9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Reflections on Mr.Rodgers : Scope of Royal Commission.
– Will the Prime Minister arrange, or has he arranged, the terms of the reference to the Royal Commission on War Service Homes in such a way that the ex-Minister, Mr. Rodgers, will be afforded an opportunity to deal with the reflections that were recently made on his administration?
– I received a letter from Mr. Rodgers a week ago, requesting an inquiry into the whole of the administration of War Service Homes. That latter was considered by the Government, and I replied to Mr. Rodgers that, while the Government was not prepared to grant an inquiry ranging over the whole administration of War Service Homes, it was prepared to extend the scope of the inquiry into War Service Homes matters so as to embrace the specific charge that was made in connexion with certain interviews which took place and certain instructions given by Mr. Rodgers. I last night received a wire from Mr. Rodgers, saying that he would not accept that offer by the Government. I shall no doubt receive a letter from him dealing further with the matter. That is the position at the moment.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. Last week, during the debate on the Sulphur Bounty Bill, I made a slight error in the figures I quoted regarding freights from America.. The freight onsulphur from Galveston to Baltimore, 2,500 miles, is 17s. 9d. per ton, while the freight from Galveston to Australia, a distance something like 7,000 miles greater, is 26s. per ton.I made the charge that this was a dumping freight, and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said he doubted very much whether my figures were correct. I pointed out that sulphur was being sold to Australian consumers for 17s. 9d. per ton less than to American consumers, but the position in regard to the freights was as I have just stated. I find now, according to the American trade journals, that the ordinary freight rate for the month of July was £4 10s.per ton from American ports to Australia. There is one other matter to which I should like to refer. Owing to absence from Melbourne, I did not get the Hansard proof of the second portion of my speech, in which I have since found a misprint. I am reported as saying that the Electrolytic Zinc Company had loaned to the employees £20,000 at 4 per cent., and had guaranteed another £1,000 at 6 per cent. This latter figure should have been £30,000 at 6 per cent.
.- I wish to raise a question of privilege. On the notice-paper, is a motion in the name of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. “West), and I observe that it has been placed at the bottom .of the list of private members’ business. The notice of motion is -
That the vote given by the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) in the House, on the question of the second reading of the Land Tax Asessment Bill 1923, be disallowed.
This matter very seriously affects the honour of a member of this House. In the British House of Commons such cases as these axe taken very seriously, and immediate action is resorted to in order to settle them. May, at page 353, says -
In the Commons it is a rule that no member who has a direct pecuniary interest in a question shall be allowed to vote upon it; but in order to operate as a disqualification, this interest must be immediate and personal, and not merely of a general or remote character.
In the House of Commons, in such circumstances, the member concerned is heard in his place; then he retires, and leaves the House to discuss and decide the question. In this particular instance there is no doubt about the direct and personal pecuniary interest of the honorable member, because, on the floor of the House, he has admitted that interest; he has admitted that the measure then under discussion would, if passed, be of monetary advantage to him. I do not desire to cast any personal reflections on the honorable member^ but Parliament should take steps to protect itself when its honour is involved. I take the stand that the motion of which notice has been given seriously affects the honour of a member of the House, and, by reflex action, seriously affects the honour of the House collectively ; and, therefore, it should be considered and settled forthwith. If immediate action is not taken, and this notice remains on the business-paper, the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) Will remain under a shadow. The honorable member himself must realize the position in which he is placed. Here is a notice of motion which seriously reflects on his honour - ( on his actions as a member of this House. I move -
That the notice standing in the name of Mr. West, No. 6 General Business, be taken forthwith.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) has submitted this motion as a matter of privilege. In the first place, I think I ought to infrom him, and others interested in the motion, that the arrangement of the business of the House is entirely a matter for the Government. May, 10th edition, page 256, makes that quite clear -
Except in the case of motions amounting to a distinct vote of want of confidence in the Government, proposed or sanctioned by the Leader of the Opposition, the question whetb.es, the Government should concede priority to a notice of motion, or to an Order of the Day in the charge of an unofficial member, is left entirely to their discretion.
As the honorable member for Dalley will see, that leaves the Chair quite powerless to regulate a matter such as that to which he refers.
– Is the Government supposed to have some honour?
-I am not at the present time concerned with the attitude of the Government, except as it affects the law and practice of Parliament in this matter. It is for the head of the Government, who is the Leader of the House, to declare the attitude of the Government at what he considers the proper time. I am not prepared at this stage to regard this matter as a question of privilege. In some phases it may be regarded as a question of privilege, and to some minds it- will probably appear to be . on or near the border-line. But this is not a matter on which the Chair should be asked to rule at this stage; it is rather for the head of the Government, who is acquainted with the circumstances and terms of the motion,, to lead the House in regard to it. I put the matter, therefore, in charge of the head of the Government.
– This matter has been raised as one of privilege, because, I presume, it could not be raised in any other way at this particular time.
– That is so.
– As you, sir, have ruled that this is not a question of privilege, I suggest to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) that the House be permitted to dispose of questions on notice, after which, in Committee of Ways and Means, I shall have an opportunity to indicate the attitude of the Government.
– As this is a question of privilege concerning myself I should like to say a few words-
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) is aware that an honorable member who raises a question of privilege must conclude with a motion. The honorable member for Dalley has proposed such a motion, and it has been duly seconded. I have said that at this stage I am not prepared to i regard this as a matter of privilege, and I have, therefore, placed it in the hands of the head of the Government, who is charged with the arrangement of the business-sheet of the House. If the honorable member for Riverina desires to speak, he may do so by leave, or by way of personal explanation.
– I should like to say-
, - May I interpose a suggestion. As the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) desires to make an explanation, perhaps it would facilitate matters if I now indicated what is the attitude of the Government. This, perhaps, will prove a more convenient time than after questions have been disposed of. I can state the position of >the Government, and then the honorable member may make what personal statement he desires. The Government is only too willing that the honorable member for Riverina shall have every opportunity to speak. If the notice of motion be left on the business-paper, it remains there as a reflection on him, and, of course, the sooner it is disposed of the better for the honorable member and all concerned. The Government placed the notice of motion where it is on the businesspaper because we did not take the view that there was any possibility of the honorable member’s honour being in volved. The standing order under which this matter has been raised provides -
No member shall be entitled to vote in any division upon a question in which he has a direct pecuniary interest, not held in common with the “rest of the subjects of the Crown, and the vote of any member so interested shall be disallowed, but this shall not apply to motions or public Bills which involve questions of public policy.
I should say that there are very few Bills or questions of public policy in which some member would not have a pecuniary interest. But if the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) takes a serious view of the motion which has been placed upon the notice-paper by the honorable member for East Sydney, the Government will afford every opportunity for it to be discussed.
– I understand that the Prime Minister-
– I rise to a point of order. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) spoke by leave of the House. The honorable member for Riverina has not asked for leave to make a statement, nor has he stated that he wishes to make a personal explanation. I would not object, to either course, except that honorable members on this side of the House cannot consent to” be gagged by allowing this matter to be dealt with in such a way that it will be optional for the House to give or refuse leave for each member to speak. If that course is persisted in it will lead to a protracted debate. This matter must be thrashed out in a proper way, and the better course would be to adopt the suggestion made by the Prime Minister, namely, that the matter should be discussed on the motion to go into Committee of Ways and Means.
– I permitted the honorable member for Riverina to commence his remarks, because he has the right, as has every honorable member, to claim the indulgence of the House while he makes a personal explanation.
– But a personal explanation will not settle the matter.
– It may be that the most decisive way of dealing with this question is that suggested by the Prime Minister, and as the right honorable gentleman has promised to provide opportunity for the discussion of the motion standing in the name of the honorable member for East Sydney, possibly a repetition of debate would be avoided if the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) were to defer his remarks till that motion is submitted.
– I shall do so.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the following letter was published in the West Australian, on 18th August, above the signature of Mr. J. Thomson, member for Claremont, in the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia : -
Sir, - Referring to the complaint made by Sir Joseph Cook as to Australian press reports regarding undesirable immigrants, the following extract from the London Evening News, of 24th February last, may be of interest : - “A present for Australia - Emigration for young man whom police think dangerous. Walter Power, of Tatsfield, well dressed, described by the police as being ‘ very dangerous ‘ was charged with stealing a magneto and a dynamo worth £18. His father said that early in life the young man had been crafty, and consumed with overwhelming vanity. The accused man was said to have served several sentences for housebreaking; on one occasion he was carrying firearms and on another he had a dagger. He was remanded for arrangements to be made to send him to Australia.”
Will the Prime Minister ascertain if this undesirable immigrant has left for our shores?
– I shall have the matter inquired into.
– Will the Treasurer present the Bill for the amendment of the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act in sufficient time to allow the House at least a few minutes in which to consider it?
– The Bill will be introduced in due course.
– Will the Treasurer see that the order of leave is so drafted that the House may, if it so desires, increase the pension by 5s. instead of 2s. 6d. as the Government proposes?
– The Prime Minister has already told the Leader of the Opposition that that matter will receive consideration.
– I understand that owing to the immense physical proportions of some of our compulsory trainees the officers cannot find garments sufficiently large to fit them. Will the Minister for Defence issue the instruction that these young Australians shall not be compelled to wear clothing that makes them a laughing stock?
– The matter will be inquired into.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral table, before the session terminates, all awards made by the Arbitration Court, so that they will be operative while the Parliament is in recess ?
– I signed the necessary documents last night, and they will be laid upon the table either to-day or tomorrow.
– I desire all those awards to be tabled before the House adjourns.
– That shall be done.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Austin Chapman) say whether the fourth member of the Tariff Board is to be appointed at the request of the Country party section of the composite Ministerial party, or has he received any demand from the primary producers that they should have representation on the Board? If so, is that the reason why the Government proposes to appoint a fourth member?
– Will the Prime Minister submit, before the session terminates, a formal motion expressing the thanks and appreciation of this Parliament to the American Department that has expended a sum estimated to be between £100,000 and £200,000 in helping to eradicate the hookworm disease in Australia ?
– I shall inquire during the day if any action can be taken.
– Can the Attorney-General give the House any information regarding the £76,000 that is owing to the Commonwealth in connexion with the Kidman and Mayoh shipbuilding contract?
– The Commonwealth have taken all necessary action to recover that amount. The matter is now in the list of cases to be heard by the Court in Now South Wales, and is merely awaiting its turn to be dealt with.
– It has been waiting a long time.
– The Government cannot be blamed for that. It has taken the necessary steps to have the claim dealt with by the Courts.
– I understand that the Prime Minister proposes to make a statement to-day regarding the proposed appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into certain purchases of sugar. Will he inform the House why a matter so urgent as to necessitate the suspension of the Secretary of his own Department has been delayed for over a fortnight, during which a charge has been hanging over that officer’s head? Parliament is to be closed, and we shall have no opportunity of expressing an opinion upon this matter.
– I shall make a statement to-day in regard to the appointment of the Commission, and I shall then indicate exactly the scope of the inquiry and the points that will have to be dealt with by the Commissioner. The statement that the Secretary of my Department has been suspended is quite inaccurate. At the time when Mr. Deane became aware that an inquiry would have to be held he asked to be relieved of his duties - a very proper course in view of the fact that his name had been mentioned previously in regard to these purchases. The matter is of the greatest urgency, and the Government very much regrets that it has not been able to announce earlier the terms of the Commission and the name of the Commissioner; but I remind the right honorable member for North Sydney that when I first mentioned this matter to the House, I said that the Government desired to obtain the services of a Judge of the High Court. Unfortunately it was not possible to obtain either a High Court Judge or a Supreme Court Judge to act as Commissioner, and that involved a certain amount of delay, which the Government deplores as much as does anybody else.
Ship 48: Electrical Fittings
– Will the Prime Minister expedite the answer to the question I asked on 14th August regarding the contract for electrical fittings in ship 48, now under construction at Cockatoo Island?
– The honorable member will receive a reply before the House goes into recess.
Lord Howe Island
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Request from Queensland Government.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the great cost of the upkeep of Mr. Sheaf, as Trade Representative in the East, and his Department, and the alleged small amount of benefit to Australia, does the Minister intend to take action similar to that taken in the case of Mr. Little and close the office ?
– The appointment was made by the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the States, for a period of three years from the 18th January, 1922; one-fifth only of the expenditure is borne by the Commonwealth, the balance being defrayed by the States.
Mr.FORDE asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the marble quarries in Central Queensland are closed down, with consequent unemployment, owing to large importations of Italian marble, will he announce his decision as to whether hewill apply the Industries Preservation Act to the marble industry ?
– This matter is being investigated, but the evidence does not justify the imposition of dumping duties.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– No. The terms and conditions of lands made available for lease are advertised in both the Northern Territory Gazette and the Commonwealth Gazette, and all persons over eighteen years of age may lodge applications therefor. The applications are dealt with in accordance with the Regulations under the Crown Lands Ordinance 1912-23.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– This is a matter for the Public Service Board of Commissioners, to whom it has been referred.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he is now in a position to answer his question regarding the Wonga Shoal light?
– The question to which the honorable member refers is as follows: -
In view of the dangers experienced with the present ill -lighted Wonga Shoal, will the Government immediately institute inquiries as to the advisability of installing a quick-flashing light and have same placed above the shore light?
War Pensions. [REPRESENTATIVES!] Empire Exhibition.
The answer is -
The question of establishing lights in the vicinity of Wonga Shoal lias already been considered and’ a decision arrived at to replace the present light a.t Wonga Shoal on or about the 24th August by a quick-flashing light. Apparatus ‘will shortly be ordered for a powerful shore light, to be erected to mark the approach to Port Adelaide, and ai permanent structure will be erected on Wonga Shoal.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Cost of, and Number of, Cadets
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Stamping of Letters - Advertising
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Drought Conditions - Relief
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Deputy Postmaster-Generals in the various States, who are dealing with the applications submitted.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The deliberations of the Commonwealth Government in regard to this matter have not yet reached a stage when a definite announcement can be made as to the policy which will be adopted.
Surveys - Royal Commission
Mr.F. McDONALD asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Allowance to Female Employees
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Is he prepared to pay to the female workers in the General Department of the Post Office the same allowances as are paid in all other Departmental branches?
– This is a matter for the Public Service Board of Commissioners, to whom it has been referred.
Sale of Material
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
Is it proposed to sell the material employed in the development of Henderson Naval Base; if so, what is the reason for selling at this juncture?
– If satisfactory offers can be obtained it is proposed to sell a quantity of material and plant which will not be required, even if work be resumed at Henderson Naval Base, or which will deteriorate by lying idle.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
clerical Division: Appointment of Non-Commissioned Officers.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– I am having inquiries made into this matter, and will inform the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Is it a fact that blind persons, who are Australian citizens, are debarred from receiving the invalid pension; if so, will he explain the reason why?
– Blind persons who comply with the requirements of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act are not debarred from receiving invalid pensions, . but pensions are not granted to those blind persons who engage in street occupations or solicit alms in the street.
Relief of Distress
– On 25th July, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) asked me the following questions: -
I promised to institute inquiries in the various States regarding the matter, and in response to a further question by the honorable member on the 7th instant, I promised to make immediate inquiries to ascertain whether any of the desired information had yet come to hand. I am now advised that the position, so far as the unexpended balances of patriotic funds are concerned, is as follows : -
I am advised also that of the total Victorian balances, approximately £84,000 has been ear-marked for special purposes, by the Education WarRelief Fund. In South Australia, £49,362 is held in connexion with the insurance fund for soldiers’ widows and orphans, and £280,000 by the South Australian Soldiers’ Fund. Particulars are still awaited from New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia, and as soon as advice is received from these States the information will be transmitted to the honorable member.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
The following papers were pre sented : -
New Guinea Act - Ordinance of 1923 - No. 30 - Supply (No. 2) 1923-24.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. -
No. 14 of 1923- Australian Telegraphists’ Union.
No. 15 of 1923 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 16 of 1923- Postal Sorters’ Union of Australia.
No. 17 of 1923- Australian Letter Carriers’ Association.
No. 18 of 1923- Australian Letter Carriers’ Association.
No.19 of 1923- Commonwealth Postmasters’ Association.
No. 20 of 1923- Australian Telegraphists’ Union.
No. 21 of 1923- Australian Postal Assistants’ Union.
No. 22 of 1923- Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association.
No. 23 of 1923- Australian Letter Carriers’ Association.
No. 24 of 1923- (Commonwealth General Division Telephone Officers’ Association.
No. 25 of 1923- Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 26 of 1923- Australian Postal Assistants’ Union.
No. 27 of 1923-Australian Telegraphists’ Union.
No. 28 of 1923- Commonwealth Telegraph Traffic and Supervisory Officers’ Association.
No. 29 of 1923 - Commonwealth Postmasters’ Association and Australian Postal Assistants’ Union.
No. 30 of 1923 - General Division Officers’ Union of the Trade and Customs Department.
No. 31 of 1923 - Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 32 of 1923- Postmaster-General’s Department State Heads of Branches Association.
No. 33 of 1923 - Commonwealth General Division Telephone Officers’ Association.
No. 34 of 1923 - Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association.
No. 35 of 1923 - Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 36 of 1923 - Commonwealth Legal Professional Officers’ Association.
No. 37 of . 1923 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers’ Union of Australia.
– Order !
– On a question of privilege, Mr. Speaker, I ask if the Prime Minister will indicate when we may have an opportunity to deal with my motion?
– The honorable member is aware, no doubt, that after questions on notice have been answered, further questions may be asked only by leave of the House. If this be given, and the Prime Minister have no objection, the right honorable gentleman may reply to the question put to him by the honorable member for East Sydney.
– Perhaps I may be allowed to explain the position.
– If the right honorable gentleman does not take the motion now we shall be “ grieving “ all day, and I remind him that, at the moment, Opposition members are masters of the situation.
– The original suggestion was that the question could be dealt with on the motion that the Speaker leave the chair, when the Government would intimate what it proposed to do.
– That would be a very unsatisfactory method of dealing with it.
– Will the honorable member allow me to explain? It is unnecessary that there should be any misunderstanding. After I made that suggestion, and after the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) had risen to speak, you, Mr. Speaker, pointed out that the suggested way of dealing with the matter would be unsatisfactory, and that it would be better if the Government allowed the motion to come on for debate instead of dealing with it in Ways and Means. When the question was put to me just now by the honorable member for Dalley, I said it was my intention to give honorable members an opportunity of discussing the motion at a later stage. If it is the wish of the House that it should be dealt with now, the Government are prepared to allow it to come on.
– For the information chiefly of honorable members interested, I should like to say that the Chair could not accept the suggestion that this question be discussed on the motion that the Speaker leave the chair, because that would anticipate a debate on the motion of which notice has been given.
– If we cannot deal with it now we shall “ grieve” all day.
– If it is the desire of the House, the matter may be dealt with now.
– We must have it now.
– Very well.
.- I move -
That the vote given by the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) in the House, on the question of the second reading of the Land Tax Assessment Bill 1923, be disallowed.
