12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
Use of Drill Halls - Other Shelter
– The statement appears in the newspapers that the secretary of the Victorian branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League has received an intimation that drill halls in that State will not be available for the accommodation of homeless returned soldiers. Will the Minister for Defence give personal attention to this matter with a view to extending more consideration to returned soldiers?
– I shall inquire into the matter, and advise the honorable member later.
– Will the Minister consider particularly the advisability of frisking available the engineers’ depot?
– That matter is being investigated at the present time. The accommodation of the unemployed in drill halls has been considered by the Government from time to time, and it presents several difficulties. There are objections to that course as a general policy, because most drill halls are in closely settled areas, and lack the necessary ablutionary and sanitary conveniences. Moreover, people in the locality view with trepidation the concentration of a large number of unemployed in their midst.
– I have never heard of that.
– That objection has reached me as Minister for Defence. I find a difficulty in differentiating between different classes of unemployed.
– Has the Minister for Defence had his attention drawn to the sad reports of the insanitary condition of the shelters provided in Melbourne for those who are homeless? If so, will he have inquiries made with the object of employing the organizing powers of his department in the arrangement of proper and sanitary shelter, in tents at a camp, or in other ways, as was done in war time?
– My attention has been drawn to these reports, and I shall institute the inquiries that the honorable member has suggested.
– Is the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport yet able to announce the result of the conference between the Ministry and the Commonwealth Bank Board regarding assistance to wheat-growers?
– by leave-I shall reply to the question by making a statement on the subject. Followingrepresentations by the Government, extending over some weeks, that a first advance be made by the Commonwealth Bank to wheat-farmers at the rate of 2s. per bushel at. country stations, which would be equal to approximately 2s. 6d. f.o.b., the Bank has now decided to make an advance to pools and organizations at the rate of 2s. per bushel, f.o.b., on wheat of the present season’s crop, which is equal to approximately1s.6d. per bushel at country railway stations.
I wish to summarize briefly the history of the negotiations leading up to that decision. Two days before the conference of representatives of the wheat industry which was held in Canberra on the 12th November last, I conferred with the Chairman of Directors and the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank and urged that an advance of 2s. per bushel at railway sidings be arranged. The reply I received was that a first payment of that amount could not be made, even if guarantees were forthcoming from the Commonwealth and State Governments. This intimation was conveyed to the delegates at the conference. On the 22nd November I. interviewed the Chairman of the Board of the Commonwealth Bank (Sir Eobert Gibson) in Melbourne, and urged that favorable consideration be given to the suggestion to pay a first advance of 2s. per bushel at country sidings. At the conference between members of the Government and the Commonwealth Bank Board in Melbourne on the 1st December, very strong representations were made by the Cabinet in favour of a first advance at the rate of 2s. at country sidings, or 2s. 6d., f . o.b., as it was considered by the Government that that advance could be made without any risk of loss to the bank. The Commonwealth Bank has since considered the representations of the Government, and the Acting Prime Minister is in receipt of the following telegram from the chairman of the board : -
The Bank Board yesterday evening decided to fix the advance to wheat pools at 2s. per bushel, f.o.b., subject to usual conditions as between wheat pools and bank.
While the rate of advance which the Commonwealth Bank is prepared to make is less than that desired by the Government, and is viewed with disappointment by many wheat-distributing organizations, it represents a definite amount, and it is hoped that at a very early date the position of the world’s market in regard to wheat will so improve as to bring about an increase of the advance. The Government will continue to do everything possible, having regard to the existing financial stringency, to assist the wheat-growers in the marketing of the present season’s crop.
– Why has the Minister stated that the advance will be made only to pools and organizations? What does that phrase mean?
– I refer the honorable member to the telegram I have just quoted. The bank has specifically stated that it is prepared to make the advance on wheat sold through pools. There are private dealers in wheat, including John Darling and Sons, Dreyfus and Company, and Bunge Pty. Ltd., and they informed me that they were prepared to make an advance equivalent to1s. 6d. per bushel at country sidings out of the funds at their disposal for the purchase of wheat in Australia. The Government is not responsible for the decision of the Commonwealth Bank to confine the advance to wheat sold through pools. I understand that the Commonwealth Bank and the trading banks discussed this matter some weeks ago, and they agreed to collaborate in the making of an advance of 1s. 6d. per bushel.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister make further representations to the Commonwealth Bank, with a view to securing an increase in the advance to be made to the wheat-growers of Australia?
Mr.FENTON.- As I have repeatedly stated in this House, the Government will do all it possibly can to assist the wheat-growers, and if there is any chance of doing what the honorable member has suggested, every effort will be made in that direction.
– In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the advance to be made by the Commonwealth Bank, does the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport, or the Cabinet, intend to make further overtures with a view to having a satisfactory minimum amount advanced to the growers?
– The Government will be pleased to make any further representations that it is considered may result in . a higher price being obtained for the wheat-growers. I shall discuss the matter with the honorable gentleman.
– Will the Acting Treasurer inform me whether the advance will be made by the Rural
Credits Department of the Commonwealth Bank in accordance with the terms of the Commonwealth Bank Act?
– I point out that all the information that the Government has from the bank is contained in the. brief telegram that has been read to the House, apart from a very short conversation between the Acting Prime Minister and the bank authorities. I am unable to give the information asked for by the honorable member, but I shall get it.
– In any official statement that is issued to the wheatgrowers with respect to the advance that is to be made by the Commonwealth Bank, will the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport point out that certain private wheat-buying firms, that are not associated with any pool or wheat-growers’ organization, intended their offer of Is. 6d. a bushel at railway sidings to be not only a first, but also a final payment?
– Consideration will -be given to the point raised by the honorable member when the matter is being dealt with.
– In view of the replies that the Acting Prime Minister has received from the Commonwealth Bank with respect to advances to wheatgrowers, will the honorable gentleman now give further consideration to the request made at the wheat-growers conference held in Canberra, that a sales tax on flour should be imposed within Australia ?
– As I have already intimated, the Government has considered this question, but so far, it is not favorable to proceeding along these lines. “We hope to assist the wheat-growers in other ways.
– Seeing that the Commonwealth Bank is now prepared to advance only 2s. a bushel, will the Acting Prime Minister make available to the House any correspondence, telegrams or other documents, that indicate the conditions, if any, under which that institution wasprepared previously to advance 4s. a bushel?
– I shall do my utmost to obtain the information sought by the honorable member.
– Has the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport noticed a statement in to-day’s press to the effect that the new tariff schedule will not make an appreciable difference in the price of tobacco to the public? Will he have this statement investigated, with a view to making an official announcement to the public that the tariff alterations mean a reduction of the duties by 4d. per lb., and also that 20 per cent. of the new duties is to be refunded to the manufacturers on all imported leaf ? Will he also consider the advisability of informing the public that the tobacco combine in Australia has not reduced its dividend, despite the depression, but, on the contrary, has maintained it at the same average rate of about £1,000,000 a year?
– The honorable gentleman has raised a very important matter. The newspaper statement to which he refers is on my table, but I have not yet had time to peruse it carefully. I shall do so, and have investigations made, with the object of submitting a statement to the House.
“Equal Sacrifices by All.”
– Has the attention of the Acting Treasurer been directed to a leading article in the Canberra Times to-day, which draws attention to the necessity for equal sacrifices by all sections of the community during the present period of depression? Will the Minister see that the multi-millionaire newspaper owners of this country, who have increased the prices of their journals by 50 per cent., respond to that appeal by making available, of their own volition, a proportion of that extra 50 per cent., to show their bona fides in advocating equal sacrifices by all at this critical period, not overlooking the fact that the representatives of the press are granted the right to use the Parliamentary refreshment room, and enjoy other concessions in these buildings?
– The question will receive consideration.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Home Affairs been called to a report in to-day’s issue of the Canberra Times of the statement made by him yesterday regarding the proposed Canberra lottery. That report states -
The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. A. Blakeley replied that an application had been received from the Unemployment Relief Committee for the purpose of holding an art union. The Government had given that matter furtherconsideration, and had decided not to grant the application.
It is stated on reliable authority, however, that the Unemployment Relief Committee had never discussed the proposal, and did not authorize any suggestion to the Minister for a lottery.
Will the Minister make available to honorable members, either by laying it on the table, or by placing it in the Library, any correspondence by which that committee made application for permission to hold a lottery, and, if no such correspondence is available, will the Minister secure a copy of the minute of the committee, so that the integrity of Ministers may be thoroughly vindicated?
– I do not regard the Canberra Times as a reliable authority. The president of the Canberra Unemployment Relief Committee wrote the letter to which reference has been made, and I have also discussed the matter with other members of the committee.
– Has the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport called for another report on the fellmongering industry from the Tariff Board, despite the fact that the board has recently reported to the Minister on that subject, and its report has been made available to honorable members? If the Minister has done so, I should like to know for what reason.
– The Tariff Board conducted an inquiry into the export duty on sheep skins with wool on. The committee submitted a report, at the end of which it suggested that the best way to assist the industry would be to give a bounty; but it pointed out that it had not investigated that matter. The subject of granting a bounty was then submitted to the board for inquiry and report. That inquiry is proceeding, and it is expected that the report will be submitted to the Government before the end of the year.
– What consideration has the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs given to the subject of the duty on Oregon? I have brought this matter under his notice on many occasions. South Australia timber merchants, the South Australia Timber Workers Union, builders and contractors, and others in South Australia, are particularly affected by this duty. It has had the effect of putting men out of work, not in work.
– I wish to know what has been done in the matter?
– Duties were imposed to protect the hardwood saw-milling industry against the importation of hardwood, Oregon and baltic; but the honorable member has been so persistent in his representations that I shall have the whole matter fully investigated.
Concessions to Members
– Has the Minister for Home Affairs read the leading article in the Canberra Times this morning, which, in its reference to the hotel concessions granted to honorable members at Canberra, constitutes a reflection on honorable members, and is misleading to the public? Will he publish the hotel tariffs for similar accommodation in Sydney and Melbourne ?
– The leading article to which the honorable member refers is not indicative of the Government’s views in the matter of concessions to members of Parliament and others, nor do I think that it reflects the opinion of any one other than the Canberra Times. Honorable members, pressmen, and private secretaries who enjoy the concession rates, are paying considerably more than they would pay for similar accommodation in the other capital cities.
– Has the Assistant Minister (Mr. Beasley) seen the reported action of the Industrial Commission in New South Wales, instructing the members of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union in Sydney to resume work next Friday on the terms of the September award? If he has, will he use any influence that he may have with that unipn to ensure the compliance of its members with the order of the commission ?
– The matter is in the hands of the organization concerned, and it will make its own decision.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Will the Acting Prime Minister state whether the amount mentioned in the press - £7,000 per annum - represents the total savings effected at Australia House through the instrumentality of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), and whether that figure was arrived at after deducting the sum necessary for the repatriation and expenses of the officials who are to be returned to Australia?
– I expect to be in a position in a few days to make a full statement in regard to the economies that have been effected at Australia House.
Duty on Australian Butter.
– If the suggestion made in the Congress of the United States of America, that the duty on Australian butter should be heavily increased, be adopted; will the Government be prepared to retaliate by increasing the duty on goods from that country entering Australia?
– This being a matter of policy, the views of the Government cannot be disclosed in answer to a question.
asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and the information will be furnished as soon as possible.
Admission of Southern Europeans - Afforestation Advance
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Has the Government any policy regarding the admission of Southern Europeans into Australia; if so, when will such policy be made public?
– When the present Government took office towards the end of last year, it immediately decided to reduce by 50 per cent. the quotas instituted by the late Government in respect of migrants from Southern Europe. The question of imposing further restrictions in view of the existing conditions is now receiving the Government’s earnest attention.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
Have instructions been given that 66 Italians due in Sydney on the 3rd instant per SS. Orford are not to be allowed to land; if so, why?
– Sixty male adult Italian migrants who arrived by the R.M.S. Orford were prevented from landing as they were not persons within the approved categories eligible for admission, and their entry was likely to aggravate the existing serious unemployment situation.
It has been reported that the R.M.S. Otranto, now en route to Australia, has also 102 male adult Italians who are of the same type as those on the Orford, and, therefore, ineligible for admission. They also will be prevented from landing.
Steps have alsobeen taken to prevent the departure from Europe of others of the same class.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Is he prepared to consider offering nonofficial post offices, carrying£1 50 per annum or over, at present conducted by private persons in conjunction with stores or businesses, to ex- temporary employees of the department with good records of long service?
– Ex-temporary employees with satisfactory service records receive preference in appointment to positions of non-official postmaster. It would be almost impracticable, however, to dismiss postmasters from non-official offices with a view to giving their positions to ex-temporary employees. The postmaster is required to provide accommodation in his own premises, which must be suitably situated. Moreover, the cost of removal of the department’s plant would be excessive. In normal’ circumstances the department has to bear a considerable financial burden annually in removals which cannot be obviated, but to make changes on the basis suggested by the honorable member would impose serious financial obligations which could not justifiably be entered upon. The honorable member will doubtless agree that those who have efficiently managed such offices in the past are worthy of consideration. If they were dismissed, they would then fall into the category of exemployees of ‘the department.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is it a fact that the Government Statistician, Mr. Wickens, has been conducting anewspaper controversy in the columns of the Sydney Morning Herald on the question of currency inflation; if so, does the course adopted meet with the approval and consent of the Government?
– It is a fact that the Statistician replied in the columns of the Sydney Morning Herald to a letter on the question of currency stabilization; but it is not a fact, as far as I am aware, that he is either conducting or proposing to conduct a newspaper controversy. This letter by the Statistician was seen by me before insertion, and the Statistician’s action in the circumstances had my entire approval, as the writer of the letter replied to appeared to be unaware of some important recent happenings in the field of currency stabilization. It appears to me desirable that these should be brought to public notice, and that this could not be better done than in the terms of the Statistician’s letter and over his signature. The Statistician is himself a member of the Stable Money Association, and has been associated with it and its work for some time past.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I propose to make a statement to the House regarding the recent conference between Ministers and the Commonwealth Bank Board, as soon as I am in a position to do so. In the meantime, I am unable to reply to questions in anticipation of that statement.
Eel Worm in Bulbs.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Is it a fact that local and country employees of his department, who have had from seven to fifteen years’ service, have been dismissed from the constructional work north of Newcastle, while permanent men from Sydney and Queensland are being sent to fill their positions; if so, will he explain the reason for this action?
– No men have been transferred from Queensland, but a number of permanent officers, for whom other work could not be found, were sent from Sydney to replace certain temporary employees engaged on the work. The department has made very exceptional efforts to retain its temporary staff as long as possible; but the falling off in demand for services has left no alternative but to dispense with the services of men for whom work could not be found.
Salary - Residence
asked the Acting Prime. Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government will take into consideration the reduction of the salary of the Governor-General during the term of office of the new occupant?
– It is provided in the Commonwealth Constitution Act that the salary of the Governor-General shall not be altered during his continuance in office.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The information desired by the honorable member is being obtained, and will be made available as soon as possible.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained as far as possible.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The figures relating to the imports during 1929-30. are advance figures and subject to revision.
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What was the total quantity of galvanized iron imported into Australia during the last five years, from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Belgium, Franco, and Germany, respectively, and the estimated value of same?
– The reply to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On 28th December the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) asked me the following questions, upon notice-
I am now able to supply the following information : -
Since the establishment, in 1926, of the Government Overseas Trade Publicity Fund, the Commonwealth Government has contributed £6,000 to it on a £1 for £1 basis with fruit canning interests, for the advertising in Great Britain of Australian canned fruits. A further contribution of £1,000 will be made during the current financial year.
