2nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF. MILITARY FORCES.
Mr. JOHNSON (for Mr. Reid) asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence -
Have the Government, in their selection of an officer for the chief position in the Military Forces, beenassisted by any expert military advice ?
Mr. EWING. - The answer to the right honorable member’s question is as follows: -
In the opinion of the Government, the officer elected to fill the position of Inspector-General of the Commonwealth Military Forces possesses the necessary military qualifications and experience. In making the selection, the Government have been assisted by the recorded opinions of officers of high military rank in the British Army.
COMMONWEALTH ARBITRATION COURT.
Mr. KELLY asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
When will the necessary action be taken to secure the hearing of business long pending in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court?
Mr. ISAACS.- The answer to the honorable member’s question is -
Official business will require my presence in Sydney early next week, and I shall then take the opportunity of consulting His Honor the Chief Justice and the President of the Arbitration Court . on the matter.
Mr. KING O’M ALLEY asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the franchise is practically identical in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, and Queensland with that of the Commonwealth, is there not any possibility of utilizing the one roll for both State and Commonwealth purposes, and thereby save the Commonwealth thousands of pounds annually ?
Mr. GROOM. - The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Conference of Commonwealth and State Electoral Officers, which met in Melbourne in April last, reported that the constitution of a joint roll generally for both Commonwealth and State purposes is both practicable and desirable in the interests of administration and economy, but, owing to the very large number of fine distinctions which would be necessary therein, under existing conditions, it would be more profitable to defer the preparation of such a roll until the several Governments have determined how far they may deem it expedient, by means of amending legislation, to obviate the necessity for these distinctions.
The necessity for jointaction, as between the Commonwealth and the States in connexion with electoral matters, is being kept constantly in view.
The Commonwealth, in its amended legislation, has provided for the use of the joint roll when desired, and it now remains for the State Governments to take similar action.
CLERKS : GENERAL POST OFFICE, SYDNEY.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN. - On the 15th August, the honorable and learned member for West Sydney asked the following questions, to which an interim reply was furnished: -
What was the number of clerks in the General Post Office, Sydney, prior to the inauguration of the Commonwealth?
What is the present number?
How many clerical positions have been abolished since the transfer of this Department to the Commonwealth ?
How many positions are there on the clerical staffat present unfilled?
In view of the large increase in the clerical work in the General Post Office, Sydney, since Federation, does he consider that this reduction was justifiable?
Considering the amount of overtime which the clerks are compelled to work at the office mentioned, will he take immediate steps tofill existing vacancies, and to augment the clerical staff, so that this overworking may cease.
The answers, are as follow : - 1.194, excluding 48 clerks employed in the Government Savings Bank and not taken over by the Commonwealth.
228, including 40 officers who were clerks prior to classification, but who now hold general division designations, and still possess clerical status.
23 ; 15 on the recommendation of the Deputy Postmaster-General ; 3 marked as unnecessary in the classification ; 2 unfilled prior to classification and omitted therefrom ; 3 consequent on transfers to general office prior to Commissioner’s appointment.
Nine. 5.It will be seen from reply to question 3 that, in the majority of cases, the positions were abolished on the recommendation’ of the Deputy Postmaster-General. who considered it unnecessary to fill same, and in other cases at the instance of the Public Service Commissioner, after an inspection and examination by his inspector, into the work of the General Post Office, Sydney.
The Public Service Commissioner has re cently intimated that so soon as the approved proposals for the amalgamation of certain branches in the General Post Office, Sydney, now in course of arrangement, are given effect to, some of the present positions will become unnecessary, and there will be a superfluity of officers. Under these circumstances if is not deemed necessary to augment the clerical staff.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- It is to be regretted that the Minister of Trade and Customs, whose Department this measure concerns, is not here totake charge of it.
– The Minister will be here presently. The Bill is a purely formal one,
– I do not wish to oppose it, but I am sorry that the Minister is not here to take charge of it. It might very well be postponed until he arrives.
– If the honorable member is so desirous of the company of the Minister of Trade and Customs, why does he not travel about with him? No doubt the Minister would be glad to have him.
.- The Tariff Commission, I understand, recommended an allowance for under-proof in the case of spirits imported in bulk. That recommendation might well be taken into consideration when the Spirits Bill is being dealt with.
– Hear. hear.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported without amendment; report adopted.
Standing Orders suspended, and Bill read a third time.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 3rd August, vide page 2367): -
Clause 2 -
There shall be payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is hereby appropriated accordingly, the sum of Fifty thousand pounds per annum during the period of ten years commencing on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and six, for the payment of bounties on the production of the goods specified in the Schedule.
Upon which Sir William Lyne had moved, by way of amendment -
That the word “Fifty” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ Five hundred,” and that the words “per annum” be left out.
.- I have again to enter my protest against the absence of the Minister of Trade and Customs. Whenever this session there has been business before us in regard to which he should have been here to direct our deliberations, he has been away, and we have had to rely upon other Ministers, who cannot be supposed to be as conversant with the details affecting proposed legislation as should the Ministerial head of the particular. Department which it chiefly concerns. Immediately after business ‘ relating to the Customs Department has been submitted to us this session by the Minister, he has on several occasions run away and flouted the House.
– The honorable member must not refer to the conduct of the Minister in regard to other Bills.
– I am merely making incidental reference in order to show that his absences are not accidental, but are his constant practice. They are so frequent as to call for remark, having become almost chronic. We are entitled to the benefit of his information in regard to this measure. For my own part, I see no reason why . £500,000 should be appropriated for the payment of bounties on the production of cocoa, coffee, chicory, cotton, fibres, fish, milk, oils, rice, rubber, kapok, and such other miscellaneous goods as may be prescribed.
– No bounty is proposed for the encouragement of the poultry industry.
