7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Acting PrimeMinister if he has any further information to give to the House respecting the establishment of new industries, a matter which is ventilated in to-day’s press?
– It would be scarcely possible, at this stage, to give further information regarding the intentions of the Government,as they are fairly well set out in to-day’s newspapers. If the honorable member will say exactly what it is he wants to know, I shall be glad to answer his question.
Information about Patients.
– I have received a letter in which the writer draws attention to the inconvenience and anxiety caused to parents by the neglect of the quarantine authorities to furnish information about the condition of their sons who are suffering from influenza. He says that he saw in the papers that his son had been stricken with the disease, but he complains that he has received no notification from the authorities of the fact. On seeing the statement in the papers, he sent a prepaid urgent telegram to the Medical Superintendent of the Quarantine Station, asking about his son’s condition, and, on the same day, forwarded a letter to the Medical Officer, asking if he would be good enough to send him news of his son’s condition daily, the father promising to pay for all wires. So far he has received no word from the Medical Officer or other authority as to his son’s condition. I ask the Minister in charge of the Quarantine Branch whether arrangements cannotbe made for informing parents of the condition of sons who have been stricken with this dread disease?’
– I understand that information regarding the condition of soldiers who are ill is supplied from the Base Records Office, but I have made inquiries, and I hope that arrangements will be better harmonized in the future than they have been in the past.
– A few days ago the Minister in charge of price-fixing promised to make known the sources from which the profits of the Price-fixing Board were obtained. When is that information likely to be supplied?
– The honorable member can have it at any time.
– - A lady whose husband has had nineteen operations as the result of wounds received at the Front called. the other day at the Repatriation Department, and was told by an officer there that he “ did not care if her husband had had 1,000 operations - the Department would do nothing for him.” She said that the next officer whom she saw treated her with respect. I think that those whose relatives have returned from the war crippled and wounded should be properly treated by the officers of this Department.
– The officers of the Department should treat with courtesy, respect, and attention every one who calls upon thern. The honorablemember’s complaint is a vague one.
– I have had several complaints.
– If the honorable member were to name the officercomplained of, the case could be dealt with. My answer to the question, however, will afford to the officers of the Department an indication of the opinion of the Government as to what should be their attitude towards applicants for assistance:
– I cannot give the officer’s name. The person who made the complaint does not know it.
– Could not the place be located?
– The occurrence took place at Jolimont.
– I shall make a representation on the subject to the Minister for Repatriation.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Defence if it is the intention of the Government to make an equitable distribution among the differont districts of the Commonwealth of the war trophies that are now comingto Australia, or are they to be collected in the capital cities? If it is intended to distribute them throughout the Commonwealth, will it he necessary for the different districts to make application for them, or will the Government see that each gets its share?
– I shall consult the Minister for Defence on the subject, and let the honorable member know his intention.
– I ask the Minister in charge of price-fixing if he has been able to obtain the papers in connexion with the increased price of butter which, have been so long promised?
– I shall lay them on th* table of the Library to-day.
– Has any decision been come to, as the result of the deliberations of the Central Wheat Board, respecting the first payment for wheat of _ the incoming crop, and will the Acting Prime Minister tell us the result of the negotiations for the ‘sale of wheat in London ?
– I suppose that the honorable member, when he speaks of payment, refers to the guarantee on the 1918-19 crop. This week the Board, after a meeting, made a suggestion to me in regard to the matter which involved negotiations with the financial authorities with whom the Government is associated in the payment of these guarantees. I am at present in touch on the question with the leading authorities in Melbourne and Sydney, and I hope, in the course of a few days, to ascertain the financial possibilities embodied in the suggestion. Regarding the sale of wheat, I think that later in the week” I shall be able to make a statement on the subject, giving the views of the Board.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister read in the press the statement that a number of ships are leaving the Old Country for Australia? Can he tell the House whether they are likely to bring troops on their outward voyage?
– I have no direct information on the subject, and during the last day or two have not been closely in touch with all the cabled information received in my office, but I understand from tho Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) that we are not yet officially advised on the subject. As soon as I can, I shall be glad to give the honorable member all the information at my disposal.
– I ask the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs whether he is aware that the Makura, which is just arriving in Sydney, has a consignment of American apples on board? Does the Minister know that the New Zealand Government refused to allow any of these apples to be landed in the Dominion % Is it a fact that the Commonwealth Government gave an undertaking that no American apples would be allowed to land in this country during the present year? Is the Minister aware that arrangements have been made by Australian growers to supply the Australian market? In view of these facts, is it the intention of the Government to allow these American apples to be landed in Australia?
– The circumstances are that the Makura was not able to land her cargo in New Zealand. Part of that cargo is a consignment of apples. I have been approached with a request to permit these American apples to be landed in Australia and put on the Australian market, to which request I have not consented.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister if he. can inform the House whether the policy of calling up Italian reservists for service overseas has been discontinued; and, further, will ha offer every facility for the return of tha Italian reservists who were conscripted and deported for service oversea?
– I think that the policy was discontinued on the conclusion of hostilities. I am aware that the Government, on the recommendation of the “Minister for Defence, has submitted proposals with regard to the return of the men who left ‘Australia under agreement with tho Allied nations. _ As to whether answers have been received to those proposals I am not aware.
Representation of Farmers
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he has yet heard from the State Governments with reference to the appointment to the Central Wheat Board of farmers’ representatives ?
– I have not seen any letters that have arrived in connexion with the matter. I believe that answers to our communications have not been received.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister if it is a fact that a passage has been booked for a Minister to leave for England about the end of December, or in January; and, if so, can he givethe name of the Minister, and i nf orm the House as to the object of his visit ?
– I saw the statement referred to in the press this morning. It was the first I have heard of it. I should say that it is totally untrue.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether he will take into favorable consideration the advisability of releasing the different Irish internees, upon their finding a bond, seeing that the festive season of Christmas is approaching, and their release would be an act of clemency ?
– I believe that I dealt with this matter in reply to a question on notice by another honorable member.
– I suggest that they should be released upon giving security.
– Nothing has since occurred to cause the Government to change the view expressed in the answer to the question to which I have referred. A number of matters will require to be dealt with as soon as the House rises, and I shall have the honorable member’s suggestion considered.
Mechanics - Christmas Holidays
askedthe PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The following information has been received from the Acting Public Service Commissioner: -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Will he state what holidays are to be granted to Postal employees during the coming Christmas season ?
– The matter is under consideration, and the decision will be made known in due course.
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - -
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
What action does the Government intend to take in reference to W.R. Swan, Acting Director of Naval Works, whom the Royal Commission’s Report on Navy and Defence Administration apparently showed to be lacking in ordinary business acumen and ability?
– The question raised by the honorable member, together with several others dealt with in the Commissioner’s report, will receive attention.
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– Inquiries will be made, and the honorable member will be informed as soon as possible.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of his replies to the questions of the honorable member for Swan in regard to the observance of the Arbitration Award for Federal Public Servants, why were Miss F. Wells and Mr. J. A. Barrie refused their leave on the completion of their service?
– The temporary employees named were not entitled to recreation leave under the terms of the award.
Cost of Maintenance
asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
What is the cost per day of the staff, for
– It will be necessary to obtain a report from Sydney. The honorable member will be advised of the resuit of the inquiries as early as possible.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether any representations haye been made by the Commonwealth Government in the proper quarter to secure sufficient control, when peace terms are being arranged, over the potash deposits and mines in Germany, to insure an adequate supply, for the future, of this necessary commodity for the producers of Australia?
– I do not know how it might be possible for us to secure control over deposits and mines in Germany, but every effort has been, and will continue to be, made by the Commonwealth Government to secure adequate supplies of potash for Australia.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained, and answers will be given to the honorable member’s question as soon as possible.
– On the 10th December the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) asked the following question: -
Are the British reservists, who were permanent residents in Australia at the outbreak of war, and were called to the colours, leaving here about October, 1914, to be given the opportunity to return to Australia which is being given to the original Anzacs?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
A cable in regard to furlough for the Imperial Reservists resident in Australia who were mobilized and left Australia in 1014, was despatched to the War Office, and a reply received to the effect that the Imperial authorities were entirely sympathetic in this matter, and would endeavour to arrange accordingly. No advice has yet been received as to what arrangements have been made by the War Office.
– On the 10th December the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) asked the following question: -
In the case of men who enlisted in country districts just prior to the . signing of the armistice, and were not sent into camp, has the Department decided not to recoup them for the time lost by thom after having enlisted and passed the medical officer?
I have received the following answer to the question : -
As the men referred to have performed no service it is not considered that they are entitled to any pay.
– On the 10th December the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) asked the following question : -
Is the Assistant Minister for Defence aware that some men on home service, who are supposed to receive their annual holiday and four, teen days’ pay on discharge, have been discharged without receiving the fortnight’s pay?
The following information has been furnished in answer to. the question: -
All men discharged from home service receive at least a fortnight’s leave on full pay. A fortnight’s leave, however, is not granted in addition to any holiday leave due, as this would place them in a better position than members of the Australian Imperial Force.
– On the 10th December the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) asked the following question : -
Will the Minister for Repatriation see that military patients discharged from military hospitals are given first class rail fares when sent to their homes, and not second class fares ?
I am now able to .furnish the honorable member with ;-the following information : -
Instructions have been issued to Commandants that in all cases where the physical condition or incapacity of the soldier warrants it, a superior class of accommodation to that ordinarily provided by regulation for soldiers when travelling by either rail or sea should be granted on discharge, and medical officers have been specially instructed to give sympathetic consideration to such cases. It is not, however, proposed to make a general practice of granting first class travelling to all soldiers, irrespective of their condition on discharge. Commandants are given discretion to authorize provision of sleeping berths for long journeys within a State where night travelling is involved, and where it “is possible to provide such accommodation.
– On the 4th December the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Nicholls) asked the following question : -
Is the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) aware that rumours are frequent to the effect that rifles produced at the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, arc not of the best quality? If so, will the honorable gentleman take the necessary steps to furnish the House with a statement as to the quality and quantity of the rifles produced?
The answer supplied to the question is as follows: - .
The quality of the rifles now being produced at the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, is stated by the Military Inspection Staff to be highly satisfactory. The quantity manufactured fully meets the departmental demands.
– With reference to the question asked me in the House recently by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), relative to the benefits provided by the Department of Repatriation for blinded soldiers, I am in receipt of the following- reply from the Comptroller, Department of Repatriation : -
A blinded soldier has only to register with this Department, and his pension will be augmented to bring his total income up to £2 2s. in the case of a single man, £2 12s. for married man and wife, and an additional 3s. 6d. per week for every child, with a maximum amount of £3 6s. per week for a married couple and four children. These allowances also apply when blinded men elect to undergo training, which this Department makes available. Irre spective of these provisions, however, it has recently been decided to provide blinded soldiers with homes and equipment, not exceeding £650, when necessary, to enable them to engage in an occupation for which they have been trained, and through which they may augment their incomes. This provision will become operative immediately upon gazettal. If, in addition to loss of sight, a soldier has sustained other injuries, which together amount to total incapacity, he is entitled to, if a single man, to total weekly income of £2 2s., or, if a married man with a wife, an. allowance of £3 per week, with an addition of 3s. 6d. per week for each chi.ld up to five, representing a- maximum weekly allowance of £3 17s. A totally and permanently disabled soldier, if he- prefers it, may be looked after in a hostel.
Report of Public Accounts Committee on Commonwealth Finance, (a) Credit Balances, and (b) Method of Departmental payments, presented by Mr. John Thomson, and ordered to be printed.
– On the 26th ultimo the’ honorable member for Batman asked the following questions: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following replies : -
In Committee (Consideration resumed : from 11th December, vide page. 9071):
Clause 1 agreed to.
Section 2 of the principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (1) thereof after tho words ‘ state of war “ the words “ and for a period of six months thereafter.”
.- The ‘ Government have followed the discussion very closely, and have given consideration to the representations of honorable members on both sides. As a result, a decision has been come to which is contained in the list of amendments circulated. I propose, on behalf of the Government, to submit an amendment, which I think will meet, as far as practicable, the views that have been expressed, and at the same time provide that precautionary power and security which are essential. The Bill as introduced provides for the extension of the Act for a period of six months after the proclamation is issued that the war has ceased, and the amendment I propose is that the Act shall continue until 31st July, 1919, or for a period of three months after the cessation of war, whichever period is the longer. Section 2 of the Act provides - (1.) This Act shall continue in operation during the continuance of the present state of war, and no longer.
When that proclamation has been issued it means the termination of the present state of war so far as this Act is concerned.
– It does not extend to the. ratification of treaties by interested parties.
– “Taking the- interpretation which has been put on corresponding Acts in the Old Country, as I stated in moving the second reading, the accepted view is that the exchange of ratifications marks the termination of the war.
– It is not necessary to wait for the exchange of -the ratifications.
– We cannot be legally advised that the war has ended until those documents have been completed.
– They may take twelve months.
– And it may take much less.
– If all these negotiations must ‘take place bef ore the war has technically terminated, what object have the Government in wishing to extend the War Precautions Act for three months beyond that period ?
– The question of the termination of the war is not only an important matter - it is a legal matter. As a matter of fact, the war has already ended. With the amendment I have indicated, the principal Act will then “read : -
This Act shall continue in operation during the continuance of the present state of war and for a period of three months thereafter, or until the 31st July, 1919, whichever period is the longer, and no longer.
I would like to add that the desire of the Government is, as far as possible, to secure the repeal .pf the regulations made under that Statute as early as possible. Already steps have been taken in regard to those regulations which have been administered by the several Departments. Some days ago a communication was forwarded to them asking them to supply me with information regarding the particular regulations which they have been administering. An inquiry is now about to be held into the necessity or otherwise for the continuance of any of these regulations, and as to the date upon which they mav be repealed without detriment to the safety of the Commonwealth. Many legal, questions will arise out of the war which are not confined to the War Precautions Act. A Committee has been appointed for the purpose of considering a number of legal questions in this connexion - questions which do not involve any party policy, but which do involve considerations of constitutional law. That Committee will hold its first meeting on Monday morning next. Every aspect of this mattter has been carefully considered, and I feel sure that honorable member? may, with confidence, accept my amendment.
During the approaching recess an inquiry will be conducted into the operation of the War Precautions regulations, and when that inquiry has been concluded, if it be found desirable to continue any of the powers thus conferred beyond the period prescribed by this Bill, it will be necessary for the Government to come down to this House with proposals of a definite character.
– The Government will have to get that power whether the war finishes or not.
– If, technically, the war does not finish until next June, that will not affect the attitude of the Government in regard to the revision of all these regulations.
– Then, why prolong the Act for three months afterwards?
– Because after peace has been signed, certain precautionary measures may have to be taken as a result of the Treaty of Peace itself. We are asking for this period of three months in order to enable us to safeguard the interests of our country.
– Will the Minister assure us that the measure will be again brought before this House for consideration during the first half of next year ?
– I do not think it is fair to ask us to do more than we have already intimated our willingness to do. I ask honorable members to accept our assurance that we intend to revise these regulations with a view to ascertaining which of them it will be necessary to continue-
– The Acting Prime Minister has stated that the Government intend coming down with separate measures early next year. Has that intention been abandoned ?
– No. Our intention is to examine these regulations immediately, and to consult the House at the earliest possible date, should it be found necessary, in the public interest, to continue any of the powers which are conferred by the principal Act.
– Shall we have power to extend the principal Act for three months after peace has been signed?
– I am satisfied that we possess that power. I ask honorable members to realize what would be the position if we did not. We should be up against a precipice. We should have a Constitution which would cut us dead short, and which would throw the country into confusion. The matter has been well considered by the Law Officers of the Commonwealth and also by independent counsel.
– Would the Minister mind mentioning the names of the counsel who have been consulted ?
– I have no objection. The counsel who have been consulted includeSir Edward Mitchell, Mr. Starke, and Professor Harrison Moore. I think honorable members will agree that we have taken the opinion of three men who are considered to be eminent in the practice of their profession. Not to possess the power would mean that we had a Constitution which, whilst it would enable us during the progress of a war to take control over the interests of the nation, would bring about, immediately peace was signed, a sudden rupture, which would lead to absolute confusion.
– But is that not really the position?
– No. It is not a reasonable view to take of the Constitution. I think the point of view could be sustained in a Court of law that the defence powers of the nation not only cover the period of war itself, but also that period prior to a war in which it is facing danger. Otherwise, as a nation, we would be impotent in face of that danger. A reasonable interpretation of the Constitution is that the defence power covers not only the period of war, but also the period of preparation before the declaration of war; and, of necessity, it must cover the period between the cessationof hostilities and the restoration of normal conditions. Otherwise we mightbe restricted in our power to give the necessary protection to, and make the necessary provision for, our Forces overseas, whom it will take monthsto bring back again.
– Are those men protected under the War Precautions Act?
– To some extent, they are, but that was not the question submitted by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley). As a matter of fact, however, many of the War Precautions regulations have been framed with a view to protecting and covering our soldiers. The question submitted to me was whether we had constitutional power to pass laws covering the period after the declaration of peace. The War Precautions Act was only one of other measures that we could have enacted under our defence power. However, dealing solely with the wider question as to whether we can pass legislation under that power during the period following the war, my reply to the honorable member is that we can do so. The advice given to the Government is that the extension of the War Precautions Act is the exercise of a lawful and constitutional power possessed by the Commonwealth Parliament.
– That is a very good argument for dealing with this legislation early next year.
-We have endeavoured to meet the views of the House reasonably. The assurance has already been given that we propose to take action on the lines indicated by the honorable member, and I ask him to accept that assurance in the spirit in which it has been given. As there is no need to discuss the matter further, I move -
That the word “ six “ be left out with a. view to insert the word “ three “ in lieu thereof.
.- The further this debate proceeds the more I am convinced that the Government have made a mistake by bringing forward this Bill. The Minister’s amendment proposes to go half way towards meeting the wishes of honorable members, who are opposed to the extension of the Act. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), in his very eloquent speech the other day, made out a good case for extending the Commonwealth control over certain things, particularly the moratorium and the control of shipping; but he absolutely failed to do so in regard to any other matter. For instance, it may be news to him to learn that there has been no price- fixing in regard to clothing or boots. He admitted that he could not pretend that every regulation or every administrative act had been faultless, and he pointed out that there were two classes of opponents to the Bill - those people who are represented by honorable members on this side of the House, and those who object to the Commonwealth control over business, and are represented by honorable members sitting in the Ministerial corner. He said a good deal about the necessity to retain control of shipping, and the honorable member for New England (Lt.-Colonel Abbott) has asked whether we do not desire to retain the control of shipping in order to get our primary products away; but, as a matter of fact, the War Precautions Act does not affect that question. The only control of shipping that can have any effect upon the removal of our products overseas is that which is exercised at the other end of the world, because our control over shipping is confined to Inter-State trade only.
– If Inter-State shipping is released, will not the vessels go to the Northern Hemisphere?
– No. While the Acting Prime Minister was speaking, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd), who is probably more conversant with shipping matters than is any other honorable member interjected, “ Have you not got an undertaking from the shipping companies that they will still agree to the Commonwealth control?” If they do not agree, we either have the power to pass this legislation, or we have not; and, if the companies go back on such an agreement, honorable members will be unanimous in the opinion that legislation should be passed to meet the circumstances. Honorable members opposite are greater friends of the Shipping Ring than we are over here. Our connexion with that body ‘has usually been to fight it.
– Order! The honorable member is going completely outside the matter under discussion.
– No, sir, I am dealing with the extension of this clause for a certain period, and the extension will deal with shipping and other commercial undertakings.
– I point out that the question immediately before the Chair is the omission of the word “ six,” with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word *’ three. ‘
– I know that is so. I am opposed to the insertion of the word “three,” and, indeed, to the whole clause. I shall vote against the amendment, and against the clause also. I am opposed to an extension for five minutes of the powers already, possessed by the Government. The Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Groom) quoted from the. original Act. He reminded honorable senators of the provision that “ this Act shall continue in operation during the continuance of the present state of war, and no longer.” Those are the words of the original Statute.
– Would the honorable member not agree to a limitation until the end of July?
– I am opposed to extension at ail. . If I were asked whether the limitation until the end of July would involve a shorter period than the term already specified, I would not be in a position to say; but I would certainly favour the shorter period, whichever it might be.
– The insertion of a given date would permit those interested in the matter to know exactly when the Act would cease.
– I do not think it would do so at all. The reference is to whichever 13 the longer term. If the reference to July involved a shorter period than the termination of the war, its insertion would be of no use.
– Except that Parliament would be in session again before then.
– I certainly hope so ; and am hopeful that even yet this obnoxious Statute will not be re-enacted. I agreed with the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) when he said there had been some awful mistakes in the administration of this Act.
– If the honorable member allowed the Act to be drafted as he desired, there would be chaos.
– That does not worry him.
– In a flippant way the Minister in charge of the Bill says that that does not worry me. It worries me, and it worries those whom I represent, just as much as it worries the Minister. It does worry me; and the reasonable course for the Government would be, instead of securing the passage of a measure by false pretences-
-Order! The honorable member must withdraw that expression.
– I will withdraw the phrase “ false pretences,” and substitute the word “ camouflage,” since that has not yet been ruled out of order. The Government are pretending that they desire this Act for the purposes specified. I say that the Act is desired for other purposes than those stated by the Acting Prime Minister and Mr. Groom. If the Government required such legislation, only in connexion with the moratorium, and to deal with Inter-State shipping, it would have been a simple matter to have introduced Bills to deal with those interests. Nothing else has been advanced by any Minister, or by any honorable member opposite, to show that this Act is required for other purposes.
We are told that three eminent legal gentlemen, Sir Edward Mitchell, Mr. Starke, and Professor Harrison Moore, have given opinions upon this subject. I well remember Sir Edward Mitchell writing to the papers ‘ very excellent letters, from his point of view, as to why the Commonwealth Parliament should not have the very powers taken by this Act. Professor Harrison Moore was engaged by the whole of the States, at a Premiers’ Conference, to advise the States how far the Commonwealth Parliament was taking their legislative powers away. Here are two or three gentlemen, who have always been opposed to the Commonwealth Parliament securing an extension of its powers. I do not know what may be the attitude of Mr. Starke, because, so far as I am aware, he has never been actively identified with party politics. I have met him personally, and I should say that, no doubt, his opinions would lean towards those heldby honorable members opposite.
This is the position which the Government must face. . Wie either have the power to pass separate Bills dealing with the moratorium, and with the matter of shipping, or we have not. We either held that power in time of peace, or we did not. I do not think any honorable member opposite possessing legal knowledge will say that we had the power to deal with those questions in peace time. And, if the state of war terminates before the date specified, I take it that our powers will absolutely cease. The Minister (Mr. Groom) referred to a legal decision when he introduced the Bill. The Government was sued by the Master Bakers, in the bread case, and that is the only decision given on the question of price fixing. When that case was taken into Court, the Bench, in almost the exact words of Sir Samuel Griffith, agreed that the Commonwealth Parliament only held the power to fix prices in so far as it might affect the defence of Australia. The state of war practically terminated with the signing of the armistice on 11th November. Our power has virtually gone.
We are told by the Government that they are considering the wiping out of regulations, and that there is no necessity for a great number of them to-day. As the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said at the Governor-General’s Conference last April, he would “ wipe the whole damned lot out.” What has been the result? What has been the experience of honorable members? We get a weekly budget of regulations. Yesterday our weekly budget contained one or two regulations dealing with Public Service matters, and one or two dealing with Defence matters. A couple of fresh regulations appeared under the War Precautions Act. Honorable members may ask, “ Did those two regulations repeal any others?” No. They enacted fresh provisions; and they were issued one month after the signing of the armistice.
– Are they objectionable ?
-There is a proper way to do these things, and it should be followed straightforwardly. I have already been ruled out of order by endeavouring to state the exact lines on which the Government is proposing to proceed. I have’ been permitted to say that it is pretending that this measure is for one purpose only, when it is really for some other.
Honorable members opposite probably know better than we on this side that there are many persons waiting to take action as soon as this legislation is out of the way. Contracts have been broken. Partieshad agreed to do certain things at a certain time. Take, for example, an instance of a man agreeing to ship goods from Italy to Australia for £3 a ton - which was not an unusual freight at the beginning of the war. But, because of the war, freights have risen to £60 a ton, owing to the goods having to be transhipped manytimes. We have been told that a legal Board, comprising Sir Edward Mitchell, Mr. Starke, and Professor Harrison Moore, has been appointed to do certain things. I should think it would be possible to pass an Act providing that, . instead of the persons threatened with legal actions having to go to a Court, they should be allowed to appeal to the Minister or to a Board, as they do under the Customs Act and under the War-time Profits Act. I think these legal gentlemen would be better employed in giving an opinion as to whether, in cases of hardship, possibly involving some persons in ruin on account of what has been done under the War Precautions Act, action at law is justifiable or not. It is quite possible that this Parliament will require to give some consideration to those cases, although I do not know whether a contract can be vitiated or set aside by an Act of Parliament. The Acting Prime Minister said that, in order to escape from the present governmental control the ship-owners would gladly surrender half of their vessels. I have serious doubt as to whether Huddart, Parker, and Company and the Adelaide Steam-ship Company would do that. I have been told that the large shipping firms have observed the fixed rates more strictly than have the small companies and private owners.
