10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 11 a.m. and read prayers.
– On the 29th September the Treasurer gave me certain figures in reply to a question as to the indebtedness of the States at the end of the financial year 1926-27 and the average interest payable by the States at the present time. Will the honorable gentleman supply as soon as possible the whole of the information asked for?
– It is not possible yet to inform the honorable member the total indebtedness of the States to the 30th June, 1927 ; but, as soon as the information is available, I shall give it to him.
– When will honorable members have an opportunity of discussing the budget?
– At an early date.
– When ?
– Next week or the following week.
– When will payment of the extra remuneration promised to allowance postmasters be commenced, and on what basis will it be made?
– It will be paid from the 1st January of this year, but I can give no information at the moment as to the basis of payment.
– When is the House likely to know the decision of the Government regarding the control of wireless?
– I hope to make a statement on that matter next week, or at the latest during the following week.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs yet able to furnish a reply to the question I asked earlier regarding a probable increase in the price of leather?
– The honorable member’s question was referred for inquiry, but the information he desired has not yet come to hand.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether it is the intention of the Government to afford to honorable members before the Christmas vacation an opportunity to discuss the position of certain industries, particularly the iron and steel and textile industries?
– Statements of Government policy cannot be made by answers to questions.
Despatch to thesolomons.
– Owing to the publicity given to the despatch of H.M.A.S. Adelaide to the Solomons, and to the somewhat unenviable position that has been created by the impression that the Australian naval forces do not desire to give assistance if that should be necessary, and sought, I ask whether, in the event of an urgent call coming from the interior of Malaita for armed assistance from the crew of H.M.A.S. Adelaide, the commander and his subordinates have authority to give that assistance, or have they first to obtain the sanction of the Government?
-I am certain that the people of Australia do notentertain the belief that the personnel of the Australian navy is not prepared to respond to any call for assistance when the lives of British sub jects are in danger. As to thelatter portion of the question, I am unable to say what would happen in problematical circumstances. The commander of H.M.A.S. Adelaide has authority, without first securing the approval of the Commonwealth Government, to use the personnel of his ship to safeguard lives that may be in actual danger.The authority applies only when there is immediate and urgent danger.
– Is it a fact that the royal mail steamer Tahiti, after the deplorable collision that occurred last night, was allowed to proceed on her voyage to San Francisco without any statement being taken from the captain and officers as to the cause of the collision?
– I am sure that every honorable member deplores the dreadful accident that occurred yesterday afternoon in Sydney. I have no definite information upon the subject, but I shall endeavour to get into telephonic communication with Sydney to-day, and I shall, on the adjournment motion, give to honorable members whatever information I may obtain.
– I have received a telegram from a company which is producing radium in Australia. In view of the proposal of the Government to purchase radium as outlinedin the budget, I ask the Minister if such purchase has been made and whether inquiries were insituated as to the possibility of purchase of the radium in Australia? .
– Ten grammes of radium have already been purchased, at a cost of a little over £100,000. Before the purchase, full inquiries were made with regard to the countries that could supply the radium.
Meteorological Information - Transport
– In view of the fact that the weather reports are posted in Sydney, Melbourne, and other capitals of the Commonwealth between 11 a.m. and 12 noon each morning and are not available in Canberra until the afternoon, will the Minister concerned take steps to see that such reports are telegraphed to Canberra immediately they are made available in the other capital cities ?
– I shall consult the PostmasterGeneral and see if that is practicable. If so, it will be done.
– As many honorable members have to walk from the Hotel Kurrajong to Parliament House, and that journey is a very disagreeable one when the weather is inclement, will the Minister for Home and Territories communicate with the Federal Capital Commission, asking it to expedite the construction of a tarred or concrete footpath between the two buildings?
– The honorable member is aware that the Commission is doing all chat is possible to make satisfactory footpaths and roads. A concrete footpath will be laid down in the near future between Parliament House and the Hotel Kurrajong.
Address to Members of Parliament
– Referring to the address delivered to this Parliament last evening by the Dominions Secretary - with whose welcome I am sure we all wish to associate ourselves - when apparently, the press and the public were excluded from this building, is it the desire of the Prime Minister and the Government that the elaborate and able statement of Conservative policy made by the Dominions Secretary shall be the subject of criticism by honorable members here or elsewhere, or is it expected that the speech of the distinguished visitor shall pass without comment, as if accepted by every member of this House ?
– I think that all honorable members understand the position to be that it was felt desirable that an opportunity should be given for the Secretary of State for the Dominions to address the members of this Parliament, and for honorable members to ask him any questions they might desire upon matters of general imperial interest. It was not assumed that every honorable member would agree with everything that was said, or that in the absence of debate it might be considered that the Opposition or the Government acquiesced in every statement that Mr. Amery had made. The desire was merely to have made available to honorable members as much information as possible. Many of the matters referred to last evening will be debated in tin’s House, and upon the public platform, and varying and opposite views will he expressed upon them; but in such discussions some of the statements made last evening could not be repeated, as they were confidential, and it would be undesirable to give publicity to them. The discretion of honorable members individually as to what reference they make to Mr. Amery’s speech is, I am sure, tobe relied on.
– A verbatim report of the speech was taken last night, and I desire to know what kind of censorship will be exercised in regard to it. Is the report to be printed and distributed among honorable members for their further information ?
– A typewritten copy of the reporthas been made, and it will be carefully revised, consideration being given to the advisability of making it public, either in a censored or uncensored form. Of course, Mr. Amery himself must have an opportunity of seeing the report before any decision is made regarding its publication.
– Seeing that the official reporters were employed last evening, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, for what purpose was the report taken, if not to benefit honorable members.
– The gathering last night was not a sitting of the House, and as Speaker I have no control over the publication of its proceedings. Mr. Amery’s speech was reported so that, it could be published, should that be thought advisable, and with my permission, the Hansard staff was employed. A similar procedure was followed when the Empire Parliamentary Delegation visited Australia last year. During the visit several meetings of the Association were held. In some cases the reports of the speeches were treated as absolutely confidential, and were not circulated, whilst others were circulated after revision.
– Will the members of the Empire Parliamentary Association have the benefit of the report?
– I think that is a matter for the Prime Minister in consultation with the Secretary of State for the Dominions to determine.
– Doesthe Prime Minister consider it to be in accordance with the democratic outlook of the Australian people that we should be expected to listen here for two hours to an exposition of Conservative party policy without having an opportunity to reply?
– I think that the honorable member must be nearly alone in his objection to the procedure of last evening.
Honorable Members of the Opposition. - No.
– We on this side are no believers in secret diplomacy.
– The meeting last night was held to give an opportunity to honorable members of getting the fullest possible information on Empire affairs. The suggestion has been made that there was something undemocratic in the proceedings, and that they were in accordance with the methodsof secret diplomacy. May I inform honorable members that when in Great Britain last year I, as a Dominion Prime Minister, was entertained by, and addressed, the British Parliamentary Labour party. The statement I made at the gathering was of a private and confidential character, and no publicity of any sort was given to it.
– Is it not a fact that when the Prime Minister was in England the parent branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association invited him to address members; that at the gathering, which was representative of all parties in the Imperial Parliament, a member of the British Parliamentary Labour party presided; and that, although all present may not have agreed with what the right honorable gentleman said, they received the statement of his views appreciatively and courteously?
– At the meeting of the Empire Parliamentary Association my views were received without dissent, which may have been the expression of the innate courtesy of British Parliamentarians to a visitor. Thegathering was presided over by Mr. Thomas, a Labour member, and a former Secretary of State for the Dominions. In addition. I attended the other gathering to which I have referred, which was composed solely of members of the Labour party.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The Prime Minister did me an in justice when he said that I was alone in the attitude I adopted towards the speech delivered in this chamber last evening by the Secretary of State for the Dominions. The interjections of honorable members were a sufficient refutation of the assertion. I yield to none in the cordiality of my personal welcome to our distinguished visitor.
– We are all agreed as to his being welcome.
– I did not, however, attend to hear our visitor on the understanding that any communication he might make to us would be of a confidential character. If I had been invited upon such a condition, I should have promptly and respectfully declined to take any part in a secret meeting of such a description. In order that there may be no misunderstanding in future, I say now that, having heard the representative of the Conservative Government now in power in Great Britain speak on a great variety of questions of foreign and Empire policy, I feel it my duty and responsibility to exercise my own discretion as. to what reference I shall make to those subjects, and the views on them expressed by him. My present intention is to make Mr. Amery’s remarks the subject of further communication to my constituents in the freest possible way, believing that this and every other country has suffered a great deal too much in the past from secret, hole-and-corner methods, in connexion with foreign policy.
– In reference to the personal explanation made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is not a fact that, although, when we were invited to this chamber last night to listen to Mr. Amery, we were not definitely told that his communications were to be treated as confidential, the right honorable gentleman did, several times during his address, make it clear that his remarks were tobe confined within the four walls of the chamber? If that was so, was it not open to any honorable member who did not wish to listen upon those terms to retire from the meeting?
– Honorable members know the nature of last night’s proceedings. I cannot disclose what took place. It must be left to the judgment of those who heard what Mr. Amery said as to what they will say. I presume they will be influenced by those standards which usually guide members of a House with the high traditions which we possess.
– The following statement appeared yesterday in the Sydney press: -
The Federal Cabinet has definitely decided to dispose of the Commonwealth Line. Its policy’ was endorsed to-day at a joint meeting of the members of the Nationalists and Country Party, held at Parliament House. When members of the Nationalists and Country Party assembled to-day, they joined forces sit the suggestion of their leaders, and were addressed at length by the Prime Minister. Mr. Bruce made it clear that he was of the opinion that it should not be continued as a Government activity in view of the heavy financial losses .that are occurring on the running of the ships under the stringent conditions prescribed by the Australian Navigation Act. He favored selling the Line. This view, he stated, was shared by other members of the Cabinet.
