
To 3 1st March, 1933.
High Court Procedure Act and Judiciary
Act - Rules of Court - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 145.
Judiciary Act - Rules of Court -
Dated 1st December, 1932.
Dated 19th January, 1933.
Dated 18th April, 1933.
Judiciary Act, High Court Procedure Act, and Matrimonial Causes Ordinance of the Territory for the Seat of Government - Rules of Court- Statutory Rules 1933, No. 23.
Jury Exemption Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 136.
Navigation Act - Regulations amended, &c. -Statutory Rules 1933, No. 32- No. 47 - No. 55.
Patents Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 52- No. 57.
Patents, Trade Marks and Designs Act - Regulations (temporary) - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 31.
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 13 - No. 14- No. 15- No. 56.
Quarantine Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 138.
War Service Homes Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 134 -No. 141.
Wire and Wire Netting Act - Regulations amended- Statutory Rules 1933, No. 26.
Appropriation (Unemployment Relief Works ) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 146; 1933, No. 35.
Audit Act - Transfers of amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council - Financial year 1931-32 - Dated 30th November, 1932.
Census and Statistics Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 142.
Commonwealth Bank Act -
Treasurer’s Statements of Combined Accounts of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the Commonwealth Savings Bank as at 31st December, 1932, certified to by the Auditor-General.
Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 139- No. 140; 1933, No. 28- No. 29.
Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 143.
Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932. No. 135.
Customs Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 21.
Excise Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 37.
Financial Emergency Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 19 - No. 34.
Financial Relief Act - Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 11 - No. 27- No. 48.
Gold Bounty Act - Return for year 1932.
Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 4 - No. 41.
Land Tax Assessment Act - List of Applications for Relief from Taxation during the year 1932.
Sales Tax Assessment Acts - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 144; 1933, No. 60.
Taxation Acts - Fifteenth Report of the Commissioner, years 1928-29, 1929-30, 1930-31, and 1931-32.
Senator GREENE laid on the table of the Senate reports and recommendations of tie Tariff Board on the following subjects : -
Aluminiumware and Enamelledware, but not including Stoves and Baths.
Apparel, as covered by Item 110, but not including Corsets.
Apparel Elastic less than one inch in width and Rubber Thread.
Articles partly or wholly made up from Textiles or Feathers; and Articles partly or wholly of Felt.
Cement-making Machines ; Road-making Machines ; Stone-crushing Machines ; Aerial Ropeways ; Travelling and Portable Cranes; Coal Conveyors; and Ashhandling Plant.
Cotton Packings, Asbestos Cord, Asbestos Pipe and Boiler Covering and Greasy Packings of jute and hemp.
Cotton Piece Goods resembling Woollen Piece Goods (Cotton Tweeds).
Devices for catching or fastening Motor Car Doors, excluding Handles, remote controlled or otherwise.
Electric Fans of the household type.
Handles of all types for Motor Car Doors.
Matches and Vestas of all kinds.
Oilmen’s Stores and certain goods covered by Item 79 of Tariff Proposals 1932.
Packings (but not including Asbestos Packings ) .
Piece Goods, woollen or containing wool (Addendum to Report presented on 16th November, 1932).
Socks and Stockings for human attire.
Towels, cut or uncut, &c. ; Terry Cloth, and Terry Robing.
Turbo-Generators (both steam and water).
Vessels exceeding 500 tons gross register but not exceeding 1,000 tons gross register.
– I should like to know, Mr. President, ifyou can inform the Senate of the exact status of those honorable senators, representing the State of Western Australia, who took part in the recent referendum campaign, and who are, therefore, associated with the decision of the people of that State to secede from the ‘Commonwealth. Are they to be regarded as rebels under the Constitution, , and, as such, not entitled to take their seats in this chamber?
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - I remind the honorable senator that, while a standing order of the Senate provides that an honorable senator may ask a question of another honorable senator, such question must be confined strictly to motion or items of public business on the notice-paper. As there is nothing on the notice-paper relating to the subject mentioned by the honorable gentleman, his question is out of order.
– Is it the intention of the Minister for Defence to have submitted to the Attorney-General the names of the Western Australian “ rebels “, for action under the Crimes Act for disloyalty against His Majesty the King’s Federal Constitution, which they affirmed on oath in Canberra their intention to uphold?
– So far as I have been able to understand the question, and to gather the purport of it, the answer is. “No”.
– Is it the intention of the Government to set aside the sum of £250,000 for the purchase of blankets, boots and shoes, for the 500,000 unemployed persons in Australia, who would greatly appreciate, the comfort of those articles during the ensuing winter months ?
– Is it . the intention of the Government to sabotage honorablesenators, by failing to enable them to read the provision’s of the bills relating to an investigation of the petrol and oil industry by a royal commission?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The honorable senator’s question is absolutely unintelligible. Given the capacity and the time, there is no reason why any honorable senator should not have read these bills at the time that they were introduced into the House of Representatives, because they were then circulated among honorable senators.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.On the 24th. November, 1932, Senator E. B. Johnston asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to advise him as follows : -
On the 30th November, 1932, Senator E. B. Johnston asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to advise him as follows : -
On the 30th November, 1932, Senator E. B. Johnston asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to advise him as. follows : - 1 and 2. There is no beer traffic offering from Melbourne to Alice Springs.
I am now in a position to advise him as follows: -
[3.47]. - by leave - I wish to acquaint honorable senators of the business that is likely to come before the Senate, and the proposed days of meeting.
There are four bills that the Government desires to have dealt with before the House of Representatives adjourns for a period, so that the assent or the dissent of the Senate may be recorded in regard to them. These bills are: two measures which relate to an investigation by a royal commission into the petrol and oil industry in Australia; a hill to amend the Financial Emergency Acts so as to apply to the Public Service the formula adopted by the Federal Arbitration Court in determining the basic wage; a bill for the appointment of a commission in connexion with Commonwealth grants to the States; and a Supply Bill. It is intended to ask for Supply up to September, the idea being that when the Senate shall have dealt with the bills I have mentioned, and with the tariff, it will adjourn, and it will not be necessary to recall either House until the Government is ready to present the budget, which it is anticipated will be some time in August. By means of the suspension of the Standing Orders, the Senate should be able to pass these measures to-day and to-morrow, and next week proceed with the debate on the tariff.
It. is desired that, beginning with the week after next, the Senate should sit on four clays a week. I should like honorable senators opposite to indicate whether that will meet their convenience.
In connexion with the tariff, it is proposed to apply the procedure of grouping the items that with the consent of all parties was adopted in another place.
On motions by Senator Sir George Pearce, the following Orders of the Day were read and discharged: -
Reparations - Lausanne Conference 1932 - Report Ivy Minister for External Affairs. Adjourned debate from 1st September, 1932, on motion that the paper be printed,
Disarmament Conference - Geneva, 1932 - Report by Minister for External Affairs. Adjourned debate from 30th September, 1932, on motion that the paper be printed,
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders.
[3.53].- I move-
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill from being passed through all its stages without delay.
We do not wish to limit in any way the discussion of this measure. A clear and simple proposition, which is not difficult to understand, is involved in it. The suspension of the Standing Orders will increase our chances of winding up either to-morrow or on Saturday the business that has to be disposed of before another place adjourns.
.- Having arrived in Canberra only to-day, this measure has not been before many honorable senators. We have no desire to delay the passage of the bill, but I should like the debate to be adjourned for an hour or so, to enable us to study its contents.
– I am agreeable to the adjournment of the debate to a later hour of the day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLachlan) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) proposed -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill from being passed through all its stages without delay.
– Some honorable senators on this side arrived in Canberra only to-day, and have not had an opportunity to study the bill. I record my protest against the continued demands that come from the Leader of the Government (Senator Pearce) for the suspension of the Standing Orders, in order that important measures may be rushed through this chamber. The bait usually held out is that honorable senators, or members of another place, desire to make a hurried departure for their homes. Honorable senators are not idle during the time when this chamber is not in session. On the contrary, my experience is that they are kept busy during Parliamentary recesses. But the most important part of our work has to be done in this Parliament, and our responsibilities outside should be regarded as matters of secondary consideration. Members of this chamber have not been called together for some months until to-day, and the first thing we are asked to do is to treat our work in a perfunctory manner, because honorable members in another - place wish to return to their homes this week. I do not desire to spoil the week-end enjoyment of those honorable members, but I point out that the members of this Senate are paid by the people of the Commonwealth to discharge certain duties, and that -we should not be in a desperate hurry to get the work over. At every opportunity, I shall protest against motions of this nature, and I shall carry my protest to the people who pay us to represent them.
– If this motion is not agreed to, there will probably be an all-night sitting.
– Honorable senators on the Opposition benches are prepared to sit all night, if that course is necessary. I am tired of playing with the business of the country. Either this chamber is a necessary part of the legislative machinery of the Commonwealth or it is not. If it is an essential part of that machinery, we should show our willingness to work. I should prefer to hear the Leader of the Government make his speech on this bill, so that we may have an opportunity to examine his arguments as to the need for the measure. The Government has a preponderance of influence on the board of directors of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and surely it could get from its representatives on that board all the information that it requires in regard to the profits of the oil companies, without setting up a costly royal commission. At the present time, many requests for the relief of the needy have been refused by the Government, but I realize that, in the matter now before the Chair, the Government has a majority, and can do as it wishes.
– I support Senator Collings in his protest against the desire of the Government to rush this bill through the chamber. I am no more concerned about the personal convenience of members in another place than they are about that of members of this chamber. The royal commission appointed to investigate the petrol industry requires increased powers with regard to the examination of witnesses. But I, personally, consider that the time is rotten ripe when this Parliament should have full power to investigate the inner workings of the foreign oil companies that have been drawing profits out of the people of this country for many years. There should be no question as to the right of this Parliament to investigate the affairs of any company carrying on operations within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Why should we bow the knee to Yankee interests? This chamber has been in recess for about five months, and we should have no hesitation about getting on with our job, even if it means all night sittings. When an honorable senator asks for comforts for the unemployed during the coming writer, he is told to wait until the Supply Bill is introduced. Members of this Senate have no doubt that they will have a dinner this evening, and a bed to-night; but thousands of men and women in Australia are practically starving, and prob ably do not know where their next meal will come from, or where they can get a bed. If members of another place desire to go to their homes, it is no consolation to honorable senators to know that this chamber has been in recess for many months, while members in another place have been debating tariff schedules and other matters. I think that the Government should proceed with the consideration of this bill immediately, so that the public may know whether the Government, intends to act in the interests of the people of Australia, or to pander to the interests of the United States of America.
– I urge the Leader of the Government not to display a too tender consideration for the wishes of members in another place, who desire to lose no time in returning to their homes. The Government should treat this Senate as a deliberative body. Last session there was rather more than a tendency on the part of the Government to suggest that- honorable senators should not speak at length on any subject. We were practically asked to accept the dictum of the members of the Government with regard to the business brought before this chamber. I believe that nearly six months have elapsed since this Senate last met, and we are - now practically told that we have no right to debate what is, no doubt, a most important measure. Are we to have nothing to say upon it, unless it be the wish of the Minister in charge of the bill that we should discuss it? It is outrageous. The Leader of the Government (Senator Pearce) should at least have waited until after the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) had examined the bill before moving a motion of this kind. It is unreasonable that the Senate should be asked practically to swallow the bill without seeing it. I enter as vigorous a protest as I can against the methods of the Government, and I hope that the motion will be defeated, or, at least, will not be put until we know something of what the bill contains.
– I associate myself with those’ who have uttered ‘their protest against this method of dealing with legislation. Government members never tire of proclaiming the necessity for upholding the dignity of this chamber; yet time after time the Senate is faced with proposals of this kind. Too frequently is the Senate asked to suspend the Standing Orders so that legislation may be rushed through. If this kind of thing is to continue, why not abolish the Standing Orders altogether? All this talk about the dignity and usefulness of the Senate means nothing if this chamber is merely to be the “ ditto ditto “ of what ‘is done in another place. The Senate is supposed to be a deliberative chamber in which legislation is dealt with on its merits; but if, at the whim of the Government of the day, legislation is to be hustled through, it will be held up to ridicule and contempt. If the measure to which the motion refers is so urgent, why was not the Senate called together sooner in order to deal with it? The Senate has been in recess for nearly six months; and now that it has been called together, we are asked on the first day of sitting to rush an important measure through, as though the opinion of the Senate was of no importance whatsoever. I am inclined to think that there is something more behind this motion than appears on the surface. I cannot see that the bill can serve any useful purpose, for the information it seeks to elicit by appointing a costly commission could be obtained otherwise, unless, of course, the representatives of the oil companies continue to refuse to answer questions, which I suppose, will he what will happen. I fear that the purpose of appointing this commission is to stifle criticism. Its appointment may be used by the Government to shelve its responsibility by saying, as has frequently been said in the past in similar circumstances, that the whole matter is sub judice and must stand over until the commission has completed its work. We are asked to rush this bill through, but I do not know of any desire on the part of the Government to expedite the inquiry; there is no evidence of any intention to hustle the commission. 11 may, like Tennyson’s brook, go on for ever, involving an annual appropriation of money in order to keep going an expensive farce. I protest against the method by which the Government proposes to deal with this important subject-
– I join in protesting against the suspension of the Standing Orders in this instance. Nor do I think that the Senate should regard the motion lightly, for this is no mere simple bill. Honorable senators should realize that the power of inquiry i3 not the prerogative of the Crown. It took centuries for Parliament to gain supremacy over the Crown ; unless Parliament gives to it the right to inquire, the Crown possesses merely the same right of inquiry as is possessed by every citizen. I am not particularly concerned with these oil companies; but I am concerned with the principle underlying this bill and with our parliamentary rights. If the motion is agreed to, the bill can be introduced, read a first time, then read a second time, and, after a delay of a couple of hours, rushed through its remaining stages; all this in order that members of this Parliament, may get away from Canberra more quickly! I agree with those honorable members who have said that we should not treat important legislation with such an air pf levity. The framers of our Standing Orders realized the response bility of the Senate when they provided that in respect of every bill there should be a first reading, a second reading, and a third reading. They never intended that those Standing Orders should be departed from other than in exceptional circumstances. Where is the urgency of this measure? One of my colleagues put the position in a nutshell when he said that this Parliament is the controlling influence in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. At the motor garage to the rear of the Hotel Canberra there are three petrol pumps - one each for Plume, Shell, and C.O.R. spirit - from which motor spirit is offered to the public at the same price.
– All the companies selling those products gave the same answers to the Royal Commission.
– This Parliament has the right to appoint directors to Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Just as the Senate brought Sir Robert Gibson, the Chairman of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank, to the bar of the Senate, in order to question him, so it has the right to bring to the ‘bar of this chamber the directors of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. If that course were followed, a great waste of public money would be avoided, and the money could be diverted to the alleviation of distress among the unemployed, as suggested by Senator Dunn. I hope that the Senate will not agree to the motion to suspend the Standing Orders to enable this important measure to be rushed through without full consideration. The passing of the motion would unquestionably establish a precedent which might be followed in the future to the detriment, of Australia or of some State.
– I also object to the methods proposed to be employed in connexion with this most important subject. Whenever a difficult proposition came before the Bruce-Page Government and the people of Australia looked for an official pronouncement upon it, that Government shirked its responsibilities by appointing a royal commission to consider the matter. This Government is adopting a similar policy. So far as I know, no royal commission has ever solved any important problem; and, in any case, the decisions of such bodies are not in any way binding. Unless a royal commission has the power to force witnesses to lay all their cards on the table, I fail to see how they can be of much benefit to this country. I agree with Senator Daly that it is the duty of this Parliament to find out whether the consumers of oil and petrol are being robbed. I well remember the royal commission appointed to inquire into the coal industry, and the refusal of the coal owners to answer questions. A royal commission has no power to force any person to reveal profits made outside Australia. It can only obtain information from those who are willing to supply it; others, who refuse to make information available, are beyond the reach of any royal commission. This Parliament should accept the responsibility for determining whether the users of petrol and oil are being charged unduly high prices for those commodities. It should not seek to transfer that responsibility to any outside body.