The decision of the Prime Minister to allow the debate on the motion standing in my name to be taken now removes a load of uncertainty from my mind. I am very much concerned for the good name of Parliament. It is the duty of every honorable member to guard its privileges in every way possible, and to see that every vote cast in any division is absolutely free from the suspicion of self-interest. We have been somewhat careless of late. No member should cast his vote in connexion with any matter in which he may be pecuniarily interested. When I entered Parliament I immediately took stepsto prevent any such charge being levelled at me. I was in business at the time, and occasionally did work for the Government, but immediately upon my return I instructed my clerical staff - it was not a very large one - not to accept any further orders from the Government. The admission made by the honorable member for Riverina(Mr. Killen), that he was pecuniarily interested to some extent in the passage of the Land Tax Assessment Bill, prompted me to place my motion on the notice-paper. Usually when honorable members are speaking I endeavour, by means of interjection, to get as much information as possible. The “gag”wasputonthe other night. I then availed myself of the opportunity to ask the Speaker the best course to pursue when a member of the House intended to give a vote on a Bill in which he had a pecuniary interest. I did so intentionally, because I believed that the honorable member for Riverina would have seen the drift of my action, and taken no part in the vote. But he cast his vole, and I was compelled to take this motion on the business paper. These matters are closely watched in the British Parliament, because many of the members are connected with public companies. For instance, when a Bill affecting insurancecompanies is before the British Parliament, the members who have any pecuniary interest in those companies either resign from the management or refrain from taking part in the vote of the House. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), when taking political office, similarly resigned from the directorship of many companies. The amount involved is outside the question, as a principle is at stake. Honorable members should jealously guard the integrity of Parliament. The outside public have accused honorable members of exceeding their parliamentary privileges, and I do not blame them, when it is possible for a member of this House to obtain the remission of taxation, to the extent of £5,000 or £10,000, by the passing of a measure in which he is directly interested. I want the outside public to understand that hon- orable members are as anxious as they that no member of this House shall consider his pecuniary interests when casting a vote on any particular measure. This is the motive that has actuated me in moving the motion. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), when speaking on the second reading of the Land Tax Assessment Bill, said of the honorable member for Riverina, “ He is a large owner. I wonder how far this applies to him personally.” The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) replied, “ In a very slight degree.” That does not reduce the enormity of the offence; the fact remains that , he had a pecuniary interest in the Bill. The British Parliament, as far back as the year 1790, took steps to guard against this practice. According to May, this prohibition applies not only to the House of Parliament, but also to Committees. In New South Wales, a Committee was appointed to report upon the establishment of a bank. Under the Banks Act of that State, before any bank can be established a Committee has to report to Parliament. That Committee comprised in its personnel three members of the House who had a pecuniary interest in the bank, and, consequently, its report was not adopted by the State Parliament. I am putting these facts on record as a future guide for the younger members of this House. This appears on page 357 of the tenth edition of May: -
An objection to a vote, on the ground of personal interest, cannot be raised or mooted except upon a substantive motion, that the vote given in a division be disallowed, on the principle affirmed upon page 264, and cannot be brought forward as a point of order. The member whose vote is under consideration, on the ground of personal interest, having been heard in his place, should withdraw immediately, .and before the question founded thereon has been proposed.
When any honorable member has a pecuniary interest in a Bill before the House, he should absent himself from the chamber when a vote on it is being taken. The Commonwealth Parliament is the highest tribunal in Australia, just as the British Parliament is in Great Britain, and we should, as far as possible, remove any taint of suspicion from the actions of honorable members. Holding those ideals, I should be wrong if I did not endeavour to preserve the morals of Parliament.’ I have no personal animus against the honorable member for Riverina, and I know nothing of his private life. He has had little parliamentary experience, and I trust that, as a result of this censure motion, he will not again infringe the privileges of Parliament.
.- I second the motion. We should jealously guard the rights of Parliament, and prevent, as far as possible, any member from recording a vote on measures in which he is pecuniarily interested. The House of Commons has frequently taken definite action on this very matter. I quote the following from the tenth edition of May, page 355 : -
In 1800 the votes of three members were disallowed as having a direct interest in a Bill for incorporating a company for the manufacture of flour, wheat, and bread.
– That would be a private Bill.
– Whether it was a private Bill or a Government measure the principle is the same.
– What about a vote on a Bill to raise our salaries ?
– There are two very obvious replies which dispose of that interjection. In the first place, the Constitution gives this Parliament the power to deal with that matter. In the second place, it is a matter of public policy that members of Parliament should be pak adequate salaries. I quote again from May -
On the 20th May, 1825, notice was taken that a member who had voted with the Ayes on the report of the Leith Docks Bill had a direct pecuniary interest in passing the Bill. He was heard in his place, and stated that on that account he had not voted in Committee on the Bill, and that he had voted, in this instance, through inadvertence. His vote was ordered to be disallowed.
Even in that case, where the vote questioned was due to a mistake on the part of the honorable member who recorded it, the House of Commons took such a serious view of the matter that it disallowed the vote. Numerous other instances of the same kind might be quoted, but I need not weary honorable members with them. I will, however, quote the following from page 356 of the tenth edition of May - ,
As the Speaker stated, 12th May, 1885, there is no rule of the House on the subject. He recommended that each member should be guided by his own feelings in the matter, and should vote or abstain from’ voting as” he thought fit, though the Speaker added to his statement a reminder that members should be aware that they ran the risk of having their votes disallowed by the subsequent action of the House.
The Speaker of the House of Commons at that time was a very eminent man. He admitted that no actual rule was laid down, and said that the action of members in such cases should be dictated by their sense of honour. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) may have inadvertently fallen into error in voting as he did, but there can be no doubt whatever that he had a pecuniary interest in the Bill upon which he voted. He admits that the measure will relieve him of a certain amount of taxation for which he is already liable. There have been assessments of his leaseholds upon which taxation has accrued and is owing.
– I am not addressing these remarks to the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), but, through Mr. Speaker, to the honorable member for Riverina. As it is clear that the honorable member, by recording his vote, could relieve himself of a debt due to the Commonwealth Taxation Department, there can be no doubt about his practical pecuniary interest in the matter, and his vote should be disallowed. Without further trespassing upon the patience of honorable members, I trust that the honorable member for Riverina will give a satisfactory explanation of his vote, or that the House will take steps to vindicate itself by disallowing his vote.
.- But for the fact that the motion is delaying business at a time when we can ill afford to delay, I should be very pleased that the honorable member for East Sydney has submitted it, because it gives me an opportunity of explaining my position. I contend that every member of this House is continually voting on matters in which he is directly interested. That must be so in dealing with income tax measures, measures generally imposing taxation, those connected with the Tariff, and other matters. Nearly every member of the House will have a direct pecuniary interest in such questions. I admitted, and I still admit, that I have a direct pecuniary interest in the taxation of leaseholds, although it is infinitesimal as compared with my other interests. I have a motion on the business-paper to reduce the salaries of honorable members.
In that motion the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) is directly interested, and I should like to know whether the honorable member or any other member of this House will refrain from voting on that motion. They are all pecuniarily interested in the matter with which it deals.
– How much is the honorable member’s debt to the Taxation Department, and of how much of it will his vote relieve him ?
– I did not record my vote to avoid the payment of what I owe. I voted only that the tax should not be levied in future. I did not vote to avoid paying anything I owe, and the insinuation of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) is most unfair. Only last night the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), in speaking on the Income Tax Collection Bill, said it was very unfair that he should- be. compelled to pay £50 a year for repairs to his house and not be allowed to deduct that amount from his assessable income. Was not the honorable member in that case voting on a matter in which he had a direct pecuniary interest? The motion is most uncalled for, but it gives me the opportunity to explain my position. I gave my vote, as I did, believing that it was necessary in the public interest that I should do so. Had the interests of no one else been involved, I would probably not have voted, but I recognised that there are hundreds of struggling lease-holders affected by the legislation with which we were dealing, and it was in their interests that I voted. They have been most unjustly treated, and the injustice would be continued if the tax were retained. I considered it necessary in the public interests to vote as I did.
– This matter has been submitted by honorable members, primarily, as a question of privilege, and in the second instance, as a question affecting honorable members generally, irrespective of party, as to their rights or limitations as members of this House. In the circumstances, I do not hesitate in any way to participate in the debate. Honorable members who have quoted from May, and some other authorities, have already informed the House that this question has a long history. It goes back for, at least, 150 years in definite cases, either of question or parliamentary procedure in the British House of. Peers or the House of Commons, and it has been decided variously according to the view of either the House of Peers or the House of Commons. A prominent feature of the matter, which appears to have been overlooked by honorable members who have dealt with the motion so far, is the vital distinction made by the authorities on constitutional law and practice between public and private Bills. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony), for example, quoted certain cases which obviously arose in connexion with private Bills, as set out in May, on the pages from which he quoted. I ask honorable members to view this matter as one affecting the integrity and probity of Parliament, as well as the honour of the individual member whose vote is challenged, and to read and consider, carefully the distinction drawn by the authorities. The first case of the kind which came under notice in these British Dominions arose in the State of Victoria. I find, on referring to the Victorian Hansard, and the Votes and Proceedings of the Victorian Parliament, that as early as 1857 one of the most eminent speakers who ever presided over the deliberations of the Victorian Legislative Assembly was called upon, in conjunction with that House, to consider a question such as that with which we are dealing. After a lengthy debate, in which a number of eminent men, whose names’ have become historic, took part, Sir Francis Murphy made use of words which have been reported as follows: -
Before submitting the question to the House he would express his opinion in accordance with the request of the House. The rule that a member pecuniarily interested in a question should not vote upon, it was correctly laid down as a regulation of the House of Commons. But it. had also been laid down on more than one occasion, that the rules’ must not be interpreted in their literal sense, but in the way in which it ‘was the practice and usage of the House to deal with them. The usual practice ‘had been stated correctly - that the rules referred to did not apply to questions of public policy, or to public questions at all. That had been distinctly stated on several occasions and was laid down in May and Hansair A.
From these authorities the honorable gentleman proceeded to quote to the effect that, generally speaking, the rule applied only in the case of private Bills and questions of a similar nature, and not to questions of public policy, or questions of interest arising out of public measures. The report goes on to say -
It, therefore, appeared to him conclusive on the point as to all public questions. He might further quote the statement of the rule as given by the Speaker of the House of Commons in 1884, who said that the rule did not apply to public matters. That being the rule laid down by the Speaker and the authorities he had quoted, it would be well to see how it had been applied with respect to any great questions discussed by the House of Commons. He had looked at several cases where great questions were discussed, and when it was well known that members had a large pecuniary interest in them. He had referred,, for instance, to the discussions on the Sugar Duties, the Corn Laws, the Navigation Laws, Abolition of Slavery, the Land Tax and the Income Tax, Bank and East Company Charters, Factory Bill, &c, and he had found, though it was known that members had large pecuniary interests involved, no exception was taken to’ their votes. Taking that then, as the interpretation of the rule given by the House of Commons, he had no hesitation in saying that this measure-the Crown Lands Bill - was not one to which the rule applied.
That was the decision after elaborate debate and careful analysis by a gentleman who is universally recognised to have been one of the most eminent interpreters of constitutional law and the practice of Parliament in the parliamentary history of this State. Coming now to May, who has been quoted by the mover and seconder of the motion, let me. say that, whilst they quoted correctly, their citations were not sufficiently extensive to put all the facts before honorable members. I suggest, not that I should read them in full at this stage, but that honorable members should read from the middle of page 353 to the middle of page 357, of the tenth edition of May, wherein, at the time our Constitution issued from the British Parliament, the rights, immunities, and powers of this Parliament, and of individual members, w.ere laid down. I shall read from those pages only so far a3 may be necessary to help members to determine this matter, because it is a matter in the control of the House, and not of the Chair. On page 353 May says -
In the Commons it is a rule that no member who has a direct pecuniary interest in a question shall be allowed to vote upon it; but, in order to operate as a disqualification, this interest must be immediate and personal, and not merely of a general or remote character. On the 17th July, 1811, the rule was thus explained toy Mr. Speaker Abbot: “This interest must be a direct pecuniary interest and separately belong to the persons whose votes were questioned and not in” common with the rest of His Majesty’s subjects or on a matter of State policy!”
– That is what we’ claim it is, in this instance. The Bill relieves the honorable member of the payment of taxation.
– I trust that as a matter of courtesy, if not of order, I may be permitted to put before honorable members the views which, during the last twenty-four hours, I have been able to elicit on the historic side of this question. May continues -
This opinion was given upon a motion for disallowing the votes of the bank directors upon the Gold Coin Bill, which was afterwards negatived without a division. And on occasions when the objection of personal interest in a vote, lias been raised, which came obviously within the exemption from the application of the rule, denned by Mr. Speaker Abbott, the Speaker or the Chairman has over-ruled the objection, or has decided that a motion to disallow the vote would be out of order.
May then makes this important statement -
No instance is to be found in the journals in which the vote of a member has been disallowed, upon questions of public policy.
A number of cases are given in which votes have been challenged, and, in many instances, disallowed, on questions connected with private Bills. That vital distinction is observed in the whole of the interpretations on this matter. I shall now direct the attention of honorable members - for they have to decide, this question - to a little book which probably they, in their busy lives, have had little time to read. It is an Australian work by E. G. Blackmore, the first Clerk of the Senate ‘ of Australia. He gives a number of interesting and apposite cases in which votes have been challenged in the House of Assembly of South Australia. On page 24 he states -
Standing order 200 provides that no member shall be entitled to vote on a division upon a question in which he has a direct pecuniary interest; and the vote of any member so interested shall be disallowed.
But .it is obvious that if this rule was absolute and unqualified, the proceedings of the House would, in certain oases, be unduly fettered and embarrassed to the detriment of State policy.
He quotes the remarks of Mr. Speaker Abbot, as recorded in the paragraph I have just read from May. Then he says -
On 11th October, 1864, on the “Assessment on Stock Bill,” a member’s vote was challenged on the grounds that he had a direct personal interest in the passing of the Bill.
The question was adjourned to the next day, when the House decided by a majority of sixteen to ten that the vote .be .allowed - the ground being taken that it was a question of public interest and State policy; and this was the view which Mr. Speaker (Hawker) had expressed on the point being raised.
A similar question came up again on 21st December, 1865. In Committee, on resolutions as the Waste Lands Leases, Mr. Strangways challenged the rights of certain members to vote and the House resumed to hear Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker (Kingston) ruled that votes, on resolution, might be struck off on the ground that as it was contemplated to give pecuniary advantage to some of the pastoral lessees, those members who had an interest in any of the pastoral leases included, bad such a pecuniary interest as disentitled them to vote.
The votes of two members were struck off the division-list on one of the resolutions.
When the Bill giving effect to the resolutions in Committee was before the House, Mr. Strangways, on 30th January, 1866, again appealed to Mr. Speaker as to the right of members interested in leases named in the schedule of the Bill to vote on any stages thereof. Mr. Speaker took the same view as on the former occasion, whereupon a motion was made, “ That this House does not agree with the ruling of Mr. Speaker on the question of the personal interest of members.” The matter was fully debated, and on 6th February, 1866, the House, by twenty to twelve, reversed the Speaker’s ruling, on the ground that it was a public measure dealing with a public policy.
Meanwhile, on 2nd February, 1866, in Committee on the question of free distillation, Mr. Speaker was appealed to as to the votes of members who would be benefited by free distillation, and the motion was made to strike off certain names, but it was carried, on division, by the Speaker’s casting vote, “ That this question, being one relating to taxation, all members may vote upon it.”
On 9th October, ‘1867, Mr. Townsend called Mr. Speaker’s attention to a vote of the House relative to free passes to members, and asked if they were competent to vote on that question, having a direct ‘ pecuniary interest therein. Mr. Speaker ruled that in this case no matter of State policy was involved, nor had the rest of Her Majesty’s subjects an interest in common with members, and the Votes might be disallowed. The question that certain votes be disallowed was debated on 11th and 16th October, and was negatived by twenty-two to four.
On 23rd November, 1870, a motion was before the House for making provision in future mail contracts to provide free passes to members, available during sitting of Parliament, and on the most direct road to and from the member’s residence and the city of Adelaide.
The votes of five members were challenged on the grounds of direct personal and pecuniary interest.
The vote of the first member named was disallowed on division, and the votes of two other members allowed on division. In two of these divisions the members interested voted against the question, and his name was struck off by Mr. Speaker; but the result was not affected thereby. On another division the Speaker gave a casting vote in favour of disallowing the member’s vote. The numbers ‘of the original division on the resolution, which had been ten to eight, were now, by the disallowance of two votes, rendered equal, and Mr. Speaker gave a casting vote against the resolution.
There is no instance in the journals of the House of Commons of a vote having been disallowed on a public Bill - (Cf. Peel’s Decisions, 1884-86, p. 58.)
In the matter of a private Bill there can be no question or doubt.
Thus, on 11th October, 1871, the votes of three members were struck off the division list without motion on a clause in Committee on the Adelaide, Glenelg, and SuburbanRailway Bill, they having stated that they were shareholders in the company.
I give honorable members these facts more with the object of furnishing them with the information which my research has revealed than to decide the question. Whether an honorable member’s vote shall be allowed or not has, in all British and Dominions Parliaments, been dealt with as a matter entirely in the control of the House. The various distinctions to which I have referred are matters for the consideration of honorable members - particularly the distinction between public and private Bills. I inform the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) that the custom, according to May’s Parliamentary Practice, is that the member whose vote is under consideration on the ground of personal interest, having been heard in his place, shall withdraw immediately, and before the question founded thereon has been proposed.
The honorable member forRiverina (Mr. Killen) thereupon withdrew from the chamber.
– I hope, Mr. Speaker, that we shall depart from a practice which was laid down 100 years ago. Surely we have made some progress in the interval. I think it is decidedly unfair that the honorable member has to leave the chamber. I am not so sure that it is the wish of the House that he should do so. I sincerely hope that the House will alter the practice. We should not be guided by what happened in 1857, or even in 1907. We are living in the year 1923. It seems foolish that when a charge is levelled against an honorable member other honorable members should be compelled to speak of it in his absence. The matter should be dealt with face to face, and man to man. I believe that it is the wish of the House that the honorable member for Riverina should remain in his place.
– The Speaker has no option. The House must act according to its Standing Orders, and standing order No. 1 states that in all cases not provided for, resort shall be had to the rules, forms and practice of the House of Commons, which are set out in May’s Parliamentary Practice, 10th Edition.I have already indicated the course set out by that authority. If it is the wish of this House that the honorable member for Riverina should remain in his place the House can indicate it.
SirGranville Ryrie. - Honorable members opposite only want him here so that they may pull his leg.
– I have to rely on the Standing Orders, but I can test the feeling of the House. That, I think, is the inherent right of the Chair. I ask the House whether its desire is that the honorable member for Riverina be invited to take his place in the chamber ?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
– As there is no objection, I assume that honorable members unanimously concur in that view. I ask the Serjeant-at-Arms to inform the honorable member for Riverina to that effect.
.- I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that honorable members have listened to your remarks with close attention. I take it that the invitation to the honorable member for Riverina to return to his place in the House does not include a right to participate in the vote.
– The honorable member for Riverina is a leaseholder who had a pecuniary interest in a recent Bill which was passed through this House, and he voted upon that Bill in all its stages. At one stage of the proceedings the honorable member gave a vote which meant that he would be relieved of certain liabilities to the Commonwealth.
– Is that correct?
– It is.
– It is absolutely incorrect.
– I base my statement upon the admission made by the honorable member for Riverina that he was affected by the tax.
– But a vote was not taken on that issue.
– I trust that the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) will allow me to proceed with my speech in my own way. The honorable member admitted quite frankly and openly that he will be affected by the passage of the Bill. Up to a stage, the Bill provided that taxation should not be levied on assessments for the financial year commencing- 1st July, 1917, and all subsequent years. That was the retrospective clause; and in that period the honorable member had, apparently, incurred obligations to the Commonwealth. In all the divisions taken during the passage of the Bill, the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) participated. The first vote was taken on an amendment by myself to omit the word “.now,” and to insert instead “this day six months.” On that question I find, amongst the thirtythree members who voted on the Government side against my amendment, the name of the honorable member. Now we come to the vote taken on the question whether the Bill should be declared urgent. It must be remembered that ali this time the! Bill contained a clause which had the effect of relieving the honorable member from taxation, or from an obligation incurred to the Commonwealth.