As that is a very important announcement, and has received great publicity, will the Prime Minister be good enough to say whether it is the intention of the Government definitely to dispose of the Line?
– I have no concern with press reports of alleged happenings at Cabinet or party meetings. The honorable member is aware that there is on the business paper a notice of motion referring to the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts on the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I have already intimated that honorable members will be given every opportunity to discuss that report, and that in connexion with it I shall make a perfectly clear and definite statement of the Government’s policy with regard to the Line. That opportunity will be given either next week or the following week. Obviously I cannot make any statement of policy merely in answer to a question.
– The right honorable gentleman stated that he ca111101 make a definite statement on the subject to the House, but I would remind him that the broadcasting of these reports in the press must do the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers an immense amount of injury, as intending shippers cannot be expected to reserve cargo space when uncertainty exists as to the continuance of the operations of the Line. I urge the Prime Minister to make a definite pronouncement at once, so that the people of Australia may know precisely what the intention of the Government is.
– Statements appear in the newspapers from time to time which express only the opinions of the writers as to the future action of the Government, and obviously a reply to every such statement reported is not to be expected. I suggest that it is unlikely that during the next three or four, or at most eight days, the Commonwealth Line of Steamers will be detrimentally affected by the reports referred to. Precisely similar reports have been current during the last three years.
– In view of the fact that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts conducted its inquiry in connexion with the Commonwealth Line of Steamers in camera, will the Prime Minister make available to honorable members copies of the confidential cablegrams that have passed between the London office and the head office of the Line in Sydney, regarding increases in freights?
– I shall investigate the matter and ascertain whether it is possible to comply with the request.
– Is it possible “for the right honorable the Prime Minister to make available to honorable members printed copies of the report of the. committee? I am aware that there is a motion on the business paper seeking authorization for the printing of tha report, and that a few copies of the report have been made available to honorable members; but as there is a possibility of the subject being discussed at an ear;y date, it is desirable that all honorable members should be able to obtain a cop.y of it.
– I was under the impression that an ample number of copies had been made available. Although the report has not yet been ordered to be printed, the practice exists, for the convenience of honorable members, of setting up the type in advance of parliamentary authorization and printing a number of copies for circulation. If sufficient copies are not available 1 shall arrange for a further supply.
– Regarding the projected sale of the Commonwealth Shipping Line and in view of the fact that it is the custom of the House to print the .minutes of evidence of inquiries before the’ respective committees of the Parliament on matters of relatively little importance, will the Prime Minister agree to make available to the honorable members the full minutes of the evidence given before the Public Accounts Committee in its inquiry into the working of the line, since the matter is one of the greatest importance.
– The honorable member is, .1. think, under a slight, misapprehension. He referred to the projected sale of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, but no announcement of policy has been made Itv the Government in regard to the matter. It will be necessary for me to ascertain how voluminous the minutes of evidence are, and whether it is practicable to make them available. If it is, and the evidence is not of a confidential nature, on which point I have no information, there could be no possible objection to making them available.
– Will the Prime Minister definitely deny that the Government intends to sell the Line?
– I have been asked several questions on this subject, and I have made a number of statements in reply. I have endeavoured to make it clear that under no circumstances will the Government, make statements of policy regarding any matter merely in reply to questions. On the present occasion, those who are desirous of know ledge are, I suggest, in the happy certainty of obtaining it* within the next tcn days at most.
– I rise to a personal explanation. Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister a question regarding Government policy ; that is, whether it was a fact that Sir George Pearce was now on his way from Great Britain and the Cabinet had virtually decided to do nothing iii connexion with the Commonwealth Shipping Line until his arrival in Australia. The reply I received from the Prime Minister was an evasive one owing either to the acoustic properties of the building, or my inability to make my question clear. I desired the Prime Minister to say whether it was a fact that the Cabinet had decided to delay all shipping matters until the return of Sir George Pearce who, most of us know, is a friend of the shipping companies.
– Will the statement that the Prime Minister has promised to make on the matter on which he will speak, be brought before the House in such a form as will give opportunity for discussion and decision by the House on the fate of the Line, and the final disposal of the ships?
– The honorable gentlemen need have no anxiety on that score. The fullest possible opportunity will be afforded the House to discuss the matter.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether unofficial and more or less informal negotiations have taken place between certain financial interests in Melbourne and Sydney and the Commonwealth Government with regard to the purchase of the Commonwealth Line of steamers? Is it a fact that, because the negotiations are not proceeding as happily as the Government desires, the Government has delayed making a frank disclosure of its intentions with regard to the Line?
– There is no truth in tlie suggestion that the Government, has been negotiating with any financial interests for the sale of the Line. During the last six months I have received many communications from people who are interested in the purchase of the Line, and to every one I replied that, until the Government had determined its policy and. the matter had been discussed in the House, I declined to begin any negotiations. I have received many applications for personal interviews on the subject, and have refused all of them.
– Would the Prime Minister lay on the table of the Library the communications from those financial interests which have endeavoured -I accept the Prime Minister’s statement that the endeavours did not succeed - to negotiate with the Commonwealth Government regarding the sale of the Line?
– I shall inquire as to the actual character of the communications. It may be undesirable to make them public, and if publicity would in any way prejudice the position of the Line, I certainly shall not. accede to the honorable member’s request.
– Will the right honorable gentleman follow the example of his immediate predecessor by giving the Parliament full and complete information as to whether offers have been received from Lord Inchcape or anybody else for the purchase of the Line, so that honorable members may be thoroughly equipped to come to a sensible decision upon this subject?
– The honorable member need have no anxiety; the fullest possible information necessary to enable the House to come to a wise decision will be placed before honorable members when the subject is under discussion.
– Have any attempted negotiations for the purchase of the Commonwealth Line included an offer, tentative or otherwise, by the Seamen’s Union or any other Labour organization to operate the Line?
– No communication or offer of any character has been received from the Seamen’s Union or any other Labour organization.
– Will the Prime Minister lay on the table of the House any correspondence received from Mr. Larkin, formerly general manager of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, in regard to offers for its purchase made to him while he was in London?
– I shall look into the files to ascertain whether it is desirable that their contents should be made public;.
– In connexion with the promised opportunity to discuss the future of the Commonwealth Shipping Line, will the Prime Minister make available to honorable members the financial statements of the Line for the last three complete financial years, and also the last six months?
– I apprehend no difficulty in complying with that request, so far as it relates to the completed financial years. The balance-sheet for the last financial year is in the hands of the Auditor-General, and I do not think there can be any objection to disclosing its contents even if the Auditor-General’s certificate has not yet been obtained. As to the operations of the Line during the last six months, I shall have to make inquiry.
– Would not the statement cover the operations up to the 30th June?
– No ; the financial statement of the Commonwealth Shipping Line relates to the year ending 31st March. To avoid any possible misunderstanding, and save honorable members the trouble of asking further questions, I assure them that every available fact regarding the Line and its operations which it is possible to disclose will be given to them when the subject . is brought before the House.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained as far as possible.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
In view of section 26 of the Northern Australia Act 1920, which provides that “ In the first month in each quarter the commission shall furnish to the Minister a written report setting out -
the approximate expenditure and receipts during the past quarter;
) the general condition as regards works under the control of the commission;” will the Minister state whether such reports have been received, and, if so, willhe lay them on the table of the House?
– Reports for each of the quarters ended 31st March, 1927, 30th June, 1927, and 30th September, 1927, have been received, and copies will be laid on the table of the House.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice-
– The information is being obtained, and the honorable member will be informed as soon as possible.
Banks - Investments of Commission Officers - Cost of Footpaths and Kerbing -Rating - Expenditure
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– I am having inquiries made, and shall advise the honorable member at a later date.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Referring to his reply on the 28th September last to the question by the honorable member for Hunter (Hansard, page 33), will he state -
Whether the amount of general rating to be imposed on lessees of property in the Federal Territory has yet been decided upon; if so, what is the rate? and
Whether finality has yet been reached in regard to the naming of the streets in Canberra?
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
City area - 3d. in the £.
Outside city area - 2d. in the £.
Kates for the current year have not yet been struck by the commission.
– On the 3rd November, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) asked me the following questions: -
As a result of inquiries I have made, I am now in a position to inform the honorable member: -
Visit oe “ Franconia “ and “ Carinthia.”
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In respect to the comments and observations by certain metropolitan newspapers on the American tourists who visited this country last year in the liners Franconia and Carinthia -
Has he been informed that Australia has now been eliminated from the itinerary of these steamers ?
Has his attention been drawn to the following news item in a London newspaper: - “ The New Zealand Tourist League has received the following communication from the agents for the Garinthia and Franoonia (Messrs., Raymond Whitcombe and Co., of Boston United States of America) : - The clipping from the Auckland papers that you sent us seems to sum up the feelings of the passengers in the matter. To our mind the attitude of the press, in Australia particularly, was entirely undignified, and this left in the minds of the passengers very unpleasant feelings. On our previous year’s cruisethere were similar occurrences. We do not feel that it is worth while going into this matter more seriously with you, as wehave cut New Zealand and Australia from our itineraries, and, for the present at least, have abandoned our visits to your part of the world ‘ “ ?
Was any complaint made to the Government in this matter by therepresentatives of the shipping line concerned, or by the Consular representative of the United States ?
Will he take action to induce the offending newspapers to adopt a less objectionable attitude toward tourists who visit Australia?
– The replies to the honorable member’s question are as follow : -
Immediately on departure of the H. M.S. Franconia from Sydney, a committee of the passengers sent the following cable to the press in America: -
Have left Australia with admirtion for the country and appreciation of the whole-hearted hospitality extended by a generous people. There are no cities elsewhere more beautiful than here, and the scenery,embracing plains, mountains, rivers, harbours, and ocean shore, is delightful. Our stay in Australia, stands out as a. memorable part of the cruise ‘; and this unsolicited and spontaneous expression of appreciation speaks for itself.”