– The Scullin Government made no effort to deal-with these companies.
– That Government devoted its energies to the good of this country, and during its regime, Parliament sat continuously.
SenatorFoll. - Until it was thrown out.
– It was not put out of office ‘because it was afraid to work. Had that Government been left in office, the position of Australia would have been better than it now is. This Government is following in the footsteps of the Bruce-Page Government, which appointed a royal commission whenever it was confronted with a difficulty.For the reasons which I have stated, I shall oppose the motion.
Question - put. The Senate divided. (President - Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch) .
Majority . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative-..
Bill (on motion by Senator McLach- lan), read a first time.
Senator McLACHLAN (South Australia. - Vice-President of the Executive Coun
That thebill be now read a second time.
The Senate has before it two bills that are so closely inter-related that the Government considers it desirable that the second-reading debate should cover both measures, though necessarily the other stages of the bills will be taken separately. This course was adopted in another place with the approval of members of all parties.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon.
– Naturally, I regret that leave has not been given to have one discussion on this bill, and the other, a measure to amend the Royal Commissions Act in certain particulars. That course, in the view of the Government, was the desirable one to take. However. I accept the position, and now move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Honorable senators are no doubt fully aware of the stops taken recently by the Government to appoint a royal commission to inquire into certain matters in relation to mineral oils and petrol, and other products of mineral oils, the purpose being to obtain information for the guidance of the Government in its future policy for the amendment of laws relating to these subjects, and for the guidance of the Parliament in determining whether any proposals put forward by the Government should be adopted. These subjects are associated . with the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, including those relating to taxation, trade and commerce with other countries, and among the States, and foreign corporations and trading and financial corporations formed within the limits of the Common wealth .
At the first meeting of the commission two witnesses who were officers of oil companies, declined, under examination, to produce books and’ documents admittedly in their possession, and declined also to answer certain questions relating to the inquiry. The companies concerned declined to divulge information concerning the details of their business, and relied also on the decision of the Privy Council in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s case, declaring the Commonwealth Royal Commission’s Act to be invalid. This act gives to persons appointed under it powers of inquiry with the auxiliaary powers necessary to ensure the attendance of witnesses and to compel them to answer questions.. It is a general act purporting to authorize inquiries by commissions appointed by the GovernorGeneral into any subject whatever, and its provisions have often been used. “Without entering into detail on the debatable points arising out of the decision of the Privy Council in the case referred to, it may be mentioned that although the Privy Council declared the whole act to be invalid, a distinction was drawn by it between the general act and other possible acts which the Parliament might pass, entrusting a royal commission with the statutory duty of inquiring into a specific subject, legislation as to which is, by the Constitution, assigned to the Commonwealth.
Accordingly, this bill has been introduced with the object of. requiring and compelling the giving of information on specific subjects in relation to the matters set out in the letters patent appointing the Petrol Commission. It’ will strengthen the powers of that body and put it on a more secure basis. The bill proposes that the commission shall have all the powers, rights and privileges which are specified in the Royal Commissions Act, and the provisions of that act are to have effect as if included in the ‘bill, and in terms made applicable to that commission. Provision is also made for constituting two members of the commission a quorum for the purpose of taking evidence. The Royal Commissions Act, I may add, is more or less a machinery measure. There is well established precedent for the course now proposed.
Honorable senators may ask why this legislation has been introduced, since other royal commissions have functioned satisfactorily. I would point out, however, that the Performing Right Royal Commission, the Coal Commission, and other similar bodies, were not commissions of an inquisitorial character, and persons summoned to give evidence did not decline to disclose the required information. There is, as I have said, a well founded precedent for this bill. In 1914, prior to the outbreak of the Great War, the public mind was agitated at the possibility of certain beef producers of Queensland and American trusts forming monopolies to interfere with the Australian export trade of meat by cornering the meat trade to Great Britain. The Commonwealth Government of the day decided to appoint a royal commission to investigate the matter, and, in order to ensure that no ‘objection could be taken to the commission on constitutional grounds, introduced a measure - the Meat Export Commission Bill 1914 - specially endowing the commission with all the powers contained in the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1912, in respect of the inquiry into the exportation of meat. That commission, apparently, was not successfully challenged as the commissioner conducted his inquiry and furnished his report. In this case, however, the power of the commission is definitely challenged; and having in mind the decision of the Privy Council, to which I have referred, the Government decided to give the commission statutory, as distinct from executive, authority. It was with that in mind that the Petrol Commission was appointed. One can say no more than that the right which Parliament is asked by this bill to confer upon the commission is designed to enable it to do its duty in the way that the Government believes is necessary; that is; to probe into certain questions in accordance with the powers that the Commonwealth possesses.
I commend the bill to honorable senators. I do not wish them to regard the matter lightly. We have to grapple with some of the most skilful and capable controllers of enterprises in this country, and probably some of the best managed concerns in Australia.
– There is no intention on the part of the Government to grapple with them.
– Apparently my honorable friend would put every obstacle in the way of the Government’s grappling with this question on what the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) believes to be sounder ground, from a constitutional point of view, than is occupied at the present time. To suggest that, having regard to what has already been done, the Government is not making an honest effort to obtain information that will be the basis of future legislation, is merely to use empty words.
– Does the Minister suggest that the Government intends to fix the price of petrol?
– I do not suggest anything. Apparently my friend would like to probe into the investigation that has been commenced. If he will take the trouble to read the terms of reference to the royal commission, he will see in what directions the law may have to be amended. The arm of the commission should not. be palsied at the outset by a refusal to confer on it all the powers that the Commonwealth possesses.
.- Generally speaking, there may be great objection to the appointment of royal commissions and other bodies to do much of the work that Parliament is better equipped to do and that it should do; but if ever there was justification for a royal commission, it exists in this case. I have not the slightest doubt that, from the commencement of their operations, the oil concerns have acted detrimentally to the interests of this country and have fleeced the people. Therefore, we are justified in using every legitimate means to put a stop to that practice. It may be said that, being represented on the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, the Commonwealth should be in the position to obtain all the . information required, but quite a lot of information must be outside the knowledge of the Commonwealth’s representatives on that concern, and consequently it is impossible for Parliament to have the necessary knowledge to legislate in the interests of the people of this country. Immediately this commission began its investigations, it was told flatly that certain information which it sought would not be furnished. That was ; a direct challenge to the
Government and to the people of this country, by companies that have operated to the detriment of Australia. The implication was, that Parliament would not be allowed to protect the people. The Government may try to raise a smoke screen; but behind it is the power of the people, which will compel it to proceed. I regret its half-heartedness in endeavouring to get to the bottom of what has been happening. Many persons are compelled to use petrol and oil in order to make a living, and their task has been made much more difficult by excessive charges. If machinery can be provided for the protection of the people from these imposts, it is justified. When the commission was faced with the refusal of the companies to disclose certain facts, it could not proceed further, and was obliged to come to its creators for additional powers; and the Government had either to take further action, or allow itself to be bluffed by the companies. It would be outrageous if it wore possible for these companies to bluff the Parliament. The people should be supreme, and their supremacy should be wielded through the Parliament, which would be recreant to its trust if it did not employ every means to bring these companies up to the scratch. I understand that in legal circles in this country, opinions are evenly balanced as to whether the Privy Council was or was not right in declaring ultra vires the Royal Com- missions Act.
– The opinion is more than evenly held that the decision of the Privy Council did not go beyond the statement that parliamentary approval had not been obtained.
– Finding itself in such a situation, “ even though it results from a decision of the Privy Council or of the High Court of Australia, Parliament is justified in taking whatever measures are necessary to avoid being similarly embarrassed in the future. Courts should be swept aside if they stand in the way of the people. Very great concern is felt in the community at the position in which the country has been placed by the actions of the oil companies. Dealers in petrol are at the mercy of these’ concerns. Those who are not in the combine have to pay 2d. a gallon more for their supplies of petrol than those who are.
– Can the honorable senator tell us why the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has joined the combine ?
– I do not know whether it has or has not. If one arm of our service is prepared to join a combine that exploits the people, the sooner the position is clarified, the better. A royal commission on this subject is just as necessary as one’ dealing with the manner in which the banking interests are conducting the financial affairs of this country. I support the bill.
– I endorse the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes). The Government is making .a fine gesture by setting up a royal commission to inquire into matters relating to the distribution and sale of petrol and oils in Australia. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), in another place, proved by documentaryevidence to the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) that the time was opportune to appoint a royal commission to report on the general organization and the ramifications of the different oil companies in Australia to-day. Honorable senators are aware that the British Imperial Oil Company is not 100 per cent. British, because it is closely linked with Dutch financial interests. We know also that the majority of the shares in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited are held by the Commonwealth Government. The Vacuum Oil Company is . an American concern, and is associated with the Standard Oil Trust. The Texaco Company is another American organization. As a Britisher, it seems to me that Australia has been exploited for many years by a country that has nothing iri common with our people. Honorable senators of all parties are well aware of the treatment that vessels owned by Australian companies have received in the territorial waters of the United States of America. Australian interests there have indeed had a raw deal.
The Government .has acceded to the request of members in another place that the necessary machinery be set up to enable the operations of; the major oil companies in Australia to be investigated by a commission. This bill is for an act “ to facilitate the proceedings of the royal commission appointed to hold an inquiry respecting certain matters in relation to mineral oils, and petrol and other products of mineral oils “. The opening words of the bill are -
He it enacted by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, the Senate, and the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, as follows: -
Clause 2 of the measure provides -
The commission appointed by the GovernorGeneral on the sixth day of April, one thousand nine hundred and thirty-three, by letters patent, in the name of the King, directed to Sydney Ernest Lamb, esquire, the Honorable John Gunn and Arthur Justin Hancock, esquire, to make inquiry and report into and upon certain matters specified in the letters patent in relation to the operations of the importation into Australia, and the refining, treatment, distribution and sale in Australia of mineral oils, and petrol and other products of mineral oils, shall have all the powers, rights and privileges which are specified in the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1933.
The chairman of the commission is Mr. Lamb, K.C., of New South “Wales, who is recognized as an eminent lawyer. He has participated in many of the constitutional cases that have been fought between the trade union movement of this country and the Crown. His opinions have been eagerly sought . by governments, who have engaged him to watch their interests in various courts and on various commissions. Accompanied by his two colleagues on the commission, Mr. Lamb proceeded to Melbourne for the purpose of taking evidence with regard to the ramifications of the various oil companies operating in Australia. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) is credited with being an able lawyer, who has a sound knowledge of British jurisprudence, and the chairman of the commission set out upon his task fortified by years of experience, and the legal opinions of the Commonwealth Crown Law Department.
As a mere layman, I was shocked when I read that at the first meeting, of the commission for the taking of evidence, its powers were challenged. It is not long since the Chairman of Directors- of the Commonwealth Bank; Sir.Robert Gibson, ‘was summoned before; the bar of this chamber, and asked questions with reference to the monetary system and the financial position of Australia.; but when a royal commission proceeded to take evidence from representatives of foreign interests, which have been bleeding Australia to the utmost during the last twenty years, the commission’s powers were challenged, During the last few weeks, the price of petrol has been reduced in some of the States by from 3d. to 5d. a gallon, although I believe that the people of Tasmania have to pay a higher price than do . the people of New South Wales. When Mr. Lamb took his place with his colleagues, and opened the proceedings of the royal commission, the whole atmosphere of the inquiry room became legal. The various oil interests, both British and foreign, were represented’ by lawyers. Mr. Menzies, representing the Shell Oil Company, immediately challenged the right of the commission to proceed with its work. I am prepared to say on the hustings or anywhere ‘else what I am saying in this chamber with regard to Mr. Menzies. He is a barrister-at-law, and, I think, a King’s Counsel also. In addition, he is a member of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, he having been elected, a few months ago’ to represent the electors . in one of the constituencies of that . State. Since his election to that House of Parliament, Mr. Menzies has received further honour, for the majority of the elected representatives of the party to which he belongs had such confidence in . him that they elevated him . to the Ministry, in which he now holds the high and honorable office of AttorneyGeneral. Thus we have Mr. Menzies, a barrister-at-law, a King’s Counsel, a member of Parliament, and aMinister of the Crown to whom is entrusted the custody of the laws of that State, or, as it is so frequently termed, British jurisprudence. In his official capacity, ‘Mr. Menzies has sworn to uphold the law; but, when he walks out of the Attorney-General’s office and enters the room in which the royal commission set up by the Federal Parliament, in the interests of the people of Australia, is sitting, he adopts another role, for there he represents vested interests, as the legal adviser of the Shell Oil- Company.
– He goes there in his own interests.
– Mr. Menzies put the case for the Shell Oil Company with such effect that the legally-constituted royal commission, set up in the interests of British justice, was forced to adjourn, and the Federal Parliament is now obliged to seek further powers to enable the commission to get on with its job. How is it that Mr. Menzies, the official custodian of the King’s law, can plead the cause of the Yankee oil trust, which for many years, has exploited trade and commerce in this country ? If honorable senators were to search the mercantile trade gazettes of their respective States, they would learn something of the ramifications of this huge octopus, for they would see there the records of liens on farming machinery held by the oil com- panies. Were they to search further, they would find that hundreds of farmers have been forced into bankruptcy because of the rapacity of this foreign combine. Mr. Menzies, K.C., the Attorney-General of Victoria, the leader of the Young Nationalist Party in that State, a recognized social light of Melbourne, the idol of his political colleagues, the advocate of Empire sentiment on Empire Day and throughout the year, the man who prates of the prostitution of justice by the authorities at Moscow in connexion with the recent trial of British engineers in Russia, defends the vested interests of foreign companies, which have brought destruction to many Australian farmers; and the public of Australia, which Ls incensed at what is alleged to have taken place in Moscow, says nothing!
– Has he not the right to point out the limits of the law?
– It may be that Mr. Menzies has that right; but I submit that, as a member of Parliament, particularly as the custodian of the King’s law in Victoria, he has no right to fight against the Federal Government when it is attempting to do something to protect the people of this country. I am not surprised that Senator Brennan, himself a K.C., and a Doctor of Law, should rush to the aid of his colleague. I do not know Mr. Menzies personally, and I do not wish to be personal in my remarks.
– The honorable member has been personal.
– I have attacked Mr. Menzies in his capacity as the legal adviser of the Shell Oil Company and in his other capacity as Attorney-General for Victoria.
– After all, Mr. Menzies, not the honorable senator, is the judge of his own actions.
– I suggest that Senator Payne, who recently ran away to a certain conference, and said something about Senator Collings, should run away to Victoria and say something about me to Mr. Menzies.