– On which he did not vote.
– The honorable member should not say that unless he has proof of his assertion.
– I have proof.
– I am now referring to the divisions taken during the progress of the Bill, and in each division list the name of the honorable member for Riverina occurs.
– That question was agreed to on the voices - the honorable member did not vote.
– The honorable member for Riverina voted in every division taken.
– Not on the retrospective clause.
– Will the honorable member look at the Votes and Proceedings of the 21st August. The Bill contained a retrospective clause when my amendment was put, and the honorable member for Riverina voted against that amendment. Then came the proposal that .the Bill should be considered urgent, and, again, the honorable member for Riverina voted with the Government. On Wednesday, the 22nd August, the honorable member voted with the Government on the Bill, which up to that time had not been altered. It was not until we got into Committee that the i retrospective clause was withdrawn on pressure being brought to bear by the Opposition. At the Committee stage the Bill contained the retrospective clause which relieved the honorable member for Riverina of an obligation to the Commonwealth. On Wednesday, the 22nd August, the times were allotted to the various stages of the Bill, and again the honorable member for Riverina voted with the Government. In Committee’ the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) moved an amendment providing that the Bill should be deemed to commence on the 1st July, 1923; and ‘up to that stage the honorable member for Riverina had, I submit, voted wrongly and illegally. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) contends that the honorable member for Riverina did not vote on a certain question, but if the honorable member for Riverina did not vote he acted most peculiarly, inasmuch as there is on record in Ilansard a speech by him in favour’ of the Bill, which at that time contained the retrospective clause.
– He did not vote for that clause.
– Does the honorable member not see that the honorable member for Riverina spoke in such a way as to indicate that he was going to vote for the Bill? Some suggestion has been made in regard to members voting to fix their own parliamentary salaries. That has nothing behind it, inasmuch as section 48, part IV., of the Constitution sets forth that until Parliament otherwise provides each senator and member of the House of Representatives shall receive an allowance of £400 a year. The words “ until Parliament otherwise provides “ places unreservedly in the hands of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives the power to fix their own allowance. The contention that members have a direct pecuniary interest in their salaries, and, therefore, ought not to fix these salaries is overridden by the Constitution, which clearly provides for such a contingency. If, Mr. Speaker, the authorities you have quoted axe right, the consequences may be unfair and extremely dangerous. In the last Parliament, Mr. Jowett was member for Grampians, and if, sir, you are correct in your interpretation, six Jowetts in this Chamber could vote to relieve themselves of £700,000 worth of debt to the Commonwealth. I cannot conceive of that being right or proper. If Sir Sidney Kidman and Mr. Jowett were members of this Parliament, then, according to your interpretation, Mr. Speaker-1-
– I have given no interpretation.
– I beg your pardon. If the authorities that you, sir, have quoted are to apply, it means that Sir Sidney Kidman and Mr. Jowett would, under the circumstances, be able to relieve themselves of an obligation of over £200,000.
– How does the honorable member know the amount?
– The statement has been made on this side of the House that those gentlemen owe the Commonwealth £200,000.
– II is all assumption.
– The Treasurer has not denied the statement.
– He has not been given an opportunity.
– The Treasurer has not denied the statement, for the good and sufficient reason that he cannot.
– Yes, he can.
– These repeated in.terjections are disorderly.
– This is not a personal matter. We, on this side, are never likely to be pecuniarily interested in such a manner in any legislation. Honorable members opposite, however, whether they remain behind the Government, or are in opposition, are likely, at any time, to be thus pecuniarily interested. When a member, whether on the Labour side or the Government side, is affected to the extent of one penny, he should not participate in debate or in the voting.
– Does the honorable member apply that to income tax proposals ?
– Income taxation is a totally different proposition, inasmuch as practically the whole of the community is involved. There is a great distinction between a Bill which applies to the whole of the community, and a Bill which applies to 200 of the community. As I say, practically the whole of the inhabitants of Australia are affected by our income tax legislation.
– And every leaseholder comes under this other legislation.
– But does the honorable member not see that the leaseholders are only a section of the community - that the income tax covers all, whereas the land tax covers only a few ? This is not a question of public policy, but a question of the personal gain of one member in this House. I have no desire to reflect on the honorable member. I think he has been . very badly advised by the older members on the Government side. The Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) most certainly should have advised the honorable member for Riverina to abstain from speaking and voting on the Land Tax Assessment Bill; in the elegant language of an honorable member of this House, the honorable member for Riverina has been “ sold a pup.” The honorable member for Riverina took the course he did deliberately, notwithstanding that he was warned that his vote would be challenged. He voted after that warning, and he voted in such a way as to affect his personal interests and his bank balance. It is for the Government, or I should say for honorable members opposite, to decide whether the honorable member’s vote shall be allowed or disallowed. In all probability the vote will be allowed ; the Government will stand by its supporter, irrespective of whether he be right or wrong, just as the supporter stands by the Government right or wrong. If, however, the vote be allowed, it will” be an extraordinarily dangerous precedent. Should the House agree that the honorable member for Riverina is entitled to vote on a measure which relieves aim from a pecuniary obligation to the Government, it means that twenty members opposite may do the same.
– I call attention to the state of the House. Perhaps the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) will return to the Chamber.
.- The motion before the House is certainly of great importance, and I am rather surprised that honorable members who support it should have expressed the opinion that the honorable member most interested should not have even spoken upon the Land Tax. Assessment Bill. Any Court of British justice allows a person to state his case.
– No one has denied him that right.
– The honorable member for Darling quoted disapprovingly the speech made by the honorable member for Riverina on the second reading of the Bill. The clause relating to the remission of taxation was taken out of the Bill before the House could vote upon it; therefore, the honorable member for Riverina did not vote upon a question in which he had a particular personal interest. Unquestionably, the Land Tax Assessment Bill involved questions of public policy. All pastoralists having leaseholds from the Crown were concerned, and the measure could be more comprehensive in its effect only if there were more pastoralists in Australia. If the honorable member was not in order in voting upon the second reading of the Bill, let any honorable member who, judged by the same standard, is without sin cast the first stone, and I venture to say that no stone will be cast.
– Speak for yourself.
– I am speaking as well for the honorable member. Every taxation proposal that is considered by the House involves all honorable members to a greater or less extent.
– But the Land Tax Assessment Bill proposes a special remission.
– The Bill involves a question of public policy. When any honorable member feels that an injustice is being done to one section of the community he has a perfect right to present the case of that section. A great injustice was being done to leaseholders, and a great many others are being done that call for redress. When honorable members of the Opposition think that an injustice is being done by the taxation laws to some section of the community they move to increase the exemption or to graduate the scale of the tax, and they have a direct pecuniary interest in those proposals. Therefore, no member of the House can justly cast a stone at the honorable member for Riverina for his attitude towards the Land Tax Assessment Bill. I am confident that the vote upon this motion will clearly show that it is a party political move.
– I shall not quote at length the precedents bearing upon the motion, but I submit that the distinction between public and private Bills mentioned by Mr. Speaker is sound. In 1896 a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed - to inquire and report whether it is desirable to define more precisely the nature and extent of personal pecuniary interest in any question before the House which should disable a member of the House from voting upon such question, and what procedure can most advantageously be adopted for enforcing such disability.
The Committee consisted of some men eminent in public life, including Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Mr. Bonsor, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Mr. Haldane, Mr. Lloyd George, and the then Solicitor-General. Evidence was taken from the Speaker, and various experts, and all the authorities by which the Committee was guided are quoted at the end of the report, which repeats the statement that Mr. Blackmore evidently adopted -
There is no instance of a vote having been disallowed on a public Bill, but the case is different with regard to grants of public money.
– The Land Tax Assessment Bill makes a grant of public money.
– It does not appropriate or grant any public money. The Select Committee quoted the following cases, cited in Hatsell’s precedents: -
On 17th July, 1811, on the Gold Coin Bill, a resolution was proposed for disallowing the votes of bank proprietors, but negatived. The rule was then stated from the Chair to be that interest in a question (according to cases 1604, &c.) was good cause for disallowing votes; but such interest must be a direct pecuniary interest, belonging to aseparate description of individuals, and not such as belonged also to all His Majesty’s subjects, arising out of any measure of State policy. Generally speaking, it applied only to private Bills, or Bills relating to individuals, such as Estate Bills or Enclosure Bills, canals, joint stock companies,&c., wherein only the individual profit or loss was concerned, and on like ground to subscribers to the Loyalty Loan, but did not apply to questions of interest arising out of public measures, such as Tax Bills, colonial regulations, domestic (trades, and the like.
Mr. D. W. Harvey moved, “ That it is destructive of the ends of public and private justice, and inconsistent with the duty of any member of this House, to vote in a Committee on any Bill in which he is directly personally interested.” In the debate, Mr. Secretary Peel remarked that the utmost difficulty he apprehended would be found in any attempt to exclude from Committee members having indirect interest in the matters at issue. If it merely applied to persons having a direct interest, it was unnecessary, since that was already sufficiently well provided against. The indirect interest that honorable members had were most numerous; for example, every member of that House had an interest in the corn laws, or the commutation of taxes; and Mr. Peel, in conclusion, expressed his disapproval of the motion.
The Land Tax Assessment Bill is distinctly a public Bill.
Motion (by Mr. McGrath) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Question - That the vote of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) be disallowed - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
Soldiers’ Dependants : Repatriation Commission - Public Service Promotion: Mr. J. Mortby’s Case - Equal Pay for Equal Work - Tasmanian Carbide Industry - Direct Steamer Communication with Hobart - British-Australasian Tobacco Company.
Question - That Mr. Speaker leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into Committee of Ways and Means - proposed.
.- I have on various occasions brought under the notice of the Repatriation Department the unsatisfactory position of a number of dependants of returned soldiers who felt that they are justly entitled to some of the repatriation privileges which Parliament intended should be extended to all who suffered as the result of participation in the Great War. The Commission have been able to afford relief in a number of cases, for which I am thankful, and acknowledge the courtesy and ready attention of the Central Administration to such claims; but in others, which I regard as among the most deserving I have presented, I have not received the favorable consideration that justice demands. I have endeavoured to persuade the Treasurer, who is the responsible Minister, to in a special way review the cases which I intend to place before honorable members, and I hope the honorable gentleman may see his way clear to redress the wrongs that have been done to the unfortunate people concerned. The first case which I desire to submit is that of Edward Patrick McAvaney, who was a member of the 43rd Infantry Battalion. Unfortunately, as the result of the rigours of winter in Great Britain, he contracted a serious illness and was returned to Australia. After his return his illness assumed a form which was quite unlooked for in its earlier stages, and for the past two years he has been an inmate of ‘ a mental hospital in South Australia. His wife, with four children of tender years dependent upon her, is now in a very serious position. Prior to enlistment this man’s health was quite satisfactory. He was passed by the Medical Board for service abroad, and a short time before his enlistment had been accepted by a medical officer for admission to membership of a local friendly society. The local doctor who so certified is at present abroad, so we are unable at the moment to. secure his indorsement of the certificate, but we have obtained from the local chemist, who was closely associated with the doctor in his work, a statement to the effect that, prior to the war, Mr. McAvaney was a man of robust constitution. As the unfortunate experience of this man whilst on active service abroad was the main cause of his present disability, this Government should accept the responsibility of caring for his wife and four children. Tl], South Australian Soldiers’ Fund is at present paying Mrs. McAvaney an allowance, and if this were discontinued at any time she would not be able to provide for herself and her children. The fact that those administrating the South Australian Soldiers’ Fund recognise the claims of this woman is surely sufficient evidence of the facts, and ample justification for this Government to pay her a permanent pension. I placed this case before the Repatriation Commission, but they refused to grant a pension to Mrs. McAvaney. I then communicated with the Treasurer, and he confirmed the attitude of the Commission. They said that the disability to which Mr. McAvaney is to-day subject cannot be attributed to his war service, or any illness contracted whilst abroad. Such a contention is, certainly, not in keeping with the favorable attitude of the Aus- tralian Soldiers’ Fund. This is the concluding paragraph of the Treasurer’s reply -
As you are aware, the Repatriation Commission is alone charged with the responsibility of determining war pension cases, and, in the circumstances, I regret that it is out of my power to take any further action.
This man was fit for war service and suffered from serious illness while ‘abroad, and yet the Government are not now pre- pared to accept the responsibility of caring for his wife and children. If the present pension regulations do not permit of assistance being given to such cases, this House should insist on an early amendment of them to secure this woman from the possibility of destitution. She relies solely on the contributions of the South Australian Soldiers’ Fund. Another case is that of an ex-soldier, Peter Malloy, of the 10th Battalion, now deceased, who left a widow and child. Whilst on active service, Private Malloy was badly wounded by shrapnel. In consequence, one arm was paralyzed, and one leg amputated. Later it was found necessary to amputate the other leg. and Dr. Poulton, of Adelaide, ordered him to the hospital to undergo the operation. Mrs. Malloy was not aware that the Repatriation insisted upon pensioners being treated at the Military Hospital, and, in ignorance, she arranged for her husband to be sent to the Adelaide Hospital. The operation was performed and Malloy left the hospital. Later gangrene and other complications set in, and he ultimately died. Mrs. Malloy is now in receipt of a pension of 18s. per week for herself, and 10s. a week for her daughter, who is eight years of age. This pension is totally inadequate. Owing to her severe ordeal during the illness of her husband, Mrs. Malloy’s health was seriously impaired, and she cannot accept any form of employment to enable her to adequately provide for herself and child. Being subject to illness, she finds it exceedingly difficult to exist on the meagre pension allowed by the Repatriation authorities. I commend these two cases to the Government for their sympathetic and favorable consideration. It will reflect upon this Parliament and those administering the affairs of this country if these unfortunate individuals do not receive a substantial pension. There are scores of these cases, and unless something is done to ameliorate their .sufferings, the Government will merit the contempt of the citizens of Australia. The case of Corporal L. J. Matthews, of the 5th Pioneers, now deceased is somewhat similar. I am not aware that this claim has been considered by the Commission, but the State Deputy Commissioner has advised that the claim for a pension has been disallowed. I shall, therefore, set forth the circumstances, and let honorable members decide as to the merits of the case. Whilst on active service he was seriously gassed. He returned to Australia, and, although his health was seriously impaired he followed his former trade of painter. After some time the effects of the gas made it impossible for this man to continue in his employment. His condition was complicated by toxemia and plumbism, and he died. His widow and her child, nine months old, are without assistance. It is not possible for the woman, having such a young child, to look for employment, and she finds it very difficult to live on the very small amount left by her deceased husband. She is not in receipt of any pension from the Commonwealth. There is no doubt that the gas from which this man suffered was a contributing factor to his death, and timely assistance should be given to his widow. Her claim that his gassing contributed to his death is confirmed, I understand, by Dr. West, an eminent medical practitioner, of Adelaide. The widow states in her letter to me that she would be satisfied if she were paid only £1 per week to help herself and her child in their hour of extreme difficulty. The Treasurer has said that he has not the power to intervene in these matters, which are determined by the Repatriation Commission; but I know that he can give assistance in such cases. I ask only that equity and justice shall determine the decision of the authorities in these cases.
– The honorable member might let me have the papers.
– I shall give the honorable gentleman the whole of the papers, and I hope he will see that full justice is done.
I wish now to refer to a serious anomaly as it affects a Commonwealth servant. The statement of the grievance which I place on record has not been received from the officer concerned, and I there fore trust that it will not be held that he has acted in any way contrary to the Public Service regulations. When I hear of an injustice, I am prepared to ventilate it. I accept full responsibility for exposing this anomaly in the hope ‘that in future similar injustices may not be perpetrated. The officer to whose case I refer is Mr. Jack Mortby, of the Federal Taxation Department, in Adelaide. He is a teller of the 5th class in the Cashiers’ Branch of the Department. In 1921 applications were called to fill vacancies in some 4th class positions, and a man named McLean was appointed to one of these positions. Mr. Mortby, as a matter of fact, performed the duties of the position for some twelve months during its occupancy by McLean, who subsequently resigned to go to America. The position was again advertised in November, 1922, and Mr. Mortby was the person ultimately selected to fill it. He had all along performed the duties of the position. In November, 1923, he received a communication, of which I have a copy, from the Acting Deputy Commissioner of Taxation in Adelaide, intimating that he had recommended him’ for promotion. The Treasury and Audit Office were notified of the recommendation. The officer has received the salary applicable to the position, together with retrospective pay from October, 1922. Such payments would not, of course, be sanctioned without an authorizing order from the Treasury and the Audit Department. His salary would be automatically increased to £245, and presumably the salary at the increased rate is included in the Estimates which we considered last week, and will be paid during the current financial year. On the 17th August of this year Mr. Mortby was notified that he has not yet been given the Acting Public Service Commissioner’s recommendation for his promotion. It would appear that the action of the authorities in failing to ratify the recommendation for his promotion is due to the taxation agreements that have been under consideration. It is difficult to know why the ratification of the recommendation for this man’s promotion has been withheld by the Acting Public Service Commissioner in view of the fact that the Treasury ‘ and Audit Office officials have agreed to the payment of the salary at the higher rate. The order that confirmed the promotion appears to have been completed, but has not been gazetted. The officer is concerned as to his rights should he be deemed to be an excess officer under section 20 of the Public Service Act. It would appear that his promotion has been purposely delayed for a circumstance that will directly affect his rights in the future. There are, no doubt, other cases of the same kind in the Federal Taxation Department in which officers at present feel insecure in their positions. I wish the Treasurer to acknowledge and act upon the recommendation of the Acting Deputy Commissioner in Adelaide, and confirm the promotion of this officer from the 5th to the 4th class, in order that his rights may be protected, and he may receive what is his due. I should like now to supplement the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) last evening in connexion with a request for equal pay for equal work in the Commonwealth Public Service, whether performed by male or female officers. Many women are under great disabilities in this regard, especially in the Postmaster-General’s Department. I hope that honorable gentleman will use his influence with the Cabinet to see that female officers required to perform the same duties as male officers shall receive the same remuneration. In many cases more justice would be afforded to the public servants if some form of direct approach to the Minister existed.
– Would you agree to the abolition of the Arbitration Courts?’
– 1 would not. I believe that there is nothing that precludes the Minister from giving the female employees of the service the same consideration and pay as the male employees receive.
– The matter is governed by the Public Service awards.
– The Government could find some way of overcoming the anomaly if it wished so to do. Many female Government servants have responsibilities as heavy as those carried by the men folk, and they are at a serious disadvantage, because their salary is so much smaller. I trust that the Government will heed the appeal made last evening by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), which is supported by every honorable member on this side of the House. There should be no differentiation in payment for the same class of work. If the Government removed the dissatisfaction caused by the existing distinctions between male and female employees who do exactly the same class of work, it would eliminate a very real grievance, which at the present moment exists in the Commonwealth Public Service, especially in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Let the Government affirm the principle of equal pay for equal work.
