9th Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker (Rt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Yesterday, I asked a question on the subject of the proposed increase of old-age pensions. I believe my question was misunderstood, because the reply givenwas not an answer to it. The Treasurer, in replying, directed attention to the budget; but as the budget is not sent to old-age pensioners, it is impossible for them to know what it contains.
Mr.WEST. - I shall put my question in this way:Will the honorable, gentleman use all his power as Treasurer and bring down a bill, giving Parliament an opportunity to pass it within twentyfour hours, providing for the increase of the old-age pension as proposed in his budget speech?
– I thought that I stated the position very clearly yesterday. As soon as the national insurance legislation to be proposed is passed by the House, a bill for the increase of the old-age pension will be brought down. The national insurance legislation will be introduced as soon as possible.
– In view of the fact that the Marrawah is tied up in Melbourne, and the Oonah has been thrown out of commission by a collision with the Cooma, I ask the PostmasterGeneral what provision the Government proposes to make for shipping facilities between Melbourne and. King Island, Stanley, Burnie, and Devonport, for mails, passengers, and cargo. Will he take into consideration forthwith the necessity of the Loongana making Burnie her first port of call until satisfactory communication is restored ?
– I shall have inquiries made, and will see that the mails are conveyed to the places mentioned, as has been done in the past.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Markets and Migration if he will lay on the table of the House the report of Mr. Ross Grant, Commonwealth Veterinary Surgeon, concerning the condition and sale in London of the shipment of beef chilled by the Rayson process, and carried by the s.s. Port Darwin, in April or May last.
– Ishall bring the honorable member’s question under the notice of the Minister for Markets and Migration.
– In view of the fact that there is widespread fear throughout the whole of Western Australia - I have received telegrams on the subject from several bodies - with regard to the request of the British Imperial Oil Company for an increased duty on petrol, lubricating oils, and kerosene, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs if he will go very carefully into the matter before recommending to the Cabinet an increase in the duty.
– Yes. The matter will be very carefully considered.
Competition of Cockatoo Island and Walsh Island Docks
– I ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to a statement by the chairman of Mort’s Dock, published in the Argus today, complaining bitterly of the competition of Cockatoo Island and Walsh Island Docks. By way of explanation of my question, I may be allowed to say that I am informed that the Prime Minister has been supplied with particulars showing that several recent tenders by Cockatoo Island Dock so undercut tenders by Mort’s Dock as to make it quite clear that all overhead charges at Cockatoo Island Dock had not been allowed for. Will the right honorable gentleman make inquiries, and supply information on the subject later? *
– My attention had not been called to the statement of the chairman of Mort’s Dock to which the honorable member has referred* I have had representations made to me by the authorities of Mort’s Dock on several occasions with regard to the competition of Cockatoo Island Dock. The whole matter has been’ inquired into, and I have pointed out to the authorities of Mort’s Dock that, by an act of this Parliament, the Cockatoo Island Dockyard is now subjected to the same charges in the matter of income tax and other outgoings that establishments under -the control of private enterprise are subjected to. I have explained that the Government proposes that the provisions referred to shall be rigidly enforced; and, in these circumstances, there can be no unfair competition by Cockatoo Island Dock with any private enterprise,
Broadcasting of Alleged Disloyal Statements
– Has the. Prime Minister’s attention been drawn to the statement published in a Sydney newspaper that the Queensland Wireless Broadcasting Station has sent out certain apparently anti-British announcements purporting to be news ? The announcer of the station is reported to have said that the Conservative Government which controlled the destinies of the British nation Avas determined on playing a lone hand in the Orient ; that the Washington Treaty had never been put into effect by any of the signatories; and that Britain’s present attitude, if ‘persisted in, would have the effect of entirely nullifying it. “ Britain,” the statement added, “had larger interests in China than any of the other powers, and evidently was determined to push them at all. cost. It was evident that Britain had decided to resort to arms in an attempt to uphold her financial interests.” Has the Government, under the wireless regulations, power to censor matter to be broadcast.
– I have no knowledge that any such statement as the honorable member has referred to was broadcast. If it was, it was most improper, and steps will have to be taken to prevent inaccurate information of such a character being sent from any broadcasting station in Australia. Broadcasting can only be carried on under licence from the Post* master-General’s Department, and power is reserved to censor anything that is being broadcast from any station. I shall have the matter mentioned by the honorable member looked’ into, and I can assure, him that proper steps will be taken, if any such statement as that to which he has directed attention was broadcast.
Report of Delegation
– Does the Prime Minister intend to give this House an opportunity to discuss the report of the delegation to the League of Nations, which deals not only with the Protocol, but also with other matters? If so, will he give honorable members due notice of it? Is he aware that a large number of honorable members on both sides of the chamber realize the importance of the report, and would like to have an opportunity of debating it before the next Assembly of the League?
– In the report that was submitted by the leader of the delegation are mentioned all the matters that arose at the last. Assembly at Geneva, and consequently they will be open to honorable members who wish to deal with them. The resumption of the debate on the motion for the printing of the paper presented by the delegates is on the noticepaper, and I shall endeavour to find a convenient opportunity for the discussion.
– Prior to the meeting of the next Assembly?
– I shall certainly give honorable members notice when the report is to be dealt with, if that will meet their convenience.
– Does the Prime Minister expect shortly to receive the report of the royal commission inquiring into the disabilities of Western Australia; and, if so, will honorable members have an opportunity of dealing with the matter this session?
– I have no certain knowledge of the date when the commission will present its report; but I understand that the report will be presented in the near future. I hope that there will be an opportunity to consider it during the present session.
– In the event of the commission recommending special financial assistance to Western Australia, will it be possible to provide that assistance during the present session?
– If the report contains a recommendation for financial assistance to Western Australia, and that is approved by the Government and this House, it will - provided that the assistance does not represent a vast amount - be practicable to give effect to the recommendation during the current financial year.
– Has the Prime Minister noticed in the press the cabled statement that French municipal authorities intend to remove certain British war graves? Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House whether any Australian graves are included amongst those to be removed; and, if so. what action he proposes to take?
– Allour war graves in Prance are under the control of the War Graves Commission, and I do not think th at they couldbe in safer hands. The work that the commission has done for the preservation of the graves of the soldiers of the Empire must meet with the admiration of us all. Any proposal by any French authority to removewar graves would be referred to the War Graves Commission.
– As post offices, being Commonwealth property, are not rateable, will the Postmaster-General give consideration to the justice of the claim that they should contribute towards the maintenance of the footpaths adjoining them?
– A similar question was put to the Treasurer, and he asked for notice of it. The matter will be given consideration.
– I have been asked by certain residents of Brighton who are keenly interested in aviation to draw the Minister’s attention to the very skilful but foolhardy antics of an airman at Brighton about 11 a.m. yesterday, who was stunting at a low altitude Over the houses. Was the aviator a civil or an Air Force pilot, and. will the Minister take steps to prevent the recurrence of similar exhibitions, which, if continued, will end in a tragedy?
– I shall have inquiries made, and let the honorable member have the information when it is available.
– In view of the serious position created by the absence of communication between the mainland, King Island, and Tasmania, will the Prime Minister take into consideration the immediate necessity of the Commonwealth Government coming to the assistance of Tasmania by providing proper shipping facilities? At present, it is almost impossible to trade between Tasmania and Melbourne owing to the mishap to the Oonah and the tying up of the Marra- w ah.
– I understand that the honorable member refers to the dislocation of service which has occurred because of the accident to the Oonah yesterday. The matter will have to be considered in relation to the carnage of mails between the Commonwealth and Tasmania. The Government will give it the fullest consideration.
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice -
Have the Government doctors ever presented a report on it; and, if so, is the report available?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The department will not be in a position to vacate the existing William-street post office building until the telephone subscribers connected to the exchange at that office can he transferred to the new City East exchange. . It is anticipated that it will be possible to effect this transfer about May, 1926. Arrangements have been made fora site for a new post office building at William-street, and the plans of the proposed structure have been prepared.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice -
In view of the high price of cornsacks and that they are of various sizes and quality, will he have inquiries made as to the cause thereof, and endeavour to have prices reduced, and the sacks supplied of a uniform size and quality?
– Inquiries will be made by the Department of Markets and Migration into this matter, and the results will be communicated to the honorable member.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Loan to Insurance Company
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The bank is being asked to supply information on the subject.
Meeting at Canberra.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Will lie advise the House whether the work at Canberra is sufficiently forward for an official opening on Anniversary Day, 26th January, 3 920.” so that members of this present Parliament may take up their duties there?
– The question of the date of the official opening of Parliament at Canberra is a very difficult one to determine, as a great many inquiries are necessary to enable requirements to be decided upon in respect of staff, accommodation, and the rate of progress in building construction. All of these questions are being thoroughly investigated, and a decision in regard to the* matter will be announced as soon as practicable.
Relief to Pastoralists
asked the 1reasurer upon notice -
Will he supply an estimate of the number of pastoral undertakings which will benefit by the amendment of the War-time Profits Tax Act, and which have been assessed for taxation since the passing of the amending act of 1924?
– Inquiry will be made to ascertain whether it is possible to obtain the information desired. At best, however, the reply would be largely a matter of guesswork.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as f 01101 : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice -
Whether the recommendations of the conference of dairy experts (referred to the Premiers of the several states and subsequently discussed at the conference of State Ministers of Agriculture held some months ago at Hobart) have yet been considered by the Government, as promise’d’ by the Minister representing the Minister for Markets and Migration, in answer to a question on notice, asked by the member for Moreton on the 19th June last?
– This matter is receiving the consideration of the Government, and it is hoped that an announcement in regard thereto will be made at an early date.
Debate resumed from 15th August (vide page 1410), on motion by Mr. Thompson -
That, in the opinion of this House, a royal commission should bc appointed, without undue delay, to visit Norfolk Island and inquire into the position of the island and its inhabitants in relation to Commonwealth control.
– When I obtained leave last week to continue my remarks upon this motion
I was explaining why an inquiry by a royal commission into the affairs of Norfolk Island was desirable. Last Christmas, when on a visit to the island, I was surprised at being told by the residents that I was the only federal member who had been there since it was taken over by the Commonwealth. Certain honorable members have interjected that that statement is incorrect, but so far as I have been able to ascertain the last visit by members of this Parliament was that of the party organized by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) in 1914, which was just prior to the assumption of control by the Commonwealth. If any members of the Commonwealth Parliament have been to Norfork Island since that year there is no record of their visit.
– Their visit could not have made any impression.
– They could have felt but little interest in the affairs of the island, or they would have taken some action to give effect to the wishes of the islanders. At the request of the residents I addressed a well-attended public meeting, and endeavoured to ascertain the nature of their grievances, and to deal with them as diplomatically as was possible in the circumstances. Upon the motion of one of the principal residents - Mr. Charles Nobbs - the meeting resolved that the Commonwealth Parliament should be requested to appoint a royal commission to investigate the affairs of the island. I was asked to present that request to this Parliament, and I take this, my first, opportunity to do so. At the outset of’ my remarks I should like to give to honorable members a brief review’ of the history of the Norfolk Island settlement, and I cannot do better than read a report, published in the Northern Daily Leader, of the 7th July, 1925, of a speech on the subject I delivered at Tamworth -
History usually was a dead subject in that it related to matters which had taken place a long while ago. This particular historical subject was different. Although it had its genesis in the year in which the French Revolution was commencing to burst into flames, it was more alive to-day than then, for the consequences of its origin were over 700 people of mixed race who lived a sort of lotuseating existence on an island which was under Commonwealth control. Although the act which caused this remarkable community to come into existence - the mutiny of the
Bounty - took place as far back as 1789, some of those in the audience, as Federal taxpayers, were contributing every year to ‘ the maintenance of the administration under which the Pitcairn Islanders lived.
The speaker briefly described Norfolk Island, to which the entire population of Pitcairn Island had been transferred by the British Government in the year 1856. The island was a natural prison, and it was this (act which caused it to bc made a penal settlement in the earliest days of Australian colonization. It had the grimest and gloomiest history of all the convict settlements. Its story was shuddersome in the extreme. Before the Pitcairn Islanders were landed, the convict settlement was discontinued, and there remained only the evil criminal associations of the place.
The people were physically strong and attractive, and their manners were pleasant and friendly. But they lacked initiative and mental vigour. This was probably due to their isolation, and the ease with which they made a living from the land. There was no money in circulation, yet they managed to have plenty to eat and to keep themselves noticeably well dressed. They regarded the island as their exclusive property, claiming that it had been given to them in perpetuity by Queen Victoria. In official circles they were still known as “ Queen Victoria’s pets.” Their history was one of the most interesting of any single small community in the world. After a stay amongst them the visitor came away with the most pleasant recollections of this people, who were a definite responsibility upon the shoulders of the people of Australia.
The origin of the Norfolk Islanders dated as far back as 1787. when some London merchants with plantations in the West Indies agitated to have the bread fruit tree of the Tahiti Islands transplanted for the sustenance of slave labour. Sir Joseph Bunks, who had voyaged with Captain Cook, is said to have advised that this bread fruit plant could be successfully transplanted to the West Indies. Subsequent events proved him to he wrong: but to test his theory the British Government fitted out the armed ship Bounty, of 210 tons, and placed Captain Bligh in charge of n. crew of 45 mcn. The ship secured the bread fruit plants, and spent six very agreeable months amongst the Tahiti Islanders. On the voyage back a mutiny, led by the master’s mate, one Fletcher Christian, a high-spirited young man who had fallen foul of Captain Bligh, resulted in the capture of the ship by 26 of the crew. Christian put Bligh and eighteen other men adrift in an open launch. Bligh navigated this launch over stormy seas 3,618 miles to Timor, where Ave of the men died as the result of their hardships. This voyage ranks as one of the most adventurous in naval history. The mutineers proceeded back to Tahiti in the Bounty, where they agreed to divide forces. The majority decided to romain at Tahiti and take their chances of recapture. In about two years’ time a British warship arrived and took them hack to England, where three were hanged. Christian, with eight other, six native men and a number of native women left in’ the *Bounty for Pitcairn Island, where they burned the ship and hid themselves.
It was 20 years before a ship called and discovered the whereabouts of the mutineers. By that time only one man - .John Adams - was alive. All the others, including the blacks, had been killed in quarrels. Adams was in charge of a small community of women and children. He had .turned deeply religious, and as he had ‘become a teacher and pastor, he was not disturbed by the British Government. Later on British warships regularly visited the island. The good conduct of the Pitcairn Islanders became worldfamed, and they were held up as the most religious and moral community in existence. In time the young men and women married, and the community rapidly increased, until in 1856 nearly 200 lived on a rock about 4 square miles in area. The British Government in this year removed the entire community to Norfolk Island, which is four or five times larger than Pitcairn, and is more adapted by Nature for the support of a considerable population. In a year or two about 50 who were home-sick returned to Pitcairn, where they have lived ever since. The present .population of Pitcairn is about 200; so that with the Norfolk Island (population close on 1,000 persons are to-day the living descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty.
The tragic history of the mutiny, and the remarkable career of the descendants of the mutineers, formed one of the most interesting chapters in the annals of British history. Now that these people were under the care ot the Commonwealth of Australia it was only fitting that something should be known about them. Up to the present they had been placed on Norfolk Island and forgotten. The problem of what was going to be done with so many people of a mixed racial strain cooped up in a little island was one which seemed difficult of solution, but it would have to be tackled. If the mutiny of the Bounty had never taken place these people would not be in existence to-day.
I place that resume of the history of the Pitcairn Islanders on record to explain the remarks I am about to make. These people were transferred to Norfolk Island by the British Government in 1856, and were practically given this small area of about 13 square miles to do as they liked with. That at least was the view of the original Pitcairn Islanders, and it is the view of their descendants to-day. The original population of 200 has grown to about 760, and is increasing fairly rapidly. There is very little doubt that in ten or twenty years’ time the population will be very much greater, and then the problem of controlling this large community on so small an area, and from a place so far away from the centre of their local affairs, will be acute indeed. Their future is already exercising the minds of the people themselves. It is only natural that they should attach a great deal of importance to their local affairs, and it is also natural that we, who are so far away, should not feel a very keen interest in them. I explained that when I spoke to them. I told them of the heavy commitments of the Commonwealth, and gave them to understand that, as far as I could see, under the present form of administration they could not expect to attract very much attention from Melbourne. As a result of that public meeting a petition was forwarded to the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Pearce). A copy of it was sent to me, and I shall now read it to honorable senators, because it will give them an idea of the troubles that are agitating this unique community. The petition reads -
We, your’ humble petitionere of Norfolk Island, prayeth that you will take into favorable consideration the appointment of a royal commission at once to investigate certain grievances which we consider of vital importance for the well-being of the Island.
We herewith humbly beg to show that within the last ten years approximately £40,000 lias been spent by the Federal Government (chiefly in salaries). We are of the opinion that this expense is unwarranted, as the Island practically receives no benefit from this source, owing to the fact that the Seat of Government being 1,000 miles away and other reasons, we are quite confident that the Government knows little of the state of the Island, and this has been recently confirmed by the views of the Federal member, Mr. V. C. Thompson, who has lately visited us.
We have carefully viewed the whole situation, and have come to the conclusion that if the Island is to progress a drastic change of the Administration must be brought about. This has been, expressed many times by notable men of business who have visited us and by many residents of reputable standing, who have held responsible positions in the outer world..
Before dealing with an alternative system, we might mention the Island comprises about 8,000 acres, about 400 being cultivated, costing about £10 per acre to administer. The population is not increasing, so many of the young people are leaving owing to the unfavorable conditions prevailing. Prosperity is a thing of the past.
We feel convinced that if this royal commission were granted much of the present grievances would disappear, and a system cheaper and more economical would be submitted of practical benefit to all concerned.
The Minister replied refusing the request of the petitioners. In answer to a letter from me, Senator Pearce wrote on the 8th May-
I shall be pleased to see you at any time to hear your views in regard to the affairs of Norfolk Island. The additional powers conferred upon the Executive Council of Norfolk Island, referred to in my letter of the 21st April to Mr. Charlton, M.P., copy of which was forwarded to you on that date, should give the islanders an opportunity oi making known their views on matters of administration. I enclose, for your information, copy of the Executive Council Ordinance L925, and would invite your attention to section 17 thereof.
Section IT of the ordinance referred to gives the local executive council authority to make suggestions for the government of the island, but it explicitly provides that any suggestions must come before the Administrator for comment before being forwarded to head-quarters in Melbourne. Naturally his personal views carry considerable weight with the Minister.
– Who is the Administrator?
– Colonel Leane. I have a copy of the letter which Senator Pearce addressed to Mr. Charlton, the Leader of the Opposition, giving his reasons for refusing the request of the residents for the appointment of a royal commission. It is advisable that I should place it before the House. The letter, dated the 21st April, 1925, reads -
With reference to your letter of the 16tl April, in regard to a communication addressed to you by Mr. John Newton, hon. secretary of the Norfolk Island Progress Association, relative to the petition which was forwarded to me praying that a royal commission .be appointed to investigate certain grievances which were alleged to exist in connexion with the administration of the Territory, I desire to inform you that, after very careful consideration, the Acting Administrator of Norfolk Island was instructed to inform the petitioners that it was not considered that the petition disclosed sufficient justification for the appointment of a royal commission to visit the Island and inquire into the administration thereof.
As the principal grievance would appear to bc the alleged excessive expenditure upon salaries of officials, the petitioners were asked to furnish suggestions as to the directions in which savings could be effected without curtailing any of the benefits derived by the islanders from the educational, medical, postal, savings bank, police, and other services at present provided.
The Government is desirous of promoting, in every possible way, the welfare of the inhabitants of Norfolk Island, and is at all times prepared to give sympathetic consideration to any reasonable proposal for the better administration of the Island.
Prior ,to the receipt of the petition, approval was given to the enactment of an ordinance for the enlargement of the scope for usefulness of the Executive Council of the Island, by providing that the Council shall have power to submit proposals for new ordinances and for amendments to existing ordinances.
Hitherto the Executive Council lias been in the nature of a municipal council, and has had no voice in the framing of the legislation of the Territory.
Hie new powers now conferred upon the Council will give the residents of Norfolk Island an opportunity of making known their views on the local legislation, and of suggest- . ing proposals for the better government of the Territory.
Since then I have received from the Norfolk Island Progress Association the following letter, dated the 5th June, 1925. It furnishes a very definite reply to the Minister’s communication : -
At a meeting of the Progress Association held on Wednesday evening a communication was presented from the Acting Administrator in reply to the petition which was forwarded. They cannot grant a royal commission or inquiry, as there is not sufficient reason to warrant one. However, greater powers have been granted the Executive Council, and the department will welcome suggestions that will tend to .the better government of the Island. Wie are forwarding a. suggestion that one qualification for a man should be a knowledge of law. with ability to preside acceptably over a court of justice. We suggest that a warden should lie appointed - a man who would be prepared to come for a. salary of £250 or £300 a year: one who was retired and desired a rest and change, and would accept such a position which assured him of a place of standing on the Island. There should bc many such men in the community.