I would not lightly regard the opinion of a Doctor of Law, or a K.C., but it seems to me, as a layman, that the Attorney-General of a State, who receives from the Crown payment for his services, has no right to go to any tribunal and fight another government when it is acting in the interests of the people of Australia. I do not suppose that Mr. Menzies advocates the cause of the Shell Oil Company for nothing. In my opinion, he has degraded and besmirched an honorable profession. I cannot understand how honorable senators who decry Russian justice, can condone the action of Mr. Menzies. Throughout Australia the press reports of the Moscow trial of a number of British engineers created a feeling of disgust; but, after all, we have only what the mechanized press of the world has told us about that trial. Honorable senators stand aghast at any charge of sabotage against the employees of Metropolitan Vickers; but they are silent concerning the action of Mr. Menzies in seeking to destroy the authority of a duly constituted royal commission. They have, nothing to say against these foreign oil concerns which each year bleed Australia to the extent of £16,000,000. The pre3.-s of this country is silent regarding Mr. Menzies, because with them profits come before everything else. The newspapers of Australia receive thousands of pounds nach year for advertisements boosting the Yankee and other foreign oil interests. I know what honorable senators opposite would say if a royal commission were appointed to investigate the trade union movement of Australia. There would be no advocacy of secrecy then; and, if the trade union officials refused to produce books and documents, they would be thrown into prison and the police would be ordered to enter the Trades Hall building to obtain the documents. There was no holding up of the royal commission which inquired into the manning of and repairs to the Port Lyttleton, which was stranded in the Tamar River in Tasmania some years ugo, an investigation with which, I believe, Mr. Lamb, K.C., was connected. When the British seamen’s strike occurred, the trade union leaders were arrested, and an attempt was made to deport them from this country. Such actions were not regarded as wrong then, because the men alleged to have been concerned were associated with the Labour movement. How different the outlook when vested interests arc concerned ! Vested interests represented in these major oil companies will effectively prevent any worth-while action by this Government. Any proposals to that end will be strangled in Canberra.
– What does the honorable senator advise should be done?
– The only course of action which I would advise would be described by the honorable senator as extreme socialism, and I do not wish to disturb his peace of mind.
– Why not advise the Commonwealth Oil Refineries’ people to do their job?
– The newspapers of. this country, which should champion the rights of the people, are significantly silent about the operation of these major oil companies. If they criticized the companies the golden stream of advertising revenue which comes from these concerns, might cease. The newspapers are ready enough to abuse Labour policy and Trades Hall officials, but they have nothing to say against huge foreign corporations that are exploiting the people of this country so shamelessly. Personally, I do not care a tinker’s curse foi’ the newspapers.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - Order! I shall be glad if the honorable senator will confine his remarks to the bill which, I remind him, is a proposal to give extended powers to a royal commission.
– Yes, Mr. President, Would any honorable senator say that Mr. Treganowan, who has done so much preliminary work in the development of the Newnes shale oil field, was shown any mercy by these major oil companies ? I tell the Minister in charge of Development (Senator McLachlan) that foreign vested interests will successfully block any proposal which may bs made for the development of the shale oil fields of Australia. We all recall reports of sabotage in connexion with the Roma, and other potential oil-fields, and the methods adopted by the representatives of foreign oil interests to prevent the discovery of a flow oil-well in this country. Doubtless the Government believes that it will win in this fight against the major oil companies; it is mistaken. This bill is intended to give extended powers to the Petrol Royal Commission. Under other laws, notably the Crimes Act, the Government has power to interfere with trade unionists, even to the extent of deporting them, if they take part in what would be described as an illegal strike. As one who has had long experience in the trade union movement, I know only too well that men do not go on strike unless the conditions to which they are subjected are absolutely intolerable. Will the Government use its powers under the Crimes Act, to deport representatives of the foreign oil companies if they still refuse to disclose information concerning their operations in this country? I hope that it will, have th? necessary courage to carry this fight to a finish. I feel sure, however, that vested interests, and Mr. Menzies, the leader, backed by the political strength of the United Australia Party in. Victoria, will prevent the Government from doing anything. No relief will be given to petrol users in, this country until Labour is in power, not only in another place, but also in this chamber.
– I shall be brief, because it is not my intention to oppose the bill. I hope that nothing which I have said previously, when objecting to the suspension of the Standing Orders to rush the measure through, will be interpreted as opposition to the Government’s proposal. I agree entirely with every word uttered by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator
Barnes) concerning the bill, and I wish to say a word or two about the business behind this proposal. In the first place, my knowledge of political organizations convinces me that the present Government has no serious intention to interfere with the operations of vested interests of any sort to their detriment and to the advantage of the people of this country. Since its’ accession to office, this Government has furnished no evidence of its desire to do anything of the kind. I say, further, that however well intentioned this or any other Government might be, it would not be allowed to do anything worthwhile in ‘this connexion. Let me give my reasons for this belief. All honorable senators know that a very determined attempt is being made, on the other side of the world, to link closer together Great Britain and the people of the United States of America. This being so, is it at all likely that this Government will be allowed to do anything detrimental to the interests of one of the greatest business corporations of the United States of America? We [shall, of course, pass the bill, and give extended powers to the royal commission ; but the Government will not be permitted to give effect to any drastic proposals affecting adversely the interests of major oil companies. It passes my understanding how anybody can be so’ childishly innocent as to imagine that the .Ministry would be allowed to do anything in this direction. Some people imagine that this Government rules the country. That, of course, is a fallacy. Nor does any other Government rule its people, because democracy is not the supreme power. Vested interests control all countries. And since the major oil companies of the United States of America constitute the greatest body of vested interests in this country, there is not the slightest chance of the Government being allowed to interfere with their business. We may well ask the Minister in charge of the bill (Senator McLachlan) what will happen if the commission, by virtue of its extended powers, compels the oil companies to disclose their profits. Will the Government then indicate that the companies should be allowed only a certain net profit? Not only is there no intention on the part of the Government to do this, but if subsequently it showed such an inclination action to prevent, it would be taken on the other side of the world. Honorable senators well know that nothing of major importance is done of its own volition by either this or any other Parliament; and certainly no action is allowed that may be inimical to the interests of those who control the different countries of the world. Every one knows that what appeared to be innocent and worthy gestures on the part of this Government towards other nations were not attempted until instructions had been received from the other side of the world. Most of the legislation that is brought down in this chamber, except that which immediately affects the lives of the people of Australia, has the sanction of those who pull the financial strings, and in whose hands governments and individuals are merely pawns.
I hope that the bill will be passed, because I want this commission to be vested with, further powers. As Senator Dunn has said, I want it to get on with the job. My sole reason for addressing the Senate is to prophesy that .the job will not be proceeded with. There will be shadow sparring, and the people will be led to believe that the matter will be probed to the utmost, with a view to action being taken. I make bold to say, however, that if the commission proposed drastic action to deal with these exploiting, profiteering, privately-owned,- vested interests, its recommendation would bo pigeon-holed, and nothing worth while would be done. Inquiries are held, the facts are obtained, yet no action upon them is taken. Therefore, we are merely wasting time. When the other measure is before us, I shall have something to say regarding dangers that I apprehend.
.- I can understand the enthusiasm of honorable senators opposite for this measure, because it undoubtedly provides the Labour party with a useful lever for carrying on the vendetta that it wages year in and year out against what is usually referred to as “ big business “.
– Is the commission to carry on a vendetta ?
– It will not be -.the function of the commission to carry on a vendetta against anybody ; its duty will be to discover certain facts. I am not particularly concerned about any attack that may be made upon the major oil companies. Years ago, when Mr. Hughes was Prime Minister, it was considered that those companies were exploiting the public by charging too high, a price for their petrol. An arrangement was entered into between the British Government and. the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and between the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. “We were then given to understand that petrol prices would-be regulated. Why did the Senate vote £250,000 for the purchase of shares in that concern? It was not an ordinary investment by the Australian people. We had no particular interest in the proposal that the Government should; enter the realms of commerce, but we were led to believe that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was being brought into existence to act as a brake on the other companies. All the speeches made by the leaders of the Government in this and another place when that agreement was entered into, emphasized that point. But what has been the history of this concern? I do not believe that on one occasion it has done anything practical towards the reduction of petrol prices ; but I do know that whenever those prices have been either raised or lowered it has followed the lead of the other companies. The whole of its operations have been identical with those of the other companies. Having assisted to vote the necessary money for the purchase of the Commonwealth’s interests in this concern, I am keenly disappointed to find that it has not endeavoured to regulate prices.
– -Is not that the fault of the Government for not having put the right men on it?
SenatorFOLL. - It is very largely the fault of successive governments, including that which the honorable senator supported for two years. They have simply, allowed their nominees to be directors of a large company, instead of representatives of the consuming public. When Mr. Bruce was Prime Minister, a’ certain amount of correspondence passed between him and the general manager of the Shell Oil Company. The right honorable gentleman told the company in so many words that, if it did not act in what was considered a more equitable manner, the machinery of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries would be enlarged, and its operations extended, so that it might more actively compete and regulate the prices of oils. Apparently, one or the other party came to heel ‘ and the matter was not further proceeded with.
Senator Johnston has raised an interesting point by . declaring that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has not operated outside two capital cities. If it is possible for petrol to be secured and sold at a cheaper rate, with profit to the company, why has not the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited asked this Parliament for additional capital to extend its operations in all the States, and to enter into serious competition with the other companies? Instead of doing that, it has merely played with the matter and has followed the lead of the other companies. The competition of independent companies is undoubtedly responsible for the fact that oil is being sold more cheaply to-day than hitherto. Furthermore, additional oil wells are being discovered, and there is now a surplus of supplies, whereas a few years ago it appeared that a number of oil-fields would be worked out. This has had a material effect on prices. It is only fair to say that this is probably one of the most heavily taxed industries in Australia, the Commonwealth Government receiving 7d. on every gallon of petrol sold in this country.
– It gives aw’ay most of that.
– Only 2½d. a gallon goes to the road grant.
SenatorFOLL. - I am not concerned with what becomes of it. It must be recognized, however, that only1s. n gallon out of the1s. 7d. a gallon charged for second-grade petrol in the capital cities, goes to the oil companies.
I can understand Senator Collings revelling in a bill of this description. If he had the power, he would set up machinery to deal on similar lines with practically every form of big business.
– Every form of exploitation.
– I could quote innumerable businesses, in the investigation of which the honorable senator would revel. I hope that, as the result of this inquiry, the users of petrol and oil will get them at much cheaper prices than they have had to pay in the past. But, suppose the commission finds that the Shell and Vacuum oil companies have been profiteering to the extent of millions of pounds, at the- expense of the people of this country, what action can this Parliament take_ to alleviate the position ? Has it power to adopt a scheme of pricefixing ?
– We can take power to deal with matters of that kind.
– But that power must first be granted by the people. When various governments have appealed to the people to increase the federal powers with regard to corporations, they have been refused. Probably other companies in Australia, apart from the oil companies, have been making more than a reasonable amount of profit. Some of the inquiries contained in the questionnaire that was submitted to the various oil companies, when Mr. Gunn commenced the investigation into the petrol industry, are of a kind that no reputable company would be willing to answer. The questionnaire demanded the production of the following: -
Memorandum and articles of association.
Balance-sheets and profit and loss accounts for each of the years 1930, 1931, 1932, inclusive.
Register or other record of shipments received during 1930, 1931, and 1932.
The private ledger of the said company showing trading operations for 1930, 1931, and 1932.
Copy of federal income tax returns for the years 1929-30, 1930-31, and 1931-32.
Assessment of income tax and adjustment sheets in respect to each of such income tax returns.
The existingagreement under which petrol is supplied to the said company.
Would any honorable senator, who has business interests, be prepared to produce the following documents to a royal commission : -
Letters and copies of letters, cablegrams, and copies of cablegrams, records of telephonic and other communications which have passed between- the head office of the said company and the branch office of the said company, and between the said company, and (a) other suppliers of petrol within Australia, (6) any person, firm or company supplying petrol to the said company, (c) any person, firm or company having a controlling interest in the management or sales policy of the said company?
Those letters might prove of value to competitors; but it was asked that they be made available to the commission.
– If the Parliament requires information of that kind, in the interests of the people, it should get it.
– I can . understand Senator Collings rejoicing in an inquiry of that kind.
This bill is a government measure, and I shall support it; but I fear that a dangerous precedent is being created, and I hope that the proposed procedure will be restricted to the petrol inquiry. If we give governments or individuals the right to lay bare the business methods and ramifications of large companies, it will be hard to encourage private enterprise to establish industries in this country; and help to restore confidence. I am still old-fashioned enough to think that private enterprise and private investment are better for Australia than any form of socialism that may be advocated by honorable senators opposite, and will be of more avail in solving the unemployment problem and other social ills.
– Because of the criticism that Senator Foll has advanced, I intend to oppose the bill. On the Government side is a party that professes to stand for private enterprise, and I am not prepared to assist the Government to conduct this inquiry, unless it is willing -to make a general investigation into all private enterprise.
– Ha, ha !
– The Minister may laugh, but Senator Foll has recognized that a dangerous precedent will be established, and private enterprise will probably realize that its representatives in this chamber are not the champions that they were thought to be. Why should we make an inquisitorial investigation into the ramifications of one section of private enterprise, and not those of another? We have been told by the
Government Whip, in fairly plain language, that it need not be expected that the affairs of any other section of private enterprise will be examined.
– I merely expressed a hope in that direction.
– From my experience, the hopes of government whips are very often realized. I ask the Senate to have regard to the general principle underlying this kind of legislation. If there is to be a general inquiry, I shall offer no objection whatever to the bill. Assuming that the commission reports that the price of petrol is too high, what steps .will follow? Irrespective of the opinion of the Executive, the time has arrived for this Parliament to express its views. I submit that that expression of opinion should be based on two factors ; first, the nature of the evil; and, secondly, the remedy for it. The evil suggested, rather guardedly, by the Minister in charge of the bill is that the price of petrol is too high; and, as to the remedy, he told us that if we had read something somewhere, we might have gleaned certain information. Assuming that the commission discovers that the whole of the oil companies operating in Australia, including the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, have exploited,’ and are still exploiting, the public, is it the intention of the Government to seek the necessary legislative power to fix the price of this commodity. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) spoke of exploitation, and said that, if ever there was justification for an inquiry, the price charged for petrol in Australia was an instance. But the inquiry will be fruitless unless the Government is prepared to take Parliament into its confidence and say what steps it will take to bring about a reduction of the price of petrol.
– “ One step enough for rae “.
– I am surprised at the honorable senator’s interjection. We should be careful before taking the first step. In this case, the first step should have been the introduction of legislation.
– The honorable senator would first fine the defendant company and then find it guilty.
– I would give the oil companies the same treatment that the right honorable gentleman and his supporters gave to the central banking legislation of the Scullin Government. I would bring down a bill enabling a certain authority to fix the price of petrol, and to conduct an investigation, and then, if necessary, I would appoint a royal commission to make inquiries so that Parliament could prescribe the proper remedy.
– It was because the Government of which the honorable senator was a member held those views, that he is now sitting on the left of the Chair-
– It is because there is disruption in the United Australia Party, and a need to quieten the Country party, that the former is allegedly attacking the oil companies. Senator Brennan knows that only too well. Somebody must be attacked in the interests of the primaryproducer. The United Australia Party has a record of opposition to wheat bills which would have given the farmers a higher price for their wheat, and, generally, to legislation which would have assisted the .rural producers. Moreover, its tariff policy has practically torn the ministerial party limb from limb. Its leaders realize that they must do something to prevent the disintegration of the party, and so they have brought up th© subject of the profits of the oil companies in i928. The United Australia Party is supposed to be a united party; but, like some other political parties, it is at present more disunited than otherwise.
– To what political party in South Australia does the honorable senator belong?
– I belong to the Australian Labour Party. But it matters not to what party I, or any senator, may belong, his responsibility in respect of every piece of legislation is the same, irrespective of the party which introduces it. I have no objection to an investigation into the price of petrol being undertaken, but I do object to an investigation which leads us nowhere. If it is thought that by inquiring into the price of petrol it will be possible to force the oil companies to pay additional income tax then, obviously, a measure to amend the income tax legislation is the remedy. If, however, the Government seeks to deal with profiteering it should, provided it has the constitutional power to do so, introduce legislation relating to profiteering.
– Where does that power exist?