– Blue-book rates have been fixed.
– That is perfectly fair, and if similar action had been taken early in the war by the British Government, the, people throughout the world would have suffered, less than they have done through the enormous. increase in freights. I intend to vote against the extension of this Act for even five minutes, and I object to the way in which it has been administered. I recollect Sir George Reid saying, in the early days of this Parliament, that he did not care which party made the legislation, so long as he could administer it. Under this Act more is left to administration than under any Act ever placed on the statute-book. No Parliament would ever dream of giving power to a Minister for Customs to say what duties should be levied. from time to time, but under the War Precautions Act everything is left to be determined by a regulation made by a Minister. More than half of the Ministers have no idea what regulations have been passed until they have received copies of them in the ordinary way. Regulations are made probably by the Crown Law Department, or by the Department directly affected, and other Ministers know nothing of what is being done. We should return to responsible government, and Parliament itself should legislate, instead of allowing Ministers and the Government Printer to turn out the regulations as they like. These regulations are administered in a one-sided and partial manner, and in some instances for political purposes only. That is one of the main reasons why I do not desire the Act to be extended for a moment longer than can be avoided.
Mr.. BOYD (Henty) [12.51.- In ac- ‘cordance with the promise made last night, an amendment has been agreed to bv the Government to fix a definite date for the termination of the Act, and that date is the 31st July, or the end of the war, whichever period is the longer. But, contrary to my understanding of the agreement, the Government ask for an. extension of the Act for three months beyond the duration of the war if that period should be later than the 31st July. Having agreed to terminate the Act on the 31st July, they must be satisfied in. their own minds that within that’ period they can do all the things which they ask Parliament for power to do. They can, between now and the 31st July, prepare legislation in respect of all the powers which they wish to have further extended. If, for the sake of argument, the war terminates in February, and the ratification of treaties takes place in May, which will be the legal date of the conclusion of the war, the Government desire to have the Act extended for three months beyond that stage, which will carry it on until August. Why should not the Government make up their minds thai the Act shall definitely terminate on tha 31st July if in the meantime peace has been ratified? Suppose the Peace Conference meets in January, and the negotiations extend for several months, the ratification of treaties may not take place until the end of next year, in which event the Act will remain in force for so many months beyond the date on which the Government are agreeable to terminate it if peace is consummated in the meantime. They will have all that additional time in which to collate the information regarding the legislation the, will require to ask Parliament to pass. But if the Government say, “ We are prepared to clear up the whole business before the 31st July,” why do they ask for a longer period?
– An indefinite .period.
– Yes ; it is indefinite. The Minister (Mr. Groom) will admit that that is fair criticism, delivered in a fair spirit. The Minister has got into his mind, and all the debate has not shifted it, the’ idea that some catastrophic cataclysm will happen if this legislation should suddenly end now. I can assure the honorable gentleman .that the men most deeply interested in the views I am putting - that is, the commercial community of Melbourne - are most anxious that, as soon as these contracts that we have- entered into can be satisfactorily cleared up, they should be given a free hand to cany on their business as they carried it on before.
– Do they say how long those contracts are going to last? ‘
– No; but I believe that the wool contract will last till the July after next.
– Then the nien you mention are quite prepared to let it run up to that time?
– Yes, for that contract.
– Each man is prepared to let the Act go on so. long as his interests are not affected.
– No; the contracts have not been entered into as a means of getting over difficulties. These men would like the Act wiped out now, but they are prepared to see the contracts under the Act completed. The Act was instituted for the defence of the realm, and the public were willing to suffer any inconveniences arising from it. They do not want, nor do I want, to put the Government in a false position by saying that they must cancel the contracts they have entered into. I do not like the provisions of the Act at all. When I was speaking on the second reading, the Minister asked me, by interjection, if I would cancel the censorship now, and I said I would. 1 am still most strongly of that opinion, apart altogether from the- commercial aspect of the thing, on which, of course, I lay a great deal of stress, as my life and my representation in this House are made up very largely of commercial interests. These men are quite prepared to say, “ Let your running contracts go on, but enter into no further contracts. Allow everything else to be terminated, and let the business community get back to normal conditions.” I give the Government the undertaking that they will obtain normality very much quicker by that method than by Government control.
I believe as strongly in the liberation of the community from the censorship as I do in the liberation of commercial life from Government control. What are you going to lose? Certain honorable members sitting on this side seem to believe that some of the people the Opposition represent will say most dreadful .things in this country if the censorship is abolished. They said them before the war, and nobody took any notice of them. Before the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) came into this House I thought he was one of the wildest savage? that God ever put breath into. I find now that he is quite tame and harmless, and altogether a decent fellow. One must not judge a man by what he says. On the Yarra Bank one can hear men cursing the country up hill and down dale, and blackguarding the police. The police used to sit patiently by, and take “ Chummy “ Fleming safely home, and see that nobody interfered with -him, although he had spent the afternoon abusing them. The censorship was instituted for the purpose of protecting the British Empire against the operations of our enemies or their agents, and for that reason I was prepared to tolerate it during the time of war for the sake of the safety of the Empire. Now that there is no danger from that direction, I am totally opposed to its continuance for the sake of keeping in order a few hare-brained lunatics who get up in the Sydney Domain or on the Yarra Bank to say things that it might not be wise to say in time of war. Whether they are wise or not, freedom to utter those sentiments in ordinary times has never injured this Empire. Rather it has been the safety valve, enabling men to blow off their steam without doing any harm. In Hyde Park, London, and at other places, men preach anarchy and everything that it is possible to preach against the Government of the day. When they have blown off their steam on a Sunday afternoon, they go home and eat their tea and think they have done an excellent thing from their point of view; but nobody bothers any more about what they have said. The men who talk like that go back and do their weekly toil and prepare some more of the same kind of steam to blow off on the following Sunday.
– Members of the British House of Commons preached
Republicanism in the Albert Hall while the war was on without interference by the British authorities.
– Yes,but very few sensible people pay any attention to their wild utterances. This is shown quite clearly by the fact that those who preach anarchy never get together a following of any consequence. The policy I advocate is, therefore, quite safe to follow.
We have allowed freedom of speech in our Empire for generations with material profit to the Empire itself. On the other hand, what has happened in Russia, where freedom of speech was suppressed, and in Germany, although not to the same extent, and other continental countries governed by autocrats? Men were driven out of those countries and went to England, where they found an asylum in which they could say what they liked with absolute freedom under the protection of the very men they were abusing.
– Or they formed secret societies.
– Exactly. If you suppress freedom of speech you simply stimulate the formation of secret societies, and do no good. Under this Act there is developing here to-day an agitation over a red flag. Men think they are being made martyrs of because they are prohibited from flying it.
– You are making martyrs of them.
– They are making martyrs of themselves, but, unfortunately, they have some cause, because they believe the Government are suppressing them and using the weight of authority to crush them down. This is stirring in their minds the feeling expressed by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page) last night. He said, “ The same British blood flows in my veins as flows in yours, and we arenot going to tolerate this kind of thing.” What does this develop, except a feeling of hostility and revolution ? And for what purpose? For absolutely no benefit at all. One of the Melbourne newspapers that has been writing leading articles about the red flag flies the red flag itself over its own premises with the words: “Herald and Weekly Times” printed across it. Is it not absurd? An honorable member, responsible to his constituents, rose in his place here last night and said he would advise every one of the Labour men in the community to carry a red handkerchief and flourish it in defiance of the Government. Men will do that kind of thing on the advice of responsible men. When those things are done and legislation exists to prohibit them, the Government must either put that legislation into effect and stop those practices, or allow the people liberty and take no notice of them. There is so little to be gained by the continuation of this system in time of peace that it seems to me to be absolutely childish to persist in it. Although the actual peace terms have not yet been signed, I see no reason for continuing the censorship for another day. The only qualification that I would put upon that statement, is that utterances likely to injure the Empire in its negotiations at the Peace table ought to be censored. Until the peace terms have been completed I would censor such statements.
– But should there be no discussion of the views as to peace terms put forward by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). Is he to be virtually a dictator?
– They should be open to the freest criticism. Unless this is permitted the right honorable gentleman will represent not Australia, but merely himself. Surely we ought to allow the freest discussion of the proposed peace terms, since they will be of momentous import to future generations in this country. We want to know, not what any one man or a dozen men may think of them, but what the nation thinks of them, and this Parliament represents thenation.
I recognise that the Government have not had time since last night to give proper consideration to these amendments. I wish to be perfectly fair to the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), and I do not think he has had a sufficient opportunity to grasp the full import of these matters. If he would accept an amendment providing for 31st July as the terminating point - provided that is the longer term - the difficulty, I think, would be overcome. Thus, if the peace terms were signed in February, the three months for which the Minister now asks to enable a final winding-up to be made, would expire in May, so that he would have two months longer than he actually required if 31st July were fixed as the terminating point. If he says that only three months are required for the final winding up, surely it is reasonable for us to urge that if the 31st July be the longer period, he does not require the extra three months. I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter from this point of view; if he does, I think that he will recognise the reasonableness of my suggestion.
.- There is very little difference between the Bill as introduced and as proposed now to be amended. The amendment simply means that instead of the Government being allowed, after peace terms are signed, six months in which to wind up their control of these activities, they are to, have only three months. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) contended that the position would be improved if 31st July next were fixed upon as the terminating period. It might make some slight improvement, but the amendment does not at all improve the position.We all believe that the peace terms will not be signed for a considerable timeto come.
– The actual Peace Conference does not meet until March or April next.
– That is so, and it cannot be expected to conclude its labours for some considerable time. That being so, the selection of 31st July, 1919, as the terminating period, would count for very little, and we might as well dismiss that proposal from our minds.
I do not know why the Minister has proposed this amendment, unless it is with a desire to conceal the real intentions of the Government. ‘The Government have done.wrong in bringing forward this measure at the present time. It has led to the wasting of much valuable time, when we have a great deal of work to deal with within a very short period. The discussion that has taken place, and the attitude of the Government generally, show that there is no urgency for dealing with this Bill. The Parliament, I take it, will meet early next year, and the actual Peace Conference, as has been said, will not meet until March next. In these circumstances, even those who are supporting the Bill must be at a loss to understand why the Government should have called upon us to deal with it at once. They would have done well had they refrained from bringing it forward until they had gone through the whole of the regulations, and had repealed every one that is unnecessary now that hostilities have ceased. Had they done that very few regulations would have remained in operation.
We consented to the giving of this power to the Government, in order to protect the Empire during the currency of the war. With the cessation of hostilities, the necessity for this measure, except in relation to a few matters, disappeared. As soon as hostilities ceased the Government should have proceeded to eliminate every regulation designed to secure the safety of the nation while the war was actually being waged. Instead of doing that they come forward with a proposal to continue the government of the country under the War Precautions Act. This Act has been responsible for the sowing of the seeds of dissension in this country during the last two or three years. Once the. people get into their heads the idea that the country is being governed, not by their direct representatives, but by heads of Departments, whose recommendations are approved by the Government, there must be trouble. We have the freest Constitution in the world, and with adult suffrage there should not be room for much dissension. But dissension will arise if the right of the people to govern themselves is denied them in this way. As the honorable member for Henty has pointed out, the rights of large sections of the community in regard to both business matters and freedom of speech have been taken away. Statements are made from time to time which do not meet with the approval of the majority, but it does not follow that persons who hold views at variance with those of the majority have no right to give utterance to them. If the expression of such views were detrimental to the interests of the Empire the position would be different.
Hostilities have ceased, yet the right to hold public meetings to discuss certain questions is prohibited under the War Precautions Regulations. Such a system must bring about dissatisfaction. Nothing will assist the extremists in any community so much as the suppression of the rights of the people, as has been done under the War Precautions Act. Go where you like, and you will find that the people are denouncing the present form of government. If you point out how the censorship is preventing information from being given to the people in regard to different matters - information which is allowed to be published in other parts of the Empire - you at once get the approval of the whole of the people in objecting to the exercise of this censorship, because they conclude that they have no rights at all to-day. It is a farce to talk about responsible government with this state of affairs existing. If ever there was justification for the exercise of powers invested in the Government under the War Precautions Act, that justification does not exist to-day. When hostilities ceased with the signing of the armistice, we should have reverted to that condition of affairs which existed prior to the war. Had the Government done so, there would have been a much better feeling in the community to-day. Everybody knows the amount of bad feeling that was engendered during the war amongst many people who did not approve of what was being done, but consented because we were at war. These people to-day are dissatisfied with these repressive regulations. Had the Government come to this House, and stated that there was no longer any necessity for the continuance of certain powers, regulations concerning them could have been repealed. They should be wiped out at once. In regard to various other vital matters, concerning contracts which have been entered into, and which will have a certain currency after peace is declared, the. Government could have said that it would be necessary to continue their control for a time. They could have , put the position before the House, and honorable members would then have had the right to debate the question in the light of information supplied, and come to a decision as to whether or not the Government should continue to exercise these powers. If this course had been taken by the Government, there would have been no objection, because it would have meant a restoration of responsible government, as honorable members, in their capacity of representatives of the people, would have dealt with the matters, and declared, once and for all, whether this system of bureaucracy, established during the war, was to continue. Honorable memberswould then have been responsible to their constituents. But at present they have no opportunity of voicing their opinions at all.
The House will probably go into recess next week for two or three months,- and under this Bill the Government will have the right to make any regulation they choose, dealing perhaps with most vital matters.
– They will not do that.
– But they may do so.
– The honorable member is assuming something that does not exist.
– I am not. The Government have the power to make such regulations.
– But they are not going to use it in that way.
– How do we know that this power will not be so used ?
– Because the Government have assured us that it will not be.
– Hostilities having ceased, these powers should no longer be exercised, because the Government are exercising authority on the advice of bodies not composed of public officers, but of men drawn from outside businesses, men who have been appointed to control commodities and matters in which they are vitally interested. I say this is too serious a state of affairs to be allowed to continue. If we, as a deliberative Assembly, permit it, we shall not be doing our duty to our constituents, who will lose confidence in the authority of this Parliament. To-day every section of the people is complaining about the present condition of affairs. Meetings, not of workers only, but of the business side of the community, are being held in all parts of Australia to object to the operation of this Act, because of the great injustices that are being committed under it.
I venture to say that if the Act were repealed to-morrow the cost of living would be less than it has been during the last two years. I have a strong conviction that it will be in the interests of the people themselves, and of those concerned in these Boards, to repeal the Act, because the retailer is suffering just as much as the consumer owing to the action of these Boards I do not know why the amendment has been introduced., because it will mean that the Act will be operative for three months after the signing of the articles of peace. Honorable members who were opposed to the Bill as introduced must be opposed to this amendment, because it does not improve the position in any way. Are we going to consent to the censorship being continued in regard to matters concerning our own domestic affairs? No action has been taken to prevent this. Men are being dragged before the Police Courts from time to time because of certain utterances they have made, and which, prior to the war, they were permitted to make without interference. Surely now that the war is over we can relax administration in regard to these provisions, so that men may enjoy the same freedom as formerly. If not, we shall drift into the same condition as Russia. Hithertowe have always been as a beacon light to other countries in regard to our legislation and parliamentary government. We surrendered those rights during the war because that course was deemed to be in the interest of the nation, but that reason no longer exists, and if this country is to continue its progress, these restrictive measures should be removed. Otherwise we shall be courting disaster. The feeling of dissatisfaction is chronic in other parts of the world, and it may receive vigorous support here if we take away the liberties of the people.
We should endeavour to get the position ofthis country in its true perspective. I think the Government would be well advised to let this matter stand over until Parliament resumes after the New Year. In the meantime, let them strike out any regulations that are no longer necessary. Let us devote two, three, or four weeks, if necessary, to discussing matters of vital importance. If we do that we shall probably then be able to arrive at a decision in regard to the Departments respecting which special powers should be granted. I do not think that much exception will be taken to that, and the public would fall into line with what their representatives agreed to. To-day we are being asked - and the Ministerialists are not unanimous in regard to the action that is being proposed - to deal with the matter forthwith. It would be better to allow it to stand over until we meet again, when we could consider it in the light of further knowledge. Our first object must be to set our own house in order. The administration of internal affairs should not be governed by War Precautions regulations, and it is surprising that the regulations governing internal administration were not withdrawn as soon as the armistice was signed. The Government may rest assured that the wisdom of Parliament will always assert itself, and that a Minister who can make out a good case for his proposals will get parliamentary support. If we remove everything that tends to fetter the liberties of the people we shall get rid of discontent, and shall create a feeling of harmony which will assist the development of the country and increase the avenues of employment for our boys who are returning. Even at this late hour, I ask the Government to reconsider the matter. They can call Parliament together again, if necessary, in January or February, but if there were no urgency the matter could stand over until March or April. To deal with it now would be to take a step in the wrong direction, and such action would not meet with the approval of the great body of the people.
.- I regret that the Government have not seen fit to accept the amendment which I suggested fixing the termination of the Act on the date of the ending of the war, or at the end of the present financial year.
– I understood that the Attorney-General had accepted that proposal.
- No. What the Government now ask is that the Act shall be continued until the 31st July, or until three months after the declaration of peace, whichever may be the later date. We realize that the Government have entered into many obligations which cannot be terminated at once because of the im- ‘ expected end of the war, and that it is, therefore, necessary to give them time to set their house in order. With the promise that no further regulations would be issued under the War Precautions Act, and no new powers invoked, every one would be satisfied, supposing it were determined that the Act should cease to have effect on the 30th June or the 31st July next. If there were a renewal of hostilities - and of that there seems no likelihood - Parliament would agree to re-enact the measure at once. I have come to the conclusion that we shall have to accept the amendment, because it meets us, to a certain extent. At the same time, I do not like it. In war time I am prepared to give the Government the fullest powers and to allow them to act autocratically. They are bound to make blunders, and blunders have been made, and the community is suffering to a great extent from the maladministration that has occurred. Therefore, we should get back to normal conditions as soon as we can. But if the Government can show the need for being endowed with drastic powers, Parliament will be ready to give them. Under present circumstances, however, I am not inclined, knowing the autocratic methods of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to continue these powers any longer than can be helped. It is all very well for the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to make a promise to the House. We know that this Government made a very definite promise to the country at the time of the last referendum, and while keeping it to the letter, broke it in the spirit. I would not accept the promise now given to us were I not sure that public opinion will prevent the Government from using the War Precautions regulations any longer than can be avoided. My opinion is that Ministers wish to get into recess as soon as they can, and that Parliament will have little opportunity of voicing its views until the end of April or May next. Before that time many things will occur about which we shall not be consulted. I saw Ministers several times about my proposal, and they would not consider it in any way ; but now that pressure has been brought to bear from different parts of tha House, they are making some concessions. As concerns the metal industries, I am not at all satisfied. Although what has been done may have been with a view to building up special organizations, in my opinion we are building up greater monopolies than ever before in this country, even greater than the German monopoly. I feel some diffidence in trusting the Government when we find them turning down the demand for an inquiry into the conduct of an officer of the AttorneyGeneral’s Department, who has been dictating to business people how they shall deal with their goods. I refer to the question of the exportation of tin. scrap; and to my mind the Government cannot afford to ignore that case. We have found a public official meeting a number of business men, and telling them that, under the regulations, they shall not export this commodity - to the value of about £10,000 - but that they can pitch it into a tip to rust, or hand it over to a company under terms that are absolutely preposterous. These business people are told that they must pay so much .per cent, interest on all capital invested in the venture, and all the costs of the treatment, and that, if there is any profit, they may have “75 per cent., while the company takes the other 25 per cent. Yet the Government, to all intents and purposes, say they are quite satisfied, though such a thins: would not be permitted for an hour if it were not a time of war.
– The war is over, and yet it is permitted. Honorable members opposite continue to permit it.
– The honorable member knows what view I take. I am going to accept the amendment, for the reason that I believe the pressure of public opinion outside will force the Government to allow these regulations, or most of them, to become a dead letter in the very near future. It is agreed that if there is an early declaration of peace, the Act in its entirety will expire on 31st July; but I should have much preferred to have a definite date fixed. I cannot see any necessity for the Act unless there is a renewal of hostilities, though, of course, the Government must have time to set its house in. order in regard to contracts, and so forth. I suggested the 30th June, but told the Minister that I was agreeable to the 31st July, or even the end of August, so long as a definite date was fixed. It would be much better if we had an assurance from the Government; but, failing that assurance, I accept the amendment.
.- I oppose the amendment, by which, it appears to me, the Gov era ment propose to give us only the difference between six months and three months. The date proposed is 31st July, 1919, or three months after the end of the war, whichever is the longer ; but, in my opinion, the word “ longer “ should be replaced by the word “ shorter,” and, in Committee, I intend to move an amendment in that direction. The Government, by .this proposal, give away their own case. They appear to be of opinion that if the war is technically brought to an end within three months, there will be ample time for them to do “ the cleaning up “ the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) spoke of. Of course, we know that the war cannot ultimately finish in a month or two, because there is official news that the Peace Conference will not begin before about March. The extended period which was occupied in fixing up the peace details after the Franco-German war has already been alluded to; and the present peace settlement involves far greater issues, and a greater number of nations. There is no hope, in view of the adjustments that have to be made, of an official peace by July, 1919.
The Government have not added one word to what they have previously advanced in justification of a prolongation of the powers under the War Precautions Act, but they have shifted their position, and are pretending to give something which we really are not getting. No justification for the Bill has been shown, other than that advanced by the Acting Prime Minister in regard to the moratorium and the financial stability of the country.
– Commerce and production.
– Yes, the commercial and financial state of the country; but no advocate of the Bill has dealt with the Constitutional position. If the Government have power under the Constitution to prolong the operation of this Act after the war is finished, it naturally follows that they can exercise the same powers by legislative enactment. The Government, however, do .not propose to do that.
– Yes, we do.
– What the Govern-, ment propose, quite apart from the moratorium and the commercial and financial phase, is to retain the whole Act and regulations, instead of proceeding by means of legislation. The Government propose to retain the censorship, and allow one section of the community, and one section of the press, to say what they like about their opponents, but to exercise the censorship immediately those political opponents retort..
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.80 p.m.
– This Bill will allow a perpetuation of that lack of system which has characterized the censorship by which one political party is allowed to vilify its opponents in the columns of the press, while members of the Labour party find themselves up against the censorship regulations whenever they attempt to defend themselves, either on the public platform or in. the columns of the press. This is a sample of the stuff that is permitted to be written against myself and other members of the party to which I belong -
The Bolsheviks have treacherously withdrawn Russia from allegiance to -the Allies, who include the Australian soldiers. They have authorized and committed murders and robberies in- numerable, and have reduced Russia to a condition of official brigandage, anarchy, and famine. And yet Mr. Considine proclaims himself as the Australian representative of these traitors to the Allies’ cause, traitors to Russia, and traitors to the Australian soldiers, while, at the same time, he is serving as a parliamentary representative in the Commonwealth Legislature. In order to take his seat, Mr. Considine swore that he would be a loyal subject of the British Empire, thereby solemnly repudiating and adjuring his Sinn Fein pledge.
Here was a straight-out accusation that I had taken a Sinn Fein pledge, whereas there was absolutely no truth in the allegation. Our opponents are permitted to say what they like about the Russian revolution, but if ever I attempt to deal with the political and economical system as I see it in Russia, I run up against the provisions of the War Precautions Act. The whole of the machinery of. repression and suppression authorized by that Act is used to prevent any member of the party to which I- belong proving the falsity and mendacity of our opponents’ utterances. The newspapers know that they are safe. They know that the costliness of taking proceedings against newspapers for libel is their safeguard. A man who is dependent upon his parliamentary salary runs the risk of bankruptcy if he sues a newspaper for libel. The Ministry, probably because it is good political business for their side, pay no regard to these deliberate misrepresentations in which one party is allowed to indulge, while members of our party are prevented from ventilating their views, not only by the censorship which is exercised by the press, but also by the War Precautions regulations, which permit the Minister for Defence to prohibit the holding of any public meeting which he may deem to be against the interests of public safety ‘ or against the interests of the Commonwealth .and its relations towards those Allied nations which will be represented at the Peace Conference. Thus our political opponents prevent us from taking steps to enable the people to gather the truth in regard to international matters. In London, the Imperial head-quarters, there is- far greater freedom than is allowed in Australia by this latest example of Democracy in the shape of the Commonwealth .Government. At a meeting held in the Albert Hall in April of last year, just about when the war was at its darkest period from the Allies’ point of view, Dr. Lynch, M.P., is reported in the Herald of the 7th April, 1917, to have made use of such language as this -
I rise at this late hour to sound two notes - one amnesty for political prisoners, and the other the establishment of the Republic. And, in using the word republic, I noticed that at times speakers were inclined to shy at the name for this country; but there is no good thing from which I would like to deprive the people of this country also; and already you have named it in the magnificent charter I have the pleasure to uphold, “ general amnesty and political freedom “ - for how is political freedom possible if a Republic be not the regime? Long ago I divided all human beings into two classes, Republicans and lackeys 1
I hope this meeting will not dissolve away before we see a concrete result in the establishment of a great Republican party.