Motion (by Mr. Fenton) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two weeks be given to the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and to the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) on the ground of urgent public business; and that leave of absence for two weeks be also given to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West), and the honorable member for Hunter ( Mr. James ) on the ground of ill-health.
– I have received a communication from Lady Howse expressing thanks for the resolution of sympathy passed by this House in connexion with the death of her husband, Sir Neville Howse.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 134.
Customs Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 138.
Housing Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 122.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Public Health Ordinance - Regulations -
Laundries, Cleaning Establishments and Dye Works.
That Order of the Day “Supply”(Formal) be postponed.
Consideration resumed from the 3rd December (vide page 941) on motion by Mr. Lyons - .
That thebill be. now read a second time.
.- In addressing myself to this measure I shall begin by laying down three propositions: In the first place it is our duty to pay off our debts as quickly as possible; secondly, all private and public contracts should be inviolate; and, thirdly, both these propositions are subject’ to the requirement that the Commonwealth must pay its way, and that we must balance the budget. No proposals for allowing the budget to go unbalanced have ever received any support or encouragement from me. My desire is to see the sinking fund increased so that we may pay off the national debt as soon as possible. No country can be regarded as independent or free so long as it is a debtor to another nation. We cannot exercise our prerogatives, nor can we regard ourselves as an autonomous or independent country, so long as we owe such huge sums of money to other people. We must necessarily, to some extent at any rate, be in the hands of our creditors.
We have recently had a visit from Sir Otto Niemeyer, a representative of the Bank of England. I do not join those who condemn that gentleman for coming here. I think he came here to befriend and help us. So far as I can gather from the correspondence which preceded his visit, he came here either on our invitation or with our approval. The critical remarks that have been made in respect to him and his work might have seriously injured us had he been small enough to take notice of them. Seeing that Sir Otto Niemeyer came here as the representative of a possible creditor or lender, he had the right to study the financial position of the country, to determine whether it would be wise for his principals to lend money to us, and, if so, the conditions which should govern the transaction. Every prospective mortgagee or lender has the right to determine whether there is a reasonable likelihood that any to fix the conditions under which he will lend it.
– Sir Otto Niemeyer was neither a creditor nor a mortgagee.
– I said that he came here as the representative of a possible creditor. He was the representative of the Bank of England, which institution was considering whether it would take over our obligations in England, and meet them as they became due. To that extent, Sir Otto Niemeyer was acting for a proposed creditor, and had the right to examine our financial position and make recommendations in regard to it. I do not say that I like this position ; hut, unfortunately, Australia is financially embarrassed in England. So long as we owe large sums of money it is, in my opinion, wise that we should build up our sinking funds to the largest possible extent. By this means “we shall, in time, become sufficiently independent to take the financial course that we desire. In this connexion Sir Otto Niemeyer’s advice was valuable, even if it was unpalatable. To the extent that our visitor made public statements about our internal affairs, I think he was seriously in error; but as a valuer or an investigator acting on behalf of a possible creditor, he had the right toreport to his principals.
– He did not make public statements ; these were made by the Government.
– It cannot be denied that Sir Otto Niemeyer publicly criticized our tariff policy and industrial laws, and in so doing made a serious error, though he may have thought it his duty to the Bank of England to make disclosures in respect of these matters. Our experience with this gentleman has shown conclusively that we are not financially independent. We cannot say that we are an autonomous people so long as we are in. the hands of the money lenders.
This is, at least, the second occasion upon which there has been interference by overseas financial authorities with the internal affairs of Australia. Some years ago, Queensland desired to borrow money in England, but the Government of that State was informed that money would not be available unless the State laws in. regard to leasehold or the regulations thereunder were amended in certain directions. This, undoubtedly, constituted an interference with the internal affairs of a State, of which I do not, in any sense whatever, approve. There may have been other instances of the kind. In these circumstances the sooner we can get out of the hands of the money lenders, the better it will be for us. In my opinion, the building up of sinking funds will enable us to escape from the authority of these persons more quickly than we could otherwise hope to do.
I now come to the question whether contracts entered into in respect to borrowed money should be inviolate. I think everybody will agree that when a contract has been made, it should be honored. A nation’s word should be its bond. The prospectus issued in New York, and quoted by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page), undoubtedly set out that the money received by the Commonwealth in respect of German reparations, and also half the profits of the Commonwealth Bank, would be paid into the national debt sinking fund. These statements were made with the object of inducing the money lenders of New York to invest in the loan. “Whether they had very much effect in that regard I cannot say. There is not the slightest doubt that, in ordinary circumstances, such statements in’ a prospectus would be regarded as part of the contract. But I do not agree that we shall be guilty of repudiation if we pass this bill. Occasionally, conditions arise in a State which could not possibly be foreseen at the time of the making of specific contracts. Moratoriums are frequently granted throughout the world. Not long ago the Victorian Parliament passed a Moratorium Act which prevented the recovery of debts and the enforcement of contracts over a large area in the north of Victoria. Certain members of the Bruce-Page Ministry, who were members of a previous Government, were partly responsible for the introduction and passing of the War Precautions Act, which abrogated the terms of a very large number of contracts. Many arrangements made both prior to and during the war period were over-ridden by regulations issued under this unusual piece of legislation. The Bruce-Page Ministry itself can also be charged with what practically . amounted to a variation of contract conditions, because at the end of the six and a half years during which it administered the affairs of the country the national debt was greater than at the beginning of that period, and Australia was, to that extent, in a less favorable position to meet the claims of her creditors. During the regime of that Government, additional debt to the extent of £12,000,000 was incurred. In effect, the previous Government, while paying into the national debt sinking fund the moneys received in respect of German reparations and also half the profits of the Commonwealth Bank, was rendering this provision nugatory by increasing the indebtedness of the nation. Of what use is it, from the point of view of his creditors, for a man to reduce certain debts by £10, £20 or £30, if, at the same time, he incurs other debts to the extent of £50, £100, or £150? The thing is absurd. While the BrucePage Government may have followed the letter of the law in dealing with the German reparation moneys and the profits of the Commonwealth Bank, it did not improve the position of the Commonwealth as a debtor, -nor the security of the New York creditors.
– It was borrowing more than it was accumulating.
– That is so. .1 gathered from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that he regarded this legislation as a possible source of action against the Commonwealth by some person who has taken out a Commonwealth bond in New York. That bondholder might contend that we borrowed this money on the understanding that two additional payments would be made to the sinking fund and that any failure to make those payments was a breach of contract for which the Commonwealth might be sued. The Leader of the Opposition gave two cases - not quite relevant to these particular circumstances - in English courts, in which persons had been sued in regard to income tax matters, and it was held that Commonwealth legislation did not affect such contracts. In the first place the Leader of the Opposition submitted that in respect of local loans the local court has complete jurisdiction over the local creditor, and is subject to local legislation, but that in respect of loans raised in New York or London the position may be different. A case which is almost parallel to the cases mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition is that of the Great Western Milling Company v. Delaney, Vol. 22, Commonwealth Law Reports. A Victorian named Delaney contracted with the Great Western Milling Company of New South Wales in respect of a supply of wheat. He wanted to enforce the contract. There was at that time an act passed in New South Wales called the Wheat Acquisition Act, and the High Court decided by a majority of three to two, that the internal legislation of New South Wales bound a creditor, although he was not within the jurisdiction of the New South Wales court at all. The arguments before the court can be seen in the report that I have referred to. Chief Justice Isaacs, who was then Acting Chief Justice, and Justices Rich and Starke, agreed that the creditor in that case was completely out of the jurisdiction of New South Wales legislation - just as the Australian debtor would be outside the jurisdiction of the American or English courts- but that he would be bound by the local law - the Wheat Acquisition Act. Further, there is no court in which an action could possibly be taken against the Commonwealth. A sovereign State cannot be brought into an outside court. In any event, damage would have to be shown, and I do not think that any damage would arise unless any amount clue in settlement of the bonds were unpaid,, and that is not likely to happen. A verdict of the court could not be obtained until damage had been shown, and so long as we are able to pay off our debt at the end of 30 or 50 years, as the case may be, we can take it that the bondholders would not be able to sue the Commonwealth. It has been said that the action which the Government is now taking under this legislation is comparable with that taken by some South American States. The Leader of the Opposition spoke with intense feeling on this subject. He made it absolutely a party question, and spoke of the Government dragging the flag of the Commonwealth in the dust and of this legislation being a fraud on the public. Such phrases are undesirable in a discussion of this nature, because the Government wants to do the right thing, and, in introducing this legislation, it has no desire to bring discredit upon Australia or to inflict hardship on the people. The Leader of the Opposition said that we were adopting the practice of some South American States. He referred contemptuously to other countries which had not paid off their national debt in the way originally intended. Let me point out to him, as I have previously pointed out to this House, that the British Government itself, in 1921, contracted to establish a sinking fund of 1 per cent, on a loan which it raised, but, because of the necessities of that time, it suspended the payment - to the sinking fund for at least three years. Under section 45 of the Finance Act of 1921, the British Treasury must issue from the Consolidated Fund, “ as soon as may be after the close of each half-year during which the average daily price of the loan certified by the Bank of England has been below £90 per cent., a sum equal to not less than 1 per cent, of the amount of the loan outstanding at the close of that half-year, to be applied in the purchase of conversion loans for cancellation”. What happened? The following finding is taken from the report of Lord Colwyn’s committee on the national debt and taxation made on the loth November, 1926 :-
It was proposed in the budget of 1014-15 to reduce the fixed debt charge to £ 23,500,000. On the outbreak of war, however, the payment of the new sinking fund was suspended, with the exception of £1,000,000 applied to the redemption of drawn exchequer bonds. The suspension continued up to the end of 1920, but the new sinking fund was resumed for the two following years. In 1922-23, as a temporary measure, the new sinking fund was again suspended, and in t* following year the basis was entirely altered.
In that case the condition in the prospectus of British Treasury bonds issued in 1921 was suspended in 1922-23, because of the exigencies of that time. Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Winston Churchill, and Mr. Snowden, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer have all approved of similar procedure. Australia is meeting its debt much more quickly than is Great Britain, which has to pay off its debt by £50,000,000 a year. Lord Colwyn’s committee proposed that the sinking fund payment should be increased, almost immediately, from £50,000,000 to £75,000,000, and within a few years to £100,000,000 a year. But at the present time it is only £50,000,000 a year. At that rate it will take 153 years to pay off the British national debt. Even if we give effect to this legislation, and depart from the original sinking fund provision, we shall still pay off our national debt in 35 years in one case and in 50 years in the other case - post office works. If this legislation were to be withdrawn, what could honorable members opposite offer in its place. Their only suggestion has been that there should be a reduction of £1,000,000 in Public Service salaries. That would not meet the position. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has suggested that .we could save £1,200,000 in another direction, but he has given no details. Even if those two proposals were adopted, the consequent saving would be quite insufficient for our needs this year.
-»We might start with them.
– I do not know what the honorable member is suggesting, but I certainly have no desire to abolish the sinking fund. I wish the present contributions to continue except that, for the time being, I am reluctantly compelled to support the suspension of the special endowment of the fund with reparation payments and half the profits of the Commonwealth Bank. It should be the obligation of this generation to pay off the expenses it incurred in connexion with the war; we should not load this burden on to posterity. I am sorry that, the necessities for this year require an interference with the present payments to the sinking fund, but I ask the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) to make the bill operative for one year only. Even if prosperity should return within twelve months, as I hope it will, it would be a pity to release future treasurers from the check of having to make all the contributions to the sinking fund at present required by Commonwealth law. The proposal that reparation payments and Commonwealth Bank profits should be permanently diverted from the sinking fund into Consolidated Revenue is a great mistake.
– Under this bill those payments to the sinking fund will continue, but the other contributions from revenue will be reduced.
– The bill proposes that certain payments now made to the sinking fund shall be discontinued for all time.
– We should not depart from the high ideal of paying off our debts as quickly as our finances will permit. Indeed the liquidation of tha external national debt is so important that I would be prepared to increase considerably the contributions to the sinking fund, and to that end would propose, amongst other things, a substantial increase in the duties on the estates of deceased persons.
– Why not introduce a levy on capital ?
– That was a plank of the British Labour party’s platform at one election, but after careful examination was abandoned.
– It never became law.
– No, because it was abandoned as uneconomic and inequitable. I cannot feel that we are a free nation so long as we are subject to the demands and conditions imposed upon us by external creditors. I recognize that at present we are being taxed to the limit, and therefore any further special tax to expedite the liquidation of the national debt is not immediately practicable. This generation should pay its own debts, but necessity knows no law, and because of the seriousness of the financial position and the immediate strain to which the public treasury is subjected, some concession is necessary. I hope, however, that the Treasurer will agree to limit the operation of the bill to twelve months. At the end of that time, if the Commonwealth is not then free of its troubles, the Government can apply to Parliament for an extension of this legislation. I accept the bill because the necessities of the time demand its passage.
.- This measure, like the other two financial bills that preceded it, is a miserable alternative to real economy. I dislike the proposals contained in. the bill, not only because of their inherent evil, but also because they are presented in the place of more desirable and more effective measures within the competence of the Government. I cannot understand the attitude of ministerial supporters and the isolation of the Commonwealth Government from the six State Governments, which are practising real economy, and pursuing a course which, if followed by the Commonwealth Government, could not fail to restore the credit of the nation immediately and substantially. Among the State Governments are three Labour Governments - that in South Australia led by Mr. Hill, that in Victoria led by Mr. Hogan, and that in New South “Wales led by Mr. Lang. These three governments are to-day making an earnest attempt to balance their budgets.
– So Lang has been restored to grace!
– He has, and I am pleased that the taxation he is imposing on salaries and wages will cost the honorable member for “Werriwa £50 a year. I trust that the honorable member is satisfied with the fruits of his support of Mr. Lang during the election campaign. The Premier of New South “Wales has imposed a tax at the rate of ls. in the £1 on all wages and salaries exceeding £100 per annum. That is the most drastic measure of taxation, particularly in relation to the workers, that has been proposed by any Australian leader during the present crisis. The six State Governments are genuinely endeavouring to fulfil the Melbourne agreement to balance their budgets and restore the credit of the nation, thereby making loan money available, relieving unemployment and substantially improving the interest position, which, we are loudly and frequently told, is one of the main purposes of honorable members opposite. Unhappily, however, the success of the efforts of the State Governments is entirely dependent upon similar action by the Commonwealth Government. If the Commonwealth also will not practise sound economies all the good work being done by the State Govern- ments will be futile. The three Labour Governments in the States are responsible to the same outside organization or machine as honorable members opposite. They have been permitted by the political labour leagues to practise economies. Yet, for some reason beyond my comprehension, the Commonwealth Government will not adopt the same wise and sound course; but persists in pursuing a policy that is hurrying the country to financial destruction. The Commonwealth is threatened with a deficit this year of from £6,000,000 to £S,000,000. What ii. the intention of the Government i;j respect of this liability? I do not think it is possible for the Commonwealth Bank or the private banks to make good that deficit.
– They certainly will not, if we do not get the extra £2,000,000 represented by this bill.
– Even if all the financial proposals of the Government are adopted a deficit of several millions of pounds at the end of the year is assured. The Acting Treasurer has admitted that he does not think the Commonwealth Bank will be able to make good that amount. Whence, then, is the money to come? The Government is heading for financial chaos. If the banks cannot make good the shortage on this year. accounts, how is the Commonwealth to meet its obligations in respect of interest, salaries and wages? This is a very serious problem; but apparently honorable members opposite are making no endeavour to solve it. So far as one can see, there will be a deficit next year of between £15,000,000 and £20,000,000. Is the Government definitely heading for a smash? Is it intended to bring down the financial structure of this country, or is it intended to offer our creditors paper money, to the extent of, say £7,000,000 this year, and from £15,000,000 to £20,000,000 next year?