– I have not said that it does exist. Indeed, I know that there is no power enabling us to fix prices. But what is the use of telling the farmer that the appointment of this commission is an attempt to bring about a reduction of the price of petrol when the Government knows that it has no power to fix the price of that commodity? Unless we can relieve the primary producer, we are not justified in spending money in setting up a commission, and in retaining one of the most able men connected with the Australian bar to preside over it; nor are we justified in briefing counsel to fight for our rights in the courts. Rather than do these things, we should spend the money in relieving unemployment, as Senator Dunn suggested. This bill purports to give parliamentary sanction to the appointment of a commission to inquire into the operations of the importation into Australia, and the refining, treatment, distribution and sale in Australia, of mineral oils and petrol, and other products of mineral oils.
– What is wrong with that?
– It is a wilful waste of public money which might better be expended in the relief of unemployment.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– I appreciate the difficulty that confronts any government in attempting to- ascertain facts that are necessary for its guidance or the guidance of the legislature, but I cannot understand why any government should introduce legislation for the purpose of conducting an inquiry unless it knows precisely where that inquiry will lead it. If the purpose of this inquiry is to compel certain companies to pay to the Taxation Department ‘ some amounts which, hitherto, they “have been able to withhold, the appropriate measure, in my opinion, would be an amendment of the Income Tax Act. If the inquiry is to guide us in exercising our “powers to prevent profiteering, then
I submit that the provisions of this bill should be contained in some other measure. The Senate is not called upon to assist the Government to make an inquiry into private enterprise generally. Neither the Government nor any one else can tell us what remedy can be applied. The Minister (Senator McLachlan), by interjection, asked me whether I thought that the Commonwealth had power to fix prices. I replied in the negative. I now invite the Minister to tell the Senate whether, assuming that this commission proves up to the hilt that certain companies are making profits out of all proportion to the amount of capital invested or extent of services rendered, such profits can, or ought, to be fixed. If the Government is not prepared to do this. I ask the representatives of the rural producers in this chamber to say what relief can be given to our primary producers. If Parliament cannot, by legislative enactment, reduce the price of petrol, who can? Probably I shall be told that this power rests with the States. On many occasions I have heard strong objections from honorable senators supporting the Government to the usurpation by the Commonwealth of State rights. Every private enterprise carried on within the Commonwealth is essentially a State matter, but. it comes within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth immediately it engages in interstate trade. Apparently it is not the intention of the Government to prescribe the conditions under which the sale of petrol can be treated .as an interstate commodity, even if it had the constitutional power to take such action. This being so, I should like to know what purpose is. behind the bill. If the intention is merely to strengthen the hands of the commission in its inquisitorial examination why not leave the whole business to the States? I assume that the Government has looked at the problem from that aspect, and has noted that in Queensland, where there is a price- fixing tribunal, ‘ the price of petrol is higher to the ‘ rural section of the community than to the country, people in the southern States. May’ we deduce from this, that this is the reason for ‘ this legislation ? These are mysteries’ which, up to the present, have not ‘been explained to the Senate. But there is still another mystery to be explained. Behind this
Government I see a party that was elected by ths people on a definite policy for the encouragement of private enterprise. Its candidates told the electors that unemployment could not be remedied until confidence had been restored, and private enterprise had been encouraged to invest in industry. I may be wrong in the summing up of private enterprise, but I submit for what it is worth the suggestion that private enterprise invests capital in industry for the express purpose of earning profits. It may be competent for this Parliament to limit profits, but this Government has definitely set its face against doing anything like that; and this being so, I should have thought that its supporters, being staunch advocates of private enterprise, would have revolted against this measure. If it had been introduced by a Labour government, chambers of commerce throughout the country would have pictured the possibilities of a certain man leading the Labour movement, turning this machine gun on to the big banking institutions; I could imagine the Queensland representatives in this chamber pointing to the possibility of its being directed against the sugar industry, while the representatives of South Australia would be rejoicing at the possibility of cheaper sugar being made available to the people of that State.
If this Parliament has at last awakened to the fact that private enterprise must subject itself to these inquisitorial examinations, I might be persuaded to alter my attitude towards the bill; but I certainly object strongly to Parliament passing legislation directly attacking one section of private enterprise only. The Government Whip has indicated his attitude clearly enough. He has told us that he supports the Government in the introduction of the bill, but is not going to stand behind this, or any other government if there is to be an extension of the principles contained in it. Does not the honorable gentleman realize that the passing of this bill will establish a precedent? flow can he, or any other honorable senator who supports the bill, reconcile his- present attitude with the stand he would take on a future. occasion if a bill of this description were brought forward? Let the Government be honest, and declare that, in its opinion, costs of production in this country are high because of exorbitant profits made in industry. I am not suggesting that that would be any justification for its opinion; but it would give every member of this chamber a better opportunity to defend himself when called upon to give an account of his stewardship to the electors. Why has this bill been introduced, and why are we called upon to deal with a situation for which the Government can offer no remedy? I appeal to the State-righters in this chamber - those who affirm that the control of private enterprise is essentially a State matter - to declare, in no uncertain voice, their objection to this interference with private enterprise by thi3 Government and this Parliament. I invite them to do this, because -the time may not be far distant, if this precedent is established, when the Senate may be called upon by another government to pass similar legislation authorizing inquiries into other sections of private enterprise. The bill, if passed in its present form, will be a definite affirmation, not by the Executive, but by Parliament, that, whether or not there is something wrong witu private enterprise, and whether or not it ha3 the right to correct the trouble, it at . all events claims the right to make an investigation. I can visualize a certain State Parliament, led by a man with strong feelings against certain financial and other institutions, placing before members of a party comprising political co-religionists of Government supporters, a proposal for an inquiry into certain matters, and, in support of his project, quoting, with approval, the names of, say, Senator Kingsmill, Senator Payne, Senator Brennan, and Senator McLachlan - all great pillars of the National Church - who are voting for this bill. What answer could be made? I can visualize my friend, Senator Bae, leading a party in a State Parliament, pointing out that, after years of struggle to educate this conservative Senate, he at last succeeded in bringing it to agree with him, that there was something upon which private enterprise could deservedly be indicted. When he ‘ drew the attention of the chamber to the division list, which showed that the elect of the Nationalist party in the National Parliament had supported this principle, what answer would or could be made? If we, as a parliament, establish this as a national principle, we cannot complain if it is followed in some other chamber. When I consider the possibilities of examining ‘the Commonwealth’s own concern - the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited - which advertises, with a good deal of gusto, “ C.O.R. Plus. Plus what?- plus a little something others haven’t got “ - I wonder what would happen if the real facts were disclosed. The Commonwealth, as a shareholder, has representatives on the directorate, and, by conducting an investigation into its affairs, could save the amount that is involved in this futile proposal. The Government could then inform the Parliament that it had discovered the costs of petrol at the well, transportation, insurance, landing, and distribution ; and the States could be advised whether they were being exploited by the incubus to which reference was made this afternoon. My objection to the measure is based mainly on its futility, and on the wilful waste of public money that will characterize the prosecution of an inquiry into a something for which the Government itself admits that it is not in a position to prescribe a remedy. The farmer will not be able to purchase his petrol one halfpenny cheaper as the result of action by this commission ; but he might do so in consequence of action taken by a State government.
– Would he not procure it more cheaply if the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited did its job ?
– I am not in a position to inquire into that point until I know exactly the position of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. But, whether the farmer would or would not, there is no need to spend money in this way when . it could be more profitably expended upon the relief of unemployment. I agree that attention should be focussed on our own company. An inquiry into its operations would enable us to discover the facts at no cost to the’ community. If that were the proposal, there would be something to be said for the bill. Every one knows that private enterprise will fight this to the bitter end, and force the Government through the courts, making it necessary for counsel to be briefed. At this time, with the limited resources at our disposal for the relief of our people, it is a crying shame that our time should be wasted in discussing this measure, when it would be much easier to place £50,000 on the Estimates for the relief of unemployment.
Senator RAE (New South Wales) [S.21J. - A good deal of the ground that I had it in mind to traverse has been cleverly covered by the last speaker. Only recently, when efforts were made to induce the present Government actively to develop the Newnes shale oil-field, it said over and over again that it was pledged to get private enterprise to take an interest in the matter. Stated briefly, my opinion of private enterprise is that it means the plundering of the people. The Government, however, is pledged to that principle, and appears to be attempting to save its face with a portion of the electorate by an empty gesture. As has already been pointed out, this legislation brings us quickly to a dead end ; because, whatever is discovered, we have no constitutional power to apply an effective remedy. Had the Government proposed to consult the people bv way of a referendum on an amendment of the Constitution, there might have been reason for an inquiry of this nature, if only to strengthen its case for additional powers. No limitation is imposed on the time for which the commission is to exist, nor on the fees that the commissioners are to draw. Although expense is of paramount concern, there is nothing to indicate how far it will go ; while there is every indication that the inquiry must be absolutely futile. Advocacy of the proposal can have no effect other than to fool a portion of the people into believing that the Government is preparing to do what it has not the power to do. I am not one to whom applies Senator Foil’s statement that honorable senators on this side enthusiastically support the proposal. I definitely oppose it, because I object to what is obviously a waste of public money. As no effective remedy is within the reach of the Government, there must be not only wasteful expenditure of public funds, but also a deliberate attempt to deceive the people by raising in them anticipations that cannot be realized. The argument that this measure will establish a precedent that may be followed by a future Labour Government, does not appeal to me. A Labour Government worthy of its salt would make precedents, and not wait to inherit them; and it would probably propose much more drastic provisions than are embodied in this bill. In dealing with a monopoly that obviously affected the public welfare adversely, I should do as was done in New South Wales long before there was a Labour Government in that State. When the bubonic plague attacked Sydney, and a number of premises on the waterfront were a menace because of their dilapidated condition, the government of the day, headed by the late Sir William Lyne - who subsequently entered this Parliament - resumed from £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 worth of property on Darling Harbour, and decided at its leisure the compensation that should be paid to the owners. A Labour Government that was worth its salt would clean up a monopoly and square up afterwards. Any compensation involved would probably be due to the people rather than to the company.
– What would it substitute for it?
SenatorRAE. - When a person is suffering from cancer, is that the question that he asks the doctor? It appears to me that if the cancerous growth of uncontrolled private enterprise were eliminated, it would not be necessary to put anything in its place; its mere removal would tend to restore the community to a healthy state. Whatever is right or wrong with the principle, it is private enterprise that even the most tory politicians find it necessary to legislate against in order to secure something like decent behaviour.
– I point out to the honorable senator that a man who has cancer is bound to die, whereas a people does not; therefore, his analogy is not a sound one.
SenatorRAE. - The history of the world teems with examples of nations having been reduced to a state of decadence, largely by reason of misdirected effort. Even in this country, the old idea that we would not submit to conditions that other nations tolerated is rapidly disappearing; the bulk of the people are submitting without effective protest to conditions which not long ago would have seemed incredible.
The Petrol Industry Commission has come up against a blank wall, because of the refusal of witnesses to answer vital questions, and the present bill is designed to remedy that trouble. We should be informed why the representatives of the Commonwealth Government on the directorate of the Common wealth Oil Refineries Limited have not done their duty by supplying reports regarding the operations of that company. The information about the petrol industry that could be supplied by that company would naturally have application to the operations of all the oil companies. I understand that the Government owns a majority of the share capital of the Commonwealth OilRefineries Limited, and no statement has come from the Government side as to why information regarding the operations of that company has not been furnished. No legislation by this Parliament can increase its constitutional powers.
– But the Parliament can exercise powers by legislation which cannot be operated by executive action.
SenatorRAE. - In what way is it proposed to utilize powers which are not being exercised at the present time? Does the Government intend to fix the price of petrol by law?
-The honorable senator knows very well that the Government cannot do that.
SenatorRAE. - The Minister admits that the Government, even if the bill be passed, can do nothing to alter the price of petrol. Therefore, where is the gain in passing this bill? If the Government possesses latent powers which this measure would vitalize, we ought to be told what those powers are.
– The Government could reduce the duties on bulk kerosene, and that would result in cheaper kerosene being made available to the rural community.
– Duties can be altered at any time. My point is that this bill will give no added powers to the Commonwealth authorities. It will merely prolong the life of a commission which has proved ineffective, and which will not be made more effective by the passage of the bill.
It appears that a barrister may receive payments from the Crown, and at the same time conduct his private practice, even though he may go perilously near to opposing the view of the Government of which he is a member. I remember two barristers, who were members of a government in New South Wales, and who accepted briefs in a case in which that government was interested. They had to resign their parliamentary seats in order to save the life of that Ministry. It appears to me that this bill merely camouflages the ineptitude of the present Government.
– The debate on this measure has convinced me that the bill is a sham. Legislation of this character can result only in the people losing faith in their parliamentary leaders. Senator Hardy is a keen follower of Mussolini, Hitler, and other anti-parliamentarians, and I am wondering what his views are on this bill. Senator Foll practically admitted that he would vote for it, merely because he was a member of the party that had sponsored it. It is not surprising to note the growth of the doctrine of Fascism, and the loss of faith in parliamentary institutions throughout the world. The Government knows perfectly well that even if the added powers conferred by this bill are granted, after the commission has completed its work, and drawn huge sums of public money by way of fees, its recommendations will probably be ignored. In some instances, commissions have carried out extensive inquiries, month after month and even year after year, but their reports have been pigeon-holed. Men like Mr. Menzies, who has been briefed by the Shell Oil Company, are supposed to be doing their best in the interests of Australia, yet they are prepared at the same time to accept payment from interests that have been fleecing the public for years. I recognize that the price of petrol has been reduced by 3d. a gallon, and, personally, I am pleased about that. In my own district the reduction amounts to 4d. a gallon. That shows that the various oil companies, including the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, on whose directorate the Commonwealth Government is represented, have been bleeding the country for many .years by their excessive charges.
– Is there any connexion between the appointment of the commission and the reduction of the price of petrol?
– I do not receive the inside information which is available to honorable gentlemen opposite; but I believe that, because of the inquiry into the petrol industry, the oil companies are playing a game for a certain purpose. Although they may have been frightened, the fact remains that the users of petrol have been robbed for a good many months, by reason of the excessive prices that have been charged.
– We should wait for the data that will be furnished, as a result of the present inquiry.
– We do not need data when we know that the price of petrol has been reduced by 3d. or 4d. a gallon. There is no need to appoint a royal commission to investigate the causes of that reduction. The trouble with honorable senators opposite is that they are always seeking data, whereas we on this side look for action. Many of those who oppose parliamentary institutions do so because they want action rather than words. Senator McLachlan, who is in charge of the bill, has given no assurance that, even after the data have been obtained, the Government will take action. I have no objection to data being obtained ; indeed, I shall vote for the bill in order that it may be obtained; but I am convinced that the Government is only putting up a sham fight. The Labour party hopes to make use of this measure in order to institute further inquiries into various vested interests in due course.
– Does the honorable senator believe in reducing the tax on petrol ?
– I should like all taxation to be reduced; but I am not in favour of taxation being lifted from the big companies at the expense of the oldage pensioners of this country. The Labour party believes that the product of labour should be distributed equitably; that one section of the ‘community should not make profits at the expense of another section. Senator Toll was wrong when he made the general statement that the Labour party was not in favour of private enterprise. The Labour party has no objection to certain private enterprise, but it believes that all enterprise should be directed towards improving the social life of the people rather than increasing the profits of exploiters. It believes that the economic system should be altered in order to give the fullest freedom to every individual, in the interests of all. The present social system is not in the interests of the community as a whole; the greed of profits has brought the capitalistic system to the verge of collapse.
– Without profits there would be no income tax.