To support our suggestion that a man of legal knowledge would be desirable, we are forwarding brief reports of recent cases heard at the Court, viz.: - Allen’s, McPhail’s Patching’s; also reports of the treatment meted out to Revd. A. R. Martin and Mr. Barnes (late schoolmaster) by Colonel Loane.
Another suggestion is that tcn or twelve local honorary J’s.P. ‘be appointed, so that two may bc available to sit with the magistrate on the bench.
A further ‘Suggestion made was in connexion with the existing mail service which expires shortly. It was that a separate contract be invited for a service to Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands and thence .to New Zealand every three weeks or month, providing for running of a more up-to-date and faster boat, with increased and improved accommodation. This would tend to increase the number of tourists visiting the Island, and would attract tourists from Now Zealand, and it would help the Island by conveying fruit and other produce to that dominion.
We understand that at present there are over 200 people waiting to visit the Island, and every berth is booked for months to come.
One of the problems we are hoping to tackle soon is the liquor question. It seems to get more acute from month to month, and will mean a big struggle, as it is entrenched in officialdom.
That the islanders are very hostile to the present Administration is evident from this concluding note -
A word in your ear. - A1 man has recently -come as clerk in the Court (Mr. Wilson). Rumour has it that he is gathering information. Would we be safe in confiding in him in our work as an association?
Honorable members will admit that the “situation is not at all satisfactory when such a large community is so distrustful of officials appointed by the Commonwealth Government. The first consideration of any administration should be to inspire confidence in the people in the system of government under which they are called upon to live. I should like to impress it upon honorable members that the origin of these people has created a problem which makes it intensely difficult for any administration to control them according to our standards. The newspaper report of the address which I delivered gives the tragic history of these people. They are the direct offspring of eight men who, if they had been captured within a reasonable time after the mutiny, would certainly have been strung up to the yard-arm of a British man of war. When the British naval authorities captured a number of the mutineers two years after the mutiny three were hanged, and others’ had a very narrow escape. The Norfolk Islanders of to-day are under The care of the Commonwealth Government. They number 760 people, and the fact that they are cooped up on a small island should ensure for them sympathetic treatment by the central administration. Undoubtedly they will feel that they have a genuine grievance, and will believe that the)’ are being neglected by the central administration, if honorable members of this House give little attention to information that is presented to them concerning their condition. These people are dissatisfied, and have asked that some form of inquiry be initiated. Usually, if any considerable section of the people of Australia demands an inquiry into some grievance, little difficulty is made about granting their request. That Norfolk Island is 900 miles from Australia, and its inhabitants are but little known to us, is not a reason why we should take no interest in their affairs. Our neglect of them is a strong indictment of the futility of the territorial system of government. In my opinion, that systemis wrong. It is utterly impossible for a number of men sitting in Melbourne to draft ordinances, and to determine the conditions which shall govern the lives of persons living many hundreds of miles away.
– Has the present Minister for Home and Territories ever visited the island?
– I do not think so. It is the duty of members of this Parliament to interest themselves in the affairs of this community, and I hope that they will do so.Unfortunately, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. F. McDonald) was at the last moment prevented from accompanying me when I visited the island, otherwise I should have had his corroboration of my remarks. Nevertheless, I feel certain that honorable members will realize that a request from 700 people with such a remarkable origin and so tragic a history, and who are so peculiarly situated as regards their relations with the Commonwealth, should not be ignored.
– What is the machinery of government there ?
– The Department of Home and Territories, which, in reality, means the Minister, appoints an administrator. Noone else has a voice in the appointment. The present Administrator is Colonel Leane, a gentleman with a good military record, but, unfortunately, a large number of the islanders cannot see eye to eye with him on many subjects. Many of them are desirous of a change in the administration. The people of Norfolk Island are practically isolated from the rest of the world; they do not get even telegraphic news. In those circumstances, honorable members will realize the difficulties confronting the Administrator.
– Has he the absolute power to veto the decisions of the Executive Council?
– He is the father and the master of the island, the chief magistrate, and a law unto himself.
The residents believe that they have a genuine grievance in that the Administrator, who presides over their courts of justice, has no practical knowledge of judicial procedure, or of law, and must act on the advice which he receives from the local Clerk of Petty Sessions. I believe that the present Administrator has conscientiously endeavoured to administer the Territory rightly, and to deal in an impartial manner with the small amount of legal work with which he is entrusted, but his lack of training has resulted in dissatisfaction among the) people. In one case which came before him in court, the Administrator gave a verdict for £80 damages against an engineer who went to the island from Australia. He repaired an engine belonging to a local picture showman, and subsequently the latter brought an action against him in the local court. The Administrator, in his capacity as chief magistrate, awarded £80 damages against this unfortunate individual. I do not say that the merits of the case were not against the defendant, but the fact remains that the administration of justice in the island is in the hands of a man who deals with cases of that kind. The local Clerk of Petty Sessions, who has resided in the island for twenty years, informed me that he was very dissatisfied with the treatment which he had received as a servant of the Federal Government. It appears that civil servants, having once been sent to the island, are forgotten. They have none of the privileges enjoyed by the civil servants of the Commonwealth, and do not participate in the benefits of the superannuation fund. It is not right that officials should be sent 9.00 miles away from Australia merely to be forgotten.
– How many Commonwealth employees are on the island?
– There are five only.
– Does that number include those in the telegraph office?
– There is no telegraph office there, and the cable office belongs to a private company. When on the island I ascertained also that old-age pensioners who go to Norfolk Island from Australia lose their rights as pensioners. That is because Norfolk Island is not legally a part of the Commonwealth, although administered by the Commonwealth, and for all practical purposes is Commonwealth territory. From the facts that I have presented to the
House, honorable members will see that the position at Norfolk Island is- anything but satisfactory. In spite of their mixed origin, the people there are intelligent, and take a. keen interest in- their future; they realize that disaster awaits them if the present conditions are long continued. There are about twelve families on the island, the members of which are continually inter-marrying. Honorable members know that inter-marrying does not tend to improve a race; yet the Commonwealth is making no attempt to improve the position of these people. I understand that their real desire is that the island be attached to New Zealand. Geographically it belongs to New Zealand, as Norfolk Island is only two days’ steaming from Auckland us against six days’ steaming’ from Sydney. Moreover, all the products of the island are also grown in Australia, whereas none of them can be produced successfully in New Zealand. If a shipping service with Auckland, such as that which now exists between the island and Sydney, were established, the islanders would be able to dispose of their produce, whereas, to send it to Sydney is like carrying coals to Newcastle. Norfolk Islanders who have spent the whole of their lives on the island have no particular regard for Australia, with which they have nothing in common, either in blood or tradition, except that many of them served with the Australian Imperial Force, and fought with Australians. One of their chief grievances is the absence of any news service. Even the Administrator, in my opinion, has not been treated fairly by the Government in this respect. Some time ago he forwarded a request to the Minister that he should be furnished with an ordinary wireless receiving set, so that he might receive news, and distribute it throughout the island ; but he was given the old red-tape reply that the matter would be considered when the next Estimates were under consideration.
– The islanders can get from the cable station. all the information they want.
– The cable station is a little world to itself.
– News is posted up at the station every day.
– Not now. When I was at the island the test cricket matches were being played in Australia, and to ascertain the results I had to go to the cable station, where, as a special favour, the information was supplied to me. The people of the island generally knew nothing of the results of the test matches. They are in the same position regarding other events outside the island, as there is no news service from the rest of the world. The fact that the request of the Administrator for. a wireless set was turned down indicates mental lethargy or indifference on the part of the central administration towards these people. There is another serious condition in the island which requires consideration. If a large number of able-bodied young nien is growing up in a confined community, without anything to do, they must inevitably get into mischief, and one of the problems of Norfolk Island is to find suitable employment for the labour of its young men. Many of them are of very fine physical type, but they are becoming lackadaisical largely as a result of their inability to find some avenue of profitable employment. There is no money in the island worth considering, beyond what tourists bring there. Some people favour the imposition of rates or taxes, but the people will have no means of paying them if they are imposed. A suggestion has been made that a duty should bc imposed upon all imports, which might bring in a revenue of about £10,000 a. year. The total volume of trade of the island, covering imports and exports, in 1924, was £25,000, and of that amount £22,000 represented imports. The only way in which any .appreciable revenue could be obtained is by imposing taxation upon imports. There are practically no exports from the island. It is the centre of one of the greatest whaling stations in the Pacific. Thousands of whales go past the island twice a year. At one time, the islanders carried on quite a whaling industry, but through lack of capital, modern plant, and appliances, they were unable to continue it, and now whales go past the island in thousands untouched. There is a profitable export of bananas, other fruit, and lemon juice. At the present time, an outside company, with headquarters in Melbourne, is commencing activities there, but what its operations will mean to the island I am unable to 3ay. I can assure honorable members that the present economic position of the island is simply one of inertia. The people there are doing practically nothing but keeping themselves alive. They have three meals a day and they all have their little homes, but have no great interest in life. It is very necessary that the administration controlling the island should discover profitable avenues of employment for the islanders in order that they may earn some money and contribute something to the cost of their administration’. The Commonwealth is spending £4,000 a year on the administration of the island, and is getting nothing in return. The people are dissatisfied, and it would be better that the island should be handed over to New Zealand, which has wanted it for many years, than that existing conditions should continue. The islanders prefer this solution of their difficulty. If the Commonwealth took active steps to find out what is really the trouble in Norfolk- Island, and what it is best to do to make the islanders more contented, and make the future a little less gloomy than it appears to me to be, I think the islanders would eventually come to think it better to be associated with Australia than with New Zealand.
– “What i3 the distance of the island from New Zealand find from Australia?
– Norfolk Island is about 900 miles from Australia, and, I think, 400 miles from New Zealand.
– Have the Norfolk Islanders pronounced in favour of New Zealand ?.
– The general sentiment is, I think, in favour of Now Zealand. The islanders talk of New Zealand, and are building a little boat to trade with that dominion. My own opinion is that if a parliamentary committee were appointed and visited the island, it would obtain a great deal of very valuable information, and probably much good would result. If that is not considered a practical method of dealing with the matter, a royal commission of some kind should be appointed. I ‘would suggest that there should be a medical man on the commission, because .the Norfolk Islanders have certain problems, which need not be referred to particularly, but which are inevitably associated with any community cooped up in a small space. Their present medical service is very unsatisfactory, but
I believe it has just been altered by the central administration. The industrial and economic position of the island is entirely unsatisfactory from Australia’s point of view. These people are our responsibility. If we are to keep Norfolk Island as territory of the Commonwealth, it is our duty to take an active interest in its local affairs, and our obligation to see that any grievances which the people have, and which it is possible for us to rectify, are rectified without undue delay. 1 I do not think it is right to leave so’ large a community entirely at the mercy of a central administration in Melbourne. Whilst it must be admitted that the Minister concerned, no matter to what party he belonged, would try to do his best for the community over which he presides, it has to be borne in mind that in the fina] analysis he is dependent upon the nian who goes to Norfolk Island to represent him. Under existing conditions, what that man says must have great influence with the Minister, and these people are. therefore more or less at the mercy of the man who’ is put over them. They are governed by ordinances, and honorable members know just what attention is paid to the various territory ordinances that come before then]. We do not know the local conditions, and cannot say whether the ordinances issued are justified.
– The Norfolk Islanders have a council of their own.
– That is so, and it seems to> me that the local council is the crux of the whole problem. It is the opinion of officials in Norfolk Island that the islanders are not fit to govern themselves, and cannot be given too> much power. It is said that they are like a large family, a.nd if a man gets into trouble they all stand together and see that he gets out of it. Personally, I do not think that that is very much our affair. If that kind of thing takes place, and they get along well in that way, it might, be encouraged rather than discouraged.
– Has the honorable member come to any conclusion as to tha remedies that -are. necessary?
– I have not, except that I think it would be wiser to give the Norfolk Islanders more control of their local affairs. We are not justified in saying that because they are a mixed race they are not fit to govern themselves according to their local ideas and circumstances. I think that we treat them too much as children, and that better results would follow if we gave them a little more responsibility and the central administration were less autocratic. There are so many problems associated with the government of these people that, in my opinion, it is very necessary that there should be some form of inquiry into it. A royal commission is usually a very satisfactory means’’ of conducting an inquiry. It would obtain evidence, and present a report to Parliament. The reports of royal commissions are frequently acted upon by a government, whilst the reports of lesser investigating bodies are not always taken very seriously. If the Government, after consideration, decided in favour of some form of inquiry other than that which I propose, I might be prepared to accept its decision. I suggest, however, to the Government and honorable members that before such a conclusion is reached the whole matter should be carefully gone into to see whether it is not urgently necessary that a royal commission with ample powers should be dispatched to Norfolk Island at the earliest possible opportunity.
– Did Mr. Nobbs say anything about the alienation of land?
– I heard quite a lot about that.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Marr) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 9th July (vide page 871), on motion by Mr. Stewart -
That in the opinion of this House a system of elective Ministries should be substituted for the existing system of party government in the Commonwealth Parliament.
That the passage of the foregoing resolution shall be an instruction to the Government to forthwith appoint a committee representative of all parties in the House, with power to call for persons and papers, to draft definite proposals for the purpose of carrying out the above elective executive principle on lines likely to prove most suitable to Commonwealth conditions.
That the committee so appointed shall submit their report and recommendations to this House during the present session for the purpose of enabling Parliament to discuss and take such action as it may decide in the light of the report and recommendations so submitted.
. - The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) by this motion challenges the existing system of a parliamentary cabinet. He has submitted in his proposal what he thinks should take the place of that system. He proposes that the cabinet shallbe elected on a system of “proportionate representation.”
– Of the various parties.
– Yes. The honorable member proposes that each party shall select its own proportion of the cabinet. That is the system he proposes to substitute for the one now in vogue. The motion is practically a challenge to the system deliberately established by the people of Australia, under the Constitution. It is true that the Constitution does not stereotype the present form of the Cabinet. It allows certain changes to take place: But it was the will of the Australian people when they adopted the Constitution, and established ‘ federation that the system of responsible government as it was then known should be adopted by the Commonwealth. The executive power of the Commonwealth- is vested in the King and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the King’s representative. A Federal Executive Council is provided for under section 62 of the Commonwealth to advise the Governor-General, in accordance . with the constitutional principle recognized in the states that there must be a body of councillors responsible for the advice tendered to the Crown. The Constitution provides that references to the Governor-General in Council shall be construed as referring to the Governor-General acting “ with the advice of the Federal Executive Council.” The Governor-General is empowered to appoint Ministers of State to hold office during his pleasure, who shall also be members of the Federal Executive Council. His position is similar to that of a constitutional monarch; he acts on the advice of his Ministers, and has power to remove them at pleasure, but in accordance with the conventions relating to what is known in British communities as the system of responsible government. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart.) challenges the system under which the Cabinet is chosen to-day, and his proposal to substitute an elective ministry would completely change the nature of responsible government as we know it. What i3 the underlying principle of that system ? lt is that of responsibility. Each public servant is responsible to the head of his department, who in turn is responsible to his Minister, and Ministers are responsible .to Parliament for their administration of the departments. They, too, are responsible for the advice that they tender to the representative of t-he Grown. The Cabinet as a whole is responsible in general for the acts of its individual Ministers, who, in turn, are responsible for their corporate acts as Cabinet Ministers. That is the definite principle of -our constitutional system of to-day. Bryce in his book on Modern Democracies, says -
The neglect to fix responsibility lias been one of the most fertile sources of trouble in popular governments. There is no better test of the value of institutions than the provisions they contain for fixing and enforcing it upon every one who serves the state.
The principle underlying all good democratic government is that of responsibility. Describing the relation of Ministers to each other in the Cabinet, Hearn in his Governmnent of England, page 204, says -
Bach Minister nets in his own department as the recognized agent of his colleagues in that particular department, subject, however, to inquiry and control by the whole body. But in all. cases in which any difficulty is likely to arise, each Minister, from motives, not merely of prudence, but of honour, takes the opinion of ‘the Cabinet. When that precaution is taken, the measure becomes the common act of the Ministry. All its members have either . expressly approved of it, or have at least sanctioned it by their acquiescence.
The honorable member for Wimmera challenges the system now in operation in Australia, and throughout the Empire as well as in other countries which have copied the British system of. Government. He proposes a system of elective ministries, and realizing that that would not be complete in itself, and that difficulties might arise under it, he suggests the appointment from the House of committees to deal with certain specific subjects, but not with power to do executive acts. It is rather difficult to see how such committees would function. The honorable member challenged the system in vogue, and gave three or four reasons for his proposal.
– I gave far more.
– I refer to the honorable member’s main reasons. First of all he contended that Parliament should select it3 ablest men as Ministers. He implied that the present system does not secure the best men. He said, secondly, that his proposal would prevent the evils of the party system; that, thirdly, it would prevent governments from endeavouring to secure favours at elections by manipulations of taxation, and by proposals to benefit certain classes.; and, fourthly, that it would prevent the domination, of small minorities in Parliament. He also objected to the position now occupied by a Prime Minister on the ground that he is an autocrat, because he has the right to advise the dissolution of Parliament and the dismissal of members. That sums up fairly well the general lines of the honorable member’s argument. Let us consider those contentions separately. He’ contends, first, that Parliament should be free to select its ablest men as ministers; but he negatives that proposal at the outset by saying that each party should select its proportion of ministers. Under the honorable member’s proposal, if all the wisdom were contained in one party, much of it would have to be sacrificed in the selection of a cabinet to give each party its proportional representatton .
– Surely the Minister does not suggest that the present system gives the best results ?
– The honorable member’s own system certainly would not do so. Then, he says, the elective system would prevent the evils of the party system. He admits that we cannot get rid of parties; that it is in the nature of human beings to gather together into associations to protect their own interests. Therefore the abolition of the party system is impossible. I cannot see how party divisions can be abolished. Cunningham, writing of the necessity for the formation of parties, in his book Christianity and Politics, says : -
With all its defects, party government is the method by which government is likely to be carried on in democratic communities. Its defects ure. to a large extent, a. price which must be paid for the liberty which democratic citizens enjoy. When power is widely diffused, there must be .uncertainty about the formation of decided public opinion, and difficulty in shaping measures by which that public -opinion is brought into effect. Party government is the best instrument which has yet been devised for carrying on the affairs of state among a free people, and it is by finding out the party with which he most strongly sympathizes, and with which he can work most cordially, that any citizen may bring his individual opinion to bear most effectively on the course of national affairs. The man who tries to be independent of party condemns himself to mere futility, or, at the best, he becomes an opportunist, who tries to see what help he can get from each party in turn in advancing the cause in which he is interested. This is not a dignified attitude to take, and it only attracts the men whose judgment is so one-sided that they are devoted to one particular clement exclusively, and are indifferent to the good government of the country in all other respects. lt is essential to have a party syste.ni. How then would elective ministries do away with party government?
– Party government is done away with iu Switzerland.
– In that country ministers cannot vote in parliament, whereas under our Constitution ministers must be members of parliament. The honorable member for Wimmera proposes to elect from each party on the proportional system, the members of the executive. Presumably they would sit as a cabinet outside the executive. Probably he does not intend that the representative of the Grown should be present at the deliberations of the’ Cabinet. There would, therefore, be a cabinet meeting of ministers outside of the Executive Council to come to determinations and to tender advice. Would the election of the members of the Cabinet” change the party system? My view is that a member would carry into the Cabinet his party feeling. Those associated with him in Parliament would naturally press him in Cabinet to fulfil their own party programmes, and would do everything possible to have their own political objects achieved. I cannot see that the mere fact of in em lie rs being elected by their party would prevent party feeling. If they did not advocate the views of their own party, of what, use, it would be asked, was their influence in the Cabinet? The proposal of the honorable member would, only accentuate party influence, and I cannot see that it would be humanly possible for the Cabinet to be a calm impartial body guided only by considerations of equity and right.
– Then all the talk about the harmony of the present Cabinet is incorrect ?
– When political parties have agreed on a common line of action with a common purpose, it is possible to preserve the spirit of corporate responsibility; but that is not the system which the honorable member is proposing. He proposes that a cabinet should be composed of Ministers elected proportionately by the different parties. This could not tend to political harmony. The honorable member’s next objection to the present system is the domination of small minorities ; but the position of small minorities would not be altered by having elective ministries. The small party will always throw its weight in this and that direction in order to effect its own political purposes, and it is .certain that the tactics pursued in the House would be adopted in the Cabinet.
– The difference would be that whereas the minority under the present system hesitates to vote against the Government lest it precipitate a general election, under the system I propose there would, be no such fear.
– Often the four of dissolution is the beginning of wisdom; it gives to members a sense of responsibility. They know that if they bring about a dissolution they must answer to the electors for their actions. Because of that a small minority hesitates to precipitate a general election. The argument advanced by the honorable member regarding the domination exercised by parties’ is no justification for the complete overthrow of (he present political system that has been in vogue for so long in many countries. He said that the system he proposed would obviate dissolutions, and the dismissal of ministers. After all, the power of dissolution is only the authority given to the Governor-General to send us before our constituents to answer to them for our conduct. It is a useful power, and a proper one when rightly exercised, because in a Parliament elected for a definite term the knowledge that members may be made answerable to their constituents at any time keeps continually alive the sense of responsibility.