– What does the honor able member suggest?
– A sound policy of economy. I have repeatedly shown how easy it would be to restore the credit and financial security of this country. I do not say that it would be possible immediately to remove the terrible financial stress. There must be a certain amount of general hardship ; but, if the Commonwealth would fall into line now with the six States, the situation could .still be saved. All we get from honorable members opposite, however, is a series of fanciful specifics.
We have had a reference by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway) to a capital levy. I thought that every honorable member recognized the fallacy of that proposal. As a means of giving financial relief, it was tried out by Mr. Snowden, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first MacDonald Government in Great Britain, and it was absolutely abandoned as impracticable. If we imposed a 10 per cent, or 20 per cent, levy on capital, it would be impossible to realize that amount without destroying probably up to 50 per cent, of the value of the country’s assets. In the realization process everybody in the land would be compelled to be a seller ; nobody would be a potential buyer.
– One authority states that Great Britain is faced with a choice between some form of inflation and a capital levy, although I do not agree with that view.
– After searching through various works in the library, the honorable member finds an extreme view that more or less favours a policy of repudiation, and parades it before the House as though it were generally held. Honorable members opposite seem to have lost faith in this country. The record of Australian development over the last century and a half is one of unparalleled progress. Not even in North America can a parallel be found to the building up of a population of 6,500,000 in 150 years. I am reproving honorable members opposite for pursuing a policy of despair because we have suddenly come into a period of depression and difficulty. When a young land like Australia has treated its people so generously as this country has, it surely does not become us, as representatives of the people in this National Parliament, to advocate a policy that can only lead to national destruction. I am not asking honorable members opposite to agree to the infliction of particular hardship upon any section, but merely to do what the six
State Parliaments are now doing. Then we shall immediately procure a remarkable restoration of credit, and, as our credit rises, our troubles will begin to dissolve. [Quorum formed.]
One of our greatest needs to-day is more money. I believe that our loan expenditure has been cut too suddenly and severely, imposing hardship upon, not only the workers, but also the business community generally. I should like to see the Government able to borrow a substantial sum to-day. It should be spent through private enterprise and upon urgent public works. There is more money available now for loans to countries whose credit is high, than there has been for some years. Moreover, interest rates are lower to-day than they have been for a considerable time. I refer to the rates obtainable by countries rejoicing in a high credit. If the Commonwealth Government would show a determination to square its finances, some of that money would be available immediately to us. The restoration of our credit in that way would also bring us immediate and permanent interest relief, and improve the financial position at once to the extent of several million pounds a year. The achievement of that is within the power of honorable gentlemen opposite. They could immediately begin to give relief to the hundreds of thousands of idle workers in Australia, and yet for some extraordinary reason they do nothing. On the contrary, they are trifling with the proposed inflation of the note issue. Ministers had an extraordinary interview with the Commonwealth Bank Board in the early part of this week, and we are told by the Acting Prime Minister that the Board is giving consideration to the Government’s representations. That, together with the fact that the Governor of the Bank came walking down the stairs arm in arm with the Minister for Health (Mr. Anstey) is all we know about the conference; but I venture to say that the bank will not make available to this, or any other Government, credits to the extent of £20,000,000. The bank would consideras, I think, all persons who have studied this subject believe - that an issue of £20,000,000 of additional credit to-day would substantially depreciate the value of our currency.
In considering whether the note issue could be safely inflated without depreciating the existing currency, let us endeavour to apply a common-sense test by asking whether the Government, after having increased the note issue by £20,000,000 could, or would, stop at that mark. An increase of £20,000,000 of notes would be an increase in our currency of 50 per cent. I challenge honorable members opposite to tell me of one case in which a country, whose credit was already under suspicion, has inflated its currency by 50 per cent, without affecting the value of the previous currency.
– Will the honorable gentleman give a little attention to the effect of a reduction of the currency from £55,000,000 to £44,000,000?
– The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) raised that point in a question which he. asked, I think, yesterday, showing that the available currency of this country had been decreased in recent years. But the point that I wish to make is that, irrespective of whether the currency has, or has not, been higher in the past, the credit of Australia to-day before the world is badly shaken, and, therefore, at this time we dare not substantially increase our paper money. A safe currency is not necessarily one based on a given percentage of gold. As I see it, a safe currency is a trusted one, and it would be possible to have a trusted currency with no gold behind it. There could be a suspect and unsafe currency that would not stand, even if it had 50 per cent, of gold behind it. If a currency is trusted, it is safe, but our credit to-day is not trusted. While I give the honorable member for Fremantle and the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) credit for sincerity in this matter, I profoundly believe that their view is wrong, and that the dangerous course which they advocate would inevitably lead to financial disaster.
Is it possible to have a controlled inflation of currency? I do not think that it is. That would be very like a scientific tariff. If the Government increased the note issue by £20,000,000, how far would that amount go? From £6,000,000 to £8,000,000 would be required for this year’s deficit, and the balance would inevitably be swallowed up in meeting next year’s deficit. If the result was not a depreciation of the existing currency, neither this nor any other Government would stop at that amount; the temptation to indulge in further inflation to the extent of £20,000,000, or even £50,000,000, would be irresistible. It would be easy money with a vengeance, and additional notes would be printed until there was a smash.
– Does the honorable member really mean that an addition of £20,000,000 to the credit resources of this country would require the printing of £20,000,000 worth of notes ?
– Not necessarily; but the effect would be the same. The honorable member may try to cover up this creation of artificial, unsubstantial wealth, by designating it the release of credit, or anything else; but in reality it is the creation of wealth from the air.
– It is nothing of the sort.
– At least, that is the interpretation that must and would be placed on it with our credit where it stands to-day.
– Was the expenditure of £50,000,000, advocated some years ago by the honorable gentleman, to be merely a first instalment?
– I am very pleased to have the opportunity to refer to that matter. After the war, I believe, the policy of this country, and of the majority of its people, ran along, the lines of vigorous development. Two courses were open to us: First, a policy of rigid economy, high taxation, and the rapid repayment of our war debt; and, secondly, the far more attractive policy to which I subscribed, and that was based upon our knowledge of events in this country immediately prior to the war, when public works development was an extremely payable proposition. In the fourteen or fifteen years prior to the war there was wonderful development in the wheat belt in the eastern States, closer settlement extended as far as the Atherton tableland in Northern Queensland, and the rapid opening up of Western Australia. Money and land were cheap, and labour and material relatively cheap. Not only did we absorb in those avenues all of our own available people, but we were extraordinarily successful with our migration policy. In a period of five years the excess of arrivals over departures was no fewer than 300,000 souls.
– That has been responsible for most of our troubles.
– 1” am speaking of what happened fifteen years ago. Thousands of those who then came to Australia fought for us in the war, and their children have since grown up. The Minister’s interjection reveals his bias
On the question of migration. After the war I made the mistake that many governments in Australia made, of believing that the policy which, in a national sense, had paid so well before the war, would pay equally well at that time. Money was borrowed in large sums for public works, with a view to increasing production, adding to the population, and if not actually reducing the aggregate debt, at least increasing the number of debt carriers, and thus diminishing the amount per capita. That policy was followed for some years, by, not only this Parliament, but also by the Parliaments of the States, irrespective of the party that happened to be in power. It was not for some years that we found we had been following the wrong course. To oUr disappointment, post-war development proved unprofitable. That was due in the main to the much higher cost of money, material, and labour; the different projects were over-capitalized, and did not return interest on capital, or provide adequately for those who were Settled on the land. It was during that period that I wrote an article advocating the raising and spending of £50,000,000 upon public works development. I make no apology for having done so. In common with the majority of members of Parliament, and of governments in Australia, I was wrong. I can claim, however, that I awakened to my error in about the year 1925, and that from the day I entered this House up to the present time, every speech that I have delivered upon finance has contained an admission of my error and advocacy of a policy of economy. To-day I have again endeavoured to show how profitable would be a policy of real economy ; how it would immediately pave the way for Australia to obtain money for sound public works of an urgent character* for the relief of unemployment.
– What would the honorable gentleman do?
– The honorable member, for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) can think of nothing but votes in this time of national crisis. His object is to incite me to say once more that I am in favour of the reduction of salaries throughout the Public Service, with the exception of those on the lower levels.
– Where would the honorable gentleman get the money for public works?
– Where are Mr. Lang, Mr. Hogan, and Mr. Hill getting Lt? Do honorable members opposite say that those Labour leaders are wrong?
– Of course they are.
– What are they getting?
– I am not setting honorable members a task, but simply pointing out what Labour leaders in the States have done with the full concurrence of the political Labour leagues. I ask them, in the interest of this nation, to take hold of their courage and do likewise.
– I desire to protest very briefly against this proposed raid on the sinking fund. The Acting Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) has objected, with some spirit and dignity, to the use of that phrase; but I should like to know what phrase would more aptly or definitely describe the legislation that we are now considering. I submit that this is a definite instance of a nation breaking faith with itself. That aspect of the matter was dealt with in the clearest possible manner yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). Where is there in this legislation any evidence or indication of the Government’s claim that it is making a definite and. positive effort to balance the budget? The more we examine it, the more we have borne in upon us the conviction that no such evidence exists. If it stands for anything in the way of definite action, it represents a tampering with the credit of this nation at a very critical period of its history. At such a juncture, how can we justify anything that resembles a tampering with the nation’s credit? We are taxing disastrously, and at the same time we are interfering with our credit by raiding a sinking fund that we declared to our creditors would he sacrosanct. Yet we are endeavouring to float a loan ! I ask this House and the country, could there be greater bungling on the part of any government? It seems to me that the Government, distracted by the problems that confront it, is simply moving despairingly along lines that ultimately will bring trouble upon itself and serious distress upon the nation.
I support the remarks of the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch). T was pleased to hear him criticize the measure, on the ground that it does not fix a definite time limit. The Acting Treasurer admitted that its operation is not limited to the present period of depression. That is altogether wrong. If a raid on the sinking fund could be justified on any ground, it would be on the ground that it was limited to this period of depression, at the expiration of which there would be a reversion to the customary observing of the contract that we made with our lenders oversens, so that their interests might be safeguarded by the maintenance of a national sinking fund upon the basis originally laid down. Up to the present, it has worked excellently on that basis. I regret that the Acting Treasurer persists in his objection to our describing this measure as a raid on the sinking fund, but, to my mind, it is that and nothing else. [Quorum formed.] Last night the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) referred to certain matters connected with Queensland politics which had a. bearing upon the financial situation. His statements cannot be allowed to remain unchallenged. I do not wish to be unkind, but I know of no other person who makes more misstatements to the vocal square inch than does the honorable member for Kennedy. Recently I had occasion to challenge statements made by the honorable member for Kennedy and the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) regarding Mount Morgan. Though I was told that I knew nothing about the matter I persist that I do. I have no hope of ever convincing either of those honorable members of the fact, but I trust I persuaded the House that what I said was sustainable by written and printed evidence. In a fine frenzy of excitement the honorable member for Kennedy declared last night that a Queensland Labour Government had “ pioneered the American loan market.” That was his precise phrase, and it struck me as rather picturesque. I asked him at the time to state just why that Queensland Labour Government had found it necessary to pioneer the American loan market. . He skilfully evaded answering the question, but I propose to pursue the matter a little way, because it has a distinct bearing on the subject of repudiation which has been so’ much canvassed of late. This Queensland incident affords a lesson for honorable members opposite if only they will learn it.
Yes, the Queensland Government did pioneer the American loan market, but I have not yet been able to discover anything to its credit in that. That Government went on the. American loan market because it had no alternative. It was there because no other loan market was open to it, for the reason that it had, by a direct act of repudiation, closed against itself the markets which had hitherto been open. It had, by a most violent piece of legislation, smashed its contractual obligations with the pastoral lessees of Queensland. It is desirable to point this out so that honorable members may know the consequences that inevitably flow from any act of repudiation by any government. This action of the Queensland Labour Government was so resented by the money interests of the United Kingdom, that the Queensland Treasurer of the day was unable to obtain financial accommodation when he went on the London loan market. He was forced in ignominy and disgrace to turn to the American loan market, where he had to raise money at a price, and on terms dictated by the financiers there. That is the true story of how a Queesnland Labour Government came to pioneer the American loan market.
Moreover, the terms upon which that loan was raised were very severe on Queensland, notwithstanding the fact that at that time exchange rates were in favour of the borrower. The loan actually involved the State of Queensland in interest payments of £6 10s. 5d. per cent. For that statement I have the word of no less an authority than the Auditor-General of Queensland, who was quoted in the House last night by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson).
– To arrive at the actual cost of the loan it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that sterling was at that time considerably below par in the United States of America. As a matter of fact, the real rate of interest was 5½ per cent.
– The words of the Auditor-General are as follows: -
Interest on these loans for the year ended 30th June, 1924, was £295,930 18s. 8d., and the cost of transmitting the larger portion of same from London to New York was £27,134 18s. 9d., giving a total of £323,065, 17s. 5d.
Taking into consideration -
The profit on conversion;
The flotation expenses, charges, and discounts ;
Exchange and interest payments; the effective interest charge per £100 to the State on these loans for the year ended the 30th June, 1924, was approximately £6 10s. 5d.
This Labour Government, whose act of repudiation directed against the pastoral lessees had driven it with ignominy put of the London money market, was, after a few years, cringing, and on its knees before the same money interests, agreeing to accept without reservation any terms they were prepared to offer.When the American loan was raised by the Queensland Labour Government, the exchange rate was in Australia’s favour, whereas to-day it is against us, and Queensland is suffering to the extent of the difference between the former favorable and the present unfavorable rate of exchange. The honorable member for Kennedy, in the energy of his support of this raid on the sinking fund, was led into some further mis-statements. He said that the last Government had not been able at any time to borrow money at 4½ per cent.
– I said in 1922.
– The honorable gentleman said nothing of the kind. As soon as he made his statement the exTreasurer challenged the accuracy of it, and the honorable member was instantly in difficulties. He was incapable of understanding the information givens to him earlier in the evening upon the subject. He mixed both his words and his facts, and, as invariably happens in such cases, he became verbally drunk. T direct the attention of the honorable mem ber to the 1930-31 budget papers, in which he will find a table showing that in 1925-26 the Treasurer of the day succeeded in floating a loan of £15,411,487 in London at 5 per cent., and in 1927-28 he succeeded in floating another loan of £10,274,324, at 4½ per cent.
– That was after we had grown whiskers; I was talking about 1922.
– Such inane interjections cannot be allowed to cover up the inaccurate statements of the honorable member, who should be capable of making some better defence of his views than futile remarks of that kind. I have shown clearly that the honorable member misrepresented the position in regard to the pioneering of the American market by the Theodore Government in Queensland, and also in regard to the raising of loans by the ex-Treasurer, in respect of whom he made some rather heated charges. A government cannot expect to tamper with the national credit and escape severe criticism. If this Government persists in breaking the undertakings that have been made with those who have already lent money to the Commonwealth, it cannot expect to build up confidence in the country. The raid on the Treasury, which this measure is intended to justify, will adversely affect our national credit, and will continue to be severely condemned by honorable members on this side of the chamber.