This is only a mild example of speeches which have been delivered by members of the House of Commons addressing public meetings during the course of the war. But the Imperial Government have not been panic stricken, nor stampeded into passing panic legislation, or initiating regulations such as have been issued by , the Commonwealth Ministry. The Imperial Government allow the Sinn Fein party to run political candidates for the House of Commons; and there is no prohibition in Great Britain of the Sinn Fein party - in. fact, it is recognised as a political party - but here, the Commonwealth Government must use the powers of the War Precautions Act in order to prevent the Sinn Fein colours - the colours of a political party in Great Britain - from being publicly displayed. One would imagine that, if the position of the Empire were menaced by the Sinn Fein party where it. exerts its influence in its most dangerous form, where its followers refuse to take their seats in the House of Commons, regulations similar to those which have been gazetted in Australia would have been issued there ; but it has not been done.
The same remarks are true in regard to the regulations which prevent the flying of the red flag. In this connexion, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) is a very pleasing exception to honorable members opposite. He believes that to a great extent the British Empire has been built up by following a course totally different fromthat attempted to be followed by the Commonwealth Administration.
– He is a good man.
– Yes; and his recent utterances show that if he had been thrown into the same walks of life as myself, he would have been one of the strongest exponents of the principle I enunciate in this Chamber. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr, Watt) informed a deputation which I accompanied that for years and years the red flag had been flown publicly in Australia on the Yarra bank and elsewhere, and that no one had raised objection. The Acting Prime Minister was right. It was only when the industrialists in Australia fell into line with the international working class movement of the world by adopting the red flag as their colour that the Commonwealth Government brought forward their prohibition. During the whole period of the war the red flag has been allowed to be flown, and no objection was raised until Ministers discovered that it had been adopted by their political opponents as their party colour, and then the flying of the red flag was prohibited. To any unbiased person, the action of the Government is conclusive evidence that the regulation prohibiting the flying of the red flag has been brought forward for political or vote-catching purposes, much in the same way that Sir George Raid’s socialistic tiger was brought forward for the purpose of scaring certain classes of voters into the fear that the country might be “ Bolshevized.” Government supporters have not adduced any reasonto justify the continued prohibition of the right of free public assembly, discussion, and publication. Of what are they afraid? They tell us that secret diplomacy is to be abolished in the reconstitution of international society, but we are not allowed te discuss the proposals put forward by the various countries which will participate in the Peace Conference. The working classes may not put forward their views and freely discuss the principles upon which the peace settlement should, in their opinion, be founded. They are not allowed, on the platform or in the press, to contrast the economic and political conditions of other countries with those of Australia, and the miserable pretext is offered that such discussion might prejudice the interests of the Commonwealth and the Empire. The action of the Government in establishing the “ scab “ organizations, and in using their powers for the purpose of providing nonunion labour for employers has shown that the real object for which they desire the continuance of the Act is to endeavour to stem the industrial and political development of the working-class movement. Some time ago the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) boldly told us that if he had had his way he would have- established a dictatorship. The supporters of the honorable gentleman say that the War Precautions Act does establish a dictatorship, that a little oligarchy is ruling the country by means of regulations, that representative government has been suspended, and that members of Parliament have no voice in administration or legislation.
– We could not do more than vote against the Bill.
– If any honorable member on this side had made the allegation which was voiced by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), that the Administration had utilized the War Precautions Act to facilitate the establishment of trusts in Australia, there would have been roars of dissent from Government supporters. A charge like that ought to damn any Administration. Under the plea of war-time necessity, the Government are accused of misusing the Act for the purpose of assisting large capitalistic concerns and benefiting certain combines. No member on this side could make a stronger indictment of the Government.
– The honorable member for Dampier voted against the Bill.
– But, after- making those definite allegations against the Government, he said he was prepared to accept the amendment moved by the AttorneyGeneral, which only proposes to reduce the period of the continuance of the Act from six months to three months after the signing of the peace.
– That is not quite fair.
– If the war is not concluded before the 31st July the Act will continue.
– But if it is concluded before the 31st July the Act will cease on that date.
– That amendment is so much bunkum. The Acting Prime Minister devoted most of his remarks to arguments that a continuance of the powers under this Act was necessary on account of finance and trade and commerce. The regulations relating to other matters he airily waived aside. Now a follower of the Government accuses them of having manipulated the Act for the purpose of’ assisting trusts and combines. What becomes of the statement about the necessity for protecting the Empire and preventing discussions that might militate against the establishment of a permanent peace? The Government desire the continuance of the Act so that they may facilitate the Americanizing of Australia industrially, and hold the working classes in subjection. The workers must not be allowed to discuss matters affecting their political and industrial organization, or to compare their conditions with those in other countries.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. SPENCE (Darwin) [2.55”.Whilst there is a considerable difference of opinion amongst members upon certain aspects of the Act, there is unanimity as to the need for legislation which will continue some of the powers which the Government have been operating for the last three or four years. Members differ as to what powers the Government should retain, but they are all agreed that the powers at present possessed should not be wiped out entirely and immediately. Even the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) agreed that thecontinuance of the censorship to some extent was necessary. Some suggestions, have been made for removing the control of shipping. I represent a constituency the small farmers in which would havebean ruined during the last year or so if it had not been for the powers operated’ by the Government in the control of shipping. The principal crops of the farmers in the Darwin electorate arepotatoes . and blue peas, but, unfortunately, Irish blight has seriously affected the potato yield. The principal- trade is with the mainland, and there isalso a little export trade- in blue peas. Owing to the priority list which the: British Government very properly established because of the’ limited space for freights, the blue peas could not be exported, and the farmers were faced with_ d very serious situation. Happily, the Government intervened to have blue peasused for “ topping up “ cargoes, and thus enabled the producers to dispose of their surplus crop. If the Government had not had power to take action in the matter, those farmers would have been practically ruined. Even as it is, they have had a very hard time, because the young men in the district have volunteered in such numbers, that in many places only the old people are left to work the farms. I know, on account of having had to interview the Shipping Controller, that, but for the Government influence in this matter, the farmers in Tasmania would not have been able to send a lot of their produce across to the mainland. There was a big demand for Tasmanian timber in Melbourne and Adelaide, but shipping space for it could not be found until the Government intervened, and made arrangements by which they were able to clear practically all tho logs that were piled up on the wharfs. I fear that if the shipping companies are allowed to resume unfettered control immediately, Tasmania will be left in a very bad position, because of the scarcity, of vessels. The companies will naturally take the cargoes that pay them best, but a Board administering the industry in behalf of the Government must consider all interests and the. general welfare of the community. Therefore, I protest against the surrender of Government control until an improvement in the shipping position warrants us in again giving private enterprise a free hand. I know that on account of Government organization, King Island has a better service now ‘than it ever had. In some districts there was a certain amount of produce for export, the market for which was Sydney. By an arrangement suggested by the Go- vernment Controller of Shipping, the producers accumulated sufficient stocks to make a full cargo for a small vessel. As a result of that organization, those commodities have been disposed of. At the beginning of the war compulsion had to be used to force ships to carry away our wheat at the comparatively low freights ruling for such cargo, when their owners would have preferred to take away loading in respect of which higher freights were obtainable. The shipping industry has been in this way regulated and organized, and I fail to understand why those who have always professed to believe in the government control of industry should be prepared now to vote against this measure. Some honorable members declare their special opposition to this Bill. I would remind them that, even if it were rejected, the original Act would remain in operation. In submitting this Bill, the Government have given us certain definite pledges, and it is’ only reasonable to assume that they will not continue for a moment longer than is necessary any regulation to which exception is taken. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) has given us a. definite pledge to that effect, and. this amendment, if carried, will embody in the Bill the date upon which it shall definitely cease to operate. The Committee is unanimously of opinion that the moratorium regulation is necessary, and while fdo not find fault with those who say that we should return as soon as possible to normal conditions. I prefer the lesser of two evils. I prefer to support this Bill as proposed to be amended rather than have the original Act’ in operation without any definite guarantee as to when it shall terminate. We have the promise of the Government that, later on, they will introduce specific Bills providing for the control of certain activities now being covered by regulation. After all, regulations are framed under practically every Act.
– But not to deprive people of their liberty.
– Yes, regulations dealing even with the liberty of the subject; because, after all, human liberty has its limitations. The Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) has said that the Government are already taking steps to repeal all regulations which it is unnecessary to continue,’ and we are promised that, as soon as we resume next year, the Ministry will legislate to deal with matters now controlled by regulation under the Act.
.- When the original Bill was passed, we had had no experience of war, and the excuse since offered by the majority of those who did not strenuously oppose that measure was that they did not understand the extraordinary powers that would be conferred upon the Government under it. We did not anticipate the unscrupulous manner in which it has been administered. In view of our experience, however, there can be no such excuse for supporting this proposal to extend its operation for, in all probability, some years. Those who vote for this Bill will do so with their eyes open. They know of the extraordinary powers which the Act confers upon the Government. They know how it has been administered, and that it can be adapted to ‘ serve political purposes as well as to satisfy personal animosities. We know, too, that the Act has created dissension and bad feeling from, one end of the country to the other. We know that the Minister in charge of the principal Act will administer this measure, and yet, despite our experiences, we are asked to pass this Bill, and so to grant a very considerable extension of the operation of the original Act.
– I would not stand it even it it were honestly administered.
– Nor. would I. Experience has shown us that the powers which the Act confers upon the Government of the day are altogether too wide. We have no guarantee that the Act will be any more fairly administered than before. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) lias given us a certain pledge, but that pledge does not bind his leader (Mr. Hughes). He has no hope of controlling him. In any event, what is the value of the Acting Prime Minister’s pledge? Did he not state from numerous platforms that if conscription were not agreed to by the people, he and his colleagues would leave the Treasury bench, and that someone else would have to carry -on the government of Australia? What is the position to-day? Every member of the Government who gave that pledge is still controlling the affairs of the country. Just as the German “ scrap of paper “ in regard to Belgium has shown that Germany cannot be trusted to observe its pledges, so the failure of this Government to observe its pledge not to remain in office if conscription were defeated, has shown that we are absolutely justified in refusing to accept any promise made by it. While that stain rests upon the Government, we can have no regard for its pledges. In any personal matter, I would accept the Acting Prime Minister’s personal assurance as between man and man, but in view of our experience of him, and of those associated with him as politicians, I absolutely refuse to accept his word, or that ‘of others sitting with him, when offered in the way of a political pledge, lt remains for them to remove the stain which rests upon their political reputation in this regard before the country can be reasonably expected to accept their political promises.
The Act is to continue until the end of a state of war. It is impossible for us to say what length of time is thus involved. Those of us who have thought seriously of the terrible situation in Europe know that some considerable time must elapse before the peace terms are signed. The Acting Prime Minister himself, during this debate, said -
No man alive oan say how long it will take, to effect the stabilization of Germany so as to enable her to be effectively represented, either as a united Empire, or f.s separate Republican States, at the Peace Conference, because that is the dating time for the real beginning of peace deliberations.
The dating time for the beginning of peace deliberations, according to the Acting
Prime Minister, is when the stabilization of the German and Austrian Empires has been secured - when their separate Republics have been set up, and they have ordered Governments. If the peace deliberations are to start only then, who can say how long we shall be subjected to the tyranny of the War Precautions Act?
The Government proposed originally that the operation of this measure should be extended in its totality; that the tyranny, despotism, and autocracy, under which we have suffered for the last three or four years, should continue. What have the protests of a few honorable members opposite gained from the Government in the way of the amendment of the Bill as introduced? It was proposed at first that the amending Bill should continue the war precautions powers for six months after the cessation of war - in other words, for six months after the ratification of the final peace terms. The amendment now before us provides for the continuance of these powers for three months instead of six months after the signing of the peace agreement. All the other words used in the amendment are mere camouflage. They may serve to hoodwink the supporters of some honorable members opposite who are complaining of the administration of the War Precautions Act, but they are all makebelieve and mere pretence.
It has been contended by the Acting Attorney-General that there is power under the Constitution to continue these despotic activities after the final signing of the peace terms. The Government told us originally that these powers were to be continued for six months after the signing of the peace terms. They now tell us that they desire to continue them for three months after that event. We now have it from the Acting AttorneyGeneral that these extraordinary war powers, which supersede* or include the powers of every authority in the Commonwealth, are exercisable not only while the country is in a state of war, but while we are preparing for some anticipated state of war. “ If that were not so,” declared the honorable gentleman, “ the Constitution would be ridiculous.” He interprets the Constitution in this way in order that it may not be subjected to the possibility of ridicule. It has been said again and again that in some respects the Constitution is absolutely farcical and ridiculous; but, according to the AttorneyGeneral, when we find ourselves up against a constitutional impasse, all that we have to do is to read something into the Constitution, and - hey presto ! - everything is all right. If this dictum were correct, then the Executive Government would merely have to declare at any time that the paramount necessities of the nation rendered necessary on the part of the Commonwealth Government the exercise of certain powers, and thereupon they would become possessed immediately of the total powers, not only of Unification, but to override every authority in the country.
– No one has uttered such a dictum.
– That is the logic of your position.
– It is neither the logic nor the meaning of what I said.
– It is admitted that the powers given by the War Precautions Act are without limit, and the honorable gentleman said that these powers are operative before a state of war actually comes into existence, in preparation fof a state of war - he made that statement this morning - and for three months after a state of war has ceased to exist. Before the amendment was proposed we were assured that these powers were operative for six months after a state of war had ceased to exist. Who is to determine how long they are operative? If the Executive Government of the country insist that chaos will reign unless thesepowers are operative for twelve months after a state of war has ceased to exist, who is to contradict them? Is the High Court going to say that twelve months is a reasonable period for them to continue to beoperative, or that three months is a reasonable period ?
I recognise that it would be disastrous to lift the moratorium without notice being given ; I acknowledge that there are certain financial arrangements made by the Commonwealth which it is desirable to protect, and that contracts have been entered into which must be carried out.
But experience has shown that, after providing for those things, it is not safe to intrust the present Government with the powers given by the War Precautions Act.
The Government insist on retaining the press censorship. We were told by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) that, unless the Government have power to suppress newspaper criticism and the criticism of individuals whose views on finance differ from those of Ministers, that unless the discussion of financial problems on public platforms is circumscribed by Ministers, this country cannot carry out its financial obligations. The honorable gentleman says that the country is faced with bankruptcy unless the Government exercises arbitrary powers to suppress public opinion and to prevent the discussion from the platform of problems of political economy. If the country were so devoid of intelligence that the financial opinions uttered by odd individuals in various places would shake its financial stability, God help the Commonwealth. So far from the Government having strengthened the financial position by announcing that the Commonwealth’s stability rests on such a flimsy basis that it cannot stand unless the gag is put into the mouths of all those who wish to criticise our public finances from the platform, I cannot imagine any way in which they could have done more to injure it.
The Government desire to retain the press censorship to prevent, also, the public discussion of the peace terms. It is said that the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), who is now on the other side of the world, represents public opinion in this country in the demands he is making regarding the peace settlement. I deny that he does that. If his attitude could be canvassed and criticised at public meetings throughout the country, Australia would rebel against the idiotic position in which he wishes to place us. The Commonwealth already controls huge territories, and day after day the Melbourne A ge shows the losses which their administration causes. There is a loss on the administration of Papua, on that of the Northern Territory, and on that of the Federal Capital Territory, and also a loss on the Commonwealth railways in those
Territories. In addition to the Commonwealth being liable for £14,000,000 of interest per annum, millions of public money are being thrown as into a sink into the administration of these Territories. Yet the Prime Minister says that Australia . wants more territory, and territory not close to our doors like those which we control at present, but territory out in the far-flung Pacific. ‘
– The honorable member is going beyond the question before the Chair.
– I mention these” things by way of illustrating the subjects the criticism of which the Government wish to prohibit. They wish to .perpetuate the War Precautions Act to prevent the voice of the people from evolving some other policy than that advocated in London by the Prime Minister.
Another reason that causes me to doubt the attitude of the Government is that we were led to believe by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) that early in the New Year we should have definite legislation, apart from the War Precautions Act, which would give the Government sufficient power to deal with the sub- jects mentioned in his speech, and that then the War Precautions Act would be definitely repealed, but this morning the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), after there had been a consultation among the members of the Ministry, shifted from that position. He does not say that the Government propose early in the year to introduce specific legislation to take the place of the illimitable powers conferred by the War Precautions Act. What he says is that Ministers are considering the regulations issued under that Act, to see which of them can be abolished or amended.
– Does the honorable member say that I said nothing else but that?
– I say that you did not refer to the legislation which was foreshadowed by the Acting Prime Minister as coming early in the year to take the place of the War Precautions Act. You got away from the statement that definite legislation would be introduced early in the New Year. Your statement wa9 limited to the mere repeal of certain regulations.
– Then you did not hear it.
– I shall be glad to be corrected if I am wrong. The honorable member is very free with his interjections until I seek to pin him down to some definite statement on this point. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), at the Recruiting Conference in April last, promised much more than is now promised’, and there has not been the slightest attempt to give effect to those promises. There will be no attempt to give effect to the promise made by the Acting Prime Minister. The members of the Boards that are now wielding despotic powers will put their heads together to provide the Government with thousands of reasons for the continuance of the regulations under the War Precautions Act. I wish to pin the Government down to a promise, because, although the promise itself may have no effect on the Government, it will be interesting to show the people at the next election the long list of promises that have been made, and to inform them that the Government have paid no heed to these promises.
– The Government’s promises are too many for the public to remember.
– We shall have to find some way of tabulating them, in order to refresh the memory of the public. This is what I heard the Acting Prime Minister say in this House - the report appears in the Argus of the 5th December -
I look forward to the time, as early as possible in the new year -
– The honorable member may not quote from a newspaper report.
– Am I not entitled to quote what I heard the Acting Prime Minister say?
– Then I shall quote what I heard the Acting Prime Minister say-
I look forward to the time, as early as possible in the new year -
– The honorable member is deliberately reading ah extract, which I said he would not be in order in reading.
– Obviously, the Standing Orders are a great protection to Ministers who wish to slide out of their promises. I have gone through the corrected Hansard report of the speech of the Acting Prime Minister, and, although I know that on the floor of this chamber he made the statement that the House would be brought together early in the new year, when specific legislation would be introduced, you will find no such statement in Hansard. This is a further exhibition of the tricks of Ministers. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) was bowled out when, after making a statement on the floor of the House, he altered the Hansard record of what he had said. If I am not allowed to quote the authority of this independent witness, I must content myself with asking honorable members to compare the report of the Acting Prime Minister’s speech, which appears in the Melbourne Argus of the 5th December, with that which appears in Hansard. They will find the two quite different, so far as the promise of new legislation i3 concerned.
– If the Acting Prime Minister has altered the Hansard report, it is a scandal.
– I should not have thought of this, had it not been for the fact that the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) adopted to-day an attitude quite different- from that of the Acting Prime Minister. Will he now say, on behalf of the Government, what was said by the Acting Prime Minister, that, early in the new year, the Government would come down with specific legislation to abolish the War Precautions Act?
– The honorable member has created a false impression, and I decline to answer the question.
– You know very well that you are in this conspiracy to mislead the House and the country.
– The honorable member must withdraw that statement.
– I withdraw the remark, but if it were not for the Standing Orders I should insist upon it.
The Acting Attorney-General may interrupt -my speech by interjecting, but he cannot reiterate the pledge given by the Acting Prime Minister two or three days ago.
– Nor can I prevent you from making wilful misrepresentations.
– Never mind about that.
– I do mind about it, because I am concerned for the truth.
– You are not telling the truth.
– Those personal exchanges must cease. I ask .the honorable member not to indulge in them any further.
– And I ask you to keep that disorderly man at the table from interrupting me. It is all right to look on this side of the House when there is any disorder created, but there are offenders on the other side also.
– The honorable member is reflecting on the Chair. ,
– It is a great pity !
– If the honorable member is not more respectful to the Chair, I shall order him to discontinue his speech .
– And I ask you to keep the Attorney-General in order.
– I know my duty without instructions from the honorable member.
– You ought to look at the Attorney-General as well as look at me. A number of honorable members on the other side have told us their objections to this measure : but what is the use of their objections ? There is one way in which they can give effect to them, and that is by a vote on the floor of the House. One of the most interesting documents that are being prepared would be made up of statements of honorable members opposite in objection to the administration of this Government,- and of a record of how they have voted when they had the opportunity. Recently I was in a district in which an honorable member opposite had had a speech of his reprinted, and any one reading it would think that he belonged to the Opposition side of the House. But that speech was only so much camouflage.
– The honorable member must confine himself to the amendment.
– I think. I am confining myself to the discussion of the amendment when I point out that there are sufficient members opposite who do not believe in the continuation of this Act for one day longer to defeat it today. But it is not defeated, although it is against the good sense of Parliament. This is because honorable members opposite feel that the trammels of party compel them to vote against their conscience, and to perpetuate the obnoxious measure. However, by their own expressions of opinion they have shown that they realize what that perpetuation means. They know that it may mean the operation ‘of the Act for three years or five years, and that it can be abused as much in the future as it has in the past; but, in the light of their past experience,- they take the responsibility of perpetuating it. I sincerely hope that some means may be found of letting their constituencies and the country generally know what their real attitude in Parliament has been.
.- It is rather difficult to seek to improve a Government measure after listening to a speech such as has just been inflicted on the House. The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts) is the best vote loser I ever heard. With every word I felt my determination to improve the Bill oozing out at my finger tips. However, in spite of the honorable member, I desire to improve the Bill, and I invite the attention of the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) to a way in which I think that can be done. When the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) addressed the House on the second reading he said the Government desired these powers only until certain judicial committees he had at work could prepare Acts of Parliament to take, the place of the organizations created under the War Precautions Act. When I saw the amendment, which was first circulated by the Attorney-General this morning, I came to the conclusion that “ 31st July, 1919, “ could only have direct reference to the period necessary for proper legislation; otherwise I can see no purpose in inserting that date. Unless the date has some such reference, it is meaningless, inasmuch as the whole thing is governed by the declaration of peace, which may be next month, next year, or ten years hence.
We have heard a good deal of discussion about the stabilization of certain countries defeated in the war - stabilization which is a condition precedent to the establishment of formal peace. That stabilization is going to take considerable time; and it means that the War Precautions Act may be on the statute-book for many years to come. For my own part - and I do not believe my opinion is not shared by more than a very small percentage of members - I desire to see this Act off the statute-book at the earliest possible moment.
My object now is to help the AttorneyGeneral to take the opinion of honorable members in a simple and direct way. The Government proposal is that this Act shall come to an end three months after the formal declaration of peace, or on the 31st July next, whichever period is the furthest away. It would be meaningless for me to reverse the position, and suggest whatever period is. the nearest to us; but as it seems that this date has been fixed in the Bill as a date approximating to the time when the Government will be in a position to introduce legislation, I desire, if I can, to test the opinion of the Committee as to whether the Act should operate longer than the 31st July.
The amendment before the House is to omit the word “ six “ and insert “three “ ; and to understand this amendment one has to look at the original Act. Section 2 of the original Act says -
This Act shall continue in operation during the continuance of the present state nf war, and no longer.
The Bill as introduced provides that after “ state of war “ the words “ and for a period of six months thereafter shall be inserted; and the amendment on the amending Bill limits the term to three months. My desire is to see all the words in clause 2 after the word “the” where second occurring excised, with a view to inserting the words “ word ‘ operation ‘ the words ‘until 31st July, 1919.’” I ask the Acting Attorney-General to withdraw his amendment for the time being, to give me an opportunity to submit the one I have foreshadowed. I rose at once when the Acting AttorneyGeneral submitted his amendment, and I have consistently risen ever since, with a view to making this request. I may say that I had no idea of the AttorneyGeneral’s amendment until I heard it moved, or I should have spoken to him previously.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. I find I was wrong just now in the statement I made about . the pledge of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt). I regret that I was looking at a different place in Hansard, which appeared to me to deal with the point, and to be differently worded from the report in the newspapers. I am absolutely wrong, and I am sorry I made the statement.
– I gathered from what the honorable member said that he had read through Hansard, and that is why I said he had made a wilful misrepresentation. I now desire to withdraw the word “wilful.” It is usual, of course, under the circumstances, to withdraw an amendment with a view to enabling the Committee to give any decision it chooses, and I shall pursue that course. Before I withdraw my amendment, however, I wish to let the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) know that it is utterly impossible for me to accept his amendment.
– You do not mean the Government ?
– I am speaking on behalf of the Government in introducing this measure, and I say that we cannot accept the amendment. Honorable members know the different views that have been expressed during the debates; and the Government framed this amendment with a view to meeting those views, while at the same time conserving powers they feel to be essential for the well-being of the country. I rise now only to withdraw my amendment, and I shall reply to the honorable member for Wentworth after he has submitted his proposal.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I move-
That all the words after “ the,” line 2, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ word’ operation ‘ the words ‘ until 31st July, 1919.’ “
I shall only say that between now and 31st July next the Government should know clearly and definitely how much longer they require the War Precautions Act. If the amendment be carried, it undoubtedly would put on the shoulders of the Government the responsibility of beginning to close up their operations under the Act.