– The power is sometimes improperly exercised.
– The Crown has the right to accept or reject any recommendation by a Prime Minister for the dissolution of Parliament, but whether the power be exercised properly or improperly the final decision rests with the people who by their votes declare what they desire to be done. Therefore, I say that the power of dissolution is a useful corrective to be exercised at the proper time, for it enables the actions of Parliament to be kept in consonance with the will of the people. The system which the honorable member for Wimmera has proposed would not be an improvement upon existing conditions, but would certainly bring about an extraordinary scheme of government. Completely reversing the present system, it would constitute a cabinet without any sense of corporate responsibility or its being bound by any common purpose, intention, or policy. The policies of the Ministers would be just as numerous and varied as the parties represented in the Cabinet. A coherent, common, and representative policy would not be possible. The greatest difficulty would be found in connexion with the control of the finances. Under the present system each Minister is responsible for the administration of his own department, but all confer in Cabinet, the decisions of which become the policy of the administration. The Treasurer has the responsibility of balancing receipts and expenditure, and he exercises his power in close consultation with his colleagues. It has been truly said that finance is the basis of government. Certainly finance, to a great extent, dictates the general policy of an administration. Under a system of elective Ministries, Cabinet would consist of representatives of different parties holding diverse political views, each; probably, requiring. a different system of finance. How could such a body evolve a corporate policy ? When the various sections in the Cabinet differed, who would have the deciding vote?
– The Treasurer.
– If the Treasurer had the final decision he would be a greater autocrat than is the Prime Minister under the present system. There must be somebody responsible for advising the Crown in regard to appropriation. The Constitution requires that an appropriation proposal shall be preceded by a message from the Governor-General, and Hearn, in his Government of England, says -
One of the groat advantages of our modern system of government is the administration of the public revenue, not by a large assembly, but by proper and responsible officers.
– Under the scheme I propose there would be a finance committee.
– But, presumably, it would also be constituted of members of Parliament on a proportional representation basis. Under the existing scheme of government, each Minister submits his proposals to Cabinet; they are debated and criticized, and finally, when a list of measures has been agreed upon, the Government is able to submit to Parliament a definite, consistent, and coordinated plan of finance and legislation. Proportional representation would involve the danger of a gradual transfer of the responsibility of framing the financial policy to a general assembly, and that would increase the difficulty of keeping the expenditure within bounds.
– The responsibility would be thrown upon Parliament, which is the proper body to shoulder it.
– A general assembly is not a suitable body to frame estimates of expenditure, because each member, acting for particular interests, will advocate certain proposals without any regard to the aggregate liability. The present system has the advantage of making one body of men responsible for the raising of revenue and balancing the expenditure with the receipts. The proposals for appropriation are submitted to Parliament after full deliberation and agreement by responsible officers, and passed after the purpose of the appropriation has been recommended by a, message from the Governor-General, under section 56 of the Constitution. Of course, the final approval rests with Parliament.
– Cabinet frames’ the financial policy with due regard to party
– Of course, Cabinet is dominated by considerations of its own policy, and properly so, because the will of the community for the time being is expressed by the majority in Parliament. , The. scheme proposed by the honorable member for Wimmera is quite impracticable. It would make impossible the carrying out of a coherent and consistent policy. Party politics would still exercise a dominating influence in the Cabinet, so that one of the purposes he desires to achieve would be defeated. Another question that suggests itself is: Who would lead and control a Cabinet elected on the proportional representation principle ? The dominant party would naturally desire to give expression to its views in some way ; it would take control of the assembly in which it was supreme. The Cabinet would not act with that sense of corporate responsibility which is felt by a Cabinet constituted under the present system. The honorable member for* Wimmera is quite right in asking this House to consider whether a better system of Government cannot be devised. The present system is not the creation of a moment. It has evolved through the centuries.
– The Attorney-General does not contend that it is perfect.
– No, but before the honorable member can show justification for discarding it he must prove that the substitute he proposes approaches nearer to perfection. It would be well to- briefly compare our system of government with the systems devised in other democratic countries, and to remember that institutions which suit certain countries do not always bear transplanting. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to the people of the British Isles who fought for and won the principles of liberty and self-government which we enjoy to-day.
– We have improved on them..
– We should not be true to our race if we had not improved and progressed. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) said that the Cabinet he proposed should be mainly an executive body, by which, pre.sumably, he meant that legislative matters would, as far as it is concerned, be subsidiary. In the United States of America the President is practically independent of the legislature. Ministers are appointed by the President, and become practically his servants. They have no right to appear in Parliament, and are not responsible to Parliament. Certainly there is a. way by which messages can be sent to Congress, but there is c almost a complete severance of the executive from the legislature. Under the Swiss executive council system Ministers cannot vote in Parliament, but have the right only to speak. They may suggest legislation, but they are practically a board of directors managing the. country’s business. Lord Bryce made a comprehensive study of the Swiss system, and a former President of Switzerland said to him: -
The plan fits a small state where party feeling does not run high. Would it work elsewhere? Where grave decisions of foreign policy I) ave to be suddenly taken, would a council composed of men of different tendencies be able to act efficiently ?
The supreme test is the capacity of the executive to act in a grave emergency, when perhaps party feeling is running high.
– During the war a coalition cabinet was formed in Great Britain.
– There was no party feeling in Great Britain at that time. The people had only one interest, and the parties that coalesced in parliament had a” common policy and a common purpose. In those circumstances the composite cabinet was able to function as a corporate body, and to work efficiently. But where you have a cabinet rent in pieces by party divisions, efficiency is impossible,, and unity of action out of the question. The ex-president, referring to the working of the Swiss system, placed his finger on its weak spot. Quick decisions may have to be made in regard to questions of domestic as well as of foreign ‘ policy. The honorable member for Wimmera frankly admitted that that system would not suit Australia, and I think he is right. Our Constitution, moreover, does not permit it, because a person cannot remain a Minister of. State for more than three months unless he is a member’ of the Senate or the House of Representatives. I ask honorable members to look at those two systems, and. to compare them with our .own. What is Hie essence of our system? It is that the executive is directly under the control of Parliament, and is responsible to Parlia- ment. The principle of responsibility is enforced in Parliament over acts not only of legislation, but also of administration. The Constitution, of course, is framed in such a way that it can be adapted to changing circumstances. Before the Federal Convention was held, Sir Samuel Griffith expressed his views on the position of the executive under a federal system, and those views were echoed by others later. It was contended that under a federal sytem it would be impossible to have responsible government as we know i.t to-day, and Sir Samuel Griffith, in a paper which he contributed to the discussion in 1896 set out Lis reasoning, which was that under the federal system the consent both of the people and the states must be obtained, and that any federal system must recognize the state in a corporate capacity. A federal constitution was proposed, in which there was a people’s House and a states’ House. He took the view that legislation must have the consent of the people’s representatives in the House of Representatives, and of the states’ representatives in the Senate, and questioned whether in important acts of administration the same principle should not apply. He therefore thought it was open to question whether a system of responsible government would work under a federation. He did not refer to the position in Canada, and he did not criticize or condemn the system of responsible government as it then existed throughout the Empire, but he merely suggested that, when that system was applied- in the federal sphere, it might not work satisfactorily. He stated his view in the following words: -
If it is accepted as a fundamental rule of the federation that the laws shall not be altered without the consent of a majority of the ‘people, and also of a majority of the states, both speaking by their representatives, why should not the same principle he applied to the no less important branch of state authority - the Executive Government?
Responsible government, however, was incorporated in the federal system, and is operating in Australia to-day. The honorable member has suggested another form of executive government, but I submit that the present system is much more advantageous than anything he has suggested, and I shall state my reasons for saying so. In the first place, the present system has undoubtedly received the approval of Great Britain and of practically all the self-governing dominions. It operates in France, and, to a less extent, in some European countries. The Swiss system operates iu Switzerland only, and the United States system in the United States of America, and,’ with modifications, in certain of the American countries. In British communities our system is operating, and no suggestions have been made for its overthrow.
– I cannot accept that statement. There have been suggestions for a change.
– No serious’ attempt has been made in any Parliament of the Empire to overthrow the system. Proposals, suggestions, and inquiries have been made, but no very serious effort has been attempted. Our system is the most democratic, in the world. We have adopted the principle of one Mult one vote, and we have fairly equal electorates. Members of Parliament are responsible to their electors, and are elected on that understanding, and the executive is practically chosen by the majority of the members of the Parliament.
– Not necessarily.
– I said “ practically.” A Government can continue only so long as it represents the will of the majority of the members of the Parliament. Therefore, the. will of the people becomes the will of Parliament, and, eventually, the law of the land. In no other country can the will of the people so easily become the law of the land as in the self-governing dominions of the British Empire. The will of the people is enforced by, the Parliament upon the Ministry. The Parliament can turn the Ministry out, or keep it in, as it chooses. Each Minister must administer his department according to the will of the people, as expressed in the Parliament, and if he ceases to do so, he is censured and called upon to resign.. Thus, there is complete control and a sense of responsibility throughout the machinery of Government. The honorable member agrees with me up to that point ; we differ about the selection of the executive, and.* the continuance of the present Cabinet system. The adoption of his suggestion would mean a serious breach of the principle of responsibility, and, to my mind, would introduce a serious defect into our general scheme of democratic government. Some honorable members opposite have had experience of the principle of elective ministries, and whether they have found it desirable I know not. The present system has been found by the universal experience of the self-governing dominions to be the Lest means of carrying out the will of the people. Where there is a corporate sense and a government charged with the responsibility of framing and administering legislation, there is an assurance that legislation and administration will be in harmony with the will of the people.
– But the will of the people must first be ascertained by compelling them to record their votes.
– When a government is formed it represents a majority of the electors, and remains in office so long as it commands its majority. There have been very few dissolutions of Parliament in the federal sphere. The system works well. We once had a double dissolution, but whether that experience will be repeated, I cannot say. The present system secures proper control of finance, and it permits prompt and efficient action to be taken. I, therefore, urge the House not to accept the motion of the honorable member. Before we substitute another system for one which is already working efficiently, we should give the proposal a great deal more thought and consideration than it has had, and its proposers should be able to demonstrate to the people that it is really superior.
Question put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 32
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move -
That, in order to eliminate the burden of eternal interest forced upon Australia by the late war, and thus to prevent the innocent unborn millions of Australians being saddled therewith, it is the opinion of this House that a Domesday Book be made, showing the full present value of all immovable property, with the names of the owners thereof, based where possible upon the present federal or state land tax valuation, or both of them, and that any increase of value from the unearned increment during the next ten years be used for the extinction of the war debt.
Possibly honorable members are wondering why I make this proposal. I remind them that on two or three occasions in the history of the British race a Domesday Book has been prepared, not for the purpose of extorting more taxation from the people - the charge levelled against William the Conqueror - but to place the burden of taxation more evenly upon the shoulders of those best able to bear it. Of all the monarchs in the history of England, only one has been considered worthy of the title.” Great.” I refer, of course, to Alfred the’ Great. The first Domesday Book was compiled under his direction. Another was issued during the reign of Edward the Confessor. The third, prepared at the instance of William the Conqueror, took six years in the making. This great book, with its quaintness of spelling and language, contains an imperishable record of all those who by birth and privilege had possessions great or small. Its chief purpose was to register an accurate description of the land held by the people and the basis of taxation, to ensure that taxation was based on a fixed assessment; of the dues, the rights of the King, the names of land-holders, the resources of the people, the amount of arable land, the number of plough teams - in those days eight oxen were regarded as a plough team - the area of river, meadow, and woodland pastures; of the grades of serfdom and the annual value of the properties,’ as well as of all liabilities. For taxation purposes Australia has two systems of valuation. Many people, myself included, believe that we should have one simplified system. We are getting some common sense. In New Zealand, and. also in New South Wales, the Government has power to resume land on the basis of its taxation value.. I think that we are moving in the same direction in Victoria. The making of a Domesday Book for the purpose indicated in my motion would have much to recommend it. Can any one pretend that the wealth of Australia did its full share in the late terrible war ? Can it be said that the effort of wealth equalled the response made by the manhood of Australia ? Out of a total of 1,000,000 adult males, over 600,000 offered for war service; and of the 360,000 who went oversea, approximately 60,000 lost their lives. It is deplorable that even the children of men who died at the front should be called upon to assistin carrying the accursed cross of interest that th© war debt has placed upon the shoulders of the people of Australia. On occasions I have asked myself - Would it be fair to make a capital levy of one-fourth of the value- of assessed properties in Australia to pay off the war debts? In 1914, before the outbreak of war, this value was stated at £1,200,000,000 for all Australia. On the 30th June, 1915, nearly a year after the commencement of the war, the value had increased to £1,600,000,000, showing an increase of £400,000,000 even in time of war. Australia’s present value is now estimated to be over £2,500,000,000. Although the latest budget gives the amount raised in Australia for war and repatriation purposes as £268,000.000, honorable members will agree that that amount does not cover the total cost, because if we take into consideration also the losses in connexion with war service homes, the purchase of ships, and other contingent losses, the total would exceed £300,000,000. It is reasonable to suppose that during the next ten years the increase in the value of Australia will not be less than during the previous decade. It is evident, therefore, that no one who owns property would b<; adversely affected by the application of the principle which I” am advocating. The land would be taxed upon present values, and any portion of the unearned increment in excess of the amounrequired to pay the war debt would be remitted to the property-owners. Recently I asked twelve keen business; men, including some possessing considerable wealth, whether they would prefer that the unearned increment on their property be applied to the redemption of the debt, or that they should pay one-quarter of their capital in cash as a capital levy. One of them - a man reputed to be worth over £100,000 - said that for him to pay £25,000 in cash as a capital levy would entail great difficulty, as he would have to arrange for an advance from the bank. He pointed out that his case would be buone of many, and that if a capital levy were made the banks would be unable to meet the demands of the property-owners. He concluded by saying that if either system were to operate he preferred that of applying the unearned increment te the reduction of the debt.
– How would the honorable member get over the difficulty ofthe man who sold his property ?
– I would apply the law which operated among the ancienJews. They had a jubilee year, and their law provided that no one could sell property for a longer period than 50 years. If a sale were effected midway between two jubilee years, it would be for 25 years only ; if within ten years of a jubilee year, for ten years only, and so on . In ancient times there was no opportunity for the profiteering that, unfortunately, prevailed in connexion with the late war. as the conquered were either killed oi taken as slaves, and their property confiscated. It is recorded in Holy Writ thai King David in one day put six kings te death. There was, therefore, never any debt for the succeeding generations te pay. Since those days civilization has advanced, and to-day we can pledge millions of unborn citizens to pay the interest or our war debts so long as they are willing to do so. I picture the day when these unborn millions will rise up, and ask why they should be burdened with this awful cross of interest. Mr.. Lloyd George - that magnificent boaster of Europe, who won an election on the cry “ Hang the Kaiser “ - had his tongue in his cheek every time that he uttered the cry. He did not possess sufficient courage to give effect to that cry, and to-day he is fighting against the Versailles treaty, of which he was one of the chief authors. I have pointed out that in ancient times nations who went to war followed the example of . the ants, killing or making slaves of the conquered, and confiscating their property, but in the last great war private property generally was safe, as was also tho profiteer. He could charge exorbitant prices for food, clothing and rent, despite the suffering he caused to helpless men, women and children of his own race. In this connexion I should like to place before the House an instance which came under my personal notice in the early days of the war, showing the treatment meted out to his tenants by a landlord who belonged to the great Jewish race. Having improved the property in which they resided, he proposed to increase their rents. I introduced to him a deputation consisting of the tenants, and pointed out that, as the war would probably last for two or three months only, he should not increase the rents for that period. He replied that the amounts which he was asking “represented only 6 per cent, on his capital outlay, a percentage which he considered to be fair, and on which he intended to insist. I left him with a heavy heart, but next morning I received a message from him desiring an appointment. When . I saw him again he said that he had thought the matter over, and had decided that for the period of the war he would not increase the rents payable by his tenants, and, further, that he would do the same thing in connexion with the companies with which he was connected. As he had a controlling interest in between 60 and 70 substantial houses, honorable members will understand how joyful I felt. When I told him that he would be given credit for his generous action, he said that (he promise would be withdrawn if I mentioned his name. I therefore regret that the name of this Jewish gentleman cannot be made public, but I am able to say that he kept his promise notwithstanding that the war lasted much longer than was at first anticipated. Unfortunately, such cases were few. The profiteering which has taken place since the commencement of the great war is a disgrace to civilization. It is almost inconceivable that human beings would take such advantage of the helplessness of their fellows. While- a small section of the community took advantage of the war to serve its own selfish ends, irrespective of the suffering it caused, Australia as a whole did magnificently in the great war. On the battlefields many of our bravest and best, with rich, red blood running through their veins, performed wonderful feats against great odds, and proved to the world that the men from the great open spaces, of Australia, who had breathed its pure air, were in no way inferior to the stock from which they sprang. If my motion is carried, and the Government takes action upon it, it will earn the credit of being the first government in modern times to remove thu curse of interest from the innocent millions who are to come after us. No one will contend that capital did its fair 3hare in the last war. Was there not a threat made from the government benches in this chamber that if certain men did not take up some of tho war loans compulsion would be used to make them do so? I asked for a list of every one in the Commonwealth who paid income tax on £1,000 or upwards. I intended to follow that information up by asking for another return to see if those who were in a position to do so had taken up a fair share of our war loans. I cannot understand why the Government refused my request for that information. The State Government under the premiership of Sir Alexander Peacock published a list of 252 persons, indicated by numbers, who paid income tax on incomes beyond a certain amount. The purpose was to show who had made increased profits during the first, second, and third years of the war. The information supplied showed that the profits made by some persons were increased by thousands per cent, during the war period. Why should we refuse to let the public know the persons who make such profits? Does not every one know, or can he not find out, the salary paid to the King, the salary paid to the Speaker and members of this’ House, to every judge and Governor, every soldier from the highest general to the latest recruit, and every sailor from the* admiral in command to the latest midshipman? The time is coming when in these matters the people will control the government and parliament to a greater extent than they do .at present.’ If I can do anything to keep the cross of interests from the backs of those Australians now unborn, who under existing conditions will have to bear it, I shall do it. Perhaps I cannot hope that the Government will agree to my motion, but while I. retain the confidence of my constituents such a motion will find a place on the business-paper of this House. Surely the children born of the brave dead and of the brave living who returned from the war maimed., blind, and helpless should not be compelled to pay interest on our war debt. One of the arguments urged against my motion is that if a government found that it could wipe off its huge war debt in the way I propose it might adopt the same means to wipe out all its debts. It is stated in support of this objection that the income tax was at first imposed in England only as a temporary means, but its imposition has been continued. We could’ provide that means I propose should be adopted only to wipe off the war debt. I do not propose such means for the liquidation of other national debts. The money which they represent was in many cases spent in developing and improving Australia, but most of the war debt went up in smoke, and we have no assets like Railways and Public Works to set against it. I hope that by the great power of the press the Australian people may be persuaded to put an end to these debts. I know of no fairer way in which this can be done than by resort to the unearned increment. Unearned increment is not due to the genius of any single man or body of men. It is due to the congregation of a large- population in some one place. Let any one who thinks that land would be of value independent of population ask himself what is the present value of a corner block in Babylonor on the most important thoroughfare of any of the ancient cities ; whose populations have perished. It is population that creates unearned increment, and we should claim, the right to make use of the unearned increment for the. wiping out of the terrible load of interest which the Government has to meet, and which as an honorable nation we must pay. If the state through its rulers is hot honest in its dealings it cannot be expected that its people will better the example set them. The most honorable people are the people of those nations that have been honorable in all their dealings. I thank honorable members for the courteous -attention they have given to my remarks.
5.7] . - Every one must agree with ‘ the underlying principle of this motion. It would be a very good thing if by waving a fairy wand we could wipe out all our debts, and especially our war debts, and the interest burden that accompanies them. But whilst it is desirable to abolish debt the difficulty is to discover a practical means of doing it. Debt cannot be wiped out except by the production of wealth. . The Government has brought down a practical proposal to wipe out the whole of our war debt in 50 years by means of a sinking fund, which will be contributed to by direct or indirect taxation. There are other methods for wiping out debts. There is that suggested by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), and there is the method followed by Germany, where the war .debt was wiped out by the depreciation of the currency. The currency of the country was so depreciated that it became possible to wipe out its war debt with a comparatively nominal amount of real wealth. But we cannot get a quick and easy way to wipe out our debt. This can only be done by hard work. There are certain objections, to the proposals of the honorable member for Melbourne. There is first of all the objection that the compilation of a Domesday Book, and the estimation of present-day values and values in ten years’ time, would involve the establishment of an enormous organization. A very big staff would be required to carry out the- work, and no one will contend that the staff would be engaged upon productive work. Its work would not add one iota to the “wealth of the community. Another objection to the honorable member’s proposal is that it singles out one particular type of wealth or property for the payment of the war debt. It is only fair that the payment of the debt should be made from all sources of- wealth, and should be imposed fairly upon the .community. I might give an .instance to show the inequity of the method for the payment of debt proposed by she honorable member for Melbourne. At the present time the value of the home of an old-age pensioner is not subject to inclusion in the amount to be deducted from his capital in estimating his pension. An old man and his wife may own the house in which they live, and have only their old-age pensions to depend upon. By the increase of population or for some other reason, their property might, ten years hence, become very valuable, and they would then be asked to contribute to the payment of the war debt the amount by which its value had increased.