– Seeing that the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) has effectively replied to the statements of the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), I intend to confine my remarks to the subject-matter of the bill. As the measure does not propose any departure from the terms of the agreement made between the Commonwealth and the States for the provision of sinking funds, orany departure from the late Government’s policy in relation to war debts and debts incurred in connexion with postal, telephonic, telegraphic and other public works, I do not intend to condemn it. In the first seven years of the operation of the national debt sinking fund an amount of £43,727,921 was accumulated, which was £14,000,000 in excess of the amount actually required to give full effect to the agreement to which I have referred. During the term of office of the Bruce-Page Government every loose shilling was rated- in with the object of building up the fund. Far more was credited than the Government was under any obligation to pay. Seeing that we are now passing through a period of stress, the Government is proposing that £2,000,000 of the £6,850,000, which would ordinarily be paid into the fund by the Commonwealth this year, shall be made by a reduction of the surplus of sinking fund contributions for the current year and used to the credit of this year’s payment. If this £2,000,000 were paid into the fund it would have to be provided by additional taxation, whereas if this bill is passed the people will be relieved of taxation to that extent.
– The Government could obtain the money by economies; it need not necessarily impose taxation.
– Our civil service, our postal services, &c, could not stand a reduction of £2,000,000. We would pay very dearly for such cheapness. In view of the fact that £14,000,000 more has been paid into the fund than need have been paid into it, and that we are passing through a time of severe stress. I consider that this proposal of the Government is businesslike and commendable. It cannot be said that we are robbing the sinking fund of money. We are simply proposing to use for general purposes surplus credits placed in the fund in times of plenty which we are not obliged to devote to sinking fund purposes.
This bill applies only to the present financial year. If the Government desires to take similar action next year it will have to introduce another bill. It is far more desirable, in our present circumstances, that we should leave this £2,000,000 for other purposes than that we should tax the people for another £2,000,000.
We shall have to adjust the financial position inside Australia before we can hope to cope effectively with our external position. Unfortunately, the Government attempted last year to adjust the position overseas by exporting gold to the value of £7,000,000. Our posi tion would have been no worse overseas, and our internal position would have been much better than it is, had we retained this money, and used it as a reserve for * the issue of additional notes to the extent of £21,000,000. [Quorum formed.’] This large amount would have helped our producers and unemployed. In my opinion, it is our bounden duty to rectify the financial situation within Australia. Improvement must come from within. If anything goes wrong with a motor-car engine or carburettor, it is futile to try to remedy it by making adjustments to the garage door. It is equally futile for us to attempt to remedy our financial position by exporting gold. We should attend to the cause of the trouble, which is internal. That is what every other country has done, or is doing. Great Britain herself is more concerned about her internal, than her external, position. For this reason she is . to-day trading with an ex-enemy country, Russia, which has repudiated its indebtedness to Britain. The object of’ the Motherland in doing this is to provide her people with cheap wheat.
– That is merely capitalistic morality.
– I remind the honorable member that this action is being taken by the, British Labour Government. When the MacDonald Government assumed office in Great Britain there was no trade agreement with Russia; but the new Government promptly made one, and it is in accordance with the terms of that agreement that Russian wheat is being imported into England to-day, to the xclusion of Australian wheat. Seeing that Great Britain is looking to the welfare of her own people, I can see nothing wrong with Australia doing the same thing. I consider it highly inadvisable to deplete our gold reserves during a period of depression. The Government should not itself export a single ounce of gold from this country, nor should it permit any individual to do so, as they are privately doing. All our gold should be retained and used as a reserve for the issuing of additional Commonwealth wealth. While the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) was daily telling the British people that Australia would pay every penny of interest that she was under obligation to pay, the British Government was busy buying wheat from “ Russia. It is about time that Great Britain realized that, if Australia is to meet her obligations overseas, she must be given reasonable trade recognition.
During the last ten years the United States of America has taken £239,250,000 in gold from this country to correct our unfortunate adverse trade balance. To-day it is even imposing super-taxation by way of customs, in the fear that some few tons of butter, or other commodities, may creep in. We, in Australia, should bolster up our trade with other countries so as to meet our obligations overseas. We should pay what we can with goods and keep our money within our own boundaries. We are in a state of depression. Those countries from which we have borrowed fully realize our position, and why cannot we supply them with our surplus products, wherever that is possible, to meet our obligations to them? ‘ We should enter into trade agreements, and refrain from trading with those who refuse to buy our goods. We should buy motor cars, tea, rubber,” and any other commodities that we require from countries that are prepared to take our goods in return.
– Is not the exchange of commodities the basis of all trade ?
– Not in our case. We have had to pay gold for the goods that we purchase overseas. We should adopt a system of bartering with countries which refrain from trading with us. That is the true solution of our financial problem. It would bring about prosperity without making victims and slaves of our citizens, and without causing starvation to stalk throughout the land. I hope that the Government will, at this late hour, urge the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) to approach the Ramsay MacDonald Government with a view to “ eating Empire products.” Our representatives abroad should make superhuman efforts to bring about trade agreements. If that is not done, we shall have a policy of raiding the sinking fund. I submit, despite the opinion of the Opposition, that it is sound practice, under the existing circumstances, to use £2.000,000 of the £14,000,000 of excess money that was paid into the sinking fund in times of plenty, and by that means relieve the people of at least some taxation during this financial year.
– When I introduced this bill I was careful to place on record the true story of the sinking fund operations of Australia, and to give full credit to our predecessors in office for the part they bad played in establishing the fund. I felt then, as I have felt for a long while, that in this time of crisis we should put the interests of Australia before those of party. My desire is to render some service to Australia, and I am doing my best in that direction. It is not my wish to cast, merely for party advantage, any reflection upon my opponents. For that reason I told the true story, of the sinking fund, even though something in it may be to the credit of my political opponents. I hoped that other honorable members would take the same stand; but I have been sadly disillusioned. The speeches of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page) were purely party speeches.
– That is absolutely contrary to fact.
– The Leader of the Opposition said that it was pleasing to him that honorable members on this side were prepared to allow him to discuss this important subject. It would have been in the interests of the Government had he not been allowed to do so. The effect of his statements, and of those of other honorable members opposite .at this time when there is a conversion loan before the public, can only be prejudicial to the interests of Australia.
– This bill is prejudicial to the interests of Australia.
– That is not so. The bill contains nothing that will injure the people of Australia or the holders of Australian stock. I wish, therefore, to place clearly before the people of this country, and before bondholders, not from a party standpoint, but in the interests of Australia, exactly what the position is. I have said that the people of the Commonwealth have every reason to be proud of the sinking fund. When the alteration proposed in this legislation is made, it will still be a sinking fund of which any country might be proud. The two classes of debt will be repaid, one within 30 years and the other within 50 years. Yet the trend of the argument of honorable members opposite has been that something that was promised to them is to be taken from bondholders. Nothing will be taken from any individual bondholder by the passing of this bill.
– The sinking fund will be smaller.
– A bondholder has a. right to expect two things - the payment of his interest half-yearly at the rate promised by his bond, and the repayment of the principal on the due date. Nothing in this bill prevents that. Not a penny of interest will be lost by any bondholder as a result of this legislation, nor will the repayment of any debt be delayed by a day.
– The same thing could be said if the sinking fund were abolished altogether.
– We are not proposing to abolish the sinking fund.
– But the Government might do so.
– The honorable member may have no confidence in his political opponents, but I hope that that is not the case with other honorable members. Whatever our political views, we should not suspect our parliamentary -opponents of improper actions and intentions.
– - Has not the bondholder the right to expect that there will be no variation of the terms of the contract that he made with the Commonwealth ?
– Let me state the position clearly, so that there may be no misunderstanding in the minds of the people of Australia or of the bondholders. Under this bill the bondholder will receive everything that he would receive under the existing legislation.
– Without the same security for repayment.
– That is not so. If we paid an additional £2,000,000 into the sinking fund, what would be the position of those who had to find the interest? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) truly pointed out that at present there is no certainty that the banks will be able to carry us during this financial year by making funds available against our deficit. If we do not save this £2,000,000, it will be still more difficult for the banks to assist us. The only alternative, if the banks fail -to see the Government through, will be to demand from the unfortunate and overtaxed people of Australia an additional £2,000,000, to enable us, not to pay interest on the debt, but to contribute something to the sinking fund.
– What about reducing expenditure?
– No honorable member can indicate a means by which we could effect a saving in expenditure which would meet the situation.
– We did so in July last!,
– I am using the argument of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He recently pointed out that next financial year the Commonwealth will be some £5,000,000 short in revenue compared with this financial .year, and in this financial year, we cannot, no matter how
Ave strive, absolutely and completely balance the budget. If next year we have to meet, in addition, a loss of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, all the saving in expenditure that honorable members on both sides of the House can suggest will not enable us to balance the budget. That can only be done by a further overdraft from the banks, and if they cannot meet us, we shall have no alternative but to wring the money that we require out of the unfortunate taxpayer, and for what? Not to pay the interest or repay the. principal, but merely that we may take pride in a slightly bigger sinking fund.
– And avoid reducing expenditure?
– All the economy suggested by honorable members opposite would not enable us to overcome our difficulties, if we pay into the sinking fund the £2,000,000 that this bill will save to the revenue. Listening to the arguments of the members of the Opposition one might come to the conclusion that the sinking fund is paying off the public debt, and that if we reduce the contributions down to the original basis of providing sufficient to redeem our post office loans in 30 years and our other loans in 50 years we shall be unable to makerepayment of the principal onthe due date. Rarely is a loan redeemed, by the sinking fund attached to it. Offhand, I cannot think of any current loanwhich on its due date can be wholly repaid from the sinking fund.
– The sinking fund liquidated the loan for the gold-fields water scheme inWestern Australia.
– The American loan will not be due until 1975.
– In exceptional cases a loan may be paid off by the sinking fund. At the present time the Commonwealth is asking for subscriptions for a £28,000,000 conversion loan. How much of the original loan can be liquidated by the sinking fund and how much has to be covered by a new flotation? The reduction of the contributions to the fund will not. extend by one day the date on which repayment of the principal will be made. Therefore, the bondholders can rest assured that they will receive everything to which they are entitled in respect of interest and principal. Behind that undertaking are all the resources of Australia. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Page), quoted from prospectuses issued by a former Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) and myself. But the important conditions set forth in those prospectuses are the rates of interest and the dates of maturity.
– Then why are the other particulars included?
– Why did the honorable gentleman quote only that portion which suited his purpose ?
– I quoted the rates of interest and the dates of maturity.
– So did I.
– I do not deny that, but the essence of the contract is the promise of the Commonwealth to pay a certain rate of interest and to repay the principal on the specified date. Part of the loan now being floated will be redeemable on the 15th December, 1932, and whether the contributions to the sinking fund continue as at present, or be reduced as proposed in the bill, the principal will be repaid on that date. In either case, the term of the loan will not be extended or reduced by one day. That is true of every loan prospectus that has been issued. Therefore, I wish the people clearly to understand that this bill does not propose to take away from investors anything to which they are entitled. To-day the Australian people are enthusiastically supporting the conversion loan of £28,000,000. The support of all political parties is needed to ensure the success of the loan. Generally we are getting that, but there should be no misrepresentation of the effect of this bill.
– There has not been any.
– The inference to be drawn from the speeches of honorable members opposite, is that by this measure the bondholders are to be deprived of something that is due to them under the terms of their contract with the Commonwealth. No bondholder will lose anythingas a result of the passage of the bill.
– But the contract is being altered.
– Every present bondholder may rest assured that he will continue to collect in full his interest and be repaid the principal on the due date, and we on this side of the House give to intending investors in the loan now being floated a definite guarantee that the rate of interest mentioned in the prospectus will be paid, and that at the date of maturity they will be repaid every penny of their principal. I desire that assurance to be broadcast throughout Australia, because I am afraid that the speeches of honorable members opposite will create in the minds of possible investors a suspicion that this bill is removing some essential security. No member on this side would support this proposal if we could be assured of the revenues that were enjoyed by the previous Government. I agree with the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch), that it is wise to maintain as high a contribution to the sinking fund as is practicable, and I gave to the previous Government all due credit for the legislative provision it made to that end. But the time has come when the present rates of contribution can no longer be maintained. If all the economies that have been suggested were practised, the Government would still need more money, and if the contributions to the sinking fund are to continue at the present rate, we shall have either to incur a new debt or ask the taxpayers to contribute another £2,000,000. I have been ashamed to ask for even the increases of taxation that have been proposed by the Government, and I am not prepared to ask the people to contribute another £2,000,000 in order to continue certain payments to the sinking fund which are not essential to secure the payment of interest and the repayment of principal at the due date. In normal circumstances one would not submit this proposal, but, faced with the alternatives of effecting this saving without detriment to the fundamental basis of the sinking fund or of loading upon the people extra taxation, I do not hesitate to recommend the former course.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time -put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . . . ‘ 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
.- There is no warrant for the suggestion that the opposition to this bill is dictated by party motives. Before the debate on the second reading was resumed, I went to the Acting Treasurer and told him that I was anxious to support him, and requested him to eliminate certain features of the bill that I regarded as fatal to my acceptance of it. I discussed my views with him and his officials, but because he could not meet me in regard to points which I considered vital to the future credit of Australia, I felt impelled to oppose the measure. I challenge any honorable member to deny that my criticism yesterday was moderate and restrained, and directed towards the maintenance of Australia’s credit. As, however, the suggestions I made did not meet with the favour of the Acting Treasurer, it is useless for me to press them further.
– Does not the honorable member intend to make a suggestion regarding £1,200,000 for replacement?
– No. The Government has a majority in this chamber. I do not wish to engage in a party wrangle over this bill ; the credit of Australia is too important for that. Having proposed a certain course which would have obviated the need for this bill, and that course not having been approved by the Acting Treasurer, I regard myself as absolved of further responsibility.
.- This afternoon the honorable member foi Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan), in an impassioned speech, said that I had made “ more mis-statements to the vocal square inch “ than any other honorable member of this House. I remarked, by way of interjection, that the ex-Treasurer, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) did not obtain loan money in 1922 at 4½ per cent.
– I was not in office in 1922.
– I was referring, of course, to the Commonwealth National Government at that time. The honorable gentleman insisted on making his attack on me, and when I told him that my statement was correct, as I had looked up the debate, and had found that money cost 6½per cent. in 1922, he had not the decency to accept my word.
– The honorable member for Kennedy said that no loan was raised by the ex-Treasurer at 4½ per cent.
– I rise to a point of order. I think that this discussion should take place at the report stage, or on the third reading of the bill. The honorable member is canvassing a matter that was mentioned on the second reading of the measure.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. McGrath).I allowed the right honorable member for Cowper to make a short explanation, and I considered that the honorable member for Kennedy was entitled to a. similar privilege; but,if he desires to deal with the subject in a general way, I ask him to defer his remarks until thereport stage of the bill has been reached.
– I merely wish to reply to the allegation as to a misstatement on my part. The statement of the Premier of Queensland in the State House was that, taking into account the conversion profit and the low rate of exchange, the interest cost of the two American loans would work out at a little under 5½ per cent. per annum. In 1924, two years after the loan had been floated, the State Auditor-General’s report was printed ; but, when the exchange rate returned to par, and the dollar was equivalent to sterling, the rate of interest worked out over the whole loan at a shade under 5½ per cent. Of course, honorable members opposite can quote from reports which suit their arguments. They may accuse me of misstatements, but they cannot prove any mis-statement on my part. I have been connected with political life for twelve years, and, if I had made as many mis-statements in that period as the honorable member for
Darling Downs has been responsible for to-day in a speech of twenty minutes’ duration, I would deserve to be flogged. In def aming his own State, the honorable member said that the Queensland Government had been forced to go to the American market.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the clause under consideration.
