10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 11a.m., and read prayers.
-Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to make an announcement as to the fate of the H.M.A.S. Sydney concerning which I asked a question about a fortnight ago ?
– During the last few days the Government has given very careful consideration to the future of the Sydney. It recognizes clearly the sentiment that surrounds the vessel, in view of the fact that itsank the German raider Emden, and also because our first battle cruiser H.M.A.S. Australia had to be destroyed in accordance with an international obligation. The Government has determined that the Sydney shall be retained for the present, but as to the use to which it will be put I am not yet able to make a definite announcement.
– In an address to the members of the Millions Club in Sydney on Wednesday last, the Comptroller of the Bank of England, Sir Ernest Harvey, referred to banking matters, and said, according to a report in the Argus -
In the stand of some people towards the the Commonwealth Bank, I see signs that it is looked upon simply as a means of making money, and to provide for certain classes of business, which are adequately provided for already.I do not believe that that is the path of wisdom.
Later, he stated that he had had several conversations with the directors of the Commonwealth Bank, and he was glad to say that they shared his views. A few days ago we were told that Sir Ernest Harvey had been brought to Australia to report on the Commonwealth Bank, and it appears from that statement thathe is prejudiced against the system of banking for the conduct of which this institution was established. Have these remarks been brought under the notice of the Prime Minister?
– I have read the newspaper report to which the honorable member has referred. Apparently Sir Ernest Harvey was expressing his private opinion to the members of the Millions Club. I told the House a few days ago that Sir Ernest Harvey had been invited to Australia to advise upon the establishment of a system of central banking with the practice of which we are not familiar in Australia.
– He is already condemning the methods of the Commonwealth Bank.
– It is upon a system of central banking that his advice has been sought, and in regard to that he is well qualified to express an opinion. The general conduct of the bank is a matter for determination by the directors in pursuance of the policy laid down by this Parliament.
– Sir Ernest Harvey says that the directors agree with his views.
– That is a mere expression of opinion. It is for the directors of the bank and the Commonwealth Parliament to determine upon what principles the bank shall be conducted.
– Will any report and recommendations made by Sir Ernest Harvey be available to honorable members ?
– I am unable to say.I do not know whether the report will be of such a confidential character that publication would be inadvisable, but if it is possible to make it available to honorable members the Government will arrange for that to be done.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Health been drawn to the fact that a virulent parasitic disease has made its appearance in the peanut fields in Java and China? Will the Government take steps at once to place a temporary embargo on the importation of peanuts from those countries?
– The Health Department is at the present time conducting an investigation with a view to determining whether an embargo should be placed upon imports from those sources, and a decision will probably be arrived at within a few days.
– Having regard to the fact that the Minister for Trade aud Customs has had the report of the Tariff Board on the tobacco industry since 7th March, and in view of the urgency of giving consideration to the board’s” recommendations, will he make some statement of the Government’s intentions towards the industry before the House adjourns next week?
– If the honorable member will put the question on the notice-paper I shall furnish a considered reply. .
-. - A special committee appointed by the Indian Government has published an extensive report of its inquiries into the operations connected with the reclamation harbour works at Bombay. If the Minister for Works and Railways has a copy of that report, will he take it into consideration when dealing with the reports received from Sir George Buchanan on Australian ports and harbours?
– I have not seen the report. If the honorable member will let me have a copy of it I shall peruse it, and furnish a reply to his question.
Formal MOTION FOB ADJOURNMENT
– I have received from the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The increase in the price of bricks to the lessees at Canberra.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– The matter to which I desire to direct the attention of the House is of considerable importance to the Commonwealth, and in view of the almost immediate transfer of this Parliament to Canberra, is of interest to every honorable member. It particularly concerns the persons who purchased leases from the Government at the first auction sale. At that date, 12th December, 1924, although a great deal of preparatory work had been carried out, there were practically no private residences at Canberra, and it was perfectly clear to the Government of the day that it was necessary to offer inducements to people to take up residential and business blocks, and to prepare for these activities essential to life in the new city. It was common knowledge that the Government was doubtful as to the outcome of the first auction sale, and considerable efforts wore made to secure a good attendance of possible purchasers. The auction was conducted in the presence of the Honorary Minister (Mr. Marr) representing the Government, Colonel Owen, who, as Commonwealth Director-General of Works, was in charge Qf all construction operations at Canberra from their inception to’ the appointment of the Federal Capital Commission, and Mr. Goodwin, who was then administering the Home and Territories Department in’ Canberra. When the auctioneer mounted the rostrum to announce the conditions of sale, he stated, amongst other things, that bricks would be available to purchasers of leases at 4 16s. per 1,000, and that the supply would be adequate. That statement was not to be classed with the airy nothings in which auctioneers indulge at an ordin ary sale, as, for instance, that “ the climate is excellent,” when, as a matter of fact, it is well known to be detestable. The statement that bricks would be available at a certain price was made deliberately and for a very definite purpose, and the mau who made it was in a position to give effect to it. The auctioneer was the agent for the Government, and, in the presence of representatives cf the Government and of the department which made the bricks quoted the price, and gave assurances as to the quality and quantity of these bricks as an inducement to people to purchase leases. And, as is shown by the declaration of many lessees, that did induce them to purchase; without that inducement they would not have dome bo. Perhaps it is not necessary to remind Ministers that no bricks can be obtained at Canberra except those made at the Government kiln.
– They are very good bricks.
– They are very good bricks, and specimens were ‘ exhibited by Colonel Owen to impress the people attending the auction. The auctioneers said that these bricks would be available for the purchasers of leases at the announced price. As a matter of fact, they were sold at that price, for eighteen months thereafter, and the supply, excepting for a brief period, was adequate. There was an occasion when no bricks were available, but the Government apparently interfered, and the supply was renewed. On the date of the sale - the 12th December, 1924 - the Federal Capital Commission was not functioning, and the responsibility for what was said and done at the sale, therefore, rests wholly on the Government. On the 15th May, 1926, however, the price of bricks was raised to £5 5s. On Wednesday last I introduced a deputation of lessees to the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Sir William Glasgow), who heard us sympathetically, but held that thestatement of the auctioneer was an offer which could be turned into a contract only by acceptance ; that the purchasers of leases were not compelled to get their bricks at Canberra, and could get them elsewhere, and that, therefore, there was no contract. I shall not say very much on the point raised by the Minister. ‘ The law, I think, is fairly clear. Suppose that a man who has for sale land in a dry area, says to a possible purchaser, “ If you will buy this land I will supply you with as much water as you want at lod. an acre-foot,” and the land is bought. The purchaser would not have bought the land unless a water supply was assured; but ho would be under no obligation to take water from the vendor unless, of course, that was a term of the contract. The purchaser could rely on the rain, or make arrangements for obtaining water from a source of supply at a great distance; but as a practical proposition he would either have to take water from the vendor of the land or go without it. That was the position or the prospective lessees, and they wore compelled to build and to use bricks which could not be obtained outside Canberra except at prohibitive prices. The statement of the auctioneer was not merely a statement, it was a promise to supply and an offer. When the auctioneer made it in the presence of the Honorary Minister (Mr. Marr), what did bo mean by it? Was he merely indulging in airy persiflage to make the time pass pleasantly, or was he offering an inducement to prospective purchasers to buy land - land which could not be sold, excepting with the assurance that an adequate supply of bricks could be obtained locally at M 16s. per 1,000 ? I say that bis statement was a material term of the contract, and that the land could not have been sold had it not been made, and that it was so understood is proved by this statement, signed by a number of purchasers of leases who were present at the sale at Canberra, on the 12th December, 1924-
We heard the auctioneer announce, during tl:e course of his opening address, that bricks for building on the lease? to be sold would bo supplied at f-i IBs. per 1,000 at the kiln. We heard the auctioneer introduce Major C. W. Man- to the prospective buyers a? the representative of the Minister, and, therefore, accepted all statements made by the auctioneer and Major Marr ns coming from the Minister. The announcement that bricks would be available, and at a fixed price, was an inducement to prospective purchasers to take up the leases offered.
A member of the deputation to the Minister for Home and Territories, who is one of these lessees, and .is building an arcade at Canberra, stated that he attended the sale without intending to buy ; but that when he heard the auctioneer’s announcement, knowing the price of the land and the cost of the bricks, he decided .to make what he considered a good business investment. He w8s actuated, too, by a sincere desire to promote settlement in the new city. There waa, as I have said, considerable doubts in ‘ the minds of those responsible for the sale as to what would be the result of the auction, and it ib certain that the auctioneer’s statement was made as an inducement to buy, and was so regarded by those who heard it. Had there been no promise to supply bricks in adequate quantities the auction would have been a failure. Bricks wore made available for eighteen months at the price at which they were promised at the sale; but, on the 15th of May, 1926, their price was raised to’ £5 5s. per 1,000. A protest was thereupon .made ‘on the same day to the Chief Commissioner and the facts, as I have related them, were recited to him. He said that he had no knowledge of any promise.. As I have said, the commission was not functioning at the date of the auction, and on the 15th of May, 1926, no evidence of the promise was available for production, but some was collected subsequently. The evidence on which the parties intended chiefly to rely was a leaflet issued at the instance of the Government, in which it was set out clearly that bricks would be available at £4 16s. per 1,000. Although a diligent search was made, it was not until November that one of these leaflets was found. The Minister for Home and Territories has a copy of that, leaflet, and it is now admitted by both parties that the statement was circulated and made by the auctioneer; that the departmental heads were present, and that the Honorary Minister (Mr. Marr) introduced the auctioneer, so that the auctioneer was the agent, not merely of. the seller of the leases, but also, of the only maker and seller of bricks in the Territory. When this leaflet had been found, the Commissioner was again approached, and he said that he could not recognize any promise. In a letter dated the 7th December, referring to representations made late in November, he said : -
With reference to jour communications of the 3rd and the 22nd of November, 1926, relative to the supply of bricks by the Federal Capital Commission, to lessees at price quoted in notice of auction of leases on the 12th of
December, 1924, I am directed to state that the commission regrets that it cannot agree ‘that the statement by auctioneers at the sale of leases referred to, in regard to the price of bricks, was anything more than a piece of information given for the benefit of persons likely to bid, and was of the same nature as other statements of fact made at the time. Your clients should realize that it is not reasonable to expect that the commission shall continue to supply bricks at a loss. Since the date of the sale the commission has had to contend with the introduction of the 44-hour week, and increases in the price of coal and its transport, and has had to make a corresponding advance in the selling price of bricks, as it could not agree that it is under any obligationto sell below the cost of manufacture.