It is not within the power of the Government to dictate the policy of newspapers.
Mr. COLEMAN nsked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
How many recommendations have been received from the Tariff Board during the past twelve months -
Of increases in tariff;
Of reductions in tariff?
If possible, will he enumerate the subjects of such recommendations?
– The information will be obtained.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Salaries of Executive Officers
asked the Treasurer upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On the 26th October the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) directed attention to a statement in the press to the effect that faulty ammunition had been issued to riflemen engaged at the recent prize meeting of the National Rifle Association, New South Wales, held in Sydney. Inquiry has been made, and I desire to inform the honourable member that the small arm ammunition issued at the recent New South Wales prize meeting was of 1917 manufacture and of usual stock quality. It is reported that exceptionally high scores were made throughout the meeting. The Base Commandant, 5th Military District, has replied as follows from Perth to inquiries regarding the complaint: -
Captain and coach did not complain of ammunition. Report evidently emanated from junior member of team unauthorized tomake statement.
I might add that the Director of Rifle Associations and Clubs was present at the meeting and heard of no complaints regardi ng a mm u n i tion .
The following papers were presented : -
North Australia - Reports of the North Australia Commission, for the quarters ended 31st March, 1927; 30th June.. 1927: 30th September, 1927.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the orders of the day be postponed until after the consideration of notice of motion No. 1, Government business.
.- I would like the Prime Minister to indicate to the House the reason for changing the order of business, and introducing this measure. I am not opposed to it, but I would like to know why the change is being made?
– In reply to the honorable gentleman, the position is that notice has been given of the intention to ask for leave to introduce the Land Tax Assessment Bill, but it was not anticipated that the Treasurer would be in a position to make his second-reading speech to-day. He now finds that it is possible to do so, and the Government considers it would be for the convenience of members of the Opposition if the second-reading speech were made now, so that they might have more time to consider the measure after the speech has been made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an net to amend the Land Tax Assessment Act, 1910-26.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page and read the first time.
– I move -
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the remaining stages of the bill to be passed without delay.
– The honorable the Treasurer cannot move this motion in accordance with any contingent notice. Perhaps he will ask for leave to move the second reading.
– Then I ask for leave now to move the second reading of the bill.
.- Although it may he for the convenience of the House that the honorable gentleman should proceed with his second-reading speech, an earlier indication of his intention to do so should have been conveyed to the members of the House, who have been prepared for a discussion on another question. Surely the right honorable the Prime Minister might have taken into consideration the convenience of members, and have acquainted the Leader of the Opposition at an earlier date of his intention to change the order of business, and proceed with an entirely different matter from that which honorable members were expecting when they came into the House.
– Order! the honorable member for Dalley cannot discuss the matter. One voice raised in objection is sufficient to prevent the granting of leave. Is it the pleasure of honorable members that leave be granted.
Honorable Members. - Hear, Hear!
. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I thank honorable members for the leave given me to introduce this bill. In reply to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), let me say that the Government wishes to give the maximum amount of time to honorable members for the study of this bill, because it, like all taxation assessment measures, is exceedingly complicated. I have endeavoured to meet their convenience by having a memorandum prepared and distributed with the bill in order to indicate the full purport of the proposed amendments. As a permanent and satisfactory settlement of the vexed question of Commonwealth and State financial relationships is in sight - and it seems definitely established that the Federal Government will continue to collect land and income taxes - the Government has given careful consideration to the measure of taxation relief it can give at this moment. That relief is being given, not only by a 10 per cent. reduction of rates, but also by modifying the provisions of the taxing acts to ensure the maximum freedom possible at this stage from anomalies, inequities, and other sources of irritation.
The present Land Tax Assessment Bill, therefore, differs very markedly from most other tax assessment measures, in being mainly concerned with concessions to taxpayers and the removal of anomalies. The principal of these are - first, the abolition of the existing provisions of the law that retrospective re-assessment on departmental valuations may be made for a period of two years ; secondly, the replacement of the power of the department to make a variation in valuations each year by a requirement to adhere to valuations for a period of three years; thirdly, the extension of the powers of the Hardship Board to grant relief in respect of land used for primary production when the working of any land has resulted in a loss in the year for which the tax is levied ; fourthly, the exemption from taxation of lands owned and used by sports clubs except racecourses; fifthly, relief to company shareholders and elimination of unprofitable administrative work by an alteration of the provisions of the act to render it unnecessary for the department to include any interest of a shareholder in the unimproved value of the lands of the company if it, does not amount to £100, or when the aggregate of interests of £100 or over is less than £500; and, finally, the creation of a valuation board or boards for the reviewing of departmental valuations objected to by taxpayers. In regard to the abolition of retrospective reassessments on departmental valuations, it, may be stated that when the department was first established there was good reason for this provision, because it was impossible for the department to make valuations of all taxable lands so as to include them in the original assessments in those early years. But the Land Tax branch of the department has now existed for seventeen years, during which time much valuable information regarding land values has been collected. The collection of data is constantly proceeding as land sales take place. The liability to retrospective re-assessment of land has always left land-owners in a state of uncertainty regarding their liability to taxation, and has seriously interfered with the adjustment of sales and transfers of land. It is considered that the time has arrived for the abolition of retrospective reassessments of this kind, and the bill gives effect to this view. In connexion with what may be called triennial revaluation of land, the bill also provides that, generally, land values shall be maintained without alteration for a period of three years for purposes of taxation. There are certain necessary limitations to this arrangement, and they are expressed in clause . 14 of the bill. Attempted avoidance of tax will be a reason for variation of an assessment at any time. A substantial alteration is proposed in the provisions of the act relating to the inclusion in the personal assessments of company shareholders of their interest in the unimproved value of the lands of companies of which they are shareholders. At present the law requires that the unimproved value of lands owned by companies shall be treated as the joint possession of the shareholders in the proportion of their respective interests in the paidup capital of each company. This provision requires the department to ascertain the unimproved value represented by one share and then to calculate the interest of each shareholder in the land. The interest so calculated is then to be aggregated with the other lands of which the taxpayer is the owner or in which he may have a joint or beneficial interest so as to ascertain his total taxable value and the rate of tax payable by him. In practice the department has found on the average that it is not economical to deal with any share interest in a company which represents an unimproved value of less than £100 and therefore, in order to save money, the commissioner instructed his officers to omit from an assessment any such interest. This arrangement has been found to be advantageous to the work of the department by materially assisting in keeping down the staff requirements. There has not been any loss to the Commonwealth by the arrangement, but, on the other hand, there has been a financial gain by way of reduction in expenditure of an amount greater than any possible revenue from the omitted source.
– How long has the department been doing that ?
– For the last six or seven years. The Government considers that a further step in this direction is now possible, and that is to exclude from shareholders’ personal assessments any aggregation of interest which is less than £500, and for the purpose of that aggregation to treat as non-existent any interest which is less than £100. This means that only those interests which amount to £100 and over will be aggregated, and if that aggregation is less than £500 it will not be included in the shareholder’s assessment. If a shareholder has an interest in one company only and his interest in the company’s land is less than £500, it will not be included in his assessment. This advance is regarded by the Government as the nearest approach it may make at present to giving effect to the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Taxation 1920-1922, that the basis of land tax should be altered so as to tax the equitable or beneficial owner only, treating for that purpose a company as being the sole beneficial owner of its lands. It is necessary to explain what is meant by the taxation of the equitable or beneficial owner only. The land tax is levied at a graduated rate on an aggregation of the unimproved values of interests held in land either as a primary owner or as an equitable or beneficial owner. Each person assessed is entitled to a deduction of the general exemption of £5,000 from the aggregate unimproved value in the assessment. The primary owner is first assessed and the tax assessed is paid in full by that owner. The equitable or beneficial owner is assessed as a secondary taxpayer on all his interests in land. His assessment will contain the full unimproved value of any land owned by him in his own right, together with the unimproved value of any equitable or beneficial interest owned by him in any other land. Equitable or beneficial interests in land may he in any of the following forms : - (a)as a beneficiary in a trust estate which owns land;
Every secondary taxpayer is entitled under the act to a deduction in his assessment of the lesser of two amounts, either the . part of the primary tax which is attributable to the unimproved value of his beneficial interest in the land of the primary taxpayer, or the part of his own tax which is attributable to that value. The effect of this provision is that the Treasury retains tax on the unimproved value of the equitable or beneficial interest at the higher of the two rates assessed on it - the higher of the primary owner’s rate or the secondary owner’s rate. The royal commission recommended that this system should be abolished and should bc replaced by a tax at a graduated rate upon the aggregate of the unimproved values of all lands owned by an equitable or beneficial owner, and for that purpose, it was recommended that a company should be treated as the sole beneficial owner of its land. A slight examination of the effect of this recommendation showed that it would be possible for any land-owner to split up his interests in land and transfer the separated parts to different companies and so entirely escape all land tax. It was oibvious that the recommendation could not be accepted, without altering the graduated rate of tax to a higher flat rate to be paid by large or small owners alike. The recommendation was not carried into effect.
– Will the setting aside of that recommendation result in a gain to theDepartment?
– Yes, because the recommendation, if given effect, would have permitted a large land-holder to escape the tax.
– How will the lessee of a shop be affected under section II of the act ?