– At once!
– The Government will have to start organizing in order to clean up, and the amendment before us presents a real test of the question. Honorable members who desire to protract the operations of this Act should vote for some indefinite date, while those who areof the contrary opinion should vote for the earliest date for the cessation of its operation. The Government themselves have given us the date of the 31st July next ; and I believe they anticipate that by that date they will have amending legislation ready to place, in the form of Acts of Parliament by the authority of the people’s representative, the powers that are now being used by them on their own responsibility and by certain officials who, in my opinion, are not giving satisfaction to the community.
.- Since information in regard to the signing of the armistice has reached us, and we have seen evidence of sanity returning to the people of the world generally, it is pleasing to notice that in this House the war fever is showing signs of abatement.
– There is no return to sanity on the part of the Government.
-I believe that they are on their way to sanity. In regard to this Bill they have again shown the accommodating spirit which has characterized them during the last few months. Whenever they have a Bill prepared they place it on the table, and practically say to honorable members, “ There it is ; if you do not like it we will change it.. Tell us what you would like and we shall have it done.” In repeated cases the Government have brought forward Bills which they have declared expressed their policy,and upon which they were ready tn stake their existence, . but a few energeticmen in the Ministerial Corner had only to express their opinions, and we found the Government willing to accommodate themselves to their wishes. In regard to this Bill, they have already gone half way to meet the wishes of honorable members in the Corner, and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) has submitted a further amendment, the purpose of which is to declare that the Act shall expire at the end of July next. May I remind the Minister (Mr. Groom) that in his opening speech he quoted the opinion of a committee in Great Britain who are reported to have given the following opinion: -
We assume that the war will be ended by a treaty, or treaties, of peace.In order to arrive at a final conclusion of the treaty, various stages will probably be required, such as agreements for armistices, cessation of hostilities thereunder, articles of peace, . agreement of terms, ratification, exchange, or deposit of ratification.
That is a long and tedious process. Even after the Peace Conference meets, a long and weary time may elapse before peace is finally proclaimed, and the Government are asking us to wait until all this is over. On the other hand, the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), in moving his amendment to-day, said that for all practical purposes the war was over; and I should think that all those who wish to see Australia progress, and are desirous of a return to peaceful and harmonious conditions in the community, should seek to get rid, as soon as possible, of an Act which has stirred up so much animosity, and been the cause of so much disturbance and disruption. If it is true in ordinary affairs that fever is caused by the irruption of a foreign body in the physical frame, it is equally true in the political sphere that the irruption of a foreign body causes fever. The introduction of the War Precautions Act has done more to cause disruption in the community of Australia than has any other piece of legislation. It is a reasonable thing that a limit should be set for. the operation of the measure, but I propose to vote against even the proposed concession. 1 feel so strongly upon this matter that I am not ready to accept any compromise other than that, if there are certain matters in regard to which the Government, consider that their control should be extended, I am prepared to give them sufficient authority to continue to control them. The Leader of the Opposition has narrowed these matters down to two - the moratorium and the control of shipping. The situation facing the Government is not very serious. The honorable member for Cook (Mr. j. H. Catts) has said that the speech made by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) the other day on this Bill was not correctly reported in Hansard.
– No; I have corrected that statement.
– I took a note of certain words used by the Acting Prime Minister which do not appear in the Hansard record of his speech. These words were to the effect that he knew of no other power than the War Precautions Act to continue the operation of the Government control which he deemed necessary in regard to certain matters. Yet the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) tells us that there is latent power in the Constitution to enable the Commonwealth to continue to control these matters.
– Does not the honorable member remember that the Acting Prime Minister said it would be necessary to bring forward special legislation to continue these powers ? He was then referring to the termination of the defence power.
– I am referring to the power to legislate.
– The honorable member is referring to the exercise of statutory powers. The other matter is a constitutional power. The two things are quite distinct.
– The Commonwealth cannot have statutory powers except under its Constitution.
– It may have a constitutional power which may not be exercised except by Statute.
– It cannot have a statutory power beyond the limits of the Constitution. However, I cannot go into all the technicalities of the matter, but I know that the Acting Prime Minister’s statement was perfectly correct. In fact, it was admitted by the Liberal party, in the 1915 referendum pamphlet, that the ordinary defence powers of the Commonwealth were not sufficient, and that it was only the War Precautions Act which gave to the Commonwealth the requisite power to interfere in the ordinary trading channels throughout the Commonwealth, a claim which has Sheen buttressed by a decision of the High Court. Now the” Minister tells us that the Commonwealth has these powers, and that they cover not only the period of war, but also- the period of preparation for war. Obviously his contention must be wrong, because, if our defence power covers the period of preparation for war, seeing that our defence system is based upon our being in a state of preparedness for war at all times, the War Precautions Act could apply at any time.
– I was referring to an impending conflict, one that was immediately approaching. The defence power varies according to whether Australia is at peace, or at war, or whether it is approaching war, or coming out of war. I have not contended that in time of absolute peace our legislation should be the same as it would be iri time of war.
– If the period of war is to cover net only the period of preparation for war, but also the period after a war, necessary for winding up matters connected with it, at may be extended without limit, so that it may be a perfectly easy matter to extend the operation of the War Precautions Act, or apply the Minister’s interpretation of the defence power practically for all time.
There is another item in the Minister’s speech to which I take exception. He said that it was necessary to continue the censorship during the progress of the peace negotiations. I have no wish to disparage the importance of- Australia, rather am I inclined to magnify it, nevertheless T believe that Australia’s say will be of very little consequence at the Peace Conference. The ravings, rantings, and roarings of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in England, have had very little effect on the Imperial Government. They have listened to him as they would listen to a spoilt child : very courteously they have allowed him to say what he liked, but they have taken practically little notice of him. Who can expect the French Government to listen to, read carefully, and pay particular attention to everything Australia says ? Who can say that the Americans are very anxious to know before they go to the Peace Conference, what Australia is saying or thinking about any matter ? One would imagine that the whole of the Allies were waiting to learn what Australia thought, and the proposal to continue the censorship because something might be said in the newspapers of Australia, or by some of the hot-air speakers on the Yarra Bank, referred to by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd), which would cause disturbance amongst the Allies, is absurd. One would think that the Minister was speaking in a pantomime instead, of in a Parliament. No one in Australia could say anything that would have any effect on the peace negotiations. There are. bigger questions than Australia’s interests to be considered at the Peace Conference. From my point of view Australia’s interests are of the utmost importance, but there is not the slightest reason to believe that the Imperial Government will overlook them, or allow anything to be done at the Peace Conference which would be detrimental to them. The reason advanced by the Acting Attorney-General is a very flimsy ground to advance for the continuance of the censorship regulations. I was delighted to hear what the honorable member for Henty said about the censorship. It was most interesting evidence ofthat return to sanity about which I have spoken.
– I have been opposed to the censorship from the beginning.
– I am certain that, whenever we tried to divide the House upon the question of the censorship the honorable member did not support us.
– Honorable members made it impossible for us to do so at times.
– Probably that was because Government supporters were not prepared to go the whole way with us. I quite understand that the honorable member for Henty believed that there was a necessity during war time to stop a lot of wild and disloyal statements, but now he believes that we have arrived at the stage when the censorship can be fully withdrawn.
– No; he still ‘believes in a censorship of utterances which might be likely to prejudice our relations with our Allies, or interfere with the peace negotiations.
– The honorable member will recover complete sanity later on. It is delightful to find that the first men in this Parliament wh’o see matters in their true perspective, now that the war fever has ceased to cloud their brains, are Scotchmen and Irishmen. They belong to two nations that have had to fight throughout their existence for freedomand the right to realize natural rights and national aspirations. They are the nations which first appreciated the advantages of liberty. I see no reason why the War Precautions Act should be continued until the 31st July, which will mean a continuation of the censorship with all its rigours, unreasonableness, and stupidity.’ The Government could say without danger, and with decided advantage, that all regulations relating to censorship, deportation, arrest, and internment without trial, and the prohibition of public meetings, shall be repealed at once. If that were done we on this side might be inclined to give them the other powers they deem necessary until the 31st July. But a continuance of all the unlimited powers they now possess until that date is too much to ask. The Act has been operated so badly in the past that I refuse to accept the assurance of the Government that they will not use it for political purposes in the future. At the GovernorGeneral’s Conference on Recruiting the chairman said, on the 19th April, in regard to the cessation of political and industrial prosecutions under the War Precautions Act, that the reply of the Government was that the War Precautions Act would not be used for industrial and political purposes, and that all persons, if any, who were confined as a result of matters arising out of the referendum campaign, . or the last general strike, would be released. Last week I asked the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) how many persons who had been arrested under the authority of the Act had been released, and the answer was “ two.” Men have been most autocratically severed from their homes, businesses, and associations, and are held in internment under the authority of this Act, which, in April last, we were told was to be relaxed in that important respect. The Acting Prime Minister tells us now, as we were told six months ago, that the Act would not be used for industrial and political prosecutions. Can the Government supporters blame us if we express our doubts as to the “sincerity of these promises and protestations? We can place no reliance upon any promises from the Ministerial bench. Certainly, we have much more confidence in Government pledges in the absence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) than when he was in the House. There is, perhaps, reason for some confidence, but the power to do injustices still remains, and it is for that reason that we protest so vigorously, and are so uncompromising in our opposition to the Government in this regard.
The Acting Prime Minister said in his speech, although I cannot find the words in the Hansard report, “ There has been a usurpation of the power of legislation under the War Precautions Act.” Because there is a possibility of ‘ a continued usurpation of the power of legislation, and a positive authority to continue the usurpation of the powers of administration, I object to a prolongation of the Act for a single day. Unfortunately, it must continue till the end of the war. There may be some safeguard in the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) which will require that the Act shall cease at the end of July; but if we agree to the continuance of the Act till that date, the Government may come forward then and put up an equally good case for a further extension. If the Government are sincerely desirous of restoring unity and getting rid of the discord and disruption which now prevail, they will assist in reestablishing responsible government and efficient administration at the earliest possible moment. I feel disposed to paraphrase, as follows, a passage in one of the school books - “ Lost, stolen, or strayed, responsible government - the goodold system of responsible government. Served the Empire faithfully for many centuries. Believed to have been stolen by D.O.R.A., or the War Precautions Act. Handsome reward will be paid to anybody who will restore it to the community.”
There is so much to be done in Australia in clearing up the mess caused by the war that every effort should be utilized to get the people to concentrate their efforts on that great task. But the. Government seem inclined to perpetuate the disturbances and discords, and they wish to retain the power to make the conditions worse, if necessary. I have not the slightest doubt that, if an electioneering necessity arises, they will be prepared to do even worse than they have done already. Nevertheless, I again appeal to them to allow the people to take charge of their own affairs, to immediately stop the censorship of the press, and interference with the liberty of the people. There is a good old saying that “Reason ripens in the open air of discussion,” and it is equally true that knowledge is increased by investigation and criticism. The Government need not fear criticism ; it is healthy, good, and useful. One wonders whether the Government are so nervous concerning their position, knowing their own deficiency, that they wish to retain the War Precautions Act to prevent the people having that freedom which, under responsible government, they ought to have. The amendment proposed by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) will give the Government seven clear months in which to settle up all activities under the War Precautions Act - seven months too long to continue that instrument of government. During that time, they can make up their mind as to what businesses must be carried on under governmental control, and ask the people to give the Commonwealth Parliament full and unlimited control over trade and commerce in a constitutional and decisive manner. We shall have to face that position sooner or later. I believe the people are ready to give the Commonwealth, constitutionally, such an extension of its powers as will enable it to continue every phase of activities in which it is now engaged under the War Precautions Act. But that power ought to be obtained and exercised constitutionally, honestly, and openly, instead of secretly and maliciously, as it has been under the War Precautions Act.
– I voted with the Government last night on the understanding that there would be some substantial improvements in this Bill, and I confess that I am distinctly disappointed tofind that so little has been done in the way of making essential alterations. I was prepared to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), not because I though it entirely satisfactory, but because it met the situation in a way that ought to have commended itself to even the Government. I do not feel inclined to accept the modification of that amendment which the Government have offered. Holding, as I do, very strongly the view that, whilst the war has to all intents and purposes terminated, its formal conclusion is still many months ahead, I do not like the ideaof the indefinite termof continuance of the Act proposed by the Government.
It would be far better for the whole community, especiallythe trading community, to fixan absolutely definite term, without modification or qualification. Therefore, I think the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) is an exceedingly good one. I regret very much that, although strong exception has been taken to the continuance of the censorship, even with the modifications promised by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), we have had from the Government no indication that they are prepared to meet the situation as expounded by several honorable members. The censorship is costing the country something like £40,000 a year. It has. grown to its present dimensions in a quite unwarranted fashion. It has not been efficient. It is admitted, even by the Government, to have blundered very seriously in many ways, and it has created a degree of irritation and indignation against the Government for which I am inclined to think the National party will have to pay very dearly in the immediate future. The Government now propose certain modifications of it. They promise that political censorship, if it ever existed - and they deny that it has existed - shall disappear, and that the work of the censors shall be confined to preventing the publication of statements likely to prejudice the interests of any of the Allies in securing a satisfactory treaty of peace. It is obvious that the censorship was intended originally to operate only during the actual continuance of the war. In the terms of the Act, it was to continue until peace was formally declared. I therefore suggest to the Government that there should be no extension of the power proDosed, either by the Ministry or by the amendment now before us, in the way of continuing the censorship for even a day after the peace terms have been signed. After the signing of the peace terms there will be absolutely no need for it. The objects for which ‘the censorship, was brought into existence will then have disappeared.
In view of the way in which the censor ship has been handled, and of the power exercised through the censorship regulations by the Prime Minister himself, I wish it to come to an end at the earliest possible moment. The declaration of peace would, it appears, be a suitable opportunity, and -if this Parliament is sitting at that time I shall remind the Government, if they do not take steps to put an end to it, that it is their duty to do so. In any case, I would impress upon them the necessity of cutting down to something like reasonable proportions the present tremendously large staff, so that we shall not continue to pay £40,000 per annum for the merely nominal and somewhat foolish work of hindering the utterances of irresponsible persons, who are not likely to have the least notice taken of them by either our Allies or any one else. The position is entirely absurd. I hope, therefore, that the Government will take notice of my observations and do something in the direction I have indicated. I shall support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly), believing, as I do, that it is a fair compromise as between what I desire and that which the Government are prepared to give.
– il intend to support the amendment of which the Government themselves have given notice. I was one of five honorable members who last night took a very determined stand against this Bill, because I considered the Ministry were not paying common respect to the feelings of a section of their party who had expressed very definite opinions as to this measure; but I think that the Government have now proposed an amendment which is a fair compromise between the attitude that we then took up and the terms of the Bill as originally introduced.
I have always taken the view that the War Precautions Act is a measure of a very uncommon character. As I said a fortnight since, this community, which prides itself upon its democratic character, has naturally resented the sudden change from a Democracy to an oligarchy. With the coming into operation of the Act we found ourselves practically in the hands of a large body of officials, who, I do not hesitate to say,- revel in the extraordinary powers vested in them under the Act. I recognise the very great difficulty of suddenly changing J:rom the present powers of the Executive to legislative methods in every case, and I think that such a change needs to be made with very great care. The transition must be difficult. Having put a number of the activities of this community into tho hands of officials, and having educated the public to look to those- officials and their
Departments for the ‘regulation of these activities, we cannot suddenly revert to parliamentary methods of dealing with them - methods which may involve a delay of many months. In the ordinary course of events the whole of these powers would be exhausted with the declaration of peace, but it would not do to abruptly terminate the whole of them. Some of these powers, such as those relating to the wool and shipping industry, are very farreaching, and it might be impossible to suddenly curtail them, except upon a graduated method.
For a country like this, which stands almost at the apex of democratic institutions, to be plunged suddenly into a war extending over four years, was something unheard of in history. We have, therefore, to exercise much care in suddenly reverting from the conditions which have prevailed .for the last four years to those which originally existed. I therefore sympathize with the Government in their desire, as far as possible, to graduate this change over its many far-reaching fields. I .resented the action of the Government in merely asking in a bald way for an unqualified extension of these powers without giving the House some idea of the directions in which they intended to gradually reduce them, and I took yesterday a course which, with the help of others, reduced the Government majority from about eighteen to eight. That reminded them that, after all, there was a limit to their ability to dragoon the party which stands behind them as they think fit. And that power will be exercised again if the same spirit is displayed by the Government in regard to any of those measures which members of our party think ought to be carefully considered by the administration.
I have only to say, in conclusion, that I have listened to the speeches made in support of the amendments moved by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly), and I think there is so little difference between them and what has been offered by the Ministry - I think that the Government are in such a better position to judge as to how far it would be possible for them to carry out this proposal - that I shall support the Ministerial compromise.
.- Whether the Committee adopt the amendment moved by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) or that proposed by the Government, I feel that it will be. quite impossible for the Ministry to carry out their intention in this regard. The people of Australia will not tolerate the continuance of the War Precautions Act and the regulations framed under it for even the period set out in the Government proposal. After all, the Ministry can go only as far as the ‘people will allow them. The people outside are much stronger than they are, and they can force the hands of the Government at any time they desire to do so. The objection to the Act is not confined to the-Labour party. If a census were taken of the views of 1,000 commercial men and’ 1,000 working men in Australia, it would be found that the proportion of those objecting to the Act was practically the same in each case. I cannot understand why the Government should cling so lovingly to the tremendous” powers which the Act gives them. A still stronger factor is the desire for power entertained by the officials who have been created under the Act. A problem that we cannot tackle too quickly is that of getting rid of the large powers wielded under this Act by certain individuals - powers greater even than those exercised by the Prime Minister, the Judiciary, or even the Parliament itself. These officials have the power to cause a house to he searched, to cause men to be arrested without warrant, and to be gaoled without trial. They can suspend the grand old institution of habeas corpus; they can deny to our foremost writers the right to publish an article; they can seize countless thousands of magazines, books and newspapers, and deny the people the right to read them. The sooner the Government realize how necessary it is to clean up the Augean stable in this regard the better for Australia.
Honorable members have expressed various opinions as to the extent to which the War Precautions Act can now be used. I believe that we are all agreed that certain powers should be conferred on the Government for stabilizing- Australian industry, finance, and commerce. The members of the Opposition, however, consider that the censorship should be abolished without qualification. Five years ago any one could speak in public in the Domain, or in the theatres and halls of the capitals of Australia, upon international politics, criticising the aspirations and ideals of other countries in their relation to Australia, pointing out the risk of invasion this country was running,’ and the need for defence. Indeed, all but a few members of this House have stated plainly and bluntly all over the country that certain precautions should be taken for the better defence of Australia. It was competent five years ago for any man to point out the risk of invasion. To-day, when there is far ‘less risk, and our position is much better, no one is allowed to do that. I believe that the Government is “ seeing things,” that, after a long spree of power, it is suffering from the D.T.’s. I hope that this condition may not last long. Every book and magazine that comes from other countries is looked through by a large staff of officials to ascertain whether there is in it any statement likely to prejudice our relations with our Allies. Prior to the signing of the Armistice, the endeavour was to find statements prejudicial to recruiting, or of a seditious nature. Labour members, industrial leaders, or union organizers could not make a speech except in the presence of one or two policemen, or of spies and pimps sent out by the Censor’s Department, or the Defence Department, to listen for any remarks deemed likely to prejudice recruiting, or to affect our relations with our Allies. All kinds of charges were brought against Labour members and others, many of them fictitious, and it shows the madness of this orgy that, although a large number of summonses were- issued, on not one has the Government succeeded. That shows how rotten the system was. In their eager desire to close the mouths of those opposing them, the Government blindly took any course they thought would serve their ends. Nothing was too mean, too petty, too low, or too degrading for the officials who wished to stifle freedom of speech, and close the mouths of those opposing the Government. The history of these times will be very fine reading to our children ten or twenty years hence.
– They will think that there were none but criminals and rascals alive here.
– We might very well be compared with savages. Many honorable members believe that if the criticism of the ideals and aspirations of our Allies were allowed, the delicate machinery necessary to settle the stupendous problem upon which1 the brains of the world are now engaged would be overbalanced, and international complications would ensue. I repeat that the time has come when every citizen of Australia should be free to express his opinions, no matter what they may be, and to advocate his ideals in regard to international politics and Australian policy. I am not afraid to-day ofAustralia being invaded, though I was two years ago. Recently, America voted £120,000,000 for the building of ten dreadnoughts and six or seven . battlecruisers, and adopted a go-ahead naval programme. That, in my estimation, provides us with a safeguard for Australia.
– We could hardly live on that.
– Most decidedly we cannot. We have to keep our defences going, and even to increase them. We must he les3 lowly, les3 humble, and less frightened about expressing our opinions. Every man should be allowed to give vent to his thoughts. One* of the greatest of commercial wars will commence almost immediately. It will be between Japan and America, and then England and France will be concerned. We, as customers of those nations, have the right to discriminate between them. If one of them asks for preference, I, as a representative of the Australian people, should be allowed to express anywhere my views on this subject. Should we decide to effectively shut them all out with a Tariff, I should have freedom to discuss that proposal. The Government, however, will not allow such discussion. There are hundreds of censors throughout Australia, and at the dictation of any. one of them, a subject may be tabooed. Last week, in my place in this chamber, I dealt with six points alleged to have been laid down by Japan.- 1 criticised them, stating that, in my estimation, Japan’s requests were moderate. 1
– The honorable member is now going beyond the amendment.
– I claim that I am in order in referring to remarks which have been the subject ‘of censorship, to show what would be the effect of extending the operation of the War Precautions Act.
– The honorable member will be in order in doing that’; but he was going further.
– Under the censorship for which the War Precautions Act gives opportunity, I was prevented from having published the statements that I made in this House, which, in my opinion, should* have gone forth to the people.
– The honorable member cannot refer to any subject he likes on the question now before the Chair.
– I can refer to any subject affected by the War Precautions Act. The extension of the operation of that Act, which is being sought, will prevent me from criticising the ideals of an Ally of Great Britain, or from dealing with international politics in relation to Australia. That is totally wrong. Australia has established for herself a place among the nations, and should not be afraid to express her opinions on international politics. I do not desire to say anything further than that. If it is necessary that certain powers shall be given to the Government to enable them to extend the moratorium, and to stabilize commerce, industry, and finance, they can obtain those powers from Parliament, but- there is no reason why the powers which have been used under the War Precautions Act for the past four and a half years should continue in operation. We were told bv the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) that the censorship regulation would be modified, but there has been no ‘modification. While the honorable gentleman may give promises of modification- just as the Prime Minis ter (Mr. Hughes) did in April last at the Recruiting Conference - he is powerless so long as the instructions remain in the hands of the censors. I dare say that things are done under those regulations which probably would not be approved by the Acting Prime Minister himself; the only possible wise policy for the Government is to allow us to return to that freedom we enjoyed five years ago.
– I wish to make it quite clear that I shall oppose any amendment which means an extension of the War Precautions regulations, no matter from which side of the House such an amendment may be proposed. I was not a member when the original War Precautions Act was passed; but, had I been, I would certainly have voted against granting to the Government what I regard as unreasonable and despotic powers. To hear some honorable members speak, one would naturally come to the conclusion that Australia is going to be the most important factor in the settlement of the peace terms; but while, no doubt, Australia is an important Dominion, I do not think the older countries will consider her claims in the manner in which a number of people expect.
I am prepared at all times to support any measure, no matter from which side it comes, if, in my opinion, it is for the good and the advancement of the people; but I shall always oppose any measure which places chains around the necks and legs of a certain section of the community,while other sections are allowed to go scot free. We cannot get away from the fact that the War Precautions regulations have to an enormous extent shackled many in this community. Conditions have been laid on the workers that are absolutely intolerable. A gang of officials, employed under the Act at decent salaries, to carry out the regulations, have terrorised a great number of Australian people. Some of these officials possess more power than the Acting Prime Minister himself, and have exercised it to the fullest possible extent. That is the class of official and the class of legislation to which I am particularly opposed. I venture to say that the Government could carry on their work in a proper and efficient way by permitting the members of this House to legislate in the usual and proper method; and that being so, it seems rather absurd to continue to govern by regulation and proclamation.