I am not censuring, the commission. It is expected by the Government and by the people, to conduct, its affairs in a business-like way. Nor do I suggest that the commission should sell- bricks at a loss. But when a man makes a promise to another, upon which that other acts; it is clearly a breach of contract if he fails to give effect to that promise on the ground that the transaction was unprofitable. If I were to sell wheat or any other commodity for delivery at a later date at a certain price, it would be useless for me to say when the date of delivery arrived. “ As the price has gone up, I do not recognize my obligation.” Similarly, the Government should not refuse to honour its promise because it would lose money by doing so. As a matter of fact, the. -Government now sella nine out of every ten of the bricks made at Canberra for £4 16s. per 1,000. The only persons to whom it does not sell bricks at ‘ that figure are those to. whom it promised to sell bricks at that price. Nine out of every ten of these bricks are used by the .commission for public purposes, and are charged against .the department at £4 16s. ‘ per 1,000. It is absurd to sell nine bricks at a loss and to .try to recoup it by increasing the price of the tenth brick. The Government is certainly going the. wrong way about things- to make, up any loss. It may be said that the loss .on the bricks used for public purposes is only a- bookkeeping loss. ‘ The same thing, might be said of the loss on the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers and other public utilities. But’ theBe book losses have to- come out of some one’s pocket; there is a real loss to the community. The other day tenders were called for the erection of a large assembly hall at Canberra, and one of the conditions of the contract was that bricks were to be supplied at £4 16s. per 1,000. My friend, the SolicitorGeneral, is having a house built at Canberra. His block adjoins a block that I have leased. Under his contract he obtains bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000; I have to pay £5 5s. I am merely an ordinary lessee; Sir Robert is a public servant, and, goodness knows, the public servant will have enough trouble at Canberra even with bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000; but there can be no doubt that bricks are being sold at a price which it is asserted involves a loss. For the Government to attempt to evade its responsibility by saying that the commission cannot profitably sell bricks at that price is unconscionable. It is said that the auctioneer’s statement was made merely for the information of intending purchasers. Had : it not been made, no one familiar with the circumstances can doubt that the land would not have been sold, or would have been sold at a lower price. The statement was an inducement held out to intending purchasers, and it was so regarded by those who purchased leases at the sale. The statement contained what was virtually one of the conditions of the sale. When the auctioneer made it, what did he mean? Did he mean that bricks would be sold forever at £4 16s. per 1,000? That, of course, is unthinkable. Did he mean that bricks would be sold at £4 16s. per 1,000 up to 6 o’clock the following night, or for a month, or six months ? We know he did not, for bricks were sold for £4 16s. to the lessees for eighteen months and nine out of ten bricks have been sold at. this price from that day to this. He must have meant something definite. There must have been in his mind a period of time limiting the offer. To arrive at what he meant we must consider the whole transaction. He said to the prospective purchaser, “ You shall have an adequate supply of bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000. You may hold the land for two years without building, and for another year while you complete your building, or for such further time as the Minister may determine.” If a court were asked to interpret this contract, which was partly oral and partly in writing, it would consider all the circumstances. The promise of the auctioneer had relation undoubtedlyto the terms of the lease. What he said, in effect, was, “ We will sell you bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000, but you need not commence building for two years.” Therefore, he could not have meant, “We will sell you bricks at that price for eighteen months only,” for that would have made another condition of the sale futile. The undertaking to supply bricks for building purposes was a distinct inducement to intending purchasers. Speaking for myself - and the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) being also the purchaser of a lease, can speak similarly for himself - if I had been asked to build within six or twelve months of the purchase, I should not have bought a lease. As the lessees were given two years during which they need not build, and a third year for the actual building, the auctioneer’s promise must have had relation to the conditions of sale and meant that bricks would be supplied during the whole of that period, namely, three years, for £4 16s. per 1,000. It may be said that it is hard for the Government to have to sell bricks for less than they cost. That may be, but let us consider the position of the lessees. For all practical purposes a person building at Canberra cannot obtain bricks from any other source than the Government brickworks. Bricks from Sydney delivered on the job at Canberra cost, I am informed, £7 15s. per 1,000. The price of bricks at the State Brickworks at Sydney - a Government enterprise, like that of the Commonwealth at Canberra - was £2 13s. per 1,000 on the day when the promise of which I have been speaking was made; and to-day their price is £2 16s. per 1,000. The price at private brickworks in Sydney was £3 13s. in 1924, and is the same to-day.
– Those cannot be first class bricks.
– I am merely showing that the price of bricks in Sydney has not varied since 1924. Bricks of similar quality were sold for the same price in 1924 and 1927. I am comparing prices in this way, so that honorable members may resize that the reasons for the in creased price - 44 hours, increased wages, &c, which affect brick making in Sydney as well as at Canberra - have not caused an increase in the price of bricks in Sydney, or, at all events, only a very small increase. I hold that a contract was entered into. Even if it is legally enforceable, the circumstances of the lessees are peculiar, because they cannot obtain redress in the Federal Territory, but must go wherever the High Court may be sitting. That would put them to considerable inconvenience, and involve them in extra expense. But if the contract is not enforceable at law, clearly th,ere is an obligation on the Government to honour its’ promise. Surely the Government will not say that it ‘ instructed the auctioneer merely to make a few irrelevant observations. His statement was obviously made with the object of ensuring the sale pf the leases offered^ and achieved that object,, because the. purchasers believed that ‘ the Government ‘would honour its promise. I suggest therefore, that the right honorable the Prime Minister should take a broad view of th,is matter. The Government ought not, even if it could dp so. to shelter itself behind the technicalities of the law. The amount in. question is not considerable b.ut its reputation for honorable dealing is surely worth a great deal. If this contract is no,t honoured,, when another sak- takes place the. public will sa& “What d.6eS it matter what the Government says? It will- guhack 6n> its- promise;,, amy way.” It is well w’orth while keeping faith with these lessees, especially as every one else in the Territory is- buying bricks at the price at which they were promised to the ofriginal buyers df leases. I feel that I am noi asking too much when I ask the Government to ensure that bricks are supplied to these lessees at £4 16a. per 1,000.
– The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was good enough to inform me of his intention tei move the adjournment of the House this morning to call attention to this matter^ and I have, therefore^ had an opportunity of ascertaining some of the facts. These are, so far as I understand them, as the right honorable gentle man has stated. An auction was, held at Canberra in December, 19,24, j havenot seen the leaflet, to which the right, honorable gentleman h.as referred, but’ I understand’ that, in it there was a; s.tater ment regarding the supplying of bricks, at £4 16s. per- 1,000. The’ auctioneer, in his remarks preceding the. sale, certainly said something about bricks, but hia statement was not nearly so definite as,that contained in the leaflet. The, Assistant Minister (Mr. Marr) was present; at the sale, hut I ha,ye. learned from him that he <jid not, deal with the subject of bricks at length. Stilly th,e;re was a reference to bricks being obtainable at £4 16s. p,er 1,0,0.0. The question, therefore. to he considered is whether purr chasers of; blocks, were influenced %o buy by the statement that was made. I am infor-med that 56 blocks were sold by auction, and 15 blocks subsequently, or 71 blacks in all. Some of the purchasers have commenced building, and have been, supplied with bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000. but in May, 1926, the price of bricks. wa3raised by the commission to £5, 5s. per 1,0.00, and the commission did not con? template supplying- the lessees below thai prevailing price. The commission must be acquitted of the least suggestion of wrong-doing in this mattes-, for- it had not1 begun to function at the time of the auction, and, when it was approached on” the matter, it made the reply to which the right honorable gentleman has rsferred, I, of course, entirely agree with him that if there ia a contract” it is utterly; irrelevant to say that the cost of bricks; has to be increased because of the introduction of the 44-hour week, or because of any other circumstances that may have arisen since the sale. Persons whopurchased at the sale now say that they were induced to do so by what was contained in the leaflet, and by the statements made at the sale, and they claim that they are entitled to receive the bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000 - a. contention which the right honorable gentleman supports!. This claim must be carefully examined The Government and this House most certainly would never be” parties’ toaction that was misleading. Hitherto this matter has been handled by -the- department under the control df the- Minister administering the Feder-al Capital
Territory; but the Government will now take. all the facta into consideration, and decide what it is right and proper to do. As to the legal rights of persons who purchased subsequent to the sale, in their cases leases were drawn up, and the only terms of the contract were embodied in those leases;, which contain no reference to the price or supply of bricks. The Government has obtained outside legal advice on this question, because it nas considered hardly fair to ask the Solicitor-General to advise, as he was the purchaser of a lease at Canberra, and for the same reason the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) felt reluctant to give an opinion. The distinguished outside counsel whom the Government approached has advised that the persons who purchased leases in the circumstances that have been outlined have no legal claim. But the question is not merely one of the legality. The point is whether the Government was indirectly guilty of . misrepresentation that might have induced persons to purchase blocks. The whole matter will require very careful examination- before that can be ascertained. Should a decision favorable to the persons who purchased, blocks be reached, it would have to be definitely laid down to whom the privilege should be extended. The circular itself is hopelessly indefinite. The points which require consideration are - whether the alleged offer to supply bricks was an inducement to purchase blocks and influenced the sale; whether bricks shall be supplied to all those who bought at the sale, or only to those who can show that they were influenced by the offer; mid whether bricks shall be supplied to those who purchased blocks subsequent to the sale, or purchased from those who bought at the sale. The Government will also have to consider the period for which the privilege shall remain available. I think, with the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), that, as the lease allowed a period of two years before building operations need begin, and one year more in which building must be completed, it would be reasonable to limit the privilege to three years. The complexity of the subject is increased by the fact that there is power to extend the time in which building- operations may lie commenced or completed, and it will be necessary to consider whether the privilege shall be extended accordingly. Other points that must be made clear are- how many bricks the purchaser is entitled to at the price stated, and whether the number roust be limited to those required for the actual construction of buildings on the blocks concerned ?
– It would take from. 30,000 to 85,000 bricks to build an ordinary five-roomed house.