– I shall conclude by informing the honorable member that the Queensland Government, in 1922, could have obtained money on the London market if it had been prepared to sell out to the pastoralists of Queensland; but, rather than do that, it pioneered the American loan market.
.- I regret that the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) went out of his way, in concluding the second-reading debate, to indulge in the declamation to which he treated the House. I regard the bill as a severe attack upon the credit of Australia. It would be still more severe if there were not members in this House prepared to defend the country against the attack made. It was for that reason that I spoke as I did. I greatly regret that this Parliament should varythe clear terms of contracts made with anybody; but it would have been still more shameful if this action had been allowed to pass without protest.
– During the second reading of the bill I spoke of the advisability of postponing its operation. I understand that it is only a temporary measure.
– No, it is permanent.
– As the bill is drawn, yes ;but its object is to meet a temporary stress, and I should like to know if the Treasurer will limit its operation to two years, or, preferably, one year. The sooner we return to the practice of paying as much as possible into the national debt sinking fund, the better for Australia. If the Minister will not accept an amendment in the direction indicated by me, 1 shall not propose one.
– I am afraid that I cannot accept such an amendment. I pointed out in my second-reading speech that 1 agreed that it was necessary to pay the largest possible sum into the sinking fund; but I see no prospect, for a considerable time, at any rate, of the people being in a position to pay, again, the large sums contributed to the fund in recent years. On the other hand, we must all be as optimistic as possible’, and we hope that ere long the tide will turn. If it does, and the taxable capacity of the people increases to such an extent that we can restore these payments, consideration will be given to the matter. I have shown where I stand on this point by my publicly expressed appreciation of the action in this matter of my predecessors, and my view will not change in that regard. I think that honorable members on this side believe that if the people can afford it, the honest thing to do is to pay off the national debt as quickly as possible. If ‘a change in the circumstances of the people make it possible for them to pay the extra amount, this Parliament may terminate the operation of this bill.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 27th November, (vide page 776), on motion by Mr. Blakeley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- I object to the proposal brought down by the Government to postpone the appointment of Enumeration Day, as pro vided for under the Representation Act, because the bill seems to provide an opportunity to defeat a specific provision in the Constitution. Such an action should not be countenanced. The Constitution provides that the representation in this Parliament shall, in the case of the Senate, be on the basis of the equality of the States, but in the case of the House of Representatives, along the lines of representation according to the proportion of the total population residing in each State. If the Government fails to take a census, as it will next year, and then omits to appoint an “ enumeration day,” obviously this course can be pursued from year to year for an indefinite period, with the result that there will be no alteration in the number of representatives from each State, as provided for under the Constitution. I hope to show that there is no necessity to take the action contemplated by the Government. It is without precedent, and would only be excusable in a time of war. The reasons advanced by the Minister for not appointing an “enumeration day” may be reduced to a few words. The population figures relating to South Australia and Queensland are so close to the quotas which entitle those States to the representation they now enjoy in this House that the Minister hesitates to take action at this particular time. The following figures illustrate the effect of my proposal for finding the proportionate number of representatives of each State by adding one to twice the number of senators to get the quota. The figures for the States of Western Australia and Tasmania, whose membership is determined by the Constitution, and is independent of the quota, are not worked out : -
If one studies the figures showing the population of the Commonwealth and of the respective States, one sees that, if the present proposal is adopted, there will practically be a disfranchisement of about 120,000 persons in Queensland. The quota per member in South Australia will be 82,945, and in Queensland 94,227, which shows a difference of almost 12,000. Since there are ten electorates in Queensland, the total number in excess of the quota in that State would be about 120,000, as compared with South Australia. The disparity would not be so great in regard to New South Wales and Victoria. . The Queensland quota would be some 5,000 above that of Victoria, and about 6,000 above that of New South Wales. There is no justification for this huge disparity. In 1922, when the redistribution of seats was under consideration in this House, I asked whether the method of calculation provided under the Constitution as that to be adopted until the Parliament otherwise provided should not be altered in order to secure a more equitable qu6ta. On that occasion my proposal was warmly supported by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton), and the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Brennan), because of the greater equity in representation throughout the Commonwealth for which it made provision. The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) supported it by bis vote; but it was defeated by one vote. The reason why I raised the matter at that time was that the provision in the Constitution requiring that the quota be determined by the division of the population of Australia by twice the number of honorable senators, made the quota so high that Victoria lost two members as a result of the census taken in 1911, and one member after the census taken in 1921, despite the fact that that operation resulted in each Victorian electorate having enrolled an average of from 4,000 to 5,000 more persons than were enrolled in the electorates of any other State. It will thus be seen that in the twenty Victorian electorates 60,000 electors were practically disfranchised.
I shall show how the figures worked out at that particular time. According to the 1911 census, the population of the Commonwealth was then 4,431,409, of which Victoria had 1,315,551. The quotient for Victoria was 21.37, and as .37 is less than .5, -or one-half, the number of members returnable by that State was reduced to 21, whereas under my proposal of dividing the population by 72 plus 1, the quotient of Victoria would have been 21.65, and that would have entitled her to 22 members. Again, in 1921 the census showed that, out of a total Commonwealth population of 5,416,600, Victoria had 1,531,529, an increase of 215,978 in the ten years. Yet, by the operation of the existing law, she lost another member, the reason being that her quotient was 20.35, whereas she needed one of more than 20.5 to entitle her to continue to return 21 members. A division of her population by the method I’ now suggest, would have made her quotient 20.64, and that would have entitled her to 21 members.
Figures that have been supplied to me by the Commonwealth Statistician show that, on the 30th June, 1930, South Australia had 580,619 people. If the quotient be determined according to the existing law, that State is entitled to only 6.49 members, or one less than seven; that is to say, she must lose one member. The figure quoted by the Minister was 6.506; but later in his speech he said that, if Enumeration Day fell in April, 1931, there was no question that by that time South Australia would lose a member. Should that occur, she would have an electoral quota of 96,769 for each of the six electorates.
The population of Queensland on the 30th June, 1930, was 942,270. Under the existing law, the division of the number of people in that State by the number of the quota makes the result 10.53.
That would mean that Queensland would return eleven members, each electorate having in it 85,661 persons, compared with 96,769, or a difference of 11,108, in South Australia. Under the proposal of the Minister, Queensland will have ten members, each representing electorates containing 94,227 persons and South Australia seven members, each representing 82,945, a difference of 11,282. Under my proposal, Queensland’s quotient would be 10.7, entitling her to eleven members, the average population of electorates being 85,661, which would approximate closely to the number in South Australia, 82,945. Any one who cares to examine the figures, will readily realize the inequity of the present position. Therefore, I urge very strongly the adoption of the system that I propose. Under the law as it stands, the distribution does not always work out at 72 members; because if the fractional remainder be below .5 a State loses one member, and if it be above .5 there is a gain of one member. On that basis there could be any number between 70 and 74 members, apart from the additional three members to which Tasmania is entitled under the Constitution.
– Under the Constitution, is it not essential to have 72 members ?
– No; there must be as nearly as practicable 72, but the number may vary from 70 to 74. Should the fractional remainder in five of the States be .25, and in the remaining State .75, each of the former would . have one member less, while the latter would have one more, and the total would be only 70 instead of the 72 that the Constitution contemplates. Conversely, if the fractional remainder were just over .5 in five of the States, and just under that figure in the remaining State, the total number of members would be 74. If the divisor were made 72 plus one, the total number of members could vary from 71 to 75; but there would be a fairer system for the allocation of members to the different States. My proposal closely approximates to the system of proportional representation, under which the number of candidates to be elected, plus one, is divided into the total number, of voters, and a determination is thus arrived at in regard to the number of votes necessary to return a member. It has been found that that gives a rough sort of justice. Division by the exact number of candidates would give a rougher sort of justice. In single member electorates, a fair measure of justice is obtained by dividing the total number of voters by the number of candidates to be elected, and adding one. The candidate who gets a majority is returned, and the supporters of the remaining candidates are to some extent disfranchised. A similar principle has been evolved to secure the greatest measure of equity in cases where a larger number of members is returned. With a view to approaching as closely as” possible to equity, and at the same time complying to the fullest extent with the constitutional requirement that the number of members of the House of Representatives shall be as nearly as possible twice the number of honorable senators, I suggest that the law be altered by amending section 10 of the principal act so as to provide that the divisor shall be 72 plus one. The quotient would then be 28.3 in New South Wales, entitling her to 2S members; 20.3 in Victoria, enabling her to keep her 20 members; 10.7 in Queensland, adding to her representation by one member; and 6.62 in South Australia, giving her seven members. I urge this strongly on the Government. It seems to me that, if the course suggested by the Minister in his second-reading speech be persisted in, a constitutional point will arise as to the validity of South Australia returning seven members when the Constitution provides that the representation of each State shall be proportionate to the number of people in that State; and when both the Constitution ana the Representation Act set out definitely the method of determining the number of representatives to be returned by each State. The only time that an enumeration was not made was in 1916, when 400.000 soldiers were overseas, and it was difficult to know from what electorates they came, or even to what States they belonged. It is evident that if we now omit to have an Enumeration Day we may be able to evade the constitutional obligation to have the correct number of representatives in this Parliament. It would be a calamitous thing if there were returned a certain uumber of representatives from a State, and their entrance into this Parliament could be challenged on the ground that they were not a proportionate representation of the people of that State. I do not suggest that the Minister is endeavouring to evade any constitutional requirement; he is merely trying to extricate himself from the quandary in which lie finds himself iu regard to the South Australian quota. I suggest to him that the adoption of the procedure I have advocated would relieve him of any embarrassment in that respect. The same difficulty would not be likely to occur in the future, and States would not be so liable to lose a member as is now the case. Every system of this kind is apt to cause a certain amount of harshness in its interpretation, but if my suggestion is adopted, and the population divided by 73 instead of by 72, the provision will operate much less harshly than it otherwise would have done. Some years ago the Minister gave me his warm support for this proposal, and I am sure that that fact has only to be brought under his notice to ensure his support for it on this occasion.
Mr. LATHAM (Kooyong) [5.50 J.- To inform my mind on this subject, I turned up the- record of the debate which took place on a previous occasion. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) supported at that time the proposal now advocated by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), as did several other members of the Labour party, some of them at present holding important positions in the Government. The provisions of the Constitution dealing with this matter ought to be obeyed by this Parliament, even though there may be some doubt as to there being -a” legal sanction in case of infringement. Section 24 of the Constitution says -
The House of Representatives shall be composed of members directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth, and the number of such members shall be as nearly as practicable twice the number of the senators.
The number of senators is fixed, in the circumstances existing at the moment, at 36. The phrase “ as nearly as practicable twice the number of the senators “ does not refer to the difficulty of multiplying 36 by 2. That presents no difficulty at all.
Therefore, the object of inserting that phrase is to allow of a certain amount of come and go in determining the number of members of this House. The Constitution does not fix the number at 72, but it is to be 72 or thereabouts as the House thinks proper. What, then, are the considerations which ought to be borne in mind in determining what number, in the region of 72, is a proper number of members? At present it is 75, with a member for the Northern Territory, who does not enter into the consideration of this subject. Twice 36 is not 75 ; but the House said on the last occasion when it considered this matter, that 75 was the number which brought about the fairest result. This provision is directed to give the House discretion in the determination of the number of members so as to bring about a fair result as between the various States of the Commonwealth. Certain States have the right to a minimum of five members, namely, Western Australia and Tasmania, even though they might not reach the Commonwealth quota. As to the other States, the number of members is to be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people. The proposal of the Minister, if adopted, would have the effect of creating a very wide variation between the population quotas of Queensland, on the one hand, and South Australia on the other. The right honorable member, for Cowper claims that his proposal would ensure an “ equitable number of members,” and, according to the document which he has prepared and presented to the House, it appears obvious that this would be so.
– Is the present number of 75 members arrived at by taking 72 as a divisor?
– Yes, and by making allowance for Western Australia and Tasmania. In South Australia, according to the Minister’s proposal, the number of persons in the average electorate would be 96,769, while in Queensland the number would be S5,661, . a variation of over 11,000. According to the proposal of the right honorable member for Cowper, the variation would be less than 3,000.. For Queensland the quota would remain 85,661, while for South Australia the number would be 82,945. I have spoken on this subject merely from the general consideration of equitable representation. I have notworked out the effect upon party representation, nor have I given any consideration to that aspect of the matter. It appears to mc that there is a great deal- in the arguments advanced by the right honorable member for Cowper, and I hope that the Government will give them serious consideration, or will at least give some sound reason why they should be rejected, if it does not see its way clear to accept his proposal.
Mr. PATERSON (Gippsland) [5.56J. - I have been very interested in the proposal put forward by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page). I have gone into the figures with him, and I am rather at a loss to understand the reason for the slight discrepancy between figures given, by the Minister in his speech the other day in regard to South Australia, and those which the right honorable member for Cowper and myself worked out from the information supplied by the Commonwealth. Statistician. According to our. calculation, 6.49 is the number of representatives to which South Australia is entitled. There is all the difference in the world between 6.49 and 6.506, the figure given by the Minister. It means that if 6.49 is correct, and if the law is to be complied with, one member from South Australia must disappear, unless . we adopt the proposal brought forward by the right honorable member for Cowper, and use 73 instead of 72 as a divisor. Honorable members may know that the number of representatives which each State is to have is arrived at by dividing the total population of Australia, as ascertained, by twice the number of senators. When the total population has been divided by 72 the number so obtained is divided into the ascertained population of each State. The result is the number of representatives to which each State is entitled, plus the number which the Constitution grants to such States as would otherwise have fewer than five members. There is a clause in the Constitution which says that no State shall have fewer than five members. Tasmania to-day enjoys an advantage from that clause, while in 1921 both Tasmania and Western Australia derived an advantage from this constitutional provision. Tasmania, under the 1921 census figures, had the right) to a representation of 2.S4, that is to say, to three members; but has five under the constitutional provision; and Western Australia had the right to 4.36, that is to say, four members ; but also has five under the constitutional provision. To:day the population of Western Australia entitles her to five members without any constitutional concession. Tasmania is- the only State which needs to take advantage of the constitutional provision which makes five members the minimum representation in this House of any State.
It has been pointed out that the division of “the total population of Australia by 72 does not necessarily mean that there will be only 72 members in the House, apart from the minimum representation constitutional provision. It might work out that such a division would give as low a number of members as 70, or as high a number as 74, plus the three additional members given to Tasmania, and the member for the Northern Territory. The variation of the number of members is dependent, of course, upon the way in which the remainders work out in each State. It is possible, though not probable, that the remainders in the five States concerned might, in each instance. be a little under 5, or a little in excess of .5. If in five States the remainders - or fractions of quotas - were all a little under .5 there would be four members less than would be the case if they exceeded .5. It will be seen, therefore, that dividing by 72 is nothing but a rough and ready method for securing some measure of justice.