– I shall deal with that matter at. the committee stage. One of the most important features of the bill is the provision for the constitution of valuation boards having power to review the value assigned by the department to any land in assessment against which the taxpayer may have objected on the ground that the valuation is excessive. A board will consist of a chairman appointed for a period not exceeding seven years, as may be found convenient, with two assisting members. It is proposed to commence with one board for the whole of the Commonwealth, because the past experience of the department has shown that in the vast majority of cases the department and the taxpayer come to agreement respecting the valuations to be used in the disputed assessments. It is not improbable, however, that the existence of a board may cause some taxpayers to have their cases dealt with by that body. If the work of reference should increase to such proportions as to necessitate the establishment of an additional hoard, or additional boards, that course may be taken under the terms of the provisions of the bill. The personnel of the board other than the chairman will consist of one member representing the Commissioner of Taxation and the other representing land-owners of the class concerned in the particular reference to the board. For example, if the board is dealing with the valuation of pastoral lands, the land-owners’ representative will be a person competent to deal with the valuation of such lands. If the valuation relates to agricultural or dairying or mining lands, the member of the board representing the owner will be a person competent to deal with the valuation of such lands. The representative of the Commissioner of Taxation will vary with the particular States owing to the variation in the physical features and climatic conditions of the various States.
– To serve when required.
– That is so. The chairman will be the only permanent appointee. The bill contains provision for the termination of the services of any member of the board. Special provisions relate to the chairman, who may be suspended from office by the GovernorGeneral for misbehaviour or incapacity, but the suspension may be removed upon presentation of an address to the GovernorGeneral by the Senate and the House of Representatives praying for the restoration of the chairman to office. A member of the board other than the chairman may be removed from office for misbehaviour or incapacity. He has no appeal from this decision nor is it desirable that he should be allowed to appeal. The chairman or other member of the board is deemed to have vacated office if -
The Valuation Board will deal with land values only. In cases which are referred to it, its decision on questions of fact dealt with by it will be final, unless the decision is associated with some question of law which the court may subsequently decide in such a way as to react upon the value determined by the board. In such a case the court will have power to vary the valuation arrived at by the board. The bill will exempt all lands owned by or in trust, for any club or body of persons and used primarily and principally for the purpose of games and athletic exercises among individuals and not used for the pecuniary profit of the members of the club or body. Racecourses are not covered by this exemption. It is considered proper that Land Tax should not be charged on sports grounds. Instead of these being broken up by force of the weight of Land Tax on them, it is the tendency of modern city planning to increase their numbers aud areas. The desirableness of this is apparent, and therefore the Government proposes to exempt them from Land Tax. The present tax collected from these associations is extremely small, but it imposes substantial burdens on the members of the clubs and associations concerned, and these it is desired to remove. The next concession that is granted is in connexion with the hardship clause of the act, which is being enlarged, first of all, to authorize the Relief Board to remit land tax payable in respect of any particular land used for primary produc ti on when that use has resulted in a loss during the year of assessment. At present the act conveys the impression that that was the intention of Parliament when the law was made, but actually it applies only to those cases of hardship in which it is not possible, owing to the financial position of the land-owner, for him to pay the tax. In addition, provision is made for substitute members of the Relief Board being appointed by the Treasurer as occasion requires, owing to the altered conditions arising from the transfer of the Seat of Government from Melbourne to Canberra, and the necessity for the Commissioner of Taxation to be absent frequently from Melbourne on visits to the various States of the Commonwealth. This will permit of the board meeting more frequently than is possible at present. Provision is further made that applications for relief from tax of £500 and over shall be referred for preliminary investigation and discussion with the taxpayer to the individual members of the Income Tax Board ofReview in similar manner to reference to that board now made in the case of applications for relief from income tax of £500 and over. That relieves the strain on the Relief Board, and will enable taxpayers to attend personally before a member of the Income Tax Board of Review, and discuss their applications, so that they may advance all arguments in support of their claims for relief. These references to the members of the Income Tax Board of Review, in the case of applications for relief from income tax, have been of great assistance to both taxpayers and the Relief Board, and it is considered that equal benefit will result from the proposal to refer applications for relief from land tax to the members ofthe same board.
The remaining provisions of the bill are : -
In connexion with the expression of the powers of the second commissioner, recently a tendency has been shownby some taxpayers to raise technical objections against the validity of some of the actions and decisions of the assistant commissioner, on the ground that the terms of the law require those actions and decisions to be made personally by the commissioner. There are some provisions of the law in respect of which that argument apparently holds, and therefove the commissioner personally has applied those provisions. The frequent absences of the commissioner from his head office in Melbourne, in fulfilment of the very desirable policy of visiting each State capital so that taxpayers may have personal access to him, has tended to delay the work of the department in connexion with those cases which must be dealt with personally by the commissioner. It is very desirable that this delay should bc obviated, and therefore it is proposed that there should be a definite statement in the law that the second commissioner may, subject to certain necessary limitations, exercise the powers and functions of the commissioner, and that the provisions of the act may apply when the second commissioner is dealing with a case in the same manner as they apply when the commissioner is dealing with the case. The commissioner will have the same power to review and alter any action, decision, or determination as at present, thus enabling dissatisfied taxpayers to appeal finally to the commissioner before carrying their cases to the board of review or the courts. Associated with this amendment is a provision for the preservation of all- existing and accruing rights or rights arising from service under the Public Service Act of the Commonwealth of the second commissioner. The existing provision for the commissioner and the assistant commissioner in this respect is being repealed, and a new provision applying to the commissioner and the second commissioner is included in the bill. Honorable members will find the information in clauses 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 of the bill.
– What is the increased cost that is involved?
– None. The “ second commissioner “ is simply a change of name, and does not involve the payment of additional salary. The inclusion in the act of a more effective and workable definition of “parcel of land” than that which is contained in the present act is the second machinery alteration in the bill. The definition which is set out in clause 9 of the bill is that upon which the department has been working for the past seventeen years, and in regard to all lands except Crown leaseholds. The definition was applied by the department to Crown leaseholds when the original valuations of those lands were made ; but the royal commission on the valuation of Crown leaseholds of 1924 discovered that in connexion with those lands the law requires that each separate lease should be valued as if it were the only land held by the lessee. This requirement of the law has resulted in very great alterations in the values of Crown leaseholds. It is not proposed that the new definition of “ parcel “ shall be applied now to the valuation of Crown leasehold lands, as the work of revision of those valuations, in accordance with the recommendations of the royal commission, has been completed in many instances, and is being pressed on as rapidly as possible in the other cases. Furthermore, the tax on those lands is no longer in operation. The departmental definition now included in . the bill has worked most satis factorily in the past. It is desirable, however, to give legislative authority to it.
The bill alters the act so as to provide that ownership at midnight on the 30th June shall determine liability for tax in the next succeeding financial year. At present the liability arises at noon on the 30th June. This is a very unsatisfactory provision, both for taxpayers and for the department. It has led to much unnecessary work to determine whether in fact a change of ownership had taken place before or after noon on that date, and it is much better that midnight should be substituted for noon.
The bill alters the present provisions of the law relating to the due date of payment of the tax. At present it is necessary for the Governor-General to proclaim, each year, a due date of payment of the tax. Thirty days’ notice of this must be published in the Gazette, and. a further 30 days after the proclaimed date is allowed for payment of tax without penalty. The period of 60 days allowed for payment of tax without penalty is being adhered to, but the necessity for the Governor-General to proclaim a due date is being abolished. It it proposed that, in future, the due date for payment shall be 30 days after the service by post of the notice of assessment. This accords with the practice under all the other taxation acts where annual due dates of payment are involved. It is not intended to call upon land-owners for payment of tax at any earlier -date than at present. The issue of notices will be commenced, as formerly, in the month of March, and the notices will be issued in batches as they are prepared. This will ease the work of the receiving branches of the department by causing the final dates of payment to be well distributed over a period of about two months, instead of being concentrated, as at present, into one day.
The bill will also provide for power to impose a penalty for late payment of tax assessed on amended assessments. This power does not exist at present, and the department has been forced to lose time and money through the necessity to institute legal proceedings for the recovery of outstanding taxes. Experience has shown that the existence of an automatic penalty under the act has stimulated taxpayers to make prompt payment of their taxes.
Statutory authority to the commissioner to extend time for payment of tax is being given. The commissioner has always assumed the existence of such authority, but it is considered desirable to express it definitely in the law.
The machinery alterations referred to grant power to the commissioner at any time to call for a return of land owned by any person, whether a taxpayer or not. The object of this amendment is to secure power to penalize a taxpayer who has failed to lodge his return by the ordinary due date, the 31st of August of each year, and who does not render a return until called upon by the department to do so. There is no power at present to penalize such a taxpayer for his original default, unless legal proceedings are taken against him within twelve months after the relevant 31st August. Frequently these defaulters are not discovered until after the expiration of that time limit, and the department has no chance of recovering from them any part of the unnecessary expenditure to which it was put through the default. The amendment will remedy this defect in the law.
The bill contains similar penalty provisions to those contained in the Income Tax Assessment Act for what might be called minor breaches of the law, such as failure to lodge returns, to supply information, to attend and give evidence when called upon, and the omission of taxable land from returns. The clauses concerned will empower the commissioner to prosecute if he considers the circumstances warrant that course; or, in the alternative, to impose a penalty of £1 or 10 per cent. per annum of any tax payable during the period of default in lodging returns where that is the offence, or double the tax avoided by the omission of land from the return where that is the offence. In the case of taxpayers who make default in payment, and cannot be located, the department is obliged to register the tax as a charge against the title. It is proposed in the bill that the defaulters should be required to pay all the costs connected with the registration and its subsequent removal before obtaining a clearance of the charge from the title.
Finally, necessary power is being given to the commissioner to require persons, whether taxpayers or not, to furnish him with such information as he may require. This power is not at present contained in the act, and its absence has frequently greatly embarrassed the administration. The power now being provided is identical with that provided in the Income Tax Assessment Act, where its presence has been of the greatest assistance to the administration. The other provisions of the clause in which this power is expressed are those already in the act. The honorable member for
Yarra (Mr. Scullin) raised the subject of the triennial valuation. I do not think the re-assessment will make much difference, because the amount of information available in the department is now fairly considerable. A loss of about £80,000 a year will occur for the first two years, but in the third year the loss should disappear.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Scullin) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 2nd November (vide page 912) on motion by Mr. Marr-
That thebill be now read a second time.
