10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have received a return to the writ which I issued on the 17th August for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Wide Bay in the Stateof Queensland, in the place of Mr. Edward Bernard Cresset Corser, deceased. According to the endorsement on the writ Mr. Bernard Henry Corser has been elected.
– I have received from the widow of the late Senator Grant a letter thanking the House for its resolution of sympathy.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. M. Cameron) on the ground of ill health.
Comments on Parliament.
– The annual report of the Tariff Board which was tabled in the House yesterday contains a number of statements to which exception may be taken. I draw attention to the following -
It has happened, after the Tariff Board has held an inquiry, at which over 100 witnesses were publicly examined on oath, has carefully studied the whole of the public and confidential evidence, and has presented a recommendation to the Minister, that a few men, parties to the application, have made representations to members of Parliament and to the Government which have resulted in the setting aside of the weight of public evidence and the studied recommendation of the board. Different’ industries have been developed to a particular degree in the different States of the Commonwealth. It has been a practice of persons working in parliamentary lobbies in the interests of their concerns to procure assistance for their project by bargaining for reciprocal aid - one State group with another. This practice has been rather successful to the parties, but it has proved one of the strongest factors in preventing the enactment of a well-balanced tariff. I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether it is within the province of the Tariff Board to make comments of this character regarding the conduct of members of Parliament and their relations with those who come to the House to give information to them when a tariff schedule is under consideration? In regard to the tariff and all other matters, is not the Commonwealth Parliament the highest and final tribunal?
– If honorable members desire to discuss any portions of the Tariff Board’s report they will have an opportunity to do so when the Estimates of the Department of Trade and Customs are under consideration. In regard to the particular passage quoted by the honorable member, there is no statutory prohibition against the board including in its report any matter which in its opinion should receive the attention of Parliament. So far as the honorable member’s second question is concerned, it is not usual for Ministers to state opinions in reply to questions, but the supremacy of this Parliament in all matters is so well recognized that I have no hesitation in answering the honorable member in the affirmative.
– Sometime ago an application was made to the Tariff Board in regard to the duty on pyrites, with a view to further relief being granted to farmers. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs endeavour to expedite the board’s report?
– I shall look into the matter.
– The press recently has published many references to the insufficiency and unsuitability of landing grounds for aircraft in various parts of Australia. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence whether attention is being given to this matter by the Government with a view to providing more and improved landing grounds?
– This matter is receiving the close attention of the Government. It is not the responsibility of the Government to provide and maintain landing grounds throughout the country, except such as may be required for defence purposes, or in connexion with aerial routes. But we are endeavouring to co-operate with the shire councils in the hope that they will provide and maintain such grounds. To this end the Government is making available to local authorities the services of inspectors for the choosing and laying out of such areas.
– Yesterday I asked the Minister for Home and Territories to lay on the table of the House all papers relating to the contract for the foundations of the first permanent administrative building in Canberra. The Minister replied that the papers would not be made available while an investigation by a board of experts was proceeding. I now ask him whether, if the original documents are wanted for another purpose, he will make available to the House authentic copies of the plans, specifications, bills of quantities and other documents for which I have asked ? As the House is likely to adjourn at an early date this matter is urgent.
– The honorable member has on two previous occasions asked me the same question. I have nothing to add to my earlier answer. I have no intention of laying on the table the original papers, or even copies of them, while a thorough inquiry is being conducted by a body, of independent experts.
– I rise to a personal explanation. The Minister for Home and Territories said that I had on two occasions asked him the same question concerning this matter. I have never previously addressed to the Minister the question I have just asked, although I did on a previous occasion interrogate him concerning the same matter. I asked then for the originals of all the papers relating to the contract l question. The honorable gentleman pointed out that it would be inconvenient to make those papers available, as they were required in another inquiry that was then current. To overcome that difficulty, to meet the convenience of the Minister and the department, and to obtain a recognition of the fact that honorable members of this chamber have some rights, I to-day put the question in another form, and asked if he would be good enough to make copies of the papers available. If he does not wish to suppress the matter, he will supply those copies.
– I accept the honorable member’s correction. I shall now make the position perfectly clear, so as to prevent any misunderstanding, in case he may be tempted to ask me a third question in a form different from those that he has already employed in connexion with this matter. I am not prepared to advise the Government to place upon the table of the House the originals of the papers, or any copies thereof, until the independent inquiry to which I have referred has come to a conclusion. Instructions have been issued to push on with it, so that, if possible, the result may be made available and the papers placed before honorable members before the termination of the present session.
– I understand that the annual report of the Tariff Board has not yet been printed. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs endeavour to make it available in printed form before the next long adjournment of this House?
– Certainly. A number of copies of the report were typed yesterday, and the honorable member may be able to obtain one of these if he so desires.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state when a proclamation is to be issued prohibiting the importation of Alsatian dogs?
– Some time ago the Government asked Dr. Robertson, of the Health Department, to make certain investigations on its behalf in regard to the allegations of the two opposing interests in this matter. I understand that, during the last few days, he has received a deputation from the Alsatian Dog Breeders Association. I have not yet received a full report of the investigations he has made, and, until I do so, no action will be taken.
– The Government has acquired certain lands in the vicinity of Geelong and Werribee, on the shores of Corio Bay, for the purpose of establishing aeroplane bases and aerodromes. I understand that an area of some 12,000 acres adjoining the proposed aeroplane base near Geelong has been declared by the Defence Department a restricted area, and that similar action has been taken with respect to another considerable area in the vicinity of Werribee. Is the Minister aware that that action has had the effect of restricting the advancement of those two very important centres; and will he obtain a report , showing the need for it?
– For defence purposes certain areas in Australia have by proclamation been declared prescribed areas, the object being to control the erection of factories and other large buildings in their vicinity. I cannot say at the moment whether the areas to which the honorable member has referred come within that category, but I shall have inquiries made and probably pay a visit to the sites in the next few weeks.
– Some time ago two new submarines were ordered from Great Britain, ‘and I understand that they have departed for Australia. Can the Minister representing the Minister for Defence say where they are at the present time, and when they are expected to arrive in Australia?
– They are on their way to Australia.
Position in New South Wales.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a paragraph in yesterday’s Daily Guardian, containing statements made by Mr. Farrar, Minister for Labour in New South Wales? That honorable gentleman quoted unemployment figures relating to the week before last, which showed that out of 2,250 men who were called up only 145 responded, and of those 56 refused the jobs offered. He further stated that some men obtain food, relief, child endowment, rent, clothing and other assistance, and apparently do not want work. Will the right honorable gentleman communicate with the State Ministers concerned to ascertain the true position concerning the number of unemployed persons?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member has referred. At the present time it is impossible to obtain exact statistics relating to the number of unemployed persons in Australia. That is one of the matters upon which the Commonwealth Government is approaching the governments of the States with a view to seeing whether some system can be devised to record those statistics, so that a full review of the unemployment question may be made by the governments concerned.
– In answer to a question that I asked yesterday with reference to landing grounds on the aerial route between Derby and Wyndham the Minister representing the Minister for Defence gave me to understand that the work was being undertaken without cost to the Federal Government by the pastoralists in the various districts. In reply to an inquiry that I made, I have received a wire which states that the Pastoralists Association has not undertaken to bear the cost of providing landing grounds, but that certain station owners along the route are preparing their own grounds, and the association is advising others to. do likewise and thus reduce the cost to the Federal Government. Is the Minister prepared to get into touch with the Pastoralists Association with a view to the Government undertaking the work that that association is hot prepared to carry out?
– I said, in reply to the question which the honorable member asked yesterday, that certain proposals had been made by the Pastoralists Association and station property owners of Western Australia in regard to landing grounds. As soon as the full scheme proposed by those interests is submitted to the Government, an investigation will be made to ascertain what extra landing grounds are required. The Government will then be in a position to estimate the cost of providing them.
Equipment on Coastal Vessels.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Referring to the question by the honorable member for Brisbane on the 22nd November last, and the Minister’s reply of the 24th November last, regarding wireless equipment on coastal vessels, has any action yet been taken by the State Governments, and has the Commonwealth Government given this question further consideration as promised; if so, with what result?
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
returned Soldiers - Classification.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice - .
– I am advised by the Public Service Board as follows: -
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will he have inquiries made as to the relative prices of superphosphates in England, the United States of America, and Australia, and also the average cost of rock sulphur in each of those countries?
– Inquiries will be made as desired.
Personnel of Dairy Export Control
Board and Stabilization Committee - Butter Stabilization
asked the Minister for Markets, upon notice -
– On behalf of the Minister for Markets, who is at present absent from Canberra, I wish to ‘inform the honorable member that a reply to his question will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What was the total amount of the debts of (a) the Commonwealth, and (6) each of the States, as at (i) 30th June, 1922, and (ii) 30th June, 1928?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Commonwealth debt (excluding debts incurred for the States) -
States at 30th June, 1928. Those for 30th June, 1927, however, were: -
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, uponnotice -
– The information will be obtained as far as is possible.
In committee’. (Consideration resumed from 5th September, vide page 6423).
Prime Minister’s Department.
Proposed vote, £250,000.
.- So long as I have a voice to speak and a brain to think, I shall express my views on ‘ any subject which is closely related to unemployment. A good proportion of this proposed vote is for the purpose of assisting migrants to come to Australia. I object to the policy of floating loans overseas for this or any other pur pose when they can be floated in Australia.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bayley).The honorable member is not in order in discussing the general loan policy under this item.
– I regret that I had not an opportunity to deal with it during the general debate. I have been connected with unemployed movements in Australia for nearly 40 years, and yield to no one in my earnestness in trying to relieve this constant cause of public and private distress. I suppose that I have had more callers at my office in Melbourne during the 39 years that it has been open than any other honorable member of this Parliament has had. I keep my manager, secretary and typists fully engaged. I have never uttered a word against people coming to Australia from the four kingdoms that stand like a fourleafed shamrock in the North Sea - England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales - when things are normal here; but I submit that it is grossly unfair to them and to our own, people, to assist migrants to come here when we have so much unemployment. Out of reverence for the memory of my mother, as well as for other substantial reasons, I should never place * any obstacle in the way of British people coming here so long as provision had been made to receive them, but it is unfair to attract any large .percentage of males from England, Scotland and the Isle of Man, seeing that there are 2,000,000 more females there than males. During the recent visit to Australia of Sir Richard Home, I asked him why’ steps had not been taken to form a big sister movement as well as a big brother movement, in order to stimulate the migration of females from the Old Country. I put a similar question to Lord Salisbury and other members of the last British Parliamentary Delegation which came here, but received no answer to it. We are told that every migrant who comes here reduces the per capita quota of the national debt. I agree with that. It is also said that each migrant adds to our wealth, and with that I also agree ; but does not the converse hold good ? Every able-bodied man who comes here from Great Britain increases the per capita quota of her national debt, and also robs the Old Country of her manhood, and her national wealth. If the lands of Australia were thrown open properly, so that the sons of Australian farmers could be supplied with plenty of suitable land, and if there were only, say, three applicants for every five blocks, then_ I would agree that Australia should open wide its arms in welcome to those who speak our language in the northern seas.
– It is time that the land in Great Bitain was unlocked.
– Tyson, at the zenith of his fame as an owner of big estates, never held as much land as did the Sutherland family in Great Britain when they had 1,756,000 acres of freehold. Larger areas than that have been occupied in the Northern Territory under leasehold, but not under freehold.
– I rise to a point of order. Since I v/as confined to the discussion of the item before the Chair I ask whether the honorable member for Melbourne should not also be required to restrict his remarks to that item.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bayley).The Chair will see that the honorable member addresses himself to the item before the committee.
– The party to which I belong has been maligned on many occasions for its attitude to immigration ; but it maintains that while there are many more applicants than are required for the comparatively few jobs available, it is unwise to bring more people to Australia. If I may plant a seed of thought in the minds of honorable members, I suggest that in kindness to the Homeland - and to no man do I yield in my reverence for it and my recognition of the benefits we have received from it - we should insist that at least equal numbers of male and female migrants should be introduced. Australia is in the fortunate position of enjoying better conditions than those obtaining in the Old Country. If the present proportion of male migrants to female migrants is maintained, we shall be safe, because the majority at the present time are males. By encouraging the migration of males from Great Britain Australia will be assisting in maintaining a majority of males in her population. But, on the other hand, the migration of males’ will be detrimental to Great Britain. It may interest honorable members to know that only in one part of the Old Country are males in excess of females, and that is in the Irish Free State. The shipping companies were not particularly generous in their treatment of the medical men employed on board their ships to attend to migrants on the journey to Australia. They were paid only ls. a month.
– One shilling for each passenger ?
– No; ls. a month for the doctor, for the whole trip. I endeavoured to have something done to remedy that position, but one individual cannot do much against an influential shipping company. This small fe.’! was paid to me on three separate occasions when I came to Australia with migrants and acted as medical officer to them. I hope that if the item under discussion is passed these medical men, at all events, will be paid a fair wage for taking care of the migrants. The medical attention given to them should not be confined to the sea voyage. As a rule, the ships carry their own doctors. It is said that Australia has much to fear owing to the sparseness of its population. I am well aware that to the north of this continent are alien races numbering many millions. Certainly one of these races, the largest, has been’ most kind in its treatment of the territories which, of their own accord, have joined to make the mighty empire of China. The Chinese are a peace-loving nation, and would almost prefer peace at any price to war; but until war is abolished Australia must look to the future. Japan, an ally of Britain in the late terrible war, enabled our transports to proceed safely to the battlefront, and contributed in no slight degree to the smallness of the losses that occurred among our troops en route. I realize that Japan has a population of many millions, and that the greater Australia’s population is, provided the newcomers are properly looked after and do not lower our standard of wages, the better it will be for us. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Watson) was once inclined to doubt a statement that I made, based on knowledge that I had owing to having a son on the land in Western Australia, that migrants employed in that State had been paid 25s., 20s. and even 15s. a week for work on the land, although the current wage was then from 14s. to 15s. a day. When I gave the honorable member proof of my statement he accepted it. The unemployment problem would not be so severe as it is if it were not for the hesitation felt concerning financial credit, and to remove this doubt, I suggest that the Commonwealth Bank fix the standard rate of interest at say, 6 per cent. That would compel the other banks to fall into line, and the result would be as beneficial as was the action taken by the Commonwealth Bank during the late war. During the war there was a period of acute unemployment, but the government of that day, by inducing or compelling the banks to charge a reasonable rate of interest for money, relieved the financial panic, and enabled employers to obtain loans at a fair rate with which to carry on their operations. ‘ We know that in England the Prime Minister himself has made an appeal to the employers of the country to give as much employment as possible. I wish that this Government would do the same thing. Henry Hyndman, in his work, Commercial Crises ‘ of the Nineteenth Century, shows that such crises recur at fairly regular and calculable intervals, varying from 25 to 30 years. Every crisis of this kind is heralded by unemployment, which destroys confidence and restricts credit. Once unemployment makes its appearance on a fairly general scale throughout Australia, the banks begin to tighten up, and notices are sent round to customers requesting them to reduce their overdrafts. In the past I knew of one instance in Melbourne in which an employer had practically obtained an overdraft in order to complete an undertaking, . when the bank suddenly refused to make the advance. The work had to be stopped, and 50 or 60 men were thrown out of employment. Multiply this case by a thousand or more, and some idea will be gained of the hardship which may be caused throughout the country by the restriction of credit on the part of the banks. As an old banker myself, I know how farreaching these effects can be. There is always an element of fear present in financial matters, and as soon as public confidence is disturbed, people become very reluctant to advance money, even for sound investments. Why cannot the. Prime Minister take the steps necessary to destroy the causes of unemployment?
Theo CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bayley).The honorable member is not in order in discussing unemployment.