– That is not the only industry which is left out. Why should invidious distinctions be made between one class of produce and another? To my mind, the Bill is merely an electioneering dodge, and is tantamount to, and intended as, a bribe to secure votes for the Government from the agricultural interests in certain districts. There is no urgency for a measure of this kind. What excuse is advanced for proposing a bounty for the production of chicory, for example? The fact that this measure has been sprung upon the House upon the eve of a general election justifies the impression that it has been introduced for electioneering purposes. We are asked to vote a large sum of money - a cool half a million - in the face of the prediction of the Treasurer that next year our revenue will probably be reduced. In view of the increasing obligations which are being assumed by the Commonwealth, and of the large amount of revenue which it is proposed to sacrifice under the Treasurer’s proposal for penny postage alone, it seems madness to practically throw away £500,000 in the manner proposed. It has not been shown that we should derive any advantage from the proposed expenditure. In any case, the principle underlying the measure is unsound. I have always held that it is improper to tax the whole community for the benefit of a few individuals. It may be admitted that when it is considered desirable to encourage private enterprise by extending State aid, it is better to do so by means qf bonuses than by imposing protective duties, because when bonuses are granted the public know exactly how much they are paying, whereas when protective duties are imposed they can form no conception of the extent to which they are being fleeced. Moreover, bonuses are generally granted for a limited period, although experience shows us that almost invariably a demand is made for the extension of the period, and often for an increase of the bonus. It is always pleaded, after an industry has been stimulated bv means of a bonus, that it would not be fair to permit it to col-4 lapse. This plea generally excites a large amount of sympathy, especially amongst those who believe that the community can be made rich bv taking money out of one pocket, and putting it into the other. The result is that very often the Legislature finds itself compelled to continue ad infinitum bonuses which it was originally intended to grant for only a limited, period ;
– It seems to me that the honorable member’s second reading speech is going on ad infinitum.
– The honorable member will also have an opportunity to speak if he so desires. I judge that I am expressing his views as well as my own.
– I cannot say a word - the honorable member is saying all that I want to say.
– Then there will be no necessity for the honorable member to speak. I am pleased to know that at least one honorable member on the Government benches shares my views upon this question. In order to arrive at something approaching finality, in regard to the payment of bonuses, it has been the practice, at the end of the period originally fixed; to yield to the inevitable demand for a continuance of the bonus beyond the period originally fixed, and to adopt a > sliding scale for a further fixed term. But before the expiration of the renewed term, a demand is invariably made for the imposition of protective duties. After large sums of money have been paid directly out of the pockets of the taxpayers in order to ‘establish an industry, first of all, upon the supposition that it would prove advantageous to the whole community, and, secondly, in the belief that at the end of the bonus period it would be able to get along without assistance, it is found that, owing, perhaps, to the fact that it is not natural to the country, and perhaps to other causes, it must die unless further assistance is granted. When an application is made for the imposition of protective duties, those who approved of the bonus in the belief that nothing more was to be asked for are looked upon as inconsistent if they allow the industry to perish for want of a little further assistance. And thus, before granting bonuses, the greatest care should be exercised. I hold that, under certain circumstances, bonuses are justifiable. For example, it might be shown that if certain works were established, the interests of the community as a whole would be promoted. It might be justifiable to grant a bonus in order to secure the establishment of an industry that would assist us in connexion with our defences, or serve some other great and important national purpose, and which it would be more beneficial to establish by private enterprise, assisted by a bounty, than as a direct Government industrial concern. None of the industries referred to in the schedule can, however, he regarded as coming within that category. The money now proposed to be spent upon bonuses might be more justifiably devoted to promoting technical education, and the establishment of agricultural colleges, and, perhaps, a Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, to work in conjunction with the States Departments. The honorable member for Echuca delivered a very able address to the House, in which he expressed and elaborated similar views. If the practice of granting public money to assist private enterprise is justifiable at all, it should be distributed in such a way that the community, as a whole, and not a particular section, should reap the benefit of it. The entire community would certainly benefit by any advance which was made in the dissemination of scientific knowledge relating to rural industries, which are the backbone of the country. There would be infinitely less objection to the .expenditure of public money in. that direction than there is to its disbursement under the method proposed by the Government. Reference has been made to the fact that the right honorable member for East Sydney has approved of this system of bounties. But I would remind the Committee that he spoke merely for himself, and the fact that he may approve of the granting of bonuses does not necessarily commit his supporters to the proposal now before the Committee.
– I would remind the honorable member that the proposal before the Chair is to strike out the word “ fifty,” with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “five hundred.” That proposal does not involve the consideration of the whole question of the payment of bounties. The honorable member must not make a second.reading speech.
– The question, as I understood it to be stated by the Chairman, was “ that the clause be agreed “to.”
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.No. The question before the Chair is whether the words “five hundred” shall be substituted for the word “ fifty.”
– I am dealing with the principle which is involved, irrespective of whether the amount proposed to be expended is large or small. In conclusion, I repeat that this money could be much more justifiably spent in the direction I have indicated. But, in any case, I do not propose to intrust the Minister of Trade and Customs, or the present Government, with the disbursement of an immense sum of money just on the eve of a general1 election, much less to give them a blank cheque, as is now proposed.
.- Do I understand that the proposition before the Committee is one to increase the total amount of the bounties payable under this clause from £50,000 to ,£500,000?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Yes.
– Who submitted . that proposal ?
– The Minister of Trade and Customs.
– The proposal embodied in the Bill is for the payment of ^50,000 a year for a period of ten years..
– The Minister of Trade and Customs has moved to set aside ^500,000 for the payment of bounties during that period.
– We cannot risk the finances iri that way.
– It seems to be a growing practice for a Minister to throw a Bill upon the table, and to leave honorable members to worry it in the absence of proper information.
– That has been the practice for two years. Is the honorable member only just, waking up to it?
– I knew a Ministry which did it ten years, ago. ,
– The practice has been very much in evidence during the cli rrent session, and, although I do not hold the Opposition entirely responsible for it, I do not regard them as absolutely blameless. It is well known that whilst their leader and his principal henchman are galivanting about the country there is a great temptation to the Government to look after their own interests. The practice, however, is a very reprehensible one. When this Bill was introduced it was known that many honorable members entertained strong objection to it, because thev feared that the bounties would not benefit those whom the measure was intended to assist. Whilst the Minister of Trade and Customs was making his second-reading speech he was met with a shower of interjections in that connexion. He then intimated that some provision would be made to overcome the difficulty. To-day we have the announcement - without amy explanation whatever - that it is proposed to increase the amount of the bounties to ,£500,000.