– Then, assuming tU.at the purchaser of a lease was entitled to bricks with which to build his house, he would have to receive them for 9s. per 1,000 less than the price now being charged. I have outlined all these phases of the subject in order that honorable members might see how impossible it is to come to a determination here. I can only- say that the Government recognizes i hat it must seriously consider whether there has been any misrepresentation or repudiation, and, if so, who has been affected by it. It will also be necessary tei make it perfectly clear to whom the privilege shall apply, and for what period.
.- I assume from the Prime Minister’s reply that, while he is not prepared at the moment to accept a definite moral obligation in respect to the lessees concerned in this matter, he is of the opinion that the Government should seriously consider whether there has been any misrepresentation or repudiation. I attended the sale at which these leases were offered, and bought a block. One of the factors which induced me to do so was that bricks were available at £4 16s. per 1,000, and I have no doubt that that induced other persons to purchase leases. That being so”, there is at least a moral, if not a legal, obligation upon the Government to carry out its promise. The statement that the cost of producing bricks at Canberra has increased since the sale does not impress me. Bricks cost much more at Canberra than they should cost. If that is due to inefficiency or over-capitalization, it is no reason why persons who bought leases in the expectation of obtaining bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000 should now be charged £5 5s. per 1,000 for them. First-class bricks, quite as good as those made at Canberra, are obtainable at the State brickworks and other brick kilns in Sydnev for £3 16s. per 1,000.
– Are they washed clay bricks ?
– Mo; but they are of splendid texture and colour. I know that the Canberra brides are. excellent, but these are quite as good. !Not 50 per cent, of the bricks in many of the Canberra houses are exposed, for many of the residences are finished in stucco or in some similar way. But it is not much comfort for people who will occupy these houses to know that the bricks underneath are quite good enough to be exposed to the weather. The Prime Minister has said that there is no legal obligation on the Government to supply bricks to these lessees at the lower price. I do not know much about the law, except that at times it operates harshly, and, in my opinion, somewhat unjustly. In every big. town there are shark land agents of the getrichquick variety, who, with the aid of a smooth tongue and beautiful lithographic views of various localities, are able to so misrepresent the land they have for sale that they get inexperienced people to buy it. They point out that this is the- site for the church; that is the site for the school of art; this is where the railway station will be; and that is the main street along which the trams will run; but subsequently the disillusioned buyer finds that the land is only a barren tract of country miles away from anywhere, that is never likely to have churches, schools of art, tram”, or trains. There is no justification in any circumstances for land agents to misrepresent the facts to people in this way, nor was there any justification whatever for the land agents whom the Commonwealth Government employed to misrepresent the conditions under which the Canberra leases were being made available. Certain principles of business are- laid down in the commercial world with the object of protecting people from sharp practices; but, while private individuals, companies, corporations, or other business organizations are always to be found which will descend to any depths in order to do business, there is at least one body which should never be guilty of unfairness of any kind, and that is the Government.
– The Prime Minister has made it quite clear, that he would not stand foi- anything of that description.
– The right honorable gentleman certainly hinted that the Government would give these lessees sympathetic consideration, and I hope that I am right in assuming that the only reason why he did not immediately agree to remedy the complaints that have been made was that there are so many difficulties and complexities in the situation. I trust that a speedy declaration will be made on the matter, so that those concerned will know exactly what attitude the Government intends to adopt.
– For how long was this circular in existence?
– I cannot say. Everybody at the- sale had a copy of it, and I have seen a copy of it in Melbourne this week. One was handed .to me. I have no doubt that it was a bona fide instrument that had been paid for by the Commonwealth, and must be regarded as representing the Government’s views.
– Were the auctioneers acting for the Commonwealth Government?
– Yes. If they did something with which the Government did not agree, the quarrel is between them and the Commonwealth, and not with those who were induced by the representations of the auctioneers to do certain things.
– Since my name has been introduced I feel it incumbent upon me to explain my position. When I reached Canberra to attend the sale I was unaware that I was expected to represent the Commonwealth Government. I arrived a few minutes late, and found that the proceedings had been delayed so that I might offer a few introductory remarks on the historical occasion. I knew nothing about bricks, or the price of them, and I had not seen the circular ; but we had a shorthand writer at the sale, and I have a note of the auctioneer’s remarks. He said -
Builders can obtain bricks locally at £4 16s. per 1,000, which is much cheaper than in the city, and they are of excellent quality.
– Where is the circular?
– I am not questioning that. It has been said that the auctioneer made definite statements, and -I have quoted his actual words. The statement contained in the circular is an entirely different matter.
– There is no material variation between the two.
– Why was a Government official carrying samples of bricks about?
– They were on the ground. The Prime Minister said that he was prepared to give the matter fair consideration.
– I was wrong in saying that the official took the samples round; but he personally displayed them.
– Colonel Owen placed them on view. Little heaps of bricks were arranged to show the class of material available.
– He certainly said that the price was £4 16s. per 1,000.
– He said that they could be obtained locally. I am not claiming that the Government has a right to repudiate any contract made or statement contained in any leaflet that was issued; but it did not draft the circular. This was drawn up byRichardson and Wrench Limited, and the Government may have to accept responsibility for acts of its appointed agents. Although the Cabinet has not considered the matter, it has no desire to escape its responsibilities. Offhand, I should say that there appears to be a moral obligation resting on the Government, and, no doubt, it will do what is fair and right. The Federal Capital Commission is not concerned in the matter, because it did not take upits duties until the following January. It will be remembered that it was estimated that there were from 9,000,000 to 11,000,000 bricks at grass at the local kilns, and the manufacture of bricks was in progress there! Honorable members will recollect that there was an agitation in Parliament for the building construction at Canberra to be expedited. I participated in it.
– And the country will have to pay dearly for it.
-The Commonwealth will receive a considerable harvest from the capital outlay. The late Sir Denison Miller declared that he would like to own the. Federal Capital Territory, because he was sure a big revenue would be derived from it. Labour and bricks have been scarce at Canberra, and, in order to supply bricks at a reasonable price, the commission decided to purchase them inSydney, Goulburn, and else where, although costing up to £8 per 1,000, and sell them in Canberra at the localprice. The present cost from the State Brick Yards in Sydney is £7 l0s. per 1,000 f.o.r. Canberra, but the commission is not charging that price. The cost from the Metropolitan Brick Company is £8 5s. per 1,000 f.o.r. Canberra; and from Goulburn, where the supply is limited and the quality doubtful, £7 10s.
– The price in Sydney is £3 15s.
-No. It is impossible to purchase at that figure. I am prepared to take all the bricks the honorable member can buy at thatprice. If an injustice has been done, I can assure the House that the Government will give the matter fair consideration. It should be realized that the builders at Canberra took risks, and we should see that they receive fair play. Without committing the Government in any way, I should say, personally, that if the circular states that good bricks will be available at £4 16s. per 1,000 - and it does - builders are still entitled to have them at that price.
– In order that we may understand this matter, it is necessary that we should carry our minds back to the position that existed at the time when the events happened which have been referred to. When the first sale of the Canberra leaseholds was held, the Government had for years been spending large sums in developing the Capital. At the time of the first public sale there were two factors which it was realized would militate against its success. One was that prospective purchasers were not offered freehold, but leasehold land, and the other was that speculation was discouraged by the fact that buyers were required to begin building within two years of the date of purchase, and finish the building within three years, unless they received an extension of time. The Government, and honorable members generally, were anxious that the sale should be a success. A leading firm of Sydney auctioneers was employed, and the circular which has been widely discussed was printed and very extensively circulated. This announceed that the first sale at Canberra would bo held on Friday, the 12th ofDecember, 1924, and it contained two definite statements, to which I shall direct attention. It set out that there were six subdivisions, and it referred, first* ‘ to the Eastlake area, pointing out that twelve business sites were included, and were the only ones available in that section. It proceeded to give particulars of other blocks, and the arrangements made in connexion with the sale, and for inspecting blocks. Then it went in to say -
As numerous tenants are awaiting housing accommodation, blocks with the £500 or £750 covenants on them should be good buying, for building purposes.
I direct honorable members’ attention to the fact that that statement was carefully put into the subjunctive mood, and that there is nothing binding on the Government. The next statement, however, was positive - ;
Good bricks will be available at £4 16s. per 1,000 at the works, Yarralumla. The approximate cost of haulage to the most distant point will be approximately fi per 1,000.
It seems to me that an office boy must have been responsible for the wording of the circular; but I am not quarrelling with the grammar. The point is that it contained a definite statement that good bricks would be available at £4 16s. per 1,000. The Prime Minister remarked, that the legal opinion was in favour of the Government and not of the purchaser. I do not know the terms in which the case was stated to the eminent counsel to whom .the Prime Minister referred. I know a good deal about contracts for the sale of land, and while one does not caro to express an opinion offhand without looking up authorities and cases, I question very much the correctness of the opinion given to the Government. There are very well-established cases in line with this which set out the law. It is claimed that in this case there are two contracts, one for the purchase of land and the other for the supply of bricks. I remember a case in which a company manufacturing a carbolic smoke ball advertised that if any one who used it contracted influenza afterwards it would pay him £1,000. A lady who used the carbolic smoke ball did contract influenza after doing so, and sued the company for £l,00O. The reply of the defendant was very much the reply which the Government gives in the matter now under consideration. It was that there was no acceptance of the offer, that the offer was merely a puff for advertising purposes, and the company was not bound by it. The court definitely held that the company was bound by the offer, and the woman got a verdict for £1,000. Other cases have been decided on similar lines. It seems to me that in the circular I have quoted there is a definite offer that purchasers of the blocks would be supplied with good bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000. It may be said that the statement made is not that the Government should supply bricks, but that “good bricks will be available “ at that price, but it was known that at the time the Government was the only manufacturer of bricks in Canberra, and the government-made bricks were brought on to the ground as samples of the bricks supplied. Under these circumstances it must be held that the Government offered to supply the bricks. The Minister raised the question as to how long the option to purchase bricks at the price started extended or, in legal phraseology, within what period could acceptance of the offer be made.
– I said that purchasers were obliged to build within two years.
– The offer was, “ We compel you to build within two years, or within such further time as we may grant you, and we will give you bricks at £4 16s. per 1,000.” From a legal point of view,, I do not think there is any escape from the obligation undertaken in the circular, and, whether it is legally bound or not, the Government should act in a straightforward manner and supply bricks at the price named to purchasers of the blocks who require them. Some one suggested that the additional cost involved in the increased price of the bricks would not be very great, as only from 20,000 to 30,000 bricks are required for a fiveroomed house. That argument reminds one of the wetnurse in “Midshipman Easy,” who had an illegitimate child, and excused herself on the ground that it was only a very little one. There does not appear to me to be any argument on the other side at all, and morally, and, I believe, legally, the Government is bound by the terms of the circular.