The right honorable member for Cowper showed that, if the proposal of the Minister were adopted there would be, on the average, 11,000 less persons in each South Australian constituency than in each Queensland constituency, whereas, if the proposal made by the right honorable member for Cowper were accepted the maximum variations would be only 6,000. But the difference under the present law is shown to be even greater by comparing the figures for Western Australia with those for South Australia if South Australia is deprived of one seat. There is no reason why the Western Australian figures should not now be considered in this connexion, because Western Australia is entitled to five members apart from the minimum representation provision of the Constitution. Under the figures given by the Minister, the actual number of members to which New South Wales is entitled is 27.84, which means 2S members. Victoria is entitled to 19.98 which means twenty members ; Queensland to 10.55, which means eleven members, South Australia to 6.506 or seven members, while, according to the figures worked out by the right honorable member for Cowper, South Australia shows 6.49, and is, therefore, only entitled to six members; and Western Australia to 4.69, which means five members. The quotas of the electorates in the different States, according to the statistician’s population figures, are as follow : -
The variation between a South Australian and a Western Australian quota is thus 13,041 if South Australia loses a seat; but, under the proposal of the right honorable member for Cowper, the greatest variation would be that between Victoria and South Australia, namely, 6,221, the quotas being 89,156 for Victoria and S2,945 for South Australia.
There are really three courses which may be pursued. The first is that put forward by the Minister. I submit that even if the figure 6.506, given for South Australia by the Minister is correct, though I think that 6.49 is the accurate figure, there would be a grave danger that by the time the election occurred the quota of South Australia would have dropped below the 6.5 figure. This would mean that at any time after the election the South Australian representation might be challenged. Responsibility for anything unconstitutional in what has been done could not be fastened on to any particular member ; the whole seven would be in the same dangerous position. If it is found that 6.49 is the correct figure for South Australia, and the law is carried out, that State will lose one member and Queensland will get an additional member. That is the second alternative. This, however, would give a difference between the quotas of South Australia and Western Australia of 13,041. The other alternative is the proposal of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page), the advantage of which I stress. T think it reduces what we may call the unrepresented remainders to the absolute minimum, and ensures the greatest amount of justice being done to all the States. It places the representation of the States on . a more equal basis than can be secured by the use of 72 as a divisor. I am certain that the more the Minister examines this proposal the more he will be convinced that it is desirable. It would not require much amendment of the existing law, and it would enable South Australia to retain, without any shadow of doubt, her right to seven members, and ensure that Queensland would get one more member, while in each of the other States the same number of members would be returned at the next election as was returned at the last election. The House, under this proposal, would consist of 76 voting members against 75 voting members we have now. I ask the Minister not to brush the proposal lightly aside, but to give it the most careful consideration, for I am sure that he will then realize the desirableness of it.
Sitting suspended from 6.12 to 8 p.m.
.- I rise with a certain amount of diffidence to take part in this debate, because I am a representative of South Australia, which is the State whose representation is in the balance under the system which may be used for determining the quota according to which the different States shall be represented in this House. I have carefully examined the amendment of the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), because I feel strongly that honorable members who themselves are personally interested in any subject which is before Parliament, should take pains to ensure that they are asking Parliament to pass something which would apply fairly fo every section of the community. I am quite satisfied from an examination of the figures quoted, both by the Leader of the Country party and .by the Minister, that the amendment is equitable and, if accepted, will save at least some representatives of this Parliament a certain amount of doubt as to their legal status here, and also save at least one State from disturbance in respect of the proportion and amount of its representation. Honorable members who represent some of the less closely-settled country districts find the greatest difficulty in keeping in touch with all parts of their electorates, and any law which is equitable and likely to prevent unnecessary disturbance of those electorates must be in the interests of the good government of the Commonwealth. The figures supplied to the Minister, I understand on the 30th September last, show that, on a population basis, Queensland is entitled to an additional member, and that South Australia is still entitled to its present representation of seven members. Therefore. under the existing law, and if Enumeration Day happened to fall upon the date on which the Statistician estimated these figures for the Minister, the representation in this House should be increased from 75 to 76. If that is legal and equitable under the Constitution, then there can be no argument against determining the quota according to the method laid down in the amendment of the right honorable member for Cowper. Section 24 of the Constitution reads -
Tlie House of Representatives shall be composed of members directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth, and the number of such members shall be, as nearly as practicable., twice the number of the senators. The .number of members chosen in the several States shall be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people, and shall, until the Parliament otherwise provides, bo determined, whenever necessary, in the following manner: -
To-day the quota is determined by dividing the population of Australia by 72, which is double the number of senators. That method, if applied to the population as it was on the day on which the figures were supplied to the Minister, would give a representation in this House of 76 members. Queensland would have a population entitling it to 10.559, or just over ten and a half, which is, according to the law, eleven members, and South Australia would be entitled to 6.506, just over six and a half, which is, according to the law, seven members. In other words, Queensland would have another member and South Australia would retain seven members. But we all know the trend of recent population figures. South Australia has actually been losing population, because of various troubles which it is unnecessary to mention. There is, therefore, the probability that if Enumeration Day were taken two years hence, the quota for South Australia would be only six members. That would have the effect of increasing enormously the size of the electorates of that State. Conversely, an extra member in Queensland would mean that the size of its electorates would be somewhat reduced. Some of the Queensland electorates are large, indeed, and I ‘ have certainly no argument to offer against anything which would have the effect of reducing their size. But, according to the figures of the Minister, in Queensland, with a quota of eleven members, the average number of electors in each electorate would be 43,645, while in South Australia, with six members, the average would be 54,039 electors. In respect of both of those States, whose areas are so big, and where so much of the population is scattered, it is obviously in the interests of good government not to increase the size of the electorates, provided that that can be equitably and constitutionally done. It might be advisable from time to time to alter the method of forming the quota, so as to keep the size of the electorates as even as possible. There might be times when it would be fair, instead of dividing by 72 plus 1, as provided for in the amendment of the right honorable member for Cowper, to divide by, say, 72. Assuming that Enumeration Day occurs at a time when the figures are somewhat similar to those supplied to the right honorable member for Cowper - the Minister’s figures, I think, were supplied on a slightly different date - the effect of South Australia having a population of .00S below the quota for a member and Queensland having a population .03 above the quota, would be that, under the present act, the electorates would be so arranged as to cause a difference between the average number in electorates- of something over 11,000. There is, in addition, the requirements of the Constitution to consider. I have already explained how the figures quoted by the Minister under the present system would raise the representation in this House to 76. But there is a difference in the stress which the Constitution lays upon the fact that the number of members of the House of Representatives shall be, as nearly as practicable, double that of senators, and that the members shall be in proportion to the respective numbers of their people. No doubt it is implied that the number of members must be as nearly as practicable in proportion to the respective numbers of their people. However, without further taking up the time of the House, I support the amendment of the Leader of the Country party, and ask the Minister to accept it. If he cannot accept it to-night, I trust that he will give it due consideration and, if possible,- arrange for the amendment to be moved in another place.
.- -As a Queenslander I object to the Minister robbing my State of another representative in this House. I am surprised that the Queensland members on the Government side are not raising the same objection. I can see no reason at all why this bill should be introduced just now. In the ordinary course of events we shall not have an election for two years, and as there is to be no census next year, the fixing of Enumeration Day some time early next year would give us plenty of time to ascertain the exact figures. According to the Minister’s figure of 10.53, Queensland is, under the Constitution, entitled to another member. If the representation is maintained at 10, no one knows to what extent our electorates will increase. At present, mine is big enough. The distance between the two extreme meeting places in the electorate of Maranoa is 900 miles, and it is not much fun trying to cover the whole of it, particularly at election time. My electorate is not like Kalgoorlie, which is largely unsettled. I admit that it is sparsely occupied in the far west portion only, but at the same time it is occupied country. I have been over the whole of it, and I do not desire any addition to it. Yet, if the bill is carried as it stands, and we are to have only ten members, it will mean that I shall have a few thousand square miles more to cover. I cannot see the hurry for this legislation. I suggest that Enumeration Day should be taken on the 3rd April next, since no census is to be taken next year. By that time we shall be able to gain a proper estimate of the population, and the States will obtain a proper representation.
– The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) has pleaded for the fixing of Enumeration Day. There are valid reasons why that should not be done. I explained to the House on a previous occasion that the Queensland representation quota is estimated at 10.559, which is .059 above the quota which entitles it to ten members. If those figures are correct Queensland is entitled to an extra member. The South Australian figure is 6.506 or .006 above the half, and, therefore, that State is entitled to retain its seventh member.
– Are the Minister’s figures later than the 30th June?
– They are based on the estimated population at the 30th June.
– So are mine, and they show South Australia’s quota to be 6.49.
– I cannot understand why the figures quoted by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page) do not agree with those supplied to me by the Electoral Department.
– His figures were supplied by the Electoral Department also.
– How is it, then, that from the same figures different results are obtained ? The figures supplied to me by the Commonwealth Chief Electoral Officer have been checked. They are, however, merely estimates, and it would be dangerous to reduce or increase the representation of a State in the absence of accurate figures. In 1921, the estimates made from time to time by both Commonwealth and State authorities, were proved . by the census to be inaccurate, and it is possible that if a redistribution were based on the approximate figures that are now available, South Australia would be wrongly deprived of a member. Queensland’s population is increasing, and, therefore, it is not likely that extra representation given to it would be found to be notjustified by the census returns. Several honorable members have uttered a warning that if, following the postponement of Enumeration Day, a redistribution of seats took place, and an election were held, the return of the whole seven members for South Australia might be challenged. I shall have that possibility investigated by the Attorney-General’s Department, and, if there is the slightest danger of such an occurrence, the necessary safeguards will be taken. “Whilst the Commonwealth and * State statisticians operate efficient machinery for checking population statistics, the estimated margins above and below the quotas are so narrow that itwould be dangerous to assume that the statistics are correct. In 1933 the census will disclose definitely the population of Queensland and South Australia. The statistics at present available show a vast disparity between the numbers of electors in different divisions’. For instance, Barton has 67,000 electors, or 17,767 above the electoral quota of 49,550, or 7,856 above the maximum allowed. Darling is 78 below the minimum, whilst Martin, with 64,000 electors, is 15,000 above the quota, or 5,152 above the maximum. West Sydney has only 35,000 electors, or practically half the number in Barton. Therefore the electors in the former, being 14,000 below the quota, or 4,091 below the minimum, have twice the voting power of those in Barton.
– The Minister stated that the electoral quota for New South Wales is 49,550. On the figures available to the 12th October, 1929, I compute the quota to be 44,236.
– I have quoted the figures supplied by the Chief Electoral Officer. They also relate to the 12th October, 1929. The honorable member is possibly making the same mistake as was made by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page), who, apparently using the same figures as those on which the Chief Electoral Officer made his computation, worked out the representation quota for South Australia at 6.49, whereas the Electoral Department made it 6.506, or 006 above the half. The right honorable member for Cowper and the honorable member for Gippsland, supported by the Leader of the Opposition, have drawn attention to the anomalies that exist* under the present arrangement. I admit them. When the Constitution was drafted the framers recognized the difficulty that would be experienced in ascertaining the quotas. Quick and Garran, in their commentary on the Constitution) said : -
The Parliament when it makes “ other provisions “ for determining the number of members, will be bound by the constitutional pro0 vision to make their number “ as nearly as practicable twice the number of the Senators “.
The words “ as nearly as practicable “ show that they recognized the difficulty that would be experienced in arriving at an absolutely equitable result. They continued - and the clear intention is that the absolute ratio should only be departed from so far as may be necessary to adjust fractional and minimum representation . . . This “ two to one ratio “ is a rigid element and basic requirement of much importance and significance; it is embedded in the Constitution; it is beyond reach of modification by the Federal Parliament, and can only be altered by an amendment of . the Constitution. It was adopted after due consideration and for weighty reasons.
The framers of the Constitution anticipated the anomalies with which we are confronted. Those which- were obvious to them have been accentuated by our improved system of ascertaining the population and quotas. So far as I can see, the amendment proposed by the right honorable member for Cowper, has no scientific basis. It is easy to say that instead of dividing the population by twice the number of senators, namely 72, we should make the divisor 73.
– The honorable member believed in that nine years ago.
– I voted for it then; I apologize now. Perhaps in years te come the honorable member for Gippsland will similarly regret some of the votes he has recorded during this session. The right honorable member for Cowper and those supporting him, believe that it is much more equitable to use a divisor of 73 instead of 72.
– It is more equitable.
– For the moment, yes, but five years hence we may be again in difficulties. As conditions alter we shall again have inequality as between State and State, and I am of opinion that the only method of making a more equitable arrangement as between State and State is to provide that no State shall lose a member until its representation quota has fallen below the half. Apparently that cannot be done without an alteration of the Constitution. Possibly if 73 be used as a divisor the census of 1933 will prove that it yields results just as inequitable as 72 yields to-day.
– We can revert to 72 then.
– Every unit added to the divisor adds one member to a State, and to deliberately deprive another State of a member merely by the alteration of the divisor at the will of a majority of members, would be injudicious and even dangerous. Allowing for four statutory members, three for Tasmania, and one for the Northern Territory, if the divisor were 70, we should get 70 members. If we divide by 71, we get 71 members, and so on up to 75 ; but then we find ourselves at variance with the Constitution, which provides that we must keep as close as practicable to twice the number of members of the Senate, which is 72. The Leader of the Opposition, quite gratuitously, I thought, told us that he was not advocating a departure from the present practice for party reasons. I quite agree that party- politics do not enter into the consideration of this matter, because the figures alter very quickly, and, with the redistribution taking place early next year, it would be extremely difficult to gain a party advantage.
– Does this difficulty arise because of the postponement of the census?
– It would have been unnecessary to postpone the appointment of Enumeration Day if the census had been taken, and absolutely accurate data obtained in relation to the population of the Commonwealth. Then the real position of each State would have been known, and the correct representation could have been determined. It would be too dangerous to alter the representation on the narrow margins that we now have. The honorable member for
Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) states that Queensland is being robbed of a seat ; but that is extremely doubtful. I do not say dogmatically that that State is being deprived of a seat, or that it is not entitled to another seat.” On the estimate it would appear that that State is entitled to an additional seat; but it must be borne in mind that allowance has to be made for the large foreign population in Queensland which is not entitled to enrolment.
– Is the Queensland quota determined according to the number of voters enrolled?
– Wo ; it is decided in accordance with the population. The right honorable member for Cowper recommends the Government to take as the divisor twice the number of members of the Senate plus one, in order to make the system more equitable, and he and other honorable members have also pointed out what they consider to be a real danger in connexion with the next election in South Australia. The Government cannot accept the first suggestion of the right honorable gentleman; but officers of the Attorney-General’s Department will investigate the second point that has been raised.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
– I did not speak on the second reading of the bill, because I considered the explanation given by the Minister to be quite satisfactory. I understood him to point out the difficulty that would be experienced, either in giving a State an extra seat, or in reducing the number of its members, on a mere estimate. I quite believe that that is a real difficulty which the Government cannot lightly ignore. But, in answer to an interjection of mine, the Minister explained that this trouble had arisen because of the postponement of the taking of the census. . I strongly objected to its postponement, believing that the State of Queensland was entitled to another member. The Minister has made reference to the fact that estimates of population and enrolment figures are different matters. I quite understand that; but I believe that the statistical officers, both Federal and State, take this fact into consideration in making their recommendations to the electoral officers. I should be sorry to think that the Government was taking advantage of a loophole to deprive Queensland of the representation to which it is entitled. I believe that the Government is acting honestly; but I blame it for having postponed the taking of the census last year. I hope that this action will not be repeated, because it causes - much inconvenience, not only to the people of Australia, but to those of other nations, who regard our census figures as valuable information.
.- It is understood that New South Wales will continue to return 28 members to this House. If we divide the total of 1,238,618 given as the number of electors enrolled on the 12th October, 1929-
– The actual figures are 1,387,552.