– The gross amount is not to be increased.
– Oh, no.
– I presume that there will be consequential amendments introduced by the Government.
– Oh, yes. The position will Le made perfectly clear.
– It ought to be made absolutely clear. I am aware that the honorable member for Echuca has given notice of an .amendment with a view to regulating the payment of these bounties.
– I call attention to the absence of a quorum. It seems to me that the argument of the honorable member for Grey ought to be heard by his colleagues. [Quorum formed.]
– The inquiry conducted bv the Butter Commission in Victoria conclusively proved that only a very small percentage of the butter bonus actually found its way into the pockets of the primary producers. Under this Bill we have .no guarantee that that section of the community will receive a single penny of the bounties. The Minister led the House to believe that in Committee he would make provision for protecting the interests of the primary producer.
– That will be done.
– It has not been done yet. Take the olive oil industry. I understand that the price paid for i cwt. of olives is 6s. But it does not follow that every grower of olives manufactures his own oil. The cost of picking i cwt. of olives is 2s. 6d., but the oil which can be extracted from them - about 2 gallons - is worth 1 6s. Unless some radical alteration be made in the Bill the manufacturer of the oil will get every penny of the bounty. I prefer the bounty system to the imposition of Customs- duties, since under it we are able to ascertain exactly what we are paying to encourage any industry, and may limit the period during which the payments shall be made; but we ought to be careful that the primary producer shall secure that proportion of the benefit to which he is entitled. I do not think that under this Bill the man who .grows coffee beans, will receive any part of the bounty to be given for the production of coffee, nor do I know whether the grower of cotton will receive any proportion of the cotton bounty.
– The honorable member for Echuca has given notice of an amendment to meet that objection, and we might perhaps put it into an acceptable form.
– I have already referred to that amendment. Mv complaint is that no member of the Ministry has vet explained how many of the objections raised during the second-reading debate are to be met. I trust, however, that the
Minister now in charge of the Bill will explain the intentions, of the Government. I am satisfied that the desire of the Committee is that the bounties shall go to the primary producers.
– Any proposal in that direction will be favorably received.
– We do not desire a repetition of the experience of Victoria in regard to the butter bounty. Our desire is that the primary producers shall at all events derive some of the advantages of the bounty system. The Minister of Trade and Customs said that they would be benefited by receiving an increased price, for their products, but we know that that was not the experience of the farmers of Victoria under the butter bonus system. I do not think it is the intention of the Committee ‘that the primary producers shall be at the mercy of the buyers of their products. We shall, however, have another opportunity to deal with that phase of the question when the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Echuca is submitted.
.- Some valuable points have been raised by the honorable member for Grey, but I think that they may be more appropriately discussed when another clause is under consideration. I would draw attention to the scanty information put before honorable members in regard to this important measure. Under it, we propose the first step taken by this Parliament for the direct assistance of agriculture. It is an important step, involving a large expenditure, and we should be careful how we proceed. In introducing the measure the Minister of Trade and Customs seemed to be in a state of mental confusion. He was unable to give specific answers to various questions that were put to him ; but said that everything would be put right by-and-by. Before passing the Bill, however, we ought to know by what Department it will be administered, and whether those controlling it will be, from the outset, in touch with the growers and producers. Is that to be the position, or is the authority to be exercised only when the product is supplied in its manufactured state, and the bounty is being claimed? We wish to know who are to be the inspectors, and whether there is to be an attempt to educate the farmers, whom we seek to encourage to .grow these new products. We should take care that the primary producer is fairly treated, and that he shall receive his fair proportion of these bounties. The Bill is simply a skeleton measure - the body of it, so to speak, will be provided by regulations. Before we agree to this large expenditure, we should have some indication of what those regulations are likely to be. I have not risen with any desire to oppose the Bill. Although I should like to see it amended in several respects, I am in accord with the principle that encouragement should be given to the raising of new products ; but think that we should have full information as to the way in which this encouragement is to be given. Is the Commonwealth to act alone, or in conjunction with the States? Are the farmers to be educated in, the cultivation of these new products, 01 is a goasyouplease policy to be pursued ? I sympathize with the Minister now in charge of the Bill, since he has, doubtless, been called upon at short notice to take it up; but I am sure that the Committee and the country will be very grateful for any information he may give as to the intentions of the Government regarding the points I have named.
– The honorable member for Grey made the extraordinary charge that the Opposition was responsible for the absence of the Minister of Trade and Customs.
– I certainly think that one honorable member of the Opposition is.
– He also alluded to the absence of individual members of the Opposition. Might I point out that an honorable member, who is not in office, is responsible only to his constituents for his absence from the Chamber, but that the position with regard to a Minister is different ? A Minister is one of the Executive of Parliament; his appointment has been approved by Parliament, and he is responsible to it for the proper discharge of the duties of his office. That bein’g so, I hold that a Minister flouts Parliament when, owing not to accident or misfortune, or to causes for which he cannot be held responsible, he absents himself from the House, not once or twice, but many times whilst Bills relating to his Department are under consideration.
– Why not have a special debate on that question, instead of referring to it day after day ?
– Is the honorable member for Bland defending the absence of the Minister of Trade and Customs?
– No; I suppose that he is able to defend himself.
– I am replying to the accusation of an honorable member of the Labour Party that the Opposition are responsible for the absence of the Minister.
– And an honorable member of the Labour Party being absent, as usual, did not hear that accusation.
– That is not correct. I have been here nearly every day this session, worse luck, having regard to some of the speeches to which I have had to listen.
– The Executive is responsible to Parliament, and we have a right to expect Ministers to be in attendance - except when their absence is unavoidable - when Bills relating to their Department are under consideration, so that we may have that information which can be given only by them.