– I feel sure that if the Prime Minister would remove the causes of unemployment there would be no need to worry about the influx of immigrants. When there is no longer any unemployment here, we may welcome every one of the British race, and if the Old Country cannot spare us sufficient people to fill our empty spaces, let us welcome those fine men and women who are to be found in many European countries. I hope that we shall all show an example to the rest of the world by raising the standard of living in Australia. Let us imitate the United States of America by establishing a high-wage standard, and let us build up a civilization which will be a pattern to every other country
.- It should be obvious to every one that at the present time we do not want immigrants in Australia. Apart from, any argument as to where the emigrants come from, or any intrusion of the imperial idea, the fact remains that immigrants are not, for the time being, required. The Development and Migration Commission, which has cost the country a great deal of money has not discovered any new avenues for the absorption of immigrants. That commission, as a matter of fact, is a hopeless failure, and is the laughing
Stock of the country. We should be ashamed of ourselves for spending money On bringing immigrants to this country when there is so much unemployment existing locally. Before the Treasurer attained his present office, he made statements committing himself to a policy which, now that he is a member of the Government, he has never made the slightest effort to put into effect. To all intents and purposes he won the suffrages of the electors by false pretences, and if ever I did such a thing I should expect to be kicked out of office, as I trust this Government will be at the next election. Those who ought to know better try to vilify the men who are out of work by saying that they are loafers, and do not want work. It is a pitiful thing that men should be unemployed in Australia to-day. As a nation we were never more wealthy than at the present time, and no country has made greater progress during the last 100 years than this has. Yet the unemployment situation is acute in every city throughout Australia. I, myself, took a prominent part in showing just how bad it was in Adelaide by organizing a march of the unemployed through the streets. The position is even worse now than it was then. At the depot established there by the Salvation Army one may see great numbers of able-bodied men lining up for soup and free meals, and at night they sleep, under blankets which have been provided in any place which the Government will allow them to occupy. I have seen these men in Adelaide, and I am not ashamed of them, but I am sorry for them. If another war were to break out to-morrow we should have the spectacle of the very same persons who urged the manhood of Australia to enlist in 1914, again telling these unemployed that it was their duty to fight for their country.
– The honorable member is not connecting his remark? with the subject under discussion.
– I am showing that the expenditure of £300,000 to pay the passages of immigrants is not justified, and in continuation of that argument I could, without infringing the rules of relevancy, quote the production statistics of the Commonwealth. On a former occasion I showed that our average production had never been higher than during the last ten years. In those circumstances we have no right to borrow; the money is available in Australia, and should be utilized for the development of the country. In business parlance, this expenditure should come out of undistributed profits. That used to be the Treasurer’s view, but since he has assumed office he has changed his tune. The item we are discussing is to give effect to part of the financial policy enunciated by the same honorable member, who said on the 19th October, 1921-
The best method is to live within one’s income so as to reduce indebtedness, and at the same time to have the reputation of being anxious to continue to do so. The worst way is for all the Australian governments to join in a rake’s progress of budgeting for a deficit. Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, and now the Commonwealth Government have all done this.
Throughout a long speech the honorable gentleman attacked the Treasurer of the day for the very financial methods that he himself is now adopting. His chickens have come home to roost. He is now sitting on the same rotten eggs as he said were in the Treasurer’s nest in 1921.
– If that is so, no chickens will come home to roost.
– No, but there will be the same stinking mess of which he complained seven years . ago. Too many of the workers toil and moil year in and year out to pay for this mess. I would not care a tinker’s benediction if the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and* those who support them had to wallow in it, but they have not; that fate is reserved for the men who have to resort to the soup kitchens. The Treasurer has now become the chief rake leading the progress of the prodigals. After his criticism of the budget in 1921 the then Treasurer, Sir Joseph Cook, said of him -
I doubt if in my 30 years’ experience in Parliament I ever heard a more bitterly partisan speech; I doubt if I ever heard a more insulting speech delivered by any member of the House, to say nothing of a responsible leader. From first to last it was a tissue of misrepresentation and abuse.
The man of whom that was said is identical with the man who spoke of “ switching on the light” and making Nationalists “ drop the loot,” and identical with the Treasurer who to-day is budgeting in the reckless manner he condemned in 1921. I have shown that loan money should not be expended on the bringing of migrants to our shores. People do not realize that before we can take a penny out of this continent for ourselves we have to pay out £1,000,000 in interest every week, and we are now asked to increase that indebtedness with only a doubtful prospect of ever getting any benefit from the transaction. I quote again from the insulting and abusive speech delivered by the honorable member in 1921 -
The Treasurer has resorted to taking out of loan funds £923,794 for post office works, notwithstanding that that department is estimated to make a profit of £1,800,000, a difference between £9,300,000 of revenue and £7,500,000, the cost of ordinary services, which he swooped into general revenue, and he proposes to spend from loan funds instead of revenue £102,000 on passage money for assisted immigrants, which under no circumstances can be considered a charge against loans.
Notwithstanding that we have the costly Development and Migration Commission hatching developmental schemes, and that the British Government is making available £34,000,000 for public works that will help to absorb migrants - notwithstanding these changed circumstances, according to the honorable member for Cowper in 1921, we have no right to borrow money to bring migrants to this country. To-day he asks us to approve of that unjustifiable policy. Honorable members will see that I am not indulging . in captious criticism ; they will appreciate also the irony of the Treasurer’s condemnation out of his own mouth. If I have an opportunity during the general discussion on the Estimates I shall quote the whole of his speech in 1921 against his budget policy. In order to further disclose his amazing volte face, I dip again into that speech and get this - The honorable gentleman on that occasion said -
Why is the £102,000 for assisted passages to immigrants paid out of loans instead of out of revenue?
I ask the Treasurer to explain to the people of Australia why the Government now proposes to do with £300,000 what he objected to the Government at that time doing with £162,000 ?
– I did not intend to take part in this debate, and should not have done so did I not desire to enlarge upon the very important matter which was raised by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook) this afternoon by way of a question to the Prime Minister. That honorable member drew attention to a newspaper paragraph in which the Minister for Labour and Industry in New South Wales is reported to have said that out of 3,500 men who had been called up in Sydney the week before last, only 191 had responded. This week 2,250 had been called up and only 145 responded, and 56 of that number had refused the work which was offered to them. It is regrettable that the position in regard to unemployment is so acute at the present time. There are many unfortunate circumstances connected with it, one of which is that a number of persons may be regarded as professional unemployed. The other day I visited the large town of Lithgow, which is in Ill electorate. Until recently, the number nf unemployed registered there, though appreciable, was small in proportion to the population. I was assured by those in authority that the employable portion of the population had been absorbed, and the few whose names were still on the list could not be induced to take any work that was offered. Another regrettable feature of the position is that certain honorable members and some persons outside, are using the unemployment question as a means to obtain some political benefit, despite the fact that by so doing they bring Australia into disrepute. The statement has been made that the number of unemployed in Australia is 11 per cent, of the total number of wage-earners. Not having had the opportunity to go into the matter, I cannot say whether that estimate is a correct one; but it cannot he denied that twice within the last month fewer than one in twenty of those who were called up in New South Wales really desired employment. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat (Mr. Yates) treated those who were silly enough to listen to him to a lot of drivel.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bayley).Order ! The honorable member is not in order in referring in such terms to another member’s speech.
– Thehonorable member for Adelaide did not employ complimentary terms when he referred to honorable members on this side who interjected while he was speaking. I regret that the debate has fallen to such a low level, and that an attempt has been made to capitalize the unemployment question with the object of obtaining some benefit from it politically. It is absolutely essential for us to get down to bed-rock, and to ascertain the means whereby we can verify the accuracy of the unemployed registration. Discredit is being brought upon Australia, and I am not prepared to stand silently by while such an outrage is being perpetuated. Unfortunately, the people whom we want to help are- being prejudiced by those who are endeavouring to make political capital out of them, and by others who will not take employment when it is offered to them. I trust that the Government will take immediate action in the direction of having the figures properly checked.It should be possible to arrive at a fair estimate of the number of persons unemployed. Something should be done without delay to remove the stigma that rests upon Australia on account of the largenumber who are officially registered as unemployed.
Question - That the portion of the proposed vote “Immigration - advances of passage money, landing money’ and medical fees of assisted immigrants, £225,000 “ be agreed to - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Portion of proposed vote agreed to.
Remainder of proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Treasury (proposed vote £575,000), Home and Territories Department (proposed vote £648,500).
Department of Defence (proposed vote £206,850), and Department of Trade and Customs (proposed vote £30,365) agreed to.
Department of Works and Railways.
Proposed vote, £984,000.
.- Included in this proposed vote is an amount of £180,000 for expenditure under the provisions of the River Murray Waters Act 1915-23. The first .estimate of the cost of the works, we have in hand on the river Murray was £4,600,000, but we have since been informed that the actual cost will be in the neighbourhood of £14,000,000. It has also been said that the Government intends to reduce the volume of work to be done and the expenditure upon it. Seeing that the loan indebtedness of Australia is assuming such huge proportions, and that the total interest bill of the Commonwealth and the States last year was £87,000,000, it is high time to economize. We are told that money should be spent only on reproductive works. Our railways are classed as such, although since 1914, the last year in which an aggregate profit was shown, notwithstanding that the rates have been increased 60 per cent., huge amounts have been lost in operating them. From 1914 to 1926, the total losses were £24,500,000. Our railways are not profitable to-day, and very few of our public utilities are returning as much as was expected from them. The Development and Migration Commission has recommended that the planting of fruit trees along the Murray valley should be stopped because there is an overproduction of fruit in Australia. In these circumstances, it is time that a halt was called. No one was more pleased than 1 was when it was decided to undertake this huge Murray developmental scheme. 1 thought that, we should be able to settle tens of thousands of people along the valley of the river, arid that the whole proposition would be a financial success. Unfortunately, those hopes have not. been realized. It may be possible to do something in this area in the Iambraising industry, but, the planting of fruit trees and the production of special crops appears to be hopeless at. present. In these circumstances, the Government should give us an indication of the policy that it intends to follow in respect of these works in the future. We are justified in asking for the fullest information on the subject.
– I tried to obtain some information from the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill) last week in regard to the Hume Reservoir, but the replies to my questions did not take us very far. The Minister told us that the amount of money provided for construction work on the Murray this year by the Loan Council, on which the Commonwealth and the States were represented, would be the same as last year. That is not correct, although I do not suggest that the Minister intended to give us wrong information. The position is that al- ° though a similar amount of money is being provided for general undertakings on the river, a substantial proportion of the sum which will be available for expenditure in . New South Wales will be required to compensate land-owners whose property will be inundated by the impounded water, and will not be available for actual construction work. The conference that was held in Melbourne recently to determine the policy to be followed in respect of the Murray river works was, I am informed, opposed to any curtailment of operations on the Hume Reservoir. The representatives realized that if the work were hung up serious deterioration of expensive plant and machinery would occur, and several thousand acre feet of water which was expected to be available next year would not be available. Consequently, the reservoir could not become revenue producing. Various newspapers in the Riverina have suggested during the last few months that some curtailment was to occur in this work, and it is regrettable that the Government intends to dismiss a number of the men at present employed there. These men have established homes close to the weir site, and have their wives and families living with them on the job. The New South Wales Minister for Works and Railways, Mr. Buttenshaw, said, ,at the conference, that it would be tragic if there was any reduction in the amount of work in hand there. He realized that if men were dismissed the number of unemployed would be increased, and the difficulties of the people added to enormously. It cannot be pleaded that it would be economical to reduce operations on the Hume weir, for, as I have said, exceedingly serious results would follow. If honorable members are prepared to expend money on the construction of the Canberra-Goulburn road-
– And in bringing migrants here-
– They should he prepared to- continue this essential work.
– The’ cost of these operations seems to he altogether too high.
– That may be so. I believe that right from the beginning of this work there has been a lack of proper care in expenditure. But that applies to most of the public works for which this Government has been responsible. Large sums of money have been wasted by the Federal Capital Commission, the Development and Migration Commission, and other similar bodies which this Government has appointed. It has been suggested by some newspapers that the Hume reservoir work is being curtailed for political purposes.
– There is a feeling in the honorable member’s electorate that the Government is trying to put one over him.
– There is a pronounced feeling that that is so.
– When was it first suggested that there might be a curtailment of this work ?
– Three or four months ago a conference was held at the suggestion of the Prime Minister to consider this matter, and subcommittees were formed to deal- with such questions as compensation for land that would be inundated, afforestation, and the supply of water. The sub-committee appointed to deal with the supply of water unanimously decided that the work at the Hume reservoir should not be interfered with, and that decision was accepted. That happened only three or four months ago. Apparently, there the matter rested; but a couple of months later, after a conference had been held, the Minister suddenly became excited about having another conference, and, largely as the result of the way he spoke, it appears that the work is to be curtailed. I believe that the Minister was forced into that position, because it was said that the necessary money was not available. I understand that he stressed the urgency of the work, and the illeffects that would result from a cuttingdown of the expenditure. A request is now being made to the Loan Council, of which the Treasurer is a member, for the provision of another £250,000, and, if that sum is made available, disaster will be averted. Mr. Buttenshaw, Minister for Works in New South Wales, has stated that it will be a tragic thing if the necessary funds are not forthcoming. Up to the present time no satisfactory explanation of the position has been made; but the matter is too important to be cast lightly aside. A stoppage of the work at this stage would mean that many men would be pushed out on the road for a few months and their homes would be broken up, although a similar number of men would have to be put on again after a short period, because the work could not be held up indefinitely. The residents are anxious to know what will happen. One newspaper said that 400 or 500 men would be put off, and a similar statement was made by Mr. Buttenshaw. Another newspaper reported that about 150 men would be affected. I am waiting to hear a statement from the Government.
– The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has, as od a previous occasion, made a most unworthy speech, because the action taken in connexion with the river Murray works is not entirely that of the Commonwealth Government. There has been concerted action by the four Governments directly interested in the construction of the Hume Reservoir, and the financial side of the matter has been controlled by the Loan Council, which consists of representatives of the Commonwealth and the six States. The honorable member’s suggestion that there is something sinister or political in what has been done will not bear investigation. The present Commonwealth Government, ever since it has been in office, has adopted a most sympathetic attitude towards this work. In 1914, when the undertaking was contemplated, an agreement was come to by the three States concerned and the Commonwealth Government under which the Commonwealth was to find £1,000,000. The total expenditure was then expected to be £4,663,000. But as the work progressed, it was realized that it would cost more than that sum. The Commonwealth Government then said that instead of finding only £1,000,000, it would provide onefourth of the total cost. When this Government took office, some 5^ years ago, the proposal was for a dam to conserve 1,100,000 acre feet; but in 1923 or 1924, a conference was convened, I think, by the then Minister for Works and Railways, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), at which the matter was discussed, and on the facts being put before the Commonwealth Government, it was decided that instead of making provision for a dam to conserve 1,100,000 acre feet of water the storage should be increased to 2,000,000 acre feet. There is no evidence of lack of sympathy in that action, nor in the action taken by the Government continuously since that time. The amount of money provided by the Commonwealth Government for this work has been increasing yearly. In 1921-22 the total sum spent on River Murray works was £540,000; in 1922-23, £764,000; in 1923-24, £686,000; in 1924-25, £734,000; in 1925-26; £785,000; in 1926-27, £880,000; and last year, £1,000,000, the largest sum yet expended in one year for the work. But there is no justification for the honorable member’s suggestion, that the expenditure has now been deliberately cut down; because this year, when it is admittedly most difficult to find finance, the sum being provided is £1,000,000, the same amount as was provided last year. That completely disposes of the whole case of the honorable member. It is fourteen years since these works were started, and although last year was a difficult one in which to find money, the expenditure on these works was the largest up to date, and this year’s provision is exactly the same as -that for last year. Last year the amount provided on the Estimates of the Commonwealth and the States for these works was approximately £1,250,000. That is evidence of- the sympathetic consideration by this Government for the undertaking. During the year, however, it was found that it would be impossible to raise the amount necessary to enable the works proposed to be carried to completion. The Loan Council met in November. All of the Governments were represented at the meeting, and the whole subject was discussed to see if some diminution of expenditure could be secured, because it was felt that the total amount that should be spent, having regard to the claims of works in progress in other parts of the Commonwealth, should be £1,000,000. That decision was arrived at by the representatives of all the governments of Australia; it was not the decision of any particular government. Nobody will suggest that last November there was a desire to do anything to embarrass the honorablemember for Hume in his electorate, or that that phase of the matter was given serious consideration, although that seems to be the principal thing troubling the honorable member now. We were facing what was undoubtedly a difficult financial position - almost a financial crisis - and certain reductions of expenditure throughout Australia were decided upon in. order to find sufficient money to carry on all the most important works. This year we were in much the same position. The matter was discussed before the beginning of the financial year in Sydney some two or three months ago, and it was then definitely decided by the States that there was not the slightest chance of their providing more than £250,000 each which is their quota for this work for the current year. The opinion generally expressed was that a total of £1,000,000 was all that was available for the work. It will be seen from the total Loan Estimates that already the Commonwealth loan commitments for this year are rather greater than they were last year. In some of the States the loan commitments are even greater than they were last year. It is absurd to say that all the money available should be spent on the Hume reservoir. The amount provided is sufficient to carry on all the essential works. It is true that during the progress of the work grave doubts have arisen owing to the circumstances mentioned by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory). . The original estimate of cost has been continually exceeded. The estimate for the Hume dam in 1914 was £1,353,000; in 1919 it was increased to £1,639,000, and in 1923 the cost was estimated at £2,937,000. In 1926 another estimate was made of £4,572,600. In 1928 a revised estimate was made, and the cost was fixed at £5,872,637. This was for the work on the Hume Reservoir, and it will be seen that in two years the estimate was increased by approximately £1,300,000.