Question resolved in the negative.
The following papers were presented : -
Tariff Board Act - Tariff Board Reports: -
Application for increased Duty or Bounty on Rice.
Continuance or otherwise of the Wine Export Bounty.
Ordered to be printed.
Housing Conditions - Steam Laundry Company - Abandonment of Griffin Design - High School.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The following are the replies to the honorable member’s questions: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
If so, will the Government -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr. COLEMAN (through Mr. E. Riley), asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Whether he will obtain and lay upon the table of the House a list of the directors and shareholders, as at the 31st December lost, of the Steam Laundry Company at present operating in the Federal Capital Territory?
– There is no connexion between the Government and the company referred to, and it is, therefore, not proposed to take the action desired by the honorable member.
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Charges Against Officers
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
With reference to the question asked by the honorable member forReid on the 14th instant, is it a fact that, as a result of an inquiry held by the Federal Capital Commission, a departmental official was suspended and subsequently dismissed for irregularities, and, if so, what was the nature of such irregularities?
– It is a fact that allegations of irregularities were recently made in respect of an official of the Federal Capital Commission, and that, in consequence thereof, the official in question was suspended by the commission. It is not, however, a fact that the termination of the employment of this official, which subsequently took place, was effected on the ground that the allegations had been sustained.
asked the Prime
Minister, upon notice -
What was the amount paid as child endowment by the Commonwealth Government in each year, during the last five years, to persons employed under acts other than the Public Service Act?
– This information is being obtained.
Temporary Employees - “ Starred “ Postmasters
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Commonwealth Public Service by reason of the existing provision of the Public Service Act relating to preference to returned soldiers?
– The Public Service Board has furnished the following information : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The Public Service Board has furnished the following information : -
asked the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The reply is- 1 and 2. The information is not in the possession of the department. An endeavour will be made to obtain it from the United States of America pension authorities.
– On the 15th March the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) asked the following questions: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information in reply to his questions : -
implements and machinery, other machinery, rubber tires and tubes, paper and stationery, leather, vegetables. The principal goods the produce of Western Australia transferred to other Australian States are - Timber, undressed; wool, greasy; wool, scoured; confectionery; essential oils; brushware; casks and shooks; kangaroo fur skins; furs and skins, dressedand prepared; goldore, quartz, and concentrates; concentrates, other than gold; silver, bar and ingot; bark for tanning.
– On the 16th March the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) asked the following question
What is the total Value of imports and the amountof concessions given thereon under the tariff in regard to machinery goods not com- mercially producedor manufactured in Australia?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information:
The latest particulars availableare for 1924-25, and they show:-
Motion (by Mr. Paterson) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill to provide for the grant of financial assistance to the States and to North Australia and Central Australia for the purpose of supplying wire and wire netting to settlers.
Bill presented by Mr. Paterson, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Latham) agreedto -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act relating to Section 52of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act1904- 1926.
Bill presented by Mr. Latham, and read a first time.
InCommittee of Ways and Means:
Debate resumed from 17th March (vide page 643),on motion by Dr. Earle
That, towards making good the Supply granted toHis Majesty for the services of the year 1927-28, there be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum not exceeding
Mr.FORDE (Capricornia) [12.35].-
I listened with interest last night to the speeches delivered by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr.. Fenton), the honorable member forMacquarie (Mr. Manning) and the Minister for Markets and Migration (Mr. Paterson) in regard to the marketing of Australian produce abroad. Most honorable members will agree that the honorable member for Maribyrnong was quite justified in criticizing the honorable member for Macquarie for having adversely commented in the public press upon the quality of Australian produce on the London market. If the honorable member, after his travels and investigations abroad, had arrived at the conclusion that Australian producewas not being turned out and put on the market in an acceptable way, he should have furnished a report to the Government and to the representative bodiesconcernedin Australia,so that steps might be taken to organize our export trade more efficiently;
Mr.FORDE- Certainly ; but the honorable member for Macquarie, upon his arrival at Fremantle, made statements to the press whichwere very damaging to thesaleof Australian produce abroad, and on that score both honorable members and producers have reason to feel aggrieved. After the peregrinations of the honorable member through the United Kingdom, and his interviews with responsible Ministers, his comments were of news value to the people of Great Britain, and undoubtedlywere cabled to the London press. Their publication would not help to popularize Australian produce On the London market. The development of markets for primary produce is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately the Government has not been keen enough in protecting even the home market for the primary producer. That could be done substantially by. more effective protection pf ‘the secondary industries, enabling them to employ a larger population who would consume the produce of station and farm.
One (Queensland primary industry has suffered seriously as a result of the reduction by the Government of the import duty on tomato pulp’, alter,, a very meagre inquiry by ihe tariff Board ‘from interested, importers in Melbourne, and without affording the producers of Queensland and New South Wales an opportunity to express their views. Other honorable -members from Queensland will confirm my statement that the Tariff Board was not justified in recommending a reduction of the protection given to Australian tomatogrowers. The action of the Government caused the reduction of £8 per t6h in the price of . Queensland tomatoes fbr pulping, and the importation of £30/000 worth of tomato pulp from abroad. The result “was that 500 Struggling tomatogrowers i!n Queensland as well as lark numbers in ite Bendigo ‘district of Victoria and in parts ‘6f New South Wales, suffered; The ‘Government acted oh a request 4>y She Victorian manufacturers of tomato sa’u’ce. lt i’s admitted ‘that at that time ‘there Was a shortage ‘of to’mato pulp in Victoria; but that Was caused chiefly by the low prices that Were offered W the manufacturers to the grower’s in $at ‘State, In Mi the price offered by the manufacturers for tomatoes was as low as ls. 6d. p’er bushel, and it i’s estimated ‘that over ‘2’0O.,Od;6 cases ‘df tomatoes were destroyed in the Bendigo district alone because the price offered would not cover the cost of .picking. ‘Consequently, in the following .year smaller quantities Were grown. But supplies were obtainaMe in other parts of. Australia, and the growers of Queensland should have ‘been consulted before -the Government reduced the ‘duty ih order to enable f foreign tomato pulp 4o -be imported. T-he Tariff Board, without ‘hearing «ay evidence from Queensland and -New South Wales growers «s to tire -supplies ‘available in those States, Made -a recommendation to the Minister-, upon which he actM in. complete ignorance ‘of 1ihe tacts. ‘On the 20th -‘df Augus’t last ti regulation was issued ‘by the Government reducing the duty oh imported tomato pUlp from 3s. per gallon - equal to about £28 per ton, assuming that a gallon of pulp weighs li? lb. - -to ID per cent., equal to £2 per tori, that operated until the 3’0th of November last, and was put into operation without any prior warning having been given, of the Government’s intentions. The growers were not consulted. On the 27th of September a further regulation was issued making the reduction in duty retrospective to the 1st of June. That action was highly reprehensible. One thousand tons of highly concentrated tomato pulp - equal in strength to four times that quantity of Australian pulp - and 16,500 cases of tomato puree, were dumped in , Melbourne between the 1st of June and the 30’th of November, at a cost of £30,000, and that had a damaging effect on the market available to Australian growers.
– I have always opposed it. That money was spent to aid foreign tomato-growers at the expense ‘of the Australian growers.. Had th’e Minister made inquiries in Queensland and northern Ne’w ‘South Wales te would* have been re’adily convinced that there was no necessity to import tomato pulp. The Victorian manufacturers alone benefited because^ as the result of their windfall of cheap foreign tomato pulp they, were able to supply- the other -‘State With tomato ‘sauce at a price which subsequently caused a loss <& -£3 & ton U6 the Queensland and New South Wales growers. A deputation waited oh the Minister iii Queensland, *-&M fee has promise’d !tb ‘consult the -growers before any alteration ds made in the ‘duty dfc future; but “tfe damage tes been done. Iti my opinion, the Queensland “and ‘New ‘South Wales growers (have a ad case for com.pensation in respect of their losses. At the time there Was i!n Queensland no shortage o’f ripe tomatoes fo”r pulping purpose’s. As a matter ‘of fact, 1’60,’0’JO cases of tomatoes wee placed ron the :fresh fruit market in “that period, and large quantities for pulping Wife unsaleable . Th’e manufacturers in bofh Queensland *mi New ‘Sou<th Wales joined ill the protest o’f be ‘growers against ‘t)he action *‘bt the Government in reducing the duty on imported tomatoes. That shows clearly that the application for a reduction was not general, and that the alteration was made to suit certain manufacturers in Victoria, who the year before had offered prices to the growers that would not pay them for picking. The growers rightly demand that they shall be consulted and given an opportunity to place their views before the Tariff Board when an alteration of the duties is at any time proposed. The Minister is at present engaged in trying to ascertain whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable. Whatever his interpretation may be, he owes a duty te the growers to see that they are properly protected. Our home market is the best for our primary products, and the Government should exploit it further by giving effective protection to our primary and secondary industries. Another primary industry, the growing of peanuts, is crying for protection. In Queensland this year 8,000 acres are under peanuts, and three years ago only 800 acres were under cultivation. Last year we produced 1,000 tons. Great progress has been made in this industry during the past three years. Australia’s annual requirements are 3,250 tons, and this year in Queensland 4,000 tons are in sight. About 350 farmers are growing peanuts in that State, because this crop can be grown in rotation with maize, cotton, and millet. Last ‘ year we imported 3,206 tons of peanuts from China and Java. The nut in the shell is- imported from China and in kernel from Java. The value of the imports without duty was £67,000, the duty being 4d. a lb. in shell and 6d. a lb. kernels.
– Is it an annual crop?
– Yes. Queensland is particularly suited for the growing of peanuts, but the industry is in jeopardy, because of foreign competition. The growers are asking for an effective duty to enable them to carry on. I go so far ns to suggest that an embargo should be placed on imported peanuts, because this would greatly help to build up an Australian industry. As a result of the improved methods adopted by the Queensland Peanut Pool Board, which was established under the General Pools legislation - passed by the Queensland Government. The consumption of peanuts in that State lias been increased twentyfold in the last three years. The imported article is likely to bring disease to this country. The peanuts of China and Java are subject to the slime and rosette diseases, which, if introduced into Australia, would ruin the whole of our peanut crops. For this reason, if for no other, an embargo should certainly be placed on imported peanuts.