– If the leader of- the Labour Party were acting as the leader of the Opposition is doing - touring the States and going into various electorates. - would the honorable member commend his action?
– I should offer no objection to it. I think that the Minister of Trade and Customs is flouting the House bv his repeated absence when Bills relating to his Department are under consideration. I never knew such a course to be so persistently followed. Time after time the Minister is absent when a measure that he has introduced has reached a most important stage, and we are thus unable to secure the information to which *y,-» are entitled. The honorable gentleman intended that there should be; no annus 1 limitation as to the expenditure of the total sum of ,£500,000 for which provision is made in this Bill. His proposal was that the limitation, as to the expenditure of not more than £50,000 per annum should bt? s.truck out, so that the Minister should be empowered to expend, if he thought fit, the total sum in the first vear of the operation of the Bill.
– I do not think that he asked for such a power as that.
– Shortly before progress was reported on the occasion when the Bill was last under consideration. I asked if there was to be any limitation.
-The Minister saidon that occasion that the expenditure would be governed by the schedule.
– But he also said that he was, going to amend the schedule.
– If power were given to spend the full amount in one year, a reckless Minister might wreck the finances.
– I do not think Parliament will vest in the Minister such extraordinary power. There must be a limitation to the amount of the annual payment. As has been pointed out by the honorable member forEchuca, and the honorable member for Grey, the . Minister promised, by way of interjection, that amendments would be proposed that would secure the payment of the bounties to the proper persons. Then., again, the Minister stated that he was going to amend the schedule by varying the amounts proposed to be paid, and I think he also said that he might add some other items to it. Three weeks have elapsed since the Bill was last under consideration, but no amendments in the direction indicated have been circulated by the Minister, and no additional information has been placed before honorable members. If we are to carry on business, we should conduct it in a better manner. There is good reason for complaint. I have no wish to be captious in my criticism of Ministers. We have often to extend consideration to them, and I do not generally find fault from a purely party stand-point with their actions. I am not doing so now; but I do say that the Committee are entitled to more consideration than they have received. I shall be greatly surprised if the Committee agrees to give the Minister a free hand to deal with the total expenditure of £500,000 without any limitation as to the amount which shall be spent during any one year. If we do so, what responsibilities may we not have to undertake ? The Minister, having a free hand, might expend - I will not say the whole amount in one year, because that would be an extreme case, but £200,000 or £300,000.
– He could expend the whole amount.
– The present Minister could, certainly.
– He could expend the whole amount. But if he expended only £200,000 the position would be serious, because the expenditure would have to be continued in following years, since a bounty for one year only would be productive of no good result. Parliament would have no good answer to growers, who had been encouraged to invest capital in certain productions, if it arbitrarily stopped a bounty after a year or two because the payments were too large. This is a situation which should not be allowed to arise. There should be a limitation. Only a reasonable sum should be allowed to be expended annually.
– Make the limit £100,000.
– I see that some elasticity may be necessary, and am therefore prepared to add to the clause a provision to the effect that not more than £75,000 shall be paid in bounties in any oneyear. Elasticity may be needed, because all the bounties will not be applied for at once, and when application is made it may be necessary to expend a little more than £50,000 in some particular year. I do not think honorable members are prepared to allow the Minister to pay away the whole amount at any period that he may think, fit. It would be ridiculous to do so. and might lead to Parliament being morally committed to liabilities of which we cannot estimate the extent. Furthermore, the Minister should at the earliest moment, give us information in regard to the intentions of the Government in reference to the Bill. We are entitled to know beforehand what amendments are to be moved so that we shall not have to consider them on the spur ofthe moment.
.- I do not wish to be hard upon the Minister, particularly if, as the honorable member for Maranoa has expressed it, “ another bloke is on the job “ ; but he should not be absent when a measure so important as this is under consideration. It is possible to spend money on bounties in such! a way that the expenditure will prove a great boon to the Commonwealth, while it is also possible to absolutely waste it, and to cause disappointment and loss to those who have been induced to enter into certain industries. If any measure has been submitted this session in regard to which we should have full information it is the Bill with which we are now dealing. The success of the proposed expenditure will depend entirely upon the scheme adopted for the distribution of the money which! we are asked to vote. We should know what machinery will be employed for carrying into effect the intentions of the Government, what supervision will be provided for, and have other! information of a Tike description. I presume that the Minister now in charge of the measure has not furnished us with this information because he is not in a position to do so, and I therefore suggest that the further consideration of the Bill be postponed until the Minister of Trade and Customs returns. It is treating Parliament with contempt, and likely to lower the institution in the estimation of the people, to ask us to blindly vote ^500,000 for bounties without giving us the slightest information as to how the money is to be spent, or the conditions which! will be imposed. We do not know whether the expenditure is to be supervised by a Commonwealth Department, or whether an arrangement is to be made with the States in regard to the matter.
– Many details must necessarily be left to regulation.
– Yes; but we have not even a skeleton scheme before us. I have not been unduly critical of Government proposals, and have supported such as I considered justifiable ; but I take so much interest in this matter, recognising its importance, that I cannot countenance the folly of voting money in the dark. It is due, not only to Parliament, but to the people who will have to provide the necessary funds, that an outline, at least, of the scheme under which the expenditure will take place shall be given to us.
– Wha’t has fallen from the honorable member for North Sydney is well worth the consideration of the Committee, though he takes a rather extreme view when he says that the whole amount may be spent in one year.
– It could be so spent if the amendment were agreed to.
– Yes ; and for that reason I shall vote against the amendment. I fear that it may happen that for several years no bounties will be given, and the whole amount may be distributed over, perhaps, the last five years of a decade. There are several industries which could be benefited by immediate expenditure - the production of coffee, cotton, condensed and powdered milk, oils, and rice, for example.
– An>d the production of sisal hemp.
– The honorable member wishes us to make a gift to a number of other Queensland industries such as we have made to the Queensland sugar industry.