.- With other members of the Opposition 1 am always pleased to see amendments of the electoral machinery that tend to assist in obtaining a clearer expression of opinion by electors; but I am not satisfied with this bill. In the first place, it will increase the difficulty that nomadic workers engaged in seasonal industries experience in recording their vote. The measure will also enable a person to take aseat in this Parliament without having bern elected by the people. If oneof two candidates dies between nomination day and pollingday, the remaining candidate automatically becomes the member. That, I think, is undemocratic. A third reason why I am not satisfied with the hill is that it will relieve journalists of the obligation to sign political articles published during an election campaign. Another important objection I have to the measure is that it fails to remove a big obstacle in the way of State members becoming candidates for the Commonwealth Parliament. Clause 2 of the bill is ambiguous, and in my opinion will result in thousands of persons engaged in the sugar and pastoral industries being prevented from exercising the franchise.
– Could they not make declarations ?
– That is most unsatisfactory. They are often told that they are not eligible, and they give up their claim in disgust. Many of these nomadic workers have no fixed place of abode. In accordance with the present law the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) was automatically declared to be the representative of that electorate, through the unfortunate death of the late Honorable Charles McDonald, the day before the polling took place. I cast no personal reflection upon the honorable member for Kennedy, but the fact remains that he was not elected by the people. When the motion for the appointment of the Joint Select Committee was before the House I urged the necessity for widening the scope of the inquiry to permit the committee to consider how best to rectify the anomaly. Although certain additional powers were given to it, after I had made my suggestion, the Government did nothing along the lines I had indicated. On that occasion I suggested that the committee be asked to report on the advisability of holding a new electionin the case of a candidate dying between the declaration of nominations and polling day. The Government’s inaction is most reprehensible. It had plenty of time to take steps to remedy the trouble, but it failed in its duty. Many of rhe electors in the Labour stronghold of Kennedy feel the anomalous position very keenly.
– They have never before had such a good representative.
– If the whole of the electors had an opportunity of voting, they would return a member of another political party. Section 107 of the Electoral Act 1902-1911 reads-
If after the nominations have been declared and before polling day any candiate dies and the candidates remaining are not greater in number than the candidates required to be elected, they shall forthwith be declared to be elected and the writ returned
That provision was also embodied in section 83 of the 1918-1922 Act. Protests from electors in Kennedy caused me, soon after the last election, to ask the Prime Minister the following question -
Will the Prime Minister give early consideration to the advisability of amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act in order to make it mandatory that in constituencies where only two candidates are nominated, and one dies between the date of nomination and polling day, fresh nominations shall be invited?
To this the Prime Minister replied -
The efficient working of the Electoral Act is always receiving the consideration of the Government, and no matter affecting in any way its efficiency is overlooked. I do not think, however, that the suggestion of the honorable member requires immediate consideration.
That answer did not meet my wishes.
– What should be done if a candidate died the day before the election ?
– The election should be declared null and void, and the electors given an opportunity at a later date of deciding whotheir representative should be. I did not suggest in my question to the Prime Minister that the matter was one for immediate consideration. I indicated that it should be considered by the joint committee then about to be appointed. During the 1925 election, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) made a bold statement on this subject. He was reported in the Brisbane Courier of 17th November, 1925, to have said -
There was one thing about the elections which he would alter if he had the power. He did not like the Kennedy seat in Queensland reverting as a walk-over to Mr. Francis through the unexpected death of Mr. Charles McDonald. “ Of course it is law,” he said, “ but it ought not to be. It strikes at the root of democracy by depriving people of the right of choice. It happens just now to the advantage of the Nationalists, but another time it might operate the other way with vital consequences. I think the Kennedy election should be declared null and another election held.”
For six years Mr. Hughes was the Nationalist Prime Minister of Australia. Having had experience in several political parties, he had his finger on the pulse of public opinion, and I believe if he had remained Prime Minister he would have taken steps to amend the electoral machinery in the direction I have indicated.
– What would the honorable member have done if he had been the successful candidate 4
– I believe he would have said “I do not want this seat in such circumstances. I prefer the electors to have an opportunity to decide as to who» their representative should be.” At the last election, the Senate Labour candidates in the Kennedy electorate polled 2,311 votes more than the Nationalists. Three unknown Senate Labour candidates polled a majority of 2,311 votes in the Kennedy electorate over well-known and trusted Nationalist candidates.
– The Senate candidates in the honorable member’s electorate did not poll a majority of votes.
– They were defeated by 1,100 votes, but I had the honour of winning the seat by 1,678 votes. The sitting member for the House of Representatives invariably’ polls more votes than the Senate candidate of the same party. Putting aside the personal popularity of the Late Mr. C. McDonald, the figures show that Kennedy is a Labour stronghold, and would have returned a Labour candidate if a new election had been ordered.
– By the same reasoning, may not Capricornia be considered a Nationalist stronghold ?
– No. Labour has held the seat continuously for sixteen years. In the last federal election campaign the electors were stampeded by the misrepresentation indulged in by the Ministerial party, and the threat to deport those who fomented industrial trouble. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) said in a statement subsequent to the election that Mr. C. McDonald was selected by the Labour party because of his large personal following. That was an admission that Mr. McDonald would have polled a larger vote than did the unknown Senate candidates.
– A majority vote of the Senate in any division does not necessarily mean a majority vote for the same party in the House of Representatives.
– Experience shows that Senate candidates never poll as heavily as do the candidates for the House of Representatives. The honorable member obtained a bigger majority in the Oxley electorate than did his party’s Senate candidates. The Labour Senate candidates obtained a majority of votes in 19 out of 23 subdivisions in the Kennedy electorate, and there is little doubt that Mr. C. McDonald would’ have polled a correspondingly larger majority in his electorate just as I did in Capricornia. In Charters Towers Labour polled 1,946 votes, and the Nationalists 1,638, leaving a majority of 306 for Labour. At Hughenden Labour polled 655 votes, and the Nationalists 423, a majority of 232 for Labour. At Longreach Labour polled 1,252, and the Nationalists 780 votes, showing a majority of 472 for Labour. I could quote other big majorities obtained by the Labour Senate candidates, and yet a Nationalist sits in this House misrepresenting the political views of the Kennedy electorate.
– What were the State election figures?
– All State electorates within the Kennedy division are represented by Labour members.
– Elected on stuffed rolls.
– No, on clean rolls. Throughout its history the electorate of Kennedy has been represented by a Labour member.
Sitting suspended from 12.51 to 2.15 p.m.
– If the electors of Kennedy had been given an opportunity of voting on the last occasion, all the evidence goes to show that they would have been represented in this Parliament by a member of the party to which the late Mr. Charles McDonald belonged.
– The evidence does not show anything of the kind.
– I will quote the figures to show that it does. In the Federal Kennedy electorate the Senate Labour candidates obtained a majority of votes in 19 out of 23 subdivisions, and a majority of first preference votes of 2,311 in the whole electorate. The honorable member himself said that Mr. Charles McDonald was selected as the Labour candidate because it was known that he was a popular man, and would poll well for Labour. All the figures go to prove that the sitting member for Kennedy (Mr. McDonald) would, had he lived, have polled an even bigger majority than did the Senate candidates in the interests of Labour. The polling in the electorate from the beginning of Federation had always given a Labour majority. In 1913 Mr. McDonald obtained a majority of 11,633. In 1914 his opponents considered him so strong that’ they allowed him a walk-over; they did not nominate any man to oppose him. In 1917, when Labour did not stand well in the country, he obtained a majority of 6,270. In 1919 his majority was 5,080; and in 1922, he had a majority of 5,567, although he had been a sick man, and had not been able to take any part in the campaign. It is absolutely certain that if Mr. McDonald had gone to the poll at the last federal election he would have won the seat by an overwhelming majority. As a matter of fact, the electorate was looked upon as such a strong Labour seat, that the Nationalists carted it round and offered it to a number of people before they offered it to the honorable member for Kennedy. There is a serious anomaly in the present electoral act, which permits a member to come into this House and talk about mandates from the people, and about the views of the people outside, although not sent here by the votes of the people themselves. The electoral law is wrong, unjust and undemocratic, and should be amended. I am going to move, when a suitable opportunity occurs, that it be amended, and I hope honorable members on the other side of the House will support the view of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who said that if he had the power he would declare the Kennedy election null, and would give the people an opportunity of voting for their representative. I intend to move a new clause to be inserted after clause 13. It reads as follows: -
Section 107 is repealed. Section 108 is amended by inserting a new paragraph after the second paragraph in the section as follows : - “ An election shall be deemed to have wholly failed if, after the nominations have been declared, and before polling day, any candidate dies.”
That is only a fair thing, and would give the electors an opportunity of saying who is to represent them. No one should support the practice of allowing a member to come into this House when the people have not had an oppertunity of voting for him. At the last election for the Kennedy electorate, Senate Labour candidates obtained a majority of 2,311 over those of the opposing party, and if the electors had had a chance, they would have sent a Labour representative to this House. In regard to clause 25, I am sorry that the Government intends to amend section 164 of the principal act by proposing to relieve journalists of the obligation to sign leading articles or reports of political meetings. No journalist should object to signing any article he writes.
– Many of them do.
– Honorable members must come into this House and express their views openly. Therefore, journalists who express their views in leading articles should have to sign them.
– There is a big difference between the two cases. Members of Parliament . speak under privilege.
– If a libel action is taken out in respect to any article, it is not the writer, but the newspaper, that has to answer the charge. The members of the Labour party know that 98 per cent. of the newspapers of Australia are opposed to it. If a journalist has not to sign leading articles he will often put unscrupulous and unfair things into them; things, perhaps, which he would be ashamed to write over his own name. I submit that every man filling the position of leader writer of political articles during election campaigns should sign them, and should not be ashamed to put his name to anything he might write. Another question is the eligibility of State members of Parliament to contest seats for the House of Representatives. I think that the Government might see its way clear to amend the existing electoral law in that respect.