.- I compliment the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) on his remarks respecting equal pay for equal work. I have always supported that principle. We should make no distinction between men and women who do exactly similar work. They should receive the same rates of pay. It is not sex that should count, but service rendered to the State. I direct the attention of the Government to the precarious condition of the carbide industry in Tasmania. Honorable members will recollect that this industry has been discussed a number of times in this Chamber. Some months ago the carbide company which operates a’ few miles south of Hobart had to close its works, because it had £18,000 worth of manufactured carbide on its hands, for which no sale could be found in Australia. Imported carbide was being dumped here at a price which made it impossible for the Australian company to compete. A number of deputations have placed the position before the Government, and when the Prime Minister was in Tasmania a deputation waited upon him. The replies given to these various deputations have been to the effect that the Government would give what relief it could to the company. Ultimately it decided that it could not recommend the re-imposition of the embargo on the importation of carbide, which was lifted just prior to the closing of the last Parliament, although it was shown that an embargo was the only thing that could materially benefit the industry. No doubt the Government was actuated by what it believed tlo be the best reasons in reaching its decision. The company was compelled to throw 160 men on an already overstocked labour market in Tasmania. That was serious to Tasmania, but it was far more serious to the wives and families of the men. Many of them were unable to obtain employment near their homes, and had to go elsewhere in search of it.
– There is a” very heavy duty on carbide.
– The duty does not meet the case. This is a comparatively new industry, and if it is to be maintained under Australian conditions it must be given every possible encouragement. The Government is pledged to protect Australian industries. It has been found that the duty is of practically no assistance. The only thing that will meet the situation is an embargo. The company endeavoured to open its works again a few weeks ago. It was able to make some temporary financial arrangement, but unless an embargo is quickly placed upon the importation of carbide, it will have to close down and probably go into liquidation. The imported article ‘is sold at a price which is about 10s. per ton below that charged for the Australian product. No matter how heavy the duty is, it appears that it will always be sold at less than the local article. The reason is easy to explain. Many overseas companies manufactured large quantities of carbide during the war, and they now have heavy surplus stocks of which they are determined to get rid at any price. Consequently, they are prepared to undersell the Australians every time. If adequate assistance is given the Tasmanian manufacturers are willing to guarantee to supply all the requirements of Australia, and they will also enter into a price arrangement with the Government to insure that no advantage will be taken of the ‘public because they have a monopoly. The price can be fixed by the Minister. Imported carbide is being dumped into Australia in large quantities.
– ‘“We have an anti-dump ing duty on it as well as the Tariff.
– I have already explained why duties will not meet the case. The large surplus stocks of oversea manufacturers enable them to undersell the Australian article every time. I ask the Government to see whether it cannot reverse its decision and re-impose the embargo. Then it will give this essentially Australian company a reasonable prospect of building up a valuable industry. The Government is pledged to Protection, and I submit that it could give this industry all the protection necessary, and yet insure that carbide con sumers will not be required to pay more than a fair price for carbide.
– It would pay Western Australia better to provide a pension for all the employees in this industry in Tasmania, than that the Government should do as the honorable member asks.
– There we have OnCE more the cry of the Free Trader, who is prepared to wipe out all Australian industries and bow the knee to the goddess of cheapness. I have never adopted that attitude. Frequently, I have voted for duties which were not approved by the people I represented, but I took the broad Australian view. The honorable member for Forrest does not; he is a consistent
Free Trader of the old school, and I was very pleased to hear last night that he was not a candidate for the position of fourth member of the Tariff Board. . If the honorable member would only give assistance to the Australian carbide industry he would be doing something to cheapen and stabilize the price to the consumers. They would not be subject to those variations in price which invariably happen when they are dependent upon supplies from overseas. If free importations were allowed, the Australian public might get the carbide cheaper for a time until the Australian industry was killed, and then up would go the price. It is indisputable that the best guarantee of reasonable prices to the consumer is the fostering of local industries which can be controlled by this Parliament, so that no monopoly detrimental to the general community is established. I believe Ministers will reconsider this question, because I am satisfied that the Nationalists do desire to foster Australian industries. I have doubts about the members of the Country party, who lean too much towards Free Trade. I hope that the Nationalist majority in the Ministry will take steps to prevent this essentially Australian industry from being squelched. Owing to the methods adopted by the Government to close the session this week - day and night sittings, and the limitation of speeches - this is the last opportunity I shall have this session of bringing forward the grievances affecting the people of Tasmania. I therefore take advantage of it to bring under the notice of the House another matter that seriously affects my constituency. I endeavoured some weeks ago to secure the appointment of a Select
Committee to inquire into the necessity for the establishment by the Commonwealth of a direct up-to-date shipping service between the mainland and Hobart. Such a Committee could within a few days, and at very little expense, have collected such information as would have afforded the Government and the House an opportunity of deciding whether the request for the establishment of this service was fair. Unfortunately, the Minister did not support me, and when I asked that a vote should be taken he moved the adjournment of the debate. Of course, he is an experienced parliamentary tactician, and his actions indicated that he had not the slightest intention of allowing the motion to be further discussed during the session. A fortnight ago, and on another subsequent occasion, I asked the Prime Minister if he would allow a vote to be taken, without further discussion upon my motion and others standing on the notice-paper in the names of honorable members. I received the usual Ministerial reply that an opportunity to take votes upon private members’ business would bo afforded if the state of the business would permit. Of course, the Prime Minister did not intend that the state of business should permit, but I am satisfied that if the motion had been carried to a division the Committee would have been appointed. I would have obtained the solid support of honorable members on this side ‘ of the House, because of the broad general principle involved, and as it is not a party question, a number of honorable members on the Ministerial side would have voted with me. My proposal, that the effects of the absence of a direct shipping service to southern Tasmania should be investigated, was most reasonable.
– Will not the
Select Committee inquiring into the operations of the Navigation Act deal with that question T
– Not in the way I desire, because the matter is one of urgency. Honorable members do not realize how the deplorable absence of shipping affects the southern part of Tasmania, particularly Hobart, which has 50,000 inhabitants, and the adjacent districts, which have a population of another 30,000. I believe a Commonwealth shipping service could be operated at a profit. I quoted statistics obtained from Government sources in Tasmania showing the inward and outward trade of the port of Hobart, and I made a reasonable estimate of the cost of a direct weekly service by an uptodate boat between that port and Melbourne.
– Is there not a direct boat from Sydney?
– A boat runs from Sydney about every ten days, or once a week in the busy part of the year.
– The honorable member is now discussing the merits of a question that is on the notice-paper.
– I may be contravening the Standing Orders to some extent, but I cannot be said to be anticipating the discussion upon my motion, because I am satisfied that it will not be further dealt with during this session. Parliament has already passed a measure handing over to a Board the management and control of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. The Board may sell some of the ships belonging to the Line, but it will still retain a large number, and it should be urged by the Government to consider my suggestion immediately. If the Board has not under its control an uptodate passenger and cargo vessel suitable for the service, it will have power to purchase one. I am satisfied that full investigation would disclose that the service would pay. If I am asked why the private companies do not establish the service, I can only express the belief that the Shipping Ring is responsible. The whole of the Australian trade is in control of a shipping combine, which,’ I understand, allots separate and distinct spheres of action for each section. Whether or not that be the reason, the fact remains that there is no direct shipping service between the southern part of Tasmania and the mainland. This is not fair. We have to bear our proportion of the immense annual loss incurred in connexion with the trans-continental railway which links up Western Australia with the other States, and also our share of annual subsidies provided for mail and shipping facilities with the mandated territories. I submit that the request I am making is perfectly reasonable, and that the Government should give it consideration. It is pro- bable that a direct shipping service, such as I suggest, will show a- profit. It is urgently required, not only for passenger traffic, but also for the marketing of Tasmania’s productions. Primary producers in my State are heavily handicapped in this respect. I should like an assurance that the Government will take early action to remove the serious disadvantages from which the southern portion of Tasmania is suffering.
– I appreciate the opportunity which the Government have made available to honorable members to ventilate grievances at this late hour in the session. It enables me to bring before honorable members a matter which I regard as of the utmost importance, since it concerns an industry of great potential value to Australia: I refer to the tobacco-growing industry. Tobacco has been extensively grown for a period of from thirty to forty years in the New England portion of New South Wales. As a result of the encouragement offered some years ago by the British Australasian Tobacco Company, the industry made very rapid strides, and today the New England district produces about one-half of the total tobacco leaf grown in Australia. Unfortunately, the tobacco-growers, not only in northern New South Wales, but in other portions of the Commonwealth also, are practically at the mercy of only one buyer. There is not the slightest doubt that the British Australasian Tobacco Company is a combine - whether in restraint of trade I am not going to say - but, after I have produced evidence of what has happened, I shall leave honorable members to decide whether the action of the company brings it within the provisions of the Industries Preservation Act. For the information of honorable members, I shall quote extracts of a report that appeared in the Northern Daily Leader published in Tamworth last week. This report states -
A meeting of extraordinary interest to tobacco growers throughout the north, and others interested in the industry, called by the Tamworth District Tobacco Growers’ Association, took place yesterday afternoon at the Oddfellow’s Hall, Tamworth, before a large gathering, more than 100 persons being present. Mr. C. M. Chaffey, honorary secretary of the association, occupied the Chair.
I ask honorable members to bear in mind the fact that more than 100 persons interested in the growing of tobacco were present at that meeting.
The chairman, in opening the meeting, said they should be gratified that such a large number of interested persons were present to learn the prospects of the tobacco-growing industry in the Tamworth district from Mr. Gilmour, of the British Australasian Tobacco Company, to whom they extended a hearty welcome. He would have pleasure in advising the growers generally, from bis firm’s stand-point.
These unfortunate men had attended the meeting under a misapprehension. They thought they were going to hear something nice and agreeable from Mr. Gilmour, the representative of the British Australasian Tobacco Company. This was what he said -
In consequence of the position that has arisen, the present meeting was found to be necessary in the interests of the growers.
The meeting, I remind honorable members, was representative of the producers of one-half of the total production of tobacco leaf in Australia. Last year the total value of the leaf produced in that district was £250,000. That may not seem very much, but £250,000 is a considerable sum of money to go to one district, and we should remember that only about 10 per cent, of the Australian leaf is used in themanufacture of tobacco in Australia. Mr.. Gilmour went on to say -
He was present at the invitation of the Tamworth Tobacco Growing Association, to promote the interests of the company to which he belonged.
I direct special attention to that statement.
He was not antagonistic in any way; he was in sympathy with the men on the land, and any one who was acquainted with bian and his work would understand that he would do the fair thing.
A very nice and benevolent attitude for this gentleman, as the representative of the only buyer in this industry in Australia, to adopt. Mr. Gilmour went on to say-
He thought it was better to come along and explain to the tobacco growers the true situation rather than allow them to continue growing and raising crops without knowing whether they would be able to dispose of them.
These growers had been raising and disposing of crops for very many years without any hint that the prospects of the market were other than favorable. Mr. Gilmour now coolly tells them that for the future they must grow the crops at their own risk. He added -
He wanted the ‘growers .to accept what he would tell them in the spirit in which it was given. He .was present to give his advice and not to antagonize them. It had become necessary that the facts should be placed before them, owing to the glowing reports that had from time to time been appearing in the newspapers, reports which were much exaggerated and misleading. Many would-be growers were rushing into the industry under the impression that tobacco could be grown anywhere and by everybody, which was a great .mistake and calculated to lead to financial loss and disappointment.
Only now is there a suggestion that the tobacco leaf grown in the Tamworth district is no good, and I ask honorable members to still keep in mind the fact that only 10 per cent, of Australian leaf is used in the process of manufacture. It would appear that the company had decided that the time had come to put the “kibosh,” to use a vulgarism, on the industry. Continuing, Mr. Gilmour said -
America, he added, .had nothing to teach Australia in .the art of manufacture, and with properly cured leaf the growers could be assured that the manufacturers would be able to make tobacco out of Australian-grown leaf which would be acceptable to a larger percentage of Australian smokers than was the case to-day. Whether the crops were large or small, the time had come when a change was desirable from sun and air dried to flue curing, and he exhorted those who were flue-curers to try and improve their methods, so that permanently satisfactory results would be achieved.
I may explain that there are two methods of preparing tobacco leaf. One is known as the air-drying method. Those who adopt this system simply place the leaf on poles in a shed, and allow it to dry off naturally, the process taking about six months. The flue-curing method entails the erection of kilns and the installation of certain machinery for the drying of the leaf. This process takes only about forty-eight hours - at any rate, only a very short time. The Chinese growers prefer to air-dry the leaf. About four or five years ago, when Mr. Gilmour visited the Tamworth district, which practically includes the whole of the northern tobacco-growing areas of New South Wales, he made’ an appeal to the press to urge the tobacco growers to adopt the more scientific method- of cultivation, because the ordinary Chinese airdried leaf was not used in manufacture.
– With the concurrence of the House, I wish to offer a seat on the floor of the Chamber to a distinguished visitor, a member of the British House of Commons, Mr. Wignall. I do this without a formal resolution of the House.
– Mr. Gilmore advised the growers to adopt the more uptodate method of flue-curing. There is a great difference in the price of the two tobaccos. The price of air-dried tobacco ranges from 9d. to ls. 3d., and of the fluecured is as high as from 2s. 6d. to 3s. per lb. But the majority of the growers persisted in the air-drying method, largely because Chinese labour was fairly cheap, and, although the Chinese received a percentage of the earnings, they saved the growers the trouble and expense of adopting the scientific method. But the company was persistent in its demand for the better quality tobacco, and continually circulated appeals to the growers to produce it. Finally, the desire of the company to popularize the flue-curing method was attained, and the white grower came into the industry with a rush. In the Tamworth district alone thirty barns, costing from £100 to £1,000 each, were erected within a short time, and so keen was the company that it actually advanced money to the growers to enable them to erect buildings.
– In a few cases only.They refused more requests than they granted.
– That may be. My point is that so keen was the company to encourage flue-curing, that it was prepared to advance money, provided that the growers erected barns, and adopted the more scientific method of tobacco curing. The State Government placed at the service of the growers a tobacco expert to instruct them in the use of flues. Last year the tobacco crop in the north returned nearly a quarter of a million pounds sterling to the growers. The industry is spreading throughout Australia. In the Upper Murray districts it has lately received a new impetus. As a result of the fluecuring methods the Upper Murray tobacco growers have produced a leaf considered to be the equal of anything produced by the American growers. I understand that there are a large number of tobacco growers in the north of Victoria, in Western Australia, and in southern Queensland. Now the BritishAustralasian Tobacco Company has abolished the air-drying methods, and virtually struck a death-blow at the Australian industry. Mr. Gilmore stated at the meeting of tobacco-growers that the air-dried tobacco was inferior, .and did not produce the aroma required to suit the palates of Australian smokers. He said that Australian smokers were a very peculiar class of consumer; that the company had found’ it necessary to provide only the highest grades of tobacco for them, and that the American grades of tobacco were the only qualities that suited the tastes of the Australian consumers. He also said that the Australian growers should make an endeavour to improve the quality of their leaf, so that the necessary burning aroma could be imparted to the manufactured article, which would certainly be a good thing for the industry. After practically telling the growers that the cause of complaint on the part of the company was that too much inferior leaf was produced, and that the company desired a superior quality of leaf altogether, he went on to say that during his experience he had known cases where tobacco had been overproduced, and that the price went down to 3d. in Victoria forty years ago, and in New South Wales thirty-five years ago. He warned the men against raising crops that subsequently could not be disposed of, and said that if any man prepared 40 or 50 acres for tobacco growing he would be doing so at his own risk. In one breath, he said that the company desired only the highest quality of leaf, and in the next breath he warned the growers against over-production. I ask honorable members if it is reasonable to assume that there can be overproduction of tobacco leaf in - Australia, when about 10 per cent, of the leaf produced in this country is used in the manufacture of Australian tobacco. The thing is absurd, and apparently the true motive of the company is to deal a death blow to the tobacco [industry here. Their action seems to me to be a deliberate attempt to throttle the potentialities of this great Australian industry.
– That is part of their settled policy.
– I am not unreasonable enough to suggest that when there is only one buyer in Australia, the British-Australian Tobacco Company, it should take any kind of tobacco produced. That would be absurd. But as the company is in such a responsible position, and has the Australian industry absolutely at its mercy, it should show that it appreciates that responsibility, and is not prepared, in the interests of some foreign-grown product, to wipe our own industry out of existence. If honorable members wish to see the > Australian tobacco-growing; industry develop into a valuable asset,, they should take steps to retard any action of the British-Australian Tobacco Company having a detrimental effect, on the industry. We do not know what this company is. Some people say that it is largely an Australian company, and. others that it is an Australian company with British capital in it; but many contend that it is really a branch of thegreat American Tobacco Trust.
– That has never been denied.
– The company itself denies the latter imputation. We should protect the tobacco growers. Under present legislation, it cannot be ascertained whether this tobacco company is really a branch of the American Tobacco Trust, acting detrimentally to the interests of the Australian consumers. We know what happened during the war. The British-Australian Tobacco Company suddenly discovered that its operations were being seriously hampered by the effects of the war, and that the law of supply and demand necessitated an increase in the retail price of tobacco by 50 per cent. Smokers were certainly amazed when the price of tobacco rose from ls. per 2-oz. tin to ls. 6d., and cigarettes in like proportion. Later, the price was increased by Id. This latter amount was subsequently taken off, but no further decrease has been made.
Tobacco, to-day, is still being sold at 50 per cent, above the prices charged before the war. If this company is a branch of the American Tobacco Trust, we have a perfect right to investigate its operations. The Industries Preservation Act, although in existence, is virtually a dead letter. Oh examining that Act last night, I was surprised to find the broad compass of the legislative machinery which was instituted nearly twenty years ago to cope wilh the very situation that exists to-day. Yet the Act has been more or less inoperative, and nothing has been done to effectively protect the interests of the Australian tobacco industry against the operations of local or foreign combines. I do not attribute sinister motives to the British-Australian Tobacco Company, or suggest that it desires to do anything more than improve the quality of Australian leaf. But when a company which uses only a small proportion of Australian leaf talks of overproduction, and suddenly practically wipes out an important section of the tobacco-growing industry, it is. time that legislative machinery was put into operation to discover its object. The company may have been justified in sending its representative to deal a death blow to the tobacco industry in northern New South Wales in such a dramatically sudden way; but, if it was, it is under a responsibility to the tobacco-growers concerned to say why it did this thing. We have proof that by scientific methods we can produce a tobacco leaf in Australia equal to the American standard. If ,the Company were acting in the interests of Australian producers, it would do everything possible to limit its importations of American leaf, and to encourage the production of a high standard of leaf in Australia. It has been roved by actual tests that we can proluce as good leaf as the American leaf, and if this improvement goes on, the local article must suit the taste of Australian smokers of tobacco. But this company practically says, “We have had enough of the industry. We will take no more of your leaf, and, if you grow it, it will remain on your farms as so much rubbish.” I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to look into this matter, which is one of great urgency. I have said that the industry was responsible last year for the introduction of about £200,000 to the northern district of New South Wales; but it cannot be expected that growers will put seed into the ground, or that men will go to the expense of setting up flues for the production of a good quality of tobacco when the only buyer of Australian leaf tells them that, if they do so, it will be at their own risk, because the company may not even send its buyer to the district to look at the tobacco. The local producers may inform the company that they have a fine crop and would like it to send its representative to look at it, and the company may reply that it has not a buyer available to visit the district.
– What does the honorable member suggest that we should do?
– The action taken by the company towards tobacco-growers in the area to which I refer will re-act against tobacco-growers in other areas; and, if immediate action is not taken to discover the intention of the company with regard to the future of the industry, we can say good-bye to tobacco growing in Australia in probably the next two years. The Minister asks what I suggest should be done. We have the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act, but it has, so far, been inoperative. I think we have a more effective instrument for the investigation of matters of this kind in the Tariff Board. I suggest to the Minister that he should immediately place upon that Board the obligation to investigate the position, and find out the relation of the BritishAustralian Tobacco Company to the American Tobacco Trust, its relation to American tobacco-growers, and what really is its motive in taking such very drastic and unjust action towards the Australian producers of tobacco leaf. It is possible that, should the Tariff Board find out all these things, this Parliament will be unable to do anything, because we know how very difficult it is to deal with the operations of trusts. But if a flood of light is turned upon the operations of a combine such as this, it may decide to alter its policy.