– I have never done the honorable member the honour to interject when he was speaking, and’ I trust that he will not interrupt my remarks. In my opinion, the amount provided for annual expenditure on bounties is rather small, and I should like to see it doubled. Other countries have established and brought industries to perfection by the granting of bounties, and I see no reason why we should not do the same. It would be dangerous, however, to empower the Minister to spend .£500,000 in one year, because such a provision might do a great deal of harm. With reference to the suggestion of the honorable member for Lang, that instructors should be appointed and agricultural colleges established to train persons in the best methods of carrying on the industries which we wish to encourage, I would point out, in the first place, that there are already agricultural colleges and experimental farms under the control of the States, and, in any case, it would take some considerable time to impart the instruction of which he speaks, whereas there are many men who already possess experience and knowledge which would enable them to at once enter upon the cultivation of certain products, if bounties were offered to them.
– I indorse to the full the criticisms which have been levelled against the Minister of Trade and Customs because of his absence. I have seen nothing more shameless in my parliamentary experience than his conduct in reference to the business brought before us, and I marvel that honorable members tolerate it. Unfortunately, they have been in an entirely casual mood of late, if not during the whole session.
– The honorable member is to blame, because of the way in which, he continually lectures us.
– The honorable member for Maranoa is guilty of tedious repetition in repeating what the honorable member for Grey has already said. One cannot but be surprised at the marvellous difference which a change of position makes in the opinions of some honorable member’s. Three years ago, when the honorable member for Grey was sitting only a few yards from where he now sits, but on the Opposition side, he fulminated against the Minister until his face was flecked with foam, and now he occupies his time in defending him.
– Is it in order for the honorable member to admonish the honorable member for Grey for what he did some years ago, seeing that a definite amendment is before the Committee?
– It is not in order.
– I am merely replying to criticisms passed upon me by the honorable member for Grey, a course which is usually permitted bythose who are actuated by the spirit of fair play, which honorable members opposite are not. No member in this House has criticised the Minister of Trade and Customs with anything like the virulence that has characterized the utterances of the honorable member for Grey. Now that he has changed his place, however, he can find a multitude of reasons why the Minister should be excused for his absence, and why he should be regarded as performing his full duty to the public by travelling through has constituency instead of being in his place in Parliament. Has the honorable member ever known any other Minister to treat his measures in the way that the Minister of Trade and Customs has done?
– I can point to the case of the leader of the Opposition, who is stumping the constituencies of other honorable members, with a view to injuring them, whilst they are here attending to their duties.
– The difference between the position of a private member and that of a Minister of the Crown has already been pointed out by the honorable member for North Sydney. If my honorable friend is not able to appreciate the distinction, there is no use in explaining the grave constitutional difference between the two cases. The Minister is supposed to represent the country in the Executive, whereas the leader of the Opposition primarily represents his constituents.
– He has been endeavouring to persuade the people that the Government does not represent the country.
– That question will be put to the test very soon, and I am content to abide by the result of the forthcoming appeal to the country. I join heartily inthe protest that has been made against the constant absences of the Min ister of Trade and Customs - particularly having regard to the cause of his absence. I think that the honorable member for North Sydney unwittingly slandered the Minister now in charge of the Bill. He stated that the Vice-President of the Executive Council could not be expected to be as well acquainted with the measure as is the Minister of Trade and Customs. I take exception to that statement. If there is one thing which specially characterizes the Minister of Trade and Customs it is his absolute ignorance concerning the measures which he brings before the House.
– He gets there just the same.
– He does; and any one could do so with a solid block like the Labour Party behind him. It is not necessary to explain measures to the members of that party, who simply sit tight, and do as they are required. It is avery simple arrangement, and a most effective guillotine. It has a tendency to sapthe very foundations of our representative institutions, and to abrogate free speech and free discussion. But these are small matters to the labour caucus. I think there is a great deal in the criticisms of the honorable members for Echuca and Gippsland. I think that, before we surrender our right to control the expenditure, we should be informed whether any plan has been devised in connexion with the administration of the Bill. I suppose that the honorable members referred to are speaking out of a fuller knowledge and experience of bounties than is possessed by the representatives of other States. I believe that most of the bounty proposals in Australia, have failed owing to want of technical and practical knowledge.
– Hear, hear; and owing to want of proper supervision.
– Only one of the bounties granted by the Victorian Government - namely the butter bounty - has been of any substantial benefit.
– The failure has in many cases been due to the inefficiency of the methods adopted by those who have been engaged in the industry which it was sought to encourage. Therefore we shall probably throw away a large sum of money unless we take steps to insure that the requisite knowledge and experience shall be brought tobear by those who are engaged in raising the products in respect to which the bounties will be payable, and that proper skillshallbeexercisedintheadministra- tion. I think that honorable members are entitled to be informed as to the intentions of the Government, and as to the authority which will control the administration.
– We shall be held responsible to the country
– Exactly. The ignorance that has led to the destruction of so many new enterprises has characterized not only those who have engaged in the undertakings, but those who have had control of the administration. I suppose that it is intended to place the responsibility of administering this measure upon the Customs officials, who, if they are not marvellous men, surely need to be. All kinds of duties are thrown upon them, and they must be men of the greatest experience and widest knowledge in order to effectively perform their part.
– They now have charge of the trade of Australia, and it is proposed that they shall also take charge of the agricultural industry.
– Yes; they are to be called upon to instruct agriculturists as to the proper methods of cultivating various tropical products. In regard to some of the products mentioned in. the schedule, we shall before very long be brought into competition with articles produced in such places as Java, where, I believe, they have the best laboratory in the world for the investigation of matters relating to tropical products. Therefore, it will be necessary to equip our agriculturists with the very best technical knowledge. The honorable member for Herbert told us that some of the proposed bounties would be immediately payable, but that probably in other cases no claim would be made for some years. In the event of an extra vote being required in connexion with any given industry. Parliament could always be applied to for an increased sum. If that plan were adopted matters would be brought under the review of the House, which might very well be trusted to deal justly and equitably with any industry. Therefore, I see no reason why we should vote a large sum en bloc, as the Minister of Trade and Customs suggests, nor do I see why we should fix the amount to be spent annually. The proposal now in the Bill might very well be allowed to stand. If, at any moment, an industry reaches such a stage as to entitle those engaged1 in it to claim a bounty, provision can always be made in the Estimates for the sum required, and it is not likely that honorable members will, for one moment, dream of setting aside the contract implied bv the provisions of the Bill.