– If they do that, your cake is dough!
-I am not afraid of any opposition I may have. I think there will be a possibility of the honorable member’s cake being dough, to use his own expression. A member of the Sydney City Council is not compelled to resign his seat in order to contest an election for a federal seat, nor is a member of the Melbourne or of the Brisbane City Council compelled to resign his seat. Why then should a member of the State Parliament have to resign before he is eligible to nominate for a federal seat? In the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1902-1911, section 96 reads -
No person who is, at the date of nomination, or who was, at any time within fourteen days prior to the date of nomination, a member of the Parliament of a State, shall be capableof being nominated as a senator, or as a member of the House of Representatives.
Subsequently the Parliament of Tasmania and the Parliament of Queensland introduced legislation providing that a State member who resigned his seat in order to contest a seat for the Federal Parliament, and did not win the seat, could resume representation of the State constituency without an election. Those amending bills were put through the State Pariliaments of Tasmania and Queensland, and the present Premier of. Tasmania availed himself of that act to contest a federal seat. He was defeated, and resumed his seat in the State Parliament.
– That has all been altered.
– I am leading up to that, and to how you got around those provisions. In 1922, the Queensland Parliament passed the measure to which I have referred. I was hopeful that I would be able to avail myself of that act when I stood for the federal seat which I now represent. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) was then Premier of Queensland. The act was not put through specially for me, but because it was considered fair that a member of the State House should be able to get back his State seat if he failed to be elected for the Federal Parliament. Shortly after Queensland passed that act, the Federal Parliament brought the matter up again, and passed an Electoral Act, section 70 of which reads as follows : -
No person who -
is at the date of nomination a member of the Parliament of a State; or
was at any time within fourteen days prior to the date of nomination a member of the Parliament of a State; or
has resigned from the Parliament of a State andhas the right, under the law of the State, if not elected to the Parliament of the Commonwealth to be re-elected to the Parliament of the State without the holding of a poll, shall be capable of being nominated as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
This was introduced about 1922, in order to defeat the acts put through the Tasmanian and Queensland Parliaments. It is very unfair of honorable members to place by legislation a barrier around themselves in an effort to keep from this Parliament experienced members of State Parliaments, who should be desirable representatives of the people in the federal sphere. The electors should have the widest choice of candidates. Not every member of a State Parliament is prepared to resign his seat to contest a federal constituency. I myself took that risk and was successful, but there are few State members who can afford to risk losing the salary that they receive as such. That anomaly in the Commonwealth electoral law not only prevents 90 per cent. of members of State Parliaments from becoming candidates at federal elections, but also deprives the electors of a choice of representatives from men whose experience would be invaluable in the Commonwealth Parliament. Fully 99 per cent. of the electors believe that at federal elections a member of a State Parliament should be in the same position as an alderman of a city council, who is not required to resign his seat when becoming a candidate for a federal constituency. In the committee stage, I hope to move amendments necessary to wipe outthat anomaly in the Commonwealth Electoral law, and also to provide for a new election in an electorate, when between nomination day and polling day, one of the candidates dies, as happened in the case of the late Hon. Charles McDonald.
.- I had intended to reserve my remarks on this bill until the committee stage, when I proposed to move an amendment similar to that which has already been foreshadowed by the honorable member for
Bass (Mr. Jackson), with the object of allowing greater latitude and facilities to those electors that are situated in inconvenient places at some considerable distil nee from the mainland, and are therefore prevented from casting a vote. There are situated close to the mainland of my constituency many islands, the inhabitants of which receive a mail once every three weeks, thereby being deprived of a vote. Previous speakers have urged the Government to provide greater facilities, to enable every elector throughout Australia to record bis vote, and in this direction I shall in the committee stage ask the Government to give favourable consideration to the amendment that I shall then move. 1 was pleased to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) express satisfaction with the effort that was being made under this bill to extend the opportunities for voting, and I believe that he also indicated that, it would be to the advantage of this country to have uniform electoral laws. With that suggestion I am entirely in accord for several reasons, but before I deal with them I should like to comment on the remarks of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde). “ I regret that he should have seen fit to confine his speech practically to the Kennedy seat. This side of the House, as well as that side, genuinely regretted the death of the Hon. Charles McDonald, who prior to the last election represented that electorate. At that time, under the electoral law it was incumbent on the returning officer to declare Mr. G. Francis to be the duly elected member for Kennedy, and I suggest that his constituents have cause to congratulate themselves on’ the representation that they are receiving in this Parliament, to-day. The honorable member for Capricornia, to support his argument that the honorable member for Kennedy did not represent the majority of his constituents, quoted at some length Senate election figures, which really, have no practical bearing on the subject. Taking the Senate, figures as a basis, one might say that the honorable member for Capricornia himself “is not representing the majority of the electors in his own constituency.
– I won my seat by a large majority.
– The Senate first preference figures for the electorate of Capricornia were 21,525 for the Nationalist candidate, and 20,267 for the Labour candidate. The honorable member seems to have a mania for dealing with figures.
– The honorable member should quote the figures for his own electorate.
– In that connexion I advise the honorable member’ to appeal to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), who had the figures for Herbert counted twice. The honorable member for Capricornia contended that members of State Parliaments should not be compelled to resign their seats in order to contest federal constituencies. I am entirely opposed to that contention for the reason that it would give State members an undue advantage over candidates other than sitting federal members. The honorable member compared the position of a State member with that of an alderman of a city council, but I would inform him that an alderman is seldom paid for his services.
– In Brisbane an alderman is paid £400 a year.
– In some cases, those connected with various city councils are receiving payment for services alleged to be rendered, but if State members were permitted to retain their seats while contesting a federal election, other candidates would be at a disadvantage because they would not enjoy free railway passes and other privileges.
– The members of the Federal Parliament have free railway passes.
– A federal member has won his seat and received a railway pass for services rendered. For that reason I do not agree with the contention put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Capricornia. I was delighted to hear the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden), who took a prominent part in preparing the recommendations that have been embodied in that bill, refer in eulogistic terms to the returning officers, and I believe that every honorable member is in agreement with him. He suggested various methods of purifying the rolls, and stated that the evidence disclosed that there was a unanimous desire throughout the Commonwealth to have uniform rolls. When the honorable member spoke of the need of purifying the rolls in Queensland he desired that certain qualifications should be added, which would prevent the party in power from having the controlling hand in the collection of the roll matter. Queensland stands in the unique position of having the most impure rolls in the Commonwealth. That is not merely a bald statement. One honorable member oppositesaid that specific instances should be given, and therefore I have taken the precaution to arm myself with figures relating to the Queensland rolls, particularly as they stood up to the 8th May last. Without doubt the rolls of that State have been used for the specific purpose of keeping in power the particular political party that has been in office there for some time past. The total number of persons on the roll in that State on the 8th May, 1926, was 484,212. On the 8th May, 1927, the electors numbered 458,799, or, some 25,000 less than at the corresponding date in the previous year. Surely that strikes one as a strange coincidence, having regard to the fact that the male population of Queensland increased during the year by over 20,000.
– Who is responsible for the compilation of the roll?
– The State Government. Out of 72 electorates there has been an increase in population in only nine; of the nine electorates, six are uncontested. There was no need to inflate the rolls, when the attempt was made this year to purify them. The remaining three seats are held by Nationalists who are in an indisputable position. It is my intention in the committee stage to submit an amendment to extend the scope of the bill. In 1927, in the important Queensland State electorate of Balonne, 4,668 persons were enrolled, although in the previous year the roll showed 5,116 names. The number has decreased therefore by 448. This has always been a keenly contested electorate, and in 1926 the roll was inflated to the extent of 448 names.
– By what means was the roll increased?
– Various methods are employed. To show how the Public Service may be used, let us take the Railway Department. In a normal year 125 additional permanent employees are appointed to the general railway staff in Queensland. If we take the figures over a certain period say from 1914 to 1926, we notice that the staff was increased by 7,100; but, if we take a similar period that did not coincide with election years, we notice that the increase was only 875. In 1924-25, the total number of railway employees was 18,372, and in the following year, which was an election year, the number rose to 22,036, making an increase for election purposes of 3,664. Some people ask how the present Government remains in power in Queensland, year after year, if it is distasteful to the people. It is obvious to everybody who takes an impartial view of the situation, and desires that the Parliament should truly reflect the wishes of the people, that the election should be conducted, so far as the rolls are concerned, on a uniform basis. When an elector leaves his division, he is required to apply for registration in the division in which he is living. If he dies, his name is posted for 40 days before it is erased from the roll. If he was a Nationalist he was lucky to have been enrolled at all. That is the position in Queensland to-day. The burning desire of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) that Parliament should be a true reflex of the opinions of the people will never be realized until elections are conducted on a uniform basis.
– Does the honorable member suggest that dead Labour men continue to vote?
– On one occasion, when I contested a State seat in Queensland, I received from the returning officer a list of the names of 66 individuals who, he said, appeared to have voted more than once. One of those persons was under my care in hospital, and was suffering from an infectious disease. Owing to the excitement on polling clay, the patient proceeded to the booth and voted, although he had also recorded a postal vote. He recognized his mistake, and admitted it to me in the hope that it would escape notice. Particulars of this and other cases were forwarded to the Government led by the then Premier of Queens- land, Mr. Theodore, and no action was taken. That was a flagrant example of a direct breach of the law..
Mr.Watkins. - I shall give the honorable member Nationalist examples.
– I do not wish to labour that point, nor do I say that the sins of omission and commission are confined to members of the party opposite; but I challenge the honorable member for Newcastle to produce figures similar to those I have given. I see no reason why journalists should be compelled to subscribe their names to political articles. There is nothing in the tone of the press to-day compared with that of years ago to indicate that the signing of articles has been of great value. Despite the fact that 98 per cent. of the newspapers are opposed to the political views of the Labour party, one must realize that at least fair reports are published by them. I hope that when the measure is put into operation, we shall have cleaner elections, and that the members elected will truly reflect the opinions of the various constituencies.