– The honorable gentleman is doing the honorable member for Melbourne a great injustice. He never suggested such a thing.
– I am aware that he did not, but I am pointing out what would be the effect of his motion. I have stated only a typical illustration of its operation. There might be an alteration not of actual wealth, but only of price levels, and it might be that because price levels differed at different times, holders of property would be penalized. ‘ What the honorable member proposes is merely a form of a wealth levy. I shall not go into the objections to that, because to do so would open up a very big subject. There is another point of view from which the motion might be considered. Why should we impose upon this generation the whole burden of the war debt? Why should we say that it must all be wiped out in the next ten years ? When one looks back over the last century he will find that, after the wars of England with Napoleon, there was a very heavy war debt imposed upon the people of that country. Whilst at’ first it appeared that that debt was absolutely crushing and intolerable, it was ultimately borne fairly comfortably because of the discovery of new inventions and the application of improved machinery to production. Thirty years after the battle of Waterloo the production and the standard of living in England had> advanced enormously. It seems to be quite reasonable to expect that, as a result of the last war, its burdens, problems, and the crises that have had to be passed through in connexion with it, new inventions will be made which will enable us to increase production and wealth and make our burden of interest at least tolerable during the 50-years’ period within which tho Government has made provision for the redemption of the debt. For the reasons I have given I oppose the motion. I do not think it proposes an equitable way of liquidating our war debt.
.- I have not much to say on the motion, but I wish to reply to some of the statements of the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page). It seems to me that whenever vested interests are attacked, we are reminded of the. “poor widow.” Those whose interests are endangered endeavour by a stretch of the imagination to make it appear that the interests of the poor widow are identical with their own. Nothing was further from the mind of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) than to suggest that the homes of poor people should be taxed to pay the War debt. I wish to inform the Treasurer that the debt of the Napoleonic wars has never yet been paid, and I venture to say that it is still part and parcel of the British national debt. The people of Britain are now paying for the powder and shot that Wellington fired at Waterloo. To hear the Treasurer, one would think that the national debt sinking fund was one of bis brilliant ideas, but he well knows that the principle of the sinking fund is quite as old as the national debt. It was tried in Great Britain in the days of Pitt, who, while paying off a few million pounds by means of a sinking fund, added many millions to the British national debt. The Treasurer, in effect, says, “Let posterity pay.” Our forefathers said the same thing, but the fact remains that posterity never pays. We admit to-day that we cannot pay the debt incurred by our forefathers. I know of no country whose national debt has not increased year by year.
– Al] debts have that habit-.
-National debts are never intended to be paid. The honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) proposes that the national debt shall be wiped out by taxing the unearned increment which is brought about by the collective work of the people. The Treasurer said the scheme would be a wealth levy, but I do not agree with him. The increase of wealth consequent upon the nation’s development should not belong to a few individuals. A property in Melbourne may be worth a lot of money, but a similar property in the Sahara Desert, owing to the lack of population and means of exchange, would not be worth 2d. As the nation develops, its population and wealth increase. The Treasurer did an injustice to the honorable member for Melbourne in endeavouring to fix upon him the advocacy of the taxation of oldage pensioners, and of persons who deprived themselves of many comforts in order to obtain their own homes. The poverty of the people is always used by the Government to bolster up some injustice about to be perpetrated upon them. Unless the Government alters its present tactics, the national debt of this country will never be paid. I commend the honorable member for Melbourne for bringing the motion before the House.
.- It is indeed refreshing for an honorable member to move a motion having for its objects the elimination of the burden of interest, forced upon the people of Australia in consequence of the late war, and to prevent the innocent unborn millions of Australia from being saddled with it. I have closely examined the budget, and I find that the Government is following the practice adopted during the past few years of gradually increasing the number of works to be paid for out of loan, instead of out of revenue. I shall have something more to say on that subject at a later date. The Treasurer’s statement this afternoon clearly showed- that he had given little thought to the motion before the House. He said that it was a good idea to try to wipe out the national debt. He certainly has no objection to wiping out the national debt providing that the process does not interfere with the interests of his friends. ‘ The taxation proposed to be derived from unearned increment, over a period of ten years, would fall principally upon the large property holders. Last session the Treasurer endeavoured to wipe out nearly £2,000,000 of land tax due on Commonwealth territory held under Crown lease, but, when the Argus and Age took him to task, he lost the support of his colleagues, and had to withdraw the bill. I am not surprised that the Treasurer tried, this afternoon, to make an apology for the large property holders. “He said that there were other ways of dealing with the national debt. He instanced the case of Germany, who, by the continual inflation of currency, overcame her difficulties to some extent. I asked the Treasurer, by interjection, if he preferred that method to the proposal before the House, and he wisely gave no answer. He then brought in his grand old hobby horse, the sinking fund. He has trotted that subject out on several occasions. I remind him that there is more than one kind of sinking fund, and the one that the Treasurer has adopted is the least effective of all. His statement that the national debt will be wiped out in 50 years does not take into account any unforeseen circumstance. He does not anticipate another war, or any upheaval of a farreaching effect. I find, on looking at the budget, that this year there will be. an expenditure out of loan, on post-offices alone, of over £6,000,000, and this, together with the proposed decrease of income tax, will mean, not a decrease but a decided increase in the national debt. In addition, there is £150,000 of war expenditure for transporting troops. Although six years have elapsed since the war, this Government now intends to pay that sum out of loan. When such things as this are brought under our notice we can well understand the Treasurer saying that ‘ there are more ways than one of paying off the national debt. There are also more ways than one of obtaining a surplus. It is intended to spend, out of loan, £300,000 for immigration purposes. Many items in the budget could well be paid for out of revenue, instead of out of loan, but were this done, it would be impossible to boast of reducing the national debt by £1,500,000, an expenditure to which I do not object. The
Treasurer also stated that the taxation of unearned increment for the next ten years would dispose of the future hard earnings of the people. What is unearned increment? It is wealth created by the community, and this proposal, if adopted, would benefit not a few individuals,, but the hard-working people themselves. The- Treasurer said that taxation of unearned increment would be against the interests of the old-age pensioners. He suggested that if we tax the owner of a block of land in Collins-street on the unearned increment of ten years, a pensioner living on the outskirts of Melbourne would also be taxed on the increased value of his home. If the Treasurer were prepared to put into operation some such scheme to wipe out the interest bill of this country, it would make possible a decided increase in oldage pensions, and thus compensate the pensioner for the increased tax on his home in the suburbs. The Treasurer, of course, would not accept such a proposal. He asked why should we impose on this generation the whole cost of the war. The people of this generation cried aloud, *’ On with the war “ they allowed William Morris Hughes, when Prime Minister, unci the Defence Department to spend money and waste it as they liked; they howled down any person who uttered a word of warning, and they allowed themselves to become panic-stricken, therefore let ‘them pay this war bill, and not pass it on to posterity. We of this generation have benefited by the doings of the past generations, and surely we should be prepared to shoulder our own responsibilities. The Treasurer may reply to that argument by saying that this generation is passing benefits on to futuregenerations, who should be prepared to pay something for them. But he is endeavouring to pass on to our children and grandchildren not a portion, but almost the whole of the burden of war debts. I can see nothing unfair in the proposal of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney). The Treasurer says that it would be a form of wealth levy. I do not agree with him. The taking from some persons of increased property values which they have not earned would not be a wealth levy in the sense in which that term was used in Great Britain. If the scheme proposed by the honorable mem- ber for Melbourne were put in operation it would affect mainly the large propertyowners in city and metropolitan areas. At present, land values in the country portions of Australia are .unduly inflated. For some years the prices of both wool and wheat have been above the average value for the. 20 years immediately preceding the outbreak of war, and because of that agricultural and pastoral lands -have advanced to a fictitious value. Therefore, values are more likely to decrease than increase during the next decade. I am quite sure that’ this scheme for taking the unearned increment for the next ten years will not be put into operation, firstly, because it is too idealistic to- suit the present Government, and secondly, because it would- not be a popular policy to adopt within six or seven months of a general election. I do not say that I agree with the scheme in its entirety, but I compliment, the honorable member for Melbourne upon having brought into this Parliament some fresh thought upon the reduction of the national debt and the interest burden it entails.
.- I, too, congratulate the honorable member for Melbourne upon the motion he has submitted. Notwithstanding the incubus with which the war has loaded us we are still borrowing. The Treasurer said that the Government has evolved a scientific method of extinguishing the national debt. I am not satisfied with that method. I do not believe in waiting 50 years to clear off a debt that was created in less than five years. If in regard to the liquidation of our debt we show the- same determination as we did when incurring it, we can get- out of our difficulties as . rapidly as we got into them. The people who were responsible for borrowing that money should stand up to their responsibility to repay it. I have always said that in regard to borrowing we are working in a vicious circle, but until the honorable member for Melbourne submitted his motion no one had attempted to suggest a solution of the debt problem. He has put forward a sane and practicable proposal, which would be approved by the people if they were afforded an opportunity of expressing an opinion with regard to it. The honorable member has proposed that any increase in values from unearned increment during the next ten years shall be used for the extinction of the war debt. Why should not the Commonwealth take all increased - values created by the war ? My family owns a property which was acquired for £625, and which could be sold to-day for £1,200. Why should not the Commonwealth seize that unearned increment of £575 ? I should offer no objection, provided that other property-owners were levied upon proportionately. The Australian people have never been so wealthy as they are at the present time. The continent has enjoyed good seasons, and the w.’ar created high prices for primary produce. Property values have advanced correspondingly. War-created wealth should be drawn upon in order to liquidate war-created debts. Australia should endeavour to set an example to other countries. Apart from that, we have a responsibility to undo what we did during the w air., I belong to a party whose platform provided that the defence of the Commonwealth should be paid for out of revenue. Andrew Fisher, a Labour Prime Minister, was the first to depart from that policy.
– In 1915-6 a Labour Government paid out of revenue for war services only £3,000,000. The balance of the war expenditure came from loans.
– I am admitting that Andrew Fisher was the first to depart from the Labour party’s policy, notwithstanding that some members of the party maintained that wealth should be taxed to pay for the war. When Mr. Fisher submitted his proposal for .a £20,000,000 war loan, he decided to float it in instalments of £5,000,000., so that the Australian community might be able to bear the strain. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) said at the time that it was almost impossible to raise a loan of £20,000,000 in Australia, and, therefore, the then Labour Government was well advised to issue the loan in instalments of £5,000,000. The honorable member said that £20,000,000 could not be borrowed in the Commonwealth without disrupting industry and causing commercial and financial chaos. The Adelaide Register employed the same argument, and said that before the second instalment was required the first £5,000,000 would have percolated back through industry into its normal channels, and be again available for loan to the federal Treasurer. But despite the declarations of stay-at-home field marshals and financial experts, that there was not enough money in the world to finance the war for twelve months, it continued year after year, and the Commonwealth raised loan after loan for war purposes until its borrowings amounted to hundreds of millions of pounds. Notwithstanding the positive declaration of the honorable member for Balaclava and other authorities, the greater portion .of that money was found in Australia. Now, in order to liquidate the debt that resulted from that orgy of borrowing., the honorable member for Melbourne has submitted this motion. Because of the inflated values created by the war, we are justified in adopting a proposal for redeeming the debt by a levy upon those who were enriched by the war. I believe that the honorable member for Melbourne lent to the Commonwealth free of interest such money as he could spare. Why could not the wealthy “patriots “ do that ? I put into war loans one-third of the wealth I possessed - <not voluntarily, but because I was driven by force of circumstances to do so. When I deposited my bonds at the bank, the clerk asked me where I desired the interest to be paid. I replied, “ Pay it back into the Treasury.” And that was done until the patriots of the country kicked me out of my job in Parliament Then, because I could not live on air, I accepted payment of interest. If others had lent their money free of interest the Commonwealth would not have been burdened with this enormous load of debt. The motion submitted by the honorable member for Melbourne expresses the desire of the people who will have to pay this bill. Let there be no mistake as to who those people are. The honorable member for Balaclava gave an illuminating address on one occasion regarding the filtration of taxes through the higher economic and social strata until they rested upon the manual worker. Though he does not realize it, the worker is actually paying the whole of the interest on the war debt. We have had our war ; now let us pay for it. Do not ask our grand-children to carry the burden that their .grandfathers created during the years between 1914 and 1919. Even if the payment of our debts should reduce us to penury, we must be prepared to pay that price. Some of those who were maimed and injured at the war are getting very little benefit out of it, but an added interest payment is being made to those who stayed at home and kept the home fires burning: Sir Joseph Cook, when Treasurer, said that every man who stayed at home and lent his money was a soldier on the home front. The wealthy people took him at his word ; they stayed at home and lent their money, and to-day they are getting their war gratuity . in the form of a “ gilt-edged security “ which is being issued above the Treasurer’s signature ! Those who invested in the “ gilt-edged “ securities never took an ounce of risk. They inflated values, and were twice as wealthy after the war as they were before it. Now the Treasurer, in his budget, proposes to free us from debt in 50 years. Apparently, he does not know what impecunious treasurers can do. He has experienced a succession of good seasons, and has been able to juggle with real values, but let him wait until we. have less plentiful seasons. The Treasurer of that day, when it comes, will say, “We cannot pay the sinking fund contribution.” The Treasurer is merely doing what a Labour Premier in South Australia, Thomas Price, did when he gave effect to that part of the policy of the Labour party which says there shall be no more borrowing except for works that will return interest on capital and provide payments to sinking funds. He applied his first surplus just as the Treasurer proposes to apply the surplus values created by the war and bountiful seasons, placing it in a sinking fund. Subsequently, however, his policy was abandoned. As the “Worker seems to be the Bible of some honorable members, who love to flog honorable members on this side with it, I shall quote from it. I do so particularly for the benefit of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell). I shall ask him, when I have read it, whether he will aver that it is true. Although the passage has no direct bearing on the question whether the Domes- day Book should be prepared, it does show what the wealth of the world is, and how it is being used. It might be judicious for the Commonwealth to adopt a line of policy that would prevent such things as this being said of Australia. I quote from the edition published on the 5th August, 1925, which expresses the quite up-to-date ideas of the editor of that journal. I have no doubt that the article is pasted on the front leaf of the text-book of the honorable member for Fawkner, because it is something he will like to roar at us from the end of the table. This is what the Worker says -
The workers don’t work as strenuously as they would like. They accuse them of loafing on tho joh, of ca’ canny, of going slow, of carelessness, of inefficiency; of hampering the productive processes both by deliberate intent sind natural incompetence.
But the fact is that too much wealth is being created for the well-being of a capitalist civilization.
Staggering as this sounds, you have only to look about you to discover how true it is.
The ease with which tho necessaries and conveniences and luxuries of life are produced has multiplied the idle rich to such an extent, and at the sa-me time has so inflated their possessions, that they constitute a menace to the human race the like of which it hai never known before
– What has this to do with the motion?
– It has reference to the amount of wealth created and the unearned increment, which the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) desires should be recorded in a Domesday Book and used for the extinction of the war debt in ten years’ time. As the honorable member for Fawkner has left the chamber, and as it was for his edification I desired to make the quotation, I shall not flout the Standing Orders by proceeding with it. I hope’ a vote will be taken to test the views of honorable members on this sane, practical proposal to discharge obligations that should rest on this generation and should not be passed on to the unborn millions we call posterity.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Fenton) adjourned.
.- I move -
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that a royal commission bc appointed to take into consideration all the circumstances in connexion with - the dismissal of Colonel James Walker from the position of War Service Homos Commissions ; and that the said commisssion have power to cai! tor persona and papers in connexion with this matter and shall issue its report before thu expiration of the present session.
I Lave a large n mount of matter in support of this motion-, but I shall spare honorable members the infliction of reading it all. It is a little over four years since I last mentioned this subject in Parliament, and during the intervening time I have become still more firmly convinced that the best interests of the. country will be served by appointing the royal commission I propose. There is a great deal more than appears on the surface of this matter, and I make no apology for again bringing the motion forward. I remember you, Mr. Speaker - I think in July, 1921 - saying that in a matter of this sort there were no statutory limitations, which I understood meant that if a man considered himself injured no lapse of time should prevent him from seeking justice. I do not think I can do better than quote from the debate that took place in Parliament on this subject on the 4th April, 1921. I had appealed to Mr. Rodgers, who then represented the Minister for Repatriation in this House, to Sir Joseph Cook, and to the late Senator E. D. Millen to grant a royal commission to inquire into this matter. They all refused the request, and, when I asked them to state the ground of refusal, each of them told me that it was because of the insolvency. Colonel Walker had quite unfairly and unjustly been declared insolvent, for he really owed nothing, and could have obtained a certificate of discharge at any time. He did not apply for a certificate, but the insolvency was annulled, which means in law that it never actually existed. When Colonel Walker applied for the position of War Service Homes Commissioner, the Minister naturally wanted to know something about him. He was referred to Mr. H. Cupples of the
London Bank of Australasia, Brisbane, who replied by telegram, which he subsequently confirmed in a letter addressed to Senator Millen. There has been a great deal of argument about that telegram. Colonel Walker declares,, that Senator Millen saw it, and that it stated that Colonel Walker had been insolvent. Senator Millen said he had never seen the communications from Mr. Cupples. Strange to say, two years afterwards the letter turned up. lt is inconceivable that a letter of such importance, which afterwards necessitated a validating act of Parliament could lie on a departmental file for two years without any one in authority seeing it. When I was debating this question formerly a copy of the Melbourne ‘Herald, just off the press, was handed to me, and in it Mr. D. J. Gilbert was reported to have stated that the memory of Senator Millen was evidently at ‘fault. Although Mr. Gilbert had nothing to ‘do with the War Service Homes Department, he was secretary to the Repatriation Department, and the Minister controlled both departments. The article, which I read in this House at the time, stated - “ I am very loth to say anything at all about the matter,” said Mr. Gilbert, “ but as Senator Millen, Minister for Repatriation, has denied all knowledge of the existence of Mr. H. Cupple’s telegram from Brisbane regarding Colonel Walker, War Service Homes Commissioner, and as Mr. Rodgers, Assistant Minister for Repatriation, blissfully acquiesced while I was being attacked by rash and uninformed members in Parliament as the person responsible’ for any mistake that may have been made, I feel obliged to say a word or two. “When Senator Millen said that he did not sec the telegram in question, his memory must have been a,t fault. I sent put certain telegrams at his request, and when I received the replies I made them available to him, and that not once only. “ That is all I had to do with the matter. The Minister was attending to it himself. …”
In reply to a question as to whether he would care to say anything about the position that the War Service Homes Department had got into, Mr. Gilbert said he would not.
There is much more in the same strain, but I need not read it. When I was speaking on the subject on the previous 12th July, ;the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) said, “Why does not Colonel Walker make a sworn statement?” He did make a sworn statement, which I have in my possession. It is a statutory declaration, dated 19th March, 1924, and signed before a justice of the peace of New South Wales. By making such a declaration Colonel Walker renders himself liable to prosecution if the statements contained in it are proved to be incorrect. It reads -
To wit, 1, Jamas Walker, of “ Eastbourne,” Balfourroad, Rose Bay, Sydney, in the State of New South Wales, do hereby solemnly declare and affirm that -
And I make this solemn declaration, conscientiously believing the same to be true by virtue of the provisions of the Oaths Act 1900.
Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, D.S.O., V.D., seeks to bring before both’ Houses of Parliament the facts relating to the annulment of his appointment of the position of Commissioner of War Service Homes, with the object of his re-appointment by His Excellency the Governor-General.
In 1900-10 Lieutenant-Colonel Walker joined with his co-directors of a mining company in Charters Towers, Queensland, in signing a joint and several guarantee to the Bank of Australasia on behalf of the mining company. Although Lieutenant-Colonel Walker had at the commencementof the war publicly stated his intention to go on active service, and in August, 1014, formed one of the Thursday Island garrison, no proceedings were taken by the Bank of Australasia against him until 13th May, 1.915. At the latter date Lieutenant-Colonel Walker was in camp at Enoggera, Brisbane, as second in command of a battalion then about to embark for Gallipoli, when a writ was issued against him by the Bank of Australasia, as one of the above guarantors, although Lieutenant-Colonel Walker had ceased to have any interest in the mining company. No action was taken by the bank against the other three guarantors, who were then resident in Charters Towers, Queensland. Despite the issue of the writ Lieutenant-Colonel Walker embarked with his battalion, as he assumed steps would not be proceeded with while ho was unable to defend the legal proceedings when on active service. When LieutenantColonel Walker was onGallipoli, and without any intimation tohim, an order for substituted service, instituted by the bank, was served upon his attorney, Mr. Cupples, manager of the London Bank of Australia Limited, Brisbane, and Lieutenant-Colonel Walker was thereupon made insolvent by the Bank of Australasia, although he was, at that time, in a strong financial position, and no attempt was made by the bank to take possession of his assets. The Bank of Australasia was the only creditor who proved against the estate of LieutenantColonel Walker No action could have been taken against Lieutenant-Colonel Walker had the moratorium then been in force. On the return of Lieutenant-Colonel Walker from the war he took steps to have the bankruptcy annulled, and by an order of the Supreme Court of Queensland, dated 14th July, 1919, the annullment was duly made.