I wish now to refer to the woollen industry which, in the last few years, has made great strides in Australia. In the past it has been an example of misapplied energy, national carelessness, and wasted opportunity. Australia produces one-fourth of the world’s wool clip and 50 “per cent, of the merino wool clip, but most of it enriches British and other European manufacturers. It is time that we manufactured wool tops and woollen goods in our own factories to meet all our. requirements. Some people say that we must progress slowly, because Australia cannot yet turn out worsteds equal to those manufactured in Europe. I would point out to them that when the pastoral industry was first established in Queensland, certain pessimists said that in a climate like ours, the sheep, instead of growing wool, would soon be growing hair.. Despite numerous setbacks our pioneers went ahead, and proved that wool could be profitably grown in Australia. When it was first proposed to establish woollen mills in Australia, European experts said that our climate was unsuitable, and that we would never make a success of manufacturing. Nevertheless, the mills started operations. During 1922-23 we exported wool worth £57,144,000, of which two-thirds went to England. If that wool had been manufactured here, its value to us would have been £120,000,000; but that represents the least of our losses. Only £2,000,000 worth of wool was worked up in Australia in 1920. The total value of the manufactured product was £4,241,000, an increase of over £2,000,000. About £1,000,000 was paid in wages to approximately 6,000 employees in the 34 factories operating in Australia. The loss in wages, taxation, population, and trade on the huge export of raw wool is estimated at £200,000,000. That shows that there is a wonderful opportunity here for the development of the woollen industry. It was estimated by the Commonwealth
Institute of Science and Industry that should Australia ever treat the whole of its wool clip it would give employment to an additional 2,000,000 people. That would mean an increased local market for our primary industries, and greater prosperity for this country. ‘ Of the 34 mills operating in Australia, only, two are in Queensland. The duty on woollen goods is not really effective, because it allows imported goods to come into this country in increased quantities to compete with our own manufactures. It is unfortunate that in Australia there is a tendency to aggregate all our industries in the capital cities. Rockhampton, Townsville, and parts of New South “Wales and Tasmania are justly entitled to a share of our large secondary industries. In Central Queensland to-day a company with a capital of £100,000 is being floated to establish a wool-tops mill at Rockhampton.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– There are indications in nearly all important country centres of a movement to establish secondary industries. Such a movement should receive the encouragement of the Government in every way possible. There are many centres of population in Australia, notably in northern New South Wales and central and northern Queensland, where secondary industries could be established and developed as satisfactorily as in the capital cities. There are many ways in which. the Government could assist country’ enterprises. I wish to mention an important industry that is about to be started in Rockhampton. A company is being floated in central Queensland, with a capital of £100,000, for the purpose of establishing in Rockhampton a mill for the manufacture of wool-tops, and also for fellmongering, wool-scouring, and reclassing of star lots. It is hoped that by the establishment of that mill employment, will be created for a considerable number of workmen, and that a large proportion of the WOOl-tops which are now exported from Australia to Japan will be manufactured in Queensland. Already £57,000 has been subscribed. According to statistics supplied to me by the Trade and Customs Department, the exports of wool-tops for last year were 5,900,000 lb., valued at £1,162,000. Japan was Australia’s best customer, and took 5,717,000 lb., valued at £1,107,000. Fortunately only a small quantity of wool-tops is imported into Australia, chiefly from the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The total quantity of wool-tops imported was 747,000 lb., valued at £128,000, and of that quantity, 162,000 lb. of wool was exported, treated abroad, and imported as wool-tops at a cost of £29,000. On the average, 110,000 bales of wool are sent out of central Queensland every year, and not a single pound of that is treated in that district. The facts are similar in regard to the pelts sent from central Queensland. It is with a view to remedying that state of affairs that the people of central Queensland are establishing a wool-tops mill. Residents in the country districts of Australia have been “ wood-and- water joeys “ for too long, and they are now aiming at establishing factories in country districts which will treat the raw products up to a certain stage, if not to the finished article. That will result in large sums of money being kept in circulation in. the district where the primary product is grown. It is estimated that the proposed wool-tops mill, in Queensland, will result in an increase in the value of the wool clip of Central Queensland of approximately £1,000,000. Fellmongering is a branch of this industry which should be carried out more extensively in Australia, and it needs all possible assistance from the Government in the way of an export duty on exported pelts and hides. Japan does this in regard to marble to compel as much work ‘ as possible to be done on marble before it leaves Italy. I do not. think it is necessary at present for the proposed wool-tops manufacturers in Queensland to ask for Government assistance, but probably later they will want some assistance. Australia produces the best merino wool, and it is only for the benefit of wool-tops mills, at places like Mr Gambier, where coarse wool is treated, that a higher import duty is required at present. The fellmongering branch of the industry will be an important activity of the wool-tops mills in Queensland. Australian fellmongers have not been having a very successful time, owing largely to the fact that nearly all our pelts are exported for treatment.
– The honorablemember has exhausted his time.
.- It is not often that I avail myself of an opportunity of airing a grievance on such an occasion as this, but I have received
A communication from one of my constituents, relative to certain fears entertained by many of our public servants regarding their forthcoming transfer to Canberra, and it is so temperately expressed, that I wish to place it on record for consideration by the Government. Perhaps some of the fears entertained by members of the Public Service are groundless; I hope they are; but, in so far as they are well founded, they should receive the careful consideration of the Government. I feel sure that the Government wishes to treat our public servants fairly in this matter. I do not propose to make any comments on the communication ; I simply ask my friend, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann), to read it for me.
Statement read by Mr. Mann, as follows : -
Commonwealth public servants are very perturbed owing tothe excessive housing costs they will have to meet at Canberra. Many who are living in comfortable homes in Melbourne must choose a type of home lacking the modest comfort they have been used to in order to meet the exorbitant housing charges in Canberra. Even now, no officer knows the exact cost he will have to meet, but estimates of thecost, of the houses which have been supplied may be taken as being somewhere near the mark. One important ‘factor which has not yet been supplied, however, is the; rates which will have tobe paid by officers. It is persistently rumoured that the rates will be more than1s. in the £1 on the unimproved value of the blocks of land - the values of which are assessed at unnecessarily high figures. The rate most persistently mentioned is1s. 3d. in the £1. If this be the rate, then an officer, whose house is on a block, the assessed value of which is £300 (and thismay be taken as an average valuation ) is £1810s. Vary many blocks havean assessed value of £400 - and others go as high as £550.
Of necessity officers will choose the cheapest house possible in Canberra - sacrificing comfort in an endeavour to make their salaries meetliving expenses.
A fair statement of the position of the bulk of officers - which, of course, will be made up of the lower-paid servants who will rent houses-is as follows: -
Such officers will occupy five-roomed brick cottages onland, the assessed value of which is £300. The weekly rental of his home (as far as can be ascertained from figures and information supplied by the Federal Capital Commission; and assuming that rates are to be fixed, as persistently rumoured, at1s. 3d. in the £1, on the unimproved value of land)-
Even if the rates are fixed a little less than 1s. 3d in the £1, and the cost of the fuel and tool store is slightly less the average weekly charge fora five-roomed home will not be much short of £3 per week. In the majority of cases on officer’s home will cost him not less than £1 a week more than his Melbourne home costs.
Towards this increased cost of £1 per week (£52 per annum), the lower-paid officers will receive an allowance of £54 per annum, leaving him, say, £2 per annum to meet the higher cost of living at Canberra.
Senior officers will suffer proportionately as their houses will cost more, and the blocks of land allotted to them, on which rent and rates mustbe paid, will cost them more, owing to situation and other circumstances.
Wherean officer elects to buy a home at Canberra, the position will be the same, as the whole upkeep - external and internal- will fall on him.
Officers have been practically forced to choose a brick house. As, although a limited number of timber houses, costing less than the brick houses, have been made available, the Federal Capital Commission has discouraged officers who wanted timber homes and put obstacles in the way of officerswho thought to choose them in order to, obtain cheaperhomes. This was particularly the case when officers were called upon to state their requirements in July, 1926.
The result is that many officers havebeen forced to live in the dearer brick houses, and the allowances, granted are quite inadequate to meet the increased housing costs and the greatly increased cost of living (apart from housing) which they will experience at Canberra.
Officers have loyally accepted the fact of removal, despite the great anxiety and, worry incidental to such a severance from relations and associations, and surely ought not to be called upon to bear financial loss. The present scale of allowances will certainly mean financial loss, and officers will feel that injustice has been done to them. This is most undesirable in the interests of the community and the Government.
As regards secondary education at Canberra, the service generally isperturbed, as the commission is vague as to its intentions. The Government should impress upon the commission the necessity of this establishment of high schools - one forboysandonefor girls - as soon as officersare transferred. It is understood the advisory committee of university professors, which recently reported to the Government on educational requirements at Canberra, strongly recommended the immediate establishment of Government high schools, there for boys and girls, but no definite action has been taken to carry these recommendations into effect. This is probably due tothe known antipathy of the Chief Commissioner to Government high schools.
Another troublesome matter is that of a gas supply. The commission has dallied with this question ever since November, 1925.It has received reports from experts as to whether gas or electricity should be chosen as the means by which a lighter form, of cooking will be available to housewives. Still nothing is decided, and it is surely high time a decision was reached. It will be a great hardship for wives’ that gas is not available; and this defray is, causing great anxiety, especially in homes where the health of the family is not robust.