– When we get down to fundamentals, we are forced to the conclusion that there is something wrong with a society which makes it possible for one section of the community to make profits at the expense of the poor and needy, including the old-age pensioners. I understand that this commission will be authorized to inquire into the wholesale and retail prices of oil and petrol. Accurate data along those lines would be of much interest to the users of petrol.
– Could not that information be obtained from the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited?
– I agree with the honorable senator that it is a waste of public money to appoint a commission to obtain information which could as readily be obtained from that company. The honorable senator’s interjection reveals the insincerity, if not the stupidity, of the Government. I understand, moreover, that the commission will be empowered to inquire into the capital employed by the petrol companies, as well as into their profits and losses, and the amounts paid by them in income tax and excise and customs duties. Under the existing laws, there is power to inquire into these revenue matters.
– There is not.
– Some of Senator Payne’s friends who profess to be patriots are not above employing skilled men to assist them to evade the payment of taxes. Petrol costs about 7d. a gallon in Honolulu, and in the United States of America as little as 12 cents a gallon. Excessive prices have been charged for petrol in Australia, and the users of petrol would be glad to know the true position. When the Labour party gets into office again it will use the power conferred by measures of this description to institute inquiries into other industries, with a view to controlling industry in such a way that every one engaged in industry will receive the full reward of his labour. It will regulate the powers of production and distribution for the benefit of every person in the community, rather than for the purpose of enabling American or Australian companies to earn big profits.
– Senator Payne and I rose simultaneously, apparently because we were both of the opinion that we ought not to let all the eloquence in the chamber flow from one quarter of it. Listening to the speeches of honorable members opposite, I was reminded that someone has said that it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) said that his party welcomed this measure; but his followers asserted their independence, and for various, indeed, for contradictory reasons, expressed their intention of opposing it. When Senator Brown said that this was a sham fight, I thought that he was referring to the speeches of honorable senators in the corner; but he went on to explain that he referred to the attitude of the Government in relation to the oil companies. He added that it would be interesting to know what was passing through Senator Hardy’s mind. I suggest thai the thoughts of Senator Hardy, although doubtless interesting, would not be half so interesting to the Senate generally as the thoughts which passed through the minds of the honorable senators who have spoken. Had we been able to read their thoughts, we should possibly have found something like the following : “ This is a good subject for the public platform; it will go down with the people ; let us attack the oil companies, keeping as far from the subject-matter of the bill as the President will allow; let us deliver the ‘ stuff ‘ that will be useful to us on the hustings a little later.”
– “ Evil be to him who evil thinks.”
– Does the honorable senator think that we on this side are short of what he calls “ stuff.”
– I do not think that the honorable senators in the corner are ever short of something to say. Whatever the subject, they always bring the discussion round to the same thing. But I do think that if they were to confine their remarks strictly to this bill they would find themselves short of arguments. Have honorable senators opposite considered what this bill sets out to do? A royal commission has been appointed under the executive power of the Government. When the royal commission proceeded to take evidence, certain companies declined to answer some of the questions put to them. If they believed that questions which were being asked of them were beyond the authority of the commission to ask, they were strictly within their rights in standing upon what the law allowed them. Let me digress for a moment to say that they were also strictly within their rights in engaging members of the Australian bar, including Mr. Menzies, K.O., to put their case before the commission. The oil companies, having declined to answer certain questions, the Government, being responsible for the law which it had set in motion, thought probably that it could not maintain the position which it had* taken up, and so has decided to strengthen the hands of the royal commission by the passage of this measure. It contains only two operative clauses, and seeks to do, by legislative act, what has already been done by executive act. In other words, it seeks parliamentary sanction for what has already been done by executive act. In another place, supporters of the party opposite had this bill before them a few weeks ago, and offered no. objection to this part of it. For this reason I feel inclined to say, but without imputing motives to honorable senators opposite, that much of the oratory which we have had from that side of the chamber in this debate has been due, not so much to opposition to the provisions of the bill, as to a desire to make political capital out of it. In clause 2, a commission is directed to Sydney Ernest’. Lamb, Esquire, the Honorable John Gunn, and Arthur Justin Hancock, Esquire, to make inquiry and report into and upon certain matters in relation to the importation into Australia, and the refining, treatment and distribution and sale in Australia of petrol and mineral oils. The commission was appointed by executive act. It is nowsought to confer upon it all the powers contained in the Royal Commissions Act.
The bill has been criticized by various speakers for varying reasons. The Leader of the Opposition announced his support of it, but other honorable senators of the Labour party have made it a vehicle for attacking’ generally the oil companies. Some base their opposition to the bill on the ground that the commission’s inquiry will be a waste of public money. One honorable senator objected that there was no time limit set for the proposed inquiry. That is true, but one of the terms of the commission requires the commissioners to report with all possible speed to His Excellency the Governor-General. I put it to honorable senators opposite that, as the commissioners are men with a sense of their responsibilities, we can expect them to report with all expedition consistent with the making of a proper investigation. Senator Daly, being a lawyer and a trained debater, realized that he must confine his remarks to the bill, so he based his opposition to it on the ground that it was ridiculous for a government to authorize an inquiry without understanding what it was going to do afterwards. I confess that I cannot follow that line of argument. It was answered I think, by Senator Hardy, who suggested that the first thing to do was to get the data. Senator Rae referred to the necessity for clearing out a cancerous growth. That may be quite correct if one wishes to go to the surgical world for one’s imagery, but I suggest that before a growth is cut away, the first thing to do is to find if it is actually a cancerous growth. Obviously, only a skilled diagnosis can determine this point.
The Government has directed the commission to make an investigation.
Before contemplating future action, we must be quite sure that the commission has something to report to the detriment of the oil companies concerned. Of course, I know that honorable senators opposite are ready to judge the companies without any inquiry.
– The honorable senator’s slandering of members of the Opposition does not prove his statements to be facts.
– It seems that I can never rise to address this chamber without slandering Senator Collings. Actually, I had no thought of slandering anybody. If, however, to disagree means that I am slandering the honorable senator, I am afraid I must plead guilty. I had merely referred to the fact that honorable senators opposite had made this short bill the vehicle for a general attack upon the oil companies. The companies are assumed to have merited this attack, although not one of their critics is in a position to say that they have done anything dishonourable or improper. Although I dissent from the views expressed by honorable senators opposite, it must not be. thought that I welcome the introduction of this bill with any great heartiness; because dipping into the future, and drawing upon my imagination to its highest flights, I foresee the possibility of a government supported by honorable senators opposite ordering a similar investigation into some other branch of private enterprise. The example we set may be bettered.
The explanation for the introduction of this bill might very well be the fact that the oil companies are in an entirely different position from any other organization in Australia, -and since the whole of our supplies are imported by relatively a few people, it naturally follows that the temptation to combine is very great.
Even if this Parliament has no power to fix the price of petrol, I am not prepared to admit that it is entirely without power to do something., and if this investigation directed the force of public opinion against what may be wrongdoing on the part of the oil companies, that in itself would be something. Senator Sampson has pointed out that already there has been a reduction of the price of petrol as the result of the Go vernment’s action in authorizing this inquiry.
There are two other small points to which I desire to direct the attention of the Minister.- Clause 2 provides that the royal commission “ shall have all the powers, rights and privileges, which are specified in the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1912.” It will be remembered that that act was declared invalid by the Privy Council. “When inquiries were put on foot in 1913 or 1914 in connexion with Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s operations, questions very similar to those which have been placed before the oil companies were directed to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The company declined to answer them, and sought a declaration that the act was invalid. The matter went before the High Court, and on the casting vote of the Chief Justice, the court decided that, although the act was valid, a great many questions put to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company were beyond the powers of the royal commission. Accordingly, the High Court disallowed them. Mr. Justice Isaacs and Mr. Justice Higgins held that the powers granted in the Royal Commissions Act were within the powers of the Commonwealth, on the ground that the Commonwealth Parliament might some day want to amend the Constitution, and that it might be necessary to make inquiries in order to do so. The Commonwealth Government, not being satisfied with the decision of the High Court, took the matter to the Privy Council. It went out to shear, but returned shorn. The Privy Council not only did not adopt the views of Mr. Justice Isaacs and Mr. Justice Higgins, but also expressed views contrary to those of Chief Justice Griffith and Mr. Justice Barton, and held that the Royal Commissions Act itself was ultra vires.
– Briefly, on what ground was the act declared ultra vires?
– It was declared to be ultra vires because it went entirely beyond any powers conferred on the Commonwealth Parliament by section 51 of the Constitution. The Privy Council held that section 51 contained no power to deal with the liberty of the subject in the way authorized by the act. They pointed out that even in Great Britain there was no executive power to compel answers to questions in the form adopted under the Royal Commissions Act of Australia. I have no doubt that this matter has been considered by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) ; but there are prospects of considerable litigation under the bill which purports to endow the Petrol Commission with all the “ powers, rights and privileges “ specified in the act already in existence. If that act ha3 been declared invalid, the commission will be invested with nothing, because there are no rights, powers and privileges under it.
I also desire to direct the attention of the Minister to the words “Royal Commissions Act 1902-33 “. There is no such act or acts. The last act is the act of 1912; therefore the only Royal Commissions Act in existence is the act of 1902-12.
– There will be one.
– The bill assumes that a certain other measure will be passed by this Parliament. One result of the inclusion of that particular line is that the Government cannot pass this bill except on the same day as it passes the other. This measure should endow the Petrol Commission with power quite independently of what may be conferred by another.
– Could not the two have been amalgamated?
– It appears to me that they could have been. Senator Foll and other honorable senators have expressed the view that wide powers may be conferred by this measure. I point out that this bill can have no application to any future royal commission ; it applies solely to the royal commission at present in existence, the members of which are named in it. When that body lias discharged its work, this measure will lapse ; and unless by way of bad example, it certainly will have no effect except in relation to the particular royal commission with which it deals.
– Does not the honorable senator think that its validity will be tested in the High Court?
– That is what the Government has to fear. I believe that if the Commonwealth Parliament is exceeding the limits of the powers conferred on it by the Constitution, it is the duty of those who are affected, and, indeed, of the States, to see that it is kept within the mandate given to it by the people when they accepted the Constitution.
– Does not the honorable senator think that the Commonwealth could risk its money on a more profitable object ?
– I do not think that it is the probable expenditure which is troubling the honorable senator. If it is, this is the first occasion within my knowledge, of a lawyer being concerned about expenditure on litigation.
– I do not believe in solving the unemployment problem by engaging lawyers.
– And I do not believe it will be solved merely by reason of the fact that this commission - which will cost a few guineas a day, and will sit for not many days - is or is not in existence. But there are possibilities in this bad example of conducting an inquiry into private enterprise. I commend to the Minister the observations that I have made concerning the text of the measure. It is not to be assumed, however, that I shall vote against it; I shall, of course, support it.
– I wish to stress the extraordinary attitude adopted by honorable senators opposite Had the Government refrained from taking notice of the growth of public opinion on the very important question of the price of petrol and power kerosene,* every honorable senator opposite would have vigorously denounced it for its ineptitude, and would have charged it with having been recreant to its trust. Time after time in this chamber I have heard honorable senators make definite statements in regard to the exploitation of the people by the petrol companies; yet, to-day, they have endeavoured to castigate and to ridicule the Government because it has realized that this is a most important matter to a large section of the people. I suppose that no commodity used in this country is of more widespread interest than petrol and power kerosene. . With the advent of the internal combustion engine as an aid to the development of a country, the commodity needed to make those engines effective is naturally of widespread interest. It has a bearing on everything that we use, consume or wear, and on the houses in which we live. To-day, everything that we use is more or less dependent on petrol and power kerosene. I should have thought that, in view of facts that are patent to all, every honorable senator opposite would have eulogized the Government for having, at all events, made an attempt to discover whether the people of Australia are being exploited by certain companies. I am astonished that some of them, but especially Senator Daly, should have attempted to whip the Government. I do not know, nor do those honorable senators who have spoken, whether the people of Australia have been exploited; but the feeling that the users of petrol and power kerosene come within that category is general and has developed to such an extent as to render absolutely imperative an inquiry into the operations of the oil companies. “We have listened to quite a number of speeches, which indicate to me that those who made them are not sincere. They have said that, if the inquiry should prove that the people have been exploited unnecessarily, we should be told what the Government intends to do. If there is a suspicion in the mind of any one that something is wrong with an individual or a community, surely that suspicion ought to be verified or dispelled by full inquiry. That is all that is now asked.
I support the bill for two reasons: first, because it is essential to the development of Australia that we should be able to obtain supplies of petrol, power kerosene, and any other necessary mineral oils, at the lowest price; and secondly, in order that there may be no exploitation of the community by the distributors or the suppliers of those commodities. In fairness let me say, however, that I have received from the managing director of the Vacuum Oil Company a circular which clearly sets out the attitude that the representative of that company adopted before the royal commission. Any one who reads it must be prepared to admit that the company was willing to give all the information that we can expect to receive from witnesses who will be summoned by the commission. There is in the bill a safeguarding provision which the company says it insisted upon before the commission, in regard to certain evidence being taken in private, so that the intimate details of its business might not be divulged to its competitors. So long as the commission can obtain the facts, I am perfectly satisfied that in the preparation of its report, it will respect as confidential information of that character.
I had brought to my notice recently a practice that has made me wonder whether some demand is not made by the petrol companies which has resulted in many small producers being unfairly penalized. I learned in Tasmania that the State Government, through the Marine Boards, levies a landing charge of five guineas on every shipment of petrol or kerosene, no matter how small or large it may be. If a person imports from Melbourne even one case of power kerosene, he is not permitted to receive it before he pays that landing charge of five, guineas. I am glad to say that in Tasmania to-day, there are favorable indications of the revival in some of the most isolated parts of the sawmilling industry. I have special knowledge of one case, because I visited the mill only a few weeks ago. It is really the revival of an industry which many years ago was carried on profitably and successfully. This industry used power kerosene fairly extensively, importing it from Melbourne at a price 5d. or 6d. a gallon less than that at which it could be purchased in Tasmania. This bombshell has now fallen, that a landing charge must be paid at the little port of St. Helens, on the east coast, which can be entered only by small steamers or sailing vessels. My correspondent states -
It is particularly annoying in the case of power kerosene, as it cannot be bought wholesale in Tasmania, being only offered in cases. The price of this as per enclosed invoices is, ox Tasmania delivered at St. Helens, ls. 10¼d ; etc Melbourne, including freight, inward and returning drums, ls. 3Jd., which is .a clear saving of 7d. per gallon.
An inquiry should be made as to whether an arrangement has been come to between the companies and the State Government to impose this enormous penalty on shipments of petrol and kerosene, no matter how small they may be. One of the marine boards in Tasmania has entered a strong protest against the practice, and has been supported by most of the other marine boards; but the Department of Mines insists that the charge must be maintained for the proper conveyance of explosive and inflammable liquids. I have learned that this charge was not levied on the initiative of the Tasmanian Government, but was the outcome of a conference held in Melbourne, some months ago, between government representatives of the various States. It seems to me that the charge causes a restriction of trade between the States. Tasmania has not the depots for the storage of petrol and kerosene that can be utilized to the best advantage as in the mainland States. I hope that, in reply to the debate on the bill, the Minister will relieve the anxiety of Senator Brennan and myself with regard to some of the legal points that Senator Brennan has raised.