– Was that owing to alterations in structure giving increased capacity ?
– No; I have already explained the increased cost due to alterations in structure. These increases in the estimated cost have caused the Government much concern, and the causes should be inquired into. At a recent, conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, the Commonwealth Minister for ‘ Works and Railways brought this matter forward, and pointed out the seriousness of the position. It. was decided to have an investigation made into the cost of the work by an independent commission of three, two of whom should be engineers. We wish to learn whether there is any necessity for this huge- increase in expenditure, because if money is wasted in haphazard fashion, either the settlers on the Murray Valley, or the taxpayers of Australia, will have to pay. It behoves us, during a time like this, to get the best possible value for the money we spend.
– How does the Treasurer account for the huge increase in the estimates?
– The increase may be partly due to a rise in working costs arid price levels; but there is no reason that we can see why the increase should be as great as it is. That is why the Minister for Works and Railways has been asking for an investigation.
– Is the work nearly completed ?
– No, it is a long way from completion. It will not be finished before 1932. It is essential, in the interests of national economy, and of those people whom the work is designed to benefit, that the cost should be cut to the minimum. The sum placed on the Estimates for the work is the Commonwealth Government’s share of the proposed expenditure during the year. Honorable members will agree that in view of huge discrepancies between the different estimates we should take steps to find out just where we stand before we embark on greatly increased expenditure.
.- I am sure that we all welcome the information given by the Treasurer, and we all deplore the continued increase in the cost of this great national work. The Treasurer’s statement makes it clear that there has been a slowing down of the works, due, he states, to the difficulties in obtaining loan money. As one representing a constituency bordering on the River Murray, and as an ex-Minister for Works, I have followed with interest the development of this huge undertaking, and I view with great concern any slowing down, whatever the cause may be. I am not, at this juncture, condemning the Government altogether, but I do regret the slowing down of construction work, particularly on the Hume reservoir.
– As much money has been placed on the Estimates this year as for any previous year.
– But the Treasurer did not clear up the point raised by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) as to whether part of this money was to be devoted to purposes other than constructional work on the reservoir. Provision has been made for the payment of some hundreds of thousands of pounds by way of compensation to land-owners whose rich river lands will be inundated by the backing up of the river. As the honorable member for Hume pointed out, although £1,000,000 has been placed on the Estimates for the Hume reservoir, it will be possible to spend only £500,000 on constructional work, and’ to devote the other £500,000 towards compensating land-holders. I think that the Minister should make a plain statement on that aspect of the matter. The Hume reservoir may be described as the king pin of the whole river Murray conservation scheme. It is on the conservation of water at this point in good seasons that we rely to give us a steady flow in the river during the bad seasons. At- Mildura they are now unloading the wool barges, and transporting the wool by rail because there is not sufficient water in the river to fl*at the barges. In August and September the river is usually at it3 highest, and is trafficable up to November and December, and sometimes right through to February. The present position is serious, not so much because of its effect on navigation, but because of the effect it may have on the irrigation settlements along the river. Returned soldiers are settled on irrigation lands for hundreds of miles along the Murray, and the water required for these settlements makes a great demand upon the river. It would be a terrible thing to jeopardize the existence of these settlements by a shortage of water. We may yet have a good river through the melting of the snow, or through a timely fall of rain; but if we do not, the situation threatens to become alarming.
I should like to say a word in regard to the establishment of a port at the mouth of the river Murray. I have always considered that the cardinal weakness of the river Murray agreement lay in its failure to make any provision for the building of a port at the mouth of the river. At the present time, sand banks make navigation from the river to the sea impossible. Dredging is useless,, because the channels will fill up again. Various proposals have been put forward, but I do not propose to go into them now. In spite of the sneers at navigation in Australian waters, and in spite of the competition from railways and roads running parallel with the river, I have always held the opinion that navigation on the river Murray is a practical proposition. I believe that water transport will beat land transport, whether the latter be by road or by rail; and a great deal of the possible benefit of the Murray water conservation scheme will be lost unless we can get the wool and wheat barges right down the river into the sea, and lay them alongside the overseas steamers.
– Did Sir George Buchanan report on a harbour at the mouth of the Murray?
– No; but the Development and Migration Commission has been instructed to inquire into this matter. I believe that it is a practical proposition. The cost of the works along the Murray has been increased over what it would otherwise need to have been because provision has been made all along for navigation. It is hopeless, however, to expect any saving from water transport, if the wool is loaded on to barges, say at Euston, and has to be unloaded at Mildura or Morgan on to the railway. The high cost of handling will- kill the navigation scheme altogether. I think that the Minister might well explain the point raised by the honorable member for Hume, and state whether any of this year’s vote is to be diverted to other than constructional work, and, if so, how much. The high post of the work is to be deplored. We have spent a great deal of money there, and we shall get little return from it unless we push on and complete the job. I believe that we should lose no time in finishing the Hume reservoir, and in making a harbour at the mouth of the Murray. These two most important works should engage the earnest attention of the Government.
– I am of opinion that the Treasurer made out a good case in regard to the amount of money placed on the Estimates this year for the Murray River works. The Treasurer made it quite clear that the Loan Council was not prepared to place more than £1,000,000 on the Estimates this year. This is equal to what was spent last year, but on that occasion the amount was helped out by £28,000 - carried over from the previous year. As president of the River Murray Commission, I have been greatly concerned at the cost of these works. When the increased estimate of the cost of the Hume Reservoir, prepared in 1926, was placed before me, showing the cost as £4,572,000, I became anxious. We were hopeful that that estimate would carry the works to completion. Honorable members may imagine my surprise when only a short time ago a further estimate was forwarded to the River
Murray Commission by the two constructing authorities, the Governments of Victoria and New South Wales. I immediately asked the Prime Minister to convene a conference of either State Premiers or State Ministers for Works, with a view to a reconsideration of the whole matter. That conference was held in Melbourne a few weeks ago, and as a result a committee is about to be appointed to investigate the whole subject of costs in connexion with the Hume reservoir.
– Has the Minister decided on the personnel of the committee?
– Not yet ; we are endeavoring to .get the best men available. As the Treasurer told the committee, the estimate in 1926 was £4,572,600; to-day it is £5,872,637, an increase of £1,300,00,0 in two years. Assuming that the 1926 estimate was a fair one, I think that some of the items of increase can be justified.
– Increased wages?
– Increased wages and increased cost of materials do not represent a very big proportion of the total additional cost. The main increases are on account of certain extra works that have been found necessary. For instance, there is an item of £88,105 in connexion with the No. 2 concrete wing walls and bridge piers. A series of bores was put down along the cap of the reef, and in one place a big cavity in the rock was disclosed, the filling of which absorbed 26,300 yards of concrete at 67s. a yard. That expenditure could not have been foreseen. Again, after the big flood on the Murrumbidgee, which went over the top of the Burrenjuck dam, the commission thought it would be advisable to build up the dam wall on the Victorian side 4 feet above the height originally proposed. There are other items of expenditure which could not have been foreseen by the engineers.
– Do the Minister’s figures include the proposal to increase the storage capacity of the weir ?
– I am not dealing with the increase resulting from the decision to strengthen the dam in order to increase the storage from 1,100,000 acre feet to 2,000,000 acre feet; the figures I am quoting relate to additional costs over and above the estimate previously prepared for 2,000,000 acre feet. Most of the extra expenditure is being incurred in the river bed; the coffer dam is probably the largest in Australia, embracing an area of approximately 12^ acres. The quantity of soil removed in order to lay the foundations has been enormous, and as the rock bottom Avas uncovered great flaws in the rock were discovered. On the advice of the River Murray Commission the constructing authorities were told to probe these fissures to their bottom and fill them up with concrete in order to obviate the possibility of the water leaking through. At one place the engineers had to excavate 63 feet below the top of the rock before they could get a safe foundation. To fill the hole made costs mount rapidly. Increased excavation in granite, 78,300 yards at 15s. a yard, cost £58,725. Cyclopean concrete in spillway and sluices, including facing concrete, cost £41,040; and the same in trough, £31,490. On the reinforcement in the turbo passages there was a saving of £9,000. The No. 2 concrete in the wing walls and bridge piers has caused an excess cost of £88,105. The No. 2 concrete in the core wall of the earth dam, including reinforcement, cost £4,690 ; that was missed in the 1926 estimate.
– How far is the quarry from the works?
– Less than 2 miles. The engineers who checked the estimates for the concrete considered the cost reasonable, and I, as a layman, had to accept their advice. Reinforced concrete in the bridge, including reinforcement, cost an additional £18,900.
– Were those amounts in the original estimates?
– No; additional excavations have been found necessary, and, of course, more concrete has been required to refill them. This cost was not foreseen.
– Are all these additions due to the fact that the dam was enlarged ?
– No; the estimate of £4,572,000 in 1926 was expected to cover everything, but when the rock foundations were opened up, the engineers found that a large quantity of extra work would be necessary. Other items of increased cost were - No. 2 concrete in stilling pool, 350 yards at 67s. a yard, £1,172; reinforced concrete in trash racks, 1,350 yards at 210s. a yard, £14,175. The last item was not provided for in the 1926 estimate. For the cast iron and steel in the gates and gearing, the original amount estimated was £48,500, but that has now been increased to £79,500. Supervision and contingencies have been increased by £27,720, and the diversion of the traffic, not including Bethanga bridge, £51,000, making the total net increase for the New South Wales side £408,717. This represents almost entirely additions and strengthening. It is possible that some of this expenditure should have been foreseen; I, as a layman, cannot say.
– The Minister has not yet attempted to answer the charge that he is gerrymandering.
– We are getting the information we want.
– I am reminding the Minister that he is not attempting to answer the charge.
– If the honorable member will allow me, I shall deal with all the matters that were brought forward by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney). On the Victorian side, there was a decrease of £9,000 in connexion with the item “Excavation in decomposed granite, including depositing and consolidating in earth dam,” and a decrease of £3,000 upon “Excavating in granite, including depositing and consolidating in earth dam.” There was an increase of £19,920 with respect to No. 2 concrete in core wall of earth dam, including reinforcement. Earthwork, filling in embankment, excluding core-wall drain, downstream gravel and rock-fill toe, showed an increase of £101,300 ; and core-wall drain, downstream gravel and rock-fill toe an increase of £61,470. Those two can really be classed as one item, the combined increase being £162,770. The increase in connexion with additional broken stone for rock facing on upstream face of dam, including grouting, was £12,550. Upon supervision and contingencies there was an increase of £80,580. The principal increases on the Victorian side are in connexion with the deviation of traffic routes and the resumption of lands. The estimate made in 1926 of the cost of land resumption was £430,500, including the resumption of Tallangatta. On the Victorian side, land has to be resumed on both sides of the Mitta River and on one side of the Murray River, whereas the New South Wales constructing authority has to resume on only one side of the Murray River. The estimate today of the cost of land resumption in Victoria, including £150,000 for Tallangatta, is £800,000, an increase over the original estimate of £369,500.
– Can the Minister say what acreage that comprises ?
– On the Victorian side about 26,000 acres have, to be resumed.
– Is it pastoral land ?
– It is mostly river flats. The estimate’ is considered to be altogether too high. The original estimate for the diversion of traffic routes excluding Bethanga bridge, on the Victorian side was, in the case of railways, £90,000, and in the case of roads, £53,000, or .a total of £143,000. That estimate was not queried until recently, when new detailed estimates were taken out for that section. The length of railway between the Hume dam and Sandy Creek is approximately 8$ miles. The new estimate- for that section alone is £149,000, to which has to be added a further sum for the reconstruction of the railway from Sandy Creek to its terminus, making the total for railway diversions £341,000, compared with the original estimate of £90,000. The cost of road diversion, which was originally estimated at £53,000, is now estimated at £60,000. Therefore, the total increase in connexion with the diversion of traffic routes is £258,000. It will thus be seen that the principal increases on the Victorian side are -
It has been suggested that £1,000,000 will not be sufficient to keep the works going economically this year. The River Murray Commission considers that that sum is less than it can reasonably do with, and the Loan Council is being asked to consent to an increase of £260,000. That action is being taken by the commission because it realizes that it will he necessary during this year to resume some lands and to remove some roads and railways to higher levels. It is thought that it will be necessary to impound something like 100,000 acre feet. Some honorable members may consider that sufficient water will flow down the Murray this year to meet all requirements. I have had a conversation on the matter with Mr. Cattanach, the chairman of the State Rivers and Water Supply Department in Victoria. He has informed me that 100,000 acre feet would provide him with a splendid reserve, and that he is anxious to have the water conserved because he believes that he can make a profitable use of it. I wish to make it abundantly clear that for some considerable time I have been very greatly concerned respecting some of the expenditure on the Hume dam and other works. I have endeavoured to have some of the work done by contract, but have found that under the agreement the River Murray Commission has not the power to say what system shall be adopted. A road was to be constructed in the electorate of the honorable member for Hume. I tried very hard to have tenders called for that work, but the New South Wales authorities advised me that it was a matter which did not concern me, and that under the agreement it was for them to say whether the work should be done by contract or day labour. The latter system is to he. adopted. If we are able to obtain an additional £260,000 this year we believe that there will be no necessity to discharge any of the men who are working on the Hume dam; but it will be necessary to effect a stoppage of work at weir and lock No. 15, Euston, to stop work in connexion with the deviation of roads at the Hume reservoir, and to discontinue work in connexion with surveys and investigation of lock sites, because we shall be commencing to impound waters at the Hume, and naturally those waters will spread over farming areas, which will have to be resumed before they can be inundated. The deviation of traffic routes also will have to be effected. The River Murray Commission is greatly concerned about the increases that have taken place in connexion with the cost of these works. In the report which is being issued this year, speaking of the high costs, it says -
It is therefore considered that such high costs are attributable largely to the fact that one authority was not placed in control of the whole of the works. Had that been done we are satisfied that considerable savings could have been effected by the standardization of plant and the economical use of plant at the various works along the river.