.- I was surprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the subsequent speakers allude to the bill as a machinery measure. No more important matter could come before the House than legislation dealing with theelectoral system. We have seen in various countries how vitally important it is that the electoral administration should be pure, if the whole foundations of democracy are not to be undermined. Again and again political confidence men have so abused the trust which has been reposed in them that they have been able to hang on to office against the wish of a majority of the people and to the detriment of the country. I am pleased that so many honorable members have expressed the view that everything possible should be done to maintain the purity of our electoral rolls, I trust that whenthe bill reaches the committee stage they will show by their votes that they mean what they have said. I was a member of the select committee that was appointed to inquire into our electoral law and procedure, and had the honour of being its chairman until a temporary absence from Australia compelled me to resign that position. I took no hand in the framing of the report, but I assisted to bring out the evidence upon which it was framed. During my chairmanship the committee examined witnesses in Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania. What most impressed me and every other member of the committee was that the men charged with the administration of our electoral law are of a fine type. I do not think one could reasonably expect to find in the Public Service men who are more qualified to carry out their work. They possess the confidence of all sections of the people.
– They are underpaid for the work which they do.
– They are entitled to a larger salary than they are receiving. But the salaries of public servants generally are determined according to certain principles, and I should not attempt to interfere with the present practice. In New South Wales the committee had the advantage of hearing the views of the Chief Electoral Officer for the State, Mr. Harkness. He is recognized as one of the ablest men in the State Public Service. It appeared to me that he set out to justify his own system. At the same time he admitted that although, in his opinion, a roll collected by the police was the truest immediately on compilation, it soon became not as pure as the Commonwealth roll. It must be obvious that a roll which is collected by electoral officers, whose sole duty it is to keep it up-to-date, must be more nearly perfect than one which is collected invariably not more than once a year. In some of the Commonwealth electorates the number of corrections each year represents 70 per cent. of the total enrolments, whilst in the majority of electorates it is over 50 per cent. Therefore, a roll which is collected only once a year must be obsolete before it is printed. A roll can be kept fresh only by continuous collection. When the existing system was initiated in 1911, the electors of Australia were not educated up to its requirements to the extent that they are to-day. It was found very difficult to induce the people to notify changes of address, or to follow their movements. A great deal of credit for the correctness es the rolls is due to the administration, which has constantly kept before the electors the necessity to notify changes of address. Whilst I was chairman of the committee a number of instances of apparent duplication of voting and enrolment were brought to our notice. In Sydney and Melbourne we availed ourselves of the opportunity to inspect the card index system at the chief electoral office. The officials had no warning of our intention. The allegations in regard to duplicate enrolment had been made in perfect good faith, but in every case we found that the administration had not blundered. Anexsergeant of Queensland police, who was living in Sydney, stated in evidence thathis daughter had been enrolled for a certain metropolitan electorate there, had visited Queensland for twelve months, and on her return, just prior to an election, had applied for and been granted enrolment for another electorate. We immediately inspected the card index system, and ascertained that the officer who had to deal with her second claim learnt from the cardindex that she was already enrolled for another electorate. He immediately advised the returning officer for the electorate concerned, and her name was removed from the roll for the electorate she had left, and placed upon the new roll. Prior to the introduction of compulsory voting, it was practically impossible to prevent a certain amount of dead wood from collecting on each roll. Under compulsory voting, the duty was imposed upon electoral officers to try to trace every individual whose namewas on the roll and who had not voted. It waa found that those who were not entitled to be enrolled represented only about 5 per cent. of the total. That speaks volumes forthe work which was done by electoral officers prior to the introduction of compulsory voting. A very fine feature of the present system is that after each election electoral officers, in the performance of their duties, abso lutely cleanse their rolls. Those who have had some years’ experience of politics will realize that the first irregularity which suggests itself is duplicate voting. At one election a candidate was returned with a majority of 1,400 votes, . but the number of cases of duplicate voting in that electorate exceeded his majority.
– How does the honorable member know that ?
– It was in the Riverina electorate. A check roll was compiled.
– Was any person prosecuted ?
– So far as I am aware no prosecutions were instituted. I was pleased to hear the honorable menu ber for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden), who succeeded me as chairman of the committee, say he was perfectly satisfied that under the existing system the number of cases of duplicate voting is so small as to be unworthy of consideration. The committee took evidence from a number of divisional returning officers, each of whom submitted figures showing the number of duplications that had occurred at the previous election. They did hot exceed three in any electorate, and in the majority of cases there were only one or two. We were perfectly satisfied that the charge of duplication could not be sustained even in those cases. One witness said his brother appeared to have voted, but he knew it was impossible for him to have done so, because he was in Long Bay gaol at the time. That was very strong circumstantial evidence; but we were inclined to believe that the witness himself had voted in his brother’s name. It is impossible to be so certain of the absence of personation. It can be detected only when the vote is being recorded. If one man personates another, there is little chance of catching him after he has left the booth. It is only fair, however, to assume that personation to any extent must be accompanied by duplication ; and. as there is no duplication we may dismiss from our minds the suggestion of personation. We have to thank our electoral officers for the purity of the rolls. Confusion often arises because the names of persons who have left a district are seen upon the roll for that electorate. Once a roll has been printed the names that appear upon it cannot be removed until the succeeding roll is printed. The names of those who have ieft a district do not appear upon the official roll that is in the possession of the divisional returning officer.
– When a man inspects the rollat a post office and finds his name there, he is misled if the name is not on the official roll.
– I have heard of individual cases of names having been wrongfully removed ; but I am satisfied that the precautions taken by the divisional returning officers before they remove names from the rolls are so thorough that instances of injustice are few. The committee learned of many instances in which electors erroneously believed that they had suffered an injustice in this way. A clergyman gave evidence that, upon returning to his home after relieving in another parish for six months, he found that his name had been removed from the roll. He was confident that he had clone nothing to cause that. Inquiries showed that after he had been away from his own parish for a month, he had been warned that he would be liable to prosecution if he did not transfer his name to the division in which he was temporarily residing, and he accordingly signed the transfer, which he had subsequently forgotten. Other complaints of that kind were made to the committee, but in almost every instance the electoral officers were found to be in the right. I was glad to hear that vindication, because prior to that inquiry I had no idea how efficient the Commonwealth electoral system is.
We have heard a diversity of opinions regarding the necessity for the signedarticle provision, but the evidence received by the committee shows that it is so absolutely futile that I would he prepared to eliminate it entirely. During an election campaign, we see at the bottom of leading articles in the principal daily newspapers, “ Written by- , after consultation to express the views of this journal.” That is .a true statement. Witnesses admitted that the editorial staff of a big daily newspaper meets each afternoon to discuss the policy to be enunciated in the journal next day, and one leader-writer is deputed to write in accordance with the decision of the conference. I doubt if there is one newspaper in the Commonwealth that has not infringed that signed-article provision since the last federal election. Some editors, who indignantly denied that they had broken the law, admitted that they had published unsigned paragraphs relating to the Eden-Monaro by-election. According to the strict meaning of the act, such paragraphs should have been signed. Another anomaly brought under our notice was that if a by-election were taking place in Western Australia, no unsigned report of, or comment on, the proceedings of this Parliament, could be published between the dates of the issue and return of the writ, although such parliamentary items might not have the remotest connexion with the by-election. The overwhelming majority of journalistic witnesses favoured the abolition of the signedarticle provision. To each was put the question, “Did that provision restrain you from writing in stronger terms than you did,” and the only one who admitted that he would have written more bitterly had he not been under that restraint, was Mr. Boote, editor of the Worker.
– I do not think he could have written more bitterly.
– I agree with the honorable member. I read several of the articles signed by him, and I think they were as vitriolic as they possibly could be. I am honestly of the opinion that that section had not the slightest restrictive effect. To cover an inadvertent breach of the law some journals published a drag-net statement to the effect that “for any unsigned paragraph published in this issue so and so will be responsible.” This signed article provision merely causes a great deal of unnecessary trouble without being in the least effective. On the other hand, we heard of journalists having been intimidated because of articles they had signed. We know that journalists are required to write in accordance with the policy of their paper, and they quarrel with their bread and butter if they do not write as they are directed. Why should we victimize men by having them marked for vindictive reprisals because they have simply done what their employers obliged them to do?
– By whom are they marked ?
– By their political opponents. The only purpose of retaining this section is to victimize and frighten journalists. The Labour party takes credit to itself for having given freedom of political thought to the public service, but a Labour Government allows public servants to think freely only when their politics are acceptable to that Gotvernment. If they take sides against a Labour Government they are victimized.
– What power has the Labour party to victimize the press?
– Its power is exercised not over the press but over the individual writer. Repeatedly men have been intimidated because of having signed articles which may or may not have expressed their own political views. One provision which I am glad to find in the bill is that providing for a minimum fine of 10s. for breach of the compulsory voting section. The present act allows the magistrate to exercise his discretion in fixing a penalty, and some magistrates reduced the section to an absurdity by imposing fines that were ridiculously small. Another fact which came under our notice was the abuse of the immunity given to conscientious objectors. Some State electoral officers expressed the view that if any man stated that, he had conscientious objections to voting that would be a valid excuse for his default. I do not agree with that. Most of us have conscientious objections to the payment of certain taxes, but we have to pay them. We respect certain religious sects, even if we do not agree with them. Some people have accepted responsibilities in accordance with their religious faith, and I would be the last to urge thai those who have taken solemn vows should either break them or pay a fine. But men who neglect to vote and merely plead a conscientious objection are in a different category. I should be very sorry to see an injustice done in cases of that sort. They are on a completely different basis from the man who fails to vote, and then tries to get out of it by saying that he has conscientious objections.