.- I have no desire for further controversy with the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning),respectingthe quality of Australian export butter.Had the honorable member’s remarks at his various ports of callon his way back from the Old Country this year been similar to those which he made in this chamber yesterday no one would have had any cause for complaint. But the honorable member repeated in an interview which he had with representatives of the Melbourne press,statements of an unfortunate character which he made atFremantle, and usually one may rely upon an interview fairly accurately representingone’s views. I wish to assure the honorable member that the remarks thatI made in reply to his criticisms were based upon information’ which. I received from the Dairy Produce Export Control Board,, so that if he has a complaint against anyone, it is the members of the Board. However, he spoke yesterday in quite a chastened spirit, and no one could take exception to, what he said.In the past I have been very closely associated with the Australian export butter trade, andI know that our dairymen are making an, honest and, in my opinion, successful attempt to ensure that only the best quality butter shall be sent abroad. It was unfair for the honorable member for Macquarie to criticize the quality of the butter we exported in 1925-26, seeing that it is impossible for himto have seen, any- of itin England. A12 per cent. increase in the quality of our export butter has occurred since then and as the honorable member himself told us, he saw on the premises of MessrsMills and Company of Tooley-street,London, boxes and boxes of beautiful. Australian butter. The honorable member thoroughly deserved the criticism to which he has been subjected for his observations about our butter,.For my own part, I hope never to say, anything; to defame the products of the countryin which I live; should I doso. I trust that I shall be criticizedfor it. Honorable members have only to visit the splendid exhibition of Australian products in the Senate club-room to realize that we have made great progress in the few years in whichto have been engaged in the export trade. California hasfor 40 years been exporting some of the products which we have been exporting for only three or four years, and I say without hesitation that Australia’s products are marketed quite as attractively as those of California. More than 90 per cent, of our butter exports are of the highest quality, and it is most unfortunate that the honorable member for Macquarie should have seen fit to refer publicly to the minor proportion of inferior produce that we send overseas. The caused fruit which we produce at Shepparton,Leeton, and some towns in the other States is of the highest quality. As honorable members know, it is much easier to market canned fruit than butter. Canned fruit is packed in Australia and reaches the British retail grocer’s counter in the condition in which it leaves Australia. Unfortunately butter does not. It is packed here in 56-lb. boxes but it is not sold by the retail grocers in, that form. It goes into the big produce stores in Tooley-street, London. It is then distributed to the various stores of the multiple grocery proprietors, Lipton’s, the MaypoleDairy Company, and others, where it is sold under various brands. In present conditionsit is impossible to get Australian butter sold in the retail stores under Australian brands; and, so far as I can see, there are only three ways in which we may achieve that object. One method wouldbe tomake arrangements with the multiple grocery shop proprietors in Britain to disposeof it under the
Kangaroo, Sunny South, or Star brands, or another brand which is about to be used by the producers of New South Wales. As honorable members know, we do not export butter throughout the twelve months. Our export season, as a rule, lasts for only six months, though sometimes it may run as long as nine months. But even in that period our butter never reaches the retail traders under our own brand. It all goes through the hands of the Tooley-street dealers, the margarine blenders, or the co-operative distributors in Great Britain. Another method would be to make arrangements for the big cooperative organizations in Great Britain to handle it. The third method that I suggest was proposed several years ago by Mr. Baldwin, when he was Leader of the Opposition in the British House of Commons. He advocated that the British Government should purchase the whole of our export butter and distribute it direct to the retail stores. That plan was also advocated by Mr. Philip Snowden, when he was Chancellor of the British Exchequer, and it is now part of the British Labour party’s policy for disposing of oversea Dominion products. Even if our dairymen were to raise a sum of £50,000,000 to ensure that their butter would reach the British consumers under the Australian brands, they would ho unable to carry out their plans. When Messrs. Vestey Bros, wished their Argentine meat to reach the British consumers under their own brand, they were obliged to open 2,500 retail butcher shops throughout England. It will be seen, therefore, that it would require a vast organization for us to market our butter in England under our own brands. The only time that British consumers have been absolutely certain that they were buying Australian butter was when they bought it over the counter at the Wembley Exhibition. The honorable member for Macquarie said that he always spoke favourably of Australian products, but on this occasion at least he did not do so. If he had been content to mention the beautiful butter that he saw in the store of Messrs. Mills and Company, which firm was formerly known as Mills and Sparrow, and has done more than any other Tooleystreet firm, in my opinion, to push the sale of Australian butter in England, it would have been all right; but, unfortunately, he went a good deal further. In order to ensure the marketing of our butter under our own brands, we need to have behind us the combined powers of the British and Dominion Governments.
– I wish to take this opportunity of again referring to the subject of accumulated leave due by the Postmaster-General’s Department to postmasters in respect of services performed by them to save inconvenience to the department at periods when they should have been on annual holiday leave. They received assurances at the time that their right to the leave which thus accumulated would be recognized at a more convenient time in the future, and such recognition . has been given effect in several instances. After Parliament adjourned last year I received from Senator Pearce, the following letter, which was dated 25th September: -
With reference to the representations made by you in Parliament on the subject of accumulated leave to postmasters in New South Wales, I desire to inform you that the Public Service Board advises that it recognizes that officers affected by its decision to observe strictly the law in the grant of leave accumulated under the New South Wales Civil Service Act of 1884 are naturally disappointed. The Board states, however, that upon assuming office it considered the question in all its aspects, and was forced to the conclusion that the practice which obtained of granting leave where it was not legally due involved an unjustifiable expenditure of public funds. The Board states that the matter has been again considered from the standpoint of the officers who may be deprived of leave which they had reason to expect would be granted, but itis unable to appreciate that the interests of the officers should be the paramount consideration in deciding the question.
In accordance with the assurance given by Mr. Bruce in the House on the 13th August, the matter has been looked into and the various aspects considered by the Government, which has, however, decided to take no action in the matter, in view of the Public Service Board’s decision.
I realize that the Government would be placed in a position of great difficulty if it were to do anything to relieve the injustice inflicted on the officers in face of the board’s decision ; but I draw attention to the peculiar attitude that the board has adopted in this matter. I take exception to that portion of the letter embodied in the following paragraph: -
Theboard states, however, that upon assuming office, it considered the question in all its aspects, and was forced to the conclusion that the practice which obtained of granting leave where it was not legally due involved an unjustifiable expenditure of public funds.
Inmy opinion, that is a misstatement of the position. At a time of congestion in the Public Service, when these officers were entitled to take their leave, they came to the assistance of the department, and the leave accumulated for a considerable period. They were assured that they would be allowed to take it at a more convenient period. Under a previous administration, their right to accumulated leave was recognized in every instance; but suddenly the present Public Service Board decided that no further leave should be granted. The board sheltered itself behind a legal quibble, because, apparently, the officers could not enforce their claim at law. This savors of sharp practice. In ordinary business life, if one man imposed a disability upon another, the aggrieved party might have no legal redress, but he would have a moral right to fair treatment. Similarly, the public servants in this case at least have a moral right to their accumulated leave, and that right had hitherto been recognized and admitted. In relation to this and other matters, particularly the overtime of the deputy returning officers, the board has shown a spirit of pettiness which is not reflected in the opinions of honorable members. I am sure that this House would not concur in some of its decisions. I hope that, even at this late hour, the board will see the injustice of its present attitude, especially in view of the fact that very few officers are left in the Service who are entitled to this leave. The granting of it would cause no serious inconvenience to the department.
Honorable members are, no doubt, familiar with numbers of instances of hardship inflicted on infirm and indigent persons which could be met if a little more elasticity were shown in the process of administration. I have in mind the case of a man who was employed in the railway service of New SouthWales, and received such terrible internal injuries as the result of an accident in the course of his employment, that he was totally incapacitated for work of any kind. He received a pension at the rate of 2s. 6d. a week. In the first instance, he was paid a higher amount; but owing to his wife taking employment to help to keep her home to gether, and relieve him of the obligation of her maintenance, his pension was reduced. The commissioners said that, because the wife was earning £3 a week , - out of which she had to pay rent and supply food and clothing - she must also maintain her husband. This she refused to do, and the unfortunate man was obliged to sleep in the parks, in stables, or anywhere, and gather food from garbage boxes. I brought the case under the notice of the commissioners, and also drew the attention of the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) to it; but I was unable to obtain any extra allowance for the unhappy man. He is going about in rags, and is suffering mentally, to some extent, as well as physically. He is in a condition bordering on actual starvation, and although the commissioners have power to grant relief, they refuse to do so, asserting that they suspect that the man and his wife are acting in collusion. This is one of the most destitute cases that has ever come under my notice, and I am afraid that the Government will get a great deal of the discredit of it.
– A statement has been issued by the Home and Territories Department setting out the whole position in regard to housing at Canberra, and a copy of it has been forwarded to every member of the Public Service who is liable to be transferred there. I shall place a copy on the Library table for the information of honorable members. The Government is endeavouring to make the transfer of the public servants as easy as possible, because it realizes the great disadvantages which they will suffer. The Public Works Committee inquired into housing costs at Canberra, and reported that they were at least 30 per cent, higher than in Sydney. It will be noticed, on perusal of the statement to which I have referred, that on a house having a capitalcost of £1,448, a deposit of £100 is required of the purchaser. In Melbourne, or Sydney, he would have to pay interest at the rate of 7 per cent., and in some instances 7½ per cent., on the balance of the purchase money.
– Not if he were financed through a Savings Bank.
– The majority of people do not purchase their houses through that
– Willnot the public ser vants be required todefraythe costof internal upkeep, and pay rates and taxesat Canberra?
– Yes, if they rent their houses;but I am referringtothe costof homes purchased bythem. TheGovern- ment is prepared to consider the disabilities whichthey will be placed. The Public Service Committee, which was formed to watch the interests of members of the Service, submitted plans and design’sof cottage’s which it ‘thought would hemore suitable than the commission’s type designs, and the commission is now building house’s in accordance with designs submitted by public servants. A number of the officers have failed to state whether they desire to rent or purchase a house, or whether they wantone atall . It hasbeen suggested that those whodidnot apply for a home up to the 31st July last will not be allowed to choose their design. As a matter of f act, theyare at libertyup to the 10th April next to select anydesign they like. The statement issued by the departmentcontains this paragraph: -
It is pointed, out that many officers have not yetspecified their’ housing of accommodation requirements. While housing accommodation is. beingprovided in excess of the specificapplications, officerswho have not applied must realize that no responsibility can be accepted by tinscommission to providethem with suitableaccomodation. It is therefore ‘desired, that, such officersshall immediately specify their requirements.
-If a public’ servant desires to rent a house at Canberra; will the conditions be similar to thoseunder which houses are rented elsewhere?
– The rent, as thehonor- ablememberknows isusually slightly higher than ordinary interest on the purchase price of a houses
– What I wish toknow is whether thepayment of the rent fixed willcover thewhole of the tenant’s’ re
– Hemay haveto . pay rates and taxes.
–Ordinarily rates, and taxes are paid by the landlord, though I admit, he may include them in the rent. I am informed that , the rents to be charged at Canberra will hot cover rates and taxes.
– Icannot be positive on that pointat the moment. I am aware that inmany cases the landlord paysrates and taxes, butI know that if a man rents a house in Sydney, he has to pay rates and taxes in addition to the rent., I dare say that rate’s and taxes will have to be paid at Canberra in addition to the rent specified..