– Is it too late to take that action now?
– What is known as the 1932 programme, as laid down by the commission, was adopted by the various governments at the conference which was held in Canberra in February last. The programme embraces weirs and locks, Nos. 1 to 31 inclusive, as far as Mildura, the completion of the Lake Victoria storage, lock 15 at Euston, any other weirs and locks between Mildura and Torrumbarry that maybe considered necessary, and other works in connexion with land development for closer settlement purposes, as well as the Hume dam. The Commonwealth Government does not desire to curtail any of those works. It still hopes that the programme will be carried out in its entirety.
– If the amount of money available this year is equal to that provided last year, why are men being discharged from the works at the weir and on the road in the Hume electorate ?
– I have endeavoured to explain that if the amount of money that is available this year is only equal to that which we had last year, some of it must of necessity be spent on land resumptions and road deviation.
– Therefore, the purpose for which it is being provided this year is different from that for which it was provided last year. Surely, if there is extra work to be done, an additional sum should he made available !
– The main point is that the Commonwealth can obtain only what the Loan Council is prepared to make available to it. If we can secure the additional amount sought, I believe there will not be any very great curtailment in connexion with the labour employed at the Hume; but there will be a shortage of work at lock No. 15 and on the other items that I have specified.
– At the conclusion of his long speech the Minister admitted the correctness of the statements which I had made previously. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) was hastily brought into the Chamber when I resumed my seat, the belief evidently being that he would talk all round the subject and give no information.
– The honorable member ought to be fair. The Treasurer was not brought in.
– But he came in for the purpose of making a statement. He found the explanation so difficult that he endeavoured to smother it up with an endless flow of words. The Minister himself has done much better than the Treasurer did. The Minister has been candid enough to admit that everything I said was correct. The Treasurer said that there had been no curtailment of work on the weir, and that the amount of money to be spent on it this year is the same as was spent last year. According to the testimony of theMinister who is in charge of the work that statement is quite incorrect. If it is correct, why are the men being put off? When I spoke earlier on this subject I referred to a conference that was held in February last, at the instigation of the Prime Minister. I have an account of the proceedings at that conference, which indicates clearly that what the Government now proposes to do amounts to an absolute negation of the conference recommendations. It is an extraordinary thing that the Government should appoint a committee to inquire into the work of another commission, but with it that seems to be a common way of getting out of a difficulty. In the historical review of this subject which the Minister for Works and Railways has just given, there was no mention of an important recommendation, in respect to the dried fruits industry in Australia which appeared in the report of the
Development and Migration Commission. It is as follows: -
It is recommended that the Commonwealth Government, which is deeply involved with the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, in the finance- of the irrigation settlements and the river Murray works, should call a conference of the Irrigation Commissioners of the States (by agreement with the State Governments), the Department of Markets, the Development and Migration Commission, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the River Murray Commission, to report and recommend with regard to a national policy for the development of these settlements and areas.
The commission was no doubt concerned about the manner in which the expense of this work was increasing. The Prime Minister carried out its recommendation, and a conference of representatives of the three riparian States and the Commonwealth was held on the 27th and 28th February. The report of the proceedings that I have states -
The conference was attended by representatives of each of the three State Governments concerned, the Irrigation Commission in each State, the Department of Markets, the Development and Migration Commission, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the River Murray Commission. The VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir George Pearce), the Federal Minister for Works (Mr. W. C. Hill), and the Minister for Markets (Mr. Paterson) also attended the conference, which was presided over by the Prime Minister.
No one can say that the conference was not fully representative. It appointed a number of committees. One of these made the following recommendation -
We recommend the carrying out of works on the river Murray towhich the various Governments are already committed by substantial expenditure, and those which are necessary for the development of existing areas, namely: -
The completion of the Hume reservoir to 2,000,000 acre-feet capacity.
– It had previously been determined that the capacity of the reservoir should be increased to 2,000,000 acre feet. The conference merely confirmed that.
– That is so, but that was not the original capacity of the reservoir. The recommendation continued -
That in view of the financial outlook and the difficulty of obtaining loan money, other construction work be deferred for the present.
The conference took into consideration the financial position, but decided that in spite- of existing circumstances the reservoir should be constructed with a 2,000,000 acre-feet capacity.
– And the Government is proceeding with the work on that basis.
– Both the Minister for Works and Railways and the Treasurer have told us that £1,000,000 was spent last year on these works, but it does not appear that that amount is -to be spent this year. In any case there was no need for the Minister to go into so much detail. I asked a simple question, which could have been answered in two minutes. My question, which still remains unanswered, was: - “ If a similar amount of money is available for actual constructional work on the Hume Weir this year as was spent last year, why are men being dismissed from the job?” The Minister said something about the money being required to compensate land-owners for property which had been resumed.
– Who determines how the available money shall be spent?
– The contracting parties make the allocation.
– The Loan Council made the money available and the Premier of Victoria informed me that when he agreed to the proposal, he was under the impression that the money would be spent on construction work as it was spent last year. It is not all being spent in that way and consequently men are being dismissed. We are now told that an application has been made to the Loan Council for another £260,000, and that if this is made available not so many men will be dismissed. We have, therefore, reached this position, that a number of men are to be dismissed, but that if an additional amount of money is made available by the Loan Council fewer dismissals will occur than would otherwise be the case. I have been told that it is unfair to suggest that these dismissals are being made for political reasons ; but I point out that
I am not alone in that view. I have been able to substantiate from other authoritative sources every statement that I have made in regard to this matter. When I spoke earlier in the debate I referred in general terms to a statement about the dismissal of these men made by Mr. Buttenshaw, the New South Wales Minister for Works and Railways, who, I point out, belongs to the Country party. Let me read his exact words as. reported in the press -
It was heartrending. At lock 15, Euston, everything had been fixed up for the work to go ahead. A camp had been established, machinery installed, and roads were being made to the scene.
Now all this had to be abandoned for the year, and the men engaged put off again. It would affect 100 men at the lock, 40 roadmakers, and 15 surveying men.
If the extra £260,000 asked of the Loan Council be not conceded, between 400 and 500 men will have to go off the Hume dam and allied works, the Minister added. It meant, he said, deterioration of work partly completed, loss of interest on capital, and postponement of the day when the full product of the scheme will be available to the Commonwealth, its lands, and its industries. Moreover, the hardships of the men involved in the breaking up of their homes and their dispersal abroad cannot be over-estimated.
There can be no doubt whatever that the New South Wales representative on the Loan Council, like the Victorian representative, was under the impression that the money made available for Murray River works this year would he spent in the same way as the money was spent last year. But it now transpires that a considerable proportion of it is to be devoted to land resumption purposes.
– Is the resumption of this land necessary for the continuance of the constructional work?
– The Minister told me personally that it was absolutely necessary that the deviation road should be put in, and he pointed out as we were going along in the train where the road would go. He said that 200 men would have to be put on to make it. Will he now say that it is not necessary for the deviation to be made?
– It is unnecessary this year.
– I see. Next year, I suppose, when the election is over, the whole thing will be very necessary. One has only to look at certain honorable members opposite to know that they see exactly what is at the back of this action. Nobody accustomed to the Treasurer-
– I resent inferences of that kind. They are most unfair.
– The Minister can assume an injured air if he likes; but, after listening to him and the Treasurer, I can only conclude that there is a sinister motive behind the interference with this work. This action has been taken for political purposes. It was said at the last State election in New South Wales that the Labour Government then in office there had sent men out into the country on road construction for political purposes.
– So they did.
– That is a misrepresentation. Even if it were true, heaven knows that the men would have been doing most necessary work ; but there can be no excuse for interference with great public works such as the Hume reservoir, thereby throwing large numbers of men out of employment. This action will have a detrimental effect, as Mr. Buttenshaw has pointed out, in various ways, financial and otherwise, and cause deterioration of expensive plant.
– The men put off will still be on the electoral roll. The honorable member should not worry about it.
– The Minister has been electioneering long enough to know that the curtailment of this expenditure will have the effect that the Government desires. I made no charge, at all until I heard the Minister for Works and Railways; but, having listened to the speeches of both the Minister and the Treasurer, I say that my argument has not been replied to satisfactorily. The Minister for Works and Railways agrees with me that the amount spent on this work last year is not being provided in the current year. Part of it is being allocated for other purposes, and the effect must be to put a number of men out of employment. The Minister knows that at the conference held some time ago a discussion took place between him and somebody else about putting those men off straight away. The Minister can say if he likes that I am adopting my present attitude because I fear the political consequences of the action taken ; but I warn him that the opinion that political action has been taken by the Government is held in various quarters in my electorate. There are sufficient fair-minded men in the electorate, and among the people of New South Wales generally, to condemn any action that has a sinister motive behind it. A serious wrong will be done to the taxpayers if the work is stopped at the present stage. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) agrees with me on that point, and so does Mr. Buttenshaw. The Treasurer has no excuse for saying that the whole of the money required this year cannot be provided at the present time. Everybody knows that funds are lavishly provided for works in the Federal Capital.
– I invite the honorable member now to repeat any statement he knows that I made about putting men off.
– I am told by the Minister for Works and Railways in Victoria that the honorable gentleman consulted with one of the engineers about putting men off. That is my authority for my statement, i I venture to say that the Victorian Minister did not invent that statement. Nobody who knows him will accuse him of doing that.
– It is absolutely untrue!
– The Minister may thrash that matter out with the Victorian Minister. The fact remains that the men are to be put off.
– The Murray Waters Commission could not sack a single man or even influence the sacking of men. Mr. PARKER MOLONEY.- The Minister is now adopting the role of a humourist. It does not matter how the men are put off. If the same amount of money as was made available last year is not allocated for. the present year, some of the men must go.
– The Commonwealth Government does not allocate the money.
– That is done, of course, by the Loan Council, of which the Treasurer is a prominent member. Mr. Buttenshaw says that New South Wales is not responsible, and the Victorian’ Government repudiates responsibility for the position.. The trouble, then, is due to the Federal authorities.
I have made mK protest, and have simply done my duty. The Minister for Works and Railways can put whatever construction he chooses on my remarks. He is very sensitive about what I say; but he does not hesitate to attribute motives to me. I have been speaking from the point of view of those who have been communicating with me about the curtailment of the work. Apart from the men threatened with unemployment, there are taxpayers in my electorate who do not wish to be asked to meet the increased expenditure that would result from the stoppage of the work at the present time. The extra ultimate cost would be much greater than any temporary saving that could be made by a curtailment of operations now. If the Commonwealth were on its last legs 1 could understand the reduction in this vote; but surely we should look to the future in dealing with large works of this kind. According to the Minister himself, there should be 300 men employed now on the road to which I have referred. The case that I have presented has not been answered. Why is the amount provided this year not the same as the sum allocated last year ?
.- I compliment the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) upon having made a first-class political speech. We are indebted to him for having drawn from the Minister much valuable information. The Minister has explained that this work is on a par with many other undertakings carried out by means of borrowed money, and the estimates of cost have increased by about 30 per cent, or 40 per cent. That is a most serious matter, and we must be careful not to permit the indiscriminate expenditure of loan money. The honorable member for Hume has an eye solely on the workers employed at the reservoir. I should certainly like to see those men kept in employment, and I agree with the honorable member that it would be regrettable to suspend operations there if the money could be found. But I also have in mind the interests of the producers lower down the river, who will be loaded with an enormous burden of taxation owing to the serious increases in the estimates of cost. We must also bear in mind the interests of the general taxpayers who have to foot the bill. Valuable land has to be resumed, and estimates must be prepared of the cost of compensating the land-owners when the site of the reservoir is flooded with water. Early next year the land will be ready for the intake. I hope that the finances will so improve that the Minister will see his way clear to complete the work at the earliest possible moment. At the same time I compliment him and his officers in paying due regard to the enormously increased charges. I welcome the appointment of a committee to discover where the leakage is occurring. There are two matters to be considered, and the most important is that the irrigation setttlers lower down the river will, owing to the increased cost, have to pay 40 per cent, more for the water they use than was anticipated when the work was undertaken,
.- There is a type of member in this House who, when lacking in argument or information upon any subject, usually resorts to slandering the workers of the country. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Cook), who is hurriedly leaving the chamber, is one of* those who, for political purposes, constantly belittles, traduces, and slanders the workers.
– That is not so.
– The Treasurer pops in and out of the chamber in response to the frantic calls from the Minister for Works to explain this or that, and having arrived, he “ falls down on the job.” He has caught a few words of the debate, and without knowing what is really being said, takes it upon himself to defend the honorable member for Indi. I am sure he does not know what the honorable member said, or he would not butt in on this occasion. The honorable member for Indi said that the Minister’s explanation this afternoon indicated that the workers were slowing down on the job at the Hume weir. That is a malicious distortion and misrepresentation. Either the honorable member for Indi has not the capacity to understand, or he has wilfully misrepresented the position, for in no part of the Minister’s public declaration to this House - I know nothing about what private declarations he may have made to the honorable member for Indi - was any charge made against the workers employed on the Hume weir and Murray river works. The Minister, in his long speech, vainly endeavoured to get away from the main point. At no part of his discourse did he deal only with those unforeseen faults in the river bottom in order to explain the extraordinary increase in the estimated cost of the work. During the course of the debate in this House since the last State election in New South “Wales, it has been the fashion for certain members to speak of “Lang’s shock troops,” and one really wonders, if Mr. Lang did follow the practice of moving thousands of voters from a strong to a weak electorate, how his Government could ever have been defeated. As a matter of fact, the shock troops were never anything more than a figment of the imagination. There is another type of member on the Government side who, in one breath, attacks the Lang Government for its alleged refusal to build roads, saying that it misappropriated £400,000 which should have been devoted to this purpose, and in the next breath talks about shock troops having been put on special road work for election purposes. The two stories will not tally. The Minister for Works and the Treasurer took a long time to give a little information to the committee in re?gard to the extraordinary position which has been created in the Murray river valley, and it was only as a result of numerous questions and interjections that we, on this side of the chamber, were able to obtain any information at all. Reluctantly. almost as though their teeth were being drawn, the Ministers gave us, ‘bit by bit, the information that a large number of men are to be dismissed from the employ of the Murray Waters Commission.
– The honorable member did not learn that from me, because, so far as I am personally concerned, I do not know that a single man has been put off. That rests entirely with the constructional authority.
– I assumed that the Minister, as President of the Murray Waters Commission, would know what was being done, or what it was intended to do. The Minister said that the work at No. 15, Euston, is to be suspended, and he surely knows that the suspension of work means the discharging of the workmen.
– The honorable member is speaking of the Hume Reservoir.
– I am speaking of the Murray valley. Coming to the Hume Weir, itself, however, it seems to be true, on the Minister’s own declaration, that a number of men are to be put off. I am speaking of the road deviation. I do not know whether the Minister has forgotten, but that is what he said.
– The honorable member said that men would be put off. I have no knowledge of any men being put off.
– The Minister must know that some will have to be put off.
– I have no knowledge of anything except the road deviation, and the resumptions. As for the retaining walls, &c, that rests entirely with the constructing authority.
– The Minister has said that it resolves itself into a matter of money, and he must know that it is impossible to build retaining walls, and to keep men employed, without money. Mr. Buttenshaw, the Minister for Works in New South _ Wales,” said that it was his unpleasant duty to give orders to dismiss 175 men from the employ of the Murray Waters Commission. Surely, as President of the Murray Waters Commission, the Minister knows something of that.
– We have nothing to do with engaging or dismissing men.
– We are to assume, then, that the work of mixing concrete and putting it in place to impound the waters does not come within the purview of the Minister. He is concerned only with the preparation of relevant documents.