– The company referred to is like all other importers, to whom the honorable member’s Leader has handed himself over.
– Most of the members of the party occupying this corner believe in the preservation of Australian industries, and will give their assistance, where it is possible, to preserve them, without inflicting great hardship and injustice upon the rest of the people of Australia. If the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) was consistent, he would show a little more sympathy at this juncture with an industry which might be made one of the most important in this country. It is a primary industry, and if it is protected in some way against the operations of a Combine that is at present able to promote or depress it at will, I have no doubt that, in a comparatively short time, those engaged in it will be growing enough tobacco, and tobacco of the very highest quality, to meet Australia’s requirements. The company says that our tobacco is inferior and it can only use American leaf, but we have the statement of experts, who examined samples of flue-dried leaf produced in the Upper Murray Valley, that it is possible there to grow a leaf which is even superior to the American leaf. That shows what we can do in Australia. If a gentleman can be sent up from Sydney or Melbourne to a district in which tobacco is grown to tell the growers that they need not produce any more leaf, and, if they do so, it will be at their own risk because the company may not buy it, it is clear that tobaccogrowers will not waste their time, their labour and their money any further on this industry. -I thank honorable members for their attention, and I hope that the Minister will place the matter before the Tariff Board, with instructions to make a thorough investigation into the relations of the BritishAustralian Tobacco Company with the American Tobacco Trust, and its attitude towards the Australian tobacco growing industry.
– A Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into the matter.
– Possibly ; but I do not know whether that is necessary, in view of the fact that the Tariff Board, which it has just been decided to strengthen, can make the necessary investigations, and, in doing so, may render valuable service to the primary producers of Australia. If it carries out this work successfully, it will justify its continued existence. I should like honorable members generally to keep their eyes on the British-Australian Tobacco Company. Of late years, very little attention has been directed to the operations of Combines and Trusts in this country. Although we have legislative machinery to control them to some extent, it is not in operation, and it is very rarely that action is taken even to inquire into the operations of a Combine or Trust in or out of Australia. A proper inquiry into this question might inaugurate a new era of activity in regard to the operation of the Industries Preservation Act of 1906. I trust that, as a result of an inquiry by the Tariff Board into this question, it will be discovered by honorable members or. both sides ‘that it is high time we took a little more notice than we have been doing of the actions of Trusts within our midst.
.- I intend, in the brief time at my disposal, to bring before honorable members a question of very great importance to the Queensland cattle industry, and one affecting the honour and integrity of the Government. During the Federal election campaign, whilst speaking at Maryborough, the then Leader of the Nationalist party, the right honorable W. M. Hughes, made a very definite promise to the cattle-growers of Queensland, because he recognised that the improvement of their herds was a matter of vital importance. When the right honorable gentleman was in Maryborough assisting the candidature of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) he made the following statement, which was published in every newspaper in Queensland : -
There is only one way by which we can definitely improve our herds, and that is by breeding from high-priced animals. Unfortunately, we have to consider the cost of transport and quarantine. The Nationalist Government will introduce legislation designed to assist the .producers by defraying the cost of transportation and quarantine of stud stock.
That statement was promptly starred in the Brisbane press, including the Daily Mail and the Brisbane Courier, and no doubt induced a large number of cattle owners in Queensland to cast their votes for Nationalist candidates, in the firm belief that any pledge made by the Leader of the party would be honoured after the elections. All who have made a study of this industry recognise that Australia has suffered greatly because we have been unable to compete successfully with the Argentine. Cattle raisers in the Argentine have, during the last ten or fifteen years, gone in for the improvement of their herds in a scientific manner, and as a consequence are able to place on the British market earlymatured beef. The reason is because of the improved breeding of their herds in consequence of the high prices paid for stud stock. The late Leader of the Nationalist party fully recognised that this was an important question with the cattle-owners of Australia, and particularly with those of Queensland, because half the cattle in Australia are in Queensland. With a view to catching votes he made a definite promise that his Government would pay the transportation and quarantine charges for bringing stud stock to Australia. The Brisbane Courier realized that this assurance was of great value, politically, because is would decide a large number of votes throughout Queensland. Therefore, the day after the promise was made, that newspaper printed it under the following large black headings: -
Assisting Primary Producers. nationalist government’s offer.
All through the division of Capricornia there are many people interested in a small way in the cattle-growing, dairying, and grazing industries, and they are anxious to improve their herds. They said to me when I was appealing for their votes,”Mr. Hughes has proved himself the friend of the cattle-owners, by promising, on behalf of his party, to pay transportation and quarantine charges on stud stock that is brought into Australia. Will your party do the same if it is returned to power?” I had not consulted my party, and all that I could say was that I would place the matter before them. I believe that in many instances the people to whom I have referred voted for the Nationalist candidate because they had that definite promise from Mr. Hughes. Honorable members in this House know that when they make a definite promise in private life they feel in duty bound to honour it. The Government should feel a similar sense of duty. Since the elections a composite Government has been formed. I ask the Nationalist members of the Government whether the influence of the Country party members in the Ministry will not allow the Nationalist Prime Minister to honour the promise made by the previous leader of his party? If that is the truth, let it be known. It cannot be said that the Nationalist party of to-day is different from the Nationalist party at the time of the elections, because the leader of to-day was the Treasurer in the Hughes Administration. He pretended to the people of Australia that he was a friend, supporter, and admirer of Mr. Hughes. Mr. Hughes made the definite promise, to which I have called specific attention. Surely it is only reasonable to expect that the man who was his colleague will honour it. If not, let us know who is preventing him from doing so. After the promise was made, Mr. T. O’Brien, on behalf of the Queensland Primary Producers Co-operative Agency, Brisbane, wrote to Mr. Hughes as follows: -
It gave us much pleasure in reading a report of your speech at Maryborough in to-day’s Mail, wherein you are credited with stating that the National Government was prepared in order to improve the quality of beef and dairy cattle, and also of sheep, to pay the cost of transport and quarantine of pure-bred stock brought into Australia. If you are correctly reported we take the earliest opportunity of congratulating your Government on this promise, and at thesame time to take advantage of your promise by asking if this will apply to pure-bred stock imported from America with a view to improving beef cattle in Queensland. We have a very progressive client, who has practically decided to import a few Polled Hereford bulls from America, but, of course, the cost of transport, &c., is a big item, and he would very much appreciate this assistance. We are sure you will admit it would be a step in the right direction to import polled cattle, as cattle are considerably damaged in trucks on their way to the market and meatworks through horning one another, and consequently a very large percentage are rendered unfit for export. We feel sure if our client has your assurance that the cost of transport, &c., to land the bulls in Australia will be defrayed by your Government, it will influence him considerably.
He asked Mr. Hughes for a reply. A reply was sent by Mr. A. D. Broad, pri- rate secretary of the Prime Minister,
UDder date 13th November, 1922. It read -
I am directed by the Prime Minister to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 10th instant respecting the’ cost of transportation of imported stud stock. I am to inform you that your assumption that the Government will bear the cost of this transportation in approved cases, is correct, and if you will get into touch with the Customs Department, who have control of this matter, you will no doubt receive all the information you desire.
The Prime Minister is grateful for your appreciation of the action of the Government in their desire to improve the quality of the beef and dairy cattle.
That was just prior to the elections. Of course, at that time, Mr. Hughes was delighted to know that the cattle-owners of Queensland appreciated his promise. This promise was made in the district of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). I would like to hear him tell the House what he thinks about the failure of the Government to fulfil it. He must remember that, if the promise had not been made, he would not have received a large number of votes. That promise caused many people temporarily to change their political views. Now those people find that they have been -grossly deceived. After the elections were over the Primary Producers Cooperative Agency set about seeking the fulfilment of the promise. Mr. O’Brien communicated with the ControllerGeneral of Customs on 9th January, 1923, in pursuance of the advice given to him by the private secretary of Mr. Hughes. In that letter, he said -
We would appreciate your early reply to our letter as to whether the Prime Minister’s assurance on this matter has been decided on. He referred us to your Department for full information. Our clients are waiting your reply before placing their orders.
No reply came to hand, and three other letters were sent to the Customs Department before any was received. Then he was informed that the matter was under consideration by the Government. The clients of this company could not afford to wait any longer for the stud stock which they required, so they placed an order in America, and paid very high prices for the stock they subsequently obtained. If they had known that the transportation and quarantine charges would not be paid, they would have pur chased less costly stock. While the company was waiting for a reply from the Customs Department another letter, dated 24th January, 1923, was sent to the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes. So far as I know, Mr. Hughes did not even acknowledge receipt of the letter. The elections were over, the die had been cast, the electors had been fooled; and Mr. Hughes did not care a jot whether his definite assurance to the cattle-growers would be honoured or not. Subsequently Mr. O’Brien, on behalf of the Primary Producers Co-operative Agency, wrote to the Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), under date -25th June, 1.923, and told him that the cattle-growers, relying on the promise made by Mr. Hughes, had purchased high-priced stud stock in America which, by that time, had arrived in Sydney, and were in quarantine. The letter inquired whether the Government intended’ to comply with the definite assurance made at election time by Mr. Hughes. Some delay occurred, but ultimately Mr. Groom replied in a letter which stated that he had to inform the company that it was not possible for; the Government to take the action which the stock-owners’ desired. He stated -
I enclose herewith a letter from the Prime Minister’s Department advising you accordingly.
That letter said that the matter had been under consideration by the Government, which regretted that the promise made by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) could not be honoured. I ask whether that is an honest way of dealing with people? Is it any wonder that electors cannot place reliance on election promises? we would regard it as most contemptible if a man in private life dishonoured his promise. Yet honorable members opposite, many of whom are representatives of the alleged Country party, seem unconcerned that the promise is not to be fulfilled. The cattle-growers of Australia have a just grievance. Honorable members opposite have not seen fit to make any complaint to the Government about its poor sense of public duty, but I deem it to be my right, as the representative of a large number of cattle-growers, who are earnestly striving to improve their herds, to place before the House the dishonesty displayed by certain members on the Government benches. After Mr. O’Brien received the reply from Mr. Groom that the Government did not intend to honour the promise made on behalf of the Nationalist party at election time, by which it won hundreds of votes, the following letter was written by him to Mr. Groom -
I was positively astounded to receive your reply to my letter enclosing a copy of a letter received by youfrom the secretary to the Prime Minister advising it had been decided not to honour the promise of the late leader of the National party, at Maryborough, during the recent Federal campaign, to defray the cost of transportation of studstock to Australia to improve our flocks and herds, more especially as this promise was confirmed by a letter we hold from the Prime Minister (copy of which you received), who instructed us to get in touch with the Customs Department to make necessary arrangements, and in consequence of this promise our client incurred heavy expense purchasing more valuable cattle than he originally intended, among his purchases being the champion polled Hereford bull at the Des Moines (United States ofAmerica) Show, which topped the market by $800. Personally I consider the Government are under the circumstances morally bound to recoup our client for this excess expenditure. The amount involved is a mere bagatelle compared with the repudiation of a promise made by the leader of the National party during the election campaign, apparently onlyfor the purpose of securing votes. I am positively disgusted, and do not know how our client will feel when he receives my letter. During the Federal campaign, the Queensland Government was accused of repudiation by National candidates in connexion with the 1920 amendment to the Land Act. It must be admitted that, in view of the National Government’s action in thismatter, thatthese references were rather unfortunate. Personally, I have always been sceptical about electioneering promises, and not without reason, as this incident emphasizes. In passing, I may mention that I believe you are in full sympathy with your late leader’s promise, but, unfortunately, there do not appear to be too many country members in the Cabinet.
This Government, which pretends that it is in sympathy with the cattle raisers and primary producers generally, has repudiated the definite promise made by the Leader of the Nationalist party during the election campaign. A deputation from the Queensland Primary Producers Cooperative Agency brought this matter before the Queensland Minister for Agriculture. It was then referred to the Queensland Premier, who made urgent representations to the Commonwealth Government that it should honour the promises made by Mr. Hughes. Mr. Theodore, in a letter to the Prime Minister on the8th June, said -
As a result of Mr. Hughes’ statement at Maryborough, Mr. O’Brien advises that his client who had intended to purchase polled Hereford cattle in America was induced to purchase a better class of cattle than he originally intended, and these are now on their way to Australia.
I trust that, in view of the foregoing, you will be so good as to reconsider the matter, and, if possible, on Mr. Hughes’promise, for at least twelve months.
– The Queensland Primary Producers’ Co-operative Agency could get no satisfaction from the Commonwealth Government, and appealed to the Premier of Queensland,who, no doubt, when writing to the agency, enclosed a copy of the letter he had sent to the Prime Minister. Since then the Commonwealth Government has had the matter again under consideration. In pursuance of a request sent to me by the cattle-owners in Central Queensland, and the Primary Producers Co-operative Agency Limited, I made personal representations to the Prime Minister, and on the 9th July received the following letter: -
In reply to your letter of 2nd July, relative to representations made to you by Mr. William Beak, honorary secretary of the Australian Polled Hereford Association, in connexion with the question of the Commonwealth defraying the freight and quarantine charges on stud stock imported to Australia, I am directed to inform you that the Government have fully considered this matter, and regret that they are unable to see their way to take any action in the direction desired.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) P. Deane, Secretary.
This is the last communication I have received from the Prime Minister’s Department on the subject. I did all in my power to induce the Government to realize its responsibility, and recognise that a promise made on the hustings by the leader ofa great party, by means of which that party obtained thousands of votes, should be honoured. Those members of the Nationalist party in Queensland who were assisted to retain their seats in Parliament by that definite promise should have used their influence with the present Adminis- tration to get the undertaking given by their former leader carried out. There are in this House eight Queensland supporters of the party which Mr. Hughes led at the last election, and two of them are members of the present Cabinet. Could not they exert their influence to induce the present composite NationalistCountry party Government to fulfil the pledge given to the people on the eve of the elections? If the members of the Country party are opposed to this concession to the various farmers, graziers, and others throughout Australia, let us know the truth; let honorable members opposite tell tile House where they stand in this matter. No doubt, if a question were addressed to the honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. W. M. Hughes) he would say that he is no longer Prime Minister. But the party he led is in office, and there are members in that . party who owe their presence in this Parliament to the promises he made. Surely they have a sufficiently high sense of the honour and integrity expected of parliamentarians to make the present Government honour an undertaking definitely given. To the man outside who has been accustomed to believe that members of the Country party are more in sympathy with the primary producers than are the Nationalists, this act of treachery will be a revelation. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and although we find that the former Nationalist Leader made that promise in order to secure votes, the present composite Government cannot see its way clear to give effect to it. The cattle being imported from America are Polled Herefords. It is realized in Queensland, where cattle have to be railed hundreds of miles to the meatworks, that it would be of great assistance to the meat industry if all cattle were dehorned. Polled Herefords have no horns, and cannot injure each other in the trucks. In America the breeders raise a special strain of Polled Herefords and other breeds of cattle without horns. The Queensland cattle-raisers realize that they are behind the times in this respect, and are earnestly striving to improve their herds. To that end they are going in for the breeding of Polled Herefords. If Australian breeders are to compete successfully with Argentina in the meat markets of the Old World, they must improve their methods. Argentina is breeding a special strain of early-maturing cattle and Polled Herefords in order to be able to put the meat on the market in the best condition. Our breeders should benefit by their own mistakes and those of others. Australian meat has temporarily lost its place in Great Britain owing largely to Argentina being able to put on the Smithfield market a better class of meat than Australia is able to export. Queensland produces about half the cattle raised in Australia, and its pastoralists are endeavouring to improve their stock so that they may have a better chance of competing successfully with Argentina. Realizing that, the former Prime Minister decided to curry favour with Queensland cattle-raisers, and made that promise which the present Administration is refusing to honour. Now, from my place in the House I bring the matter before Ministers in the hope that they will reconsider their previous decision, which means a great deal to the cattle industry in Queensland and other States. I would also suggest that they import fifty of the best bulls procurable for free use by dairy farmers and cattle-raisers. I would not ask for this concession if the Queensland cattle-raisers were prosperous, but they are in a bad way. Many of them ‘cannot get even £1 or 30s. per head for cattle that ordinarily are worth £10 or £12. Owing to the failure of the export market, the beasts are practically worthless - the breeders cannot give them away. The banks have refused to advance more money to these men, and have asked them to reduce their overdrafts. This they find it impossible to do, and many of them have asked the banks to take over their properties for what they are worth, but the banks refuse to do so, because they recognise that the leases would not realize enough to liquidate the overdraft. The circumstances in Victoria are vastly different from those in Queensland. In Victoria there is no difficulty in getting a good price for fat cattle, but that is not so in Quensland, where there are 8,000,000 cattle.
– Yet the honorable member voted for the retention of the land tax upon Crown leaseholds.
– The small cattle-owners were not affected by that tax. The wealthy pastoralists, such as Edmund
Jowett and Sir Sidney Kidman, the Australian Estates Company, the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Company, and the Australian Mortgage Company endeavoured to escape their just debts of £1,300,000, which they can well afford to pay; butthe small, struggling cattleowners are not in the same category.
– Some of them are,
– Those leaseholders who resisted that land tax were mostly big pastoralists. The £5,000 exemption removed the small man from the operation of the tax. There is something bigger than party politics in the question I have put before the House this afternoon. It involves the honour and integrity of Parliament, and the Country party should insist on the definite promise made during the last elections by the then Prime Minister being honoured. I understood that the members of that party had at heart the interest of the small dairymen and graziers. Unfortunately, in travelling . through Queensland, one sees too many inferior cattle. We should encourage the dairymen and graziers to improve their herds, so that Australia may have a chance of successfully competing with the Argentine and other meat-producing countries. The importation of pure Polled Hereford bulls would do much to improve the breed of cattle, and the production of a hornless strain would eliminate some of the losses now sustained in the transport of cattle to the meatworks. I trust that the Treasurer, ‘the PostmasterGeneral, and the Minister for Works and Railways, as the alleged representatives of the Country party in the Ministry, will give this matter their sympathetic consideration, and bear in mind that, by influencing the Cabinet to accede to the request made, they will be honouring a definite election pledge given to the people of Queensland - that the Government would do something for the improvement of Australian herds by paying quarantine and transport charges on stud stock imported for that purpose.