– It was not my original intention to speak on this measure; but certain honorable senators have expressed doubt (is to my opinions regarding it. I believe the Government to be quite sincere in bringing the measure forward, in order to secure the data necessary to ascertain whether the price of petrol in Australia can be further reduced. I could criticize the Government upon its line of action in this matter, because I believe that the work of the commission will prove abortive. If I desired to attack the Government, I could criticize it regarding its attitude to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, which was expected to act as a check against exploitation of the public by the major oil companies. I cannot help feeling that we could have saved a great deal of expense, if a full account of the operations of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had first been obtained, and. submitted to this Parliament. That would have been a better method of attacking this problem than attempting to obtain the necessary information from the major oil companies, and subsequently finding it necessary to take some other action, in order to force down the price of petrol. I know of many cases, in connexion with country garages, in which the marketing condi tions of the major oil companies are open to serious question. I have seen other brands of petrol, arriving at the garages to be retailed, and the representatives of the major oil companies have stated that, if the garage proprietors retailed other brands of petrol, they would have to pay additional prices for the supplies received from the major oil companies. I could also give many instances of this practice in the Parkes district in regard to tractor fuel. Undoubtedly this abuse results in additional charges to the users of petrol and oil.
What has happened to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and why has it failed to fulfil the purpose for which it was originally established ? I do not charge the Government with insincerity with regard to this measure, for I believe that it desires to obtain the fullest information as to why the price of petrol in Australia is so high as it now is; but, in analysing that information, the Government should consider, not only the data received from the oil companies, but also the amount of tax collected on every gallon of petrol sold in Australia. By reducing that tax, the cost of petrol to the . public could be correspondingly lowered.
– It was not my intention to discuss this bill, because another measure, which may be described as its twin brother, will, I understand, shortly be placed before the Senate; but, with the possibility of a suspension of the Standing Orders, there may not be another chance. Senator Brennan remarked that, since the appointment of a royal commission, the price of petrol had been reduced by 4d. a gallon, but I am reminded by a colleague that all that it appears to be necessary to do to bring down the cost of any commodity vended by private enterprise, according to Senator Brennan’s argument, is to appoint a royal commission to investigate the price that the community is charged. I do not own a motor car, but I pay for the petrol used on occasional trips in cars. It may be said that practically everybody in the community is more or less affected by the cost of petrol, even the farmers who are practically the only supporters that the party opposite now has. The
Government, apparently, is inspired by a desire to do something to reduce the price of petrol, but whether it will be permitted to do anything that will drastically affect the interests of the oil companies, I do not know. Capitalism is cannibalistic at times. Instances are on record of capitalistic sections joining together, and having a “ go “ at another form of private enterprise, with a view to serving their own ends.
I think that there is some hope for the people under this measure, but I cannot say how much they will get out of it. Nevertheless, I intend to vote for the bill, in order that all essential information regarding the petrol industry may be obtained. Australia does not produce oil to any great extent, and, therefore, the oil interests have an importing monopoly. That is one of the reasons why the Government in this matter is, apparently, adopting Labour methods. Labour governments in the past have endeavoured to obtain information concerning the profits made by monopolies, particularly, and they have failed. Under income and land tax legislation everything is known departmentally of the financial affairs of the workers, farmers and people generally, and big business most certainly should not be treated differently in regard to its profits. Before economic justice can be secured, all the facts concerning costs of production and distribution must be made public, so that the people will know how the fruits of industry are shared.
– Hear, hear !
– I am glad to have that indication of assent to my argument by Senator Rae. I go even as far as the honorable gentleman in that regard. While I scout the idea that individualism has no merit, and agree that ability should be suitably rewarded, I hold that individualism should certainly be so controlled that undue profits are not taken from the people. Certain sections of the community abuse the powers that can be exercised by industrial enterprises, whether monopolies or otherwise, which extort undue profits from industry. I should like to see measures such as this bill extended to other industries, so that we might know all the costs involved in placing products in the hands of the consumers. I may be pardoned for doubting the bona fides of the Government in this matter, but I welcome the bill as an instalment of a policy favoured by the Labour movement, and desired by the masses.
The first point that strikes me about the bill was raised by Senator Dunn in his illuminating speech. I fully endorse that part of his remarks, in which he referred to the action of Mr. Menzies, of Victoria. It is atrocious that a public man, and a member of a government, who is supposed to be looking after the interests of the people, should appear on behalf of the oil interests at the sittings of the commission that is inquiring into the petrol industry. Instances could be mentioned in which men occupying the position of Attorney-General have briefed themselves. To my knowledge that has happened in the case of both Labour and Conservative administrations. Fees amounting to as much as £3,000 or £4,000 a year are sometimes paid.
– That subject has been rather exhaustively dealt with already in this debate.
– I maintain that we have every right to emphasize these points. This reprehensible practice should not be continued. This is a matter which should be investigated, not by lawyers, but by governments. The chairman of the commission, Mr. Lamb, E.G., is a prominent legal light of Sydney. But he has also been prominent in politics; and it may be that that is the reason for his appointment. I have no personal grudge against lawyers; hut I submit that a man in some other profession could just as well have been chosen as Mr. Lamb. Mr. Hancock, another member of the commission, is a member of a big firm of accountants in Sydney, and he, no doubt, favours the tory policy in politics. Had at least one of the three members of the commission been a representative of Labour, I should have been better satisfied regarding the bona fides of the commission. Mr. John Gunn was at one time a Labour Premier of South Australia, but some years ago he received, at the hands of the Bruce-Page Government, a highly remunerative position. His outlook now is that of a high public servant; naturally lie is not unmindful of the wishes of those who appointed him, and to whom he must continue to look f or further kind treatment. It can, at least, be said that Messrs. Lamb and Hancock are not representatives of the great bulk of the people, and that Mr. Gunn is practically a nominee of the Government.
– Mr. Gunn would not have received the appointment unless he had gone half way towards supporting the Government’s views.
– I have nothing against Mr. Gunn personally; I merely express the view of the man in the street when I say that when three men are appointed to such important positions, the public want to know something about them.
– Mr. Gunn was a Labour Premier of South Australia; what more does the honorable senator want?
– If thu honorable senator had been listening attentively he would know that I said that he had been a Labour Premier years ago. At one time Mr. Gunn was a prominent member of the Drivers Union, and a fitter, and he is none the worse for that, but since then he has received an appointment at a salary of £3,000 a year for a period of five years, ,a big figure, and should now be a comparatively wealthy man. The commission to which he was previously appointed, together “with another gentleman who received £5,000 a year for his services, was not the success that was expected.
Clause 3 provides that two members of the commission shall constitute a quorum. I am of the opinion that all three members of the commision should be present when evidence is taken by the commmission. I know that no man can be assured of absolute immunity from sickness; but, no great interference with the work of the commission would be likely if the quorum were made three members. In the old days when men were hardier, an Australian team of cricketers visiting England comprised twelve men; but now, sixteen or seventeen men are sent. The same policy seems to have been followed in this instance. I shall support the bill, because the intention underlying it is good. The
Government has been forced to introduce this measure, because many of its supporter* are seeking a reduction of the price of petrol, and are concerned at the huge profits which these companies are supposed to be making. Another measure, which the Standing Orders prevent me from discussing at this stage, will enable an inquiry to be made at any time into any concern, so long as a bill similar to this one is introduced. That measure will compel witnesses to appear before any commission which may be appointed, and to give evidence - in camera, if thought fit. It will make possible an investigation into the affairs of any company or monopoly which is supposed to be drawing money wrongly from the people. I hope that the introduction of this measure means the dawning of that day when no person in the community will be able to abuse the power of money, when every man will receive the due reward of his labours, and when monopolies of all kinds will be subject to investigation. I hope that the power to inquire into these concerns will, at all times, be used wisely. I am grateful to the Government for introducing this legislation, and I hope that those whose position now makes it possible for them to exploit their fellows will yet be so placed that the country will know to the last sou what they extract from the pockets of the people.
– I can only attribute the special pleading to which we have listened to-day to the fact that honorable senators have been so long absent from this chamber that they ‘arc somewhat collar-proud. Senator Dunn dealt with many subjects, including the trial of the British engineers at Moscow and the alleged inconsistency of Mr. Menzies, the Attorney-General for Victoria. Attacks b.y honorable senators on professional men, especially when, as in this case, they are misdirected, are to ‘be deprecated. As Attorney-General ‘for Victoria, Mr. Menzies owes no duty to the Commonwealth Government. Although circumstances may yet arise which will connect the Government of Victoria with this inquiry, at this stage no odium attaches to Mr. Menzies for appearing on behalf of one of the oil companies. For his action he has to answer only to his own conscience, and to the profession to which he belongs.
I shall not deal with the phantoms which the imagination of SenatorCollings conjures up from the “ vasty deep,” and which, he says, hold the Government in their toils, preventing it from doing the right thing. Nor shall I disclose the. motives or the objective of the Government in regard to the constitution of this commission, for the very good reason that the Government is not undertaking this inquiry. The Government has appointed a quasi-judicial tribunal to carry out the investigation, and it would ill become any Minister - indeed, it would be improper of him - to complain of any of the practices of these companies whose affairs are to be investigated. But there is one observation which deserves an answer - an observation made by the Government “Whip (Senator Poll), Senator Hardy, and several honorable senators opposite - namely, that the Government could have obtained from the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, in which it holds a controlling interest, all the information that it requires on the subject of oil and petrol. All I can say is that the Government has already exhausted that channel of information, but the intricacies of the overseas trade in oil are such that even the directors of the Commonwealth OilRefineries Limited are not fully informed of all that can be done, and all that has been done. In justification of the general policy of the Commonwealth OilRefineries Limited, I may add that the Government has received a report from members of the board dealing with petrol prices. I extract from it the following: -
The oil agreement of 1920 provides that there shall be no agreement between the Commonwealth OilRefineries Limited and any other companies as to prices.
I have the most positive assurance from the Commonwealth representative on the board that there never has’ been such an agreement. Senator Foll suggested that the Commonwealth OilRefineries Limited had not kept the prices of petrol in check. This is what the directors have to say on that point -
There has only been one occasion on -which the price of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries
Limited petrol was increased. That increase was on account of the imposition of a new duty, but not to the full extent of the duty. . . .
When the private companies reduced their prices, sales of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited petrol decreased, but in September, 1929, its rates were again1d. below those of its competitors. In 1931, the rival companies reduced their prices to the level of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. As to these facts there can be no dispute.
I ask honorable senators to rest assured that the directors of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited are doing their duty as outlined in the original scheme to which reference has been made.
I come now to the naive suggestion of Senator Daly, who opposed the bill for the very extraordinary reason that it is fathered by a Government which believes in private enterprise. It is true that it is the policy of this Government to encourage private enterprise, but it also believes that, if the necessity arises for an investigation into any branch of industry, its duty is to order such an inquiry to be held. For Senator Daly to suggest that he is opposed to the measure merely because it is fathered by a Government which believes in private enterprise, is a form of mental gymnastics which I must assume is due to the fact that he is fresh from a legislative holiday.
Honorable senators opposite have asked us what remedy we can offer to rectify the position. The Government possesses punitive powers in respect of taxation, customs and excise, which it is invoking in aid of the constitutional power to strengthen the authority of this commission. Some honorable senators seem to be under the impression that the bill gives the Government some sort of general power. It deals only with one specific commission, which is authorized to perform a specific duty, and nothing else. If Parliament wishes to deal with something else, it will be necessary for the executive again to come to both branches of the legislature to obtain approval for the constitution of a commission to deal with the matter.
I indicated earlier that this bill has been introduced specifically to meet the case referred to by Senator Brennan. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) who has, so far, guided the Government with remarkable skill through this constitutional tangle as regards the limited powers of the Commonwealth, has assured the Government that’ if these extended powers are given to the commission the reason underlying the decision of the Privy Council in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s case will, to an extent, have been removed. In other words, the Commonwealth is vested with power with regard to taxation, excise and customs. Surely that connotes that the Commonwealth has the necessary authority to make these inquiries? If Senator Brennan had studied the arguments, as perforce I have, in the Privy Council appeal case, he would have discovered that, running through the whole of the observations of the Lords Appeal and of the distinguished advocates who argued the case, a recognition of the fact that if specifically by statute the Executive appointed a commission, a number of their objections would disappear. It was objected that under a piece of general legislation, the Royal Commissions Act, the Executive was appointing a commission and giving to it the authority to exercise most drastic powers of inquiry, without having consulted the Common-
Avealth Parliament, which, alone, under the Constitution, was vested by the people with the right to confer upon such a commission compulsory powers of inquiry. I suggest, with all respect, that the view of the Privy Council was somewhat narrow. A great deal of water has flowed under the bridge in regard to the development of the Commonwealth Constitution since the Privy Council decision in the case referred to, and I venture to think that if the ease were reviewed now, instead of that nullity to which Senator Daly referred, we should be able to establish the validity of the Royal Commissions Act.
– But will the Commonwealth Government be able to reduce the price of petrol?
– I suggest that, when we come to that hurdle, we shall be able to get over it quite comfortably. In the meantime, we want the facts, and having obtained them, it will be for the Government, in the first place, to determine what legislative action should be taken, and for Parliament, in the second place, to say whether such steps shall be taken.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended and bill (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) read a first time.
[10.15].- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The question of the amount of financial assistance, if any, that should be granted to the States, is one that within recent years has become increasingly important. As honorable senators are aware, for some years past a series of grants have been made to the smaller States. Up to the financial year 1928-29, those grants were confined to the States of Western Australia and Tasmania. The- payments to those States inthat last year totalled £520,000. Since then, grants have been made also to South Australia. In more recent years, the subject has assumed additional importance by reason of the difficult financial conditions that have been experienced in all the States. This has been more marked in the smaller States, with their more limited resources. The total amount granted for the current financial year has been £1,830,000.
These grants are approved by Parlia-. ment in accordance with the provisions of section 96 of the Constitution, which reads as follows: -
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
In dealing with applications for assistance, it has been the practice of successive Commonwealth Governments to precede the granting of an application by some form of inquiry. But there has been no uniformity in the nature of the inquiry, nor in connexion with the bodies that have made it. In the case of Western Australia, an inquiry was made by a royal commission of three members; in the case of Tasmania by a royal commission of one member; and upon a further application, by the Public Accounts Committee; and in the case of South Australia, by a royal commission of three members followed subsequently by the Public Accounts Committee. These bodies made exhaustive investigations. The States concerned presented their cases, and various recommendations were made. If honorable senators will study the history of these inquiries, they will find that there has been no uniformity in regard to the principles or the basis upon which the grants have been made. The Government now feels that it is desirable that there should be some sort of statutory body, having some sort of permanence over a period of years, that will formulate principles or bases upon which these grants should be made.
In bringing down the budget last year, the Prime Minister and Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) referred to the matter in the following terms: -
The Government considers that these large grants are justified only because of the difficult and special circumstances now existing, and that grants of such magnitude cannot bo taken as a basis for permanent or long-term relief. It is, however, undesirable that annual applications should be necessary from the States for Commonwealth assistance, and the Government is’ convinced that, as soon as normal conditions return, some definite plan must be adopted for determining what grants should be made to the States over a period of years.
Following upon that statement, the Government gave careful thought to the question of arriving at a satisfactory basis for the determination of future grants to the States, and the Prime Minister recently announced the intention of the Government to bring down legislation providing for a permanent body to inquire into and advise Parliament upon matters relating to the amount and apportionment of the grants in aid of the States. The bill now before the Senate contains the necessary provisions to give effect to the Government’s proposals in this regard.
The bill proposes the appointment of a commission of three members for a term not exceeding three years. The remuneration, which is really in the nature of a retaining fee, is £300 a year for the chairman, and £200 a year for each member, with a fee of £5 5s. a day for each day of sitting, and travelling expenses. These payments will be subject to reduction under the Financial Emergency Acts. The functions of the commission are set out in clause 9. Briefly, they are -
To inquire into and report upon -
Applications by any State for financial assistance under section 96 of the Constitution;
Any matters referred by the GovernorGcneral to the commission relating to existing grants under section 90; or
Future grants under that section.