– I presume that the administration of the bounties will be intrusted to the Customs officials, but, so far as I know, there are no agricultural experts in that Department. I think that we should be informed as to whether the Government have any detailed scheme with regard to the distribution of the bounties. It is a very simple matter to ask honorable members to vote £50,000 per annum, but I think that we should satisfy ourselves that the taxpayers’ money will be expended in such a way as to confer benefit upon the community, and particularly upon those engaged in the actual production of the articles specified in the Schedule. The Minister of Trade and Customs will be well advised if he withdraws his amendment. We should know the maximum amount to be spent in any one year. If there is any necessity for an additional vote, the Minister can always fall back upon the Estimates. I quite agree with the honorable member for North Sydney that if ,£150,000’ or £200,000 were spent in any one year, we should probably have to continue to pay the bounties upon the same scale. I dare say that in regard to most of the articles mentioned in the schedule, a ten-year bounty period- would be suitable, but, in the case of olive oil, the whole of the bounty would be claimed by those who now have plantations, and are producing oil. No one else could make any claim, because ten years would elapse before oil could be produced from new plantations.
– If the industry is a success, why should we grant a bounty?
– What has that to do with the question? If the honorable member had paid the slightest attention to my remarks, he would not have made such an absurd interjection. I was pointing out the impossibility - in the case of olive oil - of benefiting, by the payment of a bounty, any persons save those who are at present engaged in its production. This Bill will not induce the planting df a single tree unless iti be in the hope that Parliament will continue the bounty. I would further point out that we can very easily waste a lot of money under a measure of this kind. Even in Victoria, where the growers had the benefit of expert knowledge, and where the
Bounties Bill. [RE PRE SENTATIVES.] Bounties Bill.
Government expended some £70,000 upon the Maffra beet sugar plantation, I understand that the experiment was a failure. That illustration shows how necessary it is for us to be extremely careful, and to confine the schedule of the Bill to commodities the production of which is almost .certain to be attended with success. I understand that the Minister who is at present in charge of the Bill has given a good deal of consideration to this matter. I shall be glad to bear what he has to say upon it.
– Every honorable member ‘who has spoken upon the Bill has been perfectly reasonable. The Committee feel that it is a serious matter to repose in any Minister the power of determining how much shall be paid by way of bounty in any one year.
– Especially, without knowing any of the conditions which may be operative.
– Honorable members are therefore desirous of limiting the amount which should be expended in any year. At the same time, it is generally admitted that the clause should be an elastic one. The honorable member for North Sydney has suggested that the expenditure in any year should be limited to £75>°°°-
– That is, if an,v alteration is to be made in the Bill.
– If the Committee will affirm that suggestion, I think the difficulty which presents itself might be overcome. I am willing to accept such an amendment.
– Before the Bill passes through all its stages, will the Minister ‘undertake to furnish the necessary information to the Committee regarding the way in which the money will be distributed?
– There is no Federal Department of Agriculture in existence.
– But the Committee should know whether the executive part of the undertaking is to be carried on under a Commonwealth Department which has yet to be created, or whether the supervision of the scheme will be undertaken by the States Agricultural Departments.
– Even in connexion with the preparation of the Bill, I am aware that the Minister .received very considerable aid from the States Agricultural Departments. Such assistance will always be welcome. But, of course, the final responsibility must rest with the Minister of Trade and Customs.
– Who will be the executive authority?
– The person’ in charge of the bounties will be the Minister of Trade and Customs, and the Comptroller-General for the time being will be his chief executive officer.
– Arrangements will have to be made for the inspection throughout the Commonwealth of the various products upon which a bounty, will be payable.
– Yes. As far as possible the States Departments will be utilized in that connexion. How did the Minister overcome the difficulties encountered in the payment of the sugar bounty?
– We have one expert up there who devotes his whole time to that matter, and who receives £3.-000 a year for his services.
– He is not a Commonwealth officer.
– The sugar industry was in full swing before any bounty was authorized. This is an attempt to establish a new industry, so that the position is entirely different.
– I see no difficulty in regard to the payment of a bounty upon the production of olive oil and similar commodities which did not obtrude itself in connexion with the. payment of a’ bounty upon sugar. The honorable member for Gippsland, I believe, is of opinion that a bounty should be paid for the production of flax.
– But it should be produced under proper supervision.
– If the article produced is not up to a certain standard, no bounty will be paid under this Bill.
– Will inspectors be appointed under this measure?
– -No provision has been made for that.
– Is there to be a Federal Department of Agriculture created?
– Not at this stage. The honorable member is aware of that. The Estimates provide no amount for that purpose.
– Who will be entitled to receive the bounties proposed?
– The honorable member understands that when an officer of the Customs Department has been satisfied that a certain article has been produced in accordance with the terms laid down in this Bill, the producer will be entitled to the bounty prescribed. It is not proposed to establish a Department of Agriculture under . this measure. We know that the States Agricultural Departments are doing very admirable work, and the Minister will, doubtless, work in conjunction with them.
– Have the Government entered into satisfactory arrangements with the States Departments?
– If the honorable member were Minister of Trade and Customs, and had ascertained that the States Governments were friendly to a measure of this description - -
– When I filled the office of Minister of Trade and Customs I formulated a scheme, and I found that the matter was not the small one which the Minister seems to think. I recognise that the whole success of the Bill will depend upon the machinery which is provided for giving effect to it. The Minister should let us know the nature of the Government proposals at some future stage in the consideration of the measure.
– Any statement that the honorable member requires, within reason, I shall be glad to furnish.
– How does the Minister propose to give effect to the provisions of clause 3?