The Acting PrimeMinister gave us to understand that under no circumstances would he attempt to suppress freedom of speech, but that he would remove the censorship and allow to the press and the people the fullest right to express their opinions. I do not say for a moment that I believe the Acting Prime Minister was insincere when he made that statement; but, as I said the other day, while I might be inclined to believe the honorable gentleman, I am not inclined to take the word of those who support him. If the members and supporters of the Government desired, I believe they could bring into operation, or compel the Acting Prime Minister to bring into operation, all the War Precautions regulations to the fullest extent, and greatly embarrass the class I represent. I have always recognised that the press is the safety valve of Democracy, and that people should be permitted, even though they are wrong, to say what they believe to be right. To-day the public can only say what the Government feel inclined to permit, and even if a man’s conscience prompts him to an expression of opinion, the War Precautions regulations may be brought into operation, and he may be penalized. I desire to say that, irrespective of whether the amendment is carried - irrespective of whether or not the War Precautions regulations remain in operation - I am going to say what I think. The people I represent have suffered long enough from the tyranny and despotism of this Government, and it is nearly time they decided to no longer remain under a system so intolerable. If I feel inclined to criticise this Government, or to make statements which I conscientiously believe to be true and right, I am going to do so, and will suffer the consequences. I think I hear some honorable member suggest that I am in the “wrong place”; but, whether that be so or not, I shall adhere to my determina tion.For four solid years the workers of this country have suffered the greatest iniquity mankind could bestow on them, and have said nothing. There are scores and scores of men to-day who, I claim, are imprisoned illegally, and there are scores who are prevented from making statements because they are boundover to keep the peace for a certain period. If these latter do say something which is not in accordance with the ideas of the Government their bonds forfeited, and they themselves called upon to suffer the penalty. I am not content to live under such a system much longer.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. Kelly’s) be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- Now that the camouflage of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) is out of the way-
– I rise to order. Is the honorable member, the most recent witness of the value of the War Precautions Act, in order in referring to a very serious amendment of mine as camouflage? It is about time that this word was taken into serious account in the Standing Orders, because it seems to be made the parallel and equivalent of all sorts of abuse the Standing Orders would not permit.
– It is impossible for me to know what the honorable member meant by using the term “ camouflage.”I do not think thathe is out of order.
– I am glad that the Chair is not susceptible to the blandishments of the honorable member for Wentworth. The proposal to prolong the life of the War Precautions Act for even one minute does not meet with my approval. Those who have voted in favour of perpetuating the Act for any specific period will have the task of justifying the prosecutions which will take place under it.
– Order! The honorable member may not reflect upon any vote of the House.
– The proposal of the Minister to limit the application of the Act to three months does not meet with my approval, because it is just as objectionable as the original proposal to make the period six months. I have just as much objection to the continuance of these extra constitutional powers, and the political manipulation of them in the interests of those who are governing the country, for the shorter period as I have for the misuse of them for the longer period. I shall vote against any perpetuation of the powers which the Government have misused for the purpose of patronizing their own political party at the expense of the interests of the people of the country. No attempt has been made to explode the charges made by the honorablemember for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) to-day about the misuse of the Act in the interests of big businesses, and about the interference with smaller businesses in order to promote trusts and combines. The amendment is absolutely no concession to honorable members who protest against the continuation of the powers exercised under the War Precautions Act. The Government have made no attempt to justify their misuse of those powers, to apologize forthe misuse of the censorship, or to explain away the prohibition of the right of free public assembly. There has been no definite statement that their political opponents will be guaranteed the right to freely criticise their actions or the actions of any Government, be it Allied or otherwise. When I asked the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) the other day whether under the revised censorship we would have the right to contrast the political and economic conditions of this country with those prevailing in other countries, he would give no assurance on the subject Until such assurance is given, backed up by definite action on the part of the Government in voluntarily relinquishing their power to interfere with the right of free speech, public assembly, or to exercise a censorship over the press, no vote of mine will be cast in favour of extending the powers given under the War Precautions Act for one moment.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) agreed to-
That the word “ six “ be left out with a view to insert the word “ three “ in lieu thereof.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That after” thereafter “ the words “ or until the 31st day of July, 1919, whichever period is the longer “ be inserted.
.- I move -
That the word “ longer “ be left out of the amendment with a view to inserting “ shorter “ in lieu thereof.
The clause, as I wish to have it amended, would read -
Section 2 of the principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section 1 thereof, after the words “ state of war “, the words “ and for a period of three months thereafter or until the 31st July, 1919, whichever period is the shorter.”
The Government wish the Act to be perpetuated for the longest period possible. My desire is that it shall operate for the shortest period possible.
Question - That the word proposed to be omitted stand part of the amendment - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . 19
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment of the amendment negatived.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr. Groom’s amendment) - put. The House divided.
Majority . . 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) agreed to-
That the following sub-clause be added: -
Question - That the clause, as amended, be agreed to - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . .18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 3 -
All regulations orders and proclamations lawfully made pursuant to the principal Act shall, except in so far as they are amended or repealed, continue in operation for a period of six months after the termination of the present state of war and no longer:
Provided that any regulation order or proclamation heretofore made, or any provision therein contained, operating by force of its terms for a longer period than six months after the termination of the present state of war, shall remain in force unless amended or repealed during the period provided therein.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) agreed to-
That in the first paragraph the words “ for a period of six months after the termination of the present state of war “ be omitted, and the following words inserted in lieu thereof : - “ during the extended period during which the principal Act remains in force.”
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That in the second paragraph the words “ six months after the termination of the present state of war” be omitted, and the following words inserted in lieu thereof: - “the extended period during which the principal Act remains in force.”
.- Will the Acting Attorney-General explain to the Committee how many of the regulations extend for a longer period than six months after the termination of the war? The amendment seems to provide that any regulation now in force which covers a period of six months after the termination of the war shall remain in force during the period for which the principal Act will continue.
– The amendment only deals with regulations in existence at the present time. One of those is the active service moratorium regulation, which provides that the time for any payment of principal money secured by a mortgage, or due under an agreement of purchase, contracted by a soldier or his female dependant before he became a member of the AustralianImperial Force, or before the 1st January, 1916, shall be postponed until “ six months after the cessation of the present state of war, and not earlier.”
– Will the honorable gentleman mention the specific regulations which will come under this amendment?
– That is what I am doing. In addition to that to which I have already referred, there is also a regulation relating to enemy shareholders, under which power is given to the Public Trustee to hold such shares for twelve months after the end of the war. There may be one or two other regulations to which the amendment will apply, but these are two specific cases covered by it.
– Is not the term fixed in the regulation for the protection of soldiers who have purchased properties too short? All our men will not be back six months after the termination of the war.
– The moratorium regulations - that dealing with men on active service and the regulation which affects the community generally - will have to be carefully examined. The matter referred to by the honorable member is one that will have to be dealt with by special legislation.
.- I should like to hear from the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) whether the Commonwealth moratorium regulations to which he has just referred override the Act passed by the South Australian Parliament in September, 1914, which provides for a moratorium and for the payment of interest up to5½ per cent.? Another point on which I should like some information is whether the Government do not consider that a more regular and constitutional course for them to adopt would be to ask the other States to pass an Act similar to the Moratorium Act passed by the South Australian Parliament.
– Whatever may be said as to the right procedure to be followed in the future, we cannot overlook the fact that all these obligations and rights have been created under the existing regulations. I am afraid that I shall have to examine the South Australian Act before venturing an opinion as to whether it is in conflict with Commonwealth legislation.
– Legislation that we have the power to pass?
– Certainly. This is one of the questions which a Legal Committee might properly look into from the point of view, not of policy, but of legal power. In considering all the legal problems arising out of the war, careful attention will have to be given to the relations of the Commonwealth with the States.
– This is a clause on which the Committee might well ask the Government for some information as to the regulations passed under the War Precautions Act. In March last the Government entered into an arrangement with the shipping companies of Australia by which they took over to some extent the financial control of their vessels at a fixed rate per ton per month. The regulation providing for that control came into operation on 1st April, but in November last a second regulation was issued which went back to the 1st April, and increased as from that date the amount paid to the shipping companies from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. per ton per month, while in one or two cases the rate was increased to, I think, 4s. per ton per month. The House has not been given the reasons for this increase, and my complaint is that we have no opportunity to discuss such matters. It is a farce to provide that all regulations passed under the Act shall be laid on the table of the House, so that they may be discussed, and, if the House desires, disallowed, when we know that under the1 forms of the House as they exist to-day it is impossible for us to consider one of them. When the Government allowed this Shipping Board, which is directly interested in the matter, to alter the original arrangement and to increase the rates of payment, the House should have been at once supplied with information as to the reasons for the change. We ought to know on what basis the increase has been granted; we ought to know what freights are charged, what amount the Government are taking out of the trading portion of the community and what interest the shipping companies are being allowed upon the outlay on these vessels. It is monstrous that such an increase should have been made without the reasons for it being put before the House.
– The trouble is that the supporters of the Government take everything offered to them without protest.
– I have availed myself of every opportunity offeringto obtain some definite information on this subject. The Shipping Board has taken over the whole of the sea transport of
Australia. We do not know at whose instigation these increases have been made, and on behalf of the Island State, of which I am a representative, I protest against the present situation. The verylife’s blood of our trading community depends upon our oversea commerce.
– If all the other representatives of Tasmania had taken as keen an interest in this matter as the honorable member has done the regulation to which he refers would have been disallowed.
– I thank the honorable member for his compliment. I hope the Government will give us an opportunity to discuss this matter, or that before we rise for the Christmas vacation they will at least submit to the House a statement showing the basis of these increases.
.- If I thought that Ministers could give us the information sought by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams), I should warmly support him, but my view is that they do not know any more about these matters than do honorable members generally. The real difficulty in connexion with this Bill is that we have outside Parliament certain unofficial dictators presiding over their respective Courts. I do not think it would be too great a stretch of the imagination to picture a Minister setting out to ascertain what his unofficial dictator really requires, carefully wiping his boots on the mat, taking off his hat on his way into the ante-chamber and entering the presence with an air of deference and humility of his unofficial dictator such as no honorable member would think of displaying towards any one of the present Ministry.
– The honorable member is not now referring to any Trades Hall junta?
– I am speaking of a really important authority, and not of an authority that can be changed from year to year. I have it from a highly qualified source that the junta at the Trades Hall is very dangerous-
The CHAIRMAN (Hon. J. M. Chanter) . - Order !
– The honorable member’s inquiry opens up a very engaging field. I feel, with the honorable member for Franklin, that this Parliament ought to know what the unofficial boards are doing.
– Is the honorable member prepared to wait here over the Christmas holidays to hear all that the Boards are doing?
– I do not think that it would take so long to learn of their doings. I have endeavoured to find out in connexion with some of these instrumentalities certain information. After much putting on of the thumb-screw by means of questions in this House, the dictator in question deigned to consider the rights of honorable members so far as to give me certain information for which I had not asked, while he gave me no information on the subjects concerning which I had made inquiry. I wish only to warn honorable members that they must not be afraid of having to work here too long as the result of the desire of these dictators to take Parliament into their confidence.
We have established in Australia under this Act - and it was necessary during the critical period of the war to do so - a new class of people of whom we have never heard before. I refer to unofficial dictators. In the past we always had either public servants or civilians, with an occasional “ salt of the earth,” in the shape of a politician,who could keep both sides in their places. These people, however, are working behind the back of Parliament - working quite honestly for the good of the country, I believe - but they are directing matters of policy. This Parliament is created to control the policy of Australia, but these unofficial gentlemen control all matters of policy to-day, and Ministers are the mere registration agents of their wishes and desires.
– This is an open confession.
– No, I have been speaking in this way for quite a long period nf the attitude of the unofficial dictators. My own view is that it is for these gentlemen to advise the Government, and for the Government to weigh their advice, and to submit a policy to the representatives of the people. That is not done now. One of these uncrowned kings comes to a busy Minister, and says, “ I want such-and-such a regulation passed,” and the regulation is passed. The Minister said to me this morning, in a tone of badinage, “ I am sure if the honorable member for Wentworth, with the wide knowledge he has of these regulations, were to weigh his words,” yet I am willing to make a sporting wager that he himself does not know how many regulations under the War Precautions Act have been passed in his own Department. I do not suggest that he knows what the regulations are about; I say that he does not even know how many there are of them !
In future, Parliament will expect Ministers to supervise what is going on. The other d*y I asked a question about future activities under the War Precautions Act, and desired that any matter of policy affecting the establishment of new industries, or the consolidation, or encouragement of existing industries, would be put before the House for its consideration. To my question, the Actting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) replied that it was not always possible to take Parliament into the confidence of the Government on business matters until a certain stage had been reached. That is just what I am trying to prevent. For, having got a piece of business to a certain stage, Ministers claim that they must go through with the matter, in justice to those with whom they have been negotiating! Parliament does not desire the establishment of Committees over which it has no control, and my suggestion to the Minister is that, during the future administration of the Act, he should keep a wary eye on the activities of these Boards, and take from them the power of initiation. They should be regarded as a means of registering the policy of the Government; Ministers should, not be the means of registering the policies- of these influential gentlemen. If that change be made, I shall not be so afraid of the operation of the War Precautions Act.
– Ministers have promised to disband these Boards as soon as possible.
– They have shown the greatest reluctance to abandon their powers’ under the War Precautions Act at the end of next July.
– I understand that, before next July’, they will finish all matters coming under the Act, if they can.
– I know the standing of these official advisers of the Government, and have no hesitation in saying that if it comes to a challenge of wits, or determination, a man like Sir John Higgins will hold his own against the average Minister, and almost against the whole Cabinet. The Government must recognise that these Boards must come to an end, and I do not think Sir John Higgins thinks of himself as coming to an end. I am not unmindful of the very hard work, and in some things of the excellent work, that he has done. But it is for Parliament to control Government policy, and the first thing Ministers should do is to see that in future these gentlemen do not originate policies. We have not given the Government a blank cheque, nor have we given a blank cheque to their advisers outside. I am satisfied to allow a Government that I trust to take into its hands the control of a policy ; but the things which are making this Government unpopular are things for which their advisers are responsible, and of which Ministers know nothing except as mere registration agents. I ask Ministers to divest themselves of their academic calm, and to get down to the business questions with which they have to deal. Their advisers outside are at present controlling trade and development more effectively than Parliament could do by imposing heavy Tariff duties on many of the commodities affected.
.- I am glad that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams) has brought up the question of shipping. I should like to know .whether the Government proposes to give any relief to the people of Tasmania, who, being an insular community, have suffered seriously during the war by reason of the high shipping freights which have ruled. Now that the war is over, freights should be reduced. Every company on the coast is accumulating big reserves, and paying large dividends, and a Government representative of the people of the Commonwealth might be expected to say, “ Now that the war is over, we expect to have as much shipping as possible brought back to the Australian coast, with a view to restoring the normal prewar conditions.” But, although it is more than a month since the armistice was signed, the Government has done nothing. The public is asking that freights on the coast be reduced; and I am satisfied that if the Tasmanian representatives were to band together to bring pressure on the Government, a reduction of freights would be made.
– Is the honorable member suggesting that when shipping is brought back under its former control there should be a reduction in freights?
– The Government has power to control our shipping, and is doing so, under the War Precautions Act. It therefore has power to relieve business people by reducing freights on the coast, and I am surprised that. Ministerialists do not insist on it. I hope that when the third reading of the Bill ismoved, a protest will be made against it, until the Government have given us the assurance that they will bring down freights. The balance-sheets of the shipping companies show staggering profits, though when we seek for information on the subject we cannot get it. Is it that the Shipping Board does not wish us to have this information ? It must be remembered that that Board is the servant of Parliament, and that we have a right to be told what we wish to know. In my opinion, the high freights now being charged on the coast are retarding the progress of the country, and I should like to hear the Minister promise that a regulation will be issued reducing these freights. That is a fair demand. I shall be prepared to support the honorable member for Franklin and any other honorable member who tries to relieve the commercial classes by bringing back normal shipping conditions.
– When I spoke a few minutes ago, I was without certain figures which I now propose to give to the Committee. “Regulation 87 was issued on the 26th March last. It allowed for vessels of 6,000 tons burden a payment of 14s. a ton per month; for vessels of 5,000 tons burden, a payment of 14s. 6d. per ton; while for vessels of 4,000 tons, the payment was 15s. per ton; for vessels of 3,000 tons, 15s. 6d. per ton; for vessels of 2,000 tons, 16s. per ton; and fqr vessels of 1,800 tons, 16s. per ton. A second regulation was issued on the 24th October last, superseding that issued in March, and increasing the rates from the 1st April last.
– Who was responsible for that?
– Parliament was responsible.
– We have not had an opportunity to discuss the matter.
– Only on occasions _like this. The second regulation raised the price paid for vessels of 6,000 tons and 5,000 by 2s. 6d. a ton per month; for vessels of 4,000 tons, by 3s. per ton; for vessels of 3,000 tons by 4s. per ton; for vessels of 2,000 tons, 4s. 6d. per ton ; and for vessels of 1,800 tons, 3s. 6d. per ton; and for smaller vessels, 4s. a ton. I have shown that timber freights have been increased 25 per cent. Prior to the war, the freight on coal from Newcastle to Melbourne was 5s. 6d. per ton; and it is now 8s. 6d. per ton by the same ships.
– What would it have been if there had been no regulation?
– This Parliament has professed to stand in the way of profiteering. We have fixed prices, to the detriment of the primary producer, and yet have allowed the shipping companies, manufacturers, and traders, to increase their prices practically as they liked. Prices have been increased on the primary producer and on the consumer, and the House has saidnothing. I believe that if the Government had never fixed the price of wool it would have brought a great deal more than it is bringingto day.
– What is the good of talking like that? We could not have got the wool away.
– Yes, we could, because the two countries which wanted wool - the United States of Americaand
Japan - were the two countries that had ships.
– Did not the Imperial Government ask our Government not to let those countries have the wool ?
– I am not complaining about that.
– What does he care about the Imperial Government? .
– That is just one of the absurd statements that the Minister is prone to make.I have already said that the price of wool is quite high enough, and that we had no right to ask the Imperial Government for more. But when it is interjected that by regulating the price of wool a great deal more has been given to the producer of wool than he otherwise would have got, I say that it is not so.
– They got a higher price.
– I say they did not; if there had been no price fixed the producer would have got considerably more. I do not say that the producer ought to have got considerably more, but merely that the two countries that wanted wool were prepared to buy it and send ships for it. I make bold to say that if any man had permission he could, in forty-eight hours, either in Melbourne or Sydney, sell £1,000,000 worth of wool at 25 per cent. increase on what the woolgrowers are getting.
– Do you think -that would be loyal ?
– I do not think it ought to be done.
– Then why make all this uoise ?
– Because of the interjection to the effect that the woolgrowers have got a great deal more by reason of the price-fixing. But it is just the senseless sort of interjection that the honorable member generally makes. I say that the wool-growers got quite enough, and it would have been neither just nor loyal to insist on the Imperial Government giving more than it did. The Imperial Government have treated us well in every way.
– Tbey have paid cash for wool which they could not ship.
– That is so. My point is that if no price had been fixed the wool-grower would have got a great deal more than he has during the last few years.
However, let us come back to the real point - the shipping. There are three Ministers in the House now, and I ask any one of them to tell us what amount the Government are getting out of their contract with the shipping companies, and what amount they are paying to the companies? That, I think, is a fair question. When freights are being increased enormously along the coast of Australia we have a right, in the interests of the commercial life of the country, to know what the Government are paying, and what they are getting out of the arrangement. My contention is that today there is not a member in the House who knows what profit the Government are making, or what loss, or what percentage the shipping companies are getting on their outlay.
– What do you think the freights would have been if the companies had been free ?
– That has nothing to do with the point I have raised. By a regulation dated 24th October, this year, the Government superseded a regulation made in March last fixing the rental as from the 1st April, and the rental under that regulation has been increased in some cases from 15 per cent. to 20 per cent.
– Are you protesting against that?
-I want to know on what ground the increase has been made. Do the Government find themselves making too much out of the bargain, or are the companies not making enough? Is it because the freights were not sufficiently high to enable the companies to make a “do” of the business?
– The companies have nothing to do with the freights.
-I do not say they have. The Government really have a complete charter over these vessels. The companies pay everything, and the Government allow them, roughly, from 16s. 6d. to 20s.6d. per ton per month, as a gross charter. This position has not been fully explained; but, having taken a special interest in the question, I have a little grasp of it. The Government, as I say, pay to the companies from 16s. 6d. to 20s. 6d. per ton per month, the companies finding wages, coal, maintenance, and insurance. Those charges have been increased, and the increase goes back to 1st April, and this House knew nothing whatever about the matter.
– Do you mean that the increase has been made retrospective?
– Yes, to1st April. Has the House no right to some information ?
– The arrangement was gazetted.
-No doubt; but what information does that give any honorable member? Can the Minister tell what profits the companies are making - whether they are fair and reasonable, or are not sufficient, or considerably more than they ought to have? Any ordinary person outside a shipping company, any ordinary member of Parliament, or even any ordinary Minister, as distinguished from the Minister in charge of shipping, has no information on the matter.
– How long have you had. the figuresyou have quoted?
– For nearly three weeks; but this is the first opportunity to deal with it.
– You could have- got the information by asking one question.
– ThenI shall ask that question to-morrow.
– I can give you an answer now.
– If, by producing these figures, I have been the means of obtaining information on this subject, I have done some service to Parliament and to the country this afternoon. One of my great objections to the continuance of the Act is that the House has absolutely no opportunity to discuss the regulations issued under it. The regulations are laid formally on the table of the House, and the only way in which a discussion can be raised on them is to challenge the Government. If a member gives notice of a motion to consider a regulation
– It is a farce !
– It is, because the House is given no opportunity to deal with private members’ motions. Indeed, I have had an important notice of motion on the paper for two years - ever since this Parliament met. There will certainly not be an opportunity to discuss that motion before the House rises.
– If the regulation to which the honorable member refers had not been made under the War Precautions Act, freights would have been much higher.
– I cannot say whether they would or not.
– What is the experience of other parts of the world?
– I cannot say what the freights might have been.
– My impression is that they would have been four times as high.
– In other parts of the world freights are 80s.
– Parliament adopted the policy of price-fixing to prevent undue profits; and if theshipping companies had raised their freights to 80s. a ton, the House would not have tolerated it.
– How could it be stopped without a regulation ?
– How do we fix prices for anything else?
– Under the War Precautions Act.
– The Assistant Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) suggests that if the arrangement with the shipping companies had not been made, the price would have gone up to 80s.; but if the companies had attempted to put their freights at anything like that figure, I venture to say that the Minister for Price Fixing (Mr. Greene) would have prohibited them by a regulation.
– Under exactly the same Act.
– Without this arrangement, many of the vessels would not have run to distant States, because they can make better money with shorter voyages, and the distant States would have been penalized.
– That could not occur, because, as honorable members know, there is an arrangement, or what is termed “ an honorable understanding “ between the shipping companies. It is not possible to induce a vessel to run between Queensland and Tasmania from any of the companies concerned, because companies that trade from Sydney northward will not come south to compete with the other parties to the understanding, and those which trade in the south will not go north.
– There is nothing to preyent the companies taking their boats off the northern trade.
Mr.McWILLIAMS.- Not a bit.I come back to where i started, and say that it is not right that an arrangement for the increase in the rentals of these ships should be given, and Parliament left without the slightest information on which to arrive at an opinion as to whether it is a fair or proper arrangement.
.- i am glad this matter has been brought up. i remind honorable members that when i was speaking the other evening on the shipping question, and dealing with the question of the shipping rentals, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) interjected that there had been an alteration in the rate. This left an impression on my mind, and probably on the mind of every other honorable member, that there had been a reduction, whereas now we discover that not only has there been an increase, but that it has been made retrospective. This is a serious matter, especially when we remember that the Shipping Board is constituted of interested parties, with the one exception of Admiral Clarkson, who represents the Commonwealth Government. If the figures given this afternoon are correct, and they do not seem to be denied, it seems strange that there should have been an increase of 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. This means that a large sum has been paid to the companies in excess of what they were paid up to the time the new regulation came into force. This is a matter that should be investigated. Who is to pay? It is all very well to point out what the freights would have been if it were not for Government intervention.
– In the first case these rates were fixed on the British Blue Book rates, and in the second case they were again fixed on those rates. The Shipping Board had nothing to do with the matter.
– Well, I do not think that we should slavishly follow the British rates. Shipping ran more risks in the Home waters than it was liable to in Australian waters. It is the public who have to pay these rates, and whatever justification there may have been for paying the high freights prevailing elsewhere while the war was in progress, this is not the time to consider an increase here. It is really time to consider the possibility of a decrease in the amount we are paying per month. We must bear in mind that the hirings, or rates, whatever they may be termed, were framed at a time when freights all over the world were very high, and when possibly the Government made the best arrangements they could, but the cables now tell us that already freights have dropped 25 per cent., and it is possible that in the near future they will drop a great deal more. The cables also tell us that there are many boats available for the Australian trade. Whereas we could not get a vessel a few months ago, we are now informed that there will be seventy boats in Sydney Harbor before April.
– The honorable member has already been told that there is no official confirmation nf that information.
-Sometimes information comes to hand from people in control of shipping which, although it is not official, is found to be quite correct. The very fact that freights have dropped to the extent of 25 per cent. seems to indicate that there are more boats available for the Australian trade than there were prior to the cessation of hostilities. I venture to say that, as time goes on, more boats will be available, and that, as a consequence, freights must fall.