– The act will permit that.
– The act gives the electoral officers the right to say what is, or what is not, a reasonable excuse. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), when he was speaking, took exception to the last redistribution, and said it was unfairly carried .out. He challenged honorable members to point to one Nationalist seat that was lost by that redistribution. There was no redistri bution before the last election, and 1 doubt if honorable members can point to a single Nationalist seat that has been lost in Australia as the result of that election. There may be cases of injustice, but to say that because a party did not get any advantage by redistribution, that redistribution must have been wrongly carried out is, to my mind, the height of absurdity.
– Did not Sir Richard Butler say in South Australia that the gerrymandering would make the State safe for the Nationalist party for the next twenty years?
– I am not as fully acquainted with conditions in South Australia as is the honorable member, but I know that gerrymandering in the last New South Wales State election allowed seats to be won by men who would otherwise have lost them. Everyone who has the interest of democracy at heart ought to take steps to see that this sort of thing is stopped. We have seen instances of the transfer of electors just prior to an election, which has caused a particular party to win a seat which would not otherwise have gone to them. Further. I think that the redistribution margin at present is too great. The margin of one-fifth either way is too great, as far as New South Wales is concerned, to allow of proper representation. At present the margin allows for a difference of approximately 18,000. I hope the Minister will accept an amendment reducing the present margin of one-fifth to one-tenth, which would allow a margin of about 9,000. Another amendment I intend to move is in connexion with Witnessess for postal votes. It is the intention of this bill to allow any elector to witness a claim for a postal vote, but only certain authorized witnesses are eligible to sign the vote itself. I agree with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) that postal voting is a privilege which must be very carefully watched if it is not to be abused. I do not go so far as to say that it should be wiped out altogether. That was done once, and a hardship was thereby inflicted on a large number of people, but it is a dangerous principle if not closely watched. In some instances the bill now before us goes too far in regard to persons authorized to vote by post, and in committee, I shall move that certain of the existing provisions be omitted. In regard to the card system, I should be sorry to see “ How to Vote “ cards prohibited. We want to see that it is made easy for the «lector to give an intelligent vote. The question has been raised as to why the Government did not accept all the recommendations of the committee. It is absurd to raise such an objection, for if all the recommendations were necessarily accepted, it would be tantamount to leaving legislation in the hands of a committee. There is another recommendation of a. committee which will come before the House next week, but I know that honorable members opposite would not like that recommendation to be given effect to in its entirety.
.- I rise, in the first place, to pay a tribute to the divisional returning officers,, and to others controlling the electoral machinery of the Commonwealth, for the very able manner in which they have discharged their duties to democracy. I trust their services will be recognized by the Government, and that it will’ accept the amendment foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton),, designed to ensure that these officers are adequately recompensed for the overtime the work during the period of an election. These men are not casual employees taken on for polling day. They have definite work to do all the year round. They are compelled’ at election, time to do many hours of tiring and nerve-wracking work, being engaged frequently until, midnight and after. It is the duty of the Government to see that they are properly recompensed for that work. After all, the life of a democracy, its security and.safety, depend’ in the last resort, on tile faith of the people. That’ faith can only be secured’ when the people are guaranteed that’ the electoral machinery,, and their interests as electors, are properly- safeguarded. It is the duty of the- electoral officers” to safeguard’ the in.terests of” electors; and the least the Government can dc is. to see that those’ officers’ are’ paid the ordinary overtimerates that’ other ‘people receive. I do not agree with the remarks’ of tlie honorable’ member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning), regarding the possibility of journalists being victimized if they are compelled to sign newspaper articles during election campaigns. The argument that this provision was enacted by a Labour government, and that the Labour party now want it to be continued in order that journalists might be victimized, is, in its very essence, stupid. It is not tenable on any ground whatever. What power of victimization does Labour possess over the powerful city press of to-day? How can Labour victimize journalists writing for capitalistic newspapers? Labour organizations have no “ pull “ over them,, and have absolutely no control over what they write or do. The journalists are simply doing the job for which they are paid. Every one knows the reason why we want these articles to be signed. Somebody in this House talked the other day about the traditions behind the press. Many of these newspapers, however, attempt to trade on the reputation built up for them by men who have been dead for years. They want to trade on the prestige and dignity which they do not actually possess. When the public realize that it is only one person who is responsible for a leading, article, they will not be so much impressed. People are too apt to look upon a leading article as something beyond question. When leading’ articles have to be signed1, they lose two-thirds of their value. . That is why honorablemembers on the other side do not wish them to be signed. They wish the article to be able to misrepresent” the political party to which they, are opposed. The fact that the newspapers themselves went to the trouble to give evidence before the committee, wherever it sat,, opposing, the signing of articles, is sufficient indication that they,, at any rate, saw that it was not in their interest, nor in the inrterest of the propaganda which they desired’ to. spread! In the committee stage of this- bill- we shall’ have an” opportunity to1 speak’ on the’ different clauses, and” to’ the* amendments which are proposed. At this’ stage- 1 want to refer only to oneother matter’. It Has not been’ mentioned before, so far as I” know, in this debate. It: is the provision in the Electoral Acf whereby a- membercontesting a’ seat’ is allowed1 to- use- only £100 for election expenses. That provision must be either radically amended, or wiped out altogether. There is no use in trying to side-step the issue. As the act now stands, every member is compelled to declare solemnly to a lie. I am’ speaking now for every honorable member, and they know I am speaking the truth. There is not an honorable member who has contested an electorate whose expenses have been less than £100. There is no member who has not had thousands of pounds spent in different ways on his behalf. Members are simply compelled to make an untrue declaration when they send in a return to the electoral officer that their expenses have not amounted to more than £100. The provision in respect to £100 should be definitely enforced, or it should be abolished.
– My return last election was £8.
– Yes, and my return was £35 or £40 ; but we all know it is possible at times to tell “ white “ lies. The time has arrived, however, when we should bc honest in this matter. It may be necessary at times to make use of a “ white “ lie, but I object to being compelled to declare solemnly and sincerely to be the truth that which I know is not the truth. I strongly object to the payment by each candidate of a deposit of £25, this amount to be forfeited in the event of his not polling one-fifth of the first preference votes. That is an undemocratic provision, because it tends to place a small political section of the community at a disadvantage. No restriction should be placed upon the electors in this respect, and I hope that the Government will, in. the committee stage, consider an amendment to wipe out that anomaly. I also object to the regulation, that members of State Parliaments who are candidates for federal constituencies shall first resign their seats. Any public man shouldhave the right to contest a federal election without any restriction being imposed on him. All candidates at an election should be or. the same footing, and I should have no objection to federal members, when a dissolution occurs, surrendering their free railway passes, so as to be on the same basis as their opponents. We, as members of Parliament, have certain rights, but they should not overshadow the right of the electors to choose their own candidates.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
.- (By leave) - I give notice that on Tuesday next I shall move -
That owing to its attitude towards the Commonwealth Shipping Line, the Government has forfeited the confidence of this House.
The surrender of Government ownership of the Commonwealth Line will act to the serious detriment of Australian producers, and will subject the whole community to exploitation by the shipping combine, against which the Government Line is at present the only effective safeguard.
Collision in Sydney Harbour - Motion of Want of Confidence.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the Ho use do now adjourn.
– I wish to inform the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) that I have made inquiries from the officers of the Navigation Department with respect to the deplorable collision in Sydney Harbour between the s.s. Tahiti, and the Watson’s Bay Ferry boat Graycliffe.
The Tahiti was leaving Sydney on a voyage to San Francisco via New Zealand. The ferry boat was sunk, with a disastrous loss of life. Up to the present 21 bodies have been recovered, and it is reported that a number of those who are believed to have been passengers on the boat are missing from their homes. About 28 passengers were treated at the hospital for injuries received in the collision, and seven are at their homes. At the time of the accident the Tahiti was in charge of a licensed pilot, who was responsible for the navigation of the vessel. This pilot is in Sydney, and, with other witnesses, will he available for examination at the preliminary inquiry which the department proposes to hold on Monday or Tuesday uext, in accordance with the provisions of the Navigation Act. There will also be a coroner’s inquiry conducted by the State authorities. I am informed that the police authorities are taking steps to obtain evidence in New Zealand from the master and officers of the Tahiti, and also from such of the passengers as may be in a position to give material evidence. The Tahiti was not damaged by the collision, and anchored in Watson’s Bay. No report was made to the Navigation Department by the owners, the Union Steamship Company, until after the Tahiti had left Sydney Harbour for New Zealand. I am calling for a full report on the whole subject.
.- With reference to the motion of want of confidence, of which I have just given notice, will the Prime Minister be good enough to inform me whether it will be the first business on the notice paper next week, It is the custom with censure motions for the House to adjourn. The House is now adjourning, and I should like to be advised of the position.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has seen fit to give notice of a motion of want of confidence upon the Government. It is for the Government to determine what course it will take. I have no intention of adjourning the House beyond the ordinary adjournment that takes place on Friday afternoon. This morningI made it clear that the Government had every intention of dealing with the subject of the Australian Commonwealth Line of steamers, and of giving the House full opportunity to discuss it. I now repeat that undertaking to the House. Adequate opportunity will be given to honorable members opposite to take any action they think fit respecting any course that the Government may pursue, but whether that opportunity is to be given on a notice of motion by the Leader of the Opposition or directly by the Government bringing up Order of the Day No. 10 is for the Government itself to decide. The matter will.be dealt with either on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Regarding the other business of the House, Orders of the Day, Nos. 1, 2, and 3 - the Electoral Bill, the Nationality Bill, and the Port Augusta to Red Hill Railway Bill - may come up for discussion next week, and it is also possible that the Budget debate will be resumed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The House adjourned at 3.59 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 November 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1927/19271104_reps_10_116/>.