– If the constructing authority thinks that it is necessary to put on 100 additional men, it does not consult the River Murray Commission. It just puts them on.
– I know that, but I I am trying to pin the Minister down to this : As President of the Murray Waters Commission, he must know that if there is not sufficient money to carry on the work, men must be dismissed. Why does he back and fill about it? Why does he not admit straight out that men are to be dismissed, principally as the result of his Government’s policy. Charges of gerrymandering have been made in’ this House from time to time. In the Hume electorate Nationalists and members of the country party are in high glee. The Government, it is believed, will see that the expenditure is curtailed on the actual work at the weir. This will be done, not by reducing the total amount of the vote, but by devoting a portion of the money to land resumption. That is how they are attempting to win the Hume electorate for a Country party or a Nationalist candidate. While the stories about Lang’s shock troops have been wild in the extreme, there is no doubt whatever about the gerrymandering being done in the Hume division.
– That statement is unworthy of the honorable member because there is absolutely no truth in it.
– The intense interest taken by the Nationalist and Country party organizers in the progress of the Hume weir warrants a suspicion that they know something of the Government’s intentions, and are anxious to see them carried out.
– The honorable member knows that men cannot be put off the roll now.
– That may be, but the chances are that when a man is put off the job he does not vote at all. Most of these men are without homes of their own. It is even possible that they may yet be put off the roll. We have charged this Government with having no consideration whatever for the men who do the hard toil in developing the country. The Government will heartlessly put thousands of men out of employment in order to adjust its budget, even though such adjustment is rendered necessary by the preferential treatment granted to the wealthy landholders by way of taxation reduction. But the Government has no sympathy with the working class - the people who really matter. The wealthy classes would not be in existence very long were it not for the hewers of wood and drawers of water. At a time when the Federal and State Governments should be straining every nerve to stem the tide of unemployment, this Government calmly proposes to dismiss large numbers of men from the Murray river works. By the time the Government’s present retrenchment policy has been carried out in the Murray valley, probably 500 men will be thrown out of employment, and the Minister for Works and the Treasurer seem to be quite complacent about it. I protest against what is apparently an attempt to gerrymander the Hume electorate. I personally believe that if those Murray river works were stopped, and all the workers on them removed from the district, the present representative of the district would retain the seat; but evidently the organizers for our opponents think that if sufficient men are sacked, either the Country party or the Nationalist party will win the seat. Much as I resent these tactics, I protest still more strongly against men being callously sacked and thrown on a market which already has a huge surplus of labour.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £2,858,500.
.- I have on other occasions brought to the notice of the Postmaster-General the need for a new post office building at Largs in my electorate. The antiquated and discarded railway station that is now used for the purpose is most unsuitable and unsatisfactory to the people who have postal business to transact there. Recently the department sought to patch and clean the structure, but the result is far from satisfactory, and I am convinced that the complaint of the residents is fully justified. We are told by the Minister that no money is available at the present time for the erection of new postal buildings, all the funds at the command of the Minister being required for improving the accommodation and convenience in existing offices. Recognizing that possibly other places had a more urgent claim to the consideration of the Government, I have shown great consideration towards the Minister in regard to the claim of the residents of Largs; but I am afraid that such leniency is misconstrued and undue advantage is taken of it. Unless a member is prepared to harass the Government continuously, he can get nothing done. I tell the Minister emphatically that a new post office building at Largs is long overdue, and that the excuses offered hitherto by him and his responsible officers will no longer suffice. It is the bounden duty of the Postmaster-General to see that this proposal receives the early and favorable consideration to which its merits entitle it. The residents are of opinion that the site of the existing building is not convenient, and I suggest to the Minister that the new post office should be placed on an allotment adjacent to the railway station, and owned by the Navy Department, but not likely to be required for naval purposes for very many years. I appeal to the Minister to instruct that an immediate inquiry be undertaken with a view to placing the new post office on the schedule of postal works to be undertaken in the near future.
For a considerable time a new automatic telephone exchange has been promised for Semaphore, and I believe that the Public Works Committee recommended this work. Both business men and private citizens are complaining of the unsatisfactory telephone service they are now receiving, and I ask that the installation of the new exchange be commenced at the earliest possible date. I have been told that the reason why the work has not been proceeded with is that the equipment ordered for Semaphore was utilized to complete the installation in another district, although the latter was a more recent project.
– I assure the honorable member that that is not done. Plans and specifications are drawn up for each automatic exchange, and equipment is ordered to fit it.
– I ask the Minister to investigate the assertion I have made. The district I represent has as much right to consideration as any district represented by a member of any other political faith. I rely on the Minister to see that justice is done to the people of Semaphore.
.- When the No. 1 Loan Bill was under consideration on the 14th June, I suggested that it would be convenient to honorable members if more particulars were given than are customarily shown in the loan schedules. I pointed out that in regard to the works for some of the departments, particularly the Works and Railways, many details were given which enabled honorable members to form an estimate of how the proposed vote was being applied to a particular work, but that in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department- the whole expenditure throughout Australia was lumped under the three headings, “ Additions and Alterations, New Buildings, and Sundry Offices.” The Minister replied that the Loan Bill covered only a short period, and that it was impossible to state the amount of money that would be spent on any building during that time; he promised, however, that when the, general Estimates were before us, details of proposed expenditure would be given in regard to every building. I had inferred from that promise that such details would be set down in black and white, so that honorable members might be able to study them, but they are not given in the schedule of this bill. No doubt, the Minister has them in his possession, and will make them available. If he intends to furnish them, he would have been well advised if he had had them set out in detail in the bill itself.
– I shall give both the particulars and the reason for their not appearing in the bill.
– I hope that the reason will be a good one. It would be a convenience to me, and I think to the committee generally, if it could be seen at a glance how much . is being allotted to each particular work in every State.
– I desire to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General a few matters that are of considerable interest, particularly to country members. The first relates to the nature of the buildings that the Postal Department is maintaining for official purposes in some country towns. I know that it is the policy of the present Postmaster-General to spend the biggest portion of his revenue on additional telephone and mail facilities. I endorse that policy, because it is more necessary that those who live in the country should have postal facilities than that the work of the department should be carried on in ornate buildings; but at the same time I consider that it is being carried too far, particularly in towns that are making rapid progress. Some of the buildings are very old, and are a positive nightmare to the residents. They are quite out of keeping with modern architecture, and a disfigurement to the towns in which they are allowed to remain. They are also a very bad advertisement for the Postal Department. In some cases the residents have agitated persistently over a lengthy period to have extensive alterations made so that the postal buildings will be brought up to the standard of the other public buildings in the town; but generally a deaf ear has been turned to their representations, the excuse being that the department has no money for new buildings. I believe the real reason is that the present administrative head of the department is rather obsessed with the idea that so long as the people are given postal facilities, they are very little concerned as to whether the administration is conducted in an old barn or a modern mansion. I have no desire to be. unjust to the honorable gentleman, because he has been both generous and attentive in many ways, not only to me, but also to other honorable members. The tow of Werris Creek is at the junction of four railway systems in the State of New South Wales. It is the biggest junction in any country district in that State, and has been going ahead by leaps and bounds. Yet the post office building, a typically old-fashioned country barn, still stands, alongside a magnificent new bank which cost many thousands of pounds to build. It not only depreciates the value of that property, but by contrast with it is almost grotesque. This has been a very sore point with the Chamber of Commerce and the residents for a long time. When the PostmasterGeneral paid a visit to the town over twelve months ago, a deputation asked him whether it would not be possible to have a more up-to-date building erected. He replied that money was not available at present for that class of development. He would not approve of the alterations they desired to have made to the existing wooden building, and suggested that they wait until the time was ripe for the erection of a modern brick building. At the rate at which development along those lines is progressing in the Postal Department, it will be many years before that town will enjoy a modern post office, although one is so long overdue. Travelling round Australia I have seen many examples of postal buildings that are entirely out of date and no credit to the department. They could be replaced by small modern brick buildings for a comparatively slight expenditure. It would be a good policy for the department to set aside an amount every year, to be utilized in replacing out-of-date buildings, thus giving’ the people in country towns, who generally take a great pride in the architectural appearance of their surroundings, an indication that the department is alive to its responsibility to assist in their progress.
I wish to refer also to the question of automatic telephone exchanges. A considerable time ago we were told that the department had sent experts to America to investigate a new invention for which success had been claimed, and that there was every prospect of automatic telephone exchanges being provided in some rural areas. There has been a great deal of publicity in the press regarding the matter, but so far as I can learn no such exchanges have materialized. I understand that a couple were installed in Victoria, but no information has been forthcoming in relation to the results which have followed their installation. A large number of country people are awaiting with expectancy a pronouncement regarding the intentions of the department. A great advantage of automatic telephone exchanges in country districts would be the provision of a continuous service in place of the present curtailed service, which usually ceases about 6 o’clock in the evening. The Postmaster-General has not made a statement on the subject recently, and I can assure him that many country people are beginning to wonder whether it is of any use to wait for this new development. If the experiments are not entirely successful, ‘ and there is no immediate prospect of their being given automatic exchanges, the head of the department should say so, in order that they may resume the agitations for an extension of the existing hours, which in many cases was discontinued in the belief that automatic exchanges would soon be installed.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– I wish to bring under the notice of the committee in general, and the Postmaster-General in particular, the rather delicate subject of the method under which criminal prosecutions are conducted against postal officials who are charged with the theft’ of postal articles the property of the Postmaster-General. I understand that these charges must be laid under section 114 of the Post and Telegraph Act, which has not been reviewed for twenty years. Such cases must be submitted to a judge and jury although they could well be dealt with under summary jurisdiction in a Magistrate’s Court. The present system means that in many cases a steam hammer is used to crack a nut. I have in mind a case which is sub judice, and to which I shall not refer in detail, concerning a postal official who is charged with the theft of a letter. The total amount involved is only lis., yet the case must go before a judge and jury, though it could be disposed of quickly by a magistrate sitting in summary jurisdiction. This official, after being in the service of the department for about sixteen years, was dismissed the day the charge was laid against him. He happens to live in the country, and has been obliged to wait in his home town for nearly three months with this charge hanging over his head. He has not been able to obtain employment, and is, to a large extent, an outcast. The local magistrate could have dealt adequately with the case and saved a good deal of painful delay and suspense. There is no provision in the Post and Telegraph Act for cases to be dealt with summarily. Even if the amount involved in the theft is only 5s. the case must go to the Quarter Sessions for consideration. There are great differences in the importance of these cases; but whether the theft involves hundreds of pounds or a few shillings, cumbersome machinery must be put into operation ‘in all alike. I urged the authorities to allow the case I have mentioned to be dealt with summarily, but was informed that they had no power to do so. I do not suggest for a moment that persons who steal the letters of the public should be treated leniently. But there is a great disparity between the culpability of a young man, who in a moment of sudden temptation steals a letter with the object of obtaining money to purchase, say, a Tattersalls sweep ticket, and that of an individual who practices systematic theft over a long period. Surely the PostmasterGeneral should have some discretion in this matter. A young official who, on being charged with a paltry theft, loses his position and has to suffer the ordeal of waiting months for the trial of his case, is severely punished, and it should be unnecessary to set in motion the un- wieldy machinery of the Criminal Court to try him. In discussing the subject with the Crown law authorities, I ascertained that great difficulties constantly arise in connexion with these cases, lt was suggested that in the specific case I mentioned the officer could be tried under the New South Wales Crimes Act; but a technical difficulty which prevented an assessment being made of the value of the article stood in the way. Persons are charged not with stealing the contents of letters, but only the letters. These cases, as all honorable members know, cause a great deal of trouble and much suffering.
– The honorable member is hardly in order in discussing this subject upon the loan estimates. He might appropriately deal with it when the general » estimates are under consideration. I have allowed him. a good deal of latitude, but I hope that he will not trespass further.!
– May I be permitted to suggest, sir, that the PostmasterGeneral and the Attorney-General confer upon the desirableness of amending the Post and Telegraph Act to provide that relatively unimportant cases such as I have mentioned may be dealt with under summary jurisdiction? If that could be done, much expense, trouble and delay might be saved.
I direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to the circumlocution which occurs when suggestions are made in a district for improving the postal service, altering buildings, erecting new post offices and so on. If a matter is referred direct to head-quarters, it is returned to the district postal inspector, who reports upon it; then it goes back to the head office, and ultimately is determined by a central staff officer who may know next to nothing about it. If a suggestion is made locally, it has to go through practically the same course.
The present system means that many unnecessary letters are written, numerous stereotyped replies sent, and much delay occasioned. I think the PostmasterGeneral will agree with me that local officers who are in touch with the needs of a district, are much more likely to give rational decisions than central staff officers who are out of touch with a local situation. It should be unnecessary to
.- I am surprised at the concluding remarks of the last speaker, because representations made by me on the spot to the district inspectors have been dealt with promptly, and, in almost every instance, the requests have met with favorable consideration. I wish to acknowledge the efficiency of the Post Office, and express my approval of the present policy of extending postal and telephonic facilities to out-back districts. In the last few years upwards of 25 telephone services have been installed in outlying parts of my constituency. These facilities have proved invaluable to country people. By way of illustration, I may mention that recently a farmer’s wife missed her child, and found it lying face downwards in the water at the deep end of a dam. She obtained a ladder and rescued the child. Its heart was still beating, so she rang up the nearest telephone exchange, and was placed in communication with a doctor, who immediately responded to her summons for assistance. The doctor motored 11 miles in 17 minutes, and saved the child’s life. The telephone at that home had only been installed fourteen days previously. Many similar instances could be quoted to show the great’ value of telephonic communication in outback parts of the Commonwealth. Although one would like to see ornamental buildings erected by the Postal Department, the policy of the Postmaster-General in giving first consideration to the most urgent needs of the people is to be commended.
– No honorable member who is familiar with the work carried out by the Postal Department in the last six years can fail to realize that remarkable progress has been made. We know that £24,000,000 has been expended from loan in the last six years in establishing services in the country as well as in the cities. The fact that the Post Office pays its way, and an ample sinking fund is provided to cover the cost of services during the life of the works, is proof of the wisdom of the policy adopted. Yet, despite the progress made, those who travel extensively in country districts realize that there is a great avenue for further extension of the services. Although £3,800,000 is a large sum to spend in the coming year out of loan money, I had hoped that the amount provided would be even larger than that. One of our greatest problems is how to prevent the drift of population from the country to the cities, and there is no more effective means of checking that drift than by providing adequate telephonic communication. I quite agree with the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes) that *these Estimates lack a good deal of detail that could have been included with advantage to honorable members.
I regret” that no provision appears to have been made for the installation of rural automatic telephones. Last year the Postmaster-General was so confident that these would be installed in the near future that he placed £100,000 on the Estimates for that purpose, and I think that not £500 of that money can have been expended. Of course, nothing should be done in the direction of establishing the system generally until it is proved to be entirely successful. At the same time, it would be unwise to postpone its adoption until it is incapable of improvement. Experiments are constantly being made and fresh telephone patents are being taken out every year. If we waited for five years there would probably be some improvement introduced within the following twelve months. I know of no more suitable way of serving country districts than by providing rural automatic exchanges. In my own electorate we have 24 of these services that have an average of well over twenty telephones in each office, and a 6 .o’clock service is provided. The establishment of this type of exchange throughout the country districts would increase the profit of the department because’ the cost of operating would be considerably reduced, and the telephones would be used more frequently than they now are. Even in districts where the revenue just warrants a continuous service, we know that the ordinary exchange does not pay. Rural automatic telephones could be provided at a reasonable cost, and would provide a continuous service that the subscribers would quickly learn to appreciate. I hope that in the near future these telephones will be installed throughout Australia. There are few localities where the necessary electric current for this system could not be obtained. I should think that 95 per cent, of the country telephones could be operated under this system. Although I can see nothing on the Estimates to indicate that the system will be installed in the coming year, I hope that portion of the £3,800,000 allocated will be ‘devoted to that purpose.