.-I express every sympathy with the tobaccogrowers of the New England district, whose unfortunate plight was mentioned by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) this afternoon. I am afraid, however, that the honorable member is associated with the wrong party, and that his efforts to obtain justice for the tobacco-growers in his constituency will not be successful. The political company which the honorable member keeps has never had any sympathy with Australian industries. This’ was demonstrated when we were dealing with the Tariff. I also remind the honorable member that, when, by means of a referendum, we sought an increase of the industrial powers of the Commonwealth, to enable the Government to deal with trusts and combines, the vote in the New England district was against us. Our efforts in the early days of Federation to make tobacco a Government monopoly were also defeated. It is worth noting, however, that the Labour party is not alone in its advocacy of this policy. Tobacco is a State monopoly in Japan and France, and in both countries it is a very fruitful source of revenue. I can well understand the indignation of the tobacco-growers in the New England district at the complaint of the representative of the BritishAustralasian Tobacco Company as to the quality of the leaf, and intimating that the Trust would probably buy no more of it. If Australian industries are to be treated in this way, what good purpose can be served by inducing people to come to this country and engage in production? Our producers should not be left at the mercy of any powerful combine, such as the British-Australasian Tobacco Company. The honorable member for New England has raised a very important question, and I can assure him that, in any action which he may take to secure justice for his constituents, he will get every assistance from honorable members on this side of the House. Unfortunately, he can expect none from his own political friends. I am glad the matter has been mentioned, because I have had some correspondence on the subject from growers in the New England district, but, following my invariable practice not to interfere with the business of any other honorable member, I advised them to communicate with the honorable member for New England. I question if any manufacturing industry is more profitable than that of the Tobacco Combine. Balance-sheets of companies in all parts of the world show that they make immense profits. It is the closest combine that has ever been brought into existence. I hope that some definite action will be taken by the Government. Another matter to which I desire to direct attention is the proposal of the Government to remove the Naval Workshops from Garden Island to Cockatoo Island. Garden Island has been for many years a naval repairing station. Cockatoo Island, on the other hand, has always been engaged in constructional work, and has not the necessary machinery for naval repair work. Naturally, the Cockatoo Island people desire to get as much work as possible, but the island has not the foreshore facilities necessary to enable ships to lie alongside the repair works. When Senator E. D. Millen was Minister for Defence, at about the time when war broke out, strong influence was brought to bear on him to remove the workshops to Cockatoo Island, but I was able to prove to him that, both from the point of view of utility and economy, it would be a mistake. When Sir Joseph Cook became Minister for Defence, the same pressure was exerted upon him, but, fortunately, after I had explained the position, he decided that the workshops should remain on Garden Island. The present Minister for Defence (Mr. Bowden) has reversed the decision of his predecessors in office. I am satisfied that what is proposed will not be in the best interests of the Navy and of the Commonwealth. I hope the Minister will reconsider his decision. The equipment of Garden Island is probably equal to that of any other naval workshop in the world. Special tools, selected by Admiralty experts, have been obtained. I know of no work, even of the most intricate and technical character, that cannot be done there. The shear-legs, or lifting gear, is the most powerful in the Commonwealth.
– It is not proposed to take any of the technical machinery, such as that necessary for torpedoes and electrical work, to Cockatoo Island.
– That could not be taken away. In the interests of the Navy it is necessary that the utmost secrecy should be observed in connexion with certain work. I maintain, however, that, as in the past, all naval repair work should also be done at Garden Island.
.- I deem it my duty to bring before honorable members a matter of very great importance to my constituency. I wish to deal with the shipping facilities on the north-west coast of Western Australia as far as Kimberley, which is in my electorate. It is regrettable that this Government recently gave permission to allow a new boat, manned by black labour, to trade on the Western Australian coast. In 1921 a continuing permit under the Navigation Act was given to the three black-labour boats, the Gorgon, the Charon, and the Minderoo, at present engaged on that coast. It is strange that Western Australia should be singled out for black-labour boats for Intra-State trade. With the exception of two Government boats manned by white labour, all the trade along the north-west Australian coast is carried, with the permission of this Government, by blacklabour boats. There is a conspiracy in. certain commercial circles to render inoperative the provisions of the Navigation Act as applied to Australian conditions. Section 286 of the Navigation Act reads -
Where it oan be shown to the satisfaction of the Minister in regard to the coasting trade with any port, or between any ports in the Commonwealth, or in the Territories under the authority of the Commonwealth -
I protest against the Western Australian coast being singled out for black-labour vessels. If the Lascar or Malay manned boats couldnot be replaced by boats manned with whites, I would not complain; but I have it on the best authority that if the black-labour boats were withdrawn the steam-ship owners would be prepared to trade on the north-west coast with boats manned under Australian conditions. This lends colour to the idea that in Australia there is an organized effort to employ cheap foreign labour on Australian-trading boats. Before permits were given, on the 1st July, 1921, to the Gorgon, the Charon, and the Minderoo, the Minister, under the Act, should have ascertained whether licensed ships were not available for that service. I have searched the file of correspondence dealing with the issue of a permit to the new black-labour boat, the Gascoyne, and I cannot see any evidence of an inquiry being made by the Minister to ascertain whether whitemanned boats were available. In those circumstances the Government were remiss in their duty. The White Australia policy must be upheld, and that should be the first sentiment instilled into every Australian mind. To-day certain people in Australia believe that black labour should be introduced for menial work.
– There are not many of them.
– The Minister knows from ordinary conversation that the opinion is freely expressed that we should allow Chinese or Hindoos to do the menial work. Broome is the most important town in Western Australia north of the tropic of Capricorn, and although under the Act every lugger has to be registered by a white man, in a large number of cases the J apanese own them. That is one town in Australia where the black men have been given a free hand, and, in consequence, the pearling industry is largely in their clutches. I have a great deal of sympathy for the master-pearlers in this difficulty, and I believe the Minter has correspondence in his possession giving their point of view of the problem. It seems more than an accident that black-labour boats are allowed to compete with the State steamships that ply on the Western Australian coast. It is an attempt to drive the State-owned vessels off the coast. These are some of the statistics concerning the boats to which this Government has given permits to trade. The Charon employs eighty-eight coloured men, their pay averaging £2 lis. per month., not quite 2s. per day. The Bambra, a Stateowned steamer, employs sixty-three white men, who are paid £15 12s. .per month each, or over 10s. per day. The Gorgon employs eighty-five coloured men and the Minderoo eighty-seven. These coloured men are working in the Australian trade between Australian ports, competing with State boats employing white labour under Australian conditions. The Premier of Western
Australia, who is hostile to State-owned ships,, tried to displace the Bambra by another coloured boat, and this Government was a party to it. It will be within the memory of the Minister (Mr. Austin Chapman) that Dalgety and Company wished to place the Gascoyne on the Western Australian coast as a cargo vessel. At that time she was the Quilque. They communicated with the navigation authorities in Western Australia, and their letter was forwarded to the Comptroller-General here. The Minister considered the matter and said that if the Western Australian Government were prepared to allow another coloured boat to trade on the Western Australian coast, this Government would not object. The Western Australian Government, although hostile to Stateowned ships, would not agree to the boat being run purely for cargo carrying. The Federal Government then consulted the Australian Steamship .Owners’ Federation, which would not agree to a cargo boat manned by black labour trading on the Western Australian coast when there were plenty of Australian boats manned by white crews available. They named three vessels that had already been offered for the Western Australian trade, the shipping company being prepared to carry cargo at a very small profit. Dalgety and Company, who are the agents for the black-manned boats, then took up a new stand, and said that if the Government would grant a permit for a black-labour boat to be used on the Western Australian trade, they would be prepared to carry passengers as well. The ship-owners sent out a cable to say that they were only prepared to send a boat to carry cargo. It is far more profitable for a boat not to carry passengers, because they take up space which otherwise could be used for cargo. They did eventually agree to provide passenger space as well as cargo space. It was put to the Western Australian Government, and I say that it is to the eternal shame of the Acting Premier at the time, Mr. Colebatch, that a black-labour boat was put on in competition with the whitemanned Government boats the Government were supposed to run at a profit. Without further inquiry, the Federal Government took the say-so of the Western Australian Government, and permitted another black-labour boat to go into this trade. I enter my protest against that. There are at least three boats which have been hung up in eastern ports for months that could be put into the trade. There are scores of white Australian seamen now out of work prepared to man them. It is an Australian coast, and we have the trade, the ships, and Australians to man them, and yet the Federal Government, acting in conspiracy with the Western Australian Government, hare established another black-labour boat on the coast of Western Australia. Now, what does the employment of these boats mean? The cost of living on the black-labour boats is ls. 3d. per man per day. Jimmy Wun Lung can live remarkably well on ls. 3d. per Jay. On the Australian-manned boats, the cost is 3s. 8d. per day; and it will be agreed that that is a moderate tariff for a white man. The bill for victualling the Minderoo, one of the black-labour boats, amounts to £247 10s. per month; whilst the bill for the Bambra, the white-labour boat, for the same period, is £460. The Government are responsible for this unfair competition of blacklabour boats with boats manned by white Australians. This policy means a great deal to Western Australia. Let me inform honorable members how Western Australia benefits, because the Bambra is manned with a white crew - and this will indicate the money that is being lost to Western Australia, because, by the gracious consent of the Minister for Trade and .Customs, trade on the coast of that State is being carried on by niggers The Bambra purchases coal to the extent of 1,400 tons per month. This coal is mined in Western Australia by Western Australian miners. It is loaded by Western Australian lumpers. On the other hand, the black-labour boats take in coal at Singapore, which is mined by black labour in the Dutch Islands, and is loaded by black labour. The black-labour boats, and the niggers employed upon them, get all their stores, and everything else they require, at Singapore, and do not spend £1 in Fremantle. In the case of the Bambra and Kangaroo, £18,000 a year is spent in Fremantle by her white Australian seamen, because they Have their homes in that town. The niggers’ homes, if they have any, are in Singapore. Repairs of the State boats are effected in Fremantle, and that means an expenditure of about £8,000 per annum. All the coal and Stores for the white boats are purchased in Fremantle. The Bambra spends £100,000 per annum in Australia for coal and stores whilst the black-labour boats spend practically nothing. From the figures of expenditure in Western Australia for the Bambra, honorable members can imagine that, if the other four boats in the trade were worked under similar conditions, an additional £400,000 per annum or more would be spent in Fremantle. We were told that the black-labour boats would be prepared to give the Western Australian people in the ‘ north-western ports a fair deal in the carriage of cargo; but I will show that they were prepared to do nothing of the kind. A Labour Government was in power in Western Australia in 1911. Previous to that time the ports of Wyndham and Derby used to ship cattle to Fremantle. Those ports were served by two boats that were controlled by two big pastoralists who purchased their space over a long period. Small pastoralists were unable to ship cattle on those boats unless they went to the big men who held the shipping space. Honorable members will find it difficult to believe me when I say that some of the small pastoralists did not sell a hoof for six years, because they were not prepared to sell their cattle to the big pastoralists for £2 per head. Those who were prepared to sell to the pastoralists who had secured the shipping space had to drive their cattle in a favorable season 400 or 500 miles, in some cases, to either Wyndham or Derby, and when they got them there the big pastoralists would say, “ How many cattle have you ? “ The reply might be, “Four hundred fats.” The big pastoralist would say, “We have 400 fats of our own, and they are on the boat. We want only another 100, and will take them from you at a certain price.” The small men then had to sell 100 fats out of 400, at a low price, and take the rest back, and when they landed at the home station they were as poor as wood, and did not become fat again until the next season. That is the position which small men were .up against. Later, the big squatters at Wyndham sent a circular to the small squatters to this effect: “We want you to pledge yourselves to sell all your store cattle to us at £1 per head delivered at Wyndham.” These people supplied stores to the small squatters, who in many cases were mortgaged to them. They had Manila men there to purchase the cattle, and as they bought the stores from the small squatter they gave them £1 per head, and took £2 per head from the Manila men, and put it into their pockets saying, “There are your cattle, take them on board.” I do not wish to say that a Labour Government is the personification of everything that ‘is good. Members of the Labour party are like other men, but their policy is different, and the Labour Government of Western Australia said, “ This must cease. We shall establish State steam-ships,” and they did so. The West Australian and the Kwinana were purchased and put into the trade, and the Government announced its policy. It said, “ In future whatever space is available is for the small men, and if there is any above what they require the big men can have their ‘ cut.’ “ . That was just the reverse of the policy previously adopted. The consequence was that the price of cattle in the Perth market went down considerably. As a result of that initial effort, State steam-ships were established in the Western Australian trade. They are on the coast to-day policing the other boats, and preventing them from charging the producers too much. This is in spite of the fact that they are in competition with black-labour boats run under the special conditions granted to them through the action of the Federal Government.
– The honorable member must not blame the Federal Government for that.
– I blame the Federal Government because they have permitted boats worked with coloured labour to trade on the coast of Western Australia to exploit white Australians, and to the detriment of the State boats. Whilst the Premier of Western Australia was in London recently the Western Australian Government was indifferent about the
Gascoyne being put into the trade. There is nothing on the files to show the connecting links, but the Western Australian Government suddenly changed front, and said it was particularly anxious that the Gascoyne should be given a permit. The reason was that it thought .it would be able to take off the Bambra. They believed that the squatters, pearl buyers, and other big people in business in the north-west would be against the State boats, because they were anti-Socialistic. But it turned out that they were not. The pearlers of Broome, who are considered very conservative people, and the pastoralists of the north, demanded that the white-labour boats should remain in the trade. I look forward to the time when there will be a white Australian service on the northwest coast of Western Australia as there is on the rest of our coast line.
– We all wish to see that.
– The matter is in the hands of the Minister. The Prime Minister tried to put us in a false position when a deputation interviewed him on this subject in Perth some time ago. I am not going to have it said, “ You do not care what becomes of the north-west coast. So long as you can secure the withdrawal of the black-labour boats from the trade, you do not care whether the people along that coast are given shipping facilities or not, so long as the workers of Fremantle are served.” I am not going to be placed in that position. I say that the boats used , in’ that trade might be manned with Australians working under .white men’s conditions. It is a good trade and pays well. If the State Government will not take the action necessary to bring this about there are shipping companies in Melbourne prepared to put boats into the trade under white Australian conditions. I have said that there are three boats lying up in eastern ports to-day which could be put into this trade. There are unemployed white seamen ready to man them, and when those who own the black-labour boats now in Australia come forward for a renewal of their permits, I hope that the Minister will make some effort to see that white labour shall be established on that Western Australian coast.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to -
That a tax be imposed on income derived from sources in Australia at the following amounts and rates, namely: -
– Rate of Tax upon Income Derived from Personal Exertion.
For so much of the whole taxable income as does not exceed £7,600 the average rate of tax per pound sterling shall be Threepence and three eight-hundredths of one penny where the taxable income is One pound sterling, and shall increase uniformly with each increase of One pound sterling of the taxable income by three eight-hundredths of one penny.
The average rate of tax per pound sterling for so much of the taxable income as does not exceed £7,600 may be calculated from the following formula: -
For every pound sterling of taxable income in excess of £7,600 the rate of tax shall be’ Sixty pence.
In addition to the tax payable under the preceding provisions, there shall be payable, in the case of incomes in respect of which the tax is calculated under subdivision A, B, or C, an additional tax equal to fifty-three and onehalf per centum of the amount of the tax so calculated.
There shall be payable in respect of a prize in a lottery paid in cash or by means of inscribed stock or bonds or other negotiable instruments, and won after the commencement of the Act passed to give effect to this resolution, income tax to the amount of twelve and onehalf per centum of the gross prize money, or of the face value of the stock, bonds, or instruments.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Groom do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page, and read a first time.
I move -
That the Bill be now. read a second time.
This Bill provides for the imposition of income tax at the same rates as last year except that the tax on companies, which last year was 2s. 5d. in the £1 on undistributed profits, is this year to be ls. in the £1 on the total profits. Dividends, bonuses, and interest received by absentees were last year taxed at 7d. in the £1. This year a flat rate of ls. in the £1 is to be imposed through the company on all such income received by absentees. These alterations in the Commonwealth methods of taxing companies have been made in order to secure a greater degree of uniformity between the Commonwealth and the States, so that the collection of taxes will be made more easy.
.- The Bill gives effect to the decisions arrived at in the Committee yesterday. It is a necessary measure, and, notwithstanding that we are opposed to certain clauses in it, we realize that provision must be made for collecting the taxes. We have made our protest, and, in the circumstances, I do not desire to prolong the discussion. I again take the opportunity of saying that it should be possible to simplify the method of calculating our income taxation. Very few people really understand how to calculate the incidence of this taxation. This matter is brought up every time the Income Tax Rates Bill is introduced. Surely some simpler method could be formulated so that people outside might be able to reckon the amount of taxation they should pay. We do not wish to obstruct business, but will give the Government as much assistance as we ‘can to get the business through. Having made our objections to the adoption of these rates, we are prepared to allow the Bill to go through.
.- I presume that as soon as this Bill is passed arrangements will be made for the issue of the forms on which persons may make their taxation returns. Will such forms be issued by the State officers? Will they be issued immediately ? When will they be returnable!
.- I take it that the States which have agreed to the adoption of a uniform return will send out the forms almost at once, so that they may be returned by 30th September of this year. The form of the return has now been practically agreed to. It is simply a matter of signing the agreement with regard to collection.
.- I wish to protest once more against this curve system of calculating income taxes. It may be scientific, but it is impossible for any ordinary person to understand it. When Lord Forrest was Treasurer, I asked him to supply honorable members with a ready reckoner, so that they could more easily make their calculations. Every State in Australia has a simpler method of calculation than we have, and surely we could adopt something better than the present scientific enigma.
Question resolved in the affirmative
Bill read a second time.
– Is it the wish of honorable members that I shall take this Bill as a whole?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
.- When we were in Committee on the Income Tax Assessment Bill, the Treasurer suggested thatthe proper time for me to move certain amendments was when the Rates Bill was before the Committee.
– Your leader said that you had made your protest when the Income Tax Assessment Bill was before us, and he agreed to this Bill going through.
– With the rush of business in consequence of the operation of the guillotine I had not full opportunity to discuss my amendments. It is true that we have made our protests; but I make still another one against the easy way in which we treat absentee shareholders in Australian companies com- pared with the way in which we treat shareholders resident in Australia. However, if an arrangement has been madeto facilitate the passage of the Bill, I do not desire to break it.
– Does this Bill affect the averaging system)
– Not at all.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Bowden) agreed to-
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to provide for the establishment, organization, and government of the Royal Australian Air Force.
Bill presented by Mr. Bowden, and read a first time.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 9.15 p.m.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill provides for interest on all govermental loans raised in Australia being made subject to Commonwealth tax, and interest on Commonwealth loans raised in Australia being madesubject to State taxes, under certain conditions. Throughout a very long period the loans issued by the States have been free of income tax, and practically all the loans now being issued by the States are free of tax. The total amount of tax-exempt State loans outstanding in Australia is now about £230,000,000. When the first war loans were raised it was thought necessary to make the interest free of both Federal and State income taxes. Altogether six tax-free war loans were issued, aggregating £138,000,000 and bearing interest at 4½ per cent. A certain proportion of these has been redeemed and converted, and the amount of Commonwealth taxfree loans outstanding at the present time is £122,000,000. The last Federal taxfree loan was floated in April, 1918. All Commonwealth loans issued after that date in Australia are subject to Federal income tax, but are free from State income taxes. Altogether the tax-free debts of the Commonwealth and the States amount to about £350,000,000, and the annual interest on these debts is approximately £16,000,000. The income tax which would be paid on the £16,000,000 of interest, if it were not exempt, cannot be accurately stated, but may be estimated at about £2,000,000 per annum. There is a set-off to this loss of revenue, because the Commonwealth and the States are paying less interest than they would have bad to pay if all the loans had been made taxable. Possibly this saving in interest amounts to £700,000 per annum. It is clear, therefore, that the loss of revenue must be greater than the amount of interest paid. If that were not so, investors would not have shown such a preference for tax-free loans. Freedom from income tax is of no advantage to the small investor, but confers a great boon on the individual with a large income. The amount of benefit to be derived is dependent entirely on the rate of income tax paid by each bondholder, and in my Budget speech, and on other occasions, I have stated the effect that these tax-free loans have because of the system of graduated taxation. In the opinion of the Government there is no justification for a system which gives to one lender benefits greater than those received by other lenders. The advantages of tax freedom are so great that many investors whose funds, in other circumstances, would flow into productive enterprises are impelled by the pressure of income tax to purchase tax-exempt securities. The result is that the Commonwealth and the States lose revenue, industry loses capital, and undue advantages are obtained by some investors. The disadvantage to the Commonwealth caused by the present system is very great because, although ail loans issued by the Commonwealth since 1918 are subject to Federal income tax, the States are still issuing tax-free loans. As a result the States are securing a monopoly of the money available for investment by persons who have large incomes. Thus the flotation of Commonwealth loans is undertaken at a disadvantage. The Commonwealth tax-free loans mature in 1925, when £72,000,000 will fall due, and in 1927, and it was felt that the difficulties in regard to tax freedom might then become acute. Indeed we have experienced that to some extent in connexion with the conversion operations this year, because while the Commonwealth conversion loan which was subject to Commonwealth taxation was on the market, it was impossible to keep it clear of State flotations, which were free of both Commonwealth and State income taxation.