Just about the time the armistice was signed, the Government increased the rent paid for the boats they control by 20 or 25 per cent., and the arrangement was retrospective. If honorable members permit this sort of thing without protest they are whittling away their rights. We might just as well give the Government Supply for the next year or two’, and close the doors of Parliament until the War Precautions Act expires, as come here to do business in the way into which we have drifted during the last year or two. Our rights, as representatives of the people who have sent us here, amount to very little. There can be no denial of the fact that independent Boards, -mostly consisting of interested parties quite outside Parliament, have taken charge of the affairs of the country. The truth’ of this is only too apparent. We have no reports submitted to the House showing what these Boards have done.
I have not heard a word as to what have been the earnings of the boats taken over by the Commonwealth and placed under the control of the Shipping Board. We should know whether a profit has been made. Of course, if any profit has been earned, it will go back to the people who are called upon to pay these high rents; but, instead of making a profit above the rental paid for the hire of these boats I would rather see the freights kept down as low as possible, so that produce may be carried to its port of discharge as cheaply as possible. I could understand the Government working on those lines, but I am puzzled at the constitution of the Shipping Board. With the exception of Admiral Clarkson the members of the Board are all interested in shipping. I do not say that we should not have on the Board men with a practical knowledge of shipping, but I claim that other men with business knowledge, and representatives of the public, should also be appointed to it, and that it should be compelled to furnish reports to Parliament at least once a month. Our position to-day is that we are asked to grant supply to cover the cost of undertakings about which we know nothing. Although I thought that the Government were working on. a wrong basis in the constitution of these Boards, I have refrained from criticism as much as possible during the progress of the war. I always hoped that something would be done to put them on a proper footing, but the position has not been alter.ed, and now we are asked to prolong the life of the War Precautions Act, which provides the Shipping Board with the powers it operates.
– The Acting Prime Minister stipulated that the Shipping Board was one that should have its powers retained.
– I do not say that it may not be necessary to do this, but I claim that we ought to be taken into the confidence of the Government, and made acquainted with what is going on in connexion with the administration of this Board. I doubt whether any one outside the Minister who is actually in control of the Department knows what is going on. How can we justify this sort of thing to our constituents? I feel that I cannot do so, and that is why I protest in this way. If’ the Acting Prime Minister had submitted reasons for the continuance of the Shipping Board, or any of the other Boards, we would have been in a better position to deal with the matter. I do not say that some of the thirty-four Boards in existence may not be necessary, but I contend that we should get reports from them to let honorable members know exactly what they are doing. The general public cannot imagine that we, as public men, would permit the control of this country to pass into the hands of so many Boards, chiefly composed of interested persons. We never intended it when the War Precautions Bill was first passed.
– I have read the debates on the three previous War Precautions Bills, and I find that discussion was confined to the matter of court-martialling private citizens.
– This is a list of the various Commonwealth Boards or Committees in existence: -
Central Wool Committee.
State Wool Committees.
Sheep Skin Sub-Committees.
Control of Shipping.
Inter-State Central Shipping Committee.
Sydney Committee, Metal Exchange.
Navy Contract and Purchase Board.
Central Coal Board.
State Coal Boards.
Commonwealth Flax Industry Committee.
Price Fixing Department.
Council of Finance.
War Savings Council.
Central Stores Supply and Tender Board.
Board of Business Administration.
War Railway Council. (Munitions Directorate.
Commonwealth Repatriation Commission.
State Repatriation Boards.
Commonwealth Board of Trade.
Bureau of Commerce and Industry.
Institute of Science and Industry.
State Committees of Science and Industry.
Australian Wheat Board.
Wheat Storage Commission.
Commonwealth Winter Butter Pool.
Federal Butter Committee, and State secretaries.
Leather Industries Board.
Sulphate of Ammonia Board.
It seems to me that quite a number of these Boards deal with the same matter.
– The paper control lasted for a week, and cost £1,500.
– Expenditure might have been curtailed by concentrating several matters in the control of one Board.But why some of the Boards should continue to exist at the present time is beyond my comprehension. The Minister should tell the Committee why many of them remain in existence now that the armistice has been signed.
– Some of them have already been wound up.
– Yes, I understand that the Paper Control Board, which cost a good deal of money and did no work, has disappeared.
– There are more Boards than the list indicates, because many of those mentioned by the honorable member have Inter-State branches.
– It naturally follows that when a Department is set up it extends its ramifications in order to have branches in the different States, adding greatly to the cost which the community has to bear. Now that the war has ceased, the sooner we set about getting our house in order and getting back to normal conditions the better it will be for all concerned. Why should we perpetuate these abnormal conditions? We are told that the reason for the existence of the War Precautions Act no longer exists, and that with few exceptions the Boards are no longer required. But the few exceptions are not mentioned. The Minister should be prepared to give reasons for extending the life of these Boards, and should tell us whether he will compel them to furnish reports to the House from time to time, so that honorable members may be able to peruse them, and be in a better position to deal with the commodities they control.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
.- Throughout the speeches that have been delivered on this Bill has been manifest a desire on the part of honorable members to return to responsible government. That -sentiment has been like an undertone running throughout the debate. Honorable members know that, to a large extent, the development of Australia has been arrested because of the war, but they feel, also, that there is in operation in the community certain influences of a disturbing and disrupting character that are inimical to the progress of the country. And the desire of every honorable member without consideration of party feeling is so to unite the forces of the community as to secure the best results. In the opinion of honorable gentlemen responsible government exercised in a legitimate way is the remedy for all our difficulties. We have had the admission repeatedly made, not only by the Acting Prime Minister, hut by both opponents and supporters of this measure, that during the operation of the War Precautions Act there has been a usurpation of responsible government. The worst exhibition of that usurpation is the appointment of Committees and Boards to take charge of the affairs of the country. When speaking on the second reading of this Bill, I said that there were twentyfour or twenty-five of such bodies in existence, but I findthat the actual number is thirty-four, and although one finds consolation in the fact that Boards are mostly wooden, and provide a buffer between Parliament and the Minister, what we wish to avoid is a perpetuation of those obstacles to direct Ministerial control, and to Parliament having the final say as to how the country shall be governed. It must be said, in recognition of the attitude of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams), that throughout he has protested against the appointment of these Boards without including upon each of the more important ones at least two members representative of both parties in this Parliament. That would at least insure that the voice of the people would be heard in regard to the matters the Boards were dealing with. I am notmuch disturbed in mind about the control of wheat, wool, and other seasonal products, because even under the War Precautions Act those things will right themselves within a comparatively short period. But a Board has been appointed to control the base metal industry. Base metals are an increasingly important item in commercial affairs, and the Board has been operating its business in such a way that I fear that the future mineral development of Australia will be seriously jeopardized.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable member is discussing the general principles of the Bill, and so repeating the second-reading debate, instead of confining his remarks to the amendment.
– As the clause and the amendment relate to the continuance of regulations under which the various Boards are appointed, I rule that the honorable member is in order.
– A good deal is being said in Australia and in the Alliedcountries as to the future trade relationships of the Allies, and we know that a strong effort will be made to’ make one of the features of the peace settlement an Inter-Allied economic arrangement which will secure to each Allied Power a direct share and interest in the products of the other Allies. Australia is so happily situated in regard to its natural mineral resources that it will be drawn upon heavily by most of the other Allied countries for those metals which are essential for the development of many industrial operations. We must make sure that no other nations have a right to say to us what metals we shall produce, the quantity we shall export, where they shall be sent, how they shall be treated, or what prices shall be paid for them. My fear is that if this matter is controlled. by an irresponsible Board over which neither the Government nor Parliament has any control, we shall be allowing ‘our metal industry to be exploited for the benefit of other nations. However willing we may be to be economic as well as political friends with those with whom we have been so closely associated during the war, our first and dominating consideration must be the interests of Australia. I fail to see how, in regard to metals or other products, we can assure to Australia complete control over its own industries and future progress if we are to be compelled owing to any arrangement between the Allied Powers to have our economic future’ dictated by a body outside Australia, or even by an irresponsible Board within Australia. Therefore, we require something more certain and positive than the assurance we have already received from the Government. We desire a definite statement that these Boards will be superseded and eliminated at the earliest possible moment. According to the highest ideals of British parliamentary government it is essential to make one man directly responsible to Parliament for the administration of a certain Department. How can we have Ministerial control and responsibility when the Minister is merely the automaton of irresponsible Boards? In many cases he is merely the chairman ex-officio, and he does not pretend, to be able to satisfy the House as to the -reasons for the actions taken by the committee; all he can do is to say, “ The committee is responsible for this.” This system is developing to such an extent that even in the Government Departments a number of Boards and committees have been established, and when one makes an inquiry it is not from the Ministerial quarter that he gets his information, but from the committees or Boardswhich are working in the Department, independent of Ministerial control or supervision.
The whole effect of the clause that is now before the Committee is that the Boards and committees which have been constituted under the Act are tobe continued ; we are still to have government by outside autocrats who are not even responsible to the persons engaged in the industry which they presume to control. Yet we are told that the world is to be made safe for Democracy.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– We should tear up the War Precautions Act, and return to responsible government, under which the Minister would be answerable in this House for the actions of his Department. There is not one honorable member who will say that in the regular operation of Government activities in normal times such committees are necessary. Else what are we here for ? These committees were brought into existence only as an extraneous series of special appointments for special purposes for a limited time.
– If they were abolished straightway what would the honorable member do?
– Have a change of Government.
– That is a fitting answer to the question of the honorable member for New England, because if a change of Government took place there would be an immediate appeal to the people for such an extension of the powers of this Parliament as would give us continuous and direct control over these matters. Although the Government are in favour of governmental control to some extent, I believe they would oppose any amendment of the Constitution in that direction just as viciously as they did when referenda were taken on the subject on previous occasions.
– The honorable member is exceeding the scope of the amendment.
– The question is whether these committees are to be continued, and, if so, for how long. I am prepared to admit that it will be necessary, under some conditions, to continue some of the Boards in operation for a time. A large number could go out of existence to-morrow with advantage and pleasure to the whole business community. In Mr. Knibbs’ most recent statement as to the cost of living, in so far as it has been affected by the pricefixing operations of the Government, it is pointed out that there has been a regular progression in the added cost of living throughout the whole war period, and particularly during the last two years.
– That has occurred in every other country.
– That is no justification for the increase here. We have, for instance, a big surplus of wheat, on which our bread supply is based. No other country has had a surplus of wheat.
– And we have here the cheapest milk, the cheapest sugar, the cheapest meat, and the cheapest butter.
– We ought to have. It is a peculiar economic doctrine that, because bread is, say, 9d. a large loaf in England, it ought to be the same price here.
– And we have been able to sell our surplus wheat at a higher price than before the war.
– We have a tremendous wheat surplus, a magnificent supply of butter, and a surplus supply of sugar. Who is better entitled to the benefit of the lower prices due to overproduction or the possession of a surplus t han are the people of the country in which that surplus is created? That seems to me to be the very alphabet of economic arrangement. And yet honorable members opposite say, because France, whose industries have been suspended, and whose lands have been devastated by war, cannot get cheap meat and bread, we should not be able to obtain cheap meat and bread here. If by paying what France is paying for these commodities we could help that country, I should be prepared to consider such a proposal; but there is no reason why Australia should be compelled to pay unnecessary increases in the cost of living.
– Who suggested that she should be?
– That was the deduction to be drawn from the honorable member’s interjections. The cost of living has been affected by the Boards to which I have been referring. In various ways they have determined the prices of numerous commodities. Taking the result of their operations as the test of their necessity, then it would be a good thing for the people to abolish them at once, since it would probably lead to a reduced cost of living.
The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Boyd) said to-day that he had not heard of any concrete illustrations of the profiteering said to have been going on in Australia. Some time ago I submitted a statement giving the names of a large number of firms that have made enormous profits and added very substantial sums to their reserves during the war. It is quite probable that there may be an explanation of these increases, but when we see a firm or a company paying larger dividends than before the war, and adding increased amounts to their reserves, the natural conclusion is that they have been making extra profits.
.- Then we get at them through the war-time profits tax.
– My honorable friend can offer me no consolation in that fact. I have always opposed the wartime profits tax, and would vote against it at any time, since I do not believe it to be just.
I have to leave now to address a meeting in the Socialists’ Hal] in regard to this very question. I hope that during my absence no vote will be taken, because I am anxious to vote against any extension of the Act. I believe it to be opposed to the development, the good government, and the best interests of Australia. A maxim that can never be shaken is that the science of good government is to make it easy to do right and hard to do wrong. The War Precautions Act has made it hard for the people to be loyal, true, and genuine; but it has made it very easy for a lot of people to advantage themselves at the expense of the rest of the community. The sooner we get back to the feeling that we are the Parliament of Australia charged with the good government of Australia, and that we have the control of Australia in our hands, the sooner will this Parliament return to its true place in the community. This Act defeats us at every turn. It takes the government out of the hands of the people and Parliament and lodges it in the hands of irresponsible Committees and Boards, or in the hands of Ministers who can do what they choose without the authority of Parliament. If the Act had been as honestly administered during the last two years as it was during the first two years of its operation, there would not have been the sameground for complaint. I hope honorable members will not allow the clause to be amended in such a way as will permit of the perpetuation of these Committees and Boards.
– I shall oppose the amendment. I disagree with the view expressed by a good many honorable members, since I hold that, in some instances, these Boards are necessary. The interjection by the honorable member for New England. (Lt.-Colonel Abbott), who asked, “What are we going to do if we dispense with these Boards?” illustrates the exact position of the Government. They were returned in a majority to administer the affairs of the country, but recognising how lacking they were in ability to follow a party that had done big things, they created Boards, in the hope of thus carrying on the governmental affairs of a big continent. They feel now that to dispense with these Boards would be practically to dispense with themselves. From the coming into office of the present Government, the Commonwealth has been governed entirely by Boards, and not by the representatives of the people. Ministers are supposed to be ex officio members of the Boards associated with their Departments. They are very much “ ex “ ; I know nothing about the officio. I have drawn attention in this House to regulations issued over the signature of a Minister who confessed that he knew nothing about them. On one occasion I’ pointed out to a Minister that he had powers of which he knew nothing.
– Did he proceed then to use them?
– Yes. It may be necessary to continue some of these Boards, since the Ministry have not the ability to conduct the affairs of the country without outside assistance. The Government should recognise, however, that if these Boards are to be continued the workers should have representation upon them. Those who are actually creating wealth just as much as are the men of business, have a direct interest in the working of these Boards, and should have a voice in their management. Some time ago a gentleman interviewed me in regard to the Board appointed to control the export of honey. He had some honey that he desired to ship. He told me that he had seen the Controller of Shipping, who had referred him to the Controller of Honey. The Controller of Honey told him that he would have to go to some gentleman who was assisting to get together a sufficient quantity of honey to demand space from the Controller of the Shipping Board.
– There is no Board controlling honey.
– I was informed that honey was being controlled by Mr. Foley of Sussex-street; the Controller of Shipping is Sir Owen Cox.
– The export of honey is not controlled in this country : it is controlled in England.
– The Shipping Board prevents honey from leaving this country.
– If I had honey to send to the other side of the world, I could get it taken there only on a ship.
– The honorable member i3 going beyond the question before the Chair. The administration of the various Boards may be alluded to, but not in detail.
– Then I shall leave the question of honey alone, and deal with the Metals Board. If a man who has an interest in a mine wishes to dispose of his product, he has first to make arrangements with the Metal Board, and then with the Shipping Board. A man who, by hard work and good luck combined, has made something out of a mine, has . to allow his product to pass under the control of three or four Boards before it can reach the market for sale. That is wrong. If these Boards were created to assist the “producers, and to facilitate industry, they should bring the producers and the consumers into the closest relations possible; but that is not done.
– The honorable member is blaming the War Precautions Act for things which dts operation is not affecting.
– These Boards were created under the Act, and the Government has power to say how they shall work, and what their -personnel shall be.
– We have no control over shipping.
– When the war commenced, the Government set itself to organize trade and industry by the creation of Boards, but the effect has been to throw the control into the hands of the big men, and to prevent the little man from having a chance to live. Take groceries, meat, or any other commodities. The trade in them has been centralized, and is controlled by a few persons appointed by the Government..
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - It was a Labour Government that passed the War Precautions Act, and appointed these Boards.
– I admit it; but we now wish to get rid of the Act, which has become a Frankenstein monster. I would not object to a Shipping Board if the various shipping interests were properly represented. I do not see why the President of the Waterside Workers Federation should not have a seat on the Board.
– It would be an education to him.
– And to the other members of the Board. He would show how its business should be run. Had it not been for the Government control of shipping, we would have been charged any freight possible. I want the Government to have control of the shipping industry.
– The honorable member does not suppose that the man who is interested in shipping is more dishonest than any other man in the community?
-No. The shipowner has been unfairly treated in comparison with the man interested in metals, or in wool, or in some other commodities. Nevertheless, the balance-sheets of the shipping companies show that they have increased their reserves, and paid bigger dividends since the war began, and have done well. God knows what the other fellows have been doing who have been under no restriction. I shall vote against the measure, because I do not believe in the present constitution of the Boards. It is impossible to hope that the Government will throw aside the Bill. Evidently they intend to keep in force the War Precautions Act and all the iniquitous regulations under it. I would favour the continuance of the Boards only if their personnel were altered. There should be a certain number of business men on them.
– The constitution of the Boards is not before the Committee.
– Then I have little more to say. I hope that the Government will take steps to bring about better organization if the Boards are to be kept in existence*
– I wish to say a few more words regarding the Peace Precautions Act, whose operation the Government desire to extend. Ministers are evidently determined to win this war at any cost; and, in order that the war may be thoroughly won, they ask for an extension of the tremendous powers which they have enjoyed, and which during the past two years they have wielded with no little profit to themselves.. In no other country are such powers being used to-day.
– Not even in Germany ?
– Not even in Germany. All other countries have determined to give back to the people the liberty taken from them during the war.
– It was your party that restricted the liberty of the people.
– When our party passed the War Precautions Act, certain promises were given, and every one of them was broken by the person who made them, who has been breaking promises ever since; I refer to the Leader of your party, the Prime Minister of Australia (Mr. Hughes).
– The honorable member is going beyond the amendment.
– If you allow interjections, sir, I must reply to them.
– I ‘have several times appealed to honorable members to cease interjecting. Interjections are highly disorderly, lead to recrimination, and tempt speakers to stray from the question before the Chair, which makes it very difficult for me to require relevance in the debate.
– Who.n the WarPrecautions Act was passed, certain promises were made. The powers that were to be exercised under the Act were defined fairly and clearly. It was not until party exigencies and the political existence of certain members of this Parliament required it that the Act was used unscrupulously, attempts being made to gaol members of the Labour party, to censor their speeches–
– The honorable member is again out of order. The question before, the Chair is the continuance of those provisions of the Act which give power to appoint Boards.
– Then I -will say that many Boards have been appointed. They are miniature Parliaments, with fairly extensive powers and a great capacity for spending the money of the people. There are, I believe, thirty-nine of these miniature Parliaments in existence - on so many occasions have the Government seen fit to evade certain responsibilities cast on them by virtue of their office, and, when any knotty problem arises, to hand over to others the work they are paid to do. Each of these Boards has a staff, and all are paid or receive allowances. One Board which ‘ has caused a good deal of adverse comment, is that which has now gone out of existence - I refer to the Board which controlled the paper market. This Board, which did no work, and achieved nothing, cost, approximately, £1,500. It was purely an honorary Board, but the chairman of it got £390.
– And £50 expenses.
– He got allowances and expenses. This Board, while in existence, caused untold inconvenience, upset the whole of the paper market and paper supplies of Australia, and cost the people of the country £1,500. The Minister in charge thought that the distribution of paper needed ‘ the expert knowledge of men who had been operating in the industry. The most extraordinary thing about these Boards is that it is usually the wealthy men who are appointed to them, and the bigger a man is in the way of business the more he is preferred by the Government. This remark is specially applicable to the Board which had the supervision of paper Coll. trol, and even more applicable to the Wool Board. The Wool Board consists of very wealthy squatters and woolbrokers, the latter of whom, of course, are members of the Wool-brokers Association; indeed, if they were not, they would not be on the Board. This Board has practically a monopoly of the handling of the whole of the wool of Australia.
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - Do you not admit it has handled the job splendidly?
– I say they have done it with great profit to themselves. I mean the Wool-brokers Association. I speak subject to correction, and the honorable member for the Wool-brokers Association will tell me if I am wrong-
– I am the member for Grampians .
– I thought the honorable member represented the pastoralist interest on the Board.
– I represent the people of Grampians. The pastoralists on the Board are good people.
– They are very good to themselves. However, this Board issued a regulation to prevent country wool-buyers buying more than £10 worth of wool, and by this means put into their warehouses the whole of the wool which previously had been classified, sorted, and put into a marketable condition by these country wool-buyers. By reason of this regulation, the outfits, plant, and buildings, to the value of many hundreds of thousands of pounds, previously employed by the country wool-buyers, have been rendered idle, and are returning absolutely nothing to the owner. No compensation is given, although the plant and buildings are empty, and their former employees, highly skilled men, have gone elsewhere to seek employment.
These businesses have been ruined, and those concerned are iu the unhappy position of not knowing what, the future holds for them. They say that if the Government will not allow them to carry on their businesses, the Government ought to take them over and compensate them for their losses. If the Government, by medium of the Board to which the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) belongs, is going to prevent, at one fell swoop, these men from carrying on their occupation, compensation ought to be given. But I claim - and from no small experience amongst the small farmers and graziers - that the class of business which has been ruined by the Wool Board fills a very important place in the lives of people who are far from towns and railway systems.
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - If the embargo limit, instead of £10, were made £25, would that help ?
– I do not see why there should be any- limit at all, because no result from its abolition is likely to. harm the credit of Australia, or affect’ the price of wool. Instead of the handling, sorting, re-classing, and so forth, being made a monopoly for the Woolbrokers Association, the work should be done by the country wool-buyers. Ultimately, of course, the wool would find its way to the wool-brokers, but these latter would not then do the classifying at Jd. per lb.,’ and let it out at contract at a farthing, thus making a farthing on the deal.
– Does the honorable member say that is done?
– I aim informed on fairly reliable .authority that it is done.’
– The honorable member is misinformed.
– The position of. the country wool-buyers is an unfortunate one, and there is nothing to prevent the withdrawing of this particular regulation issued by the Wool Board. No possible harm could result except to the woolbrokers themselves; the only people who would be adversely affected by the repeal of the regulation would be some members of the Wool Board itself.
– That is not the case.
– Those wool-brokers on the Board have their businesses all over Australia, and practically the whole of the wool, small parcels of which used to go through the country buyers, now goes into the hands of the wool-brokers.
– That is centralization.
– It is. The sooner these thirty-nine miniature Parliaments are dissolved, and the sooner the country returnsto responsible government by representatives of the people, the better it will be for Australia and the Australian people.
.- The only thing wrong about these Boards is their constitution. The real Government of this country consists of the gentlemenwho form these Boards - the gentlemen whose interests are represented on the Boards by the gentlemen who constitute the Boards. There is a school of thought in politics and economics in this and every other country which believes that it is the economic conditions prevailing in a country that determine the sort of government the country has. In Australia, the inner ring which governed this country prior to the war, and has governed it during the war period, instead of being camouflaged as formerly, has been brought out into the open by the National Government or party, and has been given nominal as well as actual power by those whose interests they represent. The real Government, as I say, is these Boards- the gentlemen whose interests are represented by themselves’ on the Boards. There are Boards to control wool, sheepskins, the metal exchange, shipping, and the flax industry. There are Boards of trade, Committees of science and industry, butter and wheat pools, and so on ; and what a different attitude is adopted by the Government towards these Boards, from that adopted when it is a question of the worker. We do not find members of the Wool Board being brought before Mr. Justice Higgins or Mr. Justice Powers–
– They have a Higgins of their own.
– But he is not the same gentleman by any means. There is not the same procedure adopted as in the case of the working classes. We do not hear of those gentlemen who constitute these Boards being asked how much they spend on dress, underclothing, handkerchiefs, tooth-paste, and other toilet requisites.
– How does the honorable member propose to connect these remarks with the question before us?
– I thought it was obvious that I was contrasting the conduct of the Government in the constitution of these Boards, and the manipulation of the Act and regulations in looking after the economic interests of the gentlemen who pay their election expenses-
– The honorable member is not in order in doing that. I am allowing considerable latitude in the way of allusion to these Boards and their inquiries, but the constitution of the Boards is not involved in the question before the Chair, and to discuss it some other means must be found. The question is whether the Boards are to be continued or not.
– I am adducing reasons why they should not be continued one minute. As I am not permitted to allude to tooth-powder, I shall merely point out that comment has been made on the fact that we have a superabundance of wheat and other necessaries of life in this country, and it is said that our people are in an excellent position by reason of that superabundance. Yet, in this marvellously blessed community I find, from this evening’s paper, that a poor mother in this city is so poor and penniless that when her boy died she could not afford to bury him, and had to wheel him away from home, and leave the body lying in a public place.
– The honorable member must see that he is transgressing - going quite outside the question.