.– I am interested in this vote because I represent a scattered electorate where a good deal of rural development is proceeding. While I am grateful to the. Minister and his department for the consideration always shown to requests made to them, I cannot say that I am satisfied, since my constituents desire improved postal, telephonic and telegraphic facilities. Frequently I find that requests, which to my mind are reasonable, are refused on the ground that insufficient funds are available to provide the facilities asked for, and that the department would not ‘ be compensated for the outlay. Too much attention is given to the business side of the department’s activities, and not enough to the practical needs of the people in the outback districts who are doing real pioneering work. It is the duty of the Government to provide them with reasonable means of communication, not only by way of roads and railways, but also by way of telephone and postal facilities as well. The department has done much in this direction, but it has come under my notice that groups of farmers who have applied for public telephones have been told that the estimated revenue would not justify the cost of installation. In my opinion, the department should provide these telephones when a reasonable case can be made out in support of the application. There are persons in my electorate living 14 miles and more from a railway, and the roads during wet weather are practically impassable. What chance have they of quickly summoning medical aid if they have not the use of a telephone? Unfortunately, the department has adopted a cheese-paring policy in regard to new works. There has been a general slowing-down, and, to my knowledge, hundreds of men who were employed in Queensland on new trunk lines, and on underground work for new telephone lines, have been put off. The same thing applies to other parts of Australia. Applicants for new telephone services are being told every day that there - is no money available. The department has been starved, and I know that I cannot blame the permanent head of the department in Queensland. He is an estimable officer of great ability, but he has to operate within the limits of the purse.
– Governments have to do likewise.
– But there is such wanton extravagance in other directions. The Government thinks nothing of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds -
– On migration, for ona thing.
– As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has just reminded us, the Government proposes to spend half a million out of loan money in bringing more immigrants to Australia, while 180,000 are out of employment here.
– That is a very extravagant statement.
– Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been wasted on works in Canberra. In many other directions money has been spent recklessly, but when requests are made for necessary facilities to serve the people in the backblock districts of my electorate, I am told that there are no funds. That is where I cross swords with the Postmaster-General. Considerable renovations are necessary to the postal buildings at Bundaberg, Gladstone and Townsville. The post office at Gladstone is in a very dilapidated condition, and parts of it are falling down owing to the ravages of white ants. The public are not getting the service there to which they are entitled. The PostmasterGeneral and the officers of his department invariably state, in answer to representations, that funds are not available. New official offices are required for Biloela and Monto. The interiors of the postal buildings in Bundaberg and Rockhampton are in a very dilapidated condition, but again the answer is that no funds are available to renovate them. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will use his influence with the Treasurer to see that the pruning knife is not put into the vote for postal, telephone and telegraph extensions. There are places in my electorate, such as between Camboon and Banana, where it is impossible to hear a conversation over the trunk line during the day time, owing to the induction from the telegraph wires, yet the department refuses to do anything about it. The Minister might, with advantage, go into these matters and make the necessary funds available to provide services which are so urgently required.
.- I wish to bring under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral the need for improved postal facilities at Punchbowl, in my electorate. For some time past I have urged, on the score of economy if on no other, the erection of a post office building in that district. I do not wish to make any complaint about the general postal facilities provided, but I do say that Punchbowl should have a post office building of its own. The rent being paid for premises at the present time would more than pay interest on the cost of a permanent building. I brought this matter under the notice of the Minister by means of a letter on the 23rd August, and I should like him to give an assurance that something will be done before the Estimates are disposed of.
– I should like to direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to the need for a new post office at Hurlstone Park, in the Lang electorate. This is a rapidly growing district, and although additional postal facilities were made available about two years ago, the development has been so great since that time, and the population has increased to such an extent, that the residents and business people feel - that they are justified in asking for the establishment of an up-to-date post and telegraph office. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will instruct his officers to inquire into this matter.
– Generally speaking, the postal facilities in the Warringah electorate are quite satisfactory, and I desire to compliment the Postmaster-General on the administration of his department. The service is satisfactory, it is true, but one must admit that many of the offices from which the service emanates are not so satisfactory as we should like. The offices are mostly situated in general stores, and where there are a number of stores in the one town the storekeepers do not like to go into a competitor’s premises to conduct their private business. The department should give consideration to the building of post offices so that the public utilities controlled by the Commonwealth Government may be placed on the same footing as those controlled by the State Governments. In every town there are to be found substantial public buildings belonging to the State Governments, whereas the postal services are conducted in buildings which are not in accordance with the prestige of the Commonwealth. Applications are frequently made for the erection of telephone boxes in the streets, and the usual stereotyped reply is that if some private individual will guarantee the necessary revenue the department will place the telephone box in position. It is absurd to expect private individuals to guarantee a public utility. If they were to have an exclusive service from such telephones there might be some justification in the request. Of every twenty applications, nineteen are met with the request that the public should guarantee the necessary revenue. That appears to be a polite way of saying that the facility will not be provided.
– The public have not much faith in their own judgment when our conditions are declined, because, if the takings reach the required amount, the guarantors will have nothing to pay.
– The point of my objection is that the department asks an individual to guarantee £25 or £26 a year, and one does not find in these days philanthropists who are prepared to do that for the sake of providing the public with a telephone. It would be better if the department said straight out that it would not do the work, for that is what its answer amounts to.
At the top of each page of the telephone book a limited space -is available for advertising purposes.
– That matter might be more suitably dealt with when the general Estimates are under consideration. The committee is now dealing with works and buildings to be constructed out of loan fund.
– I shall not trespass unduly. One such space has been let to a business man, and on the same page, in the list of subscribers, appears the name of a competitor starting with the same alphabetical letter. The former uses the whole of the advertisement space to set out in large figures his telephone numbers; thus he defeats the alphabetical arrangement of the list and gains an undue advantage over his business rival. I quite understand that I shall be told that the Sydney Telephone Directory weighs 20 tons, and that the telephone rates are lower here than in New Zealand, Canada, and Great Britain ; but that is not the point. I submit that whilst the Government is entitled to reduce its costs by selling advertising space, it should, in the control of a public utility, protect is citizens from injustice. This is
An elementary principle of British fair play that should be rigidly observed in Government actions, lt should be a comparatively simple matter to protect a subscriber against such unjust preference in connexion with the advertisements published in the public telephone book, and I strongly press this matter on the attention of the Minister.
I again urge the Minister to make available more money for postal purposes, and I remind him that money spent now in providing reasonable accommodation for the public may obviate the need for larger expenditure at a later date.
.-There is no Commonwealth department whose administration so closely affects the people or can assist to a greater degree the development of the country than that controlled by the Postmaster-General; and for that reason it is probably more severely criticized, sometimes unfairly, than others. Although I agree with honorable members who have said that the postal administration in recent years has aided the people in the back blocks by giving to them improved facilities for communication, I am still unsatisfied. I do not think I am unreasonable in protesting that when applications for telephonic communication and mail facilities are received by the department, too much weight is attached to the probability of such services paying their way. On previous occasions I have pointed out that the extension of these facilities benefits not alone the people in the country; there are two ends to a telephone line, and people engaged in trade and commerce in the towns and cities are advantaged as much by new services as are the people who usually are asked to pay for their installation, and to guarantee their maintenance, j have been a little disappointed that during recent years applications for extensions have been refused more frequently than they were a few years ago. Of course the Treasurer has had to tighten the public purse strings, and so have individuals and private companies. But the Postal Department is self-contained ; it is paying its way, and the existence of a slight depression should not cause it to adopt a conservative policy. A few years ago we were told that applicants for new telephone services would not be required to give guarantees, but during the last year they have been asked to do so.
– Not recently, unless the expenditure involved is over £2,000.
– I can show the Minister letters I have received from the Deputy Postmaster-General in Hobart, asking that applicants shall contribute towards the cost of constructing new lines and guarantee to maintain the services for a period of seven years.
– That is correct; a man should not be able to apply for a service, retain it for one year at a cost of £5, and then discard it.
– We were told by the present Postmaster-General, and even by his predecessor, that if a new service was admitted to be in the interests of the community, no demand would be made by the department for a contribution towards the capital cost or for a guarantee. We now find that the old policy has been re-introduced.
– The honorable member is under a misapprehension.
– I know of one line that has been in operation for a number of years, and because the volume of business decreased four individuals were asked to practically take over ,the line and guarantee the maintenance of the service for a period of years. I regret the reintroduction of that policy.
– It has not been reintroduced.
– I am glad to hear that, and I shall discuss the matter further with the Minister privately. It is only fair to say, however, that I personally investigated such a case and travelled a considerable distance to interview the individual affected. Another injustice is the insistence by the department that an applicant for a telephone service shall be connected with the nearest exchange. He may apply to be connected with, say, Smithton; but the department says that he must accept service from another exchange within a shorter radius. Naturally, an applicant prefers to be connected, if possible, with the larger exchange from which he can get a more or less continuous service, and I maintain that the department should not rigidly refuse to meet his -wishes in that respect. Just before I left Tasmania a fortnight ago, I was informed that the subscribers connected with the Ridgley exchange had applied to the department for a continuous service, and had been informed that a certain amount of revenue must first be assured. They immediately canvassed the district, and a number of persons agreed to be connected with the Ridgley exchange. When the department was so informed it replied that those persons must be connected with West Ridgley, because the radial distance between them and that exchange was a little shorter than that in the case of the Ridgley exchange. The smaller exchange does not derive any benefit, but those who desire a continuous service must continue to suffer considerable inconvenience. This policy was inaugurated in recent years, and is applied strictly by the department. I cannot understand the reason for it.
A question of the utmost importance to the community generally is that of telephonic communication between the mainland and Tasmania. It has been under consideration for quite a long while, and a statement of the present position by the Postmaster-General would be greatly appreciated. Honorable members generally must realize the big disadvantage suffered by Tasmania, because that State is not in telephonic communication with the mainland. A great deal of trade is done by the people of Tasmania with both Melbourne and Sydney. Honorable members who are far removed from their homes while they are in Canberra, must appreciate the inconvenience suffered by honorable members who come from Tasmania; but that is slight compared with the disadvantageous position of those who are engaged in trade and commerce in Tasmania. The cost of a cable would probably be £20,000 or a little more.
– It would be double that.
– Even if it were £40,000 it would be a paying proposition. It is the policy of the department to improve communications generally. It must realize that this is one of the most important works outstanding, and that it should be undertaken in the very near future. Tasmania is the only State that is not in telephonic communication with other States. I appreciate the difficulty of administering the department in a way that will satisfy the public generally. The present Postmaster-General is most earnest in the discharge of his duties, and has a grip of the affairs of his department which few of those who preceded him in the office possessed; but I am not altogether satisfied that everything possible has been done. Honorable members who come from other States would also be unsatisfied if their States were not connected with the different capital cities by telephone. I hope that this work will be put in hand without delay. It would not be a drain upon the taxpayers, because it would be a paying proposition.
– The Government has done remarkably well during the last five years. Its expenditure of loan money upon postal matters in that period has amounted to no less a sum than £24,000,000. The whole of that money has been spent to such good purpose that interest and sinking fund payments are being met and a profit shown. Honorable members argue that much more should be spent. As a matter of fact, the provision for this year is greater than it was last year. I should like to see it even larger; but considering the existing financial stringency, I claim that we are doing our utmost. Several honorable members have referred to the advisability of putting in hand an extensive building programme. I candidly admit that many new post offices should be built throughout Australia, and sooner or later we must develop a building programme that will run into considerably more than we are expending at the present time. We are first doing everything possible to meet the requirements of the people in regard to the provision of telephone services.
It is proposed to expend this year upon buildings the sum of £430,000. I promised the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. DuncanHughes) that I would explain why the Estimates do not show the exact amount that is to be spent on each individual building. If we were to appropriate the sum of £500 for a certain building, and £550 was required, we should then have to confine the expenditure to the amount voted. Under the present system of stating only the total amount for buildings we are able to take from one and give to another where that course is found to be necessary. It has always been possible for honorable members to learn the exact amount that is being spent on any building or other work. The various amounts that will be available during this year are as follow: -
The honorable member for Capricornia alleged that the biggest portion of the expenditure was in my electorate. It will be seen that not one shilling is being so spent. The expenditure in other States will be as follows: -
We have also made preparations to spend a tremendous sum on trunk lines for telephones. I have always maintained that the more we spend on trunk lines, the more business we secure. When the lines between Sydney and Melbourne, and Adelaide and Melbourne were duplicated, and subsequently triplicated, the business increased more than three-fold, and in a short period will return an amount greater than’ the sum expended. When there are long delays with trunk line calls, fewer calls are made. The following list shows the expenditure that is to be incurred on trunk line services during the present year: -
That is the proposed trunk line programme for the coming year, and I feel sure that when it is carried out the country will reap great benefits from it. The amount of money spent in country districts in the last five years is equal to the amount spent in the previous 35 years. It will thus be seen that the Government is giving every attention to the needs of those outside the closely settled areas.
The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) referred to. telephony with Tasmania. Three services that I should like to see instituted in the near future are a telephone system with Tasmania, telephone connexion with Perth, and the linking of London with Australia by telephone. I believe that these three works will be carried out at an early date, though I should not like to say that they will be completed during the present year.
We could, I believe, carry out the LondonMelbourne scheme for about £40,000 within a year. All that we have to do is to deal with the Australian end, for the two stations in Great Britain which are now transmitting to New York and the Continent, are available for reception from and transmission to Australia. I trust that this service will be established before long.
The present cable service between Tasmania and Australia is obsolete. The cable is continually getting out of order and considerable expense is incurred annually in repairs. . As a matter of fact, the service should have been superseded some time ago. I trust that we shall soon be able to make provision for a wireless telephone system between Tasmania and the mainland.
We laid down a copper circuit telegraph line between Perth and Adelaide last year at a heavy cost, and it has been very successful. Provision was made at that time for installing a telephone system, and I hope that this too will be put in before long.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) said that the Postal Department did not seem to care a rap whether post offices were built or not. I say emphatically that the first duty of the post office is to give service to the public. In the near future we shall have to go into our building programme and make provision for repairing and renovating many of our postal buildings. I am hopeful that greater provision will be made for this work on next year’s Estimates.
I shall not make any reference to the honorable member’s suggested alteration of the Crimes Act in relation to the theft of postal articles other than to say that we prosecute, on indictment every officer against whom definite evidence is obtainable of the theft of postal articles. We have to be extremely careful to ensure absolute security in the transmission of postal matter handed to the department. We have a huge staff, but I am glad to say that it is very reliable. Only one in every 50,000 letters given to us for transmission is lost.