If Lieutenant-Colonol Walker had remained at home, devoting himself to his business as a successful builder and contractor, instead of, at great pecuniary loss, yielding his services to his country, he would have contested the proceedings of the Bank of Australasia, and the situation that has arisen would never have occurred.
In March, 1919, the position of War Service Homes Commissioner was created, and LieutenantColonel Walker was an applicant for the position. Inconnexion with this application on 25th February, 1019, the Federal Controller of Repatriation sent a wire to Mr. Cupples, the above bank manager, as follows: -
Lieutenant-Colonel James Walker under consideration for Housing Commissionership under Soldiers’ Homes Act. Senator Mitten will be glad to be favoured with your confidential opinion as to his character and capacity. Unless you see objections, will be glad to have collect wire. To this Mr. Cupples replied -
Your telegram yesterday. Party is brave and energetic. Had long experience building contracts North Queensland. Ability lies in that direction and good with men rather than as an administrator. During absence front was made insolvent under old mining guarantee. Judge expressed sympathy with absentee, whereupon Bank of Australasia discontinued pressure Consider fill outside position admirably.
This wire Mr. Cupples confirmed by letter dated 26th February, 1919.
After receipt of the latter telegram the Minister (Senator Millen) interviewed LieutenantColonel Walker, and produced to the latter the telegram, discussed the same, and ascertained from Lieutenant-Colonel Walker all the facts relating to his adjudication in insolvency and his present position. At the close of this interview Senator Millen informed Lieutenant-Colonel Walker that he would be appointed, and confirmed this statement by a letter to Lieutenant-Colonel Walker written the same day. Lieutenant-Colonel Walker was appointed to the position of Commissioner on 6th March, 1919, and remained in that position administering that department until 11th March, 1921. The appointment was made by the Governor -General on the recommendation of the Minister (Senator Millen)., who, it will be seen, was fully conversant with all the facts relating to the position of Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s insolvency.
During his term of office, Lieutenant-Colonel Walker organized the War Service Homes Department, supplying over 12,000 houses, and his competency, honesty, and integrity were never questioned, although during that term various courts of inquiry and commissions were held on matters connected with the department. Lieutenant-Colonel Walker had attacks made on him owing to his policy to reduce the prices of ma terials, and his manner of dealing with various persons who attempted to exploit the department. During his term he had to light a ring formed against him by various builders for the purpose of fixing high prices, and also to compete with the Commonwealth Bank which had instituted a similar organisation to the War Service Homes for the purpose of erecting similar homes, and thereby duplicating and increasing the cost of materials and labour. These involved duties placed heavy and onerous responsibility upon Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, yet at the time of his dismissal the number of homes that were found to be faulty did not exceed 2 per cent., and these latter were remedied. Despite this record after two years of organization and administration of his department, without any previous noticehe received on1 8th March, 1921, the following abrupt letter from the Acting Minister for Repatriation : - “Dear Colonel Walker,
It having been ascertained (a fact as appears above which was known by those responsible for the appointment at the time the appointment was made) that at the time of your appointment as War Service Homes Commissioneryou were an uncertified insolvent, your appointment as War Service Homes Commissioner is therefore null and void.
It is proposed to make an executive declaration to this effect. Being, therefore, incapable of further acting as War Service Homes Commissioner, you are directed to take no further action in that capacity.
On the same date a letter on behalf of LieutenantColonel Walker was forwarded to the Assistant Minister, setting out the case, to which the Minister replied as follows: -
I am in receipt of your letter of 18th inst., and am taking the first opportunity on my return to the city to-day of replying thereto. I have only to add to my letter of 18th inst. to Lieutenant-Colonel Walker that action was not taken by the Government until after most careful consideration of all the circumstances of the case, and the Government see no valid reason for varying the decision already arrived at.”
Following the procedure laid down in section 11, sub-section (2) of the War Service Homes Act 1918, the Assistant Minister for Repatriation, on 7th April, 1921, made the statement in the House of Representatives then sitting (Hansard, No. 59, page 7288), and in the course of the debate that followed in answer to repeated inquiries directed by Mr. Bamford to the Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) if Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s insolvency was the only reason for depriving him of his commission, Sir Joseph Cook answered that, “He” (meaning Lieutenant-Colonel Walker) “ was distinctly told when the question was considered that the satisfactory “discharge of his duties was not in question at all.”
Attention is drawn to the finding of a royal commission appointed by the present Federal Government in themonth ofSeptember, 1923, for the purpose of inquiring into the contracts for the manufacturing of joineryfor the War Service Homes Department, and which occurred during Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s term. In the finding of the royal commission it was stated - “If the Commissioner (LieutenantColonel Walker) who was duly conversant at all stages with Bradshaw’s intentions, and was very anxious to use Australian timbers whenever possible, had been allowed to pursue the policy thus indicated, the contract would, it seems, have resulted in a large profit to the Commission. Unfortunately, ministerial approval of the proposed sale of the redwood and
Oregon, as ultimately arranged among the parties, was withheld on the ground that the commission should not engage in trading operations.”
During the term of Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s appointment as Commissioner of War Service Homes he received a salary of £1,500 per annum, and although construction of houses lessened considerably, the gentleman who was appointed in his stead received’ a salary of £2,500 per annum, with a board of which the members received a remuneration of ten guineas per day.
In July, 1921, during a debate in the House of Representatives on the War Service Homes Validation Bill, the matter of LieutenantColonel Walker’s dismissal was brought before the House by various members, who pointed out that the Government had the knowledge of Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s insolvency at the time of his appointment. Mr. Rodgers, Assistant Minister for Repatriation, in the course of his reply, stated that the members of the House would have an opportunity given to them later to discuss the matterofLieutenantColonel Walker’s dismissal. This opportunity has so far never been given, and the requests of Lieutenant-Colonel Walker for a royal commission to inquire into his administration and dismissal, have not been granted.
If these sworn statements are not true, the Minister will have an opportunityto take action against Walker, to whom the consequences will be very serious. I believe that a great deal of blame has been unfairly attached to Colonel Walker’s administration. I asked Sir Joseph Cook and Mr. Rodgers when they were in office if there was anything against Colonel Walker besides his insolvency, and they replied in the negative, but it was evident that his ability to administer the War Service Homes Department was challenged. I was told by one Minister that Colonel Walker was exceeding his authority. One charge was that, without ministerial authority, he had bought certain areas of land from Leahy Brothers in Queensland. Unfortunately that speculation proved to be a very unprofitable one. Colonel Walker denies that he was responsible for it.
– Yes. Mr. Barton, in his sworn evidence before the Public Accounts Committee, said he had been sent up by the late Senator E. D. Millen to purchase the land referred to from Leahy Brothers. Another charge against Colonel Walker related to a number of houses which had been erected at Goulburn, in New South Wales. This matter was ventilated in Smith’s Weekly, which paper, I may add, does a great deal of good by the ventilation of public grievances. Colonel Walker is unfairly blamed for many mistakes in the war service homes administration. Whenever the War Service Homes Commissioner is mentioned, people are unable to discriminate between the present Commissioner (Colonel Semmens) and Colonel Walker. I should, not be surprised even if some honorable members present this afternoon could not say who is now filling the position of War Service Homes Commissioner. The following figures show the number of houses built respectively by the War Service Homes Commission and by the Commonwealth Bank: -
Evidence taken by the Public Accounts Committee disclosed that the Goulburn properties which, by the way, were not built by the War Service Homes Commission” but by the Bank, were in a disgraceful condition, and I understand that the commission has issued a writ for £15,000 against the firm of H. G. Kirkpatrick and Sons for faulty workmanship. I am told also that one house built by the Bank at North Sydney is falling down. It is not generally known that Colonel Walker had nothing whatever to do with those cottages. Naturally, he wishes to have his reputation restored. I trust that the Minister will agree to the motion being carried, so that the matters referred to may be investigated. The commission need not be a costly one. The inquiry conducted by Mr. Henchman cost very little. I believe a similar commission to inquire into Colonel Walker’s position would not involve heavy expenditure. This matter has been dragging on now for four years. The Government . has already let him a contract for work at Canberra amounting to approximately £15,000, so that it cannot be said that he is not a competent man. I make the strongest, appeal possible to honorable members to agree to the appointment of a commission so that the whole matter may be ventilated, and Colonel Walker reinstated in the good opinion of the public.
– This is one of the legacies handed down to successive Ministries and successive Ministers, and I regret that it falls to my lot to deal with it. I am sure that those who were associated with the administration of the War Service Homes Department at the time would have been more competent to deal with the matter than I am. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) has been perfectly sincere in his desire to present his case fairly, but the facts as reported to me are somewhat different from his presentation of them. Colonel Walker was appointed the first War Service Homes Commissioner from the date of the proclamation of the act, namely, the 6th March, 1919, but he actually commenced duty a few days previously. He was relieved from duty on the 11th March, 1921, and his appointment declared null and void on the 18th March, 1921. The following statement was made by the then Assistant Minister for Repatriation, the Honorable A. S. Rodgers, in the House of Representatives on the 7th April, 1921 : -
Between the adjournment of the House las’t November and its reassembling yesterday, the Government took . action to declare null and void the appointment of Lieutenant-Colonel James Walker’ as War Service Homes Commissioner, and in support of that action I wish to make a statement.
On the 0th March, as tlie Acting Minister, lor the first time I received information that Lieutenant-Colonel James Walker, at the date of his appointment as War Service Homes Commissioner (6th March, 1919) was an uncertificated insolvent.
Tlie War Service Homes Act provides (section 0) that “ the Governor-General may appoint a fit and proper person to be Commissioner,” and (section 7) that “ a person who is an uncertificated bankrupt or insolvent shall be incapable of being appointed Commissioner.”
On the same day (9th March) I gave instructions for the correctness of the information to be investigated, as, obviously, if the information were correct, Lieutenant-Colonel Walker was incapable of being appointed Commissioner, and his appointment was null and void.
On the 10th March a report was received by the Solicitor-General that Lieutenant-Colonel Walker had been adjudicated insolvent in Queensland on the 25th October, 1915, and had remained an uncertificated insolvent until the 19th July, 1919, when the adjudication was annulled. This report was referred to me on the 11th March.
I immediately communicated the. information to the Prime Minister, who consulted with his colleagues, and the Government decided to take immediate and definite action.
Accordingly, on the 10th” March, I sent for Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, and questioned him on the subject. Lieutenant-Colonel Walker admitted that the facts were as stated, but said that the circumstances of his insolvency were not discreditable to him, and that the facts were known to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator IS. D. Millen) at the time of his appointment, as a telegram on the file would show.
As Senator E. L Millen had not yet returned from the Geneva Conference, the Government decided to take no final action before his return; but immediately granted Lieutenant-Colonel Walker a week’s leave of absence to cover the interval until he would get back, instructing him meantime not to perform any administrative acts, and appointed Colonel J. M. Semmens as Acting Commissioner during Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s absence. I also informed LieutenantColonel Walker that he would bo given an opportunity of meeting Senator ]3. 33. Millen on his return, and making any statement he desired before final action was taken.
Senator IS. D. Millen immediately on his return informed his colleagues and LieutenantColonel Walker that he had never been aware of Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s insolvency, and Lieutenant-Colonel Walker thereupon said that .he accepted this statement.
A,t no time, until questioned on the 10th March last, did Lieutenant-Colonel Walker toke any steps to inform the Minister or any member of the Government of his insolvency.
The Government decided that, on the above facts, no course was open to it but to treat Lieutenant-Colonel Walker’s appointment as a nullity, and at an Executive Council meeting held on the 18th March the GovernorGeneral in Council accordingly declared the appointment to be null and void.
Those are merely the facts and dates relevant to and supporting the action of the Government, and I propose to take an early opportunity to make a full statement concerning the general administration of the War Service Homes Commission, and to announce more fully the Government’s intentions regarding future operations.
There is no doubt that at the time LieutenantColonel Walker’s appointment was terminated his administration was seriously in question, and the Assistant Minister was very dissatisfied with the manner in which the department had been run. In the first half of the financial year 1920-1, Colonel Walker had expended the bulk of the parliamentary appropriation, namely, £6,000,000, and reports had come to hand that a number of houses in several of the states which had been built by the department had been erected at a cost in excess of £S00, the statutory limit of the act.
– He denies that. That is the point that should be settled.
– In view of representations made in the House and elsewhere, the Government approved of the Public Accounts Committee conducting an inquiry into the administration of the War Service Homes Department. That body commenced its inquiry on the 12th October, 1920, and submitted eleven reports, the last of which was presented to the House on the 22nd August, 1923. The final report on the general administration of the department was presented to the House on the 27th July, 1923, and whilst all the reports dealing with the different states show the weaknesses in the administration, some extracts from the final report are sufficient to show that although the task confronting Colonel Walker was a heavy one, there is no doubt that he failed, and was unfitted for the position to which lie had been appointed. In the report referred to, the Public Accounts Committee, composed of unbiased mcn who were prepared to give Colonel Walker a fair deal, stated, inter alia -
The person selected by the Minister for the position had certainly not had the experience, and the committee has been forced to the conclusion that he was lacking in other respects as well. His first appearance as a witness before the committee clearly indicated that he had a very poor grasp of his work, and he had frequently to be prompted by his secretary in matters which should have been well within his knowledge.
There was a grave absence throughout the commision of effective co-ordination of the work and co-operation between the officers.
Some of the contracts for other supplies were less carefully handled. The dealings of the commission in timber with the firm of Messrs. E. A. and . D.. Green, of Footscray, are quite incomprehensible to the committee, even after the most careful investigation.
The purchases of land by the commission were carried out for the most part in a rather haphazard fashion. In some of the states, officers with little or no experience in this class of work bought areas of land far ahead of possible requirements, in quite unsuitable localities.
The building of houses by day labour was very badly managed by the commission. Materials were not always delivered when wanted, nor in sufficient quantities. A foolish instruction took out of the hands of the architects of the commission in the various states the responsibility for the execution of the work. The supervisors were not always well chosen, and even the best of them were handicapped by being given the oversight of more work than they could effectively control.
I do not wish to pursue this matter further, but, according to the facts available, Colonel Walker stated that Senator E. D. Millen knew of his insolvency at the time of his appointment. Senator Millen stated that he had no such knowledge, and a statement to that effect was made to the House. Assuming, however, Colonel Walker to be right, he has suffered no injustice, as, on the report submitted by the Public Accounts Committee, his appointment should have been terminated earlier than March, 1921. The government of the day could not have retained Colonel Walker, in view of the disclosures made by the Public Accounts Committee. The Government has considered the request for the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the dismissal of Colonel Walker, but cannot see its way to agree to it. The facts are quite clear, and, if Colonel Walker’s services had not been terminated on the ground that he was ineligible for appointment on account of his being an uncertificated insolvent, the responsible Minister must have taken action, either then or later, for his removal from office, in view of his incompetency, which unquestionably is shown by the reports of the Public Accounts Committee, which, at the request of honorable members, ‘ considered his case. Question resolved in the negative.
WAYS AND MEANS (Formal).
Old-age Pensions - Sale of Postage Stamps - War Pensions - Coke Importation - Wireless Listeners’ FeesTransfer to Canberra - YassCanberra Railway ‘ - New ‘ Tariff Schedule - Duty on Petrol and Kerosene - Albany-Adelaide Telegraph Line - Artificial Limbs - Sisal Hemp - Amalgamated Wireless Limited - Papuan Products.
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair - proposed.
.There are one or two matters to which I wish to direct the attention of Ministers. While the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) is present, I had better refer to the matter of old-age pensions. I suggest that the proposed increasein the old-age pension should be made payable from the date of the delivery of the budget in which it was announced. It is unfair that the old people should have to wait for the increase in their pension until a bill providing for it is passed. I suggest that when the Treasurer introduces the necessary bill he should date back the payment of the increased pension to the date of the delivery of his budget speech. I trust the honorable gentleman will give sympathetic consideration to that request.
I wish to refer now to a grievance in connexion with the administration of the Postmaster-General’s Department, which I thought had been remedied ; I refer to the refusal of the department to grant licences for the sale of postage stamps. I understood that the order for the cancellation of licences had been withdrawn. I have received serious complaints on this subject from people in my electorate, residing at Bacchus Marsh, Sebastopol, and Daylesford.’ Some of these people have been’ selling postage stamps for 40 years, and one of the places referred to, at Sebastopol, is 1 mile from the post office. These people are making nothing out of the sale of stamps. Their service in the matter is like giving change for £1, but the permission to sell stamps on commission was of great convenience to the public. I cannot understand why they are not permitted to charge a commission on the sale of stamps. Daylesford is a tourist resort, and there is a post office there, but tourists, who visit the town in thousands, go to a news agent’s shop to purchase picture post-cards of the surrounding scenery, and purchase stamps at the same time. It is questionable whether the cost to the department of providing for the sale of stamps by other persons will not amount to more than the commission which used to be paid to people given the right to sell stamps. I hope that this grievance will be promptly remedied.
I have some references to make to the grievances of returned soldiers. I arn sorry the Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse) is not present. I understand that he represents the Minister for Repatriation, but on reference to Hansard I cannot find any mention of a Minister for Repatriation. ‘ The work of the Repatriation Department is carried out in a most haphazard manner, and .there is no Minister in control of it. I have appealed to the present Minister for Defence, but have received no more satisfaction from him than I did from the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), when that honorable gentleman was in charge of repatriation matters. I continue to receive the old reply. The officials - of the department turn a case down, and that is the end of it. I have a case before me of a man who has two children and is expecting a third. He was gassed at the war and suffered from strained muscles, and he spent six months in a hospital in France. He is now suffering from bronchitis, and his local doctor^ Dr. Hardie, has no doubt that his bronchitis is due to the effects of gas. We know that gas affects the lungs and that bronchitis is a lung complaint, and it is reasonable to assume that this man is suffering from bronchitis because he went to the war and was gassed. He is receiving for himself a paltry pension of 7s. n week. He cannot do laborious work, and the family have sold practically every stick of their furniture to enable them to carry on. I made an appeal to the Repatriation Department to grant this man at least a living allowance to tide the family over their trouble, but I might just as well appeal to a stone image as to the present Minister in charge of the Repatriation Department. Every time I go to Ballarat the wife of this man calls at the Trades Hall to know if anything is being done to assist the family. We get the reply from the department that bronchitis is not one of the effects of the war, but honorable members need not be doctors to know that when a man who was gassed at the war suffers from bronchitis the disease is a result of his having been gassed. I hope that Ministers will take a little more interest in the Repatriation Department than they appear to do. I mention another case of a man who applied on the 9th July for a living allowance, and though this is the 20th August, he has so far received no satisfaction. He wrote again on the 1st of August to know what was being done in his case, and received a letter dated the 11th August, informing him that his case was being considered. It took (he department ten days ho acknowledge receipt of a letter asking what was being done. That is not a fair deal for a man who volunteered to go to the war.
– Did he communicate to the department through the honorable member? He should have done so.
Mr. McGRATH. ~,No, he wrote directly to the department. I can assure the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) that a man is likely to get as much satisfaction from a direct appeal to the department as from an appeal through the member representing the district in which he resides. I do .not know of a single case in which the Minister has not followed the recommendations of officials. The whole of the difficulties arise from the way in which returned’ soldiers making claims upon the department are examined, if a man cannot, point to a specific war injury the examining doctors say that his disability -is not due to the war. These men were in good health .when they were accepted for service, many of them are now- unable to do a hard day’s work, .and they should be treated more sympathetically than they are. I have another case of a widowed mother who lost her boy at the war. She was getting a pension of £1 per week from the Repatriation Department, but as soon as she received the invalid pension the Repatriation Department reduced her pension by 7s. 6d. per week. I understood that the payment of invalid or old-age pensions was not to affect in any way the payment of war pensions. I appealed (o the department in this case with the usual result. I complain of the delay in the Repatriation Department in replying to correspondence, and generally of the treatment of returned soldiers. The whole matter was thrashed out last session, and the Government appointed a royal commission of expert doctors to go into the question of their treatment. Months ago the commission reported that certain repatriation benefits should be conferred upon returned soldiers, but that is the last we have heard of its report.
– I understand that the Minister for Defence intends to make an announcement on the subject to-night.
– He has been a long while thinking about making an announcement. No one desires that the department should be over-generous to returned soldiers making claims upon it, but certainly examining doctors, if they have any doubt in a particular case, should give the returned soldier the benefit of it. A doctor may say that the bronchitis from which the first man to whom I referred is suffering is not due to his war service, but the fact remains that he was six months in hospital in France. He was badly gassed, and the gas will have a lasting effect upon him. He cannot do laborious work, and, as I have said, a paltry 7s. a week is all that a grateful country gives to a soldier, who suffered and bled for it. I hope that the Minister concerned will give sympathetic consideration to the representations I have made.