– If you had not interrupted me I should have shown where the connexion lay. It is that the regulations under this Act are so framed as to prevent any criticism by working class speakers or writers of the actions of those who constitute the Boards dealing with different commodities. When they claim credit for the great advantage accruing to the working classes through the fixing of the price of articles, surely I am at liberty to point out one disadvantage of the result of their efforts !
– The honorable member may not do so at this stage. I have already allowed too much latitude.
– I am sorry that it seems to be usual for me to rise just when the Chairman has decided not to allow further latitude. Seeing that I am not permitted to point out the economic conditions prevailing among the workers, as the result of lack of action on the part of various Boards, or because of the ineptitude of those constituting them, I will direct attention to the Metal Exchange. I have endeavoured on several occasions to obtain from the Acting Prime Minister some information with regard to .the conditions under which lead and zinc have been sold to the British Board of Trade; but notwithstanding the fact that the share market has jumped in regard to Barrier shares, and the price of lead has jumped up £12 per ton in one day, we have been unable to obtain any information of value to the workers engaged in” the industry. If we examine the constitution of the 101 Boards, sub-committees, and so forth, and the statement made by the Acting Prime Minister, particularly that portion of it in which he emphasized the powers whiCh apply to trade and commerce, we cannot but come to the! conclusion that it is a fact, which is becoming increasingly clear to the workers of the community, that our so-called responsible government is a farce, and that the interests represented on the various Boards are really governing this country. Not one
Minister has replied to the allegations made by honorable members sitting behind them that the Government have facilitated the formation of trusts and combines which are crushing out small activities. But honorable members who demand the restoration of responsible government, and talk of unofficial autocrats, yet sit tamely behind the Government which has appointed them.
– The honorable member cannot be permitted to discuss that matter.
– Surely I am permitted to criticise honorable members opposite, who are guilty of the inconsistency of denouncing their own Government for appointing Boards, while tamely acquiescing in keeping it in power ?
– The honorable member may do so at another stage, but certainly not in Committee on this amendment.
.- I do not know of one representative of the workers who finds a place on any Board. The personnel of every Board has been confined solely to those who know practically nothing about the production of Australia, or about the particular commodity they are asked to regulate. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) has dealt briefly with the paper control, which lasted for a week. I do not think that any one seriously believes that any work was done by the Controller, Mr. Brookes, the President of the Employers’ Federation, who was to receive £1,500 per annum for his services, but payments were made in connexion with the control to the extent of £1,536 5s. lOd.
– I rise to a point of order. Can the honorable member discuss a Board that is not in existence ?
– As I have already said on two or three occasions during the debate since the adjournment, while I will permit allusions to a Board, the constitution of it is not involved in the question before the Chair. Honorable members must take another opportunity of dealing with the constitution of Boards.
– I would like a quorum to listen to my remarks. [Quorum formed.] I would point out to the honorable member for Illawarra that the paper control is still in operation. It is from an economical point of view that it is reasonable to assume that many of these Boards should be wiped out, so that the enormous salaries paid to the members of them may be diverted to some more useful channel such as repatriation work. It is particularly unfair that the people who are responsible for the production of a commodity are prevented from being represented on the Board controlling it.
– I ask the honorable member not to follow that line of argument.
– There is no representative of the small producers on the Wheat Board, although about £4,000,000 has to be paid by the producers of this country to Wheat Pool agents.
– It is paid by those who’ buy the wheat.
– It is paid by those who produce the wheat, seeing that it was sold at 3s. 9d. and 4s. 3d. per bushel, whereas the price should have been 5s. per bushel. The following payments have been made to Wheat Pool agents: - James Bell and Company, £176,752; John Darling and Sons, £133,832; Dalgety and Company, £214,967; Lindley Walker, £234,635; L. Dreyfus and Company, £175,947; Mulholland and Company, £90,963; Sheppard, Harvey, and Company, £46,625; Farmers and Settlers Association, £24,169, making a total for New South Wales alone of £1,117,890.
– Over what period?
– From the commencement of the pools up to the present time. To the Victorian agents was paid £1,598,000; to the South Australian agents, £1,007,381; to the Western Australian agents, £342,030; making a grand total for Australia of £4,165,301. Those Wheat Pool agents were brought into operation as a direct result of the War Precautions Act. If it had not been for the creation of the Wheat Pool agents under a War Precautions regulation, the producers Would have received for their wheat. an extra £4,165,301. Having regard to those figures, is it reasonable to suppose that even the farming community desires an extension of the War Precautions Act? The total amount paid to J. Bell and Company for the assistance they gave to the farmers of this country, was £691,873, although that company never grew a blade of wheat.
– How much of that sum . was paid in New South Wales?
– In New South Wales, James Bell and Company received £176,752 for doing nothing.
– The honorable member does not think that people are lunatics.
– Those who advocate a continuance of this system whereby these firms can exploit the producers in this way must be a little loose mentally. Over £4,000,000 was paid to Wheat Pool agents that should have gone into the pockets of the producers.
– Who would have paid for the handling of the wheat at the ports?
– Who paid for it before the Wheat Pool came into existence ? Some of the money was certainly paid for work performed.
– The greater part of it. Mr. NICHOLLS . - Not the greater part of it, because when I asked the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to give a detailed statement of the amounts paid to the Wheat Pool agents of New South Wales, and asked him for what the amounts were paid, he replied, “ For handling wheat.”
– Is the honorable member aware that the Farmers and Settlers Association actually agreed to higher agents’ charges than were paid in connexion with the 1915-16 pool?
– By whom was the Farmers and Settlers Association represented ? In almost every wheat-producing district of New South Wales one can hear the farmers complaining that the Wheat Pool agents were paid too much for the handling of the grain. One can see wool agents travelling from one end of the State to the other, and all they are doing is to advise the producer to send his wool to some particular firm at the port.
– That has always been the case.
– No. Prior to the creation of the Wool Committee the producers were given a guarantee that they would receive a certain price, but now that the price of wool is fixed by the Government, there is no necessity for the agents to travel the country at the expense of ‘ the producers. On not one of these Boards is there a representative of the shearers. Owing to the personnel of the Boards, and the heavy expenses of their administration, the workers of the country are paying increased prices for commodities.
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - Give one instance of that?
– It is reasonable to suppose that when £4,000,000 is paid to Wheat Pool agents, the consumer must pay a higher price for his bread.
– Australia has the cheapest loaf in the world.
– There has been a surplus of wheat in this country, as a result, not of over-production, but of under-consumption, and that is why we have, and should have, a cheaper loaf than have the people of other countries.
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat told us, with a great flourish of trumpets, that the wheat-producers had paid over £4,000,000 to the Wheat Pool agents for doing nothing, and he referred tq James Bell and Company as having received £691,000. I am quite sure that, notwithstanding the honorable member’s extravagant language, he did not believe that the agents had been paid this money for doing nothing, They had to do practically what all the wheat-buyers and brokers did before the war. The charges that are represented by the £4,000,000 were paid for before the war commenced, and when the War Precautions Act ceases will be paid every year to the men who handle the wheat.
– But the wheat will be sold in the open market.
– The selling of it in an open market or a closed market does not affect my argument. The agents receive the wheat at the stations, where sometimes it is stacked before trucking. They pay for the stacking. The wheat is then put into the trucks and conveyed to the port, where it is discharged and stacked again. The men who are employed in doing this work receive in wages the great bulk of the money that is paid to the agents. When the mice plague occurred, the agents had to pay for stamping it out.
– And the fanner had to pay for the wheat the mice destroyed.
– I suppose the Federal Government are not responsible for the mice plague?
– :They were responsible for taking possession of the wheat.
– The lumpers are employed in stacking the wheat at the ports. Then there is the expense of protecting it with galvanized iron and hessian. Before it can be shipped it must be taken out of the stacks, and much of it rebagged. It is then put into the stevedores’ trucks, and the agents have to pay the wharf labourers for putting it into the ships’ holds and stowing it. The expense of all those operations is met out of the agents’ charges, and I guarantee that the bulk of the money is received by the workers, whom the honorable members opposite claim to represent.
Mr. J. H. Catts. Then why do the farmers complain?
– There are in this House many representatives of the farmers, and they will complain about anything under the sun. If the weather is dry, the farmer is always praying for rain. When it starts to rain, he says, “We are being flooded out.” There is either too much rain or not enough ; too much snow or too much heat for the farmer. There is always something with which he finds fault. The farmers of this community have done infinitely better under the Wheat Pool than they did in pre-war years, and infinitely better than they could have done had they been left to take individual action. If asked whether, during the war, they would have preferred to operate in the Pool or outside of it, they would give only the one answer.
– Does that contradict the assertion that they could have done better?
– Undoubtedly it does. But for the Pool they could not have sold their wheat. It is standing here to-day in huge stacks; and if the Government cannot shift it, how could the farmers individually have arranged for its shipment ?
As to the individual representation on the Boards, about which my honorable friends opposite have spoken so strongly, it will be found, upon examining the calibre of the men on each Board, that they are a fair average representation of the industry which they are supposed to be controlling. We do not ask for anything more. We are not going to get geniuses to deal with these matters. We cannot hope to get more than men of ordinary average ability. All that we can expect in the administration of these Boards is the display of fair average intelligence.
– I admit that the intelligence is there.
– Some of the Boards might have been improved by the presence of my honorable friends upon them. We have in this House men with a lot of time on their hands while Parliament is not in session, and nothing to do for the money they receive. They might be profitably employed in doing something for the country as members of these Boards, and I know that many of them would only be too happy to act upon them.
– It takes me all my time to secure for the farmers payment of the money due to them in respect of the Wheat sold in 1916.
– Does the honorable member think that he has helped on that matter in any degree?
– I have written, perhaps, a couple of letters!
– The attitude of the honorable member reminds me of the fly on the fly-wheel, who thinks that he is driving the machine. I do not know that the writing of a couple of letters by the honorable member would improve the distribution. If there is anything wrong with the administration of these Boards, we ought to hear of it here. No complaint in regard to their operation has been made in this Committee, and it is to be presumed that the members of them are doing their best to serve their country.
I do not feel too favorably disposed to the continuation of regulations beyond the date fixed by the expiration of the Act. The extension in this case is desired, we are told, merely to allow the moratorium provisions, as they apply to soldiers who have served their country abroad, to be extended. If these are the only regulations to be affected by the amendment, I see no reason why we should not agree to it.
Question - That the amendment be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 17
Questionso resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) agreed to-
That the word “therein,” line 13, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ in such regulation, order, proclamation, or provision.”
Clause, as. amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 (Application of terms used in principal Act).
.- The clause affords ample opportunity for the criticism of the Government for their treatment of aliens, but more particularly for. their treatment of ‘ ‘ persons having enemy associations or connexions.” When the original Bill was being debated, I expressed the view that this Parliament and this country should set an example in the treatment of those whom it had made its citizens by naturalization, which might be worthily followed by other countries, instead of adopting methods which would make us a byword among civilized and progressive nations. I do not propose to deal now with the treatment of aliens generally, but I direct attention to the grave and gross injustice that has been inflicted upon citizens of this country by virtue of the power given in the principal Act to deal with ‘ ‘ persons having enemy associations or connexions.” This power, flimsy as was the pretext for using it during the war, is to be used long after the war is over to suspend the operation of British law with relation to . our own citizens. To illustrate more exactly what I mean, let me mention that there are at present imprisoned . in Sydney persons whom it is deemed expedient to intern because of their alleged enemy associations. These “ Irish internees,” as they are known, are citizens of this country, and the shame and humiliation that we have to bear by reason of the operation of the War Precautions Act is due largely to their detention in prison without a charge having been levelled against them, and without any one daring to put them on their trial. I am one of those who think that no set of circumstances could justify the suspension of justice, but if an excuse might be made in time of war for putting into operation the power under which these men are held in confinement, no such excuse can apply in time of peace. The public has been wonderfully indulgent to the Government in this matter, considering the nature of the injustice that has been done, and the indignation that is naturally felt concerning it; but it will not remain silent if this treatment is continued indefinitely in time of peace. Any one who reads the report of Mr. Justice Harvey, which was based on ex parte statements and evidence, will find that there is very slight ground, if any at all, for the imprisonment of some at least of these men. The ‘ learned Judge stated in respect of one of them, “who was a resident of Victoria, that the evidence was very slight. Yet that man is being held a prisoner for an indefinite period. He i3 as much a prisoner as is any criminal in the Stockade at Pentridge, or in the gaol at Long Bay. It is only under the strictest rules and regulations, and at prescribed times, that authorized and approved visitors may .call upon him, and he is permitted to read only literature that has been carefully censored by persons who are not qualified . to censor a State school primer. The same remarks apply to the position of the other internees.
– Is the censoring done by the Intelligence Department?
– Some works of fiction were sent to one of the internees., and an intelligence officer spent two and a half days in reading what Montmorency said to Isabella, and what Isabella said to Mary Ann, before the man for whom the novels were intended was given possession of them. If the Minister were to take the slightest notice of what I am saying, which is not likely, because the Government relies rather upon numbers than upon argument, he would reply that the internees, although invited to give evidence on their own behalf, and guaranteed immunity against questions that might incriminate them, did not give evidence at the inquiry.
– Is it under the War Precautions Act that they are detained?
– The facts in regard to this case deserve to be placed upon record. Those facts are that these men were arrested in absolute antagonism to settled principles of British justice; that they were brought before no tribunal; that they were not informed of the reasons for their arrest, which was, in some cases, at least, effected in the night-time; and that the Crown made a statement in regard to them which enabled the press to broadcast observations about treason and treasonable conspiracy. When the inquiry opened, the Crown announced that it was in possession of sufficient evidence to place these men on trial for treasonable conspiracy. If that were so, the Crown failed lamentably in its duty, by reason of the fact that it neglected, as a public trustee, to vindicate its threatening attitude. Apparently, it imagined that, by succumbing to public agitation, it would satisfy public indignation by a fishing inquiry. It called certain evidence, and those who were Charged with the duty of defending these men at that inquiry took an early opportunity of telling the presiding Judge that they intended to advise their clients not to give any testimony, because they did not intend to enable the Crown to trick these men into disclosing their defence, and thus facilitate further proceedings of a direct penal character of a kind for which the Crown should take full responsibility without the help of the defendants. This practice of imprisoning men, and of breaking down the principles of the Habeas Corpus in respect of our people, has been rendered doubly vicious by reason of the fact that only those who are in a position to bring pressure to bear upon the Government can hope to get even an inquiry. An unfortunate wretch may be arrested in secret, and he will rot in gaol without knowing the reasons for which he has been apprehended. Under the British flag, which we are taught to reverence so much, and at a time when the flag of international brotherhood is being trampled upon, this is conceived to be the administration of justice. I know of many men who have been interned ; and I believe that some of them are quite as innocent of any dis loyal sentiment or action as you are, sir. But here, in 1918, we are reproducing the conditions of the middle ages, under which it was possible for any stranger in the street to name some man against whom he had a personal grudge, and, by means of a billet-doux dropped into a slot, to destroy that man’s name and secure his imprisonment for an indefinite period. The same thing existed in Europe for a time, and even disgraced civilization in Great Britain for a period. But, with the growth of the spirit of British justice, and of democratic freedom, these abuses had passed away, until this war placed in the hands of a few individuals the power to inflict upon certain persons a like measure of injustice to that which was inflicted upon the poor people in the middle ages. Having been invested with this power - just as always happens when authority is vested in the hands of a few - they exercised it improperly, secretly, and creating suspicion of corruption. Not satisfied with having done that, it is their boast that they intend to continue to thus exercise it for an indefinite period after peace has come. The Government must accept responsibility for that. It is my duty to call attention to it, because the definitions embodied in this clause remind me of many of the outrages which have been committed under the principal Act.”
– I have no desire to enter into a discussion of the merits of the particular inquiry to which the honorable member has referred. But I do strongly resent his suggestion that any powers under the War Precautions . Act have been used corruptly and improperly.’ He has no right to make a statement of that character unless he is in a position to prove who has been guilty of the corrupt act to which he refers. In regard to the particular case which he has cited, the honorable member has attempted to make it appear that the Government succumbed to pressure in their determination to conduct a public inquiry. Need I remind honorable members that on the very day upon which these men were interned it was announced in the press that the Government intended to appoint a judicial inquiry, so as to permit them to put their case before the tribunal. The honorable member also affirmed that the statements made before the Judge were ex parte. Whose fault was it that they were ex parte? I would remind honorable members that in this particular case a Judge of very great integrity - I think the honorable member himself will admit that he is a very im- partial and just Judge - was appointed to conduct the inquiry. The conduct of the case for the Crown was left in the hands of’ the King’s counsel, assisted by a junior. The whole of the facts in the possession of the Crown were put before the tribunal. The honorable member has said that no charge was made against these men. !No charge ! “Why the whole of the facts were opened at length by counsel, who put every material piece of evidence before the Judge.
– Yet no charge was levelled against the men, and no opportunity was given them of being tried.
– Counsel also announced that, if they desired to place further facts before this tribunal, they were at liberty to do so. Yet the honorable member says that the statements made were ex-parte statements. The honorable member for Batman, who appeared in the case, will verify what I say. The whole case was based, not on the evidence of persons outside, hut on documents most of which came from, or were in, the possession of the persons concerned in the inquiry. In this regard the Crown showed the strictest impartiality and the strongest desire to put the case fully and fairly. The Judge’s commission was to ascertain whether there were any facts or circumstances in connexion with the case that would justify these men being either continued in internment or released, and to report fully.
– He had no power whatever.
– He had full power to call any evidence, and make the fullest report. He publicly invited evidence.
– He could take evidence, but had no power to do anything-
– The Judge was there to report on all the facts, and to say what, facts and circumstances ought properly to be taken into consideration by the Minister in exercising the right of releasing or detaining the men.
– The Government have detained a man in regard to whom the evidence was reported to be very slight.
– I am not going to consider the cases in detail. The honorable member knows as well as I do what the findings were, and- he knows that the findings were justified on the evidence.
– I know that the finding I have just mentioned was justified.
– The honorable member heard the documents read, and he knows what they contain. I am particularly sorry that the honorable member has raised this, question. I do not wish it to appear for a moment that I am treating it with any other than a desire to protect the Judge who conducted the inquiry, and to justify the Government who acted with strict impartiality, and with the only object of seeing that the law was observed and justice done. I hope I am conveying that idea to honorable members. If I speak with warmth it is on account of the suggestion of corruption that was made by the honorable member, a suggestion that I am sure in his. calmer moments he will withdraw.
– I do not charge the Government with corruption, hut I say that the -system inevitably leads to corrupt practices.
– The honorable member is perfectly justified in criticising a system; it is only fair that he should exercise his right of criticism. I am sure we have no desire to approach this question in any harsh spirit, especially when the peace conditions are developing.
– We thought the Government would have done something by this time, and we have kept very quiet.
– Has the honorable member made any approach on behalf of these men?
– Yes, we have asked questions.
– The honorable member has asked certain questions, but has he made any approach to the Government? There has not been a single petition or request preferred. The Judge, in his report, said -
In conclusion, I may state that the evidence tendered before me was almost entirely docu”mentary. The internees themselves put forward no evidence to explain away any of the suspicious circumstances disclosed by the documents, in spite of my published statement that no person would be required to answer any question which he feared might tend to incriminate himself in any way. Although my powers under the Order “authorized mo to compel any person to give evidence, I did not think it advisable, under all the circumstances, to summon any person as a witness, as the internees themselves did not elect to give evidence.
The whole facts were put before the Judge. Under the circumstances, I regret that the honorable member made the suggestion he did. The inquiry was conducted as a judicial inquiry apart from any other consideration except what was right and proper to be done under the circumstances.
.- I listened carefully to the reply of the Minister to the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), but I failed to see that the honorable gentleman has in any way justified the action of the Government. If these men had committed any breach of the law - if the accusations not levelled but inferred by the. Government against these men, had any real facts behind them, why were the men not placed before a jury of their fellowcitizens? “Why were they not tried for these implied offences? It was because the Government knew full well that they could not convict them on such flimsy evidence. The Government are keeping these men interned, although they have not now the excuse that the Empire is at war, because for all practical purposes the war has ceased. They are detaining these men for the same reason that the Imperial authorities are interning men in Great Britain. The one crime these men have committed, if any, is in asking one of the Allied Powers to carry out one of the principle objects for which we are told we waged war, namely, to pre-“ serve the right of small nations to selfgovernment. Men who happen to have been born in Ireland are interned because they agitate for the right of Irishmen to govern themselves in consonance with Irish ideals and aspirations. The Judge who conducted the inquiry accepted as absolute fact certain statements made by a British Minister with regard to the association, or alleged association, of certain Irishmen with an enemy country; yet Lord “Wimborne, who, if there was any evidence should have been in a position to know the facts, stated in the
House of Lords that there was absolutely none so far as he was concerned.. The British Government have made no attempt to try those men, and if there was a shadow of real evidence against them it would serve the purpose of the British Government to have them tried and convicted. These men have been interned in Australia because the Imperial authorities interned other Irishmen in Britain.
– The honorable member is perfectly incorrect in that statement.
– The Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) cannot advance any reason now why those men have been kept interned.-
– I was just correcting a mis-statement of the honorable member.
– It is not a misstatement. The reason is quite obvious. The fact that men in Great Britain were kept interned meant that the Australian administration followed suit. In fact, this Government went further, by prohibiting the organization which was allowed to exist by the Imperial authorities, and which is recognised as a legitimate political party, having the right to send its representatives into the House of Commons. The Commonwealth Government have become more loyal than the Imperial authorities. They have prohibited what is known as the Sinn Fein organization, and have prohibited their colours. They have interned men, and continue to held them without trial.
– And twenty-seven Sinn Feiners have been returned to the British Parliament.
– Probably they will all take the oath and draw their money.
– If they refuse to take the oath, or to occupy their seats in the Commons, the only penalty that could lie imposed would be that they would not draw their salaries.
Mr-. Kelly. - That is the most serious thing that could be done to them.
– Not to Irishmen. It might “be, so far as the honorable member is concerned. The British authorities have recognised those people, and that they have the right* to band themselves together to organize a political party, and send their representatives into the Imperial Parliament. Yet the only penalty applicable if they do- not take their seats or take the oath will be that they will not draw their salaries.
– Their seats will become vacant.
– They will not. The fact that De Valera and others are interned’ at present, and that their seats are still held for them, refutes that statement. If the honorable member knows anything of Irish history he must be aware that most of the time of the Irish members of the House of Commons has been spent in gaol rather than in Parliament. But that circumstance has not caused their seats to be declared vacant.
If there was evidence against the internees in Australia, why should not the Government place them on trial ? The obvious inference is that the Government have no evidence upon which any jury could convict, and that the only way in which the Government can deal with these men is by misusing their, powers under the War Precautions Act, in order to intern them. One case has occurred of a man who was fined in Brisbane, because he wrote a letter to one of the papers adversely commenting on the attitude of the late John Redmond. ‘ After the infliction of the fine this Brisbane citizen was taken by the military authorities and interned, and, so far as I know, he is still an internee.
While the Government are so anxious to secure the extension of this measure and all the powers under it, in order to deal with enemy aliens and persons having enemy associations or connexions, they are, at the same time, through their Commonwealth police force, making use of a gentleman of very dubious character, by the name of Anatole Melentievitch Mendrin, alias Toboletz, alias Ivan Semenovitch Medviedieff. This man was the manager of Poppoff and Company. The Poppoffs are international merchants, newspaper proprietors, and millionaire business men generally. This individual, Mendrin, about two years ago was instrumental, as the manager of Poppoff and Company, in securing control of the tallow market in Australia. He was one of the agents provocateurs of the late Czar’s Government - a paid police spy of the Russian Czar. He came out to Australia. He sent cable messages to Russia through the Russian Consul, and secured employment on the Consular staff out here. Since the revolution broke out in Russia the official organ of the present administration, namely, the Isvestia, ha3 published the whole of the correspondence between this gentleman and the late Czar’s Government. It proves that he had been paid to create trouble among Russian workers. Then he came to Australia, and has been used by the Commonwealth Police Force to spy upon the Russian colony in Queensland. Mendrin has been very active in collecting trade information in Australia. It is claimed by the Russians that this man is not a Russian at all, but that he is of German origin. In this connexion, when the Government are so anxious to trace persons of enemy origin, and have been so concerned with the leakage of information from Australia, it would be just as well to make inquiries into the antecedents, movements, and intentions of this gentleman, who claims to be friendly with Senator Pearce and Hugh Victor McKay. Mendrin is now endeavouring to leave Australia - if he has not already left; and, while the Government are engaged in dealing with people of their own kith and kin, and in interning them without trial, they would be well advised to pay attention to other people, and find out whether they are not responsible for the leakage of information. It would be wise for the authorities to ascertain what may be the object of this man Mendrin in Australia, in collecting trade information. It might he useful, in connexion with the business Boards appointed by the Government, if the authorities were to ascertain what is the real business of this gentleman. It might be interesting to learn, also, under what circumstances he came to Australia, and to find out who has been responsible for facilitating his comings and goings generally.