On the maturity of these huge loans in 1925 and 1927 the Commonwealth must pay large sums in cash to persons who will be desirous of continuing tax-free investments. If the States were to continue issuing tax-free loans they would, on the maturity of the Commonwealth loans, be able to borrow great sums at moderate rates of interest while the Commonwealth would have difficulty, even if it offered high rates of interest, in securing money for paying off its loans. The anomalies of the present position led the Commonwealth Government to bring the question of tax-free loans before the State Ministers at the recent Conference. It has become the custom to say that that Conference was barren of results, but I predict that in years to come the Conference of 1923 will be accepted as having been the most fruitful that has been held. One of the fruits was the Income Tax Assessment Bill, which will render 98 per cent, of the taxpayers liable for only one return, whereas previously they had to prepare two. The only way in which taxation can be reduced is by a reduction of governmental expenditure, and the way to reduce that expenditure is to prevent for any length of time two men doing work which one could easily do. At the Conference each State Government agreed to discontinue the issue of tax-free loans as from the 1st January, 1924. Legislation is necessary by each Parliament, and it is for that reason that we have introduced this Bill in the present session. The loans issued by the Commonwealth and the States in the past, and those to be issued up to 31st December next, will not be affected by this Bill. Those loans will, of course, remain subject to the conditions under which they were issued. In cases where the loans were issued free of tax, they will remain so until the dates of maturity. The proposed alterations will apply to all loans issued after the 31st December next, including conversion loans and those raised for the redemption or repayment of existing loans. The provisions of the Bill are to apply to all governmental loans raised in Australia after 31st December next. These loans include the issues of the Commonwealth and State Governments and of all authorities constituted by the Commonwealth or State
Governments. Loans raised in Australia by other countries or Dominions, or by authorities constituted by other countries or Dominions, will also become subject to taxation. The Bill gives the States the right to tax interest on Commonwealth loans after a date to be fixed by proclamation. No specific date is mentioned, because it is necessary for the States to pass legislation before the interest on new Commonwealth and State loans becomes taxable. The intention is that State income taxes should be levied on all loans issued after 31st December next, and at th< Conference the States expressed their intention to pass the necessary legislation in the interval. Until the States pass laws taxing the interest on their own as well as on Commonwealth loans, the Commonwealth Government intends to withhold the proclamation of the portion of this Bill which makes Commonwealth loans subject to State taxation. The Commonwealth Government feels that other Dominions and countries borrowing money on the Australian market should not be in a position to borrow on more advantageous terms than are available to the Commonwealth and the States. Therefore, if other Governments’ come on the Australian market, the interest on their loans will be subject to Commonwealth and State taxes. These loans of other Dominions and countries will, however, be subject to tax only when the interest is received by a person resident in Australia or by a person who is an absentee taxpayer under the Commonwealth laws. Nearly all the interest payable by Great Britain on its loans is subject to income tax, the only exception being in respect of a comparatively small amount of securities issued during the course of the war. In the United States, the first war loan was exempt from both Federal and State taxes. When the succeeding issues were made the taxation exemption was restricted both in amount and in duration The Government of the United States has now found that freedom from tax embarrassing, and efforts are being made to stop the issue in that country of taxexempt bonds. The practice in connexion, with Canadian war loans was to grant freedom from income tax, but in November, 1919, that principle was abandoned and the interest on the loan then issued was made taxable. The Bill does not apply to loans raised by the Commonwealth or the States in London, or in any other places outside the Commonwealth. The Federal and State loans raised in London are subject to British income tax, but neither Commonwealth nor State income tax is levied upon interest payable in London. The Bill is one for the Committee. It provides for the taxation of loans, which has become pretty universally held to be necessary in Australia. I trust that honorable members will give the measure a speedy passage, and discuss the details of the Bill in Committee.
.- Honorable members on this side of the House are in accord with the principle of the Bill. I have always contended that when reasonable legislation is placed before the House there is no obstruction on the part of honorable members on this side. This measure contains a principle which we have advocated for a long time. Whatever may be said in favour of the flotation of loans free of income tax, it is apparent now that perhaps it would have been wiser if the money raised in the past had been secured on other terms. This exemption from taxation has involved the State and Federal Governments in an annual loss of taxation on £2,000,000 paid in interest. Apart from that, as the Treasurer has admitted, it is the wealthy people who have benefited chiefly from these tax-free loans. The poorer people in the community, generally speaking, are not taxpayers. Their investments in these loans are comparatively small, but the wealthier investors have benefited to a considerable extent by their exemption from taxation. I am not so easy in mind as apparently the Treasurer is, as to the future. I have no desire at this stage to discuss the results of the Conference with the State Premiers, because that might lead to protracted debate. It was unfortunate that the Treasurer made reference to the other taxation measure, which emanated from the Conference, with which we shall deal to-morrow. I repeat that I am not quite easy in my mind about conversions of loans falling due. As I read the Bill, I am afraid that some difficulty will be experienced in giving effect to its provisions, but it is quite right tb at the Commonwealth should set an example to the States, and pass this legislation as a guarantee of good faith in the matter of abolishing tax-free loans. Whether the States will respond and do likewise remains to be seen. If they fail to do so, I am afraid that, with so much loan money falling due in the near future, the Commonwealth position will become very difficult: If two or three of the States, to meet their own financial needs, continue to issue loans free pf State income taxation, serious difficulties may be created for us. I believe that there should be only one borrower, and that that borrower should be the Commonwealth Government. All loan transactions could be carried out by the Commonwealth Government on. behalf of the States; and with only one borrower on the market there would not be so much competition as there is to-day. As a result, money should be obtainable more cheaply. If it is possible to make a saving in this way, I submit that it should be done. This is one of the questions which might very well have been settled at the Conference with State Ministers.
– The States should not be in competition with one another in the money market.
– They should not, but I anl very much afraid - I hope I am wrong - that the future is not at all so reassuring as some people seem to think. What has happened during the last month or so seems to justify my fear that we are going to experience difficulty in the conversion ot loans that are maturing. I invite honorable members to recall what has just happened in connexion with the recently attempted conversion of a £38,000,000 loan. In spite of the fact that it was well advertised, the money offered amounted to only £17,000,000, and, as a result, the Treasurer was obliged to invite applications for a second and short-dated loan. I hope this loan will be full)’ subscribed, but from what has happened recently, I am very doubtful. We have to ask ourselves the reason for this disinclination on the part of the public to convert their holdings in Commonwealth securities. I do not know what is the. reason, but I have a shrewd suspicion that had the Labour party been in office, it would have been asserted that the failure of the loan was largely due to the fact that the people had no confidence in a Labour Government. I am not going to say that the reason for this failure is that the people have no confidence in this Government, but there must be some reason for the present unsatisfactory state of affairs. I am hoping that the Treasurer will be able to get the money he needs. If he fails, he must settle the problem in some other way. If we are experiencing difficulty at the present time, what is likely to happen in connexion with the conversion of the £72,000,000 maturing in 1925.
– That is worrying me a good deal.
– It is also worrying me, and I am not the Treasurer of the Commonwealth. I am wondering how the Treasurer is going to get the money. If he is not successful, we shall be in a very awkward situation. If we may take the negotiations in regard to the loan that is just maturing as a guide, it is fair to assume that there will be difficulty in securing applications in connexion with the £72,000,000 maturing two or three years hence. If only about £25,000,000 of that amount is obtained, we shall have to approach the outside money market for the balance. According to the Treasurer’s statement at the Conference with State Ministers, the amount of tax-free loans raised by the Federal and State Governments was £345,000,000, but the Treasurer stated to-night that it was £352,000,000. It would appear, therefore, that since the Conference referred to, an additional £7,000,000 of tax-free loans had been raised.
– That is due to State borrowing.
– If Governments continue borrowing at that rate, what hope will there be of securing an adequate amount in conversions for loans maturing in 1925 ? The position is a very serious one, and deserves the earnest consideration of this Government. We shall have to find the money somewhere, and as the world is in a very disturbed condition, we must expect that that will react on our position. If the Commonwealth and the State Governments agree to make all future loans taxable, what will be the effect upon the conversions? It is obvious that in order to induce investors to convert, the Government will have to offer a higher rate of interest.
– Why anticipate trouble ?
– I. am not anticipating trouble at all. It is here.
– The honorable member is only making it worse
– I am stating these problems in an endeavour to solve them, so that the difficulties confronting us may be met. Evidently the honorable member does not want to hear anything about these difficulties.
– We know all about them.
– We must look to the future. My point is that if the Government have to pay a higher rate of interest than at present for all conversions, because the loans will be subject to taxation, it is possible that, while the Treasurer may receive increased revenue from income taxation upon loan investments, the increased rate of interest may represent a heavier burden upon the community. Up to the present we have not heard one word upon this aspect of the subject. This is not so much a party matter as it is a national matter. We want to prevent the people from having to pay an exorbitant rate of interest on these loans. We have a £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 surplus, and instead of throwing it away, as the Government are doing, to a large extent they should utilize it to reduce the national debt. It is all very well to provide a sinking fund but, at the same time, State and Federal Governments are borrowing more money, and are fast approaching the breaking point. The responsibility for this is upon the Government, and not upon the Labour party. We on this side have, for many years past, advocated the principle of taxing loans. We are glad, indeed, it is now to be put into effect. Whether it will succeed or not depends largely upon the States. Commonwealth Ministers are to be commended for keeping their part of the compact by endeavouring to pass the necessary legislation. If the States do not follow their example, trouble is ahead. The question of having only one borrower should be considered at the next Premiers’ Conference, and if agreed upon, future loans would be cheaper although subject to income taxation.
.- One method of testing the efficacy of the Bill is to consider the possibility of successful evasion of it, and I suggest that in approaching this Bill we should consider that possibility. In the past, one State endeavoured to evade the provision that the interest on certain Commonwealth loans should be tax free, by enacting legislation requiring that interest from Commonwealth loans should be included in income returns for the purpose of determining the rate of graduated income tax, although interest from those loans was not to be included in the taxable income. That attempt became a failure because of a decision of the High Court. Now, it is possible that a State might adopt differential rates of income tax in relation to its own loans, and, to evade the application of this Bill, might enact that the rate of State income tax on loan A should be so much, on loan B so much, and on loan C so much. In such a case, what would be the effect of the provision that the taxation proposed by a State on a Commonwealth loan shall be at a rate not exceeding that applicable, under the law of that State, to the interest on loans raised by it? Where there are several rates, as there would be in that case, of income tax upon State loans, a question might arise as to the maximum rate at which interest on a Commonwealth loan could be taxed by a State under this Bill. I suggest that the Treasurer should consider an amendment to provide that the rate of tax allowed to be charged upon Commonwealth loans, under this Bill, should be a rate not exceeding that applicable, under the law of a State, to interest on any loan raised by it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Provided that the taxation imposed by any State in pursuance of this section shall he at a rate not exceeding that applicable, under the law of that State, to interest on loans raised by it, and shall not apply to a greater extent than it would apply if the interest on the loan raised by the Commonwealth, or by any authority constituted by or under any law of the Commonwealth, had been interest on a loan raised by that State.
.- I am not clear about this clause, and would like an explanation from the Treasurer.
I may be wrong; but, if the proviso is adopted, and the States agree to make loans taxable, may they not be able to place a low rate of tax on their loans, and yet comply with the Bill. I suggest a proviso to this effect: - Provided that the tax on income from loans shall not be less in its incidence than that imposed upon other incomes. It would then be quite clear that whatever rate was imposed in any State should be, at least, equal to that charged on other loans.
– The proviso is inserted to prevent the States evading the issue in some such way as suggested by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). Sub-clause 2 states that this section shall not commence until a date to be fixed by proclamation. That proclamation will be made when the Commonwealth is satisfied that the income taxation of a State will apply equally to Federal and State loans.
.- I take it that the purpose of this clause is to prevent the State from imposing a tax on Commonwealth loans exceeding that imposed on other incomes.
– Not on other incomes, but- on incomes from State loans.
– Would not the words “not exceeding that applicable” permit of a low tax?
– The States have a right to .fix their own tax rates.
– The Commonwealth is safeguarded by sub-clause 2.
– This clause provides for the imposition of income tax by a State on Commonwealth loan interest received in that State. A proviso is inserted that a State must not tax a Commonwealth loan at a rate exceeding that ruling in that State. That is quite right. We are trying to prevent a State from placing a rate of tax on Commonwealth loans in that State and charging on its own loans a minimum rate of tax.
– That is covered by the words “ not exceeding that applicable, under the law of that State, to interest on loans raised by it.”
.- I move -
That the word “ loans,” line 12 of the proviso, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof “ any loan.”
The State would then not be able to tax interest on Commonwealth loans at a rate higher than the lowest rate at which it taxed interest on its own loans.
– The Government are anxious to make the Bill as clear as possible; and if the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham), who has had considerable experience in drafting clauses, is satisfied that his amendment will make the1, purpose of the clause clearer, we are prepared to accept it, though the likelihood of the States acting in the way suggested is very remote.
.- I have no desire to delay the passage of this Bill, but I should very much like to see a clause inserted in it to compel the wealthy men of Australia to contribute to our loans in proportion to their wealth. In view of the fact that the salaries paid to public servants from the King to the policeman, the admiral to the drummer boy, are publicly known, I have asked the Prime Minister why. the name of every person in Australia in receipt of an annual income of £5,000 and over should not be made public, in order that we might insist upon them contributing to our loans. I have before directed attention to the most far-reaching return submitted to Parliament at the instance of Sir Alexander Peacock. That return included a list of 269 persons, referred to by numbers, who made profits in the years 1914 to 1916. It showed that the profits which some of them made were as high as 2,000,000 per cent. We are sheltering these people. The return to which I have referred can be found in Hansard for 15th August, 1917, at page. 1078. If it is no disgrace to the King of England and Emperor of India that his salary should be made known, why should not the names of these wealthy people, who failed to come to the assistance of their country in its hour of need, be made known?
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 5 and title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report, by leave, adopted.
Bill, by leave, read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
Debate resumed from 22nd August (vide page 3354), on motion by Mr. Groom -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- This is another Bill on which the Opposition are in agreement with the Government as to its necessity, but I must say that it is unfortunate that the time of Parliament should be taken up in considering a measure of this kind. It says very little for men holding high positions, who entered into agreements with the Commonwealth Government during the war period, that they should now be endeavouring to escape their obligations under those agreements. The introduction of the Bill is due to the fact that agreements were entered into during the war period under which a great deal of money was made by those who entered into them. In some cases the profits arising from operations under the agreement were to be divided in the proportions of one-third to the company concerned, and two-thirds to the Commonwealth. Most of the companies concerned in these agreements are composed of so-called patriots - and I use the term advisedly, because it is impossible to condemn such persons too strongly - who during the war were constantly crying out how necessary it was that the boys of Australia should go to the Front to protect our property. They professed that they would do their part in assisting to supply the necessary funds. In this Bill we have a disclosure of what has happened. One would have expected of these men in high places that their word would be their bond. It was accepted in all good faith, and yet to-day we find them endeavouring to get away from their obligations. They are repudiating the agreements which they signed, and are not returning to the Commonwealth the share of the profits on their operations which they agreed to return. One agreement of this kind is before the Courts, and on that account, is not included in this Bill, but other com-‘ panies who made agreements are following in the footsteps of the company which has taken the matter to the Courts. Itappears from the statement of the Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), in moving the second reading of the Bill, that they have threatened to take further action to deny to the Commonwealth Government its share of the profits made under the agreements to which they were parties. It is astonishing that men high up in the commercial and business world should set an example of this kind. I venture to say that if a number of working men attached their signatures to an agreement, they would honour it. It has become necessary to ask this Parliament to pass legislation to protect the people of Australia - who are carrying the cost of the war, in the heavy taxation they are called upon to bear to meet our national debt-against these persons who should have contributed large sums to assist the Commonwealth Government in meeting the expenditure caused by the war. They are endeavouring now to put all the profits gained from their operations into their own pockets, and are ignoring the claims of the Commonwealth Government under the agreements which bear their signatures. We have been legislating recently to give concessions to some of these people. Many of the persons interested in pastoral leases, to whom the Government proposed to make a present of £1,300,000 taxation for which they had become liable, are interested in some of these companies. It is a question of wool right through. Yet, at a time when it is desired to close Parliament to enable the Prime Minister to attend the Imperial Conference, the limited time at the disposal of the House is taken up in passing legislation to prevent a. number of these people robbing the Commonwealth. I use that expression advisedly, because I say that it is downright robbery when men who have entered into these agreements try to repudiate them. The preamble of the Bill makes quite clear what is intended. It reads -
Whereas certain agreements in writing, or documents purporting to be agreements, relating to the manufacture of wool-tops or the purchase or sale of wool for the manufacture of wool-tops, were made or executed by or on behalf of the Commonwealth during the late war :
And whereas such agreements or documents were acted upon by the parties thereto as being valid and binding agreements :
And whereas doubts have arisen as to the validity of such agreements or documents in the absence of express legislative authority :
We have reached a fine state of affairs when men, whose word might have been expected to be their bond, rely upon a technical objection that the agreements to which they were parties were made without legislative authority to prevent the Commonwealth Government receiving the share of the profits from their operations which they agreed that it should receive. We have binding agreements with these wealthy persons, who now refuse to honour the agreements to which they have attached their signatures.
– This Bill will clip their wings.
– Of course it will, and I am supporting it for that purpose, but I say that I am justified in exposing these people to the public. It is about time that the people of Australia knew the sort of men who were playing a leading part in this country . during the war. It is time that the search-light of public opinion was directed upon them. They were always demanding that the war should be carried to a conclusion in order that the lives, property, and interests of the people of Australia should be protected. At the same time they were trying to fleece the people who have to bear the burden of our war loans.
– They will not be able to do that kind of thing under the present Government.
– All I have to say in reply to the honorable member’s interjection is that the present Government has, during the last two or three weeks, been legislating for these people and for no one else. We have been sitting here from early morning until late, at night for the purpose of passing legislation to benefit one class only, and many of the members of that class are interested in wool. When this business is boiled down there is nothing but wool in it.
– Down with wool !
– I am quite sure that the, honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) will agree with me that men who draw up and attach their signatures to an agreement should carry it out.
– Hear, hear!
– But these men have not done it.
– Hear, hear!
– Therefore they should be exposed. This matter affects not only all honorable members in this Chamber, but every individual in the community. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister in charge of the Bill the amount to which the Commonwealth Government is entitled under these agreements. We really do not know how much is in dispute. It may be millions of pounds. The agreements provided that we should get twothirds of the money earned by these companies during the war period, when they obtained very high prices for their products. “We passed the War Profits Act in the hope that the Commonwealth Government might derive some benefit from the high prices.
– Hear, hear!