.- I shall occupy only a few moments in referring to a matter of great concern to an important industry of the Commonwealth; I refer to the large importations of coke. I am sorry that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) is not present. Two or three weeks ago I received communications from representatives of coke workers in the south coast district of New South Wales, asking me to ascertain from the “ Minister the quantity of coke imported during a period of twelve or eighteen months, and the countries from which it was imported. I wrote to the department on the subject on the 24th July, and I have here a letter from the Minister for Trade and Customs in which he states -
I am in receipt of your letter dated 24th. July, 1925, relative to your desire to be furnished with certain information regarding imports of coke, and in reply desire to advise you that the imports of coke into the Commonwealth during the twelve months ended 30th June, 1925. were 28,840 tons, of a recorded value of £56,255. The recorded value is the invoice price, plus 10 per cent. Details of the imports from various countries during the whole of the period mentioned above are not immediately available, but arrangements have been made for a statement, setting out the desired particulars, to be forwarded to you as soon as the necessary returns shall have been received from the collectors of Customs in the various states.
The letter I quote is not dated, but is about a fortnight old, and up to the present I have received no further information. This letter continues -
Particulars of the imports for the six months ended 30th June, 1925, are appended -
It will be seen that the duty charged on imported coke is small when compared with the duty on many other imports. The coke industry on the south coast of New South Wales is practically . out of existence. Most of the coke-ovens are closed down. Hundreds of men are out of employment, and those who are working work only one shift a day, or half or quarter time. The position will not improve while large quantities of coke are being imported into this country. I question whether the whole of the 1S,000 tons of coke imported from the United Kingdom is really the product of that country. It is quite possible that a large quantity of coke is purchased in Germany at a low cost and shipped to Australia as a British product. The duty is light, and, in consequence, our coke and coal industries are suffering seriously. It will be interesting to know whence the whole of the imported coke comes. The Department of Trade and Customs may not yet have the figures available, although I asked for them fully a month ago. Our base and key industries must be firmly established if this country is to develop on sound lines. We should do everything possible to encourage the coke industry by imposing a heavy duty upon the imported article. Because of mass production in Germany - and of the development of so many subsidiary industries there, coke has become an important by-product of that country, and is therefore sold at a very low price.
The Tariff Board should certainly deal with this matter, and I ask the Minister to take action to ensure that our coke industry is adequately protected by the imposition of a substantial duty upon imported coke.
.- I intended to speak on the Administration of Repatriation, and to support in general terms the remarks of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), but, as the Minister for Repatriation is absent from the chamber, I shall defer my remarks until the Estimates are before us.
I wish to direct the attentionof the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) to the subject of wireless broadcasting, and to protest againstthe excessive fee charged for listening-in. I know that the department has agreed to make a small reduction, but if a comparison is made between the income received by the department from this source, and the subsidy paid to the broadcasting companies, one can only regard the business as a form of profiteering. In reply to a question asked early this session the Postmaster-General admitted that £34,628 19s.1d. had been paid to Farmer’s broadcasting service, and £12,000 to Broadcasters Limited. It is time that the Government made a larger reduction in the fees. As a listener-in I consider that the distribution of these fees is inequitable. As I have said, Broadcasters Limited received £12,000, and Farmer’s broadcasting service £34,000. The programme of Broadcasters Limited is of greater quantity than and of equal quality to that of Farmer’s, and it seems grossly unfair that this arrangement should be continued. 1 should like the Minister to inform the House whether, in the event of further stations being established in New South Wales, it is proposed to allow them to participate in the distribution of the licensing fees. The present fee has been the subject of considerable public protest. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) today asked a question concerning the news broadcast from Brisbane. There should certainly be some regulation of the information broadcast by the various stations. The news broadcast from the two Sydney stations is very often charged with political bias, according to the channel from which it is derived. As the public pay a licensing fee to the Commonwealth Government for these services, news only, and not political comment or other matter likely to influence the public mind politically, should be broadcast. I do not object to the broadcasting of speeches, provided that privilege is extended to the various parties. During the recent New South Wales election both Government and Opposition leaders were allowed to broadcast their campaign speeches. A purely propaganda station, for whose service the public would pay no licence fee and to which it would be optional to listen-in, would be in a category entirely different from stations such as Farmer’s, Broadcasters, 3LO, and others. I should like to hear from the Postmaster-General whether there is any possibility of securing a further reduction of what I consider to be the excessive licence fees.
– For some time I have advocated an increase in the old-age and invalid pension.
– Why did not the honorable member vote’ for the increase in 1923, when he was a member of the Cabinet?
– The honorable member knows what was the condition of the finances in 1923. The proposal was coupled with a vote of censure the carrying of which would have produced a change of government. I said then that it was better that the old people and invalids should have a pension of 17s. 6d. than that, as an outcome of the vote, there should be no pension at all.
– At any rate, the Nationalist Government raised the pension from 15s. per week provided by the Labour Government to 17s. 6d. per week.
– The Labour party desired to increase the pension to £1.
– The honorable member is not justified in discussing business that appears on the Notice-paper.
– The Treasurer indicated in the’ budget speech that the pension is to be increased to £1, and I am merely asking him to let the old people know when the increase will be paid. I am told that no definite date has been fixed. We should have regard to the expectations that have been inspired in the pensioners by the Treasurer’s announcement. I have no desire to trade upon the old people, as do. some honorable members opposite, who, with their tongues in their cheeks, ask why the pension is. not increased to £2.
– The pension should have been increased to £1 long ago.
– Unfortunately it could not be increased, and honorable members opposite did not press for a payment of £1 ger week. I quite understand that they are merely writing political placards, bub surely to God the old-age and invalid pensions will not be made a party question. If Labour members really believed that the pension should be £1 per week, why did not they propose that amount.
– We voted for an increase to £1 per week.
– Honorable members voted for it, knowing that it could not be carried. They were merely electioneering. I invite those honorable members who have so much to say about increasing the pensions to publicly discuss the matter with me. I am- prepared to pit my record in this regard against theirs. I do not claim that I have an exclusive interest in this matter, but I ask honorable members opposite who first introduced this pension in the New South Wales Parliament and here, and which government made it law ?
– The Deakin Government, when the Labour party forced it to do so.
– When members of the Labour party do anything they take to themselves all the credit. If their opponents do something that is right and proper Labour members claim that they forced them to do it. I ask the Treasurer to declare definitely when the increased pensions will be paid.
– In December next.
– I do not think .that any honorable member desires that the payment of the increase should be deferred so long. I hope that the Government will make an announcement also in regard to the date when this Parliament will meet at Canberra. We have waited a quarter of a century .to occupy our own legislative home, but there are still many people in. Victoria who would like to postpone the transfer for another 25 years. Every possible- delaying device is being employed by them. The provisional Parliament House is almost completed, and it could be ready for a ceremonial meeting of Parliament early in the new year. It would be appropriate for Parliament to meet in its new home at Canberra on the 26th January, which is Anniversary and Foundation Day.
– Has the honorable member any idea of the probable cost of such a formal meeting?
– The honorable member is a Tasmanian, and a member of the Works Committee, upon which there is one supporter of Canberra and eight opponents. Having regard to the opposition with which the advocates of Canberra have had to contend it will be a miracle if we get there at all. The Victorian efforts to delay the transfer may be a compliment to honorable members; if so,. I do not appreciate it. Despite the resolution of this House in favour of the provision of direct railway communication between Canberra and Yass, the Public Works Committee has repeatedly declared its opposition to the project.
– Putting aside that railway proposal, how has the Public Works Committee obstructed the development of Canberra?
– Of nine members of the Committee, only one is in favour of Canberra.
– The others are not necessarily opposed to it.
– The fact remains that they are antagonistic.
– Because we would not recommend the expenditure of £750,000 upon a railway that would not pay axle grease !
– What about the OrbostBombala connexion?
– I strongly favour that connexion, and will help it in every way possible. The honorable member will attend to his own affairs. “The chairman of the Public Works Committee and his chief henchman say that they are not necessarily opposed to a thing because they vote against it. What else does their action mean ? As tins Parliament deliberately promised to build a railway from Yass, via Canberra, to the sea, that promise should be honoured. The question is not whether the railway will pay, but whether the promise to build it shall be honoured, and whether the honouring of it is essential to the progress of the Capital. I know that the railway is a nasty pill for some honorable members to swallow, but I believe in calling a spade a spade. I hope that we shall carry out, not only this, but all our promises about Canberra. I know something of the proposed railway from Orbost to Bombala, and would like to see it built shortly. It would pay immediately. The policy of a large number of honorable members is “Canberra in our time,” but the policy of some honorable members who have been interjecting is “ Canberra in the dim, distant future, if ever.” I have no sympathy with a committee that will oppose a proposal tha,t Parliament has agreed to. That proposal was agreed to before any reference was made to the Public Works Committee. A quarter of a century ago it was decided to establish a federal capital, and after many inspections of sites Canberra was selected. The subject was discussed in this House, and it was decided that the new capital should be linked up with the existing railway and with the seaboard. That was over twenty years ago, before any reference was made to the Public Works Committee. It should now be the business of the Public Works Committee to expedite the work iv every way possible. The people of New South Wales expect the promise to be honoured. Why was the seat of government first located in Melbourne? The answer was given twenty-five years as;o.. It was placed temporarily in Melbourne to console the Victorians for the future permanent establishment of the capital in New South Wales. The matter having been determined, it is more than time the work was carried out. There are only four members in this Parliament of the 75 members of the first Federal Parliament. The promise, though made a long time ago, should be honoured. We ought as far as possible to abandon state prejudice, but we shall never do so- while the parochial attitude disclosed to-night is persisted in. It is due to the people, not only of New South Wales, but also of Australia, that we should- move to our eternal home, as I call it, as soon as possible.
– I have a complaint to make that should meet with the hearty support of the majority of honorable members, but before voicing it I mention, in passing, that if a proposal is made from either side of this House to pay old-age pensioners their increased pensions at the earliest possible date, it will receive wholehearted support from this side.
My grievance is about the unconscionable delay that has taken place in introducing the tariff schedule. I do not know whether that delay is due to wrangling in the composite Ministry. There may be one or two items upon which, the Ministry cannot agree’, and if that is so, the Government should submit the schedule ki two’ parts. What has been the result of the delay ? The matters to be dealt with in the schedule have been investigated by the Tariff Board. One of the principal reasons for creating the Tariff Board was bo protect Australia’s industries. The board was to be always on the spot to make recommendations to Parliament through the Minister, so that succour could be given promptly to languishing industries. It has been making investigations for two or three years, and every importer knows practically all the evidence submitted, and the Ministry’s intentions. There is, therefore, all tho more necessity for introducing the tariff schedule immediately. One result of the delay will bc that some traders will have to go through the ruinous process of competing for two years with others who have imported goods under a lower schedule. Importers’ warehouses are almost bursting with some of the .goods that will be dealt with in the schedule, and the country will be flooded with them as soon as the schedule has been passed. It would appear that the Government is in league with the importers. There is no excuse whatever for the delay. In a composite government, such as is in office at present, there must be a sacrifice of principle on both sides, if members of the Ministry have such things as principles. On tariff matters one-half of the Ministry is pulling one way, and the other half the other way. I do not know whether the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) is using his influence with his section of the Ministry. I should like to know what in- fluence is at work. “Hie excuse thai the Government is waiting for some details from the Tariff Board will not hold good.
– The honorable member must know that it is too dangerous for the Government to introduce a tariff schedule so near to the elections.
– It has promised to introduce a new tariff and. to give relief to Australian industries. It is time this House demanded some expedition in the matter. I regret having to say it, but I believe that, the meagre tariff schedulethat will be introduced will be of little avail in creating employment, or even in retaining in employment those at present employed. Perhaps the Minister for Customs is now arguing the matter with the Treasurer. Why does not the Prime Minister, who calls himself a protectionist, insist upon the schedule being introduced? 1 am a member of the Opposition, and what I say will have very little influence with the Government, but those who vote to keep the Government in power are as responsible as the Government itself for the delay. I am’ glad that the day is not far distant when each of us will be called to account, and. when sentence will be pronounced upon those who have not done their duty in protecting Australian industries. I do r:.Ot know how much longer we shall have to wait. Almost with bated breath we saw the Treasurer, when he was making his budget announcement, turn over n few folios, and we expected that he was about to anticipate, to some extent, the announcement of the Minister for Trade and Customs. Are there any protectionists on* the other side of the House?
– Then let us hear from the honorable member.
– The honorable member will do so by and by.
– Which will be when our industries have been ruined. We have a country overflowing with raw materials, and we ought to be manufacturing all our requirements; yet we have a Treasurer who rejoices because the revenue- tariff is pouring millions into his coffers. The present tariff is not protective, and this country would be better off without it. I have restrained myself in patience as long as I could, but the delay is getting beyond human toleration. I hope that the Government will introduce this overdue schedule next week. I do not know the fiscal faith of the Minister for Defence (Sir Neville Howse), a nd I Iia ve not heard the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Atkinson) express his views on the subject, but I have a suspicion that the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson), the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill), and Ministors in the Senate, are responsible for the delay, which ig_ one of the many penalties this country has to pay for having a composite ministry. It ici impossible to have efficient government under present conditions. I say without fear of successful contradiction that the formation and continuance of this government is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the political history of the Commonwealth, and I believe that as soon as the people have an opportunity to assert their will, thy ranks of the Government’s supporters in this House will be decimated. The Minister for Trade and Customs, I observe”, has returned to the chamber. I should like to think that he had brought the tariff schedule with him. Why is it being held back ? What influence is at work? I am afraid that the importers know as much us the Minister about the promised schedule. What has become of the pronouncement made by the Minister, when, as a private member, he sat ‘ in the corner near where the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) is now sitting’! In those days he thumped his desk, and declared in no uncertain language that the industries of Australia must be given adequate protection without delay. He has been Minister for Trade and Customs now for a considerable time, but has done nothing. As a matter of fact he has forfeited his right to be called a protectionist, because he is now .in league with freetraders of the Country party. As the son of a fanner, and as one who has worked on a farm, I say it is quite a mistake to suppose that the farming sect.iou of the community - I speak, of course, of the working farmers, not of the squatters who have always been freetraders - have any liking for freetrade.
Some of the’ strongest protectionists in Australia are men who are engaged in rural pursuits.
– And now they are realizing the absurdity of the policy.
– I do not agree with the honorable member for Swan. The working farmer of to-day is just as sound a protectionist as he was in the days of Graham Berry.
– But you have never had the courage to put that in your policy.
– I believe in the new protection. If the people will not give my party power to put that policy into operation I shall, on every occasion, vote to protect the Australian manufacturer from the encroachments of the foreigner. Manufacturers in my division, and in many of the provincial centres of Victoria, are suffering from lack of adequate protection against outsiders. If the Minister will now stand up to his professions of protection, he may save himself politically. We should insist upon a complete analysis of the tariff schedule. The Tariff Board has been investigating certain proposals for over two years. Consequently the importers have a very shrewd idea of what is going to happen, and have made preparations accordingly. If members of the composite Cabinet cannot agree upon all the items of the proposed new tariff schedule, they should introduce that part of it upon which they are agreed. They should not allow Australian industries to suffer simply because of the difficulty of getting an agreement in Cabinet. I shall harass the Government on this subject until the Minister introduces the tariff schedule which is so long overdue.
.- I also have a remark to make concerning tariff proposals, but from a slightly different stand-point from that of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fen ton). I refer to a request to the Tariff Board by the BritishImperial Oil Company, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries, and John Fell and Company, on the 4th August, to fix a duty on kerosene and petrol imported in cases and tins. Under the present tariff kerosene is duty free. The firms I have mentioned have asked members of the Tariff Board to recommend a duty of 2d. a gallon on all kerosene im ported in cases. At present petrol is dutiable at½d. a gallon under the British preferential tariff, and1d. a gallon under the’ general tariff. Their request is for a duty of l½d. per gallon British preferential, and 3d. a gallon in the general tariff. I have no fault to find with a protectionist policy that is likely to help legitimate industries in Australia, though I may not be quite as enthusiastic on this subject as the honorable member for Maribyrnong. These firms argue that if the proposed duties are imposed, considerable employment will be provided for Australian workmen in canning and casing bulk kerosene and petrol. Honorable members representing country divisions remote from the capital cities of the Commonwealth have received protests against these proposals. I am not going to say that they are perfectly understood.I am stating the complaint that has been voiced with the object of obtaining information. I have no doubt that every honorable member has received literature from the British Imperial Oil Company on the subject. This company states that £250,000 is lost to Australia annually through the importation of petrol and kerosene in tins and cases. In a special letter to me and to other Western Australian members, because of telegrams from the primary producers’ associations throughout Western Australia, the company points out that the intention is to erect bulk stores in all the capital cities, and that insteadof prices being increased, they will be reduced 3d. per gallon in bulk. This would be very acceptable if we could believe it. I should be in favour of the proposal if that were likely to be the outcome, but logic makes me ask why the companies mentioned have approached the Tariff Board if the imposition of the duties mentioned will mean cheaper petrol for consumers in Australia. They are very careful to emphasize the advantages of these bulk stores. What does this mean ? It means, of course, that while petrol may be cheaper to consumers in capital cities, people living in country districts and in the outback areas, being obliged to purchase their requirements in cases and ti ns, will have to pay the increased price. I have every faith in the Minister for Trade and Customs. I believe that, although a very busy man, he will focus his attention upon this important proposal. I hope that he will insist upon a guarantee being given that if the requests be agreed to higher prices for petrol and kerosene will not be levied on consumers in country districts. If it is necessary to impose a duty upon kerosene and petrol imported in cases and tins to establish the packing industry in Australia, it seems to me that the only way to safeguard the consumer is to make some arrangement whereby the material required for cases and tins may be imported duty free. I am very much afraid that, unless some such precaution is taken, there will be an increase in the price of petrol and kerosene to country consumers in the interior of Australia.
There is another matter ofconsiderable importance to which I desire to direct attention. I have been advised unofficially that, owing to the heavy cost of repair work, it is proposed to abolish the overland telegraph line between Albany and Adelaide, and to erect two wires along the east- west railway line to carry the present traffic. Telegraphic communication between Western Australia and the eastern states was established in1876, repeating stations being established at Albany, Israelite Bay, Eucla, and Fowler’s Bay. If the existing AdelaidePerth line is dismantled and communication made along the east-west railway route, it will mean that instead of having two lines as at present, one by way of Albany, and another from Kalgoorlie through Norseman and Balladonia. we shall have only one. There have been occasions during cyclonic storms in Western Australia when the line between Coolgardie and Balladonia has been blown down. The same thing has happened in connexion with the line from Albany to Eyre, but on no occasion have both Hues been affected simultaneously. If this proposal is carried out, we shall have to depend on one Line only.
– Would the new proposal mean that the line on the coast would be remo ved ?
– That would be the case. In that event there is the possibility of telegraphic communication between Western Australia and the eastern states being cut off at in tervals. Even if it cost £10,000 to renew the line from Eyre to Albany, it would be better to spend that amount and have a duplicate line than to take down the existing line. The costof the upkeep of the. existing line is not very great, as the staff at Esperance, Fowler’s Bay, and Eucla consists of only four telegraphists and four linesmen. I trust that the Government will effect any necessary repairs to the existing line, and allow it to remain. A. further reason for the retention of this line is that that portion of Western Australia which, from a pastoral point of view, has been largely overlooked, is now receiving attention. That area, and the portion of South Australia between Fowler’s Bay and Eucla., would be severely handicapped if the line were removed. During the last twelve months several parties have inspected this area with a view to taking it up for pastoral purposes. As it has been’ ascertained that water is obtainable there, the country can be profitably occupied ; but if the telegraph line is taken away, an incentive to its development will be removed .
– When the Estimates for last year were before the House the sum of £5,250 was provided to obtain plant for the manufacture of artificial limbs, made from a material known as duralumin. This is a very light materia], which, during the war, was used in the manufacture of aeroplanes, and since it has also been used in the manufacture of artificial limbs. I understand that it was the Government’s intention to establish the main plants for themanufacture of artificial limbs at Sydney and Melbourne, with subsidiary plants in the other artificial limb factories in the Commonwealth. In reply to a question the other day, the Minister for’ Defence informed me that artificial limbs made of duralumin would be available, to amputees early in the new year, but that the limbs would not be constructed wholly of this material ; the wooden socket, or bucket, for thigh amputations would be retained, as well as wooden feet. No mention was made of artificial limbs to replace arms or of below-knee amputations. In addition to being a very light material, duralumin possesses a peculiar toughness, so that limbs made of it are not liable to wear out to the extent that wooden limbs do. Experiments have shown that duralumin buckets, or sockets-, for thigh amputations are better than those made of wood. I recognize that artificial feet must still be made of wood, but I hope that buckets for thigh amputations andlimbs for below- the-knee amputations will be made of duralumin. The date mentioned by the Minister as that when duralumin limbs will be available is still five or six months ahead, or about eighteen months after the approval by Parliament of the expenditure necessary for the purchase of the plant to make them. Possibly this delay is capable of explanation, but these limbs should have been available before this. Many amputees are continuing to use their present artificial limbs in the hope that others of the new material will soon be available. I visited the artificial limb factory in Melbourne last week to ascertain what progress was being made in the installation of the plant for the manufacture of these limbs, and found that the work was very much behind. The manager of the factory, himself an amputee, is doing all that is possible. If the manager is hampered through lack of staff, or of material, or plant, I appeal to the Minister to make good the defect, so that artificial limbs made of duralumin may be made available at the earliest possible date. There are about 3,000 returned soldiers still using artificial limbs of a design which was decided upon in the early days of the war. Australia has not taken advantage of the improvements in these limbs which have been adopted by other countries. I appeal to the Minister to ascertain the cause of delay, and to expedite the delivery of artificial limbs made of duralumin.