Provision is made for the reports of the commission to be presented to Parliament; and the Minister may attach to such reports any statement, recommendation, or comment, that he thinks proper.
– Is it mandatory to present those reports to Parliament ?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Yes, if the Government submits legislation based upon them. It will be the function of the commission to inquire into applications received, or matters referred to it from time to time, and to report to the GovernorGeneral thereon. The final determination of the grants to be made will, of course, devolve upon Parliament, after consideration of the report of the commission. While it will be the function of the commission to report upon requests received from the States for grants in aid, the amount of assistance to be granted by Parliament must necessarily depend, to a very large extent, upon the budgetary position of the Commonwealth, and the state of the finances at the time.
The appointment of this commission is an important step in the right direction, and it should result in valuable assistance being given to Parliament in the determination of State grants. One great advantage to be derived from the appointment of a permanent commission is that continuity of procedure and of principle will be ensured. Applications will be considered by the same body in successive years, and in that way the adoption of uniform and consistent principles should result. It is proposed to take action for the appointment of the commission immediately the necessary legislation has been passed by Parliament. Action will then be taken to refer to the commission the requests for grants that have been made by South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The following table shows the special payments that have been made to States during the ten years ended the 30th June, 1933, and also gives particulars in regard thereto : -
I commend the bill to the Senate, and assure honorable senators that it represents an earnest desire on the part of the Commonwealth to deal justly, fairly, and even generously, with the States. It is accepted, of course, that the well-being of the Commonwealth is bound up with the well-being of the States; and it is also a fact that will be apparent to any one who studies the map of Australia and the particulars furnished by the Commonwealth. Year-Booh, that the various States have reached different stages in their development. When we speak of big and small States, we always think in terms of population. Western Australia, however, while small in population, is one of the biggest in area. When you have a comparatively small State with a large population, and a big State with a small population, there must be some financial adjustment, under which the burden of development is shared by all. The Government does not say that the sole object of these grants is to compensate for disabilities suffered as the result of federation. It recognizes that there is involved the general principle of the development of Australia’ in the interests of the whole continent, and that that has to be taken into consideration. I suggest that if the grants that have been made were examined solely and purely from the point of view of the disabilities that have been suffered as the result of federation, in some cases they could not be justified; but there is the further point that it is in the interests of the Commonwealth that the development of Australia should proceed in the less populous as well as in the more populous States, and that, from that point of view, there is a claim for financial assistance which should be recognized. I assure the Senate that the Government advances this proposal in the hope that the. system of financial grants to the less developed and smaller States will he placed on a more satisfactory footing than that on which it has stood in the past. Is there not the danger that, under the haphazard system of the past, these matters might be determined, not on the basis of justice, or even of what ought to be done in the interests of the whole of the people, but on the ground of political expediency? Might not that develop into a great danger politically? Might not governments, for the purpose of obtaining support in a particular State, do something which, on the basis of justice, or even of fair dealing, could not be justified, except on the ground of political expediency, unless there was an investigatory body that would report to Parliament upon the justice of the claim? If the Government or the Parliament of the day disregarded the recommendations of such a body, public opinion would be the ultimate judge of its action.
– Why not restore the interstate commission?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Because its function was entirely different. I have recently read the debates that took place in the convention when the sections affecting the interstate commission were adopted, and I confess that it was a revelation to me to find what was in the minds of the framers of the Constitution. They had not the slightest idea of an interstate commission that would deal with matters such as this; all that they had in mind was that, conceivably, in the future, the railways of Australia might be used by one State against another.
– As they had been in the past.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.That is so. Running right through the debates was the idea that there should be set up a judicial body that would be able to give judicial decisions upon matters arising out of the use of the railways by the States.
– Why has the Government not attempted to deal with the causes of the disabilities of the States?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Whether or not the honorable senator will accept my assurance, the Government believes that it is dealing with the causes of those disabilities. I admit that this bill does not touch the causes; but we believe that by our legislation and administration we are dealing with them. Every government, of course, shapes its policy in the sincere belief that it will bring prosperity to those for whom it is legislating. The honorable senator may not think that that is what this Government is doing; but if so, his opinion does not coincide with ours, and we are just as much entitled as he is to be credited with honest convictions.
– Will the Government make any grant to Western Australia, if it secedes from the Commonwealth?
– If that State were to secede, it would no longer be a State of the Commonwealth, and, therefore, would not be covered by this bill.
Debate (on motion by Senator Barnes) adjourned.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill amends the generalRoyal Commissions Act, and has for its object an improvement in procedure of royal commissions. Three matters are dealt with, namely, the taking of evidence in private, the powers of commissions in relation to documents, and the examination of witnesses by counsel. Clause 2 of the bill provides that, if any witness before a royal commission requests that his evidence relating to a particular subject be taken in private, on the ground that the evidence relates to the profits or financial position of any person, and that the taking of the evidence in public would be unfairly prejudicial to the interests of that person, the commission may, if it thinks proper, take that evidence in private, and no person who is not expressly authorized by the commission to be present shall be present during the taking of that evidence. In addition, power is given to the commission to direct that any evidence given before it, or the contents of any documents, books or writings produced at the inquiry shall not be published. Any unauthorized publication is to be an offence punishable by a fine of £500, or six months’ imprisonment.
I should like to stress the fact that the commission already has the power to direct that evidence be heard in private. As is pointed out on page 445 of Todd’s Parliamentary Government in England -
Within the limits of their prescribed functions, and subject to the provisions of any act of Parliament defining the same, commissions have the absolute power of regulating the proceedings of - their own tribunal, and of admitting or excluding what persons they please from attendance during their sittings.
Clause 2, in effect, is designed to give to a commission an indication of the view of Parliament of the circumstances in which it should exercise its discretion to take evidence in private. The reluctance on the part of ‘business people to expose ordinary business details to the view of competitors can easily be understood. There are circumstances when the taking of evidence relating to profits, or to the financial position of a person, would be unfairly prejudicial to his interests. The Government considers ~ that a commission should be apprised of the desire of the Parliament, if it so decides, that those circumstances should be taken into consideration by the commission when the question of the manner of giving certain evidence - whether in open court or in camera - is before it.
Clause 3 proposes to extend the powers of a commission with regard to the inspection, &c, of documents produced before it to a member of the commission, or a person authorized by the president or chairman of the commission, or to a sole commissioner. The power of inspection of documents is at present given only to the commission. This limitation seems to be undesirable, as some documents and books produced Before commissions can ‘be better scrutinized by members appointed because of their special technical knowledge. The amendment will permit of any such member inspecting the documents or books, if he so desires. Clause 4 inserts a new provision, section 6a, authorizing counsel to examine and cross-examine, so far as the commission thinks proper, any witness on any matter which the commission deems relevant to the inquiry; and any witness so examined or crossexamined shall have the same protection, ‘and be subject to the same liabilities, as if examined by any of the commissioners, or by a sole commissioner. At present, a witness is bound to answer only such questions as are put to him by the commission.
It is considered that the ordinary practice followed in the courts of allowing counsel to cross-examine witnesses should be adopted. It will be observed that such examination may take place only to the extent that a commission thinks proper. I commend the bill to honorable senators, and point out that, in so far ‘ as it indicates to the Petrol Industry Royal Commission, and to all other commissions, the opinion of Parliament, it is probably not exhaustive in regard to the powers of the commission to take evidence in private. It makes a necessary ‘ alteration in the law by empowering counsel to put questions to witnesses. Under the present law, the commission has to allow every question, and the proceedings of commissions could be unduly prolonged.
– Fear has ‘been expressed in regard to the previous bill, which is complementary to this, that it might be used for ulterior purposes, and one can hardly foresee what might be the outcome of a measure of this character. It gives a royal commission ‘practically unlimited power to make inquiries into almost any matter. While the previous bill gave the Petrol Industry Commission power to act in a specific matter, this measure seeks to amend the Royal Commissions Act so that, at any future time, any commission that may be appointed for any other purpose will be clothed with the wide powers that this bill confers. After the Government has done everything that can be done under the powers conferred by this measure, even though it may have all the information necessary to warrant drastic action, it may find that it is still hobbled, because of the limited constitutional .powers of the Parliament. This should demonstrate to the people that the Constitution is not as elastic as it was believed it would be when federation was established, and the people will thus have it brought home to them that if this Parliament is not to be hamstrung, and impotent to protect the community against injury by individuals or corporations, the Constitution should be amended to give the Commonwealth the increased powers that it needs. Subject to the foregoing remarks, I think that any government would be warranted in asking the Parliament to pass the present bill.
– This measure simplifies the work of commissions, and reduces the work of Parliament.
– A good deal has been said recently about governments being apt to shirk their responsibilities, and place them on the shoulders of royal commissions, which have not to answer to the people for their actions. On some occasions, however, inquiries can be made more effectively by a royal commission than by the Parliament.
– Such as an inquiry into the operations of a trade union organization ?
– I do not think that any trade union organization fears an inquiry. The organizations with which I am associated would have nothing to fear from any royal commission. When federation was inaugurated, it was not contemplated by the people that the powers of this Parliament would be unduly restricted.
– I shall not occupy much time in discussing this bill. I am strongly opposed to clause 2, because it savours too much of star-chamber methods and of a Nazi dictatorship. It seeks to suppress press criticism of any evidence given in the court. If a royal commission were appointed to inquire into the trade union movement of this country-
– The Commonwealth Parliament has no power over trade unions.
– In the past, when conflicts have arisen between organized capitalism and organized labour, commissions have been set up, and officers of trade unions have been instructed to divulge the contents of the records of their unions.
– Trade union offices have been raided, and documents taken.
– That is so; and the union secretaries have been placed in gaol.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - I hope that the honorable senator will connect his remarks with the bill.
– I was endeavouring to show that, under this bill, a royal commission may take evidence in what, for all practical purposes, is a secret chamber. I pointed out what had happened to trade union officials in the past, and was about to say that if such action is thought to be good enough in the case of such men, there must be something wrong when the Government seeks to keep from the public the evidence which will be given in regard to these oil companies. Is the Government afraid that something may be revealed regarding moneys given to political parties, and that the resultant public outcry may upset the government for the time being in power ? Is it afraid that the sources of the money used to fight organized labour will be made public? If everything is straightforward, what is there to be afraid of?
Honorable senators have referred to my attack on Mr. Menzies, the AttorneyGeneral of Victoria. I have no doubt that, if Mr. Menzies continues to enjoy good health, he will retain his brief, and will appear before the commission on behalf of the Shell Oil Company. It is interesting to read what Arnot, in Politics of Oil, has to say about the secrecy of inquiries by royal commissions. I quote from his book because his remarks are applicable to clause 2. In chapter 2 of his book, Arnot states -
We must now turn to an enumeration of these combines. Amongst them, two are preeminent; the Standard and the Royal DutchShell. So big is their domain that it was possible, in 1020, for the Liberal politician, Mr. C. A. McCurdy, then acting as chairman of the Profiteering Acts Central Committee, to single them out as the sole controllers of oil.
In submitting the first report of “ MotorFuel “ he wrote -
Motor fuel is rapidly becoming of vital! importance to practically every industry,, not excluding agriculture, in civilized countries. “*
The concentration of control over the price and distribution of fuel in the hands of two enormously powerful capitalistic combines, practically world-wide in their scope, constitutes so dangerously powerful a force if it is improperly used that it is imperative that the governments of the world should give some attention to it.
This was a significant statement. Commission after commission of inquiry, law court case after law court case in America had familiarized the people of America with the conception of the oil trusts as vast, irresponsible powers, capable of any action, and unrestricted by any consideration other than the quantity of profit at stake. This first British inquiry led to a similar conclusion.
That quotation confirms my criticism of Mr. Menzies, who, as Attorney-General for Victoria, receives his remuneration from the King, but is no longer the custodian of the rights of the people when he leaves his office and appears before the commission on behalf of the Shell Company, whose assets some years ago were valued at £250,000,000. We are here to do something in the interests of the farmers, the manufacturers, the industrialists, and the rank and file of the people of Australia, who use motor spirit. Arnot goes on to say -
The Royal Dutch-Shell is by far the most important of the British trusts. The total capital of the whole group amounts to something well over £250,000,000 (or nearly onethird of the national budget), spread over a score of countries. All this has been accumulated in some 30 years, and the most rapid developments have taken place within half that period. This combine is young compared to the Standard group, and it is growing up very fast. Let us consider exactly how it sprang from the union of the Dutch company, and the English concern, and how it developed and prospered. ‘
The people of Australia eighteen months ago gave the Government a mandate to get on with the job, but the Government now seeks to establish star-chamber methods in regard to inquiries by royal commissions. The bill provides that if any one publishes any criticism in respect of the proceedings before the commission, he may be fined £500 or be imprisoned for six months.
– The honorable senator’s remarks would be more appropriate in committee.
– Any comment in committee must be confined to the clause under discussion. Clause 2 states that if any witness before a royal commission requests that evidence be taken in private on the ground that it relates to the profits or financial position of any person, and that the taking of such evidence in public would be unfairly prejudicial to the interests of that person, the commission may authorize the evidence to be taken in private. It further stipulates that any person who publishes such evidence shall be guilty of an offence, and liable to a penalty of £500 or imprisonment for six months. Is this in keeping with the glorious traditions of the British Empire?
Senator Payne has declared that the Vacuum Oil Company has assured him, ina circular letter, that it is prepared to . put all its cards on the table. If it has nothing to hide where is the need for this provision relating to the taking of evidence in camera? Possibly, the Government is afraid that a legal representative of the Labour movement may have an opportunity to appear before the royal commission and obtain information about the emoluments paid by these oil companies, and to whom they were paid, and also about the disposal of their profits. He might even ascertain how much goes to swell the funds of political parties supporting the Government. If the oil companies have nothing to hide where is the need for these star chamber methods for the taking of evidence, and where is the need for the appearance before the commission of Victoria’s leading legal racketeer and go-getter, Mr. Menzies, K.C. ? That gentleman is receiving a handsome emolument as Attorney-General of the Victorian Government. He has a good job. Yet he “ scabs “ on briefless barristers who have family responsibilities. This leader of the young United Australia Party of Victoria is the paid servant of the major oil companies.
Senator Sir HARRY LAWSON (Victoria) [11.4]. - Clause 2 of the bill gives power to the commission, in certain circumstances, to take evidence in private, and to prohibit the publication of evidence so taken. In my opinion, the discretion given to the commission is not wide enough. There is a danger that the clause as drafted may limit that discretion. The bill is read by honorable senators in conjunction with the “Petrol Commission Bill when, as a matter of fact, it is not related to that measure. It is a bill to amend the Royal Commissions Act. It will have application not only to the petrol commission, but also to other inquiries by royal commissions. We may assume that when a government appoints the commission it has the fullest confidence in the persons appointed, so it should allow them wider discretion as to whether evidence should be taken in camera. Much of it will deal largely with profits or the financial position of the companies concerned, but it is conceivable that other evidence will be required, the publication of which might be injurious to the companies or some particular person. I therefore suggest that nothing should be done to limit the discretion to be given to the commission. That body should be the judge of any request made to it to have evidence taken in camera. I trust that the clause will be amended accordingly.
– It must have been interesting to other honorable senators, as it was to me, to hear Senator Lawson pleading for a procedure entirely contrary to that advocated by Senator Dunn. The latter objects to any evidence being taken in private. Senator Lawson wishes the Government to give wider powers to the commission with regard to requests made for evidence to be taken in camera.
– The commission before deciding that evidence should be taken in camera would have to be satisfied that its publication would be unfairly prejudicial to the interests of the persons concerned.