The Leader of the Opposition complained of the accommodation provided for workmen at Canberra. I forwarded his complaint, and the department has asked the Federal Capital, Commission for a report upon it, which I shall let the honorablegentleman have as soon as it is available. It has been stated that public servants are to be provided with houses in particular areas, and will have to live within those, areas whether they like it or not. TheFederal Capital Commission says that that is not so. In most cities throughout the world, building covenants apply to different areas, and if a, man wants a block, of land in a particular area, the house he is permitted to build upon it must he of a certain value. No other restriction will be imposed upon public servants at Canberra. Any member of the Public Service will be at liberty to reside in any areathere, provided his house is in accordance with the buildingcovenants applicable to that area. I agree that thepublic servants should be permitted to residewhere they please atCanberra, and Iam sure that that is theintention of theFederal Capital Commission.
.- I should not have risen but for the fact that I failed by interjectionto get theMinister to make a statement upon the subjectof thefacilities to be provided for the education of the childrenof public servants at Canberra. Inthisconnexion, I want to associate myself with therepresentations madeby thehonorablemember forFawk- ater (Mr. Maxwell). I am aware that provision ismade for primary education, I regard asone of the most important matters to be considered the provision for secondary education at the Federal Capital.
– I replied to a question put tome on that matter two days ago.
– I have not had anopportunityof seeing the honorable gentle man’s reply. It must be obvious that if public servants are compelled to leave behind, in Melbourne, children attending secondary educational establishments here it will mean a Very serious addition indeed to their expenses. According to the statement presented’ by the honorable member for Fawkner, there would appear to be some antipathy to the establishment of high schools at Canberra, and I cannot understand why that should be.
I should like to make one or two references to the delay that has taken place in completing the classification of the Public Service. It has Occasioned a great, ideal of dissatisfaction, and there is a feeling that the delay may be due to the fact that the Chairman of the Public Service Commission has been diverted to special duties in connexion with the visit of the Duke of York.I am not casting any reflection upon that gentleman, but I think that when anofficer of high standing was appointed to the commission to maintain a perfectly independent attitude in regard to the Public Service, it wasnot right that he should be diverted from the important work of the classification of the Serviceeven to carryout the duties in which he is now engaged.
.- I wish to refer to the position at Garden Island. There is some doubt as to our title to the island. The High Court has already decided that it belongs to the State of New South Wales, and if the Commonwealth takes it over it will have to pay for it, and it is now the subject of an appeal to the Privy Council. In the circumstances, the Government should stay its hand in the erection of permanent buildingson the island until the Council of Defence has gone into the matter of the establishment of a naval base on the east coast.
– We must do something quickly, because the new cruisers will shortlybecoming out.
– We have the Cockatoo Island dock) and we shall be able to use Garden Island. I think it is generally admitted that the last place in the world for the establishment of a naval base is an important seaport town. Sydney Harbour isoneof the worst places that could be selected for the establishment of anaval base, because Sydney is a big cityand a great mercantileport. If we may be called upon topay £1,000,000 to New South Wales for Garden Island, it behoves the Government to look into the matter and, before it accepts theisland from the State, to see whether itmeets therequirementsof the Navy Department and whether anaval base could not be established ina better place.
I amvery much alarmed at the way in which our naval trainees leave the service after their first period of engagement. One of the reasons why they do so is that, rightly or wrongly theyfeel that preference for instructional officers is given to RoyalN avy ratings. The very opposite course is followed . atDuntroon, where positions are found for our trainees as Soon as theyare able to fill them. Many of the Duntroon instructors to-day were themselves trainees of the institution. I believe that instructors for the Navy are almost entirely drawn from Royal Navy men. that was necessary at the initiation of our Navy, but we have had naval training going on now for fourteen or fifteen years. The time has come when the Minister for Defence should see to it that when these instructional positions are available men will not be brought from England to fill them un less there are no Australians who can do so.
I express the hope that the Govern- ment will not refuse to re-consider the payment of a bonus to divisional returning officers.These men feel that they have a grievance. There are no more loyal and competent men in the Public Service. The fact that as heads of their offices they cannot be paid for overtime worked during elections, is a matter to which the government should give consideration. Wehavebeen told that the Public Service Board considered the matter, but I understand that the increase in pay recommended by the Public Service Board was recommended prior to the introduction ofcompulsory voting. If that be so, there should be some revision of the matter. I believe these men are entitled to a bonus, and I hope that the Government will see that they are properly treated.
.- The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Bowden) has referred to Garden Island, and it is evident that he knows very little about it. It would be well for him not to speak upon naval matters. Garden Island is an ideal place for a naval station and the carrying out of repairs. The honorable member has overlooked the fact that when a man-o-war conies to Sydney Harbour for repairs the visit serves many other purposes as well. There is the revictualling of the ship, and men who have been at sea for some time like to go ashore for recreation and to see life. They could not do so on a sheep or cattle station, or on a dairy farm. Then there must be taken into consideration the facilities afforded for securing the services of workers following various mechanical callings. We could not establish a naval station at some isolated place where it would be next to impossible to secure the services of mechanics. When a man wants to start an industry he must establish his factory at some place where he can expect to secure the labour he requiries. Men who have removed their factories from the city to some distance outside Sydney, have experienced difficult in securing labour, especially of mechanics. I know something about the history of Garden Island. I knew it when there was scarcely a brick on it. It was handed over by the British Government to the New South Wales Government of which Sir John Robertson was the head, upon the condition that it was to be available for the purpose of warships, and as a station for the vessels of His Majesty’s Navy. When we established an Australian navy, the British Government handed the island over to the Commonwealth Government on the condition that British war vessels visiting Sydney Harbour should be able to effect repairs and should not be charged Customs duties on their requirements. The British Government spent over £1,000,000 on Garden Island, and the Commonwealth has spent £2,000,000 more since it has owned it. No Government of Australia would think of hand ing over the buildings, machinery, plant, and expensive and complicated tools that are at Garden Island. There is not a naval officer who will not admit that Garden Island is an ideal naval base. Apart from the men, the officers of our ships of war, after being at sea for two or three months, want to enjoy the pleasures of social life ashore, and enjoy the company of their wives. They are fond of the ladies, and they will find none more worthy of their admiration than the ladies of Sydney.
– The Cockatoo Dock should be removed to Tasmania.
– If a few members of the Labour party and some Sydney business men were to take a hand in the affairs of Tasmania, it would become a State worth living in, and would not have to come to the Commonwealth each year cap-in-hand for assistance. Tasmania is a very pretty island, and its possibilities are great. But it is one of the most mismanaged parts of Australia. Its present unsatisfactory economical and financial position is due to the incapacity of its Federal representatives.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Gibson do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page, and read a first and second time.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
.- I move -
That Part 2, Prime Minister’s Department, £76,710, be reduced by £1.
The amendment is moved as an indication to the Government that its action in disapproving of determinations Nos. 47 and 48 of 1926, made by the Public Service Arbitrator, is a gross injustice to the Public Service, and detrimental to the principle of arbitration. This will afford an opportunity to test the feeling of the committee in regard to the action of the Government in disallowing the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator’s award in connexion with child allowance. The motion to disallow the regulation under which effect was being given to the award was made in another place, and it is difficult to understand why the Government decided that in regard to a matter of such importance this House should not be consulted. Honorable members will recollect that in 1920 there was a good deal of dissatisfaction amongst public servants, becausethey had no right of appeal from the decisions of the Public Service Board. Parliament, therefore, passed a special act to give them the right to appeal, not to the ordinary Arbitration Court, but to a special arbitrator, who was given power to deal with salaries and working conditions generally. In 1921 it was provided that a child allowance at the rate of 5s. per week for each child under the age of fourteen years be paid to public servants in’ receipt of salaries not exceeding £500 per annum. But to offset that concession many public servants who were entitled to an increase of the basic wage did not receive it, because of the amount they received as child allowance. In other words, the child allowance came from the pockets of the public servants. A man who receives £204 a year would be receiving £215 but for the child allowance. Recently the Arbitrator made an award which extended the child allowance to public servants in receipt of salaries up to £600 per annum. When the Arbitration Public Service Bill was before this House in 1920, the then Prime Minister, the right honorable member for North Sydney, Mr. Hughes, stressing the reed for the measure, said, amongst other things -
It [the Arbitration (Public Service) Act] was introduced as the result of widespread dissatisfaction in the Public Service against a system which did not afford any appeal from the Public Service Commissioner’s decision, and which cut off public servants from those other avenues of redress which are open to the ordinary citizen in his capacity as employee. . . . Awards as they are made will be dealt with exactly as in the case of awards in the Arbitration Court to-day.
That assurance was accepted by the House. The then Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) said -
It gives public servants rights, and a means of having their rights determined and benefits conferred upon them. It simply appoints an arbitrator with all the powers and jurisdiction that the judge had under the act of 1911. . . The Service will have one tribunal, where the whole of their rights and privileges will be promptly worked out as a consistent whole. … I believe the bill will help towards a better feeling, and create a greater amount of confidence in the administration of the Public Service through the officers having a just tribunal to deal with their rights.
It will be seen that the House when it passed the Bill, intended that the decisions of the Arbitrator should have the same effect as an award of the Arbitration Court. Certainly it was provided that either House might take action to disallow any regulation, and the then Prime Minister explained that in these words -
This Parliament, too, has its rights. The arbitrator might make an award to the effect that certain public servants should not receive promotion which they consider their due, or he might institute a reduction of salaries owing to a decrease in the cost of living. Parliament should see to it that it retains all its rights in view of such possibilities.
Acting upon that power, the Government has deliberately moved in another place to disallow an award given by the Arbitrator in December last. Regulations issued by the Public Service Board to give effect to it were sanctioned by the Executive Council; in other words, the Executive agreed that every public servant in receipt of a salary not exceeding £600 should get the benefit of that award, and such officers have been benefiting accordingly. Suddenly the Government said “ this must cease,” and action was taken in another place to have the regulation disallowed.
– Nothing has been paid under the Arbitrator’s award.
– The civil servants have been paid under the regulation, which was framed in consequence of the award. The Prime Minister is only quibbling to get away from the position.
– I am trying not to get away from the position, but to put it exactly. The public servants have been paid under the regulation and not under the award.