– Honorable members are directing my attention to all portions of the Bill. I have no desire to discuss clause 3 at this stage. I desire to confine my remarks to the suggestion of the honorable member for North Svdney, who wishes to add a proviso to the clause under consideration which would have the effect of limiting the expenditure in any year to .£75,000. The Government are perfectly willing to accept that suggestion.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that honorable members have been directing his attention to all portions of the Bill. ‘ What is the reason for that? It is to be found in the fact that the Minister of Trade and Customs has the “ loan “ of him. He has introduced this measure, which involves the payment of a sum of ,£500,900. without any adequate explanation of its provisions. Incidentally we have been told that he has taken infinite pains to obtain information from the States, so that he might be able to present a straightforward statement to the Committee. Yet the Bill has been brought forward when the Minister of
Trade and Customs is absent. Are we not being treated as so many children? We are asked to authorize the expenditure of half-a-million sterling without any information as to the scheme under which it will be disbursed. As a representative of the people, I am desired to vote upon the Bill. Is it fair that I should be sent before my constituents under such circumstances? Is it fair that I should be liable to be asked by an elector why I voted this sum of money in the absence of proper information? The Vice-President of the Executive Council has not been fairly treated ; he has been called upon suddenly to take charge of the Bill, and is unable to give that information which the Committee desires. When knotty questions are put which’ he cannot answer, he merely says, in effect, “ Grant us this money, and we will accept your amendment in order that we may overcome the difficulty.” The Prime Minister deals generously with! his colleagues; he allows them to go on tour whenever they choose to ask for leave of absence, and is readyto take charge of a Bill in order that the Minister to whose Department it relates may go on an electioneering tour.
– Why do not the Opposition call off their dogs?
– I am not indulging in mere carping criticism.
– If any one were after the honorable member’s seat he would not be long in hurrying off to his electorate.
– The question at issue is something more important than is the retention of a seat by an honorable member. I am not finding fault without cause, and I am sure that the honorable member takes the same view of this matter as I do. The representatives of the people in this House are not fairly treated when, in the absence of information which’ ought to be forthcoming, they are asked to vote a large sum of money for the payment of bounties. With one exception, the bounty system in Australia has been a failure. We know that in some cases people are prepared to enter am industry merely for the sake of securing a bounty, and with no intention of remaining in it. It is proposed to give a bounty for the production of olive oil, but the olive tree grows so slowly that any one who planted now would not obtain a yield in time to enable him to participate in that bounty. The honorable member for Parramatta showed me a note referring to the granting of a bounty on the export of fruit - a most important industry - and an amendment providing for the payment of bounties to encourage irrigation has also been foreshadowed by the honorable member for Echuca. The Minister of Trade and Customs ought to be here to explain the scheme lie has formulated to carry out the objects of the Bill. We have a right to amend this Bill so that it may as nearly as possible approach perfection, and the Minister of Trade and Customs by his absence is treating, not only the Vice-President of the Executive Council, but the Committee, very cavalierly. I protest against this procedure, and my attitude is not that of one who has declared himself opposed to the scheme outlined in the BilL, The bounty system is the least objectionable form of protection. If a clear case for the granting of protection to certain industries by means of the bounty system could be made out, the Government might secure the support of those whose fiscal leanings are in another direction. But we are asked to vote in the absence of the necessary information for our guidance.
– Will the> honorable member mention the details with respect to which he desires information?
– The honorable gentleman has said that he is not in possession of all the information collated by the Minister of Trade and Customs, whose Department will be intrusted with the administration of this measure. That being so, he is unable to give us the information we require as to the details of the scheme under which these bounties are to be paid. I should like a full and explicit statement from the Minister, who has made this subject his careful study. The Government are imposing upon the generosity of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and I think that they will find before long that he has had enough of it.
– - The honorable member should make a dignified protest, and walk out of the chamber.
– This sort of thing’ would not be tolerated in any other legislature. It is possible here only because a few honorable members are indifferent to their responsibilities, because, irrespective of anything they may do, a solid party vote is recorded for them.
– Order ! The honorable member must not proceed with that line of argument.
– It is only in such circumstances that an honorable member would view with complacency a request by the Government for power to expend £500,000 without affording the Committee any information as to the proposed scheme of distribution.
.- Unnecessary difficulties are being raised h> the consideration of this Bill, and I think that the answer to most of the objections we have heard is self-evident. The Government propose to encourage the establishment of new industries by means of the bounty system, and the Minister in charge of the Bill has to deal only with a question of fact. Wheo a claim is made for payment of bounty, the Department administering the Act will simply have to decide whether its requirements have beer* complied with. Some honorable members who have been howling about the necessity to study the interests of the States, when, in office, adopted the policy that the Commonwealth should “go mates” with the States. They should remember that the States Departments of Agriculture are already educating the farmers in regard to the raising of new products, and that, so far, no necessity has been shown for this work to be undertaken by the Commonwealth. The suggestion that we should have a Federal ‘Bureau is generally approved, but it is not necessary to have such a Department to administer this measure. There should be no more difficulty in paying bounties under this Bill than is experienced in connexion with the working of the Sugar Bounty Act Under that measure, a claimant for the bounty has to prove that his sugar has been grown by white labour. No difficulty has arisen ii> carrying out that Act, although a special Department was not created to give effect to it, and it seems to me that there will be no difficulty in administering this Bill.
– The honorable member has not given much consideration to the question.
– I think that I have given it as much consideration as the honorable _ member has done. His experiments in this direction as a member of the Victorian Parliament were not altogether satisfactory.
– The expenditure, for instance, of £100,000 of Government funds on the Maffra! beet sugar works.
– No bonus was given, but a loan was made to the company.