.- I join with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) and the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) in raising emphatic protest against the conduct of the Government with regard to the internment of Australian citizens, apart altogether from those who may he classed as Germans. It is not generally known that Australian-born men’ have been interned by the Government. They have had no trial, and, apparently, reports engendered from malicious motives may have been responsible in some cases for their internment. Recently I heard of the internment of an Australian-born citizen named J. M. Scott, who was known as the author of The Circulating Sovereign. I have known this gentleman for fifteen or twenty years. And when it was suggested to me that he had been interned for having expressed sympathy for Germany, or for any reason for which he could be legitimately interned, I said flatly that I did not believe it. I saw the Acting Prime Minister in regard to this man’s case, and in confidence he gave me a resume of the reasons which had actuated the Government in interning him. I could not see much in them that required that they should be given confidentially; but, as they were given to me in that way, I must continue to treat them as confidential. Mr. Scott has now been released. I mct him a week ago, and asked him, as a personal friend, to tell me whether he had been guilty, in any sense, of expressing sympathy with Germany or guilty of anything that would justify the Government’s action in interning, him. He assured me positively that he had not been guilty of expressing sympathy with Germany, or guilty of any indiscretion. And, from what I could gather, it appears that some persons who were maliciously disposed towards him had sent in some reports concerning ‘him, upon which the Government had acted.
– That is not a full statement of the facts.
– At any rate, it is partially correct that some persons who were maliciously disposed towards Mr. Scott had sent in reports against him, upon which the Government acted. These are the grounds upon which the Government act in interning Australian citizens. Mr. Scott also informed me that, while he was in the internment camp, some of the authorities said that they were pre pared to grant him a departmental inquiry; but that he had repudiated the proposal with scorn, a3 he would have no’ secret inquiry into his case. He demanded a public inquiry. The Government refused to grant one, and then they let him go free. If there is any case in. which a man should be compensated by a. Government for maladministration, on their part, this man ought to be compensated for interning him without havingany reasonable ground for doing so, beyond false and malicious reports against him. I believe that there are many Australianborn citizens now in ,the internment camps, shut away from their fellow citizens, because of malicious and untrue representations that have been made against them by political and business opponents and by personal enemies.
– Before the honorable member proceeds any further, will he allow mc to call for a quorum. [Quorumfformed.
– Another case which has been brought under my notice is that of a man named Schache, who was arrested in Gladstone, Queensland. I understand that he was acting secretary of the Wharf Labourers’ Union. It is asserted that he was violently opposed to the Prime Minister, particularly on the occasion of his visit to the northern State, somewhere about the time of the Warwick incident. His mother lives in my electorate. ‘She is about sixty years of age, and she is Australian-born and the wife of an Australian-born citizen. The son likewise is Australian-born. I understand that the grandfather was of enemy origin. All efforts to obtain from the Government any reason for the internment of Mr. Schache have -failed. The mother has assured me that she knows her son well enough to know that he has no German sympathies, and that she has failed to ascertain that there was any ground for his internment. If the Government have any ground foi interning him, why cannot they lay the reasons before Parliament? It is admitted that part of the evidence upon which one man was interned consisted of false statements made by certain persons against him, and
I have reason to believe that political enmity has been the cause of the internment of Mr. Schache.
I have received a letter from two brothers named Dechert, young Australians of German parentage, who were violently opposed to conscription during the first conscription campaign. They had to resign from the Commonwealth Service because they were being pushed on that question. They were subsequently interned, and they make the statement that there was absolutely no ground for their internment. They have pressed the Government to give the reasons for the action taken against them, but none have been forthcoming.
Another case is that of Michael McGing, who resides in the Cook electorate. The whole of the evidence against him - if it can be called evidence - is the following paragraph in Mr. Justice Harvey’s report: -
Michael McGing. - This internee was, until the late strike, employed on the road staff of the Tramway Department. He did not regain his employment, and at the time of his internment was employed as a gardener at Lewisham Hospital. It is, in my opinion, shown that he was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1916. He has shown himself ah active member of the Irish National Association, a public society formed to advocate the complete independence of Ireland from Great Britain, and to combat the supporters of the Parliamentary party of Mr. Redmond. He may or he may not have remained a member of the brotherhood till his internment; his name docs not appear in connexion with any of their activities at the close of 1917 or during the present year.
This report was printed on 26th September, 1918. Judge Harvey states that this man may or may not have been associated with the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1917. So far as the Judge could find out, it is quite a doubtful question whether he was associated with this body atall at this time. The Judge says -
IfI am right in drawing the conclusion that McSweeney’s “ due book “ is the due book of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Sydney, the absence of McGing’s name from the book would indicate that he was no longer a member of it. There is, however, no question that he did once belong to it. This is shown both by Doran’s letter to Dalton of the 4th August, 1916, giving McGing’s name as Number Two of the second sub-centre, and also by a document of uncertain date found in McGuinness’ possession. This was a circular issued by the Irish National Association for subscriptions for the Irish Relief Fund. On the front of this circular was Doran’s name, with an address in San Francisco. On the back was a list of names headed “ No. 2 Dancing Class.” A number of names appear on it, some of which are struck through; at the bottom is a list of ten names in pencil, marked “ complete,” with the letters A to J against them. In the adapted ritual of the organization, it is stated: “Each member is assigned to a sub-centre, which consists of ten members. Each sub-circle is numbered, and each member of the sub-circle has a letter assigned to him. It is by this number and letter that the members are known at the meetings.” I think, in the absence of any explanatory evidence, there is a strong presumption that this represents the names of the No. 2 sub-centre of the Irish Republican Brotherhood at some date in 1916. In this list, McGuinness is the first name, and McGing’s is the second.
So far as I can see, that is the sum total of the evidence that could be collected by Judge Harvey against this man - that, in 1916, he belonged to an association called the Irish Republican Brotherhood, but that he had apparently ceased to be associated with it, because his name could not be found anywhere in any of the books or correspondence, and that he presumably ceased to be a member in 1917, and was not a member at the time of his internment in September, 1918. There was not a particle of evidence to connect him with that organization, yet the Government interned him.
In other cases, men who have been brought to trial for certain offences have, after serving their sentences, been secretly deported from this country. In the case of some men who were put in gaol, their fate has never been known to their friends. They have been secretly deported without any further trial. Thus, after the sentence imposed by the Court has been served, this Government have, through their own star-chamber methods, imposed further punishment upon them.
There are so many suspicious circumstances as to the bad faith of the Administration surrounding these cases that not one man - I refer now to Australian and British subjects - should be kept within the internment camps without a public trial. In the absence of a public trial, and in the face of the secret methods of the Government, I can believe nothing else than that they have not got a ease by which they can justify these internments. They have no case that will stand a public trial. In some cases they have acted upon malicious reports of political partisans and persons of bad faith generally, and what has happened is open to the construction that some of those gentlemen on the other side of the House, who. we know, are actuated by bad faith generally, have some personal motives in interning some of these men and cloaking the facts from the general public. I now ask that a quorum shall enter the chamber. [Quorum formed.]
– I take this opportunity to voice my protest against the treatment of Australian’ citizens by the Government under the War Precautions Act. I shall refer to1 one or two eases within my own knowledge where the Act has been applied ruthlessly, and,- in one or two cases, stupidly. One cannot get away from the feeling that some of the internments that have taken place have been actuated by more reasons than that of securing the protection, of this country. I shall cite the cases, give a few of the details, with the individual statements of the persons concerned, and leave honorable members to judge for themselves. Amongst the Irish internees now in Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney, is one named Thomas Fitzgerald, a bookseller of Brisbane. Mr. Justice Harvey, in his report, says all he has to say about this man in the following few lines: -
Thomas Fitzgerald. - This internee was a bookseller residing in Brisbane. He is the head of the branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood founded in that city, and an energetic man in Irish circles. He took an active part in collecting moneys in Brisbane for de Valera. He became secretary of the local branch of the Irish National Association in April, 1917. He was a great agitator for “ Ireland’s Sovereign Independence,” and an uncompromising opponent of Great Britain.
This is what Mr. Fitzgerald says in a letter to me, under date 26th March, 1918:-
As secretary of the Irish National Association, I beg to report that a gross outrage on our rights as citizens has been committed by a body of men claiming authority under the Commonwealth Government of Australia, and acting under instructions from BrigadierGeneral Irving, and who, I now understand, were members of “ Billy “ Hughes’ police force.
The facts are: - My place of business (65 Melbourne-street) and the privacy of my home were ransacked from top to bottom by no less than five (5) men, with a number of others outside; and official and private letters, books, &c, belonging to the association and myself and other people residing with me, were forcibly taken possession of and carried away; although I protested against the property of other people being tampered with, 1 put no obstacle in the way as to my own property being examined. Further, at the request of another official who came on the scene during the operations at my shop, I accompanied him to the association’s rooms, and, on unlocking the door, I was astounded to find two other men right inside, without any request to anybody re entering the said rooms. There were also a couple of men on the landing. These men searched the Irish National Association’s rooms, and took away some rule books and papers.
The Irish National Association, as a peaceful body of citizens of this State, Queensland, feel that their rights have been forcibly invaded without any just or reasonable cause, and that in upholding their rights as citizens, and in the interest of justice, they not alone claim, hut make demand for protection against the unwarranted attacks of unscrupulous and designing politicians and their agents.
Trusting you will give this matter your earnest attention, with a view of assisting in some way to put a stop at once to this present cursed system of Czar militarism now being perpetrated on the citizens of this young, socalled democratic, country.
Mr. Fitzgerald is well known in Brisbane, and no one who knows him believes that he would be deliberately guilty of any disloyal act against Australia.
– Against Australia? Is that all?
– That is all we have anything to do with.
– He is convicted on his documentary evidence.
– There has been no conviction. There are honorable members in this House, and a number of people outside, who think it is now a crime to be an Irishman. I am not an Irishman, but I would not be ashamed to be one. The only thing of which Irishmen have cause to be ashamed is the treatment their country has received from the British Empire.
– I ask the honorable member not to pursue that line of argument.
– The clause with which we are dealing relates to aliens and persons of alien association, and the man to whom I am referring has been torn from his home, and his friends have not been permitted to interview him ; even the man whom he asked to take charge of his business during his internment has not been allowed to see him. While suffering from sickness he was taken from his home and put into a bare cement cell, where he was left without attention or food for some time. Only after vigorous protests was he reasonably treated as a respectable citizen.This man, who has Australian citizen rights, and a reputation for good conduct, is classed as of enemy association. We are creating in Australia class distinctions and ultra-national distinctions that will breed a tremendous lot of trouble in the future.
– I should like the honorable member to connect his remarks with clause 4.
– I have complained of what has been done to this man during the operation of the War Precautions Act which this Bill will continue. I am objecting to a continuation of such treatment. Another case to which I wish to call the attention of the Committee is that of Mr. Schache, of Gladstone. Here are the particulars of his case as stated in the letter received by me and the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Catts) from Mr. Lewis McDonald, secretary of the Central Political Executive of the Queensland Labour party: -
The case of Mr. Charles S. Schache, who was secretary of the Port Curtis branch of the Queensland Labour Party Organization, and the Gladstone Waterside Union, and who was interned at the instigation of the Federal Government in January last, has been the subject of agitation on the part of the Labour movement in this State for months past. We arc absolutely confident of the innocence of Mr. Schache of any charge of disloyalty, and feel that a grave injustice has been done him, his wife, and his family. The case has been fully ventilated in the Queensland Assembly during the recent debate on the question of internment of Australian citizens without trial. All efforts to secure his release, or at least a fair trial, have so far been fruitless.
Mr.Schache is an Australian-born citizen of unimpeachable character. He was arrested without warning, and imprisoned without trial or inquiry of any kind. The Government have absolutely refused to give any reason for his arrest.
– Were any documents found on him or in his house?
– So far as we know there were no documents in the case at all. All that is done in most cases of this kind is to accept the word of some paid secret agent of the Government, and we all know what class of men accept employment as spies. Yet on the evidence of such men as condescend to be the gutter-sweepers forthe Government, honest citizens are imprisoned without trial, and their families are left without means of support. We have repeatedly said that the Government should say why these men are interned, so that they may have a fair trial. Even criminals of the worst type are not treated as disgracefully as these political prisoners are, because the prisoners are tried in open Court, and the evidence for the prosecution and the defence is heard. But in these political cases the prosecution is never heard, and the accused persons are given no chance to disprove the statements secretly made against them. Under the War Precautions Act men are arrested and held in prison at the discretion of the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), without explanation of the reason for their arrest.
Another case is that of a man who came to Australia to be married, and whose intended wife was in this House this afternoon. She has tried for months to findout the reason why her young man was interned and deported, and whither he was deported. I remind the Committee that in respect of all these cases I am quoting from signed documents that can be verified. Here is the case as presented by the lady herself, Miss Hotson. This letter was sent to Senator Gardiner, who passed it on to me -
As the fiancee of one of the men who have been interned on suspicion, I desire to thank you for your efforts on their behalf, as printed in the Standard to.day….. . Mr. J. S.
Randolph, late of Portland, Oregon, United States of America, was brought into this country in a state of unconsciousness, suffering from malarial fever, and not, as was asserted, in the capacity of paid organizer for the
Industrial Workers of the World - a position which he has never held, either in this country or in America. Mr. Randolph was arrested, without warrant, in South Australia in September, 1917. After being kept a short period in the internment camp at Fort Largs, he was taken to Sydney, from where he was to be deported. Since, however, he refused to prove his nationality, the American Consul-General refused to grant a passport, and was afterwards of service to Mr. Randolph in securing him better food and a few newspapers. Prior to this, Mr. Randolph was, to use the Consul’s words,” The worst treated men in Darlinghurst Gaol,” owing to the petty spite of Captain Hintern, of the “ Intelligence “ Department, since, I believe, himself imprisoned for embezzlement. The military have stated that Mr. Randolph “ left Australia “ on 19th April, 1918, but have refused to name the vessel in which he left, its destination, or to give me any other information concerning him. . . . The military have censored and frequently withheld my letters since I helped with the no-conscription campaign of 1916. and have, since 19th April of this year, held up all communication between Mr. Randolph and myself. I am particularly troubled about the injustice done him, because I know that he has simply been made the scapegoat for my anticonscription work and the victim of” the enemy’s “ spite against myself.
The rest of the letter is purely personal, so I shall not give it to the Houfe. I have repeatedly referred to the practice of the Government, under the War Precautions Act, of deporting men from Australia, and of absolutely refusing their relatives even the ordinary courtesy of a communication. In this case, the authotities refused to allow the young lady to know where this gentleman is, and whether he has been deported or not. I ask honorable members behind the Government if they think this is the kind of treatment that ought to be meted out in Australia? Even in war-time, I do not think circumstances would justify any one of the cases to which I have referred. My trouble is to make a selection from a multitude of cases which have been brought under my notice. I have received protests from the organizations concerned in regard to the internment of two Russian gentlemen, John Burdevitch and Franz Bilboa, who were arrested under the Unlawful Associations Act and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for being members of a certain association. They are still in prison, and one wonders whether they do not believe that, although they left Russia, they are still under -Russian conditions. There were also some other people who came to this country from Italy, thinking that when they left their native land they had left behind them the authority of the Italian Government. But they found that the Italian Consul, either with or without the authority of this Government, still held a grip over them, as they we’re forcibly deported from Australia to serve in the military forces of the country which they had left.
– Did not they refuse to be naturalized ?
– That is immaterial, anyhow.
– They may not all have applied for naturalization. I point out, however, that I have placed before the House four specific cases. Ministers are continually asking us for specific instances, and I could give dozens more. In. Brisbane a Mr. Gehrmann, whom I have known for several years, is at present in Holds worthy Camp. He is an Australian-born citizen; but owing to some report, the particulars of which he is quite unable to obtain, made by some pimp in the railway service in Brisbane, he was arrested, and has been interned for over two years, his wife and children in the meantime being unprovided for. What I am worrying about is this : We call ourselves a Democracy, and complain about German methods, and the tearingup of . scraps of paper. I ask honorable members on the Ministerial side of the House : Are we any better than Germans in this respect? Are we not tearing up scraps of paper in the form of naturalization rights, granted to these men, who claim the protection of our citizenship? We have offered attractions to these men to come here; we have sent deliberate invitations to them; and now the Government are mean enough and contemptible enough to take away from them those ordinary rights granted in every reasonable civilized community. We are asked to continue this measure. I object to its continuance. I have protested against it repeatedly, and I shall continue to protest.
Clause agreed to.
Whereas by the War Precautions Act 1914- 1916 it is enacted that the Governor-General may make regulations and orders for securing the public safety and the defence of the Commonwealth :
And whereas the said Act and the regulations and orders thereunder continue in operation during the continuance of the present state of war, and no longer:
And whereas it may not be possible before the war has ceased to make complete provision for a return to the normal conditions of peace :
And whereas the expiration of the said Act and of all orders and regulations made thereunder, in the absence of such provision, would cause great public danger and inconvenience:
Be it therefore enacted by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, the Senate, and the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, as follows: -
– I should like to have from the Minister in charge some explanation in regard to the addition of certain words. The original War Precautions Act is described as “an Act to enable the GovernorGeneral to make regulations and orders for the safety of the Commonwealth during the present state of war.” This Bill is described as “ an Act to extend the duration of the War Precautions Act 1914-16 and for other purposes.” I want to know what are these other purposes?
– Order! The honorable member is referring to the title, and not the preamble of the Bill.
Mr. BRENNAN (Batman) [11.4).- I should like to know what special reasons induced the Government to introduce this Bill with a long apologia. The preamble is longer than the Bill itself, and it seems to me that the Government, in introducing it, thought perhaps it was a fit measure for a preliminary explanation and apology. I record that interesting fact because it is not always that we have a preamble to a Bill in anything like the term’s or anything like so long as that under consideration. It seems that the Government have felt, in introducing this measure, that it should be prefaced by some extraordinary explanation and apology which would serve, at least in part, to justify them for its introduction to future generations who might be curious enough to study their wonderful works.
Preamble agreed to.
A Bill for an Act to extend the duration of the War Precautions Act 1914-16, and for other purposes.
.- I ask the Acting Prime Minister to explain the reason for the use in this title of the words “ and for other purposes.” SomeBills recently introduced have had these words included in their title; but, looking up some previous Acts passed by this Parliament, I have not found these words. One is naturally suspicious, in dealing with a measure to extend the duration of the operation of the War Precautions Act to find added to the title the words “ and for other purposes.” Perhaps the Acting Prime Minister can give some explanation of their use.
– Speaking as a layman, I do not know that I can enlighten the honorable member very much. The phrase “ and for other purposes “ appears to be just a technical expression which is very common in the titles of Acts of Parliament, although not so common in our practice as in the practice of the State Legislatures. I do not think that the use of the words affects in any way the purpose or scope of the Bill, because, after all, what we are doing under this measure is to re-enact the original Act for a certain specified, though indefinite, time. Whether the words referred to are retained or not would not, in my opinion, affect the issue; but I recommend that they should be retained, as I assume that the drafting authority included them for some strictly legal purpose.
.-I move -
That the word “War” be left out with the view to inserting in lieu thereof the word “ Peace.”
The war is over, and there is no longer any necessity to keep up the pretext that we are legislating during war time.
– There is no “Peace Precautions Act of 1914-16.” What the honorable member is trying to do is to alter the title of the existing Act.
– Is the honorable member for Darling referring to the short title?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Then the honorable member is not in order. I remind him that the short title has been passed. We are now dealing with the long title of theBill.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Standing Orders suspended; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a third time.
.- Before the Bill leaves this House, I think I should say a word or two upon the general position in which we find ourselves. The measure has been amended in certain directions in Committee. As introduced, it provided that the War Precautions Act should continue in operation for six months later than was provided under that Act. That period has been reduced . to three months. We have been informed by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) that the powers conferred upon the Government by the existing Act are required for the moratorium, to deal with shipping, and for the control of the various pools, and commercial organizations. For some time we have had in operation a great number of Boards established under the Act. I confess that I was surprised, in going through the list, to find that we have over seventy Boards established. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) said that there were thirty-four, but he overlooked the fact that in seven or eight cases, where he counted one Board, there were really six, one for each State. We have had a Paper Controller appointed, and I believe he was just about to call to his assistance certain other persons to control the supply of paper for* this country when it was found that the services of a Board were no longer required for this purpose. The only official appointed in connexion with the control of paper supplies was Mr. Brookes. I do not in these matters consider individuals, and I met Mr. Brookes only at the GovernorGeneral’s recruiting Conference, at which he represented the Employers’ Federation in New South Wales. I have no fault to find with him as an individual. When we are told that the present is an economy Government, and we find that we are spending thousands of pounds in connexion with the various Bpards established under the War Precautions Act we should carefully examine what those Boards are doing. The expenditure involved in connexion with paper control amounted to £1,500, covering a period of a couple of weeks. Mr. Brookes’ salary and expenses for about one week amounted to about £330. This information was given in reply to questions asked in another place yesterday. I intended to put the various Boards on record, but owing to the lateness of the hour will not do so now, though I may do so when we come to discuss theEstimates. We have been told by the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs that there was a profit on pricefixing under the War Precautions Act. The expenditure was £30,496, and the income about £250,000, showing a profit of about £220,000.
– A Labour newspaper has claimed that as a great triumph for Socialism.
– I remind honorable members that the profit referred to was made out of rabbit skins.
– Out of the rabbittrappers.
– Yes, it was the rabbittrappers who earned that profit. About £500,000 was obtained from the sale of rabbit skins, and of this amount the trappers received only about £250,000. Was it fair to take 50 per cent. of the proceeds of the sale of rabbit skins from the rabbit trappers when, on the handling of £150,000,000 worth of wool, a profit of only £4,000 was made? Had the wool kings been treated as the rabbit trappers were treated, the Government would have made a profit of £75,000,000 on the wool sales.
– The explanation is that the Government did not handle the wool clip.
– I am protesting against the treatment meted out to the rabbit trappers. What the honorable member wishes to point out is that the wool clip is handled by an honorary Committee-
– And the rabbit skins were dealt with by the Government direct.
– I merely wish to place the facts on record; they Bpeak for themselves. I protest against the continued operation of all unnecessary War Precautions regulations, and I urge the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to repeal such as can be repealed. The censorship is being used against one section of the community only, and I urge the honorable gentleman to put an end to it as soon as possible. I have no objection to the Government having power to keep control of shipping and various industries, so long as that maybe necessary, if this is done in the interest of the whole community; but I strongly urge the Acting Prime Minister to give the House an assurance now, or at some future date, that the obnoxious regulations which affect only ohe section of the community will be repealed. When they have been repealed, there will not he so much complaint against the War Precautions Act.
-I cannot allow the opportunity to pass without bestowing a final benediction upon this obnoxious measure. If Ministers knew that, by forcing it through the House, they are signing their political death warrant, they would not attempt to place it upon the statute-book. The indignation of the masses outside against the deprivation of the liberties of the people that have been enjoyed in British communities for centuries past is so great that the Government, if tney realized it, would hesitate about bringing the Bill into operation. However, they are determined to go to their destruction, and in that they will have my blessing and my assistance. Parliament has been told that it is absolutely neces sary for the financial stability of Australia that the Government should retain the power of controlling shipping and commerce; that commercial chaos would follow if they were deprived of that power. But had Ministers possessed any foresight, or were they prepared to take the advice of those with constitutional knowledge, they would know that the time is not far distant when any War Precautions Act must automatically cease to operate, and they would have provided constitutionally for dealing with these matters, and doing what is necessary for the protection and welfare of the community. Instead of taking the proper course Ministers sit complacently in their offices issuing edicts for the internment of Australian-born citizens, depriv-. ing them of the privilege which the commons of Britain wrung from their kings centuries ago, the right of trial by their peers. This is a crime against British justice, and the Act which permits it should not remain on the statute-book an instant longer than is absolutely necessary. It is absurd to talk of extending the operation of the War Precautions Act when there is no longer a war and no danger threatens the community. In time of national peril the Government is empowered to take steps for the protection of the nation from the enemy that threatens it. Necessity knows no law, and when danger threatens you must meet it; but now that we are no longer assailed, and our safety has been secured, the extraordinary powers which the Government has exercised automatically cease. The Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) has supported his case for the Bill with the opinion of a great array of legal talent, but it is the opinion of legal men in Sydney, who are just as eminent- andI have made it my business to obtain the views of several who are my personal friends - that the moment peace is proclaimed the War Precautions Actbecomes invalid. The limitations imposed on this Parliament by the Constitution Act will then again apply, and if Ministers seek to exercise their powers under the War Precautions Act, the High Court of Australia will quickly tell them that the people of this country cannot be governed merely by regulations turned but by Senator Pearce. As the hour is late I shall not prolong my remarks further, though there is much that I could say against the measure. I tell the Government that the people of Australia are only waiting for an opportunity to best ow theorder of the big boot on them and their legislation.
Question - That the Bill be now read a third time - put. The House divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Assent to the following Bills . re ported : -
Beer Excise Bill.
Amendments Incorporation Bill.
Honse adjourned at 11.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 December 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19181212_reps_7_87/>.