– There is a distinction without a difference. The Government has had the award disallowed, and the only reason given is that it is a question of policy. It is difficult to understand what the Government’s policy is regarding child endowment. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech at the last election, said that it was proposed that the judges of the Commonwealth and State Arbitration Courts should inquire into the subject of child endowment. The Government was returned with a large majority. Eighteen months have elapsed since that declaration, and yet not one step has been taken to give effect to that policy. The Prime Minister now says that, instead of submitting the question of child endowment to the Commonwealth and State arbitration judges, he intends to convene a conference of Commonwealth and State representatives with a view to deciding the future policy of the Government. The convening of a conference has nothing to do with the Public Service Arbitrator’s award. It is difficult to understand why the Government has disallowed an award of the Arbitrator. If this is done by a government, what shall we say when a private employer refuses to obey an award that is not acceptable to him? The Government is setting a bad example. We are the custodians of the people’s rights, and, as such, should do all in our power to bring about industrial peace in this country; yet an award which has been legitimately made is now disallowed. No government is justified in taking such a stop. The Public Service child allowance is not an integral part of the salaries of the public servants. The Arbitrator, when hearing an application for an increase of salaries, naturally takes into consideration the fact that the officers concerned are receiving child allowance. In consequence, some public servants profit by the scheme, but others are at a disadvantage. The fact remains that- this award has been made by the Arbitrator, whose decisions have been observed up to the present. A projected conference is no justification for a breach of an award made in the interests of the Public Service of thiscountry. What is the Arbitrator to do in the future now that his decision has: been challenged and upset by the Government? The chances are that in future he will be over-cautious when considering the claims of any section of the Public Service. Can. we hope to have a contented and efficient Public Service under these conditions. The Government was. not justified in allowing another place to decide this question. The Arbitration Public Service Act originated in this chamber, and I am at a loss to under stand why honorable members were not given an opportunity to review the decision of the Public Service Arbitrator. The public servants have already been paid child allowance under the award, and I want to know whether they will be asked to make a refund of the payments. Why did the Executive Council sanction the regulation in the first place? There is certainly room for an explanation why the Government has now repudiated the award. Mr. Atlee Hunt, the Public Service Arbitrator, is clothed with all the powers of a judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in regard to industrial matters, and is in exactly the same position. I venture to. say that no government would dare to upset an award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Surely Mr. Atlee Hunt, the Arbitrator came to a decision on the evidence placed before him? The Government should at least have given honorable senators of this chamber an opportunity to review the award.
Mr.BRUCE (Flinders- Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) [3.41]. - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton has moved for the reduction of the vote for the Prime Minister’s Department by £1 to express his disapprobation of the action of the Senate in disallowing an award of the Public Service Arbitrator relating to child allowance. The honorable member’s case realty is that, under no circumstances shall Parliament, either thisHouse or another place, take action to disallow an award of the Public Service Arbitrator, I do not think that the honorable member would, after reflection, contend that that was his view, or would stand to it as a principle. If,, in the opinion of this. Parliament, the Public Service Arbitrator unfairly and harshly; reduced the salaries of the civil servants, the honorable member would probably be the first to say that the award; should be disallowed. We could not make it a principle that all awards of the Arbitrator should be accepted. Obviously that was not the intention of the Parliament that passed the act under which the allowance is paid. Sub-sections 4 . and 5 of section. 22 of the Arbitration Public Service Act 1920 reads - (4)- If, before the. determination is laid before the Parliament, the Attorney-General advises the Prime Minister that, in his opinion, the determination is not in accord with any law or regulation of the Commonwealth referred to in the opinion, the Prime Minister shall cause the opinion to be laid, together with the determination, before both Houses of the Parliament.
From that it is plain that it was the intention of this Parliament that it should retain the right to disallow a determination if, in the opinion of this House, it were desirable to do so. The suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that, under no circumstances, should we disallow a determination, cannot be accepted as a principle. The facts in the present case are that the Public Service Arbitrator, by determinations 47 and 48, dated the 19th December, 1926, increased the maximum salary upon which child allowance may bepaid from £500 to £600. When the Arbitrator makes an award it must be laid on the table of both Houses of the Parliament, and, if not dissented from within 30 days, comes into operation. The date on which the Arbitrator’s awards should operate is a question which I need not discuss now. The Parliament in another place has disallowed the regulation made to give effect to the award, so the determination of the Arbitrator will not operate. After the award was given the Public Service Board, thinking that no action would be taken in the Parliament to disallow the determination, prepared a regulation bringing the Public Service Regulations into line with the award. There was only a small number of men to whom the award did not apply, but the Board thought it fair that those outside the award should be treated on the same basis as those inside it. That regulation was submitted by the Public Service Board and passed by the Executive Council on the 22nd December. From the date set out in the regulations all men in the Public Service who would otherwise receive the child allowance on the £600 salary basis have received it up to the present day. It is a just criticism. I agree, to ask why the regulation should be sanctioned by the Executive Council and action afterwards be taken in Parliament to dissent from it. The reply to that is, that the regulation which the Board submitted was passed by the Executive through inadvertence. The regulations have been consolidated recently, and large batches of them have been coming forward for the approval of the Minister and submission to the Executive. Through inadvertence, it was not pointed out to the Executive that there was anything new embodied in the group of regulations we. are now discussing. It is obvious that this Parliament has power to disallow a determination of the Arbitrator, and the question for consideration now is merely whether, in the present case, such action should have been taken. The Leader of the Opposition said that child allowance had been brought into force by the Arbitrator; but that statement is not correct; it was brought into operation to give effect to Government policy. In 1920, a royal commission, presided over by Mr. Piddington, K.C., inquired into the question of a basic wage, and imported that the actual cost of living for a man with a wife and three children was £5 16s. a week. But a separate memorandum was submitted by Mr. Piddington which stated in regard to the Public Service that, assuming family endowment and £4 basic wage, there would have to be an increase of 4s. per week for each employee and 10s. 9d. per week in respect of each child. That report was tabled, and subsequently action was taken to give effect, more or less, to the principle embodied in Mr. Piddington’s memorandum. Thus the principle of paying a child allowance was introduced in the Public Service under regulations Nos. 263 and 266 of 1920. Those regulations were to the effect that the basic wage of married men should be £208, and the basic wage of single men £174, and it was decided to pay an allowance of £13 for each child under fourteen years of age to public servants not receiving more than £500. That regulation has operated ever since. The point I wish to emphasize is that the payment of the child allowance was provided for by regulation by the government of the day, and not under an award of the Arbitrator. Consequently, the present Government feels that if an alteration in a fundamental principle of policy is to be made, it should be made not by a determination of the Arbitrator, but by the government of the day, with the sanction of the Parliament. There is the further fact to be borne in mind that the Commonwealth, and most of the State Governments, have under consideration the question whether it is practicable to provide for the payment of child allowances generally, so as to assist married workers in this country who have children. The Government expresses no opinion as to the £500 or £600 limit; it does not wish to discuss that, but it does say that it would be quite wrong that this Parliament, by not taking action to disallow this award, should appear to endorse any particular figure. In the policy speech which I delivered on behalf of the Government, I said that the Government proposed that the whole question should be investigated, and the suggestion I made was that a conference should be held of the arbitration judges from all over Australia, for the purpose of considering the whole of the facts and presenting a report to a conference of representatives of the Commonwealth and the State Governments. That suggestion was found to be impracticable. Any one who knows the state of affairs in the Arbitration Court knows that it is impracticable to withdraw any judges from that court for the purpose of making an inquiry. Consequently, the Government has requested representatives of all the States to meet together at the earliest convenient date to discuss whether practical and effective action can be taken to solve this problem. No action should be taken now which might prejudice or predetermine any question that will then come under review. In New South Wales the payment of child allowances has been fully discussed recently, and there the amount of salary which was contemplated as being the maximum in respect of which child endowment should be paid was £360. The Commonwealth figure of £500 was arrived at six or seven years ago. Having considered the whole subject the Government, in connexion with child allowance, came to the conclusion that the proper thing to do was to have a different basic wage for single and married men, and thus the child allowance was provided for by regulation and applied to the Public Service. Since then there has been no variation until, in December of last year, the salary figure was altered in one of the Arbitrator’s awards to £600. The Government considers that, as the whole question is under consideration, an Arbitrator’s award changing the salary figure should not be allowed to pass unchallenged, because that would be open to the interpretation that the view of the Arbitrator was the will of Parliament.
– Will the general scheme supersede all these regulations?
– If success is achieved, and the scheme is on an Australian basis, I hope that it will apply alike to the public servant and every other worker.
– Does the right honorable gentleman take the view that it is not within the competence of the Arbitrator to interfere with a regulation, as distinct from the Public Service classification wage?
– I do not say that; but I do say that this scheme of child allowance was originally brought in as part of government policy. The regulations giving effect to it have stood unaltered for seven years. I do not suggest that the Arbitrator has no power to make awards that depart from the Public Service Regulations, for he does that every day. . What generally happens is that when the Arbitrator varies the conditions set out in the regulations of the Public Service Board, the board amends its regulations to bring them into line with the award. But we cannot until the basic wage has been settled vary the basis of the scheme by including among those entitled to child allowance officers receiving salaries between £500 and £600, and still say that the money for child endowment is provided out of the difference between the salaries of married and single men. If the child allowance is paid for, as has been suggested, by the public servants themselves through that differentiation, then there must be a readjustment of the difference between the salaries of married and single men.
– When the Government brought this policy into operation, did it indicate that it would apply only to men in receipt of salaries up to £500 per annum, or was there no limit?
– The statutory rule bearing definitely on the point is as follows : -
In addition to the rates of salary fixed by theact and these regulations or under any award made under the Arbitration (Public Service) Act 1911, there shall bepayable, as from the first day of November, 1920, allowances at the following rates: -
to each married officer who has children under the age of fourteen years dependent upon him and who is in receipt of salary at a rate not exceeding £500 per annum - the sum of £13 per annum in respect of each such childso dependent.
It will be seen, therefore, that £500 was stated in the regulation under which child allowance is payable. That figure was not fixed by the Arbitrator, and prior to last December it had not been varied by him. For these reasons, I urge the committee not to accent the amendment. I suggest that, in the circumstances, the action of. the Government was right. It is not to be taken as an expression of opinion as to whether child allowance should be paid to officers in receipt of salaries up to £600 or not.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Monday next at 3 o’clock p.m.
House adjourned at 4.8 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 March 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1927/19270318_reps_10_115/>.