– I shall look into the matter.
– I wish to refer to a matter which should be of great importance to Queensland and to Australia generally. I refer to the sisal hemp industry. On the 13th instant I asked the following questions: -
The replies that I received were -
I desire to point out to the Minister that sisal hemp is grown in Central Queensland, at Bajool, about 23 miles from Rockhampton. This industry would be suited to the tropical parts of Australia, and, moreover, the plant can. be grown in inferior soil, and is drought-resisting. I suggest that the Tariff Board be asked to inquire into the question with a view to the Federal Government granting a bounty to assist the industry for a number of years. A large sum of money goes out of Australia every year for the purchase of this material, whereas if it were grown here, an industry which would absorb a number of additional settlers would be established Some years ago the Federal Government granted a bounty of 10 per cent. on the value of the fibre grown in Australia, up to £6,000 a year for nine years, in an endeavour to establish the industry. Prices then for this material were much lower than they are to-day. A large plantation was started at Childers, in Queensland, but the land was too rich for the production of this fibre, and it is now devoted to the production of sugar cane. An attempt to establish the industry at Port Moresby was also made, but, although the plantation flourished for a time, it failed through inefficient management. This is an industry in which dairymen, cotton growers, and others following in agricultural pursuits may engage as a supplementary crop. After four years the plant can be utilized for the manufacture of hemp. Except for about 40 acres near Bajool, in Queensland, the whole of our sisal hemp requirements are imported. The farm at Bajool has been worked spasmodically only. There are several varieties of the sisal plant, the best of them being one named Agave Rigida Var Sisalana,. though all the species which were introduced into tropical Queensland flourished. Various species of sisal were introduced into Florida, the West Indies, Papua and German East Africa, in all of which the industry was successfully established. Mr. P. McLean, at one time Minister for Lands in Queensland, introduced it into that state. He obtained plants of the variety known as A gave Rigida Var Sisal ana from the Bahamas, where the Germans in East Africa, who quickly realized the value of the plant, also obtained their requirements. The plant was successfully grown in Queensland, at the penal establishment at St. Helena, where it yielded excellent results. It was distributed from St. Helena to a number of districts, and among other places, to the plantation at Bajool. The importations of sisal hemp, and of New Zealand flax, into Australia during the five years from 1916-17 to 1920-21 were as follow : -
One advantage of the sisal hemp crop is that it can be grown without any care. On the tropical coastlands of Queensland its cultivation can be carried on successfully. The plant does best on poor, rocky, dry, gravelly soils, rich in lime. It is estimated that sisal hemp is worth £40 per ton, and presuming that it would yield a ton per acre, a man might make a fairly good living in Central Queensland from a 40-acre farm devoted to its cultivation. The difficulty of obtaining suitable machinery for the treatment of the plant has been one of the obstacles in the way of the industry. I brought under the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) the fact that it was impossible to get suitable machinery in .Australia for the purpose, and I think he met my wishes with a view to assisting the present owner of a farm in Central Queensland, to which I have referred, to secure the special machinery required for dealing with the fibre. In view of the information I have given I hope the Minister will have the matter considered by the Tariff Board with a view to a decision as to -whether it is advisable to grant a bounty to encourage the growing of sisal hemp. As one who has inspected the Central Queensland farm, I believe there is a good chance of making its cultivation a flourishing industry in Queensland, thus giving employment to a considerable number of men.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Sir Austin Chapman), for whom I have a very great respect, was, I think, unfair in charging certain honorable members on this side with opposition to an increase of the old-age pension.
– I never said anything of the kind.
– The honorable member referred ‘ to the honorable member for Denison (Mr. 0’Keefe). and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) as having opposed old-age pensions. I believe that the increase in the pension should be paid immediately. The Government should pas3 a bill as soon as possible, and make the increased pension available from, the date of the introduction of the budget at least. The old people have ‘had a very bad time during the last .few years. The pension they have been receiving has been absolutely inadequate, and in the winter months many of them have had to depend for clothing upon the charity of their friends. I want to remind honorable members that on the 10th August, 1923, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) moved an amendment to the Estimates to the effect that the amount of a proposed vote should be reduced by £1 as an instruction to the Government to increase the old-age and invalid pensions to £1 per week. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Sir Austin Chapman), who was then a member of the Government, said that there was no money available for the increase proposed, although I now find the surplus that year was £7,4.75,000 as against a surplus of £4,000,000 for the financial year just closed.
– Is the honorable member seriously suggesting that I should move a vote of censure and throw the Government out.
– If the honorable gentleman meant business, and put the oldage and invalid pensioners first, he should, as a member of the Cabinet in 1923, have induced the Government fo increase the pension to £1 per week as- the
Government now proposes to do as a result of the agitation of Labour members on this side of the House. When the amendment moved by the honorable member for Reid was put the following members on the Government side voted against it:-
– Who voted for it?
– The following members voted for it : -
It will be seen that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who was at the time a member of the Government, voted against the amendment to increase the pension to £1 per week. What happened last year? I moved, on the 10th September, 1924, that the amount of a proposed vote on the Estimates be reduced by £1 as an instruction to the Government that the oldage and invalid pensions should be increased to £1 per week. The Government had another great surplus that year, but when the amendment was moved excuses were made by the Treasurer for refusing to grant the increase. The following members voted for my amendment : -
The following members voted against the amendment proposing the increase:-
In the last two years members of the Labour party have moved amendments to secure the increase of the invalid and oldage pensions to £1 per week, and honorable members on the other side, including the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, have voted against those amendments. On the first day of this session the honorable member put a motion on the notice-paper proposing an increase of the old-age and invalid pensions to £1 per week, in order that no honorable member on this side could make any reference to the subject. He now waxes eloquent and indignant at the apathy of the Government in not bringing forward the increase at once. I refer to the matter to show old-age and invalid pensioners who their true friends are. Many of them do not understand the action of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro in getting his notice of motion dealing with the matter on the business-paper on the first day of the session. Ihave received letters fromconstituents asking me if I will support the honorable member. They really thought that he desired to increase the amount of the pension. I replied to their letters by telling them the attitude of the party on this side on the matter, saying that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro voted against the increase of the pension in 1923 and 1924, though he now wishes to make it appear that he favours the increase. The honorable gentleman says that he does not desire to make political capital out of his support of the increase, and he will not therefore object to my putting on record the facts of the case. It is as well that they should be recorded in Hansard.
– I support the suggestion that an Oldage and Invalid Pensions Bill should be introduced right away, and the increase in the pension made retrospective to the date of the introduction of the budget. Old-age pensioners have seen in the newspapers that the pension was to be increased. They- have been expecting the increase, and have asked honorable members when they are to get it. If. it was not the intention of the* Government fo pay the increased pension immediately, the Treasurer should not have mentioned the proposal to increase it. The present pension of 17s. 6d. per week is of no more use than was the pension of 12s. 6d. per week when that amount was being paid, because the cost of living and house rents have gone up and pensioners have a hard struggle to exist at present. I ask the Treasurer to make the statement that the Government intend immediately to introduce an Old-age and Invalid Pension Bill to bring the pension up to £1 per week. I am sure that no member of the House would offer any objection to such a measure. There are one or two anomalies connected with the payment of old-age pensions to which I should like to refer. If a man and woman have a home of their own, and through circumstances over which they have, no control are compelled to leave the district in which their home is, the fact that they let the home deprives them of their pension, notwithstanding the fact that they have themselves to pay rent in- the place to which they have gone That was surely not intended by this Parliament. These people have struggled to obtain a home, and they should .not be penalized if, for health and other reasons, they have to leave it to reside in another district. Sometimes a husband deserts a wife. He may be in another state, and because he is earning’ wages, although contributing nothing to the upkeep of his wife, she is debarred from obtaining a pension. I know of men who have been pensioned from the railway service. Having paid into a pension fund they have received, on retiring at 60 years of age, a small pension of 30s., and for that reason are debarred from an old-age or invalid pension.
– They have been good citizens all their lives.
– Yes, and because they have been thrifty are penalized when they become old. Honorable members have many such cases brought under their notice. They are investigated, and the officers of the department say”, “What can we do; we know it is a genuine case, but the act prevents us from paying the pension.” I ask the Treasurer to do all in his power to remedy these anomalies. I ‘happen to represent part of a large manufacturing district, and I can assure the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) that the delay in putting the amended tariff schedule on the table has greatly inconvenienced manufacturers, who cannot sell their goods, and in consequence thousands of people are being deprived of their means of livelihood. Under the present tariff, owing to changes that have taken place in Europe and the exchange rate, a 30 per cent, duty is not worth 15 per cent., and, in consequence, Australian manufacturers cannot compete against the large foreign importations. If we are protectionists let us give protection. I am not in favour of protection for every article. I do not favour a duty on kerosene or petrol because they are not produced in Australia. It is no excuse for the Minister to say that he is waiting for the report of the Tariff Board ‘ before he takes action. Former Ministers amended the tariff without the assistance of the Tariff Board. The present Minister knows as much about the tariff as does the Tariff Board. He knows the condition of industries, and he should place the amended tariff schedule upon the table of the House, so that manufacturers may be guided in their operations. I commend the men who have put money into many of our secondary industries. I recently visited the Davis’ gelatine works at Botany. That firm is pioneering, and should receive every encouragement. The same remark applies to other industries. I had the opportunity of inspecting the hosiery works of George Bond and Company, and also their new works for the production of cotton goods. These firms cannot exist unless they receive assistance through the Customs. I agree with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) that the mere fact of the GovernorGeneral’? Speech containing the announcement, that the Government would revise the tariff has caused a large increase in imports which will have to be disposed of before the revised tariff will have any effect at all. I ask the Minister to give the House the assurance that the tariff schedule will be laid on the table of the House next week. The
Labour party must protest against delay. The revision of the tariff will, no doubt, be the last business of the session, and the sooner it is on the table the better it will be for the people, and for those de:sirous of establishing new industries. The House should know the Government’s policy regarding the payment of bonuses to assist industries. I am in favour of a bounty to assist the production of power alcohol, but I do not wish to vote foi’ a bounty for one industry when another industry more deserving receives no consideration at all.
.- I wish to say a few words about the Government’s interest in a company known as Amalgamated Wireless of Australia Limited. I understand that the Government holds a controlling interest in that company, and is therefore responsible for its policy and activities. It controls a very large number of wireless patents. The broadcasters who are operating in Australia must necessarily use instruments which involve the use of some patent owned by Amalgamated Wireless Limited. It is accordingly necessary for the broadcaster to obtain a licence from the company. I am informed that when broadcasters apply for a licence for some particular apparatus that they may be using, Amalgamated Wireless Limited will not consider the application, but will offer them a licence to use any one of 145 patents which they are told they can take or leave. If the broadcaster asks, “ Am I using any of them,” or “Which of them am I using” the company refuses to state which patent or invention owned by it is used by the broadcaster. Wireless inventions are so complicated^ intricate and involved that it is quite impossible, from a practical point of view, for a broadcaster to ascertain how many of the patents he is using. Accordingly Amalgamated Wireless Limited, in which the Commonwealth Government has, I believe, a controlling interest, is in the position of holding broadcasters to the terms of the company without there being any means of their ascertaining whether a fair charge is being made. It appears to me that conduct such as this is unworthy of the Commonwealth, if it is in any degree responsible for it. If broadcasters are using inventions which are protected by patents owned by Amalgamated Wireless Limited, it is proper that a royalty should be paid for those patents, but it is unfair to complicate the matter in the manner which is often adopted by holding companies that are formed for the exploitation of patents. We know what is .done in certain fields of manufacture. A company controls so many patents that the public is at a great disadvantage in using any of them, and therefore has to accede to the company’s terms, which may or may not be justifiable as a matter of business. The matter demands inquiry.
– What are our directors in this company doing?
– There are directors of the Commonwealth on the board of the company, and I suggest that inquiries should be made by the responsible Minister to ‘ascertain whether the information that I have disclosed to the House is accurate. If it is inaccurate I have nothing to say, but if accurate I submit that the present procedure is unworthy of the Commonwealth and “ought to be changed.
.- The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) is to bo commended for placing the action of the Government respecting old-age pensions in its true perspective. This Government with its overflow^ ing coffers has on the eve of an election agreed to increase by 2s. 6d. a week, the old-age and invalid pension. It is only fair that Ministers should’ make the payment of the increased pension retrospective from when the budget was introduced. In my opinion, the payment of the old-age pension is hedged round with too many restrictions. A pension payable to any citizen should be payable to all. I do not believe in a charity dole. If the richest in the land cares to claim the pension, he or she should be entitled to it. At present the restrictions, in many instances, are irksome and trying. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) gave one or two illustrations of anomalies under the act. I know of one case: that is under consideration by the department in Adelaide. The claimant, an old man, has asked that I should be present when he is re-examined. In the original claim that he made out is a question asking if the claimant has any money owing to him or in the bank. He wrote down that he had 10s. in the bank. At one time this irian and his family owned a house. His wife .died, and he sold the house and put the proceeds, about £300, in the Bank of New South .Wales, on fixed deposit. During the war a friend of his lost a son at the front. This war widow purchased a house* and appealed to this man for a loan of £200. He lent it to her free df interest, and for a time she paid him back in instalments. Recently no- instalments have been paid, and, of course, this man has nothing to live upon. Unfortunately, he did not notice the question on the original claim, and when called upon by the magistrate to make a statement he candidly admitted his position. I am informed that he would have been prosecuted had it not been, for a clerical error of the department. This old man cannot obtain either his £200 or the pension. On the other hand, if a man acquires a house worth from £600 to £900, and lives in it, both he and his wife can draw a pension, and the value of the house is not offset against it. That is a grave anomaly, which the Government will remove if it desires to be just. The honorable member for Capricornia referred also to the inmates of institutions. Sons or daughters, especially if they are rearing a young family, should not be expected to keep, their aged parents in their homes, but when the old people are put into institutions of a certain character their pension is withdrawn. I know of one old man who entered an institution controlled by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Not. only did he lose his pension, but his sbn had to pay. 5s. per week in addition to the amount of the pension - 17s. 6d. - which was withdrawn for his father’s maintenance. The same practice is followed in connexion with the. Minda institute, in South Australia, for weak-minded youths and girls. There axe other government institutions bo which the Commonwealth pays a certain amount for each pensioner inmate, but the amount allowed to the pensioner is reduced to 3s. per week. I visit frequently the consumptive sanatorium in South Australia. It is a very depressing place, because every inmate is practically under’ sentence of death. The inmates have instituted a comforts fund, and I know that the 3s. a week received from the Pensions Department is quite inadequate. I suggest that the difference between the -full pension of £1 per week and .the amount paid to the institution should go to the pensioner, to be expended by him for his own comfort as he thinks fit. If that is done, the administration will be, if not generous, at least just. I welcome the decision of the Government to increase the pension to £1 per week, but I am glad that the honorable member for Capricornia. (Mr. Forde) has shown whence has come the driving force which brought the Government to that decision.
Some time ago I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) whether he proposed to amend the tariff in order to give greater assistance to the producers in Papua. When I visited the Territory I was told, as no doubt other honorable members have been told, that the producers cannot get any consideration from the Commonwealth in regard to the admission of- their products to the mainland. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) referred to the growth of sisal hemp. I visited a hemp plantation, covering about 2 square miles, in the vicinity of Port Moresby. Because the growth of this crop was found to be unprofitable, the plantation has become a neglected wilderness, but the hemp is - growing luxuriantly and is of excellent quality. I was informed that although sisal hemp could be grown extensively in Papua, and considerable quantities are imported into Australia, yet the Commonwealth gives no fiscal help to producers in the Territory. The same complaint is made in regard to rubber, cocoa, cotton, coffee, and suga’r. I .understand that the best variety of cane grown in Queensland was obtained originally from Papua, and that the rubber, industry cannot be developed because it is unable to .compete in the Australian market against the product of blacklabour countries. Papua receives from the Commonwealth no assistance to become a self-supporting, much less, profitmaking, dependency, but I hope that the Minister for Trade and Customs will honour his promise to give further consideration to the producers in that Territory when he submits his proposals for the amendment of the tariff.
Question resolved in the negative.
Bill presented by Mr. Pratten, and read a. first time.
Bill presented by Mr. Pratten, and read a first time.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message).
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act 1911-1924 by the provision of a rural credits department.
Standing orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Bruce 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 this bill be now read a second time.