– It was contended that the money so derived would assist Australia to pay for her share of the war expenditure. We have increased our national debt to £400,000,000, and these people who have got the “ loot “ that we have heard so much about, are not prepared to pay the Commonwealth Government the two-thirds to which it is entitled.
– I think I shall have to rule the word “ loot “ out of order, as tedious repetition.
– I think I should say, Mr. Speaker, that this is the first time I have used the word, so that, at least, I cannot be charged with tediously repeating it. In any case, I think its use is justifiable in this instance. There can be no question that these men have made large sums of money. The public should know how much it is entitled to. These companies are endeavouring to take advantage of the law to retain that money. 7£ this Bill will prevent them from doing that, I say, “Good luck to the Minister for bringing it in.” We shall support the Bill because it will protect the public interests. This, and the Bill which immediately preceded it, are the only two measures that we have had before us in the last ten or eleven weeks which have been for the benefit of the public. It is rather strange that this Government should bring in such Bills, because all the other measures it has introduced this session have been against the interests of the general taxpayer. This side of the House welcomes this measure.
– I am afraid that the honorable member is not carrying out the functions of the Opposition!
– The Opposition is always willing to assist the Government when it has a good case. It is refreshing for us to have something before us that we can support. I hope this measure will be sufficient to prevent these companies from taking what the Government is entitled to.
.- It is very hard, sir, that we of the Opposition should be called upon to discuss this intricate Bill in the painful circumstances in which we speak this evening as compared with honorable members opposite. I should like to hear a few wellchosen remarks on this measure from the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner). I invite him, when I resume my seat, and, subject to your giving him the call, sir, to add a little to the knowledge of the world, and incidentally to the gaiety of the nation. I should also like to have heard a little more than a few interesting interjections from the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell).
– I have been thinking how hardly they who have riches shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven!
– On looking round I sadly miss the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster). I venture to suggest that it would not be improper to have a search made in the Queen’s Hall to see if the honorable member is still there. I am very pleased, however, that the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) has, at length, been able to come into the chamber. This is a very important Bill. It expresses a pious indignation on the part of the Government that the persons indicated in it have entered into the domain of spoliation in which it has been enjoying itself for so long. The Bill is designed to ratify certain agreements entered into by the Commonwealth. One might have supposed that the legal capacity of the Government would have been equal to the task of making agreements which should be sufficient to stand the test of any litigation entered into in re- spect of them. When one subscribes to a written agreement he usually conceives himself to be bound by its terms. If, I, sir, in my humble capacity as a practitioner in the lower ranks of the noble profession to which the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) is such a distinct ornament - we on our side doing the work, and they on their side collecting the fees - drew up an agreement, I should hope not to have to come to Parliament _in order to have the defects in my draftsmanship put right and ratified. Apparently it is otherwise when the Commonwealth Government enters into an agreement. I am not losing sight for a moment of the position explained by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). I think that he is quite right. Looking at the matter for a moment from the point of view of a lawyer, I say that we should be prepared to stand by these agreements as drawn up and duly executed, without the necessity of coming to this House to have them ratified. There is another important point I must mention. Honorable members, as usual, have not been given an opportunity by the Government to peruse the agreements about which they are asked to legislate.
– That is not necessary.
– Does the honorable member mean that?
– We are only asked to make assurance doubly sure.
– That is a curious contention for the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) to make. He said that we are simply asked to make assurance doubly sure, and that it is not necessary for us to have these agreements before us. My answer to that is that I, as an individual member of this Parliament, take no responsibility whatever for agreements so far as they are entered into by the representatives of the Crown in this Government; but as soon as they come Up for consideration by this Parliament I, and every other honorable member of the Parliament, should take a share of responsibility for them. It is for that reason that I do not think we are in a position to do full justice to this Bill. These agreements have not been made public, and have not been submitted to us for consideration. I know that the Minister remarked a few. moments ago that the agreements are here for our perusal; and. in truth, it is so. But the agreements are very lengthy - so lengthy and complicated, in fact, that I would have thought they were sufficiently detailed to be binding without any further legislation on the subject. In any case, they are much too long and complicated for any one to consider to-night. We could not seriously undertake to review them. T take this opportunity to say on behalf of the Labour party that we cannot be expected to accept responsibility for the terms of these agreements. If, later, we are confronted with somthing arising out of them, it cannot be said that we deliberately ratified them in Parliament. We are not deliberately ratifying them. We are simply talcing the word of the Government and bolstering up either its actual, or possible, blunder.
– The agreements have not been challenged in the Courts.
– I understood that one of the main purposes of this Bill was to make sure that one of the contracting parties would not get away with the loot. The agreements may not yet have been challenged in the Court.
– Does the honorable member for Batman suggest that we should goi back on the agreements?
– I do not suggest that we should go back on any agreement that the Commonwealth Government has entered into. That is not the point. The Commonwealth Government, having deliberately entered into an agreement, should observe it in both the letter and the spirit.
– That is what we are doing.
– We are putting putty into the fissures. We are dressing up the agreements.
– We are covering up the dummy bolts.
– No, no!
– As the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) says, we are covering up the dummy bolts. I do not want to labour this matter, nor do I wish to obscure the point that I rose to make clear. I do not think there is the slightest doubt about what we are doing. We are ratifying these agreement1;, and, owing to doubts that have arisen in respect to the interpretation and validity we are, by legislation, making them unassailable.
– No, jio!
– I invite the honorable member to read the Bill. He will find that doubts have arisen in regard to the meaning of these agreements, and in consequence of those doubts actual claims are being made with the direct object of defeating them. We are strengthening the position of the Commonwealth by means of legislation. Two points are clear : (1) That it is a reflection upon the draftsmanship of the Commonwealth Government that it did not draw up agreements upon which it is prepared to stand without further ratification by this Parliament; and (2) that it is grossly unfair to the Opposition and the Parliament that we should be called upon to pass a law in respect of long, detailed agreements, the terms of which we have not had the opportunity of perusing.
– We all join with the Leader of the Opposition in the scathing condemnation which he has passed upon the signatories to these contracts, who now wish to upset them. The Leader of the Opposition was wrong in saying that the parties claimed that they entered into these contracts upon patriotic grounds. So far as I know, there was no patriotism in the transactions; they were business agreements, and their intention was made perfectly plain, as was explained last night by the Attorney-General. This Bill does nothing to interfere with the interpretation of the agreements. It simply endeavours to make clear that the agreements as drawn up are valid, and should be carried out. It is not intended that the Commonwealth shall evade any of its responsibilities, but we do desire that the other side shall get no unfair advantage. If the Attorney-General had asked us to alter the agreements, he would have had to explain them, but ho could not ask us to vary contracts, and, if he did, the House would not agree to do so. These agreements were drawn up in good faith. A contract was made for the sale of a commodity from the Wool Pool to the manufacturers at the then market value, which was almost 20 per cent, above the appraised price. There is not the slightest doubt that the people who put wool into the Pool would say that if it had not been sold at that time it would have been worth more later, but that argument should not enter into consideration. The fact is that when these contracts were entered into the wool was taken out of the Pool at a fair market price. The Attorney-General last night explained the contracts fully. It has been said that the amount involved has been kept secret, but the Attorney-General last night read the letter of demand for £324,000 in connexion with the Whiddon contract.
– And I said that if the other companies ‘claimed, the amount would be £600,000.
– Yes. The position is that, owing to a decision of the High Court in a somewhat similar case, there appears to be a possibility that that tribunal, if asked to consider these contracts, would rule that they are invalid - not because of anything contained in them, but because, in the opinion of the High Court, the Commonwealth representatives had not power to sign them. These firms are deliberately trying to escape the consequences of an agreement they signed, and they cannot be condemned too strongly. I regret that the Leader of the Opposition cannot nail these men .down for their offence without trying to make political capital out of the matter. I do not exonerate them in any way. The Government is passing the strongest condemnation upon their actions by bringing this Bill before the House, land I support the measure. The Leader of .the Opposition concluded that the men concerned are supporters of the Government. Even he may have supporters of whom he does not approve, and I think it is a pity that this House could not have risen above party polities and placed on record its condemnation of actions such as are proposed to be taken by these companies. I am glad that this legislation is being introduced in time to nip the contemplated action in the bud. They signed an agreement, and there has been no attempt on the part of the Government to evade its responsibility. The other signatories see that there is a chance of recovering £600,000 to which they have; no moral claim, and if they have any legal right, it is merely because of a technical blunder on the part of the Commonwealth advisers. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) pointed’ out that the legal advice must have been, somewhat loose. No one knows better than does the honorable member that often the most expensive litigation arises out of the honest advice of capable and disinterested members of the legal profession. Documents are drawn up by the most expert legal brains, and yet are upset when referred to a tribunal of Judges. I again express my pleasure that the Government is taking action so promptly to thwart the efforts of certain men to recover a very large profit to which they are not entitled.
.- The honorable member for Macquarie saw fit to make an attack upon the Leader of the Opposition because he had something to say about the lack of honour in some of the people who signed these agreements.
– I agreed with him entirely in his attack upon those men.
– The remarks of the Leader of the Opposition in regard to people who signed agreements and are not prepared to abide by them were justified. The honorable member for Macquarie says that this question should’ be raised high above party politics and other considerations. He comes into the House at this hour with great and high ideals. Of course, we are not all able to share his comfortable mood and lofty vision; some of us have not been in the Queen’s Hall partaking of hospitality, and, therefore, axe not so elevated as is the honorable member; but we are still able to see the facts as they are, without camouflage. The honorable member made a scathing condemnation of those interests and organizations which are behind the Government at election time.
– I did not.
– Those influences that caused a Bill to be introduced that, would have meant the handing back of £1,300,000 to the supporters of honorable members opposite, are the influences of big business. The honorable member for Macquarie scathingly indicted ‘ big business “ without knowing that he was doing it. He said, in reply to the Leader of the Opposition. that these contracts were not entered into in a patriotic spirit’ - they were business.
– Well, it is not the class of business which honorable members should indorse - the business of keen men who subscribe their names to an agreement, and are not prepared to stand by it.
– They should.
– Undoubtedly. I join with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) in protesting against the House being asked to pass this Bill without having seen the agreements. Whilst I agree that we cannot alter the agreements, and must abide by them because they were signed on behalf of the Commonwealth, we should be informed of their provisions. When I look at one of them the first thing that strikes me is- that these contracts were signed on the 1st March, 1917, and there is a coincidence about that year in that we have been asked to pass legislation that would bc retrospective to 1917 to wipe off a debt of £1,300,000 owing to the Commonwealth by the squatters. First. Ave have had legislation retrospective to 1917 to remit taxation, and mow we have legislation retrospective to the same year to ratify certain agreements. It is not possible for honorable members to know what is contained in the agreements. I notice a special reference to the sale of certain articles “ green and dry.” The words are descriptive of this House at the present moment; for honorable members opposite are very green, and we on this side are very dry. Fortunately for us, we have not to take responsibility for what is contained in the agreements, but the fact that they have to be ratified by Act of Parliament six years after they were drawn up does suggest that there was negligence on the part of somebody. 1 hope that this Bill is an indication that at last we are getting back to responsible government, and that there will be no more occasion for ratifying agreements six years after their execution.
.- I am quite satisfied that not 10 per cent, of honorable members present know the terms of the agreement or the details of this Validation Bill, which we are asked to pass at short notice. This business Government should give honorable members two or three days for the consideration of important subjects like this. We are entitled to know what we are doing. The agreements were laid upon the table to-night, and it was only by accident that one or two members on this side of the House were able to peruse them during the debate. The legal costs are heavy, and the Goverment will have to pay. I understand that in one case the ‘ amount involved is about £500,000, and in another the amount is £328,000. I do not know how many more agreements there are to be ratified. If any one is answerable for these agreements we ought to know it. The Government should take the House into its confidence, and say how the errors occurred. As my Leader (Mr. Charlton) pointed out, the Government have a properly constituted legal Department, which should safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth in all such agreements. I presume that capable legal men are associated with the Department, to advise Ministers in matters like this. Honorable members are entitled to know more about this matter. At present we are asked to legislate in the dark; simply because the Prime Minister is going to England measures are being rushed through at express speed. I am satisfied that we shall have to stand by the agreements; but Parliament should have more information upon these matters. I do not want to attach suspicion to any one, but it would be interesting to know if any honorable members know more about these agreements than the majority of members know.
.- I should not have risen to speak upon this Bill but for the irritation that appeared to be exhibited by certain honorable members when the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) rose to express his opinion upon the Bill. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) has asked us to ratify certain agreements. In his speech last night he explained what they were, and how certain people were endeavouring to dodge their obligations. I understand that because of a certain decision in the High Court - I speak subject to correction - it is now considered advisable to validate agreements six years after they were drawn up. These agreements, as the honorable member for East Sydney remarked, were . entered into during the stress of the Great War by certain people who pretended they were doing something for the Empire. No one will deny that. While I have a chance of voicing my protest against the way in which- the big interests of Australia sold Australia I shall do so. They sold our soldiers, and if they can evade their obligations under these agreements, we may be sure that they will do so. When honorable members on this side took up a certain attitude in regard to the war, they would have been deported if the Government had dared to take that course. Now, when the chickens have come home to roost, and we are pointing to their colour, some honorable members have the audacity to sneer because another honorable member gets up to make his position clear. The blood money of the war cannot be touched even now. The 4£ and 5 per cent, loans floated for the defence of this country are still tax-free. We have been told that we are getting back to sanity and back to pre-war times. What is this Bill but an attempt to make certain people observe their obligations. We were told during, the war that the sacrifices must be equal. What sacrifices have these people made? We are now rushing measures through at hurricane speed in order that the Prime Minister may leave Australia, and go to London and talk about Empire, Imperialism, and defence. Yet when an honorable member gets up to speak he is met with protests, because honorable members may be kept sitting here five or ten minutes longer. He has a right to get what information he wants from the Minister. I am satisfied that when the story is told with regard to this business, it will hot be to the credit of the Government. They tried to get away with £1,300,000 the other night. Now they are asking honorable members to ratify these agreements. No one has spoken a word about dummy bolts. It was left to the exPostmasterGeneral to say, in regard to one of these contracts, that some one ought to be gaoled. Tom Barker was deported. Other men on our side were put in gaol. Have Kidman and Mayoh yet paid what they owe the Government? Will they pay or shall we be asked to ratify another agreement, releasing them from their responsibilities in connexion with the coffin ships that were built for the protection of the Empire? I do not know what I shall say to my electors, because on the hustings I told them that I would raise my voice on every possible occasion against business of this kind. When I came back from the war, I found awaiting me an income tax form with a £4 penalty for not filling it up. Certainly when I explained where I had been, it was all right, but the “Blue peter” was waiting for me when I returned. I wonder what is waiting for the gentlemen connected with the agreements which we are now being asked to ratify. These agreements are an epitaph -written on the tombstone of the late Government - the win-the-war Government, the only people who could control this Commonwealth during the war and re-condition it afterwards. The only way in which they can do it is by digging up a shovelful] of earth and burying it, but it will smell, no matter how it may be covered up.
– I am afraid honorable members have imported an unnecessary amount of fervour into the criticism of this measure, It is a very simple matter. Certain parties entered into contracts, and doubts have arisen as to their validity. We are now asking the House to validate those contracts. Honorable members have asked why it is that agreements made in 1917-18-19 are being ratified in 1923 ? I may point out that when the contracts were entered into lawyers on both sides- believed that they were validly prepared and executed. There was no question at that time of the necessity to come to Parliament for ratification. There was a dispute as regards several of them. The Commonwealth Government issued a writ, and sued upon one of the agreements. The defendants set up a counter-claim, and also sued on the agreement. The legal advisers of both parties believed that the contracts had been validly executed, but, during the hearing, action taken by the British Government in England was challenged on a case which was said to be analogous, and a decision of great importance was given by the House of Lords. The question of validity was then raised.
– Are the agreementsbeing challenged because they were not ratified by the Federal Parliament?
– It was said that there was an absence of legislative authority to enter into the agreements, and we are now asking Parliament to ratify them. The judgment of the High Court, to which I refer, was given in December, 1922. Thus we could not seek ratification of the agreements earlier. Honorable members will, I think, see there was no blame attachable to the Commonwealth at the time. I remind honorable members that, during the war, when our Constitution was tested to itsfounda tions, the Commonwealth legal advisers, on the whole, were wonderfully successful in all their cases. They had an absolutely uncharted track, and their advice was exceedingly sound. A written Constitution like ours obviously invites various interpretations, but its history should be compared with that of the United States of America Constitution, out of which grew a mass of cases. There was no justification for doubting the validity of the agreement, seeing that lawyers on both sides believed in it, and based legal claims upon it. The question came up before the Court, and certain contracts were held ‘ to be invalid. A doubt has been raised, and we are asking this Parliament to validate the agreement.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and, by “leave, passed through all its stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Last night I drew the Prime Minister’s attention to the position of the female postal employees of the General Division of the Postal Department, and he promised to give it consideration. These women did not receive the increase that was given to other employees, and why there should be a distinction between them is beyond my comprehension. They received an increase of approximately £27, while others received £63. Some of the lads of the. Department are receiving higher salaries than women doing responsible work, the lads in some cases being messengers. Some of these female employees board in the city, and it is unreasonable to expect them to live and clothe themselves respectably on an inadequate salary.
– Many of them have dependants.
– That is so. If these women obtain an award from the Arbitrator, it will be inoperative until it has laid on the table of the House for thirty days, and Parliament ‘ will be in recess. I ask the Prime Minister to do everything possible to improve their conditions.
.- I have looked into the position to see what action, if any, could be taken. The difficulty is, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, that an award of the Public Service Arbitrator must lay on the table of the House thirty days before it can become operative. These employees have the opportunity to approach the Arbitrator for a revision of their award. I have consulted the law authority, and there does not appear to be any way to meet the case, although the position is not so serious as it appeared to be at first sight. I was under the impression that if an appeal were made to the Court, and a variation followed, the award could not be operative until laid on the table for thirty days. But I am advised that when the Arbitrator varies an award the date of the variation is fixed by him.
– Can an award be made retrospective to the date of the variation?
– The Arbitrator can fix the date on which the variation is payable, and so Boon as the period for which it must lie on the table of the House has expired the award will operate with a retrospective effect. That relieves the position to some extent, although I admit that difficulties still remain.
– Has the Arbitrator power to make the award retrospective to the date of the award applying to others in the Department?
– Subject to correction and legal opinion, I understand that payments will date from the alteration of the award.
This morning I was asked a question about the Royal Commission which had been appointed to inquire into certain sugar transactions, I then stated that during the course of the day I hoped to be able to give the House the actual terms of the commission. The Government very much regret the delay that has occurred, but honorable members know that the Government was unable to obtain the services of a High Court Judge, and experienced difficulty in securing a suitable Commissioner. This gentleman appointed will probably commence his inquiry next week. Leaving out the formalities, this is the actual commission to be issued to him. He is- to inquire into, and report as to, certain purchases of sugar made in the months of Septem ber and Ootober in theyear One thousand nine hundred and twenty by the Commonwealth, through William Edward Davies of Melbourne, and particularly, in relation to the said pur- ‘ chases : -
– The Commission . is restricted to the Davies deal.
– My original statement gave the date and quantities of specific transactions which took place through Mr. Davies. I think the Commission covers everything the honorable gentleman had in mind, because these are the identical transactions which were referred to when this matter was considered on the Supply Bill last year, and were subsequently dealt with by the Joint Committee on Public Accounts.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.12 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 August 1923, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1923/19230823_reps_9_105/>.