– The experience of the Commonwealth in regard to the bounty system has so far been satisfactory. I agree with the honorable member for Echuca that certain steps may have to be taken, and that we ought to have some information relative to the question of whether or not some of the industries in respect to which the bounty is to be given are not already established. I believe that, in South Australia, the production of olive oil has been for some years a well-establishd industry, and that the Sydney market is largely supplied from that source. The payment of a bounty in respect of an industry that is sufficiently established could not be justified; bounties should be given only to pioneering industries. I repeat that there should be no difficulty in devising the machinery to carry out this system, and that we ought not to agree to the Commonwealth handing over the works to the States. Why should we hand over to any State Department the .payment of Federal bounties ? The final decision’ in these matters must rest with the Commonwealth Government. Responsible government must be maintained, and the power of the purse vested in those who represent the electors. The granting of bounties is a means of encouraging private enterprise to enter into new industries by indemnifying it to some extent against losses sustained in pioneering work. I think we might have some information as to whether there are now in existence industries which could well be fostered by the granting of bounties to them. So far as the tapering off of the bounties is concerned, that, it seems to me, will come about when industries have been successful lv encouraged by the multiplication of the number of claimants, making the amount available to each continually less and less. T should not grudge the giving of assistance to pioneer industries already in existence. Some time ago I visited an olive yard in South Australia, of an area of 60 acres, where I was told oil of excellent quality is produced at profitable prices. I do not know what the total area under olives in the Commonwealth is, but it seems to me that the olive oil industry is a pioneer one, deserving encouragement. No doubt the Minister of Trade and Customs will co-operate with the Departments of the States in administering this measure, while keeping the control of payments entirely in his own hands.
– I am sure that honorable members deeply sympathize with the VicePresident of the Executive Council in having to take charge of the Bill at a moment’s notice, in consequence of the severe indisposition of the Minister of Trade and Customs. We regret, not only the suffering of the Minister - because we understand how sick he must be when he realizes what ic taking place in his constituency - but also the fact that his absence prevents us from, obtaining information which he promised iu moving the second reading, and which would enable us to have a better understanding of his proposals. In my opinion, there is no need for the proposed bounties. Why should we give money to those connected with industries which are already in existence? Coffee has been grown successfully in Queensland, and the olive oil industry is already established in South Australia.
– Chicory is still provided for in the schedule.
– It will be struck out if the honorable member moves in that direction.
– If the payment of bounties can be defended at all, it is only when they are given to establish new industries. If it could be shown to me that, by the giving of a little direct assistance, a profitable industry could be established, which would be beneficial to the community as a whole, I should not have much objection’ to the proposal to give such encouragement. But, apparently, the Minister intends to give bounties to persons who are already carrying on profitable industries. The honorable member for Darling alluded to the sugar bounty as an instance of the success, of this policy. If he calls that a success, I do not know what he would term a failure. Sugar growing was a successful industry before the bounty was proposed. Indeed, that bounty was given, not to encourage the growing of sugar, but to provide for its production by” white instead of black labour. As a matter of fact, it is an abso- lute gift to most of the growers in the electoral division represented bv the VicePresident of the Executive Council, because very few coloured labourers have ever been employed there.
– But the growers provide the bounty themselves by paying the Excise duties.
– The sugar duties increase the price of sugar to the consumers, and all that we do by imposing Excise duties is to take from the growers part of the profit which they gain thereby.
– The Excise amounts to more than the bounty.
– The Excise is less than the duty, which increases the price of sugar to the consumer to such an extent that the -grower receives more than he pays in Excise. The honorable member for Grey told us that the cost of producing a cwt. of olives is 6s., and that this quantity will make 2 gallons of oil, worth 1 6s. I do not know what is the cost of expressing and refining the oil, but 10s. seems likely to leave a margin for a con,siderable profit from the operation.
– There is more profit in the manufacture of the oil than in the growing of the berries.
– No doubt; but if the profit is already sufficient to induce persons to manufacture olive oil, I see no reason for granting a bounty to the industry. Similarly, there is no reason -for trying to encourage the coffee industry, it having already been shown that coffee can be grown successfully within the Commonwealth. We have been told, too, that cotton has been grown in Queensland with very good results, pamphlets having been sent to us explaining what is being done. Why should the taxpayers of the Commonwealth be burdened with extra taxation to provide bounties for these industries? The Bill is a verv crude one. We have not been - informed even as to the machinery to be employed for carrying out its provisions. If the bounty system is a good one, why should not we apply it all round ? There are many men who toil hurd, and unsuccessfully, to whom it is not proposed to give a bounty. After a years hard work, a farmer, may lose his crop by reason of a drought, or the prevalence of rust, or the coming of rain in harvest time. Why should not such a man receive a bounty, amounting to at least half the value of the crop so destroyed by natural forces? There would be some sense in proposing to support individual enterprise by nationalizing losses in that way. I see no reason, however, for the granting of bounties for the assistance of industries which are already profitable, or which can be made so without assistance.
– When giving my general support to the Bill on the motion for the second reading, I said that in Committee we should expect, and1 would be entitled to receive, from the Minister of Trade and Customs, some information as to how the proposed bounties would be distributed, but we are still in the dark in regard to the intentions of the Government. All we have been told is that the Minister will have control of the payments. We have not been told what machinery will be provided, or what scheme will be adopted. I have already ventured the opinion that it would be better to propose assistance to some specific industry which can be’ benefited by the giving of bounties than to offer bounties which may be ineffective, unsatisfactory, and resultless. Only the baldest statement of the intentions of the Government has been put before us. If the Government, simply because they have a large majority behind them, insiston forcing measures through, withoutaffording honorable members sufficient information, all we can do is to enter our strongest protest against such an improper conduct. It was fully expected that we should have been afforded some information as to the reason why the Government propose to distribute over a. variety of industries small bounties, which bounties are not .likely to have any beneficial results. As one who supported the second’ reading of the measure, I think that I am entitled to know how the Bill is to beadministered, and under what supervision) the bounties are to be distributed.
– One cannot help being struck with the reasonableness of all the speeches made by honorable members to-day. As has beenstated bv the honorable member for Kooyong, every information should be given. Some slight alteration will have to bemade in the clause, and I think that this would be a, convenient time to adjourn for lunch, in order that the necessary amendments may be prepared.
– I think that before we adjourn for luncheon we ought to have a. quorum.
A quorum not being present,
Mr. Speaker adjourned the House at 12.52 p.m..
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 August 1906, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1906/19060824_reps_2_33/>.