– In the statistical returns no discrimination is made between those two ‘ totals. Dividing 28 into the total of 1,238,618, we arrive at the quota of 44,236; but the figure mentioned by the Minister was about 49,000, and that would make a difference in my State of, roughly, 5,000 in each electorate.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 (Enumeration Day not to be appointed).
– I protest against the action of the Government in submitting this clause. It has already decided to postpone the taking of the census for two years, and this action, in conjunction with the present bill, which has for its object the postponement of the appointment of Enumeration Day, will undoubtedly deprive Queensland, for a number of years at any rate, of a seat to which it is justly entitled. The figures given by the Minister himself show that Queensland should have 10.55 representatives which, under the law as it stands, entitles that State to eleven seats. This bill will deprive it of full representation for at least three years.
– I should like the Minister to state whether there will be a further redistribution and an Enumeration Day when the census is taken in 1933 ?
.- Frankly, I cannot understand the figures quoted by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green), and the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page) ; they differ totally from those that have been supplied to me by the Chief Electoral Officer, which show that on the 12th October last the enrolment in New South Wales was 1,387,552, and give a quota of 49,554 compared with one of 44,236 under the honorable member’s figures. On account of the great- disparity between the two sets of figures, I am inclined to think that those that I have given are correct.
The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) has again referred to the taking of the census and the naming of an Enumeration Day. Upon the census having been taken, an Enumeration Day will be established.
– That means that there will be another redistribution?
– Where necessary.
– It will be necessary in Queensland.
– It is infinitely better for a redistribution to be based upon accurate figures than upon estimates.
– Why this haste?
– Because the law provides that there must be an Enumeration Day upon census day and at five-yearly intervals thereafter. There was an Enumeration Day in 192], and again in 1926. If the law were not amended it would next fall on the 3rd April, 1931; but we propose, by this measure, to postpone it. The dayupon which the census is taken will be Enumeration Day, and the figures then obtained will form the basis for the determination of representation.
– If it is intended to have a redistribution in 1933, why have one now?
– Because of the great disparity that exists in some of the States. When the bill for the postponement of the census was being discussed, I dealt with that particular matter ; andI again referred to it in my second-reading speech on this measure. The disparity is so great that the electors in some electorates have twice the voting power of those in other electorates. A vote in Martin, for example, is worth only onehalf of a vote in West Sydney. That is a complete departure from the principle of one vote, one value. That very great disparity is the reason for the proposal of the Government to have a redistribution at the present time, the desire being to obtain the equality about which honorable members opposite spoke so much this afternoon. The Government is endeavouring to make the system as equitable as possible; yet some honorable members suggest a postponement of the redistribution, the result of which would be to leave some electors with only half a vote.
.- The more the Minister explains this matter, the more difficult he is to understand. Before his last speech I was satisfied that he was proceeding on fairly right lines ; but now I have very serious doubts on the matter. Some time ago I asked the Prime Minister whether it was intended to have a redistribution of electoral boundaries, and he replied that it was. The other night the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) announced the names of the electoral commissioners. What is the use of having a redistribution now, and Enumeration Day and the census in three years’ time? It appears to me that the Government badly bungled the matter when it postponed the taking of the census, and that that is the cause of its present difficulty. It may not be possible to avoid the necessity for taking this action; but it is to be regretted that, as the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson)pointed out, the State of Queensland is to lose the representation of an additional member for a period of three years. I protest vehemently against the manner in which the Government has handled this matter.
Clause agreed to.
.- I move -
That the following new clause be added: -
Paragraph (a) of section 10 of the Representation Act 1905, is amended, by adding after the word “ Senators “ the words “ plus one “.
This new clause was foreshadowed by the right honorable member for Cowper”, (Dr. Page), who now is unavoidably absent. The object is to change the method by which the quota, is obtained. Under the law as it stands, the population of Australia is divided by twice the number of honorable senators, which means division by 72; but if the new clause be agreed to, the population will be divided by 73, and the result will be a fairer distribution of representation among the States. Under the present system the disparity between the population per electorate in Queensland and in South Australia is 11,282 persons. Under this proposal the greatest variation would be between the electorates of Victoria and South Australia - 6,221 persons, and justice would be done to both Queensland and South Australia.
I take this opportunity of pointing out that the mere fact of dividing by 73 instead of 72, does not of necessity bring about the result that the Minister stated so dogmatically would be brought about.
– After allowing for fractional differences, it would.
– The Minister stated that division by 70 made the result 70 members, division by 72 raised the number to 72 members, and division by 74 produced that number. At first glance that would appear to bo a mathematical fact that admitted of no dispute.
– I point out to the honorable member that the bill proposes to amend the Representation Act only to the extent of postponing Enumeration Day. I, therefore, rule that his proposed new clause is outside the scope of the measure.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Blakeley) - by leave - proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
– I take this opportunity to point out, as I did in committee, that division of the population of Australia by 72 would not necessarily result in there being 72 electorates. Division by 70 might conceivably result in there being either 72 or only 68 electorates. My reason for saying that is that when the population of Australia is divided by a certain number, and that number is again divided into the population of the States, in practically every case fractions remain. It is quite possible for those fractions to be very slightly above . 5 in five of the States, and below that figure in the remaining State. If the latter should be Tasmania, which is not affected by this calculation on account of the special constitutional provision under which it , is entitled to a certain number of seats, no matter what its population may be, division by 70 would make the result 72 seats. If, on the other hand, the remainders in the case of the five States happened to be just a little less than . 5, there would be two fewer electorates in the Commonwealth than the number expected, taking into consideration the divisor used. Apparently the Minister overlooked this when he stated dogmatically that if one divided by 70 one invariably got 70, and that if one divided by 73 that number was obtained.It is possible for the variation to be two less or two more than the divisor.
.- Amplifying the remarks of the honorable member . for Gippsland, I . point out to the Minister that, on the figures which he himself quoted at the second-reading stage of the bill, division by 72 would give 73 members.
– The honorable member is quite wrong.
– The Minister said that the quota for New South Wales was 27.848, which gave a membership of 28; that in Victoria it was 19.981, giving a representation of 20; that in Queensland it was 10.559, which raised that State’s representation to 11; that in South Australia it was 6.506, under which that State’s representation remained at seven ; that in Western Australia it is 4.619, which entitles thatState to five representatives, irrespective of any Constitutional provision, and that in Tasmania it is 2.415, which entitles that State to two representatives, irrespective of the special provisions under the Constitution which secure a minimum; making a total of 73 members, or, with the additional three to which Tasmania is entitled, a grand total of 76. This is an effective answer to the dogmatic statements of the Minister when he was combatting the arguments of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page) and those who supported him.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee of Ways and Means-:
– I move -
That in addition to any tax (including additional tax, super-tax and further tax) payable under sections three to seven (inclusive) of the Income Tax Act 1930, there shall bo payable upon the taxable income derived by any person -
That the tax provided for in the last preceding clause of this resolution shall not -
These motions are in conformity with the decision arrived at by the House in regard to the Income Tax Assessment Bill. When that measure was before the House, the Government gave the fullest information it could to honorable members, and made available to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Page) copies of these motions, so that they might become familiar with them while the bill was under discussion.
– Unfortunately, I did not receive my copy.
– I am sorry for that. 1 arranged that a copy should be sent to the honorable member, and I know that the Leader of the Country party received his. The first motion provides for an increase of the tax from 10 per cent, to 15 per cent, on taxable incomes of over £500 derived from personal exertion. The second motion provides for the imposition of a super tax of 7£ per cent, or ls. 6d. in the £1, on taxable incomes derived from property. This super tax is subject to the provision set out in the third motion, which eliminates double taxation. Had it not been for this motion, companies would pay super tax on their profits from property, and in addition to that, shareholders would pay again on their portion of the profits’ received in the form of dividends. Paragraph (&) of themotion provides that the- existing system of rebates shall operate in favour of shareholders in respect of ordinary taxation payable by a company. Under this provision there will be no rebate on account of the super tax, because the original shareholder will not pay it. Motion No. 4 excludes from the present super tax of 7-J per cent, the operations of the averaging provision included in the existing taxation legislation. This is done because we propose to collect ls. 6d. in the £1 upon income earned for the one particular year, and our taxation officers advise us that it is absolutely impracticable to work out an averaging system that can be made effective for the imposition of this tax.
– This does not involve the abandonment of the averaging system altogether ?
– No, it will remain in force in respect of ordinary taxation.
– Will the Minister explain the effect of paragraph c of motion No. 2?
– The object of paragraphs a, b and c of that motion is to ensure that the super tax shall be collected on income from property whether it is in the form of interest, rent or royalties. Even when under existing legislation it would be regarded as income from personal exertion, income representing interest will be regarded as income from property for the purpose of the super tax. For instance, if the lending of money is the real business of a person, the interest earned by the lending of that money is, under existing legislation, treated as income derived from personal exertion. It is the return from a business. When a person, whose chief business is not the lending of money, receives interest in respect of money lent by him, that interest is, under existing legislation, regarded as income from property. The object of this amending legislation is to ensure that all interest received by persons or corporations, no matter what their business, shall he regarded as income from property, and not as income from personal exertion, and that it shall, therefore, be subject to the super tax of1s. 6d. in the £1.
.- The object of these motions is to give effect to the intention of the Government to impose a further tax of 7½ per cent. on income derived from property. In the case of companies no distinction has been drawn, up to the present, between income derived from property and income derived from personal exertion. A flat rate of1s. 4d. in the £1 has been imposed on all income earned by a company. These motions propose to add to this flat rate a further1s. 6d. in the £1 on income derived from property. Income from property is defined in the Income Tax Assessment Act as “ all income derived from sources other than personal exertion,” and income from personal exertion is defined as wages, salaries, earnings, fees, commission, superannuation, retiring allowances and the proceeds of any business. When the lending of money at interest is the business of the taxpayer the interest earned by him is, under existing legislation, regarded as income from personal exertion. A company really does nothing but carry on a business. It is a corporation formed for the purpose of carrying on business in accordancewith its memorandum of association. Therefore, anything which a company does is, prima facie, business, and the income derived therefrom is income from personal exertion in accordance with the definition included in the act. For that reason, if a distinction is to be drawn in the case of companies between income from personal exertion and income from property, there must he a variation of the present law. That variation is sought to be made by the bill which will be introduced in pursuance of these motions. The resources of the vocabulary have been very nearly exhausted to describe the new tax. The second motion states -
That in addition to any tax - that is the original tax - including additional tax - that is the first increase -
Super tax - that is the second increase - and further tax - that is, a further increase, there shall be payable a further tax of1s. 6d in the £1. This amendment will be easy enough to interpret in the case of individuals who derive income from property, but in the case of companies and of persons who are investors by profession or occupation, it is considered by the Government proper to include all their income under the heading of income from property. Accordingly, to deal with the’ case of investors in shares, and those who lend money as an occupation, paragraph i of the second motion is inserted, and their income will be subject to the super tax if it represents interest, dividends, rent, or royalties whether derived from personal exertion or from property. This will apply to all interest earned by banks, money lenders, investors, and speculators, whose business is investment or speculation, and by insurance companies.
In the case of companies the income derived from business is regarded, under the law as it stands, as income derived from personal exertion. Paragraph c of motion 2 provides that there shall be payable upon taxable income derived by any person -
The effect of this provision would be that the same criterion would be applied to companies as to individuals, and that if income would be held, in the case of individuals, to be income from property, it would also be so held in the case of companies even though derived in the course of the company’s business. Therefore, the object of the motion is to introduce, for the. purpose of this new taxation of1s. 6d. in the£1, a new category of income derived from property. One result of this would be that in the case of company accounts it would be necessary to ascertain not merely the taxable income of the company, but also the extent to which that income was derived from property, in accordance withthe provisions of these motions, and the extent to which it was derived from personal exertion. It would also be necessary to allocate the income of companies under these heads, which would considerably increase’ the complexity of company accounts. That, however, is merely incidental to our taxation methods.
In motion 3 an attempt is being made to prevent double taxation at the new rate of income derived by companies. I have addressed myself to this question this evening without asking for the adjournment of the debate in order to present certain aspects of the subject for the consideration of the Acting Treasurer. Motion 3 reads -
That the tax provided for in the last preceding clause of this resolution shall not -
apply to income which is assessable to a member or shareholder of a company under sub-paragraph (i) or (ii) of paragraph (6) of section . 16 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1922-1930 and which is credited, paid or distributed by that company out of income upon which tax is payable by that company under this section ; and
if payable by a company - be included in the calculation, for the purposes of the provisoes following subparagraph (iii) of paragraph (5) of section 16 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1922-1930, of the rate of tax paid or payable by that company.
Many companies are shareholders in other companies. Consider the case of company A which conducts commercial operations and company B which is a shareholder in company A and receives dividends or bonus shares out of its accumulated profits. Such income is dealt with under sub-paragraphs 1 and 2 of paragraph b of section 16 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. If no special provision were made, company A would, on this income from property, using that phrase to describe the income covered by paragraphs a, b and c of motion 2. pay1s. 6d. in the£1. When company B received a dividend from this source it. would again fall under paragraph b of motion 2 and would again be subject to a tax of1s. 6d. in the£1. If individual C were a shareholder in company B, and received income from it from the income obtained from company A that income would once again be subject to a tax of1s. 6d. in the£1. The Government has recognized that this would be unreasonable, and has attempted in motion 3 to deal with the difficulty. But I point out to the Acting Treasurer, that under motion 3 exemption from the second tax is only allowable in the case of dividends, &c, received from a company upon which tax has already been paid by that company. Let us look at the matter in another way. Company A is an operating company, earning profits. Company B is a shareholder in company A. The profits earned by company A, insofar as they are affected by motion 2, would be subject to a tax of1s. 6d. in the£1. The remainder of the profits would then be distributed by way of dividend to its shareholders including company B. Company B, if motion 2 were not passed, would pay another tax of1s. 6d. in the £1 on moneys received in this way. That possibility would be excluded by the passing of motion 3. But, if company B itself declared a dividend out of the moneys it received from company A, and individual C received part of this dividend, he would not be protected by motion 3, because this provision relates only to the dividends received from a company which has paid this special taxation. The special tax would be paid by company A, but not by company B, from whom individual C received the money; so that the income of individual C from this source would be taxable again at 1s. 6d. in the £1. The resultof this would be that on such moneys company A would pay a flat rate of ls. 4d. in the £1, and an additional ls. 6d. in the £1 in pursuance of the provisions of these proposals. Company B would not pay anything in respect of the income of this nature received from- company A, because it would be protected by motion 3; but individual C would have to pay an additional ls. 6d. in the £1, which would mean that, in this case, taxation amounting to’ 4s. 4d. in the £1 would have to be paid. I could carry my illustrations down through the alphabet to G, H, or even K, and “could show that the extra tax of ls. 6d. in the £1 would be paid many times over in certain cases. I do not think that this is the intention of the Government. I think I am not making a mistake in interpreting the -terms of the motion 3 in this way. In view of the fact that the Acting Treasurer stated last week that it was not intended to tax twice dividends distributed by holding companies, I ask that very careful consideration be given to the wording of this motion to ensure that this will not be the real effect of it.
– It is not intended to impose double taxation of that kind, and if there is any doubt on that point it will be cleared up.
– I suggest that consideration should be given to the introduction of a provision to the effect that dividends in the hands of a company upon which another company has paid taxation should not be taxed, and that the ultimate shareholder should receive the appropriate rebate.