Last year the Government introduced a measure to enlarge the foundation and constitution of the Commonwealth Bank in order to make it a truly national institution, and to convert it into a bank of issue, discount, reserve, and exchange. This year, on that broadened base, the Government desires to build a rural credits department to still further increase the bank’s importance and usefulness to the community at large. During my recent trip abroad I found that in both New York and London the Commonwealth Bank Act of last year was regarded as the greatest advance ever made in the banking history of Australia. This bill proposes a further advance, the importance of which cannot be over-estimated. On the one hand, the measure may be described as the charter of the farmer. It aims to give the organized producer freedom to control his produce during the whole period of its distribution throughout the year. On the other hand, the bill may be described as the insurance of the consumer. It provides a means whereby the consumers themselves may, if the producers neglect to do so, build up a reservoir of the necessaries of life and regu late their distribution at an even volume or pressure throughout the year. This will eliminate many avenues of waste, and lessen the spread between producer and consumer. The bill makes this possible by installing for the first time in Australia financial machinery adapted to the special circumstances of agriculture. The Government will not operate that machinery - action and initiative on the part of the producer must set it in motion. No government aid will be sought or given; transactions will be strictly on a commercial basis. The individuality and enterprise of the producer, not the Government, in future will control the disposal of his produce. Agriculture is the foundation of our whole economic and business structure. If agriculture prospers, and the farmers and the others who derive their incomes from the land are able to purchase freely, all business is prosperous. When they are in serious difficulty, and are unable to maintain their buying power, all business shares in the consequent blight and general distress. Unemployment and depression then attack every city calling. The recent period of depression in America, which crippled agriculture first and afterwards spread throughout the nation, brought this fact home to bankers, manufacturers, and business men in every part of that country, and forced a greater realization of the dependence of all industry on the stability of agriculture and allied industries. Even a cursory review of the position in Australia indicates that the basic business of the Commonwealth is the production of agricultural commodities and their distribution at home and abroad. Primary production last year accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total for Australia, namely, £270,670,000 out of a total of £382.208,000. In other words, primary products constituted 96 per cent. of the exports from Australia. Thus there is no more suitable subject to which the Government can direct its attention than that of assuring that our agricultural industries - the main basis of our wealth - shall be properly financed. Every improvement in this direction will affect beneficially the whole field of industry. Two considerations indicate that a sound condition of agriculture is a matter of the first moment not merely to the agriculturist, but also to every section of the community, and to no section more than to persons employed in secondary industries and those engaged in transportation and distribution. The general well-being of the wage-earner depends very largely on two things. The first is the absence of any great fluctuations in his effective wage-rate; the second is regularity of employment to ensure the continuous receipt of that effective wage. The absence of any great fluctuations in his effective wage-rate depends on the absence of any excessive fluctuation in the prices of the necessariesof life which consist almost entirely of products from the land. Such fluctuation is best guarded against by the primary producer aiming always to produce more than is sufficient to provide for local requirements. Then, if any unforeseen disturbance takes place in the way of droughts, excessive rain, or adverse climatic conditions, there will still be sufficient for local requirements. There would be no dearth or famine, causing a jump in prices. If the requirements of the country require that there shall be a surplus so as to maintain a regular effective wage-rate, surely there is an obligation on the nation as a whole to assist the producer in the profitable disposal of the surplus. If that profitable disposal needs the elaboration of new methods or new machinery of finance he should be able to look with confidence to the community to see that they- are provided. The second main factor in the well-being of the worker - regularity of employment - depends on the orderly buying of manufactured goods. The orderly buying of these goods, especially by the producer, depends on the maintenance of - a more or less continuous and constant purchasing power, which, in the case of Australia - where wealth, as I have shown, is so largely drawn from our raw products and where exports almost entirely consist of these - must be based on the orderly marketing of our basic agricultural products. Anyone who has seen the difference that dairying, with the monthly cheque paid to the dairyman, has made in the. whole business outlook and prosperity of the country towns dependent upon it, as compared with the old days when they depended upon the one crop a year, cannot fail to be impressed with this truth. The big cities and big manufacturing towns are ultimately just as intimately related to the welfare of the producer as are the country towns. Continuous and regular employment in the cities depends largely on the continuous and regular purchasing power in the country. That continuous purchasing power will best be obtained by the regular and orderly marketing of the farmers’ production. Any method that can be devised to help to ensure this orderly marketing of our basic agricultural products deserves the support of every one who has the welfare of the community and the nation ‘ at heart, This fact is appreciated all over the world. The movement for a system of rural credit that will permit orderly marketing seems part of a world-wide development growing out of the requirements of modern agriculture. Failure to provide such a system might not only prejudice the position of the rest of the nation in connexion with the two abovementioned benefits, but might interfere with our ability to compete in the markets of the world with other countries that have established such a system, because in those markets continuity of supply is one of the factors that will assist us in holding our trade. Last year the Government carried certain acts to facilitate and assist orderly marketing in several of our primary industries. To ensure the permanent value of this legislation and to extend its benefits to all primary industries, some changes are needed in our financial system to support the work that has been Monte. The Australian financial system, like that of most other countries, has apparently been based on the expectation that the farmer will sell his crops as soon as they mature. The immediate sale of the season’s produce by the farmer contemplates its being carried by the middleman until distributed to the manufacturer, retailer or consumer. The important feature of such a system is that the destination of the crop passes immediately out of the control of the farmer as soon a3 it is harvested and its ownership changes. It can then be utilized in any way. It can be utilized in speculative transactions that may damage the price of the whole of the crop. This, of course, must ultimately be reflected in the price of other producer’s crops or even of the next crop. This speculative action may have been taken against his expressed will and desires. Th6 outstanding feature of the farmer’s industry is that his crop is harvested in a short time, but is consumed oyer the whole year. Our processes of financing him, then, should adjust themselves to this natural process of production and distribution. We have reached the point where the need for the- orderly marketing of agricultural products must be frankly recognized, and an effort made to provide the necessary financial machinery. Existing banking facilities must be adjusted, if necessary, with this end in view, and especially to make it possible at all times for co-operative marketing associations, which permit of the continuous ownership of the crop by the producer, to obtain adequate funds for their operations in the direction of orderly marketing. The necessity, for this has been felt already in Australia. Attempts have been made to overcome it by direct Treasury advances in the case of the Producers’ Wholesale Federation, and the Port Huon Co-operative Company, and by guarantees in the case of certain pools. These at best are spasmodic efforts. The realization of a definite principle is needed by the establishment of a permanent organization that will operate on a commercial basis without regard to the political aspects, and will always be available. At the present time the basic business of Australia is the production and distribution of agricultural commodities. The system of finance for the manufacture of raw materials into the finished goods and for the export of manufactured goods - which is practically the position with which British finance has come to concern itself and which the British banking system, of which the Australian system is more or less an out-growth and an imitation, is designed to meet - is not entirely suitable for a country mainly dependent on agriculture. The operations just mentioned are continuous. They are more or less regular in volume over the whole year. The operations of agriculture are quite different in their nature. At the present time an extra good ‘ crop increases the difficulty of financing, it tends to tighten up credit, forces upon the market an abnormally large volume of products and sometimes even capital stock in an unusually short period of time, and may make a bounteous season a curse instead of a blessing to the producer. What is necessary is that we shall establish some machinery that will render financial assistance applicable to the essential requirements of agriculture. We frequently find that under the present system the production of a bumper crop renders the financing of it more difficult. As already indicated, credit is tightened up. We had an experience of this last year in connexion with the wool clip. We had an exceedingly good clip, with an- expectation of big prices, but that very fact tended to generate a condition of fear and lack of confidence in the community which was only overcome by the prompt action of the directors of the Commonwealth Bank in making advances to the associated banks to enable them to handle the wool business. It may be urged that the present system has carried us on for a long time, and consequently is satisfactory, and that the condition of agriculture in Australia is such that the industry needs no special treatment; but several things indicate that it is very unsatisfactory. We have only to look at the difficulties experienced in financing our various crops, especially the major crops, during the last three years to realize that it is most unsatisfactory. If we look at the relative increase in the number of producers to the total population we see that the conditions are at any rate not sufficient to encourage agriculture. The figures of the census of the last ten years indicate that the number of persons engaged in manufacturing industries increased roughly at the same rate as the general Increase in population, that is, 21 per cent. ; that those engaged in transportation and distribution increased at a rate of 50 per cent, greater than the general rate of increase in the population - actually 30 per cent.,- as against 21 per cent. - and that primary producers increased by only 9 per cent., or less than half the total rate of progress of the population as a whole. Actually, in relation to the other industries of Australia, agriculture retrogressed in respect of- the number of persons engaged in it, although it did not retrogress in the matter of production, because of the extra work done and the better methods adopted. This relative retrogression -took place despite the fact that very big efforts had been made by both the Federal and State Governments to help to settle people on the land. Up to the present some £77,000,000 has been spent by Federal and State Governments on the resumption of estates and in land settlement schemes, including soldier settlement schemes. A good deal of financial machinery has been built up in that connexion, but solely in relation to capital charges, and having no application whatever .to ordinary marketing. The finance for the immediate disposal, of a farmer’s crop has been provided by three agencies - the banks, the selling agents, and the storekeepers. Of course, the banks do not like farmers’ accounts as much as they like ordinary commercial accounts. They are not as active or quickmoving as the others. When a buying agent buys a fanner’s crop it immediately passes out of the hands of the producer.. The storekeeper carries the farmer while he is selling the crop in the ordinary regular way, but because his business is not that of banking, he must make certain charges either by increasing the price of his goods or by increasing his interest rate for the assistance he has given. A substantial improvement was made by the transformation of the Commonwealth Bank last year into a central bank, especially by making it a bank of issue and re-discount. This made it possible to have an increased elasticity of the currency for seasonal requirements, just as is done under the Canadian system of note issue or under the federal reserve system of the United States of America. But the Canadian and the American experience shows that something more is necessary than simply the provision of a central bank to deal with the question of the orderly marketing of our crops, especially for the national handling of them in the most efficient and economic way. If we are to have that better handling of the huge asset we get from the land, we need behind the present institution some reserve borrowing agency to handle, not the whole of the crop, but that part of it which is not handled at the present time by the existing institutions, to take the strain off our national finances, and particularly to give to the producer a feeling of confidence that he can market his crop in a proper way. In America an attempt in this direction has been made by the provision of a federal intermediate credit system, while Canada has at the present time an investigation in progress as to the best means of covering what is described as “ the barren area of credit “ for this purpose of regular marketing, which is not covered by the banks on the one hand or the loan companies on the other. The period referred to is the time between the selling of the crop immediately after, harvest and its ultimate distribution. I think every one must agree that, considering the importance of agriculture to the community, it is entitled to as first-class means of financing as is enjoyed by any= other industry or calling in the country. t That it is not in that position at the present time is proved by the fact that, when we have tried by means of the pools we created to secure a certain degree of orderly and regular marketing, in every case during the whole period of the existence of those pools they found themselves forced to come to the Government to get a guarantee before the existing financial institutions would undertake the responsibility of financing them. And despite the fact that for several years that, assistance was given, we still found that it was not nearly sufficient, because those who were conducting the pools were not in anything like the position occupied by some of our competitors.’ This is proved by the following criticism of Australia which appeared in an American report on the Danish dairying supply in the English market : -
From all other countries except Denmark there is a seasonal export. The English retailer supplies his customer with New Zealand and Australian butter in winter, but in the summer he must change to butter from the northern countries. This change involves risks and speculative elements which are ultimately charged to the marketing costs. Denmark can supply her English customers the whole year round, which fact, together with their uniform standard of quality, makes it easier and cheaper for the merchant to handle Danish butter than the butter from, any other country. The result is seen in the constant difference in price between Australian butter and Danish butter.
This statement of an impartial observer is striking testimony of, the importance of the matter and of the necessity for Australian action. Before outlining the Government’s plan to put Australia into as good a position as other countries .to deal with this matter, it is worth while examining what is being done by other countries in somewhat similar circumstances to our own, especially the United States of America, and also to analyse the present position at which Australia has arrived. In Europe, before the war, the finances of agriculture were largely arranged by co-operative banks, formed by the farmers themselves, as the ordinary commercial banks found difficulty in gauging the credit of the small farmer by personal knowledge, and did not find the account very attractive in itself. The work was done, therefore, by such institutions as the Raffeisen system of banks, or by rural credit societies in Germany, the Credit Agricole in France, or by various modifications of these in other European countries. It is noteworthy that in France the Government considered the question of the provision of agricultural credit of such importance that, when the charter of the Bank of France was renewed, in 18P6, the Government inserted certain new conditions to assist the formation and functioning of rural credit organizations. An annual subsidy of a certain fixed portion of the yearly profits of the Bank of. France was provided to assist the organization and formation, of these rural banks. The Bank of France was also required to advance 40,000,000 francs to the Government, free of interest, for use in subsidizing these organizations. The effect of the action of these institutions in Europe has been a double one. First, a credit system has been established to meet the essential requirements of the agriculturist, and, secondly, there have been secured for him rates of interest consistent with the security of his business. Agricultural security has been shown by the operations of these organizations during many years to be of the best possible character. Consequently, the interest has been at low rates. In times of national stress it has often happened, as in Germany, that the rural banks have been able to issue bonds at a less rate than even the Government itself has found possible. All these institutions were in operation for many years before the war, and part and parcel of the national life, and have not been interfered with by the war or its reactions. The condition of these countries, however, is to some extent different from that of Australia. It is worth while to examine more closely’ the position of newer countries having similar problems. In the United States of America, very little action towards securing this form of agricultural credit had been taken prior to the Great War, and during the war the business of the farmer suffered complete disorganization.
As in Australia, his goods were commandeered, their prices fixed, and special methods of finance became necessary to deal with his produce during that time, and especially during the period of dislocation that ensued after the war. During the war exports of all products were, to a large degree, financed by government loan. When the war ceased, the loans also ceased. It was necessary then to create some kind of agency to take their place in order to ensure the continuance of the flow of exports. The War Finance Corporation, which had been created for the purpose of handling exports during the war period, was then used as a reconstruction agency. It carried on its work as an emergency machine up to the beginning of last year, but its work was found to be so valuable that an organization of a similar nature has been given a permanent place in the financial machinery of the United States of America by the passing of the Intermediate Credits Act for the specific purpose of ensuring the orderly marketing of American products. The effect of the War Finance Corporation and of the federal intermediate credit system in stabilizing prices and assisting the orderly marketing of exportable goods has been out of all proportion to the capital employed and the goods it controls. To illustrate its psychological effect, it is worth while examining the way in which it operated in the case of one of the great exportable commodities of the United States. Cotton compares with the balance of the raw products of the United States of America as wheat or butter compares with the total of Australian raw products, and perhaps it is the best example to take, because, though a large proportion is used at home, a substantial percentage is exported. In 1921, a peculiar situation was encountered. Not only did European buyers lack funds to buy the bulk of the year’s supply shortly after the harvest, as had been their custom in the past, but they were unwilling to do so, because of the fluctuations in exchange. They preferred to. take the chance of having to pay a higher price later on for a portion of their needs rather than take the risk involved in buying ahead large quantities of cotton that would have to be paid for in American dollars, and sold in European currencies. They therefore changed their method, and adopted the policy of buying more or less on a hand-to-mouth basis, and spreading their purchases over a longer period. This meant that approximately 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 bales of cotton that ordinarily would have been exported in the first six months of the cotton year, had to be carried over to the second six months, and financed and stored during that time. The burden of carrying this cotton was thus transferred from the European buyer and financier to the American grower and his bank. They were not equippedto meet the emergency, because they had depended largely on others to take care of the time element in marketing the crop, and had developed no adequate machinery for taking care of it themselves when changed conditions made it necessary for them to do so. The point that I wish to stress is that to stabilize the market it is not necessary to ensure the orderly marketing and financing of the whole of the crop, but only of a percentage of it. Care of a substantial percentage of the crop creates confidence, and ensures orderly marketing, especially when it is understood that orderly marketing, and not speculative holding, is the real policy. The Congress of the United States of America was so impressed with the work that had been done in this connexion by the War Finance Corporation that it gave the corporation authority by the Agricultural Credit Acts to make advances to banking institutions and co-operative marketing associations for any purpose connected with the growing, harvesting, preparation for market, and the marketing of agricultural products, or for the breeding, raising, fattening, and marketing of live stock. It fixed the maximum amount of loans that might be outstanding at any one time for both agricultural and export purposes at £200.000,000, or $1,000,000,000. Inside three months loans for export and for agricultural and live stock purposes were granted to the extent of $650,000,000. As the result of their experience with this system during the following two years, a definite conviction was arrived at that the processes of financing should be made to adjust themselves to the natural processes of production and distribution, rather than that the processes of production and distribution should be forced to adjust themselves to systems of finance created entirely for commercial and industrial purposes. With this object in view, the Federal Intermediate Credit Banks were created as part of the system of agricultural finance, and were placed under the control of the same executive which controlled the Federal Farm Loan Banks. Thus the Federal Reserve Bank system provided for the discounting of short term paper, and the Federal Intermediate Credit Banks, as their name implies, were designed for the purpose of supplying intermediate credit for the farmer. In Australia, government assistance to the marketing of our products has been along no definite lines. There have been guarantees to compulsory pools and to voluntary pools, and there has been assistance to pools which were not pools at all like the fruit pools. There have been advances to industries. The outstanding feature of all these methods has been the arbitrary amount fixed by way of advance when the Government came into the matter. As well there has been continual uncertainty as to whether government aid would be available at all. Approach to Parliament at any time is a risky matter the issue of which cannot be foreseen. Conditions unfavorable to the producer might easily be insisted on by a chance political majority. The only healthy state of affairs is that in which the producer is able to look after himself and arrange his business on regulated commercial lines. Last year the Government acted on this definite principle in its export control legislation, which put the control of the exportable surplus in the hands of the industry itself if it thought fit to organize. . To enable this principle to be applied generally throughout industries, machinery must be available by which organized industries could automatically secure the necessary finance on a commercial basis. The Government believes that this can be done by the claims of the various industries being examined on their merits by an impartial commercial institution -without any political consideration at all. The most valuable assistance that the Government can give agriculture is to institute a sound and permanent system of finance which is generally applicable. At the present time long-dated mortgage loans for land purchase or capital improvements are handled chiefly by savings banks, insurance companies, land mortgage companies, rural banks, &c. The actual financing for the immediate disposal of the farmers’ produce can be dealt with satisfactorily by trading banks. What is necessary is provision of machinery for the orderly marketing, and, if necessary, the holding of the farmers’ products not for speculative purposes, but to improve and regulate the process of distribution, thereby safeguarding the interests of both producer and consumer. That such machinery does not exist, or if it does exist, does not function in Australia is demonstrated by the experience of the Western Australian voluntary pool la3t year. Following the advice of the Federal Government to make themselves, as far as possible, independent of government control, the farmers in the state of Western Australia attempted to form a voluntary pool with free finance. Without a State Government guarantee, the financial obstacles in Australia were found to be insuperable, because the conditions were intolerable and unacceptable to the farmers. The farmers persisted, however, in their pooling scheme, but to get the necessary finance were finally compelled to enter into an agreement with a financial organization in England. Even when these arrangements were made, negotiations with the Commonwealth Bank and other banks to bring moneys out from England occupied a considerable time, and caused much vexation and uncertainty. At length the Australian banks agreed to provide the exchange, and the wheat was moved. Difficulties, such as these, and the necessity of relying on oversea institutions, will be avoided when the machinery provided by the new bill is established. The bill before the House is designed to arrange the necessary assistance. Briefly, the Rural Credits Department of the Commowealth Bank is to be distinct from all other parts of the bank, and its funds are to be provided in the following way. The Treasurer may lend the Rural Credits Department up to £3,000,000, and 25 per cent, of the net annual profits of the Note Issue Department is to bt- paid into the Rural Credits Department until the amount so paid reaches £2,000,000. This will, of course, not provide sufficient funds, and the bill, therefore, provides that the bank may raise money by the issue of debentures up to an amount which must not exceed at any time the amounts advanced by the Rural Credits Department on primary produce, or four times the amount of the aggregate of the following sums, namely: - (1) Sums lent by the Treasurer; (2) Moneys paid from profits of the Note Issue Department; and (3) Half of the accumulated profits of the Rural Credits Department. The limit of the debentures is to bo the greater of the amounts just indicated. The dates for the redemption of the debentures shall be arranged so as to coincide, as nearly as practicable, with the dates at which advances made by the Rural Credits Department are repayable. The general bank also may make advances to the Rural Credits Department. Incidentally these short term debentures will help to form a short loan market in Australia. The advances to be made by the Rural Credits Department shall be made on the security of primary produce placed under the legal control of the bank. These advances may be made to the general portion of the Commonwealth Bank, to other banks, to co-operative associations, and to such corporate or incorporate bodies as may be specified by proclamation. No advance may be made for a period of more than one’ year. In lieu of making the advances referred to, the Rural Credits Department may, on behalf of any of the institutions indicated, discount bills secured upon produce placed under the legal control of the bank. The assets of the Rural Credits Department shall be available, firstly, for meeting the liabilities of the department other than loans made to it by the Treasurer, and secondly, for repaying those loans. The profits of the Rural Credits Department are to be dealt with as follows : - First, one-half is to be placed to the credit of the Rural Credits Department Reserve Fund ; and, secondly, onehalf shall go to the credit of the Rural Credits Development Fund, to be used in such a manner as the board directs for the promotion of primary production. The operation of the bill is best seen by a practical illustration, and, therefore, I shall submit a statement showing exactly how last year’s Victorian Voluntary Wheat Pool could have been handled under this scheme. The experience of the Victorian Wheat Pool shows that, . in addition to the corporation’s funds, assistance would have been required on the basis provided for in this bill as follows : -
For 7 months, £100,000.
For 6* months, £100,000; progressive total, £200,000.
For 6 months, £150,000; progressive total, £350,000.
For 4J months, £250,000; progressive total, £600,000.
For 4 months, £500,000; progressive total, £1,100,000.
For 3J months, £400,000; progressive total, £1,500,000.
For 3 months, £250,000; progressive total, £1,750,000.
For 2) months, £250,000; progressive total, £2,000,000.
For 2 months, £250,000; progressive total, £2,250,000.
For 1£ months, £250,000; progressive total, £2,500,000.
For 1 month, £250,000; progressive total, £2,750,000.
As will be seen, the maximum provision required in Victoria would have been £2,750,000, and then only for one month, for handling 15,000,000 bushels. Under the bill now presented, debentures could be issued for the amounts and the periods indicated. It will be seen that the periods are of very short duration. The maximum amount of debentures issued, which would only be outstanding for one month, would be £2,750,000, reducing down to £200,000 in respect of wheat pooled of the value of £4,500,000. The debenture holder would be safeguarded by the aggregate of advances by the Treasurer, and the capital and reserve of the Rural Credits Department in addition to the value of the wheat. It has to be remembered, too, that the general credit of the Commonwealth is behind all the liabilities of the Commonwealth Bank. This is true of the Rural Credits Department as well as of all other departments of the Commonwealth Bank. In view of this, the interest’ payable on the debentures should be at the cheapest possible rate, and, of course, this would be reflected in the interest charged to the producers. The real value of the pools is to place the collective credit of the industry behind the individual. The machinery of the bill is designed to enable that to be done. Its operation is certain to stimulate the growth of cot-operation generally amongst producers. The widely spread benefits to the community of such co-operation have been shown. The machinery provided in this bill, if brought into operation with export control machinery of a similar nature to that provided for butter and dried fruits last year, will permit the producer to obtain all the advantages of a compulsory pool as regards his exportable surplus, at the same time that complete control remains in his own hands. The objection to compulsory pools under Government control has always been that, if the Government makes the advance, it takes the right to fix prices and conditions for local sale. The present machinery will permit the farmer’s ideal to be realized of complete control over export by the industry itself, without Government interference. He will be in this position, because he will be dealing with a financial institution on a commercial basis, and not with a Government asking for political favours. Advances may be made by the rural credits department, upon the security of primary produce placed under the legal control of the bank, to the. bank or other banks ; to co-operative associations formed under the law of the Commonwealth, a state or a territory under the authority of the Commonwealth; and to such corporations or unincorporate bodies, formed under the law of the Commonwealth, a state or a territory under the authority of the Commonwealth as are specified by proclamation. Any organization that likes to form itself into a body sufficiently substantial will be able to get these advances. I trust that my explanation of this bill has manifested its necessity, and the nature of the help which the Government desires to afford our primary producers. I have tried to show that the principles that are involved in its constitution are not revolutionary, but are matters of course in many countries. Australian experience for the last ten years indicates urgency and necessity. The beneficial results of this legislation will not be sectional, but will be reflected throughout the entire community. It will tend to re-establish’ a proper balance between agriculture and other industries and to foster mutual interests. I commend the bill to the House as an integral part of our national financial machinery, which will tend to keep our finances stable, our financial arrange- ‘ ments effective for the work to be done, and our producers confident that they cai work out their own destiny under their own control.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Charlton) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.57 p.m. -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 August 1925, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1925/19250820_reps_9_111/>.