The suggestion of the honorable member for New England that we should adopt a system of decentralized management of the department is impracticable to any greater extent than it is in operation at present. We already have district inspectors in charge of specified areas. We also have telephone engineers located in defined areas. These are governed by State engineers in the first place and district engineers in the second place. The whole of the recommendations for a particular district are submitted to the district telephone engineer or the district inspector for report. We have to find out first whether the proposed works are necessary, and secondly, whether money is available for them. If all the works proposed in a year were carried out, we should have to provide nearly £7,000,000 for them ; consequently it is essential that we .shall discover what works are essential and limit our operations to them. All the recommendations that are made are investigated. It would lead to financial chaos if every district officer could put in hand whatever work he pleased.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) and the honorable member for New England referred to rural automatic telephone exchanges. I have spoken on this subject on several occasions. I told the committee last year that we were sending an engineer to America to investigate developments there. As a matter of fact, Australia is the pioneer of rural automatic telephone systems. We built five of these switchboards out of standard parts which we had in stock and put them into operation. Our technical staff did excellent work in this respect. The switchboards were manufactured at very great cost, with the object of seeing whether it was practicable to provide continuous services where only 6 o’clock services existed. Mr. Beecher, our engineer who went to America with Mr. Brown, found that rural automatic exchanges had been very little developed in Canada and the United States of America. He then went to England and made investigations. He entered one of the big automatic telephone works in the Old Country and in collaboration with experts there built two standard sets. These are being installed in Australia. One is being put in at Buninyong, near Ballarat. The location of the other has not yet been determined. If the systems work satisfactorily we shall at once order 100 sets and install them. By this means many country districts will receive a continuous service in place of the existing 6 o’clock or 8 o’clock service. The cost of manufacturing our original sets was too high to make it economical to build them, but we are hoping that if the sets built in England from standard parts are satisfactory the cost will work out at not more than £10 a line. Hitherto country telephone services which return a revenue of less than £250, including 25 per cent, of through trunk line business, have been operated at a loss, but the installation of rural automatics promises to make even these small systems profitable. If that can be done, the system can be extended at a later date to many smaller towns where there are only 30 or 40 subscribers.
– Can provision be made for an increased number of subscribers ?
– The cabinets will provide for about 25 units, and each of the 25 subscribers will be able to speak to one another or switch through to the continuous exchange. The system will automatically register the number of calls made between each subscriber as well as through the continuous exchange. When an exchange has more than 25 subscribers it will simply be a matter of installing a second unit. The only drawback is that the small exchange will have to be located within 10 or 15 miles of an electric supply plant, and the power will be transmitted over the pair of lines used for telephonic purposes. From a technical standpoint the system is a success : but the department is not positive that it will prove economically satisfactory. If it can be shown to be a success from both points of view, we shall order the 100 sets as a first instalment.
Reference was made by the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) to the fact that the department requires guarantees in regard to certain telephone lines. I point out that it costs £600 to erect 10 miles of line, and it would not be fair to ask the department to build such a line if it were required only for, say, a race meeting. The department simply requires a guarantee that a new line will be used sufficiently to recoup it for the outlay. If the line referred to by the honorable member cost £60 per individual to erect, the department would charge each subscriber rent at the rate of 7s. 6d. for every quarter of a mile of line, if the line were wholly erected by the department. The honorable member said that we should allow subscribers to go beyond a small exchange, to a continuous exchange. If every wealthy man within 10 or 15 miles of a continuous exchange decided to go past the small exchange in his immediate neighbourhood, it would place all the local residents who paid only £3 each per annum in such a position that they could never obtain a continuous exchange. We say that the man who can afford it, in such a case, must pay lis. 3d. for every quarter of a mile of line. That helps to provide a sinking fund to recoup the capital cost.
I think that I have referred to the whole of the points that have been raised except those regarding one or two individual post offices. I shall let the honorable members concerned have the information they require on those matters as soon as it can be obtained. I have shown exactly what new works are proposed, and I think that the position is highly satisfactory, considering that in a year of financial distress we propose to spend £3,800,000 on the Post Office.
– Although the Minister has given particulars of new buildings, &c, I still think it would be better if those items were supplied in a printed list, rather than that the Minister should be obliged to read through the long list of amounts which, although interesting to those concerned, is, perhaps, not so interesting to the committee at large. I shall not press the Postmaster-General, therefore, to go into details regarding additions and alterations. I am quite prepared to ask him a question to-morrow, so that he may lay a list on the table that will answer all purposes.
This afternoon the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) made some criticism of the department concerning certain work which was not being undertaken in his particular district. Looking through the list of new buildings I cannot but be struck by the fact that the whole of the new works to be constructed in my State are confined to the electorate that the honorable member for Hindmarsh represents. I notice that they are to be carried out at Henley Beach, Port Adelaide, Semaphore, West Adelaide, and Woodville. I offer my congratulations to the honorable member on the striking success which has attended his efforts, and I hope that at some future time, when a Labour Government may possibly be in power, every item among the new postal buildings to be erected in South Australia may fall within my district.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Health (proposed vote £15,900), Department of Markets (proposed vote £190,910), Federal Capital Commission (proposed vote £3,000,000), agreed to.
North Australia,- Commission.
Proposed vote, £122,900.
.- T wish to enter a protest against the developments that seem to be looming up regarding railway construction in North Australia. For many years South Australia has been waiting for the completion of the agreement made between that State and the Commonwealth for the construction of the north-south railway; but a good deal of propaganda has been indulged in with the object of filching from South Australia the rights that it undoubtedly holds under that agreement. A recent report of the North Australia Commission had for one of its signatories a gentleman who some time ago made another report concerning the north-south line, and suggested a different starting point from that always proposed. I refer to Mr. Hobler. A feeling exists in my State that while that gentleman occupies his present position, South Australia’s interests will always be in jeopardy. It has already been said - and I intend to repeat it - that South Australia is prepared to fight for her rights under that agreement, and if need be, she will fight for them, to the utmost rigour of the law. Some of the best King’s Counsel in Australia have advised that there is no doubt concerning those rights. From time to time South Australia has been told that there is not sufficient money available for the completion of this line. Then she was asked to be magnanimous, and first allow the east-west railway to be constructed through her territory. If South Australia had preferred to act in a littleAustralian way, she would have said “ No, build the north-south line first.” She claims no credit for having allowed the line to Western Australia to be built; but she considers that she at least has the right to expect fair treatment from the rest of Australia regarding the northsouth line. I and other honorable members from South Australia will always protest against any attempt to filch from that State her just rights. She still believes in the north-south line, not for parochial reasons, but because she has persistently agitated for the bridging of the continent from north to south. From time to time I have noticed references to the railways of North Australia, and the line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs has been re-named the Central Australian Railway. I wish it to be distinctly understood that the latter line is portion of the north-south railway that must eventually be constructed. For many years Australia has enjoyed prosperous times, yet the work of completing this line has been frequently postponed. I have no complaint about the action of the present Government in the matter, because it is the first Commonwealth Ministry that has taken steps to honour the agreement with South Australia. I am glad that within a few months we shall be taking over from the contractors the first portion of this railway, which will have been built as far as Alice Springs. But as a South Australian, I shall not be satisfied to let the matter rest there. “When I asked the Minister forWorks and Railways whether the Government would continue the north-south line to the present terminus of the line running south from Darwin I got the answer that I expected. Reference was made to the present state of the finances, but no other reason was given for the delay. South Australia expects therefore that, when the financial position improves, this Parliament will honour its agreement and complete that important railway.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Redemptions - Port Augusta to Oodnadatta railway loans. (proposed vote, £355) agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
.- I move -
That the schedule to the Customs Tariff 1921-1928 be amended as hereunder set out, and that on and after the seventh day of September, one thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight, at nine o’clock in the forenoon, reckoned according to standard time in the Territory for the Seat of Government, duties of customs be collected in pursuance of the customs tariff as so amended.
That, excepting by mutual agreement or until after six months’ notice has been given to the Government of the Dominion of New Zealand, nothing in this resolution shall affect any goods the produce or manufacture of the Dominion of New Zealand entering the Commonwealth of Australia from the Dominion of New Zealand.
The object of this resolution is to give effect to what was the intention of Parliament when it dealt with item 291 of the customs tariff. Honorable members will recall that there was considerable discussion in regard to the duties on softwoods. In this particular section the description “ redwood “ appears in subsections (f), (g) and (h). The intention of Parliament was that the word “ redwood “ should apply only to what is commonly known as Californian redwood. After the item had been passed through Parliament, this interpretation was challenged, and the case was taken to the Supreme Court of South Australia, where Mr. Justice Parsons found that “ redwood “ covered not only Californian redwood, but Baltic redwood as well. This amendment inserts the botanical description of Californian redwood so as to make it clear that only Californian redwood is meant. This is not an amendment in the ordinary sense, but merely an alteration to give effect to the intention of Parliament.
.- I agree that this was the intention of Parliament when the schedule was before the House, and I am glad that the Prime Minister has brought down the amendment. A grave injustice would be done to the industry if this were allowed to go uncorrected. I hope that the amendment will go through without opposition.
.- When this item was being debated before the House, I strongly opposed the imposition of higher duties on softwoods because I felt that it was merely piling another burden on the shoulders of the primary producers without doing any good to the timber industry. The people of Australia are becoming tired of being asked to support this and that industry at ever increasing cost to themselves. I have here a copy of the Australian Forestry Journal, of June, 1928, in which Mr. H. R. Gray deals with the question of softwoods -
The claim often made, that an increase in imports has resulted in a diminution of production of native timber, has apparently no basis in fact. The importation of timber into Australia consists mostly of softwoods….. . Of the indigenous and softwood forest, Cyprus supplies are limited, regeneration is difficult, and growth phenomenally slow. New South Wales supplies of hoop pine are almost exhausted, and for a long time the State has had to import the bulk of her softwood requirements. Queensland, although once being able to meet her soft wood requirements from native forests, now imports portion of her softwood needs.
The article goes on to say that most of the timber being imported comes in large sizes, which have to be sawn in Australian mills, thus providing employment. It is necessary to have a certain quantity of softwood for building construction, more particularly in these days when we are going in for a great deal of concrete work. I know that it is impossible, as this Parliament is at present constituted - it may be different after the next election - to get a sane tariff policy. Many of the duties which have been imposed on imported goods do not help local industry, but only load increased costs on to the consumers. There is not sufficient softwood in Australia to supply local requirements. “We need a vigorous policy of reafforestation, and until such time aa we are able to supply local demands, we should not put duties on imported timbers which are essential to carry on the work of primary production. There are excellent hardwood timbers in Australia, but by these excessive duties on softwoods we are forcing people to use hardwood for purposes for which it is not suitable. It is an insult to our Australian timbers to place them’ under the floors and up in the roofs of our houses. They are too good for that, and they are not suitable for it. Only recently in South Australia, I called in an expert to find out why the tiled roof of my house was warping. After making an inspection, he stated that the trouble was due to the shrinking of .the hardwood timber which had been used to support the tiles. The house was built during the war, when it was impossible to get softwood. The hardwood timber had to be removed and softwood put in its place. The representatives of the Wunderlich tile manufacturers expressed the opinion that hardwood timber was not suitable for carrying tiles. We are forcing the people to use hardwoods for purposes for which they are unsuitable and are thereby making building more expensive. A housing scheme has been introduced to help people to acquire homes for themselves and now we are loading up the cost of construction without helping the Australian timber industry at all. I enter my earnest protest against the imposition of this additional burden upon the people who are least able to support it, that is, the primary producers and the workers living on the bread line.
– Honorable members will recollect that when the tariff was under consideration last year this item was most keenly debated, and I suggest, therefore, that it is undesirable to reopen the general question on a resolution to correct an error so that the intention of Parliament may be clearly expressed.
– Unfortunately, I was absent from this chamber when the duty on Oregon was debated last year. That timber is not produced in Australia, and there is no adequate substitute for it; it must bc used in all classes of buildings, including the dwellings of the poor. The Tariff Board, after examining about 100 witnesses, declined to recommend the imposition of a duty upon it, and that fact is referred to iu the last report of the board. I realize that it is useless to .attempt to reopen the matter at this stage, but I enter my emphatic protest against the imposition of a duty which means an increase in the cost of the people’s dwellings.
.- As usual, the avowed freetraders on the Government side are opposed to the protection of an Australian industry, and we have to listen to specious arguments such as those advanced by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill). If his views were carried to their logical conclusion we should close down the whole of our secondary industries and many of the primary ones. The honorable member’s anxiety for the working man is evinced only when the interests of the importers are threatened; he is not so much concerned when he is asked to find work for the unemployed.
– I find more work for them than does the honorable member.
– If the honorable member were logical, he would advocate the wholesale importation of every article that can he produced more cheaply outside Australia. By that policy we should be dependent upon Asia and Europe for our clothing and all other commodities, and our secondary industries would expire. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) is a hybrid protectionist, a selfish protectionist, whose vision does not extend beyond his own electorate.
– That might be said of the honorable member also.
– -No ; I am generally regarded as a high-tariffist, and I certainly do not ask for duties on wine and resist duties on timber. The honorable member advocated the payment of a bounty of £364,889 to the wine-growers of this State, but unfortunately his vision as a protectionist does not extend even to the boundaries of his own State; when he is asked to assist the primary industries as a whole he falls down on the job. I favour the protection of the winemaking industry.
(Mr. Makin). - I remind the honorable member that the committee is considering a specific item relating to timber. The wine-making industry is not under consideration.
– I am making only a passing reference to it for the purpose of showing the fiscal inconsistency of some honorable members opposite. If the timber industry is to develop it must receive sympathetic consideration from this Parliament. It has received that consideration despite the anaemic protectionists and avowed free-traders on the Government side.
– The Prime Minister spoke of what he declared to be the intention of Parliament when this tariff item was dealt with last year, and his remarks were supported by the Leader of the Opposition. A hasty glance at Hansard, which is all that there has been time for since this matter was introduced, fails to disclose that this committee intended that redwood was to mean any particular kind of timber. Obviously the meaning of redwood was never considered until the Supreme Court of South Australia declared that it meant’ both Californian and Baltic redwood. The only speech from the Ministerial bench in regard to the matter was that of the late Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten), who spoke in opposition to the inclusion of redwood, and the whole Ministry voted with him. Now, on an unfounded presumption as to the intention of the committee on that occasion, members are asked to reverse their previous decision. We have already debated the general subject of timber duties, and my views having been emphatically rejected, I do not wish to re-open the matter; but so far as I know there was no understanding or intention that redwood should include any specified kinds of timber, and I can see no reason why any member of the committee should believe, after a decision which nobody anticipated that certain kinds of timber which were not defined, were intended to be included.
– When this matter was discussed previously the Government held very strongly and definitely the view that it was undesirable to apply the higher rate of duty to redwood. The honorable member for Boothby was one of the few who supported the Government when it suffered a severe reverse in a division on the item. The intention of Parliament may not have been clear to the honorable member, but the committee generally understood that redwood referred to Californian redwood and that Baltic timber covered red and white pine.
– Is there any evidence of that?
– I do not know that there is any evidence other than my assurance.
– I am sorry that notice has been taken of the clamour for the imposition of this duty. Softwoods do not enter into competition with the hardwoods of Australia.
– I am sure they do.
– Redwoods are used for joinery, mostly in the cheaper houses.
– What about flooring?
– Only prosperous people can afford the greater expense of having hardwood floors laid in their homes. Considerably more has to be paid for these timbers. Baltic is used in the cheaper class of dwellings. An unjust burden is being placed upon the working man who desires to acquire a home of his own by the tariff on red softwoods. I understand that it is the policy of the Government to encourage by every means possible the acquisition of homes by the wage-earners of Australia ; yet they propose to take a course of action, the effect of which will be to increase the difficulties of the working man in that direction, by adding considerably to his building costs. Experienced builders say that the difference in the case of a working man’s home amounts to between £25 and £30. The softer timbers, particularly the red woods, are used largely in the joinery work that is turned out for that particular class of home. The cost of his home is already heavily loaded with taxes on everything needed for the building in addition to the high price of labour in construction. I am very sorry that this proposal has been put forward.
Duty on Films.
Consideration resumed from 14th June (vide page 6158) on motion by the late Mr. Pratten -
That the schedule to the Customs ‘Tariff 1921-1928 he amended as hereunder set out. 320. By omitting clause (6) of paragraph (2) of sub-item (o) and inserting in its stead the following clause: - “ (b) Other, per lineal foot, British, free; Intermediate,1d.; General, 2d.” to which Mr. Bruce had moved by way of amendment -
That the item be amended by adding the following: - “and on and after 15th June 1928, -
Other, per lineal foot, British, free; Intermediate,1d.; General, 13/4d.”