There is one other matter to which I direct the attention of the Acting Treasurer. Under our taxation legislation there is a general exemption of £200 on income from property. An old controversy in relation to Commonwealth income taxation, which goes back many years, deals with the position of the poor shareholder as compared with that of the rich shareholder, to use general terms. Under the existing law, where the company tax is, as it is at present, ls. 4d. in the £1, the shareholder who receives dividends from a company is allowed a rebate at the rate of ls. 4d. in the £1; but if his income tax rate is less than ls. 4d. in the £1 the full rebate is not allowed to him. I have to admit that every government has refused to alter the law in that regard. The legislation of this session, however, introduces a new and, I suggest, a rather serious additional burden on the small taxpayer. Under the Income Tax Assessment Bill now before another place a person who has an income of less than £200 from property is exempt, but he suffers a deduction of ls. 6d. in the £1 from any dividend to which he may be entitled if the company has already paid that amount of tax. Accordingly, people with small incomes will suffer, not only what for many years they have regarded as an injustice in the deduction of ls. 4d. in the £1 from any profits to which they are entitled, but also an additional deduction of ls. 6d., which will make the total 2s. lOd. There are many reasons why the existing law has not been altered. They are mainly associated with the difficulty of administration, but now that the amount is becoming so large a sincere effort ought to be made to alleviate the position of the small shareholders. Those are the two points I make upon a first view of these resolutions, and I have spoken now without preparation in order to raise them at an early stage so that they may receive the full consideration of the Government. I suggest that progress should be reported.
Debate resumed from the 7th November (vide, page 164) on motion by Mr. Blakeley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The main purpose of this bill is to abolish the commission which was appointed by the late Government to administer the portion of the Northern Territory now known as North Australia, and to revert to the old system of government by a Minister at the Seat of Government. I think that those who know anything about the territory will agree that the condition of affairs in that portion of the Commonwealth prior to the appointment of the commission could not possibly have been worse. I was in the territory about five years ago, when the administration was being carried on from Melbourne, and I ° well remember the despair expressed by practically every settler I met in regard to what was alleged to be the misgovernment of territorial affairs. Indeed, I saw quite enough to convince me that the people there had every reason to feel dissatisfied, and, I think, that every one who has studied the history of the territory, and, particularly, every one who has visited that part of Australia, must have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for any Commonwealth Minister, no matter how clever he may be, to make a success of his administration of the territory. Conditions became chaotic when the Commonwealth took over the control of the Northern Territory. It was impossible to get a proper redress of grievances when it took about three months to send down a report to the Seat of Government 2,000 miles away and get a reply from a Minister who could not possibly understand local conditions. In such circumstances, as can be readily understood, the residents of the Northern Territory did not think that they were getting fair play.
I listened with a great deal of interest a few nights ago to the very able speech delivered on this bill by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), who, probably, knows the territory better than most people. He told us that he was disappointed at the proposed abolition of the commission, which, I understand, has been decided upon by the Government on the score of economy. It is estimated by the Minister that the commission costs from £8,000 to £9,000 a year, c To my mind, the cost is insignificant in comparison with the extent of territory controlled by the commission. The area of the territory is about onefifth of the area of Australia. The country is mainly undeveloped, and a good deal of it is not worth developing, but a good deal of it is, if only the development proceeds along proper lines. Here, and in Melbourne, on several occasions I have severely criticized the expenditure of money on railways in the territory, and I have not had occasion to go back on anything I have said in that connexion. I agree with the honorable member for the Northern Territory, that if the hundreds of thousands of pounds which have been spent in the wrong direction, had been spent judiciously it would have led to the settlement of thousands of prosperous people. That is not saying too much. After having seen the territory I was forced to change my opinion of its possibilities. I. went there with no axe to grind, to form my own opinion as to what was necessary to develop the country.
– In what year was that?
– In 1925. I wanted to see whether the territory was the wonderfully rich land, capable of supporting millions of people, that some people said it was, or whether the report of others that it was worthless was correct. I came to the conclusion after my inspection that parts of the territory were worth developing, but that the greater part of it was not capable of development at the present time. I also found that the railways had been constructed on the wrong routes. The railway from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs, and that from Darwin to Daly Waters, should never have been constructed. They cost at least £4,000,000. Had that money been expended in building a railway from Borroloola, which is the natural port of the Barkly tableland - the richest tract of country in the Northern Territory, about three-quarters qf the size of Victoria, and capable of carrying 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 sheep or a corresponding number of cattle - to the border of Queensland, it would have gone a long way towards developing and settling the Northern Territory.
– It is questionable whether a harbour could be obtained at Borroloola.
– A harbour could have been made there at no great expense. In any case, if the railway were constructed close to the waters edge, lighters could have been used. Had that been done, probably a branch line could have been constructed to another tract of good country situated on the Victoria river. Railways to those places would not have cost much more than the amount expended on the existing railways, which are trying to develop country most of which cannot be developed at the present time. I doubt whether it will ever be developed unless some rich mines are discovered somewhere near the railways. In any case, the railways will not pay during this or the next generation. I listened with great interest to what the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) said about the wonderful results obtained from the railway from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs last winter when a number of fat cattle were railed from the territory to the Adelaide market. I know that that was a great boon to the few people who owned the cattle, but no one would argue that it was worth £2,000,000- the cost of the railway - to obtain that result.
– The construction of the railway was one of the conditions under which the Northern Territory was transferred to the Commonwealth.
– Yes, but the railway need not have been built for the next 50 years.
– At any rate, it has given an impetus to the district around Alice Springs.
– I admit that there is a patch of second or third-class country about Alice Springs, which, in good seasons, will carry a considerable number of cattle. That happened this year. Rain fell, the grass grew and the cattle fattened. At the same time the market in Adelaide was particularly good because South Australia had suffered a drought for two or three years. There were practically no fat cattle in that State or in the lower part of the Northern Territory.
– Sheep and cattle are now being sent to re-stock that country.
– I am sorry, indeed, for those who are sending sheep there, and they also will be sorry when they lose their money. That country is fit only for cattle. To carry sheep it would have to be improved enormously. No business man would attempt to raise sheep there. The conditions that obtained last year niay not obtain for the next fifteen years.
– About 60,000 head of fat stock were sent from the Northern Territory last year, and it is estimated that 100,000 will be sent this year.
– I know that the railway revenue was increased by £60,000 or £70,000 because of the haulage of fat stock to Adelaide, but that is not likely to occur again for some years. Even if
South Australia suffered another drought it is unlikely that those who are living on the route of the Oodnadatta railway would have fat cattle to send to Adelaide. It is useless to complain about what has been done. The money has been spent and the best has to be made of that expenditure. It is a pity that such expenditure has ever been incurred; but as it has, it is useless to complain. On the Barkly tableland, and in the Victoria river country there are large tracts of undeveloped country. There are also good patches in other parts of the territory. I estimate that about 80 per cent. of the country in the Northern Territory is not worth developing at all ; but there is some which has been profitably worked by a splendid type of pioneers who deserve all the assistance and encouragement the Government can give them. In view of the great hardships which they have experienced, and the determined efforts which they have made, and are still making to develop those vast open spaces in the north, it is unjust of the Government to deprive them of the services of the Commission, the appointment of which has been fully justified. The Minister (Mr. Blakeley) has admitted that its members are all able men who know their business, and who have done their work well. If the Commission ceases to function, the Northern Territory will revert to the position it was in - which to say the least of it was chaotic - before the Commission was appointed. There are three alternatives.First, to revert to the state of affairs which existed twenty years ago ; secondly, to appoint an advisory council as suggested by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), or thirdly, to provide some other form of local government. As there are between 1,500 and 2,000 white settlers in the Northern Territory, perhaps it would be practicable to establish some form of local government or to create a new State. A local advisory council, with sufficient executive powers and subject to the Minister, could render a wonderful service to the people who, while working for their own benefit, are also developing an important portion of Australia. It is the clear duty of the Government to provide facilities to those persons, who are experiencing greater hardships than any other pioneers. In my earlier days I did a good deal of pioneering work; but I never had to contend with conditions such as those that prevail in this part of theCommonwealth. In the southern portion of the Northern Territory the conditions are exceptionally dry, as the average rainfall is between four and seven inches. The settlers have only one good season in three; they experience extreme heat for the greater part of the year, and have to contend with flies and mosquitoes and almost every other conceivable pest. It is impossible for any Minister, however capable, to administer the territory from a distance of several thousand miles, as has been tried in the past with most unsatisfactory results. As great responsibility rests upon the Government, I sincerely trust that it will reconsider its decision. One of the principal responsibilities of this Parliament is to see that the Northern Territory which, up to the present, has been anything but an asset to the Commonwealth is properly governed and administered.
Debate, (on motion by Mr. Mackay), adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Fenton) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- At seven minutes to 10 the Acting Prime Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton) has moved the adjournment, of the House when honorable members on this side of the chamber, who are present in much larger numbers than those supporting the Government, are prepared to proceed with what the Government describes as the business of the country.
– An honorable member on that side of the chamber has just secured the adjournment of the debate on the measure under discussion.
– Yes, in order that the next business may be proceeded with. We are entitled to expect the Government to bring down business for the consideration of honorable members. Of course, it may be that the Acting Prime Minister, recognizing a superior authority to this Parliament, which it has to meet, is compelled to adjourn the House. It is reported that an organization known as the caucus is to meet at 10 p.m. The National Parliament of Australia has to take second place to caucus, where decisions are really made, as a result of which Ministers present measures to this House which have been agreed to in secret by perhaps a majority of only one.
– Was not a similar practice followed by the Leader of the Opposition when a member of the previous Government?
– Not at all. I do not know how the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) can conceive that he has any knowledge of the facts. He has not been present at any meeting which I have attended since I was a member of the Government, and at which there were any proceedings of the character I have mentioned. I am glad to say that I belong to a party, one of the planks of which is that its members are not to submit to the dictation or direction of any outside organization. So long as I am a member of this House I propose to maintain that tradition. Of course, the honorable member for Wimmera was for a long time very favorably situated; he was a party unto himself, and consequently all the decisions of his party were absolutely unanimous.
– On a point of order, I ask whether the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) is in order in addressing himself to the honorable member for Wimmera instead of to the Chair?
– I ask the Leader of the Opposition to address his remarks to the Chair.
– I have done so. 1 referred to the honorable member for Wimmera, but did not address him personally. However, I recognize that it would ill become a mere Leader of the Opposition, or any member of a mere Parliament, to delay the deliberations of the caucus, which in secret governs the Commonwealth. In this House we are accustomed to complete silence on the part of ministerial members. Somewhere, somehow, the party reaches decisions; its members are not game to defend them in the House, but the Government, by the weight of a servile majority, is able to pass measures in regard to which it has managed to obtain in some undisclosed manner a sufficient measure of concurrence. I object to the adjournment of the House at this hour when members are prepared to proceed with the work of the country, but, unfortunately, the Government does not know what it wants to do. It has had ample time to produce a policy. Many weeks elapsed between the end of the last session and the beginning of this, but no government policy has yet been produced ; we understand that it is still in process of incubation. Never in the history of the Commonwealth Parliament has there been such a complete and unredeemed failure as that of the present Labour Government. This premature adjournment is a further exemplification of that fact. At a most critical period in the history of the Commonwealth the Government is bankrupt of ideas;- it does not know where it wants to- go, or the road to follow in order to reach its unknown destination. The one redeeming feature of the situation is that the Government is disintegrating, and its complete collapse is imminent.
.- The House is entitled to a statement from the Acting Prime Minister of the reason for adjourning at such an early hour. It was obvious last week that the Government was pursuing the same policy of drift in connexion with parliamentary business as has characterized its administration since it assumed office. The House did not meet on Tuesday of this week; yesterday it did nothing, and tonight the Government is merely shillyshallying and wasting time. It makes a. pretence, of doing something for the wheat-growers and the unemployed, but it does nothing; it is unable to do anything. Ministers have not the wit to formulate a useful measure to relieve the unemployed. Individual members are afraid to return to their States and face their outraged constituents, and apparently they are merely dissembling until Christmas, when they will throw the whole responsibility for their inaction upon the Commonwealth Sank, saying, “ We were prepared to do much, but Sir Robert Gibson thwarted us “.
– I, too, protest against this unusual procedure. Cannot the Leader of the Government say why the House is adjourning? Is he prepared to tell the people that the Government is adjourning the National Parliament so that it may go into caucus to receive its instructions? When we assembled some weeks ago we were assured by the Government that there was sufficient business to keep Parliament as busy as a bob-tailed bull in a mosquito swamp. Has the Government no business to put before the House? As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the Ministerial party has degenerated into a distracted rabble. It has no policy, and, for that reason, can present no business to Parliament. What has the Government done for the wheat-farmers? It might, with advantage, have devoted its attention to the relief of those engaged in the primary industries, but it is making no attempt to cope with the critical situation. This House, instead of adjourning, might discuss the condition of the wheat industry, and the relief of un employment, but the Government proposes nothing and does nothing. It merely scuttles into caucus to receive instructions upon matters which its supporters are not game to discuss in the House. As one who has como, a long distance to attend to his duties as a member of this Parliament I protest; and I hope that every honorable member on this side will raise his voice against the National Parliament being made the plaything of caucus and party. The Government should endeavour to formulate a decentpolicy for the alleviation of the distress throughout the country. But it will not do so, because it cannot. The Labour party is torn by strife. Rather than allow matters of national importance to bc discussed by Parliament, it meets in caucus and awaits the Prime Minister’s return. Such action is nothing short of political murder.
– Order! The honorable gentleman is nut of order, and must withdraw the -word “ murder “.
– As die word “murder “ is unparliamentary, I withdraw it, and substitute “assassination”. The insurgent section of the Labour party is continuing the strife within the party with the object of awaiting the return of the Prime Minister before carrying out the plan of assassination which it has formulated. That is the only explanation I can give of the extraordinary development in public affairs of which we are witnesses to-night. If the Government were sincere; if it had the slightest concern for the interests of the people, it would proceed with the business of the country. The notice-paper is full’ of business of an important nature. Why should we not deal with that business this evening? Is there any reason, for’ instance, why we should not deal with the National Debt Sinking Fund Bill?
– That bill has been dealt with.
– The Representation Bill has been before us ; but I understand that it has not yet passed through this chamber. Why should we not deal with it to-night? There is also the Northern Territory Administration Bill. What reason is there for not proceeding with the further discussion of that bill to-night ?
– I rise to a point of order. The Representation Bill has already passed through all stages in this chamber. Apparently, the honorable member is not aware that that is so.
– was referring to the Northern Territory Administration Bill. Why should this House close at 10 o’clock when that important measure has not been dealt with? Is there any business on the notice-paper of greater importance than that bill? To-night, we listened to an illuminating address on that measure from an honorable gentleman who has a first-hand knowledge of the Northern Territory, but when he had finished, instead of the debate being continued, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton) rose to move that the House should adjourn. . If the Northern Territory Administration Bill was not considered sufficiently important to be proceeded with to-night, why did not the House resolve itself into a committee of supply in order to give honorable members on this side an opportunity to ventilate their many grievances? Honorable members in opposition are eager to know whether the Government has any policy to put before the country for the relief of unemployment. They desire to know, also, the Government’s policy with regard to the wheat and wool industries. It is only a little after 10 o’clock, and I see ho reason why we should adjourn when there is so much for us to do.
Motion (by Mr. Fenton) put -
That the questionbe now put -
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon: Norman Makin.)
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
After any question has been proposed, either in the House or in any committee of the whole, a motion may be made by any member, rising in his place, and without notice, and whether any other member is addressing the Chairor not, “ That the question be now put,” and the motion shall be put forthwith and decided without amendment or debate.
Original question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker -Hon. Norman Makin.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.23 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 December 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19301204_reps_12_127/>.