– There has been altogether too much said about the injury that might be done to private enterprise by the publication of evidence taken in public. If an ordinary citizen is cited before a court on some baseless charge or offence, he may be subjected to a great deal of humiliation as well as be greatly harmed in his business and social life by the publication of the charge. I know of a man who was charged with rather a shameful offence, and although the magistrate, after hearing the evidence, declared that he left the court without a stain om his character, he went to his lonely home and hanged himself, mainly because such a charge had been laid against him in public. Obviously, the inquiry by the Petrol Commission will be largely financial in character, and will deal mainly with the profits of the major oil companies. If the commission, in its discretion, decided that such evidence should be taken in camera, practically the whole of the inquiry would be held behind closed doors, so that it would, in effect, be a star-chamber investigation. I have not sufficient confidence in any royal commission to allow it to be the judge as to whether the hearing of evidence concerning transactions in which the general public are vitally interested should be taken in camera or withheld from publication. If any company or firm puts itself in a position that there is a general suspicion as to its methods justifying an inquiry by the commission, there should be no reason whatever why the facts should not be made public. If the Vacuum Oil Company has nothing to hide, and if, as Senator Payne has said, all its transactions are like an open book, the other major oil companies ought to be made to take the same stand, because, obviously, they are just as much concerned about the disclosure of their profits as the Vacuum Oil Company can be. I consider that, as individual citizens have to suffer disabilities because of the publication of evidence in cases in which they are involved, even though the accusations prove to be baseless, there is no reason whatever why evidence before the commission should be heard in camera. In the case of private individuals, it is not easy to remove a stain that is cast upon their characters through the making of charges which may be without foundation. I therefore see no reason why the transactions of these companies should be regarded as sacrosanct. There is no need whatever for so much secrecy. I strongly object to any widening of the discretion of the commission in the way indicated by Senator Lawson. The bill will be practically useless if his suggestion is adopted, so long as these companies can keep secret their business methods and terrorize any person who happens to get hold of the facts by declaring that he will be subject to severe penalties if he publishes them contrary to the decision of the commission, as though he were the worst type of criminal. That is the sort of legislation which this private-enterprise Government is always shoving down the throat of this Parliament; it is always attempting to shield either the potential or the actual wrong-doer, if he be sufficiently wealthy to brief counsel to twist the law to suit his purpose. No consideration is given to the needs of the public. It is proposed that the susceptibilities of these companies shall be treated so tenderly that evidence shall not be taken which may prove their conduct to be so nefarious as to visit upon them the severest condemnation of the public. They must be given freedom from the humiliation and the financial loss to which every private citizen is subjected in similar circumstances. While the general purposes of the bill may be the best conceivable, this secrecy damns it in my eyes, and will absolutely cripple its usefulness to the public.
– Even at the expense of incurring the scorn of Senator Brennan, and of provoking the usual remarks about honorable senators on this side drawing on their imagination and looking for some argument to be used against the Government, I propose to place certain considerations before the Minister. I do not agree with the suggestion that this is a perfectly harmless bill. It proposes to extend the powers of a royal commission beyond limits that have not yet been reached by any State, making that body approach more nearly to the character of the law courts. That was never intended. This provision is contained in clause 4, which gives to the Attorney-General the right to appoint a barrister or solicitor who may examine and cross-examine witnesses. It has been said by the highest of constitutional authorities that Australia has abused the right of legislation so far as royal commissions are concerned. In England, a witness before a royal commission cannot be compelled to answer questions. In the Mother Country, a royal commission is regarded in its true light, merely as a medium of inquiry. We in Australia, however, have whittled away the legal rights of the citizens, and have placed them in the hands of royal commissions. This is another step in that direction. I cannot complain if the masters of trade . and commerce in this country, through their representatives in this Parliament, choose to express suspicion against private enterprise by enlarging the powers of a royal commission to the extent of allowing a barrister to cross-examine private enterprise on behalf of the Crown ; but I do say that we on this side are entitled to protest against the application of that principle to trade union organizations. With Senator Barnes, I admit that no trade union organization has anything to fear from ari inquiry; but none of them desire to be worried by inquiries or to be put to the expense involved in them. If counsel can be instructed to cross-examine trade union officials, t their organization must engage counsel for its protection. I ask the Minister whether, if he is satisfied that private enterprise needs to be dealt with as the bill provides, he will harken to the wishes of those on this side who do not entertain similar suspicions concerning the trade union movement, and exempt that movement from the operation of this legislation. If the Minister is not prepared to give me the assurance I require, I shall later move an amendment to that effect.
– It appears to me that the question just put to me is utterly fatuous, and beyond consideration on this measure. It is not competent for me tei say that trade union organizations shall or shall not be exempt. The solid fact’ remains, however, that under our Constitution there is no power to deal with those organizations. The honorable senator seems to be labouring under the delusion that the Commonwealth can go outside the ambit of section 51 of the Constitution in the enacting of legislation. This is merely machinery legislation, which cannot apply to any individual unit. I regret that I am unable to give the assurance sought.
Senator Rae directed attention to the privacy which, - I think, is essential if candour is to be displayed and information of real value is to be obtained. The original act already makes provision for the protection of secret processes. There is no obligation on the commission to have evidence taken in public. I shall quote from Todd’s Parliamentary Government in England on the subject-
– The honorable senator surely does not suggest that there could be a commission at common law?
– This law governs the appointment of any commission to-day, whether under the royal prerogative or under statute.
– Will the honorable senator mention one commission that has been appointed under the royal prerogative?
– Every appointment of a commission, though the powers of a commission are supplemented by statute, is an exercise of the royal prerogative. Where did the Government derive the power to appoint this commission without parliamentary sanction? If the Commonwealth possessed the plenary powers that are held by the Canadian Parliament, it would not have been necessary to resort to the procedure that we have been obliged to follow. Todd says -
Within the limits of their prescribed functions, and subject to the provisions of any act of Parliament defining the same, commissions have “the absolute power of regulating the proceedings of their own tribunal, and of admitting or excluding what persons they please” from attendance during .their sittings.
That is the general law. As I informed honorable senators earlier, this is put in more as a placard. Prudence demand3 that if the Commonwealth has to fight a constitutional battle, it should be able to show that everything reasonable and fair has been done by statute, and that the law applicable to royal commissions gives effect to the intention. If honorable senators look at the sections of the Royal Commissions Act, of which this is an amendment, they will find that protection is afforded under them, and that various penalties are provided. Let us assume that half a dozen concerns are in competition in this particular trade. Is it desirable that one should be made aware of what it costs another to do a certain thing? I doubt if it is. Would it not be just as fair to allow that, as to permit one to learn the nature of a secret cracking process adopted by another?
I point out to Senator Lawson that this bill does not limit the wider power of royal commissions to which I have referred. It is a placard that will be useful, as showing that we are prepared to do justice, and that as we have done everything to prevent trade secrets from being divulged, we are now to prevent private financial matters from being disclosed to persons other than those authorized by a commission.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Penalty: Five hundred pounds or imprisonment for six months.”.
– I desire to move that this clause be deleted, with a view to insert in its stead the following new clause: - 2a. That all evidence relating to the royal commission on mineral oils and petrol and other products of mineral oils be taken in open court of the royal commission in any place in Australia where the commission may meet to take such evidence.
The Government should be willing to prevent the oil companies from dictating to it as to what the powers of royal com missions should be, and how evidence should be taken.
– The proper procedure for the honorable senator to adopt would be to vote against this clause, and, if it be defeated, he may then submit his amendment in the form of a new clause.
– I propose to speak, if not on the lines followed by Senator Lawson, at least with the object of securing the same end. The Minister said that this clause did not exhaust the powers of the commission to take evidence in private, and that it would be a “ placard “ that would indicate the sort of inquiry thai might be held in private. So far from being a placard which would be usefui to the commission, I think that it would be very dangerous. As the Minister knows, there is a principle of interpretation which is expressed in a Latin maxim - Expressum facit cessare tacitum - which means that any express provisions bring to an end any implied provisions. If this clause is agreed to, although it is intended to be an extension of the powers that royal commissions already have, it will ‘be construed as exhausting their powers. It takes the place of the general power that any tribunal has to regulate its own proceedings, and says, “ These are the powers that you have to take evidence in private.” I draw the Minister’s close attention to this fact. It is certainly a dangerous provision, as it now stands, and I am convinced that it will have the very opposite effect to that intended. I move -
That after sub-section 4 proposed, the following new sub-section be inserted: - “ 5. This section shall be read as in aid of, and not as in derogation of, the commission’s general powers to order that any evidence may be taken in private.”.
I am sure that some such proviso as that is required.
– I think that the honorable senator is expressing the intention of the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham).
Question - That the new sub-section proposed to be inserted be inserted - put.
The committee divided. (Chairman - Senator the Hon. Herbert Hays.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Motion by Senator Dunn proposed -
That the following new clause be added: - - 2(a) All evidence relating to the royal commission on mineral oils and petrol and other products of mineral oils shall be taken in open court by the royal commission in any place in Australia where the commission may meet to take evidence.
– I cannot accept the proposed new clause. This measure makes no provision for the subjects which shall be inquired into, although a bill with which the Senate has recently dealt did make such provision. The amendment is not consistent with the bill, and therefore is not in order.
– I respectfully bow to your ruling, Mr. Chairman. I now move -
That the following new clause be added: - 2a. All evidence shall be taken in open court. .
– I rule that the proposed new clause is out of order because its effect would be to negative a clause already agreed to.
Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
– I move -
That the following new clause be added: -
It is possible that the powers vested in royal commissions by this measure may be used to investigate trade union activities in Australia, as was the case in the United States of America some time ago. Legislation, known as the Sherman AntiTrust Acts, which limited the powers of combines, and prevented them from acting in restraint of trade, was, later, to the surprise of those who originated it, applied to the undoing of a number of big Labour organizations on the ground that they violated the law in that . they had acted in restraint of trade in promoting strikes. I take it that it is not the purpose of the Government to take any such action against trade unions in Australia; but just as the legislation in the United States of America, to which I have referred, was diverted from its original purpose, so it is possible that this legislation may be diverted to the injury of trade unions in Australia. The new clause simply seeks to protect trade unions registered under the arbitration acts.
– If my interpretation of the law is correct, the Commonwealth has no power to inquire into trade unions, or to appoint a royal commission to inquire into them. If this Parliament were to pass an act similar to that which engaged the attention of the Senate at an earlier hour to-day, and endeavoured to apply it to trade unions, it would be outside the scope of the authority of the Commonwealth. We can only act inside our own powers. This measure cannot touch trade union organizations in any way because our prerogative is limited. I cannot accept the amendment.
Friday, 26 May 1933
– I am afraid that the Minister has missed Senator Rae’s point. Surely the Minister does not suggest that the High Court has held that, under our powers of conciliation and arbitration, we have not the right to create legal corporations in the form of organizations? If this power is within the Constitution, it is conceivable that the High Court might hold it is within the powers of this Parliament or the executive to inquire into the affairs of any organization created under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I remind the Minister that in the Crimes Act, there is a definite affirmation which, up till now, has been unchallenged, that this Parliament has the right to declare certain crimes in organizations or among its members. I support Senator Rae’s contention that the Commonwealth Parliament has power to appoint royal commissions to inquire into the affairs of organizations, and, this being so, can force a trade union to incur expenditure in defending itself. The Minister has spoken about the prerogative of the Crown. For his information, I quote the following passage from the judgment of that eminent jurist, the late Chief Justice Griffith, in the case Clough versus Leahy, Vol. 2, C.L.R. : -
It is quite unnecessary indeed to call in aid what are called the “ prerogative “ powers of the Crown. That term it) generally used as an epithet to describe some special power, greater than those possessed by individuals, which the Crown can exercise by virtue of the Royal authority. There are some such powersexercised under the law, but the power of inquiry is not a prerogative right.
A royal commission is a right given by Parliament to the Crown to inquire. The executive itself could not appoint a royal commission with powers of compulsion until Parliament authorized it to do so.
– The honorable senator is wrong.
– The Crown had the. right to appoint a royal commission of inquiry -without power to compel witnesses to answer questions. Were it otherwise, the opinion (expressed by Sir Samuel Griffith would be wrong.
– The Crown did it in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s case.
– The Performing Right Royal Commission was appointed by executive act.
– The Crown could not have made that appointment but for the fact that. Parliament had passed an act enabling the executive to do so.
– Royal commissions were appointed before the passing of the Royal Commissious Act.
– If the hour were not so late I could answer the point raised by the right honorable gentleman. If he believes that the late Sir Samuel Griffith was wrong, then I have nothing to add. The amendment should be accepted, because the Government has suspicion relating to certain companies, but has none concerning trade union organizations.
– I have on many occasions read the judgment of the Privy Council in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s case, and 1 recall one passage in which Lord Haldane laid it down that at common law a royal commission has no power to compel answers to questions.
– The citizen has the right at common law to ask questions, but not to compel answers.
– The passage which I have quoted implies that there was a right at common law for the Executive to appoint a commission. How far the common law extends to the limited powers of the Commonwealth Parliament is a matter that has not yet been “fully decided.I do not know exactly what are the common-law powers of a Parliament with defined powers.
– They are recognized in the Royal Commissions Act.
– That is so. According to the practice followed here to-night, before there could be an inquiry into the affairs of any trade union, it would be necessary to pass an enabling bill, such as the one which we passed earlier in the evening, conferring statutory powers on the commission appointed. The effort to confer that power might prove nugatory, but clearly Parliament would have to follow the course which I have indicated. The fact that, Parliament is asked to ratify a commission appointed by executive apt implies that the Government considers that greater strength is thereby given to the validity of the commission. Doubtless the Governmenthas in mind certain portions of the judgment of the Privy Councilin the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s case.
I appeal to SenatorRae not to take up the time of the committee further. I give himmy assurance, if it carries more weight than that of those who are the official representatives of the Government, that he will carry his point no further by persisting with his amendment. If a government in power, being antagonistic to the trade union movement, desired to appoint a commission, it could do so by the passage of legislation, and, ipso facto, override the prohibition contained in his amendment. There is also the danger that, if we enact that any provision of this bill shall not apply to a particular organization, we shall be in this position, as expressed in a Latin maxim : By excluding particular persons, we shall include other persons. I can see no reason why registered organizations should be placed in a specially privileged position by this or any other piece of legislation. I, therefore, ask the honorable senator to accept my assurance and not to persist with his amendment.
SenatorRAE (New South Wales) [12.14 a.m.]. - Although I have not had the advantage of legal training. I think I shall be able to convince Senator Brennan that the carrying of my amendment will serve the purpose which I have in view. The Government, I submit, would then be obliged to come to Parliament to alter the law in order to include trade unions. Therefore it would be a safeguard. Senator Pearce, doubtless, will remember the events which led up to the double dissolution in 1914. The Senate rejected an executive minute to prevent preference in employment being given to trade unionists in the Public Service. The Minister of the day, Mr. King O’Malley, had granted preference by executive minute, but when theCook Government replaced the Fisher Government, it repealed the minute and enacted another prohibiting preference to unionists in the Public Service being given. In that case it was shown that an executive act which had the force of law required the passage of parliamentary action to repeal it. If this amendment were accepted it would put trade unions in a much stronger position. Before any Government could take action it would have to repeal the relevant provisions in this bill. It would also safeguard trade unions to the extent that legislation passed for a specific purpose could not be utilized for some other purpose.
Question - That the proposed new clause (Senator Rae’s amendment) be added - put. The committee divided. (Chairman-Senatorthehon. Herbert Hays.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Friday, the 26th May, at 10 a.m.
Senate adjourned at 12.24 a.m. (Friday). .
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 May 1933, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1933/19330525_senate_13_139/>.