– This matter was discussed on a previous occasion. There is no necessity for me to add to what I then said.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Bruce and Dr. Earle Page do prepare and ‘bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Bruce and read a first time.
Motion (by. Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That thebill be now read a second time.
– The footnote to the printed explanation of the proposed tariff amendment states that the only alteration is an increase of 1/4d. a foot in the general tariff under (6), making the general tariff rate lfd. instead of11/2d. per lineal foot. I understand that the duty was increased from l1/2d. to 2d. I should like to know why it is now proposed to reduce it to l3/4d.
– There may be some slight confusion because of the delay that has occurred since the amendment was proposed in June last. The royal commission on the motion picture industry, in its report, recommended that the duty on picture films brought into Australia should be increased from l1/2d. to 2d. a lineal foot. A motion was submitted to this Parliament to give effect to that recommendation. The royal commission recommended among other things that a censorship board should be established, that an appeal board from the censorship should be set up, that a new projection room should be provided in Sydney, and that financial encouragement should be given to the production of Australian films. When the first calculation was made to ascertain what amount would be involved, it was thought that it would be necessary to impose an additional1/2d. a lineal foot. Subsequently, however, the departmental officials prepared other figures, which disclosed the fact that an increase of1/4d. would be sufficient. Accordingly, I submitted an amendment to the original motion, the effect of which was to increase the duty by1/4d. instead of by1/2d. There was no suggestion in the report of the royal commission that the increase recommended was designed to in any way protect the Australian industry and thus encourage the production of Australian films. They indicated that the situation would be better met by offering a monetary reward for the production in Australia of high-class films. That recommendation was adopted by the Government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its . remaining stages without amendment or debate.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed,
Motion agreed to.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Bruce and Dr. Earle Page do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Bruce and passed through all its stages without amendment or debate.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum for the purpose of financial assistance to the State of Tasmania.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Bruce do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Dr. Earle Page and read a first time.
Br. EARLE PAGE (Cowper- Treasurer) [10.34]. - I move–
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill provides financial assistance to the extent of £220,000 for Tasmania for the current financial year. Because of her isolation Tasmania has not benefited from federation as largely as other States, and for many years assistance from the Commonwealth has been granted to her in recognition of her needs. About two years ago a special appeal was made for additional assistance, and the Commonwealth thoroughly examined the position of Tasmania. It was found that the burden of taxation in Tasmania was very heavy, and the State was faced with peculiar difficulties arising from heavy losses on her railways; large expenditure on her roads and bridges; initial losses connected with her hydro-electric works, and a general decline in her production and population. As a result, the Commonwealth continued the existing grant of £68,000, and made a further grant of £310,000, or £378,000 in all for two years, and undertook to reconsider the whole question at the end of that period. The services of the Development and Migration Commission and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research were also made available to Tasmania with the object of suggesting means of increasing her production. The period covered by the grant of £378,000 expired on the 30th June last, and the position of Tasmania has been further examined, as promised. With the Commonwealth assistance, the State finances have improved and surpluses have been experienced instead of deficits. In 1926-27 the State had a surplus of £185,000, and in 1927-28 it showed a further surplus of approximately £95,000. The position of the citizens has also improved, as the result of substantial reductions in taxation. One of the main grounds upon which Tasmania asked for special assistance two years ago was that of heavy taxation. It was claimed that the continuance of abnormal taxation imperilled the maintenance of production, and also the maintenance of the revenue which the taxation was designed to secure. It was further claimed that taxation was one of the causes of loss of population by migration. To relieve this serious position Tasmania asked that the Commonwealth assistance should include . a sum of £130,000 to enable her to grant taxation relief. Examination has shown that, with the Commonwealth assistance, Tasmania was able to reduce her taxation by approximately £140,000 in 1926-27. The collections for that year from all sources of taxation, excluding lottery taxes, amounted to £3 12s. 3d. per head of population, as compared with an average for all States of approximately £4 5s. 7d. per head. In arriving at the average of £4 5s. 7d. per head for all States, I have excluded abnormal arrears in New South Wales, estimated at 13s. per head. It will be seen that the collections for Tasmania were approximately 138. 4d. per head less than the Australian average. A similar comparison in relation to income tax only showed £1 8s. 3d. per head for Tasmania, compared with the Australian average of £2 4s. 4d. per head, or 16s. Id. per head less. The taxation figures for 1927-28 are not available, but a further reduction, estimated at £80,000, was made by Tasmania. The chief reason for this reduction was. to give the taxpayers the benefit of a saving of about £70,000 which Tasmania obtained from sinking fund charges under the terms of the financial agreement. It will be seen, therefore, that the total reductions in taxation amount to “ £220,000, or slightly more than £1 per head of population. In comparing the taxation of Tasmania Avith that of the other States, it is only fair to mention that Tasmanians claim that their taxable capacity is much less than the Australian average. This is a difficult factor to measure, but it seems clear that, after making some allowance for this claim, the citizens of Tasmania are on a very good basis as regards taxation, and one that should enable a general and continued improvement in the prosperity of the State to be achieved. There has also been an improvement in the production of Tasmania. Figures for 1927-28 are not available for all sources of production, but agricultural production showed an increase of £653,000 over the previous year; the figures being £3,317,000 for 1926-27, and £3,970,000 for 1927-28. The financial position of the hydro-electric works, which are a big factor in the industrial position of Tasmania, has also improved. For some years there were initial losses which were charged to the general revenue of the State. In 1926-27 the corner Avas turned, and a small profit was recorded. It is now anticipated that these works will no longer be a drag on the revenue. Unfortunately, the position of the railways shows practically no improvement, and losses of more than £250,000 a year are being incurred. Examination disclosed that the policy pursued by Tasmania for many years of building roads out of loan moneys Avas also resulting in a heavy burden on the revenue account. Before discussing the proposed grant I invite the attention of honorable members to the principles adopted by the Government in dealing with requests for financial assistance to the States. These principles were clearly set down in a memorandum prepared by the Commonwealth Government some two years ago, following its examination of the position of Tasmania. The following is an extract from that memorandum: -
In order to deal with the question satisfactorily, it is necessary in the first place to lay down the general principle that the mere fact that a particular State has had a deficit, or, indeed, a series of deficits for a number of years, is not in itself a sufficient ground for granting federal assistance. If the contrary principle were once admitted, it would be an invitation to a system of reckless and irresponsible finance. In the second place it is essential to consider the causes of the financial difficulties so far as such causes can be discovered. The mere making of a money grant is not a solution of the problem. Such a grant is in effect contributed by the several States of the Commonwealth, and it is proper for the Commonwealth Government to consider the obvious fact that the mere granting of money, far from removing the causes of the trouble, may in fact increase them. The true principle, therefore, is to discover the causes of the financial difficulties, and to seek to provide means for their removal. If, for example, the difficulties are due to a condition of arrested development, the essential problem is to determine how development may be promoted in order that increased production may lighten the burden of taxation and render further enterprise possible. It is from this point of view that the requests of Tasmania and Western Australia have been approached by the Commonwealth Government.
As already indicated, further examination has shown that the main cause of Tasmania’s present difficulties is the cost of internal transport. Because of railways and roads expenditure the State revenue account was bearing a burden of close on £500,000 a year, and there appeared no signs of diminution. Bearing these principles in mind the Government is satisfied that in any future discussion with the Tasmanian Government, and in any investigation by the Development and Migration Commission of Tasmania’s affairs, one of the most serious factors that must be considered is the State’s internal transport difficulties. Consequently, after discussion with the Tasmanian Government, it was arranged that a committee should be appointed to go thoroughly into this matter. That examination has been proceeding for several months, and I think that it is just about to be completed. It will be finished, at any rate, during the present financial year, and it is hoped that the committee will be able to devise a satisfactory method whereby the millstone that has been hanging round the neck of Tasmania may be removed. The Commonwealth Government is waiting for the report of that committee before it can determine a definite policy over a series of years. Pending the presentation and consideration of that report, the Government has decided to make a grant this year to Tasmania which will practically enable the status quo to be maintained. To enable that to be done, it has carefully examined the finances of Tasmania in comparison with the last two years. It is found, first of all, that as the result of the operation of the financial agreement, there is a possibility of further substantial savings in the revenue expenditure of Tasmania by the application of sinking funds to the cancellation of its public debts, as contemplated by the financial agreement. About £1,100,000 of Tasmania’s sinking fund is represented by Commonwealth securities, and arrangements are being made for those securities to be handed over to the Commonwealth and an equivalent amount of the debt due by Tasmania to the Commonwealth cancelled. It is anticipated that this transaction will result in a saving of over £00,000 to the revenue account of Tasmania this year. A further saving, estimated at about £13,000, can be made by applying the balance of Tasmania’s sinking fund to the cancellation of debt. This will mean a saving of something like £73,000 a year. When the accounts of the State were examined, it was seen that its surplus of £185,000 in 1926-27 had been effected, although £53,000 had been taken into account as a provision for railway depreciation and that a similar provision was made in the estimated expenditure for 1927-28. It was considered that however excellent that provision might be, other States in the Commonwealth had not been able to provide for railway depreciation. In addition to that, the Government felt that it was also necessary to have regard to Tasmania’s surplus last year, because it was obvious that the Commonwealth should not grant money simply to provide a surplus in the Tasmanian accounts. The examination to which I have referred took place before the close of the financial year, and it was estimated that there would be a surplus of some £40,000 which was deducted from the £378,000 that had been previously granted. Although the surplus proved to be £95,000, the Government did not propose to make any further deduction. The sums of £73,000 and £53,000 that I have already mentioned, were similarly deducted. Also a further sum of £7,000 which the late Premier of Tasmania agreed could .be raised by removing certain taxation anomalies. These deductions brought the amount available to Tasmania down to £205,000. But the Development and Migration Commission had been requested to go into the matter of remedial suggestions with regard to agriculture generally, and had made other recommendations. It was pointed out that the sum of £12,000 could very profitably be spent in Tasmania in that direction, and the Commonwealth Government decided that this sum, which was considered necessary to stimulate productivity in Tasmania, should also be provided by the Commonwealth. That amount, added to the sum of £205,000 previously mentioned, approximately makes up the £220,000 which is tlie amount of the proposed grant provided for in the bill to be paid to Tasmania this year. This grant will place that State in as good a position as it was in last year. The Commonwealth Government will have an opportunity of examining the report of the * committee that has been investigating the subject of internal transport. It is hoped that that problem will be solved, because it is really the key to the solution of the difficulties in which Tasmania finds herself. Her railway deficit has amounted to from £200,000 to £300,000 for many years. She has built relatively far more roads out of loan money than has any other State. These roads’ are not directly reproductive, although they are of great assistance to the people. If Tasmania’s internal transport can be placed on a satisfactory footing by the solution of her railway and road problems, we may look for a big advance in her prosperity, and may expect her to take her full place as one of the rich and prosperous States of the Commonwealth.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Scullin) adjourned.
Tariff Board’s Report - Queensland Cotton Crop - Ministerial Offices. Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Will the Prime Minister be good enough to place on the table of the House tomorrow morning a copy of the report of the Tariff Board on the application of the British Thread Mills of Australasia Limited, which I understand has been presented to the Government?
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I have received two telegrams to-day from Mr. Webster of the Queensland Cotton Board. The first reads -
Reported in Brisbane press to-day that you stated during course of debate yesterday that present season’s crop had been disposed of at satisfactory prices. This statement is somewhat misleading, as 8,000 bales of lint has been produced this season so far and only 3,500 actually sold. Would be glad if you could correct wrong impression which has been conveyed.
I have also received the following telegram -
Since my telegram this morning have been wondering whether you have regarded our hedged cotton as being sold. If so, this is not the case, and realization on it may prove to be most satisfactory from growers’ point of view.
It is possible that the word “satisfactory “ in the second telegram may be a misprint, and should read “unsatisfactory “. I was informed yesterday that the position was that practically the whole of the crop had been disposed of satisfactorily, and that is what I intended to convey in my speech. I understand that at the deputation to the Minister it was said that the price at that time was 20 cents., and that a considerable portion of the crop had been disposed of, certain portions being held for other purposes. Since then, I understand, the price has dropped to 18.5 cents., which is a fall of about fd. per lb. in four months.
– I draw attention to the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) holds two important portfolios. I suppose he has some reason for being Minister for Trade and Customs as well as Minister for External Affairs. Those two offices are sufficiently important to occupy the time of any one member of the Ministry. The portfolio of Minister for Trade and Customs is one of the most important to Australia, yet we do not know the Prime Minister’s fiscal views. “He should state whether he intends to appoint another Minister for Trade and Customs or whether he thinks no one among the supporters of the Government is capable of holding the office. A statement from him would relieve the minds of large numbers of people who are concerned about this matter.
.- I desire to bring under the notice of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer a telegram which I have received to-day from the Queensland Cotton Pool Board, bearing on the statement I made yesterday. The Treasurer said yesterday that the cotton crop for the season just closed had been sold at a satisfactory price. Some of the representatives of the press took that to mean that the cotton-growers had no case at all. I thought I bad made it abundantly clear that they wanted effective protection in order to secure the Australian market for the coming season’s crop. The telegram from the Cotton Board reads -
Following telegram has been despatched Minister Trade Customs to-day. Reported Brisbane press yesterday that during course of debate Dr. Earle Page stated present season’s cotton crop had been disposed of at satisfactory prices. This statement is somewhat misleading, as 8,000 bales of lint produced this season, only 3,500 bales of which has been actually sold. Market is very uncertain, and has fallen 2d. per lb. during recent weeks. lt will be seen that the Treasurer’s statement yesterday was entirely wrong. It was alao made to try to justify the Government’s inaction in relation to this important matter. I have no objection to the schedule dealing with redwood having been introduced to-day, but I maintain that one dealing with cotton yarn should also have been laid before us. The Prime Minister says that he does not intend to introduce a schedule dealing with cotton yarn, notwithstanding that the Leader of the Opposition offered to support and facilitate the passing of such a schedule, giving effective protection to the Australian industry. I hope that the Government will take notice of the representations made by the cotton-growers in Queensland and the spinners in the southern States. If we wait until Parliament assembles next year, before a schedule is introduced, the importers will have brought in such large quantities of yarn that the Australian market will be flooded, and any protection then granted will be of no benefit to the Australian cotton-growers, so far as next season’s crop is concerned. On the other hand, if adequate protection is given now both the growers and the Australian manufacturers will know where they stand in connexion with next season’s crop. This is a vital question which concerns thousands of people in my own electorate and other parts of Australia, and I want prompt action taken.
– I am afraid that the honorable member for East Sydney ,(Mr. West) must leave to “the Prime Minister the allocation of portfolios in the Government, in accordance with the recognized practice in that connexion. Nor can I accept the advice he was good enough to tender.
I have seen the report of the Tariff Board on the cotton-thread industry, to which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) made reference, and have given it some consideration. I shall look into the matter to which he referred, although I do not anticipate any difficulty in making the report available almost immediately.
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) has added nothing this evening to the remarks he made yesterday regarding the cotton industry, so that there is no need for me to say anything further.
– I wanted to correct the wrong impression caused by the Treasurer’s speech.
– I point out to the honorable member that if his object in rising was to refer to a statement made yesterday by the Treasurer, he was too late, because the Treasurer had already read a telegram which he received to-day from the Cotton Board. In the circumstances, there was no necessity’ for the honorable member to raise the question again.
– I resented the Treasurer’s misleading statement.
– I can hardly believe that the Leader of the Opposition would, as the honorable member has stated, give an assurance that he would support any measure brought in by the Government to assist the cotton yarn industry. I certainly did not hear him do so, and surely no responsible member of this Parliament would say, before any inquiry had taken place, and before the facts had been presented to Parliament, that he would support any measure designed to help a particular industry which asked for assistance.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Home adjourned at 11.6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 September 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1928/19280906_reps_10_119/>.